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The Mother of God, news from Knoxville, and all the news

Hey everybody,

Today is the optional memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria, and you’re reading The Tuesday Pillar Post.

Cyril was the Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, in the 5th century of the Church’s life. He was, in my view, a complicated man with a complicated ecclesiastical life, which deserves a better telling than the prelude to a newsletter allows for.

St. Cyril of Alexandria.

But Cyril is best known for his impassioned theological feud with Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, who claimed that Mary was the mother of Christ’s human nature, but not the mother of God — and elaborated with a Christology that denied the hypostatic union of Christ’s humanity and divinity in one person.

When Nestorius started teaching that stuff, Cyril flipped his lid — Benedict XVI wrote that Cyril “left no stone unturned” in his opposition to Nestorius’ Christological claims. And his work to address those claims led him to eventually see Nestorius’ beliefs condemned, both by the Apostolic See and by the Council of Ephesus in 431.

“It is essential to explain the teaching and interpretation of the faith to the people in the most irreproachable way, and to remember that those who cause scandal even to only one of the little ones who believe in Christ will be subjected to an unbearable punishment,” Cyril warned Nestorius.

Still, Cyril wasn’t only a guardian against Christian heresy. He was actually known throughout his episcopacy for working to forge communion and collaboration among bishops and faithful believers.

“On the one hand is the clarity of the doctrine of faith, but in addition, on the other, the intense search for unity and reconciliation,” Benedict XVI wrote of Cyril.

I think there’s something worth reflecting on there.

Cyril was known, rightly, as “the guardian of exactitude," and the “guardian of the true faith.” He sought “continuity with the Apostles and with Christ himself,” Benedict wrote.

At the very same time, he wanted the truth to be the source of unity, of transformation in holiness, and of the creative, faithful, and joyful proclamation of the Gospel. One might even call him a model of “synodality” — desiring both orthodoxy and transformative Christian communion.

"Christ forms us in his image so that the features of his divine nature will shine in us through sanctification, justice, and a good life in conformity with virtue. The beauty of this image shines in us who are in Christ, when we show ourselves to be good people through our deeds," Cyril wrote.

The features of the divine nature can shine in us. The beauty of the image of God, made manifest in our own lives of discipleship.

We should each hope for that kind of resplendent holiness. And may the Mother of God — whom Cyril defended and loved — intercede for us to that end.

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The news

Speaking of bishops:

Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, resigned from office this morning, after years of turmoil over the bishop’s interference in a review board investigation into sexual abuse allegations against a seminarian of the diocese.

The bishop actually admitted in 2021 — to me, in a conversation in his cathedral sacristy — that he interfered with that investigation, because he said that he “knew in [his] heart” that the seminarian was innocent, despite the fact that he’d been accused of sexual assault or harassment at least four times, and been expelled from a seminary over some of those allegations. The Pillar’s investigation of the subject eventually uncovered that Stika had given thousands in gifts from diocesan funds to that seminarian, who periodically lived in Stika’s house.  

But those aren’t the only issues that plagued Stika in the years during which he was under a series of Vatican investigations — the bishop was accused of mishandling other sexual misconduct allegations, and of serious financial misconduct, including a canonically illicit 25% tax of parish PPP funds, for which he did not consult the diocesan presbyteral council.

As you probably know, news of misconduct in Knoxville, Tennessee, was first reported by The Pillar, and The Pillar has extensively covered the issues in the diocese since. Now that things have reached this step, I think there will be some analysis to do on what happened and what it means, but first, we’ll do some reporting today on what the priests of Knoxville have to say.

And in a surprising disclosure Tuesday morning, Stika told a local journalist this morning that he was a victim of sexual abuse by a priest when he was a teenager, while he denied that he had covered up sexual abuse in the diocese. The bishop does not appear to have publicly disclosed that previously.

The only comment I’ll make now is this: At every step of the way, the Holy See has refused to comment on its investigations into Stika, and refused even to confirm them. Priests who participated in an apostolic visitation had to sign non-disclosure agreements. Despite his 2021 admission of administrative misconduct, Stika said this morning that he was resigning for health reasons.

The outcome — Stika’s resignation — may well serve justice for the people of East Tennessee. But the process bespeaks that the Church’s promises of administrative reform still have a ways to go — and the people, and priests, of Knoxville have suffered a lot of anguish and grief over the process they’ve experienced. I know priests who have suffered tremendously, in fact.

In light of that, the facts of this case — which point to the need for ecclesial reform on several fronts — are publicly known only thanks to you all. The Pillar has covered this story carefully, because we believe it is significant in its own right, and significant as a kind of test-of-concept for the Church’s reform policies. We’ve only done that coverage because of the many, many, people who are on our team — namely, you.

So thank you. 

Please, seriously, stop for a minute and say a prayer for the Catholic people and clergy of East Tennessee. There’s a long way to go in that diocese. Perhaps ask St. Cyril to pray for them. Our family will pray the rosary today for the people of East Tennessee — maybe you’ll join us. 

And if you want to see more of the careful, deliberative, serious Catholic journalism that makes a change, well, support The Pillar, while we try to do just that. There’s a lot to cover in the Church, and we’re just getting started.

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Speaking of apostolic visitations, The Pillar confirmed over the weekend that Bishop Joseph Strickland is subject to a Vatican-ordered visitation in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.

Strickland, of course, is one of the most outsized personalities in the American episcopate, and has a penchant for attracting attention on Twitter, where the bishop has built a very large following. He is an outspoken critic of Pope Francis, publicly disagreed with the Holy See over the ethics of vaccines, and has often voiced support online for the cadre of conservative priests — most notably Fr. James Altman — who identify themselves as “canceled,” amid various kinds of disputes with their own bishops.

Predictably, news of the visitation has been framed in much reporting as a kind of political purge by the Holy See of an outspoken papal critic. And it can’t be denied that Strickland’s personality has probably put him on the radar in Rome, and that his public statements have been regularly the source of both controversy and Vatican ire. 

Indeed, one (conservative-leaning) bishop told me over the weekend, Strickland “did this to himself,” by virtue of his public profile.

But at the same time, our conversations with priests and other officials in the Tyler diocese say there’s more to the story — that, from their view, it would be a mistake to see this as a kind of merely political defenestration, because, they say, there are real issues in the governance of the Tyler diocese which need to be addressed.

Ed and I have been busying ourselves this week trying to flesh that out. We spent much of yesterday digging into various rabbit holes, trying to pull out some facts.

Here’s what I would suggest: Most people paying attention to ecclesiastical news already have a strong opinion on what’s happening in Tyler. That’s to be expected. But we still have a relative paucity of facts — and, let’s be honest, the Holy See itself is not going to be forthcoming with them.

So it might behoove everyone watching l’affaire Tyler to wait just a minute, and let’s see if we can work loose some facts. 

I’m not saying we shouldn’t eventually draw whatever conclusions we should draw, nor that we should be Pollyannaish — but it would be good to try, inasmuch as our passions will allow, to inform our perspectives with as much information as can be attained.  

And if you’re one of the Tyler-adjacent folks with whom we’ve been hoping to speak, well, listen, help us serve the truth here. You know where to find us.

In the meantime, you can read what is known right here.


In Nigeria’s Plateau state, attacks on Christian villages have killed more than 30 people this month, razed villages, and displaced thousands.

The Pillar’s Nigeria correspondent, Fr. Justine Dyikuk, brings us the latest in the onslaught against Christians in northern Nigeria — which local leaders call a genocide, begging for relief.

And it’s my experience that stories like this can seem almost incomprehensible — that the magnitude of the tragedy is often too great to grasp.

So The Pillar talked this month with a 36-year-old woman — a mother of two — who was kidnapped by an armed criminal gang in the Niger state of Nigeria and held captive for ransom.

The woman told us about marching at gunpoint for three days, about negotiating a ransom, and about allegedly government helicopters supplying ammunition and guns to her abductors. 

You can read her account here. It moves me to prayer for the Church in Nigeria.

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Here’s an interesting story: On the border between the state of North Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba is a park, which is in a kind of a no-man's-land, requiring a passport for entry from both sides.

Since 1960, local Knights of Columbus on both sides of the border have held an annual Mass in that park, designed to foster friendship and solidarity in Jesus Christ. Lovely, really.

This year, though, the Mass is scheduled to be held in the park’s “Masonic Auditorium,” built and owned by Masonic “Grand Lodges,” and the home of a Masonic “lodge,” or chapter, of its own.

Now, the Church has said for centuries that Freemasonry, a kind of Enlightenment movement of fraternal organizations, has at its root deep and serious anti-Catholicism, and promotes both religious indifferentism and hatred of the faith. Catholics are forbidden to become Masons — and the Knights of Columbus was founded in part to offer Catholics a fraternal and social welfare movement of their own, to deter membership in the Freemasons.

In short, Masonry is a forbidden society in the Church, and Pope Francis has even recently reaffirmed that position.

Nevertheless, this local Mass will be held in a Masonic lodge. And no one quite knows why. An official in the Archdiocese of Winnipeg told The Pillar that the Winnipeg archdiocese was taken by surprise to learn that Mass was scheduled to be offered in the meeting hall of a forbidden society, and is trying to get that resolved. 

My guess is that this is a bit of a hiccup from well-meaning organizers, and can be resolved. But it’s raised some questions, and to date, the answers aren’t forthcoming.

So we’ll see what happens. And you can read about it — and why the Church opposes membership in Masonic lodges — right here.

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If you’ve been following it, here’s the latest in the ongoing liturgical controversy of India’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, where clerics and laity of one diocese have stood firm in opposition to the Church’s efforts to see a unified form of the liturgy celebrated, which honors the Eastern liturgy’s immemorial tradition of ad orientem celebration.

Believe it or not, controversy over liturgical posture — and a deep cultural and theological rift it represents — has led to street brawls, hunger strikes, and the burning of cardinals in effigy in India.

But Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, apostolic administrator of the Ernakulam–Angamaly archdiocese, issued an ultimatum last week, promising to dissolve his cathedral’s parish council if they continue to lead efforts to block the celebration of the “uniform mode” of the Syro-Malabar Eucharistic liturgy, which is known as the Holy Qurbana.

That cathedral, by the way, was closed by police in December, after a clash between supporters and opponents of the new liturgy, during which the church’s altar was pushed across the sanctuary, sending sacred vessels crashing to the ground.

Whether this new effort will bear fruit remains to be seen. But here’s where things stand for the Syro-Malabars.

Syro-Malabar Catholics hold a protest calling for the reopening of St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam, India, on June 12, 2023. Courtesy photo.

Finally, Pope Francis has asked Catholics worldwide to dedicate June to praying for the abolition of torture

So we at The Pillar spoke Monday with Alice Jill Edwards, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Edwards spoke about whether the pope’s appeal for the abolition of torture was realistic, if the Russian government is responsible for torture in Ukraine, and whether China and India are making progress in eradicating the practice. 

Read it here.


Saturday was the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which ended federal protection for abortion in the United States. I found this essay from Notre Dame professor Carter Snead worth reading on the subject. You might as well.

And if you’ll permit me, I’d like to commend to you this recently released biography of Blessed Carlo Acutis, “A Saint in Sneakers,” from friend of The Pillar Courtney Mares. Courtney is a very fine Rome-based journalist, who has done a very nice job on an authoritative account of the life of Blessed Carlo Acutis. 

Also, since we’ve all been thinking about how unbelievably deep the ocean is, here’s a scroller that puts things into perspective. I’ve shared this before, but it’s probably pretty timely right now.

And on that note, here’s Shelly Winters holding her breath for a stressfully long period of time:

And a free diver jumping into the abyss:

Heading to camp

There will be no Tuesday Pillar Post next Tuesday, which is the Fourth of July. I will be going with my son Max to Camp Wojtyla, a Catholic outdoor adventure camp in the Rocky Mountains, and so I will be taking the week off, barring some kind of Church emergency. 

I’ll also be taking much of tomorrow off, because it’s my son’s sixth birthday, and we’re going to take him to what passes for a beach in Colorado — namely, a slope of rocks and dirt leading into a very cold lake. The good news is that he has no idea that isn’t what everyone thinks of as a beach. Please don’t tell him.

As it happens, while I will have some time off in July, Michelle is off this week, and Luke will be taking some vacation in August. So while we have a lot of journalism to work on right now, the pace of output will slow a little bit over these next months of summer. 

I hope you get outside some this summer too.

In the meantime, look for a lot of good journalism coming your way in the days to come. 

Join me in praying for the Church. Be assured of our prayers. And please pray for us — we need it.

Yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar  

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