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Thomas International Center
July 2007


Ralph McInerny


Unfraternal Correction




"Desperati autem homines, quanto minus intenti sunt in peccata sua, tanto curiosiores sunt in aliena." - St Augustine, Sermo 19 (reading in Liturgia horarum, xiv per annum)



Aristotle said that 'perhaps' is the adverb of the elderly. Perhaps. The characterization of the dominant traits of various stages of life that one finds in the Rhetoric are well worth pondering, but I suppose we are most persuaded by the descriptions of those in stages we have long since passed through. Age does have a mellowing effect, however, and I often wince when I recall the scoldings I have delivered in print, chiding bishops and theologians about their conduct. Did I ever wonder who had appointed me the Torquemada of the times?

The zest with which one goes after those manifestly guilty of waffling and worse should doubtless be subjected to scrutiny by the one in the grips of it. Thomas Aquinas had some sobering things to say about what we may say of others, arguing that we ought always to judge others in the best light. Melius. This may seem to be an invitation to naivete, but perhaps naivete can be a virtue. Thomas's position is based on the fact that we can never know the hidden virtues of those we criticize and, in discussing humility, he urges us to consider how our faults are largely hidden from others as their virtues can be from us. The judgment that one is the worst of men is well-grounded.

Is this a species of waffling? What about fraternal correction? But one must occupy a role to engage in this. One in authority must make judgments on overt conduct of others that would be inappropriate to those not in authority.

These thoughts are prompted by a recent massive volume called The Rite of Sodomy which deals with the alarming rise of homosexuality in the Church. I have read excerpts of it on the web and felt a profound uneasiness. The certitude with which high churchmen, popes included, are accused of unnatural vices is often predicated on the flimsiest of premises. The attack on the founder of the Acton Institute is particularly virulent, seemingly exhibiting a tendency to judge peius rather than melius. Even if one granted, per impossibile, that all the charges in the book are true, the question arises as to the justification of drawing attention to them.

Somewhat similarly the attacks on Cardinal Bertoni for his recent book on The Last Seer of Fatima seem excessive. The Secret of Fatima has long functioned as a kind of addendum to the Nicene Creed for many, their measure of how the Church is doing. Surely Our Lady of Fatima did not envisage this kind of thing. I am not defending Cardinal Bertoni, he seems capable enough of that, but the criticisms end by accusing him and the then Cardinal Ratzinger of deliberate falsehood when in 2000 they released that Secret. Charges of cover-up and deception were heard immediately and have increased since. The criticisms of the Curia and the Holy Father are such that they can scarcely strengthen the faith of Catholics in their Church. Whatever ever happened to the pointed but reverent style that characterized Romano Amerio's Iota Unum? That many things have gone awry since Vatican II was the burden of the reportatio of the Second Extraordinary Synod held on the twentieth anniversary of the close of the Council in 1985, the year of the famous Ratzinger Report. It is the Church that has pointed out the "false spirit" of Vatican II.

Am I saying that we should all just shut up? Not quite. But there are moral requirements of criticism that must never be forgotten, requirements of justice as well as charity. As for Fatima, Our Lady's urgent demand is that we do penance and pray for ourselves and the Church. Sera e mane, as Dante put it. So too in the quotation from Augustine above, the emphasis is on self-examination and personal reform. Is it naive to think that if that plea were heeded the unfortunate aspects of the times would be corrected?


Ralph McInerny