Friday, May 31, 2013

Too Gay?

Corpus Christi

People carry candles and rosary beads during a procession to celebrate Corpus Christi along a street in Brasilia, Brazil May 30, 2013.  REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Italian Monk Wearing a Funeral Mask

Pope: Jesus' plan for humanity requires Catholic Church

 By David Uebbing

Vatican City, May 29, 2013 / 07:56 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis began a new series of reflections by saying that although some people want Jesus but not the Church, “it is the Church that brings us Christ” and reunites us to God.

“Even today, some say, ‘Christ yes, the Church no,’ like those who say, ‘I believe in God, but in priests, no.’ They say, ‘Christ: yes. Church: no.’ Nevertheless, it is the Church that brings us Christ and that brings us to God. The Church is the great family of God’s children,” the Pope said May 29 to around 90,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

“Of course,” he noted, the Church “also has the human aspects: in those who compose it, pastors and faithful, there are flaws, imperfections, sins – the Pope has his, as well: he has lots of them; but the beautiful thing is that, when we become aware that we are sinners, we find the mercy of God. God always forgives: do not forget this.”

Pope Francis began his regular Wednesday audience by complimenting the pilgrims on withstanding the periodic rain that swept through the square as he was touring through it in the open-air popemobile. Since he did not use an umbrella or the covered popemobile, the Pope arrived at the stage with a damp cassock, apparently unfazed.

He announced to the crowd that today he was beginning a new set of reflections on the Church, which he will illustrate using well-known phrases from the Second Vatican Council’s documents. This new theme marks the end of the series on the Creed that Benedict XVI initiated and Francis continued for the Year of Faith.

Citing “the parable of the prodigal son or the forgiving father,” the Pope Francis taught that God’s plan is “to make us all the one family of his children, in which each of you feels close to Him and feels loved by Him – feels, as in the Gospel parable, the warmth of being the family of God.

“In this great design, the Church finds its source,” he explained.

The pontiff also said what the Church is not. It is “not an organization founded by an agreement among (a group of) persons, but – as we were reminded many times by Pope Benedict XVI – it is the work of God: it was born out of the plan of love, which realizes itself progressively in history.”

Being in this family means that God “urges us to escape from individualism, the tendency to withdraw into ourselves, and calls us – convokes us – to be a part of his family.”

“This convocation has its origin in creation itself,” he asserted.

“God created us in order that we might live in a relationship of deep friendship with him, and even when sin had broken this relationship with God, with others and with creation, God did not abandon us.

Pope Francis then gave a brief tour of salvation history, outlining how God has been working to rebuild his family since Adam and Eve fell from grace.

When we read the Gospels, he said, “we see that Jesus gathers around him a small community that receives his word, follows him, shares his journey, becomes his family – and with this community, he prepares and builds his Church.”

He drew his reflection to a close by answering the question, ‘Where is the Church born from?’

“It is born from the supreme act of love on the Cross, from the pierced side of Jesus from which flow blood and water, a symbol of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. In the family of God, the Church, the lifeblood is the love of God that is realized in loving him and others, loving all without distinction, without measure. The Church is a family that loves and is loved,” he told the crowd.

And the Church manifests itself when “the gift of the Holy Spirit fills the hearts of the Apostles and pushes them to go out and start the journey to proclaim the Gospel, to spread the love of God,” Pope Francis added.

“Let us ask ourselves today: how much do I love the Church? Do I pray for her? Do I feel myself a part of the family of the Church? What do I do to make the Church a community in which everyone feels welcomed and understood, (in which) everyone feels the mercy and love of God who renews life?” he challenged the pilgrims.

The Pope also made a reference to the Year of Faith, saying, “we ask the Lord, in a special way in this Year of the faith, that our communities, the whole Church be ever more true families that live and carry the warmth of God.”


Monday, May 27, 2013

'Mafia martyr' Don Giuseppe Puglisi beatified in Sicily

The BBC's David Willey: "This is a strong statement not only from the Catholic Church, but from Rome"

(BBC)  More than 50,000 people have attended the beatification of Don Giuseppe Puglisi, a Roman Catholic priest murdered by the mafia in 1993.
The ceremony, in the Sicilian capital Palermo, marks the penultimate step on the path to being made a saint.

He was shot by a hitman in front of the church where he used to urge his congregation to disobey mafia bosses.

He will be the first victim of organised crime to be declared a martyr by the Catholic Church.

Six men are currently serving life sentences for the murder, which took place on his 56th birthday.

Forty bishops and a cardinal representing Pope Francis attended the ceremony, as well as government ministers from Rome.

Code of silence 

Born in Palermo, Father Puglisi was the son of a shoemaker and seamstress, and was ordained at the age of 22.

He taught mathematics and religion in several schools, served as the chaplain in an institute for orphans, and went on to work in run-down areas of Palermo.

But he became a target as he grew increasingly outspoken in denouncing crime and alleging collusion between politicians and mafia figures.

Don Giuseppe Puglisi has been declared a martyr of the church, murdered "in hatred of the faith".

