The Church for our Mother

No one can have God for a Father without having the Church for a Mother. –St. Cyprian of Carthage (who suffered martyrdom 1,761 years and two days ago.)

On the occasion of my first-ever trip to Venice, Italy, I read T. Adolphus Trollope’s book about the year-long period when Pope Paul V forbad the celebration of the sacraments in the city and territories of the Venetian Republic. Over 400 years ago.

T Adolphus Trollope
T. Adolphus Trollope

In his book about the controversy, Trollope makes an assumption that many of our contemporaries also make. Namely, that Church authority inevitably operates in an ultimately malevolent manner. True religion must mean absolute personal freedom in relating to God.

Trollope makes Father Paul Sarpi the hero of his tale, since Sarpi stood up to the unreasonable pope. But Trollope faults Sarpi for missing the full significance of his own heroism, since Sarpi refused to join the Protestants. Instead, Sarpi lived out his days as a steady Catholic priest.

Even after the pope apparently tried to have Sarpi assassinated. The assassin ambushed Sarpi on a Venetian bridge and stabbed the priest in the ear. As he bled, Sarpi joked, “I recognize the style of the Roman Curia.” In the Latin he used, style was a play on words, since it meant both ‘style’ and ‘dagger.’ He survived the attack.

…We invoke St. Cyprian by name in the ancient canon of the Roman-rite Mass, which Father Sarpi prayed every day. It occurred to me yesterday while I was saying Mass: if we didn’t have the Church for a mother, we wouldn’t know how to pray.

Paolo Sarpi statue closeI don’t mean that in a theoretical sense. I mean: I literally would not know what to say while standing at the altar, to bring about the consecration. I know what to say because I read the words that Holy Mother Church prescribes, in the Missal.

Se we rely completely on Mother Church for the very words of the Mass. And the Mass expresses and exercises our Christian faith in a way that nothing else ever could. Plus, the Mass unites us and makes us Christ’s Church. We celebrate it out of simple obedience to Him. Do this in memory of Me.

You can’t have a Mass without some kind of ‘Church authority.’ A Mass needs a priest to preside, to stand at the altar in Christ’s place. The priest is automatically in charge, for good or ill. There’s no changing that.

So, yes: Priests, bishops, even popes abuse our authority sometimes, if not frequently. But absolute personal freedom in religion doesn’t work, either. It just leaves a soul isolated and clueless.

St. Cyprian was right: To have God as a Father, we need the Church for a Mother.


The Disputed Point

San Vigilio en Pinzolo
Church of Saint Vigilius, in Pinzolo, on the Sentiero di San Vili, a 100-km pilgrimage hike

Since I will descend via train to the Adriatic seaport of Venice tomorrow, dear, patient reader, I offer you this (perhaps off-base) reflection…

Antonio signed the bond for one pound of his own flesh. If he defaulted on the two thousand ducats he borrowed from Shylock, after two months.

As The Merchant of Venice mounts to its climax, no one disputes that Antonio signed the bond. Venice’s reputation as the capital of commerce hangs in the balance. If the doge will not enforce a legitimate contract, then justice does not, in fact, rule Venice. And all the trade of the enterprising merchants of the world ought to go elsewhere. To some place where the government enforces legitimate commercial agreements.

Shakespeare ties the knot exquisitely tight. The whole city begs for Shylock to act with mercy, and accept late repayment, three-fold, in lieu of his bond. Portia, disguised as a Paduan lawyer, gives her famous speech:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,
Upon the place beneath.
It is twice blessed.
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
It is mightiest in the mightiest,
It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
An attribute to awe and majesty.
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power dost then show likest God’s,
Where mercy seasons justice.

But the canticle does not move Shylock. Give me justice, Venice! he demands. Give me my bond! Apparent existential checkmate. Justice demands a pound of Antonio’s flesh.

venice cargo ship
Venetian cargo ship

These days no one can perform, or even mention, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice–without tripping over him- or herself, on the subject of anti-Semitism.

On the one hand, Shakespeare portrays Shylock in a thoroughly unflattering manner. Other characters repeatedly refer to him as “the Jew” and address him as “Jew.” At the end of the drama, he comes to utter grief. Only accepting baptism saves him from execution.

