“Red-pilling” is a metaphor that has caught fire in the traditional Catholic world in the last year. It is drawn from the movie, now almost 20 years old, The Matrix. The main character, Neo, is given the choice to see the world as it really is – a reality he intuits but cannot yet perceive. Neo is offered a blue pill, which will allow him to remain in the bliss of ignorance, or he can choose the red pill and see the fullness of reality beneath the veneer. As he reaches for the red pill, Neo is told, “Remember, all I am offering is the truth – nothing more.”
Twenty-eighteen is the year that many Catholics, myself included, have taken the red pill and come face to face with the truth – the cold, hard reality of the situation in the Church. For many of us, fidelity to the Church meant allegiance to the hierarchy and a blind trust in the goodwill of their motives, no matter how difficult they may have been to explain. But the Summer of Shame and its accompanying intrigues have torn off the blinders and opened our eyes to a real and present danger in the Mystical Body of Christ.
Awakening to reality has been liberating inasmuch as it has galvanized our desire to be a force for change and to bring others to enlightenment. It also bears some bitter chagrin. Namely, why was I oblivious to the warning signs that have been in plain sight for the last few decades? It is worth sharing some of the prophetic sources, whose clarion calls went unrecognized by a large number of Catholics, with those who are still choking on their blue pills.
The first is from an unlikely source in the mainstream media: PBS Frontline and its February 25, 2014 report, “Secrets of the Vatican.” This episode is as relevant today as it was almost five years ago and anticipates all of the hotly debated issues from the 2018 crisis. It delves deeply into the homosexual culture in the clergy and the Vatican, including undercover footage of sex parties involving priests, and the active cover-up of sexual abuse. Regarding instances of sexual abuse, an interviewed psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Kafka, hits the nail on the head: “People who abuse adolescents, post pubertal children if you will, they’re more likely to reflect their own adult sexual orientation in whom they victimize.” Considering that roughly 80% of abuse cases involve post-pubescent males, Kakfa might as well say the Church is facing a crisis of homosexuality, not pedophilia. And no, this is not an issue of clericalism.
While most Catholics had not heard the name Viganò before 2018, Archbishop Carlo Viganò was featured prominently in the Frontline piece as a serious reformer of Vatican finances and the governance of the city-state. Viganò is claimed to have uncovered corruption in every department of the Vatican and implicated Cardinal Bertoni in a conspiracy to undermine his reforms. An investigative journalist has this to say about Viganò: “The mistake that Viganò made was the fact that he asked the Pope to make a choice, ‘me or Bertoni’; no one in the Vatican can speak to the Holy Father in that way. Viganò lost.” If Viganò is portrayed as a great crusader against corruption, who is willing to speak truth to power, even to Pope Benedict himself, then why all of a sudden in 2018 is Viganò an arch-conservative who is trying to take down Francis’s papacy for political reasons? The Frontline story lends serious credibility to Viganò’s charges against Francis and the hierarchy in the McCarrick case and solidifies his bona fides as a reformer of goodwill.
For part of the explanation of how we got to this place in the Church, we need to go back another decade to Michael Rose’s book, Goodbye! Good Men. The saying goes that one reaps what one sows – a fitting metaphor for seminary. From the Latin semen, or seed, the seminary is literary the seedbed for the growth and formation of spiritual shepherds. Rose’s book documents how for the better part of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s seminaries uprooted and tossed in the compost bin those seedlings that showed true promise for upholding the traditions and teachings of the Church while mutant and malformed plants were nurtured to bring “progressive” change to the Church.
I myself was in the seminary for an extended stint within the last ten years, so I am surprised that this book was not on my radar. Luckily, my seminary experience was an education in orthodoxy, so I would likely have been inclined to dismiss it as inconsistent with the current reality of seminary in the Church. But the revelation of scandal at St. John’s Seminary in Boston in the last year has shown that these problems still exist. Rose’s work documents a systematic effort in a broad swath of seminaries to tolerate and excuse homosexual and aberrant behavior while weeding out seminarians who objected to the licentiousness of their brothers for being “rigid” or dogmatic. Seminarians who sought to nurture their spiritual lives through traditional piety such as praying the rosary or promoting Eucharistic adoration were viewed with suspicion or even forced to endure psychological evaluation for their antiquated devotions.
If, for three-plus decades after Vatican II, seminaries pumped out priests who ascribed or submitted to the heterodoxy that was in vogue in seminary classes or were allowed to persist in morally questionable behavior, is it any wonder that the character of our clergy is in question or that so many dioceses are led by abysmal shepherds? One of the roots of the crisis in the American Church stretches back many decades to the malformation that the current leadership of the Church received in their seminary training.
Finally, even before the turn of the millennium, Malachi Martin seemed to be on the blood trail of the carnage in the Church, which Goodbye! Good Men and the Frontline documentary would later expose. In his novel, Windswept House, the “Slavic pope” sends the two main characters on an undercover mission to the United States to investigate the primary problems plaguing the Church: a homosexual network and satanic infiltration. The existence of a homosexual network is beyond dispute, but Satanism within the Church? Are we now in the realm of tinfoil hats?
I have not seen any documentary evidence of active Satanism in the Church, but I think all would agree that there is something deeply diabolical about the sexual abuse of minors and seminarians and that the Church is under attack by the forces of evil. In Martin’s novel, all of the evils in the Church stem from a Satanic ritual at the opening of the book in which the Church is essentially consecrated to the devil. This may seem beyond the realm of possibility but James Grein, one the victims of McCarrick’s predation, said in his most recent interview with Dr. Taylor Marshall, without getting into many details, that regarding diabolic activity in the Church, “It was prevalent.” In this era of the red pill, it is unwarranted to rule out any plausible hypotheses that might explain the present condition of the Church.
Martin’s novel is historical fiction and the astute reader will quickly identify and locate his characters in the late twentieth-century Church. The benefit of reading Martin’s work almost 25 years later is that the puzzle pieces fall into place as one looks at the portrait of the current Church in crisis. Windswept House presents a Curia and a body of bishops in revolt against the Slavic pope, actively working to undermine his agenda. In response, the reader finds a pope who is willfully impotent in halting a progressive program being advanced under his nose. If what Martin describes is an accurate depiction of the Church during pontificate of John Paul II, then one can begin to understand how the rot within the Church was able to fester even under the direction of popes widely perceived as staunchly orthodox.
This is a short sampling of works that have clarified in my mind how we arrived where we are at today, and that I wish I had been attuned to sooner. But better late than never. My hope is that they may be shared with those who are still swallowing their daily blue pills. As Morpheus tells Neo, “No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.” Our hope lies in an ever growing number of Catholics who want to see reality for themselves, and then do something about it.
Shane Ball earned a B.A. in political science from Loyola University in Maryland and completed graduate studies in theology at both Franciscan University in Steubenville and the Pontifical College of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome. He was also a seminarian at the Pontifical College Josephinum for over two years, where he earned a B.Phil., completing his thesis on St. Thomas’s distinction between essence and existence. Shane is married with children and teaches theology in the Diocese of Columbus.