An interview with Bishop Daniel Dolan and Father Anthony Cekada

This is a brief joint interview I did with Fr. Cekada and Bishop Dolan while I was visiting Cincinnati in August 2008. The interview I did with Fr. Cekada was released earlier and was posted here. The interview with Bishop Dolan is forthcoming.

Stephen Heiner: It has been said over the years that you have gotten progressively “hard-line” about una cum (a Mass that mentions Benedict XVI as Pope - Ed.) and other things and that this is a territorial issue. If you aren’t hardline about it people will leave your church and go to other churches. So it’s really a money issue — you want to keep the money here and the parishioners here so that’s why you’ve gotten more hardline. The una cum thing was not that big of deal to Fr. Cekada and Bishop Dolan ten years ago.

Bp. Dolan: It’s a purity of doctrine issue…

Someone has quoted you as saying it is a mortal sin to go to an una cum Mass…

Correct. I believe it is a mortal sin, under normal conditions.

You’d have to really know…

Yes, and how many people fall into that category today? Probably not many…

Probably just your parishioners.

No, I don’t think so. And that’s humbling, isn’t it? That some of your own people don’t care about it. You can speak about it until you are blue in the face. Fr. Cekada has given the brilliant, clear, step-by-step sermons, he’s brought in all of these references and reading material. It’s too much for them to be able to process. It’s really beyond them, for most people, it really is. People are doing the best they can. At the very beginning of the Vatican II changes, I thought to myself: “this can’t be the Catholic Church that is doing this.” I’ve always felt that way, since I was a seminarian. Our position is simply a logical outgrowth of that. If that isn’t the Catholic Church, and you are a Catholic, you can’t be worshipping there. That’s the long and short of it.

So what is going on at these una cum Masses?

There are at least two things going on: 1) there is the historical, dogmatic, and morally unacceptable practice of declaring yourself to be in communion with a heresiarch. From any point of view as a Catholic you can’t do that. No one has ever done that before. That’s totally forbidden by all the Fathers and the Saints and all the canonists who have ever treated of it from that day till this. 2) the Motu Mass trap — and that really lights my fire. You have this One World Church which Benedict and his boys are building up. And these chumps, people like Fr. Dardis (the Prior in Cincinnati - Ed.) and the SSPX, and even some sedevacantist priests, these chumps are playing right into it. It’s really spooky, scary stuff. This is a temple where all religions are the same and it doesn’t really matter as long as you get to worship the way you want to.

So on the one hand, it is an unpleasant prospect of the implantation of a kind of High-Church Anglicanism…we did not fight and suffer for all these years to become High Church Anglicans. I could become a high-church Anglican if I wanted to, find myself a nice church, some fortress parish on the East Coast somewhere, as long as I could make an accommodation with the lady bishop. I’m not interested in being that, I want to be a Catholic, thank you very much. Or, on the other hand, far worse, far scarier, the One World Church of Benedict. He’s an antichrist. Being in communion with an antichrist, by your presence. By our people going to an una cum Mass, they are adding credence, they are putting one more brick in the building of the One World Church. Dogma doesn’t really make any difference. You have your beliefs and I have mine and we are all going to find a place here. That is what they are doing and it disgusts me.

This is not some late-breaking development, the One World Church. We saw it with the late JPII, but you really see it with the smooth Bavarian, he knows what he is doing and he is doing it well…

I see bumper stickers all the time that say “I love my German Shepherd”…

(laughing) Well, of course, and isn’t he cute in that velvet and fur camuro that he brought out of mothballs? Does he really get shoes at Prada, they might wonder?

I understand His Excellency’s points about compromising with the New Order, do you feel you have gotten stricter, Father?

Fr. Cekada: It’s a question of principles. Especially, what drives the logic and what forces you to look at is the issue is the Indult Mass and the Motu Mass. Unless there is a doctrinal content behind it, unless this question (the una cum question) is brought to bear, you have a Latin Mass-ism, and then religion just becomes a question of the externals. And I keep on pounding on that point in my sermons, that Ratzinger will let you have the Latin Mass — but he won’t let you have the Catholic Faith. That approach fits in fine with the Modernist program — have the sort of worship that appeals to you — Tyrell would have been very, very happy with that. The old Mass appeals to your aesthetic sense, to your emotions, and you check your doctrine at the door. So if you realize what’s going on with the Modernists, then you simply apply the principles to the una cum question.

