For the past 20 years, George P. (“Pat”) Morse and his wife, Margaret, have produced, with Magisterial and Ecclesiastical approval and support, clear, concise and orthodox summaries of Church teaching consisting of twelve volumes under the title of PRECIS OF OFFICIAL CATHOLIC TEACHING. The volumes are in use for teaching, research, education by clergy and laity in over 50 countries.
Crusade Magazine visited and talked with Mr. Morse about their apostolate and the PRECIS project.
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Crusade Magazine: Would you tell us about yourself and your work?
Mr. Pat Morse: Certainly, but, if I were a reader, perhaps I should first like to know a bit about my organization, Catholics Committed to Support the Pope (CCSP), how it came into being, why it is important, and what is its purpose. May I delay for a bit talking about myself, and start with CCSP?
Crusade: Of course, if you prefer.
Mr. Morse: Catholics Committed to Support the Pope (CCSP) was born in 1984, a 501(c)(3), tax exempt corporation formed for the specific purpose of combating the growing — both in frequency and intensity — attacks on orthodox Catholic teaching and on Magisterial prelates; even on the Pope himself, and for the purpose of defending that teaching.
Initially, the defensive effort took the form of articles setting forth the orthodox teaching of the Magisterium and writings challenging the bishops to fulfill their role as Shepherds and warning that “The Battle is Now!” However, the mission of CCSP suddenly changed dramatically — and not by our design — so much so that over the past twenty years we have been devoted to the preparation and publication and promotion of our twelve volume series PRECIS OF OFFICIAL CATHOLIC TEACHING.
The difficult question to answer is: Just how did the PRECIS come into being?
I recall well the first time I appeared on EWTN’s “Mother Angelica Live,” when she, in her characteristically direct manner, hit me with the question: “Mr. Morse, what are you, a layman, doing, writing and publishing about the official Teaching of the Catholic Church?” It was blunt and right to the point, as is her style. My response was also direct: “Mother, I have often asked myself that question and never gotten a satisfactory answer.”
Not out of pique, but because she has such a great sense of humor, I turned the question onto her service for the Church: “It was just like your own experience, Mother. You know, when you entered the convent and, as a novice, during your training, you decided that you would go into television broadcasting and become a great producer and develop this outstanding global network to spread the Catholic faith. Isn’t that the way it happened?”
Her explosive response came out in shocked tones: “I did that?” When the laughter subsided, I went on: “Sure, you just took the ‘Television Productions 101’ course and here you are.” Well, we had a good laugh and, in fact, in my next appearance on EWTN years later, the memory of that episode invoked an enjoyable reprise. But the mystery is concealed in her original comment. How do any of us presume to act in His name, in His cause? The fact is that I did not know then, nor do I know now, how I came to this point in His service. I started out with an idea and a purpose and what evolved, as you shall see, was not by my design. It happened and events occurred which were not really of my making.
Crusade: Well, you already had an apostolate writing and publishing your defense of Catholic teaching. Wasn’t the preparation of the PRECIS volumes a logical extension of that effort?
Mr. Morse: Yes, if throwing a basketball at a hoop in your driveway is the next step to playing with the Lakers against the Celtics in the NBA. Initially, I was writing articles expressing my own views concerning the damage to the Church and the laity over the attacks on the Church and the failure of religious leaders to act to defend Magisterial teaching and the failure to combat the evils that were threatening the laity. I never contemplated, nor even dreamed of, embarking on the massive effort that the PRECIS entailed.
Initially, I acted alone, but the articles began to generate a readership eager for fidelity to Church teaching and a halt to liturgical abuses. About that time I met and came to admire the Rev. Vincent Micelli, a great and courageous theologian and defender of the faith who had taught for years at both the Gregorium and the Angelicum in Rome.
