Silence fell on a central piazza in downtown Rome at 2pm yesterday when Catholic men and women of various ages and nationalities stood in lines for an hour, reading devotional texts and praying the Rosary.
Organized by lay faithful belonging to various Catholic associations, passersby looked curiously at the scene while police officers guarded the square.
On the edges of the piazza, helpers handed out leaflets headed with the words: “In Silence to Break Down the Wall of Silence!”
The accompanying text said those taking part were “united by love for the Church, her doctrine, and her institutions,” and were gathering under the name Acies Ordinata — a title taken from the Song of Songs and which is reserved for the Most Blessed Virgin Mary who “gathers together the army of her faithful ones and scatters her enemies.”
“As children of the Church militant,” the protesters said, “we are here to profess publicly our Catholic faith, but also to break down the wall of silence: the sepulchral silence of the pastors of the Church in the face of an unprecedented doctrinal and moral crisis.”
They had chosen that particular piazza because the nearby church of San Silvestro in Capite contains the relic of the head of St. John the Baptist who, the organizers pointed out, Herod reduced to silence but whose “mute tongue continues to speak to our hearts.”
The timing of the protest coincided with this week’s Feb. 21-24 Vatican summit of presidents of the bishops’ conferences on “Protection of Minors in the Church,” called after a raft of abuse scandals in the Church around the world, and public outrage following revelations of sexual abuse by former cardinal and priest, Theodore McCarrick.
It also followed the testimony of former nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano who last summer called on Pope Francis to resign for rehabilitating McCarrick despite allegedly knowing of his abuse. Viganò also blew the whistle on an alleged protectionist, homosexual network among high-level Vatican officials.
The protesters therefore said it was a “historic” opportunity to confront not only sexual abuse of minors but also what they see as its underlying cause: “moral corruption” in the Church which they said includes “every violation of divine and natural law, beginning with the terrible plague of homosexuality.”
A similar sentiment was coincidentally expressed the same day by Cardinals Walter Brandmüller and Raymond Burke, who released an open letter to the bishops attending the summit, calling on them to end a “conspiracy of silence” on preaching the Church’s doctrine, and to return to upholding the divine and natural law.
Yesterday’s unprecedented protest, the first by laity in Rome in relation to the current crisis, was carried out “in a respectful and ordered manner” to express the will of those who won’t surrender to the silence, according to their publicity. They added they were praying the Rosary or reading texts of “the Catholic Tradition” in order to “fortify our resistance with prayer and study, convinced that only by recollection can one be prepared for action.”
The text of the leaflet ends with an appeal “to the silent bishops,” asking that some of them have the “courage to break their silence” and calling on the Lord “in these calamitous times” to come to the “aid of our weakness and with one single Word save the Church.”
“O Lord, do not be silent!,” the leaflet ended.
A Rome priest not participating in the event said it was a “powerful witness demonstrating concerns of many about the Church” by those who “feel powerless to do anything about it.” He observed how even a “silent witness” can be a “manifestation of the Church’s faith” and predicted the demonstration would “encourage others to stand up for the truth.”
Many passersby were curious and perplexed by the demonstration. “Why are they bothering to stand up for the Church?,” asked Simoletta, 45, from Rome. “This country is dead, the Church is corrupt, and Italians are suffering because of it. “All Italians feel the same way,” she said, adding that she believed clergy and religious had become “too politicized.”
On social media, many expressed their support: “They have my respect,” read one tweet, while another wrote: “Enough is enough.” Another tweeted: “Sometimes it is the duty of the faithful to hold up the banner of faith and keep the course of the Church.” Many said they wished they were there to take part, while a critic tweeted: “Are we observing the same Church? The pastors of the Church seem to be talking about nothing else these days [than a moral and doctrinal crisis].”
Explaining to the Media
The extent of the crisis was examined at a press conference that followed the protest, made up of a seven-member panel of lay faithful who took part in the demonstration. Each belonged to Catholic movements, associations or media in Europe, North America and Latin America.
“Like the entire Catholic world, we Poles are sad about the condition of the Church and Christian civilization,” said Arkadiusz Stelmach of the Polish Father Piotr Skarga Association. He pointed to a “dramatic struggle between a “gnostic and egalitarian revolution” and resistance to it, and drew attention to “increasingly furious attacks” on the Polish Church. He spoke about a lackluster response from the country’s episcopate, adding that this “very tragic situation” calls for faithfulness to “clear traditional Catholic teaching and doctrine.”
Jean-Pierre Maugendre, president of the French lay movement, Renaissance Catholique, observed that the “spirit of reconciliation with the world” had “emptied the dogmas of their substance, destroyed the liturgy, reduced morality to a vague sentimentality, annihilated the missionary spirit.”
He criticized a “deafening silence” in the face of statistics showing 80% of cases of clerical sex abuse of minors are of a homosexual nature, and deplored the “desacralization” of the priesthood whose “sacrificial and oblative meaning,” he said, must be restored. The need for reform, he added, is “utterly indisputable,” but will only succeed if it is focused on Christ.
Church historian Roberto de Mattei of the Lepanto Foundation also pointed out the unwillingness of Church leaders to highlight the homosexual element to clerical sex abuse, and drew attention to a new book by Frédéric Martel, In the Closet of the Vatican, which, De Mattei said, seeks to claim any Church member who “condemns homosexuality is a homophobe and every homophobe is a repressed homosexual.”
The book is an attempt “to exercise a menacing media pressure” on the bishops attending this week’s summit “in order to reduce them to silence,” he said.
“We are here today to break down this wall of silence,” he continued, adding that the silent public demonstration “can express a message more strongly than verbal language.”
De Mattei recalled St. Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule in which he defined “wicked pastors as mute dogs incapable of barking.” He said bishops of the world must have the “courage to stand up and break the silence,” otherwise their demonstration would serve as an “admonition” of those pastors who “with their sepulchral silence, are in fact disowning Catholic faith and morals.”
Asked whether any bishops would have supported the silent demonstration, De Mattei said the question showed how “absurd” the situation is, that one would even have to consider seeking out bishops to help pressure the Church to clarify her position.
Julio Loredo of the Tradition, Family and Property movement and a native of Peru recalled the legacy of missionaries to Latin America, stressing they did not “cheapen their mission” by compromising with pagan customs which included infanticide, polygamy and homosexuality.
“Against widespread sexual abuse, the missionaries presented the Catholic ideal in its integrity, confident that divine grace would do the rest,” he said. It was an approach, he added, that “proved to be historically successful” and “pastorally successful.”
Addressing clerical sex abuse, Loredo rejected abolishing priestly celibacy as a possible remedy against such crimes, saying the “most effective remedy is prayer and good priestly formation, thus reversing the moral, liturgical and doctrinal laxity that spread in the seminars since the 1960s. The rest will be done by divine grace, in which we must trust.”
John Smeaton, the director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, spoke of Pope Francis’ recent vocal support for sex education, but Smeaton disagreed with such a position, saying “possibly the greatest crisis facing young people today” was their “corruption by classroom-based sex education programs” being promoted by “both secular and Church authorities.”
Catholic media representatives also spoke: Scott Schittl of LifeSiteNews said the Church’s position on homosexuality should certainly be one of “mercy and pastoral care” but stressed that if it is to authentic, the Church must “teach the truths however difficult and politically incorrect.” He cited a 1986 Vatican document on pastoral care of homosexual persons that emphasised the necessity of “clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral.”
Michael Matt, editor of the Remnant newspaper, said the emphasis on “clericalism” as a leading cause of clerical sex abuse “seems designed to avoid addressing the root cause of the crisis which is homosexuality in the priesthood.” He added that only the Pope can “address the negligence and misconduct of bishops.”
Slide into ‘Moral Chaos’
Asked by Christopher Lamb of the British Catholic weekly The Tablet what evidential basis there was to show homosexuality was somehow linked to sex abuse of children, Matt said it was an “important question” and that he agreed with Pope Francis that “abuse of power” is a cause.
But he also responded by referencing the 2004 John Jay Report on clerical sex abuse in the U.S. that, he said, “made it very clear that a high percentage of this abuse is among post-pubescent males, male on male, going from children and then beyond that, seminarians and young priests who are vulnerable even if they are of age.”
“So that’s where we see a myopic, even politically correct, position being taken by the Vatican: to go after the very easy target of children being molested. Certainly they are, and we want to fight for their rights as well, but to leave it there is to be short sighted.” Matt said there are “a whole lot of other victims” coming forward, especially following the McCarrick scandal, and “they need a voice as well.”
In response to a question from Paddy Agnew of the Irish Times whether the extent of the abuse crisis in the Church points to something “fundamentally flawed” in the Church’s teaching, Matt replied there certainly has been a change in the “orientation” of the Church’s doctrine in that such teachings as mortal sin, confession, the Four Last Things (death, judgement, heaven and hell) are rarely mentioned by priests.
Instead, he said the Church has let the spiritual works of mercy “slide” over the past 50 years, so the faithful for two generations have “really not heard from the pulpit admonitions against being immoral, against homosexuality, against pedophilia, against heterosexual promiscuity.”
This has left “moral chaos” in the Church and it is “difficult to rein that in,” he said. The Vatican summit has begun flawed, he said, because bishops are “afraid to admit” some of these “fundamental changes” that have taken place in the Church over the last 50 years.”
Asked by the Register what the faithful could do tackle the crisis, Smeaton noted it is difficult “even for good, orthodox clergy” to break the silence, so lay people have a “role to play,” especially when, as has happened in the U.K., some Church institutions back secular ideologies such as “LGBT indoctrination” in schools — something Smeaton described as a form of “child abuse.”
De Mattei said the laity could organize similar initiatives to the silent demonstration. “The Catholic world is very large and not just bishops and cardinals but each one of us,” he said, buthe stressed the laity “cannot replace the shepherds” who have their duties “each according to their ability.”
He said he personally believes this crisis to be “so profound” that it “cannot be solved only on a human or political level, but there has to be an act of God, as has happened many times in history.”