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Free to disagree, the case against Crow, and y’all on Instagram

Happy Friday friends,

I spent some of this week in Denver. 

A couple of times a year JD and I need to be in the actual same place, at the same time, to go over the myriad of legal documents which come along with having a small LLC. 

From time to time, we have to sign things and have meetings with people like lawyers and accountants — mostly to talk about how “durable” The Pillar is as a business, which means talking about money, and how we plan to make enough of it to keep this show on the road.

Sometimes, smart people who know about the business of businesses ask us what plan we have to deal with the “churn” of paying subscribers — we lose about 15% of renewing subscribers on a rolling basis right now. It happens. Sometimes people’s credit card details change and they forget to update them, sometimes times just get tough. 

We aren’t businessmen, of course. And we usually tell them our business “plan,” if we’re calling it that, is just to work harder and trust in Providence and in our readers to provide what we need to keep things going.

It can sound a little… hopeful, I am sure. But I have reason to be hopeful, I think.

Case in point: Last week I wrote an analysis on the fallout of the liturgical norms of Traditionis custodes in U.S. dioceses. It got some reads, and it got a lot of comments, both on our site and on social media.

Some people agreed with it. Some people liked parts of it. Others, quite a few others, disagreed with it — strongly — and told me so. I’m glad about that. 

I think what I think, but my analysis is just that: my reading of the situation. I’m not claiming mine is the only or entire interpretation of events, and I want to hear smart people who care about these issues tell me how to look at things differently. And they did.

That makes me really hopeful because, by and large, the people who disagreed with my analysis most strongly are Pillar subscribers, people who see what we are trying to build here — a space for thoughtful discussion of what’s going on in the life of the Church. 

No one at The Pillar agrees about everything — except about the importance of dispassionate, fact-based reporting on the Church’s life — and that goes for writers and readers alike. That’s how we want this to work. I’m honored that people can see that and are willing to support it.

I mean it. Thank you guys. Apart from a little advertising revenue, subscribers keep The Pillar project going — by design — and we are all part of it — together.  

We need, and this isn’t hyperbole, every single subscriber we have. Truthfully, we need quite a few subscribers we don’t have, as our accountant likes to remind us from time to time.

The Pillar was set up to test a theory: that people want smart, faithful, nonpartisan Catholic news, without click bait and nonsense, and will step up to support it when they see it. It’s a theory we are still testing. 

But when I see hundreds of comments about something we published, some for and some against, but all coming from within the Pillar community and presuming everyone’s good faith and sincere intentions, I like our chances. I like you guys. I mean it. 

I don’t ever want The Pillar to go away. I don’t ever want to do anything else. I am genuinely grateful for all of you who have helped us come this far.

And if you — the rest of you reading these newsletters for free every week — feel like we do, please, join us. We’re all in this together.

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OK, let’s do the news.

The News

The liturgical standoff in the Syro-Malabar Church finally hit boiling point this week. The pope’s personal delegate has set a deadline of this Sunday for protestors in India to get in line or face possible excommunication. 

Archbishop Cyril Vasil’, SJ, circulated a letter yesterday telling priests and faithful of the Eastern Catholic Church that any further failure to conform to the revised liturgical form starting Sunday would be taken as an act of rebellion against the pope and punished accordingly.

A crowd promptly gathered Thursday outside St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ernakulam and Vasil’’s letter was publicly burned. 

All this comes after an impassioned plea by Vasil’ on the Feast of the Transfiguration on Tuesday, in which the papal delegate made clear there would be no compromise with the protestors, while begging for communion on his knees.

I’m afraid we seem destined for a schism here, with at least some sizable portion of the Syro-Malabar Church apparently dead set on incurring the full force of papal discipline rather than accept liturgical changes approved by the Church’s synod. 

If this all sounds like it’s happening a long way away and involves a weird esoteric liturgy, I’d strongly encourage you to consider it another way.

The Syro-Malabar Church has its origins in the first century AD. Malabar Christians were evangelized by St. Thomas the Apostle and their Holy Qurbana is the liturgy which has developed over two thousand years since then. 

The Syro-Malabar Church is the Catholic Church, every bit as much as the Latin Church. The prospect of schism, of that ancient community breaking communion with the Bishop of Rome, is a millenia catastrophe in the making.

We need to stay on top of this story, and we need to pray for the unity of the Church.

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The Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama made headlines last month when Fr. Alex Crow fled to Europe with an 18-year-old girl — recently graduated from a Catholic high school — supposedly to perform an illicit exorcism upon her.

The archdiocese moved swiftly to declare Crow as having abandoned his ministry, barring him from publicly acting as a cleric and clearing the way (probably) for his laicization by what most canonists would agree is the most straightforward process available.

As JD points out in an analysis this week, prosecuting Crow for essentially walking off the job might be the most canonically expedient way of proceeding, but it’s not the only way. 

The true scandal to most Catholics is not that Crow abandoned his assignment as a parochial vicar, but that he groomed a teenager — a minor — as evidenced by a Valentine send by Crow to the girl, while she was 17, in which he described himself as her “husband” and called her “the prettiest girl who has ever lived.”

Put mildly, a priest using his ministry to seduce and abscond with a teenager seems like a charge worth answering — and a lot of Catholics will be asking why we have laws about these things at all if dioceses like Mobile are going to opt to prosecute under lesser charges. That’s a reasonable question.

But as JD points out, the Archdiocese of Mobile has two parallel motivators here. On the one hand, it needs to answer the full scandal created by Crow’s actions. On the other, it wants to see him out of ministry as fast as possible. 

On the basis of what we know right now, proving that Crow seduced a canonical minor (17) before running off with her after she turned 18 doesn’t strike me as impossible. But how that could translate into a canonical crime to prosecute could be a hard case to make on the available evidence, and a lot harder if neither Crow nor his victim are in the country to participate.

That being the case, I can see why Mobile is going the way it is for the time being. But sooner or later there is going to need to be a much broader reckoning here, because it looks a lot like the current situation could be part of a pattern of abuse by Crow. 

Mobile County’s sheriff said this week that when the priest traveled on a school trip in June, another student — a minor — was seen coming out of his hotel room after 1:00 a.m., and that the priest could face criminal charges soon. If that’s the case, we need to know who did the seeing, and who they told about it, and when.

If it was an adult, to whom did they report it? And if ecclesiastical authorities were informed, what was done about it?

If you want to understand the legal stakes of the case, you really should read JD’s full analysis.

A Hong Kong appeal court this week overturned the conviction of Jimmy Lai, the jailed Catholic publisher, for organizing an illegal pro-democracy protest in 2019. But Lai remains in prison, where he has been since 2020.

Although the court cleared Lai of organizing the event, it upheld his conviction for attending it. As the former executive of Lai’s media company told us, “it’s like Pontius Pilate sending a memo in September saying the cross-carrying went on 200 yards too far, but the crucifixion was valid.”

There remains, of course, the litany of other convictions and ongoing processes Lai is laboring under, as local authorities continue to make him an example of exactly what happens if you take a public stand against the government and its “national security” apparatus.

What’s happening in Lai’s case needs to be seen and understood. 

It isn’t just about keeping a newspaper publisher in jail for standing up for civil liberties enshrined in Hong Kong law.

It isn’t just about how authorities have warped and controlled the entire legal system to invent spurious “crimes” to prosecute him and even deny him his own lawyer.

It is also about how the courts in Hong Kong are using decisions like this week’s — clearing Lai and seven other defendants of “organizing” a demonstration while keeping them in prison for attending it — to serve the pretense that the rule of law is still alive in Hong Kong, and to give themselves a fig leaf of credibility.

That needs to be seen, it needs to be understood, and it needs to be shared.

A Catholic priest who was kidnapped last year has launched a new organization to help Nigerians receive mental health care to cope with the trauma of terrorism in their country.

Fr. Stephen Ojapah, a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul, was abducted by unknown gunmen last year. He remained a hostage for a month. His experience is, tragically, far from unique — some 3,000 Nigerians have suffered similarly in recent years.

