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Harry Potter & the Occult

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A person recently asked me the question,  “Are the Harry Potter books a dangerous introduction to the occult and demon possession?”  The inquiry was a response to a news topic.  A Catholic school in Tennessee reportedly has removed the popular Harry Potter book series from its library because they “risk conjuring evil spirits.”

How might I answer?  I would not routinely presume to second-guess the prudential decision of another Catholic pastor. When the Harry Potter books were removed from the school library, Rev. Dan Reehil, the pastor of St. Edward School in Nashville stated:

“These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”

It may be that he knows something that I do not. Have there been any exposed cases of possession due to reading children’s books? I really cannot say. It has not been my experience.  Reasoning along these lines, I have warned against the use of Ouija boards for incidents that are clearly documented.

Rebecca Hammel, the superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, stated that the Catholic Church does not have an official position on the Harry Potter books. I think this would be a sufficient answer to the question posed here. Admittedly, as someone who cringes against censorship, I do have my own “personal” opinions about the matter.

The universal catechism does not address the Harry Potter books directly, but it does speak about sorcery or the occult:

[CCC 2116]  All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

[CCC 2117]  All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.

Does such exclude fiction?  If not then Doctor Who television shows and books as well as the Back to the Future films would also be prohibited as there is certainly “a desire for power over time, history, . . . .”  I am well aware that there is a doctrinal issue with time-traveling as it puts into question the delineation of divine providence.  Exorcists have warned us that psychics might be performing their paranormal feats by means of a demonic presence; however, one of the exorcists of Rome related that he sometimes employs sensitives to help discern the presence of demons or suffering souls.  The boundary line is also blurred in the lives of certain saints like Fr. John Vianney who often argued with the devil and could read souls.  Some of the events and manifestations around Padre Pio are downright terrifying.  While many are drawn in faith to the sites of Marian apparitions; it must be related that there are some simply attracted to sensational spectacles.  They want secret messages, weeping statues and miraculous signs from heaven.  All this is mentioned so as to emphasize that it is not the supernatural as such that is condemned; rather, it is any source or intervention outside of Jesus and the communion of the saints.

The Vatican has criticized the Harry Potter books although the final movie in the series based upon them was praised by its authorized newspaper reviewers. If the books truly pose a danger of enticing children into witchcraft and the occult; then I would agree with a Church censure. However, the question must be asked, do these books and stories really pose such a threat? It seems to me that if the Church feels that Harry Potter is “the wrong kind of hero” then we should do more to promote good literature that appeals to the youth with proper characters for emulation. I am also an advocate of parents and children reading together and discussing what is read. Might we be able to baptize the books, sharing what we find problematical and talking about those moral themes that help build good character? As a child I was a fan of horror comics, fairytales with all sorts of magic, and television shows like Dark Shadows, The Addams Family, Bewitched, The Monsters, The Twilight Zone, and the animated Sabrina the Teenaged Witch. Nevertheless, I learned my catechism, knew what was real and what was not, and eventually became a fairly conservative (i.e. orthodox) Catholic priest.

The Greek term for sorcery in the New Testament was “pharmakeia,” from which we derive the English word “pharmacy.” This folk science mixed with superstition often had to do with potions or so-called magical drugs. The practitioners provided abortifacient concoctions that caused miscarriages. The biblical prohibition against sorcery, while viewed as an offense to the power and providence of God, was also a condemnation of abortion or the murder of children.

I cannot say how many outright Satanists there may be in the world today. I suspect the most egregious witnesses to such a twisted religion are really soured Christians who delight in blasphemy.  It strikes me as a kind of sickness of the soul.  Many who identify themselves as such are actually atheists who delight in tormenting the sensibilities of Christians and Jews.  Others have embraced the label of Satanism due to a rejection of charity or self-sacrifice as espoused by the Gospel.  Theirs would be a philosophy of selfishness.   Groups of this type are distinct from the Wiccans or neo-pagans.  Often connected to radical feminism, they speak of finding the goddess.  In truth they may worship a deity of their own fancy or no god at all.  All this makes their religion hard to define.  Modern witches and their craft reflect a naturalistic type of faith. Their worldview is immanent and pantheistic.  They would seek to employ the so-called cosmic energies in the world around us.

While they attempt to exploit a pedigree that goes back to pre-Christian times (as with the druids), in truth modern witchcraft probably only goes back to the 1940’s.  It is argued that Gerald Gardner was inspired by the masonic secret rituals in his reimaging of witchcraft.  What is the interpretation given to all this by Christianity?  If you call upon any spirit other than God then you are likely summoning demons.

Just as Christianity has its sacramentals like holy water, holy salt, the rosary, etc. so too do they.   We are familiar from scary movies where fortune tellers use crystal balls, read tarot cards and cast spells.  While it is used in psychiatry, witchcraft also employs hypnosis and sensational forms of faith-healing.  Much of the superstition is merely to exploit the gullible.  Connected to the current fascination with the paranormal, these poor people and their so-called psychics deceive others and themselves.

Many of the practitioners of witchcraft like the late Aleister Crowley accented the philosophy of selfishness and defined magic as real but as natural and not supernatural.  He and his disciples thought they could manipulate reality or creation by acts of will. I suspect he would be offended by the magic of Harry Potter and regard it as rather silly and contrived.  Condemnations toward the belief system of Satanists or Wiccans or Neo-Pagans would not seem to really apply to the magic in Harry Potter.  It literally is the witch on the broomstick parody.

We would no longer condemn conjuring tricks like slide-of-hand, but would question an appeal to invisible powers or spirits. The fundamentalist might equate all magic with devil worship. According to this mindset, there is no good magic, only the bad that sometimes masquerades as good.  If it is not God then the danger is we might be appealing to the demonic. The most impressionable might imagine that magic is a mysterious power untapped by most humans. A skeptic by inclination, I would view much of this as empty superstition or trickery to fool others. This would still make sorcery a sin as it becomes an occult religion and false worship.

While I would assume in truth that all sorcery is from the evil one, I am not convinced that J.K. Rowling’s witchcraft is anything more than a fanciful literary device to motivate and to drive her various storylines. Is it really witchcraft that is proposed as a positive ideal? While it is employed by both sides in the books, it seems the gravity is upon themes like family, friendship, loyalty, goodness, and mercy.

The author, herself, is a member of the Church of Scotland. She is honest about her struggles in faith and how she desperately wants to believe in life after death. Granted her Christianity may not be as mature as C.S. Lewis or Tolkien or George MacDonald, but it should not be dismissed. Indeed, it is reflective of the agnosticism that infects so much of contemporary Christianity. She is a woman of her times. Toward the end of the Harry Potter book series, she makes a few explicit references to Christianity— in particular about the themes of life beyond the grave and resurrection.

The Greyfriars Cemetery in Edinburgh is purportedly the inspiration for the Godric’s Hollow graveyard. Harry and Hermione find his parents’ grave. It is Christmas Eve. This inscription is written on the tombstone: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Let us look at the larger context (1 Corinthians 13:20-28) from which the verse is taken:

“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” (KJV)

We are given to understand that the character Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, is the source. Note that he does not cite books of magic but turns to the Bible. He gives gravity to the Scriptures with his inscriptions.

The book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows also has the following inscription on the tombstone of Ariana Dumbledore: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21 or Luke 12:34). Here’s the full passage, Matthew 6:19-24:

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (KJV)

J.K. Rowling has confessed (in 2007) that these two verses “epitomize” or sum up the entire series. Admittedly, Harry Potter (probably like many readers) seems not to understand what the verses really mean. Did Dumbledore understand, that Christ would defeat all enemies, the last being death?

The scene is poignant in the film. The church in the background is called St. Clementine in a video game; but it is otherwise revealed as St. Jerome. There is a large image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus over the entry door.

As an aside, St. Jerome as a learned man of his time, was challenged for his study of a Greek philosopher Apollonius of Tyanna who was a contemporary of Christ. His life paralleled the Lord somewhat in that he had disciples and also apparently performed miracles. He contributed to the development of reasoned arguments. The purported paranormal elements had him branded by early churchmen as a sorcerer in league with demons. But he proved to be nothing to worry about as his following quickly disappeared with no school or church as a legacy. It is likely too far-fetched to imagine a deliberate connection here by J.K. Rowling in reference to the charges of the occult leveled against her. I suspect it is simply a case of a curious and unfathomable synchronicity.

While sorcery is condemned by Scripture and the Church, there are many fantasy books that portray magic as good and evil. Indeed, one might argue that C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles and Tolkien’s stories about The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings portray magic as such, even if as a metaphor for other things that we regard as real like the sacraments and the Eucharist. The news story comes from a Catholic school deep in the Bible belt where even these books by notable Christian authors might come under negative scrutiny and prohibition, too.

Indeed, it might be argued that Tolkien’s Sméagol is to Sam and Frodo what Tom Riddle is to Ron and Harry. The battle is essentially between good and evil. Harry has been marked by Voldermort and he could easily be corrupted by the same hate and anger. However, his friends, especially Ron, keep him rooted in goodness. Frodo is tempted as was the Gollum. Notice the name change in both stories. If it were not for Sam’s friendship, he would likely have destroyed himself like the pathetic Gollum. Arguable Tolkien has given us a masterpiece while there are more than a few literary critics who criticize the level of Rowling’s composition, even if she does present a good action yarn. But that may be beside the point.

One reviewer postulated that the Harry Potter saga promoted the old heresy of Gnosticism, particularly in reference to secret truths, power and ultimate salvation. Really?  Are we not projecting what is really not there?  I must admit that I saw little theological depth in J.K. Rowling’s writings.

It is a fantasy story told by a woman who claims to be a Christian but not one who seeks to endow her story with many overtly Christian elements.  We might equate something of our battle with powers and principalities; but it is the world of fanciful creatures, flying brooms and dragons. In a sense, she has given us modern fairy stories.

While another critic saw the derisive criticism of the “muggles” or normal humans as “diabolical” I simply saw it as an imaginative way to detail the division we know among people in the modern world. There is serious ethnic and religious division. People are looked down upon and even being killed by other people for being different. The world of Harry Potter mirrors the real world and its bigotries; indeed, she presents the corrupted face of Voldermort to stand for the evil that we confront daily in the many faces and souls distorted by hatred, anger and selfishness.

We live in a culture of death. We are surrounded by the lovers of death. How else could we explain New York politicians clapping and rejoicing over the legalization of terminating children who are nine-months old in the womb and ready to be born? J.K. Rowling is apparently blind to this connection as she supports legalized abortion; could it be that along with many of our own Catholics, she has been figuratively seduced by her own “death eaters”? How does death come into the world?  It is the result of the fall and the temptation of Satan.  Obviously she draws upon ancient Hebrew mythology regarding the devil as a serpent in the garden when she characterizes her villain as associated with an enormous snake (Nagini who also has a name change, Maledictus). How is death defeated?  Christ makes himself our sin-offering and redeems us with his Cross.  Harry is a Christ-figure.  He must be willing to sacrifice himself.  He must also be willing to die.  Of course, he does not stay dead.  He is also not alone.  Harry faces Voldemort.  His classmate Neville slices off the head of the snake.  It must be said that the theme of sacrifice is essential in the Potter universe.  We see it with both Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore, as well.  We must note it at the very beginning with Harry’s parents who died so that their child might live.  (This is a theme that young people might find benefit in a guided reflection.)

As believers we appreciate that ours is a God who is both independent of his creation and yet he sustains it.  We are stewards of creation but not the masters of God.  In contrast to this, a realm of magic usually implies an immanence where the divine is either associated with the physical world or where the world itself is divinized.  I suspect this is where the more thoughtful might be somewhat critical of Rowling. The worlds imagined by Lewis and Tolkien always make room for a transcendence that Rowling only hints at. Rowling is not well versed in Christian theology and philosophy. Her world is much more chaotic and lacks order. Must we fault her for what most secular authors today would utterly dismiss?  The magic of Harry Potter is employed much as science and invention is presented to us in the real world. Do we not sometimes treat our tablets and portable phones and the internet as a scientific kind of magic? People even live out much of the lives in virtual gaming worlds. My fear in the latter is whether we are abandoning the real for that which is only make-believe.

As a Christian what I brought to the story was that Harry Potter was fighting against a variant of Satanism. In truth, one could not use sorcery because one should not battle evil with evil. But I think there is a crucial disconnect between the magic that Christians would condemn and the make-believe antics portrayed in the books and on the cinematic screen. It is no more real than the Marvel and DC superheroes with their fantastic powers.

I suppose I would ask young Christian readers a series of questions.  We would examine the themes of goodness, evil, sacrifice, love, justice, death, redemption, mercy, etc.  We would also seek to make a leap from fiction to reality.  How would we fight against evil?  Who or what are our enemies in the world today?  What are our weapons?  We could then talk about, not spells, but the power of prayer. We could open the newspapers and give the real devils of our times the names they now go by. We could invoke, not fanciful spirits or the occult, but Christ with his communion of the saints and the holy angels. And then, we would seek to be heroes and heroines in the real world with apostolates that seek to make a difference for the oppressed, the poor, the hurting and the unwanted unborn. While there is no denying the malicious efforts of our ancient enemy, the devil; we would also appreciate that many of our battles are with a secular modernity imbued with selfishness and not so much with a juvenile attention to magic.  When it comes to the Harry Potter series, and much else in our culture, we would do what people of faith have done for two thousand years— we would seek to understand and to transform that which is in the world for the purposes of Christ.

