I’ve got to say something no one in this church wants to hear, but better to hear it from your pastors than from people with little love for the Church. The grand jury report from Pennsylvania, exposing the criminal practices of our bishops over seventy years, was very bad, but it will pale in comparison to what grand juries will uncover in places like New York and California. My good sister-in-law, who converted to Catholicism 20 years ago, a dedicated and active Catholic, tells me she feels at the edge of leaving the Church. But in fact most Catholics in our country have “left the Church” years ago. Although they still check the “Catholic” box on census forms, most Catholics don’t do the one thing necessary to be Catholic, which is to receive the Holy Eucharist at Mass every Sunday. Practical atheism is the real scandal, and the essential crisis, of our Church. If Catholics had actually been practicing our faith in greater numbers, we would not have permitted such widespread criminality within our clergy.
Last week Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, said that the crimes of his predecessor, archbishop Theodore McCarrick, are not a “massive, massive crisis.” Think about those words for moment. The archbishop of Washington , where less than a quarter of Catholics even come to Mass, where the archdiocese covered up the archbishop’s crimes against children, blithely says we don't have massive problem. His own words convict him. We may be seeing the end of the episcopacy in this country as we have known it, and the end of the Catholic Church in America as we have known it. And let us hope so; let us hope that deep conversion is finally coming to our Church.
God will use the government as a scourge to reform the institution, because neither the Vatican nor the bishops nor the laity have been able to make significant progress since the scandals of 2002. I was talking about these things to some good Catholic men yesterday: Knights of Columbus, who attend Mass every Sunday, who serve the Church. They are graduates of Catholic education who have put all their kids through Catholic schools, and yet they are still either unaware or in denial of the current situation. How can we not be aware that Rome itself is exceedingly corrupt at this time? But the time of reckoning, of public and civil accounting, is coming. It has already come to Pennsylvania, and it will come to the Archdiocese of Washington. It will come to California, and I can only say: let it come. The filth and crimes that have lain hidden in our Church must be exposed.
Come and Eat
That’s pretty bad news, but the good news is that Jesus is forever Lord. He has not ceased to shepherd his Church, despite the grievous failure of our pastors. “Wisdom has built her house,” we hear from the Book of Proverbs today. This wisdom became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, who has indeed built his Church. “Come, eat of my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Forsake foolishness.” The Lord Christ offers his bread, “and the bread that I will give” he says in today’s gospel, “is my flesh.” The double lives of many clergy, the homosexual acts of many priests and bishops, the hypocrisy and infidelity to their vows, the vile crimes against children, the financial dishonesty to cover them up—all of this comes from refusing to eat the flesh of Christ in faith. Infidelity to the Mass and to the Eucharist has brought the Church to he knees, and she is kneeling to a false god. We have trivialized the Mass, reducing it to a kind of cheap birthday party with balloons and clapping; we have refused to confess our sins and do penance in preparation to receive Christ’s flesh. We have forgotten our essential identity as Catholics, which is the Sacrifice of the Mass. And every filthy and criminal thing has made its way into the Church because this fundamental infidelity. “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood,” our Divine Lord says in the Gospel today, “you have no life within you.” The good news is that we can return to the Holy Eucharist at any time, and many are choosing to return.
Prayer and Fasting
Our Archbishop wrote a letter last week addressing these issues, which he asks to be promulgated in the parishes. I will read a part of it:
“My Dear People of the Archdiocese of San Francisco,
“The recent reports of episcopal negligence and malfeasance in the face of clerical sexual abuse, coupled with some reports of bishops themselves guilty of sexual predation, have reopened old wounds and inflicted new ones on victims, their families, the Catholic faithful at large, and indeed, the larger society…. While attending to policies and procedures is necessary, by itself it is really superficial. What is called for at this time is penance in reparation for sins against faith and morals.…
“Last year, in response to a request from some of the faithful of our Archdiocese, I consecrated the Archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This was on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of our Lady at Fatima. At that time, I asked our people to live this consecration by observing what our Blessed Mother asked of us there. I now ask our priests and people to engage in prayer, penance and adoration as an act of reparation for sins against chastity and the reverence due to the Blessed Sacrament, in accordance with our Lady’s wishes.
"I repeat here what I asked of you then, and implore you even more earnestly to join me in: 1) Praying the rosary daily – and for families, to pray the rosary as a family at least once a week; 2) Practicing Friday penance by abstaining from eating meat and one other additional act of fasting (e.g., another form of food or drink, or skipping a meal); 3) Spending one hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament at least once a week….
“While I pledge to attend to policies and their observance, we all must be engaged at this time on the spiritual level. Without prayer, penance and adoration in reparation for the horrendous sins rampant in our Church for very many years now, any efforts of the temporal order will be meaningless.”
Not a Public Relations Problem
The Archbishop of San Francisco is not treating the McCarrick scandal and Grand Jury Report as a public relations problem. While policies and procedures are necessary, they do not address the root problem, which is spiritual. It is becoming clearer that the Church in America is gripped by a personal force of evil that loathes innocence and purity. “This kind of evil,” the Lord said, “can only be driven out by prayer and fasting.” And I can say from personal experience that Archbishop Cordileone is the first to pray and to fast for the sins of his Church. At weeklong clergy convocations, when I go the small room in which is reserved the Blessed Sacrament at the conference center, the Archbishop is already kneeling, at 6am, before the tabernacle.
I have noticed he rarely drinks wine at dinners and takes little food. He is always happy to pray a rosary with me in his private chapel, even though I suspect he has already prayed his rosary. He witnesses that a shepherd must goes ahead of his flock in prayer and penance. Only the Body of Christ can save us. Let us follow our good bishops in faithfully receiving that sacred Sacrament.