The National Catholic Review

Father John Zuhlsdorf ("Father Z") is an American-born priest of the Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni in Italy and a Catholic media figure. A convert from Lutheranism in college, he was ordained by Saint John Paul II in 1991.  He worked in Rome as a collaborator in the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” and is now in Madison, Wisconsin, where he serves with full diocesan faculties and functions also as president of the Tridentine Mass Society of Madison. He is working on a doctoral dissertation for the Patristic Institute “Augustinianum” in Rome on the figure of King David as an exemplar of civic virtues shared by Saints Augustine and Ambrose.

Father Zuhlsdorf’s website, “Father Z’s Blog,” has been listed by the British magazine New Statesman, and other metric sites, as one of the top ten Christian blogs in the world. He had a column for many years on liturgical translation in the Catholic weekly The Wanderer, and has been involved in internet ministry since 1992. He now writes for the British Catholic weekly The Catholic Herald. He has appeared as a commentator on EWTN, Fox News and various radio stations. On August 1, I interviewed Father Zuhlsdorf by email on his work in Catholic media.

Your Catholic blog consistently draws more readers from around the world than many Catholic print publications. How have you been so successful?

I write about things people care about and I try to have a little something for everyone. If some posts, for example about liturgical translations, go into the philological weeds, I then also bring out points anyone can get.  Mixing things up probably helps, too.  I have posts on cooking or movies or birds I see out the window, books and oddities, both amusing and irritating.  Perhaps most importantly, I provide something to push people or for people to push against.  Finally, I try to “leave a tip,” that is, offer something that is mine, personal.

You also contribute to television and radio programs in addition to working on your dissertation and serving in a parish. Where do you spend most of your time?

In Madison, though I endure quite a bit of travel for conferences and pilgrimages.

Do you expect to continue blogging after you finish your doctoral dissertation and go back to full-time ministry?

I don't accept your premise.  Work in the blogosphere is ministry. Nearly every day I get an email from someone who says that, because of something he read on my blog, he went to confession for the first time in years, or that she and her husband are getting their marriage straightened out.  I can't say how many notes I have had from people about how their experience of Holy Mass has changed because of the liturgical issues we have covered. Seminarians and priests have written that they have learned, or unlearned, many things by reading both the entries and the comments in the combox.  There are some smart and well-informed commentators who really contribute. 

People have formed friendships through this form of contact. I know of couples who met and married through the various internet initiatives I've been involved with.  It is remarkable how much like a parish my corner of the blogosphere is.  There are all the same characters and many of the same dynamics.  It is a lot of work.  And, Deo volente, yes, I’ll keep at it.  As you touched on in your earlier question, the blog has more regular readers than the circulation of some Catholic publications. The blog has vastly more readers than the number of congregants who would hear a Sunday sermon, even repeated, in a single church, even a big one.  When we proclaim the Word from the roof tops, as the Lord asked, we use technology, the house and its height, to amplify the message.  When huge crowds followed Our Lord along the shore, He asked to be let out onto the water in a boat on the end of a line.  He used technology to increase the number of people to whom he could speak at once.  That was, by the way, the first instance of “online ministry."  Will I keep going?  You bet.  I’m but one little priest.  My blog is my force multiplier.

What positive contributions do Catholic blogs make to the life of the church?

Firstly, there are many people who, for one reason or another, have a hard time finding contact with others, either because they are shut in, or reclusive or shy, or ... whatever.  This is one mode of building community which could lead to other, deeper forms.  Also, just as the rise of talk radio, and then cable news, provided an alternative to the mainstream media, so too the blogosphere serves in much the same role.  Catholic media, at least in the Anglophone world, was dominated by one view until Mother Angelica came along.  Like her or not, bless her.  She did amazing things. Then the blogosphere arose.  Nowadays, news sources don't get a pass if they write something which is skewed or false or heterodox.  While it's true that fact-checking isn't even and that a slick-looking blog can give the false impression that the author knows what she is talking about, having lots of eyes and voices can be helpful.  I believe in a kind of reverse Gresham's Law.  Gresham's Law describes how, as coins are made less pure with base metals, the purer coins drop out of circulation. Since debased coins have the same buying power as those which are pure, people hoard the pure coins because they have greater actual value. Thus, bad money drives good money out of circulation.

Conversely, I think good information drives out bad information, misinformation and even, what is more dangerous by far, disinformation. Sure, the internet can be the vehicle of false narratives and lies, but, in time, people ferret out the truth and post it. The gold of truth is put back into circulation to drive out errors and disinformation. On another point, there are countless Catholics out there who, for decades, have endured dreadful sermons, frightful liturgy, and worse catechesis. They are languishing, starving, drowning... pick your image.  For these, the blogosphere offers encouragement, nourishment, a life line... pick your image. We can work many spiritual works of mercy through the use of these tools: instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubting, admonish the sinner, console those who mourn. When others are in need we can marshal prayers, and sometimes material aid, from tens or even hundreds of thousands of people.

Some Catholics avoid reading blogs because the content often appears sharp and divisive. What would you say to them?

Yes, this is a thorn.  As I have posted on the side bar of the blog, my place is a fusion of the Baroque “salon” with its well-tuned harpsichord around which polite society gathers for entertainment and edification and, on the other hand, a Wild West “saloon” with its out-of-tune piano and swinging doors, where everyone has a drink, a gun and something to say.  Nevertheless, I try to point our discussions back to what it is to be Catholic in this increasingly difficult age, to love God, and how to get to heaven.  I suppose the first thing we have to remember is that there will always be sinners. I also admit that I sometimes fail in charity. Not only, we have to face the facts, some people are jerks.  Who knows what made them that way.  I fear that, at times, the anonymity offered by the internet is a serious occasion of sin for some people. We will also always have cowards with us, who hide behind false names and say nasty things. 

