Two non-church Churches and a Ghost Palace

Sunset on the Garonne, in Toulouse, France

St. Thomas Aquinas’ mind stretched across many boundaries during his pilgrim life, and his bones straddle a boundary, even in death.

In the annals of French history, the same term–Jacobin–refers to two different groups. The Jacobins of the late 1700’s hated the monarchy and played a major role in the Reign of Terror that followed the 1789 revolution (1).

This group got its name from holding its meetings in a building that had once been a Dominican friary. Because Jacobins also = Dominicans.

After St. Dominic founded his religious order in 1214, the first Dominicans in Paris lived in the friary of St. Jacques. Parisians came to refer to them by the name of their house. Hence, “Jacobins” (2).

St. Thomas Aquinas’ tomb

St. Thomas’ relics lie under the single altar in the “Church of the Jacobins” in Toulouse. Which does not mean: Church of the French Revolutionaries. It means Church of the Dominicans. The friars built the church during the first decades of the order’s life. It is their “mother church.”

Except it isn’t. Because it isn’t a church anymore.

The (French-Revolution) Jacobins despised the (Dominican) Jacobins and expelled the order from France in 1789. Fifteen years later, Napoleon put the Church of the Jacobins to use as a military barracks. The bishop moved St. Thomas’ relics to the nearby church of St. Sevrin (an ancient marvel itself.) The holy bones remained there for almost two centuries.

As the 19th century wore on, the people of Toulouse came to dislike the army using the old Dominican church as a barracks. The city took ownership of the building and turned it into a museum. In 1974, the government came to an agreement with the Church, and the bishop moved St. Thomas’ remains back.

Jacobins Toulouse

There is one Holy Mass celebrated in the building each year, on January 28, the anniversary of the arrival of the saint’s bones in Toulouse in 1369, St. Thomas’ feastday.

This non-church church is truly a unique Gothic edifice, with a single row of columns supporting the roof. The altar sits in a strange position–not in the apse, but near the middle of the northern of the two naves formed by the one row of columns.

Jacobins Toulouse column

An unusual place. A church that isn’t a church anymore.

But you can pray there. I could hardly believe that I was actually kneeling in front of this altar. For decades I have thought about visiting my friend’s tomb–my daily companion, through his books, since I was nineteen years old.

Jacobins Toulouse

…While St. Thomas walked the earth, King St. Louis IX built a chapel adjoining his palace in Paris–the Sainte Chapelle. The king built it to house the Lord Jesus’ Crown of Thorns.

That relic no longer remains in the Sainte Chapelle. (It was kept in Notre Dame–a priest had to run in, to rescue it, during the 2019 fire.) There is never a Mass in Sainte Chapelle anymore, not even once a year.

But the famous stained glass windows of Sainte Chapelle not only captivate you with their luminescence–swaddling you in light–but they also convey a stunningly unified message. All 1,113 panels contribute to communicating one single idea.

20220204_161515Namely: God Almighty governs all things. He has given human beings a circumscribed share in that government. To some human beings, he has given the authority to govern nations. To the custodian of Christ’s Crown of Thorns, He has given the secular government of Christendom.

The panels in the windows of Sainte Chapelle depict episodes or images from: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, the books of Samuel and Kings, Judith, Esther, Tobit, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Holy Gospels, and Revelation. One window has panels depicting the history of the Crown of Thorns, since the Passion.

All the episodes and images relate to the theme. Together, they communicate the idea. The King of France, custodian of Christ’s crown, possesses divine authority to rule human affairs.

[NB. I didn’t make this thesis up. It comes from Alyce Jordan’s book Visualizing Kingship. Also, you can see close-ups of the window panels by clicking HERE.]

The Sainte-Chapelle message, of course, goes against our American idea that the authority to govern comes from the consent of the governed. But that was not really a point in dispute when King Louis built his chapel. Rather, the potentially disputable point had to do with the consent of the pope.

Which is not to say that the Sainte Chapelle was meant to be anything other than a place for prayer, and above all for the celebration of Holy Mass. By a duly ordained priest. King Louis revered the Apostles and their successors.

