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Outside the Magic Circle

With his conservative confrères, British Catholic blogger Damien Thompson likes to call the British Catholic hierarchy "The Magic Circle." The phrase is meant pejoratively, of course. They see the bishops as a self-congratulatory cabal more interested in maintaining its élite status among "the great and good," including and especially the Anglican establishment, than in easing the path of traditional Anglicans into the Church or, more generally, in implementing the Pope's policies for the Church at large. If they're right—and I have independent reason to think they are—the fact itself is disturbing. Whatever the ideological coloration, if any, of a magic circle might be, just being part of a magic circle is usually bad for peoples' souls. It constitutes a culture of privilege that insulates them from the worst criticisms, causes them to think themselves better than others, and makes them resistant to reforms the need for which is obvious to many outsiders. That sort of problem fueled the Protestant Reformation centuries ago. In a sense, the Catholic hierarchy in Europe and the Americas has continued to be a magic circle for a long time. But is that about to end?

With occasional and egregious exceptions, the Church hierarchy has been part of the Establishment, thus enjoying a presumption of good will on the part of government, big business, and high society. Indeed the exceptions, such as in Mexico and Spain for the early part of the 20th century, can be seen largely as reactions against that status. But in an atmosphere of ever-encroaching secularism, the sex-abuse-and-coverup scandals are fast destroying the status and most of what goes with it. I believe that faithful Catholics should greet that development the way Lenin greeted the travails of Russia in World War I: "the worse, the better."

Over at First Things' "On the Square," theologian R.R. Reno has lately been commenting on the iteration of the global scandal in the Belgian Church. In his latest installment, he notes:

Police raids, computers impounded, and holes drilled into crypts so that spy cameras can be inserted. Perhaps the chief investigator’s office was as blindsided as the Vatican, suddenly waking up to the fact that the Church is now outside the magical circle of elite society, and that elite society, always attuned to changes in status, demanded the Church be treated differently. Scrambling to action, they overcompensated with heavy-handed tactics. [Emphasis added]

Generalizing, Reno observes that "after the scandals," the Church in Europe
...has become largely disestablished on the ground, with few going to church (a social reality the consequences of which were masked, perhaps, by the remarkable charisma of John Paul II), and therefore it can no longer retain the privileges of social establishment, one of the most important of which is protection from debilitating criticism.

If I’m right about the larger dynamics at work in the current round of scandals, the Church is in for a tough season. The expulsion from the elite makes her leaders supremely vulnerable.

Already true of the Church in Europe and Canada, I believe that will come true of the Church in the U.S. and the rest of the Western Hemisphere. The Church will be forced in the concrete to recall why cardinals' hats are red. That the trends in Africa and Asia are actually running in the opposite direction is a fact whose significance I shall explain at the end. For now, we must see the travails of the Church in the West as the beginning of a much-needed purification.

Two factors allowed the sex-abuse-and-coverup scandals across the globe to get out of hand: the strength of the old presumption of good will, which obtained as much among the laity as among the clergy, and the inability of the bishops in their magic circles to grasp that moral and legal rules applicable to ordinary people applied to them and their brother priests. Such is the consequence of belonging to a culture of privilege. Politicians, at least in relatively democratic countries, aren't insulated quite as well because their enemies often cannot resist using their peccadilloes against them. It takes more than mere peccadilloes, however, to destroy prominent clergymen. It takes being part of a systemic corruption that hits a moral nerve in the larger society. That's what's been happening. In the long run, that will have proven itself a good thing.

In the late sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great was the first Roman pontiff to describe himself as servus servorum Dei: "slave of the slaves of God." His failure to see anything wrong with the live institution of slavery itself—a blind spot he shared with the entire world of his time—enabled him to adopt slavery as a metaphor for the servant-leadership he exemplified so well. It is that model which so many bishops have forgotten. Indeed, they had started forgetting it in the fourth century, when the emperors Constantine and Theodosius privileged them as officers of the state. The collapse of the Western empire did force the bishops, especially those of Rome, to assume a degree of temporal authority that some of them exercised well. Yet what St. Athanasius said in the fourth century has been true of all too many bishops since, even in Rome: "the path to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops." Of course no earthly or demonic force can destroy the Church; as Cardinal Consalvi pointed out to Napoleon, even the best efforts of bishops have failed to do so. And that much will remain the case. But God is as interested in saving the souls of bishops as he in saving other souls. Hence he will often chastise the bishops by permitting the Church to be persecuted in their persons. Such events remind some bishops—the ones disposed to be so reminded—that they are servant leaders, and that they should expect no easier a fate on earth than that of the One they are called to serve through serving His people.

That's what's starting to happen to the leaders of the Church in what is broadly called "the West." I think the Pope sees it. But he is not in the majority among his brother bishops. The recently retired Archbishop of Brussels, Cardinal Danneels, doesn't see it. Cardinal Sodano, formerly Vatican secretary of state and now dean of the College of Cardinals, doesn't see it. And how many bishops in the U.S. have admitted that their reflexive interest in protecting their culture of privilege, which included protecting a lavender mafia, was the cause of their own complicity in the sex-abuse-and-coverup scandal? It seems that almost everybody gets it but them. Until they get it and change accordingly, things will only get worse for the Church. If and when they do get it, then and only then will things get better.

This is a spiritual law I've observed at work even in my own life. Once, for about a dozen years, I had an academic career. Thus I was part of a magic circle: I got to treat abstractions as realities; I interacted mostly with the cultured and like-minded; I had enough vacation time to actually think and write about what interested me. I didn't have to take work that bored and alienated me just to keep a roof over my family's head. I was very comfortable and began, subtly and insensibly, to think myself immune from the iron laws of ordinary life that the vast bulk of humanity groaned under daily. My fall was slow but sure; I hit bottom when I suffered a severe bout of clinical depression a decade ago. When I recovered, my life became harder than it had ever been. Although I had nobody but myself to blame, it took me another several years to realize that. Aside from a few brief and happy interludes, my life has continued being hard—but no harder than that of most of the world's people, and easier than some. So if my circumstances ever improve enough to let me earn a living in roughly the sort of way I once did, I will not take the privilege for granted. I will be grateful, for I will have been chastened enough to see that all is gift, and that the pleasant gifts are less deserved than the unpleasant ones.

That's what the leadership of the Church needs to learn by experience. A few have, but most have not.  Before there can be resurrection, there must be death. The increasing size and strength of the Church in the global South may be part of the resurrection; it is certainly where the Church's center of gravity is shifting and is likely to remain. But the lessons about to be learned by the Church in her historic base of influence will eventually have to be learned everywhere.

Cross-posted at Sacramentum Vitae.

Comments (35)

Very interesting post, Michael.

I think perhaps we want to distinguish two things: The blessings of a good income and a high-prestige, interesting job with job security (or at least good hope of job security) on the one hand and, on the other hand, the sort of prestige that literally means that you do not have to obey legitimate rules that others have to obey. For example, college professors still get traffic tickets if they run a red light. And in some ways, especially prior to tenure, their ideologically relevant words and actions are under greater scrutiny than they would be if they were plumbers, though they make more money than plumbers. I don't want to sound naive, but I tend to think that at least in most parts of the country, a college professor who commits an actual crime is about as likely to be held to account for it as anyone else, unless he belongs to some other group (e.g., a minority group) that might allow him to get a pass.

So insofar as there is a magic circle that allows one to get away with, say, child molestation and not be held to account for it legally, I doubt that college professors belong to such a circle, though in other senses of the words they have "prestige" or "privilege" and an especially nice life.

I suppose a lot depends on the motivation and power of those in charge to cover up for one's misdoings. If you told me that public school teachers and principals belong to a "magic circle" and succeed in covering up for child molestation much as the Catholic bishops have done, I wouldn't know whether you were right or not, but I could imagine a mechanism whereby this might work out.

But merely belonging to a high-prestige group that gets to do interesting work for a living isn't the same thing as belonging to a magic circle in the sense that you seem to be applying that term to the bishops.

Another point: My perception is that in Canada, for example, the lawsuits against the Catholic Church have been insane and confiscatory and obviously designed to shut down the church. These include, too, nonsense suits based on their having had the effrontery to give an education to "native American," etc., children which ostensibly "destroyed their culture" and so forth. So even looking at the vicious way in which the civil authorities are going after the Catholic Church the West from the perspective of a Protestant, I'm not at all sure that "the worse the better" is correct. Where the attacks are off-base, ill-motivated, exaggerated, legally dubious, and likely actually to make it impossible for the Catholic Church to do its legitimate work, I don't see how that can be a good thing.

I have been advocating, for years now, a couple of concepts that I think need to become basic principles of governance whenever that governance is exercised by fallen humans (and that means in the Church, from the Pope down). It also, in a slightly different way, also applies to boards of directors and executives in organizations.

