Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: January-February 2012

January-February 2012

The Latest Heresy

Hardly an issue goes by in which the NOR does not feature a letter from a disenfranchised Catholic bemoaning the scandals, the lack of leadership, and the breadth of liturgical abuses at his parish. While understandable, the frustration does not seem to be tempered with much hopefulness, at least in this life. Yet the course of the heresy that has impacted the adult lives of nearly every reader of the NOR has been astoundingly brief.

In his book The Great Heresies, Hilaire Belloc analyzes five different heresies in the history of the Church, each of which ran its course over some 400 years. The unnamed heresy that began in the 1960s — which could be called “Catholic nihilism,” for want of a better term — has already plateaued and is in obvious decline, barely more than 40 years after it began. The comparatively brief life span of Catholic nihilism illustrates some new and old principles of heresies, which should give us much cause for hope and gratitude.

1. Heresies are not morally stable. While impregnable in its fullness, Catholicism at either the individual or institutional level cannot withstand tampering. Chesterton’s description of the Church as a balanced, inverted pyramid applies just as well to the individual Catholic. Open the door to Catholic nihilism, and it seems that within a decade financial scandals, clerical abuse, adultery, and embezzlement have set up house.

2. Heresies are not fertile. One of the lessons of the 20th century is that if a movement, religion, or nation embraces contraception and abortion, within a few generations there won’t be many members left. Catholic nihilists are yet another proof of this law of nature. We are now almost two generations removed from the halcyon days of this heresy. Where are the full pews of the children and grandchildren of those 1960s-1970s heretics? God only knows, but they are certainly not revitalizing this heresy.

3. Heresies are not evangelical. The rallying cry that nothing matters is certainly an exciting protest in a Catholic culture where everything matters. But once the thrill of opposition is over, how does one continually attract people to the oxymoron of institutional nihilism? Every parish, diocese, and religious order that embraced Catholic nihilism is now either extinct or moribund.

4. Heresies bankrupt. If nothing matters, then certainly donations are not going to go up. And while society might find nihilism titillating at first, the accompanying scandals will teach a financial lesson that will not be forgotten for many generations.

5. Heresies are boring. The Church has always been an engine of endless beauty and creativity. Catholics across generations and cultures have produced the most brilliant and inspiring liturgy, art, music, and literature the world has ever known. De­construct the Catholic Church and you have a radically new worship space, liturgy, and art form, with all the sensual appeal of an industrial park.

From Satan’s perspective, it was a fairly well-thought-out plan to destroy and depopulate of the Catholic Church by making her irrelevant, boring, and scandalous. In 1978 the heresy seemed unstoppable. If someone had predicted then that 34 years later Catholic nihilism would be waning, few, including Belloc himself, would have believed it. Furthermore, if in 2000 you had told NOR readers that those banned ads would look tame compared to what the next Pope would proclaim, many would have shaken their heads. In the heat of the battle of Lepanto, I doubt the soldiers realized they were in the midst of a miracle. Likewise, it may take a few more generations to realize the magnitude of the miracle we have just lived through.

Jim Chandler

Yarmouth, Nova Scotia


Comprehending the Liturgy

I was impressed with Clarke N. Ellis’s explanation of the historical use of the vernacular in the Mass (letter, Nov. 2011). His exegesis would be difficult to argue against since he so succinctly and clearly explained the points of progression in the liturgy as Christianity spread from one culture to another: there arose the necessity to achieve comprehension within each civilization.

However, much more than the use of Latin was changed when the Church adopted the Novus OrdoMass in the early 1970s. Moreover, this Mass has been subjected to many abuses, the likes of which are regularly commented on in the pages of this magazine. While I see little to be concerned about if the Tridentine Latin Mass were offered in the vernacular, there remains one dilemma that must be overcome: adapting Gregorian chant to the vernacular. Thus far, when it has been attempted, it leaves much to be desired.

Raymond J. Mattes Jr.

Co-founder of CatechismClass.com

Norfolk, Virginia

I have heard and read the sentiment expressed by Clarke N. Ellis a number of times, that those of us who prefer the Tridentine Latin Mass do so because we think the Mass should be said in Latin. Not so! The Mass in Latin is beautiful, but that is not its main attraction. I would guess that very few of us who attend this Mass know any Latin beyond the few phrases we say aloud in the Mass; most follow along in English with our bilingual missals — that’s right, in the vernacular.

I wish the priest could say the Tridentine Mass in the vernacular, but in reality it doesn’t matter whether the Mass is said in English, Latin, or Sanskrit. What most of us like about the Tridentine Mass are the many beautiful prayers that are omitted in the New Mass, the uplifting feeling provided by the traditional hymns and Gregorian chant, the fact that there are times when we can meditate or pray silently to God without some crooner banging out a tune on a guitar or piano, and being able to humbly receive the body of our Lord on the tongue while kneeling at the altar rail.

These factors enhance the solemnity of the Mass and give a feeling of closeness to God. It’s not the Latin language that makes the Tridentine Mass so desirable; it’s the feeling of reverence one gets from it.

Floro Miraldi

Pastor, Our Lady of Fatima Church

Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Idiosyncratic & Amateurish

Ken Skuba’s article “Altar Boys: The Problem or the Solution?” (Nov.) was shallow, his evidence often idiosyncratic, and his use of ecclesiastical documents quite amateurish. He describes service at the altar as if it were a club for boys who still think girls have cooties, and he repeatedly insults women who volunteer to serve at Mass by likening them to mindless forces of destruction that “have poured into church sanctuaries like a wall of water rushing downstream from a broken dam.”

Skuba shows no competence with rudimentary components of ecclesiastical discourse. For example, he makes repeated references to Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official journal (and not a document) used for promulgating ecclesiastical laws decided upon by the Holy See (can. 8) — not, as Skuba has it, by “the Vatican,” which is a civil entity and has no canonical or liturgical interpretational authority. To suggest that John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacer­dotalis was drafted “on the heels of Acta and presumably in response to it” is risible. Major magisterial exercises in ecclesiology and sacramental theology are not prompted by things like the altar boy/girl debate.