We met through our dear friend, Rev. Malachi Martin. Both former Jesuits had suffered much with the changing of that order and made the decision to leave. It was in the early days of TV’s “Crossfire” with Pat Buchanan on the right and Tom Braden on the left. Whenever they had a hot issue pertaining to theological fidelity, or Church doctrine, Pat would call with the request: “Can you get Father Micelli?” I could and Father would demolish the dissenting theologian, whether it was Father Byron, Father Drinan, or anyone else. He was a courageous and unswerving defender of the faith.
With Father Micelli and Paul Fisher, author and Catholic writer, and with my friend, Jerome Marx, we decided to expand our efforts into summarizing, for wider and easier understanding, many aspects of Catholic teaching. Euthanasia, procreation and the protection of human life, homosexuality, to name just a few. We also warned of the dangers besetting the Church and cited the obligations for the Church to counter those dangers. Our article “The Battle Is Now,” and “Bishops Return to the Fold,” and another on “The Family,” all brought dramatic responses of support; in fact, so much so that we determined, in our naïveté, to go to Rome and bring before the hierarchy the evidence of the suffering by the faithful and plead for action by Rome.
Crusade: And did you do so?
Mr. Morse: Indeed, we did. In fact, for dramatic effect, we had made a large Plexiglas cube, selected hundreds of the most poignant and pitiful letters and put them into the see-through container. At a fine shop in Washington, we had made a large and beautiful binder, embossed with the CCSP logo with the Papal tiara and placed in the binder, a) the CCSP Statement of Purpose, b) a letter addressed to the Pope, and c) copies of all our published articles and writings. We intended to deliver the document book and the cube to the Holy Father, or his designee.
We made plane and hotel reservations for Rome for Father Micelli, Margaret and me. But we never contacted anyone in the Vatican, or asked for an appointment.
Crusade: Just what was your purpose and did you accomplish anything?
Mr. Morse: Our purpose was to place in the hands of the Holy Father direct evidence of the plight of the Church in America and, yes, we did accomplish something — something very important — but under circumstances that to this day defy rational explanation.
The day before we were to leave, the three of us were sitting in my office discussing our trip to Rome. Margaret was opening the mail and came to a small envelope with a very short letter and a check for $25 as a contribution to the work of CCSP. She commented on the brevity of the letter and I looked at it out of curiosity. Today, I keep that letter as a cherished memento of the way God works. It was from Fr. Paul Zammit, O.P., from St. Albert’s Monastery in Oakland, Calif. In effect, Father Zammit said: “I support what you are doing. The enclosed check is to aid you in your work. I love this Holy Father.”
There was nothing significant or momentous about his letter. Daily, we received many, many letters, some dramatic, some desperate, many generous in their contributions. What is surprising is that, on the spur of the moment, I picked up the phone, called the number on the letterhead and asked to speak to Father Zammit. I thanked him for his letter and the check, something I rarely did because we formally acknowledged all contributions in writing. His response was abrupt and short: “I cannot talk with you. I am leaving for the airport for Rome.” Surprised, I said: “We are leaving for Rome, tomorrow.”
Father Zammit’s comment left me speechless: “Come to me at the Irish Dominican House in Rome and l shall introduce you to this Pope.”
That was it. That was all. He was gone. We tried to figure it out. Was he pulling my leg? Did I misunderstand him? Was he some kind of kook?
The next day we took off for Rome. Unwilling to trust our precious capsule to checked baggage, we carried it onto the plane expecting to put it in the overhead bin. It was too big. When we told the stewardess its destination, she put it in an adjoining seat and strapped it in with the seat belt. We were amazed. In any event, we and it got to Rome safely.
Two days later, unbelieving, but curious, we took the bus to the Irish Dominican House, the three of us and, to our amazement, not only was Father Zammit there to greet us, but he did indeed know the Pope, and the Pope knew Father Zammit – well! When Bishop Wojtyla had attended university in Rome years ago, Father Zammit had been one of his professors and they had remained friends and in contact.
