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.

McCarrick Men and One Thing the Report Doesn’t Say

Archbishop Vigano
Archbishop Viganò

Those who have denounced scandals, who ask for justice and truth, are considered guilty.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò published his  “Between the Lines” of the McCarrick report last week. He included this sentence about persecuted whistleblowers, with a hotlink embedded. The link takes you to the interview Michael Voris did with me. I appreciate the compliment, Excellency.

crozier wuerl
June 22, 2006: McCarrick replaced as Archbishop of Washington.

The Vatican McCarrick report contains some information about the year 2006. That’s when then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick got rushed into retirement.

The report does not, however, mention the sacristy tussle between the Apostolic Nuncio and McCarrick, over who should carry the crozier into the installation Mass for the new Archbishop. And the report does not explore the confusion of the priests and people of Washington.

We knew something weird had happened. We just did not know why.

Healthy Cardinal Archbishops customarily serve well beyond their 75th birthdays. In the spring of 2006, the sitting Cardinal Archbishop of Washington remained stunningly energetic. Only a few months earlier, McCarrick had publicly declared that the pope wanted him to continue to serve as Archbishop for at least two more years.

In other words, McCarrick’s removal from office in May ’06 embarrassed him enormously. Also, as the subsequent years unfolded, a certain person almost never turned up at diocesan liturgies: the Archbishop emeritus.

The question was: Why?

We know the answer now: Because McCarrick belonged in jail. But no one in the Vatican had the guts to deal with that fact. They tried instead to keep the miscreant out of public view. (More on this foolhardy conspiracy in a subsequent post.)

Wuerl Knestout Pope Francis
Donald Wuerl and Barry Knestout, with Pope Francis

On Tuesday Pope Francis appointed a long-time co-worker of our bishop to be the new bishop of Buffalo, New York.

Bishop Michael Fisher and Bishop Barry Knestout have these things in common:

Both were appointed to career-track jobs in the Washington archdiocesan office by Theodore McCarrick. Both held those positions when the unsettling 2006 Archbishop shuffle occurred. Both moved up into positions of even greater responsibility during the subsequent couple of years–when the Vatican was orchestrating its campaign to keep the McCarrick situation hidden from the public.

What did these two men know about McCarrick at that time? Did they know things that the rest of us did not? Did they know the real explanation for the sudden changing of the guard and the attempted sequestration of the Archbishop emeritus?

Wuerl Michael Fisher
Donald Wuerl and Bishop Mike Fisher, now the Bishop of Buffalo

If the Vicar for Administration (Knestout) and the Vicar for Clergy (Fisher) did not know the reason for the strange situation, why didn’t they ask their new boss, Donald Wuerl? He had known for two years that McCarrick had sexually harassed at least one seminarian.

From 2006 on, the McCarrick situation in Washington clearly demanded an explanation. Did Knestout and Fisher not want one?

Gulag Dispatch #6: What Does ‘Justice for Father Mark’ Mean?

On March 19, Bishop Barry Knestout wrote to the parishioners of Rocky Mount and Martinsville. The bishop indicted your unworthy servant for the crime of “working against the unity of the Church,” “pushing the faithful to animosity against the Apostolic See and the bishop,” and “injuring the good name of the Holy Father.”

The bishop accused me of “inflammatory and contemptuous comments” about the pope and the hierarchy of the Church. No matter what my intent, the bishop wrote, I have acted in an inappropriate and unbecoming manner for any pastor or priest.

Mr. Mike Lewis called Bishop Knestout’s letter “very transparent.”

On the other hand, my canon lawyer, Michael Podhajsky, promptly wrote to the bishop, pointing out some shortcomings in his letter’s ‘transparency.’

Michael pointed out:

  1. The very blog posts which the bishop’s letter cites as divisive were clearly written with love for the Church and desire to build up the Body of Christ.
  2. The bishop asserted that I had led Catholics away from unity of faith, without actually consulting any Catholics about whether that had, in fact, happened.
  3. The bishop wrote that I refused to meet with him, when I had in fact met with him twice. I had asked for specific information about his problems with my blog, and he had never offered any such information–until the publication of this letter to the parishioners.
  4. Bishop cited headlines and quotes from the blog, without providing any context, or engaging the arguments laid out in the posts.

Michael made some other points, too. But for now, I would like to focus on this paragraph of His Excellency’s letter to the parishioners:

Lest one believe that the wrongs in the Church have not been addressed in our diocese, I note that I have met personally with victims of clergy sexual abuse, held listening sessions throughout our diocese, celebrated Masses of Atonement, addressed this topic in a pastoral letter, published the names of clergy against whom there were substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, increased our staffing in the Office of Safe Environment and the hired a full-time Victims Assistance Coordinator, and, most recently, established an Independent Reconciliation Program.

mccarrickA lot to consider. But let’s focus on: the pastoral letter. In that pastoral letter, Bishop Knestout wrote:

I support and promise my full co-operation with any independent, lay-managed, authoritative investigation into the scandal of Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick.

He wrote that sentence in September 2018. At that time, a number of American bishops had proposed that lay men and women, outside the ecclesiastical hierarchy, ought to investigate the McCarrick scandal.

The hierarchy, however, never put such an investigation into motion. Instead, the Vatican promised “to study all relevant documentation” and “make known the conclusions.” This promise, made in October 2018, gave rise to the ever-elusive dreamchild: the McCarrick Report.

I spelled out my concept of a McCarrick Report, as best I could, back on May 1. Longtime readers here know: my desire to understand the facts about McCarrick’s career has motivated the blogging that has gotten me into trouble.

One of our heroes, Nathan Doe, a victim of McCarrick’s, encouraged us last month to wait patiently for the Vatican’s report. Well over a year ago, Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, one-time priest secretary for McCarrick, published documents pertaining to the McCarrick cover-up. Speaking with a journalist this past Thursday evening, Msgr. Figueiredo also urged patience:

Monsignor notes “a priest does not have the obligation to remain silent.” “Priests are legally obliged to speak out about abuse.”

Monsignor says, of the Vatican’s McCarrick Report: “It will come out. It’s at a good stage at the moment. I think it’s going to show exactly what happened.”

For now, however: I do not want to brag, but I think it’s fair to say this. The closest thing the world has to a ‘McCarrick Report,’ available to the general public, is the collection of links available on my post of May 1.

Should a bishop persecute a priest for sharing this kind of research with the public? Justice for Father Mark means: No. Persecuting a priest for seeking the truth does not serve the best interest of the holy Catholic Church that we all love.

Two questions remain.

  1. Will the Vatican ever actually produce a comprehensive report which discloses fully the McCarrick cover-up?
  2. Will everyone involved in the McCarrick cover-up acknowledge their role, face honestly the extent to which they have betrayed the public trust, and resign from positions of leadership in the Church?

We shall see. God’s will be done. Happy Independence Day, dear reader.

The Parish Church, Viganò, and Nathan Doe

A parish = part of the earth. A part of the earth, with a church.

A parish church = a building with a baptismal font, a confessional, a pulpit, an altar, a tabernacle, an ambry for the holy oils, and a priest. The building, and everything in it, lifts the mind to heaven.

church_drawingThe overwhelming majority of the world’s Christians receive and live the faith in a parish church. Someday, we will emerge from the coronavirus crisis, and the parish churches of the world will function normally again.

The most fundamental task of a bishop, and most sublime: provide the parishes of his diocese with priests.

The more invisibly the bishop does this task, the better. Because the goal clearly is: That everyone who enters the parish church does so with the safe and true assumption that they will find a priest there they can trust. A priest who honestly represents the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ.

