Posted in category "Politics"

Love the Enemy in Your Pew

Posted by Censor Librorum on Feb 25, 2018 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Dissent, Faith, Musings, Politics

Love the Enemy in Your Pew has been part of my Lenten reflection since I first read it in the February 20, 2012 edition of America magazine. The article also  spurred me to organize a Lenten fish fry for my parish, where people of all opinions, backgrounds and political stripes could sit down together at a community meal.   

It was written by Dr. Gerald Schlabach, a professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He is a Benedictine oblate, and deeply involved in the Bridgefolk movement for grassroots dialog between Mennonites and Catholics.


“We Christians have struggled for centuries to understand how Jesus really expects us to love our enemies. (Bracket those vicious enemies who may actually be out to violently destroy us and ours.) To be ready for that kind of discipleship we must first learn to love our sisters and brothers in the Christian community itself. They are the ones close enough to stick in our craw.”

“So this Lent, listen to uncomfortable voices in your community. Listen without arguing back, for as long as it takes to really hear. Listen deliberately. Listen for the back story behind positions you may never agree with. Debate later.”

“Listening is the virtue this proposed Lenten discipline would inculcate if practiced throughout the year; it could become a lifelong habit. Especially in our era of culture wars, in which the blogosphere allows us to flame “enemies” we never meet face-to-face, nothing may affect us short of sitting down over coffee or on a park bench to listen face-to-face. ”

“Listen particularly to someone who represents all you think might be wrong with the church. A Catholic neighbor, for example, who is so impassioned with some ways of defending life that he or she seems to ignore other ways. Or an openly gay Catholic who continues to receive the Eucharist or an activist campaigning to make same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Listen to the fan of that dangerous neoconservative George Weigel, or the fan of that idealistic peacenik Jesuit John Dear; the parish liturgist who still includes those awful guitar-Mass ditties in the new Roman Mass or the patriarch in the next pew who glares when someone changes “his” to “God’s” for “the good of God’s holy Church.”

“Alas, Catholic culture makes it easy to leave Sunday Mass, week after week, without talking at all, much less inviting real conversations elsewhere in the week. But resolve to try conversation at least once, for Lent. Whoever your conversation partner is, ask to hear his or her back story. Resolve that while you may ask for clarification, you may not argue. Trust might begin to develop, though probably not in a first meeting.  If the other person reciprocates and asks for your back story, wonderful  Share your own story, but do not argue your position even then.”

“What if this encounter starts to soften your position? Yes, there is that risk. But this is Lent. Our Lord risked all, abandoning any self-defense other than the vindication of his Father. The cycle of the church year intends to teach us this: Resurrection is coming, but not without our dying to even the most righteous of causes, as we identify with the One who did so before us.”



Cardinal Law’s Fall from Grace

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 31, 2017 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Bishops, History, Musings, Politics, Scandals

On December 20, 2017,  Bernard Cardinal Law passed away at the age of 86.  For the last 13 years he lived in Rome, a voluntary exile from the United States.  He will be buried in Rome as well.

Law was appointed Archbishop of Boston in 1984, and he stepped down on December 13, 2002 after being engulfed and overwhelmed by the sex abuse scandal he helped to create.

Although Thomas O’Connor, Boston College historian, remarked “There’s going to be a lot of good interred with his bones,” the more likely epitaph will be that penned by Kevin Cullen of The Boston Globe: “Bernie Law … one of the greatest enablers of sexual abuse in the history of the world.”

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, VT, who served as Law’s spokesman during the period before the cardinal’s resignation, said in a statement on his death that like each one of us, Law’s days had their fair share of “light and shadows.” “While I knew him to be a man of faith, a kind man and good friend, I respect that some will feel otherwise, and so I especially ask them to join me in prayer and work for the healing and renewal of our Church,” he said.

Sean Cardinal O’Malley, archbishop of Boston and Law’s immediate successor, also published a statement on December 20th, offering his sincere apologies to anyone who experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy.  “As Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law served at a time when the Church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities. I deeply regret that reality and its consequences.”

But O’Malley also noted that Cardinal Law’s “pastoral legacy has many other dimensions,” including his early commitment to the civil rights struggle in Mississippi, and his work with the ecumenical and interfaith movement following Vatican II.  He was well known for his ministry to the sick, dying and bereaved.

Journalist Mike Barnicle wrote about Cardinal Law in a NY Daily News column published on Sunday, December 15, 2002 — two days after his resignation.  The headline was “The tragedy of Law’s fall from grace.” I clipped out the article from the paper to keep; to remind me of the good and evil one person can do, our complexities of character and motivation, and the nightmare forms our justifications can sometimes become.

The article began – “There was a night in December almost exactly four years ago when the door to the hospital room opened and Bernard Cardinal Law walked in to visit a sick man lying in the bed. The priest barely knew the guy, just dropped by to talk for a few minutes, offer a simple blessing and then he was gone, like a doctor on his rounds.

The guy was surprised. He hadn’t really known the cardinal and thought of him as a rather aloof, somewhat cold figure. But Law was accompanied that evening by some warmth, a sense of humor and a capacity for conversation.

“He comes here a lot,” one of the nurses said. “Just shows up. Him and his driver. A lot of the time, late at night. He’s great with the homeless, the drunks, street people who hang around the emergency room to get out of the cold.”

How does a man who was arguably the single most important  member of the Catholic hierarchy in America, a guy who made his bones working for civil rights in the South during the violent ’60s, a priest who began his career speaking for the poor, slowly but surely tumble into such scandal that his life is now littered with subpoenas rather than psalms?  Is it arrogance? Isolation? The sin of pride? Blind ambition? 

Last week, days before Law sat down with the Pope and resigned as leader of the Boston Archdiocese, whatever future he may have had within the church was mortally wounded by the artillery of conscience.  The volleys came in the form of 58 of his own priests who signed a letter urging him to step down and get out of town.  It was more powerful than any editorial clamoring for his resignation.  Now, control and contain–the creed of corporate Catholicism in America–is reeling.  The faithful are taking back the store.

Still, it is astounding to consider what has happened and what might happen yet.

Law, Rockville Centre, L. I., Bishop William Murphy, Brooklyn Bishop Thomas Daily and many other men who spent most of their lives spreading a gospel of truth and morality actively engaged in a decades-long coverup of priests who preyed on the helpless and the young and then paid out millions in hush money. They have made it possible for every Catholic bashing bigot in the country to find both a voice and an audience. They have made it nearly impossible for parents to lecture their children on the need to attend Mass, go to confession, pay attention to a homily.

In Boston, the cardinal was like a fugitive, running from the secular law, barely able to appear at a cathedral without attracting angry protesters, fleeing his home for Rome to meet with other old men who seem to want to blame this scandal on American culture.

In New York, Edward Cardinal Egan is practically invisible and mute, his voice silenced by the burden of his own bureaucratic mistakes. What went wrong with these guys? Did they ever listen to the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, who spoke out about the problem of child-molesting priests nearly 20 years ago?

Law did an awful lot of good in his life. His tragedy, though, is that when it mattered most, he lied. He lied to his strongest supporters, lay people, who urged him to come clean with every problem priest still on the books. He lied to the people in his diocese when he repeatedly across the years told them that his priest had been removed or that priest would not be allowed to work around children. He lied to other pastors around the country when he would write letters that read like great college recommendations on behalf of men he knew to be sodomists of the young and vulnerable.  Maybe he was lying to himself, too.

Now, in the wake of his departure, he leaves the Catholic Church in this country looking like a religious version of the San Andreas fault.  The fissure between the faithful and the hierarchy–the Pope in Rome and a whole lot of bishops here–is obvious. The shadowy outline of a separate and distinct American Catholic Church is no longer impossible to see. There will be people in parish after parish seeking equal time after each sermon they hear that they feel is foolish and delivered by some remote priest, automatically obedient to an authority that has been compromised and shamed by scandal that could have been avoided if just one man in a red hat had realized there is a huge difference between human weakness–a mistake–and a felony.

Law is history now, in more ways than one. He has been weakened, battered, defeated and made old by his own blindness and inaction.

He looks and behaves a lot differently today than he did that long ago night in December 1998 when he was full of humor, even humility, and took the time to bless a sick man in a hospital bed. I remember him well from that evening because I was the guy he took the time to bless.”


Another View on the “War on Religion”

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 20, 2017 | Categories: Accountability, Dissent, Faith, Humor, Politics, Social Justice


The Convenient Departures of Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 16, 2016 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Scandals

Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez, 79, the head of the Catholic church in the Dominican Republic, is back in the news after ripping U.S. ambassador James “Wally” Brewster about comments he had made about corruption in the Dominican Republic.


In a meeting with reporters after Mass, Cardinal Lopez accused Brewster of promoting a gay rights agenda on Dominican soil.  “That man needs to go back to his embassy,” he sneered. “Let him focus on housework, since he’s the wife to a man.”

Lopez’s comments came after Brewster accused police officers of threatening and assaulting several U.S. investors who were attending a conference organized by the local government.

“Imagine the horror I felt when I got a call from one of them, telling me they had been stopped by a uniformed police officer, that they had a weapon pointed at them and that they were forced to turn over their wallets,” Brewster said.

This isn’t the first time Cardinal Lopez has been nasty with Ambassador Brewster in public.

In June 2013, when Wally Brewster was named ambassador, Lopez called him a faggot in a news conference, and said, “I don’t agree in the least with that kind of preference (homosexuality).”

Santo Domingo auxiliary bishop Pablo Cedano also weighed in, adding the naming of the new U.S. ambassador “is far from our cultural reality” and “hopes” that Brewster doesn’t come to the country, because if he does, he “will suffer and have to leave.” Choosing a former gay activist as ambassador to the Dominican Republic “was a lack of sensitivity, of respect by the United States.”

One day in 2012, prominent television reporter, Ms. Nuria Piera, received a tip that many afternoons the papal nuncio drank beer at a waterfront restaurant and then went off with young boys. The restaurant was in an area of the national capital, Santo Domingo, known for male prostitutes.

Ms. Piera sent a video crew to keep watch. The crew shot some footage of Archbishop Wesolowski drinking alone and walking along the promenade. When he noticed their presence, he went over to their car and smacked his hand against it, asking why they were following him. After that incident, Ms. Piera said, he disappeared from the waterfront. “I suspected that there may have been a leak from our own office,” Ms. Piera said.

On June 24, 2013 Francisco Javier Occi Reyes, a Roman Catholic deacon and sometime sex partner for Archbishop Wesolowski, was arrested by police for solicitation of minors and taken to jail. He later told police at the time of his arrest he was “pimping” a youngster for Wesolowski, who was waiting in his car nearby. deacon

The deacon said Wesolowski left the scene, and said nothing because he thought the church’s influence would get him out of jail.

But when no one came to bail him out–and the deacon understood he would stay in jail a long time before trial–he sent a letter to be hand delivered to Wesolowski’s office.  The letter, dated July 2nd, may have expressed contrived or genuine remorse, but either way it ended Wesolowski’s diplomatic career. jozef wesolowski

“We have offended God” and the church, the letter said, by sexually abusing children and adolescents “for crumbs of money.” The deacon wrote that he had agreed to find child victims for the nuncio so that “your sexual appetite can be satiated,” but that he was now asking God for forgiveness.

The deacon sent copies of the same letter to Cardinal Lopez and also his bishop, Gregorio Nicanor Pena Rodriguez.  The cardinal quietly carried the letter and other evidence to the Vatican, where he met directly with Pope Francis.

Neither the cardinal, nor other church officials, reported the allegations of abuse to the authorities.

On August 23, 2013 Archbishop Wesolowski was secretly recalled to Rome. Six days later, Cardinal Lopez called the papal nuncio “a great friend and promoter of peace.” Lopez told news media he didn’t know what prompted the call, and suggested it might have been the result of a personal conflict with Puerto Rico’s archbishop, Roberto Octavio Gonzalez Nieves.

Interesting side story…Archbishop Gonzalez has been accused by Vatican emissaries of allegedly protecting pedophile priests, abusing his power, promoting Puerto Rican independence from the U.S., and supporting a law  that would grant same-sex couples living together the rights of inheritance, hospital visits and health coverage. Wesolowski was among those pressuring him to step down as Puerto Rico’s archbishop and take a position elsewhere. The ultra conservative Life Site News has an interesting story on Archbishop Gonzalez’ political battles.

