A Bishop After Our Own Hearts
Bishop Aloysius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan is one of the one of the most perceptive and outspoken prelates of our time. In the course of one wide-ranging interview, he deplored the practice of Communion in the hand, excoriated those clerics pushing for the admission of the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion, and predicted a further deepening of the crisis in the Church before its eventual recovery. He also thanked God for the existence of the Internet, which he believed to be the only means of spreading orthodox ideas. Truly a man after own hearts! Parts of this interview, which he gave to freelance journalist Sarah Atkinson, appeared in the British Catholic Herald of May 30 this year. This is the full text of the interview, slightly edited for clarity. Acknowledgments to Mass of Ages, magazine of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales.
Bishop Schneider: To my knowledge and experience, the deepest wound in the actual crisis of the Church is the Eucharistic wound; the abuses of the Blessed Sacrament. ‘Many people are receiving Holy Communion in an objective state of mortal sin. This is spreading in the Church, especially in the western world. There, people very rarely go to Holy Communion with a sufficient preparation. Some people who go to Holy Communion live in irregular moral situations, which do not correspond to the Gospel. Without being married, they go to Holy Communion. They might be divorced and living in a new marriage, a civil marriage, and they go nevertheless to Holy Communion. I think this is a very, very grievous situation. There is also the question of the objectively irreverent reception of Holy Communion. The so-called new, modern manner of receiving Holy Communion directly into the hand is very serious because it exposes Christ to an enormous banality. There is the grievous fact of the loss of the Eucharistic fragments. No one can deny this. And the fragments of the consecrated host are crushed by feet. This is horrible! Our God, in our churches, is trampled by feet! No one can deny it. And this is happening on a large scale. This has to be, for a person with faith and love for God, a very serious phenomenon. We cannot continue as if Jesus as God does not exist, as though only the bread exists. This modern practice of Communion in the hand has nothing to do with the practice in the ancient Church. The modern practice of receiving Communion in hand contributes gradually to the loss of the Catholic faith in the Real Presence and in Transubstantiation. A priest and a bishop cannot say this practice is OK.
Q. You are standing out on your own in this?
Bishop Schneider: I am very sad that I am feeling myself as one who is shouting in the desert. The Eucharistic crisis due to the modern use of Communion in the hand is so evident. This is not an exaggeration. It is time that the bishops raise their voices for the Eucharistic Jesus who has no voice to defend Himself. Here is an attack on the most Holy, an attack on the Eucharistic faith. Of course there are people who receive Holy Communion in the hand with much devotion and faith, but they are in a minority. The vast mass, though, are losing the faith through this very banal manner of taking Holy Communion like common food, like a chip or a cake. Such a manner to receive the most Holy here on earth is not sacred, and it destroys by time the deep awareness and the Catholic faith in the Real Presence and in Transubstantiation.
Q. Is the Church going in the opposite direction from where you are going?
Bishop Schneider: It seems that the majority of the clergy and the bishops are content with this modern use of Communion in the hand and don’t realize the real dangers connected with such a practice. For me this is incredible. How is this possible, when Jesus is present in the little hosts? A priest and a bishop should say: “I have to do something, at least to gradually reduce this. All that I can do, I have to do.” Unfortunately, though, there are members of the clergy who are making propaganda of the modern use of Communion in the hand and sometimes prohibiting receiving Communion on the tongue and kneeling. There are even priests who are discriminating against those who kneel for Holy Communion. This is very, very sad. There is also an increasing stealing of hosts, because of distributing Communion directly in the hand. There is a network , a business, of the stealing of holy hosts and this is much facilitated by Communion in the hand.
