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August 30, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — We know that there are good and holy priests, images of the great High Priest and Good Shepherd, who serve us tirelessly, who work earnestly for our salvation, and who are part of the reason why being Catholic is the greatest joy in the world. Each of us may know one, several, or many such good priests. And we know that they are often underappreciated, and are subject at times like this to undeserved skepticism and suspicion just because of the faults of some of their clerical brethren — faults that they themselves repudiate and condemn just as much as the laity do.

All of us, laity in the pews and clergy in the sanctuaries, must nevertheless ask ourselves hard questions. Perhaps the most important of these tough questions is: What has made it possible for so many “men of God,” including bishops, to become pawns of the devil? Apart from general causes like the fall of Adam, disordered concupiscence, and the dangers that accompany positions of authority, can we identify any cause that is specific to the past 50 years — to the period, that is, to which the vast majority of clerical abuse cases are confined?

A systemic cause of clerical deviation from duty, moral laxity, and debauchery is the atmosphere of Woodstockian antinomianism or lawlessness that accompanied the liturgical reforms and deformations of the 1960s and 1970s, a time when unruly self-celebration replaced the Catholic ideal — not everywhere achieved but everywhere required — of a priest who submitted himself to the discipline of a demanding liturgical form with its reverential rubrics and inculcation of the fear of God. The priest used to be a man consecrated to the strict and sober service of the sanctuary. As everything rapidly changed in these decades, he was suddenly the vernacular center of attention, the “presider” who manipulated the congregation. Priests were thrown into the lion’s den of vanity, popularity, sentimentality, and relaxation, and not all were Daniels who escaped unscathed. There was no asceticism in sight; whatever evil might have been suppressed by the former code of honor was now given free rein.

Catholics of a certain age know exactly what I am talking about. Born in 1971, I can remember plenty of “creative liturgies” — and not surprisingly, the clergy responsible for such things were among those later investigated for moral corruption. It took me a long time to see the connection (perhaps I’m just slow on the uptake), but it finally crystallized for me: the decades-long abuse of the Holy Mass and all the rest of the sacramental and liturgical rites — and therefore, by extension, the violence done to faithful Catholics who have a right to the sacred liturgy in its fullness, as the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum declares — constitutes the first and fundamental form of clerical abuse of the laity, of which sexual abuse is a particular and more demented variety. Clerical sexual abuse is linked to clerical liturgical abuse and sexual perversion is a mirror-image of liturgical perversion.

Given the absolute centrality and infinite dignity of the Mass and the Holy Eucharist, abuse of the liturgy and the sacraments is the worst crime against God and man possible. If the highest and holiest thing in existence does not deserve our utmost veneration, why should mere human beings deserve any respect? We are mere dust and ashes compared to the divine Sacrifice of the Altar. On the other hand, if we profoundly reverence and fear Christ, true God and true man, we will acknowledge and care for His image in the souls and bodies of all human beings. Reverence for Him goes hand-in-hand with respect for the little ones.

At his popular blog, Fr. Zuhlsdorf quoted this message from a reader:

If we can’t treat the body of our Lord and Saviour with respect, why would we treat the bodies of our neighbors with respect? Is there a short, slippery slope that runs between sloppiness at Mass and sin? . . . When we take Mass and the Eucharist seriously and let all our relationships flow forth from that first, essential relationship as Christ, we cannot use other people as objects. When the Mass goes, everything else starts to go too. . . . I think that a reverent liturgy flows naturally from a love of Christ in the Eucharist and a realization that we’re in the presence of God.  … Father Z is right. “Save the Liturgy, Save the World.” It’s not a coincidence that the pope (Benedict) who is focused on cleaning up the filth of abuse in the Church is also focused on cleaning up the liturgy. If we can’t respect God, we won’t respect each other.

Father Zuhlsdorf himself has said, with characteristic vigor:

The Eucharist, its celebration and itself as the extraordinary Sacrament, is the “source and summit of Christian life.” If we really believe that, then we must also hold that what we do in church, what we believe happens in a church, makes an enormous difference. Do we believe the consecration really does something? Or, do we believe what is said and how, what the gestures are and the attitude in which they made, are entirely indifferent? For example, will a choice not to kneel before Christ the King and Judge truly present in each sacred Host, produce a wider effect?

If you throw a stone, even a pebble, into a pool it produces ripples which expand to its edge. The way we celebrate Mass must create spiritual ripples in the Church and the world. So does our good or bad reception of Holy Communion. So must violations of rubrics and irreverence.

At times, a Catholic feels the urge to say to the secularizing and liberalizing clergy of the past five decades: You and your minions wrecked theology with modernism; you wrecked the liturgy with your “reform;” and, as the coup de grâce, you wrecked the lives of children. This is a ghastly inversion of the Kingdom of God. A time will come when all this evil is purged, if not while yet there is time for repentance, then assuredly when the Lord prepares for us a new heavens and a new earth.

We also say to our good and holy priests: Keep doing what you are doing right. Love the sacred liturgy, celebrate it with awe, devotion, fear, silence, and beauty. Lead us with you, eastwards, in pilgrimage to the Lord. Remember and cherish our Catholic inheritance. In this way, you will bring about a real change in the culture of the Church, restoring the institution, its personnel, and its ceremonies to the honor that they deserve.

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Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California (B.A. Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy). He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria and the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, then helped establish Wyoming Catholic College in 2006. There he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history and directed the choirs until leaving in 2018 to devote himself full-time to writing and lecturing.

Today he contributes regularly to many websites and publications, including New Liturgical Movement, OnePeterFive, LifeSiteNews, Rorate Caeli, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News, and has published thirteen books, including four on traditional Catholicism: Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014, also available in Czech, Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Belarusian), Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017), Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018), and Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020). His work has been translated into at least eighteen languages.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over a thousand articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, visit his personal website,