Path of the Hurricane
No one could know what would hit the Carolinas, or other shores, through last night and the day or two after. The weathermen could see what was coming, with the help of satellite and other technology, and guess at speeds and directions for the landfall. They looked at it as if from space. It is now possible to spy far greater swirls within the atmosphere of Jupiter; or planetary dust storms on Mars.
But “Florence” will hit people, including all those who have been evacuated, in unpredictable ways; each one of them his own story. Some houses will still be standing proud, some scattered like matchsticks, perhaps, and not even the structural engineers can tells us which will be which. There are no “laboratory conditions” in a hurricane.
The storm in the American Church is like the one coming in from the Atlantic. Ditto, the winds and the rains against the Catholic Church in so many other countries. In outline, I think it may now be possible to gauge the force of it, as it comes ashore. But it is only beginning to land now.
Moreover, little can be seen, less predicted, of impending events within the spiritual realm. All journalism, including all reports from inside and around the Church herself, can deal only with the surface of the surface of things.
We get glimpses of men (bishops at the moment) on their ways down and out, or still oddly standing. Even at that level, we can’t assess the damage in the lives that were under their spiritual care, or to all their mitres; nor in the reputations of men retired or dead, including former popes, and all that follows from hurricane acts of destruction.
There is a quaint old (verily, ancient) Chinese folk song that I carry in my English memory:
I leaned against a sturdy oak;
I thought it was a trusty tree —
But first it bent, and then it broke.
My true love has deserted me.
For the believing, practicing, faithful Catholic in the pews, who discovers that he has been disregarded, something like this must be rehearsed. It is true that we’ve seen such things before, but the word “disappointed” does not adequately describe our response.
Will we be faithful to those who were faithless to us? (I want to keep this personal.)
Those soundly anchored in the teaching of the Church – which is the teaching of Christ, plain and simple, however men may try to “update” it – will not be unmoored. We know that we never worshipped popes, bishops, or auxiliaries; monks, nuns, or parish priests. We know that should they all desert us, Christ will still be there. He was still there when all his own apostles (but one!) deserted Him.
We also know that he entrusted the management of His Church to fallible men, including centrally the one who heard the cock crow, having thrice continued to consult his own safety. Upon “this rock” was raised the throne of Peter.
Those with some learning will know that the Church has weathered many storms before, as I daresay has also the coast of the Carolinas. Even there, the weathermen’s hype must be taken with some sea salt. Had gentle reader been around in the third century, or several of the others for that matter, he might easily have seen things worse.
Our catastrophe may have a special flavor, the more as we are less prepared, but the idea of a catastrophe that seems to engulf the whole Church is not a novel one. Men fail, and there are consequences to other men, who did not fail, such as the many (by far the plurality) of priests who have tried, in good faith, to keep on with their calling, and whose sins are by comparison only those venial ones emerging from the background condition of human weakness and stupidity; not terrible aggressive crimes.
I count in that category so much of what is now violently condemned as “cover-up.” We all know there are bad men doing bad things all around us. Sometimes we have specific information. We let it pass, because the world is full of evil, and if we were going to do something about it, where would we start? Good men may think, “I will start with me.”
But then in our neglect of the worst cases, the storm comes. Our little mumbles to ourselves about the need for “mercy,” pale in confrontation with Justice. What are we going to say to Christ about this, when our time comes?
Will we say what so many Germans are said to have said about their quiescence in the face of the Holocaust? “I didn’t know.”
And what if Christ replies: “I don’t know you.”
There are consequences to inaction, as there are consequences to action. In the end, there are consequences for the whole Church. We are now reaping what churchmen have sown.
In centuries past, men like Thomas à Becket, and Thomas More, went to their gruesome deaths to defend the autonomy of the Church against State interference. One may read the histories to see what they did; the former, for instance, refusing to surrender priests who had been tried and convicted of murder by the Church’s own courts. The latter, famously refusing to affirm a royal divorce when every bishop (but one!) in the English hierarchy affirmed that it was none of their business.
They were “men of principle,” these two Saints. Stalwarts, unmoved by the numbers. And the hurricane blew them away.
The wind blows where it listeth; in a hurricane it blows very hard. This is what I have come to fear most of the devil’s craftsmanship. Those in the Church have behaved so poorly, that finally the State has all the excuse it needs to invade her jurisdiction. And the consequences of that will actually be worse than any of the little sinners could possibly have anticipated.
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.
Hard Lessons from a Dismal Week
There are three takeaways from the announcement that came from the Vatican on Wednesday, of a gathering of the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences (in February 2019) to discuss “the protection of minors”: 1) the pope is closing the barn door after the horse got out; 2) the C9 cardinals had to twist the pope’s arm to close the door; 3) when it comes to the moral rot in the clergy, high and low, the pope is still part of the problem.
“After hearing the Council of Cardinals,” the communiqué reads in pertinent part, “[Pope Francis] has decided to convoke a reunion with the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the Catholic Church, on the theme of ‘protection of minors’.”
The protection of minors is a sine qua non of any credible response to this crisis. It is also only one particularly awful element of the general moral disaster within the ranks of the Catholic clergy. The Press Office summary of the three-day C9 meeting (which included the C9 communiqué announcing the February meeting) mentions “vulnerable adults,” but that is little more than a brightly colored band-aid – and no comfort.
In any case, a tête-à-tête with the world’s episcopal club managers on keeping “minors and vulnerable adults” safe from clerics is no part of any solution. At best, it suggests a persistent state of denial of both the nature and the gravity of the situation. People are demanding action: swift laicization of ex-Cardinal McCarrick would be a good and easy start.
Curial dialect is peculiar, but it does not take much experience with it to see that the C9 members are telling us they spent much of their three days together convincing the pope to make some pretense of a response to the current crisis.
Those two surmises tend to corroborate the third – that Francis is still part of the problem – of which he gave ample evidence Tuesday.
“In these times,” he said Tuesday morning after the daily readings at Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, “it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops.”
Pope Francis went on to say, “True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser,’ as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth,’ looking for someone to accuse.”
To be blunt, the idea that discovery of bishops’ sins would be a scandal to “the people” is precisely the morally bankrupt excuse that bishops have used for generations to hide their own wrongdoing and to justify their coverup of misbehavior bypriests in their charge.
That the pope should attribute attempts to discover episcopal wickedness to the devil – and so paint the faithful all over the world clamoring for the truth as fiendish stooges – is utterly astounding.
“The bishop,” Pope Francis continued, “cannot remain distant from the people; he cannot have attitudes that take him away from them.” This, from the man, who, in 2015, said of the put-upon and sorely tried faithful of Osorno, Chile, “[They] are suffering because they are dumb.”
The Pope went on to say, “The ‘elites’ criticize bishops, while the people have an attitude of love toward the bishop.” That notion is, at the very best, the epitome of Bulverizing and blame-shifting: ill-becoming the Vicar of Christ on Earth.
One Vatican official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, since he was not authorized to address the subject, said recently, “It is not the ‘elites’ who are leading the charge in demanding accountability from our bishops. It is the people, the ordinary people in the pews, who are rightly horrified at the plague of clerical sexual abuse, and the cover-up of that abuse by the bishops.”
One possibility is that Francis was alluding to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, author of the 11-page “testimony” that appeared late last month, to which the C9 on Monday said the Holy See is preparing a response.
As far as whistleblowers go, it is fair to think that Viganò more closely resembles the gangster-turned-federal-witness, Joe Valachi, than he does the heroic NYPD detective, Frank Serpico. A frank estimation must conclude that many of Viganò’s specific allegations are either tangential, or ancillary, or simply tainted with some desire for personal vendetta.
Nevertheless, as far as Archbishop Viganò’s testimony is concerned, there is one central question regarding Pope Francis: is Viganò’s report of his 23 June 2013 conversation with the Holy Father accurate?
If Viganò’s recollection is not accurate, then he could be a living saint, and it would make no difference: he would still have done immense injustice to the person of the Holy Father and damage to the Office of Peter, not to mention incalculable harm to the faith of God’s holy people.
If Viganò’s recollection is accurate, then he could be the devil himself, and it would make no difference: Pope Francis would have had a report of McCarrick’s depraved character, which he should have taken seriously, and yet failed to act.
In any case, should the Vicar of Christ see fit literally to demonize his erstwhile adversary, one hopes he would call him by name, and leave the faithful out of it.
Meanwhile, we shall wait to see what the heads of the roughly 130 bishops’ conferences can do together to clean up the mess they and their predecessors have made, and reform a corrupt and failing leadership culture, of which they are the principal beneficiaries.
Of bishops’ conferences generally, I have heard it said that they are necessary evils. I have always considered the expression misapplied: wrong on both points. The organs are not evil. Neither are they necessary. In February, we are likely to discover whether I am right on the first count.
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, writer and editor based in Rome, Italy. He spent more than a dozen years on the news desk at Vatican Radio. He holds the PhD from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and is the author of The Soul of a Nation: America as a tradition of inquiry and nationhood.
*Image 1: Fishermen at Sea by J.M.W. Turner, 1796 [The Tate, London]
**Image 2: The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633 [Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston]