The Gospel of Life, Chapter 1, Part 1

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

In this part of the letter, the pope interprets the story of Cain and Abel. Then he unfolds his understanding of the “Culture of Death.”

WARNING: JP II presents us with an examination of conscience here which will indict just about everybody. Remember that God is merciful, He forgives the penitent, and He bings good out of evil.

[For the podcast website, click HERE.]

The Gospel of Life, with New Podcast Series

st john paul ii

Karol Wojtyla was born 102 years ago today. He grew up to become Pope John Paul II.

On Annunciation Day, 1995, Pope JP II wrote to the world about the right to life. That letter became one of the basic guidling lights of my little life.

We know now–at least we know to some extent–how deeply John Paul betrayed his own message in that letter, when it comes to survivors of sexual abuse by priests and bishops. Pope JP II presided over an enormously anti-life criminal cover-up, probably the worst criminal cover-up the world has ever seen.

In his letter, the pope explored the problem of blinded conscience. But meanwhile his own conscience was utterly blind to the suffering of people like my friends James Grein and Chris O’Leary. By his anti-life negligence, JP II managed to compromise the evangelical mission of the Church for the foreseeable future.

evangelium-vitae

All that said, though, the letter Evangelium Vitae continues to resonate in my mind. If only JP II could have seen the significance of his own words, when it comes to clerical sex-abuse victims. If he had, we would find ourselves now in a completely different place, as a Church.

But that did not happen. What has, in fact, happened, is: the message of Evangelium Vitae has all but vanished from Catholic pastoral communication.

In the US, we find ourselves at the moment for which we pro-lifers have prayed for decades. But instead of mobilizing as a united force to seize the happy and hopeful day of a post-Roe v. Wade world, we seem paralyzed and directionless. Sheep without shepherds.

For the past couple weeks, I have been sweating in the backyard, laying the foundation for a little chapel. I cannot preach or pray in public; I can’t organize any community response to the end of Roe v. Wade. I remain unjustly suspended from ministry, with no end to that suspension in sight.

But one thing I can do is to read JP II’s The Gospel of Life aloud to you. It should occupy about twenty podcasts, each fifteen minutes long.

JP II’s writing can be difficult to understand. I will try to read aloud so as to make his words as intelligible as possible. For me these words still shimmer with the deepest and most-inspiring significance.

Here’s the first episode:

JP II Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) Introduction

[For the podcast website, click HERE.]

As we will see as we proceed through the encyclical, being a pro-life Catholic means something much deeper than a political tribal loyalty. It is really a spirituality of how we treat other human beings on a day-to-day basis.

NATO and the War in Ukraine

Sarotte Not One Inch NATO

Our Holy Father said recently that “NATO has barked at Russia’s door” and “perhaps facilitated” Russia’s “reacting badly and unleashing the conflict in Ukraine.”

The Wall Street Journal took stern exception to this statement, in a staff editorial. The WSJ editors write:

Since the invasion, Francis has called for an end to the war and criticized the violence, but he hasn’t directly called out Russia for starting the conflict. Now that he finally speaks, he blames NATO for accepting members that want to avoid being invaded by Russia. What a terrible moral signal to send to dictators.

Let’s consider this argument, with the help of a book I just finished, Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate, by M.E. Sarotte. Continue reading “NATO and the War in Ukraine”

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.

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?

More on the Pope-Emeritus’ Record

For decades in Munich, sexual assaults by clergymen went unreported and unpunished. The victims of these heinous crimes remained unacknowledged and invisible, their lives wounded by the violence they had suffered.

It was a human-rights catastrophe of the highest order. (And this happened, of course, not just in Munich, but apparently in every Catholic community on earth.)

Last month we considered the report that a team of Munich investigators prepared, intended to cast light on this catastrophic period of secret human-rights violations. At the Archdiocese’s behest, the investigators focused their study on the decision-making of the Archbishops.

The report included information from Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI’s tenure as Munich Archbishop. We conducted a point/counter-point about how to understand the information in the report.

Pope Benedict New Evangelization

Now the Vatican has published the pope-emeritus’ legal team’s official rebuttal of the Munich report.

The rebuttal is, as they say, slim pickings. But it still manages to be brazenly dishonest, in three ways.

1. At a now-infamous meeting that took place in January of 1980, Cardinal Ratzinger agreed to welcome Father Peter Hullermann into the archdiocese. Prior to that fateful date, Hullermann had already sexually abused at least one, and likely three, minors. He would go on to abuse many more, over the ensuing decades.

The Ratzinger-team rebuttal published last week insists that, at the meeting in January 1980, Cardinal Ratzinger did not decide to employ Hullermann in pastoral work. Rather, Hullermann was simply accommodated in a parish rectory, so that he might undergo psychotherapy in Munich.

The rebuttal’s implication here is this:

Ratzinger never agreed to anything dangerous, as far as exposing minors to sexual assault, because “at the meeting it was not decided to engage the priest in pastoral activity.”

But this implication is patently dishonest. Any priest resident in a parish rectory is ipso facto involved in pastoral work, unless the bishop explicitly prohibits it.

