You’re Welcome, Your Holiness

pope francis mccarrick
September 23, 2015

In 2015, Pope Francis declared a “Year of Mercy.”

The following year, the pope published a book, The Name of God is Mercy.

On Ash Wednesday, 2016, the pope dispatched “Missionaries of Mercy.”

Shortly thereafter, the Vatican Secretary of State received a letter from then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

McCarrick referred to his dealings with the Holy See over the course of the previous decade. The Vatican had attempted to get McCarrick to disappear quietly from the public stage. McCarrick had not co-operated with the cover-up scheme.

But in his March 8, 2016, letter to Cardinal Parolin, McCarrick offered to “retire to a holy place and pray for the salvation of my soul, instead of wandering around the world.”

Cardinal Parolin mentioned McCarrick’s letter to Pope Francis.

The pope already knew that McCarrick stood accused of abusing his authority to force seminarians into his bed. Archbishop Viganò, as well as Cardinal Becciu, had alerted the pope to McCarrick’s predations. The Vatican file contained testimony about McCarrick forcing a seminarian to put on a sailor suit and get into bed with him.

Pope Francis told Cardinal Parolin not to accept McCarrick’s March, 2016, offer to disappear.

“Maybe McCarrick could still do something useful,” the pope said.

[All of this is documented on pages 429-430 of the Vatican McCarrick Report.]

In September of 2018, I published an open letter to Pope Francis. (Before McCarrick was laicized through a secret procedure.)

I wrote:

Holy Father, you have spoken over and over again about the primacy of mercy. You misinterpreted what the moment demanded. For over a generation, no one has had any doubt that the Church knows how to act with mercy. The obvious problem we have is: the Church has forgotten how to act with severity. How can you not see that your former-Cardinal-Priest Theodore McCarrick has–in his brazen recklessness–exposed this colossal weakness?

What did the moment demand, when the first of McCarrick’s brother bishops learned of his predations? Mercy? Hardly. What did the moment demand, when you learned of it? Mercy? No. The moment demanded the just application of strict rules.

Do you not see how desperately the Church needs a severe father right now? A fearless and exacting enforcer of rules. A man whom sinners behold, and tremble.

Pope Francis Annuarium pontificum

Last week, the Holy Father published a decree revising the Code of Canon law.

In his letter announcing the change, the Holy Father wrote.

In the past, great damage was done by a failure to appreciate the close relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and recourse — where circumstances and justice so require — to disciplinary sanctions.

This manner of thinking — as we have learned from experience — risks leading to tolerating immoral conduct, for which mere exhortations or suggestions are insufficient remedies. This situation often brings with it the danger that over time such conduct may become entrenched, making correction more difficult and in many cases creating scandal and confusion among the faithful.

For this reason, it becomes necessary for bishops and superiors to inflict penalties. Negligence on the part of a bishop in resorting to the penal system is a sign that he has failed to carry out his duties honestly and faithfully.

You’re welcome, Your Holiness. For the idea.

Allow me to point out, however, that you accuse yourself with your own words.

You were McCarrick’s bishop, his priestly father in God. From 2013 onward, only one man on earth had authority over Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

You.

You were negligent. You failed to carry out your duties honestly and faithfully, just like Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II failed to do, before you.

canon law codex canonici

Another person who deserves a big apology from the mitered mafia: Father Lauro Sedlmayer.

McCarrick abused his authority over Father Sedlmayer during the 1990’s, to obtain sexual gratification from the young, naive, foreign-born priest.

Sedlmayer tried to denounce McCarrick for his crimes. In response, the Diocese of Metuchen NJ and the Archdiocese of Newark proceeded to sue him in court.

On May 17, 2013, two months after Francis became our pope, the then-Bishop of Metuchen Paul Bootkoski wrote to Father Sedlmayer. The bishop insisted that Father had “violated Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s rights.”

According to Bootkoski, Sedlmayer had “calumniated” McCarrick, because Sedlmayer publicly referred to McCarrick as a “predator.”

Bootkoski went on to stipulate in his letter: Sedlmayer could not continue in ministry as a priest unless he underwent intense supervision, therapy, and “spiritual direction.”

Meanwhile:

The Vatican knew perfectly well that calling McCarrick a “predator” did not involve calumny, or a violation of McCarrick’s rights. When Father Sedlmayer blanketed a parish parking lot with fliers calling McCarrick a predator, he spoke the truth, with justice.

The Vatican had more than enough evidence in hand to vindicate Father Sedlmayer in his accusations against McCarrick.

What did they do?

In the Vatican.

While a bishop mercilessly persecuted a priest who spoke the truth about Theodore McCarrick, the truth that they knew full well?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

In 2016, Bishop Bootkoski reached the normal retirement age, and the pope accepted his resignation, without any reference whatsoever to McCarrick, or to Father Sedlmayer’s decades of suffering at the hands of prelates who abused their authority.

Kinda makes you wonder:

Would they be doing anything at all at the Vatican, about McCarrick, now? Except that circumstances outside their control forced them to do something?

Last week’s revision to the Code of Canon Law changes canon 1395.3, which defines a crime, namely: A clergyman forcing someone to perform or submit to sexual acts by force or threat. The revised law adds the phrase “or by abuse of his authority.”

The pope first introduced that phrase into the rules in May of 2019.

I pointed out then:

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

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

McCarrick ordained me a transitional deacon 18 years ago today [May 13, 2019]. On that day, I thought of him as an amazingly talented, crushingly self-centered, charming tyrant. He gave the Archdiocese of Washington a huge amount of energy that it had not previously had. He appeared utterly uninterested in anything having to do with theology. He was a flawed man. He was no walking demon.

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

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

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

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

Book about the Crisis, Reviewed for Profiles in Catholicism

The on-line/print publication asked me to review Papal Policies on Clerical Sexual Abuse: God Weeps by Jo Renee Formicola. They also published my review of the book on their “Clerical Sexual Violence Against Minors” page.

Papal Policies on Clerical Sexual Abuse: God Weeps by Jo Renee Formicola. Peter Lang Publishing, New York, 2019. Reviewed by Father Mark White

Five years ago, Pope Francis visited the U.S. On a lovely late-summer afternoon, the pope celebrated Holy Mass on the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of bishops and priests concelebrated, including your unworthy servant. Thousands of Catholics prayed with us, spread across the elm-lined university quad. The city and the nation tuned-in on tv. The Catholic Church in America came together, smiling with hopefulness, in the sunshine. Jo Renee Formicola puts it like this, in the opening pages of God Weeps:

I can attest to the excitement, the love, and the palpable respect for Pope Francis during all those events I helped to cover when he was in the United States.

There was a snake in the garden of excitement and optimism, however. As Pope Francis preached his homily, a concelebrating Cardinal sat immediately behind him, fitting innocuously into the scene. Theodore McCarrick.

Formicola takes the title of her book from one of Pope Francis’ speeches during that visit to the U.S. At the seminary in Philadelphia, the pope said, “God weeps for the sexual abuse of children.” Formicola approaches the problem of sexual abuse as an expert in Church-state relations. She focuses on the policies that the popes have developed to deal with the crisis, and she analyzes those policies for their organizational effectiveness.

Formicola brings her expertise to bear by first clearly defining the sex-abuse crisis, and identifying the steps needed to take to deal with it. Her chronology begins with the case of Father Gilbert Gauthe, in the diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. This has become the standard frame of reference for students of the history of the crisis. The journalist Jason Berry chronicled the Gauthe case thoroughly, and Gauthe’s attorney, Ray Mouton, worked with Father Thomas Doyle to produce a report for the American bishops. That report set on the table most of the necessary questions for Church leadership.

Pope Francis Shrine Immaculate Mass Junipero Serra
Papal Mass in Washington, September 2015

Formicola goes on to outline the process of competent crisis management. Recognize the focusing event or events. Respond with an appropriate apology for the harm done. Investigate thoroughly. Develop a comprehensive strategy that ensures accountability for wrongdoing. By following these steps, leaders regain trust, and a crisis ends. Formicola systematically outlines how three popes have failed to work their way through these steps successfully.

John Paul’s responses to the tragedy were basically non-existent. They were not public, aggressive, or compassionate. Indeed, for all his pastoral and political action to protect the unborn, the marginalized, and others forgotten by society, John Paul did not provide the same sense of righteous outrage, protection, justice, or solidarity with the victim survivors of clerical sexual abuse… In policy terms, John Paul’s leadership failed every test of what policy analysts describe as positive and successful responses to institutional crises… He could not grasp the gravity, scope, or civil ramifications of clerical sexual abuse; or the personal, psychic, or spiritual damage that it caused… He fueled perceptions of secrecy and fed a narrative of complicity… He blamed an ‘irresponsibly permissive’ American society, ‘hyper-inflated with sexuality.’

