Fatherly Comfort in Times of Trouble

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ACKNOWLEDGING THE TROUBLES OF LIFE

Man is born to trouble,” said Eliphaz to Job, “as surely as the sparks fly upward.”

This is not a truth that we always want to acknowledge. When the sun is shining and life is good we hope that it will never end. We always want good times to roll on forever. Any reminder that trouble might come our way is hit out of field by the human psyche with all the force of a top baseball player.

But God’s word tells us about reality. It gives us the true shape of life so that we do not live under a cloud of the world’s lies. The Bible corrects our nearsightedness. Scripture will not permit us to be victims of the devil. Thus, God in his majestic truthfulness testifies that trouble is an inescapable part of life for a Christian. St. Paul goes so far as to say that no true Christian will live a trouble-free life on this earth.

This does not mean that every Christian’s troubles will be the same. Some may face extreme situations like martyrdom and exile from their homes (like the Christians in ISIS occupied territory). Others may simply face the daily weariness of work and family, and the mental struggle of living in an ungodly world.

There is, after all, a deep existential tension of being a Christian in the 21st century. There must be. There should be. Nobody can love the world, writes St. John, and love God at the same time (1 John 2:15). Friendship with the world, says St. James, is enmity with God (James 4:4). Given this, Christians can feel like they belong to a shrinking number of the sane. The irreverence and ungodliness around us can torment the mind and soul just as the things Lot saw in Sodom caused him great distress (2 Peter 2:7).

Sometimes Christians experiences trouble as the by-product of the sinful nature. Even as redeemed people, we can make misjudgements, be rash, and come to wrong-headed conclusions about things. We can make bad decisions. There are a legion of examples.

Pastor Tim Conway once related the story of a friend. This young man married a woman who was a local beauty pageant winner. His godly friends counselled him against the match. They could see her true character but like many eager young people, he saw only the surface. Shortly after the marriage the young man discovered his bride was contentious, ill-tempered, and disloyal. She withheld herself from him sexually, had flirtations with his friends, and eventually ran away with one of his buddies never to return.

Christians can (and do) make errors of judgement. We do not always faithfully observe the teaching of scripture, wisdom and the Church. Even Christians can make choices that plunge them into years – perhaps a lifetime – of trouble. No wonder the scriptures tell us to consult the words of the Lord frequently. Meditate on God’s law day and night, writes the psalmist (Psalm 1:2). Joshua commands the people to not only think on God’s word, but to have it continually on their lips (Joshua 1:8).

It is supreme wisdom to adapt our behaviour to God’s will. To walk circumspectly and thoughtfully. For this will keep us from falling into sin. It will prevent us from piercing ourselves with many needless sorrows.

But sometimes we do not stray from the narrow way of Jesus. At times our hearts are overflowing with praise to the King. Our fellowship with God in prayer can be so rich it is as though we walk in the perfumed gardens of Eden with the Lord. At times Jesus can draw us so near to the extent we can almost wonder if we are about to enter heaven. At such times, God’s holiness falls on the heart, we long for more and more righteousness, and his word is life to us.

And then trouble can come.

This is a paradox indeed! Trouble can come when we believe ourselves to be following most closely on the heels of the Master. This has been the discovery of many godly men and women throughout the ages. They often built the Kingdom of God under the weight of trouble. Amy Carmichael, the Irish missionary who spent fifty-five years in India saving girls from temple prostitution, was bedridden in her latter years. Why did such trouble come to such a powerful missionary for the Lord?

We can wonder about this. Why do difficulties sometimes come when the heart burns for the Lord and for the fulfilment of his righteousness? This is a mystery, but there is comfort from the Lord. For though a man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward, God is the Saviour and Father of all who believe.

TROUBLE, NOT SUFFERING

Notice that I avoid the word “suffering”. In the modern world the word “suffering” is an impaired word. For a start it is commonly linked to ill-health. “Poor Mrs Oliphant,” we say, “she suffers from arthritis.

Under such repeated usage dinned into our ears, we come to associate suffering with a continuous state usually afflicting the body. This raises the high bar on what constitutes “suffering”. People can mistakenly conclude that unless you have Big Bad Stuff going on in your life it is not suffering. The word tends to excludes many painful human experiences. “Oh, you are getting harassed at work? That doesn’t sound so bad. The rest of your life is OK. Can you really call it suffering?

The word “suffering” also evokes fear. It conjures up terrifying visions. It excites painful anxiety. “What kind of suffering am I to endure?” we may fret, “What is going to happen to me?

Such anxiety may be difficult to avoid but it is wrong. It is evident that by God’s grace most Christians do not experience the worst of life. Some brave Christians (whose reward in heaven is undoubtedly very great) do indeed undergo a baptism of fire and their lives are admittedly very difficult. But such Christians are always compensated with abundant joy and grace so that like St. Paul they are enabled to sing even while in the stocks of prison.

Nonetheless, this kind of deep hardship is not a general rule. It does not seem to be God’s intention that his Christian people be kicked to the curb. In fact, God richly blesses his children with many joys both temporal and spiritual. His Church – as a rule – does not go about in ceaseless mourning. God has made a time for tears but also a time for laughter, and for most Christians, there is indeed more laughter than tears.

Thus it is neither healthy nor wise to meditate on the difficulties of others. Neither should we get caught up in the stories of the disgruntled who seem angry at God for their pain. It is not for us to judge the invisible spiritual forces or God’s mysterious purposes. Neither is it up to us to work out all the details of someone else’s life. It is not our place to judge the Judge of All the Earth. A speculative mind on the issue of trouble is polluting.

God has set before us lives to ponder in scripture. These people were no strangers to trouble. But the lives he offers to us to consider are ultimately triumphant ones. All of them. That should be the focus. For as Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones once preached, “Some Christians seem to think that God wants them for the same reason the devil does: to torment them.” Such thinking always arises from error and it produces a calumny against God. God is a Father to his people. That is a solid, unassailable truth.

Thus the word “trouble” is better. For a start it is more expansive. It covers a lot more ground and includes the full panoply of Christian struggle. From the minor to the major.

FATHERLY COMFORT

The Letter to the Hebrews contains comfort for anyone who experiences trouble.

It comforts in three ways. Firstly, by reassuring readers that Jesus is a faithful and compassionate high priest whose heavenly intercession is truly efficacious. Secondly, the letter gives a long list of people who were able to face many difficulties through their faith in God. Faith is not just an esoteric feeling, the letter tells us, it takes concrete forms. The letter shows us how to have faith. Thirdly, the letter provides us with answers. It teaches us that our troubles should be regarded as God’s fatherly dealing with us.

There is far too much to mention all at once. But reading this letter prayerfully, with special attention to Hebrews 11 and 12, will surely offer substantial joy, comfort and strength. Here are some thoughts.

The chapter opens with the following statement:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

This truth comes first because it is the foundation of peace in the turbulence of the storm. If we do not believe that God created all things then we do not have the sort of faith that can receive God’s comfort.

It is not sufficient to simply “believe” in God’s creative acts on an intellectual or mental level. We are surrounded by talk of evolution and the Big Bang. The unbelieving world operates on the basis of this grand deceit and pummels the Christian relentlessly. Unbelief is so ubiquitous that it can chip away – slowly at first – at the Christian’s certainty. Evolution and Big Bang cosmology can quite easily leak into the mind of the Christian so that he plays a double-game. One the one hand he can persuade himself that he believes in creation, while in his heart he doubts and secretly thinks these theories have validity.

A conviction of creation must be deeply internalised so that we come to see that Christ stands behind every painted surface in the universe; whether the rise and fall of a leaf, or the roll of thunder, the rays of sunlight. We must know that Jesus governs all creation.

If this is our faith, it transforms into a source of comfort. It is a great encouragement to know that we can pray to the King of Creation, a King who governs not merely a nation, but all existence. This is the King who sculptured the planets and ignited the stars. If he can do that which is very great, can he not help us in our times of trouble? Can he not perform miracles of grace in our lives? Most assuredly, he can.

The writer goes on to provide a long list of saints who accomplished things by faith. Many of these saints – in fact, all of them – endured struggles of many kinds. But by faith in the Living God, they not only endured, but triumphed over them.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8).

Here the writer emphasises faith in God as we plunge into the unknown. Times of trouble can be frightening precisely because often we do not know what is going to happen. The unknown can make our trouble seem unbearable. Will I be ruined? Will I be outcast? Will I be killed? Will I lose my faith?

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Abraham also was sent on a journey into the unknown. He left behind all that was familiar and safe. He did not know where he was going. He journeyed in the dark but he had the faith to believe God would look after him. And God led him safely all the years of his wandering.

The writer goes on:

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

By faith, Abraham and Sarah did the impossible. They produced a child when Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah’s barren womb was unquestionably dead. No child had been conceived within her for 90 years. Her past history with childbearing – that is to say, zero children – could have left her with little hope for the remaining years of her life.

For indeed the years had made their mark on the pair. No doubt both were grey-headed and growing gaunt and feeble. They had been allowed by God to age to the point where they were past all possibility of reproduction. Physiologically it was impossible. Barrenness had been a source of trouble and grief in their lives. And God now promised to relieve them at the point where it seemed they had missed the boat.

Yet, hoping against all hope, and believing against all belief, they had faith in the promises of God. God used the material before him. He caused Abraham to desire his wife; and he caused life to flare into existence inside Sarah. After such a long wait, she experienced the joy of being a mother.

In times of trouble; in times of sadness, loneliness and grief we can wonder whether God will ever come for us. Will joy ever lighten our way again? We may sometimes patiently wait and pray for a long time. But faith is always rewarded in God’s economy. And the longer we wait, the greater the reward tends to be. This should serve as a great inspiration to cling to the promises of God in his word. To take him at his word in faith. To keep praying, to keep doing good, to keep plodding heavenward. It is a Christian cliche, of sorts, but it is nonetheless moving: keep on keeping on.

In the 12th chapter, the writer tells us:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

Sometimes Christians experience trouble due to God’s corrective discipline in our lives. The writer tells us that this discipline is for our good. It is intended to make us more holy and thus more ready for our meeting with the King at the end of the world.

When God lands blows upon his children in the form of troubles, he does so out of fatherly concern for their soul. Perhaps we are starting to flirt with spiritual danger. Perhaps we are growing cold or arrogant. Perhaps we are hardhearted and need the carapace of self-regard cracked apart. Perhaps we have sinned (or are sinning) and need to be yanked back onto the path of Jesus.

Whatever the case – even if sometimes we may not know the reason for it at all – this corrective discipline, the writer assures us, produces peace and righteousness when it is finally over. Correction and discipline does not feel pleasant for the moment. It is painful and grievous. We do not like it. But the results make it well worthwhile. It leads to the Christian surrendering bad attitudes, habits or desires and learning to love and follow Christ more wholeheartedly. It leads to a life that is more abundant. A life that is brimming with Jesus. A life that is more flourishing like the tree planted by a spring, with its branches that grow over the wall heavy with fruit (Genesis 49:22). It leads to a life that is more joyful, more complete, more rich, more free, and more godly.

It leads to a life that is more full of Jesus; He who is the source of all goodness, joy, laughter, peace, and righteousness. He who is the light of the world.

The Throne Wobbles: The Political Assassination of Pope Francis

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Once more sexual scandal rocks the Roman Catholic Church. But underneath the surface a vicious civil war is being fought in a deeply divided church. Allegations of cover-up are the daggers. And Pope Francis faces a political assassination.

The Roman Catholic Church has fallen upon hard times of late.

Across the world, sexual scandals are exploding like ACME dynamite in a Looney Tunes skit. Each one rocks the church to the core.

Just in this year alone there have been scandals in Chile, Australia, Pennsylvania, Guam, and Honduras. There are dozens of victims – if not hundreds – going back over decades. Investigators have identified hundreds of perpetrators, which now include some of the highest ranked clergy in the world: bishops and cardinals. Some of these have been convicted in secular courts. A cardinal awaits sentencing in Australia.

And it is not only children who have suffered from clerical abuse, but also seminarians. These young men, some of them scarcely more than teenagers when they began their priestly training, have been abused by men who claimed to be their shepherds. They were harassed, groomed, and coerced into sexual relationships with clergy who were old enough to be their uncles. It has been revealed that rampant homosexuality is virtually the norm in some seminaries around the world.

In July of this year, Lifesite News reported the claims of seminarians in Honduras. They complained:

“We are living and experiencing a time of tension in our house because of gravely immoral situations, above all of an active homosexuality inside the seminary that has been a taboo all this time,” continued the young men’s letter, “and by covering up and penalizing this situation the problem has grown in strength, turning into, as one priest said not so long ago, an ‘epidemic in the seminary.”

An article published by the National Catholic Register, also in July, made the following claim:

In a letter written to the seminary’s formators that was subsequently circulated in June to the country’s Catholic bishops, the seminarians asserted “irrefutable evidence” exists that a homosexual network pervades the institution and is being protected by its rector.

The article goes onto allege that high-placed clergymen had sexual relationships with young seminarians. This is not only a breach of Roman Catholic doctrinal teaching on sexuality and a violation of the vows of celibacy that priests are meant to take in the sight of God, but surely a clear instance of more powerful individuals taking advantage of inexperienced and relatively less powerful young men:

Similar to the charges surrounding Cardinal McCarrick, who reportedly engaged in a long-standing practice of pressuring seminarians into sexual activity with him while he was serving as bishop in two New Jersey dioceses during the 1980s and 1990s, Auxiliary Bishop Jose Juan Pineda Fasquelle of Tegucigalpa has been accused of engaging in homosexual interactions with Tegucigulpa seminarians.

And, just as the revelations regarding Cardinal McCarrick have provoked troubling questions about what his brother U.S. bishops and the Vatican knew about his interactions with seminarians and about why nothing was disclosed publicly for so long, the Honduran allegations call into question the actions of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.

While Cardinal Maradiaga — a key confidante of Pope Francis who is coordinator of the “C9” group of cardinals advising him on reforming Church governance and the Roman Curia — is not himself the subject of allegations of sexual misconduct, he is now under fire for appearing to have disregarded a wealth of evidence of homosexual misconduct by Bishop Pineda, whose resignation as auxiliary bishop was accepted by Pope Francis July 20.

The Honduran seminarians’ letter reportedly was not met with praise for having come forward in June; Cardinal Maradiaga instead accused the seminarians of being “gossipers” who wish to portray their fellow seminarians in a bad light, according to sources in Honduras.

The same article reports allegations that more than half of the seminarians in the diocese are homosexuals – something that could never be known if these men were celibate.

These are not victimless sins. This is evil that damages people’s lives forever. Sexual abuse and harassment inflicts terrible wounds on people’s souls and mangles their capacity for trust and faith. Nothing could be more aptly described as the work of Satan than the sexual abuse of children and the sexual coercion of young people since it fundamentally destroys and impairs their human flourishing.

It is not only the horror of the sexual perversion itself that is nauseating. It is also the rank hypocrisy.

The perpetrators and their abettors are the same men who claim for themselves some kind of apostolic authority, and therefore some kind of moral privilege. They even dare to take unto themselves the title alter Christus – that is, “another Christ”. Could there be anything that better qualifies as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? When a man preys upon the vulnerable like Satan, and at the same time to pretends to be “another Christ”, he has reached a degree of hypocrisy never approached even by the Pharisees.

St. Jude tells us that such men are: “…wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” These words surely affix themselves to these grotesque moral and religious mutants. The text also comforts the Christian with the reminder that judgement will most assuredly occur.

THE ASSASSIN’S BLADE

The conclusion is inescapable. Dark cesspits have formed within the Catholic organisation. They steam and bubble and release the fetid odours of sin which until now have remained out of the public eye due to an active effort of concealment.

But a great exposure is taking place. This is not just driven by the findings of courts. It is also being driven by high-ranking clerics effectively spilling their guts to the media. They have sought to “out” each other. They have targeted each other with accusations. They have stamped question marks over each other’s reputation.

It is a vicious political bloodletting that in a previous age would have resulted in piles of bodies, unceremoniously tossed into graves, jewelled daggers firmly inserted into backs.

It is now transparently clear that the Catholic hierarchy is at war with itself. Cardinals are taking potshots at each other. Bishops and priests are weighing in. Both traditionalists and liberals within the church have tried to cast the blame for cover-up and deception upon the other camp. Herein we see the principle that you should never let a good crisis go to waste. Both sides are using it to damn the other.

Some clergy are jockeying for position. They sense that fresh vacancies will soon be open in the upper ranks when senior clerics are purged. Others have battened down the hatches in the hope that the storm will pass and their careers will be unaffected. Still others are spinning their wheels so fast to rewrite history that they have nearly started a small tornado.

Much of the heat has arisen due a former Apostolic Nuncio by the name of Carlo Maria Viganò.  A few weeks ago, Viganò released a lengthy testimony that named prominent and powerful clergy who, Viganò claims, knew of the deplorable behaviour of Cardinal McCarrick but did nothing to stop him.

Most damning of all Viganò has claimed that Pope Francis was told about McCarrick as far back as 2013, and singularly failed to take action. The letter seethes with a spirit of moral retribution. If you want people to resign for their failures, Viganò says, then begin with yourself! Viganò seems to suggest that if Pope Francis wants heads from among the top then he will most certainly get heads: and one of the first to roll will be his own.

It is the first time in living memory that any highly-placed member of the hierarchy has publicly denounced the head of the pyramid: the pope himself. The Roman Catholic Church operates under a strict code of secrecy and silence, which Father Raymond de Souza outlined in the Catholic Herald just a few days ago:

Whatever the truth or falsity of the claims made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in his “testimony” calling for the resignation of Pope Francis, it is indisputable that he spectacularly violated the pontifical secret he swore an oath to keep.

That is an earthquake for the Vatican diplomatic corps and the Roman Curia. The “pontifical secret” which binds them is not the confessional seal, nor is it as grave as the conclave seal for the cardinal electors, but it is most serious. After Viganò it will never be the same.

Archbishop Viganò justified the revelation of details he learned on the job on the grounds that his conscience did not permit him to keep corruption hidden. He brazenly invoked the mafia term omertà to speak about the code of silence he was breaking.

Curial officials and Vatican diplomats take their oaths very seriously. I have known dozens of them, many as close friends, and the norm is that they quite punctiliously refuse to discuss even routine matters that cross their desks.

For example, 10 days before the papal trip to Ireland, I asked an old friend, a current official in one of the Vatican congregations responsible for bishops, whether in fact there were any tribunals set up to judge bishops foreseen in the motu proprio of Pope Francis, Come una madre amorevole. He would not answer. I had not asked for any particulars, just whether it was even happening. (Pope Francis confirmed that such a case was underway on his return flight from Dublin.)

And the Vatican takes the oath seriously too. The VatiLeaks affair of a few years ago involved stolen and leaked documents by one who violated his oath, the butler of Benedict XVI. He was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced (though eventually pardoned).

Supporters of Pope Francis argue that the accusations have arisen primarily from the traditionalist camp of the church because so many traditionalists loathe the pope. Viganò is sometimes described as a traditionalist.

Indeed, supporters of Pope Francis turned their guns on Viganò very quickly. There are now allegations that he also is tainted. The New York Times reported that Viganò has been accused of hindering a sexual misconduct investigation in Minnesota. If this is true, it marks Viganò out as another hypocrite trying to stiff the pope.

The progressives in the Roman Catholic Church see the traditionalists as people who want to turn the clock back to the medieval period; to go back to Latin, arcane rituals, and a loveless moral legalism. They claim the “trads” feel threatened by Pope Francis because his vision of a humbler, more humane church is a threat to their power and their vision.

A lot of traditionalists made their careers, after all, by being public warriors of a hard Catholic morality. They mouthed the conservative lines of the previous popes with an eye to getting a bishop’s mitre or a cardinal’s hat. With Pope Francis, all that work seems to count for nothing! That’s why they are so happy to torpedo a reigning pope, the progressives say. It is an act of revenge. It is spite.

There is probably quite a bit of truth in this.

On the other hand, the opponents of Pope Francis claim that something shady has been going on. They say that Pope Francis has done little to combat the abuses in the church and his public speeches of contrition and prayers are not enough to deal with the problem. The traditionalists accuse Pope Francis of being a scarcely-Catholic ultra-liberal left-winger, influenced by liberation theology. They claim his theology is scrambled and unclear. They also view him as an ecclesiastical tyrant. The pope is political animal, they claim, who fights with the viciousness of South American cutthroat politics. He stacks the Vatican with his own “yes men” and engages in petty retribution.

Pope Francis is possibly all of these things. It is hard to know for sure, given the crackling hostility within the Vatican. This “Holy City” is a hothouse, steamy and humid with petty grudges and politicking. It is a jungle where senior clerics hate each other venomously.

Father John Zuhlsdorf alluded to this very atmosphere on his blog earlier this week:

When I working in a Curial office I was at first rather taken aback by the style of letters I had to write, with flowery – to American ears – phrases and formulae. Why not just get to the point? What’s with acknowledging receipt of “Your Excellency’s is most esteemed letter under date of…”?

I eventually figured it out. The elaborate courtesy and formulae allowed people to sincerely disliked each other and vehemently disagreed to continue to communicate and get things done.

Francis is certainly in a difficult position because he heads a church that is rapidly becoming ungovernable.

The Council of Trent worked hard to give the See of St. Peter the illusion of a divine mandate and thus the guarantor of unity. But the 16th century polish – although very hard-wearing and long-lasting – can be softened and removed by modernism. Thus the shine is off. The papacy is fast regressing to the murderous intrigues of pre-Reformation skulduggery. The papal office itself is now contested territory.

Up until now, the crackle of gunfire has been muted. The war has been fought behind curtains. Shots in the dark. Whispers and rumours. Political signals and coded snubs.

But now the conflict is in the daylight. There has been a drive-by shooting at high noon. The gunman that pumped the trigger is Viganò.

And his ambush has worked, at least so far. Pope Francis is politically and morally crippled. Discussion about his fitness is omnipresent from the Catholic in the pew, to the secular media, to the clergy themselves. Benedict XVI proved it was possible to resign the job, and he quit due to age. Why couldn’t Francis step down too?

The question now on everyone’s lips, which Pope Francis has so far publicly refused to answer, is: “What did the Pope know and when did he know it?

According to the Spectator, the evidence is mounting that Pope Francis knew about McCarrick. Yet Pope Francis has given no denials. Instead he flatly refused to address the Viganò testimony, telling journalists that they should judge the credibility of the accusations for themselves. He has also preached a homily recently in which he spoke of silence sometimes being the only acceptable response to false accusations.

The implication, with all the subtlety of a sack of hammers, is that the accusations are preposterous and beneath the pope’s dignity.

Now, it is quite possible that Pope Francis is a hapless casualty of the internecine conflict within the Roman Catholic Church. It is also quite possible that Pope Francis is as stained and tarnished as large numbers of senior clergy appear to be. We simply do not know.

All we know for certain is that Pope Francis has plenty of enemies. Many are his religious “brothers and sisters” – what a lovely lot! We know that there are large numbers of conservative Catholics who see Pope Francis as dangerous and heretical. Some have even prayed for his death, as one Polish priest was disciplined for doing recently.

We also know that Francis has plenty of friends who play hardball and show no mercy.

There’s a lot of water left to flow under this bridge.

We must take Solomon’s wisdom to heart and judge the case with balanced scales. This means we must let the situation run its course and sensibly, patiently, and intelligently wait for hard evidence to emerge before arriving at conclusions. For nobody deserves a trial by media, not even a pope, and nobody deserves to be condemned and hanged on the basis of Tweets, rumour, innuendo, and hearsay.