Skuba graciously exonerates little girls from direct responsibility for the priest shortage and even admits that “altar girls…are equal to the task and perform at least as well as, if not better than, their male counterparts.” He would do well to reflect on what it means to say that girls are “equal to the task,” recalling, for starters, canon 208, which recognizes the fundamental equality of all the faithful. Then, in light of the ancient maxim Ubi lex non dis­tin­guit, neque nos distinguere de­beamus (“where the law does not distinguish, neither should we distinguish”), he should explain how his arguments against female service at the altar square with obvious changes in canon law that authorize considerable sanctuary ministry by lay persons, male and female, without distinction.

In another place, I might try to narrate the events that led up to, and are now prolonging, the neuralgic debate over altar servers, but for now I’ll just say this: The Church has the authority to permit or forbid female service at the altar. Good arguments for both options are available, and neither choice would violate the discretionary authority left by our Lord to St. Peter and his successors. Catholics are free, in short, to make a reasonable case for or against altar girls (can. 212.3), but they are not free to insinuate that canon 230, which plainly authorizes both men and women to serve at the altar, did not really mean what the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts authoritatively said it meant.

Edward N. Peters, J.D., J.C.D.

Chairman of the Philosophy Dept.

Ann Arbor, Michigan


By focusing on minutiae, Mr. Peters seems to have missed the main theme of my article: that the centuries-old tradition of boys only serving at the altar should be re-established because it produced many vocations to the priesthood.

The point he makes about Acta Apostolicae Sedis, which merely concerns how the interpretation of canon 230 was officially promulgated, is relatively minor and not germane to my article’s central argument. Still, shame on me for such an “amateurish” research mistake.

His other criticisms are without merit. He claims I insinuated that canon 230 does not really mean what its interpreters have said it means. I insinuated nothing. I merely conveyed the interpreters’ conclusion and the subsequent fallout from it.

Did I “repeatedly insult women” with my “wall of water” analogy? No. It’s not the fault of altar girls that their presence has displaced boys from altar service, but that is the reality. When I referred to an “explosion of female extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion,” I was stating a fact, not taking a position one way or the other. My use of these analogies supports my conclusion that the introduction of altar girls has “wound­ed” the altar-boy-to-priesthood pipeline. My word selection does not make me a bigot.

Mr. Peters says I should explain how my “arguments against [altar girls] square with obvious changes in canon law that authorize considerable sanctuary ministry by lay persons, male and female, without distinction.” For starters, I think the changes were a mistake, and time will either bear that out or prove me wrong. Beyond that, when I presented my arguments, I “idiosyncratically” substantiated my case with numerical evidence. So far, the numbers, and the anecdotal evidence, seem to suggest that a revision to canon 230 is warranted. While it may be impossible to know exactly how many altar boys would be in service today were girls not admitted, the trend seems to be that the number of altar girls is rising while the number of altar boys is declining.

Mr. Peters writes that canon 230 “plainly authorizes both men and women to serve at the altar.” What may be accepted as true now was apparently misunderstood for 18 years. The revised Code of Canon Law was published in 1983. In 1994 canon 230 had to be “interpreted.” In 2001, in response to a bishop’s question, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments had to further clarify this canon. All this suggests that the meaning of canon 230 was ambiguous, though maybe not to canon lawyers.

Don Labonte

Collin College, Spring Creek Campus

Milford, New Hampshire

Women's Work?

Upon reading Ken Skuba’s article, it occurred to me that there is a significant difference between what altar boys did prior to Vatican II and what “altar servers” do today. The altar boy once had a significant role that included Latin responses. Today the “altar server” has no speaking part and is essentially there to hold a book and set a table. I would suggest that if the bishops want to foster vocations, they need to create a more significant role for boys.

Marie Martz

Fatima Family Apostolate

Oneida, Pennsylvania

I agree completely with what Ken Skuba has written about altar boys vs. altar girls. At my church I once noticed two altar girls sitting next to the priest while an altar boy was sitting by himself on the other side of the altar. It wasn’t long before he no longer came to serve. My grandson also served at the altar for some time but then stopped. When I asked him why, he replied, “They don’t schedule me anymore.” But there are plenty of altar girls there in his place.

The bishops tell us that they have to close churches due to the shortage of priests, but they do precious little to encourage young boys to serve at the altar of God, which might inspire them to enter seminary to study for the priesthood, something that is impossible for girls to do.

Charles Molineaux


McLean, Virginia

Around the same time that Ken Skuba’s excellent article on the recurring issue of what we might call, in a deliberate oxymoron, the “girl altar boy question” appeared (Nov.), the topic arose again in Arlington, Virginia, the diocese alluded to in the article. Evidently, early in his tenure, the bishop of Arlington, Paul Loverde, had sought Vatican approval to compel all his pastors to use girl altar boys. As Skuba pointed out, this request was denied by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) on July 27, 2001. The CDW went on to say, “Indeed, the obligation to support groups of altar boys will always remain, not least of all due to the well-known assistance that such programs have provided since time immemorial in encouraging future priestly vocations.”

It is ironic that, in connection with a November 20 demonstration outside the Arlington chancery (mostly by elderly feminists, and gleefully reported on by the Washington Post), the complaint was made that the bishop had been “lukewarm” in finally granting permission in 2006 for the use of female altar servers. Not only had he repeatedly indicated his preference for the (politically correct) use of females shortly after arrival in the diocese in 1999, this was obviously the same bishop who had posed the question to Rome as to whether he could oblige pastors to use female servers (only the Lincoln and Arlington dioceses had all male servers at the time). In a rather obvious effort to appear somewhat evenhanded, he announced general permission for girl altar boys at the same time as he announced limited permission for the celebration of the 1962 Latin Mass.

