Usually, at the beginning of each year, I try to make a prediction about the road ahead. There’s no magic to it: it’s part pattern recognition and part intuition.
Last year, I said that I thought 2018 would be the year Amoris Laetitia faded into the background as the most significant battle for Catholics, while other, ancillary issues that AL unleashed would move forward. I speculated that it would be a year full of unexpected twists and turns. I also predicted that it would be the year the tide would finally turn against Francis in the court of public opinion, marking “the beginning of the end for Francis and Friends.”
For the most part, these predictions were near the mark. But speaking of unexpected twists and turns, what I could not have foreseen — what none of us could have — would be the atomic bomb that was the combination of the Theodore McCarrick revelations and the Viganò testimony. This quickly became the one-two punch that brought the momentum of the Francis Freight Train to a shuddering halt.
But now, as we look ahead to 2019, what do we see?
I don’t know about you, but my instincts are not registering anything. As I look ahead, I see nothing but the fog of war.
So in the absence of much actionable intelligence, here are my best guesses on the three biggest events we are aware of at present that will likely be milestones for the Catholic Church in 2019. Remember that others will almost certainly arise, and I expect, once again, to be surprised.
1) The February Meeting of the Heads of the Global Episcopal Conferences in Rome. This event, intended to address the issue of the global clerical sex abuse crisis, will take place from February 21-24. One of the organizing committee members, Father Hans Zollner, has described the problem the meeting intends to address as a “plague” – one that “does not affect [only] a single country and certainly not only Western countries.” Another member of the organizing committee, however — Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago — has become the unofficial frontman for the Francis Pontificate in the American Church. It was Cupich who interrupted USCCB head Cardinal DiNardo during his announcement at their November meeting that Rome had forbidden any vote on procedures to deal with abuse to express his support for the pope and say that “It is clear the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously.” Cupich was also reported to have worked with Cardinal Wuerl — now disgraced yet again after his denials that he knew about Theodore McCarrick’s illicit sexual activities were proven false — on an alternative plan for sex abuse procedures. With this in mind, there’s reason to expect that the meeting next month in Rome will produce underwhelming results, raising the specter of public outcry against the pope’s seeming disinterest in treating the abuse issue with the seriousness it deserves — especially after yet another of his appointees is being investigated for misconduct despite the pope having been warned of his behavior. This marks a pattern of behavior the global media is likely to no longer overlook, even though Francis has long been treated by them with kid gloves.
2) The Pan-Amazonian Synod This October. The title of its preparatory document — “New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology” — gives us some insight into the thematic material we can expect. The Church’s obsessive ecological focus under Francis continues to be a central theme, as evidenced by the opening paragraphs of the text. Key words and phrases here include “migrants and displaced persons,” “indigenous peoples,” “culture of waste,” “extractivist mentality,” “biodiversity,” “colonizing mentalities,” “multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious,” “networks of solidarity and inter-culturality,” and a host of other buzzwords that litter the text like a slurry of Leftist ideological detritus.
The document also praises the “diverse spiritualities and beliefs” that motivate the “indigenous peoples of the Amazon basis” to “live in communion with the soil, water, trees, animals, and with day and night.” We are also treated to sentences like the following: “Wise elders – called interchangeably ‘payés, mestres, wayanga or chamanes’, among others – promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos.” Expect a lot of lip service about “extensive exercises in reciprocal listening” to the pagan elements of the Amazonian culture, and ways in which proclaiming the Gospel somehow means recognizing the “social — and even cosmic — dimension of evangelization is particularly relevant in the Amazon region, where the interconnectivity between human life, ecosystems, and spiritual life was, and continues to be, apparent to the vast majority of its inhabitants.” (I wouldn’t hold your breath for much work on promoting actual evangelization.) Perhaps most offensive is the question posed at the end of the document, “What Church do we dream of for the Amazonia?” As though Catholicism should be molded and shaped to the whims of every culture and people, and not the other way round.
The real takeaway from this synod is going to be the way in which the “cry ‘of thousands of communities deprived of the Sunday Eucharist for long periods of time'” is dealt with. Bishop Athanasius Schneider said in an interview last year that this working document looks to prepare a path for the ordination of married men, and that if this happens, priestly “celibacy would de facto be abolished.” This is a topic 1P5 has covered extensively over the past year, and we are now forced to wait and see how it will take shape. It would also not be surprising in this context to see the issue of a female diaconate reappear, all in the name of addressing the shortfall of ordained priests in the region to carry out sacramental functions. Some even believe that the move to abolish celibacy will pave the way toward an attempt at a female priesthood. With such themes on the table, this synod is going to be one to watch.
3) The Sex Abuse Investigation of the Church Will Continue at the Hands of Civil Authorities. This is the one that many Catholics have hoped and waited for. As Beverly Stevens of Regina Magazine noted in an article earlier this month, it will be a “dark road ahead” with “dioceses responding to law enforcement investigating the Catholic Church in 15 US states and at the Federal level”. It isn’t going to end there. We have no way of imagining what will be uncovered over the course of the next 11 months, but the “dark road” continues into the forseeable future in the years to come. The Church will almost certainly lose ground and be forced to cede property as attacks on the Catholic religion as a save haven for predators increase. And the bishops will continue to lose the faith and confidence of the faithful.
All of this makes something a 42 year old priest named Father Joseph Ratzinger said in a 1969 radio broadcast seem all the more prescient. Ratzinger warned that “what will rise out of the depths, no one can see in advance,” and yet, he continued:
From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members.
Interestingly, he seemed to have anticipated — and perhaps even approved of — the situation being anticipated by the Amazon synod:
Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly.
And yet his understanding of what ails us, and what it will take to right the ship is hard to deny:
The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. To put this more positively: The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we are!
We Have Our Work Cut Out For Us
OnePeterFive was among the first in the Catholic media charge to repel the internal attacks on Holy Mother Church, fomented by priests and prelates rising to the highest echelons of ecclesial power, for nearly five years. Many others have since joined our cause. And now, in this much more robust company, we continue our work, attempting to always bring our unique approach to the issues and topics that are central to this unprecedented crisis in the life of the Church.
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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.