A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward by Ralph Martin

(Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2020), 528

Quick Summary: The Church is in crisis (as usual), and renewal comes through individual turning away from sin and toward God (as usual).

Summary: The Church is experiencing a crisis across many fronts—especially a pervasive attitude of universalism and relativism that minimizes culpability for sin, the backlack from the sexual revolution leading to apostasy as the Church accommodates itself to the world, disordered priorities that deny the Gospel in favor of more attractive secular causes, and pastoral passivity in the face of modernity—all of which has grown recently by what is at best a lack of clarity or at worst a studied ambiguity from Rome. The path forward starts with individual repentance and renewal of our participation in the prophetic mission of Jesus, set aflame by the Holy Spirit.

This book is important, but must be approached with caution. The crisis in the Church is real and must be forcefully confronted, and not used as an excuse to despair or a distraction from the primary solution, which is the pursuit of personal holiness.

Before wading into the crisis I chose to immerse myself in the solution, which is given in his previous book The Fulfillment of All Desire. This was a fruitful choice and it allowed me to examine the crisis with a firmer foundation and a healthy sense of perspective.

Martin presents many historical and contemporary figures as examples of either infidelity to truth or orthodoxy and courage. One challenge, when reading Martin's criticisms of particular writings of these individuals, is to not interpret them as a blanket criticism or endorsement of their work or an assessment of their personal holiness. I was surprised, for example, to see a number of challenging and critical comments about Bishop Barron and Hans Urs von Balthasar. These should be taken for what they are a points of correction pertaining to a portion of what they have said, and not a dismissal of their entire corpus.1 The same applies in reverse to those he praises.

Pope Francis himself is a central figure in the current crisis, and Martin appears to be both firm and charitable in his assessment of the current pope. He recognizes the many good and orthodox aspects of Francis' teaching, while also clearly challenging his ambiguity: "The objective reality is that he is causing and passively accepting immense confusion and division in the Church and seems strangely reluctant to resolve it" (178).

One benefit (and challenge) of this book is the voluminous collection sources: many books and many articles or blogs going into more depth on details of this crisis. A word of caution here as well: there is not enough time in life to study the good things to start off with, and while it is good to be generally aware of elements of the crisis so as to reverse it, the primary focus should be on living in the truth and growing in holiness. This is how Martin closes, and this is the challenge to take up. As such, I will be referring in the future no so much to this book, but much more to The Fulfillment of All Desire.



Topical Notes

Because the book has so many references and overlapping themes, I grouped some notes by topic rather than by chapter.

Pope Francis

  • Evangelii Gaudium bib: "really good" despite being silent on the eternal consequences of unrepented serious sin
  • He is the legitimately elected success of St. Peter and deserves the respect due a pope
  • "But he clearly says and does things that seem to contradict or put into question other admirable things he has said and done." (18)
  • "The net effect of this is that a rather intense polarization has occurred in the Church." (18)
  • "The undeniable fact is that ambiguity and confusion often is the result, an ambiguity and confusion that he seems very reluctant to dispel." (24)
  • "This ambiguity almost seems to be a hallmark of Pope Francis' approach to issues and unfortunately only permits confusion and division to increase." (35)
  • Indisputable fact: "There is doctrinal confusion that the Pope is not successfully resolving." (107)
  • "The objective reality is that he is causing and passively accepting immense confusion and division in the Church and seems strangely reluctant to resolve it." (178)
  • "Perhaps more than any other recent Pope, Pope Francis has drawn our attention to the contemporary working of the evil one." (404)

Vatican II

Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis

Key People

Ralph Martin names many 20th century and contemporary figures as examples of either faithful shepherds or dissenters. A partial list includes:



  • Fr. Charles Curran: dissenter from Humanae Vitae (8)
  • Cardinal Walter Kasper: Synods on the Family and Amoris Laetitia (8, 28)
  • Cardinal Antonio Tagle: Pope Francis' choice successor (8)
  • Cardinal Godfried Danneels: "Sant Gallen mafia" (9)
  • Fr. James Martin, SJ: "never seems willing to say that the Church's welcome needs to include a call to repentance and conversion and the embrace of chastity" (23, 47, 108)
  • Fr. Arturo Marcelino Sosa, S.J. (Jesuit Superior General): scriptural skepticism (47)
  • Fr. Richard Rohr: scriptural skepticism (48)
  • Fr. Thomas Rosica: "Pope Francis breaks Catholics traditions whenever he wants" (64)
  • Cardinal Cupich: the primacy of conscience (105)
  • Fr. Richard Rohr: spiritual fog (306, 391)


