Our wonderful bishop, who I love and am deeply grateful for, recently made a couple moves that, in the opinion of many practicing Catholics, were long overdue. He addressed situations where certain people who had for decades been in open defiance of the Church were removed or are being removed from their positions of authority.
I won’t go into any more detail. There is more than enough gossip. What I am writing about today is the various reactions in the comboxes of the sites where I read this news. I’ll admit to thinking ‘it’s about time!’ and being happy to see these situation, one of which I knew about personally and the other by reputation, finally dealt with.
Yet many people who seemed likewise to approve wrote in the comboxes about their disappointment – why did this bishop take 9 whole months (!) to clean house? Why did his two predecessors, both with reputations for holiness and orthodoxy, let it go on under their watch? In short, why doesn’t the Church clean house of all these Modernists and Marxists and just muddle-headed goofballs who got ordained or took vows in the 60s and 70s and drank deep of the Spirit of Vatican II insofar as it justified them doing whatever it is they wanted to do? Why has this gone on for 50+ years, even when every pope since Paul VI (no, really) saw it and recognized the damage being done to the faithful and sort of faithful?
And they have a point. When you hear a priest badmouth the Magesterium week after week, or teachers claim that there is no one Catholic teaching on their pet heresy, or parishes indulging in activities specifically condemned by the Church – well, how can it not drive a person trying to live the faith crazy? How can I hope to follow spiritual and moral disciplines when those disciplines are disparaged from the pulpit? More important still, what about the now going on 3 generations of Catholics who are both completely ignorant of what the Church teaches and the claims she makes on them and completely convinced that they are Catholics in good standing as they skip Mass, engage in sex outside of marriage, divorce and remarry, support pro abortion candidates and on and on? How can a bishop or a pope tolerate this for one minute?
The sense of outrage over these abuses and most especially over the lack of action to correct them is real and understandable. Bishops can reassign or remove pastors and shut down schools, popes can replace bishops – so, why not do it? Why allow the children of those very modernists Pope St Pius X tried so hard to defeat free reign to inflict their havoc on the Church?
Yet – yet – there is a bigger picture. The greatest triumph of Satan in the last 500 years is the shattering of the Church that took place at the Reformation. Whoever was at fault – and there seems to be plenty of blame to go around – the end result is that the peace among brothers that is supposed to characterize Christ’s Church has far too often been replaced with endless bitter bickering – or worse. Rather than presenting a united front to an increasingly secular and suicidal world, Christians waste energy fighting among themselves.
The Truth is a Person. When a thousand voices shout a thousand contradictory things about that Person, the Truth becomes almost impossible to see. Hell laughs.
This is the disaster within which the disaster of the Spirit of Vatican II and its hermeneutic of rupture takes place. Rupture IS the challenge. Rupture is the goal of Hell. This endless fracturing among Protestants as well as the divisions among Catholics delights the enemy.
And the enemy has been working on this for a long time. It’s no new thing that people supposedly within the Church work for her destruction (Judas, anyone?). In the last few centuries, the situation has become dire. Pope St. Pius X, in his 1907 encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis wrote:
That We make no delay in this matter is rendered necessary especially by the fact that the partisans of error are to be sought not only among the Church’s open enemies; they lie hid, a thing to be deeply deplored and feared, in her very bosom and heart, and are the more mischievous, the less conspicuously they appear. We allude, Venerable Brethren, to many who belong to the Catholic laity, nay, and this is far more lamentable, to the ranks of the priesthood itself, who, feigning a love for the Church, lacking the firm protection of philosophy and theology, nay more, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church, and lost to all sense of modesty, vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church; and, forming more boldly into line of attack, assail all that is most sacred in the work of Christ, not sparing even the person of the Divine Redeemer, whom, with sacrilegious daring, they reduce to a simple, mere man.
Sound familiar? He then goes one:
Though they express astonishment themselves, no one can justly be surprised that We number such men among the enemies of the Church, if, leaving out of consideration the internal disposition of soul, of which God alone is the judge, he is acquainted with their tenets, their manner of speech, their conduct. Nor indeed will he err in accounting them the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church. For as We have said, they put their designs for her ruin into operation not from without but from within; hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain, the more intimate is their knowledge of her.
And this was before Communism took off, and before the (claimed – it makes sense and is consistent with other behaviors, but I don’t know how well established it is) infiltration of the Church by Communist agents. So, if anything, things got much worse after St. Pius X took action.
At Vatican II, the bad actors and the merely sinfully proud saw an opportunity and took it. But the ground had been long prepared. It’s no accident that John Paul the Great went after the Communists in Poland, and they tried to kill him. But much more damaging is how, as St. Pius X warned, “the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church”.
Here I speak only as a layman who has tried to serve the Church that is Christ’s Body for 50+ years (off and on, sadly). So, don’t take this as a claim to be definitive Church history, but rather just what things look like from my perspective. Obviously, I think it’s true or I wouldn’t believe it, but I write from no position of special knowledge or authority. That said:
The attack on the Church, an attack she survived and is now healing from, was an attack on the weak spots, the pinch points, the pipeline. Bad actors and the merely foolish manipulated by them managed, over the course of a century, to gain control of key positions in the Church. To understand this, one must consider how the Church staffs key positions.
As in any organization of any size, one chief role of those in authority is to identify the up and coming talent and groom them for higher positions. Thus, the local bishops and heads of religious orders are always asking themselves: who among my charges would make a good bishop or superior? When they think a priest has potential, they put them in positions of increasing responsibility to see how they deal with it and to give them a chance to develop they skills they might need if they get promoted further. Thus, a young priest might become an associate pastor, then spend a couple years teaching at the seminary, then become a pastor, then maybe a pastor at a huge parish, then maybe rector of the seminary – or any one of a dozen other paths that test and develop his pastoral and leadership skills.
Those men thus groomed make up the pipeline for future bishops and, ultimately, future popes. If you wanted to damage the Church with limited manpower, you would attack this pipeline. And it happened: some Modernists and even possibly Communists became bishops, rectors of seminaries and heads of orders. From those positions, they were able to make it all but impossible for clear-headed, devote and orthodox candidates to advance. Instead, their men populated the pipeline. Eventually, many of their men – both conscious destroyers and useful idiots – held many key positions in the Church.
The pope always relies on the local bishops and other local church leaders when looking for candidates for bishops – how could he not? There’s no way he’s keeping tabs on every diocese around the world. Usually, the local bishops have a great deal of pull in who gets promoted to their ranks. A pope would cause quite a stir if he were to ignore completely all the work the local authorities did to groom candidates, and just pick somebody else. Somebody else from where?
Now let’s turn to the situation in the US at the time of Humanae Vitae. When this encyclical was released in 1968, there was open revolt among priests, and quiet revolt among bishops in the US. For the next 3 decades and more, hearing anyone talk in support of Humanae Vitae from the pulpit or in a diocesan paper was like spotting the ivory-billed woodpecker.
Church discipline was non-existent. Very few Catholics – and, evidently, very few bishops and priests – believed that meekly following Church teaching was the foundation of a holy life. So church teaching stop getting taught, and anyone who brought up any magesterial teachings was, at best, treated to a condescending smirk.
We had reached a critical point – the point of fracture. If a local bishop or even the pope himself had tried to enforce discipline, there was a very real risk that parishes and perhaps even whole diocese would have gone into open schism. As it was, many were in schism in everything but name – it was appalling common (and still is, to a lesser extent) for leaders to pay lip service to obedience to Rome and Church teaching while absolutely ignoring or denigrating it at every opportunity.
We should not underestimate how horrible such schism would be: imagine the nightly news announcing that the Diocese of X had announced that, gosh darn it, they just couldn’t go along with Church teachings on sex and would do their best to continue a cordial brotherly relationship with Rome, as long as Rome didn’t get all bossy. Imagine the courts clogged with lawsuits wherein a group of parishes sues for ownership of their property. Imagine all the libel and slander, all the sophistical arguments, all played out in prime time, before the eyes of woefully ignorant quasi-Catholics and anti-Catholics. It’s not to be hoped for.
Machiavelli, who if nothing else was wise in the ways of practical rule, admonished princes to never give a command unless they were certain it would be obeyed. Once it becomes obvious to the ruled that commands don’t need to be followed, all authority is lost. Bloodshed is the next step. Even princes of the Church are wise to consider this.
Fast forward to Blessed John Paul the Great. I believe he saw all this clearly, and acted prudently to reform the Church while striving mightily to prevent fracturing it any further. He went after the pipeline. Often, under his watch, careers stalled or got diverted into non-leadership positions when he suspected less than orthodoxy in a candidate. He relied more on the knowledge and judgement of men he knew and trusted, most prominently Cardinal Ratzinger. He still needed to appoint bishops, and still needed to rely on the pipeline, so he advanced those he thought he could trust, even if they were not ideal. As always, he took great care to maintain the unity of the Church, refraining from actions that would be an occasion for her enemies to create schism.
By the time Pope Benedict was installed, the pipeline was largely clean, and many good, faithful and orthodox bishops had been installed. These bishops had begun replacing the rectors of seminaries in their diocese, which resulted in better (and more! Nothing like a holy and orthodox bishop to inspire vocations) candidates for the priesthood at the bottom of the pipeline.
Now the pope could move against the most egregious offenders. The mandatory retirement age gave the pope a gracious way of forcing out those bishops who needed to go without causing undo scandal or confrontation. Choosing from his now well-stocked pipeline, the pope had managed by his retirement to have all but completed his blessed predecessor’s project.
In 1968, had the Obama mandate been imposed on the Church, all but very few bishops would have rolled over. Orthodox believers would have been abandoned as the vast bulk of the Church moved into more or less open schism. If it had happened in 2000, the reaction of the bishops would have been less than unanimous, confirming the allegations of moral chaos (not that they would put it that way) of the Bidens and Pelosis, and leading the poorly catechized majority even farther astray. But when it did happen, the bishops united in their condemnation of it – by the narrowest of margins, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church managed to avoid the disaster of a shattering yet again.
It is only in desperation that the devil ever lets himself become unmasked. Perhaps he saw that his window was closing. When, contrary to all tradition, law and even short term political wisdom, the administration choose to go to the mat over this mandate, it was an act of desperation – the opportunity to shatter the Church by establishing the legal principle that the state gets to determine what constitutes healthcare over any religious objections was slipping through their fingers. Consider: all the administration had to do was provide for the traditional conscience exceptions, and the bishops could be counted on to *support* the idea of universal health care, as they always have in this country. The opposition to Obamacare would be greatly reduced, as the Church leadership would be looking for ways to make it work rather than ways to avoid conforming to it. But establishing the right of the government to define healthcare over religious objections was seen as more important than the implementation of that actual healthcare itself. Once established, the next step is to declare abortion health care, to which we must conform regardless of our beliefs. Is there any doubt?
Now, with bishops united, the second to last part of the cleansing of the Church can proceed: Pastors and other leaders can be pushed out as graciously as possible. As Sun Tzu says, build your enemies a golden road for retreat. Whenever possible, give modernist priests a way to retire graciously and honorably; give them jobs in chancery where their influence can be curtailed – just as long as you get them away from the flock.
This is what is going on now. In a odd way, we should be grateful for the decline of priestly vocation over the last 50 years – there are many fewer such priests to replace! Priests ordained 20 or 30 years ago often had to be secretive of their orthodoxy if they wanted to be ordained at all. Now, everywhere I go, I seem to meet the most beautiful and holy young priests – thanks be to God!
The last step is for us, the laity. These young priests and the good older priests often find unrepentant fans of the hermeneutic of rupture entrenched in their parishes, running the faith formation programs, sitting on the liturgy committees, running the schools. More often, they find the merely ignorant. We must now step up. We must become trained in catechesis and do the work. Unless there are orthodox laymen ready to step in, it is going to be hard for the priest to rid the parish of the modernists and the clueless they control.
That’s what I see going on now: the bishops are finally in a position to crack down, they have some good new priests to assign, they are looking for solid leaders and teachers for the seminaries. But when those good priests arrive – and I’ve seen several wonderful ones in the local parishes over the last few years – we have to step up, love them, pray for them, and be ready to do the work they need done.
That’s the new evangelization brought right home.
(The issue of the religious orders, such as the Jesuits and Sisters of Mercy, who have fallen completely under the influence of modernists is one where the ‘chronological solution’ seems to be working, however tragically. With few if any vocations, they are largely drying up in this country. Also, there seems to be some ‘stealth’ orthodoxy among the young Jesuit in formation, who may be able to salvage things once their elders are out of the way. One can only hope and pray.)