I think we all know that, a generation ago, a tidal wave began to wash away that trust, here in the USA. It started to wash across the land in Louisiana, thanks to the work of the journalist Jason Berry.

Catholics had to face the fact: you might not find a priest you can trust in your local parish church. You might find a criminal sexual abuser, fleeing justice. Because Catholic bishops do not know how to deal with criminal sexual abuse.

McCarrick NBC screen shotThe tidal wave crashed down over me in the summer of 2018, when I learned that I received Holy Orders from a criminal fleeing justice. I received Holy Orders from the very man who convinced America, in 2002, that the bishops had finally figured the thing out. Turns out he did that con-job on us as a criminal fleeing justice himself.

As you know, Bishop Barry Knestout threw your unworthy servant into the ecclesiastical gulag for the ‘crime’ of pointing out this evident fact.

My friend Bob Hoatson runs “Road to Recovery,” a non-profit that helps victims of sexual abuse. Last week, Bob mailed the same package to both Bishop Knestout and myself, a copy of Carmine Galasso’s book Crosses.

Bob mailed me a copy because of our friendship. He mailed Bishop Knestout a copy because the bishop serves on the Bishops-Conference Committee for Child and Youth Protection.

Crosses is an incredibly painful book to read. Also enormously illuminating. Catholic sex-abuse survivors tell their stories, in the first person. Galasso captures their world with haunting photos. The late A.W. Richard Sipe, expert in clerical sexual abuse, wrote of Crosses, “This book is a triumph of making sexual abuse by religion understandable.”

Now, speaking of trusting bishops…

Two weeks ago, a retired titular Archbishop,* Carlo Maria Viganò, wrote to the priests and laypeople of the Archdiocese of Washington. advising them to distrust their sitting archbishop, Wilton Gregory.

Why should they distrust him? Archbishop Viganò’s letter does not explain. Rather, Viganò simply takes for granted a certain interpretation of a number of unclear facts.

The White House apparently organized a visit by President Trump to the St. John Paul II Shrine in Washington, and invited Archbishop Gregory. Gregory, it seems, begged off.

Then, the night before the visit, White House security forces used some violent tactics to remove peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square, the lovely park just north of the White House.

Archbishop Gregory chose to condemn those tactics, in the form of a statement about the president’s visit to the JPII Shrine, which occurred the following day.

Crosses Galasso HoatsonDoesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Criticizing one thing by expressing bafflement about another. On the other hand: the police did, in fact, forcibly remove peaceful protesters from a place where they had lawfully assembled, without proper warning.

Let me simply note the following:

I wrote to Archbishop Gregory myself in April, 2019, while he was still Archbishop of Atlanta, Georgia. I gave him some unsolicited advice. I recommended that he insist on full public disclosure about the McCarrick cover-up, before agreeing to take office in Washington.

I pointed out to Archbishop Gregory that, had Donald Wuerl done this–insisted on honesty about McCarrick–then the cover-up would have ended fourteen years ago.

We would have a much-larger reservoir of trust and good will in our Church, had either Wuerl or Gregory insisted on full disclosure of McCarrick’s crimes, prior to taking office as McCarrick’s successors.

What do we have instead? Well…

…Remember “Nathan Doe,” abused by Theodore McCarrick? Nathan moved me to tears with his loving solidarity last October. He told a reporter:

“McCarrick was charming. He was self-effacing. He was completely disarming. And he ran that game on everyone. He ran it on his colleagues, donors and on young boys. Everyone around this guy is just a different shade of victim.”

Nathan reported last fall that Vatican investigators had spoken with him. Nathan expressed his confidence that a healing ‘McCarrick Report’ would see the light of day.

Nathan kindly wrote to us again ten days ago, to offer an update. He remains hopeful. In spite of everything, Nathan trusts Pope Francis. He trusts the pope to give us a painful but soul-cleansing McCarrick Report.

After all, the pope has a most-important, most-sublime task, too. To provide bishops we can trust to give us parish priests people can trust.

