So my “cage match” with Mark Shea is over. As for the inevitable question “Who won?”, there is nothing so graceless as a debater who publishes a post-debate article on “How I won the debate with X” or who quotes people who tell him that he won the debate with X.
I will let the people in the audience decide who had the better of the argument, along with those who watch the video or audio when they are posted on the Argument of the Month (AOTM) or The Remnant website. You can also check the Remnant’s home and Facebook pages for reactions on how the evening went.
There is, however, one undeniable winner of this debate: AOTM. I don’t think there is any Catholic venue in the world where, with little or no local promotion, 400 + Catholic men show up every month to sit in the hall of a church basement to watch debates on issues pertaining to the Faith. What is the motive?
I don’t think’s it’s the beer, wine and hearty food that are part of the proceedings. Those can be had anywhere without the sacrifice of a weeknight of leisure. These crowds of men show up because they care deeply about the state of the Church and they want to make sense of an increasingly bizarre and frightening situation. They want to know why, for example—as one questioner related during the Q & A session—the principal of a Catholic school in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area backed down and apologized after defending a parish priest who had dared to speak against “gay marriage.” They want to know why Catholic schools are not teaching the Catholic faith but rather undermining it, why the liturgy is a joke, why the priesthood has been feminized, and why even Protestants are recognizing that the Church appears to have “gone liberal.”
It is not enough to say “Well, the Church has always been in crisis” and leave it at that, for that is an invitation to quietism and silence about the failure of the shepherds to lead the sheep, who have massively wandered away from the doctrines of the Faith even as they continue to sit in the pews of liberalized parishes where political correctness trumps the Magisterium almost everywhere in the Catholic world. There has never been an ecclesial crisis like this. How did it happen? The late, great Dietrich von Hildebrand provided the answer soon after the Second Vatican Council’s endlessly vaunted but actually disastrous “opening to the world”: “the poison of our epoch is slowly seeping into the Church Herself, and many have failed to recognize the apocalyptic decline of our time.”
Today, we witness what John Paul II admitted in 2003 is nothing less than “silent apostasy” throughout former Christendom. That stunning admission is directly related to the Pope’s earlier admission, in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, that on account of the Council’s novel “cosmic vision” of salvation, the traditional focus on the individual soul and its particular judgment has been lost, the Four Last Things have been forgotten and “one no longer speaks of these things in evangelization,” and, quite simply, Catholic churchmen “have lost the courage to preach the threat of hell”—a situation about which John Paul II himself did little beyond admitting its existence.
That there can be no evangelization worthy of the name without reference to Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell is what led to the proposition I debated with Shea: “The modern Catholic Church has effectively abandoned the Great Commission.” The very reason for the Great Commission is to make converts in order to save their souls from hell by translating them from their fallen state into the state of sanctifying grace: “He who believes and his baptized shall be saved; he who believes not shall be condemned.” Virtually no one in the post-conciliar hierarchy even intimates the absolute urgency of that divine warning to those outside the Church, or even to those within her visible confines who defy her most fundamental teachings on faith and morals.
Appropriately enough, then, the debate was introduced by something that could not be more perfectly emblematic of the hierarchy’s widespread defection from its evangelical duty: the already infamous, cringe-worthy video conveying Pope Francis’s “universal” prayer intention for the month of January: “interreligious dialogue.” (What else?) A Buddhist, a Muslim, a Jew and a Catholic priest each recite the object of their worship, solemnly declare “I believe in love,” and then hold symbols of their respective religions next to each other in a montage of pretended harmony between irreconcilable creeds, only one of which is the way to salvation: the “royal way of the Cross.”
As for the Cross, the only Catholic symbol displayed in the video is a plastic Baby Jesus removed from its crèche and the Holy Family.
Evidently the perpetrators of this mockery of what even Vatican II called “the one true religion” and “the one Church of Christ” were afraid to display the one true religion’s most important symbol: Christ Crucified. Thus Francis reads from a script that hides even his version of a pectoral cross (on which there is no Corpus but a only shepherd boy in a knee length kilt). Reading from that script, Francis declares that “most of the planet’s inhabitants declare themselves believers” and that “many think differently, feel differently” but “are seeking God or meeting God in different ways…” The Vicar of Christ, failing to mention Christ even in passing, concludes: “There is only one certainty we have for all: that we are all children of God.”
Actually, no we aren’t. We become children of God only by virtue of Baptism, which frees fallen man from the dominion of the devil, as the exorcism prayers of the traditional baptismal rite make clear. Indeed, following the pattern of self-contradiction that has apparently characterized his entire ecclesiastical career, four days after the video appeared Francis himself declared that Baptism makes us children of God. Yet again Francis says whatever seems required by the rhetorical needs of the moment.
