Scandal in the Church
Moral Panic : The Bishops' Spin on the John Jay Report
Rev. Joseph Fessio SJ: Bishops' Dereliction Made This Spiritual Crisis Possible
Chicago, IL - Commenting on the current crisis facing the Catholic Church, and how to navigate a way out of it, Father Joseph Fessio S.J. appeared in Chicago at the invitation of Catholic Citizens of Illinois on September 13th at a luncheon attended by 130 of the group's friends and members.
The Crisis of Spiritual Abuse
Father Fessio observed that while sexual abuse is an abomination, the most damaging aspect of the current Catholic crisis was, in his view, spiritual abuse, which he defined as the widespread failure by American Catholic Church leaders to teach and defend Catholic truth. It is a crisis that has many facets. "What we are seeing today is a crisis in fidelity to Catholic truth: in accepting that truth on the part of the faithful and the priests, and on enforcing and defending that truth on the part of Bishops."
Father Fessio was quick to point that "the crisis in the Church today is not pedophilia." Indeed, the overwhelming majority of abuse cases involve homosexual priests molesting teenage boys barely under the age of eighteen. In the past decades, hundreds of problem priests have simply been shuffled back and forth from parish to parish, leaving trails of abuse across the country.
"It's not just a problem of priests who are homosexuals", cautioned Father Fessio, "but Bishops who are derelict in their duties. These scandals have been covered up, lies have been told, and lies have become a culture in some areas." He also noted that while hundreds of priests have been defrocked, the colossal failure of the Bishops to root out and correct sexual deviancy in their own dioceses has yet to result in any Bishop being removed.
Faithful Catholics see the cause of the sex abuse crisis as the rejection of the Church's traditional teaching on sexual morality by American society, including, sadly, most Catholics. But the Faith was lost first. St. Paul says of those who lost their Faith, "they were turned over to their lusts". Father Fessio noted that the crisis of dissenting Catholic laity, priests and Bishops was born in the rejection the Church's teaching in Humanae Vitae, published in 1968, which reinforced long held Catholic values in the midst of the hedonistic revolution known as 'the Sixties.'
This revolution has ushered in a growing plague of societal ills -- divorce, child and spousal abuse, rape, and abortion -- that emerge from the disordered 'free love' view of human sexuality that dominates our culture today. Commenting on the traditional Catholic view, Father Fessio affirmed that "God created us male and female for a number of purposes, but he made the marriage bond sacred, so that there is an indissoluble bond between the marriage act and openness to life. But if you dissolve that bond…there's no way to justify restricting that pleasure to only married couples. Why not outside of marriage?" The removal of the unity of sexual intimacy and marriage has "removed the bulwark that helped people to resist sexual temptation" and other moral lapses.
The Rejection of Catholic Teaching on Sexual Morality by Church Leaders.
The breakdown of families and morality in our society today was predicted by Pope Paul VI forty years ago as he promulgated Humanae Vitae. However, in Father Fessio's view, the timidity and ineffectiveness of many Bishops in defending basic Catholic truths about sexual morality are rooted in a flawed strategy for implementing of Humanae Vitae and responding to a world drifting off into secular materialism.
Fessio explained, "Because Humanae Vitae was so counter to our culture, Pope Paul VI wanted Bishops who were reconcilers and for the Bishops to be healers. That's a good thing. But the negative side was that he did not want Bishops who were controversial or divisive. In this period of the Church's history where there was a crisis of Catholic truth, Bishops were appointed who had never really stood up to defend Catholic truth. These Bishops were good, friendly and perhaps even holy people. But it was a time when we needed prophets and we got managers. Unfortunately, that approach continues today."
What did these pastoral and healer Bishops do when they found homosexuals and dissenting theologians in their seminaries? As we are now observing, most of them did nothing to correct it. "When the laity would complain to Rome," noted Fessio," the Bishops would acknowledge that there was a little problem, but add that everything was being cleaned up. The Bishops began systematically to paint a false picture of what was really happening in the seminaries and religious houses. I would say that the picture was so systematically and intentionally false, that one would have to call it lying… Because of the rejection of Humanae Vitae in America, we got a culture of sexual promiscuity and homosexuality in the priesthood and religious life, and a culture of authority that tries to hide it and make things seem all right."
Indeed, homosexuality among Priests, Bishops and religious orders is the untold story. "The problem you see in the papers is not the whole problem," said Fessio. "What we're not seeing is the problem of religious men involved in homosexual sex that is consensual, and where there are no financial incentives for it to stop, like law suits." Furthermore, homosexual seminary rectors, chancery officials, and Catholic university professors have managed to gain access to positions of authority that allow them to both protect and promote other homosexuals. This aspect of the crisis, the systematic rooting out of orthodox candidates for the priesthood, has been documented by Michael Rose in his best seller GOODBYE GOOD MEN.
But dissent doesn't stop with disordered sexuality. The dissenter's entire worldview becomes corrupted along with their view of other sacraments. Just as the breakdown of marriage and family can be related to disordered sexuality, Father Fessio noted that rejection of Humanae Vitae has had a destructive impact on the liturgy. "In human sexuality, when the openness to life is divorced from intimacy, the marriage bond is destroyed. When you divorce the meal from the sacrifice, in which Christ as the bride groom pours himself out in a sacred act into the womb of the Church, our Mother, you destroy that marriage act within the Mass. The Mass is a nuptial act too. It's sacred and holy…If the holiness of the sacrifice is removed, all it becomes is a communal meal, which destroys what the Mass really is."
Help is on the way!
In spite of the challenges facing Catholics, help appears to be on the way. Father Fessio pointed to the joint statement by the American and Curial Cardinals and the Holy Father made from Rome in April of this year.
The eight American Cardinals and several Curial Cardinals stated "their unanimous gratitude to the Holy Father for his clear indications of direction and commitment for the future." And what were these directions? The document addressed the crisis and the need for firm and decisive action on the part of the Church's leadership: "Given the doctrinal issues underlying the deplorable behavior in question, certain lines of response have been proposed. The pastors of the church need clearly to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care."
Father Fessio noted that there is no ambiguity in the demand for public reprimand of individuals who spread dissent, but there are few, if any, signs that this is being implemented. Fessio commented, "Bishop Bruskewitz has done it but there are a lot more dissenters than there are reprimands being given".
In the April document, the Cardinals and Holy Father announced that "a new and serious apostolic visitation of seminaries and other institutions of formation must be made without delay, with particular emphasis on the need for fidelity to the Church's teaching, especially in the area of morality and in the need for deeper study of criteria for suitability of candidates for the priesthood."
The last apostolic visitation (which is an 'on-site' inspection by Vatican representatives) was the so-called Marshall visitation in 1984, during which Vatican appointed officials were given Potemkin village tours of seminaries that put on a façade of orthodoxy until the officials were gone, then it was back to the dissenting-as-usual. The fact that Rome is calling now for a "serious" visitation, in light of the ineffectiveness of the 1984 inspection, is cause for encouragement in Father Fessio's view.
Father Fessio pointed out that the Holy Father completely understands how the spiritual crisis in the Church has contributed to the sexual abuse of teenagers. He quoted John Paul II, "People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood for people who harm the young. They must know that the Bishops and Priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life."
The Fessio Litmus Test
Through the publication Catholic World Report, Father Fessio has responded to the spiritual crisis in the Church with Operation Plainspeak, a proposal to identify which pastors and Bishops are sincerely committed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
When the apostolic visitation gets underway, Father Fessio offered his litmus test as a quick and helpful way to identify dissenters. "You can ask any priest or bishop about three items in the Catechism and if they wholeheartedly support and defend those paragraphs, it's very unlikely they dissent from Church teaching on anything else."
Father Fessio outlined his criterion as follows:
"No one shall be given a position of authority in the Church, including admission to sacred orders, religious vows, appointment as a superior, or director of formations, who does not willingly accept and publicly defend the following three items from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Number 1577: 'Only a baptized man (vir) can validly receive sacred orders. For this reason the ordination of women is impossible'
Number 2357: 'Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, the Church has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and under no circumstances can they be approved.'
Number 2366: 'The church teaches that each and every marriage act be ordered per se to procreation of human life.'
"No one shall remain in authority in the Church who does not promptly employ all the means at his disposal to ensure that those under his authority accept and defend these propositions."
"These are the controversial issues of our time," said Father Fessio, "the issues that arouse the opposition, but which the majority of theologians in this country do not accept to be true." The only way an apostolic visitation will succeed is if there is accountability and a means to determine who is for the Catechism, and who is against it. Fessio asked, "How are we going overcome this crisis of truth if we continue to allow people who do not accept the Church's teachings on these central issues to continue to represent the Church?"
Faithful Catholics must become engaged in the restoration
In spite of the challenges facing the Catholic Church, Fessio encouraged all Catholics to become more engaged. "First and foremost, promote the fullness of Catholic truth to your friends and within your families."
Secondly, Fessio encouraged Catholics to become involved in Catholic organizations like Catholic Citizens of Illinois (see www.catholiccitizens.org). Fessio read from the mission statement of Catholic Citizens: "More and more, Roman Catholics are becoming indistinguishable from other Americans, with growing support for abortion, divorce, euthanasia and other societal ills. Even worse, a veil of ignorance has fallen over Catholic America, obscuring Catholic lay people's understanding of their faith and calling into question their responsibility to serve as witnesses to Christ in the midst of human society." Catholic Citizens of Illinois was established to bring the voice of authentic Catholicism to the public square.
Thirdly, Fessio encouraged Catholics to support authentic Catholic education. "We have a crisis of truth today, and a lot of Catholic institutions are exacerbating the problem." Father Fessio has recently become the Chancellor of Ave Maria University, presently operating at Ave Maria College in Michigan, which currently has over 200 students; 20% of the young men enrolled there are in the pre-theology program discerning a vocation to the priesthood.
Father Fessio outlined the ambitious vision for Ave Maria University, including facilities sufficient to educate 5,000+ students. He announced that the university is currently exploring an opportunity to build a campus in Florida, though he acknowledges there are many challenges to be overcome in the process. Ave Maria has developed a Founder's Program, whereby individuals who commit to donating $10 a month for one year will be designated as co-founders of the university. (See www.avemaria.edu for details.)
During the question and answer session that followed, Father Fessio was asked about the circumstances surrounding his departure from San Francisco and his position prior to Chancellor at Ave Maria. He responded that as a Jesuit, he had vowed to obey his superiors. When ordered to report for duty as a hospital chaplain, it was his duty to obey. Always the gentleman, Father Fessio refused to attribute any ill will to his superiors, though Catholics familiar with his story know there is plenty of evidence to justify his doing so. Father Fessio was moved from San Francisco earlier this year in what many believe was retribution for his founding of Campion College. This orthodox undergraduate program was established shortly after the Jesuits at the University of San Francisco 'reorganized' the orthodox St. Ignatius Institute out of existence. Shortly after his hospital assignment, Father Fessio was reassigned to Ave Maria University by his superiors, an order he gladly obeyed, and one that Catholics can be assured he will take full advantage of, to the benefit of Catholic students, and for the greater glory of God.
Karl J. Maurer is a CPA and the President of the Aquinas Consulting Group, CPAs and Management Consultants. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org