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The Disastrous State of Things

Looking out across the Catholic landscape, things are pretty grim.

We are losing this war.

I talked to someone yesterday who is close to one of the American seminary abuse scandals and helped bring it to light. “It can’t hold together much longer,” he said, then rephrased it as a question. “Can it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I thought that before. I thought it last year, and before that. And the zombie just won’t go down.”

I look at the efforts made. The filial appeal that garnered nearly 800,000 signatures, including hundreds of bishops and cardinals. The 13 cardinals letter. The Theological Censures against Amoris Laetitia. The dubia. The Filial Correction. The Fr. Weinandy letter. The Kazakh bishops’ statement. The Bishop Schneider essay on how to handle a heretical pope. The papal heresy open letter. The Declaration of Catholic Truths.

There are probably more. These are just off the top of my head.

Effort after effort, offered with respect for the papacy and in the spirit of filial humility and piety. All of it falling on deaf ears. None of it adding up to a single Gal. 2:11 moment, which frankly should have happened years ago.

The clear indication is that of the few prelates in our Church who see how deep the problem is, none thinks he has the power to change it.

And the rest are complicit.

Last week, the American bishops voted 194 to 8 with 3 abstentions to update their Catechism to forbid the use of the death penalty. The vote was secret, and the language hasn’t been published, but we were told by Bishop Barron that the goal is to “keep our treatment of the death penalty in the U.S. Catechism for Adults in alignment with the revised universal catechism.”

But that’s a huge problem. The revised Catechism paragraph reads:

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.

Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.


[1] FRANCIS, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, 13 October 2017, 5.”

In just a few sentences, we have the implication that

  • The Church was wrong in its millennia-old moral teaching that the death penalty is a licit recourse for certain crimes.
  • That the death penalty somehow violates the dignity of the human person, despite the fact that its permissibility was divinely revealed and magisterially affirmed.
  • That the sole purpose of the death penalty was to remove the harm from criminals who could not be adequately detained, ignoring the teachings of the Church on the retributive and expiatory value of this form of punishment (and also ignoring the practical fact that prison violence, murder, and rape are still a massive problem even in the first world.)
  • That capital punishment deprives those so punished of the “possibility of redemption” — as though Dismas, “the good thief” who was crucified next to our Lord, was deprived of the salvation he was promised by Jesus because he was put to death.
  • That there is no circumstance in which the death penalty is morally permitted. For it to be morally “inadmissible,” it must therefore be intrinsically evil, because there is no other moral basis to forbid it in any and all circumstances unless it is an exceptionless moral norm (cf. Veritatis Splendor 82).

All of this has led Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to declare, “With the clear and cogent clarification of the successor of St. Peter, there now exists no loophole to morally justify capital punishment.”

It seems it’s possible to find a cardinal who deals in absolutes. Just don’t ask him about Communion for the divorced and remarried, because there’s apparently a loophole there you could drive a truck through.

As the recent Declaration of Catholic Truths issued by three bishops and two cardinals indicates, however, there is a serious problem with these prevailing opinions on the Death Penalty:

In accordance with Holy Scripture and the constant tradition of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, the Church did not err in teaching that the civil power may lawfully exercise capital punishment on malefactors where this is truly necessary to preserve the existence or just order of societies (see Gen 9:6; John 19:11; Rom 13:1–7; Innocent III, Professio fidei Waldensibus praescripta; Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. III, 5, n. 4; Pius XII, Address to Catholic
jurists on December 5, 1954).

If you’re not familiar with the modes and exercises of the Magisterium, you should read up here. Suffice it to say that the ordinary and universal Magisterium is infallible. If it is true, as the evidence from both Scripture and papal teaching (and that of the doctors of the Church) makes clear, that “the Church did not err in teaching that the civil power may lawfully exercise capital punishment,” then to deny that it is ever permitted — that there is ever a circumstance in which it is morally correct — is to commit heresy. 

Feel free to check my math on that.

We can have a conversation all day about when and where the death penalty might prudently be applied. But to forbid it outright in every circumstance is, to use the words of Pope Innocent I on the topic, to “appear to act contrary to God’s authority.”

An all too common thing these days, acting contrary to God’s authority.

These suppositions are about much more than the death penalty. They strike at the heart of the very teaching authority of the Church, and they do so by means of a Trojan horse issue that nobody is particularly interested in hitching his wagon to. After all, who wants to be seen as a big defender of killing people, criminals or not? So people stand aside and let the attacks on the Magisterium continue.

So did 194 American bishops just do their best impression of the episcopal situation during Arianism? It sure looks that way.

And yet here we continue, just plodding along. Nothing will be done. Nobody will say a word. Just another Tuesday. Business as usual continues, because what choice do we have? The shepherd has been struck, and the sheep are scattered.

We have two men in Rome who are dressed as popes, and both are complicit. One promotes these errors, and the other praises him while refusing to raise his voice against the endless scandals.

They are both guilty, and nobody in the Church is going to save us.

The closest thing we’ve got to a human means of hope comes in the form of secular investigations into sexual abuse matters — investigations being performed by a hostile state that wants to compel the breaking of the confessional seal and see the Church trampled before it. That is how desperate we are to find an upside.

And even before the oncoming juggernaut of countless state and federal investigations, the bishops continue to act with impunity. The accusations and testimonies of Archbishop Viganò point to systemic corruption, but they effect little change. A diocesan employee contacted me today to talk about how much deeper this all goes than we realize, because people are still afraid to speak. He writes:

I appreciate the increase in ways for whistleblowers to come forward. However, everyone so far is missing a key point…**many** cannot come forward/whistleblow until they have new jobs. I know people who would come forward, but cannot. The people in control know who knows what and will mercilessly fire people right now. I know of one case where the bishop would not hesitate to fire +30 people even if there were an organized rebellion. Many also are single-income families, so being fired would be devastating. It’s no secret the Church struggles to attract good employees…one of the many long-term impacts of this is that getting good employees is only going to get harder. I just don’t yet have an answer how the larger community can help Church employees find new jobs though. I for one am actively trying to get out, but so far have been unsuccessful.

Even with all the dirt that has been uncovered, there’s so much more to come.

But are our shepherds focused on reform? No! Perish the thought. They’re all in on a celibacy-destroying, religiously indifferent, pagan-promoting Amazon synod document that says totally un-Catholic things like “Love lived in any religion pleases God” (#39). And how about this gem, from #87*?

Indigenous rituals and ceremonies are essential for integral health since they integrate the different cycles of human life and nature. They create harmony and balance between human beings and the cosmos. They protect life against the evils that can be caused by both human beings and other living beings. They help to cure diseases that harm the environment, human life and other living beings.

So basically, “pagan magic is totally great you guys.”

What in the actual hell is wrong with these people? The martyrs who ministered to indigenous pagan populations around the world and died horrible deaths trying to save them from damnation must be ready to rise up from their graves.

The bottom line is this: we’re way, way, way past the point in time where we can take anyone seriously who is still trying to offer an orthodox reading on what’s happening. These are not men who are merely misguided; they are destroyers, who have come in hatred of our religion to remake it according to their own designs.

And though we can see this plainly, our hands are mostly tied. The Church ain’t a democracy. We laity can agitate, we can complain, we can hold accountable, and we can pray and do penance, but we cannot do a damned thing about all the damned things that are happening in our Holy Mother Church.

We have to watch the horror unfold and bide our time. We have to live with unanswered — and possibly unanswerable — questions. I’ve not seen a single theory that offers any consolation. Not the idea that Quitty Quitterson (ahem, Pope Benedict, sorry) is still pope, not the idea that there is no pope, not the reality that this chastisement of a man in Rome is the actual pope, that offers any consolation.

We have to wait. We have to sit back and watch this imitation of Our Lord’s Passion unfold. We have to recognize that no matter how badly we want to tackle the soldier raining down scourges, this is a chalice God willed, and it will be drunk to the dregs.

And the world encroaches on us from every side, particularly this month, which should be dedicated to the Sacred Heart, tearing at us with the demonic teeth of the “pride” movement and all the perversions it has wrought. The long and angry march of evil through all the institutions has come very nearly to its inevitable denouement, and the Church not only does not defend us or offer us sanctuary, but actively suppresses our efforts to combat these evils, and promotes perverse and wicked men to positions of power within.

This is a moment designed to test your fortitude, my friends, because only if the Church is truly the bride of Christ, and thus, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones, will it survive the present trials. You have to keep believing it, for all else is darkness.

There is no way out but through. There is no human cleverness that can save us. We will not escape this suffering through some legal technicality. I’d love to tell you things are going to get easier soon, but I’m not a fan of lying.

We must grit our teeth, cling to our beads and the sacraments, say our prayers, and endure — and trust that He will make all things new.

* Translation by Jesús Flórez.

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