On the other hand, your heart breaks for Shylock. Everyone treats him unsympathetically, even inhumanely–including his own daughter. When she elopes with a Christian and leaves her father alone, a desperately solitary widow, Shylock weeps not just for his lost jewels (which she thoughtlessly steals from him), but for her lost love, and the lost love of his dead wife.

When Shylock gives his famous speech, we sympathize with him:

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands,
organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same
food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases,
heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter
and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If
you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the
rest, we will resemble you in that.

Once again, apparent checkmate. You cannot hate this Shakespearian ‘villain.’ If the play has a hero, it’s Shylock. When Shylock insists on having his bond, Shakespeare checkmates not only Venetian commercial justice, and not only medieval anti-Semitism. He checkmates human nature herself. She is unjust; she must lay down her king. There’s no solution, except…

Without entering into the interior, religious realm, the Merchant of Venice is just a shell. To answer the question, Is the play anti-Semitic? you have to engage the entire dispute between the Pharisees and the Christ (and His apostle, Paul)–all Jews.

Cima Tosa
Cima Tosa, highest peak of the Trentino Alto Adige region, as seen from the Via San Vili

What does mankind deserve from God? Without facing this question, the Merchant of Venice remains an unsolvable puzzle, neither anti-Semitic nor philo-Semitic. Shakespeare takes us, in his play, to the places where St. Paul went, in his New-Testament letters. That’s where you have to go, to really get the play: you have to meditate on the mystery of the Redemption.

Same with the Council of Trent. It makes no sense, without a willingness to engage the fundamental religious reality. Where do we stand, in our relationship with God? How can we live in a state of genuine peace and friendship with Him?

One line of criticism of the Council holds that the fathers said too much, that they hardened the divisions between Protestants and the Catholic Church. Another holds that they conceded too much to Luther and betrayed Renaissance humanism.

But the alternative would have meant: failing to engage the reality that not only makes The Merchant of Venice a compelling play, but that also makes Christianity a coherent vision of reality. The Council preserved that coherent vision for subsequent generations.

Made in God’s image, we fell. Christ redeemed us and made us just. We receive that grace in His apostolic Church.

Trent Duomo nave rose window
west rose window of the Trent Duomo

Visiting Venice without Clichés

Othello relating his adventures to Desdemona by Becker
“Othello Relating his Adventures to Desdemona,” by Carl Becker

Shakespeare’s Othello begins in the streets of Venice. The Moor general has quietly married the fairest of all Venetian heiresses, Desdemona. The renowned cosmopolitanism of Venetian society strains to the breaking point at this. A black man has presumed to marry into a senatorial family.

But the Venetian senate has more pressing matters at hand. The Turks threaten their dominion over the fair sea. Othello will lead them in battle…

…Gore Vidal wrote a little history of Venice, complete with pictures. He insists that Venice has become a lovable cliché. When I arrive at Piazza San Marco, after visiting Trent, Verona, and Milan, I anticipate having to navigate many choking crowds of gawking cruise ship off-loads.

I intend, nonetheless–in spite of the “tourist-trap” aspect of the scene–to visit the relics of my baptismal patron at the Duomo. And to see the fair city. Without a single cliché.

I will focus instead on the legacy of Fra Paolo Sarpi and the Venetian Interdict of 1606.

When you look carefully at the facade of the Vatican Basilica of St. Peter, you see the name of the pope who completed the building, Paul V (Camillo Borghese). New popes present themselves to the world immediately below those chiseled words.

Paul V Borghese

Well, Pope Paul V also cancelled all Masses and sacraments (except last rites), for the entire Republic of Venice, for a year. At least he tried to.

Anthony Trollope wrote the chronicles of Barset. His brother Thomas Adolphus lived most of his life in Italy. Thomas Adolphus Trollope concerned himself with all things Italian, especially the Risorgimento. He wrote an utterly gripping, if wrong-headed, account of the Venetian Interdict of 1606, called Paul the Pope and Paul the Friar.

