Three Years Later: What Happened to the “Independent Commission?”

Mr. James Grein

In November 2018, James Grein spoke at the Church Militant rally in Baltimore, outside the annual meeting of American Catholic bishops.

James’ courage moved me and inspired me. Theodore McCarrick had done everything possible to destroy James’ life. But James stood up and fought back.

Earlier that year, the Catholic world had learned:  McCarrick systematically abused seminarians and young priests under his authority. He did this over multiple decades. Scores of Church officials knew about it.

The big problem was: We Catholics are supposed to appeal to our bishop for justice, when someone violates our sacred rights. But who do you go to, when it’s the bishop himself violating those rights? Archbishop McCarrick’s victims had no one to whom they could appeal. (Except the Vatican, of course, which ignored them.)

Theodore McCarrick’s installation as Archbishop of Newark, NJ, 1986. (Photo by D.J. Zendler.)

So the hue and cry in the fall of 2018 centered around this concept: We need an authoritative body, made up mostly of lay people–an independent commission–to which Catholics can turn for justice, when the malefactor is the local bishop.

That fall, the winner of the Canon Law Association’s annual award gave a speech endorsing this idea. Our local bishop here supported the idea, in a pastoral letter.

The establishment of just such an independent commission–to investigate the wrongdoing of bishops–sat squarely on the agenda for the Baltimore meeting that fall. Many, if not most, of the bishops arrived at the Inner Harbor expecting to vote in favor of establishing the independent commission.

That is, until the item wasn’t on the agenda anymore. James Grein gave the world a glimpse of soaring courage in the November cold. Meanwhile, inside the adjacent hotel, the American bishops gasped when the then-president of the conference announced that the Vatican had insisted they not vote to establish the independent commission.

The rationale: A few months later, the pope would host bishops-conference presidents from all over the world in Rome, to discuss the sex-abuse scandal. So the American bishops should hold off, until after that meeting.

They did. No independent commission to investigate bad bishops got established. The Vatican meeting occurred the following February. That meeting gave rise to a document published by the pope the following May, providing some temporary rules for how to deal with sex-abuse. Those temporary rules themselves gave rise to some revisions to the Code of Canon Law, set to go into effect in a week.

Things came full circle earlier this month, at the 2021 US bishops’ meeting in Baltimore. A Vatican official explained the revision of Canon Law to the American bishops. Cases of abuse involving seminarians, and other vulnerable Catholics preyed upon by Church officials, are to be handled by…

The local bishop.

Quite a way to conclude the process of “addressing” the McCarrick crisis.

Fall 2018: American Catholics urge the bishops to establish an independent commission, which would stand ready to deal with the next McCarrick.

Fall 2021: A Vatican official explains to the American bishops that the person who will handle the next McCarrick will be the next McCarrick himself.

Problem (resoundingly not) solved.

A Tale of Two Super-Lame Videos

Thank you, America magazine and usccb, inc. for producing web videos to foster our mission.  I just wish they served the purpose.  Shouldn’t our New-Evangelization-elical videos mention Someone–namely Lord Jesus, our Savior and our God?

Jesus came to save sinners, and He gave us the sacraments so that we sinners can get to heaven.  For Holy Mass, we need bread and wine.  For Confession/Penance/Reconciliation, we need:  a Christian conversation between penitent and priest about morality.

That conversation cannot begin without the penitent asking him/herself:  Have I killed an innocent person, stolen something, lied, committed adultery, or fornicated?  We call those fundamental no-nos.  The Lord forgives when we confess, and blesses us sinners with grace.  So that we can go and sin no more.

Does it make us “mean” when we say this:  1. If you are married to one person, you can’t have sex with anyone else?  or 2. We love you as a gay person, but sodomy offends God?

Mean, maybe.  But honest.  And humble.  Because these are moral principles that we couldn’t change, even if we wanted to.

Everyone is welcome at Mass.  Welcome to commune with God in love and truth.  The truth that sodomy is wrong, or that no one can justly give him or herself an annulment–we can’t change these truths.

God made sex for making babies.  We didn’t create, male and female.  So we can’t say that God made sex for casual recreation, because He manifestly did not do that.

We believe in religious freedom for a reason:  Because the Church of Christ must proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, and everyone has the freedom to embrace the truth.

The spiritual dimension of man, our relationship with truth–a relationship that transcends our physical bodies–that, too, God made.  It can’t be removed.  No surgeon can perform a soul-ectomy.

Do we believe in religious freedom because it’s in our US Constitution?  If that were the case, then non-Americans would miss part of Catholicism.  But they don’t.  When St. Justin Martry died 1600 years before James Madison was born, the saint did not lack anything in his Catholic religion.

Our U.S. Constitution may very well qualify as a political document of unparalleled magnificence.  I don’t consider myself qualified to judge such matters.

But Christ’s Church does not live and die by political documents.  We live and die for the Gospel.  Our holy martyrs have taught us the truth about religious freedom.

Thomas Jefferson and Co. deserve their props, to be sure.  But we owe our first allegiance to Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude, Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and Co.

For us, “religious freedom” is not a political issue.  It means that we are willing to suffer and die, if necessary, rather than let go of Christ, His Word, His Church, and His sacraments.

Hard Fall, Hard Praying

The Lord has called us to be His disciples, to put out into the deep waters of this world, and fish for men.

Terrifying and bewildering as it may be for us to be summoned for duty by the good God Himself, we cannot say, ‘depart from me, Lord.’ Or, rather, we can say it—but He won’t do it.

So we must engage everything that comes our way as Christians, as servants of Christ. He guides our ship; He’s the captain. He will not take us out any further from shore than we can handle—even if, to us, it may seem like He has guided us out into the remote and uncharted expanses of the ocean.

mccarrickThis Sunday is our Lady’s birthday, which is when the wild ride of the fall flurry of activity usually begins. From all appearances, our nation, the United States, is in for a difficult, a taxing—potentially a very painful fall.

The fax machines and the internet connections at the US Bishops’ Conference have been running hot. We priests have orders to preach on immigration reform this Sunday. We are for immigration reform. The bishop who ordained me, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, published an inspiring short essay on Sunday in the Washington Post, outlining our Catholic vision for immigration reform. (More to come on that, in this Sunday’s sermon.)

But on Sunday we will also read the parable about the king preparing for war, and how he must prudently study the situation before marching to arms.

The Pope and the American Bishops have asked all of us faithful Catholics to pray for peace in Syria. We are against a US military strike. We pray that it will not occur. I will lead a rosary for peace on Saturday. Maybe all of us could recite the rosary at 5:30 pm, no matter where we are-—and we will all be united spiritually—and with our Holy Father, too, who will pray in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday evening for peace in Syria.

Like I said, I think this weekend is just the beginning of the hard praying we will need to do this fall–for our nation, for our leaders. From where I am sitting, I see a perfect storm brewing over Washington.

(May it please God that my spiritual meteorology is wrong here. May it please Him that the fall of 2013 doesn’t wind up feeling like the fall of 2001 and the fall of 1963, all rolled into one. But I am afraid that this fall will wind up feeling like that.)

Let’s pray: May the Holy Spirit of wisdom and truth enlighten and guide all those who hold reins of power.

…The good news is: The Beast is back in town! (Kinda.)

Michael Morse Orioles 2

Michael Morse Orioles

Can’t Shout Hosanna about Hosanna-Tabor

I respectfully disagree with Bishop Lori when he hails this Supreme Court decision as a victory.

A church school asked an employee to resign because of her ill health. She refused and threatened to sue. The church school fired her. She sued.

We march on Washington every January to assert this principle: The government/the state/the civil power bears the burden of protecting the innocent from grave injustice.

People are free to do many things. No one, however, has the freedom to kill an unborn baby. This must be prohibited by law.

