In a tough public statement to his flock on the current scandal, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, goes there:
For the Church, the crisis we face is not limited to the McCarrick affair, or the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, or anything else that may come. The deeper crisis that must be addressed is the license for sin to have a home in individuals at every level of the Church. There is a certain comfort level with sin that has come to pervade our teaching, our preaching, our decision making, and our very way of living.
If you’ll permit me, what the Church needs now is more hatred! As I have said previously, St. Thomas Aquinas said that hatred of wickedness actually belongs to the virtue of charity. As the Book of Proverbs says “My mouth shall meditate truth, and my lips shall hate wickedness (Prov. 8:7).” It is an act of love to hate sin and to call others to turn away from sin.
There must be no room left, no refuge for sin – either within our own lives, or within the lives of our communities. To be a refuge for sinners (which we should be), the Church must be a place
where sinners can turn to be reconciled. In this I speak of all sin. But to be clear, in the specific situations at hand, we are talking about deviant sexual – almost exclusively homosexual – acts by clerics. We’re also talking about homosexual propositions and abuses against seminarians and young priests by powerful priests, bishops, and cardinals. We are talking about acts and actions which are not only in violation of the sacred promises made by some, in short, sacrilege, but also are in violation of the natural moral law for all. To call it anything else would be deceitful and would only ignore the problem further.
“Almost exclusively homosexual” is not quite right, but the truth is bad enough. The authoritative 2004 John Jay Study of Catholic priest sexual abuse found that unlike in the general population, where most victims of sexual abuse are female, four out of five victims of Catholic priests are male. Here’s a screenshot from the report:
Furthermore, the Jay report found that
The majority of alleged victims were post-pubescent, with only a small percentage of priests receiving allegations of abusing young children.
So they weren’t pedophiles, strictly speaking. These were gay men who wanted to get it on with sexually mature (in the physical sense) boys.
Bishop Morlino goes on to mention former Cardinal McCarrick, and then:
It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord. The Church’s teaching is clear that the homosexual inclination is not in itself sinful, but it is intrinsically disordered in a way that renders any man stably afflicted by it unfit to be a priest. And the decision to act upon this disordered inclination is a sin so grave that it cries out to heaven for vengeance, especially when it involves preying upon the young or the vulnerable. Such wickedness should be hated with a perfect hatred. Christian charity itself demands that we should hate wickedness just as we love goodness. But while hating the sin, we must never hate the sinner, who is called to conversion, penance, and renewed communion with Christ and His Church, through His inexhaustible mercy.
At the same time, however, the love and mercy which we are called to have even for the worst of sinners does not exclude holding them accountable for their actions through a punishment proportionate to the gravity of their offense. In fact, a just punishment is an important work of love and mercy, because, while it serves primarily as retribution for the offense committed, it also offers the guilty party an opportunity to make expiation for his sin in this life (if he willingly accepts his punishment), thus sparing him worse punishment in the life to come. Motivated, therefore, by love and concern for souls, I stand with those calling for justice to be done upon the guilty.
The sins and crimes of McCarrick, and of far too many others in the Church, bring suspicion and mistrust upon many good and virtuous priests, bishops, and cardinals, and suspicion and mistrust upon many great and respectable seminaries and so many holy and faithful seminarians. The result of the first instance of mistrust harms the Church and the very good work we do in Christ’s name. It causes others to sin in their thoughts, words, and deeds – which is the very definition of scandal. And the second mistrust harms the future of the Church, since our future priests are at stake.
Bishop Morlino has pretty clearly had it, and doesn’t care who he offends. His words cannot be reconciled with Father James Martin’s pro-LGBT point of view. Father Martin tweeted the other day:
“Clergy who exhibited homosexual behavior were not significantly more likely to abuse minors than those who did not.” Kathleen McChesney, first director of the @USCCB‘s Office of Child and Youth Protection, on findings of the John Jay Report (1950-2010). https://t.co/r6ZzF5mhLY
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) August 17, 2018
I genuinely don’t understand how McChesney arrived at that conclusion. The John Jay report found that four out of five victims were males — nearly the opposite of what we find in the general population. And it also found that the overwhelming majority of those victims were not pre-pubescent children (which would indicate true pathology), but sexually mature boys. Facts are stubborn things.
On the other hand, a 2011 John Jay follow-up report attempts to save the popular narrative. From that report:
As generally understood now, homosexual behavior is the commission of a sexual act with someone of the same sex, in contrast to a heterosexual act, or sexual behavior engaged in by persons of different sexes. What is not well understood is that it is possible for a person to participate in a same-sex act without assuming or recognizing an identity as a homosexual. More than three-quarters of the acts of sexual abuse of youths by Catholic priests, as shown in the Nature and Scope study, were same-sex acts (priests abusing male victims). It is therefore possible that, although the victims of priests were most often male, thus defining the acts as homosexual, the priest did not at any time recognize his identity as homosexual.
So, just because a priest sexually abused boys does not mean he is gay, if he doesn’t call himself gay. What kind of sense does that make?
Okay, let’s move on:
Homosexual men entered the seminaries in noticeable numbers from the late 1970s through the 1980s. This statement is based on the direct experience and reports of seminary faculty and on many written reports by observers.190 It can be seen to have prompted the Letter on Priestly Formation by the Bishops of New England. What is not clear is whether the open expression of sexual identity in seminaries in this time period supports the thesis that more men were entering the seminary understanding themselves as homosexual—rather than being more likely to reveal themselves as homosexual—than in prior decades. Many ethnographic and journalistic reports by observers of Catholic seminary life in the mid-1970s and 1980s describe a situation that included much more open expression of homosexual identity, or what is called “homosexual lifestyle,” and some report homosexual behavior with adults as well. But any claim about the causal connection of the homosexual identification of late 1970s and 1980s seminarians to the likelihood of increased risk of engaging in child sexual abuse while in ministry would have to take into account the fundamental distribution of incidence. Men in the seminaries in the late 1970s and in the 1980s were members of cohorts that were identified with a decreased incidence of abuse—not an increased incidence of abuse.
A review of the narratives of men who were seminarians in the 1950s and of published histories of the seminaries themselves does not reveal any record of noticeable or widespread sexual activity by seminarians. The interviews done for the Causes and Context study and the data from the clinical files confirm this finding. Sociologist Dean Hoge, after a 2001 survey of diocesan and religious priests, reported their responses to a question about the presence of a homosexual subculture in the seminary they attended. Only 3 percent of diocesan priests aged sixty-six or older, who would have been seminarians in the early 1970s, answered affirmatively. In contrast, 40 percent of the priests aged thirty-six to fifty-five, who would have been seminarians in the 1980s and 1990s, reported that there was a clear homosexual subculture in the seminaries they had attended. As was shown in Table 2.1, 40.3 percent of the priest-abusers from the Nature and Scope study were ordained in the 1950s and 1960s and committed sexual abusive acts in the 1970s. The men ordained in the 1980s account for a comparatively smaller percentage of the abusers, 7.1 percent. Finally, those men ordained after 1989 represent only 1.9 percent of the accused. Men who were seminarians during the period of a reported increase in homosexual activity did not go on to abuse minors in any substantial number. The 1980s cohort of seminarians is associated with a marked decrease in the incidence and a sustained suppression of abusive behavior.
If I’m reading this correctly — and I welcome correction if I’m not — the researchers are assuming that the self-reporting of priests on the number of homosexuals within seminaries reflects actual conditions there. The report appears to conclude that the entry of more gays into the seminaries correlates with less recorded instances of abuse. But John Jay also concludes that men who didn’t identify as gay could have committed same-sex acts of abuse. This seems to me to be little more than a semantic game.
It is entirely possible that those men who entered into seminary in the earlier era resisted identifying as gay (even though they were same-sex attracted) because of social stigma — a stigma that was declining in the 1980s. Relatedly, it is possible that gay men of that earlier era entered into the priesthood as a futile attempt to escape their same-sex desires — a pressure that men who went to seminary later did not have to deal with, given that it was relatively easier to be gay in wider society.
All of this strikes me as a sophisticated attempt to elide the fact that 80 percent of the sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church was committed against males by a demographic — gay men — who make up only 2.5 percent of the general population.
Moreover, the John Jay Report did not take into account the relationship between a generalized culture of sexual disorder within the priesthood, and the sexual abuse of minors. The late psychotherapist Richard Sipe, who specialized in the study of the sexuality of Catholic clergy, was a progressive Catholic, but one who held that it was impossible to make sense of the sexual abuse crisis without understanding it as part of a wider crisis of clerical sexuality. He wrote in 2008:
I. Catholic clergy submit to the rule of celibacy that is required for ordination to the priesthood. Most—from my experience I repeat most—Roman Catholic clergy do not want to be celibate (sexually abstinent). They wish to be priests; many genuinely wish to serve others; but many are bound by the status, advantages, and security that ministry provides.
II. Celibacy (sexual abstinence) is not a common or persistent practice among Roman Catholic clergy. Many bishops and priests have had or are having some kind of sexual contact, experience, or relationship, at least from time to time.
III. Sexually active clergy, and those with a sexual history, run the risk of exposing their own activity if they bring a fellow cleric‟s activity to public attention. A great deal of information about priests‟ sexual lives, however, is circulated within clerical circles and some can be found in church records. Sacramental confession is a reservoir of sexual knowledge.
