Ordained by a Predator: Becoming a Priest in the Middle of a Criminal Conspiracy will ship in November.
It will make a lovely Christmas gift 🙂
They interviewed me about it via e-mail and on camera. Part of the video is in the second tweet below.
Ordained by a Predator: Becoming a Priest in the Middle of a Criminal Conspiracy will ship in November.
It will make a lovely Christmas gift 🙂
They interviewed me about it via e-mail and on camera. Part of the video is in the second tweet below.
Brian Devlin could have called his book Ordained by a Predator, Scottish Version. Except that Devlin was not, in fact, ordained by the predator. The predator became Archbishop a few weeks after Devlin’s ordination.
Devlin was, though, preyed-upon by the predator. He was preyed upon by a priest who, like McCarrick, went on to become both a Cardinal and the most-prominent churchman in the land. In the case of Keith Card. O”Brien, the land was Scotland.
Devlin narrates what happened one evening in O’Brien’s room in the seminary. The two of them had just prayed Night Prayer.
Devlin was a 20-year-old seminarian at the time. He lived in fear of being expelled and having to explain it to his Irish mama. Devlin writes:
I was highly tuned into the reality of the power O’Brien had over me. I knew that if I displeased or challenged him, I would be a casualty at the next student-review meeting… The thoughts of the review meeting induced panic in me. Have I offended any of the faculty? …Will I be kicked-out?
Many students were sent packing. There was no appeal. No process of scrutinizing the scrutinizers. Their power is final, and it’s ruthless. And inherent within it is its ability to be manipulated into a sexual predator’s playground.
[NB. This quotation is actually a combination of a passage in Devlin’s book and a passage in a magazine article he wrote summarizing his book.]
Keith O’Brien was twenty years older than Devlin, and he was the seminary “spiritual director.” O’Brien had spent years grooming Devlin, so that the young seminarian would think nothing of coming to O’Brien’s room to pray Night Prayer, just the two of them. They had, in fact, done so many times.
At the end of the evening, Keith would usually envelop me in his hug, and I would leave. However, on that night something different happened. He did hug me… but it was far far longer than it had ever been before, with a greater intensity. I remember as I turned to leave, he sat down and pulled me on top of him.
My first reaction was of total confusion. Had he stumbled and pulled me down accidentally? But then he put his arms around me. I felt a fleeting sense of how ridiculous this was: nearly six-foot-tall me sitting on this much older man’s knee. He began to caress me. He told me that he loved me. At that point I was asking myself if he was joking. But then it became clear he wasn’t.
He told me he would always love me. With ever more urgency he rubbed my arms and chest. My embarassment turned to shame and fear.
Devlin managed to get himself out of the room. The next morning O’Brien manipulated the young man into ‘forgiving’ him. Devlin reflects:
I told him everything was fine. (I was too shocked and confused to say otherwise.) I told him I forgave him. What else could I do?
On reflection, without doubt his plea for forgiveness was a way of preventing me from talking about it further. He bound me to silence that morning.
At that instant I gained an important, life-changing insight. I felt with certainty that O’Brien was a conman and a sham.
Like with McCarrick, the silence that O’Brien imposed on his victims stretched on for decades. When O’Brien was named Archbishop of Edinburgh, a few years after the episode narrated above–and only weeks after Devlin had been ordained–the new priest decided he had no choice but to leave the priesthood. He knew he couldn’t serve under the conman.
Twenty-five years later, however, Devlin came into contact with some old friends from the seminary, through the new gizmo called Facebook. He learned that he was not alone in keeping a secret about the Archbishop. And he learned that the Vatican had known some of these secrets for years. Apparently O’Brien sexually assaulted a subordinate while he was in Rome to receive his Cardinal’s hat in 2003.
(Makes me wonder who McCarrick may have assaulted when he got his red hat in 2001–and I was twenty feet away, oblivious.)
Devlin’s conversations with his old friends gave him a new perspective. He writes:
It was almost too astonishing to believe that, after never having spoken with these men for decades, we were now having deep and intimate conversations about similar experiences from the past which had caused us immense suffering.
They showed me true friendship. The did not see what had happened to me as being less relevant than their own experience because I had left the priesthood and they’d stayed and slogged it out.
Devlin thought the group should share their stories with the public. But the others preferred to try the internal Church process instead. Devlin agreed to co-operate with the effort.
Choosing the ecclesiastical-protocol path would eventually expose this fact: There really is no internal-Church process. No one to whom they complained really wanted to do anything about it.
Somehow this took Devlin by suprise.
I had not at all considered that the Church might choose to do nothing. I had never for an instant thought that anyone would need to be convinced. I had presumed there would be some sort of legal process that the Church would have in place to deal with whistle-blowers like us, and it wouldn’t matter if the person being accused were a bishop and Cardinal.
I was very wrong.
It was not enough for four priests to swear before Almighty God and testify that we were abused by O’Brien. Instead the nuncio [Vatican ambassador to the UK] would have to ‘convince all the powers that be in Rome’ to take our concerns on.
(Of course, if Devlin had had the chance to speak ahead of time with all the poor souls who tried for decades to get the ‘powers that be in Rome’ to listen to them about McCarrick’s abuses, he would not have had such a suprise.)
So, in the end, the group of O’Brien survivors did what Devlin had wanted to do originally: go public with their stories.
As it happened, a reporter published their full story shortly before the conclave of March 2013.
The Vatican nuncio had threatened the survivors, insisting that they keep quiet. Had they complied with that threat, O’Brien might very well have entered the conclave as a voting Cardinal. He could have been elected pope, just as McCarrick could have been elected pope in 2005–even though the sworn testimonies of at least two of his victims already sat in Vatican files. (O’Brien could have been elected pope in 2005, too–even though apparently at least someone in the Vatican knew he had sexually assaulted a subordinate in Rome two years earlier.)
The public furor resulting from the late-February 2013 article, however, finally moved the Vatican brass to do something. They put O’Brien out to pasture, with the excuse that he would soon turn 75. O’Brien co-operated.
Church authorities were blinded by their fear of scandal. The true scandal, though, wasn’t the publicity we caused. The scandal was the hypocritical sexual predation of Cardinal O’Brien and the desire by Church leaders, in the full knowledge of that behavior, quietly to cover it up.
They did not want to turn over the rock, for fear of what they might find hidden under it.
Devlin adds, with real magnanimity:
There was also the question of O’Brien’s right to challenge us, his accusers, if he wanted to. Due process in every other circumstance would give someone that right. Not, it seems, in the Church.
The Vatican considered the matter settled after O’Brien went into retirement. But Devlin continued to press for some kind of genuine judicial process. He believed the Catholics of Scotland deserved the truth, and a sense of justice being served. Devlin tried working his way through Church channels again, to no avail. So he wrote directly to Pope Francis.
Holy Father, Cardinal O’Brien has been sent for six months prayer and penance. And then what? Are we expected to regard this as fair and due process? Indeed, is the Cardinal himself not justified in expecting more than this?
I am not asking for much, Holy Father. I simply want to know what is being done, and what will be done, to investigate the abuse and harm caused by Cardinal O’Brien against me and many others.
Devlin laments the fact that, to this day, his letter to the pope remains unacknowledged and unanswered.
A year after Devlin wrote to Pope Francis, a Vatican official showed up in Scotland to take the testimony of Keith O’Brien’s victims. Devlin found the official to be a kind listener.
A year after that, the Vatican announced that O’Brien had resigned the ‘rights and privileges’ of being a Cardinal, while retaining the title. O’Brien made a brief public statement to the same effect.
I found out about this announcement through Twitter. There was no personal communication from the Church authorities in Scotland or in Rome. I was offered no sight of the report prepared by the Vatican official, not even a redacted version of it. It may be that it never crossed anyone’s mind that I would have a desire or even the right to see what had been written about me.
In his statement, O’Brien made reference to the ‘fatherly care’ Pope Francis had given both him ‘and those I have offended in any way.’
I’m still waiting to be offered some of that care, fatherly or otherwise, from this most pastoral of popes. I don’t suppose I’ll hear from him anytime soon.
The report prepared by the Vatican official has never been published. Devlin and others demanded that a full, public investigation of the Archdiocese was necessary, because of the cover-up and cronyism involved in O’Brien’s long tenure.
Another O’Brien survivor insisted that there was a financial aspect: he knew of O’Brien giving a jet-ski to a paramour, and no one knew where the money came from.
No such investigations were ever carried out.
O’Brien died in 2018.
Devlin writes lovely, introspective prose. He has ideas about Catholic sexual morality–ie., that it is wrong. I do not agree with that. But this book is well worth reading. Brian Devlin is a champion of justice and of Christianity. He is a hero.
An eventful summer, as far as national news. Recently I have heard two statements, both of which are false.
1. A Senator recently said, regarding the apparently imminent end of Roe v. Wade: “A Constitutional right has never been taken away before.”
2. A historian recently said, regarding the violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021: “It was the greatest Constitutional crisis we have ever faced.”
I know both these statements are false because I recently read The Broken Constitution by Noah Feldman. The book considers the actual greatest Constitutional crisis we have ever faced, which began in late 1860.
And that crisis had to do with a “Constitutional right” that was ultimately “taken away:” the right to own black people as slaves.
Feldman argues that the U.S. has actually had two constitutions. The first held sway until the Civil War. Then President Abraham Lincoln “broke” that Constitution in order to save the Union by force. Then the amended post-war constitution became the inspiring charter for national life that we revere today.
Fact #1 that Feldman demonstrates with ample evidence: The U.S. Constitution written by the Framers, and adopted by the original thirteen states, not only countenanced chattel slavery, it fortified it as an American institution, giving it extensive protection from any possible abolitionist political movement that might arise.
Those Framers included venerable Virgininians, of course, whose pictures adorn our currency. In the minds of those men, the stability of late-18th-century Virginia required the protection of slavery as an institution. Slaves made up a critical element of the capital in the economy, as they had for nearly two centuries. Abolition would have meant the impoverishment of the governing class. So the Framers set up a federal political system designed to protect the institution, even though those same Framers thought of slavery as immoral.
As did most of Europe, at the time. We Americans rarely recognize this historical fact: when we adopted our slavery-protecting constitution, we were bucking the moral trend of the late-18th-century Western world.
Then the twist of history came, that the Framers did not anticipate. The “Industrial Revolution” was well underway, and the Framers thought that would lead to a gradual transition away from the farm economy, which, in the South, involved slavery.
But the invention of a particular Industrial-Revolution machine, the cotton gin, turned cotton farming into a huge, Industrial-Revolution business. Shortly after the adoption of the slavery-protecting U.S. Constitution, slavery became a bigger business than it ever was before. Since we had a professional Union army (thanks to the Constitution), we used military force to expand the big business of slave-produced cotton into the land that had been the home of the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, Natchez, and other tribes (i.e. Tennessee and the Deep-South states).
Feldman’s book focuses on Lincoln and his thinking during the protracted Constitutional crisis called the Civil War. When Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Day, 1863, he knew it would change the country forever. But he justified himself legally with a line of reasoning that we now find quite remarkable.
To paraphrase Lincoln’s thinking, as he put pen to paper to sign the proclamation:
Yes, slaveowners have a Constitutional right to their property, and their slaves belong to them as their property. But we are at war. In wartime, the opposing military force has the right to confiscate the property of the enemy, if the property can be put to any military use. Therefore, I have the right to order the ‘confiscation’ of the slaves in the Confederacy, by emancipating them, so that those freed blacks can fight on our side.
Even at the moment when Lincoln set in motion the chain of events that would spell the end of chattel slavery in America, he still thought of the right to own slaves as a “Constitutional right.” He “took it away” solely as a matter of military necessity. In other words, if the blacks were all Quakers, or some other kind of pacifist, and would not fight, for either side, then Lincoln would not have thought himself legally justified in emancipating them.
Lincoln did not want to act as a dictator. He followed the international law of war, which allows for property confiscation, when the property in question is militarily useful. Now, that same law of war also stipulates that confiscated property should be returned to the owner at the end of the war. But Lincoln reasoned that, in order to get freed blacks to fight hard for the Union, he had to promise them freedom for life. So even that aspect of emancipation was justified, in Lincoln’s mind, by military usefulness.
Because the Confederate states had broken faith with the Constitution and compelled him to use military means to subdue them, Lincoln considered himself justified in substituting the international law of war for the customary provisions of law in the U.S., as long as the war lasted.
Feldman argues that this means that the original Constitution was effectively abrogated during the war. Indeed, Lincoln not only deep-sixed what had been thought of as “property rights” when it came to slaves, he also did away with free speech and the right to a speedy trial.
But you don’t have to go the whole way to agreeing with Feldman–that we have actually had two Constitutions–in order to grasp this: The problems with the presidential transition between the election of November 2020 and the inauguration of January 2021 were not the worst Constitutional crisis we have ever had.
The transition period between the election of 1860 and the inauguration of 1861 saw the secession of seven states from the Union. South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas all seceded between the election and Lincoln’s inauguration.
So even if the secession of those seven states was all that happened 1860-1861, it would still qualify as far worse than 2020-2021. But it was only the beginning, of course. Four more states seceded between April and June 1861. Then there was a war that lasted four long years, costing 600,000 American lives. Then Lincoln was assasinated less than a week after the war ended, as he was just beginning his second term in office.
I’m not trying to make light of what happened on January 6, 2021. I have listened to some of the congessional-committee hearings on the radio. The testimony has painted a compelling picture of serious wrongdoing and grave danger.
But if the purpose of the hearings in enlightenment and understanding, it hardly serves the goal to overstate the case, with historical amnesia. We had a Constitutional crisis from late 1860 through at least 1865, a crisis like we have never had, and which, please God, we will never have again.
And the idea that ending Roe v. Wade would be the first instance of “taking away a Constitutional right?” Another example of obtuse historical amnesia. The “right” to abortion belongs in the same dustbin of history as the “right” to own slaves. Both amount to specious claims to a “right.” Thank God for sober minds finding their way clear to taking those “rights” away.
Reading Feldman’s book is a great way to get perspective on all this. I highly recommend it.
Our Holy Father said recently that “NATO has barked at Russia’s door” and “perhaps facilitated” Russia’s “reacting badly and unleashing the conflict in Ukraine.”
The Wall Street Journal took stern exception to this statement, in a staff editorial. The WSJ editors write:
Since the invasion, Francis has called for an end to the war and criticized the violence, but he hasn’t directly called out Russia for starting the conflict. Now that he finally speaks, he blames NATO for accepting members that want to avoid being invaded by Russia. What a terrible moral signal to send to dictators.
Let’s consider this argument, with the help of a book I just finished, Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate, by M.E. Sarotte. Continue reading “NATO and the War in Ukraine”
St. Thomas Aquinas’ mind stretched across many boundaries during his pilgrim life, and his bones straddle a boundary, even in death.
In the annals of French history, the same term–Jacobin–refers to two different groups. The Jacobins of the late 1700’s hated the monarchy and played a major role in the Reign of Terror that followed the 1789 revolution (1).
This group got its name from holding its meetings in a building that had once been a Dominican friary. Because Jacobins also = Dominicans.
After St. Dominic founded his religious order in 1214, the first Dominicans in Paris lived in the friary of St. Jacques. Parisians came to refer to them by the name of their house. Hence, “Jacobins” (2).
St. Thomas’ relics lie under the single altar in the “Church of the Jacobins” in Toulouse. Which does not mean: Church of the French Revolutionaries. It means Church of the Dominicans. The friars built the church during the first decades of the order’s life. It is their “mother church.”
Except it isn’t. Because it isn’t a church anymore.
The (French-Revolution) Jacobins despised the (Dominican) Jacobins and expelled the order from France in 1789. Fifteen years later, Napoleon put the Church of the Jacobins to use as a military barracks. The bishop moved St. Thomas’ relics to the nearby church of St. Sevrin (an ancient marvel itself.) The holy bones remained there for almost two centuries.
As the 19th century wore on, the people of Toulouse came to dislike the army using the old Dominican church as a barracks. The city took ownership of the building and turned it into a museum. In 1974, the government came to an agreement with the Church, and the bishop moved St. Thomas’ remains back.
There is one Holy Mass celebrated in the building each year, on January 28, the anniversary of the arrival of the saint’s bones in Toulouse in 1369, St. Thomas’ feastday.
This non-church church is truly a unique Gothic edifice, with a single row of columns supporting the roof. The altar sits in a strange position–not in the apse, but near the middle of the northern of the two naves formed by the one row of columns.
An unusual place. A church that isn’t a church anymore.
But you can pray there. I could hardly believe that I was actually kneeling in front of this altar. For decades I have thought about visiting my friend’s tomb–my daily companion, through his books, since I was nineteen years old.
…While St. Thomas walked the earth, King St. Louis IX built a chapel adjoining his palace in Paris–the Sainte Chapelle. The king built it to house the Lord Jesus’ Crown of Thorns.
That relic no longer remains in the Sainte Chapelle. (It was kept in Notre Dame–a priest had to run in, to rescue it, during the 2019 fire.) There is never a Mass in Sainte Chapelle anymore, not even once a year.
But the famous stained glass windows of Sainte Chapelle not only captivate you with their luminescence–swaddling you in light–but they also convey a stunningly unified message. All 1,113 panels contribute to communicating one single idea.
Namely: God Almighty governs all things. He has given human beings a circumscribed share in that government. To some human beings, he has given the authority to govern nations. To the custodian of Christ’s Crown of Thorns, He has given the secular government of Christendom.
The panels in the windows of Sainte Chapelle depict episodes or images from: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, the books of Samuel and Kings, Judith, Esther, Tobit, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Holy Gospels, and Revelation. One window has panels depicting the history of the Crown of Thorns, since the Passion.
All the episodes and images relate to the theme. Together, they communicate the idea. The King of France, custodian of Christ’s crown, possesses divine authority to rule human affairs.
The Sainte-Chapelle message, of course, goes against our American idea that the authority to govern comes from the consent of the governed. But that was not really a point in dispute when King Louis built his chapel. Rather, the potentially disputable point had to do with the consent of the pope.
Which is not to say that the Sainte Chapelle was meant to be anything other than a place for prayer, and above all for the celebration of Holy Mass. By a duly ordained priest. King Louis revered the Apostles and their successors.
But the king believed he had his mission in life from God, not from the pope. His chapel conspicuously avoids depicting St. Peter in any exalted manner.
As we mentioned here before, King Louis’ grandson–King Philip IV “the Fair”–wanted Pope Boniface VIII deposed from office, for interfering too much. But Boniface insisted that the king had his authority only by delegation from the pope. Philip strenuously rejected this idea.
That conflict ultimately resulted in the building of what is now an eerie ghost palace, which sits on top of a majestic hill rising east from the Rhone river in Provence. The Palais des Papes.
In the fourteenth century, Avignon, France, became the capital of western Europe. All roads led there. After Boniface VIII died in Rome, and his successor died after a months’-long papacy lived entirely in Perugia, Pope Clement V got elected in absentia. And proceeded never to set foot in Italy.
Clement V reigned over the Church on earth from France. So did the next five popes.
The huge banquet hall where Pope Clement VI entertained the monarchs of Europe: it’s now a bare chamber. Just cold stone walls. The loggia from which Blessed Urban V blessed pilgrims: it now looks out on an empty windswept courtyard. The cavernous Gothic chapel where popes were crowned: silent. (Carved facsimiles of the Avignon popes’ tombs sit in an adjoining room, adding to the ghostliness.)
They raked-in a lot of shekels in that old palace. The Avignon papacy was a business. The pope conferred countless ecclesiastical offices each year, and every time the coin had to ring in the coffer before the transaction was complete. They had huge trunks full of cash hidden in the floors.
But the money wasn’t all spent profligately. Clement VI entertained lavishly, but his banquets fostered peace between nations. And all the Avignon popes were highly cultured men who doled out huge sums to endow schools and pay professors, including scholars of Hebrew and Greek (to improve study of the Holy Scriptures).
They knew they belonged in Rome. The pope is the bishop of Rome, after all. You can hardly condemn absentee bishops, or absentee parish priests, when you yourself are one.
Urban V tried to return to Rome to live and govern, but then he fled back to Avignon when he feared for his safety in Italy. Urban’s successor Gregory XI then finally gave in to St. Catherine of Siena’s many behests and moved back to Rome for good.
But it wasn’t over yet. Gregory’s successor was challenged by a false pope who had been elected by a large number of Cardinals. The false Clement VII moved back to France and set up shop in Avignon, like the old days.
(It’s hard to imagine just how deeply confusing the Western Schism was to your average Catholic Joe of the time. The false pope sat in the throne that the real popes had used for three generations, and the real pope was a stranger in his own country.)
It took four more decades to settle the schism. Finally the new pope, Martin V, traveled from the Council of Constance to Rome, and the days of popes in Avignon ended for good.
The ghosts remain.
Bonjour, cher lecteur.
They have a stunning window of Saint Denis in the rive-gauche church of Sainte Sulpice, plus a depiction of king St. Louis IX by my favorite painter, in the Louvre.
I have long admired this painting, and it moved me to see the original.
Louis’ Sainte-Chapelle overwhelms you. Not only with the spendor of the stained-glass windows, but also with the perfect thematic unity of the episodes depicted in them.
More on this when I have time; the theme of the Sainte-Chapelle windows relates to the Avignon papacy, one of the points of study on my trip.
The Louvre also displays a portrait of the Holy Father who both erected our humble diocese of Richmond, VA, and endured the difficult spectacle of Napoleon crowning himself emperor, in Notre Dame.
From outside the cathedral, you can see work underway on replacing the destroyed roof.
My journey south to St. Thomas Aquinas’ tomb will take me past Montauban, where Thomas Merton spent some of his teenage years. I will pass by Merton’s birthplace, too, later in the week.
I prayed for you in Sacre Coeur, and at the tomb of Sainte Genevieve, and in San Eustache, Sainte Clothilde, and Saint Severin, as well as a bunch of other holy places reachable on the Paris Metro.
Au revoir for now.
20 C+M+B 22
Happy New Year, dear reader.
The publisher sent me a mock-up of the dust cover for Ordained By a Predator: Becoming a Priest in the Middle of a Criminal Conspiracy. We have reached the final pre-publication stages..
…I will give a talk in Indianapolis next week. I’ll post the text here as soon as I finish typing it up.
Here’s the talk I gave, if you’re interested in reading…
TALK TO THE “STANDERS” January 4, 2022
Christine and I met back in November, at a prayer rally dedicated to restoring the institutional integrity of our church, the Roman Catholic Church. She interviewed me for her podcast, and she told me about you, the Standers. She and I realized that I fit in, even though I have never been married.
I didn’t know the term “Stander” until I met Christine, but in fact I have worked with Standers for years. Faithful Catholic spouses who have been abandoned in their marriages. Also in many cases separated from their children, either completely or much of the time, by the custody arrangement. These Christians have sought out the parish priest (me) for support and guidance under these difficult circumstances. This has led me to meditate on this painful path in life, a living Way of the Cross.
Everyone know about our “Way of the Cross” prayer? Every Catholic church building has fourteen markers along the walls, indicating the Lord’s Jesus’ Way of the Cross through Jerusalem, from Pilate’s judgment seat to Mount Calvary. We pray by going from one station to the next. The whole thing also symbolizes the Christian life, following the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, through suffering and death to eternal life.
Having to follow the Standers’ path, that Way of the Cross: it elevates the natural vocation of marriage into a supernatural one. Christine refers to this in the list of Standers’ practices, #10. I’ll come back to this idea of seeing through the natural to the supernatural.
First let me explain how I fit in with the group. I was ordained a priest in 2003, at age 32, after seven years of preparation for the priesthood. I was in love with the Church; the Church is the ‘bride of my youth.’ Then I served as a parish priest for 17 years–six years as a “parochial vicar,” or associate pastor, helping the senior pastor, then eleven years as a pastor.
It was my married life. We Catholic priests promise celibacy, and I have never regretted doing that. Of course I am well aware that Protestant churches have married pastors. One of my best friends is an Episopalian priest with a wife and young son. He is an excellent shepherd for his people, to be sure. But for me, and for us Catholic priests generally speaking, our pastoral lives are all-encompassing, work life and family life all rolled into one thing. No sex, of course, but lots of love, mutual support, and joy in the Lord.
I spent my thirties and forties living that life, and I got pretty used to it. Celebrating the Masses, the baptisms, weddings, and funerals, preaching and teaching, hearing Confessions, visiting the sick, and families in their homes, running the parish office. A full, happy life. I had hit my stride, so to speak, as a Father.
Then it all came to a sudden, abrupt end.
Let me explain how. It’s a little complicated, so bear with me. I’m sure you can relate to the complicated aspect. I don’t imagine anyone ever winds up being a Stander without something complicated happening.
Almost four years ago, I learned–and the world learned–a terrible secret about the Cardinal Archbishop who had ordained me a priest. He was a sex abuser. A criminal. He and his confederates had managed to cover up his crimes for thirty years. He sexually abused pre-teen boys, teenage boys, and young men in their twenties and early thirties. He had abused people that I knew. But I knew nothing about it until almost twenty years later.
I learned this stunning truth about the man who ordained me, as well as the even-worse truth about how other bishops and the Vatican covered it all up for decades. All while he himself, and other Cardinals and bishops, were promising the public that all the Catholic sex-abuse cover-ups were over.
I was devastated to learn all this, as were many, many other Catholics. I’m a writer, so something in me realized that I had to write my way through the interior crisis I was going through. I had to find a way to plow forward as a parish priest and keep giving my people what they needed to be getting from me. Again, I think some Standers will relate. Shattering crises can occur in family life. But the kids still need to be fed, and helped with their homework, etc. Children deserve stability, right?
I already had a weblog, had had one for ten years. I put the texts of my sermons on it, for people to read, if they wanted to. I began using the blog as my forum to deal with what I was going through, with the sex-abuse crisis in our Church.
I won’t lie. I said some pretty angry things, in some posts over the course of the following year, as more and more of the truth about the cover-up came out. I published at least one post that I wish I had toned down before I put it out there.
But generally I tried to be reasonable and calm. I admitted that I knew little of the facts that I was trying to understand. Plus, I assumed that I was using an appropriate forum of free speech to express myself. I certainly never told anyone in the parishes that they should read my blog; I never even mentioned it. Most of the people I dealt with on a day-to-day basis knew nothing about it.
That is, until the bishop stepped in. Turns out that he, or someone reporting to him, had been paying careful attention to everything I had written, and had found some of it inappropriate. Without any discussion of the subject matter of the posts, the bishop ordered me to remove my blog from the internet altogether, the whole thing.
We priests promise obedience to our bishops, so I initially complied. I hoped that we could find a compromise, if we could talk the whole thing over. But as time wore on, and the bishop never responded to me, I found that I could not live with myself under the circumstances. After all, the bishop here is himself a protégé of the Archbishop who ordained me, the criminal.
Within days after I turned my blog back on, the bishop removed me as pastor and then suspended my public priestly ministry completely. He has the authority to do this, and he used it. I could hardly believe it; still can hardly believe it, that he reacted like this. But he did. I appealed to the Vatican, and got nowhere.
Almost two years have passed since then. Now I have a completely different kind of life. Much more solitary than before. I have become a kind of Stander, holding onto the priestly life, but without a flock, without any ministry. The praying that we Catholics generally do as a community–Sunday Mass, Christmas Mass–I do alone. Or rather: I celebrate with the Lord, the angels, and the saints for company.
After all, I am a priest, and I will always be one. That’s what we Catholics believe about Holy Orders. Even if the bishop who ordained me should have been in jail that very day. Even if one of his protégés has isolated me from the Church community. None of that changes the supernatural reality. I remain a priest.
Again, like you: I hope and pray for reconciliation, to be able to go back to “family” life as a priest. But, at least for now, I am powerless to do anything about it. Only the Lord knows how long this situation will continue.
The supernatural reality. Maybe a few verses from the first letter of St. John will help us connect with it. St. John, who stood at the foot of the cross, and then saw the Lord risen from the dead. He writes:
We have gazed upon the Word of life, and have heard Him… To you we proclaim this, so that you may share our treasure with us. That treasure is union with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
…Abide in Him, so that when He appears, you may have assurance and not shy away from Him in shame. You are well aware that everyone who lives a holy life is a child of God… The world does not recognize us, because it has not recognized Him. Now we are children of God; what we shall be has not yet been manifested. We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is…
…We know what love is from the fact that Jesus Christ laid down His life for us… Let us not love merely in word or with the tongue, but in action, in reality. By that we shall know that we are born of truth, and we shall calm our consciences in His presence.
…This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. Who is victor over the world, if not he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
As the years have passed, my devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas has steadily increased.
I loved him decades ago; I loved him even before I became Catholic. Back in the 90’s, while studying at Catholic University in Washington, I went religiously every January 28 to hear one of the learned Dominicans give the St. Thomas-Aquinas-Day sermon at the Basilica of the National Shrine. A Dominican always gives the sermon that day, because St. Thomas was a Dominican priest.
Meanwhile, though, I knew perfectly well that St. Thomas did not die on January 28. Yes, we generally keep the feasts and memorials of saints on the anniversaries of their deaths. But St. Thomas died on March 7, not January 28.
In fact, the Church used to keep the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas on March 7. His death day was his feast day for six centuries, from his canonization in 1323 until 1969. But after the Second Vatican Council, the Roman authorities decided to try to keep Lent as free as possible of festival observances. Since March 7 almost always falls within Lent, we needed a new day for St. Thomas.
As an aside, to keep anyone from hissing at the mention of Vatican II:
Today is an unusual exception to the death-day rule for saints’ days, of course. It’s the anniversary of the conception of our Lady in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.
More to the point, though: Yesterday we kept the Memorial of St. Ambrose of Milan. He did not die on December 7, but rather on April 4. But since April 4 always falls either within Lent or Holy Week, or early in Easter time, St. Ambrose’s feast day is kept on his ordination anniversary. And it has been kept on December 7 since at least the 1000’s. (As in, before the year 1100 AD.)
In other words, Vatican II did not invent the idea of moving saints’ feast days out of Lent, to an alternate anniversary date. That idea itself has a long, long history.
Back to St. Thomas Aquinas: In the revision of the festival calendar after Vatican II, they did not just randomly pick January 28 out of a hat. The date already served as a secondary feast day of St. Thomas, among Dominicans. It marks the anniversary of the arrival of St. Thomas’ relics in Toulouse, France.
The arrival of his relics in France. Hmm. How’s that?
I never carefully considered the question myself, until recently. But when you finally get the chance to visit the place where someone you love died, you start wondering about stuff like this.
St. Thomas died while on his way to an ecumenical council convened in Lyon, France, by Pope Gregory X. The pope called that council primarily to try to heal the East-West schism in the Church, which was then a couple centuries old. Pope Gregory personally requested that Thomas Aquinas come and participate, even though the 49-year-old theologian was not well.
Thomas accepted the summons. While on his way from Naples to Lyon, he took sick south of Rome. Thomas breathed his last in the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova.
The Cistercians of Fossanova eagerly retained St. Thomas’ mortal remains. They generously offered visitors the opportunity to venerate the holy man’s relics. The monks had no intention of parting with the great treasure that Providence had delivered to them.
But the saint’s brother Dominicans painfully wanted to entomb their eminent teacher’s remains in one of their own friaries.
The ensuing battle over St. Thomas’ bones lasted almost a full century. Meanwhile, events which we have recently considered here unfolded. Events involving the highly unstable late-13th-century papacy.
The pope who summoned St. Thomas on his final earthly journey, Gregory X: he had been elected only after a two-year deadlock between the French and Italian factions of the College of Cardinals. We discussed earlier how Pope Celestine V, who was also elected in a conclave that lasted over two years, renounced the papacy in 1295. We also covered how Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII, died shortly after suffering an attack by the king of France’s henchmen.
Boniface’s death led to the brief papacy of Blessed Benedict XI, then to the world-changing Conclave of 1305. The sitting Archbishop of Bordeaux, France, became Clement V. And he never set foot in Rome. Ever.
Pope Clement V moved the Holy See to France, to the town of Avignon. There, Clement’s successor John XXII canonized St. Thomas.
Wait. Moved the Holy See to France?
[Click HERE to listen to a thorough and very-helpful explanation by the late Dr. Brendan McGuire.]
Now, Rome had become a dangerous place for a pope to live.
And the king of France had consolidated enough authority to dominate the Church.
But: Move the papacy to France? Really? I will have more to say about this. As far as St. Thomas’ bones and Toulouse:
Blessed Urban V traveled from Avignon to Rome in 1367, recognizing that he belonged in the city of Saints Peter and Paul. Sixty years had passed since the last time the Bishop of Rome had set foot in his own diocese.
Urban had good intentions, but his effort proved half-hearted. He abandoned Rome, and returned to Avignon, in 1370. In the meantime, the pope ordered that St. Thomas’ remains be moved from Italy to France. (The pope actually followed St. Thomas’ bones, when he returned to Avignon.)
Between August 1368 and January 1369, the Dominicans carried their brilliant brother’s remains in solemn procession, from near Fossanova to Toulouse, with a number of extended stops along the way. On January 28, they arrived at the original Dominican church, built by Dominic himself a century and a-half earlier.
Then they continued the procession, taking the bones of Thomas’ right arm north to Paris. That reliquary remained in a Dominican chapel near Notre Dame, until the French Revolution four centuries later.
…More to come on the Avignon papacy, as I mentioned. But for now let’s turn to more-current events. After all, as in the 1300’s, a great deal of Catholic drama has lately unfolded in France.
1. Two and a-half years ago, on the day after Palm Sunday 2019, the Cathedral of Notre Dame burned. It caused many of us a great deal of sorrow.
I remember the then-Archbishop of Paris rallying his people for Holy Week at the nearby church of St. Eustache. I was moved by the Archbishop’s evident faith and his fatherliness. A few months earlier, he courageously had appeared on French radio to defend the rights of the unborn child.
For the past couple years, Archbishop Aupetit has appeared on every list of possible candidates for Cardinal.
(Amazingly enough, there is not a single diocese in France right now with a sitting Cardinal-Archbishop. Pope Francis has only ever created one French Cardinal, and he is a Vatican official. We have come a long way from the French-dominated College of Cardinals of the fourteen century.)
But now Pope Francis has summarily relieved Archbishop Aupetit of duty.
I find the situation very hard to understand. It appears to have layer upon layer of intrigue, with none of the facts even remotely clear to the general public.
I intend to try to sort it out, and I will share my understanding of it with you, dear reader.