Likewise, no one has the freedom to fire an employee arbitrarily and unfairly. Laws prohibit this, because justice prohibits this.

(I beg you, dear reader: If you know more about this than I do, which is enormously likely, please correct my mistakes here.)

Now, did Hosanna-Tabor School unfairly fire Cheryl Perich? We do not know. Perhaps they did; perhaps not. Her firing may, in fact, have been fair. In justice, both parties enjoy the right to argue their side of the case before an impartial judge.

But in this particular case, such an argument will never occur. The Supreme Court has found that the government cannot intervene in this dispute. Why? The First-Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion prohibits the government from doing so.

I disagree profoundly with this reasoning.

Are churches as liable to human failings–including injustice in employee relations–as any other institution of sinners? Yes. No reasonable Christian could or would disagree.

Governments, too, are so liable. Governments may begin to get the idea that they should run the church(es). Hence, the invention of the “ministerial exemption” by which churches are protected from lawsuits. The official ministers of any church serve at the pleasure of the church and the church alone, according to this provision of law. The government may not intervene in any way.

The problem here is: Protecting the Church from the burden of making reasonable arguments to defend Herself does not help Her. It impedes Her proper mission, isolating Her from public life.

E.G.: Is it unjust for the Church to limit Holy Orders to men alone?

According to the Supreme Court, the Church need not answer this question. It is a “theological” matter. No claims of justice can be made by aggrieved parties when the disputed point is “theological.”

My dear friends, if we cannot make reasonable, convincing theological arguments, then may God help us. Theology ≠ Esoterica. Theology = reasoned discourse based on Divine Revelation. (Including reasonable arguments as to why what we say is divinely revealed IS, in fact, divinely revealed. Not that we can prove it. But no one can demonstrate our assertions about Divine Revelation to be arbitrary, because they are not; they are reasonable.)

If we cannot explain why there is, in fact, no injustice in limiting Holy Orders to men, then we suck.

If we cannot explain–based on science and reason–why we cannot perform abortions, we suck.

If we cannot explain–based on logic and anatomy–why two men cannot marry each other, or two women, we suck.

Please, Supreme Court: Do not protect us from the burden of making these arguments! You do us no favors by doing so; in fact, you treat us like an intellectual cripple.

The fact of the matter is that making these arguments gives us joy and vigor! Our duty, our lifeblood is to speak the truth humbly, patiently, with love and respect for all.

If, someday, they put bishops in jail for refusing to ordain women, praise God! If they send police officers into Catholic hospitals to try to collect unpaid fines for refusing to dole out contraceptives, praise God!

The truth will always win in the end. We Catholics are not unreasonable kooks who hide behind esoteric mysteries to avoid explaining ourselves. Everything we believe and teach is perfectly reasonable. If an unreasonable state oppresses us for it, then to God be the glory, because it will only serve to win souls to Him.

Because God Designed it So


If you were like me back in August of 2002, your beach vacation was disturbed by the strange publication of “Reflections on Covenant and Mission.” This was a “study document” prepared by theologians of dubious probity. The media reported that the Catholic Church had given up evangelizing Jews.

Some of the people I know and love the most are Jews. I have two Jewish nephews. My best high-school buddies are Jews.

champagneI try to be mannerly about it, but of course they all know that if they said the word, I would baptize them immediately. Then I would get some champagne.

So if you too were nonplussed back in August ’02, then you will rejoice with me: The Catholic Bishops of the United States have issued an official clarification of Church teaching on the matter of preaching the Gospel to Jews. It is not prohibited.

Praise God! Praise Christ! May God save us all by gathering us all into His holy Church!

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)

…Imagine a man walking past the parking lot of a Catholic parish. He sees a family standing next to their new car, and the priest is praying and sprinkling the car with holy water.

After the blessing is over, the man approaches the owner of the new car and asks, “Why do you imagine that having a priest bless your car will do you any good? Do you think that this will cause God to act in your favor?”

asperges(Someone could ask a similar question of anyone who has a Mass said for someone, or confesses his sins to a priest, or has his baby baptized, or goes to the church and approaches the priest for any reason. “Why do you think this will do you any good?”)

Good question. The car owner could reply, “This is what I was taught to do. We Catholics seek the good things of God by asking priests to bless us and our things. This is what I was raised to do.”

Good answer! But then the stranger asks, “Are you saying, then, that this has nothing to do with me, since I was not raised Catholic? And, after all, how did this whole business of priests blessing people and things get started anyhow?”

Excellent question! The answer is: It all started when God Himself became man and founded the holy Catholic Church by sending out the Twelve Apostles. The reason we believe that the Church dispenses the good things of God is: God Himself set things up this way!


Good People Oppose Same-Sex Marriage

The United States Catholic Conference prepared an excellent Q&A on this subject. I am not trying to re-invent the wheel.

Nonetheless, I would like to tackle the problem from the point-of-view of: What should good people do about this?

So here are some indisputable answers to some crucial questions. (I would be very glad for your comments and additions.)

Vademecum on the right to “same-sex Marriage”

scales_of_justice1. What are the duties of a good person who fights for justice?

All good Christians must love everyone, and all people are bound to be just. No one has a right to impede the legitimate freedoms of another without good reason. Christians are bound to will the good of others and to do everything possible to help other people get to heaven.

2. Is there an individual right to marriage?

No one has an absolute right to marriage, because it is impossible to marry without a consenting partner. The freedom to marry is NOT, therefore, an individual right. An unmarried man and an unmarried woman–who are not related–are free to marry.

3. In order for all people to be truly free, must we permit anyone who is not married to marry anyone he or she wants to marry, regardless of sex?

Entering into marriage involves a renunciation of freedom. Married people are not free to marry, and they have obligations to their spouse and children. The vows of marriage explicitly renounce freedoms; in other words, they impose duties.

dag-blondIt makes no sense to speak of the right to marry as a “freedom.” It makes more sense to think of marriage as a solemn duty undertaken for the good of others.

4. Is sex good or evil?

The conjugal union of husband and wife is beautiful, albeit fraught with pitfalls because of human weakness.

Sodomy is inherently ugly. Sodomy is itself a pitfall for people suffering with same-sex attraction.

Sex outside of marriage is selfish. It is not an option for good people.

5. Who has the authority to make laws about marriage, and where does the authority come from?

Civil laws have binding force insofar as they harmonize with the law of God. The state, which enacts and enforces civil laws, arises because of marriages and families.

In other words, marriage is an institution more fundamental than the state. The state has no prerogative to govern marriage. The Church alone has the prerogative to do so.

The Church may concede to the state some practical aspects of marriage law. But no authority can change the constitution of marriage, because marriage is marriage because of the way God made things.

6. Why can’t a man marry a man or a woman marry a woman?

A couple is not married until the marriage is consummated. Acts of sodomy cannot consummate marriage.

7. What is wrong with a man attempting–even though it is futile–to marry a man or a woman attempting to marry a woman?

Such a ceremony would make a mockery of a beautiful and sacred thing. The marriage of baptized Christians is a sacrament of the love of Christ for His Church. An attempted ‘gay marriage’ is therefore a sacrilege, an injustice to all married people, and a crass charade unworthy of any self-respecting civilized society.

…Now, because discerning minds recognize that confusion about marriage has arisen because of two widespread evils, here is a short appendix:

no-divorce18. Can married couples get divorced?

Wedding vows include promises for life. The commitment of marriage terminates only with death, as the vows themselves say.

Bad circumstances can arise which require spouses to separate–even for indefinite periods of time–but divorce is impossible.

9. Can people have babies in any way other than the old-fashioned way?

For a child to be conceived in any way other than through sex between husband and wife is unjust to the child. Everyone has a right to be conceived in his or her mother’s womb, as the result of his parents’ loving embrace. In disputed cases, the rights of children always trump. In vitro fertilization is therefore unjust, and all good people must oppose it.