IV. In addition, sexual experiences with fellow seminarians or priest faculty are common in houses of training. [Estimates of twenty (20) percent sexual contact during formation are frequent among informed conservative sources.] Church authorities are aware of the situation. (Cf. the recent Vatican evaluation of U.S. Catholic seminaries, 2006 and the Vatican guidelines for the psychological screening of priesthood candidates, October 30, 2008).
V. Homosexual contact and slips are so common among the RC clergy that the Vatican has invented a new pseudo-scientific category of behavior—transitional homosexuality—especially designed to cover activity in seminaries and religious orders. This rationalization allows authorities to permit candidates who have been sexually active, even with minors, to admit them to ordination if they have been abstinent for three years.
VI. Even temporary involvement of a priest in a sexual relationship or experimentation with another priest puts him in a fearful state and a bind of “systemic blackmail.” He cannot expose the other priest without exposing himself and endangering not only his reputation, but also even his career.
VII. At times priests or seminary faculty are involved in sex-play or relationships with seminarians or young priests. Later the faculty member is promoted to the office of major superior or bishop. Even the good numbers of clergy who have been sexually involved and subsequently strive to establish celibate practice are caught in the circle of secrecy that covers even sexual abuse of minors. [There is no effective viable recourses to report misbehavior of a bishop.]
VIII. There is a scarlet bond of secrecy that is inculcated within the clerical system (reinforced via Confession), supported from the top down (Vatican), and preserved by bishops and superiors for fear of systemic or personal exposure. Candidates are taught this dynamic of secrecy about sexual activity and abuse from their first days in training.
IX. Wherever one finds a coterie of sexual abusing clergy one can locate a sexually active superior or one who tolerates sexual activity and abuse. The superior‟s sexual activity most likely is not minor abuse; activity with consenting adult females or males suffices to seal the bond. [Emphasis mine — RD] All RC clergy are caught in this system that demands cover up at any cost to save themselves (the Church) from scandal.
X. Truth, honesty, transparency, accountability, and lay people find no place within the Scarlet Bond. Denial is the most commonly psychic defense used to seal the bond from within. Rationalization and Mental Reservation are employed freely and frequently even under civil oath not to lie.
It would be unjust and inaccurate to scapegoat gay priests for the entirety of the scandal. But Bishop Morlino is right about the gay subculture within the priesthood. Exposing it and rooting it out will not solve the entire problem, but the problem cannot be solved without doing this. Remember, the thing so many priests and others within the Catholic Church had heard about Cardinal McCarrick for years was not that he abused minors. It was that he forced himself on seminarians.
In the year 2000 — nearly two decades ago! — the Jesuit priest Father Paul Shaughnessy wrote a big essay for Catholic World Report on what he terms “the gay priest problem.” If you don’t think this is an issue, read the story and have your eyes opened. Excerpt:
The leadership of the liberal movement in the Catholic Church today is still dominated by former priests, brothers, and seminarians who abandoned their vocations in the 1960s and 70s. Most of these left to marry, and for them contraception remains the touchstone issue. Of their companions in dissent who stayed behind in the priesthood, a disproportionately high number are gay, and even liberal writers have commented on the “lavenderization of the left” that characterizes the clerical wing of their movement. A review of a recent book on the priesthood by the National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Roberts typifies the position—uneasily held, nervously expressed—of the non-gay progressive:
“Considering Orientation” is the chapter of The Changing Face of the Priesthood that deals with the increasingly disproportionate number of homosexuals in the Roman Catholic priesthood and the one that leads the author, Fr. Donald B. Cozzens, to ask if the priesthood is on its way to becoming a “gay profession.” It is a devilishly difficult question to ask, first because almost no one in the hierarchical ranks wants anything to do with it, and because one can only approach it through a minefield planted wide with homophobes, right-wing zealots who see homosexual clergy as a particularly noxious manifestation of a liberal agenda, and the church’s teaching that the homosexual orientation is “objectively disordered.”
Whether the priesthood is becoming a gay profession is not, of course, a difficult question to ask, or to answer. It will be a tough problem to solve, in part because Catholics like Roberts cherish a contempt for conservatives (“homophobes, right-wing zealots”) that overmasters their intuition that something has gone wrong with the liberal project when its closest allies in the clergy are linked in the public imagination with male ballet dancers and fashion designers.
The “minefield” that terrifies Roberts involves not the explosive potential of error but the explosive potential of truth. What is unthinkable, what seems to be psychologically impossible to concede, is that there is an aspect of post-conciliar controversy in which the conservatives might have been right after all. In the same vein, whereas the National Catholic Reporter via Jason Berry’s articles was among the first publications to broach the subject of clerical sexual abuse, the same paper remains bewilderingly doctrinaire in its refusal to question the dogma that the preponderance of male victims is entirely unrelated to priestly homosexuality. Though progressives lampoon the orthodox as cowards who shut their eyes and cover their ears while shouting the party line, in this arena there is little doubt as to who is asking the disconcerting questions and who wants to change the subject. The Kansas City Star series cites an example that is as telling as it is typical; the subject is pre-seminary HIV testing.
One religious order that doesn’t require the test is the Society of the Precious Blood. The Rev. Mark Miller, provincial director of the Kansas City province, said the testing raises issues that he does not wish to address. “When you ask a question, you need to know why you are asking it,” Miller said. “The answers that would come up put it in a category where we don’t want to go.”
Still, liberals characteristically refuse to acknowledge their own role in creating the gay priest problem, and often attempt to transfer the blame to others. Thus Roberts complains that “almost no one in the hierarchical ranks” wants to tackle the crisis—a complaint that is at least partly disingenuous. Much of the hierarchy’s reluctance to address the issue stems precisely from the beating it knows it would take at the hands of liberals should it treat gayness as a negative factor. Since liberals dominate the opinion-forming institutions in the Church—the media, the bureaucracy, education at all levels—and since they are able to call on powerful allies in the secular world to help discredit their adversaries, only the boldest of bishops would risk a truly candid discussion of the problem in public.
If anything, the situation has become much more difficult to tackle since 2000, given that the mainstream media have made homosexuality largely off-limits for critical examination. Nevertheless, the problem persists. Read Shaughnessy’s whole piece to learn his advice for how bishops, priests, and laity should deal with it.
It has held up very well over the years, as has Mary Eberstadt’s 2002 piece on “The Elephant In The Sacristy.” You might find it shocking that Catholics like Fr. Shaugnessy and Eberstadt were talking about this in national magazines so long ago, and nothing was done about it.
Allegations that disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick engaged in sex with adult seminarians have inflamed a long-running debate about the presence of gay men in the Roman Catholic priesthood.
Some conservatives are calling for a purge of all gay priests, a challenging task given that they are believed to be numerous and few are open about their sexual orientation. Moderates want the church to eliminate the need for secrecy by proclaiming that gay men are welcome if they can be effective priests who commit to celibacy.
Among the most outspoken moderates is the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and writer whose book, “Building a Bridge,” envisions a path toward warmer relations between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community.
“The idea of a purge of gay priests is both ridiculous and dangerous,” Martin said in an email. “Any purge would empty parishes and religious orders of the thousands of priests (and bishops) who lead healthy lives of service and faithful lives of celibacy.”
It’s actually a fairly balanced report overall, but it labels Martin and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, both of whom are outspoken liberals, as “moderates” — you know, exponents of the Sensible Center™, as opposed to those right-wing extremists. Father Martin has never spoken of his own sexuality, but he seeks to change the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality. That’s not “moderate,” and having openly gay priests who are chaste but who promote an understanding of sexuality contrary to the Church’s teaching is not helpful, to put it mildly.
Catholics are going to have to battle through this kind of smog if they want to clean up their church, and are going to have to be prepared to be hated by the media and the wider public.
I love the Evangelical newsmagazine World, because when it goes after a target, it punches hard. Today World exposes shocking corruption at Liberty University, where the administration of university president Jerry Falwell Jr. is trying to turn the journalism program and the Champion, the campus newspaper, into a public relations training department. Excerpts:
Tension between the newspaper and Falwell emerged in 2016: To the dismay of some Champion staffers, he strongly endorsed Donald Trump. Falwell began reviewing prior to publication Champion articles that mentioned Trump. On one occasion, he made Champion editors end opinion pieces with a note on how they were voting. Opinion writer Jordan Jarrett chose not to and found a note under her published article: “The writer refused to reveal which candidate she is supporting for president.”
World writes about case after case of journalism faculty spiking stories before they could be published. And then:
Two days later, April 18, Falwell addressed the current and incoming Champion staff in a hastily arranged conference call. A dozen students pulled their rolling desk chairs around the news editor’s desk to wait for the phone to ring. Staffers prayed that God would help them be respectful and everything would be resolved soon. [Journalism school dean Bruce] Kirk and [newspaper faculty adviser Deborah] Huff were also in the room.
Falwell then called and told them the newspaper had been “established to champion the interests of the university, disseminate information about happenings on Liberty’s campus, as well as the positive impacts of Liberty in the community and beyond. And as such, the publisher of the publication, which is the university, is responsible for content decisions, to find stories to be covered by Champion personnel and makes all of the calls on the articles, photographs and other content. … We’re going to have to be stricter in the future if these protocols aren’t followed.”
He asked if there were any questions. The students were silent. Huff said, “I’m looking around the room. … I don’t see anybody with a hand up.” After Falwell hung up, Kirk said, “If you don’t know, I’m Dean Kirk. … In the real world, which this isn’t, let’s just be honest, right? … You will be beholden to an organization, to a company. … That is just part of life. And it’s part of life for all of us by the way. Put journalism aside for a second. Do I get to do everything that I want to do or does Jerry dictate what I get to do? … Somebody else decides what you do and what you don’t say or do.”
