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LONG ISLAND, NY: Catholic Priest Reflects on his Church's Betrayal of the Faith

LONG ISLAND, NY: Catholic Priest Reflects on his Church's Betrayal of the Faith

VOL NOTE: My wife and I have known Fr. Joe for more than 20 years. We got to know him through the late Auburn Traycik, editor of The Christian Challenge magazine. I quickly learned that Fr. Joe was very knowledgeable about Anglican issues, and had been following the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the Episcopal Church for more than 30 years. He became an invaluable source of information on a number of issues, news leads and tips.

"This is a stunning betrayal of all that you must hold near and dear. My prayers are for you as a priest, ministering in the midst of knowing all this. How do you, dear friend, move forward?" -- David Virtue

By Fr. Joseph Wilson
Special to Virtueonline
September 13, 2018

Well, actually, while I can see why people are completely appalled by these things, to me they are not very surprising at all.

You see, I made my First Holy Communion at the age of seven, in May, 1967. It was the great Springtime of Renewal in the wake of Vatican II. I then proceeded to watch the dissolution of the Church, a spectacle which is still going on. So much of the way we were taught -- right through seminary to ordination -- was focused on reacting against the traditional ways of the pre-conciliar Church, and emphasizing how much better things were since The Council.

For example: the old Church was very much hung up on sex, preoccupied with it. Actually, ya know, the sexual sins are not the worst ones. Dante, ya know, judged them rather leniently by putting those sinners in a higher ring of hell than sins of malice and envy and betrayal.

This was very much a refrain, a mantra, as presumably well-meaning people tried to relieve us of (o horror!) Catholic guilt. The sexual sins -- fornication, masturbation, even eventually homosexual practice -- were not nearly as serious as we had thought.

I often looked back on my memories during the year 2001, the Boston scandal having exploded, as we were hearing the stories of the horrific psychological effects of sexual abuse on victims. Life-long depression, inability to create relationships, suicide... Somehow, the sexual sins no longer seemed trivial. Maybe the Tradition (and Scripture! See Romans Chapter One) was wiser that our updated seminary paperback theology. Maybe sexuality is so integral to our being that misuse of it really does grave damage, and is a very serious sin. After all, a higher ring of hell...is still hell.

A friend of mine, a lay theologian, said something wise to me once. It went something like this (I wish I had his exact words): Years of observing the situation has convinced me that at its core this has all been about sexual autonomy. That has been the (at first) unspoken goal. Oh, you can revise the liturgy and put it into English, and try new approaches to catechesis, and take Religious Life and Seminary formation and Marriage preparation and try to breathe new life into them with approaches maybe more suited to today -- but you can do this without trashing a two millenia liturgical tradition, and damaging and destroying institutions, and denigrating and ridiculing what was sacred to your grandparents. At least, you can if your goal is not to eliminate uncomfortable reminders that your real goal, sexual autonomy, might not be such a good idea after all.

Henry Sire, the author of "The Dictator Pope," wrote another wonderful book, "Phoenix from the Ashes," in 2015. He examines ten crisis moments in the history of the Church, and then turns to examine this post-Vatican II moment in light of that study. He recounts how the inroads of liberal Protestant thought into the Catholic Church led to the Modernist crisis of the twentieth century; how the theologians affected by that waited for their day. How Paul VI handed over the machinery of the Second Vatican Council to liberal European intellectuals, who were ready to remake the Church into an image acceptable to the prince of this age.

Everything went wrong after that. In the thirty years following Vatican II the Church in this country lost 66% of her worshipping Faithful. At least. The liturgy of some sixteen hundred years' organic growth was revised over a couple of years by a committee which went FAR beyond what the Council Fathers asked for -- that central symbol of the Liturgy, which once affected directly almost everyone, got the "Scarecrow" treatment (you remember the Wizard of Oz. When the winged monkeys descended on Dorothy's group on the road, they took the Scarecrow's stomach and threw it here, and his legs and threw them there...). There were rampant liturgical abuses, secular music, vulgar homilies, irreverence...And the message went out -- if you could do that to the Mass, trash it and reshape it as you pleased, you could do that to anything; Religious Life, catechesis, seminary formation, Marriage, Family Life, Sexuality (aaaah!!) ...ANYTHING.

I have sometimes heard the argument that many of the priests who are known to have been sexual abusers, acted out in the sixties, seventies, early eighties and had been formed in the old seminary system. To this, I reply that if the 1940s-1950s American Catholic Church had really been as solid as it looked, it could not have collapsed as it did.

But even more to the point, the objection presupposes a static personality. Your priest ordained in 1959 did not carry his training and personality through the next forty years unaffected by what was going on around him. He was affected by the turmoil of the sixties and the confusion of the post-conciliar changes as they were going on. No one was prepared for this (except those who had planned and executed the confusion). Amidst the confusion, whatever else was going on, priests and laity were getting a message: Everything you thought was immutably true is up for grabs.

So this really is no surprise to me at all. The Church took a wrong turn in the 1960s. The results have been catastrophic. Stubbornly, I would even say psychotically, we insist on ignoring reality and talking incessantly about renewal. Hundreds, literally, of once flourishing Religious communities have faced the fact that their institution is coming in for a sad landing. Dioceses which once ordained classes of thirty or forty priests a year are over the moon today if the Bishop ordains four. The once proud network of Catholic colleges and universities extending across the land is almost completely secularized, the presence of the Religious who founded the schools a dim memory, the students more likely to have seen The Vagina Monologues on campus than taken a course in Catholic Theology. The Catholic divorce rate is indistinguishable from that of society at large; mainstream cultural attitudes towards fornication and homosexuality are frequently encountered among Catholics.

Now, you asked how I personally move forward?

It really is not very difficult. I bless God for a solid Catholic upbringing thanks to good parents and really, really wonderful priest mentors when I was young. I was fortunate to grow up in a house of three Teachers (parents and grandmother), which was like growing up in a library, and encountering and reading Chesterton and Belloc and Mauriac and Cardinal Gibbons and Monsignor Knox as a youth, even before high school. Most importantly, to be raised to live in a relationship with the Lord Jesus, to glimpse the nature of His Church despite the Puff the Magic Dragon spirituality I encountered, to be devoted to His Mother. If you've encountered the spiritual works of Dom Columba Marmion, you're not likely to be too impressed by a paperback about butterflies coming out of cocoons.

Over this past Summer I began with great profit to read systematically through the wonderful writings of Saint Teresa of Avila, a great Doctor of the Church on the sixteenth century. We have spiritual works and many letters of hers, suffused with her lively personality. She founded a reformed branch of the Carmelite Order; her nuns would live very simply in small convents and focus on prayer behind their cloister walls.

She wrote a book on prayer for them called "The Way of Perfection", and at the beginning of it she says something so pertinent to our situation today that it startled me. Right at the start of the treatise she says to her sisters, Why do you think I founded the Reform? It is because of the state of the Church, those dreadful Lutherans up there in the North who are rejecting the Mass and the authority of the Church, the people who are confused, the courageous priests who are attacking the heresies... Women like us cannot go to the front of the battle lines, but we can found oases where Jesus can find welcome and rest and home in a world which has forgotten Him. And that is what our convents shall be, where we dwell with Him. This from a cloistered nun!

And there, she draws us right back to the one thing only that is necessary, doesn't she? We persevere in the place in the vineyard where He had put us, we watch, we pray, and look for the day when He raises up a Dominic, a Francis, a Teresa of Avila, and the renewal begins. We look for holiness, we try to open ourselves to grace, we try to make of ourselves a cloister for Him. The scandalous failure of our leadership really does not surprise me at all; most of our bishops are anything but leaders. When Mass attendance falls from 88% (1965) to perhaps 14% today (and clearly they are doing their damnedest, literally, to drive it lower) and there is no visible sign of concern let alone panic, but a constant chanting of the mantra age of renewal over fifty years; no question raised, Can we have done something wrong???, it's hard to take them seriously. There is a great gent named Frank Walker who runs the invaluable canon212.com blog, covering the crisis in the Church (a must read every day twice a day at least), who startled me out of my wits recently by quoting something I said in, I think, 2004 in an article: "Watching the bishops' conference in action is like viewing the film of a train wreck over and over again. With bright-colored clowns hanging out the train windows, waving and blowing kisses. One only wishes one had a tomato." That about sums it up.

And as for the Pope, well, traditional sorts of Catholics like me undoubtedly have had a tendency to exaggerate the place of the Pope in our piety. We had a string of good Popes for decades back there. We should love him, and pray for him, and be grateful for the service he performs for us as the servant of the unity of the Church when he actually performs that service, but I could never deny that his public ministry has troubled me, I think he has sown a great deal of confusion, and I think of the lament of dear Bishop John Allin, whom you knew, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church during the confused times of the 1970s, who at the end of his life thought of how he had worked harder at holding things together than attacking false teaching, and he said, I have loved the Church more than the Lord of the Church. Allin was a lovely man and a firm Christian, and that single line was probably the best sermon he ever preached. To love the Church more than the Lord of the Church -- a sound, timely warning. I look to the voice of the Lord Jesus in Scripture and the teaching of His Church, I look to the writings of His saints... more than I look to papal press conferences on airplanes.

But look at everything I have been given: the grace of Baptism, my daily Mass, the daily Liturgy of the Divine Office, the privilege of absolving sins, knowing the Gospel, preaching the Gospel, pointing the way to the Lord Jesus, encouraging others to strive for the Kingdom, the incredible, astonishing riches of the Catholic spiritual tradition... All of this a gift, given by the Lord Jesus, through His Church. And how often have I read the stories of His saints who lived in troubled times and admired their witness -- isn't it a privilege to live for Jesus in such times?

Well, it looks like we do today. This is not really a surprise at all. And that is why I am prepared. In my left trouser pocket are my rosary beads; in my right cassock pocket, a tomato. Always ready.

Catholic Priest Reflects on the Beauty of the Anglican Mass -- Fr. Joe Wilson
Anglican readers will love this piece by Fr. Joe.https://tinyurl.com/y9ghbfmy

Fr Joseph Wilson has been a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn for thirty-two years, engaged in parish ministry. Among his side gigs, he became well acquainted with Anglicanism, wrote for several Anglican conservative journals, and has been a friend of David Virtue for years. This article responds to a note from David about the current state of the Roman Catholic Church.

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