Comfort Is Killing the Church

I saw his collar. It was a sun-splashed late morning and parking spaces were hard to come by for the lunch hour crowd at the Westfield Annapolis Mall in Maryland. For some reason, I squinted into my rearview mirror and saw that the driver trailing was a Catholic priest. Five minutes later, he was five or six customers behind me in a long Chipotle line—without his collar.

“Hey, Father,” I said, talking over the other customers. “Come on up. I’m treating today.” We shared a pleasant, get-to-know-you conversation before placing our orders. When our food arrived, I asked if he wanted to share a meal. He would have loved it, he said, but he had an appointment back at the church. “Maybe sometime I can repay you,” he said with earnestness. “You can, Father,” I said. “Maybe wear your collar the next time you come in here. Guys like me need to see you as priests.”

As the news of Theodore McCarrick’s sins, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and the stories of homosexual clergy spat hellfire into the summertime stew of 2018, I think many millions of intentional members of the Catholic laity—like me—awaited a reckoning. Waves of dispiritedness came, though, as a sackcloth-and-ashes penitential movement by Church leaders never emerged. A sincere spirit of reflective humility and an offer of full transparency never came, like the dad who stumbles home drunk and refuses to offer words of apology the next day.

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This thickening haze has spread to Rome for the Amazonian Synod, where bishops’ meetings and pronouncements seem as peculiar as they are threatening to Catholics who increasingly shake their heads. It was reported by Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register that the pro-abortion Ford Foundation was a major funder of organizations which played a role in arranging the proceedings of the synod.

The Washington Post has recently exposed new accusations against McCarrick. Where the vast majority of previous accusations focused on seminarians and young priests, he’s now accused of having abused at least seven boys from about 1970 until 1990 as well. Meanwhile, several reports from Rome this past week have detailed massive irregularities with the handling of money at the Vatican Bank.

As this sensus fidelium, or hearing of the heart, has pushed on, I’ve occasionally remembered that priest who flicked off his collar. In that fast-food line, to everyone but me, he was just another stylish Annapolitan dressed in black.

So much of the Catholic Church has fallen prey to effeminacy. Rather than owning its problems or its identity as the unfiltered light of Christ, it has chosen comfort and softness. The consequence of this effeminacy is that rather than fighting today’s grave disorders, the Church is choosing the path of least resistance. It is mute.

Our local library will be shipping in taxpayer-funded men dressed up as women to read to young children next week. Local parish priests have remained silent about the widely publicized event.

Also next week, retired Washington archdiocesan priest Fr. Peter Daly will host a retreat sponsored by New Ways Ministry for “Gay Priests, Bishops, Brothers, and Deacons.” There has been no public rebuke from his bishop; the retreat will proceed unimpeded.

Rather than sending strong Catholic missionary priests into the jungles of South America as witnesses to the Faith, the Church invited a handful of Amazonians to Rome as seeming showpieces. Over the past few weeks, bishops there seem to have kicked around synodal themes lacking any supernatural quality, which will do little to advance the Kingdom.

When over the summer the Pew Research Center released its findings on the constellations of Catholics who no longer believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, many Catholics again awaited a proactive response from Church leaders on how they might tackle this whale-sized malady. Yet not a single word was spoken—at least, not in my neck of the woods—about what Holy Mother Church intended to do on a practical level to re-catechize its diminishing flock on the Eucharist. There have been no discussions of increased litanies that point to the Eucharist. I haven’t heard about a move toward 40-hour devotions, nothing on extended hours of Adoration—not even a gentle homiletic push on an amplification on the Eucharist.

All of this demands work; whereas effeminacy shuns work. Perhaps the greatest problem facing today’s Church is that in its comfort it has repeatedly chosen the path of least resistance. Lying low when dealing with transgender story hour and gay clergy retreats is easier than engaging in real missionary work.

In 2013, my wife and I were invited to dinner by our local bishop, whose interest had been piqued by a piece I’d written titled, “The Time for Our Bishops Is Now”. It began:

Some nights, I imagine, a few bishops cry. The ones with shepherd’s souls, with Peter’s heart—I think they’re the ones who cry.

They know their flock is scattered. And in some measure, they know they’ve played a role in it. Where once Christ talked about rescuing the one lost sheep, it now seems several millions of Catholics are lost. And I imagine most bishops don’t even know where to start herding—or how.

It was an evening of elegance. We were treated to a delicious three-course meal in the bishop’s decorous dining room. The conversation was pleasant, cheerful, and courteous. A brief tour followed dinner, where we were shown fine art, portraits of saints, and artifacts of the Church.

In the years that followed, when something scandalous broke in his diocese, I wrote letters to this bishop. He wrote kindhearted, concerned letters in reply. As evidence of scandalous priestly behavior continued to emerge in his diocese, our back-and-forth letter writing stayed its course. Yet it seemed that, outside of his thoughtful letters, little was done to remedy the scandals.

I began to piece things together; it seemed this shepherd’s comfortable lifestyle had led to his taking paths of least resistance. The hard work of fraternal correction, public rebukes on disordered behaviors, or even punishment levied on one of his priests was foregone. He gradually lost John the Baptist’s wilderness voice of conviction for the need of repentance. Perhaps he’d eventually lose sight of Jesus Christ lacerated and suffocating on a cross.

The last letter I wrote included the news that I was leaving his diocese. “It seems a different Catholic faith is being practiced here,” I wrote. His final return letter wished me luck and warned against judgment.

The prophet Joel offers these words of warning to our ministers:

Gird yourselves and weep O priests! Wail O ministers of the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth… proclaim a fast. Blow the trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all who dwell in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. Yes, it is near, a day of darkness and of gloom.

Judgment is coming for us all.


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