Thursday, June 20, 2019

There's Always a Priest Shortage in Missionary Areas


The ostensible reason the ordination of married "elders" is being discussed for the Amazon is because of a critical priest shortage in the region.

Let us set aside for a moment the fact that the ideologue of the Amazon Synod, Bishop Fritz Lobinger, has stated that the priest shortage is not the real reason for the proposal to ordain married men; let us look at the historical background of "priest shortages" in general.

The Amazon is more or less a missionary region. I do not deny there is a priest shortage there. But there have always been priest shortages in mission areas. How is this a new problem? Mission territories generally don't have the population density or Catholic base to produce a sufficient level of indigenous priests. This is why evangelical efforts in mission countries have typically been spearheaded by foreign priests supported by subscriptions or donations from the faithful in more thoroughly Christianized areas. This is just common sense.

Let's review some history:
  • There was a shortage of clergy in Samaria during the Book of Acts; the Bible says even after they had converted there was nobody in the territory to administer Confirmation so the Apostles had to make a trip up to them (Acts 8:14-17).
  • There was a shortage of missionary priests willing to go to Ireland prior to it's conversion, even though there were already small bands of Christian Irish living there before St. Patrick.
  • There was a shortage of priests in Anglo-Saxon England during the time of its conversion; priests sent from Gaul often times refused to cross the Channel and go over to Britain. Some of St. Augustine of Canterbury's own companions refused to leave Gaul.
  • There was a shortage of priests in Germany during the Carolingian era. Missionaries like St. Boniface were constantly sending back to France, Italy, and Britain for more helpers.
  • There was a shortage of priests to Asia during the 13th century Mongol period. It was not uncommon for friars sent east to abandon the journey before reaching Mongol territory.
  • There was a shortage of priests in Japan during the period of the Christian persecutions. Japanese Catholics went generations without seeing a Catholic priest. 
  • There were priest shortages in New Spain (Mexico) for many years until the Spaniards really started coming over en masse. Catholic converts sometimes went a year or more without access to the sacraments. 
  • There was a shortage of priests among the Jesuits who evangelized New France. A single priest such as St. Isaac Jogues or Fr. Marquette might be in charge of thousands and thousands of miles of territory.
  • There was a shortage of priests on the American frontier for most of the history of the United States. Priests traveled along exceptionally broad circuits, sometimes covering thousands of miles, in order to minister to their flock. Their letters to Europe are full of pleas for more priests to aid them in their work.  

I'm sure we could come up with many more examples. But the point is there have always been priest shortages in mission areas. The situation in the Amazon is absolutely not unique. In none of the situations listed above did anyone in the Church ever seem to think the solution was ordaining married men. Even in the case of New France, where Jesuits were being killed by Iroquois while simultaneously being expected to administer an ecclesial territory the size of Texas, there was no suggestion or ordaining married men, Jesuit novices were still required to put in years and years of training before ordination, and the speedy ordination of indigenous peoples was rejected—even though any one of those could have "solved" the problem by providing more priests to minister to the faithful.

But historically the Church has not viewed this as a problem that you solve by throwing more warm bodies into the grinder. Christendom was not built on the mentality of, "we need someone to do this job...meh, you'll do."

Of course, this is not really about a shortage of priests in the Amazon anyway. But...whatever.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Guest Post: "Revisiting Our Concept of Authority" by Kevin Tierney

Today I am featuring a guest post from my friend and colleague Kevin Tierney on the subject of stepping back and revisiting our attitudes towards authority within the Catholic hierarchy.

Kevin is a writer living in Brighton, Michigan. His works have appeared regularly on Catholic Exchange and other venues. You may follow him on Facebook or Twitter (@catholicsmark).

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As the USCCB meets to discuss how best to implement new norms regarding sexual abuse, is everyone ready for the predictable debate about if homosexuality or clericalism are the big problem causing the crisis? I’m not, it’s a tired debate. I also think it can be sidestepped if we go a little deeper. I think that if we want to solve the problems the Church is beset it, its going to require us to go deeper, as uncomfortable as it makes us. I speak of the problems we Catholics have in articulating authority.

Before you reach for your “I would not believe the Gospel if not for the authority of the Catholic Church” (you don’t understand that quote) from Augustine, let’s talk about what authority is.  In most debates today in the Church, “authority” is a question of “who has the power” or “who can compel you to do something.”  Hence a critic of the pope is said to be undermining his authority, because people will not look to him for guidance if they hear he’s a bad pope.  The authority of the bishop is viewed in terms of the authority to execute justice and to direct policy in his diocese. To use a musical analogy, the priests and laity are instruments, the bishop is a conductor.  Or on a higher level, the pope is the conductor, and everyone else are the instruments.  In the words of one Catholic writer, we must become “the kind of Catholics Pope Francis wants us to be.”   To use an old analogy, the pope or bishop is the potter, we are the clay.  You may think that this situation would change under a “traditional pope”, but I am not that optimistic.

Even worse, authority is treated as a zero sum game.  To the extent the pope exercises authority, it comes at the expense of the bishops, or vice versa.  This was precisely the reasoning Rome gave in demanding the USCCB suspend any of their previous reforms, as these reforms would not give Rome a free hand to propose their own later reforms.  Rather than treating the reforms as a baseline that would be maintained but also adapted to meet local situations (strengthened where necessary), these were put forth with the expectation they would be the final word, and the USCCB has made clear that when they meet, do not expect much if any daylight from Vos Estis and their position, despite the fact they are freely clear to mandate additional reforms or additional mechanisms to make the rules more efficient.

This view of authority is, to put it bluntly, not Christian in the slightest.  To the extent it is believed, it is a religion that is not Christianity. It finds no basis in the Scriptures or Tradition. Worse, it is condemned explicitly by our Lord in the Gospel of Luke.  Yet this attitude has become a part of contemporary Catholicism.  To demonstrate why it is wrong, we must consider two questions:  what is the purpose of authority, and how is authority exercised?  

In a scene that could be repeated countless times throughout human history, the Apostles argue among themselves over who the best is, no doubt hoping the winner of that argument can catch Christ’s attention and be confirmed as the best.  Being the best involves prestige, authority, recognition, in a word, power.  Christ’s answer to this display is instructive for us:

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:25-27)

The very concept of authority that we have is the very concept of authority Christ is concerned about.  In the political economy, it makes sense to understand authority primarily in the sense of who has power, and how that power can be wielded. That kind of understanding has its limits in the realm of the Church, which at its core is a family.  When the head of the family is primarily concerned with showing off his authority and reminding everyone else of their subservience, that family does not function.  Rather, for us, the point of authority is of service, not dominion.  In the Bible, whether it be the Gospels or the epistles of the Apostles, authority is described in terms of “making firm”, “setting straight”, never in the sense of imposing order or imposing a vision others must conform to.  The authority of the Apostles was not doubted (well at least not by the orthodox believer), but to understand authority in the terms of wielding and exercising power would have been foreign to them.

 In regards to how power is distributed or exercised, this case becomes even clearer.  Does Christ view the role of Peter as to transform his brethren into a different kind of Christian?  Is it to endlessly dictate policy to his brother bishops?

“Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

The role of Peter is fundamentally a role of supporting the Apostles, helping them remain firm against the attacks of the devil.  Sometimes that will involve settling disputes, and it will involve compelling obedience.  Yet the Bible avoids such grandiose visions of authority for a reason.  We see this line of thought continued within the Church fathers.  While many look at the local bishop as a conductor of the tools of his diocese, St. Ignatius of Antioch looks at it differently:

"For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of His Son" (Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter IV)

Ignatius is the man in the earliest Church who laid out the clearest vision for the local bishop.  He presented the strongest vision of the monarchial episcopate in the Fathers.  Yet he also rejects the notion of authority present so often in the Church of our authorities as conductors of a symphony.  Rather, he is the harp that the strings attach themselves to.  The harp doesn’t direct the strings, but without the firmness of the harp, the strings cannot work together to make music.  Once the music is made, the faithful join in and then the symphony is produced.  The conductor is God, not the Bishop.

I sincerely believe that abandoning this model of authority has gotten us into a lot of trouble, especially in the present crisis.  Faced with the activities of robber bishop Michael Bransfield, the financial council of the diocese was “passive.”  Outside auditors were afraid to challenge him, “because of the Bishops position.”  Popes made serious mistakes in handling the abuse crisis, but hey, its their Church, they can run it as they see fit, right?

None of this is written to deny the pope’s authority, nor his jurisdiction.  Nor is it to deny that on prudential issues, the pope does indeed have a wide authority to take action (or not) as he sees fit.  Yet just because someone is given a position of authority, does not mean that authority should be wielded without question, or without a suggestion that it be wielded better.  Imagine if bishops stood up to the code of silence regarding abuse?  Imagine if diocesan employees refused to cooperate with the shuffling of predator priests while hiding it from the community?  Imagine if the financial practices of bishops were vigorously challenged by individuals who had just as much a stake in the success of the Church as the bishop does?  In terms of power, yes, bishops and the pope can make moves that others cannot.  Yet it is the job of the entire people of God to ensure that such authority is always used in the service of unity and making firm, and to never transform the local diocese or global church into the plaything of potenates.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Show Us Your Indignation

The big news in my home state of Michigan last week was that five Catholic priests in the dioceses of Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Detroit had been arrested for various sex abuse crimes--including a priest I had actually profiled on here eleven years ago for wearing a Detroit Red Wings logo on his chasuble.

This Sunday I went to mass at the parish where one of the priests had been from. Now, to make it clear, this priest was long gone from ministry in the diocese; the charges related to his time at this parish back in the 1980s, so he was not currently involved with the parish. Still, there were still a lot of parishioners around who remembered and loved this priest. The news of his arrest was a bitter reckoning.

The celebrant for the Mass was Fr. Tony Smela. Fr. Tony is an excellent priest int he Diocese of Lansing who has not been ordained too long. He is also a friend of the Traditional Latin Mass; the first EF Mass I attended of his was an All Souls Day Requiem Mass in 2018.

Anyhow, there is a lot of indignation these days about the response of the institutional Church to these clerical abuse scandals. Episcopal responses are usually cold, overly bureaucratic, and concerned more with protecting the hierarchy than addressing justice for the victims or identifying the source of the abuse. "We deeply regret" sorts of apologies feel stale; reforms were too often meaningless gestures, "cover your ass" accountability protocols, new norms that root out the rot entirely. 

The reason these responses have left so many Catholics frustrated and demoralized is because there is one vital ingredient lacking: INDIGNATION. I have heard lots of episcopal apologies in my time. Oh, I can tell the bishops are embarrassed by sex abuse. I can tell they are frustrated. I can tell they are concerned. But what I have seldom seen from them in any sense of outrage, of righteous indignation, of disgust. You get the impression that they are trying to "manage" a crisis rather than raise their voices in lamentation with the children of God.

Back to Fr. Tony. Fr. Tony gave what I felt was the ideal response to news of these priests' arrest. When it was time for the homily, he preached unflinchingly on the subject and was very animated. It was clearly visible how upset he was. He was disgusted, and he let it show. He accused the arrested priests of betrayal of the Church and their vocation. He was visibly shaken with indignation. It was evident how hurt and angry this clergyman was, who as a priest, suffers in a unique way whenever the reputation of the priesthood is tarnished. He called out the hierarchy for their failures; he accused the Vatican of failure. The man was angry and not afraid to show it. The righteous indignation that is so often lacking in episcopal apologies was clearly present here.

But he did not leave it with just denunciation and harsh words. He spoke of Christian forgiveness and the healing available in Christ. He left us with the sense that, even though we are rightly horrified, in God's grace and strength we can all move forward.

The result was that instead of thinking "Here comes another lame clerical apology" I felt profoundly that Fr. Tony was one of us. One of the sufferers. I felt solidarity. I felt like he understood. Really understood. And I felt more confident that we would overcome this. I obviously was still deeply saddened by the news, but I left the Mass with a strong sense of healing.

If you are a bishop reading this or someone who works in the communications department of a diocese that crafts statements to the public, please understand this: we want--we need--to see your disgust and indignation. I don't want any more lame "we deeply regret" apologies. I want to see that, as a pastor and a son of the Church, a bishop is personally horrified by this sin. I want to see you cry with desolation at the state of the Church as our Lord wept over Jerusalem.

Also, if you know Fr. Tony and appreciate his response to this and his ministry in general, please let him know.

+AMDG+

Friday, May 17, 2019

St. Ambrose on Baptism of Desire


On May 15, 392, the young Western Roman Emperor Valentinian II was found dead in the imperial residence at Vienne in southern Gaul. It is said he was hanged using his own handkerchief.

Though emperor in name, Valentinian found himself at the mercy of his general, Arbogast, who held the prominent position of magister militum in the west. The hostility between Arbogast and Valentinian was well known. The 6th century historian Zosimus wrote of a famous public incident between the two when Valentinian attempted to remove Arbogast from command:

At length Valentinian, no longer able to submit to his correction, when Arbogastes was approaching him as he sat on the imperial throne, looked sternly upon him, and presented him with a writing, by which he dismissed him from his command. Arbogastes, having read it, replied, "You neither gave me the command, nor can deprive me of it;" and having said this, tore the writing to pieces, threw it down, and retired. From that period their hatred was no longer kept to themselves, but appeared in public. [Zosimus, New History, Book IV]
When Valentinian was found hanged in his bedchamber shortly thereafter, it was rumored that foul play was involved carried out by imperial eunuchs sympathetic to Arbogast. At any rate, few believed it was an actual suicide. St. Ambrose of Milan, who knew the young Valentinian, bitterly lamented his passing. In a letter to Valentinian's father. Emperor Theodosius, he wrote:

I am filled, I confess, with bitter grief, not only because the death of Valentinian has been premature, but also because, having been trained in the faith and moulded by your teaching, he had conceived such devotion towards our God, and was so tenderly attached to myself, as to love one whom he had before persecuted, and to esteem as his father the man whom he had before repulsed as his enemy. [Ambrose of Milan, Letter 51]

St. Ambrose also delivered the funeral oration for the slain prince. The issue was tricky because Valentinian had died without baptism. He had intended to receive baptism from the hand of St. Ambrose in person but circumstance for some time delayed these plans from coming to fruition. Were the Catholic faithful to despair of his salvation, since he died without the sacrament of regeneration? In his funeral oration St. Ambrose says no, for the desire for the sacrament has granted Valentinian the grace he required:
But I hear that you grieve because he did not receive the sacrament of baptism. Tell me: What else is in your power other than the desire, the request? But he even had this desire for a long time, that, when he should come into Italy, he would be initiated, and recently he signified a desire to be baptized by me, and for this reason above all others he thought that I ought to be summoned. Has he not, then, the grace which he desired; has he not the grace which he requested? And because he asked, he received, and therefore is it said: 'By whatsover death the just man shall be overtaken, his soul shall be at rest.’ (Wisdom 4:7) [Taken from Deferrari: "On Emperor Valentinian" in Funeral Orations by Saint Gregory Nazianzen and Saint Ambrose of Milan]

St. Ambrose's teaching here would become a fundamental text in the Church's teaching of baptism of desire; St. Thomas Aquinas quotes St. Ambrose's oration in his own affirmation of baptism of desire: "A man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism, which desire is the outcome of "faith that worketh by charity," whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly. Hence Ambrose says of Valentinian, who died while yet a catechumen: "I lost him whom I was to regenerate: but he did not lose the grace he prayed for" (STh III. Q. 68. Art. 2)

Just a reminder that the idea of baptism of desire is not a modern one but has it roots in the earliest days of Christendom, having been affirmed in by not only St. Ambrose but St. Augustine and many others--and notice that Ambrose does not merely discuss it as a hypothetical possibility, but states it as a fact that it has happened in this case.

Kudos to the excellent blog Gloria Romanorum for bringing the story to my attention; they have a much more in depth article about it here.

Related: Baptism of Blood in St. Bede

Friday, May 10, 2019

Comments on the "Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church"


The past week has been full of discussion on the "Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church", a remarkable document put forward by a group of nineteen Catholic theologians and academics which—to use a phrase that has become all too familiar—makes "credible accusations" of heresy against Pope Francis and calls upon the bishops of the world to take some sort of action in rectifying the situation. If you have not yet read the "Open Letter", you can do so here.

1. The letter makes a very comprehensive case, drawing not only on particular statements of Pope Francis, but also his responses to the heretical statements of others (for example, the heretical interpretation of Amoris laetitia  published by the bishops of Buenos Aires in 2016, to which Pope Francis replied with a letter saying their document "completely explains the meaning" of Amoris laetitia and that "There are no other interpretations", a statement which he then had published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official compendium of his acta). The Open Letter also deals with Pope Francis's very troubling clerical appointments. Some Catholic apologists have been quick to point out that things like episcopal appointments or how the pope responds to news are not evidence of heresy, just like remaining passive or silent in response to requests for clear teaching is not heretical either. But I think these critiques miss the point; the Open Letter does not attempt to provide a single "gotcha" piece of evidence that presents and open and shut case for the pope's heresy. Rather, it attempts to show a general trend or broad disposition towards heresy on the part of the pope with several of the most striking examples highlighted as evidence. It is what Joseph Shaw referred to as a "promulgation [of heresy] by drift." And understood in this sense, it is brutally effective. Although I also tend to think that the examples are convincing taken individually as well.

2. Predictably, the Open Letter provoked responses from some who retreated to the tired old neo-Catholic canard that the signatories of the letter "should have gone to the pope directly" before airing their grievances publicly, or "going to their bishops in private first." Dr. Maike Hickson of LifeSite has written a remarkable piece chronicling around 30 times Catholics have reached out to Pope Francis—directly or indirectly—to clarify his teachings prior to the publication of the Open Letter. Her article ("Before Pope Francis was accused of heresy, Catholics reached out to him numerous times", May 9, 2019) is a must-read in order to understand the Open Letter in its historical context as the final recourse after the Dubia, Filial Correction, and many other attempts at communicating with Francis directly bore no fruit. Indeed, the publication of the Open Letter was not some rash screed hastily pumped out by a cadre of die-hard anti-Francis fanatics chomping at the bit for any excuse to attack the pope; rather, it represents the culmination of a long, exhausting series of attempts to reach out to Francis through the proper channels and is really a document of great restraint and patience. I commend the authors for taking this bold step. No Catholic rejoices or feels good about having to call out the pope; their actions must have been born out of deep concern for the Church and the good of souls and they should not be vilified for doing what was withing their canonical right and what their conscience dictated.

3. Christian charity demands that, when assessing the faults of others, we presume the best about them rather than the worst; in other words, we give them "the benefit of the doubt." But to give some one the benefit of the doubt presumes that there is room for doubt—it presumes that there is a certain ambiguity in how we interpret words and actions. And if there is ambiguity, we assume the best. But there is a huge difference between offering the benefit of the doubt and always being able to fabricate a benefit of the doubt. I have written about this before ("Benefit of the Doubt Presumes Doubt", Jan. 2017); in the case of Pope Francis, his litany of troubling statements and actions is so consistent that it is no longer realistic for a reasonable person to doubt the meaning of Francis's words or the intentions behind his initiatives; whether we look at the humorous Pope Francis Little Book of Insults or the more scholarly Denzinger-Bergoglio, the pontiff's thought is clear: he believes traditional Catholicism is a stuffy, hypocritical affair that keeps people from Christ and promotes "triumphalism" and "elitism." Heck, he even thinks standard Novus Ordo Catholicism is too stuffy; to that end, he intends to irreversibly reform global Catholic identity in the likeness of the most derelict Latin American banana-republics. It has gotten to the point where people who deny there is an issue are quite simply burying their heads in the sand.

4. Some bloggers are contending that the evidence is not sufficient to charge the pope with formal heresy, and therefore everything is alright. This is an incredibly simplistic and ridiculous argument. What these people fail to realize is that there is more than one way a teaching can be heretical—and I am not referring to the mere distinction between formal and material heresy. Traditionally, the Church used a gradation of judgments called theological censures. The division between heresy and orthodoxy is not necessarily black and white. There are "grades" of theological error; a statement can be not outright heretical but be simply ambiguous, for example. Or a statement may not be heretical in that it denies a de fide doctrine, but rather that its conclusions could lead to thinking that would be heretical.

Traditionally, heretical propositions are divided into three groups according as they bear principally upon (1) the import (what is said) (2) the expression (how it is said) (3) the consequences (what they lead to). Of import, we have hæretica (heretical), erronea (erroneous), hæresi proxima (next to heresy), errori proxima (next to error), temeratia (rash), etc. A "heretical" proposition is one that immediately and directly denies a de fide teaching. It is "erroneous" when it denies an article of faith that is certain (certa) but not de fide. "Next to heresy" and "next to error" means its opposition to a revealed and defined dogma is not certain, or chiefly when the truth it contradicts, though commonly accepted as revealed, has yet never been the object of a definition (proxima fidei). Something "next to heresy" could be defined as sapiens haeresim (smacking of heresy) or suspecta de hearesi, errorem (suspected of heresy or error). These are propositions which, though true textually, may due to modern currents of thought, be interpreted in a heretical way. I would say a lot of Pope Francis's most questionable statements fall into this latter category.

Next we come to the question of expression, or how the proposition is expressed. Here we can define four censures: ambigua (ambiguous), captiosa (captious), male sonans (evil-sounding), piarum aurium offensiva (offensive to pious ears), etc. A proposition is ambiguous when it is worded so as to present two or more senses, one of which is objectionable; captious when acceptable words are made to express objectionable thoughts; evil-sounding when improper words are used to express otherwise acceptable truths; offensive when verbal expression is such as rightly to shock the Catholic sense and delicacy of faith. Note that, while many pop-Catholic apologists will harp on that it is not heretical to speak ambiguously, the Church traditional theological censures to allow for a statement to be judged heretical based on its ambiguity alone.

Finally, we come to the question of consequences. Here we are dealing with what state of affairs the condemned propositions may lead to: subsannativa religionis (derisive of religion), decolorativa canodris ecclesiæ (defacing the beauty of the Church), subversiva hierarchiæ (subversive of the hierarchy), eversiva regnorum (destructive of governments), scandelosa, perniciosa, periculosa in moribus (scandalous, pernicious, dangerous to morals), blasphema, idolatra, superstisiosa, magica (blasphemous, leading to idolatry, superstition, sorcery), arrogans, acerba (arrogant, harsh), etc. This is not even an exhaustive list of the third group. Pope Francis' teachings relating to Amoris laetitia could be considered periculosa in moribus because, whether or not he has specifically stated as much himself, the fact that others are inferring heretical or immoral consequences from his words is sufficient to cast a heretical judgment upon his statements.

Let's be clear: YES, something can be heretical just based on how it is expressed. YES something merely ambiguous can be heretical. YES a statement can be heretical based on the immoral conclusions other people draw from it, even if the author does not express such intent; YES a statement can not contradict any truth of the faith itself but be considered heretical if following its implications leads to other heresy; YES something can be heretical if it is shocking to the ears of pious Catholics. YES a statement can be condemned because it is merely suspected of heresy. All of these condemnations fall short of a formal charge of heresy (explicitly and contumaciously denying a revealed dogma of the faith) but they are all gradations of heresy.

In other words, even if we were to grant a "benefit of the doubt" that Pope Francis has not promulgated a formal heresy, there are so many other ways his dubious comments could be construed as heretical or approximating to heresy that a censure would still be warranted and the pope's statements could still be considered heretical in ways that are less than formal. But nobody cares about theological censures anymore so this is just over the heads of many people.

5. The Open Letter, while accusing the pope of heresy, does not go so far as to assert that the pope ipso facto loses his office because of it. Rather, it calls upon the bishops of the Church to take action "to remedy the situation" by abjuring Pope Francis to make a public repudiation of these heresies and insist he suffer the canonical penalties proper to heresy if he does not. Although the Open Letter does not say it explicitly, it is evident that this means the loss of the papal office. I have never believed the proposition that the pope loses his office ipso facto for heresy. But I also deny that the Church (either the laity or the episcopate) has any remedy for removing a pope who does not wish to be removed. Though theologians have speculated on the ways and means for removing a heretical pope, I don't see how any of them can be affirmed without ultimately leading to some form of Conciliarism. When it comes to the theology of a papal deposition, all we have is theory—and that's not an argument against papal deposition, mind you; it's just pointing out it's never been done.

However, I think writers who stress theological opinions regarding papal deposition have ignored the fact that there is actually a large body of canonical legislation on the question; and more importantly, that this legislation is not merely hypothetical.

The Church's canonical tradition affirms a the principle prima sedes a nemine iudicatur ("The first See is judged by none"). The principle is universal; it refers to the clergy, secular rulers, as well as the laity. It is an absolute principle of papal independence against any attempt by any outside power whatsoever—even the episcopacy—to forcibly depose or judge a sitting pope. The principle prima sedes a nemine iudicatur first appears in the quasi-apocryphal Synod of Sinuessa (c. 314) relating to the problem of Pope St. Marcellinus, a pope who had apostasized under the Diocletian persecution (while, it should be noted, retaining the papal office and eventually becoming a saint). However, because many consider the acta of the Synod of Sinuessa forgeries, it is better to forgo Sinuessa and point to the historical Synod of Parma of 501-502 as the place when the principle enters the Church's canonical tradition. The pope at the time, Symmachus, was engaged in a schism with a rival papal claimant supported by the Byzantine Emperor. When called upon to pass judgment upon Pope Symmachus, the bishops at Parma declared prima sedes a nemine iudicatur ("The first See is judged by none"). And thus the concept of the immunity of the Roman pontiff from episcopal judgment passed into Canon Law.

It was reaffirmed many times. We see Pope St. Nicholas I (858-867) stating to the Byzantine Emperor that "Neither by Augustus, nor by all the clergy, nor by religious, nor by the people will the judge be judged...The first seat will not be judged by anyone" (Pope St. Nicholas I, Proposueramus quidem, Denz. 330).

 
Pope Leo IX wrote in 1053 to the Patriarch of Constantinople that "By passing a preceding judgment on the great See, concerning which it is not permitted any man to pass judgment, you have received anathema from all the Fathers of all the venerable Councils..." (Pope St. Leo IX, "In terra pax hominibus" to Michael Cerularius and to Leo of Achrida, September 2, 1053, Denz. 352).

The principle was again enunciated by Pope St. Gregory VII in his famous bull Dictatus Papae, which was a collection of precedents regarding papal authority from the popes of the first millennium. There Gregory affirms that "That he [the pope] himself may be judged by no one" (Pope St. Gregory VII, Dictatus Papae, 19). The inclusion of  prima sedes a nemine iudicatur in Dictatus Papae is particularly important because Pope St. Gregory VII intended this document to be a kind of summation or syllabus of the most important, central teachings and canonical principles relating to the papacy. This principle was consistently reaffirmed in the Middle Ages and passed into the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which stipulates that no pope can be subjected to any kind of a trial. This is because he is beyond judgement (CIC 1556).

Canonically, there is no mechanism for removing a pope; not only this, but there is particular, perennial canonical legislation which specifically denies that a pope can be deposed. Even if the bishops of the world were to gather together to condemn Pope Francis of heresy, the most they could do would be to take a kind of vote of "no confidence" and plead with the Holy Father to voluntarily step down for the good of the Church. They could summon a synod, they could even declare his statements to be heretical to varying degrees; they could even declare he was "unworthy" of the papal office, as the famous Cadaver Synod did of Pope Formosus. But they could not declare he had forfeited his office—this was the exact situation the fathers at the Synod of Parma dealt with where prima sedes a nemine iudicatur was first elucdiated. They were not being asked to depose Pope Symmachus, but to declare that he was not truly pope or had forfeited his office. When called upon by the emperor to make such a proclamation, they deferred, saying no one could pass judgment on the first See. Similarly today, the bishops could not take any role in actively getting the pope out of office. They could deem him unworthy and his teachings heretical, express a statement of "no confidence", and then ask for the pope's resignation. But if he did not resign, the would not cease to be pope by the fact, and the bishops would have no power to make him step down.

Interestingly enough, when an opposing curial party wanted to get rid of Pope Stephen VI (897), they didn't depose him; they murdered him, because having the pope dead was so much simpler than dealing with the question of papal deposition against his will. I am not in any way remotely suggesting such a course be taken with Pope Francis; I cite the story as evidence that there exists no canonical way for getting rid of a pope, which is why they resorted to simply killing him.

Such are my thoughts for the time being, meager as they are. Bless you all, my brethren

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Newer Articles on the USC Website

It's been a long time since I have had the free time to do more of the longer, scholarly articles on the other website that I like to punish myself with from time to time. Ah, I remember back in the days when I could write one or two a week! Consequently, the sister site has been neglected for some time.

However, I have been plugging along on the other site, posting articles here and there over the past year and a half as I have the time. I always post these to the Facebook page, but since a lot of you are not on Facebook, I thought I should post a round-up of new articles on the site like I used to when I was more prolific.

Here's what's new on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website:

Papal Coins of the Renaissance and Baroque: Study of some of the eminent coins minted by the popes during the Renaissance and Baroque, from about 1447 to 1689, including sketch of the goldsmiths and sculptors who fashioned these charming medallions, as well as the popes who had them struck.

The Pantheon and Feast of All Saints:A history of the Feast of All Saints in its relation to the Roman building known as the Pantheon, focusing on the political background that culminated in the re-dedication of the structure to the veneration of all the saints in the year 609.

St. Bridget: Popes and Priestly Marriage:From the Revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden, the saint has a message from Jesus about God's view of sexually active priests and what would become of any pope who tried to normalize a sexually active priesthood.

St. Bridget: Punishment of Lustful, Immoral Priests: Christ narrates to St. Bridget the offense caused by lustful, prideful priests and details their punishments. Christ's words are especially poignant in light of the current wave of scandals unfolding in the American hierarchy.

Argument for the Infallibility of Canonizations: Argument for the infallibility of canonizations based on the theological arguments of some of the great theologians and manualists of the pre-conciliar era, as well as a compendium of some of my other essays on the subject.

Excavations at Tel Eton:The excavations of an Iron Age fortress, Hebrew in character, at Tel Eton provide compelling evidence for the existence of a powerful, centralized Hebrew state in Israel during the 11th century BC (i.e., the Davidic kingdom).

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Power of Resurrection


Happy Easter friends, near and afar—Christus surrexit sicut dixit! Today the Church celebrates the holiest feast of the liturgical year, the solemnity of the Resurrection of our Lord. 

The Easter feast of course calls to mind the historical Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the cornerstone of our faith—the one truth of which St. Paul says without which our faith is vain (1 Cor. 15:14). Alleluia and praise to the risen King!

But more than that, the Feast of the Resurrection reminds us that we, too, shall one day rise again in glorified flesh to stand before the Lord of Hosts. The Resurrection of Christ, "the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep", (1 Cor. 15:20), is merely the first flowering in what will become the blossoming of the human race united with Christ our head. As Job says, "And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God" (Job 19:26). 

Yet, Resurrection means even more than this. It means in this life, here and now, through the grace merited by our Lord Jesus we, all of us, even the most miserable, can rise above our sins and live a life of holiness unto the Lord.

St. Augustine says that he power of the Lord to help us rise from mortal sin to newness of life is exemplified by the three resurrections in the Gospels: the the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain, and that of Lazarus. The daughter of Jairus had just died when she was resurrected; St. Augustine says this signifies those souls who have just fallen into a single mortal sin and speedily repent. The son of the widow of Nain had been dead a bit longer—he was being carried out of the city on a bier prepared for burial. St. Augustine says this is the sinner who has allowed his sins to become habitual, and but for the intervention of grace is swiftly moving down the path to damnation. Then there is Lazarus, who has been dead so long for so long that his flesh has rotted "he stinketh" says the Gospel of John. Here is the man who is so long dead in his sins that all human hope for his salvation has been lost. The very sight of the man is an offense to God and his character has the stench of corruption. Yet, even this soul, though rotting in his sins, can be saved and restored to grace.

Thus, friend, whomever you are and whatever sins you are struggling with, the power of Christ can confer upon you victory over your sins. You are not called to manage your sins or negotiate or call a truce with them; you are called to victory, and in Him you can have it. Let the same faith you place in Christ's Resurrection be now placed in the hope of your own resurrection from sin through Him.

But Resurrection means yet even more than this. It means, in the most general sense, that evil and injustice do not have the final say. Your personal failures will not define you. Your professional setbacks are not all there is. Family tragedy, resentment, injustice, hurt feelings, fear—none of these things are the last word. In the midst of all the brokenness, even when the deepest darkness swirls about you, you can find the power of forgiveness, hope, and new life. And though the Christian life is always a journey and a battle, the forgiveness and grace and healing you need is not far—in fact, it is right where you are. Right here. Right now:

For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it (Deut. 30:11-14).

The power of the Resurrection is real. It is potent and vibrant and will transform all your weakness into strength that His power may be manifest. 

Blessed Easter everyone.

Mutans Tenebras Ad Lucem
"Turning darkness into light." ~ Pangur Bán

Friday, April 12, 2019

Interview with a Homeless Man

Lent is a time for works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual. The traditional call to almsgiving made me think about the situation of the homeless in the United States.

I recently reconnected with an old childhood friend of mine named Mark who is homeless and has been so for most of his adult life (he is my age, late 30's). Mark lives in the Pacific Northwest as a transient with no real possessions except some clothes, a backpack, and his dog. I asked him if I could interview him about his experiences as a homeless person and pick his brain about things he would like people to understand about the homeless in this country. He graciously agreed.

Below is my interview with him. Please note, Mark and I are of completely different worldviews.

USC: Thank you for being willing to talk about this.

MARK: I am an expert. I have answers, ha.  I'll try to answer the best I can, but keep in mind everyone's situation is different.

USC: To start off, how did you become homeless? Was it due to circumstances or was it a lifestyle choice?
MARK: I prefer the term transient, as originally I left my hometown and all that behind because of trouble with the law. Got myself a greyhound ticket to Portland, Maine, to meet a girl I met online. Stayed with her for a while until we all got kicked out, that was when I became a full-fledge squatter, and started hitchhiking around.

USC: Many people say they won't give homeless people money because they are afraid they'll spend it on booze, so they give food instead. Would you rather receive food or money? Explain.

MARK:
Honestly, most homeless people do spend quite a bit on alcohol and drugs; some people are homeless because of their addictions, getting arrested for possession, losing everything while in jail. Others start using once they become homeless to cope with the feelings of hopelessness and depression. So I understand why people are hesitant to give out cash. While receiving food is nice, believe it or not a lot of those homeless hippy types are vegetarians so a bag of burgers is kind of a slap in the face. My recommendation is if you don't want your cash to go towards drugs is, gift cards. But here's something to consider: Giving homeless people money instead of food can save their lives, especially in the winter. Shelters can cost money. Being able to sit in McDonalds and sip a Coke for an hour while you warm up costs money. In some cities public toilets cost money, to use or just sit in to warm up. Giving a homeless person money in the winter can save their life. Food is easy to come by. Money, not so much.

USC: What are the biggest challenges you face as a homeless person?

MARK: The number one struggle being homeless is getting sleep. Gets cold at night, and if you're just camping out you take the chance of getting rolled on by jackers and police. Constantly being sleepy makes it that much harder to improve your situation. Shelters are sometimes available in bigger cities, but are stinky, overcrowded, and can be sketchy, to say the least.

USC: In America, there is a prejudice that if a person is homeless he/she must have done something to "deserve" that situation. In your experience, why are most homeless people homeless. Is there a single main cause?

MARK: People's stories are different. I choose this lifestyle.
But probably more than half of all homeless people have some type of mental health issue, not to mention all those returning vets. Nobody "deserves" to be homeless.
USC: West coast regions like San Francisco and Seattle have been making news for mandating minimum wages of $15 and $16 an hour. The argument is that these higher minimum wages will help the poor. Have these increases affected you in any way?
MARK: What people need to realize is that every time the minimum wage increases, so does the cost of living. That's why there are so many homeless people in those cities, the simply can't make ends meet. Also, when they raised the minimum wage in Seattle, McDonalds cut their dollar menu. This hurt homeless people because of lot of them depend on the dollar menu for food. Higher minimum wages don't really help us.

USC: People will say that the homeless should "just get a job." Why can't the homeless just get a job?

MARK: Who says homeless people don't have jobs?
I've been homeless while working full time. The cost of living is so high. Many homeless people do have jobs. Some also work temp jobs or side hustles to make ends meet. Just cuz someone is homeless doesn't mean they don't have a job.

USC: How important are religious facilities in assisting the homeless? This may include thrift stores (Salvation Army or Vincent de Paul), but also shelters/food pantries, soup kitchens. How big a difference to religious organizations really make in helping the poor?

MARK:
A lot of churches help tremendously, I've found the Baptists help the most. Sally's is pretty good, but other organizations like Goodwill don't help at all, they accept free donations and turn around and sell them for profit. Google the CEO's salary and you'll see.
USC: Politicians spend a lot of time talking about fighting poverty. But from your point of view, what would actually help the homeless most?

MARK:
Politicians have many different views, depending on region. Tends to be places with more temperate climate that "fight" homelessness, which translates to arresting people for vagrancy or trespassing. Other places, like northern states, or where I'm at here in Washington have a different approach. This last winter, here in my town, the city approved a designated area for a homeless tent city, right behind city hall, which I find appropriate. We also have a lot of resources, the Opportunity Council was actually the group that helped me find my first job here, taught me how to make a resume, supplied hygiene supplies so I wouldn't show up to the interview smelling like a bum. YMCA helps with showers.

USC: Cities often speak of "combating" homelessness but in reality try to simply make life difficult for homeless people. Have you ever experienced this?

MARK: Like I said, it usually means arresting people for vagrancy or loitering, putting bars around ledges to stop homeless people from sleeping there, ordinances against panhandling, and stuff like that. Cities don't combat homelessness. Most of the time they want to combat homeless people by driving them off.

USC: What is something you would like people to understand about the homeless?

MARK: What I would want people to understand about homelessness is that not all of those people are bums, many have just given up. How frustrating is it to apply for a job and you have no address or phone number to put down..? And also, I don't think people of wealth see the difference between "making a living" and "not dying for 2 more weeks"

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Praying Through the Mass


Last weekend I attended the Extraordinary Form Mass at Our Lady, Star of the Sea in Jackson, Michigan. I am blessed to live within an hour of several weekly EF Mass options and Star of the Sea is a beautiful historic urban church particularly well suited to the splendor of the Mass of Ages (pictured above).

I was feeling kind of lethargic and depressed when I went in. I didn't bother picking up the Mass booklet or the printed worship aid. I wasn't interested in following along or anything. I just slumped down and leaned my head on the pew in front of me and started to pray.

The music was beautiful, though, as always. It's easy to just relax and let the chant seep into your heart the way the smoke of the incense wafts into your head. I confess, by the time the Kyrie had begun, I was kind of in my own inner world. The beauty of the music had got me moved and I began contemplating the issues in my life, sorting through my troubles and bringing them before God.

I continued in this manner for some time, nominally going through the motions of standing, kneeling, etc. but the entire time deeply immersed in my own inner life and not giving much heed to externals. I don't think I even noticed the homily. 

Before I knew it, it was the final blessing and the Last Gospel. It was then that I realized that I had been in prayer the entire Mass. I don't think I have ever prayed continuously through the entirety of a Mass before, not like this at least. And I felt great afterward.

As I left the church, I realized that such an experience probably could never have happened at a Novus Ordo Mass. The Novus Ordo has too many "interruptions" and makes too many external demands upon the worshiper with the gestures and responses one is expected to make. The "active participation" that the architects of the Novus Ordo envisioned too often turns out to be a kind of surface activism ("I'm participating because I am physically moving and saying lots of things"). If I were to spend the entire Novus Ordo in prayer in this manner, it would necessitate me positively tuning out of the Mass—intentionally ignoring the liturgy.

Now it's true that in a certain sense, I was not paying attention to the Mass in this experience either, but not in the same way. I didn't have to tune out of the Mass. It was more like, the very structure of the Mass itself allowed for this particular sort of experience of it. It is as if in the Extraordinary Form, there is a hidden "low road" built into the form of the liturgy itself that allows oneself pass through it in a contemplative "mode." I'm grasping at straw trying to explain what I mean, but hopefully my meager words convey the substance of what I am getting at.

I'm not one of those people who believes the Novus Ordo is intrinsically offensive to God or impious or anything like that; but between the NO and the EF, it is crystal clear which one has a structure more conducive to prayer.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Book Review: Zombies More Popular Than God?

In 2015, author Thomas McFadden gave us the excellent book Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism, a timely work which addressed the problem of theistic evolution within Catholic thought. McFadden’s debut work was broad and well-researched, covering a wide spectrum of subjects. At the heart of the book, however, was the idea that, while theistic creation "works" for some Catholics, it certainly does not "work" for everybody. Because many mainstream Catholics have adopted the position that there's "no contradiction" between evolution and Catholic theology, it has become accepted to assume there are no real problems with theistic evolution. Consequently, there is little real discussion about the science behind evolution, and Catholics who do not find an easy harmony between Scripture and evolution are left with little to go on. Readers interested in my complete review of Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism can find it here.

Mr. McFadden has now put together a splendid follow up to his first book in his new work, Zombies More Popular Than God?: The Evolution of Unbelief. The title caught my attention with its novelty, but don’t be fooled—though the book begins with some observations on the current cultural faddishness surrounding zombie-lore, the real subject of the book is the “scientific zombies” of the secular humanist scientific establishment. A “scientific zombie” is a discredited scientific theory that is nevertheless still getting traction in scientific textbooks and pop science publications. Just as a zombie is a corpse that is animated despite being dead, scientific zombies are intellectually dead ideas that nevertheless continue to be promulgated. An example would be the idea that embryos of all vertebrates look similar at a certain stage of development, or that the dinosaur Archaeopteryx was a transitional creature between a lizard and a bird, both of which have been scientifically discredited but continue to appear in science textbooks used in public schools.

Zombies More Popular Than God? does an excellent job cataloguing these scientific zombies. This is an especially pressing need, as McFadden demonstrates that perceived conflict between science and religion is the top reason why young people lose faith, according to polling. The Catholic Church’s response to this crisis of faith has been pathetic; in response to an overwhelming onslaught from evolutionists promoting unguided Darwinism as the mechanism for the development of species, the response of Catholic thinkers has been to shrug and say, “Even if that happened, God did it.” This explanation not only fundamentally ignores the essential incompatibility of Darwinism with divine revelation, but fails to tackle the actual scientific claims of Darwinism, which effectually cedes the ground of argument to secular humanism, granting the privilege of dictating the extent of divine revelation to junk science.

Throughout both of McFadden’s books is the recurring them that simply saying “God did it” is utterly destructive to faith. While some Catholics may be satisfied by this explanation, many are not (as poll numbers consistently show); and even those who are content with theistic evolution inevitably fall prey to the dual dangers of creeping mythologization of creation theology and a slavish subservience to the latest pop scientific theory.

What is the solution? Not shrugging our shoulders and saying “Well, even if evolution happened, God did it”, but really educating ourselves and our children about natural science so that these “scientific zombies” can be exposed for what they are. The scientific data supports an intelligent, guided design behind life on this earth and Catholics need to understand this; similarly, data does not support the Darwinian idea of survival of the fittest through random mutation as the mechanism for explaining why things are the way they are. Catholics need to engage secular humanist junk science on the plane of science and continue to offer compelling alternatives to the Darwinist narrative—alternatives that offer not only more palatable theological implications, but which are simply better science.

There’s a lot of great information in Zombies More Popular Than God? It is not a scholarly work itself, but does an admirable job of identifying the major fault lines in current evolutionary theory and directing the reader to other scientific-scholarly writings on the subject. I found myself taking copious notes and getting lots of suggestions for further study. It’s a handy reference that anyone interested in the problems of theistic evolution needs to read attentively. With two books now under his belt, Thomas McFadden is making valuable contributions to the discussion of evolution within Catholicism and I hope he continues his work.

Zombies More Popular Than God?, as well as McFadden's original book, can be found online at his website www.scienceandcatholicism.org for a donation of $15.00.


Sunday, March 03, 2019

Cardinal Pell and a Painful Reminder

This big news this past week was the conviction of Cardinal Pell in Australia on sex abuse charges. This trial was noted for its irregularity, at least from an American perspective. The gag orders, secret evidence, and general inaccessibility of the facts of the case to the media have given this trial the character of a kangaroo court. In the United States, Pell's trial certainly would not have met the threshold for anything considered just and objective.


Still, I am surprised the degree to which many Catholics are leaping on this and rushing to exonerate Pell. Some are even publishing ridiculous statements calling him a martyr and postng "I stand with Cardinal Pell" pictures on social media. There is almost something like a knee-jerk reaction to vindicate Pell's innocence. I suspect this is because (unlike the figures of McCarrick or Wuerl) many orthodox Catholics seemed to like Cardinal Pell. His conviction was thus easy to read as an attempt of the vindictive, aggressively secularist government of Australia to rid itself of a gadfly of orthodoxy.

Certainly his trial was all screwy, but I have no idea whether he is guilty or innocent based on that. And the fact that Australian trial procedure is different than that in the U.S. is no indication either. But here's what troubles me most about the reaction to the Pell conviction—it seems to me that traditionally minded Catholics are rushing to defend Pell mainly because of his orthodox credentials; in other words, because someone on "our" side simply can't be guilty of the same things we see from progressives like McCarrick. 

For one thing, I want to remind everyone that Cardinal Pell isn't some bastion of orthodoxy. I was never very impressed with him. Honestly, he struck me as the Cardinal Dolan of Australia, a guy who seldom spoke heresy but also wasn't interested in making any strong and principled stand for the faith either. I vividly remember him several years ago insisting there was no literal Adam and Eve in a pathetic attempt to look cool and sophisticated for Richard Dawkins; Dawkins turned on him and (rightfully) said if there was no Adam and Eve then there couldn't be original sin and the entire claim of Christianity was groundless. Pell had no response. He just never impressed me as a great bishop or defender of orthodoxy.

But—and I think this is more important—we have to realize that the scourge of homosexuality in the clergy cuts across lines of orthodoxy. It is not true that the homosexual and progressive groups are identical. As the filth in the Church continues to be exposed, we need to realize that many of "our" people are going to be exposed as well. The Vigano testimony makes this clear—it's not just a liberal problem. The only difference between liberals and conservatives in this regard is that liberals want the open acceptance of homosexuality within the Church while conservatives do not, but that is a different question than whether particular clerics are or are not themselves homosexuals.

Frederic Martel's book In the Closet of the Vatican says four out of every five clerics in the Vatican are gay. But the book is being dismissed by some because many of the allegedly gay prelates named in the book are conservatives. Martel claims, for example, that Cardinal Burke is homosexual, a thought that is untenable to many Catholics. 

I make no claims about the veracity of Martel's book, just like I can't opine on the facts of the Pell trial. A lot of his book seems to be based on hearsay. But what I can say is that we cannot be inherently opposed to the idea that otherwise conservative, orthodox prelates might also be homosexuals. A person might be a homosexual and even have acted on it in the past while still being a conservative who teaches homosexuality is wrong, just like I know unchastity is wrong and can speak against it even if I have no always been chaste in my own life. I would have no problem believing Cardinal Burke was homosexual. But whether I thought so or not, it would depend on the specific evidence, not on a knee-jerk reaction about "so-and-so simply can't be gay because they have made principled stands against homosexuality" or "I bet so-and-so is gay because he's liberal."

So, I'm not saying Pell is guilty or Burke is gay or anything else. But I am saying, get it out of your head that the homosexual problem is only a progressive problem. I'm sure there are parallels, but the lines are not contiguous. If we can't get it through our heads that the purge we desire is going to expose "our people" too, then we're not really ready for the cleansing that is coming.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

St. Alphonsus' Letter on the State of the Church



The following letter of St. Alphonsus Ligouri has been making the rounds on Catholic Twitter this weekend. What is especially remarkable is the degree of candor we see from saintly Ligouri on the real possibility of a pope "that does not have the glory of God for his sole purpose" and warnings that, if such a man were elected, "things from their present condition would go from bad to worse." Today, such language from a theologian would get him accused of fomenting a "coup against the pope" or being branded "the great accuser." At any rate it demonstrates that even centuries ago in a supposed age of burgeoning ultramontanism, it was not remiss for a theologian—and a sainted one at that—to speak candidly about the scandalous state of affairs in the Church and to consider the realistic possibility of a worldly pope whose priorities are not the salvaton of souls but his own "human respect." Let us look at the pertinent section of this remarkable letter:

24 October 1774
You Excellency my dear friend and Lord,
As regards my opinions concerning the present state of the Church with relation to the election of the new Pope, what opinion of any weight could a miserable, ignorant, and unspiritual person like myself possibly give? There is need for prayer and much prayer. All the human science and prudence that there is cannot extricate the Church from the present state of relaxation and confusion in which every section finds itself; the all-powerful arm of God is necessary. As regards the bishops, very few of them possess genuine zeal for souls. Almost all religious communities—and one could omit the "almost"—are relaxed. As a result of the present state of general confusion, observance has collapsed and obedience is a thing of the past. The state of the secular clergy is still worse; so, in a word, there is a need for a general reform of all clerics and ecclesiastics if there is to be any improvement in the present great corruption of morals among the laity.
So we have to pray to Jesus Christ that He would give us as head of the Church one possessed of more spirit and zeal for the glory of God than of learning and human prudence. He should be free of all party attachments and devoid of human respect. If, by chance, for our great misfortune, we should get a Pope that does not have the glory of God as his sole purpose, the Lord will not help him greatly and things from their present condition will go from bad to worse. However, prayer, which can provide a remedy for so many present ills, will move the Lord to put His hand to the problem and remedy the situation. 
St. Alphonsus Ligouri to Don Traiano Trabisonda (Letter #791)

A little context: This letter was written to a noble friend of Ligouri's and was meant to be read to the cardinals assembled for the conclave of 1774—a conclave which lasted 134 days and cast an astonishing 265 ballots before electing Pius VI, whose pontificate would be filled with one disaster after another, such as the anti-ecclesiastical aggression of Emperor Joseph II and the heretical Synod of Pistoia, the outbreak of the French Revolution and the invasion of Italy by Napoleon, among many other things. The great contention of this conclave had to do with the question of the Society of Jesus, who had been suppressed in the previous pontificate of Clement XIV, with the cardinals lined up in parties that were essentially pro and anti-Jesuit.

St. Alphonsus understood that in times of great crisis, the reform of the clergy is always at the heart of the restoration of the Church, that genuine "reform" is always a return to obedience, observance, and the care of souls--and that the personal character and priorities of the Pope can have tremendous import on such attempts at reform. By God's grace, may the ideals enunciated by St. Alphonsus in this letter be the the priorities of the clergy in our own troubled day. Amen.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Candlemas Liturgy Video

Saturday I attended a Candlemas liturgy in the Extraordinary Form in Ann Arbor, MI. put on by Juventutem Michigan. The celebrant and sponsors of the Mass were kind enough to let me bring my camera and record the procession and Mass. Please enjoy this montage of footage from the Mass, set to some traditional chants for the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.




By the way, we also have an Unam Sanctam Catholicam YouTube channel. I don't post on it too frequently, but if you want to subscribe here you go.

Special thanks to Juventutem Michigan for putting making this wonderful Mass possible.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Excommunication is a No-No


The very brave Bishop Tobin—in a shrug heard round the world—has suggested that there's no point in trying to use canonical discipline against what he admits as "pseudo-Catholic" politicians like Governor Cuomo. Why? "The Church lost her ability/will to discipline them a long time ago." Several clergymen like Tobin are speaking out on the subject as well, attempting to justify the appalling and mystifying refusal of the Catholic hierarchy to impose any sort of sanction whatsoever against Cuomo in light of New York's barbaric new abortion law. Tobin argues that a gesture such as excommunication would be pointless since such canonical penalties are no longer effective.

A few thoughts on this matter:

It is good to revisit the passage in the Scriptures where St. Paul speaks of the concept of excommunication, though that word is not used specifically. I am referring to 1 Corinthians 5. In this passage, St. Paul addresses a situation of extreme immorality unfolding within the Corinthian church:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? (1 Cor. 5:1-2)

The only comment I will offer here is to note that St. Paul is not only appalled at the sin itself, but on the attitude of the Corinthians towards it. I'm not sure what he means exactly that they were "arrogant", but his words call to mind the celebratory attitude of Governor Cuomo and the Assembly of New York upon the passage of the abortion bill.

St. Paul goes on to call for excommunication against the man:

Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Cor. 5:2-5)

The phrase "deliver this man to Satan" is another way to say "remove this person from the communion of the Church." The desired outcome is that, by being cut off from the access to the community and the grace of the sacraments (i.e., being delivered to the kingdom of Satan), that this person's fleshly attitude may be prodded to repentance by the shock of being deprived of the sacraments.

However, excommunication is not solely remedial. St. Paul hopes the man will come to repentance, but that is not it's only purpose. In the following verses he explains the value of excommunication to the Christian community:

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)

Let us really contemplate this passage—the purpose of excommunication is not merely for the good of the sinner's soul; it is also for the edification and protection of the community. "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump." St. Paul teaches that excommunication helps purge the body of "leaven", and that without this purging such leaven will cause a rot throughout the body. When the offender is singled out and has judgment pronounced upon him, the faithful at least see that such behavior is proscripted. St. Paul is not only worried about the sinner, but about the boasting of the congregation, that is, their attitude about the sinner. By excommunicating him, St. Paul judges not only the sinner, but the broader attitude that allows sin to flourish unchecked.

To bring this back to Governor Cuomo: from the biblical perspective, whether Cuomo will repent or not, whether he respects the authority of the Church or not, whether the Church can claim any socio-political leverage in these matters, is not ultimately the main concern. The fact is, the good of the Catholic Church in America demands that this man be thrown out. At least make an attempt to purify the lump of its leaven. If we don't, we are celebrating with the old leaven. It's about the integrity of the community as much as it is about the sinner.

* * * * * *

There have often been times in Church history where discipline has been lost or seriously eroded. We can think of various monastic reforms throughout the centuries. Or the era of the Counter Reform and the Council of Trent when the Church had to fight an uphill battle to transform the episcopacy from a class of political courtiers into something more in line with what Christ intended. Countless regional synods from the first millennium and the era of the barbarian invasions attest to the Church's commitment to maintaining or restoring discipline in an age of chaos when order seemed to be falling apart everywhere.

Yes, there will be times when the Church loses her will and ability to discipline. But the lesson we see from these varied examples is that the will to discipline is restored by...disciplining. It is common sense. If the will to discipline has been lost and you will it to be restored, then you discipline. Imagine we swap out the issue of discipline for something else...say, painting your house:

You: "Hey man, the paint on your house is peeling off everywhere. It looks really awful. It's kind of an eye-sore. You really ought to paint it."
Me: "That's not a realistic option."
You: "Why not? There's nothing stopping you from doing it."
Me: "I lost the will to paint it a long time ago. It's hard to recapture that will now."

In such a dialogue, you would rightfully infer that it's not really a matter of me having "lost the will" to paint the house, but more that I simply do not care if the house is painted or not. I have kind of washed my hands over the state of the house. It is no longer of pressing concern to me whether it is an eye sore or not. If I truly cared about how it looked, I would find the will and ability, whether painting it myself or devoting resources to hiring someone else. When people care about something, they make effort. If I refuse to make effort, you rightfully deduce that I don't care.

And that's the sad truth here. Cardinal Tobin, Dolan and the like don't care what the optics are here. They don't care whether the House of the Lord is an eye sore, an abomination to the people. "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you" (Rom. 2:24); but they don't care. If discipline has been lost, then the common sense approach is to restore it. You restore it by making examples of people and actually asserting your will to enforce discipline. If you can't do that or refuse to, it simply means you don't even want discipline restored. You're happy with the status quo. This is the inescapable conclusion: Cuomo will not face excommunication because the princes of the Church are content with the current situation.

* * * * * *

Why are they content? Why do they prefer this current state of things to something else? The fact is, if Dolan, Tobin, etc. were to excommunicate these pro-abort politicians, they would raise the ire of liberal Catholics who would probably cut off what paltry financial support they already give. Someone like Dolan looks at his archdiocese and says, "Hmm...okay, I have so-and-so many million Catholics here, donating about such-and-such million dollars annually. I know demographically (in New York) that somewhere between 60-70% of them identify as liberal and favor liberal causes." He does a quick mental calculus and figures out that angering this constituency can cost him a net loss of X million dollars every year. With declining Mass attendance, the collapsing parochial school system, and the shadow of impending gargantuan abuse scandal settlement payouts, he dare not endanger his financial outlook any more. He simply cannot afford to agitate the liberal Catholic demographic.

And truth be told, he doesn't really want to even if he could. A prelate who attains Dolan-level prominence is not an ideologue. He is a bureaucrat and a pragmatist. He wants to walk the path of least resistance; if the diocese is heavily liberalized liturgically and ideologically, he is content to just go with the flow, keeping his head down as much as possible—not drawing the attention of the Vatican but neither doing anything to inspire their flock. To expect the bishops to take a man like Cuomo to task is like a man sitting in the warm comfort of his home being asked to go outside and pick a fight with a bear that's knocking over his trash with nothing to be gained from such effort save guaranteed pain and massive hospital bills. It's easier to just sit in the fluffy arm-chair sipping wine with the Wall Street Journal on your lap, watch the bear thrash your garbage bins through the window, shrug and say, "What can I do?"

None of us would risk our lives just to run a bear away from our trash; it just doesn't make sense. They view this political problem the same way; it doesn't make sense to them. Of course, they are seeing it errantly, and our own  resolve would change if that were our children and not the garbage the bear was destroying. And of course, it is our children who are at stake here. That they even see the question in any other terms betrays an appalling, scandalous lack of testicular fortitude.

* * * * * *

Like the contemporary discussion about capital punishment, these prelates' attitudes focus way too exclusively on the remedial-corrective aspect of the subject while ignoring the retributive-justice side of the question (see "Death Penalty and Retributive Justice", USC). There is too much hand-wringing about "Oh well Cuomo won't care about an excommunication; excommunications don't carry that sort of weight anymore...this will accomplish nothing." Regardless of whether it "accomplished" anything in the temporal order, justice and the integrity of the Faith demands it. The heinous nature of the New York law cries out for it on principle.

Consider the famous scene from the film Becket, depicted here. Doesn't that give you chills? If only we had that kind of leadership today. But let's delve into the historical background of this scene a bit. This scene is meant to encapsulate the historic excommunications of several agents of King Henry II of England by Becket throughout the 1160's over the issue of the royal power infringing on the rights of the Church. Did Becket think his excommunications were going to change King Henry's policies? Perhaps, perhaps not. Becket had worked with King Henry for years as his royal chancellor and must have known how iron-willed the king was. But ultimately the temporal success of his efforts, while important, was secondary.

Did Pius VII think excommunication was going to change Napoleon? Did St. Pius V think Queen Elizabeth was going to repent when he excommunicated her? I'd have to assume not. But they acted because they knew the rights of the Church were at stake and that they must be defended. They were able and willing to act on principle. That is what is lacking in men like Tobin and Dolan.

* * * * * *

Finally, let's remember that we can't limit God's grace. Maybe, just maybe an excommunication would have some desirable temporal affect. Maybe Cuomo would be shocked into repenting. Maybe this could be the occasion of an infusion of grace that could change his heart. Maybe it would rally the faithful Catholics of New York and lead to some sort of pro-life renaissance in the state. Maybe, amidst the hostility, expressions of solidarity would pour in from faithful Catholics around the country, who would renew their prayers for New York and the governor and the Church. Maybe miracles of grace would happen that we can't conceive of. Stranger things have happened in the history of the Church. It's not impossible.

That is, not impossible if the bishops man up and do their job. But since Vatican II, positive excommunication by decree (as opposed to latae sententiae) has really only been used against clerics, like Marcel Lefbvre, Simon Lokodo, and Ezinwanne Igbo. Excommunicating laity by positive decree is an unspoken no-no.

Ultimately, as the adage goes, you miss 100% of the shots you never take.