A Rose by any Other Name – The New Catholic Inquisition

A new “god squad” made up of Catholic “Investigative Journalists” maybe the Modern Version of the Catholic Inquisition

Recently, it’s been reported that Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, former general secretary of the U.S. bishops’ conference, announced his resignation Tuesday, after The Pillar, an investigative newsletter and podcast, found evidence that the priest engaged in serial sexual misconduct and reported it to the USCCB. Monsignor Burrill’s role was to oversee the Catholic Church’s response to the sexual abuse and misconduct scandals.

The Pillar, is a “Catholic” media project “aiming to serve the Church while pointing to Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.”, according to their website. “Our focus is on investigative journalism, which is how we’ll spend most of our time.” their description states.

It’s also been reported that the USCCB initially scheduled a meeting with The Pillar for Monday, July 19, but then canceled the meeting. The USCCB officials said it would only respond to written questions, which The Pillar offered them.

“We’re independent of any ecclesial agenda,” says the Pillar’s description on their website and “we won’t be afraid to tell the stories that need to be told, but we’ll tell them with integrity and fairness.”

“Our aim is serving the Church, and pointing to Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.” 

Sounds very similar to the Catholic Church’s Inquisiton, which took place between the 12th and fifteenth and whose aim was to combat heresy and other offenders against the legal or moral codes of the Church. Some will recall that Henry II, as well as other secular rulers, used the Inquisition extensively during the twelfth century when an official inquirer of the Inquisition (investigation) called for information on a specific subject from anyone who felt he or she had something to offer.

Heretics were burned at the stake in Spain and elsewhere

Why the name“The Pillar”, you might ask. Well, here’s their rather pius rationale for their investigative journalism: “God led the Israelites through the desert as a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. Samson took down pillars at a Philistine temple, and Christ was scourged at a pillar. Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt, and in the early Church, monks climbed to the top of great pillars to pray for the world below them. God’s justice, God’s mercy, and God’s goodness are all revealed through the imagery of pillars in Scripture. We hope The Pillar reveals those things too.”

You and I might say that they fail to include what Jesus says about the “sins” of others:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Mt 7:1-5 

Plank? Pillar? Whatever it is that The Pillar is pointing out, their method is still what Jesus is denouncing. 

And in another reference to pointing out the sins of others: 

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jn 8:5-7

Similar to the role of the Pharisees and Sadducees who were staunch defenders of the Law of Moses, the staff of this investigative endeavor touts their conservative allegiance to serious Catholic journalism “as a service to Christ and the Church” and that “journalism can be done in a uniquely Catholic way, which takes the doctrine of the Catholic Church to be true, which treats people with respect, and which looks for the truth above all else.”

Treating people with respect by exposing their less than criminal behavior is not really respect.

I guess they also forget what Jesus said about pointing out or excising the weeds from the wheat: “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field?  Where then did the weeds come from?’ “An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First, collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” Mt 13:27-29

The Pillar’s rationale for investigating people and reporting their findings sounds rather matter of fact and dutiful, but I recall that the motto of many Catholic seminaries around the world just happens to be “Exit Qui Seminat” or ‘He who goes Forth sows Seed”.

Some might conclude that Jesus’ directive would mean that the wheat and weeds or the good and bad in every person is not to be exposed or “pulled out” and judged before the “harvest.” There is no criminal activity that has been reported in the latest Pillar report unless the Church’s Canon Law and Catechism are now considered the legal code of America! Rather, some would say it is an intrusion into someone’s privacy and it should be up to God to judge it.

Yet, The Pillar states: We think the story matters more than we do, and we’d rather tell you the facts than tell you what we think. We aim to focus on the facts, and to provide the context and background that helps make sense of them.” 

Vintage illustration of tribunal (interrogatory) of the inquisition. After the painting by Adolphe Steinheil. Man being tortured by the spanish inquisition, forced confession hanging by a rope around the wrists with wieghts attached to his feet

It sounds like such a noble vocation yet one that is reminiscent of the Cathoic Church Inquisitors of old. I believe it was Shakespeare who had Juliet say “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” The reference is often used to imply that the names of things do not affect what they really are. 

The Pillar seems to be journalism that measures one’s loyalty to the Catholic Maigisterium rather than one’s adherence to the message of Jesus which is compassion, mercy, and forgiveness all wrapped in the non-judgmental cloak of respect and love for the sinner. I guess that is why the Catholic conservatives and traditionalists are not happy with Pope Francis. Some have actually called him a heretic!

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – “A group of 19 Catholic priests and academics have urged bishops to denounce Pope Francis as a heretic, in the latest ultra-conservative broadside against the pontiff over a range of topics from communion for the divorced to religious diversity.” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pope-heresy/conservatives-want-catholic-bishops-to-denounce-pope-as-heretic-idUSKCN1S73KE

We can only surmise that the famed, conservative, former Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charlie Chaput is aware of The Pillar and quite satisfied with their performance thus far. 

In closing this post, I am reminded of an essay from Betrand Russel about the Catholic Church and its history: 

“That is the idea — that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion.

You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.

You may think that I am going too far when I say that that is still so. I do not think that I am. Take one fact. You will bear with me if I mention it. It is not a pleasant fact, but the churches compel one to mention facts that are not pleasant. Supposing that in this world that we live in today an inexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man; in that case the Catholic Church says, ‘This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must endure celibacy or stay together. And if you stay together, you must not use birth control to prevent the birth of syphilitic children.’ Nobody whose natural sympathies have not been warped by dogma, or whose moral nature was not absolutely dead to all sense of suffering, could maintain that it is right and proper that that state of things should continue.

That is only an example. There are a great many ways in which, at the present moment, the church, by its insistence upon what it chooses to call morality, inflicts upon all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering. And of course, as we know, it is in its major part an opponent still of progress and improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world, because it has chosen to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness; and when you say that this or that ought to be done because it would make for human happiness, they think that has nothing to do with the matter at all. ‘What has human happiness to do with morals? The object of morals is not to make people happy.”― Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects

Jesus consoling the woman accused of adultery

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
This entry was posted in Ecclesiology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s