Next, we have to toughen up a little. No one forces anyone else to get involved online.  If we are going to descend onto the sands of the arena, we had better buckle it on.  In addition, the notion that everyone has to play verbal patty cake all the time is a rather new idea, both in the church and in the public square.  These days, someone might squawk that you hurt their feelings and we then run in circles, even watering down the church’s teachings lest anyone be offended.  As St. Paul says, we must correct, rebuke and encourage, with patience and correct doctrine.  As far as sharp and divisive is concerned, sometimes sharp is what is needed to punch through the veil of falsehood, or the veil of dumb.  Division is necessary, especially when we are dividing ourselves from heresy or wickedness or lawlessness in the church. The doctor doesn’t stop cutting just because the patient is screaming for him to stop.  But you are surely asking about the sheer nastiness and ad hominem attacks that appear on blogs and in the comboxes. That's pretty sad.  But, as I said before, we will always have sinners and cowards in our midst.  We have to soldier on and, over time, hopefully, try to bring some of these poor people around. That's a spiritual work of mercy too. That said, at times I do weary of the knuckle-headed stuff.  More and more often these days I turn on the moderation queue for discussions or for specific individuals.

You often take strong liturgical positions on your blog which draw criticism from various segments of the American church, including progressives and traditionalists. How do you respond to those criticisms?

If extremists weren’t on my case, I’d have to examine my conscience. I try to stick with the documents and our Catholic Tradition, in the best sense. What I regret is that there are points of contact, good points, where we Catholics across the board could be so much more effective in the public square, helping both to shape public policy and also to bring more people to Christ and salvation.  Sometimes division is real and must not be glossed over, especially when the doctrine of the Faith is involved. I, however, would prefer less conflict and more collaboration on important issues.  Alas, I have found that, when I have extended olive branches in either direction, they have either been ignored (as is the case with the liberal left) or viciously slapped away (as is the case with the fringe of traditionalists). That notwithstanding, I still sleep well at night.  And I’ll keep trying, too, with the caveat that at times I also fail in charity.  When I recite the Confiteor in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite every day, I mean it.  It says “mea culpa,” not “tua.”

What are some positive things in the Catholic media these days?

We have a great variety of and growing sophistication with the uses of new tools. For example, I see that the Holy See is getting its act together. We Catholics have a lot of catching up to do, but I think we are at last starting to lace up our boots.  Also, I have a sense that the mainstream media is watching the Catholic blogosphere and their reportage is being shaped by it, and not always in a bad way. 

What are the current challenges for Catholic media?

The principle challenge comes back to the overarching challenge for the church in our day. We have to be clear about who we are as Catholics and what we believe.  If we are sure about these things, and if we don’t have the courage of our convictions, then we are just wasting our time. Why should anyone listen to us, ad intra or ad extra, within the church or outward to the world, if we don’t have anything clear to say?  We have to, as the letter of Peter says, be prepared to give reasons for the hope that is in us, and do so with respect.  First, however, Peter says we have to sanctify the Lord Christ in our hearts.  Years ago, I heard Cardinal George of Chicago give an address to the Catholic Press Association.  It was my first and last time at one of those meetings, by the way. He told the journalists that they should be less concerned with writing about the doings of churchmen, bishops and priests and their ilk – my word, “ilk” – and focus instead on how grace works in people’s lives.  But, he added, to recognize the work of and the life of grace, they had to be in the state of grace. They laughed. He was serious. I will unite all of what I said before with the conviction that, these days, we must get our house in order when it comes to our sacred liturgical worship. 

For us Catholics, everything we do and all that we are goes back to our sacred liturgical worship of God as a church. If that isn’t in order, nothing else will be well-ordered. All our attempts at a New Evangelization will be too shaky and ephemeral to stand. Our attempts to communicate the good news will be so much vapor. Our sacred liturgy is Christ’s Communication to us. An early document of the Pontifical Council for the Social Communication, Communio et progressio, pointed out that Christ is the “perfect Communicator”.  Liturgy is our most perfect form of Communication, ad intra and ad extra, within the church or outward to the world.  So, we need to renew our liturgical worship along the lines Pope Benedict laid out so thoughtfully, and we need to deepen a theology of communication.  When we get those squared away, we will be more effective.

What are your hopes for the future of Catholic media?

That those who serve the perfect Communicator, the Eternal Word, will have courage in the face of what surely is on our doorstep within our life spans. We have to have the intestinal fortitude to stand for something, even if people don’t like what we say. We can’t make everyone happy. Attempts to pontificate astride the Olympian middle are doomed to failure. It’s not all a matter of money or cleverness.  Mother Angelica, when she started out, stood for something and said it, like her or not.  Others have thrown millions of dollars at technology and various clever innovations.  They wasted their time and people’s wealth.  Why? They didn’t offer anything that was clear, that pierced through to the mind or to the heart or stirred any reaction other than another yawn.  I once asked an American bishop of the Midwest, a man of direct speech, what the state of things were in the church in these United States right now and what we had to do to address it.  “The first thing we have to do,” he growled, “is stop blowing happy gas at everyone.” Let me be clear: we must promote our messages with genuine joy.  Joy is attractive and infectious. In our media work, we need joy and a sense of humor. That doesn’t mean we have to be mealy-mouthed, perpetually grinning. Risus abundant in ore stultorum as they say.

If you could say one thing to Pope Francis in person, what would it be?

If you are not going to live in the Apostolic Palace, could I? Seriously, I have had the opportunity to speak with him quite a few times, before his election. But now, I don’t know what I would have to say. I knew Pope Benedict before his election too, and could chat often with him. It is, perhaps, odd, but once Benedict was elected as Supreme Pontiff, I didn’t feel the need to tell him anything.  He was the one with the ten thousand foot high overview of things. Now that he is retired… that’s another matter. But to Pope Francis? To tell him… what?  Of my respect and my dedication daily to pray for him? He would know that, for all Catholics love their popes, and for priests it is our duty and pleasure. To tell him of my hope that he will not run from the wolves?  He doesn’t seem the type. 

Pretty much everything that comes immediately to mind is cliché. I suppose there is one thing. I might ask him to celebrate a Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form, or at least be present at its celebration by someone whom he would designate. Catholics who have what St. John Paul II called “legitimate aspirations” and for whom he commanded by his Apostolic Authority that respect must be shown, have over many decades experienced great suffering and disrespect and even persecution, even by priests and bishops.  They have suffered because they are faithful, and at the hands of their shepherds, which is shameful.  Quod Deus averruncet!  They can, at times, admittedly be a challenge to work with, but these good people love Christ and their church and their popes as much as any Catholics ever have throughout the millennia. They would go to the wall for Pope Francis, even though sometimes he does things that make them scratch their heads.  These people need some TLC.  A little love in their direction could bring about great healing.  It’s the next step.  And were he to do it, this pope rather than the more obvious Benedict … imagine what a magnificent healing moment it would be.

Any final thoughts?

Yes.  We are all obliged to confess our sins in both number and kind, that is, what we did or failed to do and how many times or at least a sense of frequency.  Examine your consciences every day and go to confession regularly.  The salvation of your soul depends on it.  The Sacrament of Penance is Christ’s own gift.  He gave it to us so that we can be reconciled with Him and obtain forgiveness.  Pastors of souls, please work to revive the Sacrament of Penance, or Reconciliation if you prefer.  Call it what you want, just do it. Please, for the love of God, teach about and preach about and hear confessions.  It’s your work, Fathers, to keep as many people out of Hell as possible.  We will all be judged one day.  Let it be a moment of joy rather than, you know, the other thing.  So… was that too sharp and divisive?  I’ll sleep alright tonight.

Sean Salai, S.J., is a summer editorial intern at America.


Curtis Albert | 8/2/2016 - 7:46am

From the interview, I have come to like Father John Zuhlsdorf. I think that he has a very nice personality and is out to make the world a better place for all. Thanks for having father for the interview. He's such an inspiration.

Rishard Smith | 4/9/2015 - 5:44am

Catholic media was mostly understood as print, with nationwide and diocesan journal mutually printing millions of copies weekly. There were Catholic qualities on radio and television –the majority legendary Bishop Fulton Sheen – but print was the most important average for Catholic announcement. Get more detail.

Brian Pinter | 9/19/2014 - 12:06pm

To E. Davison: Here are some facts and pertinent questions - Zuhlsdorf is using the internet to comment on matters of faith and morals, as well as the worthiness of other Catholics and Christians. He also uses his blog to solicit donations and gifts, including ammunition for his gun collection. As I understand it, canon law (831) requires that if a cleric is using electronic media to preach, and the USCCB includes the internet under that canon, that cleric must have the permission of the bishop of the diocese where the broadcast originates, as well as the permission of the bishop of his home diocese. There is no evidence that Zuhlsdorf has either. Furthermore, is he a registered charity with the IRS? If his "meters" on his blog is any indication, he is taking in thou$and$ of dollar$, all to fund what? - his trips abroad and restaurant meals? Has Zuhlsdorf ever had a pastoral assignment? Has he been "unassigned" for the better part of 20 years? When is he to finish the doctorate he has been "working on"? Finally, and this is my personal opinion, one could conclude that he is fomenting a schism. Read what he has to say about certain hierarchs, like Oscar Rodriguez, and how Z undermines their credibility, how he presumes to question the sincerity of other Catholics, especially those who don't use the EF, and his degrading comments about the LCRW. He even calls the association of Catholic priests the "Ass of Priests." Tell me, who holds him accountable for what he puts on that blog? Who authorizes him to comment of the faith and morals of others, including members of the hierarchy and fellow priests? Is Morlino responsible for him? If not, who is?

E. Davison | 9/20/2014 - 3:35pm

Bridget O'Donnell: You have made quite a few public speculations about Fr. Z which are factually incorrect and even swerve close to calumny. Fr. Z is in the Diocese of Madison and in good standing. You can even find him listed in the official directory for US priests. There is nothing irregular about his situation. There never was, as a matter of fact, though his detractors like to spread that rumor. You admitted in your comment that you follow "rumors". For a couple years now, at least, he has been at the diocese's chancery building, an old seminary, and not, as you claimed, in a private house in Madison. There is no way that he would be there without the bishop of Madison's good pleasure and the involvement and permission of his Italian bishop. That's how things work in the Church with priests. You don't like him or respect him as a priest or as a human being. Fine. Dislike like him on the basis of facts, rather than falsehoods or rumors. Enough with the false rumors. Okay?

Bridget O'Donnell | 8/21/2014 - 9:10pm

Father Zuhlsdorf does NOT submit to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in humility. That is the point which forms the basis of the scandalous problem that this article underscores. Father Z is only one of hundreds of priests who find themselves at odds with many of the changes brought about by Vatican II, and disillusioned by the crisis that followed the Council. Like the SSPX, whose cause they often champion or at least sympathize with, they use the crisis as justification for seeking out a bishop who will permit incardination in their diocese and then allow the priest in question to go off and do his own thing, never having to answer to ANY Church authority. I highly doubt that either Bishop Erba or Bishop Apicella actually sought out Fr. Z and asked him to join their diocese, nor do they remain in regular communication with him, or give him regular assignments. He is an American Catholic priest living in a private house in Madison, Wisconsin. His bishop is neither paying his salary nor his health insurance. He is on his own; freedom comes at a price. Again, this is not how the Roman Catholic Church is set up. Fr. Z has set up his own private priestly business via the Internet. Were it not for the technological revolution, he would never have the means to do this. When he makes a misstep, gives an erroneous teaching, or does serious harm to someone's reputation, he is not able to be disciplined or corrected. He answers to no one. I hope and pray that the rumors are true and Fr. Z has reached out to the Bishop of Madison to finally regularize his status. Please keep this bishop in prayer; His Excellency is certainly going to need them.

Helen Smith | 8/22/2014 - 8:46am

I suspect that Fr. Z has found a U.S.bishop who has allowed him to "do his own thing" because that bishop agrees with Fr. Z's stance on liturgy, as well as political and social issues.

Tim O'Leary | 8/16/2014 - 7:44pm

Here is another point. Fr. Zuhlsdorf left the Lutheran Church and put himself under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. So, whatever one thinks of his blogging style, he has the humility to subordinate his authority to the Church (in contrast to many other Christian bloggers who answer only to themselves).

