The Book of Daniel and the Gospel of Mark warn of a great tribulation to come. Its early signs are already upon us and require invoking the Patron Saint of Justice.
A strange case has been simmering in the courts of the European Union for several years, and it came to an even stranger close at the end of October. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld a 2011 Austrian court verdict against a seminar presenter, a woman, for “disparaging religious doctrines.” In a 2009 seminar sponsored by the conservative Freedom Party in Austria, the woman recounted an event in the life of Muhammad ibn Abd Allah whose 7th Century proclamations of the Qur’an gave birth to Islam. The event is well documented.
In 620 AD, at the age of 56, soon after the death of his first wife, Muhammad married a young girl named A’isha. At the time of their marriage, A’isha was six years old. Muhammad described her as “very attractive and of a lively mind.” Many of the revelations resulting in the Quran occurred while he was in her company.
One day, when she was left behind during one of Muhammad’s expeditions, she returned to the group accompanied by a young man. This set off a monstrous scandal that threw the girl’s marital fidelity into doubt. Muhammad then dictated what he described as a divine revelation that assured him of her innocence. This story is recounted in the Qur’an (24:11-20).
In 2009, in an Austrian seminar entitled “Basic Information about Islam,” the seminar presenter described the story of the marriage of Muhammad and A’isha’concluding, “A 56-year-old and a six-year-old?… What do we call it if not pedophilia?” In 2011, the Austrian court convicted the woman, imposing a fine for statements that constitute “an abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam.”
The woman appealed the verdict to the European Court of Human Rights. Last month, the verdict was unanimously upheld by an ECHR panel of seven judges including judges from Ireland, Germany, and France. The ECHR judges reasoned that the marriage between Muhammad and six-year-old Aisha lasted until Muhammad’s death when Aisha was 18-years-old. Thus, according to the court, “the marriage need not be motivated by pedophilia.”
The ECHR further reasoned that the convicted woman’s observations about the marriage could “stir up prejudice and threaten religious peace” and “could only be understood as having been aimed at demonstrating that Muhammad was not worthy of worship.” The ECHR arrived at this conclusion after having “carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected.”
I could go into a long protracted analysis of a double standard in what constitutes “stirring up prejudice and threatening religious peace” – and how political correctness influences it – but I think you may already get the point. If you contrast the above story with the treatment the Catholic Church has been receiving in the news media and power centers of Western Culture, the duplicity is not at all subtle.
Sometimes you have to stand back a little from scandal in the Catholic Church to see a more panoramic view. The scandals feel less personal then, but also seem more ominous. A view from a little distance will leave you with a sense that there have been, and still are, some nefarious agendas behind the scenes of the Catholic abuse story.
The truth is that the world in which we live is retreating from all the institutions that once gave us meaning and purpose, and, most important of all, identity. “Losing my religion” is not just a 1991 pop culture hit by R.E.M. It is a cultural calamity.
THE STATE OF THE UNION
Without doubt, trust in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has been strained in recent years. There is no denying it, and some of that distrust is justified by inconvenient truths that too many have tried to keep hidden. But look around you. Where DO you place your trust? Our politics are at the brink of civil war. Our news media once respected as the “Fourth Estate,” has hit rock bottom in public trust. Among polls of Americans, Congress is the second lowest source of trust among all institutions and the news media lower even than that.
Fatherhood has retreated into the forests. Families are falling apart. Gender has become confused, and a product of the will instead of the heart of one’s identity. In the Western world, the psyches of the young have become fragile. Universities pamper screaming mobs of students who block points of view that challenge them. Conservatives make them feel “unsafe.”
Colleges hire grief counselors to help 20-something year-old men and women cope with a C-level grade, or the trauma of being exposed to ideals, or of seeing a mouse in their dorm room. The resilience of young people – though still with some courageous exceptions – is under siege.
Politically, we are at each others’ throats in a game of one-upmanship and gotcha. It seemed to reach its most hurtful and horrifying peak in the public spectacle to which we were subjected in the Senate confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, guilty for being accused. That was the point at which I realized that we have reached a new low, and cannot descend much further without dissolving our union in hate.
In October this year, a middle-aged man in Florida mailed pipe bombs to a long list of political figures with whom he disagrees. Then a middle-aged man in Pittsburgh, a Holocaust denier on social media, killed eleven worshippers in a Synagogue after posting a rant about Jews and President Trump. Much of the news media played down the fact that the man despised Trump. Politics, that once honorable favorite pastime of America, has become dangerous.
OUR ONCE AND FUTURE FAITH
The same is true or is fast becoming true, in our Church. Canadian Catholic blogger, Michael Brandon wrote in response to a post on These Stone Walls awhile back: “The Catholic Church has become the safest place in the world for children, and the most dangerous place in the world for Catholic priests.” I wrote of the origin for that conclusion in a controversial post that was shared 25,000 times on social media: “Five Years of Pope Francis in a Time of Heresy.”
The news media would have us all believing that the now forty-year-old sexual abuse scandal “could bring down the Catholic Church.” This is nonsense. The Church will survive this, but there is a far more pernicious threat that the news media makes it a point not to cover. I found a scary analysis of it in “The Catholic Crisis,” a fine article in Commentary (May 2018), by Sohrab Ahmari who also has a panoramic view of why Catholicism stands at a precipice and, surprise, the sexual abuse story is but a symptom of it, not the cause.
Sohrab Ahmari is a London editor for The Wall Street Journal and a senior writer at Commentary, a journal of thought and opinion established by the American Jewish Committee. He is completing a memoir on his journey to Catholicism, and, as such, a journey that forms his compelling panoramic view of the Church and its fate in the modern world. His article, “The Catholic Crisis” is a review of a new book by The New York Times’ columnist, Ross Douthat, To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism.
