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That Damned Fruit

June 3, 2014 at 11:57 am

damnedfruitWe all know the story. Adam and Eve, the perfected human beings who are the parents of our entire race, were placed into the lush, fruited environs of the Garden of Eden and given dominion over it. Robed only in their innocent, unblemished flesh, they were called to fecundity, temporal bliss and communion with their Maker, if only they would follow a simple command:

“Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat: But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death.”

But that damned fruit looked so…tempting.

I believe that every child has at some point contemplated the seeming unfairness of inheriting world’s most famous sin and felt aggrieved. “Great,” we have at some point in our lives exclaimed, “they committed the sin that ruined everything, and I get to pay for it! I didn’t do anything! If I lived in the Garden of Eden, I wouldn’t have done anything to screw that up!”

Adam and Eve were tempted by the knowledge of good and evil. Since we have been born into a fallen state of which this knowledge is an integral part, it doesn’t seem remotely worth trading for that lost paradise. If we therefore find ourselves pondering how our first parents could have done something so unfathomably childish and stupid — passing on to us a very raw deal in the process — a bit of reflection may be in order.

The knowledge for which Adam and Eve gave up their first-class, clothing-optional accommodations was, as we know, the gateway to every other sin. At the moment the fruit touched their perfect lips, the tree itself may as well have exploded, splintering into fragments from which grew a countless multitude of other trees, each representing the many sins into which the children of our first parents are subsequently tempted. Each of us has our own garden to tend, given to us at baptism in the form of a soul cleansed of sin and branded with the indelible character imprinted by that august sacrament of initiation into the Christian life. And our spiritual garden, like any temporal one, has it’s share of pests. The serpent is ever at our ear, whispering seductively that this fruit or that fruit can’t really be so bad; that God is simply being petty by forbidding us a taste.

Part of the mystery of the Christian life is this inescapable dance with the Devil. Sometimes we refuse the fruit, sometimes we take just a nibble, and other times we feast at our own particular trees, lustfully tearing at the flesh of the forbidden until its juices run bittersweet and sticky down our chins, our hands stained scarlet not only with our own guilt, but the only blood that can wash us clean.

Why God allows this drama to go on is beyond our comprehension. We fall, we rise, and we fall again. Why the paradigms of His creation – the first man and woman and even the highest of the angels – were also the first and hardest to fall is yet another perplexing piece in the puzzle of free will. It would seem that God’s most perfect creatures would be the most resistant to sin, not the most prone to fall into it. Is our freedom so radical that the closer to the ideal we find ourselves, the more danger we are in of losing it all?

Further deepening the mystery is the way in which our Heavenly Father used our proclivity to evil to draw us even closer to Himself. We see this in that famous exclamation from the Exsultet: “O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!” Because of Adam’s sin, God becomes Man in the person of Christ, and so offers our humanity a share in His Divinity. And it’s a good thing, too, because we would otherwise be confounded by the utter hopelessness of our human predicament.

It might seem cynical, but a part of me wonders if God in some sense designed us to fail, if only to assure us that despite our freedom to choose not to love Him, we would find ourselves completely dependent upon Him if we wish to live a life with any real happiness. To strive for goodness and virtue with God’s grace seems often enough to be a Sisyphean task; without God’s grace, it is an impossibility.

In a prayer I have come to appreciate deeply, St. Augustine expresses the utter dismay a Christian feels when confronted with his own implacable sinfulness:

Before Thy eyes, O Lord, we bring our offenses, and we compare them with the stripes we have received.

If we consider the evil we have wrought, what we suffer is little, what we deserve is great.

What we have committed is very grave, what we have suffered is very slight.

We feel the punishment of sin, yet withdraw not from the obstinacy of sinning.

Under Thy lash our inconstancy is visited, but our sinfulness is not changed.

Our suffering soul is tormented, but our neck is not bent.

Our life groans under sorrow, yet mends not in deed.

If Thou spare us we correct not our ways: If Thou punish we cannot endure it.

In time of correction we confess our wrong-doing: after Thy visitation we forget that we have wept.

If Thou stretchest forth Thy hand we promise amendment; if Thou withholdest the sword we keep not our promise.

If Thou strikest we cry out for mercy: if Thou sparest we again provoke Thee to strike.

Here we are before Thee, O Lord, shameless criminals: we know that unless Thou pardon we shall deservedly perish.

Grant then, almighty Father, without our deserving it, the pardon we ask for; Thou who madest out of nothing those who ask Thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

As a young man, I had always believed that as a man grows, so grew his strength, his wisdom, and his virtue. But I have found the opposite to be true. I am more frail, more foolish, and more prone to viciousness as the years wear on. The youthful zeal which once shielded me from sin and set me ablaze with love for God has tarnished and worn thin under the tedium and trials of life, and temptations assail me against which I seem to have no innate defense. The saving grace in my inescapable weakness is that God has, in His mercy, allowed me to become aware of it.

There is a dangerous pride inherent in the belief that one is living virtuously and with little effort. As a younger man, I would at times look at the Cross and wonder, “Did I really help to put Him there?” I was scrupulous about avoiding sin and committed to the defense of a faith I never questioned. There came a point where I knew this error was preventing me from further progress, and I made it my prayer, “Lord, help me to understand my sinfulness. Help me to see why you had to die for me.”

Anyone who has ever asked God for a hard thing knows the truth of this: we must be careful what we ask for. Some virtues are only won when a soul emerges from a crucible. Growth without pain is a fantasy.

My old professor Dr. Regis Martin was fond of saying, “The real saints are the last people in the neighborhood to know that.” Which is perhaps why he once joked to the class, “When I read Lives of the Saints, I wonder, ‘Does it have to be so difficult?’ Why can’t there be a weekend seminar on how to be a saint, you die on Monday morning and are canonized that afternoon?”

At the time, as a college student, I saw the humor in his observation. As a husband and father trying to claw my way toward heaven, I see the longing in it. To become a saint is harder than I could ever have conceived it would be. The sheer exhaustion from the battle is enough to make many men give up and retreat from the difficult road. I’ve certainly considered it. So much fruit in the garden. So many appetites. Such a long, arduous path through the narrow gate.

But if God made us with deficiencies, there is one that perhaps is more important than any other: we are insatiable. Every pleasure sought after in this life, every glittering sin, leaves us feeling as though we had taken a bite of the most delectable food, only to find we are chewing a mouthful of ash and dust.

Returning again to the famous words of Augustine, we see it stated simply: “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

I find that in matters of the soul, the words of the priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins echo my own struggle:


THEE, God, I come from, to thee go,         

All day long I like fountain flow    

From thy hand out, swayed about              

Mote-like in thy mighty glow.      


What I know of thee I bless,                 

As acknowledging thy stress        

On my being and as seeing

Something of thy holiness.            


Once I turned from thee and hid,

Bound on what thou hadst forbid;

Sow the wind I would; I sinned:

I repent of what I did.     


Bad I am, but yet thy child.

Father, be thou reconciled.

Spare thou me, since I see

With thy might that thou art mild.


I have life before me still

And thy purpose to fulfil;

Yea a debt to pay thee yet:

Help me, sir, and so I will.                      


When Gatekeepers Attack!

June 2, 2014 at 5:48 pm
Places (70)

Copyright Steve Skojec, 2010

For most of human history, there have been gatekeepers through whom one had to pass to acquire knowledge. Widespread literacy being only a recent development, these individuals and the information they possessed came at a premium, and endowed these elect individuals with power, status and influence.

Some things have changed, but some things have stayed the same. As I watch new media platforms unfold, I can see that the landscape is under rapid development. I can remember a time when there were only three television channels — ABC, NBC, CBS. Then came cable news and the rise of CNN. Now, networks like The Blaze are changing the paradigm again.

But gatekeepers persist. I’ve had my own run-ins.


Trouble at The Troubadour

When I was a senior at Steubenville (back in 2001) I had a column in The Troubadour, which was the college newspaper.

It was not so different in tone and scope from this blog, although my writing is better now. I had a lot of leeway in my column, either because I was good or because my editor was very kind. I wrote what I wanted, and I almost never had to make changes. It was my first paid writing gig.

In one of my final columns, shortly before graduation, I wrote about a topic which had come to weigh on me increasingly over my time there: the way our liturgy reflects our belief.

Now, I’ve always cared about appropriate, reverent worship. I remember being in second grade, doing prep for my first communion, and seething at the polyester-clad nun who brought a boom box into the sanctuary so she could inflict us with the mandatory duty of singing “City of God.” I was little, so of course I didn’t know what it was about that song, but I hated it. Within a year or two, I would sometimes get up earlier than the rest of my family and walk the three blocks to our parish by myself, just so I could go to the 7AM Mass. The priest who celebrated at that hour actually preached about hell and sin, and there was no sappy music. (I’m pretty sure I did this at least in part because I got to go home and watch cartoons without anyone bothering me while the rest of the family went to the 8:30 Mass, but it still left an impression on me.)

I was of course taught to receive communion on the hand and to sing awful songs was generally inundated for much of my life with many of the most commonplace abuses — if thankfully not the most egregious ones — that were part and parcel with the post-conciliar liturgical free-for-all that was the Missal of Paul VI. Over time, I had this creeping sensibility that this wasn’t how things were supposed to be. At some point along the way I started receiving on the tongue. Don’t even remember making the change, although I now look back and have a hard time remembering doing it any other way. I gravitated toward masses with incense, latin, and chant. I craved architecture that reflected the divine mysteries celebrated within. When I found a parish that allowed us to receive communion on our knees, I was in heaven.