Reflecting Upon the Abuse Crisis

154164358031183741 (7)The clergy abuse issue just never seems to let up.  Today there was a headline in THE WASHINGTON POST, Three Teens Allege Abuse by Catholic Priest in D.C.” A Capuchin parochial vicar from Sacred Heart Church was charged with a single count of second degree sexual abuse and brought to the D.C. Superior Court in shackles.

The dark tragedy of clerical abuse of minors conflicts with a core element of the Church’s identity.  The mission of every priest is to be a spiritual father— teaching, nurturing and healing his flock.  The center of the priestly vocation is his role as a vehicle for the forgiveness of sins.  Any priest who would harm or corrupt others stands in stark violation of his sacred calling and the mission of the Church.  When the scandals first emerged, many disbelieved the allegations and assumed that none of it could be true.  Today, that mentality can no longer be substantiated.  While individual cases may or may not be credible, the issue is real and some priests have failed us and violated the trust we had in them.  Excuses cannot be made.

Given the type of violation we are discussing, it must be admitted that efforts at healing will fall short.  How does one restore trust when it is violated so egregiously?  Clergy abuse of minors signifies a profound attack against innocence that leaves a lasting wound.  That is why people come forward decades after such assaults.  Lives are changed forever.  Many of those assaulted abandon the faith.  Others are hampered in their later relationships and suffer from trust issues.

The comeback that “we are all sinners” does little to soften the blow about such infidelity.  Yes, it is true that the history of the faith is one where corruption and sin has infected both leaders and followers.  But, we argue as well that the true legacy of the faith is written with the lives of the saints.  We have not always been successful at the discernment of spirits.  We struggle to distinguish those who really walk in holiness and those who only put on a show.  The Church is holy because Christ is holy and the Church is his mystical body.  This is the case, even though the Church is composed of sinners.

The apparent but largely unreported fact that abuse is even more pervasive outside the Church does nothing to ease our disappointment and shame about misbehaving clergy.  The Church should be above such violations of decency.  We rightly expect a lot of our priests.  Celibacy which should be the shining treasure of Catholic ministry is subjected to ill-repute and questioned as either the cause or situation that enabled wrong doing.  Apologists argue that the celibacy is not the problem but rather the solution— if priests will follow through with their promises.  What we need are shepherds and laity courageous enough to embrace the hard truths that confront us and to fully cooperate with God’s grace in the sacraments toward the cleansing of our ministries.  This will necessitate a full acquisition of the truth; in other words, a realization that the problem is not largely one of pedophilia but of sexually disordered and frustrated men who are mostly but not entirely homosexual.  The proof of the pudding is the number of pederasts who have also broken their promises with adults and older teens.  Of course, if such men kept their promises this discussion and need for purification would be largely mute.  However, promises have been broken and in ways that demonstrate a lack of commitment to faith, holiness and prayer.  They loved God too little and sought satisfaction where it was forbidden to them.

What most of us once regarded as rare and aberrational has proven to be more serious than we imagined and devastating for thousands of children and their families.  Compounding the problem, many wrongly targeted the victims and witnesses that came forward for resulting scandal instead of disciplining rogue clergy and removing them from ministry.  We must continue corrective efforts.  We must perfect policies to protect our youth while insuring a process that safeguards innocent clergy from charges that are not credible.  My worry today is that there is an intense malice that clouds the subject, one that focuses upon any and all clergy, regardless of the truth.  Mercy toward the guilty will not bring restoration to ministry or escape from censures and punishment.  Justice toward the innocent must protect the rights and sacerdotal dignity of priests who may be falsely charged or condemned by association.

Reflecting upon how we might personally respond to the scandals facing the Church, here is a good list:

  1. Stay put and do not abandon the Barque of Peter— remember the words of Peter, where would we go?
  2. Keep faith in Christ and in the Catholic Church— do not stop believing.
  3. Remain faithful to the Mass and the discipline of prayer— offer our own fidelity in reparation for the unfaithful.
  4. Acknowledge our own faults and seek mercy in absolution— while not all sin cries out to heaven, we are all sinners needing forgiveness.
  5. Open your mind about the issues facing us and grow in the faith— as believers we must always know and proclaim the truth.
  6. Continue to live for others in acts of Christian charity— such is an antidote to the selfishness that has manufactured this situation.
  7. Avoid hate and calumny, exhibiting a heartfelt sacrificial love and mercy— if we are to face the devil then we must put on Christ.
  8. Clean your house of that which conflicts with our Gospel witness— we should have no part in the hypocrisy that makes this matter worse.
  9. Seek the purification of the Church from any satanic enemies within— the poison in the mix must be expelled, even if it means the end of individual ministries.
  10. Fight for justice and healing toward the oppressed, wounded and innocent— the dignity of persons must always be safeguarded.

 

The Rise of False Worship

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There are now more witches in America than Presbyterians. Sorcery is on the rise and it is more than fun-and games.

Trust the Power of the Mass for Healing

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I was reminded of the “Healing Your Family Tree” phenomenon among certain Charismatics and Exorcists while reading about Msgr. Clement Machado and watching a few of his YouTube EWTN videos.  He claims to have had visions of the Blessed Mother and St. Patrick.  I am skeptical… but who knows?  The Church has many saints and seers.  The children of Fatima were given a vision of hell so as to pray more fervently for souls.

While Catholicism certainly encourages prayers for the souls of the dead, this idea of targeting sins and woundedness in past generations for current problems faced by believers goes back to the ancient Jews.  They believed that punishment for the sins of one’s fathers could be visited upon the children.  Our notion of Original Sin is an extension of this.  However, at least as a routine source of particular ailments, Jesus seems to dismiss this notion.

“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world’” (John 9:1-5).

While we would not deny our connection with those who have gone before us, if taken too far, we might fall into superstition or the occult.  The sacrifice of the Mass makes possible atonement but it is a sacrament that conveys grace and mercy.  It is not sorcery or magic.  Further, we cannot purely blame our problems on deceased family members.  We live in a broken world and sometimes we are our own worst enemies.  It may be that certain maladies are placed before us so that we might demonstrate or witness to a courageous faith.  Catholicism does not run away from all sickness and pain but often seeks to transform the dark realities.  They are opportunities for us to take up our crosses in following Jesus. There is already too much of a “victim mentality” inflicting our society— regarding ethnicity, gender, orientation and social status.  I am worried that such ideas as healing the family tree may often be misunderstood in this light.

We are all aware of the excesses of popular Protestant ministers who put on a big show in conducting “purported” healings.  Many pagans and so-called demonologists dangerously tinker with exorcisms.  Returning to the Catholic camp, there is a temptation, especially among the rising celebrity priests, to emphasize what they can do over what Jesus can do.  While the Church needs exorcists, it is best that the ministry be imposed upon the priest rather than enthusiastically embraced outside of an episcopal summons.  Indeed, while any priest can offer absolution and deliverance prayer, full exorcisms require the authorization of the immediate bishop.  (When I think about this issue my mind quickly recalls Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer, a wonderful defender of human life who fumbled in this area.)

Sharing information is fine, but sensationalism about the devil, exorcism and obsession can pose a real danger.  After the release of popular horror movies, chanceries are bombarded by phone calls of people who all think they are possessed.  While we battle powers and principalities, much sin finds its origin in the world of men and many who imagine they are spiritually afflicted are in actuality mentally disturbed.

During November there is a special emphasis upon prayers for the dead.  Yes, we can claim spiritual benefits for the dead and the living.  There is a two-fold action— uniting and breaking off.  A funeral Mass offered for the dead brings grace and we commend the deceased, particularly the souls in purgatory, to the mercy of God.  They are sped on their way.  We invoke the purification of God’s love, a fire that heals. Our prayer also joins us to the communion of the saints.  Simultaneously, if there are any negative spiritual elements, as with those who have rejected God’s love, then that bond is severed with the living.  The expression “rest in peace” can apply to the living just as well as to the dead.  But ultimate judgment is left to almighty God.  While there might be little or no fanfare, Catholics need to trust the sacraments, especially the Mass.  We need to encourage the offering of Masses for the dead and for healing in times of trauma.  This is the most effective and resolute manner of healing “the family tree.”

My late father back in the 1950’s spent time as a Trappist monk at Holy Cross Monastery in Berryville, VA.  He firmly believed that his life of work and prayer there, combined with the sacrifice of the Holy Mass, facilitated the translation of all our family ancestors from purgatory to heaven.  The emphasis should NOT be upon how links to the dead can plague us.  Rather, recalling that the poor souls are now helpless, we should intercede on their behalf.  As we prepare to celebrate All Souls Day, we should all recommit ourselves to praying for the dead.

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.”

The Ascendant Laity & Reform

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There is increased tension about the role of laity on review boards and in taking leadership efforts to stem abuse of the young and corruption in the Church.  On one side, many traditionalists do not want clergy conceding authority of any sort to the laity.  However, given that the clergy, and particularly bishops, currently have very little moral standing among God’s people, they really have no choice— not if they want the Church to return to good health.  The other side opposes an increased role of “certain” laity, and here I would agree, albeit from the opposite pole of fidelity.  The laity must be a genuine “sensus fidelium” and not one populated by dissenters who would create an entirely new church.  The progressive voices want more than an overhaul; they want a full-blown revolution where the doors would be opened to married priests, women clergy, lay trustee ownership of all Church properties, full acceptance of divorce and subsequent unions, of homosexuals and other emerging sexualities, and a communion table open to all.  It is this group that is fearful of orthodox laity.  While the clergy can be manipulated in labeling the crisis as one of pedophilia, it would be much more difficult to compromise faithful laity into being silent about the true malady which is a homosexuality infestation of Church leadership.

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The faithful laity has the will and the money to get to the root of the Church’s problems, and many (clergy and dissenting laity) want those roots to remain safely hidden in the ground.  Which is preferable, to allow investigations to remain exclusively in the hands of secular or civil authorities who often have a negative animus or real hatred toward the Church; or to allow orthodox laity who love the Church an opportunity to expose the truth about the current scandal so that there might be a necessary purification, restoration and healing?  We want men and women committed both to the faith and to the truth, regardless of the immediate consequences.  Bishops have shown that they cannot police themselves.  Lower ranked clergy too easily become passive pawns to authority.  We should not underestimate the fear that many priests feel.  Their priesthood is not a job but their identity.  Their ordinaries or bishops can easily make or break them— giving them opportunities for rewarding ministries or locking them away with meaningless closeted assignments or sending them to real hell holes where they will be ill-equipped to survive.  Most laity respect their bishops but they are not under their thumbs.  They have sufficient autonomy to act.

The dissenters, among the bishops and the laity, are quick to reject investigative efforts from the orthodox laity.  Even prior to any such work, they are already accusing them of gay-bashing.  They mock them as hardliners obsessed by sex.  But this issue is precisely about sex, more directly, about the homosexual acts between clergy and other men or teenagers.  This is well over 90% of the actual problem.  The dissenters would have us dismiss this and focus on the 2% or less that deals with children and possibly girls.  The orthodox faithful and clergy are not Puritans or Jansenists.  They acknowledge the beautiful teachings on the Theology of the Body that come from St. John Paul II.  There is no derision of the marriage bed between men and women.  But sex outside of marriage is a sin.  Homosexual acts are always outside of marriage and the attraction is a grave disorder.  It is not neutral.  We are called to love and respect our “gay” brothers and sisters.  As with the priesthood, we would urge them to embrace an authentic and faithful celibate manner of loving.  Because of the danger of scandal brought to ministry, the Church should exclude from priesthood all homosexuals who have had sexual encounters.  This is not bigoted hate-speech but the necessary bottom line.  These critics who argue otherwise must not be given their way as they offer no solutions and are part of the problem, itself.

The liberal critics are infuriated that a priest who violates his vows must be expelled from the priesthood.  They employ an analogy in regard to marriage.  They would ask, “Would we insist upon the end of a marriage when a man sins against his matrimonial vows?”  They have a point here, but only to a point.  Much depends on how the vows are broken, the level of contrition and amendment of life and the willingness of the spouse to forgive.  As to the manner of violation, there is voyeurism, pornography, prostitution, adultery (with another woman), homosexually disordered acts and incest.  A union might come to a practical end because it is a sham or dehumanizing to the spouse or a threat to her and the children.  As for a priest, an infidelity with a woman might indeed be forgiven, particularly after a period of counsel and spiritual reflection.  His bride the Church is very merciful, even though it would be best to restart his ministry somewhere else far from the person of temptation.

However, if his vows are broken through an abusive act, particularly of a minor or child,  he can never be restored to ministry.  We do not want rapists of any sort in our active priesthood.  The safety of God’s people must always come first.  If the violation was a homosexual one, even with a consenting male, then he must also be stripped of his faculties and laicized. We cannot risk predation upon altar boys, seminarians or young priests.  A priest must have a certain moral standing and there are certain acts that are so depraved that it is impossible to restore his full sacerdotal dignity and moral authority.   Such a priest must go.

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.