Vatican Spills the McCarrick Beans, Part II

Tornielli Giorno Giudizio

Anyone watching the work of the American bishops meeting in Baltimore three weeks ago knows that they voted on this:

Be it resolved that the bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops encourage the Holy See to release all the documentation that can be released consistent with the canon and civil law regarding the misconduct of Archbishop McCarrick.

The bishops voted that resolution down.

Meanwhile, laughter in Rome. Why? Because Rome had already released all the info. By talking secretly to two journalists. The book was published November 6.

“Don’t these silly Americans understand how we do things here?” the Roman cardinali thought to themselves. (Among the Roman cardinali, I include Donald Wuerl, certainly one of Tornielli & Valente’s anonymous sources.)

Meanwhile, we American men wonder: Really? Talking off the record to a sympathetic journalist counts as “accountability?”

Anyway, click Part One of my summary of the book, if you haven’t read it already. We continue now with:

Facts about Theodore McCarrick revealed by the unwitting accountability team of Vigano-Tornielli-Valente…

In December 2005, Pope Benedict XVI knew that McCarrick had abused seminarians.

McCarrick turned 75 in July, 2005, still healthy and energetic. I remember it as if it were yesterday; all us Washington priests had to attend a 75th birthday party held in a fancy new dining hall at Georgetown University.

Even though canon law requires the resignation of all bishops at 75, sitting Cardinal Archbishops generally serve at least two extra years, if not four or five.

But McCarrick did not. Having concluded that McCarrick posed a grave danger to the good name of Holy Mother Church, Pope Benedict rushed the replacement process, hastily naming Donald Wuerl as McCarrick’s successor. Well before McCarrick turned 76.

crozier wuerl

Meanwhile: two things…

1. Everyone knew that Pope Benedict was embarrassing Theodore McCarrick. But we all thought it had to with a fast one that McCarrick had pulled on then-Card. Ratzinger in 2004. Ratzinger had explained that priests could and should withhold Holy Communion from politicians who voted in favor of abortion. McCarrick did not communicate that instruction to his brother American bishops.

We priests in the trenches thought McCarrick got relieved early because of that. Little did we know…

2. The second settlement of an abuse claim against McCarrick ran its course during 2006. Rome got the word.

Vigano wrote about “sanctions” against McCarrick. Vigano supposed that the sanctions began in 2009, after Dr. Richard Sipe published selections from the McCarrick abuse-claim settlement documents.

But the ‘sanctions’ actually began in December of 2006.

Vigano wrote that Pope Francis “lifted” them in 2013.

He did not. Because they had never been enforced at all.

The history recounted in this book–of nuncios and cardinals trying to enforce Pope Benedict XVI’s order that Theodore McCarrick live a retired life of prayer and penance–it reads like the slapstick farce that it was. McCarrick outmaneuvered them all.

Tornielli and Valente document it, in excruciating detail. They propose to contradict Vigano, insisting that Vigano painted an inaccurate picture of a McCarrick effectively punished by Benedict XVI, then liberated by Francis.

But: I don’t remember Vigano insisting that Benedict’s sanctions were effective. As Tornielli and Valente point out, Vigano himself proved utterly inadequate to the task of enforcing them.

Tornielli and Valente try to cast doubt on Vigano’s utterly crucial assertion that he told Pope Francis about McCarrick’s abuses in June of 2013. But Card. Ouellet, prefect of Bishops, has already acknowledged that Vigano probably did tell the pope about McCarrick. (Oullet preposterously claimed that we could hardly expect the pope to focus on such information).

And even if Vigano never told Pope Franis anything about McCarrick, Tornielli and Valente effectively inform us that they all knew anyway–all the Cardinals around the pope. Pope Francis didn’t need Vigano to tell him that McCarrick was a ticking time bomb of scandal that could explode and destroy them all. The pope already knew. He just did not appear to care.

McCarrick sofa

The picture from this hit-piece book against Vigano is manifestly not: Vigano wrong. The picture that emerges is: The people who run our church really, really do not know what they are doing.

I will likely have more to tell you about what I have read, dear reader, but let me close now with:

My Analysis

In 1994, Bishop Hughes of Metuchen, NJ, could have insisted on a church trial of his predecessor, even though that predecessor was his ecclesiastical superior. Trials are ugly, but they do attain the kind of certitude that we can have in this life, about an accused man’s guilt or innocence.

It would have taken a great deal of courage for Hughes to denounce the Archbishop of his province. But the alternative was: Slip into the shadow world of the mafiosi

In 1999, Cardinal O’Connor could have insisted on a trial of Theodore McCarrick, for violations of the Sixth Commandment with his own seminarians. But he did not. O’Connor wasn’t hung up about guilt or innocence, either; he only cared about whether or not McCarrick got promoted.

(Even the good guys among the mafiosi are still mafiosi, my friends. O’Connor was convinced that McCarrick had preyed on defenseless young men. But still O’Connor never suggested that McCarrick had no business remaining in the throne in Newark–and had no business saying Mass at all.)

John Paul II could have, and should have, conducted a trial. But he preferred to think the best about the charming snake-oil salesman.

Benedict XVI absolutely had to conduct a trial. But he did not do so. He assumed McCarrick was guilty. Meanwhile, McCarrick regarded Benedict’s attempts to closet him in a monastery as a “persecution.” Because McCarrick denies to this day that he did anything wrong.

There’s no getting around this: Pope Benedict XVI is guilty of covering up for Theodore McCarrick. The pope worried about scandal. He did not appear to understand that McCarrick’s victims needed justice. Nor did he understand that more victims would surely come forward.

