Monday, October 31, 2011

The Spin Shall Set You Free

How did the question move from "Why are we going to war?" to "Who is that man's wife". I asked the first question. Someone else asked the second. It worked. It's still working. - Sean Penn as Joe Wilson in Fair Game.


I am not so much bothered by Catholic readers vowing to assault me physically. I am not so much bothered by Catholic readers saying that I'm a pervert. I am not so much bothered by Catholic readers (clergy even) telling me that my writing amounts to "bullying" and "uniformed public rants" (see my post on Bishop Finn and some of the more recent of the 100 comments).

But I am bothered by the Lie. I am bothered by the Spin. And I am bothered by innocent people being blamed and not protected.

I wrote last week's piece because Bishop Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, in his defence of Bishop Finn, played right into the hands of the Tribalism that is fast seeking to become the sixth wound in the Body of Christ. The meme goes like this: If you criticize my guy, you are in league with the forces of darkness.

And now Bill Donohue has stepped into the fray, playing exactly the same game.

But this isn't about us vs. them, it's about sin and repenting of sin - through the grace of Christ.

So let's play Father Z. here and ask not "what does the prayer really say" but "what is the reality behind the spin"?

Below are Donohue's assertions with my comments in red.


Last December, crotch-shot pictures of young girls, fully clothed, were found on Fr. Ratigan’s computer; there was one photo of a naked girl. The very next day, the Diocese contacted a police officer and described the naked picture - No, the picture described was a theoretical picture that had not yet been seen, and this theoretical picture was described to an off-duty police officer informally by the Vicar General. The theoretical picture described bore no resemblance to any of the the actual pictures on the laptop.;

a Diocesan attorney was shown it. There was more than an "it", there were hundreds, and more than a diocesan attorney was shown these pictures.

Because the photo was not sexual in nature, it was determined that it did not constitute child pornography. Absolutely untrue. The photographs were all sexual in nature. They may or may not have met the legal standard for child pornography, but the police were not given the chance to determine that for six months. In any event, the failure of the diocese here is a moral one, even if not a legal one.

This explains why the Independent Review Board was not contacted—there was no specific allegation of child abuse. Tell the parents that these photos were not forms of child abuse, Mr. Donohue.

Think about that for a minute. Bill Donohue is saying that a U.S. diocese that had hundreds of pictures of little girl's crotches and many picutres of a naked sleeping two-year-old on a priest's laptop were right in failing to contact the Independent Review Board because "there was no specific allegation of child abuse". This is a despicable statement, Mr. Donohue. Despicable.

When Fr. Ratigan discovered that the Diocese had learned of his fetish, he attempted suicide. When he recovered, he was immediately sent for psychiatric evaluation. It is important to note that Bishop Finn, who never saw any of the photos, did this precisely because he was considering the possibility of removing Fr. Ratigan from ministry. After evaluation (the priest was diagnosed as suffering from depression, but was not judged to be a pedophile) - note that this diagnosis was so obviously wrong that many in the Chancery office advised Bishop Finn to seek a second opinion. He did not.,

Fr. Ratigan was placed in a spot away from children and subjected to various restrictions. No, he was placed at a retreat center where school children were sent on a regular basis and was allowed unsupervised access to them and to the families of his former parish, the families whose girls he was lusting after.

After he violated them, the Diocese called the cops. Actually, the off-duty police officer called the cops only after it became apparent that the Vicar General was dragging his feet - and by the time the police were brought in, Bishop Finn had allowed the laptop containing the original evidence and containing any other undiscovered caches of evidence to be destroyed.

That’s when more disturbing photos were found.


Donohue then goes on not to write more about this case, but to slam David Clohessy and SNAP.

But the question, you see, is not (as Bill Donohoe claims) "Is David Clohessy a liberal?" but "Why were the parents not contacted and the children not helped?" The question is not (as Bishop Naumann claims) "Is the Kansas City press pro-abortion?" but "Why was the minimum of decency and Christian charity not exercised here?" The question is not, "Who is this man's wife?" but "Why did we go to war?"

And let me be clear: I am not calling for Bishop Finn to resign, nor am I making any comment upon the prosecution of Bishop Finn.

In fact, I believe people when they tell me he's a good man, a sweet man, a kind man, and a serious follower of Christ.

And that is why I am calling on him merely to do the one thing that would do more than anything else to fix the damage to the Body of Christ - public penance.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Is this Heaven?" It's Baseball

I mostly write about religious subjects on this blog, so it's only fitting I should write about baseball.

