I’ve sat on this for two days now. I shared the draft with trusted experts for review.
I was told that, at PrayTell – a disaster of a blog which most of you should simply ignore – there was a personal attack on me by name by a Franciscan who runs the liturgy office of the Diocese of Raleigh, Fr. Jim Sabak, OFM. Sabak rightly took heat for issuing guidelines for that diocese for administration of the Sacraments of Penance and of Anointing during this pandemic. Some of those guidelines – issued I believe in March – were not well conceived, to put it mildly. When I wrote about those guidelines, I did not identify the diocese. My post HERE
Sabak’s new offending post at PrayTell is entitled “Clericalism and the Pandemic”. The projection of “clericalism”, by someone like this, lines up in an almost perfect parallel with how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez flings out “racism”.
I strive to give people the benefit of the doubt. I don’t enjoy this. I would have just ignored his goofy notions and his distortions of what happened about his guidelines if he hadn’t lied about what I wrote.
At PrayTell on 18 April, after getting heat for his bad guidelines, he whines:
For Penance, we asked clergy to discontinue “drive-up” celebrations as not the most appropriate way to celebrate the sacrament. Additionally, we noted that spacing a penitent six feet from a confessor did not provide for the essential privacy for individual celebration of the sacrament. For Anointing of the Sick we struggled to envision a manner by which to celebrate the sacrament especially with the terminally ill who had succumbed to the virus. We decided that prayer over the sick and with family would be best, given the problematic situation involved with touching the forehead and palms with the Oil of the Sick.
Within minutes of receiving the memo my email inbox exploded with question after question after question. Some only asked for clarity and expansion on what the memo contained. Other correspondence, however, contained an anger, which source was difficult to discern. [How about, YOU GOT IT WRONG?]
One of the ordained wrote that my suggestions made him question why he ever became a priest in the first place, and that he should have stayed in immigration law. [Thus identifying that priest.] Another sent the memo to the blog of the infamous Fr. Z, who proceeded to “rant,” as he is want. [The word you are looking for is “wont”.] Fr. Z raved on that these guidelines left the faithful to eternal condemnation because they prohibited the faithful from receiving the necessary sacraments before death.
That’s just a plain lie.
Firstly, in those bad guidelines issued back in March he – presumably Sabak – wrote that there shouldn’t be “drive up” confessions, not because of privacy but because “The necessary human interaction crucial to the celebration of the sacrament is impeded through the lack of full proximity and the ability to offer counsel and direction is hampered by the distance between the confessor and the penitent.” Note: no mention of privacy.
The problem with this is that the necessary human interaction possible in a drive up confession is not at all impeded. A penitent can confess and a priest can absolve easily at the range. And if they aren’t shouting at each other, and if no one else is nearby, it is not obvious that there would be a problem for privacy.
Maybe Sabak thinks priests have to touch penitents. I don’t know. That was a fad for a while.
And I find it ironic that this fellow should NOW be interested in privacy after his apparent violation the Seal by identifying a penitent and the content of his confession on the same PrayTell blog! I checked with canonists on that one and they were quite simply horrified. I held myself in check then. But … now?
In that Seal violating post he wrote on 4 November 2019:
For example, an elderly parishioner, at about eight minutes before Mass, regularly knocks on the sacristy door, and each time asks, “Father can you hear my confession?” [NB: age… time… place…] Again, this exchange occurs less than ten minutes before Mass begins. To refuse would place the parishioner in a state of distress, having been raised with a particularly insufficient understand the sacrament. Without any other time to attend to it, I quickly celebrate the sacrament with them. Their confession…masturbation (with frequency that week); again and again, week after week, the same confession always with the number of times. [content of what was confession in the Sacrament of penance] I could have been impressed by their stamina, but did the celebration of the sacrament truly provide any peace? I cannot say, but for them it is necessary, if only mechanical, week after week. It is retributive, but did it achieve the purpose of the sacramental encounter?
This is not a hypothetical situation. In a comment below that post, a reader raised the point of violation of the Seal. Sabak responded: “In response to your concern, though, I’ve revised the language of the post.” So, what we see at PrayTell is the “revised” version. It still identifies the penitent and of the content confessed. I shudder to imagine what it was like before. There is sufficient information in Sabak’s PrayTell post to identify the penitent by his “regular” pattern of behavior and his age and what he does and the explicit public revelation of the content of his confession.
And he is director of liturgy in a diocese.
In those March diocesan guidelines Sabak – presumably – wrote that the Sacrament of Anointing could not be administered with a gloved hand. “In the current state of the pandemic, the celebration of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick cannot be fully administered as a gloved hand cannot administer the anointing.”
“Fully” administered? You don’t partially administer a sacrament. Also, in the recent PrayTell post he said that they were concerned about touching the patient’s skin with the thumb. He glossed over his ignorant and erroneous claim that the sacrament couldn’t be administered with a gloved hand.
YES, a priest CAN anoint with a gloved hand or an instrument. I explained that thoroughly HERE, in the post Sabak lied about.
Sabak claimed in the recent 18 April PrayTell blog post that
“Fr. Z raved on that these guidelines left the faithful to eternal condemnation because they prohibited the faithful from receiving the necessary sacraments before death.”
That’s a blatant falsehood.
I did NOT write that the guidelines “left the faithful to eternal condemnation”. I did not suggest that or hint at it or anything like that.
I did write: “[T]his is not the time for restricting the sacraments that can otherwise easily be administered without danger of contagion.”