The first is transparency. As much as possible, the benefits of those who decide things need to be open to public inspection: not the sort of "openness" where a person can fill out an application and 4 months later be handed a document that lists a hundred facts, only 3 of which he asked for. I mean directly and normally available as a matter of course. I should be able to walk into my congressman's office, and see not only what he makes in salary, but what he is allowed to spend on assistants, and what was spent on his behalf on junkets to Africa, and what retirement benefits he will get, just by asking, right then and there. I should be able to walk into my parish office and see what the pastor gets individually, and what the church spends on this, that, and the other. In both cases, after all, it's MY MONEY that gives those benefits.

The second principle is more controversial, but I will throw it out anyway: every person who makes decisions at an executive level needs to have a second, part time job where he does menial labor and takes orders from a boss. And the higher up he is, the more menial the labor it should be. Even if it is only 4 hours a week, 1/2 of a day of work. Every executive needs a period of time where he is re-grounded in what the ordinary man lives in, to make sure he cannot easily forget the impact his decisions will make to such ordinary men.

Man is a rational animal, which means he lives in daily and weekly cycles driven in part by the body, first doing higher things, then doing lower things. This applies to stages in life also: children have more need of play than adults do. Fallen man, though, if not watched carefully, will gravitate to the easier and cleaner and more comfortable things as much as possible (rather than only as much as needed). But that tendency will go to extremes in men whose stage and station in life permits them a one-sided experience: living the life of an executive, separated from the menial, the tiresome, the trudging ditch-digging and back-breaking, he will naturally incline toward to that magic-circle mentality that says he has a RIGHT to be separated from the dirty, the menial, the tiresome obedience to little laws.

The needed inoculation to this disease is obvious: a periodic re-immersion in the low, tiresome, menial things that one would normally dislike.


I didn't mean to suggest that just being part of a magic circle makes one exempt from the law to any significant extent. Drawing on my own experience, I did suggest that being part of a magic circle tends to prevent that self-confrontation and ascesis which is necessary for spiritual growth. And I think that truth is behind Jesus' hyperbolic statement that "it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven."

In a sense, that's the problem with many people in the West, secular as well as religious, lay as well as clerical. It's just that, when one is a Christian clergyperson, there's much less excuse and the price of failure is higher for everybody.


If you told me that public school teachers and principals belong to a "magic circle" and succeed in covering up for child molestation much as the Catholic bishops have done, I wouldn't know whether you were right or not, but I could imagine a mechanism whereby this might work out.

I would tell you exactly that.

"Accused of sexual abuse, but back in the classroom"


Perseus, I thought it might be so. There, I would say that the mechanism is probably teachers' unions.

Mr Luse:

I think what I've said about the Catholic hierarchy also applies, though to a lesser extent, to clergy in religious bodies that ordain women.


You mean like priestesses in the Episcopal Church? Clergywomen?

That's one example. But why get hung up on that issue? From a Catholic standpoint, a female priest is a metaphysical impossibility; the matter is settled. But the issue I've identified in my post is extremely serious for the Catholic Church, and not enough people are alert to it.

Mike, one thing that might help the bishops get their feet back to reality would be changing the legal framework of diocesan ownership of property. At least according to Dr. Ed Peters (a very outspoken canon lawyer), canon law does not support the notion that the bishop "owns" all the Catholic property in the diocese, including the parishes. By implication, the individual parishes are supposed to be owned independently. In the US, that would probably wind up implying a parish board of trustees, with a couple of different options for wider inclusion on decision-making. There might be some other alternative, but given the state of corporate law, I don't know what.

Now there are a lot of ways such local ownership can become a problem, including boards that go off the deep end in terms of heresy or juridical nonsense. But the positive side of the coin is this: the bishop would have a built in check/balance against his arbitrary imposition of choices on parishes that make no sense on the ground, such as selling parish buildings to pay law suits (if I recall correctly, canon law explicitly requires that if parish goods are sold, the proceeds MUST be used for the good of the parishioners - such as, for example, using the money to improve the facility at the nearby parish that has to absorb the parishioners). And diocesan-level control has NOT prevented the problems mentioned, such as heresy and going off the deep end juridically, that might tend to infect parish control of the parish goods.

But my overall point is that independent ownership of the property might help remind the bishop of the proper limits of his office. It might, for example, enable parishes a more effective resistance to having a good pastor removed and replaced with a jerk, or with a heterodox priest. In the long run, it might make the bishops rethink their current attitude that a priest should not remain in a parish more than 7 years, he should automatically be moved after that point - an attitude that I think is positively evil as well as contrary to canon law. When you look at canon law, it seems to envision pastors has having a real measure of authority to stand up to the bishop under certain circumstances - in practice, this NEVER happens without the pastor effectively being forced out of the priesthood and/or Church.