Every Catholic who has ever practiced the faith in a big city, with student priests living in it, knows: Priests living in parish rectories, even if not assigned as pastor or parochial vicar, nonetheless celebrate Masses and hear confessions on a regular basis. From the point-of-view of the Catholic in the pew, the resident priest is simply another priest. Just as likely to be invited over for dinner, just as likely to be granted access to vulnerable minors.

To avoid this, the Archbishop would have had to forbid that Hullermann celebrate the sacraments. Explicitly forbid it. Ratzinger certainly did not do that.

Okay, maybe things were different in Munich in 1980 than they have been in every other big city with Catholic parishes that I have ever been in, in my life? If so, then forgive me for making a false charge here.

But if Munich was like any other place, then this Ratzinger-rebuttal implication is pure b.s.

Ratzinger put Hullermann in a position to prey on additional victims. That is the simple fact.

Francis and Benedict

2. We discussed before how the pope-emeritus’ team previously insisted that Ratzinger was not at the January 1980 meeting when Hullermann was welcomed to Munich.

But then the investigators produced the minutes of the meeting, which prove that the Archbishop was, in fact, there.

The rebuttal published last week tries to paint a picture. The Ratzinger team had to operate under supposedly difficult circumstances. They had to process large amounts of information during a short time period. Therefore, they made an honest mistake about the meeting.

Now, I don’t think we will ever know for sure whether it was an honest mistake or not. Perhaps it was.

But the picture the Ratzinger team tries to paint is itself fundamentally dishonest.

The fact is, it was the investigators where were working with unfamiliar documents, trying to understand material that was new to them. None of it was new to Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger was there when it happened in the first place. He was directly involved. He was fricking in charge.

Let’s remember why the investigation occurred: Human rights violations happened on a shocking scale, in secret, for decades. The investigators were not on the inside at the time; they sought information they did not have.

When those investigators seeking information first contacted the pope-emeritus, asking him to contribute his memories to their study, he could have replied:

‘Look, I’m an old man now. You’re asking me about things from over half a lifetime ago. I have not retained any records myself, and my memory is clouded by the years. I don’t have much to contribute to the record at this point.’

That would have been a perfectly reasonable response. But Ratzinger and his ‘friends’ did not respond that way. Actually, they did, at first. But then they changed their minds. The pope-emeritus insisted that he had clear memories and could contribute information that would make the record more complete. Great.

But you can’t say, on the one hand, ‘Yes, I can give you information that you don’t have. Send your questions,’ and then say, ‘You gave me too much information to deal with in too short a time.’ As if you never heard anything about any of it before. As if it were all new material to you.

No. It was your own daggone life, Your Holiness. Your own decisions.

Benedict Francis kneeling

3. The Ratzinger-team rebuttal asserts that:

As an archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger was not involved in any cover-up of acts of abuse.

The reasoning behind this assertion is: The investigative report acknowledges that it has no proof one way or the other about what Ratzinger knew about the criminal acts of his priests.*

* That is, during his time as Archbishop. Remember: some of the criminals’ cases eventually made it to Rome, and Ratzinger then served as the competent Vatican official, or as pope. The investigators asked about what he learned while in Rome, and the pope-emeritus categorically refused to answer those questions.

And yet one of the ‘friends of Ratzinger’ has the temerity to call Pope Benedict XVI “the father of transparency.” Come on.

Anyway, the report concludes that Ratzinger probably knew at least something about Hullermann’s criminality (as well as other criminal priests.) The report has evidence supporting that conclusion, including testimony from parishioners at a parish to which Hullermann was assigned while Ratzinger served as Archbishop of Munich.

All that said, the investigators acknowledge that they have no certain proof.

As cited above, the rebuttal insists, therefore, that, in the absence of such proof, we must conclude that Ratzinger knew nothing.

That would be our necessary conclusion–if this were a criminal case, and we were jurors with the authority to put Joseph Ratzinger in jail.

But that is never what the investigation was. The report is an honest attempt to bring to light the facts. The facts of a long-term, secret human-rights-abuse catastrophe.

The investigators asked the pope-emeritus to participate as a source of information, not as a criminal defendant. And yet Ratzinger and his team have acted, from beginning to end, as if the man were a defendant on trial.

This confirms, rather than weakens, the report’s conclusions. To this day, Ratzinger makes the whole thing about himself. His long-time secretary Georg Ganswein says that Benedict’s enemies cooked up the report to destroy his legacy. Mind-blowing small-mindedness and narcissism.

last-judgment

When the Vatican published the Ratzinger-team rebuttal, they also published a letter from the pope-emeritus. In his letter, the aging Benedict expresses his hope that he will meet a friend as judge, after he breathes his last.

Indeed, we all must hope for that. Otherwise, we are doomed.

But Ratzinger was no friend to the innocent and defenseless young people who suffered at the hands of criminal priests in Munich. The investigators have brought to light many, many facts that lay hidden for decades.

The most-charitable interpretation of those facts, when it comes to Joseph Ratzinger, is this: He was too self-important and ambitious to be bothered with such details as whether or not his priests were dangerous criminals. To this day he wants to cover that fact up.

May the Lord have mercy on him for it.

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.