This is the will of God: Your sanctification. (I Thessalonians 4:3)
God wills our holiness. Our salvation. Our union with Him.
In the unfolding of this unimaginably kind divine will, God became man in the womb of the Virgin. She freely submitted to God’s will, to become God’s human mother. Her free submission echoed the free submission of the eternal Son, Who, becoming man, declared to His Father: ‘Behold, I come to the earth to do Your will.’ He said it again thirty-three years later. ‘Father, let this chalice of suffering pass from me! But not my will, but yours, be done.’
We had a parish-cluster discussion yesterday afternoon about Pope Francis’ ministry. We had various opinions among ourselves on a number of subjects. But we all agreed about the challenge we face:
One the one hand, we know that our membership in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church includes loyalty to St. Peter’s successor. There is no other sure way to belong to Christ’s Church, the family of faith founded on God’s incarnation in the Blessed Mother’s womb.
But on the other hand: From outside the Church, people see this very institutional loyalty of ours as morally unsound. How can you continue to associate yourselves with such a corrupt institution?
We cannot dismiss this question as anti-Catholic bigotry. To the contrary, human decency and genuine honesty motivate the question. Our institutional loyalty to the Church looks dishonest and indecent to non-Catholics, and we have no solid argument to offer them in rebuttal. Our only arguments involve appeals to realities of faith, which we cannot reasonably expect non-Catholics to accept.
We have to live here. We have to face this challenge. We will not blindly deny that the house is on fire, and that no competent firemen have yet arrived at the scene–at least as far as we can tell.
But we also will not abandon our faith in the unfathomably kind divine will, which Mary fulfilled on this holy day. And which Jesus fulfilled. And which is, simply: Our salvation.
We come to Him to find salvation, to find God. Jesus saves the human race; we know no other way. The human race comes to Jesus, gathers around Him, follows Him, unites herself with Him—and thereby finds peace, true religion, and eternal happiness.
That’s the Church. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of the Christ of God.
Six years ago today, the white smoke floated on the Roman evening air, the bells rang out, the eyes of the world gazed at the loggia. Our local tv station came here to St. Joseph’s in Martinsville for comment. Bob Humkey happily talked to the camera.
The joy of the election of a new pope. Six years ago today, it filled the Catholic world. The sense of promise. The comforting continuity. Holy Church renewing Herself again. Habemus papam. Gaudium magnum. Great joy.
I don’t think any of us could have imagined how profoundly compromised that joy would become, six years later. The innocent exhuberance—I remember feeling it even when I was a boy, in October 1978. Then again, as a new priest, in April 2005. Then again six years ago today. Simple, happy confidence in this institution.
Not naivete; we know popes aren’t perfect. We know they are flawed men, like everyone else. The institution isn’t perfect. But when we heard ‘habemus papam’—the vitality, the capacity to start fresh, the fundamental soundness and permanence of the Church: we rightly reveled in it, as our new father in God stepped out to greet us and bless us.
Now? All that seems a million miles away, like a sweet dream that we had. And we have woken up to attorneys general, Royal Commissions of inquiry, and Saturday Night Live legitimately suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church is a crime syndicate.
The familiar loggia on the front of St. Peter’s Basilica: four centuries old. In the century before it was built, many earnest Christians lost confidence altogether in the papacy. They had their reasons. The beginning of… Protestantism.
We have our reasons, too. Martin Luther’s nemesis Pope Leo X reveled in processions with elephants through the streets of Rome. And the doctrine of indulgences was an utter mess. But, as far as we know, Pope Leo did not have two Cardinals publicly convicted of sexually abusing minors.
In other words, we Christians of the early 21st century hardly have less reason to lose faith in the Roman Catholic hierarchy than the Christians of the early sixteenth century did. We would seem to have a great deal more reason.
But it also seems to me that we have to dig deeper. There is something greater here, something greater than the current incumbents of the episcopal thrones. This is the Church of Jesus Christ.
I have a little plan to steal away for a few days in September and make a personal pilgrimage to the cathedral in Trent, Italy–to pray for myself, and all of you, and Pope Francis, and the whole Church.
Everyone know what happened there, five centuries ago? A miracle of doctrinal precision and clarity, to answer Protestant objections. And a miracle of new resolve and spiritual discipline in the Catholic clergy.
On our pope’s sixth anniversary, the gaudium magnum of the St. Peter’s loggia eludes us altogether. But the Lord will not fail us. He will not fail His Church, built on Peter.
We are the hollow men We are the stuffed men Leaning together Headpiece filled with straw. Alas! Our dried voices, when We whisper together Are quiet and meaningless As wind in dry grass or rats’ feet over broken glass
(from T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”)
If I could have entered the Vatican building, I would have asked:
How could His Holiness have done it?
After he knew about McCarrick making his seminarians put on sailor suits and give him nighttime back rubs? After the pope knew that McCarrick made them masturbate him and forced them to submit to his masturbating them?
Knowing all this, the pope let McCarrick (among other things) concelebrate the Archdiocese of Washington jubilarian Mass last year. McCarrick celebrated his 60th jubilee. The then-Cardinal spoke and received a standing ovation from all the bishops and priests.
May 2, 2018.
At that point, Pope Francis had known about the sailor suits, the back rubs, and the forced mutual masturbations for at least four years and ten months.
What does the consecrated celibacy of priests, nuns, and monks mean? Our renunciation of something so lovely as the marital embrace?
One thing it means is this: On the other side of death, a more wonderful embrace awaits us. The divine embrace (please God we get there) will make even the holy joy of matrimony seem like small, passing potatoes by comparison.
Consecrated celibacy in the Church focuses us all–all Christians, young and old–on: the great hope we look for in the life to come.
When our young ladies and gents live through their period of temporary celibacy with this hope as the basic reality of life, then they can make a genuinely free choice about marriage.
The pope’s meeting in Rome these past four days completely missed the true meaning of what happened last July and August. When James Grein finally felt free to tell the world the truth about Theodore McCarrick, Jesus Christ won a great victory. When the still-living victims in Pennsylvania had the opportunity to stand tall, in the full light of day, and denounce as dreadfully wrong what had happened to them, Christ won.
The cruelest part of sexual abuse is: The abuser confuses the victim’s conscience.
My conscience is saying: Wait a minute. Something terribly wrong here.
Meanwhile, the abuser acts authoritatively as if: This is normal. This is how people do. This is what sex is.
What happened last July and August: In these particular cases, conscience finally won. The truth finally won. No, this is not what sex is like. We know what sex is meant to be from Jesus in heaven. He fulfills everything at the wedding banquet of the Lamb. We start to know what sex is really like by: believing that God loves me enough to make me happy forever, whether I marry or not.
I get to choose. To live a life of holy celibacy until I die. Or marry. My choice. God alone owns by body. And He has entrusted it 100% to me, to give to a spouse if I so choose.
Theodore McCarrick does not own my body. Or Father George Koharchik of Altoona-Johnstown. Or Father Gale Leifeld of the Capuchins. Or Father John Joseph Munley of the Diocese of Richmond. If I have to walk out alone into the a strange street to get away, I will–God will protect me.
The abusers had stitched together little secret shadow worlds, in which sexual slavery was normal. Last July and August, Mr. James Grein, Mr. Shaun Doughtery, Mr. Peter Isely, and many others, stepped out of those worlds, into the sunlight of Gospel truth. Christ won.
“The Catholic Scandal” = when pope and bishops don’t see the victory in situations like this. When the pope or the bishop does not celebrate with the liberated captive, and then turn around and punch the abuser squarely in the face.
“The Catholic Scandal” has never meant: O me! A priest committed sexual abuse! O my! Most adults recognize soberly that priests can and do commit sexual abuse. Sure, it makes sense to try to prevent it. Makes sense to do criminal background checks. Makes sense to train everyone to keep on the lookout for warning signs. But we cannot outsmart the devil.
The Catholic Scandal = when the institution that carries the secret of genuine sexual freedom in Her holy bosom does not react to the revelation of sexual abuse like Herself. The scandal is when higher-up shepherds (bishops, pope) do not react like fathers.
Fathers rejoice when they learn that a child has escaped slavery and lived to tell the tale. Then they go after the slaver with a baseball bat. The Scandal = bishops and pope hemming and hawing, shifting and mumbling, then sidling away.
Points of ecclesiastical procedure remain squarely on the table.
Is “grooming” for abuse itself an actionable crime in the Church? What must a diocesan bishop do when the civil authorities cannot, or will not, do anything? When will the Roman tribunals…
a. resolve the large backlog of abuse cases?
b. make their proceedings intelligible to the victims and to the public?
c. establish a means for trying, and punishing, not just bishops who abuse, but also bishops who have failed to react to abuse cases with the Church’s loving zeal for chastity, sexual integrity, and freedom?
The pope’s meeting addressed none of these questions. Instead: “aprogram very carefully stage-managed to keep the most troubling questions at a distance from the Vatican itself” (as Robert Royal put it).
This Roman meeting was no holy gathering of the successors of the apostles at the tomb of St. Peter. No. They didn’t even manage to use one of the Vatican’s many consecrated places to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy. They had Mass in a reception hall.
This meeting = the attempted construction of a little abusive shadow-world of its own.
Here’s what I mean. A true father does not rely on his children’s approval. Rather, when bad things happen, he deals with the bad things as best he can, according to his best lights. And his children get to lean on him.
In our Church right now, the whole thing goes the other way. We don’t have real fathers right now. Instead, the pope and his minions desperately seek approval. From somewhere. They put on shows to try to manipulate us into congratulating them for “doing the right thing.”
Everything they said in Rome these past four days has been said many times before. Over and over and over again. In 2002, Pope John Paul II said: We face the mystery of evil here. This morning Pope Francis said: We face the mystery of evil here.
In 2002 they said: Bishops’ conferences will get a grip on this problem. This morning they said: Bishops’ conferences will get a grip on this problem.
People who know me know that I am fundamentally an easy-going dude. I was happily doing my little thing, trying to give halfway-decent pastoral care to my lovable cluster-parish flock, until this latest chapter in our Catholic life together began last June 20.
I used to tell a lot more jokes in my sermons. But I have to get deadly serious right now.
I despise everyone involved in the pope’s Roman meeting. I despise them all.
In my book, the only respectable place to stand was outside. Outside the manipulative little show. Out in the Roman sunshine–where the victims’ groups stood.
Everyone inside; everyone in the Synod Hall; all the journalists with credentials in the briefing room; the whole distorted communication apparatus, that can’t see what a colossal, manipulative charade the whole thing was: I despise.
What’s the answer to the question that no one had the courage to ask? Namely: Why, when Pope Francis first learned about the way that McCarrick had abused his seminarians–why did the Pope not immediately act? Why didn’t he do anything to try to save our faith from the corrosion it has suffered these past eight months? Why did he learn about the sailor suits, the back rubs, and the mutual masturbations–and then just hang loose with it, until forces beyond his control made him change course?
What’s the most-reasonable answer? Using Ockham’s razor, to remove all superfluous abstractions, and try to get to the simplest explanation?
Jorge Bergoglio is a McCarrick himself. Either a McCarrick manqué (never did, but wanted to) or a full-blown McCarrick. A despicable McCarrick.
Papal infallibility. The Lord gave St. Peter and his successors the authority to settle disputes definitively, including disputes about the most-sacred things.
Not long ago, I had a conversation with a thoroughly charming Episcopal priest. He prefers to celebrate the Holy Eucharist facing the same direction as the people, what we call ad orientem. He also gladly celebrates same-sex weddings.
In June of 2015, the US Supreme Court found that a man has the right to marry another man, and a woman the right to marry another woman. This put the US in harmony with the supreme legal tribunals of most western-European countries.
The following fall, the Synod of Bishops, meeting in Rome, quoted a Vatican document from 2003: “homosexual unions are in no way analogous to marriage.” Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation the following spring. He did not say anything on his own authority as Successor of St. Peter on this subject. He simply quoted the Synod Fathers’ quote.
In other words, the Successor of St. Peter has not spoken on the subject of gay marriage since 2003. I think we can safely say: in the ensuing sixteen years, the extent of the dispute has increased exponentially. Pope John Paul II intervened on the subject rather quietly, albeit directly. In 2003, few Catholics imagined that such a thing as same-sex “marriage” would ever really enter mainstream thinking in the Church. But now it’s something that a Catholic priest and an Episcopal priest discuss casually over a beer.
In fact, we know well that huge segments of the Catholic population in the western world do not understand why same-sex marriage is impossible. Nor do most people understand the harms done by maintaining the fiction of “same-sex marriage.”
Isn’t this a situation that cries out for the intervention of the Successor of St. Peter? To settle this dispute among Christians by calmly recognizing all the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, including acknowledging the genuinely Christian basis in them–and then explaining why none of those arguments actually touch the principle according to which same-sex marriage is impossible? To explain that we love all people; that we stand on the side of people dealing with same-sex attraction; but that the sacredness of Holy Matrimony partakes of the divine fruitfulness, whereas the mutual masturbation of two men or two women falls beneath the dignity of a human being.
Seems like the world desperately needs the Successor of St. Peter to speak about this, with love and clarity.
But we have to face a hugely disorienting fact. Leaving to the side the question of whether or not Pope Francis would want to help us in this way, the fact is: He couldn’t, even if he wanted to. He does not have the requisite personal credibility to settle this dispute. Neither side of the argument would recognize him as someone who could speak with integrity on this.
May God help us. We pray at the altar today for deliverance from tempests, since we stand on the rock of St. Peter’s declaration of faith. We trust in Providence; we believe in the divine design. May the Successor of St. Peter always do the right thing. Even if maybe the right thing for him to do rhymes with ‘design.’
The Christian mystery must be taken literally, with the greatest possible realism, because it has a value for every time and place. –Pope St. John Paul II, Divini Amoris Scientia
Your humble servant had the privilege of attending the Roman Consistory of February 21, 2001. Pope John Paul II created Jorge Bergoglio, Theodore McCarrick, and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor Cardinals, along with 43 other prelates and theologians, including the well-known Walter Kasper.
During the ceremony, candidates for Cardinal solemnly profess their faith before the pope. They use the same formula that I had just used myself a few weeks before, in the seminary rector’s office, since I was to be ordained in a matter of months.
The solemn Profession of Faith taken by Cardinals (and potential deacons and priests) goes like this:
“I, [name], firmly believe… 1. The Nicene Creed 2. “Everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in tradition, which the Church sets forth for belief.”
So, we in the Square heard, on February 21, 2001:
I, Theodore, firmly believe…everything contained in the Word of God.
Also: I, Jorge… I, Cormac… I, Walter…
I did not, on that day, credit the rumors then circulating that McCarrick had a past as a homosexual predator of seminarians. I thought his conservative enemies spread those rumors. That’s the explanation for the rumors that McCarrick himself gave us.
But: I did doubt the man’s full sincerity in saying that he firmly believed everything contained in the Word of God. I doubted Walter Kasper’s sincerity there, too.
I doubted Kasper based on the evidence of his own theological opinions. I had read his book Jesus the Christ. He there suggests that the Lord Jesus did not know everything.
An intricate theological dispute could emerge here, but I will save that for another day. Suffice it to say I had some reason in doubting Kasper’s complete honesty in his Solemn Profession of Faith on February 21, 2001.
In those days, I don’t think any reasonable observer of the situation at the Catholic University of America could have failed to recognize:
On the one hand, The Catechism of the Catholic Church invokes the historical authority of Sacred Scripture in one way. For instance: The Catechism assumes the accuracy of the four gospels regarding historical details. And assumes that an ancient flood did, in fact, occur. And that Abraham was a real person. Etc.
On the other hand, the professors at CUA taught something else. Like: we need exegetical theories about the underlying sources of the books of the Bible–in order to separate fact from myth.
This unacknowledged discrepancy caught us seminarians in a vise. And it seemed to me that our entire future as preachers hung in the balance. If we could not assume that everything we read out loud at Mass from the Word of God is simply true, then what kind of homilies could we give?
Of course this doesn’t mean that historical study isn’t necessary. Human beings did, in fact, write the Bible. God intends to convey the meaning that the human authors intended to convey. But no one comes to church to listen to the priest explain to them the ways in which the Bible isn’t true.
I don’t mean to make myself a martyr, dear reader. But the fact is: ten months after JP II created McCarrick a Cardinal, I got kicked out of the seminary. For refusing to say that the Flood didn’t happen.
For the next eighteen months, the Archbishop was happy to let me dangle, living in rectory attics, hoping I would walk away. Even though I had already promised God I would serve Him for life as a deacon, and then a priest.
Eventually, McCarrick ordained me. For that I am grateful. But the truth is he had no choice–since he had already ordained me a deacon, and I had committed no crime. And the pastors I lived and worked with begged him to ordain me.
The fact is, as far as I could tell, McCarrick did not care at all about the facts surrounding my expulsion from the seminary. He never ‘spoke one word’ to me about it. As far as I know, he never asked the seminary rector, “Did Mark break one or more of your rules?” The Archbishop knew perfectly well that I had not broken any rules. I just refused to accept the idea that preaching could find a foundation in the historical-critical method.
It began to dawn on me, even then, dear reader: These mafiosi who run this institution do not care about facts. They operate only on the level of slogans. They please ‘the masses’ with saccharine abstractions, calculated to avoid all controversy. Since we sheep have a religious obligation to give these men the benefit of the doubt, we accept their empty sloganeering; we even give it a charitable interpretation. The damage that such empty sloganeering does to the integrity of people’s faith–well, we ignore it. That is: Until the summer of 2018.
McCarrick had a favorite slogan for us seminarians and young priests. He would conjure the image of JP II visiting Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark. “He walked right down the middle of the aisle, so he could reach out and touch the people on both sides,” McCarrick said over and over. “We have to be like that. Down the middle.”
I would think to myself: What does he mean? Down the middle of what? Both sides of what?
So: My doubts about McCarrick’s sincerity in the Profession of Faith in St. Peter’s Square in February 2001–they had some foundation. Little did I know then how much foundation they in fact had.
…What about the two other Cardinals I mentioned when I began? One of them went on to become pope. Jorge Bergoglio. Pope Francis.
Recently Mr. Steve Skojec of onepeterfive.com wrote the essay that I was on the verge of writing. Skojec accuses Pope Francis of “gaslighting.”
Now, this psychological term enjoys a certain vogue right now. But that doesn’t mean it ain’t real. The best definition I have come across for “gaslighting” is the movie, The Girl on the Train. (Watch at your own risk; it’s rough.)
Anyway: Is it true? Is Pope Francis gaslighting the Catholic people? Trying to trick us into thinking of him as an honest and loving spiritual father–when in fact he is altogether otherwise?
To try and answer this question as impartially as possible, I plowed through two books simultaneously. The Dictator Pope by Henry Sire, under the pen-name Marcantonio Colonna. And The Great Reformer by Austin Ivereigh.
The Dictator Pope is basically this: An illuminating arrangement of facts gleaned from the conservative Catholic press these last five years, supplemented with some additional anonymous-source information. Sire organizes the facts masterfully, to paint a convincing picture of the man.
The man who rose to the Chair of Peter through the avowed machinations of what is widely known as the “St. Gallen Mafia”–a caucus of liberal western-European prelates who spent their careers waiting for John Paul II to die. (Walter Kasper among them.)
The Dictator Pope reviews the entire controversy of the Family Synods and Amoris Laetitia, which we have covered in detail here on this little weblog. Sire tells the heartbreaking story of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in Italy, an order of primitive Franciscan observance and pure faith–which Pope Francis apparently destroyed. Sire even brings Archbishop Carlo Viganò into the story–way before Viganò issued his McCarrick testimony–by recounting the failed reform of the finances of the Holy See.
Judge Burke, who tirelessly served the U.S. Bishops during the last sex-abuse scandal in 2002, objected to a directive from the American superior of the Knights and Ladies of Malta. To this effect: Stay out of the current controversy.
Judge Burke resigned over this. She intends to “continue to speak out about the need to investigate the underlying causes and conduct by the hierarchy in our church that permitted these crimes to continue.”
Back to the The Dictator Pope. Sire explains Pope Francis like this: You will never understand him if you think of him as a priest. He cannot be understood as someone who fundamentally sees himself as a humble steward of divine mysteries. Rather, Sire contends, the pope is a “Peronist”–an opportunistic politician, intent on pleasing the audience in front of him at the moment. In other words, a professional sloganeer.
Which brings us to the other book.
Austin Ivereigh, author of The Great Reformer, served briefly as Cormac Card. Muphy-O’Connor’s public-relations assistant. (As I mentioned earlier, St. JP II created Murphy-O’Connor a Cardinal alongside Bergoglio and McCarrick, in February 2001.)
Anyway, Ivereigh has written a more substantial book than Sire. Ivereigh recounts fascinating facts of Argentine history. I loved reading this biography, which includes a full history of the Jesuit Reductions (immortalized in the movie The Mission). I loved reading it–until I got bored with the subject. Namely, Jorge Bergoglio.
Don’t think of him as a priest. So insists Henry Sire.
Ivereigh’s book brough back a flood of memories. From my Jesuit days.
I fell in love with the Society of Jesus in 1992, served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, teaching at a Jesuit school for inner-city boys, then entered the novitiate, did the thirty-day silent retreat, lived with Jesuits in Mexico for two months, spent the summer at Forham in the Bronx…
Then, in 1996, I left. Because I wanted to be a priest.
Sounds strange, because Jesuits are priests. But, for those of Bergoglio’s generation, the priesthood only got in the way. The priesthood, as someone put it so well, involves serving primarily as a kind of beast of burden. Say your Mass. Hear confessions. Baptize the babies. Bury the dead. Try to give a good homily–but, above all, keep it short.
There’s nothing theoretical about any of these priestly duties. Forgive me for putting it this way, but it serves the purpose: There’s nothing theoretical about conjugal relations between husband and wife. Such things occur in a given place, at a given time. Same thing for the Catholic priesthood. Show up and do your duty. This aspect of priestly life Jesuits find altogether inconvenient. It gets in the way of the realization of their grand theories of things.
Back to Ivereigh’s hagiography–er, biography. Eventually it becomes impossible to take Ivereigh seriously. He lauds Jorge Bergoglio as the spiritual equal of St. Ignatius Loyola and the oratorical equal of Abraham Lincoln. Ivereigh calls Bergoglio’s speech during the General Congregation of Cardinals prior to the Conclave of 2013 “a second Gettysburg address.” Please.
What made the book grow so boring I had to give up on it? The Argentinian politics which Ivereigh narrates so meticulously ultimately became a battle of sloganeers. On the one side: President Nestor Kirchner. On the other side: the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio.
Ivereigh knows a lot of Argentine history. He does not appear to know a lot of theology. But one theological slogan interests him. Namely, “episcopal collegiality.”
Ivereigh convicts John Paul II of grave sins against episcopal collegiality. According to Ivereigh (and the members of the St. Gallen Mafia), the late sainted pope “centralized” the government of the Church, to a fault. Vatican II had intended to restore authority to the local church. But JP II stood in the way.
Perhaps there’s actually something to this, in areas other than sexual morality. And the Sacred Liturgy.
But “episcopal ollegiality” serves as the “states’ rights” slogan for the pro-gay, pro-divorce Church crowd. In this way:
Dr. Martin Luther King enlightened America about the fallacy of the ‘states rights’ argument (which by then was 140 years old). Dr. King taught America: We will never have quiet consciences as long as racism prevails. Instead, we will try to cover over our consciences with dishonest slogans. The dishonest slogan of Southern American racism is: States’ Rights! But the fact is that no state has a right to make racism legal; it can’t be made legal. Not really, anyway. Because institutionalized racism (not to mention chattel slavery) will always disturb people of conscience.
Same thing goes for homosexuality, divorce, fornication, artificial contraception, etc. Ecclesiastical liberals cry: Collegiality! Authority belongs the local church! Rome needs to loosen the grip of her heavy hand! (So insisted the St. Gallen Mafia. And so insists Pope Francis.)
But these cries against “Roman centralization” ascend to heaven in vain. John Paul II didn’t make artificial contraception and homosexuality immoral. God made it immoral. Local authority cannot contravene laws that bind every human conscience.
Even our current sloganizing, gaslighting pope can’t silence the inner voice of truth that troubles people’s consciences. And Pope Francis’ attempts to do so–especially his false mercy to Theodore Edgar McCarrick–have disturbed my conscience. Mightily.
As you may know, dear reader, our Holy Father meets in Synod this month with representative bishops from around the world.
