Category Archives: The Church in Crisis

How Could Our Church Leadership Let It Get This Bad?

Book cover showing the back of a Catholic Cardinal's hat while smoke swirls around it.

I’m reading Phillip Lawler’s new book, The Smoke of Satan:  How Corrupt and Cowardly Bishops Betrayed Christ, His Church, and the Faithful…And What Can be Done About It (Available at TAN Press ).  For those of us who have managed to pull our heads out of the sand and acknowledge that the Church is indeed facing a crisis of massive proportions, one of the questions we often find ourselves asking is this:  Why didn’t the Bishops and the Popes DO something?!?! 

Bishop after bishop assures us with wide-eyed breathless sincerity that “Gosh!  I had no idea that Father X or fellow Bishop Y or Cardinal Z was doing that!  I’m as shocked and disturbed as you are…” And far too often, the tangible evidence backs up their claims, no matter how implausible they seem.  Some of them, perhaps, really are clueless rubes that had no inkling that such evil was taking place under their noses or in the diocese next door.  If that’s the case, then they’re lousy leaders at the very least.  Others knew full well what was going on, and took “plausibly deniable” steps to suppress knowledge of the crimes.  Still others (Lord help us!) may have been active participants in the evil.

“See no evil.  Hear no evil…”

But there are also too many clerics and prelates who simply convinced themselves that nothing bad was actually happening.  They have been behaving like those “See no evil, hear no evil” monkeys we are all familiar with.

None of the above postulated explanations are very reassuring.  Regarding the third category of clergy, Mr. Lawler offers the following explanation in his book:

Two common human traits strengthen the tendency to avoid problems.  One is the normal desire to avoid unpleasant confrontations.  The role of a pastor is to unite, not to divide, and most priests are not aggressive personalities.  The other, closely related factor is the willingness to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  In combination, unfortunately, these two characteristics–healthy and even laudable in themselves–can produce a sort of cockeyed optimism or willful blindness, a stubborn refusal to recognize reality.  We want to see virtue in others, and sometimes we can only see if our eyes are shut tight.

Sexual Abuse, Doctrinal Dissent, and Denial–They’re all linked.

“OK,” you say, “so we have some real jerks in our parishes and dioceses.  Why didn’t the Pope do something?  Pope Francis seems weak in this regard, but what about Pope Benedict XVI or Pope Saint John Paul II?  And not just regarding criminal conduct, but what about all the heresy, disobedience, and doctrinal dissent?”  That latter part of the question is crucial.  Although it may not appear to be linked with the current lavender mafia/sex abuse crisis, believe me:  it is!

Mr. Lawler continues:

For the sovereign pontiff, pastor for the universal Church, there is another consideration that weighs against stern disciplinary measures.  The duty of the Roman pontiff is to preserve unity among the faithful.  If he cracks down on abuses–any sort of abuses–the pope, any pope, might risk dividing his flock.  If he demands that recalcitrant priests and theologians end their dissent from formal Church teaching, they may choose instead to leave the Church, bringing their followers with them.  Rather than risk schism, the pope may choose to accept an uneasy truce between Catholic factions that seem irreconcilable.  This, it seems clear, was the path chosen by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

This tendency, this reluctance to address a problem head-on has been with us for some time, as Mr. Lawler points out:

If Church readers are prone to overlooking current problems, they are equally likely to downplay past failures.  Despite the grave losses that Catholicism has suffered during the past fifty years–the thousands who have left the Church, the families that have broken apart, the priests and religious who have forsaken their vows, the parishes and schools that have been closed–bishops remain reluctant to calculate the total damages and identify the root causes of the disaster.

In the years following Vatican II, thousands of priests walked away from their duties to begin a new life in the secular world.  When they left, there was no formal announcement.  The rumor mills buzzed, but there was no explanation of their departure.  They simply disappeared…Wouldn’t a healthier institution have been more forthright, admitting that these young priests had deserted their ministry?…for those who embraced a false optimism or willful blindness, it seems pointless to dwell on painful memories.  Far better to speak confidently about the future!

Just be glad the USCCB isn’t running the FAA.

Imagine a series of disastrous airliner crashes, one after another, and now try to imagine the Federal Aviation Administration delicately avoiding any mention of the crashes or investigations into their causes, but instead blithely opining about how much air travel safety is improving, and how bright the future for the airline industry looks!  Pretty darn absurd.

