My few weeks hiking through the granite cathedrals of the Sierras also put our current ecclesiastical dramas in perspective. Doubtless, there’s plenty of malfeasance among the Catholic clergy, but God has made Holy Mother Church indefectible. We can’t sink this ship. One recalls Cardinal Ercole Consalvi’s moment with Napoleon in 1807. The undefeated emperor assured Pius VII's eminent Secretary of State that he would "destroy the Church." The Cardinal smiled. “Pas du tout, Emperor. Not even we cardinals have been able to do that.” Seventy-nine years after Consalvi's observation, Leo XIII asked all priests to lead a prayer to St. Michael after every Mass. God sends this mighty champion of His angels to protect the Church, and it is St. Michael the Archangel we celebrate today. We must have every confidence that God will preserve the Sacred Body of His Son, strengthened each day by His Sacred Blood.
My peace was a little compromised last week, however, at a catered luncheon. I was chatting with the Mexican chef, a likeable fellow who produced the finest quesadillas I’ve ever tasted. “I was in the seminary myself,” he said. “But I don’t practice the faith anymore.” And he told me why. Another student, who happened to be the Cardinal’s nephew, demanded that he perform a sexual act on him, threatening to have him removed from the seminary if he refused. He did refuse, and was dismissed from the seminary and, as it were, from the Catholic Church. I’ve heard this same sad story told many times by many different people.
Same-sex attraction is a cross many people carry, especially in the current culture of chaotic sexual saturation. Many carry this burden heroically, with great sanctity, but some allow this weakness to dominate them. The current culture promotes sexual sin, and many suffer the misery of social disorder because of it. The priesthood, in particular, is not for a man with this particular weakness, as the Catholic Church has clarified in a 2005 document from the Congregation for Catholic Education:
"In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “'gay culture.'”
In 2002, a “gay friendly” bishop asked his priests for their input. He was on his way to a meeting of American bishops in Dallas to deal with the newly-revealed cases of clergy sexual abuse. One priest said, “if the bishops don’t talk about the significant number of actively homosexual priests, you won’t have much credibility.” Many priests bravely made the same point to this bishop, but his response was the same for each one: stony silence. The subsequent bishops’ meeting in Dallas did not talk about it either. Instead, a fairly open homosexual, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was entrusted with drawing up a “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
“Where sin abounds,” St. Paul claims, “grace abounds all the more.” Two weeks ago, our troubled Catholic hierarchy beatified the Ulma family, all nine of whom were shot in 1944 for sheltering Jews. On March 23 of that year, Joseph and Victoria Ulma had six children and one on the way. They had taken in eight Jewish neighbors at the risk of their own lives, and sure enough, the Nazi police arrived that evening with guns drawn. First they shot all eight Jews in the head, and then shot the children’s parents, Joseph and Victoria, in front of their children and neighbors. Finally, the Nazi's shot the screaming children, and their bodies were dumped into a pit in the front yard.
All nine members of the Ulma family were declared to be of heroic sanctity on September 10, the first beatification of an entire family (and one of them an unborn child). The names and faces of their killers have been forgotten, but the heroic goodness of the Ulma family will radiate through history. Good has overcome evil, and will always do so. Long after the particular sins and disorders of our historical moment have passed, the brilliant goodness of the saints will be remembered. No matter how bad things get within the Church and without, the goodness of God will prevail.
So strive to be a saint. Since we can't sink this ship, let's sail it bravely. We can be sure that our little crew of willing sailors can find a path through the stormiest of seas. Let's all be saints together, like the joyful Ulma family, focusing our minds on God’s perfect order, and bending our energies to God’s perfect will. All the rest will pass.