An Honest Bark at the World of Traditional Catholicism

31 August 2011


For years, Bp. Pivarunas and his Mater Dei Seminary have escaped deserved criticism from the entire traditional Catholic community. There are many reasons for this streak of luck, which last weekend the bishop himself ended by his own hand. First, his personality and people skills have marked him as a breed apart from the ill-famed bishops Dolan and Sanborn, who have made a habit of mocking Bp. Pivarunas and his priests. Second, his reluctance to enter the fray raging in the sedevacantist dystopia has always provided welcome cover. Third, the heavy burden of the Schuckhardt legacy let him seem a well-intentioned man of God while affording an incentive to keep a low profile. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, his distance from Catholic culture is so genuine, so guileless, so innocent that to have confronted him openly would be tantamount to telling a mortally sick child that Santa Claus doesn't exist.

The traditional community outside his devoted followers has always been more than a little ashamed of Bp. Pivarunas and the CMRI. Unlike many traditionalist groups, CMRI never had a direct or indirect link to authentic, pre-Vatican II Catholic practice. More than that, Bp. Pivarunas and his priests didn't have the "right stuff" to be able to read the old books so as to revive it. Instead, they settled for a rough and painfully counterfeit approximation. That is to say, CMRI has produced essentially a crude pantomime of the true faith. That accounts for the "cringe factor" so many report when they watch CMRI priests celebrate Mass, listen to their sermons, read the publications of its leading "lights," or hear stories about Mater Dei. In a word, CMRI's traditional Catholicism is improvised or, worse, simply imagined. Since everyone gave Bp. Pivarunas credit for meaning well in spite of his many handicaps, they pushed into the background the disturbing tales in circulation about the inferiority of the Mater Dei educational program. They only rolled their eyes when they heard the horror stories, such as the one of a priest explaining in theology class that our Lord would be theologically present in a small particle of Host, but not liturgically present.

Last week, Bp. Pivarunas inexplicably acted against his longtime policy of avoiding trouble. Taking offense where none was given, he sent an angry, insincere "open letter" to Fr. Markus Ramolla. The entire matter is detailed in a fair minded rebuttal and scholarly defense of Fr. Ramolla on the respected website Christ or Chaos. Additionally, a layman has sent Bp. Pivarunas his own "open letter." Nothing else, then, need be said here about the incident. What now must be discussed openly are the serious academic deficiencies of Mater Dei Seminary and its faculty. Traditional Catholicism cannot afford to tolerate gross error, for error has no rights.

Make no mistake: Bp. Pivarunas and the clergy attached to him are not evil. Mater Dei Seminary is not an institution known for cruelty or psychological abuse. Bp. Pivarunas and his priests are ridiculously out of their depth. The seminary is no institution of genuinely Catholic formation. Some, particularly the CMRI's mostly unsophisticated lay supporters, will take offense at this claim. Therefore, in the weeks and months ahead, Diogenes will shine his lamp in broad daylight upon the intellectual deficiencies of the Mater Dei faculty. He isn't looking for scoundrels. His purpose is not to shame Bp. Pivarunas or the unpolished men who serve him. (Neither the bishop nor his priests are aware they should be ashamed of themselves or of Mater Dei. But, in fairness, how could they, with all their limitations?) Instead, the objective is to spark a reform of the CMRI and Mater Dei Seminary -- another house cleaning. Only after a thorough reconstitution of program and pedagogy can both institutions join traditional Catholicism in its struggle against the Conciliar Church.

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