It’s been quite a week. I’ve spent a good bit of my time clearing snow and not writing, but a lot of stories of note have hit my inbox. Here’s a roundup of the most significant ones I’ve seen:
- Five Cardinals Book stolen from participants’ mailboxes at last year’s Synod on Family (Fr. Z) – the importance of this story is not to be underestimated – nor is the Vatican’s denial that anything funny happened (despite rumors in Rome saying that postal workers were intimidated into compliance, and Fr. Fessio’s confirmation that the books were, in fact, shipped). Last year’s synod was a power-play by the heterodox faction of prelates in the Church. From what appears to have been a pre-written mid synod relatio document that pushed a deeply troubling agenda to the retention of its most problematic language despite the will of the synod fathers to the recent revelation by Cdl. Baldisseri (now the one accused of ordering the confiscation of the books) that Pope Francis was running the show, the synod continues to be the story to watch in the Church in 2015. We may be 8 months away, but the opposition is already heating up.
- Former spokespriest of the Basilian Fathers tells Cardinal Burke to “STFU” (Toronto Catholic Witness) – Fr. Timothy Scott, until recently the Media spokesman for the Basilian Order and Executive Director of the Canadian Religious Conference, fired off a nasty tweet in the direction of Cardinal Burke over his comments on faithful resistance. We won’t translate the acronym (that’s what Google is for) but suffice it to say it was a pretty jaw-dropping thing for a priest to say to a Cardinal. The dustup seemed to have been settled when word got out that Fr. Scott is no longer the spokesman for the Basilian Fathers, but CMTV revealed this morning that he was in fact removed from his post last July for (obviously) unrelated reasons. “As far as we know,” CMTV writes, “the Basilians have done nothing in response to Fr. Scott’s tweet.”
- Speaking of Basilians and unbecoming behavior, there are Basilians of reasons (yeah, I went there) to be bothered by the fact that Basilian father and proprietor of “Salt and Light TV”, Fr. Thomas Rosica, is suing Canadian blogger David Anthony Domet of Vox Cantoris. The stories continue to pile up about this case, and the threat is a shot heard round the world by Catholic bloggers as another heterodox synod showdown approaches. One blogger, at least, is throwing around the phrase “pontificate for thugs” based on the intimidation tactics now being employed. The examples extend beyond Rosica/Domet to Cardinal Wuerl’s salvo against “dissent” and the alleged civil settlement for defamation between Fr. Volpi, apostolic commissioner to the unceremoniously suppressed Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate and the Manelli family, who have provided the order with its founder and a number of other vocations. Fr. Volpi has responded in turn with a countersuit following the revelation of these details, which (I have been informed by a friend who is a long-time resident of Italy) is a pretty standard play in this sort of litigation in the Italian courts.
- The German bishops, under the leadership of Cardinal Marx, have been flexing their muscles in public, reminding anyone who will listen: “We are not just a subsidiary of Rome. Each Episcopal Conference is responsible for the pastoral care in their culture, and has to proclaim the Gospel as their very own office. We cannot wait until a synod state something, as we have here to undertake in this place marriage and family ministry.” In other words: “You don’t have to wait for schism, we’re already in one.” Someone needs to build a dam between the Rhine and the Tiber.
- Stateside, with the unilateral and unaccountable imposition of “Net Neutrality,” Catholic bloggers now have to wonder not just if they will be sued for standing up for the truths of their faith (and pointing out the heterodoxy of clergy in high places) but also whether their speech will be regulated by an unfriendly government. After the Communications Act of 1934, the airwaves were deemed a public utility, and thus the FCC was created to police them, requiring broacasters to obtain licenses and having the power to levy fines for content that fell outside the scope of that deemed to be in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Similar moves would have an oppressive effect on online speech, and considering the fact that Catholic orthodoxy seems to move closer every day towards being classified as a hate crime, this should be of concern to any of the faithful who publish or consume Catholic information online. Nonetheless, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City — the Communications Committee Chairman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops — issued a statement glowingly approving the move, as if it will ensure more freedom of speech online, not less.
These are only the most significant stories in play this week. Things are happening too fast to keep up. Looking at the information I’ve just listed, it seems the common thread is a sort of violence, a willingness on the part of those who should most closely resemble Christ to intimidate and bully and coerce others to let them have their way. In all of this, I see the reminders of Pope Benedict’s fears, expressed at the opening of his pontificate:
One of the basic characteristics of a shepherd must be to love the people entrusted to him, even as he loves Christ whom he serves. “Feed my sheep”, says Christ to Peter, and now, at this moment, he says it to me as well. Feeding means loving, and loving also means being ready to suffer. Loving means giving the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of God’s word, the nourishment of his presence, which he gives us in the Blessed Sacrament. My dear friends – at this moment I can only say: pray for me, that I may learn to love the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and more – in other words, you, the holy Church, each one of you and all of you together. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one another.
What wolves was he speaking of? I have suspected for some time that it was those warned about in the book of Acts:
“And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. (Acts 20:26-30)
Paul was speaking to the “elders” — the bishops — in Ephesus. But the passage, inspired by the Spirit of God, was not just for that place and time. God was warning the Church that “savage wolves” would come in among the bishops, not sparing the flock. That they would come “distorting the truth in order to entice” people to follow them. Is this not the very thing we are seeing unfold in the Church before our eyes?
I remarked to my wife recently how difficult it is these days to cover Catholic news and not get sucked into a cesspool of negativity. The Church is beautiful and glorious, and Christ’s love for us — as evinced through His passion, death, and resurrection — overcomes all. But at times like the present, one can’t help but realize that Christ’s promise to the apostles wasn’t just a guarantee or a transfer of authority. It was a consolation for the times that were to come:
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16:17-19)
We know who the victor will be in the end. We know the Church will prevail. We do not yet know how much she will suffer and endure before the end, however. The words of Thomas Paine apply now more than ever, if in an entirely different context: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” As we watch the events unfolding in the Middle East, we are reminded of the sometimes brutal cost of professing Christ. Within the Church, there will be no beheadings, but it seems that Christ’s teachings and those that love them are being treated with another kind of violence. Through the turmoil and confusion, souls will be led astray by the “savage wolves” posing as shepherds. Some will lose their eternal salvation.
For that reason, more than any other, we must fight on. Love God, love souls, pray, be faithful, and endure. That is our charge.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.