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 Volume 1.10  This View’s Column April 15, 2002 


Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing

Perfidious Priests and What Must Be Done About Them (Part Six of Six)


All six parts are available in one (very large) webpage at ELCore.Net.

“When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.... Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:26-28, 30-32 RSV)

The Problem with Celibacy

I concluded last time by arguing that mandatory clerical celibacy is not the problem. Clerical celibacy, in and of itself, is not the cause, nor even a contributing factor, in the sexual scandals involving Catholic clergy: married non-Catholic clergy are also guilty of the same kind of sexual offenses of which celibate Catholic clergy are guilty.

Since then, a column by Stuart Reid, deputy editor of The Spectator, was published in the London Telegraph, Apr. 12; he states the case with memorable alacrity:

There is a very serious problem in the Catholic Church, but let’s be clear what the problem is not. It is not, as so many believe, the rule of celibacy. (“I mean, if they was allowed to get married, they wouldn’t be rogering them choirboys, would they?” The same sort of reasoning, in posher language, can be found in broadsheet newspapers.) If you want proof that celibacy is not the cause of child molestation or promiscuous homosexuality, look at the Church of England, or visit your nearest internet paedophile circle. The truth is that celibacy is the only hope that paedophiles — and their potential victims — have.

The same day, the Chicago Sun-Times published a column by well-known author Fr. Andrew Greeley, a long-time defender of continuing mandatory clerical celibacy. Though he mislabels the current scandal as one of sexual “child” abuse, his points are worth noting:

The argument one hears and reads over and over that celibacy is the cause of sexual abuse is a vicious anti-Catholic lie even if it comes from columnists and editorial writers who claim to be Catholic. In an ABC news poll, 6 percent of Catholics and 6 percent of other Americans said that there had been a sex abuse case in their congregation — a finding that shows that the problem is not just celibate or Catholic. Most child abusers are married men (and in some cases married women). Their abuse results from deep emotional problems. If a priest with these proclivities marries, then he will be a married sex abuser. No clinician disputes that truth. The alleged link between celibacy and sexual abuse is specious.

Greeley continues with a blast at “resigned priests”, whom the mainstream media so willing puts before the public these days:

Is there no historian of anti-Catholic nativism who will rise up and shout that attacks on the celibate priesthood have been an integral part of anti-Catholic bigotry for two centuries? Historically, the bigots insist that the priest is either a slimy character looking for young people or nuns to assault, or is something less than a real man. A few resigned priests in effect make that argument today against those of us who have tried to keep our promise of celibacy. Those who accept the argument as though it were unquestionable truth are de facto anti-Catholics. Somehow, the fact that these loud louts now sleep with a woman seems to constitute prima facie evidence that they are more real men than we are and uniquely qualified to criticize our inadequacies. That too is anti-Catholic bigotry and should be labeled as such.

(Another version reads “loudmouths” for “loud louts”. Greeley names nobody, but A. W. Richard Sipes and Eugene Kennedy are the two, usually labelled “former priests”, who seem to be most often given a national audience on TV and in major newspapers. One need not even wonder if anybody who could be labelled, say, “former dissenter” would be obliged so willingly, or given such ready credence.)

Celibacy does have a problem, however: it is far too often in and of itself.

Celibacy is a precious gift, to the individual and to the Church. Yet, it is a demanding gift. Over the centuries, the discipline of clerical celibacy developed along with a whole way of life — comprising the spiritual, devotional, and ascetical — to the benefit of the individual celibate, the community in which he lived and worshipped, and the Church as a whole.

Much of this involved adapting the disciplines of monastic life to the life of the priest in parochial ministry. And much of it was abandoned, lock, stock, and barrel in the 1960s. Not everywhere, not always. But in enough places, in enough ways, to have made a profound difference in the way many priests have conducted their daily lives. I have found support for this proposition in places I would not have thought very likely.

First, from author Gary Wills, from whom I quoted last time. He had a two-part article published in the Boston Globe, Mar. 24. The first part is notable for its egregious misrepresentation of Philip Jenkins’ book Pedophiles and Priests, from which I quoted extensively in Part One. (Wills has quite the reputation for egregious misrepresentation.) Now, Jenkins’ book is a remarkably even-handed treatment of the subject. Perhaps it is this very even-handedness that Wills fears, for he does his very best — which, by the standard of honest men, would be the very worst — to portray the book as a one-sided “conservative” diatribe. I myself would not defend Wills from the charge of lying about Jenkins’ book.

Moreover, in the second part of his column, Wills numbers Jenkins among “protectors of the hierarchy”. He conveniently neglects to mention that Philip Jenkins is an ex-Catholic Episcopalian: had he done so, Wills would have to explain why such a man would have any interest whatever in “protecting” the Catholic hierarchy. For which, of course, there is no explanation. And, thus, Wills would not have been able to dismiss the man, his book, and those (such as me) who cite and quote it. Had he been honest and forthright, Wills would have had to write quite another column.

