Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: April 2015

April 2015

Pope Francis: A Prophet of Novelties?

I commend my colleague, Fr. Raymond T. Gawronski, S.J., for his article “On Pilgrimage with Pope Francis” (Jan.-Feb.). His approach is inspiring and compassionate — compassionate because he both displays a respect for the papal office and acknowledges the tensions inherent in Francis’s public statements. This tension (some would say confusion) has frustrated some of us as we try to understand the Pope’s theological and social convictions.

Fr. Gawronski also notes the cultural shift taking place in the West, from the classical emphasis on objective reality to the modern emphasis on human experience, from political stability and tradition to the social upheavals of revolution, and from a critical theological outlook (exemplified by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) to a commitment to the “I-Thou” experience of divine/human “encounter.” The challenge for Francis is that he must abide by the Church’s teaching, grounded as it is in a conviction of objective Being, truth, and tradition, and yet speak from the experience of his own upbringing.

Fr. Gawronski spells out the three “firsts” in the Bergoglio papacy: He is the first Pope from Argentina, the first to call himself Francis, and the first Jesuit Pope. These novelties may excite people, but what are the paradigm shifts that Francis represents, and are they edifying shifts for the people of God? As we try to understand Francis, the big question emerges: Is the Pope a symbol of the sensus fidelium of the Church or is he a prophet of novelties? We must wait and see.

Charles James

Professor of Philosophy, St. Patrick's Seminary

Menlo Park, California

I am grateful for Fr. Gawronski’s analysis of the three novelties that are making Pope Francis’s papacy such an anxious and exhilarating experience for so many of us. Under those three headings he has given the best synthesis in a short space of what Pope Francis is proposing to the Church that I have yet read. And thanks to it I have been able to put my finger on what I find to be the most striking fact of all: Not only is the Pope on pilgrimage but he is acting as though this is what a pope is supposed to do — lead a pilgrimage! It is unsettling.

Pilgrimages are supposed to end in Rome. Whether it is Charlemagne going to Rome to venerate the bones of St. Peter, Martin Luther climbing the Scala Sancta on his knees to gain a plenary indulgence, an archbishop traveling to receive the pallium, a canonist sending an intricate question of canon law, or a theologian called in to explain himself and await judgment, Rome is the destination, not the point of departure. The Eternal City is where we go to get answers — “Rome has spoken, case closed” — not where we go to be invited by the Pope himself to join him as he heads for the peripheries to find answers to questions most of us would have been too embarrassed to ask out loud in his presence.

True, Pope St. John Paul II got us used to the idea of a pope traveling the world, but it was fairly easy to read those journeys under the Rome-as-destination paradigm: Rome comes to different parts of the world so that it is easier for the people living there to make their pilgrimage to Rome. Even the World Youth Day phenomenon, in which people traveled from all over the world to join John Paul II at one of his destinations, can still be made to fit the paradigm; after all, we went to them to celebrate being Catholic and be inspired and affirmed, not to get serious answers to hard questions; that work, when needed, would be done in Rome. We did not worry too much that what the Pope saw and heard would change what he had to say, although we knew he was setting new and dangerous precedents of encounter, engagement, and dialogue.

When John Paul II told us, “Be not afraid!” and encouraged us to cross the threshold of hope, we did not imagine that we were embarking on a perpetual pilgrimage. What we heard was the consoling message that, tough as things were going to be for a while, we would eventually win, and then we could go back to business as usual, and the Church would be stronger and better than ever. Naturally, we were unnerved when Pope Benedict XVI later suggested that the Church of the third millennium might be smaller and more harried than we had hoped. And then he resigned. We were therefore relieved to have a younger, more energetic man in Pope Francis bring a fresh style to the Eternal City and show no fear in facing the future. In fact, not only did he tell us not to be afraid, he told us to rejoice in the Gospel.

It was not long, however, before many of us began to think that Francis was not taking the job of pope seriously enough. Fr. Gawronski articulates our concern when he suggests that we are watching a Jesuit Pope “walk a tightrope and, in many ways, live a tremendous contradiction, for he must somehow be pope while serving the universal Church in a prophetic, and not primarily a hierarchical, capacity.” The Catholic reformers of St. Ignatius’s day succeeded because they tethered themselves to the rock of the hierarchical Church. They could innovate and reform because they had anchored themselves to something that would not move.

To what is Pope Francis tethered? He has never said that the old answers are wrong, but he certainly seems to imply that they are not always adequate for the journey ahead and that we must be willing to rethink some things through from the root of the Good News — that is, from Christ and His merciful encounter with sinners. Some of us are delirious with the possibility that the Church will finally embrace the aggiornamento promised by Pope St. John XXIII; many of us are sullen and suspicious for the same reason. But I have noticed that there are others of us, in neither camp, who, though they love the Church’s traditions, seem quite confident that it is safe to follow this pilgrimaging Pope. Are they naïve?

I remember a heated conversation among a close group of Catholic friends who were trying to decide whether to support John Paul II’s opposition to the first Gulf War. One friend argued that the Pope’s position was a prudential judgment, not an infallible definition regarding faith and morals, so we were free to support George H.W. Bush, whose decision, after all, lay within the specific competence of the authority he exercised as U.S. president. I will never forget the answer of another friend, “What you say is true, but I would rather be wrong with the Pope than right with Bush because the Pope is at the center of the consciousness of the Christian people. If we are wrong together, then we will also be corrected together in time, but if we follow Bush, we will miss out.”

What that friend expressed, clumsily perhaps, was an astonishing confidence in the Lord’s fidelity to the Church He has gathered around the pope, a confidence that cuts through piles of theological reasoning with a vision of an adventurous communion in faith, the attractiveness of which I find illuminating and persuasive.

The traumas of the 20th century forced the popes to go on pilgrimage. A pope belongs to a people whom he is responsible for leading — even at the risk of making a false step. We, who also belong to that people, need to follow in the same spirit, even when we have good reason to think the pope might be mistaken in this or that judgment. The faith required of all of us goes beyond being able to parse the various levels of authority attached to different magisterial documents, as indispensable as that is for clear communication and good order. To go on pilgrimage with a pope involves a different dynamic, a different spirit of communion, than does taking a pilgrimage to Rome. But as long as we stay together, we will be corrected together in time.

Not only does Pope Francis act as if it were his job, when necessary, to lead the Church on pilgrimage, but I suspect that he believes what the Fathers of Vatican II said: that the Church of which he is the head really is a pilgrim Church. I think he might agree with the writer to the Hebrews, that it is O.K. for the pope, too, to live in a tent because we are all journeying to a city founded by God. I even wonder if, with Pauline allegory, he imagines himself leading a band of wandering Aramaeans, like Abraham; or perhaps he compares himself to Moses, watching as the Lord works miracles for a frightened people who, despite their grumbling, “all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, since they all drank from the spiritual rock that followed them as they went, and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:3-4). Imagine, a traveling rock!

With respect to Fr. Gawronski’s image of the tightrope, I would like to raise the possibility that Pope Francis, Jesuit though he is, does not see what he is doing as a “tremendous contradiction.” He may not think of himself as being prophetic. He may simply be acting out of a deeper memory than most of us have of what the hierarchical Church is, where its stability and resilience come from, and how it is meant to live in this world. It is unsettling, and I confess myself anxious at times, but mostly I am exhilarated to be part of Pope Francis’s pilgrimage with and toward Christ who, being the same yesterday, today, and forever, makes all things new.

Joel I. Barstad

Associate Professor of Philosophy, St. John Vianney Seminary

Denver, Colorado

Fr. Gawronski states that “humility is a beautiful goal for the pilgrimage that Pope Francis proposes.” When contemplating Francis’s vision of humility, I am reminded of a scene from the movie Becket in which the newly consecrated archbishop of Canterbury gives all of his possessions to the poor. When the bishop of London compliments Becket for his show of humility, Becket stops him in mid-sentence, saying, “No truly humble man would do all of this in one day.”

If Pope Francis were truly a humble man, he would have lovingly accepted the millennia-old traditions of the Church and papacy, changing only what needs to be changed and doing so in a measured and respectful manner. Francis has, by contrast, shown himself to be a man of astounding arrogance. In his view, the Church and the papacy need a thoroughgoing sweeping out, and he is just the man to do it, singlehandedly if need be.

Fr. Gawronski portrays Francis as a man with a non-hierarchical outlook. What we have seen of this Pope’s actions so far, however, reveal a man who truly loves hierarchy — with himself as top dog. He has demonstrated little reluctance to use the powers of his office to demote and/or humiliate bishops, cardinals, and curial officials who don’t measure up to his particular standard of what a churchman should be.