The pastors in Arlington who limit service at the altar to boys, apparently in a slight majority, are to be applauded for their common sense and, yes, even their courage, given the bishop’s unwise predilection for going with the popular flow.

Fr. J.D. Zatalava

Editor, The Catholic Response

Altoona, Pennsylvania

Guess What? You're Fired!

Ken Skuba’s article on altar boys took me back 30 years to a discussion I had with two priest friends, both now dead, concerning the same topic. The older and more conservative of the two articulated his position with the same precision as Skuba, even down to the wording, concluding with the challenge: “Ask all the priests in this diocese and I’ll bet over 50 percent of them will tell you they were altar boys when they were younger.”

The other priest, a bit younger and more liberal, answered the challenge, saying, “I’ve asked my entire congregation, and over 90 percent of them said they were altar boys when they were younger.” He was a prison chaplain.

Before presenting my own radical solution to the problem, I pointed out the obvious conclusion to be drawn from their combined presentations: Syllogistically, altar boys have a much better chance of going to prison than they do of going to seminary.

My solution, then as now, is to pull the credence table much closer to the altar and to place an unobtrusive stand close to the sedilia, and then fire the lot of them.

Seriously, such a move comports with contemporary secular trends toward downsizing and multi­tasking. It also clearly articulates a fundamental theological truism: Catholicism is an adult religion.

Keeping in mind that the best thing about childhood is that most of us grow out of it, let Milton’s words be the motto of any and all parish youth activity: “They also serve who only stand and wait” (preferably on the other side of the Communion raib~

Deacon Roy Barkley


Pflugerville, Texas

Unrestrained by Received Truth

I can’t think of a better introduction to the Church’s teaching on the impossibility of ordaining women to the priesthood than Sr. Sara But­ler’s The Catholic Priesthood and Women, as reviewed by Anne Barbeau Gar­diner (Nov.). The review itself is, in turn, a clear miniature of the book.

Why was such a book necessary? It’s the culture. The whole movement for ordaining women has sprouted and grown in a hothouse where nature and authority are routinely rejected. With regard to nature, a striking incident comes to mind. When I worked at the University of Michigan as an editor of the Middle English Dictionary, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published a declaration on the natural impossibility of women’s ordination, Inter Insigniores (“On the Question of Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood”). Section 5 of that document includes this passage: “‘Sacramental signs,’ says Saint Thomas, ‘represent what they signify by natural resem­blance.’ The same natural resemblance is required for persons as for things: when Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be this ‘natural resemblance’ which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man: in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man.”

My colleagues in the dictionary office would have none of this. Seated around the break table, they passed around a newspaper cartoon that showed a caricature of Pope Paul VI holding a baby whose face was a similar caricature. Like Pope, like offspring: Roman nose, “natural resemblance.” I, one of two Catholics present, got sidelong glances from the crew, who shook with half-suppressed laughter. (See the uncomfortable papist. Har har.)

Small wonder. In that decade, we were not far past the beginning of a radical rejection of nature that increasingly deforms our culture. Today, if you’re a boy but think you’re a girl, you can find adults in authority who will refer to you with feminine pronouns and let you be a Girl Scout. If you’re a homosexual man and you want to “marry” your boyfriend, the coast is clear. If you are a woman and want to be a man, some surgeon will accommodatingly mutilate you and call you by a man’s name. On Broadway a man can “marry” a goat; in the Netherlands a man can “marry” himself; and Heather can have “two mommies” in almost any public school. Nature is no obstacle.

Natural-law morality, embodied in creation before it was codified in the Ten Commandments, is out. A certain large percentage of today’s youth think that murder would be O.K. if it were culturally accepted. Suicide is no problem. Sex has no consequences. Cheating is no big deal. Do what you want. Find your bliss.

The women who advocate women’s ordination — supported by dissident clergymen who imagine that dissent is loyalty — have been told countless times, from the days of their youth, that they can be anything they want to be. They accept this lie, guided by an aggrieved and envious desire for the priesthood. The result is their belief that there should be no impediments to ordination for a woman who really wants to celebrate Mass. (Speaking as a deacon, I can say that I have dreamed countless times of celebrating Mass. That fact, however, doesn’t lead me to think that I can chuck my wife and go to seminary.) The Church’s implied teaching that women are “invalid matter” for the Sacrament of Holy Orders comes from an era in which reality had firm boundaries — a quaint, outmoded notion.

With the rejection of nature comes the rejection of authority. The women’s ordination coterie simply will not take “no” for an answer, especially from the Church they wish to change from inside. “Roma locuta est, and so what?” is their motto.

As the CDF’s quotation of St. Thomas suggests, sacred Tradition is normative for Catholics. Pope John Paul II looked at sacred Tradition with a microscope and concluded that the Church could not ordain women — that ordaining a woman is just as far beyond the competency of the Church as consecrating a turnip at Mass would be. The sharp contrast between the Catholic understanding of Tradition and that of some other ecclesial bodies is striking. If the Holy Spirit is thought of as guiding Church governance without relation to a normative Tradition, you can, like some Episcopalians, use “nut bread” for communion. You can also ordain not only women but lesbians who are “married” to their girlfriends. Notoriously, you can elevate a homosexual to the episcopacy while he denies the scriptural teaching on sodomy and marriage. “You can be what you want to be” if no authoritative, received truth restrains you.

Since the time of St. Paul, the Church has handed on what she receives from her Tradition. Women’s ordination isn’t in the mix and never will be. One could wish that this fact would eliminate the women’s ordination movement. Let us pray that more and more Catholic women will come to the understanding presented by Sr. Sara Butler.