But the king believed he had his mission in life from God, not from the pope. His chapel conspicuously avoids depicting St. Peter in any exalted manner.

As we mentioned here before, King Louis’ grandson–King Philip IV “the Fair”–wanted Pope Boniface VIII deposed from office, for interfering too much. But Boniface insisted that the king had his authority only by delegation from the pope. Philip strenuously rejected this idea.

That conflict ultimately resulted in the building of what is now an eerie ghost palace, which sits on top of a majestic hill rising east from the Rhone river in Provence. The Palais des Papes.

The Palais des Papes, as seen from the west side of the Rhone

In the fourteenth century, Avignon, France, became the capital of western Europe. All roads led there. After Boniface VIII died in Rome, and his successor died after a months’-long papacy lived entirely in Perugia, Pope Clement V got elected in absentia. And proceeded never to set foot in Italy.

Clement V reigned over the Church on earth from France. So did the next five popes.

The Coronation of the Virgin by Rudolfo Ghirlandaio, which hangs in the Petit Palais in Avignon

The huge banquet hall where Pope Clement VI entertained the monarchs of Europe: it’s now a bare chamber. Just cold stone walls. The loggia from which Blessed Urban V blessed pilgrims: it now looks out on an empty windswept courtyard. The cavernous Gothic chapel where popes were crowned: silent. (Carved facsimiles of the Avignon popes’ tombs sit in an adjoining room, adding to the ghostliness.)

The real tomb of Innocent VI, in the charterhouse in Villeneuve, across the Rhone from Avignon.

They raked-in a lot of shekels in that old palace. The Avignon papacy was a business. The pope conferred countless ecclesiastical offices each year, and every time the coin had to ring in the coffer before the transaction was complete. They had huge trunks full of cash hidden in the floors.

But the money wasn’t all spent profligately. Clement VI entertained lavishly, but his banquets fostered peace between nations. And all the Avignon popes were highly cultured men who doled out huge sums to endow schools and pay professors, including scholars of Hebrew and Greek (to improve study of the Holy Scriptures).

They knew they belonged in Rome. The pope is the bishop of Rome, after all. You can hardly condemn absentee bishops, or absentee parish priests, when you yourself are one.

Urban V tried to return to Rome to live and govern, but then he fled back to Avignon when he feared for his safety in Italy. Urban’s successor Gregory XI then finally gave in to St. Catherine of Siena’s many behests and moved back to Rome for good.

But it wasn’t over yet. Gregory’s successor was challenged by a false pope who had been elected by a large number of Cardinals. The false Clement VII moved back to France and set up shop in Avignon, like the old days.

(It’s hard to imagine just how deeply confusing the Western Schism was to your average Catholic Joe of the time. The false pope sat in the throne that the real popes had used for three generations, and the real pope was a stranger in his own country.)

It took four more decades to settle the schism. Finally the new pope, Martin V, traveled from the Council of Constance to Rome, and the days of popes in Avignon ended for good.

The ghosts remain.

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.

January 28, 1369 + Other Things French

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

As the years have passed, my devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas has steadily increased.

I loved him decades ago; I loved him even before I became Catholic. Back in the 90’s, while studying at Catholic University in Washington, I went religiously every January 28 to hear one of the learned Dominicans give the St. Thomas-Aquinas-Day sermon at the Basilica of the National Shrine. A Dominican always gives the sermon that day, because St. Thomas was a Dominican priest.

Meanwhile, though, I knew perfectly well that St. Thomas did not die on January 28. Yes, we generally keep the feasts and memorials of saints on the anniversaries of their deaths. But St. Thomas died on March 7, not January 28.

In fact, the Church used to keep the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas on March 7. His death day was his feast day for six centuries, from his canonization in 1323 until 1969. But after the Second Vatican Council, the Roman authorities decided to try to keep Lent as free as possible of festival observances. Since March 7 almost always falls within Lent, we needed a new day for St. Thomas.

st ambrose catedra petriAs an aside, to keep anyone from hissing at the mention of Vatican II:

Today is an unusual exception to the death-day rule for saints’ days, of course. It’s the anniversary of the conception of our Lady in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.

More to the point, though: Yesterday we kept the Memorial of St. Ambrose of Milan. He did not die on December 7, but rather on April 4. But since April 4 always falls either within Lent or Holy Week, or early in Easter time, St. Ambrose’s feast day is kept on his ordination anniversary. And it has been kept on December 7 since at least the 1000’s. (As in, before the year 1100 AD.)

In other words, Vatican II did not invent the idea of moving saints’ feast days out of Lent, to an alternate anniversary date. That idea itself has a long, long history.

Back to St. Thomas Aquinas: In the revision of the festival calendar after Vatican II, they did not just randomly pick January 28 out of a hat. The date already served as a secondary feast day of St. Thomas, among Dominicans. It marks the anniversary of the arrival of St. Thomas’ relics in Toulouse, France.

The arrival of his relics in France. Hmm. How’s that?

I never carefully considered the question myself, until recently. But when you finally get the chance to visit the place where someone you love died, you start wondering about stuff like this.

St. Thomas died while on his way to an ecumenical council convened in Lyon, France, by Pope Gregory X. The pope called that council primarily to try to heal the East-West schism in the Church, which was then a couple centuries old. Pope Gregory personally requested that Thomas Aquinas come and participate, even though the 49-year-old theologian was not well.

Thomas accepted the summons. While on his way from Naples to Lyon, he took sick south of Rome. Thomas breathed his last in the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova.

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The Cistercian abbey building where St. Thomas died, Fossanova, Italy (photo credit: yours truly)

The Cistercians of Fossanova eagerly retained St. Thomas’ mortal remains. They generously offered visitors the opportunity to venerate the holy man’s relics. The monks had no intention of parting with the great treasure that Providence had delivered to them.

But the saint’s brother Dominicans painfully wanted to entomb their eminent teacher’s remains in one of their own friaries.

The ensuing battle over St. Thomas’ bones lasted almost a full century. Meanwhile, events which we have recently considered here unfolded. Events involving the highly unstable late-13th-century papacy.

Pope Boniface Colonna Schiaffo di Anagni
Schiaffo di Anagni

The pope who summoned St. Thomas on his final earthly journey, Gregory X: he had been elected only after a two-year deadlock between the French and Italian factions of the College of Cardinals. We discussed earlier how Pope Celestine V, who was also elected in a conclave that lasted over two years, renounced the papacy in 1295. We also covered how Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII, died shortly after suffering an attack by the king of France’s henchmen.

Boniface’s death led to the brief papacy of Blessed Benedict XI, then to the world-changing Conclave of 1305. The sitting Archbishop of Bordeaux, France, became Clement V. And he never set foot in Rome. Ever.

Pope Clement V moved the Holy See to France, to the town of Avignon. There, Clement’s successor John XXII canonized St. Thomas.

Wait. Moved the Holy See to France?

[Click HERE to listen to a thorough and very-helpful explanation by the late Dr. Brendan McGuire.]

Now, Rome had become a dangerous place for a pope to live.

And the king of France had consolidated enough authority to dominate the Church.

But: Move the papacy to France? Really? I will have more to say about this. As far as St. Thomas’ bones and Toulouse:

Blessed Urban V traveled from Avignon to Rome in 1367, recognizing that he belonged in the city of Saints Peter and Paul. Sixty years had passed since the last time the Bishop of Rome had set foot in his own diocese.

Urban had good intentions, but his effort proved half-hearted. He abandoned Rome, and returned to Avignon, in 1370. In the meantime, the pope ordered that St. Thomas’ remains be moved from Italy to France. (The pope actually followed St. Thomas’ bones, when he returned to Avignon.)

Between August 1368 and January 1369, the Dominicans carried their brilliant brother’s remains in solemn procession, from near Fossanova to Toulouse, with a number of extended stops along the way. On January 28, they arrived at the original Dominican church, built by Dominic himself a century and a-half earlier.

Then they continued the procession, taking the bones of Thomas’ right arm north to Paris. That reliquary remained in a Dominican chapel near Notre Dame, until the French Revolution four centuries later.

