“…as there is an infinite distance between God made man and the most gifted of the earth…so is there also an immense distinction between Catholic and infidel nations….”– Juan Donoso Cortés
An underlying disagreement emerged within the Church in the 1960s during the Second Vatican Council, about the relationship between the Church and the modern world. The question concerned whether the Church would lead and guide society, or “update” (aggiornamento) and adapt to the modern world. In practical terms, it gave rise to the question of whether Caesar, to whom Our Lord admonished us to give his due, should guide the Church, or be guided by her, His Mystical Body on earth.
The coronavirus has brought this debate to light as many bishops closed their churches, thinking that they were being required to do so by governments, while other bishops and zealous priests made the care of souls their primary concern, but without neglecting the necessary precautions taken for the care of human health. While alerting his fellows Catholics to the dangers posed by the direction often being taken by modern governments, Juan Donoso Cortés in Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism (1851), explained in Chapter Two how the Catholic Church is the only salvation for human society. Applying this principle today, should the Church be able to determine by herself how to respond to the current epidemic, or should governments have the ultimate authority in determining the Church’s response?
A corollary to Donoso Cortés’s argument, that the Church must lead society, was the proposition that Catholic nations stand out among the other nations of the world. Illustrating this is the recent action of an organization of Brazilian Catholics, the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute, who have challenged their fellow Brazilians in the face of the coronavirus, by analyzing it as a testing ground between Catholic principles, and forces that would threaten Christian Civilization. Brazil is the world’s largest Catholic country, and its role in the present crisis was described by the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute in the following words:
The multitudinous demonstrations that over the past seven years have filled avenues, streets and squares in our cities reverberated throughout the world and contributed to putting Brazil in its proper place, that is, making it a point of reference.
Conservative governments have been elected in several countries, but in none of them have we seen such an influx of people taking to the streets against socialism, Communism and so many other resulting developments.
In the face of the current pandemic, Brazil has provided a model to the world, in that its president, Jair Bolsonaro, has included Masses as essential activities for society. But bishops themselves have not taken adequate advantage of these civil liberties acknowledged as rightfully belonging to the Church. When the laity are being unjustly deprived of the sacraments, they have the right to insist that principles of moral theology obliging the clergy to administer the sacraments not be violated. Furthermore, when leftist politicians use the current crisis to increase government control over the livelihood of citizens, placing restrictions on business activity that go beyond what is necessary to safeguard human health, all the principles of Catholic social doctrine are threatened and therefore require an uncompromising defense.
While this response of Catholics in Brazil provides an example of an effective lay apostolate in temporal society, it is another Catholic nation, that of France, that in recent decades manifested another form of leadership, the guidance of souls through the priestly apostolate. In the last two centuries the nations of Latin America suffered a shortage of priestly vocations, due to Masonic influence within governments that hampered the work of the Church. As a result, missionaries were sent to Latin America not only from Europe, but from North America as well, to respond to this shortage. But in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council, a crisis arose within the priesthood and the religious life. It was religious orders in particular that had provided these foreign missionaries, but when their number of vocations dropped after the Council, the shortage of priests became more acute. And then, at the time of the Amazon Synod, a false solution was being proposed by the advocating of ordination for married men.
This crisis had deeper roots than merely the crisis of the last few years. It emerged with a new concept of the priesthood that spread at the time of the promulgation of the new Mass of Pope Paul VI. The traditional Roman liturgy clearly distinguishes between role of the priest and that of the laity. The minor order of Acolyte was a clerical function that could be delegated to a layman, but it was not proper to him as a layman. With the suppression of the minor orders and the subdiaconate within the new liturgy, the laity came to be viewed as possessing a quasi-priestly function that blurred the distinction between the priest and the layman.
The inevitable result of this trend was a crisis in seminaries relating to the very nature of priestly formation. Approached by seminarians seeking guidance and direction in the midst of this doctrinal ambiguity about the very nature of the priestly state, French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre established a seminary and ultimately a priestly society to meet this crisis, the Society of St. Pius X. In subsequent years other similar priestly societies, such as the Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King, were founded, for the same purpose of preserving the traditional Roman liturgy, and with it the Church’s doctrine relating to the priesthood, which preserves the proper distinction between the priest and the laity.
The purpose of the priesthood is the sanctification of souls through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the administration of the sacraments, the instruction of the faithful through the teaching of Catholic doctrine, and the proper government of souls that belongs by right only to the priest. When the coronavirus began to spread, a progressive clergy and episcopate, forgetting the true nature of their own vocations, began to focus their attention more on government guidelines than on the doctrine and traditional discipline of the Church. The administration of the sacraments was limited if not virtually suppressed, as if the care of physical health were to be seen as being in competition with the administering of the sacraments of the Church.
It is in the midst of the present crisis that one can see the grandeur of the Catholic nations, and their role in the Church’s history. The preserving of the priestly apostolate was led by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and French traditional Catholics and began with the Society of St. Pius X. It is seen today in countries throughout the world during the coronavirus, in the zeal and fidelity of traditionalist priests celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments. And out of concern for doctrinal principles relating to temporal society, principles that give rise to what St. Pius X insisted was the only true civilization, Christian Civilization, the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute – named for its founder and known throughout the world as the Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) – has led the effort to defend this Civilization. Its lay apostolate, initiated in Brazil, has justified the claim that Brazil as a Catholic nation has become a “point of reference” for the rest of the world, confirming Donoso Cortés’s principle regarding the “singular dignity and elevation for which truly Catholic nations are conspicuous.” France and Brazil, as the two leading Catholic nations in the present crisis, illustrate the meaning of what Juan Donoso Cortés stated: “Above all these magnificent associations is that of all the Catholic nations…fraternally united in the bosom of the Church.”