The Diocese of La Crosse released the names Saturday of more than two dozen clergy who have faced a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse.
The diocese said none of the accused are now in public ministry. Many are listed as deceased. The list comes from an independent review of clergy files dating to 1868 by the audit firm Defenbaugh & Associates Inc.
Established in 1868, the Diocese of La Crosse serves nearly 200,000 Catholics in 19 counties: Adams, Buffalo, Chippewa, Clark, Crawford, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Marathon, Monroe, Pepin, Pierce, Portage, Richland, Trempealeau, Vernon and Wood.
Five more were identified as non-diocesan clergy whose whose names appear on a list in another diocese or religious order. The Diocese of La Crosse has no specific information relating to the allegations.
“The statistics for the Diocese of La Crosse reveal that, out of 705 clergy who have served in the diocese between 1950 and 2002, there have been 10 individuals (including one who was not a priest of the diocese) with substantiated allegations against them. The result is that only 1.4 percent of the total clergy population in that time period had substantiated allegations.
Accused Clerics: 28 (of which allegations were substantiated against 10; of that 10, one was not a priest of the diocese)
Total Priests: 705 (of which 478 diocesan priests, 187 religious order priests, and 40 deacons)
Allegations: 58 (of which allegations against 3 were “withdrawn” or the priest was “exonerated”; 24 were unsubstantiated)
On January 6, 2004, the Diocese of La Crosse released its statistics regarding sexual abuse of minors by clergy.”
Church credibility ruined by silent hypocrisy, sister tells summit
-by Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
2.23.2019 6:25 AM ET
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The hypocrisy of Catholic leaders who claimed to be guardians of morality yet remained silent about clerical sexual abuse has left the church’s credibility in shambles, an African woman religious told bishops at the Vatican summit on abuse.
“Yes, we proclaim the Ten Commandments and ‘parade ourselves’ as being the custodians of moral standards-values and good behavior in society. Hypocrites at times? Yes! Why did we keep silent for so long?” asked Nigerian Sister Veronica Openibo, congregational leader of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus.
Addressing Pope Francis and nearly 190 representatives of the world’s bishops’ conferences and religious orders Feb. 23, Sister Openibo insisted the church needed to be transparent and open in facing the abuse crisis.
In a poignant yet powerful speech, the Nigerian sister reminded the bishops of the church’s universal mission to be a light for the world and a “manifestation of the Christ we know as both human and divine.”
However, she said, the “widespread and systemic” sexual abuse of children by clergy and the subsequent cover-up have “seriously clouded the grace of the Christ-mission.”
Clerical sex abuse, she said, “is a crisis that has reduced the credibility of the church when transparency should be the hallmark of mission as followers of Jesus Christ. The fact that many accuse the Catholic Church today of negligence is disturbing.”
She also called out bishops, particularly in Asia and her native Africa, who dismiss the abuse crisis as a Western problem, citing several personal experiences she confronted while counseling men and women who were abused.
“The fact that there are huge issues of poverty, illness, war and violence in some countries in the global South does not mean that the area of sexual abuse should be downplayed or ignored. The church has to be pro-active in facing it,” she said.
Church leaders cannot think they can “keep silent until the storm has passed,” Sister Openibo told them. “This storm will not pass by.”
Outlining steps the Catholic Church can take to move toward true transparency and healing, she suggested beginning with the admission of wrongdoing and publishing “what has been done since the time of Pope John Paul II.”
“It may not be sufficient in the eyes of many, but it will show that the church had not been totally silent,” she said.
Along with clear and comprehensive safeguarding policies in every diocese and devoting resources to help survivors heal from their suffering, Sister Openibo said the church also must give seminarians and male and female novices a “clear and balanced education and training” about sexuality and boundaries.
“It worries me when I see in Rome, and elsewhere, the youngest seminarians being treated as though they are more special than everyone else, thus encouraging them to assume — from the beginning of their training — exalted ideas about their status,” she said.
Religious women also are susceptible to a way of thinking that leads to “a false sense of superiority over their lay sisters and brothers,” she added.
“What damage has that thinking done to the mission of the church? Have we forgotten the reminder by Vatican II in ‘Gaudium et Spes’ of the universal call to holiness?” she asked.
Looking toward Pope Francis seated on the dais near here, Sister Openibo spoke directly about his initial denial and subsequent about-face regarding the abuse crisis in Chile and accusations of cover-up made against bishops.
“I admire you, Brother Francis, for taking time as a true Jesuit, to discern and be humble enough to change your mind, to apologize and take action — an example for all of us,” she told the pope.
Transparency, she said, also will mean treating equally all clerics who abuse children and not shying away from acknowledging the names of abusers, even if they are high-ranking churchmen or already have died.
“The excuse that respect be given to some priests by virtue of their advanced years and hierarchical position is unacceptable,” she said.
Of course, “we can feel sad” for clerics whose offenses are being brought out into the open, Sister Openibo said, “but my heart bleeds for many of the victims who have lived with the misplaced shame and guilt of repeated violations for years.”
By protecting children, seeking justice for survivors and taking the necessary steps toward zero tolerance of sexual abuse, she said, the Catholic Church can fulfill its mission to preach the good news, announce deliverance to the captives and “proclaim the Lord’s year of favor.”
“This is our year of favor,” she said. “Let us courageously take up the responsibility to be truly transparent and accountable.””
-Dante’s Purgatrio, Canto 2, Katerina Machytkova, please click on the image for greater detail.
— by Valerie Schmalz, Catholic San Francisco [10.30.2013]
1. Purgatory exists: The Catechism of the Catholic Church states there are three states of the church, those who are living on earth, those who are in purgatory, and those who are in heaven with God.
2. It is not a second chance: The soul is already saved. Purgatory is a
place to pay off debts for sins that were forgiven but for which sufficient penance had not been done on earth.
3. It is not an actual place: Blessed John Paul II said in an August 4, 1999 general audience that purgatory was a state of being: “The term does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence.” Pope Benedict XVI said in a January 12, 2011 general audience, “This is purgatory, an interior fire.”
4. Purgatory is not punishment but God’s mercy: “Few people can say they are prepared to stand before God,” says Susan Tassone, author of “Prayers, Promises, and Devotions for the Holy Souls in
Purgatory” (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012). “If we didn’t have purgatory
there would be very few people in heaven, because it would be heaven or hell. It is his mercy that allows us to prepare to be with Him in heaven.”
5. Our prayers for the souls in purgatory help them achieve heaven:
“The doctrine of purgatory recalls how radically we take love of
neighbor,” says Sulpician Father Gladstone Stevens, vice rector and
dean of men at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University, Menlo Park. “The
obligation to pray for each other does not cease when biological life
ends. God wants us to always pray for each other, work for each other’s redemption.”
6. The souls in purgatory can intercede for those on earth but cannot pray for themselves: The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 958) states: “…the church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead;…Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”
7. God does not send souls to purgatory – each soul sends itself to
purgatory: Once a soul sees itself with the light of God, it realizes it
cannot stay in his presence until all imperfections are wiped away. “The soul chooses,” Tassone says.
8. There is no fire in purgatory: But each soul is aflame with the pain of being separated from God and with the desire to be purified so it can be in the beatific vision. Each soul also feels joy knowing it will one day be with God, Father Stevens and Tassone say.
9. There is a special day and month to pray for the souls in purgatory:
November 2 or All Souls’ Day is the day set aside and November is the month in the liturgical calendar to pray especially for all the souls who are in purgatory. November 2 is called “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed,” but the church asks us to pray always for each other, including for the souls in purgatory.
10. Prayers for souls in purgatory always count: Pope Benedict says in his encyclical “Spe Salve” (“On Christian Hope”), regarding the souls of the dead, “…in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain.””
Love, Lord, have mercy on me for I am a sinful man,
-“Dante kneeling before celestial helmsman”, Purgatorio, Canto 2.28, by Doré, Gustave, c.1868, engraving, The vision of Purgatory and Paradise by Dante Alighieri (London and New York: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin [1868?], please click on the image for greater detail.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). It notes that “this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031).