The attorney general for the Dominican Republic, Mr. Francisco Dominguez Brito, and the district attorney for Santo Domingo, Ms. Yeni Berenice Reynoso Gomez, both said they learned of the sexual abuse allegations against Archbishop Wesolowski from Ms. Piera’s television reports, which were broadcast in September 2013. The program included a 13-year-old boy who said he had been abused.

Ms. Reynoso said her investigators had identified several children aged 12-17, mainly from very poor neighborhoods, with whom the papal nuncio had sexual contact, but indicated there were likely more.

The 17-year-old had epilepsy, and the nuncio gave him medicine in exchange for sex acts, starting when the boy was 13.  “This is the most terrible case that I have ever seen,” said the district attorney. “He was abusing kids who were living in extreme poverty, in exchange for pills for a boy’s illness.”

“He definitely seduced me with money,” 17-year-old Francis Aquino Aneury told The New York Times. He was 14 when the man he met shining shoes began offering him increasing larger sums for sex acts. “I felt very bad. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I needed the money. Aquino told the Times reporter that Wesolowski would watch him masturbate, would touch him, or touch himself. Another report mentioned Wesolowski would film oral sex acts on his cell phone.

Ms. Reynoso felt strongly that the case should have been prosecuted in the Dominican Republic, not the Vatican.  “These children who were abused, and their families, and the Dominican society, have a legitimate right to see Jozef Wesolowski judged by a jury–not as a diplomat, but for what he really is,” she said.  “A child abuser.”

Soon after the television report and other local media coverage on allegations of sexual misconduct by Archbishop Wesolowski and Wojciech Gill, a fellow Polish priest and friend, Cardinal Lopez confirmed he had gone to the Vatican to address the matter, but left it to the Vatican to investigate.

Archbishop Wesolowski conveniently departed in late August before the news story broke in early September.

After the story broke in the Dominican Republic news media, and it was clear Archbishop Wesolowski would not be back, Cardinal Lopez  began to voice support for the investigation of the former papal nuncio and other pedophile priests.

In a letter signed as archbishop of Santo Domingo and as president of the Dominican bishops conference, Cardinal Lopez called for a “purification of the Church and for the removal of those who unworthily exercise this ministry and do not deserve to be called priests.”

“In recent weeks,” the letter sent on, “the public has been shocked repeatedly by embarrassing behavior in different areas of the country by clergy members of the Catholic Church, who we expect and ought to behave differently,” stated Cardinal Lopez.

Without mentioning any specific names or cases, the cardinal prayed, “Jesus, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing and they are hurting the heart of the Church and faith of many people.”

The “root problem” of clergy abuse, Cardinal Lopez said, “is an undetermined number” of candidates preparing for priesthood who “do not have an authentic vocation” and who “during formation are able to feign something they are not, and if formation directors are not careful, they sneak into the clergy, and later the bishops pay the consequences for their excesses and turmoil.”

After his recall to the Vatican, Archbishop Wesolowski was given a few months to prepare for his defense. He was tried first by a canonical court, and on June 27, 2014 he was found guilty of sex abuse by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was laicized shortly following the decision.

On September 23, 2014, Vatican criminal proceedings against Wesolowski started. He was allowed to remain under house arrest because of medical reasons.

Vatican prosecutors accused Wesolowski of sexually abusing children in the Dominican Republic where he worked from 2008 to 2013 at the Vatican’s ambassador. They said he picked up poor boys on the waterfront, paid them for sex acts, and took pornographic photos of them.  He was also accused of offending “Christian morality” by repeatedly logging into pornographic sites involving minors in the Dominican Republic and the Vatican following his recall.

Wesolowski was indicted in June 2015 and a trial date set for July 11, 2015.

On July 10th, Wesolowski collapsed at his residence and was admitted to an intensive care unit in an Italian hospital for an “unexpected illness.” The trial was postponed, and no new date was set for its resumption. He was treated for “a serious drop in blood pressure, due to the heat and tension, as well as his age.”

Jozef Wesolowski died at his residence on August 28, 2015.  He was 67.

A statement released by the Holy See Press Office shared the news, stating the initial investigations done by Vatican authorities “indicate that he died of natural causes” in the early hours of the morning.

His body was found at about 5 AM by a priest who lived in the same building, which houses the Franciscans who hear confessions in St. Peter’s Basilica, as well as offices of the Vatican police force. Wesolowski was in front of a TV which was on.

