What Father Among You: Bishops, Priests, and The Judas Crisis
In his last years, Father Richard John Neuhaus served the Church in the spirit of Saint Matthias. He saw The Judas Crisis for what it was, and named it.
The elephant in the sacristy this week is, of course, that stunning May 11 article by Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “The Trials of Father MacRae.” In effect it brought the truth of one case of false witness to the public square for all to see, and the result is a far different story than what many in the news media have propagated to date. Like any wound so exposed, I found the article to be painful but necessary, and the cleansing of this festering wound of wrongful imprisonment will no doubt be painful still.
Just a week before that Journal article appeared, the local Comcast cable system in Concord, NH decided to add EWTN to its Basic Cable service available to, and funded by, prisoners at no cost to taxpayers. This prison system lost access to EWTN five years ago, and it is suddenly back. Our friend, Pornchai, was the first to notice. He awoke during a sleepless night and turned on his little TV. There on his screen was Dawn Eden being interviewed about her book, Peace I Give You; Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. Pornchai wrote of her and that book in “Divine Mercy and the Doors of My Prisons” for Holy Souls Hermitage last month. If you haven’t read his guest post, you must not miss it.
The next morning Pornchai told me about EWTN and Dawn Eden so I tuned in later that night in time to catch a rerun interview with the late Father Richard John Neuhaus, as brilliant and erudite as ever. It made my heart sink a little. He left us in January, 2009, and I have written more than one tribute to him, the last being “In Memoriam: Avery Cardinal Dulles and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus” on TSW in January 2011. They were the greatest of friends and collaborators, and they left this world three weeks apart from each other. In the last century of American Catholicism, there has been no one to match the strength of their combined voices in the public square – with the exception, of course, of the legendary Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
The night Father Neuhaus posthumously appeared on my TV screen, he was right on cue. I was lying awake re-reading a series of his commentaries for First Things magazine on the Catholic priesthood sex abuse scandal. Originally published in “The Public Square” section of First Things, we collected these brilliant commentaries into a single document posted under “Articles and Commentary” here on TSW with Father Neuhaus’ original title, “Scandal Time.”
Father Neuhaus wrote most of “Scandal Time” just before and after the U.S. Bishops’ ratification of the so-called Dallas Charter in 2002 with its policies of zero tolerance and widespread suppression of the rights of accused priests. It makes for painful but necessary reading because it exposes a gaping wound in the life of the Catholic Church in the United States – a wound that threatens the very nature of priesthood. Father Neuhaus did not cushion his message, and in fact began it by citing The Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz:
“Unbridled outrage can too easily become hysteria. One recalls [the] blizzard of criminal charges and lawsuits over alleged abuses, including satanic rituals and other grotesqueries, perpetrated by people working in day care centers. Whole communities around the country were caught up in a frenzy of mutual recriminations, and many people went to jail, until the heroic and almost single-handed work of Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal exposed the madness for what it was.” (Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, “Scandal Time,” 2002)
MY LOT IN LIFE
A TSW reader suggested awhile back that my being falsely accused and wrongly imprisoned may be “your lot in life,” brought about so that These Stone Walls could come into being. I find that to be an intimidating notion, and I’m not sure I want to put much stock in it. The euphemism, “my lot in life” is intriguing, however. We’ve all heard it and used it, but I think most people are unaware of the term’s Biblical roots. It comes from the practice of casting lots, a term used throughout Scripture.
“Lots” were marked objects somewhat like dice, cast to resolve disputes or to discern the will of the Lord. The term is mentioned in Proverbs 16: 33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord.” Among many Biblical examples, lots were cast after the conquest of Canaan (Numbers 26:55) to divide up the territory of Canaan among the tribes of Israel. Lots were also used on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) to select a scapegoat to send into the desert to Azazel bearing the sins of all Israel (Leviticus 16: 7-10). That particular reference was also the basis of my January, 2013 post, “What Dreams May Come: Azazel and the Pursuit of Justice.”
Psalm 16:5 is a reminder to the Lord that “thou holdest my lot,” and each of the Gospel Passion Narratives describes the Roman soldiers casting lots for the garments of the crucified Christ.
In one of the last references to casting lots in the chronology of Scripture, the practice was used to discern the successor to Judas to complete the Twelve after his betrayal and death. In Acts of the Apostles (1: 21-26) the remaining Apostles cast lots to select Matthias to replace Judas. Matthias was described in Acts as a witness to Christ from the Baptism of Jesus by John to the Resurrection and Ascension. Matthias was chosen to resolve the first Judas crisis in the Church.
THE NEW JUDAS CRISIS
It might strike you as an irony of Biblical proportions, therefore, that Father Richard John Neuhaus, whose “Scandal Time” essays laid out the foundations for the current Judas Crisis in the Church and priesthood, came into this world on the Feast of Saint Matthias, May 14, 1936. If you have read “Pope Francis and The Judas Crisis” by Father George David Byers on These Stone Walls, then the following excerpts from “Scandal Time” written a decade ago by Father Neuhaus will ring a loud bell, and will ring true. Father Neuhaus here presents in graphic terms, and with courage and fidelity, the milieu in which the Dallas Charter and The Judas Crisis were born:
“New reports claiming that a certain number of priests have been charged with abuse and that the claims were settled out of court must not be interpreted to mean that the priests are guilty. Some of them insisted and insist they are innocent, but bishops were advised by lawyers and insurance companies that a legal defense against the charges would cost much more than settlement out of court . . .
