Welcome, friends, to the Friday edition of The Pillar Post in your inbox.
Our first week since launching on Monday has been an unexpected series of events. JD and I were not, to begin with, expecting the outpouring of support that we have received from so many of you, both online and directly. It has been a surprising and humbling few days in that regard.
It has also been a rather more dramatic week of news than we were expecting, especially here in Washington, D.C., where I am based.
So, let’s begin with the major event of the week.
On Wednesday, the “Stop the Steal” protest and march, egged on by politicians and other public figures, made its way to the Capitol before several hundred - we think - protestors forced their way inside.
A lot of ink has been and will be spilled over the details of exactly what went on, and the damage that was done both to the building itself and, more important, to our society. JD and I both had some thoughts, which we published Thursday morning.
JD made the point that political violence is the crescendo of a cultural crisis that has been building for a long time, and has had effect within the Church’s life.
As he put it:
This is manifest in several iterations: One is the kind of relativistic Catholicism embodied by incoming President Joe Biden, which takes up some of the symbols and shibboleths of the faith as a kind of tribal identity, while comfortably rejecting Catholic doctrine on abortion as a means to power.
The other is the kind of political messianism espoused by Archbishop Carlo Vigano, which jumbles temporal political aims and far-reaching conspiracy theories with Christian identity, confusing partisanship with membership in the mystical body of Christ.
No matter their “team,” Catholics have become as prone as everyone else to seeing the world through an entirely political lens, which seems to make political victories a near divine imperative, and the mission of authentic Christian life.
JD suggests that the answer, at least for the Church, is a rediscovery of the eschatology - the knowledge that the world as we know it is destined to give way to the Kingdom of Heaven, which is not of this world. Even if our temporal order will, eventually, right itself and the current unrest die down, we need to set more immediately before our eyes the priority of evangelization.
For myself, I agree with JD that the Church has an urgent need to reassess how it speaks, both to its members and to civic society. Catholics, too, need to take a long hard look at themselves in the “national examination of conscience” Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles called for on Wednesday night.
For several years, the U.S. bishops have issued a pre-election document called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” meant as a practical handbook for Catholics as they vote.
I would suggest that our society is now as bitterly divided as it has ever been, and, tragically, those social divides run right through our dioceses and parishes. Forming consciences for faithful citizenship is now a screamingly urgent pastoral priority for the Church across the whole country, and one I hope the bishops will take up.
But if they do, they will need to contend with the new challenge of a burgeoning social media class of Catholics who have made their bones, and built their followings, by marrying opposition to Church authority with a hyper-partisan strain of politics.
Their role, from appearing on stage with conspiracy theorists, to sharing a platform with evangelicals who insist - insist - that Donald Trump is God’s anointed leader, will need to be reckoned with, as will the effort needed to respond to their influence.
Like it or not, they have the eyes and ears of an ever-growing number of young Catholics.
Of course, writing about the Church and American politics was not what we intended our first week to be about. On to more ecclesial affairs:
On Wednesday morning, we had a detailed investigative piece on the ever-evolving Vatican financial scandal. The relationship between several unsavory Italian businessmen and the Vatican Secretariat of State looks to have cost the Church hundreds of millions, if not billions, of euros over the last several years.
At the center of several of the overlapping narratives is the Vatican’s purchase of a London property development for more than $350 million in 2018. That deal has already led to multiple police raids, and the suspension of several Vatican officials including, depending on how you read the events, a serving curial cardinal. It also led to the arrest, earlier this year, of the middleman charged with managing the sale for the Vatican, Gianluigi Torzi.
Torzi has been charged with extortion by Vatican prosecutors, and, as we report this week, we have uncovered details on why he likely faces the charge.
There will be more on this story, and how it relates to the entire Vatican financial saga, next week - stay tuned.
On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that Fr. Michael Pfleger, a well-know, locally famous even, priest was removed from active ministry after a single accusation of sexual abuse of a minor was made, dating back some 40 years.
Historical allegations, especially when there is only one, present a legal and administrative nightmare for many diocesan chanceries. How do you prove something happened, or didn’t, 40 years after the fact? What do you do if you can’t prove anything either way?
JD looked at the canonical legal process for investigating these allegations, and its limitations, and pointed out that many priests who can be neither convicted nor exonerated end up in a kind of clerical limbo - part of a group known in a lot of dioceses as “the unassignables.”
Read the whole thing and ask yourself a difficult question: What is justice in these circumstances?
As we head into the weekend, a final note on The Pillar Podcast: it is now up on Apple Podcasts, and in process to be available across all the other usual apps and platforms in the next week or so. We also hope that our second full episode will be up today, though it may be Saturday morning - our apologies.
We are still getting used to flying solo on the technology and we will be aiming for a regular Friday drop in future -we promise.
I want to end by thanking you again for signing up and for supporting The Pillar in our first week, and to especially thank those of you who have opted to support us financially as well.
We started The Pillar to make space for the kind of long form, investigative work that we are pouring much of our days into. We will keep publishing those stories as and when we get to the bottom of them, but rest assured we are working away at them all the time.
In the meantime, we will continue to bend every effort towards producing news and analysis of the Catholic world which assumes nothing but the faith, and favors nothing but the truth.
See you next week, behave yourselves.