Archbishop Gänswein: Current Crisis is Catholic Church’s Own 9/11

“I perceive this time of great crisis, which today is no longer hidden from anyone, above all as a time of grace...”

Archbishop Georg Gänswein attends a Sept. 29, 2015, Vatican press conference
Archbishop Georg Gänswein attends a Sept. 29, 2015, Vatican press conference (photo: Bohumil Petrik/CNA)

On the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 Islamist terrorist attack on the United States, Archbishop Georg Gänswein said the Catholic Church in the U.S. is undergoing her own 9/11 — an “abomination of desolation” — but one that the Church will survive because her foundation is the truth of the Risen Lord that can never be weakened or destroyed.

Archbishop Gänswein spoke today at the presentation in Rome of an Italian translation of the book The Benedict Option, by U.S. journalist Rod Dreher.

The personal secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of a “whirlwind of news of the past weeks” that included the publication of the grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.

Archbishop Gänswein said the Catholic Church now must “cast a horrified glance at her own 9/11” even if “unfortunately this catastrophe did not occur on a single day but over many days and years, and affecting countless victims.”

He stressed that he had no intention of comparing the victims of clergy abuse to the 2,996 lives lost in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

“And yet,” he said, the latest news coming from the United States “tells us of how many souls have been irreparably and mortally wounded by priests,” something that is “news even more terrible than if all the churches in Pennsylvania, along with the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, were to suddenly collapse.”

After addressing the fact that the event was on 9/11, Archbishop Gänswein turned to Dreher’s book. He said the American author and convert to the Orthodox Church had written it “almost in quiet dialogue” with the “silent” Benedict. And he referred to Dreher’s mention of the “analytical and prophetic power” of the Pope emeritus when Benedict wrote in 2012 of the “spiritual crisis overtaking the West,” something that Benedict said “is the most serious since the fall of the Roman Empire near the end of the fifth century.”

Archbishop Gänswein remembered Benedict XVI’s words in Washington in April 2008 when he spoke of the Church’s “deep shame” caused by sexual abuse of minors. But the German prelate, who serves as the prefect of the Pontifical Household, said the Pope’s lament “could not contain the evil, nor could it contain the formal assurances and commitments in the word of a large part of the hierarchy.”

He went on to recall Benedict’s famous words to journalists on the papal plane to Fatima in 2010, when he said: "The Lord told us that the Church would constantly be suffering, in different ways, until the end of the world. … As for the new things which we can find in this message [the third secret of Fatima, ed.] today, there is also the fact that attacks on the Pope and the Church come not only from without, but the sufferings of the Church come precisely from within the Church, from the sin existing within the Church.”

To further underline the extent of the current crisis, he also reminded those present of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s prophetic words at the Way of the Cross in March 2005 when he famously said, “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency!”

Today’s crisis, Archbishop Gänswein went on, is an “ecumenism of need and secularization,” of lack of belief and a “common flight from God and from the Church that runs through all confessions.” For this reason, he said, quoting Dreher, “we are witnessing the watershed of an epochal change,” a “great flood,” which he said Dreher had foreseen.

But he also deferred to Dreher’s opinion that the “eclipse of God in no way means that God no longer exists,” but that many no longer recognize God because “shadows” have been cast in the Lord’s way and so “obscure him.” Today, Archbishop Gänswein said, “it is the shadows of sins, misdeeds and crimes from within the Church that hide from many the sight of his luminous presence.”

He regretted how only 9.8 percent of German Catholics go to Mass on Sunday, and stressed how the “so-called ‘Sunday Obligation’” is ancient and actually “the most precious distinguishing sign of Christians.” He spoke of “the abomination of desolation in holy places” — something Archbishop Gänswein said his parents also had perceived in their own day.

This is probably experienced by every generation, he said, but added he has felt in recent days as though he were back at his father’s forge in the Black Forest where he would hear the sound of hammer blows on the anvil “that seemed to never end.” But this time, he said, he was “without my father, whose safe hands I trusted as those of God.”

Archbishop Gänswein said he was “evidently not alone” in feeling this, and recalled the words of Cardinal Willem Eijk to the Register in May this year. The Dutch cardinal, responding to Pope Francis’ ambiguous decision on intercommunion for Protestant spouses, said the crisis reminded him of the “final trial” that the Catechism says will “shake the faith of many believers,” a persecution that “will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity.’”

But Archbishop Gänswein went on to say that Dreher’s vision is not “apocalyptic” like Robert Hugh Benson’s dark novel Lord of the World but rather resembles practical instructions for the “construction of an ark.” In this sense, he said, Dreher is a man “who is entirely after the favor and taste of Pope Francis, who knows like no one else in Rome does that the crisis of the Church is at its core a crisis of the clergy.”

Archbishop Gänswein said that as a layman, Dreher, who left the Catholic Church for Orthodoxy over the first sex abuse scandal, helps to show that the “hour of strong and decisive laity has struck, above all in the new independent Catholic media, exactly as embodied by Rod Dreher.”

He went on to refer to Dreher’s “eloquent” account of the earthquakes that struck St. Benedict’s native town of Norcia in 2016, destroying the basilica there, and the author’s positive outlook: that although the current crisis is alarming, “the coming storm may be the means through which God delivers us.”

Archbishop Gänswein closed his speech by observing that for many it looks as if the Church will “never be able to recover from the catastrophe of its sin” and almost “seems about to be devoured by it.”

But he pointed out that even the Church’s own “Satanic” 9/11 “cannot weaken or destroy” the truth that the origin of her foundation has been brought about “by the Risen Lord and Victor.”

Archbishop Gänswein concluded: “I must therefore honestly confess that I perceive this time of great crisis — which today is no longer hidden from anyone — above all as a time of grace, because in the end it will not be any special effort that will free us, but only ‘the Truth,’ as the Lord has assured us.”

Shannon Mullen, Editor-in-Chief of CNA

Meet CNA’s New Editor-in-Chief, Shannon Mullen (July 31)

A new era has begun at the Catholic News Agency even as the news cycle continues to bring challenging stories both inside the Church and around the world. This week on Register Radio, we get to know Shannon Mullen, the new editor-in-chief of CNA. And then, we are joined by the Register’s Washington Correspondent, Lauretta Brown, to catch up on the latest pro-life news from the nation’s capital.