By Charlie Johnston
I don’t think the hierarchy in America understands how deadly dangerous the situation over the potential canonical rebuke of Fr. James Altmann of La Crosse, Wisconsin, is. The controversy began when, in a recent homily, Fr. Altmann said bluntly that, given modern Democrat support for abortion, homosexual marriage, and gender ideology, no Catholic can honorably vote Democrat and pretend to still be Catholic. To be knowingly complicit in these mortal sins would lead a soul straight to hell. The video of that homily went viral.
Two days ago, La Crosse Bishop William Callahan issued a statement calling Fr. Altmann’s homily “angry and judgmental,” and threatening canonical penalties if the Priest did not respond to efforts to induce him to speak more gently. To his credit, Bishop Callahan did recognize the underlying truth behind Fr. Altmann’s call for fidelity to Catholic doctrine – at least by Catholics. That tells me that, at least, the Bishop knows that this situation is fraught with peril.
If these were normal times, Bishop Callahan’s response would be prudent and balanced. But the reality we are dealing with is that these are not normal times – and normally prudent responses, however cleverly devised will not cut it. Last I looked, Fr. James Martin, who actively promotes what Jesus and His apostles affirmed as a sin, is welcome in most Dioceses in the country. A few months ago, when President Trump went to the St. John Paul II National Shrine to sign an executive order defending religious freedom internationally, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory blasted it as “reprehensible.” When Priests or Bishops publicly attack Trump or conservatives or things that are Magisterial articles of faith, if a faithful Catholic objects, we are lectured that we must respect their freedom of speech. If a Priest or a Bishop has the temerity to actually defend Catholic doctrine, we have be-robed prelates telling us we must be prudent, never be divisive, and then threaten consequences if we continue a full-throated defense of the faith. This business that any attack on the faith is fair comment and any defense of it is subject to canonical penalties is unjust and pernicious. I don’t know Bishop Callahan, but a trusted friend and counselor who does assures me he is an orthodox and prudent Bishop. I do know Archbishop Gregory and, despite his flaws, hold him in no little affection. But both men are treading on deadly dangerous ground.
I understand that when you are trying to avoid a fight, restraint is paramount – and counseling “prudence” is, well….prudent. But when the fight is inevitable, your counsel must be on how to win that fight. In normal times, Bishops and Priests do well not to be partisan. But when one side is openly anti-Christian, and seeks to destroy both the faith and the faithful, you have to engage in the battle. In a bizarre development, our clerisy has become not only partisan, but partisans on behalf of the people and movement that want to destroy us. At the very least, if the Bishops are not going to discipline any Priest who offends the faithless, they must be equally lenient with any who defend the faithful. Otherwise, they are partisans against their own cause.
Sadly, our hierarchy, even when well-meaning, usually does not understand how their pronouncements come across to the folks in the pews. They are cowed by that minority of anti-Catholics in the pews who are also the mouthiest. Clerics usually live in a bubble – and unfortunately vastly overestimate their own prowess and cleverness, when they should be focused on simple fidelity.
I have always described my own three prime duties as:
- Defend the Faith
- Hearten the Faithful
- Defend the Faithful
That’s not a bad mission statement for religious leaders, either. But here is what we Catholics in the pews see:
- Defend the Faith. We have Priests galore – and far too many Bishops – who eagerly explain to us all the things that that Jesus guy and His apostles got wrong – and why both Scripture and the Magisterium don’t actually mean what they plainly say. I do believe that most Bishops are faithful and orthodox – but almost all of even the best of them are very timid about rebuking their brother Bishops who very publicly are not, while being Johnny-on-the-spot to rebuke a subordinate who does vocally defend the faith. The modern hierarchy is failing to defend the faith.
- Hearten the Faithful. When a Bishop or Priest actually does vigorously and vocally defend the faith, he almost immediately becomes a celebrity because of how many people he heartens. That is why Fr. Altmann’s homily went viral. It is why Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas has become a Catholic folk hero after endorsing Fr. Altmann’s homily – and then doubled down on that support after Altmann was threatened with canonical penalties. Strickland said he was ashamed that it had taken him so long to speak boldly in defense of the faith. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has been raising eyebrows among the establishment – and garnering the enthusiasm of the faithful – because of his increasingly vigorous proclamation of the fundamentals of the faith. Such proclamations should be mundane, a veritable rose garden of fidelity to the faith and the faithful. Sadly, they are as rare and striking as a rosebush in a dung heap…but they do hearten the faithful that it is not all dung heap and all is not yet lost. As a group, the hierarchy has failed to hearten the faithful – and thank God for those rare roses who do.
- Defend the Faithful. We are still waiting for the Vatican to do anything about the predator Priests and Bishops in the ranks, those wolves in sheep’s clothing who feed on the flock. Frankly, it seems high officials, especially the Vatican, are more interested in protecting and promoting the predators rather than resolutely defending the flock. The only time there is forceful action is when an orthodox prelate like Australian Cardinal George Pell investigates the finances of the Vatican and is confronted with charges so ludicrously and palpably false that they would be laughed out of any entity that was not using the justice system as a partisan bludgeon. Meantime, when miniature tyrants across the land used the Covid Virus as a tool to enforce draconian rules on Churches that were waived for many secular pursuits – including looting and rioting, most of our Bishops meekly went along, when not actually enforcing even more draconian rules than the secular authorities demanded. When it comes to defending the faithful, most Catholics think they could build stronger fortifications out of balsa than what the hierarchy has provided.
These are three prime duties – and the modern hierarchy is wanting in each.
There are a few things I know from a lot of discussion with inside sources that are not necessarily obvious to everyone. First, the financial situation in Dioceses across the country is much bleaker than is being let on right now. 1) A lot, maybe even a majority, are headed to bankruptcy. 2) Major Catholic donors have taken notice of the failure of these prime imperatives. Even now there is a growing sentiment among the biggest donors to pull out altogether and just finance those entities that actually proclaim the faith with boldness and clarity. 3) The best Bishops are deeply despondent and confused, unsure of what to do or how to proceed. In such situations, leaders often take what they think to be the safe course, the path of least resistance. Except that now, what they usually think is the safest course is actually the deadliest.
My dear Bishops, if you continue to try to appease the anti-God left, the radical BLM and Antifa Marxists will still hate you and try to destroy you. Meantime, the Catholic major donors will abandon you – and neither BLM nor Antifa is going to make up the shortfall. Rather, they will cheer on the agony you helped bring on yourselves.
For every truly sustained series of frustrations, there is a build-up of resentment, until some minor event, some catalyst, causes the frustration to reach critical mass and explode. The faithful in the pews have long suspected that the hierarchy is not much interested in defending the faith, heartening the faithful, or defending the faithful. How Fr. Altmann is treated may well be the catalyst that brings that frustration to critical mass. The time has come when all of us, including our leaders, must choose or perish. The only course of safety now is to cast out into the deep in fidelity to the teaching of Christ and His apostles.
Here is the second in the three-part series on the founding of the Corps of Renewal and Charity (CORAC). It is a look back at what it means to acknowledge God, to take the next right step, and to be a sign of hope to those around you. Again, thanks to our own MP for taping and editing this series.
Finally, just a couple of days ago, we finally got all the pieces together with the bank to set up a donation link to CORAC. Last night I received an email from the provider that we had received four donations yesterday totaling $500. Today, I have to find how to get detail on who donated so I can thank them directly. The donation link is set up in red letters at the top of the “Menu” section on the top right-hand of the page…and in smaller type at the end of these articles.