They don't make charismatic religious luminaries like they used to.
And even back in the day, especially in the Catholic universe, the record was spotty. For every Bishop Fulton Sheen, you also had a Father Charles Coughlin.
It's only gotten worse from there. Today, we have an entire order established by a dead, now-discredited pervert. We have bishops complicit in covering up child sexual abuse by priests.
We have a church in which the historical practice of Catholicism has become foreign to actual Catholics. And we have many "orthodox" Catholics so desperate for authenticity, authority and moral teaching that they latch on to the craziest things -- and people.
The list of such recent -- and, frankly, cultish -- figures is a long one, starting with the Rev. Marcial Maciel, serial abuser, personality-cult figure and founder of the Legion of Christ and its lay organization, Regnum Christi. Among them are "rock-star priests" like Father Ken Roberts, Father Thomas Euteneuer . . . and now Father John Corapi.
All have "fallen" amid sex scandals. All have diehard followers who, in some cases even years later, are sure "they" framed their man because he "told it like it is."
The desperation and confusion of the faithful amid the collapse of catechesis, practice and authority within Catholicism reminds me of the wayward penguin recently discovered in New Zealand. It had lost its bearings, swam far from its Antarctic home and was found eating wet sand, thinking it snow.
Catholics now are "liberal" or "conservative," warring factions rallying behind "orthodox" or "progressive" gurus and sure that God is on their side. Never do they wonder whether they are on God's.
And they follow their guru, like lemmings, to the edge of the abyss. Some jump. Others beg their guru not to leave them, because such dynamism is so hard to come by that the Kingdom of Heaven may not survive its loss. That may be an overstatement -- but not much of one.
IRONICALLY ENOUGH, it was Corapi who gave us the best explanation of our current sad state of affairs, both literal and figurative. The priest -- whose now-former religious order today adjudged him guilty of various transgressions, sexual and otherwise -- hypocritically, it now seems, "told it like it is" in an interview with Legatus magazine.
Maybe "it takes a thief," so to speak.
WHO KNEW that Father Corapi might be conducting field research on infidelity and the lack of personal holiness as he spoke?
When enough Catholics become true to their calling, a great power will be unleashed. The reason we have this mess, in my estimation, is because the vast majority of Catholics have not lived their faith. We have a billion Catholics on the face of the earth. If they knew their faith, lived their faith, loved their faith, I assure you that the world would be a very different place.
The United States, the situation would be profoundly different if we had 60-70 million Catholics truly living their faith. But, of course, as many as 80% don’t even go to Mass on Sunday — and that’s a precept! So we have a long way to go. But it has to be kind of grassroots, one person at a time. That is why the Church has always encouraged personal holiness, because that is where the reform is going to come from.(snip)
I’ve been a harsh critic of ourselves, meaning the Church leadership — priests, bishops and theologians. I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job in my lifetime. We’ve had great popes; the top of the hierarchy has always been fantastic. But we’ve had a serious problem with “middle management.” There has been a significant problem with bishops and priests. Although, it’s better now than it was 20 years ago. However, the vast majority of Catholics aren’t even going to Church, so we shouldn’t wonder that the Church has been losing its influence on an increasingly secularized society.
You have to ask yourself why people have drifted away. I’m sure there are a lot of societal reasons. We don’t have control over those reasons, but we have control over the reasons inside the Church. You can start with the top. There is an old saying: “The fish stinks from the head down.” Lousy leadership is a disaster.
I once asked an old Carmelite nun why we have a crisis of leadership inside the Church as well as in the secular order. She never batted an eye. She had been a nun for over 60 years and a prioress for decades. She said, “That’s easy. Punishment for sin.” Why do we have bad leadership? Punishment for sin. It’s very biblical. You go back to the Old Testament and you see that leadership was removed from the people of God, the chosen people, because of infidelity to the covenant. They cried out to God because they had no priest, prophet or king. Why not? Because they were unfaithful.
One can recall what happened during the tenure of Pope Paul VI, when he came out with his landmark and prophetic encyclical Humane Vitae. Significant numbers of bishops, priests, theologians and others rejected it. They absolutely rejected it. The majority of Canadian bishops signed the infamous Winnipeg Statement that just categorically rejected Humane Vitae. That kind of rebellion is catastrophic. Paul VI was prophetic with that encyclical and much of what he warned about has come to pass.
Meantime, it's the rest of us who note yet another scandal by yet another proclaimer of the gospel, then get back to our field research on the ongoing "catastrophic" effects of the ongoing Catholic "crisis of leadership" and the rebellion of those who presume to fill the vacuum.