Later, Kirk spoke of the story about Red Letter Christians: “I think everybody here is intelligent enough to understand that that story has got some real negative overtones, undertones, potentials. … You have to consider that as a starting point and say, ‘OK, what’s the benefit for this? What’s going to happen that is positive for Liberty?’”
Covey asked how what happened at an educational institution might be different from what happened at a business. Kirk replied, “It’s not really that different. Frankly, I said it’s a family business, it is. I mean, Jerry Falwell and his dad Jerry before him and that’s how this university was founded, right? It wasn’t founded by somebody else. It was founded by the Falwells.” Staff members exchanged glances as he spoke, and some looked at the floor to avoid eye contact.
Kirk concluded, “I think it’s great that Jerry was willing to take even a few minutes to do this. He’s incredibly busy. It’s not every university paper that even gets to hear from their president, let alone ask a question if you wanted to. You were probably afraid to, and I get it. You don’t want him to label you as the one like, ‘Who asked that question? Who was that?’ You don’t want to be that person, I get that.” He asked the students to remember, “It’s their paper. They can do what they want. … If things aren’t followed, they’ll get stricter.”
Then there were firings. And:
Kirk told the new staffers, “Your job is to keep the LU reputation and the image as it is. … Don’t destroy the image of LU. Pretty simple. OK? Well you might say, ‘Well, that’s not my job, my job is to do journalism. My job is to be First Amendment. My job is to go out and dig and investigate, and I should do anything I want to do because I’m a journalist.’ So let’s get that notion out of your head. OK?”
He added, “It’s their newspaper. They can stop this newspaper today if they wanted to. And just so you know, they can do it. Too much trouble, too many problems, we’re getting ourselves in hot water, you guys are doing stories we can’t defend. We’re gonna stop.”
Read the whole thing. There’s much more.
This is what corruption looks like. The truth is, Bruce Kirk is correct in saying that Liberty University could shut the newspaper down. He’s not lying to those students. Jerry Falwell Jr. is destroying the credibility of the student newspaper and its journalism program. Under Falwell, Liberty is training journalists to place the pursuit of truth second to the preservation of an institution’s interest — or, to be precise, second to the interests of the institution’s leadership.
This is not journalism. This is public relations.
It reminded me of this March 2002 conference on Catholic journalists in the public square, in which I participated. The conference had been scheduled before the scandal broke out of Boston, but Boston and its ripple effects were main thing people wanted to talk about. In my talk to the conference, I said:
I think that being a Catholic makes me a better journalist because truth is one. We don’t have journalistic truths and Catholic truths. All truths work for the good of the faith and we do not need to be afraid of the truth. It may humble us, but it will make us holy, and we can’t be holy outside of the truth. I don’t see that there’s a particular conflict between my vocation, as a journalist, to tell the truth and my vocation, as a Catholic, to tell and to live the truth.
After I finished my talk, Joseph Bottum, then of the Weekly Standard (he would go on to become editor-in-chief of First Things after Richard John Neuhaus died), gave his talk. In it, he said after a bit:
Now that job of being a professional Catholic, it seems to me, is one into which Rod Dreher has fallen. In recent articles Rod has fallen off the tight rope. He said that pedophilia scandals have to be talked about. He’s absolutely right and we should talk about it. We should talk about it in this room, but that doesn’t mean it has to be talked about on the front cover of National Review.
He says we need to regain our public voice. It strikes me that this is not the way to regain our public voice. This is the way to lose it forever. In fact, there are publications that would willingly use Catholics to be the point men in this attack which they intend to ultimately to be an attack on Catholicism. We’ve seen it before. The lefty journals of New York City have a set of people they use as their professional Catholics, Garry Wills, or Mary Gordon. They’re always trotted out to say: I am a Catholic, but I have to say, the Church’s position on this or what the Church is doing on that is an outrage.
I’ve watched it happen on the right as well. The Wall Street Journal a few years ago published a column by Ralph McInerny that bothered me a great deal. He let himself be used by the Wall Street Journal to write exactly the Garry Wills/Mary Gordon column that says I am a Catholic, but I can’t believe what the Church is saying about capital punishment. This is a perpetual threat, a perpetual danger and it seems to me one that we must all guard ourselves against and that Rod has fallen off the wagon on.
Dreher: So what’s the alternative? If we only leave the public square open to the Richard McBrien’s, the dissenters, among the professional Catholic set, who’s is going to be out there to stand up for what the Church really does teach. Being a faithful Catholic does not mean that you have to fall in line behind the bishops just out of respect for the bishops because of their office.
Bottum:It’s when it becomes obsession that it begins to worry me. I also think you are mad, Rod, if you imagine that by being widely quoted in dissent you are thereby going to gain a standing that you will be able to use in the mainstream media when you want to put out a position of orthodoxy. You are not gaining resources on this topic which will then allow you to print something otherwise orthodox on a later issue in the New York Times. It’s just not true.
Dreher: I just don’t see what the alternative is. I don’t enjoy attacking the Church, but I think it has to be done and it has to be done from a position of fidelity to the magisterium and fidelity to the laity as well because the Church is not just the institution.
I think events of the past 16 years have done much to vindicate the stance I took at that conference, and to discredit the stance Jody Bottum took. I don’t say that to congratulate myself, but only to point out that the idea that the truth must take a back seat to the idea of protecting an institution, or of not giving one’s enemies an advantage, is corrupting.
This doesn’t just happen to Christians, obviously. I am cynical about the likelihood that the mainstream media will ever tell the full story of Cardinal McCarrick’s corruption, because to do so would mean having to tell stories about homosexual networks in the priesthood — stories that go against the cheerleading stance on homosexuality that the media have committed themselves.
I don’t have a lot of patience for mainstream journalists trashing Falwell Jr. when they themselves have their own sacred cows for which they run interference. I recall back in 2003, being at an editorial writers’ conference, and standing with a tiny group of conservative opinion-writers, all of us amazed by how utterly clueless the great liberal mass of our colleagues were, congratulating themselves on their own truth-telling courage, unable to see their own hypocrisies.
Still, for people of the Book, believing that protecting Liberty University, the Roman Catholic Church, or any other institution is more important than telling the truth is the seed of corruption. If you let it take root, it will grow into a malicious vine that will strangle your integrity.
Pope Francis today released a 2,000-word letter about the abuse scandal, directed . to all Catholics. Read the full text here. If you are new to this story, the letter sounds great. This excerpt, for example, is quite good:
In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims. We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity. The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands. Mary’s song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history. For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: “he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk 1:51-53). We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite.
With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them. I make my own the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when, during the Way of the Cross composed for Good Friday 2005, he identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]! How much pride, how much self-complacency! Christ’s betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison – Lord, save us! (cf. Mt 8:25)” (Ninth Station).
If I had not been following this story closely for years, I would be comforted by this epistle. Here’s why you should not be.
It’s very late in the game for this or any Pope to think that words alone are credible. Pope John Paul II said similar things when clerical sexual abuse was exposed … but the status quo remained. Pope Benedict XVI was significantly more active in fighting the culture of abuse, but bad bishops remained in place. (The rumor is that when he was presented with a dossier detailing the extent of homosexuality in the Roman Curia, he resigned when he realized that he was powerless to combat it.) And now we have Francis, who releases a torrent of good words, but whose deeds, to this point, do not match them.
First, about those words. This brave priest has taken accurate measurement of them:
The Pope’s letter to the People of God: 1. Lays most of the emphasis on caring for victims 2. Spreads the blame to “all of us.” 3. Glosses over egregious episcopal crimes 4. Never mentions homosexuality.
— Fr. Dwight Longenecker (@dlongenecker1) August 20, 2018
Of course we must do everything we can for the victims of clerical abuse, but the exclusive focus on the victims is a slick PR stunt to shift attention away from the abusers and their enablers.
— Fr. Dwight Longenecker (@dlongenecker1) August 20, 2018
Exactly right. Exactly.
Now, to the Pope’s deeds.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s resignation has been on Pope Francis’s desk for two years. All Catholic bishops formally resign at age 75, but the pope does not have to accept it. The only thing keeping the disgraced Wuerl in office in Washington is the will of Pope Francis. As long as Donald Wuerl presides over the Archdiocese of Washington, you will know that the pope’s words are empty.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, one of the pope’s inner circle of advisers, and indeed the one tasked with leading curial reform, presides over a massive gay sex scandal in his own diocese. Cardinal Maradiaga has denied that it’s a problem. A Maradiaga auxiliary bishop, the one running the diocese, had to resign after being plausibly accused of having a string of boyfriends — and Maradiaga reportedly defended the corrupt bishop to the hilt during the Vatican’s investigation. And despite losing the gay Bishop Pineda, Cardinal Maradiaga has strengthened his position in the Curia. More:
In subsequent comments to LifeSiteNews, Pentin quoted one of the sources as saying that he predicted four consequences of this appointment. First, the Vatican will remove the current nuncio, Tanzanian Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, who has been a stalwart in strongly resisting the corruption and scandal in the Tegucigalpa archdiocese. “Rodriguez Maradiaga doesn’t like him, as he’s the only one capable of saying the right thing and implementing it,” said the source.