“There is an unseemly readiness on the part of many, including some Catholics, to believe the worst. What we know is wretched enough. We would not know what we do know without the reporting of The Boston Globe. [However] it is pointed out that the Globe, like its owner The New York Times, is no friend of the Church. The suggestion is not that we kill the messenger, but that we should be keenly aware that the messenger has, on issue after issue, points to score against the teaching and claims of the Catholic Church; that the messenger is not a neutral party.
“In setting themselves against their priests, the bishops have turned themselves into assistant district attorneys determined to prove themselves tougher than their bosses. Note what counts as an offense for which a priest is removed from ministry for life. A sexual offense, the [Bishops’ Dallas] Charter says, is not ‘necessarily to be equated with the definitions of sexual abuse or other crimes in civil law.’
“After the [Dallas Charter] vote, some bishops said that everything was so rushed and they did not know the definition of abuse was so loose and potentially abusive of priests. You voted for it, sir. You voted to make it mandatory, with absolutely no exceptions, that a priest be excluded forever from ministry for anything that might fall within the above definition of a sexual offense. This is not for ‘the good of the Church.’ This has nothing to do with ‘the protection of children and young people.’ This is panic, and panic results in recklessness.
“Among the most elementary of elementary rules in every recognized system of justice is that you cannot make laws apply retroactively. This is precisely what the bishops did in adopting zero tolerance and draconian punishment for vaguely defined incidents not only of the present and future, but of the past. Priests are instructed that the good of the Church, meaning the public image of bishops, is not compatible with the gift of redemption. Another elementary rule of justice is the presumption of innocence. Now, it would seem, an accused priest is guilty until proven innocent . . . The bishops had a historic opportunity to show, with the whole world watching, how Christians deal with sin and grace, mercy and justice. Sadly, the opportunity was missed.”
THE JUDAS CRISIS AND FIDELITY
The “Scandal Time” essays by Father Neuhaus collected at TSW comprise about thirty pages, but for those who want to know how we got to where we are, they provide the most astute and informative discussion of the crisis available, in my opinion. What makes these essays so reliable and informative is the same thing that makes Father Byers’ discussion of The Judas Crisis reliable. In addition to being rather straightforward writers of truth and justice, both priests are models of fidelity. If they were not, you would not see them quoted here.
There is also an issue of media fidelity – fidelity to the truth – and the time has come for all Catholics to discern what news venues are supported with their time, attention, and subscriptions. The above comments by Father Neuhaus about The Boston Globe and The New York Times raise serious concerns about fair treatment of Catholic issues and fidelity to truth. A few years ago when These Stone Walls first started. two friends gave me gift subscriptions to The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal. Neither friend was aware of the gift of the other. From inside this 9′ x 12′ prison cell that I just cannot bring myself to call home, the two papers were my windows onto the world.
When it came time to renew, however, I simply could not afford the almost $900 cost of a year’s subscription to The Boston Globe, and it was far from worth it. So I chose the far superior paper, The Wall Street Journal, and surprisingly at a fraction of the Globe’s cost. I do not point this out because The Wall Street Journal just published an article that treated me with justice. This isn’t about me at all. I find that the Journal consistently treats the truth with justice, and doesn’t deny justice and truth to Catholic issues simply because trashing the Church is what’s now expected to sell newspapers.
I was therefore not at all surprised to see that a recent Pew Research Center survey determined that the WSJ is now seen as the most believable and trusted newspaper in America. With 2.4 million print and digital subscribers, it is by far the largest as well, and has far surpassed both The New York Times and USA Today in subscribers.
The quality of the Journal’s integrity in news reporting was really made clear to me during the tumultuous months in news out of Rome from February to April this year. The Journal’s coverage of the abdication of Pope Benedict, the papal Conclave, and the election of Pope Francis was outstanding and exceptional among secular media. Scandals were not avoided, but unlike in almost all other of the U.S. print media, scandal was not the raison d’etre for the Journal’s coverage of the riveting stories of Vatican news.
In the Journal’s daily coverage of Vatican affairs, one writer in particular stood out among all others. Stacy Meichtry’s frequent news reporting from Rome was a model of clarity, in-depth analysis, and a demonstrable awareness of Catholic history and practice. These reports have been collected by The Wall Street Journal staff into a downloadable e-book format that I hear is just terrific – and a real bargain at $4.99. Its title is Pope Francis: From the End of the Earth to Rome, and it can be found at www.PopeFrancisTheBook.com.
If I must boast, I will try always to boast in the Lord. I thank God that I had the privilege of concelebrating the Ordination Mass of Father Richard Neuhaus with Cardinal John O’Connor in the Chapel of Archdiocesan Seminary in New York. I had come to know, love and respect then Pastor Richard Neuhaus while serving with him on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Religion and Democracy.