I was not a traditionalist yet. In fact, my first exposures to the Traditional Latin Mass left me very disinterested. But in every other way, I was moving in that direction.

Which made Steubenville masses an absolute shock to the system.

I’m not going to take the space to make a list of criticisms here. Suffice it to say, going to Steubenville had a lot to do with my subsequent traditionalism. So as I neared the end of my time there, I had to get a few things off my chest:

The Eucharistic Christ is unquestionably the cornerstone of the Catholic faith. It is this presence around which all other Christic presences revolve. It is our redemption through this sacrament that, as an old eucharistic prayer says, Christ “took upon himself our human nature and endured a bitter death.” This sacrament is free to us, undeserved. It is the physical, palpable communion with the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ our God and redeemer. He is that stone the builders rejected that became the cornerstone – but he is being rejected again. Not simply by secularism or atheistic humanism, but by Christians who are placing our humanity above his divinity, shoving him further from the altar as we become more visible there.

Yeah. I have certain thematic consistencies.

My critique focused on several elements: the way in which contemporary overemphasized preaching and de-emphasized the Consecration; the superfluous and distracting involvement of the laity in the functions of the altar; the replacement of sacred music with banal, pop music; and the failure of modern Church architecture to emphasize what is sacred and sacramental.

All of these criticisms targeted things I had seen done in Steubenville, but they were applicable to the larger Church as well. I was tired of feeling like I was at a concert or a pep rally instead of Mass. I was disturbed that I had to search for the tabernacle but had to stare at music ministers. I had grown weary of priests filling the role of entertainer or motivational speaker rather than Alter Christus. (If you’re so inclined, you can read the whole thing here.)

I thought I had made my case fairly well. It was a real discussion starter. People were talking about it in the cafeteria and the dorms. Students I didn’t know approached me to tell me they really appreciated it. Little did I know, however, that it was upsetting the powers that be. They didn’t mind a little innocuous freedom of speech, but I had taken the university newspaper away from the approved message.

So when the April 27, 2001 issue of The Troubadour – the final issue of the year — was published, it contained a response from the university chaplain, Fr. Dominic Sciotto, TOR, and he took me to task:

I must say that I was shocked, not only by the confused and mistaken theology expressed, but mostly by the judgmental dogmatism of the author. He stated many things well, but then abrogated them by carrying them to erroneous con-clusions. Above all, it was a very subjective article, devoid of sound specifics and filled with generalities and purely personal opinions. When he does rarely quote from some document, it is done in a cafeteria style of pick and choose.

The assessments of my “mistaken theology” went on in no small detail. What was most noticeable, however, were the phrases he used to refer to my thinking:  “confusing statements”, “exaggeration and inaccuracy”, “subjective, misguided and judgmental”,  “deserves complete condemnation”, “wild, unspecified and vague accusations”, “misleading statement”, “irresponsible, vague, and general statements”, “so ludicrous as not even to merit a response”, “cavalier, careless and judgmental”.

There’s a line like that in almost every paragraph.

And of course, I was reminded that “the church is not a museum”, that he was “always most happy when” he could “reasonably discuss some Liturgical question with a student who is genuinely interested in learning more about the Liturgical life of the church” and that “The only reason that I am responding to this article is so that our student readers may not be confused or misled by it.”

So you see, the theology I learned at Franciscan University which helped lead me to the conclusions in my article was apparently rotten.

You know what else was rotten? That this response from the chaplain was published in the last issue of The Troubadour, and I was given no chance to respond. I wasn’t even given the courtesy of knowing that the attack would be published. As I headed toward graduation, I had a sick feeling in my stomach. A feeling of betrayal.

The message was clear: I was just some upstart punk theology student who had gotten too big for my britches. He was the gatekeeper of liturgical for the university.

And then, someone informed me that my article was hanging on the bulletin board outside the door of one of the professors, right smack in the faculty wing. I went to visit him. He was a professor of languages and history, if I recall correctly, and I had never taken a class with him. I knocked on his door, and when he called me inside, I thanked him for what he had done.

“You know what?” He asked me. “This is something that many of the faculty have been wanting to say for years. But we feel like we can’t. You said it. I’m done hiding it. I don’t care anymore. I’m going Byzantine.”

My smile must have been huge. But I’d hardly say I won that battle.


Rubbish in the New York Times

Years later, in 2006, when I was working in PR for General Motors, I watched a similar saga unfold in our conference room as visiting GM executives tried to get a letter to the editor (rebutting a hack piece by Thomas Friedman) published in the New York Times. At the time, GM was the world’s largest automaker by sales, bringing in over $200 billion in annual revenues, making them one of the top three biggest companies in the world. They were generating over 60,000 media impressions a year, and had an advertising budget north of $3 billion annually.

In other words, this was a company that should have had more than enough clout to get a letter to the editor published.

But the Times wouldn’t have it. They didn’t like what GM executives had to say about the work of one of their star columnists. GM used the word “rubbish” in describing some of Friedman’s outlandish criticisms. The Times editors wanted the language toned down and sanitized. Ray Wert at the popular automotive blog Jalopnik described the dust up as follows:

Steven Harris, GM’s VP of Communications came right back with a scathing post on their corporate FastLane Blog asking for Friedman to be “intellectually honest” in his claims — and basically asked Friedman to take his own head and shove it straight into GM’s Warren Tech Center to see the progress GM’s made on flex-fuel vehicles. In addition to Harris, GM must have called for all hands on deck — because there was a second salvo fired from the RenCen in the form of Brian Akre from GM Corporate Communications. Brian was hard at work trying to write the perfect letter to the editor to the New York Times — unfortunately, the “perfect letter” included foul language like “rubbish” — words which just wouldn’t pass muster with the conserva-nazis at the Times. Akre pointed out on GM’s other corporate blog, FYI, the seperate and totally unequal treatment his wording was receiving in comparison to what Friedman was allowed to use. Apparently if you’re a columnist you can use such language as “crack dealer” — not to mention “whore of Babylon”, “slut-ho-bag”, and “scruffy-looking nerf-herder” when describing GM.

Akre shared his bemusement and frustration on GM’s (now-defunct) FYI blog:

You’d think it would be relatively easy to get a letter from a GM vice president published in the Times after GM’s reputation was so unfairly questioned. Just a matter of simple journalistic fairness, right? You’d also think that the newspaper’s editing of letters would be minimal — to fix grammar, remove any profane language, that sort of thing. Not so. Even for me, who worked for nearly 20 years as a reporter and editor, this was an enlightening experience.


The Times suggested “rubbish” be changed first to, “We beg to differ.” We objected. The Times then suggested it be changed to, “Not so.” We stood our ground. In the end, the Times refused to let us call the column “rubbish.” Why? “It’s not the tone we use in Letters,” wrote Mary Drohan, a letters editor.

At the time, corporate blogs were a very new thing. GM was pioneer in corporate social media. And they didn’t need to go through the Times to get the word out. The gatekeepers were guarding gates in a now wide-open field. GM published the letter the way they wanted to write it and garnered massive response. To this day, GM’s innovative response is a case study in effective corporate communication.


Social Media is Changing Everything, Isn’t It?

Fast forward to the present. Blogs are now everywhere. Major media outlets are competing with upstarts for market share. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest — the list of social media networks that allow for the sharing of information are everywhere. They’ve been used in revolutions, to report on news that nobody else will cover, and to break stories through citizen journalism faster than any reporter can reach the scene.

But there’s too much information. People are overwhelmed. I know I am. So what do we do?

After all this time we’ve spent wrestling the control of information out of the hands of a few, we now self-select gatekeepers to tell us what we need to know. 

Sometimes this works out. If we find good sources of information, voices we can trust, they can help us to filter the fire hose of information we’re trying to drink out of every day. The danger, of course, is that we become too dependent on them to tell us what we want to hear, and they become too dependent on us liking what they have to say.

This co-dependency damages the relationship between gatekeeper and consumer. It creates an echo chamber. A feedback loop. They have to keep us clicking so they can make a buck (which I have no problem with) and we only keep clicking if what they say fits our worldview.

When we trust gatekeepers to do our thinking for us, we are effectively putting on blinders and shutting out any information that we find challenging. We’re self-selecting comfort over truth. We begin to lose the instinct to do our homework, think for ourselves, and make sure we’re on the right path. Basically, we all — gatekeepers and consumers alike — become lazy and uninquisitive.

Inevitably, a disruptive force comes along and starts making trouble. Starts challenging assumptions. Starts throwing chum in the water. And that threatens the status quo, which makes just about everyone in the gatekeeper/consumer continuum get ants in their pants.

And this, my friends, is when gatekeepers ATTACK! (Cue dramatic music!)

This is what we saw happen over the past few days, and in a lesser way, the past year. The big-name writers in the Catholic online media world have been challenged in a way that makes them incredibly uncomfortable. A few upstarts with opinions of their own have been making waves and finding resonance with ideas that shake the status quo in Catholic thinking to its foundations. The comfy, cozy, orthodox Catholic bubble where everyone was on the same team and all The Bad was on the outside is suddenly full of dangerous ideas that are really flipping hard to process or explain. Uncertainty and doubt are becoming a daily struggle. And the clarity of, “Hey, the pope’s in charge and everything is fine!” isn’t convincing people any more. Well, some people. But lots of people are waking up and asking questions.

This is bad for a business model that says…


Back to our Regularly Scheduled Brawl, Already in Progress

Maybe this partially explains why, when I pushed back on those individuals who tried to take down a Catholic journalist for writing a factual report about questionable papal activity simply because she has some unconventional opinions on the papacy, I was savagely attacked. Why I was accused by one Mark Shea of being a “documented hysteric” and why a certain Catholic blogger with a rather large following has been telling those who will listen that I “literally said” that I pray for Pope Francis’s death.

For the record, I do NOT pray for the pope’s death, and this blogger has never prayed with me or so much as met me in person. But that doesn’t stop him. When I confronted him about this falsehood on Facebook, he labeled my response a “festival of crazy” and then blocked me.

He also said to a commenter just this weekend, “[Y]ou continue to be angry at me no matter what I do or say. So, God bless you. It’s what Jesus says to do for people who treat me like an enemy.” went on to write a post addressed by name to myself and several others which said:

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.

I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I tried to comment to point out that I was being labeled an enemy when in fact I was the one being calumniated, all the comments were deleted and the comment thread was closed. (No, I will not link to it. Mo’ pageviews, mo’ problems.)

Similarly, a blog post was written by Elizabeth Scalia, the Catholic gatekeeper-in-chief at Patheos, dismissively dealing with the concerns of those who had been attacked and treating the whole situation as just a bunch of kids fighting. She evidently doesn’t see anything wrong with the behavior of two of her writers. They apparently are, in her estimation, doing a fantastic job representing Patheos, and they have nothing to apologize for. Their only fault is that “they just don’t know how to ignore a provocation”.

Scalia had this to say about the complaints she’s receiving concerning two of her headliners:

As to the emails and notes I’ve received calling for the heads of Mark Shea and Simcha Fisher for their deep crime of having an opinion and posting it to Facebook (heavens! No one does that!), I’m afraid there will be no guillotine hauled out, today.

But then, Shea is Irish, so I do sympathize. And Simcha, of course, wears the pants. They are both smart, faithful, passionate Catholics, and talented writers with strong perspectives and something to say. That shouldn’t scare anyone. It is good that they exist.

When I tried to comment about the reckless way in which my reputation was being attacked on the blog post of the person responsible for giving this writer a platform, my comment got lost in the moderation queue for over 24-hours. When I emailed the person in charge, my email never reached her. When I finally tweeted her (after seeing her retweeting more posts from her perspective, including one lampooning me yet again) she finally found my comment and released it, then closed the comments — but not until providing a snarky repsonse about how I was harassing her while she was sick:

I’m absolutely not interested in people running to me saying “mommy, mommy look who is being mean on facebook”. I’m going back to bed with my inhaler now, and thank you for your good wishes. Truly, your charity in tugging at me — apparently in email too? — when I am trying to prevent a return to the hospital is impressive. Why not try offering up some of your anger and angst, for a while? And pray about what God might be up to with this pope (and the resignation of the last) rather than indulging in this fantasy that the church is ending because of one pope. Which is exactly what the devil wants you to believe, contra Christ’s own words.

Had she seen my email, of course, she would have known that I wrote:


I know you have been feeling very unwell. I pray that you will soon return to health.
I’m curious if this is the reason why the comment I left yesterday morning on this post never left the moderation queue even though some others did.
What Mark Shea is attempting to do to my reputation is serious. We disagree. We can even disagree vehemently. But to attempt to paint one’s ideological opponent in the worst possible light, throwing out charges such as that I am “praying for the pope’s death”, is unbelievably irresponsible. I think it’s also manifestly sinful.

I understand that things can and do happen to eat comments, but I have faced a certain (and very strong) hostility from several Patheos writers, which makes me suspicious. Contrary to what they may believe, I’m not a blood-sucking monster who spews hate and bile on all those with whom I don’t see eye to eye. I’m also Irish. I also have a temper. But I do believe in civil discourse.

I’d very much like to know if my comment is going to appear, and if not, why not.

When I later brought this to her attention on Twitter, she apologized, to her credit. But she still said what she said. The “indulging in fantasy” line is particularly off the mark. What she fails to understand is that those who fear the Church’s direction don’t fantasize about the Church ending, we fantasize about Her remembering who she is.
By the end of our Twitter interaction, things had come full circle. This whole cage match started when Patheos bloggers attacked Hilary White for being a biased reporter writing about the pope. Not one of them disputed the facts of her story. But they complained that she expresses her opinion of the pope on her personal website and Facebook account and as such, her bias disqualifies her. Which is why Simcha spoke on the phone with her editor. Which is why LifeSiteNews as an outlet was also maligned. But when I pointed out to the person responsible for managing the Catholic writers on Patheos that they were guilty of intentional character assassination, this was the response:

So apparently, if Patheos writers engage in uncivil behavior outside of Patheos, there’s nothing Patheos can do. But if a LifeSiteNews writer expresses her opinion of the pope outside of LifeSiteNews, she should be disallowed from covering the pope.

This is the logic of gatekeepers. Attack and discredit the messenger. Ridicule opponents. Protect the status quo. Shut down opposition. Close comment threads when challenged. Completely ignore the rampant hypocrisy. It’s just about textbook Saul Alinksy.

There’s an old saying: “If you throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one that barks the loudest is the one that got hit.”

The Patheos crowd is barking loudly. And they still have enough influence to cause concern.

I backed off of our Twitter exchange because Miss Scalia was complaining of her serious lung ailment, and how she simply couldn’t continue. Oddly, she found the strength to write this today, taking another crack at one of the concerns papal critics share — the question of how there can be two popes in Rome.

I’m not saying she’s lying about her illness. I believe her. But actions speak louder than words. I can’t help getting the feeling that the only truth to people like Scalia, Shea, Fisher, and company is the convenient kind. Too sick to debate, not too sick to bait.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we need new Catholic gatekeepers. The current crop have done their part, and for a time, they probably did it well. But in my opinion, they’ve lost their way. Maybe it isn’t intentional on their part, but they are serving an agenda, not the truth. I’m not electing myself as a replacement. You should go where you want to go. Do your homework. Read what makes sense. Question everything, including me.

That said, I have to thank those of you who have been like that professor at Steubenville who hung my column up and said, “This is something that many of the faculty have been wanting to say for years. But we feel like we can’t. You said it. I’m done hiding it. I don’t care anymore. ” That makes it worth doing. But I’m just one guy.

We need a strong Catholic media. I’d love to have the Catholics who care about doing what’s right all be on the same team, since we’re supposedly all working toward the same goal. I am frustrated, but I don’t bear ill-will toward any of those bloggers who have come after me or my friends. I’d bury the hatchet in a heartbeat with Mark Shea if he decided we could work together, even if we disagree. But it appears that’s too much to hope for.

I’m ready to move beyond this infighting, but I wanted to set the record straight and offer some perspective on how we got here. From now on, I’d prefer to focus on what’s happening that we need to be aware of and ignore the distractions, as well as the people who create them. People who don’t care to follow the facts where they lead them do a fine job making themselves irrelevant without my help.

Onward and upward. Are you with me?


Apparently, The Eighth Commandment Doesn’t Apply to Catholic Writers

May 29, 2014 at 5:44 pm


I have a question for my fellow Catholics: when did mischaracterization, ad hominem, and scathing personal attacks become the qualifications for popular Catholic writers? When did it become acceptable for these so-called Catholics to use their platforms to sling mud at and besmirch the reputations of any brother in Christ who disagrees with them? Where is their interest in charitably engaging those with whom they disagree in an attempt to persuade them rather than abuse them? Why should they be empowered to try to force into silence any voice with which they find fault?

Is this how low our standards have fallen? Should we not expect more from those who act as ambassadors of our faith to the online world?

I’ve personally been on the receiving end of any number of cheap shots, mischaracterizations, and even unbelievably vulgar private screeds from certain well-known Internet Catholics. It started (insert feigned shock) when I dared to criticize the pope, invoking (quite respectfully, I might add) a point of disagreement with a certain popular Catholic mommy-blogger.

I’m not going to tell you that it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s certainly diminished over time, but no sane person enjoys being maligned, or treated as if they are the punch line of particularly humorless jokes. It’s become a fairly common thing for me to receive an email or a message from someone with a link to the latest vindictive, bombastic shrieking or mocking condescension coming from the direction of one or another well-known Catholic blog. And in a way, I’m thankful for the increased frequency of these attacks. This is because:

A) It tells me that I’m doing something right.


B) Nothing thickens the skin like repeated abuse. Like I said, after a while, you don’t even feel it much anymore.

The good news is that if people want to take a swing at me, rather than what I’m saying, they’re pretty much just wasting their time. Even if they get me blacklisted from Catholic media outlets, that’s not how I make my living. So I can say what I want and not have to worry about skittish editors or nervous benefactors.

Where I get agitated is when these wannabe Catholic celebrities violate the hell out of the Eighth Commandment by viciously and uncharitably attacking people who DO make their living doing this. As far as I can tell, these attacks are motivated by a vindictive desire to drown out ideological opposition. Experience shows that mocking, derision, and character assassination are the chief tactics employed in the service of making opponents irrelevant. No doubt because they fare so poorly in composing actual arguments in support of their positions. Like cultural progressives who scream about protecting free speech until they’re caught silencing dissent in the name of sensitivity and burning the books they find threatening, they don’t care who they hurt just as long as their worldview remains free of any significantly inconvenient challenge.

Enter the reason for my post. My long-time friend, Hilary White, who wrote a story for LifeSiteNews about Pope Francis concelebrating mass with and kissing the hand of Fr. Michele de Paolis, an Italian priest who is a well-known dissident, a leading clerical activist in favor of the homosexual lifestyle, and the founder of an organization which promotes the same. Though not mentioned in Hilary’s report, this event came directly on the heels of unqualified the reinstatement of Fr. Sean Fagan, an Irish priest formerly threatened with laicization by Pope Benedict’s CDF if he did not cease publishing books and disseminating opinions which directly contradicted the Church’s sexual moral teachings. Anyone who actually gives a flying fig about the integrity of the Catholic faith should find these public gestures, laden with potentially heterodox insinuation, at the very least moderately concerning. But this was not the case among some of the top bloggers at Patheos and National Catholic Register. Sharp claws and fangs were immediately unsheathed.

I don’t typically name names in what amounts to mostly petty disputes between the most common of modern creatures — online writers — but these people are playing for keeps.

Two sentences that make me turn on my bullshit detector: ones that start, “Guess what Pope Francis just did?” and ones that start, “According to LifeSiteNews . . . “

– Simcha Fisher

When Mark Shea (who says of people like Hilary and me, “God save the Church from the Greatest Catholics of All Time and their endless hatred for this good and holy Pope.”) posts this shriek of ignorance, insinuation, and error, and Simcha Fisher (who refers to the story in question as “that dreadful hit piece by Hilary White”) opens a 300-comment-strong echo chamber attacking Hilary and LifeSiteNews, and Thomas McDonald (who in the Fisher thread called Hilary “a nasty piece of work”) says this, and then the next thing you know, LifeSiteNews is (evidently) feeling pressured into writing this clarification on why they assigned the story in the first place…I have a problem with that.

I have a BIG problem with that.

Does Hilary have an opinion on Pope Francis? You betcha. She’s been covering him since day one, and she has shared some of those opinions publicly on her website. Of course, as any Catholic with a deep understanding of their faith has experienced, the pope has a remarkable tendency to induce instant heartburn almost every time he steps into the public eye. Can Hilary cover the pope without any bias? That’s a tall order. But that’s okay, because LifeSiteNews isn’t a neutral, objective, third-party media outlet covering life issues, bioethics, and Church news. THEY HAVE A BIAS, TOO. They fight for the pro-life cause and Catholic orthodoxy. Anyone who has read them knows that.

Of course, as any realist knows, journalistic objectivity exists on approximately the same level of plausibility as the tooth fairy. Conservatives talk about liberal media bias all. the. time. Conservative media outlets have arisen to combat the liberal press, and they have (wait for it!) CONSERVATIVE BIAS. Until the day that someone invents robot journalism, the people covering any given story are going to bring their own perspective to it. The larger question is not whether they have an opinion, but whether they choose to share that opinion with the public either before or after writing a story. Just being quiet about what you believe doesn’t mean you don’t believe it, or that it doesn’t color your work. That’s a shell game. And having opinions on a topic doesn’t mean that a reporter is incapable of writing on that topic with honesty and integrity. If you care about the truth, you follow it wherever it leads you.

So here we have this story by Hilary White — a story which presented factual information without interpretation about something the pope ACTUALLY did which was obviously (to the mind of anyone not knee-deep in Catholic normalcy bias) very odd. The facts were presented in a sensible order – the pope did something unusual, it raised eyebrows (and it did: many Catholics were astonished), and the reason it raised eyebrows is because the priest in question is very well known for his positions on the homosexual lifestyle. Such as the pull quote from one of his published books, which was used in White’s piece: “homosexual love is a gift from (God) no less than heterosexual.” It is reasonable to assume that a Roman Pontiff (or his staff) would do just a smidge of homework before concelebrating mass and spending considerable time with a priest on a given occasion. We are not entering into wildly speculative territory when we find that the facts of the story lead us to conclude that the pope knew what he was doing. Assuming he was ignorant is, frankly, a little insulting to his intelligence and the competence of his staff.

Of course, the facts of the story aren’t the problem. As far as I know, they haven’t even been disputed. They can’t be. Fr. de Paolis has an entire Facebook photo album showing some of what transpired.

But now LifeSiteNews  is also being maligned as little better than the National Enquirer running stories about aliens and Sasquatch love triangles. Because apparently there was a misleading story about fetal tissue in Pepsi one time. Or some sensational headlines (in a publication that covers the greatest evils the world has EVER seen. Crazy, right?)

Assuming LifeSiteNews isn’t perfect — which seems fairly plausible — can someone please show me a publication which has done more to inform Catholics of the real warfare going on in the trenches of the pro-life, pro-family movement? Because I haven’t come across it in 20 years on the Internet. And Hilary’s dedication to reporting on these topics over the years has come at not insignificant personal cost. I can only imagine that the same can be said of her employer.

This reaction that is happening in the Catholic blogosphere doesn’t even resemble justified outrage. It’s a lynch mob. And it’s comprised of people who call themselves Catholic, but could really use a crash course in what that means.The Baltimore Catechism might be a good place to start, since it presents things simply and clearly and doesn’t “make a mess” of doctrinal certitude. I’m not even kidding.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up. It’s yet another reminder that Novusordoism and Catholicism are more different than they are the same.

And just because I know some of you are chomping at the bit to start typing your zingers into my combox about my outrageous hypocrisy, let me save you the trouble. I traffic in criticism of prelates at the highest levels of the Church. I do this because it is their moral duty to uphold, proclaim, and safeguard the truths of the faith, and it is a job toward which many of them have shown a shocking dereliction of duty. When the pope is out there smearing doctrinal lines and leading people to believe that everything is up for grabs and anything can change, that has a profound impact on those who feel obligated to try to follow him with docility and faithfulness but can’t reconcile their own more deeply-grounded understanding of what the Church teaches with his jarring words and actions. They need to be reminded that they are not alone, that their instincts are correct, and that they have every right to adhere to what the Church teaches and to ignore the novel spin a particular pope wants to put on it in order to advance his own ideological agenda. We are working through this crisis together.

You will be hard pressed, however, to find me making ANY personal attacks on my fellow Catholics. This post, and the anger I’m barely restraining, is about as far as I’m willing to take it. I will occasionally reference another writer in response to something they’ve done, but I believe in substantive criticism of ideas, not character-damaging calumny or detraction directed at fellow Catholics.

These self-serving, egotistical bloggers and their commenters should be ashamed of themselves, if they are capable of shame. Their reaction is the reason so few of the reasonable individuals I’ve spoken with at various academic and other Catholic institutions feel at liberty to come forward with their concerns. First, they fear that they will be maligned by the self-designated vigilantes of Catholic mediocrity. Then, they will lose their reputations, and eventually their jobs. Many have families. They can’t afford to throw away careers and livelihoods, so they are forced to keep silent. In a recent conversation I had with a man who has spent his life forming Catholic students, he whispered to me, “I have to be so careful about what I say.” These people should not be forced to live in fear of speaking the truth. GOD. IS. TRUTH.

I doubt very many of my readers bother to read the offending writers I’ve mentioned. Mostly, I hear from people who just can’t bring themselves to do it anymore. I would advise those of you who do read them to consider this: web traffic is the currency of the Internet. If you give power to those who seek to silence their opponents, they will wield it, the truth be damned. While I linked to their offending posts for informational purposes, you may find it of benefit to direct your traffic elsewhere. If you feed trolls, they grow large, and their appetites are insatiable.

For my part, I am not afraid of dissenting voices. I don’t care about disagreement. But I have a strong distaste for bullies and I want to see their power diminished. It would certainly be worth praying for them, but I can’t recommend that you patronize them. Maybe some day, they’ll see the truth.

It would no doubt also do some good to contact the editors of LifeSiteNews and let them know that you want them to cover these kinds of stories. I’m sure it would be appreciated if Hilary received some kind words as well. I don’t know about you, but I want people like her — people who care deeply about the health of the Church and the preservation of her teachings and traditions — to be the ones in the trenches holding those who don’t seem to care about such things accountable.

People always tell me they doubt me when I say a schism is coming. I’d say this kind of thing is evidence that it is already here.



May 27, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Things are out of whack.

Seems as though everywhere you look, there are changes in the works. At times, these are as subtle as the erosion of rock beneath an ebbing tide; at others, as violent as an earthquake or a volcano. Things long held to be constant are no longer considered so. Surprises lurk at the dawn of every day, and around every corner. So much is happening so fast that it’s impossible to keep up. In fact, I’m beginning to think it’s not even a good idea. The picture that is emerging is one of staggering complexity. There are forces both natural and preternatural at work in the world, and they’re not just tinkering. The whole place is being remade before our eyes.

It’s easy to spend your days chasing shadows. Shining the light in every dark corner, trying to tease out truth from the tangled web of falsehoods laid like traps at every turn.

People are afraid. They are afraid of the turmoil they are experiencing in their lives, personally, professionally, spiritually. On the micro-level, things seem tumultuous and uncertain. In the aggregate, the transition that mankind is experiencing is tectonic in nature.

We will never be the same.

What we have known before will never be again.

I have written about little else lately than the evils I see at work in the world. It’s draining. I feel as though I’m trying to tackle an octopus by grabbing the ends of its tentacles, one at a time. Every time one issue is addressed, half a dozen others assert themselves. Around and around we go. It’s a Sisyphean task. And I wonder about the futility of it.

I’ve been trying for months to get people to open their eyes to the image of what is to come. What I have encountered are those who either say, “You have expressed what I, too, have been experiencing” or those who say, “You’re out of your mind. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re no worse than they ever were. You’re just stirring up trouble and hurting people’s faith.” So while many have told me they feel consoled by seeing their own thoughts echoed, none have said that they have come to be persuaded by what I have presented. The conclusion I am forced to reach is that you either see it or you don’t. If you do see it, you lack the capacity to unsee it, despite the discomfort it may cause you. If you don’t see it, no amount of evidence is going to remove the scales from your eyes.