What Did Pope John Paul II Know?

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Pope John Paul II reigned for nearly 30 years. Much of the abuse that is now coming to light occurred under his pontificate. Moreover, many of the abusers that are being exposed were trained and nourished in the priestly arts while he was pope. A lot of these were flushed down the drain when the abuse scandal exploded in 2002. That year, and those following, the scandal was covered relentlessly by the media and the Catholic Church parted with countless millions of dollars in compensation and legal fees. A slow and shuddering change started to occur – it turns out to be very expensive to harbour perverted animals in your organisation – although many perpetrators remained hidden in the vast spiderweb of the Roman Catholic organisation.

What this means is that of the last three popes, Pope John Paul II sat on the biggest powder keg of them all. He was in charge before the secular authorities began the house cleaning; before the dirty linen started to get aired; before the law came after them. The question legitimately applies to Pope John Paul II. What did the Pope know and when did he know it? All of the evidence seems to indicate that John Paul II presided over a deeply corrupt, money-focused Vatican, and that he not only was disinterested in the issue of child abuse, but would not listen to reports that were sent to him about it.

There is no earthly way Pope John Paul II could not have known. The fact that nothing was done gives us a deep insight into the true nature of the Roman Catholic Church.

JOHN PAUL II – THE CONSUMMATE POLITICIAN

Let’s turn the clock back to 1978. Karol Wojtyla, a youngish Polish archbishop was elected by the conclave of the Roman Catholic Church. He took the papal name of Pope John Paul II. In short order, he proved to be wily and cunning politician.

John Paul II was able to be a good politician because he was a perplexing blend of inconsistent energies. His personality crackled with oddities. On the one hand, he yearned for traditional Catholic family values. He was particularly wont to glorify both the figure of mother and motherhood. He refused to buckle on the issue of birth control.

Yet, despite this staunch conservatism when it came to women he was exceedingly liberal in his views of other religions. He wanted Catholics to join forces with Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and virtually any other halfway sizeable religion in order to influence the world for the better. After all, to engineer social justice you need numbers. If you get a bunch of religions on the same wagon, you have a lot of social justice warriors. And if John Paul II taught anything, it was definitely the Social Gospel.

Pragmatic and calculating when it came to inter-faith alliances, John Paul II was also a decided mystic. It was said that each morning he would crawl around a large map of the world praying for different nations. He is reported to have had “prophetic visions”, and to talk with the Virgin Mary. This tendency is not surprising since he was fiercely dedicated to the cult of the Virgin Mary, even giving her the attribution for saving his life during the assassination attempt by Mehmet Ali Agca:

Could I forget that the event in St. Peter’s Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over sixty years at Fátima, Portugal? For in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet.

He was also an exceedingly clever politician.

It was the commensurate political skill of Pope John Paul II – who combined both liberal and conservative impulses in an inconsistent amalgam – that satisfied the two wings of the church for decades and kept them from tearing each other apart.

He achieved this state of Cold War by giving both sides theological morsels in turn. One month, for example, he would thunder out canonical law with the fire of a desert prophet and fiercely condemn liberation theology, birth control, and communism. The traditionalists would throw up their hands and cry, “Great is Pope John Paul II! He is our man.” Yet the liberals would mutter darkly and the shadows would begin to stir.

Then, a few months down the track, John Paul II would issue apologies for past crimes, or beatify national saints (which he did by the truckload), or soften the official stance on liturgical issues. He would talk about world peace, condemn consumerism, and proclaim St. Francis of Assisi the patron saints of ecologists. The liberals would throw up their hands and cry, “All is forgiven! We were in error. Great is John Paul II. He is our man.”

Shortly afterwards, he would simply wash, rinse, and repeat the process.

By this means he kept both traditionalists and liberals in stasis. He had a forceful and charismatic temper which when combined with his contradictory and unsystematic theological views, enabled everyone to claim him as his own. For example, I have an exceedingly liberal grandmother who firmly believed that Pope John Paul II was a great “spiritual man” and a liberal leader who held views similar to her own. By the same token, Father John Zuhlsdorf, a convinced traditionalist who trumpets the value of Latin and wants to revive countless archaic Catholic traditions, regards Pope John Paul II with similar reverence and respect. Zuhlsdorf counts him as a traditionalist defender of Catholic morality and of a tidy Catholic liturgy.

Pope John Paul II also managed to keep the Roman Curia – the secretive bureaucracy of the Vatican – on his side. He did this by never rocking the boat. During his 28 year pontificate, he did little to reform, investigate, or change the curia’s processes or privileges even following the nearly Hollywoodeque Banco Ambrosiano scandal and exposure of the crooked dealings of Roberto Calvi – the Italian known as “God’s banker” – who was connected with the Vatican.

The Banco Ambrosiano, of which the Vatican Bank was a majority shareholder, was used by the Mafia to run a money laundering operation and also by the Masonic Lodge Propaganda Due (P2). Propaganda Due was later found by a parliamentary investigation to be a secret criminal organisation with links to Argentina and numerous corrupt dealings involving banks. Propaganda Due was sometimes called a “state within a state” or a “shadow government” due to the large number of journalists, politicians, industrialists and military leaders who were involved with it.

Roberto Calvi was discovered in 1982 hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London with his clothes stuffed with bricks and cash in three different currencies totalling $14,000 (US). In 2007, Italian magistrates ruled his death a murder – not a suicide as it may have been intended to appear – and said the case was effectively closed and the five people charged with his murder were acquitted. The defence argued that too many people had an interest in his death, such as the mafia and Vatican officials.

The scandal should have torpedoed any remaining illusions that the Roman Curia and the Vatican administrative apparatus was “the most perfect government on earth”, as it has liked to present itself. In fact, it was an episode that should have troubled all but the most hardened consciences. For during the 25 years in which Calvi’s murder was repeatedly investigated by private and public investigators, time and again the Vatican was spoken of in connection to extreme corruption. Vatican business dealings with the Banco Ambrosiano meant that, through the nexus of the bank, they were commercially rubbing shoulders with criminal organisations that were implicated in murders.

One demonstration of its corruption was revealed more recently by Cardinal George Pell (who is awaiting sentencing following a trial for historic sexual abuse). Pell admitted that during his audit of Vatican finances, he had discovered hundreds of millions of euros that had not appeared on balance sheets. Moreover, he also admitted in an interview with the Catholic Herald that one of the problems of auditing Vatican finances was the resistance of each department to transparency. Naturally Pell used the euphemism “independence” but it is clear what is implied. Pell said:

I once read that Pope Leo XIII sent an apostolic visitor to Ireland to report on the Catholic Church there,” he writes. “On his return, the Holy Father’s first question was: ‘How did you find the Irish bishops?’ The visitor replied that he could not find any bishops, but only 25 popes.

So it was with the Vatican finances. Congregations, Councils and, especially, the Secretariat of State enjoyed and defended a healthy independence. Problems were kept ‘in house’ (as was the custom in most institutions, secular and religious, until recently). Very few were tempted to tell the outside world what was happening, except when they needed extra help.

Pell went on to drop a bombshell. Not only were Vatican finances healthy, but large pools of money were washing around the Vatican completely unaccounted for. One must ask the question, “Where did this money come from?” and “Who was profiting from this money while it was sitting unaccounted for?”. Pell, of course, gives no inkling about this:

It is important to point out that the Vatican is not broke. Apart from the pension fund, which needs to be strengthened for the demands on it in 15 or 20 years, the Holy See is paying its way, while possessing substantial assets and investments.

In fact, we have discovered that the situation is much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet. It is another question, impossible to answer, whether the Vatican should have much larger reserves.

Pell then frankly admits that the Vatican was involved with criminal activity, to such an extent that other European banks would not deal with it. He says:

Many will remember the scandals at the Vatican bank (IOR) in the early 1980s, with Archbishop Paul Marcinkus and the lay bankers Michele Sindona and Roberto Calvi (who was famously found hanged under Blackfriars Bridge), and the Vatican being constrained to pay $406 million (£259 million) in compensation. Comparative quiet then returned, until the international laws against money laundering needed to be applied within the Vatican.

The authorities supervising the Vatican bank did not move swiftly enough, and some tens of millions of euros were frozen by the Bank of Italy, with many European banks refusing to deal with the Vatican. It was a grave situation where the worst was narrowly averted. It was only this November [2014], after years of dialogue and good work, that the €23 million (£18.3 million) were released.

All of this developed under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II who showed little interest in doing much about Vatican finances and this reflected his preference for the dirty linen of the Catholic Church to be kept under wraps – until it exploded.

Given the wretched condition of the Vatican administration under his reign, it is not at all surprising that there are significant numbers of people today who believe that Pope John Paul II was well aware of the abuse that ran like a plague through his church, and yet he did not take concerted action against it.

His supporters argue he did not know. Like the common peasant myth in Tsarist Russia, it was not the king himself who did not wish to act, but rather his evil officials who kept the truth from him. Likewise, supporters of John Paul II have said that had he known – had he been told – he would have vigorously sought to root it out. Unfortunately the corrupt curia prevented the knowledge from flowing through.

Such an argument (if true) confirms the rottenness of the Vatican administration, something that is now acknowledged even by the most ardent Catholics, but it is not really a credible argument. To claim that Pope John Paul II was actively denied knowledge of the prevalence of abuse, or that he had no knowledge of abuse during a 30 year period when literally thousands of abuse cases occurred and were reported, requires a faith that exceeds that of a simple believer in God. You would need to believe in supernatural ignorance, for that is what it would take for this argument to hold.

Contrarily, there is striking evidence that not only did Pope John Paul II know about the abuse, he actively sought to suppress its exposure.

The pontiff “turned a blind eye to the problems that were happening in Los Angeles,” said Joelle Casteix, Western Regional Director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

“The canonization of Pope John Paul II is very traumatic for victims of sexual abuse in the catholic church because they don’t see him as the unifying figure that many other Catholics do,” Casteix said. “They see him as someone who knew about sexual abuse, covered it up, promoted wrong doers and allowed more priests to molest kids.”

It is difficult not to come to the same conclusion articulated by Joelle Casteix, given that the Vatican has virtually drowned in cases of sickening child abuse for nearly two decades.

In February last year, the Business Standard magazine reported the comments made by Thomas Doyle to the Royal Commission inquiry into historical sexual abuse in Australia. Doyle alleges that Pope John Paul II had indeed known about the abuse:

Late Pope John Paul II was aware of priests sexually abusing children, and of efforts by the Catholic Church to cover up the allegations, an American canon lawyer claimed on Tuesday.

Thomas Doyle, an expert on cases of sexual abuse by the clergy, said this while testifying at a hearing here in Australia, Efe news reported.

Doyle is deposing before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in public and religious institutions.

He also said that in 1985 at least four US dioceses sent reports to the Vatican on child sexual abuse by priests.

Doyle went on to describe his personal involvement in trying to solicit support from Pope John Paul II for stamping out abusers within the Roman clergy:

One of these reports were prepared by Doyle himself, who requested a bishop be sent down to Luisiana to deal with cases of paedophilia.

The report was sent by courier to the Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal John Krol, who took it to the Vatican the next day, said Doyle.

He added Krol handed the report to the Pope, who read the document and named a bishop for the purpose – AJ Quinn – within three days.

However, Quinn, he said: “turned out to be part of the problem, not part of the solution, because he was trying to figure how to continue with the cover-up.”

After being informed, Pope John Paul II appointed a bishop who proceeded to cover up the abuse. Given John Paul II’s political instincts, it is again questionable whether this could be an accident. If Thomas Doyle can be believed – and there is no reason to question his integrity – there are only two possibilities here. Either John Paul II wanted to minimise the fallout and scotch tape the situation up, and therefore gave implicit or explicit instructions to that effect, or the culture in the Vatican was so noxious that the bishop concluded off his own bat that his sole duty in being awarded the task was to cover it up as best as possible.

Doyle went on to say:

Doyle’s claims came a day after a detailed report by the Australian Catholic Church that revealed around 4,500 people reported cases of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy between 1980 and 2015.

Presented by Gail Furness, the counsel assisting the commission, the report said between 1950 and 2010, 1,880 alleged perpetrators were identified — 572 priests, 597 religious brothers, and 96 religious sisters and others.

These figures are mind-blowing. The numbers provided by the Australian Catholic Church themselves, indicate that in the space of 60 years there were 1,880 perpetrators of sexual abuse. Given that each perpetrator probably offended many times, and despite the fact that perpetrators would not have been identified in consistent batches, it still provides an average of 31 offenders per year over a 60 year period. Or, to word it another way, it means that on average two clerics began to abuse children in the Roman Catholic Church every single month across a 60 year period.

This is not including the physical abuse that was documented by the Royal Commission, or the frequent efforts to get justice from the victims.

Even supporters of Pope John Paul II admit that his response to endemic levels of horrific abuse was “slow”:

Supporters of the late Polish Pope say he was slow to wake up to the enormity of the sex abuse scandal because in his homeland he had witnessed the Communist authorities use trumped-up allegations against the clergy to attack the Church.

They also claim that his aides may have known of the scandals but kept them from the Pope – an argument discounted by victims’ groups.

The Telegraph article continues:

In Austria, the Church has paid token compensation to 1,800 victims of sex abuse in return for their silence, and not a single priest has been defrocked or removed, he said.

Nicky Davis, 50, from Australia, another member of SNAP and a former victim, said: “All of us here were abused because John Paul II chose not to act in the way that the Vatican claims he acted. We don’t believe it’s saintly behaviour to allow sex abuse to continue for a 27-year reign. He could have used his enormous power to save children but instead he decided to save the reputation of the Church.

And victims ominously comment on Pope Francis’ response as far back as 2014:

Victims’ groups are also highly critical of Pope Francis, saying that he has taken no tangible steps during his 13-month papacy to crack down on abusive clergy, instead simply forming a committee to address the issue.

In an interview in March which prompted outrage from survivors of sexual abuse, he claimed that “no one else has done more” than the Catholic Church to root out paedophilia.

The Church was “perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility,” he told Corriere della Sera, the Italian newspaper. “Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked.”

Mrs Blaine said: “Francis is cleaning up the Vatican bureaucracy and demoting bishops who live in luxurious mansions but he has taken no action to protect children. Sexual predators remain in the Church today. Rather than turn them over to the police, and release the Vatican’s documents on predators priests, he has just set up a commission.”

Pope John Paul II also seemed to keep company with some very shady characters, some of whom were later found to be abusers of children and rank hypocrites, even by the rock-bottom standards of the Roman Catholic clergy. One of these was the leader and founder of the Legion of Christ, a Mexican priest by the name of Marcial Maciel Degollado. He was eventually exposed as once being addicted to drugs, being expelled twice from seminary as a young man, and having kept two mistresses – one of which was given a luxury apartment in Madrid with funds not disclosed. He is also known to have fathered six children – although there could well be others – and to have abused possibly a hundred children, two of them his own.

Bizarrely, the order he founded – the Legion of Christ – was meant to form the character of priests and seminarians. It is little wonder it has come under scrutiny given the consistently weak moral calibre of its founder. Nonetheless, the Legion of Christ now describes Macial’s actions as “reprehensible”. The Vatican also has described him as “immoral” and labelled his behaviour “true crimes”. Yet, for all of this outrage and fury, the Vatican was well aware of the accusations of child abuse that accompanied the man wherever he went.

In 2013, GlobalPost did a feature expose on Macial:

Dozens of victims in multiple countries made sexual abuse allegations against Maciel over the course of several decades, dating back to the 1950s.

Though he was suspended in 1956 from his leadership of the Legion by Pope Pius XII after being accused of abusing youths in Mexico, Cardinal Clemente Micara, the Vicar of Rome, reinstated him in 1958 after his predecessor’s death and Maciel enjoyed a long and prosperous career despite the claims of as many as 100 victims.

As the claims mounted, Pope John Paul II knuckled down. He offered praise and protection for a man about which there was no possible way he could not have be aware of the allegations against him. How are we to understand this gaping lapse in judgement?

It could be understood as an instance of Pope John Paul II’s pigheadedness, as his supporters claim. The pope was a stubborn old man, and like many stubborn old men could not be told. Maybe he was just firmly placing his head in the sand, and that because he had come to believe the best of Maciel he would not hear a word spoken against him. If this is true, then the pope was strikingly naive to the point of utter stupidity. Had his long pontificate with the thousands of accusations of child abuse against “upstanding” clergy not taught him anything?

Or, is it more likely that this is a case of Pope John Paul II’s razor-sharp pragmatism at work? After all, Maciel sent streams of money to the Vatican. Was toleration of a serial child abuser the price that had to be paid for the church coffers to be filled?

The Globalpost goes on describing an extraordinary pattern of apparently inexplicable protection, which involved not just the pope but the Vatican administration as well:

A man of great charisma, and the greatest fundraiser of the modern church, Maciel cultivated a relationship with John Paul II, using scenes of the two men in video-tapes that the Legion distributed to its growing base of benefactors. Maciel accompanied John Paul on papal visits to Mexico in 1979, 1990 and 1993, and in 1994 he was celebrated in “an open letter by Pope John Paul II celebrating Maciel’s 50th anniversary as a priest, appeared in major newspapers of Mexico City, as a paid advertisement, celebrating Maciel as ‘an efficacious guide to youth.’”

In 1997 a Hartford Courant investigation by Gerald Renner and Jason Berry identified nine seminary victims of Maciel in on-the-record interviews. The Vatican refused to comment. In 1998, the ex-Legionaries filed a recourse in Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s tribunal seeking Maciel’s ouster. But John Paul continued praising him, and the canon law case went nowhere.

Letters sent directly to the Vatican in a diplomatic bag were never acted upon:

Vaca entered the Legion in Mexico in 1947, at age 10. Repeatedly abused by Maciel in Spain from age 12 through adolescence in Rome, the young priest went to Orange, Conn., as the Legion’s U.S. director. In 1976, when Vaca left the Legion, joining the Diocese of be Rockville Centre, Long Island, N.Y., he sent a blistering 12-page letter to Maciel, naming 20 other victims.

With support of Bishop John R. McGann, he sent the letter to the Vatican in a formal protest, which achieved nothing. With McGann’s support he petitioned the Vatican to punish Maciel again, sent via diplomatic pouch from the Vatican Embassy, without action. His final attempt in 1989, again through Vatican channels, included an impassioned cover letter to John Paul specifying what Maciel did.”

According to a Newsweek feature article published in 2013, Marciel was swimming in cash, regularly carrying $10,000 on his person:

Meanwhile, he held great prominence in Rome. Cardinals relished the grand dinners with a mariachi band at the Legion college. He traveled relentlessly, each time taking $10,000 in cash with no questions asked from his subalterns.

He also cleverly directed cash into the right pockets, not only giving insight into the calculated nature of his corruption, but into the corruption that exists at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church amongst people who are supposedly charged with the oversight of the eternal souls of other people. Newsweek reports:

Gaining access to the small chapel in the Apostolic Palace turned on a flow of donations Maciel allegedly orchestrated to Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish assistant to John Paul and gatekeeper of attendance at the private masses, who admitted only a few world leaders.

In 1995, according to former Legion insiders, Maciel sent $1 million via Dziwisz in advance of a papal trip to Poland. In 1997, according to a priest who left the Legion and spoke on the condition of anonymity, a wealthy family from Mexico gave Dziwisz $50,000 to attend a private papal mass. Dziwisz, now a cardinal in Kraków, did not answer my questions about the incident, sent by fax in 2010 and translated into Polish. “This happened all the time,” the ex-Legionary told me. “It was always in cash. And in dollars.”

While the Vatican has no constitution or statutes that would make such transactions illegal, a second priest who says he gave funds to Dziwisz said, “You don’t know where the money is going. It’s an elegant way of giving a bribe.”

He targeted powerful cardinals:

In Rome, Sodano was a “cheerleader for the Legion,” as several ex-Legion priests told me. “He’d come give a talk at Christmas, and they’d give him $10,000,” said one. Another recalled a $5,000 donation to Sodano. (Sodano has also declined my interview requests.)

And when he finally was kicked out of his position, he left an organisation that was worth more than the economy of several small island nations combined:

The Legion had a $650 million annual budget and $1 billion in assets by May 2006, when Ratzinger, as Benedict, banished Maciel to “a life of prayer and penitence.” The Vatican communiqué did not stipulate what he had done. But Maciel had “more than 20 and less than 100” victims, according to an unnamed Vatican official quoted by John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter.

The abuser was never punished by the Roman Catholic Church, unless retiring to a villa to pray is considered a form of punishment:

Maciel retired to Jacksonville, Florida, and a house with a pool in a gated community the Legion bought to comply with Rome’s penitential order. He died January 30, 2008, surrounded by several priests, his daughter Normita, and her mother, Norma Hilda Baños. Several days later he was buried at a family crypt in his hometown, Cotija de la Paz.

His son Raul watched the news on TV in Cuernavaca; several years had passed since he had been heard from, though Raul in subsequent interviews said he never forgot how the man he knew as dad sexually abused him through adolescence, a charge now pending in a civil lawsuit against the Legion in Connecticut.

The Legion website announced that Maciel had gone to heaven. It took them another year to disclose his paternity, which sent shock waves through the movement, at which point top Legionaries began apologizing to the pedophilia victims whom they had attacked for years as participants in a dark conspiracy.

At that point the Vatican, which had known about the daughter for four and a half years, announced an investigation of the Legion. In 2010 the Vatican took the scandal-battered order into receivership, something unique in the modern church.

According to Raul Gonzalez, his father seemed well aware that his time would be up after John Paul II died:

“My dad told my mom that when John Paul II dies, he was going to be in trouble,” said Raul Gonzalez, who filed a lawsuit in 2010 claiming that he is one of Maciel’s children and alleging the late priest molested him beginning when he was 7 years old.

If true, this suggests a deep and disturbing relationship between the pope and Marciel.

The Roman Catholic Church now faces the circling wolves of secular authority. Governments around the world have come to the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church is incapable of restraining the bestial impulses of its clergy and cannot be trusted to act properly toward victims when their cases come to light. In other words, government authorities no longer have any confidence that the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church can be counted on to do much more than cover up evil behaviour.

In Australia, state governments are determined to pass laws that would force priests to divulge the secrets of the confessional to the police when they hear confessions involving sexual abuse. This would mean that priests would have to violate the much-ballyhooed “seal of the confession” which forbids priests from revealing anything mentioned in the confessional booth on pain of excommunication. The Roman Catholic Church is quite robust in its rejection of the new laws; more robust, indeed, than it ever has been in rooting out and disposing of the evil people who have infested its hierarchy.

To some extent, the new laws are symbolic because they are unenforceable. If something is revealed in the confession, who would know? And if a confession is anonymous, how can it be reported? It has also been pointed out that sexual predators do not generally confess their sins to priests because they have no conscience. They have rationalised their abuse and justified it to themselves. Finally, the popular image of Catholics regularly going up to a confessional booth to spill the beans to Father McHellfire is far from the reality for most modern Catholics in the Western World. Confession is no longer the norm for most Catholics.

But Australian state governments are – understandably – determined to send a message to a church that has been gravely implicated in scandals involving children. The message is this: the days of your power are fading and like it or not your church will be ruled by secular law because you clearly cannot govern your own. It is, in one sense, the assertion of the primacy of parliament over the Catholic church. And if there was any hesitation on the part of lawmakers about implementing these laws, the disgraceful spectacle over the last few weeks will have dispelled any doubt.