Posts Tagged ‘Paul VI’

A Day of Atonement for Blasphemy in a Seminary, 40 Years Later

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Today, on the Eighth of December, for Catholics the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, memories bring me back to another December the Eighth forty years ago. For me, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception has become something of a day of atonement. Please let me explain why.

In a recent post I mentioned my unhappy college experience in the late 1960s and early 1970s at Niles College Seminary, the former college seminary (campus closed 1994) of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and specifically cited a beer party on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, which the students had given a mocking and vulgar name.

This name was the “Immaculate F_ _ _ Party,” and this party began on December 8, 1972 at one of the Niles College residence halls, Thomas Merton Hall. Chicago’s John Patrick Cardinal Cody learned of this party in 1979 due to a dispute among the clergy when someone leaked the word to him, and ended it.

But for a time this party drew a few from around the Chicago seminaries and the archdiocese to stage a beer blast at the college seminary on a rather theologically inappropriate night, a night intended for the mystery of faithful love, the feast of the Patroness of our country, Our Lady, as Vatican II called her, the Mother of the Church.

Drinking by seminarians and some priest faculty at Niles College was always problematic for me. The young priests in my own boyhood parish had “taken the pledge,” as did many newly ordained priests of the 1950s and early 1960s, not to drink alcohol until the age of thirty.

The multiplication of alcohol in rectories was one of the unacknowledged changes of the Vatican II era. Witness the account from Margery Frisbie’s biography of late Msgr. John J. “Jack” Egan, when he was assigned as pastor of Chicago’s Presentation Parish in 1966:

There were some surprises for Jack, even in himself. “I’ll never forget the first night. I went up to (Father) Jack Gilligan’s room. Father Tom Millea and Father Jack Hill were there. I can’t imagine myself doing this or saying this. They were having a drink and there was a bottle of Scotch on top of the dresser. Now, we’re on the third floor of the rectory and here’s the new pastor, saying, ‘Fellows, do you think we should have a bottle out in public like this?’ I turned them off. I remember them looking at one another, thinking who the hell let him in. They had just got rid of Monsignor McCarthy, an old conservative, and now this guy comes along, Jack Egan, whom they know!”

Jack describes his reversion to prototype domineering Irish tyrant as “a certain type of rigorism that did occupy my life when I was given positions of authority up to the time I was at Presentation. I think I’ve lost it. I hope I’ve lost it, he says now. He had exploded at his surprised young associates in their own rooms on their own time. “Here was a man trained in YCS, YCW, the Christian Family Movement, and in community organization all through the fifties and sixties. Now I go into that parish as a pastor. I practically forget all my training. Why? Because I was scared.” Jack admits. He was scared of the huge responsibility he’d been given. Driven by that fear and by his gut hankering to succeed, he momentarily parodied himself. But he didn’t please himself. His bona fide style was eliciting cooperation, not demanding conformity. Jack Hill, now resigned from the priesthod, doesn’t remember the Scotch story. He remembers Father Egan greeting his new associates, “Well, guys, I’m home.”

Margery Frisbie, An Alley in Chicago: The Ministry of a City Priest, 1991, Sheed and Ward, Kansas City, pp. 183-184.

The moral argument to allow the 1960s young priests to drink hard liquor seems to be, “Can’t a guy have a drink in peace on his own time at the end of the day?”

But imagine what the Church would be like if Mother Teresa gathered her nuns together each evening, not for an hour in the presence of the Holy Eucharist, but around a bottle of Scotch. This contrasting, non-liquor ridden ideal of holiness never seemed to have taken root among a certain number of Chicago clergy of the 1960s and 1970s: “Sometimes, a guy just needs a stiff drink.”

For some among the post-Vatican II clergy, being free to drink alcohol was an essential expression of independence and freedom.
But this freedom only went so far. One friend has told me that a priest close to him left the priesthood for the very reason that he tired of coming back to his room and drinking alone each night.

The anti-authoritarian attitude of a few of the faculty in control of Niles College in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was similar. Although officially there was not supposed to be liquor in Niles College seminarians’ rooms, this rule in time was ineffectively enforced, and in some cases, and at some times, a faculty member’s refrigerator might provide beer to whomever among the older students wished to pop open a can.

It is difficult to reconstruct, after the word “enabler” permeated the culture in the 1980s, the prior particular attitude of “concerned let-be” inspired by the work of psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1960s that would let alcohol and some drug abuse run rampant through a college seminary. When coupled with Niles College’s late 1960s idiosyncratic interpretation of the humanistic psychology of Abraham Maslow that assumed that young undergraduate men, left unimpeded by any significant authority structure or limits, would grow inevitably to maturity without any pathology, seems to us today as incredibly naive.

But the formations approach at Niles College during the late 1960s and early 1970s was inspired by the highest ideals then current on the freedom of the human spirit.

A close reading of Eugene Kennedy’s contemporaneous contribution to the 1970s “priest study” (Heckler, Victor J., and Eugene C. Kennedy. 1972. The Catholic priest in the United States: psychological investigations. Washington: United States Catholic Conference), reveals such a strong focus on maturity and self-actualization, that pathology, outside of immaturity, was hardly considered as a possibility. But pathology is precisely among those things that we would up inheriting from the 1960s and early 1970s Niles College.

It is true that no authority was just about the only authority that the Viet Nam era young man, even the seminary young man, would accept. Hindsight is indeed 20/20, so it is easy to compute now that, if one mixed dozens of young undergraduate men into a seminary that at the time offered a deferment from Viet Nam military draft (and did not ask young men who no longer intended to study for the priesthood to leave the seminary in any systematic way, but let them stay for four years during which a few did little else but party), coupled with the widespread availability of alcohol and drugs, in rooms that offered little privacy, among formations faculty some of whom were still in their young 30s, and placed very few limits on the young men, with some students obtaining liquor from the faculty themselves, that literally all hell would break loose.

The high ideals of the seminary faculty, formed amidst a deep and resentful reaction against their own authoritarian pre-Vatican II training, were contradicted regularly by the disordered reality of the seminary they shaped.

I prefer not to recall how many times at the college seminary that I found a classmate retching with his arms wrapped around a toilet, or passed out on the floor near his own vomit or pee, or hovering at the door of another student in a state of buzzed obsession, or stiff and stupefied unable to walk, or crouched weeping in a stairwell in inebriated panic, or worse, in a state of soused rampage seeking to beat another student. Indeed, our only Latino classmate was driven from the seminary by the relentless, intoxicated vendetta of a bully whom to my knowledge was evidently never disciplined, because, apparently, he was one of the “boys.” I recall first meeting a noted theologian as he collapsed, “drunk on his arse,” on a nearby couch in the seminary rectory. I remember hearing of one fellow so drunk–perhaps this is apocryphal–that he could not find a part of his anatomy–“It’s gone!”–and who broke down in grateful tears when someone helped him “find” it. I particularly remember the “crying in his beer” soliloquy of a student whom decades later was jailed for pedophilia–not the misnamed abuse of a teen or a young adult–but real pedophilia with young children. How he was ever ordained I will never know.

When the press picked up on the “Woodstock” or “blame the 1960s” aspect of the John Jay study, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, RSM, of the USCCB reacted strongly against this analysis. Fortunately, Sr. Walsh cannot be expected to know even a fraction of what went on at the late 1960s/early 1970s Niles College, which did at times did indeed vie to out-Woodstock Woodstock.

One night working at an apostolate for troubled teens, I cleaned up a drunken young man’s vomit off the floor, and returned to Niles College only to find the dorm faculty on vacation and the dormitory filled with drunken and carousing seminary students and female guests.

I recall in particular one Spring day in 1970 when no priest appeared to say the morning Mass at Niles College, and a number of us enlisted our holy teacher of dear memory, the late David J. Hassel, SJ, who walked at our request directly from teaching us in his classroom to the chapel and celebrated Mass. (I highly recommend Fr. Hassel’s book, Radical Prayer: Creating a Welcome for God, ourselves, other people, and the world.)

Perhaps the most infamous “prayer service” at Niles College of that era was the Easy Rider-inspired ritual, which culminated with a motorcycle barreling up the aisle. I remember opening the windows to release the fumes from the chapel. At Niles College, aggiornamento apparently meant opening the windows of the church to let the smoke out.

Niles College of the late 1960s and early 1970s was in many ways a social experiment in the establishment of a free, permissive environment, an experiment–based upon an incorrect reading of John Henry Newman and a probably correct reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau–that not only failed, but that had terrible and costly later consequences in the number of abusers who arose from that environment.

Theoretically, it appeared that the students were expected to develop leadership by being cast into a chaotic and disordered maelstrom. In reality, some forms of order were never established, and great damage was done to some. (By the grace of God, a few other amazingly holy priests somehow survived Niles College). While many of the academic faculty of Niles College were proven, scholarly, and holy men, the formations faculty included men just a few years older than the students, some of whose perplexed attitude toward authority and alcohol mirrored that of the late Monsignor Egan in 1966.

One of the most difficult decisions I made was to remain at Niles College after my first week in the Fall of 1969, a week of what seemed endless carousing and partying by the students long into the night, making study all but impossible unless one hid in a remote corner of the seminary.

I remember sitting in the yard a few hundred feet opposite my dormitory and praying for a long time about my decision, since the college I had chosen was the most contradictory of seminaries. (One of my dear friends, now a missionary priest, was actively discouraged by his father from entering Niles College because of its reputation, so a number of us had advanced warning about what we called “The Niles Experience.”)

During my time of prayer, I reasoned that if I was called to be a priest in Chicago, and if Niles College was the pathway, and if the Devil himself had scrambled the seminary, I would ask God for the strength to persist and to live on to change the seminary for the better. (I was indeed blessed to return to much quieter though still troubled Niles College as a lay faculty member years later, 1992-94, until the day it finally closed and moved to another location under a new name.) I coped at Niles College during my own college days by throwing myself into volunteer work at mental hospitals, and at child care and correctional institutions.

Although it was in many ways unfortunate for me that I decided to remain at Niles College in 1969, by three years later, in the week of early December, 1972 when I had the opportunity to graduate early in the upcoming January, and I had made the decision to leave the Chicago seminary, I remember finding a flyer announcing the December 8, 1972 beer party and showing it to a friend. I debated with myself whether I should throw away the flyer, and simply purge myself of the memory. I first threw the flyer out, but later retrieved and archived it. I have never been able to purge myself of the memory, because of what such a beer party on such a holy feast represented for a seminary.

The Immaculate F_ _ _ Party served as a metaphor for me of how a seminary could go almost completely awry, and dishonor its very purpose and the source of its integrity.

With the passing years I came to view the choice of the evening of the feast of the Immaculate Conception for a beer party as an intentional “poisoning of the well” within the seminaries, a not so subtle rejection of Marian devotion and the place of Our Lady in Catholicism, part of a vain attempt by change agents within the seminary to form the illusive “unclerical clergy.”

By attempting to wipe out traditional “clericalism,” which included certain lifestyle practices meant to sustain clerical virtue, seminary change agents opened the doors to clerical vice.

I recall the mockery at the time that both students and faculty had for things Marian, such as the rosary, the color “Blessed Mother Blue,” Marian hymns, prayers, novenas, the Pilgrim Virgin, Lourdes and Fatima, and such organizations as the Blue Army. Seminary students in the early 1970s, unless they were Latino or Polish, where overt piety was tolerated as ethnic heritage, were mocked if they prayed the rosary. Earlier, one pious one close to me was purged from the seminary because of his “authoritarian personality” and Marian devotion by a priest who was finally almost 50 years later revealed as an abuser.

Niles College was quite a change from our early high school days in 1965 at Quigley Seminary North in Chicago, where as freshman (called “Bennies” because Benjamin was the twelfth son of Jacob, and the cycle of high school seminary in Chicago to priesthood took twelve years), we were encouraged to pray the rosary at least once a day. Quigley even had a club called the Beadsmen, who prayed the rosary after school or in between classes.

A seminary friend from that era of the 1970s tells the story of how he placed a statue of the Blessed Mother five separate times in an empty niche in the hallway near his room at the then St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, IL, the major seminary of Chicago, and five times it was removed, despite his public pleas to the contrary. He finally painted Mary’s image in the niche, where it reputedly remains to this day.

As a student at Niles College of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I like other students served as subject, whether witting or unwitting, in someone else’s social experiment: the construction of an experimental seminary “without rules” in which the students had to form their own social order.

A long-time and holy faculty member at Niles College, Fr. Stanley R. Rudcki, penned in 1995 an article on Niles College in the New Oxford Review entitled, The Tale of a Dead Seminary. I recommend this first-person account by a man of prayer, music, and culture who taught at Niles College from its beginning in the early 1960s to its end in 1994.

In an “Catholic samizdat” article entitled “Deconstructing the Seminary” on the Chicago seminaries that I privately circulated in 1996 and 1997 after years of reflection and after my own return to teach at a later (1992-4) Niles College when I interviewed key witnesses, I wrote:

If it is not an old proverb, it should be–that you should never poison a well, because one day you may desperately desire to drink from it. This adage brings to mind something of a Prometheus in reverse: while it takes a powerful titan to steal fire from the heavens and free humanity from the gods, any trickster can poison a well and sicken a village. In [recent] decades, a number of American seminaries have seen their wells poisoned–by intent, by neglect, by hubris, or by circumstance–and have become for a time sickened villages. These sickened villages have contributed to the many problems besetting the Church. During these decades, some unfortunate American seminaries have been run by faculties including titans and tricksters: titans who sincerely and tragically embraced bad ideas, and tricksters bent on the eradication of a lifestyle which they hated. From year to year bright-eyed young men called to priesthood by the example of Jesus of Nazareth have been forced to maneuver their way through the subtleties and hidden agendas of sickened seminaries. For the sake of these young people, one task of our age is to rebuild the sickened, deconstructed seminary. . . .

What happened? Nothing less than the continual deconstruction of what once was the largest and arguably the finest Roman Catholic seminary system in North America. This deconstruction, far from being the solely the result of demographic and cultural change, was also the result of conscious change-agency in Chicago seminary education. This change-agency included a reduction of the perennial or classical tradition and the by-passing of canonical requirements for seminary activity and conduct. This reduction was accomplished by a subtle dialing down of the thermostat of seminary tradition. . . .

Enough. I now take a big step back from my 1996 words above, and consider, with the perspective of the aging grandfather that I now am–and I never wish to claim to be anything other than a sinner–that while the Catholic seminaries of Chicago have in many ways been reformed thanks in great part to Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago–and thankfully Our Blessed Mother is honored again in the Chicago seminaries–we as a culture have still not learned the “sobering” lesson of the corrupting effects of alcohol abuse on both the young and the old, and the importance of confronting this deadly disease as the public health challenge that it is.

Alcohol abuse provides a turbulent gateway to violence, to sexual abuse in particular–the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that each year “97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape”–to injury to hundreds of thousands of young adults and to death for over 1,800 young adults in the USA annually, with 25% of college students reporting that alcohol abuse interferes with their studies.

The scope and scale of the college-age alcohol abuse statistics today are dumbfounding. See them again here.

Alcohol and other drug abuse has not changed greatly over the past decades among the young. Alcohol and drug abuse helped lead to the wild late 1960s, early 1970s days of buzzed stupidity at Niles College Seminary. It was in this environment that a few ill–later to be abusive–men were educated and later unfortunately ordained. The Catholic generation of today, and the generations of tomorrow, will continue to pay the price.

While others debate many of the liturgical or doctrinal changes of Vatican II, few concentrate on the cultural changes, like the proliferation of useless meetings, or the introduction of microphones and sound systems, or especially the impact of alcohol abuse among the clergy and in seminaries.

Much has happened in the seminaries since the 1970s that led these church institutions to come to terms with alcohol abuse among seminarians and clergy. But the damage has been done.

So I agree in this respect with Sr. Walsh: The problem with Niles College during my years there, 1969-1973, was not so much the Woodstock culture. It was the alcohol abuse culture, one of the most powerful forces in human civilization, that still directly today affects by illness about one in thirteen adults and about one in four college students. Think of the wasted energy, resources, and all those student loans taken on by those with this terrible affliction. . .

Forty-some years ago, an idealistic group of change agents shaped, for what they were convinced were the best of reasons, a seminary without rules, but they instead succeeded in releasing one of the most familiar scourges known to man and to woman.

Although colleges and universities still struggle with widespread alcohol abuse to this day, seminaries are among the few institutions, if properly led and structured, that can minimize it.

Earlier this year, we buried a seminary friend from those days, who died, fifteen years earlier than his life expectancy, from the damage that the disease of alcoholism did to his internal organs. Binge drinking sneaked up on him in his later years, in a familiar progression for lifetime drinkers.

As he lay dying and we prayed at his side, I had time to reflect on the past five decades of his life, from a young, bright, promising teen, to an aged and broken physical wreck. His drinking habits were laid down, quite early in his life, in the Chicago seminaries.

“Albert,” he asked me, when he woke from a prolonged sleep, “Am I dying?”

“Yes, (his name), you are,” I said. “We’re here with you (and will pray with you, I thought).”

The disease of alcoholism and alcohol abuse is an attribute of the culture of death. This culture, and its effects, must be systematically eliminated from seminary and priestly life, for the sake of the bright and idealistic young men who begin the journey to priesthood, and for those whom they will serve.

The Immaculate F_ _ _ Party at Niles College Seminary on 12/8/1972 came but a few months after Pope Paul VI stated on 6/29/1972, “Da qualche fessura sia entrato il fumo di Satana nel tempio di Dio (The smoke of Satan has penetrated the Temple of God through some crack),” and expanded upon his remarks on November 15, 1972. But a few of us in 1972 were not then prepared to “put on the armor of God” because we had not yet learned our struggle was not with mere “flesh and blood” but with “Principalities and Powers,” as St. Paul warned the Ephesians (6:10-17). We were confronted then not only with the culture of death, but with the power of sin and evil.

So indeed, December 8 will again be for me, a sinner, a day of prayer and atonement, and also a day in which I am happy to report that Chicago seminarians can honor Our Lady once again, and learn from her who is so filled with grace that her “yes” to God helped promise us eternal life. May seminarians especially continue to turn to Our Lady as a paradigm of grace!

And may the Lord forgive our sins from the old, now dead, Niles College. . .

PS: Here is a link to the Office of Readings second reading for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, by St. Anselm. It was these truths that were denied to many of the seminarians 40 years ago —

From a sermon by Saint Anselm, bishop
(Oratio 52: PL 158, 955-956)

Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night – everything that is subject to the power or use of man – rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless for men or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by the acts of men who served idols. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendor by men who believe in God. The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.

To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.

Truly the Lord is with you, to whom the Lord granted that all nature should owe as much to you as to himself.

Amen!

© Copyright 2012, 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Cardinal Edwin O’Brien’s 3/17/12 Homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Cardinal Edwin Frederick O’Brien, the guest homilist at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the 2012 St. Patrick’s Day Mass, made a statement that will some day be read as indicative of an historic renewal in American Catholicism in a time of public challenge and hostility–

Below is my unofficial transcript:

Homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City, 3/17/12

Edwin Cardinal O’Brien:

A happy St. Maewyn’s Day to you all!

Of course we know that Maewyn Succat, born around 387 AD, had his name Romanized early in life, and it became Patricius Magnus Succatatus. So a happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!

I’m pleased and privileged to offer the homily on this great feast day and for several reasons:

First, as I look upon this large and distinguished congregation, I’m struck in awe by the presence of the members of the 69th, the Fighting 69th, as they’ve been known for decades and more. Their origin is in the mid-1850s as the 69th New York State Militia. At the start of the Civil War they became the 69th Infantry of New York City as part of the Irish Brigade that drew troops, mostly Irish, from up and down the Eastern seaboard. Their heroism at Antietam and Gettysburg was a principal cause of the Union victory in the Civil War. The many members of the Fighting 69th in our midst and their comrades have kept very much alive the noble traditions of the Irish Brigade in multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan this last decade. We New Yorkers and our grateful nation salute you courageous men and women. We pray for your fallen heroes and for God’s protection of each of you in the months ahead. (Applause).

Another reason I am pleased to be here today is somewhat more personal. As you know it was four weeks ago today that twenty-two men of the Church were created Cardinals and I was privileged to be one of them. (applause) What you might not know (applause) . . . What you might not know is that there was another American created a Cardinal that day. (laughter) Sure, he resisted until the end. (laughter) He made every attempt to keep it secret, (laughter) and refused all the overtures by the press for photos and interviews. (laughter) So it is my distinct honor to announce to you that the other American Cardinal admitted to that unique College of Cardinals was none other than Shirley’s son, and your own Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan. (applause)

I’m so grateful to Cardinal Dolan who almost a year ago extended the invitation to preach at this Mass. On this sanctuary floor almost forty-seven years ago I prostrated myself here along with thirty others of my Dunwoodie [seminary] class to receive the sacred order of priesthood at the hands of Francis Cardinal Spellman; and again, almost sixteen years ago to be consecrated a bishop here by the most remembered and courageous John Cardinal O’Connor. And I was honored for ten years to have served as a member of the staff of this famed Cathedral parish.

It was Archbishop John Hughes–Irish born–who to the consternation of many laid the cornerstone for this Cathedral on August 15, 1859. The city and the nation were at the time in a deep financial depression. Bank closures and unemployment were rampant. And the site he chose to build was well north of the then bustling heart of New York. His whole plan was called Hughes’s folly. So unrealistic were the finances, as well as in the timing and the choice of this very location. Nevertheless, the dauntless Archbishop with prophetic vision and typically Irish determination–what others might call stubbornness–insisted on the need to erect, quote “A Cathedral in the City of New York that may be worthy of our increasing numbers, intelligence and wealth as a religious community, and as a public architectural monument to the present and prospective greatness of this metropolis of the American continent.”

This block on 5th Avenue, between 50th and 51st Street–Hughes’s Folly–with the interlude of the Civil War–it was not until 1879, twenty years later, that America’s first Cardinal, John Cardinal McCloskey, finally dedicated this America’s Cathedral. And what a symbolic triumph it was for all Catholics in New York, largely immigrants, highly suspect and openly rejected by New York’s elite of the day.

For the Irish of New York, it was especially meaningful. Transplanted from a small spot on the North Atlantic, where they were forced to smuggle bread and wine and priests into hidden forests for hushed celebrations of the Eucharist on Mass rocks, they now had a complete freedom to build their churches openly. They were now proud Americans and loyal Catholics. In complete obedience to the Church’s teaching, they brought children into the world, many of whom would become priests and nuns and brothers, saturating our country’s urban centers, and building the vast empire of Catholic educational and charitable institutions.

Author Edward Wakin has written, “There are very few churches from Maine to California, from Canada to Mexico, which Irish hands have not helped to build, whose Irish purses have not supported, and in which Irish hearts are not found worshiping. . . ”

And none the more so than this Cathedral, this marvelous monument to our faith. Within these walls many tears of the nation have been shed through all the wars and innumerable crises and tragedies of the last century and a quarter. Surely, and most poignantly, the laying to rest of many of the dozens of the 9/11 heroes whose loved ones chose this Cathedral to give them their final honor.

And what cathedral outside Italy, perhaps, has hosted three recent Popes: Paul VI in 1965, John Paul II in 1979 and 1995, and Benedict XVI in 2008. Many of us can remember that April day, when Pope Benedict, from that cathedra, called for a new Pentecost for the Church in America. He said he was, quote, “particularly happy to be in this Cathedral. Perhaps more than any other church in the United States this place is known,” he said, “and loved as a house of prayer for all people. The spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of Manhattan,” he said, “yet in the heart of this busy metropolis they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning for the human spirit to rise to God.”

Great words from a great Pontiff, but what of the future of this edifice to the glory of God and the memory of Patrick?

If these majestic spires are to remain strong and lofty, if this Cathedral’s once sure foundation is to continue to bear the burdened prayers of millions who kneel here annually in humble petition, sacrifice no less than that of the poverty-stricken Catholics of the 1850s and 60s will be called for–and with some urgency. Help us restore St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We will be challenged to make those sacrifices in thanksgiving for the freedom of religion which this holy temple proclaims day in and day out: a freedom of religion in startling peril at recent first signs of not-so-subtle government strangulation. (applause)

We will all be challenged (applause) . . . We will all be challenged to sacrifice for this Cathedral’s ongoing strength. And should we not feel compelled to do so in honor of those visionary forebears of Irish faith, whose total trust both in God’s Providence and the good will of neighbors, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to honor those who dared to embark on this daring venture to raise to the heavens a Cathedral of suitable magnificence. In the ensuing years since, decade after decade until now, how many have sacrificed and far beyond their means, to help shore up these sacred walls? Help us to restore St. Patrick’s Cathedral. And will there be those thousands of hearts to respond with sacrificial generosity to the pleas of this newly-minted Cardinal of yours, the present occupant of this cathedra?

Friend, friends all, times are changing, and rapidly. Unborn human life, marriage and family life are under threat, not only from the usual elites in the media and academia, but even now from our own elected governments. How providential it is that we have a president of our national hierarchy, the Archbishop of New York, who is so effective in proclaiming and defending the faith and values for which this Cathedral has stood these many years. (applause)

As we seek to renew our faith in restoring this beloved Cathedral, let us not neglect to turn to Mary. How many prayers has she answered as devotees plead before the graceful statue of Our Lady of New York in the Lady Chapel behind our main altar? She indeed, was that First Cathedral, the prototype of all others, who hosted the same Son of God beneath her heart: That same Son of God who sacramentally radiates his grace daily throughout the heart of the city from the altar of this Cathedral of St. Patrick.

It was many centuries ago that the Saint we honor today, Patrick, once a slave in Ireland, heard unmistakeably the invitation to return there. The words he heard, and obeyed. We ask thee, young boy, Come and walk among us once more. Indeed, may Patrick walk among us and all who will participate in the parade today. Walk among us, dear Patrick, in the months that lie ahead. And may your patronage and intercession help guarantee the success we pray for in restoring this Cathedral, and restoring the faith of our city and beloved land.

We pray for this Cathedral, thanking God for the majestic grandeur that is so widely known and beloved, the great Cathedral in which our God is daily adored, and which we are so grateful to inherit. Make us worthy of this Cathedral, Patrick. Help us restore this Cathedral. Amen. (applause)

And now if you’ll say a special prayer for me. I’m going to go down and greet our Cardinal and probably get a bear hug that will take the oxygen out of me for the rest of the Mass. (laughter and applause).

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The “Ethics” of “After-Birth Abortion,” the New Word for “Infanticide.”

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

To my pro-choice friends: Because you opened the door for abortion, you’ve apparently also opened the door for legalized infanticide.

Please read on.

Professors Alberto Giubilini of the University of Milan and Francesca Minerva of the University of Melbourne and Oxford University, theorized in a recent scholarly article entitled, “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” about the morality and legalization of “after-birth abortion,” another word for “infanticide,” for euthanizing, i.e., killing, infants born with the same defects that would allow an abortion prior to birth. Here’s the full text of the article in in the Journal of Medical Ethics (full reference: Paper: After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? Alberto Giubilini, Francesca Minerva, J Med Ethics medethics-2011-100411Published Online First: 23 February 2012 doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100411

I have two questions for my pro-choice friends:

1. If you support abortion before birth, what prevents you from supporting infanticide? (Professors Giubilini and Minerva have simply taken your support of abortion to its logical conclusion.)

2. And if you don’t support infanticide or “after-birth abortion,” then why don’t you extend the same protection to the pre-born infant?

The same ad-hoc reasons given for allowing abortion are often not strong enough tools for distinguishing abortion from infanticide.

The principal reasons for forbidding both infanticide and abortion are that life is either sacred, or life is an inalienable, intrinsic right of human beings. Paul VI thought this line of argument completely through when writing Humanae Vitae: Granting a single exception for the violation of life eventually unravels all rights to life, and this dreadful logic has been unfolding throughout the 20th Century until now.

One report states that Prof. Minerva herself does not support infanticide, but wrote the article as an academic exercise.

The “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” article however, has generated an explosion of controversy. There are now countless responses, scholarly and otherwise, posted on the Internet.

My favorite response so far is by Denise J. Hunnell, MD, with the comment by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) running a close second.

Please see also Catholic moral theologian and Fordham University Professor Charles C. Camosy’s catholicmoraltheology.com blog post on this subject, and his related response article posted at the Journal of Medical Ethics website.

Please see my previous post on “Why Babies Should Live”.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Simone Weil in the YOUCAT; Did Weil Help Consign Limbo to the Shadows?

Monday, September 5th, 2011

A Simone Weil quote–

“Prayer is nothing other than attention in its purest form.”

Simone Weil (1909-1943, French political activist, philosopher, and mystic).

–has made it onto page 270 the YOUCAT, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church.

This inclusion is not a surprise. Popes from John XXIII forward have been known to have read Simone Weil.

Angelo Roncalli, the future Blessed John XXIII, when posted in Paris from 1944, was so moved by Weil’s writing that he wrote a letter to her mother Selma Weil and told Weil’s friend and contemporary Maurice Schumann that “he loved her soul.” Paul VI named Weil, along with Pascal and Bernanos, as a critical intellectual influence. Blessed John Paul II cited Weil as “a daughter of Israel who fell under the spell of Christ” in a statement to the Franciscans, while Benedict XVI quoted her in an address to artists. Weil appears here and several dozen other places on the Vatican website.

In her Letter to a Priest, Weil aired her revulsion with the notion of Limbo, and could not countenance the idea that innocent infants dying without baptism would be consigned to such a state. It is not unlikely that Weil’s strenuous rejection of Limbo, known to several popes, influenced the Vatican’s 2007 International Theological Commission document, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, written at Benedict XVI’s behest, which entrusted unbaptized infants not to Limbo, but to the infinite mercy of God. Limbo had already been omitted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

My seminary friend Ken Trainor, in his 8/31/11 US Catholic website blog, stated:

As far as I know, only one Pope in the history of the Catholic Church ever set anything loose: Pope John XXIII when he called for a Second Vatican Council and threw open the windows of a bound up church in order to “let in a little fresh air.”

But Benedict XVI’s action on pulling the rug out from under the concept of Limbo is definitely such a “loosing” as well, as are the actions of several previous popes to reject heresies that called for spiritual practices that were stricter than Catholicism, such as Donatism and Jansenism.

I’d like to think that Simone Weil had a little bit to do with the Vatican’s stance on Limbo in 2007. It is just like “Romanitas” to take a while to react, sixty-five years after Weil’s Letter to a Priest!

One final note: The late British actor Peter Sellers is also quoted (“The closest thing to a father confessor is probably a bartender”) in the YOUCAT, as are Martin Luther and numerous others. The YOUCAT is a very lively entry into Catholicism.

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Why Catholic, Sacramental Marriage is Not “Just a Piece of Paper”

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

The philosopher and theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977) wrote with profound insight on marriage, especially marriage from a Catholic, sacramental perspective.

His insights helped shape an understanding of intimacy from a Christian perspective, and informed Catholic teaching on the concept of mutuum adjutorium (mutual assistance) as an essential attribute of marriage.

Von Hildebrand studied phenomenology with its founder, Edmund Husserl, in the early years of the Twentieth Century, shortly before another Husserl protege, St. Edith Stein. Von Hildebrand was a friend of the philosopher Max Scheler, who assisted von Hildebrand in his conversion to Catholicism in 1914. Von Hildebrand’s thought is also sometimes classified within the traditions of personalism.

Dietrich von Hildebrand demonstrated great moral courage by publicly and continuously criticizing the Nazis, was condemned to death in absentia by them, and was forced to flee into exile on more than one occasion, narrowly escaping with his life.

Von Hildebrand brought a different perspective to the Catholic understanding of marriage which had for centuries followed the construct, as established by St. Augustine of Hippo and followed by St. Thomas Aquinas, of the ends of marriage being proles (offspring), fides (fidelity), and sacramentum (sacrament). Von Hildebrand wrote, “In stressing the primary end of marriage–procreation–certain theological treatises have overlooked the primary meaning of marriage, which is love. (Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage, Longmans Green and Co., NY, 1942, p. vi.)”

Von Hildebrand has been credited with influencing Chapter I of the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church and the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes and the approach of Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, who discussed a unitive aspect of marriage as well as a procreative.

In his book, In Defense of Purity (later republished as Purity:
The Mystery of Christian Sexuality)
, originally a series of 1925 lectures, von Hildebrand wrote of the three traditional ends of Catholic marriage already noted above:

“There exists, however, a profound relation of quality between the bodily union and that psychological and spiritual factor of specifically matrimonial love formulated under the terms of mutuum adjutorium (mutual assistance), and fides (fidelity) as one of these three ends. We have here to do with an organic unity, deeply rooted in the attributes of wedded love on the one hand and of sex on the other. And just because sex is so uniquely intimate and represents the secret of the person concerned, the sexual gift of one person to another signifies an incomparably close union with that other and a self-surrender to him or her. The sexual union is thus the organic expression of wedded love, which intends precisely this mutual gift of self.

There are, to be sure, certain modern theories which exaggerate beyond all measure the part played by sex, while nevertheless missing its deeper significance, and venture the absurd thesis that love in general, and not only the love between man and woman, is a sublimation of the sex instinct. Such a doctrine betrays, in the first place, complete failure to understand the spiritual structure of the personality, and secondly, an entire misapprehension of the nature of love, the supreme actuation of the spirit. We can understand the nature of love without and reference to sex; indeed, it is only in that way that we can understand clearly the distinctive quality of the genuine act of love. We can understand it best in its source, the Divine Love, as it issues from the most sacred Heart of Jesus, where every thought of sex fails. It is therefore of the first importance to realize the complete independence and sovereignty in respect of sex of love generally. But the specific quality not only of love as such, but of wedded love in particular, is independent of the physical aspect of sex. What distinguishes wedded love from other kinds of love–for example, love of parents or children or the love between two friends–is the quality of the love itself, the distinctive correlation between two persons, the completion of both parties, which only this kind of love affects, and that unique splendor which invests “being in love” in the noble sense. It is impossible to reduce all this to the so-called sex instinct.

The distinction between male and female, whose roots lie far deeper than the biological sphere, is certainly the presupposition alike of the power to complete and of the distinctive splendor of wedded love. But, on the other hand, the view that physical sex is a purely external addition to wedded love, in the sense that pride may be added to love, as, for example, to parents’ love for a child, is equally false. On the contrary, I can only understand that true significance and nature of physical sex from above, from wedded love. The moment I treat physical sex as something complete in itself and make no account of its profoundest function, namely, in wedded love, I falsify its ultimate significance and become blind to the mystery it contains. Physical sex is certainly something distinct from love, but nevertheless, between it and wedded love there subsists a pre-established harmony. Its true significance as an experience is inseparable from its character as the expression and flower of a specific kind of love. The man who has grasped the meaning of sex recognizes its central position–intimacy and mystery–and understands the distinctive quality of the act of marriage as uniting and amalgamating the partners, also the unique connection which subsists between physical sex and wedded love and, moreover, knows why sex alone and not any other bodily function must enter into this combination.”

Dietrich von Hildebrand, In Defense of Purity: An Analysis of the Catholic Ideals of Purity and Virginity, Franciscan Herald Press, 1970, pp. 7-10. Used copies available here.

Von Hildebrand recognized in a very concrete way that human beings have a spiritual nature, and developed his expositions on marriage around this fact. Von Hildebrand also recognized that love is a divine and eternal gift, and that married love participates in this divine gift.

Since von Hildebrand’s influential writing on marriage ironically appeared in a book on purity and virginity cited above, he responded in 1942 with a short but very powerful book specifically on marriage. The chapter on “Love and the Mystery of Sacramental Marriage” should be closely considered by every husband and wife undertaking vows of marriage in the Catholic Church. Here is a salient excerpt:

“We have found that the primary meaning of marriage which enables it to serve as an image of the relationship between the soul and God, consists in that closest communion of love whereby two persons become one–one heart, one soul, one flesh. But what relation does this communion bear toward Jesus, toward the salvation of the soul, toward the Kingdom of God? Let us first consider the supernatural significance of sacramental marriage: what transformation of natural marriage takes place and what is brought into the sacrament from the natural marriage. Let us consider further the sublime value of marriage and the incomparably high rank it holds among all other earthly communities. He who was heard by Saint John saying: “Behold, I make all things new,” also elevated marriage, the most noble community of mankind, to unprecedented heights and invested it with sublime dignity.

Great as is this permanent community of love in itself, marriage objectively as well as subjectively is all the more sublime in Christ and the Holy Church. Christian marriage solemnly engaged in for Christ and in Christ, in the light of eternity, and carrying with it a sense of the deepest responsibility, differs radically from even the noblest natural marriage in which one spouse sees the other only within the limits of the natural order. A world of difference separates the two.

Conjugal love undergoes a deep, even a qualitative change in the living members of the Mystical Body of Christ. Not that wedded love ceases to have the characteristics discussed above: mutual self-giving, the character of an I-Thou communion, the living for each other, and the formation of a complete unity as a couple closed off from the rest of earthly things. Indeed, it does not cease in any way to be conjugal love in the full sense of the word. The supernatural does not dissolve this finest earthly good, but transfigures it. “The greater the man, the deeper his love,” Leonardo da Vinci said. And Lacordaire said: “There are not two loves–and earthly love and a divine one. It is one and the same feeling, with the sole difference that one is infinite.” Conjugal love represents something so great, so ultimate, so vitally enveloping of the whole person, that its depth can be taken as a measure of the depth and greatness of the whole man. It offers the highest and noblest earthly happiness, one which fills the soul more than any other value on earth. It is the most noble of natural powers, moving the world beyond anything else. Thus the Canticle of Canticles says: “If a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he shall despise it as nothing.”

This conjugal love is fully preserved in Christian marriage. But it assumes a completely new depth, a completely new seriousness, purity and unselfishness in those persons who see everything consciously in the sight of God, who are aware that all things acquire an authentic importance only in Jesus and through Jesus, and who consider their own sanctification and that of others for the glory of God as the primordial, true task of man. Conjugal love is here based upon sublime Christian charity. This is not to say that conjugal love does not represent something completely new in relation to the love of our neighbor and that it must not conserve its specific nature, but rather that love in Christian marriage is fully aware that the beloved is a being created by God, even more, an image of God–indeed, an immortal soul redeemed by the blood of Jesus, loved by Jesus with an infinite and eternal love. The whole individual charm and the particular atmosphere of the beloved which touches in a unique way the soul of the consort–these are incomparably ennobled when they appear as a particular aspect of the eternal value of the spiritual person who has become a temple of the Holy Ghost.

So long as we do not conceive of the person as an image of God, as an immortal soul destined to eternal communion with God, above all, so long as we do not consider the person as a vessel of grace, we have not grasped the authentic dignity and ultimate solemnity which is invested in the beloved and which is connected with the destiny, depth, and beauty which this person is called upon to fulfill. How greatly is conjugal love increased and deepened when we recognize in the beloved a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, belonging to Christ as we ourselves belong to Him. What respect and chastity must permeate conjugal love which is aware of this mystery! What sublime rhythm, far beyond that of even the most ardent and noble natural love, must penetrate it! We see here in what sense the conjugal love of the Christian also embraces the supernatural love of our neighbor. In this way, conjugal love in its entirety is deeply transformed and acquires an extraordinary solemnity, an unexpected depth, for in loving the partner love Christ simultaneously. In the beloved we love Christ. . . .

Only in the marriage fulfilled in God does the objectivity and validity inherent in every marriage find its full achievement. Here only is achieved the full realization of the unity and communion of love in an existence which is independent of the changing dispositions and feelings of either consort. This communion only represents in itself a good for which both partners must strive and make sacrifices. Here only does marriage become a reality that does not exist exclusively for the consorts, but something for which the consorts themselves exist.

Christian marriage embraces even more than all this. Not only is it concluded in God, but the partners’ promise of mutual fidelity is also a promise made to Christ. This solemn union is not only contracted with the spouse; it also concerns Christ to whom both partners belong as members of His Mystical Body. The conclusion of marriage, therefore, becomes a consecration to God which may be likened to a religious vow. It does not only mean that both spouses give themselves to each other in God; they give themselves anew to Christ in the other; the sacred tie is placed in the hands of Christ, is confided to Him; the marriage bond belongs to Him. To unfold this bond in its ideal form, to cherish it as a sublime community of love, to protect it as a sanctuary from every profanation, is a divine service.”

Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage, Longmans Green and Co., NY, 1942, pp. 33-41; currently available from Sophia Institute Press.

Those who do not embark on Catholic, sacramental marriage are missing something eternal! The gift of such a marriage, and of the spouses to each other, can be eternal life in Christ. So why not give the best?

Christian marriage got a good send-up with the famous scene in the film the Princess Bride, in which the bishop intoned, “Mawwiage is what bwings us togethow, today.”

But for the Catholic, marriage not only brings us here today, but to eternity.

For more about Dietrich von Hildebrand see the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project.

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Video — a Forced Abortion in China

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

If you don’t think government-forced abortions happen, think again.

Please take a look at this video report from Al-Jazeera, which interviewed the father, construction worker Luo Yanquan, and mother, Xiao Aiying, who, while 8 months pregnant, was kicked and dragged screaming from her home near Siming, China by a dozen people to a forced abortion by injection. Xiao Aiying reportedly delivered a still-born baby on 10/14/10, 40 hours after the attack.

More details can be found at the following news story.

When Paul VI in his 1968 Humanae Vitae urged governments to respect the rights of families–

Appeal to Public Authorities

23. And now We wish to speak to rulers of nations. To you most of all is committed the responsibility of safeguarding the common good. You can contribute so much to the preservation of morals. We beg of you, never allow the morals of your peoples to be undermined. The family is the primary unit in the state; do not tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God. For there are other ways by which a government can and should solve the population problem—that is to say by enacting laws which will assist families and by educating the people wisely so that the moral law and the freedom of the citizens are both safeguarded.

–sophisticated critics scoffed at predictions of government-forced abortions.

For further documentation of the scope of forced abortions in China, please see the book Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits, by Steven W. Mosher.

As recently as 2009, according to Chinese news sources, UN, Planned Parenthood, and other officials heaped praise on China’s family-planning policies.

If you’d like a different perspective on overpopulation, please see Overpopulation is a Myth.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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