Francis has a lot of buffers.

The Catholic sex abuse scandal has two parts. The first part is the abuse itself. The second part is the institutional efforts to cover it up.

And now we are in the process of slowly, painfully uncovering these decades and centuries of crime.

This process is not part of the scandal.

The uncovering is dreadful. It is agonizing. It is, to use one of Francis’ favored words, messy. It’s always horrifying to witness the uncovering of hidden sin. But the uncovering is not part of the scandal. It is the remedy for the scandal, if there can be a remedy.

And yet Pope Francis, in his homily addressed to bishops today, said:

“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser’, as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse’. A bishop’s strength against the ‘Great Accuser’ is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”

This was not plucked out of context by some uncharitable, click-farming rag. It was chosen for publication by the Vatican news service itself. It is the Pope’s message.

In the past week, it seemed that Francis was making an effort to preach in ways that could possibly be construed as general pious reflections on scripture. But in today’s homily, he’s clearly referring directly to the scandal — or, more accurately, to the investigation of the scandal. He does not speak of the need to be more transparent. He does not speak of the need to repent, nor for the need to reform the Church. He does not speak of the horror of sin. He does not speak of the victims. Instead, he casts the bishops themselves as the victims — and some of the nine who advise him are themselves accused of covering up abuse.

Has Pope Francis spoken out about the abuse? Sure. He was more than willing to agree that terrible things had been done, and that some people ought to be very sorry indeed — until those accusations were turned on him. Then we heard that silence was holy, and that those who uncover sin are Satan.

I’ll say it again: Francis sounds like an abuser.

I am praying for bishops, and I am praying for the Pope, as he asked us to do. I am praying especially for those bishops who have been struggling mightily to show their flock they, at least, understand the profound horror we’re uncovering day by day, and that they want it to be uncovered. There are some good bishops. Some have been doing public penance. Some have called for independent reviews of their dioceses’ past, opening up records to the public and to the law. Some have demanded that the magisterium stop acting like this is business as usual and treat this scandal like the emergency it is.

And some have accused him of being part of the cover-up.

Are Viganò’s claims credible? I have no idea. I hope to God he’s wrong. And if Viganò himself is guilty, then he, too, should be investigated and prosecuted. But I keep thinking back to the courtroom scene in The Godfather II, where Willie Chichi tells the investigative committee, “Yeah, the family had a lotta buffers.”  If Viganò was part of the crime family that fed so many children and seminarians into the furnace, then that means he’s the one who knows what went on and how it was hidden. That’s how you get these guys: You get them to turn each other in.

So don’t trust accusers blindly, but listen to them. Look at what they claim, and find out for yourself whether it’s true or not. Open yourself to investigation. Turn over files. Uncover sin. Let the light in. Maybe stop calling investigators “Satan,” I don’t know.

Instead, the family closes ranks, and we hear absurdly tone-deaf assurances that Francis’ nine Cardinal advisors are in “full solidarity” with the Pope. I bloody well bet they are. The man has a lot of buffers.

***
Image by Long Thiên via Flicker (Public Domain)

Does Francis know he sounds like an abuser?

Shall I tell you the most charitable, least rash explanation I can muster for Pope Francis’ recent words and behavior? It’s that he’s surrounded himself with yes men who are shielding him from understanding the depth and breadth of institutional sex abuse and its cover-up in the Church.

He’s appointed, or left in office, no one but men who tell him that the world is chock full of false accusations, that the whole scandal thing is overblown, that it’s all in our past — oh, and that right now would be a good time to talk about litter in the ocean. The few who will tell him the truth, like Cardinal O’Malley, are so outnumbered that even their dire warnings can be dismissed as local problems.

That’s the charitable answer, and it’s not great. If he’s in a bubble that protects him from seeing the true state of the Church, it’s a comfortable bubble of his own making. The servant of the servants of God is not supposed to be in a bubble.

But the other explanation is worse. Here it is:

I have a number of friends who have escaped abusive marriages. They tell me that Pope Francis is sounding more and more like the men who abused them. He’s sounding like the men who hid that abuse from the world, who taught their victims to blame themselves, who used spiritual pressure to persuade them and their families that it would actually be wrong, sinful, to defend themselves.

Just listen to him. After responding to a question about Vigano’s very serious accusations, he said point blank, “I will not say a single word on this.” Several of the faithful speculated that he may have had this or that logistical reason for putting off responding to that specific question; fine. But for the rest of the week and more, he kept up an unmistakable theme of calling for silence, equating silence with holiness, and painting himself as a Christlike victim in his silence. Then he says it’s “ugly” to accuse others of sinning.Then he suggests that healing and reconciliation will only come if we take a hard look at our own flaws.

These statements are all true. They all reflect Christian thought. They would be reasonable at any other time in recent history. But coming right in the middle of our ongoing agony, they land as heavily as a fist on a bruise.

To the victims of the Church, and to those who love them, it sounds like he is saying, “Who do you think you are? I don’t have to explain myself to you. You’re the guilty one. You brought this on yourself. If you want to be loved, then know your place. I’m the victim, here, not you. If you know what’s good for you, keep your mouth shut.”

This is how abusers talk. They’re not content with power; they have to keep their victims doubting and blaming themselves constantly, so they don’t become a threat. Whether Francis knows it or not, this is how he sounds.

I know that we hear what gets reported, which isn’t necessarily everything he says. I know that the pope isn’t required to say everything we want him to say. I know that whatever is going on in our own diocese or our own country isn’t the whole of what goes on in the Church. I know that there are eternal truths that need to be told no matter what is going on in the current moment.

But even keeping all these things in mind, it beggars the imagination why the pope keeps talking the way he does. It’s clear he intends to keep on talking, despite his exhortations to be silent. This is what he chooses to say. The very best possible explanation is that his context is pure bubble, and he simply doesn’t realize that much of the Catholic world is transfixed with horror over the sins of the clergy. He simply isn’t aware that, with his words and with his silence, he’s turning his back on so many suffering priests and bishops, including my own, who tell their flock that they have not been abandoned — only to hear their spiritual father override their efforts with a huge, unmistakable message of “NOBODY CARES.”

Maybe he simply doesn’t realize that his cozy little aphorisms are coming off as a passive aggressive threat, as chilling as an abuser who smiles warmly at the world while secretly showing an open blade to the victim who stands faithfully at his side.

I do remember his gentleness, his compassion, his direct and sincere kindness in the past. I don’t believe that was false. You all know I’m not a reflexive Francis-hater. I don’t have any ideological reason to want to bring him down. I have defended him as long as I could, up until the Chile debacle.

And so I am working as hard as I can not to assume the worst, not to believe that this man who promised so much fresh air is really so intent on slamming doors shut before we find out even worse things hidden inside. But he is not making it easy. I am not saying he is an abuser. But he sounds like one.

You’re on the inside? Do your job or GTFO

There are a lot of reasons to hate the anonymous NYT op ed piece yesterday. As another NYT reporter points out, it now puts the rest of the staff in the position of trying to investigate a writer whose identity their own newspaper is protecting. It absolutely gives Trump and his paranoid minions more reason to believe the press is the enemy, which makes life more dangerous for reporters like my husband. And it’s just . . . squicky. It’s not how newspapers operate. Anonymity is for when the writer’s safety is at risk, not for when he wants to play Secret Squirrel and we’re all supposed to play along.

But the thing that bugged me the most was the craven abdication of responsibility. Whoever this “senior” person is, he’s inside the White House, he sees that our president is entirely unfit for the job, and even though he somehow persuades himself that it’s worth letting ourselves be drowned in a flood of dreck because a few specks of tax reform –– tax reform — might go swishing by, he acknowledges that “senior officials” are daily “working to insulate their operations from [Trump’s] whims.” In other words, he has a front row seat to the burning of Rome.

And his response to all this is to . . . stick around. To keep the status quo, because robust military! Less regulation! Hey, he’s not personally fanning the flames, so it’s not his fault! He’s doing his absolute best to pass little thimbles of water along to keep it from spreading even faster. God forbid we should do something drastic, that might precipitate a crisis of some sort.

