The Interview That Could Reshape the World

How often does an interview with a nation’s leader become a 1,000-year history lesson? If you live in America, never. Can you imagine an American politician being asked a question and beginning his answer, “Well, in 1842 we saw…” Heck, our current president can’t even remember what happened yesterday, much less in 988. But if you are interviewing Russian President Vladimir Putin, such a discussion is at least a possibility, as can be seen from his interview this week with Tucker Carlson. (One has to wonder how much of this extensive history lesson was simply a flex; a demonstration that the Russian President can mentally run circles around the American President.)

The 2-hour-long interview was a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the Russian leader, something we rarely see here in the censored United States. It likely came across as boring to a lot of Americans (a Daily Beast headline read “Putin Nearly Bores Tucker to Death with 2-Hour History Class“), but that’s because our collective memories barely go back a few months, much less hundreds of years, and our attention spans are limited to 280 characters and edgy memes. Yet a deep understanding of history is essential to understand our current world geopolitics.

In fact, it is Americans’ ignorance of history that allows the propaganda machine of our Political Class to operate successfully. For the past two years, these Elites and their flunkies in the Corporate Media have pretended that history began on February 24, 2022, the day Russia invaded Ukraine (or, as Putin puts it, when Russia “intensified” the conflict that he says began with the Ukrainian coup d’état in 2014). This ignorance allows flaks from Hillary Clinton to George Weigel to present a cartoonish version of what is happening there: Putin=Hitler; Russians=bad, Ukrainians=good; Putin only invaded because he has imperial designs on all of Europe.

Knowledgeable analysts have always known this was a ridiculous and dishonest assessment, but it was necessary for the military-industrial complex here in the US to sell our role in the conflict to the American people. Sending billions of dollars to Ukraine (much of which actually goes to American military contractors) is only palatable if it is sold as an existential threat to our country, which it never was.

Putin’s long history lesson was full of gaps, of course, and purposefully only included events that make Russia look favorable. Of course, that’s how most political leaders tell history: in a favorable light to their own country. Yet the history he told since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 is essentially correct, and knowledge of this time period is vital to understanding today’s conflict.

The United States and the West repeatedly broke promises made in good faith to Russia, and has repeatedly provoked Russia over the past 30 years by consistently moving the NATO border—along with our military bases and missiles—closer and closer to Russia’s border, against the clear warnings of Russia’s leadership (Putin is not alone in Russian leadership in decrying this expansion).

To be clear, “provoked” is not the same as “justified.” Noting the factualness of Putin’s account of recent history is not a defense of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But it’s necessary to acknowledge these realities if peace is ever to be achieved. We must recognize that Russia will defend its own interests, and demanding its complete capitulation is a fool’s errand.

Thus, if we insist on the cartoonish representation of Putin as a modern-day Hitler, we’ll never be willing to sit down and negotiate an end to this bloody conflict. Sadly, this is exactly what happened in March 2022, one month after the invasion, when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (clearly in union with the Biden Administration) forced Ukraine to reject a peace initiative, an initiative Ukraine itself was ready to sign.

If we insist on the cartoonish representation of Putin as a modern-day Hitler, we’ll never be willing to sit down and negotiate an end to this bloody conflict.Tweet This

Yet my purpose here isn’t to re-debate U.S. involvement in the Russia-Ukraine conflict (I’ve already commented on it here, here, here, and here). Instead it’s to note how important Tucker Carlson’s interview was for promoting peace, and how it reflects the changing landscape in media, a change I believe is vital to the cause of peace and freedom.

The Corporate Media is happy to caricature Putin as a thuggish dictator, just as they caricature Donald Trump as a wannabe dictator. This satisfies their masters in the Political Class, and so they do all they can to censor their targets. It’s easy to caricature someone if you never allow him to present his own point of view. But with the rise of alternative media, the Corporate Media’s ability to engage in such censorship is weakening.

(I know that CNN and others say they repeatedly asked for a Putin interview and were refused. Do you blame him? In just the past few months, the media has refused to broadcast some of Trump’s speeches, and cut out sections of an interview with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. that they claimed was “false information.”)

Fortunately, people are waking up to this game. As just one indicator of the Corporate Media’s decline, it would take 226 days for CNN to have as many cumulative viewers during prime time as Carlson’s interview with Putin received in its first 17 hours. More and more people are rejecting the sound-byte-driven, Narrative-pushing Corporate Media for the long-form, open-to-different-views alternative media. This terrifies our ruling Political Class, because they know the more knowledgeable the populace, the weaker their grip on power.

Getting to hear from Vladimir Putin directly is a good thing, period. That doesn’t mean we must embrace his narrative any more than our own President’s (Putin’s claims about wanting to “denazify” Ukraine, for example, seem to be cynically driven for propaganda purposes). Hearing from the “other side,” however, does allow us to realize that in every conflict there are multiple points of view, multiple grievances, and each side has its own perspective of what led to the conflict and what continues it. Recognizing that fact is the first step toward peace, and for interviewing Vladimir Putin, we should all thank Tucker Carlson. 

Let’s Pray That Texas Doesn’t Blink

The years-long showdown between Texas and the Federal Government over the Texas-Mexico border took a dramatic—and potentially dangerous—turn this week. The Supreme Court (with Amy Coney Barrett as the deciding vote) ruled that Texas could not prevent the Federal Government from taking down the barbed wire fence that Texas installed along part of the border. In turn, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Texas National Guard to defend the barbed wire fence (and thus the border), saying that it was a matter of the state’s self-defense that supersedes the Supreme Court ruling.

The stakes were raised even higher when 25 Republican governors signed a letter in support of Governor Abbott. Some governors also pledged to send their own national guards to support the Texas resistance to the Federal Government. Not surprisingly, many now speak of a potential civil war brewing.

While a civil war would be horrific, I believe all right-thinking Americans should support Texas in this fight, and in fact should support more states standing up to the Federal Government, even to the point of considering secession.

I’ve made clear over the years my own support for secession. I think our country is simply too big to succeed. Our political system has gotten progressively more and more oppressive over the years, and our current Federal Government makes many past empires seem like subsidiary dreamlands in comparison. We need to break up into multiple nations, and hopefully this Texas resistance is a step in that direction.

When I first argued for secession back in 2015-2016, I knew it was a fantasy, and most people regarded the idea as quixotic at best, treasonous at worst. But then 2020 happened. The different responses taken by states to the Covid pandemic reminded Americans that states do matter; they are not just cogs in the Federal Machine. Millions moved as a result, and a certain patriotism toward one’s state rather than the country as a whole was strengthened. Now people started to wonder if their state would be better off outside of the Federal Government’s control.

National Divorce is part of the national conversation, and it’s being taken more seriously by more people. Good. But there’s still so many false assumptions made about a potential National Divorce, most of them stemming from public school indoctrination about our nation’s history.

National Divorce is part of the national conversation, and it’s being taken more seriously by more people. Good.Tweet This

First, a breakup does not automatically mean a civil war. Many nations around the world have broken up over the years without a shot being fired. The most obvious example is the Soviet Union, but there are others as well. The current situation in Texas, for example, does not have to escalate into violent bloodshed: the Federal Government could just back down and recognize Texas’s right to defend itself. Bloodshed will only happen if the Federal Government wants it to happen.

Another false assumption is that a National Divorce would result in two and only two new nations. It must be North/South or something simplistic like that. But a National Divorce could lead to three, four, or even more new nations. There’s no natural law that requires a certain minimum size of a nation (see: Europe). While the Corporate Media likes to separate us into Blue States and Red States, the reality of our differences is far more complex. While Montana and Alabama might both be Red States, how they want to govern and live can vary widely. Why force them together?

It’s also believed by many that a national divorce must follow current state lines. The reality is that we are mostly divided between city and rural areas—Chicago is as unlike parts of southern Illinois as many European countries are from each other. A National Divorce could include many state divorces.

This might sound like chaos. After all, why would anyone prefer the uncertainty of shifting borders over a unified, peaceful nation? When that “unified, peaceful nation” uses its power to trample on individual’s rights, shoves cultural degradation on its citizens, creates money out of thin air to further enrich the Elites, and spends more money protecting Ukraine’s borders than our own, then uncertainty becomes much more attractive. Or at least becomes the better of two bad choices.

National Divorce, if it is to happen peacefully, would not happen overnight. In fact, it already began in 2020 with the flight of many people to states that were better on Covid policies. As states make clear where they stand on the issues that matter, citizens will continue to vote with their feet—the only vote that really matters. Florida and Texas have already seen massive immigration from other states in the past few years and there’s no reason to think that will slow down.

That immigration will strengthen leaders’ resolve to stand up to the Federal Government. Look at Ron DeSantis. He barely won in his first run for Governor of Florida, but won reelection by a landslide, helped partly by new Floridians who came due to his strong leadership during Covid. If Governor Abbot doesn’t fold, look for more people to move to Texas as well. 

This internal immigration is a good thing, as it makes National Divorce more inevitable, and more peaceful. At some point, most people will wake up and realize that it’s easier to go our separate ways rather than fight to control each other. 

Let’s pray that Governor Abbott and the people of Texas continue to stand strong, and that one day we look back at this conflict as but one step to a peaceful National Divorce.

There’s Some Good in This Church and It’s Worth Fighting For

It’s been a month since the release of Fiducia Supplicans, and faithful Catholics can be forgiven if that scandalous document put a damper on their Christmas spirit. After all, it’s yet another scandal coming out of a Vatican full of them lately, and it’s easy for Catholics to become demoralized in the face of this reality.

The possibility of demoralization and even despair among faithful Catholics today is the reality behind the most common question I receive from readers: How do we live joyfully as Catholics when from all human appearances the Church seems to be self-destructing? How can we remain faithful to God’s promises when we see millions of souls—including the souls of loved ones—being lost every year?

I won’t pretend to have the definitive answer to these tough questions, although I do try to address them in a recent podcast. I can say what I personally do, what I would call “detached monitoring and response.” What I mean by that is that I monitor what is going on at the highest levels of the Church, for I know those activities have a real impact on people I care about—my family, my friends, my fellow parishioners. Of course, this is the purpose of Crisis: to inform readers of the crisis in the Church and help them navigate through it.

I also, when necessary, respond to the various scandals happening in the Church. We are sometimes criticized here at Crisis for supposedly rejoicing in scandal so that we can have more click-baity articles to publish. Nothing could be further from the truth: I’d love to shut Crisis down tomorrow, because that would mean there is no great crisis in the Church to which to respond. However, there is a crisis, and so we will continue to respond to it. Each person of course has a different sphere of influence and so each person’s response will be different. But we can’t put our heads in the sand and act like everything is awesome. Souls are too valuable.

So I monitor and I respond to today’s crisis. But it’s a detached monitoring and response. By that I mean that I don’t obsess about the latest news from Rome (or from Washington); I don’t spend all day doomscrolling my social media feeds to see the latest scandal and the reactions to that scandal, and the reactions to those reactions. That’s not healthy, spiritually, mentally, or even physically.

But just resolving to not do something usually doesn’t work long-term: the pull of social media and its algorithms is strong. So we must replace that activity with others. And here is where I think we open our eyes to see the good that God is doing in the world. These things are usually not “news-worthy” in the sense that they won’t make the front page of the New York Times or even Crisis Magazine, but in God’s eyes they are likely vitally important.

For example, just since the release of Fiducia Supplicans, at my parish alone the following has happened:

A recently-married young couple, who met through our parish, announced that they are expecting their first child.

Another young couple, who also met through our parish, was married in a beautiful ceremony.

Yet another young couple (this time, my own son and his fiancée) celebrated the mostly forgotten but still beautiful Rite of Betrothal.

This is God working in my own little corner of the world, and I’m sure He’s working in yours as well. We just need to raise our eyes from our devices to see it. And over time, these small activities will make a large impact on the Church and the world. They are the mustard seed which grows into the beautiful and fruitful tree.

Beautiful acts of faith are happening all over the world as well. I’m honored to be part of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Fatima and one of our current projects is building well-constructed chapels in parts of rural Philippines to replace chapels that are little more than a few bamboo poles and a steel roof.

Note the condition of the old chapel in which these wonderful Catholics are standing.
The new chapel, almost completed.

These faithful Catholics, who often only are able to hear Mass once a month or less, will now have a beautiful—and more permanent—place of worship, all because of the charity of other faithful Catholics.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m advocating a pollyannaish view of the Church. I know we’re in a crisis and to ignore that reality is to reject Our Lord’s call to live in this time of trial. Yet in the midst of these trials God is still pouring out His graces, we just need to look up to see it happening all around us.

(And yes, I’m currently re-reading The Lord of the Rings [which is also a great way to keep a good perspective on today’s crisis], thus the title of this article. Be like Sam!)

The Dangerous Hope for an Empty Hell

Yesterday Pope Francis said, “This isn’t dogma, just my thought: I like to think of Hell as being empty. I hope it is.” As often happens following a controversial papal statement, debate broke out online as to whether this is a legitimate—i.e., an orthodox—viewpoint for a Catholic.

While that’s an important question, especially when speaking of the pope, it actually misses a more important point—the impact of hoping that Hell is empty.

But let’s first address whether or not this comment is orthodox. The pope’s first part, “I like to think of Hell as being empty,” isn’t really a dogmatic statement, as he himself notes. It’s just how he imagines Hell. I can imagine Heaven as a suburban country club—kinda like The SimpsonsProtestant Heaven“—and that isn’t heresy; it’s just my imagination. If the pope were to argue definitively—or attempt to define dogmatically—that Hell is empty, then we would need to argue about whether it was orthodox or not (spoiler: not).

And then Pope Francis goes beyond his imagination to his desires: “I hope it is [empty].” Again, this is not a dogmatic statement. I hope that the Cincinnati Reds will win the World Series this year, and I can have that (somewhat unlikely) hope if I want. Likewise, if the pope desires that Hell is empty, he can do so if he wants.

Of course, the pope’s hope that Hell is empty isn’t as harmless as my hope for a World Championship for my favorite baseball team. Our hopes very much shape our actions and our beliefs: my love for the Reds leads me to attend their games and emotionally invest myself in their success (and, too often, failure). Likewise, a hope that Hell is empty has a huge impact on how we live as Catholics. This, in my mind, is the more important question, rather than more endless debates on the orthodoxy of the pope’s off-the-cuff statement.

As I detail in my book, Deadly Indifference, there’s been a huge emphasis shift in how Catholics view the salvation of non-Catholics in the past century. Until the middle of the 20th century, it was assumed by most Catholics that most (if not all) non-Catholics were destined for eternal hellfire. Yes, the Church long taught that one could be saved by a baptism of desire, but this teaching was something relegated mostly to theological debate among scholars and churchmen. The common view—and the common teaching heard from the pulpit—is that Catholics should assume that non-Catholics were very likely going to Hell.

This common assumption had massive implications. The most vital being that Catholics felt a duty to work for the conversion of non-Catholics, whether that be by supporting missionary works or by urging non-Catholics to become Catholic. It also meant that Catholics were wary of becoming too culturally close to non-Catholics. “Mixed marriages” were verboten, and Catholics tended to live together in small neighborhoods (the Catholic “ghetto”) in order to protect the faith of their impressionable children. And finally, most Catholics doggedly remained Catholic, knowing the alternative could be unthinkably horrible.

Once that emphasis shifted, however, and Catholics began to expand the application of baptism of desire to its breaking point (a majority of Catholics now believe other religions can lead a person to Heaven), then how Catholics lived and interacted with non-Catholics dramatically changed.

Missions collapsed. Catholic neighborhoods disappeared. And Catholics left the Church by the millions.

This is not a coincidence. If you don’t believe you need to be Catholic to get to Heaven—or, more radically, you believe everyone is getting to Heaven regardless of how they live here on earth (“Hello, Mr. Hitler! Good to see you here in Heaven!”)—then the importance of both practicing the Faith and sharing it with others collapses. Catholicism is reduced to something that makes you feel good; a social club with some cool-looking ceremonies.

Now, one could spin the pope’s comment that “I hope [Hell] is [empty]” by saying that the Catechism itself states that “In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved'” (CCC 1821). But there is a big difference between hoping Hell is empty and hoping and praying for the salvation of each individual soul.

By this author:

To return to my baseball analogy, before each Reds game next season, I will hope that the Reds will win. However, if you asked me if the Reds will win every game next season, I know they will not. Losing some games is just the reality of a 162-game baseball season, no matter how much I hope for victory.

Likewise, if you ask me if I hope for the salvation of any specific person—my wife, my kids, President Biden, Elon Musk—I will answer in the affirmative. However, I know—because Christ has made it clear that this is the reality—there are people in Hell. As the Catechism states, 

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” (CCC 1035)

An empty Hell undermines the entire purpose of Catholicism, and makes a mockery out of the words of Jesus, who warned us to avoid Hell and talked of people being thrown into the eternal fire (cf. Mt. 25:41). Jesus, in fact, talked more about Hell than he did about Heaven. Why bother if no one is going there? In fact, if Hell is in fact empty, that makes Jesus a deceiver, for his words assume people have gone—and will continue to go—there.

So we can see that Pope Francis’s hope that Hell is empty is not harmless wishful thinking. It leads people away from a serious practice of the faith, and it leads them away from bringing others to a serious practice of the faith. 

Ironically, a hope that Hell is empty will do much to help fill it up.

An Urgent Note

“There are decades in which nothing happens, and there are weeks
in which decades happen.” 

I don’t often quote Lenin, but I feel like decades of change have happened in the Catholic Church over the past several weeks.

When historians look back on our time, they will undoubtedly see it as one of upheaval and confusion.

Just in the past month or so:

● Bishop Joseph Strickland, one of the most faithful and beloved bishops in the U.S. episcopate, was ousted as the head of the Diocese of Tyler, TX for reasons that remain unpublished.

● The Synod on Synodality resurrected for debate, yet again, topics that have been authoritatively declared settled Catholic doctrine.

● Pope Francis has kicked Cardinal Burke out of his papal apartment and revoked his stipend.

● Five prominent Cardinals have had to again challenge the Pope by issuing a new dubia requesting clarification on his positions on homosexuality and female ordination — and being ignored.

● No investigation is being launched into accusations of vile serial abuse by Father Marko Rupnik, and despite being expelled from the Jesuits, he was made a diocesan priest by his home bishop.

Mankind is under staggering attack and disoriented like never before.

A burning wind is blowing yet a shocking number of Church faithful seem not to even notice. Our ways and our devices are bringing terrible misfortune upon us, yet Holy Mother Church seems to sleep! Where are the decrees, the warnings, the corrections, the fullness of Truth being proclaimed? 

A stunning transformation of society is taking place right before our eyes:

A preposterous climate alarmism is being foisted upon us by craven elites.

Men pretending to be women are shattering athletic records and invading women’s restrooms, locker rooms, and prisons.

The traditional family is being undermined. Our economy is being destabilized, seemingly intentionally. 

Rather than shaking slumbering souls awake and leading them by word and example to the joys of living in freedom and Truth, too many Church leaders have averted their gaze.

Now more than ever, mankind needs to live in the might of God’s power. We need to put on the Lord’s armor to withstand the deceits of the devil.

Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of darkness and the spirits of wickedness in the high places. 

Where can one find this armor of God, this breastplate of justice that enables us to resist in the evil day? Where can one gain the spiritual nourishment we all need to fight back vice and temptation and stand in all things perfect?

Where can we find the shield of faith that extinguishes the fiery darts of the wicked one — and take up the sword of the Spirit to engage in the battle that’s raging all around us?

At Crisis Magazine, each and every day. 

We are keeping the millions who read our incisive commentary each year tethered to the barque of Peter as we navigate these treacherous waters together.

Crisis awakens the hypnotized.

Crisis covers the issues and tells the truth. 

Crisis amplifies those voices within the Church that need to be heard. 

Crisis brings intellectual force to the theological and cultural battles of our time. 

Crisis is unique and desperately needed in today’s world.

Which is why “the world” wants it to go away. 

There is a price to pay for confronting totalitarian Leftist thought both within and outside the Church. Major advertisers will not buy advertising space on Crisis Magazine, and many of our articles continue being removed from Google for violating their policies. 