In 2001, things changed somewhat. Formicola writes, “John Paul was starting to suspect the ability of the American hierarchy to deal with the festering crisis.” In April, the pope required all cases involving the sexual abuse of minors be reported to the Vatican.

A year later, the pope met with all the American cardinals, including McCarrick, to try to deal with the Boston Globe Spotlight scandal. The meeting produced a ‘Vatican communiqué,’ which framed the Church’s response to the crisis. Formicola trenchantly criticizes the communiqué:

It ignored the serious civil policy implications of clerical sexual abuse… It avoided an official institutional apology. It did not set out a means to investigate the workings of the internal Church, its procedures, or its processes to handle clerical sexual abuse… It did not cede any power to civil authorities to investigate or punish the clergy… It continued a lack of policy coherence and consistency. It represented a policy position in which the Pope protected the role, mission, and reputation of the Church.

Over two decades earlier, during his brief tenure as a diocesan bishop, Joseph Ratzinger followed what we now know was the world-wide standard operating procedure. In 1979, Ratzinger knowingly received into his Archdiocese—Munich, Germany—a priest abuser of minors. The priest began psychiatric treatment, and, within days, the Archdiocese assigned him to pastoral work, with the Archbishop’s knowledge and tacit permission. None of the restrictions recommended by the priest’s psychiatrist were put into place. The priest went on to victimize other children, over the course of the subsequent three decades. Meanwhile, Ratzinger went on to head a Vatican department, then became Pope Benedict XVI.

Formicola God Weeps Papal Policies Sexual AbuseFormicola summarizes the German theologian’s work with the sex-abuse crisis:

From the epi-center of adjudicating grievous sins as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981 until his retirement from the papacy in 2013, Benedict was in a central position to create and implement policies to deal with clerical sexual abuse for thirty-two years. But he was unable or unwilling to punish, contain, remediate, or make a significant policy change in how the Catholic Church dealt with the greatest crisis to its credibility, legitimacy, and existence in modern times.

Many who had long been dealing with the sex-abuse crisis desperately wanted to believe that Pope Francis would find a way to deal with the problem successfully. When he assumed office in 2013, Francis immediately identified with the poor, and urged the entire Church to do the same. Formicola asks, “Can this theological commitment to the poor serve as a basis for a broadened definition, to include the victims of clerical sexual abuse?”

In 2014, the United Nations severely criticized the Vatican’s handling of child sexual abuse. Pope Francis responded to one of the U.N. recommendations and established the Papal Commission for the Protection of Minors. He appointed the clerical sex-abuse survivor Marie Collins, of Ireland, to the commission. Collins soon resigned, however. The Vatican’s zero-tolerance policy, she recognized, was much more an empty slogan than a practical reality, and the pope failed to establish a tribunal to judge bishops who covered up for predatory priests.

Formicola’s historical survey ends with the waning days of 2018, after the McCarrick revelations, the Pennsylvania Grand-Jury Report, the Viganò memo, and the Vatican intervention at the U.S. bishops’ meeting (which prevented any concrete action on the part of the bishops). Formicola summarizes the situation at that time:

The cautious optimism that accompanied Francis’ election continues to erode… Attempts to ensure transparency and accountability for the punishment of priests and members of the hierarchy are disappearing with each new instance of Vatican cover-ups. The expected desire to develop corrective changes in personnel and policy is now being overwhelmed with the existential threat to papal power and the increasing possibility that the Church could simply implode from the weight of its own sins… The laity’s patience is at an end.

Formicola’s calls her final chapter, “God Still Weeps.” She writes:

The needed reforms represent an existential threat to the recognized religious and administrative leadership of the Popes, to the continued functioning of the institutional Church as the world knows it. Strategic change would require dynamic, persistent, and systematic policy solutions… But the Papal responses, instead, were ad hoc, ineffective, often without compassion, and deeply divisive within the Church… For more than three decades, predatory priestly behavior festered as an open, religious sore—as well as a political, economic, and legal wound for the modern Catholic Church. Even now, the largest religious institution in the world remains without an official, systematic diagnosis of the causes of clerical sexual abuse or a prescription to end the victimization of children by priests.

Formicola submitted her book for publication shortly before the February 2019 meeting at the Vatican, dedicated to the problem of child sexual abuse. She writes near the end of the book that the situation actually requires the calling of an ecumenical council. Vatican III should convene—to deal with the sex-abuse crisis.

During Easter week of that year, Formicola taped an appearance on Newark NJ PBS’s “Think Tank” program, to discuss her book. It gave the author the opportunity to discuss the Vatican meeting that had occurred since she finished writing. The interviewer asked, “What happened at the meeting?” Formicola responded, “Nothing. It’s like asking someone to watch after themselves, and you really can’t have that. I don’t know that [the pope and bishops] necessarily are capable of doing anything.”

SynodGod Weeps could have used another edit; it has some passages that are difficult to follow. Chapter Five re-develops a historical narrative that has already been extensively covered in previous chapters, which causes the reader some confusion.

Also, Formicola outlines the three popes’ theological principles in a manner that seems cursory and shallow. I think it is necessary to understand the three men first as Christian pastors, in order to begin to grasp the complexity of the issues they have faced. Formicola repeatedly laments that the popes have seen clerical sexual abuse as a sin, rather than as a crime. From a pastor’s point-of-view, those are not mutually exclusive things. That said, Formicola is absolutely right about the catastrophic consequences of the popes’ inability to recognize the crime of child sexual abuse for what it is. And the book’s attempt to synthesize theology with public policy introduces a very helpful approach to the problem.

We owe Dr. Formicola a debt of gratitude for assembling a large amount of research into a painful, but refreshingly realistic, analysis. With God Weeps, she has given the Church a gift, applying her expertise to help us see the enormity of the unsolved problem we have on our hands.

Dialogue on Carousel Lane (Imagined)

Dear Reader, I know that I still have not fully explained my point-of-view on the ecclesiastical suppression of this blog, from late November of last year to the middle of March.

I had something written months ago, to share with you once I could. But what I wrote seems self-pitying and out-of-place now, as we all struggle to maintain our connections with each other, by any possible means.

So, for what it’s worth, I present this imagined dialogue, which I wrote on the eve of my February 5 meeting with Bishop Knestout. The meeting itself proceeded nothing like what I imagined. (I knew it wouldn’t.) But it turns out that I did manage to anticipate some of the thoughts Bishop K revealed in his letter of March 19.

From the unpublished-post mailbag

[written 2/4/20]

Vatican II bas relief

The bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church. He who hears them, hears Christ. He who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ. (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 20)

Good Lord willing, tomorrow your unworthy servant will meet with Bishop Barry Knestout. [February 5, 2020] I imagine the following conversation… (I imagine it. This is a reflective exercise, not a report.)

 

Bishop: Mark, you wrote that you despised all the prelates and journalists gathered at the Vatican meeting last February. You evidently despise Pope Francis, Donald Wuerl, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore. You therefore run afoul of this solemn teaching of the Church (quoted above), itself based on the Lord Jesus’ clear words in Luke 10:16.

Explaining this teaching, Pope Leo XIII wrote in Est Sane that individual Catholics do not have a mandate to criticize prelates. Pope Leo explicitly denounces the supposed defense you have offered me. Namely, that the individual Catholic may limit his obedience and submission solely to maters of faith, and enjoy freedom of speech in other, practical matters.

No. You must refrain altogether from judging the actions of your superiors. Judgments of that kind lie solely in the hands of the Supreme Pontiff.

Me: First, I believe that I deserve some consideration when it comes to the use of literary devices in my writings. You don’t get a readership if you don’t have an edge. I think fairness demands that the reader consider all my scandal-related blog posts as a whole, when deciding if I have demonstrated genuine love for the Church.

I did despise the prelates at the Vatican meeting–for an impassioned moment. And I do despise the situation we find ourselves in. We meaning the Church as a whole, pope, bishops, priests, people.

The situation I see is: most people in our country see our Church as far from holy, far from organized according to admirable principles, but rather they see a lawless, apparently ungovernable mess.

I believe that human beings naturally distrust–and learn to despise–leaders that do not communicate honestly. I despise the evident dishonesty of Pope Francis, Cardinal Wuerl, and Archbishop Lori, among other prelates. But I do not believe that means that I despise the episcopal college shepherding the Church, considered as a sacred whole.

To the contrary, I think that I despise the dishonesty as much as I do, precisely because I love the Church. I have written my blog posts in accord with Canon 212.3. I’m sorry for any failures on my part to observe due reverence.

Bishop: Wait a minute. What ‘evident dishonesty’ of Pope Francis?

Me: In August, 2018, Archbishop Vigano testified that he told Pope Francis about McCarrick’s abuses of seminarians in June of 2013. If what Vigano claimed has even some truth to it, then Pope Francis knew about McCarrick for five years before doing anything about it. And the pope only acted in 2018 because he had no choice but to act.

Pope Francis has never denied what Vigano said. The only thing the pope has said publicly is, basically: ‘You can’t expect me to remember anything about that.’ That is manifestly dishonest, since an honest prelate, learning of abuses done by a sitting Cardinal, would act in the interest of the suffering victims.

wuerl loriThe Church owed McCarrick’s victims at least this: to discipline McCarrick in such a way that they would not have to see him say Mass. Instead, they had to watch him represent the Holy See as an unofficial ambassador for years.

Last year, Pope Francis refused to engage the question of what he should have done about McCarrick in 2013. That refusal is dishonest, considering the fact that the Church–at least in New Jersey and Washington, D.C.–certainly deserves clarity about this.

Bishop: And Cardinal Wuerl’s dishonesty?

Me: Cardinal Wuerl learned of McCarrick’s abuses of seminarians in 2004. When Wuerl came to Washington in 2006, he knew that his predecessor had abused young men under his authority. Even though Wuerl had committed in Dallas in 2002 to an end to sex-abuse cover-ups, he participated in the McCarrick cover-up from 2006 to 2018.

Then, when circumstances beyond his control forced the public disclosure of the McCarrick sex-abuse settlement that he had known about for over thirteen years, Wuerl did not come clean. He hid behind spurious distinctions between McCarrick’s abuse of minors and his abuse of seminarians and young priests.

In the eyes of the general public in Washington, and in the eyes of McCarrick’s victim in the 2004 settlement, Donald Wuerl is a disgraced, discredited liar.

Bishop: You cannot prove that our Archbishop is dishonest.

Me: In 2013, William Lori received three written complaints about Michael Bransfield’s profligate spending. The complaints appeared in a 2013 Charleston, West Virginia, newspaper article. But Lori deemed those complaints “speculative in nature.” Lori phoned Bransfield and accepted Bransfield’s mischaracterization of the situation.

In 2018 Lori received a mandate from Pope Francis to investigate Bransfield. The investigators uncovered the fact that Bransfield had given Lori $7,500 in gifts, plus $3,000 in stipends and travel reimbursements.

Lori had that detail removed from the report.

Lori never would have acknowledged any of this, if someone hadn’t leaked it all to the Washington Post, forcing Lori to backpedal and apologize. In July of 2019, Lori promised that an independent financial audit of the West-Virginia diocese would be undertaken and then published. Nothing so far. [The report has subsequently been released. I will have more on that in an upcoming post.]

Seems like a reasonable observer would question Lori’s capacity for forthrightness. Which is exactly what the editorial board of the Notre Dame University student newspaper did, when Lori came to campus to speak. And Judge Anne Burke, formerly of the USCCB sex-abuse Review Board, told the Washington Post that Lori “paid only lip-service to the concept of episcopal accountability.”

Bishop: Even if all that you say is true, you sin against charity by making it public.

Me: If I myself fell into habitual self-justifications for speaking in endless half-truths, I would hope that someone would love me enough to point that fact out to me.

“The Two Popes”

The last time a pope of Rome died: fifteen years ago today.

Netflix made a movie about the two popes we have had since 2005. Highly fictionalized. I wrote a little essay about it, back when the movie came out. From Mr. Bates’ mailbag

[written 2/11/20]

Two Popes Can't Resign Hopkins Pryce
“You can’t resign!” The fictional Cardinal Bergoglio pleads with fictional Benedict XVI.

Seven years ago today [February 11], Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to abdicate.

Taking into consideration absolutely everything that we have all endured this past half-century, I continue to regard that as the worst day of my life. Nothing worse has happened during my lifetime. [Might have to revise that opinion now, dear sheltering-in-place reader. Anyway…]

Eight years earlier, when Pope Benedict took the throne of Peter, he preached:

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.  Each of us is the result of a thought of God.  Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.

I still believe that with all my heart. That thought, which the new pope expressed on April 24, 2005, still animates me completely, gets me out of bed every day. Keeps my heart beating, really.

…The best scene of the “Two Popes” movie:

When the future-Francis flips. Benedict has just informed Bergoglio that he intends to resign. “You can’t! Jesus did not come down off the cross! You will damage the papacy forever!”

(Amen, brother.)

All pure fiction, of course. No such conversation ever took place.

The movie has a shallow, dumb premise: Let’s imagine the thoughtful-but-hidebound old pope “dialoguing” with the nifty future pope “of the people.” Let’s have them discuss “issues” in a way that only fallen-away German Catholics could find even remotely interesting.

A lame premise produces an crushingly boring movie. Do not bother, dear reader. Seriously.

But the most-painful fiction of the movie is this:

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce (the actors) cannot help but come off as basically forthright men. They radiate a normal level of manliness and internal consistency. You feel like you could have a conversation with either Hopkins’ Benedict or Pryce’s Francis, and walk away having learned something about the man. Something you could count on in future dealings with him. You might disagree with his principles. But you know what the man stands for. You would walk away from the conversation impressed. This man knows himself. He knows what he thinks and why.

Seems to this lowly scribe: Many years have passed since we had a pope who was actually like that, Hopkins’ and Pryce’s performances notwithstanding.

 

Some Good News from Italy

Coronavirus messages of hope at the Matterhorn mountain

“The numbers are still high, but for a few days now the numbers have stopped rising, thank God,” said Dr. Luca Lorini, head of intensive care at the Pope John XXIII hospital in Bergamo, one of the hardest hit of Italy’s public hospitals. (Associated Press report)

The Swiss illuminated the Matterhorn with a heart, to celebrate and inspire hope throughout the world. (The Italians call the mountain Il Cervino.)

Before we break out the asti-spumante, however: southern Italy still has a ticking-time bomb of cases yet to manifest themselves…

Our Holy Father will address the world via livestream at 1pm Eastern Daylight Time today.

He will impart a blessing. We can receive a plenary indulgence by getting blessed through the internet. So let’s repent of all our sins, and tune in.

Pope Urbi et Orbi Blessing

Cowards Ad Limina

Every able-bodied Catholic bishop has a duty to visit the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul–and the pope–once every five years. (Or at least once every eight years, if the pope’s schedule gets full, with important things like endless, confusing month-long Synods.)

In previous centuries, these visits ad limina included an individual meeting with the pope. In this benighted century, the popes have held group meetings with the visiting bishops. Pope Francis meets with as many as twenty bishops at once.

Our American “shepherds” will arrive in Rome in fifteen separate groups over the course of four months. The first group, the bishops of New England, arrived at St. Peter’s yesterday.

Now, let’s briefly anatomize the current Church scandal, here in the U.S. It begins and ends with one name. McCarrick. The Pennsylvania grand-jury report, and subsequent reports in other states, have revealed a great deal of evil and episcopal blundering. But none of that came as “news” to us older Catholics.

We had heard it all before. And we knew that the hierarchy fixed the problem! Under the able leadership of the good guys in miters, in 2002. Especially the Prince Charming of that group. Theodore McCarrick.

In Rome, they knew of McCarrick’s menace. Even then. Viganò revealed that. Subsequent reports confirmed it. The head of the Vatican press office even wrote a book about it, quoting all kinds of Cardinals (off the record, of course).

And the Vatican promised to “make known the conclusions of the matter regarding McCarrick.” Leaving no stone unturned, “following the truth wherever it leads,” even if it proved embarrassing. They made this promise over thirteen months ago. In the meantime, the pope used his authority to defrock McCarrick. Without publishing even one single fact of his case.

st-peter
Caravaggio’s depiction of what put Vatican Hill on the map in the first place

So, it seems to your unworthy servant: The loudest wailing noise in Holy Church right now is the utter silence of the Holy See on the subject of Theodore McCarrick.

We American Catholics want to take a step forward, towards restored confidence in the integrity of our institution. That step involves one thing happening. The See of Peter revealing, in full, everything they knew, and when, about the evil little Irish-American leprechaun.

mccarrickI ask you, dear reader: How does an American bishop–who ostensibly pretends to care about his faithful people back home–how does he not get off the airplane at Fiumicino and immediately do this:

Kneel at the Apostles’ tombs. Walk into the pope’s parlor. Kiss the Ring of the Fisherman. Then ask, “Where is the g.d. McCarrick Report, Your Holiness?! WTF? You are fricking killing us. What in the actual f?” (Or something to that effect.)

But these feminized cowards in miters will do no such thing. Instead they will tweet things like, “Oh, mother, bring me my aqua vitae! I just got to meet the Successor of Peter! And he has such twinkly eyes! And amazing jowls. So cute! I just love him!”

An earthquake shook the Vatican offices yesterday. Maybe it came after one of the New-England bishops actually managed to ask the Cardinal Secretary of State about when they would publish the McCarrick report. “Oh, si. Presto. Subito.

Then the walls shook.

…I, for one, object to our bishops going to Rome solely to fan-girl the pope. I think we deserve more serious shepherds than this.

The Edifice of Lies + Pope Gaslights Again

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

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

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

To reply to Mr. Lawler:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the Rules Apparently Weren’t the Rules

Francis and Benedict

If you saw any news yesterday, you know that the pope issued new laws about reporting sexual abuse.

They include a procedure for accusations against bishops. Those go to the Archbishop. If someone accuses the Archbishop, you go to the neighboring bishop. Then the bishop who receives the accusation forwards it to the pope’s ambassador to the country, the ‘nuncio.’

Sounds simple enough. So simple, in fact, that we could be forgiven for thinking: Wasn’t that already the law?

And it sounds not only simple, but also familiar. It’s what happened in the case of Theodore McCarrick, over twenty years ago. McCarrick sat as an Archbishop. At least two of his suffering sex-abuse victims told neighboring bishops. The bishops told the nuncio.

 

That’s right. Nothing.

McCarrick became a Cardinal. Bishops arranged secret settlements with his hurting victims. In 2008, after all the bishops in his former dioceses, and all the high-ranking Cardinals and popes in the Vatican, all knew about McCarrick’s abuses, McCarrick not only continued to carry on as if nothing had happened, he actually preached at the Beatification of a saint.

Pope Francis’ new law also establishes that exploiting your authority in the Church in order to get sex counts as a crime, even if the victim is over 18. And the new law establishes that covering-up for such crimes also counts as a crime.

Again, my beloved, I think we could be forgiven for thinking: Wasn’t all that a crime already? Doesn’t every God-fearing person on the face of the earth know that exploiting your clerical authority to get sex offends God, and the victim—offends them so grievously, that you must be punished for it? Wouldn’t any churchman of sound mind know that, without anyone having to spell it out in a papal motu proprio?

el-grecost-paulToday at Holy Mass we read in the Acts of the Apostles about how evil St. Paul was–before he became good, by God’s gracious mercy. St. Paul never made any secret of the evil he had done. And he never let himself off the hook, simply because he didn’t know any better, when he viciously persecuted the Church. No—he knew perfectly well that he should have known better.

I’m sorry to have to say this, and I’m sorry to have to hammer it out with you, dear reader, ad nauseum—but if I don’t write about it, I will lose my mind.

Pope Francis has done the opposite of accountability. He and his predecessor both broke the very rules he laid out yesterday, in the case of Theodore McCarrick. Now, instead of holding himself accountable, the pope pretends that no one knew the difference between right and wrong before May 9, 2019.

This is the exact same thing that the American bishops (including McCarrick himself, of course) did in 2002. They made rules that any reasonable person would have thought were the rules all along—rules which the bishops themselves had broken for decades. What they didn’t do, and still have never done, is hold themselves accountable for having done great wrong themselves.

They pretended that the rules weren’t the rules when they broke them. Now the pope has done the same thing.

…St. Paul, honest sinner and protector of the Church of Rome, pray for us!

Pope Francis a Heretic?

Aidan Nichols OP.jpg
Father Nichols, OP

A quarter century ago, I read Fr. Aidan Nichols’ A Grammar of Consent. It helped me enormously.

From the preface:

Contact with the living past, in all its latent powers of spiritual fruitfulness, is the best cure for intellectual myopia… The ‘pre-Vatican II Church,’ when all is said and done, includes the apostles.

Now Father Nichols, along with other scholars, have accused Pope Francis of heresy.

Some say: “You cannot accuse the infallible pope, the Vicar of Christ, of heresy. ‘Heretical pope’ is an oxymoron.” But you can accuse a pope of heresy. Not everything a pope says enjoys divine protection from error. Pope Francis has never invoked the charism of infallibility. He could be a heretic.

Some say: “You can accuse a pope of heresy, but no one can judge the case.” But they can. The bishops of the Church could conceivably convict a pope of heresy. Under certain circumstances–like “one of the worst crises in the Church’s history”–the bishops might have a duty to do so.

Problem here is: Father Nichols and Co. do not offer evidence clear enough to convict Pope Francis of heresy. You can’t find someone guilty of heresy without clear statements that lack any possible orthodox interpretation. You always have to give a priest or teacher the benefit of the doubt. Namely, that they mean what they say in an orthodox sense, if such a sense exists.

Meanwhile, our weird, wily pope has never really taught anything clearly enough to get convicted of either heresy or orthodoxy.

Father Nichols and Co. do, however, make two points which add to the huge body of evidence. Not of the pope’s heresy, but of his dangerous incompetence as a teacher and shepherd of souls.

1. As I myself tried to point out, when I summed up the Amoris Laetitia controversy back at the end of 2016, the pope and his partisans do not understand the distinction between matters of law and matters of conscience, when it comes to people in invalid marriages.

In chapter eight of his Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes that the Church has prohibited invalidly married people from receiving Holy Communion because She presumes that they are not in a state of grace. And the pope insists that this long-standing presumption has to change (para. 301).

marriage_sacramentBut the prohibition against invalidly married people receiving Holy Communion does not spring from a presumption about anyone’s state of grace. The Church does not judge anyone’s state of grace, even in confession. Because even a person’s own conscience cannot make a certain judgment about that.

I can know that my conscience does not now accuse me of any un-confessed mortal sins. Which leads me to hope that I am in a state of grace. Since I trust in God’s mercy and love, and in His will that I be saved. But I cannot know for sure whether or not I am in a state of grace. So certainly no one else can know for sure whether or not I am in a state of grace. The Church does not make rules about such uncertain things.

It is perfectly possible that some people in invalid marriages actually are in the state of grace, with quiet consciences. Annulment tribunals can and do make mistakes. Regrettable. But no one can presume to judge his or her own case. So without a decree from a competent judge establishing the contrary, everyone must presume that his or her first marriage vows still bind.

Therefore: there will always be people who have to choose between trying to live as brother and sister with a civil-marriage spouse, or making a spiritual communion at Mass, instead of a sacramental one. None of this touches on whether or not the person in question is in a state of grace. The governing principle simply is: The marriage laws of the Church are just, and they must be obeyed. Disobeying them is a sin.

pope francis donald wuerl

Amoris Laetitia chapter VIII makes a complete mess of this. Why? For an ulterior motive? Does the pope intend to suggest that marriage is temporary? Or that no couple could ever successfully live as brother and sister, for the sake of receiving Communion? Maybe the pope simply does not believe in chastity?

Maybe. Maybe not. Only God knows.

2. A couple months ago, Pope Francis signed a declaration with an imam. The declaration claimed, among other things, that God has willed a diversity of religions.

Now, it seems to me that perhaps a priest or a pope could say such a thing, if everyone understood that he did not mean that God willed all other religions in the same way that He wills the true religion, the religion of Christ.

God willed to make human beings inherently religious. Before the preaching of the Gospel, mankind’s inherent religious tendency produced all the pagan religions. And God also appealed to the ancient Israelites’ inherent tendency toward religion in His direct dealings with them, to prepare the way for the Messiah.

But when asked about this, the pope explained himself altogether differently. He said he meant ‘God’s permissive will.’

Now, what does God’s permissive will mean? It is a venerable theological concept. To understand it, we have to start with this: God wills one thing fully, infinitely: Himself. Everything else, He wills with respect to His absolute willing of Himself.

He positively wills everything good. All good things conform to His own infinite beauty. He also positively wills certain things that are evil from our perspective, but which are fundamentally good. Like punishments for those who deserve them.

But God wills moral evil—the sins of fallen angels and human beings—only permissively. When we do good, God does good in us. But when we do evil by our own choice, God does not do evil in us. He does the good of giving us freedom, and He permits us to do the evil of sinning. He permits it only because a greater good will come of it. A greater good pertaining to His infinite, perfect beauty. Either He will move us to repent, which shows the beauty of His mercy. Or we won’t repent, and He will punish us with His beautiful justice, in hell.

So: For the pope to say that he meant “God’s permissive will” when he signed the document with the imam–ie., that God merely permits the sin of Islam: That totally betrays the whole purpose of the document in the first place. He signed it to build goodwill with Muslims. Then he turns around and explains himself by saying that God wills the diversity of religions in the same way that He “wills” sin.

Hard to make this up. Not a competent shepherd.

Father Nichols and Co. do not prove their case for a heresy conviction. But the pope has shown himself incompetent to govern the Church. That’s the reality we have lived with for some time now.

We march on, loving the Church, loving the papacy, and loving the episcopal office, too. But not lying to ourselves. Not drinking the Kool-Aid about how the current incumbents actually know what they are doing. They do not.

The McCarrick Report

Just put a letter to Archbishop Gregory into the mail…

St Matthews Cathedral

Your Excellency,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t walk in as another liar.

 

Yours in Christ, Father Mark White