The meeting occurs behind closed doors. As the “Information Secretary” Father Antonio Spadaro put it: “The fathers must know that what they say will remain in the hall.”
But here at Achilles and His Gold, we want to know more. So we trained an intrepid mouse named Xavier Rynne to carry a portable recording device under the Synod dais.
We reviewed the recordings so far, and we found that most of the speeches involved petty infighting, meaningless apologies, lame abstractions, and indecipherable nonsense.
But we have faithfully transcribed the intervention of Stephen Card. Fermoyle, from the diocese of Columbia Pictures…
Your Holiness, Eminences, brother bishops: The Catholic people of the world have a religious duty to give us the benefit of the doubt. Yet we have still managed to make it impossible for them to do so.
They prefer to think about us prelates as little as possible. Who can blame them?
Our people would love us if we simply did one thing. Send them trustworthy priests. No sexual predators.
A simple enough task for us to manage. Yet we have screwed it up royally.
Here we find ourselves, in this magnificent echo chamber, giving four-minute speeches to each other. Meanwhile, civil authorities execute raids on many of our offices. The Church universal careens toward an international legal and diplomatic crisis. The Holy See faces the all-but-inevitable prospect of a confrontation with other sovereign states regarding the secrecy of our clergy records.
What are we doing here? Don’t we all have an obvious duty to resign?
Pope St. John Paul II taught: It is a doctrine of faith that the authority of the Supreme Pontiff derives directly from Christ, of whom he is Vicar on earth. No Catholic can doubt this. The pope serves at the pleasure of… God.
Every 20th-century pope, starting with Pius XI, considered resigning in their waning years. None did.
Pope John Paul II decided not to resign because:
He feared creating a dangerous precedent for his successors, as one of them might be exposed to subtle maneuvers and pressures by those who wish to depose him.
[the quote comes from Julian Card. Herranz’s account of a conversation with JP II’s confidante Stanislaw Dziwisz]
…Then the first 21st-century pope, Pope Benedict XVI, taught us to think differently.
Many of us felt deeply betrayed by Benedict’s abdication in 2013. He had concluded that he no longer had the competence to fulfill the office. I disagreed with him on that. I thought: You’re competent to occupy St. Peter’s chair as the prayerful old man that you are. You don’t need to fly on airplanes. You don’t need to celebrate Holy Mass in huge stadiums. Just stay home, keep the faith, and pray.
But Benedict thought differently. He put a new concept on the table: A pope should assess his competence to hold the office.
Is it wrong to suggest to the Holy Father a good criterion of self-assessment? Namely:
Can my people trust me to ensure that the victims of sexual abuse get a hearing? And receive justice as promptly as possible?
From the More-Evidence-that-the-Answer-to-this-Question-is-No file…
Archbishop Carlo Viganò and I now have something in common (other than being white Catholic priests with glasses). Both of us now have received letters from our ecclesiastical superiors, trying to make us feel guilty for proposing that Pope Francis should resign (because of his evident hypocrisy and incompetence in handling cases of sexual abuse.)
[Click HERE to read the letter I received. Click HERE to read the letter Archbishop Viganò received yesterday.]
Three points about Marc Card. Ouellet’s open letter to Archbishop Viganò…
I. The Cardinal’s letter includes a significant error regarding recent facts.
Ouellet writes that Pope Francis “divested [McCarrick] from the dignity of a Cardinal when a credible accusation of the abuse of a minor became evident.”
In fact: On June 20, the Archdioceses of New York and Washington announced that a credible allegation had been made, at some point prior to that date.
Then, on July 19 another allegation appeared in the New York Times.
Then McCarrick apparently resigned from the College of Cardinals. On July 28, the Vatican announced that the pope had “accepted McCarrick resignation from Cardinal.”
An honest lapse of memory on Ouellet’s part? Changing an acceptance of a resignation after a second shoe dropped a month later into: An immediate divesting of the dignity of Cardinal.
An honest lapse? No. Looks much more like a self-serving, convenient lie.
II. Card. Ouellet confirms Viganò’s earlier assertion that McCarrick had been disciplined long before this past summer. Ouellet writes: “The former Cardinal, who had retired in May 2006, had been strongly advised not to travel and not to appear in public.”
Ouellet also confirms that he informed Viganò about this, when Viganò began his tenure in Washington in 2011.
Ouellet then engages in a magnificent subterfuge, a subtle prevarication worthy of the Church-mafia.
On the one hand, Ouellet confirms what Viganò courageously made known to the world. Namely that the Holy See knew. Seminarians had accused McCarrick of sexually abusing them. Because of this, someone in the Vatican ordered McCarrick not to appear in public or travel.
Then Ouellet turns around and asserts: “At that time, unlike today, there was not sufficient proof of [McCarrick’s] guilt.”
i. If there was not sufficient proof of his guilt at the time, then how could anyone justify ordering him not to appear in public or travel? We’re not talking about a period of weeks, or even months. Seven years.
For seven years, a Cardinal of the Roman Church was under orders not to appear in public or travel. But his guilt was in question? He might have been innocent of abusing seminarians?
No. Either the Holy See did McCarrick a grave injustice. Or there really was no honest doubt about his guilt. Which brings us to…
ii. If there really were genuine doubts about McCarrick’s having abused the authority of his office to satisfy his sexual perversity, then why did the dioceses in New Jersey pay out cash settlements to his victims?
Thanks to Archbishop Viganò (and Richard Sipe before him) the world knows something about these settlements. We know some of the facts about what McCarrick did. Strange, manipulative, craven sexual abuse of subordinates who would have risked their futures saying No.
If he had not done these things, then McCarrick, and the dioceses involved, could have fought the allegations openly. Indeed, if he did not do these things, then he–and the Holy See, and the dioceses involved–owe us all a vigorous, public defense of McCarrick’s innocence right now.
But, in fact, among those who knew the details, there has been no real doubt that McCarrick preyed on subordinates. There has been no genuine doubt about it for well over ten years now.
So: Cardinal Ouellet actually writes the script of The Scandal without even realizing it.
The Scandal is: The authorities who govern the Church cannot be bothered to adjudicate cases of sexual abuse. They have no interest in the truth. They only care about covering things up. So as to perpetuate the myth that they know what they’re doing.
Ouellet tells the tale of exactly how this cover-up by half-measures happened in McCarrick’s case. Over the course of the past fourteen years. In the Holy and Apostolic See of Rome.
…But we still haven’t gotten to the most genuinely jaw-dropping thing that Ouellet writes.
III. Ouellet acknowledges the perfect plausibility of Viganò’s insistence that he informed Pope Francis about McCarrick on June 23, 2013.
This was the essential point of Viganò’s testimony; it was the crucial fact. As of June 23, 2013, Pope Francis knew that Theodore McCarrick had preyed sexually on subordinates. And yet McCarrick continued to minister publicly and travel extensively, representing holy Mother Church as a Cardinal. All in flagrant violation of any meaningful kind of zero-tolerance policy.
The only person who could have disciplined McCarrick for his crimes: Pope Francis. For five years, the pope did nothing.
Ouellet denies none of these facts. Rather, Ouellet writes to Viganò about that day–June 23, 2013:
I imagine the enormous quantity of verbal and written information that [Pope Francis] would have gathered on that occasion about many persons and situations. I strongly doubt that McCarrick was of interest to him to the point that you believed him to be, since at the moment [McCarrick] was an 82-year-old Archbishop Emeritus who had been without an appointment for seven years.
Please, Nellie. Whoa. Stop, horses.
Your Eminence, can you really be saying this? A sitting pope, hearing from a sitting Apostolic Nuncio to the US that an American Cardinal is a known sexual predator who has ruined multiple lives–
You, Eminence, are saying to us, your people, that we cannot possibly expect the pope to focus on that disclosure? To focus on it enough to do anything about it sometime within the ensuing five years?
What kind of sick joke are you mafiosi trying to pull over on us Christians? Your Eminence, you have condemned yourself out of your own mouth. Twice.
Your Holiness, your Eminences of Rome: You are steering our ship, the Barque of Peter, into an iceberg.
Donald Cardinal Wuerl, to Tom Fitzgerald of Fox 5, August 15:
“How we dealt with things in the late 80’s/early 90’s is different from the way we would today.”
Mr. Fitzgerald reacted with earnest disbelief. “What could possibly ‘evolve’ about child sexual abuse?!”
Three weeks later, Cardinal Wuerl realized he had no future as the Archbishop of Washington.
Pope Francis gave a press conference on the papal plane yesterday. The National Catholic Reporter (an avowedly liberal publication) notes:
“Journalists aboard the flight from Estonia had planned to ask Francis again about Viganò’s claims [that Pope Francis knew about McCarrick’s abuses since 2013], but were unable to after the pope suspended taking questions outside the scope of the trip.”
The pope did, however, say this:
“I take the Pennsylvania report, for example, and we see that the first 70 years there were so many priests that fell into this corruption, then in more recent times it has diminished, because the Church noticed that it needed to fight it in another way. In the old times these things were covered up, they even covered them up at home, when the uncle was molesting the niece, when the dad was molesting his sons, they covered it up because it was a very big disgrace… it was the way of thinking in previous times or of the past time. It is a principle that helps me to interpret history a lot.
“A historic event is interpreted with the hermeneutic of the time period in which it took place, not as a hermeneutic of today passed on. For example, the example of indigenous people, that there were so many injustices, so much brutality, but it cannot be interpreted with the hermeneutic of today [now] that we have another conscience. A last example, the death penalty. The Vatican, when it was a State, a pontifical State, had the death penalty. In the end the state decapitations were 1870 more or less, a guy, but then the moral conscience grew, it is true that always there were loopholes and there were hidden death sentences. You are old, you are an inconvenience, I do not give you the medicine, it went so… it is a condemnation to social death. And about today… I believe with this I have responded.”
We regret that…
a. The reader finds it hard to make any sense out of this.
b. Morals are historically relative? So slavery was okay before, but not now? Where did the early abolitionists get their ideas? Were they wrong, since, at that time, slavery was okay? Was abortion wrong before, then it became okay, and someday it will be not-okay again?
c. To quote Tom Fitzgerald: “What could possibly ‘evolve’ when it comes to child sexual abuse?!”
d. I think the Viewers at Home watching the Cardinal-Wuerl interview of August 15 wound up believing: this man is not honest. Yesterday Pope Francis punched a ticket on the same train.
On the one hand, the unity of the apostolic Church consists of the allegiance of every baptized person to the successor of St. Peter.
On the other hand, human decency demands: Whenever someone in authority exploits someone vulnerable, that crime must be brought to light and punished justly, to the satisfaction of the victim.
These look like the Twin Towers of September 11, 2018, for any Catholic not living as a hermit.
On the one hand, many good Catholics rightly observe that calling the pope a bad pope can hardly do any good. He is the only pope we have. It’s not for us to judge his badness or goodness; that judgment belongs to God alone. We all have our own personal spiritual and moral lives to work on. We fail in humility, and we damage the unity of the Church, when we do not give our prelates the benefit of the doubt.
On the other hand, many good Catholics, not to mention the non-Catholics paying attention, hear what Pope Francis has said–and not said–these past few weeks, and they stop short. They reasonably conclude: This man intends to use his untouchable status as the one and only pope to trick his audience. Trick us into doubting our incandescent outrage over a fact that stands undisputed, and painfully in front of our faces. Namely: someone pulled the curtain back to show us the inner-workings of our hierarchy, and we see a pile of stinking garbage.
Who can honestly abandon either fidelity to the successor of St. Peter or Christian solidarity with the victims of abuse?
Will these Twin Towers come crashing down in a colossal mess of lethally toxic debris?
I say No. I say: Jesus Christ. The heavenly Father. The grace of the sacraments. Faith, hope, and charity. St. Augustine. St. Francis. St. Thomas. St. John Vianney. St. Therese. The Catechism. The People of God. Parish churches all over the world with saints on their knees at this very moment.
I say: Your Holiness, I’m not going anywhere. I wish that you would. And I will keep wishing it until you own up to every bit of the truth that you haven’t owned up to yet, and then admit that it’s too much to expect us to continue to believe in your leadership.
But I’m not going anywhere. Maybe this is like taking a knee, a la Colin Kaepernick. But not during the national anthem at a football game. Rather during the prayer for the pope during the canon of the Mass.
Not that I will literally take a knee at that point, since the rubrics call for taking a knee at other particular times.
And I do pray for the pope with love, and pray that he will do the right thing, acknowledging that I certainly do not have a lock on knowing what that right thing is. But seems to me: Replace all the Cardinals by randomly selecting from among the world’s parish priests, then step down.
I don’t have the hair to be Colin Kaepernick. And I’m not as talented or good-looking. I’m just trying to be Catholic right now. Without making myself sick to my stomach when I think about the difference between what this past summer could have been, and what it actually has been.
2. And there’s more. During the press conference, Pope Francis spoke at length about a highly celebrated court case in Spain, the “Caso Romanones.”
A young man had written to him–Pope Francis–in 2014, accusing a group of priests of sexual abuse.
At the press conference Sunday, the Holy Father narrated the subsequent series of events from what struck me as a strange point-of-view. His account includes clear factual inaccuracies. As Pope Francis told the story, the priests had suffered a terrible calumny, which the press had exacerbated. But, in the end, the priests got vindicated in court. And the whole thing goes to show you that sometimes sex-abuse allegations against priests aren’t true.*
The accuser is known as “Daniel.” What had happened is that the prosecutor dropped the charges at the eleventh hour of the case. Apparently because the criminal case required proving WARNING anal penetration. Which Daniel’s testimony had not established.
Also, the other priests Daniel accused had never even faced trial, because of the statute of limitations.
Earlier this month, after he learned that the pope had apologized to the priests, Daniel wrote a letter pointing out that the canonical case against these priests should not be closed. “The civil court has not reached the conclusion that sexual abuse did not occur.”
Now, I do not claim to understand the Caso Romanones completely. Daniel has a lawyer, and that lawyer may be a charlatan, for all I know. I read Spanish ok, and I have perused a lot of news articles. I think I know as much about this case as any English-language journalist–based on the internet searches I have done. But I can hardly claim to know that the priests are actually guilty.
What I can say is this: The civil court did not determine that abuses, for which the priests should be held to account, did not happen at all. Daniel appears to have given somewhat incoherent testimony. On the other hand, forensic experts had studied the witnesses at the trial, and they had concluded that Daniel is a lot more believable than the priest. For that reason, there waswidespread surprise when the prosecution dropped the case at the eleventh hour.
It is a fact that the Supreme Court of Spain declared in its judgment (after the accused priests were re-instated to ministry by the Pope and Archbishop of Granada) that the lower court had not judged Daniel’s testimony to be false.
* In my limited personal experience, sex abuse allegations leveled by non-homosexual men against other men are almost always true.