Pious Trash

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 18, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Bishops, Humor, Pious Trash, Politics

“When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eyes of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous.” Flannery O’Connor, “Catholic Novelists and Their Readers” 1964.

Catholics are subject to a lot of pious trash these days. Most of it comes from EWTN media outlets and Latin Mass participants with their mawkish nostalgia; and U.S. bishops who attempt to justify their discriminatory or self-serving positions.  Progressive Catholics, particularly religious, are also responsible for a certain amount of pious trash. This usually comes in the form of goopy sentimentality, or a scolding that applies to everyone, guilty or not. Between both groups I have plenty of material!

A weekly “Pious Trash” quote will be published every Friday.

 

New Topic for Catholic Culture Warriors!

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 8, 2019 | Categories: Bishops, History, Politics

Here’s a novel thought for Catholic culture warriors: 

Instead of bitching and complaining about Pope Francis and the chance he will ordain married men as priests (and possibly women, gasp!) and admit women to the diaconate, why don’t you actively encourage young men in your diocese or parish to go the Amazon as missionaries and priests. There is a great need for pastoral care and the eucharist. There are no priests for hundreds of square miles. Young men today who yearn for the past glories of the Church have the chance to follow in the footsteps of the pioneers and martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries in the Americas. 

While there is a terrible shortage of priests in the Amazon, there is an abundance of clerics in Rome, “studying” or in the service of some bureaucracy. Scarfing down pasta and wine, they swish around in cassocks and live it up in fancy apartments. Time to send these guys packing.  What better place than the Amazon?

 

Dreams of Blood – The Mysterious Death of King William Rufus

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 29, 2019 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Bishops, History, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Saints

King William II of England, also called William Rufus, was killed by an arrow while he was hunting in New Forest on August 2, 1100.  It was a fortuitous death for his younger brother, Henry Beauclerc, who became King Henry I three days later.  It was a convenient death for Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, who battled King William constantly over church revenues and appointments and could now return from exile in France.  It was also providential for King Philip I of France.  King William regularly sent military expeditions to extend his influence and lands in Normandy, Maine and the Vexin.  William Rufus was planning a new campaign in France when he was killed. His successor, King Henry I, immediately cancelled it.

For centuries, the generally accepted explanation for King William’s death was a hunting accident.  That is possible. His older brother, Richard, was killed in a hunting accident in New Forest. But William’s death by an errant arrow was never completely accepted.  Some writers and scholars believe that he was assassinated in order to put his brother on the throne.  Could Henry Beauclerc, some nobles and the French king have colluded to kill him during a hunt?  Could rumors of a possible assassination attempt circulate through monasteries in England and France? Archbishop Anselm and other high-ranking clerics certainly lent support to the killing; they justified it as divine intervention by God to remove an evil and immoral king. 

William’s death is wrapped in several other mysteries. Why the large number of dreams foreshadowing his death? Were they inspired by rumor or gossip? The victim, his friends and enemies all dreamed of his death by an arrow. Why did Walter Tirel  abandon William’s body and leave for France so abruptly?

                Two Homosexuals – William and Anselm

The death of King William II may have had its roots in his struggles with Archbishop Anselm.  The king needed money for his soldiers and military campaigns.  To fund them, he left the sees vacant and pocketed the revenues himself.  Archbishop Anselm was a proponent of the Gregorian Reforms, eliminating secular investiture of bishops and married priests. A clash was inevitable.

It’s easy to speculate that both men were homosexual.  William, even as king, never married, had no offspring, and no reported mistresses or liaisons with women. One clerical chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, described the men at court as having too tight tunics, pointed shoes and hair down their backs like whores. The court was full of “sodomites.”

Anselm’s homoerotic emotions are evident in his passionate letters to fellow monks. They are full of yearning, desire, and anguish. We don’t know if he physically acted on his feelings.  Either way, they are quite a contrast to his admonishment to King William to rid his court and kingdom of homosexuality. Anselm asked the king’s leave to call a national synod of bishops. William responded: “What will you talk about in your council?” “The sin of Sodom,” answered Anselm, “to say nothing of other detestable vices which have become rampant. Only let the king and the primate unite their authority, and this new and monstrous growth of evil may be rooted out.” The king asked, “And what good will come of this matter for you?” “For me, perhaps nothing,” replied Anselm, “but something I hope, for God and for thyself.” “Enough!” rejoined the king, “speak no more on this subject.”

Both men disliked one another. William hated Anselm’s maneuvering. Anselm was extremely frustrated by William’s intransigence and went into exile.

 William’s Death – Accident or Assassination?

All the accounts of William’s death agree that he was killed by an arrow while hunting in New Forest on August 2, 1100.  The most complete account of the day comes from the Anglo-Norman monk, Orderic Vitalis. He wrote that King William dined with the hunting party, which was made up of William’s youngest brother, Henry, Walter Tirel, and Gilbert de Clare and his younger brother, Roger de Clare.  Walter Tirel was married to Richard de Clare’s daughter.  He had recently arrived in England from France. William had been presented with six arrows by his armorer the night before. Taking four for himself, he gave two to Tirel, saying, “Bon archer, bonnes fleches.” (“To the good archer, the good arrows.”) According to Orderic, William said, “It is only right that the sharpest arrows go to the man who knows how to inflict the deadliest shots.” 

William of Malmesbury in his Chronicle of the Kings of the English (1128) described the hunt: “The next day he went into the forest…He was attended by a few persons…Walter Tirel remained with him, while the others were on the chase. The sun was now declining, when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him…The stag was still running…The king followed it for a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun’s rays. At this instant, Walter decided to kill another stag. Oh, gracious God! The arrow pieced the king’s breast.  On receiving the wound the king uttered not a word; but breaking off the shaft of the arrow where it projected from his body…This accelerated his death. Walter immediately ran up, but as he found him senseless, he leapt upon his horse, and escaped with the utmost speed.  Indeed, there were none to pursue him: some helped his flight; others felt sorry for him. The king’s body was placed on a cart and conveyed to the cathedral at Winchester…blood dripped from the body all the way.”  What were the sources of William of Malmesbury’s account of King William’s death and Walter Tirel’s flight from the forest?  He doesn’t say.  He implied that Walter Tirel killed William but didn’t state it.

The Peterborough Abbey’s version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that “on the morning after Lammas Day, the king William was shot with an arrow in hunting by a man of his.” Another chronicler, Geoffrey Gaimer stated, “We do not know who shot the king.” Gerald of Wales wrote, “The King was shot by Ranulf of Aquis.” Research into Ranulf of Aquis draws a blank; there is no indication of who he was. Could Gerald of Wales have meant Ralph of Aix, the armorer of King William?

In her 2008 book, King Rufus, The Life and Mysterious Death of King William II of England, Dr. Emma Mason argues that King William was assassinated by a French agent, Raoul d’Equesnes, who was in the household of Walter Tirel.  No one knows exactly who the killer was, but most people and historians assume it was Walter Tirel.  Could he have killed the king and fled England safely without a plan and accomplices? 

Walter Tirel was never charged for the crime and never returned to England. His son was allowed to keep his estates.  Abbot Sugar of St. Denis, historian, statesman and confidant of French kings, maintained Walter Tirel was innocent. “It was laid to the charge of a certain noble, Walter Thurold,” Sugar writes, “that he had shot the king with an arrow: but I have often heard him, when he had nothing to fear nor to hope, solemnly swear that on the day in question he was not in the part of the forest where the king was hunting, nor ever saw him in the forest at all.”

Who Benefited from King William’s Death?

      1. His brother, Henry, who became King of England three days later.

2. Archbishop Anselm, who returned to Canterbury from exile in France.

3. King Philip I of France – King Henry immediately cancelled King William’s plans for an invasion of France

  1. The de Clare family – close to King Henry, attained great wealth and prominence.

Missing Clues

  1. Where were the different members of the hunting party when the king was shot?

2. Who alerted Henry that William had been killed?

3. Why didn’t other members of the hunting party try to help the wounded king?

4. Why wasn’t the fletching of the arrow that killed King William identified?

5. Who assisted Walter Tirel in his escape from New Forest?

6. Why is there no mention of any attempt by Henry to find his brother’s killer?

Dreams of Blood and Death

Medieval people were interested in dreams and attempted to interpret them. Often a dream would be seen as a sign of future events, or a divine warning that someone needed to change their ways.  There are many accounts of dreams predicting the death of King William by an arrow. They all occurred just before or the day of the hunt. Was Archbishop Anselm privy to a plot to assassinate King William? Were senior clerics complicit in a plot to replace the king?  They could argue that their dreams justified his death as a just punishment from God.

King William II: There are two dreams attributed to the king.  In one version, the king dreamed that he was being bled by a surgeon who opened a vein in his arm.  A stream of blood spurt into the sky blocking out the sun.  The king awoke in terror and called for his servants to stay with him until dawn. In another story from clerical chronicler, William of Malmesbury, William “dreamt that he went to hell and the Devil said to him ‘I can’t wait for tomorrow because we can finally meet in person!’ He commanded a light to be brought and forbade his attendants to leave him.”  The king decided to forgo the hunt but changed his mind in the early afternoon when his good spirits returned.

Robert FitzHamon:  Anglo-Norman baron and magnate, related to William I and friend to William II – had many ominous dreams in the days leading up to the king’s killing. FitzHamon also reported the dream of a “foreign monk” to the king on the morning of the hunt: The monk has seen the king enter a church, “looking scornfully around the congregation with his usual haughty and insolent air.” He seized the rood (a crucifix) tearing apart its arms and legs. The figure of Christ lost patience and gave King William a kick in the mouth. He fell, and flames and smoke issued from his mouth, putting out the light of the stars.  William laughed at FitzHamon’s story, “He is a monk, and dreams for money like a monk: give him this,” handing FitzHamon a hundred shillings.

William Mortain, Earl of Cornwall:  Son of William I’s half-brother, Robert of Mortain. While out walking in the woods, the earl encountered a large black hairy goat carrying the figure of the king. The goat spoke to him, saying he was taking the king to his judgement.

Peter de Melvis:  He dreamt that he met a rough peasant man in Devonshire bearing a bloody arrow, who said to him, “With this dart your king was killed today.”

Fulchered, Abbot of Shrewsbury:  French-born Fulchered delivered a prophetic sermon at Gloucester Abbey (Serlo’s abbey) on August 1, 1100 – the day before William II was killed. “England is allowed to become a heritage trodden under foot by the profane, because the land is full of iniquity. Its whole body is spotted by the leprosy of a universal iniquity, and infected by the disease of sin from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet. Unbridled pride stalks abroad, swelling, if I may say it, above the stars of heaven. Dissolute lust pollutes not only vessels of clay, but those of gold, and insatiable avarice devours all it can lay its hands on. But lo! A sudden change of affairs is threatened. The libertines shall not always bear rule, the Lord God will come to judgement of the open enemies of his spouse, and strike Moab and Edom with the sword of his signal vengeance…The bow of divine vengeance is bent on the reprobate, and the swift arrow taken from the quiver is ready to wound. The blow will soon be struck, but the man who is wise enough to correct his sins will avoid the infliction.”

Serlo, Abbot of Gloucester:  Serlo was a Benedictine monk who was Norman by birth and a former chaplain to William I.  He had the respect of William II, who described him as “a good abbot and sensible old man.”  William was about to set out on the hunt when he received a message from Serlo, informing him of a recent vision one of his monks had experienced.  “I saw the Lord Jesus seated on a lofty throne, and the glorious host of heaven, with the company of the saints, standing round. But while, in my ecstasy, I was lost in wonder, and my attention fixed deeply on such an extraordinary spectacle, I beheld a virgin resplendent with light cast herself at the feet of the Lord Jesus, and humbly address to him this petition – ‘O Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, for whom Thou didst shed Thy precious blood when hanging on the cross, look now in compassion on Thy people which now groans under the yoke of William. Thou avenger of wickedness, and most just of all men, take vengeance, I beseech Thee, on my behalf, of this William, and deliver me out of his hands; for, as far as lies in his power, he has polluted me, and grievously afflicted me.’ The Lord replied, ‘Be patient and wait awhile, and soon you will be amply revenged of him.’” The King finished reading the message and laughed. “Does Serlo,” he asked, “think that I believe in the visions of every snoring monk? Does it take me for an Englishman, who puts his faith in the dreams of every old woman?”

Prior (Bernard?) of Dunstable: The prior had a dream in which he saw William’s armorer, Ralph of Aix, present a sheaf containing five arrows to the king.  The prior felt this boded misfortune but did not tell anyone.

Unknown Monk: While chanting on the morning of William’s death, he saw through his closed eyes a person holding out a paper which was written, “King William is dead.” When he opened his eyes, the person was gone.

Hugh, Abbot of Cluny:  St. Hugh, or Hugh the Great, was a powerful and influential leader. He had a personal reputation as a wise and savvy diplomat.  Hugh advised Pope Gregory VII in his investiture controversy with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. The abbot told Archbishop Anselm he dreamed about King William’s death. In his dream William had been summoned before God and condemned.  The king was killed the next day. 

Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury:  Anselm was in Lyons, France when he received news that King William was dead. In the middle of the night, an “angelic youth” appeared to Brother Adams, Anselm’s guard, and said to him, “Know for certain the controversy between Archbishop Anselm and King William is decided.” 

The episode was described in Flores Historiarum (Flowers of History) a chronicle compiled by various hands, but linked to two monks, Roger Wendover and Matthew Paris.  The Flowers of History also detailed Anselm’s dream about William’s death and his return to England.  “By the impiety and injustice of William Rufus, Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was driven into exile, and remained there til he saw in a vision of the night that all the saints of England were complaining to the Most High of the tyranny of King William, who was destroying his churches. And God said, “Let Alban, the proto-martyr of the English come hither,” and he gave him an arrow which was on fire, saying, “Behold the death of the man of whom you complain before me.” And the blessed Alban, receiving the arrow, said, “And I will give it to a wicked spirit, an avenger of sins,” and saying this he threw it down to earth, and it flew through the air like a comet. And immediately Archbishop Anselm perceived in the spirit that the king, having been shot by an arrow, died that night. And accordingly, at the first light of the morning, having celebrated mass, he ordered his vestments, and his books, and other movables, to be got in readiness, and immediately set out on his journey to his church. And when he came near it, he heard that King William had been shot by an arrow that very night, and was dead.”

Anselm reputedly wept or sobbed when he received news of King William’s death.  The people around him were astonished by his reaction.

 

Was there a Plot to Kill the King?

Yes, based on the number of dreams and premonitions. I believe Abbot Serlo caught wind of a plot and tried to warn William.  Archbishop Anselm may have heard rumors of a plot and started on his way back to England to reclaim his see at Canterbury. I think that Anselm wasn’t directly involved in the assassination, but he didn’t do anything to stop it. The abbots, bishops and other members of the hierarchy may not have known who killed William, but since they believed they would fare better under his younger brother, Henry, justified his death as a divine punishment. 

Who Killed the King?

Based on circumstantial evidence and intuition, I believe that it was one of the de Clares with the full knowledge and support of Henry. Walter Tirel was with the king when he was killed, or found the body, and the others told him to flee since he would be blamed. Tirel was never charged since King Henry and the others knew he was innocent.

Further Reading:

My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries by Rictor Norton (1998) – Best Beloved Brother – The Gay Love Letters of Saint Anselm

King Rufus: The Life and Mysterious Death of William II of England by Dr. Emma Mason (2008)

The Strange Death of William Rufus by C. Warren Hollister (1973)

The Death of the Red King by Paul Doherty (2006)

 

 

Bishop Malone’s Soap Opera

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 1, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

“Remember? The library of the bishop’s house? I hesitated at first in saying that I trully (sic) love you. What I have been feeling for you is something totally new and different from all the other feelings of love I have experienced. Now, I have no hesitations in saying that I love you (in private and in public) and I will always love you more than yesterday. I am afraid,” he continued, “that all that you know about me may compromise your freedom to love or to leave…At this point I cannot imagine my life without you. But I can’t bear the thought of you being entrapped either,” he concluded. “So my beloved Matthew, I hope and pray that you are ‘my other ½ that walks life’s journey with me.”  The writer was worried that Matthew would feel “entrapped” by him because he held an important post in the diocese and because he had revealed painful stories about being hurt by other men.

In a staff meeting recorded by Rev. Biernat, Bishop Malone griped, “It sounds like a soap opera. It sounds like a love triangle. And you know what the media can do with that. With all else that’s going on in the diocese and all the…attacks on my credibility…and that I’ve known that something’s going on here that shouldn’t be and I let it go…I mean this is a disaster.” 

Bishop Malone went on to explain Bojanowski’s relationship with the Rev. Jeffrey Nowak.  The two had been friends and that Nowak mentored Bojanowski as he discerned a vocation to priesthood. After Bojanowski met Biernat, he began spending time with him. “Matthew’s relationship with Nowak cooled you might say, and this was disturbing to Nowak,” Bishop Malone explained. “Fr. Nowak secretly photographed the letter he found in Matthew’s apartment in Boston, when he was there.” 

In a complaint filed with Bishop Malone’s office in November 2018, Bojanowski said Rev. Nowak began sexually pursuing him based on information he told the priest in the confessional. Bojanowski said when he turned down Nowak’s advances, the priest became vindictive and jealous of his friendship with Rev. Biernat, Bishop Malone’s secretary. 

Bishop Malone was afraid of blackmail.  Rev. Biernat told the bishop that he was aware that “there’s a lot of stuff Jeff has,” including information about a prominent priest who was allegedly having an affair.  “Jeff is dangerous,” Malone said.

Rev. Biernat had his own experience with a priestly predator in the Buffalo diocese.  In 2003, Biernat left Poland to attend Buffalo’s Christ the King Seminary.  Once enrolled, was assigned to live with Rev. Art Smith at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in South Buffalo.  Shortly after he arrived, Rev. Smith made his move.  “Art Smith assaulted me sexually,” Biernat said. “At that time I knew enough English to order (a) latte at Starbucks, not to report the sexual assault,” he said. “You know, they don’t teach you these words in English second language classes.”

A document sent by Bishop Malone to the Vatican, and obtained by a local Buffalo TV station, confirmed Rev. Biernat’s account.  “When Father Art was pastor in one of our city’s parishes, a seminarian noted that Father Art seemed to ‘groom’ him to get his affection. One night the seminarian recounted an incident where Father Art came to his room, came into his bed, and began to touch his genitalia.”

Rev. Smith is currently on administrative leave while a child sex abuse claim against him is decided by the Vatican.  When contacted by reporters, he denied he assaulted Biernat. “That’s not true at all,” said Smith. “I know exactly what he’s talking about.  All I will say is, we had a Christmas party, he had a little too much to drink, I admit I had a little too much to drink, and I told him I liked him more than he would ever know. And that was the end of it. It was nothing more.” 

Seminarian Biernat was in for a bigger shock than having his cock and balls drunkenly fondled. When he reported the incident to Auxiliary Bishop Edward W. Grosz, he received this chilling response: “He said it was my fault because I didn’t lock the door. And was Father Art drunk, because if he was maybe he did not know what he was doing? And then he said, ‘Ryszard, if you don’t stop talking about this you will not become a priest. You understand me? You understand me?”

The soap opera continues.  Now the diocese has cancelled all its credit cards, probably as a prelude to declaring bankruptcy. It is battling over 160 sex abuse lawsuits, and under investigation by the state attorney general’s office. 

Bishop Malone’s fate is in the hands of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the Vatican. Undoubtedly Dolan’s antennae are quivering trying to find a signal on what to do. He has a finely tuned political sense. Gay priests do have loose networks, and the New York diocese has its own dirty underwear Dolan would like to avoid airing in the New York Post or feature article in the Times. “Cardinal Dolan has been following the situation in Buffalo very carefully,” said Joseph Zwilling, communication director for the New York archdiocese. “He is aware of his responsibilities under Vos estis lux mundi, he has been consulting extensively both with individuals in Buffalo, including Bishop Malone, clergy and laity.” No timetable on any actions. Mum’s the word.

Bishop Malone continues to defend his handling of the love triangle as “a very complex, convoluted matter.” In addition to the love triangle, he is also battling fallout from the pornographic pizza party involving Hamburg, New York pastors and Christ the King seminarians in April 2019. Read juicy details here and here. So far, his scandal management isn’t working as hoped.

The compassionless Auxiliary Bishop Edward W. Grosz still serves the diocese. Bishop Grosz was named in a string of sex abuse cover ups including one involving a six-year-old boy.  The child was pressured to perform oral sex on a priest.  A seminarian found the boy with semen on his hair, hand and shirt.  He reported the abuse to Bishop Edward Head and Bishop Grosz. He heard no response until months later, when he said he talked to Father Peter Popadick, the longtime secretary to Bishop Head. “He stated something to the effect that…my letter wasn’t well-appreciated,” the seminarian said. “It wasn’t well taken.”

Rev. Ryszard Biernat and the Rev. Jeffrey Nowak are both on leave. The Erie County District Attorney has opened an investigation into Nowak’s sexual harassment of Matthew Bojanowski.  Matthew Bojanowski withdrew from Christ the King Seminary at the end of August 2019.

What do the ordinary Catholics of Buffalo who are watching this soap opera unfold think and feel?  Will they wonder  about what every priest on the altar has he been doing before consecrating the body of Christ?  What sexcapades, drunken parties and hush money is my weekly offering going to support? Who ARE these men I used to respect? Do I have enough gladness and hope left to continue being here?

I used to feel sympathetic and supportive of gay priests, but I don’t anymore.  One bunch is screwing around like they live in the world’s biggest gay bar. The other bunch goes on with their lives and pretends that this behavior doesn’t involve them.  Yes, it does.  How can they write homilies with atrocities happening right in the next room?  I would ask them to reflect on how to live a holy life with compromised morals.

In many ways, the most disgust is reserved for senior churchmen—straight and gay. In Buffalo, they were neither good shepherds nor asset managers. Why isn’t Pope Francis calling them to Rome and publicly knocking their mitres off their heads?  THAT would make for an Emmy-award-winning show!

 

 

 

St. Christina the Astonishing’s Vision of Purgatory

Posted by Censor Librorum on Sep 10, 2019 | Categories: Faith, History, Humor, Saints

Does Purgatory exist?  Is Hell real?  When I was growing up, I thought so.  I stopped believing in both places as a young adult; now I’m not so sure.

I grew up being taught to pray for people in Purgatory as well as to light candles and have Masses said for them.  The living were responsible for remembering those in Purgatory in prayer and for trying to set them free to get to Heaven. 

The biggest reason I stopped believing was the stupidly of the punishment for sin:  missing Mass on one Sunday, saying the Lord’s name in vain one time—after a life of goodness—could condemn a person to Hell for eternity.  Conversely, a person who lived a mean, cruel, self-centered life could avoid any consequences by one expression of repentance at the end.  If God is merciful—and I believe God is—then it seems more measured to consider the whole span of life. God may not follow my logic.

Was Purgatory as a place conceived as a place of purification?  Purgatory was a relatively new formal teaching for Christians when St. Christina the Astonishing experienced it in the 12th century; but other experiences of Purgatory were also popularized when she lived. 

The idea of purgatory as a process of cleansing dated back to early Christianity as was evident in the writings of St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great. The 12th century was the heyday of medieval other world-journey narratives such as the account of an Irish knight in “Visio Tnugdali,” and of pilgrims’ tales about St. Patrick’s Purgatory, a cave-like entrance to purgatory on a remote island in Donegal, Ireland.

St. Christina the Astonishing was born in 1135 at Brustem, near Liege, Belgium.  She was orphaned as a teenager and worked as a shepherdess.  She had two older sisters. Sometime in her early 20s, she suffered a massive stroke or seizure. When people found her in the field, she was limp and unresponsive.  Unable to hear a heartbeat or feel breathing, everyone assumed she was dead.

She was carried into church for her funeral Mass in an open coffin. After the Agnes Dei she suddenly sat up and flew up to the rafters “like a bird” and perched there.  All the mourners except the priest and her oldest sister fled.  Christina said that had taken refuge up there because she could not stand the smell of sinful human bodies.  The priest reached out to her and told her to come down. She told him angels had guided her into a dark place where she saw many people she had known in torment.  This was Purgatory.  Then she was taken to Hell, where she saw other people suffering. Finally, she was taken to Heaven and given a choice: stay in Heave or return to earth to offer penances for those in Hell and Purgatory so they might be released.  Her suffering would also help to convert the living.  She immediately woke up when she chose to return to life.

After her experience of death and vision of Purgatory, Hell and Heaven Christina felt called to suffer for others so they could be released from suffering.  She voluntarily lived in extreme poverty, homeless and dressed in rags.  She lived by begging. She often fled to remote areas, climbed trees and rocks. She hid in ovens. Christina avoided human contact as much as possible, saying she couldn’t bear the spiritually stinky smell of sinful people. 

Christina also sought out suffering to increase the penance she felt she must endure.  People watched her intentionally throw herself into fires and remain there for extended periods of time.  She would appear to be in terrible pain, but then would exit the fire completely unharmed. She allowed herself to be attacked and bitten by dogs and would intentionally run through thickets of thorn bushes. In the winter, she would plunge into the freezing Meuse River. The current sometimes carried her downriver to a watermill where the wheel “whirled her around in a manner frightful to behold.” Christina would emerge from all these self-torments bloody but unhurt—no scars, burns or broken bones.  Despite a lifetime of abuse and hard living, Christina died at the ripe old age of 74 on July 25, 1224 at the Dominican Monastery at Sint-Truiden (Saint-Trond). She spent the last three years of her life there, and according to the prioress was generally docile and well-behaved.

People had mixed opinions about Christina.  Was she insane? Was she possessed? Was she a holy woman and mystic sent to warn people about the fires and pains of Purgatory?

Centuries later, we read regularly about people who have near death experiences and believe they have glimpsed the afterlife.  Most of them describe tunnels of light and bliss, but some have described a Purgatory or Hell-like place.  We also know now that people who experience a hypoxic-anoxic brain injury can wake to cognitive, physical and psychological changes. This injury appears to be what happened to St. Christina the Astonishing.  She most likely had a heart attack or massive stroke and oxygen didn’t reach her brain for several minutes or longer, resulting in a deathlike state and permanent brain damage.

Several saints besides St. Christina have had a vision journey to Purgatory and back.  They include St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Lidwina of Schiedam, and St. Maria Faustyna Kowalska, the saint who inspired Divine Mercy Sunday. Several of the “seers” of Medjugorje have visited Purgatory, Heaven and Hell with the Blessed Mother, who regularly sends messages to the seers about these places and the people populating them.  The main message is that they need to believe in them, pray and do penance to help the people who are there.  There is nothing new or original in these visions. We have seen the same scenes in paintings, stained glass windows, catechism lessons, books and TV.

Jesus mentioned Paradise and Gehenna, but never a place like Purgatory. Was it concocted as a way station for pilgrims on their way home or a course correction for the living? Does Purgatory answer a primal need for a connection to the dead; and prayer and penance a way to commune and express our care and love for them?  It is also an outreach to the forgotten—something the Church teaches us to honor in the here and now.

 

 

Pope JPII Institute’s Family Values Shift – From Martinet to Listener

Posted by Censor Librorum on Sep 1, 2019 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Popes

Pope Francis continues to move Catholicism from irrelevant to part of ordinary life. A large part of this change is his focus on family, emphasizing warm pastoral care over purity and sexual sins. The switch will help to stem the flow of people, especially young people, out of the Church. 

The latest change began with his September 8, 2017 Apostolic Letter, Summa Familiae Cura, where he modified the name of Pope John Paul II’s Institute on Marriage and Family and started the process of changing its statutes. The new name is the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Matrimonial and Family Sciences. 

Summa Familiae Cura has the flavor of Pope Francis’s two previous Apostolic Exhortations:  Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), published in 2013 and especially Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), published in April 2016.  It is obvious that Pope Francis intended the newly renamed institute to heavily incorporate Amoris Laetitia into its curriculum and culture. The Institute will also broaden its educational focus from theology to include “family sciences.”  This passage on the first page of Summa Familiae Cura must have given conservatives a chill:

“Anthropological-cultural change, that today influences all aspects of life and requires an analytic and diversified approach, does not permit us to limit ourselves to practices in pastoral ministry and mission that reflect forms and models of the past. We must be informed and impassioned interpreters of the wisdom of the faith in a context which individuals are less well supported than in the past by social structures, and in their emotional and family life. With the clear purpose of remaining faithful to the teaching of Christ, we must therefore look, with the intellect of love and with wise realism, at the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with its lights and shadows.”

Several phrases leap out:  The Church would no longer “limit ourselves to practices in pastoral ministry and mission that reflect forms and models of the past.”  That statement opened the door to new ways of accompanying people through challenges in their lives. “With the clear purpose of remaining faithful to the teaching of Christ…”  That sentence signals a dramatic philosophical shift in attitude from the usual clerical admonishment to adhere to the teaching of the Magisterium. 

The pope announced that he would broaden the Institute’s studies and coursework. While the graduate school’s curriculum had previously centered on the theology of marriage and the family, it will be changed to incorporate social sciences and other approaches to studying the family.  The licentiate and doctoral programs have been retained, but there is no explicit reference in the new statutes to John Paul II, his Theology of the Body, or Humanae Vitae. New faculty will be added. Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia as Grand Chancellor of the refounded JPII Institute.  Archbishop Paglia is now firmly in charge of curriculum and hiring.  The revamped Institute will promote the thought of Pope Francis, and open windows and doors to the lived experience of Catholic families–not an idealized one promoted by celibate clerics. 

The appointment of Archbishop Paglia must stick in the craw of a lot of conservative Catholics.  Archbishop Paglia was the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family from 2012 to 2016 and Bishop of Teri-Narni-Amelia, Italy, from 2000 to 2012. He was the postulator for the cause of canonization of St. Oscar Romero (1917 – 1980), the assassinated Archbishop of San Salvador in El Salvador.  Archbishop Paglia has raised conservative hackles before, especially with his massive mural of sinners on the façade of his cathedral church. It depicts Jesus carrying nets of sinners to heaven, including Bishop Paglia himself.  Life Site News described the group in the nets as “homosexuals, transsexuals, prostitutes and drug dealers.” Jesus’ penis can be seen through his translucent garb.  This is slightly scandalous, but no more so than the usual image of a crucified Jesus whose skimpy loincloth barely covers his thighs. That suggestive image has been a fixture in many Catholic churches for years. 

The release of Summa Familiae Cura came two days after the death of Cardinal Carlo Caffarra. Cardinal Caffarra was appointed president by Pope John Paul II when the Institute was founded in 1981. He was an influential mentor to the long-serving president and professor of moral theology, Monsignor Livio Melina.  Msgr. Melina had taught at the Institute since 1986 and served as its president from 2006-2016.

Cardinal Caffarra was one of the four cardinals who signed the Dubia, a series of theological questions on Amoris Laetitia presented to Pope Francis in 2016. The document sought to force the pope to clarify any ambiguity regarding communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, among other issues. 

The Vatican’s PR machine cranked into action this summer as the Institute’s reorganization was completed and the fall semester drew close.  In a press release issued on July 29, 2019 the Institute defended its changes in statues and faculty: “The academic project of the new Institute, approved by the Congregation for Catholic Education, is designed as a widening of reflection on the family, and not as a replacement of themes and topics. Such expansion, showing even more the centrality of the family in the church and in society, confirms and relaunches with new vigor the original and still fruitful intuition of St. John Paul II.”

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano ran an article explaining why the Institute needed to better understand families.  Avvenire, Italy’s national Catholic newspaper, published an article on July 30, 2019 describing how people at the Institute had criticized the work of the two synods on the family and the post-synodal document, Amoris Laeititia.  Without naming specific faculty, Luciano Moia, the author, said the attacks were especially inappropriate because they came from “the heart of an institute that should have represented the field of high-level, specialized formation, one of the drivers of renewal, not the organizer of an insurgent fraction.”

Two of the authors of that discontent were dumped from JPII’s faculty and administration:  Monsignor Livio Melina, who held the Chair of Fundamental Moral Theology and Fr. Jose Noriego, who held the Chair of Specialized Moral Theology.  Both were notified that their positions had been eliminated.  Little wonder—Msgr. Melina insisted on interpreting the ideas contained in Amoris Laeititia in the light of Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals on family, Familiaris Consortio, and the Church’s moral teaching, Veritatis Splendor. As the gospel says, new wine in old wineskins doesn’t work.

 Fr. Jose Granados, an official of the Institute, doggedly defended the old professor. “The way that you understand (the 1993 encyclical) Veritatis splendor will shape the way you view particular moral issues, such as the morality of contraception or sexual acts outside of marriage….Is it not that Melina…has remained faithful to Humanae vitae and Veritats splendor..?”

 Hint: If you try to undermine the Pope it’s not healthy for your career in Catholic academia.  What happened to Msgr. Melina sounds like what happened to Fr. Charles Curran and many other theologians, educators and religious during the Pope John Paul II/Pope Benedict era.  There was no welcome mat for dissidents.

What horrified Fr. Granados the most was the prospect of welcoming Fr. Maurizio Chiodi to the faculty of the Institute.  “Rumors now circulate that Professor Maurizio Chiodi will come to teach, who opens himself up to the lawfulness of contraception and accepts homosexual acts as ‘possible’ in some situations.”  Fr. Chiodi is a professor of moral theology at the Northern University of Milan and a new member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.  He has been described as a “disciple” of Cardinal Caffarra’s old adversary, German priest Bernard Haring. Fr. Haring was a Roman Catholic scholar who influenced the sweeping modernization of Vatican II by emphasizing a moral theology of Christian love rather than the cataloging of sins.  He also advocated the virtue of listening. ”All of us dislike a fellow who always speaks to us and never listens,” Haring told Catholic University (DC) students in 1964. ”If the church doesn’t listen to the world, then the world will never listen to the church.”

 

The Church’s Own Gender Bending: The Castrati

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 25, 2019 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Popes, Scandals

Many church officials are going nuts over transgender people calling them unnatural, delusional, or a fad.  Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education, was issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education on June 10, 2019.  The document brands changing understanding toward gender identity and sexuality as a cultural and historical trend in “gender theory” that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

How does the Vatican explain its own “gender theory” creation–the Castrati?  As with most sexual and religious issues in Catholicism, misogyny is at the bottom of it. 

In 1588, Pope Sixtus V banned women from singing on stage in any public theater or opera house.  They were already banned from singing in church by the Pauline dictum “mulieres in ecclesiis tacesant” (“let women keep silent in churches” 1 Corinthians, ch.14, v. 34).  In 1589, in response to a demand for feminine voices to hit the high notes, Pope Sixtus V published the bull Cum Pro Nostro Pastorali Munere, reorganizing the choir at St. Peter’s Basilica specifically to include castrati. The pope was aware the public craved the “voices of angels.”

The process of castrating promising young boys to compensate for the loss of female sopranos became prevalent.  This surgical manipulation of nature preserved boys’ high youthful voices although they had the vocal power of men.  The promise of lucrative careers persuaded many poor Italian parents to castrate their sons if they possessed musical talent. It is believed that many operations to remove testicles were carried out by slitting the groin and severing the spermatic cord.  Some boys could still achieve an erection depending on the age they were castrated.

Castrati were sexually attractive to members of both sexes.  Because male castrati could not procreate, women found them particularly attractive as casual sex partners. Castrati developed the reputation of having enhanced sexual prowess due to their lack of sensation.

According to a story by author Tony Perrottet, even the famous Casanova was tempted. “Rome forces every man to become a pederast,” he sighed in his memoirs. His most confusing moment came when he met a particularly lovely teenage castrato named Bellino in an inn. Casanova was bewitched, going so far as to offer a gold doubloon to see the boy’s genitals. In an improbable twist, when Casanova grabbed Bellino in a fit of passion, he discovered a false penis: it turned out that the castrato was a girl, who historians have identified as Teresa Lanti. She had taken up the disguise to circumvent the ban on female singers in Italy. She later “came out” to perform in other European countries which did not have restrictions on female singers.

In the 17th century thousands of boys between the ages of 8 and 12 were castrated annually. While there is no exact figure, 80% are estimated to have survived the surgery. A lucky few became celebrities. The rest festered in small church choirs or became prostitutes or beggars.  The castrati often grew up with feminine features and smooth, hairless bodies.  Some of them were tall and gangly, others grew breasts and heavy buttocks.  Castration for the sake of art was finally banned in the early 19th century.  However, Italian doctors continued to create castrati until 1870.  The Vatican employed them as singers in the Sistine Chapel until 1903.  In truth, the church condoned—or looked the other way—when adolescent boys were castrated in order to produce males with soprano voices. 

In the 1993 book, Engel wider Willen: Die Welt der Kastraten (Angels Against their Will) German historian Hubert Ortkemper said the castrato Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922) performed in the Sistine Chapel until 1913. Moreschi lived long enough to make recordings in 1902 and 1904.  You can listen to him sing, “Ave Maria” here.

The most famous castrato, Carlo Broschi, was born in a small city in Southern Italy in 1705.  Better known by his stage name Farinelli; he became the greatest opera singer of the 18th century, performing all over Europe.  His stage career lasted from 1720 to 1737.  He outlived most of his contemporaries and died in Bologna in 1782.  In 2006, Farinelli’s remains were exhumed to be moved to another cemetery.  Scientists and antiquarians took the opportunity to study the effects of castration on body development.  They discovered osteoporosis and a condition called hyperostosis frontalis interna in Farinelli’s bones.  These conditions are common in older, post-menopausal women. 

In his mind-blowing article “Some Men Are Born Eunuchs” former Providence College professor, Anthony Esolen, compared the castrati operations to the process of transitioning from male to female (transwomen). His verdict: “However sick it was to do that then; it is far sicker to do what we do now.” According to his reasoning, a castrated boy at least produced a beneficial outcome; a beautiful voice for art or liturgy, financial security, or social status. “He” would still be a “he.” In contrast, the “mutilation” a transwoman endures to achieve feminine characteristics does not produce a beneficial outcome, only a freak who was “troweled out for a mock vagina.” “He” wants to become a “she.” Esolen’s article is obviously meant to defend the Church’s position on gender changes and transsexuals. His loathing of feminists, homosexuals, and transsexuals is evident.  But in his haste to condemn adult males who chemically and surgically transition to female, he ignores the physical changes of the castrati.  They became feminine, too, with high voices, breasts, big asses and soft skin. What is also evident is his delusion that a small boy, 8, 9, or 10 years old could make the choice to be castrated.  It wasn’t a noble gesture. They were pushed into the barbershop by their parents or a priest.

The strong whiff of misogyny in the Esolen article is reminiscent of Pope Sixtus V’s decree to ban women’s voices in church and the stage and substitute them with castrati. It appears that it’s better to have males with no balls in the choir than women. 

 

 

Archbishop Lori Investigates Bishop Bransfield’s Mess and Ends Up With One of His Own

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 8, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Scandals, Sex

Bishop Bransfield’s lifestyle was too transparent.  Archbishop Lori’s investigation of him wasn’t transparent enough.

Bishop Michael J. Bransfield is the retired bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia diocese. He currently lives near Philadelphia, PA. Pope Francis accepted his resignation eight days after he turned 75 in September 2018.  Bransfield was appointed bishop by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.  West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the U.S., and has very few Catholics, about 78,000 or just 4% of the population.  Before he was named bishop, Bransfield was the rector of the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC from 1990 to 2005.  He arrived in West Virginia with a reputation for enjoying a “party atmosphere” from his time in Washington. Bishop Bransfield was a regular visitor to the Vatican.  In 2010 he presented a cake to Pope Benedict for the pope’s 83rd birthday.  He was elected president of the Papal Foundation by his fellow clerics.  This nonprofit distributes millions of dollars to charitable projects on the pope’s behalf.

A few days after Bishop Bransfield’s retirement Pope Francis appointed Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Maryland as apostolic administrator, with a mandate to investigate allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties by Bishop Bransfield.

Archbishop William E. Lori is the archbishop of the Baltimore, Maryland archdiocese and metropolitan for the region. He was appointed archbishop of Baltimore by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.  In the 1990s, he served as secretary, chancellor, moderator of the curia, and vicar general to James Cardinal Hickey, Archbishop of Washington, DC who was a rabid tormenter of New Ways Ministry, a positive LGBT Catholic ministry.  In 2001, Lori was appointed bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut. While serving in Bridgeport, Lori fought against releasing the names of diocesan priests who were being sued for sexual abuse. Since then, he has gone up the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops career ladder rung by rung. He is the former chairman and current member of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine; Ad Hoc Committee on Universities and Colleges, Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage, Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, and chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

I encountered Bishop Lori in 2007, when he was still in Bridgeport but serving as the chair of the USCCB committee on Doctrine.  The Vatican had recently published Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care.  This document was extremely hurtful and negative to lesbian and gay Catholics.  Along with another couple, my wife and I sent a letter to Bishop Lori describing our feelings about it and expressed a wish to meet with him face-to-face to discuss our lives as Catholic lesbians and mothers.  We received a terse letter in reply, very dismissive and cutting in tone, telling us to reread the document and read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Lori’s Investigation

Archbishop Lori’s investigation was probably sparked by an 8-page letter with supporting documents he received in August 2018 from Monsignor Kevin Quirk, Bransfield’s own judicial vicar.  The letter detailed Bransfield’s monetary gifts. “It is my own opinion,” Quirk stated, “that (Bransfield) makes use of monetary gifts, such as those shown above, to higher ranking ecclesiastics and gifts to subordinates to purchase influence from the former, and compliance or loyalty from the latter.”  Besides documentation on cash gifts, the letter details prescription drug and alcohol abuse by Bransfield, and explosive testimonies from young priests who worked as assistants to Bransfield, along with a third priest who had been offered the job, describing unwanted sexual advances, groping, and sexual abuse.

Shortly after Bransfield’s retirement, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Lori to oversee an investigation into the charges. He and his team of five lay people completed a 60-page report of their findings in February 2019.  It was forwarded to the Vatican for review and action. The report was made public on March 11, 2019 by the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  The team examined multiple allegations of sexual harassment and suspicious financial records.  They interviewed more than 40 people, including Bishop Bransfield.  After the report was released Archbishop Lori announced restrictions on Bishop Bransfield’s ministry.

But it wasn’t over.  Archbishop Lori made a few serious mistakes, and the investigation of Bishop Bransfield, already messy and potentially embarrassing, snowballed into a genuine financial and sexual scandal.

Archbishop Lori’s First Mistake

 Archbishop Lori edited the final report to the Vatican, omitting the cash gifts given to him by Bishop Bransfield and 11 other high-ranking Vatican and U.S. clerics.  His reasoning: the list of recipients would be a “distraction.”  His edits came to light as part of a June 5, 2019 story by The Washington Post into the Bransfield case.  Reporters were able to obtain both the original and final drafts of the report and a comparison of the two revealed the deletions.  The investigators on Lori’s team did not raise any objection to his request to exclude mention of the gifts to cardinals and other church officials.  After the redaction was published by The Washington Post, Archbishop Lori had a change of heart.  He said, “looking back on this in hindsight, I would say this judgement call was a mistake.”

Also noteworthy, only after publication of The Washington Post expose did Archbishop Lori refunded $7,500 of the $10,500 he received from Bishop Bransfield to Catholic Charities of the Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia diocese.

Archbishop Lori’s Second Mistake

Archbishop Lori, as metropolitan of the region, had received complaints from Catholics in the diocese about Bishop Bransfield for six years prior to his investigation.  He never did anything about them and didn’t mention them in his report.

On July 3, 2019 The Washington Post reported that concerns about Bishop Bransfield’s profligate spending were raised with senior Church authorities in the United States and Rome as early as 2012.  Catholics in the diocese sent letters and emails to Archbishop Lori and the former apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano asking them to investigate Bishop Bransfield’s lifestyle and leadership. They were ignored.

Archbishop Vigano—whose histrionics about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s abuse of young priests and seminarians made the news repeatedly in 2018 and 2019—also received complaints about Bishop Bransfield.  One parishioner, Linda Abrahamian from Martinsburg, West Virginia, wrote to him in 2013: “I beg of you to please look into this situation.” Vigano confirmed to The Washington Post that he had heard “rumors” about Bransfield’s sexual misconduct, but that they had never been “substantiated.”  “Unfortunately, I do not recall having received any letter of this nature,” Vigano said, “which I would certainly remember and which I would have followed up on.  That being said, the Nunciature receives many complaints every single day about all sorts of things, and it is probable enough that unfortunately this letter was not considered to be serious enough to be brought to my attention.  However, the letter, if it was received, is probably filed in the archives of the Nunciature, thus it may be verified.”

I bet.  Vigano is the same official who tried to quash an investigation into Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt, who also had a predilection for seminarians and young priests.  In 2014 Vigano ordered that documents implicating Nienstedt in an independent sex abuse investigation be destroyed.

Bishop Bransfield’s Gifts

In his 13-year reign Bishop Michael J. Bransfield gave cash gifts to fellow clerics totaling $350,000. He wrote personal checks and was reimbursed with church money.  Bransfield sent the checks, many for amounts in four figures, to 137 clergymen, including two young priests he is accused of sexually harassing and more than a dozen cardinals. Some of the “gifts” were for delivering sermons or speeches, other checks were for birthdays or Christmas. Many did not have a notation. The recipients of the largest amounts were among the most influential men in the church in the U.S. and Rome.  They included:

Archbishop William E. Lori (archbishop of Baltimore) – $10,500

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano (former papal nuncio to U.S.) – $6,000

Cardinal Raymond Burke (former Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura) – $9,600

Cardinal Donald Wuerl (former archbishop of Washington, DC) – $23,600 ($10,000 for a church in Rome)

Cardinal Timothy Dolan (archbishop of New York)-

Cardinal Kevin Farrell (Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life)- $29,000 (for renovations on Rome apartment)

Cardinal Bernard Law (former archbishop of Boston, Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore)- $4,800

Archbishop Peter Wells (former official at the Secretariat of State)

Rev. Michael Weston, Monsignor Walter Rossi, Monsignor Vito Buonanno – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Rossi succeeded Bransfield as rector) – collectively $10,800

Monsignor Kevin Irwin (former head of the theology department, Catholic University of America) – $6,500

Rev. Pietro Sambi (former apostolic nuncio to U.S.) – $28,000

Rev. Richard Mullins (priest in Washington, DC)

Rev. Sean Bransfield (nephew, vice chancellor of the archdiocese of Philadelphia) – $9,175

Monsignor Brian Bransfield (nephew, general secretary, US Conference of Catholic Bishops) – $1,350

Cardinal Edmund Szoka (top Vatican official) – $500

Bishop George V. Murray (Youngstown, Ohio diocese) – $3,000

Men who accused Bishop Bransfield (during and after alleged sexual misconduct) – $50-$300

Rev. Frederick P. Annie, Vicar General, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, WV (Bransfield’s most senior aide) – The three men who held the role received a total of $38,000)

A breakdown of Archbishop Lori’s gifts showed he was given $5,000 when appointed archbishop of Baltimore, $3,000 for travel expenses and honoraria for preaching at two Red Masses in the Diocese of Wheeling Charleston (an annual event to pray for those in the judicial and legislative branches of government) and the rest as $500 gifts given on the holidays.

Even though it is not common practice for bishops to give cash gifts, “usually, if anything, it’s a poinsettia at Christmas or lilies at Easter,” Lori said, he “simply (thought) Bransfield was being generous and kind” when he gave him money. “I didn’t think much more about it than that.”

Nary a thought flickered across his mind…a $5,000 gift from the bishop of one of the poorest dioceses in the U.S.?

Bishop Bransfield – Where the Money Came From

Bishop Bransfield had his own cash kitty to play with – an endowment to the diocese of oil-rich land in Texas that generated an average of $15 million annually.

The roots of this unusual wealth for the diocese date back to the late 1800s, to a friendship struck on a transatlantic cruise ship between a bishop from Wheeling and a New York heiress.  When she died in 1904, Sara Catherine Aloysia Tracy left most of her estate to the diocese, including a large tract of land in west Texas.  Oil was discovered there decades later.

The income generated from mineral rights generates an average of $15 million a year, funding an endowment of nearly $230 million. Bishop Bransfield wrote checks from his personal account and had the endowment reimburse him.  He used over $2.4 million on travel, much of it personal, flying in chartered jets and staying in luxury hotels. He had a private chef. He also used $324,000 for clothing, jewelry and “personal services.”  The diocese paid $4.6 to renovate his residence.

According to the report, Bishop Bransfield and several subordinates spent an average of $1,000 a month on alcohol.  When Bransfield was not traveling, fresh flowers were delivered daily to the chancery, at the cost of $100 a day, almost $182,000 in total. Bransfield’s spending reminds me a lot of the former archbishop of Newark, NJ, John J. Myers, another pleasure-loving prelate in a poor diocese.  A contemporary of Bransfield, Myers also enjoyed destination vacations and lavish spending on his residence.

Why was Bishop Bransfield able to get away with it for so long?  He was nasty, vindictive and intimidating. The men around him were afraid for their positions and careers. They did nothing and said nothing.

A partner at the auditing firm hired by Bransfield told investigators he was “afraid to challenge Bishop Bransfield’s decisions because of the bishop’s position and his overall demeanor.” The diocesan staff said and did nothing out of fear of retaliation and retribution. They opted to protect their positions and careers. Bishop Branfield’s two top aides, Monsignor Kevin Quirk, the judicial vicar, and vicar general Rev. Frederick P. Annie, discussed concerns about the bishop’s conduct with young men but did nothing to stop it, the report said.  “Tell it to the Nuncio,” Annie said when Quirk raised the issue.  Annie acknowledged to investigators that taking a complaint about the bishop to the nuncio would have been “career ending.”

Intervention would also have ended their cash gifts. Vicar General Annie, and the two other men who served in the position, received $38,000. Pietro Sambi, papal nuncio from 2005-2011 took in $28,000 over the years.  Carlo Maria Vigano, papal nuncio from 2011-2016 got $6,000 during that period.  There is no mention of Pope Francis’ appointee, Archbishop Christophe Pierre (2016-present).  Perhaps he didn’t take the bait.

Bishop Bransfield – Life as a Gay Bishop

Archbishop Lori outlined details of what the investigation had found about Bishop Bransfield’s piggish behavior: “The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo and covert suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.”

The report cites nine men in the Wheeling-Charleston diocese who accused Bransfield of running his hands over their genitals, kissing them, exposing himself, and commenting on their sexual attractiveness.  Diocesan officials witnessed Bransfield’s “predatory” behavior toward altar servers, a tendency troubling enough that Monsignor Quirk tried to make sure that no altar server was left alone with him.

One seminarian recalled sitting on Bransfield’s lap, being kissed by the bishop and thinking, “I either do this or completely reinvent my life.” Bransfield asked him to take his pants off.

Seminarians and young priests asked for help.  They were instructed instead to “make your boundaries clear,” or told they had no choice but to join Bishop Bransfield on trips or sleepovers at his residence.  Bransfield used alcohol, oxycodone and other prescription drugs, which “likely contributed to his harassing and abusive behavior,” the report states.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Bishop Bransfield disputed the allegations, saying “none of it is true,” but declined to go into detail since his attorneys had advised him not to comment.  “Everybody’s trying to destroy my reputation,” Bransfield said without elaborating. “These people are terrible to me.”

In his June 5, 2019 letter to priests and lay faithful of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese, Archbishop Lori remarked: “I am deeply pained by and sorry for the harm that the former bishop caused to those he was charged with shepherding in a spirit of Christ-like humility, service, pastoral care and charity.  There is no excuse, nor adequate explanation, that will satisfy the troubling question of how his behavior was allowed to continue for as long as it did without the accountability that we must require of those who have been entrusted with so much – both spiritual and material – as bishops and pastors.”

Archbishop Lori’s words are strong and clear. Now, the hard part. Bishops need to get tough with rogue bishops—thieves, liars, sexual abusers and men who don’t practice what they preach.  They need to confront them, and they need to eliminate them from their ranks.  No more live and let live and looking the other way. Starting with you, Archbishop Lori!  This is also true for diocesan officials. All too often the desire for a cushy career outweighs their sense of decency. Get some backbone.  Blow the whistle on corrupt prelates that are a cancer and rot on the faith.

Update A Penthouse, Limousines and Private Jets: Inside the Globe-Trotting Life of Bishop Michael Bransfield – from Hear Our Voices, The Gay Catholic Priests’ Blog.

 

 

 

 

Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 21, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Faith, History, Politics, Popes

On October 15, 2017 Pope Francis announced a special synod on the Pan-Amazonian Region to take place in Rome.  It is scheduled for October 6-27, 2019. 

The synod arose out of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, “Caring for Our Common Home,” which called for action on global warming, environmental pollution and pinpointed the Amazon region as a chief area of concern.

The Pan-Amazon region spans over two million square miles within nine countries, including Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana. It is home to 33 million people, among them 3 million indigenous people representing 400 different tribes.  It is the source of one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, one-fourth of all oxygen and more than one-third of global forest reserves.

Taking part in the synod will be bishops from the nine countries encompassing Amazonia, presidents of the seven bishops’ conferences, and representatives of non-governmental organizations that work in the region.  Chief among them will be REPAM, or Red Eclesial PanAmazonica, an ecclesial network of bishops created in 2014 to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon. It is backed by CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference. Caritas Internationalis is a founding member. REPAM embodies the promise Pope Francis made in the Amazon town of Maldonado, Peru to affirm “a whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

The 16-page preparatory document for the synod was published on June 8, 2018. It is titled “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.”The document was written by the Vatican’s office for the synod with the help of an 18-member council appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the 2019 meeting.  The synod council included three cardinals, 13 bishops, one nun and a layman.  Most members are from countries in the Amazon region.  The document is organized as a Preamble, Section I – Seeing, Section II – Discernment, Section III – Action, and Questionnaires that were widely circulated to provide material for each of the three sections.

The synod’s preparatory document makes clear that central issues will focus on environmental protection, the rights of indigenous people, and evangelization. But what is articulated within these issues will ignite change not only in the Amazon, but throughout the Catholic Church.

It is obvious that most pundits from Europe and North America who follow church happenings did not read this document carefully. If they did, they would be shocked. This synod is not about a group of natives in the Amazon rainforest with a few mentions of climate change thrown in. Pope Francis and the Synod Council are attempting to shift Catholic culture and religious practice from the Eurocentric and clerical sub-culture model to one drawn from values and cultures based in the Southern Hemisphere, with ripples extending to Africa and Asia. Europe’s domination of 1,000 years is ending. 

The clash of values that dominates so much of the Eurocentric Church today will be subsumed into other cultural debates. There, they may find a new voice, fade away or be viewed as irrelevant. How important are religious liberty, same-sex marriage, denying communion to pro-abortion politicians, sex abuse and cover up, women priests, married priesthood, conscience rights, “authentic” Catholic definitions, and “reform of the reform” of Vatican II in Amazonia?  Newer issues like racism, rights of indigenous people, migrants and immigration, gender theory, LGBT civil rights, lay involvement, habitat protection, and economic equity should get more traction, but the results will be a mixed bag of blessings for both progressives and conservatives.

Here is what I see emerging from the Amazonia Synod:

  1. A new emphasis on “Integral Ecology” – everything is connected and environmental abuse as sin
  2. Evangelization to where people are physically and spiritually–however remote
  3. Older married men ordained as priests to administer the sacraments
  4. Increased role in ministry and governance for women
  5. A cultural and spiritual sift away from a Eurocentric Catholicism

Each of the sections of the preliminary document has markers and flash points intimating where Pope Francis and the Church are heading with this Synod.

  1. Identity and Cries of the Pan-Amazonia

“Nonetheless, the wealth of the Amazonian rainforest and rivers is being threatened by expansive economic interests, which assert themselves in various parts of the territory. Such interests lead, among other things, to the intensification of indiscriminate logging in the rainforest, as well as the contamination of rivers, lakes and tributaries (due to the indiscriminate use of agro-toxins, oil spills, legal and illegal mining, and byproducts from the production of narcotics.) Added to this is drug trafficking, which together with the above puts at risk the survival of those peoples who depend on the region’s animal and plant resources.” 

“For the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin, the good life comes from living in communion with other people, with the world, and with the creatures of their environment, and with the Creator.  Their diverse spiritualities and beliefs motivate them to live in communion with the soil, water, trees, animals, and with day and night. Wise elders – called interchangeably “payes, mestres, wayanga or chamanes”, among others – promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos. Indigenous peoples are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.”

2. Toward a Pastoral and Ecological Conversion

 “This social – and even cosmic – dimension of the mission of evangelization is particularly relevant in the Amazon region, where the interconnectivity between human life, ecosystems, and spiritual life was, and continues to be, apparent to the vast majority of its inhabitants.”

“Integral ecology, then, invites us to an integral conversion. This entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults, failures and omissions by which we have harmed God’s creation and leads to heartfelt repentance.  Only when we are aware of how our lifestyles – and the ways we produce, trade, consume, and discard – affect the life of our environment and our societies can we initiate a comprehensive change of direction.”

3. New Paths for a Church with an Amazonian Face

 “The Church is called to deepen her identity in accordance with the realities of each territory and to grow her spirituality by listening to the wisdom of her peoples. Therefore, the Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazonian Region is invited to find new ways of developing the Amazonian face of the Church and to respond to situations of injustice in the region, such as the neocolonialism of the extractive industries, infrastructure projects that damage its biodiversity, and the imposition of cultural and economic models which are alien to the lives of its people.”

“In this sense, Vatican II reminds us that all the People of God share in the priesthood of Christ, although it distinguishes between common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood.  This gives way to an urgent need to evaluate and rethink the ministries that today are required to respond to the objectives of “a Church with a native face.”

“It is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church. It is also necessary to foster indigenous and local-born clergy, affirming their own cultural identity and values.  Finally, new ways should be considered for the People of God to have better and more frequent access to the Eucharist, the center of Christian life.”

The Synod’s preparatory document cites a wide swath of church documents, three provide the biggest stamp:

1. Laudato Si – (“Praise Be to You”) The 2nd encyclical of Pope Francis has the subtitle, “On Care for Our Common Home.” In it, Pope Francis critiques consumerism and irresponsible development, and laments environmental degradation and global warning. It calls on the peoples of the world to act. The encyclical was published on June 18, 2015.

2. The Aparecida Document – This document summarized the 2007 meeting of CELAM—the regional Episcopal Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean. The meeting was held in Aparecida, Brazil, and was chaired by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.  In the document, the Latin American bishops expressed what they believed to be keys in keeping Catholicism alive and relevant in Latin American.  Those “keys” included a preferential option for the poor and marginalized, and a serious concern for the environment.

3. Pope Francis’ January 19, 2018 Address to the Indigenous People of Amazonia at Maldonado, Peru – During his trip to Chile and Peru, Pope Francis met and addressed thousands of native Amazonians in an indoor stadium at Puerto Maldonado, a city on Peru’s Amazon frontier. It is the capital of Madre de Dios, a region plagued by illegal mining and human trafficking. In his remarks, the pope noted that the “native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present.”  He spoke about threats from extractive exploitation, environmental contamination and illegal mining. He also addressed the oppression of native people by certain policies and movements under the guise of preserving nature that deprive them of their land, natural resources and livelihoods.  Pope Francis promised participants to affirm a “whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

There are several key players in the development of the Synod Council and preparatory document. Since I don’t read Spanish, and there is very little coverage of South America by U.S. journalists, I may have missed a few names but I believe I netted the biggest fish.

Pope Francis

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 17, 1936, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, when he was named 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Bergoglio, the first pope from South America, took his papal title after St. Francis of Assisi of Italy.  The first Jesuit pope, Bergoglio was ordained in 1969, and from 1973-1979 was the provincial superior for Argentina.  Prior to his election as pope, Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998-2013.  He was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001.  In his six years as pope, Francis has championed the world’s poor and marginalized people, emphasized mercy over rules, and been actively involved in environmental advocacy and political diplomacy.

“We are not faced with two separate crisis, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”

 Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri

Cardinal Baldisseri has served as general secretary of the Synod of Bishops since September 21, 2013.  He introduced and explained in depth the Amazonia synod’s preparatory document during the Vatican press conference on June 8, 2018.  Hand-picked by Francis to reorganize the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Baldisseri is a veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps.  He has served as apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, India, Nepal and Brazil (2002-2012). In Brazil, he negotiated an agreement regulating the juridical status of the church.

“Although the theme refers to a specific territory, such as the Pan-Amazon region – and this is why we speak about the “Pan-Amazon Synod” – the reflections that concern it go beyond the regional context, because they regard the whole Church and also the future of the planet. These reflections are intended to bridge to other similar geographical realities such as, for example, the Congo basin, the Central American biological corridor, the tropical forests of Asia in the Pacific, and the Guarani aquifer system. This great ecclesial, civic and ecological project allows us to extend our gaze beyond their respective borders and to redefine pastoral lines, making them suitable for today’s times. For these reasons too the Synod will be held in Rome.”

 Cardinal Claudio Hummes

Pope Frances chose Brazil’s Cardinal Claudio Hummes to serve as regulator general of the October synod on Amazonia.  The nomination of the 84-year-old retired archbishop of Sao Paulo was announced at the Vatican on May 4, 2019. The regular is responsible for providing a comprehensive outline of the synod’s theme at the beginning of the meeting and for summarizing the speeches of synod members before work begins on concrete proposals for the pope.  Cardinal Hummes was a former perfect of the Congregation for Clergy and has been a close friend of the pope since Jorge Mario Bergoglio was archbishop of Buenos Aires. Cardinal Hummes currently serves as president of REPAM, or the Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica (or Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network.)  Founded in 2014, REPAM is a network backed by the Latin American Bishops Conference to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon.  Caritas Internationalis is a founding member.

“Back in 2015 the pope started to tell me, “I’m thinking of convening a meeting of all the bishops of Amazonia. As of yet, I don’t know what type of meeting or assembly, but I think that it could even be a synod.” He said to me, Let us pray about it together, and he began to speak to the bishops, to the episcopal conferences of the Amazonian region, about how to have an assembly, and so in his heart there grew the idea of a synod, and eventually in 2017 he convoked it.  We have worked hard for the synod, and we will continue to do so in this very important service for the future.  The synod serves to find and trace new paths for the Church.”

“We know now there is another step to take: we have to promote an indigenous Church for the indigenous peoples, to help give birth to and nurture the growth of an indigenous Church. The aboriginal communities that hear the Gospel proclamation in one way or another, and that embrace it, which is to say, they welcome Jesus Christ, have to be able to ensure that, through an opportune process, their faith can become incarnate and inculturated in their traditional reality.  Then, in the context of their culture, identity, history and spirituality, an indigenous Church can arise with its own pastors and ordained ministers, always united within itself, and in total communion with the universal Catholic Church, but inculturated in indigenous cultures.”

Cardinal Ricardo Barreto Jimeno

 A Jesuit, and archbishop of Huancayo, Peru since 2004, Cardinal Barreto is vice president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference.  He is also vice president of REPAM (Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica).  According to Cardinal Barreto, “new paths” will be defined during the synod, directed toward care for creation and evangelization.

Cardinal Barreto has long been a proponent of environmental protection.  Back in 2005 he told his brother bishops during a synod that bread and wine offered at the altar were no good if the land they came from was not properly cared for. “I said that if we offer bread from land that’s contaminated, we are offering God a contaminated fruit. And the same for wine…I remember that the bishops looked at me as if they were saying, ‘What does the Eucharist have to do with ecology?’”

“Too many people think the indigenous in the Amazon are savages with nothing to teach us. ..as one Amazonian indigenous person told me, the savages are the ones who wear suits and ties and have money because they not only exploit natural resources irrationally but also expel (the indigenous people) from their territories and allow those from the outside to attack their culture simply to profit.”

 General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira

 Augusto Heleno, 72, is a Brazilian politician and retired general. He was military commander of the Amazon and chief of the Department of Science and Technology of the Army.  He was chosen by Brazil’s newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, to head the Institutional Security Cabinet, an executive level office of the federal government responsible for assistance to the president on matters of national security and defense policy.

Bolsonaro campaigned on promises to end protections of the Amazon rainforest and limit Brazil’s indigenous peoples’ rights to designate land in the river’s sprawling basin as preserves.  In one of his first acts as president, he gave responsibility for indigenous preserves to the Agriculture Ministry, which is seen as heavily influenced by agribusiness interests.

A major Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de S. Paulo, reported on February 10, 2019 that the synod has become a national concern for the Brazilian government. General Augusto Heleno was quoted in the story as saying, in reference to the synod, “We are worried about it and want to neutralize it.” The government’s strategy for neutralizing the Amazonia synod reportedly includes planting intelligence agents to monitor preparatory meetings and putting diplomatic pressure on the Italian government to intercede with the Vatican to avoid, or at least tone down, criticism of Brazil’s Amazon policies.

“There are foreign (non-governmental organizations) and international authorities who want to intervene in our treatment of the Brazilian Amazon…I’m worried that this Synod is going to interfere in our sovereignty.  We know what we have to do.  We know how to do sustainable development, to stop deforestation.”

 Mauricio Lopez

Mauricio Lopez is the executive secretary of REPAM.  He was the one lay person appointed to the Synod Council by Pope Francis. Lopez grew up in Mexico and was educated in Jesuit schools.  He and his wife, who is Ecuadorian, moved to Ecuador over a decade ago.  In 2009, he took a trip to the part of the Amazon basin that sits on Ecuador’s eastern borders.  “I came by bus from the highest mountains with snow,” he described, and suddenly I entered this beautiful place, where I saw the biggest river, the entrance into the Amazon, and how the flora and fauna were always changing as we went down, down, down. The temperature changed radically, and I felt, too, a change within me,” he said.

“The Amazon reality requires us to be a braver and more prophetic church.”

The Amazonia initiative brings back an echo of my own past. 

Back in the mid-1970s, as a young woman in Alaska, I fought for large tracts of Alaskan lands to be preserved as wilderness areas–national parks, refuges and monuments. I wanted government agencies to insist on environmental protections for areas that were mined, logged or slated for oil and natural gas extraction. The native peoples of Alaska—Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Athabascan, Aleut, Inupiat and Yupik were different, but each group was deeply connected to the land by a deep love for it, cultural heritage and identity.  One connection was through the subsistence lifestyle—fishing, trapping, hunting and harvesting on their ancestral lands.

During that time, I never heard a religious person—priest, religious sister, bishop, pastoral associate, anyone—speak up for Alaska natives or for wise natural resources management.  At that time, the Catholic church made no connection between Nature and Faith.  I missed having my faith strengthen my environmental activism and support for native land rights; and my love for the land and forest strengthen my spirituality and religious conviction.

It now seems like a dream come true; one I have waited almost 40 years to see. Thank you, Pope Francis, and everyone who is making the Amazonia Synod happen.  I’ll be praying for you and us.

 

 

 

The Suicide of Wm. L. Toomey and the Murders of Fr. Ryan and Fr. Ben

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 19, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

Wm. L. Toomey’s Suicide

On Saturday evening, December 4, 1982, a man walked into Sacred Heart Church in Boise, Idaho.  It was wet and chilly. The stranger was blond, tan and stocky. He appeared to be in his late 30s or early 40s. He wore a brown leather belt with a large buckle displaying a Mexican 100-peso coin, and a silver and turquoise bolo tie.  From the tan and the clothing, he appeared to be from the Southwest.

The stranger wanted to go to confession, but it was occupied at the time. As parishioners entered for the 6 PM Mass, one of them, a 91-year old woman named Grace Leeburn, found the man on his back, dead. Blood and drool formed a thin stream by his head.  He had swallowed cyanide tablets. In his pockets he had a wallet with all ID removed but containing $1,900.  There was also a typewritten note: “In the event of my death, the enclosed currency should give more than adequate compensation for my funeral or disposal of my remains (prefer to be cremated) expenditures. What is left over, please take this as a contribution to this church.  God will see to your honesty in this.” Signed – Wm. L. Toomey 

The dead man was never identified.  No fingerprints turned up from law enforcement databases.  “Wm. L. Toomey” is similar to “R. J. Toomey,” an apparel manufacturer for priests.  A clue?

There were several theories about who he was and why he committed suicide in a Catholic church. He may have intended to die shortly after confession, but miscalculated how long it would take for the cyanide to kill him. He may have decided to end his life in church so he could make peace with God, and have his body taken care of respectfully. Or, out of anger, despair or some other emotion, he decided to commit a grave sin in a sacred place.  Investigators believed he had a strong connection to Catholicism. A few speculated he could be a priest or former priest. To this day, no one has been able to identify the man, or why he had come to the church to absolve himself of his sins.

The pastor of the church, the Rev. W. Thomas Faucher, said the funeral Mass for Wm. L. Toomey, and said the Mass was for all those who have died in despair during the holidays.  The stark grey coffin was adorned with fresh flowers. “He came to us to die,” Faucher said. “We don’t know who he is, but we come here in faith to pray for him, whoever he may be, and to pray for ourselves.”

Later on, investigators started looking into the possibility that Wm. L. Toomey’s suicide might be connected to the murders of two or more Catholic priests.  There were a string of murders of priests from Texas, New Mexico and up through Arizona to the Pacific Northwest in the years before Toomey’s death. Some cases produced viable suspects, but many others did not.

The Murder of Fr. Ryan

On December 22, 1981, the nude body of 49-year-old Fr. Patrick Ryan was found inside Room 126 at the Sand and Sage Motel in Odessa, Texas.  Fr. Ryan was the pastor at St. William’s Church in Denver City, located over 90 miles away.  He had checked into the motel the previous night under a false name. 

When a cleaning woman opened the door to Room 126 the next afternoon the place was in shambles.  There was dried blood everywhere, some of it in and around the gaping holes that had been punched through the walls.  The air conditioner was broken and dangling from the wall.  There were clothes strewn around the room, along with several beer cans and cigarette butts. The phone had been ripped from the wall, and the television smashed. The bed was overturned, and the frame broken. A naked, bloody man lay face down, his hands tied behind his back with a sock, his body covered in abrasions, across his buttocks was a long, superficial wound.

By way of background, Fr. Ryan was an Irish-born priest who reportedly spent a decade in Africa as a missionary before being assigned in 1979 to St. William’s Church in Denver City, Texas.  How he got from Africa to a tiny panhandle town in Texas near the New Mexico border is anyone’s guess.

Fr. Ryan often picked up hitchhikers on the 40 mile stretch of road connecting Denver City to Hobbs, New Mexico. On December 8, 1981, Ryan picked up James Harry Reyos,  who was on his way to Hobbs to look for work. The two men drove into town and spent the evening at a bar drinking beer and vodka, before Ryan drove them both back to Denver City. Ryan introduced himself only as “John.”

James Harry Reyos was a 25-year-old Jicarilla Apache, lonely and out of work. He was uncomfortable and ashamed of being gay. He turned to alcohol to cope.  By the time Ryan picked him up Reyos had been arrested 30 times on alcohol related charges. 

On December 20, 1981, the day before the priest was murdered, Reyos accepted an invitation to visit Ryan at the rectory at St. William’s Church. They began drinking, flipping through a photo album of Reyos’ childhood on the reservation.  Suddenly, Reyos said, the priest grabbed him by his shirt collar and push him down to perform oral sex.  After that Reyos fled into the night.  “I didn’t even grab my stuff,” before hurrying out of the rectory.  I was walking down the street thinking, “That didn’t happen, that couldn’t happen with Father (Ryan).”

Several months later, flooded with alcohol, confusion and feelings of guilt, Reyos called police and confessed to the murder. Even though he recanted when he sobered up and had receipts and a speeding ticket to prove he was near Roswell, New Mexico when the murder occurred, he was convicted and sentenced to 38 years in prison.  He served 20. Reyos is working to clear his name and is being helped by public prosecutors and a state representative who believe him and are sympathetic to his cause.

The Murder of Father Ben

In the middle of the afternoon on November 10, 1982–three weeks before the suicide of Wm. L. Toomey–a 54-year-old man was found dead at the El Rancho Motel in Yuma, Arizona. When the police arrived they found the man face down on the bed.  He was naked. His hands were bound behind his back with black electrical tape. The victim was identified as Father Benjamin J. Carrier from Our Lady of Light Church in San Diego, California.  He priest had been strangled. 

References to “Father Ben” as he was called, can be found in California newspapers from 1967 through the early 70s. He had a reputation for trying to help the homeless and the down and out. 

It appears the priest was killed by two hitchhikers he had picked up. One witness said she saw Father Ben with two young men at the motel pool the day before he was killed. The motel manager said a young man with light facial hair was in Carrier’s truck when he arrived at the motel. Carrier paid for two people to stay the night. The priest’s truck was found abandoned in Las Vegas a few weeks later.

A week after the murder, The Southern Cross, the newspaper of the San Diego Archdiocese, published an article about Fr. Ben. Maudlin and dramatic, the article was ironic in a way it wasn’t meant to be: “..Father Ben was not a cautious man,” the writer said. “He took the scriptures very seriously, and so he lived dangerously, risking himself not wisely, not sensible, but in the only way he could. And in his imprudence, his foolishness, he shamed us in our comfortable self-protection…It is a heavy burden, and few of us could heft it with the same dogged self-immolation that he did. But we can all give a little more of ourselves, drop a few more defenses, mortgage a little more comfort and safety, to carry Christ’s mission into danger zones of unbelief.”

Murder Theories

One of the investigators in Wm. L. Toomey’s suicide felt there was a connection between the unknown man and the unsolved killings of several priests, including Fr. Ryan and Fr. Ben.  He thought Toomey was a priest or a former priest, and probably a victim of sexual abuse himself.

I think whoever killed Fr. Ryan and Fr. Ben was a victim of sexual abuse.  The savagery and violence in the murders point to a very deep anger and rage. But whether the murder was the same person isn’t clear. Was each killing random, or was it a serial killer? Were the killings personal revenge for sexual abuse, or an opportunistic killing during a sexual encounter? 

What is clear to me is that church officials and local police never tried very hard to catch the killer. There is no mention of accumulated evidence–motel records, phone calls, witness statements, fingerprints, sketches, blood and semen analysis, sexual activity or assault. The police, parishioners, friends and others found it hard to believe–didn’t want to believe–a Catholic priest was killed after bringing another man to a motel for sex.

Wm. L. Toomey was buried in Dry Creek Cemetery in Boise, Idaho.  Fr. Ben was brought back to San Diego to be buried. Fr. Patrick “Paddy” Ryan’s body was flown back to Ireland, and interred in St. Fintan’s Cemetery in Doon, Co. Limerick.  Bishop Leroy Matthiesen of Amarillo and Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of San Angelo presided at Ryan’s funeral on December 29th, a week after his murder.  Bishop Matthiesen called Fr. Ryan “yet another martyr.”

That was a curious choice of words.  I wonder why kind of martyrdom he had in mind.