Ever since Facebook launched its crackdown on so-called “hate speech,” the shares and likes on our social media postings have plummeted. 

Yet, by the grace of God, our readership continues to grow — now into the many millions! 

But we’ve come to a critical point where the expenses of operating Crisis at peak efficiency are overwhelming our revenues and cash reserves. 

So I am again turning to you and asking if you will please make a tax-deductible gift to support, sustain, and grow Crisis Magazine by making a tax-deductible gift of $25, $30, $50, $100, $500, $1,000, or more today.

We can become an even stronger and louder voice for orthodox Catholicism in 2024, but we need your help.

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Please help us broaden and intensify the most resounding voice speaking up for the Church and its people in the current CRISES we are facing. Please consider supporting Crisis Magazine with the most generous gift you can afford this Christmas season.

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God Bless You,

Eric Sammons

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Does Pope Francis Deserve the Benefit of the Doubt?

One of the most common statements I’ve heard from Catholics over the past decade is, “We should give the pope the benefit of the doubt.” When someone criticizes Pope Francis for a questionable statement or action, you inevitably see some Catholics jumping in to say we need to give him the “benefit of the doubt.”

The most recent case was the sacking of Bishop Strickland. No official reason was given, but we are supposed to give Francis the benefit of the doubt and assume there’s a just reason for this shocking papal act. Why? Because he’s the pope, that’s why.

But is this a legitimate frame of mind for Catholics? After all, what does this mean, to give someone the “benefit of the doubt?” Does it always apply in every situation, to every person, in every act? Or do unlimited benefits of the doubt apply only to the pope? Can a pope exhaust how many benefits we give him before we no longer extend to him this courtesy?

First, what does it mean to give someone the benefit of the doubt? Simply put, it means that something a person did or said is unclear—of doubtful meaning—and so we assume the best (most charitable) interpretation of their actions and words.

If your husband leaves you a message saying, “I’m going to be late coming home today,” there are a million ways one could interpret what is meant. In a marriage rocked by infidelity, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the wife to assume that he was meeting with a girlfriend, i.e. the wife would not give her husband the benefit of the doubt.

In a strong, stable marriage, however, the wife likely will assume her husband just has some work to catch up on, or he is stopping on the way home to pick something up. She extends to him the benefit of the doubt and doesn’t assume the worst interpretation of his statement. There is of course a spectrum of possibilities between these two extremes: if a husband previously cheated but repented, there’s reason to at least be somewhat doubtful, and so giving the benefit of the doubt might be more difficult.

If, on the other hand, a wife catches her husband in the act of adultery, there’s no benefit of the doubt to be given, because all doubt has been removed. What is happening is all too clear.

So there are two factors when giving the benefit of the doubt. First, what do you know about the person doing the action or making the statement? Is he trustworthy? Has he ever broken trust in the past?

Second, what actually is being done: is there actually doubt about the meaning behind it?

In general, we always give the benefit of the doubt to loved ones who have given no reason to doubt them. We also should give the benefit of the doubt to those we don’t know at all. To default to assuming the worst of strangers isn’t a good way to live. Only those we have given reason to distrust should we be hesitant to grant the benefit of the doubt.

Admittedly these are subjective standards and everyone will vary in how quickly they extend the benefit of the doubt and how quickly they will assume bad intentions. But overall these are the parameters.

Then what about Pope Francis? Does he deserve a blanket benefit of the doubt? Is there anything that can break that benefit?

Some Catholics would argue that he deserves it by virtue of his office. In a maximalist interpretation of Lumen Gentium 25, which states that we must give “religious submission of mind and will…to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff,” these Catholics would say that essentially every action, every word, of the pope must be assumed to be in accord with Catholicism and for the good of the Church. But this flies in the face of reason, as well as Church history.

We know, for a fact, that popes in the past have acted under bad intentions. We know that popes have personally erred in their understanding of the Catholic faith. We know popes have been corrupt and immoral. We know that if this is true of past popes it can be true of current or future popes as well.

To say, then, that Catholics are required to always assume a pope’s words and actions are blameless and consistent with Catholic teaching would be asking Catholics to deny at times the reality right in front of them. St. Paul didn’t follow that advice, nor did St. Polycarp, nor did a whole host of Catholics throughout history when faced with popes behaving badly.

But at the same time, respect for the papal office and a general inclination to offer the benefit of the doubt when possible does mean that Pope Francis should be given that benefit if at all possible. The problem is that Francis has done so many problematic things over the past decade, that it’s difficult to argue that he still deserves a blanket benefit of the doubt.

Francis has done so many problematic things over the past decade, that it’s difficult to argue that he still deserves a blanket benefit of the doubt.Tweet This

Let’s just list a few examples of papal actions that have eroded trust in this pope:

  • Promoting many clerics, such as Fr. James Martin, who undermine Church teaching on homosexuality.
  • Gutting of the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family
  • Honoring of abortionists
  • Bringing Theodore McCarrick out of retirement into the pope’s inner circle
  • Attacking the traditional Latin Mass, and traditional Catholics in general
  • Suggesting that God wills multiple religions
  • Changing the Catechism to say that the death penalty is against human dignity
  • Allowing Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics

And of course the list could go on, and on, and on. Now some will argue that if we always give Francis the benefit of the doubt, then all of these actions can be explained in an orthodox light. But that’s denying the cumulative effect of doubtful actions. Trust might not be lost in a single doubtful action, but many doubtful actions added together can surely weaken and even break that trust.

What if a husband continues to tell his wife he’s going to be late from work, over and over, without giving any reason, and then the wife starts to hear from friends that her husband is seen out at restaurants with his secretary? And then when the wife confronts her husband to explain his actions, he just ignores her, or gives a non-answer? Should the wife continue to give the benefit of the doubt to the husband? It’s possible that the husband is innocent of infidelity, but the evidence points in another direction. Eventually the wife’s benefit of the doubt is going to be exhausted, even if absolute proof of infidelity is never produced.

That’s our situation today with Pope Francis. He’s done a myriad of problematic things, and time and time again makes no effort to clarify them. Sure, one could say that the pope doesn’t have to answer to Catholics (although that’s not being a very good “servant of the Servant of God”), but at the same time, it’s reasonable for Catholics to in turn construct a picture that isn’t favorable to the pope’s intentions due to all the outstanding evidence.

The pope’s refusal to clarify his doubtful actions contrasts with the actions of Bishop Strickland. One of the biggest criticisms of the former bishop of Tyler is that he read a letter that appeared to espouse sedevacantism last month. So many of his enemies immediately assumed the worst and argued that he was removed for rejecting not only the pope’s authority, but the legitimacy of the Francis pontificate as well. But many of his supporters, including me, were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t agree with all the contents of the letter he read.

And Bishop Strickland, upon realizing the confusion, clarified that he was not a sedevacantist and that he accepted the pope’s authority. In other words, he understood there was a doubt, and he cleared it up. Pope Francis does not do this.

All this doesn’t mean we must give the worst interpretations to the pope’s actions. I’ve seen that happen as well, where fed-up Catholics assume that Francis is intent on destroying the Church—that he’s actively working for its downfall in every action he takes. I think that’s unfair, as a more reasonable interpretation is simply that his view of Catholicism is at odds with what the Church has traditionally taught and practiced. To give the worst interpretation of every action and statement of the pope is just as bad as a blanket benefit of the doubt, as both deny reality.

Catholicism does not require that we check our reason at the door. We don’t have to pretend that an action or statement means something it clearly doesn’t mean. If Pope Francis does something egregious—and the sacking of Bishop Strickland is a perfect example of such an action—we don’t have to assume the best intentions on the part of a pope who has continually fallen short of earning our trust.  

Bishops Are Doing the Wrong Job

This month saw one of the most demoralizing events of my life as a native Ohioan. On November 7, a majority of voting Ohioans enshrined in our state constitution abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy. This was a gut punch to all pro-lifers in the state.

I know a lot of people who were involved in the effort to defeat Issue 1, and they did heroic work. Likewise the Ohio Catholic bishops, who also labored to defeat the amendment. Here in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, I saw “Vote No on Issue 1” signs in every single Catholic parish I passed. The Ohio bishops made it clear that a No vote was the right vote.

However, I think the bishops still dropped the ball. The problem isn’t that they did a bad job; it’s that they didn’t do their job. This is something we’ve seen for decades from the bishops when it comes to various political and social issues, so much so that I wonder whether the bishops even know what their job is.

In general the Ohio bishops acted as a political action committee. They worked to explain the details of the amendment—what it would do and what the impact would be if it passed. They focused on how it would lead to the deaths of many unborn children, and how it would harm vulnerable women. All well and good, but that’s what lay activists working against the amendment were already doing.

What the bishops did not do is focus on the spiritual ramifications of the amendment. First, how it would spiritually harm many souls, particularly the mothers and fathers who would decide to abort their babies due to abortion’s easy access. And, to my knowledge, they didn’t even mention the spiritual impact on Yes voters.

Yes, voting has spiritual dimensions that can impact the voter. While there can be debates about the morality of voting for this particular politician or that particular politician, Issue 1 was straightforward. A Yes vote was direct participation in making abortion legal for all nine months of pregnancy. There were no mitigating factors to potentially justify a Yes vote. As such, it was a grave matter, and if carried out with full knowledge and consent, a Yes vote was a mortal sin. Yet the bishops never mentioned this in their campaigning before the election.

Likewise, after the results were tallied, the bishops lamented the amendment’s passage and the impact it would have on the unborn and on mothers just as every pro-life PAC did, but they said nothing about the consequences for those who voted Yes.

Why didn’t the bishops publicly announce that every Catholic who voted Yes on Issue 1 should confess that sin in the Sacrament of Confession before receiving Communion? Yes, many Catholics would ignore the directive, and the bishops would have been ridiculed in the press, but isn’t their primary job the salvation of souls?

Why didn’t the bishops publicly announce that every Catholic who voted Yes on Issue 1 should confess that sin in the Sacrament of Confession before receiving Communion?Tweet This

And although this might sound crazy, there is recent precedent for it. In 1962, Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans excommunicated three Catholics who publicly and vehemently opposed his efforts to desegregate Catholic schools in his archdiocese. Rummel understood that this wasn’t just a political issue, to be debated in political halls and the public square. No, it was a spiritual issue, and those who opposed his efforts were harming their own souls. Thus he applied the harsh medicine of excommunication in an attempt to spiritually wake up these three Catholics and to make clear to all Catholics the seriousness of their actions. (Two of the three ended up retracting their views and were reconciled to the Church.)