He told The Pillar this week that he’s still unpacking the emotional and psychological scars of his ordeal. In fact, for many Nigerians, dealing with the mental health effects of kidnapping and violence is nearly impossible.

The 39-year-old priest is now working to build O-Trauma Victims Initiative, a project he explained is “for Nigerians help us deal with the trauma that comes with banditry and other forms of violence.”

This is an important project. Read all about it here.


Venerable Fulton Sheen, remember him? He was meant to be beatified — declared formally blessed by the Church, the step before canonization — back in 2019. 

Archbishop Sheen’s cause was shelved after the McCarrick scandal and the Pennsylvania grand jury report kicked off a nationwide series of state investigations into clerical sexual abuse, along with legislation creating windows in the statute of limitations for new lawsuits to be filed — including in Sheen’s former diocese of Rochester, New York.

But, as JD wrote this week, those windows are now closing. And while it was perhaps understandable that Church authorities wanted to hit the pause button four years ago, nothing has emerged since to suggest Sheen cannot be beatified now.

So what were the concerns, what’s happening now, and will Sheen’s cause get back on track? Read all about it here.

Y’all on Instagram

As I was boarding (another) plane yesterday, I stood behind a woman attempting to pout for the camera while juggling her phone and what I assume was an expensive handbag, voguing in what I assume was a high price yoga outfit.

Once on board, I ended up in the row behind her, where she continued to snap herself pulling vaguely bird-like facial expressions which she frantically uploaded as the plane taxied. Sitting next to her was an older woman who, in innocent curiosity, asked what she was doing.

The snap-happy traveler was, she explained, something of a “lifestyle influencer” on Instagram, an app with which I have no personal familiarity, but I more or less understand the concept. She explained to her neighbor that an important part of her schtick is posting pictures of herself “in the wild” wearing designer label brands and carrying their wares. 

Her elderly questioner was even less familiar with the Instagram influencer lifestyle than I am, but she explained it this way: “When people see me wearing these brand’s pieces and carrying their items, it tells them something about me and about the brands, and who we are,” she explained. On that much, I would have to agree with her.

I don’t do Instagram. Maybe it’s because the whole thing strikes me as a vanity exercise aimed at narcissists with short attention spans. Maybe it’s because I am just too old and too cranky to get the hang of it — the number of perfectly sane, normal people I know who use it suggests this could be more likely.

But just because I don’t personally choose to pan through that online river of media slurry doesn’t mean there isn’t the occasional fleck of gold. 

Case in point: I was sent an Instagram link this week by a friend which introduced me to my new favorite minor league baseball team, the Y’alls of Florence, Kentucky.

Here’s the thing, you probably think calling the team the “Y’alls” is some kind of forced-folksy affectation by a Kentucky team. But, as I learned, it’s so much better than that.

The team is actually named after the town water tower, built in 1974 and painted with the words “Florence Mall” to serve as highway advertising for a shopping center set open nearby in 1976. Then the state Bureau of Highways got involved and declared “Florence Mall” to be an illegal thing to paint on the tower because it was advertising something which didn’t yet exist.

Faced with a short deadline to comply with the state order, the town council debated a number of possible solutions, including covering the offending word “Mall” with a tarp. In the end, the mayor — a guy named C.M. “Hop” Ewing — decided on painting a “Y’” over the “M” because it cost less than a third of repainting the whole tower.

It was actually great business. Local media coverage of the story meant that when the mall did open two years later, shoppers caused a traffic jam off the highway.

The tower is still there. And the team, which plays in the independent Frontier League (independent leagues are the sport’s only hope), is still named after it, with the tower as the mascot.

Image via Florence Y’alls

Even better: the Y’alls play at Thomas More Stadium, named after the saint and the local Catholic college which sponsors the park. 

I tell you this: my new goal in life is for The Pillar to one day be big enough to afford naming rights to a minor league ballpark, just for one season. 

If you guys help make that possible, I promise you I will make it happen.

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Think about it — Pillar Park. I’d buy a box for the season on my credit card and make it my office. In the meantime, I’m ordering a Y’alls hat, it’s all we can afford.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

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