Yesterday we held our annual Corpus Christi procession. Here is a brief video of the event.
I received this email from one of my parishioners today that was too hysterical and wonderful not to share. The scene was our parish’s sixth session of ChristLife last night. I always come in at the end to greet everyone. As I entered, someone cheered my presence and I “dabbed”. (If you don’t know what that is, ask a teenager!) The writer is Kevin Magee, one of the leaders of ChristLife and a stand-up comedian:
It has come to my attention that Father Carrozza has been dabbing! When he walked in last night I thought I saw him dab, but I ignored it the way you pretend to not see people stumble when they are walking on the sidewalk, except my intention to push this from my memory was immediately brought to reality when Lisa at my table asked me, “Did Father just dab?” I turned to her shaking my head to say “yes, I am sorry that I have to confirm this!”
Any act of sexual abuse of a child is a horror that can never be condoned. When that harm is done by someone who is supposed to protect the child and in whom he places his trust, such as a priest, the sin is even more appalling. We had to endure the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by priests and of some bishops who did not respond to the situations in an appropriate manner. They needed to be brought to justice and to face the music for what they did. But while some were legitimately seeking to bring the guilty to justice and to support victims of clergy sexual abuse, there were others with less honorable intentions who took advantage of the Church in her weakness to advance their own agendas, which had little to do with supporting victims and more to do with bashing the Church. To take advantage of someone else’s suffering to press your own cause is unconscionable. One organization long accused of such underhanded tactics is The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). They have recently come under investigation, and a lawsuit that is exposing their real motive and which will likely destroy the group has now been filed. The following is an article about SNAP by Bill Donohue, Director of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has been sued before, and while it has been hurt by those filings, the latest one suggests the end is near. It can’t come too soon.
The Catholic League has been tracking SNAP for years. From news releases to radio and TV interviews, we have kept the media abreast of just how corrupt the outfit is. We’ve sent people undercover to attend its public conferences; we’ve taken out ads in major newspapers; we’ve issued several lengthy reports; we’ve fielded complaints from its clients; and we’ve consulted with bishops and others. SNAP is a fraud.
The lawsuit by a former employee, Gretchen Rachel Hammond, registers several serious accusations against SNAP, all of which are supported by the Catholic League’s own investigations of the group. The two together—an eyewitness account and our research—wholly discredit its reputation and completely disarm its supporters, namely, those in the mainstream media.
Hammond has sued David Clohessy, the executive director, Barbara Blaine, founder and president, and outreach director Barbara Dorris; the case is before the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. Hammond, a transgender person, worked for SNAP as its director of development between mid-2011 and early 2013. In that capacity, Hammond learned the truth about SNAP, and has now unloaded with the details.
Not surprisingly, after confronting SNAP officials about its ethically offensive and legally suspect work, Hammond was subject to retaliatory action. Consequently, the plaintiff suffered from stress and depression, resulting in health problems. Hammond is suing for a loss of wages as well. The lawsuit closes with a grave indictment: “SNAP acted willfully with actual malice, including a wanton disregard for the rights of others such that an award of punitive damages is appropriate.”
Hammond uncovered a whole lot, all of which will be discussed. Most seriously, the lawsuit says that “SNAP routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys in the form of ‘donations,’” and in return SNAP “refers survivors as potential clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against the Catholic Church. These cases often settle to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the financial health of SNAP, which has received direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”
Anti-Catholicism Drives SNAP
Before addressing the legal issues involved, it is important to understand what makes SNAP tick. Hammond learned first-hand what the Catholic League has been saying for decades: SNAP is driven by a pathological hatred of the Catholic Church, not a concern for the welfare of victims.
“While SNAP claims that it is motivated by the interests of survivors, in fact,” the lawsuit says, “SNAP is motivated largely by the personal animus of its directors and officers against the Catholic Church.”
For example, Clohessy recommended that an alleged victim pursue a claim against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, saying that every nickel it doesn’t have is money that can’t be spent on “defense lawyers, PR staff, gay-bashing, women-hating, contraceptive-battling, etc.” He then offered to refer the person to one of his lawyer friends.
The Catholic League is in an even better position than Hammond to identify SNAP’s hatred of the Catholic Church.
On July 8-10, 2011 SNAP held a national conference, open to the public, near the airport in Washington, D.C. There were approximately 110-130 people in attendance, all white, mostly female, aged 40-75 (mostly seniors or near seniors). They came from only a few states.
We know this, and much more, because I paid for two persons to attend the conference and report back. I subsequently published the findings online in a report, “SNAP EXPOSED: Unmasking the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.” Copies were sent to all the bishops.
Here is how one of our confederates summed up his experience. “The recurring theme of the conference was the evil nature of the Catholic Church. The word ‘evil’ was used repeatedly to describe ‘the institution.’ There was no presumption of innocence: accused priests were spoken of as if they were guilty, and this was true of all the speakers, including the attorneys.”
It was no surprise that Jeffrey Anderson was one of the speakers. No one has ripped off the Catholic Church more than this diminutive lawyer from Minnesota. A former hippie and recovering alcoholic, in one settlement alone he netted half a billion dollars. He once described himself as a “dedicated atheist.” His goal, he plainly admits, is to “sue the s*** out of them [the Catholic Church].” His hatred runs deep: He has sued the Vatican on several occasions, trying to hold the pope responsible for priestly misconduct from Boston to Bombay. He has never won.