What happened? The Venetians held two criminal priests in custody, intending to judge and sentence them according to their laws. Pope Paul objected, insisting that he alone had jurisdiction.

What followed involved… 1. The enunciation of many of the principles of the U.S. Constitution, well over a century before Thomas Jefferson’s birth. 2. A crisis of Catholic identity not unlike the one we face right now, subsequent to the sexual abuse scandal. 3. A ‘test’ of the effects of the Council of Trent.

Now, please don’t think my interest in a four-century-old controversy between Rome and Venice amounts to mere antiquarianism. Let’s remember this also:

The Holy and Apostolic See of Rome certainly predates the Patriarchate of Venice. On the day St. Peter died at the foot of Vatican hill, the city of Venice didn’t even yet exist as a small island village. The pope created a diocese of Venice in 774 AD.

But the current length of residence in their sees is about the same, for the two lines of bishops. The popes left Rome in the fourteenth century; didn’t return until 1377. And even after that, the city of Rome experienced lengthy hiatuses of papal residence. We remember Pope Martin V as the hero who truly brought the papacy back to Rome for good–in 1420.

So the popes rightly developed an enormously high esteem for the Patriarchate of Venice, the inheritor of the genuinely ancient patriarchate of Grado (which managed to preserve itself for generations as simultaneously Roman and Byzantine).

In recent centuries, the pope customarily created a newly appointed bishop of Venice a cardinal at the subsequent consistory. Remember, two pope-saints of recent memory, John XXIII and Pius X, both entered their respective conclaves as Cardinal Patriarchs of Venice. (So did Pope John Paul I).

The Patriarch of Venice became such an “automatic” cardinal, in fact, that he acquired the unique privilege of wearing scarlet immediately upon his appointment as Patriarch–even before any consistory. That is: before the pope actually creates him a cardinal, the Patriarch of Venice nonetheless dresses as one. Since he certainly will become one, in a matter of weeks.

Francesco Moraglia Patriarch Of Venice Inaugurates His Mandate
new Patriarch Francesco Moraglia arrives in Venice, March 2012

Except when he doesn’t. The current incumbent Patriarch of Venice, in office now for nearly eight years, remains an Archbishop. He enjoys no right to enter the Sistine Chapel at the next papal interregnum. He sits neglected by the pope, clothed in what by now seems like “borrowed” scarlet. Francesco Moraglia’s scarlet robe, in fact, has become something like Miss Havisham’s wedding dress.

Not an interdict, to be sure. But this inexplicable situation plagues Venetian Catholics like an open wound…

…I will endeavor to unfold these matters for you, dear reader, as the good Lord allows me the time and energy to do so.

In the meantime, I ask for your prayers, that heavenly graces will accompany me on my little journey.

Ciao for now.

James Grein and Steven Cook

[this post rated PG-13]

First, watch the movie A Civil Action. (One of the best ever.) John Travolta portrays an ambulance-chasing lawyer with a Porsche, who becomes an impoverished, contrite, compassionate human being–through his interactions with the victims of a New-England environmental disaster.

Robert Duvall portrays Travolta’s legal adversary. Duvall to Travolta: “If you’re looking for the truth, look for it where it is. At the bottom of a bottomless pit.”

Second, recall that your humble servant nominated myself Mr. James Grein’s official amanuensis last August. Mr. Grein’s testimony apparently led to Theodore McCarrick’s defrocking by Pope Francis.

We have to say ‘apparently,’ since the ecclesiastical justice system remains 99.9% opaque, despite the endless church-mafia propaganda about ‘transparency.’ What we know: James spoke to reporters after he gave secret testimony under oath in December, and told us what he said. Shortly thereafter, the Vatican punished McCarrick.

Third, consider: Mr. James Grein has now accused the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of groping him.

Now, Cardinal Bernardin died almost 23 years ago. But James’ accusation against Bernardin nonetheless reverberates with enormous significance.

Bernardin, then the sitting Archbishop of Chicago, endured protracted public scrutiny in the mid-90’s. Because of another accusation against him, leveled by Mr. Steven Cook. As Jason Berry and Gerald Renner meticulously outline in their 2004 book Vows of Silence, Cook’s eventual retraction of his accusation—and the press’ conclusion that Bernardin was innocent—played a huge role in the public’s understanding of the Catholic sex-abuse problem.

At that time, the sex-abuse victims of Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, sought a hearing from anyone who would listen–in Mexico, the USA, or Europe. But public sympathy for Bernardin crescendoed after Cook withdrew his accusation. For most journalists, the story became: Sketchy, unreliable money-grubbers go after innocent churchmen, who handle it all like Christian gentlemen. No one wanted to believe Maciel’s victims. It took another decade for justice to be done for them.

Bernardin Time magazine

Now, I don’t know enough about the late Cardinal Bernardin to write any more about him, at least right now. But I would like to point out the following spider-web of a situation.

Either James Grein’s assertion that Bernardin groped him is true, or it isn’t.

If it is true, then Bernardin was a second McCarrick—or worse. And the necessary correction regarding how Bernardin is remembered: it will critically wound the faith of even more people. Bernardin ordained more priests than McCarrick, confirmed more young people, played a far-more significant role in leading the bishops’ conference. McCarrick never appeared on the cover of Time magazine, or Newsweek; Bernardin graced the cover of both.

Bernardin Newsweek.jpg

On the other hand, maybe James’ assertion about Bernardin is not true.

Last summer, your humble servant offered you a link to website, where Mr. David Pierre raised some real questions about the reliability of James Grein’s testimony. Since then, James has shown us that he has some kooky theories about communist infiltration of the Catholic Church.

As I have repeatedly noted, you can be a sex-abuse victim telling the truth and a kooky conspiracy theorist—they’re not mutually incompatible. But Mr. Pierre has written again about James, mounting a case against his believability. Pierre argues that James must be working with a dishonest “recovered-memory” therapist. I don’t find that argument very convincing; it’s pure speculation on Pierre’s part. But, by the same token, the militant “journalists” who have publicly interviewed James have never pressed him with any tough questions, and his accusations have unfailingly served their ideological agendas.

pope francis head rubSo: our pope may very well have convicted McCarrick on false testimony. Which would mean that: McCarrick Monster isn’t exactly real. Just a convenient scapegoat among the many, many episcopal mafiosi–who pretty much all suck equally, in reality.

Pope Francis said in the interview he gave a month ago that McCarrick’s guilt was “obvious;” no need for a full trial. But if McCarrick’s guilt is so “obvious,” then is Bernardin’s guilt obvious, also? The same man now has accused them both.

And if Bernardin’s guilt is “obvious” then shouldn’t the Cancer Center at Loyola University Chicago be re-named? (Currently named for Bernardin.) And the awards named after him–given by the USCCB and the Catholic Common Ground initiative? Won’t the Chicago and Cincinnati diocesan archives have to be thoroughly examined by outside investigators? Not to mention the archives of the Bishops’ Conference itself, and the papal nunciature?

All of these offices co-operated in Bernardin’s vindication back in 1995. If that much-celebrated “vindication” was itself dishonest, just like the 2002 American Church “reform,” led by McCarrick, was dishonest, well: another wing of the American Catholic Church burns to the ground.

The right thing to do is: Pray. Come, Lord Jesus! This world is old enough. Give us all the grace to repent of our sins, and come. Judge everything, with your infinite Light. Sort all this out. We will gladly be done with the nonsense of this world.

The second right thing to do is: While we still await His coming, never give up on getting to the bottom of the bottomless pit called the truth.

[PS. Click HERE for a compendium of all my posts on the Great Scandal of 2018-2019]

Pope Francis, Taylor Marshall, James Grein, and the Scandal of the McCarrick Scandal

James Grein speaking in Baltimore

On December 5 of last year, Dr. Taylor Marshall interviewed Mr. James Grein. They discussed Theodore McCarrick’s language studies in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in 1948. And they discussed the self-named “St. Gallen Mafia”–a group of European bishops who met sporadically in the same town of St. Gallen during the 1990’s, to discuss their disagreements with Joseph Card. Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II.

Marshall and Grein saw a connection. Between these events occurring in the same town (albeit separated by a lapse of forty-five years). The connection: Communist infiltration of the Roman Catholic Church.

Shortly after that interview, Grein went on to testify against McCarrick in a church court. As far as we, the general public, know: Pope Francis convicted and defrocked McCarrick on the basis of Grein’s testimony. The pope did so without conducting a full trial. His Holiness said in a recent interview: McCarrick’s guilt was “obvious.”

pope francis head rubMeanwhile, Dr. Marshall went on to publish Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church From Within. Marshall reflects on his conversation with Grein, writing: “One cannot help but wonder if Sankt Gallen served as an infiltration center for recruiting young men to infiltrate the priesthood.”

I, for one, can help but wonder. Since I try to avoid falling into kooky conspiracy theories, unsupported by any evidence. Serious reviewers have rightly greeted Marshall’s book with alarm. Marshall speculates wildly and proves nothing.

Now, Marshall and Grein are two different men. Grein, we presume, did not speak about any Communist plots when he testified before the Church tribunal considering McCarrick’s crimes. More likely, Grein described acts of sexual abuse which McCarrick did, in fact, commit. As I noted in December, someone can be both a credible victim-witness to the crime of sex abuse and a kook full of conspiracy theories, at the same time. The two are not mutually incompatible.

But: The simultaneous publication last week of Marshall’s largely deranged book, and Pope Francis’ largely deranged interview: It does not reflect well on the integrity of the Vatican court that defrocked McCarrick, and our Church’s justice system in general.

As I mentioned, in his recent interview, the pope called McCarrick’s guilt “obvious.” Does His Holiness base that assertion solely on the testimony of a single witness–a single witness who has demonstrated himself publicly to be an irrational conspiracy theorist?

How could anyone’s guilt be “obvious” under such circumstances? Wouldn’t any competent judge of a criminal case insist, at least, that the accused be granted his right to due process, a full trial, and a chance to answer the charges? Before making a verdict?

Archbishop ViganoOf course, a question has haunted our minds for nearly a year now; the question that brought Archbishop Viganò out of the woodwork: Does the Holy See possess other evidence of McCarrick’s crimes?

Apparently the answer is yes. The large file that Viganò mentioned to His Holiness in June of 2013. Which contains multiple denunciations of sexual abuse and two hefty cash-settlement documents.

…When the new Archbishop of Washington, Wilton Gregory, spoke with his priests last week, he declared that it’s time to “turn the page.” Pope Francis, too, spoke of the McCarrick Affair as something that ended in early February.

But, in fact, the scandal has only grown worse, as the past year has unfolded. The McCarrick Affair has exposed the painful fact: Our Church has no integral criminal-justice system.

In free and honest societies, judges mete out criminal justice in open courts, according to fixed rules. Victims of crime get to testify publicly. Malefactors get punished fairly, according to clear laws. Justice gets done openly, and peace in the community gets restored. The written acts of the case stand as a public record.

On the other hand: dishonest, corrupt, authoritarian regimes conduct unintelligible ‘trials’ behind closed doors. They mete out hidden punishments. They acknowledge no rules of order; rather they operate according to favoritism and short-term political expediency.

What kind of government does the Catholic Church have now? The McCarrick Affair has revealed: We clearly, obviously, and manifestly have the authoritarian, corrupt, and dishonest kind.


Temporal Kisses from Eternity

Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. He won His race. He fought His fight. He completed His pilgrimage. [Spanish]

He made human life make sense. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the title character calls mankind a “quintessence of dust.” Fitzgerald concluded his tragic Great Gatsby: “We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Wallace Stevens
Wallace Stevens

The insoluble problem of human existence. Human mortality. Human dissatisfaction with our lot. The problem has no solution. Except Jesus Christ.

Maybe you have heard that a new kind of atheism has hit the streets. The first school of 21st-century atheism directly confronted our Christian faith in God. Tried to prove it irrational. This older 21st-century atheism insisted that science can account for everything, that the Bible is incoherent, and that we don’t ‘need’ God anymore, since we human beings have figured everything out. Or we can use Google to figure it out, if we haven’t already.

That’s the old 21st-century atheism. The new-and-improved kind actually revives the atheism of Karl Marx. According to this new school of atheism, religion isn’t bad because it’s wrong. Whether religion is right or wrong doesn’t matter. Religion is bad because it’s distracting.

The new atheism turns hope for heaven on its head. Reality as we know it now is better than eternity with God. We experience love and joy and communion with beauty now precisely because it’s all temporary. If it were eternal, it wouldn’t be what we love, and rejoice in, now.

This seems to me like “Wallace Stevens Atheism.” He wrote poems which expressed this sense: what we have now, temporarily, is everything. A sunset ravishes us with its beauty because, in ten minutes, it will end. This new 21st-century atheism comes at the denial of God poetically, rather than scientifically.

Now, the Second Vatican Council taught us: We must try to understand atheists. Trying to understand them purifies our faith and helps us focus on God as He actually is, rather than as we feebly imagine Him to be.

Lord Jesus completed His human pilgrimage by ascending–in His human body and soul–to God, to the heavenly Father.

We do not say that temporal life here on earth means nothing. We do not say that the invisible God is all, and everything visible sucks. No. Christ came from the bosom of the Father. The universe springs from His eternal Wisdom. By becoming man, the eternal Word of God drew His creation into the mystery of His triune love. God lived a human life, like ours, to redeem our human lives from oblivion.

chicken panang

The new, poetic atheism has no interest in the origin of things. Things like a blue heron on the wing, arcing along a creek in the breeze. Or the smell of curry cooking in a panang sauce. Or the pitter-patter of a gentle rain while you’re sitting on the porch.

But failing to acknowledge the eternal origin of such rhapsodies–that robs them of their genuine beauty. Visible created things shine forth the beauty of their as-yet-unseen Creator. A gazelle loping across the savanna isn’t beautiful because its run is temporary. It’s beautiful because, in its temporariness, it communicates a message from eternity. Such lovelinesses serve as a short-term love-notes to us from Beauty Everlasting, Who loves us long-term.

Lord Jesus made it possible for us to receive love from our heavenly Father during this temporary pilgrimage. Then He ascended into heaven. God forbid that we would betray our teacher and leader by claiming to know now what heaven will be like. We don’t. Nor do we presume that we will get there. We could fall. Only by the mysterious grace of God do we progress toward the goal.

But, by the same token, we hope with every fiber and long with every corner of our hearts to reach the celestial mansions where Jesus now reigns. Our Christian joy during our pilgrimage relies on our knowing that we make a pilgrim way now. We strive forward through passing time. Towards something permanent. That’s what we mean by “pilgrimage.”

That goal, mysterious as it is–beyond us as it is; impossible even to imagine—that goal certainly involves the fulfillment of all the gifts that the Father gives us now. Their fulfillment; not their betrayal or nullification. When God is all in all, heaven won’t destroy the earth. Heaven and earth will be one.

So we strive day by day. In heaven–please God we get there–we will rest. Now beauty and happiness come in fleeting foretastes—foretastes of the unseen God. In heaven–please God we get there–all beauty and all happiness will be now and only now. And now will not pass away.

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…

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.


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.

Pope Francis a Heretic?

Aidan Nichols OP.jpg
Father Nichols, OP

A quarter century ago, I read Fr. Aidan Nichols’ A Grammar of Consent. It helped me enormously.

From the preface:

Contact with the living past, in all its latent powers of spiritual fruitfulness, is the best cure for intellectual myopia… The ‘pre-Vatican II Church,’ when all is said and done, includes the apostles.

Now Father Nichols, along with other scholars, have accused Pope Francis of heresy.

Some say: “You cannot accuse the infallible pope, the Vicar of Christ, of heresy. ‘Heretical pope’ is an oxymoron.” But you can accuse a pope of heresy. Not everything a pope says enjoys divine protection from error. Pope Francis has never invoked the charism of infallibility. He could be a heretic.

Some say: “You can accuse a pope of heresy, but no one can judge the case.” But they can. The bishops of the Church could conceivably convict a pope of heresy. Under certain circumstances–like “one of the worst crises in the Church’s history”–the bishops might have a duty to do so.

Problem here is: Father Nichols and Co. do not offer evidence clear enough to convict Pope Francis of heresy. You can’t find someone guilty of heresy without clear statements that lack any possible orthodox interpretation. You always have to give a priest or teacher the benefit of the doubt. Namely, that they mean what they say in an orthodox sense, if such a sense exists.

Meanwhile, our weird, wily pope has never really taught anything clearly enough to get convicted of either heresy or orthodoxy.

Father Nichols and Co. do, however, make two points which add to the huge body of evidence. Not of the pope’s heresy, but of his dangerous incompetence as a teacher and shepherd of souls.

1. As I myself tried to point out, when I summed up the Amoris Laetitia controversy back at the end of 2016, the pope and his partisans do not understand the distinction between matters of law and matters of conscience, when it comes to people in invalid marriages.

In chapter eight of his Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes that the Church has prohibited invalidly married people from receiving Holy Communion because She presumes that they are not in a state of grace. And the pope insists that this long-standing presumption has to change (para. 301).

marriage_sacramentBut the prohibition against invalidly married people receiving Holy Communion does not spring from a presumption about anyone’s state of grace. The Church does not judge anyone’s state of grace, even in confession. Because even a person’s own conscience cannot make a certain judgment about that.

I can know that my conscience does not now accuse me of any un-confessed mortal sins. Which leads me to hope that I am in a state of grace. Since I trust in God’s mercy and love, and in His will that I be saved. But I cannot know for sure whether or not I am in a state of grace. So certainly no one else can know for sure whether or not I am in a state of grace. The Church does not make rules about such uncertain things.

It is perfectly possible that some people in invalid marriages actually are in the state of grace, with quiet consciences. Annulment tribunals can and do make mistakes. Regrettable. But no one can presume to judge his or her own case. So without a decree from a competent judge establishing the contrary, everyone must presume that his or her first marriage vows still bind.

Therefore: there will always be people who have to choose between trying to live as brother and sister with a civil-marriage spouse, or making a spiritual communion at Mass, instead of a sacramental one. None of this touches on whether or not the person in question is in a state of grace. The governing principle simply is: The marriage laws of the Church are just, and they must be obeyed. Disobeying them is a sin.

pope francis donald wuerl

Amoris Laetitia chapter VIII makes a complete mess of this. Why? For an ulterior motive? Does the pope intend to suggest that marriage is temporary? Or that no couple could ever successfully live as brother and sister, for the sake of receiving Communion? Maybe the pope simply does not believe in chastity?

Maybe. Maybe not. Only God knows.

2. A couple months ago, Pope Francis signed a declaration with an imam. The declaration claimed, among other things, that God has willed a diversity of religions.

Now, it seems to me that perhaps a priest or a pope could say such a thing, if everyone understood that he did not mean that God willed all other religions in the same way that He wills the true religion, the religion of Christ.

God willed to make human beings inherently religious. Before the preaching of the Gospel, mankind’s inherent religious tendency produced all the pagan religions. And God also appealed to the ancient Israelites’ inherent tendency toward religion in His direct dealings with them, to prepare the way for the Messiah.

But when asked about this, the pope explained himself altogether differently. He said he meant ‘God’s permissive will.’

Now, what does God’s permissive will mean? It is a venerable theological concept. To understand it, we have to start with this: God wills one thing fully, infinitely: Himself. Everything else, He wills with respect to His absolute willing of Himself.

He positively wills everything good. All good things conform to His own infinite beauty. He also positively wills certain things that are evil from our perspective, but which are fundamentally good. Like punishments for those who deserve them.

But God wills moral evil—the sins of fallen angels and human beings—only permissively. When we do good, God does good in us. But when we do evil by our own choice, God does not do evil in us. He does the good of giving us freedom, and He permits us to do the evil of sinning. He permits it only because a greater good will come of it. A greater good pertaining to His infinite, perfect beauty. Either He will move us to repent, which shows the beauty of His mercy. Or we won’t repent, and He will punish us with His beautiful justice, in hell.

So: For the pope to say that he meant “God’s permissive will” when he signed the document with the imam–ie., that God merely permits the sin of Islam: That totally betrays the whole purpose of the document in the first place. He signed it to build goodwill with Muslims. Then he turns around and explains himself by saying that God wills the diversity of religions in the same way that He “wills” sin.

Hard to make this up. Not a competent shepherd.

Father Nichols and Co. do not prove their case for a heresy conviction. But the pope has shown himself incompetent to govern the Church. That’s the reality we have lived with for some time now.

We march on, loving the Church, loving the papacy, and loving the episcopal office, too. But not lying to ourselves. Not drinking the Kool-Aid about how the current incumbents actually know what they are doing. They do not.

The Book We Desperately Need Jon Krakauer to Write

McCarrick and James
Theodore McCarrick and James Grein


All the following people have something in common.


Mr. James Grein

former priest Gregory Littleton

former priest Robert Ciolek

confidential secretaries who worked for Bishop Edward Hughes of Metuchen, New Jersey, who died in 2013 (He succeeded McCarrick in office.)

secretaries and assistants who worked with Msgr. Michael Alliegro of the diocese of Metuchen, who died in 2009

the confidential secretary who typed then-Archbishop of New York John Card. O’Connor‘s 1999 letter to Pope John Paul II, about Theodore McCarrick (O’Connor died the following year; John Paul II died in 2005)

Stanisław Card. Dziwisz, who likely opened O’Connor’s letter, and all the secretaries who worked with him

all the lawyers, private advisors, and confidential secretaries who worked for Bishop Vincent dePaul Breen, Hughes’ successor as bishop of Metuchen, who died in 2003

Bishop Paul Bootkoski, emeritus of Metuchen, Breen’s successor

all the lawyers, private advisors, and confidential secretaries who worked with Bootkoski

John Myers, Archbishop-emeritus of Newark, NJ (McCarrick’s successor in office there)

the members of the Pittsburgh diocesan Review Board, which met in November 2004, and heard Robert Ciolek’s claims about McCarrick

the lawyers who arranged for the settlement payments to Ciolek and Littleton

Father Boniface Ramsey, former professor at the seminary at Seton Hall University in Newark

the confidential secretaries of Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, Apostolic Nuncio to the USA, who would have opened the dossier Bishop Bootkoski sent to the nunciature on December 6, 2005 (Montalvo died in 2006)

Pope Benedict XVI

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to Benedict XVI

Pope Francis

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano (the Vatican whistleblower)

the confidential secretaries who have worked in the Roman offices of the previous and current Cardinal Prefects for the Congregation of Bishops (Giovanni Battista Re and Marc Oullet) and Cardinal Secretaries of State (Tarcisio Bertone and Pietro Parolin)

confidential secretaries, advisors, and lawyers who worked with Theodore McCarrick during his various tenures

Mr. Theodore McCarrick


All these people had a part in “The McCarrick Affair”–the long-term cover-up of his sexual abuses, which has left the Church in this region in a death spiral. They all likely have strained consciences over this.

Which means: We can safely imagine that many of them would talk to a skilled journalist, one without a Church-politics ax to grind. They would tell their stories to someone who could put the whole business together into a unified, fair account.

jon krakauer
Jon Krakauer

All of these people also likely know others who know things–things about which the public as yet knows nothing.

We need a straightforward narrative, sir.

The English-speaking world’s access to facts has suffered because Andrea Tornielli’s Il Giorno del Giudizio has not appeared in our language. Yes, Tornielli undertook a blatantly biased attempt to discredit Archbishop Vigano. But the book nonetheless contains a great deal of solid information.

The Vatican brass talked to Tornielli, thinking that he would put together a book defending them from Vigano’s charge that they conspired in a cover-up.

But these men have long grown accustomed to having people think as they order them to think. They completely misunderstood what they were doing. They revealed to the Italian-speaking world many previously unknown details about: The cover-up that they had in fact conducted.

Please, Mr. Krakauer! Tackle this project!

If you need a $100,000 or $150,000 book-grant to get started–perhaps to hire an Italian translator, if you don’t know the language yourself–I will find the money. No problem.


[Click here for links, if you want more background information.]