"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, November 16, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: The Church Scandals and St. Catherine of Siena, Part 2

Last week I posted my comments on a discussion we had at Catholic Thought book club at Goodreads on the Church abuse scandals and I promised to write on how St. Catherine of Siena, the patron saint of blog, has been mentioned in several articles should be a model for we laity in forcing the issue on our Church leaders.

First let me finish with my comments.

Comment 6
I've commented on categories (a), (b), and (c) I think the last thing I have to comment on is the recent Cardinal Vigano letter (it's 11 pages by the way, not 13) accusing Pope Francis of knowing that Cardinal McCarrick was an abuser and active homosexual and not only not following up with reprimands but undoing the restrictions Pope Benedict XVI had put in place while McCarrick was under investigation.

Technically this falls under criteria (b) of a bishop - this time the Bishop of Rome - knowing about an abuse by an underling. If true, Pope Francis technically should be relieve of his office, but as Pope there is no person that can relieve him of his office or method of relieving him of his office. You cannot force a sitting Pope to abdicate. That is what led to the schism of the 1340s.

I can't seem to find the letter itself in any search. So I have not read it. All I get are articles that reference the letter and quote from it. If anyone knows of a link to the actual letter I would love to see it.

What to do? The allegations seem credible to me. We know for a fact (I think it's a fact) that Pope Francis eased the restrictions on McCarrick, so the dispute is whether the Holy Father knew of McCarrick's abuse.

So there are two possibilities, either he knew or he didn't know. If he didn't know, then no harm done, it was an innocent mistake. If he knew, we have a problem. Pope Francis has refused to answer the allegation. This leads us to suspect he did know.

So here's my opinion on it all. If he didn't know he should come out and say it and put it to rest. If he knew, then I would just let sleeping dogs lie and move on and never address the issue. Pope Francis was not overseeing McCarrick in that kind of detail. It amounts to more administrative bungling. The harm to the Church of having a Pope forced out and perhaps create a schism just when the church has been weakened would be huge and would not justify the maladministration. Pope Francis is 81 years old. He's not going to be there much longer, either from passing away or reaching a point where he can't keep up with the job and feels it's best to retire. Whatever political points some are trying to strike against Pope Francis (and I'm a conservative) are wrongheaded and counter productive.

Comment 7
This is a fascinating read. The author of this takes the Pennsylvania report, crunches the statics, compares it with the historical dat, and draws some insightful conclusions. "The Pennsylvania Report; By the Numbers": 

That last paragraph in my comment six, starting with “So here's my opinion on it all,” took some criticism.  It was written at the end of August with the crises fresh in people’s minds, and it looked for sure that Pope Francis would be compelled to do something or a revolution would take place to force him out.  Well, Pope Francis has done nothing and a revolution hasn’t taken place.  It’s amazing how a leader can change the subject and a raging issue can be mollified.  Pope Francis will not be forced to resign over this as some thought.  However the Church keeps puttering along, never seeming to resolve the issue.

With that, I want to bring in St. Catherine of Siena. 

During the scandal, I came across three separate articles on why we need another St. Catherine of Siena to come along to push the Pope and Bishops toward true reform. 

Over at The Catholic World Report Mary Rezac wrote, “The Siena Option: What one saint did in the face of a troubled Church.”  Rezac gives the background to the situation in Catherine’s day.  It too was filled with corruption and amazingly, homosexuality, and the height of the problem was the Avignon relocation of the papacy.  Rezac quotes Catherine scholar, Fr. Thomas McDermont, O.P..

When St. Catherine talked about the Church, she often referred to it as the Body of Christ, in the tradition of St. Paul, McDermott noted.

“She says the face of the Church is a beautiful face, but we’re pelting it with filth,” he said. “It has a beautiful face, that’s the divine side of the Church, but we human beings are pelting it; we’re disfiguring the body of Christ through our sins.”

Catherine, who was essentially a mystic and a local doer of good deeds, somehow decided to get involved on a global scale.

Catherine was drawn into the Church politics of her time not because of a misplaced sense of ambition, McDermott said, but because she loved the Church as she loved God.

