Posted in category "Arts & Letters"

Love brought me

Posted by Censor Librorum on Feb 17, 2010 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Faith

A medieval poem – christ3

Love brought me . And love wrought me . Man, to be thy fere. (companion)

Love fed me . And love led me . And love left me here.

Love slew me . And love drew me . And laid me on my bier.

Love is my peace, For love release . Of man I purchased dear.

For dread thee nought, I have thee sought . To anchor near.

To haven thee . Safe in my lee, And keep thee from fear.


And so, Lent begins.  

To hear this poem sung by Medieval Baebes, click here.


Mass in a Private Chapel

Posted by Censor Librorum on Feb 6, 2010 | Categories: Arts & Letters, History, Lesbians & Gays, Popes

On the night of Monday, May 4, 1998, Swiss Guard Lance Corporate Cedric Tornay, 23, killed  Lt. Col. Alois Estermann, 43, and his Venezuelan wife, Gladys Meza Romero, 49.   After they were dead, Tornay knelt,  put his service revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  tornay1

The Vatican handled the autopsy and investigation of the crime by itself, without asking for help from Italian officials. They considered the case  clear-cut. “It was a fit of madness in a person with very peculiar psychological characteristics,” papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the day after the killings.    “That is the only hypothesis,” a Vatican official confirmed. “There is no reason to advance any alternative.”

Estermann and his wife were given a splendid funeral, concelebrated by 16 cardinals and 30 bishops.  Before the service, Pope John Paul II made a point of praying at all three caskets, which were displayed, side by side, for viewing. Tornay was given a separate funeral in a chapel in the small church of St. Anne’s.

Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano said the Requiem Mass for Col. Estermann and his wife  at St. Peter’s Basillica, a rare honor for laymen. In his homily Cardinal Sodano said, “In times like these we feel above all the need to be silent.”   The Estermanns had been married 16 years.   They did not have any children.

The official explanation of their deaths didn’t make sense to people who knew Cedric Tornay. A flurry of articles and books followed the murders.

Bugie di sangue di Vatican (Blood Lies in the Vatican)  by the “Disciples of Truth” was printed by a tiny publisher in Milan. It was reputed to have been written by a group of  disaffected priests inside the Vatican. They  claimed  that  Estermann was the victim of a struggle for control of the Swiss Guard – which had been in charge of papal security for the past five centuries – between the secretive, traditionalist Catholic movement Opus Dei and a masonic power faction ensconced in the Curia. Estermann and his wife were members of Opus Dei. The director of the Holy See press office,  Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is a member as well.

John Follain, a  British investigative journalist and Sunday Times correspondent for Italy and the Vatican authored City of Secrets: The Truth behind the murders at the Vatican. It was published in 2003 by William Morrow & Co. He followed several threads in trying to establish a motive for the murder. One of them was a homosexual love affair gone sour.

One source Follain met and interviewed was  Italian writer and art historian, professor Massimo Lacchei. In his 1999 book, Verbum Dei, Verbum Gay (God’s Word, Gay Word) Lacchei offers ten short stories about homosexuality in the ranks of Catholic clergy. The book would have passed generally unnoticed had Lacchei not called a press conference to announce that the two Swiss guard officers in the chapter  “Mass in a Private Chapel”  were in fact Estermann and Tornay. In the book they appeared as “Major Jorg” and “Lieutenant Kaspar.” “This is not fiction, they (the stories) are based on real encounters” Lacchei told reporters.

The story is an account, spiced up with a couple of lewd ancedotes, of an all-male party Lacchei attended in 1997  at the home of an elderly and important Roman politician. The most eagerly awaited guests were two officers of the Swiss Guard. The story opens with the guests waiting expectantly for the two officers. They arrive, Mass is celebrated, and then, over a meal, the others sit in rapt attention as they relate the story of their relationship. estermann1

Lacchei said he had no proof that the two Swiss Guards were lovers, but their presence at the gay brunch–and their behavior there–certainy made him think so. “They were so intimate and friendly for a subordinate and a captain,” he said. Lacchei told Follain of a second, chance meeting with Tornay in April 1998, a month before his death. Lacchei had been out walking his dog on the Via della Conciliazione, the avenue leading to St. Peter’s, when he saw Tornay and invited him home. Tornay confided that Estermann had betrayed him. He saw Estermann in an embrace with another guard in the changing rooms of the barracks.   “I can forgive, but never forget” Tornay said.

A former Vatican employee told Follain a story about a homosexual chaplain of the Swiss Guard. The chaplain had several affairs with members of the corps. Whenever his advances were rebuffed, he would dress himself in civilian clothes and go to Roma Termini Station to find male prostitutes. “The ex-employee told me,” Follain related, “that a Swiss Guard plucked up his courage and complained about him to the elderly, wheelchair-bound Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, who has been the pope’s closest friend ever since they studied at the seminary together. ‘We will do nothing,” Deskur muttered. ‘The chaplain is digging his own grave.'” The chaplain later died of AIDS.

As Tornay and Estermann’s relationship deteriorated, Estermann began to persecute Tornay. Estermann’s refusal to grant Cedric  Tornay the Benemeriti medal for three-years service–a routine award–  may have sparked the killings.   Hurt and fustrated, there was no where Tornay could go to unburden or be heard. He could not discuss his relationship with Estermann.   Officially, homosexuals do not exist in the Swiss Guard. “I had no choice but to hid my homosexuality,” said an ex-guardsman named Steiner. “I soon realized that the only way to survive as a homosexual in the heart of the Church was to keep it invisible.”

Tall and thin, with a short-cropped sandy beard, Steiner did not return  to Switzerland after his service but stayed in Rome and opened up a flower  shop. “Some people choose to live in the Vatican because for them it is like living in a giant, protective cocoon,” he said. “But for many people life in the Vatican is just a big pretense, because the truth is that under all those cassocks and the robes there are individuals who want to live normal lives, who have desires that are absolutely normal–including sexual ones.”

Vatican spokesman Vavarro-Valls took pains to deny rumors of a sexual motive for the killings. Navarro, who said he had known the Estermanns well, insisted: “”They were a model couple. The fact that they didn’t have children wasn’t important, because they dedicated their time to charity work.”

Others disagreed. “The relationship could not be other than one of a homosexual nature,” Ida Magli, a prominent anthropologist, told the Roman daily Il Messaggero. “”The Holy See wanted to close a case in a hurry, perhaps out of a need to hide a sad, worrisome truth.”


St. Reinold-A Murder and Three Mysteries

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 31, 2010 | Categories: Arts & Letters, History, Saints, Weirdos

The January edition of the Magnificat included the story of St. Reinold, religious and marytr (980 c.) He died at the hands of stone masons and later came to be venerated as their patron saint. reinhold

There are various versions of his life and martyrdom. St. Reinhold may have been a monk, a knight, a pilgrim–or all three. He may be a fabrication of several different people, stories and legends. Even his murder may have several explanations.

Version I:   Reinold was a Benedictine monk of the monastery of Saint Pantaleon in Cologne, Germany. He was entrusted with the duty of overseeing the construction work to complete the abbey.

Reinold was murdered by the stone masons working on the building.   They beat him to death with their hammers and threw his body into a pool of water near the Rhine river.

In one telling, Reinold is killed due to his “over-strenuous diligence,” which incurred the hostility and bitter resentment of the stone masons. In a second account, he was murdered by stone masons who were annoyed that Reinold worked harder and with more skill then they did.

Reinold’s fellow monks were unable to find his body until its whereabouts were made known in a private revelation to an infirm poor woman. His body was taken to the abbey and buried with honor.

Version II:   St. Reinold was drawn from the story of Renaud, the youngest son of Duke Aymon of France.   He was supposedly a descendant of the sister of Charlemagne, and the 4th son mentioned in William Caxton’s romantic poem, Romance of the Foure Sonnes of Aymon.

The four sons of Duke Aymon are Renaud, Richard, Alard and Guiscard, and their cousin is the sorcerer, Maugis. Maugis was raised by the enchantress Oriande la Fee. He won the magical horse Bayard–who could understand human speech–and the sword Froberge which he later gave to Renaud.

The oldest extant version of the story of Renaud de Montauban and his cousin, Magris, was the anonymous Old French chanson de geste Quatre Fils Aymon which dates from the late 12th c.

In the tale, Renaud and his three brothers were sons of Aymon of Dordone. They flee from the court of Charlemagne after Renaud kills another of Charlemagne’s nephews in a brawl over a chess game. Renaud kills the man by battering him with a chess board.   A long war follows, during which Renaud and his brothers remain faithful to the Christian chivalric code.

The four brothers are pardoned on the condition Renaud go to the Holy Land on crusade (or on a pilgrimage), and their magical horse Bayard, who could expand his size to carry all four brothers, be surrendered to Charlemagne. bayard

Charlemagne orders Bayard to be drowned by chaining it to a stone and throwing it in the river Meuse, but the horse escapes and lives forever more in the Ardennes forests.

After further adventures soldiering in the Holy Land, Renaud returns home. On his return he abandons his home and gives himself up to religion. He eventually makes his way to Cologne and enters the monastery of St. Pantaleon, where be works as a mason on the Church of St. Peter. He is murdered by jealous fellow masons.   His body is miraculously saved from the river and magically makes its way home to his brothers in a cart.

In art, St. Reinold is depicted with armor, reflecting the tradition that he had been a soldier before entering monastic life. He is also shown as a Benedictine monk with a stone mason’s hammer; as a monk being killed by stone masons, and as a dead monk being thrown in water.

Besides his identity, I have three other mysteries to solve: 1) why was he murdered; 2) why was he named a saint; and strangest of all, 3) Why he was named a patron saint of the group of people who killed him?

Here are my two versions:

Story 1: Brother Reinold is two people: pious in prayer and a mean, overbearing, and cruel overseer.   Hatred and resentment build up among the stone masons he supervises. He oversteps his bounds one day, striking, kicking or punishing someone he bullies to push them to work harder. The man or his friend strikes back in self defense or in a fury. The others finish the job and try to get rid of the body. A local poor woman knows where the body was disposed, and tells the monks the place came to her in a dream from God. The monks find the body and attribute it to divine revelation. They don’t pursue the killers because they know Reinold was a creep and they need their abbey completed. Over the years, long after all the murderers and monks are dead, Brother Reinhold becomes a patron saint of stone masons because he was associated with them, and his *martyrdom* came at their hands.

Story 2:   A former warrior named Renaud shows up at the Monastery of St. Pantaleon in Cologne after soldiering in the Holy Land. They can’t pronounce his French name and it comes out sounding like “Reinold.” He comes from an aristocratic family, a descendant of the legendary Charlemagne, and cousin to a famous sorcerer. He makes sure everybody knows it, and the fact he has given it all up to follow a monastic life.   He is tough, skilled and hard, and drives himself and everyone around him with a religious zeal. Newly devout, Renaud hectors the other half-pagan stone masons about their lives and picks fights with them. One day, they turn on him in a group and kill him. The body is never found, although local legend has it returning to France in a magical cart–derived, no doubt, from his stories about his horse, Bayard.

Could there have been a darker meaning behind his death? Some historical evidence points to a Christian-Pagan clash or ritual: according to the book, The Ciphers of the Monks by David A. King, German stone mason’s marks (Steinmetzzeichen) were often based on the runes. They chiseled these marks into the stones, especially the foundation stone, as their signature. I can see how that would fill a zealous Christian with horror and anger–an affront to the consecration of the building.

Two hundred years earlier another Benedictine, St. Boniface, was bludgeoned and hacked to death for insulting the gods. St.+Boniface+Martyrdom

Medieval people also used “foundation sacrifices” or burials to ensure the stability of a building–castle, bridge and sometimes, churches. They also had a tradition of sacrificing people to placate the spirits of a place. The sacrificed person, in turn, became its protector. Often these were children, sometimes adults, who were entombed alive within the structure. In other sacrifices a dead person was thrown into a pool of water as a votive offering. Could this been what happened to Reinold?

If a monk-mason named Reinold ever existed, and whatever the reasons were behind his death, ultimately the church profited by his romantic and legendary associations. Over time he became “St. Reinold,” martyred for the faith by fellow stone masons jealous of his example.

In one of those delicious ironies the Catholic Church is so famous for, he becomes their patron saint and protector.

I did notice that mason’s hammers bear a strong resemblance to Mjollnir, the hammer of Thor. Just a coincidence, or a subtle clue to his killers? mjollnir


What happened to Mary Daly?

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 23, 2010 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, Dissent, History, Lesbians & Gays, Musings, Weirdos

Mary Daly, 81, died two weeks ago, mostly forgotten, certainly unshriven.   Carolyn Moynihan, deputy editor of MercatorNet, noted that Daly “seems to have departed this life as a kind of orphan herself. The New York Times obituary notes that she ‘leaves no immediate survivors’. No family on earth? No father in heaven? I hope it really was not like that for Mary Daly at the end.” mary daly

After her two first two books, which stood the Catholic world on its head, Mary Daly spun off into the ether, writing books with titles like:    Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage;   and Quintessence..Realizing the Archaic Future. Daly created her own language, but most people weren’t interested in learning it.   She lost her hold on the larger Catholic imagination.

In the 80s the lesbian herd moved past her, too, migrating on towards the mainstream–“Ellen,” “The L Word,” “Rachael Maddow,” “Suze Orman,” human rights, marriage rights and child rearing.   The labrys pendant was lost or forgotten. Daly was, too.

Mary Daly was the quintessential Irish Catholic girl. Born October 16, 1928, in Schenectady, NY, she went all through Catholic schools, and received a BA from the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY and a MA from Catholic University in Washington, DC. After earning her doctorate in religion from St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, in 1953, she went on to obtain two degrees from the University of Freiburg in Switzerland, since no U.S. institutions at the time offered theology doctorates to women.

Dr. Daly was hired as an assistant professor at Jesuit-run Boston College in 1967, when the school only enrolled men.   She started as a reformist, and her first book, The Church and the Second Sex, (1968) she argued that the Catholic Church was patriarchal in nature and had systematically opposed women for centuries. In response, the college attempted to dismiss her, but the support she received from students and the public kept her in the classroom.

As a student in the early ’70s at Trinity, an all-women’s college in Washington, DC,   I was thrilled about Mary Daly and her books.   “Someone speaking for us,” I thought as I picked one up, “someone speaking the truth about what it’s like to be a  woman in the Catholic Church.”

Sr. Joan Chittister reflected on Daly’s impact on history: “I learned how to look newly at things I’d looked at for so long that I was no longer really seeing any of them. Women need to thank Daly for raising two of the most important theological questions of our time: one, whether the question of a male God was consistent with the teaching that God was pure spirit, and two, whether a church that is more patriarchal system than authentic church could possibly survive in its present form. These two questions have yet to be resolved and are yet rankling both thinkers and institutions.”

Daly came out as a lesbian in the early 70s–when she was in her 40s. She began to study ancient cultures, and came to regard all major modern religions as oppressive to women, a view expressed in her second book, Beyond God the Father (1973). Her original critique of the Roman Catholic Church as a bastion of patriarchy was extended to the entire Christian tradition. She rejected Christianity’s focus on a monotheistic deity and what she attacked as its intrinsic patriarchy. She asserted that Christianity’s focus on Jesus Christ was just another dimension of its patriarchy–a Savior in a male body.

As Margaret Elizabeth Kostenberger explains, Daly’s “compete rejection of Scripture” on the basis of its “irremediable patriarchal bias” took her far outside the Christian faith. While other feminists called for the adoption of female or gender-neutral language for God, Daly attacked those efforts as half-measures that fail to take the “phallocentricity” of theism seriously.

Her famous dictum, “If God is male, then the male is God,” stood at the heart of her argument against religion. She accused Christianity of “gynocide” against women and suggested that all monotheistic religion–and Christianity in particular–is “phallocentric.”

“I urge you to sin,” she wrote to women readers. “But not against these itty-bitty religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism–or their secular derivatives, Marxism, Maoism, Freudianism and Jungianism–which are all derivatives of the big religion of patriarchy. Sin against the infrastructure itself!”

In 1999 Professor Daly left Boston College after a male student threatened a lawsuit when he was denied a place in her class on feminist ethics. She had long limited enrollment in some advanced women’s studies classes to women only, maintaining that the presence of men there would inhibit frank discussion.

What happened to Mary Daly, that she imposed the same gender barriers in her classrooms   as she experienced? Daly went to Europe for advanced degrees because no U.S. Catholic university would accept a woman in a theology program. Years later, Daly bared men from her advanced courses in women’s studies because she felt their presence would have a negative impact on the other students.   Men, she said, “have nothing to offer but doodoo.”

It may be retribution, but it doesn’t seem right. How do you rail against a system of discrimination, and then implement it with glee yourself?

So I am left with a mystery to solve: why did Mary Daly, a “post-Christian,” continue to affiliate with Boston College, an unabashedly Catholic institution?   Love and hate are bound very closely.   Daly was never indifferent.

Perhaps it began with a girlhood hurt. Daly wrote about her intellectual formation in a 1996 article in the New Yorker “Sin Big,” in which she recalled being mocked by a male classmate, and altar boy, at her parochial school because she could never “serve Mass” because she was a girl.

“(T)his repulsive revelation of the sexual caste system that I would later learn to call ‘patriarchy’ burned its way into my brain and kindled an unquenchable Rage,” she wrote.

Daly described herself as a pagan, an eco-feminist and a radical feminist in a 1999 interview with The Guardian newspaper of London. “I hate the Bible,” she told the paper. “I always did. I didn’t study theology out of piety. I studied it because I wanted to know.”

So with all that, how could she in good conscience continue to teach at a Catholic university?

Here’s what I think: at BC,   Daly could   be an outlaw, get a paycheck, credibility for book deals, and still have the protective mantle of identity that gave her cachet: a professor at a highly regarded Catholic university.

She lived on the piercing insights she fearlessly raised 40 years ago. But Daly had ceased to be a theologian, and even her philosophical writing declined into self-important gibberish. She should have taken her own advice–a person becomes stagnant if they don’t move on. daly book

If you’re going to call yourself a Post-Christian, then be Post-Christian.   If you have moved on… move on, and stop clinging to institutions that you say you no longer believe in.

A man wrote the best epitaph for Daly that I have read:   “When I was in the seminary, attending class at B.C. during the eighties, Mary Daly was a joke. Imagine my surprise when, years later, as a purely cynical move to impress a feminist scholar, I cited Mary Daly in a paper, but was not able to put her work down. Although her work never persuaded me to abandon my beliefs, or my own thinking, Mary did push me to consider a whole world of concern that years earlier I would have dismissed as nonsense. Now, when I think of her, I do not think of a nut, or a totally whacked out feminist. I think of a pioneer, who, although not worthy of discipleship, is certainly worthy of being taken seriously as a thinker and a human being. I wish I had met her, although I’m not sure of how it would have turned out.”


Everything That Rises Must Converge

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 15, 2009 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Bishops, Dissent, Faith, Musings

Everything That Rises Must Converge is a story in  Flannery O’Connor’s  book of the same name. It is a  tale of nostalgia, prejudice, relationships, superiority,  resentment, and ultimately, the space between people who perceive the same thing differently. everything

The title is a quotation from Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who imagined an “omega point” at which the “rising” or evolving human being would meet God.

I see the rising as a metaphor describing the  struggle, debate and entanglement  of the many different  strands and tendrils of  thought, belief, and action over what it means to be Catholic. And, at the end, where the distances close as we  all meet in God.

The debate over Catholic identity  has exposed two extremes in Catholicism: what author and scholar George Weigel calls “Catholic lite,” meaning a form of faith sold out to seclarism; and what analyst and correspondent John L. Allen, Jr. terms “Taliban Catholicism,” meaning an angry expression of Catholicism that knows only how to excoriate and condemn.

In recent days there has been a very  public  exchange between Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence,   Rhode Island, and Sen. Patrick Kennedy, D-Rhode Island, over the senator’s support of an amendment to the health care bill before Congress.   The amendment addresses public financing of  abortions.

In a letter published in the diocesan paper and on their website, Bishop Tobin wrote to  Senator  Kennedy saying, “For the moment I’d like to set aside the discussion of health care reform, as important and relevant as it is, and focus on one statement contained in your letter of October 29, 2009, in which you write, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” That sentence certainly caught my attention and deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe it’s true. And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?” tobin_430

“Although I wouldn’t choose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents.”

“But let’s get down to a more practical question; let’s approach it this way: What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?”

“Well, in simple terms – and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership – being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.”

“In your letter you say that you “embrace your faith.” Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?”

I cannot fault the bishop in the points he raises about being a Catholic and the questions he poses to Senator Kennedy publicly.   In his role as teacher and pastor he should do so.

However, what I am uncomfortable  is the reduction of anyone’s  Catholic identity to one issue – abortion. It seems to me that “pro-life” Catholics –bishops included–need to have the same unwavering commitment to feeding, clothing, housing and educating children and young adults; and keeping them out of wars and death row  prison  sentences.  

In a 2006 study by Elizabeth Oldmixon and William Hudson – When Church Teachings and Republican Ideology Collide: The Perspectives of Catholic Republicans in the House of Representatives, a sampling of Catholic Republicans justified not supporting Catholic Social Teaching by seeing its application to most domestic social issues as less authoritative than Church moral teachings on issues like abortion.

On March 10, 2006, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a “Statement on Responsibilities of Catholics in Public Life.”   The bishops were very firm and unqualified in their oppositionto abortion, but their remarks were not limited to this one issue.

“Our faith has an integral unity,” they said, “that calls Catholics to defend human life and human dignity whenever they are threatened. A priority for the poor, the protection of family life, the pursuit of justice and the promotion of peace are fundamental priorities of the Catholic moral tradition which cannot be ignored or neglected. We encourage and will continue to work with those in both parties who seek to act on these essential principles in defense of the poor and vulnerable.”

I really liked what  Kevin J. Farrell, Bishop  of Dallas   said in his May 17, 2009 commencement address at the University of Dallas, an independent Catholic University in Irving, Texas. “If and when others may disagree or have a different approach or have a different slant on Catholic teaching or belief, honest debate, not confrontation, true dialogue, where we seek to understand the other, not facile condemnation, should be the overreaching way we move forward together,” he said in his address. bishopandlazarus

Bishop Farrell posed the question, “What does it mean to be Catholic enough?” and offered several possible answers: “It means adhering to the magisterium of the church and taking very seriously the length, breadth and depth of Catholic tradition…It means taking very seriously the challenge which theologians in the church have always taken up – to face into and revere the contemporary culture and to relate revelation and our Catholic faith to that culture…It does not mean parroting words and phrases from one or another time and place in the church’s history as though that were the only way to speak of things divine and of things Catholic…It means being a leaven in a society that seeks insight, example and inspiration even as it claims to be postreligion, postchurch and post-Christianity.”

“It means being humble before God and each other, acknowledging that no one of us has all the answers to the question, What does it mean to be Catholic enough? We know well that no one of us can ever have all the answers. No theologian or professor or pope has ever had or ever will have all the answers to what it means to be authentically and fully Catholic.”


Reason, Revelation and The Catholic Mind

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 3, 2009 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Musings, Popes

During Pope Benedict XVI’s recent trip to the Czech Republic, the pope emphasized   that Europe had been deeply shaped by its Christian roots. Invoking his own background as an academic, he warned the Czech academic community against allowing a modern-day preoccupation with reason to cancel out faith. pope visit

“What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded,” he asked.

In another address to Czech academics in Prague, the pope inveighed against the perils of relativism. He also underlined the need to mend “the breach between science and religion.”

Some young Christians said they felt alienated by the pope’s “moral absolutism” who appeared more intent on preserving the church’s traditions than an adapting to modern times.

“A pope’s visit should energize all Christians,” said Daniel Barton, 25, a youth leader in the country’s largest protestant denomination, “but I find his social conservatism quite ridiculous.”

“The Vatican and this pope have been absolutizing the traditions of the past without thinking of the reasoning behind these rules, which is what Jesus was fighting against.”

The very week that he returned, an editor of Zenit, a news agency specializing in coverage of the Holy Father, life in the Holy See, and events of interest to the Church, published an interview with Jesuit Fr. James V. Schall, a professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University in Washinton, DC. Fr. Schall is also the author of The Mind that is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays. The book was published by Catholic University of America Press in November 2008.   The book explores the habits of being that allow one to use the tools of faith and reason to explore all things seen and unseen. The mind

“It is characteristic of the Catholic mind,” states Fr. Schall, “to insist that all that is knowable and considered by us in our reflections on reality. ”

“It was Aristotle who warned us that the reason we do not accept the truth even when it is presented to us is because we do not really want to know it. Knowing it would force us to change our ways. If we do not want to change our ways, we will invent a “theory” whereby we can live without the truth.”

“The ‘primary’ source of the Catholic mind is reality itself,” said Fr. Schall, “including the reality of revelation.”   “The source of our knowledge,” he goes on to say, “is not a book but experience of being and living, an experience that will often include those whose lives are already touched by grace.” schallimage

Pope Benedict XVI is an intellectual, an academician who happens to be pope.   A bookish man, and probably the most conservation and ecologically-minded pontiff we have ever had, you would think he would be open to nature being a source of revelation of God and humanity–but he is not. He is stiffly fixated on homosexual sex and relationships as unnatural.

