The Lord Jesus Christ conquered death and gave us divine love. He entrusted His doctrine and His saving mysteries to His Apostles.
The Apostles’ successors in office–the pope and bishops, with priests as their co-workers: they govern the Church. They teach and sanctify in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church.
To deny this is to deny a truth about the Christian religion. It would make you a heretic or schismatic, to deny it.
At the same time, though: Among the men in collars, there have been many criminals. Criminals who have gravely harmed innocent people. And among the men in miters: Also quite a few genuine criminals.
One criminal who wore a miter is Theodore McCarrick. This year he may very well finally plead guilty–or be condemned as guilty–in a civil criminal court, and be sent to jail.
As we covered in March, another criminal bishop is Gustavo Zanchetta. He languishes in an Argentine prison now.
McCarrick and Zanchetta have this in common: Pope Francis abused his ecclesiastical authority to cover up their crimes. In McCarrick’s case, the cover-up succeeded for many years, and it involved Popes Benedict XVI and John Paull II, as well. In Zanchetta’s case, the cover-up lasted for a few years of the Francis papacy.
In both cases, the cover-ups ended because of the courage of laypeople. Both cover-ups would still be in full swing, if the whole thing had been left up to the pope.
Having the authority of an Apostle–even having the authority of St. Peter–does not give a man the right to silence someone who is trying to tell the truth about criminal acts.
The cover-uppers in the hierarchy tell themselves that they must silence such truth-tellers, in order to preserve the good name of the Church. But this is a self-serving lie.
What the bullies are trying to protect is actually just their own personal reputations. The cover-ups involve not real churchmanship, but pure worldliness–worldliness masquerading as zeal for Christ.
Christ crucified shows Himself in the victims of the crimes. The cover-up machine of the mitered bullies serves only to obscure Him from view. But the bullies nonetheless will stop at nothing, so that they can retain their sinecures.
My book Ordained by a Predator explains all this, with the necessary concrete evidence.
I wrote the first draft in August of 2020, and I submitted the final text to the publisher in August of 2021. The first edition will become available from St. Michael’s Media in August of this year.
The publisher sent me the final typeset draft recently, so that I could prepare an index, as well as find a couple prominent people to endorse the book. I am honored that two clerical sex-abuse survivors, and leaders of the community, have agreed to do so.
A lot has happened with me since I wrote the book, so Book #2 is very much in the works. But the situation in the Church has hardly changed since August 2020.
So I believe Ordained by a Predator will offer something that the world still does not have, even four years after the notorious Summer of Shame, 2018.
Namely: A thorough account of the ordeal that McCarrick’s victims have faced, in their dealings with the Vatican cover-up machine. This includes, also, the bullying that I myself have endured.
May it please God, let’s get together in person when the book becomes available. We will work on organizing gatherings in various parts of Virginia, across the USA, and maybe even abroad as well.
In northwest Washington DC, there’s a large apartment building set back from Connecticut Avenue on Van Ness Street. For years, the building was known as The Consulate, then a new owner changed the name.
In January a young man named Raymond Spencer rented an apartment in the building, with a balcony that overlooked Edmund Burke School.
My mom taught history in that school for a quarter century. She played a key role in making the school what it is. When she retired in 2005, they named a classroom after her. The alumni magazine highlighted her on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the school’s founding. (Burke began in 1968.)
Burke was like a second home to our family. The pedestrian bridge in the photo connects what they call the “new” building, on Connecticut Avenue, with the “old” Upton Street building.
But a quarter century ago, there was only Upton-Street Burke, and we called half of it the “new building.” I remember looking at the muddy construction site for the addition to the original building, out of the back seat of our 1976 Dodge Dart.
I was a student at Burke 1986-88, my brother 1985-1990, my cousin 1988-1991.
We typed the original student government “constitution” on the 1985 Apple Macintosh I had in my room during high-school. When I was president of the student body, the co-founder Dick Roth and I sat in his office and came up with the mascot name–the “Bengals.” I secretly made a copy of my mom’s key to the building, and my friends and I would sneak in and brew coffee in the faculty lounge late on Saturday nights, and sit and talk like grown ups.
