Last week, Leila Lawler and Leila Miller co-authored an article for Crisis Magazine entitled Catholic Men, Rise Up and Fight. This exhortation is a Cri de Coeur from women who are sick of what’s going on in their Church, and they are begging men to address the problem. Here is one man’s response.
Mesdames Lawler and Miller, I hear you.
You rightly perceive some of the problems we see in the Catholic Church in America, particularly as regards the absence of men. This has been a favorite topic of mine for years, since I myself was exhorted by a column written by a good friend that appeared in Crisis Magazine almost 14 years ago entitled The New Catholic Manliness. I have experienced the withering in my own soul, enticing me to just stop trying and let the Church continue its downward spiral until it crashes miserably (and I believe it will), hoping that some of us will be around to pick up the pieces and rebuild. I have watched as effeminate men in positions of authority tolerate the intolerable and create a culture of squishiness within the Church that is distasteful and offensive to both men and women of good will. And I have endured decades of liturgy with sappy music, therapeutic homilies, and what amounts to an hour-long kum ba yah session. What surprises me is that there are any men left in the Church.
Your exhortation will hopefully rouse some men to action, but I hope it does not discourage women from the good work they are doing. I think we disagree on the various things that women might/should be doing during this time of crisis, but we can discuss that publicly some other time. For the moment, I will reply to your exhortation with one of my own, giving some of my thoughts on what men could do.
There may be some men out there who are inspired by what you said but need some concrete ideas on how to get started. Here are seven practical suggestions.
(1) Gather a few like-minded people. We have all heard Ecclesiastes 4:12: “Though one may be overpowered,two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Like all Old Testament wisdom, there is a truth here. Alone, you can be too easily ignored and overpowered. The entire ethos of modern society is against you here—the charge of “toxic masculinity” can be enough to cow a man into quiet submission and poison the ears of anyone who might be inclined to listen. But the voices of another one, two, or three men supporting you can make a huge difference.
You may have to try a few different times to create something viable. Two years ago, I attempted to gather a men’s group precisely with the hope that these men would feel what I’m feeling and want to discuss these serious matters and sharpen each other for battle. It failed, for various reasons. But it was worth attempting. And I have found my “sharpening” in smaller, incidental interactions with men—other fathers in our homeschooling group, fellow men in my parish, online discussions, etc.
I think that, optimally, you’d find at least two other like-minded people in your parish who see the same problems and have the same sense of urgency to do something about it. These allies, by the way, don’t have to be exclusively men. There are many women who feel the same and want the abuses stopped and the Gospel preached unabashedly. Work together—just don’t let the women do all the work. It’s unseemly and part of the problem. I know the phenomenon that tends to happen when the women come in—the men go out. We see it in sports and clubs and altar serving. Be aware of it and fight against the tendency to just let the women handle it. Get in and stay in the fight, even if you’re not leading it.
It is no longer our job to wake the sheep. We need to start waking the other lions.
(2) Get proper spiritual guidance and support. I do not want to get drawn into a debate about traditional vs. contemporary spirituality, but I have found that a more traditional Catholic spirituality provides the robust exhortation that helps me persist in my efforts. But whatever you choose, avail yourself of it. Start praying daily, make an annual retreat (I strongly recommend a silent retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola), frequent the Sacraments, and if there are any left in your diocese, find a good, holy confessor or even a spiritual director.
Keep in mind that this spiritual director need not be the sort of person who will rock the boats you’re looking to rock. They just need to rock you appropriately. But balance this with Point #7 below.
(3) Don’t think you must be ordained to make a difference. This is the time of the laity—keep it that way. Thinking that you need to become a permanent deacon in order to exercise your leadership is precisely the sort of clericalist thinking that keeps so many Catholics far too docile. Also, you should realize that all ordained clergy must take a vow of obedience to their local ordinary, and such a vow will actually hamper you when it comes time to confront the hierarchy.
Some have recognized the current situation as requiring the “co-responsibility of the laity.” That, I believe, is precisely what is called for today. Revel in your status as a layman. Only that “outsider” status will keep you from being co-opted.
(4) Join, then take over, your parish council. Almost all Catholic parishes have a parish council. It likely has merely advisory status to your pastor, who has full canonical jurisdiction over the parish. But however it’s constituted, it has some status. Along with a few like-minded people, join it. Be involved in your parish and then get on the Council (as an active parishioner, not as a belligerent, radical reformer—nobody really likes a firebrand). Bring good ideas, contribute to the discussion, and when appropriate, raise the uncomfortable issues. Educate yourself on the arguments and start pushing.
I joined my Parish Council in the fall of 2019 and persuaded a few other like-minded people to join with me. After three months, I raised the issue of our parish’s annual contribution to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. After we presented evidence of that group’s sinister purposes and activities, our Council voted unanimously to refuse to take up the annual collection that our bishop was asking us to do. Our discussion and our vote, I believe, provided our pastor cover for taking this step (a step I believe he wanted to take but was coerced by obedience to his bishop to continue soliciting for). It is perhaps just a coincidence that within three months of our parish telling the bishop of this refusal, our bishop himself announced that our diocese would no longer be supporting the CCHD.
In the fall of 2020, I was elected Chairman of our parish council and I persuaded a few more like-minded allies to join the Council. And our discussions have continued to bear fruit.
Please note that I enjoy a good relationship with my pastor. He is a good man and a holiness-seeking, truth-preaching priest. But we don’t see eye to eye on everything, and the give-and-take that we have is, I think, a healthy dynamic. Also, he is nearing retirement age, and when/if he leaves and we are assigned a new pastor, I need to be ready for whatever comes because it’s my parish. And no squishy, effeminate, heterodox, Leftist, predatory, or unchaste priest is going to be comfortable in my parish.
(5) Join or create a diocesan watchdog/accountability group. Maybe this is beyond the scope of what you think you can do, but supporting or forming a lay group that is keeping an eye on your bishop is one of the best ways to take an effective stand. You’re not going to get much mileage if this group is taking up Summorum Pontificum or purely theological or liturgical matters—these are very much the role of the bishops and the institutional church, and nobody cares enough about these purely ecclesiastical issues to pay attention. But the bishops can and should be challenged on other grounds: their handling of the sex abuse crisis, their channeling of Church contributions into causes/groups that undermine Catholic teaching, and their over-indulgence of heretics in collars. Honestly, if you just focus on getting rid of predatory or unchaste priests, you will find that the other problems decrease, too. If your diocese has a cabal of such “men,” the removal, defrocking, or even jailing of some of their number should itself have an effect on the rest.
After the McCarrick scandal broke in July 2018, I was outraged. And I collaborated with some other prominent laity in my diocese (Lansing, Michigan) to hold a meeting to discuss the proper response. Out of that meeting was born The Daniel Coalition, a nonprofit group organized by lay Catholics to advocate for victims of clerical sexual abuse in our diocese. Our efforts resulted in the removal of two predatory priests. We have publicly challenged our bishop when we believed he was wrong in handling certain situations, we’ve worked collaboratively with him on changing diocesan policy as regards victims and clergy conduct, and our group is supporting another victim right now as his case is investigated.
Similar to the situation with my pastor, I believe my bishop is one of the better ones, and he has hired some excellent people on his staff—the sort of men who do Exodus 90 every year and are truly seeking holiness. The trajectory of our diocese is, I believe, in the right direction. And the existence of our group will hopefully help ensure that. Our state Attorney General is hostile to the Church and is investigating all our bishops (a good thing), so our group is able to be the “loyal opposition,” encouraging and supporting our bishop when he does good and pushing back on him when he doesn’t.
We Catholics are conditioned from birth to obey our priests, but This. Must. End. It’s not healthy for anyone involved. Accountability is a good and healthy thing, and our bishops don’t really have it. That’s why these groups need to exist. If your bishop is not doing what he should, form a group and fight him. Lead the campaign to stop donations to the Church, challenge your bishop publicly, do what needs to be done, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. That’s part of being a man.
(6) Educate yourself and start engaging now. Maybe you don’t have it in you to form or join a group, either on the parish or diocesan level. But find other ways to strike back and let your pastor or bishop know of your anger. And here’s the important thing—stop waiting for the opportune moment. General George Patton said: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plannext week.” Stop waiting for someone else to do it, stop waiting until you’re “holy enough” or “educated enough.” Stop making excuses—just start. Bold action has its own virtues.
So many of us are daunted or dissuaded from acting because we’re not sufficiently educated in theology or philosophy such that we feel we can’t engage in these matters. So what? A man knows when his priest is a pouffter. Let him know that you’re watching him and he’s not going to get away with anything on your watch. So what if you can’t quote from memory Scripture’s condemnations of sodomy? That’s not necessary. Make your whip and start turning over tables.
(7) Be a model of virtue, but on your terms. Everyone is going to have an opinion regarding how you should speak and act. Well-meaning people, even those you consider allies, are going to think it’s their place to offer advice, including chastisement and correction when they think you’ve spoken too strongly or acted rashly. I can easily imagine that even if you are personal friends with either/both of the Leilas who penned the original article, you may well say or do something that would cause them to pull you aside and quietly rebuke you, saying “you went too far, my friend.” They will caution you to prudence, or respect, or to charity. Don’t ignore them, but don’t automatically assume they are correct in their assessment of the situation.
We have had far too much of these virtues and far too little outrage. These sorts of admonishments are exactly what have silenced many men into quiet frustration and inaction. Use your own discernment to determine whether there is merit in their admonishments and learn from it, but keep going and err on the side of boldness. See #6 above. Maybe time will, in fact, reveal you to have been too aggressive. But in my opinion, that’s better than erring in the other direction.
The point is, you’re not always going to do it perfectly. That’s OK—do it anyway.
In short, we need to take back our Church. But even if we can’t, we’ll go down fighting, because it’s the right thing to do.