In his December 2008 address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, the Pope himself described behavior beyond traditional heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work”.

He said the Roman Catholic Church had a duty to “protect man from the destruction of himself” and urged respect for the “nature of the human being as man and woman.”

The pontiff added: “The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.”

Can lived experience can be an instrument of God’s revelation? If so, what is God saying about the increasing openness and acceptance of loving gay and lesbian relationships and commitments? That is something for the Catholic Mind, including the Holy Father’s, to grapple with–not dismiss out-of-hand as a product of relativism.

I hope he picks up this book.


The Stupid Sin

Posted by Censor Librorum on Sep 28, 2009 | Categories: Arts & Letters, History, Lesbians & Gays

I spent part of Friday afternoon poking around in an old marine salvage store in town.   Along with time-crusted anchors, portholes sporting blistered paint, antique lanterns and knives, and leather bracelets sailors used to wear when they mended sails, the store has a selection of old books.   That’s where I head first. halfmoonbay

A title caught my eye, “The Wreck on the Half-Moon Reef.”   It was written by Hugh Edwards, the Australian diver who found the wreck in 1966. The book was published in 1970.

I pulled it off the shelf and opened it to read the jacket.   The book was the account of the wreck of the 38-gun Dutch East Indiaman Zeewyk in 1727 on the savage reefs around the Abrolhos Islands. “The lookout thought that the surf on the Half-Moon Reef was ‘moonlight.’ The result was a quick death for some, a slow death for others, and the torture and execution of two youths for the ‘stupid sin’ of sodomy.”

It’s rare a nautical history includes a full chapter describing a sodomy trial and execution. I bought the book.

Chapter 12, The Stupid Sin, begins: “The two sodomy-accused boys were doomed from the moment that the eager informants burst into the officers’ tent with the news.”   The youths, it seems that they were not older than their mid to late teens at the most, had been accused of a homosexual act. The “stupid sin” as the Dutch called it.

One of the officers, Adriaan van der Grafee, kept a journal during the voyage and recorded their trial and punishment.

“December 1st, 1727: At eight o’clock in the morning the Petty Officers enter our tent and ask to see the Skipper, and inform him that two hands named Adriaen Spoor from St. Maertensdyck, and Pieter Engels, from Ghent, both boys, were found yesterday committing together the abominable sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

The boys were spotted by several others having sex in broad daylight, around 3 o’clock in the afternoon according to the account.

The white-faced boys were brought to the officers’ tent, “But they were not willing to make a confession. Wherefore we placed burning fuses between all their fingers. But being obstinate they would no more confess. So upon due consideration we resolved with the entire Council and consent of the Common Hands, to place these men apart on one of the northernmost islands.”

Marooning, death by exposure or drowning. That is what the verdict meant.

The youths were rowed across to one of the tiny cays at the north-eastern corner of the island group, about eleven miles away from the wrecked Half-Moon, and set on separate islands. The boat, with an official party of two petty officers, a boatswain and six unnamed seaman, then put about and left them to die.

The place they were left is known today as the Mangrove Islands. Hugh Edwards describes them: “Mere nodules of coral slates and spikey bushes raised four feet above the surrounding reefs. There is no water on them. No food, Deep channels run between islets and if they youths could not swim they would have been prisoners, each on his own rock until they died from sun and thirst, or went mad with despair and flung themselves in the water. In any event, death must have overtaken them within a day or two.”

Van der Graeff does not record in his diary whether the two boys were left any provisions when they were tumbled ashore, nor does he mention any conversation or pleas for mercy.

“In the case of the boys,” Edwards opined, “emphasis was placed, on sentencing them, in the brazen nature of unnatural sexual intercourse in broad daylight. Perhaps it was the flagrant nature of the indiscretion that enraged their shipmates.”

Despite the harsh punishments of the time, homosexual relations aboard ships were well-known.

Edwards notes that Engels previously appeared to be the object of bullying and persecution by some Zeewyk crewmen. He says, “it is interesting to note the modern psychological belief that those who are most condemnatory of sexual deviation are often those who sense the desire for such deviation in themselves.”

Whether out of shame or conscience, the incident is never mentioned again in van der Graeff’s journal, and the islands where the youths were marooned were not noted on the maps.

Edwards describes a sad postscript to the event: “More than a century later, in 1844, one of the party who had gone to the Abrolhos from the recently established Swan River colony to survey for guano and a fishing industry, laid his groundsheet down in darkness on the Mangrove Islands, and after a wretchedly uncomfortable night got up gumbling in the morning to find he had slept on a human skeleton.   It may have been the pathetic remains of Adriaen Spoor or Pieter Engels.”

After I finished the chapter I closed the book and thought of those poor boys.   How horrible to imagine them left to die, alone, on a barren ledge of rock. Each knew he was going to die, and had several days to think about it, and how they had been abandoned without mercy or pity.

The author, probably unintentionally, had several rich metaphors in his story: two youths, punished for their audacity in having sex in the daylight; each consigned to an island to die alone. Some of their tormentors and judges were men who, while expressing fear of the Lord’s punishment on their society for the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, really wanted the lads dead and gone to kill their fears of homosexual desire and possibly cover their own involvement.

The best, though was the Dutch expression of homosexual sex as “the stupid sin.” It is a stupid sin. It is stupid, how much time is spent on it, obsessing about it, to the point of murder.


The Catholic DNA of Frank McCourt

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 29, 2009 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, Dissent, Faith, Humor

Frank McCourt, a former New York City schoolteacher who turned his miserable childhood in Limerick, Ireland, into a phenomenally popular, Pulitzer prize -winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes, died on Sunday, July 19, 2009. He was 78 and lived in Manhattan and Roxbury, Conn. 14frankmccourt

“When I look back on my childhood,” McCourt said in Angela’s Ashes, “I wonder how I survived it at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: The happy childhood is hardly worth   your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

The book’s hilarious and irreverent chapter on Mr. McCourt’s preparation for First Communion is reminicent of pre-Vatican II lessons on both sides of the pond.

“He tells us we have to know the catechism backwards and forwards,” Mr. McCourt writes. “We have to know the Ten Commandments, Divine and Moral, the Seven Sacraments, the Seven Deadly Sins. We have to know by heart all the prayers, the Hail Mary, the Our Father, the Confiteor, the Apostles’ Creed, the Act of Contrition, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary…He tells us we’re hopeless, the worst class he’s ever had for First Communion, but as sure as God made little apples he’ll make Catholics of us, he’ll beat the idler out of us and Sanctifying Grace into us.”

The day for First Communion finally arrives.   He’s late to church.

“We ran to the church. My mother panted along behind with Michael in her arms. We arrived at the church just in time to see the last of the boys leaving the altar rail where the priest stood with the chalice and the host, glaring at me. Then he placed on my tongue the wafer, the body and blood of Jesus. At last, at last.”

“It’ s on my tongue. I draw it back.”

“It stuck.”

“I had God glued to the roof of my mouth.   I could hear the master’s voice. Don’t let that host touch your teeth for it you bite God in two you’ll roast in hell for eternity.”

“I tried to get God down with my tongue but the priest hissed at me, Stop that clucking and get back to your seat.”

“God was good. He melted and I swallowed Him and now, at last, I was a member of the True Church, an official sinner.”

In fact, Frank McCourt ended up to be one of the Church’s principal public antagonists. He delighted in delivering bawdy riffs against what he saw as the church’s hypocrisy, cruelty and joylessness. “I was so angry for so long, I could hardly have a conversation without getting into an argument,” he once said.

Peter Quinn, the novelist and a  practicing Catholic, wrote in an email that his friend was neither “contemptuous of believers in general nor Catholics in particular. On a trip we took together in 1998, he went to Mass with me on the Sunday morning that we landed. He respected the fact that I had reached my own peace with the Catholic Church. ‘It’s a good thing,’ he once told me, ‘that you’re raising your kids in the Catholic faith. At least they’ll have a map to follow or throw away. In either case, they’ll know where they are.'”

Mr. McCourt felt it was impossible to fully divorce himself from the church. So when he stood before Pope John Paul II in 2002, accompanying a delegation of 40 mayors from around the world, the little Irish Catholic boy in him took over.   He knelt, took the pope’s hand, and kissed his ring.

“I got up and he’s looking at me with his dazzling blue Polish eyes and extraordinary complexion,” Mr. McCourt told the Commonwealth Club of California, “I had a feeling he knew. He knew what a fraud and phony I was. Then I walked away. And I have to admit, as turbulent as my relationship with the church has been (although they don’t know and they don’t care), I was walking on water practically. I was walking on air.”


Oscar Wilde’s Vatican Embrace

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 24, 2009 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, Faith, History, Humor, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals

Oscar Wilde, whose torrid affair with Lord Alfred Douglas scandalized Britain in the 19th century has won an endorsement from the Vatican. wildebest

In a review of a new study, The Portrait of Oscar Wilde by Italian writer Paolo Gulisano, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said that Wilde was much more than “an aesthete and a lover of the ephemeral.”

“What a surprise!” La Repubblica said. “A homosexual icon has been accepted by the Vatican.” Orazio La Rocca, a Vatican watcher, described the book as a bombshell.

The paper added that Wilde was often celebrated by “the gay world” as an example of an artist persecuted because of his homosexuality. But he was also “a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false.”

Two years ago, some of Wilde’s best known aphorism were included in a book of witticisms for Christians collated by the Vatican’s head of protocol, Father Leonardo Sapienza. The book includes: “I can resist everything except temptation”, and “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”

Hardly orthodox Catholic teaching.

Father Sapienza said that he had   devoted the lion’s share of Provocations: Aphorisms for an Anti-conformist Christianity to Wilde because he was a “writer who lived perilously and somewhat scandalously but who has left us with some razor-sharp maxims with a moral.”

Father Sapienza said that he wanted to “stimulate a reawakening in certain Catholic circles.” “Our role,” said Fr. Sapienza, “is to be a thorn in the flesh, to move people’s consciences and to tackle what today is the No. 1 enemy of religion–indifference.”

Wilde married Constance Lloyd in 1884 and they had two sons, but in 1891 he began a relationship with  the much younger Lord Alfred Douglas. oscar

In April 1895, Wilde sued Douglas’ father, the Marquis of Queensberry, for libel, after the Marquis had accused him of being a sodomite. Wilde lost, and after salacious details of his private life were revealed during the trial, was arrested and tried for gross indecency. He was sentenced to two years of hard labor in Reading Gaol. bosie

The way for Wilde’s rehabilitation by the Vatican was paved six years ago by Jesuit theologian, Father Antonio Spadaro. On the centenary of Wilde’s death, he raised eyebrows by praising the “understanding of God’s love” that followed Wilde’s imprisonment in Reading.

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854 to a Protestant family but became attracted to Catholicism at Oxford.   In 1877 he made the journey to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Pius IX, but declared: “To go over to Rome would be to sacrifice and give up my two great Gods: Money and Ambition.”

During his time in prison he read the works of St. Augustine, Dante and Newman. When he was released in 1897, with his reputation destroyed and in frail health, he moved to Paris.   He was received into the Catholic Church shortly before he died, three years later.

L’Osservatore Romano described the writer’s conversion as a “long and difficult path”…”a path which led him to convert to Catholicism, a religion which, as he remarked in one of his more acute and paradoxical aphorisms, was “for saints and sinners alone–for respectable people, the  Anglican Church will do.”


“Caritas in Veritate” Stuns Catholic Conservatives

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 14, 2009 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Politics, Popes, Social Justice

There were no chorus of  “Huzzahs!” from American  Catholic conservatives for Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”).   The Vatican released the document on July 7, 2009 – just a day before the opening of the Group of Eight meeting in Italy and the week of  president Obama’s visit with the pope.

In fact, there was very little coverage of it at all in conservative Catholic blogs and websites, except for a few who thought Pope Benedict had been hijacked by the Peace and Justice crowd, and that the liberal media gave short shrift on the pope’s passage on family protection and bioethics.  In fact, in this document the pope linked economics to modern cultural issues. And  ethics.

The pope used Caritas in Veritate primarily  to criticize the current economic system, “where the pernicious effects of sin are evident” he growled. The pope urged financiers in particular to “rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity” and also called for “greater social responsibility” on the part of business. “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.” pope-signing

“Today’s international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise,” Benedict stated. “In the search for solutions to the current crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all.”

John Sniegocki, a professor of Christian ethics at Xavier University in Cincinnati, said one of the most controversial elements of the encyclical, at least for some Americans, would be the call for international institutions to play a role in regulating the economy.

“One of the things he’s saying is that the global economy is escaping the power of individual states to regulate it,” Mr. Sniegocki said. He also said the encyclical also contained elements “very critical” of how the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank “have required cuts in social spending in the third world.”

Caritas in Veritate has infuriated George Weigel, a conservative Catholic intellectual close to Pope John Paul II. Weigel ventured that this social encyclical is a hybrid, “blending the pope’s own insightful thinking on the social order with elements of the Justice and Peace approach to Catholic social doctrine…There is also rather more in the encyclical about the redistribution of wealth than about wealth-creation–a sure sign of Justice and Peace default positions at work.”

“Indeed,” he goes on, “those with advanced degrees in Vaticanology could easily go through the text of Caritas in Veritate, highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker.” (Get it…red marker…commie, pinko, socialist, bleeding heart liberal…sigh.)

Trying to come to terms with this awful document, Weigel opines: “Benedict XVI, a truly gentle soul, may have thought it necessary to include these multiple off-notes, in order to maintain peace within his curial household.”

However, that pat on the head for Pope Benedict doesn’t change anything.   In fact, a clue to how he really feels about our unbridled, Bush-era  American capitalistic system–and how that opinion is reflect in Caritas in Veritate, came several months before the release of the encyclical during a question-and-answer session with 400 priests ministering in Rome.   This session was reported by Zenit, the official Vatican new agency.

A pastor from a poor neighborhood asked how church members could do more to push for a real reform of the global economic system. Pope Benedict said he did not want to give a simplistic answer to a complicated question about the reality of global finance and said that, in fact, the complexity of the current situation is what delayed the publication of his social encyclical, tentatively titled Caritas in Veritate.

On the level of global economic systems, the pope said almost every person in every country is feeling the consequences of “these fundamental errors that have been revealed in the failure of the large American banks; the error at the basis of it is human greed.”

“We must denounce this (system) with courage, but also with concreteness because moralizing will not help if it is not supported by an understanding of reality, which also will help us understand what can be done concretely to change the situation,” he said.

While the global financial system must be reformed, the pope said, individuals also must accept the fact that they will have to make some sacrifices in order to help the poor and move the world toward justice. “Justice cannot be created only with economic reforms, which are necessary, but it also requires the presence of just people,” Benedict said.

Zenit reported that Lesley-Anne Knight, the secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, a Catholic agency  “committed to combating dehumanizing poverty that robs people of their dignity and to promoting the rights of the poor,” said in a press release that the encyclical, which reflects on Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (“The Development of Peoples”) “highlights how a blind pursuit of profits over ethics had become detrimental to people and the planet.”

Knight continued: “The crisis exposed systemic failures generated by careless speculation for the benefit of a handful of people and at the expense of millions of poor families. But the crisis offers a unique chance to refashion globalization to work for the majority.”

Read Caritas in Veritate here.