Nine days ago, Mr. Spencer transported a large suitcase full of heavy weaponry into his apartment in The Consulate. The following day, at the time of school dismissal, he opened fire on the Burke pedestrian bridge over the alley, and at the carpool lane below.
The shots shattered the windows of the pedestrian bridge. But, praised be the Lord Jesus Christ, no one got killed.
Except Spencer himself, that is. He had set up a camera outside his apartment door. When the police came down the hallway to apprehend him, he killed himself.
Spencer’s shots did injure some people. May they soon recover. And of course there’s the trauma inflicted on everyone in the building at the time. They had to run for cover and hide for hours, until the police got to Spencer.
They handled it. Brave kids, brave teachers.
Why did Spencer do this? The Head of School has announced that the shooter had no “known connection” to Burke. No known connection, that is, other than having an apartment across the alley for four months, and then opening fire at the school one Friday afternoon.
Spencer knew what he was shooting at. While his loaded gun sat on his tripod, he submitted a revision to the Edmund Burke School Wikipedia page. He wanted to add the shooting to the school’s history.
I, for one, cannot see this crime as “another school shooting.” It’s a distinct crime, committed by a particular criminal, with unique individual victims. In a particular place that, for me, shimmers with memories.
Did Spencer rent his apartment in January, and only then realize that his balcony afforded a line-of-sight to a school, a school which he later learned bears the name Edmund Burke? Did he then at some point decide, in a haze that we probably will never understand, to shoot at the school?
Or did he rent his apartment because it afforded him the opportunity to shoot like a sniper at a particular school he wanted to shoot at, namely Burke?
Maybe we will never know. But there must be clues out there somewhere. May the police find them. Knowing the truth about this would help me. I imagine it would help Burkies in general.
Back in the 80’s, a mugging or two took place in the alley between Upton and Van Ness. But generally it was safe. I always felt completely safe.
I remember being in the alley one evening in the spring of ’87, at sunset. Then I stepped into the back door of the school, where there was a payphone. I called a girl I had a crush on, who went to Woodrow Wilson High School on Nebraska Avenue.
I wanted to tell her to look at the lovely sky. The crescent moon and the first stars of the night glittered in an arc, in the waning sunlight.
That payphone is long gone, of course. But I hope the day comes soon when a Burke boy gets to stand in the alley, without a care in the world, and see a sunset like I saw, and use his phone to make an Instagram of it, to impress a girl. I hope that day comes soon.
When the hand-held candles light up the church, with the Paschal Candle in front of the altar, at the beginning of the Easter Vigil: Christ triumphs, and we rejoice.
The ritual of our Church gives us the meaning of all the toil and pain of this difficult mortal life.
“We owe God a death” (Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2, Act III, scene 2). God gave us life, and everything. And we thoroughly messed the business up, we human malefactors. We owe Him the death He calls us to.
He, however, went ahead and paid off our debt, on the Holy Cross. So now we can live under the canopy of His sky and trees; His sun, moon, and rain–we can live under His shelter, as the heavenly Father’s hopeful children.
We can light up the dark church with little candles, knowing it’s all true, His Gospel. He paid the full debt of death, and came out of it alive.
At the Vigil, a clergyman holds the big candle, the light of Christ. The flock all hold little candles. It’s the Church, Head (Jesus) and members. The Redeemer and the redeemed.
Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ: the night of Saturday, April 10, 1993, found me holding a little candle in Dahlgren Chapel in Washington, D.C.
We all owe God a death. I will gladly pay that debt anytime, whenever God wills. The heavenly grace that found me that Holy Saturday night, the grace of communion with the Church of Jesus Christ: that grace outweighs death more than a lion outweighs a flea.
I became a Catholic to become a priest. As a seminarian, I learned the Holy Week ceremonies, in close detail. Then I spent two decades of Holy Weeks celebrating those ceremonies.
I think I mentioned before how I served as Cardinal-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s deacon on a couple occasions during the Lent and Holy Week of my tenth anniversary as a Catholic.
On the First Sunday of Lent, 2003, I sat next to McCarrick at the big ceremony where the parishes present their RCIA candidates to the Archbishop.
Before the final blessing, I had a moment to whisper to the Cardinal, “Ten years ago, that was me, Your Eminence.”
He loved it. He stood up, and before giving the blessing, told the whole crowd what I had just said. Then he encouraged the young, unmarried men there to consider the seminary.
I also deaconed for McCarrick at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week that year. That’s the annual Mass when all the clergy gathers at the cathedral. The priests renew our promises, and the bishop blesses the holy oils for use during the coming year. That includes the Chrism oil, which you need for Confirmations (anointing the forehead) and Ordinations (anointing the palms).
I stood next to Cardinal McCarrick, and helped hold his chasuble back from his wrist, as he consecrated the Chrism he would use a month later at our ordination as priests.
We’re all sinners. No one is perfect–not even priests, bishops, popes. There’s no such thing as a Church with 100%-holy clergy. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay for criminals to hide from justice behind the altar rail.
During Holy Week 2003, a lot of people knew that McCarrick was a criminal hiding from justice. People in New Jersey knew, and people in the Vatican knew.
The Vatican ambassador was at our Chrism Mass in 2003. He knew at that very moment that multiple victims of McCarrick’s abuses had tried to report what had happened up the clerical chain of command.
And yet here McCarrick was, presiding over the sacred ceremonies, as Cardinal-Archbishop of the national capital of the most-powerful country on earth. Some other men in miters at that Mass also knew some of the secrets. But they just stood there, consummate cowards, as a criminal pederast consecrated the Holy Chrism.
Most of us there would not have tolerated the situation, had we known.
If the Vatican ambassador had somehow decided to throw the Code of Silence to the winds, and marched to the microphone, and declared to everyone in the cathedral everything he knew about what McCarrick had done; if such a miracle of truth-telling had occurred, I believe that:
We would have stood in silent shock for a moment. Then we would have applauded the whistleblower’s courage for speaking. Then we would have knelt down to pray for the patience to wait for the Lord to send us a different Archbishop, one that we could actually respect and trust.
At least that’s what I hope I would have done. Instead, though, the Code of Silence prevailed, as usual. The criminal remained hidden behind the altar rail for another 15 years.
Every year, the bishop invites his priests to the Chrism Mass at the cathedral. For three years running now, though, I have not been invited. I am not welcome.
The bishop here probably knew some of McCarrick’s secrets, at the Chrism Mass in 2003. (Monsignor Barry Knestout was right there, near McCarrick that day, just like me.)
If Bishop Knestout didn’t know anything that day, he certainly came to know some of it, in the subsequent few years. He dutifully kept the Code of Silence of the mitered mafia.
Now, two decades later, with some of the McCarrick truth known to the world, Knestout has left me outside, to fend for myself spiritually. Because I think the Code of Silence is bull–t.
I will participate in the Holy Week ceremonies this year, not as a priest celebrant, but in the back of a strange church, praying quietly among people who don’t know me.
I have peace about this.
Because: If you take all the wrongness of a criminal presiding over Holy Week as Cardinal Archbishop–if you take the whole invisible wound caused by that, and try to look at it, honestly and carefully, you see: we still owe the Lord a lot here.
We still owe Him for all the cruelty, the hypocrisy, and the cowardice, hidden behind the altar rail two decades ago.
I think of the good, honest souls with me at that Chrism Mass, 2003, in McCarrick’s cathedral. People who knew me then, and who know the truth as I know it now. I believe they think like this, about the situation as it now stands:
It’s a shame that Barry Knestout has thrown Mark White in the trash. It’s a shame, because Mark turned out to be a halfway-decent priest.
But it makes sense. It makes perfect sense that the tall, idealistic deacon then would wind up the unjustly ‘canceled’ priest now, considering all the hidden evil involved. It’s no surprise that the tall, bookish dude would find himself on the forgotten fringe of Holy Mother Church. Because it’s better to suffer in the back of the church than stand up in front and pretend everything is fine, when it isn’t.
My eighth-grade social-studies class had an enterprising teacher. Very enterprising. My parents trusted him, and they trusted 12 1/2-year-old me. So I got to join a student group that traveled for eight days in the Soviet Union, in March 1983.
The Cold War was in its waning days, but no one knew it yet. The U.S.S.R. was the enemy; Russia was a strange and sinister nation of unintelligible commies. That is, until I learned: they have churches and subways and stuff, just like we do in Washington, D.C. They have poems and books. And their strange alphabet isn’t so different from ours, really.
As I remember, there were about twenty of us on the trip: ten or so eighth-graders, a bunch of high-school students who also tagged along, and our teacher and his wife as chaperones.
We flew on Pan Am from Washington, to New York, to Helsinki, Finland, to Moscow. After a few days in the grimy capital, we took a night train to Kiev, now commonly called Kyiv. (We gained an hour that night, I believe, crossing from GMT+3 backward to GMT+2.) After a couple days in ‘the Ukraine,’ as it was called then, a then-‘Soviet republic,’ we flew by Aeroflot to what was known as Leningrad, the city of St. Petersburg, in western Russia.
In Moscow we stayed at what we came to call “the Cocmock,” the Cosmos Hotel.
Cosmos rendered in the Cyrillic alphabet is Kocmoc. As I mentioned, our agile young minds made quick work of deciphering the Russian letters: the Moscow streets near Red Square were lined with pectopah‘s and кафе‘s–restaurants and cafes.
We couldn’t visit those establishments, though. We had to make our peace with borscht three times a day in hotel cafeterias.
But as American tourists we had two privileges. The first was the assistance of a full-time Soviet handler. The second was a genuine privilege: We got to visit the historic churches, which Soviet citizens were then prohibited from entering.
We stood in line and saw Lenin in his tomb. We toured the Kremlin, and saw the dusty yet splendid chapels inside it. We even had a trip out to see Catherine the Great’s summer palace–also forbidden to Soviet citizens at the time.
We interacted with our Russian and Ukrainian peers, on both sanctioned and ‘unofficial’ occasions. The sanctioned meetings involved friendly chess matches in the Soviet after-school youth clubs, called “Frontier Scout” troops (which were co-ed).
The unsanctioned occasions involved handing over a Sony Walkman for a few moments, so that some Russian middle-schoolers could listen to the coveted Michael Jackson’s Thriller cassette tape.
For that offense, some of us were detained by Moscow police for an hour.
Believe it or not, we had one free afternoon in Moscow, and I decided to ride the subway by myself, to take a second look at Red Square. My parents let me ride the Washington subway by myself at that age, and the Moscow system seemed quite similar. (The escalators traveled twice as fast, though, which was fun.)
When I didn’t have the correct change for the return trip to the hotel, a Muscovite commuter handed me the necessary kopecks with a kind smile. Central Moscow reminded me a lot of Manhattan (which I had seen a couple years earlier). It was just that in Moscow the citizens had to wait in long lines to buy new underwear or a loaf of bread.
In addition to learning to love borscht, we travelers admired the ubiquitous statues and posters of Lenin and ‘the noble Soviet worker.’
The sun never came out while we were in Moscow–just clouds and cold. But Kiev greeted us with fresh greenness, its hills covered with lush old trees. The churches there were homier, made of wood, rather than stone.
Then on to Leningrad. Majestic, with its classical buildings lining the iridescent river. We toured the Hermitage gallery, housed in the czar’s old Winter Palace. I fell in love with oil paintings of Christ.
And I remember weeping quietly when we visited the mass graves at the cemetery for the WWII siege of the city. Tens of thousands, dead from starvation, buried together in grassy fields, each marked by only one stone, indicating the year of death. 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944.
…A decade later, I went with some friends to the famous Veselka’s Ukrainian cafe, on the lower-East side in New York. Ukraine was newly liberated from the Soviet grasp then, in the early 90’s. Ebullience in the air, over the sauteed pirogis.
The Ukrainian Catholic seminary in Washington was right up the street from the one I went to, and I became good friends with one of the seminarians there. I had the privilege of concelebrating some Ukrainian-Catholic Masses when I was a newly ordained priest.
Some crucial ecclesiastical-history facts we need to know:
In 1590, a re-union of some Byzantine churches with Rome occurred in Brest, in what is now Belarus. This union was interpreted politically by Russians and many Ukrainians as an incursion of Polish/western control. But from our point-of-view, as (hopefully) genuine Catholics, the Union of Brest had a supernatural significance which was altogether good (see John 17).
Soviet premier Joseph Stalin did cruel things to the Ukraine before and after WWII. He starved almost 4 million Ukrainians to death. And he forcibly removed the Ukrainian Catholic Church from communion with Rome.
Vladimir Putin has justified this latest act of violence against Ukraine by claiming that Ukraine is not a real, independent nation. The irony there is: If Ukraine is not a real, independent nation, then neither is Russia.
It is true that the histories of the two nations have been intertwined from the days of Saints Cyril and Methodius, 1200 years ago. And it is true that Ukraine was part of the Russian empire before the advent of communism.
But, if you go back 1,000 years, the Ukrainians actually have more reason to say that Russia is a renegade part of Ukraine, than Russia has to say that Ukraine is a renegade part of Russia. Russian culture is a daughter of Ukrainian culture, not the other way around.
So, yes: This latest Russian invasion of Ukraine is merely the newest chapter in a centuries’-long book. But that doesn’t make it any less horrible.
The exploitation of raw power by an isolated autocrat, to try to subjugate an imaginary ‘threat’–who was actually just doing his thing, in good conscience–that has a familiar ring to me, in my own recent personal life.
May God deliver us all. Let’s pray hard. The Ukrainians do not deserve the misery they face. And the Russian people, for that matter, don’t deserve their particular misery, either.
May the Lord show His mighty Hand, to bring peace.
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.
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.)
I will visit St. Thomas’ tomb and pray for you, dear reader. I leave shortly.
Before I depart, I present a consideration of various opinions about the Munch, Germany, sex-abuse report, which we discussed here on Wednesday…
The Vatican has published an official defense of our pope emeritus’ record. It insists that we must credit Pope Benedict for leading a “reform.” Yes, there was a bad period in the past, but that is now over, largely thanks to the pope-emeritus.
But hold on. Did the Lord Jesus wear a crown of thorns because honest investigators asked Him about violent crimes, and He refused to give clear answers? Did He undergo His bitter Passion because He told the Pharisees He had not attended a meeting–a meeting He did in fact attend, as He later had to admit?
In the context of the Munich sex-abuse report, I find the pastiche image above–which some Catholics are circulating–to be genuinely offensive.
Joseph Ratzinger never suffered a sexual assault, as a child, by a priest. (At least not as far as we know.) The suffering Victim for our salvation does not identify Himself at this moment with career ecclesiastical bureaucrats.
No. The Lord comes to us with the tear-stained faces of of the survivors of sexual violence, men and women who struggle daily to survive.
At this moment, Pope-emeritus Benedict lives a perfectly secure life, protected from harm by both a legal and a physical wall. He has no one on earth to whom he must answer (except his own conscience, of course.)
Leaving aside the unacceptable foolishness of identifying Benedict with the suffering Christ, let’s do a more-serious comparison of points-of-view.
On his weekly podcast, long-time Vatican correspondent John Allen gave his own take on the pope-emeritus situation. Allen’s summary mirrors the official Vatican position.
I.On Wednesday, we briefly considered the question of Father Gerhard Gruber’s responsibility for the Munich pastoral assignments of the criminal pedophile Father Peter Hullermann. Gruber was Vicar General, or second in command, during Ratzinger’s tenure as Munich archbishop.
As we mentioned, the controversy over Gruber’s responsibility for Hullermann’s pastoral assignments arose during Benedict’s papacy. The German press made the decades-long Hullermann cover-up a matter of public knowledge in the spring of 2010.
In his analysis of the situation, John Allen takes it as settled that Gruber accepted full responsibility for assigning Hullermann, “leaving Ratzinger with esstentially clean hands. Ratzinger personally had nothing to do” with making a known pedophile a Munich parish priest. At least that’s Allen’s conclusion.
The record, however, is not as clear as Allen would have us think.
On April 8, 2010, Gruber wrote to the brother-priests of his community, some of whom had criticized the Munich Archdiocese press office. Regarding the official statement of the Church about him, Gruber wrote:
The expression ‘on his own authority,’ which was made public by the press officer, had not been discussed with me, and annoyed me deeply, because the ordinary reader may misunderstand it as a misuse of office instead of understanding it as ‘in the mandate of that office or position.’
This does not strike me as a clear acceptance of full responsibility. It certainly does not leave you with certainty that Gruber’s superior–Ratzinger–“personally had nothing to do with it,” as Allen put it.
