The Cliff of Oblivion
Often, during my readings of the NOR, I feel the urge to react; this is the first time I have indulged that urge. The spur that prompted me was Mitchell Kalpakgians article The Family: The Center of Civilization (April). My reaction might seem odd since I have spent my whole life outside of any family. I was born an orphan, grew up in an orphanage, and never married (the desire was there, but a lifetime never far from abject poverty prevented it) circumstances that would seem to disqualify my commenting, but which I contend qualify me as a detached observer.
I am convinced that women not men are the true centers of the family and that the family is the true builder of any civilization. The mother is the true core of any family, its heart. It is she who brings children into this world, nurses them, and cares for them until they are grown and ready to begin a family of their own.
Historians have written volumes about this, that, and the other civilization, but every one of those civilizations was a group of families. The fathers might be the ones who enunciate the direction a family will go; they are the ones who handle family matters of public consequence. But mothers are the ones who physically birth every child that emerges in a family, who clothe and feed each one, attending to every demand a newborn needs to have answered.
My observations of families have forced me to believe that when the institution of marriage collapses, the civilization that its families form is within distance of the cliff of oblivion. I believe the American form of marriage is collapsing I need only refer to current divorce statistics, the widely held view that sex is merely a tool for pleasure, feminists shouts that women need to be emancipated from the home, the drive to make all forms of sexual activity and expression (including transgenderism) socially acceptable, and the onrushing roar that tradition is outmoded to conclude that American civilization is driving itself toward the cliff.
St. Johns, Arizona
MITCHELL KALPAKGIAN REPLIES:
As Stuart Lyons rightfully observes, mothers play an indispensable role in the care and nurture of the young as they provide for the health and happiness of their children, teach them manners and morals, show them the tenderness and kindness of love, and sensitize and refine them by making them aware of the needs and feelings of others.
Fathers too play a profound role in the formation of their children. Noble men who found families and honor their wives exemplify generosity and sacrifice for all whom they love. As mothers most naturally teach their young the nature of mercy and forgiveness with their bountiful hearts of love, fathers most naturally embody justice and discipline, teaching children the importance of will power, dutifulness, and accomplishment.
To be balanced, integrated human beings, children need both love and discipline, mercy and justice, gentleness and strength the combined efforts of a mother and father who love their children and influence them in complementary ways.
The Cardinal Wants a Revolution? Count Me Out!
In his article on Blase Cardinal Cupichs Murnion Lecture (Cardinal Cupichs Uncertain Trumpet, April), Fr. John A. Perricone gets right to the heart of what is being advocated: revolutionary changes. The vast majority of us thought Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre too extreme when he asserted this in his Open Letter to Confused Catholics even though he quoted the revolutionaries themselves, such as Yves Congar, O.P., who claimed that with Vatican II the Church has had, peacefully, its October Revolution. The lukewarm restoration under Pope John Paul II staved off this reality, and it seemed almost that under Pope Benedict XVI the rupture would be healed.
Then, the whole world woke up one morning five years ago and marveled to find itself modernist, or neo-modernist, or followers of Michel de Certeau, S.J. As we enter year six of the revolutionary regime, its proponents are now speaking without veil as the incalculable destruction mounts. Fr. Perricone explains what is happening: For men of all ages, particularly men living in the shadow of Marxs enormities, the word [revolution] suggests chaos, disequilibrium, unsteadiness. It is an overturning of the present order; it is dreadful in any society. But it is impossible in the perfect society of the Holy Catholic Church. Overturning the sacred order of the Church Christ Himself constituted is nothing less than an overturning of Christ Himself: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away (Mt. 24:35).
This is probably not too controversial a reading of things to readers of the NOR, many of whom, I suspect, recognize that we are facing a threat more inimical to the faith even than Arianism. And we need a fire to be lit by the witness of priests like Fr. Perricone, and Fr. Thomas Weinandy, whom he cited in his article priests who are vigilant, labor in all things, and do the work of an evangelist fulfilling his ministry (2 Tim. 4:5).
As for the rest of us, we need at a minimum to quote John Lennon, who, at the height of the insanity of the 1960s, denounced the concept of revolution in a song of that name when he sang, But when you talk about destruction, dont you know you can count me out.
Jersey City, New Jersey
Pope Francis is, Cardinal Cupich said, trying to figure out where the Lord is taking us, and the growing disquiet in the life of the Church today is due to the unfamiliarity with the method of discernment that Pope Francis often uses. It is our job to take up that discernment, and that takes time. It involves discipline. Most importantly, it requires that we be prepared to let go of cherished beliefs and long-held biases.
If any student of history were to read the above, he might mistakenly attribute it to some mole trying to confuse Catholics, working for the likes of Luther, Napoleon, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, or Mao.
For the past 60 years, the polluted Vatican II stream has continued merrily along gaily, I might add tearing down the traditions that inspired saints to die for their faith. From the first-century persecutions in Rome to the Protestant Reformation to the French Revolution and on to Auschwitz, the Churchs teachings and traditions not only made saints but built beautiful churches and schools and inspired the arts in essence, Western civilization. All this required the quenching of the blood of saints, the kind that does not seem to flow in the anemic veins of Cardinal Cupich.
Not unlike salmon swimming upstream, priests like Fr. Perricone have been teaching the traditions of the Catholic Church honed and perfected over 2,000 years. And they do so bravely, in the face of the seismically shifting Francis-Church. For over 40 years, Fr. Perricone has been a dynamo here in the tri-state area. He continues to serve the faithful with Masses, catechism classes, retreats, and prescient articles like this. He currently serves under Joseph Cardinal Tobin, who recently welcomed gays at a special Mass geared toward the alphabet-challenged LGBT community. Like Cupich, Tobin is obviously not a rigid bishop. But time has passed these 1960s retreads by. While younger seminarians and priests are attracted to the extraordinary form of the Mass and the beautiful traditions of the Church, these bishops strum their guitars, cling to their pet rocks, and promote ecumenical claptrap.
All this prompts good Catholics to ask: Does Rome do any vetting of bishops? And it isnt just Francis. For the past 60 years, the Popes have failed us with the likes of Joseph Bernardin, Roger Mahony, and Bernard Law and thats just here in the U.S. The Church in the Western world, particularly in Europe, lies prostrate and in ruins, not unlike Germany after World War II.
Bronx, New York
I remember cringing at the sight of the felt banners that emblazoned the walls of my Catholic grammar school. Even as a little girl, I thought this Kumbaya art was corny, embarrassing, and worth laughing at.
I similarly flinched when I read the quotes of Cardinal Cupich in Fr. Perricones article. The cardinal used phrases like new ways the Lord is revealing to the Church, Catholics must have a change of heart if dialogue is to be successful, and a Church that is reimagining itself. Did I just step into a time warp? Who talks like that well, other than churchmen?
I give Fr. Perricone credit for painstakingly going through Cupichs mumbo jumbo. He takes the time to analyze, comment, correct, and teach. But I wonder whether we should just ignore these men altogether. They say nothing of value. They never edify. And perhaps worst of all, they are boring. I sat through a 15-minute sermon on Sunday in which the priest spoke about I cant remember!
I recently read an article about Justin Martyr. The manliness, boldness, and godliness of this saint are an uplifting antidote to what weve been reduced to with todays Church leaders. Justin Martyr would make you want to listen to him, follow him, die with him. He didnt waste anyones time reimagining or dialoguing or coming up with new ways of revealing. He just did what he was supposed to do. Ill hang my hat with him.
Yonkers, New York
FR. JOHN A. PERRICONE REPLIES:
Messers. Sexton and Marengo write better than they know, as does Miss Winterroth. All write with great passion and a deep understanding of the momentous crises the Church faces today. Truth be told, I burn with envy: The constraints of Holy Orders muzzle me from speaking the truth with such abandon. I wish I too could state so plainly what is at stake. May God love them and prosper their kind.
In reading their insightful comments, I couldnt help but recall the famous remark made to Cardinal Newman by one of his old Anglican priest friends: When St. Paul came to a place, there were riots. When I come to a place, they serve tea.
