In Pursuit of Truth

As I was reviewing some notes about “truth,” two quotations caught my attention. The first is from the US American writer William Faulkner (1897- 1962): “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” The other is from Colin Powell, United States Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005: “We have come to live in a society based on insults, on lies, and on things that just aren’t true. It creates an environment where deranged people feel empowered.”

My reflection this weekend is about the journey toward Truth.

Our contemporary world is experiencing a crisis in facts and truth, which also contributes to distrust in various political and religious institutions. The key question is how do we know what is true and what is not true when watching the news, listening to elected officials, listening to religious leaders, or using social media? 

Just a few years ago, Edward, one of my seminary students in my contemporary theology class told his classmates  I was a heretic. When I asked him to explain, he told the class that he had been reporting my lectures to “a theological expert” on the Internet. I asked who the “expert”was and Edward replied that he goes by the name of “Father Thomas.” Edward had no idea about the “expert’s” identity or background. “Father Thomas” made him feel good and told him to trust him, without questions. Today there are many Edwards following many a “Father Thomas.”

Sometimes I think the world is swimming in misinformation. Conflicting messages bombard us every day, about religion, politics, and of course Covid-19 and vaccinations. The daily newspaper, Internet news, websites, and social media all compete for our attention. Quite often each insists on a different version of “the facts.” They appear to suggest that truth is relative or simply a matter of personal opinion.

Nevertheless, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported recently that half of today’s US adults consider made-up news and information a very big problem. Made-up news and distorted information have a big impact on US Americans’ confidence in their government and their political leadership. Far-right religious polemicists create even more confusion and angry polarization. People on both sides of the spectrum complain about “fake news.” But absurd conspiracy theories are taken much too seriously.

Rather than making decisions on what is true or not true (the classic model), people today make decisions on what they feel or think is most probable. Narrow perspectives and narrow self-interest replace traditional law and order. So who is telling the truth? How can we know? What can we do? The Internet, of course can be a helpful tool, but it makes truth-finding ever more difficult. Once a lie is published online, it is difficult to trace, retrieve, or simply debunk it.

The simple and traditional answer about truth-seeking is that we know something is true if it is in accordance with measurable reality. In medieval times, however, people knew something was true because great authorities said it was true. Now that happens quite often today as well. In the Middle Ages, at the insistence of powerful institutions, like the Catholic Church, something was true because church authorities said it was true. No discussion. Case closed. This created problems of course. When, for example, Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) looked through his homemade telescope and saw mountains on the moon, objects orbiting around Jupiter, and the variations of lighting on Venus — all sights not in line with authoritative teaching — he decided to speak out. He was condemned by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, narrowly escaped being executed as a heretic, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Galileo courageously argued for a new way of knowing, insisting that what mattered was not what the authorities said was true but what anyone with the right tools could discover and show was true. He made the case for modern science. Truth is found in the quest for facts not in dogmatic teaching.

All human beings, whether they realize it or not, are on a fact-finding truth journey. Our destination is Ultimate Truth. In the meantime, we pursue smaller truths. We observe, we make educated judgments, and then, like the courageous Galileo, we act and speak out. 

Here, below, are some of my personal guidelines for truth-seeking:

(1)  A helpful tool today, when checking the accuracy of what one finds on social media and news websites is “” Founded in 1994, Snopes is a reliable resource to research and debunk urban legends, fake pictures, etc. I use it to check Facebook observations. Another helpful website is “” It is very helpful checking the news reports circulating on social media.

(2) We are not expected to have all the answers on our own. As we look for truth, we can turn to trusted sources for guidance. That may mean a trusted mentor, a well informed friend, an insightful public figure respected for her or his integrity, or a respected book using primary source material.  (When he was a university student, my historian son commented: “If there are no footnotes, it can’t be a good book.”)

(3) It is helpful as well to evaluate new information against known truth. As one comes upon new information, it helps to contrast it with what one already knows. It is also helpful of course to look for consistency between what was held before and now, a golden thread, realizing that we do grow in our understandings. 

(4) When truth becomes simply a personal or group fabrication, the understanding of reality is turned upside down. Discrimination and cruelty become the norm and compassion disappears. Extremist websites and groups gather more supporters. Self-advancement at any cost becomes the new virtue. History gets a new interpretation. Last week I read about a young Jewish university student who said that perhaps, given the socio-cultural situation at the time, Hitler’s extermination of six million Jews, unfortunately for them, could have been justifiable. Truth?

(5) When truth becomes simply a personal or group fabrication, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob becomes a do-it-self deity who condones and blesses criminal and immoral behavior. God becomes a monster who condones the hateful and murderous behavior of the new “faithful.”

(6) In looking for trustworthy and truthful spokespersons, I find it impossible to respect or rely on the words of people who, like a former US president, are dishonest and immoral in their personal behavior and enjoy denigrating women, ethnic and racial minorities, and gays. Such people are not truth-seekers but deceptive manipulators of people working to advance their own selfish and sinister goals.

(7) People like “Father Thomas,” who hide their identity and reveal nothing about their personal backgrounds or the sources for their information cannot be trusted. They are dangerous deceivers.

(8) Remember the old saying “the proof is in the pudding.” Some ideas might sound wise, but, when examined more closely, prove to be deceptively hollow. 

(9) Undocumented information or assertions are not immediately trustworthy and call for deeper and critical examination. In researching my family history (my genealogical hobby), for example, I have found a great many false assertions in family history accounts and recollections. One fellow told me that my wife and I have two children. No. In fact we have one but the ignorant fellow interpreted our son’s two first names as the names of two children. Crazy. Another self-proclaimed family historian – who is a bit arrogant — wrote that my paternal grandmother died in Indiana and is buried in Michigan City, Indiana. I wrote back that I was close by when grandmother died in Michigan not Indiana. I was at my grandmother’s funeral, and know for certain her remains are buried in Montpelier, Indiana. Not Michigan City. The “family historian” refused to believe me, so I sent a copy of grandmother’s death certificate and photos of the cemetery plot and name of the cemetery. The “family historian” thanked me for sharing my “opinion” about my grandmother’s death and burial. Unreal.

(10) As a longtime educator I really do have to stress the importance of quality education. Quality education equips students with the skills for critical thinking and analysis and enables them to observe, judge, and more fully understand what is true and what is false.

Evidence-based truth seeking is not just possible but absolutely necessary.

  • Jack

Jadot’s Calls to Action

Many have asked for a bit more background…. This week, therefore, one final Jean Jadot reflection.

I do understand and respect that some readers may not be very interested in more narrowly Catholic issues. Nevertheless, this book project has been a major life event for me, going back to the mid 1980s, when I met Jean Jadot for the first time.

Next week something else.

The Call to Action conference in Detroit (July 21 to 23, 1976) was the closest the Catholic Church in the United States has ever come to holding a genuine national assembly. It created sensational headlines and provoked heated responses, pro and con. Today it seems to be a mere footnote in US Catholic history. 

The idea for the Call to Action came from the Advisory Council of the United States Catholic Conference. Chaired by Detroit’s Cardinal John Dearden (1907 – 1988), the Advisory Council was composed of lay people, religious, and priests appointed by US bishops.  

Archbishop Jadot was strongly supportive of the Detroit Call to Action program in general, and of Cardinal John Dearden in particular. Dr. Frank Butler, former Executive Director, NCCB Committee on the Bicentennial Observance, stressed Jadot’s involvement in a personal email: “During the Call to Action conference Archbishop Jadot was an affirming presence. He gave warm encouragement to Cardinal Dearden there and later, when Dearden’s colleagues at the NCCB were giving him such grief for having provided a platform for so many voices.”

At the end of Call to Action in Detroit, twenty-nine recommendations were made. As Archbishop Jadot stressed to me on several occasions, many of the recommendations were considered far too radical by Philadelphia’s Cardinal John Krol (1910 – 1996) and many other bishops in attendance. There were recommendations, for example, to return laicized and married priests to their ministry, to ordain married men and of course to ordain women. They called for expressed freedom to practice contraception, for an open attitude toward homosexuality, and for the reception of communion by divorced and remarried Catholics. Recommendations of a social or political nature included supporting amnesty for Vietnam War resisters and undocumented immigrants.

Cardinal John Carberry (1904 – 1998), from St. Louis and a strong Jadot critic, was furious about the Call to Action; and Cardinal John Krol, sent negative reports to his hierarchical friends at the Vatican. (Not good for Jadot.)

With the recommendations from Call to Action still buzzing in their heads, the US Catholic bishops gathered for their autumn meeting in Washington DC from November 8 to 11. At this meeting, Archbishop Jadot gave his bicentennial address to the US bishops, titled “A Watchman for the House of Israel,” which was very much in the spirit of the Detroit Call to Action.

Jadot explained that his choice of title for his address came from the words of the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel 33:7:  “Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for the people of Israel. Listen to what I say, and warn them for me.”

Jadot saw the US Bishops as watchmen for US Catholics and told them:

“A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight….Our knowledge of history – the “magistra vitae” as Pope John XXIII called it – the insights coming from the modern sciences of psychology, ethnology, and sociology; our means of communications, all give us the possibility to see further and wider into the future than ever before…

“Now is the time to look ahead. Just as we can look at the sky at night and tell what the morning will bring, so we must be able to read the signs of the times to prepare for the future. This morning my brother bishops, I would like to share with you some of the signs that I read in our times so that we can see from afar and be prepared for what is coming…

(1) One problem that we will have to face very soon — at most within ten years — is the shortage of priests. I ask your permission to be frank and candid. I am worried that so many of us, laity, clergy, and bishops, do not seem to be concerned that, if not today, then in a very few years, we will not be able to staff our parishes and institutions with priests as we did in the past. 

(2) Another problem ahead of us which will grow in the coming years is the size of our Christian communities…People today, and especially young people, are searching for a group in which they can find a true communion of faith, of worship, and of commitment. Many are suffering from a certain feeling of loneliness…

(3) I should like to mention a third problem that is with us today and will undoubtedly increase in time. It is the problem of minorities. I refer to pastoral care for ethnic and racial minorities, both Catholic and non-Catholic… At times I wonder if the majority of our priests and people realize our shortcomings in these areas and even our arrogance towards our brothers and sisters in the faith who are in some ways different from ourselves…

(4) There are other problems either near or far on the horizon. I could mention the question of the role of women in society and in the Church or the problems that will come from the rejection of the traditional standards of morality in social, political, and business life.”

When Jadot concluded his address, some bishops applauded enthusiastically. Many others sat there silent and dumbfounded. Others sat staring angrily at the Apostolic Delegate. This autumn 1976 meeting with the US bishops was clearly a moment of transition for Archbishop Jadot in the United States. Nevertheless, history will be kind to him. He was wise, courageous, and prophetic. Jean Jadot: Paul’s Man in Washington.

  • Jack

Jean Jadot: Paul’s Man Washington

This weekend I am happy to announce that my biography of Archbishop Jean Jadot has been published. 

Jean Jadot (1909–2009) was a Belgian bishop and Apostolic Delegate to the United States from 23 May 1973 to 27 June 1980. His episcopal appointments were far different from those of his predecessor, Luigi Raimondi (1967–1973) or his successor, Pio Laghi (1980–1984).

The Jadot bishops, at the request of Pope Paul VI, were less big-business-type managers and more pastorally-oriented leaders with a generally open-minded and contemporary approach to Catholic life. Like Jadot, the Second Vatican Council was their inspiration. Jadot In his seven years as apostolic delegate, was responsible for the appointments of 103 new bishops and the assignments of 15 archbishops. 

The bishops appointed upon Jadot’s recommendation were quickly known as the “Jadot boys.” They were also quickly denounced by conservative US Catholics, after the 1976 Call to Action gathering in Detroit. After his address to the US bishops in Washington on 9 November 1976, in which Jadot very pointedly told the bishops what their reform agenda should be for the sake of the church in the United States, Jadot  became the target of bitter animosity from conservative bishops and laypeople. A close friend in Rome warned him at that time that “they” would now be “out to get him.”

Over the years the image of Jean Jadot has been distorted by some “progressives” as well as some “conservatives.” (All one has to do is Google “Jean Jadot.”) The first group often saw the Archbishop as a very liberal, progressive theologian. The second group saw him as an irresponsible modernist archbishop, who gave the United States its “problem bishops.” The truth of course, is in the middle.  Archbishop Jadot was not a far-out liberal theologian, but an open-minded and pastorally-oriented Apostolic Delegate, who was keenly aware that a changing world needed creative church leaders alert to the “signs of the times.” 

That some of the Jadot bishops ended up being less-than-exemplary bishops greatly pained Archbishop Jadot. On more than one occasion, he remarked that an apostolic delegate tries to research, consult, and come up with those whom he considers the best candidates for episcopal ordination and appointment; but no apostolic delegate is infallible.

Over a period of several years, with notebook and tape recorder in hand, I asked Archbishop Jadot questions, and he talked and offered candid observations. In the course of a friendship that lasted close to thirty years, Archbishop Jadot gave me access to documentation, correspondence, his diaries, photos, etc. I became his archivist as well, especially for documentation pertaining to his years in the United States. He was a wonderfully wise, warm, and supportive friend. 

Pope Paul VI held Archbishop Jadot in very high regard. Sentiments about Jadot at the Vatican, changed significantly, however, with the election of Pope John Paul II. In 1980, a physically worn-out Jadot offered his resignation to John Paul II. It was happily accepted. Jadot was called to Rome, where he worked in obvious papal disfavor for four years, as President of the Secretariat for Non-Christians (renamed “Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue” by Pope John Paul II in 1988.) During lunch with Archbishop Jadot one day in 1989, I asked him what it was like working at the Vatican after his seven years in the United States. He chuckled and then very seriously said: “I was given every courtesy but never any friendship.”

Unlike his predecessors and his successor, Archbishop Jadot was never named a cardinal. I vividly remember being with him, the day the announcement came out that his successor, Archbishop Pio Laghi, was being named a cardinal. Jadot had called me that morning and asked if he could drive over to Leuven for lunch with his friends at The American College. At the time I had not yet heard the news, but learned what had happened while he was on his way from Brussels. We met and had a delightful lunch. No one said anything about Laghi. After lunch, I walked him back to his car. Just before he opened the door, he turned to me: “Did you hear the news?” “Yes,” I said, “just after your phone call this morning.” “Well,” Jadot said, “I had to be with my US American friends today. It is not important to be a cardinal. What bothers me is that I know this is not about being a cardinal. It is a papal slap in my face.”

The last lengthy conversation I had with Archbishop Jadot was a couple years before his death. We shared critical observations about some not-so-positive developments in the church. Then he paused, looked at me, and said: “It is winter now, but spring will return.”

Although I had great affection and personal regard for Jean Jadot, I hope readers will find this book a well-documented and objective look at a man who had a major impact, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, on the Catholic Church in the United States. The focus of Jean Jadot: Paul’s Man in Washington, therefore, is the man Jean Jadot: his character, vision, and pastoral ministry. The book is not hagiography but history.

Writing this announcement about my book, I can’t help thinking about one of Archbishop Jadot’s successors: Carlo Maria Viganò, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States from 19 October 2011 to 12 April 2016. So very different from Jean Jadot, Apostolic Nuncio Viganò was not just a far-right conservative but a toxic trouble-maker. As Apostolic Nuncio he engaged in a massive personal coverup of sexual abuse by US bishops, was hostile to Pope Francis, and worked very hard to discredit and demean him. I am glad Archbishop Jadot did not have to witness all of this.

Today’s post is not a sales pitch but an update about a very important personal project. Archbishop Jadot had asked me to write this biography. The project took a bit longer than anticipated. The Archbishop had asked that publication not happen until after his own death and that of a few upper-level hierarchical personalities. Then came some unexpected publication twists and turns along the way. I am so very happy it is finally in print. If someone is interested in a copy of my book Jean Jadot: Paul’s Man in Washington, it can be found  on for a very reasonable price. It is available in paperback for $15 and as an ebook for $7. For people in Europe it is also available via 

Jean Jadot was a wonderfully kind and wise bishop; and, yes, Jean Jadot was a wonderfully wise, warm, and supportive friend. — Jack

The Changing US Religious Belief Landscape

The religious landscape of the United States continues to change rapidly.

The General Social Survey (GSS), by the Nonpartisan and Objective Research Organization (NORC) at the University of Chicago, has been asking US Americans, since 1988, what they believe about God. For decades, the answer did not change very much. Around 70 % of the Silent Generation, people born from 1928 to 1945, said they “know God really exists” and “have no doubts.” That same sentiment was shared by about 63 % of the baby boomers and the generation after them, Generation X.

In 2018, however, the millennials, people born from 1981 to 1996, expressed much less certainty about belief in God. Only 44 % had no doubts about the existence of God. More doubtful were members of Generation Z, people born from the mid-to-late 1990s to the early 2010s. Only 30% claimed certain belief in God.

No segment of US society, in fact, has been immune to the rise of religious disaffiliation. While it can be easy to say religious belief changes are driven by young people, is also strong evidence that older Americans are moving away from faith communities, as they enter their “twilight years.” A big factor is lost credibility in institutional religion. This is a strong factor in US Catholic church-departures but it is hardly just a Catholic issue.

Religious voters, especially white evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics have been the bedrock of the modern Republican Party. It’s well known that Donald Trump enjoyed overwhelming support from white evangelicals in 2020. Religious “nones” (people whose religion is “none”) backed Biden. 

It now appears, however, that the US conservative Christian tide is changing. The big change factors are that (1) the United States has become more multiracial; and (2) that larger shares of US Americans are simply leaving Christianity. Former Christians are either joining other religions or leaving entirely and joining the ranks of the religious “nones.” 

These trends in US religious belief create a consequential socio-political situation. In 2021, when about 26 % of US Americans have no religious affiliation, just 0.2 % of members of the US Congress identify as “nones.” Given the rapid religious change in the United States, it’s clear that the US political establishment does not represent what is truly a seismic shift in US society. Even more significant, however, is the fact that the declining far-right US Americans are becoming more angry, volatile, and violent. There is a real danger that US democracy will be  immobilized by hostile polarization.

But why are more US Americans becoming “nones”?

Some observers think the churches need more “evangelization.” I think that response is analogous to saying “take an aspirin if you have Covid-19.” The issue is more complex. The Christian share of the population is down and religious “nones” have grown across multiple demographic groups: white people, black people, and Latinx; men and women; in all regions of the country; among college graduates; and among those with lower levels of educational attainment. Religious “nones”are growing faster among Democrats but their ranks are actually swelling in both parties.

David Campbell, chair of the University of Notre Dame’s political science department, says a key reason for the Christian decline is an “allergic reaction to the religious right.” Many US Americans he stresses “see religion as bound up with political conservatism, and the Republican party specifically.” Christian nationalists, who believe the United States was established as, and should remain, a Christian country, have gone overboard with a broad range of measures to thrust their version of religion into US life.

I think another key reason for Christianity’s US decline is the way Christians have been behaving: individually and institutionally. In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus was asked about which commandment was the greatest. He replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Christians are called to walk alongside struggling people: an expectant mother facing an unintended pregnancy; a young man recovering from substance use; impoverished parents hoping to keep their family together; immigrants seeking a safe asylum; gay, lesbian, and trans people seeking acceptance. The human needs are great. How do Christians respond to them? How does institutional Christianity respond to them?  Last week I read about a young woman, a greatly liked and effective teacher in a Catholic high school, who announced that she is pregnant and the soon-to be-father is her boyfriend. The local diocesan head of education ordered the school principal to fire her immediately. 

A great Christian revival could break out if Christians focused more on loving God and caring for the most vulnerable.

I am not a pessimist. I suspect many people today are not necessarily rejecting God. They just  feel that many religious organizations have lost touch with reality and are too concerned with their own money, power, self-preservation, and official doctrines. Those religious organizations  are spiritually bankrupt. They are no longer able to speak to and address some of the big questions of our time. I really do think many people today, of all ages, want to be a part of something larger. They seek a new life-giving perspective. Many may not even know how to express it but are looking for a renewed spiritual belief, what I call a taste of the Divine. A meaningful church must listen and journey with them. 

A good friend joked, rather mockingly, about people who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” I don’t joke about it. I understand what is happening. Many of these people have a desire to live with integrity. They want to work for transformation and a more just, compassionate, and responsible world. Religions are good at giving answers. The spiritual quest begins with the opposite. It begins with the questions. Sometimes I fear that organized religion is not really listening to the questions of today’s searchers.  

I often think about the questions of the young husband and wife on the road to Emmaus, as reported in Luke. Jan Lambrecht (1926), my friend and Professor Emeritus of New Testament at our Catholic University of Leuven, calls it “one of Luke’s most exquisite literary achievements.” 

The two disciples are returning from Jerusalem after Jesus’ death. On the way they meet Jesus raised from the dead but don’t recognize him. They discuss with him their great sadness about recent Jesus events. They also invite the stranger to eat with them. Only later in their spiritual quest do they discern who their traveling companion is. They  say: “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us on the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32) 

On their life journeys, I am convinced many “nones” are indeed continuing their spiritual quests. We can help by traveling with them. I know, because I was once there.

  • Jack