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A Cathedral in the Cornfields of Beaverville, Illinois

St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, Beaverville, Illinois, on the National Register of Historic Places. (Wikipedia)

St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, Beaverville, Illinois, on the National Register of Historic Places. (Wikipedia)

I was once a Morocco Beaver. Let the titters begin.

Morocco, Indiana High School, 1963-64, 7th grade: there was no middle school or junior high. I was on the basketball team, though I was terrible and seldom played. My oldest brother Dick, a senior, was the manager of the varsity team, which played nearby schools in Beaverville, St. Anne and Sheldon, Illinois, as well as Indiana schools, since we were only four miles from the state line. I’m sure he rode the team bus ten miles to Beaverville – maybe it was an intense rivalry way back when, the Beavers against Beaverville – but today was my first time setting foot in enemy territory.

Morocco doesn’t have beavers anymore, and neither do Beaver City or Beaverville. This whole area was once part of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, a wetland the size of the Florida Everglades, until settlers started digging ditches to get rid of the water. They committed a terrible environmental crime – but when the land dried out it was good for farming, and that’s the way of life here.

Beaverville and Morocco don’t have high schools or basketball teams now either, but they still have farmers and a grain elevator, located on a highway, a railroad or both. The elevator’s really the only reason these towns still exist; Morocco’s current population is about 1100, while Beaverville’s down to 300. I live in a metropolis of 1800 and we’re all 70-80 miles due south of Chicago.

Now about that church: it’s really something, especially for a town that tiny. I would guess the building seats 300, the entire population. There aren’t any other churches, because the original settlers were French Canadians who didn’t like being oppressed by British Canadians. Someone built a church, they named it after Mary (and the village too, St. Marie originally), a town grew up, a few stores and the grain elevator. (The Post Office made St. Marie change its name, since there was already a St. Mary, Illinois.)

I was urged to check it out by local readers who saw my previous post, Visit to a Smalltown Catholic Shrine in nearby St. Anne, Illinois, and got a little jealous perhaps, because they’ve got a great church too. And they’re right, so I owed it to B’ville and my own education to visit.

Front of the church from St. Charles Street, June 27, 2013 (Josh Thomas)

Front of the church from St. Charles Street, June 27, 2013. (Josh Thomas)

The draw at St. Mary’s is the stained glass windows and the architecture. The origin of the windows, all by the same studio, is not certain, but likely they came from Lascelles and Shroeder of Chicago, which served French Canadian congregations in the city and downstate.

The architect is known, Joseph Molitor, a partner with Charles W. Kallal in Chicago, the city architect who restored the famous Water Tower, the most prominent survivor of the Great Chicago Fire. A brochure says the Beaverville church is an eclectic mix of styles, predominantly Romanesque Revival, with a central octagonal dome over the nave, surrounded by small windows. Its ceiling is a moderately dark blue sprinkled with painted stars to resemble a night sky; it needs some work, but the rest of the building is looking good.

Angel with a font of holy water - or a moist sponge, anyway. (Josh Thomas)

Angel with a font of holy water – or a moist sponge, anyway. Gorgeous blue robe. (Josh Thomas)

The windows use a lot of opalescent glass made in Kokomo, Indiana (where my mother’s family are from) in the Munich Style as developed and refined by Louis Comfort Tiffany and John LaFarge. The windows are rare, numerous, and the parish was able to restore them ten years ago at a cost of $320,000 – or more than $1000 for every man, woman and child in town.

That was some prodigious fundraising, even miraculous, considering that first they had to spend another 465 grand redoing the roof. Those bake sales must have multiplied like Jesus feeding the 5000.

Windows and arches, with a glimpse of the central dome. (Josh Thomas)

Windows and arches, with a glimpse of the central dome. (Josh Thomas)

It makes a visitor wonder where they got such dedication. But they’ve always had it, from the beginning in 1851 when the town was founded, through erecting the present building in 1909, to today. Surely this reflects very strong family and community ties – as well as a succession of priests and nuns who flogged those poor folks mercilessly to empty their pockets, punching every guilt button they could find.

It’s the same way at nearby St. Anne; both French Canadian towns, devout in their beliefs, stuck in the middle of nowhere, just raising their crops, taking their kids to church every Sunday, watching them intermarry, and obeying the Fathers, Sisters, Bishops and Popes as much as humanly possible, when they weren’t out getting in trouble.

Regular readers know I am a sharp critic of the Roman Catholic Church – that is, the hierarchy, not the People. What these folks in Northeast Illinois built in their humble surroundings is two small versions of a great cathedral in Europe. So what if they’re on the prairie next to a cornfield? Their churches gave them an identity, a purpose, a mission. And they’ve stuck to it.

Comparing the shrine at St. Anne with the church at Beaverville, I see they both had their advantages. St. Anne always has been a place of pilgrimage, while St. Mary’s had a school for many years called Holy Family Academy, staffed by nuns from an order in France; the cemetery at St. Mary’s has a special section of the sisters’ graves, dozens of them, whose headstones are sensitively carved with both their religious and birth names.

The front of St. Mary's Cemetery was reserved for the Sisters. (Josh Thomas)

The front of St. Mary’s Cemetery was reserved for the Sisters. (Josh Thomas)

The school is gone now, with only mentions and artifacts available to visitors, but it must have been thriving in its heyday; I imagine, since it was an academy, it may have been more than just a parochial school, but drew from all over the area. Meanwhile nearby St. Martin’s, Martinton is only a simple frame building like you’d expect in such an isolated, rural spot.

Corinthian column under the organ loft, topped by gold leaf (Josh Thomas)

Corinthian column under the organ loft, probably topped by gold leaf. (Josh Thomas)

Martinton is on the highway (U.S. 52), as Saint Anne is but Beaverville is not. I took a county road to get there, called 2950/3000 North; tourists never see the light of day in Beaverville. Instead what it had (and still does, three tracks right next to the elevator) is the railroad – specifically the Kankakee, Beaverville and Southern Railroad. Amazing!

There ain’t no Chicago and Morocco Railroad, lemme tell ya. But Beaverville has always been on the line; David, one of my correspondents, said the stop there shows up as “St. Mary” on the old maps, from before the Post Office intervened to change the town’s name.

My point here isn’t a travelogue, much less an architectural review; I’m a layman. Instead it’s all the things the People built.

They’re not quite my people – my family and my town are English Protestants, not French Catholics – and yet they are my people; my drive today cost 50 miles and two gallons of gas round-trip. These folks were and are farmers, and wherever they started out from, I know where they ended up. We can still see today most of what they built, and we can guess at some of the reasons why. Nationality played a part – all the windows at St. Mary’s and St. Anne’s are inscribed in French – but so did faith, family, business and pure survival.

Organ loft and rose window (Josh Thomas)

Organ loft and rose window (Josh Thomas)

As much as I tease the Roman clergy and sisters about mashing all the guilt buttons, let’s think about their motives, too; it’s inherent in the Catholic religion that churches be as beautiful and edifying as possible, so they can reflect the glory of God and teach us who our Creator is.

That’s a very worthy project.

The rectory, behind the church before you get to the cemetery, has been updated a little since it was built; the pastor serves Martinton, too.

The rectory, behind the church before you get to the cemetery, has been updated a little since it was built; the pastor serves Martinton, too.

As an Episcopalian who is both Protestant and Catholic, I am used to beautiful churches in large towns. But I am awed by what these farmers did in these two villages. They built far beyond their means, but somehow managed to match their means to what they built – and all for a reason, the best reason, to glorify God. They didn’t go practical, as farmers usually do; for practical, see that little “nothing” of a church at Martinton. At Beaverville and St. Anne, they built their ideals – and this area is richer because they did.

I’m richer because I went there. If you ever get a chance, you should go too.

All three of them noticeably contribute to the food pantry at Martinton, which is exactly how it should be. So what if St. Martin’s never had a gimmick; it knows what its ministry is, because there are food-insecure folks in all of these towns and it’s the Church’s job to feed them. So they do.

I still wouldn’t cross a county road to see the pope, even this new one Francis; but once you get past the Vatican’s sexual obsessions, the People are living out the faith despite it all. That’s my kind of church.++

Good work, Sister Holy Cross. (Josh Thomas)

Good work, Sister Holy Cross. (Josh Thomas)

Retired RC Bishop Calls for Complete Re-examination of Teachings on Sex & Gender

Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia. (Graham Crouch/Daily Telegraph)

Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia. (Graham Crouch/Daily Telegraph)

I posted a photo and notice about this yesterday on my Daily Office sites, but it deserves wider attention: a retired Roman Catholic bishop, Geoffrey Robinson, has emerged as a thoughtful, constructive critic of Vatican policies in light of the worldwide sexual abuse of children by priests and some religious.

He knows what he’s talking about, because he was the Church’s lead investigator when the scandal hit Down Under. That has led him to question the Church’s entire approach to sex and gender issues.

To me he speaks with the voice of an insider who loves his Church. It’s lost its way, he knows it and he says so publcly.

The Vatican, including this new Pope, who’s been yammering lately about a “Gay lobby” inside the hierarchy, will probably dismiss him as just another publicity-seeking turncoat. That’s their first response to all criticism; the real pressure comes later.

An absolute monarchy is the same thing as a dictatorship. But Jesus of Nazareth never ruled with a pope’s iron fist; Christ left people free to choose, because that’s God’s way.

Joshua J. McElfee of the National Catholic Reporter had a great article on Robinson last year, reprinted on The Huffington Post. Read it here.

McElfee wrote:

Among the other aspects of Catholic culture Robinson said contributed to the abuse crisis are mandatory celibacy for priests, a “mystique” some attach to the priests as being “above other human beings,” and a “creeping infallibility” of papal decrees, which is used to protect “all teachings … in which a significant amount of papal energy and prestige have been invested.”

The application of the church’s teaching on infallibility is a “major force in preventing a pope from making admissions that there have been serious failures in the handling of abuse,” Robinson said.

I took particular interest in Robinson’s critique of homophobic and simplistic “natural law” theory, which states that since human reproduction occurs due to sexual intercourse, Gay people are “outside of nature” and “intrinsically disordered.” These concepts, endlessly repeated by popes and prelates, have led to murders and suicides all over the world.

I think God made Gay people expressly because we’re less likely to reproduce. But the Roman Church has made a total fetish out of the Stone Age line, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Heterosexuals multiply too well; that’s their problem. They need some birth control!

On Easter Island in the South Pacific, the heterosexuals reproduced so well they went extinct. The island can't support human life anymore, no matter how many gods they made for themselves.

On Easter Island in the South Pacific, heterosexuals reproduced so well they went extinct; no matter how many gods they made for themselves, the population dropped from 15,000 to 111. (It’s rebounded in modern times.)

The Roman Church isn’t the only group to make this mistake; evolutionary biologists do it too. But bee-keepers don’t; they know that asexual drones keep a queen bee’s colony going.

I call GLBTs “caregivers for communities.” That’s why there are so many Gay guys among Roman Catholic clergy—and so many Lesbians leading those churches that allow women to function.

But patriarchy dies hard, especially in dictatorships.

I have little hope that Pope Francis is going to change much. But he would do well to listen to Geoffrey Robinson. So would you. Patriarchy is killing the Church – it’s killing all religion everywhere. Sexism is patently unjust. It breeds violence and therefore cannot be of God.

Geoffrey Robinson doesn’t come across to me as a partisan. He comes off to me as a thinker. Go now, click the link and see what he says.++

America’s God Is Capital

You never knew where Paul Lynde was going to show up on "Bewitched."

Paul Lynde’s head on a plate; I can think of a few more that ought to be there.

Sometimes I get the impulse to start a new blog which would list crimes committed by American business.

I’m going to resist this impulse for a host of reasons: it would get boring. Shrill, probably. Take up too much of my time, a drumbeat of bad news. Better to collect TV Guide covers, like I did when I was 10 years old; I had quite a collection there for awhile, I Love Lucy, the Flintstones, My Three Sons. Davy Jones of The Monkees!

Davy Jones was the cute one, a former child actor in Britain.

Davy was the cute one, a former child actor in Britain.

But it would be a good idea for some compulsive person to gather all the white collar indictments, fraud charges, shareholder lawsuits and convicted criminals in one place. Because there’s a pattern to them; somebody wanted to make money and didn’t care how they did it. Didn’t care who they hurt. Didn’t care how polluted that river got.

Let me start with this one, just reported today, February 21, 2013.

Feds Indict 4 in Salmonella Outbreak

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal grand jury has indicted four people in a 2009 salmonella outbreak linked to a Georgia peanut processing plant.

The indictment unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Georgia charges four employees with Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America. The charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and others related to contaminated or misbranded food.

The company’s filthy processing plants were blamed for the outbreak that killed nine people and sickened hundreds. The company later went bankrupt.

Named in the indictment were company owner Stewart Parnell, vice president Michael Parnell, Georgia plant manager Samuel Lightsey and Georgia plant quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson.

They knew their peanuts were bad. They sold them anyway. A lot of them ended up being made into peanut butter sold to schools, where kids got sick. But the Parnells didn’t care about that; they cared about profit instead. They had a bunch of bad peanuts and they “couldn’t afford” to eat the loss, so they made sure schoolchildren ate them instead. And Lightsey and Wilkerson went along.

Or, to be fair, that’s what they’re indicted for; they haven’t been convicted.

Stewart Parnell, right, of Peanut Corp. of America took the 5th Amendment when called to testify before Congress. His tainted peanuts killed 9 and sickened more than 700.

Stewart Parnell, right, of Peanut Corp. of America took the 5th Amendment when called to testify before Congress. His tainted peanuts killed 9 and sickened more than 700.

Now it would be one thing if this were an isolated case; “a few bad actors.” But that isn’t so; for one thing, they had help from your Food and Drug Administration, which doesn’t have enough food safety inspectors, thanks to your elected Congress, industry lobbyists and your Republican Party.

I’d also put on my fantasy blog several entries about the Indianapolis concrete cabal; those convictions came down a few years ago. Most of the big concrete companies in the city conspired to fix prices, costing taxpayers untold millions for every mile of highway and public works project in central Indiana.

Notice I haven’t even mentioned Wall Street and the big banks until now.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren made news the other day during her first big hearing on the Senate Banking Committee. They had the heads of the financial regulatory agencies – the SEC, the Comptroller of the Currency, etc. – all lined up in a row to testify. She asked a simple question: when is the last time you took the big Wall Streek banks to court? I know you get fines out of them, you announce impressive-sounding settlements for wrongdoing, but when is the last time you put them on the witness stand?

Elizabeth Warren

It was good Washington theater. The agency heads hemmed and hawed, mumbled and shuffled, which was all anyone needed to know. The agencies, which are supposed to be guardians of your taxpayer and investor money, never take anyone to court. So, unsurprisingly, when a big bank gets caught being funny with the money, whatever fine they receive is simply written off as the cost of doing business, while the CEO takes his golden parachute to Aspen.

Corruption is endemic in American business. It’s everywhere – every industry and just about every big company. Or so I believe.

It’s not that there aren’t honest businesspeople, there are; but “corporations are people, my friend,” and people are greedy.

Johnson & Johnson is in trouble right now over a bunch of hip implants they knew were bad, but kept selling anyway. That’s right, the Band-Aid people who took care of my ouchies when I was collecting pictures of Samantha and Darren on “Bewitched.”

bewitched

So if you ever find yourself wondering why some people are religious, including some Gay people like me, here’s an answer. Religions are ethical systems. Right and wrong are their subject matter.

Religions make clear that if the peanuts are bad, you can’t sell them. If the mortgages are bad, you can’t package them up, stamp an A+ rating on them and sell them, while secretly betting against your own customers that those Collateralized Debt Obligations are worthless and may bring down the entire world economy.

It is wrong, West Virginia and Kentucky politicians and citizens, to blow the tops off mountains so coal companies can kill workers while extracting coal that fouls the atmosphere and contributes to global warming, which will probably destroy planet Earth.

There is no amount of money that makes these things right. And if the planet gets destroyed, Aspen won’t be worth living in.

Of course, even religions act corruptly much of the time. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a possible candidate for pope, spent hours testifying in a deposition yesterday about the pedophile scandal in Milwaukee during his time as bishop there. Cardinal Roger Mahony, rebuked last week by the new Archbishop and told not to speak publicly again, was also deposed in Los Angeles about the pedophile scandal there. Both Dolan and Mahony get to vote on the new pope – proving that religion is no guarantee of personal sanctity.

A person has to follow religion and really do what it says for it to be effective. The Episcopal Church isn’t pure either. And neither am I, but I’m working on it.

About the time I was collecting TV star covers, my Granddad, about to retire from the drug store he owned in our small town, asked me what I was going to do when I grew up. “Bidness?” he assumed. (David Letterman’s right, that’s how Hoosiers pronounce it.)

“No,” I told Granddad too heatedly. I couldn’t imagine myself as a businessman. (I probably wanted to be Paul Lynde.)

At 14, after Grandma and Granddad moved to Florida, I remember deciding I would never be part of corporate America. It was a juvenile decision, at the start of my hippie days in the ’60s, but I was right. I did end up owning a small business once, but I really wasn’t cut out for it. I’m a social worker, a writer, an activist, even a religious leader.

And while there’s no money whatever in those professions – and yes, it takes money to live in this country – I’m okay these decades later with how my life turned out.

Paul Lynde never hurt anybody, while that peanut man in Georgia killed nine people. Four years later he’s finally being brought to justice with his brother and two other accomplices.

And let me note this: a few weeks ago my prayer site, dailyoffice.org, received a $500 contribution from a stockbroker. We really needed that money, and he’s not the first businessperson to give.

Where is J.P. Morgan – the man, not the company – when we need him? He was Mr. Episcopalian in his day; he used to hire a special train to take him and his mistress to General Convention, where he’d hold court and decide everything, while writing the occasional letter to his wife. He wouldn’t have tolerated today’s corporate behavior – he got his way because he was rich and people were afraid of him.

I fantasize he would have made a big announcement about his donations to the Republican Party – then quietly cut a check to Elizabeth Warren.++

No one was stupid enough to cross J.P.

Nobody fucked with J.P. – yet we still have atheists complaining about the Wrath of God. Don’t they understand anything?

What Is a Bishop Supposed to Do?

Getting older every day.

Someone on Facebook told me that the Pope popped off at Castel Gandolfo again about how “marriage and the family” must be preserved, and suggested that Gay people are not whole human beings.

Here’s a link. The writing is a bit skewed past the point of logic, trying to reiterate that Benedict is an anti-Gay extremist, but in fact his language is sufficiently moderate to allow for multiple interpretations – if you ignore the giant insult that he’s a human being and I am not. That isn’t Christian, denying another person’s humanity. It is anti-Christian.

Whatever it says on that website above, it’s true that past statements this Pope has made were plenty extreme: the whole world will come to a crashing end if Lesbian and Gay people can get married. Civilization is at stake!

I wish internet reporters would stick close to the facts. The Huffington Post is terrible at this, with yellow-journalism headlines that promise more than they deliver. But HuffPo’s in a battle for clicks, and is every bit as commercial as any other news source; that’s how Arianna makes her money. She’s a nice woman and a talented political analyst, but she sold her soul to the devil a long time ago. Stick to the facts, honey. You don’t need more moolah, you’re already rich. The question is, what about the Pope?

What about this claim that civilization will collapse if Gay people get rights, including the civil right to a civil marriage? Will the world end???

Uh, no. There aren’t enough of us to make the world end.

Nor is current Gay culture so attractive that we’ll make all Straight people turn Gay.

Homosexual behavior is quite attractive, but that’s a different issue than the current low state of Gay culture. And make no mistake, heterosexuality is a very strong attraction too. Billions of people are committed to it; there’s no chance that it will die out, just because a few guys or gals marry each other.

The Pope diminishes his office with this Chicken Little act. The sky is not falling.

God’s principal concern is love, not the birth rate – which is plenty high. In the next century the earth will host another two billion people, thanks to all those heterosexuals parading their nasty bits.

I blame the Pope, but Protestants are just as paranoid about LGBT people. “If we don’t stamp out homosexuals, the whole human race will die!”

It’s nonsense; Straight guys are as obsessed with sex as Gay guys are. And that’s a good thing overall. Gay people aren’t battling for market share, and Straight parents consistently produce millions of Lesbian and Gay kids.

Straight sheep produce Gay lambs; it’s part of the plan – to stop overpopulation.

God’s very smart. S/he really doesn’t want this planet to overheat.

So I can take the Pope’s latest insult with a grain of salt. It isn’t the first time Popes have sought to diminish my humanity or make me a scapegoat. I don’t get angry at Popes anymore. I condemn their latest stupidity, urge people to convert to the Episcopal Church – then ask myself, what are bishops supposed to do?

(In English, the name of the Episcopal Church is “the Church of Bishops.” The Presbyterian Church is “the Church of Priests,” although they’ve gotten so far away from that they’re not priests anymore. These names have to do with governance: who runs the church? In the Episcopal Church, the bishops do, though we’ve put in effective checks and balances. In the Presbyterian church, the presbyters (ordained ministers) do.)

I belong to an Episcopal church; we still have bishops, whose office is much the same as the Pope’s. So I wonder, what is the correct, proper role of a bishop?

Episcopalians elect ours; the Pope appoints his own. That makes us very different, because Episcopal laypeople are in charge of the election. But what is any bishop supposed to do? What exactly is the correct job description?

It’s to be Defenders of the Faith. That is, they are the guardians of the tradition, handed down by Jesus and illustrated in the Bible. It’s a very important job, and as a Christian I want the bishops to perform it. I want the Christ I follow to be the actual Jesus who once walked in Israel.

Defend the faith from all the cultural changes that might alter it. That’s what I want bishops to do; it’s why I support them. Episcopal bishops do defend the faith.

But they also change. And that’s the crucial distinction.

The Pope’s bishops try to prevent all change; Episcopal bishops try to create more of it, for the things that need to change.

We even have a formula for this: “the historic episcopate, adapted to local circumstances.” And the fact we have a Prayer Book to tell us how to perform the sacraments and how to pray guarantees that the essentials don’t change, although the externals might. It’s a good balance.

I am forever wishing that the Episcopal Church would catch up to this century, but in fact we’re open to change. We’re slow, which is in keeping with that competing desire that Jesus doesn’t change; but we eventually kind of catch up to the times – because “the times” matter. People learn things; society develops.

Churches must keep up with the times. They also must consistently deliver the message of Jesus 2000 years ago.

So here I am, a Gay guy in 2012, watching the Pope spout off again, because the new French socialist government is going to legalize Gay marriage, yet I belong to an “episcopal” church run in part by bishops. What is the proper role of these fathers- and mothers-in-God?

It isn’t to prevent all change, as the Popes believe. It’s to find what the essentials of the Christian faith are and hold fast to those, while embracing what humanity has learned in the 2000 years of learning since Jesus walked here.

The Popes say that since Jesus only chose men as his apostles, we can’t have women priests.

Episcopalians call that misogyny, sexism and the oppression of women – which we have slowly learned is offensive to God.

Jesus relied on women constantly; they were his most consistent supporters, spiritually and financially.

They paid his bills, so he could walk around Galilee preaching and healing. The women did the work that allowed Jesus to do the work.

In modern times Episcopalians have found that there is nothing in the nature of priesthood to prevent a woman from being ordained. They’re just as good at it as men are, so the Episcopal Church has ordained women priests since 1974. We have more priests than we know what to do with, because so many men and women love God.

The Pope thinks otherwise and sits around watching his all-male, “celibate” priesthood (it never has been celibate, and never will be) disappear, because he thinks that’s his job.

Roman Catholic women are begging to be ordained; so are married men. The Pope doesn’t give a damn. So the priesthood withers, and here in my Indiana home town, one priest has to serve three parishes.

What do I want bishops to do? What is their actual job?

It’s to preserve the faith while drilling down to the essence of it.

The Pope seems to think male superiority is the essence of it, and I disagree. “In Christ there is no male or female.” Jesus called himself a “mother hen.”

The Pope seems to think heterosexuality is also the essence of it, and again I disagree. Straight people are very, very good at being fruitful and multiplying, which is the Pope’s stated concern. Indeed, they’re too good at it, like rutting deer who destroy state forests.

If Jesus were here today he’d preach at Gay bars. And the Gay people wouldn’t always like what he said, but they’d give him a big listen. He was enormously charismatic, with a physical presence about him as well as a huge spiritual aura.

I want the bishops to preserve the essence of what he said and did and was, while discarding the prejudices of the past. The world was not “created in seven days” –  not even the Genesis writer thought that. What s/he wrote was a meditation on sunrise and sunset, the holiness of the Sabbath (which is why the poem is geared to seven days); the passage of time, the magnificence of God’s creation, and the sacredness of living in the now.

“Wo-man” was not created out of “man.” There is no man without a woman; if you disagree, show me one.

The creation myths are lovely (and true in spiritual ways), but they’re not science. We go on science now, and reinterpret the old myths. They’re quite beautiful, but they’re not the end of the story.

Jesus doesn’t care who you make love to; what he cares about is how you treat that person. That’s what he would say in Gay bars, and that’s why he wouldn’t be entirely popular. There are users in Gay bars and online, and he condemned all who sought power over others.

Meanwhile we’re left with a Pope who says Gay people aren’t really human beings. In the words of Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a woman?” Ain’t I a man, Benny?

Who the hell are you? And why do you besmirch the Christian religion by claiming that some people are not human beings?

The whole point of Christianity is that God loves us so much he became one of us. Don’t deny that, or I will deny you.++

Jesus and Friends; David LaChapelle.

What Exactly Does Jesus Have to Offer?

Jesus had no business talking to this unclean Samaritan woman; but he did. (Simon Dewey)

I’ll answer that question shortly, but first, a little personal news I’m excited about.

My friend Bob, an Episcopal vicar who lives in New Jersey, is visiting his family and friends in Ohio this week and will stop by my house on Monday for a day or three. That evening we’re going to celebrate Mass at my dining room table, then have what the ancient Greeks called agapé and normal people call dinner!

No matter what you call it, it should be a love feast, because I’m asking him to concelebrate with my spiritual director Marcia. Her husband Ote (pronounced like Oaty) will also attend.

Sixteen months ago when Peter was here from Amsterdam, I found a blue plate at a pottery shop in Berea, Kentucky, which I snapped up because it kinda matches a blue chalice I bought from a potter in New Harmony, Indiana. I’ve always intended that these two vessels for bread and wine be reserved and consecrated for the Eucharist, if I ever got the chance to have a priest come to my house.

This is a big deal when you live in smalltown Indiana as I do; my parish church is two hours away. (One for driving and one for crossing the twilight zone into Eastern Daylight Time.)

I have no way of knowing whether an Episcopal mass has ever been said in my hometown. Maybe we’ll make history, but even if we don’t we’re going to have a good time.

I’m asking Bob to consecrate the plate and cup, and to help Marcia consecrate the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ.

This is a Big Deal to me in every way, because Marcia is a Presbyterian; the theology she comes from is Calvinist, not Catholic. To Bob and me, apostolic succession (a straight line of bishops from Jesus Christ, Peter and Paul to Our Gal Cate™) is crucial. But in the nearly two years I’ve been seeing Marcia, I’m totally convinced of her priesthood, even if she Didn’t Do It Right.

She’s been great for me, and I want her to preside.

(Afterwards we’re having Chicken Cashew, which is basically a stir-fry that won’t take long to throw together so we can feast. During and after dinner I’m hoping we can have a discussion on What Exactly Jesus Has to Offer.)

This is how I’ve phrased it to her: “Why is Christianity a difficult sell in the current American culture?” Or, “What do we have to do to share this Jesus we think so much of, in a spiritually-starving culture that thinks Jesus is morally reprehensible?”

It’s actually the Followers of Jesus who are disapproved of in pop culture, not The Man Himself, but you get my drift.

What’s the problem here in 2010? To me it’s fairly obvious; Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, the Pope and TV preachers are the problem. Guys or gals get on TV, make big bucks and fly in jet planes but make no moral sense whatever.

If they’re the spokesmodels for Jesus, thanks but no thanks.

They’ve turned nearly all GLBT people against Jesus because their message is immoral. As a Gay Christian, that hurts me, but I recognize what we’re up against.

Their message isn’t Jesus’s message, but you’d never know that from TV.

Still, I’m not going to attack fundamentalists here; they’re too easy a target and who’s got time. Instead I say: the problem is TV.

Mass media, YouTube, the internet – but much more, what’s behind them; the willingness of fools to tolerate corporate propaganda (advertising) in exchange for snippets of entertainment.

My dog Luke and I take a walk every evening. Every home we pass has the TV blasting.

So when TV’s what you “consume,” with its invariable corporate propaganda (“Fast food tastes great!” “Bank of America loves you!” “Save now while spending $50,000 for a car!”), Christianity’s self-proclaimed spokesmodels become your version of Jesus.

I’m fully aware that only a crank would blame all the ills of modern society on a household appliance. I mean, that’s just nuts.

The problem isn’t the appliance; it’s the greed and envy of those who turn on the appliance, subject themselves to the propaganda, buy the fast food, trust Bank of America and fantasize about the BMW until they can’t live without it.

The 7 Deadly Sins never vary, though the TV preachers never mention them, being greedy and envious themselves.

This doesn’t leave Episcopalians much room to proclaim an alternate reality.

What Jesus Has to Offer is a way out of the materialism, envy and greed that have taken over pop culture, all so you can be entertained.

The first Christians weren’t capitalists, they were socialists with all goods in common. (Acts 2:44 [NRSV], “All who believed were together, and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”)

Now the corporatists, Tea Partiers, Congresspuppies and preachers want to convince you not to live according to the Way. It’s in their financial interest to argue you out of it.

“Obamacare,” “socialized medicine?” Here’s how capitalized health care works. If you’ve got the capital, you get the health care. If you don’t, you don’t.

Sorry, Grandma. These million-dollar machines cost money.

Yet people stare at their TV screens night after night, absorbing one corporate propaganda campaign after another, in order to get snippets of “entertainment.”

In other words it’s your own damn fault. And I have no sympathy for you whatever.

Any photographer with talent can make a Big Mac look good; but there isn’t anyone who can make it taste good.

You’re eating corn they’ve convinced you tastes like beef. Cattle don’t eat corn, bucko, they eat grass. But that Big Mac is all corn, made to look like beef.

So where does this leave Bob, Marcia, Ote and me in our discussion? We live in a capitalist economy, and it takes money to live. None of us are powerful enough to change that; maybe Jesus himself doesn’t have that power. Here I’m making my little argument as an American, not a Haitian living in a tent camp eight months after the earthquake, wondering if anyone will give her babies bread. (Answer: no.)

I speculate that “Jesus doesn’t have that power” because he wasn’t a politician, but a spiritual leader. So let’s ask; what was his advice? Sure, he’s timeless, but does he have anything to tell us now?

Does he have anything at all of value to tell us in 2010 in Barack Obama’s (or Sarah Palin’s) America?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

He doesn’t say, “Blessed are the rich.

“Blessed are those for whom money takes the place of God.

“Blessed are those who exploit and poison the earth.

“Blessed are those who game the system for their profit.

“Blessed are those who watch corporate propaganda as if it’s entertaining.

“Blessed are those who think they’re saving money by spending more of it.

“Blessed are those who tout private property instead of feeding the hungry and housing the poor.

“Blessed are those who distort my teachings for their own profit.

“Blessed are those who scapegoat others who live on the other side of the river, the mountain or the sea.

“Blessed are those who buy lobbyists so they can get contracts.

“Blessed are those who lie, cheat and steal in my Name.

“Blessed are those who make war.

“Blessed are those who think they’re morally superior.

“Blessed are those who distort science.

“Blessed are those who testify one way, then hire rentboys when no one is looking.

“Blessed are those who exploit the poor and call themselves successful.

“Blessed are those who downsize and rob the children of bread.

“Blessed are those who carry guns.

“Blessed are those who lie on TV.

“Blessed are those who watch it.

“Blessed are those who say they are spiritual but aren’t.

“Blessed are those who fill their minds with excrement and call it ice cream.”

Jesus never said a one of those things. You know it and I do. He wouldn’t have been caught dead saying one of them.

And that is why, despite the current unpopularity of the Way, I humbly and sincerely believe Jesus was right, even the Son of God; and why I do not believe Robertson, Falwell or the Pope, even though they’re on TV.

Look at your own life, understand why you’re so unhappy with how you spend your time that you’ll sit through hours of corporate propaganda – “Bank of America, which got billions in bailouts of your tax money, loves you!” – for mere glances at celebs.

They’re not worth following; Jesus is.++

Looks pretty on TV, but it's garbage food and you know it.

Visit to a Smalltown Catholic Shrine

View from the highway of the Ste. Anne shrine in St. Anne, Illinois. (Josh Thomas)

Trouble no man about his religion,
and let no man trouble you about yours.

Tecumseh, War Chief of the Iroquois Confederation

I live in a small town in northwest Indiana, 75 miles south of Chicago. This means that if residents need to buy anything beyond the basics of subsistence – groceries, auto parts, prescriptions or vodka – we have to drive at least 30 miles (Watseka has a Wal-Mart) or more likely 100 or more. Yesterday that turned out to be a good thing, because I had a unique experience; I finally stopped at “America’s first shrine to Ste. Anne.” It’s been there all along, I grew up 15 miles away, but I’d never seen it before.

I drove an hour to the computer repair shop in Kankakee and finally got my burned-out Macintosh back; they kept it a month and a half! And in fact they didn’t fix it, because that would have cost as much as a new iMac, so I only had them retrieve my data for $85. The loss was covered by insurance, so I’ll buy a new box this weekend. Both coming and going I passed through the town of St. Anne, Illinois, in St. Anne Township, obviously named for the church and shrine. On the return trip I passed through about 4:30 p.m. and decided to stop and see what I could. The entrance to the church is only a block off the highway, State Route 1 – which tells you all you need to know about the geography of state highways in the Midwest. Indiana’s S.R. 1 runs north and south next to the Ohio border; Illinois’ S.R. 1 runs north and south next to the Indiana line. These states were settled east to west, so the highways are numbered accordingly. My house is only five miles from Illinois, but here was this place I’d never been to – the first such shrine, after all. How could I understand my own stomping grounds if I didn’t know about the town that grew up around a Catholic church?

I noticed that the grounds were pretty extensive and open; it’s essentially a church-owned public park, with a picnic shelter and nice landscaping, with little statues and religious objects scattered among the trees and bushes. I parked and tried the front door; would it be locked in late afternoon? It wasn’t, so I went inside. The church is very nice for such a small town (population 1300). The gothic design is built of stone; I bet it seats 250-300 people. I learned they have a novena there every year leading up to the Feast of St. Anne on July 26. (The Episcopal Church celebrates Anne and her husband Joachim, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that same day.)

I wasn’t quite prepared, though, for what I saw inside.

The walls are kind of orangey-pink; the late afternoon sunlight coming through the stained glass windows emphasized the pink. I’ve never been in a pink church before. Is the color scheme intended to reinforce the femininity of the mother of all mothers? Maybe.

You pass under a balcony at the back of the church; there are pews up there, which may not get used except by pilgrims who gather for the annual novena. The balcony also holds an electronic organ, like a Hammond, but I don’t think it’s used regularly, because on the main floor, up front and to the right, there’s a choir area with a newer electronic keyboard. The choir sits in small upright chairs with wicker seats facing the keyboard player. Since they’re not in pews, each of these wicker chairs has a little wicker basket next to it with hymnals and worship materials. It occured to me a thief might have stolen the keyboard if he wanted.

There are three aisles, a center one and two on either side, with little half-pews next to the walls, which have large Stations of the Cross; I didn’t really look at the stations, but I did study all of the windows. Many were gifts of people with French surnames; this might help explain the local insistence on the distinction of “Ste.” vs. St., the way Americans would spell her title. The shrine was started by a French Canadian priest, Charles Chiniquy, about 1851 and rebuilt after a fire in 1879. How did he get there and why?

(Chiniquy himself is quite a story; a gifted, charismatic preacher and temperance crusader, egotistical, obsequious to superiors, fame-craving, divisive, sensational – in short, famous. He once was caught boinking his housekeeper in the rectory, which helps explain how he ended up in Illinois. He later left the Roman Church and campaigned against it, while also spinning fantastic conspiracy theories blaming the Jesuits for assassinating Lincoln. See his entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography here.)

This whole area (and much beyond, from Michigan to Arkansas) was first explored in 1673 by the French Jesuit priest Fr. Marquette, for whom the Milwaukee university is named, and a French Canadian adventurer, Louis Joliet, for whom the Chicago suburb is named. Chiniquy’s arrival in Illinois 180 years later is related to anti-French discrimination in British Canada and the subsequent depopulation of rural Quebec. French Canadians came south to Illinois looking for more freedom, but alas for Chiniquy, the Bishop of Chicago was an Irishman who insisted on running a tight ship.

Today the church looks well-maintained, which suggests to me that the shrine is supported by people who don’t live here as well as the local townspeople. The place is surely too costly for the town itself. The ceiling has strands of gold leaf to set it off, and while there is a little water damage visible in the front, which the parish itself can’t afford to take care of yet, the church has a prosperous look about it – especially compared to the tiny parish of St. Martin five miles down the road in Martinton (pop. 375), a small wood-frame building, very modest looking. Hmm, St. Martin of Tours? Another Frenchman. Maybe Fr. Chiniquy started that one too, and the village grew up around it just like St. Anne did.

The area between St. Anne and Kankakee also has many residents of Dutch ancestry; most of them Catholics, but some Reformed too. While the early French history is important to Indiana (think Vincennes and Fort Ouiatenon), that was a long time ago; I never knew there were French people so recent and so close to my hometown.

Then the surprises kept coming; two of them were particularly shocking to my Episcopalian eyes.

The sanctuary, or area around the altar, is elevated by five or six steps. It’s very old and elegant, with a bit of vaulting on the ceiling. The altar has been detached from the wall (no apse behind) in the modern way. The area is roomy and simple, which adds to the dignity of the decor. But the reredos on the wall behind the altar made my jaw drop.

It’s beautiful, carved, golden, expensive – but it’s not Jesus Christ in that statue. It’s Anne and her daughter Mary.

Apparently they’re the ones we’re supposed to worship here. Visually, that’s the message.

In fact I had to look around to find a crucifix anywhere, and I only saw two; one atop a small processional cross parked near the priest’s chair off to the side, and another small one in a niche at the left front of the nave, where again the main visual is St. Anne.

That area on the left also contains the aumbry or tabernacle, marked by a hanging red lamp. So I finally found where the Sacrament was, genuflected toward it, entered the first pew and was able to pray; that went well.

On the nave’s right front is another niche with a statue of grownup Mary. Nearby is a painting of Jesus pointing to his Sacred Heart.

Again, “trouble no man or woman about his or her religion.” I believe in that. I have many disputes with the Roman Church but not with Catholic people. I think the theology is skewed and the governance is a mess, but it’s a beautiful religion, and I was happy to be in this beautiful church.

But I didn’t even think it was legal, anywhere, to elevate a saint, even Jesus’s grandma, above the Christ himself. So I was shocked. Fortunately I didn’t let it bother me spiritually, I just let myself be charmed by the place.

When I was done with my prayers I explored a little more and returned to the back of the church. On the right, under the balcony and next to the narthex, is another beautiful statue of Anne and young Mary. This one I think is newer than the ones up front. (And I must say I love statues in Catholic churches; I wish Episcopalians had more of them.) There was a low table in front of it, perhaps a kind of altar if that area is used as an open chapel, and on the table was a laminated card marked “Prayers to Ste. Anne.”

Prayers to. Open about it; we’re praying to St. Anne.

There are any number of Catholics, priests and lay, who will tell you, “We don’t pray to saints.” But don’t believe it; many of them do. Some people may try to discourage it, but not at this shrine.

The content of the prayers on this card, Prayers to Ste. Anne, amounted to this: I pray to you, St. Anne, asking you to pray to your daughter Mary, that she may take my concerns to her Son Jesus and that with her intercession, all my desires will come true.

It’s kind of selfish, as if all you have to do to win the lottery or get your boyfriend back from that cheating huzzy is pray to St. Anne; but that’s what the card said.

It put me in mind of the Prayer Book phrase (Rite I, p. 330): Grant these our prayers, O Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate.

An Episcopalian would ask the priest at St. Anne’s, “Why not just pray to Jesus himself? What makes you think we need any other mediator? Do you think your prayers are stronger somehow if you pray to Anne, who prays to Mary, who prays to Jesus? Why would Jesus want or need a third-hand prayer?”

I mean, I don’t judge if that’s how they want to do it; but I’d rather have God’s attention directly.

So my visit to the shrine ended up being both beautiful and confirming the Protestant in me.

Mind you, I spend every day of my life writing and teaching about saints like Anne and Mary and the American Jonathan Daniels and everyone else who is on our calendar. But we don’t pray to these folks ever. They’re instructive and inspiring, but they’re not little gods and goddesses.

Later, as I thought about this and did some online research for this post, I came across a webpage that lists all the St. Anne shrines in the U.S. and Canada. If the information is accurate, most or all of them have “relics” of the saint’s body – including the one I went to in Illinois. (I didn’t see where it was.)

I personally find the veneration of dead body parts repulsive, though my best friend, a Lutheran, does not. We had that discussion a long time ago and I’ve forgotten his argument. He gave me a small crucifix once and showed me that the back came off if you unscrewed it; “you could store a little relic in there, maybe a tuft of hair or a fingernail.” Ugh.

Yes, I know it’s common to bury bishops and kings and other worthies in cathedral vaults, sometimes under the floor, sometimes above the floor. Sometimes churches are built, or have been, on the tomb of a saint. I’ve seen many of those and have no problems with them. But I will not participate in the public “showing” of St. Anne’s body parts, or anyone else’s.

Then it turns out, according to that website:

The Church of St. Anne de Beaupré in Quebec, Canada possesses a rare relic of the Saint; a fragment of the wrist bone of St. Anne, about two or three inches in length, with the skin and flesh still adhering to the bone and showing the joint near the thumb. When the precious relic arrived in New York from Rome on May 1, 1892 crowds of the faithful flocked to the church of St. Jean Baptiste, where the relic was temporarily deposited for the veneration of the faithful.

Saint Anne of New York So great was the enthusiasm of the faithful of New York in venerating the relic of St. Anne in 1892 (then in transport to the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupré) it remained exposed for three weeks. Pope Leo XIII, who soon afterward presented this parish with a portion of the forearm of St. Anne, which has since been preserved and devoutly venerated in the church of St. Jean Baptiste.

I mean, how creepy. Here’s a pope carving up St. Anne’s body and giving out a forearm here and a finger there, like prizes.

(I can only imagine the tasteless trinkets sold next door: “I saw St. Anne’s moldy finger and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”)

The only reason I can think of why the Catholic Church would permit such a practice is to encourage the development of cults devoted to the various saints. Indeed, the Church admits this.

And while “cult” is a heavy and pejorative word to most Americans, it’s freely used in Catholicism.

Why these bands of devotees? Is it easier somehow for people to make contact with Jesus if they have superhuman intermediaries, who “lived right here” or whose forearm is over there?

The Church apparently believes it is. So we’ve got popes sending two inches of finger to Colorado, half a forearm to Quebec, a lock of hair to Africa, and a couple of fingernails somewhere else.

I just find it gruesome, as well as bad theology.

Pour out your heart to God alone; the Holy Spirit, who lives inside your body, will respond directly.

The church in St. Anne, Illinois also has a small display of children’s crutches on the wall near the back mini-altar, with postcards that claim various “cripples” have been cured here. All of the shrines with relics make such claims – and no one can say for sure they didn’t happen, no matter how skeptical or believing you might be. The cures, too, add to the cult, so “you really should go at least once, and if you do, you’ll get time off from purgatory.” Catholics have built a whole spiritual economy on these notions. I suppose it is efficacious in developing some kind of faith in some people, even if I happen to think (and nearly all non-Catholics do) it’s kinda twisted, and none of it’s Biblical.

I believe miracles do happen, but I don’t think you have to drive to an Illinois cornfield to get one. God doesn’t withhold on us like that; Jesus went about dispersing miracles freely.

But the Catholic emphasis on the cult of the saints seems to me predicated on the idea that Jesus is remote and too difficult for ordinary people to understand. Thus we need these little go-betweens.

They’re still promoting indulgences, too – for sale in some places, and “all for a good cause.”

If Protestants as a category went off the deep end in rejecting Catholic practices and Catholic theology – and I believe yes, as a category they did – it isn’t difficult to understand why.

The rise of the Protest movement coincided with the invention of the printing press and the translation of the Bible into common, everyday languages. From those events came the rise in preaching as the principal Sunday activity, as well as hymn singing and Bible study.

One famous Bible translator said, Give me an ignorant peasant and a Bible in his own language, and soon he’ll know more about Christ than all the priests there ever were.

I’m an Episcopalian; we believe in Mass, preaching and Bible study in our own language.

The shrine of Ste. Anne accidentally strengthened me in the faith I’ve received in Common Prayer and Sacraments. And for that I’m grateful.

Besides, that private/public park in Illinois is a gift to the whole town. Whatever Fr. Chiniquy’s sins, excesses or even apostasy, he left behind some good.++

Cardinal: John Paul II Approved Secrecy for Molesters

Dario Castrillon Hoyos in 2002. (Associated Press)

Here’s a new, overlooked item in the ongoing soap opera of the Catholic Child Molesters’ League: a Spanish cardinal wrote to a French bishop in 2001, praising him for not reporting a serially abusive priest to the cops.

Now the cardinal says he showed his letter to Pope John Paul II, who approved of it and ordered him to send a copy to every bishop in the world.

William Wan of The Washington Post reports:

At the center of the debate is [Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos], the former head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, who made headlines last week when a 2001 letter he wrote to French Bishop Pierre Pican surfaced in the French press. In it, he praised Pican for not reporting the pedophile priest to police, despite being mandated to do so under French law.

“I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration,” Castrillón wrote, after Pican was convicted of failing to report sex crimes against children. “You have acted well, and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”

At the time the letter was written, the priest, the Rev. René Bissey, had been sentenced to 18 years in prison for repeatedly raping a boy and for sexually assaulting 10 other children.

On Saturday, Castrillón ignited another firestorm when he claimed that Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, not only approved of his letter but also instructed him to send copies to bishops worldwide.

I’ve taken this out of context slightly, in that The Post’s Wan is all a-flutter because Castrillon’s upcoming appearance at a long-scheduled Latin mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is being verbally protested by the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests. Wan seems to think this is an unfortunate coincidence, and that the museum-piece mass should go on as scheduled; it’s been three years in the planning and he’s sympathetic to the sponsors. Okay, fine, let them have their mass with someone else. But to explain why this Latin mass is now in doubt, he had to describe the controversy; thus my pulled quote above. Wan is not the only source of this information; it stands on its own, but his article is quotable. It doesn’t matter that he’s more sympathetic to the Paulus Institute, sponsors of the upcoming mass, than to SNAP; that’s his problem.

The story of Castrillon’s letter to the French bishop, who was himself convicted of failing to call the cops, and Castrillon’s claim that the late pope approved his letter and ordered it cc’d to every bishop in the world, is by far more important than one olde-tyme mass in D.C.

SNAP couldn’t be more right in this case. It clearly shows that the Catholic Church puts its own secrecy above protecting children, and that it does so as a matter of policy from the pope on down.

It also proves that the Church’s actions go way beyond “being tone-deaf” or “having a poor public relations response” to the crisis. Some commentators like to minimize the controversy with phrases like these.

The news about Bissey, Pican, Castrillon and John Paul II is totally outrageous. But my point goes beyond the usual anger, hurt and indignation; those responses are getting to be routine, the more the saga unfolds. I want to examine what Cardinal Castrillon was saying to Bishop Pican, and why he said it, to see if we can get beyond the outrage to understand why the Church has taken the position it has.

It goes beyond our usual high-pitched accusations—”the pope is a dictator, the Church is a criminal conspiracy”—to something else: this is a matter of theology, strange as that must seem.

The pope really is a dictator, and the Church really is a criminal conspiracy, but why? Because of their tragically flawed theology of the nature of the priesthood.

“I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration,” Castrillón wrote, after Pican was convicted of failing to report sex crimes against children. “You have acted well, and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”

That’s as opposite an apology as you’re ever going to see. Castrillon is claiming that Pican did the exact right thing according to God. John Paul II agreed with him.

in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world

Any idiot—any parent—can see the moral depravity of this. It’s breathtaking that the Church cannot. But let’s remember, this is not the first era, nor is child molesting the first type of crime, in which the Church has taken this position; it was precisely this same phenomenon which led to the Protestant Reformation. Back then the issue was priests who commit murder, as well as lesser corruptions like selling indulgences. For at least 500 years of history of the Church in England, the Church claimed a right to try clergy accused of crimes in its own Church courts, not in the government’s courts.

People rioted over this question; kings went to war over it. Archbishops were beheaded over it. Thomas Becket was killed at the altar in Canterbury Cathedral because of it; he insisted that the Church, not Henry II’s government, discipline his priests. Becket’s a saint because of this—even in the Church of England.

Becket murdered in the cathedral.

When Henry VIII finally got control of the English Church so he could marry Anne Boleyn and prevent another civil war over the royal succession, ecclesiastical vs. civil courts was one of the main issues he cited.

And however ridiculous it was that Henry’s sexual and romantic appetites were the immediate cause of the break with Rome, the English Church has been purified of this deadly theology of priesthood ever since. Anglicans worldwide thank God for it.

Henry and his many wenches.

So what’s the theology? Why did Cardinal Castrillon praise the French bishop for “preferring prison to denouncing his son and priest”? Why did John Paul II endorse Castrillon’s position and order it distributed to every bishop of the Church?

What is a priest? Here’s how Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, explains it on his website:

Every Catholic priest is an icon of Jesus Christ and acts in persona Christi (“in the person of Christ”). At every Mass, we not only remember the Last Supper and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we also live them again in the present, and God becomes flesh and blood in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. In other words, the Mass, through Jesus Christ who acts in his priest, is always much more than a ritualized memory of something that happened a long time ago. It’s a living sacrifice, a mystery and a sacrament – a sign of God’s continuing, tangible presence among us.

(This comes after Chaput’s patted Protestants on the head. The italics are his.)

Castrillon praised the French bishop (himself a convict, remember) for not turning in the serial molester-priest (who got 18 years in the slammer) because a priest is the very successor of Christ, and you wouldn’t turn in Jesus to the government of Pontius Pilate, would you?

When a priest celebrates mass, Catholics believe, not only is the crucifixion of Christ re-enacted, it takes place again at that very moment.

The sacrifice of Jesus is not only then, but now. Thus the sacrament of Holy Communion the priest celebrates turns the bread and wine into the Real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, to be reverently consumed as he ordered, “Do this.”

It’s not a huge leap of logic to go from there to “every priest is Jesus” or “every priest participates in Jesus.” (The rest is theological gloss, frankly.)

In ordination the priest was grafted into Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit, or so they believe.

Benedict 16 explained all this in 1990 when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, in a speech On the Nature of the Priesthood.

You wouldn’t turn Jesus over to Pilate, would you? That’s why the Vatican’s done everything it’s done.

The theology has a certain plausibility, a certain Scriptural grounding; it’s even perhaps revelatory of the loving nature of God. But look at the results: priests committing murder and getting shielded by the Church; priests molesting children and getting shielded by the Church.

We human beings, mere mortals, unwashed laypeople, cannot allow this to go on. We demand that government overrule the Church.

Jesus said, “By their fruits, ye shall know them.” You can tell who’s worth following, and who’s not, by the results of their behavior.

Matthew 7:16-30 (NRSV)

You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit—but the Catholic Church bears bad fruit all over the place, and always has, because of this horrible error in its theology of priesthood, and its creation of ecclesiastical courts that set priests apart when they go bad.

The Church didn’t intend for any of this to happen, but it has.

Most priests bear great fruit, but the ones who don’t mess it up for everyone else—including kids.

Until Rome recognizes that its theology is wrong, nothing much is going to change. It will forever make excuses and coddle the priests who go bad, because it over-identifies its functionaries with the person of Jesus.

My mentor Howard Galley once said, “Heresy takes a truth and over-emphasizes it, so that the truth it upholds gets out of balance with other truths.”

That’s exactly what’s happened time and again in the Catholic Church—because of its polity, its decision-making process, which is always top-down, never bottom-up.

It’s true, I believe, that Jesus is really there in the Holy Communion. It’s true, I believe, that a priest acts and re-enacts the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross in the breaking of bread. It’s true that a priest is grafted onto and into the person of Christ in ordination. But that’s not the end of the story, it’s the beginning.

Societies have a right to protect themselves from noxious theologies, and parents have a right to protect their children from priests.

There’s something grievously wrong when the Church thinks its theology is more important than human beings. God doesn’t think so; God thinks the opposite.

God couldn’t care less whether you believe in the “immaculate conception of Mary,” for which there is zero Biblical evidence; that theology is pure extrapolation invented by overreaching systematizers trying to reconcile the contradictions of someone else’s theology. You can pray to God in Latin if you want to, or English or Chinese; what matters is that you pray.

Meanwhile the pope’s shit stinks; the priest’s shit stinks; and if you think Jesus pooped vanilla ice cream you’re denying that he was a man, which is grievous heresy.

But even heresy isn’t a crime; a man imposing himself on a child while claiming to act for God is the very definition of crime. Let’s have a toast to the French police.++