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German Summit, Shades of Martin Luther

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The recent manipulation of the Amazonian synod by German churchmen and now their own two-year summit hints at a coming religious revolution.  It echoes the division and devastation enacted by Martin Luther.  The disgruntled monk similarly sought alliances with dissenting religious leaders and earthly rulers. The princes of old are gone but the secular politics of the world are still every bit as opposed to the interests of the Catholic Church as they were before. While Catholicism has moved forward at the pace dictated by providence and the Holy Spirit; we are again a church plagued by scandals and not with one heresy but assaulted by all of them under the heading of modernism.

The German Summit Begins

The first assembly for the German summit was from January 30 to February 1, 2020. Pointing to an atmosphere of rebellion, Cardinal Reinhard Marx made it clear last year that this synod would continue despite objections from Pope Francis. Arguably more Protestant than Catholic, the Central Committee of German Catholics rebuked Pope Francis for a “lack of courage for real reforms” after the promulgation of his Post-Synodal Exhortation (To the People of God and to All Persons of Good Will the Church in the Amazon). Disappointed, but unwilling to give in on the reforms he has championed, Cardinal Marx of Münich asserted that the topics from the synod were “by no means off the table.”

If the subject matter is something that cannot be changed then what is the purpose of such discussions? Are we stirring the pot to ferment trouble or might we find answers that respect the truth, tradition and the needs of a changing world?  Praxis must follow and safeguard doctrinal truth.  When it takes the lead there is no assurance that it is in fidelity with what is right or good.  Further, we must be honest as to the sources of formation.  Are new ideas and stratagems emerging from revelation and the sources of doctrine or from outside the parameters of our constant faith?  Religious relativism and indifference have now made space for defection to other “denominations” or even for the faithless slide into the new atheism.  It seems to me that such was unavoidable given the relativism of truth to human whim and secular expediency.

Artificial Contraception

While all Christian churches condemned artificial contraception for 1,900 years, today Catholicism is viewed by her own congregants as backward and out-of-sync among liberal and conservative believers alike. Back in the 1960’s and the first days of the Vatican reforms and Humanae Vitae, the controversy on this issue should have awakened us to the core problem that would revisit us in other matters ready to explode like divorce, abortion and same-sex bonds.

Unfortunately, we did a poor job of communicating the Church’s rich Christian anthropology.  The incarnation of Christ grants prominence to the dignity of human persons and the sanctity of life.  Persons are not interchangeable.  While animated by immortal souls, the body is not unimportant.  We are not spirits operating extraneous or robotic bodies of flesh and blood.  Unlike the angels we are not pure spirits.  A body without a soul is a corpse.  A soul without a body is a ghost.  The integrated human person is properly a body and soul.  This is how we live and relate to one another.  The sacrament of marriage, along with its obligations and duties, focuses on this reality of human beings as corporeal persons.  We are our bodies.  While love cannot be contained to this world, marriage is a reality that ends at the door of death.   We are promised that we will be like angels and yet with Christ’s resurrection, we are given a clue as to the glorification of the body that awaits us and our restoration, body and soul.  Our understanding of identity embraces an intense appreciation of the human person as a corporeal-spiritual composite.

Gender is not an accidental but rather touches the central meaning of who and what we are.  There is a complementarity of sexes, and while there is an equality in grace it is not mathematical.  We are different.  It is this difference that draws men and women together.  How we are made is also how we relate and communicate.  God has a plan for us and we are called to discern this plan.  When it comes to married couples, there is a basic failure to appreciate that the marital act is more than the mechanics of the sex act but is a profound self-donation to the beloved that trusts the will of God and selflessly embraces the mystery and treasure of human life. Couples that would define their relationships by contraceptive acts, short-change their calling and the openness to life that is a hallmark of their vocation.

The problem of contraception is not a new question although technology has come a long way from the Egyptian use of crocodile dung. The Church saw it as an offense against the first command of Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. Families can be both responsible and open to the gift of life. They can cooperate with God instead of treating God as the enemy and his gift and blessing of children as a disease to be medicated away.

Divorce and Remarriage

While it has been very much in the news, especially given an apparent lack of clarity from Pope Francis, it must be proposed that the Catholic Church still accepts Christ for his word when he condemns divorce and exposes its link to adultery. Unless it is unlawful (the reason why there is an annulment process), marriage endures until the death of a spouse. The Catholic Church stands almost alone in this teaching as many of the Orthodox churches permit second penitential bonds and most Protestant churches will bless unions with divorcees or even with persons of the same sex.  As a sacrament, we are supposed to see in marriage something of Christ’s relationship with his Church.  Promises are made and Christ keeps his promises.  We should pursue the same fidelity.

When it comes to marriage, few churchmen are ogres who want to hurt others. We realize that mistakes can be made. Many of the irregular unions also include children and a genuine desire to return to the sacraments. How do we work with them without destroying the basic meaning of the sacrament? Annulments, properly and honestly done, are part of the solution. Just as married priests in the early days of the Church were asked to embrace perfect continence, might this suggest an answer in certain situations? Can we be more proactive at the beginning of relationships so as to reduce the number of failed marriages? We certainly emphasize that even if couples cannot be invited forward to receive Holy Communion, they should still go to Mass and render God the worship due to him as believers. We are all sinners and all sinners should know that they will never be turned away from the church doors even if they should refrain from coming to the altar. The Mass is still the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary.  I suspect that there were many on the hill of Christ’s death who were similarly drawn to Jesus and his message but remained ill-disposed to fully benefit from the sacramental moment.

Same-Sex Unions and Homosexual Acts

Older Christians have experienced a reversal in how homosexuals are viewed and treated.  The revulsion and prohibition against homosexuality once shared between the Church and state has been turned totally on its head. What was regarded as a perversion and as illegal is now reckoned by secular society as good, permissible and as something which must be actively promoted. Those who oppose homosexual sin are now reckoned as bigots.  Indeed, laws are increasingly targeting believers who want to be tolerant or co-exist but cannot find it in themselves to celebrate what they understand as wrong and as grievous sin.

When it comes to the matter of same-sex relationships, is there a way to acknowledge love and friendship outside of the paradigm of matrimony? Might we recover an expanded appreciation of chaste brotherhood and sisterhood? Could it be that the prevalent eroticism of our times has poisoned this issue?

Abortion and the Sanctity of Life

The issue of abortion is particularly troublesome as the news parades Catholic politicians clapping and cheering the removal of any and all restrictions upon the termination of pregnancies. Literally children nine months in the womb and ready to be born are now vulnerable to what is more infanticide than abortion. The Church proclaims a Gospel of Life that is increasing politicized and made one issue among many. The Church would still proclaim that if one’s life is taken then for that person there are no more issues. We are not opposed to the genuine rights of women.  We refuse to engage in the culture of death’s great deception.  The Catholic Church defends the rights of everyone.  We give voice to the voiceless.  The Church speaks up for the rights of all women and some of those women are in the womb.

The issue of abortion can certainly be expanded for a better defense of life in scenarios of war and non-combatants, the elderly and euthanasia and the value or lack thereof of the death penalty in crime prevention, etc. However, this is not a pick-and-choose list. If a person is pro-abortion but opposed to capital punishment, he or she is not pro-life. We need to appreciate the non-commensurate value of human life wherever it exists.

Holy Orders as Restricted to Men

The question of holy orders is frequently considered within the apologetic of power and rights. It should rather be understood in the context of service and gift. The pattern that Jesus gave us is not one upon which we are free to diverge. He selected only men as his apostles, despite the fact that there were notable women who witnessed as prophets to the Gospel: his Mother Mary, the sisters of Lazarus (Martha and Mary), the Samaritan woman at the well, Mary Magdalene and others. The early councils like Nicea forbade the laying on of hands or ordination of women. The solemn proclamation of St. Pope John Paul II on the subject was definitive and infallible. Only some men and no women are called to be priests. However, the priesthood is a gift to all of us who participate at Mass and in the sacraments. We share our differing gifts for the good of the whole body. No one has a right to the priesthood. There is no egalitarian equivalence between men and women, although both are equally invited to faith, baptism and grace.  One can prepare for priesthood but no one deserves it. It is purely a gift. If women cannot be priests or bishops then they are logically also prevented from membership in the third tier of holy orders, the diaconate. The evidence is that women in the New Testament who were called deaconesses were not ordained. They cared for female neophytes preparing for baptism. In certain cases, they were simply the wives of ordained deacons.

We can look for ways to include more women in decision-making, but holy orders will never be open to them.  Not only does the tradition not support it, there is evidence of opposition to the prospect.  The witness of the Anglicans is insignificant because apostolic succession was already compromised and they responded to the cries of modernity, not to the dictates of Scripture and Tradition.

Value in the Discipline of Priestly Celibacy

Further, the gift of priesthood or holy orders cries out for a single-hearted love. While a discipline, there is an integral relationship between the priesthood and the charism of celibacy.  (This subject was of such importance that many married men in the apostolic and patristic age were required to pursue perfect continence when they were ordained.) Given that the Holy Father picked the name FRANCIS for his pontificate, I am not surprised that he has resisted calls to allow married men to serve as priests in the Amazon. Traditionally, celibacy is interpreted as an element of apostolic POVERTY and is appreciated in the context of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who went away sad “because his possessions were many.”

  • The Council of Nicea (325 AD) forbade the laying on of hands or ordination of women.
  • The Council of Carthage (390) commanded celibacy or perfect continence for priests.
  • The First Lateran Council (1123) & the Second Lateran Council (1139) prohibited clerical marriage and cohabitation.

A Few Closing Thoughts

What is it exactly that the extended German summit hopes to achieve by its assessment of Catholic sexual morality and  the dynamics of priestly life in regard to celibacy and the role of women? The American bishops following Pope John Paul II’s 1995 letter to women also promulgated a pastoral “reflection” on women (after much consultation where dissenters tried to hijack the discussion). The bishops attempted to make appeasement where the Holy Father inadvertently made enemies of certain progressives and radical feminists. However, in the end their effort was so watered down that it was of little lasting value, restricting itself to the unexplored themes of leadership, equality, and the diversity of gifts. The focus moved away from women in the Church to their general place in society. This is not to say that the document lacks utility for future discussions about the extension of praxis that respects the laws of nature and the revealed truths of God. When it comes to the new German effort, it appears that dissenting lay Catholic organizations are being given more a voice than those with a significant traditional faith footprint. Theologians can assist the Magisterium but they are not the Church’s teaching authority, themselves.

Denying Biden Communion

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The Breaking News Story

A lot has been reported about former Vice President Joe Biden being refused Holy Communion at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina on Sunday because of his permissive public stance toward the aborting of unborn children.  Such liturgical matters are preferably left private between a person and his church.  However, the priest fulfilled his moral duty precisely because Biden is a celebrity and such matters are immediately reported by the media.  If he were an ordinary churchgoer in the parish it is likely the priest would not know his stance against human life and he would have received the sacrament; yes, even though it would have convicted him secretly and spiritually before Christ.  Similarly, if his views were only known to his priest confessor, that priest would have been required to give him the Eucharist so as not to violate the seal of confession.  But given this situation, as a politician he not only adds his votes among others but is an active enabler for the murder of human beings (a truth which he supposedly believes in “personally”).  More monstrous than those who deny the humanity of the unborn are those like Biden that straddle the fence.  On one hand he says that he agrees with Church teaching and personally opposes abortion; on the other he refuses to impose his moral views upon others and politically enables what he evidently understands to be the murder of human beings.  Really, many of us have a hard time believing this?  Like the famous video of so-called “Catholic” politicians in New York laughing and applauding legislation to allow nine-month pregnant women to abort their babies— any faith they say they have is feigned, soured, not real— you cannot serve two masters.  You should not make yourself available to receive the bread of life while eagerly helping to feed children to demons.

He does not have to respond to reporters about the incident because his actions and kowtowing to Planned Parenthood speaks volumes. Rev. Robert Morey said afterwards, “Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden. Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching. As a priest, it is my responsibility to minister to those souls entrusted to my care, and I must do so even in the most difficult situations. I will keep Mr. Biden in my prayers.”

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The priest denied him the sacrament because he knew that it would bring down God’s judgment upon him.  The priest acted out of love, not enmity.  He also knew that the occasion had been politicized.  Every photo of Biden receiving Holy Communion falsely advertised that he was a good Catholic and that he and his views had the endorsement of the Church.

What Does the Church have to Say?

The following three citations have been heavily informative to my approach to the question of politicians and the reception of Holy Communion.

Canon 915 states: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 2002:  “Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.”

Cardinal Francis Arinze stated in 2004:  “The norm of the church is clear, the church exists in the United States— there are bishops there, let them interpret it.”  When asked if a priest should withhold communion to an “unambiguously pro-abortion” politician, he answered, “Yes.”  “If the person should not receive communion, then he should not be given it.”

Priests under Pressure

Priests who are commanded by their Ordinaries never to withhold the sacrament are being told not to love as they should and to be silent in the face of the “holocaust” of innocents.  Indeed, they are censured for making comparisons or allusions to other forms of mass murder or genocide.  Policies, written and verbal, instruct parish priests that they must NEVER refer to one politician as pro-abortion and another as pro-life in homilies.  They came speak generally about values but not to make matters personal.  The impression is that we do not want to upset people.  We do not want to appear as partisan. We do not want to see an attendance drop or loss in revenue.  The subject is far deeper than what canon law stipulates.  The passivity and silence of bishops on this matter of giving communion to pro-abortion politicians is systemic of the same malaise that condones silence and ineffective action against active homosexuals and pedophiles among the priests and bishops.  When we should be champions of the truth; we hide behind lawyers and employ the verbiage of misdirection.  We have made ourselves hypocrites when we should be sentinels for Christ.  Called to a courageous faith and to take up crosses in following Jesus; too many are afraid and seek to play it safe.  Priests are intimidated and threatened to be quiet and not to act.  There are even rumors that despite the encouragement of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, policies are being assembled that will further restrict the actions of good priests but will also erase their proclamations on social media. Most dioceses stipulate that priests cannot give media interviews and must relay requests to chanceries.  I suspect some of these fearful upper Church authorities were those that looked the other way when it came to the ravaging upheaval of rogue bishops like McCarrick, Bransfield and others.  Claiming to respect the sanctity of life and then shutting down practical initiatives to save babies will not wash with God and will one day be condemned by those who judge the wrongs of history.  There will be no hiding.

What is a True Disciple of Christ?

Biden has stated, “I’m a practicing Catholic. I practice my faith, but I’ve never let my religious beliefs, which I accept based on Church doctrine . . . impose . . .  on other people.”  This is essentially nonsensical.  Although supported in the past, he has now denounced even the Hyde amendment.  Catholic faith must always be lived out in obedience to the law of God and in a love of the Lord that is realized in charity.  Christianity is not tolerant of immorality or sin.  Freedom is not license but fidelity to the truth.  Faithfulness is more than sitting oneself in a pew once a week; it is also taking the Christian kerygma or Good News in mission to the world around us.  Pope John Paul II defined this message as the Gospel of Life.  We are to convert the world, not to allow the world to convert us.  We are to bring Christ’s light to the culture of death where we find ourselves.  A believer is to be a person of strong character.  His faith and values has importance in the lives of others; compromise is a failure to truly believe and definitely to love others. While the sanctity of life is constitutive of the Gospel, the issue of abortion is more than a sectarian issue; it is a human rights concern . . . none of us has the liberty to kill or to enable the termination of innocent human beings. How can we say AMEN to the hidden presence of Jesus in the Eucharist when we deny the hidden presence of the child in the womb made in his image?

Facing Ambiguity and Opposition

Those who possibly think differently on this matter have also been reported in the news.

Pope Francis, has attacked abortion in the harshest terms, equating efforts at abortion to mobs “hiring a hit man.” He is clearly defining it as murder.  However, he has also intimated that communion should not be withheld from practicing Catholics based on what they do and do not believe.  He wrote in 2013, “The Eucharist  . . . is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”  What he gives, he takes away.  The Holy Father’s efforts at ambiguity continue.

Cardinal Wuerl stated years ago in reference to Speaker Pelosi that he disagreed with holding back communion to manifestly pro-abortion politicians which he equated as “Communion wielded as a weapon.”  “We never – the Church just didn’t use Communion this way. It wasn’t a part of the way we do things, and it wasn’t a way we convinced Catholic politicians to appropriate the faith and live it and apply it; the challenge has always been to convince people.  There’s a question about whether this canon [915] was ever intended to be used.”  He stated:  “I stand with the great majority of American bishops and bishops around the world in saying this canon was never intended to be used this way.” Back in 2009, Cardinal Wuerl said that he thought “we’ve been making progress” in conveying the pro-life message to the Democratic Party and that “There was just a setback with the distraction of Communion.” However, today the party’s pro-life representation in national government is now all but extinguished.  This essentially continued the policy of Cardinal McCarrick in Washington.  We may remember the infamous memo presented to the USCCB by Cardinal McCarrick which essentially falsified and reversed the message from Cardinal Ratzinger.

Cardinal Cupich bluntly dismisses the mandate of canon 915 in a rather defeatist manner, “I think it would be counterproductive to impose sanctions, simply because they don’t change anybody’s minds.”

Past USCCB advisor John Carr asserted that “it’s a big loss for our faith and for our church, either way, when the Eucharist becomes a source of division instead of unity. In my view, denying communion to people for their public stances is bad theology, bad pastoral practice and bad politics.”

Faithful America is an organization demanding that Fr. Morey’s bishop force him to apologize to Biden and immediately direct all other priests not to deny communion based on politics. “When hate groups purport to speak for Christianity, we act. We challenge the Catholic hierarchy in the United States to live up to the inspiring words of Pope Francis and we stick up for courageous Christian voices for fairness and freedom in every denomination.”  (But is the killing of children just a political issue or is it a HUMAN RIGHTS issue?)

