To all Faithful Catholics in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis,
It was my sister who first shared with me the heart-breaking news concerning Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer. A student she knows had posted the story saying: “This is why I’m leaving the Church.” Her voice broke as we talked. The sins of one priest should not taint the entirety of the Catholic Church, she argued. It may have been on that day or some time afterwards that I decided to write about this series of unfolding and unfortunate events. I have previously published my findings about Minnesota Public Radio and about Jeff Anderson. But that is not all that must be said.
Besides reading court depositions, press releases, leaked documents and news articles, I also talked to Catholics from the Archdiocese. Some actually knew the victims. A few had anonymously talked to MPR. Others were law students or lawyers. Most were terribly confused. Some were very upset. Some had their faith shaken. Still others had found a new courage. What I wish to write to you about is tomorrow, and next year and the year after that. We are now in a fire. But soon it will burn out and we will have to grow again. I wish to speak to you about what will purify and renew the Archdiocese.
Jeff Anderson and MPR are not going to purify the Archdiocese. They are of a thoroughly modern mind. They would kill a patient just to get rid of the disease. For them, the way to be rid of pedophile priests is to be rid of priests. The way to end abuse in the Catholic Church is to end the Catholic Church. Renewal is not on their minds, only revenge.
It therefore falls to us, and by that I mean it falls to Christ through us, to bring about justice in our time. A woman I spoke to put it plainly: The place to go right now is before the Eucharist. The stories will continue. The pressure will build. The innocent as well as the guilty will be hauled before the tribunal of the press and public opinion. But the only thing that matters, and has ever mattered is this: Is Jesus Christ God? and is he present in the Eucharist? If the answer to both of those is yes, then the Catholic Church is the only place from which healing and renewal can come. No matter how cracked the vessel may be, within there is treasure.
A deaconate candidate here in Moorhead recently told me he had started his first book. It began when he reflected on that quote from Cardinal George: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square and his successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” He told me the quote originally struck him as reactionary, but as the years went on it made more and more sense. The book sets out to show how a bishop might die a martyr in the public square. To give you a hint, it happens because a Catholic reacts to anti-Catholic laws with violence and aggression. But, as Christ reminded Peter in the garden, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
It is obvious to us that the cultural lines have been redrawn again and again in these past few years. The culmination, perhaps, came when enough Minnesota voters decided that marriage being a man and a woman was important enough to enshrine in the State Constitution. It is pointless to lament the loss now, or to spell out the consequences of it. The hostility of MPR toward the Archdiocese is enough evidence of the shift. But as Winston Churchill reminds us from across the decades: “Success consists in going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
The way to keep going, after we have prayed, is to step out across of the line of political correctness to demand that the measures of justice be distributed fairly. If greed is bad, then it is as bad for a banker to hoard money as it is for Jeff Anderson. If lying is bad, then it is as bad for MPR to distort sources and quotations as it is if a presidential administration does it. Lying is lying, greed is greed and (for those of you who read my earlier works) sin is sin. For those who step out against the grain, we must remember to be articulate, well-informed and above all humble. Humility is supremely fitting for a defender of the Church.
As we persist forward. It is important to remember that one of the names of Satan, which Fr. Robert Barron reminded me of, is The Accuser. G. K. Chesterton, a great defender of the faith, wrote a parable called The Man Who Was Thursday. Syme, the hero, has spent the whole of the novel trying to infiltrate a secret organization of men who blow things up, known as the Council of Days. They were called bombers in Chesterton’s day, though we would now call them terrorists. Syme feels alone at times, confused at times, desperate at times. The whole ordeal is both spell-binding and tragic. He comes to the end and is approached by the head of the group, who accuses him. He accuses him of having lived a safe life, he accuses him of having sat out of harms way while others bore the burden. We know all too well these accusations. They are explicitly or implicitly being thrown at every Catholic in the Twin Cities who still keeps the faith. Syme’s answer ought to be memorized by each and every Catholic whose heart has been pierced with sorrow in these past weeks.
“I see everything,” he cried, “everything that there is. Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, ‘You lie!’ No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, ‘We also have suffered.’
The victims suffered and are still suffering. I have heard suffering in the voices of those who knew them. I have heard suffering in the words of faithful Catholics who are watching all this mayhem unfold around them. I have read suffering in the testimony and pleas of Catholics. Those who have been unjustly implicated are suffering. Even those, God help them, who are guilty in this matter, they have also suffered, and we, like them, are sinners. Jesus died even for his killers, we cannot neglect to pray for those who are responsible for the suffering the Church has experienced.
But were the Catholic Church dependent on the virtues of its members and clergy to sustain it through the ages, it would have died in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Pope Francis, by identifying himself as a sinner, wasn’t merely making an autobiographical point, he was teaching us all theology. Prior to becoming Pope, Cardinal Bergoglio gave a series of sermons on mercy. In them he points out that Peter gets the worst of it from Jesus. Peter, the man who became the first Pope, was a violent rascal with a penchant for cutting off the ears of Roman servants and was even once called ‘satan’ by Jesus. Yet, it was to this man, who denied Christ on the night of his Passion, that the keys of heaven were given. Why? Because the Church is dependent at all times on the grace of God.
Her priests, laity, thinkers, and everyone else will always fall short of their calling. There are times when some fall farther than others, causing immense suffering when they do. What MPR and Jeff Anderson need is a little history lesson. The Church has always been full of sinners, and always will be, until the Second Coming. Many people across the centuries, starting with the Romans and the Sandhedrin, have tried to quash the Church either by the sins of her members or by the fabrications of her enemies. This particular case has a bit of both. But try as they might, the Church’s enemies can never get to the core of the Church, because that core is Christ. In the end it is He who judges sinners, He who pardons and who condemns and (snubs to Jeff Anderson) only He who can truly comfort the afflicted and the abused.
May the peace of Christ be with you,