Just Good Company
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From his retirement cottage in Maine, Paul Kelly, a former Jesuit from the New England Province and a retired attorney, has the time and the leisure and the intelligence to focus on a whole rainbow of topics that mirror our concerns at JustGoodCompany. And the man can write. For these reasons, we present a portfolio in this issue that we choose to call

The Kelly Kollection

His first item, written on Feb. 27, the day that our bishops released the results of two commissioned studies on the priest-sex-abuse crisis. He calls it:


We knew it was coming. Tantalizing leaks from several dioceses were let loose as teasers, almost as if their bishops did not want to be caught in the mudslide of February 27th, the promised date for transparency and openness. Ever since January, 2002, we had watched Poynter’s, now National Catholic Reporter’s Clergy Abuse Tracker, daily and had gone through the embarrassed boredom of “the-same-old-thing” to a unemotional steel-edged “what’s-new-today?”

The few bishops who have spoken out so far, O’Malley of Boston, Gerry of Portland, Maine, a few others, stutter in such a way that it is impossible to gain their meaning. Oh, yes, the apologies are there. Profusely. Yet, with a bafflement that this news of February 27th, 2004, professionally prepared by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and offered by the National Lay Review Board of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops themselves is bishopless, or to get fancy and use an ecclesiastical term, sede vacante – the see is empty . No bishop, archbishop or cardinal appeared as the introducing speaker. Most bishops remained in hiding, practicing their Vows of Silence, the very title of a recent book by Jason Berry and Gerald Renner.

The subtitle of that book highlights and makes more demandable, no negotiations, on the issue now of major importance: accountability. The two, the subtitle and the issue, are so intertwined that the one requires the other. The subtitle? The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II. The issue: Accountability.

The simplest definition of accountability is: answerable . Answerable in the sense of being required to give an account of one's actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust. It involves a personal responsibility, as for the actions of a bishop, archbishop or cardinal in charge of assigning priests within a diocese, or for being a source or cause. If a bishop is able to make a moral or rational decision on his own, he is, therefore, answerable for his behavior. (With thanks to the American Heritage Dictionary.)

While bishops love to toot their own trumpets, every single one of them shies at blowing his own whistle. And the bishops are the only ones who gave the data to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice investigators and members of the National Lay Review Board. As everyone says of critics, “Consider the source! “ If a bishop sends a known sexual abuser priest off to another parish where he molests 10, 20, 30 more children, that bishop is as aware of the decision to transfer as he is of the whistle he holds in his hand. And he keeps them both secret and silent, to use an ecclesiastical phrase again, in pectore – in his breast.

The next step is for outside investigators, professionals, free to act on their own, and as autonomous as bishops, to go to work and discover which of the bishops, even if all of them, are accountable for the sexual abuse of minors over the past 70 years, whether by transfer of priest abusers or by any other means which aided and abetted those priest abusers in the commission of their joint crimes. My personal recommendation is for federal and state law enforcement to take on this task and not any group associated with the USCCB or any diocese.

With due respect to the office of bishop, we stand and speak to each one of them: Bishops of the Catholic Church in America, your apologies are like your conduct since we first met most of you out of Dallas a couple of years ago: banning and barring those who stand and speak, consistently claiming to be unavailable to talk with survivors and hiding behind chancery walls, even though ordained to lead and sanctify, ignoring the stigmata of the victims and their families in your haste to climb back into the anonymity of waiting for the other shoe to drop, and steadfastly refusing to break your probable vow of silence taken with all the other accountable bishops, a vow more akin to omerta than holiness, a vow designed to keep the police and survivors and the laity at bay, while you and your huddled, befuddled old men continue to deny your own basic humanity towards others.

There must be accountability, without limit or restriction to the 194 dioceses and eparchies in the United States of America. The abuse of power begins with Rome and its bishop, Pope John Paul II, together with his Curia. The buck stops there. It started there, too, in the exercise of absolute power.

Bishops of the Catholic Church in America, we are the survivors and the relatives and friends of the survivors. You are the accused. We do thank you for what you have deigned to release on February 27th. We have been patient. These disclosures, though, do not end the matter, do not answer most of our questions, but may serve as a beginning. It won’t be over, Bishops, without accountability, full, transparent, open, truthful accountability of your performance or lack of performance of your duties as Ordinary and shepherd.

Let there be accountability and we shall proceed in peace.

Within a few days, after reading more reports about the disclosures, he began to wonder again about the future of the Church and those to whom its current management has been entrusted


Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is reported to have said, on the release of the National Lay Review Board’s recent reports, “"The terrible history recorded here is history.”

Not so fast, Bishop Gregory, salva reverentia vestra – with due respect for your reverence. The rubrics of the Sacrament of Penance, with which we may assume that all bishops, archbishops and cardinals are somewhat familiar, add one closing item after the recitation of sins and the Confiteor. That happens to be Penance.

After a crime has been committed and the criminal has faced his peers in the courtroom, justice adds one closing item after a verdict of guilty. That happens to be the Sentence.

After any of us, man, woman, child breaks a rule, disturbs etiquette, treats another discourteously, the code of conduct in civilized society adds one closing item. That happens to be the Consequences.

This enormous violation of the Body of Christ by your colleagues, the bishops, archbishops and cardinals of the Catholic Church in the 194 dioceses and eparchies of America demands in pure and simple justice that one closing item be added. Call it Penance. Call it Sentence. Call it Consequences.

But, poor, befuddled, ashamed Bishop, do not dare to call it history. Do not abuse our patience any longer. The story is not over. The story lives in the mangled bodies of the children who have survived. The story pumps outrage through the hearts of their parents. The story floods the souls of those of us who tried to help but were banned and barred and locked out of our own church by the criminals who are responsible for it all – your colleagues, the bishops, archbishops and cardinals of the dioceses and eparchies of America. You may call it history. We are living that history now.

There is only one way to atone for the sins of the Catholic Church in America. Just as it took the Son of God’s death on the cross to atone for sins against God, so too it must take a bishop to atone for the sins of a bishop. The magnitude of Episcopal Evil is so monumental that it is Shakespearean. And by that I mean that the criminal bishops not only were and are evil men but they know that they were and are evil men.

What they did and what they failed to do was no mistake, no error of judgment, no slip-up in management. There well may have been extenuating circumstances, but when episcopal action and inaction is measured against the onslaught of the children, it is difficult not to think of millstones. Ask any child who was abused. Ask me. I remember the sexual abuse suffered as a teenager from the hands of a parish curate. And that was 60 years ago.

Every single bishop who shared in the crimes and sins of the predator priests against God’s children – children! – must resign. Immediately. After his resignation, he must do penance, do time, at hard labor in a monastery, a run-down convent, a soup kitchen, as a janitor in the poorest of the Catholic Churches throughout our land. He has a choice: voluntarily or involuntarily. My recommendation is that the bishops do time with the predator priests who have been found guilty and have been sentenced to prison. They are cut from the same cloth, and it is black.

Without knowing how many bishops are criminals and suspecting that the total could be a great deal of the current ones, we will obviously need new bishops. However, no new bishop can be appointed as a successor without approval of the laity of that diocese. We know a criminal when we see one. We will never allow a sexual abuser to be either priest or bishop again. Not in our Church, called The People of God by Vatican II..

It is not history, President Bishop. It is the beginning for which we have been waiting two long years. These recent reports are merely tentative beginnings, based on data given by the criminal bishops themselves and are, therefore, merely a first step towards accountability. Now, we demand the records, the documents, the secret files kept by order of Canon Law, the identity of the perpetrators, priests and bishops alike. We are going to reform and renew the church, just as it has been reformed and renewed so many times in its own history, earning the descriptive phrase of ecclesia semper reformanda – the church always being reformed.

We have only just begun the long and difficult task of healing the survivors, saving the Catholic Church in America itself and returning it to its people, the People of God. We say this in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Paul is very serious that the primary value of the laity’s anger is to be determined by their fulfillment of the sacred obligation imposed upon them to reform and renew the stricken Church.


Prior to offering a proposal and in order to consider its source, some disclosures. I am 75 years old and was a trial lawyer in New Hampshire for 37 years, then a general counsel in Colorado for 3 years, when I retired. In my twenties, I was a Jesuit Scholastic in the New England Province for 8 years, the last 3 as an instructor of philosophy at Sophia University in Tokyo. My background is, therefore, cleric and lay, with the spotlights on philosophy and law. I have never studied theology formally but have read ecclesiology and church history. Jean and I have been married since 1959, raised four sons together and are blessed now with two granddaughters. We are best friends and enjoy our retirement here in her family home on the Atlantic in Pine Point, a hamlet of Scarborough, Maine, just south and west of Portland.

My main interest for the past two years has been the Catholic Church and its agony. My purpose at this stage in my life is to be a part of the reformation and renewal of the Catholic Church in America. To do that I propose the beginning of a discussion on dispute resolution with two primary essentials: the healing of the survivors and the renewal of the Catholic Church.

The philosopher in me says: analyze, study, read more, join an internet group, write, share thoughts, check out reports, downshout the shouters, try to look and sound wise.

The lawyer in me says: prepare, prepare, prepare, amass documentary evidence, line up witnesses, build up the file, computerize everything, start a database, read each book as it comed out, contact prominent lay leaders, knock bishop after bishop who continues to act like a little tin god, have pity on the old pope but hold him to the same accountability as bishops. Then, settle, if you can, rather than litigate through to a conclusion by verdict or judgment.

One necessary caution. If you prepare litigation in order to settle, you never will or can. If you prepare for trial, you are able to settle and probably will.

Litigation is a tool. That is all that it is. It is a tool for the resolution of disputes, whether civil between litigating parties or criminal between the state and defendants accused of crime. Of all the disputes that arise, maybe 10% are litigated. Of those that enter litigation, maybe 2% go to trial. Of those that receive a verdict from the trial judge or jury, maybe 5% get appealed to a Supreme Court. Of those appeals, maybe a few result in written opinions and become precedential in the Common Law. The litigation explosion results in the birth of an opinion here and another one there. Eventually. And at great cost in time and labor and money. Sometimes, justice is done.

In the Agony of the Church, there is no single jurisdiction for litigation. Nothing, as far as I know, is pending in the federal system in any of the ten circuits. As for state jurisdictions, the count is unknown, but there are 50 plus territories available. Church litigation is a jungle, through which no lawyer in the world can machete his way, not even a Catholic one.

This settlement proposal is tendered as a beginning for discussion and dialogue, for sleeping on and dreaming about, and then, for prayer, above all, prayer. The presiding judge is God. The litigants are the People of God. We don’t need lawyers. We are all pro se, representing ourselves.

With primary purposes of healing survivors, saving the church, keeping the faith, we begin by admitting and forgiving the sins of lay people, priests, religious, bishops, if only to clear the decks of the outrage that will prevent discussion. We the laity and those priests and bishops who wish to join us and on whose leadership we may rely, offer the Catholic Church immunity from the liability that will destroy it.

Those accountable and responsible for the agony of the church, whether predator priests or prickly bishops, will tender their resignations as being unfit to serve any further, with no sentence or penance other than what they self impose. Crimes, however, must yield to the criminal jurisdiction.

All survivors will receive all the assistance they want and need for healing, including medical, psychiatric and rehabilitative treatment, together with a fitting welcome ceremony back into the community should they wish to reenter, if only to prove that they are loved.

The governing structure of the administration of the church will be changed by an ecumenical council to be named after Pope John XXIII, in such a way that those responsible for proposing Models of the Church in the 21st Century will keep in mind the errors made over the past 2,000 years in the seesaw of the power struggles between the College of Bishops and Papal Primacy.

Those issues which are so often raised must be discussed: equality with dignity for all women; voluntary celibacy in the priesthood; a married and single clergy; lay persons in governance and management positions; absolute eradication of discrimination of any person for any reason whatsoever; abolition of any ranking beyond or higher than bishop; a state of the art medical, psychiatric, religious and legal exposition of sexual education; adoption of modern clothing and insignia; metropolitan and national churches; inculturation so as to be truly Catholic rather than just Roman; sharing of treasures and art with the poor and marginalized; freedom of thought and speech and writing for theologians; recall and removal of bishops and priests who fail to be shepherds and leaders; reformation and renewal in the letter and spirit of the New Testament, where God revealed His Son, His Spirit and Himself to us.

To achieve such a settlement, we have to start with the first step. Let all the Catholic lay organizations throughout the world, old and new, come together, regardless of ideology, which, after all, is merely philosophical and not theological, by meeting in small groups within the different nations. These small groups can expand into larger metropolitan areas, then embrace the entire country. The major geographical distribution of countries can then concentrate on making available for these nation groups to meet in a common place, whether in Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, the Americas, Africa. Out of all that will emerge the leaders we require. I would imagine the “other side” will find its people in Rome, Pope and Curia, and in dioceses which think they are Roman, unless, of course, there is no “other side” and we are all Catholics in this crisis together.

And then, let the talks begin…….

Settle by reformation and renewal of the Catholic Church in America.

Heal the survivors.

Save the Church.

As a writer Paul knows well that a voice crying in the wilderness is just that. His favorite goal in writing is to provoke discussion, get people talking and sharing. He throws up questions like a lawyer. . .



This pent-up piece has been tumbling for some time now and demands release just before a vacation in New Mexico. Please bear with me. And it.

Cable news appears to be as fascinated with litigation stuff as the network shows are with cops ‘n‘ robbers stories. The daily fugue reverberates, until, as in the case of long-term use of antibiotics, our immune system breaks down, and, all of a sudden, we are conditioned. When we turn on the network shows at night, it’s apparent from the opening scene which side we are on, for whom we cheer, and, unless we are prisoners in for long or longer terms, we identify with the cops, if not the victims seeking accountability and justice.

As for the cable news talking heads during the afternoons, it’s not so easy picking sides, or cable companies for that matter, but predispositions from years of sitcoms help, unless we favor basketball players, self-made women pioneers who broke through the glass ceiling and celebrity entertainers who sing while they gyrate.

The stature of the folks involved in litigation, whether in civil or criminal courts, has a bearing on the stature of our interest, as well. Those of us who have persuaded ourselves that our interests are on a sophisticated plane flaunt them for justice, due process, the rule of law, the presumption of innocence as loftier than that of guilt. The rest of us have made up our minds already, for whatever interior and unfathomable reasons we prefer and castigate lawyers who are slowing the whole process down by interminable games called discovery, pre-trial preparation, public appearances to taint the jury pool, their tricky maneuvers to avoid justice, which, of course, is being pursued by the people on the other side, who happen to be, oddly, lawyers. Some of us turn to our children, the wise ones, in a sort of desperation, point to the accused on the TV screen and ask, “What about that one?” “That one’s a bad person, Daddy.” “How come?” “Because.”

We wrap up all that conditioning from years and years of exposure, forgetful of Sacco and Vanzenti, The Rosenbergs, The Boston Strangler, OJ, mindless of the weekly column over on the bottom right of the on-line version of NCR which lists the names of those executed during the week. Then we transfer it all to the litigation in which the Catholic Church, its bishops, clergy and employees now find themselves embedded, either as defendants in civil suits for torts seeking money damages for trespass to the person for the infliction of mental and physical suffering causing personal injuries, or as accused criminals for having transgressed the laws of the state.

We are no longer shocked to behold a Catholic priest side by side with Kobe Bryant, Scott Peterson, Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson. In the dock. There isn’t as much impact on us, though, when the defendant is referred to as the Catholic Church, or the Diocese of X, giving it about as much emotional punch as Enron or WorldCom.

Yet, there is a difference between this world of law and lawyers and law enforcement and courts and the other world where we work and play and sit down to watch TV. We are not swarming to join groups to reform and renew the traveling arrangements for professional athletes or pointing the finger at their superiors, coaches and general managers, for looking the other way. We are not demanding more fidelity from husbands who play around, although we draw the line at murder. We shy away from taking over the stock market and changing how it is structured and governed.

We leave big corporations to bankruptcy and reorganization by the same type of people who set them up in the first place, trusting they’ll be more careful the next time around. As for celebrity entertainers, well, they are in a class by themselves and it’s left up to everybody to choose their favorites. And, this is America. The law will take care of it all. Eventually.

Except for our Church. Does anyone know how many bishops are defendants right now? One, I think, and that is for a hit and run accident. Are any dioceses named as defendants in either civil or criminal litigation, anywhere in the country? There are 195 of them, and from all the publicity, quite a few of them were pretty slovenly and apparently criminal in what they did or allowed to be done over a long period of time. I think one or two were threatened, so they copped a plea, as they say, and signed agreements with prosecutors to leave them alone. We have to note, those of us with a fondness for following litigation news that these were voluntary agreements quietly negotiated and executed, without the gripping fascination of talking heads, babbling lawyers, stern judges, pretrial maneuverings and an actual trial itself when 12 men and women plus alternates, good and true peers, get sworn to sit in judgment of the accused.

If a bishop ever stayed in the judicial system long enough to see a jury drawn, I often wonder whether he would have had the chutzpa to instruct his defense counsel, “Object to each one. These lay people are surely not my peers.” Another wonder, too, is whether prosecutors have given any thought to indicting all or many or some of the dioceses themselves, say as corporations, even though a selection from the 195 available could be difficult if not impossible as a swamping and drowning of the entire legal system in the country. Because, as we all know, there is no Super-Diocese as one single entity called The Catholic Church, not even in Rome. Look at it this way: there is no single corporation enveloping all the others as The American Corporation. Generic terms just don’t exist as singular entities.

The law, it seems, is dealing only with individual perpetrators of the sexual crimes, bypassing a hierarchy acting as if they are above the law, not merely immune. The law suggests that, as in the Department of Justice, we should reverently ask Attorney General John Ashcroft himself to reform and renew its practices under the Patriot Act.

Who, then, will reform and renew the Church, if the law does not or cannot bring it before the woman in the blindfold holding high the Scales of Justice? The ones responsible for its present predicament of spiritual bankruptcy? Its debtors and creditors? Its customers. Its board of directors? Its shareholders? Its members, should we ever be able definitively to determine who they are? A trustee in bankruptcy? Before a bankruptcy court? Trust to luck? Hope for a new pope? The College of Bishops? Wait for more to resign?

How many bishops have resigned, quietly or with cheers as they left? Two for the way they handled their priests as overseers which is the definition of “episcopus” the Latin for bishop: Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Bishop Manuel D. Moreno of Tucson. Eight for the way they handled their victims sexually: Bishop James McCarthy of New York; Bishop J. Kendrick Williams of Lexington; Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee; Bishop Anthony O'Connell of Palm Beach; Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann of Santa Rosa; Bishop J. Keith Symons of Palm Beach; Archbishop Robert Sanchez of Santa Fe; the late Archbishop Eugene Marino of Atlanta. One would have been unbelievable, yet the total for America is ten.

Worldwide, for this scandal+crisis is indeed worldwide, not limited to the Zone of the Interior, the ZI, as America is sometimes mentioned in military lingo. There are twelve more hierarchs on the list of resignations for malfeasance or personal sexual deviations. They were from Argentina, Austria, Germany, The Philippines, Poland, Wales, Scotland, Switzerland, and two each from Canada and Ireland.

Twenty two hierarchs, a small group when compared to the totality, but still a lot of bishops, archbishops and cardinals in the hierarchical structure of the governance of an institution claiming to be Church.

It doesn’t seem feasible, then, to leave reform and renewal to the hierarchy, certainly not to the Pope who selected most of them in the first place. Bishops are not trustworthy, credible, authentic, truthful, transparent, open. While they proclaim nice-sounding promises to be just that, were we to ask our children, their answer would, of course, come back, “He’s a bad man, Daddy. Because.” Children know now. We know now. How bankrupt is our Church at the enormous cost of the destruction of trust by the soul murder of our children and the shallow sanctuary of transfers?

Who, then, will reform and renew the Church? Well, who can? Who is left? Us, the laity. And the clergy. Those priests who would never want to walk in the moccasins and wear the gowns of some of the hierarchy, and those bishops who are genuine role models as servants of the servants of God. . Together, we are the people of God

Great! How do we do it? Where do we start? Who’s in charge? Any volunteers? Who will coordinate our efforts? What can I do?

The sight of such an eager laity sends most institutional bishops into laughter, all the way from Rome to Los Angeles, down to South America, then to Australia, north through the islands to Asia and west to Africa, leaving Europe for the last, where they are clapping furiously. The Cardinals in the Curia, protected by their power, are twirling their feet and waving their gowns as haughty as toreadors taunting a limping lay bull with just one horn. We appear to be the underdogs.

In my meager knowledge of how Martin Luther got things rolling, I can think of a hammer and some theses to nail on the door of the Church here in Pine Point, but it’s closed for the winter. Within our own history, we have John Adams and his descendants in Boston. Thomas Jefferson thought more of separation than reform and renewal, sort of a “Let’s leave that bunch to themselves and keep them out of our way.” Che Guevara comes to mind, too, but he had an agenda and didn’t do too well. Martin Luther King and Mohandas K, Gandhi are icons, but when you come right down to it, we’re all still working hard at what they started and haven’t gotten really much further along the way.

