Monday, March 30, 2015

A Lesson From Holy Week: The Danger of Mob Mentality

One of the saddest and most infamous chapters in New York City history is that of the "Central Park Five", in which one Hispanic and four black teenagers were falsely charged and convicted of a horrific crime. The story involved the brutal rape and beating of a young white woman in Central Park in 1989. The police, in their haste to solve this crime, arrested five teenagers. None of these teenagers up to this time had any kind of police record.

The police coerced false confessions from these young men, who were then charged and convicted, and served anywhere from 7 to 13 years in prison for a crime in which none of them were involved. Their lives were destroyed in many ways, and although 25 years later the City awarded them $40 million for this miscarriage of justice, their lives can never be made fully right.

At the time of their trials, New Yorkers viewed these teenagers as the personification of evil, which was fueled by the press coverage they received.  From a June 2011 article concerning the press coverage of this case:
Re-reading the coverage, it’s easy to see that frenzy and fear quickly began to strain editorial reason. The boys, all between 14 and 17 years old, were described by reporters and columnists alike as “bloodthirsty,” “animals,” “savages” and “human mutations.”
On April 23, Post columnist Pete Hamill wrote that the boys in custody had come “from a world of crack, welfare, guns, knives, indifference and ignorance…a land with no fathers…to smash, hurt, rob, stomp, rape. The enemies were rich. The enemies were white.”
The media has often been guilty of stirring up hatred against "bad guys".  One example is the very sad story of Richard Jewell, who was a police officer in Atlanta during the 1986 Olympics. There was a bombing at that time, and Jewell, who was 100% innocent, was "convicted" of this crime by the press even though he was never officially charged.  In later years he successfully sued several different press organizations for libel. However, the damage done to him had taken its toll and he died at the age of 44 in 2007.

Of course, the worst injustice in the history of mankind is that of the conviction and execution of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ's only real "crime" was loving mankind far more than our limited minds can ever comprehend. Mob mentality greatly contributed to the false conviction and crucifixion of this most innocent of all men.

This past Sunday, Palm Sunday, involved the Gospel reading in which the crowd calls for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I was greatly affected by this reading. Until this year, I have always gone to the Tridentine Mass on Palm Sunday. It is basically the same scriptures for each Mass. However, in the TLM, the scriptures are read while those in the pews listen. In the Ordinary Form, we in the pews participate in the reading of the Gospel, doing the parts of the "crowd."

A couple of the lines gave me a real jolt when I read them out loud. As part of the "Crowd", we say not once but twice, "Crucify Him!" I realized that I was not just mouthing words. I have, in effect, said these words each time I sin. I have said these words each time I refuse to love another. I have said these words each time I have tried to impose my will on God. We all have an intellectual understanding of our role in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But saying the words yesterday really shook me and made me realize that I am a very real part of the mob who crucified Our Lord.

What exactly causes a mob mentality? What causes people to want a scapegoat so badly that they will condemn an innocent person? This theme was explored very profoundly in an old Henry Fonda movie called, "The Oxbow Incident." In this movie, a town learns that a nearby rancher, Larry Kincaid, had been murdered. The town believes that cattle rustlers are responsible for the murder. One of the men in town says that three men with cattle bearing Kinkaid's brand have just entered Bridger's Pass, and therefore shouldn't be too difficult to catch. They form a posse to hunt down the murderers.  When they find these men, the man with the cattle tries to explain that he legally bought these cattle from the rancher, and that the rancher was very much alive when he left him. He cannot provide a bill of sale, so he is presumed guilty by the bloodthirsty posse, and they hang the man and those with them.

When the posse get back to town to proudly tell the sheriff what they have done, the sheriff replies that Lawrence Kinkaid was not killed, is under the care of the doctor in Pike's Corner, and that the men who shot him have already been arrested. Those in the posse now realize that, in their frenzy, they have murdered three innocent men.

I am seeing this same kind of "mob mentality" on far too much of the Catholic blogosphere. I expect it from secular sources, but as followers of Jesus Christ, our motivation should always be love. Love means not condemning but always looking for ways to build up. Yes, it is important to point out sin and evil, but we must learn from Our Lord, who never shied away from pointing out people's sins, but always did it in such a way never to condemn but as a call to repentance and to the love and mercy of God.

As I have posted here, I have been reading "The Dialogue" by St. Catherine of Siena. Yesterday I came across a very interesting passage. In Section 73, Page 171, God the Father tells St. Catherine:
All of you are trees of love: You cannot live without love because I made you for love. The soul who lives virtuously sets her tree's root in the valley of true humility. But those who live wickedly have set their root in the mountain of pride, and because it is badly planted it produces fruit not of life but of death.
Beginning on page 172, God the Father describes the flower of worldly people and the fruit resulting therefrom:
This flower of theirs gives off a stench of false and wicked judgment, and this in two ways. The first concerns me. They make wicked judgment on my hidden judgments and every mysterious way of mine. They judge with hatred what I have done in love. They judge with lies what I have done in truth, and with death what I have done for the sake of life. They condemn and judge everything by their own sick vision, since they have blinded their mind's eye with their own selfish sensuality and covered over the pupil of holy faith so that they might neither see nor know the truth.

Their other rash judgment is against their neighbors, and great harm often comes from it. For these wretched people do not know themselves; yet they would set themselves up as knowing the hearts and intentions of others, and on the basis of some action they see or some word they hear they would judge the intentions of the heart. My servants pass judgment only for good, because they are grounded in me, the highest Good. But these others pass judgment only for evil, because they are grounded in wretched evil. And their judgments often lead to hatred, murder and contempt for their neighbors, and pull them far away from the love of virtue that marks my servants.
Here are statements that can be found on just two Catholic blogs about one of the princes of the Church, Cardinal Timothy Dolan:
Cardinal Dolan is an IMMENSE failure as a Cardinal and a scandalous whining spineless one at that.
* * *
Cardinal Dolan is, well what's the word? -- a hypocrite who says, "Bravo!" to all things homosexual but sets his thugs on faithful Catholics? Or is the word worldly politician who acts like Obama's union warlords who strong arm any opponents who dare to show up at his political cheerleading events? Or is the word CEO, head of a "corporation" that cares about little besides money and power?
Or is the answer -- all three? God help us when these are the kinds of "princes" who lead the Church. It bodes ill for the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the family where Dolan will likely be one of the game masters.  
 * * *
Yes indeed, the smoke of Satan is in the sanctuary and in the rectories and Satan has plenty of sidekicks in the episcopacy. God help those false shepherds on Judgment Day. 
* * *

The following is from a Catholic blog written about Pope Francis:
I cannot imagine a worse example of Phariseism than this. At least, Stalin did not try to present himself as the “who am I to purge” dictator. This one here bitches around with every second breath, but has the nerve to play tolerant and non-judgmental.
I am, today, not talking about the sabotage of Catholicism that these rants – all of them, no exception – have as their only aim. I am talking about the sheer shamelessness of being the world champion of what he ceaselessly reproach to others: a cold-hearted enemy of Christ; a first-class Pharisee; and the bitchiest prelate on earth.

Is this truly the way Our Lord would want us to act towards one another? Or are these kinds of statements contributing to a mob mentality that is going to cause a severe backlash in the Church?  Shall we pray for one another, or just blast one another?

I do not judge the minds and hearts of people who write such things.  I actually do believe that for the most part, Catholic bloggers who condemn the hierarchy of their own Church truly do believe that they are doing the right thing.  But they need to look at the wider picture.  They need to see that this kind of action can never come from the Holy Spirit.  We can certainly question statements and actions of those in authority.  But as Our Lord Himself told us about those He has put in authority in His Church, "Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me."  (Luke 10:16).  

I have most certainly covered this topic before, but being in the midst of Holy Week, and meditating upon the events of this week and our part in them, I cannot help but bring it up again. It is not our job to sit in judgment of those whom God has ordained. I think that God can handle any wayward priests and prelates. He has set up His Church and given them authority. Certainly we must always be praying and sacrificing, and certainly we can address matters with the proper authorities. But to come out in public and make blanket condemnations is NOT the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

In "The Oxbow Incident", the man who owned the cattle and was falsely condemned and executed by the mob, Donald Martin, wrote a letter to his wife before he was lynched. He gave the letter to Henry Fonda's character who reads it in the saloon after everyone realizes the travesty they have committed. Here is a Youtube video of Henry Fonda reading that letter. Listen carefully, and think about this the next time you want to condemn another person:


  1. We can be sure that Christ would not be calling people "prometheans" or "neo-pelegians" either ... What a public example we have from the greatest authority ... why would you not include that in your post? Would this, according to you, be the "fruit of the Holy Spirit"?

    1. I actually did a post on this statement by Pope Francis. You will appreciate the title of my post: "Time to Turn In My Traditionalist Card?" I guess we all know the answer to that one.

      I wonder if you have read Evangelii Gaudium? It is a very important document with great spiritual insight. The passage you are referring to is from a section entitled, "No to Spiritual Wordliness." I quote from it here:

      "This worldliness can be fuelled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity."

    2. This is what I wrote in explanation of the statement by Pope Francis:

      "What in the world is "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism"? Taking it apart: self-absorbed, of course, is someone whose main interest is himself, who is basically looking inward and not outward towards God or his fellow man. "Promethean", according to the dictionary, means "creative; boldly original." In mythology, Prometheus defied the gods and stole fire from heaven and gave it to humans. Therefore, to be "promethean" in the sense that Pope Francis uses it, means to take for ourselves what belongs to God. "Pelagianism" was the heresy of denial of original sin and man's ability. apart from God, to choose good or evil. When the Holy Father talks about "neopelagianism", he means someone who believes they can choose good or evil without the guidance of the Magesterium of the Catholic Church and, by extension, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Father ends this sentence with "those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past." Instead of listening to the Church, they listen only to what they want to hear, only to those things that please them, and block everything else out.

      Therefore, "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism" is basically a Catholic who has made himself his own Magesterium, deciding for himself what is right or wrong in the church, and what is important and not important, completely disregarding the teachings of the Church's Magesterium. Pope Francis is warning us that this can actually take on the appearance of true spirituality because it is using the forms of spirituality without the substance, and therefore can be very deceptive. This spiritual wordliness, as the Holy Father warns us, is self absorbed and not really concerned about Jesus Christ or others."

      As you can see from this explanation, Pope Francis is not engaging in name calling or condemnation. He is giving a very profound warning to those who are caught up in the mob mentality of attacking him and other Church authority. I have listened to this warning, and that is why I am now on the opposite side of the fence of where I once was.

      If you would like to read my post, it is here:

      Much more important, I would suggest that you read Evangelii Gaudium for yourself, and not just listen to what other people say about it. That will only lead to mob mentality.


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