The Terrorist Next Door
David Pinaults review of Gilles Kepels Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West (April) brings into sharp focus the process by which France is being Islamized. The main dynamic, as Pinault makes clear, is the appeal that Islam has for alienated youth both Muslims and non-Muslims. It gives them something to believe in beyond themselves, and it provides a worldwide community to which they can belong.
Pinaults observations of the situation in France contain important lessons for Americans. His analysis goes far in explaining why the quiet teen next door can easily become tomorrows terrorist.
A Blatant Violation
The incident Anne Barbeau Gardiner describes in her article The Confessional Seal & the Sealed Tape (April) was a blatant violation of religious freedom, an act that would have been unimaginable in earlier days. In a desperate attempt to search for evidence, law-enforcement officials shunned the greater good of privileged conversations and surreptitiously aimed to target an individual for whom they had nothing but contempt. Yes, I was used as a puppet in their sneaky attempts to do what no one could have imagined would be tried, except in some totalitarian regime.
Dr. Gardiners explanation and analysis are complete and fair, hitting on the main points that make that case most timely today. We must uphold the rights of faith and conscience for the sake of our human culture. If not, nothing is sacred and we find ourselves in a downward spiral.
Fr. Timothy Mockaitis, Pastor
Queen of Peace Catholic Parish
Ed. Note: Fr. Mockaitis is the priest who heard suspected Oregon murderer Conan Wayne Hales sacramental confession, which a Lane County district attorney surreptitiously recorded and attempted to enter into evidence in Hales trial. Dr. Gardiners extensive research for her article on this violation of the priest-penitent privilege included reading Fr. Mockaitiss account of the events in his book The Seal: A Priests Story (Xlibris, 2008).
My Generations Failure
Your New Oxford Note Are We Winning? (March) was very interesting and informative. The statistics on the growing use of the abortion pill were a truly shocking revelation to me. Yet I believe that we Catholics are making a mistake in focusing so much of our attention on the abortion issue when abortion is just one manifestation of the transformation taking place in our society.
To those of us who came of age in the 1950s it is almost unbelievable how in the past 60 years hedonism the philosophy that people have the right to do everything in their power to achieve the greatest amount of pleasure possible, especially sexual pleasure has become so prevalent that it has replaced Christianity as the guiding moral principle of life for a large percentage of our population. This development is, I believe, a major reason why so many young Catholics and other Christians have abandoned the faith and for the distressing evidence of moral decay in our society, including:
- the widespread practice of cohabitation in place of marriage
- the high percentage of babies born to unwed mothers
- the high rate of sexually transmitted diseases
- the high rate of divorce and remarriage
- the universal availability and widespread viewing of pornography
- the widespread acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle
- and, of course, approximately one million abortions each year in the U.S.
Old folks like me remember that before the 1960s the Catholic religion served as a formidable bulwark against moral decay. However, since that decade, the Church has suffered a dramatic decrease in the number of priests and teaching nuns and brothers, who have traditionally passed on the faith to young Catholics. As a result, the Church has been overwhelmed by the relentless attacks on Christian morality in movies, books, schools, and television, and by changes in local, state, and national laws. Although a number of individuals, both religious and lay, have made valiant efforts to fight against the tide of hedonism, their efforts have proved inadequate. They are simply overmatched.
One facet of the situation that disturbs me more than any other is the failure of the Church hierarchy to enter the fray. I realize that the Church has been shaken by revelations about sexual misconduct by priests and other religious. But, to my mind, that doesnt justify the silence of Church leaders on the moral decay so evident in our society.
In past decades, we might have hoped for Catholic colleges and universities to help turn the tide, but based on reports from the Cardinal Newman Society, most of these institutions have been so taken over by irreligious professors and administrators that they are now part of the problem. Unfortunately, I can think of only one Catholic organization in the U.S. with sufficient resources and manpower to have any chance of success in the fight against hedonism: the Knights of Columbus.
I grew up before the onset of the hedonistic age in America and I remember what the country was like when Christianity was strong and influential. Consequently, I feel somewhat responsible for, and guilty about, the current situation. I realize now that I and most of my contemporaries stood by and let hedonism take root without a fight. We might have lost anyway, but most of us never even tried to resist. We saw immorality steadily gain control of our society and essentially did nothing to try to stop it. I believe there are three reasons for this: (1) We were busy working and raising families and had little extra time, (2) we assumed that Church leaders would take responsibility for the job, and (3) we knew we had not been saints ourselves and thought it would be hypocritical of us to preach about things like chastity.
My generation is now dying out, and because of our nonfeasance we are leaving our children and grandchildren a degenerate society. I hope the Knights of Columbus can do what our generation failed to do.
Shaken to the Foundation
Your New Oxford Note Falling into the Darkness of Error (March) was not only alarming but frightening. It raised the possibility that Pope Francis might be laying the groundwork for dismantling the teaching of Humanae Vitae concerning the illicit and sinful nature of artificial contraception. What makes this possibility dangerous to the faith is that this doctrine has been not only the constant teaching of the Church for millennia but was presented by Bl. Pope Paul VI in a manner that makes it an infallible teaching.
For the current occupant of the Chair of St. Peter to consider altering this teaching, in even the most minimal way, could shake the Church to her very foundations. How, pray tell, can anyone take seriously the doctrine of papal infallibility any longer or, for that matter, the inerrancy of Christs Church, if even her most fundamental doctrines can be called into question?
In reading that New Oxford Note, one can almost feel the plaster begin to fall and the solid beams of the entire Church structure begin to crack!
Has the Church Erred in Teaching Faith & Morals?
Allen Vandecoevering (letter, April) accuses Catholics who do not accept this ages condemnation of the death penalty of sadly rejecting the authority of the Magisterium, the present Pope included, and replacing it with their own interpretation of Scripture and sacred Tradition. But he ignores one crucial detail: The Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the truth that capital punishment is moral. It could not be otherwise if the Church is to maintain any claim to being an infallible and unchanging source of Gods revelation. Gods revelation and the teaching of the Magisterium did not begin in the second half of the 20th century!
Based on Deacon Vandecoeverings defective accusations, it is he who needs to examine what he calls the sin of pride in the exposition of his own opinion and, yes, even some of the opinions expressed by Pope Francis on this subject. For example, in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Francis says, The Church not only feels the urgency to assert the right to a natural death, without aggressive treatment and euthanasia, but likewise firmly rejects the death penalty (no. 83).
If it were true that today the Church firmly rejects the death penalty in the same way she rejects euthanasia, that would end the Catholic Churchs claim of indefectibility. It would mean that the Church had changed a firmly established moral teaching, thus indisputably showing that she had committed an error in teaching faith and morals. Moreover, if the death penalty were an objectively evil act like euthanasia, that would mean the Church had countenanced the commission of a morally evil act when she approved putting heretics to death! The evidence that the death penalty is not a morally evil act is simply too solidly entrenched in both Scripture and the traditional teaching of the Church.
The legitimate Christian objection to using the death penalty is our Christian calling to pass on the mercy that God has shown to us. From the beginning, that sharing of mercy has been subject to the limitation that the innocent must be protected from a repetition of the crimes by those who have killed or committed other terribly destructive acts. In recent years, Catholic bishops have asserted their opinion that the state can achieve its legitimate goals without resorting to the death penalty. In light of Christs command that we too are to be merciful, and without repudiating the death penalty itself, most Christians would probably agree that the death penalty is terribly overused today.
James J. Harris
San Diego, California
Corrosive to My Faith
After prayerful consideration, I have decided not to renew my subscription to the NOR. I started my subscription during the pontificate of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and, as a conservative Catholic, concurred with your consistent support of our Holy Father and enjoyed reading your interesting and, at times, inspiring articles.
While I too have questioned some of the reported statements and actions of Pope Francis, I find that your coverage of him and the Vatican has become almost entirely negative. Reading this constant negativity is having a corrosive effect on my faith. At this point, I think it is better that I just pray for our Holy Father and avoid reading so much criticism. I hope you understand.
May Our Lord bless you.
Clarke N. Ellis
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
One of our responsibilities as editors of an independent Catholic magazine is to identify problems in the Church and explain why they are problems. We would abdicate that responsibility if we were to ignore problems, especially recurrent problems at high levels in the Church, or try to explain them away. It isnt our job to tell readers that things are hunky dory when they arent. There are plenty of Catholic publications that do this, and they are easy to find many of them are official organs of the Church, published by diocesan bishops or religious orders.
