Tuesday 25th June 2019

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A Book Review… “Knavish Imbecility”: A Great Study Of Bad Shepherds

May 23, 2019 Featured Today No Comments

By JEFF MINICK

Bad Shepherds, by Rod Bennett, published by Sophia Institute Press, 2018; 148 pages. Order at www.sophiainstitute.com or call 1-800-888-9344.

“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight” — Hilaire Belloc, as quoted in Rod Bennett’s Bad Shepherds.

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As a history major in college followed by two years of graduate study in medieval history, a teacher of history for twenty years, and a lifelong reader of history and biography, I can affirm that one of the greatest of Clio’s gifts is perspective.
Visits to the past bring to the present a perspective we otherwise lack, an understanding absent in news reporting and the windy rhetoric of contemporary politics.
If we know a bit of history about the Middle East — and I know only a bit — if we have investigated in however cursory a manner the sweeping changes the religion of Muhammad brought to that part of the world, the division in Islam between Sunnis and Shiites, the reverence of the Koran that permits no reformation, the story of the state of Israel in the last hundred years or so, then we grasp more fully the conflicts in that region and the difficulties in ending the hatred and vilification that infect so many of those who live there.
The same holds true for our own country. Every day our press and our politicians sound the alarm bells: America is bitterly divided, we live in the worst of times, our nation is sexist, racist, and opportunistic, our past is befouled with hatred and oppression, we are going down the tubes, never before was the American experiment in such jeopardy.
Really?
Let’s jump into a time machine, zip into the past, and look at pioneers killed by cholera, snakebite, or the scratch of a nail. Let’s stop by a farmhouse serving as a hospital during the Civil War, and listen to the screams of young men whose arms and legs were amputated without anesthesia and thrown into a pile of limbs in the muddy yard outside. Let’s hit the Depression of the 1930s, when my dad’s family lived in a house with a dirt floor in Pennsylvania in the middle of winter.
History can act as a balm, reminding us of that old adage, “I complained I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” To know something about the travails of our ancestors is to realize that in many ways we live in a golden age, a time when even the poor in America possess material advantages undreamed of by medieval kings.
In Bad Shepherds: The Dark Years in Which the Faithful Thrived While Bishops Did the Devil’s Work, writer and history buff Rod Bennett offers Roman Catholics hope for our present crises in the Church by looking at past scandals and divisions. Through these excursions into history, we see that the Church has often undergone various tribulations, some of them far more outrageous and ugly than the ones facing us today.
In his Introduction, Bennett tells readers that he is sharing his stories of “bad shepherds” not to dismay or dishearten his fellow Catholics, but to place the current sexual, theological, and financial scandals of our priests and bishops in perspective.
“It’s my conviction,” he writes, “that if more of us realized just how bad our shepherds really can get — and have gotten through history — we might, for lack of surprise, be better fortified when these new Judases turn up in our day.”
To help us become better fortified, Bennett whisks us through the Arian scandals of the fourth century, conducts a tour of the “barbarian bishops” in the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, and pauses in the fourteenth century to show us the schisms, heresies, plagues, and nationalism that wounded the Church and the idea of “Christendom.” We next touch down among the Protestant rebels and avaricious kings of the sixteenth century, and then view the betrayals of many French clergy before, during, and after the French Revolution.
Again and again, in these times of crises, boatloads of bishops and priests betrayed Christ and their Catholic faith. Those who did so acted from venality, pride, greed, sexual desires, political expediency, and occasionally, ignorance and stupidity.
An example of the last point: We Catholics may lay the blame on Martin Luther for the revolt against the Church, but as Bennett points out, the Pontiff’s theologian wrote a summons to Luther before his break with the Church calling him “a loathsome fellow…a son of a bitch, born to bite and snap at the sky…with a brain of brass and a nose of iron,” insults guaranteed to rouse more rancor and drive the wedge deeper between Rome and those Germans supporting Luther.
Not exactly the language of reconciliation.
In his Afterword to Bad Shepherds, Bennett reminds his fellow Catholics: “Individual popes certainly may, with some effort, alienate our affections eventually, may even drive us — as did Urban VI and John XII — to throw up our hands in resignation.”
When we reach that terrible place, Bennett recommends we take as our role model St. Thomas More, who at the foot of the scaffold before his martyrdom confessed, “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.”
Bennett also reminds us of the many bishops, priests, and especially the laity who remained faithful to the One True Church in all her troubles, including difficulties similar to the trials we are witnessing today.
The worst of times in Church history, as Bennett points out, have produced great saints — Athanasius and St. Catherine of Siena come to mind — who fought tooth and nail against corruption and heresy. He urges the laity to remain in the Church, to help with it purification, to embrace their Faith, and to pray.
“All the crimes of Church history,” he writes of our present situation, “are raising their horrible heads again — politics in the Curia, unbelief among the clergy, unchastity in the seminaries and the monasteries, resistance to reform — and we the laity, a ‘Royal and Catholic Army’ sworn to King Jesus, cannot go back to business as usual.”
Bad Shepherds reminds us of the many past struggles within the Church, and encourages us to pray and work for “a cleansing of the House of God and a vigorous renewal of the Faith.”
Highly recommended.

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As one shepherd I encourage all faithful lay Catholics to continue to pray & speak up for the truth expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Let this truth be your guide. Pray that priests & bishops will speak against any who teach false doctrines that contradict truth.

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