Fr. Gawronski’s analysis of Francis’s vision for the Church is truly terrifying. In his view, the Pope considers each and every human being as “more important, more worthwhile, than any system of thought, indeed any greatly coherent thought.” In her philosophy and theology, the Church is in possession of the most coherent body of knowledge and logic in history. Francis seems to be willing to drag all of this magnificent structure down into the muck to facilitate a single encounter with a mankind that simply cannot be bothered with anything except its own temporal goals. But, with her coherence in ruins, what would the Church have to offer the men of our age? Empty platitudes like “God loves you” and a warm embrace? It is true that the Church must meet man where he is, but we must not leave him there. The goal of evangelization is to lift man up toward God, to give his life meaning and purpose, to show him the narrow path that leads to salvation.

Fr. Gawronski wants us to confront “the apparent failure of the Christian community to witness convincingly to the glory of God while waging an endlessly losing battle on moral issues.” From the recent Synod on the Family and the Pope’s role in it, we have come to understand perfectly what this means: Are you divorced and remarried, perhaps several times over? After a period of contemplation and a bit of penance, you can quickly come back to the Communion line with your fellow parishioners, many of whom make heroic sacrifices on a daily basis to live out the fullness of their faith. Are you shacking up with your significant other? Not to worry! We all understand the “messiness” of human relationships. Are you living out the “fullness” of the homosexual lifestyle? Well, perhaps the Christian community can find some lessons of lasting value in your way of life.

There seems to be a rising current of thought in the Church that praxis can be altered to suit a supposed pastoral goal while leaving doctrine intact. In truth, a doctrine without a corresponding praxis is a dead letter, and any attempt at such a radical re-ordering of Catholic teaching would be a disaster for the Church. Make no mistake: When the teaching Church has been deflowered to the extent contemplated by these misplaced nuggets of insanity, the Devil will turn ’round on the Church with a hatred and viciousness unseen in human history. We will then be living the prophecy of Ezekiel: “Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the centuries” (6:8).

We can only pray that Fr. Gawronski is wrong about the direction of the Pope’s “pilgrimage.” In the meantime, it behooves us to pray to God and the Blessed Virgin to send the fullness of the Holy Spirit to the Church so that she may emerge from these evil times with the fullness of her mission intact.

Hank Hassell

Flagstaff, Arizona

Fr. Gawronski urges us to move “beyond” quite a list of things that he sees as impedi­ments to our getting in step with the Holy Father. These include “all of our preconceived notions, all of our certainties,” and “our tidy understandings of right and wrong.” If we can somehow manage to become a blank slate, only then will we be ready for “a direct encounter with the Lord.” But those in the Gospels who actually had a direct encounter with the Lord often came away with some tidy understandings of right and wrong, such as His teaching on divorce and remarriage.

That and “welcoming homosexuals” were the two hot-button issues at the highly controversial Synod on the Family in Rome last fall, where certain “progressive” prelates attempted to pull off a coup, basically by putting Fr. Gawronski’s advice into practice. This caused massive confusion among the faithful about what, exactly, constitutes the moral teaching of the Church. Is it what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says it is, or is everything up for grabs today?

When I was a Protestant, I was a member of a denomination that fell over backward to align itself with the Spirit of the Age on every conceivable subject. Today, that denomination is a shadow of its former self. I converted to the Catholic Church in part because I was drawn to her “preconceived notions,” her “certainties,” and her clear-cut teachings of “right and wrong.” This is all part of the deposit of faith that Jesus entrusted to His Church. Going “beyond” it is another word for apostasy.

F. Douglas Kneibert

Sedalia, Missouri

Fr. Gawronski stresses two phrases that characterize Francis’s papacy: the Jesuit phrase cura personalis, “the ‘care for the person’ standing before one,” and “the phrase for which Pope Francis is most famous: Who am I to judge?”

What’s missing from the Pope’s approach is the call to repentance, which is the first order of business in the Gospels. It was the first word from the mouth of John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt. 3:2), and from Jesus Himself when He first embarked on His public ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17).

Our separated Christian brothers could teach us a thing or two about evangelization. They begin by stressing repentance and a commitment to Christ. Billy Graham brought thousands to repentance, then to Jesus, but never by starting out with “Who am I to judge?”

Peter Goedicke

Houston, Texas

Fr. Gawronski’s very positive and hopeful article is both welcome and challenging. He does not merely point out the categories of newness in the Bergoglio papacy, as many have; he delves beneath the surface to explore what these new departures signify.

Notable are the emphases on humility, openness, “allowing another point of view to enter,” learning from the joy and freedom shown by the poor of the global South, hearing and responding to the cry of the poor, and moving away from the trappings of wealth and privilege. The Jesuits are onto something with their cura personalis, the care of the person above ideology, and in finding the will of God in history and in the “particular circumstances of one’s life.”

As a Catholic who is surrounded in my family and community by non-believers, ex-Catholics, and new-agers, I am amazed at the way in which they regard Pope Francis. They notice his garb (simplified), his residence (scaled down), his offering showers to the homeless, his joy, and his piety. They watch him say Mass, pray, canonize saints, wash the feet of prisoners, and visit the Holy Land accompanied by a rabbi and an imam. They are taking in all of that. Surely this is the “new evangelization”: encountering the mess and disorder of our times with love and without judgment.

Fr. Gawronski mentions that St. Ignatius referred to himself as “the pilgrim.” My guess is that by this point on the Church’s pilgrimage with Pope Francis, St. Ignatius is grinning, and drying that tear he shed when a Jesuit was elected to the papacy.

Mary Barnes

Berkeley, California


The Knights of Malta hosted a series of talks at St. Patrick’s Seminary here in Menlo Park, California, concerning Pope Francis, with “pilgrimage” as the theme. My article was originally one of the talks in the series, which I delivered in October. Obviously, any Jesuit must take particular care to understand and foster respect for the successor of Peter. It was with this goal in mind that I gave the talk.

Regarding the letters in reply, I found the responses of Drs. James and Barstad particularly helpful, both in terms of sharing in my attempt to understand the Pope while maintaining awareness that this papacy is proving to be particularly controversial and challenging for many faithful Catholics. Mary Barnes’s letter is clearly very appreciative of what the Holy Father is attempting, and how he is perceived, especially by non-Catholics. The concerned letters of Messrs. Hassell, Kneibert, and Goedicke just as clearly express deep concerns over the very real dangers of which many are painfully aware.

Perhaps the various hues of epistolary dialogue can offer a lesson for us Catholics. At the very start of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius notes that, in making the Exercises, “it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false. If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If he is in error, he should be corrected with all kindness.” It was this insistence on kindness and respect in dialogue that marked the participation of the first Jesuits at the Council of Trent and that has offered a model for truly fruitful conversation. If, as Dr. Barstad notes, we are to remain in Peter’s barque regardless of occasional wrong turns, we have the confidence that Captain Peter will set matters right in his time; and so our discussion of what our Captain is up to should be fraught with the courtesy that making a very long journey together in a common boat would seem to demand.

From even more deeply within our tradition, St. Augustine offers a beautiful reflection on conversation. In the Confessions he writes, “Friendship had other charms to captivate my heart…. If we sometimes disagreed, it was without spite, as a man might differ with himself, and the rare occasions of dispute were the very spice to season our usual accord. Each of us had something to learn from the others and something to teach in return.” Augustine goes on to describe those “heartfelt tokens of affection” that must exist between friends: “They are signs to be read on the face and in the eyes, spoken by the tongue and displayed in countless acts of kindness. They can kindle a blaze to melt our hearts and weld them into one.” Surely the goal is to find a way to bring this love of Christ to bear in every conversation — indeed, in every dispute — lest we join the long, sad line of souls so burdened by their weighty arguments that they fell out of the barque of Peter!

Peter and his successors are not always right about everything — as St. Paul experienced and many since — but he is the vicar of Christ who, after all, called us His friends, and would have us be so with one another, and so to be one, which was His great prayer.

We Have Seen the Enemy

Fr. Alvaro Delgado’s firsthand experiences as an abortion protester, recounted in his article “Scenes from Ground Zero of the Abortion Holocaust” (Jan.-Feb.), are a powerful reminder of the fight for life that occurs on the sidewalks outside abortion clinics across the nation while most of us are working our nine-to-five jobs. His article shines needed light into the darkness.

