The Big Ugly

If you’re a Catholic and you have a pulse, you feel it: we’ve entered into a moment in Church history that is wholly unique. Some will seek historical parallels in this or that heresy, this or that crisis, and mostly fail to do so. In large part, they fail because they’re wrong, but also because they analogize to trivialize. They want to console themselves, or others, with the thought that “we’ve been through all this before, and we’ll get through this again.”

Except we haven’t, and many of us won’t. And a growing number of us have become acutely aware of that fact. This is a battle for souls, and you’d better believe that some will be lost.

Yes, there were bad popes in history. Terrible popes. There were Borgia popes and murderous popes and even rapist popes (like John XII) and corruptions of every kind in the papacy.

Yes, we’ve also had a couple of popes who were a little too fond of playing with heresy. John XXII did it, though he didn’t mean to, and it was on something not yet defined. (He also recanted his error after being duly confronted about it.) Honorius also liked heresy (though we can’t say for certain he ever truly embraced Monothelitism). But to borrow a line from the bard, “if it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Honorius answered it.” The Third Council of Constantinople gave old Honorius a posthumous pile-driver. “We anathematize Honorius,” it said, “who did not seek to purify this apostolic Church with the teaching of apostolic tradition, but by a profane betrayal permitted its stainless faith be surrendered.” In a separate letter to the bishops of Spain, Pope Leo II also condemned Honorius as a pope who “did not, as became the apostolic authority, quench the flame of heretical doctrine as it sprang up, but quickened it by his negligence.”

Bad popes happen. The history of papal lapses is something we have covered in these pages before, and I do not intend to rehash it all here.

What I do intend is to propose that we know through our examination of history that there really has never been any situation quite like the present moment. We are apparently the lucky ones. We have a pope who has not only been accused of covering up for the perpetrators of the ghastliest of sexual crimes, both before and during his pontificate, and of filling his council of closest curial advisers with similarly corrupt men, but of more heretical utterances and doctrinal errors than was previously believed possible under the charism of papal infallibility – which, despite the horrors of sexual abuse, is actually the greater crime.

And with the pope himself as the centerpiece of corruption rather than the standard of orthodoxy, we see all around the world the tolling of the bells for the Church as we know it: corruption, abuse, perversion, complicity, heresy, and even sacrilege that would put a smile on a Satanist’s face, all happening within our clergy, everywhere, for seemingly all of living memory, much of it hidden, a great deal of it now coming to light.

If people don’t start tearing down churches with their bare hands by the end of this, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Of course, they won’t have to, because dioceses around the world will sell them off to property-developers who will turn them into high-rent residential spaces or maybe even gay nightclubs. After all, something we’ve learned from all the sexual abuse cases is that co-opting religious imagery is a feature of degeneracy.

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