Fr. Richard G. Cipolla writes for Rorate Caeli – Recently George Weigel offered an Op-Ed titled “A Paradox for the Next Pope” as part of the Wall Street Journal’s Houses of Worship series. He quite rightly calls attention to several issues that will confront the successor of Pope Francis: confronting and ending the terrible scandal of sexual abuse by clergy; reform of the financial structure and administration of the Church; and the challenge of supporting the vitality of the Catholic faith in those disparate places in which it found and at the same time embark on a program of renewal in those parts of the world, mostly Europe, where the Catholic faith is less than robust.
Weigel says: “The past fifty years should have taught the Catholic Church that the only Catholicism with a future is Catholicism in full.” And what Catholic with faith could disagree with that? But Weigel, while correctly seeing that “aggressive secularism” is antithetical to the Catholic faith and is part of the reason for the parlous state of Catholicism in the West does not see that the root problems of the Catholic Church today lie in the deliberate ambiguities of the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the post-Conciliar radical assault, in the name of aggiornamento, on the heart of the Catholic worship that is the Mass. The Catholic Church decided in the 1960s to become “modern” at the same time that Western culture turned its back on Modernism and embraced, with all of its ambiguities, Post-modernism. The obvious increasingly irrelevant state of the Catholic Church in the West is not due mainly to secularism but rather to the failure of the Church to be true to herself and her founder, Jesus Christ, and instead trying to become relevant to a society that was already then and is even more now post-Christian.
It is no accident that the horrific sexual corruption of the clergy during the 1960s and beyond occurred at that particular time. The moral rot was there before that time, but the romanticism of the post-Conciliar Church that adopted the worst of the sentimental understandings of what it means to be human and a secular understanding of freedom opened up the gates that led to the mass of sludge the symbol of which is Uncle Ted McCarrick. Even today we read with terrible pain the pain and suffering inflicted on young boys and men by this prince of the Church and by so many other priests of the Church.
Pace George Weigel, the moral rot in the Church cannot be addressed merely by “creating safe environments for its young people.” The problem is much deeper. The heart of the problematic situation in which the Catholic Church finds herself today is the failure of the Church hierarchy to stand up to that which is not Christian in our society. But this “standing up” does not consist of vacuous and pietistical pronouncements from the United States Conference of Bishops, a group that models itself on already outdated modes of expression and communication.
There is a real movement among young priests and among young men and women in the Catholic Church, especially, mirabile dictu, in our own country, whose basis is the rediscovery of the glorious Tradition of the Catholic Church: of the intellect, of the arts, of liturgy and above all depth of faith. These young Catholics have come back to the Church not because they are now married and have to have their children baptized. They are coming back because they have seen an alternative to the banal post-Vatican II way of worshipping God, modeled on a Brady Bunch culture that has no relevance today. These young men and women have found meaning in what Pope Benedict called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, a convoluted phrase (that fools no one) for the Traditional Roman Mass. These young people, both laity and priests, are rediscovering the Tradition of the Church, not in some merely aesthetic sense but at the level of faith, a faith that is relevant to the world in which they now live. And the Church for the most part ignores this real flowering, for it goes against the mantra of “whatever happens in the Church is the will of God.” For the Catholic Church to admit a serious mistake by those who are “in charge” of the Church is very difficult, perhaps impossible. But it is not impossible to let go of wrong turns in the road and to embrace once again that which is at the heart of Catholicism, worship of God in Spirit and in Truth in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
This turn to the Tradition of the Church is not at all conservative in a normal understanding of that term. It is rather a rediscovery of that which is at the heart of the Catholic faith, that is, in George Weigel’s words, “Catholicism in full”.