Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: May 2016

May 2016

Something Rotten

The purpose of your New Oxford Note “Barbarians Inside the Gates” (March) seems to be to out-trump Donald Trump. Hundreds of thousands of fearful and threatened refugees are fleeing from mortal danger in their own countries — Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere — and you would erect a wall along the shores of Greece to prevent them from debilitating a Western culture in which less than 10 percent go to church anymore. You would bar any refuge for women and children, yes, and the majority of guiltless men, because they would dissipate the post-Christian laws that permit abortion, unfettered drugs, marriage-less procreation, and the rest, which hardly prove superior to Sharia law. No wonder you have no use for our Holy Father, who was skeptical of the Christian sincerity of Trump, who would build a wall against Mexicans.

If the faith of Europe is so fragile that the mere presence of Muslims is a threat, then something is rotten somewhere.

I was so disgusted when I read your New Oxford Note that I questioned the mental state of the editors of a Catholic magazine who would permit such mercilessness to deface its pages. At the very least, I expect an apology and a retraction of the substance of the Note.

Do not dismiss me as a liberal. I have taught Catholic doctrine for 70 years, for which I was presented a medal by the Archdiocese of New York. I have also been inscribed in the Roll of Honor for my work with the poor, hold graduate degrees from Boston College and Harvard University, and am deeply involved in the Catholic life of my parish.

Robert F. Patterson

Cathedral Seminary, House of Formation

Tarrytown, New York


It’s always a little odd to have to respond to someone who questions your mental state. But we’ll oblige Mr. Patterson.

First, we did not assert or imply that we “would bar any refuge for women and children, yes, and the majority of guiltless men,” as he accuses. And we certainly did not say we advocate building a physical wall along Greece’s border — that was the suggestion of the government of Macedonia, in response to the wanton destruction by Afro-Arabian migrants in its country.

A closer reading of our New Oxford Note would reveal that, despite being sympathetic to the plight of refugees in war-torn lands, we are greatly skeptical of the migrant and refugee laws of certain European countries. Although the governments of these countries seem to be motivated by Christian-inspired humanitarianism, the practical results, as seen in 2015 and 2016 alone, are cause to re-evaluate these policies.

Just because refugees are “fleeing mortal danger in their own countries” does not mean that it is sound to have an open-borders policy. Have you ever wondered why rich Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates refuse to accept these migrants?

What complicates matters is that Islamic supremacists (viz., ISIS) say they are at war with the European countries that, ironically, have provided the greatest succor for Muslim refugees. These supremacists have announced that their terror strategy is to send jihadists into Europe (and the U.S.) among the legitimate refugees, those truly fleeing the violence of their homeland. The liberal migrant policies of countries like France, Belgium, Germany, and Sweden have led to violent civil unrest, not just by jihadists who have recently executed successful attacks on civilians in Brussels and Paris, but also by those who believe that their religion (Islam) puts them above the laws of their host countries.

Many in the West, like Mr. Patterson, refuse to believe that this is even an issue. To do so, they have to go out of their way to ignore or dismiss a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Instead, they accept the misleading narrative that Islam is a religion of peace and the West should sacrifice its own Christian and secular culture to Muhammadism. The fact is that Islam calls for subjugation. It does not recognize the rights of non-Muslims. It does not believe in religious liberty or the right not to believe. Islam does not respect the human dignity of women, Jews, or anyone who practically or philosophically disagrees with Islam. This is a problem for Europe. As we recommended in our New Oxford Note “Looking Beyond Malalapalooza” (Aprib| read the writings of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Brigitte Gabriel, and Nonie Darwish if you’d care for an education from Afro-Arab insiders about the realities of Islam and the reasons why Europeans and Americans ought to be skeptical of this kind of “invasion.”

Mr. Patterson writes, “If the faith of Europe is so fragile that the mere presence of Muslims is a threat, then something is rotten somewhere.” Of course something is “rotten somewhere”! Is that any reason to jettison the rest of Western culture? Although Europe’s secular culture is far from perfect when it comes to “abortion, unfettered drugs, marriage-less procreation, and the rest,” we would choose that permissiveness any day over Sharia law.

