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Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism

by Michael W. Cuneo

Buy the book: Michael W. Cuneo. Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism

Release Date: October, 1999

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Michael W. Cuneo. Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism

Excellently researched . . .

The title, "Smoke of Satan", derives from a comment made by Pope Paul VI describing the confusion and rebellion which seemed to have invaded the Roman Catholic Church in the 1970's. Anyone who has become even tangentially involved with the so-called Traditionalist Movement in the Catholic Church will run into the Pope's phrase sooner or later. This choice of title for his book by Mr. Cuneo shows just how well he, a professor of sociology, has done his research. Everybody's here: from the so-called "CUF Catholics" to the uncharitable E. Michael Jones; from the fringe Society of St. Pius X to the even-loonier Society of St. Pius V; from the Bayside cult to the hysterical Fr. Nicholas Gruener! I give Cuneo credit for REALLY doing his homework: He visits Traddy "remnants" and Conservative upstarts, while frankly and seriously discussing their views. What I enjoyed was how Cuneo weaved one interesting story into another. What is more, many times while reading the book I chuckled to myself saying, "I've been there" or "I used to think the same thing." Whatever his real views are about CUF or Mount St. Michael's, I didn't get the impression that they got in the way of his research: If an interviewee came off as a blowhard, a hypocrite, or a nut, it was usually due to his or her verbatim comments! I could not give his book five stars as I would've liked on account of two gaping holes in Mr. Cuneo's work: the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and EWTN. I don't see how he could write about such "mainstream" Conservative groups (CUF, The Wanderer) and, then, completely forget about that scourge of liberal American Catholicism, Mother Angelica. Moreover, how could Cuneo fail to treat the Fraternity, which is THE religious community at the forefront of Traditionalism's "reform of the reform"? Alas, nobody's perfect. Really, though, a must-read for anyone who's ever attended a Latin Mass--approved or not--in the United States.

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Somewhat muddled

This book is misleadingly titled: the "smoke of Satan" comes from a statement by Paul VI lamenting the radical abuses which multiplied in the bosom of the Church in the 1970's, and did not refer to either the fairly marginal groups which occupy most of the book or the conservative ones which are detailed in two of its chapters. Far from being "the smoke of Satan," one would imagine that groups like Catholics United for the Faith (who supported Humanae Vitae and also held their noses and attended the New Mass) would be welcomed by Paul VI. The title also speaks of dissent, a label which does not really apply to many of these groups: the conservatives represent a position diametrically opposed to dissent and the various sedevacantist and mystical movements have generally removed themselves from the Church - they are not dissenters within it. Only Fr. Gruner and his Fatima Crusade could be accurately described as dissenting. This categorical inaccuracy betrays the author's prejudices: his introductory description of pre-conciliar Catholicism is tendentious at best. Could the Catholic Church of the 1950's really be considered "spiritually vacuous" compared to the banal consumerism of wider American society? Could Catholic schools really have offered a "second-rate education" in comparison to the public schools? These propositions are both laughable and telling. The cynical indifferentism of the opening chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book. The book is, finally, more of a work of teratology than sociology. Most of the groups it describes have no influence within the wider Church and they grow more withdrawn from it every day. Yet there are other groups which, although not as entertainingly demented and titillating as the Bayside and St. Jovite groups, are much larger and more influential. Conservative and traditionalist groups like Opus Dei, Legatus, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Roman Catholic Faithful, the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei, Christifideles, Una Voce International, CIEL, the National Association of Catholic Home Educators et al.,are much larger and influential than E. Michael Jones' Fidelity for example, but Jones' publication has a meatier, more tabloidesque flavor, so his magazine is given a starring role. There are a plethora of new orders in America which are based around the preconciliar liturgy - the Fontgombault Benedictines of Nebraska, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, the Order of St. John and several more - but any description of these validly ordained and professed priests and monks is eschewed in favor of dubious, do-it-yourself fringe organizations. The net effect of this book is to marginalize a large and growing number of loyal traditionalist Catholics in their twenties and thirties who represent the mainstream of Catholic reaction to the Second Vatican Council. Instead we are given the exploits of aging "antipopes," many of whom founded their organizations well before the Council was convened. This book is an interesting read, and its subjects are treated respectfully - but it fails in the task it sets for itself: to accurately describe the reaction of American Catholics to postconciliar changes they found abhorrent.

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