Rorate Caeli

“The Pneumonia of the Church”: Archbishop Aguer on the Sickness and Its Remedy

Archbishop Emeritus Hector Aguer

The title of this note comes from an eloquent image used by the African Cardinal Robert Sarah, who was Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments—and who was “mercifully” retired from the Roman Curia, as soon as was possible without causing too much of a scandal. His Eminence, author of books of rare theological depth and spiritual dimension, compared the current disastrous situation of the Catholic Church with that which Pius X had to face: modernism, which Pope Sarto described and condemned in the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis and the decree Lamentabili Sane Exitu. Compared to the current remains of the post-conciliar period, that was a mere cold. I dare to project this image: the Church today is suffering from severe pneumonia. I turn to an analysis of the symptoms.


At present—at least according to what is determined ex auctoritate superiori—there is neither kerygma nor didache in the Church. There remain, undoubtedly, survivors of better times, the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But in the “official” line, those who are outside the Church are no longer called to conversion, nor are the faithful who need and wish to grow in the Faith. Fundamental themes of the Creed and Catholic catechesis have disappeared from ordinary preaching: God in his Unity and Trinity; Jesus Christ, true God and true man; Redemption; sin and grace; the Commandments (the sixth, especially, is a thing of the past); hope in eternal life; the devil and his wiles; the danger and threat of eternal damnation; and, in general, the content happily expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.


We can expect and find these truths in the preaching of Protestant evangelical pastors, who are not ashamed to show that they are Christians and zealously propose the way of following the Lord. We must excuse them for a certain fundamentalism in the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, which they know inside-out, and, in some cases, for a charismatic exultation that is a bit overwhelming. But, thanks be to God, these Christian brothers and sisters do proclaim something of the message of the Kingdom (what a pity that they have neither the Eucharist nor the Virgin Mary!). They exercise their ministry through programs in the media, which the Catholic Church in many places totally lacks. I do not know if there are many Catholics who actually turn to Protestant evangelicalism; what is certain is that the dimensions of the Church are shrinking in many countries, particularly in Argentina.


What, instead, is the dominant interest of Catholic preaching today, according to official guidelines? The “new paradigms”: improving people’s lives in this world; the care of Mother Earth; social injustices; “climate change”; the deforestation of the Amazon. In broad terms, we can say: the criteria of a New World Order, financed by the international imperialism of money. The Holy See yields; in February 2019 it adhered to the document on Universal Fraternity, signed in Abu Dhabi. Freemasonry rejoices.


Another symptom of pneumonia: the devastation of the liturgy that has followed the postconciliar debacle. The sensible recommendations contained in the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium were not heeded. The itinerary followed by the reforms imposed by the Holy See—especially the creation of a new Mass, which is not usually called the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but rather “Eucharistic celebration”—has failed to recognize that true reform is always a restoration. The eminent liturgist Klaus Gamber has shown how the rites of the Church developed organically, without ever breaking with Tradition. The recent pretension (it has been going on for half a century) implies a “creative pride,” with painful effects. If we wish to refer to the Roman Rite, we must recognize that it was substantially constituted at the end of the fourth century, by the work of Pope St. Damasus; it received additions by St. Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century, and was defined after the Council of Trent by the Bull Quo Primum of St. Pius V. This is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the latest version of which is from 1962, the Missal of John XXIII. True reform is the recovery of the original forms, as St. Pius X did with the Gregorian Chant.


Benedict XVI knew very well that the traditional Latin Mass had never been abolished, and he reinstated it as an “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite, in order to respect, with authentic pastoral sense, the priests who celebrated it and the faithful who participated in it with undeniable spiritual fruits. It was a very wise decision, as could be expected from a great theologian who is at the same time a man of God. This work was demolished by a draconian, despotic measure, the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes. This document was a lousy, arbitrary, and ideological ukase, alien to the organic development of the Church. Bishop Rob Mutsaerts has rightly written that “the Liturgy is not a plaything of the popes, but the heritage of the Church.”


The liturgical devastation is not acknowledged by the Holy See, which has embraced a flat, poorly-disguised progressivism. St. Vincent of Lérins, in his Commonitory, pointed out how doctrine, discipline, and in general all ecclesial realities develop homogeneously. This is how the truth can be expressed nove, with new, updated terms, but it cannot be replaced by nova, new things. In other words, the same dogma remains, with the same meaning, and the identity of the content of the Faith.


Relativism has almost officially imposed itself; we can no longer expect a clear definition of what to believe, and of the errors from which we must guard ourselves. We know this because, thanks be to God, we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a point of reference that frees us from the contradictions incurred by a “higher authority” on which the security of the faithful, especially the simplest, the poor, should be able to rest. Moreover, God, Christ, the Mystery of Redemption, the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, seem to be trapped in the jaws of Kantian Practical Reason. Moralism takes the place of the dogma of Faith. There is much to be said about this aspect of the current problem, especially because it is a reductive morality that ignores the breadth of the Law of God.


Another symptom of the pneumonia is the change produced in the last nine years in the method of discernment. Two weights and two measures are used. All is granted for the partisans of progressivism, in its various variants (I say “partisans” because it is about a partial vision of the Christian reality), but not even justice is given to those who love the great Ecclesial Tradition and decide to abide by it in their personal life, and in the participation or in the leadership of the Christian community. The method of “discernment” evoked here is brutally expressed by General Juan Domingo Perón, three times president of Argentina: “For friends, everything; for enemies, not even justice.”


This is how we discover why there are “cancelled priests” (this phrase is already widely in circulation), eliminated from the list by the bishops who are clinging to the new Roman orientations. The episcopal conferences are the instrument to impose a uniformity according to which “fraternity” is, simply, a beautiful word to show off. Bishops who are consistent with all that the Apostolic Succession implies are ignored and abandoned to their fate. Episcopates are often instruments of ecclesial politicization. We can call “cancelled bishops” those who are liquidated before their time, without waiting for the guillotine of 75 years to arrive. It does not matter if the dioceses over which they preside are flourishing and they enjoy the love of the faithful; many times disloyalty, denunciations, internal conflicts, play a role in their downfall. And sincere objectivity is lacking for the correct judgment of such situations.


The habit of murmuring has often been attributed to women, but in reality it is a typically clerical vice. The bishops of Ciudad del Este (Paraguay) and San Luis (Argentina), among others, have been cancelled. Daniel Fernandez Torres, Bishop of Arecibo (Puerto Rico), was deposed because, with all dignity, he refused to resign as requested by the Apostolic Delegate. Three years ago I preached there the Spiritual Exercises to the clergy of the diocese; and I was able to verify, personally, what a well-conducted particular Church looks like. Will Bishop Dominique Rey, bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, who has just been ordered by Rome to suspend the ordinations of six deacons and four priests only three weeks before the scheduled date, be one of the next to be cancelled?


Faced with the panorama I have tried to describe, one can ask oneself what to do, what medicine to take, in order to cure this pneumonia. I answer: we have to cry out—not content ourselves with complaining to ecclesial officialdom, even if errors and injustices are noticed and suffered, but rather, cry out to God! In Sacred Scripture, especially in the prophetic books, we find numerous cases in which the people of Israel cried out to the Lord—their cry reached the ears of the Almighty and Merciful God, and He responded to those who prayed to Him with humility and trust in times of great distress. Many psalms contain such cries of the heart, especially individual and collective lamentations.


In the face of the persistent pneumonia affecting the Church, let us cry out to the heavenly Physician. Prayer becomes a cry whenever we fail to see any relief in the development of the disease; this cry must be sustained by an unwavering Faith. We believe that the divine answer can grant us a new stage of health and freshness, of gratitude and joy, to better fulfill the Lord’s command. In Isaiah 30:19, we read: “Yes, O people of Zion who dwell in Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will have mercy when he hears your cry; as soon as he hears you, he will answer you.”


A popular saying assures us that “no evil lasts a hundred years”; and in bad times it is not only necessary to bear with patience and serenity what the Lord allows for our good, but also to look to the future with hope. I am referring to theological virtue of hope, by which we “hang” on the Will of God, as we do when we pray the Our Father: Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.


+ Hector Aguer

Emeritus Archbishop of La Plata

Buenos Aires, Pentecost Tuesday, June 7, 2022