NATO and the War in Ukraine

Sarotte Not One Inch NATO

Our Holy Father said recently that “NATO has barked at Russia’s door” and “perhaps facilitated” Russia’s “reacting badly and unleashing the conflict in Ukraine.”

The Wall Street Journal took stern exception to this statement, in a staff editorial. The WSJ editors write:

Since the invasion, Francis has called for an end to the war and criticized the violence, but he hasn’t directly called out Russia for starting the conflict. Now that he finally speaks, he blames NATO for accepting members that want to avoid being invaded by Russia. What a terrible moral signal to send to dictators.

Let’s consider this argument, with the help of a book I just finished, Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate, by M.E. Sarotte. Continue reading “NATO and the War in Ukraine”

Book Update

resurrectionThe Lord Jesus Christ conquered death and gave us divine love. He entrusted His doctrine and His saving mysteries to His Apostles.

The Apostles’ successors in office–the pope and bishops, with priests as their co-workers: they govern the Church. They teach and sanctify in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church.

To deny this is to deny a truth about the Christian religion. It would make you a heretic or schismatic, to deny it.

At the same time, though: Among the men in collars, there have been many criminals. Criminals who have gravely harmed innocent people. And among the men in miters: Also quite a few genuine criminals.

One criminal who wore a miter is Theodore McCarrick. This year he may very well finally plead guilty–or be condemned as guilty–in a civil criminal court, and be sent to jail.

As we covered in March, another criminal bishop is Gustavo Zanchetta. He languishes in an Argentine prison now.

pope francis mccarrick

McCarrick and Zanchetta have this in common: Pope Francis abused his ecclesiastical authority to cover up their crimes. In McCarrick’s case, the cover-up succeeded for many years, and it involved Popes Benedict XVI and John Paull II, as well. In Zanchetta’s case, the cover-up lasted for a few years of the Francis papacy.

In both cases, the cover-ups ended because of the courage of laypeople. Both cover-ups would still be in full swing, if the whole thing had been left up to the pope.

Having the authority of an Apostle–even having the authority of St. Peter–does not give a man the right to silence someone who is trying to tell the truth about criminal acts.

Francis and Zanchetta

The cover-uppers in the hierarchy tell themselves that they must silence such truth-tellers, in order to preserve the good name of the Church. But this is a self-serving lie.

What the bullies are trying to protect is actually just their own personal reputations. The cover-ups involve not real churchmanship, but pure worldliness–worldliness masquerading as zeal for Christ.

Christ crucified shows Himself in the victims of the crimes. The cover-up machine of the mitered bullies serves only to obscure Him from view. But the bullies nonetheless will stop at nothing, so that they can retain their sinecures.

McCarrick ordination

My book Ordained by a Predator explains all this, with the necessary concrete evidence.

I wrote the first draft in August of 2020, and I submitted the final text to the publisher in August of 2021. The first edition will become available from St. Michael’s Media in August of this year.

The publisher sent me the final typeset draft recently, so that I could prepare an index, as well as find a couple prominent people to endorse the book. I am honored that two clerical sex-abuse survivors, and leaders of the community, have agreed to do so.

A lot has happened with me since I wrote the book, so Book #2 is very much in the works. But the situation in the Church has hardly changed since August 2020.

So I believe Ordained by a Predator will offer something that the world still does not have, even four years after the notorious Summer of Shame, 2018.

Namely: A thorough account of the ordeal that McCarrick’s victims have faced, in their dealings with the Vatican cover-up machine. This includes, also, the bullying that I myself have endured.

May it please God, let’s get together in person when the book becomes available. We will work on organizing gatherings in various parts of Virginia, across the USA, and maybe even abroad as well.

More to come on this.

Seminarians Suffer, and the Pope Does Not Care

When you come to the seminary to seek God’s will, you do not expect…

1. that the bishop will develop a lustful crush on you, and

2. give you love-bird type gifts, like cologne, and

3. ask you about your sexual history and penis size, and then

4. sneak up behind you in the seminary kitchen, grab your crotch, kiss you on the neck, and thrust his pelvis into your buttocks,

and then, for years, repeatedly

5. demand, under “obedience,” with threats of expulsion, that you massage his, neck, back, and buttocks, while he groans in sexual pleasure, as you grudgingly submit, and then

6. you wake up in your dormitory bed with him sitting next to you, his hand on your upper thigh.

