Skip to content

A gap in New Zealand, reality in Jerusalem, and legal weed everywhere

A gap in New Zealand, reality in Jerusalem, and legal weed everywhere

Happy Friday friends,

We’ve made it through the week. Great job, guys.

I’m kind of serious.

I started the week with a four-and-a-half-hour dentist appointment, though at this point I think it would be cheaper and more appropriate to just contract with a goldsmith. It was also, of course, the 60th anniversary of Vatican Council II and much of the commentary surrounding the occasion has, frankly, left me wishing for a few more hours in the chair.

Whatever else can be said about the Council, its least edifying legacy has been six decades of chancers and mountebanks writing about it as, variously, the beginning or the end of the Church’s history with almost no regard for — or apparent understanding of — what the Council documents actually say. It’s more than I can bear.

Meanwhile, JD’s been in an undisclosed location for a couple of days. He’s working on a profile of a very interesting kind of apostolate that has sprung up on a very windy seaside island somewhere — more on that next week.

The internet appears to be intermittent there, and when we spoke last a storm was blowing in and the phone reception was patchy. For all this, he still managed to get in touch to point out typos on the site, which was… thoughtful of him.

And we have brought you some real reporting this week. So let’s get into that.

The News

A priest in the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, has been removed from ministry after a report that he engaged in sexual activity with a teenage boy he met online using a hookup app.

In a statement released on Thursday, the diocese said Fr. Shaun Lowery is seeking laicization after resigning as pastor of Saint Mary Magdalen parish earlier this year.

In March 2021, a high school student filed a report with the diocese saying that a 16-year-old male friend had engaged in a sexual encounter with Lowery, which had been arranged through the hookup app Grindr.

“Under interview, Father Lowery confirmed to law enforcement that the alleged sexual encounter had taken place but claimed to have been unaware that the young person in question was a 16-year-old and presumed he was an adult,” the diocese said in its statement. “It was also confirmed that the encounter had been arranged through Grindr, a mobile application that requests age verification on the part of all subscribers to affirm they are over 18 years of age.”

Charges were not pressed by civil authorities because the age of consent in Michigan is 16. However, the canonical age of consent is 18, meaning the incident is considered the sexual abuse of a minor by the Church.

This is not the first instance of a cleric initiating sexual contact with a minor through apps like Grindr, but the Church’s internal laws and procedures are still just beginning to catch up with the technology. In Lowery’s case, the Vatican made an initial ruling that the priest could not be canonically charged because the event took place before a 2021 legal clarification that ignorance of the age of a minor is not an exonerating circumstance for a cleric.

The case flags a number of safeguarding issues facing the Church, and the need for serious policy reviews in a number of dioceses. You can read the whole story here.

Subscribe Now

New Zealand appears to have slipped the Vatican’s mind.

Admittedly, it isn’t the biggest country in the world, and it is a long way from Rome. But fully one third of its dioceses don’t have a bishop right now, and there is little sign that there is any hurry to fill the vacancies. This morning, Luke Coppen asks why?

Talking to local clergy and poking around the appointment process in Rome, there are a couple of possible explanations, but no obvious answers.

Read the whole analysis here.

Aloisius Muench has to be one of the most interesting figures in the history of the Church in the U.S.

The Wisconsin native was named the third Bishop of Fargo, North Dakota, in 1935. There, he was something of a prolific author and novel thinker, publishing a popular “Manifesto on Rural Life” applying the principles of Catholic social teaching to the challenges facing agrarian communities.

A few years later, in the aftermath of World War II, Pope Pius XII made him the papal delegate in post-war Germany, charged with liaising with both the German bishops and the occupying powers. Later, in 1951, Pius made Muench nuncio to Germany, where he stayed until 1959. Through all this, he continued to serve as the Bishop of Fargo — probably the most unlikely ecclesiastical job share imaginable.

Muench ended as the first American cardinal serving in the Roman curia and the cardinal from Fargo is one of those people you may never have heard of, but should know about. So read Michelle’s profile of him here.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has joined the Archbishop of Westminster in condemning the U.K. government’s announcement that it is considering moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Liz Truss first promised to consider the move when she was campaigning for the Conservative Party leadership over the summer and, following a recent meeting with her Israeli counterpart at the UN, the policy review was confirmed last week.

In response, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said he’d written to the PM to let her know how “seriously damaging” shifting the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be, both to the peace process and to the UK’s international credibility.

A few days later, Archbishop Pierbatista Pizzaballa said much the same things in a joint letter with the heads of the other Churches of the Holy City, warning that any change to the status quo in Jerusalem would only push the prospect of a lasting peace further away.

You can read all about it here.