I, for one, wonder why the duty of encouraging trust in the hierarchy falls to this particular anonymous sex-abuse victim. Nathan’s public hopefulness about full disclosure only makes the long, dull silence of the miters all the creepier.

…Nathan insists that earnest Vatican investigators have collected a huge amount of information. Presumably facts about McCarrick’s abuses of minors and young men, during the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s.

Tornielli Giorno GiudizioGetting all those facts on the table someday will certainly help to clear away the tidal-wave waters of American-Catholic disillusionment. Thank you, Nathan, and all the victims who have spoken to these investigators.

But certain facts already sit squarely on the table. In August of 2018, Archbishop Viganò revealed a great deal of theretofore-secret information. Anonymous Vatican sources confirmed a large chunk of that information, in Andrea Tornielli & Gianni Valente’s book Il Giorno del Giudizio, which I summarized for you, dear reader, in December 2018.

Let’s call the consensus of Viganò and Tornielli/Valente the “common ground” facts. (That’s what judges call the facts acknowledged by both sides in a court of law.) The common ground facts include: The pope, the heads of the Roman Congregations, and Donald Wuerl all knew something about McCarrick’s crimes. In 2005.

I pointed out those “common ground” facts in my letter to Archbishop Gregory last year. Archbishop Gregory never answered me.

…A few days after writing to the priests and people of the Archdiocese of Washington, Archbishop Viganò then wrote to President Trump.

In this letter, Viganò paints two pictures. The first: a contest between good and evil in politics. I certainly cannot agree with the archbishop’s analysis there. He sees the protests over George Floyd’s death as purely theatrical, the result of behind-the-scenes manipulation. I don’t see that. To the contrary, I fear disastrous riots–all 100% sincere–if the prosecutors in Minnesota do not obtain guilty verdicts for the officers who killed George Floyd.

But Archbishop Viganò’s second picture touches our theme here: There’s a “deep Church”–a corrupt, hidden bureaucracy, hostile to the cause of Christ. This “deep Church” wages a vicious battle against the “good shepherds.”

Viganò provides no facts to substantiate this assertion. Which makes it sound more like Donatism than like orthodox Catholicism.

The truth–the ugly, detailed, tedious facts: they will help to purify our Church. On the other hand, broadside condemnations, unsupported by evidence, do more harm than good.

What I see is this:

The “corruption” causing such widespread disillusionment among Catholics involves, above all, unexamined self-righteousness.

I think we, the victims of the deception, could pretty easily forgive all the conspirators in the 21st-century part of the McCarrick cover-up, the “Washington phase.” If only those conspirators had the humility to acknowledge their culpable cowardice in failing to bring the malefactor to justice.

(Indeed, the “great” Viganò seems to have a hard time facing the fact that he himself was, for years, one of the conspirators in the 21st-century phase of the McCarrick cover-up.)

We could pretty easily forgive, if only there was some ‘fessing up. But the obdurate self-righteousness of the conspirators has stalled the whole process. And made the situation ten times worse than it ever had to be. (With a well-meaning parish priest in southwest Virginia languishing in an outrageous ecclesiastical gulag, with his people suffering needlessly.)

Instead of lining up on two teams, let’s remind ourselves:

Why do we enter a parish church in the first place? In order to take our rightful place on the “true Church” team?

Speaking for myself, that’s not my reason. I walk into the parish church because: I fear winding up on the other team, in the end. I fear I’m on the other team right now. I need every bit of divine mercy to help me. And we find that mercy in the ministry of priests.

I violated Bishop Knestout’s “no trespass” order against me on Saturday. I entered St. Francis of Assisi parish church in Rocky Mount. (I had violated it the preceding Sunday, too, at St. Joseph’s in Martinsville, for the same reason.)

To go to confession.

