A few years have passed since we corresponded. After my last letter to you, I’m afraid I took a wrong path, crashed and burned, and now stagger forward, burdened by more ordinary trespasses. But still a believer, grateful, as Graham Greene had the wheezing old priest murmur at the end of Brighton Rock, for “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.” Without that tender and inexplicable mercy, so different from any we receive from most human beings, my soul might well burn for eternity like a marshmallow over an open fire.
Thankful as I am for God’s forgiveness and for the Church, lately I have become confused, addled, or as some here in the South put it, bumfuzzled, by some of the shenanigans in Vatican City. If you choose to respond to this letter, please bear in mind that in certain matters of theology I am a naïf. As the head of a financial firm says to a market analyst in the movie Margin Call, “Please speak as you might to a young child, or a golden retriever.”
To begin: Not much more than a year ago, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigan? issued several letters accusing the Vatican of covering up rampant homosexuality within its walls and among the ranks of priests, bishops, and other religious worldwide. On Oct. 7, 2018, Archbishop Vigan? in his third letter of testimony stated:
It is no exaggeration to say that homosexuality has become a plague in the clergy, and it can only be eradicated with spiritual weapons. It is an enormous hypocrisy to condemn the abuse [of minors], claim to weep for the victims, and yet refuse to denounce the root cause of so much sexual abuse: homosexuality.
A searing indictment met with silence from the Vatican.
At first, I wondered whether the Archbishop had blown a few light bulbs in the attic, but I poked around online and discovered several reports supporting his accusations, including those by secular journalists.
In a 2013 Vanity Fair article, “The Vatican’s Secret Life,” John Michael Gross turned a spotlight on gay saunas and clubs favored by clerics in Rome, the machinations of certain gay bishops, a penchant for hiring attractive young priests as “eye candy,” and the plethora of gay priests, both those who remain true to their vows of celibacy, as well as those who actively practice homosexuality. This homosexual network, which some have dubbed “the lavender mafia,” is nothing new. As Gross tells us, in 2000 Marco Politi, “a prominent Italian journalist and longtime Vatican correspondent,” published a book-length interview with an anonymous gay priest, La Confessione, revealing the web of homosexuals surrounding the chair of Peter.
Like the real Mafia, these men operate on the principle of omertà, or silence, working always to avoid scandal. Occasionally they fail. Gross provides several examples of these failures, including:
In 2006 a priest in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State injured police officers and smashed into police cars during a high-speed chase through a district in Rome known for transsexuals and prostitutes. (The priest was acquitted on all charges after claiming that he fled because he feared he was being kidnapped.) In a 2010 investigation of contract fixing for construction projects, Italian police wiretaps happened to catch a papal usher and Gentleman of His Holiness, Angelo Balducci, allegedly hiring male prostitutes, some of whom may have been seminarians, through a Nigerian member of a Vatican choir.
(The choir member was dismissed; Balducci was convicted on corruption charges.)
Earlier this year, French journalist Frédéric Martel published his controversial In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. After conducting more than 1,500 interviews with clergy, seminarians, and even Swiss Guards, Martel concluded that up to 80 percent of the clergy in Vatican City are homosexuals, though not all of them active.
A question, Your Excellency: Why have Pope Francis and others done so little—if they’ve done anything at all—to address this issue? These are not secular crimes, as in the grotesque sexual molestation of minors by the clergy, but homosexual acts do violate both priestly vows and Church teaching and are still regarded by the Church as mortal sins. What does it say about the Church when it turns a blind eye to sin? I’m curious: How do the priests with whom you work every day and who abide by their vows view this ongoing scandal? Though innocent themselves, how can they not feel degraded in their priesthood?
Yet what do we hear from Rome? Silence. Not even crickets.
Of course, there are times many of us wish Pope Francis would practice silence and discretion. Though he just last year advised “silence and prayer” for those bringing division to the Church, he himself has openly scorned Church tradition, denigrating both the clothing worn by some traditional clerics and the practice of the Traditional Latin Mass. He once disparaged Catholics for “breeding like rabbits.” He has stated that environmental and social justice issues outweigh the sins of adultery, fornication, and irregular marriages. He once supposedly told his good friend, the atheist Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, “There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls”—a statement the Vatican—but not the Pope—denied he’d made.
Despite Scalfari’s alleged habit of misquoting the pontiff, Francis has granted him repeated interviews over the years. Recently, Scalfari reported Francis had once told him that Jesus Christ was “a man of exceptional virtues” but “not at all a god.” Again, the Vatican denied that the Pope had said such a thing, and again the Pope has said nothing. Whether Scalfari misrepresented the conversation, whether Pope Francis was unclear in his meaning, or whether he meant it, the confusion he’s sown through these interviews has helped to obscure the truth of the Catholic faith.
This is also the pope who in 2016 gave the faithful Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love,” a papal exhortation on marriage and the family whose ambiguity led some to accuse the pope of treading on the edge of heresy.
This is the pope—Pope Francis the Ambiguous—who summoned the Amazon Synod. When I first heard that title, Your Excellency, I imagined all of you guys sitting in folding chairs in a giant automated warehouse filled with books, CDs, clothing, and homemaking paraphernalia—but then realized the Church meant the Amazon Basin in South America, not Jeff Bezos’s empire.
This Synod wishes to give an “Amazonian face” to Catholicism. What exactly is an “Amazonian face?” At the Synod, the term “Mother Earth” pops up frequently in dialogues. Some at the synod speak admiringly of the nature worship practiced by many Amazonian tribes. The language and the ideas of the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document for the Synod, seems intended to resurrect the Marxist doctrines of liberation theology, which the Church condemned during the pontificate of John Paul II. Driven by the radical clergymen of Germany, where Mass attendance is low, the Synod aims to embrace an “eco-theology” that would make the Church a major player on the world stage and at the United Nations.
On Oct. 10, 2019, The American Spectator columnist George Neumayr analyzed this connection between the Vatican, the United Nations, certain German bishops, and the Amazon region. In “The Strange Gods of Pope Francis,” he reports an observation from an unnamed “seasoned Vatican observer:”
This is about bringing the Vatican and the United Nations closer together,’ he says. ‘The German bishops don’t care about Amazonian Indians, and they certainly don’t care about people not receiving the sacraments. Just look at Germany and how few people even frequent the sacraments there. What the German bishops care about is that the Church is more and more incorporated into the work of the United Nations.’ The subject of suffering Amazonians is just an excuse, he says, for the ‘United Nations to treat the Church as one of its instruments,’ with the complete backing of the Vatican.
In addition to this motive, many at the Synod, again backed by the German bishops, want to ordain older, respected married Amazonian men—viri probati—supposedly to ease the priest shortage in the region. These advocates barely bother to conceal their real intention, which is to remove the requirement of celibacy from the priesthood in general.
The Synod has drawn scathing criticism, not only from traditional Catholic laity but from the ordained as well. On Aug. 28, Cardinals Walter Brandmüller and Raymond Burke sent separate letters of protest about the Instrumentum Laboris to the College of Cardinals. Both men warned their fellow cardinals that many of the proposals in the document bordered on heresy and apostasy. Brandmüller wrote that “With all this has been created a situation never before seen in the Church’s history, not even during the Arian crisis of the fourth and fifth century.”
In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, Cardinal Robert Sarah, a native of Guinea and prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, said he feared “some Westerners are seizing this assembly to advance their plans.” He added that he was “shocked and indignant that the spiritual distress of the poor in the Amazon was used as an excuse to support typical projects of bourgeois and worldly Christianity. It is abominable.”
One of the titles of a pope is “Pontifex Maximus”—the “greatest bridge builder”—to reflect his role in forging a link between heaven and earth and connections among peoples. Pope Francis no longer deserves that title. He and many other cardinals and bishops are building no bridges—certainly not to heaven—but they are doing a fine job of digging canyons, of creating enormous divisions between progressive and traditional Catholics. They bemoan these divisions, yet they themselves are, ironically, the cause of them. In the worst cases, some appear to no longer adhere to Catholic dogma or even to Christ’s teachings.
Here’s the thing, Your Excellency: I don’t want a Church with an Amazonian face. Nor do I want a church with an American face or any other kind of face except one: a Roman Catholic face. I want a Church that speaks and defends the truths of Christ, not one that considers, as does this pope, all of the world’s religions, including paganism, as valid. The progressivism embraced by Francis and his minions is destroying the Church I love, just as that progressivism has destroyed everything else it infects, from our schools to the Boy Scouts, from our federal government to our universities.
Two final notes: You will notice, Your Excellency, that the humor intended in the letters I addressed to you several years ago is missing here. I guess I’m all out of laughs. For me, the Church is a sanctuary of grace, truth, and beauty. What is happening to that sanctuary as I write these words is not comedic, but tragic.
Second, since my conversion at age 40, I have met many good priests. My respect for you and those in our diocese who serve Christ as priests and religious is undiminished. John Paul II, now a saint, was one of my great heroes. Most Catholics, including myself, try to avoid criticism of our clergy and our Church, but the ongoing demolition of Catholic teaching and doctrine from Rome demands some sort of response from the laity who will pay the price, perhaps eternally, for this upheaval.
For 2,000 years, the Barque of Peter has weathered many storms. I guess we’re about to find out what happens when the danger comes not from tempestuous seas, but from the bridge of the ship itself.