There's the old joke that baseball was first mentioned in the Bible - Genesis 1:1 - "In the big inning". But there really is a theology to our national passtime. It is the most transcendent of games. We don't know everything about the after-life, but we do know this: baseball will be played in heaven.

My friend Deacon John (Scotty) Wainscott tells me, "It's because it's the only game where there's no clock." Deacon Scotty knows what he's talking about. He's given communion to Stan Musial, for crying out loud. "Baseball's perfect warrior; baseball's perfect knight". (Stan is pictured above at age 90 winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this year)

In St. Louis, my home town, we have perhaps the greatest love of baseball of any city on earth.

And of course there's the fact that the cardinal bird was named after the Cardinals in the Catholic Church - thus, the St. Louis Cardinals, the greatest team in the National League, was too. Sort of like the San Diego Padres, a team named after priests.

And then there's that movie Field of Dreams. In that movie, the character played by Burt Lancaster, the character who sacrifices his life to save a child, the character who had one major league appearance but no at bat, this same character finally gets a chance to face a pitcher - and he hits a sacrifice fly. And the climax of the film is his own personal sacrifice to save the life of the little girl.

Pictured: Son Colin batting where Field of Dreams was filmed, near Dyersburg, Iowa.

Baseball is about sacrifice. It's about the patient poetry of slow motion and the headline prose of speed. It's about dexterity, stamina, force of will and dumb luck. It's the hardest of all games to play. It's a game of grit; it's a game of grace. It's a game of inches and a game of 450 foot home runs. It's a game of microseconds ("bang-bang plays") and a game of marathons that last all night. It's a game where we demand super-human objectivity and observation from umpires we'd like to kill. It's a game of tobacco spitting geniuses, back street hoodlums, city boys, country boys, free-wheeling managers dancing in the dugout and scheming vegetarian lawyer managers smoldering beside the bench.

And it's the perfect game for radio. No other sport was made for radio, and radio was made for no other sport. The Theater of the Mind and the Theater of the Word-Only. Here in St. Louis we have been blessed with the best radio play-by-play and color guys ever, Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Joe Buck and Mike Shannon. And many other radio guys along the way who have gone very far - including Joe Garagiola and Bob Costas (and Tim McCarver if you throw in TV). Some of my best memories include rain delays in the old days, when instead of switching to a call-in show or a pre-recorded program, Buck and Shannon would fill time talking - talking for hours on end, telling stories about baseball, until the rain cleared up and the play went on - filling air time with no preparation, just chatting about this amazing game and their love for it, this love which filled their lives.

Then there's my old friend Jim Sala, who told me that he would never marry any woman who didn't know the Infield Fly Rule.

And then there was last night.

Actress Maria Romine and I were performing at Summit Lake Winery in Holt's Summit, Missouri. We kept hearing updates about World Series Game Six throughout the evening. If the Cardinals lost this game to the Texas Rangers, everything was over. If somehow we managed to win, we'd get one more chance - Game Seven, the final and deciding game of the 2011 season.

We finished the show and began driving to our next destination, Kansas City, sometime mid-game. For a long while we picked up ESPN Radio on FM. When it faded away we were able to get the clear channel 50,000 watt AM signal of KMOX, The Voice of St. Louis, and between the two we drove in horror, astonishment and glee, our car trip a kind of roller coaster ride of bone-head plays and sparkling feats of athletics and magic as the score see-sawed into extra-innings, the Cardinals tying the Rangers in the sixth, the ninth and the tenth.

As we got closer to the Super Eight in Bonner Springs, Kansas (our luxurious destination), the static was overwhelming, the signal fading every time we passed beneath a bridge. It was the bottom of the 11th, 11:45 pm as we pulled up to the lobby, the game fading in and out like our hopes.

"They've got a TV on in the lobby!" Maria observed.

Local St. Louis boy and World Series phenom David Freese was at bat with no outs in the bottom of the 11th. I left Maria in the car and dashed in to plop my credit card down at the front desk, hoping to get to my room in time to watch the rest of the game - however long the rest of the game might take.

I turned to where the TV was in the lobby. It was facing the other direction, and I couldn't see the screen. Three Chinese or Japanese men were gathered around it, jumping up and down in astonishment.

I ran to the them. "What happened?" I asked. They could speak no English.

"Jow jee pong niti tong!" one of them exclaimed.

I turned to the TV screen. The Cardinals were pouring onto the field. They were mobbing David Freese, literally tearing his jersey off of him.

"Nee Pow Jing Pow orloo!" my Asian friend shouted.

"Did he hit a home run?" I asked.

"Home-unn," he confirmed.