Predictably enough, the neo-Catholic first responders have rushed to the scene of the latest disaster, with Jimmy Akin scouring the Old Testament for references to God the Father and the “sons of the Lord” under the Old Covenant, as if nothing has changed since the Incarnation and the institution of the New Covenant.
As the video graphically depicted for the audience, the generality of post-Vatican II churchmen, led by the conciliar Popes—for this development hardlybegan with Francis—have virtually replaced the Gospel of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John with the gospel of John, Paul, George and Ringo. All you need is love. But love of what? Love of whatever you love, as long as you are sincere about loving it. As Francis said in his equally infamous interview with his atheist friend Eugenio Scalfari (published in book form by the Vatican publishing house): “Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.” Actually, no it wouldn’t. For in our time the world is controlled precisely by men who “call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20).”
In the end, this “cage match” was really not about an argument between Mark Shea and me. Rather, it was about awakening people to the reality that during the post-conciliar epoch of “ecumenism,” “dialogue,” and “interreligious dialogue” the ecclesiastical establishment has buried in silence the warning of God Himself about the eternal consequences of rejecting Christ and His Church. Instead, the vast majority of hierarchs, from the Pope on down, have accepted in practice what Pope Gregory XVI, in his encyclical Mirari vos (1832), condemned as a “perverse opinion” that was already being “spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked”: namely, “that it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained.”
Worse, contemporary Churchmen have accepted in practice that even without morality, the “sincere” person who follows his ill-formed conscience can be saved, and that to say otherwise is “rigorism.” “Notions of this sort,” wrote the future Pope Benedict XVI, “have discernibly crippled the disposition to evangelize.” They certainly have. And that was my theme during the debate.
This new attitude in the Church results from what Cardinal Ratzinger called an “almost traumatic aversion many have to what they hold to be ‘pre-conciliar’ Catholicism…” That is what traditionalists have said all along. According to the new mentality, said Ratzinger:
the erroneous conscience, which makes life easier and marks a more human course, would then be a real grace, the normal way to salvation. Untruth, keeping truth at bay, would be better for man than truth. It would not be the truth that would set him free, but rather he would have to be freed from the truth. Man would be more at home in the dark than in the light. Faith would not be the good gift of the good God but instead an affliction.
The propagation of this view, Ratzinger concluded, “could only be fatal to the faith.” So it has been in vast areas of the Church today, where people who call themselves Catholics do and think whatever they please in open defiance of Church teaching. And Francis’s endless railing against imaginary “rigorists” and “doctors of the law” who lack “mercy” has only worsened the situation.
In Mirari vos, Gregory XVI commanded the bishops of his day to drive out of the Church “the deadly error” that all “believers” are on the way to salvation and to remind the faithful that “without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate…” Who in the hierarchy today is driving out that deadly error as opposed to encouraging its further spread through “ecumenical” and “interreligious” manifestations like that appalling video?
As for the currently popular “ecumenical” notion, promoted by Francis himself, that baptism alone makes one a member of the Church, Gregory reiterated the constant teaching of the Church to the contrary: “A schismatic flatters himself falsely if he asserts that he, too, has been washed in the waters of regeneration. Indeed Augustine would reply to such a man: ‘The branch has the same form when it has been cut off from the vine; but of what profit for it is the form, if it does not live from the root?’” It would appear that almost nobody in the hierarchy is willing to defend that truth today. The only schismatics left in the world are “radical traditionalist” Catholics, and hell is apparently reserved only to them, the Mafiosi, the arms dealers, and other politically acceptable targets of anathema.
So, who won the debate? I hope the Faith won the debate, and that this event contributed in some way to a greater understanding of the reason for the unprecedented evangelical paralysis the hierarchy now exhibits, both ad intra and ad extra. The post-conciliar crippling of evangelization admitted by Cardinal Ratzinger will end only when the Church’s shepherds, including the universal shepherd, regain the courage to speak fearlessly again about the necessity of the one true Church and the one true religion for the salvation of souls. Until then, at least so far as nearly all of our hierarchs are concerned, the Great Commission is on life support.
URGENT NOTE: Just as the debate began, Mike Matt had to leave the hall because he received the bad news about his mother’s post-operative stroke. Please redouble your prayers for Marilyn Matt.
Christopher A. Ferrara: President and lead counsel for the American Catholic Lawyers Inc., Mr. Ferrara has been at the forefront of the legal defense of pro-lifers for the better part of a quarter century. Having served with the legal team for high profile victims of the culture of death such as Terri Schiavo, he has long since distinguished him a premier civil rights Catholic lawyer. Mr. Ferrara has been a lead columnist for The Remnant since 2000 and has authored several books published by The Remnant Press, including the bestseller The Great Façade. Together with his children and wife, Wendy, he lives in Richmond, Virginia.