Trust & a Corporate Sole Church

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Many Catholic parishioners assume the each parish is a legal and economic entity all to itself.  Those most faithful who give regular support may even imagine that they as a community own the church they attend.  However, in truth most churches belong to the local ordinary or bishop.  It is for this reason that those bishops who are ordinaries, not associate or helping bishops, are generally forbidden to drive cars.  One accident on the road could cost the whole diocese.  Yes, everything is owned by one man.  When a new bishop comes in, all the appropriate papers are signed, and there is a transfer, not just of spiritual jurisdiction, but of property, investments, other resources and money.  During the colonial and early days of the Catholic Church in the United States we followed the pattern of having trustees or a board own each church or school.  This is a pattern that we find with many Episcopal churches.  The problem we quickly discovered is that it watered-down the bishop’s authority.  Parishes would sometimes refuse to accept priests that were assigned to them.  The bishop could not close parishes and often did not have the resources to build new ones.  Catholics would even invoke civil laws to fight the decisions of their bishops.  Ethnic groups would frequently send back to Europe, hiring their own clergy.  Vagrant clergy traveling from place to place would find work in parishes even though they had not been vetted by the bishop.  The Old World sent many of its more troublesome priests to America.

Trusteeism died out as the American bishops increasing asserted their authority under canon law and national legislation passed in councils or gatherings at the primatial see, Baltimore.  Lay parish leadership in administering parishes was crushed.  It seemed that the problem was solved.

However, the days of rapid church growth are behind us and the model of corporate sole is becoming increasingly controversial if not problematical.  Churches have been consolidated, especially as populations have moved and ethnic groups have intermarried.  National churches are rapidly disappearing.  While the cause is sometimes espoused as being that of the priest shortage, viable parishes have suffered, too.  The priest abuse scandals have required that some bishops sell off church properties in order to pay settlements.  The faithful in the pews are made victims to sick men in priestly collars, bishops afraid of exposure, the hurting that want first justice and then revenge, and lawyers possessed by greed.

I recall a meeting years ago where the priests learned that funds earmarked for the care of sick and elderly retired clergy had almost been exhausted in the maintenance of priest abusers and settlements.  We were essentially told that should we need long-term care that we would be on our own.  A three-person board would be established for what little remained.  We were told this would protect the money from litigation and/or the whim of future bishops.  Nevertheless, a promise echoed since the days of Cardinal O’Boyle had been broken.  Parents were anxious about the future of the men who became priests. They would have no spouse or children to care for them in later years.  Mothers were told at ordinations, “Don’t worry about your boys; the Church will always take care of your sons.”  Ah, but we live in a world of broken promises— what is one more?

The Church is still wary of lay leadership in parish administration.  So much of the scandal could have been avoided.  Counselors and psychologists might tell a bishop that a priest abuser is healed and could be returned to ministry (which we know now is untrue); however, I doubt that an advisory board of laity (including parents) would have agreed to having such men returned to their churches.  The answer would have been, “Hell no!”  One strike and you are out— a man might be forgiven, but the wrong cannot be forgotten— the risk is too great.

It is my understanding that one diocese in California deliberately broke itself up into many smaller corporations sole.  However, the problem with trust remains.  We are required to keep confidence with an episcopacy that has sometimes violated this trust; indeed, the entire set up communicates that the bishops do not trust their own people. Given the recent exposure of Bishop Michael Bransfield in West Virginia, who knows how widespread an abuse there may be of the corporation sole model?  Schools were closed and charities suffered; nevertheless, the bishop could spend $2.4 million on private planes, luxury hotel rooms, limos, fine dining and even jewelry.

Here is precisely a case where the triangle needs to be turned onto its point.  The top part is the largest, the laity among the People of God.  Below this would be the religious, the priests, then the bishops and finally the pope.  Priests and bishops are not princes or rulers but servants; indeed, they are ideally the slaves of God’s people.  The pope is “servant of the servants of God.”  Bishops that live in expensive penthouses and mansions are confused about their station.  Even the popes live in modest apartments in a structure made for worship or as one pope suggested, that sometimes feels like a museum.

If there is a problem with clericalism then I suspect it has infected the corporate sole model of church administration and governance. The concentration of power in individuals is an incredible temptation.  Often it is accompanied hand-in-hand with a desire for secrecy and a lack of genuine transparency.  Notice that the revised standards for child protection still places bishops over bishops instead of independent lay boards.

I cannot say that I have all the answers. But it seems to me that there are pertinent questions that need to be asked.  Otherwise, how can we move forward?

Pope Urges an End to Insults… YES!

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We read:  “The pope said that ‘nowadays it is fashionable to hurl adjectives’ in what’s tantamount to ‘a culture of insults.’ He recommended responding ‘to malice with goodness.'”

Pope laments current “culture of insults,” church propaganda

It is public knowledge that the Holy Father has hurled many insults, especially at many whom are largely regarded as faithful priests and even bishops. If such is the case, then why is he surprised if some should return them or even try to laugh through their tears with humor? The humility of Pope Benedict was rooted in his intellectual life and prayer. Yet the world hated this gentle and ascetic man (careful with his words) as much as it seems to love the provocative and outgoing Pope Francis, who like President Trump, says what he wants without a filter.

My intention is not to foster scandal.  This is merely a cry in the wilderness.  The Pope’s words (unfortunately) speak for themselves:

  • The CLERGY have been called “vain butterflies,” “smarmy idolaters,” “priest-tycoons,” “animals,” “new Pharisees,” and “confessional torturers!”
  • The CURIA has been labeled “the leprosy of the papacy.”
  • SEMINARIANS, especially the traditionally-minded have been targeted as “potential little monsters.”
  • NUNS who preferred the older disciplines and vestiture were criticized as “uninspiring old maids.”
  • TRADITIONALISTS were censured as “museum mummies.”
  • While the Holy Father has made powerful efforts to reach out to those who feel estranged from the Church and those in irregular unions, he is less friendly toward REGULAR CHURCH-GOERS in the pews. He calls them “pickled pepper-faced Christians,” “closed, sad, trapped Christians,” “defeated Christians,” “liquid Christians,” “creed-reciting, parrot Christians,” and “watered-down faith, weak-hoped Christians.”
  • JOURNALISTS do not escape but are insulted as “fomenters of coprophagia!” If Trump has his fake news, the Pope has literally referred to his dogs eating feces.

So I agree with the Pope, enough with the insults… all around.

In fear and trembling… pledging obedience… a faithful but derided son.

Tension Between Homosexuality & Christianity

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The traditional Christian view is that homosexual acts are grievously sinful.  This was expressed recently by Vice President Pence and it precipitated an immediate response from the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.  Making an assessment of his own same-sex “marriage” to Chasten Glezman, he states:  “Being married to Chasten has made me a better human being because it has made me more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent. My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President (Pence), it has moved me closer to God.”

What should be the response of a traditional Christian who is well aware that the revelation of God in Scripture and in creation, itself, stipulates that homosexuality is a grievous sin and that it can cost us a share in Christ’s kingdom?  Some churchmen contend that the Church herself can overrule the testimony from the Bible; however, the Pope and Magisterium may interpret Scripture and Tradition but do not have the authority to revoke or reverse revealed doctrines.

Some authorities claim that the harsh stand against homosexuality in the Bible reflects not the mind of God but the bigotry of men. If this be entirely the case then the whole question of biblical inerrancy is called into question. What is or is not inspired by God then becomes dubious.

Some authorities assert that there are certain teachings and practices in the Bible and in the life of the Church where we see a development over time in our understanding, as with the institution of slavery.  While this is true, critics would quickly add that such development must be organic or natural (as when various biblical themes interplay against each other) and cannot be forced. Those who would promote a radical anti-patriarchal feminism have sought to fabricate a new divine archetype.   There is a return to the goddess or the Lord (in some cases) is viewed less as a man and more as an androgynous human. Could the God proposed by Buttigieg be of this sort— a deity fashioned precisely for homosexuals?  The problem in both cases is the forfeiture of what is real and the substitution of human fancy.  While there are subjective elements to our discipleship, Catholic Christianity demands attention for what is objectively real.  This is a necessary symptom of our belief in the incarnation and resurrection.  Either Jesus is God made man or we are still in our sins.  Only God has the power to save us.  Either Jesus rose from the dead or we are the greatest of fools who will be soon forgotten in our graves.  None of this can be left to empty myth or to a sentimental feeling or to a drunken hallucination.  Either the story of salvation is true or we are lost and the Gospel is a lie.