I was at a Comfort Inn in Kansas City to catch the final out of the 2006 World Series, the 10th World Series victory for the Cardinals, and I was here at a Kansas Super Eight to catch - almost - the final play of the most incredible World Series Game ever in 2011. And the memories flowed.

For baseball is the glue that binds our lives together. We remember, with a kind of fondness and nostalgia that rises above time, we Cardinals fans, the come-from-behind finish of 1964, Gibson's 17 strikeouts in 1968, his pitching with a broken leg, Brock's speed, Ozzie's talent, Glen Brummer stealing home, seat cushion night, Pond Scum, the tarnished-in-hindsight but thrilling-at-the-time home run race between McGwire and Sosa, and now, forever, regardless of what happens tonight in Game Seven, the unbelievable come-from-behind run that began on St. Genesius Day in August when the Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out and that included the greatest performance by a hitter in the World Series since Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson on a warm night in Texas last weekend.


I have written about many things, mysterious and mundane, but alas! I can not write about baseball. At least not in a way that gives it the honor it deserves.

My friend and fellow writer Rod Bennett observes, "Baseball is sacred the way war is sacred, Kevin -- because of all the suffering and anxiety involved. Honest to Pete, watching Game 7 of the '91 series (the Smoltz/Morris ordeal that ended 1-0 in the 10th and turned on a lowly baserunning error) I had a real spiritual insight on some small scale. I felt as Lee must have felt watching the battle of Gettysburg. Ridiculous, I know -- it's only a game. Still, there it is. Anyhow, go Cards." - and this cheer for my team from a Braves fan, Atlanta's collapse in September enabling the Redbirds to do what they've been doing ever since.

Frank Weathers, who admonished me that writing about baseball is offering up "straw" (this is what St. Thomas Aquinas said of his body of work, a lifetime of magnificent meditations upon God) - and he's right, it is that - still himself manages to catch a hint of the glory of the game in his post about amateur sports and families.

Frank's observations include ...

So why do we even bother [with baseball] in our household? Joy in living is the only real reason that I can think of. That and the realization that though our children’s gifts and abilities are out of our hands, they should still be developed. Besides, everything we spend time doing matters.

... And there is the riddle of our son’s gift, for example. Though endowed with excellent hand-eye coordination, and having an arm that can accurately throw thunderbolts, the most important characteristic of all isn’t even a physical one. It is that my son simply loves this game. And this love for it drives him to do things that only love can make him do ... [because] now that he has made the high school team, the love for the game has been tested by the fires of hard work and sweat. There is a spiritual message in all of this somewhere, I am sure.

And part of that message is a son playing catch with his old man, whose old man played catch with him.

And we can no more describe this game than we can describe the tradition of our American culture, the rewards of hard work and persistence, the smell of green grass, the chill of an October night, or the simple love of father and son.

God bless the Cardinals and the Rangers. God bless this game.

Pictured: My son Colin O'Brien in the dugout at Busch Stadium, age four or so.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bad Monks and the Rest of Us

Regular reader Ink has an interesting post on her blog "With Eager Feet" about something I said concerning Bad Monks and Actors.

Ink writes ...


Some time ago, I had the chance to meet Kevin, owner of Theatre of the Word, Inc. I now consider him a friend (and hope he considers me the same, even with the age difference). Something he said in one of our conversations stuck with me, and I will do my best to repeat it here:

Actors are basically bad monks. Monks devote themselves fully and completely to one subject–prayer. Actors do the same thing for theatre, but they have strayed from their path along the way. That’s why they’re all so messed-up.”

I would like to make the same case for architects. I am frequently here in studio till all hours of the night, working, talking, laughing–always in studio. And many of my classmates are here with me. We throw ourselves headlong into our work and only come up for air when a project is over, at which point in time we promptly fall asleep on the nearest horizontal surface. This is entirely normal and expected of us. We live like ascetics – cloistered in studio, often eating only one meal a day. ... All we talk or think about is architecture, or studio this, or studio that. ... I have slept in studio. ... I frequently eat in studio. My friends are in studio. ... And I work, and work, and work, late into the night.

So, Kevin–I think architects just might beat actors in terms of “bad monks.” Minus the universally accepted norm of “messed-up is okay,” of course (though we still do have our weirdos).

Excerpt taken from Memoirs of a Bad Monk, a book as of yet unwritten by Ink.


To which I responded ...


Maybe it's not Actors and Architects who are bad monks. Maybe Monks are just good actors or good architects.

Pictured: the Incredibly Sexy amoral hero Howard Roark, uber-architect from Ayn Rand's novel about how power is sexier than love.

You know, Ink, you’re at that age when most girls fall in love with that hunk of a dreamer-architect-Nietzchian what’s-his-name in that awful Ayn Rand book about how architects without morality are better than non-geniuses who actually care about people. I forget the name of the book. Don’t read it. Just wait for a Hallmark movie about sexy architects and you’ll do better.

Anyway, my point is that this kind of devotion is really only virtuous if it’s an expression of love. If you love your art, your craft, your writing, and if your love and the fruits of your love bring greater glory to God and benefit to your neighbor, then by all means give up everything for this pearl of great price – sleep in studio, miss meals, live out of your car. I mean, if you get married and have kids, you’ll do all that for your kids – stay up all night when they’re sick, miss meals so they can eat better, sacrifice everything for them – and gladly.

But we also see people live this way because they’re losers or addicts. And many a non-genius businessman with a beer gut will sleep in the office and miss meals to make that project deadline – and not really out of love or for the greater glory of God, but for a more selfish reason.

So it’s important that our sacrifices, our asceticisms, our loves, are prioritized. There always tends to seep in that love of self, that desire to be admired and adored (at least it does in my case) – and that is utter poison, turning “losing your life to gain your life” into “losing your life to gain power over life – and over others”.

May we always beg God to purify our hearts that we may, even in the midst of our mixed motives, always make true sacrifices for His sake, not false sacrifices for our own sake.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Full Story on Bishop Finn

"Let's step outside and settle this thing like men," she said, and she was a lady. "You're spewing anti-Catholic rhetoric!" he insisted. "How can you criticize a bishop when you're an actor and everyone knows actors are perverts and nitwits," she screamed. (That last gal had a point).

These are all reactions to my post last week about Rod Dreher's article on Bishop Finn's Indictment.

And above all, people are charging me with believing the biased media coverage of the scandal.

This, at least, is not true. In fact, everything I say in this post will be taken not from a media account of the scandal, but from the independent report on it as commissioned by the diocese, the Graves Report, which you can read on your own here.

So let's shove the media aside and see for ourselves what's contained in this internal diocesan report conducted by an independent firm.


Fr. Shawn Ratigan was a priest of the diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph, Missouri. While pastor of St. Patrick's Parish (a parish with a grade school), his behavior around children raised many red flags. There were several incidents of "boundary violation", in which Fr. Ratigan held girls on his lap or tried to spend time with them alone while waiting for rides. At one function, he began rubbing a girl's back until her father angrily pulled her away. A pair of girl's panties was found in Fr. Ratigan's back yard planter.

In December, 2010, a computer technician servicing Fr. Ratigan's laptop discovered hundreds of photographs of young girls, apparently taken by Fr. Ratigan. Many were of children playing, the photographer focusing on their crotches and not including their faces. There were photos of girls climbing ladders in swim suits, focusing on their crotches. There were photos of girls wearing shorts sitting with their legs apart, focusing on their crotches. The girls appeared to be between eight and ten years old. One stash of photos was of a child in diapers. The series of photos ended with the diaper moved to the side, to reveal the girl's genitals and her bare buttocks. The photos were labeled with this toddler's name. Another series of photos was of a girl of about age seven, sleeping, but posed in sexually provocative ways while asleep. Her face was fully visible. The computer also contained links to internet sites advertising spy photo pens and two way mirrors.

The computer technician who made this discovery, his hands shaking, brought this laptop to the deacon at St. Patrick's and showed him the photos. The deacon immediately took the laptop to Msgr. Murphy, the Vicar General of the diocese, and Bishop Finn's right hand man. Before he viewed the images, Msgr. Murphy called and asked a friend of his who was a police officer if a single photo of a nude girl on a laptop "in a non-sexual pose" constituted child pornography. The officer answered that it might, but, particularly if it were of a family member, it would probably not be prosecuted.

This was the only contact the diocese made with the police until the following May. For, even after Msgr. Murphy viewed the images, and after it became clear that these images were not of family members, and that they were of a sexual nature, and that they were almost certainly photos Fr. Ratigan had taken of children in the diocese, neither Msgr. Murphy nor any one else involved in this case, contacted the police for nearly six months.

As soon as the pictures were discovered, Fr. Ratigan tried to kill himself, leaving a note saying he was sorry for what he had done. He survived his suicide attempt and was sent to a psychologist in Philadelphia who specializes in treating priests with problems. And yet, after interviewing Fr. Ratigan, and even after viewing the pictures which were pulled from Fr. Ratigan's laptop, the psychologist concluded he was not a pedophile. He was just lonely. And depressed. Why? Because the principal of the school was "out to get him," having complained about his inappropriate behavior around children. It was her fault, not his.

