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
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.