Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Welcome Democrat and Chronicle Readers

July 14th, 2012, Promulgated by b a

Tomorrow is Bishop Matthew Clark’s 75th birthday. He has served as the leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, NY for the past 33 years. Upon turning 75, he is required to submit his letter of resignation to the Papal Nuncio. To highlight this commemorative day, the local newspaper of Rochester (The Democrat and Chronicle) is running an article on the bishop’s long tenure in which I am quoted as one who has been disappointed with Bishop Clark’s leadership. I am writing this prior to reading the article and so I cannot comment on it just yet. I’m writing this article in anticipation that we may get some curious readers outside of our normal spectrum – perhaps Atheists, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Secular Humanists, etc. Please know that all are welcome here. If you are NOT a practicing Catholic, much of what you read here might come across as shocking. If you ARE a practicing Catholic much of what you read here might come across as shocking. One cannot truly comprehend the nature of this struggle without the proper context. This post is intended to supply some context to someone who is unfamiliar with the struggle of orthodox Catholics in the Diocese of Rochester. I ask those who wish to comment and make judgments on this site to first attempt to understand the struggle by reading this article in it’s entirety.

How do we think?
Objective Truth
A Proper Response?
A Broader Liberalism
Restoring Order

The basis of everything – how do we think?

Many people, probably unconsciously, seem to think that since the Western world has achieved so much in modern times in terms of economic progress, scientific discovery, and selective forms of respect for human dignity, that this leads to the obvious conclusion that our philosophy and theology (or lack thereof) has advanced by the same degree in modern times. I would like to present to you the possibility that this is not the case. I would even suggest that we, as a society, have forgotten how to think. How you think is one of the most fundamental aspects to life and yet, it’s something most people don’t consider very often. Instead, most people, without even knowing it, let popular culture teach them how to think. When I say popular culture, I don’t just mean pop music, TV, and movies. I’d also lump in academia, modern journalism, politicians, and even the majority of religious leaders. Without even knowing it, many people are never presented with a mode of thinking that challenges the institutional way of thinking. Despite the heavy focus on eclecticism and multiculturarlism in America today, our modern thought is amazingly vanilla. Many people have never been exposed to thoughts and ideas that challenge the fundamental beliefs of the 21st century American mind. While I won’t pretend to be a person capable of the task, I wish you to know that such challengers do exist.

Objective Truth?

The biggest error of our modern society is the attempt to deny objective truth. Everyone, we tell ourselves, is entitled to their own truth. And because everyone is entitled to their own truth, no one has the right to question someone else’s truth. In fact this is considered the gravest of sins in our society – intolerance or judgmentalism. This mode of thinking is called relativism. It permeates absolutely every corner of society. It’s become the new golden rule we teach to our children. Even many self professed Christians embrace this philosophy and make the claim that it is consistent with Biblical teachings. It is uncharitable or unchristian, they say, to challenge someone. Jesus was all about love and to challenge someone’s truth is not loving.

Instead of thinking about what is true, we psychologize absolutely everything to death. It’s really the only way a relativist can explain differences of opinion. In order to try and explain the incoherent idea that two people can both be right about mutually exclusive concepts, we say that it’s a matter of experience. The religious person believes in God because they were brainwashed by their parents or has some deep seated aggressions against modern society. They can’t seem to let go of their religious beliefs because it’s all they have. The problem with over focusing on experience, though, is #1 it completely dodges the question of what is true and #2 it often misrepresents people. Religious people are quite well balanced, adjusted, and capable of dealing with all types of people and situations. In fact, I’d say they are more equipped.


Previously I mentioned that challengers exist to modern culture. The top challenger is tradition. To be sure, the writings of our ancestors ought to be considered. Tradition is much broader, though, than writings. It also includes morality, customs, values, and ways of life. One of the undeniable proofs that our culture is not as great as we think it is, is the oft confirmed statistic that although our society is wealthier and healthier than any other in the history of mankind, we are much less happy and content. What’s going on here? Something isn’t right. I would suggest we look to those subcultures of society that go against this trend. Who is it that is truly happy and content with life? (hint: try going to a weekday mass sometime) When faced with these types of statistics, why is it that we so readily dismiss our traditions that our ancestors have passed down to us? I believe that we have become quite arrogant to think that the faith of our fathers is now rendered null and void. GK Chesterton put it this way in “The Thing”:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion. We might even say that he is seeing things in a nightmare.

It is with this type of understanding that I think humanity ought to look at the past as opposed to the more common approach these days of turning absolutely everything upside down. In referring to looking at the past, I don’t just mean a series of historical events. I mean to better understand what our ancestors thought and believed. What was important to them? Why did they live as they did?


Authority is another one of those concepts that is considered anathema by modern culture. The modern claim against authority goes something like, “I won’t let someone else tell me what to think”. To embrace authority is considered to shut off your brain. The obvious problem with this line of thinking is that everyone embraces authority. How do you know that Mars exists, or how electricity works, or what time your bus is coming? You trust in some authority to tell you. There is nothing wrong with trusting a trustworthy authority. The question is not “do you trust authority?” Instead, it is “who do you trust?” I would propose that despite the modern culture’s attempt to discredit Catholicism and prove it untrustworthy, that there is no institution more worthy of our trust. As a Catholic, we believe this authority ultimately rests in God.


The previous sections are background to assist in understanding Catholicism. You must first understand the concept of objective truth. For a Catholic, what’s true is true whether or not you or I believe it. It’s still the truth. And therefore truth cannot be invented. It can only be discovered. And if I see someone else believing a falsehood, I’m going to do what I can to help them to see the truth.

Catholicism is strongly rooted in tradition. What was taught to be infallibly true 100 years ago is still true today. A truth taught in the past cannot be contradicted in the future. Prayers, devotions, and liturgical practices as well cannot be readily dismissed as no longer relevant. These things do change over time, but it is through an organic growth. To introduce something entirely new or to completely disregard that of the past is not consonant with Catholicism.

Catholicism has an authoritative voice called the Magisterium.  A Catholic’s personal opinion cannot trump the authority to which they’ve chosen to submit themselves.  I’ve written more on this here.

In the broader Catholic world there have been two opposing points of view battling it out over the last 4 decades – the hermeneutic of continuity vs the hermeneutic of rupture/discontinuity (referring to the texts of the Second Vatican Council). For sure, there has always been turmoil within the Catholic Church, but the last few decades have brought about a questioning and tearing down of fundamentals and essentials of Catholicism as has not been experienced for quite some centuries, and possibly millennia. What’s been really remarkable about this hermeneutic of rupture is that so many people have not seen it for what it really is – a complete and total break from the past.

Catholicism has never been a faith of coercion.  Headlines like, “Arlington Diocese parishioners question need for fidelity oath” are simply laughable. A more appropriate headline might be, “Requiring oath of fidelity works as planned.” One who wishes to embrace Catholicism has always been required to do so on their own free will. If one chooses not to embrace it, the Catholic fully respects that person’s decision and wishes them well. What the Catholic will really go to battle over, besides sin and gov’t intrusions of liberty, is the person who wishes to distort or change what Catholicism is and turn the Church into something other than what she is. My poor analogy is if someone were to urinate in a bottle and label it Coca-Cola, do you think people invested in the Coca-Cola brand are going to be pleased with that?  I believe even someone who despises Catholicism can follow this logic.  I’ll offer you this CS Lewis quote to put a bow on it (which I’ve quoted on this blog previously):

C. S. LEWIS ON DISSENTING PRIESTS “It is your duty to to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other.
(“Christian Apologetics,” Easter 1945; reprinted in “God in the Dock,” 89-90)

A Proper Response?

This struggle within the Church has been worldwide. For the most part, though, the hermeneutic of rupture is dying out and the hermeneutic of continuity is prevailing. However, the Diocese of Rochester, NY has continued to be a stronghold for progressive Catholicism and is known worldwide as one of the most liberal dioceses in the world. Many Catholics within the diocese have seen the leadership completely abandon these building blocks of Catholicism – objective truth, authority, and tradition. All the same concepts I’ve described above are present within the progressive Catholic mind. It’s the same concepts – just different terms. Instead of claiming Catholicism to be objectively true – it’s relegated to just another faith tradition. Instead of embracing the authority of our teaching Magisterium, we put our own personal consciences on a pedestal above all else. Instead of embracing tradition, we’ve turned to modern psychology, a false sense of history, and a need to reinvent absolutely everything. Many orthodox1 Catholics have made these same observations, but there is not a consensus on the proper way to react. I’ve witnessed situations where those who would agree with just about everything I’ve written thus far, will disagree vehemently about what the proper response ought to be for a Catholic who believes in objective truth, authority, and tradition. One opinion is to just keep your mouth shut and pray that things will change. Another opinion is to do what you can to change things, but only at the most local level. In other words, contain the mess – don’t let it seep into the public eye. The opinion of the staff of this blog, is that the errors of the bishop, and those he has put in charge, ought to be challenged in a very vocal way.  This quote from Pascal says it better than I can (reposted from here):

For, fathers (since you will force me into this argument), I beseech you to consider that, just in proportion as Christian truths are worthy of love and respect, the contrary errors must deserve hatred and contempt; there being two things in the truths of our religion—a divine beauty that renders them lovely, and a sacred majesty that renders them venerable; and two things also about errors—an impiety, that makes them horrible, and an impertinence that renders them ridiculous. For these reasons, while the saints have ever cherished towards the truth the twofold sentiment of love and fear—the whole of their wisdom being comprised between fear, which is its beginning, and love which is its end—they have, at the same time, entertained towards error the twofold feeling of hatred and contempt, and their zeal has been at once employed to repel, by force of reasoning, the malice of the wicked, and to chastise, by the aid of ridicule, their extravagance and folly.

Do not then expect, fathers, to make people believe that it is unworthy of a Christian to treat error with derision. Nothing is easier than to convince all who were not aware of it before, that this practice is perfectly just—that it is common with the fathers of the Church, and that it is sanctioned by Scripture, by the example of the best of saints, and even by that of God himself.

The source of all heresies is the exclusion of some one of these truths; and the source of all the cavils brought against us by heretics, is their ignorance of some one of these truths.

And it usually happens that, being unable to perceive the relation of two opposing truths, and believing that the admission of the one involves the exclusion of the other, they adhere to the one and renounce the other; and fancy that we do the contrary. Now this exclusion is the source of their heresy, and the ignorance we have shown them to labour under, the ground of their cavils.

Therefore it is that the shortest way to prevent heresies is to instruct men in every kind of truth ; and the surest way to refute them, is to declare it as universally. . . .

The error they all fall into, is the more dangerous, from each pursuing one truth: their fault is not in adopting falsehood, but in not embracing the countervailing truth.

We here at Cleansing Fire see it a duty to oppose the progressive system of belief that disguises itself as Catholicism. It is all the more necessary to oppose it when it is proposed by those in high ranks because it is all the more dangerous.

We’ve also seen firsthand here in Rochester, NY, the fruits of this lack of respect given to truth, authority, and tradition. Many blame this rotten fruit on demographic shifts, the sex abuse crisis, etc. But none of these things explain why Rochester’s situation is so much more dire than other places in the country. The statistics show this. There has been a massive exodus of parishioners from the local church, numerous church closings, the number of men entering the priesthood is staggeringly low, and the Catholic school system is failing so quickly that soon there will be nothing left.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. -Edmund Burke

A Broader Liberalism

As this struggle within the the Catholic Church has been happening, the broader society has continued to become more and more hostile to religion. A secular humanism has replaced God. A few examples:

German circumcision ban: Is it a parent’s right to choose?
HHS forcing employers and insurers to provide contraception, sterilzations, and abortificiant drugs to employees.

This makes our story all the more difficult to be heard. The mass media is all too quick to pat the liberal diocese on the back and to paint those who disagree as haters who cling to the past (I’m hopeful the current D&C article may avoid this).

If you are a religious believer of a different faith, I commend you for that faith. If you are not a religious person, but have respect for truth, goodness, and beauty, I commend you for that. Those who respect these things must come together like never before and defend what we believe in. Even if we believe in different things, we ought to band together to defend our right to believe those things. It’s a only true ecumenism if we acknowledge our differences. To pretend there are no differences is a false ecumenism.

Restoring Order (orthodoxy is flourishing elsewhere)

If you get nothing else out of reading this post, I urge you, if you aren’t doing so already, to set aside time each day for prayer and reflection. What could possibly be more important in life than the questions of: Who am I? What am I to do with my life? What am I destined for? If you think you don’t know how to pray and reflect, you are wrong. If you are a living, breathing, human being, you can pray. Just find somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and listen.

As I mentioned, I have respect for all religions and all people of good will. If you have interest in learning about the Catholic faith, feel free to contact me. Some good resources to start with are here.

If you are a Catholic and aren’t already doing so, consider delving deeper into your faith. The number of resources available are staggering. We have 1460AM radio here in Rochester. There’s EWTN TV (if you have cable or a satellite, you should get it). There’s an unbelievable amount of material online. In many ways, we are suffering from an intellectual amnesia. I’ve been a Catholic for 5 years and I continue to be blown away by the intellectual, spiritual, and beautiful riches of the Church. Have you read the catechisms (CCC, Trent, Baltimore)? Have you read the councils (eg Trent, Vatican 2)? Have you read some of the spiritual classics (eg Introduction to the Devout Life, Imitation of Christ, Transformation in Christ)? Have you read the GIRM? Do you read the scriptures and devotional materials? Have you ever been to a latin mass (which btw was celebrated by our ancestors nearly unchanged for hundreds of years)? Do you ever listen to sacred music or meditate with religious art? Do you go to Eucharistic adoration? Do you go to confession regularly? The intent of asking these questions isn’t to make you feel bad. I’m preaching more to myself than anyone else. It’s meant to help you realize how much the Catholic Church has to offer. We often tend to speak of Catholicism like we speak of our sickly great aunt who we don’t like very much, but know that we’re supposed to. We say nice things about her, but mostly out of pity. That’s not the proper attitude. Catholicism is more like a lion in a cage. You just need to let it out and it will transform your life.

Many people falsely assume that since there isn’t much orthodoxy around here, it must have died a natural death and is gone forever. But that’s not true. Orthodoxy here in Rochester nearly died an unnatural death in that it was intentionally stamped out. It will come back. Take heart in knowing that orthodoxy is flourishing elsewhere in the country (even in formerly progressive dioceses in the Northeast). Parishes are restoring a sense of the sacred, men are flocking to the priesthood, and people are finding ways to make a Catholic school system work. The next bishop of Rochester is going to need many foot soldiers in an attempt to restore this diocese. Let’s begin by immersing ourselves daily in the Catholic faith – the good, the true, and the beautiful.


1. A word you might come across in the Catholic sphere is “orthodox”. It almost goes hand in hand with the hermeneutic of continuity. While Orthodox (capital ‘O’) refers to the Eastern Orthodoxy (Russian, Greek, etc), orthodox (lowercase ‘o’) simply means faithful. It refers to someone or something that is congruent with authentic Catholic faith. It doesn’t mean that the person is super holy or some kind of uber-Catholic. It merely means that the person accepts Catholicism in its entirety and attempts to live their life accordingly so, no matter how many times one may stumble. One point to make clear – no one here is saying we should have a litmus test for orthodoxy for people in the pews. No! We should be patient and understanding with people who are simply being honest about where they are in their lives, but who are open to listening to God.


9 Responses to “Welcome Democrat and Chronicle Readers”

  1. G1j says:

    I’m a new subscriber to your blog and agree with you one hundred percent. I wish Bishop Clark well and pray that the new bishop installed by the holy father will restore the faith that has been pushed aside through modernism in the Diocese. Keep up the good work.

  2. Abaccio says:

    I have to say, Bishop Clark comes across as a renegade trying to avoid following the instructions and guidance of the Holy Father. Unfortunately, Mr. Dobbin seems to be glad that this is the case. He is also, I believe, incorrect in his closing paragraphs. Quite frankly, how many young people do we see enamored with this vision? How many 20 or 30 or 40 year old women are with the RSMs and SSJs? How many women under 40 are involved in running parishes? How many of the priests under 40 or seminarians support any of this disobedience? I think that the future will come more quickly, and more drastically than Mr. Dobbin believes it will.

    You cannot say that it’s like that everywhere. In Ann Arbor, Nashville, and Steubenville, there are young nuns everywhere, wearing habits and praying the Rosary. The seminaries across the country are full of young men trying to follow in the footsteps of the Holy Father. The liturgy throughout the country is, very gradually, improving. New chant scholae are forming. More people are praying the Extraordinary Form. There is no greater joy than seeing a 10 year old girl in a chapel veil reverently receiving our Lord while kneeling at the altar rail. Unless it is the joy of hearing a group of young boys chant the Missa Orbis Factor, or another group of young boys in cassocks reverently and joyfully serve the Holy Mass as they are filled with wonder and awe.

    This summer, tens of thousands of high school students were/are/will be part of the Steubenville youth conferences. These young people learn theology of the body, adore the Blessed Sacrament, read and pray Sacred Scripture, learn from the Saints, and go to Confession. There were other Dioceses that were almost as troubling as Rochester. With carefully and prayerfully appointed new Bishops, they have turned around one by one. I believe that the future will come more quickly that Mr. Dobbin believes, and few signs that Bishop Clark was here for thirty-three years will remain in a decade or two.

  3. Interstate Catholic says:

    After reading the D&C article, I thought Mark Hare was back at the paper.

  4. brother of penance says:

    Brother Ben, reading “Welcome Democrat and Chronicle Readers” has been a wonderful experience for me.

    I am really blessed by both your talents and willingness to do the hard work of writing for your readers’ benefit.

    Your study, your faith, what you know and believe, the resources you make available and your understanding and wisdom in applying pertinent concepts to the times in which we live make your writing worth reading again and again.

    Thank you so very much.

  5. Gretchen says:

    Ben, thanks for the blog post. You are always able to articulate the issues with grace and insight.

    I was pleasantly surprised that the reporter, Sean Dobbin, quoted me largely within context and correctly. I think he did a balanced job with the article, and he seemed respectful of those of us who are critical of how Bishop Clark shepherded the DOR. I do think those who were supportive of Bishop Clark did him no favors by their comments, although from their perspective they were simply gratefully stating the truth.

    One little caveat, it was reported that I converted to the Church in 2006 as opposed to the correct date of 2008. However, that is a quibble.

    Gretchen from SOP

  6. brother of penance says:

    Regarding the Sean Dobbin article in today’s D&C article, “Bishop leaving indelible mark on diocese”, I will comment.

    First a disclaimer.
    I do not know Sean Dobbin, nor am I aware whether he is a Catholic believer in the Son of God. Nor do I remember ever reading anything written by him before. Therefore, my comments are based upon what I read in his July 15, 2012 article on pages 1A and 16A of the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper.

    indelible mark?

    Be assured brother and sister readers, Bishop Clark had an impact on the Diocese of Rochester (or the dissidents in the Diocese strongly influenced him), but an indelible mark? Leaving indelible marks is hardly the work of a sinner saved by grace, no matter what his rank in the Church.

    The Catholic Church understands the mark or character which three particular sacraments leave upon a soul as indelible.

    “ The three sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders confer, in addition to grace, a sacramental character or seal by which the Christian shares in Christ’s priesthood and is made a member of the Church according to different states and functions. This configuration to Christ and to the Church, brought about by the Spirit, is indelible; it remains for ever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace, a promise and guarantee of divine protection, and as a vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church. Therefore these sacraments can never be repeated.” CCC 1121

    Personally, I take umbrage with that particular use of words regardless of poetic license.

    Sean Robbins prefaces what he describes as “Clark’s willingness to explore evolving viewpoints on issues not supported by the Catholic Church” with beliefs that were shaped by the historic Second Vatican Council.


    Without going through the laborious task of reiterating the history of the Council, what preceded it, what went on behind closed doors and what divergent and erroneous interpretations and flawed attempts to implement it followed the Council, suffice to say the Second Vatican Council’s documents and their content in no way conscience nor allow their disregard and fostering viewpoint/teachings contrary to the Council itself.

    If the disregard of the Second Vatican Council documents or the embracing of teachings and practices contrary to the Catholic Church endeared someone to people, please don’t call it compassionate catholicism.

    “Want to be compassionate?”, John Paul II asked a large gathering of priests in the USA in 1988.
    “Then tell people the truth!”, the Pope answered his own question.

    In Mark’s Gospel we read, “And Jesus going out saw a great multitude: and he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.”

    May the next Bishop of Rochester, like Jesus Christ, teach us many things.
    For many of us in Rochester have been like sheep not having a shepherd!

  7. brother of penance says:

    “What the Catholic will really go to battle over, besides sin and gov’t intrusions of liberty, is the person who wishes to distort or change what Catholicism is and turn the Church into something other than what she is.”

    You can say that again!

    For over 20 years I have encountered catechists who made me wonder about their commitment to Catholic faith in the Son of God. (How refreshing to meet faithful catechists and sit at their feet!)

    For love’s sake we must witness to the dissidents the truth of Sacred Tradition and look for opportunities to speak a word to them about Jesus Christ. (cf. CCC 905 and footnote 441 referencing AA 6.3 and AG 15)

    But if they are obstinate in heterodoxy, they must be challenged.

    Amen to Ben’s assertion that Catholics battle “the person who wishes to distort or change what Catholicism is and turn the Church into something other than what she is.”

  8. brother of penance says:

    “Let’s begin by immersing ourselves daily in the Catholic faith – the good, the true, and the beautiful.”

    The Good, The True, The Beautiful……Catholic Faith In Jesus Christ!

    Amen and Amen.


  9. Hopefull says:

    The praise by the secular media, and by those who weaken or demoralize or attack the church, is simply an indictment of the person they praise.

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