Sadly, there are few Rummels in today’s episcopate. But I don’t think it’s primarily because bishops aren’t pro-life or even that they are cowardly. Nor is it that they don’t want to push too hard against a government from which they receive many financial benefits. I think they honestly don’t understand their role in these debates.

Vatican II famously encouraged the laity to be engaged in the temporal order: “The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation” (Apostolicam Actuositatem 7). It is the laity’s job to fight against evil amendments like Issue 1—to canvas, to educate, and to work for its defeat. And the laity, on a whole, does a good job of this in our time. I saw it first-hand in the case of Issue 1, and we can see it around the country on a whole host of political issues.

However, there is something the laity can’t do, which is to be spiritual leaders in these fights. It is not the laity’s role to hold prayer vigils and call for days of prayer and fasting. They cannot withhold the Sacraments from those who publicly advocate and vote for evil. That’s the role for the bishops and priests. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that there were some priests who did heroically declare the spiritual dimensions of this battle. Sadly, they were too few and they did not receive any public support from their bishops on that score.)   

This problem is not something limited to the Ohio bishops or to Issue 1. It is pervasive in how American bishops have approached political issues for more than a generation. Just read most USCCB statements about any political issue, from abortion to the death penalty to immigration, and you’ll see they are fundamentally no different than something a generic PAC would churn out. Perhaps they might be fluffed up with some Catholic terms, but they do not address the underlying spiritual issues involved.

We don’t need another political action committee. We need spiritual leaders. Every bishop is a successor to the apostles, given the responsibility from Jesus Christ himself for the salvation of the souls in his diocese. As such, bishops need to focus less on the political and social impact of various bills and amendments and laws (let the laity do that), and instead focus on the spiritual impact to the individual souls under their care.

In other words, the bishops need to do their jobs and let the laity do theirs.

Will Lay People Vote in the Next Papal Conclave?

Just when you thought (and hoped) that Pope Francis was finished remaking the Church, more news breaks to show he’s not slowing down. This time, as reported by respected Vatican journalist Diane Montagna for The Remnant, the pope is considering radically changing how future popes are elected.

The draft document, which Francis has not yet approved, consists primarily of three changes. First, Cardinals over the age of 80, who are already prevented from voting, would not be allowed to participate in the important preparatory phase, which often sets the table for determining who are the most likely papal candidates. It’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that these non-voting Cardinals happen to be dominated by men not appointed by Francis.

The second change would be to revamp the General Congregations during the conclave, when in the past all Cardinals convened as a body; instead, small working groups would gather, similar in style to the recent Synod on Synodality.

The third proposed change is the most explosive. Instead of the voting body consisting of all Cardinals under the age of 80 (and only consisting of these men), the voting body would be broken into two groups: 75% of the vote would be these voting Cardinals, then 25% would consist of laymen and laywomen and religious sisters, who would be appointed by Francis before he dies or resigns from office.

Make no mistake, changing the electors of a papal conclave would be the most radical change of the Francis papacy, and one of the most significant moves in Church history. 

Changing the electors of a papal conclave would be the most radical change of the Francis papacy, and one of the most significant moves in Church history. Tweet This

Before I detail why I think this is a bad idea, let’s get one concern out of the way. If Francis were to approve this change, it would not, I repeat not, invalidate future conclaves. The reality is that there is no single divinely-instituted way in which a pope, or any bishop, is chosen for office. Church history has demonstrated that bishops, including the bishop of Rome, have risen to office in a variety of ways, from casting lots (Acts 1:26) to bribery and nepotism.

During the “pornocracy” of the 10th century, popes were essentially hand-picked by the ruling families around Rome. These selections were made for purely political reasons, and while there might have been the appearance of an election, there were no truly free papal elections during this time.

In the 11th century, Pope Benedict IX obtained the papal office through bribery, and then he himself actually sold the office, not once, but twice! 

It’s not just scandal that led to popes being elected via irregular ways. Arguably the greatest pope outside of St. Peter, St. Gregory the Great, was voted into office by acclamation. When Pope Pelagius II died of the plague that was raging through Rome, the people—both clergy and lay—demanded that Gregory take office, which he did.

It is partly because of the irregularities in the 10th and 11th centuries that the college of Cardinals, which had been first created in the 9th century, was eventually given sole responsibility for electing popes in the 12th century. But note that the popes who obtained their office previously through irregular or even unseemly means are still considered valid popes by the Church. Look at a list of popes and you’ll see Pope Benedict IX listed three separate times.

So the papacy does not require a specific voting method in order to be valid. Over the centuries there have been various modifications to conclave rules; most recently Pope John Paul II allowed a majority vote (rather than two-thirds majority) to prevail after 33 votes, but then Pope Benedict XVI rescinded that rule in 2007. Thus, it is well within the authority of a pope to change how a conclave operates.

In the midst of these various methods of electing a pope it’s important to remember that essentially all papal elections are by acclamation, in the sense that if the Church accepts an election as valid, then it’s valid, no matter how it came about.

However, just because a revamped papal voting system is valid doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, and in the case of the changes being considered by Francis, it would definitely not be a good idea.

First, it would be another example of Francis causing unnecessary confusion and scandal. Because most Catholics are poorly catechized today, we already have a situation in which a small but significant number of Catholics don’t believe Francis himself is a valid pope, either because Pope Benedict XVI didn’t resign properly, or the 2013 conclave was invalid, or some other reason. Including non-Cardinals in a future conclave, while technically legitimate, would only lead to more speculation that we don’t have a legitimate pope in the future. 

That being said, it’s not the inclusion of lay people that’s the fundamental problem. Heck, I would love to give a conclave vote to a TLM-attending homeschooling mom rather than most of today’s Cardinals. In fact, I’ve argued elsewhere that the laity should be involved in the selection of bishops around the world. 

No, the problem isn’t the inclusion of the laity, the problem is that this is another example of using the guise of “synodality” (which is promoted as ecclesiastical democracy) to put a vise-grip on the levers of power by Pope Francis and his progressive flunkies.

Why, for example, should the pope be the one to pick the lay people who will participate in the next conclave? He’s already selected the Cardinal-electors—wouldn’t true “synodality” allow for some process by which the laity select these lay electors? We saw how the pope picked members of the recent synod: there were no representatives from Courage or TLM communities or more orthodox groups. Instead, we got the likes of Fr. James Martin and other Francis sycophants.

It’s highly likely then that Francis picks would not include members of the four groups Leila Lawler noticed missing at the Synod: “first, devoted wives and mothers seeking only “the noble office of a Christian woman and wife” (in the words of Pius XI) in the home; second, strong fathers who sacrificially take on the role of sole providers of their families; third, piously cloistered nuns; and fourth, committed pastors of parishes.”

To be honest, I’m all for those groups voting for a pope!

Everyone knows that these proposed changes are being considered to ensure the continuation of the Francis Revolution. And the Vatican knows we all know this, but at this point, they don’t care because they know there is not enough courage in the Church to truly challenge these changes. 

That being said, I feel like this is another example of Francis acting as an insecure man desperately clinging to power as he sees his end is near. Those who only look to this world, instead of the next, are consumed with trying to establish a “legacy.” Yet the saint cares little about his own legacy, or of human machinations to retain power and influence the future. The saint has faith in divine providence and leaves it to God to determine the path forward.

God laughs at our plans, and I think He laughs at these papal plans as well. While Francis might try to stack the deck to ensure a “Francis II,” we can take comfort that we follow a “God of surprises” and the best-laid plans of men do not always come to fruition.

The Great Sifting

This past weekend I attended a Men’s Eucharistic Procession in downtown Cincinnati with about 800 men (including almost 100 priests and seminarians). I first attended this annual event seven years ago, when about 200 men processed through the streets of Cincinnati. The 300% increase in attendance during that time is encouraging, to say the least.

I’m under no illusions, of course, that the Church is growing right now. In fact, over the past few years here in Cincinnati the Archdiocese has been implementing a radical reduction in the number of parishes due to falling numbers of priests and laity. And Cincinnati’s shrinking is not the anomaly; it is the norm. The Catholic Church, at least in the Western world, is in an era of steep decline.

Yet I see little signs of growth, like the local men’s procession. I don’t think this growth is primarily about numbers, however, but instead about a growth in faith and a growth in a desire to more radically follow our Lord by those remaining in the Church. Alongside the increased attendance at the procession, I also see it in the increase in faithful bishops willing to speak out for our faith. I see it in the flocking of many Catholics to more reverent Masses, particularly the traditional Latin Mass.

This mustard seed growth is happening in the midst of massive apostasy within the Church—an apostasy that is not just happening under the noses of our Church leaders who are busy meeting about meetings, but is often encouraged and promoted by those leaders. 

How do we make sense of these contrary signs of both growth and apostasy?

I would argue that we are witnessing a Great Sifting. Things are becoming clearer now. For a long time modernism has infiltrated the Church, and one of the hallmarks of modernism is that it hides in the shadows. It speaks with an orthodox vocabulary, all while quietly but systematically undermining orthodox doctrine. This allows heresy to fester and grow in the Church with little opposition, for whenever someone tries to call out the heresy, there’s an orthodox useful idiot whiteboarding how what was said can actually be interpreted in an orthodox manner. Meanwhile, more and more souls leave the Church and are lost.

But in the past few years the mask has been lifted and people are starting to be clear as to what they mean. Bishops want to rewrite the Catechism regarding homosexuality. Priests speak out against “homophobia” while ignoring (or denying) the sinfulness of homosexual acts. And last week at the Synod German Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck stated that “clinging to habits and traditionalism…have no priority in the hierarchy of truth;” it keeps us from putting Jesus at the center of faith according to Overbeck. Vatican reporter Diane Montagna then asked him to clarify if he meant Apostolic Tradition when he condemned “traditionalism.” Yes, he responded, that is what he meant.

