The College of Lying Cowards

Gregory installation

“I have called you friends,” says the Lord. (John 15:15)

Sixteen years ago today, I had an explanation in my mind for the state of the Church in America. Over the course of last summer, 2018 quickly became the worst year in the history of American Catholicism. But before that, 2002—the year before my ordination—held the title.

We had learned just how many millions upon millions upon millions of dollars the Catholic bishops of the USA had paid out in hush-money, to cover up crimes.

As I knelt to be ordained, I thought I had a plausible explanation for this. A Romanian-priest friend of mine had pointed out to me: In Romania, people would never hold the diocese responsible for the crime of a single priest. They would hold the priest himself responsible.

In America, my thinking went, dioceses had to contend with the deep anti-Catholic prejudice of our country. The typical American conceives of the Catholic Church as a suspicious foreign enterprise. So American courts treat the Church unfairly. The bishops really had no choice but to pay big settlements.

After all, we all knew too well how much anti-Catholicism this country harbors. During 2002, the lampoonists of press and screen had open season on Catholic priests. Everyone refrained from any caricature of Muslim leaders, for fear of a cruel backlash after 9/11. But you could mock Catholic priests en masse, as twisted sexual perverts, with total impunity. Just like you can now.

McCarrick ordinationToday, however—sixteen years later—I know different. We all know that anti-Catholicism does not explain the endless settlements paid by dioceses in sex-abuse cases.

The revelations of the past year have taught us: the bishops did not make all those payments to protect the victims, or the Church—or because prejudice stacked the legal deck against them. The bishops paid the hush-money to protect themselves. They had everything to lose, if the truth about their dereliction of duty came out. The bishops paid to “protect” people from scandal—not scandal about the sins of priests, but scandal over their own incompetence as enforcers of ecclesiastical law.

One bridge spans the sixteen years I have been a priest: the cover-up of the crimes of the very man who ordained me. His successor in office, 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.

Lord Jesus calls us His friends. Friends don’t let friends betray what they supposedly stand for. Friends don’t let friends cover up crimes of sexual abuse—even if one of those friends is a Cardinal, or even the pope.

On Tuesday, Donald Wuerl strode in last, at the end of the procession, when his successor was to be installed. The end of the procession is, of course, the place of honor. Fitting that Cardinal Wuerl took that place. He presides, with unique distinction, over the College of Lying Cowards that sat there in their miters in the Shrine on Tuesday.

…Sixteen years in, and this is the priest you have, my dear ones! Let’s keep loving God and His Christ together, one day at a time. Jesus reigns. The One to Whom we must answer, when everything is said and done, is He.

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Old And New

Behold, I make all things new. (Revelation 21:5)

This is what the One who sat on the throne in heaven said, according to the vision of St. John. We read this in our second reading at Sunday Mass. [Spanish]

Christ our King speaks to us from His throne of victory. He says to us, ‘My children, you have grown old. Sin and worldliness have exhausted you. You can barely lift up your eyes to see the sunlight. But, behold!’ He says, ‘I make all things new!’

fatherThe world is old. Only God really knows just how old it is. There was a moment when God said, “Let there be light,” and it was “the beginning.” That was a long, long time ago.

Many generations have come and gone since then. Many nations and peoples have had long histories, and then vanished. The Tutelo and the Catawba stalked deer with bow and arrow right where our little church sits. They did it for centuries. They never watched television.  They never even heard of the Mueller Report or baby Archie.

Can we imagine all the bones of all the generations of our dead ancestors buried in the soil of the earth? Think of how deeply buried the oldest bones must be!

So, we see: The world is old. The good Lord speaks to us about a serious problem that we have. Our world is so old, it’s disturbing for us to think about it. Kind of like how disturbing it is for me to think about how old many of my undershirts are.

The world is much, much older. We start to worry: Is this world of ours just going to give out on us, one of these days?  How much use and abuse can it take?