Then add the evidence that the Munich law firm has published, which we covered in detail on Wednesday. That evidence makes it very difficult to conclude that Ratzinger did not know about the danger Hullermann posed.
This makes the 2010 affair look quite different. Gruber may very well have been a helpless pawn in a larger Church public relations maneuver, aimed at protecting Pope Benedict’s reputation.
But I feel like a fool for quoting Benedict’s letter so lovingly, because it looks like utter hypocrisy now. He took the Irish bishops to task for doing exactly what he himself had done when he served as a diocesan bishop.
If the full truth published in the Munich report had come to light that spring of 2010, it would have caused the complete collapse of the moral authority of the papacy in Europe. Which gives the Vatican and the Munich chancery a very likely motive for throwing Gruber under the bus then, to protect His Holiness.
Back to the point/counter-point. Allen concedes this much, regarding the recent Munich report…
I do think we have to say that when he was Cardinal Archbishop, with a diocese to run, [the pope-emeritus’] management suffered from the same deficiencies, the same holes, the same breakdowns, when it comes to the protection of children, as pretty much every other archbishop in the Catholic Church of that era. That remains a sad and distressing truth of the Catholic Church.
Von Drehle, on the other hand, puts this same truth a little more honestly:
Everyone with open eyes can now see that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church never underestimated the problem of priests as sexual predators. They weren’t taken by surprise. Church leaders have known for decades exactly how vast the issue was, how all-consuming, from the humble parish all the way to the top in Rome…
It is a sadly familiar story: secret conclaves of men in collars, flouting the laws of one nation after another to shuffle the abusers and launder their crimes…
The church knew about the abuse of children — as it was happening. Church leaders knew which priests were guilty and knew that abusers were a threat to abuse again. Covering up these crimes was no impediment to advancing in the hierarchy. Compromised bishops became archbishops. Compromised archbishops were crowned as cardinals. And Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope.
II. The nub of the controversy, I think, has to do with the pope-emeritus’ record since the supposed “bad old days.”
Allen articulates his understanding–which mirrors the Vatican line–like this:
Remember Pope Benedict’s track record on sexual abuse. The reform began, in most ways, under Pope Benedict. The legal changes, and the practice of swift laicization of abuser priests–weeding abusers out of the priesthood–began under Benedict. So aggressive did it become that, during one year alone during his eight-year papacy, almost 400 abuser priests were laicized.
From Pope Francis on down, everyone involved in the reform will acknowledge that it began and gathered steam under Pope Benedict. Given all that, there is no basis to conclude that Pope Benedict was ever a willing co-conspirator in the cover-up of child sexual abuse.
Glittering assertions, to be sure. But I for one will not accept them without some independent verification of their veracity.
No clergy sex-abuse survivor I know has any sense of any “reform” having happened.
And how do we know anything about Benedict “weeding abusers out of the priesthood?” All those records are secret. The Munich law firm asked the pope-emeritus about the laicization procedures of the criminal cases it studied. Benedict refused to answer those questions. (Just like the Vatican refused to answer questions from an Irish study commission in 2010.)
Even if you concede Allen’s assertion here, though, von Drehle makes an observation about this line of defense:
Defenders of the indefensible argue that Ratzinger was tougher on abusive priests than his predecessors, both in his service as head of the Curia department responsible for discipline in Rome and as pope from 2005 to 2013. But this misses important context. Ratzinger’s long reign over the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith coincided with the gradual unraveling of church secrecy. He had no choice to take more action than the passive prelates who came before. The walls were caving in.
Indeed. If American journalists like Jason Berry and the Spotlight team had not uncovered some of the secrets, would the supposed Church “reform” have happened at all?
What we have learned these past four years strongly suggests that it would not have.
The pattern repeats itself over and over again. The hierarchy keeps everything secret. If the press gets hold of something, promise new policies to control the p.r. damage. Then proceed to ignore those policies.
I received a letter from my bishop, Barry Knestout, earlier this week. He informed me that he has “suspended” his pursuit of charges against me for 1. disobedience and 2. inciting hatred against the hierarchy.
I take this as good news, and continue to pray for better days to come. Now that the process is no longer an active legal matter, let me inform you of what happened.
At the indictment that took place on October 29, 2021, Bishop Knestout and his judicial vicar told me the following:
1. One person caused the diocese to receive a lot of criticism. Namely, me.
When Bishop Knestout publicly defamed me in a homily and in the Martinsville newspaper; when he removed me as pastor; when he suspended my priestly faculties indefinitely for blog posts he didn’t like; when he received scores of letters begging him to reconsider his hasty actions–one man deserves the blame for all of that. Me.
And it’s up to me to repair the damage.
2. My entire two-decade priestly career has been marked by a profound psychological instability. I have reacted wrongly to difficult circumstances over and over again. I have divided the faithful by speaking openly about secret matters.
And this interior malady of mine must be cured before I could ever receive another assignment.
For my part, at the indictment, I made a brief declaration of my innocence of the charges made against me. I apologized again for my mistakes and for reacting intemperately sometimes in 2018 and 2019. I promised to reconsider my blog posts of that period, taking them out of circulation in the meantime, as I mentioned here in early November.
I remain hopeful. I love the Church and the priesthood, even while continuing to dwell here in the ecclesiastical gulag.
But von Drehle gives us a good reality check. It’s not just me saying it. Von Drehle concludes his assessment of the situation as it stands now like this:
Catholic schools provide some of the world’s best education. Catholic hospitals care for the sick. Catholic charities feed and clothe the hungry and cold. All these good works are done, increasingly, by lay leaders — not by priests. (Though there are certainly some very good men in the priesthood.)
Enlightened lay Catholics increasingly understand that looking to a priest, or a bishop, or even a pope for guidance and moral example has been a dangerous mistake. Generations of those men have brought the church to its greatest crisis in some 500 years — and they cannot solve the problem of credibility and accountability for one simple reason.
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.
…Also, Dr. Christine Bacon invited me to speak yesterday with her group of “Standers,” Christian spouses struggling through serious marital problems, holding onto their vows.
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.
In November 2018, James Grein spoke at the Church Militant rally in Baltimore, outside the annual meeting of American Catholic bishops.
James’ courage moved me and inspired me. Theodore McCarrick had done everything possible to destroy James’ life. But James stood up and fought back.
Earlier that year, the Catholic world had learned: McCarrick systematically abused seminarians and young priests under his authority. He did this over multiple decades. Scores of Church officials knew about it.
The big problem was: We Catholics are supposed to appeal to our bishop for justice, when someone violates our sacred rights. But who do you go to, when it’s the bishop himself violating those rights? Archbishop McCarrick’s victims had no one to whom they could appeal. (Except the Vatican, of course, which ignored them.)
So the hue and cry in the fall of 2018 centered around this concept: We need an authoritative body, made up mostly of lay people–an independent commission–to which Catholics can turn for justice, when the malefactor is the local bishop.
The establishment of just such an independent commission–to investigate the wrongdoing of bishops–sat squarely on the agenda for the Baltimore meeting that fall. Many, if not most, of the bishops arrived at the Inner Harbor expecting to vote in favor of establishing the independent commission.
That is, until the item wasn’t on the agenda anymore. James Grein gave the world a glimpse of soaring courage in the November cold. Meanwhile, inside the adjacent hotel, the American bishops gasped when the then-president of the conference announced that the Vatican had insisted they not vote to establish the independent commission.
The rationale: A few months later, the pope would host bishops-conference presidents from all over the world in Rome, to discuss the sex-abuse scandal. So the American bishops should hold off, until after that meeting.
They did. No independent commission to investigate bad bishops got established. The Vatican meeting occurred the following February. That meeting gave rise to a document published by the pope the following May, providing some temporary rules for how to deal with sex-abuse. Those temporary rules themselves gave rise to some revisions to the Code of Canon Law, set to go into effect in a week.
Things came full circle earlier this month, at the 2021 US bishops’ meeting in Baltimore. A Vatican official explained the revision of Canon Law to the American bishops. Cases of abuse involving seminarians, and other vulnerable Catholics preyed upon by Church officials, are to be handled by…
The local bishop.
Quite a way to conclude the process of “addressing” the McCarrick crisis.
Fall 2018: American Catholics urge the bishops to establish an independent commission, which would stand ready to deal with the next McCarrick.
Fall 2021: A Vatican official explains to the American bishops that the person who will handle the next McCarrick will be the next McCarrick himself.