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Hard Words About The US Church’s Future

A Catholic parish priest writes to say that he has read the entire McCarrick Report, and offers these observations:
Along with the observation about the obvious proliferation and acceptance of homosexuality in the hierarchy, I have a few more:
  1. For years they knew that McCarrick had shared his bed with seminarians and priests.  Since this was “adult” behavior, and they believed McCarrick who claimed it was never sexual, they never acted on it.  Once again this tells me that the hierarchy devalues priests and seminarians.  They continued to promote him because, well, “it was just priests and seminarians.”  One thing has become abundantly clear to me over the last couple of decades.  No matter what they say, they really don’t care about their priests.  Their actions certainly rarely match their sentiments and words.  We are here to exploit and command and serve as cheap labor.  This allows them to have power over us to continue to perpetuate their immorality and keep us from speaking out.
  2. It was clear to me when they got to the section regarding Francis that the fix was in.  As you have noted from others, this was a total CYA of Francis and his favored bishops.
  3. It was also very clear that the document was a hit job on Vigano.  I am not actually a fan of his, but the document goes out of its way to disprove his claims.  It does so in an overtly polemical way which is really unnecessary in this kind of document.
  4. I don’t think JP2 comes off as badly as some might suggest.  McCarrick was passed over for promotion a few times.  There was one particular prelate who very much sought McCarrick’s promotion.  Then JP2 asked for testimony from numerous bishops who either lied or obscured the truth.
  5. That being said, what is it with these guys thinking it’s merely a lapse of judgment for a bishop to sleep with seminarians and priests?   Maybe more is known now about grooming behavior?  I think there used to be a clear presumption of taking a bishop’s word as gospel truth.  “A bishop would never lie.”
  6. McCarrick was a master manipulator.  This was a major takeaway.  He knew how to play the hierarchy off of each other and get what he wanted.  Look at the letters and how he dealt with him being asked to lead a quiet life by B16.  He basically continued to do whatever he wanted and the Church had difficulty corralling him.  Mostly because they simply didn’t have hard data and accusations yet.
  7. I also wonder if Francis wanted to do a hit job on JP2 and B16 because by discrediting them he also discredits their teaching authority.  “Why should someone take seriously what JP2 taught regarding marriage and family if he promoted a serial abuser, etc.”  This will help Francis continue his obfuscation of the moral doctrine of the church.  He hasn’t definitively changed that doctrine, but he continues to undermine it which renders it effectively impotent.
I realize that some have criticized priests for not being more publicly vocal about the corruption.  The problems are numerous.  First, just like McCarrick they cover for each other.  Chanceries tend to be very insular with few changes of clerics in leadership, so they protect each other.  Any public criticism is immediately met with threats from the chancery.  Rarely is something so obviously wrong and provable that a priest could take the chance to say something.  Anything we report (and to whom?) will be shared with our own bishop by one of his friends.  What you end up seeing is “smoke” and behaviors that you know point to greater issues, but nothing you can definitively call out.
Second, they have complete control over your livelihood and future.  If they suspend you, then they cut your pay and benefits to a merely sustainable level.  There’s no possibility of retaining counsel.  Then if you leave the priesthood the Church says you can never work in the Church again.  All of the skills and education you have accumulated can no longer be used in the Church.  You know then, that if you leave, or are forced out, that you will have to start all over again with a new career and that you have lost any ability to effect change.  Third (and this is my position), we are now the resistance.  I have parishioners who need to hear the truth and receive the sacraments.  I know am making a huge difference in people’s lives despite the hierarchy.  I am happy as a priest and as long as the bishop largely leaves me alone, I can do good work.
This document is just another nail in the coffin of the moral authority and relevance of the episcopacy.  They haven’t been relevant to the faithful for quite some time.  I think it’s time for priests to now realize (if they already haven’t) that the bishops have abandoned us as well.  Every priest is on his own (unless he has some friends he truly trusts).
You have written extensively about the decline of our culture and the impending persecutions.  I agree with you.  I believe it’s important to realize that these persecutions will come from everyone in power; including the hierarchy who will try to make peace with our persecutors, as we already see them doing with Biden.  [Emphasis mine — RD] They are already selling out priests who speak out too strongly against moral evils.  The threat to religious liberty in the Church is not particularly from the secularists; it’s from the bishops who refuse to speak out and will sacrifice their priests who disturb the fragile and imaginary peace they seek to maintain with the powerful in the culture.