Carl R. Hasler

Plano, Texas

Leisure Under Attack

Tom Martin in “The Quest to Know” (Nov.) has spoken directly to the essence and nature of what it is to be a human being by focusing on the nature of the child who can ask of her elders, “Who you? Why you here?” While Martin sees in this the intersection of Kronos and Kairos, and rightly so, one might also see in this the beginnings of the distinction between meditative thinking and calculative thinking, whereby the meditative is to Kairos as the calculative is to Kronos. That is, as Plato clearly saw, when man reaches the highest levels of thought available to him in thinking about ideas through ideas to ideas, man has touched or approached the divine. And this is meditative thinking of the kind that requires leisure or what should be fostered in our schools of higher learning.

What Martin didn’t say (nor need he have) is that this form of thinking is under attack in this country and in our schools of higher learning. Today, more and more professional politicians, who have become little more than public accountants, argue that disciplines that do not produce jobs of a substantial nature ought not to be funded. Recent articles published by the Associated Press find many having to defend the funding of the liberal arts — studies that teach us how to value life and how to live, that teach us Kairos — against measures that favor technical/calculative studies — studies related strictly to Kronos, which have much more utilitarian value.

So Martin does well to bring to light this issue and why we need to keep thinking about how Kairos intersects with Kronos.

Michael Hargadon

Emmitsburg, Maryland

Opening Old Wounds

The New Oxford Note “Into the Void” (Nov.) opened a recent wound that had never really healed. The void of episcopal moral authority among the Catholic bishops in the U.S. is a real problem, especially for Catholics who have wandered into the political arena.

One year ago I ran for lieutenant governor in Maryland, as a Constitution Party candidate. I felt a call, as did our gubernatorial candidate, Eric Knowles, to give the voters a constitutional, conservative choice. Our principles were in agreement with Church doctrine on state-funded abortions, embryonic stem-cell research, and traditional marriage. So we insisted on being surveyed by the Maryland Catholic Conference, just as the candidates for the two major parties had been.

One week before the election the Archdiocese of Baltimore distributed an eight-page election supplement that was dominated by descriptions and photos of the Democratic and Republican candidates, who were pro-choice. Even though we agreed with Church teaching on the top three issues, we were not afforded a single declarative sentence stating such. Our names did appear on a chart, but one needed to follow a complex puzzle to understand its meaning.

I sent Archbishop Edwin O’Brien a certified letter inquiring as to what a ballot-access candidate has to do in order to merit a declarative sentence stating that his positions are in accord with Church teaching on these essential issues. The national chairman of the Constitution Party also sent an inquiry. To date we have received no response.

This all wouldn’t have hurt so much had I not still believed my early childhood Catholic instruction that we are to stand up for moral correctness. The wound has scabbed with the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:4: “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

Joseph A. Varacalli

Westbury, New York

A Political "No-Brainer"

As usual, Kenneth D. Whitehead has hit the mark (“Does the Catholic Church Still Count?” Nov.). His cogent, lucid, and informative analysis of how the Obama admin­istration’s healthcare mandate will continue to sink America deeper into a culture of death ends with what I take to be a rhetorical question regarding the president and his social-policy personnel: “Do they really fail to see what a fundamental challenge this poses to the correctly formed consciences of Catholics and, indeed, to the teachings of the Church herself?… Or do they really believe…that the Catholic Church doesn’t count?”

Given the massive “secularization from within” (involving institutionalized dissent, widespread assimilation, and failed leadership) that has characterized the Church in the post-Vatican II era, the political calculus employed by the secular gnostics who dominate the government and the public square is a “no brainer.” The Catholic Church in America, admittedly now just starting on the long road back, has only a handful of real leaders, not many effective social institutions, and not much in terms of boots on the ground. The “smart” move for President Obama and company is, therefore, to forge “full speed ahead” with their authoritarian, statist, and anti-Catholic designs. (In this sense, one can say that progressive Catholicism has accomplished its basic task: incapacitating the primary American subculture that was capable of stopping, slowing, or redirecting the virulent secularist onslaught.)

Given the present state of Catholic disarray and political impotence, perhaps the only chance (humanly speaking) of reversing the present direction of our nation is for orthodox Catholics to create coalitions with other groups that are opposed to what the Obama administration represents, even if their reasons differ somewhat from that of an orthodox Catholic worldview. I am thinking, for instance, of the Protestant evangelical community and the growing Tea Party movement. If it were possible to put together such a coalition (with integrity), and if the coalition were to succeed, then perhaps Catholics could expect from their political partners certain concessions in the area of pro-life policy. This would buy some time for the presently growing orthodox Catholic sectors of the institution to put the Catholic house in order and set the stage for both a new evangelization within the existing Catholic community and throughout the nation.

Michael Flannery

Maylene, Alabama

Manifesto of the Mundane

I read with considerable interest Terry Scambray’s review of Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Pal­ma­rini’s What Darwin Got Wrong (Nov.). It should be said that Fodor has long been a critic of Darwinism, especially its applications to the cognitive sciences. (See, for example, his hard-hitting essays on cognition and philosophy of mind in his book In Critical Condition.) A quick read of that and some of his other work might incline one to think that his skepticism of the rather rank materialism that undergirds all such reductionist accounts of the complexity of the mind or the diversity of life would be equally in his crosshairs. But alas, as Scambray observes, this is not the case, and in What Darwin Got Wrong the omission is manifest.

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini’s analysis comes down to a single, rather mundane, point: While Darwin’s theory of natural selection is utterly vacuous, it does have a sort of modest heuristic value in that it indicates that evolution really is a mindless process. For this we needed a book? James Lovelock and the recently departed Lynn Margulis have been saying much the same for over thirty years, and while both champions of the Gaia hypothesis have leveled some telling charges against the Darwinian paradigm, their thesis winds up as little more than materialism wrapped in a numinous veneer. Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini have now offered a Darwinian critique of less substance and far less imagination.

From a marketing standpoint it’s the old bait-and-switch: Make a grand and potentially interesting claim and then withdraw the most interesting part — i.e., maybe Darwin really was wrong to construct a theory of biological life based on methodological naturalism by invoking only the processes of chance and necessity — to suggest “endogenous forces” as little more than “accidental and tandem genetic factors.” It’s like watching the old murder mystery only to find out that in the end the butler really did do it. Ho hum. The authors are at least to be commended for giving the world a non-habit-forming sleep aid.