And, listen—we know some beautiful young people. But let’s face facts: It’s not just the world that is old. Many of us are kinda old, too.

I used to be able to play a mean game of basketball. I could even dunk. But then I had to retire. I am too old to play basketball. It got to be too dangerous. I could still score sometimes, but for every twenty or so points I would score, I would sprain something. My ankle, my hand. My ego. Basketball is fun when you’re young. When you’re old, it is just plain dangerous.

We get old and worn out. We start to wonder if we really have the energy to deal with things. When I was a kid, I never understood how my dad could say, on a sunny evening, “I would love to toss the football with you, son, but I am just too tired.”

But then you get old, and you understand. You think to yourself things like: ‘Washington Redskins have a new young-phenom starting quarterback. We’ve been down this road before. I can’t take another fizzle like RGIII. I don’t think I have the strength.’

Old and tired. It happens. But the Lord Jesus says to us: ‘Children, behold.  I make all things new.’

behold-i-make-all-things-new

Remember the movie, The Passion of the Christ? In the movie, when the Lord Jesus carries the cross to Calvary, the Blessed Mother says to St. John, “Get me close to Him.”

St. John leads her past the crowd. The Lord falls under the weight of the cross. His mother runs to comfort her son. She weeps with pain as she caresses His bloody face. She sees that His strength is completely spent.

But then He opens His eyes and gazes at her with blazing power. He shoulders the heavy cross again. He whispers to her, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Our Sunday gospel reading comes from the account of the Last Supper. Judas had left the Upper Room and stolen out into the night to betray Christ. Knowing all that was about to take place, the Lord Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified.”

Christ made all things new by submitting Himself to every violent blow that the sinful world could land on Him. He did not flinch. He did not turn away.

The broken, old world raged against the anointed One and beat Him to the point of utter exhaustion. But He did not collapse. He did not fall away from His Father. Instead, He made an offering.

The broken, bruised, and exhausted Son of God lifted up all His pain—lifted up His very death–to heaven, and said, “Father, I offer You my body, my blood, my soul. I offer You the divinity We have shared since before the world was made. I offer it all, everything I have, every last drop—I offer it in sacrifice to atone for all the sins of mankind. Accept it, and forgive. Give the world a fresh start. Give the human race a chance to start over, to be young again.”

Then He breathed His last.

Until the third day. Then He began to breathe again. He rose from the dead. He made all things new.

Pro-Life Turning Point + Pro-Choice Hysteria

President John Tyler
President John Tyler

Many people seem to be talking about state-law ‘challenges’ to Roe v. Wade. You might remember how we talked last Independence Day about how this turning-point in our history was coming.

We acknowledge: Many people fear such a significant change in our national way of life. We have to sympathize with that fear. We commit ourselves to vindicating the rights that every expectant mother has. Those don’t include having someone kill the baby. But they do include: support, without judgment; the best medical care; a helping hand.

Maybe a lot of the pro-choice hysteria of the past couple days springs from fear. Fear of change and fear of the unknown. But we can hardly hope that the Supreme Court would ever turn Roe v. Wade completely on its head and make abortion illegal in all fifty states. Rather, it seems like we’re headed towards: red-state/blue-state regional variations in abortion law.

Which means, of course, that here in purple Virginia we will have the pro-life fight of a lifetime on our hands.

unborn…Why are we pro-life? Do we have a ‘religious conviction’ that life begins at conception? Actually, we have airtight scientific evidence that it does.

Do we want to ‘impose our religion’ on others? Well, did the slavery abolitionists of two centuries ago intend to ‘impose their religion?’ Plenty of people said that they did, including US President and native Virginian John Tyler.

Does prohibiting abortion by law mean ‘going backwards?’ Hardly. It means keeping the unfilled promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Maybe some people call themselves ‘pro-life’ out of sexism or prudishness. If so, that doesn’t mean that innocent and defenseless unborn children should face death with no legal protection, just because some of their advocates have imperfect motives.

No one thinks that the slaves in the South should have stayed slaves because some northern abolitionists were hypocrites, or because Abraham Lincoln himself had confused–and not altogether humane–ideas about blacks.

Whatever happens in the statehouses and courts, we have a clear mission. Serenely to love every human being. We do that out of religious conviction. That’s our way of ‘imposing’ our religion—loving our neighbors selflessly, unconditionally, and generously.

We can and should hope that the turning-point for which we have prayed for two generations will come. And January 22nd won’t mean anymore what it has meant since 1973. And the Pro-Life Movement will step into a new phase.

In the meantime, our job is to pray and stay close to The Life, Jesus Christ.

The Word of God + Eric Clapton

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priest

All four gospels have two parts. Part I of each gospel covers everything before the Passion. Part II recounts the Passion and Resurrection.

The verses of St. John’s gospel that we read at Holy Mass today conclude his Part I. They serve as a kind of ‘closing argument,’ so to speak, about Who Jesus is.

He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. He is God made man. He speaks not a human opinion about God; rather, He is God revealing Himself to us human beings.

We find ourselves struggling always to navigate between two possible deadly traps. On the one hand: talking about God without any discipline or restraint. As if we could know that God “wants” this or “doesn’t want” that. As if we could know that God “likes” this or “doesn’t like” that. The world abounds with preachers and other well-meaning people who try to domesticate the awesome, unfathomable majesty of the Creator. And the absurdity of a human being claiming to understand God—it’s enough to push a sober skeptic over the line into atheism.

On the other hand, God has not left us in the dark about Himself—about His plan, His will. No. He sent His only-begotten Son. The words Jesus has spoken are spirit and life. The Redemption He brought about is real. He lives and reigns, and He shares His grace with us through the means that He Himself established. We didn’t make it all up–the sacraments and the New Testament.

Which brings us to an interesting twist in the verses that we read at Mass today. At first, the Lord refers to His words, in the plural. But then He changes to word, singular, when He refers to the final judgment.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains this:

Christ revealed Himself in His sayings. He announced Himself. He, therefore, is the word that He spoke.

God has spoken. His one and only eternal and infinite Word. Jesus Christ.

PS. Back in 1986, I listened to Eric Clapton’s August so many times that I wore out the tape in the cassette. But I was holed-up in a monastery when this incredible event occurred in 1996. I never knew about it, until a friend alerted me…

Universal Mission, Grassroots Apostolate

El Greco St Peter keys

God has granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles, too. (Acts 11:18)

That message penetrated the minds of the first Christians during the lifetime of the original Apostles. The Messiah had come not just for the kosher-keeping Jews, but for everyone.

Apparently, St. Peter had as hard a head about this as he did about everything. A voice from heaven declared, regarding non-kosher foods: “Get up, Peter. Slaughter, and eat.” “Certainly not, sir. Nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.”

You would think that a voice from heaven making this point once would suffice. But, as we read, in St. Peter’s case, it required three repetitions. Just like how he denied Christ three times, and then professed his love for Christ three times, after Jesus rose from the dead.

Anyway: We have a universal mission. God has revealed His love in Christ, and the message is meant for everyone. Every Christian must serve the apostolate, and our apostolate must, by God’s grace, reach everyone.

What do we have to do? Stay close to Christ through the sacraments, prayer, and the Scriptures. Love God and our neighbors. Hold the faith with clear consciences. Communicate the Gospel as best we can.

We can do these things, peacefully, until we die. God has a long-term plan for the future of His Church, which we don’t need to know. We just need to serve the grassroots apostolate of Christian love right here and now.

Some Problems with the New Rules

PG-13

1. In the preface to Vos Estis Lux Mundi, Pope Francis insists that we cultivate holiness, so that crimes of sexual abuse “never happen again.”

