Book Update + Talks

20 C+M+B 22

Happy New Year, dear reader.

The publisher sent me a mock-up of the dust cover for Ordained By a Predator: Becoming a Priest in the Middle of a Criminal Conspiracy. We have reached the final pre-publication stages..

…I will give a talk in Indianapolis next week. I’ll post the text here as soon as I finish typing it up.

…Also, Dr. Christine Bacon invited me to speak yesterday with her group of “Standers,” Christian spouses struggling through serious marital problems, holding onto their vows.

Here’s the talk I gave, if you’re interested in reading…

TALK TO THE “STANDERS” January 4, 2022

Christine and I met back in November, at a prayer rally dedicated to restoring the institutional integrity of our church, the Roman Catholic Church. She interviewed me for her podcast, and she told me about you, the Standers. She and I realized that I fit in, even though I have never been married.

I didn’t know the term “Stander” until I met Christine, but in fact I have worked with Standers for years. Faithful Catholic spouses who have been abandoned in their marriages. Also in many cases separated from their children, either completely or much of the time, by the custody arrangement. These Christians have sought out the parish priest (me) for support and guidance under these difficult circumstances. This has led me to meditate on this painful path in life, a living Way of the Cross.

Everyone know about our “Way of the Cross” prayer? Every Catholic church building has fourteen markers along the walls, indicating the Lord’s Jesus’ Way of the Cross through Jerusalem, from Pilate’s judgment seat to Mount Calvary. We pray by going from one station to the next. The whole thing also symbolizes the Christian life, following the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, through suffering and death to eternal life.

Having to follow the Standers’ path, that Way of the Cross: it elevates the natural vocation of marriage into a supernatural one. Christine refers to this in the list of Standers’ practices, #10. I’ll come back to this idea of seeing through the natural to the supernatural.

First let me explain how I fit in with the group. I was ordained a priest in 2003, at age 32, after seven years of preparation for the priesthood. I was in love with the Church; the Church is the ‘bride of my youth.’ Then I served as a parish priest for 17 years–six years as a “parochial vicar,” or associate pastor, helping the senior pastor, then eleven years as a pastor.

It was my married life. We Catholic priests promise celibacy, and I have never regretted doing that. Of course I am well aware that Protestant churches have married pastors. One of my best friends is an Episopalian priest with a wife and young son. He is an excellent shepherd for his people, to be sure. But for me, and for us Catholic priests generally speaking, our pastoral lives are all-encompassing, work life and family life all rolled into one thing. No sex, of course, but lots of love, mutual support, and joy in the Lord.

I spent my thirties and forties living that life, and I got pretty used to it. Celebrating the Masses, the baptisms, weddings, and funerals, preaching and teaching, hearing Confessions, visiting the sick, and families in their homes, running the parish office. A full, happy life. I had hit my stride, so to speak, as a Father.

Then it all came to a sudden, abrupt end.

Let me explain how. It’s a little complicated, so bear with me. I’m sure you can relate to the complicated aspect. I don’t imagine anyone ever winds up being a Stander without something complicated happening.

Almost four years ago, I learned–and the world learned–a terrible secret about the Cardinal Archbishop who had ordained me a priest. He was a sex abuser. A criminal. He and his confederates had managed to cover up his crimes for thirty years. He sexually abused pre-teen boys, teenage boys, and young men in their twenties and early thirties. He had abused people that I knew. But I knew nothing about it until almost twenty years later.

I learned this stunning truth about the man who ordained me, as well as the even-worse truth about how other bishops and the Vatican covered it all up for decades. All while he himself, and other Cardinals and bishops, were promising the public that all the Catholic sex-abuse cover-ups were over.

I was devastated to learn all this, as were many, many other Catholics. I’m a writer, so something in me realized that I had to write my way through the interior crisis I was going through. I had to find a way to plow forward as a parish priest and keep giving my people what they needed to be getting from me. Again, I think some Standers will relate. Shattering crises can occur in family life. But the kids still need to be fed, and helped with their homework, etc. Children deserve stability, right?

I already had a weblog, had had one for ten years. I put the texts of my sermons on it, for people to read, if they wanted to. I began using the blog as my forum to deal with what I was going through, with the sex-abuse crisis in our Church.

I won’t lie. I said some pretty angry things, in some posts over the course of the following year, as more and more of the truth about the cover-up came out. I published at least one post that I wish I had toned down before I put it out there.

But generally I tried to be reasonable and calm. I admitted that I knew little of the facts that I was trying to understand. Plus, I assumed that I was using an appropriate forum of free speech to express myself. I certainly never told anyone in the parishes that they should read my blog; I never even mentioned it. Most of the people I dealt with on a day-to-day basis knew nothing about it.

That is, until the bishop stepped in. Turns out that he, or someone reporting to him, had been paying careful attention to everything I had written, and had found some of it inappropriate. Without any discussion of the subject matter of the posts, the bishop ordered me to remove my blog from the internet altogether, the whole thing.

We priests promise obedience to our bishops, so I initially complied. I hoped that we could find a compromise, if we could talk the whole thing over. But as time wore on, and the bishop never responded to me, I found that I could not live with myself under the circumstances. After all, the bishop here is himself a protégé of the Archbishop who ordained me, the criminal.

Within days after I turned my blog back on, the bishop removed me as pastor and then suspended my public priestly ministry completely. He has the authority to do this, and he used it. I could hardly believe it; still can hardly believe it, that he reacted like this. But he did. I appealed to the Vatican, and got nowhere.

Almost two years have passed since then. Now I have a completely different kind of life. Much more solitary than before. I have become a kind of Stander, holding onto the priestly life, but without a flock, without any ministry. The praying that we Catholics generally do as a community–Sunday Mass, Christmas Mass–I do alone. Or rather: I celebrate with the Lord, the angels, and the saints for company.

After all, I am a priest, and I will always be one. That’s what we Catholics believe about Holy Orders. Even if the bishop who ordained me should have been in jail that very day. Even if one of his protégés has isolated me from the Church community. None of that changes the supernatural reality. I remain a priest.

Again, like you: I hope and pray for reconciliation, to be able to go back to “family” life as a priest. But, at least for now, I am powerless to do anything about it. Only the Lord knows how long this situation will continue.

The supernatural reality. Maybe a few verses from the first letter of St. John will help us connect with it. St. John, who stood at the foot of the cross, and then saw the Lord risen from the dead. He writes:

We have gazed upon the Word of life, and have heard Him… To you we proclaim this, so that you may share our treasure with us. That treasure is union with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

…Abide in Him, so that when He appears, you may have assurance and not shy away from Him in shame. You are well aware that everyone who lives a holy life is a child of God… The world does not recognize us, because it has not recognized Him. Now we are children of God; what we shall be has not yet been manifested. We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is…

…We know what love is from the fact that Jesus Christ laid down His life for us… Let us not love merely in word or with the tongue, but in action, in reality. By that we shall know that we are born of truth, and we shall calm our consciences in His presence.

…This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. Who is victor over the world, if not he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

January 28, 1369 + Other Things French

Couvent des Jacobins de Toulouse - Autel de St Thomas d'Aquin
Tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas, Toulouse, France

As the years have passed, my devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas has steadily increased.

I loved him decades ago; I loved him even before I became Catholic. Back in the 90’s, while studying at Catholic University in Washington, I went religiously every January 28 to hear one of the learned Dominicans give the St. Thomas-Aquinas-Day sermon at the Basilica of the National Shrine. A Dominican always gives the sermon that day, because St. Thomas was a Dominican priest.

Meanwhile, though, I knew perfectly well that St. Thomas did not die on January 28. Yes, we generally keep the feasts and memorials of saints on the anniversaries of their deaths. But St. Thomas died on March 7, not January 28.

In fact, the Church used to keep the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas on March 7. His death day was his feast day for six centuries, from his canonization in 1323 until 1969. But after the Second Vatican Council, the Roman authorities decided to try to keep Lent as free as possible of festival observances. Since March 7 almost always falls within Lent, we needed a new day for St. Thomas.

st ambrose catedra petriAs an aside, to keep anyone from hissing at the mention of Vatican II:

Today is an unusual exception to the death-day rule for saints’ days, of course. It’s the anniversary of the conception of our Lady in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.

More to the point, though: Yesterday we kept the Memorial of St. Ambrose of Milan. He did not die on December 7, but rather on April 4. But since April 4 always falls either within Lent or Holy Week, or early in Easter time, St. Ambrose’s feast day is kept on his ordination anniversary. And it has been kept on December 7 since at least the 1000’s. (As in, before the year 1100 AD.)

In other words, Vatican II did not invent the idea of moving saints’ feast days out of Lent, to an alternate anniversary date. That idea itself has a long, long history.

Back to St. Thomas Aquinas: In the revision of the festival calendar after Vatican II, they did not just randomly pick January 28 out of a hat. The date already served as a secondary feast day of St. Thomas, among Dominicans. It marks the anniversary of the arrival of St. Thomas’ relics in Toulouse, France.

The arrival of his relics in France. Hmm. How’s that?

I never carefully considered the question myself, until recently. But when you finally get the chance to visit the place where someone you love died, you start wondering about stuff like this.

St. Thomas died while on his way to an ecumenical council convened in Lyon, France, by Pope Gregory X. The pope called that council primarily to try to heal the East-West schism in the Church, which was then a couple centuries old. Pope Gregory personally requested that Thomas Aquinas come and participate, even though the 49-year-old theologian was not well.

Thomas accepted the summons. While on his way from Naples to Lyon, he took sick south of Rome. Thomas breathed his last in the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova.

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The Cistercian abbey building where St. Thomas died, Fossanova, Italy (photo credit: yours truly)

The Cistercians of Fossanova eagerly retained St. Thomas’ mortal remains. They generously offered visitors the opportunity to venerate the holy man’s relics. The monks had no intention of parting with the great treasure that Providence had delivered to them.

But the saint’s brother Dominicans painfully wanted to entomb their eminent teacher’s remains in one of their own friaries.

The ensuing battle over St. Thomas’ bones lasted almost a full century. Meanwhile, events which we have recently considered here unfolded. Events involving the highly unstable late-13th-century papacy.

Pope Boniface Colonna Schiaffo di Anagni
Schiaffo di Anagni

The pope who summoned St. Thomas on his final earthly journey, Gregory X: he had been elected only after a two-year deadlock between the French and Italian factions of the College of Cardinals. We discussed earlier how Pope Celestine V, who was also elected in a conclave that lasted over two years, renounced the papacy in 1295. We also covered how Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII, died shortly after suffering an attack by the king of France’s henchmen.

Boniface’s death led to the brief papacy of Blessed Benedict XI, then to the world-changing Conclave of 1305. The sitting Archbishop of Bordeaux, France, became Clement V. And he never set foot in Rome. Ever.

Pope Clement V moved the Holy See to France, to the town of Avignon. There, Clement’s successor John XXII canonized St. Thomas.

Wait. Moved the Holy See to France?

[Click HERE to listen to a thorough and very-helpful explanation by the late Dr. Brendan McGuire.]

Now, Rome had become a dangerous place for a pope to live.

And the king of France had consolidated enough authority to dominate the Church.

But: Move the papacy to France? Really? I will have more to say about this. As far as St. Thomas’ bones and Toulouse:

Blessed Urban V traveled from Avignon to Rome in 1367, recognizing that he belonged in the city of Saints Peter and Paul. Sixty years had passed since the last time the Bishop of Rome had set foot in his own diocese.

Urban had good intentions, but his effort proved half-hearted. He abandoned Rome, and returned to Avignon, in 1370. In the meantime, the pope ordered that St. Thomas’ remains be moved from Italy to France. (The pope actually followed St. Thomas’ bones, when he returned to Avignon.)

Between August 1368 and January 1369, the Dominicans carried their brilliant brother’s remains in solemn procession, from near Fossanova to Toulouse, with a number of extended stops along the way. On January 28, they arrived at the original Dominican church, built by Dominic himself a century and a-half earlier.

Then they continued the procession, taking the bones of Thomas’ right arm north to Paris. That reliquary remained in a Dominican chapel near Notre Dame, until the French Revolution four centuries later.

Holy Thursday Notre Dame 2018
Paris’ Archbishop Michel Aupetit (back) takes part at the start of the procession of Easter’s Holy Thursday on March 29, 2018 at Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris. / AFP PHOTO / Ludovic MARIN (Photo credit should read LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

…More to come on the Avignon papacy, as I mentioned. But for now let’s turn to more-current events. After all, as in the 1300’s, a great deal of Catholic drama has lately unfolded in France.

1. Two and a-half years ago, on the day after Palm Sunday 2019, the Cathedral of Notre Dame burned. It caused many of us a great deal of sorrow.

I remember the then-Archbishop of Paris rallying his people for Holy Week at the nearby church of St. Eustache. I was moved by the Archbishop’s evident faith and his fatherliness. A few months earlier, he courageously had appeared on French radio to defend the rights of the unborn child.

For the past couple years, Archbishop Aupetit has appeared on every list of possible candidates for Cardinal.

(Amazingly enough, there is not a single diocese in France right now with a sitting Cardinal-Archbishop. Pope Francis has only ever created one French Cardinal, and he is a Vatican official. We have come a long way from the French-dominated College of Cardinals of the fourteen century.)

But now Pope Francis has summarily relieved Archbishop Aupetit of duty.

I find the situation very hard to understand. It appears to have layer upon layer of intrigue, with none of the facts even remotely clear to the general public.

I intend to try to sort it out, and I will share my understanding of it with you, dear reader.

Jean Marc Sauve CIASE France abuse

2. As we noted here, in October the independent commission erected by the French bishops’ conference published its report on sexual abuse. I read the English translation of the summary report carefully, and I look forward to reading the whole report, once the English translation becomes available. (The CIASE promised to publish a full English translation by the end of 2021.)

Now, however, a small group of French Catholic intellectuals has published a preliminary critique of the Rapport Sauvé.

[I made a Google translation of the critique; you can read it by clicking HERE.]

Pope Francis had a meeting scheduled for tomorrow with Jean-Marc Sauvé and other authors of the CIASE report, but the Vatican has postponed such a meeting indefinitely.

On the plane returning from a trip he took to Cyprus and Greece, the pope explained to a journalist that he had not read the CIASE report, but that…

“…in doing these studies we have to be careful in the interpretations that we do over long periods of time…A historical situation should be interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time, not ours… The abuses of 100 years ago or 70 years ago are a brutality. But the way they were living it is not the same as today.”

In September 2018, Pope Francis reacted in the same way to the Pennsylvania Grand-Jury report. I mentioned then that I find this position to be inherently dishonest. As a reporter put it to Donald Card. Wuerl at the time: “What could possibly ‘evolve’ when it comes to child sexual abuse?”

So the Vatican position on the Rapport Sauvé appears to have shifted as a result of the French Catholic intellectuals’ critique. I find the critique to be embarrassingly tendentious, small-minded, and defensive. But it nonetheless brings up some questions worth considering. Watch this space for more on this.

 

AD 1300 and Following

Pope Boniface Colonna Schiaffo di Anagni
Schiaffo di Anagni

We had a Jubilee Year in AD 2000. A group of us seminarians at Catholic University in Washington managed to get ourselves to Rome, to visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. We met Pope John Paul II. A few years ago I wrote an essay about the effect that visit had on my Catholic-convert soul.

Pope Boniface VIII beautified Rome for the first-ever Jubilee Year there, in AD 1300. The Muslim conquest of the Holy Land meant that Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulcher could no longer occur. So the pope opened Rome; he restored the ancient Christian custom of coming on pilgrimage to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul.

Pope Boniface made a huge success with the Jubilee Year 1300. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims came. There was, nonetheless, a foreboding absence from the ranks of those pilgrims. Among the throngs in the Roman streets that year, there was not a single European monarch. None came.

In other words, something lovely happened in Rome in 1300. But something terrible was about to happen. Five weeks ago I promised more information about the Avignon papacy and a digest of our Catholic faith in the office of pope. Seems like AD 1300 is the best place to begin…

Age of the Great Western Schism Clinton Locke

The reign of Boniface VIII marked a turning point in history, ending a period that had begun seven centuries earlier, with the pontificate of St. Gregory the Great. Gregory had filled a power vacuum in western Europe when the reach of the Byzantine emperor into western affairs waned. The Sucessor of St. Peter became the pre-eminent authority in shaping the politics of the western half of the now-crumbling Roman empire.

Seven centuries later, however, Pope Boniface found that he could not command the absolute allegiance of the grandsons of the monarchs over which his predecessors had held sway. Gregory the Great, acting out of charity towards the poor, had made the Holy See a model of administrative efficiency at the dawn of the seventh century. The latter part of the thirteenth century, however, saw an altogether dysfunctional Roman operation.

Between 1254 and 1285, the pope was absent from Rome for all but four years. (Some historians call this period the “Viterbo Papacy” because the pope was so often resident there.) During this interval, conclaves held to elect a new pope after the death of the old one often dragged on for years. The conclave that elected Pope Gregory X stretched from 1268 to 1271. Indeed, sometimes conclaves would last longer than the ensuing papacy: the conclave that elected Celestine V lasted over two years, but the poor pope reigned for only five months. Also, men who had never even been ordained to the priesthood were often elected pope.

The Cardinals, after the new pope shows total ignorance of Scripture: “Gosh, I guess we should have put ‘in Holy Orders’ in the job description!”

We mentioned last month how Pope Celestine resigned the papacy in 1294. Celestine had consulted with a learned Cardinal, Benedetto Caetani, about the legality of resigning. Caetani had advised Celestine that he could legally resign. In the subsequent conclave, Caetani became Pope Boniface VIII.

(Caetani’s role in Celestine’s resignation would later be used against Boniface in an elaborate p.r. campaign by King Philip IV of France–even though Caetani had not, in fact, pressured Celestine in any way.)

In 1303 conflict between Rome and Paris reached the breaking point. Boniface declared as solemn doctrine the practical reality that his predecessor Gregory had seized upon, that is: God had subjected all human beings to the Roman Pontiff. King Philip responded by calling for Boniface’s removal from office, and the king spread false charges against the pope. Philip arraigned Boniface for heresy and demanded that an ecumenical council sit in judgment on him.

Meanwhile, Pope Boniface, staying in his hometown of Anagni, outside Rome, prepared a document excommunicating King Philip.

Henchmen of the king’s arrived and commandeered the building, intending to arrest the pope and take him to France for trial. The historical record is not clear regarding what happened when the henchmen encountered the pope. They may have physically assaulted him. They almost certainly at least slapped him. The slap has come to be known as the Schiaffo di Anagni.

Dante refers to this outrage in Canto XX of Purgatorio. The poet calls King Philip “the new Pilate,” who “mocked and imprisoned Christ a second time, in His vicar.” Dante adds: “I see vinegar and gall renewed, and between living thieves I see them kill Him.”

After the Schiaffo, the townspeople of Anagni turned on King Philip’s henchmen, allowing Boniface to escape and return to Rome. But he did indeed die, in a month’s time, at age 73.

Benedict XI was then elected pope in a one-day conclave.

As a Cardinal, the new pope had stayed with Boniface through the ordeal in Anagni. But, by the same token, Benedict wanted no more trouble with King Philip.

Benedict tried a middle way, restoring all of King Philip’s ecclesiastical prerogatives, but meanwhile pursuing legal action against the ruffians of Anagni. And Benedict refused to put Boniface through a posthumous trial for heresy, notwithstanding King Philip’s demand for such a procedure.

Benedict died of dysentery, in Perugia, north of Rome, after only eight months in Peter’s Chair. The ensuing conclave lasted eleven months, from July 1304 to June 1305. It proved to be a highly significant event. More to come…

John XXIII, Old and New

John XXIII Vatican IIToday we keep the Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII, on the 59th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. [Click HERE for a little compendium of my homilies commemorating the 50th annversary.]

You may not know, dear reader, that Pope St. John was actually the second John XXIII to summon the world’s bishops to Rome for an ecumenical council. (You might not know this unless you have traveled through the cities of Tuscany and read all the historical markers in all the churches.)

Some background:

When Giuseppe Roncalli took the name John at the end of the conclave in 1958, he mentioned to a French Cardinal that he had chosen this name “in memory of France and in memory of John XXII who continued the history of the papacy in France” (We know about this private remark from Peter Hebblethwaite’s biography, John XXIII: Pope of the Council.)

The pope to which newly elected Pope John referred was: the pope who occupied the Chair of St. Peter from 1316 to 1334. John XXII did not occupy it, however, in Rome. He occupied it in the Provencal town of Avignon. John XXII was, in fact, the first pope to both get elected and die in Avignon.

Age of the Great Western Schism Clinton Locke

John XXII’s predecessor, Clement V, had moved the papacy from Rome to France. (More to come on the why and how of this, plus a thorough digest of our Catholic faith in the papacy, in a subsequent post.)

Pope John XXII gave us the prayer “Soul of Christ,” which I daily recite after Holy Communion. He also taught erroneously about the beatific vision (though not in a magisterial utterance), and he had to recant later in life. William of Ockham developed his skeptical philosophy largely because of Pope John XXII’s often wild statements.

But no one despised John XXII, and the money-grubbing papal bureaucracy in Avignon, more than the aging Dante Alighieri. In Paradiso XVIII, the poet wrote of the pope and his courtiers:

Watch, [o heaven of justice], wherefrom issues the smoke

that tarnishes thy ray, that once enkindled wrath

may come on the hucksters in the temple that was

raised and walled with miracles and martyrdom.

O host of Heaven I contemplate, be heard your prayers

to aid all those on earth, led on by bad example…

Thou who recordest but to obliterate [Pope John, who was forever excommunicating people, then lifting the excommunication],

consider that Peter and Paul, who died to save

the vineyard thou hast spoiled, are living yet.

Thou can’st well say, “So ardently do I crave

Florentine coins that I know not the Fisherman nor Paul.”

dante

More to come on the Avignon papacy. But to get to the first “John XXIII…”

You may not imagine that an old book called The Age of the Great Western Schism by a 19th-century Episcopalian churchman could be a can’t-put-it-down page-turner. But it is.

In 1376 the seventh Avignon pope, Gregory XI, finally departed France to return to the city consecrated by the blood of Saints Peter and Paul. He reached Rome in early 1377. After Gregory’s death soon thereafter, however, the Cardinals divided into two parties. (More later on why.) In 1378 two conclaves elected two popes. Urban VII reigned in Italy; Clement VII reigned in France.

Now you might thus surmise: The first John XXIII succeeded Clement; therefore not a real pope. Good guess. But the real history has more twists.

Two popes, each with a valid claim to legitimate election: the schism lasted for a generation. Finally Roman Pope Gregory XII and Avignon “Pope Benedict XIII” agreed to meet near Genoa, with both parties of Cardinals. Both popes promised to resign; then the conclave would choose one pope.

20210914_071920.jpg

Last month I found myself on the Ligurian coast, just south of where the meeting was supposed to have taken place. When the Roman pope did not arrive, the Avignon pope continued journeying south. He made it to La Spezia (where I changed trains). Meanwhile, Pope Gregory made it as far as Lucca (where I spent two lovely days.) Then Gregory balked. Didn’t have the heart to resign as promised.

At this point, the Christian world lost patience. Gregory’s Cardinals left him in Lucca and met up with some Avignon Cardinals in Pisa. They summoned an ecumenical council there, in the sublimely beautiful duomo with the famous leaning campanile.

Pisa duomo and tower

Yes, you read that correctly. The Cardinals, along with other churchman and reigning monarchs, summoned an ecumenical council, on their own authority. Christendom came together in 1409 (minus the two competing popes).

The Council Fathers enjoyed referring to Gregory not as Gregorius but as “Errorius” and to Benedict not as Benedictus but as “Benefictus,” in honor of his practice of selling benefices, or church offices, for cash.

The Council of Pisa condemned and deposed both. Then the Fathers chose another pope, who took the name Alexander V. (Now the world had three popes.) Alexander soon died. His successor: John XXIII.

This 15th-century Pope John attempted to hold an ecumenical council in Rome, just like the 20th-century Pope John ultimately would. But Pisan-pope John XXIII’s effort failed abysmally; hardly anyone came. Then the emperor of Germany convinced him to summon a council north of the Alps.

The Council met in Constance, accepted the resignations of both Gregory XII and “John XXIII,” deposed “Benedict XIII,” and elected Pope Martin V, who then returned the papacy to Rome. He lies now in the confessio of the papal cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

st john lateran painting

Now, I hold unflinchingly to our Catholic faith in the papacy. (As I mentioned, I will delve into that soon.) That Catholic faith in the divinely instituted office of the Successor of St. Peter stipulates: an ecumenical council can only be convoked by the pope, or at least with the explicit permission of the pope.

We faithful Catholics have to acknowledge, however: Were it not for the Council of Pisa–manifestly not convoked by any pope–we might not know for sure who the pope is.

Yes, it’s true: the Lord in His Providence could have solved the problem of the Western Schism in some other way. Other, that is, than the Council of Pisa choosing a pope, who then had “John XXIII” for a successor, who then called the Council of Constance, which then gave us the indubitable Pope Martin V. The Lord could have saved the day by some other design, some course of events that did not include Cardinals and other senior churchmen calling a Council without a pope.

But the fact is that it happened the way it happened. Which explains why the Council of Pisa in 1409 is found neither on the list of official Catholic Ecumenical Councils nor on the list of condemned, not-real Councils.

Hamlet’s Ghost Inside Chris O’Leary

10026065~Hamlet-Speaks-with-His-Father-s-Ghost

Shakespeare’s Hamlet begins like this: A terrible crime lies hidden. Brother has secretly killed brother, and the killer has gotten away with it. Life in Denmark continues, as if nothing evil has happened. The murderer has inherited the crown, and insists that things proceed happily as before. Everyone conforms; even the widow queen agrees to marry the secret murderer.

Everyone conforms, that is, except young Hamlet. He languishes in grief. And the murdered man’s ghost doesn’t conform, either. He haunts the cold Danish nights.

In other words, some interior force of nature rebels at the patina of normalcy. It won’t allow such a terrible injustice to remain hidden. A crime like this cannot pass un-reckoned into forgetfulness and oblivion. So the ghost’s weary footsteps shake the earth, drawing young Hamlet into the hidden mystery of what actually happened.

Sacrificed Chris O'LearyHamlet perceives the ghost of his murdered father and hears his demand for justice.

But is it real? Can the young man trust his midnight vision? How can he prove to himself that the ghost speaks true? This force from beyond the shaky peace of day-to-day life has confirmed something that the prince vaguely suspected. But how to make sense of it? What really happened?

The drama of the play then unfolds, and the royal family convulses through a confused agony of reckoning.

At 35 years of age, Chris O’Leary had fond childhood memories of Father Leroy Valentine. Two-and-a-half decades earlier, Father Valentine had made the young Chris feel special, paid attention to him, gave him fun things to do–when Chris’ father was distracted making partner at his law firm.

But something was rotten in the Denmark of Chris’ grown-up soul. He had anxiety about living in his hometown of St. Louis, but he couldn’t move away for good, either. He had zig-zagged through his twenties, never quite settling down and developing his career.

In March of 2002, after the Boston Globe uncovered the decades’-long sex-abuse cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston, the New York Times ran an article on the subject. The article mentioned Father Leroy Valentine of St. Louis. Father groomed his victims by paying special attention to them when their dads were absent. He started with wrestling and proceeded to sodomy. (The article also mentioned that Valentine denied having done anything wrong.)

Boston Globe 2002Chris saw the article, reprinted in a St. Louis paper. He wondered, ‘Might Father V have abused me, and I can’t clearly remember? But he’s one of my favorite people on earth! How could he have done that?’

Chris called the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The new auxiliary bishop, Timothy Dolan, called him back. Chris’ old friend. Father Dolan had lived in the parish rectory with Father Valentine, when Chris was finishing elementary school.

“Bishop Dolan, maybe Father V molested me? I have memories of wrestling moves that touched my privates, and of being on Father V’s couch…”

“No way, Chris! I know Father Valentine–have known him since seminary. He could never do anything like what they say he did.”

So Chris thought: Ok, that’s that. Cross that one off the list of possible reasons why I can’t think straight, or remain calm with my wife and kids, or get along with my older boss. My memories, thank God, do not mean that I was molested by my favorite priest. Phew. Maybe I have Asperger’s or adult ADHD.

Case closed? No. The Hamlet’s ghost within Chris would not–could not–tolerate a heinous crime passing into forgetfulness and oblivion.

Chris had a panic attack at his daughter’s first confession. Then at his son’s first confession a couple years later. Then he saw an altar boy in a cassock and surplice–like he himself had worn, serving for Father V years earlier–and Chris had a psychological meltdown worthy of Prince Hamlet himself.

Twelve years had passed since Chris’ conversation with Bishop Dolan. By relentless investigation, Chris discovered that the bishop had received two other phone calls from victims of Leroy Valentine that same month, March, 2002.

The Archdiocese knew that Valentine was guilty. They just didn’t tell Chris. A force of nature inside Chris told Chris, over the course of a decade of agony.

Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes. (Hamlet, Act I, scene 2.)

SCG: Anointing, Holy Orders + An Emmy?

Fra Angelico ordination

Extreme Unction:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 73

Holy Orders:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 74

Back in February of 2020, Kerri O’Brien of ABC8 News in Richmond came to visit St. Joseph’s in Martinsville, to report on the situation.

They have nominated Kerri and her producer for an Emmy Award for the report! Congratulations. Hope you win it, Kerri 🙂

A Case Study in Group Self-Deception

[This is Part III of the series of posts about the Rodney-King beating that I am doing in honor of my father, on the fifteenth anniversary of his death. Click for: Part I and Part II.]

On March 3, 1991, three Los Angeles police officers–under the supervision of a fourth–beat Mr. Rodney King with batons and kicked him.

King never fully recovered from the injuries he suffered.

George Holliday made a video of the beating, as he stood on his apartment balcony across the street. His video became world-famous. Holliday, however, was not the only witness from that building.

Another resident saw what happened from his balcony, and he also had a video camera in his apartment. But he thought of the camera too late and only managed to capture the aftermath of the beating. Other residents of the building just watched with horror from their balconies.

They were all shaken and disgusted by what they saw. All of them.

Last month, in the prosecution’s closing argument in the Derek Chauvin case, attorney Steve Schleicher spoke to the jury, who had seen multiple videos of George Floyd being killed. Schleicher said: “Believe your eyes.”

In 1992, prosecutor Terry White used the same words in his closing argument before the jury in Simi Valley, California. They had seen Holliday’s video.

“Believe your eyes,” White told them.

In Minneapolis last month, the jurors did believe their eyes, and they convicted the criminal of the crime. Three decades ago, however, the jurors did not convict, and riots ensued.

Why didn’t the jury convict the officers that assaulted Mr. King? What had happened during that trial in Simi Valley?

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In the last post on this topic, we considered the change of judge and “venue” for the trial.

The California Appeal Court ordered the trial moved out of Los Angeles County. The new judge, Stanley Weisberg, chose the brand-new east-county courthouse in neighboring Ventura County. The idea was to find jurors less involved in Los-Angeles politics, and thereby more capable of impartiality.

They did not, in fact, find such jurors. As Marvin Zalman and Maurisa Gates put it, in a Cleveland State Law Review article:

The court asked whether the defendants could have received a trial by an impartial jury within Los Angeles when it should have asked whether the defendants could have received a trial by an impartial jury anywhere in the state. By not thinking what “impartial” meant in a situation like the Rodney King case, the Court of Appeal simply replaced the demographics, values, and prejudices of Los Angeles County by those of another place, which turned out to be Ventura, just over the county line.

Moving the trial from Los Angeles County to Ventura County influenced the outcome: it favored the defense. In fact, the venue change influenced the outcome so decisively that many observers came to regard it as the crucial fact for understanding the not-guilty verdict.

Consider this:

The federal government put the officers on trial a second time the following year. Wasn’t that “double jeopardy?” Our U.S. Constitution prohibits re-trying someone for the same crime a second time.

The American Civil Liberties Union has traditionally opposed any possible instance of double jeopardy. But the Southern-California chapter of the ACLU supported the second, federal trial anyway, on the grounds that the Simi Valley jury was not a true jury, because of the wrongful change of venue. Therefore the first trial was not really “jeopardy” for the officers. So the federal trial did not involve double jeopardy.

An interesting argument.

But the actual facts of the trial tell a different, more-complicated story. The change of venue did not, in and of itself, determine the outcome.

For one thing, the Simi Valley courthouse actually sat closer to the scene of the crime than the courthouse in downtown L.A. The beating took place in the suburbs.

Historians and legal scholars have lamented the absence of black jurors on the Simi-Valley jury. But there was never any guarantee that any black jurors would wind up in the jury box in L.A. county, either.

And, according to multiple accounts: Most, if not all, of the Simi Valley jurors showed up on Day One of the trial thinking that the four police officers were guilty of assault.

The jurors arrived thinking that because they had seen the videotape, just like most Americans had.

police night stick batonThe videotape shows, with very little ambiguity, that officers Powell, Wind, and Briseno assaulted King for no good reason, and they did it under Koon’s supervision.

Not only that. Other evidence supported the conclusion that the officers had committed a crime. This evidence had found its way to the general public, before the trial started.

Officer Powell had, in a conversation with another officer earlier that evening, referred to blacks as “gorillas.”

After the beating, he sent a text message to the same officer: “Oops… I haven’t beat anyone that bad in a long time.”

After the arrest, Powell and Wind took King to the hospital, where nurses treated him for his extensive injuries. With nurses listening, Powell talked to his victim about Dodgers’ Stadium, then referred to the game of ‘hardball’ that they had just played.

In other words, additional damning evidence supported the idea that George Holliday had captured on film an accurate depiction of what had occurred. A group of thugs in uniform, legally carrying the weapons they used, beat a defenseless man nearly to death.

Now, King had indeed evaded a legitimate traffic stop–because he had violated his parole by speeding on the highway, and he panicked.

The thugs took the opportunity that situation presented, and they beat up a defenseless person, on the pretext that he did not immediately obey their commands. (King likely did not hear their commands at all; one of the parked squad cars had its siren blaring, and a police helicopter circled overhead.)

The officers had no doubt in their minds that they could get away with it. They held all the cards, after all.

Then, however, KTLA put Holliday’s video on air. The officers now found that they had to concoct an explanation for what everyone had seen with their own eyes. They had to come up with an alternate storyline, one that would keep them out of jail.

In the initial episode, they had brazenly beaten their victim. Now they proceeded brazenly to pull off a magnificent deception, all in accord with correct judicial procedure.

Four Los Angeles police officers

Sergeant Stacy Koon took the stand first, as the defense began to make its case in the Simi Valley courthouse, a year after the beating had occurred.

As Koon testified, he studiously avoided using the word “he” to refer to King. He repeated “Rodney King” over and over.

At one point in his testimony, Koon referred to King as a “bear” with super-human “Hulk-like” strength.

Referring to the parts of the videotape in which King writhes around on the ground under the officers’ baton blows, Koon never said that King “bent” his leg, he always said that King “cocked” his leg, like a gun.

(Koon’s attorney went on to say, in closing argument, that Rodney King appeared to the officers like “something out of a monster movie.”)

Koon told the jury that the officers had concluded that King was high on the street drug PCP (a psychoactive drug that had been popular in big cities in the mid-1980s). Koon held firm to this, even though PCP was never found in King’s system. The sergeant insisted to the jury: what mattered was, we thought he was high on PCP; we thought he was “dusted.”

The officers feared for their lives, Koon said. He then proceeded to regale the jurors with urban legends about PCP users. They can have a death grip. They can kill without remorse.

Then Koon told the jury that King attacked officer Laurence Powell.

(There was never any clear evidence of this.)

Rodney King had control of the situation, not us. If I hadn’t Tased him, I would have had to shoot him. If we hadn’t used our batons, we would have had to use our guns.

We were reacting appropriately, according to procedure, according to training. We had to subdue a dangerous ex-con. We had no choice.

Sergeant Koon took full responsibility for the actions of the subordinate officers, including the other three defendants. But Koon would not take responsibility for the beating captured on the the videotape.

Rodney King is responsible for what happened.

Koon did everything he could to project an air of professionalism. He emphasized his extensive experience and the wisdom he had gained over his years on the street. He explained the proper procedure for “escalation and de-escalation of force” in the course of making an arrest.

(Sergeant Koon went on to publish a book which argued that the LAPD’s prohibition of the “choke hold” caused the Rodney King beating.)

Koon got the jury to begin doubting their own eyes. As the jury forewoman, Dorothy Bailey, would later put it, in her memoir of the trial:

Sergeant Koon gave us a complete, detailed account of what happened. It was the first time that I had seriously considered the officers’ perceptions and their possible fears…

There’s no superhuman strength, because there’s no such thing as super-humans. Those exist in comic books.

–Steve Schleicher, talking about George Floyd in his closing argument last month, at the Derek Chauvin trial

[More to come on this.]

 

“By Strong Hand and Terms Compulsatory”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, scene 1

[This is Part II of my series in honor of my dad, on the fifteenth anniversary of his death. Click HERE for Part I.]

Rodney King tape

During the midnight hour on Sunday, March 3, 1991, three Los Angeles patrol officers brutally beat a defenseless man. The three officers acted under the direction of a sergeant.

The officers’ names are: Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno. The sergeant was Stacey Koon. The defenseless man was Rodney Glenn King.

George Holliday made a video of the beating, from the balcony of his apartment across the street.

King had two passengers in the car with him. The police detained the passengers at the scene briefly, but then released them without taking them anywhere.

Holliday must have crossed the street and told the passengers–Rodney King’s friends–that he had videotaped the beating. One of the passengers told King’s brother, Paul, about the videotape.

The following day, both Paul King and George Holliday went to the police to report the unlawful beating. Paul King mentioned the videotape.

Both complaints were immediately filed as “requiring no further attention” by the LAPD. Holliday and Paul King knew they had been totally blown off.

So Holliday then took his videotape to KTLA, and within 36 hours the rest of America had seen the beating on the news.

For freedom Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). But a criminal forfeits that freedom and subjects him- or herself to compulsion. By lawful authority.

Four Los Angeles police officers
The officers awaiting arraignment on Friday, March 22, 1991 (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

I.

Rodney King had subjected himself to compulsion by lawful authority, in the midnight hour of Sunday, March 3.

A California Highway Patrol vehicle saw King’s Hyundai going 120 mph on the San Fernando Freeway. The officers tried to pull King over. He had a duty to obey, to stop on the shoulder. He did not do so. He led the officers, and other patrol cars that joined in pursuit, on an eight-mile chase.

By doing this, King apparently committed the crime of “felony evading.” (He was never charged for this, or any other crime.) When King finally pulled over, next to a park, the officers in pursuit identified the situation as a “high-risk stop.” Which means that they had the right, in the interest of their own safety, to order all the occupants of King’s car to get out with their hands up. King and his two friends had a duty to obey such an order.

At this point in the unfolding story, we reach the moment where we might question the way the officers tried to compel King and his passengers, under the color of lawful authority.

It apparently was the policy of both the California Highway Patrol and the LAPD, at “high-risk stops,” to order the motorist and passengers to lie down flat on the pavement, arms spread wide, face turned away from the approaching officer.

police night stick batonThis was to allow for a relatively low-risk approach by the officer, to handcuff the motorist, and any passengers.

(Whether or not this policy of demanding a “prone position” has changed since 1991, I do not know.)

Granted, if you have led police officers on an eight-mile high-speed chase, I think we can say that you have forfeited your bodily freedom at least for the moment, and you must submit to handcuffing.

But ordering someone to lie down, prone on the asphalt, face turned away? Maybe that crosses a line out of the realm of officer safety and into the realm of undue humiliation?

Anyway, as a practical matter: At about 12:40am on March 3, 1991, Rodney King did not comply with the order to lie prone on the ground, and for good reason.

For one thing, King likely did not hear the order over the sound of the helicopter overhead. Secondly, he would have had trouble understanding the word “prone,” even if he did hear the order. Lastly, while he did get down on all fours, he did not appear able to lie the whole way down. Was it because he was too proud? Maybe. Was it because he was intoxicated and confused? Almost certainly.

King never made any violent action; he posed no threat. He never even directly evaded getting handcuffed. He was pretty clearly drunk and confused. And then suddenly he was in fear for his own life.

II.

Officers Powell and Wind proceeded to beat King mercilessly with their metal batons. Officer Briseno kicked him. Sergeant Koon gave the orders.

scales_of_justiceAs we mentioned, George Holliday captured it on tape. The overwhelming majority of the people who saw the tape in the ensuing days regarded the police officers’ actions as criminal.

According to two different polls, 90% of the residents of Los Angeles County saw Holliday’s videotape, and 92% of those who had seen it believed the officers had used excessive force. Eighty percent thought the officers had committed a crime.

The officers, in other words, put themselves into the position that Rodney King had put himself in, by speeding on the freeway and not pulling over. The officers made themselves subject to compulsion by lawful authority.

Lawful authority did not respond with violence this time, but with due process. An L.A.-County grand jury indicted the four officers for criminal assault.

Due process requires a fair trial. The long, hot summer of 1991 saw some stunning developments in the pre-trial business.

California County map

III.

I don’t know who made the decision to try all four officers together. I don’t know if putting them on trial separately was ever even considered as an option.

The decision in Minneapolis last year to try Derek Chauvin separately from the other officers involved in George Floyd’s murder–that certainly seems like a wise decision, indeed.

The circumstances in L.A. three decades ago were different. Sergeant Koon never personally laid a hand on Rodney King. He did, however, order his officers to beat the defenseless man mercilessly.

I would say that putting all four officers on trial together proved to be the first, and probably greatest, of the prosecution’s mistakes. That is, if it was their mistake. Perhaps it was simply a fait accompli, for legal reasons I don’t understand.

By putting the officers on trial together, the prosecutors wound-up having to contend with four different, highly skilled defense lawyers. The defense ultimately managed to dominate the trial. If the officers had been tried separately, maybe that wouldn’t have happened.

The Superior Court of Los Angeles County assigned the case of People v. Powell et al. to Judge Bernard Kamins. (In California, the trial courts are called “Superior” courts.)

The defense immediately petitioned to have the trial moved outside of Los Angeles, on the grounds that the officers could not get a fair trial there.

At that time, Los Angeles County had 6.5 million eligible jurors. For the officers to have received a fair trial in that county, the court would have had to find twelve among those 6.5 million who could listen impartially to testimony and review evidence, leaving a final conclusion about guilt or innocence until the end.

Jurors must presume criminal defendants to be innocent of the charges against them, then wait to see or hear proof, proof that overcomes every reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt.

California law stipulates that a criminal trial should occur in the county where the crime took place, unless a compelling reason calls for a “change of venue.”

The defense argued that the daily news coverage of the event had “contaminated” the objectivity of the L.A.-County jury pool.

Judge Kamins concluded that this was not a compelling reason to move. Because: the same could be said about the jury pool in every county in California.

They simply could not conduct the trial in a county where the potential jurors would show up for duty not having heard about the case. No such county existed. Therefore, this was no reason to change the venue.

Los Angeles Superior Court

…As spring turned into summer, Judge Kamins became ever more eager to move the trial forward.

I don’t presume to know the judge’s mind, but what little I know about the steps he took lead me to see him as a humble, practical man. He recognized that the best thing for everyone involved was to move the trial forward as expeditiously as possible. But the judge’s humble practicality got him into trouble.

The defense insisted on a change of venue and appealed over Judge Kamin’s head, to the California Court of Appeal.

Kamins had set June 19 as the day to begin the trial. On June 12, the Appeal Court put an “indefinite stay” on moving forward with jury selection, until the higher court had considered the defense petition for a change of venue.

Kamins tried to negotiate his way out of the impasse by putting a possible change of venue back on the table for discussion by the parties. The judge communicated informally, departing from the strict rules that govern court communications. It seems clear that Kamins did this in order to get the trial moving sooner rather than later. But his effort backfired completely.

The defense petitioned to have Judge Kamins removed, on the grounds that his off-the-cuff communications had given the impression that he was partial to the prosecution.

In high summer 1991, the California Court of Appeal made two decisions that deserve to go down in infamy.

On July 23, the Appeal court unilaterally ordered a change of venue. That particular Appeal Court decision is known as Powell v. Superior Court.

In this decision, the Court of Appeal granted that the “media saturation” argument did not suffice to compel a move. But the Court of Appeal introduced another consideration: the contamination of the L.A.-County jury pool by political allegiances to either the mayor or the police chief.

A “coup,” so to speak–put into motion by the police commission, and backed by the mayor–had tried to oust Chief Gates. The City Council protected the chief, and the “coup” failed.

But:

Neither the mayor nor the chief were directly involved in People v. Powell et al.

And:

All other political issues in L.A. paled in significance to the trial itself. The allegiance of the citizens was not really to either Mayor Bradley or to Chief Darryl Gates. If either of those two gentlemen had suddenly moved to Tahiti, it would not have had anywhere near the political impact that the ultimate verdict of this trial would have.

The Appeal Court’s stated goal was to prevent the “average person on the street” from thinking the trial unfair. So, on August 21, in Briseno v. Superior Court, they removed Kamins from the case.

Fall arrived, and the Appeal Court’s two interventions had delayed the trial by six months. Courtroom testimony didn’t actually begin until a year after the beating. And that testimony unfolded in front of a Ventura-County jury that had not one single black person on it.

Ironically enough, it was the Appeal Court itself that managed to make the average person on the street start to think that things were not right, not fair, not above-board. Something rotten in the state of Denmark, as Hamlet put it.

To be continued…

 

My Dad, George Floyd, Rodney King, and Some Posts to Come

la-riots-rodney-king-beating-cant-we-all-get-along

Fifteen years ago today, my father died.

He grew up in Washington, D.C., a fifth-generation native of the city. He became a lawyer and dedicated his whole career to urban land-use law. That is: the orderly growth and prosperity of his city.

When my father was working as a young lawyer, not long before I was born, Washington, D.C. erupted in riots. After Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, the city burned.

This had a big impact on our family life. Some of my earliest memories involve driving around the damaged neighborhoods, my father explaining to my brother and me what had happened.

By my late teens, I knew the streets of Washington better than any cabbie. My seminary classmates at Catholic University had a game: They would look at a map of town and randomly name an intersection. I would then describe all the buildings located there, from memory.

dad3I could do it because of love. My dad taught me that love.

I was a young man myself when Los Angeles, California, burned at the end of April and the beginning of May, 1992. My dad was still with us then. He had not yet suffered the debilitating stroke that would render him an invalid for the last decade of his life.

The LA riots were more brutal than the riots of the 60’s. On tv sets all over the world, people saw senseless beatings take place live.

In our home, we were stupefied with deep, crushing sadness. I have never been as profoundly upset as I was during those four or five days. We hardly slept; we spent most of the nights watching the news. The devil was dancing on the face of the earth.

The innocent blood of the dead in the streets stained my young, idealistic dreams. My dad had taught me to cultivate hope for American urban life and peace among races. The things that he stood for, the things for which he had dedicated his whole life–they lay broken in front of our eyes, like a shattered window on the asphalt.

LA Times Rodney King verdict front page

One week ago today, on the other hand, things went differently. Like the jurors in People v. Powell et al. in 1992, the jurors in State v. Chauvin had seen a video. (In fact, in Minnesota, they had seen several videos.)

This time, the jurors believed their own eyes. They had seen a murder committed on video, so they reasonably proceeded to convict the murderer of the crime.

The prosecutors in State v. Chauvin had calmly and diligently made their case. They presented several credible eye-witnesses to the murder. They presented experts on the use of force by police. They testified that what Derek Chauvin had done was certainly wrong and criminal. The prosecutors presented medical experts who explained the cause of death; their testimony successfully removed any reasonable doubt that George Floyd died by homicide.

At the Chauvin trial, black witnesses and white witnesses spoke about Floyd as a human being. They spoke to a jury of Floyd’s peers, themselves willing to see Floyd as the human being that he was.

In other words, the prosecution in the Chauvin trial had a slam-dunk case, and they held the ball firmly in both hands and sprang towards the basket with the steady self-control of a well-trained athlete. They dunked the ball.

Chauvin is in jail, awaiting sentencing, and the world recognizes that justice has been done.

What happened thirty years ago was altogether different. I have reflected on this extensively, and I think I have identified one particular aspect of what happened in Los Angeles that we should try to understand now. This will take a few days, and a few posts, to get through, so bear with me as I try to lay out my thoughts.

Here comes Part I:

Cellphones existed in March of 1991, but they most certainly did not have cameras, and they were the size of a loaf of bread. The only person I knew with a cellphone then was my business-executive aunt. She kept the thing in her car, in a large leatherette pouch.

People did have camcorders in 1991. Portable hand-held video cameras that recorded on magnetic tapes.

Mr. George Holliday, who lived in the Monte Vista apartments on Foothill Boulevard, near the San Fernando Freeway, in Los Angeles, owned a new camcorder.

The sound of sirens and a helicopter awoke Holliday from his Saturday-night slumber at 12:45am on Sunday, March 3, 1991. He looked out his window and saw an arrest unfolding across the street. A large number of police officers had converged.

Holliday thought of his new video camera sitting by the tv in the living room, went to get it, and stepped out on his balcony to film what he saw. His 81-second videotape captured three LAPD officers–under the direction of a fourth–brutally beating a defenseless man.

There was no way to “upload” the video since a. it wasn’t digital and b. there was no internet to speak of at the time. Instead, Holliday took the tape to a local television station the following day. The station broadcast it on the evening news. By midnight Tuesday, every station in the Western world had broadcast the video.

People who saw the video spontaneously thought of the beating and scourging of the Lord Jesus by the Roman soldiers. In fact, when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ came out, I wondered if he had staged the scourging scene to look like the Rodney King tape, because there are so many similarities in body movement by Jesus in the movie and King in the video.

In many communities, tv stations had to apologize for airing the Rodney King tape at times when children could have been watching. It caused nightmares. Watching the nine minutes of Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd is sickening, but the brutality of the Rodney King beating is actually a great deal harder to endure, even though King did survive. That King survived was a miracle in and of itself, as was clear to everyone who watched Holliday’s video.

Passion of the Christ scourging my heart is ready

So, significant difference #1 between State v. Chauvin in 2021 and California v. Powell et al. in 1992:

In 1992, there was only one videotape. Over the course of the last month, the jury in Minnesota saw over twenty different videos, shot from different cameras. Over a dozen bystander cellphones, street security cameras, police body-cams.

When Rodney King got beaten, there was only the word of the people involved, the police reports which manifestly did not recount what had happened, and George Holliday’s video. (During the thirty hours between the incident and the public airing of the video, the officers did everything they could to cover up the beating.)

I don’t pretend to understand all the events that unfolded in the short-term aftermath of George Floyd’s murder last year. I shared some thoughts at the time, but I don’t claim to have a comprehensive view.

On the other hand, I do have a pretty good understanding of what happened after the Holliday video became public in early March 1991.

The video presented compelling evidence of criminal police brutality. As a police-commission report put it, the following July: “All segments of society condemn the Rodney King beating.”

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But the political situation in Los Angeles was far, far from stable. What was then known as “south-central” was a largely lawless world of gangland violence. The white police chief and black mayor were at odds. Chief Darryl Gates nonetheless acknowledged after seeing the Holliday tape that the officers should face prosecution for criminal assault with a deadly weapon.

Warren Christopher was a widely respected elder-statesman California lawyer. (He went on to become President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State.) He chaired a joint commission formed out of the two separate commissions that the feuding mayor and police chief formed. The joint commission became the “Christopher Commission.”

LAPD patrol cars in 1991 had a rudimentary form of text messaging called Mobile Digital Terminal communications, or MDTs. The Christopher Commission studied all the MDTs of the previous six months, as well as thousands of other records, and conducted interviews with hundreds of officers and citizens. The commission concluded:

There is a significant number of officers in the LAPD who repetitively use excessive force… Our computerized study of complaints filed in recent years shows a strong concentration of allegations against a problem group of officers. Graphic confirmation of improper attitudes and practices is provided by the brazen and extensive references to beatings in the MDTs. The problem is aggravated by racism…

The LAPD’s failure to analyze and act upon these revealing data evidences a significant breakdown in the management and leadership of the Department… The Department not only failed to deal with this problem group of officers but it often rewarded them with positive evaluations and promotions.

As Christopher put it, it was a “blunt” report. It clearly identified a serious problem of organizational racism. The report took for granted that the Rodney King beating involved a heinous crime.

Meanwhile, however, other wheels started turning in the exact opposite direction. The four charged officers began to mount their legal defense.

The officers would never acknowledge any personal wrongdoing. In the summer of ’91, the officers’ lawyers successfully impeached the impartiality of the first judge assigned to the case. He had refused a “change of venue” petition. The replacement judge then agreed to move the trial to a suburb. The criminal case would be tried in Simi Valley, Ventura County, a bedroom community for many LAPD officers. Meanwhile, all this legal wrangling consumed months of time.

In Simi Valley, the jury pool for the Rodney-King-beating trial consisted of predominantly white suburbanites. They finally reported for voir dire, to a brand-new county courthouse, in January 1992. The parking lot hadn’t even been fully paved. After the whittling down of candidates, the final jury panel did not include a single black person.

To be continued…

Holy Week Movies + Chris O’Leary

If Jesus Christ can do what He did, entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to a certain and known fate, then I can do this.

–Chris O’Leary, priest sex-abuse survivor and podcaster

Passion of the Christ Today you will be with me

Many of us Catholics have the annual ritual of watching The Passion of the Christ during Holy Week.

Mel Gibson said that he made his movie as a cinematic Stations of the Cross. Some Jews have taken offense at Gibson’s depiction of the high priests, especially the way the movie connects them with Satan. Also, Gibson included numerous allusions to Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of the Passion. I don’t think that aspect of the movie has aged well; it makes some scenes needlessly difficult to understand.

We can recognize the movie’s shortcomings, though, and still appreciate it as an aid to our devotion. After I saw the movie for the first time, in Lent 2004, I spent hours on my knees. During my teens and twenties, I meditated on the Passion over and over and over again–and still I had to reproach myself for how abysmally I had failed to do it justice. The movie left me overwhelmed with gratitude and love.

Some Christians find Gibson’s movie too violent to watch. Who can blame them? I nearly faint every time I watch it.

But The Passion is certainly not more violent than the reality. They really did practically beat and scourge Him to death, before they made Him carry the 165-pound cross and then nailed Him to it. Death by crucifixion involved physical sufferings we can hardly even begin to imagine.

The movie also captures the pivotal moment of the Passion as well as any work of art I have ever seen.

“Are you the Messiah?” (Jim Caviezel deserved an Oscar just for the way he used his one open eye in this one scene.)

Now, allow me humbly to suggest: our Holy Week routine also ought to include watching a second movie. Spotlight. The cinematic account of the Boston-Globe investigation into the sex-abuse cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Mel Gibson gave us a gift. So did the Boston Globe, and the movie-makers who depicted the journalists’ work. Seems to me like the honest Catholic, trying to keep Holy Week in AD 2021, should meditate carefully on all the reality depicted in both movies.

…Speaking of keeping reality firmly in mind: Mr. Chris O’Leary has also given us a great, great gift. His podcast series, Sacrificed. (He also kindly publishes the text, if you prefer to read, rather than listen.)

Call me grandiose to say this, but I know it to be true: Someday we will look back at this period in Church history in which we now live (hopefully, please God, from heaven), and Chris O’Leary’s Sacrificed will stand out as the most honest and insightful document that any of us have produced.

Listening to Chris tell his story–and I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Chris–is like watching The Passion, only more painful and more real.

Sacrificed Chris O'Leary

As ‘cover art,’ Chris has a picture of himself outside the cathedral, taken by a photo-journalist. He is being shunned by a line of concelebrating priests. The occasion was the “Mass of Reparation,” after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report came out in 2018.

The priests were there to reckon with the reality of sexual abuse by clergy. And there was a survivor, holding photos of himself with the priest who had abused him. They all ignored him. The Archbishop ignored him.

I had Chris in mind when we went to our cathedral for the Chrism Mass last year. We received the same treatment.

There we were, at the annual Mass dedicated to the communion of priests and people with the bishop. I had been unjustly suspended from ministry for publishing this blog, and our parishes had been deeply wounded. We stood outside the cathedral.

The bishop and concelebrating priests ignored us. (Two priests came to shake my hand, for which I remain grateful. Otherwise: ignored.)

Richmond Cathedral WRIC screenshot2

At this time of year, many Catholics return to the Church. Holy Mother Church endures everything, and remains there for us to come back to.

That has always been the most deeply gratifying thing for me, as a priest: to be a part of that, to represent the Mother who is always there for everyone to come back to, including all us poor prodigals who have wandered far, far away. To represent the place where God opens His merciful door to His children.

Who preaches this Gospel these days, with the most eloquence? Not the higher clergy, to be sure. They seem only to know how to isolate the Church from the world, making our community look like some kind of indefensible cult.

No, the evangelical heroes of our day are the dogged alter Christuses who have suffered in the flesh with Jesus, and have lived to tell their tale.

Mr. Chris O’Leary and Co. The survivors.