Q. In respect of the questionnaire on the issue of the family, people are expecting big changes.
BAS: There is on this issue a deal of propaganda, put about by the mass media. We need to be very careful. There are the official anti-Christian mass media worldwide. In almost every country it is the same content of news, with the exception perhaps of the African and Asian countries or in the East of Europe. Only on the Internet can you spread your own ideas. Thanks be to God the Internet exists. The idea of changes in marriage and moral laws to be done at the upcoming synod of bishops in Rome, comes from mostly the anti-Christian media. And some clergy and Catholics are collaborating with them in spreading the expectations of the anti-Christian world to change the law of God concerning marriage and sexuality. It is an attack by the anti-Christian world and it is very tragic and sad that some clergy are collaborating with them. To argue for a change to the law of God they use, in a kind of sophism, the concept of mercy. But in reality this is not mercy, this is cruel. It is not mercy, for instance, if someone has a disease to leave him in his miserable condition. Those of the clergy who want to admit the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion operate with a false concept of mercy. It is comparable with a doctor who gives a patient sugar, although he knows it will kill him. But the soul is more important than the body. If the bishops admit the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion, then they are confirming them in their errors in the sight of God. They will even close down the voice of their conscience. They will push them more into an irregular situation only for the sake of this temporal life, forgetting that after this life, though, there is the judgment of God .This topic will be discussed in the synod. This is on the agenda. But I hope the majority of the bishops still have so much Catholic spirit and faith that they will reject the above-mentioned proposal and not accept this.
Q. : What is this crisis you mention?
BAS: This is a broader crisis than the reception of the Blessed Sacrament. I think this issue of the reception of Holy Communion by the remarried will blow up and show the real crisis in the Church. The real crisis of the Church is anthropocentrism, forgetting Christocentrism. Indeed, this is the deepest evil, when man or the clergy are putting themselves in the centre when they are celebrating liturgy and when they are changing the revealed truth of God, e.g. concerning the Sixth Commandment and human sexuality. The crisis reveals itself also in the manner in which the Eucharistic Lord is treated. The Eucharist is at the heart of the Church. When the heart is weak, the whole body is weak. So when the practice around the Eucharist is weak, then the heart and the life of the Church is weak. And when people have no more supernatural vision of God in the Eucharist then they will start the worship of man, and then also doctrine will change to the desire of man. This crisis is when we place ourselves, including the priests, at the centre and when God is put in the corner and this is happening also materially. The Blessed Sacrament is sometimes in a cupboard away from the centre and the chair of the priest is in the centre. We have already been in this situation for 40 or 50 years and there is the real danger that God and his Commandments and laws will be put on the side and human natural desiring in the centre. There is causal connection between the Eucharistic and the doctrinal crisis. Our first duty as human beings is to adore God; not us, but Him. Unfortunately, the liturgical practice of the last 40 years has been very anthropocentric. Participating in liturgy is firstly not about doing things but praying and worshipping, to love God with all your soul. This is true participation, to be united with God in your soul. Exterior participation is not essential. The crisis is really this: we have not put Christ or God at the centre. And Christ is God incarnated. Our problem today is that we put away the Incarnation. We have eclipsed it. If God remains in my mind only as an idea, this is Gnostic. In other religions e.g. Jews, Muslims, God is not incarnated. For them, God is in the book, but He is not concrete. Only in Christianity, and really in the Catholic Church, is the Incarnation fully realised and this has to be stressed therefore also in every point of the liturgy. God is here and really present. So every detail has meaning. We are living in an unChristian society, in a new paganism. The temptation today for the clergy is to adapt to the new world to the new paganism, to be collaborationists. We are in a similar situation to the first centuries, when the majority of the society was pagan, and Christianity was discriminated against.’
Q. Do you think you can see this because of your experiences in the Soviet Union?
Bishop Schneider: Yes, [I know what it is] to be persecuted, to give testimony that you are Christian. We are a minority. We are surrounded by a very cruel pagan world. The temptation and challenge of today can be compared with the first centuries. Christians were asked to accept the pagan world and to show this by putting one grain of incense into a fire in front of the statue of the Emperor or of a pagan idol. But this was idolatry and no good Christian put any grain of incense there. They preferred to give their lives, even children, lay people, who were persecuted, gave their lives. Unfortunately there were in the first century members of the clergy and even bishops who put grains of incense in front of the statue of the Emperor or of a pagan idol or who delivered the books of the Holy Scripture to be burned. Such collaborationist Christians and clerics were called in those times “thurificati” or “traditores”. Now, in our days the persecution is more sophisticated. Catholics or clergy are not being asked to put some incense in front of an idol. That would be only material. Now, they neo-pagan world wants us to take over its ideas, such as the dissolution of the Sixth Commandment of God, on the pretext of mercy. If some clergy and bishops start to collaborate with the pagan world today in this dissolution of the Sixth Commandment and in the revision of the way God created man and woman, then they are traitors of the Faith, they are participating ultimately in pagan sacrifice.
Q. Can you see a split coming in the Church?
BAS: Unfortunately, for some decades some clergy have accepted these ideas of the world. Now however they are following them publicly. When these things continue, I think, there will be an interior split in the Church of those who are faithful to the faith of their baptism and of the integrity of the Catholic faith. There will be a split with those who are assuming the spirit of this world and there will be a clear split, I think. One can imagine that Catholics who remain faithful to the unchangeable Catholic truth may, for a time, be persecuted or discriminated even by those who have power in the exterior structures of the Church. But the gates of the hell, i.e. of the heresy, will not prevail against the Church and the Supreme Magisterium will surely issue an unequivocal doctrinal statement, rejecting any collaboration with the neo-pagan ideas of changing e.g. the Sixth Commandment of God, the meaning of sexuality and of family. Then some “liberals”, and many collaborators with the spirit of this world, many modern “thurificati et traditores” will leave the Church. Because the Divine truth will unresistingly bring the clarification, will set us free, and will separate in the midst of the Church the sons of the Divine light and the sons of the of the pseudo-light of this pagan and anti-Christian world. I can presume that such a separation will affect each level of Catholics: lay people and even not excluding the high clergy. Those clergy who accept today the spirit of the pagan world on morality and family declare themselves Catholics and even faithful to the Pope. They even declare extremists those who are faithful to the Catholic faith or those who are promoting the glory of Christ in the liturgy.
Q. Do you feel you have been declared an extremist?
Bishop Schneider: I have not been declared as such formally. I would say such clergy are not in the majority but they have acquired a lot of influence in the Church. They managed to occupy some key positions in some Church offices. Yet this is not power in the eyes of God. Truly powerful are the little ones in the Church, who conserve the faith. These little ones in the Church have been let down and neglected. They have kept the purity of their faith and they represent the true power of the Church in the eyes of God and not those who are in administration. Thanks be to God, the numbers of these little ones are growing. I spoke for instance with young students in Oxford and I was so much impressed by these students. I was so glad to see their purity of faith and their convictions, and the clear Catholic mind. Such examples and groups are growing in the Church and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. This will renew the Church. So I am confident and hopeful also in respect of this crisis in the Church. The Holy Ghost will win this crisis with this little army. I am not worried about the future. The Church is Christ’s Church and He is the real Head of the Church, the Pope is only the Vicar of Christ. The soul of the Church is the Holy Spirit and He is powerful. However we are now experiencing a deep crisis in the Church as has happened several times in two thousand years.
Q. Will it get worse before it gets better?
Bishop Schneider: I have the impression that it will be worse. Sometimes things have to go to the depths and then you will see the collapse of this anthropocentric, clerical system which is abusing Church administration power, abusing the liturgy, abusing the concepts of God, abusing the faith and the piety of the little ones in the Church. Then we will see the rising of a renewed Church. This is already preparing. Then this liberal clerical edifice will crash down because they have no fruits.
Q. Some people would say you are worrying about unimportant things; what about the poor?
Bishop Schneider: This is erroneous. The first commandment which Christ gave us was to adore God alone. Liturgy is not a meeting of friends. It is our first task to adore and glorify God in the liturgy and also in our manner of life. From a true adoration and love of God grows love for the poor and our neighbour. It is a consequence. The saints in two thousand years of the Church, all those saints who were so prayerful and pious, they were all extremely merciful for the poor and cared for the poor. In these two commandments are all the others. But the first commandment is to love and adore God and that is realised in a supreme manner in the sacred liturgy. When you are neglecting the first commandment, then you are not doing the will of God, you are pleasing yourself. Happiness is to fulfil the will of God, not to fulfil our will.
Q. How long will it be before the Church is renewed?
Bishop Schneider: I am not a prophet. We can only presume. But if you look at the history of the Church, the deepest crisis was in the fourth century. That was Arianism. This was a tremendous crisis, all the episcopacy, almost all, collaborated with the heresy. Only some bishops remained faithful, you could count them on the fingers of one hand. This crisis lasted more or less 60 years. Then the terrible crisis of the so-called dark century, the 10th century, when the papacy was occupied by some very wicked and immoral Roman families. They occupied the papal chair with their corrupt sons, and it was a terrible crisis. The next period of harm was the so-called exile of Avignon and was very damaging to the Church, causing the great occidental schism. All these crisis lasted some 70-80 years and were very bad for the Church. Now we are, I would say, in the fourth great crisis, in a tremendous confusion over doctrine and liturgy. We have already been in this for 50 years. Perhaps God will be merciful to us in 20 or 30 years? Nevertheless we have all the beauty of the divine truths, of divine love and grace in the Church. No one can take this away, no synod, no bishop, not even a Pope can take away the treasure and beauty of the Catholic faith, of the Eucharistic Jesus, of the sacraments. Unchangeable doctrine, unchangeable liturgical principles, holiness of the life, constitute the true power of the Church.
Q. Our time is seen as a much more liberal era in the Church.
Bishop Schneider: We have to pray that God will guide his Church from this crisis and give to his Church apostles who are courageous and holy. We need defenders of the truth and defenders of the Eucharistic Jesus. When a bishop is defending the flock and defending Jesus in the Eucharist, then this bishop is defending the little ones in the Church, not the powerful ones.
Q. So you don’t mind being unpopular?
Bishop Schneider: It is quite insignificant to be popular or unpopular. For every cleric the first interest is to be popular in the eyes of God and not in the eyes of today or of the powerful. Jesus said a warning: “Woe to you when people speak good of you.” Popularity is false. Jesus and the apostles rejected popularity. Great saints of the Church, e.g. SS Thomas More and John Fisher, rejected popularity and they are great heroes. And those who today are worried about the popularity with the mass media and public opinion, they will not be remembered in history. They will be remembered as cowards and not as heroes of the Faith.
Q. The media has great expectations of Pope Francis.
Bishop Schneider: Thanks be to God, Pope Francis has not expressed himself in the ways that the mass media expect from him. He has spoken until now, in his official homilies, very beautiful Catholic doctrine. I hope he will continue to teach in a very clear manner the Catholic doctrine.
Q. On sharing Holy Communion with Anglicans and others?
Bishop Schneider: This is not possible. There are different faiths. Holy Communion is not a means to achieve unity. It is the last step, not the first step. It would be a desecration of the Holy. Of course, we have to be one. Yet we have differences in belief, some substantial differences. The Eucharist is a sign of the deepest unity. It would be a lie, it would be contradictory to logic, sharing Holy Communion with non-Catholics. Ecumenism is necessary in order to be in contact with our separated brethren, to love them. In the midst of the challenge of the new paganism, we can and have to collaborate with serious non-Catholics to defend the revealed Divine truth and the natural law, created by God. It will be better not to have such a structure that the State governs the life of the Church, such as for instance the appointments of the clergy or the bishops. Such a practice of a State church would damage the Church itself. In England e.g. the State is governing the Church of England. Such an influence of the State can corrupt the Church spiritually and theologically, so it is better to be free from such an established State church.
Q. On women in the Church?
Bishop Schneider: Women are called the weaker sex, given they are physically weaker; however they are spiritually stronger and more courageous than men. It is courageous to give birth. Therefore God gave the woman a courage that the man doesn’t have. Of course, there were many courageous men in the persecutions. Yet God loves to choose the weak ones to confuse the powerful. For instance the Eucharistic women, about which I spoke in my book Dominus Est worked in their families and desired to help the persecuted priests in a very exceptional way. They would never have dared to touch the holy hosts with their fingers. They would refuse to even read a reading during Mass. My mother, for example who is still living in Germany, aged 82, when she first went to the West, she was shocked, scandalised, to see women in the sanctuary during Holy Mass. The true power of the Christian and Catholic woman is the power to be the heart of the family, the domestic church, to have the privilege to be the first who gives nourishment to the body of her child and also to be the first who gives nourishment to the souls of the child, teaching it the first prayers and the first truths of the Catholic faith. The most prestigious and beautiful profession of a woman is to be mother, and especially to be a Catholic mother.’