Gershon Hepner

How to Resolve the Catholic Church’s Problem

Ross Douthat writes that there is a debate

between two cardinals, George Pell and Robert McElroy.

Their conflict I most shamelessly can state

as an outsider I schismatically enjoy.


Reactionary is what George Pell seems to be,

While Robert McElroy, it seems, is a radical,

and I’ll now go where it appears to me

this conflict leads, and then take a sabbatical.


The Hebrew word for their debate, mahloqet,

denotes a problem nobody can solve,

but you don’t need to, so please do not mock it,

 “Agree to disagree,” helps it resolve.


Instead of saying Mass in ancient Latin

they maybe should say all their prayers in

the tongue that Jesus used to chat in,

for Mass translation apps apotropaic.


I think the Catholic Church may split in two,

both parties saying this: “We win, you lose,”

meanwhile forgetting Jesus was a Jew.

I rest my case. It needs help from the Jews.


In “The War Between the Catholic Cardinals,” NYT 1/28/23, NYT, Ross Douthat writes:

The death of the pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, was succeeded by a small literary outpouring, a rush of publications that were interpreted as salvos in the Catholic Church’s civil war. The list includes a memoir by Benedict’s longtime secretary that mentioned the former pontiff’s disappointment at his successor’s restriction of the Latin Mass, a posthumous essay collection by Benedict himself that’s being mined for controversial quotes, and an Associated Press interview with Pope Francis that made news for its call to decriminalize homosexuality around the world.

Amid all these words, two interventions deserve particular attention. One isn’t exactly new, but the revelation of its author elevates its importance: It’s a memorandum, intended for the cardinals who will elect Francis’s successor, that first circulated in 2022 and has now been revealed by the Vatican journalist Sandro Magister to be the work of Cardinal George Pell of Australia, a leading conservative churchman who passed away just after Benedict.

Beginning with a bald declaration that the Francis pontificate has been a “catastrophe,” the memorandum depicts a church falling into theological confusion, losing ground to evangelicalism and Pentecostalism as well as secularism, and weakened by financial losses, corruption and lawless papal governance. (On the climate within the Vatican, Pell writes: “Phone tapping is regularly practised. I am not sure how often it is authorized.”)

The other is a long essay by Pell’s fellow cardinal, Robert McElroy of San Diego, that ran this week in America, the Jesuit magazine. It shares with Pell’s memo a premise that the church faces debilitating internal divisions, but it argues that division should be resolved through the completion of the revolution sought by the church’s liberals. In particular, McElroy urges the church to shelve any meaningful judgment on sexual relationships and to open communion to “all of the baptized,” presumably including Protestants. Only this kind of radical inclusion, he suggests, has “any hope of attracting the next generation to life in the church.”

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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