Sometimes the Church has to be tough

St Michael fights rebel angels, by Sebastiano Ricci, c. 1720 (Wikimedia Commons)

My holiday reading has been bracing. Apart from Nagasaki: Life after Nuclear War, I read The Vortex, volume 1, by Michael Voris, which is a selection of scripts he has broadcast, mainly between 2014 and 2016. I use the word “bracing” because Voris, as everyone who has listened to The Vortex knows, does not mince his words in his criticism of members of the hierarchy. Like a latter-day Savonarola, he points out the problems in the Church today, particularly in America, which he describes scathingly as the “Church of Nice.”

By “Nice” he means a Church that constantly emphasises God’s mercy at the expense of his justice; that is strong on being accepted and liked by society at large; that is weak on enunciating unpalatable truths; and which deliberately chooses to focus on uncontroversial issues like justice and peace rather than on its primary purpose, which is to save souls. Indeed Voris, whose mentor in broadcasting is the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J Sheen (not someone to mince his words) makes the point repeatedly that “the Church exists to accompany people to Heaven and… make the inevitable suffering redemptive and meritorious.” If this language sounds old-fashioned, even archaic, it is because Catholics simply don’t hear it these days.

If the Church’s primary task is to save souls, it implies that some souls may actually be lost. Again, this is a topic where Voris diverges from the contemporary Church, emphasising that Catholics do commit mortal sins and that if they die unrepentant, deprived of sanctifying grace, they will go to Hell. This is such a shocking and unpalatable truth, even though it is endorsed by the testimony of the saints, that it never gets a mention – despite the fact that if you read the Gospels, you cannot fail to note that Jesus himself gives many graphic warnings about Hell.

Even if people accept the doctrine that Hell exists, they often unwittingly follow the speculation of the late theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, that nobody actually goes there and that we might piously hope that eventually “all will be saved.” Voris denounces such a notion, pointing out that it not only defies the reality but that we know of at least one person who is not saved, namely Judas. Coincidentally, I was recently asked by a fellow parishioner “if I had forgiven Judas”. I looked at him puzzled, replying that if Jesus implies strongly in the Gospels that Judas would “wish he had never been born”, such “forgiveness” is beside the point. In the parishioner’s eyes I fear I have now joined the “Church of Nasty”.

Much of what Voris writes does hit home, such as the Church’s general silence about the wrongness of contraception: “The contraceptive mentality has destroyed more than just the understanding of marriage. It has corrupted the very practice of marriage, how it is lived in the real world”, he states. As he points out, the contraceptive mentality of society at large is closely linked to abortion – something the pro-life movement would rather not raise.

The Vortex and Church Militant began in 2008. Voris, a cradle-Catholic, has been honest about the many years he turned his back on the Faith. Indeed, he believes that it was his mother’s prayers that brought him back. She had begged Jesus, “I don’t care what you do to me…but spare the eternal lives of my two sons.” Voris draws out the implication behind such prayer: “It is not enough to pray for someone’s salvation. We must pray that we can stand in their place and bear some of the cost of their sins…” Shortly after her prayer, his mother developed fatal stomach cancer.

Voris is a divisive figure. In response, he would say that the Church herself is deeply divided and that the purpose of Church Militant and The Vortex is to call her back to her true mission throughout history: the salvation of souls. For this purpose, rather than using the provocative terminology “Nice” or “Nasty”, I would prefer to employ the words “tough” and “tender”: the Church has to be both, not either/or. When Jesus addressed the woman taken in adultery, he said both tender words, “Neither do I condemn you”, yet also tough ones, “Go and sin no more.” It is to Voris’s great credit that he reminds us of the latter statement – which is often conveniently overlooked.