There are many Catholics who do not want to face up to the true state of affairs in the Church. Indeed, there several organizations (Opus Dei, Legionaries of Christ) which tell their adherents quite specifically not to concern themselves with the state of the Church, believing that to do so would be to detract attention from their own interior lives of prayer. Priests and numeraries of Opus Dei - and the priests of the Legionaries of Christ, along with the lay people who direct the Legion's Regnum Christi movement - discourage their members or cooperators from reading The Wanderer. To do so might be to endanger their faith, it is alleged. Furthermore, there is to be no criticism of bishops whatsoever, no matter what scandal is given by a Successor to the Apostles, no matter what brand of liturgical irreverence and/or doctrinal heresy might be promoted by a particular diocesan ordinary.
The plain fact of the matter that those who preach this sort of quietism are distorting the true history of Holy Mother Church. If the approach taken by Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ (among others) had been the tradition of the Church, then the priests and lay people who opposed the Arian heresy would have been advised to keep their mouths shut when the local bishop promoted the Arian creed. Saints Basil and Athanasius would have been condemned as divisive troublemakers who were seeking to undermine the authority of bishops outside of their own territorial jurisdictions. Catholics who resisted other heresies at the local level at other points in the Church's history would have been similarly told to be silent and to simply attend to their own interior lives. Saint Catherine of Siena might have been instructed not to have sought to implore Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome from Avignon. And Catholics in the United States, who opposed the Americanist tendencies of some diocesan bishops in the nineteenth century, might have been told to mind their own business.
Catholics are supposed to understand that Holy Mother Church - though conceived out of the elements of Blood and Water which poured forth from Our Lord's wounded side on Good Friday and brought to birth by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday - is composed of weak vessels of clay in the Church Militant on earth who are prone to give bad example and to pervert Christ's received teaching. Catholics are not supposed to be surprised by the devil's efforts to seek to undermine the integrity of the Deposit of Faith. And while we are to be people of profound prayer - especially before the Blessed Sacrament and to the Mother of God - we are also supposed to inform ourselves as to the reality of our own situation so that we (and those around us) will not fall prey to the many traps set by the devil to mix truth with error in a most appealing way.
Indeed, Pope Saint Pius X defined Modernism as the synthesis of all heresies, characterized particularly by the admixture of some truth with a great deal of error (which is why it takes the unremitting use of a critical mind and a critical eye to review many of the statements made by so-called theologians and liturgists at catechetical conventions and other "updating" workshops). It is simply not of the Catholic Faith to let error pass by unnoticed, as Pope Leo XIII noted in no uncertain terms, especially in his encyclical letter Sapientiae Christianae and his Apostolical Letter to Baltimore's James Cardinal Gibbons, Testem Benevolentiae.
It is vital to point out errors in order that the faithful be armed with the means to protect themselves and their families from being seduced by the devil. Errors are pointed out not as a means of creating scandal nor the sake of dwelling on the salacious. As everything we do must be premised on a desire to save souls (starting with our own), it is a matter of simple justice to help Catholics in the pew to recognize that not everything that may be preached from a pulpit or contained within a diocesan newspaper is actually of the Catholic Faith. If that means that a particular bishop (even one who is a cardinal) has to come in for scrutiny, so be it. Indeed, there was a far more open spirit of scrutiny and review in the American hierarchy in the nineteenth century, a time when more than a handful of bishops would disagree quite publicly with stands taken by their brothers in the episcopate.
The contemporary spirit of "collegiality" tends to dampen such public disagreement today. Nevertheless, it is not in the service of the salvation of souls to believe that we live in a situation where all is well and that we are never to take firm measures to point out error and to make others aware that there are wolves in shepherds' clothing in our midst.
Yes, the Church is divinely founded and maintained. She will last until the end of time. The jaws of hell will not prevail against her. The fact of the Church's indefectability, however, does not in the least remove the obligation we have to defend the truth when it is under attack and to point out error when it is expressed. As St. Jean-Marie Vianney preached so forcefully, a bad priest will lead many souls with him into hell; a good priest will lead many souls with him into Heaven. Any priest or bishop who permits the Faith to be put into question (either by his own words or actions or by those words and actions which belongs to those who teach in his name and/or by his authority) is jeopardizing the salvation of souls and the integrity of the Holy Faith.
We are in a period of Church history in which the Holy See has chosen not to act against bishops who undermine the Faith. A number of reasons are given, including the desire to prevent a formal schism. It is an open question, however, as to which is worse: a de facto schism in which the average Catholic is led to believe that the Faith may be defined individually on parish-by-parish, diocese-by-diocese, country-by-country basis, or a de jure schism in which Catholics are forced to choose between fealty to Rome or fealty to Modernism. We are living at a point in Church history where the word Catholic has been emptied of its meaning, creating a situation in which people believe that they can define the Faith on their own terms.
This is pretty much the same situation faced by Catholics during the Protestant Revolt. Indeed, St. Thomas More was not exactly enamored of the pontificate of Pope Clement VII, who dithered and dallied for nearly seven years before deciding to affirm the validity of King Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. However, Thomas More knew that he had to faithful to the primacy of the Successor of Saint Peter, no matter how weakly a particular pontiff might be exercising his powers as the chief governor of the Church. And he was willing to give up his life to bear witness to this truth. So was Saint John Fisher, the only bishop in England at the time of Henry's revolt who remained faithful to Rome. The steadfastness of the few to the true Faith became part of the Church's permanent record, chronicled so well in Warren Carroll's latest entry in his outstanding Christendom series, The Cleaving of Christendom.
In like manner, you see, bearing a witness of the destruction of the Faith from within the Church - over and above the overriding importance of helping to protect souls from error - helps to provide a permanent record for those who will follow us to review and assess the turbulent state of affairs we are living through at present. It might take centuries for there to be a dispassionate, honest review of our own contemporary situation. Some future Warren Carroll will provide solid histories and make sound judgments on the events which have enveloped us so completely in the last forty years or so. The record of this current era will demonstrate that there were Catholics (all be they imperfect vessels of clay who were full of their own faults and failings) who called error by its proper name, people who were not afraid to run afoul of ecclesiastical authority at a time when the integrity of the faith and liturgical reverence were being undermined on a constant basis. The Wanderer has been in the vanguard of providing a permanent record as to what has happened in the past forty years, which is why George Kendall's Witness to the Truth will be such an aid to future historians. Publications launched more recently (Catholic World Report, Latin Mass Magazine, Roman Catholic Faithful's Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam) have made their own contributions in this regard, as have a number of publications with much smaller circulations. All of these journals are providing a mother lode for the permanent record of the history of our era. And if we try to spin the reality of our era into something which it is not, then how are we better than those who spun for the Bolsheviks or those who spin for the Left in our own country today?
The Faith teaches us that each one of us is responsible to a greater or lesser extent for the state of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth. Our sins wound the Mystical Body. Our prayers and virtuous acts performed in cooperation with sanctifying and actual graces help to build up that Mystical Body. However, it is one thing to sin and to be sorry, seeking out the mercy of Christ in the Sacrament of Penance. It is even one thing to struggle with one sin or a set of sins. It is quite another to persist in sin unrepentantly, much worse yet for one in ecclesiastical authority to promote indifference to sin from the pulpit (or under some over color of the Church) and/or to imply that things once considered to be sins are now to be considered as acts of virtue and love. To be silent in the face of such indifference to or redefinition of sin is no work of charity whatsoever.
The Church will last until the end of time. Our Lord did not promise, however, that the Church would be healthy at all times until the Last Day. Her health depends upon the state of our souls - and it depends upon our determination to defend the Faith, especially when it is under attack from within.
Our Lady, Mother of the Church, pray for us to be steadfast in prayer but also persistent in our efforts to defend always the splendor of Truth Incarnate Who is your beloved Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives