By Charlie Johnston
The picture above was taken by Sheryl Collmer while I was speaking at the Flight Museum at Love Field in Dallas. Is that a great photo or what? I had no idea I would have such a gorgeous view behind me – but it must have been a little divine prodding that caused me to wear my blue pinstripe suit with a bold red tie.
While in Dallas I went to Mass at my favorite little Church in the Diocese – Mary Immaculate in Farmers Branch. It has very striking stained glass windows at the front, which look like vivid water colors, but have the illusion of depth to them. I noticed that at least 10 % – and maybe as much as 15% – of the people there were NOT wearing masks, yet no one, Priest or parishioner, molested them. The woman, Deirdre Hairston, who a Priest called the police on, is actually the daughter of some very dear friends of mine. I was with them Monday afternoon and then, that evening, at the family birthday dinner for her Father. At dinner I told the family about the tolerant atmosphere at Mary Immaculate – and I credited Deirdre for it. Thank goodness, Bishop Edward Burns, who has given wide latitude to individual Parishes on how to enforce Covid rules, issued a directive telling Priests and Parish employees NOT to create or escalate public altercations on any disputes on such.
Fortunately, Deirdre’s little one-year-old daughter does not seem to have absorbed any trauma from the incident. During the afternoon, she was sitting between Deirdre and me as I was talking to her parents on another couch. Several times, the little girl playfully tapped my hand as I was talking to them and when I looked at her, she was looking away with a sly little smile as if to say, “Who, me?” I chuckled.
I was disappointed that it had happened in the Dallas Diocese. While Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler is the only current Bishop in Texas who I fully trust, Bishop Burns has seemed, to me, to be a reasonable and orthodox man who wants to live the faith well. I have long ranked him second only to Bishop Strickland in Texas. Besides the directive he issued, Deirdre told me he made a conciliatory call to her. I am saddened that no visible corrective action has been taken against the Priest who so badly escalated the whole thing – but I am told the Parish involved is a “woke” haven of committed lefties – and the woke crowd are the most intolerant people since the KKK.
This last year, if I go to Mass and it doesn’t feel like a desecration, I am relieved – and I am not often relieved on the point. After the lovely Mass I attended in Farmers Branch, I was fortunate to attend a few in Tyler, Texas which were wonderful! They even had Holy Water available for all. Hallelujah!
Despite my dismay at how flaccid the American Bishops’ have been at defending the faith and the faithful this last year, I have been both hopeful and confident that the worm is going to turn as they realize that no amount of submission, however craven, is ever going to be enough for the woke pagan left. Yes, I know that some Bishops seem actively to be trying to undermine the faith and the Magisterium. How else to explain Chicago Cardinal Blasé Cupich shutting down Mass at the University of Chicago a few weeks back AND ordering students NOT to attend Mass anywhere else? Or columnist and Jesuit Priest Fr. Thomas Reese’ recent tirade demanding that young people be banned from Traditional Latin Masses – in order that the Latin Mass may be ultimately killed off entirely? Or the Vatican’s Fifth International Conference that includes pro-abortion folks and globalist speakers, but orthodox Catholics need not apply? Or Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin refusing to direct a radio station at Catholic Seton Hall to stop broadcasting music celebrating black mass and other satanic material? Whether these people are deeply misguided or malicious in their efforts to amend the doctrine of Jesus Christ – who is God – there is little that can be done about them. They must repent or perish. But they are a minority, however substantial and influential.
The influence of those Bishops who seek to undermine the faith is exaggerated because of the irresolution of the majority of Bishops who want to do the right thing, but are baffled as to what the most right thing is in these times. It is like the line from the Yeats poem, The Second Coming: “…The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Don’t scoff. Why would it surprise you that good-hearted Bishops are as baffled and frozen by the strange and rising terrors of these times as ordinary people are? The last thing they need to do is listen to yammering idiots with bluff courage telling them to storm the barricades. That’s the sort of thing the horned Viking Shaman who stormed the Capitol did. It was a stupid, feckless stunt that he was drawn into and, as soon as the heat was on, he turned on his fellow idiots like the big-talking weasel he is. I am glad the good-hearted Bishops do not hearken to the siren cry of such self-destructive, futile gestures. Their job is not to make a pathetic statement doomed to failure, but to protect and defend the faithful.
I have more sympathy for the Bishops’ collective plight than I sometimes let on – at least for those who are not actually trying to undermine the faith. They know that their moral stature is at, perhaps, an all-time low – and it is demoralizing. Nobody thinks of Bing Crosby and “Going My Way” when considering the hierarchy these days. That is due to some factors that are entirely their fault – and some that they have no control over. The flaccid response to the sexual abuse crisis involves more than a few Bishops – but almost all the Bishops and Priests involved come from the wing that seeks to undermine and overturn the faith. Meantime, the Vatican has set the tone of obfuscation and obstruction on the issue – so the goodhearted Bishops are lumped in among those who committed the offenses by the folks in the pews and locked out of dealing effectively with it even to preserve their own reputations – by the Vatican. It often feels as if the Vatican prefers to use the issue as a cudgel with which to smear good-hearted clergy than to hold actual offenders to account. The Dallas Conference in 2002 works hard against the Bishops in these crosshairs, for that was a time when the American Bishops clearly COULD have dealt firmly with these issues, made a bold new commitment to the fundamentals of the faith and set things back on a firm footing. But they did not, preferring to act like the board of directors of Catholicism, Inc., rarely mentioning Christ or the faith at all. That utter and optional failure by a previous generation of Bishops – which allowed disgraced predator Theodore McCarrick to pretend to be a reformer – bankrupted the pool of credibility for this generation of Bishops, even if they wanted real reform and renewal despite the Vatican’s hostility to such ideas.
Many Bishops went beyond (some far beyond) what the states’ dictates on the Covid response were. While I don’t like or agree with it, I somewhat understand it. When people are taken hostage, their first instinctive (though errant) response is to try to show the aggressors that they mean them no harm, as if it is all just a misunderstanding. This is the proper tactic when you hold the power in an imbalanced situation, but not when the power is held over you. When the power is being exercised unjustly over you, such a response only encourages the aggressor that you will be easy to manage – and that they can up the ante whenever they please. The majority of Bishops did it in hopes of preventing any deeper assault against the faith and the faithful. It was an administrative decision, however counterproductive. It was compounded when some of the “woke” political clerics, such as the one who called the police on Deirdre Hairston, thought it was a great way to push the little people around. My big things are to defend the faith, hearten the faithful, and defend the faithful. Though most Bishops acted in hopes of preventing deeper depredations, the scorecard is 0 for 3 on my prime imperatives.
Now many Bishops are about to lift the dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation – and to face a more serious financial crisis than they have ever imagined possible. Many Catholics are never coming back, maybe as many as 50 percent. The bulk of those who do come back are those who will be entirely intolerant of callow virtue-signaling and the refusal to get serious about clerical abuse.
The truth is that the best of our Bishops are now living Luke 9:3: “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” The Lord is stripping the Bishops of prestige, honor, money and worldly influence. He does not do this to punish them, but to empty them of the things they have relied on so that they only rely on Him. And then, in Luke 9:4-5 He gives them real Apostolic authority: “And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” In Matthew 10:15, Jesus adds that, “…it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” Jesus empties those He calls that He may purify them, fill them with the Holy Spirit, and empower them with full Apostolic authority.
I have long thought that the best Bishops’ fighting spirit and competence are hobbled by the constant deference they are afforded from the moment it becomes clear that they are on track to become a Bishop. Their primary tool of battle are statements written in language that are pale imitations of the classical prose of St. Thomas without the music of insight, ingenuity and passion to give them life and force. They have the smell of faculty lounge battles rather than of the sheep. Stripped of the assets they have become accustomed to, at a time when even the virtue of collegiality often means becoming co-conspirators with clerics who seek to upend the traditional faith and teaching of the apostles, the Bishops of good heart are being made anew, taught to fight again against hostile forces both outside and inside the Church. They are having to learn that they are not primarily administrators, fundraisers, diplomats, or even theologians, but first and foremost Apostles of the Living Christ – and that there is real and exhilarating power in that. Even amidst the transient, frothy waves that dissident clerics are making daily, I see early signs of the elemental power of a rising tide of fidelity among our Bishops. They are starting to live Christ’s command to His Apostles as He prepared to leave them in Luke 22:36: “…let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.”
Let me first give an assessment of where we are. It will not be entirely accurate, but it is of the sort of analysis I do of the political landscape in plotting a political campaign.
Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich was chosen for his ideological affinity with the Vatican – even though he is a mediocrity – and was intended to be Pope Francis’ point man in the Church in America. A mediocrity can survive and even thrive in a top leadership position if he has the wit to know his first order of business is to gather allies and take counsel from them. But Cupich is the sort who likes to thump his chest and throw his weight around. Unfortunately for the Vatican, it led to him offending not only his orthodox colleagues but many who are otherwise ideological allies – not to mention cringeworthy moments such as when he suggested it was silly to worry too much about clerical sexual abuse when we have serious things like climate change to contend with. What most people missed when Washington D.C. Cardinal Wilton Gregory was given the highest profile role in the Church in America was that it was a rebuke to Cupich. Gregory has some real diplomatic chops, even if they are more often used to try to posit to the secular world that the Church means them no harm (and is, thus, unserious about what it believes) than to present the splendor of Christ’s teaching to the world. Gregory is far too smart to alienate ideological allies and even has some real capacity to mollify ideological opponents.
Orthodox Bishops largely steer clear of tangling directly with Gregory while picking fights with Cupich – for even Cupich’s allies would like to see him taken down a few more pegs. You saw this first when the remarkably bold and orthodox Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann challenged Cupich for chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities and prevailing, even though it was nearly unprecedented for a Bishop to challenge a Cardinal for such a spot. It was provocative beyond the bounds of the tightest congeniality for Cupich to run for that spot in the first place: ten years ago, when he was Bishop of Spokane, he forbade his Priests from participating in 40 Days for Life Campaigns. Cupich is, perhaps, the Bishop most hostile to the Church’s pro-life teaching in America. After Joe Biden was seated in the Oval Office, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez (who is also currently presidlent of the USCCB), mildly rebuked Biden for his ardent pro-abortion politics. Cupich loudly criticized Gomez – and then shut up entirely about it. I suspect Cupich shut up because he was warned off by the Vatican. Now orthodox Bishops are cleverly luring Cupich into being their foil in order to clarify and give their position legs. Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila weighed in on denying communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Cupich immediately challenged Aquila, which allowed Aquila to further refine and strengthen his original point. While Ordinaries of smaller Dioceses such as Tyler, Texas Bishop Joseph Strickland and Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki are at the cutting edge of much orthodox thought, Bishops in larger Sees are getting into fighting form, both because they have to and because Cupich has made himself a useful foil. Now San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has issued a pastoral letter calling it a matter of integrity for any self-proclaimed Catholics who publicly repudiate Church teaching to refrain from taking Communion. When the orthodox and gentlemanly Cordileone first came to San Francisco, he was set up to receive a DUI after an event with the powers that be in San Francisco. Later, they tried to use the Catholic integrity of his schools to try to upend him. I would bet that Cordileone tried to give private counseling to Nancy Pelosi on the subject, to be discrete and spare her dignity – and that she played along to try to chump him. Now Cordileone is not just orthodox; he is a battle-hardened, seasoned veteran of the cultural wars, while still retaining his gentlemanly mien.
The USCCB, itself, is now preparing a direct challenge to the practice of some leftist Catholic politicians calling themselves “devout Catholics” while publicly rejecting Catholic teaching on abortion, family, and sexual issues. Don’t be deceived by Cupich’s appointment to recommend American Bishops at the Vatican. This is a classic case of promoting someone up to a place they can be more carefully watched and distracting them from where they are creating the problem. Make no mistake, Cupich will have substantial influence and can be counted on to make recommendations that are ideologically amenable to the Vatican, but if Cupich and Gregory disagree behind the scenes on an important See, I expect Gregory’s counsel to prevail. Meantime, Cupich’s wading brashly into disputes is an effort on his part to assert that he is still the Pope’s point man in America. It rallies orthodox Bishops while diminishing his influence further – both as useful foil to the orthodox and albatross around the necks of the progressives.
Even so, I think the Vatican made a serious miscalculation in its appointment of Gregory to the key role. Oh yes, he is much more deft than Cupich in preserving collegiality in dealing with his fellow Bishops and relations with the general public. Though it has been 15 years since I had a conversation of any length with him, the Bishop Gregory I knew then worried way too much about what others thought of him, was profoundly eager to be an insider, and overestimated the power of his genuinely formidable diplomatic skills. But for all those lesser enthusiasms, he kept in mind that, in the end, he was called and had solemnly vowed to be an Apostle of the Living Christ. He is currently a Deep State Bishop, but at some point, when it becomes clear that mere human cleverness is not reconciling men to Christ, I expect Cardinal Gregory to choose Christ boldly and baldly at a critical moment, dashing both the hopes of the progressives and the fears of the orthodox that the Church in America might be made into an opponent of Christian doctrine rather than a proclaimer of it.
Cardinal Cupich and the formal assaults of the pagan American left are the best things that have happened to orthodox clerics and Bishops in America. Having been emptied of the ancillary things that gave them comfort and confidence, they are being remade anew in fighting form – and in God’s own image. Right now their steps may, like a toddler, be a bit wobbly, but as the cultural battle over the faith deepens and gets starker I expect them to grow stronger, becoming a formidable fighting force defending the faith, heartening the faithful and defending the faithful. It is licit to disagree with or criticize a Bishop, but avoid condemning one, even in the recesses of your own mind, for God is renewing many – and it is foolish to condemn your critical allies. It is time to step up and act as true allies to those good shepherds who are finding their stride.
The fire from below from all sides has disoriented and, even, paralyzed many good-hearted Bishops. But as they are stripped of everything but their faith in Christ, they are starting to discover they can call down fire from above, the fire of the Holy Spirit that clears all obstacles. Many of the Bishops we now wonder about will end as heroes of the great renewal of the faith that is already in motion.
Our Lenten fundraiser was a bust. Not because people were not willing to help with CORAC, but because of significant interior technological problems. Oh yes, we had malicious bot attacks and such, but the fundamental problems were in the coding. This month, we are making dramatic changes behind the scenes. We will retool the whole donations portal to a new system that is compatible with most browsers, has stronger security against bot and other malicious attacks to shut it down, and works reliably and consistently. I have had lengthy discussions on the subject with the two staff vendors who run the system and choose the outside tools to make this work for all. This is priority one for the organization this month.
We still need the financial help. If you have tried to donate online but the system would not let you in, please send a check to:
The Corps of Renewal and Charity
13940 W. 26th Ave.
Golden, Colorado 80401
By the end of the month, I expect things to be set up to run smoothly and even allow for recurring monthly donations. We’re still less than a year old and have made incredible strides. I will not ignore the growing pains or let them drag on. We have much work ahead of us.