Thus reads the tweet heard ’round the world, posted by respected priest and veteran Fr. Kevin M. Cusick:
“Ladies, a priest I know was forced on Sunday to ask a woman at Mass to cover her shoulders. Please help the priest to protect the purity of the men at holy Mass by choosing to dress modestly. The alternative is awkward for all involved. Thank you.”
You don’t need the specifics to ascertain what happened, because what happened is what always happens.
A priest speaks the truth — an unpopular, forgotten, buried truth that the Catholic Church once proclaimed boldly. The starving traditional Catholic masses show their support, setting aside the usual debates, banding together if only for a moment, united in their longing to see some courage from an alter Christus — to see Christ and His whip in the temple for once, instead of the daily agony of watching Fr. Pontius Pilate washing his hands.
The demons tumble out, as they always do. And you’re in the priest’s shoes for a moment, because maybe you defended him, and if you defend a hard saying, you must be annihilated right along with whoever first uttered it. There is no room for you, no room for your thought crimes. Out come the outrageous blasphemies; mockery; hatred; promotion of mortal sin; and, of course, the ever creative calumnies about pedophilia. The hours pass. Bigger accounts, feminist celebrities and novelists, even the Church of Satan wants a piece. The dreaded “ratio” gets worse, the notifications grow more numerous, the viciousness of the crowd intensifies. You’re painfully aware just how easy it is for society to turn against someone, anyone who topples its sacred cow, and at this moment, that anyone is you. That icky breath-down-your-neck sensation feels more and more pressing, the mob is closing in, and the mob closing in doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel edifying. It doesn’t feel right. It can’t be God’s will, surely!
Here you are, the traditional Catholic peeking out behind Father, hoping, hoping things will go one way, knowing they won’t, because they never do. The moment. The fork in the road moment. You can see those who were on your side starting to back off, back away, make concessions, make apologies. It’s tempting. “Can’t we all just get along? We have to put our spiritual lives first! This anger isn’t good for my prayer life.” We’ve all said the same many times before, and hey, maybe sometimes it’s right, maybe sometimes the vitriol is a sign that God is pulling us away to silence and prayer.
You know it’s not always the case, though. You know that sometimes, a soldier for Christ has to fight where he stands, whether it’s underground in China hiding from communists or on the internet in front of a bunch of shrieking, career-destroying, doxxing harpies. We aren’t all called to the “glamour” of red martyrdom, bombings and blood, eternal glory and a special crown. Sometimes, the fight is worth having because you’re following God’s commandments instead of your own fallen sense of prudence, even if the small gain for God’s glory doesn’t always seem as if it’s worth it.
So you have this hope that the priest — your priest, you’ve developed a sense of loyalty towards him, even from afar, in this little battle you’ve followed him into — will choose to fight. To make no apologies, maybe even double down, go on the offensive for once, because you know in your gut that capitulation breeds contempt, and the Catholic Church has been capitulating for decades. You’ve been played so many times, and finally, you’re ready to defend the faith in a way that actually works, and you want to give up because you know that those who actually have the authority to show strength are always going to choose the false high road. The mob doesn’t care about your civility or your compromises. The mob feeds off weakness, uses your inclination to charity, forgiveness, compassion to goad you into “niceness”, injustice, and indifference.
The story ends as you knew it would. Fr. Cusick left Twitter of his own accord. He wrote an article in The Wanderer explaining why. This part was telling:
The unfortunate turn of phrase, in which I implied that men’s chastity needed to be defended, was written with the best of intentions. In no way did I mean to say that men are not responsible for, or capable of, self-control. They are so capable and everything possible should be done to avoid implying otherwise. In the Church we have our own tragic history of failure to intervene and prevent crimes against the young and women. We must strive to ensure a consistent witness to the need to better protect individuals of all ages, especially children, from sexual predators. I always hope this goes without saying, but I am afraid we may not be there yet. Men and women both must exercise self-control and respect in their mutual relations.
Context is important. That was lacking in part due to the very limited number of words available for expression on that platform and my choice to not create a thread for expanding the discussion’s breadth. I was speaking only to the norms of dress within the Traditional Latin Mass community. I have absolutely no opinion on how women choose to dress. That’s their business. I’ve always felt that way. It would be very inappropriate for a priest to touch on that subject except in the one specific case I highlighted.
Here’s where I myself am tempted — tempted to qualify what I’m saying, tempted to remind everyone reading, and perhaps even Fr. Cusick himself, that I think he has done a lot of good for tradition and a lot of good on Twitter. That I’ve prayed many rosaries for him in this ordeal. That I’m not saying I know for a fact he made the wrong decision, that I’m not saying there is no instance where we are only casting pearls before swine, sorry if I offend, etc., etc., etc. Tempted to remind everyone that I’m just a little laywoman trying to figure out these situations one at a time, and that I may make a totally different call in a seemingly identical case.
So here’s what I’ll say, as though I’m thinking only of what God wants of me, what the truth is, because as much as I strive for that, we all know I fail more often than not:
Father Cusick, stop capitulating. Stop backing down from what the Church teaches, because you know as well as I do that a spiritual father has a responsibility to advise and to encourage modesty among the souls in his care, male and female, both in front of the Tabernacle and out in the world. Stop giving credence to this ridiculous media fabrication that the sex abuse crisis is primarily about children and not about post-pubescent homosexuals. Stop saying it’s up to the female parishioners at your parish to choose a dress code, when it is you who bring Christ to them. Stop furthering this ridiculous idea that women do not have an obligation to aid their brothers in chastity. In case you’ve forgotten, the answer to Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?,” is yes. Above all, I beg you, stop pretending that running from the cross is, or ever could be, good for the Church.
The mob isn’t going away, and I suggest we all start praying for moral courage and the fortitude to bear these little white martyrdoms. It’s only by God’s grace and Our Lady’s intercession that we’re not facing imminent red martyrdom yet. Somehow, I don’t think many of us will be staring down a firing squad with a defiant “Praise to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ” if we can’t even hold fast against a few bad days on social media.
Stefanie Nicholas is an unexpected Catholic convert from a (very lapsed) Greek Orthodox background. The history of the Crusades played a positive role in her faith journey, and she believes firmly that the Rosary will save the world. Readers can connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @StefMNicholas.