In my humble opinion, I don't think it would hurt the situation if at least some of the bishops converted to Catholicism.


The Church in the U.S. has seen your movie before. You might benefit from this article: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1141/is_2_39/ai_94129128/. It's written from a liberal point of view, which makes it an interesting challenge.


George R:

If, in your view, the hierarchy isn't even Catholic, then you are a schismatic. I don't take the arguments of schismatics seriously.

I don't take the arguments of schismatics seriously.

Why not? You seem to take all the other infidels seriously.

That's because most of them don't advertise themselves falsely, so that their sincerity may be presumed. One exception is the Catholic progressives who, citing "the primacy of conscience," reserve to themselves the right to decide which dogmas of the Church to accept and which to reject. Thus they cite the primacy of conscience as if it were the sole binding doctrine of the Church--a position so manifestly absurd that I doubt the sincerity of those who are logically committed to it. But neither do I take seriously people at the other end of the spectrum who call themselves Catholic, but who do so according to criteria by which the Pope and the bishops aren't Catholic. That idea is just as absurd, and therefore just as good evidence against the sincerity of those who hold it.

I find what Michael is saying here challenging in broad outline, and not really with regard to Catholicism. I've already given my opinion that he's probably going too far in saying "the worse the better" about the attacks on the Catholic Church. But in the broader sense, I think about this comment:

being part of a magic circle tends to prevent that self-confrontation and ascesis which is necessary for spiritual growth.

Now, I've been so privileged as for many, many years, with only a small period that was different, to be responsible only to people who love me--that is, to my family and particularly to my husband. I know perfectly well that this isn't true for most people. Most people are responsible for their daily bread to meet the demands of people who don't love them at all, of people who are often unreasonable or nasty or, at the best, simply indifferent. My brief experience with that (perfectly normal and usual) life situation was one I'm not anxious to repeat. Yet I realize that it's true that all that we have is a gift and therefore something we have to be prepared to give up. I go back and forth between, on the one hand, believing that if people are lucky enough to be loved, cherished, and sheltered, they should be thankful and try to give something back to the best of their ability--nothing there to want to change--and on the other hand realizing that such a fortunate situation can make one spiritually flabby.


Far be it from me to criticize as "spiritually flabby" such fortunate persons as yourself. The generalization of mine that you quoted only describes tendencies, and thus does not necessarily convict anybody in particular. The only lay person I've convicted on that count is myself.

But I really do believe that clergy, especially Catholic bishops, should be held to a higher standard. It's a standard I can't live up to, which is probably why God has never permitted me the luxury of becoming clergy. The problem I identified in my post is that, for far too long, there have been respects in which the clergy have actually been held to a lower standard.

I certainly think that the lives of most Catholic clergy in Western countries are too easy. They don't have to worry about unemployment. Few have wives to compromise with, and even fewer have children to care for. They get generous time for vacations and retreats. Among most of the people they serve, they are treated with respect and deference, unlike many working lay people. I could go on, but that would be inside baseball.


Mike, that's kind of why I qualified my suggestion: corporate law might suggest trusteeship, but other kinds of law might go down other paths. And I admitted that many evils might tend to come with trusteeship. I am open to many other paths than trusteeship. After all, the current situation, with the bishop holding everything under "corporation sole" is itself a construct of corporation law. On these blogs we have seen significant criticism of the state of corporate law all around, so we should not be surprised if the current arrangement under corporation sole needs reform as well.

In any case, the article is a hodge-podge of true and not-so-accurate ideas. For one thing, the suppression of Americanism wasn't a suppression of the idea that democratic forms have a place in the governance of the Church. Gee whiz: anyone familiar with history can see that during many historic times, bishops were elected by the priests or subsets thereof. Election to the papacy is by vote. General Councils take votes, for crying out loud. The Church isn't against voting to identify authoritative decisions.

Even so, it is easy to think of methods to curb the worst forms of the trusteeship abuses that were present during the early 1800's. For example, you might make so that the bishop automatically has veto power over some of its decisions, especially selecting a pastor (actually, I would tend to put that the other way around - the bishop nominates, the trustees have authority to veto his choice. Gives the bishop the upper hand: if the trustees keep on rejecting priests, the parish eventually goes without a pastor.)

The current US situation, with corporation sole, is not a situation that is recapitulated everywhere around the world. Nor is it a situation that can be said to be entirely free of tension with the principle of subsidiarity, a principle that applies to all societies with humans exercising governance, not just civil society.

But why get hung up on that issue?

The clunkiness of PC language always hangs me up.

but who do so according to criteria by which the Pope and the bishops aren't Catholic. That idea is just as absurd, and therefore just as good evidence against the sincerity of those who hold it.

It certainly is the case that some bishops are not Catholic - at the time of Arianism a great many were not. That's all I thought that George was implying - that there are bishops who materially hold heretic theses, and it is possible that some of these bishops may in fact be heretics. It need not be the case, even from George's comment, that the entirety, or even majority of bishops are heretics. There is nothing about holding that there are heretic bishops that implies one is a schismatic. Not by itself, that is.

I suspect that if you laid out a half-dozen statements from Trent or the Council of Florence or some of the other councils that were slamming heretics really hard, and asked current bishops whether these statements are true, a good many of them would deny them outright. And if they didn't first qualify those denials, that would represent material heresy. But then, nearly all Catholics of whatever time would be unable to pass a test like that, so it isn't really all that indicative.

Among most of the people they serve, they are treated with respect and deference, unlike many working lay people.

I do find it a little strange for a Catholic, any Catholic, to think that this is a problem or dangerous. Isn't that how it's _supposed_ to be for priests, that people respect "the collar"?

Me, I'm a Protestant of the Protestants. I'm all in favor of people's earning respect by their demonstrated character, etc., rather than just having it conferred on them by their position. I'd be very happy for people to "throw the bum out" if he turns out not to be a good pastor. But I don't see how you could sustain a hierarchical church very well based on those principles.


The respect due the office of priest in the Catholic Church is just that: respect due the office. I render that respect. But it does not thereby follow that it's good for the clergy not to have to earn respect on their own account. In fact, it isn't good. But the presumption of good will, based largely on respect for the office, covers many sins that aren't all that apparent. In my ample experience, priests are no holier on average than regular churchgoers. And I've known some active, orthodox priests who say that priests in their experience are less holy, on average, than regular churchgoers. That might be a stretch if we're talking about the world's 400,000-odd Catholic priests, but it's not a stretch in my own experience.

Such a state of affairs ought not to obtain, but it does. Among the reasons it does is that too many priests get more respect than they deserve as men and as Christians. And that is among my reasons for saying that the lives of most Catholic clergy in the West are too easy. (I do not include permanent deacons in that generalization; the revival of said office after centuries of desuetude is too recent to warrant such generalizations.) When I say "too easy," I mean that their circumstances do not force them to grow spiritually.



I wouldn't venture to say how many Catholic bishops are privately heretical. Nobody can or should, because nobody has had the requisite private conversations with the thousands of bishops comprising the hierarchy. The number of bishops whose public statements and actions enable us to conclude that they are heretics is a small minority. And so an unqualified statement such as George R's is simply outrageous.


Let me try an analogy. Suppose there is a horse standing in front of us. And we both a agree it is a horse. Then all of a sudden, Shazam! -- the “horse” is one-foot tall, has feathers, a beak, and web feet, and is going “quack quack.” And I say, “The horse has turned into a duck.” And you say, “That’s impossible.” And I say, “I know it’s impossible, but it has evidently happened.” And you say, “A horse cannot turn into a duck.” And I say, “I know a horse cannot turn into a duck. But tell me, does that look like a horse to you?”

That’s where we’re at.

Do I take it, George, that with this "analogy" you're aiming to bolster your assertion about the Catholic hierarchy, as I interpreted that assertion, and without the qualification with which Tony saw fit to interpret it?

George R. might be onto something, if this were maybe, say, the 1970's or 1980's. Slowly, perhaps even in Catholic time, the phasing out of openly rebellious clergy has taken place and will continue to do so. It is only a matter of time when such abominations as the Winnipeg Statement are tossed into the dustbin.

What I seem to notice is less a matter of heresy, and more a matter of timidity. The Church on Earth cannot subsist on donations that would be insulting as a child's allowance, and the bishops are often facing extortion tactics by wealthy, liberal patrons. Perhaps if the likes of George R. were to assist and coax the local bishop to proclaim the Gospel boldly, rather than infer a malefic conspiracy, things would be better. Alas, they are not.


I agree with everything you say, save for your first sentence.

I was very much an active member of the Church in the 70s and 80s. In the 70s I experienced the worst there was to experience, and I mean the worst. In the 80s I even taught in three different houses of priestly formation. I now believe the main problem then was the widespread impression that Vatican II had left everything up for grabs. That unshackled pride and lust in the clergy as well as the laity. But a lot of people were being Catholic in ways they believed the Church meant for them to be Catholic. They were mistaken, because they had basically bought into the same pop-progressive narrative of the Council that the rad-trads do.

That said, the rest of your comment is spot on.


"Malefic". Now there's a word I don't run across much. I'll add it to the vocabulary.

I agree with Patrick's point. There is way, way less garbage going on now than there was in 1980.

Even so, there are dioceses that continue to have the reputation of fostering heresy, and the chancery is not exempt. What is VERY common, though, is a series of choices by bishops that cannot readily be reconciled with the Pope's program of what is to be done: such things as the bishop requiring Catholic colleges be truly Catholic or lose their name. Things like maintaining cadres's of all-male alter servers (which was specifically stated in the document that permitted some alter girls). Things like actually declaring some politicians and other lay people excommunicated. None of these actions, often stemming from timidity, are actually heretical in themselves, but they certain foster others who are engaged in heresy.

The process of replacing timid and/or heretical bishops with courageous and orthodox ones will just be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic unless the hierarchy undergoes the sort of purification I've called for.

Yet that is the problem. There will always be Judas, there will always be a traitor among us, yet we must move forward.

The enemy has been stung in times past with the charisms produced by red martyrdom, and so balks to commit to such until his power is consolidated on earth. Even so, only through self sacrifice, mortification, and the renunciation of modern luxury can we hope to continue the work set before us by the Lamb of God.

P.S. Michael, be glad that you were not formed by the wisdom of +Weakland. There are some of us who struggle with the pain, and must force ourselves against all instinct and desire to forgive. Forgive me that I do not hold some very highly in regard, I am working on it.

Two factors allowed the sex-abuse-and-coverup scandals across the globe to get out of hand: the strength of the old presumption of good will, which obtained as much among the laity as among the clergy, and the inability of the bishops in their magic circles to grasp that moral and legal rules applicable to ordinary people applied to them and their brother priests.

They also thought themselves immune from the Bible's teachings on the behavior of the leaders of the church. It takes little imagination to imagine the apostles spittling in rage at the thought of church leaders letting homosexual pederasts "get a second chance" at preying on their flock because they go through some motions about repentance. Jesus Himself had some choice words involving a millstone and a cliff for those who cause children to go astray. Those things are not lost on many of the Roman Catholic Church's critics. In many respects, they quite legitimately see its hierarchy as believing that it is superior to the Word of God, or as Leona Helmlsey might say, "scripture is for the little people."

Do I take it, George, that with this "analogy" you're aiming to bolster your assertion about the Catholic hierarchy, as I interpreted that assertion, and without the qualification with which Tony saw fit to interpret it?

That's right.

George R,

Ironically, the chief exorcist of the Roman Catholic Church expressed the same sentiments as yours several months ago.

Well, I see this thread has trailed off into Rome-bashing. Just a few observations.

George R, you've now confirmed that Tony interpreted you too charitably and that I understood you quite well. You are indeed a schismatic. And I'll repeat my reason for not bothering to discuss substantive issues with rad-trad schismatics: your claim that the Catholic hierarchy is not Catholic is just as absurd as the progressives' incantation of "the primacy of conscience." It's so absurd that I cannot help questioning your sincerity.

Mike T, Fr. Amorth is not a rad-trad schismatic. Unlike George, he does not believe that the Pope and the body of the bishops as a whole aren't Catholic. He does believe that some cardinals are closet unbelievers and that some bishops have truck with Satan. I suspect that's true, because something like it is true in every religious body of any size, and always has been. Liars and hypocrites we always have with us.

You wrote: In many respects, they quite legitimately see its hierarchy as believing that it is superior to the Word of God, or as Leona Helmlsey might say, "scripture is for the little people." I have met Catholic clerics like that, but in my experience they are far from being the majority. I think your generalization is less sociological than theological, in that you seem to believe that Catholic doctrine itself places the hierarchy above "the Word of God." Of course it does not, as Dei Verbum §10 indicates. But that's another conversation for which this is not the place.

Why do I say that? Lydia is Protestant and Paul is Catholic, but you don't hear them attacking each others' church. I suggest you follow that policy. I've been critical enough of my own church.

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