On a regular basis the faithful Catholic laity find themselves disconcerted and even outraged when priests and prelates display an inverted moral calculus. For example, as William Kilpatrick writes in a recent essay in Crisis Magazine, the Vatican has become a kind of sanctuary city for credibly accused homosexual predators while Pope Francis laments the presence of plastic in our oceans and excoriates those in the U.S. who want to build a wall to secure our borders.
The heterodox Cardinal Cupich, the de facto leading prelate in the U.S., follows suit. He hastily dismissed Archbishop Viganò’s testimony on the McCarrick sexual abuse cover-up and viewed it as a distracting “rabbit hole” that Francis shouldn’t pursue because he had better things to do in addressing immigration and climate change.
The evidence that many priests and prelates are immature and poorly formed is that they don’t seem to know the difference between good and evil: “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).
Scores of other examples could be furnished and the message is clear: many of our priests and prelates are much more interested in being a relevant Church than a repentant one. “Relevant”, in the sense that I’m using it in this essay, is code for what St. James describes as a friendship with the world that is actually enmity towards God (James 4:4): a walking in step with the Zeitgeist as it is promulgated currently through the diabolical trinity of the media, universities, and entertainment industry.
The late Richard John Neuhaus was on target in calling the USCCB “the Democratic Party in prayer.” God only knows how much actual praying is going on but this much is obvious: the pursuit of cultural relevance is rooted in a Modernist Sensibility that is, as Pius X declared, wedded to the spirit of the age as it unfolds in all its Hegelian glory.
The Relevant Church Is In Decline
It’s very telling that Francis is, since the early months of the Viganò revelations, somewhat coddled by The New York Times, but alienated from millions of orthodox Catholics. His Twitter account grows but his crowds dwindle at St. Peter’s Square and various other venues.
The evidence is very compelling: when the episcopate is rooted in modernism and eschews a repentant Church for a relevant one, all the metrics (baptisms, confirmations, marriages, priestly ordinations, numbers of men and women religious, children in parochial schools and religion programs, etc.) display precipitous decline. That’s why Germany is in a freefall and the Catholic Church in America is fast becoming, in many places, in its metrics and sensibility, “mainline Protestant with mitres.”
Africa is flourishing because it has chosen, for the most part, to be a Repentant Church. They are doing what sociologist Dean M. Kelly wrote about nearly half a century ago in explaining why conservative churches grow: they make serious demands of their parishioners in doctrine and behavior.
Here the Orthodox Sensibility has gained the preeminence. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (Jn. 1:5).
The apostle James says that we have not because we ask not. The Orthodox Sensibility is a major part of Mary’s Heel and we should ask Our Lady to expand it in places where the Modernist Sensibility currently reigns so a Repentant Church can be born.
The Return of Moral Clarity
As a Repentant Church grows and expands, moral clarity will also return. The infamous Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment” will fall apart like a cheap suit.
The intrinsic evil of abortion will no longer be equated with other behaviors that are notintrinsically evil. Many prelates are Bernardin’s progeny in muddying the moral waters.
Exhibit A: Blaise Cupich. In criticizing Planned Parenthood in an opinion piece for the Chicago Tribune for making profits from the remains of aborted children, he added that “…we should be no less appalled by the indifference toward the thousands of people who die daily for lack of decent medical care; who are denied rights by a broken immigration system and by racism; who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want; who pay the price of violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods; or who are executed by the state in the name of justice” (emphasis mine).
Joblessness as the moral equivalent of abortion?!
As Our Lady advances the Orthodox Sensibility, James Martin’s “Hegelian Mind Trick” will be exposed for what it is. In his book, Building a Bridge, we have the Thesis, but in his public statements we have an Antithesis.
The book is careful not to contravene Church teaching on homosexual issues but his public statements do so implicitly as he (1) affirms LGBTQ people in telling them “God made them [wonderfully] that way”; (2) that “The Church needs to rethink its teachings about homosexuality—its dogmatic teaching. Instead of saying it’s objectively disordered, it should say it’s just differently ordered”; (3) that same-sex couples should be able to kiss during Mass: “What’s the terrible thing?”; (4) that the Church should reverence homosexual unions; and (5) that being against same-sex “marriage” is like being racist.
It’s unwise to claim to be able to read Martin’s mind and discern his motives, but my guess is that like most Modernists, he takes the long view and is hoping for something like a Synthesis in his lifetime. Like a good politician, he knows he won’t get everything he wants (full acceptance of homosexual behavior in the Church), but would still be gratified with significant steps in that direction.
As the Repentant Church gains the hegemony, the Subjective and the Objective will find their proper roles in the life of the Church. If I’m a well-catechized Catholic in relation to doctrine (the Objective), but don’t have what evangelical Protestants call “a personal relationship with Christ” (the Subjective), then that area of my life needs immediate attention for I’m in danger of my Lord telling me in the hereafter, “Depart from me…I never knew you” (Mt. 7:21-23).
However, Pius X described a corrosive type of Subjectivism (Immanentism) that is “a philosophico-religious system which, in its most rigid form, reduces all reality to the subject, which is said to be the source, the beginning, and the end of all its creative activity” (emphasis mine). This vital immanence or “god within” encourages the individual to depend on a kind of subjective, religious sentiment that may or may not agree with divine revelation rooted in Scripture and Tradition and taught by the Magisterium.
It’s easy to pick up this misguided Subjectivism in Amoris Laetitia and in Cupich’s comments on giving Communion to homosexuals and the divorced and remarried who never received an annulment. There are at least three things going on here: (1)The subjective feelings of “compassion” of Francis and Cupich towards these recipients of Communion; (2) the subjective experiences of the recipients as far as their level of knowledge, “conscience,” backstory, mitigating circumstances; and (3) the objective nature of the Magisterium’s teaching about such people receiving Communion.
In a kind of Modernist sleight-of-hand, (1) and (2) make (3) disappear. The “god within” of both the prelate and the parishioner rule the day.
Subjective feelings are all well and good when choosing what music you want to listen to or where you want to go out to eat tonight, but they should be kept out of the sacrosanct realm of faith and morals. We do well to listen to ancient Hebrew wisdom: “There is a way which seems right to a man but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 14:12).
Author: Jonathan B. Coe
Jonathan B. Coe is a graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before being received into the Catholic Church in 2004, he served in pastoral ministry in rural Alaska, and in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He is a regular contributor to Catholic Exchange and has written for The Imaginative Conservative. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.