But we can well imagine that Benedict is suffering his punishment right now. He himself made the choice that leaves him in the impossibly painful position that he now occupies. He knows everything about all this. He knows he made a terrible mistake, out of weakness of will.

And he can say nothing. He has information that could help resolve the problem–The Problem, that he knows has released termites into the very foundations of the Church. But he cannot say anything. Because of the choice that he himself made, to live as the “contemplative ex-pope.”

Pope Francis inherited a nightmare situation in which one of his Cardinals (an unusually prominent one) stood accused of grave abuses. But his guilt had never been proved; it had never even been put on trial, by anyone.

Pope Francis absolutely, positively had to conduct a trial, to establish McCarrick’s guilt definitively and remove him from the clerical state.

Instead, Pope Francis blew the whole thing off completely.

Until a man came forward accusing McCarrick of abusing him while he was still a minor. And this apocalypse we have lived through, and continue to live through, began.

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The Chief Mafiosi Speak About McCarrick (Off the Record, of Course)–Part I

Il Giorno del Giudizio (The Day of Judgment) by Andrea Tornielli and Gianni Valente

Dear reader, your unworthy servant reads the Italian. So I can inform you of what this book says. They published it in Italy a month ago, and it says a lot:

Tornielli Giorno Giudizio

Two Vatican journalists, intent on making Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano look bad, obtained access to some very knowledgeable churchmen. The churchmen talked.

First: Thedore-McCarrick-related facts, heretofore unknown to the public, which we learn in the first four chapters of this book

1. The Vatican began to look for a replacement for James Card. Hickey, Archbishop of Washington, in early 1999.

John Card. O’Connor, then-Archbishop of New York, had heard about McCarrick abusing seminarians. He wrote to Rome, warning Pope John Paul II that choosing the incumbent of Newark for Washington would lead to a colossal scandal: “The American clergy will become divided, and the reputation of the hierarchy will suffer, with mud on the Church.”

(Yes: prophetic.)

Tornielli and Valente include the reason why O’Connor knew. The priest who eventually received a settlement payment in 2004 had complained to Bishop Edward Hughes, McCarrick’s successor in the diocese of Metuchen, NJ, about McCarrick’s abuse. He complained about it in 1994.

In his August testimony, Archbishop Vigano painted a picture of an enfeebled John Paul II who wasn’t really in the decision-making loop in AD 2000. Tornielli and Valente successfully undermine that picture. I myself had the privilege of meeting the pope in the year 2000; he was somewhat enfeebled. Out-of-it? No way.

Cardinal O’Connor’s letter led to a yearlong delay in choosing a successor for Washington. During that year, Cardinal O’Connor died. Meanwhile, McCarrick wrote Rome, denying the accusations against him.

John Paul II believed the man who had spoken Polish to him, and to Bill Clinton, in Newark in 1995.

john paul ii theodore mccarrick newark 1995
Pope St. John Paul II and Theodore McCarrick, Newark, 1995

[Would like to pause here for one moment, dear, attentive reader.

Discussion of McCarrick’s career tends to focus on his ‘promotion’ to Washington in 2000. But this obscures an important fact: sitting in the episcopal throne of the Archdiocese of Newark, while less prestigious, actually involves shepherding a lot more people. And Newark, unlike Washington, has multiple suffragan sees. Washington barely qualifies as an archdiocese; it has only one very-small suffragan see.

What if McCarrick had not become the Archbishop of Washington? He would not have ascended to the College of Cardinals. But his depredations would still have wounded the faith of thousands upon thousands of Catholics. And hundreds of priests.

Archbishop Vigano, and Tornielli and Valente, have given us a lot of information about events in Rome and Washington since 1999. But we can’t forget: the story of Theodore McCarrick is fundamentally the story of a New-York priest who became a bishop and archbishop in New Jersey. And apparently did quite a few terrible things. Which got covered-up, even before his name appeared on anyone’s list of candidates for Archbishop of Washington in 1999.

McCarrick’s abuses would demand a serious reckoning–of who knew what, and when–even if the ball had bounced a different way for Washington in the year 2000.

Anyway, back to the facts revealed in the book…]

2. In the process of trying to make Vigano look dishonest, Tornielli and Valente make him look fundamentally honest. Their sources corroborate all of these assertions:

On the day after the Vatican announced the pope’s choice for Washington, a former seminary professor in Newark wrote to the Holy See, at the insistence of the then-nuncio to the US, Gabriel Montalvo. The professor re-iterated O’Connor’s charges against McCarrick. (O’Connor’s prior letter explains why Montalvo already knew something about it.)

Tornielli and Valente have a lovely paragraph outlining their presumption (which I believe accurate) that McCarrick ceased his depredations upon arriving in Washington:

The diocese doesn’t have a beach house to which he could invite seminarians. And seeing how close he was to the marble halls of the federal institutions, to the Congress and the President of the USA, McCarrick knew that, with so many eyes focused on him, he had to be much more careful.

In December 2005, the sitting Bishop of Metuchen, NJ, Paul Bootkoski, reported to the Apostolic See this fact: his diocese had secretly settled claims of abuse against McCarrick made the previous year.

(In the meantime, McCarrick had participated in the Sistine-chapel conclave held after the death of JP II.)

At this point, the authors’ sources tell them: Bootkoski, Montalvo (the nuncio), and the officials of the Roman dicasteries all acknowledge the fundamental fact. This problem now sits squarely on the desk of the new pope, Benedict XVI. Only the Holy Father can judge and sentence a Cardinal of the Roman Church…

[Much more to come over the next few days, my dear ones. Click here for PART TWO.]

Final Jeopardy! and a New Beginning

A liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which is the Sunday closest to the feast of this ‘first apostle.’