But that’s the attitude what passes for Church leadership these days is taking.

 

 

The February Bishops Conference: Gettin’ It Done Chicago-Style!

Al Capone smiling with a cigar in his mouth

Pope Francis has announced that Cardinal Cupich of Chicago will be his point-man for the planned February synod of bishops, which will be convened to addressed the rampant sexual abuse crisis in the Church.

Very odd choice, isn’t it?  Kind of like appointing a fox to lead a synod on why so many chickens are disappearing from the barnyard.  But the man whom many have dubbed “the Dictator Pope” (that would make a catchy book title) knows what he’s doing.  He seems to like synods with reverse-engineered pre-determined conclusions and results.  Cupich is sure to deliver on that point.

Chicago is a city infamous for “machine politics” and powerful Bosses who knew how to run “their” town.  One imagines that Big Al Capone would be impressed with the techniques of one of Chi-Town’s current bosses…

No Tinfoil Hats Required.

Three people sitting on a couch wearing homemade aluminum foil hats.

First, I hope that this post is not perceived as just another “tin foil hat” moment.  There still may be Catholics out there who think that the whole “Viganò Thing” is just another wild conspiracy theory concocted by “Rad Trads” bent on seeing the destruction of this papacy.  No tin foil hats are required to understand what the former Nuncio is saying, or why it’s still a big deal.

The Summer of Shame.

Most of the Catholic readers who wander through the blogosphere are aware of the ongoing crisis which is plaguing our beloved Church.  We are living through two rather massive challenges:  First, there’s what’s been called “the Summer of Shame” which has resulted from the seemingly never-ending series of allegations of sexual misconduct (old cases, new cases; child victims, post-pubescent victims; predatory priests, complicit and occasionally criminal bishops, etc. etc. etc.)  Second, there’s been the long-running uneasiness which many Catholics have with what looks like an increasingly heterodox direction we’re seeing from Rome when it comes to long-standing doctrines and dogmas.

The two are related, if for no other reason than those attempting to deflect anger over the first crisis charge that Traditionalists are attempting to incite anger against the Holy Father because they’re upset with what they perceive as the second crisis (and in fact, said Traddies are just rigid hypocrites and Pharisees, etc.)

Enter Viganò.

One of the most stunning events this summer were the claims made by Archbishop Carlos Maria Viganò.   His first letter contained eleven pages of what appeared to be rather specific allegations which provided a list of names, dates, and events, as well as information on where the source documentation could be found.  The first letter was reacted to with ad-hominem counter attacks, along with accusations of rumor-mongering and gossip.  Various statements and homilies from Rome seemed to equate Abp. Viganò with “the Great Accuser.”

There was a second letter from Viganò appealing to Cardinal Marc Armand Ouellet to describe what he knows about the documentation described in the allegations.  The Cardinal responded with attacks against Viganò, but did so in such a way which almost seemed to confirm some of Viganò’s original statements.

The Third Letter.

And now, in the past few days, a third letter has been released from Abp. Viganò.  I found his arguments compelling.  If his allegations are not true, they are certainly worthy of a point-by-point refutation by Vatican authorities…providing said authorities can provide convincing proof that the archbishop is making all this stuff up.

Vigano emphasizes the fact that he’ll be dead soon, and doesn’t want to face Christ’s judgement with the knowledge that he failed to disclose alleged crimes of his fellow priests and prelates on his conscience.  Fear of God’s judgement sounds like a pretty compelling reason not to simply make stuff up because you’re mad they didn’t make you a Cardinal.  Just sayin’…

For those interested in learning more about this, please consider viewing the following video.  The two scholars discussing this third letter are not crackpot Rad Trads; far from it.  Dr. Marshall (https://taylormarshall.com/) is the author of a number of books including _Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages:  A Quick Layman’s Guide to Thomism._  Dr. Marshal and Dr. Timothy Gordon offer a reasoned description of the history of the controversy and give a pretty good analysis of the contents of the third letter.

The link can be found here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8WMHtZXgMw

Again, my intent is not to throw a hand grenade into the middle of our mutually-shared faith, kicking Holy Mother Church when she’s down, or anything of the like.  But we need to remember that we _are_ in a crisis of very profound dimensions.  These points are worth considering.

Note:  The contents of the third Viganò can be found here in its entirety (scroll down past the Italian original to find the English translation)à https://www.marcotosatti.com/2018/10/19/vigano-risponde-al-card-ouellet-la-terza-testimonianza/

 

“I’m Viganò!”

Hand forming the "V for victory" sign. Next to it are the words "V is for Vigano"

V_is_Vigano_GOOD_2

The hunt is on for the “renegade” Archbishop!  In the wake of his bombshell eleven page letter which named quite a few names, more than a few high-ranking prelates are ticked off.  According to some press reports, the Vatican is actively seeking the whereabouts of Abp. Viganò, and has dispatched agents to locate him.  Fearing for his life, Abp. Viganò has  gone into hiding.  From an undisclosed location, Viganò has written two additional letters.

Pray for Viganò’s safety during this time of crisis.  Pray that his allegations be investigated fully, and pray to Our Lady that our beloved Church will emerge from this present tribulation stronger and holier!

What Tolkien Might Tell Us in the Present Crisis

Painting of the author J. R. R. Tolkien lighting his pipe.

J. R. R. Tolkien is for us Catholics what C. S. Lewis is for protestants: a master story teller who reveals the truths of the Faith through allegory and just darn good tales! In his works on Middle Earth (which are far vaster than The Hobbit and Ring Trilogy), there is the enduring theme of “the long defeat.” During the course of this defeat which runs through thousands of years, there are tales of individual heroes who kept faith and were able to perform mighty deeds as a result. There’s a lot of thoughtful comfort in his works to be found alongside the pure entertainment of it.

I was delighted when Catholic apologist Matt Fradd posted an excerpt from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 1981). Here are some snippets, for those who enjoy snippet-browsing:

Tolkien

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“You speak of ‘sagging faith’, however. That is quite another matter. In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge). ‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation – as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat. But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act > state which must go on – so we pray for ‘final perseverance’.

The temptation to ‘unbelief’ (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others. I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe anymore, even if I had never met anyone in orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call our Lord a fraud to His face.

If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent – that is: garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac (which is the only alternative), then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church (in the sense of clergy) in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud. If not, however, then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before the first Easter, and it does not affect faith at all – except that we may and should be deeply grieved. But we should grieve on our Lord’s behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalized heirs not with the saints, not crying out that we cannot ‘take’ Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd & cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James’ mother, trying to push her sons.

It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really ‘happened’, and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded all of him – so incapable of being ‘invented’ by anyone in the world at that time: such as ‘before Abraham came to be I am’ (John viii). ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John ix); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament in John v: ‘He that he eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.’ We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences. I find it for myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with at least a right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame. (However, He alone knows each unique soul and its circumstances.)

The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a Mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people (it could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the 5000 – after which [Our] Lord propounding feeding that was to come.)

I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and a rearising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honor, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. ‘Feed my sheep’ was his last charge to St. Peter; and since his words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life. It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was really launched – the ‘blasphemous fable of the Mass’ – and faith/works a mere red herring. I suppose the greatest reform of our time was that carried out by St. Pius X: surpassing anything, however needed, that the Council will achieve. I wonder what state the church would now be but for it.”

Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing

Cartoon depicting a wolf dressed as a shepherd leading sheep astray based on Matthew 7:15

In The Burden: A Warning of Things to Come, a wonderful volume of poetic prophesies written by Paul Thigpen and inspired by Divine Scripture, you will find a poem titled, “The Shepherds.” In this tremendous work, Dr. Thigpen issues a very harsh reminder to the faithful that some who pose as Shepherds, are in reality doing the bidding of Satan in an ongoing spiritual battle here on earth.

We the laity often remain silent in the sight of the obvious evils within; perhaps our silence is borne out of fear and intimidation, or a bizarre felling of deference to the flawed mortal sporting a miter. Either way, silence in the face of that which is wrong, brings about a degree of culpability. Culpability of which I do not wish to be a part. Whether it be ambiguous teachings, or the absence of moral teaching; when those entrusted with Shepherding the flock, either foster or allow to persist feelings of ambivalence or error within the congregation, they are not only paving their own pathway to Hell, but they are charting a course for countless souls to follow to pits of eternal damnation.

We, the laity, have an obligation to make use of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Fear, Piety, Fortitude, Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel and Wisdom, to combat evil from wherever it comes, in the name of Jesus Christ as we set our sights on the True Evangelization and the eternal Salvation of all who would receive. Thigpen

I highly recommend, “The Burden.” It is available at TAN or Amazon. ISBN-13: 978-0615780436. Kindle price is $3.95 and paperback is $7.95

 

Amoris Laetitia: Winners & Losers?

Painting of King Henry the VIII holding a copy of Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis.

Regardless on which side of the Amoris Laetitia debate you find yourself, it’s  undeniable that the promulgation of this document has produced considerable churn (understatement).  Earlier blogs on this site have decried the way in which AL, by its ambiguity, produced such a wildly-varying degree of interpretations.  Some bishops say nothing has changed; others see the opportunity to allow divorced & remarried Catholics to start receiving Holy Communion again.  In one zip code, a divorced/remarried Catholic is an adulterer; in the next that Catholic is simply “on a journey” of some sort, and receiving the Eucharist might well be possible if an unspecified number of prerequisites are met.

Who are the winners and losers in all this?

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, says that AL represents “a paradigm shift, and the text itself insists on this, that’s what is asked of us — this new spirit, this new approach!”  Factions favoring such a change refer to Amoris Laetitia‘s stress on the objective relevance of extenuating circumstances, the subjective conscience and discernment to allow some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion and apply it to allowing use of artificial contraception in some cases (National Catholic Register, 11 Jan 2018).

Henry VIII and AL

Although it comes a few centuries too late, it makes me wonder if one of the “winners” might not be His Majesty, King Henry VIII.  Wasn’t that all he was asking when he divorced Catherine of Aragon, dumping her in favor of Ann Boleyn?  One can just imagine him insisting to Thomas Moore (perhaps while visiting him in the Tower of London), that there was a bucketload of “extenuating circumstances,” and that the King was perfectly clear in his “subjective conscience of discernment,” and surely the “extenuating circumstances” of no royal heir.

Yeah….right….

See…This is the problem.

The Roman Catholic Church has a deficit of cardinals who openly embrace the Magisterium.  We need more men like Cardinal Sarah.  Instead we have guys like this.

Some months before his infamous “rabbit hole” remarks the cardinal in charge of the Chicago Archdiocese still had plenty of other weird things to say.

In a recent talk at the Catholic Theological Union when praising the concept of “thinking out of the box,” he went just a little too far.  According to a LifeSiteNews article published Nov. 2 2017,  Blase Cardinal Cupich (appointed by Pope Francis) stated that if Catholics want to engage in “discernment” like Pope Francis does, they must let go of “cherished beliefs.”

Riiiiiight…

Excuse me, Your Eminence, does “cherished beliefs” include things like the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church? The Magisterium?  You know…stuff like that?  Here, see for yourself what Cupich is saying:


I don’t know about you, but talk like this gives me the creeps. Just sounds like a justification of “cafeteria Catholicism.”  Cupich et Luther

Letting go of “cherished beliefs” like the magisterial teaching of the Church and instead engaging in something like following a path of personal discernment….hmmm…isn’t that what the arch-heritic Martin Luther did? This guy sounds like he’s just another protestant to me.

Why the Pope Weaponizes Ambiguity

Yellow diamond shaped highway road sign with confusing arrows pointing in every direction with a 45 MPH speed limit sign. The words "Good Luck" are attached between the two signs.
weknowmemescom

Image:  weknowmemes.com

Ok…so what’s the deal here?  The Vatican issues a document titled Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”).  As written, the document seems to indicate that, in an undetermined number of cases, it may be permissible for Catholics who are divorced and living together in subsequent non-sacramental marriages to receive Holy Communion.

Or maybe not.

That’s the problem.  The document, as written, is ambiguous, vague, and open to interpretation (and, of course, misinterpretation).

As a former military guy, we used to get orders which were vague, unclear, or confusing all the time.  If we didn’t fully understand the orders, we were supposed to ask questions.  We were expected to ask questions.  If we just shrugged, gave it our best guess and went off half-cocked, things usually went poorly.  Then, when standing tall in front of that long green table, we’d inevitably be asked “If the orders weren’t clear to you, why didn’t you ask?”

Well, the publication of Amoris Laetitia generated plenty of confusion among Catholics, both the rank & file laypeople, priests, bishops and even cardinals.  What the heck were we supposed to make of this papal exhortation?  How was it supposed to be implemented?

Several leaders within the Church did what any good soldier should do:  they requested clarification.  As written, the orders (Amoris Laetitia) were confusing and ambiguous in parts.  Four cardinals, including Cardinal Burke, requested clarification in a formal procedure which involved submitting a “Dubia” in which they raised doubts about what exactly it was they were supposed to be doing.

Were clarifications from “headquarters” forthcoming?  Nope.  Not yet, anyway.

And with that ambiguity came the inevitable misinterpretations.  Some dioceses continued with the current policies regarding divorced and remarried Catholics, while others implemented very new, very liberal, and (one might say) very radical interpretations of Amoris Laetitia.   Even though it was clear that different “subordinate commands” within the Church were interpreting/implementing the document in completely opposite ways, still there was no clarification forthcoming from the Vatican.

Why in the heck not?

I haven’t been privy to any of the Pope’s daily briefings (if he conducts such things), so I have no way of knowing what his intentions and motives are.  Not a clue.

What I do understand, however, is that if orders are written which are intentionally vague, there might be a very distinct reason for that.

In an article written for The California Law Review titled “Obeying Orders: Atrocity, Military Discipline, and the Law of War,” University of Iowa law professor Mark Osiel examines the issue of culpability when it comes to issuing and obeying illegal orders, and the part such orders play in the chain of events leading to military atrocities.  Here are some of the things he says:

Deliberate ambiguity in the wording of orders often leads atrocity by bureaucracy to blur into atrocity by connivance… For a common soldier to be liable for disobeying a superior’s order, the order must attain a reasonable degree of specificity, according to the military law of most Western nations. Such an order, as one military lawyer writes, “is a specific mandate to do or refrain from doing a particular task…[I]t must particularize the conduct expected, or there cannot be any offense against it: an order to… perform one’s duties [for instance] does not meet this requirement. Legal ambiguity thus has very different effects on the potential liability of superiors and subordinates. For subordinates, it is exculpatory; for superiors with decision-making capacity, it is not. This is of considerable practical importance, because any order calling for atrocities is likely to be willfully opaque.

“Any order calling for atrocities is likely to be willfully opaque.”  What atrocities are contained in the papal exhortation?  Isn’t that going a bit overboard?  Hard for me to say.  I suppose it’s rather atrocious to take Christ’s words on the subject of divorce and upend them entirely, isn’t it?  Mr. Osiel continues:

Thus, a key problem with requiring that an order be manifestly criminal on its face, in order to hold subordinates liable for obeying it, is that this approach easily permits the superior officer who desires atrocity to formulate his orders in ways that ensure that soldiers obeying them are excused from criminal liability. It takes no great measure of verbal artistry to do this, for the slightest vagueness in his orders will generally introduce enough doubt about their unlawfulness in the mind of the average soldiers to excuse his obedience to them. This is because the manifest illegality rule authorizes soldiers to resolve all legitimate doubts about legality in favor of obedience.

Again, I’ll readily admit that comparing the whole issue of Communion for divorced & civilly remarried Catholics to wartime atrocities is really pushing the envelope, so let me step away just a bit to put it in less inflammatory terms.

  1. Orders issued by a superior should be clear, concise, and unambiguous.
  2. Subordinates who receive orders which are unclear, imprecise, vague or ambiguous should seek clarification from the superior issuing them.
  3. When a request for clarification is received, a superior should promptly address the questions asked, ensuring that no confusion remains as to the specifics of the order, or the intent behind it.
  4. If an order is written in a deliberately ambiguous or vague manner, it may well be that the superior issuing the orders intends to use the inevitable confusion which arises in a manner which will benefit himself or bring about an intended result which is either illegal or too controversial to be addressed in a direct and unambiguous manner.

If, when Amoris Laetitia was promulgated, the ambiguities were unintentional, the first three items described above would have taken care of things.  The papal exhortation has some confusing parts in it; some cardinals submit a Dubia, and the Pope addresses those confusing bits head-on, clearing up all the confusion.  Everybody proceeds on the same sheet of music, remaining fully in sync with the Magisterial teachings of the Church on the painful topic of divorce and remarriage.  No harm; no foul.

So far, that hasn’t happened yet.  As faithful Catholics, we should pray earnestly that it does.

I really, really, really don’t want number 4 above to be what’s going on here!

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Credits:

  1. Ostiel, “Obeying Orders: Atrocity, Military Discipline, and the Law of War” The California Law Review, Vol 6, Oct 1988
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