When Priests and Prelates Dance Around the Golden Calf

After Moses had been up on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, the children of Israel grew impatient and asked Aaron to make them a god to lead them on their journey through the wilderness (Ex. 32). Aaron complied by taking all the earrings from the wives and daughters and fashioning a golden calf with an engraving tool.

Upon completion of the calf, the people cried out and identified it as the god who brought them out of Egypt, and Aaron built an altar before the calf and proclaimed, “Tomorrow is a feast of the Lord.” The next day the people offered holocausts and peace offerings, and then, after sitting down, they ate and drank, and later rose up and engaged in sexual revelry (I Cor. 10:7).

Yahweh tells Moses of their depraved behavior and declares that he wants to wipe them off the face of the earth and build a new nation starting with Moses. Moses intercedes for the people and God “relents of the punishment he had threated to inflict on the people” (Ex. 32:14).

However, when Moses comes down off the mountain and sees the golden calf and the drunken revelry, he burns with a fierce anger and takes the tablets he received from Yahweh, with the different laws that were engraved on them by the very hand of God, and throws them down breaking them at the base of the mountain. The golden calf is later ground to powder and mixed with water which the revelers are forced to drink.

 

Moses then divides the people between those who are for the Lord and those who are not. The Levites come to Moses’ side and are then dispatched to kill all the infidels. Three thousand perished that day and the next day Moses goes up to the mountain again and mades atonement for the people.

Other than Aaron’s heterodoxy in this episode, the priesthood in Israel, as represented by the Levites, were faithful to the God of Israel. I wish the same could be said of priests and prelates in the Catholic Church in the United States, but that’s exactly the problem: we are no longer the Catholic Church in America but have become the American Catholic Church with the Church’s culture becoming the American culture.

This idolatry can be observed through different prisms (e.g., Seven Deadly Sins), but, for now, let’s let the Angelic Doctor be our guide in assessing the situation by looking at the four common substitutes for God: wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. As you can see, dancing around the golden calf has never really gone out of style though the time, place, vestments, liturgy, and ecclesiastical structure have changed.

Wealth
We’ve certainly come a long way from Christ saying, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Mt. 8:20). According to church and government records, a recent CNN investigation revealed that, of the 34 active archbishops in the United States, at least 10 live in buildings worth more than one million dollars.

Leading the way is Cardinal Timothy Dolan with his 15,000 square-foot mansion on Madison Avenue in one of the toniest districts in Manhattan. While New York’s archbishops have used the building as a residence for over 100 years, some might ask how such comfortable living is compatible with the priestly vow of poverty.

Not very far behind Dolan is Cardinal Donald Wuerl who lives in a penthouse on Embassy Row in one of D.C.’s wealthiest neighborhoods. He has spent several hundred thousand dollars in renovations for his 12,000 square-foot residence, according to journalist George Neumayr, and features a private rooftop deck built especially for the cardinal for when, I assume, he feels cooped up in his cramped quarters.

Retired bishops are also not averse to living large. Bishop Patrick J. McGrath of the Diocese of San Jose was all set to move into a $2.3 million home in Silicon Valley but changed his mind when a hue and cry was raised by the laity, many of whom face a housing crisis in that area.

Pleasure
A major aspect of the idol of pleasure is a disordered sexuality, and, while the nation of Israel’s revelry was heterosexual in nature, the Church has now been blighted with the depravity of homosexual predation. The roots of this present crisis are in idolatry.

Every catechized Catholic knows that idolatry is an unhealthy overattachment to some created thing and the replacement of the Uncreated with that thing. However, this idolatry is Hydra-headed.

Take the extreme statements of the duplicitous Fr. Martin who takes cover in the “orthodoxy” of his book but has also gone on to say: (1) in the form of an affirmation to LGBT people that “God made them [wonderfully] that way”; (2) that “The Church needs to rethink its teachings about homosexuality—Its dogmatic teaching. Instead of saying it’s objectively disordered, it should say it’s just differently ordered”; (3) that same-sex couples should be able to kiss during Mass: “What’s the terrible thing?”; (4) that the Church should reverence homosexual unions; and (5) that being against same-sex “marriage” is like being racist.

When I read such statements, I’m left to conclude that Fr. Martin and the typical orthodox Catholic don’t serve the same God and don’t love the same Church. It’s a chasm that cannot be bridged.

And, just as Aaron used an engraving tool to fashion a golden calf, Fr. Martin has used the Zeitgeist to fashion his. Romans 1: 18-32 is clear about what happens when we exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator: God gives them over to dishonorable passions, men and women exchanging natural relations for unnatural, becoming consumed with passion for the same sex.

