Volume > Issue > Letters to the Editor: March 2023

Letters to the Editor: March 2023

Disturbing Deceptions

Richard E. Gallagher’s exploration of the probable demonic deception of the Catholic mystic Adrienne von Speyr and the esteemed theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (“Private Revelations: Authentic, Paranormal & Preternatural,” Oct.; “The Variety & Implications of Private Revelations,” Nov.) is both disturbing and welcome. Disturbing because Gallagher describes how Speyr and Balthasar likely were, over a long period of time, misled into thinking that certain private communications they had been given came from the realm of God, when it is very likely these communications had come from evil spirits. Welcome because it is necessary to be aware that the demonic world can mislead even intelligent, thoughtful, and sincere believers.

Dr. Gallagher is the world’s foremost non-exorcist expert on the subject of diabolic attacks. He is also a classicist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst. As such, he is in a unique position to evaluate manifestations of the demonic through history, the physiological sources of mental aberration in human patients, and mental and personality disorders. As a physician myself, I appreciate his meticulous and clinical approach to the distinct problems of mental illness and demonic influence. His book Demonic Foes: My Twenty-Five Years as a Psychiatrist Investigating Possessions, Diabolic Attacks, and the Paranormal (2020) is brilliant, detailing his copious experience, and credible because it is so understated.

When Gallagher writes in his book, “Once one has witnessed a number of these possessions, it is impossible to credit their appearance to anything but distinct creatures entirely separate in their identity from the human host, real entities with spiritual faculties beyond the human,” and “Some realm is paying attention to all of us, I can see strongly, after all my experiences,” I consider what he says seriously. And when in his articles he makes the case that what Speyr and Balthasar took to be various communications with saints and other holy figures were likely communications with demons, I consider that seriously as well. But I wish I didn’t have to, because (1) I like Balthasar and appreciate and agree with some of his work, and (2) the experiences of Speyr and Balthasar demonstrate that the God who loves us nevertheless allows us, at times, to be demonically manipulated and deceived.

Gallagher states that one of the goals of the demonic world is to confuse us about spiritual truth. In this vein, he mentions Balthasar’s universalism and “Trinitarian speculations.” That’s a shame, because I myself am open to Trinitarian speculations and lean toward some sort of potential universalism. I did not arrive at these positions solely because of Balthasar’s influence, but if it is true that demons encouraged Speyr and Balthasar to believe these things, then I had best hold my views lightly. And if God, as described by Gallagher, allowed demons to deceive even St. Ignatius of Loyola, then we all have to be careful about where we get our information.

Discussing the nature of the spiritual world, Gallagher writes in his book, “Brilliant minds have tried to understand its complexity for millennia, sometimes veering off-kilter, sometimes displaying a very human struggle in the face of a great but confusing cosmic mystery.” I find comfort in this view of a great, ongoing mystery. Exorcists, theologians, and others with experience in the field often hold different and sometimes conflicting interpretations of these very real objective phenomena. If these people cannot make coherent sense of the spiritual world, then neither should I expect to be able to understand angelic-demonic-human interactions in scientific detail. So I don’t need to try. What I can do — what I must do — is entrust myself to the love of God and pray for protection, guidance, and a will to follow the truth.

Robert Schier, M.D.

Orinda, California

I enjoyed Richard E. Gallagher’s well-written and accessible two-part series. This is indeed a confusing time, and confusion can be a tool of the Enemy.

As an academic addiction psychiatrist for more than three decades, I have witnessed what works — and what does not — for people in the throes of addiction. It seems to me that some of the same virtues I “prescribe” for my patients are equally indispensable in discerning the origin of unusual phenomena. One of these virtues is humility. People with a substance use disorder (SUD) are encouraged to acknowledge that they are powerless over the object of their addiction. And they are further encouraged to reach out to others similarly afflicted to help “keep it simple” when the disorder confuses their thinking.

Similarly, the visionary — and, in the case of Speyr and Balthasar, the visionary and the spiritual advisor — must acknowledge humbly that what he is experiencing may not be of divine origin. It seems to me that Balthasar and Speyr would have benefited from inviting those qualified to shine a revealing light on their visionary experience. Instead, they seemed to jealously guard a closed system designed to reach the conclusion they had predetermined.

When your goal is entering and maintaining recovery for an SUD, you need to be open and honest about your experience. As mentioned, humility is one of the best tools available to create the space for openness and honesty. If humility is crucial in countering the confusion of thinking effected by substances such as alcohol or fentanyl, how can it be neglected when the issue is a vision, and the sower of the confusion potentially He Who Should Not Be Named?

Mark J. Albanese, M.D.

Harvard Medical School

Winchester, Massachusetts

I was heartened to read Richard E. Gallagher’s article series. The Swiss physician, Catholic convert, and mystic is no stranger to the pages of the NOR, having been examined by Anne Barbeau Gardiner in “The Dubious Adrienne von Speyr” (Sept. 2002). Speyr’s odd and possibly heretical views might be viewed as mere historical curiosities were it not for the current push for her canonization. With such high stakes, there is a great need for critical thinking regarding her case.