A second consequence the source predicted is that Rodriguez Maradiaga, 75, will “secure his reign for another five years.” A third outcome is that once everything has calmed down, “he will bring back Pineda, converting him into the next archbishop of Tegucigalpa.” And finally, the source predicted the cardinal will “maintain the privilege of continuing to appoint bishops of his choice who will always be his slaves.”
“Ultimately, the whim of a homosexual (Pineda) determines the choices of an entire church,” the source said. “It makes one vomit. He will do everything that Maradiaga asks him to do.”
Meanwhile, over the past two decades, the Catholic population in Honduras has been halved, with masses either leaving the Church for Evangelicalism or Pentecostalism, or leaving the practice of Christianity entirely.
The cardinal is on the speaker’s line-up for this weekend’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin:
Tenderness my foot. Where is the Pope’s “tenderness” for the 50 or so seminarians in Tegucigalpa who put their futures on the line by writing a letter protesting the gay sex culture in Cardinal Maradiaga’s seminary, and begging the country’s bishops for help?
Cardinal Maradiaga is 75, and has presumably submitted his formal resignation to the Pope. The only thing keeping him in power in Honduras (and in Rome) is the will of Pope Francis. As long as Maradiaga — who once blamed Jews for the 2002 clerical sex scandal in the US — remains in power, you will know that the pope’s words are empty.
And so on. To be fair, Francis has done some good things on this front, like accepting the resignation of three Chilean bishops implicated by the gay sex abuse scandal rocking that country’s church. But he had to be dragged into acting in that case, after long rebuffing victims. [UPDATE: He also agreed to remove McCarrick from ministry, and to take away his cardinal rank. But if he really cared, he would be moving heaven and earth to uncover how McCarrick got away with his corruption and deceit for so long. Taking away his red hat — so what? — RD]
It is nice to have strong words from the Pope, but as Father Longenecker says, pay attention not only to what Francis says, but what he does not say. And, in the end, deeds are the only thing that count at this point. Catholics have heard strong words from popes and bishops for 16 years, and yet, here is the Church in 2018, its moral credibility shattered. Ordinary Catholics — priests and laity alike — surely know that if rescue is going to come, it’s going to have to come from them.
Three days ago, Catholic News Agency reported on new allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and on the existence of a corrupt gay subculture among priests of the archdiocese. CNA’s source: anonymous Newark priests. Excerpt:
One priest ordained in the early years of McCarrick’s term in Newark said that “a lot of people lost their innocence in the seminary.”
He told CNA that there were two distinct groups of students. “You had the men who were there because they had a deep love of the Lord and a vocation to serve his Church,” he said, adding that those men were the majority of seminarians.
“But there was a subculture, with its own group of men, that was openly homosexual and petty and vindictive with everyone else,” he explained.
The same priest said that before he entered the seminary he was warned he would “see things that weren’t right.” He said he was counseled by an older priest to “just remember who you are and why you are there.”
Several Newark priests told CNA that the same atmosphere existed under Archbishop John Myers, who led the archdiocese from 2001-2016.
One priest who studied during that period recalled being told, as a newly arrived seminarian, to lock his bedroom door at night to avoid “visitors.”
“I thought they were kidding – they really weren’t,” he said.
Another priest told CNA that, as a senior seminarian and transitional deacon, young seminarians would come to him in tears.
“They were just so scandalized by what they saw, these upperclassmen flagrantly carrying on with each other in gay relationships.”
A third priest says that these seminarians were frequently visited by other priests of the diocese, some of whom he later saw at the rectory cocktail parties.
“There was definitely a group of, well I guess we’re calling them ‘uncles’ now. They would come by to visit with the effeminate crowd, bring them stuff and take them out,” he said.
One priest told CNA that, in his judgment, many of Newark’s priests felt resigned to that culture, even after McCarrick left.
“It is so horrible, so repulsive, no one wants to look straight at it,” one priest said. “You don’t want to see it and at the same time you can’t miss it.”
Cardinal Joseph Tobin — you’ll remember him from this accidental tweet:
… was not amused. You’d think he would be outraged that something like this was going on in his archdiocese, which he took over from Archbishop Myers, and vow to clean out the Augean stables. Erm, not so much.
In response, he fired off this letter to his priests:
It is beyond ridiculous that Cardinal Tobin claims no knowledge of a gay subculture in the Newark presbyterate. How stupid does he think people are?
If you read the CNA story, you’ll see that the “personal crisis” of Father O’Malley, the one that caused him to be removed as seminary rector, involved secretly planting cameras in another priest’s bedroom. That’s not exactly the heartbreak of psioriasis. Now, according to Cardinal Tobin, a psychologist has cleared O’Malley for ministry, and he wants to be a hospital chaplain. Do hospital patients really want to get spiritual care from an alleged peeping tom? This is more of the same bishop behavior that got the Catholic Church into so much trouble in the first place: use a psychological evaluation as cover to return a morally unfit man to the priesthood, with no thought given to the ordinary people he would serve. Such is how the recycling division of the Sacrament Factory works.
It’s almost touching that Tobin forbids priests (and, I’m told, all employees of the archdiocese) to talk to the media. He’s lost control of this story now. I suspect that most, maybe all, bishops have. Priests and lay employees know that if they want to see change, they’re going to have to take action on their own.
For example, there was a remarkable homily from the pastor of a Philadelphia parish yesterday. “We’re not going to let the bishops come up with a plan, because they’ve proven that they can’t come up with a plan that works,” said the pastor of St. Raymond Penafort parish (at the 6:00 mark). He added that he and other pastors and lay leaders are going to come up with a plan of action, and not wait around for the Archdiocese to get its act together. Said the pastor, “Enough is enough.”
My source for the Newark letter adds:
I have lost all respect for Tobin, who clearly intends to keep the status quo.
What’s going to be well worth watching nationwide is what happens when priests and lay persons working in chanceries realize at long last that they cannot rely on the bishops to deal effectively and straightforwardly with this crisis — and that the most reliable strategy is going to the police and/or to the media.
Anyway, Tobin will soon be off to Ireland, where he will be a speaker at the World Meeting of Families:
He claimed earlier this year that he meant the “Nighty-Night Baby, I Love You” tweet for his sister. So maybe he can address the faithful about the reality of that love in family life, even as he denies knowledge of the existence of the lavender mafia in his own archdiocese — despite the fact that his predecessor Cardinal McCarrick was a godfather in the thing.
Catholic readers, I prayed for y’all at the Divine Liturgy today. When one part of the Body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. Last week, some of you asked me to start a thread on Sunday in which Catholics can talk about what they heard at mass today about the scandal, if anything. Well, here you go. What did you hear, and what did you think about it?
UPDATE: Here is a thread that appeared on Twitter today. It is electrifying:
This morning at Mass, I witnessed something I have never seen, and words still mostly fail me. /1
— Dr. Susan Reynolds (@SusanBReynolds1) August 19, 2018
Here is the rest of that thread:
Reynolds teaches at Emory, so this was in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. She added this later:
My dad (not Catholic) told me that he would never have agreed to let my mom raise us Catholic if we had been born today. Knocked the wind out of me.
— Dr. Susan Reynolds (@SusanBReynolds1) August 19, 2018
That brought to mind the first time the weight of the scandal got to me. It was early in 2002, just after Boston broke. I was on the futon sofa in our Brooklyn living room talking to my dad on the phone, telling him about what I was working on (scandal reporting). He stammered for a moment, trying to ask me a question, then blurted it out: “Is my grandson safe being raised as a Catholic?”
His grandson was three years old. After getting over the initial shock, my father had been very respectful of his son’s decision to convert to Catholicism. And now the old man worried that his little grandson might be molested by a priest. That was a punch in the gut, for sure.
UPDATE: A Western PA reader:
Pittsburgh. Two Masses, one on Assumption, the other yesterday. Two different parishes, as on Sundays I travel to the parish I’m a member of in the city; Wednesday I was in the suburbs.
Parish one, Wednesday: A reporter was interviewing people going in. They all said the exact same thing. “It was in the past. Our priests are good priests.” The church is almost entirely run for the retirees. The priest actually reached on the devil, the reality of sin, and abuse. It was very good. But the parishioners are the archetype of treating the parish as their sacrament factory, hence there is nothing for the younger generations. I’m glad they can shrug off the report and enjoy their participatory liturgy. It’s a shame their children are paying the consequences.
Parish Two: Pastor led several minutes of prayer before Mass. Good. Bad, the parochial vicar did the homily. He is not from the United States. The first 10 minutes were spent talking about his home country; at a moment when we are in the heart of earth-shattering news, we were hearing about his hometown festivals. Later he mentioned the abuse, going from “We must pray for the victims and yes we must also pray for the abusers.”
I started crying. Yes, we must pray for the abusers, but this was such cheap grace. No. We should be mad. We should be furious. Do we believe what the Church teaches about Christ or do we not? Because if we believe it, and we sit there comforted by PR statements and coffeehouse theology, then we are complicit in the loss of millions of souls. I was in agony the rest of the homily. I converted because I believe what Catholicism teaches to be true. But the social club aspect of the Church has never seemed more forceful than in the lukewarm, self-congratulatory, rejection of soul-searching posturing of our laity and leaders.
I considered becoming a Catholic when I was 19. I didn’t because no one I knew seemed to believe what the Church taught. I was desperate to believe, and while I own and live with the consequences of having failed to come in to the Church earlier, I wish to heaven that any of the many, many, many Catholics in my life had treated their faith as something more than their ancestral heritage, a pin on their lapel, a quirky few books on the shelf.
