Debt & Discernment
Your New Oxford Note "Interview With a Carmelite" (Jul.-Aug.) was fascinating and strengthens my confidence that the Holy Spirit will not leave His Church bereft of holy vocations.
It caught my eye that interviewee Br. Simon Mary anticipated that going to college and incurring "heavy debt" would delay his entry into religious life. For those who don't experience a call to a religious vocation until after college, this is, indeed, a serious obstacle to discerning and following through on a religious vocation: Canon law prohibits religious congregations from accepting applicants with significant debt.
My next-door neighbors, Corey and Katherine Huber, started addressing this problem in the summer of 2004, first through their private foundation, then, since November 2006, through the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations. MEFV receives and reviews applications from many young people who are interested in religious life but who are saddled with student loans they can't immediately pay off. MEFV assumes the debts of successful applicants and begins paying them off in installments for as long as the individual remains in formation. If the individual perseveres in religious life, MEFV will retire the debt in full on the fifth anniversary of his final vows.
MEFV is an IRS-approved, nonprofit organization, contributions to which are fully tax deductible. Any Catholic concerned about the shortage of religious vocations should consider supporting MEFV financially or, if unable, pray fervently for its success. While MEFV trusts in divine providence, it must heed the hard numbers and remain prudent in managing its limited resources, which means, sadly, that many worthy applicants cannot be approved. All necessary information can be obtained at www.fundforvocations.org, or by writing to PO Box 7433, Falls Church VA 22040.
Frank W. Creel
The 'Chauvanistic' Catholic Church
Regarding your New Oxford Note "The Hammer Drops" (June): The male chauvinism of the Roman Catholic Church is obvious. How can the Catholic Church be so blind, for so long, as regards the right of women to become priests? No woman can make any contribution to the major decisions of the Church because women are excluded from the hierarchy. When will the Catholic Church get into the 21st century? The secular world has evolved past the Church as regards women's rights.
The Church's position on only male priests is based on the assumption that Jesus called only male disciples publicly. Jesus had male and female disciples. The Jewish culture would not accept women as religious leaders. Mary Magdalene was a woman who heard sacred knowledge from Jesus. In Jewish culture she would be considered an outcast and a sinner. Such knowledge was strictly for men. Women were not allowed to study the Torah. They were prohibited from reading the Scriptures. The women were Jesus' most loyal followers, then and now. They stood at the cross when the male disciples abandoned Jesus. Go to any morning Mass and there will be two women for every man.
Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus with precious oil like a priestess. Jesus did not stop her, but said, "She helps prepare me for my burial." Jesus knew that Mary was aware of what was happening at a deeper level than the male Apostles. The word Christ means "Anointed One." Why has the Church ignored the female ministry of the rite of anointing? In Mark 14:9 Jesus says, "Verily I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, what she has done here will be told in remembrance of her." Why does the Church not remember this memorial as Jesus instructed? Why does the Church know her as a prostitute rather than a priestess?
The Church is in a crisis for priestly vocations. Churches are being closed worldwide because of a lack of priests. Is it better to close churches or ordain women? If the Virgin Mary was good enough to bear the Creator of the universe in her womb, should women be denied the priesthood? I don't believe the ordination of women will happen in our lifetime, but it will eventually happen from necessity. Will someone in the hierarchy of the Church listen to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit?
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
Regarding the "right" of women to become priests: The Catechism says quite to the point that "no one has a right to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders." Moreover, "no one claims this office for himself . Like every grace this sacrament can be received only as an unmerited gift." He who feels called by God to the Catholic priesthood must "humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders" (#1578).
Canon 1024 of the Code of Canon Law states, "Only a baptized male validly receives sacred ordination." There it is, plain as day.
In an attempt to forestall further agitation for priestesses, Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." The Pope's pronouncement is binding on all Catholics.
Mary Magdalene's anointing of Jesus has not been "forgotten" by the Church. Mary Magdalene has been memorialized by the Church as a saint; her feast day is July 22. The reason Mary Magdalene is not known as a priestess is because Christ never called her to be an Apostle. Whether or not Christ called women to be disciples is irrelevant; He never called women to be Apostles, and it is the Apostles who received what is now known as the Sacrament of Holy Orders. As John Paul wrote, "Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone." Indeed, not even Mary, the Mother of God, received the call of Apostleship from her Son. But, John Paul explains, this "clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them."
In ordaining only men to the holy priesthood, the Catholic Church has preserved the will of Christ. It seems that you are appealing to the Holy Spirit to overturn the will of Christ. The Holy Spirit, however, doesn't reign over Christ, but with Him in the Holy Trinity.
In 1975 Pope Paul VI wrote to the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury that the Catholic Church "has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church." It was at that time that the Anglican Communion was moving toward ordaining women as priestesses. Now, little more than 30 years later, the Anglican Communion is ruptured from top to bottom, as a result of, first, the ordination of women as priests; second, the ordination of women as bishops; and third, the ordination of open homosexuals as priests, and, in the case of V. Gene Robinson, an openly homosexual bishop, who was "married" to a man last June in a private "civil union" ceremony. Does this sound like the working of Holy Spirit?
The Catholic Church has a vocations crisis; but the Anglican Communion's crisis runs much deeper than just that; indeed, the Worldwide Anglican Communion is nearing schism. Peter Akinola, the Anglican Primate of Nigeria, recently said, "There is no longer any hope for a unified Communion." This hardly sounds like a salutary prescription for the Catholic Church. Better to stick with the constant and universal wisdom of Tradition, and not be misled with itching ears by the restless whisperings of the Spirit of the Age.
Pope Benedict XVI recently said, "It is better to have good priests than many priests." So yes, it is better to close churches than to ordain women.
The Importance of a Well-Trained Lector
I was pleased to read F. Gregory Walsh's letter (Jul.-Aug.) emphasizing the necessity of having lectors trained to convey God's word in a meaningful and understandable manner. I am convinced that the Novus Ordo Mass has suffered greatly over the years from the inability of many lectors to do just that.
I have frequently witnessed a consistent pattern of poor renditions from lectors ill-prepared for their role. As a very old English teacher and play director, I cringe when I hear the Good News of the Gospel so abused. In some cases, the lector apparently assumes that his "family-room" pitch is appropriate for the vaults of a cathedral and, failing to take advantage of any amplification, does not project his voice beyond the first pew. With head bowed, eyes glued to the text, oblivious to his ineffectiveness, he proceeds in a monotonous drone, without pause, emphasis, inflection, or enunciation, sustaining a tonality destined to confound the listener. As a consequence, the noble aspirations of post-Vatican II liturgists to integrate the Old and New Testaments into the Mass are frustrated.
The problem would soon be relieved if parishes had qualified coordinators of liturgy capable of honing the potential skills of the readers and of demonstrating to them the importance of their role in the comprehensive presentation of the liturgy.
Some of the Victims Are to Blame
As harsh as the Catholic League's position might be regarding the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the NOR errs on the side of being all too credulous in the face of sometimes opportunistic, outlandish, and, frankly, not credible stories of clerical sexual abuse ("Blaming the Victim -- Again," New Oxford Note, June). That may be a hurtful observation to those honestly damaged, but if you really believe the tale of the boy who silently puts up with countless rapes while the priest recites the Our Father during the act, I have a book to sell you about an escaped nun named Maria Monk. I'd be skeptical about that story even if the evil priest had bragged about it.
The dark truth the NOR seems reluctant to recognize is that, as harsh as it may sound, some of the "victims" are indeed to blame. Specifically, the majority of the cases reported involve what are today -- to our society's shame -- garden-variety homosexual affairs between adult men and teenage boys. In fact, one of the first allegations of sexual abuse reported on Boston television set off all of my career-journalist's alarms: An adult male recalled to a reporter that when he was on a camping trip as a boy a priest had made an overt pass at him; at subsequent outings with the same priest it got worse.
There's no question about who is more blameworthy when such sordidness involves a teenager, so let me anticipate the automatic outrage by stipulating that no one is more culpable for sin in these affairs than a Catholic priest. But for continuing to make himself available to the lecher and never reporting him to spare other parishioners from predation -- a crime of which mostly all of the victims are guilty, even if they made feeble or fruitless attempts to inform the hierarchy -- this man deserves millions of Church dollars? In my book, he should be in our prayers, but not in our wallets.
I would ask those who confront people gullibly, reflexively supporting every outlandish allegation of SNAP a few basic questions about SNAP's fealty to Church teaching and tradition, and specifically this: Do you believe that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and against the natural law? Mainstream reporters, I assure you, will not. SNAP members and their supporters might not give you very comforting answers either.
Admittedly, it is maddening to see the Catholic League crow of "only" five recent allegations. But bear in mind that this sordid business often represents a willful, evil infiltration of the Church on the part of some priests that's not easily rooted out, now compounded by opportunist parishioners who see the coffers open and a guilty Church unwilling to jealously defend herself. Maybe it will turn out that new allegations are only false allegations.
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
One of the reasons so many priests got away with their sickening predations against children for so long is that adults refused to believe the children's accounts of abuse -- even their parents doubted them. They were, like you, "skeptical" even as priests "bragged about it."
We don't doubt that some of the reported cases of clerical sex abuse are fraudulent -- but that doesn't lessen the impact of the scandal or the culpability of the Church. Studies have shown that most incidences of sexual abuse go unreported, and that only a fraction of victims ever come forward -- including victims of publicly accused abusers. Moreover, the John Jay Report on the scope of the abuse crisis, prepared for the U.S. bishops in 2004, stated that "all researchers acknowledge that those who are arrested represent only a fraction of all sex offenders." For every possibly fraudulent claim, there is likely an untold number of unreported cases of abuse.
It is beyond callous to dismiss sexual abuse of teenage boys by grown men (especially priests) as "garden-variety homosexual affairs." Sexual contact between an adult and a teenage minor is cross-generational sexual abuse, in this case a homosexual pathology termed "ephebophilia" (for more on which, see our New Oxford Note "A Loss of Nerve?" on p. 17 of this issue). Let's call it what it is.
The case you mention is that of Charles Bailey, who has accused now-deceased Syracuse priest Thomas Neary of raping him over one hundred times (while reciting the Our Father) from 1961 to 1963 when he was 10 to 12 years old. You say Bailey is guilty of the "crime" of "making himself available" to Neary and not "reporting him to spare other parishioners from predation." Bailey told the Syracuse Post-Standard (June 26, 2007), "When I talk to victims younger than me, I think if I only had the guts to tell someone instead of just fantasizing about killing Neary, then he would not have raped any other boys. I carry that around with me." But what else is a child to do when he tells of his abuse but is not believed, and is sent back to the waiting arms of the predator priest whom adults liken to a man next to God? This is largely why the abuse went unreported: Nobody listened to the victims, but instead turned the blame on them.
Is Bailey's story "outlandish" and "not credible"? Bailey testified to his abuse at a state senate hearing in 2003 on extending statutes of limitation, after which 30 other men came forward to say that Neary abused them as well. Bishop James Moynihan of Syracuse sent Bailey a letter in which he said, "I wish to offer my profound apologies to you for any hurt you have suffered as a result of the despicable activities of one of our priests a number of years ago." At a late 2003 Time of Healing prayer service -- the first time in years Bailey stepped inside a church -- Bishop Moynihan fell to his knees, saying, "I repent of all the sins that have been committed. There's no doubt in my mind about the great harm that's been done. I also know I can hardly begin to make things right. For the victims, some things will never be right." Bailey, accompanied by his wife, wept during the service, and sat with Bishop Moynihan afterward. Since 2004 the Diocese of Syracuse has been paying for Bailey's weekly therapy sessions. At the advice of his therapist, Bailey, a father of four and a grandfather of six, wrote a book about his abuse titled In the Shadow of the Cross, which he paid $7,000 of his own money to have published by iUniverse Inc., a print-on-demand publisher. Is that "opportunism"? He hasn't asked for -- or received -- "millions of Church dollars."
You may choose not to believe Bailey, but the evidence is in his favor.
As far as the opinions of SNAP members regarding homosexual acts, being raped by a man in authority can do terrible, often irreversible, damage to a young boy's psyche and his sexual identity. Being raped by a Catholic priest can have the effect of permanently alienating a person from the Church and the Catholic faith. The loss of faith is perhaps the worst aspect of clerical sex abuse.
Real Sin & Real Guilt
Regarding Dr. Arthur C. Sippo's reply to my June letter: No Catholic who regards original sin as a state of guilt is mistaken -- unless the Catholic Church herself made a colossal mistake when, at the Council of Sens in the 12th century, she condemned the following erroneous proposition taught by Pierre Abelard: "We have not contracted a fault from Adam, but only punishment" (Denzinger-Schönmetzer, #728). Whether the Latin word culpam in this condemnation is translated as "fault" or "guilt" -- either translation is recognized by Cassell's New Latin Dictionary -- the conclusion is the same: original sin is a condition of real sin and real guilt, which is what the Church means when she says that original sin is the "deprivation" of "original holiness and justice" (Catechism, #417).
This conclusion is reinforced when the Catechism poses this question: "How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants?" (#404). Before we are baptized, original sin is our sin. This is why the Council of Trent teaches that Adam's sin "is in every single person as his or her own" (Denzinger-Schönmetzer, #1513; see also Catechism, #405 and 419).
Regrettably, the outstanding Joseph Pohle-Arthur Preuss dogmatic-theology series is out of print, but I respectfully recommend its comprehensive, lucid treatment of original sin in the volume titled God: The Author of Nature and the Supernatural (Herder, 1950). As far as I know, this is the most helpful English-language discussion of this dogma. The Pohle-Preuss manual says, "That the sin of Adam indwells as a real and true guilt (reatus culpae) in all his descendants, is most assuredly an impenetrable mystery." But it is a mystery that we, as Catholics, must believe.
Stephen M. O'Brien
Staten Island, New York
ARTHUR C. SIPPO REPLIES:
As noted in my previous response (June), there is a danger of exaggerating the effects and nature of original sin to the point where it is claimed to be a true sin in which all men after the fall share full moral responsibility. It seems Mr. O'Brien has fallen into this error at several points.
I am very sorry that he chose Cassell's New Latin Dictionary for his definition of culpam. It deals with the classical Latin of Cicero, but not the theologically precise definitions used in ecclesiastical Latin. Protestants are constantly making similar complaints about the pagan usage of dulia and latria, neglecting to recognize the fine distinctions made in the technical theological jargon of the Church by the Second Council of Nicaea. I have already quoted sources on the usage of culpam and I see no need of further justification. My position stands.
O'Brien is also very sadly guilty of selective quotation from his other sources. If he had bothered to read the paragraph in the Catechism after the one he quotes, it says this: "Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin -- an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence'" (#405; emphasis added).
Pohle-Preuss's Volume 3, God: The Author of Nature and the Supernatural, contains an extended discussion on the nature of original sin: "[In Romans 5:12] St. Paul evidently meant a real sin, in the strict sense of the term, not merely concupiscence or death as the penalty of sin . It is quite obvious that the sin' which, together with death, was by one man' transmitted to all others, cannot be identical to the personal transgression of Adam. Like the death of Adam, this sin was not communicable to others, and moreover, the Apostle never calls it hamatria, but sometimes parabasis (praevaracatio), occasionally paraptoma (delictum) or parakoe (inobedientia). Consequently it can only be the habitual sin of Adam (habitus peccati) which entered into the world' through him, i.e., was by him transmitted to all his progeny . The trend of the Pauline argument therefore is: The sin of this one man Adam is exactly co-extensive with the death of the body, which entered this world in consequence of it. Now infants too must die. This can assuredly not be a punishment for personal sins as they are incapable of sinning" (emphasis added).
Elsewhere, the authors make the same point I have been trying to make: "Following in the footsteps of the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 528), the Tridentine Fathers teach that original sin is the death of the soul' (mors animae). Now in the present economy of grace, the only way in which the soul can die is by being deprived of its supernatural life-principle, which is sanctifying grace . To render privation of grace a sin, another factor must co-operate, namely the ratio voluntarii, i.e., freely incurred guilt . Consequently original sin, too, being real guilt must have as its efficient cause a sinful act . The sin which causes privation of grace in an infant, therefore, can be none other than the sin of Adam in Paradise constituting in some way or other a real guilt in the infant as well .. To the question why the sin of Adam inheres as a true sin, i.e., real guilt (reatus culpae) in all his descendants, we can only reply that this is a mystery which theological speculation is unable to explain."
At this point we depart into areas of theological speculation that go beyond the clear teaching of the Church. What is very clear is that our share in the guilt of Adam extends only as far as the deprivation of sanctifying grace and its consequences. It does not constitute our sharing in the moral guilt of Adam's actual sin.
The Compendium of Theology, Volume I, by the Very Reverend J. Berthier (1931) reads, "In the language of theology, the sin of Adam was actual and originans and diverted him from his supernatural end. In so far as it was actual, it was not transmitted to his posterity, but as a consequence of Adam's actual sin, original sin, which is real though only a habitual sin, is transmitted to every child brought into the world."
There is a mystery here around which we need to tread lightly. No one is held morally responsible for the actual sin of Adam. Rather, we share in the punishment for that sin and the consequences therefrom, so that in a sense we share in the guilt of it but not in the same way Adam did. But the Catholic Church has been very careful to make it clear that no one is born into mortal sin. That is the error of Protestants and Jansenists and has already been condemned.
We are born as virtual sinners, not actual sinners. From the moment of conception we share a natural ambivalence to God in which good and evil are seen by us in first-person terms. It is only as we recognize the existence of other beings around us that we begin to consider applying the moral imperative to persons and things outside of ourselves. It is the ultimate realization of God's existence that forms the greatest challenge to our natural selfishness. The first commandment of the Decalogue addresses this in the strongest possible terms for a reason.
We have by nature no claim on God, and He stands above and apart from us as an alienated Father with prodigal progeny who have been born estranged from Him and whose natural inclinations are to resist His rule and assert our own autonomy from Him. God does not blame us for Adam's sin. He instead blames Adam for ours, but He also holds us responsible for finding our own way home. To that end He has given us a new Adam in Christ to be our elder Brother and Redeemer who will lead us back to the love of our Father.
Miracles at Medjugorje?
When I began reading Hurd Baruch's article "Did Mary's Assumption Really Occur?" (Jul.-Aug.), my initial reaction to his query, "Did it really take place?" was a bristled, "Of course it did -- we, as Catholics, must believe this as a dogma of the Church." Further reading resulted in an appreciation for the point of the article, which I found to be quite compelling.
Baruch ended his article, appropriately, mentioning several of Our Lady's apparitions, where she appeared, as he said, "to be very much alive" -- a point salient to his thesis. He should, however, have kept his examples to those approved by the Church. The so-called miraculous happenings in Medjugorje are unapproved at best, fraudulent at worst; no one can judge at this point, but discussing a specific questionable phenomenon detracted from the point being made.
It's a shame that Hurd Baruch's thoroughly researched article on Mary's Assumption into Heaven (Jul.-Aug.) had to close by referencing the myth of Medjugorje. The last two bishops of Mostar, who are the competent authorities on discerning the validity of claims of the apparitions, have determined that there are no supernatural occurrences happening in Medjugorje. As a result of their findings, all pilgrimages are forbidden in Medjugorje. To openly defy legitimate authority is a serious sin for a Catholic, and although many laymen may not be aware of the episcopal injunction, the priests most definitely are!
Alan E. Fricke
Ronkonkoma, New York
HURD BARUCH REPLIES
No definitive judgment of Church authorities has been given as to whether the apparitions of Our Lady in Medjugorje are of supernatural origin. This June, Vinko Cardinal Puljic of Bosnia-Herzegovina stated that the Vatican will form a commission to investigate the apparitions -- but no one expects a decision any time soon. The Church is not being dilatory, but prudent, given that three of the six visionaries claim that they are still receiving daily visits and messages from Our Lady, 27 years after the apparitions began, and given that they have stated that undeniably supernatural events will be unfolding -- at times they know but are not at liberty to reveal until just before the events happen -- events consisting of warnings to mankind, a great and permanent sign at Medjugorje, and the death of many people in a chastisement by the Lord. Attempting to decide now would be as foolish as passing judgment on the apparitions of the Fatima seers before the great miracle there which Lucia predicted.
In 1981 the apparitions of Our Lady began in Medjugorje, whose pastor was Franciscan Fr. Jozo Zovko. He had recently been exiled by the Bishop of Mostar-Duvno, Msgr. Pavao Zanic, to that remote mountain village, at the request of the Yugoslav communist authorities, because of his success in catechizing young people and keeping them faithful to the Church. Fr. Jozo was away from the village when the apparitions began, and initially he regarded them skeptically, wondering if the communists had put the children up to a provocation to warrant further action against him. Bishop Zanic, on the other hand, after interviewing the children, gave a statement to the press in which he said that "everything indicates that the children are not lying."
Events, including a locution from Our Lady and her appearance to Fr. Jozo, soon persuaded him that the apparitions were real. Meanwhile, according to Fr. Jozo, the authorities threatened Bishop Zanic with prison unless he backed down, and the Bishop told him, "I cannot go to prison for Medjugorje. I'm a bishop." Thereafter, the Bishop did recant, but Fr. Jozo did not, with the result that he was dragged off to prison, put in solitary confinement in the dark for months, and tortured. When Fr. Jozo was finally released, the Bishop was pressured into exiling him farther still, so that he could not return to his post in Medjugorje.
The Bishop's hostility to Medjugorje was passed down to his chosen successor, Msgr. Ratko Peric, who concluded that the events at Medjugorje were not supernatural. However, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, through its then-secretary, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Tarcisio Bertone, stated that the Bishop's view "is and remains his personal opinion." Private pilgrimages to Medjugorje are not forbidden, and they may even be accompanied by clergy, so long as the latter do not officially lead the pilgrimages. I have seen many priests and a number of bishops there. On one occasion, when I was one of the pilgrims who went out to the nearby Siroki Brijeg monastery to hear Fr. Jozo preach, he asked the visiting priests present to bless the faithful there, and I was blessed by Roger L. Kaffer, then-auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois.
While relatively few people have reported that they too have seen the Blessed Virgin Mary, many, many pilgrims claim to have seen supernatural solar and other cosmic phenomena there. In the 1980s, in the course of my legal practice, I dealt with an official of a major defense contractor, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Artillery. He told me that on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje he had seen the stone cross on top of Mt. Krizevac spin. This concrete cross, firmly emplaced and about 30 feet high, has been seen to spin by other pilgrims, and the well-known local Franciscan priest Fr. Svetozar Kraljevic has written that "I have seen the cross turn into a beautiful pillar of light, and I swear to this here and now." In 1985 Heather Parsons, a non-Roman Catholic reporter for a national paper in Ireland, was sent to report on events in Medjugorje and she witnessed one of these extraordinary occurrences: "The sun was spinning like a giant top. As I watched, colours appeared to come streaming from behind it -- red, green, yellow, blue -- to circle it independently, while all the time the sun continued to spin."
Hundreds and hundreds of physical and spiritual cures have occurred in Medjugorje. A visitor there is likely to hear testimonies to such given by locals and by other pilgrims who are returning to give thanks. Books recounting such developments are readily available, such as Sr. Emmanuel's Medjugorje: Triumph of the Heart. On my first trip there, I was looking to decide whether Our Lady was truly appearing there, and if so, whether it mattered; also, I was praying for a medical miracle for a member of my family. I came away satisfied that the answers were "Yes" and "Yes," and upon my return home, I found out that the miracle had taken place while I was in Medjugorje.
Various books report that Pope John Paul II was a believer in the authenticity of the apparitions, and Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has written that he has seen good fruit in the lives of people whom he has met who have gone to Medjugorje: "These fruits are tangible, evident. And in our diocese and in many other places, I observe graces of conversion, graces of a life of supernatural faith, of vocations, of healings, of a rediscovering of the sacraments, of confession. These are all things which do not mislead. This is the reason why I can only say that it is these fruits which enable me, as bishop, to pass a moral judgment. And if, as Jesus said, we must judge the tree by its fruits, I am obliged to say that the tree is good."
Ed. Note: We are content to let the debate about the merits -- or demerits -- of Medjugorje continue. But let it be known that the NOR has taken no position on the authenticity of the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje. The Holy See has not concluded that the apparitions are supernatural, nor has it concluded that the apparitions are not supernatural. The current status of Medjugorje is a private revelation that has not been approved by the Church, which the faithful are free to accept or reject. That might change in 25 or 250 years, depending on the findings of the Holy See, but until then we look skeptically upon the goings-on at Medjugorje -- especially in light of the recent "severe and cautionary disciplinary measures" taken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith against Fr. Tomislav Vlasic, the former spiritual director of the Medjugorje seers, for "the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspected mysticism and disobedience toward legitimately issued orders." It remains to be seen whether this is an isolated censure or a portent of things to come.
A Prisoner's Plea
I am an inmate in the Georgia prison system. I was introduced to the NOR while at Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls for the past six months. I've enjoyed each issue I've read, including those available in Coffee's chaplain's library.
I was transferred here to Men's State Prison a couple of weeks ago. (Men's is essentially a prison nursing home/old folk's home.) Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be anyone here who gets the NOR -- or if there is, they don't pass it on.
If at all possible, could you provide me with a subscription from your Scholarship Fund? Although I'm 61 years old and once had a decent income, I now have nothing at all. My only son is also in prison and no one in my family believes they should provide any financial help. (The motto once used by a ship under my command is appropriate: "We've done so much with so little for so long that we can now do everything with nothing forever.")
Due to my specific background, I've spent most of the past nine years in solitary confinement/protective custody. During that time I've been repeatedly transferred between prisons. (This is my 14th institution and only the second to allow me to be in the general population.) Very few of these prisons ever saw a Catholic priest, and the three that did didn't get much cooperation from the staff most of the time. Georgia prisons cater to virtually anything the Muslims demand, and they've begun actively pushing a peculiar brand of fundamentalist Pentecostalism in a "faith-based program" and in all substance-abuse and sexual-abuse recovery programs. But I've been trying to focus on more spiritual things -- from praying the Divine Office to reading and meditating on Scripture and the Patristic writers, etc.
It has seemed to me for quite some time now that the root of the problems in the Church and society is the hierarchy and priests' failure to do their jobs. Orthodoxy matters. Honest catechesis matters. People who have not been taught -- or whose teaching has been undermined by relativistic Church leaders -- cannot hope to withstand the pressures of secular society. What is most interesting is that inmates seem to have a better grasp of this reality than many "good Catholics." In my "travels" I've met inmate after inmate who was hungry for orthodox truth and authoritative catechesis, but frustrated to find nothing but various Islamic or Protestant tracts and contradictory texts. Catholics in prison need Catholic Study Bibles with orthodox doctrinal notes. They need Catechisms (not abridged versions). They need orthodox publications like the NOR instead of the tripe so often provided (e.g., National Catholic Reporter). Most of all, they need to be remembered and helped by the good people in the pews. Jesus is not interested in excuses for why Matthew 25:31-36 wasn't all that important in the grand scheme of things, especially as it relates to "unclean" prisoners.
If you can spare a subscription, I'll make sure that it's distributed to other Catholic inmates, and ends up in the chaplain's library. It is much needed here.
Men's State Prison
Ed. Note: This inmate is one of many who now receive gratis subscriptions to the NOR courtesy of our Scholarship Fund. For information, including how to contribute to the Fund, see the notice on page 35 of this issue.