True Friends and Enemies

If the master of the house had known the hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. (Luke 12:39)

pachamama-arianna-ruffinengo
“Pachamama” by Arianna Ruffinengo

Everyone paid attention to the videos from Rome? Maybe someday our personal responses to this question will define us: Where did you stand, when they threw Pachamama in the Tiber?

But I would rather recount a conversation I had with a Mohawk man. On the Appalachian Trail, a few years ago. He’s a Christian, an Assembly of God preacher. We fell in with each other for a long stretch of walking and talking. He wound up spending a few days praying at St. Andrew’s in Roanoke, Virginia, then continued his journeys.

To generalize about “native American spirituality” or “Amazonian spirituality”—doesn’t seem like a good idea at all. You really can’t generalize, any more than you could generalize about “European spirituality” or “the spirituality of the Indian sub-continent.”

But can’t we say this: All orthodox Catholics, and most native Americans, of north and south, have something in common. We all acknowledge that the human race does not possess the greatest intelligence that exists. We God-fearing people revere the infinitely superior intelligence of our Creator, and the immeasurably superior intelligence of the angels, the non-material spirits–some of which are good, some of which are evil.

Cover of English edition of Pope Francis' encyclical on environment

Therefore we orthodox Catholics and native Americans also share this understanding: the Creator has endowed His material creation with an inherent order—and that order also surpasses our intelligence.

Not that we Catholics would say that trees, deer, and rivers have “minds.” But we recognize, along with native Americans, that Mother Nature possesses this endowment of organization, unity, and co-operation. Mankind forms but a part of this.

We human beings have a unique role—but not the role of mastermind. We must humbly respect the mystery of Mother Nature’s inner-connectedness; we must seek to co-operate with it ourselves; we cannot presume to understand it completely.

So, my point is: Why would we fight among ourselves, we God-fearing people who respect the Creator’s higher intelligence? When we not only have such crucial presuppositions in common, but also clearly face a common foe.

Namely, the school of willful blindness to the inherently religious dimension of human life. The technocracy. The oligarchy of materialists. That rejects prayer and sacraments as merely projections of inner psychological confusion. That prizes only bodily comfort. That cannot conceive of our human mission to co-operate humbly with God and His laws?

I didn’t just make up this take on the problem, during a walk in the woods with an Indian. This is a thesis that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict both embraced, as we can see in the citations in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’.

A non-Christian native American who reveres the inner mystery of Mother Nature has more in common with us orthodox Catholics than the people who run the world right now. Who know no gods other than man and money.

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Paul Simon Way Ahead on the Amazon

As we read at Holy Mass today: The Lord sent the prophet Jonah to the non-Jewish Ninevites. And the Lord sent a non-Jewish Samaritan to help the robbers’ victim, in the parable. This Sunday we will read about the ten lepers Jesus cured. The only one who came back to say thank you? A Samaritan. A foreigner.

The Lord founded a cosmopolitan Church. Not like the magazine Cosmopolitan. But in the sense that true religion resonates with people of all languages and races. The Lord sent the Apostles to all nations.

Rosary Prayers

For most of us, the Amazon basin counts as “foreign land.” Anyone ever visited?

It became a little less foreign for us Paul-Simon fans back in 1990. He followed up his album Graceland with an encore, involving Brazilian musicians. I wore out my cassette tape of Rhythm of the Saints, by listening to it like a thousand times. The song “Born at the Right Time” can still bring tears to my eyes.

Paul Simon was twenty-nine years ahead of the Vatican. Everyone heard of the “Amazon Synod” in Rome? I, for one, long ago lost track of what exactly the point of all these Roman synods is.

Anyway: the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the grace of His mysteries, belongs to everyone, of every language and nation. Our Lady’s Rosary has “delivered” the Gospel, and the grace of Christ’s mysteries, to souls seeking God, all over the world, for centuries.

You can’t go wrong, listening to some Paul Simon every once in a while, to cheer yourself up. And we definitely can’t go wrong, praying the Rosary daily.

Saint Francis, Parish-Church Patron

stfrancis

Today we keep the anniversary of our parish patron’s death, as a Memorial. Over the weekend, we will keep it as a Solemnity, as is our prerogative to do.

As we celebrate Holy Mass to honor Saint Francis, we sing about how God has used the saints to call mankind back to our original holiness, to the innocence of the garden, before the Fall. Saint Francis’ totally Christ-like life has rescued generations of human souls from cynicism, from hopelessness, from self-centered self-destruction.

My dear mom is visiting the parish today, along with my tall and handsome brother. My mom and I have had the chance to visit Assisi. Twice. By the grace of God, many of us have been there. A trip to Assisi offers an antidote for cynicism and hopelessness, all by itself—just being there makes you feel like you’re breathing the air of the Garden of Eden.

basilicastfrancis

We have the first pope who ever presumed to take Saint Francis’ name. And Pope Francis presides over a Catholic Church so grievously misgoverned that there’s hardly any earthly hope for Her survival.

But Saint Francis lived in such times, too. Granted, the prelates of his age weren’t quite as worldly and corrupt as the ones we have now. Nor were the popes of the first part of the thirteenth century quite as ineffectual as the first two popes of the twenty-first century have been. We have in common with Saint Francis that one of the popes during his lifetime wanted to resign. But, in the case of Celestine III, the Cardinals wouldn’t let him quit.

Anyway, my point is: Saint Francis had to soldier on in pure faith. Even while the upper leadership had more interest in worldly power than in shepherding souls. Saint Francis had to keep believing in Jesus, and living in union with Him, through all that.

We do, too, of course. With St. Francis’ help, we can do it.

Indulgences

from the Council of Trent file…

Luther Theses by Ferdinand Pauwels
Luther and his famous theses on indulgences

In 1967, Pope St. Paul VI wrote:

The practice of indulgences has at times been improperly used either through untimely and superfluous indulgences, by which the power of the keys was humiliated and penitential satisfaction weakened, or through the collection of illicit profits by which indulgences were blasphemously defamed. (para. 8 of Indulgentiarum Doctrina)

In the 16th century: Lutheranism, Protestantism–the whole mighty conflict–began. And it began with: Indulgences.

During my Protestant youth, my good instructors in religion, including my dear mother and aunt, often repeated the story of the indulgence-preacher Johann Tetzel, who declared, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Luther explicitly condemned that sentiment in his 95 theses.

Let’s try to sort this out.

God wills to befriend us for eternal life with Him. But that requires reconciliation with Him, with His pure goodness and holiness. Because we do not possess pure goodness and holiness.

Our reconciliation with God involves two dimensions:

1. Becoming God’s friend through Christ. Simple forgiveness of the eternal punishment we all deserve. The eternal punishment we all deserve = not being God’s friend forever. But, even though we don’t deserve His friendship, He offers it to us anyway.

2. Making up for all the bad effects of sin. Reparation. Doing penance. Serving a punishment that isn’t eternal. (Therefore, temporal.)

Trent Duomo nave rose window
Trent duomo rose window

If we die lacking the first dimension of reconciliation with God, we wind up in… correct: Hell.

If we die having the first, but lacking the full term of the second aspect of reconciliation, we wind up in… you got it. Purgatory.

Now, only I, myself, me–responding freely and courageously in faith to the promptings of my conscience, by the grace of Christ–can avoid hell. I myself have to love God and regret my sins, in order to be a friend of God in Christ.

God forgives the penitent soul through the ministry of His Son’s Church. But the individual penitent soul must undergo that ministry. No one can go to confession on someone else’s behalf. No one can decide for someone else to love God and regret sin.

And no one will make a successful appeal on judgment day to someone else’s contrition for his sins. “My mom was sorry that I stopped writing her. She went to church a lot and prayed for me to get paroled. Isn’t that good, Big Guy?” Ah. No.

Hell awaits all unrepentant sinners who die.

But: When it comes to the second dimension of reconciliation with the perfect holiness of God–that is, a friend of God serving a just sentence for the bad effects of his or her sins–in that business, we can help each other.

In fact, in that business, the friends of God are all in it together. Christ our Head, and all His members, including our Lady and all the saints, share resources in order to overcome the effects of sin and achieve total honesty, total purity, total readiness to meet God face-to-face.

Obtaining an indulgence involves sharing in those resources, the “treasury” of the Holy Church, the holiness of Christ and His saints. Only a friend of God can receive an indulgence. And all of us friends of God need the help.

[Click HERE to read the full official Vatican handbook of indulgences. If offers very consoling reading.]

 

Visiting Venice without Clichés

Othello relating his adventures to Desdemona by Becker
“Othello Relating his Adventures to Desdemona,” by Carl Becker

Shakespeare’s Othello begins in the streets of Venice. The Moor general has quietly married the fairest of all Venetian heiresses, Desdemona. The renowned cosmopolitanism of Venetian society strains to the breaking point at this. A black man has presumed to marry into a senatorial family.

But the Venetian senate has more pressing matters at hand. The Turks threaten their dominion over the fair sea. Othello will lead them in battle…

…Gore Vidal wrote a little history of Venice, complete with pictures. He insists that Venice has become a lovable cliché. When I arrive at Piazza San Marco, after visiting Trent, Verona, and Milan, I anticipate having to navigate many choking crowds of gawking cruise ship off-loads.

I intend, nonetheless–in spite of the “tourist-trap” aspect of the scene–to visit the relics of my baptismal patron at the Duomo. And to see the fair city. Without a single cliché.

I will focus instead on the legacy of Fra Paolo Sarpi and the Venetian Interdict of 1606.

When you look carefully at the facade of the Vatican Basilica of St. Peter, you see the name of the pope who completed the building, Paul V (Camillo Borghese). New popes present themselves to the world immediately below those chiseled words.

Paul V Borghese

Well, Pope Paul V also cancelled all Masses and sacraments (except last rites), for the entire Republic of Venice, for a year. At least he tried to.

Anthony Trollope wrote the chronicles of Barset. His brother Thomas Adolphus lived most of his life in Italy. Thomas Adolphus Trollope concerned himself with all things Italian, especially the Risorgimento. He wrote an utterly gripping, if wrong-headed, account of the Venetian Interdict of 1606, called Paul the Pope and Paul the Friar.

What happened? The Venetians held two criminal priests in custody, intending to judge and sentence them according to their laws. Pope Paul objected, insisting that he alone had jurisdiction.

What followed involved… 1. The enunciation of many of the principles of the U.S. Constitution, well over a century before Thomas Jefferson’s birth. 2. A crisis of Catholic identity not unlike the one we face right now, subsequent to the sexual abuse scandal. 3. A ‘test’ of the effects of the Council of Trent.

Now, please don’t think my interest in a four-century-old controversy between Rome and Venice amounts to mere antiquarianism. Let’s remember this also:

The Holy and Apostolic See of Rome certainly predates the Patriarchate of Venice. On the day St. Peter died at the foot of Vatican hill, the city of Venice didn’t even yet exist as a small island village. The pope created a diocese of Venice in 774 AD.

But the current length of residence in their sees is about the same, for the two lines of bishops. The popes left Rome in the fourteenth century; didn’t return until 1377. And even after that, the city of Rome experienced lengthy hiatuses of papal residence. We remember Pope Martin V as the hero who truly brought the papacy back to Rome for good–in 1420.

So the popes rightly developed an enormously high esteem for the Patriarchate of Venice, the inheritor of the genuinely ancient patriarchate of Grado (which managed to preserve itself for generations as simultaneously Roman and Byzantine).

In recent centuries, the pope customarily created a newly appointed bishop of Venice a cardinal at the subsequent consistory. Remember, two pope-saints of recent memory, John XXIII and Pius X, both entered their respective conclaves as Cardinal Patriarchs of Venice. (So did Pope John Paul I).

The Patriarch of Venice became such an “automatic” cardinal, in fact, that he acquired the unique privilege of wearing scarlet immediately upon his appointment as Patriarch–even before any consistory. That is: before the pope actually creates him a cardinal, the Patriarch of Venice nonetheless dresses as one. Since he certainly will become one, in a matter of weeks.

Francesco Moraglia Patriarch Of Venice Inaugurates His Mandate
new Patriarch Francesco Moraglia arrives in Venice, March 2012

Except when he doesn’t. The current incumbent Patriarch of Venice, in office now for nearly eight years, remains an Archbishop. He enjoys no right to enter the Sistine Chapel at the next papal interregnum. He sits neglected by the pope, clothed in what by now seems like “borrowed” scarlet. Francesco Moraglia’s scarlet robe, in fact, has become something like Miss Havisham’s wedding dress.

Not an interdict, to be sure. But this inexplicable situation plagues Venetian Catholics like an open wound…

…I will endeavor to unfold these matters for you, dear reader, as the good Lord allows me the time and energy to do so.

In the meantime, I ask for your prayers, that heavenly graces will accompany me on my little journey.

Ciao for now.

The Edifice of Lies + Pope Gaslights Again

For decades, Mr. Phil Lawler has written about the problems in the Catholic hierarchy. He just announced solemnly that he cannot do it anymore. Combat fatigue.

The straw that broke his camel’s back? The appointment of a new bishop for West Virginia. From within the Wuerl-Lori-McCarrick-Bransfield Edifice of Lies. An institution some of us call ADW, Inc. (ArchDiocese of Washington)

Mark Brennan.jpg
His Excellency Mark Brennan, new Catholic bishop of West Virginia

To reply to Mr. Lawler:

On the one hand, we understand and sympathize. His Excellency Mark Brennan certainly arrives in West Virginia already compromised.

How? Allow me, dear reader, to explain what I mean.

At some point in April or May, someone on the inside of the ecclesiastical Bransfield investigation went to the Washington Post with two sets of scandalous revelations.

1. Details about former-WV-bishop Bransfield’s lavish spending.

2. Baltimore Archbishop William Lori’s active suppression of the fact that: some of that spending was bribes paid to him.

(“Wait!” Mr. Aw-shucks by-gosh Bill Lori says, “I told you they were not bribes!” To which the reasonable people of Planet Earth reply: Sir, the recipients of bribes rarely recognize the unreasonable gifts they receive as bribes until after the briber’s wrongdoing gets exposed by someone else–the wrongdoing that you ignored, because it was your ‘friend’ doing wrong.)

wuerl loriAnyway: the leak blew the lid off the church-mafia’s attempt to scapegoat Bransfield quietly, without any public airing of details.

Now, where did Mark Brennan sit when the leaker leaked? At the table in the backroom meeting where everyone “agreed” to remove the list of bribes from the Bransfield report? Only God and the insiders know the answer to that.

But: wherever he sat exactly, His Excellency Mark Brennan had an obligation to do something as soon as he became aware of Lori’s dishonesty. Namely to denounce it openly.

He did not do that; he has not done that. Brennan sang Bill Lori’s praises to assembled reporters in Wheeling on Tuesday morning.

So: Mark Brennan sits on his throne, compromised. Just like Wilton Gregory sits utterly compromised on the throne in Washington, smiling endlessly at the exposed liar Donald Wuerl.

But, Mr. Lawler: Please take this on board. You acknowledge that you do not know Mark Brennan. I do.

In the photo above, he stands in front of the doors to St. Martin of Tours parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He served there as a genuinely generous shepherd for thirteen long years. I have admired Mark Brennan ever since I first met him, in 1997.

So your unworthy scribe can say, with some insight: Among the made men of the ecclesiastical mafia, Mark Brennan stands out as an extraordinarily humble and honest person. He actually knows how to put in a hard day’s work, as opposed to just talking endlessly about doing so. Mark Brennan has more intellectual curiosity in his little finger than a banquet-room full of Loris, Wuerls, McCarricks, and Bransfields all nervously slapping each other on the back.

Problem is: This relatively honest and fatherly mafioso has managed to let Pope Francis gaslight the living daylights out of him.

Allow your servant to try to imagine a bishop tasking me, as follows:

‘Er–Father White: You will succeed a pastor of thirteen years incumbency. He retired ten months ago. After he retired, I determined that he did some real bad things and launched a ‘probe.’ But the details are all top secret.

‘You, Father White, will: Take over the parish. And you will negotiate your predecessor’s penance with him. And enforce it.’

Now, hearing such an assignment put to me, I think I would say: ‘Hold the phone there. You expect me simultaneously

a) to sympathize with and comfort the poor, faithful people who my predecessor harmed, and

b) sympathize with and comfort the poor, faithful people who found a way to love him anyway, for thirteen long years, and

c) serve as my predecessor’s impartial judge, jury, bail bondsman, and baseball-bat-wielding repo man?

Instead of replying brainlessly, “Thanks for your trust in me, chief!” I think I might say something that rhymes with Duck Crew.

“Shouldn’t you, Excellency, our superior, take care of judging and punishing my retired peer? Shouldn’t you do your job?”

What honest person can simultaneously embrace the flock left behind as a shepherd and give a fair trial, and impose a fair punishment, on the accused malefactor? Not possible for one person to pull off. This is why professional jurists do things like recuse themselves from cases in which they have a personal interest.

Bransfield does, after all, have a right to a fair trial, like anyone else. He may be guilty of serious wrongdoing. But not a whole lot more guilty than most bishops. He’s hardly one black sheep in a flock of whites. He’s a gray among grays, when it comes to spending faithful Catholics’ donations on nouveau-riche creature comforts for themselves.

I would feel sorry for my old diocesan brother Mark Brennan. If it weren’t for the fact that he owes it to the world to speak the truth. Bransfield is hardly the only straight-up fraud and liar on the stage right now. Lori, Wuerl, and Bergoglio are all straight-up frauds and liars, too.

Guest Post: Praying for a Catholic Separation of Powers (by a non-Catholic)

Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals possess unchecked power. This means that they can do whatever they please.

momThus, W. Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield gave hundreds of thousands of diocesan dollars in gifts to cardinals and to young priests he was accused of sexually abusing. He spent millions of diocesan dollars on travel, millions on renovating his church residence, and $1000 a month on alcohol. This man, this supposed church leader, was head of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for fifteen years and Bishop of West Virginia for thirteen years — a church leader for twenty-eight years — and no one did anything to stop him until last year.

Don’t tell me he’s “just one bad apple.” The entire orchard of the Catholic hierarchy is rotten: bishops who ruin the careers of priests who serve under them without offering a single reason for doing so; bishops who punish other clergy without trial, without showing that wrongdoing exists; bishops who hold secret trials, reporting neither the evidence nor the results; bishops who hear a young seminarian say about his priest, “He ran his hands over my genitals,” then send the priest for counseling and then back into a parish, either keeping no record or hiding the record in a broom closet.

Roman Catholics: if you’ve been paying attention, if you’ve been reading, and if you do not pretend to yourself that the church is okay, you know these things. Someone has to have the power to say yes or no to all-powerful bishops. Don’t tell me it’s the pope. Obviously he’s done nothing about the problem.

A Catholic historian has shown that in medieval and early-modern times, local aristocrats and monarchs restrained bishops for their own purposes. No longer. Today’s presidents and dictators don’t give a fig about Roman Catholic bishops.

Today the church needs a “separate power” to check the bishops’ power. For the U.S. church, I propose a Senate of Priests, a group of priests elected by all U.S. priests for a specified term, to meet regularly to review and correct the work of U.S. bishops. Individually, in the church hierarchy, priests are subject to bishops. With this separation of powers, bishops are subject to priests when priests act collectively as the Senate of Priests.

Is such a separation of powers un-Catholic? No doubt. Does it seem like pie in the sky? No doubt. Is it necessary for the church? Yes, without the slightest doubt in the world. The church needs it desperately.

Ann White (Father Mark’s dear mother)

Pope Francis, Taylor Marshall, James Grein, and the Scandal of the McCarrick Scandal

James Grein speaking in Baltimore

On December 5 of last year, Dr. Taylor Marshall interviewed Mr. James Grein. They discussed Theodore McCarrick’s language studies in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in 1948. And they discussed the self-named “St. Gallen Mafia”–a group of European bishops who met sporadically in the same town of St. Gallen during the 1990’s, to discuss their disagreements with Joseph Card. Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II.

Marshall and Grein saw a connection. Between these events occurring in the same town (albeit separated by a lapse of forty-five years). The connection: Communist infiltration of the Roman Catholic Church.

Shortly after that interview, Grein went on to testify against McCarrick in a church court. As far as we, the general public, know: Pope Francis convicted and defrocked McCarrick on the basis of Grein’s testimony. The pope did so without conducting a full trial. His Holiness said in a recent interview: McCarrick’s guilt was “obvious.”

pope francis head rubMeanwhile, Dr. Marshall went on to publish Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church From Within. Marshall reflects on his conversation with Grein, writing: “One cannot help but wonder if Sankt Gallen served as an infiltration center for recruiting young men to infiltrate the priesthood.”

I, for one, can help but wonder. Since I try to avoid falling into kooky conspiracy theories, unsupported by any evidence. Serious reviewers have rightly greeted Marshall’s book with alarm. Marshall speculates wildly and proves nothing.

Now, Marshall and Grein are two different men. Grein, we presume, did not speak about any Communist plots when he testified before the Church tribunal considering McCarrick’s crimes. More likely, Grein described acts of sexual abuse which McCarrick did, in fact, commit. As I noted in December, someone can be both a credible victim-witness to the crime of sex abuse and a kook full of conspiracy theories, at the same time. The two are not mutually incompatible.

But: The simultaneous publication last week of Marshall’s largely deranged book, and Pope Francis’ largely deranged interview: It does not reflect well on the integrity of the Vatican court that defrocked McCarrick, and our Church’s justice system in general.

As I mentioned, in his recent interview, the pope called McCarrick’s guilt “obvious.” Does His Holiness base that assertion solely on the testimony of a single witness–a single witness who has demonstrated himself publicly to be an irrational conspiracy theorist?

How could anyone’s guilt be “obvious” under such circumstances? Wouldn’t any competent judge of a criminal case insist, at least, that the accused be granted his right to due process, a full trial, and a chance to answer the charges? Before making a verdict?

Archbishop ViganoOf course, a question has haunted our minds for nearly a year now; the question that brought Archbishop Viganò out of the woodwork: Does the Holy See possess other evidence of McCarrick’s crimes?

Apparently the answer is yes. The large file that Viganò mentioned to His Holiness in June of 2013. Which contains multiple denunciations of sexual abuse and two hefty cash-settlement documents.

…When the new Archbishop of Washington, Wilton Gregory, spoke with his priests last week, he declared that it’s time to “turn the page.” Pope Francis, too, spoke of the McCarrick Affair as something that ended in early February.

But, in fact, the scandal has only grown worse, as the past year has unfolded. The McCarrick Affair has exposed the painful fact: Our Church has no integral criminal-justice system.

In free and honest societies, judges mete out criminal justice in open courts, according to fixed rules. Victims of crime get to testify publicly. Malefactors get punished fairly, according to clear laws. Justice gets done openly, and peace in the community gets restored. The written acts of the case stand as a public record.

On the other hand: dishonest, corrupt, authoritarian regimes conduct unintelligible ‘trials’ behind closed doors. They mete out hidden punishments. They acknowledge no rules of order; rather they operate according to favoritism and short-term political expediency.

What kind of government does the Catholic Church have now? The McCarrick Affair has revealed: We clearly, obviously, and manifestly have the authoritarian, corrupt, and dishonest kind.

 

The College of Lying Cowards

Gregory installation

“I have called you friends,” says the Lord. (John 15:15)

Sixteen years ago today, I had an explanation in my mind for the state of the Church in America. Over the course of last summer, 2018 quickly became the worst year in the history of American Catholicism. But before that, 2002—the year before my ordination—held the title.

We had learned just how many millions upon millions upon millions of dollars the Catholic bishops of the USA had paid out in hush-money, to cover up crimes.

As I knelt to be ordained, I thought I had a plausible explanation for this. A Romanian-priest friend of mine had pointed out to me: In Romania, people would never hold the diocese responsible for the crime of a single priest. They would hold the priest himself responsible.

In America, my thinking went, dioceses had to contend with the deep anti-Catholic prejudice of our country. The typical American conceives of the Catholic Church as a suspicious foreign enterprise. So American courts treat the Church unfairly. The bishops really had no choice but to pay big settlements.

After all, we all knew too well how much anti-Catholicism this country harbors. During 2002, the lampoonists of press and screen had open season on Catholic priests. Everyone refrained from any caricature of Muslim leaders, for fear of a cruel backlash after 9/11. But you could mock Catholic priests en masse, as twisted sexual perverts, with total impunity. Just like you can now.

McCarrick ordinationToday, however—sixteen years later—I know different. We all know that anti-Catholicism does not explain the endless settlements paid by dioceses in sex-abuse cases.

The revelations of the past year have taught us: the bishops did not make all those payments to protect the victims, or the Church—or because prejudice stacked the legal deck against them. The bishops paid the hush-money to protect themselves. They had everything to lose, if the truth about their dereliction of duty came out. The bishops paid to “protect” people from scandal—not scandal about the sins of priests, but scandal over their own incompetence as enforcers of ecclesiastical law.

One bridge spans the sixteen years I have been a priest: the cover-up of the crimes of the very man who ordained me. His successor in office, Donald Wuerl, knew fifteen years ago that McCarrick had sexually abused seminarians and young priests. This past Tuesday, Wilton Gregory, the newly arrived successor in Washington, praised Donald Wuerl as “above all, a true Christian gentleman.”

But let’s imagine a true Christian gentleman, reading the sworn testimony of one of McCarrick’s victims, in the fall of 2004. Wouldn’t a true Christian gentleman, in Donald Wuerl’s place, think to himself: I need to see justice done here. I have a duty to this poor soul. May God help me to do right by him.

Instead, Wuerl obsequiously sent the whole thing to Rome and washed his hands of it. In the Vatican, they masterminded the McCarrick cover-up. And Wuerl has hidden behind the supposed virtue of filial obedience to the pope ever since.

Lord Jesus calls us His friends. Friends don’t let friends betray what they supposedly stand for. Friends don’t let friends cover up crimes of sexual abuse—even if one of those friends is a Cardinal, or even the pope.

On Tuesday, Donald Wuerl strode in last, at the end of the procession, when his successor was to be installed. The end of the procession is, of course, the place of honor. Fitting that Cardinal Wuerl took that place. He presides, with unique distinction, over the College of Lying Cowards that sat there in their miters in the Shrine on Tuesday.

…Sixteen years in, and this is the priest you have, my dear ones! Let’s keep loving God and His Christ together, one day at a time. Jesus reigns. The One to Whom we must answer, when everything is said and done, is He.

Some Problems with the New Rules

PG-13

1. In the preface to Vos Estis Lux Mundi, Pope Francis insists that we cultivate holiness, so that crimes of sexual abuse “never happen again.”

Problem is: this sentiment discourages victims from speaking. Sex abuse not only happens in secret, it involves long-term, merciless brainwashing. The abuser twists reality to make the victim believe: a. there’s nothing wrong going on here at all; it’s actually beautiful love; and b. telling anyone would destroy the beautiful intimacy we have.

A great and marvelous miracle occurs whenever a sex-abuse victim finds the clarity to recognize: I am the victim of a crime that merits imprisonment. I will crawl out from under the cloak of deception that this abuser has thrown over me, and I will speak the truth, holding nothing back, mincing no words. Not sure I can survive the ordeal, but I can’t live in the web of lies anymore.

Sean Connery Macbeth
Sean Connery and Zoe Caldwell as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

The last thing anyone in this situation needs is for the authority that can and must do justice against the abuser to insist shrilly that: ‘Such things must never happen!’ Of coure, they shouldn’t happen. All sane people know that. But, in fact, they do happen.

A victim needs someone to listen–someone who is not sorry that the victim is speaking. Angry that it happened, yes. Ready to right the wrong. But realistic enough to know that, in this fallen world, we need clear procedures and penalties to deal with the crime of sexual abuse–because it happens. It happens all the daggone time. We are a fallen race of sinners, we human beings.

2. In his motu proprio, Pope Francis outlaws sexual acts by clerics and religious with a minor, defining a ‘minor’ as under 18. As far as clerics, this law already stood, defined as ‘the delict against the sixth commandment’ with a minor.

At first glance, both phrases seem clear enough–‘delict against the sixth commandment’ and ‘sexual acts.’ Problem is: it’s actually not anywhere near as clear as it first appears.

A spectrum spans from: a social-media message intended to ‘groom’ a victim, on one end, to: actual sexual penetration, on the other. Where on that spectrum does the proscribed delict begin? Flirty talk? Kissing? Fondling? Of course all of these are wrong. But not every wrong thing is a crime.

McCarrick ordination

A billion-dollar industry has grown up in the Catholic Church in the US to try to prevent sexual abuse of minors. Criminal background checks, training, certifications, etc. A whole professional class has emerged in this area.

Everyone must watch out for ‘grooming.’ Sexual abuse almost never occurs without a long period of grooming preceding it. So we rightly strive to prevent grooming.

Problem is: ‘Grooming’ does not fall under criminal law. Because a perfectly innocent social overture–one that might even have real Christian charity for its motivation–can look exactly like an act of grooming. It’s not illegal to send someone a facebook message. And yet a facebook message can lead to a misplaced sense of trust, which can lead to a channel of secret communication, which can lead to sexual abuse.

I do not hold myself out as a canonical or safe-environment expert, by any means. I merely intend to point out that the motu proprio not only did not solve this issue, it didn’t even address it.

3. Pope Francis has outlawed: “forcing someone [anyone–even an adult], through the abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts.” [emphasis added]

I guess we could call this “The McCarrick Law.” Apparently, he clearly abused his authority to get sex. After all, the pope convicted him of breaking this law (even before it was on the books) in a summary administrative procedure, without a full trial.

But: If it was as clear as all that, why wasn’t McCarrick convicted by Pope Benedict, back in 2006? We generally regard Pope Benedict as a sober, upright man. Why didn’t he recognize a case of criminal abuse, if the matter was so crystal-clear?

McCarrick ordained me a transitional deacon 18 years ago today. On that day, I thought of him as an amazingly talented, crushingly self-centered, charming tyrant. He gave the Archdiocese of Washington a huge amount of energy that it had not previously had. He appeared utterly uninterested in anything having to do with theology. He was a flawed man. He was no walking demon.

On May 13, 2001, many churchmen, who we then regarded as at least somewhat reasonable–including Pope John Paul II–knew something about McCarrick’s sexual life. They had not concluded that his actions amounted to crimes.

My point is: I think anyone who has ever served in the military knows: The line between criminal abuse of authority in a sexual relationship, on the one hand, and a consensual affair, on the other: by no means crystal-clear.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do grave evils. Who convinced whom to do them? Did Macbeth abuse his authority over his wife? Or did she seduce him into committing murder–to satisfy her ambition? The answer is: Yes.

Criminal laws on paper accomplish nothing without competent investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges–and principles of application of the laws, based on acquired experience. Pope Francis has given us: the paper. We don’t have the rest.