Posted in category "Scandals"

Rev. George William Rutler’s Cosmic Retribution

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 14, 2021 | Categories: Accountability, Celebrities, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash, Scandals, Sex

Mosaic at the entrance to St. Michael’s Church

In Neil Simon’s 1976 comedy mystery film, Murder by Death, the character Sam Diamond, a parody of the fictional detective, Sam Spade, is played by Peter Falk.  His secretary (and girlfriend) blows his cover as a straight, tough guy when she tells the other detectives and guests that Diamond keeps stacks of naked muscle man magazines in his office.  Diamond counters that they are part of his detective work –“I’m always looking for suspects!” he says. “I hate them queeries!”

The Rev. George William Rutler, 75, hates queeries, too, but must he have needed new material for an article, Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) program, or one of his pounding homilies. On November 4, 2020, he was caught watching gay porn on the rectory TV by Ashley Gonzalez, 22, a security guard, who filmed a 19-second clip of a man who looks like Father Rutler watching two men blow each other. Gonzalez said she started filming after she heard “sexual noises” on the TV and saw the priest masturbating.  Rutler had initially watched election coverage but switched it off around 1:30 am to something more edifying. I think at that point, Joe Biden had beaten Donald Trump for the presidency.
Rev. George William Rutler is one of the most famous conservative priests in the U.S., and a long-time critic of Pope Francis, Democratic politicians and “sodomites.”  According to Rod Dreher of the American Conservative, Rutler “presents himself as a flinty arch-conversative who suffers no fools gladly.”  He is quite explicit on his view of sex: “The only safe sex is real sex, done for the procreation of life and the sanctification of love.” 

When Gonzalez tried to flee the room, Fr. Rutler grabbed her. “He aggressively threw himself on me and grabbed me sexually, aggressively, and I was fighting him off of me,” Gonzalez told News 12, who added that she sent frantic text messages to her mother begging for help.  Gonzalez, who is about five feet tall, got out of the office by elbowing the old geezer in the chest. She made it to the street and called a private detective.

There are a number of weird things in Gonzalez’ story:  why would a man who is getting off on two guys having sex try to grope or force himself on a woman?  And, how can you possibly have time or your hands free to text your mother if someone is trying to rape or molest you?

What seems unequivocal thanks to a cell phone video clip is that Rev. Rutler’s career as a conservative Catholic spokesman and as a liberal and gay basher is washed up. Even though the assault accusation could be a “he said, she said” situation, the video evidence, and the downloads and browser history on the rectory computer will not lie.  Rutler has stepped down as pastor of the Church of Saint Michael Church in Manhattan and has been dropped by EWTN.

One of Fr. Rutler’s quotes on homosexual activity sums up his downfall perfectly: “If people want to engage in aberrant sexual activities, well, by all means then they are free to do so. They are free to pay the penalty.”

P.S. To the Episcopal Church:  STOP sending us your self-loathing, hypocritical homosexual priests!  We have enough of our own.

 

 

 

 

The Catholicism of Radclyffe Hall

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 10, 2021 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

“Then Stephen took Angela into her arms and she kissed her full on the lips.”  That sentence has thrilled tens of thousands of lesbian readers, including me, to finally see, feel, imagine their desire in print. When British novelist Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943) published The Well of Loneliness in 1928, it was the first widely read novel to feature lesbian love. A British court judged the book obscene because of the words “and that night they were not divided.” 

It tells the story of Stephen Gordon, a woman given a man’s name by parents that wanted a boy, who is irresistibly drawn to other women. She was born on Christmas Eve and named after the first Christian martyr. As a girl she had a dream: “that in some queer way she was Jesus.”  Seven-year-old Stephen develops a crush on the Gordon’s maid, Collins. When she discovers that Collins has “housemaid’s knee” she prays that the affliction be transferred to her. “I would like to wash Collins in my blood, Lord Jesus—I would very much like to be a Saviour to Collins—I love her, and I want to be hurt like You were.” Stephen is later devastated when she catches Collins sharing a kiss with the footman.

As a young woman Gordon has an affair when a neighbor’s wife.  After a confrontation with her mother about her “unnatural” love, she retreats to her father’s study and discovers a book by German psychiatrist, Krafft-Ebing, on deviant sexuality. After she reads it, she understands what she is—a female “invert,” a lesbian.  She opens a Bible, and seeking a sign, reads Genesis 4:15: “And the Lord set a mark upon Cain…” Radclyffe Hall used the mark of Cain, a sign of crime and exile, throughout the book for the status of “inverts.”

Stephen meets Mary Llewellyn, the love of her life, in France during World War I. The two set out to build a life together, but Stephen believes that Mary’s life is suffering because as a couple they are an object of scorn and contempt. To “save” her, she feigns an affair with another woman to drive Mary into the arms of a man who admires and wants her.  Mary leaves her and marries.  Stephen is devastated and alone.  She has a vision of being thronged by millions of inverts from throughout time, living, dead and unborn. They beg her to speak with God for them. Possessing her, she articulates their collective prayer: “God,” she grasped. “We believe, we have told You we believe…We have not denied You, then rise up and defend us. Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!”

Radclyffe Hall was a pioneer in her efforts to reconcile Christianity and homosexuality. Her defense of gay men and lesbians took the form of a religious argument:  if God created inverts, the rest of humanity should accept them.  Declaring homosexuality to be a “part of nature, in harmony with it, rather than against it.”  She posed the question to her attackers: “if it occurs in and is a part of nature, how can it be unnatural?”  She also knew the price that gay and lesbian people pay to remain in the closet and railed against the “conspiracy of silence” saying, “Nothing is so spiritually degrading or so undermining of one’s morale as living a lie.” 

The controversy over The Well of Loneliness was lampooned in The Sink of Solitude, a satirical pamphlet by Beresford Egan, novelist, and illustrator. One drawing shows an immediately recognizable Radclyffe Hall with her trademark Spanish riding hat nailed to a cross.  A near-nude Sappho leaps in front of the martyred “St. Stephen” and Cupid perches on the crossbeam.  While Egan agreed with Hall’s arguments, he spoofed her piety and moralizing.

Radclyffe Hall is like many Catholic lesbians I have met: conventional, judgmental, spiritual, and often promiscuous.

She was born Marguerite Radclyffe on August 12, 1880 at Christchurch, Bournemouth, England.  In later life she was called John by her friends and lovers, and M. Radclyffe Hall or Radclyffe Hall in her books.  Her mother, Marie, was an American and her father, Radclyffe Radclyffe Hall, was English.  Her parents divorced when she was two and Marie remarried a musician, Albert Visetti.  The young girl never liked him. She reached young womanhood without much education or interests except chasing women. Her specialty seems to be the seduction of married women.

