Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Columbus Circle in New York or "The More Things Change..."

It is the last day of summer in New York. I am at Columbus Circle on Manhattan island. The sky is crystal clear, sharp and joyful. There are no clouds. The air smells sweet and I am stimulated. Good old Christopher Columbus is still there, high up on his pedestal, as he was when I was a 19 year old enthusiast in the ROTC, passionately involved in debunking Communists and other enemies of the Republic. He still looks confident, even defiant, as he looks slightly south east looking for adventure and new worlds. I am sitting before the refurbished Huntington Hartford Museum building , now a classy center to Arts, Science and expensive restaurants for the uber chic. As is my custom, I, at 89, stop occasionally to “see” what goes on around me (as well as to rest a pair of creaky legs and panting lungs). Sitting here, I recall that, in the Cold War era, it was rumored that the statue of good ole Chris was the planned pinpoint target for the Soviet ICBM designed to destroy the entire Island.

How different things are now at the Circle! For example, traffic, since Rudy’s Guilani’s Mayoral tenure, goes around the monument in a one way free flow. Yet, I recall that, in my time, trolley cars, with clanging bells, went both ways around the statue. One of my neighbors, Mr. McBride, drove the trolley on the East-West axis, working his vehicle with a big iron Key. He raised 12 children on a menial salary and jammed them all into a tenement flat in our street. His kids, however, were pretty or handsome, showing no indication of the deprivation I read about in Social Worker journals.

I look at the Monument now. Instead of the plain tarred street, there is a beautiful little park, with benches, many flowers and water fountains surrounding the Great Explorer. Every night in summer, with bright lights bathing everything with artificial freshness, there is a great gathering of young people as well as contented oldsters, just hanging out, reminiscent of the Spanish Steps in Rome or the Bario Gothico in Barcelona.

My mind goes back to the days, 70 years ago, when the “Circle” was the great debating place for all kinds of differing viewpoints. This was the midtown version of Union Square where the American “Reds” were clamoring for a Second Front to relieve their beloved Mother Russia from the attacks of the Nazis. It was the counter part of Hyde Park in London where soap box orators fiercely shouted their personal and opposing agenda. We had no television facilities then. Movies were expensive for us unless one “went” before 1 P.M. when the entry fee was 10 cents. Most families had only one small radio from which came scant information with a plethora of silly serial stories like “The Life of Helen Trent. Romance Need not be dead for women over 35” Of course, home air conditioning was unknown. So, the “Circle” was a great place to spend a couple of evenings a week. It was stimulating, free and fun.

The uninformed, the uneducated, the college professors, the religious, the unbelieving, all mingled in the equality of the streets. It was sheer democracy where everyone had a voice, where any one could mount a box and proclaim his particular set of beliefs. This School of Hard Knocks offered street courses in Foreign Policy, Religion, Psychology, Ethnics, Sports, and Finance. My Uncle J.J., a regular denizen at the Circle, who might have, at most, completed six years of elementary school education was a case in point. J.J., like many Catholics, of every era, was poorly schooled in the intellectual dimensions of the Faith but completely devoted to the Catholic Church (probably without really understanding the “why” of it). Mass and confession and daily prayer and loyalty to the “Catlick Choich” were simply woven into his very being. No questions asked. One simply believed without cavil. J.J., with ease, offered his Faith viewpoint with little fear of retribution.

For him, it was simply the right thing to do. So, when some imprudent “Circle debater” made a lewd slur about the Blessed Virgin Mary, J.J. instantly confronted the unwary chap who, foolishly, challenged J.J. to physical “expression”. It was foolish because J.J. was incredibly physically powerful, able to tear the telephone directory in half. J.J. invited the lout to come behind the Maine monument (which still stands, though now gleaming white with gold gild touches, through the benefice of Public Works Programs). His challenge was accepted. So, accompanied by a large enthusiastic crowd eager to witness some bloodletting, the two gladiators strode to the designated battleground. Suddenly, the Debater saw the light and suggested “forgetting the whole thing.” Wasted words on a guy like the uncomplicated J.J. who, with one powerful blow to the head, dropped his opponent, unconscious, to the ground. In describing the event to us later, J.J. said the chap spun around like a top on his way down. Anti-Catholic criticism was rare, thenceforth, whenever J.J. was around.

Today, my eyes wander to the gleaming, sparkling, splendid Time-Warner building, a miracle of architecture filled with super chic shops equaling the haute couture of La Rue Ste. Honore in Paris. The upper floors are apartments owned by the very, very wealthy of the world, Arab emirs and high profile athletes and Rap entrepreneurs. Its two glorious towers could meet every fantasy of contemporary Terrorists of the Middle East. What a target for a high jacked airplane! The previous occupant of that site was the Coliseum, a complex of offices, garages and media centers. It was then considered the absolute top level for modern urban buildings. It, in turn, had replaced the west side of the Circle of my youth.

My Circle, (of 1940) had a Chinese Restaurant called “The Far East” where our crowd went to dine (with our limited incomes) on very special occasions. It had a vast supply of Chinese tea and offered us the fun of trying to eat with chop sticks. There was the Circle Theatre where we could live out the fantasies of Hollywood while getting some relief from the economic harshness most of us endured. The jewel of the Circle, however, was a hardware store with a huge sign declaring: ‘Handy Harry’s. I can Fix Anything.”

My Irish Grandmother who apparently felt that part of her life mission was to charm every male on the West side, developed a laughing, pragmatic relationship with Harry. She would bring over to his (nearby) shop anything in her flat that needed “fixing.” She often tried to disprove his self proclaimed “omnipotence”. He always won. But, apparently, Harry thoroughly enjoyed her visits even if he was just one more of her conquests. Such an anachronism like Handy Harry’s is unthinkable today—at least in locations like today’s Circle.

Instead of Handy Harry’s on the Circle, we have Trump International Hotel soaring into the sky, all glitter and glitz with snooty doormen and imperious reception clerks. Near that site stood a building with the B and O railroad Office and the WINS radio station from which I used to broadcast. Just beyond the hotel begins the posh row for Central Park West, loaded with mental health practitioners, the rich and famous, and stars from the entertainment world. The entrance to beautiful Central Park, our playground and vacation place, is still there, untouchable and assuring. There still stands an apartment building, beginning the exclusive Central Park South section, which was erected around 1940 and described in those days as the ultimate in luxury. It was a point of great pride for the parishioners of St. Paul’s parish that Judge James McNally of the State Supreme Court, a daily communicant, lived there. The Judge was an outspoken Catholic, non-hesitant to articulate Catholic values in the Public Square. And, besides, he wore a fresh carnation in his lapel every day. Wow!!! Were we impressed! And he had a bald head as clean as a peeled egg.

So, apart from the Park itself, the 1940 building and the statue of “Cristofo Colon,” the “Circle” is unrecognizable to an “eye” which had been formed by the Depression, World War II and Joe diMaggio. Oh, how it has changed! But at the same time, there is a factor of permanence and sameness which is palpable. What is it? It has to be people. Human nature never changes. Human needs and human wants transcend all historical periods.

People! People! People are the same under it all. I see them rushing by my observation post. They are young and aging. They are all colors. Some smile and laugh and look around. Some look harried and worried. I see a few “street people” using their skills to sense the “pigeon” who might supply some Moola for a needed fix. A few are dressed with pride and class. Others are the slobs one meets in any era. Yes, my mind runs back 70 years and I see the same crowd. A little more frenzied looking. A little more harried and worried looking. But underneath it all are the same Joes and Janes.

Yet, I see all of us, today and then (and centuries past), needing and wanting to find love and intimacy and security and joy and meaning and trust and authentic laughter. Catholic anthropology over arches it all. The ancient truth shouts out! It all can be found in St. Augustine’s incisive prayer. “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord and our hearts are restless until (unless) they rest in Thee.” Everything ultimately founders. Everything but God, the Changeless. Strange although there have been enormous cosmetic changes and changes to make life smoother and easier, it is still the same old “C’est la vie”.