Father Zammit’s instructions to us were clear: 1) tickets would be waiting for us to attend the Holy Father’s audience the next day, 2) he told us where we were to stand at the crowded audience, 3) the Pope would come to greet Father Zammit and we would meet His Holiness. Still skeptical, we followed orders. All went as Father Zammit had scripted it. At the close of the audience, the Pope came down the steps of St. Peter’s, walked to where Father Zammit was standing with us, we were introduced and photos were taken by the Papal photographer. Just like that.
What we did not know at that time was that Father Zammit had concelebrated Mass at the Pope’s private Mass the day before and, after the Mass, had presented to His Holiness our beautiful gold and leather book and told him the reason for our visit. Later, Father Zammit gave me a photo of his presentation to the Pope.
Crusade: And how did all of that influence the direction of your apostolate?
Mr. Morse: As amazing as the audience events were, what followed was even more incredible. As we walked away from St. Peters, I invited Father Zammit to join us for lunch. He declined, saying he had a luncheon date with the Papal Theologian, Mario Luigi Cardinal Ciappi, O.P. I suggested he invite His Eminence to join us for lunch. Father Zammit called. Cardinal Ciappi accepted and we had a fine lunch. But, of far more importance, it began a warm and cherished friendship which endured until his death. He inspired the PRECIS idea. He is sorely missed.
Back to the lunch: I described briefly for Cardinal Ciappi the purpose of our visit to Rome and the nature of our efforts. Later that day, His Eminence called and invited Margaret and me to his apartment in the Vatican to talk about our apostolate. Brother Mario Becchelli, O.P., his driver and aide called for us, drove us into the Vatican — the first of many such entrances over the years — to the elevator and up to the closely guarded floor near the Pope, where His Eminence lived and worked and celebrated Mass in his private chapel. We came to love that beautiful chapel in which he celebrated Mass for us and for our apostolate over the many years, until his death.
What ensued that first day, even now, is like a beautiful dream come true. After dinner, we sat and, over a long evening, discussed our efforts for the Church. His Eminence, a gracious and elegant Florentine, skillfully led my mind to the greater and fuller capacity of our apostolate. He led me via a question here, a suggestion there, and by opening the discussion to a broader and deeper application of our efforts to the ultimate design of a product of massive scope: a) the identification and assembly of all of the encyclicals, Papal discourses, and major Magisterial teachings, published over hundreds of years, b) the assignment of each document to one of eleven categories, or themes, c) every one of the many hundreds of documents would need to be transformed into summary i.e., précis form, without loss, or change of meaning of even a single significant statement, or meaning, nor with the inclusion of any comment, in support, or dissent, of the original document. Finally all of the documents on each of the themes would be published in separate volumes in what would become the PRECIS OF OFFICIAL CATHOLIC TEACHING, an effort never before accomplished in Church history.
Crusade: Are you saying that over dinner with Cardinal Ciappi the concept and the purpose of the PRECIS series came into being?
Mr. Morse: The concept? Essentially, yes. Oh, there would be much more to be done: The Imprimaturs, nihil obstats, the introduction, forward, preface and table of contents; innovations such as the “Background” to each document which are written by Msgr. Peter Elliott, “The strings to the Pearls,” as we dubbed them. And the formation of our Board of Councilors, promotion, editing, printing, shipping, record keeping, etc.
But what we did know that evening was that a) we had conceived a great concept which could provide a notable service to the Church, b) that we were blessed with a great mentor in Cardinal Ciappi, the Papal Theologian to the last five Popes, from Pius XII to John Paul II, c) that we could turn to him for assistance and guidance — which I did over the many years. Without him, we could not have succeeded.
Crusade: So, when you left His Eminence, all was in readiness to go, right?
Mr. Morse: Wrong. Far from it. The concept had been preliminarily designed, subject, of course, to adjustment and evolution. However, I knew, also, that I was in way over my head and that my first priority was to enlist one, but, better two, eminent theologians to work with us on a whole range of efforts. First, we needed to determine the categories, or themes, into which the magisterial documents to be summarized would be divided. Second, we would need to allocate each document to be summarized to its appropriate volume. Thirdly, align all of the documents in chronological order so that the reader and user could readily and clearly see the logical development of the teaching in each of the categories and, fourth would begin the seemingly endless effort of editing.
On a personal note, what is marvelous is the reality that the teaching of the Catholic Church is “the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.” The teaching does not change, nor is it altered by time, or changing events, or circumstances. It was a great thrill to see that truth of the Church affirmed so vividly in our PRECIS series. With all the documents, and all the teachings in each document, never did a later teaching deny, conflict with, or alter an earlier one. Nor will this ever occur. This affirmation of the divinity of the teaching of the Catholic Church is proof that it is not the teaching of mere mortals.
Crusade: I know that you did obtain the services of two outstanding theologians, Professor William E. May and Monsignor Peter J Elliott. Was that difficult?
Mr. Morse: Difficult? Not really. Unexpected? Yes. Amazing, yes. Before leaving Rome on that first of many visits, I decided to run over to Trasteverre to visit His Eminence, Edouard Cardinal Gagnon, P.S.S., President of the Pontifical Council for the Family. I knew him slightly, liked him, and wanted to say “hello.” Margaret and I had a visit during which we told him about our apostolate, but not about our meeting and discussion with Cardinal Ciappi.
When time came to leave, His Eminence said: “Come down the hall with me. There is a young priest I want you to meet.” He introduced us to Fr. Peter J. Elliott from Melboune and we talked about what we were doing. Suddenly Father wheeled around his chair, pulled out a file cabinet drawer, took out a sheaf of papers and thrust them at me saying: “This is what you should be writing.”
I glanced at them and, in amazement, said: Father, these are my articles. From that point, the conversation changed and I went home determined that Father Elliott should be one of our theologians. He was a graduate of Oxford, had outstanding academic qualifications, was sharp and very orthodox.
Crusade: And did Father Elliott sign on?
Mr. Morse: He did, for over 20 years, along with Professor William E. May, working tirelessly on the development and production of the PRECIS series.
Crusade: Obviously you went home elated, did you not?
Mr. Morse: We did, but very mindful of the monumental chore ahead of us. I went at once to our archbishop in Washington, James Cardinal Hickey, to report on our visit to the Vatican and tell him what I envisioned for our apostolate I told him I needed to get the best theologian possible for this effort. He pondered and then said “Professor William E. May is your man, if you can get him. However, he is very busy with his teaching at the Catholic University of America, his writings and lecture schedule, but you can tell him I recommended him to you.”
Crusade: I know you were successful, but I am curious to know what it took to get him.
Mr. Morse: Well, I called and invited him to lunch at the Cosmos Club, told him I had seen His Eminence and described what I wanted to do. I told him of my meeting with Father Elliott, whom he knew, and that he was aboard. We had a nice talk and Dr. May joined up. That was over a generation ago, both have worked very hard, not only on the volumes themselves, but promoting them through their circles and influences with academics and colleagues worldwide. We have no funds to pay any of us working on the apostolate, but these two outstanding and talented Catholics continue to work with and serve CCSP. Today, as we grow old in our service to CCSP, we are preparing to publish Volume XIII.
Fortunately, with the aid of Cardinal Hickey and his then Auxiliary Bishop William Lori, we were able for each of them to receive the prestigious Dominican Medal, a richly deserved honor for their outstanding services to CCSP in the production of the PRECIS OF OFFICIAL CATHOLIC TEACHING.
Dr. May is now the McGivney Scholar at the John Paul Institute in Washington, D. C., is in demand worldwide as a teacher and lecturer and, after serving six years on the Vatican’s International Theological Committee is a consultant to another major Vatican Dicastery.
Msgr. Elliott served for ten yours in the Vatican with the Pontifical Council for the Family and is now Episcopal Vicar for Education in Melbourne. He has served, and continues to serve, the Vatican on vital issues pertaining to the family and the protection of life, on the United Nations and in conferences around the world. He has just recently been highly honored by the Papacy for his services. Like Father May, Msgr. Elliott is the author of many important books, including the noted text: Ceremonies of the Modern Rite” They have not only served CCSP nobly, but the Church and the Faith, as well. We owe them a great debt.
Crusade: Do I understand correctly, that as completed and published, you have presented every volume to the Holy Father after attending his private Mass?
Mr. Morse: That is correct. Usually just Margaret and me, but at times accompanied by one of our council members, s.g., Cardinal Hickey and another time with Cardinal Gagnon.
Crusade: Has the Pope ever said anything of special note about your work?
Mr. Morse: He is always gracious and complementary, but one occasion does stand out for the significance of his statement, a statement Cardinal Hickey was kind enough to cite is a tribute to CCSP. It was on December 7, 1992 when, in acknowledging the presentation and the publication of our PRECIS, he said to Margaret and me:
“Your work is very important to the Catholic Church.
What you are doing is for future generations.”
It was a moving tribute to the people of CCSP.
Crusade: Your volumes have been truly spread far and wide, I believe reaching over 50 countries. Are you satisfied now to sit back or do you have further plans for the PRECIS OF OFFICIAL CATHOLIC TEACHING?
Mr. Morse: There is no sitting back. For example here are several things in the fire, so to speak:
- We have negotiated and completed a letter to every Ordinary in the U.S., signed by three archbishops and four bishops, discussing the need for improved doctrinal and theological teaching in the seminaries and urging the ordinaries to consider the inclusion of the PRECIS series in the teaching materials. This has just been launched and we are eager for a good response from the bishops, the rectors and the seminary faculties. It is a very acute need.
- Working with our Council Member, Jozef Cardinal Tomko, we are exploring the translation of the PRECIS volumes into the Slovak language. Full sets of the volumes have been sent to all seminary directors in Slovakia. This is a truly necessary effort because of the sad fate of teaching documents under the Soviet regime. Years ago, Cardinal Hickey and I made a preliminary effort along this line, but it did not come to fruition. Hopefully, it will now.
- It has been my fond hope that we can encourage members of organizations such as the Knights of Malta, and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, of which we are both members, to consider making gifts of the PRECIS set to seminarians for their ordination, or birthday, or Christmas, a gift which will be of lifetime value, not just throughout their seminary years but throughout their spiritual lives, as priests.
- During our visit to the Vatican last April, members of the Congregation on “Worship and Sacraments” posed the idea of including our PRECIS volumes among the documents on their web site in order to make them more available around the world. This has great appeal and we are exploring it.
Crusade: Any final comments?
Mr. Morse: Yes, I have been a great admirer of TFP and have enormous respect for the leaders and members whom I have met and come to know over the years. TFP is a noble example of fidelity and courage in defending the faith and I am inspired by and grateful for their friendship and association. I am grateful also for the privilege of presenting CCSP and its efforts in your fine magazine.
May I say in closing that anyone who wishes information about CCSP, of our PRECIS series, or our book titled The Mass, Its Mysteries Revealed need merely send an e-mail message to [email protected]; or call: 301-434-3245; FAX: 301-434-5486, or write to: CCSP, 9402 Stateside Court, Silver Springs, MD 20903.
Our attractive brochure will be sent immediately in return. The price for the twelve volume set of the PRECIS is $135.00, plus $14.00 for shipping and for The Mass is $8.95. Inscriptions will be included, if desired.
Mr. Morse: Well at this point, let me respond briefly to your suggestion at the outset to speak about my background. Briefly, I am an attorney by education and by practice in the law. I served in security and intelligence positions during my 31 years in the Federal Government and, while in the Army in World War II, served with the O.S.S. as Aide to General William (“Wild Bill”) Donavan, Director of OSS, including service on the staff of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg. I recite this to make clear that I am not overly naïve.