The purification is necessary because, as Scripture teaches, nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven (Rev. 21:27) and, while we may die with our mortal sins forgiven, there can still be many impurities in us, specifically venial sins and the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.
What Happens in Purgatory?
When we die, we undergo what is called the particular, or individual, judgment. Scripture says that “it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). We are judged instantly and receive our reward, for good or ill. We know at once what our final destiny will be. At the end of time, when Jesus returns, there will come the general judgment to which the Bible refers, for example, in Matthew 25:31-32: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” In this general judgment all our sins will be publicly revealed (Luke 12:2–5).
Augustine said in The City of God that “temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment” (21:13). It is between the particular and general judgments, then, that the soul is purified of the remaining consequences of sin: “I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper” (Luke 12:59).
The Catholic Church, Purgatory, and Money
One argument anti-Catholics often use to attack purgatory is the idea that the Catholic Church owes the majority of its wealth to the doctrine of purgatory. But the numbers just don’t add up.
When a Catholic requests a memorial Mass for the dead—that is, a Mass said for the benefit of someone in purgatory—it is customary to give the parish priest a stipend, on the principles that the laborer is worth his hire (Luke 10:7) and that those who preside at the altar share the altar’s offerings (1 Cor. 9:13–14). In the United States, a stipend is commonly around five dollars; but the indigent do not have to pay anything. A few people, of course, freely offer more. This money goes to the parish priest, and priests are allowed to receive only one such stipend per day. No one gets rich on five dollars a day, and certainly not the Church, which does not receive the money anyway.
But look at what happens on a Sunday. There are often hundreds of people at Mass. In a crowded parish, there may be thousands. Many families and individuals deposit five dollars or more into the collection basket; a few give much more. A parish might have four or five or six Masses on a Sunday. The total from the Sunday collections far surpasses the paltry amount received from the memorial Masses.
Is Purgatory a Catholic “Invention”?
Fundamentalists may be fond of saying the Catholic Church “invented” the doctrine of purgatory to make money, but they have difficulty saying just when. Most professional anti-Catholics—the ones who make their living attacking “Romanism”—seem to place the blame on Pope Gregory the Great, who reigned from A.D. 590 to 604.
But that hardly accounts for the request of Monica, mother of Augustine, who asked her son, in the fourth century, to remember her soul in his Masses. This would make no sense if she thought her soul would not benefit from prayers, as would be the case if she were in hell or in the full glory of heaven.
Nor does ascribing the doctrine to Gregory explain the graffiti in the catacombs, where Christians during the persecutions of the first three centuries recorded prayers for the dead. Indeed, some of the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament, like the Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity (both written during the second century), refer to the Christian practice of praying for the dead. Such prayers would have been offered only if Christians believed in purgatory, even if they did not use that name for it. (See Catholic Answers’ tract The Roots of Purgatory for quotations from these and other early Christian sources.)
Why No Protests?
A study of the history of doctrines indicates that Christians in the first centuries were up in arms if anyone suggested the least change in beliefs. They were extremely conservative people who tested a doctrine’s truth by asking, Was this believed by our ancestors? Was it handed on from the apostles? Surely belief in purgatory would be considered a great change, if it had not been believed from the first—so where are the records of protests?
They don’t exist. There is no hint at all, in the oldest writings available to us (or in later ones, for that matter), that “true believers” in the immediate post-apostolic years spoke of purgatory as a novel doctrine. They must have understood that the oral teaching of the apostles, what Catholics call tradition, and the Bible not only failed to contradict the doctrine, but, in fact, confirmed it.
It is no wonder, then, that those who deny the existence of purgatory tend to touch upon only briefly the history of the belief. They prefer to claim that the Bible speaks only of heaven and hell. Wrong. It speaks plainly of a third condition, commonly called the limbo of the Fathers, where the just who had died before the redemption were waiting for heaven to be opened to them. After his death and before his resurrection, Christ visited those experiencing the limbo of the Fathers and preached to them the good news that heaven would now be opened to them (1 Pet. 3:19). These people thus were not in heaven, but neither were they experiencing the torments of hell.
Some have speculated that the limbo of the Fathers is the same as purgatory. This may or may not be the case. However, even if the limbo of the Fathers is not purgatory, its existence shows that a temporary, intermediate state is not contrary to Scripture.
“Purgatory Not in Scripture”
Some Fundamentalists also charge, “The word purgatory is nowhere found in Scripture.” This is true, and yet it does not disprove the existence of purgatory or the fact that belief in it has always been part of Church teaching. The words Trinity and Incarnation aren’t in Scripture either, yet those doctrines are clearly taught in it. Likewise, Scripture teaches that purgatory exists, even if it doesn’t use that word and even if 1 Peter 3:19 refers to a place other than purgatory.
Christ refers to the sinner who “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:32), suggesting that one can be freed after death of the consequences of one’s sins. Similarly, Paul tells us that, when we are judged, each man’s work will be tried. And what happens if a righteous man’s work fails the test? “He will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). Now this loss, this penalty, can’t refer to consignment to hell, since no one is saved there; and heaven can’t be meant, since there is no suffering (“fire”) there. The Catholic doctrine of purgatory alone explains this passage.
Then, of course, there is the Bible’s approval of prayers for the dead: “In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the dead to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin” (2 Macc. 12:43–45). Prayers are not needed by those in heaven, and no one can help those in hell. This verse so clearly illustrates the existence of purgatory that, at the time of the Reformation, Protestants had to cut the books of the Maccabees out of their Bibles in order to avoid accepting the doctrine.
Prayers for the dead and the consequent doctrine of purgatory have been part of the true religion since before the time of Christ. Not only can we show it was practiced by the Jews of the time of the Maccabees, but it has even been retained by Orthodox Jews today, who recite a prayer known as the Mourner’s Kaddish for eleven months after the death of a loved one so that the loved one may be purified. It was not the Catholic Church that added the doctrine of purgatory. Rather, the Protestant churches rejected a doctrine that had always been believed by Jews and Christians.
Why Go to Purgatory?
Why would anyone go to purgatory? To be cleansed, for “nothing unclean shall enter [heaven]” (Rev. 21:27). Anyone who has not been completely freed of sin and its effects is, to some extent, “unclean.” Through repentance he may have gained the grace needed to be worthy of heaven, which is to say, he has been forgiven and his soul is spiritually alive. But that’s not sufficient for gaining entrance into heaven. He needs to be cleansed completely.
Fundamentalists claim, as an article in Jimmy Swaggart’s magazine, The Evangelist, put it, that “Scripture clearly reveals that all the demands of divine justice on the sinner have been completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It also reveals that Christ has totally redeemed, or purchased back, that which was lost. The advocates of purgatory (and the necessity of prayer for the dead) say, in effect, that the redemption of Christ was incomplete. . . . It has all been done for us by Jesus Christ, there is nothing to be added or done by man.”
It is entirely correct to say that Christ accomplished all of our salvation for us on the cross. But that does not settle the question of how this redemption is applied to us. Scripture reveals that it is applied to us over the course of time through, among other things, the process of sanctification through which the Christian is made holy. Sanctification involves suffering (Rom. 5:3–5), and purgatory is the final stage of sanctification that some of us need to undergo before we enter heaven. Purgatory is the final phase of Christ’s applying to us the purifying redemption that he accomplished for us by his death on the cross.
Nothing Unclean or Purged
Catholic theology takes seriously the notion that “nothing unclean shall enter heaven.” [Ed. not just covered: cleansed completely, new, to make new again, from the inside out.] From this it is inferred that a less than cleansed soul isn’t fit for heaven. It needs to be cleansed or “purged” of its remaining imperfections. Sanctification is thus not an option, something that may or may not happen before one gets into heaven. It is an absolute requirement, as Hebrews 12:14 states that we must strive “for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
“Matthew 12:32 is often a go-to passage for Catholics when it comes to purgatory. The text reads: “Whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote that, from this passage “we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come” (Dial. 4, 39). The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses this quote as support for its definition of purgatory as an after-death “final purification of the elect” (1031). Since purgatory involves the forgiveness of unrepented venial sins (along with the purification of any remnants of past forgiven venial or mortal sins—e.g., unhealthy attachments to created goods, unpaid debt of temporal punishment), some conclude that Jesus affirms the existence of purgatory.
But some Christians don’t think this passage supports purgatory. They argue that Jesus’ use of the phrase “either in this age or in the age to come” was simply a matter of emphasis—an exaggerated expression used to convey the idea that the sin against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven. Just like we don’t take Randy Travis to mean that there are two distinct stages in which he’s going to love his beloved when he sings, “I’m gonna love you forever and ever,” so too we shouldn’t take Jesus to mean there’s a distinct “age to come” where some sins can be forgiven when he says, no forgiveness “either in this age or the age to come.”
For support, they appeal to Mark’s parallel passage: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29; emphasis added).
How can we respond?
The first thing we can say is that Mark’s version doesn’t preclude the reading of Matthew’s account in support of Purgatory. For if Jesus excludes forgiveness of the sin against the Holy Spirit in the only two states of existence where forgiveness can occur—in this life and in the intermediate state between death and the final judgment—then it would follow that the one who sins against the Holy Spirit “never has forgiveness.” The eternality of this sin would be because it can neither be forgiven in this life nor in the next. On this reading, Mark simply emphasizes the eternal nature of the sin without specifying the reason why. Matthew, on the other hand, provides a ground for why the sin can never be forgiven. Thus, Mark’s version doesn’t require that we reject purgatory based on Matthew 12:32.
“Okay,” our interlocutor might reply. “Maybe Mark 3:29 doesn’t prove that Jesus intended his phrase ‘this age or the age to come’ to be an exaggerated expression. But since that’s all we got to work with, doesn’t it seem reasonable to read Matthew 12:32 in light of Mark 3:29?”
No, it doesn’t, because Mark 3:29 is not the only relevant information that we have.
We know that Matthew’s Jewish audience already believed that some sins could be forgiven in the afterlife (cf. 2 Macc. 12:46). Given this knowledge, it doesn’t make sense that Matthew would include the saying “no forgiveness either in this age or in the age to come” if all he meant was that this sin is never forgiven. To do so without clarification seems only to reinforce the Jewish belief about sins being forgiven in the afterlife.
Since Matthew doesn’t give any sort of clarification, and he includes the saying knowing what his Jewish audience believed about sins being forgiven in the afterlife, it’s reasonable to conclude that the “age to come” in Matthew 12:32 is not merely a restatement of what Mark says in Mark 3:29 (that the sin against the Holy Spirit is never forgiven) but an extra tidbit for his Jewish audience about the afterlife.
Further, Jesus uses “the age to come” elsewhere in the gospels, and not merely for emphasis—it clearly refers to a distinct state of existence beyond this one: the afterlife.
Consider, for example, Mark 10:29-30 (see also Luke 18:30), where Jesus says those who leave house, brother, sister, mother, father, and land for his sake will receive a hundredfold return “in this time . . . and in the age to come eternal life.”
Jesus’ reference to “the age to come” is not merely a rhetorical flourish. Rather, Jesus speaks of “this time” and “the age to come” as two distinct states of existence (this life and the next), both of which consist of people receiving rewards for giving up everything for him.
Similarly, in Luke 20:34-35 Jesus speaks of “this age” as referring to this life, when men are given in marriage, and “that age” as the afterlife, when men are not given in marriage. Jesus clearly intends this distinction to be taken literally, conveying a truth about the age to come—namely, there is no marriage.
A critic might respond that an appeal to the above passages (Mark 10:30 and Luke 20:35) fails because the Greek word for “age to come” in Matthew 12:32, mellō, is not used in those passages. Rather, “the age to come” in Mark 10:30 translates the Greek phrase aiōni erchomenō and “that age” in Luke 20:35 translates aiōnos ekeinou.
This is true. But given that “this age” (Greek, toutō aiōni) in Matthew 12:32 is juxtaposed with mellonti (“the age to come”), which means “to occur at a point of time in the future which is subsequent to another event and closely related to it—to be about to,” we can conclude that Jesus has the same idea in mind as when he speaks of aiōni erchomenō in Mark 10:30 and aiōnos ekeinou in Luke 20:35. This is why the English translation of Matthew 12:32 translates the Greek as “the age to come” even though the Greek word for “age,” aiōn, is not used.
Therefore, it’s fair to read Matthew 12:32 in light of Mark 10:30 and Luke 20:35, where Jesus speaks of “the age to come” or “that age” as a reference to the afterlife. And since Jesus’ implication in Matthew 12:32 is that some sins can be forgiven in “the age to come,” or the afterlife, we have at least one aspect of purgatory confirmed by Jesus—after-death purification of unrepented venial sins.
This reading of “the age to come” as a reference to the afterlife is further supported by the fact that mellō is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to the afterlife. See, for example, Ephesians 1:21, 1 Timothy 4:8, and Hebrews 2:5, 6:5, and 13:14.
In this debate, no one disagrees with the scriptural passage that one who sins against the Holy Spirit “never has forgiveness.” But this is so because for Jesus it’s a sin that cannot be forgiven in either state of existence where sins can be forgiven—in this life (“this age”) or in the intermediate state between death and the final judgment (“the age to come”). Mark’s reference to the “eternal” nature of the sin against the Holy Spirit, therefore, doesn’t prevent the use of Matthew 12:32 in support of the Church’s doctrine of purgatory.”
Love, Lord, have mercy on me for I am a sinful man,
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil;
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, cast into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
-by Gerald Corson, Catholic Answers Magazine
“Consider that the devil doesn’t sleep but seeks our ruin in a thousand ways,” St. Angela Merici once said. The traditional Prayer to St. Michael asks God’s protection from “Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” The devil tempts people to sin, but demons sometimes attempt our ruin far more aggressively—even by possession.
* * *
Adam Christian Blai is a peritus—a theological consultant—in religious demonology and exorcism for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He provides training in exorcism to priests across the country and is an auxiliary member of the International Association of Exorcists in Rome. He holds a master’s degree in psychology and has done most of his professional psychological work in forensic settings.
Last fall Emmaus Road published Blai’s book Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms. He also has written A Roman Catholic Pastoral Manual for Exorcism, Deliverance, and Home Cases, now in its second edition, available to Catholic priests on request through his website, which is religiousdemonology.com.
Catholic Answers Magazine: How did you get into the profession of demonology? You describe it almost as a calling.
Blai: I think that my whole life has been preparing me for this work, but that’s a long story!
In a concrete way, it started in graduate school for adult clinical psychology. I was doing brain-wave research on hypnosis and the brain’s ability to create false experiences. At that time, the paranormal TV show craze was just starting. I was curious if the people on these shows were just having false experiences or were mentally ill. I got called to the Pittsburgh diocese to look at a case there for them. That case is now known to the public, as they have written a book about it.
Anyway, through that case and many others, I was slowly drawn into meeting specialist priests in this area, and then through assisting at exorcisms I met people who invited me to be an auxiliary member of the International Association of Exorcists. Now I work full-time at the Pittsburgh diocese and help train priests nationally.
We don’t often hear about priests performing exorcisms. Obviously, there are privacy issues involved. Do exorcisms take place more often than we realize? Are most U.S. dioceses prepared to handle such cases?
There are roughly one to four possession cases going in a major city at any time. Most exorcists are doing an exorcism monthly, weekly, or more often. It’s usually best to have sessions weekly for each person.
What you say is true, though. In order to protect the person and the family, the Church doesn’t talk about the particulars of exorcism. Imagine if it was your relative and a news story ran about them having exorcisms. Their life would likely be ruined with reporters at the front door the next day.
Historically, does demonic activity tend to ebb and flow? Is it on the increase in our generation?
Historically there is a wave of intense exorcism activity as Christianity first enters a culture, for about fifty years, then it settles down. I think we are seeing an increase in our generation for the opposite reason: because people are leaving Christianity, and the demons have freer rein to play their cons on people now.
