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Theologian C.C. Peckhold On The Crisis In The Roman Catholic Church

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A voice of rapidly growing influence and clarity within Roman Catholicism is of theologian and historian C.C. Pecknold, on the faculty of the Catholic University of America.  He joned me this morning:




HH: I’m joined now by C.C. Pecknold. Chad C. Pecknold is a professor at the Catholic University of America. He is a historian and a theologian. He’s done a great deal of work in recent months on Twitter, @CCPecknold, and I encourage you to follow him. Good morning, Chad, welcome, it’s great to have on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

CCP: Oh, great to be with you, Hugh.

HH: Can you summarize the headlines and what it means for the Church? It’s the front page of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, all around the world, the London Times. What is going on?

CCP: Well, what’s going on is a very senior official who worked under Pope Benedict, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, have published an 11 page testimony exposing and naming a number of senior Vatican officials who covered up the wicked predation of Cardinal McCarrick, who abused at least one minor and used, misused his power to abuse seminarians. And this exposure has indeed implicated the Holy Father himself. And so it is an atomic bomb that has gone off in the Vatican.

HH: Now the Pope on a plan back from Ireland, a disappointing trip, I think, by any objective measure given comparisons with John Paul II’s trip to Ireland a couple decades back…

CCP: Yeah…

HH: …refused to answer questions.

CCP: Yeah.

HH: He said do your job. How did you interpret that?

CCP: Well, I was very grateful, because I, he was absolutely dismissive of the journalists, and the journalists complained about that, but I was grateful, because in a sense, he was dismissive of Archbishop Vigano’s claims, but what he really gives authority to is saying to the journalists go investigate. He says go investigate the claims. He’s confident that they’re not true, which is certainly possible, but I think that gives everybody license, and especially journalists, to go and use their skills to investigate all the claims, not just reaching up to the Holy Father, but the, Archbishop Vigano’s claims hit a number of very senior officials in the Vatican, very precise claims about what they knew and what they covered up. And those need to be examined very carefully.

HH: Now you follow the Catholic world pretty closely. Not many people do, and I just sort of had one foot in it. Who do you follow in terms of getting to the bottom of this?

CCP: Yeah.

HH: Who is to be trusted?

CCP: Well, one of the Catholic journalists I really respect, or a couple of the Catholic journalists I really respect is, one is Ed Condon. I think he’s @CanonLawyer at Twitter. But he’s an investigative journalist, really, who was trained as a canon lawyer who knows all the key players, has incredible access. And I’ve learned a lot from him in getting access. Another person also at Catholic News Agency is J.D. Flynn, @JDFlynn. He’s, these are men who are trained as canon lawyers who care about the justice, who pursued justice as their careers in the Church and now as journalists are pursuing justice in the Church. And I admire them greatly.

HH: @JDFlynn, and I’ve just followed him myself, and @CanonLaywer, is that what you’re suggesting?

CCP: I think he’s got a clever one, @CanonLaywered with an ed at the end.

HH: Okay, okay, good. That’s good. Now tell me about the role, if any, of the United States Catholic, Conference of Catholic Bishops. Do they have any role here?

CCP: Well, they certainly do, and we’ve seen some statements from, we saw a statement from Cardinal DiNardo. We saw a very good statement from a bishop in the diocese of Tulsa who said that Archbishop Vigano’s statement is a good place to start our investigations. And I think that’s the right attitude for bishops to say, and it reflects well to the Holy Father’s welcoming of journalistic investigation into the claims. Bishop Strickland of Tyler, Texas also said that he finds Vigano’s allegations credible and worthy of investigation. So these are some of the statements, we’re just beginning, we’ve only been 24-36 hours into this news, breaking news, and so we, it’s Monday now. I expect we’re hear from more bishops.

HH: Now talk to me a little bit, Chad, about what the, what you expect to find at Catholic University. I imagine people are walking on eggs. It’s a hierarchical organization.

CCP: That’s right.

HH: And when you have Cardinal Tobin implicated, and Cardinal O’Malley’s seminary in trouble, people are afraid of losing jobs, livelihoods, positions, career, right? Everyone’s got to walk around on eggshells.

CCP: I think that’s right. I mean, we are, we professors do have tenure protections, but theologians and philosophers and ecclesiastical faculties also serve at the pleasure of bishops. And so I think there is a concern that the pursuit of justice and truth in the Church might be itself attacked. And so we are, I think, being cautious in pursuing, we want to pursue truth and justice in the Church in the most truthful and most just way possible and not slander anyone. I think the Catholic University of America has always been at the epicenter of American Catholicism, and it certainly reflects the tensions that we feel in the Church. But also, we are under the guidance of John Garvey, who is a great president, and whose letter on the crisis was powerful and stated in no uncertain terms that we need to root out this corruption. And we certainly are committed to that as professors at Catholic U.

HH: Now we are involved, sort of, an escalation. Last week, it was the Pennsylvania Grand Jury. Then, it was the refusal of Bishop Wuerl, who is also a cardinal, to step down, admit guilt, do anything, appear. He cancelled an appearance in Ireland. His book was cancelled. He’s caught up in this, and in my view as a lawyer, he’s clearly culpable, and now the McCarrick revelation. How fast and how far can this go? And what is the danger, in your view, of the next week or two?

CCP: Well, you know, the real, the real pressing danger is schism. I mean, this is something where we need sober minds. We had a crisis in the 4th Century over the nature of God with Arianism, which roiled the Church. We had the crisis over the nature of the Church in the 16th Century, which roiled the Church. And now, we’re having a crisis over sex and sexual abuse. And this is, this is a crisis which is very, very dangerous. And I think it needs sober minds. I think this week, we need sober reporting. We need people to take allegations seriously. We need people to take the truth seriously, because it’s truth which keeps us together.

HH: You know, I’ve read some of the Catholic blogs this morning – Father Z and a few other ones.

CCP: Yeah.

HH: They intimate that the powerful forces behind the cover up are too powerful to ever break, which would mean that civil authority was necessary.

CCP: Yeah.

HH: And Josh Hawley, the attorney general of Missouri, was my guest earlier. He is initiating an investigation. I think the Church should welcome this, because once the assertion is made that the conspiracy is too deep to break, you do need civil authority…

CCP: Yeah.

HH: …but with respect for the Free Exercise rights of Catholics.

CCP: I fully agree for prudential reasons. I think on principle, there’s a reason for, you know, the Inquisition was the Church investigating itself in a way, and I think there’s reason now to say that credibility is so low that the bishops are absolutely right to welcome and invite, as Archbishop Carlson did, in Missouri, to invite this investigation. Please investigate us. We want this corruption out.

HH: And in terms of removing people from bishops, that is only the Pope’s decision, right? There’s nothing anyone else can do except the Pope.

CCP: That’s correct. That’s correct. And there’s no, there’s no mechanism in the Church for investigating the Pope. We don’t have that mechanism. There’s a theory, it goes back to Bellarmine, that the College of Cardinals can do that, but that’s just a theory. It’s not a law of the Church. The Pope really doesn’t answer to any authority but God.

HH: Now given that, what has happened, as a historian, what has happened before? What is, how do schisms manifest themselves?

CCP: Well, they, I mean, they often manifest themselves through error and grave sin spreading throughout the Church. I would think the Arians was the quintessential comparison for us, but that’s, was a theological error that he promoted and that spread amongst the bishops. And many of the bishops were Arians and were themselves schismatic. This is a different kind of error and threatens a different kind of schism over morality. And I don’t, we don’t really have a good analogy for this one.

HH: Is it the occasion for a council? That’s what happened with Arianism, right? You have to call a council.

CCP: That’s right. It is an occasion for a council, and it is the Pope’s privilege to call a council. I hesitate to even put the idea out there.

HH: Okay, I think we’ll be back. There’s plenty of time. I’ll tell you, there, I think they’re going to find the immediate impact of this after having gone through this three times, right?

CCP: Absolutely.

HH: That’s where I am, that people will fall away and just say enough and be done, and that it’s going to crumble quickly if they do not act even more quickly.

CCP: I think people need to know bishops are fed up, too. They don’t know exactly what to say, but they are fed up, too. And they’re trying to figure their way through this crisis as well.

HH: Well, C.C., I hope you’ll come back. Follow him, @CCPecknold on Twitter. Chad is a great professor, great historian, great author over at Catholic University. He’ll come back when I come back as well.

End of interview.


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