“It wasn’t her motive to be involved in the politics of the Church, but what was best for everyone and for the church led her into politics,” he said. “But it’s not like she was interested in politics itself.”

As part of her attempts at solving the problems of the Church, Catherine joined the call of many other Catholics of the time for the Pope to return to Rome.

After some correspondence, Catherine set out on foot with her followers to go meet with the pope in person.

“It was a remarkable thing for Catherine who was a homebody to take off on foot for France with her disciples, but she was prepared to do anything for the Church because the Church was the Body of Christ,” McDermott said.

After scores of people pleading with the pope to return to Rome between 1309 and 1377, St. Catherine seemed to prove most persuasive.

During her visit, Catherine referenced parts of the pope’s dream, about which he had told no one.

“It was astounding to him (that she knew about the dream) and he took that as a clear sign from God that he was speaking to him through this woman,” McDermott said. So after decades of exile, within a few weeks of Catherine’s visit, the pope packed up his things and headed back to Rome.

Rezac then goes on to speculate how Catherine would handle today’s crises.  She quotes Dr. Karen Scott, a historian of Catholic studies at DePaul University.

“What would she say today? I think that’s a dangerous question,” Scott said, “because we can’t say how she would relate to the current issues and complex questions, except that she would know very well what the moral stance is, that bishops and priests and lay people should all follow.”

Catherine would set the highest of standards for honesty and integrity and pastoral concern for the laity, Scott said, as well as the highest standards “for avoiding schism and being close to the papacy.”

“Beyond that I think she would advise people to take the time to pray and discern and not have knee-jerk reactions to things,” she added.

Another article comes from Msgr Charles Pope’s blog, Community in Mission, titled ‘“This Is All I Can Do Now” – Applying a Practice of St. Catherine of Siena to Our Current Crisis.’ 

Msrg Pope gives a similar background to Catherine’s times, and concludes that with this:

She loved the Church but remained gravely concerned with the condition of the beloved Bride of Christ. Particularly egregious to her was the condition of so many clergy, right on up the ranks. Even the popes of her time, whom she acknowledged as the sweet Vicars of Christ, and her beloved father could not escape her expressions of grave disappointment and her calls to conversion.

The monsignor quotes extensively from St. Catherine’s Letter 74, to [Pope] Gregory XI at Avignon.  Here are a couple of excerpts of the excerpt.  She starts off as she starts a number of her letters:

In the name of Jesus Christ crucified and of gentle Mary, mother of God’s Son.

Very loved and reverend father in Christ Jesus,

I Caterina, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ and your poor wretched unworthy daughter, am writing to you in his precious blood. I long to see you the sort of true gentle shepherd who takes an example from the shepherd Christ, whose place you hold. He laid down his life for his little sheep in spite of our ingratitude …

And she gets to the heart of the issue.

You know that the devil is not cast out by the devil, but by virtue. [Mt. 12, 26-27] … You hold the keys, and to whomever you open it is opened, and to whomever you close it is closed. This is what the good gentle Jesus said to Peter …

So take a lesson from the true Father and Shepherd. For you see that now is the time to give your life for the little sheep who have left the flock. You must seek and win them back by using patience and war—by war I mean by raising the standard of the sweet blazing cross and setting out against the unbelievers. So, you must sleep no longer, but wake up and raise that standard courageously. I am confident that by God’s measureless goodness you will win back the unbelievers and [at the same time] correct the wrongdoing of Christians, because everyone will come running to the fragrance of the cross …

And then comes to her passionate exhortation.

Ah, my dear Babbo (Father), see that you attend to these things! Look for good virtuous men and put them in charge of the little sheep. …

Up, father! Put into effect the resolution you have made concerning your return and this crusade. You can see that the unbelievers are challenging you to this by coming as close as they can to take what is yours. Up, to give your life for Christ! Isn’t our body the only thing we have? Why not give your life a thousand times, if necessary, for God’s honor and the salvation of his creatures? That is what he did, and you, his vicar, ought to be carrying on his work. It is to be expected that as long as you are his vicar you will follow your Lord’s ways and example.

And finally Msgr Pope calls for us lay to follow her example:

Such words still ring true today! We must exhort Pope Francis to hear our cries for investigation and reform. We must speak in love and with respect, but we must also speak insistently and with clarity.

Finally the third article is by Kathryn Jean Lopez writing in Angelus News, titled, “What St. Catherine of Siena would say to today’s bishops.”

Lopez focuses mostly on Catherine’s letters where she finds exhortations to the religious of her day to reform the Church. 

If you’ve ever dipped into the letters of St. Catherine of Siena, you know she is forever encouraging holiness.

She wants people inflamed with “blazing charity” and bathing “in the blood of Christ crucified.” She wants to see people be who God made them to be and she wants his Church seeking to be worthy of her identity as the bride of Christ.

So, she would urge sisters and cardinals and the pope and lay people alike to “keep living in God’s holy and tender love” and go on in some detail about how that might look in their specific lives.

Her letters were written during a time when the Church was in serious trouble. While the Black Death ravaged Europe, the papacy had relocated to Avignon, France, and several of the republics and principalities of Italy, including the Papal States, were at war with one another. Many clergy had fallen into corruption.

Lopez quotes from a letter to Pope Urban VI, who’s election after Pope Gregory XI caused a schism in the church.

“You cannot with a single stroke wipe out all of the sins people in general are committing within the Christian religion, especially within the clerical order, over whom you should be even more watchful. But you certainly can and are obligated to do it, and if you don’t, you would have it on your conscience. At least do what you can. You must cleanse the Church’s womb — that is, see to it that those who surround you closely are wiped clean of filth, and put people there who are attentive to God’s honor and your welfare and the good of holy Church. …”

And she warns:

“Do you know what will happen to you if you don’t set things right by doing what you can? God wants you to reform his bride completely; he doesn’t want her to be leprous any longer. If your holiness does not do all you can about this — because God has appointed you and given you such dignity for no other purposes — God will do it himself by using all sorts of troubles.”

And she quotes from a 1376 letter to an apparently wayward priest.

“Where is the purity of the ministers of God’s Son? Reflect that just as you demand that the chalice you carry to the altar be clean and would reject it if it were dirty, so God, supreme eternal Truth, demands that your soul be pure and clean, without stain of deadly sin, especially the sin of impurity. ... These days we are seeing the exact opposite of the purity God requires! Not only are they not God’s temples carrying the fire of God’s word, but they have become stalls, lodging for pigs and other animals! They carry within the house of their souls the fire of anger, hatred, animosity, and ill will. For they harbor pigs, a filthiness that is incessantly rolling about within them like a pig in the mud. ... How bewildering to see Christ’s anointed ones giving themselves over to such wretchedness and immorality!”

Wow, I can see St. Catherine in writing that in fury.  And she was not shy about speaking similarly to a Cardinal. 

“Shame, shame, on our human pride, our self-complacency, our self-centeredness, when we see how good God has been to us, how many gifts and graces he has given us — and not because he has to but because he wants to! Obtuse as we are, we seem not to see or feel this love so hot that, if we were made of stone, it would long ago have burst us open! ... I can see no other reason except that the eye of our understanding is not on the tree of the cross. For there is revealed such warm love, such gently persuasive teaching filled with life-giving fruits, such generosity that he has torn open his very body, has shed his life’s blood, and with that blood has baptized and bathed us. We can and should make use of that baptism every day with continual remembrance and great love.”

And Lopez concludes her survey of Catherine’s letters by returning to thecurrent scandal.

Reading Catherine’s letters we are reminded we are in this journey — which is about eternity — together.

Reading testimony and accusations against a former cardinal archbishop of one of the most prominent episcopal sees in the United States — one of which involves the first child he ever baptized as a priest — we are all called to urgent duty to prayer and service, including encouraging and insisting on Christ in our daily lives and Church leadership. Anything short of it is not of God.

I’ve only given you the gist of these articles.  Go read them in their entirety.  They show what a pillar of strength St. Catherine of Siena was, and how she would be appalled at today’s crises, and how she is a model for us to force our Church leaders to the right direction.

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