Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Hint of an Explanation, by Graham Greene; dedicated today to P.Z. Myers


A LONG TRAIN JOURNEY on a late December evening, in this new version of peace, is a dreary experience. I suppose that my fellow traveller and I could consider ourselves lucky to have a compartment to ourselves, even though the heating apparatus was not working, even though the lights went out entirely in the frequent Pennine tunnels and were too dim anyway for us to read our books without straining our eyes, and though there was no restaurant car to give at least a change of scene. It was when we were trying simultaneously to chew the same kind of dry bun bought at the same station buffet that my companion and I came together. Before that we had sat at opposite ends of the carriage, both muffled to the chin in overcoats, both bent low over type we could barely make out, but as I threw the remains of my cake under the seat our eyes met, and he laid his book down.

By the time we were half-way to Bedwell Junction we had found an enormous range of subjects for discussion; starting with buns and the weather, we had gone on to politics, the government, foreign affairs, the atom bomb, and, by an inevitable progression, God. We had not, however, become either shrill or acid. My companion, who now sat opposite me, leaning a little forward, so that our knees nearly touched, gave such an impression of serenity that it would have been impossible to quarrel with him, however much our views differed, and differ they did profoundly.

I had soon realized I was speaking to a Catholic, to someone who believed--how do they put it?--in an omnipotent and omniscient Deity, while I was what is loosely called an Agnostic. I have a certain intuition (which I do not trust, founded as it may well be on childish experiences and needs) that a God exists, and I am surprised occasionally into belief by the extraordinary coincidences that beset our path like the traps set for leopards in the jungle, but intellectually I am revolted at the whole notion of such a God who can so abandon his creatures to the enormities of Free Will. I found myself expressing this view to my companion, who listened quietly and with respect. He made no attempt to interrupt: he showed none of the impatience or the intellectual arrogance I have grown to expect from Catholics; when the lights of a wayside station flashed across his face that had escaped hitherto the rays of the one globe working in the compartment, I caught a glimpse suddenly of--what? I stopped speaking, so strong was the impression. I was carried back ten years, to the other side of the great useless conflict, to a small town, Gisors in Normandy. I was again, for a moment, walking on the ancient battlements and looking down across the grey roofs, until my eyes for some reason lit on one grey stony "back" out of the many, where the face of a middle-aged man was pressed against a windowpane (I suppose that face has ceased to exist now, just as I believe the whole town with its medieval memories has been reduced to rubble). I remembered saying to myself with astonishment, "That man is happy--completely happy." I looked across the compartment at my fellow traveller, but his face was already again in shadow. I said weakly, "When you think what God--if there is a God--allows. It's not merely the physical agonies, but think of the corruption, even of children. . . ."

He said, "Our view is so limited," and I was disappointed at the conventionality of his reply. He must have been aware of my disappointment (it was as though our thoughts were huddled as closely as ourselves for warmth), for he went on, "Of course there is no answer here. We catch hints . . ." and then the train roared into another tunnel and the lights again went out. It was the longest tunnel yet; we went rocking down it, and the cold seemed to become more intense with the darkness like an icy fog (perhaps when one sense--of sight--is robbed of sensation, the others grow more sensitive). When we emerged into the mere grey of night and the globe lit up once more, I could see that my companion was leaning back on his seat.

I repeated his last words as a question, "Hints?"

"Oh, they mean very little in cold print--or cold speech," he said, shivering in his overcoat. "And they mean nothing at all to a human being other than the man who catches them. They are not scientific evidence--or evidence at all for that matter. Events that don't, somehow, turn out as they were intended--by the human actors I mean, or by the thing behind the human actors."

"The thing?"

"The word Satan is so anthropomorphic."

I had to lean forward now: I wanted to hear what he had to say. I am--I really am, God knows--open to conviction.

He said, "One's words are so crude, but I sometimes feel pity for that thing. It is so continually finding the right weapon to use against its Enemy and the weapon breaks in its own breast. It sometimes seems to me so--powerless. You said something just now about the corruption of children. It reminded me of something in my own childhood. You are the first person--except for one--that I have thought of telling it to, perhaps because you are anonymous. It's not a very long story, and in a way it's relevant."

I said, "I'd like to hear it."

"You mustn't expect too much meaning. But to me there seems to be a hint. That's all. A hint."

He went slowly on, turning his face to the pane, though he could have seen nothing real in the whirling world outside except an occasional signal lamp, a light in a window, a small country station torn backwards by our rush, picking his words with precision. He said, "When I was a child they taught me to serve at Mass. The church was a small one, for there were very few Catholics where I lived. It was a market town in East Anglia, surrounded by flat, chalky fields and ditches--so many ditches. I don't suppose there were fifty Catholics all told, and for some reason there was a tradition of hostility to us. Perhaps it went back to the burning of a Protestant martyr in the sixteenth century--there was a stone marking the place near where the meat stalls stood on Wednesdays. I was only half aware of the enmity, though I knew that my school nickname of Popey Martin had something to do with my religion, and I had heard that my father was nearly excluded from the Constitutional Club when he first came to the town.

"Every Sunday I had to dress up in my surplice and serve Mass. I hated it--I have always hated dressing up in any way (which is funny when you come to think of it), and I never ceased to be afraid of losing my place in the service and doing something which would put me to ridicule. Our services were at a different hour from the Anglican, and as our small, far-from-select band trudged out of the hideous chapel the whole of the townsfolk seemed to be on the way past to the proper church--I always thought of it as the proper church. We had to pass the parade of their eyes, indifferent, supercilious, mocking; you can't imagine how seriously religion can be taken in a small town, if only for social reasons.

"There was one man in particular; he was one of the two bakers in the town, the one my family did not patronize. I don't think any of the Catholics patronized him because he was called a free-thinker --an odd title, for, poor man, no one's thoughts were less free than his. He was hemmed in by his hatred--his hatred of us. He was very ugly to look at, with one wall-eye and a head the shape of a turnip, with the hair gone on the crown, and he was unmarried. He had no interests, apparently, but his baking and his hatred, though now that I am older I begin to see other sides to his nature --it did contain, perhaps, a certain furtive love. One would come across him suddenly sometimes on a country walk, especially if one were alone and it was Sunday. It was as if he rose from the ditches, and the smear of chalk on his clothes reminded one of the flour on his working overalls. He would have a stick in his hand and stab at the hedges, and if his mood were very black he would call out after one strange abrupt words like a foreign tongue--I know the meaning of those words, of course, now. Once the police went to his house because of what a boy said he'd seen, but nothing came of it except that the hate shackled him closer. His name was Blacker and he terrified me.

“I think he had a particular hatred of my father--I don't know why. My father was manager of the Midland Bank, and it's possible that at some time Blacker may have had unsatisfactory dealings with the bank; my father was a very cautious man who suffered all his life from anxiety about money--his own and other people's. If I try and picture Blacker now I see him walking along a narrowing path between high windowless walls, and at the end of the path stands a small boy of ten--me. I don't know whether it's a symbolic picture or the memory of one of our encounters--our encounters somehow got more and more frequent. You talked just now about the corruption of children. That poor man was preparing to revenge himself on everything he hated--my father, the Catholics, the God whom people persisted in crediting--and that by corrupting me. He had evolved a horrible and ingenious plan.

"I remember the first time I had a friendly word from him. I was passing his shop as rapidly as I could when I heard his voice call out with a kind of sly subservience as though he were an under servant. 'Master David,' he called, 'Master David,' and I hurried on. But the next time I passed that way he was at his door (he must have seen me coming) with one of those curly cakes in his hand that we called Chelsea buns. I didn't want to take it, but he made me, and then I couldn't be other than polite when he asked me to come into his parlour behind the shop and see something very special.

"It was a small electric railway--a rare sight in those days, and he insisted on showing me how it worked. He made me turn the switches and stop and start it, and he told me that I could come in any morning and have a game with it. He used the word 'game' as though it were something secret, and it's true that I never told my family of this invitation and of how, perhaps twice a week those holidays, the desire to control that little railway become overpowering, and looking up and down the street to see if I were observed, I would dive into the shop."

Our larger, dirtier, adult train drove into a tunnel and the light went out. We sat in darkness and silence, with the noise of the train blocking our ears like wax. When we were though we didn't speak at once and I had to prick him into continuing.

"An elaborate seduction," I said.

