Your Holiness Emeritus, I Disagree

pope-benedict-saturno-hat

Pope Benedict XVI still lives, and he can still write. He took the trouble to try to explain the sexual abuse crisis, by looking back at his career in the Church. Click to read his essay.

Problem is, His Holiness Emeritus has written things that aren’t really true. He writes, “Only where faith no longer determines the actions of a man are such offenses [sexual abuse of minors] possible.”

But even a cursory examination of the record reveals that faith and sexual abuse can and do often co-exist. Did Theodore McCarrick not believe in God and Christ? I can say with no doubt that he did and likely still does. Many sex abusers have been wracked with bitter remorse and genuine penitence–and have proceeded to offend again.

Pope Benedict suggests that sex abuse spiked after the sexual revolution, which caused moral confusion in the Church. But most people have never been confused at all, regarding the criminality of sexually abusing a minor. In the 50’s, the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, up until now: An overwhelming consensus that sexually abusing minors is a crime. In the ancient world, society tolerated the sexual abuse of minors. But not in the modern West.

For the Pope Emeritus to publish a thoughtful essay on this topic: that could conceivably have helped us enormously. If he had given us the full details of what he knew about McCarrick, and when he knew it–that would really help.

No such luck.

Rather, Benedict XVI has embarrassed himself significantly. He has perpetuated the hierarchy’s standard misidentification of the scandal. The Scandal does not = priests sexually abusing minors. The Scandal = bishops and popes neglecting to discipline criminals.

In his essay, the former head of the the Vatican tribunal dealing with sex-abuse cases–and the former supreme legislator of the Church–laments problems with ecclesiastical law. That’s like Bill Gates writing an essay to lament problems with Microsoft Office.

…How about this, gentlemen of the higher clergy:

Take two hundred men, the approximate size of many presbyterates. Between one and four of them will sexually abuse a minor at some point. What do you do then, when you learn of it?

Isn’t that the question?

Why have four decades passed, since Jason Berry first exposed the case of Gilbert Gauthe–and still: no clear, sensible answer for that question?

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The McCarrick Report

Just put a letter to Archbishop Gregory into the mail…

St Matthews Cathedral

Your Excellency,

In 2001, when Theodore McCarrick took possession of the Archdiocese of Washington, he did so as a criminal fleeing justice. He had sexually abused seminarians and at least one minor.

By late 2004, Donald Wuerl and Joseph Ratzinger, among others, knew beyond any reasonable doubt that the sitting Archbishop of Washington was a criminal. No written law explicitly condemned what they knew McCarrick had done to some of his seminarians. But every honest churchman would have recognized the criminal acts. As Pope John Paul II so famously put it, in 2002: “There is no place in the priesthood for those who would harm the young.”

The Apostolic See had a clear duty: put McCarrick on trial. Didn’t happen.

By this time of year in 2006, McCarrick had turned seventy-five, Ratzinger had become Pope Benedict, and the nuncio called Donald Wuerl. Everyone involved entered into a dishonest pact.

Just a few years earlier, Wuerl had participated in the common promise of the American bishops never again to cover-up clerical sexual abuse. Pope Benedict had been a party to that promise as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But in the case of Theodore McCarrick, they broke their recent promise. Pope Benedict, Pope Francis, and Donald Wuerl proceeded to cover-up the crimes of Theodore McCarrick for the ensuing twelve years. They ended the cover-up only when forced to do so, by circumstances beyond their control.

If Donald Wuerl were an honest man, he would have told Pope Benedict back in the spring of 2006: I will not accept the Archdiocese of Washington as my pastoral charge until we make good on our promise and deliver public justice against McCarrick. Had that happened, Wuerl could have entered St. Matthew’s cathedral without dishonesty. As it was, he sat on the throne in Washington with a lie under the cushion for twelve years, complicit in that lie with two popes.

Sir: Do not enter St. Matthew’s with this same lie burdening you. Insist that the pope acknowledge these known facts. Recognize that the Apostolic See has grievously wronged the faithful of Washington. From at least 2004 until 2018, Rome failed to exercise due vigilance over Theodore McCarrick. Pope Francis must openly acknowledge this, and Donald Wuerl must openly acknowledge his complicity in it. Neither of these men deserve anyone’s trust until they publicly acknowledge these known facts.

Until these admissions take place, do not enter St. Matthew’s in the company of Donald Wuerl, and do not accept the apostolic mandate from Pope Francis. I know you didn’t ask for my advice. But I advise you as a brother, anyway.

Christ always offers us a fresh start. But we have to live in the truth. The truth: McCarrick entered St. Matthew’s a dishonest criminal. Donald Wuerl entered a liar. Two popes lived in this lie for years.

Don’t walk in as another liar.

 

Yours in Christ, Father Mark White

Being Catholic on Annunciation Day, 2019

annunciation-merode

This is the will of God: Your sanctification. (I Thessalonians 4:3)

God wills our holiness. Our salvation. Our union with Him.

In the unfolding of this unimaginably kind divine will, God became man in the womb of the Virgin. She freely submitted to God’s will, to become God’s human mother. Her free submission echoed the free submission of the eternal Son, Who, becoming man, declared to His Father: ‘Behold, I come to the earth to do Your will.’ He said it again thirty-three years later. ‘Father, let this chalice of suffering pass from me! But not my will, but yours, be done.’

We had a parish-cluster discussion yesterday afternoon about Pope Francis’ ministry. We had various opinions among ourselves on a number of subjects. But we all agreed about the challenge we face:

One the one hand, we know that our membership in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church includes loyalty to St. Peter’s successor. There is no other sure way to belong to Christ’s Church, the family of faith founded on God’s incarnation in the Blessed Mother’s womb.

But on the other hand: From outside the Church, people see this very institutional loyalty of ours as morally unsound. How can you continue to associate yourselves with such a corrupt institution?

We cannot dismiss this question as anti-Catholic bigotry. To the contrary, human decency and genuine honesty motivate the question. Our institutional loyalty to the Church looks dishonest and indecent to non-Catholics, and we have no solid argument to offer them in rebuttal. Our only arguments involve appeals to realities of faith, which we cannot reasonably expect non-Catholics to accept.

We have to live here. We have to face this challenge. We will not blindly deny that the house is on fire, and that no competent firemen have yet arrived at the scene–at least as far as we can tell.

But we also will not abandon our faith in the unfathomably kind divine will, which Mary fulfilled on this holy day. And which Jesus fulfilled. And which is, simply: Our salvation.

Gaudium Magnum Out the Window

Something greater than Solomon here. Something greater than Jonah here. The Christ.

We come to Him to find salvation, to find God. Jesus saves the human race; we know no other way. The human race comes to Jesus, gathers around Him, follows Him, unites herself with Him—and thereby finds peace, true religion, and eternal happiness.

That’s the Church. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of the Christ of God.

francis1

Six years ago today, the white smoke floated on the Roman evening air, the bells rang out, the eyes of the world gazed at the loggia. Our local tv station came here to St. Joseph’s in Martinsville for comment. Bob Humkey happily talked to the camera.

The joy of the election of a new pope. Six years ago today, it filled the Catholic world. The sense of promise. The comforting continuity. Holy Church renewing Herself again. Habemus papam. Gaudium magnum. Great joy.

I don’t think any of us could have imagined how profoundly compromised that joy would become, six years later. The innocent exhuberance—I remember feeling it even when I was a boy, in October 1978. Then again, as a new priest, in April 2005. Then again six years ago today. Simple, happy confidence in this institution.

Not naivete; we know popes aren’t perfect. We know they are flawed men, like everyone else. The institution isn’t perfect. But when we heard ‘habemus papam’—the vitality, the capacity to start fresh, the fundamental soundness and permanence of the Church: we rightly reveled in it, as our new father in God stepped out to greet us and bless us.

Now? All that seems a million miles away, like a sweet dream that we had. And we have woken up to attorneys general, Royal Commissions of inquiry, and Saturday Night Live legitimately suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church is a crime syndicate.

Luther Theses by Ferdinand Pauwels

The familiar loggia on the front of St. Peter’s Basilica: four centuries old. In the century before it was built, many earnest Christians lost confidence altogether in the papacy. They had their reasons. The beginning of… Protestantism.

We have our reasons, too. Martin Luther’s nemesis Pope Leo X reveled in processions with elephants through the streets of Rome. And the doctrine of indulgences was an utter mess. But, as far as we know, Pope Leo did not have two Cardinals publicly convicted of sexually abusing minors.

In other words, we Christians of the early 21st century hardly have less reason to lose faith in the Roman Catholic hierarchy than the Christians of the early sixteenth century did. We would seem to have a great deal more reason.

But it also seems to me that we have to dig deeper. There is something greater here, something greater than the current incumbents of the episcopal thrones. This is the Church of Jesus Christ.

I have a little plan to steal away for a few days in September and make a personal pilgrimage to the cathedral in Trent, Italy–to pray for myself, and all of you, and Pope Francis, and the whole Church.

Everyone know what happened there, five centuries ago? A miracle of doctrinal precision and clarity, to answer Protestant objections. And a miracle of new resolve and spiritual discipline in the Catholic clergy.

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The Council of Trent

On our pope’s sixth anniversary, the gaudium magnum of the St. Peter’s loggia eludes us altogether. But the Lord will not fail us. He will not fail His Church, built on Peter.

 

Count the Holy See Among the Abusers

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when 
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
or rats’ feet over broken glass

(from T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”)

Cupich Scicluna Zollner Vatican summit

If I could have entered the Vatican building, I would have asked:

How could His Holiness have done it?

After he knew about McCarrick making his seminarians put on sailor suits and give him nighttime back rubs? After the pope knew that McCarrick made them masturbate him and forced them to submit to his masturbating them?

Knowing all this, the pope let McCarrick (among other things) concelebrate the Archdiocese of Washington jubilarian Mass last year. McCarrick celebrated his 60th jubilee. The then-Cardinal spoke and received a standing ovation from all the bishops and priests.

May 2, 2018.

At that point, Pope Francis had known about the sailor suits, the back rubs, and the forced mutual masturbations for at least four years and ten months.

What does the consecrated celibacy of priests, nuns, and monks mean? Our renunciation of something so lovely as the marital embrace?

One thing it means is this: On the other side of death, a more wonderful embrace awaits us. The divine embrace (please God we get there) will make even the holy joy of matrimony seem like small, passing potatoes by comparison.

Consecrated celibacy in the Church focuses us all–all Christians, young and old–on: the great hope we look for in the life to come.

When our young ladies and gents live through their period of temporary celibacy with this hope as the basic reality of life, then they can make a genuinely free choice about marriage.

The pope’s meeting in Rome these past four days completely missed the true meaning of what happened last July and August. When James Grein finally felt free to tell the world the truth about Theodore McCarrick, Jesus Christ won a great victory. When the still-living victims in Pennsylvania had the opportunity to stand tall, in the full light of day, and denounce as dreadfully wrong what had happened to them, Christ won.

The cruelest part of sexual abuse is: The abuser confuses the victim’s conscience.

My conscience is saying: Wait a minute. Something terribly wrong here.

Meanwhile, the abuser acts authoritatively as if: This is normal. This is how people do. This is what sex is.

What happened last July and August: In these particular cases, conscience finally won. The truth finally won. No, this is not what sex is like. We know what sex is meant to be from Jesus in heaven. He fulfills everything at the wedding banquet of the Lamb. We start to know what sex is really like by: believing that God loves me enough to make me happy forever, whether I marry or not.

I get to choose. To live a life of holy celibacy until I die. Or marry. My choice. God alone owns by body. And He has entrusted it 100% to me, to give to a spouse if I so choose.

Theodore McCarrick does not own my body. Or Father George Koharchik of Altoona-Johnstown. Or Father Gale Leifeld of the Capuchins. Or Father John Joseph Munley of the Diocese of Richmond. If I have to walk out alone into the a strange street to get away, I will–God will protect me.

The abusers had stitched together little secret shadow worlds, in which sexual slavery was normal. Last July and August, Mr. James Grein, Mr. Shaun Doughtery, Mr. Peter Isely, and many others, stepped out of those worlds, into the sunlight of Gospel truth. Christ won.

“The Catholic Scandal” = when pope and bishops don’t see the victory in situations like this. When the pope or the bishop does not celebrate with the liberated captive, and then turn around and punch the abuser squarely in the face.

“The Catholic Scandal” has never meant: O me! A priest committed sexual abuse! O my! Most adults recognize soberly that priests can and do commit sexual abuse. Sure, it makes sense to try to prevent it. Makes sense to do criminal background checks. Makes sense to train everyone to keep on the lookout for warning signs. But we cannot outsmart the devil.

The Catholic Scandal = when the institution that carries the secret of genuine sexual freedom in Her holy bosom does not react to the revelation of sexual abuse like Herself. The scandal is when higher-up shepherds (bishops, pope) do not react like fathers.

Fathers rejoice when they learn that a child has escaped slavery and lived to tell the tale. Then they go after the slaver with a baseball bat. The Scandal = bishops and pope hemming and hawing, shifting and mumbling, then sidling away.

Points of ecclesiastical procedure remain squarely on the table.

Is “grooming” for abuse itself an actionable crime in the Church? What must a diocesan bishop do when the civil authorities cannot, or will not, do anything? When will the Roman tribunals…

a. resolve the large backlog of abuse cases?

b. make their proceedings intelligible to the victims and to the public?

c. establish a means for trying, and punishing, not just bishops who abuse, but also bishops who have failed to react to abuse cases with the Church’s loving zeal for chastity, sexual integrity, and freedom?

The pope’s meeting addressed none of these questions. Instead: “a program very carefully stage-managed to keep the most troubling questions at a distance from the Vatican itself” (as Robert Royal put it).

This Roman meeting was no holy gathering of the successors of the apostles at the tomb of St. Peter. No. They didn’t even manage to use one of the Vatican’s many consecrated places to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy. They had Mass in a reception hall.

This meeting = the attempted construction of a little abusive shadow-world of its own.

Here’s what I mean. A true father does not rely on his children’s approval. Rather, when bad things happen, he deals with the bad things as best he can, according to his best lights. And his children get to lean on him.

In our Church right now, the whole thing goes the other way. We don’t have real fathers right now. Instead, the pope and his minions desperately seek approval. From somewhere. They put on shows to try to manipulate us into congratulating them for “doing the right thing.”

Everything they said in Rome these past four days has been said many times before. Over and over and over again. In 2002, Pope John Paul II said: We face the mystery of evil here. This morning Pope Francis said: We face the mystery of evil here.

In 2002 they said: Bishops’ conferences will get a grip on this problem. This morning they said: Bishops’ conferences will get a grip on this problem.

People who know me know that I am fundamentally an easy-going dude. I was happily doing my little thing, trying to give halfway-decent pastoral care to my lovable cluster-parish flock, until this latest chapter in our Catholic life together began last June 20.

I used to tell a lot more jokes in my sermons. But I have to get deadly serious right now.

I despise everyone involved in the pope’s Roman meeting. I despise them all.

In my book, the only respectable place to stand was outside. Outside the manipulative little show. Out in the Roman sunshine–where the victims’ groups stood.

Everyone inside; everyone in the Synod Hall; all the journalists with credentials in the briefing room; the whole distorted communication apparatus, that can’t see what a colossal, manipulative charade the whole thing was: I despise.

What’s the answer to the question that no one had the courage to ask? Namely: Why, when Pope Francis first learned about the way that McCarrick had abused his seminarians–why did the Pope not immediately act? Why didn’t he do anything to try to save our faith from the corrosion it has suffered these past eight months? Why did he learn about the sailor suits, the back rubs, and the mutual masturbations–and then just hang loose with it, until forces beyond his control made him change course?

What’s the most-reasonable answer? Using Ockham’s razor, to remove all superfluous abstractions, and try to get to the simplest explanation?

Jorge Bergoglio is a McCarrick himself. Either a McCarrick manqué (never did, but wanted to) or a full-blown McCarrick. A despicable McCarrick.

May God help us.

Church in Rome

Michelangelo Flood Sistine Chapel

After the Flood, when Noah’s ark rested on land again, Noah built an altar and offered a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God.

The Flood represents our baptism and salvation in Christ. Noah’s sacrifice represents our celebration of Holy Mass. The moment of peace and hope after the Flood, when God and Noah entered into a covenant of perpetual stability of life: that represents us–the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, reconciled with God through a purification of conscience, living in communion with divine love.

I printed out the list of all the participants in the Roman meeting of Bishops’-Conference presidents, and prayed for all of them by name.

This isn’t Vatican III. The Pope has not gathered a holy synod. It’s another kind of meeting. Looks a lot more like some kind of corporate “in-service.” With ugly, painful subject matter.

st_peter_basilica_vatican_01But nonetheless we should behold and rejoice in the real beauty of the moment. The living, world-wide Church, in the person of these particular prelates, converging at the tomb of St. Peter.

The P.R. about the meeting has focused on how the “experienced” churches—USA, Ireland, the Holy See—will share all our “child protection” insights with the “undeveloped” churches.

I, for one, pray for a miracle: that something quite different would occur. Instead of a lot of feel-good bureaucratic nonsense, I pray that bishops who risk their lives daily for the Gospel, in the dangerous and poor parts of the world, might actually get a chance to talk.

And maybe raise questions like: What business does the American Church have lecturing us? You, Cardinal DiNardo, president of the USCCB, remain personally implicated in a recent sex-abuse cover-up in your own diocese, involving your own Episcopal Vicar for Spanish speakers. You have yet to explain yourself.

The American bishops have lost the confidence of their people. Why should we listen to them?

And what business does the Holy See have lecturing us? You, Holy Father, covered-up for at least one sex-abuser for years—McCarrick—and you have never acknowledged it. When will you give us the full truth about this?

That would be real “synodality” in action. The things that really need discussing–getting them out in the open. Trusting, like Noah, in the faithfulness of God.

Dose of Reality for February Vatican Meeting

tu-es-petrus-st-peters-dome

We Catholics generally want to believe that our hierarchy possesses the skills necessary to respond to crises. We want to think that the meetings they have, and the documents they produce, will “move things forward.” We foot-soldiers for the kingdom of God want to find something that justifies optimism about the institution.

But we must recognize these emotions for what they are: Pointless and distracting fantasies.

In a month, the leaders of the bishops’ conferences of the world will meet in Rome. A kind of mini-three-day ‘Vatican III.’

Why? Ostensibly to address the sex-abuse crisis.

Reason #1 Why We Can Hope for Nothing Good

The Vatican itself remains hopelessly mired in at least one major sex-abuse cover-up. To be sure, other corners of the globe may know of others. In our little mid-Atlantic corner, we know of this big one:

Theodore McCarrick sexually abused seminarians during the 1980’s. At least two of his victims notified neighboring bishops, during the 90’s and early 2000’s. The Vatican knew of the accusations.

McCarrick sofa

The two currently living popes, multiple living Cardinals, former and current heads of Roman dicasteries–all have participated, and continue to participate, in the cover-up of Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse of seminarians.

None of the churchmen who know the truth about this have reckoned with it at all, except anonymously. (The one exception, of course: Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.)

The facts are indisputable; none of the churchmen involved in the cover-up have ever disputed them. But no one has acknowledged anything. That’s what you call an on-going sex-abuse cover-up. Involving the former and current popes.

To be sure, the McCarrick case is not the only one that fits into this category. It just happens to be the one that your humble servant knows and understands well enough to write about.

Reason #2

The very villain of this on-going cover-up, Theodore McCarrick, personally presided over the USCCB Cover-up of 2002. Which the organizers of next month’s Vatican meeting have the self-serving audacity to envision as a kind of model.

The idea peddled by meeting-organizer Blase Cardinal Cupich is this:

The Church in the USA accomplished a “breakthrough” in child protection with the Dallas Charter of 2002. Let’s break that down…

i. Education in chastity and in recognizing potential abusers

(I’m going to have to write a book on this. But, for now, let’s say:) We know that sexual abuse is sexual abuse because we know what chastity is. When you don’t know what chastity is, sexual abuse seems like just another form of interpersonal relations.

Because Christ is chaste, and because He gives the gift of true happiness in chastity to the beloved children of His heavenly Father, we can recognize sexual abuse for the heinous crime that it is.

Teaching this pertains to the perpetual duty of Christ’s Church. Experienced counselors can help in this educational effort. To some extent, lay experts have helped to supply the grave deficiencies in education of this kind, which bishops and clergy have failed to offer. And continue to fail to offer. The Dallas Charter has, to some extent, facilitated this education.

ii. Preventing convicted felons from working or volunteering in Catholic institutions

The Dallas-Charter rules about fingerprinting and background checks probably have prevented some potential predators from gaining access to our young people. Praise God for that.

iii. The idea that our young people are “safer” now, thanks to our bishops and what they did in 2002

No honest professional who has interacted with sex-abuse survivors would ever claim to know this. We cannot honestly maintain that we have had fewer instances of sexual abuse during the past sixteen years than we had before.

Minors rarely report sexual abuse. It takes many years even to begin to find the courage. We won’t know whether the Dallas Charter has led to a reduction in sex-abuse cases until 2045.

Cardinal Cupich and the reigning church mafia loudly insist that Dallas 2002 made children safer. Guess what? That self-serving insistence itself deters victims from coming forward. It’s the same episcopal reaction as before, just under a new guise.

Keep your mouth shut, because what you have to say makes us look bad.

That’s what sex-abuse victims got from bishops in the 1980’s, in the 1990’s, in the 2000’s, in the 2010’s, and now.

2002 was a cover-up of the real scandal. The real scandal was, and is: Our bishops did not have, and do not have, the kind of moral compass that any normal Catholic parent has.

Cardinal Cupich writes:

“Here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, we report all allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities, offer support to all who make allegations through our Victim Assistance Ministry, remove archdiocesan clergy from ministry permanently if an allegation of abuse of minors is substantiated and publicize the names of those with substantiated allegations against them.”

What’s missing? The fundamental duty of the bishop: To reckon fully with the truth and see to it that malefactors receive an appropriate punishment. The Cardinal’s litany of swell accomplishments misses the most-important one of all: Finding, and clearly declaring, the truth.

The Attorney General of Illinois pointed out recently that the Dallas-Charter norms do not have adequate clarity and specificity. Over and over again, knowledgeable investigators have pointed out that bishops must formulate clearly–in concrete cases–the precise violations of chastity that have occurred. That’s how justice gets done.

But, of course, that involves hearing a victim’s entire story yourself, rather than shuttling the victim off to some “Victims’ Assistance Ministry” who likely will not even answer the phone.

So, speaking of justice being done:

Apparently the pope and bishops gathered in Rome next month will celebrate a “penitential liturgy.”

st-peters-confessio

With the Holy See itself still implicated in the McCarrick Cover-up, not to mention other similar cover-ups, the liturgical expression of penance at St. Peter’s will ring hollow. The sound of the pope’s and bishops’ crocodile tears will bounce off the inside of Michelangelo’s dome.

If they really want to move God to pity, all the prelates of this mini-sex-abuse Vatican III should kneel at St. Peter’s tomb and cry out as follows:

Lord, we have failed you and your people! Forgive us for presuming to shepherd and govern, when we obviously do not know how!

We will stop talking about policies. We will stop engaging in endless paper-pushing exercises, aimed only at repeating moral truths that are obvious to every mature human being who has ever lived.

Instead, we will make a thorough account of all our own scandalous failures as shepherds. Then we will establish a procedure for choosing our successors by lot.

By this random-selection process, please choose better men than ourselves to take our places, Lord!

Once the lots are chosen, we will ordain our successors as necessary, and then we ourselves will retire to live in quite prayer and penance until Judgment Day.

St. Paul and Vatican II

Caravaggio Conversion on the Way to Damascus Paul

Lord Jesus died, rose again, ascended into heaven bodily, and reigns over all things, at the right hand of the Father.

The original Apostles witnessed some of these events, from the point-of-view of Planet Earth. St. John saw Jesus die. They all saw Him after He rose. They watched Him ascend into the clouds.

The Apostles proceeded to testify orally and in writing. All except John suffered execution, rather than deny what they had seen, and what they believed about the One they had seen. Namely: that He is the Christ of God, the incarnate eternal Word, Who has made Himself the new Adam of the redeemed human race.

St. Paul did not witness the things that the original Apostles witnessed. But he did encounter some of those Apostles personally, as well as other original Christians.

At first Paul not only did not believe them, he despised them. He counted them blasphemers, criminal enemies of true religion.

But then, on this holy day, He, too, encountered Jesus. The Lord spoke to Paul from heaven. Why do you persecute Me? Why do you kick against the pricks? You love God and desire only to serve God. I, Jesus, am God—the true God of love and mercy, in Whom your father Abraham believed.

St. Paul had the faith and courage to embrace Jesus with every fiber of his being.

One thing that makes Christianity so believable is this: The New Testament depicts the human countenances of some absolutely believable people. Jesus Himself. His mother. St. Peter. St. John. And St. Paul.

John XXIII Vatican IIProbably St. Paul more than any other. After all, he wrote half the New Testament. Plus, almost half of St. Luke’s second book is about Paul.

Many passages of St. Paul’s letters pose extreme challenges to the reader. He had a mind of encyclopedic complexity, and he lived a pilgrim life ten times more adventuresome than Indiana Jones.

A lot of Paul’s writing requires careful study in order to understand–precisely because it is all so absolutely real. The whole thing is geographically coherent, religiously consistent–full of human love, human impatience, webs of relationships, and fatherliness.

Speaking of which: sixty years ago today, the new pope, John XXIII, visited the tomb of the Apostle Paul. The pope gave a little speech. He declared that he would soon summon all the world’s bishops to the Vatican, for an ecumenical council.

I think I may be one of the last of a dying breed: an incorrigibly conservative priest who loves Vatican II. Who loves it more, not less, with each passing year.

Conversion. Pope St. John XXIII had enough faith in Christ, and enough courage, to imagine that the indefectible Church could convert—in those aspects of Her life that can, and have, gone wrong. The pope believed that the true Church of Jesus—Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever—could adapt Herself better to what the Lord asks of Her now. Which differs somewhat from what He asked of Her yesterday.

St. Paul trusted totally and completely in Christ—enough to change. We can, too.

Melchisedek and St. Agnes

saint agnes fuori la mura
Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, Roma

At Holy Mass today, we read that Jesus, the Son of God, ministered as a priest. Not as a priest of the Old Covenant with Abraham and Moses, but a priest of the order of Melchisedek.

Any idea what that means? Melchisedek ruled Jerusalem in the most-ancient times. Our father Abraham won a battle, and Melchisedek blessed him afterwards. Melchisedek offered a sacrifice of bread and wine, and Abraham offered a tenth of his goods, which is where we get the idea of tithing. (Genesis 14:18-20)

King David sang as a prophet in Psalm 110. He called the eternal Son of God “a priest forever in the manner of Melchisedek.”

We Christians mention Melchisedek at the altar, whenever we use the Roman Canon at Mass, Eucharistic Prayer #1.

We use that prayer today (at St. Joseph, in Martinsville, Virginia), because we also mention St. Agnes in that prayer. She went to her martyr’s death today.

At age twelve or thirteen. Younger than the now world-famous-for-a-short-time Covington-Catholic students. (St. Agnes, pray for them, and for all of us!)*

In ancient Rome at the dawn of the fourth century AD, the persecution of emperor Diocletian tried to force Christians to burn incense to the pagan gods. Especially lovely, young, eligible bachelorettes, like Agnes.

But she refused. She made the sign of the cross instead. She had consecrated her virginity to Christ. She would not marry the suitor who courted her.

They took her to a brothel. The one man craven enough to try anything with her? He got struck by lightning and blinded. St. Agnes kindly healed his blindness.

So they beheaded her.

Her name sounds like one of the titles of Christ, in Latin. “Agnes.” “Agnus.” Lamb. The Lamb of God.

______________

*My prize for the best, most-appropriate reaction to the initial video of the Lincoln-Memorial incident, from a dear parishioner who watched it with me on a smarrphone after Mass yesterday: “What’s up with the staring contest?”

The Cover-Up of the Cover-Up of the Cover-Up + James Under Oath

Vatican synod hall empty

Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, recently published an article about sexual abuse of minors in the magazine La Civiltà Cattolica.

Father Lombardi enjoys close familiarity with Pope Francis, and the Holy See publishes the magazine. So we can assume that it expresses the Vatican’s thoughts at this point in time. About the upcoming Big Meeting in Rome.

In his article, Father Lombardi misrepresents the history of the McCarrick case. In reviewing the events of 2018, which gave rise to the February 2019 meeting, Lombardi writes:

The former Archbishop of Washington was accused of sexually abusing a minor, an allegation that was found “credible and substantiated” by the review board of the Archdiocese of New York, and of molesting seminarians, and the pope removed him from the College of Cardinals.

First of all, McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals, and the pope accepted his resignation. Second of all, McCarrick’s resignation came not after the finding of the Archdiocese of NY review board, but after the publication in the NY Times of James Grein’s allegations.

Most Orwellian of all: Father Lombardi indicating that accusations regarding McCarrick’s “molesting seminarians” reached the ears of authorities this past summer. In point of fact, we have documentary evidence that a former seminarian accused McCarrick of abuse in 1994. A quarter century ago.

One thing we need to wake up and realize: The US bishops claim that, in 2002, they straightened their sex-abuse problem out. What they really did in 2002 was: Cover it up.

In 2002, they did not resolve all the outstanding cases lingering in their files. They did not admit that they themselves had failed to enforce the basic norms of human decency that upright people know without being taught. They had heard accusations of criminal abuses, and they had not investigated. They had not applied the Church’s own laws.

They, the bishops of the US, had scandalized the world by their mismanagement–their non-management–of sex abuse cases. That was the Scandal of 2002.

But they covered that up by pretending that the problem was the abusing priests. The bishops invoked the empty slogan “zero tolerance”–as if any sane person could ever have tolerated the sexual abuse of a minor. As if the divine law somehow used to tolerate the sexual abuse of minors, but now it doesn’t. Please.

What the bishops did in 2002 was: cover over the reality that stared everyone in the face. Bishops have a duty of governance that requires the prosecution of criminal cases under Church law. But they have neither the will, nor the expertise, necessary to do that duty. They didn’t have it in the 80’s and 90’s; they didn’t have it in 2002; they don’t have it now.

In February, the pope intends to try to do the same trick that the US bishops did in 2002. In 2002, the Boston Globe uncovered numerous unresolved cases of sexual abuse–situations involving particular individuals, in which the Church had failed to see justice done, under Her own law. Rather than face this, the bishops made the whole thing about policies.

Not the victims. Not the cases. Not their own egregious failures. Policies.

The Scandal of 2018 involves individual cases that no one has ever resolved. Pre-eminent among them: the McCarrick case. But the pope wants to make the Scandal of 2018 about policies. Not about his own failures. Not about victims. Again: Policies, policies. (And hopelessly vague policies at that.)

…Now, did someone savvy in Vatican City State intentionally schedule James Grein’s sworn testimony in the McCarrick case for a week when most of the world’s journalists are on vacation? Hard not to think so.

If so, perhaps that savvy cover-up artist failed to foresee that Mr. Grein would recount something this stunning: McCarrick abused him during confession.

James Grein speaking in Baltimore

May justice be done. But don’t get your hopes up. Apparently, “the Vatican wants this finalized by the second week of February–the entire case.”

Which could conceivably have happened–if someone started the prosecution last summer. If someone took James’ testimony in August.

But if you’re just now taking preliminary sworn testimony? Then conclude a just criminal process in six weeks? Giving the accused all the rights he enjoys under law? (Which everyone, even Theodore McCarrick, deserves.)

I don’t see how that can happen so quickly. So, either: 1. No just resolution to the case. or 2. A rush to unjust judgment. Either way: Same problem we have had throughout this scandal: incompetence at the episcopal level, including the bishop of Rome.

…Happy New Year to you, dear reader. We all know that everyone should be able to go to confession without worrying that the confessor is a pederast. We all know that when someone accuses a cleric of sexual abuse in 1994, his trial should have long since been concluded, without rushing, by 2019.

But the mafiosi running the Church don’t operate according to the basic standards of decency and justice which we all know. They operate according to some other strange calculus–a desperate narcissism, somehow both sinister and pathetic at the same time.