In fact, Scambray shows more familiarity with the issues and the literature than do the authors. He is right to point to Michael Behe’s important work showing that natural selection doesn’t really create anything, and to allude to Fred Hoyle’s analogy that to assume that the complexity of the order needed for biological life arose from the principles of chance and necessity is to assume a self-assembling Boeing 747. Even the formerly atheist astronomer Hoyle could gaze at the universe and say, “This is a put-up job.”

Sadly, Fodor and Piattelli-Pal­marini lapse into trite stereotype as they make clear to their readers that they are indeed bona fide intellectual elites, even though they’ve criticized Darwin, and are not part of the “Forces of Darkness.” Scambray paints a perfect picture for the readers of the NOR: The book starts with a promise, proceeds with a not-too-artful sleight of hand, and ends up with silly stereotype and caricature.

Interestingly, the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace, didn’t think Darwin was on the right track either. In a July 2, 1866, letter to Darwin, Wallace criticized his use of the term selection and pointed out that this phrase erroneously suggests “an intelligent ‘chooser,’ like man’s selection [in breeding examples] to which you so often compare it.” Wallace believed that natural selection was, in fact, a blind and self-acting process, and so (adopting Herbert Spencer’s language) he recommended Darwin use the phrase survival of the fittest. Darwin took Wallace’s advice and inserted it into the fifth edition of Origin of Species in 1869. But Wallace knew that survival of the fittest is more of a subtracter than a builder, and that gaining true phylogenic expansion would be impossible by this process alone — and besides, the principle of utility behind the operation of natural selection fails to explain many non-utilitarian aspects of the biological world.

Thus it was that Wallace himself became a proponent of intelligent design and increasingly came to rely on teleological principles extending well beyond the limitations of natural selection to explain the human mind, sentience in animals, the origin of life, and many other aspects of the biological world. So it is one of the curiosities of history that Darwin, a slave to materialism and an opponent of teleology, failed (or refused) to see it in his own theory; and Wallace, co-discoverer of natural selection, keenly aware of its wholly naturalistic character, was ultimately the one to limit it and craft a genuinely theistic and teleological theory of common descent I have called elsewhere intelligent evolution (see my books Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life and Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism). How Wal­lace developed all this in detail is presented at www.alfredwallace.org.

As Scambray so tellingly reveals, every criticism of Darwinism isn’t a quest for truth. It can sometimes simply be the smuggling in of more materialistic dogma under the thin disguise of critique. In the end, Darwin’s mistake is compounded by Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini’s mistake. Congratulations to Scambray for exposing it.

John C. Preiss, Executive Director

Hanceville, Alabama

Interpreting Fatima

Howard P. Kainz’s article “On Fatima & the Private Interpretation of Private Revelation” (Nov.) was extremely informative. So many people have been led astray through private revelations. In our time, Fr. Nicholas Gruner and his Fatima Center organization are leading many good people astray and causing division among those who love our Lady and have a great devotion to her by insisting that Pope John Paul II’s 1984 consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart is invalid. By stating as much, he is calling many holy people, and future saints of the Church, liars. Maybe it is Fr. Gruner who is the liar. He has raised millions of dollars to promote his delusional interpretation of the Fatima message.

Fr. Gruner and his followers have caused so much confusion in the Church that many of those devoted to Fatima have been distracted by minor aspects of the revelations and have thus lost focus on its central message, which is reparation, reparation, reparation. Part and parcel of that is praying the rosary daily and making the first Saturday devotion. True conversion will only come about when individuals — and nations — live the faith and live the true message of Fatima.

Joseph Liss, M.D.

Columbus, Georgia

Howard P. Kainz has the right conclusion, but what he neglects to tell us is that there are many priests and bishops who do not know about the Fatima message, and many more who do not believe in private revelation and thus do not share it with the faithful. Prof. Kainz is correct that we do not need a revelation from Mary to alert us to the crisis of faith and discipline in the Church or to the terrible persecutions of our brethren throughout the world. But we live in a society that is corrupted by hedonism, utilitarianism, and the “dictatorship of relativism.” This, in combination with the lack of catechesis by our priests and bishops of the full Fatima message (including the daily rosary and the first Saturday devotion), dims my hope for the future.

Fr. Jim Anderson, M.S.A.

Santa Maria, California

Howard Kainz’s article reads like a prosecutor’s closing summary, but one looks in vain for proof of alleged facts and compelling argument. He asserts that “the interpretation of the three ‘secrets’ our Lady entrusted to the children have been subjected to the vagaries of private interpretation by Catholics who give short shrift to the Magisterium of the Church.” In 2000 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published “The Message of Fatima,” its definitive statement on the prophesies, which concluded with a 12-page “Theological Commentary” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, his “attempt to interpret the ‘secret’ of Fatima.” As such, it is not an exercise of magisterial authority and must stand on the persuasiveness of the facts and arguments it presents. Hence, a proper response of the faithful to this commentary and interpretation is not blind acceptance, as Kainz suggests. Rather, faithful Catholics must prudently consider it as a guide to help them receive all the parts of the message of Fatima, and then integrate its factual and theological arguments into the whole cloth of the findings of the many respected Fatima scholars and the perennial teaching of the Church.

Robert Moynihan, in an editorial in the August-September 2011 issue of Inside the Vatican, wrote on the recent passing of his friend Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Holy Father’s nuncio to the U.S. since December 2005: “We were discussing the Third Secret of Fatima, the allegations that the Vatican has not published the entire text of the Third Secret as revealed to Sister Lucia, and the response of Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state…that there is nothing more to be revealed. Sambi said…’Do you know this book? You should read it.’ It was Christopher Ferrara’s The Secret Still Hidden. ‘Wait,’ I said. ‘You are the Pope’s representative in the U.S., and you are urging me to read a book that questions what the secretary of state wrote?’ Sambi replied: ‘All I am saying is that there are interesting things worth reading in this book. And in the end, we are all after the truth, aren’t we? The truth is the important thing….'”

