Pentecost Homily

[If I could preach on Pentecost, I would say this…]


I believe in the holy Catholic Church.

We say this in the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in the holy Catholic Church.” What do we mean, when we say this? [Spanish]

The Acts of the Apostles ends with an account of St. Paul’s legal battles in Israel. The Roman governors hardly knew what to do with the case. One of them tried to explain it like this: ‘I thought the Jews had an accusation against Paul of some real crime. But it turns out, the whole thing has to do with this Jesus of Nazareth. The Jews say He’s dead. Paul says He’s alive.’

Jesus appeared to His Apostles. Wounded in the flesh, but risen from the dead. His resurrection made the Eucharist the Eucharist.

We believe in the Church with the wounded, risen Body, and the living, divine Blood, of Jesus Christ. We believe in the Church where Jesus encounters us, on the altar. We believe in the Church where He offers Himself as our sacrifice, where He feeds us with Himself and unites us in Himself.

We belong to the Church that began in the Upper Room, with the Apostles as the first priests. God gave mankind something in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. God gave mankind His Christ, as a perpetual, mystical gift. We believe in the Church that has received, cherished, and disseminated this inexhaustible gift.

Trinity Shield“Gift” is one of the titles of the Holy Spirit. God gives Himself. God gives eternity, everything, infinite goodness and beauty. The Father gives that divine Gift to His only-begotten Son. From eternity unto eternity, He gives Himself.

There is no true Church without the eternal Love that binds the Father and the Son. When the Son became human in the womb of the Virgin, the divine Love began to show itself as Jesus’ religion, Jesus’ humble adherence to the will of the Father.

We believe in the holy Church of Jesus’ religion. The religion of Jesus reveals the eternal divine Love, the eternal Gift of everything. Jesus receives the Gift, and, with piety, He returns Love for Love. He receives the eternal infinite Gift. And He gives the eternal, infinite Gift.

We believe in the Church only because we believe in the Holy Spirit of Christ, the Gift of the eternal Father. We believe in the holy Catholic Church only because we believe in the Incarnation of the eternal Word, the second person of the Blessed Trinity.

But the thing is: We do believe in the Trinity, and in the Incarnation, since that’s what believing in Jesus means. And so we also believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

pentecost_with_maryGod founded our Church. Not us. We belong to our Church not like good citizens belong to a Rotary Club. Or even like lawyers belong to the bar association. We belong to the Church like children belong to their mother. We owe holy Mother Church our hope for heaven. She alone has given that hope to us. And She has given it to us with consummate humility, since She does not hesitate to admit that She Herself received it as a gift, from Jesus.

“I believe in the holy Catholic Church.” The situation involving the bishop and myself has a lot of us hanging on the edge of this particular article of the Creed. ‘Father, this is testing my Catholic faith. What if you don’t get justice?’ All I can say to this is: “I know the feeling.”

We have to wait and hold on. God rewards the patient.

After all, the holy Catholic Church is one enormously big and mysterious thing. It is an enormously big and mysterious bureaucracy, yes. But even the strange, cappuccino-fueled bureaucracy of the Vatican in AD 2020—even that bureaucracy sits as only a little toenail on the mysterious giant that is the holy Catholic Church.

The virus has interfered considerably with our commemoration of the bicentennial of our diocese. Pope Pius VII erected the Catholic diocese of Richmond, Virginia, in 1820.

The Vatican bureaucracy had its flaws then. An American churchman happened to find himself in Rome the preceding August, 1819, on the day when the Vatican made the final decision about establishing our diocese.

The Cardinal in charge of missionary dioceses gleefully told the American: ‘Guess what? The pope will establish a diocese in Virginia! The diocese of Hartford.’

The American had to produce a map. To convince the Cardinal that Hartford is the capital of Connecticut. The capital of Virginia is Richmond. Oops. The map finally convinced the Cardinal to re-word his memo to the pope.

Anyway, Pope Pius had a more-competent Cardinal serving as the Vatican Secretary of State at the time. Ercole Consalvi. A few years earlier, Cardinal Consalvi had a famous conversation with Napoleon Bonaparte.

“I will destroy the Church!” the French emperor had stormed. Consalvi replied: “That is unlikely. In 1800 years, the clergy has not succeeded in destroying it.”

I think we’ll survive these confusing days. Our precious Catholic faith will survive. May the Holy Spirit come. To give us all patient, persevering faith.

The Election of Pius VII

[another from the ‘God always has a plan’ file…] [also from the diocesan bicentennial file]

Claude Monet San Giorgio Maggiore
San Giorgio Maggiore, by Claude Monet

In Venice, Italy, across the water from the Doge’s Palace and the campanile of San Marco, the little island of San Giorgio Maggiore broods quietly.

Benedictine monks retired from the world to this island, for centuries. The famous Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio built the great church. Nowadays, you can ride a water taxi there, buy one of Venice’s more-expensive sandwiches in the café, and look out across the water at the entrance to the ancient naval arsenale.

But something quite unusual happened on the Venetian isle of San Giorgio Maggiore in late 1799 and early 1800.

San Giorgio Maggiore from Piazzetta San Marco John Henderson
Looking out from St. Mark’s square across the water to San Giorgio Maggiore (Photo by John Henderson)

Napoleon had conquered the city of Rome and expelled all the Cardinals. He took Pope Pius VI into exile in France, where the old pope died.

Now, Pius had foresight. The year before, he laid down a rule about what should happen, if a conclave could not occur in the Sistine Chapel. The Cardinals were to gather in the city which had produced the largest number of them.


Thirty-five Cardinals gathered at the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio. They took their votes in the monks’ night chapel.

It took three and a half months, with multiple apparent deadlocks in the voting. (At that time, the 2/3-majority requirement stood as an absolute rule.) Then they finally elected Pope Pius VII.

The last pope elected outside the city of Rome.

Twenty years later, that very pope–the one they elected in Venice–erected our humble Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.

John 17 + the Acadians

abandoned stationThe Seventh Sunday of Easter. A station where the trains no longer stop.

Lord Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after He rose from the dead. He ascended, therefore, on a Thursday.

But, for the past twenty years, most of us Catholics have commemorated the Ascension of Christ on the 43rd day. Our bishops decided it would suit people better to have the Solemnity of the Ascension on Sunday. (Theodore McCarrick preferred it that way.)

This replaced the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Now that liturgical day haunts us only as a phantom.

Thing is, we would read something kinda important at Mass, if we kept the Seventh Sunday of Easter. John 17. The priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, the message you delivered to Me, I have delivered to the men you singled out from the world and entrusted to Me. They have accepted it. They really understand that I come from You, and they believe that I am Your ambassador.

I am not long for the world. Holy Father! Keep them loyal to Your name, which You have given Me. Consecrate them in the service of the truth.

As You made Me Your ambassador to the world, so I make them My ambassadors to the world. I also pray for those who, through their preaching, will believe in Me. You love them as You love Me.

May the love with which You love Me dwell in them, as I dwell in them.

There’s more. The Lectionary apportions the entire chapter over the three-year Sunday cycle. I quote here just some passages. And I quote from the translation of James Kleist, which I find particularly moving.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church dedicates an entire article to John 17. St. Thomas Aquinas commented on this chapter of John: “Previously the Lord consoled His disciples by example and encouragement. Here He comforts them by His prayer.” I personally find bottomless comfort and consolation in reading John 17.

Neglecting to read John 17 at Sunday Mass seems almost as odd as it would be to neglect to read John 1 at Sunday Mass. The Prologue to the gospel.

Wait. We actually do neglect to read John 1 at Sunday Mass. Owing to similar circumstances. The Lectionary includes John 1 for the Second Sunday of Christmas. Another phantom station where the train never stops. Since the bishops moved the Solemnity of the Epiphany from January 6 to the second Sunday after Christmas.

Not sure the Fathers of Vatican II had this in mind, exactly. But we still have our Bibles, and know how to read. Thank God.

Today not only comes as the anniversary of the ordination of a certain clodhopper priest. We also keep the 265th anniversary of the British expedition from Boston that conquered Fort Beauséjour, in what is now Nova Scotia. (The expedition left Boston on May 22, 1755.) This conquest led to the Great Expulson of the Acadian people.

A rendering of Evangeline

The Acadians had lived in the maritime provinces of Canada for well over a century. French Catholics, they intermarried with the Mi’kmaq and created a distinct ethnicity. When the French colonial authorities abandoned Acadia, the Mi’kmaq refused to acknowledge British sovereignty.

After the British conquered Fort Beauséjour in early June, they proceeded to deport 11,500 Acadians, over the course of nine years. The Spanish helped many of them to re-locate to Louisiana. There, the “Acadians” became “Cajuns.” Still speaking their colonial French and still Catholic.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline sings the tragic tale of the displaced people.