I think that the willingness to accept the authentic teaching authority external to oneself is the key to checking whatever disparate instincts one might have in the the approach to evangelization. It is one thing to speak humbly but a much greater sign of humility to put oneself under the authority of Christ's Magisterium, guided as it is by the Holy Spirit. I do wonder if the LCWR has the same humility.

Here is Fr. Robert Barron on the Authority Question - I think all disunity in the Church come down to a proper understanding of this question.

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/17/2014 - 1:49pm

Very interesting talk, Tim. Thanks for sending it. Seems that the umpire has not yet spoken. My guess is that the men will recognize and follow the wisdom of the nuns. Many already do. Did you see Kristoff's article in today's NYTimes?

I agree with you that obedience to authority is necessary in discerning one's spiritual motives. Merton struggled with his abbot his entire life, yet in retrospect his humility to do his thing while under the the restraint of countless censors was a saving grace for him.

It is confounding by how many conservative priests (including Z) make no effort to educate their congregations about the Catholic Church's teaching against the Death Penalty. For decades U.S. Bishops have clearly spoken for the abolishment of this barbaric practice, yet so many Catholics are unaware. Ending state sponsored murder is integral to Catholicism's dedication to the sacredness of life. Once again, the nuns are leading the way.

Tim O'Leary | 8/18/2014 - 1:05am

See my response below.

Michael Barberi | 8/17/2014 - 6:33pm


It is true that some priests make no effort to educate their congregations about the RCC's teaching against the death penalty. However, 40% of older and younger priests disagree with many teachings of the magisterium and do appropriately counsel parishioners who seek their spiritual advice in pastoral counseling sessions. A divided clergy (and laity) was the conclusion regarding many of the teachings impacting the family as acknowledged by the preliminary document sent to all the bishops preceding the up-coming Synod on the Family.

These priests do not lack humility because they disagree with certain moral teachings of magisterium. They are following what the Church teaches, namely, one must never go against their informed consciences even if it is in tension with a papal teaching. They do not reach this decision lightly or irresponsibly but after serious reflection, prayer and sacrament.

These priests, and many informed Catholics, do not deny the transcendent power of the Holy Spirit but seek God's guiding light. They give respect to the magisterium but disagree with certain teachings in humility for they know that no one, including the pope, possess the fullness of truth. These priests and informed Catholics pray for unity not division, humility not pride, grace not selfish relativism and individualism, and understanding and courage not deception and fear. Unfortunately, there are those in the hierarchy that want to cling to the past because of an exaggerated fear of change, even responsible change and development. This will hopefully change under Pope Francis.

The nuns of the LCWR do a great deal to help the Church respectfully rethink teachings and practices despite those who would denigrate them.

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/17/2014 - 7:15pm

"They are following what the Church teaches, namely, one must never go against their informed consciences even if it is in tension with a papal teaching. They do not reach this decision lightly or irresponsibly but after serious reflection, prayer and sacrament."

Thank you for this reminder, Michael. Sometime in my zeal to be conciliatory, I forget the basics.

Michael Barberi | 8/18/2014 - 7:16pm


An informed conscious may be erroneous but many teachings of the Church that have been taught as Truth for centuries and have been reformed. The Freedom of Religion is but one example.

The issue is not to have an exaggerated fear of one's God-given practical reason and the gifts of the Holy Spirit who leads the Church, as the People of God, to the truth. One is not any less a "Catholic" or loved by God if they disagree with certain moral teachings for good reasons, than those who agree with every teaching of the magisterium.

There is a process one must follow when conscience is in tension with a teaching of the magisterium. Some merely dismiss such a process because they will never admit that the magisterium teachings can be a partial view of the truth, and not the complete and absolute truth. They will never admit that moral teachings can be significantly developed and changed, such as contraception for responsible parents, and Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried under certain circumstances. All they do is construct examples such as "abortion-on-demand" and claim that this is synonymous with the thinking and philosophy of all those who have a reason-based and faith-based disagreement about certain moral teachings. Fortunately, most see through such specious arguments.

To deny your informed conscience and go against it is disrespecting the teachings of the magisterium. If you go against your informed conscience you are denying the transcendental and the movement of the Holy Spirit, Synderesis, and Prudence in the judgment of conscience. After much education and serous reflection, the overwhelming percentage of informed Catholics (who frequent Mass and sacrament) and a significant percentage of priests disagree with certain moral sexual ethical teachings. This is a sign of the times and the winds of the Spirit that blows where it wills.

Tim O'Leary | 8/18/2014 - 1:04am

Beth - I read Kristoff. I agree with him at least half-way. I too am in awe of the nuns (and priests) who risk everything for the Gospel, going out into hostile places to bring the Good News. Or the amazing lay people who brought the Gospel to Korea, and the many who suffered martyrdom (as Pope Francis has beatified this week). It is a little less inspiring to be in a hotel in Nashville listening to talks about evolutionary consciousness and speakers who say those in the room are much better and wiser than the Magisterium. Even if true in some ways, it is not humble to say it, but arrogant.

I also think the nuns who stand up against the death penalty, and especially against the most unjust capital punishment of all, abortion (worse because the child is completely innocent, and because the number being killed surpasses WWII atrocity levels). I also think ministering to gays and lesbians is a good thing, as long as one doesn't give them a partial Gospel, when they too deserve to hear the fullness of the faith.

I have just finished another book on St. Thomas Aquinas (my third this Summer), this one by Peter Kreeft - the Modern Scholar Series. Regarding this teaching on the conscience, he does indeed say that it must be followed. But, it is frequently fallible, so it is not a good guide for a community, which of course we all know is obvious, since so many people come to different positions using their honest individual consciences. No doubt there are many people whose conscience tells them capital punishment is necessary for justice, or the rights of the unborn must give way to the will of the mother. There are those whose conscience demands they accept sola scriptura or Calvinism or that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Or, as in some LCWR speakers, that Jesus is not the sole savior of humanity. Or that homosexual sex is good for some people. They cannot all be right. Thankfully, Jesus gave His Church a more reliable way to know the Truth, and a living Magisterium.