Which makes me wonder: is there a point to what I’m doing?

The truth of much that is happening is obvious, even if the end game is not yet clear. The actors are on the stage, and by this point in the play you have either a good sense of who is a villain and who is not, or you are a fool. It appears that a large swath of the Catholic media, like their secular counterparts, have chosen sycophancy, safety, and the approbation of donors or powerful constituencies over truth-seeking. Some are burying their heads because they can’t face the music. Others have their own agendas, not least among them is holding on to the idea that “orthodox Catholicism” is synonymous with novusordoism and baseless papolatry.

Some are just nasty, miserable, pitiable human beings who attack anything outside their pre-determined worldview.

Since the existing gatekeepers are making a ferocious effort to maintain the status quo, not ask the difficult questions, and ultimately make themselves irrelevant, it seems clear that we need new ones. But who, and how? And to what end? To shout into the storm? To convince those who won’t be convinced?

And how can we transcend identifying the problem and work toward building something? The work of pointing out dangerous errors and hazardous trajectories is perhaps vital, but essentially negative. It takes away from energy that can and should be spent building something. We are not engaged in a positive endeavor when we are always playing defense.

We need a new strategy. And maybe it’s not a community-based thing. Maybe this isn’t something we can all do together. Maybe we are due for another wave of interior reform.

In a recent article for Crisis Magazine, my old professor, Dr. Regis Martin, wrote about this very thing as he recalled the life of Saint Benedict:

Sent to Rome as a student, Benedict experienced first hand the trauma of its loss and, recoiling from its depravities, fled into the wilderness to pursue an undistracted life of union with God.

And there amid the prayer and the fasting and all that attend the struggle to obtain self-mastery, young Benedict made an important discovery, one which would enable him to become a great light upon an age whose descent into darkness could not to be dispelled in any other way. He saw that by his very exertions to overcome himself, to draw nearer to God, to respond to those promptings of grace that Christ had come to dispense, the world that he’d fled was itself becoming a better and more wholesome place. In other words, by turning his back on the world in order to turn his face to God, Benedict had become, quite unwittingly, an instrument of the world’s regeneration.

As if the world could only be saved by those who turn their backs upon it.

What if this is the solution, not just to the situation in the world, but the crisis in the Church? What if ignoring Pope Francis and his cabal of heterodox prelates and their machinations to undermine Catholic life and thought is precisely the remedy for that very thing? I’ve always argued that the problem with being a discontented traditionalist is that Catholics believe in a hierarchy of authority. Grassroots movements don’t fit our understanding of the structure of the Church. We don’t agitate for change like the nuns on the bus, or Voice of the Faithful, or Call to Action, or Cardinals Kasper and Maradiaga. In fact, we’d prefer a whole lot less of it.

But holiness is transformative, if elusive. Holiness is not a demand for change, it is a change that creates demand. Have you ever encountered a truly holy person? You want to be in their presence. You want to hear them speak. But most importantly, you want to be like them. Rather than sparring with words and battling over doctrine, the saint converts by example. And if a saint cares deeply about doctrine, so will those they inspire.

I don’t know that this is the answer, but I know that it’s an important piece of the puzzle. I worry where it would leave those who don’t know better if everyone contented themselves with getting their own houses in order and leaving all else aside. But a world mired in darkness needs saints, and saints are made in the trenches of spiritual warfare and mastery of self, not in the ideological battles that consume the denizens of the Internet.

Probably, there’s more that needs doing. Maybe we need new Catholic media. Maybe we need more voices crying out in the wilderness. Maybe we need as many Catholics as possible shining light into the dark places.

Maybe we need all of the above. I wish I knew. What I do know is that the present circumstances need to change. How we go about that remains to be determined.


Something Amazing Happened

May 13, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Pretty much everyone heard of the “black mass” that was scheduled to take place at Harvard yesterday.

The Internet was ablaze with commentary about what it all meant. The president of the college (named Faust, through some twist of “truth is stranger than fiction” irony) issued a statement about the event that was far stronger in its condemnatory language than the one released by the Archdiocese of Boston. But under the auspices of free speech, nothing was to be done about it.

Around social media, I saw Catholics — priests and laity alike — planning to offer or attend Eucharistic Adoration in reparation for this vile act.

But I didn’t expect anything to change. Like every other abuse hurled at Catholics, I expected this one to go on as planned. I have been so habituated to observing the denegration of our faith in the public square and the almost universally feckless responses from our bishops (who evidently seek first and foremost to ingratiate themselves to our hostile secular leaders and culture) that cynicism is about all I can muster up these days.

Then, something amazing happened. This happened.



Catholics showed up by the thousands to protest the sacrilege. Young and old, religious and layman side by side, the Eucharist borne before them like a flaming sword.

In Hoc Signo Vinces.

And suddenly, the reports were coming in. “Negotiations” had broken down. The “black mass” no longer had a place to welcome its vile rites. It had been driven off campus at the very least, and quite possibly cancelled altogether.

Through the streets of Caimbridge came the welcome sight:





I found these images profoundly moving, and I sensed almost at once that something momentous had just taken place. Spontaneously, united by a love for our Eucharistic Lord, Catholics came together and scattered the darkness with His light.

For the first time in my adult life, I find that I perceive the unsheathing of something deep within the Catholic heart. Our great and venerable faith, which has been tangled up in political correctness, afraid to exert its truths to a troubled world, saw the emergence of crusaders, waging not weapons but prayer and sacraments.

It is as if the collective tolerance of those Catholics who truly believe in their ancient and venerable mother Church at once cried out, “Enough! We will allow our Lord to suffer no more of these abuses!”

Without leadership or direction, we came together as one, and pushed back against the forces that seek to encircle and destroy us.

I hope this is a sign of our awakening. I recognize that we may yet be lulled back to sleep. But I felt it, deep in my bones, that this is a milestone. Perhaps even a turning point. We may not realize why or how for some time yet to come, but this mattered more than we know. In a way, this was a Vendée moment.

I offer my heartfelt thanks to all those who went to Harvard last night, bearing with them the “Divine, Incarnate, Crucified Love.” You made a difference. You reminded Our Heavenly Father that there are those yet in the world who love His Son enough to show up and bear witness to it.

It is only a beginning, but it is no small thing.


Act of Reparation to the Most Blessed Sacrament

With that most profound respect
which divine Faith inspires,
O my God and Saviour Jesus Christ,
true God and true man,
I adore Thee,
and with my whole heart I love Thee,
hidden in the most august Sacrament of the Altar,
in reparation of all the irreverences,
profanations, and sacrileges, that I,
to my shame, may have until now committed,
as also for all those
that have been committed against Thee,
or that may be ever committed for the time to come.
I offer to Thee,
therefore, O my God,
my humble adoration, not indeed,
such as Thou art worthy of,
nor such as I owe Thee,
but such, at least,
as I am capable of offerings;
and I wish that I could love Thee
with the most perfect love
of which rational creatures are capable.
In the meantime,
I desire to adore Thee now and always,
not only for those Catholics
who do not adore or love Thee,
but also so supply the defect,
and for the conversion of all heretics,
schismatics, lebertines,
atheists, blasphemers,
sorcerers, Mahomedans,
Jews, and idolaters.
Ah! yes, my Jesus,
mayest Thou be known,
adored, and loved by all
and may thanks be continually given to Thee
in the most holy and august Sacrament!

Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever! Amen. 

Irony: You’re Doing it Right

May 5, 2014 at 11:35 am

The UK Catholic blog known as Protect the Pope has been effectively shut down by his bishop. The blogger, Nick Donnelly, is a married deacon, who is by virtue of his orders under obedience. Bishop Campbell is now attempting to make the case that despite silencing the blogger, he did not, in fact, shut down the blog.

In the last couple of years, however, Protect the Pope appears to have shifted its objective from a defence of Church teaching from those outside the Church to alleged internal dissent within the Church. With this shift, Protect the Pope has come to see itself as a ‘doctrinal watchdog’ over the writings and sayings of individuals, that is, of bishops, clergy and theologians in England & Wales and throughout the Catholic world.


On several occasions, I asked Deacon Nick, through my staff, for Protect the Pope to continue its good work in promoting and teaching the Catholic Faith, but to be careful not to take on individuals in the Church of opposing views through ad hominem and personal challenges. Unfortunately, this was not taken on board. Consequently, as a last resort, on 3 March 2014 and in a personal meeting with Deacon Nick Donnelly, I requested, as his Diocesan Ordinary, that Deacon Nick ‘pause’ all posting on the Protect the Pope website so as to allow for a period of prayer and reflection upon his position as an ordained cleric with regards to Protect the Pope and his own duties towards unity, truth and charity. The fact that this decision and our personal dialogue was made public on the Protect the Pope site and then misinterpreted by third parties is a matter of great regret. In fact, new posts continued on the site after this date – the site being handed over and administered/moderated in this period by Deacon Nick’s wife Martina.

On 13 April 2014 Deacon Nick requested in writing that he be allowed to resume posting again from the date: Monday 21 April 2014. I did not accept this request as the period of discernment had not yet concluded. Again, the fact that this decision was forced, misinterpreted and then released publicly on the site – and miscommunicated by certain media outlets and blogs – claiming that I had effectively ‘closed’, ‘supressed’ or ‘gagged’ Protect the Pope was regrettable and does not represent the truth of this situation. To be clear: I have not closed down Protect the Pope.