Into this maelstrom comes Dr. Gallagher, author of Demonic Foes and one of the country’s foremost experts on psychiatric evaluations for the discernment of demonic possession. He offers a new explanation for Speyr’s ecstasies and paranormality, namely, that she may have been experiencing, not psychiatric delusions, but illusions driven directly or indirectly by a demonic force. Dr. Gallagher explains in convincing detail the similarities between Speyr’s visions and those of possessed individuals he has encountered over the years.

Speyr has been dead since 1967, and so we will never know exactly what stoked her and her spiritual director’s experiences, whether it was true divinity or something sinister. Gallagher does us a great service by urging skepticism. As he persuasively notes, recalling 1 Kings 18, there are hundreds of false prophets for every true one. Catholics would do well to question the private revelations of any individual, however compelling they might be, especially when they contrast with orthodox Catholic teachings, in Speyr and Balthasar’s case, their crypto-Calvinist concept that Christ suffered in Hell on Holy Saturday.

John Williams, M.D.

Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

I was pleased to see Richard E. Gallagher’s articles on the troubling spiritual influences at work in the relationship between Balthasar and Speyr, which so deeply impacted their theology. I wrote an article on this surprising reality in the Angelicum Journal of Theology several years ago. Titled “Balthasar and Speyr: First Steps in a Discernment of Spirits,” it can be accessed at RenewalMinistries.net by selecting “Articles Index” in the “Resources” drop-down menu.

I hope Dr. Gallagher’s articles receive a wide readership. Thank you for publishing them.

Ralph Martin, S.T.D., Director

Graduate Theology Programs in the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart Major Seminary

Detroit, Michigan

After graduating from college, I encountered (or better, was encountered by) the Lord Jesus Christ in a charismatic prayer group. Giving my life to the Lordship of Jesus (subsequent to my sacramental reception of Baptism and Confirmation) was the beginning of a journey of healing and freedom from the bondage of many sins and wrongful behaviors. Long story short: I was asked to serve as one of the leaders of the prayer group. This led to the Jesuit leader’s encouraging me to go to Fordham University, where I earned a master’s in religious education. Subsequently, I was invited to South Bend, Indiana, to become a member of the People of Praise Covenant Community and to serve the Renewal on the national level, first as associate director and then as executive director of the National Service Committee.

From the earliest stages of the Renewal, prayer for healing became a significant dimension, as one of the charisms of the Holy Spirit enumerated by St. Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 12) and manifested in the life and ministry of Jesus, who, in commissioning the 72 disciples, gave them authority to “heal the sick” (Lk. 10:9).

It was not long after the emergence in the Renewal of what we called “inner healing,” the healing of wounded emotions and other past wounds through prayer, that we came upon the challenge of helping people who seemed to be “bound” in unforgiveness, sin, addiction, self-loathing, etc. We began to identify the existence of “spirits” (or demons), and soon were birthed prayers for deliverance. We were mindful of the Church’s restrictions concerning those truly possessed and were careful to refer such cases to the proper ecclesial authorities. Over time, a number of priests involved in the Renewal were named diocesan exorcists.

A second area in which the Renewal encountered evil spirits was in prophecy, not in the sense of “predicting the future” but more along the lines of what St. Paul wrote: “Someone who prophesies speaks to other people, building them up and giving them encouragement and reassurance” (1 Cor. 14:3). In learning to discern spirits, we identified three criteria. First: Who is the person who is prophesying? Do we know him? Where is he coming from, so to speak? Second: Is his message in line with Scripture and the teachings of the Church? Third: Is the tone of his message loving or condemning? Is there a sense in the group (prayer group, community, conference) that the Lord is speaking?

We learned fairly early that not all spoken (or written) prophecy is 100 percent purely the word of God. Even the best is embodied in our frail humanity. We cannot escape our flesh. So many so-called prophesies are pious thoughts or what began as an authentic inspiration and soon trailed off into such thoughts. Though rare, we did have the experience of someone speaking in a prophetic way whose source was not the Holy Spirit but a mixture of the person’s own flesh and the inspiration of the Evil One. Usually, when this happens while a group is praying, the atmosphere changes, there is a heaviness in the air, and the praise and joy are lost.

Sadly, discerning authentic prophetic words from pious thoughts, on one hand, and distorted, evil words, on the other, has been a challenge for the Renewal. In the Church at large, such discernment issues have arisen regarding the many reported Marian apparitions. Fr. Benedict Groeschel once said that at any given time the Vatican is discerning hundreds of such, and most do not pass the test. Two of the more famous in our time occurred in Bayside, New York, and Necedah, Wisconsin. My wife’s parents — good and holy people — went to the latter and experienced one of the signs often associated with such things: rosaries turning gold. But the local bishop declared the visions to be false and prohibited worship associated with them. The alleged seer, Mary Ann van Hoof, and her associates did not obey these orders. A subsequent bishop placed her and six of her key followers under interdict, which led to their leaving the Catholic Church and joining the Old Catholic movement.

This brings me to Dr. Gallagher’s series. I want to underscore what he wrote about private revelations, that “a need for such judgment [discernment] pertains to figures hailed as visionaries, or ‘seers,’ many of whom simultaneously claim to receive ‘messages’ (sometimes called ‘locutions’).” I am not a student of Balthasar or Speyr, but it is clear to me that Speyr’s roots were, at best, mixed and, perhaps, more demonic than mixed. The experiences she had are disturbing and problematic. I make no judgment on her life as “a caring and unselfish doctor,” but her actions of “summoning or alleged ‘remembering’ of historical figures,” her “channeling,” and so on, are clearly not of the Lord.

As for Balthasar, his apparent need to find a soulmate who would reinforce his universalist beliefs betrays someone who, though highly intelligent, was not able to exercise even the basic rules of Ignatian discernment. For him to dismiss “the spiritualist hypothesis,” seemingly to “never have entertained it seriously,” is a significant flaw that calls into question his writing, regardless of how erudite he was.

Kudos for publishing Dr. Gallagher’s series and exposing this deception by Speyr of Balthasar and its problematic results in his writings.

Walter Matthews

Locust Grove, Virginia


It’s a genuine pleasure to comment on the letters of three physicians and two astute members of the Renewal, one a seminary-based theologian. It’s particularly significant that these letter-writers have in common the varied but precisely appropriate professional backgrounds most suited to their respective reflections.

To wit: Each medical specialist — one an obviously skilled clinician, the second an academic addiction expert at Harvard, and the third also a Harvard-trained psychiatrist — is skilled in various fields specially known for their need for rigor in diagnostic acumen. The two other letter-writers — each with significant roles in the Catholic Charismatic movement — are obviously experienced in the discernment of both spiritual and preternatural phenomena. Taken together, these perspectives shed light on what was going on with the odd collaboration between Fr. Balthasar and Dr. Speyr. My articles and my comments here are, again, meant respectfully, though I believe my thesis merely states what should long have been obvious to religious scholars.

Balthasar’s stated “methodology” represents such strikingly close parallels to common spiritualist practices — the self-conscious and active “summoning” of sundry chosen figures, the trance and need for transcription, and the purported lengthy discussions with multiple putative deceased spirits, etc. — as to be easily evident to those even remotely familiar with spiritualism (and, as a corollary, completely unlike authentic and traditional Catholic prophetic or mystical experiences). Given my decades-long background in working with such unusual sorts of evaluations, and my long experience with the International Association of Exorcists, what most notably strikes me is how such similitude between these typical spiritualist features and those of the efforts of Balthasar and Speyr has gone unrecognized or ignored.

A large number of other theologians, priests, and physicians have also contacted me — separately and directly in the interim since my articles appeared — to thank me for my contribution, including more broadly on the larger theological points I covered. It is evident that many Christian thinkers have long puzzled over Speyr’s unusual experiences, their supposed theological import, and her profound impact on the influential theologian. Given such interest, so as to discuss in greater depth the underlying theological issues at stake, and at the suggestion of still another knowledgeable priest, I am considering a book-length treatment of these topics with a noted lay theologian/Balthasar scholar who also wrote to me to express appreciation for the NOR’s publication of my articles.

Robert Schier and John Williams are obviously wise in modern medicine while at the same time inquisitive and evidently perceptive, unlike many physicians, in not simply pathologizing all anomalous experiences. Both recognize the axiom that spiritualist and other preternatural phenomena can also confuse and/or mislead even well-meaning and intelligent individuals; these include both the subjects themselves, as here, as well as diehard fans and select critics alike — pace the latter group’s facile positing of either delusional states or a simplistic psychological impairment (as the more secular views of Speyr have typically argued).

Dr. Schier rightly is struck by my comment about St. Ignatius (ironically enough) having had the humility to recognize a similar sort of occurrence of spiritual illusions in his own journey, even though some modern medical commentators regard him and other saintly figures as psychotic! Dr. Williams appropriately cites my Old Testament reference to the Book of Kings about the many false prophets throughout history in distinction to the rare authentic ones (Speyr being thought by some of Balthasar’s biggest fans as “prophetic” herself). I did not, however, argue that Speyr was technically “possessed”; rather, I characterize her “condition” more as being unwittingly subject to a significant level of spiritual illusions — prompted, yes, by demonic influence and apparently at times in a rather overt and visible manner, as I so described, and as Balthasar also remarked in his disturbing account in Our Task!

Mark J. Albanese underscores, as I did, the traditionally recognized great need for caution and humility in all spiritual (as well as professional) discernments. As he rightly emphasizes, that admonition requires a willingness to bring in other expert evaluators, when appropriate, especially regarding so intimate, secretive, and convoluted a partnership as Balthasar and Speyr had. This appears to have been a sensible plan to which Balthasar proved extremely reluctant to accede (or at least acknowledge).

Finally, I value the gracious remarks and interesting comments of both Ralph Martin and Walter Matthews as true experts in careful discernment from their vantage of dealing with so many individuals needing such tricky spiritual judgments from within the Catholic Charismatic movement. I was delighted that Prof. Martin contacted me directly after reading my NOR articles. I had been totally unaware of his previous reflections in this area from the Angelicum Journal. Given our independently derived views and related, though not identical, lines of argumentation, may I be forgiven for joking with him about great minds thinking alike!

Mr. Matthews’s reference to Fr. Benedict Groeschel’s reflections in A Still, Small Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations (1993) about supernatural vs. preternatural “revelations” underscores one of the major themes of my articles. It also brought back memories of my friendship with Fr. Benedict and the many discussions we had here in the New York area as fellow faculty members at St. Joseph’s Seminary before his death a few years back. Matthews’s own thoughts and reservations about the Balthasar-Speyr collaboration seem very much on target, despite the many admirable qualities each had.

Thanks to all my careful and generous readers, both those writing letters and the many others.

Sneaking Around, Doing Something Dirty

I was pleased to read Phillip Campbell’s guest column “Marian Devotion as a Way of Life” (Dec.). What singles out his reflection as unique is his frank admission that there were moments along the way to his own Marian devotion that posed serious emotional challenges. He writes that when he first said the Rosary (because “this is what Catholics do”) he was huddled behind a locked door in a dark side room in a Presbyterian church. At that point, there was no love for Mary, and saying the Rosary almost mechanically, he says, “felt like something dirty.”

It’s not easy to communicate to cradle Catholics what a challenge Mary and her Rosary initially pose to converts coming into the Church. Campbell’s experience isn’t unique. Peter Kreeft says that the first time he prayed the Rosary he “sneaked it.” The first time I prayed the Rosary I was locked in a study room in a library with a lit candle. It felt like something unfathomably profound and private, which I didn’t want others to see.

Campbell captures well the gradual transition from initial puzzlement over the role of the Rosary and the Blessed Mother in our lives to the eventual joy and love with which we can come to embrace the Mother of God as our own mother, too. The transition reminds me of the one G.K. Chesterton describes when tracing the itinerary of a convert into the Catholic faith. It begins with curiosity, which, as we subsequently remember, was what killed the cat! Curiosity then is displaced by mortal terror when we begin to realize that there is not only something to this Catholic thing, but that it actually seems to make sense. What will I have to give up if I embrace this Catholic thing? Terror eventually gives way to acquiescence and, as Campbell so winsomely illustrates, to love and devotion.

Philip Blosser

Professor of Philosophy, Sacred Heart Major Seminary

Detroit, Michigan


I am grateful for Phillip Blosser’s observations regarding the challenge posed by Marian devotion to people who were not raised with it. There was indeed a significant “tension” that I needed to overcome before I could give myself to the Rosary, and to Marian devotion in general.

Many of the challenges outsiders face when considering the Catholic faith are emotional, not rational. A person may object to the idea of God, not because he has been rationally convinced He doesn’t exist, but because he is disturbed by the idea of an omniscient Being keeping tabs on him. A man who is admonished to cease fornicating with his live-in girlfriend has an emotional investment in the situation, which is challenged by the Church’s teaching on chastity.

Often, the challenges to the faith go beyond logic. This is why, as I get older, I am convinced that building meaningful relationships is as important in winning people to the faith as presenting intellectual arguments.

Angry Acts Against the Ancient Order

As a Baptist who was attracted to the beauties of Prayer Book worship as a young man, I watched with dismay the self-annihilation of conservative Episcopalianism — one dumb, spineless thing after another, as William J. Tighe so succinctly chronicles in his magisterial article “The St. Louis Congress: Forty-Five Years Later” (Dec.). The largest part of what is left, the Anglican Church of North America and the Global Anglican Future Conference alliance, still has not settled the basic issue that convened the Congress all those years ago: opposition to women’s ordination, which those “orthodox Anglican” organizations still accept, even if grudgingly.

Women’s ordination to the presbyterate never seemed to me necessarily a malum in se, but more in the nature of a malum prohibitum, at least when practiced by Christians of good will. In its more benign form, it appears as sectarian enthusiasm, carried out where the egalitarian impulse, defensible from selective readings of Scripture, overwhelms respect for tradition and the patriarchal framework (and demands) of biblical Christianity. It has, however, a dual character in that it also is the presenting face of a modernism in which Christian symbols, pre-eminently the imagined elder herself, depart from their divinely constituted order to confect an anti-Christian, anti-Trinitarian religious matrix, moving quickly and easily in the churches between the innocently mistaken and diabolical aspects of its character. The priestess or ministress herself, in the context of the age, has become the most prominent symbol of this different religion, her promoters and followers no longer merely sectarians but apostate ministers of an anti-Christianity. All this was adumbrated by Pope Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907).

This process proceeded, as Prof. Tighe shows, rapidly in the Episcopal Church. The first female ordinations were clearly acts of angry contumacy against the ancient order. Once the path was open, other women followed on the strength of the new legal establishment, as they had in other denominations. Not every ordained woman was an affronted claimant to supposed rights denied, a confessing feminist, or a lesbian; some merely wanted the liberty to be mothers where once there were only fathers. These two types of women represented, and still represent, the two aspects of women’s ordination, the sectarian and the apostate, and their intradenominational coexistence has gone a long way in keeping the churches that allowed their ordinations in the first place confused, unbalanced, and increasingly ambiguous as witnesses to the Lordship of the divine Son and the indelibly patriarchal character of Christianity.

Although Tighe and many other witnesses, especially Catholic refugees from the Episcopalian wars, notice and point to the many similarities, at least on the ground level, of what happened among the Protestants and is at present an idea far advanced among Catholic laity and clergy — note the current situation in Germany — under a Pope who unilaterally amends the Catechism where he takes issue with it, the Catholics, like the Orthodox, operate under the mandates of belonging to an indefectible ecclesial body, presently imperfect to be sure, but preserved from error through all time in all that it teaches: the one, true, catholic, and apostolic Church, the Ground and Pillar of Truth. J.W. Nevin pointed out that every Protestant sect operates as though it believes the same of itself. But the professing Catholic, by his very name, must, above all, be serious about it, thus his present dilemma.

S.M. Hutchens

Senior Editor, Touchstone

Chicago, Illinois

I read with great interest William J. Tighe’s summary of the St. Louis Congress of 1977 and subsequent events. By way of background, I was the founder of the Anglican Use Society in 2003, which is now the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society, and its president from 2003 to 2013. I played a small role in arranging eight annual conferences between 2005 and 2012 to get interested groups together to work for what is now the North American Ordinariate. I am no stranger to the movement toward Rome by many in the Episcopal Church.

The first thing that resonated was Tighe’s observation: “The Liberals claimed to embody a synthesis of the ‘best aspects’ of both Catholicism and Protestantism, and…as these ‘best aspects’ were often presented in tune with the aspirations of the Anglo-American and Anglo-Canadian social elites of the day, they seemed to offer a genteel, progressive religious outlook that fit in nicely with the Zeitgeist” (italics added).

In the 1960s, I was a member of the largest parish in the Diocese of Ohio, which reflected this outlook perfectly. Its liturgy was low church but with an excellent music director and a Yale-educated rector from a distinguished New York family. His theology was broad church, but he was careful not to get too far out front of his affluent congregation. He invited Martin Luther King Jr. to preach there in 1963 before his “I Have a Dream” speech later that year. He arranged for Bishop Beverley Tucker Jr. (1882-1969), the retired Bishop of Ohio and a descendant of an old Virginia family, to introduce Dr. King. The bishop’s father was also a bishop, as was his brother, Henry St. George Tucker, the former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. That group embodies the “genteel, progressive religious outlook.”

Later, I was living in Washington, D.C., and attended Washington National Cathedral during the days of Dean Francis Sayre Jr., the grandson of Woodrow Wilson. He was very much in the same mold, and the clergy on staff covered the range from very liberal to Anglo-Catholic. These men spoke for us and represented the qualities we trusted: they were articulate, well educated, and “one of us.”

I came to realize, along the way, that poet W.B. Yeats made an important observation: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

It seemed that many Episcopal bishops lacked conviction when the worst among them advocated heresy or plain nonsense. Those who were full of “passionate intensity” dominated the discussions. The others were just too polite to object.

Around that time, liberation theology was rearing its ugly head. One Sunday, a female preacher who may have been a deacon gave the sermon at Washington Cathedral. She was so full of an aggressive, passionate intensity that I wanted to walk out. As an usher, I did not want to be disloyal, and it would have been impolite. The experience was disheartening.

It was inevitable that the St. Louis Congress would happen because so much was breaking out so fast. Edmund Burke argued for gradual change, but after Vatican II all was in flux. The Council opened the doors everywhere, and Rome quickly made liturgical changes not even suggested in the Council documents. Expectations were running high, and too much happened too fast. Inevitably, disillusion followed.

While we may want to see the Congress as a conservative revolt, it seemed to be based on a problematic premise: How can you say you believe in apostolic succession if you want to change allegiance to a different, if not questionable, line of succession?

If there is a lesson here for faithful Catholics, it is for those who question the legitimacy of Pope Francis, saying he is too liberal. Once you call into question papal authority, you open the door to further division. And division is exactly what the Devil wants.

The logical choice for disaffected Episcopalians after St. Louis was not another church with a storefront cathedral; it was either Rome (the Pastoral Provision was available in the United States but, sadly, not in the United Kingdom, for various reasons) or the Orthodox Churches, notably Western-rite Orthodoxy.

The Episcopal Church has roughly half the members it did 50 years ago. Where have they gone? Obviously, many are now deceased. It’s their children and grandchildren who have left. This is true among most mainstream Protestant churches and the Catholic Church, in which the drifting away began in the 1970s, decades before the clerical sex-abuse scandals erupted. These lapsed Catholics were replaced by Hispanic immigrants; hence their departure is not as easily noticed.

The Episcopal Church will probably survive because there are just enough people who still want a “genteel, progressive religious outlook” in urban areas where the affluent, professional classes may be attracted, and the size of endowments at major churches will always make sure the lights are on. So long as the rector is articulate, well educated, and “one of us,” there will be someone to “hatch, match, and dispatch.” Jon Meacham, a prominent Episcopal author and canon historian at Washington Cathedral, is the perfect face for this. Notably, the cathedral is in the middle of what should be a successful capital campaign to raise $150 million.

Joseph G. Blake

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

William J. Tighe offers an intriguing snapshot of the Continuing Anglican movement, but the movement itself is bigger, and that raises questions. I became an active Episcopalian around 1980 in the wake of the Congress, the 1976 General Convention of the Episcopal Church (TEC), and the defection of several Anglo-Catholic TEC parishes not connected with the Congress. The contentious issues at the time were the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and the ordination of women.

The biggest eye-opener for me when I became Catholic 30 years later was how much of the 1979 BCP was inspired by Vatican II, not just use of the vernacular but the choices of liturgical prayers and the three-year lectionary. In fact, the three-year lectionary may have been the most influential of all the innovations that came out of the Council, having since been adopted by most Protestant denominations.

This is part of the conundrum posed by Continuing Anglicanism: The Congress itself looked toward some type of unification with Catholicism, as did the separate movement dating from the 1976 General Convention that sought a personal prelature for disaffected Anglicans. But the 1979 BCP, to which both factions objected, was clearly influenced by the Novus Ordo liturgy, which is authoritative for Catholics. This is an almost completely unremarked inconsistency behind the Continuing Anglican movement, of which the St. Louis Congress was just a part.

Prof. Tighe’s implication is key: If you claim to be “orthodox,” you’d better be darn sure what your orthodoxy consists of. That might be an additional lesson for contemporary Catholics to draw.

John Bruce

Los Angeles, California

I am a former Episcopalian who spent a quarter-century in Pentecostal/Evangelical circles as a preacher. I left the Episcopal Church when my rector and my bishop both denied the Virgin Birth. Most of the developments William J. Tighe describes occurred during my period of “exile.” I did watch these developments until the pull of tradition brought me into the Continuing Anglican movement. There I landed, and there I remain.

I could quibble with many details in Dr. Tighe’s treatment, but this is not the place to do so. Instead, I’ll express appreciation for the overall accuracy and fairness of what he says and the warmth with which he looks upon a movement he nevertheless considers less than what it claimed to be.

Be that as it may, many of us who are seeking a traditional and catholic Christianity see Rome as being less than what it claims to be and, unlike those who “jumped ship” for the Ordinariates, are not drawn to submission to an authority we regard as vastly overstated. An Anglican ecclesiology is not amenable to the kind of centralization envisioned in the Roman jurisdiction nor to its claim to be the one Catholic church. And we see the tensions and divisions within the Roman jurisdiction to be at least as serious as those we face.

That said, as we strive to heal the unfortunate divisions Tighe describes so well, we do look with affection on your church and to a future in which we all shall draw closer together, visibly manifesting the unity in which Christ has bonded us.

Edward Pacht

Rochester, New Hampshire

William J. Tighe’s comprehensive retrospective on the St. Louis Congress, which ultimately led to the dissolution of a unified traditional Anglican witness in North America, is excellent. It is indeed “A History of Splitsville” and, for those who in subsequent years sought to find a secure ecclesial foundation in Anglicanism, not a little vertigo-inducing.

In 1977 I was a seminarian, so entranced by the study of the Church Fathers that I missed the excitement generated by the Congress. When I began Episcopal parish ministry in the 1980s, I would become acquainted with many of the personalities of whom Prof. Tighe writes.

These leaders were strong-willed souls, certainly necessary to resist the modernist remaking of Anglicanism. Perhaps not a few operated with a measure of hubris that would keep ecclesial unity an elusive goal. But there was no doubt about their sincere desire to preserve the character of traditional Anglicanism. Most were devoted to the principles of the 19th-century Oxford Movement and the recovery of the Catholic identity of early Anglicanism.

For all their good intentions, however, the inherent problem of private judgment could not be overcome. It was astonishing how many separate Anglican entities began to emerge so quickly. Tighe notes that this tendency was rooted in Anglican life from the time of its separation from Rome in the 16th century. St. Augustine warned of this in his writings against the Donatists, who were beset by an anxiety that the true Christians would be contaminated and defiled if, within the Church, they were to be in contact with error and wickedness. And so ecclesial communion was based on their judgment: “We’re holy, but are you?”

Against this rigorist and puritanical impulse, Augustine counseled humility, citing St. Paul: “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Cor. 4:5). Until that time, saints and sinners will exist side by side in the Church, in outward respect undifferentiated and comingled, a corpus permixtum, in accordance with God’s purpose that many may be saved. Augustine’s words seem most apropos for our time as well as his: “Let the separation be waited for until the end of time, faithfully, patiently, bravely.”

It is a difficult matter for many as it certainly was for me: Do I stay in the Episcopal Church and honor my ordination vows even when fundamental matters of doctrine arise, do I follow the path of Continuing Anglicanism with many of my confrères, or is it time to cross the Tiber? I remembered the way Dr. Thomas Howard described his own ecclesial background: “I came from a split of a split of a split.” Does the Lord really need yet another denomination? Instead of venturing forth on yet another branch, perhaps we should turn around, retrace our steps, and rejoin the original path.

Tighe wisely warns that today “we can hear the rumblings of the same type of chaos in the Catholic Church.” The temptation remains to resolve problems in the Church as the Donatists tried to do. Despite the faithlessness of some of her members, the Church’s mission in this world proceeds. As Augustine so memorably observed, “The clouds of heaven thunder their witness that God’s dwelling is being constructed throughout the world, and yet all the while frogs are croaking from the swamp, ‘We are the only Christians!’”

Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson

Ordinary Emeritus of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter

St. Paul, Minnesota


I thank these five readers for their thoughtful comments.

S.M. Hutchens gently but firmly points to the “dilemma” Catholics face with a Pope who appears to be subverting the Catholic faith in various areas without clearly or explicitly contradicting it, or at least allowing leading prelates who have blatantly contracted traditional and, I dare say, apostolic teaching to carry on without ill-consequence. Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., archbishop of Luxembourg, for example, whom Francis appointed relator general of the Synod on Synodality, stated publicly that the Church’s teaching on homosexual relations is wrong and needs to change. Yet he remains unrebuked and uncorrected, despite his enunciation of what, by any traditional Catholic and biblical criterion, would constitute heresy. Faced with such a “dilemma,” do Catholics stand fast, constant in their belief that the Catholic Church is “the Church,” and trusting in her indefectibility, or do they convert to, say, Orthodoxy or join Evangelical bodies? In practical terms, neither offers safe refuge, for even among the Orthodox, especially in the Western diaspora, the proponents of women’s ordination and sexual revisionism — ill-favored twins joined forever at the hip — are increasingly going public with their views.

Joseph G. Blake concludes that because many parishes have large endowments to offset their small membership rolls, the Episcopal Church will survive in a residual fashion, much like the Unitarian Universalist Association. But he loses me when he asks, “How can you say you believe in apostolic succession if you want to change allegiance to a different, if not questionable, line of succession?” None of the churches that claim to have preserved apostolic succession mandate unconditional obedience to bishops who promote heresy in doctrine or falsehood in moral teaching. Rather, the Church Fathers, Eastern and Western, who had to consider the phenomenon of heretical bishops, usually urge the faithful to separate themselves from the communion of such bishops. If other bishops take action against errant bishops, the faithful should join those bishops in opposition to the false teachers. This is precisely what most of those who attended the St. Louis Congress aspired to do, and what many of them attempted to do subsequently, with mixed results. These results were due to various circumstances conducive to disagreement and disunity among the original Continuing Anglicans, not disagreement over the principle of the imperative of separation from the communion of heretical bishops, although the lack of the canonically required three bishops — only two were willing to act — to perform the consecrations of the first three Continuing Anglican bishops in January 1978 gave opponents and doubters an opportunity to suggest that the consecrations were somehow improper.

Mr. Blake applies this doubt to Catholics who “call into question papal authority” by claiming that Francis is “too liberal” and thereby “open the door to further division.” Catholics who question papal authority because Francis is “too liberal” are using their own predilections to reject the authority of the successor of St. Peter to govern the Church. But if the Pope seems to allow authoritative elements of Catholic doctrinal and moral teaching to be questioned, and ignored in practice, that is a different matter. Some believe that Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (2016), hints at allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who have not sought annulments of their previous marriages to receive Communion, despite their being in a state of objective adultery, according to Catholic teaching. Some bishops’ conferences have gone on to make provisions for just such a practice. Respectful and repeated questioning of Francis’s apparent negligence of his ministry is a legitimate response from cardinals and bishops, and even from the faithful.

No Catholic could quarrel with John Bruce’s final injunction, “If you claim to be ‘orthodox’ you’d better be darn sure what your orthodoxy consists of,” which has always been a problem for Anglicans and, since 2013, for Catholics as well. I’m not sure, however, to what extent the Anglo-Papalist faction of the Anglo-Catholics who initially associated with the Continuing Anglican movement in the aftermath of the St. Louis Congress were diehard opponents of the liturgical revisions that replaced the 1928 Book of Common Prayer with its 1979 successor. Canon Albert J. Dubois (1906-1980), one of the group’s leading lights and longtime executive director of the American Church Union and editor of the American Church News (which became the New Oxford Review in 1977), was opposed to liturgical change. But the manner in which many of his followers and associates embraced the Anglican Use Mass (which drew on elements of the 1979 BCP and the 1970 Novus Ordo Mass) in the Catholic Church after the promulgation of the Pastoral Provision in 1980 makes me wonder how much of the earlier opposition to liturgical change in the Episcopal Church among this constituency was driven by skepticism about a “liberal agenda” on the part of the new Prayer Book’s composers, rather than opposition to liturgical changes under any circumstances.

I thank Edward Pacht for his generous response. Our differences concern the nature and “location” of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the existence of which is proclaimed as an article of faith in the Nicene Creed. “Anglican ecclesiology is not amenable,” he writes, to the claim of “the Roman jurisdiction…to be the one Catholic church.” He believes Anglican churches to be a better form or embodiment of Catholicity. To respond to this is to take up an old argument about the nature and, in particular, the divisibility of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. In brief, historically and to this very day, each ecclesial body that antedates the Reformation — the Catholic Church, the (Eastern or Chalcedonian) Orthodox Churches, the (Non-Chalcedonian) Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the so-called Nestorian Church (the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East) — believes, with whatever qualifications, that it is itself the one visible body of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of the Creed.

Protestants, by and large, follow Martin Luther’s “discovery” in May 1520 that this Church is an invisible body, of which all faithful Christians are members, although this invisible body may be manifested in faithful church congregations (“faithful” being variously understood by different Protestant confessional bodies, some expansively, even to the inclusion of Catholics, others, narrowly, limited to those professing their own distinctive doctrines).

The Church of England, for several decades following 1559, held to this Protestant view, but the rise of a high-church party around 1600, which came to consider a church polity with bishops in an apostolic succession extending back to the apostolic era essential to the very existence of a genuine church, and which came to dominate the Church of England in the 1620s and 1630s and has remained influential in most Anglican provinces ever since, created a new Anglican ecclesiology to challenge its more Protestant rival, which also remains influential. This new ecclesiology adopted the view that “real bishops” in the apostolic succession were essential to the existence of a Catholic Church, but that the Catholic Church was a visible but divisible body, such that there could be numerous “Catholic churches,” institutionally separate from one another and not in sacramental communion with one another. Different Anglican or, for that matter, Anglo-Catholic schools of thought interpret the criteria for counting as “a Catholic church” with varying degrees of stringency or generosity, and this is true, likewise, of Continuing Anglican bodies.

It is important to be clear about this important difference, especially at a time when many Catholics, theologians and bishops among them, speak in an ecumenicalese dialect that seems to imply that the Catholic Church, that is, the communion of “particular churches” united in communion with the Pope of Rome, is simply the “best church” within a multiplicity of separated but equally churchly “churches” existing outside its communion.

Finally, Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson warns about the thin line separating doughty, and often necessarily combative, defenders of orthodox belief and practice from those who would follow a rigorist impulse into sectarian separation. It is a necessary warning, given the pervasive presence of what Pope St. Paul VI once termed “the smoke of Satan” in the Church. I would add, however, that not all those accused of having a sectarian or even schismatic spirit are necessarily, or even commonly, guilty as charged — witness the ambiguous status of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X and the shifting attitudes of successive popes toward its mission since its inception in 1970.

Naïveté on Steroids

J.D. Palmer’s discussion of the civilizational devastation caused by the Pride movement and its antecedents is accurate (“Walking on Eggshells, Distilling Eggshells,” Dec.), but his proposed strategy for combatting it is naïveté on steroids. He suggests that we can begin to reverse this onslaught if we “push back gently.” Seriously?

We are at war with the Devil’s first-line troops, who are supported by complaisant sycophants and fifth columnists. They have the bit in their teeth, and they have the momentum. They are not interested in dialogue. They do not want tolerance, or even acceptance. They want submission! Unfortunately, they are getting it, even from the Church.

Palmer has shown rather clearly that opposition is needed — but not of the “walking on eggshells” kind. The Pride agenda is built entirely on lies. Therefore, the pushback required is to proclaim the truth, to announce boldly that the emperor has no clothes.

We can start by calling things by their right names. Homosexuality is sodomy, not “gay.” Abortion is infanticide, not “healthcare.” Transgender is an oxymoron. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Children are a blessing, and the more the merrier. Parents, not the state, are responsible for educating their children. And we must demonstrate through our lives that we believe what we say.

Whether such witness to the truth will restore our civilization is problematic. But it will save our souls.

Michael V. McIntire

Cave Spring, Arkansas


I thank Michael V. McIntire for his response to my article. I cannot quite decide if the disagreement between us is one of degree or the result of a misunderstanding. Either way, I am grateful for the opportunity to revisit my words and potentially clarify them.

Let’s look at the phrase Mr. McIntire found troubling: “push back gently.” Against it he wrote, “They are not interested in dialogue.” McIntire might be surprised to learn that I tend to agree with him. The ferocious young ideologues at Pride parades and other leftist rallies appear to need a spanking or an exorcism rather than a rap session. On the other hand, I am forced to concede, as a parent, that dialogue is sometimes exactly what some angry, sputtering youths are demanding (in their own awkward way).

What I was proposing is that dialogue should occur between us and the many people who are uncomfortable with the Pride agenda but in whose souls the light of Christ may be but a pale glow. They might not agree with the premise that homosexual inclinations are deviant (yet!), but they are firmly opposed to identity politics. This is fertile ground, and we should engage them not only for the sake of our souls but for theirs.

I have no doubt that in the great state of Arkansas, McIntire is able to rally considerable opposition to the Pride agenda, but for those of us who live in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, etc., the landscape is a bit bleaker, and our rare victories are modest. Like the mountain-climber, we drive in the spike, pull ourselves up, and repeat many times. “Gently” is how I described this sort of progress. The word gentle, however, should not here be confused with weak. Anyone who has seen the graceful dance of a martial-arts master will know what I mean. However, it is very satisfying when we are able to meet the homosexual “onslaught,” as McIntire calls it, with our own loving onslaught.

In closing, I should say a few words about my use of the term homosexual. As a philosopher, I prefer it because it is precise and impartial. The term sodomite is not particularly helpful these days, as many heterosexuals have adopted sodomitical practices.

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