It was a bit astonishing, conducting a retreat last weekend in Cincinnati and finding out that the facility where it was held -- the beautiful Holy Spirit Center, in Norwood, has a strong connection to the alleged apparitions known as Our Lady of America.
It was astonishing because that apparition was on the agenda for a discussion that had been planned well in advance.
It turns out that the late Cincinnati Archbishop Paul Leibold -- who had lent his imprimatur and other support to the apparitions (which occurred from the 1950s to the early 1980s) -- had lived on the very grounds of the retreat. There were even images of Our Lady of America (try finding that in any other bishop's residence).
More: the seer, Sister Mary Mildred Neuzil, was often stationed there -- her order had a cloister in the northern wing of the seminary. We had no idea of that.
Never before had we brought up Our Lady of America in our retreats... now more than ninety of those.
Yet also: never have her reputed messages been more relevant, addressing, as they did, purity in society and especially youth as well as the priesthood and warning that clerics were falling into "unnatural" sin -- being swayed by the "world."
More astonishingly, the apparitions had zeroed in on the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. Our Lady had (allegedly) said that if her statue was established at the basilica -- after a solemn procession of U.S. bishops -- that we would avoid a "catastrophe."
That never happened, and the basilica is now ground zero (with ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick) in the Church's own 9/11.
"Yet I tell you," said Our Lady of America, "even should such destruction happen because there were not enough souls who took my warnings seriously, there will remain a remnant -- untouched by the chaos who, having been faithful in following me and spreading my warnings, will gradually inhabit the earth again with their dedicated and holy lives.
"These will renew the earth in the power and Light of the Holy Spirit."
Interesting too is it that only now everyone is up in arms over the extent of clergy abuse, though it has long been known.
For the past two decades those who follow Church news have known that there were more than six thousand cases of serious clerical sexual transgression, about eighty percent of it homosexual. We often wondered on how the secular media, often so antagonistic toward religion, gave the Church a "pass" on abuse, considering how very many cases there were and how the media were going after people like Cosby and Weinstein (and Franken and Trump and Moonves of CBS and Matt Lauer). Where, those past eighteen years, were the Catholic media?
It took a "perfect storm" -- the grand jury report in Pennsylvania, followed by a referral on McCarrick (by the Archdiocese of New York; yes, Cardinal Dolan, so often vilified, "busted" McCarrick), and then the Vigano memorandum, which was fed to several Catholic news outlets. A perfect media storm (or event) indeed, bringing this issue the type of coverage it long had warranted and somehow had avoided.
Actually, in large measure, the crisis, among priests, is in the past: As we have pointed out, abuse cases peaked between 1955 and 1981; the rate now is back to what was seen in 1950.
The focus has shifted to the hierarchy.
It is thus now a scandal more of the episcopacies, and already there is a tangible loss of respect, which, if it leads to a diminution of clericalism (whereby the ordained feel as if they are in a higher caste of humanity), and pride, and worldliness (so rampant), is a good thing.
We all can use humility.
As for the Pope: his biggest problem may be what he has said in impromptu airplane press conferences, where he has affronted certain pro-lifers, populists, Medjugorje devotees (accepting a report that acknowledged Mary having appeared there in 1981, but ridiculing current alleged daily apparitions), Latin traditionalists, and monied Catholics who have taken offense at his remarks about materialism, selfishness, and elitism and who in large part fund major Catholic media outlets, which jumped, cannonball-style, into the Vigano story. (Interestingly, in a letter revealed today, Pope Benedict asked that critics of Pope Francis stop citing Benedict's papacy.)
The real cause of the crisis is displayed lucidly in the graphic below.
And this brings us back to Our Lady of America.
If that apparition was authentic (it never was formally approved in a pastoral letter), it shows how embracing the supernatural -- which was the basis for the earliest Church -- would almost certainly have kept the Church above the "world" and thus above... scandal.
When there are no miracles (see the fourth step from the top) there is no Christianity.