Absurdities and Atrocities

PA Grand Jury victims

In August of 2018, a grand-jury in Pennsylvania published a report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen in six dioceses in the state. (The other two PA dioceses had been covered by earlier reports.)

The report scandalized the world, as most of us remember.

Mr. Andrew Seidel, of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote an essay about the grand-jury report. A clerical sex-abuse-survivor friend of mine recently shared that essay with me. I think we can gain some insight by considering some of Mr. Seidel’s points.

Seidel titled his essay, “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.” He writes:

If you stand by the Catholic Church, if you donate time and money to this organization, you are complicit. There is no way around it. You are complicit in the rape of children and its cover-up. If you think that is too harsh, start thinking about the victims instead.

wwjd braceletsThinking about the victims: that definitely counts as WWJD. Conscientious Catholics agree on that, anyway. So we need to pay attention here.

Seidel goes on to write:

The consistent theme underlying the PA Grand Jury’s analysis is authority. Unquestionable, unassailable authority. Divine authority.

The victims are taught that their tormentors are divine. They are representatives of god on earth. they are not to be questioned and certainly not disobeyed. Under Catholic canon law, adherents are required to give a ‘religious submission of the intellect and will’ to their church.

The abuse is so bad because it is a church. The evil is boundless because of the power of religion. Men who claim absolute, unquestionable power over others will abuse the power and the innocents under their sway.

The sheer brazenness of many of the assaults, as detailed in the report, is likewise probably attributable to the religious power structure.

Seidel offers us a helpful psychological insight here. I think we all have experienced the truth of his point, one way or another. Unbounded authority over other human beings produces moral monsters.

Trinity ShieldBut the question is: What precisely is the religious submission required of a Catholic? Has Seidel correctly identified it?

Seidel goes on to write:

The Church’s power structure and theology are also critical to the Church’s ability to cover up the vast abuse. Adherents are already primed to accept absurdities such as wine becoming blood or crackers becoming human flesh if a few choice words are recited, or that three is really one and one is really three.

The popular paraphrase of Voltaire is spot on: ‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.’ Atrocities such as succumbing to the idea that harming the public image of the Church is worse than destroying the innocence of a child.

Seidel makes important points here, points that will help us. But he misidentifies the “absurdities” that have caused the complicity that he rightly attacks.

As we know, we students of Book IV of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles: Our faith in the divine tri-unity and in the Real Presence is neither blind nor absurd.

st-thomas-aqRather, we start with Jesus Christ, and we take it from there.

Only a gift from heaven can help a human being believe that Jesus is true God, as well as being true man; no one can prove that He is God. But if you start with the premise that it’s true–that He is true God and true man, God incarnate–then the divine tri-unity and the mystery of the Holy Mass follow, with no inherent contradiction of any known facts.

Seidel writes as an avowed atheist. But there is certainly nothing more reasonable in atheism than there is in our basic human experience of our relationship with our Creator. This human experience of religion leads to our desire to know God, to love Him, and to live in friendship with Him. This requires submitting. To Him.

The always-greater mystery of the loving heavenly Father revealed by Jesus Christ: We submit to Him. In doing so, we find our true selves; we find true love; we find a path to lasting happiness.

Our complicity with sex abuse–for which Seidel rightly chastises us Catholics–it actually involves a failure of religion, rather than our Christian religion itself.

Every human society has to have an authority structure of some kind. The Church has a fundamental structure that Jesus Himself established.

But no true source of our religion teaches us that any given deacon, priest, bishop, or even pope will get everything right. No true teaching tells us that an ordained man simply cannot commit crimes for which he deserves jail time, or that successors of the Apostles cannot conspire in a criminal enterprise.

The “absurdity” is to think that the divinely-instituted structure of the Church means that the clerical hierarchy deserves to have unchecked authority over our human community. That does not, in fact, follow.

In Germany, some church officials responded to the clerical sex-abuse crisis by agreeing to examine this point. Unfortunately, that enterprise (the so-called ‘synodal path’) has largely been hijacked by agendas that have nothing to do with responding to victim-survivors of sexual abuse.

As one prominent priest-participant in the ‘synodal path’ put it:

Structures that encourage sexual abuse of children and young people must be eliminated, otherwise the church cannot have a future. However, one must question whether the themes on which the participants’ exchange is fixed [eg. women’s ordination or questions of sexual morality] are really causally and genuinely related to abuse.

One can get the impression that the abuse scandal is being instrumentalized by many actors in order to take up the well-known inner-church controversial topics anew.

Leave it to complicit Catholics to eclipse the victim survivors with self-serving nonsense yet again! It happens over and over–this endless, pointless feud among ‘professional Catholics’–with the mitered mafia gleefully looking on, secure in their abuses of power.


Let’s try to start from here. Every Christian participates in the communal life of the Church from this point-of-view: I owe God a death. Let me go to that death with a clear conscience, with the help of Christ’s grace.

We do not belong to the Catholic Church because She has brave and big-hearted officials at this point in history. She pretty clearly does not. Our human community has been run like a criminal enterprise for at least a couple generations, if not much longer. There is no need to deny that rather-evident fact.

Rather, we belong to our Church because we love God and believe in Jesus Christ.

And–because we love God and believe in Jesus Christ–we stand with the survivors of clerical sexual abuse in our Church. We thank them. They have suffered with Christ, and they have proclaimed the Gospel to us by living to tell the tale.

Temporal Kisses from Eternity

Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. He won His race. He fought His fight. He completed His pilgrimage. [Spanish]

He made human life make sense. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the title character calls mankind a “quintessence of dust.” Fitzgerald concluded his tragic Great Gatsby: “We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Wallace Stevens
Wallace Stevens

The insoluble problem of human existence. Human mortality. Human dissatisfaction with our lot. The problem has no solution. Except Jesus Christ.

Maybe you have heard that a new kind of atheism has hit the streets. The first school of 21st-century atheism directly confronted our Christian faith in God. Tried to prove it irrational. This older 21st-century atheism insisted that science can account for everything, that the Bible is incoherent, and that we don’t ‘need’ God anymore, since we human beings have figured everything out. Or we can use Google to figure it out, if we haven’t already.

That’s the old 21st-century atheism. The new-and-improved kind actually revives the atheism of Karl Marx. According to this new school of atheism, religion isn’t bad because it’s wrong. Whether religion is right or wrong doesn’t matter. Religion is bad because it’s distracting.

The new atheism turns hope for heaven on its head. Reality as we know it now is better than eternity with God. We experience love and joy and communion with beauty now precisely because it’s all temporary. If it were eternal, it wouldn’t be what we love, and rejoice in, now.

This seems to me like “Wallace Stevens Atheism.” He wrote poems which expressed this sense: what we have now, temporarily, is everything. A sunset ravishes us with its beauty because, in ten minutes, it will end. This new 21st-century atheism comes at the denial of God poetically, rather than scientifically.

Now, the Second Vatican Council taught us: We must try to understand atheists. Trying to understand them purifies our faith and helps us focus on God as He actually is, rather than as we feebly imagine Him to be.

Lord Jesus completed His human pilgrimage by ascending–in His human body and soul–to God, to the heavenly Father.

We do not say that temporal life here on earth means nothing. We do not say that the invisible God is all, and everything visible sucks. No. Christ came from the bosom of the Father. The universe springs from His eternal Wisdom. By becoming man, the eternal Word of God drew His creation into the mystery of His triune love. God lived a human life, like ours, to redeem our human lives from oblivion.

chicken panang

The new, poetic atheism has no interest in the origin of things. Things like a blue heron on the wing, arcing along a creek in the breeze. Or the smell of curry cooking in a panang sauce. Or the pitter-patter of a gentle rain while you’re sitting on the porch.

But failing to acknowledge the eternal origin of such rhapsodies–that robs them of their genuine beauty. Visible created things shine forth the beauty of their as-yet-unseen Creator. A gazelle loping across the savanna isn’t beautiful because its run is temporary. It’s beautiful because, in its temporariness, it communicates a message from eternity. Such lovelinesses serve as a short-term love-notes to us from Beauty Everlasting, Who loves us long-term.

Lord Jesus made it possible for us to receive love from our heavenly Father during this temporary pilgrimage. Then He ascended into heaven. God forbid that we would betray our teacher and leader by claiming to know now what heaven will be like. We don’t. Nor do we presume that we will get there. We could fall. Only by the mysterious grace of God do we progress toward the goal.

