When my friend Taylor Marshall’s book Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church From Within was published I posted this response. My attitude was essentially…”so what are you going to do about it?” This was perceived in some quarters as indifference and I think someone even suggested that, as a priest, I had a vested interest in supporting the status quo.
Do I have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo? Sure. But not only because my job and livelihood would be on the line, but also because, as a priest I cannot function outside the authority structures of the Catholic Church. Even in situations where the relationship is strained we have a filial loyalty to our bishop. In this time of crisis in the church laypeople should know that there are many priests and religious who are deeply concerned, but where do we go and what do we do? We have a ministry and calling to fulfill. How can this be done except to remain in and with the church?
The opinion I gave in my previous article about Taylor’s book therefore remains the same: Everyone should do what they can do with what they have where they are. If you are a cardinal then your job may be to do all you can to correct the pope and work at the highest levels to define and defend the faith. If you are a writer or journalist your job may be to investigate and expose the corruption and immorality. If you are a lay person your role may be to raise your family, support your good priest and parish and build up the church where you are with what you have. It may be your role to organize a resistance at a local level. It may be that you are called to re-direct your giving to worthy causes that are independent of the formal structures of the church.
As in any war, every person does what they can with what they have where they are.
While I have criticisms of Taylor’s book, it seems to me that he is on the right track when it comes to the general picture. Consequently, I would like to heartily recommend Robert de Mattei’s recent book Love for the Papacy and Filial Resistance to the Pope in the History of the Church. Part of my critique of Taylor’s book was the belief that we have been here before. Corruption, heresy, immorality and ambiguity have been part of church history from Judas onward. This was not to condone indifference, but to remind folks that when it comes to church history the course of true love never does run smooth.
I was pleased therefore to receive de Mattei’s book because the first part is a collection of brilliant essays in which the author sets out some general principles and truths about conflict in the church–even at the highest level. He then goes on to chronicle conflicts in the church beginning in the fourth century. He then walks us through some fifteen situations when the church was in crisis at various times over her 2000 year history. Not only that he analyzes with crisp perception and description just what the church did about the problems. Who corrected the pope or bishops? What are the limits of papal power and infallibility? How does the church respond correctly in crisis? Where does the Holy Spirit fit in? How does Divine Providence work its way through the problems and human sinfulness in the church?
In the second part, in four lectures and a post script, de Mattei discusses calmly, but passionately how one should respond when the church is in crisis. This calm but firm analysis is the best book I have read so far on the present crisis in the papacy. Taylor’s book, along with the others that have been published, are all well and good and I suppose necessary in exposing the corruption, immorality and heresy at the highest levels of the church today. De Mattei’s book puts it all in perspective without pushing the problems away and putting one’s head in the sand. For more information there is an excellent review of the book here. The reviewer sums it up:
De Mattei’s thesis is clear: on numerous occasions in the history of the Church, popes have been mistaken in their decisions and approaches to various issues, and in each instance, the Holy Spirit raised up members of the faithful who vigorously resisted those popes, motivated by their love for Christ and the unchanging Tradition of Faith that has been handed down from the apostles.
Professor de Mattei saved the best part of the book for the end. In an analysis of the present crisis he writes with balance and precision, but also with a prayerful and passionate voice. What he says about the present agenda of the modernist clique in the Vatican is echoed in a sharp piece at LifeSite news today by Julia Meloni. I was especially interested to read about the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor’s involvement in getting the church to abandon the discipline of celibacy for priests.
My own experience with Murphy O’Connor might be illuminating.
We were received into the Catholic Church in 1995, and for ten years my application for ordination was pushed around by the English bishops. One bishop said yes, then was promoted. Then another said maybe but not now. Then another said yes but changed his mind. Then another said not in my diocese. Finally, when I was about to move my family to the USA to be ordained in Charleston I met Cardinal Murphy O’Connor and he said, “Come to Westminster. I’ll ordain you here.” Good. However, for another five years the process ground on while I was given the “Roman Delay.”
The LifeSite article claims Murphy O’Connor was in favor of married priests. Perhaps, but in my case he oversaw the delay of my ordination by another five years. Eventually a job came up in South Carolina and we moved and were ordained in Charleston Diocese. It would seem that the Cardinal may have been in favor of married priests…but not married priests like me!
I recount this story to remind readers that it is all rather more complicated than the headlines, blogs, websites and books would lead you to believe. Was Murphy O’Connor in favor of married priests? I think so. Did he conspire with other liberals and members of the St Gallen Mafia to push a liberal agenda? I feel confident this is true. Did he deliberately sabotage my application for ordination? I’m not sure. The impression I got was that there was a good deal of incompetence combined with the usual politicking.
Finally, let me remind the readers of something that de Mattei is good at bringing out: do not be overly worried about the present crisis. God is in charge. His hand is always at work and he is especially good at bringing the very best out of what we perceive to be the very worst. I will use my own case as an example. If I had been ordained as a Catholic priest in England I would probably be stuck in a little backwater with no voice and no greater ministry. By coming to the USA opportunities to minister and speak and write opened up that never could have been possible in England. Furthermore, God knew that I was not ready to be a priest. I needed ten years to continue to get some stuff in my head and heart sorted out. Even more–I had a young family. During those ten years I was able to be more devoted as a husband and father.
God knows what he’s doing. Stay close to him through Jesus and Mary. Have faith. All shall be well.
Go here to get de Mattei’s excellent book!
PS: Now that I’m back from my pilgrimage vacation in Italy I’ll be resuming my analysis of John Allen’s The Future Church. This podcast fits in very well with the subject of this post inasmuch as it gives the larger global picture of what is happening in the church right now and helps point the way to a positive future.