In 1907, at 27, unattached and drifting, Hall made a trip to Bad Homburg, Germany, known for its wellness spas and baths. She became smitten with Mabel (Ladye) Batten, a renowned beauty and amateur singer. Batten’s portraits were painted by John Singer Sargent and Edward John Poynter. The 50-year-old married grandmother had ties to aristocratic society and was rumored to have had an affair with King Edward VII. The poet-adventurer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was an admirer.  Witty, elegant, cultured, beautiful and worldly, Batten was everything Hall desired. They became lovers and stayed together until Batten’s death in 1915. 

Batten was a major influence on Hall, and encouraged her to write poetry.  Hall’s first book of poems, A Sheaf of Verses, published in 1908, reveals her first, tentative references to homosexuality. A second book of poetry including the “Ode to Sapho” was published later that year. Her third volume came out a year later.  When Batten’s husband died in 1910, the two women made a home together.  Hall’s fourth poetry anthology was dedicated to Batten.

Batten was politically conservative, and Hall adopted her positions.  Ladye was also a Catholic convert, and under her encouragement and influence, Radclyffe Hall was received into the Catholic church on February 5, 1912. She was 32. Her baptismal name was Antonia, and she chose Anthony as her patron saint. Hall and Batten worshiped together at London’s fashionable Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, known as the Brompton Oratory.  In 1913, Hall and Batten made a pilgrimage to the Vatican. They went to Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Pius X blessed them in a semi-private audience with other substantial donors. They returned to London with religious-themed triptychs, gilt angels and an alabaster Madonna.

The refined Ladye was both a maternal and wifely figure for Radclyffe Hall.  The once-feminine Hall, who wore skirts all her life and only had her waist length blond hair cut in her 30s, started to cultivate a more masculine appearance, close-cropped hair, tailored jackets and bow-ties.  Batten gave Hall the nickname “John” after noting her resemblance to one of Hall’s male ancestors. She used this name for the rest of her life.  Was Hall butchy, a butch, stone butch, or these days – a transman?  It’s hard to say. She said that she had a man’s soul in her body.

In 1915, 35-year-old Radclyffe Hall met Una Troubridge (1887-1963), a 28-year-old cousin of Mabel Batten, at a tea party in London. They were immediately sexually attracted to one another and began an affair. Their relationship that would last until Hall’s death in 1943. Troubridge was a sculptor and mother of a young daughter. She was married to Vice-Admiral Ernest Troubridge, a career naval officer who was 25 years her senior. Hall’s affair with Troubridge caused an uneasy situation among the three women. 

In May 1916, Batten suffered a cerebral hemorrhage after a quarrel with Hall over Troubridge.  She died ten days later. Guilty and grief-stricken, Hall believed her infidelity had hastened Batten’s end.  She had Batten’s body embalmed and buried her with a silver crucifix blessed by Pope Pius X. Soon after Batten’s death, Hall and Troubridge developed an interest in spiritualism and began attending seances with a medium, Mrs. Gladys Osborne Leonard.  They believed Batten’s spirit gave them advice.

Most of the stories, poems and novels Radclyffe Hall wrote touched on Christian themes, Catholic imagery, lesbian desire or all three.  In 1924, Radclyffe published The Forge, a fictionalized portrait of American lesbian artist Romaine Brooks, and The Unlit Lamp, a novel about a girl who dreams of going to college and setting up a “Boston marriage” with her tutor, Elizabeth.  A Saturday Life (1925) follows the life of a girl who takes up and discards many artistic pursuits with the support of an older woman who is in love with the girl’s mother. Hall’s fourth novel, Adam’s Breed (1926) centered on the spiritual struggles of a young man over excess consumption by modern society. He becomes disgusted with his job as a waiter and even with food itself, gives away his belongings and lives as a hermit in the forest. The story also reflect’s Hall’s concern about the plight of animals. The book won the 1926 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize for best English novel.

In early July 1926 Hall completed the short story, “Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself,” which dealt with homosexuality.  Later than month she began writing Stephen, the novel that became The Well of Loneliness (1928). The Master of the House (1932) is an adaptation of the Christ story in a contemporary setting. Christophe Benedict, the main character, is a deeply spiritual and compassionate carpenter who lives in Provence, France. He is born to a carpenter named Jouse and his wife, Marie. Christophe ends up being crucified by Turks in Palestine during World War I. Writing the book was so spiritually intense that Hall developed stigmata on the palms of her hands.

In the 1930s Hall and Troubridge made their home in Rye, a village in East Sussex where many writers lived.  Hall used Rye as the setting for the book, The Sixth Beatitude (1936), her last novel. It is the story of Hannah Bullen, a strong-bodied young woman. Hannah Bullen’s unconventional life (unmarried mother of two children) is beset by poverty and strife within her family. Hall uses the sixth Beatitude to portray Bullen’s purity of heart and mind by sticking with them.  An independently wealthy heiress, Hall gave generously to the local church. Saint Anthony of Padua was constructing a new building when they moved to Rye. Biographer Diana Souhami wrote that Hall “poured money into the church” to bring it to completion and furnish it. “She paid for its roof, pews, outstanding debts, paintings of the Stations of the Cross and a rood screen of Christ the King. A tribute to Ladye was engraved on a brass plaque set into the floor:  “Of your charity, Pray for the soul of Mabel Veronica Batten, In memory of whom this rood was given.” 

What is the attraction of lesbian and gay men to Catholicism? Why did so many late 19th century writers, intellectuals, artists, clergy and bohemians (with gay lovers, tendencies or friends) take the plunge into the faith? Notable converts include Oscar Wilde, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Aubrey Beardsley, lovers Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper, Ronald Firbank, Maurice Baring, Eric Gill, Robert Hugh Benson, John Henry Newman, Frederick Rolfe, Marc-Andre Raffalovich, John Gray; and, of course, Mabel Batten, Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge.

Oscar Wilde opined on the attraction of the Roman Catholic Church for outre artistic figures and rebels.  He said that Catholicism was “for saints and sinners,” while…” for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do.”  Becoming Catholic was an act that allowed one to become both rebellious and steeped in tradition.   Irish playwright and novelist Emma Donoghue observed: “Being Catholic in England meant becoming slightly foreign, aloof from the establishment; as a church it was associated with the rich and the poor, but definitely not the bourgeoisie.” For much of English society, to become Catholic was to cross society’s lines to a suspect, “other,” even deviant, religion.  But the “otherness” may have been a reason behind its attractiveness.

The sensuousness and eroticism present in Catholic art and ritual have a magnetic appeal to lesbian and gay people.  Beautiful men, barely covered; women with their heads thrown back in orgasmic passion—a feast for the eyes and imagination. We can appreciate symbolic and hidden meanings, the emphasis on the body, particularly the Eucharist, where we take the body of Christ into our mouth; and the mystery inherent in ourselves and in the spiritual world. 

Modern scholars have explored the role of religion in Radclyffe Hall’s work.  Catholic Figures, Queer Narratives (2007) includes the chapter “The Well of Loneliness and the Catholic Rhetoric of Sexual Dissidence” by Richard Dellamora.  He explores Hall’s life and work.  Ed Madden, English professor at the University of South Carolina, examines Hall’s use of Christ’s imagery and symbolism in Reclaiming the Sacred: The Bible in Gay and Lesbian Culture (2003) edited by Raymond-Jean Frontain.

Like a bee sipping nectar from flower to flower, Hall’s desire for women never waned. Her indiscretions as “man of the house” could be overlooked as long as they were brief. Una Troubridge and Radclyffe Hall stayed together as a couple until Hall’s death in London from colon cancer in 1943. The relationship survived Hall’s numerous flirtations and Hall’s last torrid affair with her 28-year-old White Russian nurse, Evguenia Souline (1906?-1958). Souline was hired to help care for Hall during an illness, and their relationship blossomed into much more. Despite the initial protests of Troubridge, the three women lived together in Florence, Italy.  At the outbreak of World War II they left and settled in Devon, England.  “Darling—I wonder if you realize how much I am counting on your coming to England,” Hall wrote to Souline, “how much it means to me—it means all the world, and indeed my body shall be all, all yours, as yours will be all, all mine, beloved. And we two will lie close in each others arms, close, close, always trying to lie even closer, and I will kiss your mouth and your eyes and your breasts—I will kiss your body all over—And you shall kiss me back again many times as you kissed me when we were in Paris. And nothing will matter but just we two, we two longing loves at last come together. I wake up in the night & think of these things & then I can’t sleep for my longing, Soulina.” Una Troubridge cannot have been happy reading that note.  Even so, much of Hall’s correspondence to Evgenia Souline has been preserved. Troubridge burned Souline’s letters to Hall.

Radclyffe Hall died at her flat in Pimlico on October 7, 1943. She bequeathed her entire estate to Troubridge. At her request, she was buried in a vault next to Mabel Batten in Highgate Cemetery in London.  Souline was given a small allowance and disappears from the story. At the time of her death, The Well of Loneliness had been translated into 14 languages and was selling more than 100,000 copies a year.  It has never gone out of print. For decades, it was the only lesbian book generally available. 

Troubridge, now a wealthy woman, moved to Italy and died of cancer in Rome in September 1963, at age 76. Shortly before Troubridge died, a woman asked her how she and Hall reconciled their relationship with their Catholic faith. What did they do about confession? Troubridge answered, “There was nothing to confess.”  Troubridge left written instructions that her coffin be placed in the vault in Highgate Cemetery where Hall and Batten had been buried, but the instructions were discovered too late. She was buried in the English Cemetery in Rome, and on her coffin was inscribed, “Una Vincenzo Troubridge, the friend of Radclyffe Hall.” Years later her tomb was removed and her remains were lost.

The Well of Loneliness has been criticized by lesbians for its stereotypical butch-femme coupling, energetic lesbians who are always masculine looking, and requisite unhappy ending of a love affair or relationship between two women. What is totally ignored is Hall’s Christianity and Catholic faith in her life and writing.  A friend once observed to me that it is easier to be a lesbian in the Catholic Church than a Catholic in the lesbian community.  Like 19th and 20th century biographers who often left out, or slyly alluded to their subject’s homosexual life; too many “herstory” archivists, writers and editors deliberately omit lesbian religious faith and commitment.  This bigotry needs to stop.

“Who are you to deny our right to love” – Radclyffe Hall   The Well of Loneliness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The McCarrick Report Villains

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 19, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, History, Pious Trash, Popes, Saints, Scandals, Sex


The Report on the Holy See’s Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930-2017) was issued by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State on November 10, 2020. The report was authored by U.S. attorney, Jeffrey Lena, who had previously represented the Vatican in several sex abuse cases. The 449-page document is the result of a two-year investigation, prompted by the public demand by Archbishop Carlo Vigano that Pope Francis resign for his alleged leniency to Cardinal McCarrick. Archbishop Vigano’s “testimony” was released on August 25, 2018 and splashed all over ultra-conservative Catholic media outlets.  Gossipy and salacious, he pointed the finger at Pope Francis as the chief villain. Since then, the Vatican had been under heavy pressure to provide an explanation for Cardinal McCarrick’s rise, and his continued influence within the Church after rumors and accusations of sexual activity circulated for several decades.

Before his downfall, Cardinal McCarrick was a star among the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, both for his fund-raising prowess and his sophistication about American and global affairs.  He brought the Vatican millions of dollars from the U.S. for papal charities.

Who are the main villains in The McCarrick Report?

#1 – Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  A man who used his position, influence, and financial gifts to manipulate or coerce seminarians and altar servers to have sex with him; and protect him from any career consequences. Many of his victims were children of family friends.  All of the seminarians depended on his patronage to be ordained.

#2 – Pope John Paul II (1979-2005) – Pope John Paul II turned a blind eye to clerical sexual activity.  His main concerns were freeing Poland from communism, keeping communism out of Latin American, and stamping out North American and European reformers and dissenters.  His courtiers had free rein, especially after the mid-1990s when he began to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, and became increasingly incapacitated mentally and physically. His hubris and handlers kept him propped up in Peter’s Throne so the good times could continue to roll. He ignored numerous complains about McCarrick, and continued to promote him from Bishop of Metuchen, NJ (1981), to Archbishop of Newark, NJ (1986), Archbishop of Washington, DC (2000), and finally named McCarrick a cardinal (2001).  The best article I ever read about Pope John Paul II’s culpability in the Church’s sex abuse holocaust is Maureen Dowd’s A Saint, He Ain’t. Poland’s bishops lobbied hard for John Paul II’s early beatification and canonization but were rebuffed in 2019 when they petitioned the Vatican and fellow prelates worldwide to have him elevated still further as a Doctor of the Church and patron saint of Europe.

 #3 – Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. The McCarrick Report contains 45 references to Dziwisz, who first met McCarrick while visiting New York with the then, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in 1976.  When Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II in 1978, Dziwisz served as his personal secretary for the Polish pontiff’s entire 27-year reign. Cardinal Dziwisz is accused of covering up sexual abuse in exchange for money. One of McCarrick’s victims, James Grein, said he once accompanied McCarrick on a trip to the Vatican with a briefcase containing envelopes full of money. The envelope addressed to Dziwisz held $10,000.

The role of the former papal secretary in stifling sex abuse claims and protecting clerical abusers as favors or for money has come under recent scrutiny in Poland.  A 90-minute documentary, “Don Stanislao” was recently shown on TVN24 in Poland. The film aired a long list of accusations about Dziwisz, from covering up for his friends in the seminary to the his role in protecting the late Father Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ, and former Cardinal McCarrick. The documentary also detailed how as archbishop of Krakow he ignored complaints against subsequently convicted local priests.

#4 – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – Pope Benedict asked Cardinal McCarrick to step down as archbishop of Washington, DC in 2006.  Since he was 76, a year past the age of retirement, the request wasn’t extraordinary.  “Over the next two years, Holy See officials wrestled with how to address issues regarding Cardinal McCarrick,” the report’s summary states. “Ultimately, the path of a canonical process to resolve factual issues and possibly prescribe canonical penalties was not taken,” the summary concludes. “Instead, the decision was made to appeal to McCarrick’s conscience and ecclesial spirit by indicating to him that he should maintain a lower profile and minimize travel for the good of the Church.” That didn’t happen; McCarrick continued his global lifestyle and high visibility.

Pope Benedict did and said nothing.  Benedict also gave himself the excuse that McCarrick was already retired in not initiating formal disciplinary proceedings. “God’s Rottweiler” as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1981-2005) silenced and censored numerous theologians, bishops, priests and religious during his tenure.  He decried secularization, liberation theology, feminism, homosexuality, religious pluralism, and bioethics.  He gave clerical sex abuse and rape a pass.

#5 – Four New Jersey Bishops. These men vetted Archbishop of Newark McCarrick for the prestigious Washington, DC appointment—Bishop Emeritus Edward Hughes, Metuchen; Bishop John M. Smith, Trenton; Bishop James McHugh, Camden; and Bishop Vincent DePaul Breen, Metuchen. Of the four, only Bishop Edward Hughes advised that it would be “unwise to consider the Archbishop for any promotion or additional honor.” Even so, Bishop Hughes did not pass on reports from seminarians and priests who told him they had been abused by McCarrick.  Both James McHugh of Camden and John Smith of Trenton witnessed McCarrick groping a seminarian at a dinner party but never reported it. 

All the New Jersey bishops confirmed the rumor that McCarrick persuaded seminarians to share his bed at his New Jersey Shore house. The Vatican report does not explain by these bishops would not regard sleeping with young men—at minimum–as a serious impropriety and lack of judgement. Nor does it indicate why it didn’t raise a red flag for sexual activity for Vatican officials.  The report also included an allegation by an unnamed Metuchen priest who accused McCarrick of having sex with a third priest in June 1987.  The accuser was not originally believed since he “had previously abused two teenage boys.”

As expected, The McCarrick Report has plenty of dirt to throw on the legacy of Pope Saint John Paul II: he didn’t bother to investigate sex crimes. That way, he never had sufficient evidence requiring him to act. Because he chose to look the other way, thousands of children, teenagers, seminarians, and vulnerable adults were victimized by clerical predators. The failure of his moral leadership deeply wounded the Catholic Church and many people of faith.

The Report highlights repeated failures in the processing of vetting bishops, a process that often seems more focused on personal connections and ensuring unquestioned adherence to doctrine rather than raising red flags on inappropriate or criminal behavior.

The system in place where archbishops are expected to police abuse by bishops is totally inadequate.

Finally, it shows how certain Vatican prelates—Cardinal Dziwisz and Cardinal Sodano chief among them—were happy to let crime and sin slide if they were paid.

 

 

Benedetta Carlini – First Lesbian Nun Story

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 13, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Scandals, Sex

Benedetta Carlini (1590-1661) was a mystic, seductress and nun. Dr. Judith C. Brown chronicled her life in the 1986 book, Immodest Acts. The book came on the heels of Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan’s bestseller, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, which was published in 1985. Benedetta was Abbess of the Convent of the Mother of God in Pescia, Italy when she was accused of heresy and “female sodomy.” Her story is important not only as a documented lesbian relationship in the convent, but how an intelligent, persuasive woman gained, experienced and exercised power and celebrity within Catholicism’ male-dominated structure.  In the end, she was brought low by jealousy and her own excesses. She also had miscalculated the tectonic shift in the Church from the Counter Reformation: principally an emphasis on correction of clerical abuses, and more emphasis on intellectual understanding vs. supernatural manifestations of divine favor.

The story of Abbess Benedetta Carlini was discovered by accident by Dr. Brown, a historian at Stanford University while she was researching the economic history of the region and the Medici rule.  “I found Benedetta Carlini by chance, by leafing through an inventory of nearly forgotten documents in the State Archive of Florence.  The entry in the inventory read: ‘Papers relating to a trial against Sister Benedetta Carlini of Vellano, abbess of the Theatine nuns of Pescia, who pretended to be a mystic, but who was discovered to be a woman of ill repute.’”  This discovery of an ecclesiastical investigation contained what is probably the earliest account of a sexual relationship between two nuns. The documents concerning Abbess Benedetta Carlini consisted mostly of transcripts of a series of inquests between 1619 and 1623.

In 1986, Dr. Brown published her book about Benedetta’s life, investigations, and trials.  Titled Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy.  It was widely reviewed in both scholarly and popular journals and publications.  I talked to Dr. Brown about speaking at the Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL) West Coast conference in May 1986.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t available to participate.  Too bad, because many scholars are dry and pedantic, and I found Dr. Brown to be both engaging and knowledgeable. She was one of a handful of women at that time to write an even-handed account of lesbianism who was not a lesbian herself.  The book served as a prop in Su Friedrich’s sensational 1987 film, Damned If You Don’t.  

Benedetta’s parents brought her to the convent in 1599 when she was nine years old. She entered the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, more commonly known as the Theatines. The order was founded in 1583 by the Venerable Ursula Benincasa, who was famous for her visions and piety. The fame she gained from her visions led some to accuse her of being possessed by a devil. In 1617, Ursula had her most famous vision, where Jesus (in some versions, Mary) appeared to her. In the vision Jesus praised her order and promised them salvation.  Ursula died in 1618 at the age of 71. Benedetta grew up learning about Ursula’s visions and the fame and power that proceeded from them.

Like the Venerable Ursula, Benedetta had visions.  In 1613, when she was 23, she reported visions to the mother superior and her confessor. A young boy helped her climb the “Mountain of Perfection;” she was surrounded by wild animals, only to be saved by Jesus.  In another vision, while praying one morning, she found herself “in a garden, surrounded by fruits and flowers.” Male figures came to dominate her visions—a beautiful youth, young men who beat her with sticks, chains, and swords; a handsome guardian angel named Splenditello, and Jesus himself.  Over time, the visions increased in intensity and detail, and Benedetta became well known for them.  Fearful that Sister Benedetta was being harassed by demonic forces, Sister Bartolomea Crivelli was assigned to share her cell, observe her, and help her if possible.

On the second Friday of Lent 1619, Benedetta received an unmistakable sign of divine favor, the stigmata.  Prior to this event Benedetta and others in her community were unsure if her visions were divine or diabolical in origin; but by manifesting the wounds of Christ she proved their divinity.

Her celebrity as a mystic blossomed.  That same year the Theatine nuns elected her as their abbess.

Shortly after her election, she began to deliver sermons to the other nuns.  She spoke in a trance, an angel speaking through her, exhorting the nuns to purify themselves, and be grateful for Benedetta’s presence in their midst. In the months that followed, there were more trances and visitations: from St. Catherine of Siena and an angel—a beautiful youth in a white robe named Splenditello, even Jesus himself.  They spoke from within Benedetta, at times with loving praise, other times harshly or issuing commandments, such as a ban on eating meat, eggs, and dairy products.

On May 20, 1619, Jesus appeared to Benedetta and told her he wanted to marry her in a special ceremony.  He had specific ideas for the procession, the chapel decorations, list of guests and the ceremony itself. At the wedding, while the other nuns watched and listened, Benedetta claimed the Blessed Mother looked on benevolently while Jesus placed a gold ring on her finger. Speaking through her, Jesus said, “I would like that this, my bride, be empress of all the nuns.” He added that the Great Duke of Tuscany should be informed of her greatness. All those who did not obey, believe, and cherish her would be punished.

Although the nuns had gone along with Benedetta’s visions, the self-flagellation during trance-sermons and even a ban on salami and cheese; the wedding with Jesus and his dictate that they should obey her or face divine punishment was a step too far. They reported her to the ecclesiastical authorities, who investigated her twice between 1619 and 1623. They discovered that she had faked the stigmata by pricking herself with a needle; secretly ate salami and mortadella during her “ban” on meat and dairy and painted on her miraculous wedding ring with saffron.

But the most damning, was the confession of Sr. Bartolomea Crivelli, Benedetta’s assigned companion.  She described her two-year affair with the abbess.  The women met for sex at least three times a week.  “Embracing her, she would put her under herself and kissing her as if she were a man, she would speak words of love to her. And she would stir so much on top of her that both of them corrupted themselves.” They also masturbated each other and had oral sex to orgasm.  Mutual fondling carried a relatively light penalty—two years of penance, plus the loss of Benedetta’s status as abbess. The fact that Benedetta claimed “Splenditello” the angel committed the sexual acts allowed clerical investigators to classify all of Benedetta’s supernatural visions as diabolic in nature. In their report, investigators criticized Benedetta’s “immodest and lascivious language,” and “the great display of vanity” of her mystical marriage with Jesus. 

Benedetta, 36, was condemned to involuntary hermitage and spent the remaining 35 years of her life in solitary confinement.  The only other mention of Benedetta is an August 1661 entry in an unnamed nun’s diary stating that Benedetta Carlini died at age 71 of fever and colic pains. The nun added that Benedetta was “always popular among the laity.”  For her confession, Sr. Bartolomea Crivelli was spared any punishment. She died in 1660, a year before Benedetta.

Why the long solitary confinement?  I suspect jealousy, anger at her duplicity, and fear that her charm and intelligence could help her reclaim a leadership position led some nuns to promote her isolation within the community. She would feel her losses every day.  Church authorities wanted to discourage her dangerous popularity with the laity. Her supernatural claims were unwanted in the new age of science and Counter-Reformation.

There is no record of what Benedetta thought and felt after she was led to her lonely cell. Did she have any regrets? Did she revisit her visions– real, imagined or devised? Did her thoughts ever stray to Bartolomea, lying in her bed nearby?

Benedetta Carlini has been the inspiration or subject of films, plays and articles.  They include:

Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Judith Brown, Oxford University Press, 1986

Damned If You Don’t – a film by Su Friedrich in 1989.  If you want to see the film, below are the links for streaming and for DVD

Damned If You Don’t

Vimeo streaming for $3.99
DVD for $24.99

Discourses of Desire: Sexuality and Christian Women’s Visionary Narratives,” by E. Ann Matter, Journal of Homosexuality, 1989-1990

Big Gay Portal to Hell, a podcast by Catherine Clune-Taylor on Caveat

Stigmata, a 2011 play by Carolyn Gage

Vile Affections: Based on the True Story of Benedetta Carlini, a 2006 play by Vanda

Benedetta Carlini: Lesbian Nun of Renaissance Italy, a play by director and playwright, Rosemary Rowe.

Benedetta, an upcoming film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Virginia Efira as Benedetta.  The film is scheduled to premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

 

 

 

 

Unsolved Mystery: The Disappearance of Danny Walsh and the Legend of Cement Shoes

Posted by Censor Librorum on Aug 13, 2020 | Categories: History, Scandals

I always enjoy the Cross Sound Ferry ride from Orient, NY to New London, CT. I look out over the water and imagine what lies beneath. Somewhere underneath the rolling waves are four centuries of shipwrecks, lost fishing nets and tackle, Coke bottles, busted lobster traps, and the remains of Danny Walsh, encased in cement shoes.

Danny Walsh

Danny Walsh was one of the most successful bootleggers during Prohibition, and the last major Irish-American gangster in Southern New England.  He was kidnapped and murdered in 1933.  His remains were never found.

A first generation Irish-American, Walsh was born in 1898 in the neighborhood of “Valley Falls” in Cumberland, Rhode Island. He was the son of John and Mary Walsh and was the second of nine children.  When Prohibition started Walsh was earning $5 a day working in a Pawtucket, Rhode Island mill.  Walsh became one of the most famous rum-runners during the 1920s. He assembled a formidable operation which included planes, automobiles and a fleet of boats. These speedboats were armor plated with layers of New York telephone directories to ward off Coast Guard machine gun fire.  The boats would go out to the 12 mile limit, known as “Rum Row” to meet ocean-going vessels.  Walsh’s exploits were chronicled in local papers, including the infamous incident of December 1929, when one of his smuggling speedboats, “The Black Duck,” came under fire by a Coast Guard gunship.

Rhode Island was the most Catholic state in the country, and many of the state’s Irish, Italian, French-Canadian and Polish citizens regarded Prohibition as a Protestant plot against their social life.  Enforcement was lax.

Charles “King” Solomon

As the Roaring 20s roared along, Walsh prospered and became a protégé of Charles (King) Solomon, Boston’s legendary crime boss.  Solomon made Walsh the northeast distributor of high-quality Canadian alcohol.  Sam and Harry Bronfman of Seagram Company were happy to sell legal Canadian whiskey at 65 cents a gallon.  Walsh could sell the same gallon for $7 in the U.S.

By 1925 Walsh had made a huge fortune as one of the country’s largest bootleggers. Considering himself a “gentleman farmer” Walsh spent a lot of money on thoroughbreds which he raised on his farm in Charlestown, Rhode Island. He became an accomplished horseman. Affable and politically savvy, he kept his political allies and bankers stocked with hard liquor.  In 1928 Federal authorities charged him with tax evasion, arguing he owed the government $350,000 in unpaid income taxes.  Walsh bargained the figure down and paid.  When anyone asked, he told people he was a hobby farmer who had made shrewd investments.

Walsh was rumored to be part of the “Irish Combine,” a group of Irish gangsters heavily involved in bootlegging.  They included Big Bill Dwyer and Owney Madden of New York City, Larry Fay on Long Island, NY, Walsh in Providence, RI, Daniel O’Leary of Philadelphia, PA and Joseph Kennedy of Boston, MA. 

One of the most notorious bootleggers during Prohibition was Carl Rettich, a New Jersey born criminal who got his start at age 17 in the mob-controlled live poultry business.  He overheard a plot to murder a wholesale poultry dealer but kept his mouth shut. In September 1924, 30-year-old Rettich was charged with the murder of Frank d’Agostino, a gangster who was known by police as a “hijacker” of bootleg liquor. D’Agostino told friends that he planned to meet with Rettich to discuss returning the whiskey he had stolen from him.  Instead he ended up on a pier with four bullets in his neck and chest.  Rettich was an associate of George F. (“Doc”) Moeller’s, alleged whisky smuggler, who disappeared a few weeks earlier with $150,000. The police were unable to trace his whereabouts, although they believed he fled to Germany.

Rettich relocated to Rhode Island at Walsh’s invitation.  Together they expanded operations.  Known to his Warwick Neck, RI neighbors as “Charles Ryerson,” area people believed him to be a respectable attorney who had moved to Rhode Island to care for his aging father.  Rettich threw parties for politicians and the local elite, letting people fire his machine gun on the front lawn.

Carl Rettich

On January 23, 1933, Charles “King” Solomon was gunned down in the men’s room at Boston’s Cotton Club.  His boss and protector dead, ten days later Danny Walsh disappeared.

Walsh was last seen the night of February 2, 1933 at the Bank Café in Warwick, RI having dinner with Rettich, Rettich’s young associate, nicknamed “Wireless,” and two other unidentified men. A waitress testified that Walsh and Rettich were in good spirits, but a second witness disagreed, claiming the men had an argument over an unpaid debt. Rettich paid Walsh $30,000 to settle it.  Danny Walsh disappeared.  Local police and a Federal inquiry into his disappearance went nowhere.

The Associated Press ran a story on June 3, 1935 speculating that Walsh “was stood in a tub of cement until it hardened about his feet, and then thrown alive into the sea.” The AP reported it was just a “grisly underworld tale.”

According to unnamed informants, Walsh had been taken to the basement of Rettich’s home and clubbed. He was put in a box that was filled with concrete and dumped in the ocean.  Walsh’s girlfriend was given the same treatment for being too vocal about his disappearance.  Another rumor had Walsh’s body stuffed in a barrel filled with cement and dumped in the sea off Block Island. No bodies were ever found.  Police Captain Alfred Stevens of Providence, RI believed Rettich murdered Walsh to take full control of the business and reclaim his $30,000 payment.

Murder Castle

The Providence Journal received a tip that some “Chicago interests” might have staged Walsh’s kidnapping, upset he was encroaching on their territory in western Massachusetts.  The Journal’s front-page story on February 11, 1933 reported that Walsh might have been kidnapped for a $40,000 ransom. A few days after his disappearance, Walsh’s brother, Joseph Walsh, received a ransom note demanding $40,000.  Joseph Walsh, Carl Rettich, and two other men traveled to the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston.  There they handed the $40,000 to a man that none of them saw. He collected the money by slipping “his hand through a hotel room door.” Despite promises from the kidnappers, Walsh never resurfaced.

Over the next several years authorities would often investigate unidentified murder victims in hopes of finding Danny Walsh; “any time a suspicious corpse was found—in Massachusetts or Rhode Island woods—or a skull turned up in a fishing net off Block Island, police checked it against Danny Walsh’s dental records.” The bodies of Danny Walsh and his girlfriend were never found. What happened to Danny Walsh?  No one knows, but what is left of him is probably at the bottom of Block Island Sound.

Rettich’s luck ran out in 1935. He was convicted on multiple charges for a Fall River, MA mail heist that netted $129,000.  He was sentenced to 25 years in prison and spent the rest of his life there. Rettich is footnote now in Prohibition history, but he is the inspiration for the enduring legend of cement shoes. 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: The REAL Rainbow Plague in Poland

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 16, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Bishops, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash, Politics, Scandals, Sex

The 2019 Polish documentary on clerical sex abuse, “Tell No One” highlighted a problem:  Many of the priestly sex abusers and credibly accused child molesters are well-loved and respected national and local figures.  Some people are pushing for a total accounting; others stress individual forgiveness and resumption of public ministry.  Notable figures include –

-Father Henryk Janknowski, one of the founders of the Solidarity union. He had his statue removed in Gdansk.

– Father Eugeniusz Makulski, who oversaw the construction of Poland’s biggest basilica. He commissioned a statue of himself offering the building to St. Pope John Paul II.  I found his kneeling in front of the pope an apt pose, considering what he is. Makulski’s representations have been removed from the shrine. 

-Father Franciszka Cybula, personal chaplain to anti-Communist hero Lech Walesa.  Slawoj Leszek Glodz, Archbishop of Gdansk, lavished praise on Cybula and gave him a grandiose funeral.

– Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz, a much-loved figure who helped lead Poland’s anti-Communist movement.

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, former archbishop of Krakow and papal envoy.  He was quietly recalled from the Dominican Republic in 2013. Wesolowski was accused of possessing child pornography and paying poor boys and teens for sex acts.  Luckily, he died of a “heart attack” before his canonical trial was about to begin.  Wesolowski was also wanted on sex abuse charges in Poland. It seemed to me he had quite a good clerical showing at his funeral. 

On August 1, 2019, Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Krakow celebrated a Mass commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.  Archbishop J?draszewski said in his homily: “The red [communist] plague no longer walks on our earth, but a new neo-Marxist one that wants to conquer our souls, hearts, and minds has appeared. It is not a red, but a rainbow plague.”

Did he mean Poland’s pedophile and sex abuser priests, bishops and cardinals; or, was he referring only to Polish LGBT activists?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Catholic Vote’s Presidential Election Mailer

Posted by Censor Librorum on Apr 3, 2020 | Categories: Faith, Humor, Pious Trash, Politics, Popes, Scandals

I received this mailer from Catholic Vote.  I’m sure they got my name from my subscription to the National Catholic Register.  I am a pro-life voter–not just a pro-birth voter.  Catholic Vote started out as a Pope Benedict fan club.  They have now evolved into some kind of conservative Catholic PAC.

When presented with such a stark choice for candidates it’s very easy to pick:  NANCY PELOSI, and the fundamental Catholic values and upbringing she represents.

How on earth, as a faithful Catholic, could I vote for what Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan and John Paul II represent:

Donald Trump – A coarse, nasty, misogynist, pathological liar.

Ronald Reagan – The man who destroyed the American working class by opening the floodgates to globalization and corporate maximization of profits vs. giving people at home a decent living wage.

Pope John Paul II – Ignored or protected priestly predators and their enablers while thousands of innocent children, teens and seminarians were raped and sexually abused. Under his watch the Vatican bank was a den of thieves washing dirty money and funding luxurious lifestyles for corrupt prelates. And don’t forget–he never met a military dictatorship he didn’t prefer over poor peasants and indigenous peoples.

Catholic Vote needs to rethink their presentation materials.

 

 

 

 

Looking Back 35 Years: Barbara Grier, Catholic Lesbians, and the Lesbian Nuns Book

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 29, 2020 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals

In 1985 the book, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, was published by Naiad Press. It was an explosive best-seller, thanks to the Boston Archdiocese and Cardinal Bernard Law, who complained about a local television interview with the book’s two editors. The archdiocese described the program as “an affront to the sensitivity of Roman Catholics.” The station cancelled the segment, and sales soared.  “This is crazy,” Barbara Grier, a founder of Naiad Press told The New York Times, scrambling to fill orders for the book, “I’m a mouse giving birth to an elephant.” The editors, Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan, did have a successful appearance on the Phil Donohue show in April 1985 and went on a national tour for the book.  Naiad Press went through four printings of the book, and eventually sold the mass distribution and paperback rights to Warner Books in 1986. Lesbian Nuns eventually sold several hundred thousand copies. 

Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence included stories by 42 former nuns and women religious, and nine women still in religious life.  Most used pseudonyms.  All of them wrote about either discovering or acting on their lesbian identity while still in religious life.  While there were very few detailed descriptions of sex and seduction, Naiad’s marketing promised to reveal what really goes on behind convent doors, breaking the silence “about erotic love between women in religious life.” While the lesbian religious in the book had affairs or relationships with other sisters, they also fell in love or lust with lay women, married and single.  Often the love affair or sexual relationship was the cause of them leaving the convent: it was too hard to maintain a lover relationship and live a religious life.  Sometimes the relationships continued but often they did not. I met and knew several of the contributors:

Nancy Manahan, one of the co-editors, worked with the Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL) to solicit contributors to the book.  She also did a workshop on the book at our 1986 conference. I found Nancy to be a lovely, gracious, caring person.

Susan Weaver was an elegant, elderly woman. We got together several times during my visits to my parents home in Vermont. She made me a beautiful Christmas ornament that I put on my tree every year in memory of her.

Pat O’Donnell was a Dominican sister working at Picture Rocks Retreat house in Tucson, Arizona.  She lost her job as the result of her coming out in the book.  Pat continued to live and work in Tucson doing spiritual direction.

“Kate Quigley” lived in Montreal and had a long-term relationship with a married woman. The woman’s husband was aware of it. The three of them would go away on vacation together.

Charlotte Doclar worked with Sr. Jeannine Gramick at New Ways Ministry to outreach to lesbian nuns.  I met her at a retreat for Catholic lesbians in 1981. Charlotte was friendly, jocular and good-natured. Her story is on the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network.

Dianne Weyers entered her community when she was 14.  She left when she was in her late 30s or early 40s with a mysterious back ailment no doctor was able to diagnose but had a crippling effect on her.  Since she could not sit upright for long, I typed her manuscript for the book.  She felt very unwanted and persecuted by her community, particularly one sadistic superior. I never quite knew what to make of her.

“Sister Maria Nuscera” was a very vivacious lesbian religious in the Midwest. She fell in love and had an affair with a parishioner.

Margaret “Peg” Cruikshank was not one of the lesbian nuns but was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the book.  Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan, the book’s co-editors, had previously published their own stories as lesbian religious in The Lesbian Path. Peg edited that book and introduced the pair in June 1981. She suggested to Barbara Grier that Manahan and Curb edit a book about lesbian nuns.

The nun on the cover of the book with the “come hither” look was Jean O’Leary, who left the convent and went on to become a co-director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. 

The Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL), was a group founded in the early 1980s to promote Catholic lesbian visibility and community.  Beginning in 1982, the group had advertised and promoted the Lesbian Nuns book project to its members and readers, many of whom were lesbian religious and ex-nuns.  CCL’s newsletter editor at that time, a wonderful woman named Pat, knew of Barbara Grier through the Daughters of Bilitis. DOB or Daughters was the first lesbian rights organization in the United States. Pat had been one of the editors of its newsletter, The Ladder.  She described Grier as an aggressive, single-minded butch.

The unthinkable happened shortly after the publication of Lesbian Nuns.  Barbara Grier, working to maximize income and visibility, offered excerpts of the book to gay and women’s publications like Philadelphia Gay News and Ms. Magazine. She also offered excerpts to Forum magazine; a men’s soft-core porn magazine published by Penthouse. The lead headline in the June 1985 Forum blared in capital letters:  SEX LIVES OF LESBIAN NUNS. The lesbian nun stories that Forum bought included “They Shall Not Touch, Even in Jest,” “Finding My Way” and “South American Lawyer in the Cloister.”

Grier justified the decision by stating it would help the book reach a wider audience. She claimed that many women, some of them closeted lesbians, read their male family members’ copies of the magazine. An estimated 15% of Forum readers were female.  In an interview with WomaNews, she expressed surprise about the outrage her Forum sale generated— “I had no idea anyone would object.”  Even if you are a huge Barbara Grier fan, these two assumptions are hard to accept.

Since CCL had helped to solicit contributors to the book, personally, and through our conferences and newsletter, the organization sent a letter to Barbara Grier protesting the sale of the stories to Forum.  We did get a letter back from her a few weeks later.  The letter is now lost, but I remember what she wrote. The tone was matter of fact, no apology. She sold the rights to Forum to try to reach as many lesbians as possible.  I don’t know if the tiny sliver of lesbian Forum readers would even be interested in the book, but the ensuing controversy certainly helped sales and attracted new customers to Naiad Press.  Lesbian Nuns was their greatest publicity tool and best-selling book ever.

Naiad Press was founded in 1973 by Barbara Grier, her partner, Donna McBride, and another couple, Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford. The business began with $2,000 provided by Marchant, their first author. She wrote under the pen name, Sarah Aldridge. Over the years Naiad published over 500 books on unconditionally lesbian themes.  Mostly romance novels, they included erotica, mysteries and science fiction. Naiad also reprinted some of the most important lesbian pulp novels of the 1940s and ‘50s, including the Beebo Brinker Chronicles by Ann Bannon. Their authors included Jane Rule, Katherine V. Forrest, Claire McNab, Lee Lynch and Karin Kallmaker.  Cartoonist Alison Bechdel used to lampoon Naiad books by giving them bar code covers. Grier told Bechdel when she met her that she always loved seeing Naiad jokes in her comic strip. The founders fiercely disagreed over the Forum sale and it precipitated a split a few years later.

In 1973, no bookstores would take lesbian themed books, so Naiad started as a mail order business. Its initial list of 3800 names was the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), membership list that Grier purloined when the organization folded in 1970.  Grier used it to keep publishing The Ladder, DOB’s newsletter, for another two years until funding ran out. Many DOB activists felt Grier stole the list, but she defended her action as necessary for the magazine’s continued existence: “DOB was falling apart—we wanted The Ladder to survive.”

Grier got her start at DOB in 1957 as a book reviewer.  Her reviews were written under the pseudonym Gene Damon. She wanted to “nourish all lesbians with books.” In 1968 she became editor of The Ladder.  The magazine increased from 25 to more than 40 pages and tripled in subscriptions.  She removed the word “Lesbian” from the front cover in order to reach more women. Her makeover was successful but not without conflict.  She increased coverage of feminist news, but some DOB members wanted the focus to remain exclusively lesbian. In the late 1960s, the Daughters of Bilitis finally broke under the stresses and conflicts surrounding the political vs. the social aspects of the group; and whether to align with male-dominated gay rights groups, or lesbian separatist feminists. Grier was in the latter camp. The founders of DOB, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, leaned more toward acceptance and assimilation. 

I skimmed my copy Lesbian Nuns a few months ago, and it spurred me to reflect on what I thought about Barbara Grier now, 35 years after I helped draft CCL’s protest letter to her.  I also revisited my 2011 post on Grier, written shortly after she died.

In 1985, I thought Grier was a crud. How could a lesbian publisher sell personal, and often sad and painful coming out stories to a men’s sex magazine? Her goal–to reach as many lesbians as possible- was enough to override every other consideration and objection.

In 2020, my view of Grier is more nuanced. In order to become a successful publisher of lesbian literature in a homophobic world, she needed to be single-minded, relentless and ambitious to endure and prevail. She was a hard worker, tough, and totally dedicated to her ideal of lesbian visibility. “Her goal in publishing,” said Donna McBride, “was to make lesbians happy about themselves.” Books that made lesbians feel secure in their sexual identities were the best. Grier succeeded, and made the world a better place for lesbians.  They could see themselves and their lives in books at last. 

Grier was also blunt, nasty, calculating, and operated with flexible ethics—think of the Forum sale and the DOB membership list theft.  I wonder if she had the idea of starting a book company when she took the list.  I bet she did.

As lesbians and gay men continue to integrate into ordinary life and communities, workplaces, parishes, television shows and elected offices, this quote from Grier in 1968 flashes a warning:  “When we have amalgamated and homogenized and pasteurized ourselves thoroughly, we can become one of the shapeless, formless, meaningless, ‘walk alike, talk alike, think alike’ things that now live in this country—and then who will write our poetry, our novels of intensity, who will burn a futile fire, howl at the moon aimlessly?”

 

 

 

 

 

The Devil and the Nun

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 7, 2020 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Fishy Fridays, History, Scandals, Sex

On the morning of August 11, 1676, a young nun named Maria was found on the floor of her cell.  Her face was smeared with ink.  Her hand held a sheet of paper covered with inscrutable glyphs.  She told the other nuns that the Devil appeared to her in the night and tried to turn her away from her faith. To persuade Maria, the Devil took over her facilities and wrote a letter with her hand.  The writing was not in Latin or any familiar language. It was a mysterious jumble of occult symbols and archaic letters.  No one was able to decipher the letter by the Devil. 

Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione was 15 years old when she entered the Benedictine convent in Palma di Montechiaro, Sicily. She was 31 at the time of the Devil’s visit.  Maria had a history of struggling against the Devil.  She would scream at him at night. In the convent’s chapel, she would shriek and lose consciousness.  She was convinced that Satan was trying to turn her towards evil.

In 2017, director Daniel Abate and a research team from the Ludum science center in Catania, Sicily cracked the code.  They used an algorithm found on the Deep Web. “We heard about the software,” Abate said, “which is used by intelligence services for coding breaking. We primed the software with ancient Greek, Arabic, the Runic alphabet and Latin to descramble some of the letter.”  The team was eventually able to translate 15 lines, which were certainly devilish for a nun to express:

“Humans are responsible for the creation of God.”

“This system works for no one.”

“God thinks he can free mortals.”

“Perhaps now, Styx is certain.”

“God and Jesus are dead weights.

“We speculated that Sister Maria created a new vocabulary using ancient alphabets that she may have known,” Abate said. “This is a precise alphabet, invented by the nun with great care by mixing symbols that she knew. We analyzed how the syllables and graphisms (or thoughts depicted as symbols) repeated in the letter in order to locate vowels, and we ended up with a refined decryption algorithm.”  Abate thought Sister Maria had a good command of languages, which allowed her to invent the code.  There is no information on what happened to her after the incident.

The letter was an elaborate hoax by Sister Maria. Why did she do it? How was she sure that she would not be found out? If she knew ancient alphabets, didn’t any of the other nuns at her convent know them as well? Abate believes the nun had schizophrenia, which made her imagine dialogues with the Devil.

Here’s my guess across 344 years:  She was frustrated, pent-up, tormented by sexual desires or guilt. She had some doubts about the faith, which bothered her.  Her small stage as a woman and as a nun bothered her. She was conflicted, she wanted attention, and she acted out her doubts and obsessions. The Devil was a good prop.  Once she started with the screams and convulsions, she had to keep it up.  She probably wanted to keep it up; the letter was a good finale.  She won her fight against Satan and became a heroine in the convent.

Sister Maria most likely heard about other demonic possessions and Satanic letters in other convents.  The 17th century was full of them, all featuring young nuns tempted by sex and heresy including Aix-en-Provence in 1611; Lille in 1613, Loudon in 1634 and Louviers in 1647. They are full of real and imagined seductions by priests and other nuns. I am surprised that no one has thought to do a full-blown historical and psychological study on these possessions, and their links with sex, female rebellion, and church politics.

 

 

 

 

Dumb and Nasty

Posted by Censor Librorum on Feb 28, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Fishy Fridays, Scandals

Paul E. Lubienecki, 62, an adjunct professor at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, NY was arrested on February 12, 2020, on two felony cyberstalking charges.  He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Agents from the FBI’s Buffalo, NY field office arrested Lubienecki in connection to a death threat made against 7 Eyewitness News investigative reporter Charlie Specht. Specht has won state and national awards for his investigations of the Diocese of Buffalo.  In the last six months Specht and his wife had received over 50 threatening calls from an unknown individual.

The voicemails began in August 2019, just as the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team reported on scandals at Christ the King Seminary, where multiple seminarians quit the seminary because of alleged abuse and corruption in the diocese. The messages referenced members of Specht’s family and urged Specht to stop his reporting on the diocese. “You’re still a bad Catholic and a horrible reporter,” one voicemail warned. “I hope to God I don’t see you walking around.”

On December 4, 2019, the day Specht reported on Bishop Malone’s resignation he received this message: “Oh, you must be so happy. You destroyed the Diocese of Buffalo and Bishop Malone. Oh, you must be so proud. You’re a piece of shit, you are really a piece of shit… You must be so proud of how you destroyed everything. I’m gonna destroy your career.”

On February 4, 2020, a few hours after the diocese announced the closure of Christ the King Specht gave a live report from the seminary.  Moments later, a caller left a voicemail. “You must be so happy the seminary’s closing. You’re a bad person.  I know where you live…I’m gonna find you.  I’m gonna kill you.”

Lubienecki had nothing to say as he left the courthouse after his arraignment. “Do you have anything to say about the cyberstalking charge?” asked 7 Eyewitness News senior reporter Eileen Buckley. “Why would you make a threat to somebody, especially to kill them. Isn’t that against the teaching of the catholic faith?” questioned Buckley.

Censor Librorum Notes:  No wonder the Church is a mess with a dumb-ass like that teaching ethics at a seminary.