He was famous for a rhetorical question, which he used as a catch phrase in order to encourage Sicilians to stand up and fight organised crime: "And what if somebody did something?"

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says the Catholic Church has been accused in the past of an ambiguous relationship towards Cosa Nostra, the men who for decades have controlled organised crime on the Mediterranean island.

By beatifying Father Puglisi, the Church is making a strong stand against mafia crime - which has been protected by a code of silence - our correspondent says.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis proclaimed the first saints of his pontificate in a ceremony at the Vatican - a list which includes 800 victims of an atrocity carried out by Ottoman soldiers in 1480.

These meant that, within two months of taking office, he had proclaimed more saints than any previous Pope, although his predecessor Pope Benedict had given the go ahead for their canonisations.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Bishops, Priests, and The Judas Crisis - Father Gordon J. MacRae

By Father Gordon J. MacRae

(These Stone Walls)  The elephant in the sacristy this week is, of course, that stunning May 11 article by Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “The Trials of Father MacRae.” In effect it brought the truth of one case of false witness to the public square for all to see, and the result is a far different story than what many in the news media have propagated to date. Like any wound so exposed, I found the article to be painful but necessary, and the cleansing of this festering wound of wrongful imprisonment will no doubt be painful still.

Just a week before that Journal article appeared, the local Comcast cable system in Concord, NH decided to add EWTN to its Basic Cable service available to, and funded by, prisoners at no cost to taxpayers. This prison system lost access to EWTN five years ago, and it is suddenly back. Our friend, Pornchai, was the first to notice. He awoke during a sleepless night and turned on his little TV. There on his screen was Dawn Eden being interviewed about her book,  Peace I Give You; Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. Pornchai wrote of her and that book in “Divine Mercy and the Doors of My Prisons” for Holy Souls Hermitage last month. If you haven’t read his guest post, you must not miss it.

The next morning Pornchai told me about EWTN and Dawn Eden so I tuned in later that night in time to catch a rerun interview with the late Father Richard John Neuhaus, as brilliant and erudite as ever. It made my heart sink a little. He left us in January, 2009, and I have written more than one tribute to him, the last being “In Memoriam: Avery Cardinal Dulles and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus” on TSW in January 2011. They were the greatest of friends and collaborators, and they left this world three weeks apart from each other. In the last century of American Catholicism, there has been no one to match the strength of their combined voices in the public square – with the exception, of course, of the legendary Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

The night Father Neuhaus posthumously appeared on my TV screen, he was right on cue. I was lying awake re-reading a series of his commentaries for First Things magazine on the Catholic priesthood sex abuse scandal. Originally published in “The Public Square” section of First Things, we collected these brilliant commentaries into a single document posted under “Articles and Commentary” here on TSW with Father Neuhaus’ original title, “Scandal Time.”

Father Neuhaus wrote most of “Scandal Time” just before and after the U.S. Bishops’ ratification of the so-called Dallas Charter in 2002 with its policies of zero tolerance and widespread suppression of the rights of accused priests. It makes for painful but necessary reading because it exposes a gaping wound in the life of the Catholic Church in the United States – a wound that threatens the very nature of priesthood. Father Neuhaus did not cushion his message, and in fact began it by citing The Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz:
“Unbridled outrage can too easily become hysteria. One recalls [the] blizzard of criminal charges and lawsuits over alleged abuses, including satanic rituals and other grotesqueries, perpetrated by people working in day care centers. Whole communities around the country were caught up in a frenzy of mutual recriminations, and many people went to jail, until the heroic and almost single-handed work of Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal exposed the madness for what it was.” (Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, “Scandal Time,” 2002)

A TSW reader suggested awhile back that my being falsely accused and wrongly imprisoned may be “your lot in life,” brought about so that These Stone Walls could come into being. I find that to be an intimidating notion, and I’m not sure I want to put much stock in it. The euphemism, “my lot in life” is intriguing, however. We’ve all heard it and used it, but I think most people are unaware of the term’s Biblical roots. It comes from the practice of casting lots, a term used throughout Scripture... (continued)


Monday, May 20, 2013

Francis laments not being able to listen to confessions outside the Vatican


By Andrea Tornielli

(La Stampa) In his speech during the Pentecost Vigil Pope Francis expressed disappointment at not being able to administer the sacrament of penance as before Andrea Tornielli

As a bishop and then cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a relentless confessor and the homilies and speeches he has give over these first few months testify to this. For Francis, engaging in dialogue with faithful during confession is key. But now he is Pope he is no longer able to “leave” the Vatican and listen to confessions in parishes as he used to do back in Buenos Aires.

Francis hinted at this in the off-the-cuff speech he gave during the Pentecost Vigil mass in St. Peter’s Square, on Saturday 18 May. The Pope addressed a crowd of over 200.000 people, from over 150 ecclesial movements, associations and new communities. “We need to become courageous Christians – he said – and go out and search for those who are the body of Christ, those who are the body of Christ!” “When I go to listen to confession – I can’t yet because to go out and listen to confession, well … I can’t leave this place, but that’s another issue – when I used to go and confess people in my previous diocese…,” the Pope said.

When he said the words “I can’t leave this place”, the Pope seemed to turn round to his collaborators. He went on to say that he always asked penitents: “Do you give money to beggars?” “Yes Father!” “Good, good.” The he would ask them a couple more questions: “Tell me, when you give money, do you look the person you are giving it to in the eye?” “Oh, I don’t know, I never stopped to think about it.” “And when you give money to a beggar do you touch their hand or do you just toss the money at them?” This is the problem, the Pope said. “Christ’s body, touching Christ’s body, taking the poor person’s burden on to our own shoulders.”

Francis spoke about another experience he had as confessor in the homily he gave during the mass he celebrated in the Vatican parish of Sant’Anna on the first Sunday after his election to the papacy (17 March). He described the conversation he had with a man he was confessing. When the man heard Bergoglio talk about the mercy of God, he said to him: “Oh father, if you knew what my life was like you wouldn’t speak to me like that! I have really messed things up in the past!” And Bergoglio replied: “All the better! Go to Jesus: he’ll be happy to hear about these things! he forgives and forgets; he has a special gift for doing so. He forgets he gives you a kiss and a hug and simply tells you: “I do not condemn you, go and from now steer clear of sin.” That’s the only piece of advice he will give you. A month later we find ourselves in the same situation…We turn to the Lord again. The Lord never tires of forgiving, never! We are the ones who tire of asking forgiveness.”

It was not long after pronouncing these words that Francis appeared at the window of the papal study in the apostolic palace to pray the Angelus for the first time. There, he spoke of mercy once again, speaking about another experience he had as a confessor. “I remember when I had only just become a bishop in the year 1992, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima had just arrived in Buenos Aires and a big Mass was celebrated for the sick. I went to hear confessions at that Mass. And almost at the end of the Mass I stood up, because I had to go and administer a First Confirmation. And an elderly woman approached me, humble, very humble, and over eighty years old. I looked at her, and I said, “Grandmother” — because in our country that is how we address the elderly — do you want to make your confession?”. “Yes”, she said to me. “But if you have not sinned…”. And she said to me: “We all have sins...”. “But perhaps the Lord does not forgive them”. “The Lord forgives all things”, she said to me with conviction. “But how do you know, Madam?”. “If the Lord did not forgive everything, the world would not exist”. I felt an urge to ask her: “Tell me, Madam, did you study at the Gregorian [University]?”, because that is the wisdom which the Holy Spirit gives: inner wisdom focused on God's mercy. Let us not forget this word: God never ever tires of forgiving us!”

In an interview with journalists Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin (“El Jesuita”) – published in book format – Bergoglio said he reminded fathers often during confessions to find time to play with their children.

During the homily for his morning mass in St. Martha’s House in the Vatican, last 17 May, the Pope mentioned another experience he had in the confessional. Although on this occasion there was no direct reference to his own experience as confessor, the possibility he may have been talking about something that happened to him cannot be excluded: “One day I heard about a priest, a good parish priest who worked well; he was nominated bishop but he felt ashamed because he didn’t feel worthy; he felt spiritually tormented. So he went for confession. The confessor listened to him and said: “Don’t be afraid. Look at the big stew Peter made of things and yet he was still made Pope; go for it!” That’s what the Lord is like. That’s what the Lord is like. The Lord makes us grow up by arranging many encounters with Him, despite our weaknesses, when we recognise them, despite our sins…”

This examples illustrate how important the meetings and conversations Francis - who was once a parish priest and spiritual leader - had with penitents during confession, were to him. This is a trait he has in common with John Paul I, who would spend time listening to confessions even when he was a bishop. Sister Antonia Luciani Petri claims the openness Bergoglio showed to contraception before Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae” was published, was down to his dialogue with faithful.


Gossip is like slapping Jesus, Pope asserts

Pope Francis, right, welcomes Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt Pope Tawadros II for their private audience in the pontiff's library, at the Vatican, Friday, May 10, 2013. The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, Pope Tawadros II, called on Pope Francis on Friday in the first such meeting in 40 years. The occasion was to mark the anniversary of the signing of a declaration for improving ties between the two churches between Pope Paul VI and Tawadros' predecessor, Pope Shenouda III. (AP Photo/Andreas Solaro, pool)

.- Pope Francis spoke today about how gossip by Christians is a “slap” to Jesus “in the person of his children.”

“All three - disinformation, defamation and slander - are sins! This is sin! It is to slap Jesus in the person of his children, his brothers,” the Pope said May 18 in the chapel of St. Martha’s House.

The topic came up in Pope Francis’ homily because of the day’s Gospel reading from John 21 in which Peter asks if John will be alive when Jesus returns to earth.

“What is it to you?” the pontiff began his homily, referring to Jesus’ response to Peter, who was being tempted “to interfere in the lives of others.”

Peter became “nosy,” Pope Francis remarked, noting that there are two ways people are tempted to get involved in others’ lives. The first is “to compare oneself with others” and the second is to gossip.

“It seems nice to chat,” he reflected, “I do not know why, but it looks nice. Like sweet of honey, right? You take one and then another, and another, and another, and in the end you have a stomach ache. And why? The chatter is like that eh? It is sweet at first and it ruins you, it ruins your soul!”

The Pope then referred back to Genesis, saying that gossip is “‘a little’ like the spirit of Cain who killed his brother, his tongue; it kills his brother!”? The consequence of gossiping is that “we become Christians of good manners and bad habits,” he warned, later repeating the description.

According to Pope Francis, people fail in this area in three ways: by giving “misinformation,” by making known the faults of others, and by telling lies about others.

“That is why Jesus does with us what he did with Peter when he says: ‘What is it to you? Follow me.’ The Lord in this instance points the way,” he said.

“This kind of talk will not do you any good,” the Pope stated, “because it will just bring to the Church a spirit of destruction. ‘Follow me!’ These are the beautiful words of Jesus, it is so clear, that he has so much love for us. As if to say: ‘Don’t have fantasies, believing that salvation is in the comparisons with others or in gossip. Salvation is to go behind me.’”

Pope Francis finished his homily by saying, “Today we ask the Lord Jesus to give us this grace not to ever get involved in the lives of others, not to become Christians of good manners and bad habits, it is to follow Jesus, to walk behind Jesus on his way. And this is enough.”


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pope Francis leads pep rally at Vatican, meets with Merkel
Associated Press/Gregorio Borgia - Pope Francis arrives to meets with faithful of the ecclesiastic movements on the occasion of a Pentecost vigil in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Saturday, May 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

By FRANCES D'EMILIO | Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis toured St. Peter's Square to greet tens of thousands of people attending a rally of prayer, music and speeches Saturday, and he embraced the brother of a Pakistani politician who was assassinated in his country after calling for greater religious freedom for Christians there.

Earlier in the day, the pope met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made a brief visit to Rome, mindful of the importance of Christian voters back home during the election she faces in September. She joined the pope in expressing concern about the many victims of Europe's economic crisis.

Francis, who is Argentine, has picked up on campaigns by the two previous popes, the Polish John Paul II and German Benedict XVI, to reinvigorate what the Catholic church sees as flagging religious enthusiasm on a continent with Christian roots, including dwindling number of churchgoers in much of Western Europe.

The vast cobblestone square outside St. Peter's Basilica is traditionally the boundary for pontiffs greeting the faithful at outdoor Vatican gatherings, but Pope Francis keeps stretching the boundaries.

Riding in an open-topped white jeep, Francis zipped through the square to greet the faithful who had been waiting for hours for his arrival at the evening rally designed to encourage Catholics to strengthen their faith. The Vatican estimated the crowd at 200,000.

Waving cheerfully and sometimes blowing kisses to the cheering crowd, Francis kept going in his pope mobile past the edge of the square and halfway down the Rome boulevard that leads from the Vatican to the Tiber River before turning back. The route took him past cafes, souvenir shops and a hotel popular with pilgrims.

Francis also embraced Paul Bhatti, a speaker at the rally. His brother Shahbaz, a Pakistani government minister, was assassinated in 2011 after urging reform of a blasphemy law in Pakistan that had targeted Christians.

Earlier in the day, Merkel spoke privately for 45 minutes with the pope at the Apostolic Palace.

Her Christian Democrat party depends heavily on support from Protestant and Catholic voters in Germany, and the chat and photo opportunity could be a welcome campaign boost for a leader largely identified by Europe's economically suffering citizens as a champion of debt reduction, including painful austerity across much of the continent.

For its part, the Vatican is eager for allies in its campaign to anchor European societies more solidly in their heritage of Christian roots. The church also seeks support on behalf of Christians who face persecution in the world.

The suffering of Europeans caught in the continent's grip of joblessness and other economic woes also dominated the pope's concerns. On Thursday, Francis blasted what he called a "cult of money" in a global financial system that ends up tyrannizing, not helping, the world's poor.

"It's not just an economic crisis," but an existential problem depressing morale, Francis told the rally. "It's a deep crisis. We just cannot worry about ourselves ... close ourselves in a sense of helplessness."

The pontiff urged people to help the needy, especially on the margins of societies.

Merkel, asked by reporters about the pope's scathing criticism of the global financial system, said they spoke about regulation of financial markets.

"The regulation of the financial markets is our central problem, our central task," Merkel said. "We are moving ahead, but we are not yet where we want to be, where we could say that a derailment of the guard rails of social market won't happen again."

Merkel added: "It ought to be like this: The economy is there to serve the people. In the last few years, this hasn't been the case at all everywhere."

Italy, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and especially Greece have seen governments concentrate on debt reduction while slashing state spending. With growth stymied, unemployment, especially among young people, has soared. Businesses, many of them family-run in southern Europe, have failed as bank lending dried up.

The chancellor said the pope had stressed the world needs a strong and just Europe.

Merkel is campaigning for re-election in September's general election. Half of Germany's population is Catholic. In Bavaria there is a strong conservative and Catholic tradition.

According to a Vatican statement, Francis and Merkel also discussed "safeguarding human rights, the persecutions faced by Christians" and religious freedom.

"I see continuity in the missionary aspect, in becoming aware of the importance of Christianity for our Christian roots," said Merkel, adding that the "simple and touching words" of Francis, who was elected pontiff two months ago, are already reaching people.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Pope Francis gives church hundreds of new saints

Pope Francis, middle, kisses the altar as he arrives to celebrate his first canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, May 12, 2013. The pontiff will canonize Antonio Primaldo and his companions, also known as the Martyrs of Otranto, Laura di Santa Caterina da Siena Montoya of Colombia, and Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala of Mexico in a ceremony at the Vatican on Sunday. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Francis on Sunday gave the Catholic church new saints, including hundreds of 15th-century martyrs who were beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam, as he led his first canonization ceremony Sunday in a packed St. Peter's Square.

The "Martyrs of Otranto" were 813 Italians who were slain in the southern Italian city in 1480 for defying demands by Turkish invaders who overran the citadel to renounce Christianity.

Their approval for sainthood was decided upon by Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, in a decree read at the ceremony in February where the former pontiff announced his retirement.

Shortly after his election in March, Francis called for more dialogue with Islam, and it was unclear how the granting of sainthood to the martyrs would be received. Islam is a sensitive subject for the church, and Benedict stumbled significantly in his relations with Muslims.

The first pontiff from South America also gave Colombia its first saint: a nun who toiled as a teacher and spiritual guide to indigenous people in the 20th century.

With Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos among the VIPS, the Argentine pope held out Laura of St. Catherine of Siena Montoya y Upegui as a potential source of inspiration to the country's peace process, attempted after decades-long conflict between rebels and government forces.

Francis prayed that "Colombia's beloved children continue to work for peace and just development of the country." He also canonized another Latin American woman. Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, a Mexican who dedicated herself to nursing the sick, helped Catholics avoid persecution during a government crackdown of the faith in the 1920s.

Also known as Mother Lupita, she hid the Guadalajara archbishop in an eye clinic for more than a year after fearful local Catholic families refused to shelter him.

Francis prayed that the new Mexican saint's intercession could help the nation "eradicate all the violence and insecurity," an apparent reference to years of bloodshed and other crime largely linked to powerful drug trafficking clans.

Francis told the crowd that the martyrs are a source of inspiration, especially for "so many Christians, who, right in these times and in so many parts of the world, still suffer violence." He prayed that they receive "the courage of loyalty and to respond to evil with good."

The pope didn't single out any country. But Christian churches have been attacked in Nigeria and Iraq, and Catholics in China loyal to the Vatican have been subject to harassment and sometimes jail over the last decades. Christians in Saudi Arabia must worship out of the public eye because the ultraconservative kingdom does not officially permit churches and non-Muslim religious sites.

Francis, the first pope from the Jesuit order, which is known for its missionary zeal, praised the Colombian saint for "instilling hope" in the indigenous people. He said she taught them in a way that "respected their culture." Many Catholic missionaries over the centuries have been criticized for demanding natives renounce local traditions the outsiders viewed as primitive.

He hailed the Mexican saint for renouncing a comfortable life to work with the sick and poor, even kneeling on the bare floor of the hospital before the patients to serve them with "tenderness and compassion."

Mother Lupita's example, said Francis, should encourage people not to "get wrapped up in themselves, their own problems, their own ideas, their own interests, but to go out and meet those who need attention, comprehension, help" and other assistance.

After shaking hands with the prelates and VIPS in the front rows at the end of the Mass, Francis shed his ceremonial vestments. Wearing a plain white cassock, he climbed into an open white popemobile to ride up and down the security paths surrounding the crowd of more than 60,000.

He stopped to pat children on the head, kiss babies and bantered in his native Spanish with some at the edge of the crowd.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Trials of Father MacRae - The Wall Street Journal

From Fr. Gordon J. MacRae's blog These Stone Walls, an article today in The Wall Street Journal:

Click above to play the video 

He was convicted when it was obligatory—as it remains today—to give credence to every accuser charging a priest with molestation.


(The Wall Street Journal)   Last Christmas Eve, his 18th behind bars, Catholic priest Gordon MacRae offered Mass in his cell at the New Hampshire state penitentiary. A quarter-ounce of unfermented wine and the host had been provided for the occasion, celebrated with the priest's cellmate in attendance. Sentenced to 33½-67 years following his 1994 conviction for sexual assault against a teenage male, Father MacRae has just turned 60.

The path that led inexorably to that conviction would have been familiar to witnesses of the manufactured sex-abuse prosecutions that swept the nation in the 1980s and early 1990s and left an extraordinary number of ruined lives in its wake. Here once more, in the MacRae case, was a set of charges built by a determined sex-abuse investigator and an atmosphere in which accusation was, in effect, all the proof required to bring a guilty verdict. But now there was another factor: huge financial payouts for victims' claims.

That a great many of the accusations against the priests were amply documented, that they involved the crimes of true predators all too often hidden or ignored, no one can doubt.

