Posted in category "Arts & Letters"

Death by Cannon

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 9, 2017 | Categories: Arts & Letters, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals

In 1612 a French expedition departed from Cancale, Brittany in France under the command of Daniel de la Touche, Seigneur de la Ravardiere, and Admiral Francois de Razilly. Carrying 500 colonists and some Capuchin friars, they arrived on the northern coast of what is today the Brazilian state of Maranhao.

The colonists soon founded a village, which they named “Saint Louis” in honor of the French king, Louis IX. This later became Sao Luis in Portuguese.

In 1614, a man of the Tupinamba tribe known as “Tibira” was sentenced to death and publicly executed for the crime of sodomy.  He was strapped in front of a canon and blown to pieces.

I assume whoever had him killed deliberately utilized the phallic symbolism of a firing cannon. Since this spectacular execution goes well beyond the usual punishment for sodomy–flogging, beheading, hanging or exile–I suspect Tibira’s accuser, betrayer or murderer was a secret homosexual, and may have even had sex with him.

The reason we know about Tibira’s death is its mention in a travel diary kept by a French Capuchin, Yves D’Evreux.  He recorded the execution as he passed through Maranhao.  A translation of his diary appears as Voyage au nord du Bresil fait en 1613 et 1614.

Yves D’Evreux, with his vow of chastity, prominently noted his distraction and upset with the nudity and sexual availability of the Tupinamba women. He wrote their sexual activity was diabolically inspired.  I’m sure that meant he was often tempted or aroused.

The colony didn’t last long.  A Portuguese expeditionary force, under the command of Alexandre de Moura, defeated and expelled the French colonists in 1615.

Four centuries later, a gay activist in northeastern Brazil came across this incident as part of his research into local history.  Luiz Mott was a contributor to the 2003 book, Infamous Desire, Male Homosexuality in Colonial Latin America.  His chapter is titled: “Crypto-Sodomites in Colonial Brazil.” Mott is also the director of the Grupo Gay da Bahia and one of Brazil’s leading gay activists.

Mott made headlines across Brazil because he stated he wanted the Catholic Church to recognize Tibira as a “queer saint.”  While that hasn’t happened yet, he did succeed in having a monument erected to Tibira in Sao Luis in 2016. The inscription reads: “The first victim of homophobia in Brazil.”

The photo shows a smiling Luiz Mott appearing to point to Tibira’s genitals.  I don’t know if this is an error or deliberate on his part, but seems undignified for a violent martyrdom.

A short film, Tibira is Gay, by Emillio Gallo, focuses on the experiences of five gay Indian youths in Barreirinha, a remote city in the Maranhao interior.  It mentions Tibira’s execution.  I found the young men to be very brave to come forward on camera, and earnest, hopeful and lonely.  Perhaps the young Tibira was like them.

 

 

 

 

Summa Familiae Cura

Posted by Censor Librorum on Sep 26, 2017 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Humor, Popes

Pope Francis has overhauled the Vatican institute most closely associated with the conservative sexual morals promoted by St. John Paul II, saying it was necessary to adapt and expand its mission to address the reality of today’s Catholics.

Officials said the revamped John Paul II Theological Institute for the Marriage and Family Sciences will offer degrees in the social sciences — such as sociology, anthropology, psychology — as well as biology and other sciences, reflecting a vision of the family that goes well beyond strict Catholic theology.

The inclusion of biological sciences in the curriculum, and a mission statement that cites a focus on human “regeneration” and care for the planet, suggests that the revamped institute will address human sexuality, the environment and the church’s position on artificial contraception.

With a motu proprio issued on September 19, 2017, Pope Francis closed the Vatican institute set up by St. Pope John Paul II to study marriage and family life, replacing it with a new institute with a different name and different focus.

The papal document, Summa Familiae Cura, formally ends the work that started in 1981 as the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.  In its place the motu proprio establishes the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.

The new institute is intended to take a different approach to the study of family life.  It will reflect the work of the two recent Synod meetings and the Pope’s own apostolic exhoration, Amoris Laetitia.

