Saturday, November 03, 2018

Ave Verum Corpus

It's was one of those Sundays where I walked in late for Mass, which in my small parish, can sometimes mean not being able to find a place to sit. That's okay, though. Sometimes I prefer to stand in the back. I find that standing often helps me be more attentive. I meander to the back of the parish and take my position at once of my favorite spots: over a very old, iron grate atop a vent connected to the parish's ancient furnace. It's a chilly fall day, so when the deep rumbling from the basement signifies the heat is turning on, atop this vent is a very nice place to be standing.

The Mass itself is not very memorable. To be honest, my mind is not where it needs to be. Five minutes after the readings, I can't remember what they were. The homily seeps into my head and just as easily drains back out. My responses are mouthed coldly and thoughtlessly. The prayers of the Eucharistic liturgy all blur together. I try to focus and prepare my soul for Communion the best I can, but my soul feels dreary.

After the Agnus Dei and the communication of the priest, the congregation begins filing up to receive Holy Communion. I am kneeling over the grate, my legs super-heated from the furnace. The playing of the organ commences, and a familiar melody flows out of the choir loft. "Ah, Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus," I think. A feeling of warm, pious nostalgia settles over me as I watch the lines of people slowly processing to the front of the church to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The soft glow of the candles, heat blowing up from the grate beneath my feet, the sweet melody wafting on the air—they all seem to bathe the scene in golden warmth. My heart begins to be deeply moved, not only from the melody of Mozart's timeless piece, but by old memories stirring in my breast.

* * * * *

It was a warm, spring day in 1998. The kind of day where the Mr. Bushey, the choir director, would prop the doors to the choir room open to let in the sweet, fresh air outside. I am Tenor 2, seated in the third row of the center. There's not very many of us Tenor 2's in the high school's Acapella Choir, so if I am not up to par on my parts, it becomes very evident. I'm not very good at sight-reading though. At 17 years old, I'd only begun my formal musical instruction a year earlier. I still rely on the few superstar singers in the choir to orient myself; I often "copy" the other tenors without understanding what I'm doing. I'm sure some time I am singing Tenor 1, sometimes Baritone depending on whose voice talent I am siphoning off of.

Even so, choir is a fun class. We'd been preparing for our spring concert all morning, and Mr. Bushey was attempting the impossible task of keeping several sections of the choir hushed while he worked with the sopranos and altos on their parts; it seemed like the soprano section always got the most attention. Most of the songs were banal and forgettable: sappy Barbara Streisand sort of stuff, or old Rogers and Hammerstein show tunes from musicals most of the students had never watched. I probably devoted only a third of my energy to concentrating on the music; the rest of the time I was fooling around with my buddies or completely daydreaming. That's why most high schoolers signed up for choir anyway. 

After a few moments Mr. Bushey ends his work with the girls and announces he is introducing a new piece to the spring concert. We all groan. It's already late in the year, and we all know that introducing a new piece this late will mean lots of very intensive rehearsals. He passes out the sheet music. Ave Verum Corpus. Arranged by W.A. Mozart it says atop the music. Now, I knew nothing of Latin at the time, but I knew enough to at leas recognize this as a Latin title and to know who Mozart was. It was not entirely surprising we were singing a religious text; yes, it was a public school, but because so much musical heritage of the West is religious in nature, the educational guidelines dictated by the government allowed for a certain percentage of religious music to be sung in school choirs, otherwise public school choir programs would have little to sing; such was the vast size of the religious musical patrimony of the west! This song piqued my attention; though not religious, I definitely preferred singing a Baroque religious melody to a 1960's musical show-tune.

Mr. Bushey got our attention and gave us some introductory remarks on the piece. As he spoke, I flipped through the little booklet. The Latin was not translated; it was simply there on the page, asking neither to be translated nor understood but merely sung. I was intrigued by these words and phrases. De Maria cruce pro mortis examine. The words meant nothing to me, but the very look of them, the structure, the sounds...they had an almost mystical quality, like some kind of ancient runes or sigils.

Then Mr. Bushey got to explaining the meaning of the text. He said he'd been down to visit one of the literature teachers who had a working knowledge of Latin and got a rudimentary translation (this was before most people were using the Internet). He then gave us a clause by clause translation. I was enthralled by these strange words. "Hail, true body, born of the Virgin Mary, having truly suffered, etc." Everything was so matter-of-fact. He offered only the translation of the words, no context or meaning
—and indeed, how could he? He was just a choir teacher who had found a good piece of music, not a theologian nor even a Catholic. The most interesting phrase for me was the last: "Be to us a sweet foretaste of life everlasting in the hour of death." I jotted the translation down with a pencil in the margins of the sheet music while Mr. Bushey read it.

Then came the first run through. He gave the music to the pianist and selected a few students who were excellent sight readers to preview the tune for everybody. There, for the first time in my life, on the rustic piano in my high school choir room, I heard the beautiful, iconic introduction to the famous Ave Verum Corpus of Mozart.

Though the rudimentary run through I heard sung to me that day was far from perfect, it was enough for me to be moved deeply by the melody and the words. I did not understand what I was hearing; the aesthetics alone were responsible for softening my heart. It was absolutely beautiful. As the choir director began teaching us our respective parts, I really had a strong desire to do this piece well. It's very beauty demanded it.

I remember taking the sheet music home and reading those mysterious Latin words and their penciled in translation to myself in my bedroom alone. "Be to us a sweet foretaste of life everlasting"; these words were cryptic and beautiful, but what could they possibly refer to?

* * * * *

I remember that spring our choir went on a little tour. The school chartered a bus and we drove down to Pittsburgh to sing in some of the historic theaters around the city. The bus ride down was a big gaggle. Just a bunch of seniors laughing and messing around and throwing things, all of us at that peculiar age when one is old enough to take on adult responsibilities but still enjoy acting like a child whenever possible.

The ruckus in the back was getting a little out of hand. Mr. Bushey, who was seated in the front, got up and shuffled his way to back of the bus. He did not scold us; rather, he tried to divert our energy to something more productive. "C'mon gang," he said, taking a seat, "let's rehearse a little bit. How about we run through the Ave Verum Corpus?" The choir began to settle down and compose ourselves in preparation. Mr. Bushey stood up and assumed his directorial manner, though hunched over to avoid bumping his head on the ceiling of the bus. He took out a pitch pipe and sounded the notes for each section, then waving his hand to set the tempo, we began the song.

"Ave, ave...verum corpus...natum, de Maria Virgine," we all began. The acoustics inside the school bus were actually perfect. There's something surreal about such lovely music arising suddenly in such an unlikely venue. I didn't know what this piece really meant, but I do know that there was something so very moving about a group of high schoolers sitting around in the back of a bus going down I-80 towards Pittsburgh singing this beautiful hymn. The splendor of the song brought out something, made us come together...made us get a glimpse—even if in an imperfect manner—of a whole realm of goodness and truth and beauty and culture beyond what we would normally experience in our small town high school in southern Michigan.

In later years, I have often thought about how far away from Mozart's intentions we were when singing that song. Mozart composed that music for solemn use in the Catholic liturgy; that a bunch of sloppily dressed, rambunctious high school students in the United States should ever be rehearsing it in the back of a school bus for a secular concert tour was never something Mozart ever would have contemplated. But then again, in another way we were fulfilling his intentions perfectly. For in composing such a piece, Mozart undoubtedly wanted to show forth the beauty and deep mystery of the Incarnation. And while I could not have understood it in such explicit terms, there is no doubt that I, that all of us, were deeply, profoundly moved by the beauty of the piece. And in experiencing such beauty, even on the back of a school bus, I was in a sense experiencing a foretaste God Himself. The eruption of the divinely beautiful into the ordinary world is what the Incarnation is all about, and as such it is a true manner of coming to know and appreciate God. And surely that experience would have been well within Mozart's intentions, for what composer does not wish his music to be found beautiful?

* * * * *

It was early June, 1998, the week of the spring concert. I was mulling around backstage in my long, choir robes—green and yellow, the color of my school, the school district I had attended for thirteen years. It was a bittersweet time. This was the the last time I would ever walk out onto this stage, the last time I'd ever sing with these people, most of whom I'd attended school with since the very beginning. Graduation was only a few days away. A whole new epoch of life was about to begin even as the only one I'd ever known was closing.

We were all milling about backstage waiting for our cue to go on. The high school had many different choirs, of which Acapella was only one and by no means the best. It was a very emotional moment, waiting to take my place on the choir stands the last time. I had not always taken choir very seriously, but in this moment, as my time here was about to end, I found myself wishing I had.

As I walked about backstage I ran into a fellow classmate, a girl name Jamie. I had known Jamie a long time. Way back when I started 1st Grade, I remember the students all had to share lockers in my tiny elementary school. Jamie was my locker partner back then. We both stood there momentarily in our green robes backstage, looking at each other silently. My mind raced back to the first day of 1st grade in 1986; I remembered my teacher introducing me to Jamie outside my locker. "This is Jamie. She's going to be your locker partner." We shared our locker all that year, but after 1st grade I never talked with her much. Ah, how much time had elapsed between that first day of 1st grade and now, when graduation was only a few short days away! Was it all over already!? How much had happened in those intervening twelve years, but then again, how brief it had all seemed. And there Jamie was again, like a punctuation mark at the end of my public school career.

I don't know what she was thinking, but I imagine similar thoughts must have went through her mind. Her eyes got blurry with tears. And at the sight of her my lip began to twitch and quiver and my eyes welled up, too. We both began balling simultaneously and embraced each other in a hug of sincere affection and esteem. I hadn't talked to Jamie in a long, long time. I had no idea where she was in life nor did she know much about where I was. It didn't matter. We knew this was a special moment. We hugged for a long time, then looked at each other with tears in our eyes and big dumb smiles and said nothing.

Our hug was broken by the sound of applause from the crowd. "Acapella, you're on!" called someone. We all rushed out onto the stage and took our places on the stands. On a stage like this, you can't see the crowd. You have no idea who is out there or how many. All you see is the blinding stage lights beaming their heated brightness down upon you—and beyond them, just a black void. That's probably a good thing for the performer.

Mr. Bushey came out, dressed in his black suit with tails and white bow tie. The pianist was before us, elegantly robed in a long, flowing green dress. The choir director smiled and composed us, focusing our attention on him and only him. "We're starting with the Ave Verum," he whispered. We were ready. We'd spent several weeks intensively learning the piece and every one of us knew every note intuitively.

The pianist's hands fell upon the keys gently, playing the introduction to the piece we had all come to recognize. Mr. Bushey raised his hands and drew the music out of our open mouths.

Ave, ave...verum corpus...

The music did not seem to be seemed to simply, emerge or arise from us; emanating from our mouths. It was so soft, but so beautiful. We always sung better on concert nights. It was as if the pressure compelled us to polish our skill to a level we didn't know we possessed.

The basses and baritones droned their low notes:

...Natum, de Maria Virgine...

By God, it was powerful. Women the world over search, often in vain, for that elusive man who is both powerful and gentle—tender but strong, for that is the essence of true masculinity. I tell you, there is nothing that so perfectly exemplifies this curious balance of power and gentleness than men's voices singing bass and baritone with great skill. There was something so moving about these deep, masculine voices singing of the Incarnation in the womb of Mary.

...vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine...

The little crescendo on immolatum makes you feel like you are approaching the climax of the song, but Mozart doesn't take you there yet. He resolves the crescendo in beautiful harmony on the word homine. How perfect. The tension on the word "sacrificed" ends with harmonious balance on the word "mankind."

...cuius latus perforatum fluixit aqua et sanguine...

The way the melody shifts to a minor on the word sanguine tells you something is about to change. The music regroups, preparing for the high point of the song. We all took deep breaths; long hours of practice had taught us to know that we would need a lot of air for the next lines.

...esto nobis praegustatum in mortis examine...

When we all closed our mouths on the last syllable of examine, Mr. Bushey raised his hand aloft, calling forth the power of the altos and sopranos to exalt the mystery of Christ's redemptive power in the face of the mystery of human death.


Ah! That moment is always so chilling, so beautiful. The sopranos stand alone, their voices piercing the darkness. As I reflected on this years later, it reminds me of the light of Christ piercing the darkness of death as He goes down to the dead to bring the faithful souls into beatitude. But I didn't know that in 1998. All I knew was that this moment was the most important moment of the song, when its beauty reached highest, when everything seemed to be hanging on a knife's edge. I took a deep breath.

Mr. Bushey held out his hand in an agonized, clenched pose, and looked at the men. His hand reached down, forward towards us, as if he wanted to grab us by our guts and rip the power out of us—force us to put our soul in to it ad give this moment the sheer power it deserved. We knew it was time.

In morrrrrr...

We followed the sopranos, our voices ascending higher, chasing theirs. This was the absolute climax of the song, the crescendo towards which everything else was building. And it is the climax of every person's life, as well. The moment of death. In final trial at the hour of death. In mortis examine. It is fitting that Mozart chose to focus his crescendo on this phrase.

Mr. Bushey's clenched hand trembled as he raised it aloft. Our voices followed, almost magnetically. I could see the sweat beading upon his brow and feel it on my own.

Then, the resolution. The completion. The parts of the girls and the men (which had diverged for one, beautiful, tense moment) resolved themselves into an elegant, simple harmony on the last syllable of mortis and then brought everything back to harmony on the word examine. Stretched out into five syllables, the choir's stepped us down singing of examine takes us from the heights of that crescendo and brings us back to the world of human concerns, the place where our lives actually exist and where God's grace is operative mysteriously.

Mr. Bushey closed his hands. Our lips fell silent and we stared out into the dark in a moment of silence before the crowd erupted in applause.

* * * * *

All this memory and richness has passed through my heart in a matter of moments. I am again in my parish church, kneeling alone in the back atop the vent. My eyes are full of tears. The parish choir is in the middle of the Ave Verum Corpus. I hear the familiar lines, "esto nobis praegustatum..." I know what is coming. I take a deep breath. The sopranos launch their notes up into the heavens, and then, following behind momentarily, my own wavering voice takes up the part I learned so long ago. "In morrrrrrrrrrtis, examine." I remember the part as if it was yesterday, though some twenty-years have passed. My heart is on fire, my soul deeply stirred. Nostalgia, piety, the richness of the Christian mystery and just...the sheer aesthetic beauty of the music all overwhelm me.

I make my way up the line, blinking away my tears. I throw myself upon the kneeler before the old Neo-Gothic wooden altar rail and receive the Body of Christ, which is truly that sweet foretaste of life everlasting. I am deeply conscious, much more so than usual, or the working of grace in my life and the imperceptible ways God had been nudging me, always nudging me, towards His truth for my entire life.

God, when my hour comes, let me die in that grace. And let me always be cognizant of your providence. And let every moment of truth, or goodness, or beauty be to me a sweet foretaste of life everlasting. Amen.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Thoughts on the Canonization of Paul VI

Because everybody seems to be weighing in with their opinion on the canonization of Pope Paul VI two weeks ago, I have put together an essay, "Argument for the Infallibility of Canonizations", on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website addressing some of the speculations I am seeing. It is not so much my own argument as it is a synthesis of others. It does not address Paul VI directly but rather examines the theological arguments in favor of the infallibility of canonizations, an argument to which I adhere.

I completely understand the frustration, confusion, anger, and exasperation of many of my fellow Catholics on this topic. Many of them, people I admire and count as friends, have taken a different position and argued that this canonization is invalid. I do not at all doubt their good intentions. I wish them the best, but I cannot follow along in that conclusion. I remember how vehemently I argued against (what I still take to be) the rash and imprudent canonization of John Paul II. But he has been canonized nonetheless, and I accepted it and moved on. That's what I am doing with Paul VI. If the Church ever decides to suppress the (non-existent) cultus of Paul VI, I will accept that as well. I still think Paul VI was a sub-par pope—and that's being charitable. Ideally, a canonization is supposed to be not only a declaration that so-and-so is enrolled among the saints, but that the manner of their life (and how they carry out the obligations relevant to their state in life) is worthy of imitation. This has never meant that every thing a saint does has had to be approve; canonization was never meant to be the canonization of a saint's every word and deed. But, to borrow the language of the Catechism, it nevertheless was meant to identify that saint's life as a "sure norm" for Christian living.

That aspect of canonization has been totally compromised due to the canonization of "mixed bag" sort of popes who, though they may have had a deep personal piety worthy of admiration, nevertheless left a lot to be desired in their exercise of public office. The bar is supposed to be very high. There is a reason why only two popes from 1566 to 1914 had been canonized.

Even so, I personally am not willing to cast doubt on the certitude of Church's entire process of canonization rather than accept that one man has been declared a saint. I understand that others are, but that's not a line I am going to cross. It's much more reasonable for me to shrug and say "Well, Paul VI is a saint now" than to try to argue that canonizations are not infallible or that Francis is not really the pope. And make no mistake, if you argue against this canonization, those are the only two alternatives: either none of the Church's canonizations are certain, or Francis is not pope. In my opinion, both of those assertions put you out in la-la land. Maybe you want to say, "No, Boniface, I'm not casting doubt on all canonizations, just those after a certain date." Okay, when? Was it 1965 at the close of the Council? Or 1969 when Paul VI began tinkering with the methodology of canonization? Was it 1983 with the publication of Divinis Perfectionis Magister, the document of John Paul II which created the current process? When do you cut it off and why?

And if canonizations were not always possessed of infallible certitude, then pray tell when did they become infallible? Was it in 1170 when Pope Alexander III declared canonizations reserved to the Holy See? If we insist on the procedural argument, it's important to note that Alexander III did not institute any new procedures in 1170; he merely translated the jurisdiction of canonization from local bishops to the Holy See, so if we hang our hats on the date 1170 based on a procedural argument, no new procedures were instituted then. They came in gradually later, piecemeal, here a little, there a little. The rigorous process we associate with the pre-conciliar methodology did not become completely standardized until the 1750's.

But maybe 1170 is not our date. Perhaps it was when the role of the Devil's Advocate was first utilized by Leo X (1513-1521), or was it when the office of Promoter Fidei was formally established in 1587? Was it in 1634 when Urban VIII reserved the entire process, including beatification, to the Roman pontiff? Was it in 1588 when the Congregation of Rites was established, or perhaps in 1607 when the Promoter Fidei (Devil's Advocate) was made the supreme official of that Congregation with authority over scrutinizing beati? Was it during the late 1700s when the excellent principles of Prospero Lambertini (Pope Benedict XIV) enunciated in De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et de Beatorum Canonizatione became the norms of the canonization process? Who knows? The fact is, if we argue that canonizations only became infallible at a certain time or only lost their certitude at a certain time, we are left with totally arbitrary, subjective determinations of when, how, and why; subjective determinations that solve no problems, answer no questions, and leave the entire canonization process open to skepticism.

So yes, I am shrugging and moving on. That's how I handled the canonization of John Paul II, and I have to say, it was not damaging to my faith at all. Ultimately, I am just a lay person and the Church's solemn judgments have more authority to me than my own subjective opinions about a person.

Also, I am not interested in debating this endlessly. Everything I have to say is said in the above article and the other resources I linked within it. You all can say whatever you want about it, but that's my two cents. Quod scripsi, scripsi

Friday, September 28, 2018

The China-Vatican Deal: A Bowl of Pottage

This month the Vatican and China have entered into some sort of agreement that is meant to allow China's Catholics to recognize the pope as the head of the Church while granting the Communist government of China a say in nominating bishops. This is supposed to normalize relations between Church and State there.

I say "some sort of agreement" because the details of this concordat are being kept confidential. For example, while the agreement calls for the legitimization of the current bishops of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, it's uncertain exactly how future bishops are going to be selected—although it seems likely that the Communist government will select bishops, but the Vatican will have some sort of "veto" power, but it's unclear how often the Vatican can exercise it.

There are many facets of this bizarre agreement we could question. For example, in an age when the Vatican is so woke that it vigorously denounces plastic litter in our oceans and issues documents on the "Ten Commandments for Drivers", why the silence on China's egregious litany of human rights abuses?

Why is the Vatican ignoring the aspirations of Chinese Catholics, both lay and clergy, who have suffered for their fidelity to the true, underground Church?

What are we supposed to think when the details of the agreement are secret? If this agreement is so great, why are the details secret?

Why does the Vatican have any confidence that the Communist Party of China is acting in good faith, especially since even as the agreement was being drafted, Christian churches were being vandalized and demolished throughout China by government agents?

Why no adamant, principled stand for religious liberty in a place where Catholic priests of the underground Church regularly die in custody or under mysterious circumstances? Or is religious liberty and dialogue only something we trot out when Catholics want to do things like spend money to build Mosques for Muslims?

Yes, there are a lot of ways we can consider this; in my opinion, none of them make this deal look any better. But, as I see it, the crux of the matter is this:

Pope Francis has given up the very real authority to name bishops in exchange for a largely symbolic recognition as head of China's Catholics.

The pope has effectively washed its hands of the underground Catholic Church in China in exchange for some momentary media coverage and a mention in the history books.

The true faith in China is going to be hopelessly muddled now. The distinction between the true Church and the state Church will be obliterated. Who is validly consecrated will become a moot point; way back in 2007, Pope Benedict lamented that the status of those government bishops who had been legitimized remained murky even after legitimization due to misinformation. "In most cases," Benedict said, "priests and the faithful have not been adequately informed that their Bishop has been legitimized, and this has given rise to a number of grave problems of conscience. What is more, some legitimized Bishops have failed to provide any clear signs to prove that they have been legitimized" (Benedict XVI, Letter to Chinese Catholics, 2007). This problem will only grow worse with more legitimization coming. The Catholics who have remained faithful to the underground Church will increasingly wonder why they are suffering so much on behalf of an institution that seems embarrassed by their existence.

Francis has exchanged China's birthright for a bowl of pottage.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Update: Traditional Wedding Mass in Jackson

So, in the midst of all the garbage coming out, I thought I'd share some good news. In May I posted an appeal to help a friend of mine, Bill Price, who had fallen off a scaffold and suffered severe injuries to his leg. Bill is the choir director at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Jackson, Michigan for the traditional Latin Mass. At the time of his injury, his wedding was only a few weeks away.

I just wanted to post an update that the appeal was able to raise over $20,000 for Bill's medical expenses (Deo gratias). Bill is recovering fine and was able to finally get married, albeit after postponing the wedding for a few months. I recently attended the wedding of Bill and Sipjke at Our Lady Star of the Sea. It was a beautiful wedding in the traditional Roman rite, only the second traditional rite wedding I have been to in a decade. Bill was not totally back to his old self yet; he had to go up the aisle and approach the altar on crutches. I was very moved by the sight.

Here's a picture of the bride and groom, crutches and all.

On behalf of myself and the Price's, thank you for your kindness. And if you want to hear Bill's schola, I actually have a recording of them on the USC Youtube Channel.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Lay Control is Not the Answer

In the midst of this crisis, I am seeing many well-intentioned Catholics reaching a point of total loss of faith in the hierarchy and calling essentially for lay oversight of the Catholic episcopacy.

This is just another dead end. Besides being antithetical to the entire hierarchical constitution of the Church, lay control in other areas of the Church has been a debacle. Has lay control of Catholic schools improved their quality? It's interesting that in the memoirs of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, former President of Notre Dame, he essentially identifies the turning of the university over to lay control as the moment when it lost it's Catholic identity. Have our Catholic dioceses become any better managed over the past fifty years since being stocked with lay committees? Is religious education in our parishes more vibrant that priests and sisters have been replaced with lay volunteers? 

Lay people do have an active vocation within the Church. I do not believe that lay people simply need to shut up and pray. They can work for change in the Church by how they allocate their resources. They can form organizations whose purpose is to advocate for certain reforms. They can leverage their numbers to put moral pressure upon corrupt diocesan officials to act justly. Those lay persons who are employed in diocesan administration can commit themselves to total transparency if they see any civil crimes being committed and can refuse to participate in any cover up or obfuscation. Lay persons who have knowledge of criminal activity on the part of the clergy can take this information to civil law enforcement. Lay people who are in the media or gifted writers can use their positions to advocate for needed reforms within the Church. They can protest the transfer or rehabilitation of known abusers. All of these things are valid and praiseworthy exercises of the energy of the laity directed towards reform.

