Thomas Wictor

The sword is mightier than the mouth

The sword is mightier than the mouth

Yesterday a writer got angry at me for pointing out that her Facebook post opposing the canonizing of the late Pope John Paul II was a waste of time. And I was right. The canonizing went ahead. The writer said that her task is to speak out against the Catholic church because of the ongoing coverup of sexual abuse by priests. Nothing wrong with that. But the sword is mightier than the mouth. What would get the attention of the church is criminal indictments, not Facebook posts.

There was never any chance that speaking out would derail the canonizing of John Paul II. Pope Francis is intimately familiar with the church coverup of priest sexual abuse, having taken part in it himself. As the current pontiff, he sends mixed messages.

Pope Francis has asked for forgiveness for the “evil” damage to children caused by sexual abusers in the clergy.

He said the abuse was a “moral damage carried out by men of the Church”, and that “sanctions” would be imposed.

The statement, made in a meeting with a child rights group, is being described as his strongest the issue so far.

Last month, Pope Francis strongly defended the Roman Catholic Church’s record on tackling sexual abuse by priests, following UN criticism.

The pope wants forgiveness for people who have never repented and who were never brought to justice. That’s not a reasonable request. Also, what actions has the church taken that he strongly defends?

None of what I say should be construed as an attack on the Catholic church. I have a lot of respect for Catholicism, even though I don’t practice it. As a military historian, I also have a lot of respect for Catholic priests. Their religion requires that they administer the Last Rites as a person is dying, so Catholic chaplains go into combat, unarmed and usually unarmored. They have the highest rate of being killed in action of any chaplains.

Father Joseph O’Callahan administering the Last Rites to a sailor on the USS Franklin aircraft carrier, March 19, 1945, while the ship burned and exploded after the Japanese bombed her.

Father John R. McNamara administers the Last Rites to photographer Dickey Chapelle in South Vietnam November 4, 1965. McNamara and Chapelle were accompanying US Marines on a search-and-destroy mission. Father McNamara wears no flak vest.

Father Hugh Black—beer in hand—accompanies a combat patrol in Vietnam. Again, no flak vest.

My mother was a devout Catholic. Here she is at her First Communion.

There’s much to admire in Catholicism. For example, the Four Cardinal Virtues.





In Ghosts and Ballyhoo, I deliberately chose the term “the Cardinal Ghost” because of its Catholic undertones. Catholicism permeates the book in many ways, most of them subtle and some of them not. My fascination with Saint Michael the Archangel is no secret.

As you can see from the design of my Website, I like Catholic architecture. I also like ancient Catholic music. One of my favorite songs is “O ffondo do mar,” by Alfonso X, king of Castile and Leon (1221-1284). This song is about eight hundred years old, but it’s lost none of its power.

It’s about how a woman and her daughter fell off a ship and prayed for help. In response, Saint Mary made the bottom of the ocean into firm land and saved them. The notion of salvation appeals to me. However, even as a child, I wasn’t able to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God and had died for my sins. My own First Communion was not valid; I simply mouthed the words that the adults wanted from me. I had to stop attending church because I was only going through the motions.

But I’m not antagonistic toward the Catholic church. Tim wouldn’t mind me saying that he’s extremely opposed to the Church, if only in the sense that he despises the hierarchy for refusing to stop the sexual abuse by priests and punish the offenders. Here’s Tim at his own First Communion.


Carrie, Paul, and Pat are with him. I was probably under car arrest. That was usually the case.

This brings me back to what I said before: The sword is mightier than the mouth. If you want the Catholic church to change, you need to start the wholesale criminal indictment of those who commit the crimes and cover them up. That won’t happen, ever. Humans are flawed, fallible creatures; very few Catholics—or atheists or people of other religions—live by the Four Cardinal Virtues.

At a White House luncheon on June 26, 1954, Winston Churchill said the following.

To jaw-jaw always is better than to war-war.

The obvious question is, “Better for whom?”

Oh, in a perfect world, it’s better to talk things out than to go to war, but if I were president of the United States, I would’ve sent nuclear weapons to all of Eastern Europe by now. Why would that be a problem? Nobody has to use them. Still, if you want Russia to stop destabilizing and then invading its former slave states, you need to give Putin a big enough incentive to change his behavior. Everything is a cost-benefit analysis. Appealing to someone’s better nature works only when he or she has a better nature.

Some people think that all world conflict is simply a result of countries not understanding how “hurtful” their actions are. For example, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki tweeted the following on April 24, 2014.

The hashtag she’s talking about is “UnitedforUkraine.” The official State Department policy is therefore to hope that a brutal, corrupt, violent oligarchy will play nice. I can tell the State Department that Russia will not live by the promise of the hashtag because Putin has done a cost-benefit analysis. The benefits of invading his neighbors outweigh the costs. If all his neighbors had the ability to inflict massive damage on Russian forces, he wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing.

So, the “jaw-jaw” going on right now is better for the Russians, not their neighbors.

Catholics are free to run their religion as they sit fit. I’m not a Catholic anymore. But if you genuinely want a change, and if you want justice for people who were savagely abused and tossed aside, what you need is less talk and more action: police raids on bishops’ offices. Clerics led away in handcuffs.

That’s a pipe dream with no chance of ever coming to pass. Most people won’t do what’s necessary to solve any problem. The reason is that they think the solution is too “harsh.” I’ve been told many times that I’m too harsh. It doesn’t bother me. I’m interested in improvement, not impotently wringing my hands for all eternity.

A quote from the novel Shibumi has stayed in my mind for over thirty years.

Who must do the hard things? He who can.

Don’t ever elect me president. You’d want me impeached within a week.

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