Consider this; hardly any bishop came out and instructed his faithful as to why a Catholic politician should not hold the intrinsically evil positions that Biden does and that this constitutes a grave scandal, but then they will demand their faithful not contracept and if they don’t attend Sunday Mass it constitutes a mortal sin, etc.  I can hear the faithful saying a collective “F–k Off!”  The episcopacy is dead.  How many even dared to speak up concerning Francis’ statement about homosexual civil marriages?  Some, but not many.  Don’t be fooled by the ones who seem “orthodox”.  It’s often a ruse and those guys are often just as gay as the overtly effeminate ones.  I have known many bishops and the priests who aspire to the episcopacy.  I trust none of them.  Just like the faithful have to effectively lie to save face amongst the secularists, priests have to do the same thing to their bishops and chanceries lest we be deemed a “potential liability” or worse.  The only thing left holding the Church together are faithful parish priests and laity.  (Here I am presuming the help and grace of God, of course.)
Thanks again for your work and fidelity to the Lord.
Man. That’s very heavy. But it’s necessary. It is far better for all of us to live in the world as it is rather than in the world as we wish it were.
Along those lines, this e-mail also arrived today:
Rod, I’ve been wanting to write you now, because of the last two posts–the Quickening and now Nebraska. It is not simply quickening–it is here already. I think people see the bias response teams and TIPS and all that as something that forebodes the worst–but it’s too late already–there is no coming, it’s been here a long time. Any culture that is willing to include these structures within its system has already fallen prey to a kind of scapegoating principle that is in the end tyrannical. You cannot argue with it, because there is no “it” there to argue with–it’s amorphous, always changing. It’s truly a trans-culture, which is probably the worst kind of tyranny, because at least with Stalin, he was a clear dictator–now, nobody really knows anymore.
A quick story for you: this week, two faculty members in the humanities at my small nominal “Catholic” university were laid off (8 others elsewhere). Both of these faculty members happen to have been there for 8 and 9 years respectively–clearly tested over time. They were not laid off for any student evals, any classroom misconduct, any lack of scholarship–they are both hard working, both excel at their discipline, both with promising futures. They were told it was because of financial challenges faced at the university. Here’s the thing–there were plenty of younger, recently hired faculty that could have been let go, with far less experience. But guess what: these two were Catholics–they were 24/7 Catholics. Not your typical woke Catholic, but living their faith in and out of classroom Catholics. And they were the ones let go. So, when the opportunity to let people go comes along, to change things up, you can bet it will be the Christians who will be let go, and there will be nothing we can do about it, because there will be nothing we can put our fingers on–the scapegoating will be implied, suggested, merely tacit, and when this scapegoating is done, over the course of a few months or years, there is no logic that can stand up against it. The systems they’re creating now are just a way of putting the final nails in the coffin of any resistance, but we’re already in our coffins.
If people don’t quit now and find people of faith to work with, they will suffer. If people don’t start forming communities of faith, businesses of faith, and start living small: accept less, detached from the world (by this you know what I mean–Ben Op detachment from within), seek holiness above wealth–if we do not radically change our view of what we expect for ourselves, we are going to be hurt, persecuted, etc. There will be persecution anyway–that is the Cross–but it will be much worse if we don’t change our orientation toward the Good now.
I say this, because I am one of those faculty members who was cut. I’ve got books, I’ve run international conferences, I review for the top journals in my field, I’ve played the game, and it didn’t matter–and if I hadn’t already been seeking out a network of people who courageously live their faith, I’d be lost right now. It’s not easy, I’ve lost friends trying to live my faith, but thank God I have a Church, I have true friends to pray with, etc.
Keep on calling this out–everyone needs to wake up.
I have been these past two days at the Q Ideas conference in Nashville. It’s an Evangelical ideas festival. I’ve spoken at it twice before, about The Benedict Option (both before the book came out, in 2015, and after its 2017 publication). I was well received both times, but I heard from others in the audience that there was significant pushback against the idea that we needed in any way to withdraw as Christians from society. Of course the Benedict Option doesn’t say “head for the hills,” but rather that Christians should step back a bit from this post-Christian world for the sake of thickening our communities and deepening our discipleship. That is the only way that we will be able to resist the pressure from the post-Christian world to apostatize. Even that, though, was hard for many Evangelicals (and Catholics) to grasp.
What a difference three years makes. In the green room before my talk, I spoke to John Mark Comer, lead pastor of the Bridgetown megachurch in Portland, Oregon. He told me how much my books meant to him — both the Ben Op, and Live Not By Lies. He said they are living out the realities of post-Christian America there in Portland. John Mark said that what seemed alarmist about the Ben Op in 2017 now seems obvious in 2020.
We had a rich, deep conversation. I’m not going to repeat it here, obviously, because he was not being interviewed (though he did say that he would be willing to do an interview with me). The overall theme of our talk was how apocalyptic — in the sense of “unveiling” — these times are, and how profound the hostility to Christian faith is fast becoming. “It’s head-spinning how fast it’s all happening,” John Mark told me. He said later that his church is moving now to buy apartment buildings to set up Benedict Option-like communities of prayer and discipleship, and that the church is also drafting a “rule of life” (his words) that everyone who wants to be part of the church has to agree to live by. They don’t see any other way to hold fast to the Truth in this chaotic and disintegrating age.
I had a conversation with another pastor who lives in a militantly liberal city. Same kind of thing: he said that things have become much darker and more hostile, very quickly. Me, I believe these pastors and their congregations are living in a world that will be general very soon. There won’t be anywhere to hide. I brought up how social media catechizes young people more effectively than either family or church — and social media is the same everywhere. Pastors and other Christian leaders I talked to all agree. I am used to being looked at by people like this with (at best) polite skepticism. It stunned and encouraged me to meet so many who said, “Your work really is important. Everything you’ve been saying, we’re seeing it now.”
This morning I listened to both John Mark Comer and Roberta Ahmanson on stage, in a Q&A about church history and deconstructing the Christian tradition. It was really strong and interesting. Roberta talked about how the early church drew so many women in because it was their “safe space” from the sexual exploitation of the Roman world. Later, she said that Benedictine monasteries were seen as refuges during the chaos of the so-called Dark Ages, because they were places of order and light. (This is Benedict Option 101.) The churches today have to be that too — especially for those who are being broken by the sexual madness of our time.
John Mark said that in Portland, they are seeing the fruits of a culture that rejects God, and that places great emphasis on individual autonomy. “This does not look like human flourishing to me,” he said. “It’s not just about social anarchy, but about emotional trauma.”
Both Comer and Ahmanson agreed that it is no longer enough for the church to make persuasive arguments to the world. Rather, it needs to create oases of truth, goodness, and beauty — places that people want to be a part of because they want the peace, stability, and joy that those who live in those communities have. Said Comer, “The future of the church is neo-monastic.” That includes, he said, rigorous discipleship that is visibly transformative.
Can you believe it? Megachurch Protestants really and truly practicing the Benedict Option, because they look around them in Portland and see the alternative. The middle ground is vanishing before our eyes.
John Mark said that the core problem is that Millennials and Generation Z members have huge problems with authority. The only authority they want to recognize is the authority of their own hearts, and obey the command of what they believe will relieve them of their internal anxiety. Whatever that is, it’s not Christianity, though (said John Mark) it has parasitically appropriated the language and concepts of Christianity. When Scripture contradicts what people prefer to believe, they throw out Scripture. This is why liberal Christianity is so futile: it can’t construct any kind of resilient stance against the world.
John Mark said he spoke to a man here in Nashville who said this city is a hard place to raise kids. John Mark said he had to ask the man to explain that, because coming from Portland, Nashville looks like a bastion of sanity. He said the man explained that here, Christianity is so tied into nationalism — into worshiping America as God’s chosen nation. Millennials and Gen Z’ers hate that, said the man, so they turn to progressive Christianity as its opposite. That, said John Mark, is the way to lose your faith. Nationalistic Christianity — MAGA at prayer — is a false idol, but so is its mirror opposite.
It was really an inspiring time here in Nashville. If you want to see the talks, they’ve all been recorded and archived at the Q Ideas site — but you have to pay for them, same as those who watched from home. The main thing that encouraged me about the pastors and lay leaders I met here was their shared sense that we have crossed a cultural and religious Rubicon, and that Christians cannot afford to live in denial about the seriousness of the time. As you know, I have been banging the drum about this for a while now, but men and women who are on the front lines, in ministry, are seeing the truth of it all play out in front of them.
Now is not the time for despair! But it isn’t the time for cheap optimism either. What we need to cultivate is real Christian hope. That is what will give us the strength to live in truth. It is unavoidable that we will have to learn to embrace suffering. There is no way around it, not anymore. We are not going to be spared. We will all be put to the test. What this parish priest above said — “these persecutions will come from everyone in power; including the hierarchy who will try to make peace with our persecutors” — are words to take to heart. I know more about that particular priest’s story than he’s saying here. This is a man who knows from personal experience what he’s talking about. And the fired professor’s remark — “There will be persecution anyway–that is the Cross–but it will be much worse if we don’t change our orientation toward the Good now” — are also words to live by.
If you are a reader of Live Not By Lies, once again I offer you this link to a free study guide to help you (and others reading it with you) think through how the lessons in its pages can be applied to your life. It is imperative that we all confront these hard realities now, while we have the freedom to do so, and follow Father Kolakovic’s method for discerning a way forward: See. Judge. Act.
Nobody is coming to save us. No politician, no prelate, nobody. Only God, His faithful ministers, and others in our communities who can read the signs of the times, and are prepared to act with sacrificial courage to serve Christ and His people, and to bear witness, no matter what comes — these are our only hope. But look, friends, if you want to avoid suffering, don’t lie to yourself: you will sooner or later be at grave risk of losing your faith. From Live Not By Lies:

The days to come are going to force American Christians to confront personal suffering for the faith in ways most never have done before (African American Christians are the obvious exception). Besides, it cannot be emphasized strongly enough: the old totalitarianism conquered societies through fear of pain; the new one will conquer primarily through manipulating people’s love of pleasure and fear of discomfort.

We should not conflate being socially or professionally marginalized with prison camps and the executioner’s bullet—the latter of which were all too real for anti-communist dissidents. But know this too: if we latter-day believers are not able and willing to be faithful in the relatively small trials we face now, there is no reason to think we will have what it takes to endure serious persecution in the future.

“Without being willing to suffer, even die for Christ, it’s just hypocrisy. It’s just a search for comfort,” says Yuri Sipko, the Russian Baptist pastor. “When I meet with brothers in faith, especially young people, I ask them: name three values as Christians that you are ready to die for. This is where you see the border between those who are serious about their faith and those who aren’t.”

When he thinks of the communist past, about Christians who were sent to prison camps and never returned, of those who were ridiculed in the world, who lost their jobs, who even in some cases had their children taken from them because of their faith, Sipko knows what gave them the strength to endure. Their ability to suffer all of this for the sake of Christ is what testified to the reality of their unseen God.

“You need to confess him and worship him in such a way that people can see that this world is a lie,” says the old pastor. “This is hard, but this is what reveals man as an image of God.”

Mária Komáromi teaches in a Catholic school in Budapest. She and her late husband, János, were religious dissidents under the communist regime, and bore many burdens to keep the faith alive.

“You have to suffer for the truth because that’s what makes you authentic. That’s what makes that truth credible. If I’m not willing to suffer, my truth might as well be nothing more than an ideology,” she tells me.

Komáromi elaborates further:

Suffering is a part of every human’s life. We don’t know why we suffer. But your suffering is like a seal. If you put that seal on your actions, interestingly enough, people start to wonder about your truth—that maybe you are right about God. In one sense, it’s a mystery, because the Evil One wants to persuade us that there is a life without suffering. First you have to live through it, and then you try to pass on the value of suffering, because suffering has a value.

Wealth, success, and status are no real defenses against suffering, Komáromi says. Look at all the people who have everything this world can offer, but who still fall into self-destructive behavior, even suicide. Christians must embrace suffering because that’s what Jesus did, and because they have the promise, on faith, that to share in his suffering will bring glory in the next life.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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