A fellow seminarian, a Cajun, taught me all this history. It has stuck with me ever since. I take the moral as: God always has a plan.

Gulag Dispatch #4: Residence Update + Seeing Each Other

Cool Hand Luke in leg irons

Seventeen days ago, the bishop issued a decree prohibiting me from exercising priestly ministry. This decree has no apparent legal basis. Nonetheless, I must obey it, pending its appeal. Which will take some months, apparently.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, my canon lawyer and I notified the bishop that I intended to obey the prohibition, while we wait for the Vatican to act on the case. I told the temporary administrator of the parishes: I will maintain my normal routine of half-week residence in both towns, but I have no intention of interfering with your work.

The following day, the administrator handed me a no-trespass order for the church properties, including the two residences. Then he had the locks re-keyed.

I can only regard this as an act of violence against my person. It has taken me a couple weeks to recover from the shock. And I still have to contend with the danger of further thuggish bullying of this kind.

That said, the administrator’s attempt to lock me out of the properties has basically failed.

As things stand today, I continue my normal routine of half-week residence in the two rectories. Church law clearly accords me the right to do so, while we wait for the final disposition of my appeals of the bishop’s decrees 1. removing me as pastor, and 2. suspending my ministry.

Fra Angelico ordination

I miss everyone in the parishes a lot. All of us have had a difficult spring. Once-in-a-lifetime difficult. I know it will comfort me just to see the faces of the people I have missed for so long.

I will stand at the entrance to the parish property prior to all the Masses this weekend, to say hello. I will make a habit of doing this every weekend.

Also, we will have an opportunity to celebrate the anniversary of my ordination with a drive-thru party, at St. Joseph’s in Martinsville tomorrow afternoon, 4:00-6:00pm.

Look forward to seeing you, if you decide to make the trip to church this weekend. Or before Mass sometime soon. I very much appreciate your love and prayers. Count on mine for you.

Centenary of JPII’s Birth

st john paul ii

On Monday, we marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pope St. John Paul II. Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the late pope’s tomb. The Holy Father said:

John Paul went to find the people. Throughout the whole world, he went to visit his people, searching for his people, making himself close… A priest who is not close to his people is not a pastor. He’s a hierarch, an administrator, maybe even a good one, but he’s not a pastor.

Saint John Paul II gave us an example of this closeness, to the great and the small, to the close and the far away. He always drew them near.

Yes, that’s me on the left, on my way down to kiss the fisherman’s ring, March 9, 2000.

Twenty years ago, meeting John Paul II gave this particular seminarian great hope. I had read every word he ever wrote. I regarded him as the wisest man on earth. I wanted to become a priest like him.

But some other people could not see him this way. And for good reason.

On the occasion of the beatification of Pope John Paul II, Mr. Peter Isely wrote an essay. He got to the heart of a problem that has since come to preoccupy me a great deal.

We victims of priest abuse didn’t need a papal saint. We needed a Citizen-Saint, who embodied catholic citizenship as much as catholic sanctity, and who was as adept and insistent at forming such citizens among his seminarians, priests, and especially his bishops.

It is as a fellow citizen, humbly assuming this most ordinary role, where John Paul’s sanctity really fails. This failure is all the more dramatic with the late pope because he advocated so passionately as a “citizen of the world” for human rights around the world.

That advocacy clearly and decisively ended at the front door of the church.

Fellow citizens report child molesting clerics to the police. Fellow citizens eject sex offenders from professional employment with children and families.

The pope, who had the power to do both of these urgent citizen acts, never did the first, and made the second virtually impossible.

Citizenship, like holiness, requires sacrifice, defending if necessary, and dismantling if required, practices and traditions that attack the equality of rights regardless of one’s status (such as the basic human rights, say, of children inside the church). Concerning criminal priests, John Paul was never prepared, or saw no need for, the kind of sacrifice citizenship requires.

jp ii habemus papamIsely did not muse idly here. He wrote from personal experience:

In 1991, a group of some 30 survivors of childhood sexual molestation by priests and I wrote to Pope John Paul II in painstaking and excruciating detail of our harrowing experiences of being raped and sexually assaulted as youngsters while attending a boarding school for boys operated by the Capuchin Franciscan religious order in rural Wisconsin.

We delivered our letter, along with newspaper clippings, supporting legal documents, and videotaped depositions to the papal nuncio in Washington.

What we were hoping for from Pope John Paul II was justice.

