The Numbing Down of the Church: Part One. The Dung Beetles

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By Larry Chapp

Blog Masters Note: What follows is not a guest blog but the beginning of a new series of blogs by me entitled “The Numbing Down of the Church” which will be presented in four installments with the final installment offering practical suggestions for how we are to move forward out of the current crisis in the Church. I have broken this up into four shorter blogs since even I could not stomach how long it was getting. So critics of my long blogs will be happy. I hope many of you will comment on these posts. I think they are serious and important. Thank you

Larry Chapp

There is a kind of bacterium and certain kinds of insects that live in, and feed off of, animal excrement.  This trait is described scientifically in the Latinate adjective “fimiculous.”  I can think of no better term to describe the current state of the Church, which seems intent on creating the conditions necessary for such creatures to not only live in the Church, but to thrive, and to predate on our young. My claim is that we are currently living in a fimiculous ecclesial era – – i.e. in an era of an actively living, parasitical, and aggressively consumptive rot. 

My further claim is that the Church is currently fimiculous because it had already become feculent (filled with excrement) decades ago due to its alliance with the Mammon and Moloch of bourgeois modernity.  Dung beetles do not show up without cause and they would not be around were it not for the dung.  Remember that.  I will call it henceforth the “Chapp doctrine” which goes as follows:  If you do not want fimiculous entities in your home, then your home should not be feculent. 

But like a mentally ill old lady who lives with 87 cats, the Church over the past century has grown accustomed to the stench of our ecclesial litter boxes and all too comfortable with its malodorous presence. Indeed, for many, it apparently seems pleasant. For the Church seems to attract fimiculous bottom feeders like disgraced bishops McCarrick and Bransfield who flourish in the Church’s humid and dark, fungal netherworld of rich donors and sexual deviancy. Indeed, as we now see with the elevation of a clerical dung beetle like Cardinal “nighty night baby” Tobin to the congregation for bishops, the Church actively promotes its worst quislings to high office. And this follows on the heels of the equally troubling elevation of the Cardinal of cultural appeasement, Blase Cupich, to the congregation for bishops. McCarrick’s former housemate, Cardinal Kevin Farrell (yet another cultural appeaser) was elevated to a Vatican post years ago, despite being the Sergeant Schultz of the episcopacy: “I see nothing! Nothing!”

And now we have the revelation that the prissy and mendacious Cardinal Donald Wuerl has been receiving two million dollars a year from the coffers of the Archdiocese of Washington to continue his “ministry” (whatever that is) with the apparent blessing of Cardinal Wilton Gregory.  And all of these men – – Cupich, Tobin, Gregory, Farrell, Wuerl – – have about two degrees of separation from the perverted McCarrick and who nested in his poisonous tree with no apparent qualms of conscience.  Of course, they are now all dutifully “appalled” at his transgressions, which only goes to show that they are all, every one of them, duplicitous liars and manifest frauds. 

Such are the men that Pope Francis has rewarded with high office and who are, apparently, the kind of bishops he wants in the American hierarchy, a fact that demolishes any hope that he truly understands the American Church and what it is up against culturally.  It also calls into question his pastoral wisdom since these appointments betray a tone deafness to the outrage American Catholics have over the McCarrick affair, a tone deafness already on display in the grand whitewash that was the Vatican’s so-called “report” on that scandal, wherein Francis was exonerated of any wrongdoing and most of the blame shifted to a long-deceased Pope who cannot defend himself.  The report also had the stench of political opportunism hanging around it since it is precisely the magisterial legacy of John Paul that many of the court jesters in the Francis papacy want destroyed.  If this is true, and I think it is, then the Vatican should be ashamed of itself for cynically using a real and serious scandal as a mere tool for undermining the influence of a previous pontiff. 

And if all of this makes the rest of the American episcopacy uncomfortable you would never know it from their silence.  Most American bishops, true to their managerial class instincts to not rock the boat, prefer to act as if life in the Church is just business as usual, even as they pay lip-service to the pesky “tragedy of the sexual abuse crisis” – – a tragedy that they themselves created and for which they have never done any real public penance, even as they exempted themselves from canonical prosecution as well as their own absurd and useless “virtus” training that they demanded for the lay Church workers who were not the main source of the problem.  Sadly too, not only have they never done public penance for their sins, but they also continue to treat the sexual abuse crisis as a kind of idiosyncratic “one-off” event that they portray as the product of a unique set of cultural circumstances, now in the past, rather than for what it truly was:  the shocking irruption into full public view of the de facto atheism of the Church. An atheism that goes unaddressed even though it is the root cause of all of the crises we face. But this is what the “narrative of normalcy” demands and so the real crisis gets ignored, the real rot is merely covered over, like a band aid on a melanoma, and the flabby clericalism of the Church, with its culture of secrecy and its bourgeois epicureanism, continues unabated. 

Most American bishops, of course, know that there is a deep rot in the Church. But by and large they are, with some noteworthy exceptions, men of limited intellectual imagination, and are not men of “big picture” thought, owing to the pragmatic dissipation in their souls induced by their bureaucratic duties.  Individually, most bishops are good men with sound instincts.  But the bureaucratic “system” in which they must operate creates a suffocating group think mentality that robs them of their courage.  As a result even the best of them become men without chests in a Church without faith and the entire façade of modern American Church life therefore takes on the air of an absurd Kabuki theatre charade, or a Platonic dance of shadows in that damn cave.  The primary goal for many of them seems to be to last until retirement without the ship sinking on their watch which gives them an instinctive aversion to conflict which itself requires the maintaining of the deceptive narrative of “normalcy” in order to save the appearances. 

Sadly, even as the deep crisis caused by the unbelief of the believers unfolds around us we remain a Church of “envelopes” – – the most powerful sacramental in the modern Church – – and therefore so long as they keep getting filled with money and stuffed into the episcopal Christmas stockings the bishops will be content to preach the Gospel of suburban “nice” and to meet once a year with each other to issue statements on immigration and health care reform that nobody listens to. The USCCB is a gigantic bureaucratic machine that is as useless as a defibrillator in a morgue and which should be, if the Church had any sanity left, abolished. It is the source of that group think mentality and, like all bureaucracies, seeks to justify its mediocrities by glossing over the reality of the crisis at hand.  It is also an entity that gives cover to the miscreants and deviants in its ranks who are allowed to hide within the anonymity of the faux “collegiality” it fosters. In any other organization such “collegiality” would be named for what it is:  an all too typical “good old boys” network of back scratchers. Their annual meetings take place in fancy, massively expensive hotels in the choicest locations and are largely empty exercises in glad-handing comradery as they issue toothless diktats on topics in which they have zero competence.

There are, as I said above, many excellent bishops. I know some very good ones personally.  However, that only underscores the problem of the bureaucratic Leviathan that is the USCCB since its nature as a corporate body of ostensible Christians has a kind of damping effect that makes individual members loathe to criticize any of the others in public.  This in turn neuters the whole since the unwritten rules of decorum foreclose any real conversation on the crisis we face. The net effect is that blizzard of statements on trivial topics – – trivial because the bishops have no real ability to facilitate change in those areas – – even as the real rot in the Church goes unaddressed. Immigration reform is great and indeed I support it, but what about a deep liturgical reform or a serious and long overdue look at the sad state of parish life, or a much needed study on the crushing demoralization and overworked exhaustion of so many priests?

Meanwhile, parishes are closing by the thousands, many young parish priests are burning-out, the Liturgy continues to languish in the no-man’s-land of a strip mall aesthetic, Church marriages and baptisms continue to plummet, the Vatican is still a hornet’s nest of criminal money laundering and bathhouse chicanery, the pursuit of holiness in a traditional register is mocked as a scrupulous pharisaism by the Pope himself, catechesis is still a clueless and superficial exercise in getting kids ready for communion and confirmation (after which they leave the Church never to return), parish life is still dominated by a suffocating, banal boredom of homiletic bromides and an artificially contrived conviviality, and evangelization is dominated by folks like Taylor “Torquemada” Marshall on the one side, and Father James “the builder of rainbow colored bridges” Martin on the other.  Bishop Robert Barron has attempted a digital and multi-media revival of a proper evangelization, but his efforts have been greeted with suspicion and derision, as either too “slick” or too “omnipresent” or too conservative or too liberal.  Indeed, he has recently been accused, in a hit piece in Crisis magazine, of fostering the very “beige” Catholicism he derides.  So not only is the Church suffering from a deep, fimiculous rot, but now we are cannibalizing those few church men with real talent who are trying to do something about it. 

Can you tell that I am angry?  The fact is I am beyond angry and have moved into the realm of a thoroughly justified righteous indignation – – nay – – outrage at the feckless insouciance toward the crisis we face by those who currently run the Church.  With the recent episcopal promotions noted above a line has been crossed.  It might seem that I am overreacting but it must be remembered, by way of analogy, that the Rubicon is a very narrow stream, but once Caesar crossed it history was changed forever.  Pope Francis has now crossed the ecclesial Rubicon with potentially disastrous results for the American Church.  The Church in America is a hot mess right now and every sane observer knows it, but the highest level of the Church hierarchy has decided that the solution is to double-down on cultural appeasement in the vain hope that if we can just replace those awful “culture war” American bishops (and many of them are deficient) with “liberalizing” ones that all will be well. Sadly, in reality all we are doing is replacing one set of flawed bishops who have sold the Church’s soul for the thin gruel of Republican politics, with another set of even more deeply flawed bishops who don’t even bother to hide their disdain for anything even remotely resembling traditional Catholicism.  It is indeed easy to “fix” the Catholic Church by simply getting rid of the Catholic Church.  But that is not an option for those of us who still care deeply for her historic practices and doctrines, both dogmatic and moral.

It has been said that the definition of insanity is to keep making the same mistake over and over again, all the while expecting different results.  The problem with the liberal genealogy of the mess we are in is that the highway of “reform” that they are recommending has already been well-traveled and is littered with the rusting remains of liberal Protestant denominations which ran out of evangelical gas a long, long time ago.  It is a highway to nowhere and, ultimately, a dead-end.  And it is a highway to spiritual death since it dares to turn sins into virtues, and Christ into a mere “exemplar” of philanthropic, humanitarian living. Therefore, the liberal Catholic project of cultural appeasement is not a serious option for serious Catholics and so I will leave that project to the German Gnostics and their anglophone lap dancers.

A more serious response to the crisis comes from the surging ranks of the neo-traditionalists who are also rightly outraged by the festering wounds that have been inflicted on the Church by her leaders.  The next installment of this blog series will take up their case and offer both a sympathetic ear to their complaint as well as a serious critique of their solutions.  Stay tuned. 

53 comments

  1. I feel somewhat inadequate commenting since I’ve been quite insulated from the big picture. Full disclosure, I’m one of those who left as soon as my watered down catechism was finalized with confirmation. Bishop Barron, a local priest, and a slew of defining life experiences have brought me back into the fold so to speak. And there is much to learn.

