I recently received an email from someone I’ve known for quite a few years now. We’ve sparred theologically over that time, and I think it’s fair to say that we share a mutual respect.
He asked me, “What good does it do to publicly complain online? How is the mystical body of Christ built up by internet venting?”
And it’s a fair question. There is a real danger that comes when one crosses the line from alerting people to danger to delighting in scandal. This danger is intensified when it seems that only the tiniest minority of people see what you believe to be manifestly true. You wish to exonerate yourself. You want to provide examples. Every time you read a news story that confirms what you believe, you want to publish it and point to it and tell the world, “SEE??! I’VE BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU!”
Yes, it’s a dangerous game. But it’s one that must be played.
We live in a very public world. People with power have always been attempted to abuse that power. The only thing we can do to combat the abuse of power is to change the way the game is played. Power-abusers hide from the light. When I saw this quote yesterday from Elie Wiesel, it struck me as tremendously appropriate for our times:
I remember clearly the way the Legionaries of Christ would try to turn my own friends against me, or would warn their prospective recruits not to talk to me, because I had no qualms about revealing the abuses of power, the manipulation, the deceit, the corruption that I saw rampant in that organization — and this long before the depth of Maciel’s depravity was revealed.
I am reminded of that when I see the gag order filed against the parents of Justina Pelletier, forbidding them from speaking out about the medical abduction of their daughter by Boston Children’s Hospital. And when her father finally defied the order and went to the press, the power structure holding them hostage began to crumble.
There are a number of recent examples that one could call to mind on the geopolitical and ecclesiastical stage. The important thing is that we have reached a point of asymmetry in the historical distribution of power. The Internet is 25 years old this week. And it has changed…everything. People, no matter how small, have a voice. A voice that can be amplified exponentially when others catch wind of the truth.
The Catholic Church is no less subject to these new forces. There was a time, not long after the Second Vatican Council, when the bishops who wanted to suppress the Church’s ancient liturgy or desecrate her traditions could do so with impunity.
That time is over. This is an age of accountability. When something sacred is treated as disposable, when communities of believers are punished with forced allegiance to Modernist changes they have legitimately and prudently chosen to avoid, that’s a place where the light should shine.
I don’t know about you, but I want my Catholicism back. I want a Church I can be proud of, a Church that remembers what it believes in. A Church that doesn’t scandalize so deeply that it damages or even destroys the faith of its own members and makes no effort to appeal to those outside her bosom except when creating the false appearance that non-negotiable things have become negotiable.
If this isn’t the foretold time of apostasy, it must be the precursor. Pope St. Pius X warned us, with great urgency:
“[T]hey put into operation their designs for Her [the Church’s] undoing, not from without but from within. Hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain from the very fact that their knowledge of Her is more intimate. Moreover, they lay the ax not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibers.”
Fight back. Please. Don’t let the virtue of docility you have cultivated out of a love of God and His shepherds make your voice falter. If you care about your faith, stand up for it – not just against enemies outside the Church, but against those within. As Pope John Paul II always reminded us, “Do not be afraid.”
For some, this fight will come through contemplative prayer. For others, the living of their vocation in their homes, their parishes, or in the world. For those who can, for those with a voice, we should cry out. (For many of us, it should be some combination of the three.)
I am not advocating rash thought or careless speech, and I am certainly guilty of both at times. I am often angry when confronted with the “Devastated Vineyard”. I often fail to show charity when it is most needed. I will confess it to anyone: I am a wretched sinner. I don’t say this to burnish my rough edges with a facade of humility. I say it because I am so deeply aware that it is true, as are the poor priests who hear my confessions.
It’s not my place to judge souls, but I do feel an obligation to judge words and actions. Especially public words and actions. The Roman Catholic Church is perhaps the most scholarly institution in the history of the world. Everything she believes is written down for us to read and understand. There is no mystery concerning what she teaches. It only becomes confusing if one avoids this knowledge and listens only to those who are in ecclesiastical authority today. We are fortunate, however. If we are not the most literate generation of Catholics in the history of the world, we are very close. And because of technology, we have access to so much more of the Church’s wisdom and thought than anyone who came before us. We have the criteria to make comparisons. We have the tools to prudently discern.
We do not have the authority to make real, formal accusations of heresy. That is for the hierarchy alone — and we should pray that God will send us prelates who will speak the truth. But what we can do is point out the contradictions. As Chesterton said, “The only sin is to call green grass gray.”
The Church’s guarantee of indefectibility is not a guarantee of general orthodoxy. It is not a guarantee that most of the Church will not fall into heresy and decay. It is a guarantee of survival, by whatever margin Our Lord wills. In this respect, I can’t help thinking of Abraham pleading for Sodom: “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” Is that enough? How many faithful are required for the Church to remain standing at the time of judgment?
There’s too much at stake. I won’t take it quietly. I can’t.