A found these gems in a review by Joseph Epstein of Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942-1963. The book was edited by his eldest daughter, Katherine Powers. His droll humor is a dead-ringer for my father’s: “Let me be a lesson to you,” Powell admonished author Robert Lowell, from his house full of children, “stay single.”
“Powers tells a straight story, usually in an enclosed space. In some cases his priests never leave the parish, or even the rectory. They do their jobs, dealing as best they can with bishops, curates, housekeepers, pets and parishioners. They are fond of food and sometimes too fond of drink or perhaps both. Crises of conscience occasionally arise, but it is the quotidian detail, the daily rhythm of priestly life, the absorbs and fascinates in Power’s fiction. As Father Joe Hackett tells his young curate: ‘This (the Catholic Church) is a big old ship, Bill. She creaks, she rocks, she rolls, and at times she makes you want to throw up. But she always gets where she’s going. Always has, always will, until the end of time.’
Power’s fiction met with criticism from Catholics who preferred their priests more saintly. But his priests are utterly believable with their flaws and down-to-earth observations. Here is Father Hackett’s summation on priesthood: “It was still a job–a marrying, burying, sacrificing job, plus whatever good could be done on the side. It was not a crusade. Turn it into one, as some guys were trying to do, and you asked too much of it, of yourself, and of ordinary people, invited nervous breakdowns all around.”
This has been a stunner of a week. I’m still reeling.
It started with the closing of World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, where Pope Francis’ closing Mass on Copacabana beach drew an estimated three million participants. Many of them were enthusiastic young people. He encouraged them to go home and shake things up, “make a mess.”
He set the first example.
On a plane back to Rome from his triumphant trip to Rio, Pope Francis chatted with journalists for over an hour. There were no handlers or intermediaries, just plain-spoken remarks.
He was asked about gay priests and gay Catholics.
Gay people should be integrated into society instead of ostracized, Pope Francis told journalists. Answering a question about reports of homosexuals in the clergy, the pope answered, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
One question centered on recent reports in Italian media that accused the Vatican Bank’s Monsignor Battista Ricca of having an affair with a Swiss Army captain. In response, Francis said he looked into the reports but found nothing to support the allegations.
The pope also used the occasion to expand on his June remarks about a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, clarifying that “he was against all lobbies, not just gay ones,” the Italian news agency reports.
“Being gay is a tendency. The problem is the lobby,” ANSA quotes the pontiff saying. “The lobby is unacceptable, the gay one, the political one, the Masonic one.”
The pope’s view of gays is being seen as diverging from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be “forgiven and their sins forgotten.”
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well,” Francis said, according to . “It says they should not be marginalized because of this but that they must be integrated into society.”
During the news conference on the 12-hour flight home, the pope was also asked about women’s role in Catholicism.
Pope Francis reiterated that the Church will not ordain female priests, saying that the stance was “definitive.” But he also said that the question of how to reflect the importance of women had not yet been answered fully.
“It is not enough to have altar girls, women readers or women as the president of Caritas,” he said. “Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests,” he said, in the same way that “Mary is more important than the apostles.”
Conservative and ultra orthodox Catholics, once they regained consciousness, attempted to spin the Pope’s words by asserting what he actually meant was in defense of Catholic teaching on homosexuality and chastity.
Wednesday morning I was having my morning coffee and thumbing through the New York Post when I spotted this item on the bottom right of page 12: “Paris suicide vs. gay rights.” I took a bite of my English muffin and read on.
The blurb stated that Dominique Venner, 78, placed a pistol in his mouth and committed suicide beside the altar in Notre Dame cathedral in protest of the legalization of gay marriage in France.
Mr. Venner, a presenter on a Catholic-traditionalist radio station and controversial historian, posted an essay on his website earlier in the day calling for “new, spectacular and symbolic actions to shake us out of our sleep, to jolt anaesthetized minds and to reawaken memory of our origins.”
The cathedral, which is celebrating its 850th anniversary this year, was evacuated and immediately closed to the public for several hours. A cathedral security guard tried to revive Mr. Venner as he lay beside the altar.
“We did not know him, he was not a regular at the cathedral,” said the rector, Monsigneur Patrick Jacquin. He added that as far as he knew, this was the first suicide within the cathedral since it was founded. “We will pray for this man as we pray for so many others who are at their wits’ end,” he said.
The next day, a topless activist of the FEMEN movement was arrested inside Notre Dame for staging a fake suicide.
The bare-chested woman was photographed in front of the altar, pointing a fake gun in her mouth. The slogan “May Fascists rot in Hell” was written across her torso.
On its Facebook page, FEMEN France called the topless activist “FEMEN’s angel of Death.” The group called upon “all European Nazism, in the face of all their underhitlers and halfmussolini, to follow the example of the ultra-right man Dominique Venner and immediately commit a suicide of their believes excluding themselves from the political area in Europe.” The statement added, “Hurry up, there is not so much place left on the sacrificial altar of Notre-Dame de Paris.”
In case you are wondering, the Censor Librorum finds both of these events cringe-worthy.
Venner’s use of sacred space as a stage for suicide is the most spectacular form of selfishness I have ever seen. The follow up performance by an exhibitionist mocking his suicide was almost as bad.
And I thought we had nuts in New York!
The Orwellian obsession of some right-wing Catholics with same-sex marriage, abortion, and glorification of the hierarchy is about to take a punch to the gut.
The papal election of Francis, not John Paul III or Benedict XVII, has brought an immediate cultural change. The pomp and pageantry–the red shoes, the billowing magenta capes–are being replaced by a renewed emphasis on social justice for the poor, mercy and humility. Taking a cue from their new boss, some cardinals have already started to dress down.
If he hasn’t already, the new pope will soon have a crack at the secret 300-page dossier delivered to Pope Benedict on December 17, 2013. Benedict had appointed three cardinals–Julian Herranz, Joseph Tomko and Salvatore De Georgi to investigate the leak of confidential Vatican documents in the scandal known as “Vatileaks Affair.”
Some claim this report pushed Pope Benedict into resigning. It may have been the last straw, if he admitted to himself he was too old, too frail and too entrenched to deal with the mess and scandal it described. The report was sealed, and put in a safe for his successor.
A story in the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, claimed according to the report one fraction within the Vatican bureaucracy was “united by sexual orientation.” These powerful men formed a network of alliances, controlled careers, and were subject to blackmail over their sexual activities by the Mafia and other organized crime groups.
The threat of exposure has to be one key reason why the Vatican Bank never cleaned up. There are too many compromised individuals in the Vatican bureaucracy and elsewhere who would be ruined if their secret homosexuality or financial dealings came to light. Other corrupt members of the Curia, not homosexual, may have been happy to trade favors for friends, family and potential political allies.
What will happen if the pope decides to put the Vatican’s money in a commercial bank, and close down the Institute for Works of Religion?
I bet a few surprise names will join Cardinal Keith O’Brien in the news.
Cardinal O’Brien, who had a reputation for being anti-gay, was outed by his boyfriend and some seminarians he had sexually pressured just prior to the papal conclave. In the past, Cardinal O’Brien has referred to homosexuality as a “moral degradation.” He also labeled gay marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and that same-sex partnerships were “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved.”
What was Cardinal O’Brien thinking when he was coming on to or in bed with another man?… That whatever strictures are out there didn’t apply to him.
On September 6, 2012, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri Diocese was found guilty of failing to report evidence of sexual abuse by a priest in his diocese.
Bishop Finn is one of four Opus Dei Bishops in the United States and a hardline conservative. At a Mass for Catholic school teachers and principals for the school year beginning August 2008, Finn–still coadjutor then–admonished the teachers to help their students resist the “culture of death” and the “age of relativism.” He said: “There are objective truths. There is right and wrong. Holy Mother Church is our mother who loves us and she knows best. Catholic schools must be places where these moral truths are taught without variation and without ambiguity for the sake of souls and salvation.”
After a brief bench trial, Judge John Torrence pronounced the bishop guilty on the charge of failing to report suspected child abuse, a misdemeanor in the state of Missouri, making him the first American bishop convicted of a criminal offense for mishandling sex abuse complaints. Judge Torrence sentenced Bishop Finn to two years probation. The maximum sentence he could have received was a year in jail.
Before sentencing, Bishop Finn, 59, offered a simple apology for his role in the case. “I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt these events caused,” he said.
The bishop knew the priest, Fr. Shawn Ratigan, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Kansas City, was in possession of graphic images of children’s genitalia, according to court testimony. However, he did not report the priest to the police.
Bishop Finn also said he did not report concerns about Fr. Ratigan to his diocesan review board, an advisory group the U.S. bishops’ charter mandates should be present in each diocese and should be used to evaluate allegations of abuse by priests.
After Father Ratigan was arrested, Bishop Finn met with his priests. Asked why Father Ratigan was not removed earlier, the bishop replied, according to the testimony, that he had wanted “to save Father Ratigan’s priesthood” and that he had understood that Father Ratigan’s problem was “only pornography.”
Fr. Ratigan pleaded guilty in August 2012 to federal changes of producing and attempting to produce sexually graphic material of minor girls. These included hundreds of photos focused on the girls’ crotch areas. Most photos appeared to be of girls six to ten years old, One set of “staged” photos showed a little girl, two to three years old, lying down in bed. The girl was wearing only a diaper, but with each photo, the diaper was gradually removed to expose her genitals and buttocks. Another staged photo sequence showed a sleeping seven or eight year old girl with her legs repositioned. Investigators felt the photos were disturbing and sexual in nature.
The series of missteps that ended with Bishop Finn’s conviction and Fr. Ratigan’s arrest began with a May 2010 letter from Julie Hess, the principal of St. Patrick’s School, who expressed concern about the priest’s “perceived inappropriate behavior with children,” and reported that some in the parish feared he might be a “child molester.”
The principal noted in her letter that the school community’s response to the priest’s behavior reflected the extensive training that teachers, parents, volunteers and students had received in the wake of the clergy abuse crisis. Her letter included no specific allegations of sexual abuse, Rather, as she noted, the community’s concerns were prompted by the priest’s nonsexual boundary violations in his interactions with children. Fr. Ratigan encouraged children to sit on his lap and dig in his pockets for candy. He photographed them constantly, even when they weren’t doing anything particularly photogenic. The letter also noted his refusal to abide by the personal boundaries taught to and expected by all parish employees.
Msgr. Robert Murphy, Bishop Finn’s second-in-command, summarized the contents of the principal’s letter for Bishop Finn, who did not ask to see the letter, or speak with the principal. Msgr. Murphy was a key official in deciding how the diocese responds to allegations of priestly sexual abuse.
The diocese made no effort to notify the parents and families of St. Patrick’s parish or other parishes where Fr. Ratigan had been assigned. Bishop Finn advised that he felt that notifying parents at St. Patrick’s of the photos found on the laptop “would be like yelling fire in a crowded theater.”
He said and did nothing, and Fr. Ratigan continued to have contact with parish children and families.
This is the same man who upon becoming bishop, ordered the editor of the diocesan newspaper to immediately cease publicizing columns by Notre Dame theologian, Fr. Richard McBrien. Bishop Finn commented: “Everybody seems to make a big deal out of cancelling Fr. McBrien’s column. Quite honestly, it was fairly a no-brainer for me. Fr. McBrien likes to stir the pot. He approaches things with a certain skepticism and cynicism. You can get them in a lot of places, so go get it somewhere else. We need clear expressions of the meaning of faith, why we believe and how we can inspire each other.” Catholic publications, he said, must be “dependable in their fidelity.”
In mid-December 2010, Fr. Ratigan’s laptop was turned into diocesan officials after a computer technician found disturbing photos of children on the hard drive. After reviewing the photos, Ms. Julie Creech, the head of the diocesan’s technology department, told Msgr. Robert Murphy, vicar general for the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, to call the police.
Msgr. Murphy did not contact the authorities, but instead called a police captain who is a member of the diocese’s independent review board and described a single photo of a nude child that was no sexual in nature. Without reviewing the photo, the captain said he was advised that although such a picture might meet the definition of child pornography, it probably wouldn’t be investigated or prosecuted.
About a year and a half later, in May 2012, Msgr. Murphy told police Fr. Ratigan’s laptop had contained hundreds of photos. The stipulated facts also state that in testimony, Murphy reported the incident to police because he thought the diocese’s response to Fr. Ratigan was “moving along with no direction, and I thought, ‘I have to do something.’”
According to the facts, Msgr. Murphy also testified Bishop Finn was “upset” upon hearing Msgr. Murphy had reported Fr. Ratigan. At the time, Msgr. told his sister, “I think I made a decision that will not make the bishop happy.”
When the news broke, local Catholics were outraged. The diocese organized “listening sessions” to manage the public reaction, and had participants engage in an exercise where they were instructed to write down a “hurt” and then write down a “hope.” Among the “hurts” written down by angry parents: “The images of my daughter’s private areas that the FBI showed me, they are forever burned into my brain…Shawn Ratigan was in my house, around my children in February, and I thought my children were completely SAFE!!”
Local Catholics took to the airwaves and web, too, setting up a Facebook page “Bishop Finn Must Go”, and commenting on blogs and newspapers. One woman named Ginger wrote: “I’ve followed this story since the beginning, and as a pro-lifer and a Catholic, I am mightily offended when people suggest poor Archbishop Finn is persecuted by the press because they are pro-aborts and he piously fought against stem cell initiatives. With friends such as Archbishop Finn, the pro-life movement needs no enemies. Men such as he who proclaim to be so pro-life out of one end of their mouths and then turn a blind eye to the sexual exploitation of children cause the bile to rise to my throat. No wonder the “liberal press” goes after these hypocrites with a vengeance. For pre-born life to matter so much when post-born children matter so little is sad indictment of the hierarchy. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that such despicable behavior on the part of ardent pro-life supporters casts shame upon us all.”
After his conviction, there were numerous calls for Bishop Finn to resign or be removed. Many people strongly argued that if Pope Benedict removed a bishop for supporting the ordination of women, he surely must do the same for a bishop convicted of protecting a sexual predator of little girls and toddlers.
I am of two minds on whether or not on whether Bishop Finn should be removed. On one hand, if we do believe terrible experiences can change people for the better, then Bishop Finn may end us as one of the vigilant bishops in protecting children and teens from clerical sexual abuse. He will certainly not want to go through this scrutiny, shame and public pillorying again. He will be forced to revisit, over and over again, why he made the choices he did and the hurt, pain and suffering they have caused, and diminished trust and faith in the institution and its leaders.
On the other hand, Bishop Finn is now totally neutralized as a conservative spokesman for the church. He will be reminded of Fr. Shawn Ratigan every time he opens his mouth. He will be reminded of how he chose protecting himself and a fellow conservative priest over safeguarding children and parish families. He will be reminded of who and what he put first. His crediblity as a spiritual shepherd is virtually nil. Very few will pay attention of who he insinuates they should vote for.
But maybe now that Bishop Finn is lying down in the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart” as the Irish poet, Yeats, described it, he will climb up a purified and changed man.
The words from his “Warriors for the Victory of Life” keynote address on April 18, 2009 can give Bishop Finn a simple caution and way to follow:
“Every day the choice is before us: right or wrong; good or bad; the blessing or the curse; life or death. Our whole life must be oriented toward choosing right, the good, the blessing, choosing life. If you and I fail to realize the meaning and finality behind our choices, and the intensity of the constant warfare that confronts us, it is likely that we will drop our guard, be easily and repeatedly deceived, and even lose the life of our eternal soul.”
I stumbled on the name of Tanchelm thumbing through my copy of Magnificat. He was featured prominently in a story about St. Evermod, a bishop who died in 1178. Evermod was inspired to devote his life to God after hearing a sermon given by Saint Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian order. Evermod became a priest of Norbert’s order and was chosen to accompany him on a jorney to Antwerp to counter the followers of Tanchelm, an itinerant preacher who had been murdered a decade before by a priest.
“The city was at the time in a state of ferment due to the heretical preaching of Tanchelm,” the Magnificat huffed, “a man of depraved morals who attacked the hierarchy and the church’s teaching on the sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist.”
Evermod remained in Antwerp to combat Tanchelm’s “propaganda.” His apostolic zeal earned him an eventual sainthood, as it did St. Norbert, who is often pictured with a foot on Tanchelm holding a monstrance. Tanchelm’s heresy were his attacks on the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Who was Tanchelm that he made two bishops saints in their attempts to overcome his preaching?
Tanchelm was born around 1070. He might have been Flemish, but was probably a native of the Netherlands. He traveled to France, Germany and Rome. Most of what we know about him came from those opposed to him, for Tanchelm did not leave behind any writing that has survived. Tanchelm began preaching during a time of agitation and pontifical reform, with furious arguments and political maneuvering over clerical marriages and sexual liaisons, simony, and canonical investiture by feudal authorities. He was active in a wave of church reform that started in the High Middle Ages and culminated in the Reformation 400 years later.
Tanchelm was supposed to have been a monk, perhaps a notary or officer from the circle of Count Robert II of Flanders (1092-1111), famous from his crusading days as “Robert of Jerusalem.” The exact relationship between the count and Tanchelm is not clear. Both Count Robert II and his overlord, Louis VI of France. were interested in weakening the ecclesiastical power of the Holy Roman Emperor in the low countries. The power of the emperor rested to a large extent on the support of the bishops, especially Cambrai, Cologne and Utrecht.
In 1111 Count Robert II dispatched Tanchelm and the priest, Everwacher, to Rome to persuade Pope Pascal II to incorporate Zeeland into a French diocese. Frederick I, archbishop of Cologne, caught wind of the plot and intervened. The pope rejected the petition, and Talchem and Everwacher returned home.
After his return from Rome Tanchelm began his ministry. There is no direct knowledge of his motivations, but some authors have speculated that while he was in Rome he absorbed the principals of the Gregorian Reforms, initiated by Pope Gregory VII, circa 1050-1080, which dealt with the moral integrity and independence of the clergy.
Gregory VII attacked the practice of simony – the purchase of church offices. This precipitated the investiture controversy; kings were selling clerical and church offices at great personal gain. In 1074 Gregory VII published an encyclical absolving the people from obedience to bishops who allowed married priests. In 1075, he enjoined them to take action against married priests, and deprived these clerics of their revenues.
Dressed in his monk’s habit, Tanchelm began to preach. Many people came to hear him, and his following grew. People were drawn to him by his compelling personality and oratory. He began preaching in 1112 in the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, parts of northern France and western Germany).
It was in Antwerp that he made his deepest mark. The spark that set him off was the “concubinage” of a priest named Hilduin with his niece. He stepped into a vacuum of spiritual leadership: people were disgusted with with the morals of their spiritual guides and were drawn to Tanchelm’s criticism of the established church. It was also a time of the first stirrings of social discontent against the feudal privileges of nobles and clergy.
Tanchlem rejected obedience to bishops and priests. He preached against the payment of tithes. Some sources say Tanchelm told people to reject the sacraments, saying they were better named pollutions than sacraments. In another version, he said the virtue of the sacraments depended on the virtue of the minister, and that polluted priests could only administer polluted sacraments. The chapter of Utrecht also reported with horror that Tanchelm had said that “the churches of God are to be considered whorehouses.” It is more likely what Tanchelm really said is that the priests were so impure they turned churches into brothels.
The prime source of information on Tanchelm is a May 16, 1112 letter from the clergy of Utrecht to Archbishop Frederick of Cologne telling him to take Tanchelm into custody and not release him for any reason. He was briefly put under arrest in Cologne in 1113/1114, but released in spite of protests by the cathedral clergy of Utrecht.
The hierarchy of Utrecht circulated many tales about Tanchlem to support their denouncements:
-He dressed in golden clothes, with strands of gold curled in his hair
-Claimed to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and conducted a ceremony in which he “married” the Virgin Mary
-His followers venerated him, and drank his bath water as a blessing or sacrament
-His inner group was a guild of 12 men lead by his blacksmith friend, Manasses. Probably chosen as a bodyguard, they were known as “the Apostles.” Added to this number was a woman named “Blessed Virgin” with whom the Apostles had intercourse as kind of a confirmation ceremony. The Apostles carried his regalia and sword in procession.
-Tanchelm deflowered young girls in the presence of their mothers
-Men offered up their wives and children to Tanchelm’s lust.
To what degree the above accusations have some basis in truth-or are total fabrications–is unknown. It seems clear that Tanchelm was a very charismatic man, and encouraged his personality cult.
In 1115 he was bludgeoned or stabbed to death by a priest during a river trip. One scholar has implicated the Archbishop of Utrecht in his murder.
Tanchelm doesn’t have an exact contemporary in our age, even if the societal unrest, currents of church reform, the involvement of church hierarchy in politics, the attempts by secular rulers to use bishops in their schemes, all have an echo in our era.
St Norbert arrived at Antwerp eight years after Tanchelm’s death to evangelize the city away from his followers. Apparently, he did not censure, judge or condemn when he addressed people, which probably contributed to the success of his mission. “Brothers, do not be surprised and so not be afraid,” he preached. “Unwittingly, you have pursued falsehood thinking it to be the truth. If you had been taught the truth first you would have been found effortlessly tending toward salvation, just as you now effortless lean toward perdition.”
Norbert of Xanten is portrayed as a reformer of the clergy and siding with reformist popes over lay investiture. But his ministry started on a political track opposite Tanchelm’s.
His father, Heribert, Count of Gennep, was related to the imperial house of Germany. Norbert was a secular canon at St. Victor’s Collegiate Church in Xanten and was ordained subdeacon without making an effort to live the clerical life. Somewhere between 1108 and 1109 he became chaplain at the court of Archbishop Frederick of Cologne and already in 1110 he was a chaplain at the court of Emperor Henry V. He accompanied the emperor to Rome in 1111.
In the spring of 1115, while riding to the village of Freden, he was thrown from his horse during a sudden thunderstorm. This event gave Norbert the impetus to change his way of life. He gave up his chaplaincy at the court and dedicated himself to meditation and living a life of poverty. Feeling he was called to priesthood, he presented himself to the Bishop of Cologne, from whom he received Holy Orders.
Norbert would have to have heard 0f, and perhaps even met, Tanchelm in Rome or while he was being held in custody by his patron, Federick, Archbishop of Cologne.
It is interesting to speculate what the men might have said to each other.
I found this prayer and commentary on the blog “Enlightended Catholicism.” I have a copy of it pinned near by my desk. Whenever my soul needs a lift I read it and smile.
Prayer For Catholic Enlightenment by Cardinal Newman
Prayer for the Light of Truth
O my God, I confess that You can enlighten my darkness. I confess that You alone can. I wish my darkness to be enlightened.
I do not know whether You will: but that You can and that I wish, are sufficient reasons for me to ask, what You at least have not forbidden my asking.
I hereby promise that by Your grace which I am asking, I will embrace whatever at length feel certain is the truth, if ever I come to be certain.
And by Your grace I will guard against all self-deceit which may lead me to take what nature would have, rather than what reason approves.
Addition by blog author: Dear God, please help me understand the above prayer. I know you can, if you so will it and haven’t forbidden it. I sort of think so anyway. Seriously.
Is the Devil responsible for turning people gay? A few Catholics may think so.
Massachusetts attorney Daniel Avila, who served as policy advisor for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), penned an October 28, 2011 column in The Pilot, the Boston Archdiocesan newspaper. His article, “Some Fundamental Questions on Same-Sex Attraction,” was retracted a few days later after a furious storm of protest. Avila resigned his position at USCCB.
Avila ignited a firestorm when he wrote, “the scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely may be created provides a credible basis for a spiritual explanation that indicts the Devil. Any time natural disasters occur, we…people of faith look back to Scripture’s account of…angels who rebelled and fell from grace. In their anger against God, these macontents prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. They continue to do all they can to mar, distort and destroy God’s handiwork.”
Immediately after the article ran, the liberal Catholic Paulist Center of Boston sent The Boston Pilot an open letter asking other Catholics to boycott the newspaper. “The highly questionable theology of this writer…directly and intentionally causes pain for gay Catholics, their families, especially their mothers, their friends and their worship communities. The article has no scriptural basis, vague Catholic theological constructs, and no connection with the Gospel of Christ.”
“We have removed this issue of The Pilot from the Paulist Center and will not be offering part II of this article. We do not want to support Mr. Avila inflicting unnecessary unnecessary and undeserved pain on members of our congregation.”
Daniel Avila began his October 28, 2011 column, “Some fundamental questions on same-sex attraction” – by musing about a situation many gay and lesbian Catholics and their supporters have also articulated: “More than once,” Avila started, “I have heard from or about Catholics upset with the Church for its insistence that sexual relations be limited to marriage between husband and wife. Does not this moral rule force people with same-sex attraction into lives of loneliness? If they are born that way, then why should they be punished by a restriction that does not account for their pre-existing condition? God wants everyone to be happy, and for persons with same-sex attraction is not their happiness to be found in the fulfillment of that attraction? Some seek to change the Church’s teaching on marriage or have left the Church because of it. They believe either that God through the Church ignores the needs of people or that the Church misunderstands what God desires.”
“That is, if God causes same-sex attraction, and yet commands that it not be satisfied, then this is divine cruelty. Or, if God causes same-sex attraction, then it must be the divine will that those with the attraction should act on it and it is the Church that is being cruel in its teaching or at least tragically mistaken about what God wants.”
Then, Avila drops his bomb…..”In either case, the belief that the Church is wrong on this issue starts from a faulty premise. God does not cause same-sex attraction….Disruptive imbalances in nature that thwart encoded processes point to supernatural actors who, unlike God, do not have the good of persons at heart.”
He finishes up: “…whenever natural causes disturb otherwise typical biological development, leading to the personally unchosen beginnings of same-sex attraction, the ultimate responsibility, on a theological level, is and should be imputed to the evil one, not God. Applying this aspect of Catholic belief to interpret the scientific data makes more sense because it does not place God in the awkward position of blessing two mutually incompatible realities–sexual difference and same-sex attraction..Being born with an inclination which originates in a manner outside of one’s control is not sufficient proof that the condition is caused by God or that its satisfaction meets God’s purpose. Further, a proper understanding of who is really at fault should deepen our compassion towards those who experience same-sex attraction and inform our response to the question of loneliness.”
Some ordinary Catholics weighed in on Avila’s remarks. Patrick O’Malley wrote: “Satan isn’t responsible for people being gay. Satan is responsible for:-pedophile priests raping thousands of children (in the United States alone); -bishops moving more pedophiles to places where they raped more children; -bishops covering up; -bishops lying about it; -Catholics shunning the victims. Satan is also responsible for making people think that God hates gays more than God hates child rapists and liars in His church.”
Another writer observed: “He’s (Avila) leading to an eliminationist doctrine. If gay people are created by satan, therefore, satanic, then it is ok to view them as sub-human vermin andfire up the nazi ovens again. Bigots always attempt to dehumanize the ‘other’ by attributing qualities to the ‘other’ the bigot does not himself possess. That makes it easy to justify any form of discrimination to outright killing. What a bigot never comprehends, is that my attempting to dehumanize another, he only succeeds in dehumanizing himself. That might be called a sin. On a positive note, his article many have caused some other heretofore anti-gay catholics to think about the road they are traveling on. It is good to see someone in the catholic organization reaffirm the dignity of all people gay or not, and this guy get the boot.”
However, Avila has gotten to the core of the argument, as David Gibson points out at Commonweal dot com: “On a somewhat more serious note, I wonder if this Avila kerfuffle and the anxious reactions of his defenders is symptomatic of a segment of the church that is painted into a corner on homosexuality. As evidence grows of an innate aspect of being gay, as is being straight, it provides a huge challenge to a church that preaches the innate dignity of each person. The responses from those who cannot square this circle seem to be to make arguments from pseudo-science that attempt to argue away the gay, while another fallback is to say that homosexuality is a thing but homosexuals cannot be themselves in the way every other person can be. They are in a straitjacket of celibacy, rather than receiving that as a gift, and yet for many (in the Vatican and elsewhere) they should not even be ordained celibates. This requires a cognitive dissonance, or understandably leads to a kind of panic, I think, that makes some look foolish when they try to reconcile the churchâ€™s best instincts with its worst, and perforce use bad theology or science or both to do so.”
A statue of the Pope John Paul II is under attack for its purported resemblance to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. “How could they have given such a kind pope the head of a Fascist,” asked one distraught observer.
The 15-foot bronze statue by Roman artist Oliviero Rainaldi, was unveiled May 18, 2011 on what would have been John Paul’s 91st birthday. The statue is displayed outside Rome’s Termini train station.
The Fondazione Silvana Paolini Angelucci, a charitable organization, donated the sculpture to the city to celebrate the beatification of John Paul II. Mr. Rainaldi, the artist, was chosen because he had worked on several ecclesiastical commissions, and the foundation was confident that he could interpret the pope’s spirit. It was designed for the square in front of Termini, Rome’s main train station, which was dedicated to the pope in 2006, a year after his death.
While the statue is hardly as inflammatory as “La Nona Ora”–Maurizio Cattelan’s 1999 sculpture of Pope John Paul II getting hit by a meteor–some people are steadfast in their criticism of Rainaldi’s new artwork, with one Roman cleaning woman pointing out that the sculpture raised practical concerns as well as artistic ones. “With the shape of the cape, sooner or later the homeless people at the station will sleep inside it, and in no time it will be full of bottles of beer,” she said.
“A giant cow bell,” noted one critic referring to its cylindrical shape. “Mussolini,” said others noting the big bald head perched on top of the work, much like that of the fascist leader of Italy in the early 20th century. A few history buffs seemed to see the features of the Emperor Vespasian, the first-century sponsor of the Colosseum. Vespasian persecuted Christians as subversive to the state, and martyred a few at the Colosseum, mostly by hungry lions. A few were shot full of arrows.
But the most scathing review came from the Vatican’s official newspaper, Osservatore Romano. “The statue’s sin
,” the Vatican stated, is that it’s “hardly to be recognized.”
“You know, in Italy everyone thinks they’re the coach of the national soccer team. Now, we have a nation of 66 million art critics,” said Umberto Broccoli, head of the city’s Cultural Heritage Department. “We were happy to accept a statue that cost the city zilch.”
For now, Mr. Rainaldi is taking the criticism in stride. “Usually, I get more compliments,” he said in a telephone interview. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have survived in this business for 40 years; they would have stopped me earlier.”
The sculpture, he added, was never meant to be representational, though he was inspired by a photo of John Paul II enveloping a child in his cloak during a public audience many years ago.
“That gesture seemed to me to be representative of the entire spirit of his pontificate: the meeting of cultures, the idea of dialogue, of offering a hand,” he said. “And if that hand is wrapped in a cloak, it takes on ulterior symbolism, like shelter and protection, an embrace towards and of people.”
Francesco Buranelli, secretary of the Vatican Fine Arts Commission, said the debate should not be reduced to a question of liking or not liking the statue. Contemporary art, regardless of when it was created, “shouldn’t be judged by subjective parameters,” he said. By that measure, he added, an infinite number of works now considered to be masterpieces, like Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” or Caravaggio’s “Virgin of the Pilgrims,” would have been whitewashed or destroyed.
Via blog sites, a few of the faithful have weighed in on the statue. Here are a few representative comments:
- “Ah! A statue worthy of his pontificate.”
- “This almost makes me want to become a Protestant.”
- “Are they trying to say he was an empty shell of a man? Perhaps they are saying that he was full of hot air?”
-”Please tell us this was a joke; either it is a refrigerator with the door opened or a busted portable toilette, with a disembodied head perched atop. Sad. Or maybe I just do not appreciate “art.”
-”I find the enormous scale of the statue unseemly, to be honest. It reminds me more of Mussolini than it does John Paul II; it has that sort of bleak, intimidating fascist quality about it. I understand the artist’s need to express, somehow, this man’s enormity in history, and this statue certainly does that, but it doesn’t seem to also express anything about the subject that caused the world to love him: the pope’s warmth, humour, compassion, piety, and so on.”
-”If someone said Pope John Paul II liked chocolate, there’d be some bitter fruit here chiming in, trying to make a link, any link, on how he was a bad pope and responsible for every bad thing in the Church today.”
Fr. Maurice Chase died on November 20, 2011 at his Los Angeles home of cancer. He was 92. Fr. Chase started his life as a “society priest” and ended it on Skid Row. “I love it,” he said. “God has given me the happiest part of my life at the end.”
Nearly every Sunday morning, Thanksgiving and Christmas for almost three decades, the man they called Father Dollar Bill, Father Dollar or just D.B. for Dollar Bill showed up on a Skid Row sidewalk. Clad in a Notre Dame hat and a red sweater over his clerical collar, Father Dollar Bill would hand out crisp, new one dollar bills along with a handshake and a blessing. Father Dollar Bill was a hugely popular figure on Skid Row. Hundreds would gather each week to await his arrival, in a line that sometimes stretched for blocks. “He was just a glorious man,” said Beverly Taylor, who lived on Skid Row for decades. “He was just always there.”
Father Maurice Chase didn’t mind what name the destitute, penniless, homeless and addicts called him. He didn’t care how they spent the money. Nor was he bothered by criticism by other Skid Row service providers–that he was a self-promoting publicity hound whose cash assistance had little impact on the people who gathered to receive his dollar, handshake, blessing or hug.
Beginning in the 1980s, Father Chase gave out untold numbers of bills, about $3,000 each week. Almost all of them were ones, although to some he would offer larger notes, especially on holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. On holidays the total he handed out could rise to $15,000.
Some social service workers critcized Fr. Chase’s brand of charity, saying it had little impact. “I think his desire to bring people love was true, and can certainly be modeled by the rest of us,” said the Rev. Andy Bales, chief executive of the Union Rescue Mission. “But the last thing people on the street need is cash. A lot of people took the money and spent it in unhealthy ways.” People who waited in line for a donation often told Fr. Chase how they planned to spend the money. Many bought hamburgers, ice cream and other treats they couldn’t get at the shelters.
Fr. Chase acknowledge that in a neighborhood where drug abuse and untreated mental illness were common, a single dollar could not get someone off the street. But the money, he said, was not the point. He said what mattered was letting people know they weren’t invisible and that they were loved by God. “I’m out here to tell people I love them and God loves them,” he said. While he wasn’t afraid of potential trouble, a L.A. police officer quietly stood by in case of any problems.
“Maury Chase planted his feet right on the sidewalk, the last place on earth where the poorest of the poor live,” said Alice Callaghan, founder of the Skid Row advocacy center Las Famillas del Pueblo. “He didn’t attempt to single out the undeserving poor from the deserving poor. I’m sure he handed out money to thieves. But it wasn’t the dollar that mattered. It was the gift of human love.”
Fr. Chase began every trip to Skid Row with a prayer about serving the poor: “When you have done it to the least of men, you have done it to me.” Then he prepared the stacks of new dollar bills he had withdrawn from the bank earlier. “Everything is so dirty on Skid Row. I want to give them something new and fresh.” Fr. Chase said he always made sure to look each person in the eye. “By my looking into their eyes, I’m saying you have dignity, you’re a human being, you are made in the image and likeness of God.”
Fr. Maury Chase began his street ministry when he was a fund raising assistant to the president of Loyola Marymount University. His job was to persuade potential donors to write checks to the university. Through his friendship with actress Irene Dunne, he hit the Los Angeles party circuit and became known as “the society priest.” He was frequently mentioned in social columns. He provided photos and information to the editors at the Los Angeles Times to help the paper prepare its society columns.
He came up with his Skid Row charity after contemplating the instructions of Loyola Marymount’s president, Father Donald P. Merrifield, who hired him in 1985. Fr. Merrifield told him, “I’m sending you out among the rich and famous. You better have a balance in your life.”
So, after every society event, Fr. Chase would send letters to potential donors he’d meet, telling them how wonderful the party was. Then he pointed out that many people were less fortunate and needed their help. He often received letters back that included a check for the priest’s Skid Row ministry. After awhile, he began soliciting donations from wealthy benefactors including Bob & Dolores Hope, Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffin, Vin Scully, Bob Newhart, Jackie Autry, Rick Caruso and many others.
At a Thanksgiving dinner on Skid Row put on by the Los Angeles Mission word spread that Father Dollar Bill had died. “Dollar Man is dead,” called out Wendell Harrison, 54, to the other diners.
James Rory, 60, told a reporter his interactions with Fr. Chase had helped him to try to get off the street. “He’s definitely going to be missed,” Mr. Rory added. “Not because of the dollar. Because of what he offered me spiritually.”