Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What Good is It to Use NFP but to Remain Selfish?

Here's a post from many years ago that may help elucidate some of this controversy ...


Is the YOUCAT, the Youth Catechism, a work tantamount to heresy, as some on the internet are suggesting, or is it an effective tool of catechesis that talks to young people at their level?

One answer to this question brings up one of the most profound analogies between Acting and the Faith.

But first, let me take a moment to agree with one thing the YOUCAT recall website says. The writer of this page quotes the YOUCAT as stating that the Church rejects "all artificial means of contraception". This is a common but flawed assertion, and it is one that is loosely and wrongly used by proponents of Natural Family Planning (NFP). For a long time this drove me crazy, as I couldn't understand why the Church would object to artificial contraception (such as the pill or condoms) and not "natural contraception" such as NFP. Are we Christian Scientists? I would ask myself. Or worse - are we New Age Pagans, who hate what is artificial and love what is "natural"?

I really was stuck on this teaching because it made no logical sense to me, and this was the biggest logjam I faced after becoming Catholic. Then I realized it: the Church prohibits contraception, period. Natural Family Planning is not contraception at all. It is simply periodic continence, or not having sex if there's a good reason for a wife not to get pregnant. When during the month the wife is fertile, if you don't want babies, don't have sex. This is not wilfully frustrating the procreative aspect of the marital act, which is what contraception is. The "natural" and "artificial" labels are not only misnomers, they cloud the coherence of the argument.

So that point is a good one - but I'm not so sure of the rest of the critique of the YOUCAT, and I don't really want to address that, since I haven't read the YOUCAT (though I have read the Catechsim cover-to-cover) and I'm not really here to talk about the YOUCAT itself, but instead the issue it raises that leads back to Acting and the Faith

So let's stop talking about sex and talk about something interesting instead.

At the Catholic Answers Forum, a commenter named Manualman makes an excellent point; and while I don't know if this applies to the YOUCAT debate, it certainly applies to the Torture Debate, the Super-Disciples Debate, and the Lying Debate.

Manualman writes:

... God is not arbitrary. Sin IS indeed sin. But what sin IS is something that by its nature damages our ability to give and receive love (both human and divine). Not just the commission of an act 'on the list.'

You technically cannot make a list of mortal sins in catholic theology. Even murder might not be a mortal sin if the killer is mentally incompetent. Look it up: mortal sin requires three elements: grave matter, knowledge that the matter is evil and consent.

What Youcat is trying to do here (IMO) is avoid the mistakes of previous generations. Masturbation is grave matter precisely because it twists the blessed gift of human sexuality that was meant to be re-gifted to one's spouse into a narcisstic experience. Youcat explains that to my satisfaction. It's not about 'demonizing' the temptation a person experiences, but helping him understand what is appealing about it and why giving into it is not just a violation of a rule, but a genuine harm.

Another later poster here fails to recognize that he makes my point better than his own: simply attempting to make people be good via following the rules never works. [my emphasis] They always find a loophole. The way to help people to do good and avoid evil is to explain to them what evil IS and how much damage it does. Again, Youcat passes the deeper test. The last thing teens need is a list of rules that appear to be arbitrary to them, have no clear explanation and seem disconnected to their own experience of reality. Youcat avoids that pitfall and speaks to people where they are at.

If you're looking for a rigid, rules based religion that doesn't require you to comprehend, [my emphasis] but only obey a fixed list of rules, then I agree Youcat isn't for you. But perhaps catholicism isn't either.

Yeah, I know, we were supposed to stop talking about sex, and this is all about YOUCAT's teaching on masturbation, the act being both grave matter for sin and also a habit that young men in particular can find almost impossible to break. Apparently, the YOUCAT is trying to acknowledge this by putting the teaching in context (so that it does not seem arbitrary) and by acknowledging the fact that someone addicted to this sin should not heap self-abuse upon self-abuse (as it were) and feel demonized by something they often can not control.

As I say, that's what the argument seems to be about, and whether the YOUCAT should have worded this section differently (see footnote below) I will not address. But what does interest me is the argument Manualman is making.

The argument is really this: Think with the Mind of the Church, which is no less than the Mind of Christ.

Or in other words: GET IN CHARACTER.

Every actor knows the feeling: you struggle with a role over and over again in rehearsal and even in performance and it never seems to click. Then, all of a sudden, a word or a gesture makes the whole character come together for you, and every line you speak in the play makes sense. You become engaged in the role, you discover the part, you get in character, and the organic unity takes care of itself. Suddenly you stop struggling over lines here or there that don't work for you, or looking to motivate certain moments that seem to stick out - for suddenly it all comes together and everything in the play works the way it obviously should, but the way you just couldn't imagine it working earlier in the creative process. Actors know this, and actors pray that this happens for them - at least before closing night!

The Faith is like that. That's why words like "artificial" or "natural" can cloud an issue, as can words like "demonize" when applied to certain sins. The Faith is a whole, the teachings are all one thing. The Church's view on sex, for instance, is rooted in love, marriage and mutual self-sacrifice. Once you see that whole, then you know instantly how wrong something like masturbation is. Outside of that whole, beyond that organic understanding, Church teaching may indeed seem like unrelated arbitrary bits and pieces - which it never is, for it is the Way of Christ, the most whole and complete Way in the world. It is a living teaching.

Thus St. Paul tells us "I will pray with the spirit, I will pray also with the understanding; I will sing with the spirit, I will sing also with the understanding." (1 Cor. 14:15)

Our job as Christians and as Good Actors is to understand, not to follow or mimic from without, but to be transformed from within, so that the whole makes sense, and that with the understanding we will have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16)

Footnote - from the YOUCAT:

Question 409 (Page 222)

Is Masturbation an offense against love?

Masturbation is an offense against love, because it makes the excitement of sexual pleasure an end in itself and uncouples it from the holistic unfolding of love between a man and a women. That is why “sex with yourself” is a contradiction in terms.

The Church does not demonize masturbation, but she warns against trivializing it. In fact many young people and adults are in danger of becoming isolated in their consumption of lewd pictures, films, and Internet services instead of finding love in a personal relationship. Loneliness can lead to a blind alley in which masturbation becomes an addiction. Living by the motto ‘“For sex I do not need anyone; i will have it myself, however and whenever I need it” makes nobody happy.

Interview with Mark Shea

Here's a link to the podcast of my interview last week on Real Life Radio with Mark Shea.

Gandhi on Contraception and Selfishness

Since everybody on Facebook now hates me for daring to suggest that it is wrong to use NFP for selfish or trivial reasons; in fact, many are angry at me for daring to suggest that it is even possible to abuse NFP in this way, as NFP seems, to most of my Facebook friends, to be a gift from God, I am reposting this.

At any rate, it's the contraceptive mentality that is killing us.

A selfish couple using NFP rather than contraception is not a victory for Our Lord and Our Lady.  "I don't use contraception but I'm still selfish!" is hardly something to brag about.  And any tool can be abused, including even the "sacramental" called NFP.  Just because Natural Family Planning is not contraception does not mean that it cannot be used as a de facto substitute for it, and used without serious reasons, but merely for trivial and selfish reasons: not used to protect the health of the mother or the sanity of the family or because of looming poverty, but for mere comfort and bourgeois self-indulgence.  I am told by my Super Catholic friends that this never happens.  But I am told by young Super Catholic friends that these sorts of reasons are indeed why many of them are using NFP.

The problem is the underlying selfishness, which obviously a neutral tool like NFP cannot address.  Only God's grace, His cross and resurrection, can address the underlying selfishness in each of us.

With that in mind, here's a reprint of a post from 2013 ...


 Salon, of all places, has re-published a 1939 article by Mahatma Gandhi about the evils of contraception and of "wasting seed".

Here it is.  The boldface is me highlighting Ghandi's words; the red is my commentary.


It is the fashion in some quarters nowadays for the young to discredit whatever may be said by old people. I am not prepared to say that there is absolutely no justification for this belief. But I warn the youth of all the countries against always discounting whatever old men or women may say for the mere fact that it is said by such persons.
Even as wisdom often comes from the mouths of babes, so does it often come from the mouths of old people. The golden rule is to test everything in the light of reason and experience, no matter from whom it comes.
I want to discuss the subject of birth control by contraceptives. It is dinned into one’s ears that gratification of the sex urge is a solemn obligations, like the obligation of discharging debts lawfully incurred, and that not to do so would involve the penalty of intellectual decay. This sex urge has been isolated from the desire for progeny, and it is said by protagonists of the use of contraceptives that conception is an accident to be prevented except when the parties desire to have children.
I venture to suggest that this is a most dangerous doctrine to preach anywhere, much more so in a country like India, where the middle-class male population has become imbecile through abuse of the creative function.  This is an old fashioned way of saying that if you spend all your time on self-indulgent non-productive activities like contraceptive sex or masturbation, the character it breeds in you will be nothing short of mentally deficient.  No, it won't "make you go blind" except morally and spiritually blind.
If satisfaction of the sex urge is a duty, unnatural vice would be commendable. This follows as the night the day.  Perversion becomes not only acceptable, it becomes obligatory - enforced, a duty.  "Gay marriage" then becomes imposed on your society and your church, whether you want it or not. Even persons of note have been known to approve of what is commonly known as sexual perversion. The reader may be shocked at that statement. But if it somehow or other gains the stamp of respectability, it will be the rage among boys and girls to satisfy their urge among members of their own sex.  I am told that the peculiar phrase pan-sexual is all the rage among the pierced and spiked who work at Subway (i.e., the kids of your wealthy suburban neighbors), and for twenty years now, a young woman just ain't with it if she hasn't had a Lesbian encounter or two in high school or college.
To me the use of contraceptives is not far removed from the means to which persons have hitherto resorted for the gratification of their sexual desire with the results that very few know. And I betray no confidence when I inform the reader that there are unmarried girls of impressionable age in schools and colleges who study birth-control literature and magazines with avidity and even possess contraceptives.
It is impossible to confine their use to married women.  Apparently this was the argument being used for contraception.  Compare the arguments, "Abortion will be used only for hard cases" or "Divorce if there's no other alternative" or "Let's get a cell phone and only use it for emergencies."
Marriage loses its sanctity when its purpose and highest use is conceived to be the satisfaction of the animal passion without contemplating the natural result of such satisfaction. I have no doubt that those learned men and women who are carrying on propaganda with missionary zeal in favor of their use of contraceptives are doing irreparable harm to the youth of the world under the false belief that they will be thereby the poor women who may be obliged to bear children against their will. Those who need not limit their children will not be easily reached by them.
Our poor Indian women have not the knowledge or training that the women of the West have. Surely the propaganda is not being carried on in behalf of the middle-class women, for they do not need the knowledge, at any rate, so much as the poorer classes do.
The greatest harm, however, done by the propaganda lies in its rejection of the old ideal and substitution in its place of one which, if carried out, must spell the moral and physical extinction of the race.  "The moral and physical extinction of the race" - see the demographic crisis that threatens Russia, China and the West and the moral crisis that gnaws even deeper.
The horror with which ancient literature has regarded the fruitless use of the vital fluid was not a superstition born of ignorance. What shall we say of a husbandman who will sow the finest seed in his possession on a stony ground, or of the owner of a field who will receive in his field rich with fine soil good seed under conditions that will make it impossible for it to grow?  In the Culture of Sterility, we say, "Well done, good and faithful servant, to waste your potential and destroy our future."  
God has blessed man with seed that has the highest potency and women with a field richer than the richest earth to be found anywhere on this globe. Surely it is criminal folly for man to allow his most precious possession to run to waste. And so is a woman guilty of criminal folly who will receive the seed in her life-producing field with the deliberate intention of letting it run to waste. Both he and she will be judged guilty of misuse of the talents given to them and they will be dispossessed of what they have been given.
Sex urge is a fine and noble thing. There is nothing to be ashamed of in it. But it is meant only for the act of creation. Any other use of it is a sin against God and humanity.  
It was reserved for our generation to glorify vice by calling it virtue. "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Is. 5:20).  The greatest disservice protagonists of contraceptives are rendering to the youth of today is to fill their minds with what appears to me to be wrong ideology.
Let the young men and women who hold their destiny in their hands beware of this false god and guard the treasure with which God has blessed them and use it, if they wish, for the only purpose for which it is intended.

These But the Trappings and the Suits of Reality

To avoid the biggest charge against me when I say the sorts of things I'm about to say, the things that anger people, let me admit that I am a sinner.  I am not judging others.  I am not saying I get this right and you don't.  In fact, were I not guilty myself of the very things I see and write about in you, dear reader, and in others, I would not have the insight about these things that I do.

But salvation is not by technique.  Salvation is not by gimmick.  Salvation is not by getting your time card punched.  I need to learn that lesson as much as you do, but perhaps you do indeed need to learn it.

In my last post I quoted a priest who made the ridiculous assertion that the technique of NFP (Natural Family Planning) is, in effect, a sacramental - but more than a sacramental.  Fr. Hogan claims that "NFP then builds a respect for human life."  This is very surprising, as NFP consists of an awkward and elaborate system of taking basal temperature, analyzing vaginal mucus, and examining the thickness of the cervix.  If he means, however, that periodic continence builds respect for human life, it has been my experience that periodic continence can be used as a kind of penance, and that it certainly builds a desire for sex, but that it is hardly the sort of thing that builds respect for human life, simply by virtue of its being practiced - magically, as it were.  With God's grace, prayer and mortification, over the long haul, and with the proper interior disposition periodic continence may in fact build respect for human life, or build chastity or any other virtue, but it no more does that automatically than abstaining from meat on Fridays builds compassion for the poor - or does anything other than make you hungry for meat on Fridays.  The only automatic and guaranteed result that goes with practicing any kind of technique is the initial one of frustration in trying to practice it.  Beyond that, technique alone does not have any automatic consequences, for all techniques, helpful though they may be, are mere externals.

But the error is not Fr. Hogan's, even though he insists that those who pay to take NFP classes and who practice the thermometer-mucus-cervix technique are blessed with the charism of infallible discernment on matters of family planning - they always judge properly the question of whether or not they should take the chance of having more children, and they always answer the question, "Should we separate sex from babies this month?" with a correct answer (whether that answer is yes or no) by definition as NFP practitioners - they always do this, simply because the technique itself transfers the grace of infallible discernment to them automatically.  Bad as this error is (or, more correctly, shameful as this sales pitch is), the real error is with Devout Catholics who believe that any external act is a substitute for internal transformation.

As an actor I've learned that the externals - mimicry and stage technique - only go so far.  They sometimes help you to portray a character more genuinely from the inside out, but often they don't; often they can be mere substitutes for that.  With living the Faith, which is a serious business as opposed to acting on stage, which is trivial business, externals or sacramentals are only helpful in so far as they facilitate a new life in the believer; it is from that new life that virtue springs.  Even the sacraments themselves (which do automatically convey grace) can be abused by us sinners who tend to use them superficially as mere externals, not allowing the grace to operate in our hearts.  Thus, going to Mass will no more automatically make you a better Catholic than watching the game on Sunday will make you a better football player.  Going to Mass will indeed convey grace, but that grace becomes operant only when we cooperate with it, in our muddled, imperfect and hesitant way; only when we die to self and live to Christ.

The great and insidious threat, the primary threat, to our dying to self and living to Christ is this pride, this notion that since we're Devout Catholics, since we march under the banner and avail ourselves of the externals, we are therefore holy.  This is the great lie, and I see it everywhere I look in Super Catholic circles.  Thus ...

  • Christopher West is able to tell his followers that if they buy into his program, they need not practice custody of the eyes.  If you follow the Pop-Theology of the Body you have thereby achieved mature purity, and you are henceforth unable to look at a naked body lustfully, even (apparently) if you gape at them regularly on your smart phone.
  • Some Catholics who are vehemently anti-abortion begin to feel that they can ignore Church teaching on Torture, Lying, Just War and the Poor, since the proof of their sanctity is the baby feet pin on their lapels.  God bless them for being pro life, God have mercy on them for using that as a means of blocking the further conveyance of His grace.
  • Some Devout Catholics are contemptuous of those outside the subculture and pride themselves in their ability to shut out real life with various walls and barriers - as with the Barrier Method of contraception, so with many Devout Catholics; nothing seminal gets in and they become smug in their faux-sanctity.  In the same way that Hipsters and others believe that fashion and externals like music playlists and brand name products define a person's character, so many Devout Catholics believe that the trappings of the Super Catholic Club validate you as an individual: Latin, various devotions (most from the 19th century), going to one of the dozen seriously Catholic U.S. colleges (whether or not the college is any good), a lifetime devotion to NFP (even if used as a de facto substitute for contraception), and sometimes things as bizarre as whole foods, multi-level marketing programs and even yoga - all these are for some mistaken people the trappings that prove that you're a Good Catholic and the rest of the world is headed for hell.  Of course we pity them, those outside our incestuous little club, we pity them with a benign smile and a supercilious nod, but they don't have the fashion sense that we do - just look at these mantillas.  

Well, a friend of mine keeps telling me to "leave these people alone", but most bishops and many priests and deacons have given up on attempting any kind of fraternal correction, leaving it to miserable sinners like myself to write on blogs and hope some good comes out of it, while many of our readers keep telling us we're judgmental Pharisees and we need to go to confession.  So be it.

I'm not getting this stuff right myself.  But I repent that I'm not and pray that I might.  What I try not to do is become smug and certain that everything I do is good because I'm holy, or at least holier than thou.

The Birth Control Pill vs. the Magic Pill

Did you know that there's a way to become automatically virtuous, so much so that discernment and deliberation and uncertainty vanish and that every decision you make about a certain subject is automatically correct?

No, it's not by means of mortification or by the long and frustrating process of trial and error and increasing maturity.  It's by charting your wife's fertile periods, taking her basal temperature, analyzing her vaginal secretions and examining her cervix.  And by giving money to the NFP industry.

In addressing the question of "serious motives" or "grave reasons" that the Church teaches must be present for having sex only when you think your wife won't get pregnant, Fr. Richard Hogan of "NFP Outreach" makes a rather stunning assertion (my emphasis) ...

NFP ... builds a respect for human life. With this respect in place through the use of NFP, any decision by a couple to try to achieve a pregnancy or to avoid will be made for a good reason. It is not that serious reasons are not necessary—they are. But, a couple practicing NFP after taking the classes and knowing the method, practicing their faith attending Church and receiving the sacraments, with an active prayer life, and conscientious about the religious education of their children, will, if they decide to avoid a pregnancy, have serious reasons. 

In other words, NFP is the magic pill.  The NFP Outreach spokesman assures us that if you buy into the technique, BINGO! your discernment process is solved.  Any reason you come up with for separating sex from babies will, since you've come up with it, be a serious one! 

Thinking of not making babies for a few years in order to enjoy a more materialist lifestyle?  Hoping to put off, for the sake of convenience, being hassled by another immortal soul making a mess in the house whose smelly diapers need to be changed?  If you  answer Hell yes I'm thinking of avoiding that! and you've paid to take the NFP classes (plus if you've prayed and received the sacraments), your decision to put off making a baby is automatically valid and moral!  If you've simply prayed and received the sacraments, it is not.

Maybe this is why we can't evangelize well any more, we devout Catholics.  We're suckers - suckers who congratulate themselves for being Catholic and virtuous - and the rest of the world can see it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The NFP Nightmare

I've recently had a glimpse into the NFP (Natural Family Planning) culture and the young "devout Catholics" who buy into it.  It is sick.

NFP is not contraception, but it is effectively used as such, for entirely selfish reasons by some young Catholics who think it's virtuous to use a neutral tool in a bad way.  The Church teaches (infallibly) that a married couple may avoid conception only by means of periodic continence (i.e., occasionally not having sex) and only for serious reasons, such as the health of the mother or not having enough money to feed another baby - not because a baby may mess up your perfectly arranged doilies or because you want to spend a few years married without kids so that you can get to know your husband better or have nicer material things that raising a family right away wouldn't allow you to have.  But young "devout Catholics" tend to be as narcissistic and self-centered as the rest of the world.  The only problem is, they are convinced of their sanctity and they get defensive if you point out to them that what they're doing is contrary to the infallible teaching of the Church they claim to love.

Some young "devout Catholics" are even willing to abstain from sex on their wedding nights and honeymoons if the charting, thermometer and analysis of vaginal secretions and cervical dilations (which are the tools of NFP) indicate that the wedding night and honeymoon coincide with the woman's fertile period that month.  This is not only insane, it's sacrilegious, for the very sacrament of Matrimony is only completed by means of the consummation of the nuptials.  No matter how fancy the wedding or how big the reception, a couple is not fully married until the act of consummation - until they make love as man and wife - a thing the NFP crowd won't do for as much as a week every month, in order to keep sex separate from babies (which is what the rest of the world is busy doing, but only doing more honestly by using rubbers and diaphragms and pills, so as not to be inconvenienced for seven or so days per month).

And not only is NFP becoming a way of life and a culture for these young "devout Catholics" (some of whom plan on using it throughout their entire marriage), but these young folk are separating sex from babies and congratulating themselves that they're good Catholics in the process!

They glory in their shame (Phil. 3:19).  They refuse to inconvenience themselves by bringing new life into the world (at least for long periods of time when new life would be irritating to them), and they congratulate themselves for doing so.  Why?  Because NFP, that's why.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Upcoming Appearances

I'll be on the radio with Mark Shea on Real Life Radio streaming live tomorrow (Wednesday, April 22) at 5:00 pm Eastern / 4:00 pm Central, and broadcast the following Saturday at 8AM EST and Sunday at 10PM EST.  I have absolutely no idea what we're going to talk about.

Then, on EWTN on Saturday, April 25 at 10:00 pm Eastern / 9:00 pm Central, I'll be featured as J. R. R. Tolkien in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings - a Catholic Worldview, hosted by Joseph Pearce.  I think this is our first Tolkien special, which first aired many years ago and which features the discussion on Christianity and myth between Tolkien and Lewis ...

My First Post on Finn

This was my first post on Bishop Finn.  It's from October 23, 2011.  Since this post, Fr. Ratigan was convicted and sentenced to fifty years in prison.  Bishop Finn spent $1.4 million of diocesan money to defend himself, but was also convicted in criminal court of failure to report child abuse; he was placed on probation and fined.  He has been serving as bishop of Kansas City ever since his conviction, though such a conviction would have prevented him from even being a crossing guard at a public school.  He finally resigned today, under pressure from the Vatican.

The Catholic Defense League and Opus Dei and some of Finn's fellow bishops shamed themselves by vigorously defending Bishop Finn, and in the case of the Catholic Defense League, spinning the story to a point where the facts of the case were utterly distorted.

My original post garnered 99 comments, some of them very angry at me for daring to attack a doctrinally orthodox bishop.  It remains the third most read post in the history of this blog.  It deserves reposting today, but I'm not allowing comments.  My entire series of posts on Finn, written in the 3 1/2 years since the one below, can be read here.


"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.

Fin de Finn!

This was a long time coming and is a welcome relief - The Pope has accepted the resignation of Bishop Finn of Kansas City.

I've decided to turn comments off on this post.  I really don't want to read indignant Catholics who think this was the result of a liberal conspiracy against poor, persecuted, "conservative" Finn.  Read my two dozen or so posts about the situation, or go straight to the source and read the Graves Report, the independent investigation into how Finn covered up for and enabled the sexual abuse of children in his diocese.  Step away from the right / left factional split for a while and simply look at the facts.  Finn should have been removed long ago.

I suspect Bishop Barros in Chile will be asked to resign as well if the situation there continues to fester.

It is perhaps naive to hope that our bishops can be good, holy Christians.  It is, however, incumbent upon us to demand that they be decent, trustworthy human beings.

Sadly, most of them are not.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Produce your own Christian Movie! A Handy "How To" Guide

Regular reader of this blog M. Hashtag, who has intimate knowledge of the motion picture industry in California, has sent along a handy guide for how to put together your very own Christian film.  What follows is a guest post by M. Hashtag, which I hope will be helpful to all of you Christian screenwriter / producer / director / actor wannabes.


Necessary Elements for a Christian Film: A Practical Guide
M. Hashtag

  • God answering people’s prayers: The primary role of God is to intervene directly in the movie in order to give the main characters whatever they’ve wanted since the beginning of the film. Ideally, this happens toward the end, in a scene that lets the entire community rally around the main character in joy and triumph. Especially effective in slow-motion.

  • Sacrifice: This is an automatic win for Christian audiences because it reminds them of Jesus. It doesn’t matter whether the sacrifice is necessary within the world of your movie, or even if the reasons for it are clear.

  • Tears: Make sure that every main character cries at least once. If you do that, you don’t need to worry about whether the audience has an emotional connection to the characters, since crying automatically lets the audience know that whatever is happening is meaningful and they should care about it.  It is also the only way for the audience to know that the characters are sad.

  • Family: All members of a family unit should be in harmony and agreement at all times. If disagreements occur, make it clear that it is because someone is being influenced by evil and be sure they come around before the end of the movie. Once you let the audience know that characters are related to each other, it is not necessary to establish whether or not they have a close relationship or think of creative ways to show that they mean a lot to each other. The word “family” automatically implies it.

  • 2-dimensional Good Guys: The Good Guys should not have much depth, contradiction, or growth during the film, and their flaws should be minor and all resolved by the end. Remember that the main purpose of the Good Guys is to teach people an important lesson about faith, and if a character is very flawed he or she will not be able to do that. The best position to put a Good Guy in is as an underdog or victim of injustice.

  • 2-dimensional Bad Guys: The main purpose of the Bad Guys is to try to lead the Good Guys astray, provide a platform for the Good Guys to be able to teach the other characters and the audience a lesson about faith, or to be astonished at the end whenever God finally answers people’s prayers. They should have no depth, no redeeming qualities, and speak in convenient sound bites.

  • Kindly pastor, priest, or nun: It is necessary to have a member of the clergy say something wise and truthful to the Good Guys, because that is the only way the audience will be able to recognize the Christian teaching in the movie. They should have no flaws, or the flaws should be minor and taken care of by the time the movie ends. They should also speak in convenient sound bites so that the audience will know what your film is about just from watching the trailer.

  • Faith: The meaning of faith in Christian film is the belief that everything will work out the way the characters want it to. If a character has a crisis of faith, make sure they are chastised (preferably by a kindly pastor, priest, or nun) and repent before the end of the movie.

  • A snazzy marketing plan: It is best to use celebrities and conservative political figures to endorse your movie, since that is the only way Christian audiences can tell whether or not something is worth seeing. If you don’t know any celebrities, members of your church can make people feel guilty if they don’t support you. This is especially effective if you can choose a release date that lets you frame your movie in a David-and-Goliath narrative against movies that will make a lot more money than yours. Under no circumstances should you seek promotional quotes from professional film critics. They are never to be trusted.

Things NOT to include:

  • Sin: If you show characters sinning or even talking about sin, someone in the audience will think sinning is a good idea and you will be responsible for their soul going to Hell. The exception to this is the 2-dimensional bad guys, who are allowed to talk about sinning if they repent at the end.

  • Humor: The occasional quip or visual gag is acceptable, but do not include anything in your movie that might elicit more than a chuckle. If people laugh during your movie, they might not take the Christian teaching in it seriously.

  • Intense Conflict or Bad Things Happening: Conflict should be between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys, or occasionally between Good Guys and other Good Guys under the influence of the Bad Guys. However, things should never get so bad that the audience thinks God might not be able to sort it out. If you think your audience might be getting confused about why bad things are happening to a Good person, make sure that God quickly answers that person's prayers in the next scene.

  • Symbols or Metaphors: Everything should be as literal and easily understandable for your audience as possible. If an action or object has any sort of symbolic meaning, have a character spell it out for the audience. It is dangerous to let people draw their own conclusions about meaning.


Got all that?  Now get cracking!

This reminds me of my own guide for How to Write a Really Bad Play.  Many writers have taken my advice over the years, and I hope many producers continue to take M. Hashtag's advice.  Judging from the sort of self-styled "Christian" movies that are being released, it appears that many producers are.

Good for them!  And remember, even if a Christian movie is bad, it's a sin not to go see it.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why We Believe

My actress yesterday told me of a friend of hers.  The friend is a minister / elder in a Methodist church.  She frequently preaches.  However, she is not a believer.  She has no faith.  Only those who know her well know that she's an unbeliever.

When you ask her, "Why do you work as a minister and preach to others when you yourself have no faith?" she answers, "People need to believe.  It helps them.  By preaching, I'm helping them."

My response to my actress:

To hell with that.  Are we such ignoble creatures that we need the comfort of a lie, of a handy fiction to make us feel good?  We believe because it is true; we believe because God is truth.  If it turns out (as I was convinced when I was an atheist) that God is a lie and that this whole thing is an elaborate illusion, propped up by well meaning hypocrites for the benefit of cowards, then let's get pick axes and kerosene and smash up and burn to the ground every god-forsaken church in the world.  To hell with all religion if it's simply a lie that we like.  I am for truth, as any man with any dignity would be.

Give me believers with courage.  Give me atheists with courage.  Then we'll live again.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Cheating at Easter

Excuse my Catholic crabbiness.

Easter is more than making it from Friday to Sunday.  Easter is more than an empty tomb.  Easter is more than "He is risen" and "Alleluia".  Easter is more than "rebirth" or "fear not".

Easter is the Cross.  It's not just the empty cross.  It's Christ on the cross, it's the Son of Man on the cross, it's man on the cross.  It's the wounds that the Resurrection does not heal, that remain in Christ's side and hands and feet as a sign and as a witness to the fact that Easter is not cheap.

But we want our Easter cheap.

The spirit of antichrist is the spirit that denies the cross.  The cross is discipline, structure, the backbone of life, suffering, form, sacrifice - all the things the modern world hates.  Deny the cross and you deny the Shape of God, and God becomes a slippery amoeba that you can play around with and keep in your back pocket.

The spirit of antichrist is the spirit that denies the cross.  In denying the cross, it necessarily denies the incarnation.  In denying both the incarnation and the crucifixion, it empties Easter of all its meaning, drains it of its blood, drains it of of its Body and Blood, makes the source of all our joy a vapid and empty parody of itself.

The spirit of antichrist blinds us to the deeper reality of Easter.

For Easter is more than an event.  It is a sign of the Consummation, the final payment, the conclusion.  Easter is the fruit of the fact that at some moment of every life, every single isolated human being can say, in dreadful terror, in his or her own way and for his or her own desperate reason, "God is dead."

Without that horrible moment, the moment (or the month, or the year) when the bottom drops out, without the horror of Golgotha, there is no Easter.  Unless God is dead, He cannot rise again.  Unless we take up our cross daily, we cannot follow Him.  And unless we follow Him - on a very narrow path - there is no reality to Easter.  We know that but, by God, do we resist it.

We are cheating at Easter.  We want our Easter cheap.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Holiness and Hashtags

George Takei and a cat

We live in an age where all it takes to be good, right and morally superior is to change your Facebook profile picture.

Hans Fiene writes of our generation and those that follow us ...

More than we wanted to find the perfect prom date, we wanted to find our own bigotry to eradicate. After years of hearing those saints sing “We Shall Overcome,” we were overcome with jealousy. We coveted Selma. We envied that march. We looked at that footage and hungered for our own cause to devour.
Cruelly, the Lord of Social Justice wouldn’t grant us a cause, at least not an easy one. Sure, we could march against Roe v. Wade and defend the unborn. But opposing abortion would have required us to adopt sex lives consistent with that position. No more hookup culture, no more consequence-free sex, no more placing our own desires over the needs of children. Opposing Planned Parenthood would never be our cause. It would have cost us too much fun.
Likewise, fighting poverty couldn’t possibly be our Selma. The annoying thing about defending the poor is that the poor need money, and we had student loans to pay. And sex trafficking wasn’t any more attractive. To be holy, you need a cause no one else supports, least of all those wretched white Southern fundamentalists. While forcing women into prostitution is certainly bad, what’s the point of speaking against it if Jerry Falwell agrees with you?

The solution?  Fiene continues ...

Then, one day, manna descended from heaven in the form of gay marriage. Here it was! The cause we’d longed for all these years had finally arrived! Here was an injustice no one had ever opposed before. Here was a group of marginalized people no one had ever defended. So by embracing this cause, we would instantly be more compassionate, more accepting, more saintly than every human being who had ever lived.
What did it cost us to embrace this cause? Absolutely nothing! It required no moral consistency, no financial sacrifice, no effort. We could sleep with as many people as we wanted, divorce as many people as we wanted, father and then abandon as many children as our hearts desired, and lose no credibility. We could spend our entire adult lives defecating on the institution of marriage and this could not sully our gay marriage halos.

Read the whole amazing article.  There's some great stuff in it ...

We looked to the icon of racial equality, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose greatest accomplishments included spearheading nationwide non-violent protests, preaching peace, giving speeches, and writing letters that will live forever in the annals of American history, and we felt not an ounce of humiliation when the best prophet we could place beside him was George Takei, a man whose greatest accomplishments include pretending to fly a spaceship on TV and sharing funny pictures of cats on the Internet. 

 It concludes in a masterly sweep of prose ...

We will continue diminishing the bravery of Rosa Parks by claiming a seat beside her as our reward for the one time we boycotted Chick-Fil-A for a month. We will trivialize the death of Medgar Evers by praising his blood for freeing gay couples to financially ruin a florist who hurt their feelings instead of walking one more block to find another purveyor of petunias who was happy to take their money.
In the Kingdom of Heaven, countless children of God will embrace the older saints who gave them lives of far greater dignity on earth by following Christ’s example and enduring insults, beatings, imprisonments, and even death for them. We know this and yet we will insist that we’re owed an equal measure of honor because we tweeted our support for every gay kiss on “Glee.”
From the days of our youth, my generation hungered for a cause that would make us as righteous as the saints who marched on Selma. We have found that cause. We have sunk our teeth into that righteousness and, at this point, we couldn’t care less if it’s real. The Lord of Social Justice has finally answered our prayers. And Lord help the bigot who comes between us and our cause.

Sexual Abuse and the Fires of Purgatory

St. James church in Brighton, Australia.

A parish church in Australia is burned to ruins by arson, and its members, in general, celebrate.

"For the community here, it's kind of the haunted house on the hill," said one of them.

It was "hard going to this church" said another.  "If the church is rebuilt after the fire, it would have served its punishment to some degree."

These are normal Catholics saying this.  Think about that for a moment.  Normal suburban Catholics - the kind who, here in the States, grill in the backyard, go to the mall, watch their kids and grandkids play sports - normal suburban Catholics happy that an arsonist burned down their parish church.


Because one of its priests groomed and abused altar boys, some of whom later committed suicide.

"It's always been a difficult building for us to drive past because there's been so much tragedy and complicated feelings, I guess.  We've all attended many funerals of boys that we now know were abused by [Father Ronald] Pickering ... and other perpetrators in the parish - at the actual church that it occurred in."

Meanwhile, in Chile, Pope Francis appoints as bishop of Osorno a notorious supporter of a known abuser and quasi-cult leader, this appointment causing a riot in the cathedral there.  Jennifer Haselberger analyzes the situation and concludes that it would be literally impossible for the pope to appoint as bishops men who aren't at least somewhat tainted by their participation in the Sex Scandal - either as having participated in it or as having condoned or enabled it.  Haselberger saw the situation from the inside in the archdiocese of St. Paul and would, presumably, know what she's talking about.

And I have become more and more convinced that what is probably fairly common in the Catholic Church is what Cardinal Keith O'Brien in Scotland did, and what Fr. Karadima in Chile did, and what Abp. Nienstedt in St. Paul is accused of doing: priests and bishops preying upon and sexually harassing boys and men over whom they have power.

In any event, we have come to this.

Most of our bishops and many of our priests are so far from living as Christians - or even as decent human beings - that this level of corruption and contamination has been allowed to fester.  And the laity have enabled this by putting up with it.

But perhaps there's a sign of a turn around.  When lay Catholics begin rioting in cathedrals and begin to tell reporters how happy they are that their parish church has burned to the ground, hoping this will purge the evil out of it - as surprising, socking and disturbing as that is, it might be a sign that there is an Easter Sunday following Good Friday after all.

Still, this is almost impossible to comprehend.  There are parishioners happy that their parish church has been torched - happy that this is perhaps the only way for them to start over.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Self-Surrender in Words and Music

So yesterday while getting gas, the gas station was playing loudly John Legend's song "All of Me", which is not a bad song as pop songs go - the lyrics and the melody are pretty good, but at various points this guy sings

Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, ohoh

and throws himself into a funky falsetto that, frankly, makes me want to vomit.  The falsetto somehow emphasizes the dishonesty in the teen-aged girl sentiment the song conveys.

And that dishonesty, despite the romance that's also in the song and that seems more genuine, is turning "all of me" or self-surrender, into something much more self-indulgent, at least from the point of view of the girls who must like this gooey stuff.  

Total mutual self-surrender is less about a guy singing in a falsetto dying to have sex and more about putting up with the little frustrations of daily life side-by-side for 25 years, changing diapers and paying mortgages.  Legend's "All of Me" seems to be "all-about-me" and that biological longing that I'm spiritualizing, while the classing song "All of Me" by Ruth Etting (here sung by Willie Nelson) is much more about a lover's humble attempt truly to serve his beloved.

Legend's version of total self-giving focuses on a kind of pre-climactic titillation that isn't humble self-surrender at all.  Legend's "All of Me" is to the classic "All of Me" what Christopher West's giddy hyper-sexual Pop-Theology-of-the-Body is to the St. John Paul II's real one.

Here's a man who would never sing falsetto.