Funny but a guy like J.J. who was almost illiterate knew this clearly while the literati and the illuminati are still thrashing around looking, looking and looking. I guess brains and education are not always the way to personal happiness. Well, I am rested now. Might as well get up off this bench and stagger over to the Paulist Mother House. Hope it’s a good lunch.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An Ultimate in Absurdity: Celibacy and Molestation

Some years ago, a noted comedian declared, with a straight face, that the 1969 landing on the Moon was a fake, a complete farce. Some gullible folk believed him. The scenario he painted---“it was all done with mirrors in the desert of New Mexico”—was enthusiastically gobbled up by those unsophisticated or intellectually lazy ones who are prone to have others do their thinking for them. The more bizarre the “picture”, the more delicious the gobbling. Most persons scoffed and dismissed his absurd fantasy as something frivolous at best and harmful at worst. Could anyone come up with something even more bizarre?

Well, since apparently there is no end to the human capacity to swallow the “nutty”, there is an even more wild claim. This one, likewise, non-rooted in fact, is fuelled by fantasy, and by personal agenda. It is usually verbalized in some form as the following: “If those priests who molest kids were allowed to marry, they wouldn’t molest these kids. Celibacy is the cause of the whole thing. Let them marry, have sex and molestation will stop.”

Such a perception is so unbelievably out of touch with reality that it is difficult to take it seriously. I would dismissively laugh at such an absurdity were it not so harmful to so many good living but innocent people. The absurdity lies in the colossal “non sequitur” or illogic of such an assumption. The hard fact is this. Those unfaithful priests who engaged in such filthy behavior (filthy is Pope Benedict’s word to describe their actions) were at least 80% homosexual. Generally, homosexual males are not the least bit interested in having sex with a woman. They have no interest in marriage. Homosexual predator priests usually so self-identify. Should only the celibacy ban be lifted with nothing else being done, the pattern of molestation could remain unchanged. It would be relatively the same as of the last 60 years.

And such a lifting of this ban would have relatively insignificant impact on the dedicated heterosexual priest who would continue his commitment to Christ and Christ’s people regardless of any statute. The essence of the sick behavior centers on the male/male sexual interaction which is essentially homosexual. The clumsy attempts to explain away such an identification simply reinforce the obvious fact that when men have sex with men, it is homosexual or same sex behavior. It is not merely that women are not available as in prison or military [1] situations. For the homosexual male, the sexual drive is towards males and not females—regardless of availability of attractive and good women.

It is important, if one wishes to understand what actually has happed, that one knows a basic distinction about age range. I am surprised that the media and others continue to refer to those “filthy” behaviors as “pedophile.” I say surprised because pedophile explicitly means those who are pre-pubertal, which is approximately under 12 years of age. The specific about these behaviors is that (approximately 80% of the time) the victim persons involved with these situations were adolescent, not pre-pubertal. The distinction is basic. The psychological harm is extremely significant. And different. The impact is far more scarring on young children than on teenagers. The public outrage erupted when the public perception arose that these terrible crimes were generally perpetrated on little children while in fact the crimes involved older persons. This is in no way an attempt to whitewash the evil behavior of these erring clerics but it is necessary to clarify these various factors.

When the crime involves adolescents the term is ephebophilia and can extend to include those who are up to nineteen years of age. The crimes are principally, but not exclusively, committed by those with the homosexual tendency. Since pedophile crimes are committed by both homosexual and heterosexual persons, some special interest groups try to lump all the crimes under the umbrella of pedophilia and thereby attempt to dilute the real source of most of these crimes. And the other 20% of these cases? They were heterosexual as well as homosexual. The 20% include clerical abuse of young girls and various sexual deviant behavior. All of it wrong, inappropriate and sinful. There can be no defense for any of it and it must be stopped.

The only real way of preventing such evil behavior in the future is through the recruitment process. The Vatican has, for over 20 years, insisted that admission criteria be scrupulously observed. In spite of stringent testing, the unfit have sometimes fallen through the “cracks.” This is the challenge. Make the entrance requirements strict. Set the bar high. Exclude any candidate, heterosexual or homosexual, who shows any sign of undisciplined same-sex tendency or ambiguous understanding of sexuality. Fewer are better if it means that we have good, dedicated priests who understand the Cross as the meaning in their lives and who come to serve and not be served and who are capable of profound and loving sacrifice.

For centuries, high ideals, high protocols have been articulated in seminaries and in annual priests’ retreats. For the most part, as the statistics indicate, the ideals and requirements have been remarkably and comparatively well observed. Most priests of the past 60 years have been good men whose memory has been unfairly besmirched by the terrible behavior of a comparatively few unfaithful clerics [2]. There are many problems intensified by the stresses of modern living. But to associate the two words “celibacy” and “molestation” as if there were some intrinsic connection between them is not only absurd but approximates the oxymoronic. Clearly, within the human matrix we will always have disappointments but abolishing the celibacy requirement would be the wrong and useless road to follow. It is nothing more than the proverbial “red herring.”

[1] Napoleon wrote that on some of his campaigns, his men “satisfied each other…” However, when these men returned to civilian life, they resumed their sexual lives with the opposite sex. This is a classic example of what Dr. Lionel Ovesy of Columbia University called “Pseudo-homosexuality.” This is not true of the homosexual.

[2] Statistically insignificant but horrendous in the actual quantity. One molestation alone is outrageous but several hundreds—even over a 60 year period—cries to heaven for correction. Over that time period, however, there were thousands of dedicated priests who were chaste and faithful . Out of this large N, on a statistical level the predator numbers were insignificant but enormously destructive in the harm they did to individual persons.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Jewish Father and the Three Rabbis OR How Parental Love Transcends All

When I was a very young priest in the fifties, the Catholic spiritual climate was intensely “apostolic.” The walls of the Paulist House of Studies in those days were papered with bright slogans goading students on, inciting us to be apostles. “Make America Catholic” shouted the cheerleader’s banner. Everyone was fair game. Baptize all the African babies. Bring everyone to “Rome”. It is God’s Will! But over the years with the arrival of Vatican II, the computer, television and the Pill, the sharpness of such enthusiasm became dulled and re-directed.

The contemporary softened insight of “fullness” of the Faith has a different flair. Today we all agree that good and fair minded people of every religious stripe have their own kind of true path to God and salvation. However, in spite of the polish of modern social interactions, informed Catholics still believe in the gifts unique to their Church. I suspect that should one dig vigorously into what such Catholics really believe, we would find that many would wish for everyone the gifts specific to the Catholic Faith. But modern sensitivities restrain the ebullience of the behavior so emblematic of the past. Today one doesn’t speak that bluntly and directly as we did in “the old days.” But that really was how it was. Out front. Open. And slightly combative. For example…

I, as an enthusiastic and utterly committed young priest, instructed, baptized and officially received into the Catholic Faith a young (23) Jewish woman whose father and two brothers were Orthodox rabbis. I had, unknowingly, stepped into a theological, sociological, psychological and political mine-field. The young woman had under gone a long series of instructions from me and a staff of lay volunteers. She met all our criteria and we were all agreed that she was ready for Reception into the Faith. Years later she even tried the life of the convent. But I was reported to the Cardinal (Spellman) as an over-zealous cleric. I was criticized for un-ecumenical behavior and in effect should be severely walloped by proper Catholic authorities. When no official sanction came, the three Rabbis demanded that I meet with the three of them for proper discussion of the situation. I couldn’t imagine for what reason. After the fact, the Baptism could not be reversed. Her religious Reception had been concluded. The Freedom of Religious Choice seemed to be set in concrete in the then American framework. What did they want from me?

In any event, the angry insistence of the Rabbis made it impossible for me follow my immediate feeling--to run for the hills! I was still a relative “kid” in the priesthood, awkward and insecure. I could hardly hold my own against fellow priests with whom I had frequent differences of viewpoint. Yet I found myself locked into a meeting with this fearsome trio in the Paulist Rectory. Nervously, I sought some kind of support from my Religious community which apparently looked on me with awe. I felt as if I were going into a boxing ring (all alone) against the World’s champ with throngs of well wishers cheering me on. Well wishers who were “Outside” the ring! It was as if they were chanting “They can’t lay a glove on you…Go for it” That some more experienced and older priest might accompany me into the fray was never a question. The complete assumption was that I was going it by myself!

Well, not exactly! I knew the Holy Spirit was with me and generations of the members of the Church Triumphant were behind me. But my knees were still very shaky and my mind was racing in an indefinable fear. But there was one more support system I never imagined. My Jewish father! I had told him of my quaky spirit in meeting this challenge and he, without solicitation, offered a backup system. Himself. He would show up at the Paulist Rectory on that “Night of Confrontation” and be available should I need him. For reasons of his own, he was incensed that I was being so challenged.

So, they all showed up. I ushered the three black clad, bearded men into a meeting room which was adorned with a crucifix on the wall. Two of them seemed nine feet tall, glowering and itching for a fight. The third, the father of the girl, unexpectedly and profoundly touched my heart. With his long white beard and his wide black hat, he rocked back and forth. With his hands on his cheeks, he moaned and moaned apparently in great pain. Was this moan the traditional Jewish sound of despair—“oiy oiy oiy”? He said practically nothing. His pain, his disbelief were clear. It was as if he were murmuring “How can this be happening?” His distress was patent. He was muted. It was heartbreaking. So, the battle with me was left to the two giants, both PhDs. Meanwhile, my secularized, finger-snapping actor father was “keeping guard” outside the meeting room should those Rabbis step out of what he called “the line.” That I could survive on my own was irrelevant. He was there to protect his “little boy.”

The girl had previously told me of her feeling of family gender discrimination whereby the males in the family were highly educated while the females had preparation suited more for clerking in a large office or bearing many children. Her frustration was more than minimal. If, in those days, I had had the analytic training I now own, alarm bells and red lights would have gone off alerting me to the unconscious motivations possibly operating in my “convert.” What an effective maneuver it would be for her to confront the centuries old traditional Jewish system, the fortress of the ages, and emerge victorious even if it meant the psychic castration of patriarchs in the most vulnerable area possible--- ancient and basic religious beliefs. And in spite of this, did I not see a parental love, even if familiarly undemonstrated, come forth from father to daughter? Did he disown her? Did he throw her to the wolves like Teviev in “Fiddler on the Roof”? Not at all. She was his child regardless of what she did even if it brought him profound pain.

This is not to deny the real possibility of a multiplicity of motivations operating in this young woman. Some noble, some narcissistic. But is this not the way of the human being? Could it not be that the Holy Spirit was truly calling her while at the same time her human frustration fashioned the mode of her decision? I am painfully aware that the Mother Teresas of this world are not plentiful.

And my own father, Morris, eldest son of Shumle and Hannah Rosenbloom, originally from Bialystok of a Polish/Russian environment. What of him? Reared with tales of pogroms and weird folklore, how could he take my side against all his genetic makeup, his history and family tradition? The answer seems to me to be a question of the profound love and feeling a parent has for his child. We had fought heatedly many times about belief and doctrine and religion and life after death and Jesus and Holy Water. He apparently disagreed with almost everything I stood for. My life decisions were criticized. My choice of priesthood was an occasion of near fury. But no matter what, everything is irrelevant when it comes to how a parent feels about his child. Rabbis or not. Pogroms or not. I was his son. This trumps everything. Would he have felt the same about me should I have become a Wall Street Robber Baron or a Crooked Cop? Does the Sun rise in the morning and set at night? The mother of the notorious cop-killer, Larry Davis, after his conviction of shooting seven police officers, poignantly said: “My son is a good boy.” Parental love and loyalty is usually unconditional and unswerving. Even the factual can become irrelevant and a far second when such a conflict occurs.

And of God? God the Father of us all? Does the same dynamic apply? Unless one is utterly unschooled in things spiritual, the conclusion is obvious. Rembrandt, in his famous painting of the Prodigal Son, visualized and pictured the mind of the Loving and Forgiving Father. No matter what you have done, the painting says, you are My Son. Let us celebrate your return. Let us not focus on you failings, your faults, your sins. You are My Son, My Beloved. And we shall celebrate and rejoice that you have given up your wrongdoings and returned to where you belong. With Me.

And perhaps our vision and understanding of God stems quite substantially from how we perceived and experienced our parents. I know I am a maverick. I think my own thoughts and make my own internal decisions. I like and dislike as I feel. My father, Morris Rosenbloom, allowed me to be an Odd Man Out, differing from him (and indeed from anyone without guilt) and at the same time gave me the Message: “No matter what you do or don’t do. No matter what value you espouse, you are my own son. And I am always near should you need me.”

Did I not confidently incorporate such a spiritual and psychological world view into my own life and into my Catholic stance all these years? Into my work as a psychotherapist and confessor? After this “Rabbi” incident, my relationship with my father became warmer and closer and more relaxed until he died. The Rabbis, my brothers in the Spirit, helped to surface such a realization in me. While I grieve with them, I also delight in the clarification they helped me achieve. I am forever grateful, even with my divided heart because I know in many instances, especially in mine, omnia vincit amor!

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Meaning of the Attack on Pope Benedict XVI

How does one appraise a shy, brilliant, holy, transparent Pope in the face of innuendo, desperate attempts to link him with evil, half truths and skewed “journalism”? Especially, one might ask, when a national magazine, Time, features a six page article (with pictures) skillfully insinuating that Pope Benedict XVI was complicit in what he himself called “filth” when discussing the horrific behavior of unfaithful priests.

While the article is replete with vague inserts; e.g. “may” “appears” “seems” “some” and “seems to hedge”, it takes factual material and presents a view which could easily leave the impression that the molestations are current. There is little indication in the article that the terrible actions of some Catholic clerics occurred twenty, thirty or more years ago, that the victimizers have been dismissed (unfrocked), are dead, in nursing homes or living in perpetual atonement. There is little assurance that such behavior is highly improbable today[1] or that serious steps to prevent reoccurrences were put into place twenty years ago. Such vagueness would leave the Time reader with the false impression that such dangers lurk currently behind every clerical collar.

While the article does not accuse the Pope of any personal misbehavior, it clearly implies a possible lack of responsible leadership. The very cover of the issue (6/7/10) sets the tone. It blares out “Why being Pope means never having to say you’re sorry” with the inevitable secondary title “The sex abuse scandal and the limits of atonement.” The Pope is viewed from the rear where one’s eye is riveted to an enormous mitre obviously signifying the pressing need for this disclosure over other stories whose titles are scrunched into the top few inches of the Cover. The oil spill, worst in American history, the broken relationship between Obama and Bibi with the terrible consequences it could entail, the turbulent effect of the Tea Party are all considered less noteworthy than insinuations of possible Papal skullduggery. This juxtaposition insults much of Catholic intelligence but also surfaces the old dynamic. It is what Jenkins calls the “Last acceptable prejudice.”

The article is not satisfied that this Pope has not only publicly addressed the shame of the scandals but has met personally with victims, wept with them and apologized for their pain, suffering and disillusion. Never have to say you’re sorry? Have these writers heard Pope John Paul II? Or are they confusing theological Papal infallibility with human limitations? Or shading a word nuance to make a point? The article itself quotes Pope Benedict in his words to Irish Catholics …” I am truly sorry …I openly express the shame and remorse we all feel” The writers respond by saying “words may not be enough”

The strong correctives in formation, recruiting and supervision are never mentioned. While the terrible emotional scars can never be removed, reparations have been made to victims as much as is possible. I served for five years on a Board in a large Archdiocese handling priest/religious molestation charges and I have seen the extent to which the Church will go to try to atone for the vicious crimes of some priests [2] with counseling costs, educational tuitions, even automobiles. Today, scrupulous cooperation with civil authorities is a given in the Church. While such gestures can never be equal to the hurt, the intent is present in the Church to try to atone. However, I never got the impression that “knee jerk priorities were church and clergy, not the welfare of children.” There was tremendous concern for the suffering of innocent victims. False charges of opportunists, including some lawyers, with the allure of the “fast buck ”certainly surfaced but these are not my point. Blackmail, under any name, is blackmail and does not command my attention at this time.. But unfair attacks on good men and untruth do.

It is interesting that the highlighting of the abuse factor , in the article, is on children. It is difficult to fathom psychological ignorance in modern journalists. Is it possible that they don’t know that the majority of abuse cases (over a 60 year span) was not of pedophilia(pre-puberty) but of ephebophilia (adolescence)? Approximately 80% of all cases were male on male (homosexual) involving not children but persons ranging from 15 to 19 years of age. Was this unaware omission or intentional skewing of data for purposes of coloration of a point?

What do” they” really want? There is a hint when the writers note: “What is still missing, however, is any mention of the Holy Father’s alleged role in the scandal.” Is it some kind of public Papal groveling which is sought? Will that help the victims? Or is there a deeper agendum? The insistence that he enabled the “rot of clergy abuse that spread through the church in the past half century” is odd in the light of his forceful denunciations throughout his career of sexual abuses. He, personally, the article demands, must atone and admit his own sins not those of others. This is a weak long shot. Not even a nice try. It is beyond that.

The article describes a heart breaking story of Bernie McQuaid. Heart breaking and infuriating at the same time. It would make one want to throttle that priest and insist on some kind of appropriate punishment. The Church surely agrees and will continue to press (in all such cases) for stricter supervision and accountability. We are all agreed. But are we?

The attack on the Pope is actually a stepping stone for “something else” by some who arch far beyond the present data. The allegation against the Pope is absurd in itself in that the case in question happened years ago in the United States. It was handled, probably badly, by American officials (the infamous Archbishop Rembrant Weakland was rumored to be involved in the handling). Not by Ratzinger who knew nothing of it. In the nineties when the fallen cleric was dying, he petitioned for a priest’s burial. Were one to grant the request, would that mean “cover up”? When Dismas petitioned Jesus on the Cross for forgiveness, was it a “cover up” that a thief stole Paradise? When “Dutch” Shultz, the notorious Mobster, sought reconciliation on his death bed, was it a “cover up” to grant that request? Whether Ratzinger did or did not grant that favor is unknown to me. The allegation, based on that issue, however, seems to me to be frivolous. The real story is what lies behind the turbulence the Time article is making?

The article, quoting Alberto Melloni, rejects the Standard operational Psychological Procedures of the 70’s : “To say he didn’t know is not a defense; it’s the problem.” I, personally, practiced psychology in that period and worked with several clerics who were molesters. To say that we depended on the protocols of the profession is to state a given. We treated patients in the light of the knowledge of that period. It was not considered to be poor practice to recommend to religious Superiors that the patient be admitted to a rehabilitation facility for an indefinite period. When the secular experts, the professionals, after what they considered adequate time and treatment, made the recommendations for re-turn to limited ministry, superiors usually followed such guidance.

The article states firmly that modern thinkers do not accept such practice. Neither do I—in the light of what we know today. 30 years of experience and research later. Again the secular experts of today tell us that pedophilia is largely incurable. We did not know that in 1970. We accept their protocols today as we did 30 years ago. It is juvenile to make assessment of the past in terms of the knowledge of 2010.

The presentation of the Church as a blunderbuss trampling all who flaunt her own self concept is likewise unfair and irritating. A biblical text in which Christ beautifully and compassionately grants, to His Church the power of forgiveness of sins, is paraphrased in the article as “---in rough terms the church’s ability to open the gates of heaven to you or damn you to hell because it will always be holier than thou.” We begin to get more than a hint of the agenda when we hear a “victim” say that this is the people’s church and “we have to take it back(?)”

On the final page of this article (in the very last column) we read: “….the crisis over sex abuse is a chance to argue old questions of dogma and discipline once again: for example to address the necessity of celibacy [3] and the church’s view of sex, to expand the role of women and to define the status of Catholic homosexuals… the authority of the bishops—and the pope—must now be shared with the faithful…” Perhaps, while surely granting the horror and the pain and shame we all feel and the need for atonement and prevention in the future, at least some of the unparalleled negative energy stems from nonverbalized desires to change the Church into something she isn’t. Perhaps now we see “something” which was carefully hidden. The “Church” these people seek does exist. It is called the Unitarian or Universalist Church where two beautiful and only two doctrines are required: a) Fatherhood of God and b) brotherhood of man. The Catholic Church is unique and will remain so regardless of magazine articles and demonstrations.

Time itself gives the answer in its article. Cardinal Consalvi instructed Napoleon (who wished to destroy the Church) thusly. “He will not succeed. We have not managed to do it ourselves.” The reason is simple. Jesus Who is God founded the Catholic Church Himself, in person. He promised it would endure until the end of time. Even the gates of Hell cannot prevail against it.
That includes Time magazine.

[1] It is clearly understood today that any priest deacon or religious who “acts out” would commit clerical/religious suicide.

[2] It is remarkable that the results of the studies on this sad topic are not more widely known. John Jay, USA Today, Rockville centre report and others report that the victimizers since 1960 account for 2-4% of the total priest population. One is too many and the actual number is appalling. Yet, The percentage is far less than secular groups and some other religious institutions. The New York city Board of Ed is reportedly many times higher in molestation than the Archdiocese of New York. It receives relatively less publicity. T here is a reason for this. But to equate failed priests with the general priest population is not only unfair and dishonest but bespeaks terrible statistical incompetence.

[3] This becomes, in the light of the crisis, academic since most of the priest victimizers are homosexual and have no interest in marryng. Celibacy has been a convenient cover for them. Lifting the ban on celibacy would do little to stem the male on male behavior

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On Congressman Bart Stupak: Like Christ or Neville Chamberlain?

When I was a ferociously political teenaged Nerd, the Prime Minister of England, Neville Chamberlain, deplaned in London after a person to person meeting with Adolph Hitler. Der Fuerher was then threatening the whole of Western Europe with the frightening sounds of war. At the airport, Chamberlain waved a piece of paper (signed by Hitler) as he shouted with delirious joy “ Peace in our time. Peace in our time.” He, the experienced sophisticated diplomat, really believed that he had made a peace agreement with a man he could truly trust, the author of Mein Kempf. Within a very short time, thereafter, Hitler’s armies stormed across the Polish border to throw the world into the most terrible and violent war in human history. The famous piece of paper was no more than that, a mere piece of paper, the so-called “agreement” not worth the paper itself.

While there are enormous irreconcilable differences which cannot be even implied, the above is a faint analogy of the recent “cave-in” of Congressman Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan. For over 30 months he had been leading other members of Congress who are called “Pro-Life” Democrats in what looked like a heroic defense of the vulnerable unborn. He had introduced an Amendment explicitly banning the use of any Federal funding for abortions. He rejected promises that at some future and indefinite date the defenseless unborn children would be fully protected “if only he would back the President’s bill for passage”. He, so it seemed, bravely resisted pressure, the political arm twisting and what he called the “tomorrow never comes” promise. This position of his seemed unwavering and steady. Until……..

On the day of voting for the Bill, Bart was “mysteriously” called to a meeting with the President who was showboating his fear lest his whole legacy be flushed away should the Bill fail to pass. The Congressman, within a few hours of the vote, then announced that he would reverse his previous position and would support the Bill. His personal followers would do likewise and the Bill passed that day by a close vote. Like the unbelievable nuns who vigorously supported the bad bill with its loopholes for abortion on the grounds that there were good things in it, Stupak abandoned his integrity.

Stupak, looking embarrassed and uncomfortable claimed that all would be well and that the babies would be safe. The President had promised that he would sign an executive order banning federal monies being spent on abortion. Interestingly enough, the President did sign such an order without fanfare and almost “behind closed doors.” We learn from people like former Senator Rick Santorum that such an order is immediately rescindable either by a sitting president or by any of his successors. In effect we are told that such an “order” is not worth the paper it is printed on. There was no outcry of rage from extreme feminist groups. No protests. No demonstrations. It is quite clear that Law, i.e., the new Bill, trumps executive orders in every instance. The new Bill provides, de facto, all the opportunity pro-abortion people want.