Final Jeopardy question yesterday evening. In the category of “Catholicism.”

None of the contestants got the correct answer. It was a hard question. For two years I served as pastor of St. Andrew’s parish in Roanoke, and I can confidently say: only about 10% of the parishioners of St. Andrew’s would have known that the correct answer is St. Andrew.

We call Andrew the ‘first’ because he recruited his brother… Right: St. Peter. We call them all ‘apostles’ because: St. Andrew, along with everyone else in the upper room on Easter Sunday, saw Jesus after He had risen from the dead.

We could say a lot more. Each of us baptized Christians exercises the ‘apostolic ministry’ in some way. So there is certainly a great deal to say about it.

But let’s start here: The original Apostles saw Jesus. Risen from the dead. They saw Him multiple times, over the course of forty days. The “New Testament:” the original Apostles testimony that they saw Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, with their own eyes. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church believes that testimony.

missale-romanum-white-bgNow, speaking of resurrection: Alex Trebek reminded me. St. Andrew Day means: it’s time to flip back to the beginning of the book. The Missal. The Lectionary. The Breviary.

We start again. We cannot overstate the spiritual significance of the liturgical year. It organizes the Sacred Scriptures for us. It unfolds the mysteries of the Savior’s life. It consecrates the months and seasons. It redeems time, draws daily earthly life up into eternal heavenly life.

It doesn’t get old, the business that begins anew every year on the First Sunday of Advent. We flip the ribbons back; we start fresh. The world outside gets older. But the Sacred Liturgy of the Church offers us, quite literally, a heavenly Fountain of Youth.

Was this past liturgical year the worst in the history of Jesus’ Church? From my limited vantage point on the unfolding of events, I would say: Absolutely.

Will the year to come actually bring even worse? No doubt. We’d be fools to imagine otherwise. Our ‘leaders’ have given us nothing upon which to base any optimism. To the contrary, their heartbreaking ineptitude has all but ground us down in to despair.

I still stand by the suggestion I floated in August. Namely, that the whole lot of them, from the pope on down, resign. And we fill their places in the hierarchy by a lottery that chooses parish priests from around the world at random. But, Father! That might result in an incompetent hierarchy! Well…

All that said: A new year of saving grace dawns for us Catholics anyway. The holy Church can still light the candles of Advent. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, still reigns in heaven. And He continues to sanctify His people through the annual celebration of the unfathomable mysteries of His pilgrim life.

The Lincoln Memorial of the Church

Roth Plot Against AmericaPhilip Roth wrote a novel about what would have happened if Franklin Delano Roosevelt had not won re-election in 1940. The Plot Against America imagines that Charles Lindbergh became president that year instead.

Lindbergh then makes a peace pact with Hitler, instead of committing to the alliance against him. American Jews begin to experience terrifying anti-Semitism, like the Jews in Europe.

The novel centers on one New-Jersey Jewish family.

In an early chapter, they take a family vacation to see the sights of Washington, D.C. They visit the Lincoln Memorial. Dad insists that his two sons carefully read the Gettysburg address, which is chiseled into the marble wall. “All men are created equal.”

Then they return to their hotel and discover that the manager has evicted them from their room. A clerk had mistakenly allowed them to check in. Jews are not allowed.

The fictional father interprets the situation to his sons: We are proud Americans. We love America. America has her ideals, and we cherish them. But the incumbent President of America betrays America by betraying her ideals. What is America? We know by her ideals, which you can read on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial. Not by the current president.

An amazingly moving scene. [NB. Apparently they are working on a t.v. mini-series version of the novel.]

piusxii

…In 1953, Pope Pius XII made today, November 21, Pro Orantibus Day. He urged Catholics to pray and give thanks for all the cloistered nuns and monks, who spend their whole lives praying for us.

They pray for us. They also strive to live purely by our ideals. A life of contemplation of the truth that does not change.

My point is that Christian contemplatives are like the living Lincoln Memorial of our Church.

Of course the USA is a political reality, with a relatively short history and no divine guarantees. While the Church has not just ideals to live by, chiseled on a wall somewhere–but the living, breathing Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

During this period of time, however, we Catholics reasonably wonder if our current leaders have a grip on how to govern our Church according to her true ideals. So I think this analogy might help us.

No matter who holds office right now, the Catholic Church always has an indestructible, living Lincoln Memorial. The “vanishing center” of the Church. In their hidden chapels and simple cells, all they do is pray. And hope for heaven. And love God and everyone.

 

Steady March Through the Alaska of Books

gospelbook

Blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message and heed what is written in it. (Revelation 1:3)

From the beginning of the last book of the Holy Bible. St. John’s Revelation both begins and ends with exhortations about reading the sacred book. Exhortations that we can apply not just to this last book of the Bible, but to all of Scripture. St. John’s words echo Moses’ in the book of Deuteronomy. Carefully listen to, and heed, the Word of God. Change nothing.

How does St. John conclude the Bible?

I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from these words, God will take away his share in the tree of life and the holy city described in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

The Church feeds on the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church listens to, and heeds, the words of Scripture. We know This Is Who We Are since: This is What a Mass Is.

The Catechism puts it like this: “The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as She venerates the Lord’s Body… In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.” (CCC 103-104)

Sounds lovely and sweet. But we cannot get sentimental and pollyannish about something as genuinely intimidating as the Holy Bible.

To Brave AlaskaYou know I recently read about one young man’s ill-fated solo adventure in Alaska. Then I went on a binge and watched multiple movies about people daring the Alaskan wilderness. And losing the dare every time. “Into the Wild.” “To Brave Alaska.” “Rugged Gold.”

The point of this movie genre is: Only a fool underestimates the challenges involved in surviving in the Alaska bush. And my point is: The Holy Bible is the Alaska of books. Only a fool underestimates the challenges. Only a fool ventures out alone, unguided and without provisions.

So we read together. According to an ancient, well-established plan. With guides. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

When we read the Scriptures in union with the Church—systematically, year after year, guided by experts—then we survive and thrive. Then we enter into the joy of seasoned explorers.

A week from Sunday, we begin anew. We Catholic Scripture-reading survivalists understand the Lectionary cycle. This year we have had B-2. Which means on the first Sunday of Advent, we begin…

Right, amigo. C-1.

A steady march through the beautiful bush. Blessed are those who listen to, and heed, the Word of God.

For the Seventies Children

We Nixon babies have a unique relationship with “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” The sound of these songs offers us pre-conscious comfort.

Indeed, I love Queen. Like Sebastian loved Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited.* When the Washington Bullets won the NBA in 1978, my aunt, my brother, and I stood in front of our black-and-white tv and sang “We Are the Champions” until our throats hurt.

And I love Queen not just because Freddie Mercury was the white Prince. (Freddie Mercury wasn’t even really white, exactly.)

Bohemian_Rhapsody_posterIf you, dear devoted reader, don’t even know that they just came out with a “biographical movie” about Queen, that’s cool. If you don’t care to give a thought to Freddie Mercury, no problem.

But this conservative priest did not hesitate to run out and see Bohemian Rhapsody. And it gave me a lot of joy.

Not because it’s a good movie. It’s not. It’s a narrative pastiche which most serious critics have justly panned. The one thing all the reviewers concede is: fine acting by the fellow who plays Freddie Mercury. But I can’t even agree to that. The poor guy does not seem anything at all like Freddie Mercury to me.

And the movie disappoints by failing to include some songs which I would list as absolutely essential Queen songs. Like: Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Which the band actually did perform at the 1985 Live-Aid set around which the movie revolves. But Bohemian Rhapsody cruelly skips that part.

However: This movie made my month anyway. It reminded me of an incredibly comforting fact that I had almost forgotten. The world once considered Queen’s joie de vivre to be lovely, acceptable, and basically normal.

My dear mother birthed me into that wide-open, waking-up-from-the-sixties world. I still want to live in it. The seventies’ “vibe:” when people basically gave each other the benefit of the doubt.

These days there’s too much pressure.

* Aloysius was Lord Sebastian Flyte’s beloved teddy bear.

The Call of God

Alaska on the lower 48

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30)

Anyone ever read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer? A true story. Sean Penn made a move out of it. [Spanish]

In 1990 a young northern-Virginia man wandered west, into the wilderness, trying to unravel the mystery of life. He had nothing, lived on what came his way, experienced the enchantment of the earth’s beauty—as if every day could be the last. He shared a little bit of the total freedom of St. Francis.

This young man also thoughtlessly left his family behind—his parents, his beloved sister; his friends. He underwent a complete separation from all the ties that bound him. In order to find…? The truth. God.

The story utterly captivates me because Chris McCandless and I have so much in common. Born around the same time; grew up within twenty miles of each other; got good grades and ran cross-country in high-school.

And both of us did our share of hitchhiking around America in the years 1988-1992. In those days, not a lot of people thumbed it, like they had back in the 50’s and 60’s. So it was a little risky. That said, I suppose it’s a lot harder to get rides now than it was thirty years ago.

God. He’s everywhere. All the time. Silently omnipotent. Inscrutably immediate. What else could possibly matter, besides God? He calls. How could any of us truly be himself or herself without trying to listen, to follow, to find Him? Without abandoning everything for Him?

Everything comes from Him, and everything tends toward Him. He fashioned everything and governs all. Some fatalistic pagans think the whole cosmos and our lives are just a meaningless game that God plays. But that’s not fair—to us. We have a serious purpose. Vocational discernment is no meaningless farce. Each of us exists for a reason, and each of us must find that reason—or risk losing our very selves.

Into the Wild movie

Anyone have a wall map of the US? With a separate map of Alaska tucked into one corner? (Hawaii in the other corner.) Anyone ever bothered to compare the scales of the continental US map versus the Alaska map? You know: one inch = a hundred miles, or two hundred.

Anyway, on my wall map, the scale for Alaska is double the scale for the lower forty-eight. Alaska ain’t no chicken-scratch Canadian backyard. Texas, California, and Montana, spread out next to each other, could all fit inside Alaska. Alaska is 9/10th the size of Mexico.

At age 22, Chris McCandless hitchhiked, worked odd jobs, got to know people from all different walks of life—then wound up in solitude in the northern reaches of the Denali Nature Preserve in the Alaska interior.

Certainly a lot of us can relate to some of that. The business of coming of age, exploring the world, figuring out who you are. At age 22, I, too hitch-hiked, worked odd jobs, got to know people from all walks of life. But I didn’t wind up in Alaska. I’ve never been to Alaska. I wound up in RCIA.

The crucifix was my Alaska. A crucifix doesn’t encompass the size of California, Texas, and Montana combined. Rather, it’s the size of a single human being. Same size as all of us.

Yet the crucifix unites heaven and earth, eternity and time. It unites solitude and solidarity. Alaska is a lonely place—seems like one, anyway. But the Christian Church? No, not lonely. The crucifix unites God and man. Jesus Christ has united all of this—the whole cosmos He made—in love.

Finding God’s will. You have to follow the rules. Pray, go to Mass, obey the Commandments. But then your calling comes as a pure gift. At 22, by the pure grace of God, I knew He was calling me to become a priest. I knew that without any doubt. Though to this day I still can’t say that I fully know what a priest even is.

