Days of Death

jackolanternWe have three holidays to deal with, October 31-November 2. Halloween. All Saints. The Day of the Dead. All these days have to do with… Death. And with our relationship with people who have died. [Spanish]

Celebrating Halloween as a pagan involves dark and evil things. But celebrating Halloween as a Christian means costumes, candy, and fun. Because we Christians do not fear death. Our Lord Jesus Christ has conquered the darkness of winter. He has conquered the darkness of night. He has conquered the darkness of the grave. The Holy Name of Jesus makes the demons tremble.

And the names of His saints make the demons tremble, too. Because the saints also have conquered death. They reign in the eternal splendor of God.

So on Halloween and on November 1: we rejoice at the altar. Because the saints conquered death by being poor in spirit, like Jesus. By being meek and merciful. Like Jesus. The saints hungered and thirsted for righteousness. They mourned the sin of the world. They endured persecution. They sought always to make peace. Like Jesus.

United with Jesus in His divine holiness, the saints share in Jesus’ conquest of human death. And we ourselves have an intimate relationship with these heroes who have gone before us. We know that they can help us. Like good friends with supernatural resources.

Among all the dead people, many are saints. We know for a fact that some of them are: namely, the canonized ones. Like the holy Apostles, St. Joseph, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Therese. That said, most of the dead people aren’t saints yet, because… They’re in purgatory. God is purifying them of their sins.

That’s the difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day. On All Saints Day, we rejoice with delight over the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters in faith have made it to heaven. We do not pray for the saints; we pray to them. They don’t need our prayers. We need theirs.

On All Souls Day, on the other hand, we celebrate an extra, annual funeral for all our beloved dead. We take an extra chance to pray for them and commend them to God. Our relatives and friends who have died; our ancestors. And we pray out of the kindness of our hearts for all the souls in purgatory who don’t have any living relatives left to pray for them.

The nights get longer, and that makes us remember that this pilgrim life will end. But we have nothing to fear. Rather, we keep these holy days, staying close to Jesus at the altar.

Fellow Gen-Xer Who Died Young

Chris McCandless People mag

You. Your books. Your thoughts. And the mountains, hills, bugs, grass, wild flowers, birds, creeks, rivers.

Chris McCandless finished college, then set out west. He longed for the solitudes of Alaska. He had made himself poor, like St. Francis and the Lord Jesus before him. Chris gave away all his money and abandoned the middle-class existence for which he had been carefully groomed.

He had a car, but soon he dispensed with that, too. He had no plan exactly, just a dream. He renamed himself Alexander Supertramp.

He rowed down the Colorado River to Mexico. He hitchhiked and hopped freight trains up and down California, then out to South Dakota. He made some friends who still have not forgotten him. He practiced celibacy. He worked the fields and grain elevators with a combine crew at harvest time. And at a northern-Arizona McDonald’s for seven months.

He chased his dream. Solitude in the Alaskan bush.

In April of 1992, he hiked out. He had thumbed his way to a trailhead north of Mount McKinley (aka Denali). He had provisioned himself. Minimally. By reading and practice, he had acquired no small amount of survival expertise.

He lived until August.

Before Chris succumbed to starvation, brought on by two mistakes he made, including eating seeds he should not have eaten, he wrote a farewell note: “I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all.”

final self-portrait

Award-winning writer Jon Krakauer became, by his own admission, “obsessed” with McCandless. Krakauer wrote the definitive account of these events, Into the Wild, published in 1996. Sean Penn made a movie version, released in 2007.

I can tell you that I will read everything Jon Krakauer has ever written and will ever write. Or I will die trying.

Into the Wild has everything it should. A meticulous reconstruction of events, narrated with soaring prose. Careful consideration of all the available botanical literature. The history of other cases of wild, youthful wandering, including Krakauer’s own. Above all: Into the Wild humbles itself before the mystery of this young man’s life and early death.

When it comes to final judgment about McCandless, you can go one of two ways. Sean Penn goes one way with his movie version: Alex Supertramp, the cult hero of Seattle grungers. He lived free. He died young, because his parents, and society, are evil.

Now, I love Eddie Vedder as much as the next guy. (He provides the heartbreaking, just-about-perfect movie soundtrack.) But Sean Penn’s take on what happened does not correspond with the actual facts. McCandless did not have vicious ogres for parents. Just your usual, run-of-the-mill, screwed-up type of people.

Krakauer portrays them much more honestly than Penn. And Krakauer writes about the peace a man can find when he realizes: my flawed father is a fellow human being, like me. He needs mercy, like me. Penn’s movie never gets there.

The other way you can go to judge McCandless: A selfish idiot who got what he deserved for tempting fate and Mother Nature. A son who did his parents very, very wrong. Who wronged all his loved ones, especially his sister. (She’s the most-beautiful character in the movie, giving Chris the benefit of the doubt at every turn.)

Most actual Alaskans–the people who know how to survive there–take this view: Chris McCandless, dumbass.

But Krakauer won’t dismiss the protagonist he calls “the boy” that way. Because it’s inaccurate.

Mount McKinley Denali

McCandless broke his parents’ and his sister’s hearts. But they themselves refuse to hold it against him. Krakauer knows enough about adventuring in the wild to recognize: this boy was no idiot. He made mistakes that others might have made. (Mistakes that he himself, Jon Krakauer, might easily have made, the author humbly admits.)

McCandless took risks that cost him his life. But taking risks is part of…

…following a “vocation.” Finding your calling. Finding yourself. Finding God. No one every actually found God without risking his or her life.

Documentarist Ron Lamoth also chronicled McCandless’ life and death on film. Lamoth uses a phrase that struck me as a little odd. McCandless, Lamoth, and myself: we all came to birth within two years of each other. Lamoth refers to our generation as “free-spirited Generation X.”

Odd because: The Baby Boomers who watched us come of age would not call us “free-spirited.” To them, we looked like Leave-It-To-Beaver Cleavers with Blackberrys. (We still do look that way to them.)

But Lamoth is right, when you look at our early-1990’s “free-spiritedness” in another way.

Our beloved land, and the world at large: it was a lot more wide-open and free in 1992 than it is now. We feared far fewer boogeymen back then. We allowed ourselves to rely on the kindness of strangers. Much, much more than today’s twenty-year-olds can.

To you, dear young people, I apologize for this. On behalf of all us idiots who let the world get this way. We could have taken steps to keep your world freer, calmer, kinder, and more wide-open. But we were idiots, and didn’t take them.

…McCandless did not want to stay in the bush into August. He had broken camp, and headed for town (and communication with other human beings), in July. But he had not anticipated that the stream he had crossed in April would have swelled into a raging river at midsummer–because of snowpack melting on Denali. This was his first big mistake. (Then, in his hunger, he ate the poisonous seeds, which destroyed his digestive system).

My point is: he did not commit suicide. If this or that little thing had occurred to him, at this or that crucial moment (like, ‘Let me get a topographical map before I head out there.’), he might have a wife and kids in the their early twenties right now. He might teach literature somewhere. Or he might be a priest.

May God rest him. Having read Krakauer’s standard-setting account of things, I now number Chris McCandless among my friends in the realm beyond the peak of Denali.

Shunning Romanità

Fr. Boniface Ramsey

Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God… So do not be associated with them… Live as children of light. (Ephesians 5:5-8)

Impurity and greed involve idolatry. The Catechism explains:

Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and serves a creature in place of God [2113]. In his original sin, man preferred himself to God. He chose himself over against God, against the requirements of being a creature of God… Man wanted to ‘be like God,’ but without God, before God, not in accordance with God. [358].

Do not be associated with such idolatry, insists St. Paul. In other words: shun sin; shun sinners; preserve the integrity of your witness to God.

Two points on this:

1. I could shun wrongly. That would involve idolatrously worshiping my own self-righteousness. So when it comes to shunning anything or anyone, let me always preserve romanità.

What does that mean? Romanità means having a universal, cosmopolitan outlook. Always give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Assume I have fellowship in Christ with everyone. Never interest myself in another person’s sins unless I absolutely have to.

2. Today Fr. Boniface Ramsey—the original Theodore McCarrick whistleblower—published a lucid summary of what he knew about McCarrick and when, and what he did about it.

One thing in particular that moved Fr. Ramsey to action: Seeing other bishops—men who knew that McCarrick had preyed on seminarians–seeing them graciously and fraternally interact with McCarrick at the altar at major Masses, like big funerals, etc—seeing them interact with McCarrick and not shun him.

How can you men of God and successors of the Apostles not shun this man, knowing what you know? That thought moved Fr. Ramsey to act, to write, to pester the hierarchy. May God reward him for it.

In sum, then: Without romanità, we risk becoming unkind and self-righteous. But too much romanità, and we become: Compromised in our integrity.

Lord, help us to know when not to shun. And when to shun.

More Re: VA Attorney General

To Kill a Mockingbird Jem Scout Dill

In my previous post I published an e-mail I wrote to our Bishop’s Office, asking about a directive we priests had received.

The dear Special Assistant and Advisor to the Bishop wrote me back. She noted that the directives in the original e-mail had come from “our attorneys, who are working closely with the [Virginia] Attorney General’s office and potentially the U.S. Department of Justice, to highlight this developing investigation process. They wanted to highlight the focus on our diocese’s cooperation with civil authorities.”

You, dear reader, may find it odd that our Bishop gives unsigned directives to his priests that come from him–no, not actually from him; actually from “our attorneys.”

Ms. Anne Edwards went on to tell me “there’s no reason why [you] could not can add that number in your bulletin.” That is, the actual phone number for sex-abuse victims to call the diocese–an important piece of information which was not included in the announcement the diocese ordered us to publish.

We also received an attachment explaining many legal terms and the types of documents that the diocese must retain. You can click HERE to read it, if you want to. It is legalese–highly illuminating legalese.

First of all, we priests received this document with no explanation of the context. It is cryptically labeled as “Enclosure to Letter of October 9, 2018.”

To whom was this letter of October 9 addressed? And from whom did it come? Can’t say. But the stipulations in the enclosure suggest that the document originated in the office of the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. I say this because the investigation includes the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

What practical good can it do to distribute all this legalese to us parish priests? Can’t see any practical good there. But, of course: it’s all an exercise stipulated by our attorneys.

What I do see is this:

We are in for it.

We Catholics in Virginia–and in all the 49 states, other than Pennsylvania–will spend the next couple of years dealing with the publication of all the secret documents held in all diocesan files (just like the Pennsylvania Catholics did in August.)

These documents will provide evidence of cover-ups. Cover-ups of shameful abuses of minors and other vulnerable people by Catholic clergymen.

The sitting bishops will rely on this defense: We didn’t know what we were doing before 2002, but now we do. The public will not buy this defense. (This already happened in Washington, DC: Card. Wuerl offered this defense; the public reasonably rejected it.)

In other words, the Catholic Church in the USA will limp along like a grievously wounded animal for the foreseeable future. Eventually, someone in law enforcement will realize that the diocesan archives tell only part of the story. The rest lies in files at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

A representative of the USA will demand those documents. The Vatican will refuse. The Vatican will become an international pariah. Italy will likely revoke the provisions of the Concordat that guarantees the sovereignty of the Holy See. Italian police officers will raid Vatican offices. The contents of those files will be published, and it will deeply scandalize the entire world.

…We do not have shepherds that can deal with any of this well. If we had good shepherds, we would not find ourselves in this predicament in the first place.

The entire Scandal of 2018 involves old cases. If we had sensible shepherds, shepherds who cared about us, who cared about protecting our faith; shepherds who cared about justice for abuse victims–including victims of abuses that occurred before 2002; if we simply had non-mafiosi running our institution–that is, honest stewards of Christs’ gifts–they would have owned this problem long ago. They would have dealt with the scandalous contents of their own files before the Attorneys General came knocking at their doors.

But it never occurred to them to do that, when they had the chance. So now we face this imminent meltdown of epic proportions.

But we should not despair.

The cause of truth and openness is the cause of Christ. The end of secrecy about sexual abuse means the chance for justice. Jesus Himself will liberate many hearts through this ordeal.

When it is over, He will still be with us. We will still be His Church.


The Scandal Continues in the Little Things that Say it All


Dearest Reader, Many long, hard days await us. The entire American Church will undergo what the dioceses of Pennsylvania have undergone. Deep pain and shame.

May the ordeal have this beautiful effect: Namely, that victims of sexual abuse in the state of Virginia, and throughout the US, will find the courage to seek justice. And may someone with authority have enough love and courage to try to see justice done.

For your information, I publish here an exchange of e-mails. I will follow up with further thoughts when I have timeLove, Fr. Mark


Dear Anne,

Thank you for sending the bishop’s message and enclosures. I have two questions about the announcement for the parish bulletin and website.

  1. Shouldn’t we include the telephone number for the diocesan Victims Assistance Coordinator? Is 1-877-887-9603 still the correct number? Or is there a particular reason for us not to include that number? Seems a little counter-productive to ask a victim to “reach out,” and then not provide the necessary contact information.
  1. Our hotline promises confidentiality. Do we know if the Attorney General’s hotline ensures it? Someone might want to call and talk through the process before going “on the record,” so to speak. Do we know if the Attorney General’s hotline will capture the caller ID?

Yours, Fr. Mark White


On Wed, Oct 24, 2018 at 3:56 PM Anne Edwards <> wrote:

Dear Father,


As you may have heard, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office has announced their ongoing investigation into whether criminal sexual abuse of children may have occurred in Virginia’s Catholic dioceses, and whether leadership in the dioceses may have covered up or abetted such crimes.  We have also received word of a pending federal investigation. We have been cooperating with the state’s investigation and intend to cooperate with any federal investigation.  In light of these investigations, I issue the following directives:

1. In order to protect any potential evidence, you must not destroy, discard, dispose of, delete, or alter any documents or electronically stored information which have anything to do with sexual conduct and/or allegations involving a minor and certain information regarding the organizational structure of the Diocese and related entities.  Please review the attachment entitled “Enclosure to Letter of October 9, 2018” for an exhaustive list all documents which fall under this directive; [NB. Dear Reader, I will include this attachment in a subsequent post, since I have a great deal to say about it.]

(2)   Do not discuss or comment on any aspect of any investigation with any media outlet or person.  If you receive any media contact, please notify Deborah Cox at the Diocese at (804) 971-7412.

3. If you receive any legal paperwork or any contact from law enforcement or investigative entities related to child sexual abuse, notify Fr. Michael Boehling at the  Diocese immediately at (804) 622-5124.  Please politely refrain from discussing these matters with any investigators until you have received direction from the Diocese;

4. Please publish the following announcement in your church bulletin and post it on your parish website:

Bishop Knestout encourages anyone aware of misconduct or abuse on the part of clergy or staff of our diocese to notify civil authorities, call the Attorney General’s Clergy Abuse Hotline at 1(833) 454-9064, and reach out to the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator.  

Also attached is a joint statement from Bishop Knestout and Bishop Burbidge in response to the Attorney General Investigation.

[NB. Click HERE to read the statement.]

Anne C. Edwards

Special Assistant & Advisor

Office of the Bishop

7800 Carousel Lane

Richmond, Virginia 23294

What the Steward Stewards

St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

Today at Holy Mass the gospel reading leaves a question on the table. And the first reading conveniently answers it.

In the gospel we hear a parable that applies to clergymen–and to everyone involved in spreading the faith. In this parable, “the faithful and prudent steward” distributes the “food allowance.”

But this begs the question. Lord, what “food allowance” do you mean, exactly? St. Paul provides an answer in the first reading.

What does the steward steward? He stewards the fulfillment of God’s plan, which is for us to live eternally in His love. The steward “brings to light what lay hidden for ages past in God Who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church.”

God is God, of course. All things unfold according to His plan. Christ has revealed that everything exists for the sake of our salvation and eternal life, which God planned before He created the cosmos.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains this verse of Ephesians like this:

It is like the case of a house. The concept of the house is in the mind of the architect. As long as it remains in his mind, it can be known to no one. However, once the house is constructed, anyone can learn from the building what was previously concealed in the architect’s mind.

Forty Years Ago Today

Pope John Paul II: His Remarkable Journey

Pope St. John Paul II began his ministry as the pope. Over the course of the ensuing quarter century, many of us came to revere John Paul II as a hero and a spiritual father.

During the 1980’s, when I was in high-school, some of us held on to the pope for dear life. It seemed like he alone, on the whole face of the earth, offered a brave witness to sexual sanity, to chastity–while everyone else was awash in condoms and broken marriages.

Many of us spent the 90’s reading John Paul II’s writings. He consumed himself with teaching the faith inherited from the Apostles. He traveled the world and used the power of his reverberating voice and magnetic charm to evangelize.

Technocrats and feminists hated his intransigence on artificial contraception, abortion, divorce, and the men-only ministerial priesthood. Political and aesthetic conservatives hated his rejection of the capitalist profit motive and his embrace of Vatican II.

But in the middle, we vast multitudes of spiritual children listened eagerly to the man we loved as a trustworthy father. A lot of us wept more bitterly on the day that he died than we had since we were babies. Mainly because we knew we wouldn’t hear the sound of his voice on earth again.

Looking back now with 20/20 hindsight, we can wish that JP II had applied himself more to the reform of the Roman Curia. We can wish that he had understood the sex-abuse crisis better–understood it more as a practical matter, rather than as a purely spiritual one.

st john paul ii

And we can recognize: The way Popes Paul VI and John Paul II defined the Roman papacy after Vatican II left a huge gap in authority. That gap has now brought the Church to the point of paralysis.

Bishops need a disciplinarian, too—just like priests, seminarians, doctors, nurses, accountants, lawyers, bricklayers, school children–everybody needs a disciplinarian. But the world’s Catholic bishops don’t have one. The whole post-Vatican II system of Church governance assumes that bishops will do right. But, as we now know all too well, often they do not.

So St. John Paul II had human faults, blind spots—which we did not want to see, as we listened to him heroically urge us on to holiness.

But let’s go back to October 22, 1978, to what he said in his homily that day. His words resonate today with even more force than they had then.

Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us, to gaze on the Lord and to immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself…

The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth.

The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no dusk….

Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ… Christ knows ‘that which is in man.’ He alone knows it.

…Man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart… He is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.

You Do Not Know What You’re Asking

St James Greater El Greco
El Greco St. James

You do not know what you are asking. (Mark 10:38) [Spanish]

James and John requested thrones adjacent to Christ’s at the coming of the Kingdom. Jesus replied: You do not know what you are asking.

Did not know what they were asking. Probably the greatest understatement ever. After all, as we confess in our Creed, Christ, risen from the dead, sits at the right hand of the Father. To sit at Christ’s left, then, would mean taking the place of the heavenly Father Himself.

But the Lord did not despise His friends’ request. He recognized their love for Him, the love that moved them to want to sit close. If it’s wrong to want to be close to Christ for eternity, then we’re all in big trouble.

No, the Lord did not despise James and John for their ill-informed request. Nor did Jesus pedantically point out that He had put St. Peter in charge, not them.