Both Ahmari and Douthat note that “the principle duty of a Catholic” is not to the pope, but to “the truth the papacy exists to preach, to preserve, and to defend.” Mr. Ahmari wrote:
“There is a reason to worry that lately a spirit of relativism has entered the Roman Church that threatens to undermine its unity and catholicity. That should concern Catholics and non-Catholics because the Church is the living bedrock of the West and one of the last bastions of the principal that moral truth is moral truth yesterday, today, a thousand years from now.”
In Pope Francis, both writers see a papacy that “thrives in ambiguity.” Their evidence is found among a list of perplexing notions including recent comments by Pope Francis calling into question the existence of hell. Defenders of the Pope excused the incident as a misreading of the Pope’s remarks by leftist, atheist journalist Eugenio Scalfari. However, as Ahmari points out, this particular faux pas was the fifth interview Pope Francis has granted to this journalist.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis has remained unresponsive to a request for dialogue and clarification on some controversial points in Amoris laetitia. American Cardinal Raymond Burke and other conservative cardinals posed a series of “Dubia” asking whether the prohibition on authorizing communion for those divorced and remarried in a civil, but not sacramental, union still stands. The pope, according to Ahmari, “first ignored, and then ridiculed them.”
Mr. Ahmari also reports on Ross Douthat’s “fascinating speculation” on the future of Catholicism, and it is one in which conservatives should find cause for hope. As I have written in previous posts, the Church and faith will survive this current age of doubt. In the meantime,
fidelity is our only effective response to it. But Ross Douthat offers a more sobering source of hope summarized by Ahmari:
“The liberals simply don’t have the numbers… theological liberalism is in demographic decline, and liberal orders struggle to attract vocations. Church coffers may be full, but the pews are empty. The leading lights of theological liberalism are octogenarians, and there are no successors in the wings.”
“Conservatives and traditionalists, meanwhile, have the numbers, the intellects, the energy. Orders that prize tradition and orthodoxy are thriving worldwide. In population terms, Africa is a beacon of hope for conservatives, a continent where weekly Mass attendance averages 70 percent (compared with just 20 percent in Europe) and where the Church wins nine million new believers each year.”
Quite by accident in the last few weeks, I came across a much more local summation of the state of the Church in North America, and it seems bleak. At least, it did for me until I got to the last few stunning paragraphs.
In a climate in which I thought the faithful had abandoned the notion of the Church as a mirror of justice, a faithful Catholic, a lawyer no less, concluded his stunning take on the state of the Church by profiling what the witch hunt has meant for one wrongly imprisoned priest. Don’t miss “Priests, Good and Bad” by Frank Friday published at American Thinker (October 27, 2018).
THE PATRON SAINT OF JUSTICE
Some extraordinary things can be found in Ordinary Time. It is by no human design that readings assigned long ago for the Sunday liturgy arose just weeks ago at a time of tribulation for the Catholic Church. The readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time were anything but ordinary. Their timing seems a divinely inspired gift.
But before I proceed down this path through the labyrinthine ways of Sacred Scripture, I want to share with you a message from a very good priest and a friend, Father Stuart MacDonald. Writing from Ontario, Father Stuart is a canon lawyer and author of the TSW guest post, “Last Rights: Canon Law in a Mirror of Justice Cracked.”
Readers may recall from my posts in recent months that a new GTL tablet allows me to receive messages from those who establish a messaging account at GTL’s mainframe, (www.ConnectNetwork.com). At the time of his guest post, Father Stuart established a messaging connection and, along with a few other readers, has been helping to keep me up to date on matters affecting the Church at this critical time.
His messages have included entire missives from and about Archbishop Carlo Viganò and his challenge to Pope Francis centered on the controversy over former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. This is a time of great tribulation for faithful Catholics, and especially so for priests who feel their loyalties torn and their allegiance under clouds of doubt. I am not shielded behind These Stone Walls from the doubt and pain experienced by so many priests right now.
A few weeks ago, Father Stuart sent a series of messages to me containing Archbishop Viganò’s published response to Cardinal Ouellet. Archbishop Viganò has challenged Pope Francis for his handling of the Cardinal McCarrick affair and other matters. I wrote about this in a series of posts I will link at the end of this one.
Just days before sitting down to type this post, wondering what on earth I could write about without taking a side on the vortex of information and misinformation, Father Stuart sent me this message:
“I have been so shaken by all this that a few weeks ago, I informed my small congregation that henceforth all weekday masses would be ad orientem because the time has come to focus on Christ and not the cult of the priest and his performance. I pray the canon in Latin sotto voce now and we pray the Prayer to St. Michael at the end of every mass. Call me foolish if you want, but it is the only way I am going to survive.”
The world might call him foolish, but I could only call him faithful. And like me, he perhaps had no idea when he wrote that message that the Mass readings for the following Sunday, the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, provided a solid basis in Scripture for what he has undertaken. The Book of Daniel (12:1-3) calls upon Michael, the Great Prince, and Guardian of your people,” while the Gospel of Mark (13:24-32) warns of a time of great tribulation. For many, that time has come. I can only add to Father Stuart’s resolve the words of Saint Peter, Bishop of Rome:
“Stay sober and alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, knowing that the same suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Editor’s Note: Please share this post. You may also like these related posts from Father Gordon MacRae at These Stone Walls:
- Pope Francis Consecrates Vatican City to St. Michael the Archangel
- Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the Homosexual Matrix
- Cardinal Sins: A Puppet Show from the Sexual Revolution
- Pope Francis in the Dock by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò