November 16, 2014, Sunday — The Choice

Emails regarding my two most recent letters on the Bishops’ Synod on the Family have continued to flood in — some 300 of them, more than on any other letters over the past eight years since I began sending out these reports.

Many are very critical.

Others are supportive.

Here (below) is a sampling of the letters.

So what is the bottom line?

We are now at a crossroads.

We are at a moment of crisis, a moment of decision.

We have to choose between Pope Francis and his critics.

One critic wrote to me: “You are a relativist. You are more about yourself and your career than the Truth.”—Mary

I would like to set forth my position clearly and without equivocation.

I am not a relativist.

I am a writer.

I am a person who constructs phrases out of words.

My career is of no interest to me. I have no career, just a magazine and a newsletter, in order to write.

Why? I have one aim: to convey facts, insights, information and, in so far as possible, truth.

How? I write tonight on a laptop computer from a particular place — Rome, or, more precisely, Vatican City — and from a particular time — early in the third millennium following the coming of Christ, about 50 years after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), almost two years after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, and nearly two years into the pontificate of Pope Francis.

When? I write on a Sunday. The day began standing before the altar of the Chair of St. Peter, in St. Peter’s Basilica, next to a choir from Salt Lake City, Utah, about to hear a sermon in Italian about the parable of the talents. I then heard the choir sing “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus” — the “thrice holy”…  Later, I listened to Pope Francis under a blue sky as he prayed his noon Angelus. Later still, I attended vespers at the chapel of the North American College on the Gianicolo, where more than 200 seminarians, all solemn, all serious, sang the great hymn of Thomas Aquinas, “Tantum ergo…”

I returned on a drizzly evening in November to read emails, and to think: how can I write something useful?

Words are inadequate. They cannot suffice. Silence would be better.

But perhaps a few phrases can hint at a mystery.

A true mystery.

Am I a relativist? No.

I hold that there is one truth, one saving truth.

And I hold that that truth is Christ.

But what does that really mean, in an age when words seem to have worn out, when they skip across the surface of our minds like slender stones skipped across a pond…?

Perhaps a different approach…

I hold that the secret at the heart of the universe, the secret meaning veiled under all phenomena of space and time, is a divine reality.

It is a reality so real that it makes the entire structure, fabric and content of the physical universe — the quasars and dark matter and black holes and supernovas, and even the soil and sand and snow of this beautiful earth, which takes one’s breath away with its unutterable splendor — seem unreal, fragile as a soap bubble, passing away as in a dream.

In other words, there is something real, truly, and it is at the heart and source and end of all “things,” below and above and beneath and within all things.

And that divine reality is… holy.

That is the best word we have, to express what it’s “is-ness” is.

We have another word: sacred.

The essence, the nature, the being, of reality is holiness.


I would dare to say that it’s “holiness” precedes it’s “being-ness.”

Holiness is the essential reality, deeper even than being itself.

But the “news” — ! — is that this reality, this holiness, has, in fact, a face.

This hidden reality, this “hidden divinity” (“Deus absconditus“), can, therefore, be seen, and known, and conversed with, and questioned, and contemplated, gazed upon — as a mother gazes into the eyes of her child, as a child gazes into the eyes of his mother — communed with.

And here is core of the matter: that face is the face of one person, a person who actually lived, in space and time, in a certain space and at a certain time: the carpenter of Nazareth, Jesus.

And yet, and yet… that face is not simply the face of Jesus, for, as we have been told, that face can be glimpsed in the faces of others, of children, of old people,  of sinners, of saints — especially of those saints who have passed through the sad and painful crucible of their own hated-yet-desired sin.

That is to say, the ultimate reality — I would almost say, the only reality, but this world is so close and alluring that I cannot completely discount its existence, though no thing perceived by the senses remains over time (Chronosconsumes all his children) — is personal.

Personal, and holy.

The personal is a higher category than the electric, or magnetic, or radioactive, deeper than weight, or size, or number, or measure, or time.

In other words, all that seems real to our senses and to our highly refined instruments — through which we look out upon the universe — is of an order of reality that is less profound, less real, than what is personal.

The personal is the essential, underlying reality.

And being personal, it has a name, an identity: the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob.

And all things that are were made through the Logos, the Word, of this holy being.

And the Logos, the Word of God, became flesh, walked among us, and then… was executed.

And then rose.

And we can be in communion with this Logos, this source and mediator of all being, this end of all our longing, through… the Church.

His body.

And so I hold, with the Fathers of the Church, with St. Ambrose of Milan, “ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia.” This means: “Where Peter is, there is the Church.”