For decades the apostates within the hierarchy have demeaned Catholic tradition in their efforts to remake the Church, but when cornered would always claim they just want to “develop” past teaching, not jettison it. Now that charade is no longer necessary: it’s now acceptable to simply reject Apostolic Tradition and recraft Catholicism however one wants. It’s as easy as editing the Catechism!

Obviously this rejection of Catholicism by those who are charged by our Lord to defend it is horrific and tragic. Yet it can serve a good purpose: it makes clear what had been muddled for so long. Instead of pretending everything is awesome while souls are lost, many Catholics—including many bishops and priests—now see with clarity that we are in an open battle for the Church and one has to choose sides.

I’m not under any illusions that we will see a widespread revival in the Catholic Church, with millions returning to the faith. Yet I do think that many of those who might have been content to practice their faith lackadaisically now recognize that’s no longer an option. One must either embrace the faith with enthusiasm and boldness, or allow the apostates to take over.

Souls are being sifted. Through this great apostasy that is all around us, some are standing up and responding to our Lord’s call to faithfulness and orthodoxy. Will you be one of them?

Remembering a Good and Faithful Servant

I think most Catholics realize that we live in troubled times, both in the world and in the Church. It seems as if the troubles are increasing exponentially, and the latest news out of Rome and the Middle East only fuel more anxiety. It’s enough to make one wonder where is God in all of this?

Lately, however, I’ve come to realize that God is responding to today’s crises—He is aware of what’s going on and is actively working for our salvation. It’s just that His ways are not like our ways: He responds not through geo-political moves or by wielding power in the Church, but by raising up individuals to live lives of holiness that have a lasting impact on many others. One example of this is Sister Wilhelmina, who Timothy Flanders and I talked about in yesterday’s podcast.

Another example was Fr. Al Lauer. It’s likely you’ve never heard of him, unless you are from the Cincinnati area. Fr. Lauer was the pastor of Old St. Mary’s Parish in downtown Cincinnati from 1998 until his untimely death at the age of 55 on October 13, 2002—21 years ago today.

Fr. Lauer was a dynamic and charismatic priest who was passionate about evangelization. He founded Presentation Ministries, an Association of the Laity under the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, as well as a religious community of priests and brothers called the Brothers and Fathers of Pentecost.

I first encountered Fr. Lauer soon after I decided to become Catholic in the early 1990’s from reading his “One Bread, One Body,” which included short mediations on each day’s Mass readings. For someone who was just learning what it meant to be Catholic—and to read the Bible as a Catholic—I found Fr. Lauer’s writings extremely valuable.

I also encountered Fr. Lauer in front of an abortion clinic. One summer during college I would pray weekly in front of the local Planned Parenthood, and often I would see Fr. Lauer there, praying and counseling frightened mothers in crisis pregnancies.

When Fr. Lauer was named pastor of Old St. Mary’s in 1998, the parish was on the brink of closure. It is located in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati, which during the 1980’s and 1990’s was ranked as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. Most folks would avoid the neighborhood if at all possible for fear of carjackings or other acts of violence.

Yet Old St. Mary’s was a beautiful church with a rich history—it is actually the oldest church in Cincinnati. But almost no one wanted to attend Mass in such a neighborhood. In 2001 the area was home to massive race riots. During the height of these riots, Fr. Lauer stood outside Old St. Mary’s praying the Rosary for the protection of the church and for the troubled souls surrounding him. The church was unharmed.

The riots occurred during Holy Week, and Fr. Lauer told parishioners that if they attended Easter Vigil that year, they would need to spend the night in the church, for fear of late-night violence. A few hearty souls spent the night with Fr. Lauer in prayer and celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord.

Fr. Lauer kept Old St. Mary’s going when it made more sense, at least in the eyes of the world, to shut it down. Yet since Fr. Lauer’s death (and likely due at least partly to his intercession), both the neighborhood and the parish are now thriving. Old St. Mary’s has grown significantly in recent years, and it is now well-known in the area for reverent and beautiful liturgies with incredible music. People drive from all over the Greater Cincinnati area to be parishioners at Old St. Mary’s. But without Fr. Lauer being faithful during its darkest days, none of this would exist today. So many souls impacted by a priest long-dead but who was faithful to Jesus Christ.

This is how God works in the midst of crisis: not through powerful men or influencial institutions, but through simple men and women who are faithful to him. Countless souls today are closer to Christ due to Fr. Al Lauer, including me.

This morning I attended a Requiem Mass for Fr. Lauer at Old St. Mary’s. We prayed for his soul, as is fitting. However, I believe it also fitting to ask for the intercession of this good and faithful servant:

Fr. Al Lauer, pray for us!

Identifying the Problem is Only Half the Battle

Three weeks ago Fr. James Altman released a video titled, “Bergoglio is not the Pope.” In it, Altman goes through a litany of complaints against the Francis pontificate, from scandal to corruption to promoting heresy. He then concludes that because of this evidence, Jorge Bergoglio cannot be the pope. When Catholics, including me, disputed this conclusion, the most common response online from his defenders was, “Why don’t you show where is he wrong in his analysis? You can’t, can you?”

Now in his most recent video, Altman says that the “best thing we could do would be to throw the great millstone around Jorge Bergoglio’s neck and throw him into the deep blue Mediterranean sea.” Unlike some other commentators, I don’t think Altman is actually calling for the murder of Pope Francis. I think he’s recklessly using Biblical language to make his point. It’s a sensational statement made for effect and to generate controversy. Yet, again, when many Catholics pushed back against this latest video, Altman’s defenders responded, “But where is he wrong in calling out the problems of this papacy?”

This response confuses the issue. We need to note that Altman has done two separate things: (1) he’s identified a problem; and (2) he’s offered a solution. And there’s a long history of people correctly identifying a problem, but being wrong—even wildly wrong—about the solution.

For example, Martin Luther was correct about the corruption of the Catholic Church in his time, but wrong in his solution to break away from the Church. More recently, Bernie Sanders has often been right in identifying the problems in our country, but is usually incredibly wrong in his proposed solutions. Diagnosing a problem is relatively easy; offering a good solution is hard.

Today every Catholic instinctively knows there is a disconnect in how things should be in the Church and how they actually are. You can’t see millions of Catholics leaving the Church without realizing there’s a problem. Progressives see this exodus as evidence that the Catholic Church needs to be more like the Episcopal Church. They are correct to recognize a problem, but their solution would only make things worse.

Fr. Altman is far better than progressives in understanding today’s crisis in the Church. When one listens to his litany of complaints against Francis, a faithful Catholic can’t help but mostly nod his head and say, “He’s right.” (Although I think Altman often engages in over-the-top hyperbole and emotional manipulation in his diagnosis, giving the worst possible interpretation to anything and everything Francis has done.) But, again, being right in identifying the problem doesn’t guarantee that he’s right about his solution.

In a nutshell, Catholics today have three options for how we respond to the troubling Francis pontificate—our “solution,” so to speak, to the problem.

Option 1 would be to believe that the Francis pontificate disproves Catholic claims about the papacy. In response, one would become Eastern Orthodox or Protestant or an atheist. Sadly, I know Catholics who have chosen each of these.

Option 2 would be to try to square the circle by claiming a pope simply can’t be wrong. Choosing this option has two separate paths that appear diametrically opposed, but are based on the same presuppositions. The first path would be the hyperpapalist route: accept whatever this pope says and does as true, regardless if it contradicts previous popes. This path contradicts reason, for it says no pope can be wrong, although popes can contradict each other. The second path would be the sedevacantist route (Altman’s choice): posit that popes can’t contradict each other, and therefore conclude that Francis can’t be a pope since he contradicts previous popes. This path contradicts faith, for it extends the Church’s teaching on the papacy far beyond what the Church herself has taught.

Option 3 would be to recognize that Francis, in his words and actions, sometimes does contradict Church teaching, but realize that this does not mean previous teaching was wrong, nor that he’s not the pope, nor that this invalidates Church teaching on the papacy. Choosing such an option can be messy admittedly, but it charts the path between the scylla of rejecting the papacy and the charybdis of warping the Church’s teachings.

I sympathize with Fr. Altman’s frustration with the Francis pontificate. But that sympathy does not extend to endorsing a path that leads right out of the Church, even to the point of happily calling for the death of the pope.

If Fr. Altman thinks the man that almost everyone on earth believes is pope deserves to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck, he should be doing penance in sackcloth and ashes, not producing emotion-manufacturing videos with a smile on his face.

The Lies of Synodality

Two recent news stories expose the lies that make up “synodality,” that vaunted effort of Church leaders that has been called the “modus vivendi et operandi of the Church.” Before we get to the lies, let’s first review what the Vatican claims “synodality” is:

Synodality denotes the particular style that qualifies the life and mission of the Church, expressing her nature as the People of God journeying together and gathering in assembly, summoned by the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. Synodality ought to be expressed in the Church’s ordinary way of living and working. Synodality, in this perspective, is much more than the celebration of ecclesial meetings and Bishops’ assemblies, or a matter of simple internal administration within the Church; it is the specific modus vivendi et operandi of the Church, the People of God, which reveals and gives substance to her being as communion when all her members journey together, gather in assembly and take an active part in her evangelizing mission.

If you look behind the jargon that would make any corporate marketing exec proud (“How to promote something without saying anything!”), you see the key points (which are repeated for emphasis) are the related concepts of “journeying together” and “gathering in assembly.” Yet each of these were dealt a serious blow in the past week.

First, open communication is vital on any journey. In the sport of ultra-running, an athlete runs an obscene number of miles (usually 100 or more), but he has a whole crew that helps him during the race—they provide aid at various points and inform him how he’s doing. Also the ultrarunner tells his crew if there is anything wrong—a blister, lack of water—so they can assist him best. Imagine if the crew and the racer never communicated; if they kept secret what each knew from the others. It would be a disaster.

Yet apparently the Vatican believes that “journeying together” should be done in secret, with stricter rules about communication than a CIA operative stationed in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. The Pillar recently reported that debates at the upcoming Synod on Synodality will be covered by the pontifical secret—meaning that any participant who reveals what was discussed at the debates will be subject to excommunication. I’m not sure exactly how I can “journey together” with our bishops when I can’t even know what their directions are. It’s a clear effort to hide any debate from public view, so that their pre-planned objectives can appear to have full support from every quarter.

The other pillar of synodality is to “gather in assembly.” Many have criticized this concept as exalting meetings for the sake of meetings (even the Synod’s definition of synodality recognizes this criticism—”much more than the celebration of ecclesial meetings and Bishops’ assemblies”). But even if these “assemblies” are more than the glorified bureaucratic meetings they appear to be, an underlying assumption is that everyone is allowed to take part in these assemblies. How can you gather if some aren’t allowed to come? Yet the other news of the week—that Pope Francis will likely ask for Bishop Joseph Strickland’s resignation soon—exposes that as a lie as well.

Since the beginning of the synodal process under Francis, it’s been obvious to any objective observer that the deck is stacked. Sure, a few “conservative” voices are included at the official synod meetings, but these meetings are largely dominated by pre-picked bishops (and now priests and lay people) who will rubber-stamp the progressive agenda already decided upon. But this alone isn’t enough for Francis and the Vatican. They want to stamp out any and all opposition to their agenda, and so anyone who speaks up too much—and Bishop Strickland has definitely spoken up “too much”—must be pushed aside and excluded from the “assembly.”

It’s become increasingly clear that “synodality,” as practiced and preached by the Vatican, is not only foreign to Catholicism, but antithetical to it. It’s a smoke screen for pushing an ideology contrary to Catholic tradition, and history has shown that most ideologies can only be imposed by secrecy and eliminating opposition by any means necessary. As the Synod of Synodality approaches, Catholics should be aware of the reality behind the sweet-sounding words, knowing that this “journeying together” to “gather in assembly” is actually an attempt by a small, secretive cabal to impose new teachings and practices on the Church.

The Revolution Comes for Scott Hahn

Recently a Leftist Catholic website published a hit piece on Scott Hahn. It’s not important to detail the attack, or link to the article; suffice it to say that the gist of the ridiculous article was that Hahn is not sufficiently obsequious to the Francis Revolution for their tastes. After the article was published, a number of Leftist Catholics piled on Hahn on X (formerly Twitter) to make sure the world knew they were loyal members of the Revolutionary Forces.

While many Catholics were rightly offended by this hit piece, I think the attack is a good thing. It reveals far more about Hahn’s attackers and their project than it does about Hahn.

I saw someone compare the denunciation of Hahn to the tactics of the French Revolution, in which the revolutionary purity spiral became so intense that no one was safe from destruction. That’s exactly what’s happening here. We have a handful of Catholics, mostly Americans, who spend inordinate amounts of time online searching for anyone who isn’t loyal enough for their standards. They must censure anyone and everyone who doesn’t march lockstep to their warped view of Catholicism.

And it’s not enough to simply stay out of the internecine war within Catholicism; one absolutely must actively and vocally support anything and everything related to the Francis Revolution to be considered faithfully Catholic. Silence means schism.

Yet let’s look at Hahn’s record for a minute. Here is a man who has literally influenced more people to become Catholic than anyone alive. His conversion story has reached hundreds of thousands of people over the past 30+ years, and has led many Protestant pastors to give up their jobs and become members of the One True Faith.

Over the years Hahn has written more than 40 books on a popular level to make the Catholic Faith more accessible to all. These books include the best-selling The Lamb’s Supper, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, The Fourth Cup, and numerous Bible studies. Millions of copies of these books have been distributed at a time when a typical Catholic book does well if it sells 5,000 copies. Clearly his books tap into a need and a hunger out there.

Hahn has also founded the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology to assist both lay Catholics and priests in better understanding the Sacred Scriptures. The St. Paul Center has hosted countless seminars, produced many video and audio studies, and published dozens of books, all to help Catholics dive deep into the Bible. In an era where Catholics often falter in their knowledge of the Scriptures in comparison to Protestants, the St. Paul Center provides tools to better equip Catholics to see how the Bible is truly a Catholic book.

But Hahn’s reach is not just in the popular Catholic world. He has also been instrumental in turning the tide of faith-destroying modern Biblical scholarship. He launched the Letter & Spirit academic journal to allow Catholic scholars a place to publish works that are both academically rigorous and faithful to the magisterium. Hahn himself has published numerous academic works, and his book Politicizing the Bible demolished the anti-Catholic foundations of modern Biblical scholarship, showing it is much more based on human politics than serious scholarship.

This prodigious output has rightly made Hahn a celebrity in the Catholic world. Yet this celebrity status has not resulted in the all-too-common scandals that often follow the famous. Hahn has been faithfully married to his wife Kimberly for more than 44 years, and his children include a priest, a transitional deacon, and faithful Catholics living out the vocation of marriage (and producing many grandchildren!). He’s well-known for living a “boring” life dedicated to his family and his work.

Further, in an era where every D-list Catholic celebrity feels the need to create “response videos” to defend themselves against even the slightest criticism, you won’t see Hahn out there attacking his attackers. He will just keep his head down doing the work to which God has called him.

Hahn is also well-known for the personal attention he gives to people. Even though it’s obvious enough from his output that he’s a busy man, he’s not an aloof scholar, unwilling or unable to help others. I know countless stories of people who have been personally assisted, either professionally or personally, by Hahn.

In fact, I have my own story in his regard. I initially attended Franciscan University of Steubenville in its Masters Theology program in the mid-1990’s, but after a year and a half I had to drop out for financial reasons before I could complete the degree. I had Hahn for two classes, but I wasn’t a super-star student by any measure. Twelve years later I started back on my degree through the distance education program, finally completing my degree in 2011. At my graduation, someone came up to me and said Scott Hahn was looking for me. I was a bit surprised, as I hadn’t had him for a class in more than 16 years, and hadn’t had any contact with him during that time. I didn’t even think he knew who I was. But he remembered me and just wanted to see what I was going to be doing with my degree, and he let me know he’d help me professionally if he could.

Hahn would be the first to tell you that he’s no saint, but his long record, both public and private, demonstrates clearly that he’s a man who deeply loves Jesus Christ and His Church and is dedicated to serving the Lord. Yet to Leftist Catholics who believe Pope Francis represents a revolution that must topple the past, Hahn’s not pure enough.

All of the good Hahn has done in the past is considered worthless due to his lack of vocal and complete support for today’s Revolution. Note, of course, that Hahn has not criticized Pope Francis. He’s not called for schism. But he’s not joined the Revolutionary Forces and he’s dared to express gratitude to a bishop they deem unworthy of support. For this he must be denounced and declared an unCatholic.

This is the way of all revolutions. Those who style themselves the inner circle of revolutionaries see dissent and impurity everywhere. No one is worthy. Fortunately, however, this destructive purity spiral ends up squashing the revolution itself, as no one is left to carry the banner forward. Now that today’s revolutionaries have shown their hand, I suspect even many of their previous supporters will realize it’s a dead-end project that is contrary to the spirit of Catholicism.

Scott Hahn is not the problem in today’s Church; quite the contrary. The problem is those who would equate blinding obedience to their Revolution with faithful Catholicism. They may believe that they now control the Church, but like all revolutions, their time will be soon over. All the while, Scott Hahn will continue to work for the advance of the Church and the salvation of souls, as we all should.

Evening in America

Graduating from high school in the late 1980’s, I was a prototypical Reagan Republican. Like any good Reaganite, I claimed a certain distrust of government, yet at the same time I strongly supported all the enforcement arms of that same government—the military, the police, and the judicial system. I trusted that, in America at least, our government might have some bad people in it, but fundamentally it was just and a force for good.

Then I got involved in Operation Rescue. For those unaware, Operation Rescue was a massive pro-life civil disobedience movement, in which opponents of abortion would block the doors to abortion clinics in order to stop women from killing their unborn children. Participants were usually arrested (personally, I was arrested a half a dozen times), and sentenced to anything from a slap on the wrist to years in jail (I never served more than a day myself, although I was sentenced to a year in jail at one point, which was later thrown out).

My experience in Rescue was eye-opening, to say the least. Directly confronting the abortion industry let me see up-close the demonic aspects of that business, but I also was introduced to the deep corruption of the entire legal system. I saw police officers abuse peaceful protesters in the streets and then lie about them in the courts. I witnessed judges dismiss clear and convincing evidence due to their ideological biases. Then I watched as the federal government, with the support of many Republicans, made it a federal crime to protect innocent children. Most shockingly to my young naive mind, I realized that these corruptions were a feature of The System, not a bug.

For years, even decades, my skepticism of The System remained rare among conservatives—most strongly supported the police, the military, and the various three-letter agencies like the FBI, CIA, and NSA. We continued to nominate candidates like Bob Dole or John McCain or Mitt Romney, men who were products of The System.

Yet in the past decade there’s been a rising realization among conservatives that perhaps, just perhaps, The System is actually the problem. It’s still the minority, I think, but it’s growing. We saw this divide in an exchange between Mike Pence and Vivek Ramaswamy in the recent GOP primary debate. Pence—the embodiment of The System—stated, “We don’t have an identity crisis, Vivek. We’re not looking for a new national identity. The American people are the most faith-filled, freedom-loving, idealistic hardworking people that the world has ever known. We just need government as good as our people.”

Ramaswamy replied, “It is not morning in America. We live in a dark moment and we have to confront the fact that we’re in an internal sort of cold cultural civil war and we have to recognize that.”

This was a telling exchange, for it revealed two fundamentally different ways of looking at our current situation. The former Vice President thinks everything is fine; we just need a few good men to show up in Washington and everything will be hunky-dory. But Ramaswamy thinks the problems are much deeper, and I agree with him, at least on that score.

The recent indictments of Donald Trump are a perfect example. It’s clear to any objective observer that this is a witch hunt to try to bring down a popular political opponent. Yet what’s revealing—and encouraging—is the reaction to it by the people. Every time Trump is indicted, his poll numbers go up. And the release of his mug shot last night nearly broke the Internet as Trump tweeted it and used it as a campaign fundraiser.

Think about that for a minute. In the 1980’s, is there any chance that a mug shot would be a positive thing for a conservative candidate? Unless the mug shot was from the Soviet Union, a candidate being arrested was a sure sign of defeat among Republicans. Yet today it’s a badge of honor. Like the massive popularity of “Rich Men North of Richmond,” the Trump mug shot reveals the deep discontent so many in our country have to our elites and their System.

And that’s what Mike Pence and other members of Conservative, Inc. don’t get. Too many people now realize The System is broken, perhaps beyond repair. The man like Pence who embodies The System is despised while Trump’s arrest is seen as his bona fides against that corrupt System.

It’s obvious that it’s not morning in America, but evening, perhaps even nighttime. Sadly, it wasn’t morning in America in the 1980’s, either, as many of the cultural forces that have led to our decline were already present in our country and gaining strength. But now, what was hidden has been revealed.

It’s obvious that it’s not morning in America, but evening, perhaps even nighttime.Tweet This

I don’t think the election of Donald Trump in 2024, if it were to be allowed, would make any fundamental difference in The System. He couldn’t change it in his first term, and he wouldn’t be allowed to change it in a second. At the same time, I completely understand the desire of many Americans to instinctively support someone who at least appears to be hated by The System.

Why “Rich Men North of Richmond” Resonates

A week ago, no one had heard of Oliver Anthony or his song, “Rich Men North of Richmond.” Now he’s a celebrity and “Rich Men” is the #1 song in the country, with the music video having already reached 17 million views on YouTube. Why has this song gone so viral? Why is it resonating with so many people? Because it taps into the deep discontent so many Americans feel today about the direction of our country; it expresses what many believe but don’t know how—or are afraid—to say.

If you haven’t listened to the song, do so now (parental note: it does contain a few curse words). It’s a powerful piece musically and Anthony sings with clear passion, but it’s the lyrics that make the song the sensation it is.

Anthony begins,

I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day / Overtime hours for bullsh*t pay / So I can sit out here and waste my life away / Drag back home and drown my troubles away.

Simply put, the American Dream for so many people has become the American Nightmare. For generations there has been an unwritten understanding if one works hard and is responsible, he’ll live a decent life and, more importantly, he’ll leave his kids in better shape.

That’s no longer true. With an economy tottering on collapse and rampant inflation (which Anthony will get to a little later), Americans often live to work rather than work to live. We feel as if we are cogs in a machine we don’t control but can’t escape. Our hard work enriches the elite class, but does little to advance our own state in life.

Livin’ in the new world / With an old soul /

This is perhaps the most poignant line in a song full of them. We all understand that we now live in a “new world.” Those of us old enough to have lived in the 20th century know, to the core of our being, that things are different now. If you have an “old soul,” one that longs for the true, the beautiful, and the good, you feel as a fish out of water, a man without a country.

Of course, the elites will take this legitimate longing for “the good ol’ days” and weaponize it against the common man, accusing him of racism. “This is just a dog whistle that you want to go back to a racist past where the white man reigned supreme.” It’s nothing of the sort, of course. It’s a desire to return to the Real, when reality wasn’t an enemy to be defeated or conformed to our most base desires.

And the accusations of racism only further the frustration felt by the “old souls.” When someone dares express that perhaps things today are “off,” he’s immediately silenced by being branded a bigot or mysoginist or other hate term.

These rich men north of Richmond

For those who aren’t clear already, the “rich men north of Richmond” are the elite class, primarily politicians, residing in Washington, DC (which is just north of Richmond, VA). And note that Anthony isn’t singling out one political party or the other: it’s all the politicians who are the problem. They are all hypocrites and corrupt and don’t care about us. They send billions of our dollars to far-away conflicts while doing little to help those in need here in America. In fact, they are happy to send the lower class’s sons and daughters to die in those conflicts if it means they enrich themselves and their buddies in DC.

Anthony isn’t singling out one political party or the other: it’s all the politicians who are the problem. They are all hypocrites and corrupt and don’t care about us.Tweet This

Lord knows they all just wanna have total control / Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do

What do the “rich men of Richmond” want more than anything? To control you. We saw that during the Covid lockdowns, when mom & pop shops and churches were forced to close, but big box stores, who have lobbyists in DC and state capitals, were deemed “essential services.” As always, the rich get richer.

But even beyond the lockdowns, the Woke Regime is the elite’s attempt for total control. Did you once express an unacceptable thought? You will be punished. Are you part of a demographic deemed “privileged?” You will be silenced. Again, total control.

‘Cause your dollar ain’t sh*t and it’s taxed to no end / ‘Cause of rich men north of Richmond.

Anthony might not know anything about the Federal Reserve and how our money is manipulated, but he understands its impact: “the dollar ain’t sh*t.” U.S. monetary policy for the past century has punished savers and rewarded spenders. If you live a meaningless existence of consumption, you are the star student of our economic masters. But if you want to save for your future and your children’s future, you are declared an enemy of the people.

Politicians on both the left and the right love to tout the health of the economy when the stock market rises. But it’s a shell game. They inject more and more money into the system, which inflates all prices, including the prices of stocks. But you know what doesn’t rise anywhere near as fast? Your wages. Combine that with onerous taxes, and even the most hard-working man can’t get ahead in this system.

I wish politicians would look out for miners / And not just minors on an island somewhere

To add insult to injury, while the rich men north of Richmond make our lives harder and harder, they live corrupt lives that would make the Borgia blush. Anthony alludes to the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, in which many of the world’s elites would allegedly gather on his island for hedonistic practices, including the sexual abuse of minors. There used to be at least the illusion that our politicians were there to serve our country, but now they don’t even bother with the illusion: they are there to serve themselves, on our backs.

Some have criticized this song for being hopeless—a depressing song that only laments our problems. But that’s the point: people are feeling hopeless, and the way we are supposed to change things—our democratic political system—is clearly so corrupt that there seems to be no way to fix things. All we can do is sing dirges for our fallen nation.

The popularity of this song should be taken seriously. Why? Because, frankly, it sounds like a prelude to a revolution. History has shown that when a people are continually pushed down while their elites live lives of corrupt hedonism, pressure builds to dangerous levels. Sadly, the answer of many elites to the people’s discontent is to just push down more. Eventually, however, the pressure becomes so great that an explosion happens.

When that occurs, the rich men north of Richmond better watch out.

Why So Critical?

Astute readers might notice that Crisis ran two articles today criticizing World Youth Day. This is in addition to last week’s podcast about the event that was also mostly critical. So a fair question to ask might be: Why is Crisis so negative about an event that brings hundreds of thousands of young people together for the purpose of proclaiming the Catholic Faith?

We often hear complaints like this whenever we are critical of “positive” events in the Church, particularly popular ones like WYD. In an era of scandal, heresy, and corruption, is it really worthwhile to find fault in those things that appear to be doing good in the Church? Are we just looking for problems and refusing to see the good?

I would simply respond that a main reason the Church is in the (poor) shape she’s in is because Catholics have long accepted a status quo that doesn’t work. And that includes the status quo of glossing over negligence in liturgical matters, sacrificing sacredness in a misguided effort to attract young people, and pretending that programs will save the Church. We justify these actions by claiming they are necessary (perhaps even necessary evils) in order to proclaim the Gospel in the modern world. But have we stopped to consider that it’s perhaps those very actions which are hindering the spread of the Gospel?

That’s not to say there isn’t a danger in being critical. One can refuse to see the good happening in the Church. We can strain out the gnat and swallow the camel. But if we refuse to be self-critical in matters as important as how we treat Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, then we’ll continue to accept a status quo that’s seen millions leave the Church in the past few decades. If we shy away from any and all criticism because it seems “negative” or will bring about division, then we are no more than a political party with no underlying core beliefs.

I’m sure the Lord touched many lives at WYD this year. I’m sure that many, if not most, of the people who went were sincere in their desire to glorify God and had nothing to do with how Our Lord was treated by the organizers. Yet we are not called to give God our “hopefully good enough,” but instead our best, and until we do that, we can and should be self-critical about our status quo, including the sacred cow that is World Youth Day.

We commend every Church leader who is working tirelessly to bring people to Christ and His Church. But we must realize that good intentions are not enough; we need to learn from our mistakes and also learn from our predecessors in the faith on the best methods for doing that important work.

A Movie Isn’t Worth Sinning Over

This past weekend saw the release of two major movies, Barbie and Oppenheimer. The juxtaposition of these two very different movies launched a debate on social media: Are you Barbie or are you Oppenheimer?

Catholics should be neither.

The Barbie movie is unsurprisingly woke, anti-man trash. The unrelentingly message of the movie is that men are always dumb and/or evil, and women are always smart, independent, and right. Since its creation, the Barbie franchise has managed to combine both misogyny and feminism into one plastic package. I have six daughters, and it would be a dereliction of fatherly duty if I ever encouraged them to play with Barbies. It’s a no-brainer that Catholics should not support Barbie.

But Oppenheimer is unacceptable for different reasons; in fact, I’d argue it’s actually sinful to watch. I’m a huge fan of Christopher Nolan, the director of this historical piece on the development of the atomic bomb. When the movie was first announced, I planned to see it. However, I found out this weekend that the movie contains sexual scenes that contain nudity. Another no-brainer: no Catholic should watch Oppenheimer.

This take is surprisingly controversial among Catholics. Over the years I’ve been surprised to see how often Catholics, even ones who promote orthodoxy (including orthodox morality), will encourage people to see movies with nude sex scenes. This is baffling, because it’s always a sin to watch such a scene. Always, full stop.

When you take this absolutist stand, you get serious pushback among Catholics. It’s expected from liberal Catholics, who are always seeking to diminish sin and its impact. But it’s surprising coming from more conservative Catholics. They will argue that nudity has been represented in great art in the past, or that one can watch such scenes without getting aroused, or that the movie is much more than just that one scene.

All of these are excuses.

There’s a great difference between seeing Michelangelo’s David and watching two naked people engage in intimate relations. To make this clear, imagine asking a decently-formed Catholic of Michelangelo’s time, “Do you think it’s a sin to watch two people fornicate with each other?” The person would likely think you are the devil himself for just asking the question. But we’ve become so desensitized to this particular sin that we diminish, even deny, its intrinsically evil nature.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials. (#2354)

Note that there are no exceptions for “it’s artfully done” or “it’s in an otherwise great movie” (also note that nude sex scenes in any movie would be classified as “pornography” as the Catechism defines it).

Likewise, one does not have to be aroused watching such a scene for it to still be sinful. Even if not aroused at the time, putting those images in one’s mind can lead to later temptations. Further, if I killed someone but took no pleasure in the act, I still sinned. The morality of an act does not depend upon my emotional response to it. Even a eunuch should not watch other people engage in sexual relations.

It should be remembered that the actors themselves are dehumanized when they engage in—and we watch—these scenes. As the Catechism states, “It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public).” To watch such acts is to sin against its participants, even if it does not lead one into temptation.

And to say the movie is much more than just that one scene reveals the real reason many Catholics try to defend watching movies like Oppenheimer. They are so scared of being too outside the culture that they willingly sacrifice their integrity rather than be seen as uncool or weird. Sometimes they will even defend their choice by saying we must be knowledgable of the culture in order to evangelize it.

[Catholics] are so scared of being too outside the culture that they willingly sacrifice their integrity rather than be seen as uncool or weird.Tweet This

Nonsense. There is literally no movie ever created that a Catholic must see, and one can still engage with non-Catholics without knowing the latest pop culture references. In fact, by avoiding those evil influences, one is better able to evangelize.

Catholics, do not sell your morality for a Hollywood-spoiled bowl of sin. Treat a movie that has even a single nude sex scene as you would a drink with even a single drop of poison in it: avoid it. If a movie has a sexual scene with nudity, no matter how brief and no matter how good the movie otherwise might be, don’t see it. It’s not worth your soul.

Is a Canceled Priests TLM Network a Good Idea?

A new organization called Protect Our Priests was recently launched that will “defend and preserve the Latin Mass by helping canceled TLM communities continue to have access to the Traditional Mass and Sacraments. We will do this by linking these communities with priests who are able to offer private services.” Essentially, it will pair up canceled TLM communities with canceled priests to create a network for providing the Sacraments in the traditional rite where they are not currently available.

Even though this news story just came out yesterday, I’ve already seen strong reactions—both positive and negative—from Catholics. I’ll admit that I have conflicted feelings about this project.

On the one hand, this organization seeks to correct two grave injustices that currently exist in the Church. Too many good priests have been canceled by their bishops without just cause. These priests are good men who desire to live out their priestly vocations, but have been removed from public ministry without canonical recourse and often even without a reason given. Bishops have abused their authority in order to sideline priests whose open orthodoxy makes them uncomfortable.

Likewise, the Traditionis Custodes era has seen the unjust shuttering of traditional Latin Mass communities. Faithful Catholics who want only to live out their faith like their ancestors did (something that all Catholics once desired) are told that what they are doing is dangerous and needs to be eliminated from the life of the Church. The spiritual harm done to them is incalculable.

So Protect Our Priests does seem to be making a noble attempt to right two wrongs. But I can’t help but be concerned by this effort. 

First, there are dangers whenever Catholics step outside normal canonical boundaries. I recognize that Protect Our Priests sees its network as a response to an “emergency situation” which Canon Law does recognize (it’s a similar argument used by the Society of St. Pius X [SSPX] for its existence). But the reality is that these Masses will be outside the approval of the local bishop, which leads to a canonically irregular and thus potentially dangerous (spiritually speaking) situation. 

As Catholics we should always appreciate the importance of being under a bishop, even when that bishop is not fulfilling his role. The episcopate, after all, is of divine institution. Unlike much of today’s Vatican and diocesan bureaucracy, diocesan bishops are necessary to the structure of the Church. To go outside their authority is a dangerous game. 

Even the SSPX recognizes this. In my interview with James Vogel, a spokesman for the Society, he recognized that their canonically-irregular situation is not ideal and should not be permanent. The Society still emphasizes the importance of the papacy and the local bishop (and recognizes the current occupants of those offices as valid), even when acting outside their jurisdiction.

A more independent group like Protect Our Priests, however, might not be able to resist the pull to fall further and further outside canonical boundaries. An “emergency situation” can be used to cover a multitude of abuses (see what happened in the political world during the Covid “emergency”). Without any episcopal oversight, what will keep the priests in the network on the straight and narrow?

My greatest concern is that the combination of a community with no real oversight and members of that community who are often people who have been spiritually harmed by the Church in the past will be a recipe for potentially greater abuse. In reaction to the loose morality and rules found in many regular diocesan parishes, there could be a pull to become reactionary, forcing a multitude of rules and regulations on the congregation that go far beyond Catholic morality.

Likewise, the possibility exists of a cult of personality rising around a priest. In a small isolated community, a priest who is seen as a persecuted martyr for the truth will be (often rightly) admired, but with no real episcopal oversight, that could lead to an unhealthy attachment to that priest. Community members might feel drawn to treat the words of the priest as gospel, no matter what those words might be.

In a small isolated community, a priest who is seen as a persecuted martyr for the truth will be (often rightly) admired, but with no real episcopal oversight, that could lead to an unhealthy attachment to that priest. Tweet This

So again, I admit I have concerns about this new organization. But ultimately we need to realize that the problem isn’t Protect Our Priests, but the situation that caused the need for the network in the first place. If bishops didn’t unjustly sideline good priests, and if the pope wasn’t on a jihad against traditional Catholics, there would be no market for such a network. While I might not be enthusiastic about this idea, I reserve my greatest concern for the hierarchs that led to its creation.

Be Angry

I’m angry, and if you’re paying attention, you should be too.

The past week has not been a good one for the cause of orthodoxy in the Church. Last week’s appointment of Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández as head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith was a blow to anyone who cares about souls. Statements by Fernández since the appointment have only amplified how wholly unqualified the man is to be the Church’s guardian of doctrine.

Then yesterday another blow came. The participants in the upcoming Synod on Synodality were announced, including the papal selections. These latter picks are the men whom Pope Francis personally thinks are important to attend and vote on matters of grave importance to the Church. Among his selections from America are Cardinals Cupich, Gregory, and McElroy—confirmed progressives who have shown a willingness to jettison Church teaching for their own ideologies, as well as a disdain for traditional Catholic teaching and piety. They are card-carrying members of the McCarrick wing of the American hierarchy.

But those three men aren’t even the worst papal selections. No, that honor belongs to Fr. James Martin, SJ, promoter of all things gay. That’s right, the most infamous priest in America, the man who has done more to promote homoheresy in this country than anyone else, was selected by Pope Francis as a voting member of the upcoming Synod which will be addressing issues related to homosexuality.

Like I said, you should be angry, at least if you care about souls.

Now, it’s not fashionable in respectable Catholic circles to be angry, or at least to admit it. Doing so will label you a “mad trad” or some other epithet. After all, we are supposed to be joyful witnesses, right? We won’t convert anyone if we are sourpusses. Over and over we are told by professional Catholics that we must never be angry, that somehow it would be unchristian or at least in bad form.

Yet Our Lord got angry at times, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us. And what most angered him? It was when religious leaders did things to scandalize the faithful and pull them away from God. When they proclaimed to be leading people to God but then said and did things that were contrary to his Father’s Will. This angered him greatly.

That is the situation we are in now. We have religious leaders—up to and most definitely including Pope Francis—who are actively working to undermine the Catholic Faith as handed on to us by our ancestors. They are sowing confusion among poor souls who often know no better and thus will go down a path that leads to eternal destruction. If this doesn’t cause some righteous anger in your heart, then I question your love of God.

We have religious leaders—up to and most definitely including Pope Francis—who are actively working to undermine the Catholic Faith as handed on to us by our ancestors. Tweet This

That being said, we cannot let anger rule and control our hearts. Yes, be angry, but make sure it is a righteous anger. Be sure it is not an anger that disturbs your peace. That means it also includes a complete trust in God—a trust that He is also angry and He will act in His time. He loves the souls being led astray even more than we do, and although He may seem silent now, He does not abandon His people. I would recommend meditating on Ezekiel 34, in which the Lord condemns evil shepherds and promises that He will save His sheep Himself.

So let us be angry, and in that anger work against the machinations of unholy men who seek the destruction of souls. But in our anger let us trust completely in divine providence and that Our angry Lord will work even through the evil around us for the good of His Kingdom. 

“Be angry, and sin not” (Eph 4:26).

Personnel is Policy

This week saw two more Vatican scandals in a long line of scandals during the Francis papacy. On the surface they appear unrelated, but in reality they are examples of the same underlying problem. 

The more serious scandal of the two is that Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández as the new Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith—essentially, the Church’s doctrinal head. Who is Fernández? He is the ghostwriter of the doctrinally problematic Amoris Laetitia and also the author of a bizarre book on kissing, Heal Me with Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing. Putting Fernández in charge of the CDF is like putting the wolf in charge of the sheep. 

Fernández is scheduled to take over in September, right before the Synodality Synod begins its final push to rewrite the Catechism. Thus, Francis has in place someone who can rubber-stamp anything and everything the Synod produces, no matter how it strays from traditional Catholic teaching.

The other scandalous story coming out of the Vatican was the papal audience granted to the artist of the blasphemous “Piss Christ” display. After this was made public, I saw many popesplainers arguing that surely the pope doesn’t know the details of everyone he meets, and so an audience given to  Andres Serrano does not reflect an endorsement of his work.

This may very well be true, and I’m happy to concede that point. However, Francis has been pope for over a decade now, which means that the Vatican has been deeply shaped by him—every significant position at the Vatican has either been appointed by him or by someone he appointed. Thus, someone at the Vatican agreed to give Serrano a papal audience, and perhaps even praised him to the pope before the audience. And that person is there because of Pope Francis. While Francis might not have directly endorsed Serrano, he did so indirectly by his personnel decisions.

And this is how the two scandals are connected. It’s a truism that “personnel is policy.” Whether you are a leader of a nation, a company, or a Church, your biggest impact on the organization comes from who you pick in important positions. This was one of the biggest weaknesses of Donald Trump—although he talked a big game about draining the swamp, he too often appointed swamp-dwellers into positions of power and influence. 

In the case of Pope Francis, his appointments—from Cardinal Cupich to Fr. James Martin to Archbishop Fernández to everyone in-between—have implemented a program that has undermined Catholic teaching at almost every turn. As President Harry Truman stated when it comes to being in charge, “The buck stops here.” When it comes to the attack on Catholic doctrine we see coming from so many figures in the Church, we need to realize that ultimately it points back to one man.  

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