James Allen

United Kingdom

Howard Kainz states that Fatima seer Sr. Lucia confirmed that the 1984 consecration by John Paul II was valid. Whatever the truth of the situation, I would like to know on what authority she gave such a reassurance. There is no mention of a message from Heaven as in her previous communications; therefore, it must be considered an opinion. This exemplary nun, with the whole Catholic world hanging on her every word on the subject, would surely never have ventured any sort of opinion!

Thom Nickels

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Howard Kainz’s attack on Fr. Gruner caught me by surprise. Fr. Gruner, it seems to me, only wants the Holy See to come clean and reveal the full contents of the third Fatima secret. As Pope Benedict XVI himself recently said, “The secret does not belong to the past.”

For insight into the subtle pressures put upon Sr. Lucia by Church authorities, one must read Italian journalist Antonio Socci’s book, The Fourth Secret of Fatima. Socci explains the events surrounding Sr. Lucia’s conflicting statements regarding whether the “real” secret has been revealed, and whether or not the requested consecration of Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart has taken place. To that end, even a disinterested outsider can easily see that the specific request to consecrate Russia has not occurred. Consecrating the world rather than Russia is a cop out; the Virgin, after all, made a specific request about a specific place. Why would any pope — if he really believed that the lady who appeared to the children in 1917 was really the Queen of Heaven — be fearful of carrying out her wishes? Excusing papal inaction because of possible repercussions from Soviet Russia if a consecration by name occurred indicates a lack of faith. Why would an atheistic government care if the Church went into “mumbo-jumbo mode” and performed a ceremony they didn’t even believe in?

It is also significant that our Lady asked that the secret be revealed in 1960, on the eve of the Second Vatican Council. I was a child then and remember the anticipation in my home parish when 1960 arrived. That’s when Catholics expected Pope John XXIII to reveal the letter. But he did not. Jesuit theologian Malachi Martin reported that the letter was not made public because it spoke of apostasy in high places in the Church. (While Fr. Martin stated that he was given permission to read the secret, he maintained that he was under oath not to reveal its contents. He did, however, admit that the Virgin’s words touched on the dissolution of the Church from within). Would John XXIII want to reveal this fact just as he was preparing to open his Council?

Of course, prophetic revelations concerning apostasy in the Church did not begin with Fatima. Consider the approved message of Our Lady of La Salette: “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of Antichrist”; or Our Lady of Akita, Japan: “The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres…churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises”; or the revelation from St. John Bosco in 1862: “There will be an Ecumenical Council in the next century, after which there will be chaos in the Church.”

The crisis in the Catholic Church since Vatican II speaks for itself. As has been said many times before, if a Catholic who was alive and worshiping in the 1940s were to come back and walk into a Catholic Mass today, he would not even recognize it as Catholic. What is this if not a form of chaos?

Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas

Pine Beach, New Jersey

Permit me to weigh in on Howard Kainz’s reflections on the Fatima logjam.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I find the whole apparition scene in general to be a major distraction from the work of evangelization and renewal. After all, our Lord warned that “an evil generation seeks a sign.” That does not mean that I believe that extraordinary interventions from Heaven are impossible, just that they ought not to be sought and, even when genuine, ought not to take center stage (which is why Catholics are completely free to accept or not even those deemed “worthy of belief” by legitimate ecclesiastical authority).

On the Fr. Gruner front: I have no truck with him or his obsession over this issue. However, I believe the Vatican’s treatment of him has been a shameful miscarriage of justice. He was put in an untenable canonical bind, precisely by the Vatican — which obstructed the incardination decision of a sitting bishop.

Add to this the lack of true transparency on the part of officials of the Holy See on the whole Fatima issue, with confusing statements, half-truths, and even outright lies at very high levels.

Yes, Fr. Gruner has his problems, but the Holy See needs to make up its mind about the issue, come up with a consistent story, and — most importantly — act in accord with established law.

Gary Taphorn

Bellbrook, Ohio

Prof. Kainz claims that the “Fa­ti­mists” are expecting the “sudden, mass conversion of all Russian citizens to the Catholic Church,” for which he claims there is no precedent in history. I beg to disagree. The dramatic surge in conversions among the Indians of Mexico, beginning shortly after the 1531 appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is powerful testimony of the power of the Virgin Mary to influence history. As documented by historian Warren Carroll, by 1536 two Franciscan priests could record the baptizing of 14,200 Indians in just five days. By the time of the death of the visionary Juan Diego in early 1548, the total number of baptized Indians reached nine million. And let us remember that the Mexican Indians were heathens (to use a politically incorrect term); how much easier would it be for the Russian people, with their heritage of Orthodox Christianity, to embrace the Barque of Peter if Heaven bestowed its graces? And let us remember that this unprecedented mass-conversion experience in the New World was occurring simultaneously with the rupture of Christendom in Europe and the rise of Protestant heresies. Dare we hope that in the 21st century Russia may become the instrument by which Europe is restored to the faith?

Prof. Kainz also implies that Russia has at least started the process of conversion, due to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Soviet atheism, etc. Yet, despite the formal demise of the USSR, Russia is a cesspool of alcoholism, drug use, marital infidelity, divorce, and organized crime. In 2005 LifeSiteNews.com stated that “conservative estimates put the Russian abortion rate at 60% of all pregnancies.” Russia also claims title to the world’s most corrupt major economy, ranking 143rd out of 182 countries in Transparency Inter­national’s “2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.” Can any reasonable Catholic consider these developments as the fruit of a papal consecration made in 1984? And anyone who is reassured by the fact that Vladimir Putin is an Orthodox Christian has likely taken great comfort in the past that serial lecher Bill Clinton is a “born-again” Christian.

I think Kainz misses the mark when he observes, “Do we really need a special revelation from our Lady to tell us that there is an internal crisis of faith and discipline in the Church?” This point, so obvious today, was far from clear in 1960. Had John XXIII acted upon the third secret at that time and made the consecration of Russia demanded by Heaven, we might not be experiencing the problems that threaten to overwhelm the Church today. Instead, Pope John pigeonholed the document, glossing over its import with an anonymous Vatican press release. The well-documented suspicion remains that John was too fixated on his upcoming ecumenical council, which not once issued any statement in condemnation of the greatest moral evil of its day: the worldwide movement of atheistic communism, sponsored by and controlled from Moscow.

Prof. Kainz recommends that we take the message of Fatima to heart through the daily rosary and the devotion of the five First Saturdays. This is excellent advice as far as it goes. But the glaring and essential fact remains that although the Vatican has had the third secret of Fatima since 1957, none of the six Popes in that time has followed its simple request.

Marie Bernadette

Cleveland, Ohio

One major issue for me was whether the Vatican deserves blind trust in its statements regarding Fatima. Two events provided the answer.

In 2000 Sr. Lucia published a book that was authorized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) titled “Calls” from the Message of Fatima. She stated in the introduction that it was meant to answer questions she’d been asked over the years. But in the book’s 37 chapters there was not a single word about the consecration of Russia or the third secret. Obviously, she was under orders not to speak of those things. Yet somebody placed a photo in the book showing Pope John Paul II kneeling in St. Peter’s Square, with a caption reading, “Pope John Paul II, together with all the bishops of the Church, consecrated the world and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (25th March 1984).” This is an outright lie. John Paul consecrated “the world,” without any mention of Russia by name. And this in a book approved by the CDF!

More recently, when Antonio Socci published The Fourth Secret of Fatima, Pope Benedict XVI sent him a personal letter, thanking him for writing the book, and “for the sentiments which have suggested it.” Benedict obviously knew exactly what he was confirming by writing those words, having read the third secret, and having been prefect of the CDF.

These two events put a definitive end to all my questions of whether the Vatican could be trusted about anything regarding Fatima. They have proven themselves willing to deceive the public on very grave matters. Reason tells us that Russia still needs to be consecrated, contrary to the “official” story, or we will witness the annihilation of nations.

Prof. Kainz owes an apology to Fr. Gruner, who has kept his integrity while remaining at the service of the world at great personal cost.

Mark Docherty

Allen, Texas

Howard Kainz asks, rhetorically, whether the past four popes have been lying about Fatima. The answer is obvious: “Yes.”

Ralph Piaskowski

Sun City, Arizona

After reading Howard Kainz’s article, I am convinced that the NOR is a victim of the Satanic efforts of the Vatican hierarchy to discount all the words of warning spoken by Immaculate Mary during her first visits at Fatima and the many appearances since then. The publication of Kainz’s article, which is filled with lies and distortions, reduces the NOR to a level not worthy of the reputation it had earned over the years. The errors in his article are too many to include here, and their airing would fall on deaf ears, as has been the case with others who listen to mere men instead of Immaculate Mary.

Cancel my subscription.

Aidan Waldron


Howard Kainz’s article on Fa­tima is a disgrace. There is a third category of revelation called “public prophetic,” which the Fatima revelations fall under, making them required belief. Mr. Vree, you and Kainz are not deserving of being ranked intellectually with bovine feces. You are lower than pond life, dirty scumbags, and evil men. You had better not write or publish any more articles saying that the consecration has been done (it has not) or that Fatima is private revelation (it is not; the Miracle of the Sun confirms the public nature of the Most Holy Trinity’s wishes) — or else your website will suffer the consequences. You are slime be­­neath language.


The revelations of our Lady at Fatima at the outset of the Bolshevik revolution, with messages confirmed by the greatest public miracle in the history of Christendom, the Miracle of the Sun, should be known and treasured by all Catholics. It is regrettable that, as John Preiss, the successor of Fr. Robert Fox at the Fatima Family Apostolate, observes, the focus of Fr. Gruner’s organization on minor aspects of the revelations has distracted the faithful from the central message of reparation.

Dr. Liss’s observation about a lack of knowledge of the Fatima message by priests and bishops resonates with my own experience, unfortunately. I have attempted in my books and articles over the past 30 years to help remedy this lacuna.

Mr. Allen wonders if we can trust the opinion of Sr. Lucia regarding the validity of Pope John Paul II’s consecration. St. Paul says, “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32). It seems to me that if we trusted Sr. Lucia in her accounts of the visions and secrets from our Lady, she would have a reliable sense, with or without a special revelation, as to the fulfillment of the wishes of our Lady, when asked by appropriate authorities about such fulfillment.

Contrary to Fr. Anderson, I am not proposing “blind acceptance” of Cardinal Ratzinger’s exegesis of the third secret. The vision is apocalyptic, and Cardinal Ratzinger himself did not consider his exegesis to be a pronouncement of the Magisterium. Fr. Anderson says, quoting Archbishop Pietro Sambi, “The truth is the important thing.” But the “truth” the Fatimists are looking for seems to be that Pope Benedict XVI purposely held back a major message of our Lady when he gave his explanation of the third secret. Their lack of trust in the present Pope has no valid basis.

I appreciate the messages of Our Lady of Akita, cited by Mr. Nickels, and also his citation of the prediction of St. John Bosco that there will be chaos in the Church after an ecumenical council. I myself have written on the “chaos” since Vatican II, including in these pages (“Contraception & Logical Consistency,” guest column, Sept. 2009). However, the messages from the visionary of La Salette, which Nickels also cites, are another story. In fact, it is a good example of the phenomenon of “private interpretation of private revelation,” which I ascribed to some Fatimists. Toward the end of the 19th century, numerous writers published interpretations of the “secrets” of La Salette, often apocalyptic in nature and anti-Catholic. The visionary of La Salette, Melanie Calvat, years after the initial revelation, started making sensational statements about the message of our Lady, which, early on, were simply appeals to Catholics to refrain from working on Sundays and profaning the Holy Name of Jesus. Volume IX of the Catholic Encyclopedia states, “A distinction must be made between the two Melanies, between the innocent and simple voyante of 1846 and the visionary of 1879, whose mind had been disturbed by reading apocalyptic books and the lives of illuminati.” Her statement, “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist,” was a charge made by Martin Luther, and repeated often in almost all eight volumes of his sermons. Very many of the interpretations of the La Salette messages were placed on the Vatican’s Index of Prohibited Books. In 1915 the Holy Office forbade further publication of Melanie’s revelations.

I agree with Fr. Stravinskas that the “apparition scene” can get out of hand, and should never take center stage. But he also thinks the Vatican obstructed the incardination decision of a sitting bishop. I’m not sure to which bishop he is referring. As I understand the matter, Fr. Gruner’s original bishop was Pasquale Venezia. His successor, Bishop Gerardo Pierro, ordered Gruner back to Avellino, Italy, but Gruner insisted he had the permission of Bishop Venezia to remain in Canada. A third bishop, Antonio Forte, in conjunction with the Congregation for the Clergy, sent admonitions to Gruner; then, over the objections of the congregation, the archbishop of Hyderabad, India, incar­dinated him. Fr. Gruner’s suspension was upheld by a sentence of the Apostolic Signatura. But Gruner replied that he was allowed to be reincar­dinated, and that he could not return to Avellino unless the bishop arranged for a visa and permanent living arrangements in Italy. I agree with Fr. Stravinskas that the Holy See needs to give a clear indication of Fr. Gruner’s status, especially whether or not he has been suspended a divinis.

Mr. Taphorn states that Russia is “a cesspool of alcoholism, drug use, marital infidelity, divorce, and organized crime,” and is thus obviously not “converted.” Our Lady of Fa­tima warned that Russia would “spread its errors throughout the world.” But after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the failure of the coup attempt against Gorbachev on the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, August 19, 1991, the Soviet Union was dismantled and is no longer spreading atheistic communism throughout the world (several American and British authors have taken the lead in that pursuit). And the Orthodox Church, long suppressed by the Soviets, has begun to gather momentum among the three generations of Russians that were largely deprived of the Christian message. According to Felix Culpa, editor of Orthodox Life, citing statistics from 2008, Orthodoxy in Russia, the Russian Federation, and the Baltics has built the following infrastructure in this short period of time: 157 dioceses, 29,263 parishes, 395 men’s monasteries, 409 women’s monasteries, three universities, five theological academies, two theological institutes, 38 theological seminaries, 39 theological schools, 11,051 Sunday schools, 587 youth centers, 2,890 hospitals, and 1,526 children’s homes, manned by 203 hierarchs, of whom 149 are ruling bishops and 54 are vicar bishops (14 are in retirement); 27,216 priests; and 3,454 deacons.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in its 2000 declaration Dominus Iesus, referred to the Orthodox Church, unlike Protestant denominations, as a “true particular Church,” in which the “Church of Christ is present and operative,” because it has maintained apostolic succession and celebrates valid sacraments. Movements toward reconciliation with Rome have been made over the past four decades, and the prognosis seems hopeful.

In short, Russian communism is no longer a major menace to Christianity. That role has been assumed by militant Islam.

The last time I visited the shrine at Fatima I purchased a copy of “Calls” from the Message of Fatima. Mrs. Bernadette notes that in the introduction of this book Sr. Lucia stated that she was going to answer questions she’d been asked over the years. But Mrs. Bernadette complains that “in the book’s 37 chapters there was not a single word about the consecration of Russia or the third secret.” She concludes that Sr. Lucia was under pressure not to speak of these things. I read the book, and it had to do exclusively with questions on progress in holiness — faith, sacrifice, the apostolate, obedience, the rosary, etc. Since the main message of Fatima was about penance and return to the faith, I presume most of the questions Sr. Lucia was asked had to do with these subjects, which were pertinent to her role as a spiritual director. In all likelihood, not many were interested in an alleged fourth secret or a renewed consecration of Russia.

Mr. Docherty says the last four popes have been lying to us. Not even Fr. Gruner has said this. But Fr. Gruner should realize that his emphasis on the two “conspiracies” has led many people to this conclusion.

Mr. Piaskowski decries my “lies and distortions” about the “Satanic efforts” of the Vatican hierarchy to discount the warnings of our Lady, but says the errors are too numerous to include. So it’s difficult to reply, except indirectly. What sort of efforts would Satan be most involved in at the Vatican? Tempting Pope John Paul II to lie about having made the consecration requested by the Virgin at Fatima? Tempting Pope Benedict XVI to lie about the existence of a “fourth secret”? Or perhaps tempting Catholics to promote a conspiracy theory designed to disrupt trust of the faithful in the papacy and sow division among well-meaning devotees of our Lady? I tend to think the latter is the case.

Mr. Waldron claims that Fatima is in a third category of revelations called “public prophetic,” and thus Catholics are required to believe in it. Fr. Gruner attempted the same categorization, and stated that “even people like Cardinal Ratzinger…[who state] that we (or the Pope or bishops and priests) are not obliged to believe and obey Our Lady of Fatima are clearly wrong.” On the Vatican website, however, Fatima is referred to as a private revelation, though of immense importance for the modern world. Private revelations are not, and have never been, de fide.

For those interested in further information about Fatima, I would recommend two books: Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, which offers a more extensive analysis of the controversies I have discussed; and God and the Sun at Fa­tima by physicist and theologian Fr. Stan­ley L. Jaki, an account of his thorough investigation in Portugal of reports, depositions, and interviews regarding the miraculous events of October 13, 1917.

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