Many Catholics have traced the philosophical and theological roots of the present crisis inside the Church. This research does much to explain the evolution of the doctrines that undermine the Faith. However, it does not explain everything.
There are other aspects of the practice of the Faith involving habits, culture and customs that also changed. Understanding these developments is an essential part of the fight for the Church.
Catholic thinker Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira explained the process that led to a change of mentality inside the Church and played a role in the acceptance of erroneous doctrine as well as new ways of being and thinking that departed from Catholic tradition.
This change in mentality explains why Catholics were prepared to accept Modernism almost without resistance after the death of Saint Pius X, who fought against it. It helps explain why after Vatican II Catholic faithful accepted with euphoria the abandonment of cassocks, religious habits, chapel veils and other pious customs.
His penetrating analyses of this psychological and spiritual phenomenon show how all this was made possible. The shift prepared the doctrinal changes that would come. An outline of his analysis follows.
A Period of Great Fervor Changes
The proclamation of the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception (1854) and especially the dogma of Papal Infallibility and the Primacy of the Pope (1870) provoked a worldwide wave of enthusiasm and fervor among Catholics. Episcopate, clergy and the faithful all applauded these proclamations.
At the same time, religious congregations and Catholic works multiplied. Missionaries spread the Gospel to all continents despite persecutions in Africa and Asia. The Faith flourished despite hostile governments in France and Germany.
The clergy was generally zealous and worthy. Numerous saints appeared, some of which were beatified or canonized.
However, optimism took hold of a good part of the episcopate, the clergy and the faithful. They fell prey to insouciance and complacency with the apostolic successes obtained.
The consequence was a loss of momentum. It did not immediately lead to decay, but a diminishing desire to go higher. This spirit affected the clergy and religious orders and had a negative impact on the faithful.
The Progressive Lukewarmness of the Clergy
This diminishment of fervor led to a stagnation that progressively affected the clergy from top to bottom, causing a consequent decay in the fervor of the faithful.
According to the famous French Cistercian abbot and writer Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard (1858-1935), there is a relationship between clergy and people, which he expressed in this way:
“If the priest is a saint, the people will be fervent;
if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious;
if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent.
But if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless.
The spiritual generation is always one degree less intense in its life than those who beget it in Christ.” (Abbot Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O., The Soul of the Apostolate, p. 39)
Loss of the Militant Spirit
This spiritual decay was characterized by the loss of fervor, the spirit of self-denial, the desire for renunciation, and a deadening of enthusiasm for the Faith. It gradually led to a change of mentality in the clergy and the faithful, by which they lost the notion of the Militant Church.
Indeed, long before the Second Vatican Council, a sentimental and sweetened piety spread among Catholics.
On the sidelines, some fervent priests battled against liberals who preached revolutionary doctrines. However, most mainstream Catholics heard sermons or read publications that contained pious and abstract considerations about “humility,” “charity” and other virtues valid for any time and place, but completely disconnected from the concrete battles of the Church.
When preachers spoke of combat or struggle, they referred almost exclusively to spiritual combat or the struggle against the passions and bad inclinations. They never, or almost never, mentioned the fight against the enemies of the Church, whether they be external or internal.
This one-sided preaching led to the systematic omission of any idea of militancy. It contributed to a deformation of the Catholic mentality. Catholics assumed a merely passive attitude towards the enemies of the Church.
The loss of the militant spirit did not directly lead to the acceptance of modern errors and deviations. However, it did contribute to the weakening of resistance to such errors and deviations. It changed the mindset of countless Catholics who came to believe that to fight error or admonish a person in error is not charitable.
An Atmosphere of Boredom and Desire for Change
The loss of the militant spirit produced a state of prostration, drowsiness and boredom.
The general lethargy surrounding this state of affairs concealed a discontent, and an undefined uneasiness that awakened in people a desire for change.
This phenomenon was aggravated by the Second Vatican Council, which created an atmosphere of optimism, ecumenism, and “dialogue” that excluded the idea of struggle.
The times immediately following the Council were marked by euphoria and optimism that is hard to understand by those who did not live through those tragic days.
Optimistic expressions of change pervaded everything. Everywhere there was talk of “aggiornamento,” participation in the vernacular liturgy, and increased participation of the faithful in the life of the Church.
The famous quote attributed to John XXIII said it all: “We must open the windows so that fresh air can enter the Church.”
From Lukewarmness to the Sexual Abuse Scandals
When the idea of struggle is absent, the spirit of vigilance diminishes or ceases altogether.
The lack of vigilance, along with lukewarmness and little faith, had bitter—but not unexpected—fruit in the infidelity of so many priests and prelates that gave rise to the sexual abuse scandals of the present day.
Not the Cause but the Consequence
Thus, the grave situation of the Papacy today is not the cause of the present crisis, but rather, to some extent, a consequence of this crisis.
The present pontificate could not have taken place without the process of a profound deterioration of the whole social body of the Church, including the episcopate, clergy and faithful. This process destroyed the natural defenses, the “antibodies” that would have allowed the body to react.
Unfortunately, not only the head but all parts of the body are sick. A mysterious virus infects the entire organism. Not even drastic surgery can bring the body back to health.
In non-metaphorical terms, the very unlikely election of a conservative or even a holy Pope in a future conclave will not be enough to restore full normality in the life of the Church.
At the same time, the possibility of the Church emerging from this crisis and returning to normal is impossible without the restoration of temporal society that is affected by a crisis of apocalyptic proportions.
Thus, only divine intervention can save the Church and the world from the chaos and madness that now seems to reign everywhere. This crossroads makes all the more timely the message of Our Lady of Fatima, who foresaw these times and proposed Divine solutions.