By Charlie Johnston
What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?-Mark 8:36
In my anger over the revelations of what a serial predator former Cardinal (now merely Archbishop) Theodore McCarrick has been for his whole career – and how many in authority knew and did nothing, I chose first to repeat my investigative piece on former Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn. Bishop Finn, confronted with an abusive Priest under his authority in his Diocese, did everything a Bishop should. He removed the Priest from public ministry to protect the young people; he sent the Priest for psychiatric care to try to be just to the Priest, and he co-operated with public authorities. He did some of this a little clumsily, but he did it all. He was not accused of any sort of abuse. For his clumsiness, Pope Francis and his American factotum, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, forced Finn’s resignation. All I could think of after Pope Francis ordered Cardinal McCarrick, a Bishop under his authority, to resign from the College of Cardinals (henceforth to be a mere Archbishop) was that if Francis held himself to the same standards he held Finn to, he would have to resign. But, of course, Pope Francis won’t do that. He rarely holds those who are heterodox to account unless he is forced to. His wrath is almost entirely reserved for the orthodox and those who, however clumsily, try to live their faith with fidelity – the faith passed on from Christ, the Apostles (through the authentic Magisterium), the Gospels and the Prophets.
I hear from as many – or more – Priests these days (and, quietly, a few Bishops) from across the country as I did when my prior site was at its peak readership. These are very hard times for them. It is frequently agonizing. It heartens me that so very many good men in the hierarchy are working to balance their duty of obedience with their duty to proclaim the faith with fidelity to Christ and the Magisterium. I write this, though, not to rally general support to the hierarchy, but to say, “Enough!” – to acknowledge bluntly how badly much of the hierarchy has betrayed the faithful AND how many of us in the laity have failed those clerics who have kept faith with Christ.
For a very long time my primary criticisms of the hierarchy have been that they have been too busy playing at being politicians while abdicating their responsibility for the faith – and that they have failed to protect the faithful from the wolves. I didn’t know the half of it. It turns out that too many in the hierarchy are, themselves, wolves. It can escape no one’s notice that the overwhelming majority of the offenders come from the ranks of those clerics who bleat the loudest and most insistently about how we must welcome the sexually disordered while making no call for them to reform. I have come to think many of these abysmal clerics are not as interested in their peculiar variety of mercy (a mercy that tells those soul-sick with a deadly disease that they are fine just as they are) as they are in preserving an ample supply of victims at their disposal.
I well know about the pleasures of the flesh – and am no harsh puritan. In more innocent times, I was actually considered soft on homosexuality. I have always been skeptical of the idea that they choose their orientation. Celibacy is a tough cross to bear, but that makes it a particularly worthy offering. I was sexually active most of my life. It was always with women (even in my disorder I am fundamentally orthodox). I got serious about celibacy 14 years ago. It was brutally hard the first six years, but I have lived as a layman what some of these prelates had no intention of living. It somewhat grieves me that, when I made my private vow, it was not for pure love of God. I became convinced 14 years ago that I would probably eventually have to go forth and speak publicly. I could not help what I had been, but I would not bring scandal on the faith as I was speaking. I look at these predatory Priests and Bishops and wonder, where is their fear of God? Do they even believe in God? Anyone can stumble, even the best of people. Then they get up and seriously resolve to reform their lives. But that is not what this is. These men have plotted and schemed, even while mouthing pious platitudes, to use the things of God to serve their own lusts – lust for power, sex, and money. There is the stench of betrayal and brutality to it, but also the sulfurous scent of blasphemy.
Yet we in the laity have badly failed our duty to those Priests and Bishops who HAVE kept faith. Many – maybe most – of the laity insist on never criticizing a Priest. That means we treat the most predatory and corrupt the same as we treat those who live holy fidelity. How does it work out in practice? It means everything goes to the lowest common denominator. The most viciously corrupt clerics know that, barring huge revelations, they can attack any Priest who tries to draw them back into line with impunity, for the lay people will not intervene to help the poor, hapless reformer who is orthodox. So those Priests who live orthodoxy in a heterodox Diocese are attacked from above if they don’t toe the party line and get little help from below once they are targeted. If there are charges and countercharges, the laity loses interest in this dispute “above their paygrade,” but the persecutors never forget – and never cease their persecution. In two issues of his Parish bulletin, a gutsy Priest in Tampa, Florida explains clearly what the problems are for the Priest who tries to keep faith in the midst of these wolves, the lavender mafia. Meantime, all the noble, honorable Priests who live faith with fidelity and truly seek to minister to, rather than prey on, the flock given to them, must suffer along with the predators the contempt that only the predators have earned. They must suffer because we, the laity, refuse to “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24), nor even to exercise discernment at all. So the good suffer for the actions of the bad while the bad leverage their power to prey on more victims behind a camouflage of “mercy.” (Yes, I know some will point out Matthew 7:1 to me – “Judge not lest ye be judged.” They need to read the two verses that follow to get context. Jesus does NOT contradict Himself in these two verses, though the malicious and the stupid only quote the latter partially in order to make it seem so.)
The satan loves all this. Why shouldn’t he? He instigated it. There are people leaving the Church because of all the trouble and turmoil of these last few years. That’s what the satan wants – and his gambit this time is one of his most clever, ever. If you are on this great ship at sea and the boiler started smoking, would you attempt to save yourself by tossing yourself into the sea? If you found the officer corps was corrupt, would that persuade you to toss yourself in the sea? Bad plan for survival – but that is exactly what the satan is persuading some to do. We are not passive passengers on this ship; we are the crew. Now is the time to call on and cooperate with Our Lady, our Stella Maris, our sure guide as we right the ship and navigate back to Her Holy Son, Our Lord.
At the root of all the disorder was first the failure, which is now become a defiant refusal, to teach authentic Catholic doctrine, as expressed by Scripture and by the Magisterium, the consistent and unbroken teaching of the Apostles. Most often, this defiance of doctrine is justified in the name of mercy. This is because the attackers from within have redefined mercy, itself, to advance their own ugly temporal passions.
Should we welcome sinners? Of course we should! We are all sinners struggling to make our pilgrim way to God. But when we welcome a thief, we do not show our welcome by celebrating and honoring thievery. When we welcome liars, we do not do so by celebrating the joy of lying. We insist that all make firm resolution to reform. We understand that disorder can rarely be turned on and off like a light switch, so we help those who stumble get up and start anew. In some cases, such as with rape and murder, offenders must go to jail. Even there, we do not abandon them – but embrace the necessity for temporal punishment and restraint to protect others even as we continue to help them in their effort to reform. It is almost exclusively with sexual disorder that malicious intriguers inside the Church have decided that Christ’s teachings, Scripture, and the Magisterium are no longer operative – that sexual disorder is not only no big deal, it is a positive good to be celebrated and encouraged. That toxic climate has encouraged the explosive growth of all manner of disorder in every corner of the Church and the culture.
A doctor who diagnosed a patient with a severe, but curable disease, then chose to let the patient die in order to mercifully spare him from the worry and pain of a lengthy cure would rightly be sued for malpractice and, at the very least, kicked out of the profession in disgrace. A lot of our clerics are guilty of intentional spiritual malpractice. The Lord has made it clear how He will deal with such unrepentant spiritual quacks: “It would be better…if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea.” (Luke 17:2)
We are in the midst of the age of sexual heresy. Refuse to submit. Pray that, as bad as it is now, Priests and Bishops do not succumb as heartily as they did to the Arian heresy ages ago (most estimate over 80 percent of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy signed on.) That, of course, was a more subtle heresy, one that did not involve as obviously a defiant and direct repudiation of Christ and the teachings of Scripture as this new heresy does. The new sexual heresy is a direct attack on the faith, on the family, and on Christ, himself. Already, it is clear that the Synod on Youth (scheduled for October in Rome) and the World Meeting of Families to be held later this month in Ireland will be presided over and marred by the presence of men who deny faithful teaching on sexuality – and will have a large LGBT advocacy presence. It is not enough that we are swamped with sexual disorder, now we have large swaths of faithless clerics advocating for sexual disorder.