Father Thomas Doyle, a Dominican, is another recovering alcoholic who has big problems with the Catholic Church. He blasted the Church for promoting “fear, power, and guilt,” saying that Constantine, not Jesus Christ, founded the Church.
Another speaker, Terence McKiernan, founder and president of BishopAccountability, told the small gathering of Catholic haters that he would like to “stick it to” New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan. He also accused him of “keeping the lid on 55 names” of predator priests. On several occasions, I personally asked McKiernan to provide me with his list of names, but he never responds. It’s a lie, and he knows it.
Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk, told the seniors, “The Church is corrupt,” and proceeded to make many unsupported accusations. He knew no one would challenge him because they all came to hear horror stories.
It would be a serious mistake to assume that this is just venting, idle banter coming from some malcontents. No, this is the mindset that drives SNAP to plunder the rights of priests. Take SNAP president Barbara Blaine. She has justified raids made by Belgian police on Catholic churches, and is adamant in her conviction, expressed at the conference, that while accused priests may have a legal right to countersue, they have no moral right to do so.
Clohessy was once asked about the rights of priests, and when pressed about what he means by pursuing “credibly accused” priests, he could not provide a clear answer, saying only that “there’s all kinds of criteria” determining what that means. In practice, SNAP makes no distinction between an accusation and one that has been substantiated.
The contempt that SNAP has for the rights of priests is bad enough, but it pales in significance compared to its own conspiratorial savaging of innocent priests. Take the case of Father Joseph Jiang. SNAP accused him of sexually abusing minors.
SNAP said it knew who the victims were, but when pressed it could not name a single person. When ordered by a federal court to provide evidence, it refused to do so, resulting in sanctions. This was one reason why U.S. District Court Judge Carol E. Jackson accused SNAP of defaming Father Jiang. The Hammond lawsuit was right to seize on the judge’s ruling.
The court declared that “it has been established that the SNAP defendants conspired with one another and others to obtain plaintiff’s conviction on sexual abuse charges and that they entered into this conspiracy due to discriminatory animus against plaintiff based on his religion, religious vocation, race and national origin.” Moreover, the court ruled that “the SNAP defendants’ public statements about plaintiff were false and that they did not conduct any inquiry into the truth or falsity of these public statements, but instead made these statements negligently and with reckless disregard for the truth.”
That’s quite an indictment. SNAP officials conspired to make false charges against an innocent priest and did so because they hate the Catholic Church.
What makes this even more sickening is the fact that when SNAP learns of real sexual abuse, it does nothing about it. To be specific, David Clohessy is quick to condemn bishops for not reporting suspected priests, yet he never called the cops in the 1990s on his priest brother, Kevin, after learning that he abused a minor.
Hammond’s lawsuit lists one “donation” after another being made by plaintiff attorneys to SNAP. These SNAP-greasing lawyers make up the lion’s share of funds collected by Clohessy and company in any given year. For example, in 2008, “a Minnesota lawyer” contributed 55 percent—$414,140—of SNAP’s total donations for the year; three years later he contributed over 40 percent of total revenue. The lawyers, of course, love to write SNAP a check because that’s how they get many of their clients.
SNAP is so thoroughly corrupt that it has even laundered money to itself via dummy organizations. “Tellingly, at one time during 2011 and 2012,” the lawsuit says, “SNAP even concocted a scheme to have attorneys make donations to a front foundation, styled the ‘Minnesota Center for Philanthropy,’ and then have the Minnesota Center for Philanthropy make a grant to SNAP in order to provide a subterfuge for, and to otherwise conceal, the plaintiff’s attorneys’ kickbacks to SNAP.”
Keep in mind that this is just what we know from the short time Hammond was working there. God only knows how many other rip-off schemes SNAP has been involved in over the years.
When Clohessy was deposed in 2012, in a case involving a priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, he was asked to disclose his source of funding. He refused. When asked specifically about monies SNAP receives from lawyers, he once again refused to answer. What really set him off was the question, “Does SNAP have any agreements with attorneys regarding referral of victims to those attorneys?” He never answered the question, saying only that he was “offended” by it.
At the 2011 SNAP conference, Anderson shamelessly conducted a fundraising appeal on the spot, matching dollar for dollar any donation made by an attendee. But he made it clear he would not match a $10,000 donation by fellow attorney Jeffrey Herman. All total, $30,000 was raised. So if Herman gave $10,000, and Anderson matched all donations save for Herman’s contribution, that means the attendees dished out $10,000. In other words, two steeple-chasing attorneys accounted for two-thirds of the all the money raised. Without their input, SNAP would have folded years ago.
SNAP’s unseemly relationship with lawyers is not confined to funding. For example, according to the lawsuit, it “regularly communicates with attorneys about their lawsuits on behalf of survivors, receiving drafts of pleadings and other privileged information. The attorneys and SNAP work together in developing the legal theories and strategies of survivors’ lawsuits.” It’s what they do with this information that matters most. “Attorneys and SNAP base their strategy not on the best interests of the survivor, but on what will generate the most publicity and fundraising opportunities for SNAP.”
Hammond’s account raises serious ethical and legal questions about the way SNAP operates. Attorneys would give Clohessy, Blaine, and Dorris “drafts of complaints and other pleadings prior to filing, along with other privileged information,” and then they would “use those drafts to generate sensational press releases on the survivors’ lawsuits.” Not surprisingly, they would then issue “press releases to media outlets and schedule a press conference on the day a survivors’ lawsuit was filed.”
What the lawsuit does not say is how this game is played to the disadvantage of the diocese being sued. For instance, after Clohessy completes his press conference speaking about a leaked lawsuit, the media ask the local bishop and his attorneys to comment. Of course, they cannot say anything about a lawsuit they have not seen. This is exactly the point: the Church is made to look bad.
Hammond’s account is further validated by considering what Clohessy said under oath when deposed in 2012. He was asked about a lawsuit that was filed at 2:44 p.m. on October 20, 2011. How could he have had this information before it was filed in court? He used it as the basis of a press conference, blindsiding the Church in the process. Clohessy refused to answer the question.
In another case, a lawsuit had a file stamp of November 8, 2011 at 1:28 p.m. Again, Clohessy was able to post information about this before it was filed with the court. When asked to explain himself, he refused. He is a master of deceit.
Hammond shows how SNAP officials were more concerned about raking in the dough than in serving the interests of their clients. The lawsuit cites an email exchange between SNAP officials discussing a subpoena that was issued to them. The contents reveal much about their character.
One of them asked if they should mention the subpoena in their newsletter. It “may prompt more donations,” the missive said, even though “on the other hand, it’ll also upset more survivors….” Blaine’s answer was vintage SNAP: “My initial response is that we err on the side of using it to raise money.”
There it is in black and white: in a conflict between obtaining money and protecting survivors, take the cash and run. One of Blaine’s colleagues agreed. What came next is priceless. An unidentified employee chimed in, cautioning everyone to be careful “what we put in e-mails, ok?” Too late for that.
The lawsuit also shows how Clohessy relies on attorneys to intimidate his critics. When a Kansas City blogger raised serious questions about the way lawyers grease SNAP, and how SNAP officials ask their clients to share some of the money they’ve won in a lawsuit, Clohessy asked an attorney involved in the case to reply. He said that if the writer were to get a letter from a lawyer, out of “fear” he may become “more temperate in his comments in the future.” In other words, let’s see if we can silence the critic by intimidating him.
What does SNAP do with its money? The officials know how to have a good time. When traveling to The Hague in 2011 to file a lawsuit against Pope Benedict in the International Criminal Court (it went nowhere), they “used the funds raised by Plaintiff to pay for lavish hotels and other extravagant travel expenses for its leadership.” Not only that, but “SNAP also uses funds meant to assist survivors on its own legal troubles.”
SNAP is not an organization the way the Catholic League is. We have a staff that goes to work Monday thru Friday, reporting to our office in New York City. Not SNAP. When Clohessy was deposed, he testified that SNAP has a business address in Chicago. Who works there is a mystery. He didn’t even know the zip code. He works out of his home, but it is not near the Chicago office. It’s in the St. Louis area.
What does Clohessy do for a living? He said he fields phone calls from strangers who “share their pain” with him. So what does he do about their pain? “I console them and I may be on the phone with them for an hour.” He said he doesn’t charge a fee. So generous of him.
Declaring one’s home a place of business raises legal questions. Clohessy was asked whether “at your house do you have an occupational license or a business license to do business out of your house?” He simply said, “No.”
Under oath, Clohessy was asked if SNAP gives a portion of its funds to charity, as required by law. He replied, “I’m not aware of that.” So what does SNAP do with its money? It was revealed that in 2007 it spent a total of $593 on “survivor support.” That was it. The following year it spent $92,000 on travel. This is quite a racket.
How SNAP Exploits Survivors
On the first page of Hammond’s lawsuit, it says “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors—it exploits them.”
SNAP, the lawsuit says, “callously disregards the real interests of survivors, using them instead as props and tools in furtherance of SNAP’s own commercial fundraising goals. Instead of recommending that survivors pursue what is in their best personal, emotional, and financial interests, SNAP pressures survivors to pursue costly and stressful litigation against the Catholic Church, all in order to further SNAP’s own publicity and fundraising interests.”
The media would have us believe that SNAP is a caring, survivor outreach organization in pursuit of justice. It is anything but.
If SNAP really cared about the victims of sexual abuse, it would employ professional counselors to deal with them. But as the lawsuit says, it “did not have a single grief counselor or rape counselor on its payroll.” Moreover, it “never reached out to, or communicated with, grief counselors or rape counselors for the purpose of providing counseling to survivors through SNAP’s network.”
Worse, SNAP “would even ignore survivors who reached out to them.” When Dorris was told about phone calls from aggrieved parties—persons who shared their traumatic experiences—she told Hammond “to simply not answer phone calls from survivors seeking assistance and counseling.” In other words, just blow them off.
There is one Louisiana psychiatrist who did work for SNAP, Dr. Steve Taylor, but in 2011 he was sentenced to prison. His offense? Possession of child pornography. SNAP defended him! In fact, Blaine wrote to the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners pleading with them to cut Taylor some slack. And they have the nerve to pretend that they care about child sexual abuse.
SNAP claims to be a rape crisis center, but it is a lie. The lawsuit correctly references Clohessy’s deposition, citing how the court labeled as “meritless” SNAP’s assertion that it is a rape crisis center.
Clohessy told the court that he didn’t have to comply with a request for internal documents, nor did he have to answer any questions. He cited Missouri law which protects the confidentiality of rape crisis centers. But when asked, point blank, “Did you identify yourself as a rape crisis center?”, he said, “I don’t know.” At a later point, he admitted, “I don’t know under the Missouri statutes exactly what constitutes a rape crisis center.”
Clohessy was asked about his training as a rape crisis center counselor. He admitted that he had no formal education or training in that area. In fact, he is not a licensed counselor, and even admitted he has never taken formal classes in counseling sexual abuse victims. [He has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science.] Yet his lack of expertise did not stop him from falsely presenting himself as a counselor. In fact, no one at SNAP has ever been a licensed counselor.
When Clohessy was asked where his “counseling” sessions took place, he said, “We meet people wherever they want to meet, in Starbucks, at, you know—wherever people feel comfortable, that’s where we meet.” What do they do? He admitted that “the overwhelming bulk of our work is talking to, listening to, supporting sex abuse victims.” He did not say who paid for the coffee in these “clinical” settings.
How SNAP Exploits the Media
The lawsuit charges that SNAP “manipulates and exploits media publicity surrounding survivors’ lawsuits against the church to raise its own publicity and drive fundraising efforts.” In a case involving Father Michael Tierney, et al., the trial judge issued a gag order after SNAP made statements that “seriously jeopardize [the priest’s] ability to receive a fair trial in this case.” That gag order was then violated, leading to a very telling exchange.
Clohessy was put on the spot. “Has SNAP to your knowledge ever issued a press release that contained false information?” He didn’t blink. “Sure.”
Not only does SNAP lie to the media, it has a blueprint for doing so. At the conference, Clohessy gave some tips on how to sucker the media and stick it to the Church. Attendees were instructed that the best way to get the media’s attention is to hold press conferences outside a chancery. That way when the event is over, reporters can quickly seek an interview with some diocesan PR person.
What really works, the gathering was told, is to play on the emotions of reporters. “Display holy childhood photos!” What if no photos are available? “If you don’t have compelling holy childhood photos,” Clohessy said, “we can provide you with photos of other kids that can be held up for the camera.” It doesn’t matter whose kids are in the photo–what counts is that the media be seduced.
Clohessy also instructed attorneys to conduct interviews in front of the parish where the priest was assigned. Why? This is a good way to get clients and entice whistleblowers to come forward when they see the interview on TV.
It is important, Clohessy said, to use “feeling words.” He offered some suggestions. “I was scared. I was suicidal.” He counseled that it is better to come across as sad, not mad; doing so facilitates making an emotional connection with the audience. It was also critical to use the word “kids” as often as possible. That pulls at everyone’s heart strings.
What we know about SNAP, and what is alleged, is startling.
- It accepts kickbacks from attorneys
- It is motivated by a pathological hatred of the Catholic Church
- It has no respect for the rights of accused priests
- It lies about priests
- It lies to survivors
- It lies to judges
- It lies to the media
- It seeks to intimidate and silence its critics
- It blindsides diocesan officials with leaked lawsuits
- It abuses donations
- It exploits survivors by offering unlicensed counseling services
- It spends practically nothing on servicing survivors
- It manipulates the media by staging events
- It retaliates against employees who question its operations
In short, SNAP officials function as borderline gangsters out to destroy innocent persons. It is motivated by hate and exploits the very people it claims to serve. Justice demands that it be shut down by the authorities before it does any more harm.
As a pastor I find I have many different types of people to shepherd. Some are proud, and some have no self-esteem. Some are weak, and some are strong. Some are trying very hard to be the best they can be, and some are convinced they are already perfect. It’s not easy. I have to love all of them and shepherd each one as his or her needs require. For some that means offering encouragement and lifting them up. For others, it means awakening in them the realization that they need to change. Some need to face the consequences of their choices, and some need to move beyond them. If I am to be a faithful shepherd, I need to know each sheep individually and what they are dealing with, and the more I know about them, the better I can help them. There is no one magic approach that will heal everyone.
One of the biggest challenges I face is trying my best to see where each person is on that journey and how to help them go further. I must confess that it is not always easy. I am not always sure where someone is on the journey. I can best help my people by knowing who they truly are, warts and all. If I know what is really going on in their hearts, perhaps I can say something specific that will make a difference. Without this knowledge, I can only offer general platitudes.
Some people can be frustrating, especially those who see no need for any further growth. They think they are perfectly fine just where they are. That group includes the two extremes: those who don’t worship God because they think their life is just fine and don’t think they need him, and those who think they have arrived at perfection and have no need for any further growth. I find both of those groups difficult because they will not be guided; they don’t need any help. The people in between are where the real graces happen, with those who see the need for growth and want to be helped. Their weaknesses and needs may be as far apart as the tundra is from the tropics, but as long as they want to be better, there will be growth toward God.
Lately I have come across a trend, especially in newcomers to the faith and in people who have become painfully aware of their sinfulness: even if they have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they still tend to view those who have been there before them as better than they, and they don’t feel worthy to be counted among them. I can imagine St. Paul going through that when he first met Peter, James, and John. After all, Paul had persecuted the faith and was trying to destroy it until Jesus converted him in dramatic fashion on the way to Damascus. With all of his sinful past, how could he now be counted as equals with the Apostles? But Peter denied Jesus three times, and James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left in His glory. They were not without sin. Every saint has his past, and every sinner has his future. Jesus has an uncanny ability to see past our weaknesses to the good we can do when we realize He knows all too well our sins and allow Him to work through us in spite of – perhaps even because of – our sinfulness. As St. Paul says, “when I am weak, it is then that I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10) An ideal example of this is the recovering drug addict who has been sober for many years and is now running a program to help others with an addiction to overcome them. His awareness of his past and of how Jesus pulled him through gives him the desire and the ability to minister to others who are on that same journey. He might even feel that Jesus allowed him to go down that dangerous path so that he would be able to help many others to leave that road and start out on the right way. It can be the man who was once addicted to pornography who now runs a program to free others from their enslavement. He understands their pain and their weakness, and has a more burning desire for them to be freed from their burden.
I am a human being with my own sins, and sometimes someone confesses something to me that I have personally dealt with in the past or even at present, and I find myself in a good position to offer them advice that I have gleaned from my own struggle with that particular sin. But no one falls prey to every sin possible, and I’ve discovered over the years that I have learned a lot about the sinfulness of the human person from what I have heard in confession, and even if I never myself fell prey to a certain sin, the lessons I have learned from those who have puts me in a better position to understand and guide another. For this reason, I always tell people never to be afraid to bring your worst sins and fears to a priest in confession. We deal with the weaknesses of human nature on a regular basis and can usually appreciate what you’re going through, even if we haven’t been there ourselves. For example, my parents are thankfully still healthy, but I have counseled enough people dealing with invalid parents to know that they can find it frustrating and that they often lose patience with them. Although I am not married, I have dealt with enough people who are tempted to be unfaithful so as to be able to say something constructive to them. I have worked with teenagers for many years, and I know the strange, dumb, and embarrassing things they sometimes do, especially when it comes to sexuality: from the one fighting compulsive masturbation, to the one who took naked selfies and accidentally emailed them to someone, to the one who was caught by their parents in the midst of a sexual act, the list goes on and on. I always tell people the same thing: if there is anyone you should NOT be embarrassed to share your worst sins with it is a priest in confession. Remember that he has the power to offer you the forgiveness of Christ.
Sometimes I discover that people have quite the reverse attitude toward what they think they should appear to be in the eyes of their pastor and what they in fact should do. Perhaps because they respect their priest so much they want Father to think they are holy, and if Father should discover they have any faults or sins they would be mortified and it would ruin his opinion of them. But that would be like so wanting the doctor to believe you’re healthy that you don’t tell him when you are sick! If anyone needs to know your illness it is the doctor. Similarly, if anyone needs to know your weakness and sins it is your priest. My job is not to pretend you are perfect, but to see you as you are, to love you as you are, and to try to help you become perfect.
But sometimes people worry that, if they tell Father their sins and he remembers them, every time he sees them he will be recalling their sins and he’ll be ashamed of them. I can’t speak for every priest, but I can tell you what I feel. What I said above about the pastor needing to know his sheep and tend to them as they are applies here. If I pretended that my parishioners were a gathering of perfect people I’d be sorely deluded. My job is not to judge people nor is it to feel ashamed of them, as if their sin was somehow a reflection upon myself. The more in fact that I know about a person, the better position I am in to be able to respond properly to their needs. If I do in fact remember something someone told me in confession (which, by the way, I can’t even repeat to them), it only serves to help me know them better and respond in a more understanding manner to their needs. I find that the people who receive the most peace of mind are those who tell the full truth about themselves to their priest, trusting that he is there to help them and that he wants to help ease their burden. I will not feel like a failure if you confess your sins to me, nor will I lose respect for you because I know of all the horrible and sordid things you have done; on the contrary, I will feel like a failure if you were afraid to come to me! When I deal with a person and hear his confession on a regular basis, I end up developing a more complete understanding of him and end up loving him all the more. Everyone needs a place where they can divulge their deepest sins and failings. Who better to bring them to than your priest?
A parish is not a gathering of saints but of sinners trying to become saints. While we are all at different stages in our journey to holiness – to being the best version of ourselves that we can be – we will never be perfected until we enter into Heaven.
So don’t be afraid of your pastor or any priest with whom you have a good relationship knowing your faults and weaknesses. Don’t be embarrassed. The more he knows of you the more he can help you, and the more you know he knows of you, the more easily you will be able to share other problems with him, and the better he can help you grow in holiness and peace of mind.
I’ve come across theories in the past that suggested that Shakespeare was Catholic and that there is evidence of it in his works. This recent article gives strong support to the theory.
The Catholicism of William Shakespeare
Ample evidence supports the claim that the Bard of Avon was a lifelong Catholic
b y Jo s e p h Pe a r c e
This year, we have been commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of one of the world’s greatest writers, William Shakespeare (1564-1616). For those who have long admired his brilliance and Christian imagination, the evidence that he was a believing Catholic in a time of persecution is very exciting. Broadly speaking, the evidence for Shakespeare’s Catholicism is biographical, historical and textual. The biographical and historical evidence is found in the documented facts of his life and of the turbulent times in which he lived, and his plays and poems offer further, textual evidence of his Catholic convictions.
PASSING ON THE FAITH
Born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, Shakespeare lived at a time when the practice of Catholicism was illegal. In 1534, King Henry VIII had declared that he and his successors would lead a state- controlled church and that only this state-imposed religion would be tolerated. Priests were tortured and put to death, as were those who tried to hide them from the tyrannical government. Recusants — those who refused to attend the services of the state religion — were fined heavily. Shakespeare’s mother’s family, the Ardens, were among the most famous recusants in the whole of England. Shakespeare’s father, John, was fined for his recusancy in 1592 and had retired from his career in politics rather than swear allegiance to the state religion. Several scholars, most notably John Henry de Groot, have detailed the evidence for John Shakespeare’s Catholicism, including the fact that he signed a “testament” to his Catholic faith, which had been written by St. Charles Borromeo and was probably smuggled into England by Jesuit missionaries. As for Shakespeare himself, evidence suggests that he remained a Catholic throughout his life.
During Shakespeare’s youth, the religion of the nation was far from a settled question. In 1568, when he was only 4 years old, Mary, Queen of Scots, fled to England, raising hopes of an eventual Catholic succession. These hopes were then dashed by Mary’s imprisonment on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I. The Northern Rebellion, led by the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Northumberland in support of Mary, was crushed ruthlessly the following year. More than 800 rebels — mainly Catholics — were executed. Several scholars have suggested that the Northern Rebellion inspired Shakespeare’s two-part Henry IV.
There has been much scholarly debate about what Shakespeare was doing as a young man between 1578 and 1582, the so-called “lost years” prior to his marriage to Anne Hath- away. According to John Aubrey, one of the earliest sources available, Shakespeare “had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the country.” Scholars including E.A.J. Honigmann, J. Dover Wilson and Stephen Greenblatt have found evidence that Shakespeare might have spent time at Hoghton Tower, a recusant household in Lancashire. In that case, he would likely have met the Jesuit martyr St. Edmund Campion shortly before Campion’s arrest in June 1581 and subsequent execution. Having returned to Stratford, where he married and had three children with his wife, Anne, it seems that Shakespeare was forced to leave his hometown. Scholars such as Heinrich Mutschmann and Karl Wentersdorf (Shakespeare and Catholicism, 1952) have demonstrated that a vendetta was directed against him by Sir Thomas Lucy, the local lord of the manor. As Queen Elizabeth’s chief Protestant agent in the area, Lucy led searches of local Catholic houses, including very probably Shakespeare’s own home. In May 1606, Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna, appeared on a list of recusants brought before Stratford’s church court. This fact, discovered in 1964, signifies that Catholicism had been passed from one generation of the family to the next, further suggesting that Shakespeare himself had remained a Catholic throughout his life.
MARTYRS AND ‘GOD’S SPIES’
After his arrival in London, Shakespeare enjoyed the patronage of the Earl of Southampton, a known Catholic who seems to have had Jesuit martyr St. Robert Southwell as his confessor. Shakespeare likely knew the Jesuit priest prior to the latter’s arrest in 1592, the year in which Shakespeare’s father was fined for being a recusant. In fact, there are many allusions to Southwell in Shakespeare’s plays. A thorough discussion of the plentiful textual evidence for Shakespeare’s Catholicism in his plays and poems is not possible in this brief survey. Here are just a couple examples. Southwell wrote a poem titled Decease Release about the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, whom many Catholics believed to be a martyr for the faith. In the poem, written from the queen’s viewpoint, Southwell casts her as “pounded spice,” the fragrance of which ascends to heaven: “God’s spice I was and pounding was my due.” Although the poem was clearly Southwell’s tribute to the executed queen, its first-person voice gave it added potency following Southwell’s own martyrdom in 1595, toward the beginning of Shakespeare’s career. Like the queen of whom he wrote, Southwell was also “pounded spice” or “God’s spice,” whose essence is more pleasing and valued for being crushed. In King Lear (1605), the title character’s use of the phrase “God’s spies” is a clear punning reference to “God’s spice.” It is also a veiled reference to Jesuits, such as Southwell, who though “traitors” in the eyes of the Elizabethan and Jacobean state were “God’s spies.” They, too, became “God’s spice,” ground to death that they might receive their martyr’s reward in heaven. “Upon such sacrifices,” Lear tells Cordelia, “the gods themselves throw incense.”
Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice were written in the same year in which Southwell was martyred, and both plays contain symbolically charged references to the Jesuit’s life and work. In the latter play, for instance, several scholars have suggested that Antonio is a thinly-veiled personification of a Jesuit. This adds a crucial allegorical dimension to the courtroom scene in which Shakespeare effectively recreates Southwell’s trial. From the vantage point of Catholicism, the very “justice” emanded by Shylock becomes uncannily close to the “justice” meted out by Elizabeth’s court to Southwell. Shylock demands that, according to the law, he has a right to cut a pound of flesh nearest to the heart of Antonio. In Southwell’s case, the law demanded that Jesuit “traitors” should be hanged, drawn and quartered. The prosecutors not only demanded a pound of their victim’s flesh, nearest his heart, but they actually obtained it, physically removing the heart and casting it into the fire. As Southwell’s ghostly presence can be observed through- out The Merchant of Venice, one can read Portia’s beautiful “quality of mercy” speech as a plea to Queen Elizabeth to show the Jesuits mercy.
THE ‘NOTORIOUS’ GATEHOUSE
The most convincing biographical evidence for Shakespeare’s Catholicism is one of his final acts in London before retiring home to Stratford: his purchase of the Blackfriars Gatehouse in 1613. The history of this property reveals that it was, as Mutschmann and Wentersdorf described it, “a notorious center of Catholic activities.” As its name indicates, the Dominican Order owned it until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. It was inherited by Mary Blackwell, a relative of St. Edmund Campion. Other tenants included Mary Bannister, the sister of St. Robert Southwell, and Katherine Carus, the widow of a defiantly recusant judge. According to a contemporary report sent to Lord Burghley, Carus died there “in all her pride and popery.” In 1585, around the time that Shakespeare first arrived in London, Mary Blackwell was accused of recusancy. The following year, a government informer reported his suspicions that the house had become a center for secret Catholic activity: “It has sundry backdoors and bye-ways, and many secret vaults and corners. It has been in time past suspected, and searched for papists, but no good done for want of knowledge of the backdoors and bye-ways of the dark corners.” In 1598, acting on another report that the gatehouse was a hive of recusant activity, the authorities raided the house. Jesuit Father Oswald Tesimond (alias Greenway) stated in his autobiography that he paid a surreptitious visit to the gatehouse on the day after the raid, being informed that priests had remained undiscovered in the house during the search. In 1605, during the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the House of Lords, Jesuit Father John Gerard asked if he could use the gatehouse as a “safe-house” for the plotters to meet in secret. After the plan was discovered, Father Gerard, now the most wanted man in England, appeared in desperation at the gatehouse, disguised with a false beard and hair and stating that he did not know where else to hide. Unlike many of his Jesuit confrères, Father Gerard escaped his pursuers and slipped out of the country in disguise. Shakespeare leased the Blackfriars Gatehouse to John Robinson, son of a Catholic gentleman of the same name. It was reported in 1599 that John Robinson senior sheltered a priest, Father Richard Dudley. By 1613, the other Robinson son, Edward, entered the English College at Rome to become a priest. It is clear that Shakespeare knew that he was leasing the gatehouse to a recusant Catholic. As Ian Wilson surmised in Shakespeare: The Evidence, Robinson was “not so much Shakespeare’s tenant in the gatehouse, as his appointed guardian of one of London’s best places of refuge for Catholic priests.” Furthermore, John Robinson was not merely a tenant but also a valued friend. He visited Shakespeare in Stratford during the poet’s retirement and was seemingly the only one of the Bard’s London friends present during his final illness, signing his will as a witness. Shakespeare died on St. George’s Day, April 23, 1616, leaving the bulk of his wealth to his daughter Susanna. Other beneficiaries included several friends who, like Susanna, were known to be recusant Catholics. These legacies support the Anglican clergyman Richard Davies’ lament, in the late 1600s, that Shakespeare “dyed a papist.” It is equally clear that he lived as a papist, providing Catholics even greater reason to commemorate his life and work.
JOSEPH PEARCE is director of the Center for Faith & Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn., and a member of Msgr. Andrew K. Gwynn Council 1668 in Greenville, S.C. His books include The Quest for Shakespeare (2008), Through Shakespeare’s Eyes (2010) and Shakespeare on Love (2013).
There is almost certainly no issue that evokes more anger than the topic of abortion. People on both sides of the issue frequently resort to name-calling and valueless retorts that are meant more to put the other person down rather than to reach any common understanding. When we resort to this path, nothing constructive happens. Instead, we need to look for some common ground and discuss matters calmly and respectfully. I had an example of that very recently. I was in a discussion on Facebook with a woman who was obviously very much pro-abortion and she started out by using many of the well-rehearsed soundbites that are meant only to disparage and not to lead to constructive argumentation. After some back and forth where I refused to follow suit and kept responding to her attacks with calm argumentation, we did end up reaching some common ground. She mentioned how men who take the time to father a child have to also be there for the child once the baby is born. Many times men get a woman pregnant and then run to the hills. I absolutely agree with her on that! Certainly, if you’re going to father a child you better be there to take care of the child as well. I told her I understand that a woman whose baby’s father will not be there for her is in a difficult situation, but when the solution we come up with is to kill the baby, we have to say “Stop! That is not an acceptable solution! find another!” Sadly, the woman chose to end the discussion there, but we were at least on amicable terms by the end. If the conversation had been able to continue I would have wanted to say the following to her: it is certainly true that men have to take responsibility for their actions, but so do women. In the overwhelming majority of abortion situations we are not talking about a woman who was abused or raped or became pregnant after being in involved in sexual activity that was against her will. Most of the time the women were willing participants in the sexual act and thus they must take equal responsibility for what happened. If you’re going to engage in the act that leads to the conception of the new life then you better be willing and ready to accept the ramifications of that decision, which is that you may become pregnant, and if you do become pregnant and did not want to be, then either you raise the baby your choice brought into existence or you give it to someone who will raise it, but the baby should not be asked to pay the ultimate price by giving up its life so that the mother can have an easy solution to her misdeed. I don’t know if she would have agreed with me, but I know that she would at least have been open to hearing me out.
In the above case the woman was pro-abortion for ideological reasons. Other times it is more personal. Let me share with you a conversation I had many years ago with a young woman while I was in college. I had written a letter to the school newspaper against abortion and that evening in my room I received a phone call from a very irate collegiate who was screaming into the phone with venomous comments about all the horrible things I allegedly thought of women simply because I was against abortion. Within a minute or two a friend of hers got on the phone and was a little more levelheaded. She apologized for her friend’s behavior and at least attempted to discuss the issue calmly and rationally. She said to me, “Let’s imagine you go to a party in school and you are drinking and you do some drugs, you end up having sex with a boy and you get pregnant. Do you expect the girl to have that baby?” I said “Absolutely!” She asked, “Why? She didn’t realize what she was doing.” I replied by saying, “There was an awful lot of irresponsible behavior going on there. If you go to a party and you drink and do drugs and you can’t control yourself, you’re responsible for what happens to you in those situations, and asking a child to give up its life just because you were careless one night is totally unacceptable.” She then asked me if I had a girlfriend. “Yes” I responded. “Well suppose you got your girlfriend pregnant, wouldn’t you want her to have an abortion?” I said to her “Well that would never happen because my girlfriend and I are not sexually active. We both believe that the sexual act is the seal of the covenant of marriage and we choose to abstain from sex until we are married.” She then responded “Well then suppose you are married and you wife got pregnant and you didn’t want to have a baby?” I answered “I would never get married if I did not think I could welcome a child, because one of the reasons for marriage is to raise children and have a family. And if I was ever worried about taking care of another baby, I would do whatever it takes to provide for my child, and if I reached the conclusion that I could never be able to provide for it properly, I would give it up for adoption, but I would never kill it!” She then said “Wow! If everyone believed what you believe there would be no need for abortion!”
I had awakened in her the understanding of taking responsibility for your actions, but she still was not convinced that abortion was wrong. We then continued the conversation with other things and she tried to use the arguments that the fetus is not a human life yet, so therefore abortion is okay. I responded to her “Well, we could argue back and forth as to when life begins and neither one would probably be able to prove the point. But even if I were to grant your point or it could be proven definitively that the fetus is not yet a human life, do you agree that, left to run the course that is already in action, the fetus eventually will become one?” “Certainly!” She responded. I said, “So whether the child is already alive or is in the process of becoming alive, haven’t you taken the child’s life either way?” I then said to her, “Imagine this example: somebody is running in a track meet and they won. They are awarded the medal. But you are not happy that she won the medal and so you come up with a fake reason to have the person disqualified that the judges believe, and she has lost her prize. In another situation the person is running to the finish line and you trip them before they get there so that someone else crosses the finish line first and they don’t win. Either way you have made them lose their prize. Does it really matter much whether the person had already won the prize and you took it away or if you stop the person before they got to the finish line? Either way they’ve lost.” The woman responded “But that person can always get up and run in another race.” I answered “Yes, but the child cannot! That was the only chance the child had at life and you took it away from her.” Afterward she confided in me “Wow I see I see your point.” She then said “Well the reason I gave you that example about somebody doing drugs and drinking is because that’s what happened to me. I did that and got pregnant and I had an abortion.” Gulp! If I’d have known beforehand that she was speaking from her own experience I might have tried to soften my point. Anyway, I found out she was Catholic and told her to speak to our college chaplain who was very compassionate and understanding. I told her he could help give her some peace with her decision. She thanked me and said she was going to. I never spoke with her again but we ended the conversation on very friendly terms and when we avoided the name-calling and the sound byte catchphrases that her friend had used we were actually able to make progress. Perhaps I even changed her mind about abortion, and even if I inadvertently exposed her guilt, she could find healing, which she couldn’t do by yelling worn-out slogans.
No matter what the issue may be, I always urge people to avoid using expressions that are meant only to ridicule and silence discussion and instead engage in constructive dialogue that will help the parties understand each other. We may not come to an agreement and we may not change someone else’s mind, but we will always have a greater understanding of what the person’s concerns are and perhaps be able to address them in a way that may leave room for future progress. Respectful constructive dialogue always leads to a better understanding and increased respect, and maybe will change the other person’s mind . Name-calling and flinging mud never does.
There has been so much tension these past few weeks that we can use a humor break. I hope you enjoy it! Click here for an enjoyable 3-minute video