Two organizers for the February 2019 Vatican meeting on sexual abuse, Cardinal Blasé Cupich of the United States and Archbishop Scicluna of Malta, have remarked: “This meeting has to be understood as part of a long-term commitment to reform, realizing that one meeting will not solve every issue” (Cardinal Cupich); and, “[I]t is a very important start of a global process which will take quite some time to perfect” (Archbishop Scicluna).
Two clues from on high? “Long-term”, a “perfect process”? Will an indeterminate process itself replace any clarity of message or action?
Which makes me wonder: What if St. Augustine were a February organizer? Living in a disrupted time very much like our own—what would he say to us?
As a converted man, might Augustine remind us that while conversion does take time, it also involves a tipping point? Deeper and different than any “process” or even “reform” is conversion. Turning around. For Augustine, at the age of thirty-three in late summer 386 A.D., this moment came finally with something so simple as the singing of a child: “take up and read” (Confessions, Bk. 8, Ch. 12).
A penitent in deed more than words, might Augustine recall for us how he dropped any further “accompaniment” of his concubine of thirteen years, rather than molding reality toward any more “inclusive” mythology? And noting the fig-leaf euphemism of “clericalism,” he surely would not dilute his soliloquy with God to say: “O Lord, make me less clerical, but not yet.”
As a man who knew the entwining “force of habit,” Augustine pleads in his Confessions, “Let me be for a little while” and then a little while “stretched out for a long time” (Book 8, Ch. 5). Almost sounds like an archbishop who beckons his brother clerics, “You can console yourselves with the falsehood and the delusion that it will be easier to tell the truth tomorrow, and then the following day, and so on” (the Third Letter of the Archbishop Vigano).
As a single-hearted man, Augustine might recommend the incisive point in Scripture that, for him, turned the corner of conversion forever: “Not in rioting and drunkenness [orgies along the Tiber], not in chambering and impurities [beach houses], not in strife and envying [careerism]; but put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh and its concupiscences” (Rom 13:13,14).
As a master of rhetoric, might Augustine warn us about the ambiguous meanings of simple words? Would he notice how Rome was “sacked” (i.e., “the plundering of a captured town”) by Alaric the Goth, and now how seminarians have been “sacked” (i.e., “to put or place in a sack”) by McCarrick and his clan and overall mindset? Sacked by pre-modern Alaric and by the post-modern McCarrick Malignancy—but history reports that Alaric, at least, did not molest the people (he “treated the inhabitants humanely”).
As a master of Classical learning, Augustine would disabuse us of the notion that it is only Natural Law that is absolutely forbidden talk. Freeing us from “creative” theologians are the Creator and His inborn law within: “the Church is in no way the author or the arbiter of this [moral] norm . . . [she] proposes it to all people of good will. . . .” Moreover, in the morality of sexuality (and all else) it’s not about the overall law of averages. Augustine would clarify that “the commandment of love of God and neighbor does not have in its dynamic any higher limit, but it does have a lower limit, beneath which the commandment is broken” (Veritatis Splendor, 52). No facile blending of wine with cyanide.
A faithful son of the Church, Augustine might remind us how as a bishop of backwater Hippo in North Africa (the “periphery”), he stayed put for thirty-five years with his same flock (from 395 until his death in 430 A.D), rather than maneuvering for more plush digs, say, the patriarchal Alexandria or some inner-circle in Rome (or some big city diocese in New World America).
As both a saint and a leader, Augustine might propose that while the sacking of Rome and the Resurrection each took only three days, perhaps three days are not enough for the historic gathering of February 2019—the tipping point charged to face up to (so to speak) the disorder of active homosexuality in the Church. A seamless garment extending from abuse of the young, to consensual adults, and to tentacles of paralysis and complicity at all levels.
As a theological historian, Augustine revived the failing hearts of his flock at Hippo—and of the entire Church forever—by writing The City of God. He refuted the slander that the collapse signaled in 410 A.D. was due to Christian neglect of the multiple pagan deities (today’s indifferent multiculturalism). Instead of our mythology of Progress, Augustine discovered the secret of history in the conflict between two perennial and competing loves—the love of God versus the love of self and the world.
A man from the world, Augustine must have known that Alaric was a well-educated man with a motive. Driving him was resentment over not having been chosen as commander of the Western Roman Army, and a reprisal force of Goths—whose (tens of thousands of) women and children had been murdered by Roman citizens (incited by the Emperor Honorius who listened to one too many backroom slanders involving Alaric).
As a man for all seasons, Augustine might reach forward two millennia to a layman, G.K. Chesterton who reminds us, in The Everlasting Man, that:
[T]he Catholic Church is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age [….] Those runners [successors of the Apostles] gather impetus as they run. Ages afterwards they still speak as if something had just happened [….] We might sometimes fancy that the Church grows younger as the world grows old.”
So, “yes” to the courage of a single-hearted priesthood (and laity!), and to the universality of youth—as if it still matters to grow younger as a world fallen grows old.
In 1870, Pope Pius IX rejected absorption into the external artifact of nation-states. A clear line of demarcation was drawn: non possumus (“we cannot”). In 2019, will Church leaders harmonize-away such a line in yet another tome, triangulating with an internal and ecclesial Deep-State—a church within a church? In the moment following his own clean tipping point and turning around, St. Augustine (instead) simply drew the line: “… I resolved not to make a boisterous break, but gently to withdraw the service of my tongue from the language marts” (Bk. 9, Ch. 2).
Non possumus. “Inadmissible!”
Where is to be found the house-to-house Vatican Special Forces cleanup team? No need to be naïve about real risk of Alaric-style reprisals, especially in Rome, but betting on time alone and the biological solution has not worked.
“Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Mt 5:37).
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