It is not enough to criticize so-called education in America for failures and for poor performance. Failures of our political institutions, especially on the state and federal levels, to govern well and to enact justice are reaching a truly dangerous level that jeopardizes the survival of this regime. The mass media are powerfully engaged in “re-educating” the American public in the image of extreme left-wing “progressivism” to guarantee the death of traditional American beliefs and ways of life, and to usher in an era of extreme left-wing domination in all facets of our lives. These problems are enormous and deserving of analysis. For the present purpose, I’ll focus on churches in America, and most particularly on the Catholic Church as it is today—not in the glory days, perhaps, of generations or centuries ago. Rather than nourish our people in developing sounds spiritual lives, our powerful religious institutions have generally failed in that critical mission.
As a Benedictine monk and priest in the Catholic Church, it would be expected that I would not criticize the institutional Church, but quietly and submissively ignore the evident flaws in the Church and members. It is in effect an unwritten law of the Church that priests do not publicly criticize the institution and fellow clergy, lest they be condemned or at least ostracized. I’ve already been condemned and ostracized within the established Church; the only thing left to be done with me might be more public censorship, or a forced “laicization,” or physically being gagged, or secretly “taken out” by some “accident.” Or any voice such as mine is simply ignored, relegated to the “ash heap of history.”
Reflecting on what I have observed from more than forty years as a practicing Catholic—and during most of these years as a Benedictine monk and as a parish priest—the predominant sense in me is one of strong disappointment at what the Church has become. The primary failure of the Catholic Church has been its neglect of the spiritual, moral, and intellectual well-being of parishioners across the country. For decades, left-wing ideologies have replaced genuine spiritual formation, as numerous churches and religious orders became far more interested in “social justice” and “transforming the world” than in sharing in the wholesome, life-giving transformation of human beings into the living Body of Christ. Political preaching and social action replaced spiritual formation.
I saw this pattern intensely in my hometown of Missoula while I was a high school student. Although not a Catholic at the time, I attended some Catholic Masses and spoke with several priests, and was amazed at the focus on leftist political change. With trepidation I later returned to serve as a priest in western Montana, given what I had seen in Missoula; but I returned to be near my elderly parents in their late years. Soon I was smacked with reality: the priest in Missoula whose “Mass” I attended made up the entire liturgy, rejected references to Christ dying for our sins and his resurrection, had women do the blessing over the gifts, radically changed the “words of institution” themselves, and so on. He did not celebrate the Catholic Mass at all, but officiated at a feel-good quasi-religious service with social justice teaching and “egalitarian” practices. As a Benedictine monk-priest accustomed to actual Catholic liturgies, I was shocked, and discussed what I saw with that priest. He was friendly, and assured me (as I recall) that he was being “ecumenical” and “inclusive.” Without saying anything to me at the time, he probably thought of me as some “ultra-conservative, traditionalistic Catholic,” which I have never been.
A few weeks later I encountered a similar but less extreme pattern in the parish to which I was sent to serve as an associate pastor, in Kalispell, Montana: left-wing political ideology had clearly replaced the proclamation of the gospel, and the faithful were malnourished. The proclamation of Christ was too much for the pastor and the staff who quickly had me removed for being “too traditional” and “dividing the parish.” These political ideologues had a monopoly on the “truth” in that parish, and did not want it threatened.
Meanwhile, evangelicals in this country have often doctrinalized and propagandized the faithful with what is essentially bibliolatry—worship of a book rather than the living God. Their preaching may appear to be more authentically “Christ-centered,” but it is often a highly subjective, even Gnostic spirituality which they impart, that says, in effect: “I know that I am saved; either believe as I do, or you are going to hell.” And they “believe in the Bible as the word of God.” In short, the churches—Catholic and Protestant—have largely failed to nourish the faithful in Christ. Our people are spiritually “running on low.”
I am profoundly disappointed, scandalized, and frankly, disgusted to a high degree at what I have seen in the churches in our country. The institutional churches clearly seem to be far more focused on making money and protecting their own institutional existence than in providing solid spiritual formation for the faithful. In this sense, as with our educational establishment, so with the churches: there is much that could and should be called a “con game”—a confidence game used to acquire monies from the unsuspecting. Here I am thinking not only of such fundamentalistic groups as the “Latter Day Saints” (Mormons), but also of evangelical churches, mainline Protestant churches, and the Catholic church. What I have seen has been deeply disturbing. As no few Catholic and other Christians would admit: “the church seems to be all about money.” In a word, this is disgusting. As an elderly priest said to me on several occasions: “In France, follow the woman; in the Church, follow the money.” Standing back and examining our church life, it does seem to be “all about the money.” That is at least true far, far, too often, and to a high degree.
There is also the enormous problem of bad men parading as clergy. I encountered first hand the case of a diocesan priest who stole huge sums of monies from his parishioners offerings—all done through various deceits. He was indeed a deceitful, clever, and greedy thief in clerical garb. And what was the official reaction to his con games when some of us brought his criminal actions to light? Whatever was thought, that thief still functions in public as a Catholic priest. As his superior told me, “The priests feel entitled” to steal monies from parishioners. Clearly, bishops overlook such actions, as long as chanceries get their required take ($$) from parishioners. If bishops took strong action against thieving priests (as well as deacons and bishops), there would probably be a clerical uprising on their hands, or their own public condemnation for one reason or another. Fellow priests keep silent—whether because they share in the same activities, or just refuse to “get involved,” lest their own sins be exposed. For turning in this priest as a thief, I was effectively ostracized by other Catholic clergy in that diocese.
The problems of wickedness in clergy include far more than stealing, lying, and deceiving the faithful. As noted, the main problem is the neglect of the parishioners’ spiritual lives. But there is more blatant evil that shows up. I doubt that there is any priest serving in this generation who has not seen other priests who are active, heavily drinking alcoholics—a reality for years covered up by their more sober “brothers.” Even to a far greater degree, I think every priest knows himself or other priests who are living active sexual lives while pretending to be “celibate.” (As several clergy told me, “I vowed not to marry; I did not promise not to have sex.”) Whether its sex with children, adult women, or adult men, problems of clerical sexual abuse are rampant and have been disguised and hidden. Why? If the “faithful” knew the truth, they might cease giving money to keep the institution alive, or keep their own parish open. Or perhaps the belief is that it is better to deceive the faithful than to “scandalize them” with the truth. Well, they have been deceived, and increasingly, as these evils come to light, they are scandalized, and no few walk away from the Church altogether. Examine the declining church attendance, and wonder why. (The main problem remains the failure to form the faithful in Christ.) The threat to “close the parish” hangs as a sword over many faithful, and serves to keep them quiet and “obedient” to the hierarchy. Catholics often love their parishes, and would do anything to keep them—even turn blind evils to rampant evil, or bring bad or poor-performing clergy to light.
That there are some men serving in the priesthood who are good and noble, I do not deny. I have personally known some virtuous and Christ-centered priests. However, priests usually keep silent in the face of evils, and in effect are co-opted by the system into “obeying.” “Shut up and obey” is the unspoken rule imparted to clergy and to religious in the Church—and indeed, to the faithful as well. Oftentimes the non-ordained have seen some of the serious problems—grand theft, priests or bishops sexually acting out, widespread failure to nourish the people spiritually—and they, too, have kept silent, because they have also imbibed that unspoken rule: “Shut up and obey,” with an additional phrase for parishioners: “And pay up—or your parish will be closed.”
I have no recommendations for “how to reform the Church.” I truly do not know what would be best, nor what could actually work. That the institution and many of its personnel are spiritually and morally corrupt should now be clear to anyone willing to see and to admit the truth they see. (Willful blindness has been strongly evident in clergy—and in Catholic and Protestant faithful—for centuries.) What is more likely than sane and healthy reform would be that the institutional Church and the priesthood keep limping along, giving lip service to “reform,” and “calling wrong-doers to account,” while in reality, virtually nothing is done in most cases—unless legal pressure is brought to bear, as moral suasion does not work on men of truly low character. And worst of all, the faithful are spiritually malnourished, and often do not know it, or know how to seek spiritual nourishment. They’ve been taught to be “good Catholics,” rather than good and prudent human beings who truly seek God. And priests are praised for being “men of the Church” (that is, obedient to the hierarchy) rather than men of Christ and the truth. In short, there is much spiritual and moral sickness in our churches, which only genuine and sustained return to Christ and God can heal. All else is “window-dressing” and more deceit.
For writing and posting this short blog, I should not be surprised if official permission for me to function as a priest in the Church be withdrawn. I accept the consequences of daring to speak the truth as I see it—I will “shake the dust off my feet.” For centuries, churches (like other political and social institutions) have survived cloaked in deceit and cover-ups. As it is, I receive no financial support from any Catholic institution (or person), nor do I seek it; hence, I cannot be thrown off the “gravy train” that serves to keep some good clergy quiet.
Fr. Wm. P. McKane, OSB
17 February 2020
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