If he has not fashioned a new god, could it be that Buttigieg is ignorant of his deity’s demands?  Could he be in psychological denial as to what the Judeo-Christian faith and its deity demand?  Could he have bought into the notion that biblical moral teachings are somewhat capricious and that all that matters is that we try to be “kind” or “compassionate” or “nice”?  Some politicians think that they can legislate morality at will to satisfy their current agenda.  Unless one has the gift of reading souls, no one can truly know whether Buttigieg is closer to God or not.  This is despite the fact that those of us who believe in an objective order would insist that homosexual acts constitute the matter of mortal sin.  How can one be close to God if one has severed his personal and communal relationship with Christ through sin?  Sin is a declaration of the person to God and to his fellow men— he is saying not merely that he hates God but that he is indifferent to him and toward anything he commands.

I cannot say I have heard much rhetoric of an alternative deity as I have from the camp of radical feminists.  This group hates men and raises abortion to the level of an infernal sacrament.  It is for this reason that many Christians view abortion as the return to the practice of human sacrifice.  The innocents are being devoured by demons (masquerading as deities).

When we see rallies for militant homosexuals, they are also often associated with the new atheism and its tendency toward sacrilege and the vulgar or profane.  Homosexuals have a widespread tendency toward promiscuity and multiple partners.  The Christians among them seem to yearn for a particular friendship.  Many have noted that while of the same gender, men and women alike in these same-sex bonds seem to mimic heterosexual polarities:  one is more manly or dominant and the other is more feminine or passive.  Most Christians who struggle with homosexuality tend to stay clear of much of the more blatant and overt shenanigans.  They are not cross dressers and the notion of spitting the sacred host into the face of priests (as was done to the late John Cardinal O’Connor is repugnant to them). They tend to steer away from public expressions of intimacy.  They deplore violence and emotionally are easily hurt.  They love the Church but often feel that the Church does not want them. They struggle with the judgment that they are welcome but only as long as they remain chaste and celibate.  While it might sound like a stereotype, they are attracted to ritual and sacred music.  They delight in liturgies that are aesthetically beautiful and which raise hearts to heaven.  As a group they are attracted to churches with set ceremonials and find comfort in familiarity.

Catholicism cannot affirm disordered homosexual acts as akin to the marital act between a man and woman.  The Church does not have the authority to ratify as good or neutral what is deemed by both divine positive law and natural law as wrong and sinful.  As with our COURAGE program, we can assist them to live out a chaste celibate love.  We can partner with them in prayer and service.  They should not define themselves principally by the same-sex attraction with which they struggle.  They may not be called to marriage but they are called to holiness.  They should not engage in homosexual acts but they are called to love and to have friendships.  There is a place for them in the Church.  It is best that homosexuals not enter the priesthood; however, priests can rightly model for them lives of celibate service.  God will give his children the gifts and the strength they need to be good and holy.

What can we affirm?  First, we should accept as genuine the religious sense that they have.   They should seek to remain in a state of grace so as to make the most of faith study, prayer and the sacraments.  Second, love needs to be expressed and our parishes have many initiatives where they can participate.  They have generous and selfless hearts.  Third, the church would be the first to promote friendship or brotherhood or sisterhood.  Love does not have to be sexual.  The sacrifice of Jesus shows us the true depths of a love and passion that eclipses all other loves, including the passionate intimacy of spouses.  The covenant of lovers points toward that greater covenant that is merited by the blood of the Cross.       

There is something of a mystery when we speak of the God who has revealed himself and the God we know.  The saving acts of God take place in history but the presence of God is not locked in the past. As Catholics, we would make a case for the Christian deity or the Trinity.  We would insist that God is real and one; that he is the author of all things; that he cares about us; that he has inserted himself into human history; that he has shown his face to us; that he has redeemed us from the folly of sin and death; and that he has established a community of faith to proclaim the truth and to perpetuate his saving work in Christ.  We argue from faith, philosophy and even science that God objectively exists apart from whatever many might subjectively believe or not believe.  While Christians would seek to live in peace with others, we would not personally tolerate or regard as also real the various opposing notions of deities or the negation of atheism.  Tension often arises because belief is not easily captured between church walls but tends to saturate the society in which one lives, influencing human values and how people would express them.

Many early Christians became martyrs in the pagan Roman Empire because they refused to worship mythical deities or the emperors.  These deities were interpreted by the ancient Church fathers as false gods or worse as demons in disguise. When we read the later pagan authors, they blamed the fall of the empire upon the rise of Christianity and how it had reinvented or replaced the deities they previously followed.  Their arguments were somewhat pragmatic because even during its heyday, many Romans went through the prescribed motions but really placed no faith in the false deities and their “soap opera” lives.  But the acceptance of Christianity had a profound impact upon the values of Rome.  There was a definite moral shift.  Today, many are again recreating our understanding of a deity while growing numbers are complaining that the whole notion of a God has served its purpose and should now be discarded.  As before, many say they believe but in truth there is nothing about their behavior that would convict them as Christ’s disciples.

Within the context of Christianity, many would say that revisionists have no right to reinvent God and to modify or to reverse his moral teachings.  Leaning toward the subjective, they would counter the argument by a preponderance of questions.

For further reading…

National Catholic Register
Pete Buttigieg is Wrong — God Still Forbids All Homosexual Acts

Abuse Scandal & “Vos Estis Lux Mundi”

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Having read this article in THE CATHOLIC STANDARD and the document on the Vatican website, I am hopeful but unconvinced that this will prove sufficient. Can Church leaders still be trusted to police themselves? Will this satisfy demands for transparency? While not mentioned at all, did not the crisis with Cardinal McCarrick clarify that the roots of the scandal were not in pedophilia but rather an active homosexuality? Can the problem we face be resolved without first a purification of the Church, next a rededication to celibate love and most importantly a renewed call to holiness?

We are Called to Live & Minister in Fidelity to Christ 

The Holy Father is quite right that we are all called “to give concrete witness of faith in Christ in our lives and, in particular, in our relationship with others.”  No one is excused from the demands of the moral life.  Indeed, our fidelity to our calling to holiness finds its demarcations within the parameters of our vocations of service, particularly in the mutual life of support and affection shared by spouses in marriage and by the cleric in his surrender to a celibate love that finds its direct source in God.  The motu propio rightly speaks of this truth but it must be asked, does it ever really target by name the key issue behind the current crisis about priestly misbehavior and abuse?

Yes, sexual abuse is obviously an offense to God and it certainly causes “physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm to the community of the faithful.”  I would also add, that as a sin, it also brings ruination to the soul and character of the perpetrator.  Efforts to prevent further abuse will certainly require an openness to the grace of the Holy Spirit; however, it will also require sufficient “concrete actions.” Measures already taken proved their value even though they were not fully effective, given their application to the laity and to accused priests while leaving the bishops largely immune or detached from the reach of child protection initiatives.

The Shepherds of the Church are Entrusted to Safeguard the Flock

We have seen a peculiar development in the response to the abuse of children in the Church.  Initial initiatives focused on the laity (parish staff and teachers) with the clergy almost entirely outside the purview of child protection programs.  Then as more and more priests were charged and judged guilty of abusing minors, religious and parish priests were added to the mix.  Recent efforts at deflection failed for the bishops when attorneys targeted them by name as either abusers (themselves) or as protecting, enabling or hiding  priests who harmed children.  Can we now trust them to do what is right?  The papal initiative continues our efforts to deal with dangerous priests but also places bishops on the radar.  While we are all called to a moral life, the practical focus here is specific to the clergy, given the current scandal.  The scope of the misbehavior begins with violations of the sixth commandment (You shall not commit adultery).

Yes, the bishops have a singular role to play as the successors of the apostles possessing the fullness of priestly authority.  They must edify their flocks “in truth and holiness,” not as pampered princes but as humble servants who live out “the evangelical counsels” in obedience to the Lord.  They must keep trust with God’s people, placing the needs of the faithful centermost in all they say and do.  Will these new universal procedures be sufficient in combating ecclesial betrayal?  Frankly, the document looks to the future while many of us are still concerned about the past and present.

Yes, there should be “mutual listening” and openness “to the contributions of those who care deeply about this process of conversion.”  But where does this place agnostic clinicians that continue to work for the Church who once counseled the return of abusers to assignments and later couched the scandal as one of pedophilia while it was in actuality one of homosexual pederasty?  How can we trust those who treat priests when an unspecified number of their centers are suspected as hotbeds for homosexuality and dissent?  How does a Church express sorrow and reach out to victims so that they might find real healing and peace when the leadership apparently places an inordinate emphasis upon hiring savvy lawyers so as to avoid liability or fault?  What becomes of truth when both shepherds and attorneys employ a plethora of words that baffle the mind and fail to answer pertinent questions? Where is true transparency when the critical and revelatory letters of a high profile prelate like Archbishop Viganò can be dismissed, even by the Pope, himself?

The Strengths & Weaknesses of the Papal Intervention

What are the positive elements of this document that build on past efforts to stem the abuse of minors by clergy?

  • Episcopal cover-ups are now deemed as crimes in the Church.
  • Dioceses cannot be indifferent and must render material and physical help to victims.
  • There is finally a system to report the malfeasance of bishops.

What might be the negative or problematical points in this document?

  • Homosexuality is not named as having any part in the problem and scandal.
  • We must still trust bishops to investigate their fellow bishops.
  • No penal actions or disciplines are dictated.
  • The new policies are not retroactive to older cases.
  • Nothing dictates transparency, either in the investigations or the subsequent punishments.

Given the nature of the crisis, the document singles out clerics and religious.  This is as it should be but many remain deeply worried about priests who are wrongly accused.  The document speaks of a presumption of innocence; but in truth, what constitutes “credible” accusations has never been sufficiently or universally defined.  Allegations going back decades and lacking forensic evidence, still result in suspensions. The stigma from charges will always remain and frequently Church authorities feel that these men cannot be reassigned. Those who are dead cannot defend themselves but they can have their good names and reputations destroyed.  The methodology we follow would require that even if allegations should later be proven untrue, we must approach each case as if a wrong did occur.  Many bishops did not seem overly concerned about possible injustice, that is until attorneys and victims turned their sights upon them.

While it is lamentable that priests known as abusers were shuffled around; it is just as sad when possibly innocent priests are not convicted of crimes but are still convicted by the court of public opinion (largely uninformed) and a bias media.  They are frequently left out in the cold and attempts to defend them, especially from conservative voices, are often rewarded with charges of intolerance and homophobia.  It may simply be a matter of cynical over-reaching, but some have noticed that the prosecution of cases of priestly misbehavior are not handled the same by different bishops and in varying locations.  If the new document brings uniformity then that may be a definite improvement, providing that justice is real. Too often it seemed that certain priests, even where a preponderance of the circumstantial evidence pointed to guilt, got off easier than others.  We have seen this in a number of cases where men charged with homosexual indiscretions or misbehavior were either defended or quietly returned to ministry.  While we must not be uncharitable or fall prey to calumny, the question does logically arise, were they being specially protected by friends in high places (perhaps with similar inclinations)?

How Should We Punish Bad Bishops & Priests?

Note here that “no penal actions or disciplines are dictated.”  This is a serious matter that should become part of the global discussion.  What do we do with bishops and priests who are not incarcerated?  Priests suspended from ministry and/or lacized often have to find new  employment.  The Church loses track of them.  If they are registered sex-offenders in the US then the government might track a few of them.  Given their tarnished reputations, it may even be hard for them to find a place to live.  Some places post signs and various people have taken it upon themselves to warn neighbors and to alert nearby schools.  God forbid that the man is actually innocent; however, if he is a predator, many of these men are serial offenders.  They seem unable to stop themselves.  The homosexuals among them, and this is the majority, seem drawn to multiple partners.  Many of these priests, themselves, suffered trauma in experiencing a homosexual encounter when they were teens.  Yes, the abuser was himself abused.  All the while our society has sought to make the disorder of homosexuality normative.  That is why the media often falls over itself in attacking the abuse scandal in the Church while desperately trying to sever it from homosexuality.  Can we keep the priest abusers in Church run facilities indefinitely?  Must they accept chemical castration?  Can we mandate that they live in special monastic centers far from populated areas?  What do we do with a priest when all he knows is being a priest, even if a bad, sick or criminal one?  The Church has been condemned for keeping these men in Church facilities.  The Church has also been criticized for letting these men go and not supervising them.  We need to do something but I am unsure that we can do anything that will please everyone.

Abuse of Priests as Spiritual Incest

Although the attitude of certain shepherds makes it hard to believe, we are traditionally taught that the relationship of a bishop to his priests should be that of a father to his son.  If this is the case, then we have a problem in the Church that is more complicated than a few sick bishops having sexual relationship with priests.  Fathers nurture and care for their children.  They treat them with justice and compassion.  They hear them out.  They may even discipline them when such is necessary.  We cannot excuse past abuse or enable clergy to hurt others.  But the question must be asked, would a father disown his son?

Clarifying the delict, we read that it first applies to “forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts.”  I recall years ago a bishop in Hawaii who was accused of sexually abusing some of his priests.  Along these lines, the situation with McCarrick (former cardinal in Washington) is an egregious tale of deception, complicity and perversity.  However, it would still be a scandal even if these acts with priests or other men were consensual.  Are we not limiting ourselves to that which might be prosecuted legally?  Further, I have a hard time imagining an “innocent” priest (as a grown man) submitting himself as a sexual pawn to his bishop so as to avoid punishment.  I would either walk away or more likely give him a quick punch to the face.  Many of the stories imply that such misbehavior was to incur favor and plum assignments, maybe even elevation to the episcopacy. These are not abused innocent men. These are homosexuals victimizing their own fellow homosexuals.  It would seem to me, after proper investigation; that a number of these so-called adult priestly victims would also have to be dismissed from the clerical state.

Minors, Vulnerable Persons & Trust

Point number two is where most of the gravity in the current scandal can be found.  It is also a matter that will need further development.  For instance, what is a minor?  Currently in the US it is regarded as someone under 18.  Many other places in the world lower the age of majority to 16 or even 14 years of age.  Again, it seems that we are giving an emphasis to legal liability.  Is this not somewhat capricious?  Children and young people should not be abused.  That should be a given.  But what is deflected is that the priest or bishop is not supposed to have sexual relations with anyone, of any age, and of either gender!  If priests remain true to their promises, then youth and other vulnerable persons are safe.  The issue here is one of morality and holiness.

Practically speaking, there has been more than a little confusion as to what constitutes a vulnerable person.  During a conference with archdiocesan officials a few years ago at St. Jerome’s hall in Hyattsville, I asked a recently hired official if the protection guidelines included the intellectually challenged and the elderly.  He said no, just minors.  I argued with him.  Now it seems he was indeed wrong.  Left unsaid is how does one protect both the vulnerable persons from harm and the clergymen from false charges?  We are told not to be alone with children and yet many parishes still have reconciliation rooms with closed solid doors.  Would it not be better to insist upon the traditional confessional with a wall and screen?  Are we consistent in not having clergy alone with people suffering intellectual challenges?  When a priest does sick calls, is he alone or accompanied by others?  There was a recent case where Fr. Gerold Langsch was charged with groping a woman in hospice care after he was summoned to give the last rites.  Are our priests never to be trusted?  What does this communicate about the clergy?  Our Lord sending his disciples out “two by two” is making ever more sense.

All Pornography Poisons the Soul

Certainly I would agree that it is grievously wrong for the clergy to possess child pornography.  However, it is also sinful and inexcusable for priests to collect adult and/or gay pornography.  Where are the programs to assist priests who are addicted to pornography and self-pollution?  Even if the filth is not of the type that will land the priest in jail, it is still sufficient to posit him in hell.  How can a priest authentically care about persons while he looks upon the bodies of others as commodities to satisfy his own lusts?  Pornography is literally a form of virtual prostitution— others are devalued as persons by the very one who should be praying for them, to raise their dignity, and to save their souls.  The priest who would exploit others has forfeited within himself the grace that others need to be spiritually enriched.

Giving a Name to the Sin that Fuels the Scandal

The sixth commandment (against adultery) is interpreted by the Church as pertaining to all sorts of sexual misbehaviors.  Many feel that the document would have been stronger with an elaboration of the crimes or sins that made this document necessary.  As it stands, there is arguably a level of ambiguity.  The universal catechism gives us a list of sins that violate the sixth commandment and offend against chastity: (1) lust, (2) masturbation, (3) fornication, (4) pornography, (5) prostitution, (6) rape, and (7) homosexuality.  While today we must deal with a whole list of deviant sexual practices, like pedophilia and bestiality, it is apparently presumed in the catechism that all but homosexuality would be universally condemned and hopefully quite rare.  The last sin listed here is very important to this discussion.  The universal catechism states that when it comes to homosexuals, “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”  No reference is made to this sin by name in the papal document.  Deliberate or not, is this a fatal oversight?  The popular characterization of pedophilia is grossly false. Pedophilia is a psychiatric malady in which an adult has a primary or exclusive sexual disorientation toward prepubescent children.  By contrast, well over 80 percent of the abuse cases with priests in the United States involved older or teenaged boys. Nevertheless, this misdiagnosis of pedophilia is what has allowed the US bishops’ conference to wrongly conclude that homosexual priests are no more likely than heterosexual ones to enter into abusive behavior.  How many cases of active homosexual clergy (as with McCarrick) are known to the bishops?  How many have similarly been protected and promoted when they should have been severely disciplined?

Just at a time when we are called to embrace the truth, the reality of the situation is often carefully worded by churchmen in a way that seems inexact if not explicitly deceptive. Further, many people are themselves so morally bankrupt that they cannot distinguish what is right or wrong, particularly when it comes to human sexuality.  They are formed more by our secular culture than by the Christian kerygma.  It is in this light that some may complain that these new measures should have better spelled out what sins violate the sixth commandment.  While it would probably be widely unpopular and condemned as intolerant, should not some mention have been made about homosexuality as at the root of the current problem?  The failure to do so will make it easy for the harshest critics to say that nothing has changed… that the Lavender Mafia is still pulling the strings and protecting its own.  It was not long after Pope Benedict XV asserted that homosexual men should not be ordained as priests that he called it quits.  He apparently had neither the health nor the strength to fight this powerful enemy from within… this proverbial “smoke of Satan.”  Those who would dissent on homosexulaity would likely be the first to liberalize teachings about fornication and adultery.

We need a priesthood that is unassailable in its individual membership and that speaks with one voice as the sentinel of Christ.  Priests must be witnesses to the whole world of a calling to be living signs of contradiction to our times.  Ironically, the world attacks the priesthood for the very corruption with which it has infested the priestly soul.  The scandal is not that we have faithfully stood up against the world but that too many have succumbed.

The current crisis in the Catholic Church is one of homosexuality; no matter how many bishops and their so-called experts would say otherwise. It would NOT be “unjust discrimination” to remove them (any who have experienced even one act of homosexual intimacy) from the seminaries and from the active priesthood.  This should be a given if we want to insure the high moral character of the priesthood and the reputation of the Church. Homosexuals are loved by God and his Church; but they must remain chaste.  They can serve the Lord in many ways, albeit outside of holy orders.  No one deserves to be a priest or bishop.  It is a gift from God and his holy Church.  No women are called and few men.  No one can demand ordination as a matter of justice.  I am fearful that without this purge, the scandals and problems we face will remain to haunt us for many years to come.

Can We Find It in Ourselves to Trust the Hierarchy?

Not new is the level of care that many local churches already offer to those who come forward as victimized.  God stewards have welcomed them to come forward and have listened to their sad stories.  They were treated with respect and their dignity was acknowledged as children of God.  Many good bishops have offered both spiritual and therapeutic assistance.  However, we as a Church are ashamed that charges of abuse were sometimes not taken seriously and clergy were allowed to continue in preying upon innocence.  Those with any moral conscience are deeply troubled by allegations that officials threatened victims to be silent and that hush money was paid.   The institution of the Church failed a number of her own.  All the while, Mother Church with Mary’s immaculate heart weeped for her children.  I suspect there are still tears pouring from heaven.

The provisions call for the submission of reports through the institution of a specific ecclesiastical office and to Ordinaries.  Reports could also be sent directly to the Holy See. The Metropolitans would regularly take the initiative in commencing investigations of higher clerics.  (This is much as Cardinal Wuerl had suggested some months back; has Pope Francis put his name to the cardinal’s plan?)  I have not yet read any other critiques but I can well imagine that a number will complain.  Are we again being asked to trust that the bishops of the Church can police themselves? We read that the proposed procedures will insure “confidentiality” (to protect the applicant) and yet no one will be obliged to secrecy.   It will be interesting to see how this will work.

As an alternative, many of us urged the further establishment or expansion of independent lay review boards.  Canonical changes would be required so as to give these boards some teeth against slippery and guilty higher level clerics.  At present, given this document, it seems unlikely this will happen.  Did the cries of many fall upon deaf ears? It is indeed possible that our shepherds know better than many of us as to what must be done.  The problem is that earlier assurances proved shortsighted and McCarrick (a principal spokesman for the American bishops) was revealed as part of the problem, not the solution.   As I first said, I hope this new stratagem will bear fruit.  Be that as it may, it is hard to shake off a nagging pessimism that this effort of the Holy See will satisfy the level of transparency for which critics and victims are clamoring.  We pray that this is not more of the same.  Have we been down this road before?  Are we trying to fix with a bandaid what needs surgical intervention?  Are we seeking to resolve a major challenge to the Church’s life and authority with a gentle tweaking of policies when what she really needs is a full-blown reformation?

A Few Links to the News About This Blog Story

CNA – Analysis: Is Pope Francis’ new abuse plan the answer Catholics are looking for?

Vatican News – New norms for the whole Church against those who abuse or cover up

Catholic Telegraph – Q & A Regarding Pope Francis’ Motu Propio VOS ESTIS LUX MUNDI

Intermountain Catholic – US Bishops’ Conference Statement on Motu Proprio

America – Pope Francis’ new sex abuse rules are a revolution for the Catholic Church

CRUX – Reaction to Pope’s abuse letter: ‘Nice words, but it’s time for action’

NC Register – Pope Francis Signs Motu Proprio to Prevent and Denounce Abuses in the Catholic Church

Shocked by Bishop Holley’s Forced Retirement

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Installed in October 19 of 2016, Bishop Holley generated controversy soon after arriving in Memphis when he ordered the transfer of about 75 percent of the diocese’s pastors, an unprecedented move. The Diocese of Memphis has about 65,000 Catholics and 42 parishes. There was no set policy on assignment times when Bishop Holley arrived and many had spent inordinately long periods in certain parishes, accruing strong followings. Successful pastors at the more lucrative parishes were also frequently allowed certain autonomy. Bishop Holley wanted to impose a policy that was followed in the Archdiocese of Washington. Bishop Holley decided to appoint pastors for six-year terms, with a possible renewal of the term for six more years.

As a response to the change, it was subsequently reported that morale among priests was low, and that parish collections and contributions to the annual diocesan appeal had declined significantly. Many parishioners became very vocal and labeled the bishop as unresponsive. Parishioners followed pastors to new assignments and left their prior churches.  It was said that as many as a quarter of one church’s membership defected.  Others stopped attending entirely.  The Holy See sent Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta and Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis to visit and respond to the complaints. They met with as many as 50 priests and disgruntled laity of the Memphis Diocese during their visit.

The verdict came out on October 24, 2018 with Pope Francis removing Bishop Martin Holley from the pastoral governance of the diocese of Memphis, Tennessee. The Pope has named as apostolic administrator, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky. Archbishop Kurtz stated: “I humbly accept the appointment of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to serve as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Memphis, while remaining archbishop of Louisville. I am eager to work with the priests, curia and faithful of the Diocese of Memphis to promote stability, peace and healing until Pope Francis appoints a new bishop.”

What message does this removal send? Can parishioners make so much noise about the transfer of priests that bishops can get sanctioned and removed? This is ridiculous. There must be more to this. Bishops have the authority to assign their priests and to close and consolidate parishes and schools, especially if they are failing. It seems he did all this. Where is his crime demanding dismissal? One parishioner noted: “Bishop Holley doesn’t kowtow to the powers that be here. There’s a lot of people who really love Bishop Holley. He’s a really holy man. He doesn’t pander to egos. The majority is really thankful he moved the pastors around. It was past due.”

The impression is given that the USCCB and the Holy Father capitulated to financial blackmail from laity manipulated by a few disobedient clergy angry about their transfers. I suspect that Bishop Holley saw the seeds for such a dangerous situation (threatening trusteeism) and decided to break it up, supposing that the Holy See would support him. [Very few of the pastors gave television news interviews and I suspect that most of the presbyterate were good men hurt by the transfers but unable themselves to reign in the forces of upset and retaliation around them.]

As for the school closures, we are told that they had exhausted available funds and that few if any of the children were Catholic. While we seek to help the poor of any denomination, we must not do so at the expense of the needs and faith formation of our own children.

It seems to me that Bishop Holley essentially followed patterns he witnessed in the Archdiocese of Washington where pastors are given six year assignments (renewable) and where the Inner City Consortium was necessarily reduced in size and scope. As far as I can recall canonical regulations about “immovable pastors” do not exist in the current Code of Canon Law. This may be cause for many other bishops to be fearful, as such a move by the Pope over administrative matters is virtually unprecedented.

The visitation from two archbishops and the papal sanction signals the end of episcopal sovereignty from the intrusive authority of bishops’ conferences. Indeed, the Pope as the bishop of Rome has traditionally respected the governance of other bishops within their (arch)dioceses as long as the faith and morals of the Church were promoted. This is no longer insured.

Bishop Holley is known to be a shepherd faithful to Church teaching and devotion. While centered on the Eucharist, he has personally witnessed to a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother and daily says his rosary. He is a dear friend and I was told that his intervention here in Washington made possible my current assignment. He remains a bishop and as one of our Lord’s priests, I pray that he will be permitted to continue in ministering the sacraments and Christ’s healing mercy to others. Knowing him as a personable and caring person, I cannot help but feel that those who derided him were the ones who closed the doors to friendship and failed to give him a real chance to make a positive difference in Memphis.

I am deeply distressed by his removal by the Pope. He is a man deeply concerned about the faith, needs and rights of all of God’s children. I cannot help but think that there has been a terrible misjudgment and injustice committed in his regard. Whatever has happened, he remains in my prayers and in my heart.

ADDENDUM

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No matter where one might stand in the Church, the bishop is right that there must be due process and a legitimate transparency. We damage our own moral authority if we do not proceed in a manner that ensures fairness and justice (for all parties).

The Proper Response to Scandal is Not Defection

ARTICLE: “Want to leave the Catholic Church? Officially you can’t” by Dan Waidelich.

SOURCE & DATE:  Washington Post – October 22, 2018.

REFLECTION:

The reporter notes that Mary Combs left the Church 15 years ago over the clergy sexual abuse scandals in Boston.  We are told that she looked at “the collection basket, imagining the money paying off victims.”

While one can readily appreciate how terribly she was disheartened, there was nothing particularly noble or heroic about her personal defection.  While such scandals, then and now, should make the laity angry— the proper response is not to run away but to stick it out and fight.  It may be that the clergy are overly identified with the faith; but the laity constitutes the largest segment of the Church.  She should have looked at that collection basket and realized that “there” in the purse strings is power to compel reform.  This is not blackmail.  The laity as a matter of justice can demand that the resources they share go to building up the kingdom and not be squandered in covering up for sin or for appeasing greed and ambition.

Unfortunately, anger spoke louder than her own calling or mission as a disciple.  Indeed, it also eclipsed the many needs that emerge from charity toward the poor and the hurting.  Despite the presence of evil in her ministerial ranks, the Church still does much good for the disadvantaged and the oppressed. Indeed, Catholic Charities is the largest and most active social outreach organization, just behind the U.S. government. Mary Combs walked away from that element of her discipleship in the Church because she was upset by weak and sinful men.

Judas signified one-twelfth of the world’s bishop-priests in 33 AD.  He betrayed Christ and later committed suicide.  Did everyone who had followed Christ leave the Church because of his sin?  No.  They realized that despite human iniquity, Jesus was indeed their Messiah, Savior and Lord.  Peter, the first of many popes of the Church, fearfully denied even knowing Christ when Jesus was being tried.  Nevertheless, our resurrected Lord would respond to his affirmations of love by restoring his authority as the visible head of the Church.  Just as we shake our heads today at the clericalism of our priests and how ambition sometimes overshadows servanthood, we can also recall James and John asking for a special place at Christ’s right and left.  Similarly, the apostles argue among themselves as to who is the greatest.  And yet, when the going got tough, all but John ran and went into hiding.  At the Last Supper they had each been given the authority sacramentally to re-present the mystery of Christ’s paschal mystery and his saving oblation in “memory” of him.  But when they had the opportunity to walk physically with Christ to Calvary, there was only one apostle who accompanied him to the Cross so as to witness the mystery firsthand.

“Now there’s this Pennsylvania scandal,” Combs said. “Hundreds of priests abusing thousands of parishioners and a coverup that went all the way to the Vatican — again.” We are told that she now attends Grace Lutheran Church in Virginia. This is no solution either.  Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.  While even Protestant churches have their own scandals, they are historically also breakaway institutions from Catholic unity.  They may possess certain saving elements which they took with them from Catholicism, i.e. the Scriptures, faith in Christ and baptism.  Sadly, they have also forfeited a genuine priesthood and Eucharist.  This signals that her defection is rooted, not just in a repugnance to clerical scandal, but in a lack of a true and complete Christian faith.  We are told that she took comfort when the Pennsylvania stories broke, in knowing that she was done with Catholicism.  Unfortunately, while we leave judgment to God, he will judge her not as a Lutheran but as a Catholic.

The current scandals should not confirm Mary Combs and those like her in their defection.  Indeed, it should be a clarion call for all to come back and to make right that which has gone wrong.  Those who have courageously stayed with the Church must demand a full accounting of past misdeeds, transparency in the future and a purging of those persons from ministry who can no longer be trusted.  There needs to be a genuine purification and reform.  This must be done by those who have remained faithful and those who have repented of their own failures or defection so as not to be part of the problem but of the solution.

Jesus instituted the Church and gave us ministers and sacraments so as to provide for his people.  He did not say that the Church would always be perfect, only that he would sustain her and that she would be made holy by the bridegroom, Christ.  The devil has had a hand in the corruption of churchmen.  Violations of priestly celibacy as with other sins can be healed by our merciful Lord and even forgiven by God’s faithful people; however, those who have harmed minors and those who have engaged in same-sex acts have no place in the priesthood.

The Washington Post article, while heavily focused on the issue of clergy abuse, actually targeted the question as to whether one could technically leave the Catholic Church. Rev. Thomas Ferguson, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., affirmed what Catholics should already know that it is impossible to defect from the Catholic Church. Our affiliation with the Catholic faith is stamped upon our souls at baptism.  It is the Church directly instituted by Christ.  Any movement away from that Church distances us from our Lord.

The original Protestant churches were regarded as groupings of fallen-away or lapsed Catholics.  Over time, many were born and raised in these communities, never juridically united or formed within the fullness of the Catholic faith community.  What might merit them through ignorance will not satisfy for Catholics who should know better.

Church Scandal & the Devil

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Those who hate the Catholic Church are falling over themselves in blaming pedophile clergy for the abuse and scandals.  They absolutely refuse to acknowledge that the majority of cases are instances of homosexual pederasty.  These critics, that include major newspapers and other news outlets, are in collusion with churchmen who want to protect or hide “gay” priests in the Church and promote the growing acceptance of homosexuality in secular culture.  The devil as the great deceiver has not only corrupted some in the Church but many in our secular society.

When Pope Francis targeted Satan as the primary culprit of the crisis, many public officials, journalists and others roundly ridiculed him.  Article headers around the world heralded a distorted view of his remarks: “Pope Blames Satan Instead of Pedophile Priests!” A spiritual view was derided as a political deflection.  Given that many critics of the Church are also inimical to any and all religious affiliations, this should not surprise us— atheists neither believe in God nor a devil. Nevertheless, the devil is real and if it seems that he is spending an inordinate amount of time and energy attacking the Catholic Church the reason is that she is the house that Jesus built.  However, if he is present in the Church as an interloper, he is alive and well in modern society as a welcomed guest, or at least this is so in terms of his distorted values.  He wants to take ownership of the world and is willing to hide as the ghost in the machine.

Satan_Gustave_Dore_paradise_lost_the_devil_cast_out_of_heavenThe Pope warns us: “We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.” While other confessions broke away from Catholic unity, the legacy of the Catholic Church goes back to Jesus and the first bishop-priests, his apostles.  The devil hates the Church because she is the present-day realization of the incarnation in the world.  Christ is the head and his Church is his Mystical Body.  There is a profound unity.  Given that none are saved apart from Christ, the same can be said about the Church.  As the Mystical Body of our Lord, she is the great sacrament of encounter with Christ.  Even as the Church is composed of sinners and invites others by divine command, the Church remains holy because Christ is holy.  Our Lord’s redemptive work won the victory over sin and death.  However, the consequences must be unraveled throughout subsequent human history.  The devil has lost the war but he still seeks to steal individual souls.  Given the importance of the priesthood and the Eucharist as at the heart of the Church, the devil attacks where he can cause the most damage and scandal.  Just as he can numb the consciences of mothers about the tragic abortion of their children; he deadens the souls of renegade priests to their heinous acts against God’s children, making a sacrilege of their role at the altar and in the confessional.

None of this mitigates the priest’s own culpability for his sins.  Similarly the bishops have an obligation to insure a priesthood that is sanctified by grace and devoted to a service realized in sacrificial love.  They must be new Christs.  We can accept nothing less as it would come from the evil one.  Bishops and priests are called as ministers of mercy or reconciliation.  It is in this regard that we should not dismiss Satan’s efforts to tempt and corrupt priests.  We are not Donatists and the powers of the priesthood are not dependent upon personal holiness.  However, bad priests do not readily invite others to repentance and holiness of life.  Our Lord abhors duplicity.  Compromise the truth and few will listen to our preaching and teaching.

When the devil targets priests, he uses their own loneliness and brokenness against them.  He sows weeds from the beginning in secret.  Things that needed to be said were not said.  Weaknesses were not acknowledged or treated.  Truth was the victim throughout— in the psychological evaluation, in the acceptance into seminary, in the regular reviews of candidates and even as they prostrated themselves before the altar. Men who were afraid thought they could hide their cowardice and defects within the priesthood even though our Lord had admonished his apostles not to be afraid. Men who were not committed to celibate love came forward with divided hearts to be ordained.  Men who were not humbled by a call of service knelt before the bishop with princely dreams instead.  Men who pledged obedience became infected by the poison of Milton’s Satan who cried, “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” Did any of the rogues possess a genuine conviction to answer a calling from God? If so, what was it that changed their trajectory?  While some of these men deceived themselves; others were given help.

Most priests are good men who seek to realize the holiness of God and the forgiveness of sins, in their lives and in the lives of those to whom they minister.  But it only takes a few bad men to hurt many.  It only takes a moment of passivity or weakness or silence to become complicit in their crimes.

Pope Francis has asked God’s people to pray the rosary every day in October so as to repel the satanic attacks and to exorcise the demonic presence from the Church.  Of course, we should always pray for good and holy priests.  Pope Francis tells us: “The Church must be saved from the attacks of the malignant one, the great accuser, and at the same time be made ever more aware of her guilt— her mistakes— with the abuses committed in the present and the past.”

The Pope has asked us to add to the rosary the traditional intercessory prayer to St. Michael:

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

A Scandal that Calls for a New Reformation

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“Christ himself, the model of priests, taught first by the example of his deeds and then by his words: Jesus began to do and then to teach. Likewise, a priest who neglects his own sanctification can never be the salt of the earth; what is corrupt and contaminated is utterly incapable of preserving from corruption; where sanctity is lacking, there corruption will inevitably find its way.”

– St. Pius X

We are taught as Catholics that the Church is holy because Christ is holy.  This is what gives truth value to the second mark of the Church mentioned every time we recite the Creed at Sunday Mass.  The Church is holy and it is by means of the teachings of faith and the sacraments that we can be made holy by grace.  This is what we believe and yet has there ever been a time when it was so very hard to believe? The Church is also composed of sinners; indeed, we are all sinners needing a Savior.  But when it comes to our priests and bishops, we like to imagine that they have a direct line to heaven.  They make little money, forsake a spouse and family and are at the immediate beck-and-call of their flocks.  The lesson that Jesus gives his apostles with the Holy Thursday foot washing is that the greater they would become, the more they would have to humiliate themselves as the servants of all.

Catholicism insists that both bishops and priests should remain celibate— placing the love of the Mystical Body or the Church ahead of all other loves.  At a time when most churches compromise on the moral teachings of Christ; the Catholic faith remains resolute about purity prior to marriage, about the permanence of marriage, about marriage as only a relationship between a man and a woman, about the nature of the marital act as open to the generation of children, and about the sanctity of human life.  The loftier the moral message, the further the messenger might fall when he is exposed as duplicitous.

Our priests witness the marriages of couples in love, consecrating unions with the favor of God and of his Church.  They baptize babies, transforming them from mere creatures of God into adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.  They absolve penitents from their sins, literally stealing the damned from the devil. At Mass they celebrate the sacrifice of Calvary so that we might offer ourselves with Jesus, the Lamb of God, as an acceptable oblation to the Father.  They give us Holy Communion, rations from that promised shore to which we travel as spiritual pilgrims.  Along with bishops, they offer confirmation, completing our baptisms so that we might be enriched by the gifts of the Spirit and made living temples of God.  They anoint the sick, perpetuating the ministry of Jesus in bringing healing to the hurting among us.  They bury the dead, preaching a message of hope that in Jesus love is stronger than death and victorious over the grave.  The priest is at the center of everything Catholic.  That is what makes the current scandal especially devastating.  The faithful are rightly disappointed and upset. Our shepherds are facing a crisis in holiness.

Contagious Scandal & the Loss of Reputation

Any one priest signifies every priest.  This collective appreciation has made the present crisis a damning one.  When the laity look at their priests, they immediately wonder, “Could he be one of those priests?” While regarding only a few, these dark revelations of sin and crime are sufficient in damaging overall trust.

Men presumed as truthful revealed as duplicitous liars.

These are the same men appointed as preachers of the Gospel.  The priest and pastor is the chief catechist of every parish and is entrusted with the faith formation of his people.  What becomes of the message or the Good News when the messenger becomes a witness of bad or scandalous news?  What becomes of his credibility when the mouthpiece of God not only stumbles in his witness but is unveiled as an agent of the devil’s anti-gospel? How can such a man speak to us about the truth when he has failed to put on the mind of Christ?

Men presumed as merciful exposed as sources for sin.

These are the men chosen to give flesh to the Divine Mercy in the ministry of the church.  Who would want to go to confession to such rogues?  Many might think that their sins pale in comparison to such reprobates.  While the efficacy of the sacraments is assured; it is understandable that the faithful would feel stained or polluted by association with these men.  Is it all just empty words and gestures? Compounding the problem, they sometimes substitute malice for mercy and draw others as accomplices into their lives of sin.  How can such men draw us into the love of God when they do not have the heart of Christ?

Men presumed as healers caught as sadistic destroyers.

Jesus condemned the pharisees for placing unnecessary burdens upon good people.  As an antidote he delivered the freedom and healing that belongs to the children of God.  Priests were called to mend souls and to give hope, not to breach their victims from the family of God or to give them cause for despair.  The miscreants in the news destroyed innocence and purposely misdirected the faith trajectory of people’s lives.  They placed their own sexual gratification over sacred promises and the good of persons.  How could they live with themselves, exchanging the joy of right relationship with God for a cruel transitory delight toward others?  Even if there were a failure to love, did they not fear God?

Men presumed as pure are brought to light as defiled.

Priests are commissioned as eschatological signs of Christ’s kingdom.  This is a basic premise behind the promise or vow of celibacy.  Celibacy is not the same as chastity or virginity.  Rather, it is a wondrous way of loving others.  We are corporeal-spiritual composites, creatures of spirit and flesh.  The purity of the body is supposed to immediately signify the virtuous nature of the soul, the existential resolution as one who loves the Lord so tremendously that it spills over in concern for the neighbor.  As opposed to the pattern of the rich man going away sad because of his many possessions, it is the follower of Jesus who seeks to abandon earthly satisfaction so as to be rich in Christ.  What happened to this singleness of purpose in these men?  How is it that they could be satisfied with the carnal man when they were pledged to something greater, the one who lives in the Spirit?

Men presumed as holy are divulged as devils.

We are all called to be saints.  That is our fundamental purpose in life.  Christ as the new Adam comes into the world to restore an innocence that was lost by sin.  The priest is charged as an instrument of the Lord to dispense the divine mysteries in making this objective possible.  His ministrations allow us to enter in the saving paschal mystery.  Here is where the sins of these men become a kind of blasphemy against all that is holy and good.  Instead of realizing their role as sharers in Christ’s priesthood and extending his saving works, they look to the wimpish failure of the first Adam; indeed, worse than this, they play the role of the serpent.  Do they not see how they have been thoroughly soiled as slaves to the devil?  Have they stopped believing entirely?

We are told that a priest, even in mortal sin, can validly administer the sacraments.  This is one of the great absurdities of faith and yet one necessary to insure the efficacy of the sacraments in the life of God’s people.  Of course, while a bad priest might do some good, his bad character often sours the milk and corrupts or tears down what is built up.  This dissimulation probably constitutes a special wound in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Our Lord is pained by the priest who is a cheat or hypocrite, even as he is supposed to be “another Christ” at the altar.

It remains a conundrum that a priest might take his people to the very gates of heaven but himself be unable to enter.  While we might think that the graces of priesthood would make it easier for him to go to heaven; certain authorities have argued that it makes the prospect of hell more pressing and dangerous.  Why?  The more one is given, the more for which one will be held accountable.  The priest knows better and cannot claim ignorance.  Everything needed for salvation is immediately available.  That makes any neglect inexcusable.  Further, because he has been configured to Christ by his ordination, the devil targets him for every temptation and assault.  At his altar, at his desk, in his car and in his bed he is always in the midst of a fierce battle with the prince demon of perdition.  Priests who forget this will immediately stumble.  The senses are especially targeted.  The scandals of late all appeal to the flesh and sexuality.  The sins committed are virtually unimaginable.  Minds are clouded.  Hearts are hardened.  The devil will take any crack he can find to pierce the priest’s soul— smoking, drunkenness, gluttony, sloth, anger, jealousy, whatever.  The devil may have failed in his temptation of Christ; but starting with his apostles and coming down through history to his priests and bishops of today, he has found men who sometimes falter and even become his property.  Judas may not be the only bishop-priest in hell.

It is a terrible business when the weak link of faith is the shepherd. The weapons to hurt souls and to attack the Church then come from the very hands of the priest— hands that were consecrated for the chalice and the host.  We as Catholics become our own worst enemies.  It is at such times that we must remember that our faith is placed ultimately not in men but in God.  We should also recall the saints, for theirs is the true legacy of the Church.  Instead of running away, it becomes all the more imperative for God’s people to keep the faith and to demand fidelity and holiness of their priests.  All sins might be forgiven, but the sins against innocence must not be forgotten.  A reform of the Church will mean that some higher churchmen will have to step down, certain priests will have to be removed from ministry and others will have to embrace a heroic apostolate of penance and sanctity.  This is not a time for window dressing but of a true moral reform, to deal both with a hostile secular modernity and a rigid clericalism that makes careerism and a fear of scandal into higher imperatives than protecting God’s flock from the robber and the wolf.

If we enter into the light (not afraid of what will be unmasked) and not in the darkness (where the roaches of sin hide), then we will truly walk with Christ.  As opposed to the clamoring enemies of the Church who see the current scandal as the death knell for Catholicism, maybe it is an unavoidable summons to “grow up” and to become a more effective and genuine witness for Christ in the modern world?  Divine providence is most unfathomable when God draws something of the good from the misdirected evil of men.