Holy Thursday Notre Dame 2018
Paris’ Archbishop Michel Aupetit (back) takes part at the start of the procession of Easter’s Holy Thursday on March 29, 2018 at Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris. / AFP PHOTO / Ludovic MARIN (Photo credit should read LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

…More to come on the Avignon papacy, as I mentioned. But for now let’s turn to more-current events. After all, as in the 1300’s, a great deal of Catholic drama has lately unfolded in France.

1. Two and a-half years ago, on the day after Palm Sunday 2019, the Cathedral of Notre Dame burned. It caused many of us a great deal of sorrow.

I remember the then-Archbishop of Paris rallying his people for Holy Week at the nearby church of St. Eustache. I was moved by the Archbishop’s evident faith and his fatherliness. A few months earlier, he courageously had appeared on French radio to defend the rights of the unborn child.

For the past couple years, Archbishop Aupetit has appeared on every list of possible candidates for Cardinal.

(Amazingly enough, there is not a single diocese in France right now with a sitting Cardinal-Archbishop. Pope Francis has only ever created one French Cardinal, and he is a Vatican official. We have come a long way from the French-dominated College of Cardinals of the fourteen century.)

But now Pope Francis has summarily relieved Archbishop Aupetit of duty.

I find the situation very hard to understand. It appears to have layer upon layer of intrigue, with none of the facts even remotely clear to the general public.

I intend to try to sort it out, and I will share my understanding of it with you, dear reader.

Jean Marc Sauve CIASE France abuse

2. As we noted here, in October the independent commission erected by the French bishops’ conference published its report on sexual abuse. I read the English translation of the summary report carefully, and I look forward to reading the whole report, once the English translation becomes available. (The CIASE promised to publish a full English translation by the end of 2021.)

Now, however, a small group of French Catholic intellectuals has published a preliminary critique of the Rapport Sauvé.

[I made a Google translation of the critique; you can read it by clicking HERE.]

Pope Francis had a meeting scheduled for tomorrow with Jean-Marc Sauvé and other authors of the CIASE report, but the Vatican has postponed such a meeting indefinitely.

On the plane returning from a trip he took to Cyprus and Greece, the pope explained to a journalist that he had not read the CIASE report, but that…

“…in doing these studies we have to be careful in the interpretations that we do over long periods of time…A historical situation should be interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time, not ours… The abuses of 100 years ago or 70 years ago are a brutality. But the way they were living it is not the same as today.”

In September 2018, Pope Francis reacted in the same way to the Pennsylvania Grand-Jury report. I mentioned then that I find this position to be inherently dishonest. As a reporter put it to Donald Card. Wuerl at the time: “What could possibly ‘evolve’ when it comes to child sexual abuse?”

So the Vatican position on the Rapport Sauvé appears to have shifted as a result of the French Catholic intellectuals’ critique. I find the critique to be embarrassingly tendentious, small-minded, and defensive. But it nonetheless brings up some questions worth considering. Watch this space for more on this.

 

Canonical Process Update

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_Angelico
Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico

This fresco has comforted and encouraged me for decades. Then I stepped into one of the small, dark cells in the friary of St. Mark’s last month, and there it was: the original. Painted for the benefit of the one novice who occupied that particular cell.

…Thank you for praying for a successful outcome at our meeting in Richmond on Friday.

I believe that heavenly grace moved us in a good direction. More to come about what happened, in a few days.

Happy October 31st Sunday of the Year today, and happy All Saints Day tomorrow.

My Mass on Tuesday will be for the repose of the souls of all our beloved dead, especially those who died from the long-term affects of sexual abuse by an authority figure.

All Saints Fra Angelico
Fra Angelico fresco, in Fiesole, outside Florence

Rome Bone Church Painting + Adventure in the Western Schism

The patron of the Catholic parish in Rocky Mount, Va: we mark the 795th anniversary of his death today.

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This Caravaggio painting hangs in the museum attached to the Capuchin Church of St. Mary of the Conception, in Rome.

I had the chance to gaze upon the painting, shortly before I flew home from Italy. It falls in my favorite category of paintings: St. Francis memento mori.

To be honest, I didn’t make a special trip to the “Bone Church” this time. I just stopped-in to kill an hour. The nondescript-looking building sits around the corner from the pharmacy where I had managed to get an appointment to have a coronavirus test. (I needed a negative, in order to board the plane the following day.)

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I had prayed in the Bone Church before, twenty years ago. It enraptured me then. It is an artistic masterpiece.

Cappuccine_crypt
Capuchin Crypt in Rome

This time, though, I came away with a different thought.

The graves that the anonymous 18th-century Franciscan artist disturbed, in order to decorate his unique chapels–those graves should have been left in peace. Yes, we need to remember how short life is, every day. But not by disturbing other peoples’ bones.

…Before I got to Rome, I visited a number of ancient cities in Tuscany. I encountered monuments from the 14th and 15th centuries, monuments that turned my little Italy trip into An Adventure in the Western Schism.

Dante Vergil Delacroix
The Barque of Dante by Delacroix

Back in 2013, we remembered Pope Celestine V, the last Roman pontiff to abdicate, prior to Benedict XVI.

(Do not confuse Celestine V with Celestine III, who reigned during St. Francis’ lifetime. The earlier Celestine wanted to abdicate, but the Cardinals talked him out of it.)

We have this in common with the great Florentine poet Dante: living through a period with two living popes. One reigning, one retired. Dante was 29 when Celestine renounced the throne of Peter, in 1294.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante puts Celestine V in the antechamber of hell. There dwell…

the souls unsure, whose lives earned neither honor nor bad fame…

neither rebellious to God nor faithful to Him.

[They] chose neither side, but kept themselves apart.

Now heaven expels them, not to mar its spendor,

and hell rejects them, lest the wicked of heart take glory over them.

Mercy and justice disdain them.

Benedict pallium Celestine V
Benedict lays his pallium on the coffin of Pope Celestine V, in 2009. (L’Osservatore Romano photo)

About Celestine himself, Dante writes:

I beheld the shade of him who make the Great Refusal,

impelled by cowardice, so at once I understood beyond all doubt that

[in this upper circle of hell we find]

the dreary guild repellent both to God and His enemies,

hapless ones never alive.

Anyway, Pope Boniface VIII succeeded Celestine V in late 1294. And thus began a dramatic century+ of history–history that unfolded, in part, in the cities I got to visit last month.

Ecumenical Councils were attempted in Pisa and successfully accomplished in Florence; the pope resided for a decisive week in Lucca; Rome had the first-ever jubilee year, with hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city–and shorlty thereafter the papacy moved to France, for three-quarters of a century.

More to come on all this…

Pisa & Florence

When the wind blows hard, it requires some effort…

But without wind, no problem…

Germans, Mexicans, Filipinos, and plenty of Americans taking each other’s pictures in such poses.

Seems unfair to the tower, which still does its duty: holding the bells aloft, to summon Christians to Mass in this magnificent Duomo next door.

St. Ranieri presides over the south trancept.

Pisa’s “Palazzo Blu” has a collection of interesting paintings like this one, artist unknown…

Which brings us to another town, further up the Arno…

Arno in Pisa
Arno in Florence

The cloisters of Florence abound with paintings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

This last one adorns the wall of a cell in the Museo San Marco, where Fra Angelico produced the most breathtaking collection of paintings I have ever seen, for the spiritual benefit of his Dominican brothers.

One cell has this painting, which has inspired me for over twenty years. I never knew where the original was, until now…

The ghost that haunts Fra Angelico’s San Marco most intently, however, is Fra Geronimo Savanarola. He ruled as prior at the time of his arrest and execution in the Piazza della Signoria.

I will have more to say about Savanarola when I get home and have a real keyboard to work with. I think he is both less of a hero and less of a villain than his lovers and his haters make him out to be. He was, without a doubt, an eminently learned Thomist.

The thing he did that I find most charming: he appealed to an ecumenical council against the corrupt Borgia pope and proposed that Florence replace Rome as the Holy See.

(Savanarola wasn’t as kooky as you might think there; an earlier pope lived for a decade in Florence–and presided over an ecumenical council there– earlier in Savanarola’s 15th century.)

…I did not realize until I saw the statue in person that Michelangelo’s David holds a stone in his right hand–to use against Goliath, I suppose.

On the south side of the Arno, you can see this crucifix by the same artist.

Visiting St. Thomas III: Where He Died

In the infirmary, second floor of this old building at Fossanova Abbey. There’s a little chapel there now.

Fossanova is about an hour’s drive from Thomas’ birthplace in Roccasecca. Not exactly close, since he didn’t ride a horse and traveled exclusively on foot.

But considering that the man had walked some 9,000 miles in his life, had lived in Paris, and was in fact on his way to Lyons, France (on foot) when he fell deathly ill, the moment came remarkably close to Aquino, and the mountains he gazed upon in his youth.

When I visited Ars years ago, a saint who had previously intimidated me by his austerity of life (John Vianney) became human to me, when I saw the very confessional where he sat for hours on end, and the ramshackle little kitchen where he boiled his potatoes.

Now, a saint whose mind has intimidated me suddenly became more human, because I have seen the mountains where he grew up, and where he died.

The ridges of Lazio could move you to contemplate the Five Ways, to be sure. That’s just the beginning of what they can make you contemplate.

Visiting St. Thomas II: Montecassino

The ancient* abbey where St. Thomas studied as a boy looms above the sweet little city of Cassino.

* That is, re-built…

…ater being destroyed completely by US bombs in February, 1944.

St. Thomas prayed at the tombs of Saints Benedict and Scholastica, which are now in a chapel below the high altar of the basilica.

The young student from nearby Aquino may have read this very biography of St. Benedict…

And this textbook of science…

He probably walked through this doorway (now preserved in the abbey museum).

And trod these floor tiles.

…In his treatise on justice in the Summa, St. Thomas considers some questions about criminal trials, including how many witnesses are required to establish a fact.

In the third objection in II-II q70 art2, St. Thomas quotes a medieval canon which decrees that, to establish a fact against a Cardinal, sixty-four witnesses are required.

This is of particular interest, considering:

St. Thomas approves of the (practically insuperable) requirement, with this argument:

The rule protects the Roman Church [that is, the College of Cardinals], on account of its dignity: and this for three reasons. First because in that Church those men ought to be promoted whose sanctity makes their evidence of more weight than that of many witnesses. Secondly, because those who have to judge other men, often have many opponents on account of their justice, wherefore those who give evidence against them should not be believed indiscriminately, unless they be very numerous. Thirdly, because the condemnation of any one of them would detract in public opinion from the dignity and authority of that Church, a result which would be more fraught with danger than if one were to tolerate a sinner in that same Church, unless he were very notorious and manifest, so that a grave scandal would arise if he were tolerated.

A lot to consider here; I promise to come back and discuss this thoroughly when I get back home.

In the meantime, though, we can say for sure that the judge in Massachusetts will not have such a high threshold, when it comes to allowing testimony. (Plus, McC is no longer a Cardinal anyway, as of summer 2018.)

In this case, I believe it will actually benefit the Holy See in the long run, that the word of one accuser–with plenty of circumstantial evidence to support what he has to say–will be allowed against this particular accused criminal.

There are a lot of facts that need to come out, and getting them out will, in the end, help the Church.

If you can hang tight until March, you will be able to read about many of those facts in Ordained by a Predator. Good Lord willing, the book will see print then.

Assumption Day, 2021

El Greco Virgin Mary

Today, some 1,978 years ago, our Lady finished her earthly pilgrimage, and the Lord took her to Himself. Mary went to heaven, body and soul.

Thirteen years ago today, this little weblog began. And right around three years ago, it became… controversial. Controversial, at least, in the eyes of the Catholic bishop of Richmond, Virginia.

In a couple weeks I will make a pilgrimage to visit some holy sites in Italy.

Good Lord willing, I will pray at the birthplace of St. Thomas Aquinas, his childhood school (which houses the tombs of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica), and also at the abbey where the Angelic Doctor died. Near there, they keep his skull in a reliquary, in the ancient cathedral of Priverno.

Also, good Lord willing, I will visit the duomo in Florence, where they keep relics of St. John the Baptist, the Apostles Andrew and Philip, and St. John Chrysostom. Near there is the Shrine of St. Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi. Also I will visit the tomb of St. Gemma Galgani and the grave of St. Elizabeth Anne Seton’s husband. (After he died, she embraced the Catholic faith.) I will return just in time for Becky Ianni’s talk in our speakers’ series.

I am trying to get the manuscript of my book Ordained by a Predator ready to send to a potential publisher before I leave.

McCarrick Bootkoski Checchio
Two former bishops of Metuchen NJ, Paul Bootkoski and Theodore McCarrick, with the current bishop, James Checchio

As I edited my chapter on McCarrick’s career, I realized that I had two unanswered questions pertaining to the first diocese that he governed as a bishop, namely Metuchen NJ.

Question 1:

On December 5, 2005, McCarrick’s third successor in office in Metuchen, Bishop Paul Bootkoski, called the papal nuncio to tell him about two of McCarrick’s seminarian victims.

One of these victims had formally complained about McCarrick over a year earlier, in August of 2004. The other victim had first complained well over a decade before that. (The Vatican had actually received a report about this seminarian’s abuse in 1997.)

Why, then, did Bootkoski choose to communicate with the nuncio about this on December 5, 2005? Why that particular day?

It just so happens that, earlier that same day, the Vatican official in charge of bishops had told McCarrick that he would have to resign as Archbishop of Washington.

Did McCarrick call his old friend Bootkoski and tell him that there was no use trying to keep the matter secret from the Vatican anymore? That seems like the most reasonable explanation for Bootkoski calling the nuncio on that particular day.

A second Metuchen question:

When the Vatican released its McCarrick Report last fall, the Diocese of Metuchen issued a statement which claimed: “The first allegation against McCarrick was received by the diocese in 2004.”

In point of fact, McCarrick’s successor as bishop of Metuchen received his first complaint about McCarrick’s abuses no later than 1989. And before then, the Vocations Director of the diocese of Metuchen received complaints about McCarrick from seminarians while McCarrick was still in office as the bishop there (1981-1986).

How, then, can the diocese claim that the first allegation against McCarrick came in 2004?

A few days ago, I submitted these questions to the Office of the Bishop in Metuchen. I have not received any response yet, but I hope to get honest answers soon. After all, Bishop Checchio wrote in his letter about the McCarrick scandal: “We must forge forward, penning the future chapters of our Church’s history with integrity and transparency.” Seems like that means you answer the questions of a researcher trying to put together a fair historical record.

Vatican II stalls…All this moves me to reflect on two little passages from the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which the Fathers of the Vatican II gave us. The first passage comes from Gaudium et Spes para. 37:

Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others.

Certainly this insight helps us understand corruption in government, generally speaking. It also helps us to understand corruption in the government of our Church.

What I have seen, in my experience as a priest, is a cadre in the hierarchy that has paid attention solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Theodore McCarrick created a huge spiritual problem for all of us whose lives he touched. Instead of confronting that problem honestly and bravely, those who knew about the problem sought to hide it, to protect themselves from having to deal with it. Now that we all know about the problem, those same leaders try to pretend the problem is solved.

To be clear: the compromised individuals here include the pope himself, the pope’s closest advisors and co-workers, the ecclesiastical governing apparatus of Washington DC and New Jersey–which includes our own bishop here in the diocese of Richmond VA (an alumnus of McCarrick and Donald Wuerl’s chancery in Washington), the Metropolitan Archbishop of Baltimore (who knew about McCarrick long, long ago), and quite a few other prelates as well.

I see us mid-Atlantic Catholics stuck in a near-total malaise. The true spiritual mission of the Church cannot advance with any vitality under our current compromised leadership.

I entertain no delusions that the malaise will lift anytime soon. That, however, does not mean it’s all over–our life as Catholic Christians. It doesn’t mean that at all.

Here’s part of Gaudium et Spes 38:

For God’s Word, through Whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh and dwelt on the earth of men. Thus He entered the world’s history as a perfect man, taking that history up into Himself and summarizing it. He Himself revealed to us that “God is love” and at the same time taught us that the new command of love was the basic law of human perfection and hence of the world’s transformation. To those, therefore, who believe in divine love, He gives assurance that the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood is not a hopeless one.

Our Church can and will be Herself again, someday. It’s not hopeless. I, for one, am not giving up.