Ecclesial Storm Watch
Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society
By Gerald E. Murray with Diane Montagna
Publisher: Emmaus Road Publishing
Review Author: Monica Migliorino Miller
Fr. Gerald E. Murray, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in New York City, has made something of a name for himself as a member of the “Papal Posse” segment of Raymond Arroyo’s EWTN show The World Over. Murray, along with Arroyo and Robert Royal of the Washington-based Faith and Reason Institute, critiques the Bergoglio papacy, often giving the Holy Father negative reviews. In 2019 the left-leaning and, many would say, heterodox National Catholic Reporter described the Papal Posse as “little more than a Vatican-bashing roundtable, whether of Francis’ strengthening of Catholic teaching on the death penalty, the pope’s handling of sex abuse or the Synod on Young People” (Aug. 9, 2019). The staff at NCR would do well to read Murray’s Calming the Storm. While they would not agree with Murray, they would find therein a reasoned, balanced, intelligent, and well-articulated defense of the Catholic faith. Calming the Storm offers insight into the troubles the Church faces, and it provides wisdom and guidance on how faithful Catholics should approach and combat these troubles.
Murray, a former Navy chaplain with a degree in canon law, addresses a host of controversies. His book is one-stop shopping for nearly every feasible topic concerning the Church today. In a sense, this is the book’s strength and also its weakness. More on that later.
I confess I was somewhat disappointed at first by the book’s interview format, in which Diane Montagna, who served as Rome correspondent for the Aleteia and LifeSiteNews websites, poses a series of questions to Fr. Murray. I was expecting a fully developed theological treatise and analysis not interrupted by constant follow-up questions. I excused the format, however, which other readers may prefer and find engaging, similar to the popular Ratzinger Report (1985), in which Italian journalist Vittorio Messori interviewed the future Pope Benedict XVI. To Montagna’s credit, many of her questions display a true theological acumen.
Fr. Murray tackles major issues such as liturgical and theological abuses in the wake of Vatican II; the Protestantizing aspects of the Novus Ordo Mass; the difficulties of the present papacy and why clarification of Church teaching is justified in the face of ambiguity; Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, as Francis proposed in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (2017); troubles within the German Church and the synodal way; widespread rejection of Pope St. Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968); the priest sex-abuse scandal; and the spiritual effects of laxity in Catholic practice and devotions, to name just some of what he treats.
Fr. Murray doesn’t waste time getting to the heart of the crisis of modernity, the source of our confusion. Chapter Two begins, “The essential problem we face in the Western world is the loss of reality. We have entered into a nihilistic view of the world in which nothing is what it is, where there is no such thing as ‘what something is.’ According to this view, something only becomes what it is when we determine it.” He continues, “We have adopted a philosophical outlook that rejects metaphysical realism…an essentially Aristotelian view of the world, which, when combined with the Roman legal mind, produced Western civilization in the pre-Christian period.” Murray traces the source of this subjectivism to Protestantism’s emphasis on private judgment and the Enlightenment, with roots stretching into the Renaissance. The current crisis is a result of private judgment that denies, or at least reshapes, objective reality combined with loss of belief in God-given ecclesial authority.
“The world is intelligible, and it exists apart from man’s mind,” Fr. Murray writes. We need to rediscover the natural order that is then perfected and “is ultimately found in Christ’s revelation.” One is reminded of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote that “the human intellect is measured by things, so that a human concept is not true by reason of itself, but by reason of its being consonant with things, since an opinion is true or false according as it answers to the reality. But the Divine intellect is the measure of things: since each thing has so far truth in it, as it represents the Divine intellect” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q93, art. 2; emphasis in original). Humanity’s divorce from the natural order of the world is the basis for confusion regarding sexual identity and transgenderism, which Murray does not fail to analyze.
A strong and rather disturbing section of Calming the Storm is Fr. Murray’s critique of the Novus Ordo Mass that arose after Vatican II. “You have the Council and the aftermath,” he rightly observes. “In other words, who was put in charge of implementing the reforms that were proposed and voted on in the Council?” Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” did not intend the Mass to be said completely in the vernacular. It did not require the Mass to be said by priests facing the congregation, versus populum. According to Fr. Murray, the introduction of Communion in the hand, laymen serving as lectors, reception of Communion standing rather than kneeling, female altar servers, extraordinary ministers, and Mass said versus populum rather than ad orientem are ways the Catholic liturgy has been Protestantized. Murray does not claim that all these liturgical reforms are “inherently wrong,” but he argues they are “pastorally unwise.” Such practices tend toward a blurring of the ordained ministerial priesthood and the laity, as Martin Luther himself denied the ordained priesthood and emphasized a priesthood of the laity.
A book called Calming the Storm could hardly avoid focusing on the hurricane that has devastated the Church: the priest sex-abuse scandal. Fr. Murray provides strong commentary on this, explaining that the scandal is not primarily a problem of pedophilia but stems from homosexuals in the priesthood who prey on vulnerable postpubescent boys. Some in the Church seek to deny this, as the fact may negatively impact the gay-rights movement, which they support. Murray explains in depth the many mistakes bishops made in handling this crisis: the cover ups, looking the other way, or even protecting those suspected of abuse, as was the case with former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, which only led to an exacerbation of the problem.
The secular media, notably the Boston Globe’s 2002 exposé on Fr. John Geoghan, prompted the Church to face up to the crisis. Fr. Murray laments the failure of the Holy See to hold canonical trials for those accused of abuse. There was no such trial even for McCarrick. And if evidence does exist, Murray supports the state’s bringing priests to justice through the secular judicial system. This discussion leads to questions by Montagna regarding Francis’s approval of civil unions for homosexual couples. Murray argues that the Pope’s position ultimately facilitates objectively immoral behavior, and he points out that Francis’s support is in direct contradiction to the teaching Pope St. John Paul II issued through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2003.
Calming the Storm intelligently explains current issues for faithful Catholics. However, the book weighs in at a hefty 440 pages. Much could have been omitted by a serious editor. The book is frontloaded with a lengthy Q&A biography of Fr. Murray — 69 pages long! Much of it could have been cut. Do we really need to know that he enjoys ice hockey or what books he is currently reading? And it is simply not necessary for Murray to comment on just about every ecclesial issue. Occasionally, his commentary on a particular subject made earlier in the book is repeated later — and these repetitions certainly could have been cut. The book is a good read, but it would have been a better read if the primary focus remained on top subjects, making the presentation more robust and far less bulky. Moreover, Calming the Storm begs for a topical index whereby readers could easily access the issues that interest them, gain insight and answers, and pass onto others the lessons they learned. If the book goes into a second printing, perhaps such an index could be included.
The book ends with hope. The final chapter refers to saints, such as Catherine of Siena, who lived during tumultuous times. Fr. Murray admonishes us to attend to prayer, take seriously the call to holiness, and not be afraid to re-emphasize that the Church is the Church Militant — a Church founded by Christ to renew the world and win with Him victory over sin and death.
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