When you think the Lord might be calling you to the priesthood, you have to go to seminary, because the alternative would be a life estranged from your Maker.

When you go to seminary, you have to please the bishop, because he alone–a successor of the Holy Apostles of Christ–can make you a priest.

Dear reader, do you know that the earth is littered with wounded men who tried to follow a vocation from God, but ran into an insecure, power-mad, sexually abusive predator with authority under the seminary roof?

Many of my dearest friends belong to this suffering class of men.

pope francis mccarrick
September 23, 2015

Theodore McCarrick left his trail of broken lives. My book, Ordained By a Predator, will soon see print. It attempts to document McCarrick’s spiritual war crimes. I present my work to the great International Criminal Court in heaven, where justice always prevails.

But my book hardly scratches the surface of McCarrick’s crimes against humanity. Yes, a great deal of documentation has become available these past four years. But most of McCarrick’s collateral damage remains hidden, because the powers-that-be in the Church continue to keep most of McCarrick’s secrets.

Ordained By a Predator also tries to document the crimes of McCarrick’s crony Michael Bransfield.

Again, the mitered mafia did everything possible to bury all the evidence. But, as long-time readers here remember, a brave soul on the inside leaked a secret report in the spring of 2019, and the Washington Post published the whole thing in December of that year.

Because of the courageous leaker–and also a Bransfield victim who spoke out–we learned the truth about how the bishop of West Virginia destroyed priestly vocations by endless drunken abuses of power, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. (Not to mention sexual abuse of minors, of which Bransfield is likely guilty, though it has never been adequately investigated.)

We sadly know that the ecclesiastical system as it now exists does not have a mechanism to deal with this problem. Pope Francis seems not to understand the problem. Or, rather, perhaps he understands it all too well.

The six-step ordeal that I outlined above: At least a dozen seminarians in northern Argentina suffered it, between 2013 and 2017, at the hands of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta.

As we mentioned earlier this month, Pope Francis has known Zanchetta for years. The pope heard numerous complaints about Zanchetta, from Catholics whose faith Zanchetta had gravely wounded. But the pope protected his old friend.

McCarrick, Bransfield, Zanchetta: similar m.o.’s. But here’s the difference, which we will explore in some detail today:

McCarrick and Bransfield have suffered nominal ecclesiastical discipline, with most of their secrets kept.

Zanchetta has never been censured by the Church in any way. But an Argentine court has now thrown him in jail. And the court has produced thorough documentation of the case.

Zanchetta verdict
Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, hearing the verdict in his case, in a courtroom in Salta, Argentina

The Spanish-speaking public can read the document published by the court at the conclusion of the criminal case. Gustavo Zanchetta convicted of sexual abuse.

Argentine law defines the crime in article 119 of the Criminal Code. Sexual abuse = violating the sexual integrity of anyone under 13, or anyone who cannot freely consent to sexual contact, as a result of a relationship of authority and/or dependence. If the crime is committed by a minister of religion, that aggravates it and calls for a stiffer sentence.

In their legal analysis of the case, the three-judge panel outlines carefully how the crime of sexual abuse is understood in Argentine law. (See pages 88-91 of the court doc.)

The “legal good” protected by the law is: personal sexual integrity. That is, free sexual self-determination as a person. As the judges explain it, Argentine law requires everyone to respect the dignity of other persons, which includes the freedom to accept, or to reject, sexual contact. To treat a person as a thing, used for sexual gratification without free consent, is a crime.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchNow, it so happens that the judges’ explanation of Argentine law echoes the definition of chastity found in the Catechism (para. 2337).

The judges go on, in their explanation of the law as it applies in the Zanchetta case:

Groping, unchaste embraces, kisses with sexual significance, touching under duress, or compelling the victim to touch–these all violate the law, when the victim cannot consent, owing either to surprise, or to the relationship of authority. Or in this case, both of those.

I’m no lawyer, of course. But it seems to me that Argentine law reflects our Catholic understanding of sexual integrity more comprehensively than our U.S. law does.

Maybe some states have laws like the Argentine law; I don’t know. But I’m afraid that the former seminarians who denounced Zanchetta to the Argentine D.A. would not have gotten anywhere with a criminal prosecution in the U.S. They would have had to hire their own lawyer and undertake a civil case, and Zanchetta would not have faced the prospect of imprisonment.

In addition to the legal reasoning, the Argentine court document contains the testimony of 35 witnesses. Plus Zanchetta’s defense.

The two former seminarians who went to the police in early 2019 offered consistent and coherent testimony.

Their accusations against Zanchetta were corroborated by the eyewitness testimony of eleven other seminarians. Four additional seminarians didn’t see the abuse, but heard it about it from eye-witnesses at the time.

The accusations were further corroborated by the office employee who found gay pornography and naked selfies on Zanchetta’s phone in 2015, as well as by this man’s co-worker, and by Zanchetta’s chauffeur.

Zanchetta had tried to pressure the employees not to testify. On the stand, the chauffeur said this:

Bishop Zanchetta behaved as if he were God… I have worked for the Church for twenty years. I understand the authority structure. But it’s not blind obedience. Sometimes you cannot obey.

Francis and Zanchetta

As we noted before, Pope Francis–while he was still Cardinal Bergoglio–received documentary evidence of Father Zanchetta’s dishonesty, back in 2011.

In 2013, Argentine Catholics spiritually wounded by Zanchetta begged the new Pope Francis not to elevate such a dangerous man to the rank of bishop. And in 2015, Francis received, via hand-delivery by a Cardinal, a thumb drive with the gay porn and naked selfies inadvertently found on Zanchetta’s phone by the office employee.

Zanchetta, however, continued to abuse seminarians with impunity for two more years. He regularly told his victims that he was an untouchable “friend of the pope.” He told the seminarians that he had “talked with the pope about them.” He said, when returning from Rome, that “he had been in the pope’s bed.”

(Apparently Zanchetta used this last expression figuratively, to indicate great closeness, rather than literally. The seminarians took it that way–that is, figuratively.)

The priest in charge of the seminary had become aware of Zanchetta’s crimes and sought relief through ecclesiastical channels. There were also apparently serious financial irregularities–like with Bransfield and McCarrick. None of Zanchetta’s misuses of money have ever been fully disclosed (like with Bransfield and McCarrick). But there is a pending Argentine court case about the money.

Zanchetta suddenly resigned from office in mid-2017, “for health reasons.” Pope Francis transferred him to a position in the Vatican.

In the spring of 2019, the pope gave a long interview that I have cited here before. In that interview, Pope Francis defended how he had handled the Zanchetta affair. He said that Zanchetta had a strong answer to the charges against him. But he conceded that a Vatican trial was needed, and the wheels of justice were turning, and people just needed to be more patient.

More patient? The pope gave that interview three years ago.

In the meantime, Zanchetta stepped away from his Vatican position because of the investigation into his conduct, then returned to his position. The Vatican never censured Zanchetta in any way. Nothing about his Vatican trial has ever been made public–that is, made public by the Vatican itself.

In his defense before the Argentine court, as the court document outlines, Zanchetta maintained that the charges against him all stemmed from a plot, concocted by his enemies among the priests of the diocese. They disagreed with his decisions as bishop, so they conspired to destroy him.

“The accusers have not spoken on their own,” Zanchetta insisted. “There is something behind them.”

Zanchetta accused his ‘enemies’ among the clergy of violating their solemn promise of obedience.

He then added, regarding the charge that he had entered seminarians’ bedrooms without permission, “The bedrooms of seminarians are like the bedrooms of the children in the parents’ house.”

[That’s the sound of steam coming out of my ears, dear reader.]

Zanchetta also told the court:

In the canonical investigation, it became clear that the charges of sexual abuse against me were induced by the angry priests.

Now, regarding this canonical investigation…

1. As noted above, Pope Francis said it was underway three years ago. The following year, Zanchetta’s canon lawyer told a reporter that the process was “almost over.”

2. The Argentine court repeatedly asked for the Vatican’s findings. The judges in Argentina did not want to begin hearing witnesses until they had the Vatican documents, so they waited.