Some people doubt the existence of the devil, believing that he is a human construct to explain the presence of evil. Others have perhaps an unhealthy interest in the demonic. The Church teaches that demons do indeed exist. What are demons, and who is Satan?
At the beginning, God created the angels with free will and the abilities to do their particular jobs. All of time was explained, and the angels were asked if they would serve in the roles they were created for—to encourage chastity, for instance. Led by Satan, about a third said no and were cast out of heaven down to Earth to roam here until the end of time. They made that choice with full knowledge of the consequences to the end of time, so they never want to repent, nor can they.
After they were cast out, the fallen angels retained their abilities. As demons they use their abilities, called faculties, to do the opposite of what they were created for. So, the angel who was created to encourage chastity now becomes a demon of lust. Satan was initially the most gifted angel and was the one that led the other fallen angels in their revolt. There are nine choirs of angels; some fell from each choir, so we have a hierarchy in heaven and also among the demons.
The demons do what they are told because they fear the punishment from higher-level fallen angels, particularly Satan. Ultimately God will punish them all individually in the lake of fire, but that comes at the final judgment.
Which is more dangerous: dismissing the devil’s involvement in the world or attributing too much to the work of the devil?
The important thing is to focus on human free will and our relationship with God. The demons are not central players here; we give them sway in the world only through our choices. Their job is to tempt us, but we make the decisions to follow those promptings. So, in a sense, they are behind all the evil, but it is we who allow evil to manifest.
Exorcism has been around since the time of Christ. How did the formal rituals of exorcism develop?
Well, that’s a long story, but here is the short version. Exorcism has been common in the Church from the beginning, as part of being baptized into the Church in the early days, and also for possessed people in general.
Over the centuries, the prayers developed differently in different parts of the world. In 1614, the Church decided to standardize exorcism, and they took the best of all the rites and made the solemn exorcism rite we have used since then. The rite was revised in 1999 as part of the Second Vatican Council reforms, but it’s not out in English yet.
Your book refers to demonic infestation, obsession, and possession. What’s the difference between them?
The Church generally defines three types of extraordinary demonic activity: demonic infestation, oppression/obsession, and possession. Infestation is when demons have the right to do extraordinary things in a place. Oppression and obsession are both translated from the Latin obsessio; it means a personal extraordinary attack on a person. Possession is when the demon has gained the rights to take over the body but not the soul.
The Church calls for prudence in discerning whether one is dealing with an evil presence or an illness. How does one determine that with certainty? What are the telltale signs of demonic activity?
First, you have medical and psychological evaluations to rule out a mundane explanation. Beyond that, there are some signs you need to document before you ask your bishop for permission to do an exorcism.
These signs can include the person in question knowing all languages, knowing secret things the person could not know (Hollywood focuses on knowing the secret sins of people present), detecting the holy (like saying which saint’s relic you have in your pocket), and preternatural strength.
We know from psychiatric settings that people can be extremely strong sometimes, so we would not diagnose possession from strength alone.
You distinguish between exorcism and deliverance. How do these two things differ?
A solemn exorcism of a person is a liturgical rite that can be done only by a priest with permission from his bishop. That permission lends the bishop’s apostolic authority to the priest. Exorcisms include a direct command from the priest to the demon—in Jesus’ name, of course.
Deliverance is not a direct command but a request to God to help a person. Because it’s a petition, or praying for a person, anyone can do that.
The Church wisely says that possessed people need exorcism, not deliverance prayer. Deliverance prayer generally doesn’t work on possession, as that situation requires the full apostolic authority that Jesus gave to the apostles.
There have been abuses in deliverance prayer teams in different parts of the world, prompting the letter from then-Cardinal [Joseph ] Ratzinger that clarified that lay people are not to speak to demons. That letter is on the Vatican website.
You speak of a demon having “rights” for infestation, obsession, or possession. How does a demon obtain such rights? Must he be invited in some way?
God allows demons to tempt us as their ordinary function, which has been going on since the Garden. When they want permission from God to do more than tempt us, they generally need our permission first. We give permission by inviting a deeper relationship with them, sometimes through black magic, spirit communication, or other violations of the First Commandment. There are exceptions where God allows an extraordinary trial without our permission, but it’s limited. We see this in the book of Job and the lives of some saints.
Demonic possession, I would imagine, does not usually happen all at once. What typically are the steps or stages that lead to possession?
Demons usually start with a con game. They may pretend to be a dead loved one, a holy angel, the spirit of a child in distress, or another spirit. After they lure the person into communication, they usually offer success, power, money, protection, or something the person thinks he needs.
Later, when the person is getting in too deep, the demons stop acting like a harmless servant and start dictating what the person can and cannot do. As the relationship deepens, it becomes torture, with the only out proposed either possession or suicide. Demons never give what they promise, not really, and it’s all taken away once the person is in too deep to back out on their own.
Is the person who experiences demonic obsession or possession incapable of helping himself, of warding off the demon alone?
The person usually has invited the relationship because they don’t know it’s a demon. Now, some people are born into Satanist families, and they know it’s a demon, and they want it. The person who has been conned can usually back out and repent if things have not gone far. Once it becomes oppression—think of that like an abusive spouse who controls someone through fear and suffering—it may be hard to get out on your own. With possession it almost always requires the rite of solemn exorcism.
How many exorcisms have you participated in or observed, and in what capacity?
I really don’t know, more than a hundred. At many I assisted as part of the team, maybe gently restraining the person. At many, I attended to coach the priest through the exorcism if he was new to the ministry. Exorcism is a fixed rite in a book, but it’s also an art. The demon isn’t passively sitting there letting you read from the book; it is an active opponent.
Is exorcism a frightening experience?
I’ve never felt fear. I think God just removes that as part of a calling to be involved in this. I’ve seen that with most priests and team members called into this ministry. As time goes on and it becomes clearer that Satan and the demons are limited, fallen creatures on a leash—and that Jesus holds the leash—the drama is even less scary. As the Bible says, don’t fear him who can destroy the body but him who can destroy the body and the soul. Our souls are God’s, and God alone judges us and determines where we go.
On a personal level, any job can carry over its stress or concerns to one’s home life. How does this line of work affect you and your loved ones?
I don’t really have any stress or concerns from this work because I follow the advice that was given to me: no wife, no kids, and no pets. This is because the demons will take revenge on people close to us if those people are vulnerable.
Your book mentions “rules” that must be observed when dealing with demons. What are some of these?
Follow the Church’s rules. Follow the exorcist’s directions. Don’t speak to the demons, and don’t respond to the demons. Pray.
Walk us through an exorcism. How does the demon normally manifest itself?
During the Litany of the Saints, which precedes every exorcism rite, the demons manifest by taking over the body, shuddering, moaning, then often laughing, and starting to mock or manipulate the people present. As the session goes on, the demons’ bravado decreases as the prayers, holy water, and other factors wear them down. Toward the end, they are often screaming they want to leave, sometimes offering the priest “anything” if he will just stop. I could write a book about the funny quotes I’ve heard demons say, but I won’t.
How effective are exorcisms? What is the “success rate”?
Most cases take six months to two years of weekly sessions before they are done. Some are over in one session. The success depends mainly on the possessed person’s willingness to change their life, trust God, and relate more closely with God. They have to cooperate with the grace Jesus is giving them in so many ways. He wants them to be free, but he frees them in stages, as much change as they can handle and adapt to at a time. Remember, most possessions have been going on for ten years or a lifetime. If the demons are all ripped out at once, the person feels like they don’t know who they are, it’s too much of a shock to their psyche, and they usually relapse.
Hollywood films have portrayed stories of possession and exorcism any number of times. What do they tend to get wrong?
They make it out to be one dramatic session, and, as we said, it’s many. They are brief, whereas real exorcisms are usually two to five hours at a time. Big dramatic manifestations like thunderclaps, levitation, or things flying around the room are rare even in exorcisms. Usually the really scary and disturbing things are the manipulations and things the demons say.
I was intrigued by your discussion in the manual of human spirit hauntings—how souls in purgatory can sometimes manifest themselves in requesting our prayers, and how demons can sometimes use these to gain access to us. Can you explain?
