Fr. James Martin, SJ

Fr. James Martin, SJ

When I first converted to Catholicism, I was a major fan of Fr. James Martin and his book, My Life with the Saints. As the editor of a major Catholic newspaper, America, it makes sense that he should also weigh in on the present state of affairs. The following is what he said here:


The pope’s choice for auxiliary bishop of Linz, Austria, has withdrawn his name from consideration after a firestorm erupted after the priest’s comments about Hurricane Katrina (which he said was God’s punishment on the people of New Orleans for their sins) and homosexuality (which he said was curable).  Father Gerhard Maria Wagner, withdrew in the wake of criticism and a vote of no-confidence by 31 out of 39 senior priests in the diocese.  The Times has the fallout from this decision, as well as from some of the other recent debacles the Vatican has been facing (including SSPX and Maciel).  Dave Gibson at Dotcommonweal, posted a helpful summary of the Linz mess, entitled “Vox Populi Moves Vatican,” to which Robert Mickens, the Vatican correspondent, demurred, saying that it was in fact the “vox cleri” that did it in the end.

An irony: Pope Benedict XVI’s election was hailed as a move that would place in Chair of St. Peter, after 25 years, a man with extensive experience working in the Curia, and a deep knowledge of Romanita, and how to get things done.  No longer, Vaticanistas said, would the Curia be as haphazardly managed as it was under Pope John Paul II, who was, it was said, more concerned with matters outside the church. 

What happened?

Most of what Fr. Martin says is already “old” news in the sense that it has been chewed and written about by many major and minor news outlet. The important portion of this short blog entry lies in the second half in which Fr. Martin speaks about the expectations that certain Vatican observers had about Pope Benedict XVI and his pontificate.

Although I am not a Vatican insider, I do feel that the Vatican is being better managed these days than it was under Pope John Paul II.  During the 25 years of Pope John Paul’s pontificate, the Vatican seemed to run on a very frenetic pace. Encyclicals, apostolic constitutions, and other documents were streaming out constantly. Canonizations and beatifications seemed to have reached epidemic proportions. Pope John Paul II also toured numerous countries every year. As a child, I remember that the Pope was constantly on the move and never at the Vatican. Of course, the Curia would be in a haphazard state. If the shepherd is running around all day ministering to the flock, then the little people in their offices would find themselves in a state of furious activity.

Pope Benedict’s pontificate is much more different than that of his predecessor. As a theologian, author, and the head of the CDF,  Pope Benedict has been a Vatican insider almost from the beginning of his career. He knows how the Roman Curia works and like Pope Pius XII, he understands that Rome works slowly. While some will lament the fact that an explanation of the Motu Proprio has not been seen recently, the current pontificate is moving in the same way that Rome has for centuries. Modern technology can change much of that, of course, but much of that depends on who is in charge.

Fr. Martin asks what happened at the end of his commentary. Perhaps, the more appropriate question would be: “Why did it happen?” While Vatican insiders certainly were happy with the selection of Pope Benedict by the College of Cardinals, it should be noted that from the first months of his pontificate it was clear that he was going to take a conservative stand. With the publication of Jesus of Nazareth and his encyclicals, the Holy Father showed where he stood as a theologian.

In July 2007, however, the Pope signed and promulgated the Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum.” With this landmark document, many traditionalists in the Church saw the doors opening. Things would change for the better and the crisis in the Church would be resolved.

As the months rolled by, the Gregorian Mass began to spread to dioceses and parish churches that were sometimes dominated by the Ordinary Form. From small towns in Nebraska to cathedrals all around the world, the Mass of the Ages was suddenly back. Many bishops felt discomfort at this. Some decided that they would ban it outright, others decided that it would be much, much better to place all kinds of obstacles in front of the people who wanted the Gregorian Mass and the priests who would serve it. 

This was only the beginning of the reaction, however.

Within the last several weeks, salvo after salvo has been sent to the Vatican from around the world. The Austrian crisis is simply the latest in a long list of problems that the Holy Father has had to face. The lifting of the excommunications of the SSPX bishops was and is a big deal because it opens the door to reconciliation. Bishop Williamson’s nutty remarks aside, there are many people in the SSPX who are sincere in their devotion to the Holy Father  and the traditions of Holy Mother Church. However, Bishop Williamson had to face the music and the Holy Father was forced to come to a decision.

Rather than looking at the current scandals in the Church and the ways in which Satan is hoping to undermine the Pope’s authority once and for all,  Fr. Martin should look at the spiritual side at this. It is important to remember that every time there has been a revival in the Church following a crisis, the devil has done all that he can to shut it down. It happened with Fr. Martin’s own Jesuits when they were suppressed in one European country after another. It is happening again today.

Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!

Sts. Peter and Paul, pray for us!