It is with a twinge of irony that I note something of interest which Donnelly posted back in February:

In his book ‘The Priest: His Dignity and Obligations’ St John Eudes wrote that God permits bad priests as a sign that He is  thoroughly angry with His people. In Chapter 11, Qualities of a Priest St John Eudes writes:

Bad priests are a sign of God’s anger

‘THE MOST EVIDENT MARK of God’s anger and the most terrible castigation He can inflict upon the world are manifested when He permits His people to fall into the hands of clerics’ who are priests more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than the charity and affection of devoted shepherds.

Instead of nourishing those committed to their care, they rend and devour them brutally. Instead of leading their people to God, they drag Christian souls into hell in their train. Instead of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, they are its innocuous poison and its murky darkness.

St. Gregory the Great says that priests and pastors will stand condemned before God as the murderers of any souls lost through neglect or silence. Tot occidimus, quot ad mortem ire tepidi et tacentes videmus. Elsewhere St. Gregory asserts that nothing more angers God than to see those whom He set aside for the correction of others, give bad example by a wicked and depraved life.’

Instead of preventing offenses against His Majesty, such priests become themselves the first to persecute Him, they lose their zeal for the salvation of souls and think only of following their own inclinations. Their affections go no farther than earthly things, they eagerly bask in the empty praises of men, using their sacred ministry to serve their ambitions, they abandon the things of God to devote themselves to the things of the world, and in their saintly calling of holiness, they spend their time in profane and worldly pursuits.

When God permits such things, it is a very positive proof that He is thoroughly angry with His people, and is visiting His most dreadful anger upon them. That is why He cries unceasingly to Christians, “Return, 0 ye revolting children . . . and I will give you pastors according to my own heart” (Jer. 3, 14-15). Thus, irregularities in the lives of priests constitute a scourge visited upon the people in consequence of sin.’

These things seem interrelated. But maybe it’s just me.

Take The Red Pill

May 3, 2014 at 11:26 am


Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway; ‘and even if my head would go through,’ thought poor Alice, ‘it would be of very little use without my shoulders. Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin.’ For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.

- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

- Morpheus

It’s time to make a choice.  We’ve got to figure out which side we’re on — the side of truth, or the side that makes us feel safe and warm in our beds.

Things have been happening which Catholics might understandably believe to be impossible. Yet here we are. I don’t want to linger in Alice’s dark hall, do you? I have other things to do.

Fortunately, the situation in the Church is changing so rapidly that much of the wake-up work is being done for me. After everything else, the reinstatement of a public heretic without the requirement of the public renunciation of his scandalous writings makes me think we’re running out of catalysts. Any fence-sitters who don’t hop off soon are likely too afraid to ever come down.

Already there are some signs in the writings of mainstream Catholic figures that at last, they are being forced to confront difficult possibilities. Even if only to tell us that there is nothing to worry about. For example, see Simcha Fisher on “the phone call“:

What is not possible is that the Pope called her and said, “Feel free to flout Catholic teaching, disrespect your priest and your bishop, set an example of sin and rebellion for your two teenage daughters.” Much as the Catholic Franciscophobes would like to believe it, the Pope has never said or taught anything that contradicts Church doctrine. Never.

(What was that Shakespeare said about protesting too much?)


Elizabeth Scalia has a more astute observation on the pope’s phone call:

Pope Francis is not stupid. He’s media savvy enough to understand that his personal phone calls can become fodder for anyone with an agenda. That leads many to conclude that he either doesn’t care and is content to “make a mess” and let the Holy Spirit sort it out (an idea I reject because I do not believe Francis wants the destructive energy of chaos about him) or that he wants to create a buzz that will influence discussions at the Extraordinary Synod of the Family which will take place in October. That would be a manipulative, rather Machiavellian tactic suggesting a pope who works in bad faith, embracing very worldly tactics while fomenting confusion.


Phil Lawler made a reluctant admission of his own about Francis’s penchant for obfuscation:

[I]t’s no longer possible to deny that some of the Pope’s offhand comments have created confusion, in ways that he should have anticipated. Some of those statements were bound to be interpreted in ways that will cause future problems for the Pope, and for countless other Catholics.


Father Dwight Longnecker, who has been very astute in his observations of the present situation, also wrote this week on the same topic. In his post, the problems which have arisen from this “papal style” (even if the pope is not “Machiavellian”)  are very cogently articulated:

When he behaves in this way he is causing confusion among the faithful. Should a pope interfere in the pastoral matters of an individual in another country? Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the local pastor and bishop? Isn’t it a fair observation to ask why a pope who is all for downsizing the papacy, delegating and handing over to the people should then step in an get involved at a very local level? To ask these questions does not mean one is an arch conservative semi sedevacantist. It’s a matter of common sense.

Furthermore, shouldn’t a pope realize he is pope and behave accordingly? No matter what the pope’s personal style and personal preferences, he is now the pope and whether he likes it or not, people hang on his every word and action. Yes, yes, we all know that a chat with reporters on a plane or a personal phone call by a pope are not infallible doctrinal statements. The problem is, a huge number of people in the world don’t realize that. Pope Francis should therefore understand that he is no longer Padre Bergoglio and learn that one of the greatest things a pope can do is to not do anything.

There is another problem with Pope Francis’ style which is lurking in the background which I have not heard anyone else commenting on, and it is this: if a person in a public role trivializes that role with a very personal and informal style, then when they want to make a formal pronouncement the chances are that they will not be taken seriously. Make enough gaffes and speak off the cuff enough and soon the world will consider everything you say to be a gaffe and all your pronouncements to be inconsequential, off the cuff matters of opinion.

So when Pope Francis makes an off the cuff remark or an informal phone call that has to be “re-interpreted” and “put into context” by everyone from mommy bloggers in Iowa to the Vatican press office it cheapens all his statements. When he stands up and speaks formally about the evils of greed, the threat of war, the horrors of abortion or the crime of human trafficking–because he has made public off the cuff remarks which are matters of opinion hoi polloi and the press will treat those comments also as being no more than a matter of opinion.

When our modern relativistic society already considers most statements on everything to be no more than a matter of opinion, then the pope’s serious statements will then be dismissed as no more than one man’s opinion. He’s a nice man and everybody likes him, but his informality and off the cuff remarks have then cheapened his authority and whatever he says will be treated as no more than the opinion of that nice old codger in the white outfit in Rome. Catholics around the world are right to be alarmed at the Pope’s style.

Father Longnecker presents us with a conclusion-by-way-of-dichotomy, and it’s a doozy (emphasis mine):

The way things stand at the moment there are only two conclusions one can draw: first, that the Pope knows exactly what he is doing and the consequences of his style, and that it is his intention to weaken the authority of the papacy and bring it down to no more than the opinion of one person or second, that in this area of personal style and communications he is an amateur and he needs to stop, take stock, listen to the experts and reign in his style.


You may have surmised which theory I subscribe to.


There is a famous quote from Sherlock Holmes in which he asks Watson the rhetorical question, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

Earlier in the same book (The Sign of Four), he ascertains a great deal of information about Watson’s tragically deceased brother — much to Watson’s disbelief and dismay — merely by evaluating the condition of his watch, which remains in Watson’s possession. When confronted about the conclusions he has reached, and whether or not it was “mere guess-work”, Sherlock explains his method.

“I never guess.” Says Holmes. “It is a shocking habit,—destructive to the logical faculty. What seems strange to you is only so because you do not follow my train of thought or observe the small facts upon which large inferences may depend.”

The small facts upon which large inferences depend. These are the things that have begun to rise to the surface of this papacy. Seemingly insignificant occurrences when taken by themselves, but which add up to a tidal wave of change and misdirection. The interviews, the phone calls, the casual statements, the changing of rubrics, the breaking of traditions, the ostentatious humility, the endless stream of insults directed at traditional Catholics and Catholic piety, the cavalier attitude toward discipline, the reinstatement of unrepentant heretics, the frequent self-contradiction (making it impossible to pin down what he really believes), the praising of heterodox thinkers, the affectionate feelings expressed toward members of dangerous ideologies, the releasing of information before pulling it back, the setting of expectations long enough in advance that a course seems set, the glossing over of all manner of bad behavior under the auspices of “mercy” or “pastoral concern”…it all adds up.

It paints a picture of a man who may very well have said,  “Feel free to flout Catholic teaching, disrespect your priest and your bishop, set an example of sin and rebellion for your two teenage daughters.”  Of a pope who is “not stupid” and is “media savvy enough to understand that his personal phone calls can become fodder for anyone with an agenda”. Of a shepherd who “doesn’t care and is content to ‘make a mess'” and is not afraid to employ a “manipulative, rather Machiavellian tactic” and do so “in bad faith, embracing very worldly tactics while fomenting confusion.” It is true to say that “it’s no longer possible to deny that some of the Pope’s offhand comments have created confusion” that he not only “should have” but must have anticipated. And it is thus not at all illogical to conclude that “the Pope knows exactly what he is doing and the consequences of his style, and that it is his intention to weaken the authority of the papacy and bring it down to no more than the opinion of one person.”

I would suggest to you that the diminishment of the papacy — or as he would call it, the Roman See — is something he will not fully embrace until he has used every last drop of that authority to change all that he can; to set an unalterable future course for the Catholic Church. He is opposed to the centralization of authority in the papacy except when he is ecstatically for it. I see it as a papal kamikaze mission, set to self-destruct the institution but still wringing from it the maximum benefit to the revolutionary agenda which animates this papacy.

Please. Take the red pill. Stop trying to find a way to tell yourself that what is happening is impossible, and start trying to understand what it means, and how we can survive it and rebuild.

“You Keep Using That Word. I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means.”

May 2, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I have to admit, it’s kind of cool to have a handy rhetorical toolkit which you can apply to anything and it still works. As long as you’re of a certain mindset, it just becomes a matter of fill-in-the blanks.

Ready? I’ll try it.


The term for this is “mercy”. The essential paragraph:

Stefan Hartmann’s letter to the Vatican, which he posted on his Facebook page, requested release from the traditional oath “in acknowledgement of my weaknesses and failures, with all due humility and after long consideration of my conscience and personal situation”.

He has been a father for 25 years and is 59 years old. This is mercy – to allow him to be released from celibacy. I like a Church of mercy.


No wonder people are doing this so much these days. It’s so easy. Hardly an ounce of thought or effort required.

This Isn’t The End of the Road

April 25, 2014 at 12:33 pm

“In my view, a Church which seeks above all to be attractive, is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for herself, she does not work to increase her numbers and power. She works for Another. She serves not herself, not to become strong. She serves to make the announcement of Jesus Christ more accessible…..”

- Pope Benedict XVI



Last night, as I was browsing the various commentaries on the Pope’s latest round of the Telephone Game, I came across this one by Fr. Ray Blake. The post is short, but one of his comments was, I think, quite telling of the panic inducing sense of contradiction this papacy is beginning to inflict:

The real question is, ‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’ The only possible answer is in the affirmative, therefore any ‘strangeness’ is impossible, otherwise…, otherwise…. well, that is impossible to imagine, and millions of Catholics have been living a lie and our faith is built on sand.

Please allow me to illustrate this reaction in another way:


If you think about it, the analogy is perfect. Finding out that your father is really Darth Vader is going to give anyone a case of the Mondays.

The word “impossible” has been coming up a lot in reference to the idea that the pope could have said what he is alleged to have said on that phone call to the little missus in Argentina.

This is the thing that is troubling people. They can’t wrap their minds around the idea that a pope could really say something about faith and morals that is…wrong. Because what would that mean? Because what would happen next? BECAUSE THEN WE’D HAVE TO FACE THE FACT THAT THE WHOLE FAITH WOULD BE A LIE AND THAT WOULD BE INCONCEIVABLE!!!!

(You know I just had to.)


Later on in the comments, my ol’ pal Hilary White came riding in on the Horse of Good Sense. She wrote:

Father, I hate to correct a venerable priest, but I believe you are mistaken in your comment:

I don’t know what you mean by ‘strange’. The real question is, ‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’ The only possible answer is in the affirmative, therefore any ‘strangeness’ is impossible, otherwise…, otherwise…. well, that is impossible to imagine, and millions of Catholics have been living a lie and our faith is built on sand.”

No, it certainly would not mean that. Not at all. This kind of thinking is what got us into this mess. The pope is not the Faith. The pope does not give us the Faith. If the pope loses the Faith, I don’t lose mine. If the pope is a heretic, an apostate, a schismatic or any of those horrible things, I don’t have to be those things too.

The Faith comes from God not Rome. The papacy is a key unit of the Church, so having such a bad one would be a terrible thing, but absolutely no reason whatever for anyone to lose their Faith.

I personally think we are in a unique situation. I have asked many smarty-smart people, who know lots of history and theology, when there has been a comparable disastrous period in the Church, and each one of them has said something like, “Well, the Arian crisis comes close, but this is probably worse.” And it is clear that the current worries about Francis are not isolated, unique or distinct from the general catastrophe that has befallen us.

Francis, if I may say something so dreadful, is a symptom – or perhaps the culmination – of the overall disaster that has become the ruling principle of the world since 1965. But again, this has no effect on the Faith. The Faith is simply the Truth. The Real. The realness of the Real does not change or fade because lots and lots of people want to deny it. Two and two still equal four. Marriage is still what it is. The Holy Eucharist is still the Holy Eucharist.

If the Papacy has been seized by bad men it does not mean that the things we believe are “built on sand”. It means only that the papacy has been seized by bad men. Bad men will do what bad men do, and we can do nothing but maintain and continue to proclaim what we know is true throughout their reign.

Facing up to the possibility that something very bad is going on does not necessitate a loss of the Faith. Fearing that the sky will fall if there is a bad pope, fearing it so much that one tries to retreat into denial of what we see plainly before us, will do nothing to help anyone.

Facing up to what is really happening is the only way to maintain the Faith. Retreating and saying, “oh, that couldn’t possibly happen and if it did then the Real is no longer the Real.” is going to allow the disaster to spread still further.

Only the Real counts. And if the pope and all the cardinals and bishops of the world try to say that something other than the Word of Christ is true, then we reject that as a wicked lie. We know what is true because we have the Faith.

As laypeople (and humble parish priests) our duty is clearly before us. We don’t have the power to stop bad men from doing bad things. But we have the power to continue to maintain the Faith, what we know. And to pray for a just solution to the terrible troubles of our times.


Father responded:

Where does it leave Christ promise to be with his Church forever, where does it leave our interpretation of ‘Tu es Petrus …’? Where does it leave the unity of the Church? If the Pope is what you suggest we have indeed built on sand.


I swear to heaven, sometimes I wish Vatican I never happened. So many problems would have been eliminated if not for the promulgation of that pesky doctrine of papal infallibility. Not that I don’t think popes are infallible. Of course there is such a thing as limited and specific papal infallibility.  But the problem with the promulgation (and Cardinal Newman saw it coming) is that now, everyone (including non-Catholics) thinks everything a pope says is infallible teaching for the Church — or at least pretty damn close. If they do not expressly believe this, it appears that they subconsciously do.  On the one hand, it gives rise to the uber-ultramontanists (or “papal positivists”, as Hilary likes to call them.) On the other, it gives us the sedevacantists, who are so bound up in their need to obey everything the Holy Father says that when he says something problematic that no reasonable person would consider binding, they say he’s a heretic and thus not the real pope. In every case, it means every papal utterance is scrutinized for meaning, for its level of authority, and for the extent to which it compels in the faithful the obligation of assent.

It makes people think that faithfulness to God’s laws and faithfulness to the pope are one and the same thing. Wrong. And if the pope does this thing that has everyone saying it isn’t possible, people are going to have to face that fact.

To paraphrase St. Thomas More — on the same bloody issue, it pains me to say– “I am the Pope’s faithful servant, but God’s first.”

I also left a comment in response to Fr. Blake. So far on his blog, it is still awaiting moderation. So I’ll share it (slightly modified) with you here:


Juridically speaking, it is certainly possible. We have had both interregnums and antipopes – 30 of the latter, according to the Catholic encyclopedia.

The question is how it affects the man who is the visible head of the office. Since only the Church (most specifically in the person of the pope, who is her supreme legislator) has the authority to say that a pope is a heretic, and thus, in fact, an antipope, a pope would have to in a fit of conscience accuse himself, or a successor of his would have to accuse him posthumously.

A good treatise on this (and why the sedevacantists are wrong for arrogating to themselves the authority to make such judgments, but not wrong in recognizing that such a situation could exist) can be found here.

I would suggest that we have a unique situation on our hands. We have two popes currently living. Pope Benedict has not re-taken the title of “Cardinal Ratzinger” as those who abdicated before him did; he has not returned to his diocese or even stopped wearing his papal garb. If one were to hypothesize (and that’s all this is), one could imagine such a (far-fetched, but possible) scenario:

At the synod in October, Pope Francis fulfills our worst fears and supports this desecration of the Eucharist in the name of “mercy” and “pastoral concern”.

Those who believe that the papacy is the faith say, “If the pope wishes to change discipline, he can change it” and follow him.

But what if Pope Emeritus Benedict were to step forward, break his silence, and say that it was wrong? What if he were (to go deeper into this fantasy) admit that his abdication was coerced (thus making Francis’s election canonically invalid) because he was pressured to do some thing he could not in good conscience do and feared the very sort of schism that was now on his doorstep, and he was trying to forestall it?

Could it be possible that the Church could split into two camps, one with an anti-pope as head, and one with a real one?

I don’t see any legal reason that it could not.

I’m not aiming for plausibility here, I’m shooting for a scenario in which what might happen with this synod could make sense and yet not in any way mitigate the truth of the True Faith.

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision.

– Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Only a wild-ass theory? Yes. I offer no assurances that this is remotely likely, but I am trying to envision a scenario in which this thing could happen and the sky would not fall. I am looking, quite simply, for God’s contingency plan.

And as Belloc so wisely admonished, “Oh! Let us never never doubt what nobody is sure about.”

The “crisis of today” means that “the Church of tomorrow” will be smaller and have to start over. What could precipitate such a change? I think we’re seeing it taking shape right now.


People who say that what is happening in the Church right now is impossible are usually the ones who protest, “But the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church!”

And they’re right. Christ promised us.

He also promised his apostles that he would be with them “until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) And then he went and got himself crucified.

Don’t you think the apostles were maybe thinking along the same lines that many Catholics are now? Consider this passage from The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (emphasis mine):

When he found that they were asleep, he clasped his hands and fell down on his knees beside them, overcome with sorrow and anxiety, and said: ‘Simon, sleepest thou?’ They awoke, and raised him up, and he, in his desolation of spirit, said to them: ‘What? Could you not watch one hour with me?’ When they looked at him, and saw him pale and exhausted, scarcely able to support himself, bathed in sweat, trembling and shuddering,—when they heard how changed and almost inaudible his voice had become, they did not know what to think, and had he not been still surrounded by a well-known halo of light, they would never have recognised him as Jesus. John said to him: ‘Master, what has befallen thee? Must I call the other disciples? Ought we to take to flight?’ Jesus answered him: ‘Were I to live, teach, and perform miracles for thirty-three years longer, that would not suffice for the accomplishment of what must be fulfilled before this time tomorrow. Call not the eight; I did not bring them hither, because they could not see me thus agonising without being scandalised; they would yield to temptation, forget much of the past, and lose their confidence in me. But you, who have seen the Son of Man transfigured, may also see him under a cloud, and in dereliction of spirit; nevertheless, watch and pray, lest ye fall into temptation, for the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’

– The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (p. 4). . Kindle Edition.


This is what is happening. Right now, seeing the Church agonizing and being compromised and the pope doing and saying unthinkable things, the faith of many is being severely challenged. And yet, even if the worst case comes to pass, even if the pope himself apostatizes, this isn’t the end of the road for us as Catholics.

This may really be the Church’s via dolorosa, but there will be a Road to Emmaus that follows. If you’re struggling with the possibilities, take heart. God is present and active in his Church in ways that we don’t see. God will find a way and keep his promises. He always does, even if he seems to take a certain delight in making us wait for it until it seems all hope is lost.

I prefer to ride the faith train. I am, by God’s grace alone, praying more these days than I ever have, and God is making his presence known to me in ways that are entirely new and incredibly comforting. Reach out to him. He sees the confusion and the hurt. He will console you. Take heart, and draw close to the Lord.

When it comes right down to it, this storm in the Church may be big, and it may be fearsome, but Jesus never let choppy seas ruffle his composure. His advice is the best advice: “Fear not, only believe.” (Mk. 5:36)

Oops, He Did it Again!

April 24, 2014 at 2:13 pm


So, the phone call happened.

Pope Francis called an Argentine woman married to a divorced man and reportedly told her that she could receive the sacrament of Communion, according to the woman’s husband, in an apparent contradiction of Catholic law.

Julio Sabetta, from San Lorenzo in the Pope’s home country, said his wife, Jacqueline Sabetta Lisbona, spoke with Francis on Monday.

Jacqueline Sabetta Lisbona wrote to the pontiff in September to ask for clarification on the Communion issue, according to her husband, who said his divorced status had prevented her from receiving the sacrament.

“She spoke with the Pope, and he said she was absolved of all sins and she could go and get the Holy Communion because she was not doing anything wrong,” Sabetta told Channel 3 Rosario, a CNN affiliate.

A Vatican spokesman confirmed the telephone call but would not comment on the conversation’s content.

“It’s between the Pope and the woman,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant for the Vatican press office.

Rosica said that any comments made by the Pope should not be construed as a change in church doctrine. “The magisterium of the church is not defined by personal phone calls.”

Is anyone else getting really, really tired of this game?

Pope Francis consistently says things that cause serious concern among Catholics who know what the Church teaches. No sooner have the words left his mouth (and of course, been reported on far and wide) than the spin machine goes into high gear — powered in large part by Catholic bloggers who make a living promoting the status quo within the Church (no conflict of interest there!) — telling us why we should not worry about the obviously controversial thing because of one of the following reasons:

  1. It’s a translation issue
  2. It’s a contextual issue
  3. When he said “X” it’s clear that he probably meant “Y”
  4. The source is unreliable
  5. The information is not first-hand
  6. We must look at the issue through the Argentinian cultural lens
  7. The media is misrepresenting what he said
  8. He contradicted himself in another thing that he said during a homily last week
  9. Fr. Lombardi says it ain’t true

Take your pick. There are probably others. I imagine the Catholic apologists in the tank for this nonsense have a sort of flow chart they pass around every time they add a new option. “Did the Pope speak in Italian? –> IF YES, it’s not his native language. Lost in Translation. IF NO…”

It’s a spin-the-wheel sort of system. Maybe there’s a papal 8-ball out there (in white, of course) where you shake it up and it gives you a series of half-believable reasons why whatever he said wasn’t really heterodox. Across the spectrum of Catholic publications and social media, it’s become a giant excuse-making enterprise. Almost like the Pope Francis edition of whack-a-mole.

You’ll have to excuse my sarcasm. I’m starting to find this all incredibly offensive, and insulting to the collective intelligence of Catholics who see what is really going on.


The Holy Father is, for all intents and purposes, shooting a rail gun into the heart of the faith. He is undeniably causing mass division and confusion, which are not signs of God’s work, and these things are particularly afflicting the faithful Catholics who are in the tiny minority among the world’s self-professed Catholics.

You can’t simply look at each incident as an isolated issue. You have to look at the problem comprehensively. All this build up about divorce and remarriage and communion. The endless goings on about pastoral concerns trumping rubrics. The condemnations of triumphalism and neo-pelagianism. The public praising of Kasper’s dangerous speech on the topic, and of him as a theologian. The constant shaking up of the way things are done and the obvious disregard for the way things are supposed be. The false humility which masks the absolutely unilateral power with which tradition is dispensed with. The insistence on collegiality and delegating papal authority to local bishops, only for the pope to go directly to people and make these kinds of phone calls.


Disruption. Disruption. Disruption.


You have a PR and management team analyzing the media and communications around this pontificate. I once worked for one of the best PR firms in the country.  I know what they do. They see the messages, the news stories, the thematic resonance. Things are weighed and measured. Responses are planned. If these people are not doing this, what are they doing? This is their job.

The pope has been made personally aware of the way people receive his comments (with “big eyes” no less.) He has responded directly (by phone!) to some of his critics, thanking them for their criticism (isn’t he MAGNANIMOUS?!). Still, he has not become sensitive to the fallout or changed his approach. He has not, in a word, become responsible.


So this phone call happens. It is reported that the pope tells this woman something that is clearly in contradiction with Church teaching. The Vatican press office is asked about it — and the story is confirmed — thus making the inner circle aware that people want to know, especially leading up to the synod in October, which will address this issue of communion for the divorced and remarried.

And yet, we receive no clarification. We get vagueries from Fr. Lombardi, which some are choosing to interpret as a polite way of saying that lies are being spread:

Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships.

Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office.

That which has been communicated in relation to this matter, outside the scope of personal relationships, and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion.

Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.


This doesn’t mean anything. It also makes no sense. 

Why would this woman lie if she got the answer she wanted? Why make something up?

And if she didn’t get the answer she wanted and did lie about it, only the Pope himself can say, “Yes, I spoke to her, but this is not what was said.” Since he knows this is becoming a big story, it behooves him to do this if he cares about preserving doctrinal clarity and avoiding unnecessarily scandalizing the faithful. If he doesn’t want to speak to it directly, the statement that needs to be made by the press office, with his authorization, is astonishingly simple:

“The Holy Father cannot comment on the contents of a personal phone call, but suffice to say that in his discussion he did, in fact, reaffirm the Church’s longstanding teaching on divorce and remarriage, and the conditions for the reception of communion.”

That kills the noise. Instead, this continues to get bigger and spread and affect people’s perceptions of what is really going on. The pope understands by now how fast the media machine works. He should be pretty used to creating controversy at this point, and a man in his position with his obligation to safeguard the sensus fidei would, one would assume, care a great deal about setting the record straight.

And yet…nothing.

This is EXACTLY what someone trying to change Church teaching through public perception rather than doctrinal alteration would want. If this isn’t planned, it’s the most unbelievably devilish luck.

I am forced to conclude that his silence is a form of consent. Which leads to other conclusions:

It is entirely possible that in order to maintain plausible deniability, he is not telling his own press people anything. After all, he’s the only one who could know the contents of the phone call other than Mrs. Sabetta, who has already told her side of the story. If they can only deny this in vagueries, what can come of it?

On the other hand, if he were to confirm he said this, it would send many faithful Catholics over the edge and into the camp with those of who believe we have a serious pope problem. Quite a risk.

So silence is a win/win for him. By not making it clear that he didn’t say this, he is showing that he has no problem with letting everyone believe that he did. Because nothing can be proven, many faithful Catholics will, in charity, assume that he would not say such a heretical thing. Those who ring the bell on this stuff [raises hand] will simply become a greater nuisance and further marginalized because they’re “apoplectic bedwetters” (or whatever unique epithet they’ll spin up) despite not knowing anything for certain.

And the inevitable, slow march toward allowing those living objectively in mortal sin to be admitted to communion will continue. No doubt many of them are already celebrating this story and the conclusions they may draw from it.

This follows the de jure vs. de facto hypothesis of fundamental Church transformation: the pope (and his ideological fellows) changes as much as possible through insinuation and indirect action. Everything is plausibly deniable or can be contextually explained away. But everyone hears that there is a new practice. They begin to act in kind. I have little doubt some divorced and remarried Catholics, seeing the handwriting on the wall, have already taken it upon themselves to present themselves for communion, feeling certain in their hearts that the pope himself is okay with this. What starts as an abuse may become an indult or pastoral discretionary provision, and later, just the norm.

Just like communion in the hand.

And like communion in the hand, this will not only cause a great many sacrilegious acts to occur, but it will erode still further the belief in the Real Presence until such superstitious nonsense (as it will no doubt be looked upon) will be nothing but an unhappy memory.

If I’m right about any of this, you have to give him credit. It’s a remarkably effective end run around the requirements of indefectibility. Change praxis sufficiently and doctrine becomes irrelevant.