Something More Than a “Crisis”

“Porn, sex toys, cocaine. . .”

I have this from a headline in the Daily Mail. Gentle reader may be relieved to learn that it is not about the Catholic Church. Instead it is about the management culture in some company called “Atlantic Records,” and as I did not read the article, I won’t say more.

Rather, I take it as a spot description of how things are today, in this place we call The World. I doubt many companies are run like that, but pop music merchandisers are probably closer to the Zeitgeist than, say, vegetable oil companies. More generally, I have noticed from the tabloids, that The World is full of filth.

I’d been noticing this characteristic since childhood, however, with or without formal news reports. As a child, when in a small town in Ontario, I was surprised when police raided the home of what I took for the most respectable adult in my neighborhood. Or when I discovered a little heap of decaying pornographic magazines, in the spring melt of a public park. And there were other discoveries.

The world is as the world is, and has been for some time. I am not so easily shocked as once I was, and have given up even the pretense of amazement.

Does this excuse our Catholic bishops?

No, it does not excuse those – from Santiago to Washington to Rome – who have been caught wallowing in the filth, committing obnoxious crimes, and not only covering for each other but conspiring to advance one another in the hierarchy – to the point where the expression “gay lobby” might be taken as an update for, “Princes of the Church.”

Should Catholics be concerned? I should think so. Several billions of the cash we have dropped in parish baskets has been paid to sex-crime victims over recent years. I don’t think this is what we thought it would pay for.

That is only one dimension, and at that not the worst, of our present “crisis.” Indeed, when intrusive investigations begin (and secular legal functionaries will conduct them if the Vatican won’t) the money trails will prove useful.

I am assured by qualified informants that where sexual improprieties have occurred, financial irregularities will be found near them. Such is the crooked timber of mankind that one might almost say vice versa.

But wait, I would hope gentle reader is thinking. Isn’t this the Catholic Church? Did not every priest, and for that matter, every confirmed layman make vows? And did they not include an explicit rejection of The World, The Flesh, and The Devil?

We did, and the truth is a proportion of the laity – don’t ask me for statistics – have matched errant priests, sin for sin. Nor are we in the habit of publicly confessing those crimes not yet exposed. It is the way of the world: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

*

Who can know it? Who can even remember that we will be judged? And that if we are caught, down here below, and severely punished for what we have done, we are among the luckier Christians.

The puzzle for me – not amounting to shock – is that malefactors now named by Monsignor Viganò and in the news have spent their whole adult lives saying the Mass; even in its knocked-down Novus Ordo form. They have been handling the Host, and kneeling before the Altar. Hypocrisy on this scale requires some imagination.

Unless, of course, they don’t believe in God. This alone can make their behavior plausible.

The Church, in her earthly operations, can provide at least a steady income, with room and board. She can provide, higher up, all the baubles of preferment. More than this, she supplies pulpits. The cloaks, where they are still worn, and the titles, even if they are not, confer or until recently conferred a prestige and authority which for many may be the principal attraction.

It is positively so when one’s own personal message is incongruent with Church teaching. I have long noted that “progressive” clerics enjoy a sort of “stolen valor.” It is in itself a form of perversion, and I am the less surprised when men who do that cross other lines, too.

Sin we have always had. Since Adam, the propensity to evil has been in us. But the “crisis” now upon us has its own particular history. Many among the “traditionalist” faction (those who still subscribe to the teaching received from Christ) have been pointing to the twin horns of our dilemma.

The first is the pulling apart of the Catholic liturgy, through more than half-a-century of experiment since Vatican II. The second is the attack from within on the moral norms that were embodied in that liturgy. It is no coincidence that our foundations have been shaking from both sides.

And in the midst, clergy and people have been seeking “peace, peace.” For many years the Church has been internally divided between that “traditionalist” faction and the contrary tendency towards change and perpetual reform. The “progressives” wanted us to catch up with the world. We’ve caught up, now.

The peace has been kept by mutual permissiveness, as several commentators have discerned. From the top down, each side allows the other to get away with things that they find abhorrent. This has been for the sake of survival: from the instinct that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Yet it is so divided, and the “hot” civil war that has now started was preceded by decades of “cold.” The failure of successive “conservative” popes to enforce their own rulings led finally to the (I think, unintended) revolution at the last papal conclave.

I blame Pope Francis for many things, but not for the explosion we endure on his watch. It has much deeper causes, and the consequences will be greater than we can presently foresee.

 

*Image: Witches Sabbath (or The Great He-Goat) by Francisco de Goya, c. 1822 [Museo del Prado, Madrid]. From the Prado: “On the right, a young woman sits. Perhaps she is waiting to be initiated into their rites. Goya used the world of witches to denounce the degradation of humankind.”

David Warren

David Warren

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.

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