We know that the poor souls in purgatory can benefit from our Masses and prayers to speed their time in purgatory. In the lives of many saints, the poor souls have appeared and made such requests. In rare cases, particularly with suicides and murders, they seem to be allowed to signal their presence and a need for prayer. Interestingly, I’ve seen this many times in churches and rectories where priests have died.
The demons commonly pretend to be a dead person to lure the living into communication and relationship. Remember, necromancy—calling the dead to talk with them—is strongly forbidden in the Bible. It is a First Commandment issue, because you are seeking information or comfort from a spirit other than God. The poor souls will say yes only to prayer or nothing at all. The demons will want to have a conversation. If it wants to have a conversation, it’s a trick.
What is our best protection against demonic influences?
The sacramental life: baptism, confession, and the Mass. Avoid violating the First Commandment and entering into a relationship with a spirit other than God. Pray in a healthy, balanced way each morning and night.
Suppose a person becomes concerned about behavioral changes in a family member or loved one and begins to suspect something more than just a physical or psychological disorder is in play. When do they know it is time to seek the Church’s help? Where should they take their concerns?
Don’t jump to a demonic hypothesis first. I’ve seen a number of medical conditions that went untreated and got worse because of this error. Talk with your doctor, and rule out all the mundane things.
Demonic changes in behavior usually come from serious involvement in the occult or black magic, not just going through a Goth phase or having a moody teenager. The elderly often have personality and behavior changes that are from aging processes or disease; talk with your doctors first. If you still suspect a spiritual problem, start by talking with your local priest, then your diocesan central office if they refer you there.
Extraordinary spiritual problems are rare, but they are real. Don’t fear these things, but focus on your personal relationship with Jesus and his Church.
Sidebar Demons Understand English, Too
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made available in fall 2017 the first official English translation of the ritual book Exorcisms and Related Supplications. Although distribution was limited to prelates, other qualified individuals—such as exorcists, other clergy, or academic scholars—may obtain a copy with their bishop’s approval.
Although the English translation is from the 1999 rite in Latin revised in the wake of Vatican II, it draws from centuries-old rituals.
Fewer priests know Latin than in the past, so it allows more priests to perform exorcisms, concentrating on the prayers and forms without having to deal with a foreign language. Since demonic activity seems to be on the rise in the U.S., this should make it easier for bishops to find priests to help them in the exorcism ministry.
The book includes an appendix of familiar and little-known prayers titled “Supplications Which May Be Used by the Faithful Privately in Their Struggle Against the Powers of Darkness.” A USCCB spokesman said that although the book is not available to laypersons, the appendix has been made into a booklet, Prayers Against the Powers of Darkness, which is available from the publishing arm of the bishops’ conference.”
Love, and prayers of protection for you, and yours for me, too, please.
“Is everyone definitely going to heaven? Are we all mistaken about hell? I will break down universalism and examines the biblical arguments that are used in support of this heresy.
‘YOU get eternal life with God! And, YOU get eternal life with God. And, YOU, etc.” Wrong., not everybody gets eternal life with God. That would be Oprah if she was preaching universalism.
[Universalism exists] because one of the critiques of Hell, if you recall last time when I had Randall Rouser on the show, we looked at one critique of Hell, which says that, “Yes, Hell exists, but it’s not permanent and the damned are destroyed there.” That would be annihilationism. Another view of Hell is that Hell exists, but it’s more like purgatory. Hell is something where people are purified and so eventually all of the damned, at some point after death, will eventually embrace God, love God, they’ll repent of their sins and then have eternal life with God.
So, universalism is the view that all people or possibly all creatures, which may include the demons and even the devil himself, will be saved. And this is a view that you can find going far back in church history. It’s not a common one, it’s an extreme minority view in church history. You can find a few church fathers or a few ecclesial writers endorsing this view, but it’s a very small minority view. It probably goes back as far as the ecclesial writer Origen in the third century. He espoused a doctrine called apocatastasis.
So, apocatastasis means restoration, reconstitution, and it was his view that all human beings would eventually be drawn to God and all things will be reconciled to God and no one would be in Hell. People dispute a little bit over what Origen meant, because some people accused Origen of saying that even the devil would be redeemed and he would be in Heaven, I think Origen actually denied that view. But regardless of what happened, several centuries later in the sixth century, the church condemned Origen’s views and they condemned the doctrine of universalism, I think around the year 543 AD. Now, they condemned the specific view that we can know with certainty that all people will be saved. There are other variants of universalism that he will put forward, like hopeful universalism that are different in many key respects, like what Bishop Barron proposes and we’re going to talk about later here in the podcast.
So first, let’s start with the doctrine of universalism, classical universalism, that says we know for certain all people will be saved. And then we’ll move to what is called Von Balthasarian hopeful universalism, or the universalism that Bishop Barron promotes, which is based on the writings of the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar.
So, to go to classic universalism, there’s a recent book that just came out that I was reading through by an author that, I guess I grudgingly enjoy him. He’s an Eastern Orthodox theologian named David Bentley Hart, and he has a very eclectic writing career. The guy is legitimately smart. Like when I read through books, I normally can read through a book and I can get everything the author is saying, but one insight that Hart is very well read, is that he has an incredible vocabulary.
I mean, he had a personal library of something like 20,000 books that he eventually donated to charity or donated to university, but the guy is really well read. So, when I read through his stuff, the vocabulary he uses, every other page, I’m looking up words and normally I don’t have to do that. I think I have a decent command of vocabulary, a verbose vocabulary, if you will, but Hart will just say things that I’m like, “Okay, where is this coming from?”
Or the other thing that he does, this is the thing where it makes it grudging for me, that I like him because he’s smart. I think he puts forward decent ideas. In some areas he’s better than others, I think some of his arguments against atheism are great. He’s actually a great defender of the doctrine of divine simplicity, the idea that God is not divided into parts, but God is just infinite being itself. But there’s other things that he argues for that I think he’s comparatively weak on. He’s a big defender of socialism. I’ve critiqued him on our online magazine and he gets critiqued in my book I’m co-authoring with Catherine Bacolic called Why Catholics Can’t Be Socialist. He’s not Catholic, but he’s still espouses a Christian view saying that Christianity and socialism, Christians ought to be socialists, and so I take him to task for that in my book, though I don’t want to be on the receiving end of Hart taking me to task. I mean I might, but I would love a response from him, to this book.
Well, the book he wrote is called, let’s see here, That All Shall Be Saved, Heaven, Hell and Universal Salvation. There’s a great review of it on the Gospel Coalition website, this is a Protestant website, by Michael McClymond, and McClymond actually has written a really big treatment of the history of universalism in the church. And he comes down on the view that it’s a minority doctrine held by only a few fathers in the church, and that it’s a destructive doctrine and that it promotes, I think, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. This idea that if everyone is saved, then it really cheapens the offer of salvation, the offer of grace that God gives us.
So, McClymond reviews Hart’s book, and I love, though, what he says about Hart’s rhetoric, because one thing that’s distinctive about David Bentley Hart is his rhetoric that he uses. So, he has a wide vocabulary, but he also knows the right words to tear people apart. So, this is what McClymond says. “One cannot consider Hart’s arguments for Christian universalism apart from the ethos and pathos of his prose. Willis Jenkins speaks of Hart’s adjectival petulance, while Douglas Pharaoh calls him, ‘an intellectual pugilist who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.’ For better and for worse, Hart’s verbal pyrotechnics are as obvious as a bomb blast in a reading room. In That All Shall Be Saved, he claims that his intellectual opponents and their views are viciously vindictive, exquisitely malicious, specious reasoning, inherently incredible, morally obtuse, ostentatiously absurd, extravagant absurdities, an intoxicating atmosphere of corroborating nonsense.”
And that’s actually just a collection of insults from the first 20 pages of the book. He has all kinds of things he likes to throw at people as he goes on. And so what I want to do in this episode, though, I’m not going to go through Hart’s book bit-by-bit, I just want to use it.
That’s an introduction to the topic, because there’s really two different kinds of arguments that Universalists use. One, they’ll say, is that Hell is inherently unjust and so they’ll make philosophical arguments saying it would be unjust for someone, for God to allow someone to choose Hell or to be consigned to Hell for all eternity. And so I might address that in a future podcast, just focused on the philosophical arguments related to Hell. Instead, in this episode, I want to focus more on the biblical data, the data from divine revelation to say, “What has God told us about this?”
Because you might be thinking, “Well look, Jesus warned us about Hell. He said that people can go to Hell. The, you know, the gate is wide to destruction and narrow for those who find life. How can you get more obvious than that?” Well, universalists take a look at scripture and they do two things. One, they argue that the references to Hell are only temporary references. So, when Jesus uses adjectives like eternal, the Greek word ionian … This is similar to, you know, my discussion with Randall rouser on annihilationism. They’re talking about how it’s a punishment in the age to come, not one that necessarily lasts for an eternal duration.
But the problem I have with this, and I mentioned in my previous critique of the annihilationist, is that in Matthew 25:46, in Matthew 25, Jesus makes a parallel judgment of the sheep and the goats, the sheep that follow him, that feed the poor, clothe the naked, that follow Jesus’ teachings, they have eternal life with God. And so they have an eternal reward, they have eternal life. But then there’s a parallel with the goats who reject Jesus, who refuse to follow his commands, and they go into ionian colossan, eternal punishment.
And so ultimately though, if it’s not really eternal punishment, if it’s just life in the age to come and punishment in the age to come, then the sheep and the goats kind of end up in the same place. Because the goats, no matter how bad that purifying process is that they go through in Hell, when you compare it to the eternal, infinite happiness that awaits them in Heaven, it’s not going to be really any big deal at all. So, there’s a severe lack of justice in that result, and it doesn’t make sense of the biblical warnings that Christ gives for Hell. So, most Universalists, they try to argue Hell is just a purifying state and that all people will end up in Heaven, but that doesn’t make sense of the descriptions we have from Hell.
Now, if that were their only argument, then it would be a pretty weak position for them to run through. But the positive evidence that universalists offer is, they’ll pick Bible passages where it talks about how God desires the salvation of all people and that all people will be reconciled to God, and they’ll say, “Okay, well that shows that God is going to save all people. God wants all people to be saved.” 1st Timothy 2:4, “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
So that’s true. God wants all people to be saved. But just because God wants something, it doesn’t follow that’s going to happen. God wants me to not ever commit a sin in my life. Now, that makes sense, right? Does God want Trent Horn to sin? No, he doesn’t want me to sin. In fact, Jesus says, “Be perfect like your Heavenly father is perfect.” God wants me, from this moment going forward, to not commit a sin. Am I going to commit a sin? You bet I’m going to. In fact, James 3:2 says that we all stumble in small ways. So, there are many things that God wants, and that represents his perfect will for us, but he understands that we are not puppets on a string, we are not marionettes. And so, there are things God wants for us, but we can choose to not go along with his plan.
And one of those things is that God wants all people to be saved and the only thing that would keep that from happening is the free choice that God has given to his creatures. So what that means is, for example, for angels, angels are forever cut off from God because their decision to rebel against God before the creation of the world is fixed for all eternity. The catechism in paragraph 393 says this. It says, “It is the irrevocable character of their choice,” the angels who rebelled against God, “and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”
One of my arguments for why I believe Hell is eternal is that the damned make it eternal by continually sinning and rejecting God. They just double down on their sins and continue to wallow in them and routinely choose them over God for all eternity. And you probably know people like this who are stubborn, who are malicious, that even when they’re offered mercy and grace, they turn it down and they double down on their own sins and they find almost a sick kind of pleasure in their own sins and in their own stubbornness. And I think that that’s what Hell is, that Hell, it has a lock, but the lock is on the inside. That people choose to not unlock it, that if you took someone out of Hell and place them into Heaven, they would curse God and march right back into Hell and consider it to be better.
In fact, and to be sympathetic to David Bentley Hart, there is an Eastern view on what Hell is. I don’t believe it is compatible with the Catholic view of Hell, because if you look in the catechism in paragraphs, it’s between, I think it’s like 1035, 1033 through 1035, it says that the chief punishment of Hell is eternal separation from God. And so Hell, you’ll get everything you wanted in life, you’ll get yourself and you’ll be cut off from everything that is completely good in life, which is God.
A common view in Eastern Orthodox theology though of Hell, which I find really intriguing, I actually really want to believe it, but it seems to contradict what the church teaches about Hell being a separation from God. Many Eastern theologians have said that Hell is just the reaction that the damned have to God’s presence, that God’s holiness, for example, that when God’s holiness is received by different people, it is experienced in different ways. So, those who are saints in Heaven, the canonized, so the saints in Heaven who are freed from sin, they experience God as infinite bliss and it’s wonderful. The saved who are in purgatory, who are being purified of their sins, they experience God as possibly a painful kind of cleansing environment, that they see they’re moving towards the good, but it’s not a pleasant road going along the way. For them, the experience of God is kind of like the experience of going to the dentist, to use an analogy that’s helpful with children to explain what purgatory is like.
But the damned, what makes Hell Hellish is they experience God and it is just awful for them. They are in torment because they hate that goodness since they love themselves. Have you ever seen a narcissist? Somebody who is just in love with themselves, they’re always bragging about themselves. When they’re among a group of people and they’re with somebody who is objectively better than them, someone who is smarter, funnier, better looking, more accomplished, they’re always trying to one up that person and they can’t, and it just drives them crazy. And so, they don’t want to be a part of that. They don’t want to have to deal with that, it’s irritating to them. And so if that was magnified infinite fold in Hell for people to experience God, then it’s almost like there’s a kind of justice that in the afterlife everybody gets God and your temperament, how you’re fixed at death, whether your soul was fixed, oriented towards God or away God, will determine how you receive him for all eternity.
Now, just to repeat, that’s the Eastern view of Hell. I find it intriguing, but I do not think that it is compatible with the Catholic view, because the catechism in paragraph 1035 makes it very clear that Hell is eternal separation from God. Not that you receive God, but it’s just a horrible feeling because you’re not well disposed to receive him because you don’t desire that. The sin you cling to recoils at the love of God.
So, going back to Universalists, they’ll quote Bible passages like this. 1st Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” So, the Universalist says, “Okay, because of Adam, we all, every human being ended up in sin, and because of Christ, every human being will end up in Heaven.” That is not what Paul is saying here. He uses the phrase, in Christ, is a phrase that’s very specific to Pauline theology, and it refers to the saved. It refers to people who have the grace of God, who are united to Christ through baptism. It doesn’t refer to all human beings. So yes, “For as in Adam,” we all come from Adam because of biological generation, “all die,” all have original sin. So also, “In Christ,” those who are in Christ, “shall all be made alive.” All of those who are in Christ, not all human beings whatsoever.
This also explains what Paul writes in Romans 5:18. He says, “ASs one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” So the Universalist will say, “Oh, see here, it’s saying through Adam, one man’s trespass, all were condemned. And to have the symmetry through one man’s act of righteousness, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, this leads to acquittal and life for all men.” But once again, Paul is not saying that all human beings will be saved through Christ, in virtue that Christ has just died on the cross and so automatically all human beings will be saved.
He’s talking about life for all of those who are in Christ, and we know that in Romans 5:18, to sort of summarize, Romans 5:18, “One man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” It would be easy to read universalism out of that passage, but that’s not what Paul is talking about because we have to go back one verse. Remember, watch out for proof texts. You got to look at the context. A proof text without context is nothing but a pretext. I think that was the Protestant exigent D A Carson, who once said that.
In Romans 5:17 Paul says, “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will.” and here’s the key part, “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness, reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” So, Paul says that before Romans 5:18 and he says it’s not every human being, it’s those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness. Just because something is a free gift doesn’t mean that you have to receive it. I get free gifts and free offers in the mail all the time. “Free credit card offer, here you go.” Guess what? I’m not going to receive it because I don’t want that. Now, the free offer, the free gift of God? I will cooperate with God’s grace to receive that because I see that that offers the greatest thing I could ever have. Eternal life.
Okay, so let’s summarize where we’re at. We’ve been talking about universalism. That is the view that all people, possibly all creatures will go to Heaven and that Hell is a way that they are purified and that’s how they get to Heaven. But as we see, there’s no biblical evidence for this view, and it’s contradicted by the Bible’s teachings that Hell is something that’s really bad. Hell is not a stopping point on the way to Heaven, Hell is something that you don’t want to end up to. Hell is a place of death.
That’s why the annihilationist view makes more sense than the universalist view. The annihilationist will say, “Yeah, Hell is a place where you’re lost.” Because think about when Jesus talks about the lost, “I’ve come to save the lost, come for those who are lost.” If universalism were true, then the people who go to Hell, they’re not lost, they’re delayed. They’re delayed, they’re going to be purified in Hell, and then eventually they’re going to spend an infinite amount of time with God in Heaven. So, they’re not lost, they’re delayed. The annihilationist view makes more sense because they would say the damned are lost because they are destroyed in Hell.
Now, I disagree with them because it seems clear that the descriptions of Hell are that it is a never ending place of torment for those who were separated from God, and that the eternal separation the damned endure is not one where they go out of existence and so they’re apart from God for all eternity. Like if I delete an email, I don’t say it’s eternally deleted, it’s just it’s deleted, it’s gone. No, there’s this kind of enduring separation that takes place. And so it contradicts what we have from the biblical data, what we have from the teachings of the church that Hell is a real reality, that it’s not purgative, that not everyone’s going to have … And universalism was condemned in the sixth century. You cannot hold the view as a Catholic that you know for certain all people are going to Heaven.
Now, that brings us to Bishop Barron and so I’m going to have to tease out the end of this podcast here, but don’t worry. We’re going to continue this discussion in part two episode of this week, where I want to give enough time and treatment to this topic. I guess I thought I could cover both of these in one episode, but that’s fine, we’ve got flexibility here.
So, now we’ve seen what universalism is. You can’t believe that, the view that it’s definite all people are going to go to Heaven. But what about another view? What about a view we might call hopeful universalism? That’s the view where we’re saying, “Well, we don’t know for certain all people are going to Heaven, but is it possible that no one will be lost? Is it possible that no one will end up in Hell? That Hell exists? It’s eternal, but it’s empty. No human beings end up there. Is it possible and something we should hope for that all human beings will end up in Heaven?” That would be the view called hopeful universalism espoused by the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, and it’s more popularly espoused today by Bishop Robert Barron. So, that view is not the same as universalism. It is not the same.
And so there’s two questions I would ask of that view. One, is it an Orthodox view, is it a view that a faithful Catholic can hold? Does it contradict church teaching? And two, is it a prudent view? Is it a view that we ought to hold? Is it a good idea? Those are two different views, but I want to make sure I give that view the best treatment in my next article.”
Love, Lord, give me the grace to worthy of Your reward at my judgment, particular, and universal(final, last),
“Recently, we looked at an objection that argues God can’t be immutable and at the same time be the universal cause of temporal effects because that would entail God having to change in his acts—acting to cause one thing at one moment in time, ceasing that act at another moment in time, and engaging in a new act to cause something else at some other moment in time.
We showed that this objection fails because it wrongly assumes God acts in time and that there’s nothing in the notion of a cause that entails change.
But some atheists counter along the lines of an objection that St. Thomas Aquinas deals with in Summa Contra Gentiles 3.35: How can there be new effects brought about in time with no new acts in God’s will? Wouldn’t God have to act anew in order to bring about new effects? But if he acted anew for every new effect, then God would undergo change.
It seems that if we affirm God’s immutability we must deny that he’s the creator of temporal effects. If we affirm that God is the creator of temporal effects, which his role as the universal cause of all things entails, it seems we must deny his immutability.
What should we make of this counter?
Notice the assumption: new acts are necessary to bring about new effects. But it’s not necessarily true that something must perform new acts in order to bring about new effects. Perhaps an analogy will be helpful.
Consider a state leader who signs a bill of law and determines that it shall take effect and become binding one month after its signing. A new decree wouldn’t be necessary for the binding power of the law to come into existence when its appointed time arrives. The law would take effect at its allotted time due to the decree made a month before.
The lawmaker could even stipulate that the law be only temporarily binding, specifying not only when the law takes effect (a month subsequent to the signing), but also the time when the law ceases to have binding power (perhaps a year after the law goes into effect). So, by one act, the lawmaker would determine not only the new effect of the beginning of the law but also the new effect of the law no longer having binding power. And when each of those new effects would come to be—when the binding power of the law actually begins and ends—it would be due to the lawmaker’s one act.
Similarly, by a single act of intellect and will God specifies every aspect of a thing’s being, including the moment of time at which a thing will come into existence, the moments at which it will begin to act and cease to act, and the moment at which it will go out of existence—that is, if it’s the type of thing that can naturally go out of existence, unlike a human soul or angels.
As we saw in the article linked above, this is a necessary conclusion based on the fact that God is the first and universal cause. For if he only caused the existence of something and its activity, and not the time at which that thing comes into existence or acts, then there would be some aspect of being (the temporal mode of being) that would have escaped God’s universal causality.
Since that can’t be, we know God must not only cause the existence and action of a thing but the particular moment in the flow of time at which a thing exists and acts. And he does so by the one eternal act of intellect and will.
So just as a lawmaker can stipulate in one decree when a law begins and ends, and the binding power of that law begins and ends based on that one decree, so too God in one eternal decree determines the moments in time when an effect will come into existence and go out of existence, and when that effect comes into or goes out of existence it will be due to the one act of God’s intellect and will.
But an atheist might counter: It’s one thing to say that multiple effects can be determined by a single act when the “effect” is an abstraction and the determining action is an act of the mind, like when a law is determined to have and not have binding power. It’s another thing to claim, on God’s behalf, that a single act of the will can produce multiple effects in reality at different moments in time.
This counter fails on multiple fronts. First, it doesn’t take into account that God’s knowledge is identical to his will. His intellectual decree that some things come into existence and go out of existence at their allotted moments in the flow of time is identical to the single act of will by which he produces those effects.
Second, it wrongly assumes that when the effects become real they are necessarily temporally separated from when they are conceived in the mind, like when a house is actually built as opposed to the conception of its allotted time to be built in the mind of the contractor.
But with God this is not so. He doesn’t have to wait for the allotted time to arrive in order to produce the effect. All moments of time and the events that make up those moments are present to God simultaneously (see Summa Theologiae I:14:7, 13). As such, God is able to produce the multiple effects at their allotted times by a single act of his eternal will. The cause-effect relationship between those effects at each moment in time and God’s causal activity is like the cause-effect relationship between the knife cutting the orange: it’s simultaneous.
Third, this counter loses sight of God’s omnipotence. A rational creature might not be able to produce new effects at different moments of time without new causal action. But that doesn’t mean no rational being could do so. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “If [a rational being’s] act of will were of itself sufficient to produce the effect, the effect would follow anew from his previous decision, without any new action on his part” (SCG 3.35).
God’s will is sufficient to bring all effects into existence at their allotted moments in the flow of time because his will is infinite in power (omnipotent), able to do anything that doesn’t entail a logical contradiction. Since there’s no logical contradiction in the idea of a single act willing a multiplicity of effects to be and not be at different moments in time, we can say that given God’s omnipotence he’s able to cause temporal effects without new action on his part.
Since no new act of causation on God’s part is needed to bring about a new effect in the flow of time, or to will an effect to cease to exist at a moment in the flow of time, the objection that God must change in causing things to exist at one point in time and not at some other time has no force.
Yet again theism passes the coherence test, at least on this front. There’s one other reason atheists give to show the incompatibility of God’s immutability and his role as the universal cause, but we’ll have to save that one for another time.”
“Atheists often claim that it’s contradictory for believers to assert that God is at the same time both the universal cause of all being and immutable. In other words, God can’t be changeless and at the same time changing, in the sense that he causes things to come into and go out of existence.