And... yet... I think he hits the target dead-center when he writes about how celibacy has been left alone, in and of itself, as the sole descendant of ascetical traditions in parish clerical life:

Celibacy arose as just one component in a thoroughgoing theology of asceticism. The desert father who pioneered the practice of celibacy adopted it as just one part of a larger pattern of isolation and meditation, of fasting and other forms of mortification. When priests adopted celibacy, they brought with it some of this structure and most of its rationale. They were not set apart from other men by just one thing. In the monasteries, for instance, silence, isolated cells, long communal chanting of the office, and self-scourging were common. Cloistered men and women were cut off from worldly life in general, not just from sexual activity.

But, progressively, the celibacy of priests became not the expression of a whole ascetical form of life but a substitute for it.... So modern priests do not look much like desert fathers. They are not known for other forms of asceticism, besides celibacy. Most of them eat and drink well, drive nice cars, have no serious material deprivation. A priest who eats out or goes to a play or concert often has a generous layman to pick up the tab. In this situation, celibacy becomes a mark of nonexistent difference. But celibacy without its supporting ascetical discipline cannot be sustained all on its own.

Even if he is wrong about many other things, when a man is right, he’s right.

Second, from political commentator Bill Press. He published a column at CNN, Mar. 28, in which he wrote about his own experience as a student for the priesthood:

As an altar boy and high school student, I’m happy to report, my own experiences hanging out with priests — traveling, going to the beach or movies — were happy and healthy. No groping. No petting. No nudity. No sex. Not even a hint of it. But, looking back, I see how many opportunities a sexual predator would have had....

When it was time for me to take the three vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, I did so without hesitation. To tell the truth, at that point, it was easy. I was young. I was on fire. I was a soldier in God’s army. Any problems associated with celibacy would only come later. Assigned as a seminarian to teach school in Philadelphia, I soon saw the warning signs among older priests. Again, in my case, no evidence of pedophilia. But a lot of self-indulgence in other ways: heavy eating, drinking, travel, golf, television — all distractions chased to fill an obvious void. Wouldn’t they be better off married?

Maybe some of them would, indeed, have been better off married. But wouldn’t they all have been better off had the age-old ascetical tradition, of which celibacy had been but a part, not been largely cast aside in the wake of the Second Vatican Council?

John Henry Newman, while still an Anglican priest, preached on the necessity of this askesis — of self-disciplined self-denial for the sake of the Kingdom of God — to some degree, in some kind, for every Christian:

These are some of the proofs which are continually brought home to us, if we attend to ourselves, of our want [that is, lack] of love to God; and they will readily suggest others to us. If I must, before concluding, remark upon the mode of overcoming the evil, I must say plainly this, that, fanciful though it may appear at first sight to say so, the comforts of life are the main cause of it; and, much as we may lament and struggle against it, till we learn to dispense with them in good measure, we shall not overcome it. Till we, in a certain sense, detach ourselves from our bodies, our minds will not be in a state to receive divine impressions, and to exert heavenly aspirations. A smooth and easy life, an uninterrupted enjoyment of the goods of Providence, full meals, soft raiment, well-furnished homes, the pleasures of sense, the feeling of security, the consciousness of wealth, — these, and the like, if we are not careful, choke up all the avenues of the soul, through which the light and breath of heaven might come to us. A hard life is, alas! no certain method of becoming spiritually minded, but it is one out of the means by which Almighty God makes us so. We must, at least at seasons, defraud ourselves of nature, if we would not be defrauded of grace.

Decades later, after he had become a Catholic priest but before he became a cardinal of the Roman Church, Newman applied this principle to the interior life of the priest when he preached to Catholic seminarians, October 2, 1873:

We must gain the habit of feeling that we are in God’s presence, that He sees what we are doing; and a liking that He does so, a love of knowing it, a delight in the reflection, “Thou, God, seest me.” A priest who feels this deeply will never misbehave himself in mixed society. It will keep him from over-familiarity with any of his people; it will keep him from too many words, from imprudent or unwise speaking; it will teach him to rule his thoughts. It will be a principle of detachment between him and even his own people; for he who is accustomed to lean on the Unseen God, will never be able really to attach himself to any of His creatures. And thus an elevation of mind will be created, which is the true weapon which he must use against the infidelity of the world. (Hence, what St. Peter says: 1, ii, 12, 15; iii, 16.) Now this I consider to be the true weapon by which the infidelity of the world is to be met.

Along with the ancient ascetical tradition must come the equally ancient spiritual tradition, without which the former is but meaningless and mechanical. My friend Fr. John J. Hugo, a priest of the Church of Pittsburgh, saw the need for a deep spirituality in the life of every Christian, but especially of the priest, and most acutely of the celibate priest. Friend and mentor of the great Dorothy Day, he wrote about it in a book published privately not long before he died in 1985:

All this does not prove that celibacy is necessary in order to assume the priesthood of Christ; but it certainly is shown as appropriate for those sharing in the priestly role of Him whose whole life “was a cross and martyrdom,” and who was both priest and victim in His culminating cosmic sacrifice on Calvary. Whether it should be made obligatory for those who are called to the priesthood is another matter. On the basis of comtemporary experience many would assert that it is not even feasible. Assuredly, taking the vow of itself does not exempt the celibate from the present human condition, within which “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and “if you live according to the flesh you will die.” (Rm 3:23; 8:13) The celibate will therefore do well to heed the counsel of Prospero to the young lovers of The Tempest (Act IV, Scene 1):

Look thou be true; do not give dalliance
Too much the rein; the strongest oaths are straw
To the fire i’the blood; Be more abstemious,
Or else good night your vow!

To put it differently, celibacy is not feasible if it is not received and observed in the deep mainstream of evangelic and Christian spirituality. So far this has not happened. The mainstream has trickled down only into a few oases here and there. To make it available for all (and it must also reach the families from whom candidates are expected) the clergy, led by their bishops, rather than allowing themselves to be overwhelmed by material duties, need to drink deep of these living waters and channel them to the whole Church.

I can almost hear the objections already: Oh, Newman and Hugo are so... so... September 10th! Old fashioned. Out of date. Superseded. “Old” Church. Pre-Vatican II.

Permit me to quote, then, from another witness. With regard to the training of candidates for the priesthood:

The spiritual training should be closely connected with the doctrinal and pastoral, and, with the special help of the spiritual director, should be imparted in such a way that the students might learn to live in an intimate and unceasing union with the Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Conformed to Christ the Priest through their sacred ordination they should be accustomed to adhere to Him as friends, in an intimate companionship, their whole life through.... Those practices of piety that are commended by the long usage of the Church should be zealously cultivated; but care should be taken lest the spiritual formation consist in them alone or lest it develop only a religious affectation. The students should learn to live according to the Gospel ideal, to be strengthened in faith, hope and charity, so that, in the exercise of these practices, they may acquire the spirit of prayer, learn to defend and strengthen their vocation, obtain an increase of other virtues and grow in the zeal to gain all men for Christ. (Optatam Totius 8, October 28, 1965)

Students who follow the venerable tradition of celibacy according to the holy and fixed laws of their own rite are to be educated to this state with great care.... They are to be warned of the dangers that threaten their chastity especially in present-day society. Aided by suitable safeguards, both divine and human, let them learn to integrate their renunciation of marriage in such a way that they may suffer in their lives and work not only no harm from celibacy but rather acquire a deeper mastery of soul and body and a fuller maturity, and more perfectly receive the blessedness spoken of in the Gospel. (Optatam Totius 10)

See, the age-old strategies and tactics that have traditionally accompanied celibacy and help to safeguard its integrity — which would now be scorned by many as “Pre-Vatican II” — were actually recommended by the Second Vatican Council, explicitly and specifically. From the same witness, with regard to priestly life:

Hence, this holy council, to fulfill its pastoral desires of an internal renewal of the Church, of the spread of the Gospel in every land and of a dialogue with the world of today, strongly urges all priests that they strive always for that growth in holiness by which they will become consistently better instruments in the service of the whole People of God, using for this purpose those means which the Church has approved. (Presbyterorum Ordinis 12, December 7, 1965)

Insofar as perfect continence is thought by many men to be impossible in our times, to that extent priests should all the more humbly and steadfastly pray with the Church for that grace of fidelity, which is never denied those who seek it, and use all the supernatural and natural aids available. They should especially seek, lest they omit them, the ascetical norms which have been proved by the experience of the Church and which are scarcely less necessary in the contemporary world. (Presbyterorum Ordinis 16)

“Practices of piety... the exercise of these practices... long usage of the Church.... Suitable safeguards... mastery of soul and body.... Growth in holiness... those means which the Church has approved.... Supernatural and natural aids... ascetical norms... the experience of the Church.” Yes, the methods — spiritual, devotional, ascetical — developed and tested over the course of ages, which formed a whole way of life in which celibacy was supported and protected, were not rejected by Vatican II: they were, in fact, reaffirmed.

In more ways than one, we see, Newman was The Father of Vatican II, as he is often called. And Hugo was the faithful student of the Cardinal and of the Council, whose directives in this regard, as in so many others, were ignored or flouted by those paying lip service to its lead.

