The bishops of the Church today face the most difficult crisis in the entire history of the Church — a crisis greatly magnified by a series of crises layered one upon another, a crisis that manifests on every level of the Church's existence: spiritual, ecclesiological, theological, liturgical and pastoral. But the bishops, successors of the 12 Apostles of Christ, also have great potential to transform the Church and the world.
In this letter, I propose to give a brief outline of the origin of the bishops' Office, the range of challenges which confront the bishops, the heart of the present crisis, the spiritual danger that souls are facing, and, last but not least, the power and efficacy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the year 33 AD our Lord Jesus Christ, having risen from the dead, ascended into Heaven in the sight of His holy Mother Mary and His Apostles and was seated at the right hand of the Father. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit came upon them amid the sound of a rushing wind and tongues of fire that sat upon their heads.
The 12 Apostles were empowered to teach the gospel, govern the Church, sanctify souls for Heaven, and to pass on their mission in an unbroken succession of shepherds until the end of the world.
The Apostles launched their evangelical mission with little more than the rigorous training, the spiritual gifts, and the divine authority which Christ had bestowed upon them. The Church they helped to establish (Ephesians 2:20) had, within three centuries, transformed virtually the entire world.
Fast forward 2,000 years, and it appears that today there are powerful forces both in the world and in the Church hierarchy that would seek to reverse everything the Apostles worked so hard to establish.
From the Second Vatican Council; to the effects of the sexual revolution; to the threat of totalitarian regimes; to the ever-widening influence of relativistic ideologies; to the advent of Pope Francis; to the widespread contestation of the definition of marriage; to the present day COVID crisis, the Church has suffered so many assaults within the space of just a few, short decades.
The Church is being tossed to and fro in a severe storm that threatens Her very life, the teaching of the Faith, the objectivity of moral values, authentic pastoral practice and, it seems, the very foundation of Her divine authority.
Will She survive? Will She emerge unscathed?
When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8)
Today we are witnessing a world thoroughly shaken by an alleged health crisis.
Given the near-global response to the virus, as the life and activities of the Church have undergone significant reconfiguration, the nature of the Church and Her relationship to Her children are implicitly called into question.
But who is pulling the strings of history? Is it the global elites who seek to build an earthly utopia on their own terms and conditions? Or is the COVID response team simply reacting to a worldwide health crisis? Or is it fair to say that, in the greater scheme of things, any and all such maneuvers and machinations, regardless of their origin and purpose, are subordinate to the omniscience and omnipotence of a benevolent God, who determines the real course of history in mysterious ways?
Whatever you think about these matters, what is undeniable today is that we are witnessing the most universal and pervasive forms of intervention in the state of human affairs that the world has ever seen.
So what is really happening? Is the pandemic really real?
There are basically two competing narratives playing out on the world stage.
On the one hand, there is a narrative that says the new coronavirus is highly dangerous; that we ought to practice widespread lockdown measures in order to save lives and to completely eradicate the virus from society; and that we ought to suffer whatever the cost to our social, economic and political freedoms in the meantime.
This idea was based upon theoretical contagion models — not on real data — which predicted millions and then tens of millions of deaths, was widely promoted by the mainstream media, and was acted upon by (most) governments.
On the other hand, there is another narrative, supported by many scientists and medical experts, which claims that the coronavirus is only about as dangerous as the common flu, that you cannot possibly eradicate it completely from society (no matter how many lockdowns you enforce), and that widespread lockdown measures have caused far more damage than the virus could ever have done.
A large number of governments together with the mainstream media are opposed to this narrative — so much so that many of us have long stared with wide-eyed fascination at how insular the COVID Response Team has been to the well-researched and highly reputable opinions of renowned scientists and top medical experts from around the world.
The list is enormously long but it is worth mentioning a few of them
In May 2020 the United Kingdom's chief medical officer confirmed that COVID-19 is "harmless to the majority" of people.
Also in May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement saying that coronavirus is "nowhere near as lethal as earlier [theoretical] models claimed."
In August, the head immunologist at Tel Aviv University revealed that 99.99% of the world's population has survived COVID-19.
And from a medical report in September 2020: "According to the latest immunological studies, the overall lethality of COVID-19 (IFR) in the general population ranges between 0.1% and 0.5% in most countries, which is comparable to the medium influenza pandemics of 1957 and 1968."
Early in October, 9,000 medical professionals signed a joint document strongly criticizing the lockdowns. One could multiply such corroborating reports almost endlessly.
Which of these two narratives will prevail, in the final analysis? That remains to be seen.
But let's assume for a moment — just for argument's sake — that there is a real pandemic. What would that mean for the Church?
Even if there were a real pandemic, could the bishops actually relinquish their responsibility for the care of souls — a responsibility they have assumed in the eyes of God? Could the bishops' God-given mandate to save souls be justifiably subordinated to the strictures and demands of a health crisis? Would souls have less need of God in the event of a health crisis?
Let us acknowledge, the choice to close or to restrict Church services in the event of a health crisis is to subordinate the care of the soul to the care of the body, and effectively to reverse the order of priorities mandated by our Lord Jesus Himself: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell" (Matthew 10:28).
Such a reversal of priorities has consequences for the understanding of the nature of the Church. It reaches deep into the life and consciousness of the Church, undermining traditional doctrines regarding the Divine foundation of the Church, her God-given authority and her God-given mission.
If the subordination of the soul to the body continues it will lead, sooner or later, to the complete subordination of the Church to the State, forsaking obedience to her Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
When the doors of the Church are closed in the face of believers, this fosters an insinuation that the holy Mass and other Church services are no longer "essential."
When masks are mandated in Church, this is counterproductive because, according to Scripture, we come together as the Body of Christ so that "with unveiled faces we may behold the glory of the living God" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
When believers are denied Holy Communion on the tongue it robs them of a precious opportunity to express due reverence, devotion and love for the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist.
When Church services are canceled, this deprives the faithful of coming into the sacramental presence of God and worshipping God.
When the bishops are all too ready to capitulate to widespread Church restrictions and closures — never before witnessed on such a scale in 2,000 years of Church history — this cannot but give a subtle impression that the Church has been transformed into a social institution, an instrument of the State, and has implicitly denied her divine constitution.
Such a reconfiguration of the life and activity of the Church cannot help but insinuate that the Church is, in essence, subject to change; that she is no longer the custodian of the Revelation of Jesus Christ; that her role in the economy of salvation is nonessential.
In the face of such wholesale surrender to the State, will the Church ever recover her rightful place in society? How many souls will be able to withstand the COVID Persecution? How many will emerge with a living faith?
This assault on the Faith is rendered all the more dangerous because it follows upon the heels of decades of spiritual devastation: For at least two or three generations, vast numbers of Catholics have been deprived of authentic catechesis, secular ideologies have been quietly invading the life of the Church, moral values are ridiculed or altogether abandoned and the gospel often suffers dilution and compromise.
The Church cannot serve both God and the world. She must choose one or the other.
The Lord Jesus said that we are "in the world" but not "of the world" (John 17: 11–19). And the Apostle John wrote: "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15).
But we might ask: Ought not the Church to love the world, as "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16)?
Here we come face to face with a profound paradox — a paradox that we ought to embrace rather than surrender to an unholy compromise with the world.
As G.K. Chesterton famously wrote in Orthodoxy, can a man "hate [the world] enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?"
Ever since Vatican II, when Pope John XXIII's fundamental impulse was to bring the Church up to date with the times (aggiornamento), the Church adopted what can rightly be called an ambivalent attitude towards the world — an attitude that has rarely been clarified or set right.
Can the Church both love and not love the world at the same time? Yes, but each in a different sense. The Church ought to conform Herself, not to the world, but to Christ for the sanctification of the world.
Any suggestion or hint that the Church could possibly learn from the world in matters pertaining to the salvation of souls is not only unwise but thoroughly and grievously mistaken.
It was the Council's compromise on this point, explicit or implicit, that introduced a basic disorientation into the heart of the Church, a festering wound that has spawned a multitude of errors and heterodox tendencies.
Saint Paul reminds us: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).
The basic orientation of the Church to the world will feed into everything: the Church's faith, doctrines, moral teaching, pastoral practice — everything!
Vatican II's ambivalent embrace of the world is complicated even further by the advent of Pope Francis, who demonstrates, intentionally or unintentionally, a strong and consistent tendency to engage with heterodoxy.
The bishops have a grave responsibility to remind Pope Francis what the First Vatican Council taught clearly and unequivocally: "For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or Deposit of Faith transmitted by the Apostles" (session 4, chapter 4, paragraph 6).
For all the above reasons, what we are now witnessing is a silent, spiritual holocaust — the holocaust of multitudes of vulnerable and unsuspecting souls on the altar of the bishops' silent complicity with the world.
How many will survive?
The Lord declared: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you as My priests. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children" (Hosea 4:6).
Jesus said, "The truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
Christ came "neither to condemn us in our sins nor to condone our sins, but to save us from them," as a faithful priest once said. Hell is real. Salvation is real. The Lord takes no pleasure in "the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live." (Ezekiel 33:11)
These truths do not change with the passage of time.
Today in the midst of this crisis, as one crisis has been added to another and again to another, the Church has need of bishops and priests who will be like the Apostles — their predecessors — who transformed the world by the witness of their word, and most often by the witness of their blood, the Holy Spirit working through them with great signs and wonders.
There is no challenge, obstacle or difficulty that could prevent our shepherds from achieving what the 12 Apostles achieved.
Saint Paul testified, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).
The gospel is "ever ancient and ever new," the fruit of God's Self-revelation in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the fount of eternal salvation.
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8) — His message does not change with the changing times.
When proclaimed in its purity and entirety, the gospel exerts a powerful attraction on the soul — because the soul hungers, consciously or unconsciously, for the word of the Lord, for the truth that will set it free, for the fruits of the Redemption which Christ paid for with His own Blood.
This is not to say that the bishops are entirely missing in action. A few cardinals and bishops have been strongly vocal about the rights, duties, and needs of the Church. But the majority are still silent — so much so that recently Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò noted that such silence is "deafening."
When Peter and John were hauled before the council of priests and high priests they were commanded "not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18).
But Peter and John responded: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19).
What will the bishops now say?
We need you, the successors of the Apostles, to rise to the occasion. The Lord is waiting for you. The Church is waiting for you. The world needs your unfailing witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.