Bp. Dolan: It’s been Latin Mass-ism for a long time, and for many years people would tell you, “We’re here for the Mass.” I remember thinking this through once in a parking lot in Springfield, Missouri, in the late 1970s. It’s not a question of the Mass. It’s a question of the Church. If you are a Catholic, you have your Mass — you may not have access to it right now, but you have your Mass and your Sacraments and you have everything, because you have the Church of Christ. If you don’t have the Church, as Augustine says, you can sing Alleluia, and you can read Scriptures, and you can give the Sacraments, but you don’t have Christ. You don’t have Christ in this new One World Church.

If we have become a little more strict over the years, it’s partly because when we left the Pius V Society in 1989 we reacted to this very partisan, “Don’t talk to them, they go to the wrong church” kind of a mentality. Fr. Kelly had told us (and we had believed his lies) that all these other people were really horrible, like the CMRI, etc. And you would meet them and be totally edified. People from a totally different background and line who are quite Catholic. Quite different, but Catholic. Refreshing. Wonderful. For a while, when we left the SSPV in 1989, there was a conscious sort of pulling back, of this “I will deny you Communion or I will cut you off if you don’t…” sort of attitude. All of these things were motivated by Clarence Kelly in the functioning of his cult. Once we realized that, we wanted nothing to do with that. But, even less do we want to have anything to do with Benedict and his One World Church. If there is anything I can do to save my people from ending up there, and not making void everything that we have done for the last 40 years, I’m going to do it. I think it’s a question of saving their souls.

I think that the amount of people who still come to church here says a lot about the number of people who do get it. The penny has dropped. For some people it might still be convenience — they’ve always gone to Mass here and they’ll tell you they don’t really agree with Fr. Cekada or Bp. Dolan on the question of the Pope. But I think a lot of people have listened to the sermons and I think a lot of people have understood. And good, God love them!

If you treat the una cum question as a matter of indifference, your last state is worse than your first. You end up in this false religion. That’s the essence of everything Ratzinger and company are doing today. It’s a question of false ecclesiology, and a One World Church. And how could we ever end up there, but that’s where some people end up. When they go over to Fr. Dardis are in the antechamber of the Church of the antichrist. It’s scary. God forbid that Jesus comes back and He finds you there. You have to confess Christ.

This is where most of our confreres and fellow Catholics won’t. They won’t confess Christ. Lefebvre called JPII an antichrist — what would you say about Ratzinger? He’s an antichrist, no doubt about it. St. Jerome call your office, this is really bad. Why won’t you confess Christ? That’s my answer to them. If you want to get me down to the bottom line here, it’s not a matter of jurisdiction, or money, or keeping people in your chapel —how ridiculous and unworthy to say that.

Well the response is that it’s really about money and power for the priests. That’s what people say and will say. Because if you don’t say it, they can go to any parish they want.

I would only be too happy for there to be other parishes where people could go. I might suggest to some people that they could go to that other parish.

My next question is pastoral. My entire life there’s only been a Novus Ordo. I discovered the traditional Mass in 1997. Pastorally, you are among the last links to what the Church was before. If you look at what your experiences, and what your discussions with clergy were, prior to the Council, how are our parishes different now in this day and age, from the sorts of things you hear in Confession, to the problems you have to deal with, are there things that particularly strike you as worrisome among the young people or among older people that wouldn’t have happened back in the old days?

Bp. D. Human nature never changes. Young people are still young people. People get into all sorts of messes concerning sex and marriage. People are just as worldly, stubborn, stupid, and cheap, concerning the raising of their children, the question of their schooling, as they were in the 40s and the 50s. All of that is unchanged.

What is different is that the people who come to Mass here WANT to be here. In the old days, it wasn’t usually this way in a parish. So you have this tremendous foundation of good will and piety and devotion.

So, the playing field is totally different. Generally speaking this kind of parish would have been a dream come true for a priest in the old days.

So there was a packed parish, but there wasn’t a strong cadre there?

Bp. D. There was always a small, strong cadre, they were involved, etc.

Fr. C. I think proportionally, we’re bigger, in terms of the number of people who are really involved.

Bp. D. That’s right, we’re smaller but we’re bigger in terms of involvement. They are enthusiastic, loyal, and forgiving and generous.

There’s also no one on top of us. That bothers people a lot. Who do you answer to?

Well I’m sure that bothers you…

Both: Yes.

Bp. D. There’s no one to answer to. You have to be careful. I think it’s accurate have a bit of an end-times scenario. This is apocalyptic. The Church is eclipsed. It’s really bad. And don’t get too comfortable.

Our model is not like the SSPX to set up our own parallel Church and structure. Stability and all that. St. Gertrude’s is really the exception. Usually it’s just a few people here or there. You have to drive a long way or go without the Mass and the Sacraments. We’re really in a mess. It’s all gone, all swept away.

It’s difficult because we have some of the appearances — it’s difficult to remember the reality of what we are living in. Priests and people both need to remember that more clearly than they do.

Fr. C. It’s a terrible thing not to have the structure of authority because having lived on the inside of the tail end of the pre-Vatican II Church, everything was ordered, and you knew exactly what your responsibilities were, and what they weren’t. And if you came up with a pastoral problem or a problem of moral theology or canon law, you didn’t have to sweat figuring that out yourself, you just picked up the phone and called the Chancery Office. They got some awfully smart person to resolve that for you. So, that was a great situation, when you stop and think about it.

Now, we don’t have that structure. We can’t make up that structure ourselves, and so you feel the loss of it, a lot.

Bp. D. Even priests. Years ago, on Holy Saturday I used to have dinner with the parish priests from St. Michael’s in Sharonville. What struck me about getting to know them was how uniformly humble they were. They were all genuinely humble. They were part of the grex gregis — the cattle, and they knew that. They knew their place in the system. I’ve often thought about that. Most traditional priests do not have that kind of humility. Some make me think of J.F. Powers’ famous definition of “Assistant Pastor” — a mouse in training to become a rat. You see that potential in a lot of young priests across the board.

These diocesan priests were very humble and obedient, and when the bishop would tell them to do something, they would do it. We would never do that, because we have no bishop to obey. We’ve done all this stuff by the seat of our pants, trying to be genuinely Catholic during this catastrophe of what’s happened. That’s one thing.

In the 1950s, Catholicism was packaged. Everything was down to a system — to do everything in the easiest and simplest way possible. They did what they had to do. And if you wanted to do anything more than that all the other clergy would look at you and say, what’s wrong with you? Everything in life was to get it over with, to get it done, to fulfill the law without committing a mortal sin. That’s a little bit Fr. Kelly’s approach to life — except you would commit the mortal sin, not him of course. That’s a problem. That led to the mentality of many of the priests who accepted the changes because it was simply shorter. They didn’t really care about it.

I’ve been told that on retreat once — I was bringing up the question of the 1955 Missal, and a priest said, “Do you really want to be flipping around for three collects anyway?”

Yes, exactly. It is epitomized by the spirit of the Cistercians at the University of Dallas - I remember you saying you went to their prep school. They are from Hungary. They were really conservative. American-right, Republican party, anti-communist conservative. And by their nature and training, of course. Very educated. They used to say that they would vote for any change in the monastery if it made things shorter. That was the mentality. I’m convinced that is one of the building blocks for the success of the changes on the parish level. It appealed to the clergy because they were raised and formed with the idea that everything was to be done with the thought of whether or not it was a mortal sin. What can you get away with.

Once you pulled out the legalism, everything fell apart. Look at the abolition of the Friday abstinence. Putting Mass facing the people.

Fr. C. Yes, that really hit you, that everything was different now.

Everything was short and simple and a lot of it was based on money. The priests would build these great schools. You wanted to make a name for yourself so maybe after you built this school they would name it after you.

That reminds me of a point in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory where it talks about this young priest wanting to get promoted, and that he would if he left the “right kind of debts behind.”

Well, and even better if you could come in and clean up the debt. You were really on easy street then. You were respected by your bishop and your fellow clergy if you had a way with money.

So, skill with the money, Fr. Cekada would have become a bishop, then.

(Laughter) Yes, sure. He’d be a bishop with some young MC who knew all the answers and would push and drag him around the altar.

I would have never been a bishop in a million years! Never, never, never. I have no illusions about that at all.

But back to your point — there was no preaching — there would be one priest giving the announcements while another priest was saying the Mass.

That really happened?

Both: Oh yes, that was standard practice.

That’s horrifying. The young traditional Catholics — we come in thinking that the way it is now is the way it is supposed to be. So in one way we aren’t handicapped, because we would never dream of doing something as ludicrous as that.

Bp. D. Then priests, if it was a more restrained church, would start distributing communion at the Our Father. If not, they would do it starting after the consecration.

So you would have two or three priests working a given Mass. You would have one priest saying Mass as quickly as he could. Another would be in the pulpit giving the announcements and reading the Gospel, and some days there would be no sermon at all. You would have one priest who would go to the pulpit at all the Masses look at these sermon notes printed in a book, and just make something up.

If you went back to the sacristy there were probably a couple of priests smoking and joking and talking.

Fr. C. The pastor would be out in the parking lot with orange gloves directing traffic with a whistle.

Bp. D. If he was the pastor he said the 6:30 and would have had a pretty good breakfast, thank you very much. So by the time you get your crowd, 9, 10, 11, he’s ready for action, and he’s got his other priests, who are all trained to collect the money and get the people in and out and he’s directing traffic because he kind of enjoys it.

That was the Sunday experience.

Because that’s not the experience I had growing up in the Novus Ordo. We never distributed communion at the Our Father, we were busy holding hands still…

The traditional Masses, even in the Society, are not how Mass was back in the old days at all. I remember giving a sermon on the pros and cons of the Indult when it came to town. I actually went to see it. As soon as I stepped into this Church — it was an experience. It was so eerie. You know, nostalgic Catholics come to Mass with us for the first time and they weep. “This takes me back to my childhood.” That’s a big factor in all of this.

But it’s a faulty memory, because it wasn’t like that.

Yes, faulty memory. But it is a part of your life you can relive, part of your childhood — the Latin Mass. People don’t make it for the long run just on that alone, but for the short run they are really happy for a while. But when I went to that Indult church it took me back to my childhood in a really eerie way, in a way that I have never experienced in any traditional chapel anywhere in the world. There was this mumbling, this rushing around the altar, gothic vestments flying, that even the old independent priests, like Fr. Wickens, didn’t capture. It was weird. It made me realize, this memory, that maybe it wasn’t such a good thing what was going on back then. It obviously needed to be reformed somehow. It was the sort of change or reform that you would get by bringing in the Redemptorists or the Passionists or somebody like that.

The Novus Ordo has a completely different approach. They worship how they live — and they worship the way they live…

Fr. C. And so their churches look like malls. If you go to St. John’s, which is not far from here, it is decorated like a mall — muted earth tones, that kind of thing.

So definitely a positive — people want to be here. What’s negative about the situation?

Bp. D. Well, again, that scary feeling that we are alone — there’s no one above us, so a lot depends on the personality of the priest. He can make or break a parish. And I’ve seen it happen — not because he’s not holy — but because he’s lacking in common sense or prudence. A priest’s life work could be destroyed just like that. There is no external structure to guarantee it. So much depends upon a priest’s personality. All you have are priests who have been validly ordained who are doing the best they can to sustain the Church and to save souls. People get upset when they hear about priests fighting and they are really consoled when they see other priests coming for a visit. They yearn to be part of something bigger. That’s the attraction of the SSPX — a parallel church.

Fr. Kelly has this notion that the nicer you are to people, the worse they are to you — the worse you are to people, the nicer they are to you…so you need to be a real tyrant to make everyone fear you, and you’ll have a pretty quiet, well-run parish. That’s how he attempted to influence us.

That sounds like Pastoral and Homiletic Review written by Machiavelli.

Fr. C. He would always say that the only two things that lay people really understand are guilt and fear.

Bp. D. When we left Fr. Kelly’s group, there was this huge sigh of relief because we didn’t have to spend so much time in the ministry of condemnation. If we insist on the una cum business now, it’s not because of guilt and fear. We despise that sort of approach. We’ve lived through that, thank you very much. We’re really happy that we got out of it. We just don’t want to see souls trapped in something even worse — the One-World Church.

