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We are in Texas, on assignment for a couple of days, but the Fr. Frank Pavone story is still dominating headlines in the Catholic world. The way the Church has handled this case has done nothing except continue to erode trust in the bishops.
That they can't see that (what everyone else clearly sees) is extremely disturbing. But then again, this is how these men operate. Nothing is ever transparent. Almost nothing is done above board. You can't get a straight answer about anything out of anyone attached to the establishment.
Without my speaking to specifics of the ruling from Rome that Frank Pavone has been laicized, look at everything else surrounding this case. As we discussed yesterday in The Vortex, a letter to the bishops from apostolic nuncio Abp. Christophe Pierre was leaked from inside to the Catholic News Agency.
Why? What was the purpose of leaking that letter? Who leaked it, even before Pavone or his canonist had been informed of the Holy See's decision (which had been made a whole month earlier)? Bad form, fellows, even for your lot. Imagine being delivered a death sentence, which laicization is for a priest, and everyone else knowing it before you. And then, broadening the circle, we have to engage in some what-about questions. What about James Martin and his case compared to Frank Pavone's? That is a more than fair comparison to be made.
In the nuncio's letter to the U.S. bishops, he included some talking points to them to ward off criticism from laity he correctly anticipated would lose their minds once the news got around that Fr. Frank Pavone is no longer "Father." In his talking points to the bishops, he made sure to include that they tell the faithful he had been found guilty of "persistent disobedience of the lawful instruction of his diocesan bishop."
OK, let's, for the moment, say all of that is true. Let's say there was no backroom stuff going on, no sideways discussions in the halls of the USCCB, and that Pavone's work in the pro-life movement was not a huge thorn and even source of embarrassment for the hierarchy that doesn't seem to care one iota about the evil of abortion. Let's say that Pavone's involvement in the Trump (who many of the bishops loathe) campaign had no involvement whatsoever in any of this.
If the standard for kicking a priest out of the priesthood is "persistent disobedience," then it seems like justice demands that the standard be applied evenly — which brings us to the case of James Martin. While Pavone was dumped for persistent disobedience to his bishop, does not the question arise, in the case of James Martin, that a priest can be persistently disobedient to Christ?
After all, and though it may come as a shock to various members of the hierarchy, the Son of God does actually outrank them. When a priest is disobedient to a bishop, that bishop's authority comes from Christ, so it is, in the end, disobedience to Christ, which, of course, all sin ultimately is by everyone. So what about the case of James Martin, who makes a living blurring the truth of Christ, the Supreme Shepherd?
Martin's "expertise" is in sodomy, specifically, and homosexuality, generally. He constantly and purposefully conflates the lines between the sin of sodomy and the condition of homosexuality. And he has made a career of walking right up to the line, as close as possible, hundreds of times, with the deliberate intent of confusing the faithful.
For example, a while back, Martin, who is prolific in his tweets and social media postings in constantly undermining Church teaching, went after Sacred Scripture. He tweeted this: "Where the Bible mentions [same-sex sexual] behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct. The Bible sanctioned slavery as well and nowhere attacked it as unjust."
The issue is whether the Bible is right. Seriously? Well, if there is an "issue," it would necessarily include, by Martin's own words, the possibility that Scripture is wrong. That is the whole point of that tweet, after all. How on God's green earth is that not heresy? How is that not disobedience — not to a local shepherd, but to the Supreme Shepherd?
Martin has hundreds of thousands of people following him on social media. There isn't a Catholic with knowledge of him, who doesn't know all this about him — that he undermines the Church's teaching at every turn. He leads souls astray, by his vague yet thinly veiled attacks on the inerrancy of Scripture and the Church's moral teaching — infallible, divinely protected moral teaching, by the way, bishops.
Yet no bishop ever confronts this man — none of them. I did, when in Rome, back in the run-up to the Amazon Synod and the ugliness of the whole Pachamama garbage. I walked right up to Martin and confronted him about his "preaching." He tried to employ charm and smile and deflect, but I didn't let him off the hook. I have no authority over Martin. So if a layman can do that, why can't a bishop (any bishop), the Church, the pope, anyone in authority over him, his superior? This double standard not only looks bad — it is bad.
And people of goodwill look at all this and rightly protest not necessarily the decision to kick out Fr. Pavone (a decision shrouded in secrecy and God knows what else, including the possibility of ill will) but the hypocrisy of saying disobedience to a local bishop is so bad, but disobedience to the teachings of the Church — not so much.
That is what is at the heart of the outrage. And bishops, that outrage is merited and your lot owns every bit of it. You are detestable cowards who run the Church like your own private fiefdom. That doesn't mean you don't have the authority — you absolutely do. But your abuse of that authority will damn the lot of you. Just as any other person who betrays a trust, an authority, an oath. Repent, or die in your sins. And no amount of talking points or a nice little memo from a nuncio will get a hearing at your judgment.
James Martin needs to be kicked out of the priesthood, and someone needs to file a canon law case against him for heresy. Heresy is far worse than blasphemy. The bishops won't because he's one of them. That will not bode well when they are being charged by the Supreme Shepherd with disobedience to Him.