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/18/2014 - 7:49am

I keep thinking about Franz Jägerstätter, a husband and father of three who was beheaded on August 9, 1943, for refusing any collaboration with the Nazis.

Jägerstätter left behind a widow and 3 small daughters. Both his priest and his bishop had urged him to give up his conscientious objection, and join the army. His sacrifice was uniformly regarded as foolish by his neighbors, and his story was known to but a handful of people for almost 2 decades.

Jägerstätter's story came to the attention of Thomas Merton, and Merton wrote an essay, “An Enemy of the State”, commenting on Jägerstätter’s life, conscientious objection, and the role of religion in military matters and war. Jägerstätter’s own bishop had judged his conscience to be “in error”, but “in good faith”, and that the priests and seminarians who died in Hitler's armies “firm in the conviction that they were following the will of God” to be following “a clear and correct conscience.”

Merton, while conceding that whose conscience was erroneous and whose was correct could ultimately only be decided by God, says that the real question raised by the Jägerstätter story is not merely that of the individual Catholic’s right to conscientious objection but the question of the Church’s own mission of protest and prophecy in the gravest spiritual crisis man has ever known.

Merton’s essay includes an impressive meditation from Franz Jägerstätter in which he intuits that his refusal to fight is not a private matter, but concerns the historical predicament of the Catholic Church in the 20th century:

“The situation in which we Christians of Germany find ourselves today is much more bewildering than that faced by the Christians of the early centuries at the time of their bloodiest persecution … We are not dealing with a small matter, but the great (apocalyptic) life and death struggle has already begun. Yet in the midst of it there are many who still go on living their lives as though nothing had changed … That we Catholics must make ourselves told of the worst and most dangerous anti-Christian power that has ever existed is something that I cannot and never will believe … Many actually believe quite simply that things have to be the way they are. If this should happen to mean that they are obliged to commit injustice, then they believe that others are responsible. … I am convinced that it is still best that I speak the truth even though it costs me my life. For you will not find it written in any of the commandments of God or of the Church that a man is obliged under pain of sin to take an oath committing him to obey whatever might be commanded him by his secular ruler. We need no rifles or pistols for our batte, but instead spiritual weapons, - and the foremost of these is prayer.”

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/18/2014 - 9:10am

PS. I excerpted most of the above from my writings about Jägerstätter on my louie blog in 2007 ( )

dunno. I need to think on this some more, but for now I'm thinking that the nuns are on the right track and bold (not arrogant) in their speaking this truth to power. As with Jägerstätter, it will probably take some time for the world to recognize it.

Tim O'Leary | 8/18/2014 - 11:56am

Jägerstätter was a great hero and a great martyr, and it does him a disservice to belittle by comparison. But, perhaps, you didn't mean to imply the LCWR nuns or those who oppose Church teaching on sex are anywhere near as self-sacrificing as he was, or that the Church is as violently oppressive as the Nazis. But this is what I mean by taking privilege - by equating one's relatively safe stand with that of a martyr. I don't think any LCWR leaders are in danger of literally losing their heads. The Korean martyrs would be a more apt analogy.

Jim McCrea | 8/16/2014 - 4:52pm

Rumor has it that the charlatan "Fr." Z is about to be incardinated in the Diocese of Madison, WI, under the protection of Robert Morlino.

Morlino is infamous for ruining a good parish in Platteville, WI ... St. Mary's.

Let's hope that he doesn't continue ruining parishes with the likes of "Fr." Z.

Tim O'Leary | 8/14/2014 - 11:49pm

Fascinating watching the combox for this article, which has now generated more comments than all the other 30 interviews Fr. Salai has posted over the last month put together (the 31st today with Archbishop Chaput). While many of the comments here are derogatory and ad hominem (preferring to curse the darkness rather than light a candle, to invert the Christopher's motto), the attention is probably driving enough traffic to Fr. Z's website to at least get him a fair hearing. And some of Fr. Z's links, like this very interesting piece of Asian art (, or his praise for an article by NCR's Phyllis Nagano today suggest a little more subtlety than would be expected if he was just preaching in a staid monocultural or "God-in-a-box" way.

Joshua DeCuir | 8/15/2014 - 12:16pm

Just curious if you're going over to Fr. Z's combox & urging charity, tolerance & open-mindedness on his readers as well?

Are you calling out comments such as:

"I’d forgotten Fr. Rohr existed–it was a happy life " or "How have you attracted such a crowd of humorless haters, Father? "

Or "Taliban moderator at the America combox"

Then, of course, there is the interesting discussions about what America's "real" intention in interviewing Zuhlsdorf. Among other reasons suggested is "a desperate attempt to widen their readership in the face of the biological solution causing declining subscriptions"

What's good for the goose is good for the gander, right Mr. O'Leary?

Tim O'Leary | 8/15/2014 - 2:04pm

Joshua - I haven't entered the fray on Fr. Z's site, and have not written anything there. I also haven't read much of that combox and no doubt I would find many of them not to my liking. I guess I look at America differently and expect a different standard here. But, you make a fair point in your last line.

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/15/2014 - 9:35am

If you dare, Tim, take a look at a few of the articles in the NCR about the LCWR conference taking place in Nashville. There is some real "God-out-of-the-box" talking going on there. Especially powerful is this one about Sr. Ilia Delio, as well as a speech by Sr. Nancy Schreck - "We have become more faithful, not less" -

I wish Fr. Z well. It appears that he is on his best behavior now and I hope that America's putting him into the larger context of the Catholic Church will help us all.

Tim O'Leary | 8/15/2014 - 3:32pm

Beth - I did go to the NCR articles, and in my view, they are more of the same New Age ideas of evolutionary consciousness, and syncretism that got the LCWR into trouble in the first place. It is certainly out-of-the-box thinking, if the box is Christianity, but it is right within the box of the reigning environmental Zeitgeist, with all their assumptions and prejudices accepted as fact. Several quotes from Sr. Schreck suggest she at least is thinking about leaving the Church: “The experience is like that of the biblical exile in which we have been so changed that we are no longer at home in the culture and church in which we find ourselves” and “Walking by faith is to seek a world other than the one from which we are swiftly being ejected."