So far, in the last couple of years, a lot of lay people are joining groups, which somehow seem to be very focused and very, very serious: ARCC, CORPUS, CTA, LINKUP, SNAP, SURVIVORS FIRST, VOTF. There are many others and they are growing, too. Their sharing is honest, sincere, justifiably angry. Their message is holy, the strong determined kind of holiness, not the wishy washy pious stuff learned by rote in Sunday School. The spirituality shining forth from these groups is more of a “Lord, here we are,” rather than, “Lord, help us. Do it for us. Where are you?”

Soon, very soon, John Zogby will publish his The American Catholic Laity, a new statistical survey disclosed recently by NCR’s Joe Feuerherd, who wrote, “American Catholics, said Zogby, are ‘Americans first, Catholics second.’ They ‘will not tolerate Catholic leaders who fail to acknowledge that their leadership is accountable to both God and man.’ Moreover, the Americanism of U.S. Catholics crosses doctrinal lines. ‘Both conservative Catholics and liberal Catholics are Americans first.’ "

What will Zogby show? The numbers alone are extraordinarily high.

“Fifty-eight percent of American Catholics say the church must become ‘more democratic.’

Two-thirds say dioceses should ‘be required to disclose financial information.’

Three-quarters believe ‘there should be greater participation by the laity to assist in the resolution of diocesan and parish problems.’

And an overwhelming 82 percent say ‘any bishop who knowingly transfers a priest suspected of child abuse should resign.’ The implications of this particular finding, said Zogby, are ‘manifestly obvious.’ “

Soon, very soon, a new website which has already exploded with all kinds of data and documentation and facts and sources will have compiled so much information on bishops and archbishops and cardinals that we will no longer have to rely upon the USCCB, Vatican Information Services (VIS), ZENIT, CNS, Diocesan newspapers, to find out who is doing what, not doing anything, or still in hiding and secrecy.

BishopAccountability.org was organized by the leaders of Survivors First which put together and published the excellent database on those priests who were accused of sexual abuse of minors. Experienced and with hard-earned know-how, they have already created an amazing website and are now publishing an email newsletter called Monitor, which is available free, if one subscribes at: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/

Soon, very soon, after the next few audits are published by the USCCB, we will then find out whether the bishops, archbishops and cardinals of the United States are serious or not. By that time a lot of lay people are going to come up with some very practical solutions. And a lot of clergy are going to be so mingled within them that it will be impossible to tell which t-shirt was under a backwards or a frontwards collar. If I may suggest a few, they might sound like these, which are offered in order to prime our minds for discussion, rejection, amendment, correction, endorsement, modification, criticism, editing, rewriting, or something so brand new and different that we’ll all stand and applaud:

Unlike Bishop Murphy of Long Island, Cardinal Egan of New York snubbed his priests who asked to meet with them. What if the New York Priests went on strike next Sunday?

On his way out of La Crosse for St. Louis, the departing bishop ordered priests not to give Communion to certain legislators. What if the parish priests in La Crosse were to declare the Diocese sede vacante – the See is vacant -- and deliver the Eucharist personally to the homes of those legislators?

A copycat archbishop in Louisiana also denied the Eucharist to politicians. What if all the Catholics in New Orleans refused to go to Communion themselves next Sunday, to indicate their choice of legislators over an archbishop as a role model for integrity?

The archbishop and the missing bishop of LaCrosse could get testy and stubborn. If so, what if all the Catholics in both places just didn’t go to Church the following week, yet fulfilled their desire to attend Sunday Liturgy by inviting real priests to offer Mass in local movie theatres, school halls, public meeting places, parking lots, ballparks, anywhere?

What if we organize? We certainly have the talent and the ability, as well as the dignity and responsibility of the people of God, whether clergy or lay or that enormous ready resource of the layclergy, the married priests and CORPUS.

If we need a little push, a bit of a motive, what if we were to contact a local group of SNAP, LINKUP, SURVIVORS FIRST, VOTF, and ask whether we could meet with some survivors and their families, sit down with them, and talk. It is one thing to be idealistic from a distance. It is another thing to get close and sit down with survivors, look them in the eyes, pick up a hand and say, “I love you.”

Our bishops, a few of them, refuse to acknowledge or even talk with some of the lay groups which are working to do what they can for survivors or to reform the Church. What if every single Catholic lay person in every single diocese wrote a one page letter to the bishop stating simply, “We want reformation and renewal in the Church to begin in this Diocese right away. You are invited to meet with us in two weeks and we will tell you what we want and what we intend. You are respectfully asked to respond. We want to get to know you. In person. That will begin our necessary dialogue, a fancy word for adult conversation. In the name of Our Lord, please come. If you choose not to come, we will act alone, sede vacante.

Money talks, they say, and money can be used as a weapon. It is difficult to set out what is the dividing line between those two. What if we withheld our contributions to parish collections by placing them in trust to be made available when reformation and renewal is achieved or, perhaps to be fair, honestly begun?

To be just and to be Catholic, could we not allow for exceptions for necessary works of justice and mercy like helping the poor and needy, preserving our Church property with required maintenance, even if in a mothball type of existence, caring for our clergy with housing and clothing and food?

Maybe one of the Alphabet Groups could set up a clearing house so that we could mail personal letters to every priest who has signed a letter asking for changes in mandatory celibacy, or other reforms in the Church, showing our support and our going public with that support?

It is impossible that everything we write, speak, do could be sent as a matter of course to each individual hierarch in America, the USCCB, each dicastery in the Curia, and the Pope himself. What if those of us with contacts in the publishing world, were to set up some kind of clearing house to make sure the message does get out and is delivered to those to whom it may concern.

If all politics is local, we could start with parish councils, where one or two would be chosen to meet with others selected from the rest of the diocese. At the same time, each lay group in the country could choose one or two of their top people. All of the chosen could organize in regional groups with a mission for reformation and renewal in the Church, and from there set up a national group, a super group of lay people from every diocese and group in America, dedicated to reformation and renewal of the American Catholic Church.

What if we start thinking of forming an American Catholic Church, distinct from the Roman Catholic Church, yet somehow in communio with it, as are the Eastern Catholics.

If some are thinking of a complete break, just think about the serendipity in being an American Catholic Church, which could then join up with the Anglican Communion and the Roman Orthodox Church. We three could then invite Cardinal Walter Kasper to sit down in dialogue with us to see whether or not the Roman Catholic Church would like to join with us.

There is also the possibility that Rome will excommunicate us and throw us out. Wiser, cooler heads among us, planners of strategy and tactics so to speak, should be preparing Plan B, along with a C, D, E and however many other letters we will need. Lawyers and other professionals should be doing research for the safeguarding of real and personal assets, or in the alternative, methods of procuring replacements.

Graduates of Catholic institutions of higher learning should be deepening their contacts with their Alma Mater, to maintain a good and strong relationship with those who taught us how to be Catholics seeking justice.

Some of our theologians and scholars are beginning to appear somewhat indifferent to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. What if we urge them and promise our strong support. We should be urging lay theologians to write about us, the laity, our concerns, separating from Rome with or without strings, taming the Papacy, straightening out the theology of sin, especially original sin and the catalogue of what are claimed to be sin, and how they are graded as mortal, serious, venial.

A lot of people really do not know what is to be believed as the necessary minimum. What if our scholars start writing about just what is political rather than religious in our Church, with a view, at least, as to what must be held in faith?

Better still, why ask? Just do. There is a Sensus Fidelium –A sense of the faithful – deemed to be a necessary part of the Magisterium. What if we lay people start writing theology ourselves, about what we think is a matter of faith rather than a practice, a discipline rather than a dogma, a way of doing things that could be improved upon rather than an irreducible matter of faith we think we have to die for?

What if we set up Regional Churches in America and transferred to them, the structures of governance and finance, so as to make sure there is equality throughout the region, and go one step further, by making sure that no one region is superior to any other, and our American Church is not superior to any other Church within or without the United States, no matter what its denomination may be? Why does the Roman Catholic Church have to be Roman? Why can’t it be Catholic?

Now that lay people can read, there doesn’t seem to be any need to rely upon clerics to do the reading for us. What if we take another look at the long line of theological subjects and canon legalisms, line them up with the New Testament and begin a review of what is good and just and true and holy, so as to keep them and reject the rest as baggage?

Who better to write about and discuss matters of sex than those who perform it and cherish it as a sacramental as well as a physical. way of saying “I love you.” Our Church absolutely needs a modern education about sexual matters.

The New Testament itself was not written until long after Our Lord left us. The Canon of the New Testament was not decided until the Fourth Century, which means at least another 270 or more years later. In American historical timing, 270 plus years ago puts us back to 1734. Anybody remember any manuscripts of that year here? How about England? What if, with recent scholarship and the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and at Nag Hammadi, our biblical scholars were to take another look at that Canon and see whether more ancient texts could be admitted? Daniel Boone was around in 1734; not much literature then, though.

What if we demanded ownership of our Church property on the grounds that we paid for it all and left it up to hierarchs as property managers and are now reclaiming it because of their negligence? Failing that, how about a legal and equitable division of real and personal property?

What if we ourselves, with the help of lay professionals among us, did a net worth inventory of the real and personal property and all other assets and liabilities in our individual Dioceses, particularly the holdings and the investments of the Diocese?

What if we liquidated a goodly portion of those assets and gave them to the poor?

We could recommend that the Vatican Museum and other Catholic museums and warehouses declare and sell their treasures to the Louvre, the British Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, and others all over the world. What if we sold the art collections of our dioceses to museums or simply returned them to the rightful owners, whether they be countries, entities or persons? The proceeds, of course, should go to the needy, the hungry, the neglected, those without homes, or food, or clothing, those who are ill and cannot afford medical care or prescription drugs.

What if we all agreed that one of the rules, or laws, or dogmas, or practices, or disciplines, call it what you may, is that any form of discrimination is unacceptable conduct: towards women, children, men, based upon race, color, creed, sexual preference, or any other attribute of human nature that is used to cull out a group of people and quarantine them within the fringes of the marginalized ones? It is absolutely essential that women have equal opportunity with men in every aspect of the Church.

With hierarchical control having been abdicated by bishops, leaving all control to Papal primacy, we must demand that the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and other promises from Vatican II be obeyed and fulfilled, so that collegiality may act as a check and balance on dictatorial power by Pope and Curia. Vatican II may then be what it purported to be, our entry into the 21st century as a relevant Church. What if, we were to restructure the governance of the Church along the lines of the constitution proposed by ARCC or other governmental or management model to remove from our Church the shackles and lockstep of ancient Roman law, feudal lordships, absolute monarchy, monoligarchy, or “old boy rule.”

Unless they happen to be a bishop of a diocese, Cardinals are usually given some titular church in old Rome, in such a way that their only attachment as hinges is to an old boys’ network created by the Pope who named them in the first place. What if we were to abolish the College of Cardinals, so that there is only one high office in Church structure, that of Bishop, thus making nobody more equal than the Bishop of Rome, even while allowing him to be Primus inter pares –the first among equals.

More to come, from others…..

After reading Church history, Paul began asking himself, “Whatever happened to the Catholic Church? Where did it go? Was it ever?”


What follows is unsure, without much authority and timidly offered for comment, in order to be corrected. The research involved for me is so enormous that writing this way is quicker and surer, as well as a manifestation of ignorance. Will a real ecclesiologist please stand up?

Does the Catholic Church exist? I do not know. There are 194 dioceses in the United States, but there is no American Catholic Church. There are thousands of dioceses in the world, but there is no Catholic Church. There is a Roman Catholic Church and that is the Diocese of Rome, whose bishop is also pope, as primus inter pares – first among equals. There is a Holy See, but that is neither a diocese, nor a church, nor a super-diocese.

That Holy See is not to be compared to a federal government with 50 separate states, or to a British monarchy with a parliament for many separate districts, or even to a religious form of government as in Iran, or definitely not to a dictatorship as formerly in Iraq. The Holy See is the pope and his assistants in a group called the Curia, located in a place called The Vatican, an independent country or city-state, which was created in 1927 by the Lateran Treaty between Italy and the pope. It did exist before, yes, but as the temporal estates of the pope, his real estate holdings as it were. Definitely not a church, not the Catholic Church.

If, then, the Catholic Church, or as it is sometimes referred to in official Roman documents Universal Church, is not a diocese, not a democracy, not a monarchy, not a dictatorship, not to be compared to any form of civil government with which we are familiar, not a collection of dioceses or forms of government, then what and where is it? Does the Catholic Church a/k/a Universal Church exist? In a form and in a place, other than as merely a generic term which we have always used to describe the Diocese of Rome and all the other dioceses in the world as a collection of sorts.

Admittedly, any American thinks, and has to, in terms of the governments with which there is some familiarity, from the precinct boss’ home to the White House: town or city; county; state; federal. We are used to layered government. The federal one did not exist until each state surrendered part of its sovereignty to a new union, and called it The United States of America. Please note those first three words: The – United – States. The states began as colonies created by the King of England., as with the original 13. The rest began as territories, the name historians give to the lands we took by force from the Native Americans, or purchased from the French or Spanish, who had done the same to the natives before us. Counties and cities and towns and, even, unincorporated places, grew mostly just by being there.

The key word in that last paragraph is incorporate if you drop the un-. All the forms of government have a document called a Constitution, a Charter – in England it is called Magna Charta – some concrete evidence that the people, through whom all power comes from God, came together in various forms of assembly (the definition of church by the way) and created the type of government they wished to be their society. In the U.S.A., every form of government has a library or an archive where that document is to be found for anyone who cares to study it. On the recent issue of gay marriage in Massachusetts, the highest court of that commonwealth turned to its own written constitution. In our federal system, our highest court, the United States Supreme Court follows the same procedure.

There is no constitution for what we call the Catholic Church. Although, interestingly enough, there are incorporation papers for every single diocese in the United States of America, in which the bishop/archbishop/cardinal Ordinary is named Corporation Sole. I do not know what is done in other countries, but suspect that there is a similar type of procedure to give dioceses juridical status. Does the Catholic Church have such documentary evidence? Where? The Roman Catholic Church, of course, does, as the diocese of Rome, from Italy. The Holy See may, also, from The Vatican City/State, but that, obviously, is not the Catholic Church; it is really the current pope and his curial assistants.

Another way of posing the question is remembering what Pops O’Keefe, our professor of Contracts, told us in our first class at law school, “Gentlemen, if you remember anything from your three years with us, remember this question as the summary of the law: Who is suing whom for what?” We laughed, but in the real world, when we were practicing at being lawyers – lawyers never become lawyers, they’re always practicing – we asked that question in every single case we handled. The what is the legal issue involved. The whom is the client on the defensive, and has to be an entity recognized under the law on whom legal papers may be served and who must sit in the chair beside the lawyer during the trial. Could be a person, as an individual or d/b/a - doing business as; a partnership; a corporation; a somebody or some thing. The who is the same, as the entity which or who started the whole thing. Generic terms cannot sit down in a courtroom before a judge and jury. Specific people or organizations can.

We cannot put the Catholic Church into either the who or the whom and make it sit down. We can put in the Archdiocese of Boston, through the Ordinary, the one who sits in the courtroom as well as on the See, or his delegate, a coadjutor or chancellor. We can do the same for any one of the other 194 dioceses/eparchies. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, cannot be the substitute. It is not a Church, and some would say that it is not even Catholic. While it has incorporated in the District of Columbia, it acts as a clearing house for get-togethers, with no power whatsoever, takes the heat collectively, which individual bishops/archbishops/cardinals should take individually, and issues statements from time to time. No bishop in the group has surrendered an iota of his sovereign and princely power to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, the most powerless figurehead president of any organization in the entire world. For example, in documents entitled Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, the USCCB can promise all the openness, transparency and humility it wants to, but no bishop, archbishop, cardinal has to deliver. Many have defiantly refused to do so, even though they signed on, unanimously.

A word of caution here, however. The federal government recognizes as existing an entity it calls “the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.” In a formal legal opinion to all the dioceses on June 20, 2003, Mark Chopko, Esq., the General Counsel of the USCCB, forwarded the latest “Group Ruling of the Internal Revenue Service of the United States Government,”which states:

Exemption from Federal Income Tax. The latest ruling reaffirms the exemption from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Code of "the agencies and

instrumentalities and educational, charitable, and religious institutions operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, its territories or possessions appearing in the Official Catholic Directory for 2003"

[ USCCB Web site: http://www.usccb.org/ogc/gencncl.pdf . Italics added for emphasis.]

In Catholicism, a masterpiece thicker than the New Catechism, Richard McBrien, beginning at p. 569, touches on all of this and suggests that while Roman Catholic and Catholic are interchangeable, it is more politically correct nowadays to drop Roman, as he did in the very title of the book. But, in the next 200 pages, I couldn’t find Catholic Church, except as a mystery The Whole People of God. I did find papal primacy . A lot. Is the pope, along with his assistants, the Catholic Church, as well as the bishop of Rome, albeit primus inter pares?

Is that what Our Lord meant by Rock? Aside: there are some scholars who say that Our Lord never said those words in Matt 16:18, and that they were added later on to buttress Rome’s claim to power because both Saints Peter and Paul died there, perhaps. There is, of course, no doubt that the diocese of Rome did historically become the most powerful of the dioceses in the early Church and has remained so to the present time. There may also be a suspicion that Rome, somewhere along the last 2,000 years engineered an invisible coup and created something like a subatomic particle, whose speed is faster than that of light, meaning that it disappears before it begins to exist, and called it the Roman Catholic Church. Fairness requires here the mention of Tradition. It is a very important part of our church’s history. A layman, or even a lawyer, can only wonder that just because a thing or practice has been so for a long time doesn’t make it so, does it? Thoughts arise immediately about slavery and civil rights of all people, regardless of the color of their skin. Or war. Or the sale of indulgences. Or keeping the papacy in the family. Or sexual abuse of minors by anyone. Or despotic power in any organization or government.

If our faith is as humble as our obedience, then this is all just palaver, a play on words. We all know that there are many, many dioceses and one Holy See. We all know that there is a Catholic religion practiced in Catholic churches in all the dioceses all over the world. But, if examination shows that the term Catholic Church is merely generic, then so is Papal Primacy in its present form, and the true Catholic Church is to be found in the collegiality of all the bishops, of whom the Pope is just one, an equal to be sure, a primus inter pares to be sure, but not a dictator, nor a king, nor a governor, nor a president, nor an executive/legislator/judge in one. And always a Bishop.

There is no higher order in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, by the way, neither arch- nor cardinal; they are honorifics. And primus inter pares may simply mean that the pope is like a chairman who calls the assembly together for collegiality purposes and ventures in which he may have one vote as a rock among rocks, who certainly are not pebbles. Maybe, just maybe, papal primacy sort of toddled along, got a foot in the tent, and took over an awful lot of the religion we call Catholicism for which Our Lord laid the foundation. Maybe, just maybe, the Church is a human institution which has forgotten its divine invitation in the Gospels, Maybe, just maybe, our leaders have lost their way along the way, once power became the lodestar rather than the relationship between us and Jesus Christ, which is what makes us Christian.

Every day, when I read the announcements in ZENIT or Vatican Information Services and then read any portion of the New Testament, especially the Gospels, I contrast the figure of Jesus Christ with that of the pope, cardinal, archbishop or bishop mentioned. And I wonder. Whatever happened?

I hope this is just simplistic, mere semantics, and wait to be told so. If there is any validity to the questions raised, then perhaps we have all been tilting at windmills ever since the scandal and crisis broke in January, 2002. There very well may be no obstacles, no contraindications in our forming an American Catholic Church, a legitimate national church, should we choose to do so. In union, of course, with Rome, but with more rights and obligations and freedoms to allow us to claim and live in that God given human dignity, which Rome talks about so often but rarely observes.

Could it be that reformation and renewal in capite et in membris – in the head and in the members is as simple as asking these questions, getting honest answers and, with prayer of both the clergy and the laity, putting our whole organizational structure into a form that Our Lord trusted that his Rocks would adopt? Some of us, by the way thought that the word dogma had real significance in Catholic language, especially when used by an Ecumenical Council in an official document, as in Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Solemnly Promulgated by Holiness Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964. We thought that was a giant step forward, almost 40 years ago now, to what was to become The Catholic Church in the 21st Century.

Holy Spirit, where in the Church are you?

Two of his pet peeves are to be found in the style and content of Zenit and VIS, both of which appear to be in ecclesiastical terms irrelevant.


There have been a few blurbs recently on Church structure and governance from the news services in the Vatican. VIS, for January 17 quoted the Pope:

"The structure of the Church cannot be conceived according to simple human political models," the Pope said. "Its hierarchical constitution is based on the will of Christ and, as such, forms part of the deposit of faith, which must be preserved and totally transmitted through the centuries.”

That is one potent, laden sentence, probably intended as a stern papal shot across the bows of my little rowboat, while the Barque of Peter lumbers along slowly sinking in the choppy waves of sexual abuse by clergy, abuse of power by bishops, and grasping for even more power by pope and papabiles. Every single word in that sentence has the ringing tones of infallibility clinging to it, along with the thump of the papal fist hitting the desk for emphasis.

In New Hampshire we had the good fortune to try cases with a living legend of the art of persuasion in a courtroom, Bill Sleeper. His outlook on the way to use lawyerly skills was quite simple, easy to conceive. “When you’re weak on the law, holler ‘bout the facts. When you’re weak on the facts, holler ‘bout the law. When you’re weak on both the law and the facts, just holler.” In chambers, after one of Attorney Sleeper’s better performances, Judge Keller leaned over the conference table to brush off a chicken feather from Bill’s lapel. It was sewn on.

When I read the amazing quote from the pope on the structure of the Church, the first image to come to my mind, was Bill Sleeper’s sleepy smile as he quietly brushed the Judge’s hand away and then tugged on his lapels, never down, always ready for one more go around.

Attending to what the pope said, the first comment is that he just doesn’t know his history of the Church. Any historian will tell us that the Church has been borrowing from human political models for two millennia now. The word “simple” as used by the pope is a pejorative to make us think that the structure of the Church is somehow sophisticated and superior to those structures conceived by mere human beings. There just wasn’t any structure at all in the infant church, an apostle here or there for real authenticity, outstanding Elders who, as in any group, stand out, and after a hundred years or so, some people called “bishop”. I think it was three hundred years before they stopped calling all bishops “pope” and reserved it for the one in Rome. By that time, the civilian emperor Constantine was setting up and running the structure of the Church, calling the first Ecumenical Council at Nicea, without even inviting the Bishop of Rome to attend in 381 A.D.

We all know that the early structure of the Church was based on the Roman Senate and on Roman Law. The struggles for power and control were among the Apostolic Sees, the ones claiming descent from one of The Twelve, or between the Bishop of Rome and the Emperor of the Roman Empire, one of those “simple human political models.” Aside: how come we rarely hear about the churches founded by the rest of the Apostles besides Peter and Paul? What churches did they found? Second aside: wasn’t the Church in Rome already founded before Peter and Paul got there? Eusebius, wherefore wert thou?

The old Roman borrowings grew stale as feudal entities began arising in the dark and lighter Middle Ages, with cabbages and kings and dukes and things, which, of course the Church had to emulate by borrowing from, even to calling Bishops and Cardinals “Princes” of the Church. One thing that the Church did very well, up to Pope Pius IX and Vatican I, was to ape and imitate the governing structures of those feudal lords and other entities, even up to the historical development of nations and states and countries. The intertwining relationships of Cardinals with Kings and Bishops with Princes, and Popes with the Most Powerful is one of the capsules of the history of civilization. It was very hard back then to distinguish the Church from one of the empires or kingdoms it was imitating and either doing business with or rivaling in the search for more and more power.

There is, however, one simple, human political model that causes popes, cardinals, archbishops and bishops to gasp, clutch their breasts and sigh, in the best display of holiness they can muster at the moment, and that is Democracy. The American Revolution was too far away to bother Rome very much, but the French Revolution darn near toppled the Church out of the game of power forever. Napoleon told the pope when to kneel and when to stand. And the pope hopped right to it.

In 1870, Vatican I let it be known that not only was the pope infallible, he was also an absolute ruler, beyond appeal or checks and balances, and the Church, by the will of Christ, was and is the pope. A few brave stouthearted men and women said, “Huh?” Those of us now alive and able to read papal quotations like the one that started this piece, continue the “Huh?” but we add to it “The Church is the People of God. Us.”

What is unbalanced in the structure of the Church today is the extreme to which Pope John Paul II and his Curia have pushed the envelope of power to the most absolute and dictatorial enslavement of the People of God in the two thousand years of the existence of the Church. It is not the will of Christ that so many of his children are suffering for life from the horror of sexual abuse by priests. It is not the will of Christ that so many of his bishops have so far been able to bob and weave, as if they were entertainment celebrities accused of a crime, to avoid accountability and justice. It is not the will of Christ that so many of the People of God suffer from the tortures inflicted on them by hierarchs, whether those People are married priests, women priests, gays, lesbians, theologians who can think and write clearly, politicians elected by Catholics and those of other religious persuasions, or just plain simple human political folk in little rowboats who wonder why the big Barque is going down, all by itself, still shooting off its guns in a frantic and futile display of “the good old days.” Sometimes I’m tempted to think of our hierarchical “leaders” as if they were Captain Queegs.

I want to stress a little word, in this conclusion, the word IF. IF we are the People of God, IF we are educated enough to read and understand Church history, IF we note the Abuse Tracker, published every day since January 2002, at first by Poynter Institute and now by National Catholic Reporter, IF we were sexually abused ourselves when we were children and have been very quiet about it all these years, IF we are smart enough to read about the Audit recently completed on whether or not the dioceses in America are in compliance with the Charter and Norms and know that it is just the first step towards accountability, IF we no longer put much trust in what a bishop or archbishop or cardinal or pope says in a PR proclamation, IF we still believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Son of Man, THEN, we must reform and renew this Church of ours by ourselves. The way to do just that will be given us by the will of Christ, because he never intended the present hierarchical structure of the Church. It does not and cannot form a part of the deposit of faith. It must not be “preserved and totally transmitted through the centuries.

The structure of the Church can be conceived according to simple human political models. Its current hierarchical add-on has failed utterly and must be replaced. We turn to those human political models most in tune with the will of Christ and, as such, a part of the deposit of faith, which must be preserved and totally transmitted through this third millennium. The Catholic Church in the Twenty First Century, the Third Millennium, is the People of God. Us. All of us.

On this next one, Paul suggests that we could look on it as the Barque of Peter or perhaps as a part of our culture


Camden Harbor in Maine is a forest of sticks attached to all kinds of sailing vessels. A few of the boats are over 100 feet in length over all with about 80 feet on deck and 22 to 24 feet wide from gunwale to gunwale; the sticks, poles, or masts are thick and tall, the dominant ones belonging to those coastal schooners, the Windjammers, reaching up and up to heights of 70 feet and higher, the foremost one being the shorter of the two. For tree-huggers, being close to one on deck is a delight. From the weathered bench in the town’s dockside area down a bit from the picture post-card walking sidewalks bordering a rocky coast’s inimitable restaurants and bookstores and the variety of places called shoppes, which all visitors crave and craggy downeasters with authentic accents own and operate for them year round, my eyes were always drawn to the Grace Bailey or the Mercantile, sister schooners, side by side at the end of the first dock. We sat there on Friday afternoons in early fall, on one of our many drives down to Camden from our home in Pine Point, Maine, south of Portland, a seaside village with a sandy beach some seven miles long and a couple of Sunfish sailboats, a Catamaran or two, and genuine lobster boats, and envied the couples wisely clad in layered clothing, despite the sun, lugging duffel bags on their way down the gangplank towards the two schooners. We often promised each other, “Some day we ought to try a Windjammer Cruise.” Then, we drove back home.

This year we sent a reservation by email, and were given a cabin for two on the last cruise of the season for the Mercantile . Built in the World War called I on Deer Isle in Maine by the Billings family and launched in 1916, she has sailed continuously ever since. In the beginning her life was staid; she carried barrel staves and firewood to those places along the coast of Maine where lime kilns were ablaze, or schoonered along with bricks, coal, lumber, salt fish. When working out of Rhode Island harbors for a couple of years in the World War called II, her cargo was that Yankee specialty of the sea, mackerel.

Then her life turned romantic and she took on passengers in sort of a gentile retirement, which is now in its seventh decade as she is still going out on the wind, even after a thorough overhaul and rebuild in 1989 by her present owner Captain Ray Williamson.

When we boarded, she had cabins below decks for 29 passengers, a crew of 5, toilets called heads, a hot shower, a galley with three polished wooden tables, whose tops were so thick and curved as to make one wonder how they got them down the companionway, and so large that everybody could sit and watch the chef, or ship’s cook if you will, prepare meals of lobster, steak, lasagna, cornbread, pancakes, bacon, and other stunning foods in such a way that you began to moan at the thought of leaving the ship in just a couple of days.

To get on board the Mercantile, we had first to get on board the Grace Bailey, the schooner alongside, onto a deck surface we coastal dwellers, yet also landlubbers from away, had never trod before. It was sturdy, didn’t shake or bounce underfoot, looked real and awful, awful big, felt solid, yet was cluttered with the stuff that sailors use to tidy up and fix bumps and bangs and bruises. She had finished her season and was being “down-rigged”, as a bearded salty-looking man answered to my “Whatcha doin’?”

He then guided me through the path to the rail and told me, “Hop on over, Buster, you’re on the Mercantile .” And hop, at 74, I did, anxious to please and intent on proving that I could darn well engage this dangerous and thrilling adventure of going before the mast out there on the empty Atlantic where the Perfect Storm had written a book and made a movie not too long before. I then had to hop back in embarrassment and hold out my hand to assist my best friend over both rails, remembering the Titanic’s custom of the sea, “Women and children first.”

We gathered with the others, mostly couples, a few singles, all younger than us, smiling, cheerful, and the most unseaworthy group of human beings I had ever seen. Our bags were dumped on hatches, gleaming curved roofs that looked as if they had been sanded and stained and varnished and polyurethaned and waxed the day before, reflecting the mid-afternoon sun as if they were polished mirrors sending signals to satellites orbiting the earth. I hugged a tree. A young woman crew member told me it was the mainmast but I thought it must have been a Redwood from California from the feel of it. A passenger from Alabama announced her home state, to which I mumbled, “Maine”, fearful that I might be mistaken for a native who sailed, quickly adding, “but I’m from away, Boston, years ago.” The single woman with boyfriend beside her said to Jean, “Colorado”, and both of us responded, “We lived there for four years!” And off we went to talk about the Front Range, the 14ers, those mountains in the Rockies that are over 14,000 feet high, and how the sun sneaks through the Eisenhower pass on I-70 as you climb up and up to 12,000 before dropping down to Dillon and Keystone and Copper Mountain at a mere 9,000 feet.

When we stopped for a breath, we noted that other conversational groups of 4 to 6 to 8 were clumping and the crew were drifting away to let another group of daring pilgrims mix and mingle and ferment into their new crew, for we were going to help sail this famous schooner over the weekend. When I looked at my hugged tree, its height, and the menacing hunk of boom with thick cloth wrapped all around it, then back up again to the top of the mast, I saw a maze of rope and string and cords going up and down all over the place and the dawning came that sails had to be hoisted way up there. They looked huge, even though so neatly stowed as to be almost invisible; yet those two masts looked so tall and the top was so far up there.

Perhaps the biggest surprise came from a woman who told us that she was from Saco, next door to Pine Point, and wondered if we knew her friend from work, who was also from our village. Jean, always eager to meet strangers and comment on how small the world is, was stunned; still is. The friend at work lives with Priscilla, Jean’s close friend and walking partner, who lives across the street and whose sons grew up with ours over the past 43 years. We then knew that our cruise was going to be just fine and that the few days would not be long enough to get to know everybody on board. Even before we were shown our cabins, given a tour of the deck, heard the preliminary lecture on where to go and how to, what to do with our bags, when we would be shoving off, as they say, we had come together as a crew and were no longer pampered passengers like those on one of the floating hotels with elevators and massage parlors and breakfast in bed.

The cabin looked small, about four feet by six feet, with a bunk that more or less said, “You’re going to sleep all rolled up in a teensyweensy ball.” And there were four of those tiny cabins at our feet when we got to the bottom of the companionway, six rungs down backwards. On entering ours, we found it easier to hug each other tightly and back in, then close the door behind us, and somehow come unglued before flopping into the bunks arranged like an “L”, where my head would most likely bump into Jean’s knees every time the ship shuddered from a cannon shot lobbed by privateers. The head was next door, the most ingenious design ever designed for getting a toilet into a place where it doesn’t fit, and demanding the contortionist inside to awake when you really gotta go. After a couple of tries, I began imagining sneaking up on deck, hiding behind a bunch of coiled rope piled up near the side and pretending I was searching the coast for Indians.

We all stowed our gear, got the heck out of those scrunchy cabins and gathered on deck, while all the men wondered how the young fellow who announced he was the Captain was ever going to get this big boat out of there. Then, we noticed a cute little trick. What we thought was a lifeboat being dragged behind us was a yawl, with a motor in it and it was running and it pushed the schooner gently away from the dock as a bunch of us real men helped our female crew with one male midshipman, stow the hawsers which had been attached to those stubby things on the dock, and we just cruised right on out of there through the forest of sticks, waving at everybody up on the benches in the parking lot, as if we were off to China on an ocean voyage around the Horn.

Once out of the harbor, we all lined up, 8 to 10 in a row on each side, with an authentic sailor at the front as leader, and on command, hauled up the biggest sail, the mainsail, first. That was work, as promptly announced by muscles unused since high school football 60 years before. These aren’t Venetian Blinds, more like Roman ones made out of lead. Weren’t done. There were two masts, remember? And besides those biggies, there were two more little sails way up front, a staysail and a jib, but they were a snap.

We found out that the ropes and things were sheets and lines, out of a new vocabulary being substituted for familiar looking things which we could no longer call by old, familiar names. The left side of the schooner was port and the right was starboard, memorized easily by POSH, Port Out Starboard Home, where nervous British civilians on their way out to India and back would gather to keep land in sight. None of us, though, could figure out the logic for “companionway” which could take only one person at a time, or “head” which had nothing to do with that part of the human body.

And that’s when it happened. The booms creaked. Tackle slapped. The ship, as if it were trying to stand up before heeling a bit to starboard, was coming alive. Her sails were filling with wind, the prevailing one, a westerly. The yawl engine had stopped long before. Nobody spoke. We were sailing. On an honest to God Maine coastal schooner launched in 1916 and, though looking like an antique, was more like one of those spotless, unbelievably clean showpiece ones cannily placed up front in a pricey antique store.

We were no longer looking at a picture on a wall in a museum. We were in the picture, really sailing out on the Atlantic, away from Camden and its enticing charm straight on for Isleboro, the long, long island a few miles and another world away. No, we were the picture. More than one guy yelled “Yeah!” The Mercantile was sailing into Penobscot Bay on the bounding main off Maine, where she would cruise for the better part of the next three days.

Nobody went below. It was early October, a typically gorgeous sunwashed day in midcoast Maine, brisk enough for jackets and caps with brims on them, and the soundless sounds of wind in the sails and through the rigging with the slap, slap of blocks and the moans of booms and the clear voice of a watchful captain calling out commands to his crew after taking in every single thing his eyes could see on deck, up top, in front and back of us, to starboard and port. We were in an adventure, probably the first of its kind for most of us, where we knew we were also in good hands and perfectly safe. We were sailing. And nobody pulled out a book to read or a game to play. Each one of us sat on a hatch, leaned on a rail, walked up on the raised deck near the wheel, headed towards the bow, and lived in the now, just as seafaring people had done for hundreds of years before the world went modern.

After a few hours, we found our anchorage for the evening, got ready to drop our sails, all hands turning out to help, and sailed slowly into a small protected cove close to the northwestern shore of Isleboro. We were to anchor each night. At first I thought it was for our safety, until I realized that the captain had to sleep, too, and that a wise one doesn’t sail around Penobscot Bay in the dark with all those islands and pirates and Indians.

We got ready to eat. What was being cooked on deck and handed out there was our first great dinner surprise: steak and lobster, with corn on the cob, and we headed below to the galley to eat, for it had gotten chilly as the sun went down. While the food was excellent, the talk was better. Every one found every other one interesting, even fascinating, and the bunch of tourists up in the parking lot with lots of bags and bundles had been woven into a closely knit blend of thirty friends, a bit tired from the little work we had done and still coming down off the exciting highs of really sailing in a schooner. Dinner lasted for hours. And going to bed in our private cabins was a snap. Plenty of room. Nothing to it.

The minute we fell asleep, we awoke to the smell of coffee and sunlight in the porthole, jumped out of the bunk, got dressed, said Hello to the head and made it up on deck within seconds. Up front on the hatch over the galley were mounds of muffins and warm breads, fruit and cheeses, hot coffee with all the fixings. And that was just for starters, for a huge breakfast of pancakes and bacon was smoking through the stack just off on the port side. And there wasn’t a puffy face with sleepy-looking eyes in the bunch. We were wide-awake sailors, seasoned, experienced. One day at sea in an authentic schooner will do that to you. Breakfast in the galley didn’t last as long as dinner the night before, because we all had to get to work, helping the crew clean up and taking our orders from the captain, our master. He had also become our friend the night before with his stories about his ship the Mercantile and how it had worked for a living before it became ours.

Our departure was delayed by a change of heart or mind as an elderly couple decided the Mercantile was not a Cunard Liner Cruise Ship and asked to be put ashore. He had seemed upset the night before when he asked my age and huffed that at 71 he figured he was the oldest one on board; then spent the rest of the evening pointing me out as the oldest geezer aboard. While sorry to see one of our new friends leave, we were all impressed with the care, concern and courtesy of our captain and crew in going out of their way to send the yawl all the way back to the mainland with the two who were just uncomfortable and wanted to go home. Our crew of young men and women was thoughtful and watchful and obviously knew what they were doing. Their skills and the quiet way they went about their work were as competent as the noticeable fact that they never loafed; they were constantly working, at one task or another.

The first thing we found out was that raising an anchor, even with a windlass powered by manly landlubbers turned sailing men, was no easy job. Ours was stuck and had to be broken free before it would come up. I, for one, was glad that the others were not septuagenarians and that a couple of them looked like All-Pro linebackers. It didn’t take long to catch on to Newton’s Law of Seesaws: when one pushes down mightily on one arm of a windlass, the rebound upwards from the downward push on the other side is quick and sudden and unbalancing. When the anchor got broken free at last, was hauled up and the chains were stowed, we gathered in our lines to raise the sails, but this time we had to reef ‘em – reduce their size by tying off the reef points to the boom before hauling away. The captain had been checking the weather the night before, as we were leaving the galley for our cabins, and had been working his instruments near the wheel while the yawl was on its return from the mainland. He told us that the winds were going to blow out on the bay and would be brusque. His judgment was that it would be wiser to reef the sails and we didn’t need the staysail or jib.

Blow the winds did, up to 30, maybe 35 knots by the afternoon, according to the Mercantile’s modern instrumentation. At times in the morning, we were no longer sailing, but wind-surfing at a hundred miles an hour, maybe even 12 or 14 knots, great globs of ocean water washing up on the hatches, all closed tightly, then down and over the deck. The real crew members were so excited that they were yelling with joy every time the bow dipped and the ocean bit back, their shouts giving us assurance that this was for fun and not for danger and we might as well enjoy it, too. Some of us whooped. Others went below to the galley. A lot of us stayed on deck to be soaked in spray and to sit in the sun on another glorious and blustery day on the bay as we tacked back and forth, keeping in between Isleboro and the mainland all day long.

It wasn’t like that all the time, though, and that caused a good deal of disappointment when the winds died down so that we could no longer feel the thrill that newcomers get for the feel of the sea when running before the wind and have to return to merely sailing along peacefully and calmly. The best winds came up in the afternoon, a bit wild and, of course, thoroughly enjoyable. It was surprising to feel a 100 foot large schooner heeling over to one side or the other, depending on the tack, and very easy to imagine the power of the sea in a storm, no matter the size of the vessel.

Soon, the winds blew strong and steadily enough to persuade our captain to head in to the comfort of another little harbor on Isleboro, this one down near the southern tip. And so we did, but in a hell bent for leather style of downwind sailing, when one of the most unusual sights on the whole trip came with the foresail out to the right and the mainsail flat out the left. I couldn’t figure it out. How come, when all the sails I ever saw in pictures were all filled out and bent in the same direction? The captain was too busy to ask, and I forgot to bug him when he was alone later on. But back home, a book out of the Scarborough library, “Windjammer Watching On The Coast of Maine” taught me that it was “wing and wing” running before the wind with one set to port and the other to starboard. We were on a run deadwind. When the captain called “ready about”, we knew that we were going to change from the run to a reach, when the wind would be coming from the beam the widest part of the boat, and those two big booms were going to swing around, lumbering just like the stuff from which they had been hewn.

The wind began to lessen as the island grew nearer. We sailors got up to go to work to stow the sails and be ready to let the anchors go just when the ship began to come to a stop and slowly drift backwards just a bit. That was the moment when both anchors were dropped in our sheltered harbor, causing more than one of us to groan about the windlass with the kick should one or both be stuck in the mud again on the following morning.

Dinner was Italian and it was good. So good. Most everybody shifted around and sat with those with whom they had not yet shared a meal; we all wanted so much to get to know everybody on board. After a day and a half, with a full day of real and exciting sailing all day long behind us, we knew this was our last evening together and the sharing went on till everyone felt the exhaustion creeping over each of us and we headed for our cabins in the dark, so pleased, so warmed, so experienced as windjammer sailors. None of us liked the way time was disappearing; it seemed we had just gotten up a few minutes before to face our first full day out on Penobscot Bay, a windy one, with sun and spray.

Sunday morning the old habit resumed at 5:00 a.m. I woke up. Once I became aware of where I was and that it had to be dreamlike up on deck, the morning routine was done as quickly as possible. Then, it was up to the raised deck to sit on a hatch near the great wheel and gaze out at smooth water, a ripple there and here, a darkness so unlike twilight in that it hinted a sun was rising down over the eastern horizon, soon to bring daylight upon us, but stubbornly hiding beyond grey clouds promising rain. The quiet made the schooner as peaceful as the water it floated upon and the island up against which it had sought and gained shelter from the winds of yesterday. And I smelled smoke, the wood smoke of our cook who had to have arisen before me and was already at work. Within a minute or two, I was cutting potatoes into cubes for hash browns in the dim light of the galley, as the two of us went silently about our tasks. And then I was back on deck, released from work by a kindly chef – he was much more than cook.

There in the silent, cool pre-dawn, a strange unearthly sight out of the deep was swimming towards me, forty feet or so out behind the stern. Its head was bobbing before large rounded shoulders and back, somewhat but not quite like a very large turtle, and another part flapped in front like a flipper trying to move forward towards me, the lone figure on deck available for the protection of our ship. It moved and was trailing a line behind it.

Wondering what it could be, straining to identify it in the darkness of a cloudy night getting ready to slip into dawn, a bit nervous, as well, I went back to the galley’s companionway and called to our chef, as well as our captain coming out of the hot shower, which I had forgotten all about, “Do you want to see something weird, real weird? It’s a huge turtle, like, you know, I think.” They came up on deck and followed me to the stern. The beast was no closer but was moving, even as the captain said, “I always want to see something weird early in the morning,” just before he laughed and then said, “That’s a bubble float mooring for a boat.”

I then knew that my eyes were not sailor’s eyes and that this novice had given his captain and chef yet one more ship’s tale to tell about what old guys see at 5:30 in the morning in the water behind the Mercantile at anchor just off the western side of Isleboro. But, I didn’t even feel embarrassed, so much so, that on leaving ship at the dock later on that morning, I thanked the captain for a fabulous weekend and the opportunity, with his experienced assistance, to distinguish between marine monsters and bubble floats.

I sat there alone for the next hour or so, in some kind of meditation, taking in that life is different for the island people of Maine and for those who earn their living from the sea and how that has been going on for so many centuries. While we didn’t get too far from the mainland, or even out beyond the islands to the open Atlantic, not even close to where the Perfect Storm had been so angry and so controlled until it died, along with those it took with it, we were now entering our third day on a coastal schooner.

Soon, we would eat on deck or in the galley, get to work to haul anchors and set sail, reefed for the rain and drizzle to come, and head back to Camden over there to the west. Breakfast was quiet, as if we all were beginning to regret that this was the last of wonderful meals at sea and that we would soon have to face our own realities, get in cars to drive to our homes, wherever they were, hoping to remember the memories of block and tackle, lines and sheets, fore and aft, port and starboard, and how to pitch in and help a friend who had been a stranger on Friday, as we bent to pump the windlass and break not one but two anchors from the seabed below.

Some stayed below, but again, despite the weather of drizzly rain, my friends and I stayed on deck, bundled in layers and zipped inside windbreakers with hoods. There were small groups chatting, but a lot of singles just sitting and looking fore and aft and out beyond the beam on both sides as we beat our way to Camden, enlisting the aid of the yawl as we approached the harbor. In between the desires to be above decks, we went below to strip our bunks, stuff our linen, clean up our cabins and pack our bags. Quickly, so we could return to the deck and watch Camden harbor grow larger and larger, with all its sticks raised on high, now familiar to us as mainmasts and foremasts, bald or with tops.

On the way in, I looked back to the shelter of the night before and saw coming around the southern tip of Isleboro and heading westerly, too, another schooner, with more sails set than ours and moving along serenely and in a workmanlike manner just as she had been designed. Turning around to the north, there was a second one, this one actually magnificent and different, not in its rigging or shape but in its color. All its sails were brown, a light brown to be sure, but certainly not white. It came into view so suddenly it had to have been dropped into the sea from the sky, for there were no islands to the north out of which it could have sailed. All sails set, it was in the middle of the bay between Isleboro and the mainland and heading easterly towards the island, until it tacked and then beat down the western leeward side all the way to the southern tip and continued along to the south off our port side. It was beautiful, swift, sleek, tan against a grey sky and in a choppy sea. Later, back home, my library book was silent about it, but the Internet told me that it was a Tanbark Schooner, its sails being made of that color, and might have been the one out of Rockport, south of Camden, where it had been in for repairs.

As we got closer to the harbor, we began moving about, saying our goodbyes and thanking the crew. We took a last and loving look at our quarters, the galley, walked the entire deck one last time, then sat back to watch our captain maneuvering the Mercantile through the lanes towards the dock, somehow telling the yawl to do a U-turn and coming in alongside the Grace Bailey neatly, silently, in one fluid movement. Hawsers were cast and caught and wound on cleats.

Our son climbed over the railing to help his aged parents with their bags, expecting to see us drooping, surprised yet pleased when we lithely hopped onto the Grace Bailey, shook hands with the downriggers still at work and walked down the gangplank to the dock and up to our car. We kept turning around to look back at the two schooners, now at rest after a long season. One of them was ours. It was close to noon. We had boarded at 2:00 PM on Friday. Over a weekend we had been in a windjammer for just about two full days out on the water under sail.

The local bookstore did not have a book recommended by the Captain, but when we got home in a couple of hours, I spent the rest of the day tracking down “schooner”, “coastal schooner”, “windjammer” and assorted terms on Google, a favorite searcher on the Internet. So far, I’ve printed out about 100 pages of stuff.

Jean frequently breaks in, while we are on the beach walking our front yard with our two Dachshunds, “Remember when you jumped in to help raise the sails, after you said to me you didn’t think you could do hard work like that?”

Or, when it came my turn, “I laughed so hard when you gave up on trying to pump the lever in the head to bring in sea water and came in to tell me to go flush it.” And, “Those Alabama people were so happy to be sitting with us the night we had lobster, because you were raised in Pine Point and knew how to open a boiled lobster.”

Hers, a complimentary one which rectified itself in the last part, “Yup, and your hash browns were cut nicely, too, but you pooped out on that stuck anchor in the mud, when you stumbled away from the windlass.” Her best, “How about that giant white sea turtle attacking the ship just before dawn on Sunday, my dear?”

The best memories are, as always, the people: crew and passengers. Our neighbor’s friend from Saco, who is now our friend. The couple in love who held hands a lot and shared their nervousness about making the commitment, to whom we said in the parking lot, out of our 44 years of ups ‘n downs, that they could look forward to taking a Windjammer Cruise in their seventies, because love truly is growing old together. On the way to our car, I had asked her for a hug and told her that they looked good together, grabbed his hand and shared, ”My father, on meeting Jean, said to me, ‘Don’t lose this one, Paul.’ “ His reply, “Don’t worry, I won’t,” gave us comfort.

To the pregnant mother, we wished her and her husband well, and added, “May your first child be as beautiful as you are.” She beamed. He still looked worried, but with that slaphappy look of a first-father-soon-to-be.

And Captain Ray Williamson and his people, especially our crew, had once again brought many people together for a weekend, gave them excitement, great food, a chance to share, helped two plan a marriage and let us feel young again, with dignity. Great cruise. On a real coastal schooner, called the Mercantile, sailing along ever since 1916 when launched in Penobscot Bay. When we looked back at her, the downrigging had already begun.

Jean and I are going back next season for the five day cruise. We’re sailors now.

And then he wonders about the credibility of bishops.


The Roman Catholic Bishops of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have accused the Supreme Judicial Court, the highest Constitutional Court of that Commonwealth of “villainizing as bigotry the legitimate defense of thousands of years of tradition.” The Court had ruled recently that it is unconstitutional to bar gay couples from marriage, as an affront to human dignity. The language of the bishops, including the archbishop of Boston, is so strong and strident that it must be challenged immediately.

We are not dealing here with angry lay people using angry words against a bishop for covering up the crimes of sexual abuse of minors by clergy and then being condemned by the same bishops as dissidents and silenced and banned from meeting on church property. Ask VOTF. That is villainy, and its tradition is twenty centuries long. We are not talking about the same bishops excoriating legislators, Catholics who may not vote according to the wishes of the bishops themselves. That is villainy. It is also a dictatorial interference with an elected representative’s oath of office, if not a bigotry to the religions of other elected representatives. It is also a twisted misuse of the freedom of speech by the same bishops who demand a right to be heard but silence anyone who dares to stand and speak to them. That is really villainous villainy on an unadulterated variety.

We are dealing here with Roman Catholic Bishops who actually think that they are the most supreme beings in the Commonwealth, if not in the country and in the entire world, and as such have a divine right to order everybody else to do exactly as they command. Their claim to such authority is something called “Tradition”, loosely translated as “That’s how we’ve done it all the time, for two thousand years now. It’s always been that way.” 20 centuries of villainous error does not, miraculously, become politically correct in the 21st century. What was villainous then is villainous now, particularly in the snuffing out of disagreements, dissents, wobbly expressions of faith, by silencing, the stake, excommunication or house arrest. Ask Galileo. Ask Torquemada.

For such an august group, episcopates, to claim that another august group, justices, is villainizing bishops as bigots, is worse than the pot calling the kettle black. It is a manifestation, an epiphany if you will, of the debasement and degrading of the church’s hierarchy, how the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church act themselves at times, steeped in their own villainy.

There is not one villainous word in the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. There is not one reference to the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in that decision, either. It is difficult to state what the motives of the bishops may be, unless it is one dying gasp as the curial church of which they are Ordinaries is shredded and tattered at their own feet, done in by their own hands. The bishops, collectively and stridently, have finally seen and felt their own minds snap under the awful weight of their own consciences for misdeeds, malfeasance, criminal conduct, lust for power and a tradition of villainy that has no equal in any other segment of human civilization, so that they should now, collectively, be ignored completely as clinically insane. They have certainly lost any claim to credibility or morality or spirituality or religion or apostolic succession. They are not even decent.

If you want to know what real villainy is, ask any heretic.

The villains are not the justices. The villains are Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston; Bishops Thomas Dupre of Springfield; Daniel P. Reilly of Worcester; George Coleman of Fall River. May I respectfully, without villainy, suggest that they clean up their language and deal with the issues as educated and learned people, who profess to be leaders of the People of God. May I also suggest that they drop their tyranny over the People of God and dialogue with them without restraints or control. They just might learn something from attorneys and other professionals how to discuss serious matters of civil liberties and inalienable rights and due process and the abolition of discriminatory conduct to the marginalized.

It’s called freedom, as in “the truth will set you free.” It can also be conducted rationally, courteously, with the opportunity for all to express their opinions, even spiritually, and usually resolved by a vote. Shouting and name calling and whining has no persuasive power at all. A good model for such discourse and dialogue can be found in the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount or the way that the Rock and the other apostles resolved their differences in the early days of the Church. It’s all in the New Testament, of course, which should be looked at from time to time by any bishop. In case they haven’t read it for a while, the role models referred to are Jesus Christ and Saint Peter, both of whom had something to do with the origins of the Catholic Church, long before there was such an office as that of bishop.

Once in a while he offers answers to his unending questions


1. Is The Roman Catholic Church Roman?

Answer: Familiarly - YES. Technically - NO. It is Vatican not Roman, as a much smaller part of the City of Rome. Rome is 1,507.6 sq/km.; the Vatican is 0.44 sq/km. The difference is 1,507.16 sq/km.

2. Is The Roman Catholic Church Catholic?

Answer: . If by Catholic the meaning is "universal" - NO. Among others from other religions and churches, it now excludes from within its rolls: women; children sexually abused; their parents and relatives and friends who stand and speak; gays; lesbians; divorced couples; those engaging in sex without the intent to procreate; lay people; any group, lay or clergy, which is fond of other groups like ARCC, CTA, CORPUS, SNAP, SURVIVORS FIRST, LINKUP, married clergy; women priests; rights and benefits for homosexuals; theologians whose writings displease a cardinal, any cardinal; dissidents; disobedients; and anyone else ignorant of anything contained in The Magisterium.

If by Catholic the meaning is "for sinners", as some hierarchs claim - NO. All the people mentioned above are excluded because and only because they are sinners. Sinners are de jure IN, but de facto OUT. Cardinals have to take oaths to stay IN. Non-Catholics, whether sinners or saints, are simply not considered at all.

If by interspersing Roman or Vatican in front of Catholic the meaning is some delimitation -- NO. That ploy delimits universality, a term synonymous with ALL, and exposes it for what it truly is, a very tiny, tiny church of less than half a square kilometer, with one pope, some curial cardinals and approximately 1,800 employees, including Swiss Guards. It also turns the title intrinsically into an oxymoron.

3. Is The Roman Catholic Church A Church?

Answer: NO. It is a Private Prelature of John Paul Two.

Commentary On An Either/Or Basis

Either: the name itself should be changed to reflect the truth: The Vatican Segregated Private Prelature. Or: we must honor the meaning of and live up to the last two words, Catholic and Church, simply by dropping the Roman and going democratic, world-wide, of the people, by the people, for the people, in order to be Church. The people have a sense for the way, the truth, and the life, as well as for simple dignity, in their unconditional response to the invitation of Jesus Christ, "Come, follow me."


Drop Roman. Change Catholic to Christian and let it be named, in truth, The Christian Church, with our own located in the United States of America, just as it was probably intended by the Incarnate Son of God , Jesus the Christ.

The answer to this question, he insists, must come from within and from yourself


The crisis is over. Cardinal Ratzinger has spoken and has determined that it was simply "a weakness of faith." Roma locuta, causa finita. -- Rome has spoken. The matter is finished. Thus, sewing the first stitch of a thread to be known as What Is Faith? So, let us, dutiful faithful, begin our compliance with the good cardinal’s expert, authoritative and learned opinion. First, some definitions of terms.

1. American Heritage, from Microsoft's Bookshelf, tells us six things about faith:

a. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, an idea, or a thing.

b. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. See synonyms at belief, trust.

c. Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one's supporters.

d. Often Faith Theology. The theological virtue defined as secure belief

n God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.

e. The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.

f. A set of principles or beliefs.”

2. Google tells us in 0.8 seconds that it has 13,900,000 entries on 'faith'. The first few 1-20 tell us that their web sites really know or have faith and they are more than willing to tell you what it is. You have to join, though.

3. In 1945, our religion teacher at B.C. answered this way.”Faith is a FIF –a Funny Interior Feeling" and the trick is St. Ignatius Discernment of Spirits to figure out whether it is really funny or for real. He tried to distinguish between faith and reason, leading us freshmen to conclude that knowledge is what we know in our minds and faith is what we make up in our imaginations or even in our hearts, because there is no way of knowing, thus producing a FIF, otherwise known as "It's a mystereeeeee."

4. Mortimer Adler, in response to a Jesuit panelist’s frustrated "You know theology so well, why aren't you a Catholic?" replied, "Why, Father, you know better than I that Faith is a free gift from God."

5. Torquemada and his Inquisition Faith-Givers told those bound to the stakes."Change your faith to ours. Or die."

6. VOTF'S Motto: Keep the Faith. Change the Church.

7. Hierarch's Motto: Keep the Faith. Obey the Church. VOTF is banned.

8. The Catholic Encyclopedia On-Line. Forget it. This one is as incomprehensible as the term it is trying to describe. Besides it is the 1913 version.

9. Saint Thomas, who had to touch first and then believe. Or did he merely know? Could knowledge be stronger and more believable than faith? Catch 22: how can we possibly know God? (Don't get tricky, now.)

10. The New Catechism in the Glossary. "FAITH: both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God. . . Faith is both a theological virtue given by God as grace, and an obligation which flows from the first commandment of God." (i.e. I of X, from Moses, formerly on display in the Alabama Supreme Court lobby.)

11. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. ". . . the crisis the Church is going through, particularly in the United States, is 'a weakness of faith' that calls for conversion and ' clear moral teaching.' . . . So, two things are essential: Conversion to a profound and deep faith, with a life of prayer and sacraments, and clear moral teaching and awareness of the teaching that the Church has the Holy Spirit and can give us the way." (Zenit, August 24, 2003)

12. Please note, that we now enter into the most vexing problem in the history of Philosophy -- and Theology for that matter -- The Problem Of Evil. In a sentence located in The New Catechism at Prologue, VI, 24, page 12, we note that it, too, like Cardinal Ratzinger, links rules of moral conduct with faith as if the two were one: "Those who are called to the ministry of preaching must suit their words to the maturity and understanding of their hearers, as they hand on the teaching of the mysteries of faith and the rules of moral conduct." Note the addition of "the rules of moral conduct" to ""the mysteries of faith", meaning that the two go together? Are one? Or that "Faith" is really the Ten Commandments and is, thus, a synonym for Rules of Moral Conduct? Or, if something different, is so entangled with morality that the two cannot be severed? And the provider of the Rules of Moral Conduct? The Church, i.e. the Clergy, priests, bishops, cardinals, pope. Faith and Morals: Can't have one without the other? Can it be that our Church, with the help of Cardinal Ratzinger, has solved the problem of evil and that it is nothing but a weakness of faith, which can, of course, be shored up and made strong simply by obeying the ministers of the Church? That's nice, isn't it? Neat, too, for a theology.

13. Fr. Richard P. McBrien, and most theologians, thinkers, lay people, and those endowed with common sense, as well as for a saner voice. In the glossary of Catholicism we read, "FAITH The gift of God by which we freely accept God's self-communication in Christ. One of the theological virtues." Other McBriens in other religions may phrase this gift in different ways.

And so, the answer to "What is faith" is the answer to the fundamental question, "Who you gonna believe?" Who has the credibility, as well as the authority to teach us? Are Adler and McBrien correct, that Faith is a free gift from God? Or the BC professor that it is a FIF, subject to discernment. Or the Catechism and Ratzinger that it is what the Church orders us to believe coupled with detailed instructions on how to act, who to vote for, which gender to live with in union, and how to address a Prince of the Church? There is no need for accountability or justice, just faith. As for renewal and reform, shut up! And listen to Rome.

Can Faith be a virtue on command, a mere act of the human will, a Nancy Reagan simplicity of Just Do It? So that once a priest or bishop tells you what it is and how you must live your daily life, you risk eternal damnation if you do not accept and obey, quite strictly, his every word, from then on for the rest of your earthly life? And what if the bishop is one of those, a cover-upper, an insider-trader, even a sexual abuser himself? And what if all the cardinals here and the ones in the Curia in Rome knew what was going on in the last century, kept it quiet, and made sure that the pope knew as much as they did and wanted everything kept very, very quiet?

Well, at least we can all relax now. The Scandal+Crisis is over. VOTF and all those other groups can disband. Archbishop O'Malley can return to Palm Beach. The pope's principal advisor, his very own Karl Rove, has solved the whole thing. It is "a weakness of faith". And all we have to do is sit and listen to our bishops and priests tell us what faith is and how we are to act now, without weakness.

As for those who did the abuse and the other ones who covered it up with insider trading, aren't they "more to be pitied than censured?" How can we help them strengthen their weak faith? The Survivors? Huh? I don't know. Go ask Cardinal Ratzinger, but I don't think he mentioned them. Don't think the pope has either. They are all very busy with letting the Muslim world know they aren't supporting the preemptive strike in Iraq, telling politicians how to vote on what issues, reclaiming Europe's lost traditions, and bashing gays and lesbians. The latter obviously have no faith at all and don't deserve any, free gift or no.

If you don't like this solution, you can always go back to St. Augustine. "Da mihi fidem - Give me faith." "Lord, help thou my unbelief." But, not to his prayer when he was exploring life and fathering a son he named "Adeodatus - Given by God" -"Lord, grant me chastity, but not yet."

Me and my friends here on our 7 mile sandy beach which is returned to us right after Labor Day when the tourists go home and it once again becomes

"Our Front Yard", want to note one small item that is usually overlooked when we speak of Faith. And that is Sensus Fidelium – the Sense of the Faithful. Our collective wisdom, as the Faithful, the People of God, remember?, has a bearing on all this. What is the Sensus Fidelium on Humanae Vitae? What is the Sensus Fidelium on our response to a pope who says to us that we may not even discuss certain topics? Who stands and speaks for us about our Sensus Fidelium? Who do we the People of God appoint to inform the Curia and Cardinal Ratzinger on the content of our Sensus Fidelium?

Some of us lay persons have a prayer which goes beyond all these definitions and descriptions:

God Have Mercy on the Church and Grant Us Your Laity the Grace to Save it from the Hierarchy. Lord, Lord, You promised.

From his retirement cottage in Maine, Paul Kelly, a former Jesuit from the New England Province and a retired attorney, has the time and the leisure and the intelligence to focus on a whole rainbow of topics that mirror our concerns at JustGoodCompany. And the man can write.