I know a priest lives from Jesus and for Jesus. Like everyone. Every human being who has ever lived and died, or who will ever live and die—all live from Jesus and for Jesus.

Jesus had a vocation: to live from the Father and for the Father. Jesus of Nazareth consummated human life as religion. When I was 22 my friends told me I was ‘strangely religious.’ By the time I joined the Church and then went to the seminary, they gave up on me as a fanatic, a madman.

But what else is there? Jesus wasn’t “too religious.” He lived a pilgrim life in which every single breath communicated eternal love. He lived His whole life on earth as one big crucifix of union with the Father.

Chris McCandless didn’t make it. He neglected to consider that Alaskan rivers swell a lot in the summer, as some of the snowpack melts off. He couldn’t make it back the way he had come; he ran out of provisions. He breathed his last six months before his 25th birthday. May he rest in peace. There’s a little, kind-of shrine to him, in Healy, Alaska. A few hundred people visit every summer.

At the exact same time—when McCandless was running out of food and strength—I met with a Catholic priest for the first time in my life and started to learn the Catholic faith and get ready to enter the Church. To God be the glory.

Fellow Gen-Xer Who Died Young

Chris McCandless People mag

You. Your books. Your thoughts. And the mountains, hills, bugs, grass, wild flowers, birds, creeks, rivers.

Chris McCandless finished college, then set out west. He longed for the solitudes of Alaska. He had made himself poor, like St. Francis and the Lord Jesus before him. Chris gave away all his money and abandoned the middle-class existence for which he had been carefully groomed.

He had a car, but soon he dispensed with that, too. He had no plan exactly, just a dream. He renamed himself Alexander Supertramp.

He rowed down the Colorado River to Mexico. He hitchhiked and hopped freight trains up and down California, then out to South Dakota. He made some friends who still have not forgotten him. He practiced celibacy. He worked the fields and grain elevators with a combine crew at harvest time. And at a northern-Arizona McDonald’s for seven months.

He chased his dream. Solitude in the Alaskan bush.

In April of 1992, he hiked out. He had thumbed his way to a trailhead north of Mount McKinley (aka Denali). He had provisioned himself. Minimally. By reading and practice, he had acquired no small amount of survival expertise.

He lived until August.

Before Chris succumbed to starvation, brought on by two mistakes he made, including eating seeds he should not have eaten, he wrote a farewell note: “I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all.”

Christopher-McCandless
final self-portrait

Award-winning writer Jon Krakauer became, by his own admission, “obsessed” with McCandless. Krakauer wrote the definitive account of these events, Into the Wild, published in 1996. Sean Penn made a movie version, released in 2007.

I can tell you that I will read everything Jon Krakauer has ever written and will ever write. Or I will die trying.

Into the Wild has everything it should. A meticulous reconstruction of events, narrated with soaring prose. Careful consideration of all the available botanical literature. The history of other cases of wild, youthful wandering, including Krakauer’s own. Above all: Into the Wild humbles itself before the mystery of this young man’s life and early death.

When it comes to final judgment about McCandless, you can go one of two ways. Sean Penn goes one way with his movie version: Alex Supertramp, the cult hero of Seattle grungers. He lived free. He died young, because his parents, and society, are evil.

Now, I love Eddie Vedder as much as the next guy. (He provides the heartbreaking, just-about-perfect movie soundtrack.) But Sean Penn’s take on what happened does not correspond with the actual facts. McCandless did not have vicious ogres for parents. Just your usual, run-of-the-mill, screwed-up type of people.

Krakauer portrays them much more honestly than Penn. And Krakauer writes about the peace a man can find when he realizes: my flawed father is a fellow human being, like me. He needs mercy, like me. Penn’s movie never gets there.

The other way you can go to judge McCandless: A selfish idiot who got what he deserved for tempting fate and Mother Nature. A son who did his parents very, very wrong. Who wronged all his loved ones, especially his sister. (She’s the most-beautiful character in the movie, giving Chris the benefit of the doubt at every turn.)

Most actual Alaskans–the people who know how to survive there–take this view: Chris McCandless, dumbass.

But Krakauer won’t dismiss the protagonist he calls “the boy” that way. Because it’s inaccurate.

Mount McKinley Denali

McCandless broke his parents’ and his sister’s hearts. But they themselves refuse to hold it against him. Krakauer knows enough about adventuring in the wild to recognize: this boy was no idiot. He made mistakes that others might have made. (Mistakes that he himself, Jon Krakauer, might easily have made, the author humbly admits.)

McCandless took risks that cost him his life. But taking risks is part of…

…following a “vocation.” Finding your calling. Finding yourself. Finding God. No one every actually found God without risking his or her life.

Documentarist Ron Lamoth also chronicled McCandless’ life and death on film. Lamoth uses a phrase that struck me as a little odd. McCandless, Lamoth, and myself: we all came to birth within two years of each other. Lamoth refers to our generation as “free-spirited Generation X.”

Odd because: The Baby Boomers who watched us come of age would not call us “free-spirited.” To them, we looked like Leave-It-To-Beaver Cleavers with Blackberrys. (We still do look that way to them.)

But Lamoth is right, when you look at our early-1990’s “free-spiritedness” in another way.

Our beloved land, and the world at large: it was a lot more wide-open and free in 1992 than it is now. We feared far fewer boogeymen back then. We allowed ourselves to rely on the kindness of strangers. Much, much more than today’s twenty-year-olds can.

To you, dear young people, I apologize for this. On behalf of all us idiots who let the world get this way. We could have taken steps to keep your world freer, calmer, kinder, and more wide-open. But we were idiots, and didn’t take them.

…McCandless did not want to stay in the bush into August. He had broken camp, and headed for town (and communication with other human beings), in July. But he had not anticipated that the stream he had crossed in April would have swelled into a raging river at midsummer–because of snowpack melting on Denali. This was his first big mistake. (Then, in his hunger, he ate the poisonous seeds, which destroyed his digestive system).

My point is: he did not commit suicide. If this or that little thing had occurred to him, at this or that crucial moment (like, ‘Let me get a topographical map before I head out there.’), he might have a wife and kids in the their early twenties right now. He might teach literature somewhere. Or he might be a priest.

May God rest him. Having read Krakauer’s standard-setting account of things, I now number Chris McCandless among my friends in the realm beyond the peak of Denali.

One Consistory, Three Cardinals, a “Gaslighter,” and Two Books About Pope Francis

The Christian mystery must be taken literally, with the greatest possible realism, because it has a value for every time and place. –Pope St. John Paul II, Divini Amoris Scientia

Consistory February 2001 McCarrick Bergoglio
Consistory for the Chair of Peter, 2001

Your humble servant had the privilege of attending the Roman Consistory of February 21, 2001. Pope John Paul II created Jorge Bergoglio, Theodore McCarrick, and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor Cardinals, along with 43 other prelates and theologians, including the well-known Walter Kasper.

During the ceremony, candidates for Cardinal solemnly profess their faith before the pope. They use the same formula that I had just used myself a few weeks before, in the seminary rector’s office, since I was to be ordained in a matter of months.

The solemn Profession of Faith taken by Cardinals (and potential deacons and priests) goes like this:

“I, [name], firmly believe… 1. The Nicene Creed 2. “Everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in tradition, which the Church sets forth for belief.”

So, we in the Square heard, on February 21, 2001:

I, Theodore, firmly believe…everything contained in the Word of God.

Also: I, Jorge… I, Cormac… I, Walter…

I did not, on that day, credit the rumors then circulating that McCarrick had a past as a homosexual predator of seminarians. I thought his conservative enemies spread those rumors. That’s the explanation for the rumors that McCarrick himself gave us.

But: I did doubt the man’s full sincerity in saying that he firmly believed everything contained in the Word of God. I doubted Walter Kasper’s sincerity there, too.

I doubted Kasper based on the evidence of his own theological opinions. I had read his book Jesus the Christ. He there suggests that the Lord Jesus did not know everything.

An intricate theological dispute could emerge here, but I will save that for another day. Suffice it to say I had some reason in doubting Kasper’s complete honesty in his Solemn Profession of Faith on February 21, 2001.

Dictator Pope Henry Sire

I based my doubts about McCarrick’s sincerity on something else: his institutional connection with priests who, at that time, were tormenting me mercilessly. At that point in my little life, I was locked in the middle of a controversy which resulted in my expulsion from the seminary.

In those days, I don’t think any reasonable observer of the situation at the Catholic University of America could have failed to recognize:

On the one hand, The Catechism of the Catholic Church invokes the historical authority of Sacred Scripture in one way. For instance: The Catechism assumes the accuracy of the four gospels regarding historical details. And assumes that an ancient flood did, in fact, occur. And that Abraham was a real person. Etc.

On the other hand, the professors at CUA taught something else. Like: we need exegetical theories about the underlying sources of the books of the Bible–in order to separate fact from myth.

This unacknowledged discrepancy caught us seminarians in a vise. And it seemed to me that our entire future as preachers hung in the balance. If we could not assume that everything we read out loud at Mass from the Word of God is simply true, then what kind of homilies could we give?

Of course this doesn’t mean that historical study isn’t necessary. Human beings did, in fact, write the Bible. God intends to convey the meaning that the human authors intended to convey. But no one comes to church to listen to the priest explain to them the ways in which the Bible isn’t true.

I don’t mean to make myself a martyr, dear reader. But the fact is: ten months after JP II created McCarrick a Cardinal, I got kicked out of the seminary. For refusing to say that the Flood didn’t happen.

For the next eighteen months, the Archbishop was happy to let me dangle, living in rectory attics, hoping I would walk away. Even though I had already promised God I would serve Him for life as a deacon, and then a priest.

Eventually, McCarrick ordained me. For that I am grateful. But the truth is he had no choice–since he had already ordained me a deacon, and I had committed no crime. And the pastors I lived and worked with begged him to ordain me.

The fact is, as far as I could tell, McCarrick did not care at all about the facts surrounding my expulsion from the seminary. He never ‘spoke one word’ to me about it. As far as I know, he never asked the seminary rector, “Did Mark break one or more of your rules?” The Archbishop knew perfectly well that I had not broken any rules. I just refused to accept the idea that preaching could find a foundation in the historical-critical method.

It began to dawn on me, even then, dear reader: These mafiosi who run this institution do not care about facts. They operate only on the level of slogans. They please ‘the masses’ with saccharine abstractions, calculated to avoid all controversy. Since we sheep have a religious obligation to give these men the benefit of the doubt, we accept their empty sloganeering; we even give it a charitable interpretation. The damage that such empty sloganeering does to the integrity of people’s faith–well, we ignore it. That is: Until the summer of 2018.

McCarrick had a favorite slogan for us seminarians and young priests. He would conjure the image of JP II visiting Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark. “He walked right down the middle of the aisle, so he could reach out and touch the people on both sides,” McCarrick said over and over. “We have to be like that. Down the middle.”

I would think to myself: What does he mean? Down the middle of what? Both sides of what?

So: My doubts about McCarrick’s sincerity in the Profession of Faith in St. Peter’s Square in February 2001–they had some foundation. Little did I know then how much foundation they in fact had.

…What about the two other Cardinals I mentioned when I began? One of them went on to become pope. Jorge Bergoglio. Pope Francis.

Recently Mr. Steve Skojec of onepeterfive.com wrote the essay that I was on the verge of writing. Skojec accuses Pope Francis of “gaslighting.”

The Great Reformer Ivereigh

Now, this psychological term enjoys a certain vogue right now. But that doesn’t mean it ain’t real. The best definition I have come across for “gaslighting” is the movie, The Girl on the Train. (Watch at your own risk; it’s rough.)

Anyway: Is it true? Is Pope Francis gaslighting the Catholic people? Trying to trick us into thinking of him as an honest and loving spiritual father–when in fact he is altogether otherwise?

To try and answer this question as impartially as possible, I plowed through two books simultaneously. The Dictator Pope by Henry Sire, under the pen-name Marcantonio Colonna. And The Great Reformer by Austin Ivereigh.

The Dictator Pope is basically this: An illuminating arrangement of facts gleaned from the conservative Catholic press these last five years, supplemented with some additional anonymous-source information. Sire organizes the facts masterfully, to paint a convincing picture of the man.

The man who rose to the Chair of Peter through the avowed machinations of what is widely known as the “St. Gallen Mafia”–a caucus of liberal western-European prelates who spent their careers waiting for John Paul II to die. (Walter Kasper among them.)

The Dictator Pope reviews the entire controversy of the Family Synods and Amoris Laetitia, which we have covered in detail here on this little weblog. Sire tells the heartbreaking story of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in Italy, an order of primitive Franciscan observance and pure faith–which Pope Francis apparently destroyed. Sire even brings Archbishop Carlo Viganò into the story–way before Viganò issued his McCarrick testimony–by recounting the failed reform of the finances of the Holy See.

Sire reviews the pope’s authoritarian intervention into the internal affairs of the Knights of Malta. This particular account helps explain Judge Anne Burke’s recent public resignation as a Dame of Malta. (As reported by the Chicago Sun Times; scroll down if you click the link. The City Club of Chicago recently hosted a discussion of the Church’s sex-abuse crisis, moderated by Burke–very much worth watching on Youtube.)

Judge Burke, who tirelessly served the U.S. Bishops during the last sex-abuse scandal in 2002, objected to a directive from the American superior of the Knights and Ladies of Malta. To this effect: Stay out of the current controversy.

Judge Burke resigned over this. She intends to “continue to speak out about the need to investigate the underlying causes and conduct by the hierarchy in our church that permitted these crimes to continue.”

Back to the The Dictator Pope. Sire explains Pope Francis like this: You will never understand him if you think of him as a priest. He cannot be understood as someone who fundamentally sees himself as a humble steward of divine mysteries. Rather, Sire contends, the pope is a “Peronist”–an opportunistic politician, intent on pleasing the audience in front of him at the moment. In other words, a professional sloganeer.

Which brings us to the other book.

Austin Ivereigh, author of The Great Reformer, served briefly as Cormac Card. Muphy-O’Connor’s public-relations assistant. (As I mentioned earlier, St. JP II created Murphy-O’Connor a Cardinal alongside Bergoglio and McCarrick, in February 2001.)

Murphy-O’Connor died last year. In England, Catholics are now reeling over recent revelations about how Pope Francis handled an allegation of sexual abuse against Murphy-O’Connor. Former Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, has recently spoken out about how the pope ordered a premature end to a Vatican investigation of Murphy-O’Connor’s alleged misdeeds.

(Cardinal Müller’s interview with Raymond Arroyo last week also very much rewards the watching.)

the mission movie poster

Anyway, Ivereigh has written a more substantial book than Sire. Ivereigh recounts fascinating facts of Argentine history. I loved reading this biography, which includes a full history of the Jesuit Reductions (immortalized in the movie The Mission). I loved reading it–until I got bored with the subject. Namely, Jorge Bergoglio.

Don’t think of him as a priest. So insists Henry Sire.

Ivereigh’s book brough back a flood of memories. From my Jesuit days.

I fell in love with the Society of Jesus in 1992, served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, teaching at a Jesuit school for inner-city boys, then entered the novitiate, did the thirty-day silent retreat, lived with Jesuits in Mexico for two months, spent the summer at Forham in the Bronx…

Then, in 1996, I left. Because I wanted to be a priest.

Sounds strange, because Jesuits are priests. But, for those of Bergoglio’s generation, the priesthood only got in the way. The priesthood, as someone put it so well, involves serving primarily as a kind of beast of burden. Say your Mass. Hear confessions. Baptize the babies. Bury the dead. Try to give a good homily–but, above all, keep it short.

There’s nothing theoretical about any of these priestly duties. Forgive me for putting it this way, but it serves the purpose: There’s nothing theoretical about conjugal relations between husband and wife. Such things occur in a given place, at a given time. Same thing for the Catholic priesthood. Show up and do your duty. This aspect of priestly life Jesuits find altogether inconvenient. It gets in the way of the realization of their grand theories of things.

Back to Ivereigh’s hagiography–er, biography. Eventually it becomes impossible to take Ivereigh seriously. He lauds Jorge Bergoglio as the spiritual equal of St. Ignatius Loyola and the oratorical equal of Abraham Lincoln. Ivereigh calls Bergoglio’s speech during the General Congregation of Cardinals prior to the Conclave of 2013 “a second Gettysburg address.” Please.

What made the book grow so boring I had to give up on it? The Argentinian politics which Ivereigh narrates so meticulously ultimately became a battle of sloganeers. On the one side: President Nestor Kirchner. On the other side: the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio.

Ivereigh knows a lot of Argentine history. He does not appear to know a lot of theology. But one theological slogan interests him. Namely, “episcopal collegiality.”

Ivereigh convicts John Paul II of grave sins against episcopal collegiality. According to Ivereigh (and the members of the St. Gallen Mafia), the late sainted pope “centralized” the government of the Church, to a fault. Vatican II had intended to restore authority to the local church. But JP II stood in the way.

Perhaps there’s actually something to this, in areas other than sexual morality. And the Sacred Liturgy.

But “episcopal ollegiality” serves as the “states’ rights” slogan for the pro-gay, pro-divorce Church crowd. In this way:

Dr. Martin Luther King enlightened America about the fallacy of the ‘states rights’ argument (which by then was 140 years old). Dr. King taught America: We will never have quiet consciences as long as racism prevails. Instead, we will try to cover over our consciences with dishonest slogans. The dishonest slogan of Southern American racism is: States’ Rights! But the fact is that no state has a right to make racism legal; it can’t be made legal. Not really, anyway. Because institutionalized racism (not to mention chattel slavery) will always disturb people of conscience.

Same thing goes for homosexuality, divorce, fornication, artificial contraception, etc. Ecclesiastical liberals cry: Collegiality! Authority belongs the local church! Rome needs to loosen the grip of her heavy hand! (So insisted the St. Gallen Mafia. And so insists Pope Francis.)

But these cries against “Roman centralization” ascend to heaven in vain. John Paul II didn’t make artificial contraception and homosexuality immoral. God made it immoral. Local authority cannot contravene laws that bind every human conscience.

Even our current sloganizing, gaslighting pope can’t silence the inner voice of truth that troubles people’s consciences. And Pope Francis’ attempts to do so–especially his false mercy to Theodore Edgar McCarrick–have disturbed my conscience. Mightily.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 20, and Nikko Lane at OnePeterFive

To Kill a Mockingbird Jem Scout Dill

Three children have snuck into the Maycomb, Alabama, county courthouse to hear a trial. The children of the defense attorney, Scout and Jem, and their friend Dill. They sit in the “colored” balcony, because they’re not supposed to be there. It’s too ‘grown-up’ for them.

The accused is black, and everyone but the children know that he will not get justice. At one point during the trial, while the prosecutor cross examines the defendant, something in eight-year-old Dill begins to realize: the truth doesn’t matter in this courthouse. He starts crying. Jem and Scout take him outside for a breather.

A town fixture named Dolphus Raymond sits outside the courthouse, drinking from a bottle in a paper bag. He tries to comfort Dill. “He’s crying because the world hasn’t gotten a hold of him and made him blind to its meanness.”

Raymond offers Dill a sip from the bottle to calm his nerves. Jem and Scout are horrified at first, but turns out: it’s not whiskey. It’s just Coke.

…That’s us, those kids. Sitting outside the courthouse. They went inside to hear their father do his work. They assumed that all the people running things there were basically honest. It had never occurred to them that there are such things as corrupt judges and county prosecutors. Just like we sons and daughters of the Catholic Church assumed. Until the summer of 2018.

Now we’re sitting outside the courthouse in a daze, trying to dry our tears.

We, too, need a little sip of Coke. Here’s one. Excerpts from an article called “The Laity Action Plan for Our Dark Times.”

*

The pope has no answers for us. Do we really need them at this point?

The bishops he has promoted defend him and continually deflect public attention away from him and his camp. And what do we lay faithful do? We sit, we worry, we ruminate, we pray.

Is this enough?

With the hierarchy covering for themselves and their allies amid this scandal and the lower clergy without the power to implement change in this present pontifical climate, our Church leaders remain static. It seems the Church, like its lay members, as an institution (innocently and guiltily), is stalling, waiting for change to occur with a pope who has given no indication of making changes and reforms, no indication of admitting fault, no indication of stepping down.

Let us not forget what started all of this: sexual abuse of minors, adolescents, and adults alike by clergymen and the continued cover-up from the lowest to the highest levels of the Church. These victims call for us to break the static, even when it is apparent that Francis and company have no intention of acting on anyone’s behalf but their own.

Being the voice of Jesus Christ’s Church when society will call you crazy is what sainthood is all about… This is especially true in light of the scandal: when the Church’s leadership are outed as perpetrators of injustices against the people, the Church will require strong, saintly lay defenders of the faith moving forward.

The best way to seek our Lord’s consolation is by getting back to the basics of our faith. Attending daily Masses on a regular basis, spending time in adoration with the Blessed Sacrament, and engaging regularly with a confessor in the Holy Sacrament of Reconciliation are all wonderful ways we can return to what makes us Catholic – and thus seek the solace we so desperately need as His damaged but unbroken Church.

Let’s reclaim our place in the Church as its driving force. This starts with the seemingly mundane, daily activities we can take part in in our local parishes. Be a strong leader of your parish. Get involved. Join councils and committees at your parishes and in your dioceses. Be the support the victims in our own communities need.

The strength of our Church as a whole starts with you. It starts at home.

What does this have to do with the scandals we face today, right now? Pope Francis calls us as lay Catholics to lead the Church out of a scandal that he refuses to face. So be it. This is how we lead.

While the response by the Church’s leadership has been unacceptable up until now, Pope Francis may get what he asks for. He calls us to take this scandal into our own hands. Through his inaction and silence, he may be inadvertently provoking us to do just that. Take Pope Francis’s influence for what you will, but the lay faithful will be the force the Church needs to overcome this dark time. These initiatives – fervent prayer; a desire to defend Church doctrine, tradition, and values; and enabling ourselves to lead our Church on our local levels – may seem small, but the Lord moves mountains with our small actions.

Mother Teresa put it wonderfully: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” That’s what our Church needs right now. That is what we can do.