"Don't think his plans were as simple as that," my companion said, "or as crude. There was much more hate than love, poor man, in his make-up. Can you hate something you don't believe in? And yet he called himself a free-thinker. What an impossible paradox, to be free and to be so obsessed. Day by day all through those holidays his obsession must have grown, but he kept a grip; he bided his time. Perhaps that thing I spoke of gave him the strength and the wisdom. It was only a week from the end of the holidays that he spoke to me on what concerned him so deeply.

"I heard him behind me as I knelt on the floor, coupling two coaches. He said, 'You won't be able to do this, Master David, when school starts.' It wasn't a sentence that needed any comment from me any more than the one that followed. 'You ought to have it for your own, you ought,' but how skilfully and unemphatically he had sowed the longing, the idea of a possibility. . . . I was coming to his parlour every day now; you see, I had to cram every opportunity in before the hated term started again, and I suppose I was becoming accustomed to Blacker, to that wall-eye, that turnip head, that nauseating subservience. The Pope, you know, describes himself as 'the servant of the servants of God,' and Blacker--I sometimes think that Blacker was 'the servant of the servants of . . . ,' well, let it be.

"The very next day, standing in the doorway watching me play, he began to talk to me about religion. He said, with what untruth even I recognized, how much he admired the Catholics; he wished he could believe like that, but how could a baker believe? He accented 'a baker' as one might say a biologist, and the tiny train spun round the gauge 0 track. He said, 'I can bake the things you eat just as well as any Catholic can,' and disappeared into his shop. I hadn't the faintest idea what he meant. Presently he emerged again, holding in his hand a little wafer. 'Here,' he said, 'eat that and tell me. . . .' When I put it in my mouth I could tell that it was made in the same way as our wafers for communion--he had got the shape a little wrong, that was all--and I felt guilty and irrationally scared. 'Tell me,' he said, 'what's the difference?'

"'Difference?' I asked.

"'Isn't that just the same as you eat in church?'

"I said smugly, 'It hasn't been consecrated.'

"He said, 'Do you think, if I put the two of them under a microscope, you could tell the difference?'

"But even at ten I had the answer to that question. 'No,' I said, 'the--accidents don't change,' stumbling a little on the word 'accidents' which had suddenly conveyed to me the idea of death and wounds.

"Blacker said with sudden intensity, 'How I'd like to get one of your ones in my mouth--just to see. . . .'

"It may seem odd to you, but this was the first time that the idea of transsubstantiation really lodged in my mind. I had learned it all by rote; I had grown up with the idea. The Mass was as lifeless to me as the sentences in De Bello Gallico; communion a routine like drill in the school-yard, but here suddenly I was in the presence of a man who took it seriously, as seriously as the priest whom naturally one didn't count--it was his job. I felt more scared than ever.

"He said, 'It's all nonsense, but I'd just like to have it in my mouth.'

"'You could if you were a Catholic,' I said naïvely.

"He gazed at me with his one good eye, like a Cyclops. He said, 'You serve at Mass, don't you? It would be easy for you to get at one of those things. I tell you what I'd do--I'd swap this electric train for one of your wafers--consecrated, mind. It's got to be consecrated.'

"'I could get you one out of the box,' I said. I think I still imagined that his interest was a baker's interest--to see how they were made.

"'Oh, no,' he said, 'I want to see what your God tastes like.'

"'I couldn't do that.'

"'Not for a whole electric train, just for yourself? You wouldn't have any trouble at home. I'd pack it up and put a label inside that your dad could see: "For my bank manager's little boy from a grateful client." He'd be pleased as punch with that.'

"Now that we are grown men it seems a trivial temptation, doesn't it? But try to think back to your own childhood. There was a whole circuit of rails there on the floor at our feet, straight rails and curved, and a little station with porters and passengers, a tunnel, a foot-bridge, a level crossing, two signals, buffers, of course --and, above all, a turntable. The tears of longing came into my eyes when I looked at the turntable. It was my favorite piece--it looked so ugly and practical and true. I said weakly, 'I wouldn't know how.'

"How carefully he had been studying the ground! He must have slipped several times into Mass at the back of the church. It would have been no good, you understand, in a little town like that, presenting himself for communion. Everybody there knew him for what he was. He said to me, 'When you've been given communion you could just put it under your tongue a moment. He serves you and the other boy first, and I saw you once go out behind the curtain straight afterwards. You'd forgotten one of those little bottles.'

"'The cruet,' I said.

"'Pepper and salt.' He grinned at me jovially, and I--well, I looked at the little railway which I could no longer come and play with when term started. I said, 'You'd just swallow it, wouldn't you?'

"'Oh, yes,' he said. 'I'd just swallow it.'

"Somehow I didn't want to play with the train any more that day. I got up and made for the door, but he detained me, gripping my lapel. He said, 'This will be a secret between you and me. Tomorrow's Sunday. You come along here in the afternoon. Put it in an envelope and post it me. Monday morning the train will be delivered bright and early.'

"'Not tomorrow,' I implored him.

"'I'm not interested in any other Sunday,' he said. 'It's your only chance! He shook me gently backwards and forwards. 'It will always have to be a secret between you and me,' he said. 'Why, if anyone knew they'd take away the train and there'd be me to reckon with. I'd bleed you something awful. You know how I'm always about on Sunday walks. You can't avoid a man like me. I crop up. You wouldn't ever be safe in your own house. I know ways to get into houses when people are asleep.' He pulled me into the shop after him and opened a drawer. In the drawer was an odd looking key and a cut-throat razor. He said, 'That's a master key that opens all locks and that--that's what I bleed people with.' Then he patted my cheek with his plump floury fingers and said, 'Forget it. You and me are friends.'

"That Sunday Mass stays in my head, every detail of it, as though it had happened only a week ago. From the moment of the Confession to the moment of Consecration it had a terrible importance; only one other Mass has ever been so important to me--perhaps not even one, for this was a solitary Mass which would never happen again. It seemed as final as the last Sacrament when the priest bent down and put the wafer in my mouth where I knelt before the altar with my fellow server.

"I suppose I had made up my mind to commit this awful act-for, you know, to us it must always seem an awful act--from the moment when I saw Blacker watching from the back of the church. He had put on his best black Sunday clothes and, as though he could never quite escape the smear of his profession, he had a dab of dried talcum on his cheek, which he had presumably applied after using that cut-throat of his. He was watching me closely all the time, and I think it was fear--fear of that terrible undefined thing called bleeding--as much as covetousness that drove me to carry out my instructions.

"My fellow server got briskly up and, taking the paten, preceded Father Carey to the altar rail where the other communicants knelt. I had the Host lodged under my tongue: it felt like a blister. I got up and made for the curtain to get the cruet that I had purposely left in the sacristy. When I was there I looked quickly round for a hiding place and saw an old copy of the Universe lying on a chair. I took the Host from my mouth and inserted it between two sheets --a little damp mess of pulp. Then I thought: perhaps Father Carey has put out the paper for a particular purpose and he will find the Host before I have time to remove it, and the enormity of my act began to come home to me when I tried to imagine what punishment I should incur. Murder is sufficiently trivial to have its appropriate punishment, but for this act the mind boggled at the thought of any retribution at all. I tried to remove the Host, but it stuck clammily between the pages, and in desperation I tore out a piece of the newspaper and, screwing the whole thing up, stuck it in my trousers pocket. When I came back through the curtain carrying the cruet my eyes met Blacker's. He gave me a grin of encouragement and unhappiness--yes, I am sure, unhappiness. Was it perhaps that the poor man was all the time seeking something incorruptible?

"I can remember little more of that day. I think my mind was shocked and stunned, and I was caught up too in the family bustle of Sunday. Sunday in a provincial town is the day for relations. All the family are at home, and unfamiliar cousins and uncles are apt to arrive, packed in the back seats of other people's cars. I remember that some crowd of the kind descended on us and pushed Blacker temporarily out of the foreground of my mind. There was somebody called Aunt Lucy, with a loud hollow laugh that filled the house with mechanical merriment like the sound of recorded laughter from inside a hall of mirrors, and I had no opportunity to go out alone even if I had wished to. When six o'clock came and Aunt Lucy and the cousins departed and peace returned, it was too late to go to Blacker's, and at eight it was my own bed-time.

"I think I had half forgotten what I had in my pocket. As I emptied my pocket the little screw of newspaper brought quickly back the Mass, the priest bending over me, Blacker's grin. I laid the packet on the chair by my bed and tried to go to sleep, but I was haunted by the shadows on the wall where the curtains blew, the squeak of furniture, the rustle in the chimney, haunted by the presence of God there on the chair. The Host had always been to me--well, the Host. I knew theoretically, as I have said, what I had to believe, but suddenly, as someone whistled in the road outside, whistled secretively, knowingly, to me, I knew that this which I had beside my bed was something of infinite value--something a man would pay for with his whole peace of mind, something that was so hated one could love it as one loves an outcast or a bullied child. These are adult words, and it was a child of ten who lay scared in bed, listening to the whistle from the road, Blacker's whistle, but I think he felt fairly clearly what I am describing now. That is what I meant when I said this Thing, whatever it is, that seizes every possible weapon against God, is always, everywhere, disappointed at the moment of success. It must have felt as certain of me as Blacker did. It must have felt certain too of Blacker. But I wonder, if one knew what happened later to that poor man, whether one would not find again that the weapon had been turned against its own breast.

"At last I couldn't bear that whistle any more and got out of bed. I opened the curtains a little way, and there right under my window, the moonlight on his face, was Blacker. If I had stretched my hand down, his fingers reaching up could almost have touched mine. He looked up at me, flashing the one good eye, with hunger-I realize now that near-success must have developed his obsession almost to the point of madness. Desperation had driven him to the house. He whispered up at me. 'David, where is it?'

"I jerked my head back at the room. 'Give it me,' he said. 'Quick. You shall have the train in the morning.'

"I shook my head. He said, 'I've got the bleeder here, and the key. You'd better toss it down.'

"'Go away,' I said, but I could hardly speak for fear.

"'I'll bleed you first and then I'll have it just the same.'

"'Oh, no, you won't,' I said. I went to the chair and picked it-Him--up. There was only one place where He was safe. I couldn't separate the Host from the paper, so I swallowed both. The newsprint stuck like a prune skin to the back of my throat, but I rinsed it down with water from the ewer. Then I went back to the window and looked down at Blacker. He began to wheedle me. 'What have you done with it, David? What's the fuss? It's only a bit of bread,' looking so longingly and pleadingly up at me that even as a child I wondered whether he could really think that, and yet desire it so much.

"'I swallowed it,' I said.

"'Swallowed it?'

"'Yes,' I said. 'Go away.'

"Then something happened which seems to me now more terrible than his desire to corrupt or my thoughtless act: he began to weep --the tears ran lopsidedly out of the one good eye and his shoulders shook. I only saw his face for a moment before he bent his head and strode off, the bald turnip head shaking, into the dark. When I think of it now, it's almost as if I had seen that Thing weeping for its inevitable defeat. It had tried to use me as a weapon, and now I had broken in its hands and it wept its hopeless tears through one of Blacker's eyes."

The black furnaces of Bedwell Junction gathered around the line. The points switched and we were tossed from one set of rails to another. A spray of sparks, a signal light changing to red, tall chimneys jetting into the grey night sky, the fumes of steam from stationary engines--half the cold journey was over, and now remained the long wait for the slow cross-country train. I said, "It's an interesting story. I think I should have given Blacker what he wanted. I wonder what he would have done with it."

"I really believe," my companion said, "that he would first of all have put it under his microscope--before he did all the other things I expect he had planned."

"And the hints," I said. "I don't quite see what you mean by that."

"Oh, well," he said vaguely, "you know for me it was an odd beginning, that affair, when you come to think of it," but I never should have known what he meant had not his coat, when he rose to take his bag from the rack, come open and disclosed the collar of a priest.

I said, "I suppose you think you owe a lot to Blacker."

"Yes," he said, "you see, I am a very happy man."

Philokalia Republic/Lycos Short Story Classics

Forty years later, Paul VI's statement on birth control has stood the test of time


Forty years ago, on 25 July 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his seventh and last encyclical letter, which was addressed not only to the bishops, clergy and faithful of the Catholic Church, but to all people of good will. The letter was on “the regulation of birth,” and its promulgation was eagerly awaited.

A new and instantly popular method of contraception had appeared ten years earlier –- the Pill was introduced in 1958 –- and many fervently hoped the pope who oversaw the Second Vatican Council, in which the Church had thrown open its windows to the modern world, would now signal his approval of its use.

Their hopes were dashed. Humanae vitae reaffirmed the traditional teaching of the Church: acts of artificial contraception are “intrinsically disordered, and hence unworthy of the human person, even when the intention is to safeguard or promote individual, family or social well-being.”

The outcrywas overwhelming and is said to have broken the Pope’s heart. Among christian leaders of international standing, only the Ecumenical Patriarch rose to his defence. Most protestant denominations -- starting with the Anglicans at their 1930 Lambeth Conference -- had begun making their peace with artificial contraception some years earlier.

So of course had many Canadian Catholics, including the Québécois, who were already enjoying their Quiet Revolution. (Between 1959 and 1971 the birth rate in Quebec plunged from Canada’s highest to its lowest.) Consternation was felt right across the country. On September 27th, barely two months after the encyclical’s promulgation, Canadian bishops released their Winnipeg Statement as an act of damage control.

The Winnipeg Statement made an enormous concession, one that belied the bishops’ professed solidarity with the Pope. Persons, they said, who “have tried sincerely but without success to pursue a line of conduct in keeping with the given directives … may be safely assured that, whoever honestly chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience.” It is safe to say that the vast majority of Catholics took the bishops at their word and continued their trips to the pharmacy.

Forty years on, however, it is Humanae vitae -– not the Winnipeg Statement -- that has stood the test of time. Study after study has documented the uncanny accuracy of the Pope’s much scoffed-at predictions, which stand out sharply against the failures of the preferred prophets of the day, such as Paul Erhlich, who in the same year published his famously misguided book, The Population Bomb.

Among those predictions were the marked increase in adultery and fornication (what we have learned to call “casual” sex); the corresponding increase in alienation between men and women (which we now refer to as the gender wars); the weakening of the family (for which we no longer have even a working definition); and especially the intrusion of the state into “the most personal and most reserved sector of conjugal intimacy” -- that is, into the very processes of human reproduction.

On this last point, Paul VI presciently warned that rulers might even begin to impose on their people “the method of contraception which they judge to be the most efficacious.” This prediction, heavily ridiculed at the time, has found its sorriest fulfillment in China, which not only permits contraception, sterilization and abortion as legitimate means of regulating births, but systematically enforces them.

Canada’s embrace of the contraceptive mentality (we don’t think much of “the serious duty of transmitting human life”) has produced the problem of too few people, so our own rulers are not tempted to be quite so draconian. Yet through the United Nations Population Fund Canada participates in a wide variety of manipulative, not to say murderous, “family planning” policies, including those of China. And its policies at home, particularly in the area of sex education, about which the Winnipeg Statement was so absurdly hopeful, are only marginally less manipulative. The Canadian bishops never imagined mandatory programs teaching Catholic children how to experiment in all manner of “sterile” sex, including sodomy, or how to appreciate the fact that “families” come in all sizes and shapes. Nor did Catholic politicians foresee the skyrocketing divorce and abortion rates, or their multi-billion dollar annual price tag, when in 1968 they moved to adapt our legal system to the contraceptive era with Bill C-150.

Humanae vitae, however, did not content itself with predicting the dissolution of family life on the shoals of the contraceptive mentality. It did indeed condemn contraception as a violation of natural law that, in picking apart the unitive and the procreative dimensions of human sexuality, must also pick apart the very social bonds it was supposed to protect. But it also recognized that the acceptance of artificial contraception would dissolve ecclesial bonds, too, by ripping a large hole in the Church’s sacramental vision of marriage. For proof of that we need look no further than the Anglican Communion, meeting this month for its 2008 Lambeth Conference in the vain hope of saving its sinking ship.

Paul VI was not unaware that Catholics, not to mention the other “men of good will” to whom he addressed his letter, would have great difficulty accepting the teaching of Humanae vitae. He knew, however, that the proper way for the Church to address the modern world was no different than the way it had addressed the ancient world. It had to speak the truth in love, whatever the cost. “The Church,” he said, “is not surprised to be made, like her divine Founder, a ‘sign of contradiction.’” That is how the Church herself survives the test of time.

Humanae vitae contradicted not so much through its condemnation of contraception as through its constructive vision for marriage. Those who trouble themselves to read this infamous document during its fortieth anniversary will discover, to their surprise, that it sets out an attractive view of spousal love and responsible parenthood. Integrating the principles of charity, chastity, and “the intervention of intelligence” in marital life, it lays the foundation on which John Paul II would later build with supreme pastoral skill. In consequence of its courageous intervention there is today a new generation of Catholic faithful who are learning to wrestle with their own call to be a sign of contradiction in Canadian culture. May their tribe increase, as doubtless it will.

Douglas Farrow is associate professor of Christian Thought at McGill University and the author of Nation of Bastards.

Further reading:

• Read the Pope's encyclical

• The Winnipeg Statement

National Post (Toronto)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Request for a day of prayer and fasting and public reparation, Friday, August 1

The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (a national association of 600 priests & deacons) respond to the sacrilegious and blasphemous desecration of the Holy Eucharist by asking for public reparation. We ask all Catholics of Minnesota and of the entire nation to join in a day of prayer and fasting that such offenses never happen again. (suggested: one Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament and one whole day of fasting on Friday, August 1st, Feast of St. Alphonsus Ligouri. If this is not convenient or feasible, then we also recommend Thursday, August 21st, the Feast of Pope St. Pius X) The Black Biretta

Shy and Retiring, Father John Trigilio, Speaks Out on the Sacrilege of PZ Myers

Father John Trigilio, a parish priest of Harrisburg, PA, and a regular on the EWTN television network, a member of the Congregation of Catholic Clergy, has a comment today on the sacrilege that took place in Morris. Father Trigilio blogs somewhat frequently at The Black Biretta! Check him out!

Biologists are entitled to their personal opinion as are artists, philosophers, theologians, politicians and clergymen. The crux of the issue, however, is when is it appropriate and in what appropriate manner should they publicize their opinion? Do you feel it proper for your physician to give you his or her political opinions? Would you want your plumber debating you on your views of patriotism? Then why would we want biologists ridiculing and attacking someone else's religion?

When theologians of the Middle Ages gave their opinions on the debate over the geocentric vs heliocentric solar system, scientists today denounced it. When scientists today give not only opinion but add vitriolic and hateful language to show utter contempt for the most sacred beliefs of a major world religion (over one BILLION members), then they are as guilty as those they chastised in centuries ago for doing the same thing.

It is one thing to give objective scientific data or expert opinion on a scientific matter. It is inappropriate, however, for a scientist to show such disrespect and irreverence for something held sacrosanct by millions of others.

My point is that the very ACT of publicly desecrating a religious artifact is unprofessional at least and repugnant and reprehensible at worst. We used to be a civil nation, showing respect for others even those with whom we disagree. Now, there seems to be a rush to offend and humiliate rather than rationally discuss and debate. See more at his original post at The Black Biretta

Guadalupe Shrine biggest in North America


Catholic shrines are often relatively small, consisting of just a statue, for example.

As a result, Socha said, people often get confused when they arrive at the sprawling Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

They ask, where is the shrine?

The answer takes a moment to sink in.

"The whole thing is the shrine," Socha said. "There isn't any one focal point to it."

There are obvious highlights, however, including:

• The red-tile roofed Mother of Good Counsel Votive Chapel, which is the first stop on the trail connecting the visitor center and Shrine Church. The chapel has seven stained glass windows depicting various apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

It also contains 576 votive candles arranged in a pyramid. The number has no theological significance, but the shape recalls Aztec pyramids in place when the earliest Catholic conversions took place in Mexico.

• The Stations of the Cross and Rosary walks.Shortly before arriving at the Shrine Church, visitors can wander off the main path to a reflect on set of bronze sculptures depicting the final hours of Jesus' life. Also branching from the main path at this spot is the Rosary Walk, which includes a set of curved walls containing scenes from the life of Jesus.

• The Shrine Church. Perched atop of the path from the visitor center, the 16,380 square-foot building with a fieldstone facade and red-tile roof includes 10 shrines, 31 stained glass windows, bronze doors, and marble floors imported from Italy.

The church is capped with copper dome that is 42 feet in diameter and is decorated inside with stars in the same position they were in 1531, the year when Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared in front of a Mexican villager named Juan Diego.

Socha calls the church "a parish of pilgrims."

In other words, he said, daily Masses are intended for visitors to the pilgrimage site, not for local churchgoers.

The church, like the rest of the shrine complex, is approved by the Diocese of La Crosse. It operates separately from the diocese, however, and is not intended to compete with local parishes, a fact that is highlighted by its relatively inconvenient access, Socha said.

Masses at the Shrine Church will led by Franciscan friars who started living on the shrine property this summer. There were three friars living there last week and as many as six could eventually live at the shrine, Socha said.

The friars' under-construction living quarters will have a private chapel and a private passage into the Shrine Church next door. They will lead Masses at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday and at 1 p.m. Sunday, a schedule that could change, Socha said.

Weddings allowed at the Shrine Church will be very few and far between, he added.

Expansion likely

It might be just the starting point for the trail, but the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe visitor center has become an attraction of its own because of its restaurant, a popular local destination for weekday lunch and Sunday brunch.

For those who continue up the trails from the visitor center, sights along the way include bronze sculptures of St. Joseph the Workman and Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be declared a Blessed, which is a step below sainthood.

More devotional areas of this kind are possible in the future, Socha said.

In the meantime, the shrine complex continues to take shape. A flower-adorned shrine to the unborn is under construction and could be completed this fall, early plans have been developed for a catechetical center that could include a space for radio broadcasting, and a group of contemplative nuns could eventually move to the shrine property, Socha said.

When former Diocese of La Crosse Bishop Raymond L. Burke announced the shrine project in 1999, the cost was widely reported as $25 million, a figure Socha said he could not confirm. He would only say that the shrine was paid for completely by private donations, with no money from the diocese, adding that the project has been "financially blessed."

Those blessings will need to continue for the shrine, which is funded entirely by donations.

While the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico city is one of the most-visited Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, the La Crosse shrine is intended as a destination for people who can't make it to the shrine in Mexico, Socha said.

The La Crosse shrine is the largest in the U.S. dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, but by no means is it the largest Catholic shrine in the country.

There are shines with more land: Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wis., has more than four times as much land (435 acres), for example. The La Crosse shrine also pales in comparison to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., whose seating capacity is 3,500 people, compared to the Shrine church's 450-person seating capacity.

. . . .

Once Jane Glomski of Stewartville visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe the first time, she knew she had to go back.

"It's such a wonderful thing to have for our area, to have a shrine of that magnitude, and the beauty of it," said Glomski, 56, who has visited the 103-acre pilgrimage site on the outskirts of La Crosse with family and on a one-day self-guided retreat.

With its red-tiled roofs and secluded, wooded property, the shrine complex recalls a different place and era. A half-mile trail winds up a hill that separates the visitor center from a copper-domed church, passing a chapel and other memorials along the way.

The setting is so peaceful and scenic that shrine spokesman Jack Socha makes a point of warning against the temptations it will surely bring. The shrine is not a place to take your dog for a walk, he stresses, and it's also not a place to jump out of your car, snap a picture, and leave.

"It is meant to be an all-day affair where you come here to spend time," Socha said.

It's also a place where each visit can be different, Glomski said, because there are so many different places to pause for prayer.

"It's just a very inspirational and spiritual place to unwind and reflect and meditate," she said. "I think people when they first go there, they are amazed at all the shrine has to offer."

The shrine draws visitors from around southeastern Minnesota, Socha said. Mayo Clinic patients and family often stop by the shrine either on the way to or returning from Rochester, he added.

With the glimmering Shrine Church opening to the public Thursday, Socha talks about history being made as the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe expands its appeal.

"We consider this not just an area shrine, but a shrine for the entire country," he said. Rochester Post Bulletin

La Crosse Our Lady of Guadalupe pilgrimage site is a place to find peace

The pope, a Catholic spokesman here insists, is not coming to La Crosse this week.

That the rumor would even exist in the area hints at the significance, however, of the opening Thursday of a copper-domed church at the 103-acre Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a recently established Catholic pilgrimage site that boasts 50,000 visitors a year from southeastern Minnesota and around the Upper Midwest.

That's 50,000 visitors while the complex, which has Latin American-inspired architecture and sits in wooded bluff land in the southeast edge of La Crosse, is still being built. A key memorial area is under construction, with more additions likely over the coming years.

Thursday's dedication ceremony could be a major turning point for the shrine, which, with its half-mile trail dotted with sculptures and places for reflection, is the largest U.S. shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, a 16th-century apparition of the Virgin Mary in Mexico.

The way spokesman Jack Socha sees it, the Shrine Church's opening to the public Thursday will not only give the shrine complex a sense of wholeness, but it will make it a bigger attraction in the region and beyond. He predicts that an increase in visitors could lead to new hotel development and other changes on the south side of La Crosse.

In the meantime, the guest list for Thursday's 1 p.m. church dedication Mass shows the importance being attached to the event. Some 200 priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals, in addition to Eduardo Verastegui, star of the movie "Bella," are expected to attend the Mass, which will be broadcast across the country on Catholic radio and transmitted to 140 nations in English and Spanish on EWTN, the Catholic cable network. Rochester Post Bulletin

TV Might Cause Autism!

Last month, I speculated in Slate that the mounting incidence of childhood autism may be related to increased television viewing among the very young. The autism rise began around 1980, about the same time cable television and VCRs became common, allowing children to watch television aimed at them any time. Since the brain is organizing during the first years of life and since human beings evolved responding to three-dimensional stimuli, I wondered if exposing toddlers to lots of colorful two-dimensional stimulation could be harmful to brain development. This was sheer speculation, since I knew of no researchers pursuing the question.

Today, Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching by children under the age of 3. The researchers studied autism incidence in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. They found that as cable television became common in California and Pennsylvania beginning around 1980, childhood autism rose more in the counties that had cable than in the counties that did not. They further found that in all the Western states, the more time toddlers spent in front of the television, the more likely they were to exhibit symptoms of autism disorders.

The Cornell study represents a potential bombshell in the autism debate. "We are not saying we have found the cause of autism, we're saying we have found a critical piece of evidence," Cornell researcher Michael Waldman told me. Because autism rates are increasing broadly across the country and across income and ethnic groups, it seems logical that the trigger is something to which children are broadly exposed. Vaccines were a leading suspect, but numerous studies have failed to show any definitive link between autism and vaccines, while the autism rise has continued since worrisome compounds in vaccines were banned. What if the malefactor is not a chemical? Studies suggest that American children now watch about four hours of television daily. Before 1980—the first kids-oriented channel, Nickelodeon, dates to 1979—the figure is believed to have been much lower. Read the balance of the article here

Tuesday, July 29, 2008



Welcome to the Dedication
of the
Shrine Church at the
Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

We regret to inform you that ALL ticketed events are filled.
Ticket requests no longer being accepted at this time.

We are most pleased to present to you the information on the many events that have been planned to celebrate the dedication of this most beautiful tribute to Our Lady:

Sister Mary Gibson
Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles
Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus
Kansas City, Missouri

Pray for us sinners, Sister Mary!

Attentions St Blog's Bloggers: A new Place to Post your Gems

The Curt Jester posted the following yesterday: There is an interesting new Catholics social networking bookmarking site called PickAFig (no idea about the name) that sort of like digg to allow you to submit stories and to have others vote on them. The interface needs some work but it pretty much brand new. It would be nice for it to work out so users of it can tag news stories and blog posts that will be of interest to other Catholics.

When you write that "Great American Post", or paragraph, and would like to have more than your normal paltry portion of perusers peeking at it, posting it on PickAFig might be away to get you that national exposure you have been craving.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Minnesota Judge is Overruled - No Abortions Now in South Dakota!

Somehow, South Dakota has become the first state in the United States that has completely eliminated abortions from within their boundaries. Planned Parenthood, headquartered in Highland Park in St Paul, had been providing the facilities and the medically licensed fiends to do the killing, all of a sudden can't find killers any longer.

It seems that South Dakota passed a law that requires baby killers to tell women that abortion terminates a mother's relationship to "a unique human being." And they don't want to do that. I am hopeful that legislators in the other 49 states have a copy of the South Dakota law and we will soon see more states passing similar legislation.

The South Dakota law was passed several years ago but it was overturned by a three judge panel of the 8th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. Minnesota Judge Diana Murphy of the Court, one of the most effective pro-abortion judges in America, wrote the 2-1 decision in October, 2006, siding with Planned Parenthood and blocking the law. She argued that naming a fetus a unique human being is a "state imposed ideology, not a fact."

Just last month, June 27, the full 8th Circuit Court met and overturned Judge Murphy's decision. The Court has 11 members from the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

There may be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. That may take a year or two more, but at least for the time being, there will be no abortions in South Dakota. Praise God!

When she is not supporting Planned Parenthood, Murphy also serves as the Chair of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of the University of St. Thomas. No doubt she was very instrumental in the decision last Fall to remove the Archbishop and the Vicar General of the archdiocese from their ex-officio positions on the Board of Trustees. They now serve five year terms, at the pleasure of the Board.

One wonders how such a pro-death advocate got on to the St. Thomas Board of Trustees. The University of St. Thomas is not a private institution. It is an institution of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, founded by Archbishop John Ireland in 1885, and funded largely by Catholic students, parents, alumni, friends and supporters.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Heads Up, Yoopers and Rangers: Cornish pasty in European battle for protected status

[I like mine with ketchup! So there!] [By the way, when you own the blog, you get to write what you want!]

The Cornish pasty could get protected status from the European Union to safeguard the savoury pastry for the county.

Any trademark would cover the Cornish pasty's traditional recipe and appearance

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced it will take the Cornish Pasty Association's (CPA) application for Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) to Brussels.

If successful, only pasty makers in Cornwall that use traditional methods and recipes for the meat and vegetable snack will be able to use the trademark, preventing copy-cat manufacturers from branding and marketing their products as Cornish pasties.

It will bring the savoury pastry in to line with other delicacies officially recognised by Europe such as Champagne, Parma ham and Whitstable oysters.

More than 30 British products are protected under the scheme, including Arbroath smokies, Cornish clotted cream, Welsh lamb and Scottish farmed salmon.

Earlier this year, Melton Mowbray pork pies were given Protected Geographical Indication by officials in Europe, following a 10-year fight.

The move meant only producers making pork pies using a traditional recipe and in the vicinity of Melton Mowbray can use the Leicestershire town's name.

The Cornish Pasty Association was originally formed in 2002 by a group of about 40 pasty makers based in Cornwall to protect the quality and reputation of the snack.

"The importance of the Cornish pasty industry to the wider Cornish economy cannot be stressed enough," said Angie Coombs of the CPA committee.

"The application is a genuine attempt to protect the consumer and encourage investment in local economies."

CPA members make about 87 million pasties a year, in a growing market.

The 60 million pounds of sales represent about six percent of the Cornish food economy, it said.

Many ingredients are sourced locally and it is estimated 13,000 people are directly or indirectly benefiting from CPA trade, it added.

A spokesman for Defra said the application met all the criteria for a protected food name.

Any trademark would cover the Cornish pasty's traditional recipe and appearance. A genuine Cornish pasty has a distinctive D shape with the pastry crimped on one side, never on top.

It is filled with minced or roughly cut chunks of beef, swede or turnip, potato and onion, and a light peppery seasoning.

The pastry casing is golden in colour, savoury, glazed with milk or egg and is designed to be robust enough to retain its shape throughout the cooking and cooling process without splitting or cracking.

The whole pastry is slow backed and no flavourings or additives must be used.

"We believe it is not unreasonable to ask companies to honestly label their products so that the consumer is guaranteed a level of quality, recipe and origin when they purchase them," the CPA said.


Even in the New York Times (but with peas and carrots?)

"Heaps of Empirical Evidence" Vindicate Pope Paul VI's Dire Warnings 40 Years Ago About Contraceptive Culture


July 25, 2008 ( - A lengthy article appearing in the most recent edition of First Things, reevaluates Pope Paul VI's controversial encyclical Humanae Vitae (the 40th anniversary of the publication of which takes place today) in terms of the empirical evidence supporting the Pontiff's prophetic predictions about the consequences of the widespread acceptance of artificial contraception.

"To many people," writes author Mary Eberstadt, the idea of opposing the use of contraception, "simply defies understanding. Consenting adults, told not to use birth control? Preposterous. Third World parents deprived access to contraception and abortion? Positively criminal. A ban on condoms when there's a risk of contracting AIDS? Beneath contempt."

Indeed, "if there's anything on earth that unites the Church's adversaries…the teaching against contraception is probably it."

And yet, writes Eberstadt, for all of the contempt that is poured upon Humanae Vitae and the Church's continued official defense of Paul VI's teaching, the 40 intervening years since its publication have done nothing if not provided heaps of empirical data validating the Pope's dire warnings about a contraceptive culture.

"Four decades later, not only have the document's signature predictions been ratified in empirical force," says Eberstadt, "but they have been ratified as few predictions ever are: in ways its authors could not possibly have foreseen, including by information that did not exist when the document was written, by scholars and others with no interest whatever in its teaching, and indeed even inadvertently, and in more ways than one, by many proud public adversaries of the Church."

