Saturday, June 29, 2019

Duodecimus Anniversarius

Good heavens...has it been twelve years!? Indeed it has; twelve years of blogging here at Unam Sanctam Catholicam, my friends. It was June 29, 2007 when this blog was launched. I was a young man working as a Director of Religious Education at a parish in the Diocese of Lansing. I remember for some time I had been frustrated with what I was experiencing in the churches around where I lived. I was baptized Catholic as a child but had no faith formation; I returned to the Church in 2002, receiving my First Communion at the tender age of 22. 

But over the next few years I started to realize that the Church I had studied and prayed my way back into did not look the same as the Church I was experiencing on the ground in parish life. I had read about all the "riches" supposedly unlocked by the Second Vatican Council, but was extremely disappointed that the most vibrant aspects of the Church's tradition were notably lacking from parish life. Why was there such a paucity of Latin? Why was I hearing contemporary guitar music or Protestant hymns instead of Gregorian chant? Why were so many homilies so wimpy on Catholic dogma? Why did those in charge of the Church seem to lax when it came to promoting the Gospel? And most alarmingly of all, why did so many Catholics seem uninterested in their spiritual heritage?

When I returned to full communion with the Church in 2002, I had just kind of assumed that the Church I'd read about in my studies still existed. But by 2005ish there was a kind of disquiet and spiritual rut I was in. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. But it almost felt like a conspiracy...a conspiracy of silence about the Church's history and customs. As if traditional Catholicism was that one relative that we don't talk about because he's in prison. I remember 2005 was my senior year of my undergrad and that year I had completed a historical research project on the Second Vatican Council. I had studied the actual daybooks of the Council and read the interventions and came across the story of Cardinal Ottaviani's microphone being disconnected. This led me to Ralph Wiltgen's The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, which was really the point where I started to realize what happened in  Rome in 1962-1965 was more revolutionary than I had hitherto understood.

But the transformative moment came in June of 2007 when I was hired as a DRE and had the privilege of reconnecting with Dr. John Joy, who at the time was not Dr. Joy but just a young dude working for the Church and preparing to go study abroad with his family. John and I had been friends back from our days at Ave Maria College and managed to catch up. John helped me understand that what I was really missing was the vital connection that any serious Catholic needs to the Church's tradition. He gave me a copy of Msgr. Klaus Gamber's book Reform of the Roman Liturgy, as well as Michael Davies' Liturgical Timebombs. He also introduced me to other valuable works like Msgr. George Agius' Tradition and the Church and the works the the Dominican theologian Servais Pinckaers on Christian ethics and the morality of happiness. Understand, before I was introduced to these authors I had primarily been reading Jimmy Akin and Scott Hahn sort of books, which, while having some value, left me profoundly undernourished. These works John introduced me to had a very profound effect on my thinking and helped me to crystallize some things in my head that hitherto had been vague, unformed sentiment. They helped me really reconnect with the foundations of the Catholic faith and understand more about what my spirit was lacking and where to find it.

But John also did something equally formative—he introduced me to blogging. It being 2007, I still did not have the Internet in my house so I was oblivious to he existence of a traditional Catholic blogosphere, which in those days was still in an inchoate, latent phase of development. But John introduced me to three blogs: the New Liturgical Movement, Rorate Caeli, and a particularly entertaining blog run by some eccentric crank out on the west coast called Athanasius Contra Mundum. 

Learning of the existence of traditional Catholic blogs was revolutionary. See, before I started reading them, I was under the impression that my own frustrations with contemporary Catholicism were more of a matter of personal taste. I did not realize that there was a rather substantial sub-group within Catholicism who felt the same, and not as a matter of mere sentiment, but as a coherent, alternate vision for what the Church could and ought to be, grounded in its history and traditions and faithful to its own charism.

In other words, I realized I was not alone.

And then I was like, "Imma blog also."

And so, here I am, 12 years later, with 1,808 essays and 3.5 million pageviews across two different sites under my belt, still rolling with this weird hobby of mine—and pleasantly surprised that so many of you are still along for the journey.

God bless you all, blessed Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and prayers for another year of blogging!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Book Review: Infiltration by Taylor Marshall

A few days ago, when I spoke negatively about Dr. Taylor Marshall's book Infiltration on this blog's Facebook page, people responded with hostility, confusion, and consternation. Dr. Marshall's book purports to offer a causal explanation for the current crisis in the Church. It invokes Freemasonry, Fatima, Paul VI, and a whole slew of subjects important to traditional Catholics. Why speak poorly of the work, then? The man is doing a good thing for the Church; why knock it? Is this more of the  "circular firing squad" dynamic at work?

What is said is important, but how it is said matters quite a bit as well. When one is making certain historical assertions, this becomes desperately important. Cause and effect need to be clearly and indisputably linked by well-documented and universally accepted sources. The scholarly threshold is high. You can certainly publish a historical work where cause and effect are  not clearly demonstrated, where allegations are not documented thoroughly, where sources are questionable or non-existent—but what you have is not a work of history, but of gossip or innuendo.

Unfortunately, Infiltration is a work full of innuendo. It would be tedious to expand upon every unsubstantiated innuendo Dr. Marshall presents as fact; below I am posting a review from my friend Kevin Tierney who writes on this site occasionally. His review gets to the point much more lucidly and quickly than anything I would write. But I do want to expand upon what I mean by "innuendo" and why I think books like Infiltration are ultimately harmful to the traditionalist cause.

An historical argument by innuendo will usually start with a predetermined assertion and then try to prove it by appealing to causal factors which, taken on their own, do not rise to the threshold of establishing a certain cause and effect relationship. The author typically knows this but, rather than admitting the connection is tenuous, the author tries to bolster his claims by resorting to innuendo in lieu of actual facts. A classic example of this is well known historical sensationalist and journalist Graham Hancock, author of such books as Fingerprints of the Gods about Atlantis. Or we could take his book The Sign and the Seal on the Ark of the Covenant. In this book, Hancock opines that we really don't know what was inside the Ark, but points out that ancient cultures used to worship meteorites. He also speculates that a radioactive meteorite could have caused some of the effects we read about in the Old Testament associated with the Ark (e.g., making Moses "glow", killing people who touched it, etc). Now, does Mr. Hancock have any proof that the Ark contained a radioactive meteorite? Of course not. Could such an assertion ever be proven? Most likely not. But that is not going to stop Hancock from simply "throwing it out there" and then moving forward with his line of argumentation with the latent assumption that this implication is trustworthy. In essence, he makes a radically unverifiable statement, shrugs and says "maybe", but then moves ahead anyway on the working assumption that the hypothesis is correct, creating the illusion that an argument has been made when really only an innuendo was proffered.

In Dr. Marshall's Infiltration, you will see many such arguments. You will see the Siri Thesis rehashed, with no proof other than to retell the story because "legend says." Paul VI is alleged to be an Alinskyite on the premise that Cardinal Montini and Saul Alinsky were mutual associates of Jacques Maritain. It is asserted that John XXIII was referring to the children of Fatima when he referenced "prophets of doom", even though Marshall offers no proof of this and despite the fact there are many other more plausible explanations. He reports that Paul VI was a sodomite, on no evidence other than retelling the gossip of French diplomat Roger Peyerfitte who says he knows of an actor who said he had a homosexual relationship with Paul VI. In other words, it is pure hearsay. Marshall is just reporting what other people gossip about. It's historical writing of the shoddiest form. Tabloid material.

I like Dr. Taylor Marhsall. I'm happy he has gravitated more towards the traditionalist camp. And I know people will inevitably say that myself or Mr. Tierney are harming the traditional cause by ripping this book. On the contrary, it is the existence of books like Infiltration which do damage to the traditionalist cause by making us look like a bunch of conspiracy theorists for whom a certain narrative is more important than the facts. It's highly likely that anyone I gave this book to in hopes of convincing them of our cause would walk away shaking their head. I don't deny the book is entertaining and engaging; but as history, it's a huge fail. And please don't tell me "He's just trying to do a good work for the Church." We can't play loose with the truth in service of the truth. When I was in college, I wrote a paper on the Protestant Reformation for my history class. It was a blistering critique of the Lutheran movement. I thought my professor, a militant Catholic, would heartily approve of it. Instead he lambasted it ruthlessly. My citations didn't prove what I said they proved. Connections I inferred were not sufficiently demonstrated. Too much reliance on secondary sources and not enough on primary. He ripped it to shreds. It didn't matter that I was "trying to do a good thing for the Church." And he was right to destroy it. The scholarship of that paper was garbage. Its shoddy reasoning and weak citations were actually more damaging to Catholicism than supportive of it. And that's always been my approach as well. You can show me a book that argues 100% in line with things I believe, but if it's scholarship and citations are sloppy I'm still going to say it's bunk. Even if I happen to agree with a lot of Taylor Marshall's conclusions, he offers no compelling reason why I ought to believe them.

Well, that's enough for my introduction. I guess I should actually get to Kevin's review.

Review of Dr. Taylor Marhsall's Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within by Kevin Tierney

How does one explain the crisis in the modern Church? This is a subject that has taken up endless amounts of discussion. After this review, we will spend even more hours, but God willing, not too many. During that time, in addition to discussing the root causes of the crisis, we will discuss how present these problems, and what one can do to solve them. In having that discussion, a wide variety of viewpoints will be presented.

Taylor Marshall has given his own viewpoint in Infilitration: The Plot to Destroy the Church From Within. This is a 250 page work with 50 pages of appendices, in addition to a glowing foreword by Bishop Athanasius Schneider. By appearances alone, this is a serious and sober book. Yet as with many things, appearances are deceiving. Infiltration fails as a serious and sober look at the problems facing the Catholic Church. More importantly, the ways in which it fail can have real consequences for how that crisis is perceived, and for those who advocate it along these lines.

Yet in reviewing this work, we must be careful. We must avoid being like Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, whose review of Infiltration was less a review on the book and more on his belief that Taylor Marshall is a moron. There is no valley so low to which Mirus will not stoop in his quest to insult Dr. Marshall, no pettiness he will not engage in to further his belief that Marshall is a crazy uncle. Sadly, many people have picked up on this review, and are promoting it. While this no doubt makes them feel good and superior, I doubt its actually reaching anyone who has actually read the book, or who isn’t absolutely certain of the intellectual capacity (or lack thereof) of Dr. Marshall. In this review, I want to avoid those pitfalls. This is a bad book, but we need to explain why exactly it is bad, even if you agree with the authors overall conclusions about there being a modernist crisis in the Church.


In his rejection of a certain theological position, Marshall says he rejects it because it “does not present a consistent theological narrative” for the present crisis. For Marshall, the narrative is what matters above all else. The narrative about the crisis matters more than the actual crisis, which is almost secondary. Unlike most traditionalist polemics, Infiltration spends a shockingly small amount of time talking about the problems the Church faces. Instead, he is concerned most with telling you what the cause of these problems are. The cause of these problems are a hyper-organized and almost omniscient cabal of secret societies (the Carbonari, Freemasons, the Sankte Gallen Mafia, among many others) carefully and calmly putting together a plan to take over and subvert the Church. The blueprint of this plan is the Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita, written in 1859. Marshall’s job is to trace a straight line from this document up until 2019, and show how it explains everything about the current crisis.

The problem with conspiracy theories is they adopt an approach of paranoia in their reading of history. In every event, they see otherwise invisible narratives—and if you look hard enough, there are signs of these narratives, signs the author will gladly tell you about if you spend the money for their book. Hence he begins his narrative by asking why lightning struck the Vatican the day Benedict resigned the papacy. Was it connected to the Vatican banking scandal? Was it about sex abuse? Doctrine? To Marshall, that lightning strike means something. To the reader, that strike might also mean something: a weather pattern developed in the earths atmosphere that was conducive to strong storms, and one of them produced a bolt of lightning which struck the Vatican. That possibility is never once mentioned by Marshall.

Another problem is that it gives the enemy far too much credit. That secret societies exist, and that they are often hostile to the Catholic Church is no doubt true. Yet Marshall presents these societies less as the dangerous threat that they are, and more as cartoonish supervillains who are all powerful, hyper organized and disciplined, and every action done is followed verbatim by a plan written 160 years ago. Anyone who has studied the history of these societies for even a second will be skeptical of this. The movements of secret societies and radicalism spends just as much time knifing each other as they do trying to attack their common enemy. They splinter into factions upon factions. If anything, that’s what makes the assault on the Church so difficult from these groups: it is highly decentralized. Even today you could excommunicate and jail every member of the Sankte Gallen Mafia (the liberal group that by their own admission and boasting were the ones who lobbied and organized for Pope Francis during the recent conclave), and the crisis would continue without missing a beat. The problem isn’t so much a central playbook they are following, as there are a bunch of highly motivated individuals whose only thing they agree upon is a disdain and loathing for tradition and the Gospel.


For Dr. Marshall, one of the biggest problems the Church faced was the loss of the Papal States.  For a variety of reasons (although not important enough to elucidate in great detail in the book), the Papal States are central to everything.  It goes without saying that Dr. Marshall would not be happy about the Lateran treaty which gave rise to the modern Vatican City and the protection of the city from outside threats, in exchange for the pope relinquishing claims on everything else that comprised the Papal States.  The absurd assumptions that follow upon this are legion: for example, did you know that Ambrogio Ratti took the papal name Pius XI to rebuke his two predecessors named Pius?  Did you know that he took the name explicitly because he would solve the tensions with Italy that they failed?  And did you know that this Lateran treaty unleashed a demonic army that infiltrated the Vatican, culminating in the pontificate of Pope Francis, a Masonic Manchurian Candidate?  This is all just fluff; Marshall nowhere gives evidence that Ratti chose Pius XI as a slight towards his predecessors, or that Pius XI viewed himself as repudiating their failed policies.  He takes frequent leaps of logic to arrive at these conclusions.  He’s a habitual logic leaper.  Often, it is harmless.  Other times, he says things like the following:

Flanked by representatives of Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism, Pope John Paul II opened the Jubilee Year of 2000. One year later, he would be diagnosed with Parikson’s disease and begin his slow, painful descent into death (Infiltration, pg. 192).

Now, maybe God really did punish John Paul II with Parkinsons for mistakes regarding ecumenism. I would be very careful in writing that opinion in public though. As in, don’t write that in public. It's unprovable and a tremendous leap of logic; yet Marshall seems to imply a causal relation here that the reader is invited to uncritically accept.


In addition to seeking out the emanations of penumbras of various events in the Church, Dr. Marshall will also inform the readers of various theological controversies. Yet the way he does so is, quite frankly, fundamentally dishonest. In discussing “infiltration” of the Sacred Liturgy, he states his belief that the prayer “for our dearly departed… and all who died in your friendship” you hear during one of the Eucharistic Prayers is “seen” as promoting universal salvation. Nowhere does he mention who sees this, and where they record that view. Nowhere does he state if he agrees with that view or not. It is just “seen” by some. Yet for the purposes of his narrative, that “seen” is then treated as a verifiable fact. Elsewhere, he says it is “still debated” whether Vatican II’s decree on religious liberty gives a divine right to engage in idolatry. He nowhere mentions where this is “still debated.” He nowhere mentions what side of the debate he finds himself on. He is simply noting some impersonal passive debate going on somewhere. Yet, for purposes of the narrative, the Church, in a decree from an ecumenical council, gave divine sanction to idolatry. Yet if you press him too hard on this, he will fall back on saying the text “seems to suggest” it, and then just continue onward as if it is undebatable truth. The problem with both is clear: they are very much not established truths. If they are not established, then there’s a real chance his “infiltration” narrative is incorrect. Debating such a mindset is impossible. It is heads he wins, tails you lose. Even if one is disposed to agree with Dr. Marshall's fundamental arguments here, he offers no reason why you should believe them.

Marshall responds to these criticisms by hinting that people are afraid of his work and his conclusions, while other defenders point to the fact Bishop Schneider endorsed the work. That Bishop Schneider endorsed this work is tragic. Yet it is a reminder that staunch doctrinal orthodoxy does not always translate into sound judgement. Just as Christopher West was (wrongly) endorsed by several orthodox bishops, so it is with this work. As far as the conclusions, I am not "afraid" of those conclusions. I have no problem believing that people have tried to undermine the Gospel from within positions of the Church. If you don’t believe that, you haven’t been paying attention the past 50 years.

Yet there is a right way and a wrong way to respond to those conclusions. Sound evidence and logic matters. We must be careful to present the facts as they happen, and when we are engaging in speculation, make clear we are doing so, and make sure that speculation is backed by sound evidence. If we don’t, it becomes far too easy to paint critics as a bunch of crazy reactionaries and as Alex Jones with incense. Nobody is expecting a modern day Iota Unum, a dry manifesto 800 pages long outlining the problems with the Church’s surrender to liberalism. (Yet it is a great book!) We badly need a book outlining in easily readable fashion the problems the Church is facing, and how to confront them. (You see almost nothing in how to confront the problems from Marshall, outside of pious generalities.) Infiltration is not that book.

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).

* * * * *

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.