To be clear: When a person is in danger of death, that’s certainly when he needs the sacraments the most! Does Sabak deny that?
It seems that that is a view that foreign to Sabak. Later in his recent PrayTell post wrote about the criticism he received:
Nothing in any of these conversations [critical of his guidelines] reflected an understanding of sacrament as communal, as an encounter with God, with Christ, for building up of the Reign of God, for the transformation of our lives here and now. While the concern for the faithful and their reception of the sacraments is sincere, this concern emphasized the immortal salvation obtained through sacramental reception and the role of the ordained in providing the means for that salvation. [Imagine! A priest being concerned about a person’s “immortal salvation” IN TIME OF PANDEMIC! How backward is that?] It was cultic in scope, approaching the position that without the clergy there can be no sacramental experience, and thereby no possibility of salvation. [“No possibility of salvation”? Where did this guy go to school? No well-educated priest leaps from “unable to receive sacraments” to automatic “no possibility of salvation”. But, I’ll tell you what: I’d rather have the last sacraments than not have them. For many centuries the Church has prayed and still prays for God to preserve us from a “sudden and unprovided death”. For that Franciscan, and people in Columbia Heights, that means, the Last Rites. Our merciful Savior Himself instituted the Sacrament of Penance and gave His own power and authority to His priests to forgive post-baptismal sins. Why? So we would not have to wonder about forgiveness, provided we are sincere.]
Such interpretations and emphases around sacramental engagement fly in the face of reformed theology [?] after the Second Vatican Council. The ordained sincerely aspire to exercise their role as ministers in this difficult period of social restrictions, but they seek to do so in an almost magical way. This approach projects a view of God who will not suffer the inconveniences of a pandemic to get what this God deserves by way of sacramental obligations.
Magic! Reformed theology! Cultic! If you don’t think like Fr. Jim “the reformed” Sabak, then you are backward shaman of some kind.
Speaking of “magic”, try to get your head around this.
Such perspectives and reactions seemed to emphasize a rubricism and legalism, popular in some circles of the Church today. What was most troubling, though, was the primarily supernatural and almost magical approach toward engagement and efficacy of the sacraments. In a fascinating manner, the pandemic seems to have unearthed a Counter-Reformation image of sacramental understanding as medicinal where the clergy act as the earthly physicians of the “Heavenly Physician.” The faithful, because they are fundamentally sinners, need the sacraments to heal them and to maintain an appropriate relationship with God. They also give them a fighting chance for eternal life should they die. The proliferation of an 18th century prayer by Alphonsus Ligouri to alleviate anxiety over the inability to receive Eucharist in these days, which prayer is theologically problematic [?] – it is not Jesus, whom we receive, but the risen Christ – testifies to this.
On the other hand, St. Paul writes in 1 Cor 11:28-30:
Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
I’m truly embarrassed for Sabak. He seems to be a Vatican II as Super-Council discontinuity fundamentalist. He seems, from his language, to be perfectly willing to reduce the supernatural to the natural, which would make him a modernist. He shows contempt for the faithful who have a solid understanding of the Faith as rooted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Leaving apart the dopey shot at one of the great Doctors of the Church, what does this line even mean? Read carefully: “The proliferation of an 18th century prayer by Alphonsus Ligouri to alleviate anxiety over the inability to receive Eucharist in these days, which prayer is theologically problematic – it is not Jesus, whom we receive, but the risen Christ – testifies to this.”
When we receive the Eucharist, according to Sabak: ” it is not Jesus, whom we receive, but the risen Christ”.
It is NOT Jesus. It is the Risen Christ. Hence: The Risen Christ is NOT Jesus.
Look. Before the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity wasn’t Jesus. Jesus is a divine Person with two natures, divine and human. After the Incarnation and Nativity we have with us on earth Jesus, born of the Virgin at Bethlehem. The bond of those two natures, divine and human, in one divine Person, Jesus, is indestructible. Jesus, who is Messiah, King, Priest, Prophet, New Adam, etc., all the beautiful titles and roles he has, is still Jesus, now gloriously risen. Our humanity, which He took into that indestructible bond, is now glorious. But He is still Jesus, the Son of Mary the Mother of God.
But Sabak seems to think that Jesus and Risen Christ are two different people. Go back and read that strange line again. Sabak, the guy who doesn’t know how to anoint people, and who revealed the content of a concrete confession on a blog, thinks that St. Alphonsus’ Spiritual Communion prayer is “theologically problematic” because, as Sabak puts it, “it is not Jesus, whom we receive, but the risen Christ”.
I would have just ignored all these goofy notions and his distortions of what happened about his guidelines if he hadn’t lied about what I wrote.
Meanwhile, I am getting emails from priests who know him on the East coast, relaying, along with links to his condescending April hit piece at PrayTell, other amazing things he has uttered. While it wouldn’t be fair to detail at 3rd hand what I’ve read, I am shocked.
And he is the liturgy director of a diocese. Ponder that.
And another thing. In my post about these bad guidelines I purposely did not identify the diocese he works for. But now that this guy has attacked me by name with a lie about what I wrote, I am compelled to clarify things.
By the way, if it weren’t so serious, I might find humor in his insinuation that we dumb retrograde priests out here lack an “understanding of sacrament as communal”. For Sabak, however, “communal” seems also to mean revealing the identity of a penitent and what he confesses on a blog.
Behold the fruits of post-Conciliar “reformed” theology.
I have been asking people to pray for priests who are really annoying or who are doing harm. I will pray for Fr. Sabak.