The Roman Catholic Church is taking hits on many fronts, even if many of those hits are coming from within the Church.
Proof of this is the current friction between Catholic conservatives and progressives with Pope Francis’ call for a worldwide Synodal Process (“A Church that Listens”). A prime example is the German Church where the Synodal Path has gone full radical tilt, in effect turning the Catechism of Catholic Church on its head. German Catholic bishops have called for a Rite for same sex blessings, the end of celibacy for priests, and the ordination of women as deacons. In addition, the League of German Catholic Youth, an official Church organization, has called for (sacramental) gay marriage, the ordination of women as priests and full support for abortion.
Catholic bishops in Belgium have already implemented a liturgical same-sex blessing despite the Pope’s disapproval.
Obviously, this is not the same Catholic Church that people used to say was “as unchangeable as a rock.”
Meanwhile, ordinary Catholics are in a state of confusion. Gay Catholics can revel in their sexuality and go to Dignity Masses where the liturgical language is fraught with pronoun ideology, while gays who adhere to the Church’s (current) position on homosexuality (the orientation is not a sin but acting on it, is) join Courage, a group that fosters celibacy. Yet as the Synodal Process continues and as more and more countries come around to the German Church way of thinking, the more Courage members will seem like outdated dinosaurs or self-destructive masochists who are hopelessly tied to an old doctrine that no longer means anything.
Ten years from now I can easily imagine a Catholic bishop telling Courage members: “Your theology is out of date. Stop drowning in Inquisitional mud!”
Historically speaking, many of the changes in Catholicism implemented after Vatican II came from German sources. Germany has always been the great trouble maker, dating back to the Frankish influence that eventually led to the adoption of the Filoque clause in the Nicene Creed that eventually led to the great East-West schism of 1054.
The Synodal Path to Reform, already in high gear, will further change mainstream Catholicism, providing something of MGM proportions doesn’t happen in the interim, like a world chastisement and three days of darkness (as predicted by Padre Pio), which will alter the course of the world’s downward spiral.
In the meantime, the Church will have to deal with more mundane matters, such as a potential schism within its own ranks, as traditional Catholics are pushed out on margins so thin they’ll be no hard ground to stand on. And while many Catholics have converted to Orthodoxy because the latter retains a patina of tradition, Orthodoxy is undergoing its own crisis: geopolitical schisms and divisions, the lack of a universal primate with the power to unite disparate Orthodox Churches, as well as a shortage of priests, especially in American parishes affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate. All of this has necessitated, in some circumstances, the ordination of professional men as priests and deacons with established careers who have never seen the inside of a seminary but who learn as “they go along.”
So, as the two great apostolic branches of Christianity undergo their assigned crises, the world is busy devising its own progressive Synodal Path to Reform which may impact both Churches in a profound way.
There is now a push to end the clergy-penitent privilege clause in mandatory child-sex abuse reporting laws. For instance, in 2020 in Queensland, Australia, the State Parliament made it a crime for Catholic priests to withhold details given in confession if a penitent confesses to child abuse. In the United States, the end of the clergy-penitent privilege is in full swing, most noticeably in the state of Delaware, where the President and First Lady flamboyantly showcase their love for the Rosary as they campaign for abortion on demand or proclaim that it is a sin to not to support the transgender agenda.
The primary sponsor of Delaware’s HB 74 is Democrat Representative Eric Morrison, a progressive and former community activist (translation: woke BLM supporter), a member of Delaware Pride, the Rainbow Chorale of Delaware who defeated his conservative Democrat opponent, Earl Jaques, Jr., soundly in the 2020 primary.
In 2020, The Advocate noted:
Eric Morrison, a gay man, bested Earl Jaques in the race for the state’s House of Representatives in the 27th District. During the campaign, Jaques, a conservative Democrat who had voted against marriage equality and a conversion therapy ban, had criticized Morrison for performing in drag. Jaques later apologized. Marie Pinkney, who identifies as queer, beat David McBride in 13th District race for state Senate.
Their victories are in addition to that of Sarah McBride, the transgender woman who won the state Senate Democratic primary in the First District and is on track to become Delaware’s first trans legislator.
Morrison’s bill got the attention of The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, led by Bishop William Koenig, who issued a statement opposing the bill:
The Sacrament of Confession and its seal of confession is a fundamental aspect of the Church’s sacramental theology and practice. It is nonnegotiable. No Catholic priest or bishop would ever break the seal of confession under any circumstances. To do so would incur automatic excommunication that could only be pardoned by the Pope himself. It would be a clear violation of the First Amendment for the government to interfere in this most sacred and ancient practice of our faith.
CatholicVote.org noted that a careful reading of the Delaware bill shows that, while it upholds the legal recognition of client-attorney privilege that has long been defined in English common law and constitutional interpretations of the Sixth Amendment, it deletes language granting the same right between priest and penitent in the Sacrament of Confession.
Democrats and some Republicans are on the attack nationwide, and the Catholic Church is their main target.
Democrat State Senator Richard Sears (Dick) of Vermont, a career politician who assumed office in 1993, introduced a bill to close an exemption to that state’s child abuse and neglect reporting laws for members of the clergy. Sears, who describes his religion as Congregational, decried the overturning of Roe v Wade, and has throughout his career somehow avoided appearing too radical, but on this issue he seems to be obsessed. Sears’ current term ends in 2025, so it is likely that he wants one more hurrah before he calls it a night.
For a priest, breaking the seal of confession incurs automatic excommunication that only a Pope can pardon. So far, Catholic bishops have been rallying to defeat these bills wherever they may pop up. In Vermont — the land of leftist Birkenstocks — Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington appeared before the Senate Judiciary in December 2022 to oppose Bill S 16, which would eliminate a priest’s protection from the mandatory abuse reporting law.
In Kansas, State Senator Tom Holland, a Democrat, introduced S.B. 87 this year which would erase the clergy-penitent privilege and charge any priest who withheld information he heard in confession (related to child abuse) with a misdemeanor. Holland’s 2019 version of the bill contained an exemption for the penitential privilege. Holland’s radicalization is noteworthy and indicative of a national trend.
Holland told the Topeka-Capital Journal he was concerned the clergy-penitent exemption would be “a back door to not reporting” that would discourage law enforcement investigations. Exempting confessions would be “the easy way out.”
In Utah in early March, 2023, 4 separate bills similar to the one advanced in Delaware were introduced but failed to advance in the Utah State legislature, due in part to lengthy opposition by Bishop Oscar A. Solis, who called on Utah Catholics to contact lawmakers.
The Washington State legislature had the choice between two bills concerning mandatory child abuse reporting by clergy. The Senate bill, S.B. 5280, preserved the clergy-penitent privilege but the House bill, H.B. 1098, did not. The Senate bill managed to pass and will remain the law of the land in that state.
But for how long?