Neither should anyone doubt the ripe opportunities there were for fraudulent abuse claims filed in the hope of a large payoff. Busy civil attorneys—working on behalf of clients suddenly alive to the possibilities of a molestation claim, or open to suggestions that they remembered having been molested—could and did reap handsome rewards for themselves and their clients. The Diocese of Manchester, where Father MacRae had served, had by 2004 paid out $22,210,400 in settlements to those who had accused its priests of abuse.

The paydays did not come without effort. Thomas Grover—a man with a long record of violence, theft and drug offenses on whose claims the state built its case against Father MacRae—would receive direction for his testimony at the criminal trial. A conviction at the priest's criminal trial would be a crucial determinant of success—that is, of the potential for reward—in Mr. Grover's planned civil suit.

The 27-year-old accuser found that direction from a counselor at an agency recommended by his civil attorney. During Mr. Grover's testimony, this therapist could be seen (though not by the jury) standing in the back of the courtroom. There, courtroom observers noted, and it is a report the state disputes, she would periodically place her finger at eye level and slowly move it down her right cheek—a pantomime of weeping. Soon thereafter Mr. Grover would begin to cry loudly, and at length.

Thomas Grover's allegations were scarcely more credible than those of the 5- and 6-year-olds coaxed into accusations during the prosecutions of the day-care workers—children who spoke of being molested in graveyards and secret rooms. The accuser's complaints against Father MacRae were similarly rich, among them allegations that few prosecutors would put before a jury. In a pretrial deposition, Mr. Grover alleged that Father MacRae had "chased me through a cemetery" and had tried to corner him there. Also, that Father MacRae had a gun and was "telling me over and over again that he would hurt me, kill me if I tried to tell anybody." The priest had, moreover, chased him down the highway in his car.

Though jurors would hear none of these allegations, which spoke volumes about the character of this case, there was still the problem, for the prosecutors, of the spectacular claims Mr. Grover made in court—charges central to the case. Among them, that he had been sexually assaulted by Father MacRae when he was 15 during five successive counseling sessions. Why, after the first horrifying attack, had Mr. Grover willingly returned for four more sessions, in each of which he had been forcibly molested? Because, he explained, he had come to each new meeting with no memory of the previous attack. In addition, Mr. Grover said, he had experienced "out of body" episodes that had blocked his recollection.

In all, not the sort of testimony that would bolster a prosecutor's confidence, and there was more of the kind, replete with the accuser's changing stories. Not to mention a considerable history of forgery, assault, theft and drug use that entered the court record, at least in part, despite the judge's ruling that such facts were irrelevant. In mid-trial, the state was moved to offer Father MacRae an enticing plea deal: one to three years for an admission of guilt. The priest refused it, as he had turned down two previous offers, insisting on his innocence.

Still, the jury trial would end with a conviction in September 1994, and a sentence equivalent to a life term handed down by Judge Arthur Brennan. That would not be all. The state threatened a new prosecution on additional charges unless the priest pleaded guilty to those, in exchange for no added prison time. Without funds and unable to hire a new lawyer, already facing a crushing sentence and certain, given the climate in which he would face a second trial, that he could only be convicted, Father MacRae accepted the deal.
In due course there would be the civil settlement: $195,000 for Mr. Grover and his attorneys. The payday—which the plaintiff had told the court he sought only to meet expenses for therapy—became an occasion for ecstatic celebration by Mr. Grover and friends. The party's high point, captured by photographs now in possession of Father MacRae's lawyers, shows the celebrants dancing around, waving stacks of $50 bills fresh from the bank.

The prospect of financial reward for anyone coming forward with accusations was no secret to teenage males in Keene, N.H., in the early 1990s. Some of them were members of that marginal society, in and out of trouble with the law, it fell to Father MacRae to counsel. Steven Wollschlager, who had been one of them—he would himself serve time for felony robbery—recalled that period of the 1990s in a 2008 statement to Father MacRae's legal team. That it might not be in the best interest of a man with his own past legal troubles to give testimony undermining a high-profile state prosecution did not, apparently, deter him. "All the kids were aware," Mr. Wollschlager recalled, "that the church was giving out large sums of money to keep the allegations from becoming public."

This knowledge, Mr. Wollschlager said, fed the interest of local teens in joining the allegations. It was in this context that Detective James McLaughlin, sex-crimes investigator for the Keene police department, would turn his attention to the priest and play a key role in the effort to build a case against him. The full history of how Father MacRae came to be charged was reported on these pages in "A Priest's Story," April 27-28, 2005.

Mr. Wollschlager recalled that in 1994 Mr. McLaughlin summoned him to a meeting. As a young man, Mr. Wollschlager said, he had received counseling from Father MacRae. The main subject of the meeting with the detective was lawsuits and money and the priest. "All I had to do is make up a story," Mr. Wollschlager said, and he too "could receive a large amount of money." The detective "reminded me of my young child and girlfriend," Mr. Wollschlager attests, and told him "that life would be easier for us."

Eventually lured by the promise, Mr. Wollschlager said, he invented some claims of abuse. But summoned to a grand-jury hearing, he balked, telling an official that he refused to testify. He explains, in his statement, "I could not bring myself to give perjured testimony against MacRae, who had only tried to help me." Asked for response to this charge, Mr. McLaughlin says it is "a fabrication."

Along with the lure of financial settlements, the MacRae case was driven by that other potent force—the fevered atmosphere in which charges were built, the presumption of innocence buried. An atmosphere in which it was unthinkable—it still is today—not to credit as truthful every accuser charging a Catholic priest with molestation. There is no clearer testament to the times than the public statement in September 1993 issued by Father MacRae's own diocese in Manchester well before the trial began: "The Church is a victim of the actions of Gordon MacRae as well as the individuals." Diocesan officials had evidently found it inconvenient to dally while due process took its course.

A New Hampshire superior court will shortly deliver its decision on a habeas corpus petition seeking Father MacRae's immediate release on grounds of newly discovered evidence. The petition was submitted by Robert Rosenthal, an appellate attorney with long experience in cases of this kind. In the event that the petition is rejected, Father MacRae's attorneys say they will appeal.

Those aware of the facts of this case find it hard to imagine that any court today would ignore the perversion of justice it represents. Some who had been witnesses or otherwise involved still maintain vivid memories of the process.

Debra Collett, the former clinical director at Derby Lodge, a rehabilitation center that Mr. Grover had attended in 1987, said in a signed statement for Father MacRae's current legal team that she had been subject to "coercion and intimidation, veiled and more forward threats" during the police investigation because "they could not get me to say what they wanted to hear." Namely, that Mr. Grover had complained to her of molestation by Father MacRae. He had not—though he had accused many others, as she would point out. Thomas Grover, she said, had claimed to have been molested by so many people that the staff wondered whether "he was going for some sexual abuse victim world record."

For Father MacRae's part, he has no difficulty imagining any possibility—fitting for a man with encyclopedic command of the process that has brought him to this pass: every detail, every date, every hard fact. Still after nearly two decades this prisoner of the state remains, against all probability, staunch in spirit, strong in the faith that the wheels of justice turn, however slowly.

Ms. Rabinowitz is a member of the Journal's editorial board.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bill Donohue - David Bowie's "Jesus" Video is a Mess

Bill Donohue comments on David Bowie’s video that accompanies his song, “The Next Day”:

(Catholic League) David Bowie is back, but hopefully not for long. The switch-hitting, bisexual, senior citizen from London has resurfaced, this time playing a Jesus-like character who hangs out in a nightclub dump frequented by priests, cardinals and half-naked women.

The video is strewn with characteristic excess: one priest bashes a homeless man, while others are busy hitting on women; self-flagellation is depicted; a dancing gal with bleeding hands makes a stigmata statement; and a customer is served eyeballs on a plate. The lyrics refer to the “priest stiff in hate” and “women dressed as men for the pleasure of that priest.” The song concludes with, “They can work with Satan while they dress with the saints.” In short, the video reflects the artist—it is a mess.

Bowie is nothing if not confused about religion. He once made a public confession: “I was young, fancy free, and Tibetan Buddhism appealed to me at that time. I thought, ‘There’s salvation.’ It didn’t really work. Then I went through Nietzsche, Satanism, Christianity…pottery, and ended up singing. It’s been a long road.” Too bad the pottery didn’t work.

But Bowie didn’t give up trying to figure out who he is. “I’m not quite an atheist and it worries me. There’s a little bit that holds on. Well, I’m almost an atheist. Give me a couple of months.”

Well, Bowie has had more than a couple of months—it’s been ten years since he spoke those words. Not sure what he believes in today (anyone who is “not quite an atheist” is not an atheist), but it’s a sure bet he can’t stop thinking about the Cadillac of all religions, namely Roman Catholicism. There is hope for him yet. Link:

Mother’s Day Promises to Keep, and Miles to Go Before I Sleep

By Fr. Gordon J. MacRae

(These Stone Walls)  ...But this week, something else has my attention. You may remember a post I wrote a few years ago entitled “A Corner of the Veil.” It was about my mother, Sophie Kavanagh MacRae, who died on November 5, 2006 during my 12th year in prison. That hasn’t stopped her from visiting, however. I had a strange dream about her a few nights ago, and I keep going back to it trying to find some meaning that at first eluded me.

The United Kingdom celebrates Mothering Sunday on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, but in North America, Mother’s Day is coming up on May 12. I wonder if that was what prompted my vivid dream. It was in three dimensions, sort of like looking through one of those stereoscopic View Masters we had long ago. Pop in a disk of images and there they were in three dimensions and living color. My dream was like that, even the color – which is strange because I am colorblind since birth. My rods and cones are just not up to snuff, and though I do see some color, my view of the world is, I am told, not far afield from basic black and white and many shades of gray. Priesthood saved me from a lifetime of wondering why people grimace at my unmatched clothes.

Back to my dream. I was standing on Empire Street in Lynn, Massachusetts, in front of the urban home where I grew up. My mother was standing with me, but in the dream, as in today’s reality, we could not go inside that house because neither of us lived there any longer. My dream contained overlapping realities. It was clear to me that my mother had died, but there she was. And it was clear to me that I am in prison, but there I was with her on that street in front of the home I left forty years ago... (continued)


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Benedict returns to Vatican to live side-by-side with Pope Francis

May 2, 2013: In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, left, is welcomed by Pope Francis as he returns at the Vatican from the pontifical summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. AP/Osservatore Romano)

From the Associated Press /

VATICAN CITY –  Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI came home to the Vatican on Thursday for the first time since he resigned Feb. 28, beginning an unprecedented era for the Catholic Church of having a retired pontiff living alongside a reigning one.

Pope Francis welcomed Benedict outside his new retirement home — a converted monastery on the edge of the Vatican gardens — and the two immediately went into the adjoining chapel to pray together, the Vatican said.

The Vatican said Benedict, 86, was pleased to be back and that he would — as he himself has said — "dedicate himself to the service of the church above all with prayer." Francis, the statement said, welcomed him with "brotherly cordiality."

A photo released by the Vatican showed the two men, arms clasped and both smiling, standing inside the doorway of Benedict's new home as Benedict's secretary looks on.

Unlike the live, door-to-door Vatican-provided television coverage that accompanied Benedict's emotional farewell in February, the Vatican provided no television images of his return Thursday.

The low-key approach followed the remarkable yet somewhat alarming images transmitted on March 23 when Francis went to visit Benedict at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, where Benedict was living. In that footage, Benedict appeared visibly more frail and thinner only three weeks after resigning.

Some Vatican officials questioned whether those images should have been released, given how frail Benedict appeared. Thursday's photo showed no obvious signs of further decline.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, has acknowledged Benedict's post-retirement decline but has insisted the 86-year-old German isn't suffering from any specific ailment and is just old.

"He is a man who is not young: He is old and his strength is slowly ebbing," Lombardi said this week. "However, there is no special illness. He is an old man who is healthy."

Benedict chose to leave the Vatican immediately after his resignation to physically remove himself from the process of electing his successor and from Pope Francis' first weeks as pontiff.

His absence also gave workers time to finish up renovations on the monastery tucked behind St. Peter's Basilica that until last year housed groups of cloistered nuns who were invited for a few years at a time to live inside the Vatican to pray.

In the compact, four-story building, Benedict will live with his personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, and the four consecrated women who look after him, preparing his meals and tending to the household. The building also has a small library, a study and a guest room for when his brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, comes to visit.

"It is certainly small but well-equipped," Lombardi said.

When Benedict announced his intention to resign — the first pontiff to do so in 600 years — questions immediately swirled about the implications of having two popes living alongside one another inside the Vatican.

Benedict fueled those concerns when he chose to be called "emeritus pope" and "Your Holiness" rather than "emeritus bishop of Rome." He also raised eyebrows when he chose to continue wearing the white cassock of the papacy.

Given the political intrigues that plague the Vatican, it wasn't much of a stretch of the imagination to wonder if some cardinals, bishops and monsignors — not to mention ordinary Catholics — might continue making Benedict their point of reference rather than the new pope.

But Benedict made clear on his final day as pope that he was renouncing the job and pledged his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his then-unknown successor. It was a pledge he repeated in person on March 23 when Francis went to have lunch with him.

It was during that visit that the world saw how weak Benedict had become: Always a man with a purposeful walk, he shuffled tentatively that day, using his cane.

Francis, for his part, seems utterly unfazed by the novel situation. He has frequently invoked Benedict's name and work and has called him on a half-dozen occasions, making clear he has no intention of ignoring the fact that there's another pope still very much alive and now living on the other side of the garden.

Francis' gestures to Benedict during that March 23 visit were also remarkable: He refused to pray on the special papal kneeler in the small chapel of Castel Gandolfo, preferring to join Benedict on a kneeler in the pews, and referring to his predecessor as his "brother."

Now that they're neighbors, they might bump into one another on walks in the Vatican gardens or at the shrine to the Madonna, which is just a stone's throw from Benedict's new home.


Priest who saved souls on Titanic

Father Thomas Byles

(Leamington Courier) Sir Frank Whittle was just one of the interesting characters who went to school at Binswood Hall, currently being transformed into an Audley retirement village.

Former pupils of Leamington College included a priest, Father Thomas Rousell Davids Byles (1870-1912).
Father Thomas read maths, modern history and theology at Oxford University and then trained as a Catholic priest. When his younger brother who was living in America asked him to officiate at his wedding ceremony he jumped at the chance and made arrangements to travel to New York.

He was scheduled to travel on another White Star liner, but switched at the last minute to the Titanic. He is widely reported as having held a mass prayer for passengers aboard the ship as it went down, offering solace to passengers, hearing confessions and giving absolution...


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Blinded by the Light

"You know, it is hard to say Mass with 'Blinded by the Light' running in your head as an earworm." - Father Richtsteig