I join with millions of Catholics, who are disturbed by the growing division within the American Catholic Church. With apologies to Billy Joel, Keeping the Faith is much more difficult when many of our leaders, including the Pope, are mudding the clear waters of its teachings. This is a not new phenomenon but has been magnified by the audacity of the observant Catholic President of the United States, Joe Biden and several pro-abortion Catholic members of Congress over their right to receive the Blessed Eucharist.
The situation takes me back to the Summer of 1963 when I visited a college friend in Falls Church, Virginia. During my stay, he took me on a wonderful tour of Washington D.C. What I remember most was visiting the Capitol Building and getting a pass to sit in on a session in the Senate. On the way out, I ran into a Catholic priest. As we descended the long rows of steps, our discussion gravitated to my recent year at Holy Cross. I told him how I had been enthralled with the guest speakers we had that year, especially Republican Senator Barry Goldwater and theologian, Hans Kung. Before we reached the bottom of the steps, he gave me a motto that I held for years. He said I was conservative in politics and liberal in religion.
As I intellectually matured after college, I learned that the sides in my political binary were almost diametrically opposed. One almost had to accept one side or the other. I was still not without religious conflicts. As I have previously written on these pages, I was a pilgrim with one foot in the Church before Vatican II and one foot in the Church after the Council. My studies in history tell me Catholics can never go back to the way we were. But we do not have to accept the direction that many of our leaders have been taking us either.
With this as background, I accept the challenge with all who think as I do about keeping our Faith safe from self-immolation. Abortion and the death of innocence have always been a founding block in Catholic morality. Somewhere over the years, millions of Catholics have not gotten that memo. As the Courts did with Roe v. Wade, the politicians have turned abortion into a political issue. This has been the root cause of the deep chasm within our Faith.
Some may argue that the problem facing the Church originated over 50 years ago when St. John XXIII’s aggiornamento or updating of the Church, opened the window to cleanse the Church of its past rigidity and coldness. His successor, Pope Paul VI might have been right on the mark when he said that his predecessor’s Open Window policy let in the Smoke of Satan. Or perhaps our discord lies at the feet of the bishops, priests and teachers who have water downed the solid teachings of centuries of Catholic teaching. It seems that much of our modern Catechetics emphasize a feeling good about yourself brand of moral belief.
Since Vatican II, millions of the faithful in the pews have been disheartened to hear Joe Biden being called a devout Catholic, when his earnest promotion of the death of millions of the unborn belie that appellation. More surprising is the fact that many other Catholics resent Biden and his fellow recalcitrant Democrats being referred to as CINOS, or Catholic in name only. Unfortunately, this seems to be the consensus among many Catholics, who seemed to have bought the canard that Joe Biden is devout when his fidelity resides more in his near religious zeal for the ambiguous term social justice or whatever perversion, progressives are pushing at the time. A recent article for the Catholic Thing, written by Fr. Timothy V. Varerek, laid out the problem in bold language. The Church in America is in the midst of a controversy over so-called ‘Eucharistic Coherence.’ Pro-abortion Catholic politicians, who present themselves to receive the Holy Eucharist, create a public scandal. Perhaps the fact that 69% of Catholics do not believe or have never been taught anything about Jesus’ Real Presence in the Host might explain the routine thoughtlessness that apparently goes into their receiving Communion.
Another problem facing Catholics, regarding Eucharistic Coherence, is that the faithful have been misled for more than fifty years by contradictory presentations of the teachings of the apostles while Bishops remained virtually silent. The results have been chaotic. Father Varerek notes that the seminarians trained by dissident theologians beginning in the 1960s are now bishops and senior priests. For many years they and their dissident progeny often ran the seminaries, staffed diocesan pastoral centers, and held tenured positions at Catholic universities. Over the decades, the dissidents spawned doubt, confusion and disbelief while promoting a false, individualistic theory of conscience, which made morality and – by extension – the reception of Holy Communion matters of subjective opinion and discernment rather than of communal formation and discipline in the life of Christ.
While some Catholic teachings might lack an absolute clarity, it is difficult for me to comprehend how the mass slaughter of millions of unborn children, who fit every scientific definition of human life, can so easily be dismissed by faithful Catholics. It is akin to rationalizing the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide in the twenties in Turkey. The Pope has been absolutely unhelpful in this as he has cautioned the American Bishops to apparently end all the division by becoming more pastoral. The peace and unity described by the pope and several Cardinals and Bishops appear to me as very similar to the same fervent plea offered by Democratic leaders, whose radical agenda is largely responsible our political and cultural polarization. Their unity means accepting everything they have forced on the American public.
The Pastoral Bishops seem intent on punishing any dissenters. Take the case of Fr. James Altman, who has been removed from his ministry as pastor at St. James the Less Parish on the north side of La Crosse, Wisconsin after his Bishop, William Callahan, sought privately to correct the priest for his inflammatory, yet popular commentary on social media. The removed priest had made serious waves stirred for numerous public statements he made in 2020 and 2021 on politics, racism, feminism, and the coronavirus pandemic. In a viral video that was posted online Aug. 20, 2020, Fr. Altman said that no Catholic can be a Democrat, because of the party leadership’s support for abortion. This was just too much for Bishop Callahan.
This kind of pastoral hardball in a divided Church gives aid and comfort to the pro-abortion public officials who are making a mockery of the Church’s moral teachings on abortion. The Church would not be divided on this issue, were it not for the many defenders among the clergy, ready to defend President Biden. This is especially true of Cardinal Wilton Gregory and Father Kevin Gillespie of Georgetown’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church, where President Biden attends when in Washington.
Father Gillespie has often said that he had no qualms about giving the President Holy Communion, despite his unrepentant, radical abortion advocacy. He told the Jesuit publication America Magazine that the president is a man of faith, and I would give Communion to him like any other Catholic coming up for the Eucharist. Father Gillespie also said he helped craft the statement in response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ decision to draft a teaching document on the Eucharist that could rebuke pro-abortion politicians like Biden.
Most Catholics are in the dark. All we know is that according to the proposal, the statement will be addressed to all Catholics and would include the theological foundation for the Church’s discipline concerning the reception of Holy Communion and a special call for those Catholics who are cultural, political, or parochial leaders to witness the faith. This proposal was passed with 168 bishops voting in favor, and 55 opposing with six abstentions. It highlighted the serious tensions between the Church in the US and the Vatican. In quick response to this vote, 60 members of Congress sent what amounts to an Abortion Manifesto to the Bishops, defiantly defending their right to receive Holy Communion, despite their views on abortion.
In a column, published in the Denver Catholic, Archbishop Samuel Aquila chided this group of pro-abortion lawmakers for promoting the evil of abortion while professing to be good Catholics. Archbishop Aquila corrected the politicians for falsely claiming the bishops were weaponizing the Eucharist because of the teaching document they were going to draft. He said pro-abortion politicians cannot claim to be in communion with the Catholic Church while supporting abortion. A recent satirical cartoon online depicted a few irate Democrats confronting a priest, demanding Don’t deny us Communion! In response the priest said, pointing to a picture of a baby in a womb, Don’t deny them life!
Traditional Catholics, such as historian Paul Kengor are aghast at the audacity of these Catholic Democrats. In asserting its signers‘ unrestricted right to advance abortion as proud Catholic Democrats of the living Catholic tradition, it quotes none other than Pope John Paul II, who preached the Culture of Life and described abortion as murder. Their Abortion Manifest lectures the bishops on Catholic teaching and the real nature of the true Church. It uses the same logic and rhetoric that the Left has used to dismantle the living constitution and remove its reliance of the original meaning of the legal Bible of the American Republic.
While Pope Francis did not comment specifically on the measure, he had had previously cautioned against the politicization of the Eucharist. Communion is not the reward of saint but the bread of sinners, he preached earlier this month. Last month, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, Secretary-General of the International Theological Commission, wrote a letter to the US bishops cautioning that the vote could sow discord within the U.S. Church. The multitude of critics of the 168 Bishops, from the corridors of Rome to the sacred ground of Congress, have said that people opposed to abortion, were mostly conservatives who were lumped together with the pro-life bishops as single issue voters, and they had voted for President Trump.
The aside about single issue unveils what has really been behind Democratic and Vatican politics these past many years. Few have mentioned that the timeless seamless garment has been at the nexus of this issue from its very beginning. After most of us had thought that Popes, St. John Paul II and Benedict had effectively torn the seamless garment to shreds, it has been adroitly been re-stitched during Pope Francis’ papacy. The Seamless Garment was initially promoted, at least on the surface, as a symbol of a unity, designed to demonstrate the Church’s deep concern for all human life from the moment of conception to natural death. In the real world, it has caused friction, conflict and rift among Catholics. Its slogan lacks the vital word innocent, without which allows its advocates to condemn abortion and capital punishment in the same breath. To many of us, we saw Cardinal Bernardin and his disciples’ cozy relationship with Democrats as a cover for those who had adopted the Roe v. Wade as part of their party’s marching orders. Many of them, especially President Biden, have wrapped themselves in this blood-stained garment, like President Trump proudly wrapped himself in the American flag.
The Single Issue canard of the political and religious Left is nothing more than a smokescreen whose goal is to morally equate several issues under the pretense of a unity that blurs the gravity of abortion, euthanasia and fetal stem cell research while burying them among other human sustenance issues, such as housing, global warming, war, capital punishment and gun control. To think we are a one-issue Church is simplistic and a denial of all we profess by our baptism where the Church proclaims we are each made in the image and likeness of God. The protection of innocent life is the river that runs through the Church’s teaching on human life.
Pope Francis has consistently reflected the essential traits of the Seamless Garment throughout his papacy. He has continually sought to steer the hierarchy away from conservative politics toward a broad-based view of Catholicism that is focused on dialogue in the Church and with the modern world. He has repeatedly stressed economic justice and care for the poor without recognizing that capitalism has done more for the poor and disadvantaged than any socialist government, such as his Peru.
His warning that the Church has become obsessed with a few issues, such as abortion, contraception and homosexuality is reminiscent of Cardinal Bernardin’s Philosophy of Feelings. According to the late Cardinal, while innocent life may never be taken…attitude is the place to root an ethic of life. Attitude, or perhaps society’s Conventual Wisdom is usually secular and political in nature. As a result it easily lends itself to a moral relativism that levels the playing field to the common denominator of subjective feelings, which are always whimsical and ephemeral by nature. This is a feeble foundation for any life ethic and as Pope Benedict XVI warned us years ago, it can easily lead to a dictatorship of relativism.
To paraphrase President Lincoln’s House Divided Speech, I believe our Church cannot endure permanently half progressive and half traditional. I do not expect the Church to be dissolved— but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. In the 19th century, several Catholic leaders urged that the Church take a lead in proselytizing to our modern culture. One personal result was my initial fascination with Hans Kung that might have led me to be a liberal Catholic, a view I rejected years ago.
Of course there is no way to return to the Church before Vatican II. Few want that but we have gone from one extreme to another. We must weed out the detritus and save the new spirit of charity and love for all God’s sinners without sacrificing our moral structure that keeps the Faith intact and on its providential course. A Cole Porter style of Anything Goes is music for a disaster that will inevitably lead to the dry martyrdom of the teachings of the Faith. We cannot allow that to happen if we are to truly realize Bill Joel’s vow of Keeping the Faith.