Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Is Anyone Listening?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 15, 2023

Ordinarily I love my work. I enjoy learning about the latest developments in the Church and in the world, explaining them to our readers, and engaging in the debates that arise from those developments. But there are times when I wonder—as I read one story after another illustrating the same old familiar mistakes—whether anyone is paying attention. This week has been one of those times. Bear with me, please, as I explain my frustration.

  • Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Victor Manuel Fernandez, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, proclaims that no Catholic bishop can judge “the doctrine of the Holy Father.” But the Pope—any Pope—cannot have a doctrine of his own, separate from the perennial doctrine of the universal Church, which he is called to uphold and defend. To say that this is the Pope’s doctrine is to suggest that the Pope could change it, and thereby to encourage those who want doctrinal change. Does Fernandez, who is now the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, believe that doctrine can change? In the same interview he responded to a question about same-sex marriage thus: “At this point it is clear that the Church only understands marriage as an indissoluble union between a man and a woman…” [Emphasis added.] At some future point might the Church reach a different understanding? The Argentine prelate’s words certainly allow that interpretation.
  • Mayor Justin Bibb is outraged that the Cleveland diocese will not support gender transitions. Implicitly accusing the Catholic Church of hatred, Bibb says that the diocesan policy is “a shocking betrayal of the church teachings that have shaped who I am today.” So should we conclude, then, that in his youth Mayor Bibb attended a church where gender-swapping was accepted? Of course not; no such churches existed until a few years ago. Like so many other self-righteous politicians, he has conformed his own doctrine to the spirit of the age.
  • Leaders of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have thrown their support behind the Biden administration’s emergency spending plans. (Perhaps it is worth mentioning that some of the funds in the supplemental proposal—for refugee resettlement, disaster relief, and programs for migrants—will go to Catholic agencies fulfilling government contracts.) Has the USCCB ever warned Congress that profligate spending increases the federal deficit, fuels inflation, and thus places new burden on the poor and the elderly? Who profits from inflation? Debtors—and today Uncle Sam is the world’s leading debtor. A debtor government that allows inflation is saving itself through the suffering of the vulnerable. Catholic social doctrine should have something to say on that subject.
  • Any day now, Pope Francis is expected to ask for the resignation of Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, the Pope’s most outspoken critic in the American hierarchy. If that does come to pass, and if the Pope removes Bishop Strickland despite his refusal to resign—as he did with Bishop Daniel Fernandez Torres in Puerto Rico—it would reinforce the false impression that bishops are in effect branch managers, serving at the pleasure of the Pontiff, rather than successors to the apostles and not subordinate to the Pope but (as Cardinal Müller recently put it) “his brothers in the same apostolic office.” And please, if the Pope does ask for Strickland’s resignation, don’t ask intelligent Catholics to believe that the request (demand?) was prompted by the bishop’s weakness as an administrator. We’ll all know the real reason.
  • In Switzerland, two priests who were joined at the altar by a woman at Mass will not face disciplinary sanctions because, the diocese tells us, “there were no serious liturgical violations.” The woman—who was a parish administrator, and should have fully understood what she was doing—only said the words of consecration; she did not concelebrate the Mass. No, of course she didn’t concelebrate; she couldn’t. So then what was she doing, if not pretending that she could?
  • In Nicaragua a priest was arrested for the crime of leading prayers for a bishop who was already behind bars. Still no word of protest from the Vatican as the Ortega regime steadily escalates its war against the Church.
  • In France, a bishop is under investigation for attempted rape. The allegation involves an incident that reportedly took place in 2013, when Bishop Georges Colomb was acting as superior general of the Paris Foreign Mission Society. And “despite multiple warnings sent to his superiors,” he was appointed by Pope Francis to become Bishop of La Rochelle in 2016.” Bishop Colomb denies the charge, and has promised to cooperate with civil and canonical investigations. Still the question remains: If there is any doubt as to his innocence, why was he appointed as a bishop? Has the Vatican learned nothing in the past 20 years?
  • Finally, looking back beyond this past week, I recall the long interview that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin gave to the Irish News. The retired Archbishop of Dublin acknowledged that the Church in Ireland no longer can sway public opinion on issues such as abortion, divorce, and homosexuality. He sees the decline in Catholic influence as the result of taking too strong a stand: “The Church has got so caught up in the dogmatic rights and wrongs, absolute rights and wrongs, that it’s lost the context.” But Archbishop Martin isn’t guilty of that “rigid” approach. Questioned on the possibility of ordaining women priests, he says: “I don’t see, in any way, that women priests will be something we will see in my lifetime.” What message does the reader draw from those telling last words: “in my lifetime”—if not that the Church will eventually accept the progressive agenda? By the way, when Diarmuid Martin became Archbishop of Dublin in 2003, 88.8% of the city’s people were Catholics. When he stepped down in 2021, that figure was 68.3%. However one might characterize his approach to restoring the Church in Ireland, it wasn’t successful.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Sep. 19, 2023 9:08 AM ET USA

    The idea that settled doctrine is such for today leaving the impression that tomorrow it could be something else is modernist/historicist nonsense. Years ago Msgr George Kelly located the crisis in the Church as a crisis of bishops which now includes this Pope and the way he treats other bishops belying all the verbiage about synodality, discernment, pastorality reserved only for his friends it seems. The crisis also is the radiating decay of the Jesuits causing great harm to the Church.

  • Posted by: seewig - Sep. 19, 2023 2:06 AM ET USA

    Thanks for the precious views we ordinarily don’t hear anymore. The church attendances (including my parish in the San Francisco Bay Area) are a clear sign of what’s happening. Perhaps as potentially illegal the Pope’s election was, it seems clearer and clearer why the Conclave result was a forgone conclusion based on a pre-Conclave meeting of Cardinals. And now we have a leadership in Rome that acts more like Biden as president of the US. Otto S.

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 18, 2023 9:38 AM ET USA

    Whether they listen or not - for they are a rebellious house - they will know that a prophet has been among them. [Ezekiel 2:5]

  • Posted by: FredC - Sep. 17, 2023 2:24 PM ET USA

    I frequently pray, "Lord, this is Your Church. Please so something."

  • Posted by: padre3536 - Sep. 16, 2023 8:46 AM ET USA

    Let us pray, Christ's Bride in going to Her co-Passion....blessings with Saints Cornelius and Cyprian of the Triune-Lamb Beloved!

  • Posted by: mverner1960 - Sep. 16, 2023 7:12 AM ET USA

    I am paying attention. Your writing is one reason I support I think it is a mistake to allow oneself to get frustrated over a lack of discernable change in the Church as a result of one's efforts to teach. These things take much time and are the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of individuals. You may not learn of your successes until Jesus himself tells you of them. Thank you for many years of great work.

  • Posted by: kdrotar16365 - Sep. 15, 2023 11:50 PM ET USA

    Great questions and insights, Mr. Lawler, but reading all of it at once can sure drag one down. God help us all.

  • Posted by: Gramps - Sep. 15, 2023 11:14 PM ET USA

    Well said, Mr. Lawler. This is why I read your column.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 15, 2023 11:12 PM ET USA

    You hit some of the sorest of the sore spots this week. Thanks