And so I hold that we should stand with Peter, that is, with Pope Francis, as the shadows lengthen…


Letters received in the last 24 hours

“I would like to thank you for all your objective services, always the best ones on the issues of the Vatican and now on the Family Synod.” —Jesuit priest

“So the Pope says that the desire to defend traditional doctrine can lead to a type of ‘rigorism’ and ‘legalism’ which ‘places heavy burdens on consciences.’ Now I understand. We don’t want to be rigorists or legalists or place heavy burdens on consciences, so let’s not defend traditional doctrine. Mind you, we are not going to change traditional doctrine, just not defend it or advert to it. I don’t want to speak rudely or uncharitably to you, especially on Sunday. God bless you, but if you cannot see what is going on in front of you, take me off your mailing list.”—Alan

“I did like your letter. Never imagined that it would arouse controversy, and least of all, Pope Francis’ words at the end of the Synod. What I really believe is that the devil is working among the faithful, confusing, being skeptical, tempting. I see prudence in Francis, and people are on edge hurrying answers.”—María (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

“Robert, Don’t take me off the list. I thank God for the work you are doing. I was especially encouraged by your suggestion that  the Holy Father’s listening and demeanor and his closing remarks bespeaks an approach to conciliarity andsobornost that might help bring Orthodox and Catholics together. May it be blessed.

“It seems that the traditionalist Catholics (and I am strongly committed to Tradition) might be less insistent on their narrow interpretation of our Lord’s teaching on marriage and divorce… The idea that remarriage after (civil) divorce (without an annulment) amounts to serial adultery may be too rigorous and not implied by Christ’s teaching. One may infer His teaching to say this; but one may be wrong… I do think the priest who warned that changes in discipline evince inchoate changes in doctrine is worth hearing: Lex orandi, lex credendi.
“What has concerns me more, however, is the careless language used by some in the Synod to speak of the special gifts of homosexual persons. This is dangerous language. One should not speak of heterosexual persons any more than homosexual ones. Human beings are sexual persons, male and female… We should not speak of the gift of homosexual persons, but the gifts of every person whomsoever…” —Leo

“I suppose you don’t really want to read another letter critical of Letter #33, but here are my thoughts. I hope they will help you. I pray for you.

“First, I was extremely disappointed in your slant on the story and totally unimpressed that Cardinal Kasper means anything besides what he has been pushing for, for the last who knows how long.

“He, and possibly Pope Francis, will keep pushing for change in practice instead of change in doctrine. It takes no imagination to see that this has been the modus operandi of both centrist and especially progressive (liberal) thinkers since Vatican II.

“This camel’s nose under the tent approach is quite effective in accomplishing whatever deviance is desired. It is the Evil One’s favorite tool, or the one he uses the most often at least.

“Pope Francis is very shrewd in using this approach. It seems he was not at all disturbed by the relatio, but let the chips fall where they may. [My note: We do not know that this was the case.] The cardinals involved were allowed to take the brunt of the resistance, while Pope Francis, very much the Jesuit, sat back and ‘listened.’

“I suspect he was not surprised in the least, but expected to happen exactly what happened, but this way he can appear personally, not to be controlling or demanding of the change he seems to desire. [Note: Again, we do not know this.]…

“Letter #33, I am afraid, made us all painfully aware  that you are no longer an insider, but trying very much to regain that ground. Your problem is, that the audience you have played to so admirably in the past, has been confused and pushed away by this Pope who seems to be allergic to making himself clear on anything, and now it seems that you are desperately trying to be his apologist, but unsuccessfully.

“I am embarrassed for you, and hope you will consider what your true role should be.

“We look to a few people who we hope are on the ‘inside,’ to either straighten things out for us, or to confirm what we suspect, that Pope Francis is a master of getting things done the way he wants them done, with as little of the dirt on his hands as possible….

“The only question we must each answer, from Pope to peon, is: Which ‘side’ am I on? Will I be a champion of Truth (Christ) or of Anti-Truth (the Evil One)?

“St. John Paul II once said: ‘We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a trial which the whole Church… must take up” (Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (St. John Paul II) to the American bishops in 1976, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Nov. 9, 1978 (three weeks after his election as Pope)…
“You left us wondering, man — just where do you stand? And why?” —June

“Pope Francis, Cardinal Kasper and their liberal, modernist, minions, are not fooling anyone about their Agenda, especially traditional Roman Catholics. Vatican II damaged the authentic traditional apostolic Church enough, but not enough for them. They, led and encouraged by this Pope, are damaging the Church more than it already has been.

Cardinal Kasper and those associated with him, are heretics. If this Pope and the Kasper types keep it up, there most definitely will be a Schism.
Traditional Catholics, both laity and clergy worldwide, are infuriated with recent events in the Vatican.” —Victor from Florida

“Thank you for taking the time to explain the current controversy in Rome. I support the Vicar of Christ Pope Francis fully and also you in your analysis.” —Jeffrey

“Perhaps you should remind the people who unsubscribed that Jesus himself said he came to call sinners! Maybe they should ask themselves what would Jesus do? I think he would show mercy which is exactly what Pope Francis is asking us to do! Looking forward to your next letter.” —Paula

“I am certain that you understand the frustration of so many Catholics who have seen their religion under attack from within as well as from outside forces. It is hard to discern just what is happening. This uncertainty is heightened by a faction within the Church that, in concert with a media that not only heightens conflict but willfully misrepresents the stories it covers, and a Pope who either does not realize or care about the way things look to the public at large.

“It would be a massive victory for the forces arrayed against the Church if the leadership was to alter in any way the core teaching. They would not report that each and every Catholic would have not only the right but the duty to correct the Holy Father, cardinals, bishops, priests and laity regarding their error. Instead, they would stoke the fires, play up the differences, and push the Church closer toward open schism. Sadly, the synod on the family showed that there are those inside the Church who are more than willing to play this game… Stir in the demotion of Cardinal Raymond Burke — a strong voice against the sexually disordered life — and you have a recipe for widespread fear and anger. He spoke for many when he characterized the Pope’s leadership as ‘a ship without a rudder.’ If his demotion came as a result of his public questioning of the Pope’s motives, the demotion is somewhat understandable, though a stern reprimand would have been just as effective. Cardinal Burke, like any Catholic, has the duty to point out the Pope’s errors. Doing so to the media first, however, is neither constructive nor proper. It is a move that comes only after all other avenues have been blocked, and all previous attempts ignored. Even then, it must be done with humility and respect, as well as firmness. In this, the cardinal erred…

“Pope Francis needs our prayers and fortitude to overcome the spirit of the world… The Holy Spirit is in charge of the life of the Holy Church, not men. I am waiting prayerfully on the Lord.” —Joseph

“I appreciate your work of writing to us, giving us the most important discussions that occurred at the Bishops’ Synod. To hear all sides of a situation is the only way to ascertain what is true. Please keep writing the letters.” —Elaine


Final Note: Pope Francis on Abortion and Euthanasia

Yesterday, Pope Francis gave one of the most powerful, clear, unequivocal “pro-life” talks of his pontificate.

The talk was covered in the press, but was not given the headlines that were given to the mid-term relatio at the Synod.

So, the major media often do not give a balanced coverage to news about or concerning Pope Francis.

So, it is fair, to note this talk and to remember it.

Here are excerpts from a Catholic News Agency report by Elise Harris on the Pope’s dramatic talk. (Link:

Pope blasts abortion, euthanasia as ‘sins against God’

by Elise Harris

Vatican City, Nov 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has told a group of Catholic doctors that “playing with life” in ways like abortion and euthanasia is sinful, and he stressed that each human life, no matter the condition, is sacred.

“We’re are living in a time of experimentation with life. But a bad experiment… (we’re) playing with life,” the Pope told an audience of 4,000 Catholic doctors gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Nov. 15.

“Be careful, because this is a sin against the Creator: against God the Creator.”

Pope Francis offered his words in an address given to members of the Italian Catholic Doctors Association in celebration of their 70th anniversary.

He recalled that many times in his years as a priest he heard people object to the Church’s position on life issues, specifically asking why the Church is against abortion.

After explaining to the inquirer that the Church is not against abortion because it is simply a religious or philosophical issue, he said it’s also because abortion “is a scientific problem, because there is a human life and it’s not lawful to take a human life to solve a problem.”

Regardless of the many objections he has heard saying that modern thought has evolved on the issue, the Pope stressed that “in ancient thought and in modern thought, the word ‘kill’ means the same!”

“(And) the same goes for euthanasia,” he explained, observing that as a result of “this culture of waste, a hidden euthanasia is practiced on the elderly.”

This, he said, is like telling God: “‘at the end of life I do it, like I want.’ It’s a sin against God. Think well about this.”

The belief that abortion is helpful for women, that euthanasia is “an act of dignity,” or that it’s “a scientific breakthrough to ‘produce’ a child (who is) considered a right instead of accepted as a gift” are all part of conventional wisdom that offers a false sense of compassion, he said.

And this includes “(the) use of human life as laboratory mice supposedly to save others,” the Pope continued, saying that on the contrary, the Gospel provides a true image of compassion in the figure of the Good Samaritan, who sees a man suffering, has mercy on him, goes close and offers concrete help…

“In reality, in the light of faith and of right reason, human life is always sacred and always ‘of quality’,” he said.

“No human life exists that is more sacred that the other, just like there is no human life qualitatively more significant than another solely in virtue of resources, rights, economic opportunities and higher social status.”

Pope Francis told the group that as Catholic doctors, it is their mission to affirm the sacredness and inviolability of human life, which “must be loved, defended and cared for,” through word and example, each in their own personal style…

By remaining faithful to the Gospel of Life and respecting life as a gift, difficult decisions will come up that at times require courageous choices that go against the popular current, the pontiff noted, saying that this faithfulness can also lead “to conscientious objection”…

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