But, by the same token, we hope with every fiber and long with every corner of our hearts to reach the celestial mansions where Jesus now reigns. Our Christian joy during our pilgrimage relies on our knowing that we make a pilgrim way now. We strive forward through passing time. Towards something permanent. That’s what we mean by “pilgrimage.”

That goal, mysterious as it is–beyond us as it is; impossible even to imagine—that goal certainly involves the fulfillment of all the gifts that the Father gives us now. Their fulfillment; not their betrayal or nullification. When God is all in all, heaven won’t destroy the earth. Heaven and earth will be one.

So we strive day by day. In heaven–please God we get there–we will rest. Now beauty and happiness come in fleeting foretastes—foretastes of the unseen God. In heaven–please God we get there–all beauty and all happiness will be now and only now. And now will not pass away.

Mandate and Religious Freedom Compendium

The day has arrived when your humble servant will do my duty. Namely, I will begin a four-part series of homilies aimed at preparing us to pray and fast through the “Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21 to July 4.

First, though, if I may:

Dr. David Schindler has published an essay about human nature, freedom, and rights.

He distinguishes the ideal of a modern ‘liberal’ regime from the regime envisioned in the Church’s articulation of Her doctrine of religious freedom.

Dr. Schindler exposes the paradox at the heart of the liberal ideal of a religion-neutral state. If the law/the courts/the goverment say that freedom means anything other than openness to God and truth, then the content of what freedom is will always be supplied by the strong–at the expense of the weak.

The independent man who determines for himself what life means will inevitably do so at the expense of a weaker person. The only man who never infringes on the genuine “rights” of others is the one who acknowledges that he depends on God for his freedom, and he must use his freedom to seek goodness and truth.

In other words, if man is not for God, then he is for himself–at the expense of someone else, sooner or later.

I bring this up because: Obviously, Dr. Shindler has been reading my posts on the HHS-Mandate controversy and decided to supply the philosophical argumentation for why I make so much daggone sense.

Seriously, though…

We present a collection of the ramblings on this subject from the past few months, years:

Warming up for action: Answering the atheist…

1. What is Life?

2. Who’s the Mysterymonger?

To set the stage: Theology ≠ Esoterica

Kathleen Sibelius, Bishops Dolan and Lori, and me:

1. B.S. Alarms on Both Sides

2. I Will Give You Bacon, but Not a Contraceptive (2b. Let us Reason)

3. Define ‘Health’ for Me [See ‘What is Life?’ above for an answer.]

4. Abstinence More Healthy than Sex

5. Chastity, Conscience, and the Real Problem is that Too Many Doctors Suck

6. Should we have Faith in the First Amendment?

7. The real problem: When Goverment Oversteps Gamaliel’s Limit

8. Aha! The Church is a moral agent!

9. No Slogans (Pope St. Gregory VII)

10. Which is our Best Hand?

11. The Businessman’s Co-operation with Evil

12. Cathleen Kaveny’s Good Distinctions (January 2013)

13. Kaveny Again; Running Like Ray Rice

Four Sermons on “We cannot co-operate with evil, even if the civil law stipulates that we must.”

1. We, the Catholic Church of Christ

2. Co-operating and co-operating

3. Divine Law of Unconditional Love

4. Where Civil Laws Come From

Fortnight for Freedom Homilies

1. Hamlet and the Martyrs of Mexico

2. Fasting

3. Elijah’s God

4. St. Thomas More’s First Choice

5. Inconvenient and Uneasy in the Canticle of Zechariah

6. King Josiah and Prophetess Huldah (II Kings 22)

7. The Apostolic See

8. Believing Like the Martyrs

9. Backyard-barbecue, Catholic American

Theme Song: A Catholic Boy Can Survive

Fortnight for Freedom Homilies, 2013

Basic Marriage

The Looming Flashpoints

The Marriage-Law Titanic

Welcome Here

Hard Penance


Which of the two will land me in jail?

Cant’ be Happy about Hobby Lobby

Vatican II and the Atheist

Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come. (Mark 1:38)

Christ cured St. Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever. But He did not do it simply so that she could get up and serve Him a cup of cool water and a falafel sandwich.

Continue reading “Vatican II and the Atheist”

Use the Lane, Ice-Cream Emperor


Click here for a couple of excellent posts on St. Thomas More…

…Here is a question for discussion (proposed by the great Dr. Gridlock):

Continue reading “Use the Lane, Ice-Cream Emperor”