Celibacy, therefore, ought to be one thread of a fabric woven through the whole life of a priest: ripped from the cloth, why should anybody have expected celibacy to hold up at all, let alone to hold up well? I’m sure that many people think that, since the rest are gone, we should do away with celibacy, too, to ameliorate the current problem. But the opposite would be true, too, wouldn’t it? Were celibacy accompanied by the traditional methods, helping to safeguard its integrity, the current problem would be ameliorated. How can we know this? The lived experience of hundreds of thousands — no, millions — of clergy and religious across the centuries give testimony.

When the experiment of a new way — having celibacy go it alone, while the rest of the celibate’s life becomes almost indistinguishable from a secular existence — when the experiment produces all-too-abundant evidence of its failure, what sense does it make to experiment even further? Why not restore the old ways? Are we so stupid... so blind... so ideological... that we cannot learn from our mistakes?

Recapitulation: The Diagnosis

“For decades, a crisis has been brewing in the Catholic Church in the USA: a crisis of faith, a crisis of morals, a crisis of courage.” So I began the epigraph of Part One. The sexual scandals — mostly homosexual encounters with juveniles — that now plague the clergy, concomitant with the hierarchy’s failure to deal appropriately with miscreant priests, are, I believe, but a symptom of a deeper, more fundamental scandal: doctrinal confusion and doubt have been wrought, often deliberately, by Catholics in official positions — clergy, religious, theologians. Sometimes, the result has been, in certain cirles, the outright denial of ancient Catholic teachings — especially those regarding morality, particularly sexual morality — but also those regarding, for instance, the divinity of Christ, the origins and meaning of Sacred Scripture and Catholic doctrine, and the role of the Church’s teaching authority and of individual conscience.

Thus have Catholic faith and life tended to be rendered largely impotent before the onslaught of a secularized culture that has become generally anti-religious and specifically anti-Christian. Merely reflect upon the truth: much of Catholic teaching, especially concerning morals, that evokes the shrillest, angriest, unthinking denunciation these days was taken for granted by virtually all Christians — by virtually all Americans — only a century ago: the immorality of abortion, artificial contraception, divorce and remarriage, and homosexual activity. In these respects, the role of the Catholic Church in the USA in determining public policy over the past forty years has been, effectively, nil. In fact, as somebody has noted recently, the Catholic Church — and many others among the older, “mainline” Christian denominations — have been “evangelized” by the world much more than they have been evangelizing the world.

Could anybody, anywhere, honestly deny any of this?

I must say it again: this neutering of the Catholic Church has been accomplished largely by Catholics. Beginning with their capitulation to wayward theologians in 1968, the body of American bishops has been effectively corrupted and has largely abandoned, in deed if not in word, their role of protecting the faith handed on in the Catholic Church — and of protecting the faithful from Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing, whether they be sexual predators or theological innovators (or both).

Yes, the neutering of the Catholic Church has been accomplished largely by Catholics, especially by those in the employ of the Church: clergy, religious, theologians, preachers, writers, teachers. They are usually called “dissenters”: I will explain later why that label is a lie. I call them subversive traitors. C. S. Lewis likened them, in the Anglican Church of his day, to prostitutes. (The scandal of “dissent” infested the Church of England long before it began to infest the Church of Rome.) Catholic writer Amy Welborn recently posted her own observations about an Anglican priest in Ireland who denies that Jesus Christ is divine and that He is savior; she notes inimitably what can be said of him and others like him, whether Anglican or Catholic:

Okay — here’s what absolutely and totally ticks me off about gasbags like this guy: Work it, baby. Work it. Work your church. Dis it. Reject its teachings. Not even its ambiguous-well-maybe-you-know-it’s-all-a-mystery teachings. Central, essential stuff. Throw it out the window. (Are you listening [Episcopalian] Bishop Spong?)

But - keep pulling that paycheck! Keep living off of the hard-earned donations of the fools who actually believe the stuff that you’re so over. Get fat off their sweat.

Do you know what I call that? Fraud. Theft. Highway Robbery.

