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On the Nature of Complicity

Randall Smith: In the future, will America’s bishops renounce their failure to condemn politicians who support abortion as German bishops have recently done for their former support of Nazism?


In a column last year titled “Politicizing the Eucharist?” I pointed out that no one now claims that when Archbishop Rummel of New Orleans excommunicated three Catholics for publically encouraging people to defy his order to de-segregate the Catholic schools, he was “politicizing the Eucharist.”  Rather, Rummel is now praised highly for his singular courage, especially since his condemnation was so contrary to the more “accommodating” views of many of his fellow southern Catholics.

I also mentioned Cardinal Adolf Bertram, the ex-officio head of the German episcopate in the 1930s, who ordered Church bells rung in celebration of Nazi Germany’s victories over Poland and France and who sent greetings to Hitler on his 50th birthday in the name of all German Catholics, an act that angered his fellow bishops Konrad von Preysing and August von Galen.

The subject of whether the bishops should speak out publically against the treatment of the Jews arose at a 1942 meeting of the German bishops at Fulda. The consensus was “to give up heroic action in favor of small successes.”  In the 1933 Reichskonkordat between the Holy See and the German government, Church leaders pledged to refrain from speaking out on issues not directly related to the Church.  Repeated violations of the Konkordat on the part of the government, including closing churches and church schools, did not change their minds. And it also didn’t keep bishops like Bertram from endorsing government actions they favored, such as opposition to communism and the subjugation of Poland.

If you imagine I am being too tough on these German bishops, then perhaps you should read the twenty-three-page report made public last May by Germany’s Council of Catholic Bishops in which they admitted “complicity” by their predecessors who did not do enough to oppose the rise of Nazi regime and its mistreatment of Jews.

In eighty or ninety years, will future U.S. bishops be submitting a similar document of their own, confessing the “complicity” of their predecessors who did not do enough to oppose the abortion regime?  Will Catholics of that time be as baffled about our present bishops and prominent Catholic politicians as we are about the accommodationist Catholics of Nazi Germany?

How could Catholics of that time have failed to understand the evil staring them in the face? And why did they “accommodate” a regime that had labeled Christianity, and Catholics in particular, as “enemies of the state”?  Was it perhaps because so many leaders of the regime had been raised Catholic and some were still rosary-carrying church-goers?

Who, in retrospect, would not look back in shame at a German bishop who called questioning the Catholic commitments of Catholic Nazi leaders “offensive because they constitute an assault on the meaning of what it is to be Catholic.” Because “being Catholic means loving the Church; being Catholic means participating in the sacramental life of the church; being a Catholic means trying to transform the world by the light of the Gospel”?

And yet those are the words of our own Bishop McElroy of San Diego about those who question Joe Biden’s Catholicism.

And we transform the world in the light of the Gospel how?  Is it not by opposing the killing of innocent human beings?

In retrospect, we would suspect that a bishop who had said about the treatment of Jews, as Bishop McElroy has about abortion, that “To reduce that magnificent, multidimensional gift of God’s love to a single question of public policy is repugnant and should have no place in public discourse” had little or no serious concern for the lives being lost.  “Sure, abortion is bad, but what about global warming!”  “Sure the ill-treatment of Jews is unfortunate, but what about the future of Europe!” Wouldn’t we consider that to be repugnant?

What would anyone say now about a Catholic politician as prominent as Mario Cuomo if, during the 1930s in Germany, he had said:  “I accept the Church’s teaching about Jews, but must I insist others do so?  Our public morality. . .the moral standards we maintain for everyone, not just the ones we insist on in our private lives – depends on a consensus view of right and wrong.  The values derived from religious belief will not and should not be accepted as part of the public morality unless they are shared by the pluralistic community at large by consensus.” That statement would have worked equally well for Catholic segregationists in the American South.

If that Catholic politician in 1930s Germany had available to him the “seamless garment” argument used by Mr. Cuomo, he might have said, “I grant that the treatment of Jews may have a unique significance but not a preemptive significance.”  “The Jewish question is an important issue for Catholics, but so is the question of the injustice of the reparation payments we have been forced to make along with all the resulting hunger and homelessness and joblessness, all the forces diminishing human life and threatening to destroy it.”

All the forces diminishing human life and threatening to destroy it?  Like . . . oh, I don’t know . . . abortion?

Who, in retrospect now, wouldn’t find such a “Catholic” politician either an obvious liar or a delusional hack?

If you find my comparison between the Catholics who enabled the Nazis and modern Catholics who enable abortion troubling, perhaps you should read Anne Applebaum’s article in The Atlantic titled “History Will Judge the Complicit.” Take out all the tendentious stuff about the numbers at Trump’s inauguration and a phone call with the Ukrainian ambassador and replace it with Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden’s support for abortion and for policies that result in the closure of faithful Catholic institutions, and then change the title to “On the Nature of Complicity: Abortion’s Catholic Enablers and the Judgment of History.”

That judgment is unlikely to be any kinder to them than it has been to their German predecessors.

COLUMN BY

Randall Smith

Randall B. Smith is a tenured Full Professor of Theology. His book Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Guidebook for Beginners is available from Emmaus Press. And his book Aquinas, Bonaventure, and the Scholastic Culture at Paris: Preaching, Prologues, and Biblical Commentary is due out from Cambridge University Press in the fall.

EDITORS NOTE: This The Catholic Thing column is republished with permission. © 2020 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info@frinstitute.org. The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Banish Sin, Transform the Church

David G. Bonagura, Jr.: Detractors say trivializing sin was part of Vatican II’s spirit and is still in the post-conciliar Church. But the perennial problem is really sin itself.


The Second Vatican Council is back in the news lately, with two prominent, tradition-minded bishops revisiting well-known arguments of conciliar interpretation in light two recent Vatican documents, Amoris Laetitia and the Abu Dhabi statement on world religions. Their analyses of the Council, the difficulties in reconciling certain expressions with tradition, and the frightening breakdown of the Church that followed – a breakdown that some even justified under the Council’s nebulous “spirit” – are serious, though faithful Catholics will find their premises and conclusions worthy of debate.

Yet their analyses are now also very familiar. Blaming the Council for the Church’s ills has been a hobbyhorse for 55 years now. At this point, when it comes to arguing about the Council, Ecclesiastes’ tired observation comes to mind: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Just weeks earlier, as public Masses were resumed after the coronavirus suspension, a little-noticed controversy impressed on me that the problems in the Church today stem from something far more fundamental, and simple, than the formulation of documents that few know about and fewer have read. When the proposal circulated of having Mass without reception of Holy Communion, some faithful and some clergy blanched. Their issue was not solely the deprivation of union with our Lord. It was that they did not see the point of having Mass at all without reception.

Such a thought stems from a profound misunderstanding what the Mass – and the sacrifice that it represents – is for: the salvation of souls. And there is no wonder the goal of salvation has been forgotten, since sin, the tyrannical reality from which we must be saved, has itself been deliberately banished from view, trivialized as a human psychosis, or written off as an obsession of earlier, unenlightened times.

It is the marginalization of sin, more than Vatican II or anything else, that has transformed the life of the Church as we know it in the last half-century. Our entire faith and the structure of the Church rest on three acts: creation, fall, and redemption. By dismissing the fall, and every sin that has come after it, the understanding of redemption necessarily takes on new meaning.

If Jesus did not need to redeem us from sin, then essential doctrines and the sacramental economy have to be reconceived. Consider:

* Jesus Christ ceased to be emphasized as our Savior who sacrificed His life to atone for our sins. Instead, images of “Jesus is my homeboy” became popular. Without a message of salvation, Jesus was reduced to a “great moral teacher” on par with Socrates.

* Shifting the view of the Savior and salvation caused worship to shift as well. Witness how few people today know the phrase “the holy sacrifice of the Mass.” We know from the work of Dr. Lauren Pristas and Father John Zuhlsdorf that, after the Council, the formal prayers of the Mass were deliberately reworked to eliminate references to sin. The turning of the altars to face the people, never mentioned by the Council, heightened a new experience of a community celebrating itself above the sacrifice of Calvary. The general desacralizing of Catholic worship made the Mass seem as it were of no consequence rather than the enduring basis of our salvation.

* Sacramental Confession was abandoned by nearly all the faithful. There is no need to confess if we have not sinned. And if we do not need to confess, then surely there is no need for acts of penitence or reparation. Eight days of the year that still call for abstinence from meat is all that is left of Catholic penitential practice.

* If there is no sin, then everyone goes to Heaven, Catholic or not, virtuous or not. Funerals became canonizations, and Hell was dismissed as a tactic to coerce good behavior. Catholicism became just another world religion on par with the others, since it no longer had anything unique to offer.

* If people do not need to be saved from sin, then there is no need for priests to give up their lives in service of those seeking redemption. The collapse of vocations is a direct result of the banishment of sin.

* Catholic theology, morality, and education all took turns for the worse after this constitutive understanding of sin and redemption was morphed.

Were there other causes of the Church’s post-Conciliar malaise? Yes, of course. But it is not an oversimplification to home in on the trivialization of sin as the root cause of it all. Throughout Church history, lying at the root of heresy is not an intricately woven system, but a misunderstanding of the first principle of revelation. To minimize sin alters the view of God’s entire plan of salvation, from the covenant with Abraham, to the redemption by Christ, to the role of the Church in perpetuating His salvation.

Vatican II’s perpetual detractors will argue that the trivialization of sin was part of the Modernist spirit that infiltrated conciliar documents and the post-conciliar Church. Yet that implies the Council itself is not the definitive problem; the Council and its “spirit” have been invoked to cloak a deeper issue.

It is, therefore, this deeper issue of properly understanding sin and the need to be saved from it that requires our attention above all. For Benedict XVI’s hermeneutic of continuity to have the final word on interpreting the council, sound Catholic doctrines – Creation, Fall, Redemption – must first be restored to their proper place.

COLUMN BY

David G Bonagura, Jr.

David G. Bonagura Jr. teaches at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism (Cluny Media).

EDITORS NOTE: This The Catholic Thing column is republished with permission. © 2020 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info@frinstitute.org. The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Muslim Refugees Take Over Former Catholic Church in Syracuse, New York

With the drop in church attendance in Europe amidst mass Muslim immigration we have witnessed conversions of empty churches into Mosques.  Historically,  we saw the ancient Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica of Hagia Sophia converted into an imperial Mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul)  in the  15th Century and then into a Museum in the 20th Century. Perhaps given the rise of a neo-Ottoman Caliphate under Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, the Museum might be reconverted to a Mosque.

In Spain, the Mezquita Cathedral in Cordoba, once the site of a pagan temple under the Visigoths, was converted by the Umayyad Dynasty into the fabled Great Mosque. Then following the Reconquista in the 13th Century by Ferdinand 1st the Mezquita became a Cathedral once again.   Since 2004, The Islamic Society of Spain has petitioned both Spain and the Vatican to permit Muslims to once again roll out their prayer rugs in the Mezquita and pray in a venue they once held in Al Andaluz. Those requests have been rejected. In March 2010 118 Austrian Muslims  staged a dramatic event at the Mezquita Cathedral.  Unrolling their prayer rugs,  praying loudly, they attacked security guards when  told by them  to stop injuring two.  In March 2013, Spanish Court acquitted eight of the Muslim assailants.

In the US we have witnessed churches and even synagogues sharing worship space with Muslim communities. However, we have also witnessed a dramatic rise in mega-Mosque construction projects roiling many communities across the US from lower Manhattan to the Buckle of the Bible Belt in Tennessee and Orange County in California.  Notwithstanding that groundbreaking trend, some abandoned churches have been purchased by Muslim communities and converted into Mosques.

There is an abundant supply of closed or excess former churches. The Barna Group estimates that upwards of 4,000 Protestant churches are closed annually. While the US Catholic population has grown by more than half to 69 million according to Catholic World News, nevertheless 1,800 parishes have closed over the past 20 years.

One of those parish churches that closed is Holy Trinity  Roman Catholic Church in Syracuse, New York, that held its last Mass in February 2010.  Now, it is being purchased and converted into a Mosque by the burgeoning refugee population in Central New York.  The irony is that this is being abetted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, one of the leading voluntary agencies ,VOLAGS,  engaged in processing refugee resettlement. It and other contractors are  funded by US taxpayers under programs administered by our State and Health and Human Services Departments.

Our colleague at Refugee Resettlement Watch, Ann Corcoran, wrote about the conversion of  Holy Trinity parish in Syracuse in a recent blog post, that bears witness to this latest development, “Syracuse: Refugee group buys Catholic Church, will be converted to a mosque”.

Corcoran writes:

….because Muslim refugee population is growing.

It is a cold and rainy Sunday morning and I’m not easily discouraged, but I have to say this story is depressing.  Most people don’t understand that Islam marks its victories by turning Christian churches into mosques.  Surely there are other buildings available in Syracuse.

***Update*** American Thinker has published a post on this travesty.  From CNY Central:

For close to six decades, Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church on Syracuse’s north side was Anna Giannantomio’s church. She fought the Catholic Diocese decision to close it in 2010. While she believes everyone should be free to practice the religion they choose – she doesn’t understand why a new Islamic society wants to remove the crosses and move into the historic Catholic Church.

“This place was put into historical preservation and rightfully so,” said Giannantomio.

Crosses to be removed:

Holy Trinity was recently purchased by the North Side Learning Center, a volunteer group that assists refugees and immigrants. Northside Learning Center will lease the church to an Islamic society which would rename it Mosque of Jesus the Son of Mary. The North Side Learning Center has also filed a request with the Landmark Preservation Board to remove the crosses on the steeples and grounds.  [Those who care in Syracuse should file a protest with the Preservation Board—ed]

Professor Margaret Thompson from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School says nearly 75% of refugees settling in Syracuse are Muslimand that religious freedom has been bringing immigrants to America for hundreds of years.

“Holy Trinity was founded to welcome German immigrants to Syracuse when it was originally built and now it’s welcoming a new cohort of immigrants,” said Thompson.

Anna Giannantonio wants everyone to have a place to worship. She emigrated from Italy as a teenager and understands the discrimination many Muslims face in America but Giannantonio wishes the church that welcomed her to the U.S. would stay a Catholic church.

“I don’t want to hurt anybody but the building should remain as it is,” said Giannantomio.

The North Side Learning Center is now making repairs to the buildings. They hope the mosque will be ready to open in June.

Syracuse refugee program is changing and we recommend if you live there you need to start researching and reporting to your local community. The Northside Learning Center is probably operating on taxpayer dollars so you have a right to demand more information about their activities.

Syracuse is a preferred resettlement site chosen by the US State Department, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS) and the contractors.

New York is one of the top states with a large African and Middle Eastern Muslim population, here.  Demographic change is what it’s all about.  Once they get the population numbers almost nothing else matters.

Ironically the largest resettlement contractor, bringing the most Muslims to your towns and cities, is the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.