    But having been a frustrated public school teacher (soon to be farmer) I can say that if you replaced every reference to “Bishop” and “Church” in this article with “Administrator” and “School” respectively you could use this as a guest post to any blog addressing the state of schools in this country. Which leads me to posit that the underlying issues being faced aren’t unique to the Church. Furthermore, as you point out some of these roads have also been fully explored by Protestant denominations of whom the exceptions to the rule mostly include those buying attendance with a large projection screen and concert themed music. But if the school comparison holds then the problem is most likely one of a poorly articulated purpose. For many schools the emphasis is on good grades (whatever that means), graduation, and a good job (also subjective). Sometimes, the goals of people in religion run similar, with an overemphasis on the end instead of the process. Overall, I think it is a lack of hardship (Read: too much comfort) that steals our attention from the present towards a safe and comfortable future.

    What brought me back to Catholicism was the focus on the here and now, the immediacy of faith in the Church, and my role in the process of Christ that transcends time. Lamentably this idea was hard to come by, like Chesterton I had to rediscover England so to speak. While I don’t regret as much anymore my path, had this been presented to me earlier I might have done some things differently.

    Thank you for this post, I’m looking forward to the next three installments!

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    1. This is spot on. As someone who was also an educator for 25 years I agree with all that you write here. And I too am now a farmer. Ha. Thanks for reading the post and taking he time to comment. Your comments are very insightful and I hope other educators can chime in as well with their own stories.

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    2. I agree, our Church is just like all our other institutions. Sadly, we’re supposed to be different. “Ecclesia semper reformanda” — or something like that (my Latin is too bad to be called rusty); “the church must always be reformed.” As soon as one reform takes hold, a different rot sets in. This is the history of mankind; the Church has risen again despite numerous temporal falls around Her. I assume this is the case, but what to do about it? We lay people try the same things that have failed before: quit (so much for our soul); don’t give money (and see our parishes vanish); find something that does work and insist it will solve all problems for everyone (hint: IT WON’T); adopt a new paradigm from a new workshop every few years. We keep doing them over and over because what else is there? There must be something else.

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    3. Wonderful–I’m a University Professor about to abandon the failing system of academia to become a farmer too! It seems like the Biblical thing to do, anyway. Also, wonderful comments.

      I should be more specific though: I was canceled (fired) by a nominal Catholic University because I questioned the nominal aspects and demanded a true Catholic pedagogy from my institution. They didn’t like that so much. I imagine many priests and bishops are faced with the same cancel culture themselves, caught between disobedience and truth.

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      1. I’m a visiting professor at a public university. It’s literal insanity. I couldn’t imagine the frustration of being at a university that professes to be Catholic and is far from it. I think I’m on my way out too. The academia I thought I was pursuing is not the academia that is. God have mercy on us.

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  2. This article was a tough read, not because I am one who has kept his head in the sand. Rather, I have pretty much given up completely on those in the hierarchy to do the right thing. If I want a strong, mature faith, I can’t look toward the hierarchy for any solutions or support. This is why I will never put my faith in man. These failures in the Church will not affect my faith. I spent much time attacking and maligning as a former “traditionalist” to no avail. I became more detached from the unity in the Church, more frustrated and angry, much like the post above. I re-discovered the Second Vatican Council, the Ordinary Form Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, the Catechism, the Papacy. I felt like all I had learned from the TLM I could take and apply to the suburban parish. I began looking for pockets of holiness there, and found some. I had become outraged that people like T Marshall had suddenly become some kind of “spokesman” for those who attended the TLM, and seemed to always be promoting discord and division. Many were taking VII out of context, in the same way that Pope Francis is taken out of context. I learned that there was always more to the story, more nuance. In a new Pentecost, I left the traditionalist “sect” after being convicted that I should embrace all of Church teaching, and promised my TLM priest that I just wanted to be a good “son” of the Church. I understand the anger at all of these things, and we should be free to voice and critique. Corruption and human failure is nothing new. It is sad that I don’t feel like I can expect the hierarchy or the laity to actually implement and follow Vatican II, or to push the Universal Call to Holiness. But, I don’t want to kick the Church when she has been down either, which is where most online discourse tends to go. I always enjoy this blog, and do want to see what direction you might take all of this. I agree that the issues should be brought out in the light. We all want a dignified and majestic liturgy, I would love to see this status quo go out the window and brave Priests and Bishops rediscovering VII (this is happening with younger priests). But, since the hierarchy isn’t going to excel at what they do, and always give their very best, I am convinced that the laity must step up their game before being swallowed by the zeitgeist. We should be re-discovering the faith and work much harder to make up for lost time. In the end, it is God who grants the increase, and it is only thru Him that we can cleanse the Church and cleanse ourselves of our sins. Let us keep this discussion going!

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    1. Oh my! You just anticipated the basic message of the next three posts in this series. In the next post I am going to be criticizing the traditionalist response to all of this and will be discussing Vatican II, the universal call to holiness and the need for the laity to take up the challenge in the two posts after that. So stay tuned! We are thinking along the same lines most definitely.

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  3. Anger is justified, however I’m so accustomed to being unable to change anything about the bureaucratic Church that I’ve stopped trusting or listening to it and am surprised if I actually hear anything of substance. It’s got an acronym here in Australia- ACBC. Whenever there’s an acronym you can be sure dung beetles will follow. The same was true in Jesus’ time. ‘Whitewashed tombs’ was a brilliant descriptor. The answer you suggest I suspect (?spoiler alert) will be similar to Jesus’ solution. He is in charge, thank God, as despair would be the only option if we relied on the bureaucratic Church to save us.

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  4. The one thing I take issue with is the characterization of the Virtus program as “absurd and useless”. I agree that it is not a solution to the clericalism that causes the problem, but it is a good and necessary effort to train people to recognize signs of abuse, as well as understand the rules that must be followed in order to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults in our care.

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    1. This was going to be my reply. Overall, Dr. Chapp’s message is right on, imo, but the Virtus program is a good one. For starters, nearly all (all?) of the articles pertain to discovering abuse and reporting it, which of course can just as easily be used to catch abusing priests as anyone. Virtus helps to create a culture of awareness where this kind of trash occurs less and less, for everyone is made more aware of the signs this time around. Also, having taught in a seminary, I can attest that all of the professors (many of them priests) and seminiarians (future priests) have (at least there) to keep up on the monthly reading. I wouldn’t doubt if this is true for the diocesan priests either, although I’m not sure.

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    2. The Virtus program seems to me to have one and only one central aim, expressed in the requirement that participants at the outset debunk such “myths” about child sex abuse as these: “Myth: Most sex abusers are homosexual” and “Myth: Clergy abuse children because of their promise of celibacy.” Once the reality of clerical sex abuse IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH is so branded, the training offers generic advice applicable to other contexts–and gets the bishops off the hook for what is really going on in the institutions they control.

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    3. I took the Virtus program, it’s useless. It’s a requirement to shut the insurance agencies up. Worst of all it ignores the real problems and allows them to continue unabated.

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  5. Unfortunately, it was the modernist rot injected into the institutional church by Vatican II (not by the conciliar documents per se, which are orthodox when interpreted in the light of the dogmatic definitions of previous councils, but the modernist implementation given thereto), which has created the fertile environment for the depravity you describe. Nowhere is this more concretely visible than in the degradation of the liturgy brought about the replacement of the Latin Mass (the fruit of an organically unfolding liturgical tradition of 1900+ years) by the protestantized modernist liturgy of the Novus Ordo mass. Lex orandi, lex credendi. The liturgy shapes and molds the beliefs of the faithful, particularly of those who are not active in educating themselves in the faith. I urge you to read and/or review “Work of Human Hands” by Father Anthony Cekada which admirably analyzes the differences in the doctrinal presuppositions underlying the liturgy of the Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo mass.

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  6. Does renewal ever come from above in the Church? Churchmen like St. Charles Borromeo are the precious exception rather than the rule. For my part, I see God raising up outstanding young men and women who see through the approaches of both Marshall and Martin. The young people I do Urban Missionaries with usually attend the old Mass and the new Mass. They know Rome is a swamp, but focus on their own spiritual development and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

    Personally, I’m seeing young converts and reverts of exceptional maturity, bravery and dedication, and the numbers are greater than when I came back to the faith in 2007. Though there are not enough of them, and so many parishes will close. I think the Devil has over-played his hand, and that many young people realize our culture is selling filth, and they either dipped their toe in it or swam in it, and now they never want to go back. The stream of young Catholics will continue and maybe even increase, and they are the future to the Church. Unlike their parents or grandparents, they are not pew-sitters but the ever-sought-after Intentional Disciple.

    Ten years ago and more I was one of those self-appointed Jeremiahs who was always warning on Catholic blogs, “The Church is fat, lazy and in denial, and it’s about to get wiped out,” (Sorry for being so insufferable). Well, the wipe out is here but I am filled with hope for the future. Ratzinger’s prophecy from 1969 is happening right before our eyes, and the emerging smaller, more faithful Church is a beautiful thing.

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  7. We are full of and have been full of dung; here come the beetles, what a perfect analysis, but, for me the truth is also this: i am so quick to see the fault here there and everywhere while conveniently overlooking my own complicity. Like my bishops, I have compromised with mammon and comfort. My bishops decide truth not by the Beloved’s desire to draw us into His Amen, but by the fine print on the Insurance policy, but i am guilty; I don’t model sanctity for my children; oh no, i’m too concerned with the football game and getting ahead at work, and God forbid a marital embrace open to life, what kind of insanity is that, too risky, too weird, too much. As dad, I pretend like truth matters but make every decision geared towards my children having successful careers; furthermore, when they manifest the weirdness of sanctity i try to temper it with the thin gruel of respectability and financial considerations.
    It is here by the way, that virtus shows its rot, it has zero to do with the love and defense of our beloved children and everything to do with a liability waiver and the magicians feint of pretending that the fingers grasping for the children weren’t decked in clerical garb. Here it is stunning to dispassionately consider the bishop from West Va. He was a virtus bishop completely. Look over here at the good work i’m doing w/keeping the children virtus safe, but don’t bother to look over here at the thousands of dollars in flowers. Prevention of child predation isn’t the point, union with the Divine is the point; child predation and the resulting rush to avoid financial liability for this diabolical behavior was just a signpost to how far down the mammon paved road to hell we are.
    But lest i be nothing but an impious ingrate, here’s the truth: Jesus wants to save us and will save us. I belong to my Beloved, and His desire is for me, this is not just a personal truth, it is the truth for every person ever conceived, and it is still true, and the flame of this truth will set the world on fire.
    as a coda you made a great recommendation in another post of Bernanoes’ memoir Cemetaries Under the Moon from the Spanish Civil War; it makes for relevant reading to our current situation.
    peace

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  8. ” the shocking irruption into full public view of the de facto atheism of the Church.” I agree completely with this. I was once having a conversation with one of the good bishops and said to him that I didn’t think many bishops even believed in God. He told me that he thought that was a pretty harsh thing to say. I replied, “Bishop, do you do what they do if they fear the Lord?” He had no reply.

    The current pontificate seems set on promoting the worst that the US has to offer of our bishops. If the good bishops are more worried about collegiality than saving the Church from these interior wolves, many more faithful will leave the Church and perhaps lose their salvation. I would not want to be in the place of good but silent bishops on Judgment Day. God help us all.

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  9. I appreciate reading your work Mr. Chapp. Thank you for sharing these posts with us.

    Personnel is policy and I think the appointments being made by the Pope reveal a lot.

    I also think the Peter’s Pence scandal is a perfect example of everything you describe here. As most readers will know, the USCCB has run a second collection for years to support the Peter’s Pence collection with the promise that the funds will go to the poor. In reality, the Vatican appears to have used most of the money to cover its deficits. Unfortunately, some of the Peter’s Pence funds may also have been used to line the pockets of Cardinal Becciu’s family, and to enrich some investment bankers and real estate brokers. The USCCB has now been sued in a class action by angry donors who want their donations returned. The USCCB orchestrates the fundraising effort for Peter’s Pence, so responsibility for the collection is clearly within the control of the Bishops (unlike federal immigration policy). What have the Bishops done in response to the numerous articles about the scandal: noting! They have issued no press released explaining that the funds were not misappropriated (they likely have no way of knowing), and they have issued no press releases announcing that new financial controls are in place to prevent abuses from happening in the future. If you call them, you will find that the USCCB and Nunciature will not even answer questions from their own donors about what happened to the funds already donated or what financial safeguards are in place to prevent misuse of future donations. The Bishops actually have the audacity to keep soliciting gifts from us while simultaneously refusing to answer questions from us about their stewardship of those gifts. They have exhibited no interest at all in being truthful with us about the collection despite all the pledges they have made to be transparent and accountable. In fact, the USCCB has announced that it is planning on continuing the Peter’s Pence collection this summer as if nothing ever happened. “Normalcy” – as you noted in your post – appears to be the goal.

    The Peter’s Pence scandal makes me angry because the collection should serve to unite all Catholics with the Holy Father in service to the poor. Instead, Peter’s Pence has been another source of scandal. What is even more maddening is that in the face of this scandal the USCCB and the Bishops have done nothing publicly to address the issues frankly and appear to have taken no steps to set things right.

    If you are still reading, I would encourage you to call your Bishop and ask him to collect the funds for Peter’s Pence this summer but hold the funds in a diocesan account until the Vatican gets its act together and real financial safeguards are in place to ensure the funds go to the poor (e.g. the Vatican should be willing to put the funds in a separate segregated account, have the account audited annually, and have detailed grant reports sent back to every diocese and posted online). Each diocese raises funds for the Peter’s Pence collection, so each Bishop has the ability to withhold the funds from the Vatican while still setting them aside to be used for the poor. I know some Bishops are planning to withhold their donations from the Nunciature this year, but we need many more to join this protest against the corruption in the church.

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    1. Wow. Great comments. And what you describe is a perfect example of what I am talking about. I too would encourage Catholics to contact their bishops and suggest exactly what you say. Accountability is key.

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  10. I appreciate the very real and serious problems with the Church highlighted in your post, as well as the very real feelings of frustration felt by many Catholics today. On the other hand, I believe many Catholics overly indulge in this frustration and blame the woes of their parishes and deteriorating faith communities on failings at the top. We can still place great trust in our hierarchy, even today, for the preservation of Sacred Tradition and Doctrine. The greater priority for any Catholic should be on the improvement of their own parishes, calling out their own priests and bishops for bad actions, and raising strong Catholic families. I understand the importance of your condemnation of recent Vatican and USCCB actions, but we can’t let their behavior demoralize or distract us from the real changes every individual Catholic can make within their own communities. Stay vigilant, but always hopeful! Looking forward to post #2.

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    1. Thanks for this comment. I agree with it 100%. One of the downsides to breaking these posts up into small chunks is that the full picture is not developed in the first posts. So stay tuned!

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      1. On the other hand, it does create some suspense like those old serial novels. I am interested in the upcoming sequels.

        I do however take issue with your description of Eric Sammons’ article as a “hit-piece”. Bishop Barron’s original article was high on rhetorical descriptors but a little thin on substantive criticisms of the neo-traditionalists as you call them. One thing that struck me about Bishop Barron’s article was how he air-brushed Benedict XVi’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. That document, misunderstood and loathed by so many in the church including many bishops, normalized the Latin mass liturgy. Benedict XVI is, to my mind, one of those who points to the way out of the morass we find ourselves in. He says we need to return to a God centered liturgy. That does not only mean the Latin mass of course.

        I happened to be visiting the U.S. in November of 2017 and witnessed a wonderful novus ordo liturgy in a church in downtown Nashville. I happened to have read a few months previous to that the Vatican II document on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium. The mass I saw in Nashville seemed to have taken Sacrosanctum Concilium as a blueprint. But you would never see a novus ordo mass like that where I hail from as I told the priest when I exited the church. It was a beautiful liturgy. As Benedict XVI says “the existence of the Church lives on the just celebration of the liturgy”. Startling words, I know, but we would be wise to heed them.

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  11. Silence is a vast chasm of potential. The silence of the Church, as its worst consumes its young, leaves so many searching for answers to the horror of the abyss. The silence of this encompassing institution leaves the falling faithful everywhere grasping for purchase. So many have found a lifeline: the global elites who run the world on pederasty and imbibing the blood of children must be the reason, because the Church has denied Him thrice. Qanon isn’t a fantasy, it’s a fugue borne by peoples’ inability to reconcile these violations of innocence by representatives of the Beloved. As the Church points everywhere but itself its metastasizing justifications ensnare the faithful and draw them along to the bottom of the pit, as the excretion of the bereaved, bulked with the fiber of the internet, howls down around them. And yet there is Jesus, right there, right where He’s always been. Don’t turn away, as His path is clear: Pray, and love your children and love your neighbors.

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  12. “Indeed, as we now see with the elevation of a clerical dung beetle like Cardinal “nighty night baby” Tobin to the congregation for bishops, the Church actively promotes its worst quislings to high office. And this follows on the heels of the equally troubling elevation of the Cardinal of cultural appeasement, Blaise Cupich, to the congregation for bishops. McCarrick’s former housemate, Cardinal Kevin Farrell (yet another cultural appeaser) was elevated to a Vatican post years ago… Such are the men that Pope Francis has rewarded with high office and who are, apparently, the kind of bishops he wants in the American hierarchy, a fact that demolishes any hope that he truly understands the American Church and what it is up against culturally.”
    Excellent, excellent, EXCELLENT article. But I gotta say about the above, in my shock at seeing Cupich, Farrell, Tobin, Gregory et al elevated was not so much that the pope doesn’t “truly understand the American Church,” but rather, “Well, now he’s just mocking us.” I will go to confession and confess my lack of charity, but it was hard to see it any other way.

    Can’t wait for the next installments. Thank you so much.

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      1. I would be interested in your take on our reigning Holy Father, Dr. Chapp, because I think how Catholics approach him flows seamlessly into how Catholics approach Vatican II. Rejecting Vatican II used to be a very fringe thing before 2016 (or thereabouts), but since then it has entered the Catholic mainstream. Seems as if Pope Francis has a lot to do with this.

        My own 2 cents are as follows. Unlike his two immediate predecessors, both mastermind theologians threading the needle between the novelties of the Council and the traditions of the Church, Pope Francis appears to be a provincial mid-level bureaucratic functionary who has been elevated to the office of Pope. This shouldn’t be all that surprising, since the Pope is always a bishop and most bishops operate as provincial mid-level bureaucratic functionaries these days. His papal agenda is not very complicated and can be summed up in three points: (a) he has no interest in deploying the faith in politics or in culture war, (b) he wants to preach to people the Church may historically have neglected, and (c) he does not want to bring them a tradition other than the one he has received. Yet when push comes to shove, (a) and (b) are prioritized over (c) and his appointments / removals of bishops and Curia members reflects this. As he no doubt sees it, this agenda is entirely consistent with the aims of the Second Vatican Council.

        Whereas St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI were all men torn between the traditional and the novel, between the pre-Conciliar and post-Conciliar eras, Pope Francis appears to have no such conflict. He appears to be the first “natural” Pope since the Council in that respect. I think a lot of Catholics intuit this, and it re-frames their impression of Vatican II. If you have trouble accepting Francis, you’re going to have trouble accepting Vatican II.

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      2. I agree with your assessment of Francis. I have already offered my spin on him in a previous blog. I forget which one. Perhaps the one on the hermeneutic of continuity.

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  13. Any words for those who are attracted to the “traditional” theology, spirituality, and liturgy but also realize the importance in the reforms of VII and the problems with self-judgement?

    As one who grew up in a wasteland, reading the post-conciliar exuberance/giddiness seen, for example, in St. Paul VI’s Constitution Missale Romanum makes me dry-heave.

    Any thoughts at the positives of the meeting of the charismatic movement such as Ralph Martin and Encounter Ministries with the saner parts of the Traditional re-awakening among youth (which needs, more than anything, strong and fatherly pastors to guide their enthusiasm and not scolds demanding they return to going to Mass with their Grandma)?

    Any advice/provocations for seminarians who are looking at entering the fray soon? We hear much about being part of the Church of Today!, but on certain points I would rather not. How does one avoid falling into anti-ecclesial bitterness without succumbing to the happy cult. As the late Fr. Mankowski noted, many clerics finish years of formation with less moral courage
    and initiative of a normal layman. How can one be a Man of Communion and a Man of Conviction at the same time?

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    1. Yes, this is exactly what we need. I hope installment 2 of this series is not just going to be a screed contra “mad-trad” schismatics and sedevecantists. I thought Martin’s “A Church in Crisis” was brilliant and recommend it to all.

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      1. The post on the rad trads will affirm the legitimacy of their anger at the current state of the Church followed by a strong criticism of their proposed remedies. Stay tuned Don.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you for this. As someone who’s been coming back to the Church after a year or so away, coming back to this infested landscape has been a shock–but thankfully the knowledge that this is the Church established by Jesus Christ Himself is enough to remember that the consequences of backing out yet again are too dire.

    It’s a shame that true and intelligent efforts at evangelization (Bishop Barron, whose ministry has been a big help in my return, and I know has brought at least a few Protestants I know to conversion)–those efforts are being already, as you so well put it, cannibalized. I think about 90% of the Word on Fire output is wonderful, both inviting outsiders to the beauty, truth and goodness of Catholicism while remaining entirely orthodox. Some of the Word on Fire daily blog posts strike me almost too cutesy and uses too much of the pop culture detritus as jumping-off points for evangelization (Netflix shows, essentially), but even in that you can see the honest and good vision of the whole project–really trying to meet people “where they are at” (which, especially in the pandemic, is pretty much solely online), and especially young people who truly don’t know a world that exists outside of popular culture and the Internet–a world which they largely inherited and did not choose for themselves. So even for those “cutesy” posts, I can appreciate the vision.

    And yet, the traditionalist gut reaction, which you promise to delve more into in future posts, is understandable even if ultimately unjust. My own personal temporary falling-away from the Church was caused by exactly what you’ve been saying–a spiritual malaise induced by the worst of the liturgical changes post VII. I’m fairly young–the parish my family and I attended growing up was entirely suburban as you say, with “New Age-y” architecture, a priest who would always say a joke and have parish visitors stand and introduce themselves before even doing the Sign of the Cross before Mass, all set to jaunty guitar music and hymns that struck as silly–an emphasis on “community,” sure, but a celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of the faith? I imagine it was hard for any newbie to see how the Catholic Mass differed at all from a liberal Protestant congregation. It wasn’t until I attended an ad orientem Mass at a different parish that what I had seen growing up, that I really understood what it meant to celebrate liturgically what we knew by faith and reason–that Jesus Christ is really present at the moment of consecration. It was like a shock to the system. I was amazed.

    So as far as the liturgy goes, I understand the “rad trads,” and it’s a shame to see how such an honest desire to return to a beautiful liturgy gets twisted with a general anti-Vatican II sentiment itself–dangerous and wrong, but understandable. Add in clerical antics and abuses, the general nature of online “discourse,” adopted from our political and cultural talk into Catholic Twitter, and which always devolves into Girardian mimesis, and a general attitude in the Church and outside of it that our primary institutions have failed us. A few months ago, watching the riots and general insanity online and in the streets, I had the naive optimism that “Maybe once people realize how insane and unstable the world is, they will long for the stability, beauty and ritual of the Catholic Church.” Needless to say, it’s not that simple!

    Someone here mentioned schools, and I agree. With a few stellar exceptions, Catholic high schools are a reflection of the cultural appeasement and spiritual rot in the Church (I attended Catholic school). It’s sad, as there were a few excellent teachers who really took pains to educate their students in the beauty of Scripture and the basics of Augustine and Aquinas, etc–they really tried to present the faith to high schoolers in its full intellectual greatness. I thank God for those educators. But their efforts were always overshadowed by teachers who would rather pander to the students’ nascent “I’m good, you’re good,” worldview with bromides about how Jesus is a nice guy who did nice things, and so we should do nice things–barely even a peep about how deeply the Catholic social justice tradition is rooted in Catholic orthodoxy and is worlds different from secular contemporary social justice theories, even if they appear to have similarities on the surface. Most of the students were there for the educational prestige anyway, because their parents wanted to see them off to good colleges and good jobs and subsequent suburban niceness–the Catholic essence of the school was just an awkward thing to be worked around in the pursuit of that essential goal. And the school administration, at the mercy of rich donors who didn’t want to see their little future doctors become “indoctrinated” by a “mean” religion, of course capitulated, and robust theology departments and quality teachers were thinned out in favor of funding new buildings and new departments, all geared to getting these kids into the Ivy League, so the donations could keep flowing and the process could begin anew.

    Apologies for the length, and I do not wish to launch a jeremiad here. Dr. Chapp, this blog has been a great solace for me, as have the comments. I look forward to the next installments. I suppose prayer, penance and fasting is the only way forward, for now at least. My prayers are with you all.

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    1. I really like this comment and agree about Bishop Barron, who strikes many as “slick” and so not reliable when push comes to shove — his approach is great for a huge number of people and was honed online with young atheists. I don’t think he’s your guy when you’re ready for hardball, but his gifts are considerable and it’s silly to throw them (and him) out because he’s not another Chaput. If all our bishops were like Barron, if half our bishops were like Barron… if 20% of. our bishops were like Barron, it would be an immense improvement.
      As for schools, Catholic schools vary widely by locality. Where I live, we have a large system of diocesan and private Catholic schools serving a wide variety of income levels. But, as in most older areas of the country, the overall number of children for all schools is steadily shrinking so competition is immense even as homeschooling continues to rise. My children went to high school about a decade ago, and the school was “re-emphasizing” its Catholic identity… but still had a long way to go and AFAIK still does. It takes a long time to replace what’s lost, especially when uncatechized parents don’t even know what to look for. About five years before that I was at a diocesan meeting with parents, teachers, and current and retired school administrators, where I was shocked to hear the retired administrators say they had jettisoned much of the Catholic parts of Catholic school because parents demanded it. Parents (not donors) were looking for top quality academics at a cheaper price than the top private schools, and they didn’t want religion getting in the way of it. They were sincerely shocked at parents in the room saying they wanted Catholicism taught in the schools. That was not a message they had heard from parents. And retired or still working, they were all dismissive of parents who homeschooled in order to teach their children the faith.

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  15. Announced today in the Vatican: private masses at the side altars at St. Peter’s Basilica are banned for the first time in the history of the Basilica. That means no Latin masses or masses in other rites will be allowed to be celebrated. They are allowing 4 Latin masses at an altar in a chapel in the crypt under the Basilica by “authorized priests”.

    The conditions for the celebration of the Traditional Latin mass at St. Peter’s Basilica are now actually worse than before Summorum Pontificum.

    Sure looks like the powers that be want to re-ignite the liturgy wars that Summorum Pontificum was meant to help bring to an end.

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  16. Yeesh, when it rains, it pours. A canonical visitation starting this Monday March 15th to review Cardinal Robert Sarah’s administration of the Congregation for Divine Worship by Mgr Claudio Maniago, an Italian bishop and known opponent of Summorum Pontificum who has been calling for the scaling back of its provisions.

    Very concerning moves against liturgical peace today emanating from the Vatican. Is this a positive step forward for the church or will these moves cause and exacerbate further division? (I ask rhetorically.)

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  17. You neglect to deal with Bishop Barron’s verbal assault on Traditional Catholics which led to the article by Crisis His remarks were unbecoming of a Bishop. The narrative you portray of a hit piece is not factual. Deal with all the facts please, not just the ones that fit your narrative. Apart from that, it a good piece

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    1. I agreed with his remarks on traditionalists. Furthermore, the article in Crisis conveniently forgot to mention the vile and vicious attacks on Barron from the likes of Michael Voris and others like him. I thought the article was indeed a hit piece. So we disagree on that point. Stay tuned. Next installment next week.

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  18. Good stuff as usual Larry, and good conversation in the comments. I should preface my remarks by emphasising that in what follows I’m certainly not excusing the abusers, the quislings or the blatant hypocrites… but I am wrestling with the phenomenon of the ‘good man staying silent’ that you refer to. I speak as a priest obviously, not as a bishop, but I’ve read this post a couple of times and I’ve tried to imagine how I might act in their shoes, given that there are some parallels with the presbyteral dynamics of a diocese.

    Blatantly immoral or illegal activity is one thing, and there are avenues to report such things these days if we become aware of it (then again, I imagine the awareness of such things is often more akin to hearsay than hard evidence, which would muddy the waters). But the more subtle compromises with Mammon or the de facto atheism… that’s a bit trickier. Yes, there’s institutional inertia and bureaucratic quagmires; yes, there’s some cowardice and superficial collegiality… but correcting a peer is also a difficult and inexact art, and there can be a lot of heartburn if it goes poorly.

    I’m less experienced than most of the other priests in my diocese, and in a lot of ways I’m still figuring out how to shepherd a parish. I’m well aware of my own flaws and of my need for humility, and so it’s easy to think, “Who am I to tell another priest how to run his parish, given all the mistakes I make myself?” Some brother priests I know well enough to have a frank conversation with if I saw something troubling, but many I only know superficially.

    Perhaps an analogy might be a Christian parent critiquing another Christian parent over how they manage their household. I imagine most would be very reluctant to do so, for similar reasons to what I’ve mentioned above. Most would probably only dare do so with someone they had a pre-existing relationship with, and even then they would need to take care to offer their criticism in such a way that it might be received and not just put the other on the defensive.

    Anyway, just some thoughts from a cleric who’s trying to be faithful amidst the broken body of the Church. I likewise see episcopal behaviour I find upsetting, and an injection of genuine faith and stiffer backbones is no doubt needed in many places… but make sure you all pray for your bishops too: it’s a thankless role that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

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  19. This was indeed a fascinating read and one that resonated with me. When the scandal first broke, I was one of the initial PGC (Virtus) facilitators and served as such for several years. In fact, I still am one although the program has gone virtual at this point. I know that the program in general has done great things for the general public, and I have first hand knowledge of cases that have been revealed because the program properly equipped adults to recognize the warning signs.

    It would seem that the PGC (Virtus) program had the effect of taking focus off the clergy aspect of the scandal and asked people to be generally aware, which on one side was a necessity. This also led to a relaxed perspective regarding the clergy. I found it interesting in the process that ultimately, we were reporting back to the clergy to address the very issues that concerned us. I will say this. That the implementation of the standards of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth (for which I was responsible for 10 years in a diocesan school office) helped with the screening of applicants for all positions within Catholic schools.

    I left the administrative level to return to the classroom. Why… because the only way to help people grow in virtue is to be before them, to serve and model it for them. So now I’m 8 years as a high school teacher and 15 years as an adjunct in the Catholic post-secondary setting. As bad as things may be at the top, my concern must be at the base, at the roots. Yes, the top needs to be taken care of, but it seems more to me that this will be God’s task more than mine – and my work is to deal with my segment of the flock.

    Each of us has his/her gifts. Mine is walking with teens in faith. I’ve decided that the wisest thing I can do is to use my strength and skills in areas that are within my sphere of influence – following the directive that St. Francis, himself received, “Vade Francsco et reparum domum meum.” And so I’ve committed to use my ministry in education to rebuild the Church 1 teen, 1 family, 1 class at a time – shaping the living stone of which the true Church is constructed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments concerning Virtus. They mirror comments others have made on here defending it. All I can say is this: I went through it and it was a joke. Everyone in attendance was laughing at it. And these were serious people. I guess we just had a really lousy presenter. And he was. Awful. But my deeper point is this: if Virtus was so great why did the bishops exempt themselves from it? Why did the bishops exempt themselves from absolutely EVERYTHING they prescribed for others in the Dallas Charter? Based on statements made in these comments I am more than willing to admit that I am wrong about Virtus being useless. But that only underscores my deeper point. If it is of value then the bishops should have submitted themselves to it, or a version of it tailored to episcopal oversight. But they did not. And so the McCarrick’s of the Church continued their reign of terror unabated.

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  20. On a personal and purely anecdotal note, a few years ago I went to see Bishop Barron live at a big event. I didn’t have great expectations but I had seen some of his videos and had a positive idea of him and his work. I came away from that event completely crushed with hopeless (and it wasn’t just me, by the way). It wasn’t that Bishop Barron said anything wrong per se, but that it was all so hollow, empty tent-revivalist triumphalism detached from reality. It was the orchestra playing as the Titanic sinks.
    I think that when the Vatican signed its deal with the Devil, sorry, I mean the Chinese government, Cardinal Zen told the priests of mainland China that if it became impossible to be faithful to their conscience under their new bishops, they should not rebel, effectively opposing the pope, but instead give up their ministries, return to their villages and take up farming, living quiet lives until such time as it became possible to be faithful priests again.
    So farming may be the most evangelical thing one can do these days as God allows the rot of the world to burn itself out in a big flareup of madness.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. The jury’s out on most new bishops. I say give them time. I think you overstate your case on new bishops being worse. I’ve noticed that many of them come from the front lines of pastoral ministry: college campuses and parishes. This is a huge improvement from seminaries and canon law. I once had a JP2/B16 bishop who had never served in a parish as a pastor. What did he have? A degree from Rome and a long stint in the chancery.

    I get you’re angry. The name-calling doesn’t do much for the points you try to make (and there are a lot of them). I think people have become accustomed to looking for a superhero, a new savior. The One Savior was on Earth two millennia ago. We aren’t going to get a better one today. The Gospel message strikes me as attend to your family, your friends, and your parish. Do your best and when you go to bed at night, have an Ephesians 4:26 moment and tell God, “It’s your church. I’m going to sleep now.”

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  22. Thank you so much for your work. I’ve recently discovered your writings, and you are putting into words the very hopes and suspicions that I tend to harbor but lack the time (or mandate) to investigate properly. I look forward to the rest of these posts.

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