And we Romans do it too — think of the faculty at “Catholic” universities who write books about Jesus’ body being stolen by wild dogs. Consider all the many religious educators who are doing their best to disseminate what they learned at the “Catholic” universities in sneaky euphemisms and dreary “new paradigms” that do nothing but undermine the Gospel. What a bunch of con artists.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (of which I am a member), has spoken out recently about doctrinal “dissent” because he recognizes it as a threat to the Catholic Church. A Catholic League press release, Apr. 11, invites us to connect some dots; it is not really that difficult to do:

Dissidence and Deviance in the Church: Connecting the Dots

Catholic League president William Donohue commented today on the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church by examining the relationship between heterodoxy and sexual deviance. Donohue holds a doctorate in sociology from New York University. He has taught college courses on the family and has authored books and articles that address the subject of human sexuality. Here are his remarks:

“It is well known that Paul Shanley, a former priest of the Boston Archdiocese, was a serial child molester. Indeed, he not only practiced pedophilia, he publicly justified it and even went so far as to say ‘the kid is the seducer’ in sexual encounters between adults and children. Shanley also endorsed bestiality. That he remained a priest for more than decade after this was disclosed is not in a dispute. Nor is it disputed that he was promoted to pastor by Cardinal Law after it was known that he attended the first conference of the North American Man/Boy Love Association in 1978; at the time he was the representative of Cardinal Medeiros for sexual minorities.

“Shanley’s twisted views on sexuality were not an anomaly. In a 1977 book published by the Catholic Theological Society of America, Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought, author Father Anthony Kosnik argued against traditional Catholic teaching on sexuality. He maintained that we must jettison the view that holds fornication, adultery, homosexuality, sodomy and bestiality to be intrinsically evil acts. Showing the wide cultural variance in sexual taboos, Kosnik concluded that priests must understand that ‘God is surely present’ in homosexual relations that are marked by ‘sincere affection.’ This book was widely used in seminaries at the time but was condemned in 1979 by the bishops. Kosnik, however, remained teaching in a seminary until 1982.

“It is time we connected the dots between dissidence and deviance. While the latter is not always caused by the former, it provides intellectual cover.”

An earlier press release, Apr. 4, notes the agenda of “dissident” Catholics:

Dissident Catholics See an Opening: Their Goal is to Lower the Bar

Catholic League president William Donohue issued the following remarks today regarding the stance that dissident Catholics have taken in the wake of the Church’s sex abuse scandal:

“The Catholic League has an agenda: the defense of the Catholic Church. As defined by whom? The magisterium. There is only one teaching body in the Catholic Church and that is the pope in communion with the bishops.

“Dissident Catholics also have an agenda: the dismantling of the Catholic Church as we know it. Malcontents through and through, these men and women have parked themselves in the Catholic Church with the hope that their politically correct vision of religion will triumph.

“Consider Jason Berry, author of a book on sex abuse in the priesthood. He admits to knowing active gay priests who won’t quit the priesthood because they want to reform ‘outdated moral teachings—including celibacy.’ He expresses sympathy for them blaming celibacy for ‘sexual secrecy.’ In other words, the problem is not with deceitful priests who violate the vows they voluntarily accepted. Nor is it with priests who oppose the Church’s teachings on sexuality. The problem is with Rome.

“By such logic it could be argued that sexual secrecy is to blame for the sense of guilt that adulterers experience. So what should we do? Lower the bar so cheaters won’t suffer?

“When priests get ordained and when men and women marry they do so of their own volition. If they find that the strictures governing these sacraments are too cumbersome, they should not go forward. If they come to this conclusion after the fact then it would be better if they quietly exited than to invoke squatters’ rights. What they should never expect is that they are entitled to sympathy for their morally delinquent behavior.”

Intellectual Cover. Highway Robbery. Theft. Fraud. Prostitution. Dissent. Call it what you will: it is slowly killing the Catholic Church in the USA, as surely as immoral priests have been abusing children and adolescents, and their superiors have let them get away with it.

The Prescription

The degradation of the Catholic Church — the trashing of traditional Catholic faith and life — has taken thirty, forty, fifty years or more. When one realizes how quickly and effectively the teachings of the Second Vatican Council were thwarted and hijacked, it becomes clear that the groundwork of subversion must have already been laid, however loosely and informally, before the Council even began its work. Thirty, forty, fifty years or more may be required to undo the damage done.

I am but one layman, in a small parish in small-town America. I have no solution to provide. Fortunately, nobody needs for me to provide a solution: it is at hand, as it always has been. The solution to what ails the Catholic Church is, as it has been in all bad times, the Catholic faith, undiluted and unashamed.

The degradation, the trashing, the neutering, has been done by an effective coordination of brazen deceit and sly stealth. The restoration, the cleansing, the strengthening of the Catholic Church in the USA will require a great deal of thorough honesty and of courage in action.

Indeed, the “moral authority” of the bishops will not be regained, and genuine Catholic faith and life will not be restored, without outstanding courage, making itself known through actions, on the part of orthodox clergy and laity, of every rank and station.

Dissent Is Not Dissent

The first requirement — it is sad and telling to have to say this — the first requirement is honesty.

When the Boston scandal broke in January, and ever since, the lack of honesty from bishops, priests, and official spokesmen has been appalling. (From some of them, of course: I do not mean to tar them all with the same broad brush.) They have attempted “limited hangouts” — telling some of the truth, hoping that it will satisfy curiosity, while holding back the whole truth. They have hidden, as far as they could, behind closed doors, behind lawyers, behind legal settlements, and behind sealed court documents. And they have, sometimes, flat-out lied. To the press. To other Catholic officials. And to their parishioners.

This... this... this disingenuousness, this dissembling, this posturing, this dishonesty, this lying is part of the current crisis of morals in the Catholic Church in the USA — a foundational part, on which all the rest has been built.

How can we trust our Catholic leaders — many of them priests ordained to conform more closely to the Image of Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life — how can we trust them to make decisions about the future of dioceses and parishes, to manage funds, to pastor souls, to worship God worthily in spirit and in truth: how can we trust them in all those other matters, when we can’t trust them to merely be honest?

Didn’t they learn that they should be honest before they even went to grade school?

A prominent Catholic in Boston asks similarly, in a Boston Globe article, Apr. 10:

Jack Connors Jr., perhaps Boston’s most influential power broker and once one of [Boston archbishop Bernard] Law’s closest confidants, questioned whether the cardinal could still lead. “I do not believe it is asking too much for the leaders of our faith to tell the truth,” said Connors, founder of the advertising firm Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc. “If they are unable to tell the truth to their colleagues, their pastors, and the faithful, they may hold onto their titles, but they will not be our leaders.”

I say more: I do not believe it is asking too much for the leaders of our faith to actually believe, and live, that faith.

So we must stop calling subversive traitors “dissenters”. We must start calling them... subversive traitors.

Okay. Maybe that would be asking too much of sensitive souls; instead, I can recommend a less demanding approach: call them “assenters”. For that is what they are: every Catholic — priest, religious, bishop, theologian — every Catholic who “dissents” from Catholic doctrine is, in point of fact, “assenting” to some other kind of doctrine.

A priest or religious who denies the divinity of Christ is not a brave dissenter from archaic Christian doctrine: he is a hypocritical assenter to the doctrine that Jesus Christ is not God — a doctrine (Latin for “teaching”) common to Jewish belief, pagan religions, Communist propaganda, and atheistic thought. A theologian who claims that homosexual activity is acceptable to God, so long as it involves a stable, loving relationship, is not a brave dissenter from outdated moral codes: he is a hypocritical assenter to moral relativism and psychological fads that can — and have been, and will continue to be — used to justify any and every behavior. (I refer you in passing to a timely article, “Apologists for pedophilia”, by John Leo, dated Apr. 22.) Catholic writers, preachers, and teachers who countenance divorce and remarriage, and artificial contraception, are not brave dissenters from the rigid teaching of popes and bishops: they are hypocritical assenters to the latest dictum from the editorial staff of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Infidelity Cannot Help the Faith

The real authorities, the real leaders, of “dissenters” (that is, assenters to any-and-every-belief-not-Catholic) and of defiantly immoral priests (including bishops) are not the pope nor ecumenical councils nor tradition nor the Bible. No. Their real authorities, their real leaders, are secular humanism, moral relativism, the latest psychologies and sociologies, and the rest of the secular milieu espoused in mainstream media. Subversive traitors and activists-for-immorality serve their real leaders, not the Catholic Church nor its faithful. So, we must make sure that Catholics in official postions are actually, honestly, really Catholic.

The second requirement, therefore, is courage in action.

Heterodox theologians — especially if they are bishops — must be removed from their positions, if not put out of the Church entirely. Defiantly immoral priests, and those who encourage and support immorality — especially if they are bishops — must be removed from their positions, if not put out of the Church entirely.

These removals may necessitate ecclesiastical trials. They may require intervention by the Holy See, especially if the miscreant is a bishop. They will certainly evoke much howling, spitting, back-biting, and name-calling.

Appeals by subversive traitors to academic freedom, or to theological inquiry and diversity, would be, in plain language, claims to be allowed to doubt, dispute, distort, deny, and defy everything that has ever been distintively Catholic, yet to still be able to call oneself Catholic. So the first requirement, honesty, is the basis that must never be left behind.

But courage in action will be the key to going forward, especially among orthodox bishops whom St. Paul the Apostle admonished and encouraged:

Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:28-32)

A bravo is in order for officials of my own diocese; according to an AP story, Apr. 10:

A Roman Catholic priest is being transferred to another parish because he told his congregation in an impassioned Easter sermon that the church should ordain women and let priests marry. A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh confirmed that the Rev. Bill Hausen was being transferred from St. James Catholic Church in suburban Sewickley to Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood as a result of the sermon. “If that homily had not been delivered, he may not be transferred now,” said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese. “There’s no question that that was the catalyst.” ....

[Parishioner Lisa] Oliver and other parishioners say they’re trying to keep Hausen at St. James. They distributed support ribbons for people to wear at Masses this past weekend and are collecting signatures of support to send to the diocese. “This is not a man who maliciously maligned the church. He sees the need for change in the church,” Oliver said. “Father Bill didn’t follow the party line. He spoke out and the biggest one that got him in trouble is that he felt women should be ordained as priests.”

(Sewickley is surely one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the region, in a relatively quiet district. Shadyside, too, is a very posh neighborhood skirting the academic district of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.)

A bigger bravo will be in order if “Father Bill” is actively encouraged by his superiors to consider whether intellectual honesty might not require him to come to a change of heart, or to a change of living.

I am not calling for “witch hunts”, pogroms, inquisitions. I am calling for fidelity to the Sacred Scriptures, which teach us what to do with subversive traitors, and how to live faithfully in the Church:

I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I would have you wise as to what is good and guileless as to what is evil; then the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:17-20)

Though it may seem so, though he may feel it to be so, the man in the pew is not powerless. Catholic author Michael Dubruiel (husband of Amy Welborn, quoted above) recently posted this advice:

There is need of a great reform, one that follows in the footsteps of St. Francis who heard from Our Lord on the cross, Rebuild my church which is falling into ruin. The Church that St. Francis knelt in on that day was literally in ruins, and chances are the church that you pray in is too (although the ruin that is probably present in your church has been destructed not by pagans but by “experts” who have done everything they could to remove not only the presence of Christ from your church but even his image and those of his saints). The nightly news proclaims the message... how will we react? Will we like Francis begin by picking up the stones and placing them on top of one another where we find ourselves? If so like him what we change where we are will eventually change the whole of Christ’s Body.

What can “I” do you might ask?

First, pray. Make sure that your relationship with God is strong. The Church exists to facilitate our relationship with God and unfortunately weak preaching, bad catechetics have had an evil effect on the way we as Catholics live our faith. We need to reclaim our relationship with God and to make that primary in our lives. As the author of Abandonment to Divine Providence wrote, Without God, everything is nothing. With God, nothing is everything. A strong relationship with God puts everything in perspective, “we put no trust in mortal princes,” we can face any difficulty and we can speak out boldly.

Secondly, If you are unsatisfied with the way your parish is run. Speak out! If on the other hand you are blessed to have a great priest, a good celebration of the liturgy, a Church that truly fosters your relationship with God, then SPEAK OUT! Whatever the truth be, let it be known.

Thirdly, do not treat anyone on earth as though they are not human. Your parents were human, they made mistakes — honor them! The pope, bishops, priests, deacons, sisters and nuns are all still human — don’t expect them to be God. Their faults and our own constantly bring us to our knees — we need a savior and he is Jesus Christ!

“Whatever the truth be, let it be known.” Amen.


Frankly, I think the prognosis is bleak. The next ten years will be critical.

May God grant Pope John Paul II multos annos! Sooner or later, though, we will have another pope. Subversive traitors, in collusion with the secular culture, have trained a large number of Catholics to believe that “outdated, archaic” moral strictures — against divorce and remarriage, artificial contraception, homosexual activity, pedophilia — and “outdated, archaic” doctrines — such as male-only priesthood — have been retained beyond their time for no reason other than the current pope is (dare I write the horrible word?) conservative.

Gradually, as Catholics-In-Name-Only (CINO) come to realize that the Catholic Church is not going to approve divorce and remarriage, artificial contraception, homosexual activity, and pedophilia, and that the Catholic Church is never going to ordain women to the priesthood because it cannot do so — gradually, the rage will build even more than it has already. CINO have been deceived: the Catholic Church maintains its doctrines and practices, not because a given pope is conservative, but because the doctrines and practices are — surprise, surprise — Catholic.

The next twenty-five years will witness a fight over the future of the Catholic Church as has not been seen since the Reformation in England, from the schism of King Henry VIII, through the draconian demolition of Catholicism under Queen Elizabeth I, and past the forced abdication of King James II.

If the Catholic Church in the USA does not begin its own reformation soon, along the lines of the prescription sketched above, it will not be able to resist the fury of “dissenters” whose desires will be further stymied by the next pope. We do not have to wonder where this will lead: we already have ample evidence. In that case, the Church will, sooner or later, go the way of the Episcopal Church in the USA; as indicated in an essay by Leo Penn in the New Oxford Review, Oct. 2000:

Anglo-Catholics within the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) have long claimed that Anglicanism is one of the three branches of Catholicism, along with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Yet the events at the ECUSA General Convention, held this year from July 5 through 14 in Denver, demonstrate — once again — that this claim is false.

ECUSA is firmly under the control of the apostles of a New Religion, a religion that is not at all Catholic, and Christian in name only. Defenders of traditional Christianity won no clear victories at the Convention, and suffered many defeats. Even more telling than the defeats on the Convention floor were the battles that were lost without any vote on a resolution. Some faithful Christians remain within ECUSA, but the institution — the House of Bishops, most other national and diocesan governing bodies, most seminaries, and most official Anglican publications — has chosen Baal over the Lord.

Penn continued with a review of a resolution adopted at that Convention:

Let’s untangle this knot of typically Anglican bafflegab:

  • ECUSA acknowledges that “there are currently couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in marriage” and equally that others “are living in other life-long committed relationships.” Of course, since ECUSA allows divorce and remarriage, “life-long” doesn’t have to mean life-long and “committed” doesn’t really mean committed. (For example, Bishop Righter, who was tried and acquitted in 1996 for ordaining an openly “gay,” partnered deacon, is now in his third marriage.)
  • So when ECUSA proceeds to uphold “fidelity” and “monogamy” in nonmarital relationships, one thinks of the vow for same-sex marriages in the Metropolitan Community Churches: “as long as love will last.” Of course, one usually only finally realizes that the love hasn’t lasted after one has become sexually involved with a third party. Moreover, there are those within the ECUSA who wish to redefine “fidelity” and “monogamy.” At a “Beyond Inclusion” conference — a gathering of ECUSA “gay” activists — Prof. William Countryman of the Episcopal seminary in Berkeley said, “I would be distressed if the drive toward blessing gay unions merely applied Reformation standards of heterosexual unions to gay unions.”
  • ECUSA then gives a free pass to those who disobey the resolution’s position on sexuality, by saying, “we acknowledge that some, acting in good conscience, who disagree with the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality, will act in contradiction to that position.” What is “the traditional teaching of the Church”? It’s not specified. Is it the teaching of the resolution? Or is it the teaching of, say, the Bible? Well, it doesn’t matter, for if you can “in good conscience” disobey the teaching of the Bible (which this resolution does), then you can easily disobey the teaching of this mere resolution. So the resolution blesses, in advance, those who will “in good conscience” disobey its own call for fidelity and monogamy.
  • ECUSA wraps it up by saying, “we affirm that those on various sides of controversial issues have a place in the Church, and we reaffirm the imperative to promote conversation between persons of differing experiences and perspectives....” Since there are those in the ECUSA with “differing experiences and perspectives” from the resolution, namely, people who don’t believe nonmarital relationships need to be monogamous, they too must be included in the “conversation.”

The openness to “those on various sides of controversial issues” gives plenty of room for every variety of sexual license and weirdness. But in practice, ECUSA is not open to those on the traditionalist side of “controversial issues,” as shown by its decision in 1997 and in 2000 to make women’s ordination mandatory, despite the beliefs of the dioceses and bishops who oppose it.

Some will say this cannot happen to the Catholic Church, not even in the USA. They are wrong. Surely, the Catholic Church cannot fail: for this assurance we have the dominical promise to St. Peter the Apostle. But constituent Churches, even many of them together in great regions of the world, can fail. And they have failed. Often.

Though for a time racked by heresy and schism, North Africa was once a garden in the Catholic Church: it was laid waste by Muslim conquest. England, arguably, was once the jewel of the Catholic Church in Europe: by rack and rope, it was virtually annihilated for centuries. The corruption of prelates and clergy in Germany was so great, it sparked the Reformation that tore Europe into warring religious factions, leaving many areas largely Protestant. France, called “the eldest daughter of the Church”, has seen the Catholic Church in its midst wither until it is but a wraith of its former self.

In the beginning of King Henry’s schism, only one bishop, and only one prominent layman, stood their ground and refused to forsake the Catholic Church: St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. Both were executed for their fidelity to the Holy See, by a man whose only quarrel with Rome was that he could not divorce his wife.

We will not, I think, have to face the executioner for restoring and maintaining Catholic faith and life in fidelity to the Church Universal and the Holy See. But we will have to face the wrath of our secular culture, expressed every day in mainstream media. And — I do not mean to exaggerate — perhaps even the wrath of the courts if activists ever make it illegal for the Catholic Church to “discriminate against” homosexuals (by refusing to “bless” their “unions”) and women (by refusing to “ordain” priestesses). Do not be so foolish as to think that to be impossible.

“The Catholic Church”, said G. K. Chesterton, “is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” So it has always been. So it is now.

St. Athanasius, pray for us.
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.
Ss. John Fisher and Thomas More, pray for us.
St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us.
Ss. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, pray for us.

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep. For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example to those who were to be ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the wicked (for by what that righteous man saw and heard as he lived among them, he was vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.” (2 Peter 2:1-10a RSV)

© ELC 2002


 Volume 1.10 This View’s Column April 15, 2002 

The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”