During Wesolowski’s funeral in a Vatican administrative palazzo’s chapel, eight minutes of silence replaced a homily. Celebrating the Mass was a Polish prelate, Monsignor Konrad Krajewski, who is Pope Francis’ chief alms-giver.  He was returned to his native Poland for burial.  Poland-Dominican-Abus_Horo

The results of the autopsy were released on December 14, 2015. The conclusion of the report, which was submitted to the Chancellor’s Office of the Vatican City State Court of the First Instance, confirmed what had already emerged from the post mortem examination: Msgr. Jozef Wesolowski died of heart failure.

Another convenient departure?

Since Msgr. Wesolowski was not brought to trial, there were no ugly details, names, dates, faces, encounters for the press to paw over. His story faded quietly with the end of the year.







Pope Francis Does Cardinal Burke a Favor

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 29, 2014 | Categories: Bishops, Humor, Politics, Popes

While most of the world is thrilled by Pope Francis, a few are not.  One of the most outspoken is Raymond Cardinal Burke, 66.  burke purple

Cardinal Burke is a voice of conservatism in the Roman Catholic Church and American politics, and a prominent devotee of the Tridentine Mass.  He is intent on the “reform of the reform” of Vatican II.

Many photos of Cardinal Burke feature him in full regalia, a billowing cappa magna, lace rochet, velvet gauntlets, a towering mitre–the image of royalty, privilege and authority is unmistakable. That style is the polar opposite of Pope Francis, who is urging clerics to be pastors who “smell like their sheep.”  burke 11

Over the last year and a half Cardinal Burke has made a series of statements to the press challenging Pope Francis’ shift in pastoral style.  In an interview with the Spanish Catholic weekly Vida Nueva, published on October 30, 2014, Burke insisted he was not speaking out against the pope personally but raising concern about his leadership.

“Many have expressed their concerns to me.  At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder,” Burke said. “Now, it is more important than ever to examine our faith, have a healthy spiritual leader and give powerful witness to the faith.”  burke hat

The “rudderless ship” remark was probably the last straw in a string of provocative challenges from Cardinal Burke.  On November 8, 2014 he was officially removed as head of the Vatican’s highest judicial authority, known as the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.  Obviously, he didn’t get the hint after he was dropped from the Congregation of Bishops in December 2013.  Cardinal Burke no longer holds any influential Vatican posts.  burke fur

At the same time, his appointment as Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta was announced.  The Knights of Malta were founded in 1048 and recognized as a lay religious order by Pope Paschal II in 1113.  It has a very elaborate hierarchy, with religious at the top, nobles next, and larger groups of knights and dames of common birth below them in their own separate categories and classes.  Each group has its own insignia, making the classes of persons easily recognizable.

Pope Francis has done Cardinal Burke a favor.  He will have ample opportunity to wear the finery he enjoys and not raise an eyebrow. The people around him will be dressed in equally rich, dramatic and historically meaningful capes and crosses.  He will also feel at home with people who are used to looking backward to the Middle Ages.  Burke10


Let’s Get Back To Christian Values

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



The Book of Matt

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






Busy Week at Notre Dame Cathedral

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 26, 2013 | Categories: Dissent, Humor, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Weirdos

Wednesday morning I was having my morning coffee and thumbing through the New York Post when I spotted this item on the bottom right of page 12: “Paris suicide vs. gay rights.” I took a bite of my English muffin and read on.

The blurb stated that Dominique Venner, 78, placed a pistol in his mouth and committed suicide beside the altar in Notre Dame cathedral in protest of the legalization of gay marriage in France. dv

Mr. Venner, a presenter on a Catholic-traditionalist radio station and controversial historian, posted an essay on his website earlier in the day calling for “new, spectacular and symbolic actions to shake us out of our sleep, to jolt anaesthetized minds and to reawaken memory of our origins.”

The cathedral, which is celebrating its 850th anniversary this year, was evacuated and immediately closed to the public for several hours. A cathedral security guard tried to revive Mr. Venner as he lay beside the altar.

“We did not know him, he was not a regular at the cathedral,” said the rector, Monsigneur Patrick Jacquin.  He added that as far as he knew, this was the first suicide within the cathedral since it was founded. “We will pray for this man as we pray for so many others who are at their wits’ end,” he said.

The next day, a topless activist of the FEMEN movement was arrested inside Notre Dame for staging a fake suicide.  femen

The bare-chested woman was photographed in front of the altar, pointing a fake gun in her mouth. The slogan “May Fascists rot in Hell” was written across her torso.

On its Facebook page, FEMEN France called the topless activist “FEMEN’s angel of Death.” The group called upon “all European Nazism, in the face of all their underhitlers and halfmussolini, to follow the example of the ultra-right man Dominique Venner and immediately commit a suicide of their believes excluding themselves from the political area in Europe.” The statement added, “Hurry up, there is not so much place left on the sacrificial altar of Notre-Dame de Paris.”

In case you are wondering, the Censor Librorum finds both of these events cringe-worthy.

Venner’s use of sacred space as a stage for suicide is the most spectacular form of selfishness I have ever seen. The follow up performance by an exhibitionist mocking his suicide was almost as bad.

And I thought  we had nuts in New York!









Posted by Censor Librorum on Sep 3, 2012 | Categories: Dissent, History, Politics, Saints

I stumbled on the name of Tanchelm thumbing through my copy of Magnificat. He was featured prominently in a story about St. Evermod, a bishop who died in 1178.  Evermod was inspired to devote his life to God after hearing a sermon given by Saint Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian order. Evermod became a priest  of Norbert’s order and was chosen to accompany him on a jorney to Antwerp to counter the followers of Tanchelm, an itinerant preacher who had been murdered a decade before by a priest.

“The city was at the time in a state of ferment due to the heretical preaching of Tanchelm,” the Magnificat huffed, “a man of depraved morals who attacked the hierarchy and the church’s teaching on the sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist.”

Evermod remained in Antwerp to combat Tanchelm’s “propaganda.” His apostolic zeal earned him an eventual sainthood, as it did St. Norbert, who is often pictured with a foot on Tanchelm holding a monstrance.  Tanchelm’s heresy were his attacks on the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

Who was Tanchelm that he made two bishops saints in their attempts to overcome his preaching?

Tanchelm was born around 1070. He might have been Flemish, but was probably a native of the Netherlands. He traveled to France, Germany and Rome. Most of what we know about him came from those opposed to him, for Tanchelm did not leave behind any writing that has survived. Tanchelm began preaching during a time of agitation and pontifical reform, with furious arguments and political maneuvering over clerical marriages and sexual liaisons, simony, and canonical investiture by feudal authorities. He was active in a wave of church reform that started in the High Middle Ages and culminated in the Reformation 400 years later.

Tanchelm was supposed to have been a monk, perhaps a notary or officer from the circle of Count Robert II of Flanders (1092-1111), famous from his crusading days as “Robert of Jerusalem.” The exact relationship between the count and Tanchelm is not clear. Both Count Robert II and his overlord, Louis VI of France. were interested in weakening the ecclesiastical power of the Holy Roman Emperor in the low countries.  The power of the emperor rested to a large extent on the support of the bishops, especially Cambrai, Cologne and Utrecht.

In 1111 Count Robert II dispatched Tanchelm and the priest, Everwacher, to Rome to persuade Pope Pascal II to incorporate Zeeland into a French diocese. Frederick I, archbishop of Cologne, caught wind of the plot and intervened.  The pope rejected the petition, and Talchem and Everwacher returned home.

After his return from Rome Tanchelm began his ministry. There is no direct knowledge of his motivations, but some authors have speculated that while he was in Rome he absorbed the principals of the Gregorian Reforms, initiated by Pope Gregory VII, circa 1050-1080, which dealt with the moral integrity and independence of the clergy.

Gregory VII  attacked the practice of simony – the purchase of church offices. This precipitated the investiture controversy; kings were selling clerical and church offices at great personal gain. In 1074 Gregory VII published an encyclical absolving the people from obedience to bishops who allowed married priests. In 1075, he enjoined them to take action against married priests, and deprived these clerics of their revenues.

Dressed in his monk’s habit, Tanchelm began to preach.  Many people came to hear him, and his following grew. People were drawn to him by his compelling personality and oratory. He began preaching in 1112 in the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, parts of northern France and western Germany).

It was in Antwerp that he made his deepest mark. The spark that set him off was the “concubinage” of a priest named Hilduin with his niece. He stepped into a vacuum of spiritual leadership: people were disgusted with with the morals of their spiritual guides and were drawn to Tanchelm’s criticism of the established church. It was also a time of the first stirrings of social discontent against the feudal privileges of nobles and clergy.

Tanchlem rejected obedience to bishops and priests. He preached against the payment of tithes. Some sources say Tanchelm told people to reject the sacraments, saying they were better named pollutions than sacraments. In another version, he said the virtue of the sacraments depended on the virtue of the minister, and that polluted priests could only administer polluted sacraments.  The chapter of Utrecht also reported with horror that Tanchelm had said that “the churches of God are to be considered whorehouses.” It is more likely what Tanchelm really said is that the priests were so impure they turned churches into brothels.

The prime source of information on Tanchelm is a May 16, 1112 letter from the clergy of Utrecht to Archbishop Frederick of Cologne telling him to take Tanchelm into custody and not release him for any reason.  He was briefly put under arrest in Cologne in 1113/1114, but released in spite of protests by the cathedral clergy of Utrecht.

The hierarchy of Utrecht circulated many tales about Tanchlem to support their denouncements:

-He dressed in golden clothes, with strands of gold curled in his hair

-Claimed to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and conducted a ceremony in which he “married” the Virgin Mary

-His followers venerated him, and drank his bath water as a blessing or sacrament

-His inner group was a guild of 12 men lead by his blacksmith friend, Manasses. Probably chosen as a bodyguard, they were known as “the Apostles.” Added to this number was a woman named “Blessed Virgin” with whom the Apostles had intercourse as kind of a confirmation ceremony. The Apostles carried his regalia and sword in procession.

-Tanchelm deflowered young girls in the presence of their mothers

-Men offered up their wives and children to Tanchelm’s lust.

To what degree the above accusations have some basis in truth-or are total fabrications–is unknown.  It seems clear that Tanchelm was a very charismatic man, and encouraged his personality cult.

In 1115 he was bludgeoned or stabbed to death by a priest during a river trip.  One scholar has implicated the Archbishop of Utrecht in his murder.

Tanchelm doesn’t have an exact contemporary in our age, even if the societal unrest, currents of church reform, the involvement of church hierarchy in politics, the attempts by secular rulers to use bishops in their schemes, all have an echo in our era.

St Norbert arrived at Antwerp eight years after Tanchelm’s death to evangelize the city away from his followers.  Apparently, he did not censure, judge or condemn when he addressed people, which probably contributed to the success of his mission.  “Brothers, do not be surprised and so not be afraid,” he preached. “Unwittingly, you have pursued falsehood thinking it to be the truth. If you had been taught the truth first you would have been found effortlessly tending toward salvation, just as you now effortless lean toward perdition.”

Norbert of Xanten is portrayed as a reformer of the clergy and siding with reformist popes over lay investiture.  But his ministry started on a political track opposite Tanchelm’s.

His father, Heribert, Count of Gennep, was related to the imperial house of Germany. Norbert was a secular canon at St. Victor’s Collegiate Church in Xanten and was ordained subdeacon without making an effort to live the clerical life. Somewhere between 1108 and 1109 he became chaplain at the court of Archbishop Frederick of Cologne and already in 1110 he was a chaplain at the court of Emperor Henry V. He accompanied the emperor to Rome in 1111.

In the spring of 1115, while riding to the village of Freden, he was thrown from his horse during a sudden thunderstorm. This event gave Norbert the impetus to change his way of life. He gave up his chaplaincy at the court and dedicated himself to meditation and living a life of poverty. Feeling he was called to priesthood, he presented himself to the Bishop of Cologne, from whom he received Holy Orders.

Norbert would have to have heard 0f, and perhaps even met, Tanchelm in Rome or while he was being held in custody by his patron, Federick, Archbishop of Cologne.

It is interesting to speculate what the men might have said to each other.













Pastoral on Mine Safety

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 13, 2010 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Politics, Social Justice

This spring has seen a rash of coal mining accidents and disasters.   Companies are in a hurry to get coal out the ground to feed the manufacturing demand for energy.

An accident at the Wangjialing Mine in northern China killed 38 men; an explosion in the Raspadskaya mine in western Siberia killed 66, with 100 injured and 44 still missing.

On April 5, 2010 29 miners were killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia.   The mine is owned and operated by Massey Energy Co., headquartered in Richmond, VA. big branch 1

In the wake of an April 5th explosion, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, issued a pastoral letter on May 1 on mine safety in West Virginia.

In his letter, On My Holy Mountain, the bishop noted mine disasters in West Virginia:   the April 5, 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, the Monongah Mine disaster of 1907 that killed 362 people and the Sago Mine disaster of 2006 that killed 13 miners.

A common thread: lax or disregarded safety regulations in order to speed production.

“The disaster at the Upper Big Branch Mine,” the bishop stated, “raises concerns about the conditions within the coal mines across our state and the atmosphere existing in the coal industry’s corporate culture.”

“The church has an obligation to continue to remain vigilant in these areas to ensure that justice is served and human dignity protected. This is an essential part of proclaiming the Gospel of life.”

“Indeed, by virtue of human dignity, all persons have the right to a safe work environment and one in which unsafe conditions can e reported without fear of blacklisting or losing one’s   job. Workers have the right to a living wage and to reasonable work hours. The church has long recognized and supported workers’ rights to organize. In the coalfields such organization has had measurable benefits in terms of safety, and we applaud all that the United Mine Workers of America have achieved.”

“We must discover why union mines have a lower fatality rate in West Virginia and appear to have a much better safety record.”

A long-time coal miner who spent the last 15 years at the Massey Energy Co. mine where 29 workers were killed in April said it was a “ticking time bomb” due to high levels of methane gas.

Stanley “Goose” Stewart, who was 300 feet into the mine when he felt a “hurricane strength” wind from the blast, was the first worker at the Upper Big Branch mine to testify publicly about conditions there.

Mr. Stewart, who has been a coal miner for more than 30 years, started keeping a notebook to document his working conditions when the ventilation system was changed last July. “With so much methane being liberated, and no air moving, it gave me the feeling of a ticking time bomb.” In July 2009 he wrote: “finding explosive levels of methane gas regularly.”

Gary Quarles, whose only son, Cary Wayne Quarles, was killed in the accident, said miners weren’t allowed to hang ventilation curtains or conduct any other safety operations if there would interfere with or delay the production of coal.”

Joe Main, the head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration told a Senate committee investigating the explosion that Massey thwarted   stiffer enforcement action, such as closing down mines with a history of safety violations, by filing a series of appeals. He called on Congress to free up funds to help clear up a backlog of challenges filed by companies.

Mr. Main said Massey escaped tougher enforcement by contesting 78% of the $13.5 million in fines by MSHA in 2009. There are more than 16,000 cases pending review involving 89,000 violations.

Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, denied his company tried to “game the system.” “Rather,” he said, “we are exercising our rights to due process under the system Congress has put in place.”

The issue of mine safety hits close to home with Amber Helms-Chambers and her brother, Nick Helms. Their father, Terry Helms, died in the 2006 Sago Mine explosion.

Chambers is an employee of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese.   She helped design the graphics and layout for the pastoral letter, On My Holy Mountain.

“Our uncles that are in the coal mines and our friends are still in the coal mines and I have a cousin going in the coal mines so it is really important to us to work for something that I know my dad was so passionate about as well and working on it just makes me feel that I’m doing my part as a designer doing what I can to help get thoughts out there and help out,” said Chambers.

“Coal-mining laws are written in blood”…”I never understood that saying until after Sago,” Nick Helms said. “Dad would say nothing would ever change until after something bad would happen.   It’s a never-ending struggle, but it needs to be a never-ending topic in our government.” Mine Explosion

“People were saying, ‘It’s cheaper to pay the fines than to do the safety.’ I know you need to make money, but not at the expense of people’s lives.”

The bishops of Appalachia in their 1975 pastoral letter, This Land is Home to Me recognized that “the coal-based industry created many jobs and brought great progress to our country,” said Bishop Bransfield.

“They also frankly acknowledged that ‘oppression for the mountains’ and suffering for many resulted from tragedies like the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. And they warned that the temptation toward ‘maximization of profit’ can lead to a disregard for human beings and their needs and lead to ‘a new kind of powerlessness.'”