People who cite that phrase have no qualms about recounting the history of Adolf Hitler (who’s dead). The same people are comfortable speaking of Watergate and the involvement of Richard Nixon (who’s dead). Thousands more examples could be given. Only a hypocrite, then, would contend that objective facts about someone’s life are off limits once they’ve passed into eternity. Whether we like it or not, the objective facts remain.
That’s why, for example, I have no problem discussing Watergate, even though Richard Nixon died in 1994.
When I heard about the death of Fr. Richard McBrien, I found myself reflecting upon old questions which refuse to go away. Along with so many Catholics, I asked, “How could this man have remained a priest, while publicly denying so many fundamental Catholic teachings?” After all these years, I still don’t have an answer. In 2008, McBrien was asked why he remained in the Catholic Church. He answered, “I was born in it.” He failed to give the only correct answer, demonstrating that he lacked a basic understanding of the Faith. It is unacceptable to be a Catholic merely because one “was raised” Catholic or “feels comfortable” around Catholics. The only correct reason to be Catholic is that one believes in the truth of the Catholic Faith. 1
Much has been written concerning McBrien’s dissent. It bothered me tremendously that he usually wore his Roman collar only when he appeared on television. He even admitted it, declaring, “My Roman collar is my television uniform.” Hearing this makes me so agitated—and it doesn’t help that I’m half Irish. Appearing on television is the one time HE SHOULD NOT have worn his Roman collar. I would not object if he only wore his collar when caring for the poor, but appearing on television dressed as a priest while disssenting from the central truths of the faith I consider shameful. For the record, Fr. McBrien was not alone. Many years ago, I worked for a priest who always wore a Hawaiian shirt. Once—when an FSSP priest who always wore the cassock visited him—he emerged from his rectory wearing a cassock! But only for that day.
As I’ve said, I cannot explain why someone like Fr. McBrien was allowed to remain a Catholic priest, but perhaps Bishop Fulton Sheen hit the nail on the head when he said, “If the Church were as holy and perfect as some would want, those same people would be too ashamed to seek admittance, because of their great sins.” That is to say, we should focus on our sins, not the errors of others. As usual, Sheen is right—but it’s not always easy.
EVEN IN THIS AGE OF LIES, there are still a few things—albeit only a very few—people will not tolerate. For example, after the Watergate tapes were made public, people would not tolerate Richard Nixon condemning “dishonest politicians.”
This has led to a surprising liturgical development. For years, those seeking to eliminate the Traditional Latin Mass insisted upon tolerance for diversity in worship. Therefore, when Catholics choose the Extraordinary Form, there’s nothing these folks can say without coming across as horrendous hypocrites. It never occurred to them that so many would ardently desire this venerable rite. They concentrated so strenuously on promoting “liturgical diversity” and “letting everyone have what he prefers” they boxed themselves into a corner.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Without question, other factors can also contribute. Fr. McBrien mentioned some other reasons, but failed to give the only authentic answer; which is kind of scary considering the education he received.