Sweeping ecclesiastical scandals under the rug isnt our modus operandi now, nor was it during the papacy of Benedict XVI. We were critical of him too when we thought we needed to be. (You can read all about it in our online dossier Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.) And not only him, but Pope John Paul II as well the saint! Even he didnt rule without making a few missteps, perhaps even several. We lost a lot of subscribers during both papacies due to our need to speak out.
It has always seemed odd to us that readers love it when we critique bishops who need critiquing and call on us to do more of it and more often but get uneasy when we gaze higher up the ladder of responsibility. This conundrum prompted our editor emeritus Dale Vree to pen a New Oxford Note titled You Can Criticize Bad Bishops, But Dont You Dare Criticize the Pope Who Appointed Those Bad Bishops (Oct. 2006). In it, Vree cited a platitude popular during the communist period in East Germany, which party leaders had emblazoned on giant red banners hanging from tall buildings: Die Partei Hat Immer Recht (The Party Is Always Right). Whoever believed that, Vree commented, might as well have decapitated himself for he had willfully relinquished his ability to think for himself. Likewise those who say, The pope is always right. But we Catholics arent called to be uncritical followers, to so decapitate ourselves. We must use our brains and intellect, Vree counseled, and we are not obliged to believe that the pope is always right or make excuses for his goofy decisions.
Yes, goofy decisions. And this in reference to the beloved Benedict! Yet Pope Francis has arguably made more goofy decisions in his first five years in the Chair of Peter than Benedict and John Paul II did in all of their years decades! on the same throne. If you dont believe us, take a gander at another of our online dossiers: Pope Francis.
Mr. Ellis characterizes our coverage of the current Pope as almost entirely negative. We submit that this is so because honesty requires it. Were not going to decapitate ourselves because Francis keeps saying and doing goofy things and our reporting on them might disturb the tranquility of some of our readers. Honest journalism requires facing up to brutal facts. We understand that the brutality of factual evidence isnt something everybody can stomach. It might be corrosive; it might give you indigestion. Ultimately, however, the truth is a tonic; it is salutary and liberating. (Dont look now, but Pope Francis has prompted us to take up our pen yet again. See our New Oxford Notes Are There Atheists in Heaven? and Scalfari Strikes Again in this issue.)
Mr. Ellis would rather save himself the stress of the struggle by simply praying for the Pope. Were all for praying for the Pope and praying hard. But for our prayers to be more efficacious, it helps to know what to pray for. During the reign of Benedict, we encouraged praying for courage. During the reign of Francis, we recommend praying for clarity. And we ask that you pray for the editors and writers of the NOR as well, that we may have the courage to bring clarity to a Church that has been beset by confusion and chaos.
A Very Saintly Man
I am herewith canceling my subscription, since I found your response to Lucia Bartolis letter (April) hateful and disturbing. To judge President Trump the way you did was not only un-Christ-like but terribly wrong. Trump is the best thing to happen to America since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Just look at his accomplishments!
Who are you to judge the present state of this mans mind and soul based on his past personal life? What would you have said about St. Augustine after his conversion? How do you know Trumps heart?
Shame on you for taking the side of Jake Tapper, a liar and Obama sycophant, and for judging Trump by his past marriages when he is performing more acts of Christian charity than any other person in the world, including the present pope. It is said that by your actions, you shall be known. If that is the case, then Donald J. Trump is a very saintly man! He has done more for the poor and for the safety of our country and the world than any of his predecessors. Imagine the good things that will happen to families now with the marvelous improvement in our economy and in only 18 months!
What political party has as one of its major platform planks the full endorsement of the right to kill babies, right up to and including the moment of birth? It sure as hell aint the Republican Party! Yes, most past Republican presidents talked out of both sides of their mouths, saying they were pro-life and doing the opposite. They were all hypocrites! But Trump is not a Republican. He had to run as one and thank God he won because he has proven so far not to be anything but true to his word.
It is sad to see those who should be thankful for what this big, stumbling lug is doing for our country instead turn on him, especially considering the alternative: Hillary Clinton.
Semper fi and good-bye!
Gig Harbor, Washington
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
Were not sure what could have been so offensive in our response to Lucia Bartoli. You be the judge; this is what we wrote: Why should Trump not have to answer for his multiple marriages especially if hes going to argue in favor of traditional marriage? Shouldnt we expect him to practice what he preaches? Even Trump admitted in his response to Tapper that this was a very good point.
If Trump himself can admit that its a very good point, why cant his followers? Whats offensive about asking why he shouldnt have to practice what he preaches? Is Trump above criticism?
Whether you approve of Trump or not, one thing about him has become clear: He has exposed the hearts of many men. If you know people who dislike him, you know what we mean: Hes sparked a mania among his detractors, a visceral antipathy that expresses itself in unfocused rage, even among otherwise calm, rational people. Those so afflicted find his very existence odious; theyre angered by virtually everything he says and does, and theyre against everything he stands for or might stand for.
On the other side, there are people who go to great lengths to defend Trump against any and all criticism, abandoning rational discussion by demanding Trump-centered ideological purity. It has the flavor of a cult of personality: Youre either all in with Trump or youre an enemy, a hater (or worse, you side with Jake Tapper). How else to explain Mr. Tinders assertion that Trump is a very saintly man because he has done what? Its not clear, and Tinder doesnt bother to explain, other than to say Trump has done more for the poor than any of his predecessors, citing only the marvelous improvement of our economy.
Mr. Tinder seems to suggest that Trumps presidential campaign might have been fraudulent, or at least deceptive: He ran as a Republican but is not a Republican. Yet, Tinder says, Trump is true to his word. How can a man who ran a deceptive campaign be true to his word?
Mr. Tinder signs off with the U.S. Marines old slogan, Semper fi, or always faithful. What else are we to conclude but that Tinder has expressed his undying faith in Donald Trump? This, of course, runs contrary to the counsel of Scripture: Put not your trust in princes: in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation (Ps. 145:2-3). Elaborating on this point, Christopher Gawley wrote in his article Was Trumps Election Divinely Ordained? (Dec.): The belief in a creature as a political savior, though alluring, is antithetical to Christianity. We need champions in this world, and it is not difficult to see that need morph into something approaching idolatry . We owe no religious allegiance to Trump. In other words, even though Trump might earn our respect or admiration, he is not worthy of our faith.
I would like to thank all those who give out of kindness and Christian goodness to make free subscriptions to the NOR available to incarcerated men like me through the Scholarship Fund. In the closed environment in which I live, each issue of the NOR is read by many men. I pray that some, perhaps lapsed Catholics or those from Protestant denominations, may grasp the huge implications of choosing the Church founded by Our Lord and, beyond that, pursue the beauty available through the liturgy, the sacraments, and the history of the Catholic Church.
The NOR is a source of motivation, a reminder that we are constantly choosing whom we will serve. If God is in the little things, then by all means we should remember Him in all things.
My thanks to everyone who makes the NOR available to me and all who receive it through the Scholarship Fund.
Hardee Correctional Institution
Bowling Green, Florida
Thank you for renewing my scholarship subscription. Every issue you send me is read by six other Catholics besides me. I then donate the issue to the general library so that any of the inmate population of about 800 may read it. I am sure that there are some who do so. There are many lost souls in prison who are seeking truth, so your publication has surely reached a few of them.
Because you published my earlier letter (Jul.-Aug. 2016), I now have three Catholic pen pals. I cannot describe the feelings I have toward this generosity on your part. I had no contact with anyone outside the walls (Ive outlived all my family); now I have hope that I can have a life outside prison. Bless you!
I am always open to communicating with anyone who wishes to visit me via U.S. mail.
All the staff at the NOR are in my daily prayers. I pray for your financial health so that you can continue to spread the Catholic faith.
Taylor Correctional Institution
Ed. Note: Readers who would like to begin writing to Mr. Clumm may contact our office for his address. Those interested in contributing to our Scholarship Fund, so that other prisoners may, like Messrs. Clumm and Spataro, receive a free subscription to the NOR, can find more information in the notice on page 41 of this issue.