Everything is mysteriously entangled

In Death on a Friday Afternoon, Richard John Neuhaus writes:

By these three days all the world is called to attention. Everything that is and ever was and ever will be, the macro and the micro, the galaxies beyond number and the microbes beyond notice – everything is mysteriously entangled with what happened, with what happens, in these days.… Every human life, conceived from eternity and destined to eternity, here finds its story truly told. In this killing that some call senseless we are brought to our senses. Here we find out who we most truly are because here is the One who is what we are called to be. The derelict cries, “Come, follow me.” Follow him there? We recoil. We close our ears. We hurry on to Easter. But we will not know what to do with Easter’s light if we shun the friendship of the darkness that is wisdom’s way to light.

J.D. Flynn pointed out how strange and unlikely it is (even more so if we bracket the Christian belief in resurrection) that we remember the story of a Roman peasant. But it’s not so strange or unlikely if it’s true that everything “that is and ever was and ever will be … is mysteriously entangled…”

La Grande Arche v. Notre-Dame

Fifteen years ago, George Weigel thought about Notre-Dame:

At the far western end of the magnificent urban axis that runs from the Louvre down the Champs Elysées and through the Arc de Triomphe, crossing the Seine at the Pont de Neuilly, is the Grand Arch of La Défense—one of the “great projects” of the late French president François Mitterrand. Designed by Johann Otto von Spreckelsen, a Danish architect of sternly modernist sensibility, La Grande Arche is a colossal open cube: almost forty stories tall, 348 feet wide, faced in glass and in 2.47 acres of white Carrara marble.

On a hot, sunny afternoon—which is when I first saw it some seven years ago—La Grande Arche is, quite literally, dazzling. An elevator, definitely not recommended for anyone inclined to vertigo, whisks the visitor up to a rooftop terrace, which offers an unparalleled view of Paris, past the Tuileries to the Louvre and on to the Ile de la Cité, Sante Chapelle, and Notre-Dame.

The arch’s three-story-high roof also houses the International Foundation for Human Rights. For Mitterrand intended the Grand Arch as a human-rights monument, something suitably gigantic to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Thus, in one guidebook I consulted, La Grande Arche was nicknamed “Fraternity Arch”; also noted, as in every other guidebook I looked at, was the fact that within its space the entire cathedral of Notre-Dame, including towers and spire, would fit comfortably.

This prompted a question as I walked along the terrace admiring one of the greatest of the world’s cityscapes. Which culture, I wondered, would better protect human rights and secure the moral foundations of democracy: the culture that built this stunning, rational, angular, geometrically precise but essentially featureless cube, or the culture that produced the vaulting and bosses, the gargoyles and flying buttresses, the nooks and crannies, the asymmetries and holy “unsameness” of Notre-Dame and the other great gothic cathedrals of France?

Notre-Dame de Paris

President Emmanuel Macron asserts that Notre Dame will be rebuilt, and that an international campaign will be launched to do so. Despite France being a secular state that is, in so many ways, presently at odds with its Catholic heart, Notre Dame is owned by the French state and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Alexandra DeSanctis on the loss of Notre-Dame de Paris, burning during Holy Week:

Although they’re already saying it’ll be rebuilt someday — and it’s hard to imagine that such a beautiful place could be left forever in ruins — it can never be rebuilt to what it was just this morning. It’s nearly unbearable to think about how much has been lost. A cathedral that withstood the bloodshed of revolution and the ravages of two world wars, tumbling in clouds of dark smoke, seemingly impossible to stop.

This is a disaster for Paris and for France, for French history, and for French Catholics. It is a grave loss for the history of Western civilization, and for future generations who, like me, will never see the cathedral’s glorious rose windows or the grandeur of her magnificent spires.

But first and foremost, it is a tragedy for the Catholic Church, whose members are already suffering in so many places. To many Catholics, it feels as if the Church is on fire in a sense already. And now we are watching it blaze. Though Notre Dame de Paris is a testament to world history, to art, to architecture, and to centuries of civilization, above all she is — was — a place of inestimable beauty dedicated to God. The cathedral’s Gothic arches pointed heavenward not for their own sake…

And Haley Stewart approaches Notre-Dame’s burning through literature and promise:

As a Catholic, as a medievalist, as a lover of beauty and history, I am absolutely wrecked. 

I have always wanted to visit Europe to see the cathedrals. The reality that I will never see the architectural masterpiece of Notre Dame is devastating. Watching the church collapse piece by piece as smoke billows into the air feels like a punch in the gut. And at the beginning of Holy Week, no less. I am trembling with sadness over the loss as if it were my own home that I’m watching burning down.

What must it feel like to be watching the flames tear down Notre Dame on the scene? To be scrambling to contain the horrific damage? To try to save holy relics and sacred art from destruction? The fear and the chaos of safely removing the Crown of Thorns and remnants of the True Cross?

I’m reminded of a pivotal scene in Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, one of my favorite books of all time. It’s set in medieval Norway and one night, a terrible lightning storm sets fire to the local church of St. Olav. The protagonist, Kristin and her family struggle to contain the flames, to save the structure. But it quickly becomes apparent that it cannot be saved. Brave souls, including Kristin’s fiance and her father, rush in to save holy objects and the priest Sira Eirik rescues the Host from the flames and relics of the church’s patron, St. Olav.

Kristin’s father, Lavrans, emerges with the Crucifix in his arms. As he watches the flames consume St. Olav’s “His arm lay across the arms of the cross, and he was leaning his head on the shoulder of Christ. It looked as if the Savior were bending his beautiful, sad face toward the man to console him.” …

As Pope St. John Paul II told us, “We are an Easter people and Hallelujah is our song.” Let us hold onto that hope in our grief. While Notre-Dame de Paris may be a charred shell of stone by morning, we know that the gates of Hell will not prevail over the Church through which God pours out his grace on his people.

Rod Dreher recognizes Notre-Dame’s burning as metaphor and personal challenge:

There is no way to replace what Paris, what France, what Christendom, and indeed what humanity, has lost today. It is irreplaceable. For example, we literally cannot recreate the windows, which date from the time of Dante. We do not know how to do it. As a friend said to me, “You can rebuild the World Trade Center. You cannot rebuild Notre Dame de Paris.” …

What we lost today is one of the great embodiments of Western civilization. It is impossible to overstate what this means. It will take some time to absorb. Notre Dame de Paris is at the heart of France’s identity. All distances in France are measured from kilometre zéro, in front of the cathedral. Though most (but not all!) of the French have turned away from their baptism, Notre Dame is the symbolic heart of the nation. And now, it’s gone, though firefighters may have saved its bones. It took 200 years to build, and now it was made a holocaust in one terrible afternoon. …

What happened in Paris today has been happening across our civilization.

It happens whenever we fail to live out our baptism, and fail to baptize our children. It happens by omission, by indifference, and it happens by commission, from spite. It happens in classrooms, in newsrooms, in shopping malls, in poisoned seminaries and defiled sacristies, and everywhere the truths that Notre Dame de Paris embodied are ridiculed, flayed, and destroyed in the hearts and minds of modern men. The fire that destroyed Paris’s iconic cathedral made manifest what we in the West have been doing to ourselves for over 200 years.

This catastrophe in Paris today is a sign to all of us Christians, and a sign to all people in the West, especially those who despise the civilization that built this great temple to its God on an island in the Seine where religious rites have been celebrated since the days of pagan Rome. It is a sign of what we are losing, and what we will not recover, if we don’t change course…

Papal Foundation and a major grant

Matthew O’Brien argues that former Cardinal Donald Wuerl misled the Papal Foundation’s board of directors in obtaining a major grant. He also suggests that the purpose of the extraordinary grant may have been to help then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick win leniency from the Vatican as his sex abuse investigation was taking place:

In 2017, Cardinal Donald Wuerl provided false and misleading information to the board of the Papal Foundation to secure a $25 million grant for the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI), a scandal-plagued hospital in Rome. 

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin requested this grant from the Papal Foundation in June 2017, on behalf of Pope Francis. When the Papal Foundation board met in December 2017 to discuss the grant, Wuerl made two false assertions which were recorded in the meeting minutes. First, he claimed that the Italian religious congregation that oversaw the IDI’s descent into insolvency through fraud and embezzlement (the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception) was no longer involved with the IDI. Second, he understated the amount of debt encumbering the IDI and its affiliates since the hospital group emerged from state-administered insolvency proceedings in April 2015. He painted a picture of a hospital that was experiencing momentary cash-flow problems, but was otherwise sound.

But the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception was not separated from the IDI. It retains indirect ownership today, in partnership with the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, through the non-profit Fondazione Luigi Maria Monti and a limited liability subsidiary, Luigi Maria Monti, S.r.l. Together they own and operate the IDI and its affiliates. Moreover, IDI’s debt was far greater than Wuerl suggested: Though Wuerl mentioned that the IDI group owed $26 million in payables, he did not mention that it also owed $60 million in mortgage debt. Because Wuerl resisted lay board members’ requests to obtain financial statements from the IDI hospital, the Papal Foundation board had to rely upon Wuerl’s remarks about its ownership and financial situation when evaluating the $25 million grant request.

Wuerl’s actions are especially questionable in light of what he knew at the time about then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s interest in securing the grant. The Holy See, Wuerl, and McCarrick—an ex-officio member of the Papal Foundation board—knew that McCarrick was at the time under investigation in New York for sexually abusing a minor, according to two sources with personal knowledge of the situation. Wuerl was aware that McCarrick stood to win leniency in his sex abuse case if the Papal Foundation secured $25 million for the Vatican’s Secretary of State.

Wuerl’s actions roiled the Papal Foundation’s donors and lay board members. Several people involved with the Foundation spoke on background for this article and shared copies of Foundation meeting minutes and legal reviews. Shortly before Wuerl resigned from the chairmanship of the Foundation’s board at the end of 2018, he orchestrated a change in its bylaws that decreased the already limited influence of lay board members by shortening their terms of service. 

Today Wuerl remains a member of the Papal Foundation’s governing board of cardinals. As one of just two American members of the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican, Wuerl oversaw the recent appointment of his successor to the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Archbishop Wilton Gregory. Gregory too serves alongside Wuerl on the Papal Foundation board.     

The sex abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church is not just about sex. Nor is it just about clericalism. It’s also about money. The controversy over the Papal Foundation’s $25 million grant reveals how sexual abuse, its cover-up, and money are intertwined.

The Papal Foundation was founded by Cardinal McCarrick. And the Papal Foundation’s typical grant amount is not $25,000,000, but rather $100,000.

Benedict and the God question

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s “The Church and the Scandal of Sexual Abuse” calls for a return to God and to moral life. I’m excerpting two parts, out of order. First, from Part III:

When God does die in a society, it becomes free, we were assured. In reality, the death of God in a society also means the end of freedom, because what dies is the purpose that provides orientation. And because the compass disappears that points us in the right direction by teaching us to distinguish good from evil. Western society is a society in which God is absent in the public sphere and has nothing left to offer it. And that is why it is a society in which the measure of humanity is increasingly lost. At individual points it becomes suddenly apparent that what is evil and destroys man has become a matter of course. …

And second, from Part I:

Catholic moral theology suffered a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against … changes in society. I will try to outline briefly the trajectory of this development.

Until the Second Vatican Council, Catholic moral theology was largely founded on natural law, while Sacred Scripture was only cited for background or substantiation. In the Council’s struggle for a new understanding of Revelation, the natural law option was largely abandoned, and a moral theology based entirely on the Bible was demanded.

I still remember how the Jesuit faculty in Frankfurt trained a highly gifted young Father (Bruno Schüller) with the purpose of developing a morality based entirely on Scripture. Father Schüller’s beautiful dissertation shows a first step towards building a morality based on Scripture. Father Schüller was then sent to America for further studies and came back with the realization that from the Bible alone morality could not be expressed systematically. He then attempted a more pragmatic moral theology, without being able to provide an answer to the crisis of morality.

In the end, it was chiefly the hypothesis that morality was to be exclusively determined by the purposes of human action that prevailed. While the old phrase “the end justifies the means” was not confirmed in this crude form, its way of thinking had become definitive. Consequently, there could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil; (there could be) only relative value judgments. There no longer was the (absolute) good, but only the relatively better, contingent on the moment and on circumstances.

The crisis of the justification and presentation of Catholic morality reached dramatic proportions in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. On January 5, 1989, the “Cologne Declaration”, signed by 15 Catholic professors of theology, was published. It focused on various crisis points in the relationship between the episcopal magisterium and the task of theology. (Reactions to) this text, which at first did not extend beyond the usual level of protests, very rapidly grew into an outcry against the Magisterium of the Church and mustered, audibly and visibly, the global protest potential against the expected doctrinal texts of John Paul II (cf. D. Mieth, Kölner Erklärung, LThK, VI3, p. 196) [LTHK is the Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, a German-language “Lexicon of Theology and the Church”, whose editors included Karl Rahner and Cardinal Walter Kasper.]

Pope John Paul II, who knew very well the situation of moral theology and followed it closely, commissioned work on an encyclical that would set these things right again. It was published under the title Veritatis splendor on August 6, 1993, and it triggered vehement backlashes on the part of moral theologians. Before it, the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” already had persuasively presented, in a systematic fashion, morality as proclaimed by the Church.

I shall never forget how then-leading German moral theologian Franz Böckle, who, having returned to his native Switzerland after his retirement, announced in view of the possible decisions of the encyclical Veritatis splendor that if the encyclical should determine that there were actions which were always and under all circumstances to be classified as evil, he would challenge it with all the resources at his disposal.

It was God, the Merciful, that spared him from having to put his resolution into practice; Böckle died on July 8, 1991. The encyclical was published on August 6, 1993 and did indeed include the determination that there were actions that can never become good.

The pope was fully aware of the importance of this decision at that moment and for this part of his text, he had once again consulted leading specialists who did not take part in the editing of the encyclical. He knew that he must leave no doubt about the fact that the moral calculus involved in balancing goods must respect a final limit. There are goods that are never subject to trade-offs.

There are values which must never be abandoned for a greater value and even surpass the preservation of physical life. There is martyrdom. God is (about) more than mere physical survival. A life that would be bought by the denial of God, a life that is based on a final lie, is a non-life.

Martyrdom is a basic category of Christian existence. The fact that martyrdom is no longer morally necessary in the theory advocated by Böckle and many others shows that the very essence of Christianity is at stake here.

In moral theology, however, another question had meanwhile become pressing: The hypothesis that the Magisterium of the Church should have final competence [infallibility] only in matters concerning the faith itself gained widespread acceptance; (in this view) questions concerning morality should not fall within the scope of infallible decisions of the Magisterium of the Church. There is probably something right about this hypothesis that warrants further discussion. But there is a minimum set of morals which is indissolubly linked to the foundational principle of faith and which must be defended if faith is not to be reduced to a theory but rather to be recognized in its claim to concrete life.

All this makes apparent just how fundamentally the authority of the Church in matters of morality is called into question. Those who deny the Church a final teaching competence in this area force her to remain silent precisely where the boundary between truth and lies is at stake.


C.C. Pecknold puts this in context, specifically why it matters whether the Catholic Church is mater et magistra—both mother and moral teacher:

Moral theologians had been on a long, exploratory mission to unsettle the place of natural and divine law, and to “update” morality in ways which were more accommodating to the revolution. Benedict admits these theologians were sophisticated in their endeavors, but the aim was simple: the innovators taught that every moral act was justified if the agent has the best intentions. It was an early version of the “love is love” argument. In Benedict’s view, the central pushback came with Veritatis Splendor in 1993, which decisively refuted this sophisticated form of situation ethics sometimes called “proportionalism.” St. John Paul II intervened by authoritatively teaching moral realism, “that there were actions which were always and under all circumstances to be classified as evil.” …

Benedict asks our question directly: “Why did pedophilia reach such proportions?” His answer is not political but theological: “Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God.”

Since we are no longer accustomed to speaking well about God in society, this answer is bound to meet with some indifference. But I suspect that after all the studies are done, after the review boards are formed, cases heard, after new protocols and safeguards are in place, Benedict’s answer will be the one which endures. What will be remembered as the seed of renewal, as the root of restoration, is precisely Benedict’s counsel that we turn our faces back to Christ who is the perfect image of the Father’s love.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput reflects further on Benedict XVI’s intervention. And Rod Dreher points out Benedict XVI’s tacit endorsement of Dreher’s Benedict Option:

Faith is a journey and a way of life. In the old Church, the catechumenate was created as a habitat against an increasingly demoralized culture, in which the distinctive and fresh aspects of the Christian way of life were practiced and at the same time protected from the common way of life. I think that even today something like catechumenal communities are necessary so that Christian life can assert itself in its own way.

‘We’re the subjects of history, not its objects’

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput delivered a talk recently at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus:

I have two points I want to make here.  First, much of the anger in the Church today is righteous and healthy. As Pope Francis said just last month, “[I]n people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted” by deceitful clergy and religious. I don’t want to diminish that anger because we need it.

What we do with that anger, though, determines whether it becomes a medicine or a poison. The Church has seen corruption, incompetence and cowardice in her leaders, including in her bishops and popes, many times in the past; many more times than most Catholics realize. The fact that Americans are notoriously bad at history and ignorant of its lessons only compounds the problem.

And yet here we are.  Twenty centuries after the resurrection of Jesus, the Church continues her mission. She survives and continues through the grace of God.  But that grace works through people like you and me.

All of the great Catholic reformers in history had three essential qualities: personal humility; a passion for purifying the Church starting with themselves, and a fidelity to her teaching, all motivated by unselfish, self-sacrificing love.  God calls all of us, but especially his priests, not just to renew the face of the earth with his Spirit, but to renew the heart of the Church with our lives; to make her young and beautiful, again and again, so that she shines with his love for the world.  That’s our task. That’s our calling.  That’s what a vocation is – a calling from God with our name on it.​

To borrow from St. Augustine, God made us to make the times, not the times to make us.  We’re the subjects of history, not its objects.  And unless we make the times better with the light of Jesus Christ, then the times will make us worse with their darkness.

And that leads me to my second point, which is simply this:  Scripture tells us again and again to fear not.  The first words of St. John Paul as pope – this, from a man who lived through a catastrophic world war and two brutally anti-human regimes — were “Be not afraid.”  The temptations to fear, anxiety, depression, and fatigue are experiences we all share, especially in hard moments for the Church like today.  Fear, like anger, is a good and healthy thing when it’s in its proper place – and toxic when it’s not.