Consider, for example, that my act of typing this article right now is a reality ultimately because God causes it to be. His causal activity is not in opposition to my free action, but the presupposition for it. For whatever has being is ultimately caused to be by the source of being, God. Since my act of typing has being (it actually exists), it follows that God ultimately causes my action to be (even if he doesn’t cause every typo or imperfect metaphor that I choose).
By the time you read this article, however, my act of typing it will no longer exist. I’ll be engaged in other acts, such as throwing the football with my sons.
So, what God is causing to exist now (me typing this article in real time), he will no longer cause to exist when I shut down the computer. And what God was not causing to exist (me throwing the football with my sons), God will cause to exist.
But this seems to entail that God changes in his acts, acting to cause one thing at one moment in time, ceasing that act at another moment in time, and engaging in a new act to cause something else at some other moment in time.
If God brings about new effects in time, so it’s argued, he would have to engage in new acts of the will. And if that were true, he would change.
So it seems that if we affirm God as the ultimate cause of all temporal effects, we would have to say God changes. If we say God can’t change, then we couldn’t affirm that he’s the ultimate cause of all temporal effects. Neither of the two options is available for one who believes in the classical understanding of God.
Is a theist trapped?
Notice how the objection assumes that God’s causal action is located in time just like the effect is located in time, as if we can point to some moment in time before which he doesn’t act and after which he does. But there are good reasons to think this assumption is false.
God is eternal, and therefore doesn’t exist or act in the flow of time. He’s entirely outside the succession of moments in time, having all moments of time (our before and after) present to him simultaneously. Consequently, God doesn’t have a “before” and an “after.” And if that’s the case, then it’s not correct to assume that he begins to act after a certain time, before which he didn’t act.
Moreover, as the first and universal cause, God not only ultimately causes my act of typing but also the time at which he wills this act to be (5:00 pm October 14 in Brisbane, Australia). For if he were only the first cause of the action, and not the time at which the action occurred, then there would be some aspect of being (the temporal aspect of being) that would have escaped God’s universal causality. Since that can’t be, we know he must not only cause the action, he must also cause the particular moment in the flow of time at which the act takes place.
And because God can’t be conditioned by that which he causes to be (the particular moments in the flow of time at which all activity takes place), his causal activity can’t possibly be subject to time. In other words, God’s causal activity has no “before” and “after” because God’s causal activity itself determines the “before” and “after” of all activity. We have to be careful not to confuse, “God causes some things to be at some moments of time,” with “God, at some moment in time, causes some things to be.”
Since God’s causal action is not in time, it’s not necessary that he change in his act of causing new temporal effects (i.e., go from not causing to causing). Therefore, the assertion that God is the universal cause of temporal effects doesn’t contradict the claim that God is immutable.
Now, an atheist might respond, “Perhaps God doesn’t undergo change in his causal activity because he acts in time. But he must undergo change inasmuch as he acts as a cause, for change necessarily belongs to what it means to be a cause. So God, therefore, can’t be immutable and the universal cause of all things at the same time.”
The problem with this counter is that it assumes change necessarily belongs to what it means to be a cause.
Sure, the causes that we experience undergo change when they bring about an effect (e.g., me going from not engaging in the act of typing this article to engaging in the act of typing this article). But just because a cause of our experience changes when it causes an effect, it doesn’t necessarily follow that anything whatsoever that acts as a cause must undergo change.
All that’s necessary for a cause to be a cause of an effect is for the effect in question to be brought about by that cause. In other words, without the activity of the cause the effect would not be. There’s nothing in this understanding of a cause that necessitates the cause undergo change when it acts as a cause.
And that’s all a theist is saying when he says God causes temporal effects. Something comes into existence at a specific moment of time due to God’s causal action, and it goes out of existence ultimately because of God’s causal action.
So, the idea that some things are brought about at different moments of time, and that God is the ultimate cause that brings those things about at their distinct moments of time, in no way shows God must undergo change when he acts as a cause. There’s nothing in the notion of a cause that entails change and God’s causal action is not characterized by time.
At least on this front, theism passes the coherence test.”
“The Catechism teaches that the Church “must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers,” and such a persecution will “unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.” This religious deception will be “that of the Antichrist” (CCC 675).
But some Protestants believe that the Bible teaches otherwise: that Christians will not experience the persecution of the Antichrist but will be snatched up by the Lord prior to it. This is a doctrine known as the pre-tribulation rapture.
The passage they often appeal to is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17:
“For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
Protestants who adhere to this view argue that Paul can’t be talking about the Second Coming because Jesus only comes part-way down and then goes back up. Moreover, because no judgment of the nations is mentioned, like we see in Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 20, this must be referring to a “rapture.”
What are to make of this challenge? Let’s take a look.
First, the challenge misreads the text as only a partial coming and return back to heaven. Verse 15 reads that the Lord will “descend from heaven with a cry of command.” But nowhere does Paul say that Jesus returns to heaven. If Jesus’s descent is definitive, it’s not a partial coming as the pre-tribulation view requires it to be.
But what are we to make of Paul’s description that the saints who are alive will be “caught up…to meet the Lord in the air”? A possible interpretation is that Paul is describing how Christians will meet the Lord in the air to escort Him in a way that is analogous to the ancient custom of citizens ushering in important visitors.
It was common for citizens to meet an illustrious person (such as a dignitary or victorious military leader) and his entourage outside the walls of their city and accompany them back in. This was a way for people to honor the visitor and take part in the celebration of the visitor’s coming.
We see an example of this in Acts 28:14-15, where the brethren at Rome went out of the city to meet Paul as he approached: “And so we came to Rome. And the brethren there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us.”’
Such a practice is no different from how people gather to welcome a celebrity at an airport. It’s this ancient custom that explains why the crowds go out to meet Jesus on Palm Sunday and usher him into Jerusalem (see Matt. 21:1-17).
So, for Paul, those who are alive at the Second Coming will do for our blessed Lord what the ancients did for their dignitaries: they will be caught up in the air to meet the approaching king Jesus and escort Him as he “descend[s] from heaven with a cry of command” (1 Thess. 4:16).
A second way to meet this challenge is to point out how the details of the passage reveal that Paul is talking about the final coming of Jesus at the end of time.
Notice that it’s not just the living who are caught up with the Lord, but also the dead in Christ: “And the dead in Christ will rise first” (v.16). That Paul speaks of the resurrection of the dead tells us that he’s referring to the end of time.
We know this because Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15 that the end happens in tandem with the resurrection of the dead. He writes,
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power (1 Cor. 15:22-24).
If Paul viewed the resurrection of the dead occurring in tandem with the end of time, and if he speaks of the resurrection of the dead in tandem with Christ’s coming in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, it follows that Christ’s coming in those verses is his coming at the end of time and not a pre-tribulation rapture.
A second reason why we know Paul is talking about the end of time is because when he speaks about the “coming of the Lord” in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, he says that the Antichrist and his reign of evil must precede it:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited . . . to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed . . . and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming (2 Thess. 2:1-8).
It’s clear that Paul is connecting the “coming of our Lord” here in 2 Thessalonians and the “coming of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, because he speaks of “our assembling to meet him.”
So, if the “coming of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 must be preceded by the Antichrist and his reign of evil, then those verses can’t be referring to a pre-tribulation “rapture.” Rather, they must refer to our Lord’s coming at the end of time, when he vanquishes all evil and condemns those “who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:12).
A final clue for this being the final day of judgment is the fact that the Lord will descend with “the sound of the trumpet of God” (v.16). Paul speaks of the same trumpet when he describes the resurrection of the dead at the end of time:
Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
Since in Paul’s mind the trumpet is associated with the resurrection of the dead at the end of time, and he speaks of it when describing the “coming of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, we can conclude that the “coming of the Lord” that Paul writes of there is the final coming at the end of time.
Contrary to what some Protestants believe, 1 Thessalonians 4;15-17 does not refer to a pre-tribulation rapture. Rather, it refers to Christ’s Second and glorious coming at the end of time when the dead will be raised and reign with Christ forever in the new heaven and new earth.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine