Lucca

Outside the ancient Tuscan city of Lucca, you can visit the tomb of St. Gemma Calgani, d. 1903.

Inside the 16th century walls… the basilica holding the tomb of Lucca’s founding bishop, an Irishman, Saint Frediano. Also a stunning medieval baptismal font.

This basilica also holds the tomb of sweet St. Zita.

The cathedral (duomo) of Lucca reminds me of Notre Dame.

The cathedral is consecrated to the memory of St. Martin of Tours.

St. Regolo rests here.

And they have a Christ-the-King crucifix that they say bears the likeness of the Holy Face veil, which would make it the most accurate sculpture of the Lord’s face.

Saints on the Arno

St. John Chrysostom died 1614 years ago tomorrow. They have a relic of his earthly remains in the Duomo in Florence.

Many saints rest here, in whole or in part, in Florence.

St. Barnabas…

Pope St. Mark (with other martyrs)…

St. Cesonio, martyr…

And hundreds more.

They keep many of the relics in museums, and present the reliquaries as works of art. With the relics in them. Seems disrespectful to me.

But I stopped and prayed anyway, and it didn’t seem totally out of place. Most of the museums of Florence are attached to churches and once were monasteries.

Don’t visit the centro historico of Florence to pray without a few Euros in your pocket; it is not a town where you can just step into a church and pray for free.

…In Pisa, in addition to the patron Saint Raniero, the Duomo holds Blessed Guido della Gherardesca.

The church of St. Martin holds St. Bona di Pisa.

And the town memorializes Blessed Guiseppe Toniolo with his own little piazza.

Pisa & Florence

When the wind blows hard, it requires some effort…

But without wind, no problem…

Germans, Mexicans, Filipinos, and plenty of Americans taking each other’s pictures in such poses.

Seems unfair to the tower, which still does its duty: holding the bells aloft, to summon Christians to Mass in this magnificent Duomo next door.

St. Ranieri presides over the south trancept.

Pisa’s “Palazzo Blu” has a collection of interesting paintings like this one, artist unknown…

Which brings us to another town, further up the Arno…

Arno in Pisa
Arno in Florence

The cloisters of Florence abound with paintings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

This last one adorns the wall of a cell in the Museo San Marco, where Fra Angelico produced the most breathtaking collection of paintings I have ever seen, for the spiritual benefit of his Dominican brothers.

One cell has this painting, which has inspired me for over twenty years. I never knew where the original was, until now…

The ghost that haunts Fra Angelico’s San Marco most intently, however, is Fra Geronimo Savanarola. He ruled as prior at the time of his arrest and execution in the Piazza della Signoria.

I will have more to say about Savanarola when I get home and have a real keyboard to work with. I think he is both less of a hero and less of a villain than his lovers and his haters make him out to be. He was, without a doubt, an eminently learned Thomist.

The thing he did that I find most charming: he appealed to an ecumenical council against the corrupt Borgia pope and proposed that Florence replace Rome as the Holy See.

(Savanarola wasn’t as kooky as you might think there; an earlier pope lived for a decade in Florence–and presided over an ecumenical council there– earlier in Savanarola’s 15th century.)

…I did not realize until I saw the statue in person that Michelangelo’s David holds a stone in his right hand–to use against Goliath, I suppose.

On the south side of the Arno, you can see this crucifix by the same artist.

Visiting St. Thomas III: Where He Died

In the infirmary, second floor of this old building at Fossanova Abbey. There’s a little chapel there now.

Fossanova is about an hour’s drive from Thomas’ birthplace in Roccasecca. Not exactly close, since he didn’t ride a horse and traveled exclusively on foot.

But considering that the man had walked some 9,000 miles in his life, had lived in Paris, and was in fact on his way to Lyons, France (on foot) when he fell deathly ill, the moment came remarkably close to Aquino, and the mountains he gazed upon in his youth.

When I visited Ars years ago, a saint who had previously intimidated me by his austerity of life (John Vianney) became human to me, when I saw the very confessional where he sat for hours on end, and the ramshackle little kitchen where he boiled his potatoes.

Now, a saint whose mind has intimidated me suddenly became more human, because I have seen the mountains where he grew up, and where he died.

The ridges of Lazio could move you to contemplate the Five Ways, to be sure. That’s just the beginning of what they can make you contemplate.

Visiting St. Thomas II: Montecassino

The ancient* abbey where St. Thomas studied as a boy looms above the sweet little city of Cassino.

* That is, re-built…

…ater being destroyed completely by US bombs in February, 1944.

St. Thomas prayed at the tombs of Saints Benedict and Scholastica, which are now in a chapel below the high altar of the basilica.

The young student from nearby Aquino may have read this very biography of St. Benedict…

And this textbook of science…

He probably walked through this doorway (now preserved in the abbey museum).

And trod these floor tiles.

…In his treatise on justice in the Summa, St. Thomas considers some questions about criminal trials, including how many witnesses are required to establish a fact.

In the third objection in II-II q70 art2, St. Thomas quotes a medieval canon which decrees that, to establish a fact against a Cardinal, sixty-four witnesses are required.

This is of particular interest, considering:

St. Thomas approves of the (practically insuperable) requirement, with this argument:

The rule protects the Roman Church [that is, the College of Cardinals], on account of its dignity: and this for three reasons. First because in that Church those men ought to be promoted whose sanctity makes their evidence of more weight than that of many witnesses. Secondly, because those who have to judge other men, often have many opponents on account of their justice, wherefore those who give evidence against them should not be believed indiscriminately, unless they be very numerous. Thirdly, because the condemnation of any one of them would detract in public opinion from the dignity and authority of that Church, a result which would be more fraught with danger than if one were to tolerate a sinner in that same Church, unless he were very notorious and manifest, so that a grave scandal would arise if he were tolerated.

A lot to consider here; I promise to come back and discuss this thoroughly when I get back home.

In the meantime, though, we can say for sure that the judge in Massachusetts will not have such a high threshold, when it comes to allowing testimony. (Plus, McC is no longer a Cardinal anyway, as of summer 2018.)

In this case, I believe it will actually benefit the Holy See in the long run, that the word of one accuser–with plenty of circumstantial evidence to support what he has to say–will be allowed against this particular accused criminal.

There are a lot of facts that need to come out, and getting them out will, in the end, help the Church.

If you can hang tight until March, you will be able to read about many of those facts in Ordained by a Predator. Good Lord willing, the book will see print then.

The Oil of the Wise Virgins

William_Blake_-_The_Parable_of_the_Wise_and_Foolish_Virgins

Today at Holy Mass, we read the Parable of the Ten Virgins. They await the bridegroom’s arrival, deep into the night. Then, behold, he comes! But only five of the young ladies have an extra flask of oil, to keep their torches burning.

Here’s a little compendium of links to the homilies I have given about the parable, over the years.

The Ten Virgins at Super Bowl XXII (2020)

The Wise Virgins’ Oil (2018)

The Wise Virgins’ Parable (2017)

The Mass is the Oil (2017) I remember giving this one in the basement social hall at St. Francis, while the workers were laying the new hardwood floor in the church above us.

Where is Time Headed (2012)

In Here, Lord? (2011)

Hamlet + Ten Virgins (2011)

If the necessary oil represents a completed manuscript of Ordained by a Predator, sent to a potential publisher, then yours truly is good. Thank you for praying. 🙂 It’s all in the Lord’s hands now.

 

 

Guest Post: Priests Abuse Girls, Too

momby Ann White

Becky Ianni, third in Mark’s series of speakers and a leader in SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), will remind us that priests abuse girls as well as boys.

Consider, for example, a 7-year old girl in her first Communion dress. Her priest follows her into the bathroom of her house, calls her “the chosen one,” and puts his tongue in her mouth.

This little girl was Sheri Biasin of West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Her priest continued to abuse her until she was 12, at family picnics, sleepovers, and beach outings. He would touch her breasts, put his hand inside her bathing suit, rub up against her. 

This priest was a trusted family friend, often in Sheri’s home and along on family outings. He was considered a person who could do no wrong. Sheri remembers her family scurrying to tidy up when the priest was expected: “It was like God coming to the house.”

Like abused boys, girl victims suffer great trauma, requiring years of counseling, their lives wrenched out of normal shape. From the beginning, girls who suffer abuse struggle in their relationships with boys.

Becky Ianni: “I never dated in high school. I was too afraid… I didn’t get to go out and be nervous about my first kiss or hold anybody’s hand, but I really wanted to. But I couldn’t because I was too afraid.”

Barbara Blaine
the late Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP

Abused girls grow up feeling dirty, as though they themselves were responsible for what happened to them.

Founder of SNAP Barbara Blaine spoke of feeling shame and guilt because she was raped by a priest who was her teacher. He took her and other girls from their classrooms in a Toledo, Ohio, Catholic school and raped them in his bedroom in the rectory. He raped Blaine repeatedly from her 7th-grade year until she was a senior in high school.

The criminal did the raping, but the victim felt the shame and the guilt.  Becky Ianni has this to say about her fear of dating: “I wasn’t afraid because of what would happen. I was afraid I couldn’t say no.”

The self-blame is worse for girls than for boys. Men examining an abuse case–church officials, attorneys, police–often think an attack can be caused by a girl’s seductiveness.

Corinne Curley, a Kansas City attorney abused by a priest as a teenager, says: “They’re going to assume that you’re Lolita, a temptress.” Gary Schoener, a clinical psychologist in Minneapolis who has handled hundreds of clergy abuse cases, says, “Girls are asked what they were wearing. They’re accused of being seductive. This is routine.” Schoener reports that financial settlements tend to be smaller for female victims.

This blaming of the female victim frequently occurs in sexual-abuse cases in general. But in priest sex-abuse cases, the victim-blaming gets even more perverse. It’s not just any man that “little Lolita” has “seduced.” It’s a sexually pure, celibate holy man. Barbara Blaine: “We’re treated like the evil sinner, like we caused the good, holy priest to sin.”

According to the John Jay Report, commissioned by the US Catholic Bishops, the most likely age of victims, both girls and boys, is between 11 and 14. But girl victims tend to be younger than boys: The percentage of abused girls under age 8 is higher than the percentage of boys under age 8.  Priest abusers with large numbers of victims tend to target boys, establishing what some have called a “lifestyle,” whereas a girl is more likely than a boy to be an abuser’s only victim. 

In society as a whole, the overwhelming majority of sex-abuse victims are female. But the John Jay Report gives the well-known statistic: in priest sex-abuse cases, 81% of the victims are male, 19% female.

These John-Jay numbers, however, may be misleading. Two reasons:

1. The report covers five decades, the second half of the last century. For the first 35 years of that period, the Catholic Church did not have girl altar servers. The sexual abuse of minors is a crime of opportunity. Yes, priest sex-abusers in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s had the opportunity to prey on girls in school or at home. But not in one of the primary venues of opportunity–the sacristy. (Credit to Chris O’Leary for pointing this out.)

2. Second reason the John-Jay Report may misrepresent the true boy/girl percentage: There is a higher number of unreported cases with girl victims. Barbara Dorris, victim and SNAP leader, says that church officials are “more apt to write down, save, and take seriously the allegation” of the sexual abuse of a boy. 

All survivors of sex abuse, no matter male or female, live with continuing pain. Sue Archbold, an advocate for abuse victims who was sexually abused by a priest when she was a teenager, comments: “The traumatic suffering that comes from the abuse extends beyond any age or gender barrier.”

All priests who abuse a minor commit a heinous criminal act, no matter the sex of the victim. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual acts are inherently wrong, whereas heterosexual acts can be beautiful and holy. But heterosexual abuse of a minor is just as much a crime as homosexual abuse of a minor. All of these criminal offenses should be met with prompt, severe punishment. 

Assumption Day, 2021

El Greco Virgin Mary

Today, some 1,978 years ago, our Lady finished her earthly pilgrimage, and the Lord took her to Himself. Mary went to heaven, body and soul.

Thirteen years ago today, this little weblog began. And right around three years ago, it became… controversial. Controversial, at least, in the eyes of the Catholic bishop of Richmond, Virginia.

In a couple weeks I will make a pilgrimage to visit some holy sites in Italy.

Good Lord willing, I will pray at the birthplace of St. Thomas Aquinas, his childhood school (which houses the tombs of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica), and also at the abbey where the Angelic Doctor died. Near there, they keep his skull in a reliquary, in the ancient cathedral of Priverno.

Also, good Lord willing, I will visit the duomo in Florence, where they keep relics of St. John the Baptist, the Apostles Andrew and Philip, and St. John Chrysostom. Near there is the Shrine of St. Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi. Also I will visit the tomb of St. Gemma Galgani and the grave of St. Elizabeth Anne Seton’s husband. (After he died, she embraced the Catholic faith.) I will return just in time for Becky Ianni’s talk in our speakers’ series.

I am trying to get the manuscript of my book Ordained by a Predator ready to send to a potential publisher before I leave.

McCarrick Bootkoski Checchio
Two former bishops of Metuchen NJ, Paul Bootkoski and Theodore McCarrick, with the current bishop, James Checchio

As I edited my chapter on McCarrick’s career, I realized that I had two unanswered questions pertaining to the first diocese that he governed as a bishop, namely Metuchen NJ.

Question 1:

On December 5, 2005, McCarrick’s third successor in office in Metuchen, Bishop Paul Bootkoski, called the papal nuncio to tell him about two of McCarrick’s seminarian victims.

One of these victims had formally complained about McCarrick over a year earlier, in August of 2004. The other victim had first complained well over a decade before that. (The Vatican had actually received a report about this seminarian’s abuse in 1997.)

Why, then, did Bootkoski choose to communicate with the nuncio about this on December 5, 2005? Why that particular day?

It just so happens that, earlier that same day, the Vatican official in charge of bishops had told McCarrick that he would have to resign as Archbishop of Washington.

Did McCarrick call his old friend Bootkoski and tell him that there was no use trying to keep the matter secret from the Vatican anymore? That seems like the most reasonable explanation for Bootkoski calling the nuncio on that particular day.

A second Metuchen question:

When the Vatican released its McCarrick Report last fall, the Diocese of Metuchen issued a statement which claimed: “The first allegation against McCarrick was received by the diocese in 2004.”

In point of fact, McCarrick’s successor as bishop of Metuchen received his first complaint about McCarrick’s abuses no later than 1989. And before then, the Vocations Director of the diocese of Metuchen received complaints about McCarrick from seminarians while McCarrick was still in office as the bishop there (1981-1986).

How, then, can the diocese claim that the first allegation against McCarrick came in 2004?

A few days ago, I submitted these questions to the Office of the Bishop in Metuchen. I have not received any response yet, but I hope to get honest answers soon. After all, Bishop Checchio wrote in his letter about the McCarrick scandal: “We must forge forward, penning the future chapters of our Church’s history with integrity and transparency.” Seems like that means you answer the questions of a researcher trying to put together a fair historical record.

Vatican II stalls…All this moves me to reflect on two little passages from the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which the Fathers of the Vatican II gave us. The first passage comes from Gaudium et Spes para. 37:

Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others.

Certainly this insight helps us understand corruption in government, generally speaking. It also helps us to understand corruption in the government of our Church.

What I have seen, in my experience as a priest, is a cadre in the hierarchy that has paid attention solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Theodore McCarrick created a huge spiritual problem for all of us whose lives he touched. Instead of confronting that problem honestly and bravely, those who knew about the problem sought to hide it, to protect themselves from having to deal with it. Now that we all know about the problem, those same leaders try to pretend the problem is solved.

To be clear: the compromised individuals here include the pope himself, the pope’s closest advisors and co-workers, the ecclesiastical governing apparatus of Washington DC and New Jersey–which includes our own bishop here in the diocese of Richmond VA (an alumnus of McCarrick and Donald Wuerl’s chancery in Washington), the Metropolitan Archbishop of Baltimore (who knew about McCarrick long, long ago), and quite a few other prelates as well.

I see us mid-Atlantic Catholics stuck in a near-total malaise. The true spiritual mission of the Church cannot advance with any vitality under our current compromised leadership.

I entertain no delusions that the malaise will lift anytime soon. That, however, does not mean it’s all over–our life as Catholic Christians. It doesn’t mean that at all.

Here’s part of Gaudium et Spes 38:

For God’s Word, through Whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh and dwelt on the earth of men. Thus He entered the world’s history as a perfect man, taking that history up into Himself and summarizing it. He Himself revealed to us that “God is love” and at the same time taught us that the new command of love was the basic law of human perfection and hence of the world’s transformation. To those, therefore, who believe in divine love, He gives assurance that the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood is not a hopeless one.

Our Church can and will be Herself again, someday. It’s not hopeless. I, for one, am not giving up.