Actually, in responding to James and John, Jesus did not get into the matter of hierarchy at all. Rather, He said: Yes, you will share my baptism and drink my chalice.

The Church has her hierarchy, just as the world has hers. We all have our particular lot in life. Envying someone else’s position never really did anyone any good. But, by the same token, ambition for success is hardly a sin in and of itself. Go for the Silver! Or: Go for the Bronze! Not good mottos. God made us for a reason, and we fulfill His plan by striving to fulfill all our potential. Ambition gets a lot of people out of bed in the morning.

el greco st john evangelist
El Greco St. John

But the Lord has provided a great leveler, when it comes to success in this world. Almighty God drives a kind of existential bulldozer, which always rolls towards us, drawing closer with every passing day. Someday this great leveling bulldozer will knock down all the hierarchies that this world has set up. Every “Hall of Fame” will lie in ruins, forgotten.

Right now, the angels see the heavenly hierarchy; they see the holiness of people’s souls. Someday the hierarchy of holiness will be the only pecking order left. Because the great bulldozer will have plowed us all into the grave.

One of Christ’s shortest parables: A man grew rich and planned to expand his barns to hold all his vast treasure. That night, he died. And the Lord had only two words for the smug, successful entrepreneur, who had been on top of the world: “You fool.”

Now, even after Jesus told James and John that they would share His baptism and drink His chalice, the brothers still did not grasp what the Teacher meant. After all, the Jewish rituals of that period involved a lot of ‘baptisms’–ritual cleansings prior to religious observances. And the Passover Seder involved the drinking of multiple ceremonial chalices.

passover seder plateJames and John did not grasp that Christ’s “Baptism” was not a ritual ablution. The Lord meant His entire Paschal Mystery. Christ’s ‘chalice’ was the shedding of His Blood, during His bitter Passion and death.

To try to understand what Jesus meant when He said that James and John would indeed share His baptism and His chalice, we ourselves have to grasp that the word “Passover” does not fundamentally mean a ritual meal involving unleavened bread. No. The word “Passover” means: Christ passing over from mortal life to immortal glory. The true Passover is made through the door of death. None of our self-importance in this world ever fits through that door.

“You do not know what you are asking.” Quite the understatement, because: We do not know the glory that God has prepared for us. We do not know the joy and peace that even the lowest place in heaven affords. We do not know what resting for good really means–what it means to cease from striving after our ambitions; to cease from struggling and competing. We do not know what it means simply to flower fully forever. Heaven lies beyond our knowledge.

But not completely. Because Jesus has revealed heaven to us. We cannot see heaven from the inside, so to speak, but we can see it from the outside. Christ’s Sacred Heart is full of heaven. In Christ, we see what heaven does to the human soul. The Lord’s Jesus’ heavenly interior life made Him mild, humble, ready to serve. It made Him love others. It moved Him to give His life for the ones He loves.

It’s not that Christ didn’t fight during His pilgrim life; it’s not that He had no ambition. To the contrary, at crucial moments in His journey, we see His stern determination. He just never fought for low stakes. He never fought for the silly trophies of this world.

No. Christ’s ambition always was and always will be: life, eternal life. He fought not for earthly glory, but for the everlasting glory of God. Let’s strive for a share in that glory.

We can leave it up to our heavenly Father where exactly we ought to sit.

Missionary Martyrs

Fr. Jayme martyred
The Death of Father Luis Jayme at Mission San Diego, November 4, 1775

In Christ you were chosen to exist for the praise of God’s glory…You have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of our salvation. (see Ephesians 1:11-14)

Missionaries evangelize. They proclaim the Gospel and initiate pagans into the life of Christ and His Church. Missionaries give up everything and risk everything. They make friends with people who speak another language, with unfamiliar customs. All in order to share the heavenly life of Jesus.

Missionaries often get themselves killed. In New York and Ontario, the French Jesuit martyrs we commemorate at Holy Mass today met death at the hands of Hurons and Iroquois.

In San Diego, California, the Kumeyaay killed a Franciscan named Luis Jayme during a night raid of the mission. In 1597 the Guale killed five Franciscans near Savannah, Georgia. Here in Virginia, eight Jesuits died as martyrs in 1571.

One thing many of these martyrs have in common is this: They loved the native Americans and learned their languages and customs, but they would not compromise with polygamy. As we know from reading the holy gospels, the Son of God preached a Gospel involving monogamous marriage for life. The early missionaries of these lands practiced ‘enculturation’ like nobody’s business. But the Gospel always requires some change in people’s lives. Like renouncing polygamy.

Anyway: While the martyrs of what is now the USA shed their blood here, the life of the Church had all kinds of issues in Europe. Don’t know if they had federal grand jury investigations in those days. But plenty of secular authorities clashed with corrupt bishops and priests.

Meanwhile, the missionaries here bore their pure and loving witness to the urgency of conversion to Christ. Mankind needs the Gospel, and Jesus, and His Church. Internal ecclesiastical problems don’t make that need less clear; they make it all the more clear.

Another Snapshot of a Blinkered Institution


We found ourselves together–the priests of the diocese. We get together for a couple days every October, for our annual Priests’ Convocation.

Every October we sing the same hymns at our prayers. Every October the bishop spends forty minutes talking to us about himself. Every October a professional traveling speaker bores us unto truancy.

Same this year. Everything proceeded exactly as it always does. The eerie air of normalcy has driven me insane.

In our parishes, no one trusts anyone in the hierarchy–other than the parish pastor. Our most-dedicated volunteers wonder: What kind of future does our Church have? Outside the Church, our institution has become a byword for hypocrisy and corruption. And the Catholic people continue to wonder: Do we know how to deal with sex abuse? Does anyone pay attention to the victims? Will anyone in authority ever answer our questions honestly? Or give an account for their own actions or omissions?

Our people have these questions. And we have land-mined our own mission field with suspicion and doubt. The Church with the duty to proclaim God’s truth to the world has entered into a period of moral receivership. State Attorneys General provide the kind of oversight that our own bishops have spent the past forty years failing to exercise. International pressure on the Vatican–to make its secrets known–mounts; a diplomatic crisis looms.

No one in the hierarchy offers any answers. We parish priests hang out there to dry, trying to do our thing, holding fast to the mysteries of the faith…

We had a chance to talk all this over. We didn’t. We could have heard our bishop’s plan for how to help us through this. He doesn’t have one.

What exactly is the crisis? Are schismatics trying to break down the communion of Christ’s Church? Will the pope have to resign because too many people lose confidence in his honesty? Is there a Gay Mafia operating at high levels? How can we get past this endless scandal?

We had a golden opportunity to talk these questions over, here at the Diocesan Priests’ Convocation. We did not take that opportunity.

What do we really stand for, at this point? Does a Catholic parish priest represent a worldwide institution that people can believe in? Do we ourselves, we priests, believe in this institution? Do we have any confidence that the pope and bishops will co-operate and solve the ‘problem?’ Do we think the pope and bishops understand what the problem is?

Talk it over together? Try to identify the problem? Not this October.

Theodore McCarrick’s “incoherence” as a priest and as a man (to use Card. Ouellet’s word)–McCarrick’s incoherence–it is in the process of corroding the mutual trust of dozens of bishops, hundreds of priests, and thousands of Catholics. Our institution operates on the currency of mutual trust. That mutual trust is corroding. This is in the process of happening.

We had a chance to talk it all over together. We didn’t. We carried on like a cancer patient who refuses to discuss the diagnosis.

Cancer rages in our organs. We carried on as if it were just another October.

Dear faithful people, please forgive us. You deserve braver priests than this.

Our traveling professional speaker referred at one point to Christ’s gaze. I feel His gaze. And I am ashamed. Of the blinkered, irrational institutional ‘normalcy’ of which I am a part.