After almost two years of waiting, they finally gave up and started the trial without anything from the Vatican. Then, while the hearings were underway, a portion of the Vatican Zanchetta dossier arrived.

3. The pages that came contained canonical testimony given by seminarians and former seminarians in the aftermath of Zanchetta’s 2017 resignation.

(One of the seminarians who corroborated the accusers in the Argentine court case was actually one of the accusers in the canonical case.)

The Argentine judges found that the seminarian testimony in the Vatican dossier lined up with the testimony they heard in court, so they counted the Vatican pages as an additional proof of guilt.

The Argentine judges rejected Zanchetta’s defense. In their document, the judges point out the numerous implausibilities implied in the defense theory.

Why would former seminarians, who now have no connection with the Church, perjure themselves as part of some intra-Church feud? And how could so many perjuries cohere so well in painting a clear picture of Zanchetta’s sexual abuses?

Also, if the man really needed so many neck and back massages for health reasons, why didn’t he go to a masseur? Or a doctor?

Zanchetta maintained in his defense that the victims waited too long to go to the police. But the judges point out in their analysis: hadn’t the seminarians tried to communicate up the chain of command in the Church, but to no avail? Hadn’t they given testimony in a canonical process, only to see their testimony covered up by the Vatican?

As we noted at the time, the court found Zanchetta guilty and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison. This happened on March 4.

The incumbent bishop of Orán (Zanchetta’s successor) released a lame ‘apology’ to the victims, full of euphemisms. The Argentine Bishops’ Conference did, too.

From the Vatican: total silence.

The day after the verdict, Zanchetta’s canon lawyer, who had been sent to Orán by the Vatican, gave a press conference. He insisted that there was in fact a plot against Zanchetta, and the bishop is innocent.

So it seems like there is only one way to interpret the total Vatican silence of the past three weeks :

The canonical trial exonerated Bishop Zanchetta. He was found not guilty. (According to canonical rules, that would mean that there would be no further public reference to the case.)

But now the Argentine court has produced a thorough written record demonstrating the man’s guilt, with both overwhelming evidence and careful legal reasoning–itself based on Catholic principles. The soundness of the Argentine court’s work shows clearly how unsound the Vatican’s pretense of justice has been in this case.

Granted, this last part is purely speculation on my part. But if the Vatican had found Zanchetta guilty of anything, we would know. If the canonical trial were still underway, we would know.

No. They exonerated him. A predator guilty of ruining at least a dozen priestly vocations. And guilty of alienating God-only-knows-how-many Catholics from the Church.

Pope Francis mate.jpg

Why has Pope Francis never visited his homeland?

For five centuries, we had Italian popes. When they stepped out onto the St. Peter’s loggia, they were already in their homeland.

Then we had a Polish pope. He went home, to a hero’s welcome, during the first year of his papacy.

Then we had a German pope. He went home, also to a hero’s welcome, within four months of his election.

Now we have an Argentine pope. After nine years, he has not visited Argentina, and has no plans to do so. (He has visited Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru.)

When a law firm investigated Pope Benedict’s record in dealing with sexual abuse in his homeland, they found significant ethical lapses and cover-ups.

What, O God, would a team of investigators find in Argentina? Are there enough thumb drives in the world to hold it all?

Two Argentine Friends

Zanchetta verdict
Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, hearing the verdict in his case, in a courtroom in Salta, Argentina

On February 22, 2001, Pope John Paul II created thirty-seven new Cardinals, including Theodore McCarrick and the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio.

Later that year, Bergoglio ordained his fellow Buenos-Aires native Andres Stanovnik a bishop.

In November of 2005, Cardinal Bergoglio became the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Argentina. He went on to serve in that position for six years.

During that time, then-Cardinal Bergoglio worked closely with Father Gustavo Zanchetta.

The young Father Zanchetta had studied in Rome, then returned home to Argentina around the same time that Bergoglio became a Cardinal. Zuchetta took up a chancery job in his home diocese (just south of Buenos Aires) and simultaneously served as a top staffer at the Bishops’ Conference office.

In 2011, Cardinal Bergoglio received an envelope with documents that incriminated Zanchetta. An employee of Zanchetta’s home diocese had sent them. They showed that Zanchetta is a dishonest opportunist who used his authority as a diocesan official to raid Catholic schools for money, which he used to win powerful friends for himself.

