Maike Hickson

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Cardinal Walter Brandmuller Jan Bentz / LifeSiteNews

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Dubia-signing cardinal praises laity for protesting Vatican’s ‘failure’ in abuse crisis

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November 7, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, a German prelate and dubia signer, recently published an article in German in the November edition of Vatican Magazin in which he discusses the abuse crisis and especially the U.S. laity's response and resistance to it. 

This cardinal strongly supports the laity's role and points to other times in the Church's history where the laity's contribution was crucial for the cleansing of the Church. Referring to Malachi Martin's partly fictional novel, The Windswept House, he says his portrayal seems to be coming true now. Brandmüller also criticizes Rome for not reigning in early enough modernist teachers.

The renowned Italian Vatican specialist Sandro Magister has already reported on this new far-sighted contribution by Cardinal Brandmüller, giving a good overview for the text that was first published in German by the German journal Vatikan Magazin, and then by the Austrian website Kath.net.

What is noteworthy in this new essay is that the German cardinal gives much honor to the contribution of the laity in the Church's history, especially with regard to a morally corrupt clergy. He discusses this matter with an explicit reference to the U.S. laity, and therefore his words can count as an encouragement for the U.S. laity also in light of the upcoming U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) gathering in Baltimore, Maryland.

Comparing today's sex abuse crisis with the moral depravity of the Church's clergy in the 11th and 12th century, Cardinal Brandmüller states that “almost simultaneously a lay movement arose that was aimed not only against the immorality of the clergy but also against the appropriation of ecclesiastical offices by secular powers.” This laity at the time worked with Saint Peter Damian and certain Popes “for a celibacy of the clergy lived out faithfully and against the occupation of dioceses by secular powers.”

Cardinal Brandmüller currently sees there to be a “state of shock” in the Church, where parts of the Church hierarchy are not yet helping and supporting the laity in a cleansing of the Church as it was the case in the  Middle Ages. He says that the extent of this current phenomenon of moral decay is “horrendous.”

The German cardinal well assesses the deeper roots of the moral crisis in the modernist stream within the Catholic Church which, in a purportedly evolutionary framework, argues that humanity develops dynamically into higher stages. Therefore, say the modernists, morality is evolving, too, since man reaches a “higher consciousness.” Then “that which was morally forbidden yesterday, can be permitted today,” adds Brandmüller. “There would be numerous names to be mentioned here, also those who have taught at Papal Universities but without being removed from their offices.” 

The consequences of this modernist doctrinal influence, says the cardinal, was soon to be seen when  priestly seminaries, “especially in the United States, developed into breeding places for homosexuality.” Here, Cardinal Brandmüller quotes the former Jesuit priest, Malachi Martin, who described “in his key novel, The Windswept House (1996), the picture of such an emerged situation that now, in our own days has proven itself to be shockingly close to reality.”

Referring to Catholic websites in the U.S., the cardinal comments: “As the respective internet portals etc. show in an impressive manner, the shocked and indignant Catholics have reacted to the revelation of this decay on a broad front.”

Honoring the U.S. laity, Cardinal Brandmüller then shows that, as a consequence, “the usually generous flow of money from Catholic lay foundations into the Vatican's cash registers started to dry up: It was not the episcopacy, but the laity who started to take control. The refusal of the usually rich donations is correctly understood as a protest against Rome's failure in the current crisis.”

And with this conduct, says the cardinal, the U.S. laity “followed – most probably without their being conscious of it – the historical example of the High Middle Ages.” 

As an example for this new attitude of many Catholics in the U.S. to refuse to give donations to the U.S. hierarchy, the current discussion as started by Taylor Marshall can be quoted. The philosopher and book author stated on Twitter: “No money for CCHD. We don’t trust @USCCB morally or with their decisions to give funds to LGBT and pro choice agencies. We are Catholic Christians. We will give @USCCB nothing until you clean up.” Both journalists Mary Jo Anderson, Christine Niles, and Philip Lawler agree with him. 

Returning to Cardinal Brandmüller, while he also points to the dangers of such lay movements in the past – namely, that they could reject altogether the “sacramentally founded hierarchy” of the Church, and thus “drift into error and disobedience” – he still shows how the “resistance of the hierarchy” had made its own contribution.

Therefore, the author does see, also today, some such elements again, when “some all-too-engaged laymen turn against priests and bishops.” (He later once more reminds Catholic laymen of the importance of remembering the “constitutive meaning of the priestly and episcopal office that is founded upon the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”)

Conflicts can therefore stem from this certain situation, he explains, between “an episcopacy – to include the Roman Curia – that is enmeshed and hardened in institutional and bureaucratic elements and lay movements which feel betrayed by the shepherd and the teachers of the Church.”

While thus calling all parties involved to prudence, Cardinal Brandmüller makes it clear that the hierarchy is now called to act in the right manner: “It will take not a small amount of efforts on the part of the hierarchy and the clergy in order to overcome the loss of trust that has thus been created among the faithful.” 

Part of that loss of trust is also due to the slow intervention on the part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (also during the time of  Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), as Brandmüller explains: Many of these modernist theologians “were able to spread the seed of error without interference, right in front of Rome and the bishops. The attitude of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in these cases is, in retrospect, simply incomprehensible. It saw the wolf come and stood looking on while it ravaged the fold.” Later attempts at correcting erroneous concepts in Veritatis Splendor, he explains, “presented the foundations of the Catholic moral teaching with great clarity, but it was largely rejected by theologians. This perhaps is also due to the fact that it [the encyclical] only appeared when the moral-theological decay was already far advanced.”

Speaking of the “sexual barbarization among priests and bishops, yes, even cardinals,” the German cardinal shows understanding for the Catholic laity, but also points to the fact that still “a large number of priests live in loyalty toward their vocation.”

Once more, when referring to Blessed John Henry Newman, does Cardinal Brandmüller insist upon the “significant role of the witness of the faithful 'in matters of doctrine'” and he applies these words to “moral matters,” as well. (The cardinal had previously discussed Newman's words about the Catholic laity.) In this sense, he encourages those well-meaning parts of the laity and Catholic hierarchy to support each other “for a renewal, revitalization of the Church” and for an “authentic reform of the Church.” 

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.