Maike Hickson

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Pope’s preacher for US bishops’ retreat condemns riches, stays quiet on homosexuality or abuse

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January 15, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – The preacher of the papal household sent by Pope Francis to lead the pope-ordered spiritual retreat for the U.S. bishops from January 2-8 in Mundelein, Chicago, hardly touched sexual abuse or homosexuality but spent much time speaking about the evils of riches. Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, claimed in his talks that he was not “competent” to address the problem of homosexuality in the priesthood, nor to speak much about the problem of clerical sexual abuse in general. So why did he lead this retreat in the first place? The analysis of his talks might also provide some clues about the upcoming February Summit on Abuse in Rome.

On January 11, the National Catholic Reporter published the whole 84-page long collection of the 11 talks given by Father Cantalamessa during the retreat. Some of the key statements made in this set of talks make it clear that the upcoming February 21-24, 2019 summit of presidents of episcopal conferences convoked by Pope Francis in Rome will not likely address the issues at hand: homosexual abuse of male adolescents, moral laxity, and the lack of punishment of abuser priests (or, rather, the cover-up of their crimes by their superiors).

Not to address the clerical sex abuse crisis

Father Cantalamessa makes it clear from the beginning of his talks that the spiritual retreat for U.S. bishops is, according to Pope Francis, meant to be an “encounter with the Lord” in order to receive the guidance of the “Holy Spirit” on how to address the current sex abuse crisis. Therefore, the priest explains, “I am not going to talk about pedophilia or give advice about possible solutions.”

Of course, such a retreat should not be meant to work on concrete prevention measures – that would have been the prior duty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) during their Baltimore meeting in November. Pope Francis told the USCCB to delay voting on a plan to address the sex abuse crisis during that meeting.

However, since many bishops have obviously been negligent in strictly punishing their priests who would dare to molest the children and youth entrusted to their care and abuse them for the sake of their own personal and disordered lusts, it certainly would have been the place and time to address and discuss in depth the problem of “pedophilia.”

The use of the term “pedophilia” insinuates that the Church’s abuse crisis is mainly about the abuse of smaller children, while it is, in reality, mainly about the abuse of adolescent boys – in 80 percent of the cases, as both Cardinal Gerhard Müller and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller have recently pointed out.

We have with Father Cantalamessa a priest sent by Pope Francis to the U.S. bishops who states from the outset that he will not address the sexual abuse problem itself (nor the matter of the link to homosexuality), but, rather, conduct a general spiritual retreat. While sections of his talks were spiritually fruitful and of depth, his omissions were troubling.

On the abolishment of celibacy and on homosexuality

An additional discouragement came from the fact that the preacher of the retreat insisted at least three times that “mandatory celibacy can be abolished” since it is not a divine law, even though he said he encouraged priests to live out this charism. While he said that celibacy was a “plant that Jesus himself sowed” (“for the sake of the Kingdom of God”) and that it would thus always remain part of the Church's life, he simultaneously undermined its weight and opened up the idea that, in the future, priests might not have to live in perfect chastity.

Touching upon the matter of homosexuality, Father Cantalamessa said: “I will completely avoid entering into this delicate matter which requires a pastoral discernment far beyond my experience and the scope of a retreat.” As one Catholic commentator said: “What? The Sixth and Ninth Commandment[s] require ‘pastoral discernment’?”

Another observer asked: This priest “has been a preacher to the papal household for almost a generation and basic Catholic moral teaching is beyond his competence?”

Indeed, in light of the cases of practiced homosexuality in the Vatican these days – with the 2017 drug-fueled homosexual party at the CDF building as its peak – one wonders why this priest has no competence to help his homosexual brethren overcome their moral disorder, and to help bishops to address this matter in their dioceses, also in light of the clerical abuse crisis. However, Father Cantalamessa did tell the U.S. bishops that he reminds homosexual priests of the fact that they, too, have promised to live chastely.

A critique of Mammon

After these somewhat detached and lukewarm comments on the moral disorders that are directly linked to the current abuse crisis, readers might find it surprising how passionately critical Father Cantalamessa became when dealing with another moral disorder – that is, the inordinate attachment to money. Here, he seemed to be able to find renewed strength and forcefulness, more than he had when speaking about homosexuality, and he did so on a full nine pages: “Mammon, or money, is not simply an idol among many – it is the idol par excellence.”

“Mammon is the anti-god,” the papal preacher continued. Cantalamessa wished to express an “effective critique of the alienating power of money,” but one wonders why homosexual acts as a grave sin against the Sixth Commandment or sexual abuse would not similarly have such an “alienating power.” In the case of money, Cantalamessa pointed out that Jesus “crushed it”; the stone falling down upon a golden statue in the Old Testament symbolizes Christ crushing money, he explained. Jesus indeed crushed “the empire of Mammon.”

Cantalamessa continued with his harsh indictment of those people with money, stating: “How often these days have we felt like crying out like Christ: ‘You fool!’ when we see people in responsible positions who hardly know which bank to use or where to hoard the proceeds of their corruption?”

In light of the terrible abuse of children and adolescents committed by sacramentally ordained men representing Christ, this long and quite aggressive dealing with the problem of money seems to an outsider as a disproportion and a deflection from the real problem.

But the homosexual networks...

One part of any such retreat might have been to demonstrate the moral monstrosity of sexual abuse – in order to awaken and to form the consciences of sexual abusers and of those who covered up for them.

I do not know whether Cardinal Donald Wuerl was present at this retreat, but, in light of the new revelation that he has known McCarrick’s homosexual misconduct since at least 2004, he might have profited from some forceful moral reprimands. We are dealing here with the existence of a homosexual network in the Church, and in a week-long retreat with the U.S. bishops, it is not being discussed. (As an exception, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas just spoke about it and assured the faithful that he wishes to oppose it.)

Cantalamessa however spoke about an “unrepentant” sinner who dies with his inordinate attachment to money. He also wondered “how much evil has been caused over the centuries over the attachment to money, even in the Church.”

“We must free ourselves of Mammon, so as to free others!” is the conclusion of Father Cantalamessa's talk on money.

Quoting St. John Chrysostom, Father Cantalamessa pointed out that the “love of money is worse than carnal love.” Again, this argument sounds strange when presented in the context of clerical sexual abuse. The retreat did not deal with any bishops who were possibly themselves enmeshed in massive financial corruption. However, the papal preacher does concentrate on the rich, saying “you have no future, except the fearful future [divine] judgment.”

In some respects, these spiritual talks seem to reflect much of Pope Francis’ own accented statements, in which he often stresses violations of social justice, but neglects to rebuke violations against the Church’s sexual morality.

In search of unity

Father Cantalamessa urged the bishops to preserve unity – a unity which is based more on communion than on hierarchy.

“Hierarchy will fade away; communion remains for eternity.” This slogan is presumably valid since the Second Vatican Council, which bases ecclesiology mainly on “a communion rooted in love” and less on hierarchical structures. This union in the Church, says the preacher, is now being supported by “the petrine ministry of the Pope.”

Demeaning the Church’s past, Father Cantalamessa claims that, historically, the Church stressed the aspect of “sub Petro [under Peter],” while Pope Francis is now increasingly working unto a relationship that is based on “cum Petro [with Peter].”

“The synods of bishops are the clearest sign of this innovation,” the speaker explained. All too often, egoism is standing in the way of forming a true unity, according to Father Cantalamessa. Thus, he urged his audience to conduct an “examination of conscience.” Looking at tensions within an episcopal body, he proposed to regard one’s different approaches as being complementary, in order to change “this polarity into a healthy collaboration.”

As an example, the papal preacher mentioned that it is this very approach that he himself once proposed, back in the 1970s, to some 700 priests and 70 bishops from Latin America who were divided along the lines of Liberation Theology and Evangelization. In this sense, he encouraged the U.S. bishops to respect both the wing that stresses the help for the unfortunate, imprisoned, and poor, as well as the wing that defends “moral values” such as matters of life and of the family.

Pope Francis and the bishops carry the sins of others

One of the talks preached to the U.S. bishops assembled in Mundelein was dedicated to the theme “With Jesus in Gethsemane.” Speaking about Christ's agony and His suffering and dying for our sins, Father Cantalamessa commented: “it is important because, due to the scandals of pedophilia, many bishops in the Catholic Church, starting with the Bishop of Rome, are experiencing right now exactly [sic] what Jesus experienced in Gethsemane.” This suffering on the side of the Pope and the bishops is like Jesus “taking upon himself sins that he had not committed himself, and in bearing responsibility for them in front of the Father.”

These comments seem in direct opposition to how many lay Catholics perceive the current clerical abuse crisis. For them, this crisis as of 2018 is in large part about the sins committed by the bishops themselves who have covered up for abuser priests, and done this for many years. The McCarrick case is here only the tip of the iceberg.

Pope Francis himself has been repeatedly accused of covering-up and ignoring the suffering of abuse victims while he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires. As Pope, he has defended or promoted abuser bishops and removed a strict punitive sentence placed upon the abuser priest, Father Maurizio Inzoli.

The bishops' duties toward their sheep

It is regrettable that, even when the preacher finally spoke specifically of the duties of the bishops themselves to protect the “most vulnerable” sheep, “the children,” from the wolves, Father Cantalamessa once again declared himself to be not competent enough to discuss this matter of clerical sex abuse further. “I leave however this topic completely outside of my consideration, knowing how earnestly it is taken at present by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and knowing also my lack of competence in it.” Thus, the priest concentrates on speaking about the importance of the bishops' love and prayer for their sheep, though this might also be condignly followed by “reprimanding” the faithful “in defense of God.” For, the bishops should first love Jesus and then speak to their faithful with love, Father Cantalamessa stressed.

Last but not least, Father Cantalamessa – after describing his own path toward accepting the charismatic movement and toward his subsequently becoming the preacher to the papal household in 1980 – makes a stunning statement about his time there under Pope Benedict XVI – whom he describes as gentle and polite. He praises Benedict XVI's resignation as a “significant step on the path to humanizing and democratizing the papal office,” which has “recognized the right of every person to a deserved rest and a peaceful old age.” Here, again, we see his implicit disdain for the past and for the longstanding traditions of the Church, while at the same time praising an act that has found strong criticism from prominent Catholics, such as Cardinal Walter Brandmüller and Professor Roberto de Mattei.

Thus, one might conclude that this 84-page long document – as sequentially preached to the U.S. bishops over the course of a week – expressly excluded discussing the problem of clerical sexual abuse which is the basis for the current moral crisis in the U.S., but also worldwide, with the Vatican itself in some ways being at the very center of it all. Father Cantalamessa even appeared to exonerate Pope Francis from any responsibility in the current situation. All of this does not suggest a very good outcome of the upcoming February summit on abuse in Rome, an event about which the papal spokesman Andrea Tornielli obscurely says that there now already exist “excessive media expectations.” Vatican specialist, Sandro Magister, has a different approach when he says about the upcoming summit that its risk might be that one “may find Bergoglio not in the role of unspotted guide, but himself as well in the dock of those guilty of having tolerated and covered up abuse.”

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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.