Bergoglio did nothing about this.

Pope Francis waving

In March of 2013, the Sistine-chapel conclave elected Bergoglio the new bishop of Rome.

In short order, the new pope named his old friend Zanchetta a bishop, bypassing the usual process of consultation with the Vatican embassy in Argentina.

The diocesan employee who had sent the envelope in 2011 wrote an open letter to the pope, with dozens of co-signers, begging him to reconsider.

Dear Pope Francis, …To those of us who have suffered from Zanchetta’s abuse of power, his ordination as a bishop would cause enormous pain…

Jorge Bergoglio once again ignored this man’s pleas. Stanovnik ordained Zanchetta to the episcopate, and Zanchetta became the Bishop of Orán, in northern Argentina, hundreds of miles away from his home diocese. Zanchetta immediately founded a seminary there.

Why? Why have a seminary? To help idealistic young men become priests?

No. Actually: In order to abuse the seminarians sexually. Zanchetta regularly crept up behind seminarians and grabbed them by the crotch. He would sneak through the halls late at night, with a flashlight, and enter seminarians’ rooms, and sit next to them in bed, with a bottle of hooch in hand.

If one of Zanchetta’s favorite good-looking boys tried to leave the seminary, he would pursue him and play dirty tricks on him to get him to return. In one case, he went so far as to contact an ex-seminarian’s girlfriend to tell her that the young man would be returning to the seminary (which he had no intention of doing.)

Zanchetta ruined lives. He destroyed the vocations of eager young Catholic men who were trying to dedicate themselves to the Lord and His Church. Meanwhile, the bishop’s clerical underlings threatened anyone who tried to blow the whistle.

Francis and Zanchetta

In September 2015, Zanchetta made his fatal “mistake.” He handed his phone to a diocesan employee. The bishop had pics from a couple of events that he wanted uploaded to the diocesan facebook page.

The employee downloaded the bishop’s photo gallery to a thumb drive and returned the phone. But when the employee began to go through the images, he discovered pornographic photos of the bishop and young men.

[None of the information I am collecting here is secret, at this point. It has all been published in El Tribuno, the local newspaper of the Salta Province of northern Argentina. They put together this helpful graphic of what happened next:]

El Tribuno graphic Feb 2019

The employee handed over the thumb drive to diocesan officials. It eventually made it’s way to Pope Francis, in October 2015.

The pope decided to handle the case personally. He called his old friend. They came to an agreement that Zanchetta’s “enemies” had hacked his phone. The compromising photos were not genuine; they were “trucadas”–falsified by computer tricks.

The two Argentine friends apparently hoped that their conversation would mark the end of the episode. Zanchetta had made an embarrassing mistake: he had handed his phone to a man who apparently believes in God. But now all that could blow over, they thought.

I guess they didn’t count on the fact that there were others in Orán who also believe in God. In May of 2017, three priests of the diocese went to the Vatican ambassador in Argentina to report the sexual abuse that was happening at the seminary. The priests disclosed that there were probably a dozen victims. (These brave priests were then punished by Zanchetta’s cronies for going to the nuncio.)

A couple months later, Zanchetta abruptly announced to the Catholics of Orán that he would have to leave the diocese for the sake of his health. He went to stay briefly with Stanovnik. Then he flew to Europe.

In August of that year (2017), the Vatican announced that Zanchetta, aged 53, had resigned as Bishop of Orán “for health reasons.” Very soon after that, however, a new announcement: Zuchetta will serve as a Vatican official, in the finance office, and he will live in the pope’s residence.

Again: the two old friends apparently thought they had managed to get the ugly business behind them. But, also, again: there were others in Orán who believe in a just God.

Zanchetta survivors Marcio Torina and Kevin Matias, as well as others who remain anonymous, found the courage to go to a reporter, and then to the police. They told the full story of what Zanchetta had done to them while they were in the seminary.

In the province of Salta, Argentina, sexual abuse of an adult is a crime punishable by imprisonment. If the abuser is a religious minister, that adds an aggravating factor.