Problem is: this sentiment discourages victims from speaking. Sex abuse not only happens in secret, it involves long-term, merciless brainwashing. The abuser twists reality to make the victim believe: a. there’s nothing wrong going on here at all; it’s actually beautiful love; and b. telling anyone would destroy the beautiful intimacy we have.

A great and marvelous miracle occurs whenever a sex-abuse victim finds the clarity to recognize: I am the victim of a crime that merits imprisonment. I will crawl out from under the cloak of deception that this abuser has thrown over me, and I will speak the truth, holding nothing back, mincing no words. Not sure I can survive the ordeal, but I can’t live in the web of lies anymore.

Sean Connery Macbeth
Sean Connery and Zoe Caldwell as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

The last thing anyone in this situation needs is for the authority that can and must do justice against the abuser to insist shrilly that: ‘Such things must never happen!’ Of coure, they shouldn’t happen. All sane people know that. But, in fact, they do happen.

A victim needs someone to listen–someone who is not sorry that the victim is speaking. Angry that it happened, yes. Ready to right the wrong. But realistic enough to know that, in this fallen world, we need clear procedures and penalties to deal with the crime of sexual abuse–because it happens. It happens all the daggone time. We are a fallen race of sinners, we human beings.

2. In his motu proprio, Pope Francis outlaws sexual acts by clerics and religious with a minor, defining a ‘minor’ as under 18. As far as clerics, this law already stood, defined as ‘the delict against the sixth commandment’ with a minor.

At first glance, both phrases seem clear enough–‘delict against the sixth commandment’ and ‘sexual acts.’ Problem is: it’s actually not anywhere near as clear as it first appears.

A spectrum spans from: a social-media message intended to ‘groom’ a victim, on one end, to: actual sexual penetration, on the other. Where on that spectrum does the proscribed delict begin? Flirty talk? Kissing? Fondling? Of course all of these are wrong. But not every wrong thing is a crime.

McCarrick ordination

A billion-dollar industry has grown up in the Catholic Church in the US to try to prevent sexual abuse of minors. Criminal background checks, training, certifications, etc. A whole professional class has emerged in this area.

Everyone must watch out for ‘grooming.’ Sexual abuse almost never occurs without a long period of grooming preceding it. So we rightly strive to prevent grooming.

Problem is: ‘Grooming’ does not fall under criminal law. Because a perfectly innocent social overture–one that might even have real Christian charity for its motivation–can look exactly like an act of grooming. It’s not illegal to send someone a facebook message. And yet a facebook message can lead to a misplaced sense of trust, which can lead to a channel of secret communication, which can lead to sexual abuse.

I do not hold myself out as a canonical or safe-environment expert, by any means. I merely intend to point out that the motu proprio not only did not solve this issue, it didn’t even address it.

3. Pope Francis has outlawed: “forcing someone [anyone–even an adult], through the abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts.” [emphasis added]

I guess we could call this “The McCarrick Law.” Apparently, he clearly abused his authority to get sex. After all, the pope convicted him of breaking this law (even before it was on the books) in a summary administrative procedure, without a full trial.

But: If it was as clear as all that, why wasn’t McCarrick convicted by Pope Benedict, back in 2006? We generally regard Pope Benedict as a sober, upright man. Why didn’t he recognize a case of criminal abuse, if the matter was so crystal-clear?

McCarrick ordained me a transitional deacon 18 years ago today. On that day, I thought of him as an amazingly talented, crushingly self-centered, charming tyrant. He gave the Archdiocese of Washington a huge amount of energy that it had not previously had. He appeared utterly uninterested in anything having to do with theology. He was a flawed man. He was no walking demon.

On May 13, 2001, many churchmen, who we then regarded as at least somewhat reasonable–including Pope John Paul II–knew something about McCarrick’s sexual life. They had not concluded that his actions amounted to crimes.

My point is: I think anyone who has ever served in the military knows: The line between criminal abuse of authority in a sexual relationship, on the one hand, and a consensual affair, on the other: by no means crystal-clear.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do grave evils. Who convinced whom to do them? Did Macbeth abuse his authority over his wife? Or did she seduce him into committing murder–to satisfy her ambition? The answer is: Yes.

Criminal laws on paper accomplish nothing without competent investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges–and principles of application of the laws, based on acquired experience. Pope Francis has given us: the paper. We don’t have the rest.

Good Shepherd: Priest, Prophet, King

goodshepherdMy sheep hear my voice, and they follow Me. [Spanish]

The Lord Jesus shepherds us. We talked about this two weeks ago.

Shepherds guide sheep, care for them, protect them, provide for them. Sheep cannot live without their shepherd. So the image of the shepherd and his sheep offers us an excellent metaphor for our relationship with Christ—a metaphor so excellent that He Himself employed it.

But we need to expand the metaphor in order to grasp its significance fully. Christ is the shepherd of our souls. And He shepherds us by being our priest, our prophet, and our king.

1. Our priest. We need a relationship with God Almighty, the mysterious, the awesome, the one omnipotent truth and beauty. Jesus shepherds us in that relationship.

On the cross, Christ acted as a priest, offering Himself to the Father, in order to reconcile all of creation with her Creator. All of us share in Christ’s priesthood when we offer ourselves to the Father along with the Body and Blood of Christ crucified. In the Holy Mass, Jesus joins our offering of ourselves to God with His offering of Himself to God.

Without Christ as our priest, we would not know how to offer ourselves honestly and well. We would have no real hope that any offering we made of ourselves would actually please the Father.

But when Christ our Good Shepherd unites our offering of ourselves with His offering of Himself—which is precisely what happens at Mass—then we can rest in the peace of knowing that God does accept the sacrifice.

He smiles on it. It pleases Him. Our sacrifice of ourselves to God does bring about peace and friendship; it harmonizes us with heaven. Because we share in the priesthood of our Good Shepherd and High Priest, Jesus of Nazareth.

Christ Good Shepherd

2. Our prophet. We need to know the truth. We need insight into the great mystery of life. We need to understand somehow why we exist and what we should do. We need to know what ultimate goal we can seek.

Our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ reveals all this to us. We have a Father in heaven Who loves everything that He made. He wills our growth, our fruitfulness, our ultimate happiness. He united Himself to us personally, so as to share His life with us. He has made us His adopted children and has prepared a heavenly inheritance for us. He forgives repentant sinners. He rewards self-sacrificing love.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son. The Good News. The world does not know Him, but we know Him. And He has entrusted to us the message of God’s undying love.

He has given us ‘the key of knowledge,’ so to speak. Jesus Christ makes human life make sense. Jesus alone has spoken to the human race the truth about itself. With Him as our teacher and source of heavenly information, we can deal with anything. Without Him, we inevitably destroy ourselves, one way or the other.

Leo_Great3. Our king. Here’s a quote from Pope St. Leo the Great: What indeed is as royal for a soul as to govern the body in obedience to God?

Jesus used the cross as His altar, as we remembered earlier. But He also used the cross as His throne. From the cross, He reigned over all things.

Now, worldly selfishness cannot conceive of the cross as a throne. But worldly selfishness has no true peace or happiness, either.

The true king does not subjugate us by coercion, by flattery, or by indulgence. He subjugates honest and free souls solely by the power of the truth. He sees all and knows all. He governs all things in accord with the loving plan of Providence.

On the cross, Christ revealed the greatest sovereignty. A human soul so self-possessed that nothing could detach it from God. No threat of violence, no recrimination, no false promise of passing comfort or fame could move the kingly soul from its true love.

The devil wants to subjugate us by dishonestly promising us all kinds of benefits—benefits that quickly turn into shackles. Christ liberates us from this by freely giving us the freedom to trust in our heavenly Father for everything. And to live only to please Him. Christ gave us this kingly gift from His cross.

Christ is the shepherd-king of the humble sheep who live for God and only God. Christ’s people quietly lead unremarkable lives of little, unnoticed kinknesses—all the while enjoying a kind of serenity and joyful hope that all the gold in Fort Knox could never give.

Our shepherd-priest. Our shepherd-prophet. Our shepherd-king. We follow Him to the altar to give ourselves to the Father. We heed His teachings, live by them, and share them with love. We follow Him gladly to the throne of the cross, because we know: That is where our King reigns over the whole universe.

When the Rules Apparently Weren’t the Rules

Francis and Benedict

If you saw any news yesterday, you know that the pope issued new laws about reporting sexual abuse.

They include a procedure for accusations against bishops. Those go to the Archbishop. If someone accuses the Archbishop, you go to the neighboring bishop. Then the bishop who receives the accusation forwards it to the pope’s ambassador to the country, the ‘nuncio.’

Sounds simple enough. So simple, in fact, that we could be forgiven for thinking: Wasn’t that already the law?

And it sounds not only simple, but also familiar. It’s what happened in the case of Theodore McCarrick, over twenty years ago. McCarrick sat as an Archbishop. At least two of his suffering sex-abuse victims told neighboring bishops. The bishops told the nuncio.

 

That’s right. Nothing.

McCarrick became a Cardinal. Bishops arranged secret settlements with his hurting victims. In 2008, after all the bishops in his former dioceses, and all the high-ranking Cardinals and popes in the Vatican, all knew about McCarrick’s abuses, McCarrick not only continued to carry on as if nothing had happened, he actually preached at the Beatification of a saint.

Pope Francis’ new law also establishes that exploiting your authority in the Church in order to get sex counts as a crime, even if the victim is over 18. And the new law establishes that covering-up for such crimes also counts as a crime.

Again, my beloved, I think we could be forgiven for thinking: Wasn’t all that a crime already? Doesn’t every God-fearing person on the face of the earth know that exploiting your clerical authority to get sex offends God, and the victim—offends them so grievously, that you must be punished for it? Wouldn’t any churchman of sound mind know that, without anyone having to spell it out in a papal motu proprio?

el-grecost-paulToday at Holy Mass we read in the Acts of the Apostles about how evil St. Paul was–before he became good, by God’s gracious mercy. St. Paul never made any secret of the evil he had done. And he never let himself off the hook, simply because he didn’t know any better, when he viciously persecuted the Church. No—he knew perfectly well that he should have known better.

I’m sorry to have to say this, and I’m sorry to have to hammer it out with you, dear reader, ad nauseum—but if I don’t write about it, I will lose my mind.

Pope Francis has done the opposite of accountability. He and his predecessor both broke the very rules he laid out yesterday, in the case of Theodore McCarrick. Now, instead of holding himself accountable, the pope pretends that no one knew the difference between right and wrong before May 9, 2019.

This is the exact same thing that the American bishops (including McCarrick himself, of course) did in 2002. They made rules that any reasonable person would have thought were the rules all along—rules which the bishops themselves had broken for decades. What they didn’t do, and still have never done, is hold themselves accountable for having done great wrong themselves.

They pretended that the rules weren’t the rules when they broke them. Now the pope has done the same thing.

…St. Paul, honest sinner and protector of the Church of Rome, pray for us!

Seeking Apostolic Clarity in Spring 2019

Yves Congar OP
Father Yves Congar OP

We read the Acts of the Apostles during the fifty days of Easter. We marvel at the clarity the Apostles had about what had happened. Meanwhile, others experienced confusion.

Some people had admired Jesus of Nazareth, including many Pharisees and some members of the Sanhedrin. Some people thought He posed a threat to the Roman occupation; some exulted in the idea that He intended to start a revolt against it.

Some recognized that He taught in harmony with the Torah, that He captured the unifying insight of the Law. Others recognized that His doctrine meant the end of their supposed monopoly on true religion, and they resented it.

Many people thought He might be the Messiah. And many found Him an enormous nuisance and considered His popularity dangerous.

Some who loved Him loved Temple Judaism, or the Jewish monarchy, or the synagogue system. Some who loved Him had practically nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism in any way. Some who hated Him hated Him because He wasn’t Jewish enough. Some who hated Him hated Him for being Jewish.

When the Passover came, a small faction of the Sanhedrin saw their moment. Pilate proved too weak to resist them. A bloodthirsty rabble gave vent to their ugliest fury, and Jesus of Nazareth got executed in a spasm of irrational violence.

Some saw the end of a political problem, or the beginning of one.  Herod and Pilate became friends; others became enemies. Some saw a terrible tragedy. Others saw just another crucifixion.

But the Apostles perceived with perfect clarity what had happened. The Lamb of God had offered Himself in sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He had redeemed the world. God had revealed His love. The High Priest ascended to the heavenly Temple, to preside over the liturgy of the new and eternal covenant. The Holy Spirit came. The gates of heaven opened. The mission of Christ’s Church began.

…Yves Congar wrote True and False Reform in the Church to help us find that same Apostolic clarity, no matter how confusing things get in this now-two-millennia-old Church.

churchatauvers

Congar distinguishes four senses of the word “Church.”

First Sense. The institution coming from God, representing the totality of the principles established by Jesus Christ to make humanity His Body. The faith (revealed doctrine) and the sacraments of that faith. Apostolic powers derived from the ‘energies’ of Christ king, priest, and prophet.

With respect to its essential principles, the Church is incapable of failure and has no need to reform… The Church is free of failures and mistakes to the degree that it is joined and united to God…. The Church’s quality of holiness follows precisely Her quality as spouse.

Second sense of the word “Church.” The Christian people. The Church’s proper work is precisely ceaselessly to purify sinners from their sin.

Third sense. Churchmen. The hierarchy.

Fourth. The concrete Church. The one, real Church. The first three senses of the word, all rolled into one.

Congar first published his book over sixty years ago. Yet: His formulations of the problems that require Church reform–they ring as true as ever.

Under the form of questions that the world poses to the Church, God interrogates His people, standing at the door and knocking with raps made up of facts and events. These ‘instructors’ that God sometimes gives us–the Church has to listen to, and to allow herself to be called into question.

Unaware of the way others see us, we are sometimes surprised and pained to discover that they don’t trust us. Recognizing this can lead us to reflect and to question ourselves, wondering if we don’t look more like servants of the clerical apparatus than servants of God and of humanity.

Head of a Pharisee by Leonardo da Vinci
da Vinci “Head of a Pharisee”

Congar outlines two ‘tempations’ that perennially beset the Church.

1. Pharisaism. Regarding spiritual means as spiritual ends.

Pharisaism began as a way to purify the faith of Jews who had to contend with two sources of confusion: foreign cultures dominating their way of life and leaders of their nation who did not really believe in God. But the Pharisees eventually confused the means they had developed to cultivate piety with piety itself.

The Church can fall into the same temptation. Desiderius Erasmus, a faithful son of the Catholic Church who sympathized with Martin Luther, rebelled against the “Judaism” of late-fifteenth-century Catholic practices. Erasmus preferred to study the New Testament.

Capernaum synagogue
A certain goofball with a name tag, listening to an expert, with a good priest and two lovely ladies, in the Capernaum Synagogue

2. The Synagogue. Forgetting that God has implanted a law of growth and development into humanity as a whole, and the Church must engage humanity as humanity develops.

The synagogue insists on maintaining its profession of God’s oneness in forms linked to the past, tied up with the Mosaic Law, the Temple, and the city of Jerusalem. The synagogue rejected the fulfillment of the promise when confronted with the Church that was born on the cross and at Pentecost…

The ‘synagogue’ acted out of fidelity to its tradition. But this fidelity to a cultural form became an infidelity with respect to the origin of the form; the form was an imperfect and historical realization of the principle…

There are cases where fidelity to the principle can only be achieved by a kind of infidelity to the transitional form in which it is expressed.

Avery Cardinal Dulles

…In 2003, after the last Catholic sex-abuse crisis, the late Avery Cardinal Dulles summarized Congar’s book. Dulles defined ‘reform’…

To reform is to give new and better form to a pre-existent reality, while preserving the essentials. Unlike innovation, reform implies organic continuity; it does not add something foreign or extrinsic. Unlike revolution or transformation, reform respects and retains the substance that was previously there. Unlike development, it implies that something has gone wrong and needs to be corrected. The point of departure for reform is always an idea or institution that is affirmed but considered to have been imperfectly or defectively realized. The goal is to make persons or institutions more faithful to an ideal already accepted.

Dulles ruled out two errors regarding reform:

The first is to assume that because the Church is divinely instituted, it never needs to be reformed. This position is erroneous because it fails to attend to the human element. Since all the members of the Church, including the Pope and the bishops, are limited in virtue and ability, they may fail to live up to the principles of the faith itself. When guilty of negligence, timidity, or misjudgment, they may need to be corrected.

The second error would be to assail or undermine the essentials of Catholic Christianity. This would not be reform but dissolution. The Catholic Church is unconditionally bound to her Scriptures, her creeds, her dogmas, and her divinely instituted hierarchical office and sacramental worship. To propose that the Church should deny the divinity of Christ, or retract the dogma of papal infallibility, or convert herself into a religious democracy, as some have done in the name of reform, is to misunderstand both the nature of Catholicism and the nature of reform.

Congar had written before Vatican II. In fact, knowledgeable people give him credit for inspiring Pope John to convoke the Council. With the benefit of forty years of post-Vatican-II experience, Dulles recognized a colossal weakness in the Council’s exposition of the Church’s institutional form:

As a prime structural problem, therefore, I would single out for special attention the episcopal office… The Council exalted the episcopacy to an unprecedented peak of power and responsibility. No normal individual is capable of being at once the chief teacher, the leading mystagogue, and the principal administrator for millions of Catholics, responsible for a huge array of parishes, schools, universities, hospitals, and charitable organizations. Bishops are also expected to be in constant consultation with pastoral councils and senates of priests. Within the diocese the bishop holds the fullness of legislative, judicial, and executive power… Persons who have prestige, influence, and power usually want to retain and increase these; those who lack them want to acquire them.

…Dear reader, from my point-of-view, we find ourselves at an almost-unendurable impasse.

Today Pope Francis extended the supposed American reforms of 2002 to the entire worldwide Church. The idea clearly is: Now we have this problem under control.

But, as we know, what happened here in the US in 2002 was, in fact, a cover-up. Bishops who had covered-up clerical sex-abuse cases for decades faced no discipline of any kind. Instead, priests–who had gotten away with crimes, because bishops had let them–now felt the swift sting of the law.

The Dallas charter included vague promises and lots of vague rules. Same thing with the Pope’s new rules of today. In 2002, no one with a miter faced any justice. And no one is facing any justice with the pope’s new rules, either.

The simple fact is: we do not live under the rule of law in our Church. We live under the governance of a mafia of nervous narcissists who have precious little interest in our faith.

The world outside sees the preposterous weakness of the Roman Catholic Church. Meanwhile, inside the institution, the mitered–and all those beholden to the mitered for their paychecks–pretend that everything is basically normal and fine.

…One thing that I intend to do, dear reader, is: Study the history or our local church here as deeply as I can. Next year, we will mark our second centenary as a diocese. Our history includes some enormous failures of apostolic witness, which I intend to document as thoroughly as possible.

Not because I want to suffer for no reason–or you, dear reader. But because we can and will find our original mojo again–the Apostles’ sublime clarity–if we live in the truth.