Last week, a highly influential Italian magazine, Famiglia Cristiana, put on its cover Matteo Salvini, the head of one of the two major parties now jointly running the Italian government. Both parties – one Right, the other Left (actually a vaguely anarchic creation of comedian Beppe Grillo) – advocate sharp controls on illegal immigration. As do the majority of Italians and people in other European countries where illegal immigration has become overwhelming. For that, Salvini – a professed Catholic – was compared to Satan in a blaring headline: “Get behind me, Salvini!”
This is neither a personal nor an ideological attack, says the cover: “It’s a question of the Gospel.”
One may be forgiven for thinking, rather, it’s a question of profound unseriousness on the part of a Catholic magazine that ought to know better, the very same unseriousness that continues to distract large parts of the Church from something diabolically serious – and contrary to the Gospel – just now.
Like other political questions, immigrants and refugees present a serious issue, on which several different Christian approaches are perfectly compatible with the Gospel. You may, as Pope Francis has done, argue that we have an obligation to accept as many refugees as we can, prudently (his word).
And by that same principle, you may find it prudent – if your country is being inundated – to seek other ways of solving the crisis, as some European governments have already been doing, by helping countries to create opportunities and to retain their own young people (which is to say their future). And to prevent dangerous and illegal crossings of the Mediterranean.
Either way, you are involved in political deliberation, not diabolical opposition to the Gospel.
You want diabolical? As many of us have been saying for decades, Catholic politicians around the world have supported allowing the direct killing of innocents in abortion and euthanasia. One American Catholic, then-Vice President Joe Biden, actually performed a “wedding” for two men in 2016 – which seems to have been his way of daring the American bishops to do something. They didn’t.
Somehow such figures never seem to show up on the covers of influential Catholic publications with headlines suggesting they are doing the work of Satan. And we haven’t really started yet to take the measure of those passive bishops who averted their eyes when their fellows have been involved in cover-ups of horrific abuse and – demonically in some cases – perpetrated abuse themselves.
Indeed, it will be interesting to see if ex-Cardinal McCarrick or a host of diabolical malefactors in Chile and Honduras, America and Rome, and many cases in nations yet to come are publicly chastised in Catholic publications as we come to know the extent of a deadly element within the Church.
Claims of innocence are not going to be enough any longer, nor the protections of the old-boy networks. Take the case of Cardinal Kevin Farrell, one-time auxiliary bishop of Washington D.C., who claims, implausibly, not to have known anything irregular about McCarrick, with whom he lived for six years.
Perhaps he means to say that he did not know about the specific cases: the settlements that were paid to two men, or the underage victim who has come forward. But the beach house, the seminary gropings, etc. He didn’t know about what everyone else had heard?
It seems highly unlikely, though it’s just barely possible. And if so – a big if – Cardinal Farrell himself may now become a victim of McCarrick’s evil deeds. Farrell will be one of the speakers at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin later this month. [I will be there too, speaking at a parallel event organized  by Lumen Fidei. We’ll be bringing you reports here at TCT on both events.] Whether he’s to blame or not, his credibility as head of the new Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life has been damaged. And will not be restored unless there’s a thorough investigation of what he and others knew – and didn’t know.
And the same goes now for many Church figures around the world.
The Dublin meeting is taking place at a time when the Church is heading into yet another dark time. The scandal reaches to the highest levels of the Vatican. Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, a member of the pope’s own council of nine cardinals, may – like McCarrick – have to resign as secular authorities pursue him for cover-up of abuse. A Chilean commission is threatening to rescind the citizenship of his successor, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, an Italian who received Chilean citizenship a decade ago.
And all this is just the barest beginning of what inevitably will be a wave of charges and investigations in many places, including the Vatican, now that the process has really started.
Pope Francis mishandled the Chilean situation, but he is not to blame for this widespread crisis, which goes back decades. St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict tried to get a grip on it – Benedict laicized 400 priests as pope – but also failed in several ways. The current divisions in the Church over the pope’s initiatives should not lead us to waste time and energy on assigning blame. We need swift, broad, deep action, and support for the pope in any good steps he takes.
It won’t happen, but the Church would do well to cancel the Dublin gathering and instead lead a two-day procession of public penitence for what has happened, in Ireland as well. And make it an annual thing. And while we’re at it, instead of discussing LGBTs and varied “forms of families” in Dublin and at the upcoming Synod on Youth in October, the Church should put such matters on hold, and clean up it’s own house first.
The mission of the Church is holiness, which does not preclude social engagement, to be sure, since solidarity and love of neighbor are like unto the primary command: to love the Lord. But there’s a sharp reckoning coming now. It’s reckless to ignore it.