The diagnosis being evidently wrong, there were at least a few people in the Chancery Office who advised Bishop Finn to seek a second opinion. He did not.

At one point the legal counsel for the diocese told Msgr. Murphy that an attempt should be made to identify the children in the photographs, particularly if they were children in the diocese, as it appeared they were - victims of a child pornographer, and perhaps of other more violent sexual abuse at his hands. Legal Counsel also advised Msgr. Murphy to report this case to the Missouri Division of Family Services.

But contrary to the advise of counsel (and contrary to common sense, not to mention Christian charity), no one made any attempt to identify these victims or to reach out to their families.

No one made any report to the Division of Family Services.

In fact, no one even bothered to report the incident to the Independent Review Board, as required by diocesan "Protecting God's Children" policies!

Bishop Finn then assigns Fr. Ratigan to a Vincentian Retreat Center ... where school groups often go on retreats. He tells Fr. Ratigan to stay away from computers, cameras and children, but he allows him to say Mass for the school groups.

The Vincentian leaders at the retreat house adamantly claim that they were never informed of these restrictions on Fr. Ratigan, nor were they told he was a pedophile with a flair for child pornography; they thought he was simply recovering from his suicide attempt. Bishop Finn says he informed them of the full story; they say he did not. In fact, they told the firm conducting the independent review that if they had known the full scope of the situation, they would not have let Fr. Ratigan live with them. In any event, no one was placed in a supervisory role over Fr. Ratigan. He was living entirely unsupervised.

Immediately, Fr. Ratigan began using Facebook. He started attending public events and St. Patrick's parish-family events where children were present, including a birthday party for a sixth grade girl. He started glad handing parishioners, telling them the reason he had not been re-assigned to St. Patrick's was that the principal was "out to get him". Against the Bishop's directives, he made contact with children on retreat at the center, and on Easter Sunday - Easter Sunday - he tried to take pornographic pictures of a girl at the center.

Bishop Finn was informed of all of these violations of the "honor code" he had placed on Fr. Ratigan and yet Bishop Finn admitted that, as late as May of 2011, he had (in his own words) "not formulated a plan to further address Fr. Ratigan's behavior if he continued to violate restrictions".

By the middle of May, Msgr. Murphy eventually let his policeman friend know of the full scope of the situation - that the laptop contained not one photo of a nude girl in a non-provocative pose (as he had told him earlier), but hundreds of photos of girls, all of a lascivious nature. The police officer said, "You never told me that," and informed Msgr. Murphy that the diocese should immediately turn the laptop over to the police.

But instead the laptop was given to Bishop Finn, who gave it to Fr. Ratigan's brother, who (naturally) destroyed it.

And while copies remained of the photos, the original evidence (the laptop and its hard drive), including any other cached information the police could have obtained, is now gone for good.


Now, Bishop Naumann makes a passioned defense of his brother bishop, and points out that many in the Kansas City media are viciously pro-abortion and will stop at nothing to destroy the Catholic Church. Bishop Naumann, I'm sure this is true.

And many lay folk have pointed out to me that Bishop Finn is orthodox in his teaching and has boldly attacked pornography, for example. I'm sure that this is true as well.

But have we come to a stage where we are so desperate for orthodox bishops that we turn a blind eye to their other shortcomings? Are we so defensive against our own sins that we refuse to acknowledge where we fall shy of virtue, simply because other sinners are pointing our failures out to us?

And how do we expect to turn the hearts of the pro-abortion zealots in the Kansas City media if we don't even have the gumption to protect a two-year-old girl who's being victimized while asleep by one of our priests? Why on earth would they listen to us about the evils of killing unborn babies when we won't even do anything to protect a sleeping two-year-old from a predator?

Because, my friends, it comes down to this.

Bishop Finn and his Vicar General knew that children under their care had been exploited and abused. Bishop Finn and his Vicar General did nothing to identify or protect those children. Instead, and incredibly, when the story finally broke, Bishop Finn and his Vicar General instructed that the parish of St. Patrick's hold listening sessions at which parents were asked to write down one "hurt" and one "hope".

As the Graves Report states, two "hurts" collected at listening sessions included the following ...


The images of my daughter's private areas that the FBI showed me, they are forever burned into my brain. Shawn Ratigan was in my house, around my children in February, and I thought my children were completely SAFE!!


You let one of your priests hurt my children and you saw the pictures and decided to cover it up. That monster was in my house in February 2011 to prey on my children and I let him in since you felt you were above the law and made that decision not to turn in photos of my kids.


So those of you out there who are offering to take me out back and fight me, those of you who think I'm an anti-Catholic filled with hatred and Chick-tract rhetoric, those of you who think that if a human being happens to be an actor, he should not be allowed to write about this, answer one question for me ...

What would you say to these parents? Or better yet, if Fr. Ratigan had taken pictures of your sleeping two-year-old girl and removed her diapers to take a spy-pen snapshot of her vagina and her bare butt for use on his computer, and perhaps molested her and the diocese never bothered to tell you this, and never bothered to warn you not to let this man back in your house, or reach out to make sure you and your daughter got the help you needed (all the while the beg letters for the annual diocesan appeal kept coming in the mail) ... what would you put down on the "hurt" card? What would you "share" as your "hope" during the listening session while somewhere a man we call father masturbates to a picture of your sleeping two-year-old?

Perhaps Bishop Finn should not be tried for this misdemeanor (failure to report the crime in a timely manner) in the criminal courts of my state. I think a case could be made either way. But one thing I'm sure he should do.

He should repent in sack cloth and ashes and beg the forgiveness of every girl dancing naked in Fr. Ratigan's dreams. For he had the ability to reach out and offer help and the love of Christ to these girls and their parents, and he did not do it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Comedy Fund Raiser in Chicago

10/30/2011 Institute on Religious Life Comedy Fundraiser Luncheon

Please join us for the Institute on Religious Life’s Benefit Luncheon to be held Sunday, October 30, from 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., at the Country Squire, 19133 W. Route 120 in Grayslake.

The event will feature Mr. Kevin O’Brien and his Theater of the Word, Incorporated troupe who will perform Adventures at St. Somewhere.

This dramatic comedy highlights a Franciscan priest’s dealings with gooey liberals, crabby traditionalists, moronic confirmation candidates, over-volunteering church ladies, and everyone in between. It is a funny, profound, and heartwarming story dedicated to those who dedicate themselves to us—our priests and religious!

The event will also include up-to-the-minute information about IRL’s activities to promote priestly and religious vocations among young people.

There is no cost to attend but reservations needed; all donations will go toward the work of the Institute on Religious Life.

Please RSVP at (847) 573-8975 or

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It Ain't All Right vs. Left

From Rod Dreher's report on the indictment of Bishop Finn in Kansas City ...


When news broke, local Catholics were outraged. The diocese organized “listening sessions” to manage the public reaction, and had participants engage in an asinine Stuart Smalley-ish exercise in which they were instructed to write down a “hurt” and then write down a “hope.” Among the “hurts” written down by angry parents:

“The images of my daughter’s private areas that the FBI showed me, they are
forever burned into my brain. … Shawn Ratigan was in my house, around my
children in February, and I thought my children were completely SAFE!!”


One of the earliest and most difficult lessons I learned in covering the abuse scandal is that you can never, ever tell the bad guys from the good guys based on whether or not they are faithful to the Magisterium — that is, whether or not they are orthodox Catholics. Would that you could! A very conservative priest told me early on not to make that mistake; there are scoundrels who hide behind their Catholic orthodoxy, he said, and use it to disarm the suspicions of the faithful. The late Father Richard John Neuhaus was one of the most intellectually sophisticated Catholics in the world, and a defender of Catholic orthodoxy. But he too was hoodwinked by this belief, most embarrassingly in his staunch defense of Father Marcial Maciel, of whom, Neuhaus wrote in First Things, he believed was “morally certain” was not guilty of the lurid sexual abuse accusations made against him. After Pope Benedict moved against Maciel, Neuhaus backed down. We later learned that things with Maciel were actually worse than most people knew.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Can't Care, Don't Care, Won't Care

"Don't take this so personally," my wife Karen always tells me. And of course she's right.

In the past, when employees would become Vampires or Aliens it used to really bug me. How could they do this to me when I trusted them and gave them opportunities to help us and do good work? I would say to myself. Then I realized it had absolutely nothing to do with me.

But when clients do me wrong, it's a bit harder to shake off. Especially when said clients are supposed to be cooperating with the mission of Theater of the Word, working in some way to spread God's message.

But we get shafted by our Church-affiliated clients even more frequently than we get shafted by secular clients.

And I've noticed a pattern. I think it applies to all of the business world, secular or Christian.


First, there are the clients who are simply incompetent. They drop the ball on projects because they simply can't run their businesses in any systematic or effective manor. They mean nothing personal by this, they simply can't care, "care" meaning to exercise care, and "care" also meaning the gift of good will that is caritas: care, love. When you can't find your desk under the clutter, you can't find the piece of paper that is the key to the whole project and that was due three weeks ago. And I would guess General Incompetence ("can't care") accounts for 90% of all failed cooperative endeavors.


A less common, but more disturbing situation, is when you enter into a relationship with a client who simply doesn't care. They have the competence to cooperate with you and make your project a success, but they care so little about what you're doing, about quality, and frankly about you, that they'll give-a-crap only when it suits them. This is troublesome, until you realize that the Don't Cares don't care for anybody who works hard for them, not just you. The best way to keep the Don't Cares out of your business: charge enough to make them either not hire you or else take an interest in their investment. Charging too little will always encourage the Don't Cares.


These first two examples are passively aggressive. This final type, actively so. These are the people who take an active disliking to you and who deliberately try to hurt you or sabotage you. Their lack of positive care is willful - "non serviam", and "non co-operatio" - I won't serve, and I won't cooperate - not because I can't or I don't but because I won't. This happened to us early on with Theater of the Word, when someone at a diocese booked us to do shows, and then the liberals who run the diocese found out and made a point not to promote the shows, to provide no technical support, and to turn the heat off in the seminary where we were staying (a seminary that was otherwise empty, the diocese having generated no vocations for ages), thus trying to freeze us out. I am not making this up. Most recently, the Kennedy Catholics managed to cancel our pro-life tour in Massachusetts, even after contracts had been signed and deposits paid on the shows.

The thing is, these three types of bad business relationships are both not personal and personal at the same time. By the time the resistance gets to be third stage "won't care" variety, you see the nasty little narrow faced gremlin behind it, and you realize that yes, Virginia, there is a grinch, and he takes a very strong disliking to you and to the little bit of good in the world you're tyring to do.

The Scandal Continues

Priests for Life was sending me those annoying beg emails every other day, so I finally "unsubscried" and it seemed to have worked. Now I am getting spam from a group called Free Father Frank. These emails are coming to a private email address which almost no one knows.

But Priests for Life knew it.

And as soon as I unsubscribed from Priests for Life, this new organization somehow got my email address ... apparently from them. The new emails offer no unsubscribe option. They are spam plain and simple. They slander Bishop Zurek and they have that "Spirit Daily" quality.

This, coupled with more and more evidence that Priests for Life is in fact involved in some sort of financial chicanery, particularly with a group called Gospel of Life Ministries - which, sources tell me, is an organization utterly devoted to the Consequentialism endorsed by Father Pavone, should, at the very least, give one pause.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Most Dangerous Thing in the World

What does Safe Sex have in common with Bad Catholic Art?

What does Squeamishness have to do with Bad Catholic Worship?

Why is truth stranger than fiction?

That last one at least we know. "Truth, of course, must of necessity be stranger than fiction," G. K. Chesterton points out, "for we have made fiction to suit ourselves."

Last week I posted on fiction and drama and how Christian art these days fails to hold any interest for human beings. Red Cardigan has taken up that theme here where she laments the fact that Catholic publishers want fiction that is "safe", overtly "Catholic", sentimental and squishy.

And this is really a more painful thing to write about than I let on. It's painful because writers die a little bit for their work, poets speak from hearts that are circumcised, and actors are the most vulnerable of the lot. I can not tell you how difficult it's been throughout my career to pour my soul into something that is disregarded or kicked around or cheapened by the people who are paying me to do it, and who do not really value it. And it's worse in the Church than in the world.

And I've begun to suspect this is because many folks in the Church are unwittingly abetting the Cult of Sterility.

When God tells us in Isaiah 55:11

So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, achieving the end for which I sent it.

He is telling us that his Word, Jesus Christ, is not just a nice guy, but the most creative and active element in the world today. His Word is seminal, a seed that exists to make us fruitful. We see this in the mystery of the Annunciation. The love that the Lord and Mary had for one another does not return void, the incarnate Son of God comes to be on earth through this love and this assent, born of prayer - born of an intimate communion.

Love is supposed to lead to something - something interesting, for crying out loud (like the little girl on the left, something interesting that the love my wife and I shared led to).

But the world around us is all about the Void, sterility, emptiness. We love "safe sex", but the only way to make sex safe is to cut the gonads off of love.

I have just finished a creative project that will never be seen or heard by human beings. It was a Catholic project, for which I was paid a ridiculously low figure, and which now, being finished, will return void - for the producer will neglect to market it. It's like doing great work for EWTN and having it air at 5:30 in the morning on Thursdays. And while I'm at it, all that Marty Haugen crap and the eager young squeaky Catholics with guitars at the Youth Mass - all of that is simply contrived and unreal, and like all such things will return nothing but the whirlwind.

The stalk has no head; it will produce no flour. Were it to yield grain, foreigners would swallow it up. (Hos. 8:7)

Our bishops are friendly but squeamish, our youth hooking up but disconnected, our hearts bleeding but barren. Our food is not filling; our sex is safe, our passion is listless.

They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish. (Hos. 4:10)

What I'm saying in this tirade is that the problem is not merely the Catholic Ghetto. The problem is assuming that the Word is somehow unreal, that He can not appeal to real men, to sinners, to actual people, to human beings - the problem is our vastly naive assumption that we ought to control the situation, and that the Word will stay aloof from all this mess and return void.

On the contrary, the Holy Spirit, who comes to us from the Father and the Son, is disturbing, unsettling, fecund.

We are the ones keeping Him from touching hearts and minds. We are the ones who think that art can be safe, as safe as contraceptive sex, as safe as loving another person - and yet loving another person is the most dangerous thing in the world.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Something for Human Beings

At the Rochester Chesterton Conference, left to right: Kevin O'Brien, Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce, Tom Martin.

One way to transform the culture is to get men drinking and smoking again.

"Transforming the Culture" was the theme of this year's Chesterton Conference in Rochester, New York, which 150 eager Chestertonians attended this past weekend.

It was an honor for me to be included in the line-up of presenters, including Dale Ahlquist delivering a speech entitled "Apocalypse Later", Tom Martin (the John Senior of Nebraska) speaking on Chesterton and the culture of America, and Joseph Pearce delivering such gems as

Christ is the means as well as the end, He is the Way as well as the Truth and the Life.


When you experience beauty, you cannot help having a sense of gratitude. Beauty does not exist in isolation: reason & love go with it.

Martin, for those of you who don't know him, teaches at the University of Nebraska Kearney and must be a great philosophy teacher, for only a great philosophy teacher would elicit responses from students such as these (taken from a rate the professor website):

He really needs to stop relating everything to God.

(I love that one) and

Unless you're willing to spend 4 hours on one page you can kiss your thoughts of an A goodbye. Very difficult professor.

But back to drinking and smoking.

It was the party after the conference (the party is the "end" and the conference is the "means"). I sat with perhaps fifteen other men in Lou Horvath's screened-in patio as the rain fell hard on a chilly October night, the darkness surrounding us, cigar smoke filling the room, whiskey, good wine and good beer flowing, the ChesterBelloc Drinking and Debating Club in full swing.

David Higbee of St. Irenaeus Ministries and I were sharing an intense conversation over Kentucky bourbon about evangelizing through drama. (Kentucky bourbon shown here, as modeled by an Upstage Actress for a picture I took at an unidentified tasting room in Kentucky. Note: it was either include a picture of this gal or of David Higbee, so I did what I had to do.)

And David said to me something that will always stick in my mind. We were talking about how most Catholic drama and Catholic comedy and Catholic programming is utterly bad (I've touched on this elsewhere). And David said simply, "We need to be putting stuff out there that human beings would want to see."

Now think about that.

And think about the stuff we try to pass off as our attempts at Transforming the Culture. And think about how much of that any actual human being would want to sit through.

Chesterton got it. Chesterton knew that in fiction, drama, journalism, poetry, or what have you, first you have to engage the human person - first you have to reach out to human beings.

By contrast, the True Believers, the hard core and long suffering residents of the Catholic Ghetto aren't that picky. They grasp for straws, producing and consuming stuff that hardly rates as culture much less culture transformed. But if we're going to appeal to the pagans and agnostics and lapsed Catholics in our midst, we must do so with art that's honest, that's authentic, that engages, that is not contrived, not didactic, not dreary, not self-indulgent, not boring, not bad.

The True, the Beautiful and the Good echo the glory of the Holy Trinity, and we dare not as artist or audience settle for the Trite, the Banal and the Mediocre.

These sorts of insights only come by way of cigar smoke, bourbon, a chilly night, the pouring rain, and true Christian fellowship.

This is because there's something dangerous in men of like mind smoking and drinking together, united in a love of Christ.

There's nothing dangerous about Kumbaya, about "the sign of peace", about sitting in a circle and sharing. The one is living and has gonads; the other is the emasculated product of the same society that's trying its best to re-bury G. K. Chesterton.

Thanks to Lou and Jeanne Horvath and to everyone who attended this year's conference.