In Summa Familiae Cura the Pope emphasized the Church must respond to the needs of troubled families, and couples struggling with the marriages, in a society that no longer supports the traditional Christian understanding of marriage.  Pope Francis also stressed the need for the Church to incorporate the perspectives of contemporary science in analyzing family life.

While praising the vision of his predecessor, Pope Francis says that the revision of the Institute is a response to “the new pastoral challenges to which the Christian community is called to respond.”  He writes:  “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.”

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who is the chancellor of the new Institute, told Vatican Radio that a key focus of its work would be “dialogue with all the human sciences, because family today rediscovers its vocation, not in the abstract.”

A sampling of views from the Peanut Gallery:

“Sexual morals as promoted by St. John Paul II? BAHAHAHAHAHA! The biggest pedophile protector ever.  First, he has Bernard Law brought to the Vatican to escape prosecution for transferring countless pedophile priests, then he claimed to be best friends and even traveled around with Maciel, the founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, and one of the most notorious pedophiles himself, along with seducing anything he could get his hands on.” – Bill

“Fortunately we will not have to suffer this man much longer.  Natural catastrophes daily say it all as to how close we are to Judgement.” – JD

“Wrong, wrong! St. Pope John Paul II had it right.  This liberal Jesuit is splitting the Church. It will not work. Many world Catholics are angry and confused.  Francis must abide by the Bible and Catholic theology all of which is the word of Christ.” – toughcritic

“With Francis, it’s always the same message: disruption and discontinuity.” – dover beachcomber

“It’s really tough to be optimistic on this for three reasons:  1) Nothing was broke so don’t “fix” it.  2) The (shudder) language used in “justifying” the change. 3) the “shudder” emphasis on Amoris Laetitia.  Speaking of which, what happened to our 4 stalwarts?” – jalsardl5053

“The Church (needs) to incorporate the perspectives of contemporary science in analyzing family life.” This sounds to me very-very suspicious. I hope, I’m wrong.” – feedback

“I supposed he is trying to make the church more relevant in the modern world but he is making it less relevant to me.” – Jerome

“That this institute will be run by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia who favored homoerotic art for his Cathedral makes my skin crawl. Viewing his mural makes me want to go and take a bath. It is so bad I will not provide a link to it. Nothing good will come from this institute!” – Anonymous

My take:  Pope Francis continues remaking the Church from a museum into a garden.

 

 

 

 

Goodbye and Hello

Posted by Censor Librorum on Feb 12, 2017 | Categories: Arts & Letters, History

Many years ago, back in the mid-1980s, I used to talk to a young wife about her distress and heartache.  She was my age, early 30s, married to an Army captain and they had three young children.  She was also involved in a passionate relationship with another woman.  She needed someone outside her situation to talk to, to unburden with, and to be a friend.  I ended up that person. We never met, and probably spoke together five or six times over a period of months.

She loved her children dearly, and also loved her husband.  But the woman she was with fired her heart and soul and desire in a way her husband couldn’t match. She was deeply in love with her, and very torn. She wanted to be with her lover, but did not want to leave her children.  It was tearing her apart, since the gravitational pull to her lover was so strong.

Since those were the days before texting and email, on every call we would make arrangements for the next call.

One day, I called at the appointed time, and instead of my friend a woman who introduced herself as her mother answered the phone.  I was stunned.

The woman told me that her daughter had decided, in hopes of saving her marriage, to make a clean break. She and her family had moved to Italy.  She asked her mother to keep the call, to let me know what happened, and to thank me for the time we had spent on the phone trying to sort things through.  Her mother added that she wanted to thank me for helping her daughter, and the support the daughter felt from our calls.

I told the mother that I wished my friend all the best, and that I hoped–sincerely–that everything would work out for her.  And then we hung up.

I have wondered from time to time over the last 30+ years what became of my friend.  I went through several different scenarios in my head, but never could get a sense of the final outcome.  My guess is she stayed with her husband, and tried to put her lover out of her mind as much as possible.  Her children should be grown up now, and she’s probably a grandmother several times over.

But I am also sure she kept her lover in a very private place in her heart. 

When I saw Sal Bardo’s video “Great Escape” I immediately thought of her.  Did her story have a happy ending, or only played over and over again in her imagination?

See the video here.

 

Book Review: Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis is Changing the World and the Church

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 22, 2014 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Faith, History, Popes

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In the summer of 1206, St. Francis went into the small chapel of San Damiano near Assisi to pray.  As he knelt before the crucifix, he heard Jesus’ invitation: “Francis, go rebuild my Church, which you see is falling into ruins.” “Yes!” said Francis, “This is what I want; this is what I long for with all my heart.”

800 years later, the first Pope Francis took up the same challenge–to rebuild a Church that was in almost total disgrace, disarray, and irrelevant.  The message of the Gospels had become lost to dogmatic meanness and nit-picking.

Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis is Changing the World and the Church by noted journalist and former Jesuit Robert Blair Kaiser, offers insights on the pope’s “Jesuit DNA.”  It is this DNA that impels him with a “holy boldness” to push the boundaries to make the world a better place, and rebuild the Church to a house of mercy and humanity.

The Jesuit DNA includes several things: a striving for the greater glory of God (ad majorem Dei gloriam); but especially to go to the edges, the margins, to learn, understand and serve. After Vatican II, the author relates that most Jesuits call salvation “being all we can be in this life” and not simply to get to heaven, but to make a difference in the lives of other people.

Pope Francis’ emphasis on humanity vs. rules and regulations is changing the culture of judgement (abortion, same-sex marriage, doctrinaire fixation (“are you pure enough to call yourself ‘Catholic?’) to a culture of mercy and mission.  He wants to be fully engaged with people, and is leading the Church to do likewise.  He starts by calling himself a sinner who has made many mistakes (when was the last time we heard a cardinal, bishop, or priest do that?) and reminds us that Christ came to us so that we might know life more fully.

The author framed this motivation wonderfully by describing his own experience as a teacher and coach at Saint Ignatius Prep, a high school for boys in San Francisco, CA: “I was trying to show them that their religion, fully lived, was something that would make them more human, happier individuals, with a humanity and happiness that would bring joy to those around them.  I wanted to destroy the image of religion as something that made people less human, less joyful, less real.”

The author doesn’t back away from the warts.  He examines Pope Francis’ time as provincial of the Argentine Jesuits and as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has come under criticism for both periods because of his lack of support for liberation theology, and for not standing up to the military junta that caused the death or disappearance  of over 20,000 people.

The pope did not shy away from his record, but doesn’t go into specifics. He explains the Lord leads to a growth of knowledge through his faults and sins, and also that he made decisions alone and in the midst of an interior crisis. If experience leads to a conversion of heart, who are we to judge?

Robert Kaiser also raises the pope’s, Church’s, and Jesuits’ poor records and lack of engagement with women–half the Church. My good friend, theologian Dr. Mary E. Hunt, challenges the pope on this issue:  “It is intellectually embarrassing to hear a man who is so conversant with music, literature and poetry have such a palty vocabulary when it comes to women. Thus far, Francis has not had any public conversation with a woman church leader of any sort.  The continued oppression of U.S. women religious, officially approved by him, is a negative sign as well.”

The author thinks Dr. Hunt is mistaken, but I agree with her. The pope needs to address the impact of our closed, male-oriented institution on the poorest of the poor–Catholic women. Women continue to wait for meaningful action from Pope Francis.  His Jesuit DNA won’t help us there–Jesuits have little to do with women’s issues or women as a group.

One surprise in the book for me was the suggestion that 46-year-old Jorge Bergoglio had been in love. In March 1986 he went to Frankfurt, Germany for two years to pursue a doctorate. In 1987 his provincial ordered him back to Argentina, his thesis only half finished. He was put on severe restrictions for correspondence and communication. This kind of discipline is only warranted if the man has told superiors he has fallen in love, or if a fellow Jesuit found out he is having a love affair.

Would love and separation make a person more emphathetic to its effects in other people’s lives? I think so. Perhaps this period in the pope’s life has led him to emphasize mercy, forgiveness and the human vs. ideological.  Pope Francis has described himself as a sinner who has made hundreds of mistakes. It sounds like it’s true–not some stock piety.

About half the book is devoted to Pope Francis, the remainder is parables about fellow Jesuits and former Jesuits who illustrate the best of “Jesuit DNA.”  Like Marines–once a Marine, always a Marine, Jesuits forever identify themselves as brothers, and retain their values, friendships and network for a lifetime.

The men profiled include Fr. Marie Joseph Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a scientist and humanist; Fr. George Dunne, writer and social justice crusader; Bill Cain, playwright and screen writer; Fr. John Baumann, co-founder of PICO (Pacific Institute of Community Organizing); Governor Jerry Brown of California, John Dear, peace activist; and, of course, Inigo Lopez de Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.  There is a lot to inspire all of us in their generous lives.

When Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis people and pundits wondered what it would mean to have a Jesuit pope?  How does he think?  What is important to him? What can we expect?

On the way back to Rome from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro Pope Francis addressed this question by reporter Caroline Pigozzi from Paris Match:

“Good evening, Holy Father.  I would like to know if you, since you’ve been Pope, still feel yourself a Jesuit?”

Pope Francis:  “I feel myself a Jesuit in my spirituality, in the spirituality of the Exercises, spirituality, the one I have in my heart. But I feel so much like this that in three days I’ll go to celebrate with  Jesuits the feast of Saint Ignatius:  I will say the morning Mass. I haven’t changed my spirituality, no. Francis, Franciscan, no. I feel myself a Jesuit and I think like a Jesuit. Not hypocritically, but I think as a Jesuit.  Thank you.”

My Rating:  ***** Read this book if you are the type of person who likes to know the “why” behind people and events.

Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis is Changing the Church and the World.Published by Rowman and Littlefield, 2014. Available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and fine booksellers everywhere.

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Author:  Robert Blair Kaiser is an American author and journalist, best known for his writings on the Catholic Church. A former Jesuit, Kaiser left the Society of Jesus three years before his ordination to pursue a career in journalism. He served as an award-winning religion reporter for The New York Times,  CBS News, Newsweek and Time. Throughout the Second Vatican Council, Kaiser was Time magazine’s reporter in Rome and the preeminent reporter on the Council in the English-speaking world.  For his work on the Council, Kaiser won the Overseas Press Club Award for best foreign reporting on foreign affairs.  He is the author of sixteen other books, including A Church in Search of Itself.

 

 

 

Sister Jane Dominic Laurel Explains It All For You

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 15, 2014 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Humor, Lesbians & Gays

Hundreds of angry parents packed the gym of Charlotte Catholic High School in Charlotte, North Carolina on April 2, 2014 to criticize a recent student assembly on human sexuality and gender and blast the school leaders who organized it. The clear majority were opposed to the program’s ugly anti-gay content.  Fr-Kauth-

One parent confronted Fr. Matthew Kauth, the school chaplain who arranged for the program, “You don’t know what’s best for our children. We want our children to remain Catholic, but we are being pushed away by the climate of what is going on here.”

The March 21, 2014 presentation by Nashville Dominican Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, “Masculinity and Femininity: Difference and Gift,” sparked an unexpected backlash by many students, teachers, parents and alumni. Her presentation was based on a series of instructional videos she created for Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is an associate professor of theology.

Based on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, Sister Jane Dominic Laurel explained the differences between the genders, the role of family, importance of real friendships, emotional intimacy and the impacts of contemporary culture on our concepts of sexuality and sexual expression.  nashville domminican

Half of her 60-minute presentation was devoted to homosexuality.

During her talk, Sr. Jane Dominic asserted homosexuality occurs mainly as a result of parents’ shortcomings and pornography. She also attributed a correlation between the decline of fatherhood in America and the rise of homosexuality.

One students said the other students were barely listening to the nun’s talk. “Where I was sitting, most of them were asleep. There was this nun blabbering on and on and talking really fast.  When the gay part of the talk started, some of them perked up and started tweeting.”

In a car ride home, a boy described the talk to his mother:  “Then she started talking about how gays are gay because they have an absent father figure, and therefore they have not received the masculinity they should have from their father. Also a guy could be gay if he masturbates and so he thinks he is being turned on by other guys. And then she gave an example of one of her gay friends who said he used to go to a shed with his friends and watch porn and that’s why he was gay…Then she talked about the statistic where gay men have had either 500 or 1,000 sexual partners and after that I got up and went to the bathroom because I should not have had to be subject to that extremely offensive talk.”

During her speech Sr. Jane Dominic also stated:

– Gays and lesbians are not born with same-sex attractions – Children in single parent homes have a greater change of becoming homosexual – Single and divorced parents caused children to be gay – Homosexuals cannot live normal, productive lives – Gays can’t be good parents – Distant or absent fathers can cause boys to seek masculine affirmation in a sexual attraction to other males.

The research Sr. Jane Dominic used in her presentation came from the Catholic Medical Society’s publication, “Homosexuality and Hope,” and other papers.  CMA publishes research that conforms to the moral magisterium of the Church.

In an April 4, 2014 statement, Sister Mary Sarah, O.P., the president of Aquinas College, defended the school’s curriculum and Sr. Jane Dominic’s credentials as a theologian, but acknowledged that the portion of Sister Jane’s presentation of social science data about the alleged causes of same-sex attraction–which prompted many of the concerns from parents and students–was outside the scope of her academic background.

The Rev. Tim Reid, the ultra conservative pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in Charlotte, praised the nun, saying, “she represented well the Catholic positions on marriage, sex, same-sex attraction and proper gender roles…The Church as already lost too many generations of Catholic school students to…a very muddled and watered-down faith.” He also scolded the upset Catholic parents in an April 6, 2014 homily for their “lack of charity.”

Paul W. Primavera, who lives in Charlotte and knows Fr. Reid, also commented online on the controversy: “I have this to say to all those students and parents who do not like what she said: she is right and you are wrong. Homosexual behavior is sin and will send the perpetrator to hell.  Adultery and fornication are sin and will send the perpetrator to hell. Do you want your children to go to hell? Sister Jane doesn’t and she therefore demonstrates greater love than you apparently do. If you don’t like that and want to continue in rebellion, then why don’t you go all the way and join the Episcopalian heretics. Think not for one moment St. Paul or St. John could tolerate your sickening and putrid liberal progressivism.”

Sr. Jane Dominic has referenced sex and homosexuality in a number of her YouTube videos.

In one lecture posted online, she claims that more young women are engaging in oral sex and says, “This is not a normal sexual act. It’s something that’s imported from the homosexual culture. It’s not part of the natural love between man and woman.”

In another clip, Sr. Jane Dominic speaks at length about the Folsom Street Fair. Billed as the “World’s Biggest Leather Event,” it is a bondage/SM/role-playing fetish event held annually in San Francisco mostly for gay men. In another video, she says that androgyny is a tool of Satan and that “devil-worshipers” have three goals: to continue abortions, to destroy traditional marriage and destroy the distinction between male and female.

Good thing she didn’t add those examples to her talk at Charlotte Catholic High.

The Censor Liborum is left with three questions from this whole debacle:

-Why was a school talk that heavily referenced sex given in mixed company and without first advising the parents?

-Why were Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel and Fr. Matthew Kauth so focused on talking about homosexuality and homosexual sex? The talk, ostensibly, was to encourage young people in happy and healthy relationships and ultimately marriage with the opposite sex.

-How in the heck did Sr. Jane Dominic find the Folsom Street Fair?

 

 

Let’s Get Back To Christian Values

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 23, 2014 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Humor, Politics

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The Book of Matt

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 9, 2014 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Scandals

Veteran journalist Stephen Jimenez unearthed a sleazy story in his book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard.” An investigative journalist, he spent 11 years researching his story, and had access to formerly sealed court documents.  Book-of-Matt

Matthew Shepard is a gay icon and martyr, allegedly murdered by two men for his sexual orientation. The grisly murder happened in Laramie, Wyoming in October 1998.  Shepard, 21, was a college student, and he was killed by two men he met in a bar. He was pistol-whipped with the barrel of a .357 magnum. Then the two men hung him, barely alive, on a fence, in a pose resembling a crucifixion.

Matthew Shepard died of exposure and his wounds six days later, a victim of homophobia.  Or was he? Here’s an unsettling element: one of the murders, Aaron McKinney, a bisexual hustler, had sex with Shepard weeks before the murder.

Shepard certainly could have been beaten and killed by a man in a homophobic rage…but he may also have been killed in a sex-for-drugs exchange gone badly. His death might not be a hate crime after all, but a drug dealer casualty. In the book Jimenez claims Matthew Shepard was a crystal meth addict, and was killed by McKinney, another dealer and trick strung out on meth and in desperate need of money.

The “gay panic” defense of Aaron McKinney, the killer, was a made-up story in hopes of getting a more lenient sentence.

Jimenez was asked why he dug up the story: “As a gay man,” he said, “I felt it was the right thing to do.” “To understand who Matthew Shepard really was,” said Jimenz, “to alter our perception of him as a martyr and an icon, is not going to be damaging to gay rights.”  stephen-jimenez_200

I agree, and commend Stephen Jimenez coming forward with his story. The real conversation about Matthew Shepard should be about young gay men (and women) who do drugs, and why drug and alcohol use is still so embedded in gay culture. That could save some lives.

 

 

 

 

 

J.F. Powers Priest Stories

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 26, 2013 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Faith, Humor

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A found these gems in a review by Joseph Epstein of Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942-1963.  The book was edited by his eldest daughter, Katherine Powers.  His droll humor is a dead-ringer for my father’s:  “Let me be a lesson to you,” Powell admonished author Robert Lowell, from his house full of children, “stay single.”

“Powers tells a straight story, usually in an enclosed space. In some cases his priests never leave the parish, or even the rectory. They do their jobs, dealing as best they can with bishops, curates, housekeepers, pets and parishioners. They are fond of food and sometimes too fond of drink or perhaps both. Crises of conscience occasionally arise, but it is the quotidian detail, the daily rhythm of priestly life, the absorbs and fascinates in Power’s fiction. As Father Joe Hackett tells his young curate: This (the Catholic Church) is a big old ship, Bill. She creaks, she rocks, she rolls, and at times she makes you want to throw up. But she always gets where she’s going. Always has, always will, until the end of time.’

Power’s fiction met with criticism from Catholics who preferred their priests more saintly. But his priests are utterly believable with their flaws and down-to-earth observations. Here is Father Hackett’s summation on priesthood:  “It was still a job–a marrying, burying, sacrificing job, plus whatever good could be done on the side. It was not a crusade. Turn it into one, as some guys were trying to do, and you asked too much of it, of yourself, and of ordinary people, invited nervous breakdowns all around.”

 

 

 

 

 

A Prayer for Catholic Enlightenment by Cardinal Newman

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 30, 2012 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Faith, Humor

I found this prayer and commentary on the blog “Enlightended Catholicism.” I have a copy of it pinned near by my desk. Whenever my soul needs a lift I read it and smile.

Prayer For Catholic Enlightenment by Cardinal Newman

Prayer for the Light of Truth

O my God, I confess that You can enlighten my darkness. I confess that You alone can. I wish my darkness to be enlightened.

I do not know whether You will: but that You can and that I wish, are sufficient reasons for me to ask, what You at least have not forbidden my asking.

I hereby promise that by Your grace which I am asking, I will embrace whatever at length feel certain is the truth, if ever I come to be certain.

And by Your grace I will guard against all self-deceit which may lead me to take what nature would have, rather than what reason approves.

Addition by blog author:  Dear God, please help me understand the above prayer. I know you can, if you so will it and haven’t forbidden it. I sort of think so anyway. Seriously.


 

 

Pope John Paul II’s Statue

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 27, 2011 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Humor, Popes

A statue of the Pope John Paul II is under attack for its purported resemblance to Italian dictator   Benito Mussolini.   “How could they have given such a kind pope the head of a Fascist,” asked one distraught observer.

The 15-foot bronze statue by Roman artist Oliviero Rainaldi, was unveiled May 18, 2011 on what would have been John Paul’s 91st birthday. The statue is displayed outside Rome’s Termini train station.

The Fondazione Silvana Paolini Angelucci, a charitable organization, donated the sculpture to the city to celebrate the beatification of John Paul II. Mr. Rainaldi, the artist, was chosen because he had worked on several ecclesiastical commissions, and the foundation was confident that he could interpret the pope’s spirit.   It was designed for the square in front of Termini, Rome’s main train station, which was dedicated to the pope in 2006, a year after his death.

While the statue is hardly as inflammatory as “La Nona Ora”–Maurizio Cattelan’s 1999 sculpture of Pope John Paul II getting hit by a meteor–some people are steadfast in their criticism of Rainaldi’s new artwork, with one Roman cleaning woman pointing out that the sculpture raised practical concerns as well as artistic ones.   “With the shape of the cape, sooner or later the homeless people at the station will sleep inside it, and in no time it will be full of bottles of beer,” she said.

“A giant cow bell,” noted one critic referring to its cylindrical shape. “Mussolini,” said others noting the big bald head perched on top of the work, much like that of the fascist leader of Italy in the early 20th century. A few history buffs seemed to see the features of the Emperor Vespasian, the first-century sponsor of the Colosseum.   Vespasian persecuted Christians as subversive to the state, and martyred a few at the Colosseum, mostly by hungry lions. A few were shot full of arrows.

But the most scathing review came from the Vatican’s official newspaper, Osservatore Romano. “The statue’s sin,” the Vatican stated, is that it’s “hardly to be recognized.”

“You know, in Italy everyone thinks they’re the coach of the national soccer team.   Now, we have a nation of 66 million art critics,” said Umberto Broccoli, head of the city’s Cultural Heritage Department. “We were happy to accept a statue that cost the city zilch.”

For now, Mr. Rainaldi is taking the criticism in stride. “Usually, I get more compliments,” he said in a telephone interview. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have survived in this business for 40 years; they would have stopped me earlier.”

The sculpture, he added, was never meant to be representational, though he was inspired by a photo of John Paul II enveloping a child in his cloak during a public audience many years ago.

“That gesture seemed to me to be representative of the entire spirit of his pontificate: the meeting of cultures, the idea of dialogue, of offering a hand,” he said. “And if that hand is wrapped in a cloak, it takes on ulterior symbolism, like shelter and protection, an embrace towards and of people.”

Francesco Buranelli, secretary of the Vatican Fine Arts Commission, said the debate should not be reduced to a question of liking or not liking the statue.   Contemporary art, regardless of when it was created, “shouldn’t be judged by subjective parameters,” he said.   By that measure, he added, an infinite number of works now considered to be masterpieces, like Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” or Caravaggio’s “Virgin of the Pilgrims,” would have been whitewashed or destroyed.

Via blog sites, a few of the faithful have weighed in on the statue.   Here are a few representative comments:

– “Ah! A statue worthy of his pontificate.”

– “This almost makes me want to become a Protestant.”

– “Are they trying to say he was an empty shell of a man? Perhaps they are saying that he was full of hot air?”

-“Please tell us this was a joke; either it is a refrigerator with the door opened or a busted portable toilette, with a disembodied head perched atop. Sad. Or maybe I just do not appreciate “art.”

-“I find the enormous scale of the statue unseemly, to be honest. It reminds me more of Mussolini than it does John Paul II; it has that sort of bleak, intimidating fascist quality about it.   I understand the artist’s need to express, somehow, this man’s enormity in history, and this statue certainly does that, but it doesn’t seem to also express anything about the subject that caused the world to love him: the pope’s warmth, humour, compassion, piety, and so on.”

-“If someone said Pope John Paul II liked chocolate, there’d be some bitter fruit here chiming in, trying to make a link, any link, on how he was a bad pope and responsible for every bad thing in the Church today.”