But the laity themselves are not the answer. The laity cannot be exalted above the clergy. The laity cannot be put in positions of authority over the bishops, as if the bishops are answerable to some lay committee. The laity cannot become a functional part of the hierarchy. Besides being totally foreign to the Church as it was constituted by Christ, this risks turning the laity essentially against the clergy. If the laity are taught to believe that lay "policing" actions are all prevents the clergy from descending into criminality and abuse, it's hard to see how the laity will not end up holding the clergy in contempt. They will essentially become infected by the secular spirit that sees all celibate clergy as suspected criminals. It treads the same waters as the spirit of persecution where every clergyman is de facto an enemy of the state by virtue of being ordained.

Lumen Gentium, the Church's most authoritative document on the lay vocation, says:

"Upon all the laity, therefore, rests the noble duty of working to extend the divine plan of salvation to all men of each epoch and in every land. Consequently, may every opportunity be given them so that, according to their abilities and the needs of the times, they may zealously participate in the saving work of the Church" (LG 34:4).

It is clear that the laity have a role in building up the Church, "working to extend the divine plan" and that they are to have opportunities to do so "according to their abilities." But in what sphere does the Church envision these lay persons "extending the divine plan?" Does this really entail giving lay people supervisory control over clerical bodies?

Lumen Gentium goes on:

"Let them not, then, hide this hope in the depths of their hearts, but even in the program of their secular life let them express it by a continual conversion and by wrestling "against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness" (LG 35:1)

The Council does call for the laity to "zealously participate" in the life of the Church, but that participation is to be carried out "in the program of their secular life" by means of "continuing conversion," not by assuming literal control of institutions run by clergy. The laity are to sanctify their own lives and act for change specifically within the spheres of their secular activity—not by assuming the roles the clergy. That actually goes against what LG specifically calls for. It's very similar to the way people misunderstand the concept of "active participation" when it comes to the liturgy.

Let's look at one final paragraph from Lumen Gentium:

"Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage lay people so that they may undertake tasks on their own initiative. Attentively in Christ, let them consider with fatherly love the projects, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity.However, let the shepherds respectfully acknowledge that just freedom which belongs to everyone in this earthly city"(LG, 37).

Pastors are to respect the ambitions of the laity, support their plans, and "assign them duties," but nowhere does it suggest that the managerial roles of the laity and the clergy be switched, especially within the hierarchical administration of the Church itself.

The calls for lay oversight of the clergy will simply exacerbate the problems within the Church. To posit the current situation as continued clerical corruption vs. lay control is nothing other than a Scylla and Charybdis dilemma. One of the central characteristics of liberalism is that the liberal cure for the problems of revolution is always more revolution. The revolution of the Lavender Mafia is producing a tidal wave of chaos; predictably, people are calling for greater revolution as the cure to the ills of the revolution.

One more is indicative of the modern mentality that we always seek institutional, structural changes to address what are ultimately personal failings. To be sure we need our institutions to be strong and our structures just, but bureaucratic solutions will not ultimately fix what is, at is core, a moral rot.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Archbishop Viganò and our Vale of Tears

Greetings in Christ our Lord, my friends. I want to ask your forgiveness ahead of time for the length of this post, but as you know, these are very extraordinary times in the life of our beloved Church. News has been developing almost hourly. We are in a state of crisis.

The following post are simply some observations that have come to me over the past few days since the publication of Archbishop Vigano's letter on August 25th.

It is ridiculous how the media has played this as a "conservative coup" against Pope Francis. It is the Achilles heel of the secular media that they can only view any issue as part of a conservative versus liberal dichotomy. This is what the stupid two-party system has done to the American mind; binary politics leads to binary thinking. It's not unexpected, but it is sad. To secularists, this is just a political power struggle between conservatives and liberals. Unfortunately, many Catholics are buying into that thinking as well; for example, this dimwitted statement by Ave Maria University President Jim Towey. Yes, Catholic defenders of Pope Francis are also turning this into a political football, as when Cardinal Blaise Cupich said the accusations of Vigano were just a "rabbit hole" and that Francis was too busy to deal with the matter because of the "bigger agenda" of environmentalism and migrants' rights.

Of course, this "conservative reaction" narrative is ridiculous; I am not supporting a full investigation of American dioceses because I am a bitter conservative, nor am I suggesting Wuerl or Francis or anyone else resign because they are liberals. Wanting justice for those who have been sexually abused by clergy—and wanting to make sure Catholics of all ages and states in life can live their faith in an atmosphere of safety—is something that transcends the liberal-conservative divide. It is just a basic, fundamental good that everybody should agree on. It's disgusting that it is being politicized. But rest assured, Cardinal Cupich, this time Catholics are not going to be thrown off the scent. This time, no appeal to immigrant families or the environment or the death penalty or anything else will be able to save you. You tried to tweet a quote from John Paul II about peace and your followers simply responded with "RESIGN!" No, we're not being distracted again. This time it's your head. And Wuerl's. And Tobin's. And all the rest of you ilk. Even if you all somehow manage to avoid resignation in disgrace, the small semblance of moral authority you still think you possess is obliterated. The Vigano letter is just the beginning.

2. The story of how the Vigano letter came to publication is almost as fascinating as the letter itself. In case you have not familiarized yourself with the back story, I recommend the article "The Amazing Story of How Archbishop Vigano's Report Came to Be" on One Peter Five. It contains the English translation of the account of Italian journalist Dr. Aldo Maria Valli, who received and published the Vigano letter. Dr. Valli's story is illuminating and heart-wrenching; it presents Archbishop Vigano as a man wore out from a lifetime of dealing with the Vatican bureaucracy who is seeking to simply make his peace with God and his conscience before facing the judgement seat of Christ. But what is especially intriguing are Vigano's last words to Dr. Valli. Valli reports:

"He tells me he has already purchased an airplane ticket. He will leave the country. He cannot tell me where he is going. I am not to look for him. His old cell phone number will no longer work. We say goodbye for the last time."

Is the corruption in the upper echelons of the Church so advanced that a man must go into hiding and get off the grid for merely telling the truth? Clearly Vigano thinks so; clearly he fears for his very life. What powers does the Vatican have at its disposal that Vigano would be in fear of his life? Does it not put the sudden death of Cardinal Caffarra, one of the four signatories to the dubia, into a new perspective? This should really give us pause as we contemplate what sort of darkness we are facing.

3. Even the Neo-Catholics are getting on board. Steve Ray is calling for the resignation of Cupich, but more notably said "Even if the Lord doesn't come back for 1000 years, there will never be a pope who takes the name Francis II." He also tweeted "I never liked this pope...something from the beginning told me something was wrong with this guy." In a controversy with Ave Maria University President Jim Towey, Ray said, "Being loyal to the pope, THIS pope, is not remaining Catholic but denying it and being way out of touch with reality." Scott Hahn publicly thanked Archbishop Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, who had said the Vigano letter was credible and called for a full investigation into everyone implicated in the letter, including Pope Francis. Dr. Taylor Marshall apologized to Rorate Caeli. Karl Keating blasted Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, the latter of whom is publicly opposing a full investigation; Keating says the church should "welcome the sunshine" as a disinfectant, no matter who it brings down. It is getting harder and harder to remain neutral and aloof. Those who continue to defend the status quo are looking increasingly ridiculous. Everywhere people are being forced by circumstance to line up.

4. Of course, the big news on this front is that Michael Voris and Church Militant TV have finally gotten on board with criticizing the actions of Pope Francis. In order to not appear contradictory, Voris has offered the explanation that lay people should not judge the pope in theological matters, but that lay criticism is warranted when the pope's failings are moral. There is some truth to this; for example, if we look back at history, it took a body of professionally trained theologians to rebuke Pope John XXII for his erroneous teaching on the beatific vision; however, moral scandals of a pope (fornication, simony, nepotism, etc) have traditionally been more publicly derided by lay populace at large. I get the angle Voris is trying to take. That being said, I don't find the distinction of CMTV personally convincing, as in this particular case, theology and morality are all wrapped up together and have been for some time. The cover up of sex abuse has to do with preserving the homosexual networks within the Church, which is intimately bound up with clandestine efforts to weaken the Church's doctrinal teaching on homosexuality, which in turn is bound up with the rest of the post-Conciliar novelties. This problem cannot be compartmentalized. It is all part of the same general movement towards apostasy. The problem must be viewed in totu.

Of course, everybody has their thresholds; it's any writer's editorial decision whether they will or will not criticize a sitting prelate. All of us bloggers have had to make that call. I once got into a private argument with New Catholic at Rorate because he believed something Cardinal Kasper said was qualitatively racist whereas Kasper's statements did not meet that threshold for me. That doesn't mean I would ever attack or insult Rorate for making an editorial judgment different than my own. I have a priest friend who reads this blog. Sometimes he agrees with me, other times he tells me I'm full of shit (God bless you, Fr. Scott). We smile and go on as friends. That's the way it isor ought to bewhen you do this. One can't take oneself too seriously, even though paradoxically the things we write about are very serious.

It is thus unfortunate that Church Militant couldn't simply make that call on their own without calling other outletssuch as Rorate, The Remnant, and Steve Skojecspiritual pornographers. It's one thing to make an editorial call, but quite another to insult others who haven't made the same call as yourself. Really what's happened, as I see it, is that Francis has transgressed in what, for Mr. Voris, is his particular pet issue and now he is comfortable jumping in to the fray because his particular threshold has been crossed. I would like to see Mr. Voris apologize to Michael Matt, Steve Skojec, and The Remnant the way Dr. Taylor Marshall did. But either way, I am happy Church Militant has finally come around, and I have to say their coverage of this unfolding scandal has been top-notch. I like CMTV, and I also like The Remnant, Skojec and a lot of other bloggers. A lot of people have done a lot of good work; I've been reading Steve Skojec's Facebook thread daily to keep up on the developments. Everybody deserves commendation who has helped bring this filth into the light, regardless of how late they got in to the game. The important thing is that light is shining and the wheat and the chaff are being separated. God grant me that I may stand with Him and His saints. God grant treasure in heaven to those who have truly merited it.

5. When the McCarrick scandal was first breaking, I posted an info-graphic on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam Facebook page with some statistics from the John Jay Center, which researched the demographics on clerical abuse victims since 2002. The John Jay research clearly indicates that the abuse problem in the Catholic Church is predominantly homosexual in nature; that predatory homosexuality, not pedophilia, is the primary problem. My goodness, I have seldom got so much hate and ridicule as for drawing the rather obvious connection between homosexuality and sex abuse! So many people want to believe that the real problem is "clericalism", or a culture of secrecy, or pedophilia, or anything but secret networks of predominantly homosexual priests who use their positions of power to gratify their homosexual lusts. Anything but that.

That position may have been tenable even as recently as a few weeks ago. But now, with so many clergy speaking up about what they know and have experienced, with the fallout from the Vigano letter, I notice the chorus shouting "This is not a homosexual problem!" has grown far quieter. This is because it's becoming increasingly ludicrous to argue such. The real issue is summed up aptly by the official statement of Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, who wrote (emphasis mine):

"But to be clear, in the specific situations at hand, we are talking about deviant sexual—almost exclusively homosexual—acts by clerics. We’re also talking about homosexual propositions and abuses against seminarians and young priests by powerful priests, bishops, and cardinals....There has been a great deal of effort to keep separate acts which fall under the category of now-culturally-acceptable acts of homosexuality from the publicly-deplorable acts of pedophilia. That is to say, until recently the problems of the Church have been painted purely as problems of pedophilia—this despite clear evidence to the contrary. It is time to be honest that the problems are both and they are more...While recent credible accusations of child sexual abuse by Archbishop McCarrick have brought a whole slew of issues to light, long-ignored was the issue of abuse of his power for the sake of homosexual gratification. It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord" (Bishop Robert C. Morlino's "Letter to the Faithful Regarding the Ongoing Sex Abuse Crisis in the Church")

Archbishop Vigano, who in his position as nuncio to the United States had a unique and privileged view into the situation in the American Church, noted in his letter:

"Regarding Cupich, one cannot fail to note his ostentatious arrogance, and the insolence with which he denies the evidence that is now obvious to all: that 80% of the abuses found were committed against young adults by homosexuals who were in a relationship of authority over their victims... In fact, Father Hans Zollner, S.J., Vice-Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, President of the Centre for Child Protection, and Member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, recently told the newspaper La Stampa that “in most cases it is a question of homosexual abuse.”"

More poignantly, in his conclusion he calls for the destruction of "homosexual networks", which he says are at the heart of the crisis:

"The deeper problem lies in homosexual networks within the clergy which must be eradicated. These homosexual networks, which are now widespread in many dioceses, seminaries, religious orders, etc., act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire Church."

It is definitely a homosexual problem, and Vigano should be in the position to know. But if you don't believe Vigano, read about the investigations of the lay association Christifideles into the homosexual networks of the Diocese of Miami. Or check out the candidly honest assessment of gay Catholic Daniel Mattson in his article "Why Men Like Me Should Not Be Priests" (First Things, August 2018), who notes:

"What unites all of these scandals is homosexuality in our seminaries and the priesthood...Because the sex scandals of the Church are overwhelmingly homosexual, the Church can no longer risk ordaining men with homosexual inclinations in the hopes that those inclinations turn out to be transitory."

Or read Rod Dreher's "Inside the Seminary Closet" in The American Conservative. It is a painful article, highlighting the first hand experience of a seminarian who had to undergo constant homosexual harassment and was even told "Come on, you must know that everyone is staring at you all the time. You know full well that every guy here including the priests and even the bishop would f*ck you if they had the chance.” Heck, go back and read Goodbye, Good Men again. Any of these sources will demonstrate that this is not a problem with sexual secrecy and the fact that some of the perpetrators happen to be gay is incidental. No; this is essentially and primarily a homosexual problem.

Can anyone read through all this material—the grueling experiences of men who have been through the seminary or (like Morlino and Vigano) are intimately familiar with clerical culture—and tell me straight-faced that this is not a homosexual problem? It's so painfully, ridiculously, hideously obvious that you'd have to be intentionally negligent and/or intellectually dishonest to deny the homosexual nature of the current crisis. Yes, I know there are other aspects to the problem. Of course, reality is complex. But from here on out, after everything that has been revealed, if you still deny this is primarily a homosexual problem, then you have zero credibility in my opinion.

6. John Kass of the Chicago Tribune has a poignant piece entitled "The Silence of Pope Francis and the Pain of a Church" which discusses how devastating it is for the faith of ordinary Catholics that the pope will offer no response whatsoever to Vigano's letter. Kass seems a little confused by the pope's silence, as he notes that Francis is "revered as a humble and good man" and he's not sure why such a "humble and good man" would drop the ball so colossally. I'm sorry, but I am just astonished at how could anyone have ever thought Francis was humble. I am actually appalled. This may be a little bit of a rant, but I need to get this out. I am so disappointed at how many Catholics went along with this idea that Francis was "humble." He's not humble. He's never been humble. Nothing he has ever done has led me to believe he was humble. I'm seriously astonished that anybody was ever fooled. From the first moment he stepped onto the loggia of St. Peter's I knew the man was not humble.

I remember, in my professional life, I was once in a job where I had to screen resumes. Every now and then I would get a candidate who would write about how he was perfect for the job because he was going to come in and improve all our internal operations, show us how to be more efficient, and bless us with his wealth of knowledge. I used to toss these in the trash. They reeked of arrogance, of a person who doesn't know how to simply learn and receive what is being handed on—the sort of person who isn't satisfied unless he's remade everything he touches with his own personal stamp. Such did Francis' gestures all seem to me: asking the people to pray for him on election night, shunning the red shoes and the papal attire, living in Domus Sancte Marthae, and on and on and on. He has never ever appeared as humble to me and I'm frankly astonished that any thinking person ever thought he was. But everyone seemed so carried away with the galactic humility of this man it was astounding (Related: "Humility and Station in Life").

7. Not long ago I did a post entitled "Bad Liturgies Cripple Evangelism", in which I lamented that limp-wristed, anthropocentric liturgies constituted a real barrier to evangelism of non-Catholics. Talk about obstacles to evangelism! This current round of sex-abuse scandals takes the cake. I honestly can't imagine why a non-Catholic would want to join the Catholic Church right now, and no, saying "They just need to understand it's Jesus in the Eucharist!" isn't going to change it. As I said in my previous essay, why would anyone care what we think is in the Eucharist if it appears (and quite reasonably at this point) that our institution is a criminal racket organized for the purpose of institutional sexual abuse? There are some who are leaving the Church now over these scandals; predictably, other Catholics are piling on them and shaming them for leaving, or suggesting their "faith wasn't strong enough" or whatever. But Jesus wants us to go after the one sheep who goes astray, not condemn them for leaving. This is only going to shrink the Church's credibility more, and this will only continue until, in the words of Vigano, the homosexual networks are eradicated. Heads need to roll this time. No more "we are deeply saddened" statements, no more committees with new plans, no more useless platitudes. Action. Everyone involved needs to resign and possibly face criminal charges depending on the gravity of their complicity.

8. One final consideration. Take a look at this chart of all the prelates named in the Vigano letter. I offer no comment on how complicit any of these men are in any abuse or cover up; I only list them here because Archbiship Vigano has implicated them in some degree. Look at it carefully and deeply consider it:

 I know there's a lot of things to consider and it's not this easy. Yes. But....I do want to say, this is way "Santo subito!" is never a good idea. This is precisely why you wait for the patient judgment of history before you rush to canonize a prelate.

9. This is a painful time for all of us. Has my faith in Christ and His Church been shaken? I honestly have to say no, but only because I never believed that this sort of thing couldn't happen to begin with. When the scandal first broke, my first impulse was not to blog about it, but to have a difficult conversation with my 16 year old daughter, who obviously has many questions and concerns over the current situation. I grieve for the souls who will be scandalized because of this. I think my faith isn't shaken so much because anyone who has extensively studied history knows that this kind of corruption is absolutely possible within the Church. It's only those who have deluded themselves into thinking this is a new Springtime and Francis is a saint that have to deal with the full brunt of this. As for me, I've never lost sight of the Church's human side. Am I horrified? Yes of course I am. Surprised? No. Unfortunately not.

And so we go on, through the Vale of Tears until Christ makes all things right.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Sadder Than When I Came In

I walked into the parish around twenty minutes early for Confession. This was not my parish, but I often came here for Saturday Confession because it is close to my work and the associate pastor is an excellent confessor. I walked around and entered a small, back door. That is normal with these large, historic urban churches. They are often in bad parts of town and keep the front doors locked during the day. The Catholic populace in the immediate neighborhoods having long died, the historic churches in these parts of town linger like old monuments of better days.

I dipped my fingers in the holy water font inside the door and walked through the vestibule into the sanctuary. The door way opened into the sanctuary from the side, and I was a little surprised to find a very large gaggle of people milling around in there. A wedding party, from the looks of it, doing a Saturday afternoon wedding rehearsal. They all immediately turned and stared at me awkwardly, looking at me like I was an intruder in their private space. 

I made the sign of the cross and they shrugged and returned to their rehearsal, a loud, rambling affair. I walked across the church and sat down in the pew near the confessional, an old, ornate wooden kind that in most parishes is being used for storage. I was twenty minutes early for Confession, but the light was already on indicating the presence of the priest. I could see through the stained glass on the door that the confessional was open. I walked in, but could see through the screen that there was no priest. I stood in there confused. The wedding party people stared at me. "Okay," I thought. "It's like one of those stores where the shop owner lazily leaves the neon "OPEN" sign illuminated 24/7 even thought the business is closed." I went and plopped myself back down in the pew and prayed.

I tried to concentrate, but the wedding party was very distracting. The bridesmaids posed for pictures immediately in front of the tabernacle with no acknowledgement of it's existence whatsoever. The entire crowd milled about the elevated dais which is usually reserved for the minister. A cluster of women stood right up around the table altar, laying their cell phones and papers on it like it was a table—of course, it doesn't help when the altar looks like a table. They gabbed and blabbed; one woman set down a bottle of soda on the altar. A few young kids chased each other in circles around the altar while the adults talked, elbows resting on the altar top. The little urchins took to their hands and knees, scrambling in and out under the legs of the table altar. I got out my cell phone and took a video of the debacle, intending to send it to the parish office later with a humble request that if a wedding party was using the church, a representative from the parish should be in attendance at all times to ensure proper decorum.

What an outrage to put a soda on the altar. But then I thought about why I was here and said to myself, "I have committed worse outrages than that." That doesn't make the placing of soda on the altar acceptable, but it does keep the self-righteousness at bay.

Finally the wedding party began to drain out of the church. The women picked up their car keys and cell phones and beverages off the altar. Just as the last of them walked out, the door opened and the priest came in. I don't know if he was hovering around outside the doors intentionally waiting for the wedding party to leave so he didn't have to chit-chat with any of them, but that's what it seemed like.

This was not the usual priest. He seemed like he was from out of town. He was unfamiliar with the sanctuary. He walked into the confessional. I was first in line, so I slipped in and closed the door behind me.

He was sitting down behind the grate. "Hey," he said blandly.

"Um, hello," I responded quietly.

He made the sign of the cross, mumbling the invocation  of the Trinity. "Okay," he said awkwardly, as if he was trying to say, "Okayyy...let's get on with this." It always hurts my heart when the priest's opening is so informal.

I made a very heartfelt confession. There were several things that had been on my heart for awhile that I knew I needed God's grace for. It was one of the more humbling and humiliating confessions I've ever made. The priest responded, "Mhmm...mhmm," as I accused myself before God. I could see him flipping through a book of some sort behind the screen. I tried not to look at what he was doing. I had my hands folded and I looked at them instead.

Finally I finished. "That's all I have to confess, and I plead for God's grace to overcome my faults," I said.

"For your penance, do one-half of an Our Father now say your Act of Contrition," the priest said. I was a little startled and somewhat disappointed that he had no words of encouragement or advice for me, given the deep, heart-rending confession I'd just made. But to be given "one-half an Our Father" for penance? What does that even mean? I was frustrated and sad. Fine. If that's the way he wants it, I thought. I mechanically regurgitated the Act of Contrition by rote—not insincerely, but with no more external effort than necessary to formally satisfy the request. He absolved me and I exited the confessional, freed of my burdens of sin but sadder than when I came in.

Friday, August 24, 2018

On Abusing the Seal of Confession

As the new wave of clergy sex abuse scandals unfolded, many of us heard stories of deviant priests abusing the seal of confession to bind orthodox priests to silence about their despicable crimes.

Like many, I responded with shock and disgust when I heard of this diabolical means of silencing good priests. I had always understood that the seal of confession is absolute, but it made me wonder if a priest who hears such a confession was precluded from doing anything. For example, obviously a priest who hears a confession cannot go to his bishop and say "Bishop, Monsignor Joe confessed to me that he is abusing seminarians," for that would break the seal. But, could not the same priest say, "Bishop, I can't go in to specifics but I have reasons to suspect that Monsignor Joe is unfit for the priesthood and should be investigated"? Such an approach would not reveal that Monsignor Joe had confessed to the priest, nor would it reveal the content of what had been said.

I posed this question to a priest friend of mine and he enlightened me on an aspect of the seal of confession I had been hitherto unaware. He told me that the seal of confession does not merely preclude a priest from disclosing what is revealed in confession, but that the priest cannot take any action based on what he hears in confession.

For example, if Person A confesses to a priest that he is in the custom of habitually stealing from his employers, and then later Person B tells the priest he is planning on hiring Person A, the priest cannot say, "I wouldn't do that if I were you." Even though he's not revealing anything about what was confessed, he is taking positive action based on what he learned through confession, and this violates the seal. He cannot use knowledge he has obtained during confession in any way, not only by word but even by action.

The priest I consulted about this referred me to the following excerpt from Fr. Prummer's 1957 Handbook of Moral Theology:

1. even for the greatest spiritual or temporal good. Thus, for example, a confessor is prevented from confessing his own sin, when its revelation would violate the seal; he cannot take to flight or omit to say Mass is he knows from confession alone that his life is threatened or the wine is poisoned; he cannot dismiss a servant whom he knows from confession to be a thief or to be with child;

2. for the public good. Consequently a priest is not allowed to disclose the name of a penitent whom he knows from confession is about to betray his country or to murder some innocent person;

3. for the good of religion. Consequently a priest cannot expose a penitent he knows from confession will receive Holy Communion unworthily; he is obliged even to administer Holy Communion to such a person if the latter asks for it.

Handbook of Moral Theology by Dominic M. Prummer, O.P. P.J. Kennedy & Sons, New York. 1957

This is why an abuser priest confessing to an orthodox priest is so diabolical; it not only binds him to silence, but to total inactivity.

That being said, the priest I discussed this with said he did not believe the rumors about deviant priests doing this. I can't speak to that; I only know what I have heard.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Query: A Catholic's Voting Obligation in Light of New CCC Changes?

On this blog's Facebook page, I recently linked to an article on The Josias by Dr. John Joy, STD, addressing the magisterial weight of Pope Francis' amendment to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty. It is an excellent piece you should all read.

As a follow up question to Dr. Joy's article, someone on Facebook posed this question:

"Does it follow [from Dr. Joy's conclusion] that Catholic politicians and voters are morally obligated to support efforts to abolish the death penalty in developed nations? I primarily have the United States in mind. If a voter fails to support efforts to suppress the death penalty would that be a grave sin? If a Catholic fails to believe that using the death penalty is sinful in the modern context would that be a grave sin? I am trying to understand how strong is the obligation to give religious submission of will to the Holy Father's teaching."

I reached out to Dr. Joy with the question and got the following response:

"It's not clear to me at this point how this text [of the Catechism] should be understood, so it is hard to know exactly how Catholics should respond. But here are the three most likely possibilities as far as I can see: 

(1) If the text is meant to be understood as a doctrinal assertion of the intrinsic immorality of the death penalty, then it must be rejected as formally heretical. 

(2) If it is meant to be understood as a doctrinal assertion of the intrinsic immorality of the death penalty when not absolutely necessary for public safety, then it must be rejected as erroneous and at least proximate to heresy if not formally heretical. 

(3) If it is meant to be understood as a prudential judgment about the applicability of the death penalty in the present circumstances, then I would assume that the words of Cardinal Ratzinger would still apply:

"If a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion [i.e. it would not be a grave sin]. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia" ("Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles", July, 2004).

So as far as I can see, regardless of how the text of the Catechism is interpreted, Catholics are not morally obliged to work for the legal abolition of the death penalty, nor are they morally obliged to think that the use of the death penalty in the present circumstances is necessarily sinful. 

Therefore, it is doubtful at best whether this new text imposes any obligations on the faithful, and a doubtful obligation is no obligation at all. If there is an obligation imposed by this text, I think it is probably this: that Catholics ought "to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty" (CDF, Letter to the Bishops, August 2, 2018); understood in this sense, that we ought to do what we can to create a society where the death penalty does not need to be used in practice because capital crimes are not committed. That's a goal that any Catholic should be able to get on board with."

                                                                         *  *  *  *  *

Dr. John Joy is the Co-Founder and President of the St. Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies. He earned his master's and licentiate in sacred theology at the International Theological Institute in Austria and recently defended his doctoral dissertation at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. His primary academic interests are in the theology and philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, dogmatic theology, and especially questions of infallibility and the magisterium of the Church. He is the author of On the Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium from Joseph Kleutgen to the Second Vatican Council, as well as earlier works Poena Satisfactoria and Cathedra Veritatis: On the Extension of Papal Infallibility. He writes for various online Catholic publications, including One Peter Five and The Josias.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Meta-Problem: From Magisterium to Policy Objectives

This past week Pope Francis announced that he was officially changing the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect his assertion that the death penalty is always immoral under all circumstances and thus never permissible. Of all the things going on in the Church and world that require action, to devote his energy to this topic, well, it was so incredibly brave and bold (*sarcasm*).

Much has been written on the subject in the past week, such that I do not feel I need to add anything. However, for some background on the context of the modern about-face on the death penalty in the Catholic Magisterium, I would like to recommend my articles "Death Penalty & Retributive Justice" (USC, Nov. 2015) and "A Reminder About Capital Punishment" (USC, Mar. 2015). Also worth reading are two essays by J. Budziszewski and Matthew J. Belisario respectively, "Capital Punishment: The Case for Justice" (First Things, 2004) and "The Corrupt Theology of the Seamless Garment" (Coalition for Thomism, 2010). Finally, the book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed by Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette, which gives the most thorough Catholic defense of capital punishment.

For a more contemporary reaction to the changes in the Catechism and its implications, 1 Peter 5 has two decent articles, here and here. For a more scholarly reaction from a trustworthy contemporary theologian, see John Joy's article "The Magisterial Weight of the New Text of the Catechism on the Death Penalty" (The Josias, Aug, 2018).

So, while I am not going to offer any defense of the traditional Catholic position here, I do want to comment on what I would call the meta-issue that overshadows Francis' amendment to the CCC: that is the concept of the papal Magisterium as a creative outlet for a current pontiff's pet theories.

Traditionally, the Church's teaching is encapsulated in something called the deposit of faith. The deposit of faith is the body of revealed truth in the Scriptures and tradition proposed by the Roman Catholic Church for the belief of the faithful. This "deposit" is protected and promulgated in three ways: Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Church's Magisterium. Scripture and Tradition are the written and unwritten revelations of God, while the Church's Magisterium forms a kind of living, interpretive arbiter of Divine Revelation. 

The job of the Magisterium is to look at a given subject of faith or morals and tell the Christian faithful what the Church's constant teaching has been. It is a living voice of Tradition in every subsequent generation. We are probably all familiar with the concept of the stool with three legs which represents how these three elements, Tradition, Scripture, and Magisterium interact.

The role of the Magisterium is to tell the faithful of each generation what the unchanging truths of the Catholic Faith are. If there is confusion about a teaching, the Magisterium is supposed to diligently seek the solution in the sources of faith and propound it faithfully.

Contemporary Catholicism, however, seems to have adopted a new view of the Magisterium. Rather than authoritatively explaining the Church's perennial tradition, the contemporary Magisterium has become the mechanism whereby a current pope's priorities are transmuted into policy.  A pontificate thus becomes more akin to an American presidential administration, where each successive president has certain policy objectives that are implemented through the machinery of the federal government. Instead of asking, "What does the Church teach?", the question is increasingly becoming, "What is the policy of the current pontificate?"

Obviously every pope has had and always will have things that are of special importance to him; but what I think alarming is seeing the way the contemporary popes—beginning with Paul VI but really culminating in Francis—essentially endeavor to recreate the Magisterium with each successive pontificate to reflect their own personal pet-projects.

For example, look at the subject of Catholic social teaching since Vatican II. Paul VI gave us Populorum Progessio, the first post-conciliar Catholic social teaching encyclical. St. John Paul II gave us three, Laborem Exercens (1981), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), and Centesimus Annus (1991). Then Benedict XVI wrote Caritas in Veritate (2009). Not even a decade has passed and the Franciscan pontificate has promulgated Evangelii Gaudium (2013) and Laudato Si (2015). One gets the idea that each new pope is expected to issue his own social teaching encyclical—not because the needs of the Church require such an encyclical, but because it is expected that a new pope will want to put his own "stamp" on the Church's body of social doctrine. It seems as if the way modern encyclicals are used is that they become occasions for each pope to re-evaluate a subject in light of his own particular interests. When a new social encyclical is issued, pundits' mouths water as they wonder "What is this pope's take on Catholic social teaching?", as if it is each pope's job to "shape" what comes down to them by offering a new "take" each pontificate. (Related: "The Curiosity of the Modern Papal Encyclical", USC, June, 2015).

Yes, the Magisterium is treated the way a president would treat the federal government: as an outlet for his "policy objectives." We even have gotten to the point where Pope Francis' new amendment to the Catechism cites as its source a letter of the very same Pope Francis. How humble! And the letter is supposed to have been elevated to Magisterial authority by its inclusion in the Catechism. This seems kind of backwards, as originally the CCC was promulgated as a compilation of teachings already considered authoritative. A teaching was considered authoritative, and therefore included in the CCC; now a teaching is included in CCC and therefore considered authoritative. It all feels so lop-sided.

