One of the lessons of both the history of Israel and the Church is that it is unwise for the faithful to tie their sense of emotional and spiritual well-being to the words and actions of those who rule over them. This fact is highlighted with both clarity and brio by the 2018 book by Rod Bennett: Bad Shepherds: The Dark Years in Which the Faithful Thrived While Bishops Did the Devil’s Work.
As Bennett points out, thirty-one out of the thirty-eight Hebrew kings were bad who ruled over a kingdom divided into northern and southern parts. The batting average is much higher with popes: out of the 266 who have reigned over two millennia, fewer than two dozen have been involved in serious malfeasance.
In perhaps the darkest hour in Church history, when the Arian heresy had taken over the Church, historians estimate that eight out of ten Catholic bishoprics succumbed to the apostasy. While most of the prelates who attended the First Council of Nicaea affirmed the word consubstantial, the hierarchy had embraced Arianism by the time of the Council of Milan because of persecution from Constantius.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Further evidence that it is not prudent to tie our wagon to the Prelate Star is revealed in the case of St. John Fisher. Fisher, who is often overshadowed by St. Thomas More, was the only bishop to refuse the Oath of Succession declaring Henry VIII head of the Church in England and lost his head for it.
When we look at the contemporary ecclesial landscape, we should never limit what the Holy Spirit can do, but any optimism needs to be tempered by certain realities. For example, in looking at the Catholic Church in America, (1) our de facto leader is the heterodox, zeitgeist puppet Cardinal Blaise Cupich; (2) homosexualist priest Fr. James Martin has been given almost carte blanche in peddling his lavender gospel; and (3) the USCCB voted 137-83, with three abstaining, to not encourage the Holy See to release all documents concerning allegations of sexual misconduct by the recently defrocked ex-Cardinal McCarrick.
The list goes on and on.
In turning our gaze to the Vatican, it’s nice to daydream about Cardinal Robert Sarah becoming pope someday, but, again, such hopes need to be tethered to certain facts on the ground. In recent years, Pope Francis has remade the composition of the College of Cardinals so that nearly half of the men who will choose the next pope were selected by the present pontiff.
The faithful Catholic laity naturally longs to hear their leaders speak out and be the voice of orthodoxy in a troubled time. Perhaps a good way to look at this problem is through the lens of a “kitchen table” issue that many Catholic families experience.
Let’s say the husband works full-time and the wife is a stay-at-home mother with five kids. His paychecks are big enough that they can make ends meet without depending on his year-end bonus. However, that bonus sure comes in handy and can play an important role in upgrading a family vacation or getting new carpet in the family room.
The daily life of the laity, which involves remaining in a state of grace and pursuing a vibrant orthodoxy, is the regular paycheck; the year-end bonus is the voice of orthodoxy coming through the words and the lives of the priests and prelates. The latter isn’t absolutely necessary (remember the days of Henry VIII) for our daily spiritual and emotional health, but it sure can put a spring in your step for a day or two.
The orthodox Catholic has received three such “bonuses” in recent weeks care of Archbishop Charles Chaput, Cardinal Robert Sarah, and Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider, O.R.C.
Archbishop Charles Chaput
Speaking at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, the Archbishop of Philadelphia essentially told his audience (paraphrased), “I know the confusion, anger, and anxiety you are feeling due to malfeasance in the Church because I am feeling the same emotions.” He admitted that many other prelates are frustrated with Rome and its denial of root problems that are causing the scandal and crisis.
He asserted that clericalism is not the root problem; homosexual predation is and Rome is self-deluded in not admitting this. He also excoriated the German bishops.
LifeSiteNews reported: “Chaput was apparently referring to Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany, who recently suggested that the Church could possibly offer a ‘liturgical’ blessing to same-sex couples. The German Bishops’ Conference, of whom Marx is the president, has established a commission to study such a ‘blessing.’”
The upshot of Chaput’s speech was a rallying cry to the laity in encouraging them that “God doesn’t lose” and that they were born to shine in such a time such as this. “Fear can be toxic” and must be jettisoned as we realize that we live in exhilarating times.
A Chesterton quote that Rod Bennett cites in his book comes to mind: “Men are never more awake to the good in the world than when they are furiously awake to the evil in the world. Men never enjoy so much the blazing sun and the rushing wind as when they are out hunting the Devil.”
Cardinal Robert Sarah
No one seems more “furiously awake” than Cardinal Sarah, the prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, who claims in an introduction to his new book (released in France on March 20) that the Church “is wrapped and blinded by the mystery of iniquity.” His solutions to the crisis aren’t procedural or administrative (e.g., more thorough vetting of seminarians), but are rooted in the timeless truths of prayer, fidelity to the Magisterium, fraternal charity, and the love of Peter.
His righteous anger towards the perpetrators of abuse and compassion for its victims are obvious: “They [agents of the Evil One] have sought to defile the pure souls of the littlest ones. They have humiliated the image of Christ present in each child,” and at the same time have humiliated and betrayed so many faithful priests.
Sarah is convinced that “the smoke of Satan” has entered the Church and that the crisis is a spiritual crisis. He says:
We have abandoned prayer. The evil of efficient activism has infiltrated itself everywhere. We seek to imitate the organization of large companies. We forget that only prayer is the blood that can irrigate the heart of the church … He who does not pray has already betrayed. He is already prepared for every compromise with the world. He walks in the steps of Judas.
So many spiritual obituaries begin with “Father stopped praying.”
He laments that the Church’s leaders are afflicted with the “mystery of Judas”: “…little by little, Judas’s heart was taken over by doubts. Imperceptibly, he started judging Jesus’s teaching. He said to himself: ‘this Jesus is too demanding, and not efficient enough.’ Judas wanted to make the kingdom of God come on earth straightaway, through human means and according to his personal plans.”
Those who depart from the teaching of the Magisterium also receive a stern rebuke: “We tolerate any calling into question. The Catholic doctrine is challenged, and in the name of self-styled intellectual postures, theologians take pleasure in deconstructing dogma and in emptying morals of their profound meaning. Relativism is the mask of Judas disguised as an intellectual” (emphasis mine).
The good cardinal’s zeal for reform and prophetic insight are evident throughout the introduction to his new book.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider
You don’t need to be a devout Catholic to recognize that the recent sexual abuse summit in Rome was a dog and pony show designed to avert our eyes from the root problems causing the crisis. As I wrote in a recent essay, “The prelates not only wouldn’t talk about the elephant in the room, they averted their eyes from an entire herd.”
Athanasius Schneider, O.R.C., auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, one of the truly great prelates of our troubled era, in an interview with LifeSiteNews, identified those root causes with great precision. This is what we should have heard at the recent summit.
Because it is so clear, accurate, and timely, I have quoted Schneider’s etiology of the crisis almost in its entirety from this interview. He cites four root causes:
One of the evident, observable and deepest roots of the sexual abuse of minors is homosexuality among the clergy. Of course, I will not say that all homosexuals are necessarily abusing children. This would be unjust and untrue. But we are speaking about clerical abuse in the Church, and so we have to focus on this illness.
It has been proven that more than 80 percent of victims were post-pubescent males. It is therefore evident that the nature of the majority of this abuse involved homosexual acts. We have to stress that this is one of the main roots.
The other main root of the abuse crisis is the relativism on moral teaching which began after the Second Vatican Council. Since then, we have been living in a deep crisis of doctrinal relativism, not only of dogmatics but also of morals—the moral law of God.
Morals were not taught clearly in seminaries over the past 50 years; it was often not clearly taught in seminaries and theological faculties that a sin against the sixth commandment is a grave sin. Subjectively there may be mitigating circumstances, but objectively it is a grave sin. Every sexual act outside a valid matrimony is against the will of God. It offends God and is a serious sin, a mortal sin.
This teaching was so relativized… We have to stress this … the relativism of moral teaching, specifically on the sixth commandment.
Another deep cause is the lack of a true, serious, and authentic formation of seminarians. There was a lack of ascesis in the life and formation of seminarians.
It has been proven by two thousand years, and by human nature, that without physical ascesis like fasting, praying, and even other forms of corporal mortifications, it is impossible to live a constant life in virtue without mortal sin. Due to the deep wound of original sin and the concupiscence still at work in every human being, we need corporal mortification.
St. Paul says: “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). We can paraphrase these words, saying: do not nurture your flesh too much or concupiscence will dominate you. And this is exactly what often happened in seminaries. Seminarians and priests nurtured the flesh through a comfortable life without ascesis, without fasting and other bodily and spiritual mortifications.
But to me, the deepest cause of the clerical sex abuse crisis is the lack of a deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When a seminarian or a priest does not have a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ, in constant fidelity to a life of prayer and really enjoying a personal love for Jesus, he is easy prey for the temptations of the flesh and other vices.
Furthermore, when you have a deep and personal love of Christ, you cannot deliberately commit a horrendous sin. Occasionally, because of the weakness of human nature, a priest or seminarian could commit a mortal sin against purity. But in the same moment, he is deeply repentant and decides to avoid the next sin at any cost. This is a manifestation of a true love of Christ. But it is for me completely excluded that a person who deeply loves Christ can sexually abuse minors. It is for me impossible. In my opinion, a deep love of Christ excludes this.
(Lead photo credit: Paul Badde and Bohumil Petrik / CNA)