Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York was interviewed on a national “news” program around Lent earlier this year because of the bafflingly breathtaking news that a mediocre football player had announced to the waiting world that he was a homosexual. Not one to miss an opportunity to
articulate the Truth that homosexual acts are instrinsically disordered and if one so acts he has committed a mortal sin which can lead to hell pander to the media and affirm the man in his sin, the happy Cardinal, Prince of the Church, leader of the Church in my neck of the woods, affirmed him in his sin by saying, “Good for him.”
“What would you say to him?”, the “reporter” pressed His Eminence.
“I would have no sense of judgment on him,” he continued with a perplexed look as if everyone knew already how he approved of this, “God bless ya. I don’t think, look, the same Bible that tells us, that teaches us well about the virtues of chastity and the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people. So I would say, ‘Bravo!”
Bravo? Good for him? God bless ya?
My heart sank, anger flashed and a sickening despair set in. The much ballyhoed “Francis Effect”, following the pope’s response to reports of homosexuals in the Vatican, where he declared that, as long as they were seeking God with a sincere heart, “Who am I to judge?” That vaunted defense of the Faith came earlier in the pontificate and has served as the rallying cry and justification for engaging in and supporting brazen, unrepentant and deadly mortal sins, giving free reign to those who deny sin, or refuse to acknowledge their own acts as sinful, or would openly like to do so, both for those in the world and particularly those within the Church who go to Mass when they’re in the mood, or it’s not inconvenient, and happily receive the Blessed Sacrament without making a confession since they were 10 years old.
Two weeks later an acquaintance came to visit. He’s a robust 70 and has been married for nearly 50 years. His wife is suffering from dementia and not doing well. He told me about his long-time friend who had died not too long ago, how the two men and their wives socialized regularly, and how he and his friend’s wife had always kind of flirted but never did anything. But something was there between them, they both knew. After his friend died, he had helped the widow, and things heated up between them. They began an affair.
It seemed to me that he was seeking affirmation from me. Now, he knows where I stand with the Faith, and I know that he’s a lapsed baptized and confirmed Catholic. He soon trotted out the various problems he saw with other Catholics and twisted that into the Church being wrong, as many people do. My standard refrain is that individuals may be terrible sinners and some of them may be leaders in the Church, but the Church is not wrong. Why does it somehow seem to score points with some people that the — shock — people in the Church are sinners? Isn’t that a big reason they are Christians? Isn’t that why we have the beautiful sacrament of Confession?
The Truth doesn’t change just because Catholics also sin, and we used to be taught that we are to hate the sin but love the sinner. One thing I am confidant about is that for 2000 years sinners have always made up the majority of members of the Church, darkening Her doors, seeking help, forgiveness, courage and strength to better themselves, the healing of the Sacraments, and right worship of God, including me.
Despite my charge and commitment to speak the truth in season or out of season, I found myself silent as he continued to tell me about his affair. I could see the glint of real happiness in his eyes and heard it in his voice as he spoke.
“For the first time in my life,” he said softly, almost wistfully, “I am really in love.”
If he had come to me a month before and told me this, I would have bluntly told him he had to stop the affair, that he was committing adultery, that it’s a mortal sin and that he needed to confess because he could end up in Hell. While I could empathize because I knew his marriage had not been a smooth loving relationship, I would have told him that it still was wrong no matter what the circumstances were.
This happened right after Easter, which had been one of those intense spiritual journeys for me. A month before, I was primed to speak the truth boldly and unapologetically, but not any more when he came to me.
Then, and for months after, I could not speak up for the truth as the Church has taught for 2000 years, as Jesus and the Apostles proclaimed it. I still believed in that and had not rejected any of the Magisterium. But, with the sin-affirming comments of Pope Francis and Cardinal Dolan, as well as other prelates, burning in my mind and tearing at my heart, it had become glaringly and horrifyingly apparent that much of the hierarchy of the Church, those annointed and given the chief responsibility to teach the fullness of the Faith and to even die for the Faith, no longer believed most of it themselves, or did in a deadly Episcopalian kind of way.
As he talked, Cardinal Dolan’s and Pope Francis’ words rang in my ears, almost in a taunting manner. Immediately, I was struck by the similarity between his sin and the football player’s. Both were happy in their sexual “freedom”, both were acting on their sexual desires, both denied their sins, let alone that they are mortal sins, both sought affirmation, albeit one more publicly than the other, both needed to acknowledge their sins, repent, seek absolution, and both would lose their salvation if they died in that state.
And what is different about a man having sex with another man and an adulterer, other than in kind? Other than one is said to be a sin that cries out to Heaven, they are both gravely sinful acts that, unabsolved, will lead to Hell. Yet, one gets a public “Bravo” from my local Prince of the Church.
By my silence, I affirmed my visitor and he went happily on his way. I was thoroughly disgusted with myself for my failure, but more so with Cardinal Dolan for his, and also Pope Francis for his, because they put me in a position of being “holier” than a Cardinal and the Pope. How could that be?
I grew very angry, so angry, in fact, that I stayed away from Mass the next week, and then the next. Not only just me, but I kept my family from Mass. So, I committed a mortal sin, and made it worse by keeping my children from Mass. That’s the Francis Effect and the Dolan Effect. How many want to praise that? How many others were so distraught, disgusted, angry and in despair that they had done the same? The Catholic press and blogosphere that lauds the “Francis Effect” never addresses that effect.
After a month, I calmed down and went to confession, and tried to carry on, trying to convince myself that that they were both just muddle-headed and I misunderstood them somehow. Of course, the problem must be with me. Besides, in my parish, the priests don’t ever make such statements and they adhere to and love the Faith and that’s the direct contact with the Church I am very blessed to have.
Then, another bomb exploded nearby within a short time after this. I used to think that Church leaders, most of them and certainly the Pope, would still openly condemn adultery at least in a theoretical way, but then I read in disbelief that Pope Francis told a woman in Argentina in a phone chat that she should go to a church where the priest did not know her and receive Holy Communion, even though she was “married” to a divorced man. “A little bread and wine never hurt anybody,” her husband quoted Francis as telling her, a statement that he never denied, and still hasn’t.
It hangs heavy in the air, like a dark cloud over those who care to notice, and it leads to one logical and undeniable conclusion for those who can think. And then came the Synod on the “Family”, which is orchestrated by the Pope’s chosen brilliant Cardinal Kasper who gives us his deep theology “on one’s knees.” I’ll hold off on that for another time . . .
Well, I pray a great deal, often on my knees before the Eucharist. I don’t hear voices, see apparitions or claim that the Holy Spirit led me to anything that I was consciously aware of at the time. Often I leave with the same confusion but with a little more peace. But I keep pondering and something that has developed is a conviction that the Church has a long history, including heretical popes, bishops, priests, religious and laity, and has still endured, and that the Truths of the Faith have not changed. Heck, the Arian heresy that nearly encompassed the entire Church hierarchy was destroyed almost entirely; I can only imagine how I would have felt then. That perspective makes me realize that this part of Her history is a mere blip on the radar, that the Church is well able to endure this because She is built on the Rock and founded by Jesus Christ, True God and True Man. And we know how the history will end.
It’s my Church too, and yours. Warts and all, She is all there is and there is nowhere else to go. The Church and the Faith are truly and perpetually beautiful even when periodically some try to denigrate, obscure, throw pebbles, or pretend the Church and Faith are something else, particularly those in positions that are presumed to know better. But the allure of the world, its praises and platitudes can overwhelm us all, even when we do know better, and each of us knows it can be so easy to follow and want all that, so we must pray for them that they will wake up sooner rather than later. Yet, it is up to us to know the difference between what the world would want to have and what God has in mind.
So we study the Faith as it has been presented through the ages, and we cannot limit our knowledge and understanding to what a Cardinal says or a Pope spouts in a phone call today or last week or last year. Even more, we cannot be silent when they utter what amounts to blasphemy or half-truths, or calls to commit sacrilege. They think they can count on that, but we’re here and in many other places, to deny them that.
“Make a mess,” Pope Francis has said. And so I intend to and so we will, but it won’t be making a mess of what I think he intended. This isn’t 1968. Soon, the world will be acknowledging these other “Francis Effects”. Eh? No?