It’s easy to imagine a young seminarian in a Catholic institution who, because of abuse or neglect from his father, has a same-sex attraction (yes, you’re right; he shouldn’t be studying to be a priest in the first place). He may entertain living a celibate life initially, but, if he buys into the false gospel of Fr. Martin and other Zeitgeist puppets, the floodgates of homoerotic passion will be released.

Because of this idolatry, God will give him over to these dishonorable passions. The Golden Calf he worships will give him no grace in helping him live up to his vows if he even believes those vows are still legitimate.

Power
You don’t need to be famous to be powerful. Take the case of Richard S. Vosko, a priest in his mid-70s from the diocese of Albany, who, though flying under the radar, has been instrumental in destroying classic Catholic architecture. He oversees the building of wretched monstrosities like the $250 million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in the Los Angeles diocese, and goes from diocese to diocese, charging at least $15,000 to superintend what have come to be known as “wreckovations.”

Fr. Vosko’s vision is the exact opposite of that of Duncan Stroik, a professor of architecture at Notre Dame, who wrote:

To design sacred buildings is to help dispose visitors to contemplating the things above, to be aware of the holy, and to embrace the eternal within the ephemeral. People should see and feel that they are entering a place out of the ordinary, a place in which the concerns of life can be seen in relation to eternity. There should be a certain mystery, or even a strangeness, expressed by the architecture. A sacred place should not be convenient to enter like a department store, comfortable like a café, or predictable like a lecture hall. Rather, as a place whose reason for existence is to foster the encounter with the divine, it must be designed in a way that helps us to focus on the Divinity.

“The implications of a Vatican II liturgy,” Fr. Vosko wrote in Through the Eye of a Rose Window: A Perspective on the Environment for Worship, “will never be realized as long as it continues to be constricted by Vatican I church building.” He recommends a 1973 book by Lutheran architect Edward A. Sovik, Architecture for Worship, which had as its mission to “finish where the reformation Protestants left off 400 years ago.”

Michael S. Rose has observed that if you have Rosko oversee the renovation of your historic church or cathedral, you can count on him convincing the parishioners to scrap their traditional arrangement—pews, central tabernacle, statuary, shrines, elevated sanctuary, Communion rails, baldacchino, high altar, etc.—for something more suitable in the spirit of post-Vatican II worship—i.e., an architectural dog’s breakfast.

Fame
With all the sexual depravity in the Church these days, orthodox Catholics at least hope that the bishops and cardinals will be like goalies on a hockey team: the last line of defense. The homosexual “stealth predator” may be accepted into and graduate from a seminary, and, additionally, may be assigned to his first parish, but, when evidence of his predation is compelling, we hope to see him laicized or even ex-communicated—this despite Pope Francis’s unbiblical view of mercy which extends mercy to the perpetrator and not to the victim.

Why not ex-communicate? As Scott Hahn points out, the apostle Paul did it in I Cor. 5:5 in a case of gross sexual sin.

Instead, what is often emerging is a pattern of cover-ups, payoffs, and moving predator priests around from parish to parish. Prelates keep letting the fox into the henhouse while hoping for a different result.

Why do they do this? St. Ambrose has the answer: “Ambition often makes criminals of those whom no vice would delight, whom no lust could move, whom no avarice could deceive.” He was undoubtedly echoing the words of the apostle James three centuries earlier: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16; emphasis added).

They have taken God off the throne and replaced him with their episcopate. This is their Golden Calf. If these men had any supernatural faith at all, they’d be worried more about their judgment before God in the hereafter than their career and “good name” in this life which is but a vapor.

With an ever-growing number of states now investigating clergy sexual abuse, the evil the bishops did in secret will undoubtedly be shouted from the rooftops. As the media reports begin to come out and expose them, they will be like the children of Israel, who were forced to drink the bitter mixture of water and powder created when their golden calf was ground to dust.

As the laity observes this debacle with its daily revelations, it’s best to take our cue from Moses who made a Holy Hour that lasted 40 days and 40 nights. As Fr. John Hardon said, “During our Holy Hour our souls are fed in two faculties of the spirit—our Mind and the Will. In the Mind we need light; in the Will we need strength.”

Editor’s note: Pictured above is the golden calf scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 film The Ten Commandments staring Charlton Heston as Moses.

Jonathan B. Coe

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Jonathan B. Coe is a graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before being received into the Catholic Church in 2004, he served in pastoral ministry in rural Alaska, and in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He has written for Catholic Exchange and The Imaginative Conservative. He is the author of Letters from Fawn Creek, a volume of spiritual direction, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.

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