BISHOPS – PRIESTS: When shall we see his like again?

von Galen 300At The Catholic Thing there is a piece by David Warren which merits attention.  Warren had been to the presentation of a new book about Bl. Clemens August Card. von Galen, the “Lion of Munster” who famously stood up in the public square directly in the path of Hitler and Nazism.  When shall we see his like again?

Where are the von Galens we need today?

Where are the Ambroses?

Where are the John Fishers?

That’s what Warren wonders about too.

Here is a sample… but read the whole thing there.  My emphases and comments.

Silence of the Lions

What is the use of bishops? This has been a question in the minds of many Catholic faithful, through my adult life, as I have learnt from conversation. Often the question itself, or something like it, is asked sarcastically, about one bishop or another who has failed, signally, to uphold Catholic teaching when he was called upon “by events.” The cock crows thrice and then – the possibility fades.

The faithful are told, by this silence or (more often) incoherent mumbling, that when it comes to the witnessing of Christ and Christ’s teaching, they are on their own. They may have the Catechism of the Catholic Church before them, to remind them what’s what in our faith, but if they make a stand they cannot expect their leaders to support them.  [This is often the experience of priests in parishes who try to teach Catholic Faith in its fullness, including messages about human sexual morality.  They come under attack and the bishop won’t back him.  Instead the priests are left to the wolves, the wolves including, sometimes, sadly, the bishop himself.  Mind you, what was said about “silence or … incorherent mumbling” is also endemic among priests.  Many things written here can apply to priests and not just bishops.]

Rather, more likely, they are quietly disowned, as “fanatics,” and left to stew in that reputation. For they are now taken to be speaking only for themselves, in a time when anything said with clarity and precision can be dismissed as the outpouring of mere “feelings,” then slandered as “hate speech.” [Witness the treatment of Robert Card. Sarah after his invitation to priests to say Mass ad orientem.  Witness the way that Card. Burke is treated by the catholic Left, even from the heights of the Twitter account of Fr. Spadaro (SJ), who called him – via a posted image – a “witless worm” as if the Cardinal were Wormtongue from the Lord of the Rings.  HERE]

In a dark time, when speech codesare advancing on every academic, legal, social and political front, the lawless Dictatorship of Relativism is being consolidated. Anything you say may be, potentially, prosecuted on the argument that it might, potentially, hurt the feelings of unknown members of some vaguely defined, politically favored group. The dissident loses his livelihood, or if he hopes to keep it, must submit to public humiliation and some course of “counseling,” or “sensitivity training,” or “re-education.” [Witness the recent treatment of Prof. Anthony Esolen ]

Maoism is thus alive and well on the college campuses; and spreading beyond them. [I suspect that in referring to Maoism, he may mean the Cultural Revolution, with its spectacular terror, shifting deadly political sands, and show trials.] Or Stalinism, or Hitlerism, if gentle reader prefers. Or “McCarthyism,” insofar as it was conceived to involve show trials.

McCarthyism was defeated, fairly quickly – inside three months – when several prominent establishment figures stood up to the late Wisconsin senator, and said they had had enough. Joe McCarthy was himself labeled a pariah, and his case made a warning to any who might wish to emulate him.  [McCarthy, by the way, wasn’t wrong.]

Indeed, a more formidable McCarthyism of the Left was planted in the corpse of that politician, and his name made into a propaganda slogan. But to begin with, I think, there was genuine outrage at the recklessness of McCarthy’s senate hearings, and for the first who stood up, some nerve was required.

As courage will always be required – in all times, in all nations – for those who will oppose an injustice.

We have by now, in the Catholic Church, a legacy of bishops who were brave and worthy, written into the annals of our Saints and Martyrs. Conducted chiefly through the liturgy, they amount in practice to a Third Testament – an exemplary chronicle through twenty centuries in which, by the lives of great men and women, the Life of Christ persisted in this world.

By no means can we say that bishops always fail us; nor even when they fall silent are we necessarily left to fend for ourselves. God finds others who step forward to give the example. Too, it should be said that we ourselves are entitled, by the grace of our baptism, to step forward – to vindicate the good and the true; to condemn their opposites. But such acts are uncommon. [More on this point, below.]

That they are uncommon is part of the teaching, about sinful man. We are so attached to our worldly comforts, by our worldly imaginations, that in the clearest opposition between right and wrong we will seek the quiet life. And as we could know if only from the Gospels, the man well fed and well housed, well friended and conspicuously decorated (such as a bishop), has more to lose than most. Why risk it all in exchange for public persecution, and the risk of abandonment by his own supporters? For rewards not of this world, invisible except to the eyes of Faith?  [Because we are under constant pressure from the World, the Flesh and the Devil.  Because of Original Sin.]


For a while now I’ve been saying, in the context of trying to expand the use of the older, traditional form of the Roman Rite, that lay people can’t just sit on their hands and wait for priests and bishops to do something for them.  Lay people have to take matters into their own hands, organize, and make it happen.  Yes, of course, Mass requires the priest.  But everything needed for Mass can be handled by lay people.  Be ready to do all the work.  Remove every obstacle.  Make straight the path to that ad orientem altar.

Are you tepid?  Are you spiritless or halfhearted?  Do you not feel zeal?  Are you downhearted?

Let us all make a thorough inventory of our situations in life and review our own vocations.  We must examine our consciences and GO TO CONFESSION!  Then we have to apply ourselves with greater zeal to the work in front of our faces.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. bombcar says:

    Bishoprics, besides being much smaller, should be permanent appointments (as should parish priests); this might do a little bit of something towards making it easier to hold to the truth.

    And the idea that parish priests should be shuffled every six years is as silly as shuffling fathers of families every six years. Term limits on pastors means that parishes are run by the bureaucracy.

  2. Nan says:

    @bombcar, do you propose then that a man should be appointed Archbishop or Cardinal directly from priest? How then to gain experience with greater duties? Should a man go from ordination to a parish and stay forever? How then to get new blood into the seminary? Or to best use a priests charisms? Say a priest is there forever and isn’t a great fundraiser but the parish has debt to pay off or needs a new parish hall or restoration to an old building?

    Needed change will be less shocking if change occurs on a schedule. Not that all priests are moved on schedules. Where I live there are still a few who have been in their parish approximately forever; I was told a few years ago that the priest in his parish longest had been moved after 16 yrs then learned a year or two ago that wasn’t true; a priest in his parish over 30 yrs retired and another who has been in his parish over 40 yrs is still there!

    Priests can still be appointed for 2 6 yr terms, can’t they? They serve at the will of the bishop so shorter terms make it easier for the next bishop to move people along to a new assignment. It also allows for greater variety of assignments for a given priest; a city priest was surprised to find that he liked his country parish so much that after being given a temporary parish in the country, he took it on as pastor.

  3. Benedict Joseph says:

    Where indeed are the likes of von Galen?
    This morning it is reported that Pope Francis conveyed to Raul Castro that Fidel Castro’s death was “sad news” and that he was grieving. “I express to you my sentiments of grief.”
    Of even greater sadness is the fate of those who endured the brutal governance of the Communist Castro, who had the benefit of a Jesuit education.
    Of even greater grief is the existence of those whose lives, bodies and perception of reality are forever mutilated by the cruelty of this vile tyrant.
    There is a time to cast the raking light of demonstrable truth upon the dung pile.

  4. Semper Gumby says:

    Great post Fr. Z. Michael O’Brien wrote a novel titled Eclipse of the Sun. The interaction between priest, parishioners, and bishop as they deal with an increasingly toxic culture and internal tepidness is illuminating.

  5. Joseph-Mary says:

    Pope: “Eternal damnation is not a torture chamber but distance from God”…
    At another time he said something along the lines that when we die we are just annihilated…so therefore, nothing to fear as perhaps someone is already not close to God, etc. And there does not seem to be the old classic sins so much any more but some ‘new ones’. When this comes from the top, those who want to be on the ‘winning side’ or who want the laxity will support the non teaching of the truths of the faith, won’t they? Or they may be silent because of the backlash that we see our faithful prelates and others undergoing. Yet, this is the stuff of saints and there are saints in the making right now. They are the persecuted ones very often.

  6. msc says:

    By “Maoism” I think he is more referring to the fanatical mob rule by the young (crowds of screaming youth waving their red books) than the cultural revolution as a whole. But that’s a bit of nitpicking on my part. Fortunately there is a powerful but small group of Catholic youth that has joined the leaders of the movements for restoring the liturgy. They are outnumbered but their will is formidable.

  7. PostCatholic says:

    Óscar Romero comes to mind.

  8. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    There is a number that people should commit to memory. It should be possible to do this, with effort, repetition, etc.

    Here it is. From the Soviet archives.

    The number of people Sen. Joe McCarthy falsely accused of being members of the Communist Party: ZERO

  9. xsosdid says:

    My parish is a bit of a wasteland. It keeps getting worse: our “strategic plan” includes a lot about being welcoming and “inclusivity”. Our prayers of the Faithful include prayers for homosexuals who have been discriminated against. It is a difficult place to raise a Catholic family. I have written to my bishop about ad orientem worship, and spoken to my priest, who said that it would create a “firestorm” in the diocese, whatever that means. My pastor has introduced a new program that seems to be about inviting back those who have left by watering down doctrine…
    I would love to leave, but the best second choices are an hour or so away. My kids ( I have four, I bring a fifth, a friend of my daughter) would rebel at mass taking three-plus hours of a Sunday. Not sure what to do next, in terms of improving things in my parish…I would love to be better at all this.

    Thank you Fr Zed for always reminding us about confession.