This is the great irony, says Eberstadt - that the evidence marshaled forth in condemnation of a contraceptive culture has been provided almost entirely by secular or explicitly anti-Catholic researchers, men and women who are "honest social scientists willing to follow the data wherever it may lead."

Consider, she suggests, the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Geroge Akerlof, who, in a well-known 1996 article, "explained in the language of modern economics why the sexual revolution…had led to an increase in both illegitimacy and abortion."

Then there is the work of "maverick sociobiologist" Lionel Tiger, who has in the past described religion as "a toxic issue." And yet, for all of that, Tiger has shown his ability to honestly "follow the data," linking "contraception to the breakdown of families, female impoverishment, trouble in the relationship between the sexes, and single motherhood."

"Tiger has further argued - as Humanae Vitae did not explicitly, though other works of Catholic theology have - for a causal link between contraception and abortion, stating outright that 'with effective contraception controlled by women, there are still more abortions than ever....Contraception causes abortion.'"

And the list goes on. Eberstadt provides numerous examples of secular researchers who have followed the data, vindicating each and every one of Paul VI's four primary predictions about the consequences of contraception: "a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments."

The evidence proving that each of these predictions has come to pass is so obvious as to be common sense. For instance, on the question of the "coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments," one need only consider the well-known forced-abortion and forced-sterilization practices of the Chinese government. Eberstadt also points to lesser-known examples of similar coercion that have taken place in India and Indonesia. And there are many other examples besides.

What about this matter of the deforming of the relations between the sexes, and the "general lowering of moral standards"? "Today," responds Eberstadt, "when advertisements for sex scream from every billboard and webpage, and every teen idol is sooner or later revealed topless or worse online, some might wonder what further proof could possibly be offered."

However Eberstadt searches for and finds even further concrete proof of the devolving of male/female relations right in the heart of the feminist movement, that great champion of contraception as the great liberator. Since 1968, she observes, "feminist literature has been a remarkably consistent and uninterrupted cacophony of grievance, recrimination, and sexual discontent. In that forty-year record, we find, as nowhere else, personal testimony of what the sexual revolution has done to womankind."

"The signature metaphors of feminism say everything we need to know about how happy liberation has been making these women: the suburban home as concentration camp, men as rapists, children as intolerable burdens, fetuses as parasites, and so on. These are the sounds of liberation? Even the vaunted right to abortion, both claimed and exercised at extraordinary rates, did not seem to mitigate the misery of millions of these women after the sexual revolution."

The author then turns her attention to the proliferation of pornography, which one social observer wrote, "is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as 'porn-worthy.''' The fact is, Eberstadt writes, Archbishop Chaput of Denver was correct when he wrote that, rather than freeing women, "Contraception has released males - to a historically unprecedented degree - from responsibility for their sexual aggression."

Perhaps the most damning indictment of contraception in Eberstadt's piece comes when she quotes from philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe, who wrote about the inevitable slippery slope that would follow the acceptance of contraception: "If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here-not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)?"

"It can't be the mere pattern of bodily behavior in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example. I am not saying: if you think contraception all right you will do these other things; not at all. The habit of respectability persists and old prejudices die hard. But I am saying: you will have no solid reason against these things. You will have no answer to someone who proclaims as many do that they are good too. You cannot point to the known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things. Because, if you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition."

Eberstadt goes on to make several more observations about the link between contraception, adultery, and prematerital sex. She also observes that the shortage of priests in the Church, and the clergy sex-abuse scandals, are deeply related to the widespread dissent by Catholic faithful and clergy against Humanae Vitae.

The author concludes by once again quoting Archbishop Chaput, who said ten years ago, "If Paul VI was right about so many of the consequences deriving from contraception, it is because he was right about contraception itself."

"This," says Eberstadt, "is exactly the connection few people in 2008 want to make, because contraceptive sex…is the fundamental social fact of our time….Despite an empirical record that is unmistakably on Paul VI's side by now, there is extraordinary resistance to crediting Catholic moral teaching with having been right about anything, no matter how detailed the record."

Yet, for all of that, she concludes, "instead of vindication for the Church, there is demoralization; instead of clarity, mass confusion; instead of more obedience, ever less. Really, the perversity is, well, perverse. In what other area does humanity operate at this level of extreme, daily, constant contradiction?"

To read the original article in First Things, see:

The Year of the Peirasmòs - 1968 [temptation-test] - Humanae Vitae in Baltimore

The Canadian Bishops weren't the only ones to reject Humanae Vitae. Many of the U.S. Bishops did too. This is an account by Cardinal James Stafford, a priest in Baltimore in 1968 of what happened upon the release of Pope Paul VI's encyclical. If you only read some of this, read the section heading entitled "The Test in Baltimore" to see what progressive democracy is like. I've witnessed that in secular forums also. True participation is not desired by the elites; just the "yes" or "no" vote.

Priests still suffering from effects of Humanae Vitae dissenters, Vatican cardinal says

Cardinal James Francis Stafford

.- Today marks the 40th anniversary of the often debated papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Church’s teaching against contraception. Looking back at the events as he experienced them, Cardinal James Francis Stafford writes that the reaction by dissenters to the papal document involved a level of infidelity which divided the ranks of the clergy to such an extent that they have still not recovered.

The recounting of the events of 1968 by Cardinal Stafford-who was a priest in Baltimore at the time of the encyclical’s release-is eloquent, laced with scriptural allusions and the insights of a scholar. He set out to peer into the summer of 1968, “a record of God’s hottest hour,” as he dubs it, at the request of L’Osservatore Romano and has made his submission available to CNA.

Life and Family
Humanae Vitae
The Year of the Peirasmòs - 1968 [temptation, test]
By Cardinal James Francis Stafford

“Lead us not into temptation” is the sixth petition of the Our Father. Πειρασμός (Peirasmòs), the Greek word used in this passage for ‘temptation.’, means a trial or test. Disciples petition God to be protected against the supreme test of ungodly powers. The trial is related to Jesus’s cup in Gethsemane, the same cup which his disciples would also taste (Mk 10: 35-45). The dark side of the interior of the cup is an abyss. It reveals the awful consequences of God’s judgment upon sinful humanity. In August, 1968, the weight of the evangelical Πειρασμός fell on many priests, including myself.

It was the year of the bad war, of complex innocence that sanctified the shedding of blood. English historian Paul Johnson dubs 1968 as the year of “America’s Suicide Attempt.” It included the Tet offensive in Vietnam with its tsunami-like effects in American life and politics, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee; the tumult in American cities on Palm Sunday weekend; and the June assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy in southern California. It was also the year in which Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical letter on transmitting human life, Humanae Vitae (HV). He met immediate, premeditated, and unprecedented opposition from some American theologians and pastors. By any measure 1968 was a bitter cup.

On the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, I have been asked to reflect on one event of that year, the doctrinal dissent among some priests and theologians in an American Archdiocese on the occasion of its publication. It is not an easy or welcome task. But since it may help some followers of Jesus to live what Pope Paul VI called a more “disciplined” life (HV 21), I will explore that event.

The summer of 1968 is a record of God’s hottest hour. The memories are not forgotten; they are painful. They remain vivid like a tornado in the plains of Colorado. They inhabit the whirlwind where God’s wrath dwells. In 1968 something terrible happened in the Church. Within the ministerial priesthood ruptures developed everywhere among friends which never healed. And the wounds continue to affect the whole Church. The dissent, together with the leaders’ manipulation of the anger they fomented, became a supreme test. It changed fundamental relationships within the Church. It was a Πειρασμός for many.

An insider’s view of Paul VI’s Commission

Some background material is necessary. Cardinal Lawrence J. Shehan, the sixth Archbishop of Baltimore, was my ecclesiastical superior at the time. Pope Paul VI had appointed him along with others as additional members to the Papal Commission for the Study of Problems of the Family, Population, and Birth Rates, first established by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1963 during the II Vatican Council. There had been discussions and delays and unauthorized interim reports from Rome prior to 1968. The enlarged Commission was asked to make recommendations on these issues to the Pope.

In preparation for its deliberations, the Cardinal sent confidential letters to various persons of the Church of Baltimore seeking their advice. I received such a letter.

My response drew upon experience, both personal and pastoral. Family and education had given me a Christian understanding of sex. The profoundly Catholic imagination of my family, friends and teachers had caused me to be open to this reality; I was filled with wonder before its mystery. Theological arguments weren’t necessary to convince me of the binding connection between sexual acts and new life. That truth was an accepted part of life at the elementary school connected with St. Joseph’s Passionist Monastery Parish in Baltimore. In my early teens my father had first introduced me to the full meaning of human sexuality and the need for discipline. His intervention opened a path through the labyrinth of adolescence.

Through my family, schools, and parishes I became friends with many young women. Some of them I dated on a regular basis. I marveled at their beauty. The courage of St. Maria Goretti, canonized in 1950, struck my generation like an intense mountain storm. Growing into my later teens I understood better how complex friendship with young women could be. They entered the spring-time of my life like the composite rhythm of a poem. To my surprise, the joy of being their friend was enriched by prayer, modesty, and the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

Later education and formation in seminaries built upon those experiences. In a 1955 letter to a friend, Flannery O’Connor describes the significance of the virtue of purity for many Catholics at that time. “To see Christ as God and man is probably no more difficult today than it has been. ... For you it may be a matter of not being able to accept what you call a suspension of the law of the flesh and the physical, but for my part I think that when I know what the laws of the flesh and physical reality really are, then I will know what God is. We know them as we see them, not as God sees them. For me it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of these laws. I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church places on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified. I have always thought that purity was the most mysterious of the virtues, but it occurs to me that it would never have entered human consciousness if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace, in the way they were in Christ. The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature.” O’Connor’s theology with its remarkably eschatological mark anticipates the teaching of the II Vatican Council, “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light” (Gaudium et Spes 22). In those years, I could not have used her explicit words to explain where I stood on sexuality and its use. Once I discovered them she became a spiritual sister.

Eight years of priestly ministry from 1958 to 1966 in Washington and Baltimore broadened my experience. It didn’t take long to discover changes in Americans’ attitudes towards the virtue of purity. Both cities were undergoing sharp increases in out-of-wedlock pregnancies. The rate in Baltimore’s inner-city was about 18% in 1966 and had been climbing for several years. In 1965-1966 the Baltimore Metropolitan Health and Welfare Council undertook a study to advise the city government in how to address the issue. At that time, the Board members of the Council, including myself, had uncritical faith in experts and social research. Even the II Vatican Council had expressed unfettered confidence in the role of benevolent experts (Gaudium et Spes 57). Not one of my professional acquaintances anticipated the crisis of trust which was just around the corner in the relations between men and women. Our vision was incapable of establishing conditions of justice and of purity of heart in which wonder and appreciation can find play. We were already anachronistic and without hope. We ignored the texture of life.

There were signs even then of the disasters facing children, both born and unborn. As a caseworker and priest throughout the 1960's, part of my ministry involved counseling inner-city families and single parents. My first awareness of a parishioner using hard drugs was in 1961. A sixteen-year old had been jailed in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. At the time of my late afternoon visit to him, he was experiencing drug withdrawal unattended and alone in a tiny cell. His screams filled the corridors and adjoining cells. Through the iron bars dividing us, I was horror-stricken watching him in his torment. The abyss he was looking into was unimaginably terrifying. In this drugged youth writhing in agony on the floor next to an open toilet I saw the bitter fruits of the estrangement of men and women. His mother, separated from her husband, lived with her younger children in a sweltering third floor flat on Light St. in old South Baltimore. The father was non-existent for them. The failure of men in their paternal and spousal roles was unfolding before my eyes and ears. Since then more and more American men have refused to accept responsibility for their sexuality.

In a confidential letter responding to his request, I shared in a general fashion these concerns. My counsel to Cardinal Shehan was very real and specific. I had taken a hard, cold look at what I was experiencing and what the Church and society were doing. I came across an idea which was elliptical: the gift of love should be allowed to be fruitful. These two fixed points are constant. This simple idea lit up everything like lightning in a storm. I wrote about it more formally to the Cardinal: the unitive and procreative meanings of marriage cannot be separated. Consequently, to deprive a conjugal act deliberately of its fertility is intrinsically wrong. To encourage or approve such an abuse would lead to the eclipse of fatherhood and to disrespect for women. Since then, Pope John Paul II has given us the complementary and superlative insight into the nuptial meaning of the human body. Decades afterwards, I came across an analogous reading from Meister Eckhart: “Gratitude for the gift is shown only by allowing it to make one fruitful.”

Some time later, the Papal Commission sent its recommendations to the Pope. The majority advised that the Church’s teaching on contraception be changed in light of new circumstances. Cardinal Shehan was part of that majority. Even before the encyclical had been signed and issued, his vote had been made public although not on his initiative.

As we know, the Pope decided otherwise. This sets the scene for the tragic drama following the actual date of the publication of the encyclical letter on July 29, 1968.

In his memoirs, Cardinal Shehan describes the immediate reaction of some priests in Washington to the encyclical. “[A]fter receiving the first news of the publication of the encyclical, the Rev. Charles E. Curran, instructor of moral theology of The Catholic University of America, flew back to Washington from the West where he had been staying. Late [on the afternoon of July 29], he and nine other professors of theology of the Catholic University met, by evident prearrangement, in Caldwell Hall to receive, again by prearrangement with the Washington Post, the encyclical, part by part, as it came from the press. The story further indicated that by nine o’clock that night, they had received the whole encyclical, had read it, had analyzed it, criticized it, and had composed their six-hundred word ‘Statement of Dissent.’ Then they began that long series of telephone calls to ‘theologians’ throughout the East, which went on, according to the Post, until 3:30 A.M., seeking authorization, to attach their names as endorsers (signers was the term used) of the statement, although those to whom they had telephoned could not have had an opportunity to see either the encyclical or their statement. Meanwhile, they had arranged through one of the local television stations to have the statement broadcast that night.”

The Cardinal’s judgment was scornful. In 1982 he wrote, “The first thing that we have to note about the whole performance is this: so far as I have been able to discern, never in the recorded history of the Church has a solemn proclamation of a Pope been received by any group of Catholic people with so much disrespect and contempt.”

The test in Baltimore

The personal Πειρασμός, the test, began. In Baltimore in early August, 1968, a few days after the encyclical’s issuance, I received an invitation by telephone from a recently ordained assistant pastor to attend a gathering of some Baltimore priests at the rectory of St. William of York parish in southwest Baltimore to discuss the encyclical. The meeting was set for Sunday evening, August 4. I agreed to come. Eventually a large number of priests were gathered in the rectory’s basement. I knew them all.

The dusk was clear, hot, and humid. The quarters were cramped. We were seated on rows of benches and chairs and were led by a diocesan inner-city pastor well known for his work in liturgy and race-relations. There were also several Sulpician priests present from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore to assist him in directing the meeting. I don’t recall their actual number.

My expectations of the meeting proved unrealistic. I had hoped that we had been called together to receive copies of the encyclical and to discuss it. I was mistaken. Neither happened.

After welcoming us and introducing the leadership, the inner-city pastor came to the point. He expected each of us to subscribe to the Washington “Statement of Dissent.” Mixing passion with humor, he explained the reasons. They ranged from the maintenance of the credibility of the Church among the laity to the need to allow ‘flexibility’ for married couples in forming their consciences on the use of artificial contraceptives. Before our arrival, the conveners had decided that the Baltimore priests’ rejection of the papal encyclical would be published the following morning in The Baltimore Sun, one of the daily newspapers.

The Washington statement was read aloud. Then the leader asked each of us to agree to have our names attached to it. No time was allowed for discussion, reflection, or prayer. Each priest was required individually to give a verbal “yes” or “no.”

I could not sign it. My earlier letter to Cardinal Shehan came to mind. I remained convinced of the truth of my judgement and conclusions. Noting that my seat was last in the packed basement, I listened to each priest’s response, hoping for support. It didn’t materialize. Everyone agreed to sign. There were no abstentions. As the last called upon, I felt isolated. The basement became suffocating.

By now it was night. The room was charged with tension. Something epochal was taking place. It became clear that the leaders’ strategy had been carefully mapped out beforehand. It was moving along without a hitch. Their rhetorical skills were having their anticipated effect. They had planned carefully how to exert what amounted to emotional and intellectual coercion. Violence by overt manipulation was new to the Baltimore presbyterate.

The leader’s reaction to my refusal was predictable and awful. The whole process now became a grueling struggle, a terrible test, a Πειρασμος. The priest/leader, drawing upon some scatological language from his Marine Corp past in the II World War responded contemptuously to my decision. He tried to force me to change. He became visibly angry and verbally abusive. The underlying, ‘fraternal’ violence became more evident. He questioned and then derided my integrity. He taunted me to risk my ecclesiastical ‘future,’ although his reference was more anatomically specific. The abuse went on.

With surprising coherence I was eventually able to respond that the Pope’s encyclical deserved the courtesy of a reading. None of us had read it. I continued that, as a matter of fact, I agreed with and accepted the Pope’s teaching as it had been reported in the public media. That response elicited more ridicule. Otherwise there was silence. Finally, seeing that I would remain firm, the ex-Marine moved on to complete the business and adjourn the meeting. The leaders then prepared a statement for the next morning’s daily paper.

The meeting ended. I sped out of there, free but disoriented. Once outside the darkness encompassed me. We all had been subjected to a new thing in the Church, something unexpected. A pastor and several seminary professors had abused rhetoric to undermine the truth within the evangelical community. When opposed, they assumed the role of Job’s friends. Their contempt became a nightmare. In the night it seemed that God’s blind hand was reaching out to touch my face.

The dissent of a few Sulpician seminary professors compounded my disorientation. In their ancient Baltimore Seminary I had first caught on to the connection between freedom, interiority, and obedience. By every ecclesial measure they should have been aware that the process they supported that evening exceeded the “norms of licit dissent.” But they showed no concern for the gravity of that theological and pastoral moment. They saw nothing unbecoming in the mix of publicity and theology. They expressed no impatience then or later over the coercive nature of the August meeting. Nor did any of the other priests present. One diocesan priest did request privately later that night that his name be removed before the statement’s publication in the morning paper.

For a long time, I wondered about the meaning of the event. It was a cataclysm which was difficult to survive intact. Things were sorted out slowly. Later, Henri de Lubac captured some of its significance, “Nothing is more opposed to witness than vulgarization. Nothing is more unlike the apostolate than propaganda.” Hannah Arendt’s insights have been useful concerning the dangerous poise of 20th century western culture between unavoidable doom and reckless optimism. “It should be possible to discover the hidden mechanics by which all traditional elements of our political and spiritual world were dissolved into a conglomeration of where everything seems to have lost specific value, and has become unrecognizable for human comprehension, unusable for human purpose. To yield to the mere process of disintegration has become an irresistible temptation, not only because it has assumed the spurious grandeur of ‘historical necessity’, but also because everything outside it has begun to appear lifeless, bloodless, meaningless and unreal”. The subterranean world that has always accompanied Catholic communities, called Gnosticism by our ancestors, had again surfaced and attempted to usurp the truth of the Catholic tradition.

The aftermath of dissent

An earlier memory from April 1968 helped to shed further light on what had happened in August, 1968 along with de Lubac’s words about violence and Arendt’s insights into the breaking point reached by Western civilization in the 20th century. During the height of the 1968 Baltimore riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I had made an emergency call to that same inner-city pastor who would lead the later August meeting. It was one of numerous telephone conversations I had with inner-city pastors during the night preceding Palm Sunday. At the request of the city government, I was asking whether the pastors or their people, both beleaguered, might need food, medical assistance, or other help.

My conversation with him that April night was by far the most dramatic. He described the view from the rectory while speaking on the phone. A window framed a dissolving neighborhood; his parish was becoming a raging inferno. He said, “From here I see nothing but fire burning everywhere. Everything has been set ablaze. The Church and rectory are untouched thus far.” He did not wish to leave or be evacuated. His voice betrayed disillusionment and fear. Later we learned that the parish buildings survived.

‘Sorting out’ these two events of violence continued throughout the following months and years. The trajectories of April and August 1968 unpredictably converged. Memories of the physical violence in the city in April 1968 helped me to name what had happened in August 1968. Ecclesial dissent can become a kind of spiritual violence in its form and content. A new, unsettling insight emerged. Violence and truth don’t mix. When expressive violence of whatever sort is inflicted upon truth, the resulting irony is lethal.

What do I mean? Look at the results of the two events. After the violent 1968 Palm Sunday weekend, civil dialogue in metropolitan Baltimore broke down and came to a stop. It took a back seat to open anger and recriminations between whites and blacks. The violence of the priests’ August gathering gave rise to its own ferocious acrimony. Conversations among the clergy, where they existed, became contaminated with fear. Suspicions among priests were chronic. Fears abounded. And they continue. The Archdiocesan priesthood lost something of the fraternal whole which Baltimore priests had known for generations. 1968 marked the hiatus of the generational communio of the Archdiocesan presbyterate, which had been continually reinforced by the seminary and its Sulpician faculty. Priests’ fraternity had been wounded. Pastoral dissent had attacked the Eucharistic foundation of the Church. Its nuptial significance had been denied. Some priests saw bishops as nothing more than Roman mannequins.

Something else happened among priests on that violent August night. Friendship in the Church sustained a direct hit. Jesus, by calling those who were with him his ‘friends,’ had made friendship a privileged analogy of the Church. That analogy became obscured after a large number of priests expressed shame over their leaders and repudiated their teaching.

Cardinal Shehan later reported that on Monday morning, August 5, he “was startled to read in the Baltimore Sun that seventy-two priests of the Baltimore area had signed the Statement of Dissent.” What he later called “the years of crisis” began for him during that hot, violent August evening in 1968.

A lesson learned

But that night was not a total loss. The test was unexpected and unwelcome. Its unhinging consequences continue. Abusive, coercive dissent has become a reality in the Church and subjects her to violent, debilitating, unproductive, chronic controversies. But I did discover something new. Others also did. When the moment of Christian witness came, no Christian could be coerced who refused to be. Despite the novelty of being treated as an object of shame and ridicule, I did not become “ashamed of the Gospel” that night and found “sweet delight in what is right.” It was not a bad lesson. Ecclesial obedience ran the distance.

My discovery that Christ was the first to despise shame was gut-rending in its existential and providential reality. “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Paradoxically, in the hot, August night a new sign shown unexpectedly on the path to future life. It read, “Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered.”

The violence of the initial disobedience was only a prelude to further and more pervasive violence. Priests wept at meetings over the manipulation of their brothers. Contempt for the truth, whether aggressive or passive, has become common in Church life. Dissenting priests, theologians and laypeople have continued their coercive techniques. From the beginning the press has used them to further its own serpentine agenda.

All of this led to a later discovery. Discernment is an essential part of episcopal ministry. With the grace of “the governing Spirit” the discerning skills of a bishop should mature. Episcopal attention should focus on the break/rupture initiated by Jesus and described by St. Paul in his response to Corinthian dissenters. “You desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we shall live with him by the power of God. Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor 13: 3-5).

The rupture of the violent death of Jesus has changed our understanding of the nature of God. His Trinitarian life is essentially self-surrender and love. By Baptism, every disciple of Jesus is imprinted with that Trinitarian water-mark. The Incarnate Word came to do the will of him who sent him. Contemporary obedience of disciples to the Successor of Peter cannot be separated from the poverty of spirit and purity of heart modeled and won by the Word on the Cross.

A brief after word. In 1978 or thereabouts during an episcopal visitation to his parish, I was having lunch with the Baltimore pastor, the ex-Marine, who led the August 1968 meeting. I was a guest in his rectory. He was still formidable. Our conversation was about his parish, the same parish he had been shepherding during the 1968 riots. The atmosphere was amiable. During the simple meal in the kitchen I came to an uneasy decision. Since we had never discussed the August 1968 night, I decided to initiate a conversation about it. My recall was brief, objective and, insofar as circumstances allowed, unthreatening. I had hoped for some light from him on an event which had become central to the experience of many priests including myself. While my mind and heart were recalling the events of the night, he remained silent. His silence continued afterwards. Even though he had not forgotten, he made no comment. He didn’t lift his eyes. His heart’s fire was colder now.

Nothing was forthcoming. I left the matter there. No dialogue was possible in 1968; it remained impossible in 1978. There was no common ground. Both of us were looking into an abyss - from opposite sides. Anguish and disquiet overwhelmed the distant hope of reconciliation and friendship. We never returned to the subject again. He has since died while serving a large suburban parish. The only remaining option is to strike my breast and pray, “Lord, remember the secret worth of all our human worthlessness”

Diocesan presbyterates have not recovered from the July/August nights in 1968. Many in consecrated life also failed the evangelical test. Since January 2002, the abyss has opened up elsewhere. The whole people of God, including children and adolescents, now must look into the abyss and see what dread beasts are at its bottom. Each of us shudders before the wrath of God, each weeps in sorrow for our sins and each begs for the Father’s merciful remembrance of Christ’s obedience.

J. Francis Cardinal Stafford
Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary

Catholic News Agency