Traditionalists, the Barque of Peter, and Spiritual Abuse

Patheos [Englewood CO]

December 22, 2021

By Mary Pezzulo

I should probably have a hot take on the recent controversy over the restrictions to the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite.

I never pretended to be a theologian or a liturgist. I don’t care for the Extraordinary Form myself; I prefer the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which is much older and prettier than the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite. I’ve done my share of poking fun at Traditionalists, and they often deserve it. But not everyone who likes the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite is a traditionalist bully. Some people like it because they like old-fashioned things, or because it’s quiet, or because they think Latin is a cool language. And they’re not wrong.

Bullies are the loudest voices we hear, of course. And the Traditionalist bullies have done a lot of damage. They’re always attacking people in the most spiritually abusive ways, claiming we’re not real Catholics, claiming that only their clique is ideologically pure, claiming that the rest of us are silly vapid boomers who don’t have reverence for Jesus. Some of them go a lot further than that. I have been subjected to a lot of harassment and verbal abuse since starting this blog, and among the Catholic hecklers the worst offenders are invariably people who think the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite is the only real liturgy.

Still, something bothered me about all the crowing and celebrating I was seeing online from non-traditionalists.

People have been exalting over seeing the traditionalists get cracked down on. And I can understand the impulse. A lot of us have been bullied and tormented by Traditionalists. It’s fun to see the bully get a taste of their own medicine. Still, something didn’t seem right.

I was especially nervous when I saw one canon lawyer post a very long rant where he went on and on about the judgement that traditionalists would face from a pissed off Jesus Christ, if they didn’t “carry their cross,”  submit to the Pope and remain on ‘The Barque of Peter.”

I hate that phrase, “The Barque of Peter.” It’s a venerable old metaphor; it’s supposed to sound like a wonderful rescue boat pulling us all out of the dangerous waters and sailing us safely home to our Father in Heaven. But more often, the Barque of Peter feels like a pirate ship that regularly torments passengers it doesn’t like and makes them walk the plank. I think of my LGBTQ friends who are trying to live chaste lives and follow every rule but are still subject to so much suspicion and discrimination. I think of my friends who have survived sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of clergy and nuns, either leaving the Church or staying here and facing gaslighting and more abuse for speaking out. I think of the people of color I know who have to endure their prominent Catholic voices saying that anti-racism is somehow anti-Catholic. I think of people who went through horrific spiritual abuse at the hands of cults like the Legionaries of Christ and then had to watch John Paul the Second who enabled the whole mess through his clericalism and gross negligence canonized. I think of the horrific mess at Franciscan University lately and how everyone who spoke out against it was accused of just wanting to hurt the Church. I think of the spiritual abuse I endured in the Charismatic Renewal, and of how I had terrible panic attacks at the thought of going to Mass, and my mother bundled me out the door to church anyway saying “it’s a mortal sin to miss Mass, Mary.”

The Barque of Peter is not a cruise I’d recommend if you’re looking for a good time.

And that’s when I realized what was making me so uncomfortable.

Everybody exalting over this is acting like a traditionalist.

All the meanness, the nastiness, the condemning to hell, the fantasizing about how Jesus will judge you, the you-must-turn-away-from-everything-you-think-is-right-and-be-exactly-like-me-instead: it’s exactly the crap I’ve had to put up with from traditionalists for years.

The Pope probably did have to crack down on traditionalists somehow. But tormenting someone that they have to stay on “the Barque of Peter” and conform to something they find odious or else they’ll go to hell, is right out of the traditionalist playbook.

It’s not actually a good thing when the teacher hits the bully instead of the other students. It would be good if nobody ever got hit.

It’s not healthy or okay to say “You’re not allowed to leave. You have to stay here and get on your knees and submit and suck whatever we tell you to suck or you will go to hell.” That’s something an abusive husband would say.

I don’t know what that says about the rest of the Catholic Church, frankly. I am not a theologian and never claimed to be one. I’m not someone you should look to for answers.

But I just had to get this off my chest.  You sound like abusive husbands. I want the Church to be a loving and nurturing mother, but at this moment she sounds like nothing so much as an abusive husband.

That’s all I’ve got right now.

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy. Steel Magnificat operates almost entirely on tips. To tip the author, visit our donate page.