Under the leadership of the progressive Pope Francis, the Roman Catholic Church is undoubtedly in an era of change. But despite 90 percent of Catholics viewing the head of the church favorably according to Pew Research, a vocal minority of traditionalists believe Francis is leading the church astray from its roots.
The Rev. Ladis Cizik is one such priest who regularly speaks out against what he calls the “identity crisis” happening within the Catholic Church. Serving in residence at Our Lady of Joy Parish in Plum Borough, Cizik is known for fundamentalist views.
Jim Jiuji, a member of Our Lady of Joy for almost 30 years, is familiar with Cizik’s conservative sermons.
With a laugh, Jiuji says, “He’s really devoted. Deeply devoted.”
Despite what others think, preaching and “standing up for the truth” is what Cizik loves about being a priest.
“I’m not trying to win a popularity contest,” Cizik said. “I’m trying to save souls.”
Cizik is passionate about his faith, and says he always felt a calling from God to enter the priesthood. As a child, he would play pretend-priest with his friends.
“My mother had an old drape that I used as a chasuble, and I had my buddies that served as my altar boys,” Cizik said. “When I distributed communion I would have Necco Wafers for them.”
After graduating college from Duquesne University as an accounting major, he worked for five years at the accounting firm Price Waterhouse. He was successful and enjoyed his job, and remained a devout Catholic.
“My Catholic faith was always strong,” Cizik said. “When I was on the road I made sure to get to mass every Sunday. I took other accountants with me to church on holy days and reminded them, ‘We’re Catholics, we should be in church.’”
But despite his accomplishments, Cizik still felt “a calling from God” to become a priest, and ultimately left his job.
After joining the priesthood in 1987, he embarked on a number of pilgrimages including missions to Fátima, Portugal; Rome and San Giovanni Rotondo.
After almost 30 years in the priesthood, Cizik has seen how the various changes in how mass is practiced have affected the Catholic Church. He says that after the Second Vatican Council, the general focus of worship has shifted.
“Prior to Vatican II, we were a God-centered church. And then after Vatican II, we became a man-centered church in many ways,” he said.
For example, Cizik says that changes like putting the tabernacle to the side of the altar instead of at the center or having the priest face the people during mass instead of the Eastern horizon send a message that people are the primary focus of worship, not God.
“The sign of peace is another thing that bothers me,” he said. “Right after the consecration, the priest says, ‘Let us offer one another the sign of peace,’ and he begins shaking people’s hands, and pandemonium erupts in the church. And so the focus is off the consecrated blood of the Lord, and the people are led by the presider to focus on one another and not on the Lord. And that’s not right.”
Cizik believes these seemingly subtle changes have significant implications on how worshipers view their faith. He’s a firm believer in the Latin phrase, ‘Lex orandi, lex credenda,’ which means, ‘How you worship is how you believe.”
It’s because of this that he disagrees with the inclusive stances that Pope Francis has recently taken. Cizik says the pope has made some “questionable” comments, and that he’s religiously indifferent in his teachings.
“Why would you want to become Catholic if the Pope says, ‘We don’t want you, just stay where you are?’” Cizik said.
He also says that the Catholic Church’s mission is no longer to convert others, but to perform community service. This is contrary to the church’s primary directive for the past 2,000 years, which was to spread the message of Catholicism.
“We want to, out of love, convert these people to Catholicism. So when you tell them it doesn’t matter what religion they are, that’s a disgrace,” he said.
As for Pope Francis’ fans, Cizik says they don’t truly understand the Catholic faith.
“People who generally have no love for the Catholic Church love Pope Francis,” Cizik said. “It’s nominal Catholics, non-practicing Catholics, non-Catholics, because he doesn’t offend them.
“There are people who know what the Catholic Church taught before Vatican II, and they’re saying, ‘What he’s saying is not consistent with that teaching,’ and so they don’t care for him. The Catholic Church should be unchanging… Those who understand our faith will question many of the things he says and be disturbed by them.”
Cizik believes to attract the dwindling number of congregants, the church needs a solid foundation instead of a fluid, liberal doctrine. He recalls a proverb that nuns had taught him as a kid:
“’The Catholic faith is a sure rock that you can tie your boat to; a rock that keeps shifting and moving is not what you want to tie your boat to,’” Cizik said. “People are looking for a rock. They’re looking for a place to tie their boat to. It’s turbulent seas right now; things are always changing and on the move, and not consistent with what we believed before, and that does not make for a healthy church.”
As for the future of the church, Cizik is optimistic. But he believes it’s necessary to return to traditional roots and values.
“(Things) are probably going to get worse before they get better…We always have to keep our focus on God, not on man,” he said.
“We’re not out to win popularity contests. We’re out to win souls for Christ. That’s what everyone should be concerned about, from everyone from the pope down to the person in the pew. It doesn’t matter what people think about us, only what God thinks about us.”