So do we really believe in Jesus Christ or not?  That’s the central question in our lives.  Everything turns on the answer.  Because if our Christian faith really grounds and organizes our lives, then we have no reason to fear, and we have every reason to hope.  Hope depends on faith.  It can’t survive without a foundation of passionate belief in something or Someone higher and greater than ourselves.  Without faith, “hope” is just another word for the cheap and cheesy optimism the modern world uses to paper over its own – and our own – brokenness.

The great French Catholic writer Georges Bernanos described the real nature of hope as “despair, overcome.”  That’s always struck me as the truest kind of realism and clarity.  We can hope because we’re loved as sons and daughters by a good God who’s really present with us and deeply engaged in our lives.  Without him, the world is just a sandbox for the wicked and the powerful, and there’s never any shortage of either. …

We should never underestimate the power of truth. The human mind and heart hunger for it.  For all of the modern world’s vanity and preening, the intellectual poverty of our time is stunning.  Among the Church’s great treasures is a long tradition of rich philosophical reflection. I urge you to study deeply in that tradition.

The Bible too retains all of its historic power today. In a culture of competition, consumption, and the mad scramble for success, the Beatitudes sound like a revolutionary manifesto.

The Bible’s power is especially clear in the accounts of Jesus’s Passion. During Holy Week we hear the story of the passion a number of times. The words from Scripture lack Shakespearean beauty. They don’t rival Homer or any other epic poet. On the contrary, the language is plain and almost austere. In a real sense, the passion narratives realize in Scripture the truth of the Incarnation, drawing us down into the gritty realities of life: blind hatred and bitter mobs; bureaucratic indifference and petty betrayals; dust-filled streets, tears, sweat, and blood. The words ring out loudly today, as they always have. They awaken in those who listen an unmistakable disquiet. The face of God approaches us here, now, in this world. This inspires hope – and also fear. Most people don’t want to be challenged spiritually…

The Christian life seems impossible to many, because “selflessness” is an allergic word in a culture built on consumption.  The same is true when Christians open their homes in hospitality or give generously out of their earnings. The world cannot imagine the radicalism made possible by a supernatural love, the freedom that allows ordinary women and men to live against the grain of what it sees as “normal” and “necessary.”

Many years ago, I came across some words attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I’ve never forgotten.  He said that gratitude is the beginning of joy.  I want you to remember those words in the years ahead.

Chaput is speaking to young men embarking on the priesthood, but his words are just as apropos for any person of good will seeking clarity in uncertain times.

McCarrick

Hannah Brockhaus reported on Saturday that 88 year old former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been laicized, stripped “of all the rights and privileges of a cleric” and is now unable to function or refer to himself as a priest:

He was publicly accused last year of sexually abusing at least two adolescent boys, and of engaging for decades in coercive sexual behavior toward priests and seminarians.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith conducted an administrative penal process which found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” according to a Feb. 16 Vatican communique. …

Because Pope Francis personally approved the guilty verdict and the penalty of laicization, it is formally impossible for the decision to be appealed. …

The allegations of sexual abuse against McCarrick became public in June 2018 when the Archdiocese of New York reported that it had received a “credible” allegation that McCarrick sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s, while serving as a New York priest. McCarrick stepped down that same month from all public ministry at the direction of the Holy See.

In July, Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals, ordering McCarrick to a life of prayer and penance pending the completion of the canonical process concerning the allegations. Since the end of September, McCarrick has been residing at the St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, Kansas.

It’s worth committing to memory the gravity of McCarrick’s crimes and their inevitable effects on the faith and fortitude of those who were near to him, first from a legitimate concern for the spiritual wellbeing of those concerned, and second for the healing and strengthening of Christians and communities corroded by the nature of McCarrick’s mendaciousness. In July 2018, J.D. Flynn wrote:

A new allegation of child sexual abuse was leveled against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick last Thursday, one month after the June announcement that he had been suspended from priestly ministry following an investigation into a different charge of sexual abuse on the part of the cardinal.

Along with emerging accounts from priests and former seminarians of sexual coercion and abuse by McCarrick, those allegations paint a picture of McCarrick’s sexual malfeasance that may be among the most grave, tragic, and, for many Catholics, infuriating, as any in recent Catholic history.

From all corners of the Church, questions are being raised about those who might have known about McCarrick’s misconduct, about how the Church will now handle the allegations against McCarrick, and about what it means for the Church that a prominent, powerful, and reportedly predatory cleric was permitted to continue in ministry for decades without censure or intervention.

Because McCarrick was a leading voice in the Church’s 2002 response to the sexual abuse crisis in the United States, and an architect of the USCCB’s Dallas Charter of the same year, the credibility of that response has also, for some, come into question.

…when a bishop behaves with sexual immorality, the effects ripple across his entire diocese. Priests and seminarians who object to that sexual immorality leave quickly, or find themselves marginalized. Those who rise to leadership positions are those who are left: those who are willing to accept the bishop’s sexual immorality, those who are complicit in it, or those who are too naive to notice it. Those in the first two categories, being willing to accept some rejections of Catholic teaching, are usually also likely to accept other rejections of Catholic teaching. That can be reflected in their pastoral leadership and catechesis, and consequently, an entire diocese can be formed with a theological perspective framed by relativism, tolerance of immorality, or compromise. The effects of a bishop’s sexual immorality can lead to spiritual and catechetical decline across an entire diocese.

Matthew Schmitz highlighted the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Doctor of the Church, who lived from 1090 to 1153:

“When such men are protected, supported, honored, cherished, many are greatly amazed and scandalized; since they most surely know of that in their characters and lives, which in any of the laity, to say nothing of a Bishop, should be severely censured and execrated. What it is I should be ashamed to write, and it would not befit you to read. Be it so, that without an accuser they cannot be deposed, yet why should those whom common rumor accuses be honored, and yet further exalted, with the special favor of the Apostolic See?”

Sohrab Ahmari called for the return of “sackcloth and ashes:”

McCarrick’s depravities–and the culture of laxness in the Church that enabled them–made it that much harder for Catholics to speak moral truth in a secular world starved for it. They defile the Church. They scandalize the faithful. They invite God’s wrath. …

Writers wiser than I have offered important policy recommendations for moving forward. But the first step is, as I say, sackcloth and ashes. I mean that quite literally. Following ancient Israel’s footsteps, the early Church adopted ashes as an expression of sorrow for sin. Depending on the sin, public penitents were required to wear ashes and sackcloth. The Church should bring back such practices. Whatever criminal and civil consequences await McCarrick, he should also be called to Rome and forced to circle Saint Peter’s Square in sackcloth and ashes, perhaps while the pope observes from the steps of the basilica. Or how about having McCarrick spend hours kneeling at a prie-dieu while Pope Francis looks upon him with anger and contempt? Others have proposed corporal punishments. I’m not opposed to these, either. The point is that the old apologies and settlements won’t do.

Ryan Scheel offered further context and described past practice:

…in the ancient Catholic Church, the punishments for clergy who sexually preyed on victims were not as relatively urbane as these modern approaches.

Saint Basil the Great, a Doctor of the Church, writing in the 4th-century, described how the early Catholic Church dealt with those guilty of sexual abuse among the clergy.

“Any cleric or monk who seduces young men or boys, or who is apprehended in kissing or in any shameful situation, shall be publicly flogged and shall lose his clerical tonsure. Thus shorn, he shall be disgraced by spitting in his face, bound in iron chains, wasted by six months of close confinement, and for three days each week put on barley bread given him toward evening. Following this period, he shall spend a further six months living in a small segregated courtyard in custody of a spiritual elder, kept busy with manual labor and prayer, subjected to vigils and prayers, forced to walk at all times in the company of two spiritual brothers, never again allowed to associate with young men.”

Ross Douthat called for a formal investigation into the scope of McCarrick’s influence and impact:

In 2013, when Pope Benedict XVI resigned, McCarrick was too old to vote in the conclave but was active in the politicking. When Pope Francis was elected, he became an eminence grise, whose lobbying helped elevate several of the new pope’s choices for high office in the American church — including the new cardinal archbishop of Newark, Joseph Tobin, and the head of the Vatican dicastery for family life, Kevin Farrell, both of whom considered McCarrick a mentor.

In other words, two decades after McCarrick should have been removed from his offices, defrocked and handed over to the civil authorities, he was instead wielding remarkable influence in the church … right up until the moment when a lifetime’s worth of crimes were finally dragged into the light.

I think this long and sickening narrative should clarify why the McCarrick case, though “only” about one abuser, merits an expansive and public accounting of the facts. Over the course of multiple decades, across a period in which not just crimes but cover-ups devastated the moral credibility of the church’s hierarchy, many important figures in Rome and the United States must have known that a man who embodied the official response to the scandal was as guilty as any of the priests whose conduct he pretended to deplore.

Someone, or indeed many someones, needs to be held accountable for this disaster. And that accountability requires more than self-exculpating statements from the cardinals involved. It requires judgment — which requires more certain knowledge — which requires investigation — which probably requires an investigator with a mandate from the pope himself.

R.R. Reno connected McCarrick to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on Catholic abuse:

In one sense, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report tells us nothing we didn’t already know. But it spells things out in inescapable detail, in a series of case studies complete with diocesan memos and letters from bishops.

The lurid details of the actions of predatory priests are troubling. But still more troubling are the evasions of responsibility by those in charge—including, in some instances, secular authorities, who in the 1960s tended to cooperate with Church leaders in keeping things quiet. Well into the 1980s, bishops and their staffs were still employing the old techniques: shuttling malefactors to remote dioceses, stonewalling civil authorities, and working hard to “avoid scandal,” which means keeping secrets and minimizing accountability. …

The current culture of the American episcopacy makes even good men incapable of rooting out the corruption in their midst. One can’t help but cringe while reading the Grand Jury Report, the way one does in a car spinning slowly off the highway.

In memo after memo, bishops and their assistants downplay and cover up misdeeds, and evade doing the hard but right thing. …

…the episcopal establishment has been failing for a long time, and in many phases. It failed to secure the theological loyalty of Catholic colleges and universities. No diocese has systematically implemented the reforms of the liturgy encouraged by Pope Benedict. The American episcopacy oversees parochial school systems in decline, and sponsors social justice ministries run by people who reject the Church’s teaching on many moral matters. In recent decades, the bishops’ conference has made feeble efforts to recover the electoral influence it had when archbishops and cardinals were part of the Democratic party’s urban machines.

Despair says, “Nothing will change.” But that is false. Many of us have long known that we cannot trust Catholic schools run by the established system to teach our kids to be Catholic. Our response has been to found lay-run schools. The Neo-Catechumenate Way, Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation—like the religious orders founded in earlier centuries, these movements seek to do what the chancery-dominated, establishment Church can’t.

These movements are not anti-clerical. They don’t reject the bishops. But they don’t wait around for the episcopal establishment, which is so often unable to meet the challenges of our time. …

Collectively, the American bishops lack moral and spiritual authority. That does not make them irrelevant. They will need to get their act together and address their obvious failures. But the sources of renewal will come from elsewhere, from determined, energetic, and faithful men and women who don’t wait around for bishops to act. That’s how the gospel has been well served so often in the past.

And Michael Brendan Dougherty calls for “better men” and investigation:

Fifteen years ago Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma, resigned from a panel called the National Review Board, set up by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to monitor compliance with the Church’s new anti-abuse politics. He was under intense pressure to resign because he had offended bishops when he said some of them were acting like “La Cosa Nostra,” a reference to the Sicilian Mafia.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles and other prelates made a great show of detesting Keating’s remarks. Keating refused to apologize. “My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology,” he said. “To resist grand-jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church,” Keating said in his resignation statement.

Keating was dismissed as a crank. …

Of course, Keating was right. Mahoney was later exposed as having engaged in an energetic attempt to cover up the truth about his own diocese. He shielded predators from law enforcement and even argued that the personnel files of the archdiocese were protected by the seal of the confessional. …

The Pennsylvania grand-jury report names hundreds of predator priests across seven decades of life in six Catholic diocese in the state. Some of the details in the report are so vile and lurid they would have been rejected from the writer’s room of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. They include priests “marking” their preferred boy-victims with special crosses, priests trading and compiling their own homemade child pornography. At one point in the report, a large redaction is made over what appears to be, in context, a ritualized and satanic gang-rape of a young boy by four priests. …

Other state attorneys general should do investigations like Pennsylvania’s. As a Catholic, I’m tired of waiting for the next red slipper to drop. If the Church cannot govern itself from within, then it will be governed from without. That’s not a policy, but the iron law of history.

“We are deeply saddened,” they say. Spare us this fake public-relations drivel. We don’t need your sadness, we don’t need new policies. We need better men.

‘Cultural Catholicism’

Rod Dreher highlights Fr. Matt Fish’s recent Twitter comments on institutional Catholicism, which I’m excerpting from Twitter:

For a number of years now, it’s been fashionable to speak about “cultural Catholicism” as a pejorative term, meaning the cultural features of a religion without a living faith. But in fact, for a faith to be living it must be cultural, it can only thrive and spread in a culture.

We always exist in a culture, which never fails to shape and form us even as we shape and form it. An embodied belief and practice of the faith is necessarily cultural, and the creation of the cultural forms, practices, symbols of a religious culture are signs of a vital faith.

What happened, with the collapse of the Catholic Church in America (and the West), is that we gradually adopted a different culture, the forms, practices, symbols of a different religion. This religion was itself in decomposition, as Protestant culture became secular materialism.

Similarly, many of us were taught to see the transition of American Catholicism, from a “ghetto” existence and practice, to a bold mainstream one within American culture, as evidence of health and success. But I think it was the opposite, the beginning of a terminal illness.

The remedy to the collapse of Catholicism in America (and in the West) is the creation of a new culture, in which the faith can live in all its embodied and communal forms, practices, symbols, artifacts, traditions, etc. The remedy can only be maximally integral, as a culture.

This cultural matrix is a necessity, because it is necessarily the way human beings live. A faith that’s only a choice on Sundays, or in occasional voluntary moments throughout the day, is a deracinated faith, uprooted and left on the ground to die. …

 

Said it before, and I’ll say it again: working for the Catholic Church in America in 2019 feels something like working for Blockbuster Movies in 2005. We’re still arguing about how we should display the DVDs, and meanwhile our current model and customer base is about to collapse.

Simply put: every diocese is full of parishes that have much smaller, now mostly older, congregations, in aging buildings with less money, and in a few short years we will hit the bell curve with both people and money. And we’re barely talking about it.

Our schools are closing, and those that remain are becoming “private” schools for those who can afford them, as we struggle to understand what “Catholic Identity” means for a student body, most of whom do not attend Sunday Mass.

The average knowledge of the faith in most Catholic communities is at a low point, though it will probably get worse. Meanwhile, the practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation has virtually disappeared, as have other traditions that had culturally marked Catholics in the past.

No need to expand the laundry list. And the parishes and communities that are doing well are precisely exceptions that prove the rule. The point is, rather, how are we (especially Church authorities and leaders) not talking about this, addressing it, figuring out a plan?

As bad as 2018 was for the Church, with respect to all the tragic revelations about covering up child abuse, this problem is far more serious, for it concerns the very disappearance of Catholicism as a community, or at least a massive change unlike anything in her history before.

If you believe I’m exaggerating, just ask your diocese for the data from the last 40 years on weekend head-counts, offertory, and sacramental numbers. The change will shock you. And the numbers are about to hit an even steeper curve. …

What we have here is the dying, if not decomposition already, of a large, once impressive, Catholic culture. What is needed is the birth and growth of a new Catholic culture. How the two relate I do not know, but can only guess.

Dreher underscores: “This year — 2019 — half of all Catholic priests in America will reach the minimum retirement age of 70. If you are a Catholic, and you are not preparing yourself and your family now for life in the desert, you are wasting precious time. The future of all Christians in post-Christian America is going to be more or less monastic…”

Spiritual graces and solidarity

Hannah Brockhaus reports on Pope Francis’s homily from the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, earlier this month:

One of the grave injustices of today, he said, is the vast disparity in wealth which exists in many countries around the world.

“When society is no longer based on the principle of solidarity and the common good, we witness the scandal of people living in utter destitution amid skyscrapers, grand hotels and luxurious shopping centers,” he said. “We have forgotten the wisdom of the Mosaic law: if wealth is not shared, society is divided.”

He pointed out that in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the same idea is applied to the Christian community: “those who are strong must bear with the weak.”

“Following Christ’s example, we are to make every effort to build up those who are weak. Solidarity and shared responsibility must be the laws that govern the Christian family,” Francis urged.

He also reminded Christians that it is a “grave sin to belittle or despise the gifts that the Lord has given our brothers and sisters, and to think that God somehow holds them in less esteem.”

“When we entertain such thoughts, we allow the very grace we have received to become a source of pride, injustice and division. And how can we then enter the promised kingdom?” he asked.

“It is easy to forget the fundamental equality existing among us,” he said, “that once we were all slaves to sin, that the Lord saved us in baptism and called us his children. It is easy to think that the spiritual grace granted us is our property, something to which we are due.”

“The gifts we have received from God can also blind us to the gifts given to other Christians,” he noted.

The world did not know him

Merry Christmas. I’m sharing a photo from my arrival back at Reagan Washington National Airport earlier this month, but I’m visiting family near Philadelphia for Christmas today.

Last night attended Midnight Mass at Corpus Christi. In the final hour of Christmas Eve, Corpus Christi’s choir performed. Here’s a brief bit from last night’s performance:

And here’s Bishop Robert Barron reflecting on Christmas, specifically on John 1:1-18 in his Gospel Reflections:

“The world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.” In that pithily crafted line, we sense the whole tragedy of sin. Human beings were made by and for the Logos and therefore they find their joy in a sort of sympathetic attunement to the Logos. Sin is the disharmony that comes when we fall out of alignment with God’s reasonable purpose.

Then comes the incomparably good news: “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.” It is a basic principle of nature that nothing at a lower level of being can rise to a higher level unless it is drawn upward. For example, a plant can become ingredient in a sentient nature only if it is devoured by an animal. By this same principle, a human being can become something higher only when a superior reality assimilates him. The Church Fathers consistently taught that God became human so that humans might become God—which is to say, participants in the divine nature. In a word, we can become children of God precisely because God reached down to us and became a son of man.

I’m thinking of my friend today, who grew up with the challenge of his father to “live every day as if it were Christmas.” What lies at the heart of that challenge is to live every day with a closeness to the essential mystery that this life is, and to the reality of Christ’s revelation of himself as the root and cause of this strange and continent universe.