Bart Stupak, shortly thereafter, announced that he would not seek re-election in November. A realistic move since he would be trounced or massacred by his local constituents who, like so many other Americans are weary and disgusted with the back room sleazy politics we have seen in Washington in the past year. Whether or not he is a kind of traitor is difficult to know. We do know that he caved in. And for what? Airport facilities or roads or new office buildings? Whatever the reason, millions of human beings will never have the chance to root for their favorite baseball team. Compared to this the fuss to arrest the Pope in England seems like a bed time story. Did Stupak act like Christ or Chamberlain?
I can answer that question. Can you?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Doesn’t Everyone Have an Irish Grandmother?

When I was about five years old I thought that everyone in the whole world must have at least one Irish Grandmother. While I knew that somewhere in the world I had a Russian-Jewish Grandmother whom I was not allowed to see (because of my Christian Baptismal status), my childhood perception allowed only for the Irish woman I called "Gramma".
I knew that she cooked seven days a week for us, that she shopped for food in the neighborhood "grocery store", that she made everybody’s bed, that she spent hours bent over the washboard ( the antecedent of the washing machine), that she hung the clothes and bed sheets on the "line" in the tenement backyard, that she cleaned the "apartment" each day and generally took care of the seven of us under her care. Two of us were children and the other five were out trying to make enough money to support us. We were huddled together emotionally against the outside world which we intuited as hostile and unfriendly.
Gramma, who was paid no salary, would (it was apparently understood) be our de facto servant. It was as if this was totally accepted and understood by the whole group. Looking back over sixty years ago, I can only now really appreciate something of this unusual woman. She didn’t want money or approbation. She wanted only the opportunity to show her love for all of us. I cringe as I remember my superficiality. Perhaps it was part of being immature and inexperienced simply to expect that the meals would be there on time and that I would have a clean handkerchief as I set off for my First grade classroom.
Her name was Mary Gallagher McArdle. She was from the strange world across the Hudson called Jersey City where she was strictly raised by her Irish Mother and Father (who had served his adopted country in the Civil War). She would often tell us of her fun loving brother (whom Gramma’s children called "Uncle Tom). His reputation for heavy drinking and chasing girls was apparently legendary. With just a hint of invitation, he would entertain anyone with his personable renditions of "I was walking through the park one day in the merry, merry month of May" and "I’m a dude, a dandy dude…." or any song from his large and sometimes raunchy repertoire. But since his easy going nature made It difficult for him to keep a job, he was usually unemployed. Gramma with her usual loving care style would "put him up" until one day he dropped on the street and went to his Maker Whom he might eternally amuse with his singing and joking and livening up the celestial Party!
The 15 year old Mary Gallagher presumably bored with the limitations of Jersey City and, looking for some kind of action and excitement (might we say "boys"?) would take the Ferry across the river to what we now call the Big Apple. Being a very pretty Irish lass with a quick quip and outgoing personality, she attracted the attention of a tall, handsome young Irish bartender, who wore a vest AND a pocket watch with a gold fob!!! Did they meet in a bar? Why not! After all, she was Irish, too - - a beer or two never hurt anyone, right?
He was Edward McArdle from a tiny village called Dromcondrath in County Louth and was VERY ambitious. He later acquired TWO saloons (or what we currently call gin mills).Besides, he wore a derby, a kind of sign of affluence. Although he was about ten years her senior, the Great Love Bug bit them both. So they were married and began what looked like a Paradisiacal Phase. The now Mrs. Mary McArdle loved kids and babies and appropriately good sex with her husband - - - so - - they had ten children. Edward brought some of his family from Ireland to share his good fortune and happiness - - and of course Mary, his little wife, was totally agreeable. There now was laughter and love and very good times. Grampa was even able to offer a FREE Lunch with every five cent glass of beer. It was a jolly time.
But life was not without heartaches. Her first pair of twins died shortly after birth. Her 12 year old son, Matty, fell down the saloon stair case and broke his neck. Since Medical skills were not what they are today the boy died shortly thereafter. After 20 years of relatively happy married living, in March of 1906, Edward fell ill with pneumonia and with the unbelievably poor treatment then available, he died, within ten days in the flat above the saloon on 52nd and Tenth avenue in New York.

The Greek diner on tenth avenue and 52nd street (2004). In 1905, it was the McArdle saloon and immediately above is the apartment where Edward (himself) went to his Maker and from which Mary was dispossessed with her brood.
Mary (Gramma) was told that due to her husband’s debts the saloon had to be sold leaving her totally penniless. She with her seven surviving children was "dispossessed" from her apartment. That meant that they literally were thrown out on the street. There was no Social Security or Widow’s pension. No one helped except her Church which found her some kind of primitive housing for her brood.
Something called " The Gerry Society" offered to take her kids and put them in what sounded like orphanages, a fate that was whispered around as worse than death. This gallant, little woman instantly refused the offer, preferring to keep her children with her believing with her staunch Faith that they would "make it somehow." And indeed they did!
Gramma told me that she had to scrub floors for a dollar a day and to scrounge even to survive in the cellar-like digs they inhabited. The children who were old enough all went out to make a few pennies for the common "pot." None was able to finish even high school except Margaret who gained a Master’s degree from Columbia University with 13 credits towards her Ph.D. All the others went to "woik." They entered the various worlds of photography, Automobile repair, domestic service, education, theatre, postal service
While modern De-constructionists wax poetic about the philosophical need to be tolerant, Gramma wove the tapestry of real tolerance. All her children married contrary to her ethnic instincts, save one. Her in-laws were generally NOT of her Irish preference but were German, Italian, Pennsylvania Dutch, Jewish, and even English. She loved and accepted them all, nurturing them, kidding with them, sharing what little of this world’s wealth she personally possessed.
Her sense of humor was gigantic but her ability to characterize people with a phrase would send us all into laughter spasms in seconds. There was a verbally abusive young woman who was instantly named "Mouthy" by Gramma. And the young lawyer with the huge head and little boy’s body became "The head on a stick" and Mrs. Brennan with a huge posterior and a forward tilt became " Here’s me head, me arse is comin’." And the woman upstairs who was afflicted with excessive activity of the articulatory organs became " Babblin’ Bess."
When her fortunes improved through the combined contributions of the now grown kids, she wanted to grow flowers in the pots around her back yard. Since our street was used by horse drawn carts and carriages, there was a plentiful supply of the valuable substance so helpful for plant health. So, one day, Gramma in a very loud voice commanded one of her very favorite grandsons, named "Chick," to scoop up a large supply of the droppings and bring them to her for the beloved plants. In spite of Chick’s pleadings, she demanded he obey her - - which he did, not only interrupting a stickball ball in progress, but a at the same time suffering the jeers and guffaws of the insensitive West Side kids. Gramma was a strong woman who knew clearly what she wanted.
Clearly, her strong spiritual "spine" was her Catholic Faith. Though totally unaware of past Christological heresies and Biblical subttleties of the Synoptic Gospels, she was " in touch" with God. She knew all about the Eucharist by pre-articulate Faith. She knew the power of the Rosary which she "did" everyday. She knew all about the effectiveness of Holy Water which was in a little font at the door leading outside and which we all piously used going "out" into the world.
She took me with her to Evening Devotions in the Paulist Church where my eight year old mind was awed by the Great Golden Monstrance showing forth the Eucharistic Presence of the Lord and the flickering candles and the pungent smell of incense and the exciting stories told about the saints who faced lions in the Arena and whose bodies were pierced by Roman arrows or were tortured for the Faith by evil Kings. The huge Organ pounded out mystical and rousing hymns about Jesus and the Blessed Mother and St. Patrick and the many inhabitants of Heaven. I was impressed and moved and loved it. We all wore scapulars, tiny, cotton squares hung around our necks by little strings, and which were brown or blue or red, depending on which personal devotion we preferred. We all had little holy cards with saints looking dreamily up to heaven. Of course, it was de rigueur to have a Rosary and the lucky ones wore Miraculous Medals around our necks on a silver chain. Gramma approved all this - - - so therefore we all so acted.

Grandmother and I in 1944 when I was a seminarian
How much she influenced me to consider entering the priesthood myself is known only to God. I do remember her palpable glow when she would invite the local Paulists to dinner in our cramped little apartment on 61st street - - - - and what presentations she would offer their Reverences! These were the most overwhelming of repasts. She would say, a little defensively, "Nothing is too good for God’s priests." I remember her telling me about my Grandfather’s framing and hanging over his bar a ONE dollar bill that the local priest had given him for "services." (Maybe a draft of good Irish beer!!!!) I remember, too, her cherished friendship with the brusque but manly Fr. Peter Moran who stood six feet four inches, had a deep voice and a huge shock of sparkling white hair. He would sit in her kitchen sensuously drinking Gramma’s strong, strong coffee as he complained , very colorfully, about the deficiencies of the Rectory’s "Protestant" coffee. I would respectfully meet the great man at the door and escort him to Gramma. Then, they would talk for hours, he, the master theologian and she who mastered only the complexities of the Third grade.
While her coffee was exceptional, she had a secret concoction called Beef tea" reputedly the cure for pneumonia, warts, arthritis, anxiety and belly aches. Priests, family and friends were dosed with it whenever she deemed it necessary. Once, however, in one of the very few times she gave in to what we might call understandable "self pity", she got "bombed" and was singing away in her darkened bedroom. She called me in which she rarely did and proceeded to give me a lecture about life. With some ROTC training in my background, I had registered for the Draft in World War II. So, Gramma was terrified that I would go to war and be killed like a neighborhood kid she knew who was killed in World War I. Florid as the proverbial Lord she grabbed me by the hair I then had and said: "Jimmy, be the father of a fine family OR go into the Seminary." There could be NO in-beween status. No single life. No gender ambiguity. Be a Priest or parent. And the message had the note of urgency to it! "Make up your mind" she seemed to saying to me:"Get to it."
Since my parents, as vaudevillians, were "on the road" most of the year, Gramma, in fact, raised me. I became so attached to her that when I was about 6 years old, I made a deal with God that He should take five years off my life and add them on to hers so that she could be with us that much longer. How the Lord figured that one out is beyond me since I am now 83! However, Gramma’s influence on my life - - even my approach to life - - - - was apparently enormous. Even when I was a teenager, she nudged me to "righteousness". At 15, I was preening what I considered to be an attractive head of red hair, and was admiring myself in the hallway mirror with typical adolescent narcissism. Gramma came by and quickly sizing up the situation " zinged" me with her quick barb: "You stink." Ever since I have been very cautious about the Imperfection called VANITY. Of course I have no longer any temptation to preen my hair since my head today looks like a peeled egg. Applied to other dynamics of my spiritual life her barb has been an ominous and strict conscience (or to my therapeutic minded colleagues, a powerful super-ego). Gramma’s approval of all of us was essential for happiness. Her scowl of disapproval (though infrequent) could lead to inner turbulence
When she was dying in Roosevelt Hospital and delirious, she instructed her nurse that she must get well immediately since she had an Ordination to attend (mine). She was about three years too soon in her calendar but her appreciation of the priesthood was always with her. She was some kind of lady! She knew the score of life. As she often remarked: " I did me bit." She had known happiness and some ecstasy, sadness and pain. She knew how to cry for her brood but also how to laugh with all. She was one of those rare people- a true believer in God and Life. I guess she was what we all need at some time or other in our lives - - - - - a real Irish Grandmother.

New York City (ca) 1895 - The McArdle Family "Gramma" (then 26) holding her current baby, Jimmy, (J.J.) with "Himself", Edward on her left and her father-in-law "Daddy" on her right.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On One Paulist’s Experience in South Africa

Of the approximately 25 Paulists who served in the Union of South Africa (now the Republic of South Africa) between the years of 1938 and 1968, only two are still alive, Fr. Lionel de Silva and myself. Although I am now 85 years of age with a multitude of subsequent experiences in my memory, the seven years I spent under the Southern Cross have been deeply seared in my psyche. I attempt now to chronicle my recollections for Archivists of the future. Obviously there would be many, many perceptions of what it meant to serve in that far flung outpost of the Paulist world. I give only one, my own.

Although most Paulists who served there were more than reasonably fulfilled, it was not a popular or sought after assignment. Because of the huge travel distances and scanty air service, there were no vacation trips back to the USA. The assignment meant that the Paulist missionaries stayed until their “time” was completed. The work was extremely demanding, though toweringly satisfying. The cuisine at the “House” was hardly gourmet. The amenities were extremely limited. It was no place for what we called the “Broadway Joe Paulist.”

The closest one came to the theatre was the infrequent trip into Johannesburg where we were treated to the “Bioscope”, the South African term for the movies. The short wave radio plus mail from home was our principal source of world news. However we did share the clerical sense of humor about the “Ecclesiastical Bush telegraph” whereby a priest’s belch in Capetown was widely reported in Johannesburg 24 hours later. Of course, we had periodic waves of nostalgia and homesickness, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And of course we did have occasional yearnings for the sight of snow and its feel on one’s face---particularly when we played the record of Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas.”

Yet, ironically, we were happy for the most part. I, personally, found it difficult to return to New York even though I “mightily” yearned to see my family again. We felt like real priests there and were what some called “Big Fish in the Small Ponds.” We were lionized by young and old and made vain by the quasi-Bobby Sox adulation we regularly received for our “Yankee” accents.[1] Additionally, the weather was almost always pleasant with the perennial blue skies and the warm inviting sun. And though tennis and golf were available to us all year long, we felt no pressure to become proficient in these sports. Our lifestyle simply allowed us to enjoy the athletic perks of our mission with little expectation of excellence.

In spite of the erosion by time which can obscure (indeed bury) the history of the Community on a continent other than “North America”, there was enormous pastoral and evangelical Paulist energy expended on the Dark Continent. It should be remembered. We were asked at that time to assume a part of the Church’s evangelical effort to Catholicize[2] the world. The Community graciously agreed but where and how! Coincidentally, a young convert to the Faith, Thomas Pierce, had studied as a priest in the Paulist Mission House in Washington D.C. and had become enamored with the convert techniques of Fathers Elliot, Doyle and the zealous Paulist instructors of that Institution. Later he became incardinated in the diocese of Johannesburg in South Africa from which he petitioned the Paulists to open a house. He insisted they could preach the Faith in a country dominantly Dutch Reformed in theology, addicted to Bible reading, strongly family oriented and fluently bi-lingual.[3] We would be a great force for the Church, he argued, and would make lasting contributions to a spiritually hungry people. His persuasion was formidable. The Paulists agreed to a Foreign Mission.

The first Paulist contingent to carry Catholicism in the American manner to South Africa was an almost immediate sensation. Fathers Henry Fisher, Claude Collins Tom Holloran and, briefly, John McGarrity,[4] brought a true Isaac Hecker spirit to that vast country. Their traditional “Non-Catholic” mission format, so favored by the Founder, drew huge (by South African standards) crowds, Catholic and otherwise. The fruits of their labors remain there today in the descendants of their Converts and of the very large numbers of reconciled lapsed Catholics they met. More didactic than hortatory, they sought to explain the Faith in Biblical terms and, for the most part, were unbelievably successful. They were in great demand throughout the country and could hardly meet the requests for their skills.

Replacements like John Bradley and Richard Daley Payne continued the American Catholic impact.[5] They, handsome and talented, toured the country, successfully appealing to the spiritual hunger of the human heart with Catholic specifics. There came still younger Paulists who followed in their Missionary footsteps. Religious Obedience was still somewhat observed, even if sometimes tearfully. Individual preferences were not usually solicited. Submission was.

In February of 1948, as I was preparing for my Ordination in May of that year, I was summoned to the office of the Seminary Superior, Fr Tom Holloran. He, himself, a battle scarred veteran missionary of South Africa told me that I was being sent to Johannesburg for my first assignment. Thunderstruck and dismayed, I after years of training in the Faith, had to accept “God’s Will”. Yet, I had joined the Paulists, as a half-Jew, to convert America to the Catholic Church! But Africa? Thousands of miles from Broadway?
How could the Lord do this to me?

So, I lived with an interior black cloud in my heart, until a 9,000 ton Victory ship, the S.S. Greece Victory sailed from the Farrell Lines pier in Brooklyn for Capetown----with me on it. Then—mirabile dictu[6] I began a seven year Euphoria. Was it God’s consolation for me? Or what?

It began with 17 fascinating days on that ship. I lazily watched flying fish. Every day I hung over the rail mesmerized by the ever present horizon, experiencing physical, emotional and spiritual kenosis. I ate really gourmet meals in the tiny mess hall. I dozed on the primitive deck chairs. Most of all, I joyfully shared the Gun Crew Quarters over the ship’s stern with three French Canadian Marist Brothers en route to their Mission in Rhodesia. We developed an instant Community feeling as each day we shared the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in that cramped little space. It was worship with as great a reverence and Faith as if it were at St. Peter’s in Rome. They were marvelous religious men.

We slept in cast iron bunk beds and shared the same bathroom. I recall writing to my mother expressing my amazement that “…these guys sleep in their underwear...” Yet, they taught me how to pray in French and how to sing the then popular song “La Mer.” They were, it seemed to me, the essence of the now almost extinct “total Catholic culture” with their unqualified eagerness to serve in a difficult African foreign mission as religious, spreading the love and hope of the Christ of Catholicism.

Their innocence was touching. For example, I was reading “Westward Ha” by S.J. Perlman which is a very funny, slightly raunchy account of a world tour. Occasionally, it raised dubious questions not found in Francis de Sales like “Does the Divine Redhead, Greer Garson, wear falsies?” The old man of the Marist trio, seeing me laugh so much while reading the book requested that I lend it to him to read. Henceforth, after reading it, he regarded me with some puzzlement and not a little fear. An additional facet to my fascination was that my trip for 17 days cost about $19.50 a day.

Almost immediately upon disembarkation at Capetown (called Kaapstad in Afrikaans)
I was assigned by the then Old Man of the Paulists, Jack O’Keefe, to preach a mission in a seaport town called Port Elizabeth. Hal Foye had sickened and his Mission partner, Walt Dalton, needed instant help. I was not asked whether or not I was prepared. I was told to preach long Mission sermons to large crowds on Papal Infallibility, the Bible, the Sacrament of Penance, the Eucharist, the Catholic idea of Marriage and to give an intellectually cogent presentation of why I personally am a Catholic. I was a Paulist and would supposedly be able to handle it all with ease.

At the Paulist House in Johannesburg. The young enthusiast.

And, of course, besides the preaching, I was expected to visit every house in the parish which turned out to be an exhausting but extremely fruitful procedure. Such house visitation was essential to any Mission given in South Africa. It meant we could be met by a snarling vicious dog or a smiling African or an empty house or an invitation to come in to a vacuous tea party. It meant keeping a wary eye out for the venomous snakes found all over South Africa….even on pathways approaching an average house. But it also meant opportunities to validate marriages, encourage fallen aways to return to Christ and to make the essential human contact for bringing non-Catholics into the Fold which we believed to be the One and True Church of Jesus.

Month after month we so worked with joy, laughter, excitement and fulfillment. Our youthful enthusiasms had no limit. We thrilled to witness to the Church even when Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated in testimony to Protestant ascendency. We exulted to respond to the hoary charges of St. Bartholomew’s Massacre and the Huegenot demonstrations. We were called Die Roomse Gevaar (The Roman Danger… in Afrikaans).

I, myself, was nearly stoned, like St. Paul, when I dared to present Roman Catholic teachings in Graaf Reinet, the hometown of Domne Danie Malan, the architect of Apartheid. As I preached, stones hailed down on the corrugated tin roof of the Church and demonstrators shouted outside.

My first three years were without vacation since my senior resident missionary, Walt Dalton, himself a complete work machine, did not believe in resting with so much to do for God. So, we gave missions to large crowds in beautiful churches and to small gatherings in wayside hamlets. We preached to sophisticated Anglicans who seemed bemused by us and who benignly overlooked certain Tudor gonad indiscretions in favor of the truly graceful and dignified English liturgy. Their “sundowner” and afternoon tea customs seemed to overshadow everything. We preached to dour Afrikaaners, who although dedicated to family, hard work and Boer history, managed somehow to look the other way at the sexual usage of the non-European (non-white) women while denouncing the evils of smoking on the Sabbath.

We preached to Indians from Kerala, probably descendants of the coolies of the late 19th Century who had great devotion to Our Lady with emphasis on the Indian shrine of Our Lady of Vallingani. We preached to the impressive Catholic Chinese community of South Africa which has kept the Faith and lives it. We preached to the Maronites who came from Lebanon and were duly impressed with their ancient and steadfast loyalty to the Lord.

We preached to the Bantu people, simple, open and desperately poor. Bantus included the impressive Zulus once led by the warrior chief Shaka and now reduced to being house boys in shorts and bare feet. It included the Xhosa people who have a famous and intriguing click sound as they speak and from whom came Nelson Mandela, the peaceful revolutionary. We preached to Pondos, Swazis, Shangaans and Basutos. All the Bantus could sing, deeply and sonorously. Even the little boys sounded like basso profoundos on the loose from the Met.

With some “Non-European” pals!

On parish visitation in Umtata, Transkei

The South African Native (black African) seems marvelously linguistic, capable of learning languages quickly and accurately. He makes a superb Catechist dedicated to teaching children (of all ages). I recall a Mission I gave to Zulus and Xhosas simultaneously in a little African church. Each tribe had its own interpreter who stood on either side of me as I preached the Catholic Faith. I would preach in English and the Zulu would translate with flourishes and wide gestures. Then the Xhosa would have his turn and usually speak twice as long with even grander gestures. It was a kind of competition between the two of them who could “show off” the most. Meanwhile, the native women with babies on their backs, papoose style, would be engrossed in what we were all saying, nodding agreement and uttering something which always sounded to me like a New York Harbor foghorn. Unlike American mothers who bring their infants to Mass (apparently always sitting in the front row), these African mothers had a sure way to quiet their howling babies in the middle of a spirited sermon. She simply pulled the child over her shoulder and stuck an enormous black breast into the kid’s mouth, thereby totally silencing him and at the same time keeping her rapt attention on the speakers! The Umfundesi (priest) was a Big Man in the African areas and deserved great respect for his power and knowledge!

There was no air conditioning. Only sweaty, smelly crowds with great Faith and loyalty to the Lord. Sometimes these Africans would walk miles to the Church for the Mission and sleep over night on the dirt floor –so interested were they to hear the Americans! They expected long, long sermons and certainly the preacher had to get emotional. Otherwise, he was suspected of insincerity.

Xhosa mommy with Baby
They liked to see the “Umfundesi”

We preached also to a whole population known as “coloreds” who were the sad result of the lustful exploitation by the white man of the African women. These coloreds were called “God’s stepchildren” since they were unwelcome in both white and black communities. They were scorned for being “half breeds” by almost everyone. Yet, they loved their Church and their priests. How many times I saw a Colored Catholic come to the Presbytery (rectory) with his special offering for the “Building Fund”—i.e. to build a new handsome Church. It might have been just tuppence but it was out of his heart a la the widow’s mite. They were warm and grateful people who enriched us far more than we did them.

Giving the Pledge to the Coloreds-----Booze was their downfall!

Our work included retreats to veteran nuns, brothers and priests who, so many times, sat with patience and tolerance through what I thought was my brilliance and creativity but which retrospectively seems today to be mere juvenile enthusiasm. Ah, how I mistook enthusiasm for talent. Yet, South African life touched and taught me lessons I have never forgotten. For example, when I was ordained two years, I was assigned to preach a Priests’ retreat in De Aar, an outpost near the desolate Kalahari desert and the Great Karoo. It was hot, difficult and truly primitive. But how those valiant priests treated me! With such gentleness and understanding as I have never known. A battered old German missionary with a long white beard, physically broken by his years of punishing sacrifice, asked to see me. He wanted me to help him to grow in humility!

I, the stripling punk from Manhattan’s West side, was asked to guide this saint on his way to God. He was guiding me! Such experiences became routine and manifold, especially with priests. The camaraderie among priests in South Africa was simply legendary. My priest friends were Irish, Polish, German (some ex-soldiers of Hitler’s army and wonderful priests they were), African, Chinese, Indian, Spanish, French, Belgian, English, American and Lebanon-ese. They instantly became my “brothers” when we learned we shared the same priesthood of Jesus. His house was mine. As was his car (if he had one). His food he shared with me, always inviting me back for another mission or visit. Was his motivation from loneliness or hurt or some negative factor? Perhaps. But nevertheless the common bond was there which I have never experienced in such intensity since.

I can recall one night in Wankie, Rhodesia, sitting on a porch overlooking the Great Zambezi river with an idealistic young Spanish priest missionary, named Fr. James. There was a huge African Full Moon sprinkling a silver path across the dark River. We were smoking powerful, black Russian cigarettes as we discussed the meaning of being a priest! At that moment the bond of Brotherhood in the Priesthood was almost palpable.

I sensed the same powerful unity in a small Afrikaans “dorp” (or town) when I sat before a wood fire blazing in the hearth with a brash young Irish priest, named Fr. John Clifford. We spoke of the power of the Mass and the marvel of absolution of sins and the trust invested in us as well as the inner pains of celibacy and its loneliness. One could sense the Presence of Jesus with us as we talked about Him. But it was Brothers speaking lovingly about their Father which, sadly, seems an infrequent experience for the human being.

With my close friend, Fr. John Clifford—Irish, brash, courageous and deceased!

Eventually, my health broke down under my own punishing schedule and I was sent to a large ranch to recuperate. While there I learned how to ride horses and how to “hang out” with the Master of the House, a British Major (Ret.), who wore a huge mustache and had exquisite manners. Through him, I learned the Great Art of pacing myself and learned that either “I get strong or I die”. Obviously, I got “strong.”

Although Paulists had no real personal money, we felt rich and secure. We had sufficient food, even if plain and unimaginative. We lived a somewhat simple lifestyle but had enormous opportunities for appropriate fun. The “creative minority” theory of Pope Benedict XVI was factually operational with us in those years. We Catholics felt that we were a small and subtly beleaguered Community. Yet, we were strongly united against some kind of “enemy.” It was not as extreme as the Catholic American experience in the 19th century with the Know Nothing type of political oppression. There was, however, a definite sense among us that we were suspected and mistrusted by many South Africans simply because we were Catholic. We clung together proudly, with Mass attendance far higher than the percent existent in contemporary American Catholicism. Our morale was high and clearly contagious. Priests were scarce but highly valued, respected and loved. Interestingly, this very strong social/ religious expectation from Catholic lay people kept priests, for the most part, “out of trouble.”

Catholic identity was clear. We were well defined and felt little need to sample the religious offerings of the Islamic Malays, Hindus, Zen or even the more palatable Dutch Reformed thought. We were Catholic, plain and simple. We were devout and loyal to our cherished Tradition. We were content with what we had.

Yet, whatever dislike Catholics endured, it wasn’t really a terrible hassle. There was factually minimal interference from the Government in our work .Nor did they inhibit Paulists from living out their convictions. We hated the iniquitous Apartheid. We ripped out the insulting signs someone had put on the last three pews in our Church, i.e. Non-Europeans (non-whites). Our religious and American spirit was revolted by such bigotry in God’s House. At the same time, the State paid salaries to Nuns, brothers and priests who openly taught in Catholic schools even while wearing religious habits and clerical attire. To the credit of the Apartheid politicos, there was no frivolous quibbling about separation of Church and State. While they had no official state religion, the Dutch Reformed government knew, shrewdly, that religion can build society while irreligion can kill it. In this case, pragmatism trumped bigotry.

We learned a great deal from our personal lives in South Africa. I learned a great deal about self reliance and “how to make things happen.” Passivity and waiting for some one else to initiate things didn’t fit. We Paulists became so assertive that the Nation couldn’t believe there were only five of us. We pushed for National recognition in the media and got it! We were the ones invited to speak on National radio. We were the ones who were invited to open the first Catholic Information Center in Johannesburg. We were the ones invited to become the Catholic reps at the Wits University in Johannesburg. We were the ones who were invited to run the National Operation Understanding with Fr. Bob Donahue. I myself was invited by the Apostolic delegate from Rome, Archbishop Damiano, to run the National Office for Jewish-Catholic relations (which I had to decline since I was being recalled to the USA).

Life was varied and satisfying. I used to swim with an Irish Bishop from Kokstad where he shepherded the African Griquas. I swam in the Indian Ocean with a Dutch Dominican Bishop from Kroonstad who looked like Pope Pius XII. I played tennis with Archbishop Hurley of Durban when he was the youngest Bishop in the world. I heard the confessions of Bishops as they trusted me with their souls. I preached the Three Hours’ Agony services, First Masses, Midnight Masses, Priests’ eulogies, endless retreats to nuns, brothers, priests, laity. We were offered endless opportunities to minister! All Paulists were asked again and again to share the Mission of converting Africa to Christ.

One reason was that we were generally straightforward in our presentations. We were not diplomats but Missionaries avoiding euphemisms for the truth. We wore the distinctive Paulist habit with the five buttons and the gleaming Mission Crucifix on our chests. Our outright intent was to bring everyone we met into the Catholic fold. It was an either “yea” or “nay” time. Indifference was scorned. We believed the Lord was commanding us to take a stance and “be not nauseating.” We were “The Paulists.”

So, we proceeded through time. I can see them--- all gone but hopefully enjoying the plaudits of their God for their generosity in going overseas. Roy, McGough, Panowicz, Lorentz, A. McDonnell, Sheehy, Cap Donahue, Bob Donahue, Conlon, Howard, Lewis and all the others. Generally, I believe we were all ultimately grateful for the enormous privilege of being a Paulist Foreign missionary. Like the Blessed Apostle Paul we preached the unfathomable riches of Christ to all we met. And yes we were saddened by the Paulist decision to leave Africa but we all knew that times have changed. Few modern Paulists would embrace such a call with the South African government less than encouraging. Secularism, crime and disease are on the rise. Our own needs at home become stringent with our personnel pool dwindling. Our resources shrink.

But we prefer to assess developments from the viewpoint of the Spiritual sphere. We believe that the Lord raises up movements or groups to meet the needs of a particular time. When His Will has been met and there is no longer need for certain structures, e.g. Paulists in South Africa, the structure is allowed to go out of existence.

Whatever the meaning of the dissolution of the South African arm of the Paulists is, it all remains in the Heart of the Lord. We humbly toss it back in His Holy Lap. We know that we enjoyed our share of spreading the faith in Far off lands. For that we are all eternally grateful.
[1] Hollywood was King in South Africa and by a strange kind of extrapolation all Paulists became Gable, Van Johnson or Gregory Peck.
[2] It was the almost fanatic belief in those days that all the world should be Roman Catholic.
[3] Afrikaans and English dominated the verbal landscape but various Bantu or African languages were spoken in specific areas, as well as some forms of Chinese and Arabic.
[4] McGarrity joined the South African Army and rose to the rank of Colonel in the Royal Irish Guards where he reportedly cut a most stylish figure. He later joined the American army in North Africa with the rank of Captain.
[5] Both were Canadian but thoroughly Americanized.
[6] For the benefit of those educated by the Jesuits, I translate—even roughly---“Marvelous to tell”