He says he doesn’t want to pursue impeachment, because that would be a constitutional crisis. But what he is describing is the constitutional crisis. People scurrying around scrambling signals, stealing documents, and playing shell games with the leader of the free world like Bugs Bunny sticking it to Elmer Fudd? That’s your constitutional crisis, right there.

I’ve kind of washed my hands of politics. I did my best to warn people away from Trump, and it didn’t work, and I lost my job for my troubles; so I have mostly tuned out. But I got pretty upset when I read the NYT piece, and I know exactly why:

It’s the same stupid, self-congratulatory, ineffectual, grandstanding, self-immolating shell game we got from the USCCB. In case you haven’t noticed, the Church is in flames. In flames, and we faithful were begging our leaders to do something, or at least say something. Let us know you see how we are suffering. And for the love of Jesus, use the strength of your arm to put out the fire. Do something about the career arsonists who call themselves our fathers. Use your power and influence to do the right thing. You’re on the inside, so do something. 

Instead, they issued a couple of statements saying, “Don’t worry, everybuggy. We took a good look and we know things are super bad and that is super bad, but don’t worry, because we are implementing procedures! Procedures are being implemented. A-OK. World Youth, yay! Now you write check now.”

Same. Damn. Thing. They are in a position to put out the fire, and instead, they choose to sit with it and paint portraits of it and pat themselves on the back for how well they’re managing it. Well, we’re still engulfed in flames, and they still haven’t even hooked up a hose. And this is our house. We’re the ones who have to live here, and we’re supposed to play along and pretend this is how it’s supposed to be. And we’re still engulfed in flames. It’s crisis time, folks. We’re past the point where we can avoid the crisis by being “silent.” It’s here. No, keeping quiet doesn’t make you look like Jesus. It makes you look like this is your fire, and that’s how you like it.

We’re going to get four more years of Trump because nobody wants to put their neck on the line and push for impeachment; and we’re going to get who knows how many more years, decades, centuries of the same old same old slow motion conflagration in our Church, while generation after generation of Catholics figure out how to live our lives, raise our children, keep our parishes stumbling along, while everything around us is on fire.

Nobody wants to put it out. It’s just easier, and more lucrative, to pretend you’re taking it seriously and somehow protecting the institution from the inside out by letting it burn. Crazy keeps the checks rolling in. Corruption makes the money and power and influence flow, and everybody gets their share. Same damn thing.

I’m praying, by God. I’m doing stupid little sacrifices. I’m not leaving my Lord just because He’s surrounded by perverts, and God help me, I still love my stupid fucking country, even though we apparently want to burn the whole thing down. And I love my Church. Even though we apparently want to burn the whole thing down.

You people on the inside. You who have influence. You leaders with front row seats. I’m telling you that you need to do your job or GTFO.

***
Image: The Fire of Rome by Hubert Robert [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Cardinal and call-out culture

Call-out culture is well-established—so much so that we are now seeing more and more calls to pull it back from an insatiable mob response and to make our call-outs productive rather than simply reactive.

As Catholics, we have a special responsibility to examine how we wield our spears. It is not only the safety of the community that we must consider but the souls of the people involved, including our own.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image By Hubertus1977 [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Chilean abuse victim’s respectful persistence holds Pope accountable

Pope Francis had an extraordinary meeting with Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean survivor of priestly sexual abuse, whose testimony about molestation and subsequent cover-up the pope had originally publicly denigrated, calling it “calumny.”

Last month, Cardinal O’Malley, who is president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, publicly admonished the pope, who then reviewed a 2,300-page report based on interviews with 64 witnesses. The Pope wrote a letter of apology about his response to the Chilean victims, acknowledging that he “fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception … due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

Pope Francis told abuse victims, “I was part of the problem.”

Cruz said he was grateful for the Pope’s apology, but disputed that Francis had a lack of information about the abuse and alleged cover-up.   Cruz says Cardinal O’Malley told him that he had delivered a letter detailing the victims’ allegations directly into the hands of the pope.

In May, Cruz and two other Chileans victims spent personal time with the Pope over the course of several days, speaking candidly with him for hours. In an interview with NPR, Cruz said the Pope told him, “Juan Carlos, the first thing I want to do is apologize for what happened to you and apologize in the name of the pope, and in the name of the universal church.”

Cruz said, “He was listening and he sat right across from me and nobody was there. We talked one day three hours, another day two hours, another day an hour. … The pope cannot claim that he was misinformed like he did last time,”

Cruz said he talked not only about the abuse he suffered, but about the pain the Pope personally caused by publicly calling it “slander” when a bishop was accused of covering up the abuse. Cruz said he told Pope Francis, “You cannot imagine, Holy Father, what this does to someone who is trying to tell the truth.”

He named at least one “toxic” prelate who continues to work closely with the Pope, and whom Cruz considers to be part of the “culture of abuse” in the Church.

He said several times in the interview that, while he is grateful for his time with the Pope, and found his attention and concern moving, he is not yet satisfied, and wants to see concrete change in the way the Pope and the Church in general responds to victims of clerical abuse.

When the NPR interviewer asked Cruz how the entire experience has affected his faith, he said that his faith was the thing keeping him going. Because of his love for the Catholic Church, his goal is not only to find some measure of peace and justice for himself, but to give a voice to the countless other victims who are still suffering without redress.

Cruz’s example of respectful persistence epitomizes the proper role of the laity in the 21st century. We hope that those in authority in the Church will be true and just shepherds. But when they are not, it is our duty to persist in holding them to account. We build up the Body of Christ by holding its head to the highest standards, not by allowing it to persist in error out of a false sense of piety or respect.

***

Image by Christoph Wagener [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

What does Pope Francis mean by “embrace?”

The new book A Pope Francis Lexicon (Liturgical Press, 2018) includes a chapter by me, titled, “Embrace.” A version of this essay is now in Parable, the NH diocesan magazine for which I am a columnist. Here’s an excerpt:

Pope Francis is often chastised for what some see as a folksy, imprecise, emotional brand of faith that winks at the law. All those hugs! Who was ever saved because of a hug? Our savior redeemed us by fulfilling the law on a cross, not by giving us a big hug!

Indeed. Francis knows as well as anyone that an embrace is not a miracle. When he tenderly embraced the tumor-ridden head of the unfortunate pilgrim Vinicio Riva, he did not expect the man to be instantly healed. When we enter into an embrace—either a physical one offered by our fellow Catholics or a spiritual one offered by the Church—we are not automatically reconciled to each other or to God, nor do we automatically understand and accept our obligations.

And yet Pope Francis continues to insist on coming together, accompanying, seeking union, and—yes—embracing each other. Is this just naiveté? Does he really think huggy togetherness is an adequate substitute for orthodoxy? Let’s look at how he uses that word “embrace.”

Read the rest of “Embracing His People” here.

Image by Long Thiên via Flickr (public domain)

Pope Francis’ troubling apology

In a letter regarding victims of sexual abuse in Chile, Pope Francis said, “I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks.”

His apology comes after months of controversy, during which the Pope first apologized to Chilean victims of sexual abuse by the Church, but then strongly defended a Chilean Bishop accused of covering up those victims’ allegations. Pope Francis called their accusations “calumny” and said he had seen no evidence supporting them.

In the letter of apology made public today, he said that he “fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception … due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

The Pope’s apology is encouraging, but also troubling. He sets an irreplaceable example of how to respond humbly when confronted with personal error, but he also appears to deflect personal responsibility. We look forward to clarification, after he meets with the Chilean victims, about why he didn’t believe the victims’ accusations, why he felt it was appropriate to denigrate the victims publicly, and whether he intends to be more circumspect in front of microphones in the future, since his ill-conceived words caused so much damage.

We also wonder if he is telling the truth about lacking necessary information.

The pope wrote his letter after he read a 2,300-page report detailing a investigation he commissioned in February to study allegations of sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Chilean Church.

On his visit to South America in January of 2018, the Pope was met with protests and outrage over the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse by Chilean Bishop Juan Barros.

Four men accuse Barros’ charismatic mentor, Fr. Fernando Karadima, of sexual abusing them, and Barros of ignoring warnings from parishioners and of covering up evidence. The accusers claim Barros was present during some of the abuse, but continued to protect and defend Karadima. A civil complaint against Karadima was dismissed for lack of evidence. The Vatican found him guilty in 2011 and sentenced him to a “life of prayer and penitence” and to “lifelong prohibition from the public exercise of any ministerial act, particularly confession and the spiritual guidance of any category of persons.” Barros continues to maintain his innocence.

On his South America trip in January, Pope Francis apologized to victims of sexual abuse, saying he felt “pain and shame” for the “irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the Church.”

But when confronted with questions about the specific allegations against Bishop Barros, the pope called the accusations “calumny.”

The pope told the press: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Juan Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny.” The Pope also told an AP reporter on the way home from South America, “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”

But an AP Exclusive in February claimed that the Pope did have evidence against Barros, and that victims had come forward. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors says that they gave a letter from victim Juan Carlos Cruz to its president, Cardinal O’Malley, to be hand-delivered to the Pope before his South America visit. The letter “detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling [Cruz] says he suffered at Karadima’s hands, which he said Barros and others saw but did nothing to stop.”

Two members of the commission say that O’Malley confirmed to them that he did give the letter to the pope.  Cruz says O’Malley told him “he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands.”

On January 10, Cardinal O’Malley took the extraordinary step of publicly admonishing Pope Francis, saying that his comments “abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity, and relegate survivors to discredited exile.”

Shortly after O’Malley’s rebuke, the Pope apologized for the hurt caused by his words. In February, he sent Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to conduct an exhaustive investigation of the alleged cover-up by Bishop Barros.

America Magazine reports that Scicluna presented the pope with a 2,300- page report based on interviews with 64 witnesses.

According to Catholic News service, in the letter made public on April 11,

Pope Francis apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in the country following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.

But the Pope says his error was due to “lack of truthful and balanced information”:

The pope said he made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information.”

According to America Magazine,

He said, “From here on, I ask pardon of all those that I have offended, and I hope to do so personally in the coming weeks, in the meetings that I will have with representatives of the persons interviewed” by his envoys—Archbishop Scicluna and Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos.

The Chilean bishops will meet with the Pope in the third week of May. Three of Karadima’s victims, including Cruz, will also meet with the Pope then.

Pope Francis’ apology and admission of error are unprecedented among popes, but troubling questions remain. In his letter, he blames his defense of Barros on “the lack of true and balanced information.” But if Cardinal O’Malley did hand-deliver the letter from victims, how can he say there was a lack of information? Did he read the letter? If not, why not? Did he read it but disregard what is said? If so, why would he do so, sixteen years after the Church has been shown to be guilty over and over and over again?

Even those who support and defend the Pope and his approach will find it difficult to understand his behavior in this matter. O’Malley and countless other faithful servants of Christ have been laboring hard to reform the Church, to make it safer for vulnerable people, and to reassure the world that things have changed. But a few ill-conceived words from its visible head have unravelled all their efforts more than once.

To victims, past and present, it must feel as though the Church has learned nothing.  How far can yet another apology go?

***

Image By Benhur Arcayan (Malacañang Photo Bureau) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Make me a channel of legitimately sourced quotations

Emily Stimpson, bless her, once swatted down a story I’ve heard my whole life.  Stimpson says:

[T]he election of our wonderful new Holy Father, Pope Francis, has triggered an avalanche of people talking about the first Francis and his injunction to, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.”

But see, here’s the thing. St. Francis never said that. We don’t know who did. But it wasn’t Francis. It’s not in any of his known writings. It’s not in any of his companions’ writings. It’s not in anyone’s writings about Francis for the first 800 or so years after his death.

Someone invented the quote and put it into poor St. Francis’ mouth. And ever since then, people have used it as an excuse to not evangelize with words, to not have the uncomfortable conversations or say the unpopular things.

I have also learned, to my great relief, that there is no compelling reason to believe that St. Francis ever wrote the spiritually flaccid “Make me a channel of your peace” prayer.

We can assume that these misattributions were honest mistakes:  somebody once upon a time said something that somebody else liked, and somebody else said, “Hey, that sounds like something St. Francis would say,” and somebody else took it to mean that St. Francis did say it, and so on, like a centuries-long game of telephone.  But no matter what the intentions, sloppiness with attributions can lead to real trouble, especially if the person to whom the quote is misattributed has some influential heft.

Even if you’re sure you have your attribution right, quoting people rightly can be tricky.  A few days ago, someone posted an inspirational image on Facebook.  Before a backdrop of cattails in the sunset, it said in golden script,

“It is in God’s hands. One must be content to leave it there. One must have Faith.” — C.S. Lewis

Something about that chewy use of the impersonal “one” made a gong go off in my head.  Did C.S. Lewis really say that?  The sentiment was too vague to be called false, exactly, but it sounded . . . chewy.  So I looked it up, and it turns out the quote is from Perelandra, where Elwin Ransom has been transported to an unfallen planet ruled by an unfallen Lady and her absent husband.  To Ransom’s horror, Hell has sent a representative to try to tempt the Lady into defying God.  It describes the thoughts that go through Ransom’s mind as he figures out what to do next — what God (Maleldil) wants from him. The quote in question is in bold:

He, Ransom, with his ridiculous piebald body and his ten times defeated arguments – what sort of a miracle was that? His mind darted hopefully down a side-alley that seemed to promise escape. Very well then. He had been brought here miraculously.He was in God’s hands. As long as he did his best – and he had done his best – God would see to the final issue. He had not succeeded. But he had done his best. No one could do more. “‘Tis not in mortals to command success.’ He must not be worried about the final result. Maleldil would see to that. And Maleldil would bring him safe back to Earth after his very real, though unsuccessful, efforts. Probably Maleldil’s real intention was that he should publish to the human race the truths he had learned on the planet Venus. As for the fate of Venus, that could not really rest upon his shoulders. It was in God’s hands. One must be content to leave it there. One must have Faith ….

It snapped like a violin string. Not one rag of all this evasion was left. Relentlessly, unmistakably, the Darkness pressed down upon him the knowledge that this picture of the situation was utterly false. His journey to Perelandra was not a moral exercise, nor a sham fight. If the issue lay in Maleldil’s hands, Ransom and the Lady were those hands. The fate of a world really depended on how they behaved in the next few hours.

So, yeah, Lewis said that, in the same way that Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true”: through the mouth of a character who’s immediately proven wrong. It was not a recommended course of action; it was an illustration of the sort of lies we can tell ourselves when we’re trying to get out of something.  Attributing the shorter quote to C.S. Lewis without context is only half a step above the Hollywood promoter who prints posters that say, “Critics say ‘[Y]ou’ll love this movie!  It’s full of … good scenes!”‘” when the critic’s actual words were, “If you’re a grade A moron, you’ll love this movie!  It’s full of nonsense, and has no good scenes!”

And of course, some people don’t even bother to be technically accurate.  Have you heard the story that Pope Francis, when handed the papal mozzetta, said waspishly, “Wear it yourself!  The circus is over.”  That quote turned out to be made up out of whole cloth,  either by someone who really did regard Benedict XVI as some kind of bling-happy, medieval vulgarian, or by someone who maliciously wanted to portray Francis as someone who saw Benedict that way.  Either way, there is no evidence that Francis said it — and, more importantly, there is no evidence that he is the kind of person who would say something like that.

As Shakespeare once said, there’s the rub.  Consider the purported source.  Listen to your spidey sense.  If you see a quote by a famous person, and it either sounds the tiniest bit “off” to you — or, conversely, if it makes you think, “Oh man, that’s exactly the kind of thing I knew he was thinking all along, and now we’ve got him” — then think, and do a little research, before you forward it to all your friends!

As Marie Antoinette once said, “Famous people say enough stupid things on their own without you making stuff up.”  Well, I bet it sounds better in French.

***

This post originally ran in a slightly different form in The National Catholic Register in 2013.

New book: A Pope Francis Lexicon (including my chapter!)

Now ready for pre-order: A Pope Francis Lexicon — and guess what? I somehow have a chapter in it!

My chapter deals with the word “embrace,” and while I did regretfully excise the passage where I compare Francis to the Sta Puft Marshmallow Man, I attempt to answer the thorny question: Does our pope really think huggy togetherness is an adequate substitute for orthodoxy? I try to answer the question sincerely, based on his writing and his actions, and from the perspective of someone who is sometimes frustrated by his approach.

This book has an impressive line-up of fifty illustrious contributors who each

explore the Pope’s use of words like joyclericalismmoneyfamily, and tears. Together, they reveal what Francis’s use of these words says about him, his ministry and priorities, and their significance to the church, the world, and the lives of individual Christians. The entire collection is introduced by a foreword by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide, and a preface by one of Francis’s closest advisors, Cardinal Seán O’Malley.  

Here’s a full list of the chapter themes and contributors:

Volume foreword   Patriarch Bartholomew
Volume preface    Cardinal Seán O’Malley, OFM Cap
Baptism              Cardinal Donald Wuerl
Benedict XVI        David Gibson
Capitalism           Bishop Robert McElroy
Careerism           Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Church                Elizabeth Bruenig
Clerical abuse      Francis Sullivan
Clericalism          Archbishop Paul-André Durocher
Collegiality          Archbishop Mark Coleridge
Conscience         Austen Ivereigh
Creation              Orthodox Fr. John Chryssavgis
Curia                  Massimo Faggioli
Dialogue             Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, OFM
Dignity                Tina Beattie
Discernment        Fr. James Martin, SJ
Devil/Satan          Greg Hillis
Ecumenism         Nontando Hadebe
Embrace             Simcha Fisher
Encounter/Encuentro      Archbishop Victor Fernández
Episcopal Accountability  Katie Grimes
Family                Julie Hanlon Rubio
Field Hospital      Cardinal Blase Cupich
Flesh                  Msgr. Dario Viganò
Gossip                Kaya Oakes
Grandparents       Bill Dodds
Hacer lio             Fr. Manuel Dorantes
Hope                  Natalia Imperatori-Lee
Immigrant           Sr. Norma Seni Pimentel, MJ
Indifference         Sr. Carmen Sammut, MSOLA
Jesus                 Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, SJ
Joy                    Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP
Judgment           Michael O’Loughlin
Justice               Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS
Leadership          Kerry Robinson
Legalism            Sr. Teresa Forcades i Vila, OSB
Martyrdom          Bishop Borys Gudziak
Mercy                Archbishop Donald Bolen
Miracles             John Thavis
Money                Andrea Tornielli
Periphery            Carolyn Woo
Prayer                Bishop Daniel Flores
Reform               Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, SDB
Refugee              Rhonda Miska
Second Vatican Council   Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
Service               Phyllis Zagano
Sheep                Archbishop Justin Welby
Sourpuss            Fr James Corkery, SJ
St. Francis          Fr. Michael Perry, OFM
Tears                  Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle
Throwaway culture Sr. Pat Farrell, OSF
Worldliness         Mollie Wilson O’Reilly
Women               Astrid Gajiwala
Youth                 Jordan Denari Duffner

Speaking of books, have I mentioned lately that I have a book of my own, and that I’ve contributed chapters to two other books besides A Pope Francis Lexicon? Here they are:

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The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning

The chapters are divided into three groups:

  • NFP and Your Spiritual Life
  • NFP and the Rest of the World
  • NFP in the Trenches.

Some of the most popular chapters have proven to be “The Golden Box,” which deals with how our decisions work with God’s will, in matters of family planning and in general; and “Groping Toward Chastity,” a title which, if there were any justice in the world, would have won me a Nobel Prize in literature.

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Style, Sex, and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things That Really Matter

My chapter is “Receiving, Creating, and Letting Go: Motherhood in Body and Soul.”

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Catholic and Married: Leaning Into Love

My chapter, “Mirrors Around a Flame,” explores the idea that children are a gift. This book kind of got lost in the shuffle while there were some logistical issues, but it includes many excellent essays, including Jenny Uebbing’s great chapter on NFP.

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As always, the links above are Amazon Associate links. If you buy these books using the links I provide (or if you buy anything on Amazon after getting to the site through one of my links), I earn a small percentage of each sale. Anytime you shop on Amazon, please consider using my link!

Simcha’s Amazon Link!

Sometimes people tell me they’re not sure if it’s “working” or not. Thanks for asking! It should look like a normal Amazon page when you click through. If you look up in the URL or address box at the top of the screen, it should have a long string of letters and symbols after Amazon.com, including “ihavtositdo03-20” somewhere in there. That’s me! Here’s a sample of what it will look like when you shop on Amazon using my link:

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I also now have accounts with Amazon Canada and Amazon UK, hooray! Thanks so much. I know it’s one more thing to think about.

Official Vatican Commission: Current Medjugorje apparitions doubtful

The vast majority of phenomena at Medjugorje can not be said to be of supernatural origin, according to most votes cast this week by the official commission on Medjugorje.

The Commission, established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, was asked to evaluate separately the first seven apparitions, which allegedly occurred in the summer of 1981, and the tens of thousands of subsequent apparitions, which allegedly continue to this day. The commission includes five cardinals, two psychologists, four theologians, a Mariologist, anthropologist, a canonist, and an official of the Doctrine of the Faith. According to La Stampa, the commission

met 17 times and screened all documents filed in the Vatican, the parish of Medjugorje and the archives of the secret services of the former Yugoslavia. The commission heard all the seers and witnesses involved, and in April 2012, they carried out an inspection in the village of Herzegovina.

Most members of the commission voted that the first seven apparitions were supernatural in nature, and not a hoax or demonic [note that the quotations from La Stampa have been translated from Italian, which accounts for the somewhat clumsy language]:

Members and experts came out with 13 votes in favor of recognizing the supernatural nature of the first visions. A member voted against and an expert expressed a suspensive vote. The committee argues that the six young seers were psychically normal and were caught by surprise by the apparition, and that nothing of what they had seen was influenced by either the Franciscans of the parish or any other subjects. They showed resistance in telling what happened despite the police arrested them and death threating [sic] them. The commission also rejected the hypothesis of a demonic origin of the apparitions.

The commission was much more doubtful about the supernatural origin of subsequent apparitions, though. Regarding the circumstances and nature of the subsequent apparitions themselves,

the commission took note of the heavy interference caused by the conflict between the bishop and the Franciscans of the parish, as well as the fact that the apparitions, pre-announced and programmed individually for each seer continued with repetitive messages. These visions continued despite the youngsters had said they would end, however that actually has never happened. There is then the issue of the “secrets” of the somewhat apocalyptic flavor that the seers claim to have been revealed from the apparition.

Based on the “behavior of the seers,” the commission reports

eight members and four experts believe that an opinion cannot be expressed, while two other members have voted against the supernatural nature of the phenomenon.

Regarding the much-touted “spiritual fruits” of the phenomena, “but leaving aside the behaviors of the seers,” La Stampa reports

3 members and 3 experts say there are positive outcomes, 4 members and 3 experts say they are mixed, with a majority of positive, effects and the remaining 3 experts claim there are mixed positive and negative effects.

Thirteen of the fourteen commission members have voted to put Medjugorje directly under the authority of the Vatican. The establishment of an authority that answers to the Vatican “would not imply the recognition of the supernatural nature of the apparitions,” but would aid the Church in overseeing the pastoral care of the millions of pilgrims who visit the region every year.

These pastoral developments would also provide “clarity on economic issues.” Commerce related to Medjugorje has become a global industry, producing steady income for some of the alleged visionaries.

On his way home from Fatima, Pope Francis told reporters Saturday that he had “worse” than doubts about the authenticity of the phenomena at Medjugorje. The Pope said:

The report has its doubts, but personally, I am a little worse. I prefer Our Lady as mother, our mother, and not Our Lady as head of the post office who sends a message at a stated time.

This isn’t Jesus’ mother. And these alleged apparitions don’t have much value. I say this as a personal opinion, but it is clear. Who thinks that Our Lady says, ‘Come, because tomorrow at this time I will give a message to that seer?’ No!

For an extensive explanation of the many concerns and alarms surrounding the alleged apparitions, see my essay in The Catholic Weekly, The Lady of Medjugorje Is Not Your Mother.

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NOTE: This post was edited at 10:55 AM eastern on 5/17/17. The first sentence originally read: “The vast majority of phenomena at Medjugorje are not of supernatural origin, according to most votes cast this week by the official commission on Medjugorje.” I do not believe this statement is inaccurate, but the edited version is more clear. 

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Image of a cross at Medjugorje by Miran Rijavec via Flickr