Must Read – A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward by Ralph Martin

I am very pleased that Dr. Ralph Martin has published  A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward. It is a revised and updated version of a critically important book he first published in the early 1980s. I call it a critically important book for personal and important reasons. Permit a brief story before we examine the book.

When I entered the seminary in 1984, it was a very dark time in the Church; darker even than now. At that time there was no official and agreed upon Catechism of the Catholic Church (that would come in 1994), there was no internet, and very few periodicals that presented a voice differing from the prevailing progressive views that dominated among parish priests, chanceries, Catholic colleges and seminaries. In a way it was like the wild West. Anyone could claim almost anything was Catholic and “in the spirit of Vatican II.”

Upon entering the Seminary, I was often shocked by what I was taught. Many of the priest-professors (not all) denied that Jesus really worked miracles, claimed to be God, or even knew he was God. They taught” that most of what he is recorded as saying, he never really said, most of what he was recorded as doing he never really did, he did not rise bodily from the dead, and there is little we really knew about the “Jesus of history;” he barely existed at all! Many of us were also treated to a steady diet from certain faculty of things such as why women should be ordained and that the rosary and Eucharistic Adoration were vestiges of the “pre-Vatican II Church.”

I was poorly catechized, having come through the terrible sentries of beige Catholicism, but I knew something was deeply wrong here. To say that I was dismayed, alarmed, and angered would be an understatement. I surely did not come to seminary to have my faith snatched away or have my vocation questioned by faculty who didn’t even seem to believe in the Nicene Creed or the veracity of Scripture. The few of us who questioned such things were labeled as “rigid” and considered poor candidates for the priesthood. Many were run out of the seminary by poor evaluations from the faculty. Others learned to stay silent and take counsel with the faithful and orthodox faculty we could find, or to look for other sources of truth often published by what many faculty considered then, as “renegade” publishers such as Tan Books or the Wanderer newspaper.

A Book that Saved my Vocation and faith: It was at this time that someone alerted me to a book published by Ralph Martin in 1982 called A Crisis of Truth: The attack on Faith Morality and Mission in the Catholic Church (Servant Books, Ann Arbor Michigan). This was a book that I credit with saving my vocation and, frankly, my faith! Over the years I have repeatedly thanked Dr. Ralph Martin for his voice in those days of confusion, ambiguity and outright dissent. He concisely and clearly laid out the roots and branches of dissent and error:

  • The denial that there was one truth to which all were summoned.
  • The undermining of the authority and infallibility of the Word of God
  • The silencing of the Gospel.
  • The remaking of the biblical Jesus.
  • The denial that Jesus is the only way.
  • Secular influence and the emergence of a merely social gospel.
  • The dismissal and undermining of sexual morality
  • The minimizing of the Day of Judgment and the need for repentance
  • Pastoral passivity
  • And many other topics as well.

It was a masterful treatment and very credible as well. Ralph Martin was a leader in the Charismatic “wing” of the Church and could hardly be labeled as part of some reactionary and reflexively conservative movement. Like a wise steward he drew from his storehouse the best of the new and the best of the old. (cf Matt 13:52). The book was a guide to all that was wrong, stated the clear and defined teaching of the Church  and announced the way back through courage and action.

I joyfully heard the news last year that Ralph was going to publish an updated version of the book. Many of us have observed to our great dismay the resurgence of the confusion and open dissent that marked the 1970s through the 1990s. Dr. Martin notes this himself in the opening chapter of his revised, expanded and new book: A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward:

…The doctrinal, moral and pastoral problems that have emerged during Francis’ pontificate are not unique to him or this time. In many ways they are a recurrence of very similar confusions that my original book back in 1982 identified. And going back even further the issues connected with the “modernist heresies” are once again with us. They are now back, sometimes in very similar appearance as they had many years ago, and sometimes in new forms but bearing with them the same underlying infidelities and rebellions.

In A Church in Crisis, Martin does not, like some, merely criticize the Pope. He praises what is good, true and beautiful in Pope Francis’ writings, statements and actions. But it is a sober reality that Pope Francis has been ambiguous on many occasions and seemingly signaled that old doctrinal and moral dissent can safely be reasserted. As Catholics, both clergy and laity, we have the right and duty to enter into a vigorous analysis of resurgent errors and to both clarify and denounce where necessary such errors. A Church in Crisis both describes the resurgent errors, sets the record straight about the true and proper Church teaching and thereby corrects erroneous notions confirms the true faith for believers of every rank. Dr. Martin does this with a great confidence in the inerrant truth of God’s word and the definitive teachings of the Church through the centuries. The book is well footnoted, scholarly but also very readable.

While the fundamental topics are similar to his 1982 book as listed above, they are freshly treated with their current manifestations described and critiqued. We are indeed a Church in crisis and too many of us are either complacent or complicit in the spread of error and confusion. Clergy are too silent but so are the laity in their homes and in their witness to the world.

Dr. Martin expands his treatment on universalism which has grown worse since the 1980s. Universalism is the error that states all or the vast majority of souls, will go to heaven; that Hell is a remote possibility. This conflicts with hundreds of verses of Scripture, and Jesus’ clear and consistent teaching that many are on the road to damnation, and “few” are on the road to salvation. This sober teaching by Jesus himself is rejected by many out of hand. Obviously, it damages our understanding of the need for on-going repentance and living a moral life, the need for sacraments, prayer and the Word of God. It turns religion into a hobby and simply promotes all to heaven whatever their beliefs, lifestyle, actions or character. Universalism makes evangelization largely unnecessary, summoning people to repentance is also unnecessary, even a form a hate. Universalism stabs urgency in the heart and makes preaching the gospel and calling others to repentance pointless and even cruel. It is clear that unless we get the doctrines of judgement and Hell right, we aren’t going to make much progress.

You need to read A Church in Crisis and get fifty of your closest friends to do the same. I am going to use the book for my Young Adult study group after Easter. Frankly most of them “get it” more than my generation and others even older. They have grown up in the wasteland created by the iconoclastic generation of my “baby-boomer” confreres.

Thanks be to God that Ralph Martin has republished and updated his book from the 1980s. I pray that many others, like I did on the awful 80s will now benefit in very dark times from these rays of truth and clarity. I do not exaggerate when I say Dr. Ralph Martin saved my vocation and faith back in the 1980s and I pray he will reach many others in this important reissue and update. It is an essential work to be read by all.


7 Replies to “Must Read – A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward by Ralph Martin”

  1. Hello, my last comment was not posted on here. Was there something offensive in the body? that was not my intention. Would there be a way to get feedback as to what was objectionable about it?


  2. Monsignor,
    I have been looking for the true faith. I thought it was Catholicism. But learning now that they teach laity and priests errors and they obviously don’t act the faith (abuses galore) how can it possibly be the true faith. I admit I am gravely disappointed to the point of wanting to leave the Church. I don’t understand how to follow corrupt church leadership and teachings. That’s a cult not the faith. Sincerely seeking.

  3. i know that you are a priest of integrity. I’m not attempting to change your mind; I’m also not arguing that there isn’t a real danger to an apathetic hopeful universalism; with that said, i would here say this: my hopeful universalism is best described by Song of Songs 7:10. I know He loves me, and while i can easily imagine screwing everything up myself; i have experienced His love, over and over again; He amazes me; He acts as though I am a lost sheep and He looks for me without an end to His love.

    I don’t ever try to do anything to abuse this love; it is my desire to serve the poor and spread His love to the world. Knowing how much He loves me; I have the slightest sense of how He loves every other human, and I want nothing more than that those He loves would spend every instant of eternity with Him. For if He loves them as He loves me, i struggle to understand how they will escape His love.

    But again, I am not apathetic to the souls of the dead. I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet twice a day for the dead; every Cross I see on the side of the road, i take as an invitation to pray for God’s mercy. now, i will grant that i am a fool, but i say these things to offer up a perspective, my hopeful universalism has inflamed my love for Him and my neighbor it has not made me apathetic.

    I would also say this , and i appreciate that mr martin knows these people even better than i. But Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, the second Sunday of Easter, the Fatima prayer, St Anselm’s third prayer to Mary, each of these people and events hint at His extravagant love, and especially the mystics, it seems to me that when they come face to face with His love they are overawed by how omnipotent that love is. St Catherine’s statement that God is mad with love for us, or Anselm’s exclamation that even the fallen angels would be restored, or Dame Julian’s befuddlement in the face of sin to which Our Lord states that All Shall be Well; these things leave me hopeful.

    I have known sin. as a child my innocence was destroyed between the ages of 7 and 12, and subsequently i was enslaved by junk’s narcotic call for many years. I have known what it means to be sinned against and to sin. From the age of 3 i was convinced of my own damnation, when i was a child i would look at a campfire and imagine spending forever in its center. I have known sin and have contemplated damnation. my universalism is not cheap. I offer a daily Chaplet for the one who destroyed my innocence, I want Jesus to spend eternity with this one whom He loves so much, even if i cannot stand to be to close to him. This universalism costs me a great deal

    but what about Matthew 25. I would offer this: that parable is a story of judgement for the sheep. At the instant the goats are damned, they are the poorest of the poor and in that instant, should i somehow be a sheep, may God preserve me, my only thought will be to pray the words of the Divine Mercy: Lord for the sake of your sorrowful passion, have mercy on them and on the whole world, and Fr. Pope, I believe He will; i’m sorry, i know how dangerous that sounds, but where sin abounds, grace abounds even more; this has to be true, it’s the only hope i have.

    1. Actually Matt 25 is the judgment of the nations, the gentiles who know not the Law

      1. In part, but a quick review of how the saints read Sacred Scripture shows that every word has multiple meanings. St John Eudes, for example, takes one line from a verse in the Song of Songs and unpacks 6 different meanings.
        Furthermore the meaning you point to doesn’t mean the sheep are off the hook. The sheep are confronted with the poor; have the rules suddenly changed and now the rich sheep are free to let the poor goats suffer without intervening on their behalf. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

  4. Like most “serious” Catholics, I need encouragement that there are others who believe in, and search for truth. When I see so many Catholics with a relativistic ideology, especially priests and Bishops, that is discouraging. Thank you Monsignor.

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