My concern about the LCWR is that they preach a religion that to me appears alien to the central concerns expressed in the Gospels (sin, repentence, virtuous life, Jesus as exclusive Savior of the world, and only incarnated Son of God). I also do not think the LCWR really represent what the rank-and-file American nuns and religious really believe.

The NCR article mentioned that the average age of the LCWR attendees was 72 years of age. Can they really mean it is the average, as in mean? I note that they passed a renewable energy resolution. Well, they certainly need new energy.

Abigail Woods-Ferreira | 8/16/2014 - 10:15am

Whatever other criticisms one my have of the sisters, I find the mention of their age to be deeply offensive. Demeaning women for their age has some ugly connotations. And with age comes the vitality of deep wisdom and experience.

I once had a professor, at an Ex corde ecclesia compliant university, who was a habit wearing sister of a more "conservative" Franciscan community. A student in class said something to effect of calling sisters in the LCWR a bunch of old hippie nuns, and that very "orthodox" Franciscan gave him the business about how one should show respect for ALL sisters and the sacrifices they have made for the Church.

Tim O'Leary | 8/16/2014 - 11:57am

Abigail - It was the NCR that made the statement about the average age of the sisters (Beth's link below). I do not think they meant it as a criticism of their wisdom or experience, and neither did I (I met Mother Teresa when she was in her 80s and I could not have been more in awe of her). The average age does relate to the demographic future of their specific orders, however, which is not completely unconnected to their ideas and teachings.

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/16/2014 - 12:23pm

Most of what I read seems to think that since these women are old, they'll be gone soon and their spirit will go with them leaving just the young, more conservative order of nuns to carry on and bring us back to a pre-Vatican 2 order of things. I beg to disagree. What these women have done in leaving behind their habits and veils and going into the darkest corners of the earth to discover the mystery of Christ among us, is incredibly new and young. Other women (and men) will follow in their footsteps, whether vowed religious or not. They have, indeed, broken new ground. I'll bet many of the young women in the conservative orders will pick up the spirit as well. The notion that they might leave the Church is a little absurd to me -- they ARE the Church.

Michael Barberi | 8/16/2014 - 3:56pm


A common ignorance in many debates relative to America Magazine articles is the definition of the Roman Catholic "Church". It is not the hierarchy/magisterium or the pope. It is the People of God, the Body of Christ, inclusive of the pope, clergy, non-clergy theologians and the entire laity.

The great Bernard Haring, in the spirit of Thomas Aquinas, was not one to encourage rebellion in the church or dissent or disagreement. In fact, even in matters he said "where the Church teaches and guides in a way that is not infallible the presumption of truth and right is in favor of her authority. However, "At the same time, Haring always taught that he wants to ensure that the freedom and inviolability of a properly informed conscience remains unthreatened. After serious examination of conscience, and after examining the unselfishness of his motives, and being conscious of the limitations of his own view, has come to a conclusion that his conscious commands him to do otherwise [than the church teaching], he must follow his conscious no matter how painful the results may be. He may not carry out a command of a superior that is against his conscious….One must have strong cogent reasons in conscience e to form such a judgment."

The Holy Spirit blows where it wills and the entire Church, as the People of God, is guided to the truth in agreement and disagreement. Respectful theological scholarship and the chasm of the laity (inclusive of the LCWR) which may call for a rethinking of certain moral teachings is not to be condemned or irresponsibly stifled.

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/15/2014 - 4:34pm

dunno, Tim. It all sure resonated with me and I don't consider myself a new age type.

Anyway, I made a mistake. The first article about Sr. Ilia was from the 2013 LCWR conference, not this year's. She sounds like another Teilhard It interested me enough to want to read more of what she has written. I think that the 72 age came from yet another talk that Sr. Ilia gave back in June 2014. But she put the age thing in context - what does it matter how old these women are. They have given birth to something that is new (and young!) and will live on long after they are gone.

Sr. Schreck's speech sounded prophetic. As one of the commenter says, it is reminiscent of the women and men of the earliest church as they are described in Gospel accounts of the first Easter Sunday:

"As "the men" were cowering behind the locked doors of the Upper Room and fearing for their lives, "the women" were at the tomb to care for the body of the Lord ... and became the first ones to know that He had risen!

Mary Magdalene is venerated in the Christian East as the "First Evangelist" to announce the Risen Lord! It's interesting, isn't it, that Western Christianity (including Roman Catholicism) venerates Magdalene primarily as the "sinful woman"!"

All the nuns that I know personally are 100% behind the LCWR. I thank God for them.

I'm very curious as to how Archbishop Sartain will respond to all this Wisdom.

Tim O'Leary | 8/15/2014 - 8:47pm

Beth - I think you make too much of a distinction of the Greek and Roman veneration styles of St. Mary Magdalene and neglect how the Tradition also speaks of the "sinful males" as well. Both sides accept she was the first to see Jesus risen, and both sides (e.g. Gregory of Tours in the West) have a tradition that she followed Our Lady to Ephesus with St. John. Jesus gave primacy to Peter even though the Tradition also emphasizes how he failed Jesus. And the Scriptures do not shy away from the sins of St. Paul either, before his vision on the Road to Damascus. A key component of the Christian story is that all saints have a past and all sinners a future. Even notorious sinners can be great saints, if they repent and accept the salvation the Lord offers them. Notice how who holds Mother Teresa in such great esteem. I think the LCWR is way to much "gender" conscious, simultaneously playing the victim and claiming a privileged status. But, I wouldn't mind that very much, if they did not depart from the Gospel, as I think they are in danger of doing.

As regards the age of the LCWR attendees, it only matters when one thinks of the demographic future of these orders, and their evangelical energy and enthusiasm. Here are some orders who have very young and energetic: and

The generation of baby-boomer Catholics, with their unique hyper-emphasis on VCII (as if it was apart from the whole Tradition) and change is already in retirement age and a new energetic generation in love with the Gospel, the Church Fathers and the fullness of the faith is rising up. The number of Catholics in the world has doubled since VCII. South Korea, where Pope Francis is now, is growing dramatically, and is predicted to be majority Catholic by 2044, almost from nothing. So, I remain confident that the Church is in good hands (as the Holy Spirit promises).

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/15/2014 - 5:20pm

Everything that the nuns do, say and are is rooted in the teachings and vision of the 2nd Vatican Council.They have not denied any Gospel truths, but they have expanded our understanding of what it is to live it.

Michael Barberi | 8/15/2014 - 8:16pm


I agree. The Holy Spirit blows where it will and he brings his seven most precious gifts and guidance to those that seek and love God and neighbor, not just to the hierarchy. Vatican II is still to be implemented including its call for collegiality and subsidiarity, an adequate voice for the laity and their charism, in particularly women. The LCWR should not be chastised for their respectful disagreement with certain teachings.

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/15/2014 - 10:56am

PS. I especially appreciated Fr. Z's post today (August 15) on the Assumption of Mary - even if I did have to access the site via a proxy server :-(

Abigail Woods-Ferreira | 8/14/2014 - 9:29am

I appreciate the direction America Magazine is going in by featuring many diverse Catholic voices, and I've enjoyed reading these interviews. "Father Z" has a substantial following and speaks for a segment of the church.

I think of the Catholic Church like I think about my family. Like the Magesterium, I absolutely respect my parents, but I don't always *agree* with them - though even when we disagree I try to see where they are coming from, appreciate their wisdom, and follow their lead. Like I disagree with many fellow Catholics, I definitely disagree with my brother and sister on many, many issues; my brother is a libertarian and NRA supporter; my sister is an atheist lesbian with communist sensibilities. They are both very good and decent people, and I would defend their personal integrity to the death. I have aunts and uncles and cousins from all over the spectrum of both beliefs and personality. I have a relative who-will-not-here-be-named who is a pot-stirrer extraordinaire, sort of like our own family "Father Z". But he is still family. We still invite him to Sunday dinner.

Like Father Z, I grew up Lutheran, and I joined the Catholic Church as an adult. Coming from a Lutheran Church that was still "high church" when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, with the "Thees and Thous" and the more literal translations of the (otherwise protestantized) Latin rite, I found the casual language of the Catholic liturgy to be unsettling. I went through a "traditionalist" phase. I still prefer Latin liturgy, though I prefer the Mass of Paul VI with Latin as opposed to the Extraordinary Form, and that is what I attend with my husband and children. In that sense, I sympathize with Father Z.

That said...I did grow out of my crankiness towards those in the Church who prefer otherwise. I grew out of that long ago. It is a big church; I have come to see that the spiritual, cultural, and even theological diversity of the Church is part of its beauty, and this has given me much peace. I think Father Z can be aggressive, and his criticisms can be snarky without being substantial, which makes him frequently both unfunny and unconstructive - just bitter, and occasionally juvenile.

The interview could have challenged him more on that. It is great that America is facilitating these conversations with many figures in the Church. I wouldn't want to see Father Z shut out - interviewing him was bold on America's part and I applaud that. But I would like to see them grill the interviewees a little more, especially when those interviewees are controversial.

Gordon Jewett | 8/13/2014 - 5:22pm

One of the most wonderfully enlightening aspects of being Catholic in the digital age is the variability of Catholic perspectives in the digital media. I have tried to explore the offerings available, and in doing so I came upon Fr. Z's blog. As we all know, there are countless blogs, each with it's owner's personal take on what being a Catholic is all about from their perspective. The variety helps me to think and ponder questions from perspectives different from my own. Fr. Z's blog is one of them. I have read it for several years, and one of the features I like is that fact he requires registration for all contributor's, just like America does. I assume it is the same for him as it is for them, an attempt to keep comments and discussion from becoming vitriolic. Which reminds me of the adage "divisiveness is from the devil", and if so, there is a whole lot of devilishness showing up in the comment sections of a whole lot of Catholic blogs.
Peace and God bless, and let us all pray for the Christians of the middle east.

Danny Oswald | 8/13/2014 - 10:55am

In typical Fr. Z fashion, he today comments on his article calling your magazine Amerika. His implication is that America is a commie-pinko leaning propaganda rag. This is the way he works by insulting everything that is not strictly conservative. If you give him the benefit of the doubt, he is just being clever or humorous. If you don't, he is insulting.

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/22/2014 - 9:58pm

Didn't Fr. Z know the nature and caliber of America magazine when he agreed to the interview? Did his opinion change because of reader comments?! Some comments are complimentary and some are not. Did he expect that he would be non-controversial, or that America would delete the comments that were not complimentary?

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/13/2014 - 10:05am

Personalities and rants aside, I am curious about the underlying theological basis of Fr. Z’s message.

I am not a trained theologian, but dabble in Catholic theology, from Karl Rahner to Hans van Balthaser to Joseph Ragzinger. I say dabble because I do not “study” these serious works, mostly just skim the surface for more insight into my faith. I love the Trinitarian concepts found in writers like Fr. George Maloney. And of course, I am a diehard fan of Merton, Rosemary Radford Ruether, the Berrigans, even Mary Daly. In other words, I like reading about Catholicism, where it has been, where it is going. I like hearing what those who take Catholicism seriously have to say about it, and how they live it. Like another commenter here, I devour everything that Pope Francis says.

This is where Fr. Z concerns me.

I was raised in a devout Catholic family in the 1950s and 60s. Went to daily Mass with my father at the Abby of Gethsemane in KY. We said the rosary as a family. I loved it all and when asked by the nuns at our Catholic school what order of nuns most appealed to me, I replied “the Carmelites”. All this went along pretty well until my late teens when almost all of a sudden none of it made any sense to me anymore. I mean, not going to Mass on Sunday was a mortal sin for which I would be sent to hell for all eternity? Getting to heaven was all about rules and regulations and some strange system of “indulgences”? And my father’s friend who died by laying down on the train tracks would be suffering in the fires of hell forever? Defiantly, and much to the horror of my parents, I refused to attend Mass with them anymore.

I was sent away to a Jesuit college, and fortunately had a very good theology teacher that first year. Fr. Harry Heiter SJ (Spring Hill College) reawakened in me a Catholic way of being in the world with his joy, and introduced me to writers (I’m remembering Erich Fromm now) who could show me the way to deeper meanings in life. Fr. Albert Foley SJ, the social studies teacher who took on the KKK in Mobile AL by himself, taught me that sin was not just personal, it was also social.

So when I read Fr. Z all up in a puff about the rules and making sure that we don’t fall into heresy, I feel like I’m in a time warp. I can’t help but think that he is stuck back there there in that childhood faith that I abandoned so many years ago. Richard Rohr calls it the 2 halves of life - where the first half we have to get the certainty and structure or else we can never move on to the 2nd half. Z says that he trying to bring us “poor people around”, but to me it feels like something I don’t need to go back to.

Beth Cioffoletti | 8/13/2014 - 5:32pm

Does the Catholic Church really condone teaching this God-in-a-box mentality to adults now, in 2014?

Jeanne Linconnue | 8/13/2014 - 2:31am

I no longer read America regularly and did not see this interview until today. If it's true that this man's blog is one of the "top ten" christian blogs in the world, it is a very sad commentary on the state of christians today and especially the state of Catholics. It would be much better to read the gospels and not waste one minute on the rants and venom that are so common on this man's blog. I am also sad that America chose to feature him.

Jennifer O'Connell | 8/13/2014 - 1:20pm

I think it's appropriate for America to feature him, but not in this way. He has a lot to account for and he should have been asked to do that.

Jeanne Linconnue | 8/16/2014 - 5:19pm

You are right that the interview played softball with a man who is known for hardball. Given the reality that the man cannot handle any criticism whatsover and permits on his site only those who are willing to feed his ego, it is likely he would have ended the interview had he been asked any tough questions.

So, since an interview that would ask him to "account for" the extremely negative influence he is in the Catholic blogosphere was probably not possible, given his history, America should not have showcased him at all. It is not always a good thing to provide a podium to those who are a negative voice in the church, who promote extreme divisiveness..

James Sullivan | 8/12/2014 - 2:38pm

Nothing about the Heart of Jesus from this priest. I can smell the "specialness" of this priest and the control--is there anyone else out there understands what I mean about the control? The dominance? The Alpha Catholic? Francis drives the conservatives nuts because as Pope he stays on message: have an encounter with Christ, a dialogue with Jesus, help the poor--I devour everything Francis says. I read Catholic media all the time and I never heard of this guy--and he plays the "hell" card--can you believe America magazine would print this nonsense? Sean: don't for one moment be seduced by the "specialness" of some priests. I had a wonderful SJ at Eastern Point Retreat House-- go there -go within Sean. The priests at Eastern Point and SFX in NYC are magnificent-- not this guy.

Tim O'Leary | 8/12/2014 - 10:53pm

Not sure the trip to Eastern Point worked for you, James, since the "Heart of Jesus" is very absent from your obvious disdain for this Catholic priest. You could at least have been more charitable and open-minded when you clamor for those qualities in others.

Jennifer O'Connell | 8/12/2014 - 10:56am

What a weak article. You didn't ask this man about his constant ridicule of the US president or his electioneering; you didn't ask about his extreme intolerance of Muslims; you didn't delve into his rather nasty wars with Catholic theologians and academics whose opinions he doesn't like; you didn't question his bitter, angry and vitriolic posts about women religious; you failed to inquire about his frequent posts on guns--he even once proposed priests should carry concealed firearms during Mass; you didn't ask about his ridicule of the Pope; you didn't get him to explain how it happens that he can live a decade away from his ordinary and his doctoral program, unsupervised in a foreign country (America) and support himself by begging for donations online (his Amazon wish list is disturbingly adolescent). These are important questions. It's one thing if they had gone unanswered, but unasked?

This odious man is one of the most divisive figures in American Catholicism today and you pitched him softballs. Why? Were you unaware and too lazy to do the homework? Were there preconditions for the interview which we should be told about? You owe your readers better. Shame!

C Lewis | 8/17/2014 - 9:16pm

I agree with the softball aspect of the interview. Although I was interested to read the subject's answers, as Ms. O'Connell points out, 90% of the meat of his blog was left untouched -- and there's a lot of questionable meat on his plate. My personal unfortunate exposure to his writing occurs in the form of his regrettable influence on young, uber-traditionalist young men who zealously troll more progressive websites and cause all manner of disruption with rudely orthotoxic comments...and brag about their fidelity to Fr. Z. I suppose the Church and the blogosphere are both big enough for everyone, but there isn't a lot of love or acceptance for anyone or anything but the most conservative orientation on his blog, and his point of view isn't very inclusive of others who have a different view. I left that vision of Church behind in about 1973.

Tim O'Leary | 8/12/2014 - 10:48pm

What a classic example of an intolerant rant. Shame indeed!

Jennifer O'Connell | 8/13/2014 - 1:18pm

You're right, I don't have a lot of toleration for reporters who don't do their job. All those issues that I mentioned are topics that Fr Zuhlsdorf should have been asked to explain.

Michael Barberi | 8/13/2014 - 4:44pm


I think those questions you mentioned regarding those issues should have been asked if a balanced article and interview is to contribute to a better understanding of theology and what is important to our salvation. It is not all about rigid conformance to rules and regulations, especially teachings that are respectfully disputed.

Kevin Murphy | 8/11/2014 - 11:39pm

True. Have you ever tried to post a negative comment on America contributor Father Dan Hogan's Dating God website? Good luck with that.

Frank Gibbons | 8/11/2014 - 8:09am

Why are these negative comments about Father Z allowed to stand and critical comments about Mary Gordon deleted?

Tim Reidy | 8/14/2014 - 9:28am

All commenters are required to use their real name, especially when they are offering critical comments.