For myself, I confess that I am not an expert on the Israel-Palestine situation, though I did spend some time living there as a much younger man. I’m not insensitive to the tensions around the status of Jerusalem, or the potential for the city’s status to become a flashpoint at any given moment. And I am certainly aware of the sensitivities of the local Arab Christian population, their stake in the status quo, and the patriarch’s concern for them.

Nevertheless, I confess I struggle to understand the hyperbole voiced in opposition to Truss’s planned review.

For one thing, there is no obvious reason to believe the review will recommend actually moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at all.

For another, the U.S. moved its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018. While that announcement triggered similar warnings about it making peace much more difficult and the United States a diplomatic pariah in the Arab world, neither seems to have been especially borne out. Nor has a new administration made any move to undo the change.

But the main reason I find myself skeptical of the warnings about moving embassies to Jerusalem is this: however inconvenient it may be, Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. The Israeli parliament is there, and so is the president’s residence. The seat of the government is in Jerusalem and that same government of a sovereign state has declared Jerusalem to be its capital.

Subscribe Now

None of this is changed by any number of embassies remaining located an hour away in Tel Aviv, any more than Washington would cease to be the U.S. capital if every embassy on Massachusetts Avenue moved to Baltimore.

I understand, as Archbishop Pizzaballa has said, that Israeli control of East Jerusalem is disputed and that the lack of a final agreement on the status of Jerusalem is a major hurdle to any lasting peace, including a two-state solution.

But the patriarch contends that moving an embassy, or even thinking about moving one, “not only suggests that negotiated agreements regarding Jerusalem and the West Bank have already resolved the ongoing disputes between the involved parties—when in fact they have not—but also implies that no such negotiations are needed.” This strikes me as a little myopic.

It seems to me that continuing to pretend that the Israeli capital is not Jerusalem, when in fact it is, suggests that the Israeli government is realistically expected to negotiate on that premise. I may not be an expert, but this seems highly implausible to me.

However far we may remain from a lasting peace in the Holy Land, and however much we should welcome any and all efforts to bring it closer, I am not sure I understand how ignoring a practical reality in favor of a diplomatic fiction is meant to help get us there.

Given the often controversial amount of pragmatism the Vatican has shown in its approach to the war in Ukraine and to the human rights situation in China, it is curious how idealistic Church leaders remain when speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

The University of Notre Dame is, like it or not, a cultural flagship for American Catholicism. But with that status comes a certain level of expectation and scrutiny.

For example, in the months following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Merlot Fogarty, president of Notre Dame Right to Life, has found herself wishing the university would do more to promote a culture of life and earn its reputation for modeling the faith in America.

Fogarty spoke with Charles Camosy this week about her work at Notre Dame, the challenges she faces on campus, and her hopes for the university to become a leader in the pro-life movement.

Read the whole conversation here.

The Vatican financial crimes trial took an interesting turn this week when a senior officer in the Vatican gendarmes told the court about a briefing he gave Cardinal Angelo Becciu about suspected embezzlement by the cardinal’s private spy, Cecilia Marogna.

On Wednesday, Stefano De Santis told the judges that he and the head of the Vatican’s police service went to the cardinal’s Vatican apartment to tell him about more than half a million euros worth of payments to Marogna which had been flagged by Interpol on Oct. 3, 2020 — just one week after Becciu was publicly sacked by Pope Francis on suspicion of corruption.

According to the top cop, Becciu offered to make up the money that Marogna apparently spent on designer handbags and luxury travel out of his own pocket, and asked them to keep the whole affair quiet for the sake of his reputation and that of his family.

Even more interesting, Becciu was in court to hear De Santis’ account on Wednesday and immediately offered his own version events — confirming the meeting, his offer to pay the money back, and his desire for secrecy, but insisting that this wasn’t for his own sake, but to protect the reputation of Pope Francis who, the cardinal said, had approved everything.

Becciu has previously claimed to the court that Francis approved an off-books budget of up to a million euros to pay Marogna, a self-styled international security and intelligence consultant, to help secure the release of a kidnapped nun in Mali — although there is no evidence she did anything of the kind. Marogna has previously said that, in addition to hostage negotiations, Becciu asked her to compile dossiers of compromising information about other curial officials for him.


Get 'The Pillar' in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday - and help make subscriber-supported journalism happen - with no clickbait, and no nonsense

What we do know is that Becciu instructed Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, his former deputy at the Secretariat of State, to keep sending Marogna money even after the cardinal left the secretariat in 2018.

Perlasca has told prosecutors that he didn’t know what the money was for, or what Marogna was supposed to be doing, and when he asked the cardinal, he was told: “We can talk about that in four or five years.”

Perlasca has also said that Becciu was furious with him for not destroying evidence of the transfers and for discussing the arrangement with investigators.

As Perlasca says he told Becciu at the time: “Why should I have eliminated [the evidence of the transfers] if they were ordered by His Holiness?’”

Why indeed? You can get up to speed with the trial here.

The release of an independent report on a deceased bishops’ handling of abuse cases in the German Diocese of Trier has been delayed after new files were discovered and new witnesses have come forward.

The report had been due out later this month. An earlier interim report identified 513 victims and 195 perpetrators of abuse. Trier is one of several German dioceses to commission independent studies into the handling of clerical abuse cases dating back to the end of World War II.

A final report will cover Cardinal Reinhard Marx’s tenure as bishop of the diocese from 2002 to 2008 and is also expected to touch on the role of Bishop Georg Bätzing, the current chairman of Germany’s bishops’ conference, who served as vicar general of the Trier diocese from 2012 until his appointment as bishop of Limburg in 2016.

Read our whole report here.

Subscribe Now

Just say no

This week, our local county sent through the sample ballot for the upcoming election next month. On it, I noticed, is a statewide referendum to legalize marijuana. Frankly, I was shocked to discover it was still illegal in our area, however nominally.

Our local playground, where my wife likes to take the baby to the swings, usually hosts a group of five or six swivel-eyed gentlemen fouling the air with the kind skunk I imagine does their physical and mental health no favors.

If they were brown-bagging a couple of 40s, the local cops would move them on within minutes. If one of them lit up a Camel, they’d certainly be fined, possibly arrested. But because of some strange cultural settlement to which I do not remember agreeing, smoking or vaping weapons-grade psychotropics is apparently as normal as chewing gum these days.

I should be glad, I suppose, to have the chance to vote on the issue next month, even if the result is a foregone conclusion. Mine is by no means the only state with legal weed on the ballot, and I cannot find a single proposal expected to fail. But it does amaze me that we are plunging forward, headlong, with something which seems to have generated few, if any, positive results for the places that have embraced it.

In California, the Los Angeles Times - that well-known reactionary publication - has tracked a rise in violence, death, illegal drug trafficking, worker exploitation, environmental damage, and general human misery as a result of making the marijuana industry legal. Yet further decriminalization elsewhere is widely accepted as inevitable and desirable. Go figure.

Politicians, I suppose, cannot be expected to mount much of an opposition, even in the face of data linking an explosion of mental health problems, even increased risk of suicide, to the spread of legal weed.

“Well, that was a calamitous mistake — let’s make sure no one else does it,” said no elected official ever.

Catholic bishops, on the other hand, have been remarkably consistent in their vocal opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana wherever it has come on the ballot — the bishops of Missouri issued their own statement against the idea just a few weeks ago.

I doubt if the bishops will sway many votes, alas.

I am genuinely surprised at the lack of a concerted pushback against what seems to me like an obviously predatory industry growing up in front of our noses, but it’s too late now to put the genie back in the bottle, I suppose.

But I do wonder if we can’t now mount a more effective campaign against the popularity of legal weed based on another undeniable truth, one made ever more obvious as more states (and federal authorities) move to decriminalize: it's just so lame.

I don’t want to come across as a prude, and heaven knows I am not one: my doctor and I have annual disagreements about the definitions of tobacco “abuse” and “excessive” alcohol consumption. But the simple truth is: stoners are some of the most tedious people in the world, and this fact is too often ignored in the debate about decriminalization.

Leaving aside middle-aged skateboard enthusiasts with poor personal hygiene, whom I’ve always found to be surprisingly belligerent, most weed smokers (or vapers) I’ve encountered tend to be insufferably boring.

Whenever I hear them a few tables over, obsessing over trivialities and endlessly mistaking their platitudes for profundities, I can’t imagine worse company.

While your mileage may vary according to individuals and vintage, as a rule, a bottle of wine will stimulate lively discourse. A joint or two, on the other hand, seems to lead inexorably to conversation as circular, irritating, and uninspired as a Phish jam session — another telltale sign of how overrated weed is, by the way, is that, also like Phish, its biggest fans need to wear T-shirts to remind themselves they like it.

While a couple of martinis might make one person charming but another quarrelsome, the effect of smoking (or vaping more often these days) is to leave people uniformly glassy-eyed and banal.

At its most benign, marijuana is the drug of choice of the self-consciously bourgeois. It’s the last course at the worst kind of dinner party, served via brownies laced with as much middle-class self-satisfaction as THC.

Dress it up all you like, but it’s just so vulgar.

If only we could communicate that to the kids, and help them understand that weed these days is more Martha Stewart than Snoop Dogg, maybe we could blunt its appeal.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

Subscribe Now