To hear such humiliating and cruel cheap grace, to read the slick and evasive statements of Bishop Zubik, to ignore the hollowing out of the parishes, the trauma evidenced in the lives all around us, to know that to be aware of these things and mention them is to be “hard-hearted, negative” and not as “forgiving, positive” as the Good Catholics all around me, just has me in torment. Is what we teach true? If it is true then we are guiltier than we can imagine. If it isn’t true, then my God.
Take a look at this clip from today’s big state funeral in Genoa for victims of the bridge collapse there. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini of the right-wing populist League and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement were cheered by the crowd as they arrived at the event:
Voglio meritarmi con i fatti questo affetto e questa fiducia che mi hanno #commosso oggi a #Genova, fra i parenti delle vittime e tanti cittadini comuni: il mio impegno è lottare per #giustizia, verità, sicurezza, futuro. pic.twitter.com/bijoDIV4Qi
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) August 18, 2018
Though they are leaders of the coalition government, Salvini and Di Maio represent the outsider parties in Italian politics. Reader Giuseppe Scalas, who lives in Milan, explains why this is a big deal:
Well, I’m astonished.
I have always strong reservations about any politician and about power in general. It’s the first time I see government representatives being cheered at a state funeral. They normally get booed. Or, of they are lucky, they are shown coldness.
It gives you a graphic picture of how much ordinary people felt forsaken and how much they consider the current government as their own.
Our frequent commenter Carlo makes a couple of very good points here:
Now, dead wood needs to be removed, but the primary focus cannot be on a political-institutional reconstruction. It must be on fostering the growth of new forms of Christian life (communities, charisms, educational initiatives) who can then also sustain the institution.
— Carlo Lancellotti (@_CLancellotti) August 18, 2018
I read Carlo’s tweets just before I saw this new George F. Will column about a coming “epic economic collapse.” Will talks about how we are almost at the point where the current bull market will have been the longest one in American history. Will cites no data to say that the bull market is going to end; he only points out that its end is inevitable — and when it does end, the US will be especially vulnerable, because of our staggering deficit. Excerpt:
Another hardy perennial among economic debates concerns the point at which the ratio of debt to GDP suppresses growth. The (sort of) good news — in that it will satisfy intellectual curiosity — is that we are going to find out where that point is: Within a decade, the national debt probably will be 100 percent of GDP and rising. As Irwin M. Stelzer of the Hudson Institute says, “If unlimited borrowing, financed by printing money, were a path to prosperity, then Venezuela and Zimbabwe would be top of the growth tables.”
Jerome H. Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, says fiscal policy is on an “unsustainable path,” but such warnings are audible wallpaper — there but not noticed. The word “unsustainable” in fiscal rhetoric is akin to “unacceptable” in diplomatic parlance, where it usually refers to a situation soon to be accepted.
A recent International Monetary Fund analysis noted that among advanced economies, only the United States expects an increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio over the next five years. America’s complacency caucus will respond: But among those economies, ours is performing especially well. What, however, if this is significantly an effect of exploding debt? Publicly held U.S. government debt has tripled in a decade.
I’m reminded of Warren Buffett’s quip: “You find out who’s swimming naked when the tide goes out.” He meant that hard times expose fundamental weaknesses in the economy.
It’s certainly true for the spiritual economy too. The US Catholic hierarchy is suffering through a Lehman Brothers-style collapse — the 2008 investment bank implosion that was the largest bankruptcy in US history, and which helped lead to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Except it’s worse than that for the hierarchy, which is the whole megillah in terms of the Catholic Church’s leadership class.
Granted, many, probably most, Catholics wouldn’t know their bishop if he walked up to them on the street and bit them on the nose. That’s not the point. The bishop symbolizes Church authority. The moral collapse of the US hierarchy, which has proven unable to contend effectively with clerical sexual abuse, is not the kind of thing that can be ring-fenced. You can certainly conclude, as a Catholic, that your bishop is no damn good, and should be prayed for but ignored, and get on with your spiritual life. The Church is far more than the clergy and episcopate.
The problem with that, though, is that you can’t separate the Church entirely from the clergy and the episcopate. Bishops matter, and always have within the Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant churches. If you have enough bad bishops, or if even the good bishops can’t effectively deal with corruption in the ranks, the respect the laity has for the Church as an institution ebbs. If these guys don’t take what they profess seriously, why should you? (And let’s face it, functional indifference to child sex abuse and chronic sexual corruption within the clergy isn’t a good sign that bishops don’t take what they preach seriously, what is?)
Well-catechized and well-formed Catholics will remind themselves that the sins of the clergy do not negate the teachings of the Church. But iron logic is not an indestructible cage that keeps the great white at bay. If the shark is big enough, strong enough, and persistent enough, he might break through them. Or the battering that the diver takes, even as the bars hold firm, might be so terrorizing and enervating that he concludes that the underwater exercise is intolerable, and, having lost faith in its purpose, has himself raised to the surface. That is what happened to me in 2006.
Catholics who have not been well-catechized and well-formed — dare I say the majority of them, at least since the 1960s — are left with far weaker defenses against despair, and the dissolution of their bonds of belief in Catholic Christianity.
What does this have to do with the George F. Will column, and Carlo’s observations? I’m getting to that.
This Catholic crisis is not happening in a vacuum. As I write about in The Benedict Option, American Christianity as a whole is in severe crisis — a crisis masked by the fact that the tide of professed belief has been slower to recede in the US than in Europe. But the fundamentals are weak, especially among Catholics (if you haven’t yet followed any of my links to Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith’s work studying young Catholic America, now’s the time to acquaint yourself with the grim reality). The moral collapse of the US bishops comes at a time when the Catholic spiritual economy, so to speak, is stretched very thin. Like the rest of the Christian West, Catholics of the past few generations have spent down the spiritual capital their ancestors built up over centuries past. They — we, but here I’m focusing on Catholics — have been too dependent on structures and habits that have allowed them to “deficit-spend” in the spiritual economy.
The tide has been going out on Christianity in the West for a very long time; the 19th century poet Matthew Arnold uses that very metaphor in his famous poem “Dover Beach.” The current Catholic crisis will reveal fundamental weakness in the US church. If the episcopal failures were revealed during a time of relative strength in the broader church, they wouldn’t be so severe. But that’s not the time and the place in which we live.
So, Carlo. He points out quite rightly that the rot that stands exposed now set in long ago, but was concealed by clerical and institutional structures. Rebuilding out of the ruins can’t be a matter of attempting to reconstruct those structures. It is understandable, for example, that Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston exhorts his fellow bishops to rebuild the reputation of the Church. If I’m reading Carlo correctly, though, he’s saying that doing so, while important, is not the most important task facing his fellow Catholics. True renewal and reconstruction has to happen at a more fundamental, local level.
This is what I’ve been banging on about with The Benedict Option. As I keep telling people, the Benedict Option is not about running away from the world, end of story. It is about withdrawing strategically from the world so that we can prepare ourselves and our children, through spiritual disciplines that build resilience, both for the attacks of the world, and also to represent Christ faithfully to the post-Christian world.
In economic terms, you might say that it’s about revaluing a depleted currency. Or, you could say it’s about Catholics having to barter and use other ultra-basic forms of economic exchange to get them through a general collapse of the spiritual economy.
As usual, I turn to my dear friends in Italy for an example of what this can look like. The Tipi Loschi are faithful Catholics. But they perceived some time ago that if they were going to endure the rot in the system, and even thrive spiritually in it, they couldn’t wait for the parish, the clergy, and the episcopate to get their acts together. They knew that they were going to have to live far more intentional Christian lives, and do so in community. From The Benedict Option:
In my travels in search of the Benedict Option, I found no more complete embodiment of it than the Tipi Loschi, the vigorously orthodox, joyfully countercultural Catholic community in Italy recommended to me by Father Cassian of Norcia. Motoring with Tipi Loschi leader Marco Sermarini through the hills above his city, I asked him how the rest of us could have what his community has discovered.
Start by getting serious about living as Christians, he said. Accept that there can be no middle ground. The Tipi Loschi began as a group of young Catholic men who wanted more out of their faith life than Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
“That used to be my life,” said Marco. “I didn’t know the teaching of Jesus Christ was for all my life, not just the ‘religious’ part of it. If you recognize that He is the Lord of all, you will order your life in a radically different way.”
What Marco and his friends found, to their great surprise, was that everything they needed to live as faithfully together had been right in front of them all along. “We invented nothing,” he said. “We discovered nothing. We are only rediscovering a tradition that was locked away inside an old box. We had forgotten.”
Driving through the achingly beautiful towns and fields overlooking the Adriatic, Marco pulled his SUV over on the side of a narrow country road and led me to a steeply plunging hillside. It was covered with olive trees. This was the Sermarini family olive grove. As a boy, Marco’s ninety-one-year-old father helped his own father harvest olives from these trees. Marco was raised doing the same, and now he and his own children collect olives yearly and press their oil for the family’s use.
This, I said to Marco, is stability.
He shrugged, then looked out pensively over his trees.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen next in life, but in the meantime, we have to fight for the good,” he told me. “The possibility of saving the good things in the world is only that: a possibility. We have to take the chances we have to set a rock in the earth and to keep this rock steady.”
We walked back to the SUV, climbed in, and drove on. My friend continued to wax philosophical about stability in a world of change.
“Nothing we make in this life will be eternal, but we have to build them as if they will be eternal,” Marco continued. “That’s what God wants. If you promise yourself to a woman for a lifetime, that is a way of making the eternal present here in time.”