The prosecutors lined up witnesses and put together their case. They sought documents from Rome–in vain. The prosecutors asked the Vatican to remand Zanchetta to Argentina, to undergo questioning. No response for over a year.

On February 21, however (two weeks ago), Zanchetta finally appeared in court in Argentina, to stand trial.

The various witnesses took the stand, and yesterday the judges found Zanchetta guilty and sentenced him to four years, six months in prison.

Let me repeat that. Again, I am not making this up. All this information is available on the El Tribuno website. Let me repeat:

Yesterday, an old friend of the pope’s; one of the first bishops he appointed; a Vatican official; a housemate of the pope’s: convicted of sexual abuse and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.

Pope Francis has known for well over a decade that Gustavo Zanchetta is a dangerous narcissist. The pope has known for five and a-half years that the man is a sex abuser.

Yet the Holy Father did not do justice for the criminal’s victims, and he did not practice “transparency.” Instead, Bergoglio spirited Zanchetta away to Rome, and into a Vatican sinecure, and into the papal residence.

But the pope’s old friend will not return to the residence. He will remain in Argentina. In prison.

Much more to come on this.

Indianapolis Talk

Heading to Indy to give a talk on Saturday, sponsored by Corpus Christi for Unity and Peace. Thank you, dear Vicki Yamasaki, for inviting me.

Here’s the text, if you’re interested. I believe the talk will be recorded and made available on YouTube.


The Scandal in the Church

Everyone familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

Near the beginning of the book, the Catechism explains the “Stages of Revelation,” the moments in history when God has “come to meet man,” to “reveal His plan of loving kindness.”

The Catechism highlights the covenants between God and man that occurred between the creation of heaven and earth and the coming of Christ. Anyone know what those two covenants are?

1. The covenant with Noah, after the flood, and 2. the covenant with Abraham, the forefather of the Israelites.

Pretty important to our Christian faith, these dealings between God and Noah, and between God and Abraham. We read about it all in the book of… Correct, Genesis.

It would certainly seem to pertain to our Catholic faith that we believe that these things really happened, right? Not that we reject the science of geology or paleontology. But we need a way to understand the Holy Scriptures as fundamentally accurate regarding these ancient covenants. Right? After all, they prepared the way for the coming of Christ.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchIt seems crazy to some people, but we Christians have the idea that you can read the Bible and learn things, things that make life mean something.

Not that our faith in the Word of God gives us the answer to every question; the Bible doesn’t claim to answer every question. But we know that we cannot understand the meaning of life, without being able to read the Holy Scriptures. And believe what we read.

Now, you may be wondering: Why the heck is this man talking about this? I mean, it sounds great, but.. Why talk about the early chapters of Genesis right now?

One reason I am here is to tell you my story. I thought it might be good to start with December 2001, just over twenty-one years ago, a couple months after 9/11. As Christmas break approached that year, I had managed to pass my comprehensive seminary exams, and I had one semester left before ordination to the priesthood. But then the rector of the seminary told me that I was not welcome back after Christmas. Continue reading “Indianapolis Talk”

The Fire in Paris

cathedrale fermee
April 2019 screenshot from

In April 2019, we all looked to Paris, France, with sorrowful eyes. You don’t have to be a Disney musical fan to care about the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I had nightmares for a week, of burning wooden beams falling from soaring Gothic arches, crushed altars, and darkness in the church.

hunchback notre dameThe fire occurred on Monday of Holy Week. The then-Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, celebrated Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter at the nearby downtown-Paris churches of St. Sulpice and St. Eustache. I remember tuning-in, to the Paris Archdiocese’s YouTube channel, to watch the archbishop’s sermons. I found myself comforted by his evident faith. He communicated an impressive sense of resolve.

To be perfectly honest: I had spent time in a few sacristies in France, on a trip when I was a seminarian–and they were highly unpleasant experiences for a straight man to undergo.

So in April 2019, when the world turned its eyes to Paris, I was amazed that the French church had managed to produce such a strong leader as Aupetit. Here was someone who could give the Christian world a real sense of hope, in the immediate aftermath of the Notre-Dame fire. It seemed like a miracle.

Turns out that I was far from alone in my esteem of Archbishop Aupetit.

Over the course of the past few weeks, Parisian Catholics, as well as others all over the world, have had occasion to express their appreciation of Archbishop Aupetit’s preaching. I have studied a great number of French-Catholic on-line comment boxes lately. Those comment boxes are full of remembrances of Aupetit’s good sermons.

But wait. Why now? Why are Catholics weeping for Aupetit right now? Because the Holy Father has rather suddenly, and rather inexplicably, removed Archbishop Aupetit from his post.

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

The general idea is: it has to do with a woman.

Last week, a French reporter asked Pope Francis to explain why he had removed Archbishop Aupetit. The pope spoke of Aupetit’s “violations of the sixth commandment.” But “not total.” He gave “small caresses and massages to the secretary.” And this, supposedly, led to gossip. So much gossip that Aupetit could no longer govern the diocese.

Problem here is: The Vatican press office later removed the words “the secretary” from the official transcript of the papal press conference. The pope had referred to rampant “gossip.” But no one in Paris had ever heard anything about Aupetit having an affair with his secretary. In fact, the general public had never heard anything at all about the Archbishop giving “little caresses and massages” to anyone.

Shortly after Pope Francis gave his explanation–which only served to cause further gossip–a Paris magazine published pictures taken with a telephoto lens, under the heading “Archbishop of Paris, Lost for Love.”

The pictures show the now-removed bishop on a walk in a park with an attractive woman. In an article accompanying the photos, the venerable Vatican reporter Caroline Pigozzi reports that: “Aupetit lied to the pope.”

Problem here is: The photos show nothing compromising. To the contrary, we see two friends walking and talking. Also: The woman in these photos is not the woman the pope had mentioned. Rather, it is a Belgian theologian named Laetitia Calmeyn, known by Parisian Catholics as a dear friend and confidante of the former archbishop. Both Aupetit and Calmeyn have since given forthright interviews, lamenting the bad intentions of the magazine Paris Match.

Archbishop Aupetit denies ever having had an affair with anyone. He has made his denials calmly and with a great deal of lucidity. And no real evidence of any affair has ever appeared, despite Paris tabloids promising for weeks now to “reveal it all.”

The pope’s press-conference answer about why he removed the archbishop apparently refers to this:

Over nine years ago, then-Father Aupetit “mishandled” the attentions of a woman who had grown overly fond of him. Aupetit acknowledged in an interview this week that he once massaged the woman’s shoulders, apparently at her suggestion. Aupetit practiced medicine before he became a priest and asks the reader to keep that in mind.

Aupetit said in his interview that he hasn’t had anything to do with the woman in question since 2012, and that he reported the whole affair to the then-Cardinal Archbishop of Paris. A report of the episode has been in Aupetit’s Vatican file for the past 18 months (if not longer.)

Now, is Michel Aupetit one of the most adroit liars ever to don a clerical collar? He would have to be. Or: His removal from office actually does not have to do with any actual immoral relationship with anyone.

In fact, it has to do with this: A circle of French churchmen and wealthy lay-people have conspired for some time to get rid of their archbishop. They have not seen in him the qualities necessary to lead the French church. He lacks the right “theological culture.” He is too interested in spending his time preaching the Gospel.

The Vatican nuncio in France has long agreed with this sentiment. He has been working for months, if not years, on getting Aupetit removed from office.


Aupetit became Archbishop of Paris almost exactly four years ago, with a mandate to govern for 9-16 years, depending on his health. (He remains vigorous at 70.)

Since his installation in office, the Church in Paris has suffered: the Notre Dame fire, the coronavirus crisis, and the release of the comprehensive report on Catholic sex-abuse in France.

I think you could roll up the leadership virtues of Julius Caesar, Nelson Mandela, and Winston Churchill, all into one person, and make that masterful person the Archbishop of Paris, and even he would have had a hard time dealing with the challenges of 2019-2021.

There is an enormous irony here–as there usually is, when it comes to high-level ecclesiastical decision-making. Apparently, Aupetit’s enemies feared a disaster for the Church in Paris, under the government of Aupetit. They convinced the pope to go along with their plan.

And now they have managed to make a much-greater disaster than any other disaster that could conceivably have happened.

The whole thing seems all-too-terribly familiar to me.


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 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.”


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.