Couple More Podcast Episodes + The Big “Pro-Life” News

JP II The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) Chapter 1, Part 3
JP II The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) Chapter 2, Part 1

[Click HERE for the podcast website.]

Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

The big Catholic and pro-life news is:

The Speaker of the House’s Archbishop has notified her that she may not receive Holy Communion in San Francisco. That is, until she 1. publicly repudiates her political position on abortion and 2. goes to Confession.

Two questions about this. 1. Is Archbishop Cordileone credibly pro-life? 2. Will this do any good?

Survivors of clerical sexual abuse do not think Archbishop Cordileone is genuinely pro-life.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has never publichsed a list of credibly accused clergy. Cordileone admitted that the Archdiocese has paid more than $87 million in secret settlements. Only a small fraction of the sex-abuse cases in the archdiocese have been dealt with.

Last May, the Survivors’ Network published a statement. Here are some passages:

The Dallas Charter promised openness and transparency. We are concerned that abusers remain in ministry in San Francisco.

We would like to see Archbishop Cordileone publish a list of abusers in his Archdiocese, including their histories, their pictures, and what the Archdiocese knew about them, when it knew about them, and what it did in response.

These lists alert the public to hidden predators and start survivors on the road to healing by letting them know that they are not the only one. This simple step, completely with the Archbishop’s control, may well save lives.

There are hundreds of priests associated with the Archdiocese of San Francisco who have destroyed the lives of innoncents and their families. It is beyond ironic and hypocritical of Archbishop Cordileone to assume any moral authority, as long as this clear and present danger remains.

In our eyes, Archbishop Cordileone has no moral standing, as long as he continues to endanger young lives. We know that not all these boys and girls will survive the attacks. Death may not necessarily be immediate, but it is one of the clear consequences of placing the reputation of the Church, and money, over the safety of children.

archdiocese0419_PH1

Archbishop Cordileone gave an interview yesterday and lamented that “he had to” exclude Pelosi from Holy Communion.

As he outlined in a letter to the priests of San Francisco, the Archbishop sought to meet personally with Speaker Pelosi, after she had spoken publicly last fall in favor of a federal law declaring a constitutional right to abortion. But Pelosi’s office responded that she didn’t have time to speak with him.

Cordileone does not have an answer to the question, Why now? What has really changed over the course of the past decade, during which he has been Pelosi’s Archbishop, and her position about legal abortion has not significantly changed?

Last year the Archbishop wrote a pastoral letter to his people about co-operating in abortion and receiving Holy Communion. It seems clear now that he did so in order to lay the groundwork, so to speak, for his Notification to Pelosi.

The pastoral letter outlines the reality of abortion and explains the difference between formal and material co-operation in evil. What the letter does not do is: Engage the political realities of the issue, in California, and in the U.S. as a whole.

There is no “right” to abortion. To the contrary, the law should prohibit the killing of innocent human beings. Nearly fifty years ago, however, the Supreme Court of our land found otherwise.

Now, apparently, that situation will change. (That is, if the leaked Alito opinion truly represents the finding of the Court on the matter.) The individual states will then make laws about abortion, like they did before Roe v. Wade.

Will all states prohibit abortion? No. Will abortions occur in states that do prohibit it? Yes, because of the availability of abortion pills and the work of underground abortionists, who have already mobilized. Will the state of California prohibit abortion? Certainly not.

One of the basic rules of democratic politics is: You win by convincing people. You might find yourself able to force people to conform to your ideas for some period of time. But then you will likely lose your power to force anyone to do anything, and you won’t get your way anymore.

It seems to me that being pro-life means, fundamentally, finding a way to convince people not to have abortions. Using force against women is exactly what we are against.

Cordileone’s Notification does not seem genuinely lawful to me. If it were, Speaker Pelosi would have a clear path to a resolution of the crisis.

The Archbishop does not lay out clearly what Pelosi is supposed to say, what precise position she is supposed to repudiate, in order to satisfy his demands. Instead, Cordileone has created a situation that looks like a father trying to discipline a teenage daughter. “You know what you’ve done wrong. So go to your room until you’re ready to apologize.”

Pelosi could reasonably ask, “What exactly do you want me to say, Your Excellency?” He would likely reply, “Just say anything that harmonizes with the teaching of the Church about abortion.” She would reply, “I think I have already done that. What exactly do you want me to say? What exact political position do you want me to take?”

And he would not have an answer. Because the business is complicated. Complicated as H. E. double hockey sticks. Democratic politics is an ugly mess.

Archbishop Cordileone says that abortion is a clear case of good and evil. Indeed, it is. Aborting a child is never the right thing to do. Seems like our job as pro-lifers is to convince people of that.

But what Archbishop Cordileone has done only serves to convince people of things that actually are not true. He has reinforced the idea that being pro-life has to do with obedience to celibate men in miters. He has fed the general conception that pro-lifers are Christians trying to force our religion on others who don’t share it.

Archbishop Cordileone did not have to do this. He, like most bishops, lives in a cucoon. He has publicly embarrassed a member of his flock, with no real prospect of any good coming from it, because he says he can no longer tolerate the “scandal” she has caused.

But how can he not see that most of the people of San Francisco will see what he has done as the scandal? Does he not realize that he comes off as an arrogant autocrat who thinks he owns Jesus Christ’s sacraments? And that he looks to most Americans like an amateur meddling in the dirty business of politics?

I’m not saying that Speaker Pelosi will not have a lot to answer for, when she goes to meet The Judge. Her political position on abortion is dishonest in the extreme. I would gladly say that to her face, if I had the chance.

And I would do the best I could to convince her to change her mind. I might ask her to let me read Evangelium Vitae to her. But I hope I would never be fool enough to make her the heroine of a mean-Church, poor-Italian-American-grandma story.

 

Compendium of Posts for the End of Roe v. Wade

Roe v Wade court
The Roe v. Wade court

Two years ago tomorrow, Bishop Knestout issued a decree prohibiting me from preaching and celebrating the sacraments publicly.

He did this to punish me for blowing the whistle on the long-term cover-up of Theodore McCarrick’s crimes. Shortly before then, I had given a homily about the Gospel of Life, the end of Roe v. Wade, and the coronavirus.

Bishop Knestout’s decree prohibiting my giving sermons remains in effect, and I obey it.

As Providence would have it, though, I actually gave a good number of sermons about the end of Roe v. Wade, prior to May 5, 2020.

I share the links with you, dear reader, with some quoted passages. Perhaps you will find the texts helpful now.

1. July 4, 2018: 45-Year Dream Come True.

That Independence-Day Sunday, I anticipated the event that appears to be imminent now, the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Couple quotes:

…Now, suddenly, in the summer of 2018, we find ourselves at a point in our history when we can reasonably hope that this will change. With a new justice, the Supreme Court likely will abandon its claim to govern the country when it comes to abortion…

We Catholics are pro-life. As Pope St. John Paul II explained to us, we simply cannot accept the idea of elective abortion. Accepting it would mean betraying the most central realities of our Christian faith.

That said, we also love, and sympathize with, all mothers who find themselves in situations which might tempt them to seek abortions. The culture of death, the throwaway culture—it poisons many minds, with its hopeless, dark fear of the future. We Catholic Americans fight the culture of death in our country not with anger and judgment, but with love.

Roe v. Wade accorded a “right” to abortion that does not exist. The irony is: this actually short-changed pregnant women of the rights they do, in fact, possess.

Every pregnant woman has the right to love and support, without being judged. Every pregnant woman has the right to the best healthcare available for her and her baby. Every pregnant woman deserves our friendship, our advocacy, our help.

…We know that plenty of people fear what will happen when an abortion case reaches the Supreme Court with a pro-life majority and the whole legal situation changes.

Let’s sympathize with that fear. Let’s acknowledge that something has to fill the vacuum that Roe v. Wade will no longer fill. Something has to occupy the psychological space that the abortion industry has occupied in these last, lawless 45 years.

us_supreme_courtLet’s pledge ourselves: We American Catholics will fill that space with our Christian love. When the tropical storm that is Roe v. Wade finally blows out to sea, away from these shores, and the sun comes back out again: We will stand there with acceptance, support, and tender loving care for every pregnant woman.

2. May 17, 2019: Pro-Life Turning Point

We can hardly hope that the Supreme Court would ever turn Roe v. Wade completely on its head and make abortion illegal in all fifty states. Rather, it seems like we’re headed towards: red-state/blue-state regional variations in abortion law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. June 22, 2018: The Place Where Abortion is Illegal.

This is actually not a sermon but an analysis of a magazine article about “accompanying” pregnant women. Quotes:

…Kaveny gets it wonderfully right here. The problem of procured abortion is not, ultimately, a metaphysical matter. We have to focus solely on the simple moral question. Can it be right to choose to have an abortion?

…To countenance the idea that abortion could be the right thing to do–that would involve a failure of charity towards both baby and mother. Just like refusing to sympathize with the burdens faced by the mother would involve a failure of charity towards both of them…

Fleetwood Mac RumoursI have argued for most of my life that we do not need faith in order to know that abortion is wrong, since sonograms clearly show us that is is.

But, on the other hand, it is faith that protects us from the hubris that justifies abortion, based on uncertain predictions about the future. Every line of thinking that leads to the idea that abortion could be the right thing to do–all of them start with fear of the future. From that fear of the future comes the compulsive attempt to control it, through violence.

4. January 22, 2018 (45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade): Whose Future Is It?

In this sermon, I tried to address pro-choice thinking and offer a solution. Plus: An essay responding to Stevie Nick’s reflections on her 1979 abortion.

5. December 25, 2016: Christmas, Pro-Life Feastday.

Don’t accuse me of bringing politics into Christmas Eve. Our Catholic adherence to the Gospel of Life runs much deeper than any political affiliations we have. But, of course, being pro-life has political implications. We rejoice in the victories won this past Election Day by candidates with a pro-life message.

nativityThese victories mean that we have to pray all the harder and remain all the more vigilant for opportunities to participate in building up the culture of life. May the year to come see us living out in practice, day in and day out, the spiritual worship that we take part in at Christmas, beside the holy manger of the newborn Son of God…

We find ourselves next to the newborn babe in the manger, we clearly perceive that violence has no place here, in this sublime mystery of conception, pregnancy, and birth. As the prophet Isaiah put it, declaring the Gospel of Life: “Every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for flames, because the Prince of Peace has a vast dominion, which is forever peaceful.” The cruel violence of abortion is completely foreign to the peace of God’s kingdom. Visiting Bethlehem spiritually cements this truth into our minds.

6. March 30, 2016: Some Pro-Life Clarity?

This is an essay, not a sermon. It’s about appropriate criminal penalties for abortion.

7. January 28, 2013: My Marching Apologia

…The babies themselves are in the hands of God. But the persons who are morally responsible for their deaths find themselves in an untenable state. The Pro-Life Movement holds that we find ourselves in this untenable state as a nation.

With tears, we lament this collective darkness of soul. We insist that purification and enlightenment can and must be a legitimate object of political activism. We reject the abortion-tolerating status quo as foreign to human decency…

8. August 15, 2008 (the day this blog started): Logic and Voting Pro-Life

Book Update

resurrectionThe 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.

pope francis mccarrick

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.

Francis and Zanchetta

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.

McCarrick ordination

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.

More to come on this.

My Holy-Week Peace (Becoming Catholic, Part III)

Easter Vigil London Oratory

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.

Resurrection tapestry Vatican Museums

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.

mccarrickI 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.

St Matthews Cathedral

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.

Knestout Lori

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.

If you missed the earlier posts, click for:

Becoming Catholic, Part I

Becoming Catholic Part II

Seminarians Suffer, and the Pope Does Not Care

When you come to the seminary to seek God’s will, you do not expect…

1. that the bishop will develop a lustful crush on you, and

2. give you love-bird type gifts, like cologne, and

3. ask you about your sexual history and penis size, and then

4. sneak up behind you in the seminary kitchen, grab your crotch, kiss you on the neck, and thrust his pelvis into your buttocks,

and then, for years, repeatedly

5. demand, under “obedience,” with threats of expulsion, that you massage his, neck, back, and buttocks, while he groans in sexual pleasure, as you grudgingly submit, and then

6. you wake up in your dormitory bed with him sitting next to you, his hand on your upper thigh.

When you think the Lord might be calling you to the priesthood, you have to go to seminary, because the alternative would be a life estranged from your Maker.

When you go to seminary, you have to please the bishop, because he alone–a successor of the Holy Apostles of Christ–can make you a priest.

Dear reader, do you know that the earth is littered with wounded men who tried to follow a vocation from God, but ran into an insecure, power-mad, sexually abusive predator with authority under the seminary roof?

Many of my dearest friends belong to this suffering class of men.

pope francis mccarrick
September 23, 2015

Theodore McCarrick left his trail of broken lives. My book, Ordained By a Predator, will soon see print. It attempts to document McCarrick’s spiritual war crimes. I present my work to the great International Criminal Court in heaven, where justice always prevails.

But my book hardly scratches the surface of McCarrick’s crimes against humanity. Yes, a great deal of documentation has become available these past four years. But most of McCarrick’s collateral damage remains hidden, because the powers-that-be in the Church continue to keep most of McCarrick’s secrets.

Ordained By a Predator also tries to document the crimes of McCarrick’s crony Michael Bransfield.

Again, the mitered mafia did everything possible to bury all the evidence. But, as long-time readers here remember, a brave soul on the inside leaked a secret report in the spring of 2019, and the Washington Post published the whole thing in December of that year.

Because of the courageous leaker–and also a Bransfield victim who spoke out–we learned the truth about how the bishop of West Virginia destroyed priestly vocations by endless drunken abuses of power, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. (Not to mention sexual abuse of minors, of which Bransfield is likely guilty, though it has never been adequately investigated.)

We sadly know that the ecclesiastical system as it now exists does not have a mechanism to deal with this problem. Pope Francis seems not to understand the problem. Or, rather, perhaps he understands it all too well.

The six-step ordeal that I outlined above: At least a dozen seminarians in northern Argentina suffered it, between 2013 and 2017, at the hands of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta.

As we mentioned earlier this month, Pope Francis has known Zanchetta for years. The pope heard numerous complaints about Zanchetta, from Catholics whose faith Zanchetta had gravely wounded. But the pope protected his old friend.

McCarrick, Bransfield, Zanchetta: similar m.o.’s. But here’s the difference, which we will explore in some detail today:

McCarrick and Bransfield have suffered nominal ecclesiastical discipline, with most of their secrets kept.

Zanchetta has never been censured by the Church in any way. But an Argentine court has now thrown him in jail. And the court has produced thorough documentation of the case.

Zanchetta verdict
Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, hearing the verdict in his case, in a courtroom in Salta, Argentina

The Spanish-speaking public can read the document published by the court at the conclusion of the criminal case. Gustavo Zanchetta convicted of sexual abuse.

Argentine law defines the crime in article 119 of the Criminal Code. Sexual abuse = violating the sexual integrity of anyone under 13, or anyone who cannot freely consent to sexual contact, as a result of a relationship of authority and/or dependence. If the crime is committed by a minister of religion, that aggravates it and calls for a stiffer sentence.

In their legal analysis of the case, the three-judge panel outlines carefully how the crime of sexual abuse is understood in Argentine law. (See pages 88-91 of the court doc.)

The “legal good” protected by the law is: personal sexual integrity. That is, free sexual self-determination as a person. As the judges explain it, Argentine law requires everyone to respect the dignity of other persons, which includes the freedom to accept, or to reject, sexual contact. To treat a person as a thing, used for sexual gratification without free consent, is a crime.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchNow, it so happens that the judges’ explanation of Argentine law echoes the definition of chastity found in the Catechism (para. 2337).

The judges go on, in their explanation of the law as it applies in the Zanchetta case:

Groping, unchaste embraces, kisses with sexual significance, touching under duress, or compelling the victim to touch–these all violate the law, when the victim cannot consent, owing either to surprise, or to the relationship of authority. Or in this case, both of those.

I’m no lawyer, of course. But it seems to me that Argentine law reflects our Catholic understanding of sexual integrity more comprehensively than our U.S. law does.

Maybe some states have laws like the Argentine law; I don’t know. But I’m afraid that the former seminarians who denounced Zanchetta to the Argentine D.A. would not have gotten anywhere with a criminal prosecution in the U.S. They would have had to hire their own lawyer and undertake a civil case, and Zanchetta would not have faced the prospect of imprisonment.

In addition to the legal reasoning, the Argentine court document contains the testimony of 35 witnesses. Plus Zanchetta’s defense.

The two former seminarians who went to the police in early 2019 offered consistent and coherent testimony.

Their accusations against Zanchetta were corroborated by the eyewitness testimony of eleven other seminarians. Four additional seminarians didn’t see the abuse, but heard it about it from eye-witnesses at the time.

The accusations were further corroborated by the office employee who found gay pornography and naked selfies on Zanchetta’s phone in 2015, as well as by this man’s co-worker, and by Zanchetta’s chauffeur.

Zanchetta had tried to pressure the employees not to testify. On the stand, the chauffeur said this:

Bishop Zanchetta behaved as if he were God… I have worked for the Church for twenty years. I understand the authority structure. But it’s not blind obedience. Sometimes you cannot obey.

Francis and Zanchetta

As we noted before, Pope Francis–while he was still Cardinal Bergoglio–received documentary evidence of Father Zanchetta’s dishonesty, back in 2011.

In 2013, Argentine Catholics spiritually wounded by Zanchetta begged the new Pope Francis not to elevate such a dangerous man to the rank of bishop. And in 2015, Francis received, via hand-delivery by a Cardinal, a thumb drive with the gay porn and naked selfies inadvertently found on Zanchetta’s phone by the office employee.

Zanchetta, however, continued to abuse seminarians with impunity for two more years. He regularly told his victims that he was an untouchable “friend of the pope.” He told the seminarians that he had “talked with the pope about them.” He said, when returning from Rome, that “he had been in the pope’s bed.”

(Apparently Zanchetta used this last expression figuratively, to indicate great closeness, rather than literally. The seminarians took it that way–that is, figuratively.)

The priest in charge of the seminary had become aware of Zanchetta’s crimes and sought relief through ecclesiastical channels. There were also apparently serious financial irregularities–like with Bransfield and McCarrick. None of Zanchetta’s misuses of money have ever been fully disclosed (like with Bransfield and McCarrick). But there is a pending Argentine court case about the money.

Zanchetta suddenly resigned from office in mid-2017, “for health reasons.” Pope Francis transferred him to a position in the Vatican.

In the spring of 2019, the pope gave a long interview that I have cited here before. In that interview, Pope Francis defended how he had handled the Zanchetta affair. He said that Zanchetta had a strong answer to the charges against him. But he conceded that a Vatican trial was needed, and the wheels of justice were turning, and people just needed to be more patient.

More patient? The pope gave that interview three years ago.

In the meantime, Zanchetta stepped away from his Vatican position because of the investigation into his conduct, then returned to his position. The Vatican never censured Zanchetta in any way. Nothing about his Vatican trial has ever been made public–that is, made public by the Vatican itself.

In his defense before the Argentine court, as the court document outlines, Zanchetta maintained that the charges against him all stemmed from a plot, concocted by his enemies among the priests of the diocese. They disagreed with his decisions as bishop, so they conspired to destroy him.

“The accusers have not spoken on their own,” Zanchetta insisted. “There is something behind them.”

Zanchetta accused his ‘enemies’ among the clergy of violating their solemn promise of obedience.

He then added, regarding the charge that he had entered seminarians’ bedrooms without permission, “The bedrooms of seminarians are like the bedrooms of the children in the parents’ house.”

[That’s the sound of steam coming out of my ears, dear reader.]

Zanchetta also told the court:

In the canonical investigation, it became clear that the charges of sexual abuse against me were induced by the angry priests.

Now, regarding this canonical investigation…

1. As noted above, Pope Francis said it was underway three years ago. The following year, Zanchetta’s canon lawyer told a reporter that the process was “almost over.”

2. The Argentine court repeatedly asked for the Vatican’s findings. The judges in Argentina did not want to begin hearing witnesses until they had the Vatican documents, so they waited.

After almost two years of waiting, they finally gave up and started the trial without anything from the Vatican. Then, while the hearings were underway, a portion of the Vatican Zanchetta dossier arrived.

3. The pages that came contained canonical testimony given by seminarians and former seminarians in the aftermath of Zanchetta’s 2017 resignation.

(One of the seminarians who corroborated the accusers in the Argentine court case was actually one of the accusers in the canonical case.)

The Argentine judges found that the seminarian testimony in the Vatican dossier lined up with the testimony they heard in court, so they counted the Vatican pages as an additional proof of guilt.

The Argentine judges rejected Zanchetta’s defense. In their document, the judges point out the numerous implausibilities implied in the defense theory.

Why would former seminarians, who now have no connection with the Church, perjure themselves as part of some intra-Church feud? And how could so many perjuries cohere so well in painting a clear picture of Zanchetta’s sexual abuses?

Also, if the man really needed so many neck and back massages for health reasons, why didn’t he go to a masseur? Or a doctor?

Zanchetta maintained in his defense that the victims waited too long to go to the police. But the judges point out in their analysis: hadn’t the seminarians tried to communicate up the chain of command in the Church, but to no avail? Hadn’t they given testimony in a canonical process, only to see their testimony covered up by the Vatican?

As we noted at the time, the court found Zanchetta guilty and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison. This happened on March 4.

The incumbent bishop of Orán (Zanchetta’s successor) released a lame ‘apology’ to the victims, full of euphemisms. The Argentine Bishops’ Conference did, too.

From the Vatican: total silence.

The day after the verdict, Zanchetta’s canon lawyer, who had been sent to Orán by the Vatican, gave a press conference. He insisted that there was in fact a plot against Zanchetta, and the bishop is innocent.

So it seems like there is only one way to interpret the total Vatican silence of the past three weeks :

The canonical trial exonerated Bishop Zanchetta. He was found not guilty. (According to canonical rules, that would mean that there would be no further public reference to the case.)

But now the Argentine court has produced a thorough written record demonstrating the man’s guilt, with both overwhelming evidence and careful legal reasoning–itself based on Catholic principles. The soundness of the Argentine court’s work shows clearly how unsound the Vatican’s pretense of justice has been in this case.

Granted, this last part is purely speculation on my part. But if the Vatican had found Zanchetta guilty of anything, we would know. If the canonical trial were still underway, we would know.

No. They exonerated him. A predator guilty of ruining at least a dozen priestly vocations. And guilty of alienating God-only-knows-how-many Catholics from the Church.

Pope Francis mate.jpg

Why has Pope Francis never visited his homeland?

For five centuries, we had Italian popes. When they stepped out onto the St. Peter’s loggia, they were already in their homeland.

Then we had a Polish pope. He went home, to a hero’s welcome, during the first year of his papacy.

Then we had a German pope. He went home, also to a hero’s welcome, within four months of his election.

Now we have an Argentine pope. After nine years, he has not visited Argentina, and has no plans to do so. (He has visited Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru.)

When a law firm investigated Pope Benedict’s record in dealing with sexual abuse in his homeland, they found significant ethical lapses and cover-ups.

What, O God, would a team of investigators find in Argentina? Are there enough thumb drives in the world to hold it all?

Update, War, Fatima Prayers

As we noted, Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta recently served as an official of the Holy See. Then a northern-Argentinian court convicted him of sexual abuse and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison.

I have been studying the court’s 98-page ruling. It includes a lot of facts, as well as certain crucial ideas about the crime of sexual abuse. I will offer a summary as soon as I can.

Malaysian Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine, July 2014

I have also been praying long and hard about war-torn Ukraine. And I have read a lot to try to understand what is happening…

Us older Americans remember how it felt to be on a war footing with Russia.

I remember our U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union at the time.

The Brezhnev Doctrine justified the armed suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. That second invasion brought an end to the short period of U.S.-Soviet ‘detente’ in the 1970’s, when we signed significant arms-control treaties.

I remember President Ronald Reagan unveiling our “Strategic Defense Initiative” in 1983. It envisioned technology that could repel a Soviet nuclear strike on us. That same year, we all watched The Day After, a tv movie about life after a nuclear war. Thoroughly terrifying.

The thing is, the early 80s were an anxious time, but it was nothing compared to now.

The cool-down in U.S.-Russia relations in the early 80s gave way to the biggest thaw of all: Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the U.S.S.R. He repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine. Then he allowed the Soviet Union to collapse altogether, without taking any military action to stop it.

The Iron Curtain fell. Germany re-united as one nation. Numerous Soviet ‘republics,’ including Ukraine, declared themselves independent of Russia. And the new President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, became a genuine friend of President Bill Clinton.

In other words, in the early 90’s, we experienced euphoria. We could hardly believe it. The Cold War with Russia was over.

Some regrettable things have happened since then, which I plan to get into soon. But for now my point is:

The situation we Americans face now is worse than the Cold War of the last century. I have no doubt that we will deal with it; we have dealt with graver things, and lived to tell the tale. But the fact remains:

A war criminal (with a world-view that we can barely understand) views us as an immediate threat to his nation’s survival. He has an arsenal that can kill us all.

This is real. And it isn’t even the hardest part of the situation.

