No, I Won’t Encourage Catholic Anger

Catholic anger

If you ask me—and I know you haven’t—the current bout of Catholic anger is not only futile but counterproductive. It’s an awkward opinion to hold. The current consensus in one sector of the Catholic Internet commentariat is that you have to tell everyone how angry you are with the bishops over their maladministration of the Church and loudly demand reform. Why? Because a lot of Catholics are angry and want you to be angry, too, so you have to feed their expectations; otherwise, you’ll risk losing your audience. So let me explain to you why I’m not playing that game.

The First Three Reasons

First, the bishops already know Catholics are angry with them. Some are equally frustrated with the status quo. Those who aren’t still fear where our anger will lead to if they don’t quickly and effectively address the need for reform. The recent message from the Vatican stopping their current initiatives until Pope Francis confers with the heads of the national conferences didn’t relieve the USCCB of their anxiety. If anything, that bombshell only heightened their own frustration. They don’t need me to remind them of what they already know too well.

Second, continual social media griping won’t speed up the pace of reform. Lay Catholic anger, righteous or not, doesn’t make the ordinary obligations and challenges of Church administration go away (which is why withholding our donations is a bad idea). In fact, most bishops must wedge reform efforts into calendars already stuffed with local crises and concerns. Some of the frustration the American bishops feel must come from the fact that they had to upend their schedules in order to attend a meeting that the Vatican’s announcement reduced to episcopal griping around the water cooler. My yapping at them won’t help.

Third, most of us don’t know enough to make practical suggestions. Some members of the Catholic chatterati have worked in seminaries or diocesan chanceries; some have been at least partially through priestly formation; some are reporters or scholars who have done the appropriate research. The rest of us know something’s wrong and needs to be fixed—that’s all. Once you’ve said that, you’ve said all you can usefully say; anything more is ignorant yabba-yabba. I don’t know enough about the bishops’ job to tell them how to do it better.

What’s Wrong with Catholic Anger?

Fourth, anger—even Catholic anger—is nothing to encourage, let alone exploit to gain social media followers.

Catholic teaching is somewhat ambivalent on anger. On the one hand, as a passion, the Church considers it morally neutral; on the other, as a desire for revenge, it’s considered a sin against the Sixth Commandment. This echoes the psychologists’ and psychiatrists’ take: It can motivate positive, constructive actions, but when too frequently or easily provoked it’s deleterious to one’s physical and emotional health. Nurtured and encouraged over the long term, it’s destructive to charity, truth, humility, and justice.

Moreover, angry people—especially angry idealists—are easier for demagogues to exploit. Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Castro, Mao Zedong—just in the last century or so, we can name several figures who rode into dictatorial power on the wave of their countrymen’s anger. As a lesser example, we can look at the Bush Administration’s perversion of our post-9/11 rage against terrorists to support the bloody, costly, and unnecessary invasion of Iraq on the thinnest of pretexts backed by questionable evidence. Anger biases and weakens prudential judgment, allowing even good causes to be subverted by power-seeking sociopaths.

The most insidious thing about Catholic anger is that it eventually, inevitably creates a kind of anti-witness to Christ. In this “toxic Catholicism”, we spend more time complaining about everything that’s wrong with the Church and its leadership today, not to mention outing “fake Catholics” and bashing the enemy political tribe, than we do spreading the gospel message. The constant public torrent of whining, sneering, and backbiting paints such an ugly, unhappy picture of the Catholic faith that non-Catholics must wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to join us.

Trusting in God

Fifth, there’s really very little we laypeople can do about the situation. We can write our bishops. We can write to the Vatican. We can write blog posts and grumble on YouTube vlogs. And in doing so, we’ll compete with perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands of other voices all trying to make their opinions known. Why bother, when all you can knowledgeably say is, “I’m angry and I want you guys to do something about this”? As I said before, the bishops already know Catholics are angry; they already know something has to be done.

And I’m okay with that.

I’ve said before that there’s a certain kind of freedom in knowing that you have little power to affect an outcome. That freedom only comes with learning to trust in God for all the things we can’t personally change, with learning to listen to him saying, Dude, I’ve got this. You go do what you can and let Me worry about the rest of it. Tomorrow and next year and twenty years from now are all unfinished scripts. Today’s problems are challenging enough without borrowing tomorrow’s (cf. Matthew 6:34).

The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine—but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight. (Hilaire Belloc to Anglican bishop William Temple)

Throughout her long life, the Church has suffered bishops, priests, and religious who were fools, scoundrels, or lunatics. Christ never promised us that our leaders would all be sane, virtuous, and wise. But He did promise us that the gates of Hell would never prevail against the Church He founded on Peter the Rock (Matthew 16:18) and that He would be with us to the end (Matthew 28:20). The Church needs reform; so long as she’s run by humans, she will always be in need of reform. But the Church does not need to be “saved from” anything or anyone.

Focus on the Gospel

Last, the most important thing we—the laity, priests, and religious—can do to reform the Church is to return to preaching and living the gospel message.

The gospel is the raison d’être for the Catholic Church: to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The crucifixion of the Son of God, the reason for it, and the consequences of it—that is what brings people into the Church … not our hierarchy, or our liturgy, or our cultural legacy, or our social doctrine. That’s why our primary symbol is a crucifix, not a miter.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that the bishops don’t matter or that they’re not integral to the apostolic tradition. I’m saying that the gospel—and therefore the Church—is not “about” them, save in the fact that they too are sinners in need of Christ. I’m saying that every social-media post dedicated to venting our anger at the bishops is a post taken away from spreading the gospel—the one thing we can do to revitalize the faith. I’m saying that if we turn our energies back to what’s supposed to be our primary focus, we’ll be surprised at how fast other problems get sorted out.

In a sermon he gave in 2009 to fellow priests, Fr. Bill Casey of the Fathers of Mercy quoted Abp. Ven. Fulton J. Sheen: “Strong love makes strong actions, and the measure of our zeal in bringing souls to the feet of Christ is the measure of our love for Him.” The kind of young people who will become the kind of future bishops, priests, and religious we need will come from parishes whose members are consumed by zeal for the house of the Lord (Psalm 69:8-13; cf. John 2:13-22), not from those burning with anger.

What Better Time?

I finish this article the day before Thanksgiving, in the waning days of Ordinary Time and the 2018 liturgical year. In just a few days, the penitential season of Advent begins a new cycle. What better time to rededicate ourselves to living the gospel than in the time of preparation for the coming of the Christ? What better time to find again the love of God that has consumed apostles and reformers for 2,000 years?

So no, I’m not going to spend another paragraph on the sins of the hierarchy or feeding Catholic anger over something we the laity can’t do bubkes about. I hope that doesn’t disappoint you. But I get the sense that other Americans are sick and tired of angry people clogging up social media with their consciousness and righteous rage. There are still people who want to know about God, what He has done for us through Jesus Christ, and what we can do for Him in response. So there is still a need for Catholic writers to write about the faith.

The scandals are ephemeral and will eventually fade. The need for evangelization is permanent: it will end only when Christ returns. Let’s get back to our main business—laying souls at the feet of Christ.

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27 thoughts on “No, I Won’t Encourage Catholic Anger”

  1. I know your comments were well meant, Anthony, but in my humble opinion, they are way off the mark. What you recommend amounts to endorsing complacency. The bishops and the hierarchy generally, need to made fully aware that Catholics, especially those most committed to the faith, are not only angry but despondent, extremely disappointed and praying desperately for something good to happen to allay their fears of a major schism. We need to encourage the good bishops and priests to stand up to their cowardly, faithless and, in some cases, perverted colleagues, for the sake of the Church. Silence, as you well know, denotes consent, if when consent is unintended. Righteous anger at this stage of the Church’s history, is entirely appropriate. Complacency is not.

  2. Good luck, Anthony. The comments here only show the truth of what you’re saying. As for myself, i find the comboxes are a poison to the soul and am freeing myself from them. This Sunday is the start of the new Church year. Perfect time to leave this behind and start anew!

    Have a blessed Advent!

  3. Excessive anger is always wrong. But, there is a righteous anger that is needed here. You stated that the Bishops know we are angry. Well.. some do and some don’t. At least some are acting like they don’t. Bishop Sheen prophetical statement in that it will be the laity that will save the church.

  4. Someone wrote: “The articles I choose to post are also all geared towards helping Catholics break away from the constant griping and finger pointing and see to their own holiness and walk with God.”

    Then what do I need the Catholic Church for? If I’m just supposed to see to my own holiness and walk with God, how is that different than my me-and-my-bible Protestant mother-in-law? Why should I go to a Mass that is not in the least reverent, or go to confession (for the 30 minutes it’s offered on a Saturday afternoon) and confess to priest that may or may not have a soul corrupted by mortal sin? If I have to see to my own holiness, then why should I give a dime to an organization shielding homos and diddlers?

    I’m sorry, but the cognitive dissonance people like the author of this blog and some of the commenters are asking us to live with is untenable. When I came back to the Church 15 years and ago and saw 13 year old altar girls in heels and painted faces swishing around giggling before mass, people conversing in the pews like they were nowhere special, and the priest stopping the liturgy to do his own special brand of “welcome to the show” greeting, I should have realized how far along the cancer was in the Church.

    Yes, I will see to my own holiness. Thank you for the solution.

  5. I might be wrong, but I’m thinking that you have not been personally effected by the priest abuse crisis. Here, in the Diocese of Buffalo, NY, it has been hard to not be effected, hard not to be very angry and it’s difficult to know how to handle that anger. The abuse crisis is such a violation of trust. Here, a group of lay people, religious and clergy have formed A Movement To Restore Trust (and can be found as movementtorestoretrust.org) as a way to use anger to produce a loving, positive, change for good. Some effected individuals may find that website helpful and hopeful.

  6. St. Teresa of Avila said, “Pray as though everything depends on God and act as though everything depends on you.”… Similar quotes can be attributed to St. Catherine of Siena and I’m sure many other saints who helped foster reform within the Church throughout the centuries. Discernment is needed, to be sure, but let us not be guilty of the sin of omission by our desire to be properly complacent!

  7. Wow Anthony, I’m glad peace and love work for you! I wish I could be there, but I’m not. I want to shout the corruption from the roof tops! Homosexual clergy out! No more money to protect abusers, and then and only then can we evangelize honestly and help save the beauty of Catholicism. When the hypocrisy is rooted out we can be proud that we have a holy Catholic Church!

  8. The anger is misplaced. We should be enraged about the Satanic heresy and blasphemy in the masonic documents of Vatican II, which enshrine modernism and error in the life of the Catholic Church. Repudiate modernism, renounce the errors of Vatican II and watch the sexual misconduct dry up overnight.

  9. Anthony- You really do not need to be an expert on Church politics, priestly formation, or canon law to know what the problems are and what needs to be fixed: too many seminaries corrupted by the influence of gay clerics, pro-gay agendas, and left-leaning theology; bishops and priests who put their politics ahead of their faith; clericalism among the hierarchy that appears to have convinced many of them that they are superior to the laity; and gay priests, bishops, and cardinals who have formed a bulwark against reforms or accountability efforts aimed at removing them from power and influence.

    Am I mad, yes. But I am more disappointed than mad. Silence in the face of this level of malfeasance, incompetence, and immorality is probably not helpful. It cannot be business as usual moving forward, which is why it was very disconcerting to hear that Cupich and Wherl wanted to implement a form of internal policing to address the current crisis, rather than have accountability to an external body of laymen. How better to continue the status-quo than to place the foxes in charge of the hen-house?

  10. You’re experience is what I’ve experienced. On my blog I stopped allowing the griping quite a long time ago…and the comments dwindled to next to nothing. I’m ok with that. I’m more concerned that non Catholics actually see Jesus there on my blog rather than having lots of comments. The articles I choose to post are also all geared towards helping Catholics break away from the constant griping and finger pointing and see to their own holiness and walk with God. I have said till I’m blue in the face that the best way to evangelize is for our actions and words to match what we say we believe. What I’ve seen on the blogosphere has not only embarrassed me, but saddened me. The greatest concern being how little the angry trust in God. I know: I used to be one until at Adoration one day the question came to my mind: why are you so anxious? Don’t you trust Me?

    From that point on I asked God to help me break free…and boy, until you break free of that anger you don’t know just how enslaved to it you are.

    Thanks for the great post. I will be sharing this with others!

    1. Be embarrassed all you want about blogs and bloggers.
      But, are you embarrassed that close to $4 billion of our hard earned collection basket contributions have gone to pay for the playtime of homosexual predator bishops and priests? Are you embarrassed that the bishop of Rome allows the homosexual predator monster, McCarrick, to retain his title of archbishop and live a comfortable life…on your dime?
      Embarrassed that the Bishop of Buffalo, NY retains his job?
      If you can remain silent at all this, you get what you deserve.
      But, really, what will actually be very embarrassing is when the states attorneys general convict a few corrupt bishops and send them away in handcuffs. So be it. I can handle that embarrassment just fine, TYVM.

  11. That this article was published boggles the mind. Let’s see, an estimated $4 billion has gone to abuse payoffs and legal costs worldwide over the last 20+ years or so, about 2/3 of that coming from the US. Did any of you see that in your parish or diocesan financial reports? Think of all the good the Church could have done worldwide with those funds. Instead we have the payouts and the pompous rectories. And I think we are up to 15 dioceses bankrupted across the US. Instead of the pacifism toward the crisis encouraged by this article, there are a lot of constructive things that the laity can do. Priests and the church hierarchy must be constantly reminded of their responsibility to be good shepherds. We must pray, but we must also act.

    1. St. Teresa of Avila said, “Pray as though everything depends on God and act as though everything depends on you.”… Similar quotes can be attributed to St. Catherine of Siena and I’m sure many other saints who helped foster reform within the Church throughout the centuries. Discernment is needed, to be sure, but let us not be guilty of the sin of omission by our desire to be properly complacent!

  12. Let me first say that I agree with you. At THIS time, there is little that continued anger will solve. However, the bishops know the laity are angry only because someone (a lot of them) spoke up in anger. That anger is justified and is not mollified by statements of, say a cardinal or two. I’ve stopped being angry because I know it will do nothing. Yet, I have redirected my charity to those closest to me to the greatest benefit. I will be depositing only a single penny in my Archdiocese quarterly collection and in the basket for Peter’s Pence. Both my Archdiocese and the Vatican have made it known that money is the “coin of the realm.” Otherwise why would Card. Law, Fr. Maciel, and ex-Card McCarrick have had any power or authority. Their crimes were well known, but they were useful. Turning off donations to them is the only way to change the machine. Instead, my charity goes elsewhere.

    p.s. I think you meant 7th commandment, not 6th.

  13. Pingback: TVESDAY MORNING EDITION – Big Pulpit

  14. BTW: I reread JUST the five bullet points. The sentences in italics.

    Each and every one of them is patently false, or at best a gratuitous assertion, a call to “shut up and sit down,” “stop rocking the boat,” dressed up as spiritual guidance. “Do as I say or you will become a ‘toxic Catholic,’ driving people out of the Church,” etc.

  15. Good column. There is wisdom in not getting worked up over things that one has no direct involvement in or control over. Yet there also seems to be a need, as others have mentioned, to speak up and let the bishops know that this can’t be swept under the rug. The apparent root cause needs to be openly acknowledged and the USCCB needs to do something about it. The passage of time should not–indeed, cannot–result in a return to business as usual.

  16. Dude, not buying it at all.
    Too much corruption to remain silent and calm. Money talks, so follow the money and you will see why the homosexual predator, Theodore McCarrick, is still archbishop and living comfortably. Follow the money and you will see why the Knights of Malta are covering up their Swiss treasure. Follow the money and see where one third of the USCCB operating budget comes from.
    Follow the money and see why the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate got shut down. Follow the money and see why the corrupt Wuerl is still in a postion influence.
    But, dear author, you know who will follow the money? The state attorneys general, thats who. And they will come after the corrupt bishops with a vengeance because the Church refuses to weed out the “filth” as the Pope Emeritus calls it. It will be beyond devastating. All because the Vatican and USCCB hopes it will all blow over. It won’t blow over, Anthony. Not this time, not by a long shot. We are not medieval peasants. We see what is happening. We will no longer be silent. That way has failed.
    So, lead, follow or get the hell out of the way, Marine. Clear enough? Angry enough for ya? S/F.

  17. Catholic anger is justified. But withholding money is not an act of ‘revenge’ as you put it, it’s a protest(a very strong and effective protest) and a reinforcement for the Bishops to take concrete action on the corruption within. Let’s put it this way……..withholding money is the only thing they really understand. It’s also to reinforce the fact that Catholic laity will not forget or resign themselves to the ‘status quo’ of hierarchy corruption. Besides prayer and sacrifice and speaking out, it’s the only other avenue we have to make our voices heard. I do believe that the corruption within the Church is at such a level, that we have to bring out the ‘big guns’. And besides that, who in their right mind thinks it’s a good idea to contribute to the corrupt way they are sometimes spending that money? I for one will not be an accessory to their crimes. And….. the CCHD has been spending part of that money on LGTB groups, abortion groups and supporting contraception for YEARS. We have tried to get them to clean it up, but they refuse. I won’t be part of it.

  18. Quietism. It’s a heresy.

    And the BEST catechesis I see day-to-day comes from those “angry” blogs and websites. They devote much of their space to expounding the Catholic Faith. If there are “angry” Catholics just spewing abuse at the bishops, I have never seen them. I think they are a Straw Man.

    As for “laying souls at the feet of Christ”–that’s meaningless, pietific verbiage.

  19. “If anything, that bombshell only heightened their own frustration.” Yes, so frustrated that they turned around and overwhelmingly voted to not encourage the Holy See to take this more seriously. While they may KNOW some of us are angry, can we really say that the majority of bishops really CARE that we’re angry. They may know something needs to be done, but they apparently don’t see any urgency in it. Why? Part of it may be that the anger has not reached a critical breaking point. Most bishops have an attitude that this will blow over and they can ride it out. If the faithful follow your advice, we can be assured that this will happen. Do not dismiss the possibility that God’s will for you and me at this critical point in history is that we are righteously angry and that we act upon that anger. Do we know that, when our earthly life is over, our judge will not ask us, “when my bride was being abused, what did you do to defend her?”?

    “Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and your religious act like religious.” – Fulton J. Sheen

  20. The greater problem has been apathy not a lack of “anger”. The leadership has known for decades of corruption in seminaries and diocesan chanceries and still the problem remains. The U.S. bishops were sidelined just two weeks ago in their attempt to formulate new guidelines.

    There is too little formal acknowledgment of the existence of the “lavender mafia”, or “gay lobby” and its corrupt influence in the Church worldwide. While it is certainly true that anger run amok and be taken too far, is that really the greatest risk at the moment? People are losing their faith, with many leaving the Church perhaps never to return. The root cause of corruption needs to be acknowledged. Homo-clericalism runs deep in our Church. It has destroyed many vocations and undermined the faith lives of untold numbers of believers. Apathy is the far greater concern.

  21. There’s such a thing as righteous anger, and if the bishops complete incompetence on handling the sex abuse crisis isn’t a good justification for it, then I don’t know what is. If you can’t handle it fine, but leave alone those courageous enough to speak out. Some are putting their very livelihoods on the line.

    “Who is going to save our Church? Not our Bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops like bishops and your religious act like religious.”
    -Fulton Sheen

  22. Anthony,
    AMEN!! to the GIFTS of truth,wisdom,and insight, you imparted to your readers in this
    Extraordinary Excellent Article,today. I want to PERSONALLY THANK YOU and WISH YOU
    a MOST BLESSED ADVENT SEASON!!
    Blessings and Prayers,
    Barbara Taylor

  23. I’d agree if this was a theoretical problem or a rules infraction that didn’t really hurt anyone. But in this case lives were destroyed; souls were and are being lost. This is catastrophe that deserves our righteous anger. If we cease to express our anger the Church will just run out the clock and in 100 years it will be like this never happened. It will be remembered as an anomaly involving a few bad apples and disgruntled lay people.

    Your closing paragraph is exactly the problem. This scandal will fade but nothing will be learned if we do not continue to voice our anger. Make no mistake, aside from the physical and psychological suffering of victims, souls are being dragged away from Christ and if we are not loudly protesting we are just watching it happen.

    Finally, the notion that there is very little laypeople can do is patently absurd. We are the Church. We ignored victims and silenced dissent which allowed the culture of secrecy and abuse to grow. We’ve also ensured that abusers avoided the prison sentences they so richly deserved. I agree that we cannot solely rely on the Bishops and professional church people to cure this cancer. They had their chance and failed. They knew all along and let it continue. They have demonstrated repeatedly that they have no idea what to do. The “chatterati” may talk a good game but it is time for action. Laypeople must speak up hold leaders to account; if not us, then who?

    1. JJ-Ditto! and again, Ditto! ”Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer .As St Catherine of Siena said: “We’ve had enough exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a thousand tongues – I see the world is rotten because of silence.”

      Anthony L, let us agree to disagree AND keep this discussion going- see below. Guy McClung, Texas

      http://www.the-american-catholic.com/2018/10/08/im-catholic-and-im-mad-as-hell/

      http://www.the-american-catholic.com/2018/11/15/be-very-careful-what-you-pray-for/

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