What we received instead was a certified letter from the nuncio curtly informing us that our letters and documents had been acknowledged. We never heard anything more.

Hans Hermann Card. Groer
Hans Cardinal Groër

You may remember, dear reader, how we considered the Hans Card. Groër case. Between 1995 and 1998, evidence piled up against the Cardinal Archbishop.

The Vatican at first refused to act, then tried to lower Groër’s profile. Pope John Paul II visited Austria, apparently intending to smooth everything over by ignoring the problem. The visit just made the problem worse. The results of a Vatican “investigation” never saw the light of day.

Finally, the bishops of the country–over Vatican objections–publicly declared themselves “morally certain” that Groër had, in fact, sexually abused minors. Which was the closest to a guilty verdict that Groër ever came.

You also may remember, dear reader, how we considered Jason Berry and Gerald Renner’s book Vows of Silence, when we reviewed James’ Grein’s accusation against the late Joseph Card. Bernardin.


In the 1990’s, nine victims of the founder of the Legion of Christ found the clarity and courage to speak about the crimes they had suffered at the hands of the man they had trusted with their young lives.

On multiple occasions, different Church authorities in Mexico and the U.S. reviewed and endorsed the testimony, and sent it to the Vatican. Nothing happened.

Berry and Renner wrote, in 2004:

The Vatican is under no obligation to assist investigative journalists. In the seven years since we first contacted the office of the papal spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, for comment on accusations by nine ex-Legion members that Maciel had abused them, the Vatican refused comment.

No Vatican official ever told us Maciel was innocent. There was simply no answer to the accusations in media reports.

The charges that Vaca and others filed against Maciel in a Vatican court of canon law in 1998 were shelved: no decision. Instead, Pope John Paul in 2001 praised Maciel at a sixtieth anniversary celebration of the Legion’s founding.

That symbolic acquittal from a pope who championed human rights under dictatorships is a numbing message on the state of justice in the church.

Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005. I remember it like yesterday. I felt I had lost a father.

Maciel died in 2008, never having faced a trial. In 2010, the Vatican finally acknowledged:

The very grave and objectively immoral actions of Father Maciel, confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies, in some cases constitute real crimes and manifest a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning.

This life was unknown to the great majority of the Legionaries, above all because of the system of relationships constructed by Father Maciel, who was able skillfully to create alibis for himself, to obtain trust, confidence and silence from those around him, and to reinforce his personal role as a charismatic founder.

Not infrequently a deplorable discrediting and distancing of those who entertained doubts as to the probity of his conduct, as well as a misguided concern to avoid damaging the good that the Legion was accomplishing, created around him a defense mechanism that for a long time rendered him unassailable, making it very difficult, as a result, to know the truth about his life.

The sincere zeal of the majority of Legionaries led many people to believe that the increasingly insistent and widespread accusations could not be other than calumnies.

Therefore the discovery and the knowledge of the truth concerning the founder gave rise among the members of the Legion to surprise, dismay, and profound grief.

Do those of us who loved and admired Pope St. John Paul II have to undergo some form of the same grief?

Not that JPII himself abused anyone. But that, as a pastor, he had a willful blind spot? A blind spot the size of Texas, when it came to sexual abuse by the clergy?

Peter Isely put it like this:

It is likely John Paul, during his long tenure as pope, received hundreds, if not thousands of letters denouncing abusers in the clergy. Not one survivor, in writing or in person, was ever known to have received a direct reply from him.

The legacy of John Paul II has been, literally, sanctified by Popes Benedict and Francis as official church history. Part of that legacy, whose vast dimensions are still being uncovered, includes thousands of unprosecuted child molesting clerics.

Human Ascension into Heaven

[If I could preach on the Solemnity of the Ascension, I would say this…]

Pietro Perugino Ascension

Jesus ascended into heaven. [Spanish]

But wasn’t He always in heaven with God? Don’t we say: God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Eternal with the Father. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen?

Yes. But what about the earthly pilgrimage of the Lord Jesus? His human pilgrimage?

When did His earthly pilgrimage begin? Same place all human life begins—the mother’s womb. But, whereas our earthly pilgrimages end with… correct: death, Jesus’ earthly pilgrimage did not end with death.

A lot of people thought it had ended with His death. Usually when condemned men died on crosses in the occupied territories of the Roman Empire, that spelled the end of that particular person’s earthly pilgrimage. When Jesus gave up His spirit and bowed His Sacred Head in death—it seemed to all observers that a human pilgrimage had ended.

But in this case, it had not. By no means. He rose from the dead on the third day, Easter Sunday morning. And He spent another forty days as a human pilgrim on earth. Walking, eating, talking, etc., like we do. Except that now He could not die. Because in His human flesh, He had already overcome the power of death.

Jesus’ resurrection has taught us that death does not go on forever, like infinity. It has a limit. And Jesus’ human life extends beyond that limit of death.

unbornIf you find this difficult to grasp, it’s no wonder.

Let’s go back for a moment to the beginning of Jesus’ human pilgrimage, in the womb of the Virgin. We have a hard time really grasping, really getting a lock on that reality.

After all, we have a hard time conceiving fully the reality of any human conception. Do I understand fully how I myself came to be in my mother’s womb? How my human pilgrimage began? Does my mind ‘get’ every aspect of it? Every biological, historical, relational, anatomical, nutritional, sociological, ontological aspect of my own conception in my own mother’s womb? Hardly. And there are lots of other aspects besides. I for one cannot claim to understand fully even a single one of those aspects.

Then, in Jesus’ case, you throw in something else. When the Holy Spirit conceived Him in Mary’s womb, God Almighty, eternal and ineffable, began a human pilgrimage. God became a tiny baby. That’s what we call a genuinely unfathomable mystery.

Guess what: The same degree of mystery attends the end of the Lord’s pilgrimage. We believe in the Incarnation, because God has given us the gift of faith. We need that same gift of divine faith to hold in our minds the sublime reality of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven.

Yes, we know as a simple fact that His earthly pilgrimage did end. But it ended like this: Not in a cemetery, but with a human being, body and soul, entering into…

Heaven. The realm of God. Eternity. Perpetual peace. Utter happiness that nothing can disturb. Endless joyful music that never gets boring. A meal that never leaves you tired or bloated. Fearless, comforting friendship. Wisdom with no darkness at all.

The pilgrimage of the Lord Jesus ended with this.

In this, and in nothing less, lies our Christian hope. In our pilgrimage on earth, we must often drink the cup of bitterness. This world, beautiful as it can be, does not know justice. It does not know truth. We will truly enjoy happiness only when we share in the undisturbed communion that binds the divine Father with the divine Son.

Jesus, every bit as human as we are, has entered into that communion completely. Therefore, we fellow human beings can hope to get there, too.

Gulag Dispatch #3: Re-opening and Pure Pain

We last gathered for Sunday Mass on March 15.

Since then, the teenagers have had growth spurts and gotten taller. The babies have fleshed-out and gotten beefier. Men have grown beards, shaved them, and grown them again. Some young people have graduated from school via Zoom.

We decided on April 19 that we would weep together for joy when we could finally have public Mass again. Like the Israelites, who had languished in Babylonian captivity, finally returning to Jerusalem.

After all, this Christianity thing: it really does require our coming together. For the Holy Sacrifice. Our souls get frayed at the edges without the Mass. We lose our peace, our anchor, our air.

This Sunday the long-awaited moment will come.

It will be awkward. With screening questions at the door, spacing in the pew, sanitizing like mad. The tears of joy will get the mandatory mask all wet. The normal rhythms of Sunday Mass will not sound. It will feel like religion in a doctor’s office.

But we will have Mass again. The captives will return to Zion, with Alleluias.

I won’t be there.

Words fail me, to describe the pain. May I borrow the plaints of William Shakespeare’s Lucrece?


Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå
Lucretia by Paolo Veronese

I alone must sit and pine,

Seasoning the earth with showers of silver brine,

Mingling my talk with tears, my grief with groans,

Poor wasting monuments of lasting moans.


O Opportunity, thou murder’st troth;

Thou foul abettor! thou notorious bawd!

Thou plantest scandal and displacest laud:

Thou ravisher, thou traitor, thou false thief,

Thy honey turns to gall, thy joy to grief!


When wilt thou be the humble suppliant’s friend,

And bring him where his suit may be obtain’d?

When wilt thou sort an hour great strifes to end?

Or free that soul which wretchedness hath chain’d?

Give physic to the sick, ease to the pain’d?


Time’s glory is to calm contending kings,

To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light,

To stamp the seal of time in aged things,

To wake the morn and sentinel the night,

To wrong the wronger till he render right,


Why work’st thou mischief in thy pilgrimage,

Unless thou couldst return to make amends?

One poor retiring minute in an age

Would purchase thee a thousand thousand friends…


Out, idle words, servants to shallow fools!

Unprofitable sounds, weak arbitrators!

Busy yourselves in skill-contending schools;

Debate where leisure serves with dull debaters;

To trembling clients be you mediators.


In vain I spurn at my confirm’d despite:

This helpless smoke of words doth me no right.

This is how painfully I will miss welcoming my people back to church.

I will celebrate Mass. The suspension of my priestly faculties does not deprive me of that privilege; I simply must celebrate privately.

So the sacred mysteries will unite us, even though I won’t be there to share the tears of joy, after so long an exile.

Pure pain comes our way sometimes. We cling to Christ, in His Church.

We need Him. And we need Her, too. We need His grace more than air. And we breathe His grace like air, at Holy Mass, in church.

Guest Post: EmilyMarie Anderson

[published here at the request of the author]

A Letter, to anybody and everybody,

My name is EmilyMarie Anderson and I am 18 years old. Tonight, I sat in the dark thinking about my priest alone in a house that he has essentially been locked into. I thought about my best friend’s letter which our Father put out onto his blog. This isn’t going to be as eloquent, but I have a few things to say.

This is your “troublesome priest:”

I began my journey into the Catholic world at around 16. I was raised Baptist, and had a lot of uneasy feelings about the Catholic Church. This was a church with a leader that they treated like God. They prayed to dead people and worshiped statues… (Or so I thought.)

But my heart felt alone. I knew there was more than the Baptist world. In the Baptist world, you go to a super-long service, involving big songs and the longest sermon you can imagine. When you walk in there, you’re loud and you’re talking. When the pastor makes a point you yell out ‘Amen’ in a country accent. At least, that was my church. My church had an orchestra and all these colored lights. The songs were long, with key changes and solos. To describe my Baptist church in one word: extravagant.

El Greco Virgin Mary

In all of that, I felt so alone. As I grew closer and closer to God, I just felt like there was more. Where was I to find it?

So I did some digging with the people I knew and I emailed this guy, Mark White. I sent him this huge email about what I was feeling. I told him that I wasn’t going to convert to Catholicism most likely, I just wanted to know what was true and what wasn’t.

I remember my excitement when he replied, and he told me the facts. He said something along the lines of “you must have a lot of faith in God to email a Catholic priest.” I’m sure he meant I was reaching far out of the comfort zone of the Baptist church, into the unknown.

But I felt it differently. It was difficult. It was difficult to reach out to a Catholic priest. I could only imagine what my family would think. I was so scared his next email would be for me to meet him somewhere, and that is the honest truth. I was so worried that I was talking to a child molester.

I grew to trust him extremely quickly. He wasn’t one of those priests. This man kept up an email conversation basically up to the present. He would email me back with the utmost thought-provoking, encouraging answers about a week after I sent him an unimaginably long list of questions.

Somewhere along the journey, I felt comfortable calling him Father. Not only because I had fallen in love with the Catholic Church (through his guidance and ever-knowledgeable answers), but because that is simply what he was to me. I was able to confide in him. He understood my worries about joining the Church. He understood my love for the Church, my joy in finding this insane universe I didn’t realize had existed. He was and is a dad to me. A father.

So the Church turned out not to be the Satan-infested hole I thought it was. But there was one more thing that stuck with me… What about this abuse scandal? My parents and I were having a hard enough time navigating this change in our lives without hearing news about the Big Bad Catholic Church on the car radio.

Boston Globe 2002

I learned how to defend the Church in every other way. Why Mary? I got you! Why Confession? I can explain! What’s up with Communion? Well if you look right here in your handy-dandy Bible…

But then there’s this one; “So, what about the abuse scandal?” What on earth am I supposed to say to that?

My basic spiel is “God gave authority to the Church to make doctrinal decisions that were directed by Him. But ultimately, the Church is made out of people. People make mistakes.” Okay, simple enough. Now comes the, “But didn’t the Pope, like, try to cover everything up?”

Where do we go from here?

My priest, Father Mark, helped me make sense of this. I don’t have to support the covering-up of bad stuff. I don’t have to love those mistakes. I can hate the mistakes and love the Church. Remember the whole hate the sin, love the sinner thing? Our God is so amazingly wonderful that He can love us so much that He hates the thing that hurts us without hating us. That’s what we are called to do, right? Hate the thing that hurts us without hating the people who caused the hurting?

I had it all sorted out. I was going to be Catholic, and I knew what to say when people asked the dreaded question involving the scandals. I started going to Mass.

There he was. He walks in, in his big old Catholic robes. He is celebrating God. You can see it, as he walks in, as he bows down. He takes his glasses off when he isn’t speaking, and he looks slightly up, as if he can see God a little better that way. He smiles just a little bit here and there throughout the Mass, as if this is the true delight of his soul.

That’s your “troublesome priest” folks. The guy who got someone else to tell me that he was going to be at the other parish during my Confirmation, because he didn’t want to let me down. The guy who replied to my endless emails within a week. This goofy man has no ill intent. He loves the Church. It is almost funny to think that anyone could see this man and think he was committing some horror, especially against the Church.

What the Church needs is to heal. Every person who makes up the Church needs to look at themselves and find what is broken within them and give it to God. Every person in the Church needs to strive to be the Church of Christ again. The Church herself needs to go to Confession; openly admit what has been wrong, and find out how to fix it.

The good Lord has a reason for this; everything is a blessing. So I beg everyone who sees this to look inside themselves and ask God to make good of what is bad. Heal the Church. God’s will be done.

-EmilyMarie Anderson

Gulag Dispatch #2: Donald Wuerl, Please Recuse Yourself

A few weeks ago, I wrote about priestly obedience and appealing a superior’s decision. In the Church, we call such appeals hierarchical recourse.

Father John Coughlin wrote a ten-page article outlining the idea, which you can read by clicking HERE.

Caravaggio The Musicians
The Musicians by Caravaggio

Perhaps you ask, dear reader: Whither goes my appeal of our bishop’s decree removing me as pastor of the parishes here? To a Vatican tribunal called the Congregation for the Clergy.

St. Charles Borromeo founded this particular Roman congregation in 1564, at the behest of Pope Pius IV. Originally, this “department” of the Vatican served to interpret the decrees of the Council of Trent.

A later prefect of the Congregation supported Michelangelo Caravaggio financially. Cardinal del Monte originally owned “The Musicians.” The painting now resides at the Met, in New York City. (Currently in storage, unfortunately.)

The late John Card. Wright, one-time bishop of Pittsburgh, Pa., also served as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. Holding that post made Cardinal Wright the highest-ranking American in Rome, at the time of Pope St. John Paul II’s election to the papacy. Who served Wright as priest secretary? Father Donald Wuerl.


Who sits on the Congregation now? Hard to say.

We parish priests dutifully publish the names of the members of our pastoral and finance councils. But the Holy Father in Rome does not see fit to make available to the general public the full roster of the members of the tribunal that will consider my appeal.

Beniamino Card. Stella currently serves as prefect. The ‘star,’ so to speak 🙂 Stella means star in Italian.

Archbishop Joel Mercier serves as secretary. Father Andrea Ripa, under-secretary. Archbishop Jorge Patron Wong, of Mexico, also appears to be a member of the Congregation.

According to googled news articles, in 2014, Pope Francis appointed Rainer Card. Woelki of Berlin, Giuseppe Card. Betori of Florence, and Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius, Lithuania.

They joined the nineteen members already serving, which include: Marc Card. Ouellet, Sean Card. O’Malley. And Donald Card. Wuerl.

wuerl miter

Googled news reports mention a total of 22 members. But it doesn’t seem possible to know for sure, without inside knowledge. No one ever said our Church was a “transparent” organization. (Or if they did say that, they lied.)

We have discussed Donald Card. Wuerl here before. In 2011, he helped me fulfill my dream of serving in a diocese more priest-strapped than my hometown. He and the late Francis Xavier DiLorenzo made it possible for me to transfer to Richmond. For that I am grateful.

From 1988 to 2006, Wuerl served as bishop of Pittsburg, Pa. In August of 2018, many Pennsylvania Catholics found themselves scandalized by revelations about him in the famous Grand-Jury Report.

Not a Pennsylvanian myself, I don’t know much about that. I do, however, know:

Donald Wuerl failed the clergy and the people of the Archdiocese of Washington that August. His inability go grasp the widespread sense of betrayal left the decent people of his city speechless.

He had to resign as Archbishop.

Robert Ciolek New York Times
Robert Ciolek (New York Times photo)

But things actually got worse from there. Wuerl remained as “Administrator” of the Archdiocese for eight months. During that time, the Vatican convicted and defrocked Theodore McCarrick, without disclosing any information about the case.

Wuerl had known about one of McCarrick’s victims, Mr. Robert Ciolek, since the fall of 2004. Ciolek wanted to understand why Wuerl covered-up for McCarrick all those years. Ciolek tried to have a conversation with Wuerl, to no avail. So Ciolek went to the Washington Post. Here’s a quote from the report:

Ciolek shared his story with The Post with regret, he said, because he had first asked repeatedly to meet with Wuerl and was ultimately rebuffed, after being given a list of proposed restrictions by the D.C. archdiocese’s chancellor and general counsel. Among them, he said: If he met with Wuerl, he could not take notes, record, or ask questions.

Ciolek went on to say:

It’s belittling to me as a victim of abuse to have him as a priest and leader of the church to overlook, ignore, or lie about what he knows I shared. It’s just beyond disrespectful in terms of what he signals to me… It’s as if I don’t exist. It belittles the significance of the events themselves.

The situation scandalized the conscientious people of the Archdiocese. The Washington Post editorialized about it on January 13 of last year:

When allegations came to light last year [2018] of sexual abuse and inappropriate conduct involving children and seminarians by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who succeeded Mr. McCarrick as leader of the Washington archdiocese, expressed shock and denied prior knowledge.

Now it turns out Wuerl was presented in 2004 with an account of Mr. McCarrick’s alleged misconduct, which he relayed to the Vatican. Then: nothing.

In the ongoing tsunami of revelations about the Catholic Church’s willful blindness, conspiracy of silence and moral bankruptcy on clergy sex abuse, this particular revelation encapsulates characteristics that continue to dog the church: callousness directed at victims; an insistence on denial and hairsplitting; and the hierarchy’s preference for treating allegations as internal matters, as if the world’s 1.2 billion lay Catholics were an irrelevance.

In response to the revelation that Wuerl was fully aware of, and handled, an allegation from a former priest about Mr. McCarrick’s misconduct more than 14 years ago, the Washington archdiocese issued a statement suggesting that his previous flat denials were merely “imprecise.”

In fact, the cardinal’s comments last summer [2018] were unequivocal. In response to a broad question about “long-standing rumors or innuendos” posed by a reporter, he said, “I had not heard them” before or during his tenure in Washington. That was untrue.

As it happens, Wuerl, then-bishop of Pittsburgh, not only was presented with allegations of Mr. McCarrick’s misconduct by a former priest named Robert Ciolek. To his credit, he also swiftly brought that information to the Vatican’s attention in a meeting with the pope’s ambassador in Washington.

Yet Mr. McCarrick remained as archbishop of Washington for nearly two more years and suffered no discipline until last year.

Understandably, Ciolek is outraged that Wuerl, having known of his allegations for years, denied knowledge of them last year.

On my ordination anniversary last spring (May 24), I wrote about the disenchantment many of us felt about all this. The office of Archbishop of Washington seems mired in perpetual dishonesty. Here’s a quote:

Donald Wuerl knew fifteen years ago that McCarrick had sexually abused seminarians and young priests. This past Tuesday, Wilton Gregory, the newly arrived successor in Washington, praised Donald Wuerl as “above all, a true Christian gentleman.”

But let’s imagine a true Christian gentleman, reading the sworn testimony of one of McCarrick’s victims, in the fall of 2004. Wouldn’t a true Christian gentleman, in Donald Wuerl’s place, think to himself: I need to see justice done here. I have a duty to this poor soul. May God help me to do right by him.

Instead, Wuerl obsequiously sent the whole thing to Rome and washed his hands of it. In the Vatican, they masterminded the McCarrick cover-up. And Wuerl has hidden behind the supposed virtue of filial obedience to the pope ever since.

As I have mentioned before, over the course of five months, I repeatedly asked Bishop Barry Knestout to identify which posts here he disliked. He would not do so.

But then Bishop K wrote to the parishioners of the parishes. He identified some objectionable posts. Prior to the Decree of Removal itself, I never received a single document about my “case,” other than that letter to my parishioners.

In his letter to the parishioners, Bishop Knestout identifies the post I just quoted as one of the five I have written that have damaged ecclesiastical communion.

Seems to me, therefore, that the integrity of the judicial process would demand: Donald Wuerl should not sit in judgment of this case, whenever the Congregation considers it. He has a personal interest in the evidence at hand. He cannot remain impartial. An honest judge would recuse himself, under these circumstances.

If they need a substitute, I nominate Robert Ciolek.