We have to go forward in confidence that the little things we do might, in time, grow into mighty works, he explained. It’s all up to God. All we can do is our very best to serve him.
Sometimes Marco lies in bed at night, worrying that his efforts, and the efforts of his little Christian community, won’t amount to much in the face of so much opposition. He is anxious that the current will be too strong to resist and will tear them apart.
“I know from the olive trees that some years we will have a big harvest, and other years we will take few,” he said. “The monks, when they brought agriculture to this place a thousand years ago, they taught our ancestors that there are times when we have to save seed. That’s why I think we have to walk on this road of Saint Benedict, in this Benedict Option. This is a season for saving the seed. If we don’t save the seed now, we won’t have a harvest in the years to come.”
UPDATE: It’s a comment from another thread, but I wanted to share it with you on this one. It’s from reader Gerard, and it’s very good:
One of my kids — all of whom are grown-up, observant Catholics — wrote to me a couple days ago with two questions: 1) What can any single Catholic do in the face of this unending river of slime?; and 2) What will happen to the Church?
Here’s the response I sent to her and the rest:
(Name), your reference to an “iceberg” is apt. In fact, Mom and I used that very word in our letter to Archbishop Lori. The iceberg is a culture of corruption and lies that has its origin in a relativist mindset holding the eternal moral law to have become somehow outmoded or optional in our day. Basically, it’s a variant of the most ancient heresy of all: Man worshiping himself.
You ask excellent questions. What can we do? Well, we can’t control the actions of corrupt priests or hierarchy. The only thing we can control is what we do. And we are called by God to be faithful, to obey the moral law, to live according to the Truth as we have been taught it. And to raise our children to do the same. That’s it.
If we do those things, we will shine a light in the darkness. And if enough people do those things, well, the Church (and the world) will be a little brighter. I guess that’s why Jesus used similar imagery in calling his disciples to be the light of the world.
As for the Church, the only way out is through. This is an historic crisis, but if you look at the history of the Church, you see that every 500 years or so She seems to undergo trials of great magnitude — where Her very survival seems even in question.
In the case of the present crisis, more pain is in prospect. Many will lose their faith. The process of decline, already well advanced in places like Europe and elsewhere, will accelerate. A considerable portion of the hierarchy will defect, and in fact has already defected, to the Enemy. There is no way to put a happy face on any of this or dress it up as anything other than the disaster it is.
In short, this catastrophe has considerably longer to run. The Church that rises from the ashes will be smaller in numbers and weaker in the eyes of the world. But She will be purified by fire and suffering. And She will again be the light that Jesus called Her to be.
I’ve told you guys before that I find myself praying to Saint Michael a lot these days. As someone fascinated by military history since childhood, I’ve always had a special devotion to the angelic commander who won the greatest battle of all time.
There’s a scene in The Lord of the Rings where the doomed survivors of Rohan have fled to Helm’s Deep and are surrounded there by a vast horde of the Forces of Evil. Riding away in a desperate bid to find help, Gandalf has these parting words for Aragorn: “Look to my coming at first light on the fifth day. At dawn look to the East.” Aragorn’s mission, then, is to somehow hold the line for five days.
I sort of feel like one of Rohan’s defenders at Helm’s Deep these days. The Enemy is powerful. The Sarumans of our day have defected to him. We’re outnumbered, outgunned, and surrounded. The Wormtongues in our midst counsel surrender. Yet, I keep hearing a voice in the stillness, and I think it’s that of the majestic Saint Michael: “At first light on the fifth day…look to the East.”
The fifth day could be 5 or 50 or 500. However long it is, alive or dead, I intend to be at my post when Saint Michael arrives with reinforcements. I take heart in knowing all you guys will be there with me. Have no doubt: in the end, our side is going to win. We have the word of the Son of God on that.
Handsy Archbishop (formerly Cardinal) Ted McCarrick’s name did not come up in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, but his shadow looms large over the burgeoning scandal engulfing the US bishops. McCarrick loved for seminarians and priests to call him “Uncle Ted” — an endearment he also instructed “James,” a man he began molesting when James was only 11, to call him.
Uncle Ted will not be going to Pope Francis’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin later this month, but some of his clerical family will be present.
The Associated Press reports that Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl is facing trouble on two fronts: one having to do with his failures to police clerical molesters as Bishop of Pittsburgh, and the other related to his hard-to-credit claim that he had no idea that McCarrick, his predecessor in Washington, was a known molester — this, despite two claims having been quietly settled by the dioceses of Newark and Metuchen.
Cardinal Wuerl is set to speak at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin later this month:
Judging from the grand jury report, there are some families in the Diocese of Pittsburgh who would question Donald Wuerl’s credentials to speak on the welfare of the family.
Also speaking at the World Meeting of Families: Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and curial Cardinal Kevin Farrell. Tobin — he of the infamous “Nighty-night baby, I love you” tweet — is a successor of McCarrick’s, and as such, knew or should have known about the settlements with his victims, at least from the time of his 2017 installation in Newark. Farrell was an auxiliary bishop in Washington under McCarrick, and has publicly credited McCarrick as a mentor. Though he shared a flat with Uncle Ted in DC, Farrell has publicly denied that he had the slightest inkling that McCarrick was a molester.
I don’t believe it for a second. Even if it happens to be true, well, demonstrate it somehow. I will not believe it until and unless it is demonstrated.
Here’s one reason why: today’s report from Catholic News Agency about how widely know McCarrick’s behavior was in Newark. Excerpts:
The religious priest who spoke to CNA said when he studied in a seminary in New York, McCarrick, who was then an aide to Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York, would sometimes visit the seminary. The priest said that McCarrick’s reputation was already well established by this time.
“The dean of our theology school was a classmate at CUA with McCarrick, and he knew about the rumors,” the priest told CNA, “he spoke about them with the other faculty and theologians very openly.”
So well-known was McCarrick’s reputation, the priest said, that when McCarrick would accompany Cooke to visit the seminary there was a standing joke that they had to “hide the handsome ones” before he arrived.
The same reputation reportedly followed the archbishop years later, when he served from 1986-2000 as Archbishop of Newark. One priest of the Archdiocese of Newark told CNA it was an uncomfortable experience when McCarrick came to visit the seminary.
The priest said that McCarrick would often place his hand on seminarians while talking with them, or on their thighs while seated near them.
“It was really unnerving. On the one hand you knew – knew – what was going on but you couldn’t believe it.”
More about the world McCarrick and his successor John Myers — a conservative! — sustained:
Three Newark priests independently gave CNA nearly identical accounts of being invited to these parties when they were newly ordained.
One recalled that he attended a cocktail party, thinking he had been invited to a simple priests’ dinner. “I was led into the room to a chorus of wolf-whistles,” he said. “It was clear right away I was ‘on display.’”
Another priest told CNA that he was also invited to a party hosted by the priest. “They were all carrying big mixed drinks, pink ones, it was like something out of Sex in City.”
He recalled that after asking for a beer, he was told by his host, “you need to try something more girly tonight.”
All recounted overtly sexual conversation at the cocktail parties. “I was fresh meat and they were trying me out,” one priest said.
All three said they left quickly upon realizing what was going on. “Everyone was getting loaded and getting closer on the couches, I wanted out of there,” a priest told CNA.
“Everyone kept calling me a ‘looker’ and saying they had to ‘keep me around’ from now on,” a third Newark priest told CNA.
The archdiocese declined to answer questions related to those parties.
All three priests told CNA that while the experience was deeply unpleasant, they had seen similar behavior in Newark’s seminary.
Seminarians and priests from ordination classes spanning 30 years, during the terms of McCarrick and Myers, reported to CNA that they had observed an active homosexual subculture of priest and seminarians within Newark’s Immaculate Conception Seminary.
One priest ordained in the early years of McCarrick’s term in Newark said that “a lot of people lost their innocence in the seminary.”
He told CNA that there were two distinct groups of students. “You had the men who were there because they had a deep love of the Lord and a vocation to serve his Church,” he said, adding that those men were the majority of seminarians.
“But there was a subculture, with its own group of men, that was openly homosexual and petty and vindictive with everyone else,” he explained.
The priests say things have improved at the Newark seminary, but that a lot of the bad guys were ordained, and are in ministry today:
As for the problems with priests already in ministry, the priests agreed it was demoralizing, for priests and lay Catholics alike.
One said that priests living unfaithful lives are a scandal playing out “with the mute button on.”
“Our people aren’t stupid. They know who their pastors are, for good and bad. They know who drinks too much, they know if their priest is celibate or not. But they see nothing is done about it and they understand that the Church doesn’t mean what it says, or even care.”
Another told CNA, “nobody is fooled by the medical leave thing anymore. I’m terrified I might actually get sick, my parishioners would probably think I’d done something terrible.”
I’m telling you, if the media ever start really digging into the life and times of Theodore McCarrick, and examining the system that produced him, and that he sustained, they are going to expose malicious networks of sexually active gay priests who use their power to protect and promote their kind. The late Richard Sipe wrote about the “genealogy” of sex abuse among clergy — see here for the basics — which was his way of characterizing the systemic, intergenerational way that patterns of abuse pass down through the Catholic priesthood. Powerful clergy — bishops and others — who are sexually active permit sexual activity among their priests, and recruit others to join in.
Cardinal Francis Spellman, who ruled the Archdiocese of New York from 1939 to 1967, was widely known in clerical circles for his active homosexuality. A personal friend of mine attended a gay party at the archbishop’s mansion on Fifth Avenue, and was given a tour of the place by His Eminence. One of the stories told about Spellman was that he was once asked by a gay lover how he thought he could get away with his double life. Spellman answered, “Who would believe it?”
Indeed, who would? Spellman was famously anti-communist and rigidly moralistic — in public. When I was working in New York, I heard stories about him from people like my friend, as well as from a Catholic cop, that had never been made public, but which were right in line with those that had been publicized. In the third volume of her provocatively titled 2006 book The Rite Of Sodomy, Catholic writer Randy Engel takes a deep dive into the Spellman legacy, and the role of homosexuality in the Catholic hierarchy of the Boston-New York axis in the 20th century. Spellman ordained McCarrick, whose rise to power began when he served as personal secretary to Cardinal Terence Cooke, Spellman’s successor.
Spellman’s homosexuality is no secret. What I learned from Engel’s book — which is much better researched and argued than the bomb-throwing title would lead you to believe — is that Cardinal William O’Connell, archbishop of Boston from 1907 to 1944, was gay. So too was Cardinal John Wright, made an auxiliary bishop of Boston in 1947 under O’Connell’s successor, Cardinal Richard Cushing. Wright went on to become the Bishop of Worcester, Mass. Engel writes:
From the time Pius XII made John Wright the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Worcester, the diocese has remained a clerical pederast’s paradise.
Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time tracking clerical sex abusers on the Internet cannot help but be impressed with the number of times the Diocese of Worcester pops up on the screen. To date there have been at least 50 cases of clerical sex abuse reported in the diocese, mostly diocesan priests who attended St. John’s Seminary in Brighton and a handful that received their formation and training for the priesthood at the North American College in Rome.
Engel collects a lot of data on Wright, who moved on to become Bishop of Pittsburgh in 1959, and then migrated to Rome in 1969 to become a cardinal and the highest-ranking American in the Roman Curia. He participated in the conclave that elected Pope John Paul II, but because he was ill and confined to a wheelchair, his personal secretary, Monsignor Donald Wuerl, was allowed to accompany him into the conclave. Wright died in 1979.
Here is something startling from Engel’s book:
To the best of my knowledge, even though Wright’s pederastic predilections were an “open secret” in the Archdiocese of Boston and its satellite dioceses of Worcester and Springfield for many years, no one has come forward to accuse him of sexual abuse until now.
His accuser is Mr. William Burnett, whose uncle, Rev. Raymond Page, served under Bishop Wright in Worcester and whose exploits we have already detailed in connection with Bishop Weldon.
According to Burnett, his uncle-priest owned a rustic private lakeshore retreat that he had built from an old cabin on the Massaconnet Shores of Hamilton Reservoir in Holland, Mass. When I asked him what he recalled about the lodge, Burnett said he remembered that the living-room/den was covered with heavy area rugs.
Burnett said that Bishop Wright was a regular guest at Page’s private retreat when he was there. He said like most Catholics, he was in awe of the bishop.
Burnett agreed to provide this writer with details of his sexual abuse at the hands of Wright and Page even though he said it was a difficult thing to do.
The following descriptions of acts perpetrated on young Bill Burnett are not related as an exercise in idle prurient interest. Rather they are intended to show the absolute depravity of the acts committed against Bill Burnett at the hands of his own uncle and that of Bishop Wright, and to ask the reader about how he would feel if William had been his own son.
Burnett stated that the abuse ritual began with drinks, a coke for him and coke and alcohol for Page and Wright. Wright would then undress him, fall on his knees before the standing boy and cover him with kisses.
I don’t want to publish here the pornographic details — not on this blog. They’re in Engel’s book, and she’s right: she doesn’t post them for prurient reasons, but to compel readers to understand exactly what we’re talking about here. Let’s just say that according to Burnett, Wright and Page engaged in various sexual acts with him, as a boy, and with each other. Regarding the boy Burnett, we’re talking about rape. More Engel:
When it was all over, Wright handed Bill a $20 bill like he always did.
Significantly, Burnett said that Bishop Wright encouraged him to study for the priesthood for the Diocese of Worcester when he graduated from high school.
According to Burnett, his abuse at the hands of Wright and Page occurred mainly from 1952 to 1955.
Donald Wuerl became private secretary to Bishop Wright not long after his 1966 ordination. He moved into Wright’s residence in Pittsburgh, and of course followed him to Rome, after Wright was named Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy — that is, head of the Vatican’s apparatus for overseeing priests worldwide. The New York Times obituary for the cardinal said:
Meanwhile, he enjoyed the trappings of his post in the Vatican. He shared his fifth‐floor apartment with his secretary, the Rev. Donald Wuerl, whom he had taken with him from Pittsburgh. The apartment was said to be crammed with stereo equipment and his many books. Cardinal Wright enjoyed long conversations over a large dinner of pasta and he once said that he “confessed to Romanitas.” [In this context, affection for the culture and style of Vatican life. — RD]
Guilt by association is a fallacy. We do not know that Cardinal Wuerl is gay, or personally guilty of any sexual misconduct. I am not here asserting, or even insinuating, that he is.
But there is reason to believe that Wuerl’s great mentor, spiritual father, and patron, the cardinal he served for 13 years, was an active homosexual, and indeed — on Bill Burnett’s testimony — a pederast. What, if anything, did Donald Wuerl know about Cardinal Wright’s private life? Was Wright personally compromised? What did Wright teach him about how to think about sexual activity among priests? Given what Richard Sipe has said about the “genealogical” aspect of clerical sexual abuse and misconduct — that is, this phenomenon passing down through the clerical ranks by sexually active prelates and seminary rectors recruiting and promoting those who share their sexual enthusiasm — the questions ought to be asked.
As Sipe tirelessly argued, sexual disorder among priests, cloaked by a veil of secrecy, provides a hothouse culture into which sexual criminal behavior with minors can thrive. Most sexually active priests would never molest a minor, but the importance of keeping their own sexual sins hidden made them likely to turn a blind eye when other priests did harm minors.
Ted McCarrick might be the keystone whose fall brings the entire secret world of closeted bishops and powerful gay sexual networks falling down. This, I believe, is why Wuerl wants to make McCarrick look like a one-off, an aberration. In his recent videotaped interview with Father Rosica, Cardinal Wuerl (at 3:13) says, “I don’t think this is some massive, massive crisis.” To which Marc Thiessen, in a Fox News commentary, responds:
It is a massive, massive crisis. How was McCarrick allowed to rise through the hierarchy despite the countless warnings to both his fellow bishops and the Vatican that he was a sexual predator? Who knew? Who helped him? The same conspiracy of silence that allowed sexual predators to flourish in Wuerl’s Pittsburgh diocese for decades also allowed McCarrick to become, until just a few weeks ago, one of the most powerful American cardinals, even in retirement.
This is not just a matter of getting rid of a few bad apples. There is a ring of abusers and their enablers in the Catholic hierarchy that must be rooted out. Every report of abuse that was overlooked or ignored, every abuse that was covered up with a nondisclosure agreement, must be exposed. The bishops and cardinals who ignored or covered up abuses are complicit and must be removed. The church must be cleansed, and the conspiracy of silence ended.
Exactly right. Again and again: the only way to do that is to start digging deep into the root networks. I was told to read Engel’s book by a prominent Catholic layman, who said she really is onto something with Wuerl and Wright. I had not seen the book before because based on the title alone, I figured it was something fringey, which it kind of is, but much less so than I expected. When I mentioned that to a priest who teaches in one of the leading Catholic universities, he said to me, “Ross Douthat was right: If you want to know the truth about these things, you have to go to the fringes.”
Here’s the passage from the Douthat column in question:
It was the early 2000s, I was attending some earnest panel on religion, and I was accosted by a type who haunts such events — gaunt, intense, with a litany of esoteric grievances. He was a traditionalist Catholic, a figure from the church’s fringes, and he had a lot to say, as I tried to disentangle from him, about corruption in the Catholic clergy. The scandals in Boston had broken, so some of what he said was familiar, but he kept going, into a rant about Cardinal McCarrick: Did you know he makes seminarians sleep with him? Invites them to his beach house, gets in bed with them …
At this I gave him the brushoff that you give the monomaniacal and slipped out.
That was before I realized that if you wanted the truth about corruption in the Catholic Church, you had to listen to the extreme-seeming types, traditionalists and radicals, because they were the only ones sufficiently alienated from the institution to actually dig into its rot. (This lesson has application well beyond Catholicism.)
I’ll end with this. The late Richard Sipe was very much a progressive Catholic. He thought there was nothing morally wrong about homosexuality, wanted to see celibacy ended, and the clerical closet closed for business. He had no complaint at all about gay priests. What he hated was lies, double lives, and exploitation. On that last point, he and conservative Catholics would agree.
It is time to disrupt Uncle Ted’s family tradition. Uncover the dirt, expose the roots, depose corrupted prelates, dismiss from the priesthood those who will not live cleanly and faithfully. The fate of this family is decisive for the future of the Catholic Church.
What is the alternative? Read the newspaper. Look around you.
A letter from a Pennsylvania reader, with a few small changes to protect his identity:
I was a seminarian for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and I attended St. Mark’s Seminary in Erie, PA in the 1970s. I was there when three named abusers were also in residence and in positions of authority: Fathers Luzzi, Kelley, and Muroski. Luzzi was the Rector of the Seminary, Kelley, an instructor and spiritual director, Muroski was the Vocation Director for the Diocese of Erie. I was personally acquainted with other named abusers — Father Michael Barletta and Thomas Schanz. I was in the eye of the storm, so to speak.
Well so far, so what? I was aware of an undercurrent of homosexual relationships and priests having special relationships with a number of the guys, but none of the behaviors as outlined in the Grand Jury report rose to the surface. Barletta had a real following among the seminarians from the Sharon-Farrell area (Western PA, north of Pittsburgh) as he had taught there at Kennedy Christian HS. There was an atmosphere of secrecy and rot, but you could never put your finger on just what that rot was. I always kept my distance from these men and made my confessions in a local neighborhood church. I believe that these young men were compromised in the context of confession and spiritual direction. Whenever I sought spiritual direction these sessions always revolved around my sex life (or more to the point — the lack thereof). These sessions were always graphic and made me uncomfortable in the extreme. They equated homosexual relations with the sin of masturbation- easily fallen into and just as quickly forgiven by a merciful God who had forgiven you before you had even indulged in your sin.
In the Grand Jury report on Fr. Luzzi there is the reference to a possible suicide as a result of the sexual abuse the individual had suffered at St. Mark’s. I learned of his suicide in July of 2003, right after it happened. His name was Michael Reichart. He was 48 years old, a husband and a father. He burned himself alive near the grounds of Warren State Hospital. The brief report of the incident can be found on vindy.com or a quick search of the Sharon, PA newspaper archives. Mike was a good guy — funny, athletic, and always helpful when you needed a favor, big or small. He came from such a great family — his dad was a steelworker as were his brothers. He unfortunately was also one of “Bart’s boys.” Father Barletta) I refused to draw any conclusions from that when I heard about his horrific death. But what can I conclude now? His end has haunted me to this day. But at least I think I understand it now.
As far as my faith is concerned? It is spent, shot to pieces by all of this. I thought 2002 was bad, but the Church would endure. I don’t think that anymore. It deserves to crumble into dust.
Here’s a newspaper report I found on the suicide:
SHARON, Pa. — Authorities in Warren County are investigating the death of a South Pymatuning Township man who was severely burned on a street in the small town of North Warren.
Michael F. Reichart, 48, of Springwood Drive, was found by a Warren County transit driver shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday and was pronounced dead of his burns shortly before 11 a.m. after being flown to the Burn Trauma Center at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Authorities told local press outlets that Reichart apparently doused himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze.
Reichart worked as the employee assistance program coordinator at Sharon Regional Health System and helped bring psychiatrists and psychologists to the area.
Here is the text of the grand jury report’s entry on Father Luzzi:
After several years teaching at Venango Christian High School, Reverend Salvatore P. Luzzi was moved to St. Mark’s Seminary, where he filled several roles. Over the course of his 30 year ministry, he was accused of sexual misconduct by eight male victims ranging in age from early teens to early twenties. Some of these victims were groped, inappropriately kissed, hugged, and/or fondled. He also faced allegations of responsibility for the suicide of a former student/victim.
Luzzi worked extensively with young would-be priests at St. Mark’s where he and fellow priest Leon Muroski served as Spiritual Directors to the seminarians. Luzzi’s inappropriate touching and fondling of at least two seminarians prompted the Diocese to settle with those seminarians for large sums of money. The first former Seminarian’s case was settled in civil court for $34,500 and this individual received several thousand dollars over the course of the many years that the Diocese paid for his counseling and medication costs.
Several other former juvenile victims of Luzzi received letters or phone calls of apology from the Diocese. These victims were counseled by the Diocese through correspondence or in person interviews wherein Luzzi’s behavior was dismissed as “Sal’s way of expressing himself’ and his “touching approach” to ministry was attributed to his Italian upbringing.
The Diocese listed several Luzzi victims in its internal reports, but little to no documentation was contained in the files. It was alleged that Luzzi groped the buttocks of one victim in a hardware store in 1998. This individual was 19 at the time of the incident. Luzzi denied the touching and only admitted to patting this individual on the back.
In 1974-1975, Luzzi and Father Leon Muroski were working at Camp Notre Dame in Fairview when a young seminarian named Michael Amy was accused of fondling two juveniles. These victims reported the incident to the Pennsylvania State Police, the Diocese of Erie, and to their parents. The Diocese representative for this incident at Camp Notre Dame was Father Lawrence Speice. Speice assisted Amy by interceding on Amy’s behalf with the State Police and the boys’ parents. No arrest was made. Luzzi and Muroski dealt with Amy by making him attend counselling and keeping him in seminary. Amy would go on to abuse at least two more juveniles, along with several other unidentified juvenile prostitutes as an ordained priest prior to being laicized.
During Amy’s laicization process, he called Speice, Muroski and Luzzi as his witnesses. Muroski denied knowledge of any wrongdoings by Amy. Speice and Luzzi both admitted some knowledge of Amy’s molestation of children in 1974-1975. Luzzi wrote on Amy’s Witness Statement that he was “amazed that he was made a pastor in a place where something happened before,” and that “there certainly should have been something in his Seminary day files.” Luzzi added, “I personally wondered when these things would resurface.”
In 1994, Bishop Trautman sent both Luzzi and Muroski to St. Luke’s Institute for therapy. The Diocese publicly announced that Luzzi was going on an extended sabbatical for “personal, spiritual and academic growth.” Once Luzzi was discharged, the Bishop welcomedhim back into pastoral ministry by letter on February 14, 1995. However, the welcome also came with several conditions and a Penial Precept, a formal notification in the church that restricts ministry. Trautman directed Luzzi to refrain from all contact with youth under 19 years of age and to avoid travel and social interaction with such parishioners. Later that same year, in September 1995, Trautman had Luzzi’ s faculties as a priest removed and Luzzi began residing in a private residence, where he remains today.
It was Luzzi’s position that Trautman forced him to retire. It was the position of Trautman and the Diocese that what led to Luzzi’s resignation was the weight of new allegations and the real possibility of widespread publicity. It was found in subpoenaed files that Luzzi’s accusers threatened to take “appropriate steps” if Luzzi was not removed from ministry. This information was found in an internal document written by Monsignor Robert Smith and placed into Luzzi’ s file on October 12, 1995. Smith and Trautman informed Luzzi that if he did not retire of his own free will, the Diocese would follow the canonical process specified in church law to remove Luzzi. Luzzi resigned less than 30 days later.
Michael Reichart, RIP.
Rod Dreher is one of America’s most influential religious commentators. He has made the case that in today’s godless West, the only viable strategy for traditionally minded followers of Jesus Christ is to make a partial withdrawal from society, and abandon the struggle to assert political power. It is a case he lays out in his book “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation”.
The Economist columnist, writing as “Erasmus,” cites a passage from my New York Times column this week:
The crisis is systemic and will not be resolved by new policies and procedures, as the hapless episcopal bureaucrats want to think. Pope Francis is not going to swoop in to save the Catholic Church…If the church is to be rescued, it will have to happen in the everyday lives of the faithful, no longer deceived by illusions or false promises of faithless shepherds.
To which Erasmus adds:
In other words, the church’s newly exposed pathologies provide yet another reason for a kind of pious retreat, into smaller communities where a spirit of self-discipline and self-examination would prevail. And with decent honesty, he acknowledges that the biggest challenge to Christianity’s future may come not from the decadence and hostility of a secular world, but from things that have happened inside its walls. “The greater threat is from internal weakness and vice.”
Many readers, including those who are far from his world of traditional faith, will find more to like in Mr Dreher’s newly contrite tone than they did in his earlier advocacy of withdrawal from a wickedly secular public arena.
… But withdrawal in a spirit of honest repentance is different from withdrawal in a spirit of arrogant disapproval, even though the two things can easily become confused. Now at least, Mr Dreher seems to understand that point clearly—and the abuse scandal has sharpened his understanding.
If you read the book, you will know that I have never believed that the Church (Catholic or otherwise) is a bastion of purity and safety against the wickedness of the outside world. In fact, as I say in the opening pages:
So what if those around us don’t share our morality? We can still retain our faith and teaching within the walls of our churches, we may think, but that’s placing unwarranted confidence in the health of our religious institutions. The changes that have overtaken the West in modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves. As conservative Anglican theologian Ephraim Radner has said, “There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.”
Don’t be fooled by the large number of churches you see today. Unprecedented numbers of young adult Americans say they have no religious affiliation at all. According to the Pew Research Center, one in three 18-to- 29-year-olds have put religion aside, if they ever picked it up in the first place.2 If the demographic trends continue, our churches will soon be empty.
Even more troubling, many of the churches that do stay open will have been hollowed out by a sneaky kind of secularism to the point where the “Christianity” taught there is devoid of power and life. It has already happened in most of them. In 2005, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton examined the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers from a wide variety of backgrounds. What they found was that in most cases, teenagers adhered to a mushy pseudoreligion the researchers deemed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)
My understanding has not been sharpened. I know nothing in principle different about the Catholic Church today than I did when I wrote the book. The only thing different is the Pennsylvania particulars. That paragraph that Erasmus cites as an example of my new, sharpened understanding is only a summary of the main point of The Benedict Option. I offered it in this context of the Pennsylvania catastrophe in hope that some who had dismissed the book earlier (without having read it) would perhaps take its message more seriously now.
Contra The Economist, the Pennsylvania grand jury report has not “sharpened” my understanding, but vindicated it.