BY MICHAEL WARREN DAVIS, SEPTEMBER 3, 2019
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was roundly mocked last week for saying that Millennials are, in fact, the Greatest Generation. And rightly so. By and large, my generation is a waste of its fathers’ seed and a drain on their resources. Culturally, we’re vapid. Socially, we’re maladjusted. Spiritually, we’re lost. Politically, we’re just plain silly.
Had Ms. Ocasio-Cortez been speaking of Millennial Catholics, however, I might be inclined to agree with her.
Of course, most Millennials are “cafeteria Catholics” like our parents. We identify with the Church while rejecting crucial teachings on the Eucharist, sexuality, marriage, and the all-male priesthood. But there are unique signs of renewal among us that should give orthodox Catholics of any age reason to be hopeful.
Courageous young priests like Fr. Eddie Dwyer are offering their brave witness to the traditions of Holy Mother Church. Young men and women are flocking to traditional religious orders. From my own conversations with seminarians, I’d estimate that roughly 1/3 of those ordained in the last year are interested in celebrating the Tridentine Mass.
Political thinkers like Matthew Schmitz and Sohrab Ahmari are bringing Catholic social teaching into the American political debate. Three memoirists have offered moving, penetrating insights into the American experience: the hillbilly transplant J.D. Vance, the Iranian immigrant Ahmari, and the Irish son Michael Brendan Dougherty. All are Catholic, and two are converts.
Progressives in the Church have noticed this trend, too. Massimo Faggioli, a de facto spokesmen for the episcopal establishment, has warned about the rise of “neo-traditionalism” among young Catholics. Austen Ivereigh (another Vatican flak) has dismissed this phenomenon as “convert neurosis”, which is a particularly egregious bit of Bulverism. But at least he doesn’t bother denying that Millennials come to the Church out of concern, not for plastics in the ocean, but for the apostolic Faith.
This is the future of the Church, whether we like it or not. (I happen to like it quite a bit.) The liberal Baby Boomers know this, and it frightens them.
They look at their plain table altars and bare walls, and they still see the cutting-edge of architectural “reform.” They look at the empty niches that once held statues of the Saints of God, the small craters on the floor where altar rails have been torn up… millions of dollars they proudly spent gutting the church in the name of holy simplicity.
The Extraordinary Ministers stump up to the altar in their tracksuits four by four, handing out the Eucharist to the three other retirees who’ve turned out for Sunday Mass, confident in their belief that “lay participation” will swell the pews. They strum their guitars with iron certainty that one more “contemporary worship song” will bring in droves of young families. They line the walls of the cry room with camp drawings of Our Lord cradling sheep, thinking it will help new mothers embrace their segregated status.
They run to the bishop when their new pastor, fresh out of seminary, preaches against abortion or pornography. They demand the parochial vicar assign an older, wiser priest—one who understands the need for homilists to address real social evils, like being mean to gay people or Trump’s border wall. And, if they don’t get their way, they’ll take it upon themselves to drive the young Turk out.
They believe they’re doing the right thing. They believe they’re making the Church “relevant” to future generations of Catholics. And they can’t understand why their son has started attending Mass at the Fraternity parish on the other side of town. They balk when their niece announces at Thanksgiving that she’ll be joining the traditional Carmel in Fairfield.
What began as a radical outgrowth of Vatican II’s drive for a more “engaged” Church has hardened into a flagitious ideology. The means of growth have become an end in themselves, even as they appear to stunt growth.
Maybe these blueheads are addicted to the thrill of radicalism. Maybe they’re too proud to admit their error. Or maybe they really do think it’s only a matter of time until they’re proven right. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that they’re losing. And they know it.
Liberal Catholicism has gone into survival mode. They know they’ve failed to win the hearts and minds of young Catholics—failed utterly. All they can do now is cling to power, by whatever means necessary.
Consider this fact in light of Pope Francis’s announcement on Monday that he’ll be appointing 13 new Cardinals, 10 of whom will be eligible to vote in the next papal conclave. As the hard-Left National Catholic Reporter points out, “As of October 15th [when the appointees officially join the College of Cardinals], assuming there are no unexpected changes, the pontiff will have appointed a clear majority of the prelates: 66 of the 124 electors.” Just 58 will have been appointed by his predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II.
Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s packing the Supreme Court with yes-men to advance his unconstitutional agenda, Francis is stacking out the College with loyalists to advance his own New Deal for Holy Mother Church.
The latest batch of appointees is one of the Holy Father’s most blatantly political to date. The infamous Fr. James Martin, SJ, boasted on Twitter that one of the new cardinals-elect, Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, is “a great supporter of LGBT Catholics” and wrote the forward for the Italian edition of his book, Building a Bridge.
Three of the Pope’s fellow Jesuits number among the appointees. One is Fr. Michael Czerny, SJ, who heads the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development. (A weird page on the MRS’s website proclaims Francis to be “the People’s Pope.”) What outstanding accomplishments Fr. Czerny claims in the two and a half years since the Section was founded isn’t clear. As it happens, Fr. Czerny is also one of two special secretaries for the Amazon Synod.
From the beginning, the Pope has proven his willingness to appoint cardinals, not on their merits, but according to their loyalty to his person and agenda. The most glaring examples come from the United States.
Take Cardinal Blase Cupich. As Bishop of Spokane, he attracted massive criticism from his own flock for discouraging priests and seminarians from participating in 40 Days for Life rallies. Even the liberal blogger Mark Shea gave then-Bishop Cupich a drumming, saying that he “deliberately spits in the eye of the most dedicated and loyal Catholics.” All this, as Shea points out, transpired after he’d “just taken over a diocese that’s been through the ringer financially due to abuse lawsuits.”
Still, at the earliest possible opportunity, Francis named Cupich as Archbishop of Chicago, the third-largest diocese in the country. He was appointed to the College two years and one day later.
Cardinal Cupich’s M.O.—ignoring clerical sex abuse in favor of advancing a politically left-wing agenda—came in handy when Francis was accused of dragging his feet in redressing the scandal caused by revelations that then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was a serial predator. It was Cupich who famously declared that the Holy Father had to “get on with other things,” like “talking about the environment and protecting migrants.”
Then there’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin. After an unremarkable stint as Archbishop of Indianapolis, Tobin was named the Archdiocese of Newark, the 9th-largest diocese in the country; he appointed to the College before he even took the throne in Jersey.
It has now been confirmed that Tobin knew about the allegations against McCarrick, who’d previously served as Archbishop of Newark. But Cardinal Tobin is an avid supporter of Francis’s agenda—and Fr. Martin’s, whose book he once called “brave, prophetic, and inspiring.”
These are the men who will choose the next Pope. By stacking out the College of Cardinals, Francis has all but ensured that his successor will be cast from the same mold. Pope Francis II can then, in turn, can ensure that the conclave after that elects Francis III… and so on and so on, in saecula saeculorum.
In other words, the papacy is now insulated against the Church’s shift back to tradition. 99.9 percent of priests may be theologically orthodox, liturgically traditionalist, and politically conservative. It woen’t make a difference so far as the Vatican is concerned. As long as there are roughly 100 to 150 liberals in the priestly ranks, they can occupy the College of Cardinals and control every successive papal conclave without any serious challenge to their dominance.
They’ll be unpopular with the laity. They’ll be unpopular with diocesan priests. They may even be unpopular with a majority of bishops. But the Church isn’t a democracy, and so it won’t matter one jot.
The liberals had one chance for surviving into the next century, and they took it.
Orthodox Catholics have just one hope for breaking the liberals’ stranglehold over the College of Cardinals. It’s the same hope to which the Church has clung for dear life since Our Lord was laid in the tomb: the direct, supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit.
Pray that a majority of Francis’s appointees see that liberal Catholicism is responsible for the mass exodus from the pews, the staggering failure of catechesis, and our total collapse on moral issues. Pray that they place the good of our Holy Mother above their own ideological posturing.
In such an eventuality, Cardinal Robert Sarah may prove to be surprisingly papabile. He’s a traditionalist, and yet he has remained aloof from the more overt polemical disputes raging among the Vatican’s top brass. He hails from West Africa, making him an able representative of the developing world, where the Church sees its fastest growth. And (not that it should matter) many cardinals, conservative and liberal alike, would relish the chance to elect the first black pope.
Cardinal Sarah, or someone very much like him, would be an easy “compromise candidate” for prelates who rose to power on Francis’s coattails but nevertheless realize that liberal Catholicism is a walking corpse. Anyway, it’s the only chance we have now to reclaim the papacy for the orthodox Faith and make it truly relevant to the next generation of Catholics.
Pray, my friends. And pray hard.
Michael Warren Davis is the editor of Crisis magazine and host of The Crisis Point podcast.