There is a genuine process for development of doctrine, but there are serious limits. Defined doctrine may be refined, but not in a way that contradicts itself. When it is refined, it requires a serious, weighty and worthy explanation and exposition. The Pope is not master of the Magisterium, merely its servant. The Magisterium is not some transient political agenda. A “social democrat” Pope who succeeds a “tory” Pope may NOT upend everything and start over. The Pope is called to be guardian of the Deposit of Faith. It amazes me that the least intellectually gifted Pope of my lifetime is the most cavalier about seeking to change doctrine by arbitrary personal fiat, with no serious effort to explain or justify. Last week, Pope Francis abruptly changed the catechism to forbid the death penalty in every case. He said it denies the dignity of the human person. In January of 1999, I saw St. John Paul in St. Louis. Part of his talk that day included an appeal against the death penalty. He largely convinced me in all but the most compelling circumstances. He did so because he recognized the legitimate concerns of all societies and their leaders, he acknowledged that he did not have authority over all contingencies – then respectfully and humbly made his case and his appeal. Now, I am faced with accepting this sudden convulsion as an authentic development of doctrine. To do so, I must repudiate all the saints, Popes and theologians before Francis as having an insufficient respect for the dignity of the human person. Further, I must do it with no carefully crafted argument seeking to lay any intellectual groundwork for this change. I must accept it simply because this Pope asserts it is his imperial will. Nah…I will stay true to the commitment St. John Paul sparked in me, but I will not repudiate 2000 years of saints, Popes and theologians just because Pope Francis decided I should.
Henceforth, when a Priest starts to consistently explain why Christ doesn’t actually mean what He actually said…or that the Bible doesn’t mean what it plainly says, I will abandon any contact with that Priest. I won’t do it lightly for the occasional error or, even, offense – and with the understanding that I am not a theological expert. But I will leave if he shows himself to be a committed opponent of the faith. When a Priest decides that “Thou shalt not fornicate” actually means fornicate to your heart’s content, you don’t need a degree in theology to know that is a repudiation of Christ. I will not deprive myself of the Sacrament, but I will be at pains to avoid him. Over the last few years, I have been all over the country. Even in a Diocese presided over by the most antagonistic Bishop, you can find Parishes where the faith is proclaimed in fidelity to Scripture and the Magisterium. I know, I have found them everywhere. Now, withdrawal of financial support from me means nothing: I have lived poverty for almost all of the last eight or nine years. Any church dependent on me for financial sustenance would have went under years ago. But what few pearls I have I will NOT cast before the swine who have invaded the hierarchy – and neither should you. If your Pastor consistently defames the faith, find a new Parish – and close your wallet while you are looking. If it is your Bishop who consistently defames the faith, find a good Parish within the Diocese, support it, but give nary a dime to any Diocesan appeals. Do not be hyper-sensitive; do not assume you know more than you do; but when the offenses are clear and consistent, do not let your time or money support the war on the faith by its internal enemies.
I have long criticized those clerics who busy themselves explaining why Christ doesn’t mean what He actually says, yet I have spent way too much time over the last few years explaining why Pope Francis doesn’t mean what he often says. I am done with that. I have decided to take him at his word on the matter – and by what he does. No, I am not joining forces with those who claim he is an anti-pope or that his election was invalid. He is legitimately the Pope, with all the authority and responsibility inherent to that office (though no more than that). In the long history of the Church, it has pleased God to suffer more than a few unworthy occupants of the Throne of Peter. Sometimes, those unworthy Popes have accomplished things ancillary to their office that were useful long-term. Sometimes, the unworthiness of a particular occupant of the papacy served to reveal and bring great scandal to a head, to show how bad things truly are, forcing reform. Certainly, the tenure of Francis has served to reveal the depths of the rot in the hierarchy – and seduced the opponents of Christ to identify themselves in the mistaken conviction that there is no God and there will be no reckoning.
Pope Francis likes to be seen as the Pope of Mercy. No doubt he is indulgent and solicitous of enemies of the faith. The Vatican has honored abortionists, population control advocates, authoritarians, totalitarians, and advocates of normalizing sexual dysfunction under his watch. Where, though, is the mercy for orthodox clerics and laypeople? All he has for them is scorn, insults and, occasionally calumny. He has mocked large families which are generously open to life. He consistently ridicules and insults traditionalists. I am not a traditionalist, myself – and certainly I am tart with those rad/trads who use their faith as a club with which to bludgeon others. But that is not what we’re talking about here. I know and have become friends with many who are traditionalists, who find soaring beauty and transcendence in the traditional Latin Mass. Why would a beautiful and authentic expression of faith offend anyone? Yet Pope Francis regularly denounces them as rigid, inflexible, and some sort of weirdos. This disdain for orthodox worshippers offends me. Where is the mercy? Just a few months before the hideous McCarrick scandal unfolded, Pope Francis responded to reports of great scandals in Chile by insulting and smearing the victims. Where is the mercy? The Vatican has sought to curry favor with the Chinese Communists by breaking faith with the Catholics in China those communists have been persecuting, even to torture and murder. It is one of the most rank betrayals in the history of the Church. Where is the mercy? Apparently, reserved only for enemies of the faith.
Pope Francis likes to speak of encouraging dialogue. I encourage you to read the Dubia. It was respectfully, even reverently worded. The Cardinals who posed it kept it secret for two months while Francis ignored them, only going public when it became clear he was not going to answer them. When he finally made an informal response to a reporter, it did not address the questions, themselves. Rather it was, once again, to insult the Cardinals and impute ill intent to their motives – and, of course, to accuse them of rigidity. That is not even a simulacrum of dialogue.
In politics, we used to say that “personnel is policy,” that is to say, pay attention to who an executive appoints to carry out his agenda and you will know who he is. Look at Pope Francis’ appointments of Cardinals. Look and see how many heterodox men he appoints to high office. Even in the wake of these predatory sexual scandals, he insists on appointing and elevating who preach sexual permissiveness, men who deny and even mock the teaching of Christ and the Scriptures on the matter. I used to be offended that Pope Francis seemingly snubbed men such as Archbishop Jose Gomez and Archbishop Charles Chaput in passing out the hat of Cardinals (though it is rare for a Bishop to be named a Cardinal if there is already a living Cardinal in the same Diocese). Now I am grateful. Not so long from now, I suspect, having received your appointment from Francis will not immediately discredit you, but it will be a hard mark against you. There will be a reckoning.
I won’t belabor the matter. I do not discount that Pope Francis’ story is not entirely written. He may yet have a Damascus moment. Until now, though, there has been more of Saul of Tarsus than there has been of St. Paul to him. I am just going to take him at his word. Should he start showing respect, compassion, or any regard at all for people who are orthodox and trying to live fidelity to the faith, I will pay attention to that, too. But I will not respond to his constant open contempt for the faithful by making apologies for him like some pathetic battered spouse.
Judge Righteous Judgment
It would be easy to rise, in self-righteous anger, and form a lynch mob. But we must first look to our own failure. We are all complicit. I say that not in any mewling “Who am I to judge” way to excuse hideous offenses; rather, I say we must all acknowledge our part, amend our faults, judge righteous judgment, and hold the offenders to account, particularly the smarmily unrepentant.
Sadly, once disorder is welcomed in small ways as a positive good, it grows with aggressive virulence, touching all areas of the faith. That means that we will have many false accusations from people who think there is a buck to be had or a name to be made. Already, we have seen heterodox abusers weaponize such accusations to defame the orthodox even as they seek to conceal their own predatory nature. We must not return like for like. We must not react in a knee-jerk way to specious accusations that may be leveled by someone with an axe to grind. We must be guided by evidence. Then we must act, with charity certainly, but with resolution and vigor. Every one of us must work to set this house in order.
Stick with the evidence. Remember, one of the most hideous hotbeds of homosexual abuse came from a seeming pillar of orthodoxy, the Legionnaires of Christ. Right now, Rod Dreher is running an intense series of pieces in The American Conservative on how the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, one of the most orthodox in the country, covered for some disordered behavior in order to try to protect the reputation of the Church. We do not protect our reputation by sweeping our dirty laundry under the rug and covering for the offenders – we protect our Church by exposing and eradicating it.
Back in 2002 when the Dallas Conference was announced to address revelations of abusers in the Church in America, I was delighted. I thought the Bishops would get serious about addressing ills in the Church – and, frankly, that I would yet manage to get out of ever having to speak publicly about my visitations. Alas, the week before the conference began, Our Lady appeared to me (it was early afternoon, while I was grabbing something off the floor of my son’s bedroom while he was at school.) She was as sorrowful as I had ever seen her. She told me, “Dallas will show you how bad things truly are: they will scarcely acknowledge my Holy Son.” I immediately called one of my director Priests. I thought I surely had my out card. Throughout history, though there had been plenty of conferences populated by dissolute Bishops, all had at least given lip service to Christ. This could not be true. Late in the conference, my Priest called me, shaken. He said he had only heard Christ mentioned twice that week. That was twice as many times as I had heard Him mentioned. The conference seemed like a bloodless meeting of the Board of Directors of Catholicism, Inc. I was furious. I wrote one of the angriest letters I ever have. It was to a Bishop I knew who had been involved. I arranged to make sure that he got it personally. In a key part, worth repeating here, I wrote that a Bishop is not primarily an administrator, a fundraiser, a lobbyist, or even a theologian. He is an Apostle of the living Christ. All the protocols and zero-tolerance policies in the world will not make things any better. It will not get better until the Bishops recollect themselves of who they are – and insist that the fundamentals of the faith be preached boldly and in fidelity to Him Crucified…that what would solve this would be the consistent preaching of the True Presence, the dignity of life, the centrality of the family. Then, and only then, would this crisis lift. (To his credit, a few years later in a very small meeting where the Bishop recognized me, he stated that the way he handled his part in the matter was one of his greatest regrets. He then started repeating swaths of my letter, frequently looking at me while stating what he should have done. It was noticeable enough that the fellow who had accompanied me asked afterward what the weird sub-theme was between the Bishop and me. It was a sweet and grace-filled moment. I have held that Bishop in affection ever since then.
It is not a time for the grinding of axes or the venting of spleens. It is a time for careful, considered and deliberate action. We would do well to emulate the last paragraph of Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s (Church’s) wounds…to do all which may achieve and cherish, a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations.” (Bolded copy is my addition). After that, he pressed on with fortitude to simultaneously end the scourge of slavery throughout the nation and bind the nation back together. May both the relentlessness and the charity of Lincoln in crisis be an inspiration to us.
None of us are passive passengers in the Barque of Peter. Only the officer corps (the hierarchy) can direct the ship. But we, the crew, have both the right and the obligation to demand that the officers neither abuse us nor drive us into the shoals. We have the obligation to stand up on behalf of all those officers who have tenderly and lovingly ministered to us and worked to navigate by the teaching of Our Lord, guided by the light of Our Lady. We must not leave them standing alone before the wolves any more than we expect them to leave us alone and vulnerable. There is a temptation among many to leave the hard things to some nebulous “other.” We have all failed; we must all stand and be true, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, lifting each other up, heartening each other, and confirming each other in fidelity to the faith. Looking at our fractured corps of shepherds, we must do as they say (in the authentic Magisterium), not as they do, (Matthew 23:3) as Jesus once told his listeners about another hierarchy rocked by corruption and clericalism. When we all make our stand and act true, we participate in (and even help facilitate) the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart.
Be not afraid. Since the breaking of the satan’s power, it has not stopped his acolytes from working his malice on mankind. But it HAS stripped them of their camouflage. The satan cannot cover for them any more. Things are not any worse than they were last year at this time. In fact, they are better – but Our Lady has shown us how bad things truly are. Now let us stand and be true.