We can understand Vladimir Putin’s point-of-view, if we try. Russia has never been a ‘nation-state’ as we Western countries generally understand the term–that is, without subjugated ‘client’ states. (Ukraine hasn’t been a Western-style nation-state, either, for that matter, until recently.)

When we consider the Ukraine that is under attack, we see something lovely being grievously harmed. Lovely as in: a people occupying a homeland with a distinct national identity, with the sovereign right to form alliances as they choose. A nation like France, or Italy, or the U.S.A.

But the governing class of Russia sees something totally different. They see a threat to their own identity. A threat grave enough to justify apparently* barbaric coercive tactics.

(* I add “apparently” only because, during a war, it is impossible to know the full truth about what is going on. But I don’t really doubt the barbarity of the coercive tactics that Russia is using.)

The hardest part of all this, for us Americans, is: How do we fit into it?

On the one hand, we face an immediate threat to our own most-precious interest. Russia has missiles that can kill us. Therefore it would seem prudent for us to de-escalate tensions with Russia.

On the other hand, we have moved very quickly in the other direction. We are participating in a huge, 21st-century “blockade.” And it seems necessary to do this, because Putin’s war has fundamentally destabilized the international consensus. Everyone must respect the territorial integrity of other nations. If we don’t all play by that rule, we don’t have the interconnected world of mutual trust that we have gotten used to living in.

The sanctions “blockade” has dragged us into World War III. It is a coercive tactic on our part, used against a sudden enemy–the most dangerous foreign enemy we have had since Britain launched the War of 1812.

And the situation rightly reminds us of World War I, also:  It involves a complex web of alliances–alliances we must honor, if we want a world of trust based on rules.

This is seriously bad place for us to be. But we don’t really have a choice.

A century ago, a similar bloody war happened in Ukraine. It broke out in the middle of WWI, in 1917.

On the day that the Russian czar abdicated, Ukraine formed part of his empire. Then Russia fell into chaos.

Ukraine declared independence in early 1918. But then the Ukrainians had to appeal to Germany for protection from the Bolshevik faction of the Russian civil war. Ukraine became one of the bloody battlefields of that war. When Germany lost WWI, Ukraine had to submit to Lenin.

It all began the same year that Our Lady appeared in Fatima and first asked that the pope consecrate “Russia” to her Immaculate Heart.

The Roman- and Ukrainian-Catholic bishops of Ukraine have asked Pope Francis to do this consecration now, and the Holy Father will do it on Friday.

I will pray with the Holy Father and the Catholic clergy of the world, in my own little hermitage. May our Lady protect Ukraine and all of us.

But I don’t mind saying that I feel odd about this particular way of praying for peace now.

In the Fatima apparitions, Our Lady spoke of “Russia”–in 1917, and again in 1929. When she did, her listeners certainly understood “Russia” to include Ukraine. Ukraine did not exist as a sovereign state in 1917. And its ‘independence’ in 1929 was thoroughly compromised by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet dictatorship. Today’s Ukrainians do not consider their nation to have been truly independent of Russia in 1929, notwithstanding its on-paper status then.

Why would we pray for peace now in accord with private apparitions from some of the darkest days of the last century? I for one think we would do better to leave the 20th century behind us, as much as possible. (We seem to have a hard time doing that.)

For me the best prayer for peace in Ukraine is the Eucharistic Prayer. It’s a prayer that belongs to the entire universal Church, without historical connections that evoke painful memories for Ukrainians and Russians alike.

That said, I will nonetheless certainly pray with our Holy Father on Friday.

These are agonizing times. May our Lady watch over us. May the good Lord deliver us.

Two Argentine Friends

Zanchetta verdict
Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, hearing the verdict in his case, in a courtroom in Salta, Argentina

On February 22, 2001, Pope John Paul II created thirty-seven new Cardinals, including Theodore McCarrick and the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio.

Later that year, Bergoglio ordained his fellow Buenos-Aires native Andres Stanovnik a bishop.

In November of 2005, Cardinal Bergoglio became the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Argentina. He went on to serve in that position for six years.

During that time, then-Cardinal Bergoglio worked closely with Father Gustavo Zanchetta.

The young Father Zanchetta had studied in Rome, then returned home to Argentina around the same time that Bergoglio became a Cardinal. Zuchetta took up a chancery job in his home diocese (just south of Buenos Aires) and simultaneously served as a top staffer at the Bishops’ Conference office.

In 2011, Cardinal Bergoglio received an envelope with documents that incriminated Zanchetta. An employee of Zanchetta’s home diocese had sent them. They showed that Zanchetta is a dishonest opportunist who used his authority as a diocesan official to raid Catholic schools for money, which he used to win powerful friends for himself.

Bergoglio did nothing about this.

Pope Francis waving

In March of 2013, the Sistine-chapel conclave elected Bergoglio the new bishop of Rome.

In short order, the new pope named his old friend Zanchetta a bishop, bypassing the usual process of consultation with the Vatican embassy in Argentina.

The diocesan employee who had sent the envelope in 2011 wrote an open letter to the pope, with dozens of co-signers, begging him to reconsider.

Dear Pope Francis, …To those of us who have suffered from Zanchetta’s abuse of power, his ordination as a bishop would cause enormous pain…

Jorge Bergoglio once again ignored this man’s pleas. Stanovnik ordained Zanchetta to the episcopate, and Zanchetta became the Bishop of Orán, in northern Argentina, hundreds of miles away from his home diocese. Zanchetta immediately founded a seminary there.

Why? Why have a seminary? To help idealistic young men become priests?

No. Actually: In order to abuse the seminarians sexually. Zanchetta regularly crept up behind seminarians and grabbed them by the crotch. He would sneak through the halls late at night, with a flashlight, and enter seminarians’ rooms, and sit next to them in bed, with a bottle of hooch in hand.

If one of Zanchetta’s favorite good-looking boys tried to leave the seminary, he would pursue him and play dirty tricks on him to get him to return. In one case, he went so far as to contact an ex-seminarian’s girlfriend to tell her that the young man would be returning to the seminary (which he had no intention of doing.)

Zanchetta ruined lives. He destroyed the vocations of eager young Catholic men who were trying to dedicate themselves to the Lord and His Church. Meanwhile, the bishop’s clerical underlings threatened anyone who tried to blow the whistle.

Francis and Zanchetta

In September 2015, Zanchetta made his fatal “mistake.” He handed his phone to a diocesan employee. The bishop had pics from a couple of events that he wanted uploaded to the diocesan facebook page.

The employee downloaded the bishop’s photo gallery to a thumb drive and returned the phone. But when the employee began to go through the images, he discovered pornographic photos of the bishop and young men.

[None of the information I am collecting here is secret, at this point. It has all been published in El Tribuno, the local newspaper of the Salta Province of northern Argentina. They put together this helpful graphic of what happened next:]

El Tribuno graphic Feb 2019

The employee handed over the thumb drive to diocesan officials. It eventually made it’s way to Pope Francis, in October 2015.

The pope decided to handle the case personally. He called his old friend. They came to an agreement that Zanchetta’s “enemies” had hacked his phone. The compromising photos were not genuine; they were “trucadas”–falsified by computer tricks.

The two Argentine friends apparently hoped that their conversation would mark the end of the episode. Zanchetta had made an embarrassing mistake: he had handed his phone to a man who apparently believes in God. But now all that could blow over, they thought.

I guess they didn’t count on the fact that there were others in Orán who also believe in God. In May of 2017, three priests of the diocese went to the Vatican ambassador in Argentina to report the sexual abuse that was happening at the seminary. The priests disclosed that there were probably a dozen victims. (These brave priests were then punished by Zanchetta’s cronies for going to the nuncio.)

A couple months later, Zanchetta abruptly announced to the Catholics of Orán that he would have to leave the diocese for the sake of his health. He went to stay briefly with Stanovnik. Then he flew to Europe.

In August of that year (2017), the Vatican announced that Zanchetta, aged 53, had resigned as Bishop of Orán “for health reasons.” Very soon after that, however, a new announcement: Zuchetta will serve as a Vatican official, in the finance office, and he will live in the pope’s residence.

Again: the two old friends apparently thought they had managed to get the ugly business behind them. But, also, again: there were others in Orán who believe in a just God.

Zanchetta survivors Marcio Torina and Kevin Matias, as well as others who remain anonymous, found the courage to go to a reporter, and then to the police. They told the full story of what Zanchetta had done to them while they were in the seminary.

In the province of Salta, Argentina, sexual abuse of an adult is a crime punishable by imprisonment. If the abuser is a religious minister, that adds an aggravating factor.

The prosecutors lined up witnesses and put together their case. They sought documents from Rome–in vain. The prosecutors asked the Vatican to remand Zanchetta to Argentina, to undergo questioning. No response for over a year.

On February 21, however (two weeks ago), Zanchetta finally appeared in court in Argentina, to stand trial.

The various witnesses took the stand, and yesterday the judges found Zanchetta guilty and sentenced him to four years, six months in prison.

Let me repeat that. Again, I am not making this up. All this information is available on the El Tribuno website. Let me repeat:

Yesterday, an old friend of the pope’s; one of the first bishops he appointed; a Vatican official; a housemate of the pope’s: convicted of sexual abuse and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.

Pope Francis has known for well over a decade that Gustavo Zanchetta is a dangerous narcissist. The pope has known for five and a-half years that the man is a sex abuser.

Yet the Holy Father did not do justice for the criminal’s victims, and he did not practice “transparency.” Instead, Bergoglio spirited Zanchetta away to Rome, and into a Vatican sinecure, and into the papal residence.

But the pope’s old friend will not return to the residence. He will remain in Argentina. In prison.

Much more to come on this.

Not Baptized?

the_holy_trinity

God possesses infinite life. He shares His life with us.

He gives us existence and capacities–including interior, spiritual capacities. We can feel, think, choose, love. And He unites Himself with us in Christ, in order to give us immortality and eternal friendship with Himself, the Source of everything beautiful and good.

We call our share in God’s life “grace.” It comes to us from Christ the divine eternal Son, through Christ the man, the son of Mary. God is the source of grace. The humanity of Christ is the instrument through which God gives us His grace.

The humanity of Christ: His human pilgrim life; His human death; His human resurrection; His human ascension into heaven. Through this humanity–Jesus Christ’s–we receive holiness from the unapproachable, true God. Grace.

Baltimore Catechism sacraments

Christ the God-man gave us the sacraments. He uses the sacraments of His Church to give us His grace. St. Thomas Aquinas employs this analogy for God’s giving of grace through Christ and the sacraments:

Imagine that our salvation and holiness were a wooden settee. God makes the settee out of wood, using His ‘hands’ (His humanity in Christ) and using His ‘tools’ (the sacraments.)

Could God Almighty share His eternal vitality with a particular human being using some ‘tool’ about which we Catholics know nothing? Certainly. God is God.

But, by the same token, can we say that we know of any way to get to heaven other than Holy Baptism and communion in Christ’s Church? No. We know of no other way. We would be dishonest as hell if we pretended that we did.

baptism-holy-card1

Holy Baptism comes from Jesus Himself. Before He ascended into heaven, He commanded His apostles to make disciples of all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

A Catholic baptism is a ritual washing. It is also an initiation ceremony, and a naming ceremony. In other words, Holy Baptism has certain aspects in common with similar rites in non-Christian religions.

But Baptism makes no sense at all, if you don’t understand it with reference to the Christian faith. A baptism is, first and foremost, an act of obedience to Jesus of Nazareth.

We obey Him in this way because we believe Him to be 1. God, 2. alive, 3. active in saving souls, through the sacraments which He gave to His Church.

The Church ministers Christ’s sacraments–as His instrument, a ‘tool’ in His hands. In the Church, we have particular individuals, sacred ministers, who can act in the person of Christ at Mass, and on other occasions. A particular sacrament, Holy Orders, makes a man a sacred minister within the ministering Church of Jesus Christ.

priest-singing

Sometimes when a sacred minister says “I” or “my,” he does not mean himself, in the sense of Joe Schmoe. He means, “I, Jesus.” In these moments, the sacred minister serves as a personal instrument of the Lord in the bringing about of a sacrament.

“This is My Body…This is My Blood,” would be the pre-eminent example.

To perceive by faith that Jesus Christ speaks these words at Holy Mass, using the priest as His personal instrument to bring about the consecration: that perception of faith is the key to embracing the Church’s sacraments for what they truly are. That is, perceiving Jesus acting in the priest at Mass = embracing the sacraments with Catholic faith.

Clovis Baptism St Remi

Since I hold the Catholic faith, by God’s grace, I can say this: When I have, hundreds of times, applied water to someone in a kind of ritual cleansing, I believe that Christ has acted to bestow the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Every time.

Most, if not all, of the people present on those occasions have believed the same thing. We have all believed it, because the Church believes it. We have shared, in an imperfect manner, in the perfect faith of Holy Mother Church, the perfect minister of the sacraments of faith.

On all those occasions, I have always undertaken to say what the ritual book instructs me to say. Who would I be, to think that I could improve on that? Who am I to tinker with something so sacred, so hallowed by the centuries, and so crucially important?

missale-romanum-white-bg

All that said, perhaps you have heard, dear reader, about a serious problem that has arisen in the Church, regarding the ministering of Holy Baptism?

The problem has only just begun. It appears to be two-fold.

1. Many poor souls have to wonder if they are in fact baptized, since some ministers have said, “We baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” instead of “I baptize…”

2. This hardship for earnest Catholics has led many to criticize, and even mock, our Church.

I think we can understand the criticism. Consider the situation: A family and their friends with a baby, coming to a Catholic church building (which has been dedicated for sacred use by a bishop), holding a child over a baptismal font (itself also consecrated for this holy purpose), participating in a ceremony conducted by a duly ordained Catholic clergyman, a ceremony in which the clergyman applies water to the child in a ritual cleansing (a ‘baptism’).

And the clergyman says:

[first-person pronoun] baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All the circumstances naturally lead everyone present to think: This is a Catholic baptism. No reason to doubt it.

That is, until the Vatican declares: If the first-person pronoun used was singular, all good. If plural, no baptism occurred.

You sure? Yes, we are absolutely sure no baptism occurred.

baptism

What if the minister said “we” by mistake? What if he was not a native speaker of the local language? Does what he meant to say count at all?

We Catholics have traditionally understood: What the minister means to say not only counts, but is the decisive thing. A sacrament occurs when the minister intends to do what the Church intends to do, by employing the necessary words and material.

Can I personally say that I have never flubbed the words? I can’t. I probably did, at some point. Over half the baptisms I have ever done have been in my second language.

But: However imperfectly I might have spoken, did I nonetheless habitually have the intention of celebrating the sacraments as Holy Mother Church celebrates them? Yes. I can say that without hesitation.

So I rest serene that my errors of diction have not impeded Jesus in His work.

Back to the Vatican declaration. In 2020, the Holy See responded to this question: Is a baptism conferred with the words, ‘We baptize you…’ valid? Answer: No. Anyone baptized with these words must undergo baptism again, as if he or she had never been baptized.

The pope approved the response. And the Vatican also published an explanation of its answer.

St Peters

Let me say two things. This procedure is how things should work in the Church. The Holy See has the authority to settle questions like this. Also: only a very foolish cleric chooses to alter the words used to confer the sacraments.

That said, I humbly propose that there are three reasons why we might wonder about this Vatican judgment. I do not think it is correct. I think the Holy See should reconsider.

The three reasons:

1. In the first paragraph of the Vatican’s explanation of its ruling, they cite the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Vatican writes:

[In this case] the ancient temptation resurfaces, that is, to substitute for the formula handed down by Tradition other texts judged more suitable. In this regard, St. Thomas Aquinas had already asked himself the question, ‘Whether several people can simultaneously baptize?’ He replied negatively. (Citing ST III q67 a6)

Citing St. Thomas as an authority on this matter does not serve the purpose. Let me explain why.

St. Thomas considers the words used by the minister of a sacrament in questions 60, 64, 66, and 67 of Part III of the Summa (as well as in additional questions later on, considering sacraments other than Holy Baptism.)

In his considerations in these four questions, St. Thomas recognizes not one, but two, traditional formulas for conferring baptism.

In the Latin-speaking Church, the minister says, “I baptize you…” St. Thomas explicitly refrains from ascribing the phrase “I baptize you” to Christ’s institution. (Christ instituted the use of the name of the Holy Trinity, but Matthew 28:19 does not include ‘I baptize you.’)

In the Greek-speaking Church, on the other hand, the minister does not refer to himself at all. Rather he uses the passive voice, saying “[Name] is baptized in the name of…

St. Thomas therefore opines:

“As to the addition of “I” in our form [the Latin], it is not essential. It is added in order to lay greater stress on the intention.” (emphasis added)

To lay greater stress on the intention. What intention? To do what the Church does in a baptism.

In other words, the sentence uttered by the minister is not some kind of incantation. It a verbal communication of his intention in acting as he does: that is, applying water to someone in a ritual washing.

What am I doing now? Am I rinsing the baby dandruff off your little scalp? No, “I baptize you in the name of the Father…”

To reiterate. St. Thomas: “I baptize” is not essential. It expresses the intention of the minister.

Okay, but doesn’t singular versus plural matter? What if a priest stood at the altar during the consecration at Mass and said: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is our body… Take this all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of our blood.”

I think we would all agree that this would not result in the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament. It would be an ‘invalid’ attempt. It would result in a nonsensical, ridiculous situation, and the priest should have his head examined.

But St. Thomas’ explanation of the baptismal words (which takes the Greek Church practice into account) teaches us that the “I baptize” is not the same as the “My” of the Body and Blood at Holy Mass. There is no Mass without the priest using the exact words of Christ to consecrate the bread and wine. But the Greek-speaking Church has celebrated countless beautiful baptisms without anyone there saying “I baptize.”

The fact of the matter is: the Vatican addresses one situation in its response, while St. Thomas addresses something quite different in question 67, article 6, of Pars III.

In the cited article, St. Thomas concludes that several people cannot baptize at the same time. He gives this example:

Suppose a child to be in danger of death, and two persons present, one of whom is mute, the other without hands or arms. The one would have to speak the words, the other perform the act of baptizing.

He considers two possible explanations for why that would not work.

The first possible explanation:

Were they to say, “We baptize you…,” the sacrament would not be conferred because the form of the Church would not be observed, i.e., “I baptize you…”

St. Thomas unequivocally rejects this explanation for why it wouldn’t work. He writes:

This reasoning is disproved by the form observed by the Greek Church, since their words differ far more from our form than does ‘We baptize…”

According to St. Thomas, therefore, it is not the words “We baptize…” that renders it impossible for multiple people to baptize a baby. Rather it is the second explanation he proposes, namely:

If several concur in conferring one baptism, this seems contrary to the notion of a minister, for a man does not baptize save as a minister of Christ, as standing in His place; wherefore, just as there is one Christ, so should there be one minister.

In the case that sat before the Vatican for judgment, there was only one single minister. He substituted “we” for “I,” yes. But only he did the baptism. St. Thomas, in concluding that several cannot baptize, was addressing a different situation.

To my mind, this seriously compromises the integrity of the Vatican’s response. It also brings us to problem #2 with the Vatican’s explanation.

holy-office

2. When a minister substitutes “we” for “I” when baptizing, who exactly does he mean by “we?” Do we know?

The Vatican explanation assumes that the ‘we’ the minister means is: the persons present at the ceremony. The Vatican puts it like this:

Apparently, the deliberate modification of the sacramental formula was introduced in order to express the participation of the family and of those present.

The Vatican rightly points out:

No group can make itself Church… The minister is a sign-presence of Him who gathers… The minister is the visible sign that the Sacrament is not subject to an arbitrary action of individuals or of the community, and that it pertains to the Universal Church.

Amen. Excellent points. But what if these points, too, do not actually address the case?

The Vatican also says this, in their explanation:

In the celebration of the sacraments, the subject is the Church, the Body of Christ together with its Head, that manifests itself in the concrete assembly. Such an assembly therefore acts ministerially.

What if, by “we,” the minister means this ministering Church? What if the “we” is not limited to the family and friends present as a mere human community, but actually refers to the Holy Mother? The “we” that is the Church.

If the minister has this ‘we’ in mind, would that change the situation? And perhaps allow for a different Vatican response?

baptist-greco2

This brings us to the third problem with the Vatican’s explanation for its negative response.

3. The Vatican assumes ill will on the part of the minister who says “we” instead of “I.”

The Vatican ascribes the rationale for the minister’s change of pronouns to “debatable pastoral motives,” adding: “Often the recourse to pastoral motives masks, even unconsciously, a subjective deviation and a manipulative will.”

The Vatican continues:

The minister’s intention to do what the Church does must be expressed in the exterior action constituted by the use of the matter and form of the sacrament.

They add: Substituting ‘we’ for ‘I’ does not

manifest the communion between what the minister accomplishes in the celebration of each individual sacrament with what the Church enacts in communion with the action of Christ Himself…

Therefore, in every minister of baptism there must not only be a deeply rooted knowledge of the obligation to act in ecclesial communion, but also the conviction of St. John the Baptist: although many ministers may baptize, the virtue of baptism is attributed to Him alone on whom the dove descended.

Stirring words.

But who will test baptismal ministers for the necessary deeply rooted knowledge and conviction? How will we know when these necessary conditions are present?

And are you really saying that the mere substitution of ‘we’ for ‘I’ proves, in and of itself, that the necessary intention to do what the Church does is not there?

No clergyman should ever substitute any words in conferring a sacrament. The Vatican should emphasize our obligation to ‘say the black and do the red,’ as they say.

And maybe that is precisely what this Vatican response actually intends to convey.

Which would mean that perhaps the Vatican authorities are, at this very moment, concerned and preoccupied with the unforeseen consequences that their ruling has had, namely:

1. Many good, earnest Catholics have to worry about the validity of their own baptism, or their children’s. And they have to take onerous steps to deal with that worry.

2. Our Church looks like a ridiculous and pedantic institution that can’t manage to get its head out of its butt.

Maybe, even now, they are reconsidering what they have done. I hope so.

Because this action, like so many other actions of the hierarchy, is obtuse and unfair.

Send a message to loosey-goosey clergymen by laying a burden on earnest laypeople? Really?

John Allen vs. David von Drehle + Update from the Gulag

Couvent des Jacobins de Toulouse - Autel de St Thomas d'Aquin
Tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas, Toulouse, France

Six hundred fifty-three years ago yesterday, a solemn procession carried the bodily remains of St. Thomas Aquinas into the French city of Toulouse. They deposited his bones in the Dominican church there.

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.

Some Catholics have even managed to convince themselves that the aged Benedict is suffering persecution for the true faith. An Italian Cardinal has called the charges against Ratzinger “absurd.” Cardinal Ruini insists that the pope-emeritus suffers not because of real wrongdoing, but because of his convictions.

Benedict Passion of Christ

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.

On the other hand, David von Drehle has carefully followed the pope-emeritus’ statements about the abuse crisis, and he has published a trenchant essay about the situation as it stands now.

Here’s my summary of the point/counter-point:

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.

unbornThis 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.

That very same spring of 2010, Pope Benedict wrote a letter to the Church in Ireland, about the abuse crisis. I quoted that letter extensively, when Ireland voted to allow abortion.

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.

canon law codex canonici

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.

They added:

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.

They are the problem.

Indianapolis Talk

Heading to Indy to give a talk on Saturday, sponsored by Corpus Christi for Unity and Peace. Thank you, dear Vicki Yamasaki, for inviting me.

Here’s the text, if you’re interested. I believe the talk will be recorded and made available on YouTube.

noah-covenant

The Scandal in the Church

Everyone familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

Near the beginning of the book, the Catechism explains the “Stages of Revelation,” the moments in history when God has “come to meet man,” to “reveal His plan of loving kindness.”

The Catechism highlights the covenants between God and man that occurred between the creation of heaven and earth and the coming of Christ. Anyone know what those two covenants are?

1. The covenant with Noah, after the flood, and 2. the covenant with Abraham, the forefather of the Israelites.

Pretty important to our Christian faith, these dealings between God and Noah, and between God and Abraham. We read about it all in the book of… Correct, Genesis.

It would certainly seem to pertain to our Catholic faith that we believe that these things really happened, right? Not that we reject the science of geology or paleontology. But we need a way to understand the Holy Scriptures as fundamentally accurate regarding these ancient covenants. Right? After all, they prepared the way for the coming of Christ.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchIt seems crazy to some people, but we Christians have the idea that you can read the Bible and learn things, things that make life mean something.

Not that our faith in the Word of God gives us the answer to every question; the Bible doesn’t claim to answer every question. But we know that we cannot understand the meaning of life, without being able to read the Holy Scriptures. And believe what we read.

Now, you may be wondering: Why the heck is this man talking about this? I mean, it sounds great, but.. Why talk about the early chapters of Genesis right now?

One reason I am here is to tell you my story. I thought it might be good to start with December 2001, just over twenty-one years ago, a couple months after 9/11. As Christmas break approached that year, I had managed to pass my comprehensive seminary exams, and I had one semester left before ordination to the priesthood. But then the rector of the seminary told me that I was not welcome back after Christmas. Continue reading “Indianapolis Talk”