  10. un-ionized says:

    xsosdid, I am sorry about your parish, that seems to be almost the norm these days. Your ability to communicate effectively with children about the difference between right and wrong is difficult but important as you are their first example. That’s probably more important than attempting to change things. There is a kind of inclusiveness that is good and you can teach the difference. God bless you and your family.

  11. CharlesG says:

    If Spadaro thinks that Cardinal Burke is Wormtongue, then is the Pope Emeritus supposed to be Theoden?

  12. Thorfinn says:

    xsosdid – If moving is not an option, I can only recommend that Sunday Mass is just the tip of the iceberg, and many of us have survived liturgical abuse. Focus on great prayer life at home as a family; and bring the kids on special event trips where they can be exposed to orthodox Catholicism & traditional liturgy, and recognize there is more to Catholicism than the local mediocrity, and that you aren’t the only family who thinks so.

  13. Grabski says:

    It bears remembering St John Fischer was the only Bishop who stood up. Sad but true

  14. rmichaelj says:

    You know your family better than anyone, and it is obviously your decision about where to attend mass. Having said that, I will share with you my experience.

    We go to a traditional mass over an hour away. When all is said and done it is usually at least 4 hours away from home, most often 6 or 7 as some of the kids are taking confirmation class.

    At first it was a struggle, with resistance not only from the children, but also from my wife. As time passed (it took about 6 months of going every single Sunday) the resistance lessened and they realized how important a value I, as the Father, placed on it.

    Ultimately, I think what helped is that I help get all the kids ready- not placing all the burden on my wife- and explained patiently to everyone why we spend the extra time to go to the traditional mass.

    God willing if/when the Traditional mass is widespread again my kids can answer any potential grandkids protests about going to mass with tales of the sacrifices we made to hold on to the what they tried to take away from us.

  15. AvantiBev says:

    Future saint Fr. John Hardon and Texas priest Fr. Rodriguez who stood up to the evil fruits of sexual revolution and was pilloried by bishop and secular powers; both brave men come to mind.

  16. PhilipNeri says:

    I’ll be the first to admit — I have a Big Mouth and my Polite Filter is often off-line. I’ve gotten better with age (wisdom? prudence?), but I still manage to pop off in ways that cause me minor problems.

    I often tell my seminarians that they can say pretty much anything in a homily so long as they say with genuine love and in a way that can be heard (“veritas in caritate”). It really is *how* you say it that matters most.

    Being a religious I can get away with be cranky, contrarian, and somewhat blunt. Diocesan clergy have a much harder time (I think) being anything but Company Men — if they want to remain in the mainstream of their presbyterate. It’s difficult to balance being truly prophetic within the operating bounds of any institution. It’s especially difficult to achieve that balance in an institution that is itself prophetic.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  17. Thomas Sweeney says:

    For any Bishop or Priest to dislike the Traditional Mass is almost impossible for me to come to grips with. [I suspect that such dislike would be a symptom of other psychological problems.] With the rampant liberal ideology that is mainstream today maybe I am the one who is out of tune. But we all need a spiritual home, and I think that only a hardened heart would not make room for those seeking solace from a perverted society. The traditions that have been handed down to us should not be swept aside so callously.

  18. Supertradmum says:

    This is amazing as I was thinking this today before I read the article. Sadly, bishops in the past decades seemed to have been chosen to be administrators and technocrats, probably to deal with the sex scandals, instead of spiritual leaders. The lack of spiritual notes and letters coming from bishops is obvious.

    Priests as well as the laity need good leaders who know how to pray and live like Christ. I heard one seminarian say that he gave up on trying to find good examples of priests, as he could not find a saintly one in his world.

    The pursuit of personal holiness led to the brave actions of Blessed von Galen.

  19. G-Veg says:

    I live in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Archbishop Chaput is our shepherd.

    I am quite fond of him and fear that mandatory retirement will replace a good, faithful, and courageous man with, well, a bishop who is not any of those things.

    What I most appreciate about Archbishop Chaput is that he is a good steward, making long put off decisions and standing by them. That is hard to do and can not have been pleasant for him.

    Out archdiocese got in trouble through weak-kneed and faithless cardinals like Cardinal Kroll. It took a salt-of-the-earth priest front the heartland to undo their mistakes.

    I pray that we get someone like Archbishop Chaput when he is forced to retire. What else can we do but pray?

  20. Elizabeth M says:

    ” In this supreme moment of need of the Church, the one who should speak will fall silent.”
    Our Lady of Good Success.

    We all must speak out. If not in the public square, then in our homes with prayer.

  21. Sonshine135 says:

    Father, I know several Priests who are cut from the same cloth as Bl. Clemens August Card. von Galen. Right now, they are in the church, and I am doing my part as the faithful laity and bringing Catholics into their presence to get educated. I know that when evil is heaped upon us, grace is heaped upon us even more. There is a lot of work to do in the vineyard first before we can reasonably go out an conquer the world. One must take care to make sure the house is in order before cleaning up the rest of the mess.

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