After I finished reading the stories of Fr. Delgado’s actual encounters and conversations on the battle line, I felt a deep respect for the commitment anti-abortion protesters make, their willingness to live their Catholic faith, and their determination to fight for babies who can’t stand up for themselves.

Fr. Delgado begins his article with the description of the introduction “ceremony” at the Auschwitz concentration camp in which a Nazi officer decided with a wave of his hand which prisoners would live and which would die. One person twisted by evil and backed by force to impose his tragic will; okay, I get that. Unfortunately, with abortion, it’s not so simple. Mothers are killing their own. The enemy is us.

Fr. Delgado’s true-to-life account forces each of us to confront our own feelings about abortion, to peer deeply into our own souls, to step out of our comfort zones. Though the question isn’t asked, it’s implicit, and I find it haunts me long after I finished reading his final sentence: What am I willing to do about it?

Jim Sanders

Sacramento, California

The Power to Compel

Your New Oxford Note “Eugenics in the U.S.A.: Black Life, White Justice” (Jan.-Feb.) on Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s secular-humanist, liberal, anti-life beliefs, which have motivated her performance on the Supreme Court, reminded me that, several years ago, I wrote a somewhat similar observation for our local pro-life newsletter.

Upon her nomination to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton, Ginsburg gave an acceptance speech in which she spoke, in the most glowing terms, of her judicial hero, her legal role model, the late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841-1935). Holmes left an abundant record of his beliefs, and the ideas that motivated his life, especially his performance as a Supreme Court justice. What does the record show? Here is a sample of quotations from his pen:

– “Sovereignty is a form of power, and the will of the sovereign is law because he has power to compel obedience or punish disobedience and for no other reason. The limits within which his will is law, then, are those within which he has, or is believed to have, power to compel or punish.”

– “I think that the sacredness of human life is a purely municipal idea of no validity outside the jurisdiction; I believe that force, mitigated so far as may be by good manners, is the ultima ratio, and between two groups that want to make inconsistent kinds of worlds, I see no remedy except force.”

– “I see no reason for attributing to man a significance different in kind from that which belongs to a baboon or a grain of sand.”

What emerges from these quotations and from the entire pattern of Holmes’s life is a man who is a complete materialist, who rejects not only the Christian moral law but even the natural law. His basic belief is that the law, any law, rests primarily on brute force. While Holmes might have spoken in the cultivated language of the New England aristocracy, his philosophy is essentially that of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung. In fact, Mao said it more succinctly: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

With people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her all-too-numerous clones currently holding the levers of power, is it any wonder that our country, our society, is in such a dreadful — perhaps terminal — state?

Joseph P. Wall

Jenkintown, Pennsylvania

Ed. Note: Ginsburg remains steadfast in her campaign to keep abortion readily accessible among the poor — especially poor ethnic minorities, as we argued in that New Oxford Note. Most recently, in an interview on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show (Feb. 16), Ginsburg called the recent spate of state restrictions on abortion “a crying shame” because they make abortion “inaccessible to poor women,” and they “hurt women who lack the means to go someplace else.” She called the overturning of Roe v. Wade the “worst case,” but one that is “not a likely scenario.” Madam Justice, your eugenics is showing.

What's Wrong with Being Happy?

It isn’t entirely clear why Jason M. Morgan decided to take on Pharrell Williams’s infectious and philosophically sound pop hit “Happy,” and it’s even less clear why he considers the song emblematic of the sort of liberalism he opposes (“Anthem of the Auto-Confessing Bad Doctrine,” Jan.-Feb.). What’s wrong with being happy? In the bold words of Fr. Servais-Théodore Pinckaers, O.P., “For St. Thomas, in the mainstream tradition of Aristotle and the Fathers of the Church, the question of happiness is incontestably the first consideration in Christian moral theory” (The Sources of Christian Ethics, 1985).

Curiously, Morgan himself describes the song’s writer and performer as “beatific.” Williams, like many contemporary songwriters, is not a professional theologian. However, it is often the intuitive, creative types who tap into timeless truths without realizing their full magnitude.

The unrelentingly catchy and harmonically sophisticated tune is deserving of all its praise and airplay. I have used the song in my work as a music therapist to elicit behavioral responses from children with developmental disabilities — often to great effect. “Happy” is an irresistible song and it takes a real sour and dour reactionary to think otherwise.

Christopher Wojdak

Rochester, New York


There is at least one thing on which Christopher Wojdak and I agree: We would both like to be happy. Make that two things: We would both like everyone else to be happy too. We might also agree on how to be happy, but here I am not so sure. For example, it gave me great pleasure to be called a “sour and dour reactionary.” Wojdak doesn’t know the half of it! But I wonder if this kind of perverse delight at seeing one’s own curmudgeonliness publicly recognized, while pleasing enough to a heart full of sin and pride like my own, is really the way to be truly happy.

What I mean is that, left to my own devices, I almost invariably do that which, sooner or later, makes me miserable. I have nearly four decades of experience in this. I choose what I think is happiness, but it just curdles and disappoints. Hence, perhaps, my sourness.

What Pharrell Williams says in his song on the subject of happiness seems to me a recipe for precisely this kind of hope-dashing. Do as thou wilt, and filter out whatever encroaches on thy bliss. Were we gods ourselves, this might work out well. Being post-lapsarian sinners, though, I submit that, if we proceed by our own lights, we will probably come up short of the mark nearly every single time. We will not, that is, be happy.

Williams, as Wojdak points out, is no theologian. Nor am I. Yet it takes no special training to see that, without the cross, the glories of this world pass quickly indeed. “Take up your cross and follow me” — that is usually the very thing I absolutely do not want to do. But therein lies the paradox that the cross leaves naked: We are in a ruined kingdom here below, and we must die to it — must forsake happiness as we want it — if we are to be happy with God above forever. Insofar as “Happy” tells us to ignore this deeper meaning of happiness, it, too, will ultimately leave us as unhappy as every other compromise with our fallenness that we have ever tried — e.g., the whole rotten panoply of mealy-mouthed liberalism.

It is no surprise that children enjoy “Happy.” My contention is not that the song is not catchy but that it is not true. Eliciting behavioral responses is one thing, and I applaud Wojdak for his good work with disabled children. But being really happy is another thing, and I am sure that Wojdak can also see this difference.

Incidentally, I have been in contact with a psychiatrist who told me that he has been using my little column in his sessions. He finds that the stiff medicine is better than the sugary nostrum. I am reminded of Pilate, giving the fickle crowd what they thought they wanted, and Christ, doing just the opposite. Had I been in the crowd that day, I too would surely have yelled, “Crucify Him!” So much for my own ability to define and realize my own happiness.

I ask Mr. Wojdak to pray for me, that I may be, despite my preternatural dourness, finally beatifically happy.

Miracles or Scholarship?

Kudos to Hurd Baruch for his article “The Crisis in Biblical Scholarship” (Dec. 2014). This “crisis” is something I address when preaching, sometimes warning people to beware of certain scholarly views, while providing an alternative, traditionally Catholic approach to Scripture. I would suggest, however, that this crisis is not confined to biblical scholarship. I often choose the Mass celebrating specific saints during the week, and I find that scholars who write about the saints are often reluctant to accept extraordinary or miraculous events in the lives of their subjects, and dismiss these events with some naturalistic explanation. I often wonder whether such people believe more in scholarship than they do in God.

Recently, on the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas (Jan. 28), I had the opportunity to address both topics. While doing some research on St. Thomas, I came across an entry in the current edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints in which the author states that Thomas’s “scriptural commentaries, which suffer from the fact that he knew neither Greek nor Hebrew, cover many book [sic] of the Old and New Testaments.”

I read that sentence during my homily, and then told a story about Thomas. It seems that, while working on one of his commentaries, he got stuck on a certain point of interpretation. Then, one day, he emerged from his cell with the answer he had been seeking. His scribe, Reginald, asked him to whom he had been speaking the previous evening in his cell. Thomas denied having had anyone in his cell. Reginald, though, was persistent. (This is the same Reginald whose persistence when Thomas stopped writing elicited the famous response, “Everything I have written seems as so much straw compared to what I have now seen and what has been revealed to me.”) Finally, Thomas admitted that he had been discussing the troublesome passage with SS Peter and Paul, and thus had received the answer.

I then posed the following question to my congregation: “So, whom do you want to believe, a scholar who knows Hebrew and Greek, or a saint who knows St. Peter and St. Paul?” I know whom I choose to believe.

Fr. Thomas Shaw

Walnut, California

Why Aren't They Rebuked?

Thank you for the subscription to the NOR you have provided me through your Scholarship Fund. Yours is one of the few rays of sanity I receive in this prison. The NOR family has greatly assisted me in my growth as a Catholic. In fact, Fr. Joseph C. Klee, who has written for you on several occasions, is my chaplain. He serves the small group of Catholic prisoners here.

My main reason for writing is to put forth a question: The Catechism (nos. 2270-2275) clearly spells out the Church’s teaching that abortion is always and everywhere a grave offense against human life. So why do our bishops, at least here in the U.S., allow Catholic politicians who actively endorse and support abortion to receive Holy Communion? Politicians who declare themselves “pro-choice,” no matter how much they claim to be personally opposed to abortion, are signaling their support for the murder of innocent children. Politicians who actively promote and defend abortion are cooperating in evil. Thus, if we vote for these politicians, don’t we share in their guilt for this shedding of innocent blood?

Don’t our bishops have a solemn and sacred duty — as Vatican II emphasized — to teach and inform the consciences of the faithful? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that if our bishops would courageously and consistently rebuke such politicians in every medium at their disposal, we would have a more serious chance of ending this holocaust against the most vulnerable of our society. In challenging “pro-choice” politicians to think with the mind of the Church, wouldn’t the bishops be fulfilling their solemn and sacred duty?

Throughout history, God’s prophets and Apostles confronted kings, princes, and judges by name. God’s heralds have publicly rebuked and censured errant political leaders for their scandalous personal sins as well as the wicked policies they have put in place that denied justice to the oppressed.

Perhaps our bishops are afraid of offending pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Or perhaps they feel that their instruction won’t be heeded. Pope St. John Paul II was fond of reminding us, “Do not be afraid.” Shouldn’t we then stand up fearlessly for the lives of these precious innocent children?

Douglas Spies

Marion, Ohio


We agree wholeheartedly with Douglas Spies. Yes, we must stand up fearlessly for innocent, vulnerable, preborn children. Yes, our bishops have the duty to inform the consciences of the faithful and to admonish (public) sinners — both of these are, after all, spiritual works of mercy. Why our bishops don’t do so, and why they allow pro-abortion Catholic politicians to receive Holy Communion, are questions we have been asking for decades.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get an adequate answer any time soon. There seems to be a growing consensus among the princes of the Church — both liberals and conservatives — that allowing pro-abortion Catholic politicians to defile the Eucharist is the proper policy. On the one hand, we have Walter Cardinal Kasper, who said last fall that what Mr. Spies and those of us of like mind propose is “an ideological interpretation of the Gospel,” and “the Gospel is not a penal code.” On the other hand, we have Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who last fall said of denying Holy Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians that “by now that inflammatory issue is in the past,” and that “most” bishops “don’t think it’s something for which we have to go to the mat.”

Obviously, the Gospel is not a “penal code.” But a canonical code has developed out of the Church’s two-millennia-long consideration of the Gospel and its practical application in human life. As for Catholic politicians who publicly support an act that the Church calls a “grave offense” and who present themselves for Holy Communion, the Code of Canon Law is clear: “Those who…obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion” (can. 915). Much ink has been spilled explaining why this canon applies to pro-abortion Catholic politicians; we won’t belabor the point here.

Suffice it to say that along with this canon, clarity itself is something the princes of the Church seem willing to jettison. Reinhard Cardinal Marx recently commented that “more traditional people” who “want to be clear in their positions” represent something “very dangerous.” The “atmosphere of reducing the complexity of the world, to give simple answers, to give black and white answers,” he said, “is the beginning, perhaps, of populism, of terrorism, that’s clear.” Yes, he said terrorism!

This isn’t some random Joe Schmoe spouting off; this is the chairman of the German Catholic Conference and one of Pope Francis’s “closest advisers,” according to The Wanderer (Feb. 19); he’s one of the “super 8” cardinals Francis tapped to assist him in reorganizing the curia.

To the pro-lifers who are still basking in the afterglow of the various marches and walks for life, 40 Days for Life, and other assorted pro-life events: You might want to know where you stand with the hierarchy of your Church. The liberal wing thinks you’re a bunch of ideologues, the conservative wing won’t go to the mat for your concerns, and one of the men whispering in the Pope’s ear just hinted that you might be terrorists. Prost!

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