The crisis of authority

With more news of allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, I’m reminded of the angst and turmoil I experienced before coming into the Catholic Church in 2012.

I had known, as did many other journalists, about the rumors of his behavior with seminarians for a number of years.   In 2012, and perhaps earlier, I had interviewed Richard Sipe, who had affidavits on his website describing some of it.

I had even met Cardinal McCarrick when he attended the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops back in 2005 or 6 as a guest.  He was most kind and charming, so I could also see why many would find these allegations extremely hard to believe. 

I had also read Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church by Michael S. Rose and I had a signed copy from the Boston Globe’s investigative team of their book Betrayal: the Crisis in the Catholic Church.

The protagonist of my novel The Defilers was seduced by a priest as a vulnerable 13 year old, so I had done a lot of research in this area during the decade or so that I worked on the novel in my spare time.

Canada had been one of the first countries hit with a massive clerical sexual abuse scandal, starting with news revelations in the late 1980s of abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John’s, Newfoundland, run by Christian Brothers,  and the subsequent corruption and cover up revealed by the Winter Commission about the St. John’s Archdiocese, probably contributing to my choice of backstory for my heroine.

In the months before becoming Catholic, I struggled a great deal with the notion of authority in the Catholic Church, because if some of the successors to the Apostles were such bad examples, how could I honor them or obey them?    Thankfully,  I had no trouble accepting the authority of Pope Benedict XVI, and I was blessed with knowing personally a number of holy, genuinely fatherly Catholic bishops and cardinals, including our own Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast, who took a genuine interest in our community and ensured we were well-served by great priests during the period of preparation and catechesis and afterwards, in that year where all our former clergy were lay men and we depended on Ottawa priests to celebrate our Mass for us.  In fact, he came himself several times, including one Christmas Eve when no other priest was available.

Despite this, I still struggled, and I think some of it had to do with the great spiritual attack I have heard is common to many in their journey into the Catholic Church.  The enemy of our souls does not like unity and will do anything to prevent it

At this time I had begun to get to know Our Lady and form a personal relationship with her, and I remember saying to her in a moment of frustration and confusion,  “Blessed Mother,  you know I want to obey Jesus with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.  If obeying the Catholic Church is the same as obeying Jesus, please help me, because I don’t see it.   Please give me a supernatural sign.”

She gave me at least three signs.  After that, the process of becoming Catholic became a joyful, peace-filled enterprise and I have no regrets at all.  I am so thankful to be Catholic.

The crisis of authority in the Catholic Church, however, continues, and it has been very interesting to watch how various factions in the Church deal with the questions raised about papal infallibility by Pope Francis’ interviews with an atheist, nonagenarian newspaper publisher, interviews on planes, and controversial footnotes in Amoris Laetitia that have led to a range of interpretations by various episcopal conferences?

How does one keep the faith cum et sub Petro, something I believe is central to being a capital “C” Catholic?  What are the limits of papal infallibility? What do we do when cardinals disagree with cardinals on the interpretation of Pope Francis’ writings?  Accepting the dogma of papal infallibility was required of us before we were received into the Catholic Church.   We were taught, however, a rather modest Vatican I definition that did not extend to every passing comment or personal opinion on prudential matters of a particular pope.

One thing is clear, is we are not required to be like Rex Mottram, the character in Evelyn Waugh’s marvelous novel Brideshead Revisited.  

It’s interesting how many who chafed under the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II and openly dissented are now Mottramists when it comes to the most progressive interpretations of Pope Francis.

The Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ on earth, is a sign of Catholic unity and his role is to defend the Deposit of Faith and strengthen us.   We must love, and honor, and pray for him and beware of becoming our own pope.   But that doesn’t mean we leave conscience behind either, that is the God-given, law written in our hearts that is the same as the objective moral law.  Obeying our conscience is not the same thing as a relativistic do-your-own thing approach to truth.

There are some who argue today one follows the truth of the Catholic faith, and if the pope veers from it, one holds to the truth.  There are others who say, we stick with the pope, no matter what because he is the Vicar of Christ we have now, today, and he is the sign of Catholic truth and unity, there is no other.

There are some who would take this principle of authority and say that for any group of Continuing Anglicans to have left the Anglican Communion was to do a most unCatholic thing by rebelling against authority, no matter how far the Episcopalian or Anglican Church of Canada bishops were veering into apostasy.  There are many Catholics who held this view, and shared the opinion of Anglican ecumenical partners that we in the Traditional Anglican Communion where schismatics, and thus the off-scouring of the earth.

Thankfully, our dreams of Communion and unity have come to pass.  We are Catholic.  And, through the authority of Pope Benedict XVI,  we have been able to keep the treasures of our Anglican patrimony that is consistent with Catholic faith, as gifts to be shared with the wider Church.

My hope and prayer for myself and for the Ordinariates is that we be Catholics of communion and unity—that where there is division and conflict, we keep that mind that was in Christ Jesus, and hold to the Catholic unity and communion that only the Holy Spirit through His supernatural power can bring.  We have a precious mission of unity and reconciled diversity.

4 thoughts on “The crisis of authority

  1. Pingback: FRIDAY LATE EDITION – Big Pulpit

  2. Very good post -I also struggled during the period up to my joining myself to the Holy Church in 2005. One quibble – its not just a matter of the rare infallible ex cathedra teaching – there is also the levels of religious submission of the will and the intellect to papal teaching depending on level of the teaching. I don’t usually link to wikipedia for this sort of thing, but this article is very accurate and quotes and links to the source documents. I’m not saying this makes it clear what to do if a Pope appears to be teaching heresy but it is clear we are required to give a Pope as much benefit of the doubt as possible.


  3. Very well said. Of course anyone with a rudimentary comprehension of language understands that schism is the separation from the original body. Hence, the real schismatics are the “modern” Anglicans. Hopefully more of the traditional Anglicans will refer closely to Cdl. Newman and prayerfully consider in which direction the real future is directed. Rome is made the first move, it is now time for responses.


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