Did you know Monsignor Donahue in California?

Yes, I went to that parish for some time — when it was SSPX, not Msgr. Donahue.

The locking of doors against latecomers, and the kicking people out of the Church from the pulpit and all that? I think it worked because in part, Fr. Kelly was right about this guilt and fear thing.

Well, and people love it. They would say something like, do you remember when so and so dropped his hat in church and Father kicked him out, wasn’t that hilarious?

Last question — homeschooling. You have your own school here, but I’m sure you have homeschoolers among your parishioners. My experience from teaching at both an independent parish and at an SSPX one that the SSPX is very good about persuading everyone, via Pius XI’s encyclical, into attending the parish school. Do you take this sort of position that you’re not really allowed to homeschool if there is a Catholic school available?

When we had our split with Fr. Jenkins in 1989, he was the principal of our school, he had all the schooling families. These were people who felt they really needed a school and didn’t see any other way. So even if they were somewhat sympathetic to my position, they had to go with Fr. Jenkins because he had the school. So we continued on with families that weren’t really that attached to the school. They were either happy with public schooling or we have a big contingent of young parents who really believe in homeschooling and want that level of intimacy, comfort, and control of their own children and they don’t want to give that up to anyone else. They love them and want them there with them at all times. Highly protective at times and sometimes critical about administrations or how a school is run.

We used to say that there’s nothing like a school to divide a parish. And for a while I was grateful that we didn’t have a school because of that.

You have to say, that if we operate a school, it’s here for the convenience of the parents, to help them educate their children. There are also all sorts of things that are good for the life of the parish, and naturally beneficial. And we enjoy working with the kids. And such opportunities! I mean, where else would you have boys, except here at St. Gertrude’s, who for their Lenten observance, would sing Vespers after Mass?

Fr. C. You certainly want to promote the school. I have tried to persuade all sorts of families to put their kids in the school. Obviously it was the mind of the Church that you were to put the kids in the parish school.

Was that really the case before Pius XI’s encyclical?

Fr. C. Oh yes, very consistently in the United States. If you had a parish school, you had to go.

Bp. D. I think some of our Americanist bishops in the 19th century really wanted to send children to the public schools. Because they wanted them to be part of American life.

Fr. C. And be good Americans.

We recognize that there are some families, across the board, who are going to prefer homeschooling. And others also live at quite a distance, and sending their children to school here just doesn’t work. And, of course, there are some children that we don’t want anywhere near our school.

Bp. D. Every case is unique. You let families make the decision.

How would you feel if one of your kids went to the Dominican school in Post Falls for girls or the La Salette Academy for boys where they are really trying to push the envelope academically?

We would be devastated. One of Fr. Jenkins families sent a son there and that’s terrible. Sure, that’s a great education, but it’s in the One World Church. And we thought, why wouldn’t he speak out more against this?

Then we realized, that La Salette isn’t the enemy. The enemy is really Archbishop Thuc. And us. There isn’t any other enemy. We wish we did have a boarding school. It’s a great apostolate.

At the same time, we’ve gotten students here who have come from a homeschooling background and they are really behind. I mean, there are some real exceptions, of people who do really well. But, my impression is that a lot of the mothers just aren’t up to it time or education-wise.

This interview is part of a series of interviews with Bishops Williamson, Dolan, and Sanborn and Fr. Cekada which attempt to capture a historical record about the early days of the SSPX in America, the Church in general, and commentary on present issues.

Stephen Heiner

Stephen lives in Paris, France. He founded True Restoration in 2006.

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7 Responses

  1. Ah, fun with sedevacantists. I respect and sympathisize with these men a great deal, but they are making a HUGE gamble. They had better hope that they’re right. (I hope they’re wrong. Can you imagine?)

  2. When will you be interviewing Bishop Sanborn? Or have you already done so, and I missed it?

  3. Already did it. It is in transcription now.

  4. Steve says:

    How about an interview with an SSPV bishop? Dolan and Cekada levy some pretty big accusations in the interview. The fair thing to do would be to interview all sides.

  5. I might. Maybe this Fall.

  6. Do you have an E.D.A. for the Bishop Sanborn interview? I await eagerly.

  7. Part 1 comes out June 19th.