William Snow

Mary's Advocates

Douglaston, New York

A Great Disservice

In her review of five of Karen Armstrong’s books (“Atheism Cloaked in Religion,” March), Anne Barbeau Gardiner does Ross Douthat — and her readers — a great disservice. After remarking how “inconceivable” it is that a Catholic such as Douthat would praise Armstrong, Gardiner quotes him as saying that “the time is ripe” for Armstrong’s book The Case for God. This quote is taken from a review Douthat wrote for The New York Times (Oct. 1, 2009), in which, after praising certain aspects of Armstrong’s book, he goes on to stress that the kind of liberal-therapeutic approach to religion that Armstrong espouses is doomed to fail, that it is “parasitic on more dogmatic forms of faith,” and that the Church has survived for 2,000 years thanks to the robust dogmatism of the Flannery O’ Connors of the world and not the amorphous, contentless spiritualities of the Karen Armstrongs.

Gardiner leaves the impression that Douthat’s review is an unqualified panegyric, which it most certainly isn’t.

Matthew Terranova

Taylor Correctional Institution

Hackensack, New Jersey

Karen Armstrong’s concept of God is, frankly, too abstract for anyone of normal intelligence to comprehend. It is as though one were forced to synthesize Spinoza, Darwin, and Buddha into a humanistic, evolutionary pantheism — all in one sitting. It is too big a meal for mere mortals to digest.

Armstrong strikes me as a good example of our postmodern culture. She doesn’t want a god who impinges on her autonomy, but she’s not keen on a pointless universe either. But, ultimately, it has to be one or the other. Perfect autonomy, as opposed to free will, requires that we evict God.

As Richard Dawkins said, Armstrong should just admit that she is an atheist.

Bai Macfarlane, Founder

Rocky River, Ohio

The Church's Proper Jurisdiction over Marriage

In his article “Pope Francis Streamlines the Annulment Process” (March), canon lawyer Philip C.L. Gray writes, “The world is burning the institution of marriage with the fires of hedonism (fornication, divorce, abortion, same-sex unions, etc.), and the Pope gives us an easier way to claim freedom from our spouses.” Gray is concerned about parties to a marriage being granted decrees of nullity when in truth the parties are still married according to Church law.

I think we should divert our energies away from the annulment question and focus instead on the canons regarding the separation of spouses — specifically canon 1692§2, the procedural canon, wherein are listed the elements a bishop must contemplate before granting anyone permission to file for civil divorce. If the Church would implement this canon, the bishop could give instructions to the parties to a marriage about a separation plan that would be in accord with divine law.

Under current pastoral practice, the local Church recommends that everyone who wants to petition for a decree of marriage nullity first get a civil divorce. What is absurd about this is that it fails to instruct everyone that it is wrong to approach the civil forum for divorce unless the parties to the marriage have first undergone an ecclesiastic investigation regarding the separation of spouses.

During such an ecclesiastic investigation, the Church could take proper jurisdiction over Catholic marriage, instead of letting divorce lawyers charge spouses tens of thousands of dollars in fees to manage an outcome that is contrary to divine law. For example, civil decrees give children grave scandal by ordering them to spend overnight visits with a parent and his or her new sex partner (adulterer). It is contrary to justice when an innocent spouse is financially ruined (and the children too) as an abandoner is relieved of his or her obligation to provide a share of support to the marital home, as typically occurs in no-fault divorce, wherein marital misconduct cannot be considered when splitting property.

If bishops and tribunal staff personnel believe it is an act of justice to grant annulments in many or most cases, then let the party responsible for the breakup of the marriage repair the damage he or she caused to the other spouse and the children. This requirement is incorporated in canon law (cf. can. 1689). For example, a man who lied when consenting to a lifelong, faithful marriage should still be obligated to support his innocent wife and children for a long, long time. Or a woman who lied about wanting a permanent marriage should be expected to fulfill her obligations and support her innocent husband and children for a long, long time. Or if a woman suffers from a psychic anomaly (the popular reason to give annulments based on lack of discretion), then the woman should be deemed unfit to have custody and parenting responsibility for her children.

If the Church were to uphold the canons on separation and divorce, I think any scandal occurring in nullity cases would be exposed very quickly and clearly.

Terence J. Hughes

Fort Pierre, South Dakota

Christ's Vomitus

Regarding Stephen J. Kovacs’s review of The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times (Jan.-Feb.): I think author Dom Jean-Charles Nault is on to something with his depiction of acedia, a “mysterious and complex vice characterized by an indifference to the exercise of virtue and religion,” as Kovacs puts it. Here are three examples of its effect in our time, an age Kovacs says is characterized by a “deep-seated nihilism”:

1. Loss of belief in the Real Presence. The loss of this belief among Catholics, including bishops, is a loss so extreme that it has led to doubts that Jesus is the Son of God. The resulting abandonment of the teaching of the faith over the past 50 years has led to a mass exodus of Catholics from the Church.

2. The drug culture. Drugs are an escape from reality. Drugs are closely tied to an unwillingness to work for a living — among those both with and without jobs. Those with jobs are too often absent and too often neglect their duties when present. Those without jobs prefer government doles of various kinds to the rigors of regular work.

3. Collapse of the political system. Too many of those elected to public office, especially in Washington, D.C., after a term or two, spend most of their time finding rich people and corporations to fund their re-election campaigns. As a result of their courting of the rich and powerful, they often come to find average voters annoying or even contemptible.

Many more examples of the effects of acedia could be cited, in labor unions, education, the media, and elsewhere.

This is why so many find Charles Darwin’s explanation of human origins and destiny so seductive: We came from worms and we will become worm excrement. So why spend the time, energy, and money bearing and nurturing children — mere worm excrement when all is said and done? Enjoy la dolce vita while it lasts: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die” (1 Cor. 15:32). That’s the mindset in Europe — a mindset taking root here in the U.S.

Jesus Christ makes too many demands on us — demands that we think are not worth the effort. Europeans are finding out that Muhammad makes demands too, and that his followers think carrying out his demands is worth the effort. And they have hoisted the heads of Christians onto stakes to prove it. 

Meanwhile, we Christians are struggling with the “spiritual lukewarmness” of acedia. And what did Our Lord say He would do with the lukewarm? Spew them out of His mouth (Rev. 3:16).

Dorothy Wynne

Williamsville, New York

Our Need for Mercy

Thank you for Frederick W. Marks’s article “The Other Side of Mercy” (Jan.-Feb.). I’ve found that so many articles and statements on the topic skim over why we need mercy. We need mercy because of our sins.

If I am on trial for murder and am innocent, I want justice, not mercy. If I am guilty, I want mercy (perhaps for the jury or judge to consider the extenuating circumstances). Before we ask for mercy, we need to repent and acknowledge our failings and our need for mercy.

More and more I see obituaries of Christians, including Catholics, that assume that the deceased person is in Heaven, together with other family members who have died. I pray that they are, but such obituaries give the impression that the joy of Heaven is found in family reunions, not in the Beatific Vision. Few of us are truly ready to meet the Lord. That’s why, even before I became a Catholic, I believed in Purgatory, or hoped that it existed.

Perhaps Dante’s Divine Comedy should become required reading.

Ramona Stevens

Arlington, Texas

How Dare You!

We, the devotees of the late Nicholas Gruner, cannot believe the NOR editor’s ignorance and resultant stupidity when he called Fr. Gruner’s tireless and sacrificial efforts to satisfy the requests of the Mother of God a “conspiratorial claim of an alleged ‘cover up’ of the Fatima event” (ed. note, Jan.-Feb.). Shame on you! Yes, you are indeed guilty of “nastiness” and “unwarranted rudeness,” as Patricia D. Scott said (letter, Jan.-Feb.). How dare you!

As Our Lady promised, she appeared again to the last surviving Fatima seer, Sr. Lucia, on June 13, 1929, to tell her that “the moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father to make, in union with all the bishops of the world, the Consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart, promising to save Russia by this means.”

Sr. Lucia, for more than 70 years, explained again and again in numerous letters, memoirs, and statements, both private and public, that the only way this request can be fulfilled is for the pope, together with all the Catholic bishops in the world, to consecrate Russia (and specifically Russia) on the same day and at the same hour in a solemn and public ceremony.

This would be a “collegial” consecration, and even though many fuzzbrains have claimed that the consecration has been done, sadly this is not the case. THIS WAS FR. GRUNER’S LIFE WORK!

Soul magazine, Fr. Robert J. Fox, and the Blue Army have done their best to muddy the waters, which doesn’t change anything.

Look at the latest headlines, wherein one can attest to the fact that the world is still in dire need of this request being properly fulfilled! The evil factions in the Vatican (Satan and his cohort already under his thumb) do not want peace and will do everything in their power to thwart the Plan of Heaven.

Fr. Gruner was a beautiful priest and a faithful son of Jesus and Mary who was dedicated fully to them, to his priesthood, and, most importantly, to Our Lady of Fatima and her dire message. Fr. Gruner will be sorely missed; however, his apostolate will carry on while he watches from above.

By the way, I have no intention of canceling my subscription, angry as I am. How else would I be aware of your occasional fall from grace?

Marie Haas

Salinas, California

Are you seriously suggesting that Russia has already been consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima — as the Vatican insists — and that the violence engulfing the world is the “peace” she promised us? Do you think we are all idiots?

Fr. Gruner was a hero, standing up to the entrenched might of the Vatican, and he was the only one to tell the truth that Russia has NEVER been consecrated BY NAME to Our Lady as she requested. Your virulent and ignorant attack on this saintly man is intolerable, as is your increasingly hostile attitude toward traditional Catholics who have absolutely legitimate complaints about Pope Francis.

I will not be renewing my subscription.

Alexander Clayton

Perry, Florida


Let’s see if we have this straight: The Vatican is overrun by “Satan and his cohort” and, for reasons unknown, doesn’t want “peace” and is working against the “Plan of Heaven.” Meanwhile, Fr. Gruner, who died under official interdict (he had been suspended a divinis by his bishop, a suspension upheld by the Congregation for the Clergy), was a “hero” and a “saintly man” for standing up to the “entrenched might of the Vatican” and is now smiling down on his devotees “from above”? Whoa, Nelly!

This resembles the ravings of the graduates of the Jack Chick School of Theology: The Vatican is an evil empire, and the saints and heroes are those scrappy folks who’ve taken up the cause of rebellion against the corrupt Church and her duplicitous leaders. The sour, sulfurous scent of the spirit of Protestantism is distinctly detectable here, and it’s unpleasantly malodorous, to say the least.

Or perhaps Fr. Gruner’s devotees have seen Star Wars one too many times and imagine him as some sort of old, wizened Obi-Wan Kenobi figure slain by the dark lord Darth Vader (as played by Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone) under the command of the most powerful yet megalomaniacal man in the galaxy, Emperor Palpatine (as played by Pope John Paul II/Benedict XVI/Francis). The storyline certainly borders on the fantastic.

The most charitable thing anyone can do for someone stuck in fantasyland is to give him a reality check. In the letters section of our April 2009 issue, Catholic apologist Arthur C. Sippo tried to do just that for those in the thrall of Fr. Gruner’s Fatima fantasy. We quote Dr. Sippo here:

“It is important to put private revelations into perspective. Public revelation was given to us by God through Jesus Christ and the ministers of the Church whom He empowered to carry on after Him. It is this revelation alone that commands our faith and our obedience. Only through submission to the truth of the Gospel can we hope to be saved. The Gospel message is only rightly proclaimed in the Catholic Church, and its credibility is guaranteed by the charism of apostolic succession in which the Holy Spirit superintends the Church….

Private revelations have been with us from the beginning of Christianity and have been of no small consequence…. But no private revelation adds a single truth to the deposit of faith. Private revelation does not supplement public revelation. At most it complements it….

“Our first loyalty, therefore, is not to a seer and his visions, but to our bishops and the Pope, whose ministries are the only guarantee of sound teaching. Even if an apparition is sanctioned by the Church, we as Catholics are under no obligation to believe in its authenticity. All such sanctions say is that there is no conflict between the message of the apparition and Catholic teaching. A Catholic in good standing can openly deny belief in Church-sanctioned apparitions with a clear conscience. As such, it is ludicrous to say that the Pope ‘disobeyed’ the Blessed Virgin when he allegedly did not do something exactly as some seer says he should have. The seer, no matter how venerable, is not guaranteed to have the charism that the popes have to protect him from error. No Catholic in the pew, let alone the Vicar of Christ, is bound by the opinion of any seer.

“Those who react so strongly against the interpretations of the Fatima secret by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, and other mainline Catholic thinkers need a serious reality check…. The Blessed Mother told the Fatima children that in the end her Immaculate Heart would triumph, Russia would be converted, and there would be peace. Well, the end has not arrived just yet…. We need to stop hoping for miracles and start working for the future.”

As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, the message of Fatima is not primarily about “great political actions” but about “the transformation of the heart.” The triumph of Mary’s Immaculate Heart that will lead to “peace,” the Holy Father went on to say, does not imply that “history will suddenly take a totally different course.” The “triumphs of God, the triumphs of Mary,” he explained, “are quiet, but they are real nonetheless.”

One noted Fatima scholar (who wishes to remain unnamed because he’s tired of facing the fury of Fr. Gruner’s Fatima fanatics) remarked to your editor that division is the mark of Satan, and it’s astounding how Satan has succeeded in using the most important message Our Lady has delivered to the Church in modern times to sow division among Catholics. Our Lady’s call to unity in prayer and purpose has become, for many, an occasion to separate themselves from Holy Mother Church in the belief that they’ve discovered some truer, more authentic version of the Catholic faith than that preserved and proclaimed by the living Magisterium and the past several popes, two of whom have been raised to the altar. It is an immense tragedy that there are those who, in the name of Our Lady, have expressed fealty to the maverick promoters of a particular interpretation of a private revelation over their true spiritual fathers who can make a legitimate and verifiable claim to the charism of apostolic succession dating back to the time of Mary’s life on earth.

In that vein, Marie Haas accuses us of being “hostile” to traditionalist Catholics who have “absolutely legitimate complaints about Pope Francis.” Mrs. Haas must not be paying much attention because we’ve expressed our own “legitimate” concerns about the way this Pope goes about ecclesial business in virtually every recent issue. See, for example, “A New Springtime for Liberal Catholicism?” (New Oxford Note, Aprib| “A Virus, a Crisis” by Monica Migliorino Miller (Aprib| “Pope Francis Streamlines the Annulment Process” by Philip C.L. Gray (March), and “Francis & the Lutherans: Intercommunion Confusion” (New Oxford Note, Jan.-Feb.). At our website, we have an entire topical dossier dedicated to commentary on Pope Francis that’s appeared in the NOR, both laudatory and critical, depending on what the situation has called for.

No, we haven’t shied away from pointing out the problems with Pope Francis’s extemporaneous utterances, and our criticism has caused serious consternation among some readers; see, for example, the letters under the header “Fighting Against God” (Aprib~ Yes, due to our criticism of Francis, we have been denounced as fighting against God Himself. Yet, Mrs. Haas accuses us of being “hostile” toward those who complain about Francis! Is she implying that we’re hostile even toward ourselves?

That said, not all complaints about Pope Francis are “absolutely legitimate.” There is a limit to how far one can go in one’s criticism of a pope and still remain in unity with him. Whether or not Francis’s personality and approach appeal to us, he is our Pope, and we owe him our respect, loyalty, and obedience — not out of “any impression or evidence of his wisdom or sanctity,” as Msgr. Cormac Burke explains (Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine), but because he alone is Christ’s vicar and to him is entrusted “the primacy of rule and government over the whole flock of Jesus.” The first pope, St. Peter, after all, was a flawed character and not always an effective leader. He even denied Christ thrice in a moment of weakness!

“Christ did not guarantee to preserve the Pope from the possibility of giving bad example,” Msgr. Burke reminds us. Some popes have been prone to saying off-the-wall things (this Pope more than others of recent memory), and others have scandalized the faithful by living lives of dissipation and/or seeking after mammon (not a problem with Francis). That is why Msgr. Burke says that “we are not united to the Pope, and through him to Christ, unless united to what he indicates in his role as Supreme Pastor. Attachment to the Pope is a sign, test, and condition of attachment to Christ and full union with him.”

There is a traditionalist faction in the American Church that has crossed over the line that separates unity and disunity, and it has embarked on a course that we steadfastly refuse to follow. To find out what that path is and where it leads, see John Médaille’s guest column “The Remnant Crosses the Rubicon” on page 34 of this issue.

In the Footsteps of the Master

For many in the Church, the pontificate of Jorge Bergoglio has been an exasperating crisis. It seems that no matter what Pope Francis says or does, at the end of the day, people are upset with him. But I believe that this is exactly what a pope is supposed to do — that is, follow in the footsteps of the Master in such a way as to reveal to us our own shortcomings. Pope Francis does so in a seemingly unconscious way on a regular basis by simply speaking from the depths of his heart, illumined by a lifetime of service to the Church.

To those of a liberal mindset, Pope Francis can seem altogether a slave of tradition, talking a good game of liberal theology while not following through with concrete action. Radical liberals hope that this Pope will somehow erase the teachings of timeless theological truths in favor of a kind of updating to accommodate modern habits and sensibilities. This will never happen, for if it did, it would prove in a definitive way that the Catholic faith is merely a collection of empty doctrines with no supernatural basis. This would reduce the faith to the status of a philosophy and not a creed necessary for the salvation of souls.

Of course, it could be said that the most liberal of Catholics approach the faith as just that — a philosophy without a supernatural basis. This, however, cannot be said of Pope Francis, who has repeatedly preached in such a way as to confirm his solid conviction of the supernatural reality that forms the basis of the faith, its dogmas and doctrines. After all, this is what the Extraordinary Year of Mercy is all about: the effectiveness of the sacraments and the outpouring of saving grace, a chance for redemption in a world corrupted by sin. This is why it is so significant that Pope Francis succeeded Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, for as Benedict represented justice, Francis now brings us the waters of mercy.

To those of traditionalist leanings, it often seems that Pope Francis just might be the false prophet talked of in Sacred Writ. They see in this Pope a person who has risen out of a sea of liberal theologians, a man whom these theologians are manipulating so as to radically alter the very core teachings of the Church.

I wonder about the faith of such traditionalists. Could it be the case that they place their faith more in ritual and other external things than in the Man to whom these things are supposed to draw us? Perhaps they have forgotten the many times in the history of the Church when, in dire extremity, the sons and daughters of the Church have had to suspend for a season rituals, etc., in order to propagate the faith, or the harsh treatment handed to many for their unorthodox practices who were later vindicated and ultimately canonized.

Quite simply, the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ is a living being and, as such, grows into maturity with the passage of time. The Church, therefore, is not locked into some kind of stasis, like an insect trapped in a piece of amber, an essentially dead being bearing only the external signs of life. Thus, the Church today is both the same and different as in times past. This is no doubt why, to a great degree, many traditionalists are deeply troubled by Pope Francis. He acts in ways that he feels are appropriate to the situation at hand, not as one bound to act blindly, like a robot programmed according to some ancient manual.

The Spirit of Truth comes and goes as He wills. This is a truth made explicit in Scripture. The Pope is ultimately a tool of the Holy Spirit, for while the Vicar of Christ is but a man, he is an exceptional man. Having been chosen above all others by the Holy Spirit for this task, he bears a heavy burden at all times and, like the Savior, is a sign that will be contradicted.

So while I too am at times shocked or troubled by Pope Francis, rest assured that I throw in my lot with him rather than with others, no matter how pleasing they might seem to me. In this world of smoke and mirrors, I trust not in man or men but in God, the Church, and the promises of Christ Jesus. My Lord has assured me that the kingdom of darkness will not prevail over the Church, and this means by extension that the archenemy will not conquer the Vicar of Christ.

Really, who are we to judge Pope Francis? It is doubtful that any of us could carry his cross. Rather, we should humble ourselves and look at our own faults, instead of struggling against him with our words of doubt and disobedience. Lest we fall into the ways of that brood of vipers that so presumed to judge the Lord, we should pray in faith for the sure guidance of the Holy Spirit; then it just might be that the Vicar of Christ begins to resemble his Master — to our shame. Ultimately, the only licit judge of the Pope is God.

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