2. As we noted here, in October the independent commission erected by the French bishops’ conference published its report on sexual abuse. I read the English translation of the summary report carefully, and I look forward to reading the whole report, once the English translation becomes available. (The CIASE promised to publish a full English translation by the end of 2021.)
Now, however, a small group of French Catholic intellectuals has published a preliminary critique of the Rapport Sauvé.
[I made a Google translation of the critique; you can read it by clicking HERE.]
Pope Francis had a meeting scheduled for tomorrow with Jean-Marc Sauvé and other authors of the CIASE report, but the Vatican has postponed such a meeting indefinitely.
On the plane returning from a trip he took to Cyprus and Greece, the pope explained to a journalist that he had not read the CIASE report, but that…
“…in doing these studies we have to be careful in the interpretations that we do over long periods of time…A historical situation should be interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time, not ours… The abuses of 100 years ago or 70 years ago are a brutality. But the way they were living it is not the same as today.”
In September 2018, Pope Francis reacted in the same way to the Pennsylvania Grand-Jury report. I mentioned then that I find this position to be inherently dishonest. As a reporter put it to Donald Card. Wuerl at the time: “What could possibly ‘evolve’ when it comes to child sexual abuse?”
So the Vatican position on the Rapport Sauvé appears to have shifted as a result of the French Catholic intellectuals’ critique. I find the critique to be embarrassingly tendentious, small-minded, and defensive. But it nonetheless brings up some questions worth considering. Watch this space for more on this.
We had a Jubilee Year in AD 2000. A group of us seminarians at Catholic University in Washington managed to get ourselves to Rome, to visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. We met Pope John Paul II. A few years ago I wrote an essay about the effect that visit had on my Catholic-convert soul.
Pope Boniface VIII beautified Rome for the first-ever Jubilee Year there, in AD 1300. The Muslim conquest of the Holy Land meant that Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulcher could no longer occur. So the pope opened Rome; he restored the ancient Christian custom of coming on pilgrimage to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul.
Pope Boniface made a huge success with the Jubilee Year 1300. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims came. There was, nonetheless, a foreboding absence from the ranks of those pilgrims. Among the throngs in the Roman streets that year, there was not a single European monarch. None came.
In other words, something lovely happened in Rome in 1300. But something terrible was about to happen. Five weeks ago I promised more information about the Avignon papacy and a digest of our Catholic faith in the office of pope. Seems like AD 1300 is the best place to begin…
The reign of Boniface VIII marked a turning point in history, ending a period that had begun seven centuries earlier, with the pontificate of St. Gregory the Great. Gregory had filled a power vacuum in western Europe when the reach of the Byzantine emperor into western affairs waned. The Sucessor of St. Peter became the pre-eminent authority in shaping the politics of the western half of the now-crumbling Roman empire.
Seven centuries later, however, Pope Boniface found that he could not command the absolute allegiance of the grandsons of the monarchs over which his predecessors had held sway. Gregory the Great, acting out of charity towards the poor, had made the Holy See a model of administrative efficiency at the dawn of the seventh century. The latter part of the thirteenth century, however, saw an altogether dysfunctional Roman operation.
Between 1254 and 1285, the pope was absent from Rome for all but four years. (Some historians call this period the “Viterbo Papacy” because the pope was so often resident there.) During this interval, conclaves held to elect a new pope after the death of the old one often dragged on for years. The conclave that elected Pope Gregory X stretched from 1268 to 1271. Indeed, sometimes conclaves would last longer than the ensuing papacy: the conclave that elected Celestine V lasted over two years, but the poor pope reigned for only five months. Also, men who had never even been ordained to the priesthood were often elected pope.
The Cardinals, after the new pope shows total ignorance of Scripture: “Gosh, I guess we should have put ‘in Holy Orders’ in the job description!”
We mentioned last month how Pope Celestine resigned the papacy in 1294. Celestine had consulted with a learned Cardinal, Benedetto Caetani, about the legality of resigning. Caetani had advised Celestine that he could legally resign. In the subsequent conclave, Caetani became Pope Boniface VIII.
(Caetani’s role in Celestine’s resignation would later be used against Boniface in an elaborate p.r. campaign by King Philip IV of France–even though Caetani had not, in fact, pressured Celestine in any way.)
In 1303 conflict between Rome and Paris reached the breaking point. Boniface declared as solemn doctrine the practical reality that his predecessor Gregory had seized upon, that is: God had subjected all human beings to the Roman Pontiff. King Philip responded by calling for Boniface’s removal from office, and the king spread false charges against the pope. Philip arraigned Boniface for heresy and demanded that an ecumenical council sit in judgment on him.
Meanwhile, Pope Boniface, staying in his hometown of Anagni, outside Rome, prepared a document excommunicating King Philip.
Henchmen of the king’s arrived and commandeered the building, intending to arrest the pope and take him to France for trial. The historical record is not clear regarding what happened when the henchmen encountered the pope. They may have physically assaulted him. They almost certainly at least slapped him. The slap has come to be known as the Schiaffo di Anagni.
Dante refers to this outrage in Canto XX of Purgatorio. The poet calls King Philip “the new Pilate,” who “mocked and imprisoned Christ a second time, in His vicar.” Dante adds: “I see vinegar and gall renewed, and between living thieves I see them kill Him.”
After the Schiaffo, the townspeople of Anagni turned on King Philip’s henchmen, allowing Boniface to escape and return to Rome. But he did indeed die, in a month’s time, at age 73.
Benedict XI was then elected pope in a one-day conclave.
As a Cardinal, the new pope had stayed with Boniface through the ordeal in Anagni. But, by the same token, Benedict wanted no more trouble with King Philip.
Benedict tried a middle way, restoring all of King Philip’s ecclesiastical prerogatives, but meanwhile pursuing legal action against the ruffians of Anagni. And Benedict refused to put Boniface through a posthumous trial for heresy, notwithstanding King Philip’s demand for such a procedure.
