Matthew Riedlinger, priest at St. Aloysius in Jackson, on leave after reported sexting scandal



JACKSON — A Catholic priest who once ministered to a congregation in Jackson has taken a leave of absence following a sexting scandal with a man he reportedly thought was a 16-year-old boy.  Father Matthew Riedlinger preached at St. Aloysius Church in Jackson until August of 2012, when he entered counseling following complaints of inappropriate cell phone text conversations with other adults, according to church leadership.  While in out-patient treatment, Riedlinger continued having sexual conversations, prompting the Diocese of Trenton to remove him from St. Aloysius Church.  Timothy Schmalz, 23, of Washington D.C. complained to the Diocese in 2011 about Riedlinger’s behavior, saying the priest sexually harassed him, according to The Star-Ledger. To expose Riedlinger, Schmalz pretended online to be a 16-year-old boy and recorded text message conversations between himself and Riedlinger, and later forwarded them onto the Diocese, according to the newspaper. Schmalz declined an interview with the Asbury Park Press.  The Diocese of Trenton did not address details of the complaints in its statement, but said last week: “There was no sexual contact, assault or abuse referenced in the complaints.”

The Diocese also reported the matter to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.  Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office, said no criminal action was taken.  “The undercover sting that they did was done by a non-law enforcement person. There was nothing we were able to do,” Della Fave said.  After his removal from St. Aloysius, Riedlinger entered a residential treatment center where he was supervised, according to the Diocese. He was also not permitted “to minister in a parish or school setting.” However, he was permitted to participate in restricted ministry work, but only with Diocese permission. 

Several weeks ago, Riedlinger was seen participating in a funeral mass of another priest, prompting questions from community members.  “This is the only public Mass that Father Riedlinger has engaged in since his treatment program began and he was given permission to take part only because he was assisting Bishop Smith, who is unable to walk,” the Diocese statement said.   Father John Bambrick, St. Aloysius’ administrator, said perpetrators as well as victims of sexual crimes need treatment to stop the cycle of abuse.  “This is a compulsive behavior,” said Bambrick, who himself was a victim of sexual abuse by a priest when he was a teenager.

Bambrick serves on various organizations to help halt sexual abuse. He is a member of the Catholic Whistleblower Network; SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and formerly served on the board of New Jersey’s CASA (Coalition Against Sexual Assault).  Bishop David M. O’Connell, who leads the Diocese, personally escorted Riedlinger to a residential treatment program after learning that Riedlinger continued to communicate sexually with people during his initial out-patient treatment, Bambrick said.

“You have to treat the victim always, but you also have to treat the abuser,” said Bambrick. “Otherwise you just perpetuate the cycle of abuse… The key is to break the cycle.”  In the parking lot of the church Sunday, many parishioners said they knew little of the details. Others expressed some sympathy for the scandal-embroiled priest.  “It (priesthood) is not for everybody, and maybe it wasn’t for him,” said Madeline Simone, 68, of Jackson, who said she attended confession with Riedlinger. “If it’s going to affect the church, his being a priest, he just as well then leave… I wish him the best of luck.”  “He’s a human being,” said a parishioner who declined to share her name. “Everybody has faults.”  The Diocese of Trenton was less sympathetic.  Though no laws were broken and no minors were involved, Riedlinger’s behavior was “deeply troubling and is in no way to be tolerated in the life and ministry of a priest,” the Diocese statement read.    Last week, the Diocese announced that Riedlinger had taken a leave of absence from the priesthood. Bishop O’Connell approved the absence.  Bambrick said each county prosecutor’s office has staff devoted to investigating sex crimes, and any person facing unwelcome advances should report it to law enforcement. Any sexual advances from Catholic clergy should also be reported to the Diocese of Trenton, he said.  Despite the media sensationalism surrounding the matter, Riedlinger was loved by the St. Aloysius community, Bambrick said.

“It’s really a shame that Father Matthew (Riedlinger) didn’t see how much love and support he had within this community of faith, that he sought inappropriate means of attention,” Bambrick said. “People really loved him. I think it’s very sad for him, and it’s very sad for the community, because people felt betrayed.”

Riedlinger, who could not be reached for comment, is no longer living in New Jersey, Bambrick said. Riedlinger did not immediately return an email for comment.




Pope Francis: “Don’t complain to me!”

“The Errors of Vatican II, cannot be more crystal clear, then what we are experiencing today!” Pope Francis needs to convert back to Catholicism or step down. Francis claims he is humble but he jumps into the spotlight every chance he gets!! “He is making one Hell of Mess!! I am hearing some people are leaving the Church and that this was the last straw. What a disappointment this pontificate has been!

New Sherwood

Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.

Somewhere in the avalanche of articles and blog posts about The Big Interview, a writer I don’t remember chose to emphasize this passage:

“The dicasteries of the Roman Curia are at the service of the pope and the bishops,” he says. “They must help both the particular churches and the bishops’ conferences. They are instruments of help. In some cases, however, when they are not functioning well, they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship. It is amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that come to Rome. I think the cases should be investigated by the local bishops’ conferences, which can get valuable assistance from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally. The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not middlemen or managers.”

Indeed, this is an astonishing statement. These appeals go to Rome, presumably, because the bishops are already…

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What constitutes “The Good Life.” St. Thomas Aquinas

Whether our neighbors, coworkers, financial advisors, or all the pundits on the evening news call it this, we are all by design striving for the “good life.” God created us to seek happiness. And though this is programed into our soul to draw us toward Him (Pascal), the soup of cultural voices we swim in may distract us from this ultimate and blessed quest. And what some of us think of as the “good life” may not be “good” after all.
So what is the “good life” and how does one or should one define this? How does one attain it? Let me begin by casting aside any aspersions: there are far sharper knives in the drawer than me for this task, but given my butter-knife mentality, let me take a stab at pointing to why I (and actually St. Thomas Aquinas) believe that the rural life may be the safest haven today to attain the “good life,” particularly for souls with as weak self-discipline as me. I believe most of us fail to experience the “good life”, because we live too blindly in the soup of ease, complacency, and imitation goodness.

My family and I certainly love our rural life in the woods. Admittedly, we didn’t arrive here as the result of great wisdom, but more the result of inheritance. And it ain’t all a bed of roses. From my back porch I can easily identify dozens of tasks that need to be started let alone completed, before winter sets in. And just because it’s nice here and potentially less cluttered by distracting voices doesn’t mean that one can not attain the “good life” in the city.

So how does one aim toward attaining the “good life”? Is there any valid argument that the best place to seek and find the “good life” is in a rural setting? Or, maybe to state it boldly, why farm?

What I will share is from a book whose title boldly proclaims, “The Importance of the Rural Life,” by George Speltz, a priest of the Diocese of Winona, who built his argument “According to the Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.”  This was his PhD dissertation for the Catholic University of America, originally published in 1944, and it sat gathering dust on seldom-perused library shelves until it was recently reissued by St. Pius X Press.

There is much in this book, and it’s well worth reading from beginning to end, but the following is a selective summary of St. Thomas’ argument in favor of the rural life and the dignified life and exalted work of the husbandman, i.e., farmer:

 1: “According to the Angelic Doctor the ‘good life’ involves other values besides the spiritual. … Man, he affirms, is composed of body as well as of soul. Accordingly, anything that helps to conserve the life of man represents a good for him. … Even though [Man] be virtuous he can yet suffer evil through the lack of bodily goods; and having fallen into this evil he will be sorrowful” (pg 2). 

Therefore, the “good life (happiness) is not only a betterment of the soul, but of body and soul, the whole person. Stoics and Gnostics, and many modern Christians, emphasize only the soul, but one cannot have a happy soul (grow in holiness) if the needs of the body are not being met.

2: “An adequate provision of material goods is necessary for the practice of virtue.” Consequently, “St. Thomas does not regard it as unbecoming for man to work with the material goods of this earth in order that they may serve the purpose for which they were created—human needs—as perfectly as possible” (3-4).

Spending many hours each day, therefore, getting our hands dirty until our muscles ache is a good thing, as long as end of our work is good.

3: “St. Thomas insures against an overemphasis of bodily goods by calling them ‘Instrumental.’ … In practice, however, modern man has become inordinately preoccupied with them” (pg. 4). 

All material goods in this world are instrumental means to the ends for which they were created. Material goods are not ends in themselves. However, in our sinfulness, we human beings “become inordinately preoccupied with them” as ends for which we dedicate our time, talents, and money to accumulate.

4: “The Thomistic synthesis provides against this disorder by pegging material goods into a fixed place within the hierarchy of man’s need. This is achieved in part, by relegating them as means to an end that is outside and above them, to an end that is fixed and capable of controlling them… [Material] goods that pertain to the conservation of an individual, i.e., those that are immediately ordered to a fundamental need of the body, as food and drink, are called goods of the body (bonum cporporis); those that are not ordered in a general way to human needs, fall into the class of external goods (bonum exterius). Such are riches (divitiae). Of these two classes of material goods, those called ‘bodily goods’ are the higher because necessary for the practice of virtue” (pg. 5). 

Not all material goods are equal instruments because the ends for which they were created are not equal: the highest goods, of course, are those which unite us with God (”divine goods”); the second highest are those that nurture our soul; the third highest are “bodily goods” which provide the needs of the body (food, drink, clothing, shelter), which enable us to reach for the higher goods; and the lowest are the rest, external goods: they do not naturally unite us with God, nurture our soul, or provide for our bodily needs. God can certainly use anything by grace to bring us to Him, but this is out of the ordinary, and we must beware of using this as an excuse for accumulating material goods.

5: “The amount of [bodily goods] necessary for the practice of virtue, and consequently for the good life, is strictly limited, a truth emphasized both by Aristotle and by Aquinas. On the other hand, external goods, namely riches, inasmuch as they are ordered only in a general manner to human needs, are not regarded as essential for ‘an act of virtue.’ Since riches are sought for their power to procure other things rather than for the direct satisfaction of some bodily need, they easily come to be desired inordinately.  … As a result of this inordinate desire for riches man is unduly preoccupied with the quest for material goods, failing to realize, as St. Thomas points out, that riches are the least among human goods” (pg. 5,6).

Comparing “bodily goods” with “exterior goods,” bodily goods are self-regulating, whereas exterior goods are not: normally we can only eat just so much, wear just so many clothes, and need only so much shelter. A person can determine how much he needs to eat in a day, a week, a month, and a year, and plan, procure, and store this. A person can also determine what kind of clothes she needs to meet the demands of the climate in which she lives, and plan, procure, and store this. And a person can determine how much he needs to shelter himself and his family, then build, and maintain it. Certainly our concupiscence can lead us to crave more food, clothing, and shelter than we need, like the man in the Gospels who tore down his old barns to build new ones, but still we always can compare what we have, or want to have, to what we really need.

With the lesser “exterior goods,” however, there is no inherent need, so essentially anything at all is over and above what we “need”. Certainly God has created and allowed these external goods for our enjoyment, but our concupiscence can convince us we “need” these things—to keep up with the Jones, or sustain our reputation in the community or state of life, or just because we have more than enough money to provide for our bodily needs. With no obvious need level, there is no limit to the amount of material goods we can justify for ourselves. We can become so attached to them that we become convinced we cannot live without them!

6: “Guided by this scale of values, St. Thomas gives an eminent place in the hierarchy of human activities to the life of the husbandman [i.e, farmer], whose work is ordered to the procuring of bodily goods for the immediate use of the household. … As a corollary of their teaching on the secondary place of external goods, both Aristotle and Aquinas warned against the practice of trading. Because of the latent greed in men, those who traded might easily fall into the practice of trading for the purpose merely of amassing external goods. Such trading would be directed to the unnatural and limitless end of amassing money, ever more money” (pg. 6,7)

Contrary to our modern culture’s view, Aquinas ranked the husbandman one of the highest occupations in the community of man, comparable to a teacher or doctor. Aquinas considered the work of the husbandman “noble in its purpose, namely, to provide the necessities of life” (16-17), which are needed for the nourishment of the soul leading to union with God. Most other occupations focus on producing, trading, or selling “external goods” that have no inherent eternal need or purpose. This does mean these lesser things are evil or these occupations, for the technology to produce them are gifts of God’s creation, but as lesser goods with no inherent limitation, they can be desired inordinately.

7: “Since the need of any one household for natural wealth, such as food and clothing, is limited, so also the activity of the husbandman, as long as it was directed to the procuring of the bodily goods and not of eternal goods primarily, was proportionately limited and tended less to become inordinate. It was comparatively easy in the agrarian way of life advocated by Aristotle and Aquinas, for the people to retain a true evaluation of bodily goods, as opposed to external goods, the former having a fixed relation to the needs of the various households” (pg. 6).

In other words, when families lived in a rural setting, in small communities, where generally everyone was content with producing sufficient bodily goods, a farmer’s work and life were also, therefore, naturally limited. Though farm work was hard and physically demanding, he knew when his work was done. He could relax contented once he had done all that he needed to do that day to provide bodily needs for his family. As long as they lived untouched by the obsession of the outside world for lesser material goods, the simple contented farm family lived happy and content with the food, drink, clothing, shelter, and spiritual enrichment of their local parish.

But when the simplicity of the rural farm family was shattered by the lure of the city, when farm children were lured away to work in factories, or to train in colleges for leadership roles in those factories, or trading houses, or investment firms, not for the procurement of more bodily goods or spiritual enrichment, but for “wealth and what it could buy,” their lives became limitlessly driven. Or, as the post-World War 1 song taunted, “How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paris!”

And even the natural limits of bodily goods became shattered, for today, when does one ever have enough specialty foods, designer clothing, suburban sprawl homes, electronics, cars, toys, books, CDs, DVDs, games, and money? When can anyone sit back and relax content that they have produced and accumulated all the material goods they will ever need? When have we reached our “number” to know we have invested enough in our 401Ks to provide all the material goods we will need to keep us “in the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed” until we die—which today is being extended longer and longer!

8: And one last thing, though St. Thomas has much, much more! “The husbandman uses his rational faculties to direct the organic and non-organic forces of nature to the production of new things (pg. 17). … The agricultural worker is distinguished from his fellow manual laborers in this, that it is given to him to participate in this cooperation with God in a unique way. … The non-agricultural worker, on the other hand, even though he does impart greater utility and beauty to the things of earth, yet he cannot really be said to be making the earth bring forth new basic materials. This is the task of the husbandman. When he acts as an instrumental cause in God’s hands, he releases a host of natural, organic causes. He taps the fonts of productivity which God has placed in things. … The art of husbandry, which produces the fruits of the earth in cooperation with an interior principle of nature, namely, its organic powers, therefore shares in some way the dignity of the arts of teaching and medicine, and exceeds in dignity the art of carpentry” (pg. 53-55).

The farmer uniquely taps directly into the creative energies that God instilled into His Creation to provide for the bodily goods of his family, his community, and the world. When he grows vegetables or raises cattle, he is cooperating with God’s creative grace; the farmer is not doing anything but helping God’s Creation provide the food, drink, clothing, and shelter that God had already empowered His creation to produce. And though the technologies that underly all other occupations at their core emerge from the gifts that God planted in His creation, yet the use of these technologies to produce lesser material goods are not always a natural cooperation with God’s Creation, using these technologies for their intended ends. The technology to build a computer chip is a gift of God, but the Third-world factory workers in a sweat shop producing smartphones for the affluent in first-world nations are not doing anything connected to a natural process in Creation, nor are they producing anything that meets their bodily needs, nor is their work in anyway naturally limited: they will work as long as their employer demands—as many hours and days as he demands, to produce as many products as he deems necessary to produce the money he believes he needs—so they can scratch enough money to hopefully provide for the bodily needs for their families, to say nothing of any spiritual enrichment.

The problem is that we live in a culture that places its highest values on the production and lust of the lesser material goods; even the “poor” are defined by our government, not for their lack of boldly needs, but for their inability to procure the lesser material goods that our culture considers their rights in our civilized state.

Ironically, our culture has become obsessed with providing insured health care for every single person, so that everyone can live as long as possible—so they can have more time to grow in holiness and eventual union with God, or even to enjoy as long as possible a simple life contented with the basic bodily needs? No, so they can enjoy and have more and more of the lesser external goods, which have no natural limits, in full-service condominium communities with full-time nursing services near golf courses with paved pathways for their medicare financed Hover-Rounds. Lord, help us.

We live in a culture, an entire world that has it all bass ackwards. We reward and honor those who dedicate their entire lives to producing, promoting, and getting rich on the lesser materials goods of this world, all of which remain in the “box” when the lid is closed on this life (another blog). Yet we look askance at those who have chosen the simple rural life, who have dedicated their lives to providing for their families those things that are most essential.

The problem is that these values of our culture have so infiltrated every aspect of our lives, that even those dedicated to providing the basic bodily needs of our world—food, clothing, shelter, and even spiritual enrichment—are encouraged to do so primarily to accumulate more and more money, not to provide the top three levels of goodness, but to fill their lives with lesser material things. Farmers now use thousands of dollars of high-tech equipment to farm thousands of acres to provide high-yield (but often low nutrition) crops to make sufficient profit to, not only provide the food, drink, clothing, and shelter their family needs, but the external goods they deem necessary to consider themselves as progressive as the city dwellers they see portrayed on network television.

And the worst of it all is that, though you can read this and freely reflect upon it to decide whether any of this is true and applicable to your lives, I’m actually publishing this on my blog and not living it! Lord, help me!

Please pray for me, and I’ll ask Him to bless you as we consider together the reasons that we labor and the things for which we labor, and how much of this is far, far more than our bodily needs, and too often a hindrance to the enrichment of our souls and union with God.

Keep falling into the same sins? Pray!

Littlest Souls

“He who prays most receives most.”

– St. Alphonsus

Rather than provide a theological argument for the importance of (mental) prayer, I will rely on the authority of the Church and the saints. What they say about mental prayer, quite simply, is that it is the means for obtaining all good things: confidence, peace, joy, happiness, humility, conversion, virtue, and the crowning graces, namely, divine love and final perseverance, without which no one can be saved.

What is Mental Prayer?

“… a silent elevation and application of our mind and heart to God in order to offer Him our homages and to promote His glory by our advancement in virtue.” – Tanquerey 

Some simple steps for mental prayer:

1. Ask for the grace to pray well.

2. Put ourselves in the presence of God.

3. Resolve to pray for a certain period of time, despite temptations, dryness etc.

4. Make…

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“LAUS DEO!!” Serbian gay rally banned for 3rd straight year

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbian authorities banned a gay pride march in Belgrade for a third consecutive year because of threats made by right-wing groups, officials said Friday.

Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said top security and state officials decided to ban Saturday’s event because they feared a repeat of violence in 2010, when extremists attacked a gay pride march in the Serbian capital. That triggered daylong clashes with the police which injured more than 100 people.  Protesting the ban, about 100 gay pride activists marched past the downtown Serbian government headquarters late Friday. The march passed without incidents.

Gay pride marches in 2011 and 2012 were also banned. Serbia, which is seeking European Union membership, has pledged to respect human rights, and whether or not they allowed the march this year was regarded as a test of that vow.  In addition to banning the gay pride march, Dacic said the government was banning a gathering of right-wing groups that planned to attack the event. Authorities also rescheduled several soccer matches in Belgrade from Saturday to Sunday, because they are attended by hooligans aligned with extremists.

“We decided to ban the event because of serious security concerns,” Dacic told state TV. “This is not a capitulation against the hooligans, but an attempt to prevent chaos on the streets of Belgrade.”  Several right-wing groups, allied with similar anti-gay groups in Russia, have issued open threats against the gay marchers.  Patriarch Irinej, the head of Serbia’s Christian Orthodox church, has spoken out against the gay pride march. He said such a “parade of shame” would cast a “moral shadow” on the conservative Balkan country.


What’s happened to the Catholic Press? It’s as if Benedict’s pontificate never happened.

Liturgy notes – the revolution is alive and well

1. The Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a document with the title Stewards of the Tradition to mark the 50th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium.
The document is effectively one long hymn to the liturgical reform as actually implemented, praising the “great work of reform of the Liturgy and renewal of the Church that has borne such abundant fruits” and the “great strides” in promoting full, conscious and active participation; calling on the faithful to “continually strive to deepen this renewal that was begun under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit”, affirming that the reformed Liturgy was “the result of extensive historical scholarship and reflection on pastoral needs”, calling for further inculturation, and the like. Anything in this document that is critical of the shortcomings of the liturgical reform, whether in its ideals or its implementation, is next to impossible to detect.

In short, there is nothing surprising about the document; it is what one would expect after five relentless decades of propaganda in favor of liturgical reform, only mildly blunted by tentative steps towards “reform of the reform” in the previous Pontificate. It is a Pontificate that has been gone for only six months but whose legacy is now as if it never existed in vast swathes of the Church. We confess ourselves more surprised by the silence on this document of a certain portion of the Catholic Internet that, not so long ago, was busy hailing every little quote from any prelate in favor of elements of liturgical tradition as a giant step towards restoration…

HORROR! Excommunicated priest Greg Reynolds celebrated illicit Mass at which Communion was given to a dog

There’s been much theatrical outrage at Pope Francis’s decision to excommunicate Fr Greg Reynolds, an Australian priest who supports women’s ordination and gay marriages. But let’s look at the charges against Reynolds a bit more carefully. According to the National Catholic Reporter, a letter of protest to the Vatican contained an incredibly serious accusation:

The letter, a copy of which NCR obtained and translated, accuses Reynolds of heresy (Canon 751) and determined he incurred latae sententiae excommunication for throwing away the consecrated host or retaining it “for a sacrilegious purpose” (Canon 1367).

What can that mean? This report from the Melbourne Age last year fills in the gaps. At one of Reynolds’s illicit Masses,

A first-time visitor arrived late at the Inclusive Catholics service in South Yarra with a large and well-trained German shepherd. When the consecrated bread and wine were passed around, the visitor took some bread and fed it to his dog.

Apart from one stifled gasp, those present showed admirable presence of mind – but the dog was not offered the cup!

Even Andrew Sulllivan thinks this is going too far:

I don’t know anyone who believed that Francis had just junked canon law, or had somehow come to believe that violating the Eucharist was something the Church should ever tolerate. I have never written or believed that.

Violating the Eucharist (or allowing it to happen) automatically places the culprit outside the Church. In this case, rarely has an excommunication been so richly deserved. And it is utterly beyond my comprehension that some Catholics should argue otherwise.


Horror!  Prayer Urgency!!   Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you.  Mtt 7:6   –  Douay-Rheims Bible



Pope Francis, NY Democrat de Blasio, and liberation theology

Pope Francis, Democrat de Blasio, and liberation theology.  Both Pope Francis, and Democrat Bill de Blasio who is running for mayor in New York City, are cited as champions of liberation theology. However, there are important differences between the two.

Debate about Bill de Blasio, a Democrat running in New York City’s mayoralty race, has stirred the water in the biggest American city due to revelations of his past as a leftist who supported Nicaragua’s Marxist Sandinista movement. In 1989, when he was 26, de Blasio traveled to Nicaragua to distribute food and medicine while the Sandinista government, which was supported by Cuba and international Marxists, was battling the insurgents who relied on support from the United States.  His Republican opponent, JoeLhota, has denounced de Blasio for his Sandinista affiliation. 

His idealism was typical for his age at the time. He opposed foreign wars, the Reagan administration’s missile defense system, and South Africa’s apartheid government. According to a report by the New York Times, the width and breadth of his Marxist convictions and political activity was significant but glossed over on his official campaign website. “My work was based on trying to create a more fair and inclusive world,” said de Blasio in a recent interview. “I have an activist’s desire to improve people’s lives.” Both of his parents were political activists. His mother, who worked at the Office of War Information in New York during the Second World War, was accused of being a Communist for attending a concert featuring a Soviet band.

In its report on de Blasio’s halcyon Sandinista days, the New York Times wrote “…a review of hundreds of pages of records and more than two dozen interviews suggest his time as a young activist was more influential in shaping his ideology than previously known, and far more political than typical humanitarian work.”
During the Reagan administration, Cuba joined with the Soviet Union in providing aid and military materiel to the Sandinista government. The Soviet Union provided tanks and helicopters and small arms, while Cuba provided expertise in intelligence and other areas. At the same time, governments in Guatemala and El Salvador were engaged in bloody civil wars that piqued fears within the U.S. national security apparatus of a Marxist takeover of the entire Central American isthmus.


“Santità, mi scusi”, an Open Letter

Santità, mi scusi: An Open Letter to the Pope on His Statements to Civiltà Cattolica

Your Holiness,

 I am sure it will not displease you if I address you in this way I saw that everyone is writing to you. Permit me to address you as well for some questions that lie in my heart.
After I read your recent statements, the most recent being those included in the “interview” given by you and released by Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., I must admit that I was very surprised, and some distressing doubts welled up within me. These doubts have enveloped me like a noxious weed that weighs down and takes away air and light, those things that have been until today my knowledge of doctrinal certainties.

These understandings I have gathered preciously and have followed for many years in careful listening to the Gospel and homilies. The other morning, leafing through national daily newspapers, I saw that all in unison, and in a quasi-triumphalistic tone, they were announcing in headline fashion the “End of the interference” of the Church in the life of people. Obviously, then and there, thinking that this was an artificial collage of your words ad hoc just for the headlines, I wanted to read the whole interview. Unfortunately, after reading it, I was able only to take note that there had been no misunderstanding, at least on the part of the journalists, with respect to what Father Spadaro wrote.
Not having been present at the interview, and therefore not having heard these things directly from your voice, I have to take these things as corresponding to the truth, apart from any refutations of another Jesuit, Father Lombardi. Many times he had to take pains to soften the words, severe but clear and inequivocally orthodox, of Benedict XVI, but up to now he has not taken it upon himself the dangerous task of correcting the upshot of some of your phrases, often imprecise (surely because of the difficulty in the use of Italian) and because of a misinterpretation of the faithful who are less knowledgeable and well-versed than I. Niceties between members of the club?
Given that the interview is quite broad and touches on many aspects, some of them, according to me, are particularly striking, and it is to these that my considerations will be limited. In presenting these to you, I will refer only to the words of the Gospel and of the Magisterium, which are essential, as you, among other things, invite us to do, leaving behind learned theological disputations that I have no competence in. (In writing this, however, I am aware of an involuntary dichotomy: in making an argument based on the Gospel one does theology, even if at a low level.]
Your Holiness, speaking of the function of the Church, you place at the center the announcement of the Gospel focused on that part that is relative to salvation and the mercy of God.
I clearly see that what the Church most needs today is the capacity to heal wounds and to warm up the heart of the faithful, a nearness, a closeness. I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It is useless to ask someone seriously wounded if he has cholesterol or high blood sugar! The wounds have to be healed. Then we will be able to talk about all the rest. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…It is necessary to begin from ground level.
Up to this point, there is nothing to say. I think it is certain once the important wounds are healed, a wise doctor then should be concerned about taking care of the cholesterol, about informing the patient about ways to avoid it, and about advising the patient about the serious danger that this can lead to if the patient does not go on a controlled diet. In such a sense I anticipated your words, while continuing to read you take, at least it seems to me, a different path. It is dangerous.
The Church sometimes has closed herself up in little things, in little precepts. The most important thing is instead the primary pronouncement: “Jesus Christ has saved you!”
Said like this, we are all saved a priori. But I understood that Jesus had sacrificed himself “even to death, death on a cross” (St. Paul) to give humanity not the certainty of salvation but the freedom to choose the possibility of salvation, provided that one follows him (“whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me”, Mt. 10,38). This point, I believe, has been in the past a motive for schism and the foundation of heresy. Go, therefore, to the heart of the discussion. Do not leave it so dangerously suspended in ambiguity that makes a few people happy, above all the non-believers, who then do not see any motive for conversion. The precepts, on which you speak further on in general, are they not to be followed specifically because they are salvific?
Your Holiness, I beg you, do not lay yourself open to the enemies of the Church, who I assure you after reading today’s newspapers are rejoicing. Say everything, above all when you are touching on very important themes. Do not limit yourself to central phrases and pay attention to the weight of your words. Unfortunately or not, the Italian language has a thousand nuances , and sometimes in a phrase, other than what was said, what was not said assumes an importance as well. But these “little precepts” (and the word “little” seems to mean “of little importance”) may be perhaps those to which you were referring a little before in this way:
We cannot insist only on the issues of abortion and homosexual marriage.
I would like to hope that this is not the case! Your Holiness, I pray you to tell me that this was an error that can be attributed to the difficulty of speaking in a different language and that therefore it could not express well the concept, because here I am at a total loss when confronted with the reduction to “little precepts” of matrimony (which is a sacrament) and abortion ( and the inviolable nature of life). Would these be “little precepts”? No, there was certainly a misunderstanding, but then you continue in this way:
I have not spoken much about these things, and I have been reproached. But when one speaks of these things, it is necessary to speak of them in context.
Your Holiness, I understand what you wish to say (and, in fact, thank goodness, the real meaning I found quickly the next day, when you were meeting with Catholic gynecologists in an audience, at which you confirmed the sacred value of life in the womb, condemning abortion), but in the interview it seems that you consider these things really secondary aspects. The enemies of the Church wait for nothing else than to make you say what they want so that they can say that even the Pope thinks like them about the freedom and the opportunity to have an abortion, and the concept of marriage reduced to a mere contract between two parties.
When you say that it is necessary to put situations into context, a phrase that is per se very dangerous, I would have expected that you would express with force and passion what the position of the Church is, and therefore of Christ, on these points of discussion. And instead: No. How do you proceed? In a low voice as if you had a problem with saying these words out loud:
One knows, moreover, the opinion of the Church, and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to speak of these things constantly.
Pardon me, Your Holiness, but this is what the newspapers make you say and promote: messages that create an enthusiastic sensation among non-believers and among those who believe very little and some anxiety among those who have had little catechetical instruction.
Then you analyze the importance of Confession and the role of the confessor and you say:
The confessor, for instance, always runs the risk of being either too rigorous or too lax. Neither of the two is mercy, because neither of the two takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands of the matter so that he leaves it to the commandment. The lax confessor washes his hands of the matter by simply saying that this is not a sin or something similar. The people must be accompanied, the wounds have to be healed.
It is true. God forbid! A good confessor must be just, merciful and welcoming! He must make himself a living witness to the mercy of God. But your words as you said them and without an indication of the sacramental character of Confession risks debasing the Sacrament of Confession. What you said, in my opinion, is more relevant to a spiritual father than to Confession, because the confessor more than just a confessor. Let me explain.
It is true that the merciful confessor, like Saint Pio of Pietralcina, whose feast day we celebrate today, is a good minister of God and is the first confirmation of the mercy of God. But the heart of Confession is not found in the humanity of the confessor. During the Confession, as you know better than I, the Holy Spirit operates directly, and the priest has meaning through our Lord Jesus Christ. The priest, in that moment, in spite of his own defects or merits, absolves above all in persona Christi. And when he says “et ego absolvo te”, he does not speak personally but in the name of and in behalf of Jesus Christ! During the confession and absolution the true confessor is Christ in person! It is to him that the penitent confesses his sins, and it is in his name that the priests remit them. It is to the mercy of God that the priest entrusts the soul and contrite heart of the sinner. It is dangerous to say and therefore to talk about the mercy of the priest, who nonetheless must be thorough and fatherly.
There will be a later time (and not so much in the confessional) when the priest, as a man and as a man of faith, will have to show that he is truly a spiritual father, and he will have to show in a better and true way his own personal mercy, trying to find a way to accompany people, and bind their wounds so that those wounds do not reopen. It is necessary in fact to remind the faithful that Confession is a sacrament, and not only an intimate encounter and not a conversation about social assistance. Those things are needed but it is not enough. It is risky, in my judgment, to place attention only on the endowments of the priest. During the sacramental Confession the priest, alter Christus, absolves in the name of the Holy Trinity and remits sins, in obedience to the command of Jesus: “Whosoever sins you remit, they are remitted” (John 20,23)

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