One final consideration: Those in the Church calling for the global abolition of the death penalty usually do so in the context of citing a ever-growing groundswell of public opposition to the death penalty in civil society at large. To put it bluntly, the Church is trying to take the position of being "on the right side of history" by suggesting there is a popular outcry against capital punishment.

For example, St. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae (1995), wrote "there is evidence of a growing public opposition to the death penalty (EV, 27). He goes on to say "there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely" (55). Benedict XVI, also, in a letter of November, 2015, cited his opposition as being in keeping with "political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty." And of course, Pope Francis' amended Catechism paragraph, which reads "Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes" (CCC, 2267).

See? Opposition to the death penalty is "growing." It's a groundswell. it? I get there are always people out there who are opposed to the death penalty, for every cause has its adherents and its opponents. But is there really this growing mass movement for the abolition of the death penalty? The death penalty is regularly used in Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa; I am not aware of any mass protests against its general applications in these countries. Many people in the Middle East strongly support death for certain crimes, I suspect; same with Africa. Belarus uses the death penalty; other than that, it is non-existent in Europe. There's no mass protests against it in Europe, since it's not utilized there. The only western country that regularly uses the death penalty is the United States, and there is certainly no mass movement against it here. One wonders, where exactly is this "growing public opposition" cited by the popes?

I am not suggesting there aren't many moderns who dislike the idea of the death penalty, but I simply don't see it as a strongly polarizing issue that is drawing a groundswell of popular opposition. I think when the popes cite growing opposition, they are mainly citing the opposition of some determined members of the hierarchy who latch on to this issue precisely because it is so safe and non-controversial.

I submit there is no strong growing opposition; there is a collective shrug and a "meh" from an ambivalent public. The pope is taking a subject that at most elicits moderate levels of disagreement from people and trying to elevate it to become This Year's Controversial Social Justice Issue.

Mutans tenebras ad lucem

Monday, July 30, 2018

Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead

This week I have a question from a reader on a passage from the Gospels:

I have always been puzzled by the passage in the Gospel where the man wants to follow Jesus but asks permission to go and bury his father first. Jesus tells him, "Let the dead bury the dead; you follow me." Why would Jesus object to the man burying his father, since honoring one's parents is part of the Ten Commandments and burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy?

Of course, our Lord would not be counseling a course of action that violated one of the Ten Commandments or made light of the corporal works of mercy. Therefore, that interpretation of the passage must be based on a misunderstanding. What is our Lord really getting at?

First let's examine the passage. The reference is to an episode related in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The passage from Matthew reads:

Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead" (Matt. 8:21-22)

In the version from Luke is very similar:

He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-60).

I have read a lot on this passage over the years, and it would be too exhaustive to delve into the lengthy amount of patristic and other commentary that has been written on it. However, I can say that there are three main theories concerning the meaning of this passage, most differences having to do with what the phrase "first let me go and bury my father" means. I will present each theory and then offer my opinion of them.

First theory: the man literally has a dead father sitting at home in need of burial. Jesus objects not because it is bad thing to bury the dead, but because He senses insincerity in the motives of the man; Jesus asks him to follow Him. The man does not want to repent and follow Christ and offers this as an excuse. Jesus, knowing the man's hearts and thoughts, urges him to leave behind his concern for worldly matters and devote his life to God. This interpretation is favored by many of the Church Fathers. 

Second, the phrase "let me go and bury my father" does not literally mean, "My dad's corpse is sitting at home waiting to be buried," but is rather an Aramaic figure of speech which means "My father is old and will die soon. Once my father is dead, I will be freed of my earthly obligations and then I will follow you." So in this interpretation, the father is not really dead, just old. The phrase "bury my father" is a euphemism, similar to the phrase "I will go lie with my fathers", which means "I'm gonna die." The man essentially tells Jesus, "I am taking care of my elderly father but he will be dead in the near future and I will follow you then." Jesus admonishes him that the Gospel is not something that takes a back seat until the most opportune time. Today is the day of salvation, as St. Paul says (2 Cor. 6:2). Incidentally, this was the interpretation favored by famous 20th century Syriac scholar George Lamsa.

Third possibility: the issue revolves around the Jewish practice of "second burial" common in Palestine in Jesus' time. In Jesus' time, after a Jewish person had died, he would be immediately interred in the family burial cave or plot. The immediate period of mourning was seven days (shi'va), followed by a less intense mourning period of 30 days, called shloshim. However, the mourning period was not totally concluded until all the flesh had rotted off the body. This process usually took a year. At that time, the bones would be gathered and re-internment, or "second burial" (likkut aẓamot) would take place. The bones would be gathered together, placed in an ossuary (small chest-like container) and re-interred.

If the phrase "let me first go and bury my father" refers to this custom, then the man is asking Jesus for time to wait for the year-long likkut azamot mourning period to end so he can re-inter his father. Jesus essentially tells him, "You have already buried your father in the family tomb and honored him. There are others who can see to technicality of the re-internment."

I think each of these theories has merits and problems. The first theory is favored by the Fathers and admirably explains Jesus' objection, but leaves us with the unsatisfying implication that Jesus does straight up just tell the guy to not bury his dead father. I would only take like, what, a few hours? Jesus can't give the guy a few hours to bury his dad? 

Also, in this interpretation, when Jesus says "Let the dead bury their own dead", He is distinguishing between two kinds of dead, essentially saying "Let the (spiritually) dead bury the (physically) dead." But this seems to not make sense in light of the text: "Let the dead bury their own dead." The clause "their own" means that the first and second dead are of the same group; if I were to say, "Let the Canadians bury their own dead", it means the Canadians are burying other Canadians. The grammar of the sentence really does not leave much room to imply there are two kinds of dead. I have never really been satisfied with this explanation, and though it is favored by the Fathers I have read about, it's not universal.

The second explanation, favored by Syrian scholar George Lamsa, is interesting. It makes sense once we see it in light of other similar euphemisms (such as "to lay with one's fathers"). It also makes Jesus' response a lot more understandable; He is not telling the man not to bury his dead father, but essentially to not let family obligations deter him from following Christ. Let others see to the care of your father. You want to wait until your father dies; how long could that be? Nobody knows. If you postpone following God until your earthly circumstances are all aligned, you will never make a start of it.

Against this theory is the fact that, if the father is not literally dead, it becomes incomprehensible what Jesus means when he says "let the dead bury their own dead" since nobody is actually dead. Also, while this theory is plausible linguistically, there are no other biblical examples of "to bury the dead" or "bury one's father" being used exactly in this manner, even if we can find parallel examples from Syriac, Aramaic, and other cultures. Finally, George Lamsa, though very famous, is not a reputable scholar from a Catholic perspective. Setting aside the fact that he is a Nestorian and favors Modernist interpretations of certain biblical passages, other Syriac scholars fault his translation work for fundamentally confusing Syriac and Aramaic. I personally favored this view for a long time, but I'm definitely not sure about it anymore.

The third view has the benefit of taking into account Jewish burial customs has practiced in Jesus' own day. It makes sense of Jesus' objection; I noted above Jesus' objection doesn't make a lot of sense if the man is only asking for a few hours. But if the passage is referring to second burial, he could be asking for as much as 12 months leave, in which case it makes a lot more sense why Christ would object. The father is already buried in the family tomb with the remains of all the other family members; when Jesus says, "Let the dead bury their own dead," he's essentially making a joke, saying, "Your dad's bones aren't going anywhere. They are safe in the family tomb with all your other ancestors. I'm sure they'll keep him company"; in other words, "Let the dead (your other ancestors in the family tomb) take care of your father's bones until someone else in the family shows up to bury them." I think I currently favor this view, but I've only adopted it recently and need to think on it some more.

Regardless of which view you adopt, the moral is the same: If you have resolved to follow Jesus, then follow Jesus. Follow Him with pure motives. Follow Him today, while you still have fire in your eyes and air in your lungs. Don't say, "I'm too busy to attend to my salvation; I'll figure it out after my circumstances change." Don't pledge to follow Him with your lips while making up excuses. Follow Him, follow Him now, and follow Him sincerely. Your worldly affairs will get worked out. "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34).

If you enjoyed this article, I have a book called The Book of Non-Contradiction which deals with difficult biblical passages. It's an excellent work for people wanting to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture while understanding some of it seeming incongruities.