And truly the same, Our Predecessors, asserters of justice, being especially anxious for the salvation of souls, had nothing ever more at heart than by their most wise Letters and Constitutions to unveil and condemn all those heresies and errors which, being adverse to our Divine Faith, to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, to purity of morals, and to the eternal salvation of men, have frequently excited violent tempests, and have miserably afflicted both Church and State. For which cause the same Our Predecessors, have, with Apostolic fortitude, constantly resisted the nefarious enterprises of wicked men, who, like raging waves of the sea foaming out their own confusion, and promising liberty whereas they are the slaves of corruption, have striven by their deceptive opinions and most pernicious writings to raze the foundations of the Catholic religion and of civil society, to remove from among men all virtue and justice, to deprave persons, and especially inexperienced youth, to lead it into the snares of error, and at length to tear it from the bosom of the Catholic Church.
Such was the way popes once expressed their opposition to errors. Pope Pius XII sounded one of the last such warnings in his 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis.
Therein the pope described a series of errors – most, if not all, of which are commonly found in Catholic books and classrooms today – and then reminded Catholic clerics and teachers of their solemn duty to defend and promote Catholic truth by guarding against such errors:
For this reason, after mature reflection and consideration before God, that We may not be wanting in Our sacred duty, We charge the Bishops and the Superiors General of Religious Orders, binding them most seriously in conscience, to take most diligent care that such opinions be not advanced in schools, in conferences or in writings of any kind, and that they be not taught in any manner whatsoever to the clergy or the faithful. Let the teachers in ecclesiastical institutions be aware that they cannot with tranquil conscience exercise the office of teaching entrusted to them, unless in the instruction of their students they religiously accept and exactly observe the norms which We have ordained.
That due reverence and submission which in their unceasing labor they must profess towards the Teaching Authority of the Church, let them instill also into the minds and hearts of their students.
In addition to the constant vigilance of the popes prior to Pope John XXIII, the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office served to guard Catholic truth.
Vatican II led to the transformation of the Holy Office into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As we see on the Vatican website describing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the change in name reflected a change in function:
Along with the name, the functions proper to this Congregation underwent a radical transformation: rather than prosecuting heresies and suppressing offenses against the faith, its purpose was to promote and safeguard the faith.
It does not bode well when the office charged with defending Catholics and the Faith against the ravenous wolves describes its function by setting up a false dichotomy between “prosecuting heresies and suppressing offences against the faith” and “promoting and safeguarding the faith.”
In They Have Uncrowned Him, Archbishop Lefebvre sounded a relatively early alarm about what this change meant in practice:
In practice they no longer condemn, they no longer designate the disapproved-of doctrines, they no longer stamp the heretics with the red-hot iron of infamy. No. These are asked to be quiet for a year, and it is said, “This teaching is not worthy of a professorship of Catholic theology”; that is all. In practice the suppression of the Holy Office is characterized, as I wrote to the Holy Father [John Paul II, in 1983], by the free propagation of errors.
Surely Pope John Paul II did not agree with Archbishop Lefebvre’s assessment in 1983, but today we can scarcely deny that we have seen the free propagation of errors in the Church. Prior to Vatican II, the popes and theologians were the spiritual police defending the Mystical Body of Christ. Just as the liberals seek to do to our cities, these spiritual police have been replaced with social workers, who accompany the orthodoxychallenged. All of this is by design, and neither the means nor the ends have disappointed the proponents of the doctrinal chaos that has ensued. As Pope Paul VI wrote in Integrae Servandae:
But, because there is no fear in love (1 Jn 4:18), the defense of the faith is now better served by promoting doctrine, in such a way that, while errors stand corrected and those who err are gently called back to the truth, heralds of the Gospel may find new strength. Moreover, the advance of human culture, whose the (sic) importance the religious field must not overlook, is that the faithful follow the directives of the Church with greater adhesion and love, if, insofar as in matters of faith and morals it is possible to make clear to them the reasons for definitions and laws.
Why would the “heralds of the Gospel” need to “find new strength” via any sort of relaxation of the Church’s role in suppressing error? This is akin to offering motorists “new freedoms of movement” by removing guardrails from bridges. With the benefit of hindsight we can see this doublespeak translates into essentially what Archbishop Lefebvre said it did: the “free propagation of errors.”
So what were the fruits of disbanding the spiritual police force? Amongst clerics, we have the likes of Pope Francis, Cardinal Kasper, Fr. James Martin, etc. Each of these men and those sharing their opinions would have been censured or excommunicated in sane periods of Church history. In so many other occupations – medicine, investment management, law, and other types of licensed professions – the commensurate mismatch between what they advertise (Catholicism) and what they provide (not Catholicism) would constitute malpractice and criminal fraud. Tragically, the damage caused by wayward clerics is infinitely worse than any botched surgery or investment.
Amongst politicians, we have Pelosi, Biden, Cuomo, etc. While it is true that these people lack the formal teaching authority of the church hierarchy, they nonetheless do tremendous harm both to the Mystical Body of Christ and those who might otherwise convert to the Faith. By taking such public stands in opposition to timeless teachings of the Church, they normalize the casual and unapologetic apostasy that now appears to plague a majority of the world’s nominal Catholics. In a real sense, a nominal Catholic who, for instance, attends Mass a few times a year and does not object to contraception can easily count himself in good standing with the Church because he is “a better Catholic” than these faithless politicians who promote abortion and are quite evidently in good standing.
The sad irony is that Pelosi and her ilk do so well in their brand of politics because they have deadened their consciences and are thus unfit to represent anyone other than special interests that hate Catholicism. Their supposed Catholicism gives them additional cover to show extreme prejudice against Catholic interests.
They would have to begin representing their actual constituents and America’s best interests if they found the Faith and decided to live by it.
Would any of the pre-Vatican II saints recognize these people as Catholic based on their words or deeds? No.
The now disbanded spiritual police would have encouraged these lapsed Catholics to renounce their errors and convert, which would place them back on the path to heaven. If they would not convert, they would have been censured or excommunicated. Conversely, today’s “spiritual social workers” generally coddle those in error, at the expense of the flocks they have a duty to protect. We are all sinners – “for in many things we all offend” (James 3.2) – but nominal Catholics who publicly defy Church teaching must be corrected lest they give grave scandal. A prolonged failure of the Church to correct these scandals falsely signals that the Church no longer believes that its teachings and mandates have any real meaning.
The temporal turmoil we see today has been facilitated by the spiritual turmoil in the Church.
People would not be seriously debating the merits of defunding police departments in our cities if the spiritual police departments had not been bankrupted decades ago – the spiritual defunding process has resulted in forgone grace, lost wisdom, further impairment of our already fallen nature, and an astonishing shortage of people in authority who are able discern right from wrong and act accordingly. Today the spiritual and temporal hooligans march together against Christ and there are few people who show any willingness or ability to stop them.
But all is not yet lost. Although the defunding and disbanding of the spiritual police has left us in a perilous situation, all things work together unto good for those who love God (Romans 8.28).
It is becoming more and more clear that “an enemy has done this” (Matthew 13.28), which leads many people to better recognize the battle for souls that began with Adam and Eve and will end on Judgment Day. And the recognition that an enemy has done this also makes us realize that the spiritual social workers who replaced the spiritual police cannot protect us. We must therefore protect ourselves with greater vigilance. The good news is that with such recognition comes an approach to the wisdom of the saints.
What would the saints tell us today? Surely they would remind us of what we should already know and what will become apparent upon our judgment day: we should want to be saints and try to accept all the graces God gives us. Indeed, the path of half-heartedly sneaking into Purgatory may be closing soon if it is not already. It is far wiser and simpler to aim to be a saint.
And if the saints could give us any insight into what lies ahead in a temporal realm – whether it be war, tyranny, or something else – and how we can prepare for it, surely the advice would be the same: we should want to be saints and try to accept all the graces God gives us. Our most powerful and efficacious weapons are the same as they have always been for Catholics. As we know from St. Augustine, “he who has God has everything; he who has everything but God has nothing.” In the battles ahead, we might look to the prayer of St. Ignatius, who learned war before he learned sanctity:
Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.
It is not unreasonable to think that we will soon lose our liberty either to God (by our own choice) or to His enemies. May St. Ignatius help us to choose wisely! Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in praelio!