Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You knew it had to happen sometime ...

From Peter Downs at the St. Catharine's (Ont.) Standard:

A Niagara Falls man who preyed on a Catholic priest's fear of being falsely accused as a sexual predator will spend another eight months behind bars.
Robert Sammut, 46, was sentenced to 18 months in jail Monday in St. Catharines court. He has been in custody since his arrest last November.
An admitted long-time drug addict with more than 30 previous convictions on his record, Sammut pleaded guilty June 27 to extorting approximately $90,000 from a Niagara Falls priest.
Court previously heard Sammut didn't know the priest, who cannot be named under a court-ordered publication ban, when he first approached him for money in the fall of 2009.
The priest gave him $30 after Sammut said he needed cash to help support his kids and also owed money to people who would hurt him if he didn't pay up.
Court was told Sammut began approaching the priest regularly for handouts and eventually threatened him. By January 2010, he told the priest that if he didn't give him cash, he would tell the police and the media he had been sexually abused by the priest.
Fearing his reputation would be ruined by the groundless allegation, the priest handed over dozens of payments of $150 to $200 over several months, court heard.
"In order to compel the priest's generosity, he threatened the priest to come forward with false charges," Judge Joseph Nadel said.
"Given the glut of fallen priests who have fallen prey to these venal acts, this priest feared he would be painted with their brush."
The priest only went to police to tell them of the extortion after he had wiped out his personal savings, maxed out his credit cards and borrowed money from friends and the church to give to Sammut. ...
 Okay, props to the Ontario Crown prosecutors for bagging this leech. But it's precisely statements like Judge Nadel's that illustrate how mispresented the predator-priest scandals have been. If there's a "glut", it's a glut of 20- to 40-year-old stories of abuse brought into the media to keep pulling the scab off the "Long Lent" of 2002. And, as Dave Pierre of The Media Report reminds us, the clowns at SNAP (among others) will give an automatic pass to anyone who cries "victim", supporting them publicly even after their claims are conclusively disproven.

Do I excuse the predator priests or the cowardly bishops who tried to cover them up? Hell, no! But the fact that a priest can feel he has to submit to blackmail because no one will believe he's innocent of wrongdoing should tell us that the McCarthy-style witch hunt has to end. NOW.

[H/T to Father Z @ WDTPRS!]

Monday, August 29, 2011

Holy Family Shrine

©2011 Steven P. Thelen.
This year, for his forty-seventh birthday, my friend Steve was taken by his lovely wife, Bridgette, to a little-known yet remarkable spot just outside Omaha.

If you're travelling along Interstate 80, then take Exit 432 (Gretna), head south along State Highway 31, then right on Pflug Road until you're almost back at the interstate again. On the north side of Pflug, to your right, you'll find Holy Family Shrine, one of the hidden gems of the Cornhusker State. (Here's a link to ACME Mapper.)

As the visitors continue north, they experience the chapel facade. As high as forty-nine feet, arching members of wood, frame the stone entry structure below and within the chapel structure. The arching wood members inlaid in the facade articulate waves of grain, symbolic of the grain of the Eucharist, the bread of life, and the essence of the Catholic faith. As the visitors enter the chapel, so does the water, flowing through the church like the Holy Spirit. Two streams of water flank the entry and flow along the sides of the pews. The waters cut a stream in the limestone that forms the floor and foundation of the chapel. Set on top of this mass of limestone are wooden structural members that arch across the chapel like waves of grain. The twelve structural members represent the apostles.  At the front of the chapel, the image of the Holy Family is beautifully etched into a single pane of glass sixteen feet tall.
©2011 Steven P. Thelen.
With an open view of the prairie and the Platte valley beyond, the image of the Holy Family appears like spirits in the heaven. The elevated altar area sits in front of the Holy Family image. An elevated slab of limestone at the altar area appears to float above a pool of water. This pool is collecting the flowing streams on either side of the pews as they flow through the chapel.
Steve's description:

There is a visitor’s center built into the side of the hill like a bunker, which you can’t see at all from the highway, and there are trails and benches throughout the grounds. The chapel/church/shrine itself is very cool, with a hollow floor that has openings in various places where you can see water running beneath your feet. The stream goes from a fountain in the visitors center all the way out to the altar.  Here is a link to some pictures I took. I haven’t edited out the bad ones or processed the images in any way, so they are pretty raw, and in some cases repetitive. I did not take any photos inside the shrine out of respect for the people there who were praying and/or just chilling out. We did both; it’s a very peaceful space.
©Steven P. Thelen.
It’s worth a stop if you are going by on a trip up here. The origins of the shrine are somewhat mysterious, to me anyway, even though there is a whole story of how it came about in the visitor’s center. The mysterious part is the lack of names. This place obviously cost a bundle to construct, and can’t be cheap to maintain. A generous benefactor is alluded to, but never identified. More credit to whoever it is for not demanding that something be named after them, unlike the Scotts and Lieds and other well-heeled Omahans who are generous with grants and donations but expect naming rights in return. Buying a legacy, I suppose.
 Of course, "buying a legacy" has led to some of the greatest architecture in Western history, though I'll cheerfully concede a difference between buying the name for X% of the building cost and fronting the whole amount. Still, thank God the people involved thought it more important to provide the chapel than get themselves a religious "attaboy".

Mass is celebrated there every Saturday at 10:00 am except for Holy Saturday (so, as Steve points out, it won't fulfill your Sunday obligation). In the future, the unknown benefactors would like to add an outside stations of the cross, an interactive rosary path and a retreat/retirement center for priests. They also plan to add an outdoor shelter/ampitheater for more ecumenical events.

Actually, having been to Mahoney State Park several times, I can think of nowhere more relaxing and easy on the eyes to sit, pray and reflect on the awesome majesty of God than while looking across the Platte River valley during a golden autumn sunset. If you're on your way to, from or through Omaha, stop by, stay a few minutes and let the vista sweep you away.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Leftist praise for the Pope!?

Gregor Gysi (I don't own the copyright)
Tom Heneghan of Reuters reports that a leading German leftist and leader of former Communists from East Germany, Gregor Gysi, "thanked the conservative pontiff Thursday for consistently preaching that a modern society must have moral norms in order to function properly."

"It won't work without the concept of the good," he wrote in the weekly Christ und Welt [Christ and the World]. "But modern science can't tell us what is good. Its concepts focus on empirical experience. Ideas such as morality play no role there." ...
Gysi noted with approval that Benedict has said religions without reason can lead to fanaticism, while rational thinking without faith can lead to excessive pride and intolerance.
"One must simply recognize that cultural traditions, including religion, are resources" that transmit social norms, he wrote. "There seems to be something prior to and outside of the law that can act as a benchmark for it."
"In our world full of tension, this insight is the best justification for tolerance in a democratic state," Gysi said. "We don't have to follow this or that norm, but we must appreciate that there are norms, and some of them are good."

One wonders how that played with his constituency, who at one time adhered to a political doctrine that explicitly condemned religion as "the opiate of the masses". You don't have to be a Communist to be an atheist, so it doesn't follow that if you leave off communism you also leave off atheism. But even if such praise for B16 doesn't cost him at the next parliamentary elections, it was still a courageous statement to make.

Jürgen Habermas (I don't own the copyright)
The article also noted that Pope Benedict has received praise from Jürgen Habermas, an influential sociologist and philosopher of the Frankfurt School whose main body of work has been characterized as "broadly Marxist". However, the article doesn't quote any specific encomia, referring only to a 2004 debate with then-Cardinal Ratzinger in which the "methodological atheist" conceded that "modern secular societies still needed [the] moral values" [provided by religion]. Habermas has said elsewhere:

For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we must draw sustenance now, as in the past, from this substance. Everything else is idle postmodern talk.1

While it's much too early in the day to declare a shift in German social thinking, it looks like German leaders are beginning to look at certain progressive policies and wonder if they haven't created a recipe for societal suicide. Since what happens in Europe eventually tends to find its way over here, we should keep a closer watch on this.

1. Habermas, Jürgen, Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, ed. Eduardo Mendieta, MIT Press, 2002, p. 149; Habermas, Jürgen, Time of Transitions, Polity Press, 2006, pp. 150-151. Source: Wikipedia, "Jürgen Habermas".

Friday, August 26, 2011

No quick takes this Friday ...

This has been a fairly disturbing week.

If you read The Other Blog, you know my younger brother, Bob, is bedridden due to a host of maladies stemming from type-1 diabetes. Taking care of him is a challenge not only physically but spiritually, since I'm lazy and a bit self-centered.

Because Bob's circulation is poor and his mobility highly limited, his legs often swell up. About every year or so, the edema leads to infection; his blood sugar starts to climb even as he eats less (and when he's well he eats barely enough to keep a decent-sized hamster in the pink), and he starts to lose coherence.

This cycle started again Sunday, with a new twist: brief periods of lucidity interchanged with extreme sleepiness. Even when he was speaking clearly and coherently, he had a tendency to swap words around, leading me at one point to wonder why he wanted me to put soup cans in the refrigerator. When his legs are swollen, Bob has occasional panic attacks; now the attacks were coming every three to five hours or so.

One such attack woke me up at 5:30 am Wednesday. Sleepy and disgruntled, I stared at him as he explained, "I don't know what time it is; I don't know what time it was. I don't know. I don't know." His blood sugar was 246 mg/dl — an absurdly high number, as he'd had maybe six bites of food in the last twenty-four hours. That was it ... time to get him over to Denton Regional Medical Center.

(Ironically, Bob had a visit scheduled with an opthalmologist that afternoon, and one of his home health-care therapists, Robin, was scheduled to come over when it was time to leave and show me how to get him in our car using the new transfer board. Mom and I got him in with little problem and without Robin's presence.)

Since his admission to DRMC, Bob's periods of sleep seem to have changed into a pattern of withdrawal from the rest of the world. Because he's not eating, he's being fed intravenously; last night, he refused his medication. When we went to see him yesterday afternoon, we had the great good fortune to meet Fr. Tim Thompson, our former pastor, as he was leaving; with his characteristic gentleness, he gave Bob the Sacrament of the Sick. (Note: Priests like it when you ask them for a parting blessing.)

It isn't my habit or desire to use this blog to talk about such things. However, I felt I owe you, my readers, an explanation for my sporadic posting. Please keep us in your prayers; while I've got some extra time available, I'll try to make up for lost time.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

From the "Good to know that" department

When we look at the situation of unemployed people and many ordinary workers, we see not only individuals in economic crisis, but also struggling families and hurting communities. We see a society that cannot use the talents and energies of all those who can and should work. We see a nation that cannot assure people who work hard every day that their wages and benefits can support a family in dignity. We see a workplace where many have little participation, ownership, or a sense they are contributing to a common enterprise or the common good. An economy that cannot provide employment, decent wages and benefits, and a sense of participation and ownership for its workers is broken in fundamental ways.

Reminds me of one of Calvin Coolidge's more penetrating economic insights: "When millions of people are out of work, unemployment results."  It's statements like these that make me feel the USCCB is like the last guy in the room to get the message ... whatever the message happens to be at the time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011