* Higher-ranking officials of the Holy See of Rome generally become archbishops of places that no longer have Catholic populations, or of dioceses that have gotten absorbed by other dioceses during the course of history. A “titular” archbishop, therefore, has great responsibility in assisting the pope, but does not actually govern an archdiocese.

My Why

McCarrick and James
McCarrick and the young James Grein

On May 24, 2003, Theodore McCarrick ordained me to the sacred priesthood of Jesus Christ. Over a few decades, McCarrick ordained a couple hundred men, including many of my oldest and dearest friends and spiritual brothers.

Turns out: McCarrick should have been in jail. For ruining a large number of young lives. And the hierarchy knew it, and covered it up.

Was James Grein at my ordination Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine? Or John Bellocchio? Or any of the “Nathans?”

Don’t know. But likely at least one of them sat there, among the 2,000 people present. Watching the man who had caused him personal spiritual ruin ordain me and my brother ordinands to the holy priesthood.

For two years I have tried, with all the little brainpower I possess, to see the whole business from that person’s point-of-view. To interpret all the actions of the Catholic hierarchy from James’, John’s, or Nathan Doe’s point-of-view.

McCarrick ordination
McCarrick ordaining me

I have at times lapsed into intemperate rhetoric. I apologize, again, for that. Please forgive me, dear reader.

I will not, however, stop writing my way through this spiritual crisis. Bishop Knestout has accused me of “choosing my blog over my parishes.” I find that wrong and unfair.

The bishop has threatened to suspend me from ministry and seek to have me dismissed from the clerical state. If he suspends me, that will separate me from my parishioners, at least for a time, since I cannot legally disobey a suspension order. My lawyer and I will of course fight such an order, through the canonical process.

But the fact I have to deal with is this: I cannot minister honestly as a Catholic priest if I do not try to connect my mind with the mind of the clergy sex-abuse victim sitting in the pew. I have no choice there.

I was ordained by a predator. Doesn’t make my ordination invalid, of course. And it places no particular burden on anyone else ordained by McCarrick. But for me personally, I have no choice about this.

I wish none of the disturbance we experience as parishes right now. I want only a tranquil life for us all, praising God and making our way to heaven. I am sorry for the offensive things I have written over the years.

But I cannot say that I am sorry for appointing myself James Grein’s amanuensis and running with it. If I were sorry for that, I would have to be sorry for being the Mark White that God made in the first place.

And for that I am by no means sorry, praised be the Lord Jesus Christ.

George Orwell Comes Knocking?

People miss e-mails sometimes; signals get crossed in an office. It happens. Also, people play games sometimes. To manipulate and bully those with less power.

You can be the judge in this case, dear reader. Click HERE for the status quo ante. Thank you for praying.

 

Richmond-diocese Vicar for Clergy (bishop’s right-hand man for our affairs), yesterday evening at 5:15pm:

Fr. White,

I hope that you are feeling better. I want to thank you ahead of time for coming to meet with Bishop Knestout tomorrow afternoon at the Pastoral Center. If you have not been able to cover your Mass please let me know and I will reach out to provide coverage for you. 

Please know my prayers for you and for safe travels.

Peace.

 

My response, yesterday at 6:00pm:

T—, I refer you to my email of last Wed, below, which was cc’d to you. Maybe you missed it.

I did not commit to any meeting time. I asked (twice) for clarification regarding the rationale for the proposed meeting. Having received none, I have made no plans to travel tomorrow. Trying to make such plans at this late moment would pose considerable problems.

So please make sure that His Excellency does not waste any time waiting on my arrival tomorrow afternoon.

In his letter to me, bishop expressed the desire to discuss a blog post. I don’t know which one he had in mind. (There are quite a few.) As I wrote last week, I welcome any written correspondence about my weblog. The blog is, of its very nature, a forum for the free exchange of ideas–as I noted to His Excellency in an email to him in September of 2018.

Fraternally, Mark

Pius x tomb
Pope St. Pius X, in St. Peter’s Basilica

…In 1907, Pope St. Pius X wrote:

It is the duty of the bishops to prevent writings infected with Modernism, or favorable to it, from being read when they have been published, and to hinder their publication when they have not. (Pascendi, paragraph 50)

What is “Modernism?” Click HERE to read my summary of the problem, which continues to plague the world. Here’s another paragraph from Pius X’s encyclical, touching on ecclesiastical authority.

[The Modernist teaches that] We are living in an age when the sense of liberty has reached its fullest development, and when the public conscience has in the civil order introduced popular government… It is for the ecclesiastical authority, therefore, to shape itself to democratic forms, unless it wishes to provoke and foment an intestine conflict in the consciences of mankind…

Such is the situation for the Modernists, and their one great anxiety is, in consequence, to find a way of conciliation between the authority of the Church and the liberty of believers. (para. 23)

Now, I certainly do not propose to solve this problem–that is, the potential conflict between the free exchange of ideas and the legitimate exercise of ecclesiastical authority. Far greater minds than mine spent a lot of the 20th century trying to work that out.

But just for the record, I would like to state clearly:

I do not believe that free speech in the Church has no limits. Bishops have to censor heresy. They should discipline priests who spread lies, or any untruths. And they should call to heel even a priest who would indiscretely spread true information beyond the circle of those who need to know it.

(Though I would also clearly state that I believe Church authority has erred over the last half century in considering it discrete to keep secret the crimes of priests and bishops.)

If I have fallen into heresy, factual error, or genuine indiscretion, I beg to be corrected. Let the admonishment come in writing, with a specific citation of the offending words.

In the absence of such a clear admonishment, I ask ecclesiastical authority to leave me in peace to do the pastoral work assigned to me.

Update on Principal’s-Office Drama

It must not be imagined that authority knows no bounds. Since its starting point is the permission to govern in accordance with right reason…a regime which governs solely or mainly by means of threats and intimidation, or promises of reward, provides men with no effective incentive to work for the common good. –Pope St. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris

sacredheartcathedralrichmond

Me, on Tuesday, after I received bishop’s phone call, then letter (sent to me via e-mail from his secretary):

Dear Anne, Thank you for your kind regards.

I would be happy to discuss blog posts with His Excellency, provided that he or you let me know ahead of time which particular posts he has in mind to discuss, and why he wants to discuss them.

Also, considering that driving to the Pastoral Center would entail a six-hour round-trip for me, and would require me to cancel parish Masses, I would prefer to have the discussion by phone.

Yours, Father Mark

Her, Wednesday morning:

Good morning Father White.  Hope you are feeling much better.  I shared your message with Bishop Knestout who is away, as you know.

The Bishop asks to meet with you here at the Pastoral Center on Wednesday, November 20th.  He has availability between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m.  Please let me know what time you wish to confirm…

Bishop Knestout asked me to convey his appreciation and he looks forward to seeing you next Wednesday.

All the best, Anne

My answer, also Wednesday morning:

Dear Anne,

I appreciate your good wishes about my health. I feel better, but this business is by no means helping.

I kindly asked for an explanation of what exactly bishop wants to discuss with me, and why.

The more I consider this proposed dialogue, the more I think that we would make the most headway by a written exchange. The written medium would eliminate the pressure of time and travel. I do not want to drive to Richmond for a meeting without understanding the reason for it.

If His Excellency intends to threaten me with any adverse consequences regarding my ministry here, I wish he would just go ahead and make his threats. The passive-aggressive tone of these communiques–all courtesy, but with implied coercion–is driving me crazy.

Love, Father Mark

 

…Haven’t heard anything since, dear reader. As you remember, last year I promised His Excellency that I would increase his fame by publishing all our correspondence. (After he tried to manipulate me into feeling guilty for collecting facts and speaking my mind, moderately.)

Thank you for praying, my beloved.

…Let me just anticipate a question, and answer it. Namely: Father, shouldn’t you drive to Richmond when the bishop asks you to?

Answer: In speeches to us priests, all bishops emphasize their brotherhood with us. Bishops style themselves as “servants of the servants.” That’s the rhetoric, anyway.

So let’s turn the scenario around. A hypothetical:

Me: Bishop, I need you to visit me next Wednesday at 2:00pm. Or 3:00pm.

Him: Bless you, Mark. I’m here for you. What’s going on?

Me: I need you here next Wednesday.

Him: Ok, like I said. I’m here for you. What’s up? Is it something we can talk about now, or by exchange of e-mails?

Me:

After such a conversation: Does he, the servant of the servants of the servants of God, get in the car and drive 3 1/2 hours to Martinsville on Wednesday? Don’t think so. I certainly wouldn’t expect him to. He’s not some lackey who has nothing better to do, after all.

Cowardice Update

Pope Francis bishop Reed ad limina
Bishop Robert Reed, auxiliary of Boston, and His Holiness, last week

One of our New-England bishops, Sean Cardinal O’Malley, gave a brief speech on Monday. He, and his fellow bishops of that region, had just returned from their ad limina visit to Rome, arriving in Baltimore in the nick of time, for the semi-annual American bishops’ meeting.

Forgive me for saying so, but His Eminence’s speech in Baltimore seemed strangely aimed at answering your unworthy servant. Of course I don’t actually imagine that he, or anyone of ecclesiastical significance, ever reads anything I write; I think I merely managed to express a common sentiment. (And I used, in anger, some language unworthy of a temperate Christian, and for that I apologize, dear reader.)

Cardinal O’Malley said to the assembled American bishops, regarding his and his fellow New-England bishops’ sojourn in Rome:

We were not afraid to bring up [to the Vatican Cardinal Secretary of State] the question of the report on Theodore McCarrick, and we insisted on the importance of publishing a response to the many serious questions of this case. [emphasis added]

I note his protestation of “not being afraid.” I note it with some relish.

His Eminence went on to say:

The long wait [for the promised report] has resulted in great frustration on the part of bishops and our people, and indeed a harsh and even cynical interpretation of the seeming silence.

The “seeming” silence? Let be be finale of seem, your Eminence. The Roman silence has resounded as a genuine worldwide roar. Don’t accuse us of cynicism, when it is we who face reality squarely, not thee.

[Like, for instance: When will our American bishops discuss the findings of the Illinois and Colorado reports on sexual abuse in the Church? Both of these reports pointed out serious shortcomings in the Dallas Charter. Will such a discussion item ever appear on any US-bishops’ agenda? Or shall we continue to think, with good reason, that all the propaganda about putting sex-abuse victims above institutional interests amounts to: the usual mafiosi blah blah blah?]

Anyway. According to O’Malley, the Cardinal Secretary of State in Rome said, regarding the McCarrick report, the very words that my imagination attributed to him. Si, presto, subito. “Yes, soon, very soon.” Then last Friday’s central-Italy earthquake occurred.

So we shall see, dear reader. A full McCarrick report will reach us. Within a couple months. So says the Cardinal.

I do not recommend that anyone hold his or her breath.

…Meanwhile, back here in our humble corner of the world: I have received my annual summons to the principal’s office.

Bishop Knestout letter Nov 19

(His Excellency had reached me via cellphone the night before, as I lay on my couch, suffering laryngitis, and trying to recover from a nasty little head cold I managed to catch.)

Last year, when summoned to show my servility by driving six-hours for no apparent reason, I responded by proposing that bishop and I meet and talk at our annual diocesan priests’ meeting instead. I never got a response to that proposal, and we never had our “dialog.”

Yesterday, I responded by asking which blog posts exactly he means? And why he wants to discuss them? And I asked if we could have our conversation by phone.

I await a response. May God be with us all.