The Christian mystery must be taken literally, with the greatest possible realism, because it has a value for every time and place. –Pope St. John Paul II, Divini Amoris Scientia
Your humble servant had the privilege of attending the Roman Consistory of February 21, 2001. Pope John Paul II created Jorge Bergoglio, Theodore McCarrick, and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor Cardinals, along with 43 other prelates and theologians, including the well-known Walter Kasper.
During the ceremony, candidates for Cardinal solemnly profess their faith before the pope. They use the same formula that I had just used myself a few weeks before, in the seminary rector’s office, since I was to be ordained in a matter of months.
The solemn Profession of Faith taken by Cardinals (and potential deacons and priests) goes like this:
“I, [name], firmly believe… 1. The Nicene Creed 2. “Everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in tradition, which the Church sets forth for belief.”
So, we in the Square heard, on February 21, 2001:
I, Theodore, firmly believe…everything contained in the Word of God.
Also: I, Jorge… I, Cormac… I, Walter…
I did not, on that day, credit the rumors then circulating that McCarrick had a past as a homosexual predator of seminarians. I thought his conservative enemies spread those rumors. That’s the explanation for the rumors that McCarrick himself gave us.
But: I did doubt the man’s full sincerity in saying that he firmly believed everything contained in the Word of God. I doubted Walter Kasper’s sincerity there, too.
I doubted Kasper based on the evidence of his own theological opinions. I had read his book Jesus the Christ. He there suggests that the Lord Jesus did not know everything.
An intricate theological dispute could emerge here, but I will save that for another day. Suffice it to say I had some reason in doubting Kasper’s complete honesty in his Solemn Profession of Faith on February 21, 2001.
I based my doubts about McCarrick’s sincerity on something else: his institutional connection with priests who, at that time, were tormenting me mercilessly. At that point in my little life, I was locked in the middle of a controversy which resulted in my expulsion from the seminary.
In those days, I don’t think any reasonable observer of the situation at the Catholic University of America could have failed to recognize:
On the one hand, The Catechism of the Catholic Church invokes the historical authority of Sacred Scripture in one way. For instance: The Catechism assumes the accuracy of the four gospels regarding historical details. And assumes that an ancient flood did, in fact, occur. And that Abraham was a real person. Etc.
On the other hand, the professors at CUA taught something else. Like: we need exegetical theories about the underlying sources of the books of the Bible–in order to separate fact from myth.
This unacknowledged discrepancy caught us seminarians in a vise. And it seemed to me that our entire future as preachers hung in the balance. If we could not assume that everything we read out loud at Mass from the Word of God is simply true, then what kind of homilies could we give?
Of course this doesn’t mean that historical study isn’t necessary. Human beings did, in fact, write the Bible. God intends to convey the meaning that the human authors intended to convey. But no one comes to church to listen to the priest explain to them the ways in which the Bible isn’t true.
I don’t mean to make myself a martyr, dear reader. But the fact is: ten months after JP II created McCarrick a Cardinal, I got kicked out of the seminary. For refusing to say that the Flood didn’t happen.
For the next eighteen months, the Archbishop was happy to let me dangle, living in rectory attics, hoping I would walk away. Even though I had already promised God I would serve Him for life as a deacon, and then a priest.
Eventually, McCarrick ordained me. For that I am grateful. But the truth is he had no choice–since he had already ordained me a deacon, and I had committed no crime. And the pastors I lived and worked with begged him to ordain me.
The fact is, as far as I could tell, McCarrick did not care at all about the facts surrounding my expulsion from the seminary. He never ‘spoke one word’ to me about it. As far as I know, he never asked the seminary rector, “Did Mark break one or more of your rules?” The Archbishop knew perfectly well that I had not broken any rules. I just refused to accept the idea that preaching could find a foundation in the historical-critical method.
It began to dawn on me, even then, dear reader: These mafiosi who run this institution do not care about facts. They operate only on the level of slogans. They please ‘the masses’ with saccharine abstractions, calculated to avoid all controversy. Since we sheep have a religious obligation to give these men the benefit of the doubt, we accept their empty sloganeering; we even give it a charitable interpretation. The damage that such empty sloganeering does to the integrity of people’s faith–well, we ignore it. That is: Until the summer of 2018.
McCarrick had a favorite slogan for us seminarians and young priests. He would conjure the image of JP II visiting Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark. “He walked right down the middle of the aisle, so he could reach out and touch the people on both sides,” McCarrick said over and over. “We have to be like that. Down the middle.”
I would think to myself: What does he mean? Down the middle of what? Both sides of what?
So: My doubts about McCarrick’s sincerity in the Profession of Faith in St. Peter’s Square in February 2001–they had some foundation. Little did I know then how much foundation they in fact had.
…What about the two other Cardinals I mentioned when I began? One of them went on to become pope. Jorge Bergoglio. Pope Francis.
Recently Mr. Steve Skojec of onepeterfive.com wrote the essay that I was on the verge of writing. Skojec accuses Pope Francis of “gaslighting.”
Now, this psychological term enjoys a certain vogue right now. But that doesn’t mean it ain’t real. The best definition I have come across for “gaslighting” is the movie, The Girl on the Train. (Watch at your own risk; it’s rough.)
Anyway: Is it true? Is Pope Francis gaslighting the Catholic people? Trying to trick us into thinking of him as an honest and loving spiritual father–when in fact he is altogether otherwise?
To try and answer this question as impartially as possible, I plowed through two books simultaneously. The Dictator Pope by Henry Sire, under the pen-name Marcantonio Colonna. And The Great Reformer by Austin Ivereigh.
The Dictator Pope is basically this: An illuminating arrangement of facts gleaned from the conservative Catholic press these last five years, supplemented with some additional anonymous-source information. Sire organizes the facts masterfully, to paint a convincing picture of the man.
The man who rose to the Chair of Peter through the avowed machinations of what is widely known as the “St. Gallen Mafia”–a caucus of liberal western-European prelates who spent their careers waiting for John Paul II to die. (Walter Kasper among them.)
The Dictator Pope reviews the entire controversy of the Family Synods and Amoris Laetitia, which we have covered in detail here on this little weblog. Sire tells the heartbreaking story of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in Italy, an order of primitive Franciscan observance and pure faith–which Pope Francis apparently destroyed. Sire even brings Archbishop Carlo Viganò into the story–way before Viganò issued his McCarrick testimony–by recounting the failed reform of the finances of the Holy See.
Sire reviews the pope’s authoritarian intervention into the internal affairs of the Knights of Malta. This particular account helps explain Judge Anne Burke’s recent public resignation as a Dame of Malta. (As reported by the Chicago Sun Times; scroll down if you click the link. The City Club of Chicago recently hosted a discussion of the Church’s sex-abuse crisis, moderated by Burke–very much worth watching on Youtube.)
Judge Burke, who tirelessly served the U.S. Bishops during the last sex-abuse scandal in 2002, objected to a directive from the American superior of the Knights and Ladies of Malta. To this effect: Stay out of the current controversy.
Judge Burke resigned over this. She intends to “continue to speak out about the need to investigate the underlying causes and conduct by the hierarchy in our church that permitted these crimes to continue.”
Back to the The Dictator Pope. Sire explains Pope Francis like this: You will never understand him if you think of him as a priest. He cannot be understood as someone who fundamentally sees himself as a humble steward of divine mysteries. Rather, Sire contends, the pope is a “Peronist”–an opportunistic politician, intent on pleasing the audience in front of him at the moment. In other words, a professional sloganeer.
Which brings us to the other book.
Austin Ivereigh, author of The Great Reformer, served briefly as Cormac Card. Muphy-O’Connor’s public-relations assistant. (As I mentioned earlier, St. JP II created Murphy-O’Connor a Cardinal alongside Bergoglio and McCarrick, in February 2001.)
Murphy-O’Connor died last year. In England, Catholics are now reeling over recent revelations about how Pope Francis handled an allegation of sexual abuse against Murphy-O’Connor. Former Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, has recently spoken out about how the pope ordered a premature end to a Vatican investigation of Murphy-O’Connor’s alleged misdeeds.
(Cardinal Müller’s interview with Raymond Arroyo last week also very much rewards the watching.)
Anyway, Ivereigh has written a more substantial book than Sire. Ivereigh recounts fascinating facts of Argentine history. I loved reading this biography, which includes a full history of the Jesuit Reductions (immortalized in the movie The Mission). I loved reading it–until I got bored with the subject. Namely, Jorge Bergoglio.
Don’t think of him as a priest. So insists Henry Sire.
Ivereigh’s book brough back a flood of memories. From my Jesuit days.
I fell in love with the Society of Jesus in 1992, served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, teaching at a Jesuit school for inner-city boys, then entered the novitiate, did the thirty-day silent retreat, lived with Jesuits in Mexico for two months, spent the summer at Forham in the Bronx…
Then, in 1996, I left. Because I wanted to be a priest.
Sounds strange, because Jesuits are priests. But, for those of Bergoglio’s generation, the priesthood only got in the way. The priesthood, as someone put it so well, involves serving primarily as a kind of beast of burden. Say your Mass. Hear confessions. Baptize the babies. Bury the dead. Try to give a good homily–but, above all, keep it short.
There’s nothing theoretical about any of these priestly duties. Forgive me for putting it this way, but it serves the purpose: There’s nothing theoretical about conjugal relations between husband and wife. Such things occur in a given place, at a given time. Same thing for the Catholic priesthood. Show up and do your duty. This aspect of priestly life Jesuits find altogether inconvenient. It gets in the way of the realization of their grand theories of things.
Back to Ivereigh’s hagiography–er, biography. Eventually it becomes impossible to take Ivereigh seriously. He lauds Jorge Bergoglio as the spiritual equal of St. Ignatius Loyola and the oratorical equal of Abraham Lincoln. Ivereigh calls Bergoglio’s speech during the General Congregation of Cardinals prior to the Conclave of 2013 “a second Gettysburg address.” Please.
What made the book grow so boring I had to give up on it? The Argentinian politics which Ivereigh narrates so meticulously ultimately became a battle of sloganeers. On the one side: President Nestor Kirchner. On the other side: the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio.
Ivereigh knows a lot of Argentine history. He does not appear to know a lot of theology. But one theological slogan interests him. Namely, “episcopal collegiality.”
Ivereigh convicts John Paul II of grave sins against episcopal collegiality. According to Ivereigh (and the members of the St. Gallen Mafia), the late sainted pope “centralized” the government of the Church, to a fault. Vatican II had intended to restore authority to the local church. But JP II stood in the way.
Perhaps there’s actually something to this, in areas other than sexual morality. And the Sacred Liturgy.
But “episcopal ollegiality” serves as the “states’ rights” slogan for the pro-gay, pro-divorce Church crowd. In this way:
Dr. Martin Luther King enlightened America about the fallacy of the ‘states rights’ argument (which by then was 140 years old). Dr. King taught America: We will never have quiet consciences as long as racism prevails. Instead, we will try to cover over our consciences with dishonest slogans. The dishonest slogan of Southern American racism is: States’ Rights! But the fact is that no state has a right to make racism legal; it can’t be made legal. Not really, anyway. Because institutionalized racism (not to mention chattel slavery) will always disturb people of conscience.
Same thing goes for homosexuality, divorce, fornication, artificial contraception, etc. Ecclesiastical liberals cry: Collegiality! Authority belongs the local church! Rome needs to loosen the grip of her heavy hand! (So insisted the St. Gallen Mafia. And so insists Pope Francis.)
But these cries against “Roman centralization” ascend to heaven in vain. John Paul II didn’t make artificial contraception and homosexuality immoral. God made it immoral. Local authority cannot contravene laws that bind every human conscience.
Even our current sloganizing, gaslighting pope can’t silence the inner voice of truth that troubles people’s consciences. And Pope Francis’ attempts to do so–especially his false mercy to Theodore Edgar McCarrick–have disturbed my conscience. Mightily.