There is then an important sense in which I don’t have faith in the Church, at least in that I don’t trust Rome to promote Roman Catholicism and discourage sin. However, before anybody tells me to get lost and become officially Protestant, consider the fact that no one believes anymore in the reliability of Rome in the way that seemed like the self-evidently Catholic position one hundred years ago. No one believes it for the very good reason that there is no way to believe it. Every position one could possibly take involves effectively dismissing the Magisterium as a usefully reliable guide. Consider the options:I figured out pretty quickly after coming into the Church that not every priest and bishop could be trusted to teach the fullness of the one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic faith. At first I took it in stride. Hadn't our Blessed Lord himself been betrayed by one of his hand-picked Apostles? But the more I got involved in the life of the Church, the more I saw that it wasn't just a few bad apples here and there. There was a decades-in-the-making systemic breakdown happening before my eyes, begun before I was even born, let alone considered receiving baptism. The closest analogy to Holy Mother Church's 21st century condition I can think of is the Arian crisis when most of the clergy were heretics.
- What Proph calls “the Magisterium of the moment”: Pope Francis’s Catholicism is great, and what looks like a gutting of morality and the sacraments is really a Spirit-mandated work of mercy. But if that’s true, then all the popes prior to Francis were completely wrong about what they thought was their most important duty.
- Magisterial minimalism: basically, no special trust is to be extended to papal or episcopal statements per se when infallibility is not explicitly invoked. The trouble with this (aside from it being explicitly repudiated in Lumen Gentium) is that it means the protection the Holy Spirit gives the Magisterium is practically worthless. I have no guarantee that the pope and all the bishops won’t deny the existence of God tomorrow, just that they won’t formalize it in a particular way.
- Sedevacantism: Since we all admit that the Church has gone off the rails, I don’t see how this is a crazier position than anything else.
- Catholicism is a false religion, and the contradictions between Pius X and Francis I prove it.
Numbers three and four are not possible. I think most Traditionalists, among whom I'd count myself, subscribe to Magisterial minimalism. Bonald may go too far in saying this kind of protection by the Holy Spirit is "practically worthless." It certainly demolishes the Catholic apologetic argument against private judgment, which was always an ad hominem anyway. Of necessity, faithful Catholics have been forced to engage in private judgment for decades now, particularly if they had the bad luck to fall under the pastoral care of cardinals like Mahony or Kasper, or bishops like Hubbard or Untener. My attitude toward most pronouncements by the bishops is "Trust but verify."
As a practical matter, this means that I regard the bishops with a sense of benign neglect. Very little of what most bishops say or write is worth paying attention to. One does not ascend the greasy pole of Church politics through bold leadership or challenging preaching. At best, most bishops speak in soothing platitudes tailored to appease each of the special interest groups and squabbling tribes that make up their dioceses. If you're expecting your bishop to come as an angel from heaven with a flaming sword of justice to chase the money changers from the Lord's Temple, don't hold your breath. I pray for my bishop at Mass and when offering a rosary, but otherwise I probably won't ever see him or speak to him again until I have children of confirmation age.
I admit that Magisterial minimalism is both unsatisfying and a double edged sword: the most aggressive modernists also tend to buy into it. John Paul II didn't declare that women cannot be ordained ex cathedra, they maintain, so it's just a matter of waiting for the current generation of sexist old men to die off. It's unfortunate that we have to have these debates about the infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium at all, but it's difficult to have that same level of trust that our great-grandfathers had in our shepherds. However, it's the first option, the Magisterium of the Moment, that is probably the most popular.
Most Catholics are woefully ignorant of Church history, tradition, and doctrine. If the upcoming Synod on the family allows public adulterers to receive communion, then I've no doubt that most Catholics will hail it as the Church finally letting go of the cruel and intolerant words of... Jesus Christ concerning the divorced and remarried. Bloggers at the New Advent network will write column after column about how those who hold to the words of our Lord are evil bigots and Reactionary Trads who must be brought to heel. They will be greatly irritated at being reminded that we're only holding to the universal teaching of the Church for over 2000 years. "That was then and this is now!"
I don't pretend to have a solution to this crisis beyond personal prayer, penance, and conversion. I pay attention to this stuff because I hate to see Holy Mother Church so weakened and battered. But sometimes, for the sake of our own spiritual sanity, we need to sign off of the internet and take it to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I doubt that I'll live long enough to see even the beginning of the real Restoration. But by then I'll be preoccupied with other things I imagine.