As a 1998 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, I regularly get messages from classmates during the football season following a good win or a painful loss. This year’s poor performance against Notre Dame elicited the expected string of angry or bewildered texts, though Navy will still be favored over Army in this year’s edition of the “Army Navy Game.” With a win over Army on December 14, Navy would bring the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy back to Annapolis, and the angst over the Notre Dame loss will be forgiven, if not completely forgotten.
While most Academy alums are well attuned to the fortunes of the football team, there’s an issue currently playing out that is far more important than football. In October, a group of midshipmen associated with the Satanic Temple apparently requested permission to hold some sort of regular services on Academy grounds. Getting all the facts regarding the exact nature of the request and the Academy’s handling of the request is outside the scope of this article. One fact I do know for sure is that the IRS recognizes the Satanic Temple as a tax-exempt non-profit, the same as the Catholic Church. It is with this one fact that this short essay is most concerned.
Priest, writer, and retreat master Father Jean Lafrance once wrote that “a God who is not adored is not a true God.” For the past several decades, and perhaps even longer than that, Christianity as a whole has devolved to such a degree that Jesus is now just a Santa Claus–type figure: a nice guy, a historical reality, but hardly divine, hardly the Son of God. Sadly, much of this “nice guy” persona is pushed and promulgated from within our own Church. When the sacraments are belittled by refusing to acknowledge that there are prerequisites involved in their reception, the Church bolsters the idea that Jesus was merely human, and certainly not a divine judge. When the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is discussed as a miracle of “sharing,” Christ becomes nothing more than a guru. When Christ told His disciples on Holy Thursday that one of them would betray Him, Judas responded with, “Is it I, Rabbi?” As Archbishop Sheen liked to point out, for Judas, Christ was not Lord; he was merely a rabbi, a master, a teacher. Of course Jesus was those things, but He was also so much more.
By the time I attended the Academy, attending religious services was not mandatory. Not until recently did I discover that the year of my birth, 1973, coincided with a federal appeals court ruling that declared that mandatory chapel attendance was unconstitutional. Nineteen seventy-three brought us Roe v. Wade as well, and while that holocaust continues to haunt us, the Academy’s mandated course change is being felt in other more subtle ways. As T.S. Elliot once wrote, “no culture has appeared or developed except together with religion.” I would suggest that while Elliot’s point is largely true, the absence of true culture is culture nonetheless, and it has left the Naval Academy, and almost every other institution like it, unmoored.
The Satanic Temple is often confused with the Church of Satan, and while both groups seem annoyed at this confusion, the similarity in nomenclature is bound for confusion, one of Satan’s hallmarks. While this is not an overview of these organizations, readers should know that the Satanic Temple’s website claims that not only do its members not worship Satan, but they actually don’t even believe in him, or anything supernatural. To the Satanic Temple, Satan is presumably a metaphor for rebellion, and as such, he represents personal sovereignty. Quite simply, the “non serviam” that preceded Satan’s fall is, for the Satanic Temple, the loftiest of ideals.
As the “Prince of Lies,” Satan has mastered the art of deception, so the Satanic Temple’s website, and its leadership, publicly puts on the façade of pure secularism. Going to the Satanic Temple’s Twitter feed reveals a very different picture, though. From black Masses to erecting statues depicting Satan, they are far more than just a secular organization, and the practices of the Temple’s members are hardly benign and relegated to the realm of “study,” which is presumably all that the midshipmen affiliated with the Satanic Temple asked of Academy officials.
The Academy’s capitulation to this group in early November is hardly surprising. To be fair to the Academy, it is only acting in accordance with Department of Defense directives, as the DoD has for years been giving wiccans, humanists, and atheists equal footing with the Catholic Church and mainstream denominations. To go a step farther, one has to probably forgive the DoD for these missteps, as the Vatican has been playing nice with pagans for decades, seemingly “talking” or “studying” them into conversions that seem never to actually happen.
Satan apparently learned a while back that inside jobs are much more effective than frontal assaults. The 1973 court decision that declared mandatory religious services unconstitutional reached the court via a disgruntled midshipman who apparently wanted to sleep in on Sundays. He teamed up with an equally disgruntled cadet at West Point, and eventually, they got their wish. One can easily see the same thing happening within our Church, as dissident priests with unorthodox views are too many in number to mention here.
While the challenge of living lives in accordance with the Gospels has always been daunting, our times do seem to be unique, at least in terms of the speed with which change and contradiction seem to be coming at us. Confusion reigns, as what was a vice yesterday is today a virtue. It probably goes without saying, but I’ve not gotten a single text or e-mail from Academy classmates or alums about the Satanic Temple’s presence at the Academy. For most of them, I suspect it’s a non-issue, likely due to the fact that the God of their ancestors has been diminished over time, as their own accomplishments have grown. While many of them would likely still call themselves Christian, this 21st-century Christ is more guru than God and is apparently okay with being put on par with Norse heathenry and Amazonian idolatry.
Below the Naval Academy’s main chapel, there is a much smaller chapel, Saint Andrew’s, where daily Mass is currently held. At least while I was there, a small “meditation room” just outside the smaller chapel contained a portrait of Navy chaplain Lt. Vincent Capodanno. Known affectionately as “The Grunt Padre,” Capodanno was killed in Vietnam in 1967, gunned down while trying to administer last rites to the Marines of his unit. Accounts of the battle and its aftermath revealed that Capodanno took 27 enemy bullets in the back. He would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor in 1969.
In 2006, Father Capodanno was declared a “Servant of God,” and in August of 2019, the investigation of a potential medical miracle involving a Florida woman was concluded by Church officials. While medicinal healings are always popular prayer requests, I would suggest that Father Capodanno’s intercession in the Academy’s current fight with Satan is a cause he’d be more than willing to assist with, should the beatific vision already be his.
All of the Academies continue to attract high achievers, just as the University of Notre Dame, Georgetown, and other Catholic institutions continue to attract Catholics. Perhaps none of these institutions has made a formal “deal with the devil” to ensure their continued earthly success, but rest assured: they’re all at least dancing with him.
Father Capodanno, you died honorably because you knew that the souls of young Marines were in jeopardy. Today, the soul of the Naval Academy is in similar jeopardy. Through your intercession, may it regain its rightful place as an institution dedicated to producing young people willing to serve their country by first coming to serve God.
John Schroder is a Naval Academy graduate and former Marine infantry officer. A wannabe computer programmer, he’s never published a word of software code, so he’s relegated to simply writing in English. Having sold his shares of a small software company in 2018, he lives in south Louisiana with his wife and five kids.