A Crisis of Truth (PDF) | Renewal Ministries

  • Ralph Martin wrote A Crisis of Truth in 1982
  • The leadership of John Paul II and Benedict XVI addressed many of the concerns he raised in that book, but many of these have arisen anew recently. This book treats many of the same topics in light of their current manifestation.
  • What is at stake is the proper interpretation of Vatican II, along the lines either of the hermeneutic of rupture, or the authentic hermeneutic of continuity [with the Tradition]
  • Despite this crisis, the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded, and remains the only church with the fullness of the means of salvation.

Part I: A Church in Crisis

Chapter 1: A Time of Confusion and Division

Summary: There is serious confusion in the Church over very important matters of doctrine and morality. Rome is at fault not for directly heretical teaching, but rather for sowing confusion and ambiguity and not offering direct clarification.

Confusion in the Church

The Current Confusion

  • It began with Pope Francis' "Who am I to judge?" comment (23)

Chapter 2: Is There a Solid Place to Stand?

Summary: We need to stand firmly on the foundation of of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium.

Scripture (it all starts here)

Scripture is a fire, a rock, a power, a lifeline, an urgent warning, a privileged communication, a source of life-saving knowledge, the key to happiness, and a profound love letter! (58)

  • Fr. Francis Martin: the written Word leads us into relationship with the Living Word, Jesus himself (59)

We should devour and treasure God's Word as our most precious possession. "Thy words were found, and I ate them, and thy words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart." (59, Jer-15)

Once we depart from a truly Catholic understanding of the authority and reliability of Scripture and tradition, there is no longer a foundation to stand on, and Christianity has no defense from the cultural pressures of the time that insist that we accommodate ourselves to them. (64)

Chapter 3: Is It All a Game? The Fog of Universalism

Summary: Universalism is the belief that all or almost all will be saved. This has become the default position in parts of the Church, and is dangerous because it minimizes the importance of faith, repentance, and baptism as necessary for salvation, thereby taking the urgency out of evangelization. It also contradicts the insistent message of Scripture and what Jesus' explicit teaching.

  • Karl Rahner: implies that most non-Christians are "anonymous Christians" (75)
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar: popularized the theory that we are obligated to hope for the salvation of all people (75)
    • #read Martin's chapter on von Balthasar in Will Many Be Saved?
    • "While Balthasar's hope for universal salvation is perhaps logically possible, it is so only in the sense that it is logically possible that a major league baseball team would win every one of its games in any season...it is 'infinitely improbably'" (86)
  • David Bentley Hart: "I can't accept a God that who would send anyone to hell" (76, cf. That All Shall Be Saved bib)
  • What Jesus said is clear, and quite shocking at times (cf. Jesus Shock bib):
    • "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many." (Mt-07)
    • "If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned." (Jn-15)
    • And some one said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" And he said to them, "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." (Lk-13)
  • Martin did his thesis and wrote a book against Universalism, most of which below summarizes Will Many Be Saved? bib
  • If there is not freedom to reject God, then true love and friendship with him is not possible
  • Vatican II teaches that while salvation is possible without hearing the Gospel, very often the conditions are not met (see the last three sentences of ~Lumen Gentium, which are often dropped)

The devil's worst and most fatal preparation for the coming of Antichrist is the weakening of men's belief in eternal punishment. Were they the last words I might ever say to you, nothing should I wish to say to you with more emphasis than this; that next to the thought of the Precious Blood (God's merciful suffering for you), there is no thought in all your faith more precious or more needful for you than the thought of Eternal Punishment. —Fr. Frederick Faber, Notes on Doctrinal and Spiritual Subjects, 456 cf. 80

Chapter 4: The Revolution Continues

Summary: The sexual revolution is relentlessly pushing on to its extreme conclusion. The primacy of conscience opens the door to massive self-deception. We must respond by living the Gospel fully.

Distressingly, fornication, divorce and remarriage, pornography, and masturbation have become so widely accepted, even among many Catholics, that the real cutting edge of the revolution now is the acceptance of the practice of homosexuality and transgenderism. (109)

We are being required to accept untruths and even myths to anesthetize the consciences of those engaging in such activities. (111)

How Did We Get Here?

  • Pressure from the culture
  • Moral theology from the seventies (cf. Human Sexuality by Kosnik bib)
  • Silence from the Church
    • "A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?" (122, cf. Heb-10)

The two issues which I think are most under attack today—the issue of salvation and the issue of sexual morality—I think require us to give clear, truthful answers or to become complicit in affirming our culture in their deceptions and wishful thinking in these areas. It is not loving, kind, or merciful to not tell people the full truth that shows them the path to salvation. (132)

The German Factor

  • The German church is rich because Catholic-registered taxpayers pay 8-9% of their income to the church
  • The German church is powerful because—due to its riches—it funds churches in many poorer countries, who seek to please their benefactor
  • The German church is progressive because it is not at risk as are churches that are not state-supported in other developed countries, and because it seeks to be "updated" in the eyes of an increasingly secular populous

What Should Be Done?

  • "But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (141, cf. Mt-05)
  • "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (142 cf 1 Cor-06)
  • St. Robert Bellarmine: "If they contribute to the glory of God and your eternal happiness, then they are good and should be sought. If they detract from this, they are evil and must be avoided." (144)

Chapter 5: How Long Will You Straddle the Issue?

Summary: It is problematic to see the Vatican aligning itself with those advancing a new "global humanism" but oppose basic moral teachings of the Church (i.e. Jeffrey Sachs and George Soros) and placing emphasis on "human development" at the expense of preaching the Gospel.

  • Liberation Theology has positive elements (including supporting the poor and responsible care for the earth), but suffers from deficiencies including: (1) dismissal of the importance of the evil of personal sin, (2) silence about the significance of sexual sin, and (3) acceptance of many Marxist categories (148)
  • The documents from the synod on the Amazon: "I kept asking myself, Can you imagine Jesus saying things like this? No. Jesus was laser focused on the salvation of souls, on faith and repentance, on our eternal destinies." (172)
  • Even secular atheists are waking up to the dangers of departing from orthodox Christianity: "Without Christianity, we are heading into a thick and impenetrable darkness." (198, cf. Atheists in Praise of Christianity?)

Chapter 6: Is Anyone Responsible?

Summary: There are a lot of people in the church today doing gymnastics making arguments that diminish culpability—especially in the realm of sexual morality—and making people at least perceive that it is "less wrong" or "more alright" that they don't adhere to the law (both natural and of the Church). However, he says that rather than seeking to determine culpability, we should focus on calling everyone to a life of repentance and obedience to God..

Part II: Pathways Forward

Pathways forward that, if followed, can lead us to deep renewal in the Church.

Chapter 7: Seeing and Not Seeing

Summary: We need to stop pretending that things are ok. Non-radical solutions may not be enough to right the ship.

The Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. (236 cf. Faith and the Future bib)

  • Preparing for the coming persecution: "None of us can be sure of what we would do under increased pressure, but unless we are cultivating the deepest relationship with the Lord possible and practicing self-denial, the acceptance of suffering, and courage and boldness in proclaiming and living the truth now, we will not be ready for the infusion of additional grace that will be needed—and given—as the pressures increase." (241)
  • Over-reliance on sociology and psychology leaves a false impression of determinism (244)

Chapter 8: Powers, Principalities, and Organizations

Summary: Supernatural forces are at play, and demons are at work in the world.

  • Fulton Sheen: The devil is never more powerful than when people think he doesn't exist (255, cf. The Antichrist: Signs of Our Times by Venerable Fulton Sheen)
  • "For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (268, cf. Eph-06)
  • Liberation from God's law becomes slavery to the devil (270)
  • Aquinas: the fear of God and sexual sin cannot coexist (ST II-II, q. 153, a. 5)

Chapter 9: Pastoral Passivity: Good Shepherds and Bad

Summary: Pastoral passivity has been one of the main factors contributing to the crisis of truth in the Church. This passivity has come to mean an accommodation or affirmation of sin, which is not fidelity to the truty.

  • Vatican II created some challenges: interpreted primarily by theologians (not bishops), theologians and journalists often distorted its meaning in a progressive direction, many went "beyond the Council" and were rooted not in the actual texts but in the "spirit of Vatican II", a focus on the historical-critical method and a "hermeneutic of suspicion" leading to speculative theology, a rush to embrace secular causes (302-304)
  • "Pastoral" has come to mean "permissive" and "accommodating". But authentic Christian service is based on fidelity to the truth, and giving people what they want does not serve them.
  • Pluralism in the Church is only legitimate if it involves diverse expressions of the one faith: unity is based on truth

Our main concern for our children as Christian parents is not losing them for a limited time on this earth but losing them for all eternity out of a deluded sentimentality that makes us afraid to speak the truth in love...If we approve of their immoral activity, we are confirming them on their path to hell. (317)

Chapter 10: The Signs of the Times: Pointing toward Judgment

Summary: God's Judgement is real, and he chastens those he loves.

  • John Tracy Ellis: the chief cause of the decline of Christian life has been the assimilation of Catholics into mainstream American life (339)
  • John Paul II warns of the coming "great apostasy" in Sign of Contradiction (342 cf. 2 Thes-02)
  • Our Lady's request at Fatima was to pray a rosary every day for world peace (346 cf. Fatima for Today bib)
    • Sr. Lucia: "The decisive battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about marriage and the family."

Chapter 11: A Time for Repentance

Summary: The appropriate response to the situation of the Church today is turning back to God in repentance so that we may undergo his purification.

  • We need to consider not only the evil we have done but also the "good" we have done that was not the will of God. (364)
  • Those with pastoral responsibility, including parents, will have to give a special accounting: "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness." (374 cf. Jas-03)

I believe that it is virtually impossible to be a responsible Christian unless we are making room in our daily lives for prayer and sound spiritual reading, for study of Christian truth, and for contact with others who also want to live fervent Christian lives and serve God faithfully. (381)

Chapter 12: A Time for Action

Summary: We need to be grounded in the truth, intercede for the Church and ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and take action to honor God's Word.

  • "A firm and clear grasp of Christian truth must be the basis of our relationship with God." (385)
  • "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him." (388 cf. Jas-01)
  • "The fruitfulness of our life and work depends on the degree to which we have been transformed in Christ": helpful to this is reading the Doctors of the Church, as well as faithful contemporary Catholic spiritual writers: Fr. Thomas Dubay, Fr. Donald Haggerty, Fr. Jacques Philippe; life is short so read the best! (388, 507)
  • "The first order of business for today needs to be reform, repentance, and rebuilding the basic fabric of Catholic life." (401)
  • We need to respond with prayer for the Church and for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, especially through the Rosary (404)
    • → See "Prayer to the Holy Spirit for Guidance" (pg 374) and "Litany of the Holy Spirit" (pg 719) from People's Prayer Book
  • We need to take action rooted in the principle that we will not stand by as God and his Word are dishonored in our sphere of responsibility and in a way appropriate to the situation (405)

Chapter 13: The Inexhaustible Riches of Jesus: Participating in the Prophetic Mission of Jesus

Summary: We need to focus on imitating Jesus' prophetic zeal and ask for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to divide truth from falsehood.

  • Jesus is priest, prophet, and king: this section focuses on Jesus as prophet which was the primary focus of his earthly ministry
  • Zeal is the confluence of knowledge and love: for this we need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and this is the framework for the other virtues to work
  • We will suffer either way for the truth: "The pain of disunity is less than the pain of infidelity" (436)

There will be division in our hearts, the sword of the Spirit will divide true from false. (436)

Topic: Catholic Church



file:(2023-01-21-A Church In Crisis)

Created: 2022-07-12-Tue
Updated: 2023-02-13-Mon

  1. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water: "The life of anyone who wants to be faithful will, until the end of time, be 'contradiction and struggle'" (2022-10-31-The Drama of Atheist Humanism).