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Editorial: The lesson of Opus Dei Fr. McCloskey’s downfall

(CNS/The Catholic Spirit/Dave Hrbacek)

It is time for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to issue a standard sign to be posted in every chancery office in the country, just outside the bishop’s door, reading:


It is time to be done with the breathless wonderment at whatever new revelations show one more holy and wonderful priest has been, in a hidden life, abusive of children, or women, or seminarians, or just a liar about what he knew or didn’t know, did or didn’t do.

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Opus Dei priest Fr. C. John McCloskey III, for whom the prelature paid a $977,000 settlement to a woman who accused him of sexual misconduct, is the latest to cause former associates and friends to go all aflutter with “How could he have?” And “How did we not know?” And “Why didn’t those who did know speak up?” And “How could someone like that also do so much good?”

He could do such things, first of all, because he is human, all that nonsense about ontological differences to the side. Human frailty is not a function of theological or political ideology. Archbishop Rembert Weakland and Trappist Fr. Thomas Merton, luminaries of the Catholic left, for instance, were also examples of lives that combined great goodness with sexual indiscretions profoundly contradictory to their station in life. We are all capable of good and evil. That’s the easy part.

The answers to the other questions reside primarily in understanding the culture in which all of those actors, McCloskey included, operated: the Catholic clerical culture. It is highly secretive, highly privileged, believed to be distinctive from the rest of human kind, allegedly celibate and, until recently, enjoying from members of the Catholic community as well as from civil authority in this country a level of deference that is normally reserved for the highly privileged. It is not without consequence that for too long that kind of deference extended to most of the media.

The old culture dies slowly and unevenly. McCloskey’s manipulative behavior with vulnerable women was certainly, in hindsight, telegraphed in things he wrote and in a series of interviews done for an ultraconservative presentation on marriage preparation for Catholics. For the discerning, red flags were popping everywhere (and YouTube provides abundant examples), but the sirens are blaring and lights are flashing in one particularly weird segment that can be found here:

Fr. C. John McCloskey – Seeking A Woman Who Wants To Be a Wife

McCloskey is explaining to the unseen interviewer his understanding of why “Catholic men, truly Catholic men” take off for places like Latin America and the Philippines, “where you can find, fairly easily, wonderful women who are — pardon the expression — submissive in a healthy sense, and that just love being women and just love being mothers and love being spouses. Not that they’re unintelligent or unattractive or even have a good education. But they recognize that as women they have gifts that men don’t have, above all that possibility of conceiving and nurturing children that is the most important function in any family.”

You see, he explains, in those regions of the world, while feminism has made “inroads,” it is nothing like it is here in the United States. So that’s why these truly Catholic men who “cannot find a good Catholic American woman who they would feel comfortable with” go searching for properly submissive women elsewhere. While those same men may not have looked hard enough around the home turf, often American women they find attractive are interested in careers, he asserts, not staying home and raising children.

That is the language and thinking of someone who became the face of one of Pope John Paul II’s favorite organizations. McCloskey was a perfect model of what the late and hastily sainted pope saw as “heroic priesthood.”

So was Thomas Williams, the face of the utterly corrupt Legionaries of Christ, another favorite organization of John Paul, who fathered a child and eventually left the priesthood after the reports became public in 2012. The problem for the community is not so much broken vows, but that the culture hid that reality for years. The organization and its very visible spokesman continued asserting a spirituality of absolutes and superiority as if nothing was amiss. That was the fraud perpetrated on the community.

The disgraced and disgraceful Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a serial pedophile who abused his own young seminarians and who also fathered two children, is in a category all to himself. Yet the culture not only tolerated him but advanced his demented ideas about leadership and priesthood until the dimensions of his fraud and corruption could no longer be hidden.


McCloskey and Williams were out front, absolutely certain, media-savvy Catholic TV personalities and possessed of all the answers one might need. They were the charm and the smilingly urbane face of the new evangelization. They were thoroughly indoctrinated with John Paul’s ideas about the meaning of ordination and the pope’s strange and strained insights into women expressed in his personal writings and a series of sermons that he delivered on his “theology of the body.”

McCloskey for a few years personified that muscular priesthood. Characterized in a New York Times headline as “An Opus Dei Priest With a Magnetic Touch,” the people he drew into the community were high-profile conservatives, politically and economically well-placed and powerful. There was a genuine appeal for many in his highly dualistic and rigorist, not to mention antifeminist, approach to the faith.

We are paying dearly for all of that right now. The peculiarities that came with John Paul’s notions of priesthood — his insistence on rebuilding a cult separate and apart from ordinary people and the utter lack of judgment he showed in choosing his models for that project — became deeply woven into the fabric of an already corrupted clerical culture. What he advanced actually reinforced the worst characteristics of the culture.

It is not the sins of the individuals that should now be the focus. All humans fail; we are all capable of deception and worse. It is the institutional corruption that they came to represent. The failings hidden for years by the institution, in the case of McCloskey, Williams, Maciel and others. The power of money, in the case of Maciel and, more recently, of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to buy them cover in the Vatican. The refusal on John Paul II’s part, time and again, to listen to serious and credible allegations against Maciel and other abusers. He set the template in this era of scandal for how church leaders should proceed.

It is, indeed, the clergy culture that is at the heart of the church’s problems. It is in dire need of radical reform.





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Make the Catholic Church great again? There’s no going back

Jan 9, 2019

by Daniel P. Horan


(Unsplash/Grant Whitty)

Despite political slogans to the contrary, there has never been a time when America was “great.” The same thing could be said about the Roman Catholic Church.

There has never been a “great” time, a “golden age,” a context in which the church was actually a “perfect society” or anything apart from what it always has been and remains: a pilgrim community of the baptized. It has always been simultaneously holy and sinful (a theme theologian Brian Flanagan takes up in his recent book Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church) because it is composed of imperfect, weak and ordinary human beings like you and me and everybody else.

While many Catholics, especially those in ecclesiastical leadership, have focused a lot of attention on the sanctity of the church over the centuries, the real sinfulness of the church can no longer be merely brushed off or avoided altogether.

In the wake of the crises of faith and trust renewed by the revelations of the abuse and assault allegations against former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and witnessed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, women and men of faith have had to grapple with why they continue to identify as Catholic and what that identity means to them. And the responses have varied.

A lot of attention has been paid to those who have opted out of Catholicism entirely. Such is the case with Melinda Henneberger as expressed in her USA Today column and her essay in this publication. I understand this decision and the feelings that precipitate such a serious choice. I, too, have had my own struggles with how to square my faith in the God of Jesus Christ and the church with the darkest and most-disturbing criminality of some of its leaders. Being a member of a religious order and an ordained presbyter doesn’t make me immune from doubt, anger and frustration. But I have not, at least for now, followed Henneberger’s path.

As someone who has made a conscious decision to remain in the church, I have been interested in the responses of my sisters and brothers who have made similar choices in the face of such tragic crises. In voicing their righteous anger and expressing their understandable frustration, some Catholics have proposed constructive pathways and calls for change. Among these, I think increased lay leadership and ministerial oversight in numerous forms makes tremendous sense and its implementation is long overdue.

Others have suggested dramatic and, at times, unrealistic responses. While well-intentioned, calls for widespread episcopal resignations or even just that of Pope Francis alone do not adequately address the structural issues that were the conditions that make possible such egregious abuse, assault and cover-up.


And still others have taken a different approach entirely. Which brings me to what we might call the ecclesial equivalent of the Trumpian rally cry to “Make America Great Again.”

While not an overwhelming number, there is a small but vocal group of Catholics who have taken the latest revelations as an opportunity to suggest the source of the crises in the church are the theological and liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. This sort of conjecture is as incredible as those who claim gay clergy are the problem (a preposterous assertion that has been incontrovertibly disproven by scientific research).

The response has been a renewed call from such camps for a return to some kind of earlier — “greater” — era of propositional claims and Latin collects. A few authors have pointed to the fact that even some young adults have been drawn to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite as evidence for the potential appeal of a Tridentine style as an answer to the problem.

In an essay published last November, Susanna Spencer, a freelance writer, named this population of young people the “Modern Traditionalists.” In addition to a Latin liturgy with polyphonic choral accompaniment, characteristics of a “Modern Traditionalist” include a vision of church and world shaped by Pope St. John Paul II, identifying as conservative, and embracing the “Theology of the Body.”

Spencer explains, “A Modern Traditionalist is a lover of all things traditional, not out of a nostalgia for things pre-1965, but out of a real love of the beauty preserved in it. For them it is not just a preference, but the realization that the older liturgy is more beautiful and profound.”

I wholeheartedly agree that those hankering for the Extraordinary Form are not doing so out of nostalgia. How could they be? Most weren’t alive when Latin was the liturgical lingua franca (and for most Millennials and Generation Z, their parents weren’t either). But it is the second line in this description that gives me pause. It is the presentation of an aesthetic opinion as an uncontestable fact: the Extraordinary Form is more beautiful and profound than what is known as the “Novus Ordo” (literally, the new “way” or “order”) liturgy of Vatican II.

What I find extremely disturbing with this sort of logic — and it is not limited to Roman Catholics, as one recent piece in The Times of London showed — are the ahistorical and untenable theological foundations it presupposes.

For instance, in a church that is two-millennia old, a liturgical form that has existed since the 16th century is hardly the most “traditional.” It’s practically a fad. Ironically, it was the bishops and their periti at Vatican II that went back to the earliest Christian sources and examined the historical development of rites and rituals through the centuries in order to offer the best footing for what we might rightly call the most “traditional” approach to liturgy. It is traditional in that it better reflects the Christian tradition.

I think there is plenty of room in the church for those who wish to worship in diverse ways. But the “smells and bells” of a Latin liturgy in an ornate cathedral are no more beautiful or profound than the simple house liturgy of the first century communities or the massive liturgies on a beach during World Youth Days.

Change can be a terrifying prospect. So too is the realization that what so many of us generally presumed about the goodness, virtue and moral standing of our religious leaders might not be as accurate as we rightly hoped. But change in itself is not the problem and reactionary attitudes of yearning for a greater time that never was is also not the answer. The desire to return to what some see as past liturgical perfection, for example, reflects the fear of change in unfamiliar times seen today in broader society. It is a symptom of something more troubling: a desire for control presented as authentic reform.

As we begin this new year, a year in which real reform and change is needed in the structures of our community of faith, we must be mindful to avoid the easy answers and simple solutions. This includes the indignant cries of those who would use the real tragedies, crimes and sins uncovered to advance an agendaof ecclesiastical politics in an effort to recreate a fantasy of a simpler and holier and better church.

There’s no going back to this reverie of some past great church, because the only church that exists is the pilgrim one composed of all the baptized on a journey forward. The question for us this year is how exactly do we let the Holy Spirit lead us forward?

[Daniel P. Horan is a Franciscan friar and assistant professor of systematic theology and spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Follow him on twitter: @DanHoranOFM]


FOL <>
To:Sixto Garcia
Jan 7 at 12:33 PM
WITH GRATITUDE TO FRANK O’LOUGHLIN – Let us not forget Dom Helder’s best-known quote: “WHEN I GIVE FOOD TO THE POOR, THEY CALL ME A SAINT – WHEN iIASK WHY THE POOR HAVE NO FOOD, THEY CALL ME A COMMUNIST” – I hope to live long enough to see his canonization

Brazilian icon of liberation theology moves closer to sainthood

Brazilian icon of liberation theology moves closer to sainthood

ROME – An iconic figure in Latin American Catholicism and a source of inspiration for Pope Francis is one step closer to sainthood, as the diocesan phase of a canonization process for the late Archbishop Hélder Câmara of Brazil closed on Dec. 19.

“Dom Hélder exhorts us not to forget the poor, the defenseless, and the marginalized,” said Capuchin Father Jociel Gomes, the postulator, or official in charge, of Câmara’s cause.

“We Christians have to struggle for the rights of those who don’t have a voice, for the oppressed and suffering,” Gomes said. “We have to be committed to practicing peace and justice.”

Gomes spoke in an interview with Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference.

Câmara, who died in 1999, was renowned in Brazil for resisting the country’s military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, advocating for human rights, democracy, and the rights of Brazil’s poor. He endured numerous death threats and the risk of arrest for his advocacy of land reform, and a close friend, Father Antônio Henrique Pereira Neto, was murdered by assassins who still remain unidentified.

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint,” Câmara once famously said. “When I ask why they’re poor, they call me a communist.”

In Latin American Catholicism, Câmara is also regarded as among the fathers of liberation theology, a controversial current that sought to enshrine a “preferential option for the poor” as a core principle of Catholic social teaching.

Though often derided by critics as a way of “baptizing” Marxist class struggle, liberation theology today has been largely integrated into official Catholic teaching, especially under history’s first Latin American pope.

In Portuguese, Câmara was known as o bispinho, or the “little bishop,” a term of endearment and also a reference to his slight physical stature.

Born in 1909, Câmara was ordained in 1931 and became an auxiliary bishop of Rio de Janeiro in 1952. Early on he supported a far-right social movement in Brazil called Integralismo, but he moved in a steadily more progressive direction for the rest of his career.

Câmara attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and is credited with making important contributions to Gaudium et Spes, the council’s celebrated Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. He was seen as among the liberal stalwarts at Vatican II, though he never wavered in his support of the papacy – when St. Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1968, reaffirming the traditional ban on artificial birth control, Câmara was the first person to send a telegram to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State congratulating the pontiff.

Paul VI returned the favor, consistently supporting Câmara during the dictatorship despite calls from traditionalist quarters for the outspoken prelate to be removed or silenced.

“I had nostalgia to meet you, to see you again,” Paul VI told Câmara during their last encounter in 1978, the year the pontiff died, referring to the Brazilian prelate as a “brother of the poor and my brother.”

In 1964, the year of Brazil’s military take-over, Câmara was named the Archbishop of Oinda e Recife in the northeastern region of the country. He would hold the post until he retired in 1985, the year the dictatorship ended.

Though Câmara personally practiced non-violent resistance, he became controversial for refusing to denounce the use of violent tactics tout court. In an interview with the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, he once declared “I never said that to use weapons against an oppressor is immoral or anti-Christian.”

While he spurned the label “Marxist,” Câmara openly identified himself as a socialist.

“My socialism is special, it’s a socialism that respects the human person and goes back to the Gospels,” he said.

Gomes compared Câmara to St. Oscar Romero of El Salvador, another hero of resistance to military regimes and advocate of the poor.

“Both had a deep intimacy with God,” Gomes said. “Both were pioneers of what Pope Francis preaches today with such vehemence: A church that reaches out, capable of reaching geographical and existential peripheries.”

Gomes said that while he can’t predict how long the sainthood cause may take, he’s committed to seeing it through.

“We don’t know how long the process will last, but for our part, we’re committed to scrupulously and rapidly following the indications from the Congregation [for the Causes of Saints, in the Vatican] to abbreviate the time,” Gomes said.

“We’re anxious that the testimony of the life and holiness of Monsignor Hélder be proclaimed to the world,” he said.


Forever Changed
By Justin White

How perfect is it to have this feast day of the Epiphany of the Lord less than two weeks after celebrating Christmas?

For some of us, the Christmas joy may have subsided as we took down decorations. We may be worrying ourselves with keeping up with newly minted New Year’s resolutions as we see stores prepare for Valentine’s Day. The fast-paced and consumer-focused culture can make the encounter with our God made flesh start to feel far away, almost like a dream. Couple that with the continued rhetoric from the leaders of our land that create fear of “the other,” the Prince of Peace seems to have lost reign.

Enter the Three Wise Men—these astronomers, kings, foreigners who travel to pay homage to the newborn king. I can’t help but think of their conversations with one another as they traveled to Bethlehem. Were they worried or fearful? Were they excited and full of anticipation? Did they talk about the current events in their respected lands? Did they argue about social policies or moral theology? Did they talk about their families and the joys and tribulations of those relationships? Did they bond with one another or view each other with disdain or suspicion?

We will never know the answers to these questions—but we do know that upon seeing Jesus “they prostrated themselves and did him homage.” After their encounter, they do not return to Herod but instead “departed for their country by another way.” They were forever changed. These three men overcame geographical boundaries and potentially different ideologies, and together they had a collective experience of Grace. Even before Jesus could utter a word or perform a miracle, He was changing the lives of those around Him simply with His presence.

We, you and I, are the Three Wise Men. They remind us that encounter and engagement with the God who manifested himself in human form will always have a profound impact on our lives.  We, together, in this New Year have the opportunity to travel alongside “the other,” bring our gifts of kinship, faith, and justice, and be forever transformed.


What are our values?
By Ed Nuñez

What are our values? How do our families impact those values? Our readings for the Feast of the Holy Family, specifically Paul’s letter to the Colossians, speak about the things that we should “put on” (Colossians 3:12) and what these unique values are.

Sometimes I forget what my values are. These values have been passed down to me from my family and other institutions, but they’re not really written on my head or anything like that. Nevertheless, the readings for this day, the Feast of the Holy Family, call us to question what we are hearing from Jesus and how that applies to our own life.

The Holy Family probably had their own values, right? I’d imagine that they valued a love for one another, concern for each other’s whereabouts, and a sense of hope. But we must ask ourselves, where do my values come from? The values of Jesus Christ are love, compassion, justice, joy, and hope for all people. Are my values in line with this? Am I working for a world and a society that is just, loving, and hopeful, just like the Holy Family? What do I need to “put on” in order to make the communities around me better?

The Holy Family and these readings encourage us to take a step back and remember where we come from and what our values are. We come from families of all kinds, but today we are reminded that Christ’s values—and the Holy Family’s—should also be ours.

In a very polarizing and tense time in our nation and in our world, may the Holy Family inspire us to “put on” some new and different values of justice and love for all.And as a new year rapidly approaches, let us reflect on our own lives and what values we might want to take on, so this new year can be one that boldly mirrors our deepest-held values of justice and peace.


“At the heart of Christmas night is the image of Mother and Child streaming with blinding light. Here, everything that had been torn apart by sin and hostility and human pride is once again united: heaven and earth, God and man, nature and spirit. The world becomes a hymn of praise, words become a song of love matter becomes a gift and all of nature becomes a manger”  — Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983)


You have come as you promised,
Prince of Peace,
Savior of the world.

You, through whom we come to be,
Have come to be with us;
Power in our weakness,
Light in our darkness,
Hope in hearts heavy with despair.

You, Creation’s Lord,
Come for us all,
For the shepherds and the kings.

In You, we see all are one,
In need of You and one another,
Sisters and brothers.

As we gaze at you
With wonder and joy,
The world is born anew.

Your Kingdom has come,
And, blessed be God,
We, too, belong.

O Prince of Peace,
Savior of the World,
We celebrate the re-birth
Of compassion and love.

Prayer by Education for Justice