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Suicide of the Church

by Christopher A. Ferrara

It was none other than Pope Paul VI who lamented the “auto-demolition” of the Church after Vatican II. Of course, Pope Paul did not mean the Church could really demolish herself, since she is indefectible. But the human members of the Church can inflict tremendous damage upon her, short of a fatal blow.

The evidence of what Paul VI lamented is there for all to see. The result has been loss of faith, disorientation, dissolution and scandal on a scale not seen since (around 350 A.D.) the Arian heresy -- if even then.

One small but telling example of the devastation was reported by EWTN on July 10, 2001. In the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa a Fr. Mark Swanson shot himself to death on Friday, July 6. The Rev. Drake Shafer, vicar general for the Diocese of Davenport, observed that “I have no facts, but I can't recall in this diocese an occasion when a priest has taken his own life.” Indeed, at least before Vatican II suicide was unheard-of in the priesthood, because the graces of the priesthood make a priest especially aware of the eternal consequences of self-murder.

Father Shafer offered the explanation that “priests are people, too. Just as there are individuals in our society who would unfortunately take their own lives because of a depressive illness, priests are not immune to it because they are not immune to illness.” Father Shafer then proffered a typical post-Vatican II rewrite of the Church’s constant teaching: “At one time society -- not just the Church -- looked on suicide as a deliberate action that a person would take their own life. In doing so, they were acting out against God. Today, and this has been true since the '50s, most of what we call suicide is someone who is not making a reasoned decision. They are not really free or choosing it.”

So, since the fifties most suicides are inculpable acts by people who are presumably deprived of free will because of “depressive illness.” And what was suicide in the forties, or thirties or at any other time in human history? Were suicides of earlier times free of “depressive illness”? Did they kill themselves in a state of good cheer? When did the presumption arise that someone who puts a gun to his own head and pulls the trigger, or puts a noose around his own neck, or methodically takes a fatal overdose of pills, has no control over the gun, the rope or the bottle of pills? And if this is true of suicide, then what about every other sin? Is there now a psychological excuse, discovered in the 1950’s, for all the sins of man? Is this why every funeral today is a canonization of the deceased?

We don’t know for certain why Father Swanson killed himself. Only God knows, and may God rest his soul. But a few facts about his life as a priest may shed some light on the question of how it is that a priest could be driven to kill himself in the midst of what we are told by some is the “springtime of Vatican II.” EWTN reports that “the priest was also a fan of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, seeing them as a way to approach young people.” And in his desire “to approach young people,” Father Swanson “tried to make the Mass fun and get the kids who served to crack up. The kids really loved him.”

So, Father Swanson drove Harley-Davidson motorcycles to impress young people. He tried to make the Mass fun -- not sacred, but fun. He made the “kids who served” at the altar of God (boys and girls alike) laugh during Mass -- which is to say, he made them laugh at the foot of the Cross. In other words, he made the Mass a mockery of the infinite Sacrifice on Calvary. Yes, the kids all loved Father Swanson. He had achieved the goal of modern pastoral practice: he was popular and well-liked. And yet he took his own life.

Can not the same be said, by way of analogy, to the post-conciliar Church, whose seeming auto-demolition the Supreme Pontiff himself lamented? Everything has been “renewed” since Vatican II, especially the liturgy. The Mass is fun now. The kids all love it -- or so we are told. The Church is riding the Harley-Davidson of human respect. Look at me! I am with it. And yet our “renewed” Church is despondent, listless, unable to attract vocations, no longer taken seriously in her moral teaching, not even by most of her nominal members.

Suicide is the final despairing act of someone who has lost sight of what he is. The same is true of institutions -- including the human element of the Catholic Church. That is why Our Lady came to Fatima: to provide the Church with a heavenly reminder of what she is. “You have seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart.”