Monday, 12 April 2010

Pray for the Pope - special Novena

It's not too late to join in this special novena for Benedict.

Pray with me and millions of others for the Pope to be given strength, courage and discernment at this difficult time.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Hallowing the Flesh

Strict Protestants, Manicheans and over-Augustinian Catholics take the view that the flesh is just bad news. And they have a number of Scripture quotes to throw at us: ‘All flesh is grass’, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” … OK, more than a few in fact. There are hundreds.

But St Thomas favoured Aristotle over Plato, and so did, on the whole, the mainstream of the western Catholic tradition. The same St Paul who opposes flesh and spirit (Gal 5:13-18, echoing Mark 14:38 ) also resists a dichotomy of body and soul whose separation at death is a mere temporary aberration, awaiting the correction of the general resurrection of the dead. Indeed, the human body, for the same St Paul, can be an instrument for God’s glory here and now (1 Corinthians 6:20).

The flesh is good news, because the human body is a precious reliquary for the human soul and an icon of it. In fact, they are just aspects of the same reality.

Human bodies are, or can be, very beautiful. That’s no surprise if they somehow bear testimony to God’s desire to mould us in his own image. The human body then, all things being equal, ought to be a source of divine inspiration to us. Ay, there’s the rub …

Original sin gave a new (presumably temporary) dimension to human physical beauty. It made it a kind of snare. Like many other beautiful things it can lead us to evil as well as to good. When Adam and Eve, a man and a woman, discovered original sin, they also discovered that a man and a woman standing naked together in a beautiful garden had a new and troubling connotation. They were ashamed of their nakedness not just before God, but before each other, as man and woman. Ever since, while segregated nakedness has in some contexts survived without any sexual connotation, nakedness of the two sexes together quickly retreated from the public sphere and became either something holy or scandalous.

One theologian (Father Paul Quay, SJ, in The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality, Ignatius Press) has suggested that the problem of masculine and feminine nakedness is that men’s nakedness seems to imply strength and readiness for violent attack while female bodies suggest vulnerability to that attack. Man towers while woman cowers. One can see how in most cultures, precisely because of this vulnerability of the female body, it is women who have historically been expected to make all the effort of modesty. It is sometimes presented as a question of men being protected from women’s charms, but it has historically been just as much about women protecting themselves from men.

This primeval wound, as well as the primeval attraction, between man and woman, has done more than merely give a different significance to their bodies when they are together. It has had an impact on the way in which the body is viewed in all contexts, and this tendency, many thousands of years after the Fall, seems to be accelerating today. The body is becoming increasingly instrumentalised. My body, and your body, are now objects for consumption, rather than the beautiful expression of individual beings, body and soul, created in the likeness of God.

What an exhilarating experience it was then for me to attend two exhibitions in the National Gallery, London, this Christmas, both exploring ways in which the human body can communicate profound meaning. I have been meaning to set down my thoughts about them for some time, and it has been the thoughts and emotions of the recent Holy Week that have brought these images back to me.

The first of these two exhibitions was Ed and Nancy Kienholz’s The Hoerengracht, a walk through Amsterdam’s red light district. In the characteristic low light, one walks around streets of minature houses, with various plastercasts of real prostitutes, painted in glossy polychrome, waiting for their customers in their depressing little bedrooms, each equipped with wash basin, make-up and a few empty cigarette packets. None of them is with a customer. They are all in a permanent pose of silent waiting (though there is a discreet soundtrack playing, with street noises) which provides a sort of eery atmosphere of religious contemplation.

Each woman wears a kind of window over her face – fixed into the base of a biscuit tin, so that each of those heavily made-up faces is like a television set, providing a barrier between the prostitute and her client. In this particularly disturbing context of sexual power and vulnerability, one is not sure who that psychological protection is for: for the woman, or for the man? Perhaps, when sex is reduced to this, both parties experience the need interiorly to retreat from the act and totally instrumentalise their bodies.

Feeling somewhat sullied, I moved into the next exhibition at the National Gallery, the one I had in fact made to effort to come and see. Whereas the Kienholzs’ exhibit was free, The Sacred made Real cost me about the same price as my lunch that day. But it was worth every penny. Situated in the basement of the Salisbury Wing, the low lighting of this exhbition was deliberately calculated to recreate the atmosphere of candles in an ancient church. The gallery had brought together in one collection an amazing collection of Spanish polychrome religious sculpture of the 16th and 17th centuries, coupled with paintings from the same era. Each art form, we learned, informed the other …

It seems that the regulations of the different guilds of artisans meant that the men who carved the statues were not allowed to paint them, although some daring artists broke the rules. In an obsessive search for autheniticity real hair, real bones and real teeth sometimes adorned these statues, incredibly lifelike, their glass eyes filled with simulated emotion.

In the artificial crypt of the National Gallery I gazed on the polychrome statues of Spain, ridiculed by many art critics over the centuries, and hopelessly out of fashion in the rest of seventeenth century Europe. And as I did so, drinking in the anatomical detail of the coagulated blood cloying around St John the Baptist’s severed head, the glistening, salty tears dripping from a delicate madonna, the blue and purple veins and arteries bearing witness to the last traces of oxygen in the macerated body of a newly dead Christ, I felt my own flesh purged of its grosser connations, like a penitent coming out of confession.

My favourite statue of them all was one of St Mary Magdalene. All the flesh on show was her face, shoulders, arms and feet. But what a face! And then the wonder at discovering that her sackcloth dress was painstakingly carved out of wood, to the last, delicate thread: the same care and love had been lavished on the drab and penitential shroud that covered her body as might have been given to the body itself, had modesty permitted its display. And so the body was honoured, even when totally hidden. So, not only was there a beautiful theology of nakedness, but even a theology of clothèdness.

The other thing I have known, closest to the experience of passing through the Kienholz Hoerengracht to the work of Zubarán and his contemporaries, was a time, last year, when my friend Professor Anthony O’Hear helped me and a few friends through Dante’s Divine Comedy, taking us out of Hell, out of Purgatory and then into the dazzling light of Paradise, up into the pure Empyrean, the fire wherein the Most High dwells in unapproachable light. In fact, the statues stopped just short of that, but that is where they were leading us: onwards and upwards.

Although I am remembering it all in Eastertide, it was a fine mediation for Christmas too, which is when I saw it, and when, two thousand years ago, Almighty God made a new creation that recapitulated all the original beauty of our father Adam: “And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, and we beheld His glory.”

“Lord, by the mysteries of your incarnation, passion, resurrection and ascension, bless my body and soul and make me a worthy temple for your Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Thursday, 1 April 2010

More on the New York Times smear campaign against the Pope

The Pope, the judge, the paedophile priest and The New York Times
From Damian Thompson's blog ...

Fr Thomas Brundage, the former Archdiocese of Milwaukee Judicial Vicar who presided over the canonical criminal case of the Wisconsin child abuser Fr Lawrence Murphy, has broken his silence to give a devastating account of the scandal – and of the behaviour of The New York Times, which resurrected the story.

It looks as if the media were in such a hurry to to blame the Pope for this wretched business that not one news organisation contacted Fr Brundage. As a result, crucial details were unreported.

Moreover, Fr Brundage – who seems to have shown admirable tenacity in pursuing the loathsome Fr Murphy – claims that a document of questionable provenance was quoted authoritatively by the media as a source for his own opinions. At the very least, The New York Times and many other organisations have some explaining to do. They must be held to account for the way they pursued this story, which led to hysterical attacks on Benedict XVI.

I am reproducing Fr Brundage’s article in full, with thanks to the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where Fr Brundage now works. I implore you to read all of it. My emphases are in bold type. (Hat-tip: Simon Caldwell.)

Setting the record straight in the case of abusive Milwaukee priest Father Lawrence Murphy

Then-presiding judge for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee gives first-person account of church trial



To provide context to this article, I was the Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1995-2003. During those years, I presided over four canonical criminal cases, one of which involved Father Lawrence Murphy. Two of the four men died during the process. God alone will judge these men.

To put some parameters on the following remarks, I am writing this article with the express knowledge and consent of Archbishop Roger Schwietz, OMI, the Archbishop of Anchorage, where I currently serve. Archbishop Schwietz is also the publisher of the Catholic Anchor newspaper.

I will limit my comments, because of judicial oaths I have taken as a canon lawyer and as an ecclesiastical judge. However, since my name and comments in the matter of the Father Murphy case have been liberally and often inaccurately quoted in the New York Times and in more than 100 other newspapers and on-line periodicals, I feel a freedom to tell part of the story of Father Murphy’s trial from ground zero.

As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing out of a sense of duty to the truth.

The fact that I presided over this trial and have never once been contacted by any news organization for comment speaks for itself.

My intent in the following paragraphs is to accomplish the following:

To tell the back-story of what actually happened in the Father Murphy case on the local level;

To outline the sloppy and inaccurate reporting on the Father Murphy case by the New York Times and other media outlets;

To assert that Pope Benedict XVI has done more than any other pope or bishop in history to rid the Catholic Church of the scourge of child sexual abuse and provide for those who have been injured;

To set the record straight with regards to the efforts made by the church to heal the wounds caused by clergy sexual misconduct. The Catholic Church is probably the safest place for children at this point in history.

Before proceeding, it is important to point out the scourge that child sexual abuse has been — not only for the church but for society as well. Few actions can distort a child’s life more than sexual abuse. It is a form of emotional and spiritual homicide and it starts a trajectory toward a skewed sense of sexuality. When committed by a person in authority, it creates a distrust of almost anyone, anywhere.

As a volunteer prison chaplain in Alaska, I have found a corollary between those who have been incarcerated for child sexual abuse and the priests who have committed such grievous actions. They tend to be very smart and manipulative. They tend to be well liked and charming. They tend to have one aim in life — to satisfy their hunger. Most are highly narcissistic and do not see the harm that they have caused. They view the children they have abused not as people but as objects. They rarely show remorse and moreover, sometimes portray themselves as the victims. They are, in short, dangerous people and should never be trusted again. Most will recommit their crimes if given a chance.

As for the numerous reports about the case of Father Murphy, the back-story has not been reported as of yet.

In 1996, I was introduced to the story of Father Murphy, formerly the principal of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. It had been common knowledge for decades that during Father Murphy’s tenure at the school (1950-1974) there had been a scandal at St. John’s involving him and some deaf children. The details, however, were sketchy at best.

Courageous advocacy on behalf of the victims (and often their wives), led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to revisit the matter in 1996. In internal discussions of the curia for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, it became obvious that we needed to take strong and swift action with regard to the wrongs of several decades ago. With the consent of then-Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, we began an investigation into the allegations of child sexual abuse as well as the violation of the crime of solicitation within the confessional by Father Murphy.

We proceeded to start a trial against Father Murphy. I was the presiding judge in this matter and informed Father Murphy that criminal charges were going to be levied against him with regard to child sexual abuse and solicitation in the confessional.

In my interactions with Father Murphy, I got the impression I was dealing with a man who simply did not get it. He was defensive and threatening.

Between 1996 and August, 1998, I interviewed, with the help of a qualified interpreter, about a dozen victims of Father Murphy. These were gut-wrenching interviews. In one instance the victim had become a perpetrator himself and had served time in prison for his crimes. I realized that this disease is virulent and was easily transmitted to others. I heard stories of distorted lives, sexualities diminished or expunged. These were the darkest days of my own priesthood, having been ordained less than 10 years at the time. Grace-filled spiritual direction has been a Godsend.

I also met with a community board of deaf Catholics. They insisted that Father Murphy should be removed from the priesthood and highly important to them was their request that he be buried not as a priest but as a layperson. I indicated that a judge, I could not guarantee the first request and could only make a recommendation to the latter request.

In the summer of 1998, I ordered Father Murphy to be present at a deposition at the chancery in Milwaukee. I received, soon after, a letter from his doctor that he was in frail health and could travel not more than 20 miles (Boulder Junction to Milwaukee would be about 276 miles). A week later, Father Murphy died of natural causes in a location about 100 miles from his home

With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people”. Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.”

The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.

Additionally, in the documentation in a letter from Archbishop Weakland to then-secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland stated that he had instructed me to abate the proceedings against Father Murphy. Father Murphy, however, died two days later and the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.

Second, with regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.

Third, the competency to hear cases of sexual abuse of minors shifted from the Roman Rota to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith headed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. Until that time, most appeal cases went to the Rota and it was our experience that cases could languish for years in this court. When the competency was changed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in my observation as well as many of my canonical colleagues, sexual abuse cases were handled expeditiously, fairly, and with due regard to the rights of all the parties involved. I have no doubt that this was the work of then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Fourth, Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologized for the shame of the sexual abuse of children in various venues and to a worldwide audience. This has never happened before. He has met with victims. He has reigned in entire conferences of bishops on this matter, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland being the most recent. He has been most reactive and proactive of any international church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.

Finally, over the last 25 years, vigorous action has taken place within the church to avoid harm to children. Potential seminarians receive extensive sexual-psychological evaluation prior to admission. Virtually all seminaries concentrate their efforts on the safe environment for children. There have been very few cases of recent sexual abuse of children by clergy during the last decade or more.

Catholic dioceses all across the country have taken extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. As one example, which is by no means unique, is in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where I currently work. Here, virtually every public bathroom in parishes has a sign asking if a person has been abuse by anyone in the church. A phone number is given to report the abuse and almost all church workers in the archdiocese are required to take yearly formation sessions in safe environment classes. I am not sure what more the church can do.

To conclude, the events during the 1960’s and 1970’s of the sexual abuse of minors and solicitation in the confessional by Father Lawrence Murphy are unmitigated and gruesome crimes. On behalf of the church, I am deeply sorry and ashamed for the wrongs that have been done by my brother priests but realize my sorrow is probably of little importance 40 years after the fact. The only thing that we can do at this time is to learn the truth, beg for forgiveness, and do whatever is humanly possible to heal the wounds. The rest, I am grateful, is in God’s hands.

Father Thomas T. Brundage, JCL