Benedict died of dysentery, in Perugia, north of Rome, after only eight months in Peter’s Chair. The ensuing conclave lasted eleven months, from July 1304 to June 1305. It proved to be a highly significant event. More to come…
Today we keep the Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII, on the 59th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. [Click HERE for a little compendium of my homilies commemorating the 50th annversary.]
You may not know, dear reader, that Pope St. John was actually the second John XXIII to summon the world’s bishops to Rome for an ecumenical council. (You might not know this unless you have traveled through the cities of Tuscany and read all the historical markers in all the churches.)
When Giuseppe Roncalli took the name John at the end of the conclave in 1958, he mentioned to a French Cardinal that he had chosen this name “in memory of France and in memory of John XXII who continued the history of the papacy in France” (We know about this private remark from Peter Hebblethwaite’s biography, John XXIII: Pope of the Council.)
The pope to which newly elected Pope John referred was: the pope who occupied the Chair of St. Peter from 1316 to 1334. John XXII did not occupy it, however, in Rome. He occupied it in the Provencal town of Avignon. John XXII was, in fact, the first pope to both get elected and die in Avignon.
John XXII’s predecessor, Clement V, had moved the papacy from Rome to France. (More to come on the why and how of this, plus a thorough digest of our Catholic faith in the papacy, in a subsequent post.)
Pope John XXII gave us the prayer “Soul of Christ,” which I daily recite after Holy Communion. He also taught erroneously about the beatific vision (though not in a magisterial utterance), and he had to recant later in life. William of Ockham developed his skeptical philosophy largely because of Pope John XXII’s often wild statements.
But no one despised John XXII, and the money-grubbing papal bureaucracy in Avignon, more than the aging Dante Alighieri. In Paradiso XVIII, the poet wrote of the pope and his courtiers:
Watch, [o heaven of justice], wherefrom issues the smoke
that tarnishes thy ray, that once enkindled wrath
may come on the hucksters in the temple that was
raised and walled with miracles and martyrdom.
O host of Heaven I contemplate, be heard your prayers
to aid all those on earth, led on by bad example…
Thou who recordest but to obliterate [Pope John, who was forever excommunicating people, then lifting the excommunication],
consider that Peter and Paul, who died to save
the vineyard thou hast spoiled, are living yet.
Thou can’st well say, “So ardently do I crave
Florentine coins that I know not the Fisherman nor Paul.”
More to come on the Avignon papacy. But to get to the first “John XXIII…”
You may not imagine that an old book called The Age of the Great Western Schism by a 19th-century Episcopalian churchman could be a can’t-put-it-down page-turner. But it is.
In 1376 the seventh Avignon pope, Gregory XI, finally departed France to return to the city consecrated by the blood of Saints Peter and Paul. He reached Rome in early 1377. After Gregory’s death soon thereafter, however, the Cardinals divided into two parties. (More later on why.) In 1378 two conclaves elected two popes. Urban VII reigned in Italy; Clement VII reigned in France.
Now you might thus surmise: The first John XXIII succeeded Clement; therefore not a real pope. Good guess. But the real history has more twists.
Two popes, each with a valid claim to legitimate election: the schism lasted for a generation. Finally Roman Pope Gregory XII and Avignon “Pope Benedict XIII” agreed to meet near Genoa, with both parties of Cardinals. Both popes promised to resign; then the conclave would choose one pope.
Last month I found myself on the Ligurian coast, just south of where the meeting was supposed to have taken place. When the Roman pope did not arrive, the Avignon pope continued journeying south. He made it to La Spezia (where I changed trains). Meanwhile, Pope Gregory made it as far as Lucca (where I spent two lovely days.) Then Gregory balked. Didn’t have the heart to resign as promised.
At this point, the Christian world lost patience. Gregory’s Cardinals left him in Lucca and met up with some Avignon Cardinals in Pisa. They summoned an ecumenical council there, in the sublimely beautiful duomo with the famous leaning campanile.
Yes, you read that correctly. The Cardinals, along with other churchman and reigning monarchs, summoned an ecumenical council, on their own authority. Christendom came together in 1409 (minus the two competing popes).
The Council Fathers enjoyed referring to Gregory not as Gregorius but as “Errorius” and to Benedict not as Benedictus but as “Benefictus,” in honor of his practice of selling benefices, or church offices, for cash.
The Council of Pisa condemned and deposed both. Then the Fathers chose another pope, who took the name Alexander V. (Now the world had three popes.) Alexander soon died. His successor: John XXIII.
This 15th-century Pope John attempted to hold an ecumenical council in Rome, just like the 20th-century Pope John ultimately would. But Pisan-pope John XXIII’s effort failed abysmally; hardly anyone came. Then the emperor of Germany convinced him to summon a council north of the Alps.
The Council met in Constance, accepted the resignations of both Gregory XII and “John XXIII,” deposed “Benedict XIII,” and elected Pope Martin V, who then returned the papacy to Rome. He lies now in the confessio of the papal cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
Now, I hold unflinchingly to our Catholic faith in the papacy. (As I mentioned, I will delve into that soon.) That Catholic faith in the divinely instituted office of the Successor of St. Peter stipulates: an ecumenical council can only be convoked by the pope, or at least with the explicit permission of the pope.
We faithful Catholics have to acknowledge, however: Were it not for the Council of Pisa–manifestly not convoked by any pope–we might not know for sure who the pope is.
Yes, it’s true: the Lord in His Providence could have solved the problem of the Western Schism in some other way. Other, that is, than the Council of Pisa choosing a pope, who then had “John XXIII” for a successor, who then called the Council of Constance, which then gave us the indubitable Pope Martin V. The Lord could have saved the day by some other design, some course of events that did not include Cardinals and other senior churchmen calling a Council without a pope.
But the fact is that it happened the way it happened. Which explains why the Council of Pisa in 1409 is found neither on the list of official Catholic Ecumenical Councils nor on the list of condemned, not-real Councils.