Three Prophets Pass From the Scene: Pope Benedict, Pat Buchanan, and George Neumayr
I’m feeling … lonely. With the deaths of Pope Benedict XVI and courageous Catholic journalist George Neumayr, and the retirement of Patrick J. Buchanan from writing his column, I feel as if the tiny band of brothers I joined long ago just got shattered by a grenade. The number of public Catholics with clear sight, courage, and spiritedness seems to be dwindling rapidly.
I already expressed here my disappointment with the tactic Pope Benedict chose for dealing with Church corruption and mass apostasy — retirement and retreat. I did feel abandoned when he left the papacy, without doing what was within his power (firing bad cardinals, appointing good ones) to make sure that his successor would in fact be a Theist, much less a Christian, much less a Catholic. I needed to vent about that.
Perhaps it was easier than admitting how much I’d missed Benedict since his foolish choice to retire. How wonderful it was, every Wednesday, to read his weekly reflections: always wise, and erudite, and full of the spirit of genuine Christian love for souls.
Now he is dead and buried, and most of his legacy with him. The wholesome movements he encouraged within the Church, for more reverent worship and solemn contemplation, get choked off one by one by the sneering globalist ideologue who now squats on the papal throne.
Before a Pope, a Prophet
But we can’t let Pope Benedict’s naïve mistake — trusting his fellow Catholic bishops to do the right thing — eclipse his legacy as a Christian thinker, indeed a prophetic one. He stood courageously against the tide of cultural Marxism that swept through Europe’s universities and its churches starting in 1968. While his fellow highly educated Catholics fell all over themselves to stay “fashionable” and win the good will of increasingly radical activists and faithless scholars, Josef Ratzinger stood firm. He refused to explain away the miracles of Jesus, or His “hard sayings” and moral demands, to please post-modern demands of smug, comfortable “Christians.”
In fact, Ratzinger swam energetically against the rushing tide of doctrinal surrender and cultural vandalism. In book after book, article after article, he gently but firmly pointed out the gross intellectual errors, laziness, and cowardice that marred his colleagues’ work. He wrote exquisite books on the central point and purpose of Christianity: the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He warned against Utopian ideological movements, and even had the courage to point to harsh truths about Islam — this in a continent where all “respectable” people are too timid to make a squeak.
Pope Benedict’s resignation left a power vacuum in the Church, which heretics rushed to fill. Josef Ratzinger’s death leaves a hole in my heart.
A Journalist Without Fear or Favor
Another recent loss that touches me more personally was the unexpected death of the bravest, most effective truth-telling Catholic journalist of our time, George Neumayr. A big part of the sex abuse crisis in our Church, and in its ongoing decline in America, can be traced to the chicken-heartedness of Catholic reporters and writers. Few of us wanted to “cause a scandal” by telling the truth about abusive priests, well into the 2010s. Few were willing to “burn a bridge” to potential employment or influence by holding accountable bishops and priests who were feeding the faithful sugar-coated poison, in the form of false doctrine and watered-down moral teaching.
George was a luminous outlier, a bluntly truthful believer who held our leaders to the Creed, and called them out when they lied. As his friend (and fellow courageous journalist) Christine Niles wrote:
He was a man of honesty and integrity. He understood the purpose of journalism: to confront and expose corruption, especially among the powerful and the elite, and he did so fearlessly.
Unlike most journalists, satisfied to research from the comfort of their desks, George was a shoe-leather investigator who went straight to the scene. Because of that, he broke stories no one else did. In fact, he broke some of the biggest stories in Catholic media — and never received the credit he deserved.
It was George who discovered where Cdl. Theodore McCarrick was living in 2018, during the Summer of Shame, when it was revealed to the world America’s most powerful cardinal had been a homosexual predator.
McCarrick is the prelate who picked most of the prominent bishops in America, still running the Church into the ground. He also negotiated the Vatican’s scandalous alliance with Communist China, and its sellout of faithful believers in that totalitarian country.
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It was George who exposed [disgraced Cardinal Donald] Wuerl’s lush living quarters in a $43 million property on D.C.’s elite Embassy Row — a discovery that led to questions about Wuerl’s handling of archdiocesan funds.
It was George who exposed the alleged double life of Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. George exposed Rossi’s links to Scranton priest Fr. Andrew Hvozdovic, both of whose names are on the deed to a Florida beach property on Fort Lauderdale’s pricey Galt Ocean Mile — a well-known gay hotspot.
He also exposed Rossi’s condo in Atlantic City, NJ, a place he shared with disgraced homosexual priest Matthew Riedlinger, caught in a gay, underage sexting sting in 2013.
Why Are You Citing Him? He Has the Cooties!
I would catch heat from influential Catholics even for quoting George Neumayr’s reporting in my own columns. (One tried to pull strings to get me fired.) Nobody questioned his truthfulness. Instead, they made baseless ad hominem attacks, or cast doubt on his motives — the sure sign of people complicit in covering up for squalor. George soldiered on, despite nuisance lawsuits from bishops and blanket bans forbidding him from setting foot in certain cathedrals. He couldn’t imagine refusing to tell the truth just because of what it might cost him.
George died suddenly of malaria during a trip to Ivory Coast, where he’d gone to pursue a romance, and report on the local church. I spoke to him just before he left the country, without imagining that I’d never hear his voice again.
His death, for American Catholics, is a tragic loss. But for him, a faithful believer who’d toiled decades in the wilderness, I’m sure it was gain. I am confident that the first words he heard on crossing over were these, which we all long to hear:
Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. (Matt. 24:34-36)
The Man Who Was Right About … Everything
Last, I must mention the retirement of my North Star, Patrick Buchanan. I backed him for president in 1992 and 1996 (when I served as an alternate delegate for him at the Republican convention). I read his brave, far-seeing books as they came out. I had the honor of meeting him a few times over the decades — and wasn’t surprised at his modesty, kindness, and good humor. Most of all I read his dogged, courageous columns, which Pat kept carefully crafting over the decades.
How many people saw back in the late 1980s that mass immigration was impoverishing and Balkanizing our country? How many people knew as early as 1992 that the left was waging a multifront “religious war” against Christians and our institutions?
How many knew (and were willing to say, in the hysteria after 9/11) that the Iraq war was a foolish and futile adventure? The mark of a genuine patriot is his willingness to speak unpopular truths for the sake of the country he loves.
Pat was one of the few, and he inspired the rest of us to emulate his bravery. His voice and his example helped make possible the triumphs of Donald Trump, and laid the groundwork for the resurgence of patriotic populism in a once-arid GOP corrupted by its elites.
Enjoy your rest and retirement, Pat. Some of us are glad to pick up and carry your torch.
It is not the function of prophets to enjoy laurels and honors. The best of them end up at the bottom of a well in ruined Jerusalem, or headless at Salome’s whim. But their brave witness plants seeds and waters green shoots. The flowers that bloom in their wakes will form their real memorials.
John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”