Jan 31, 2010


I'm currently preparing an article for the new progressive blog, Open Tabernacle, entitled A Pilgrim in Rome: Living with Joy on the Margins, which I hope to finish by next weekend. The article will discuss my reflections on a recent trip to Rome and the Vatican, as well as visits to some other noteworthy Catholic pilgrimage sites in Europe. Part of these reflections include my reaction to the ironic contrast between the final resting place of Pope John Paul I, one of the  gentlest, most self-effacing and saintliest  popes in centuries and his successor, John Paul II, who expended great energy inculcating and nurturing the cult of personality surrounding his own person, turning himself into a mega rock star and a locus of massive projection on the part of millions.

Contrast the final resting places of these two successive pontiffs:

JPII: The photo does not take in the velvet cord that marks off an area for prayer outside the 'sanctuary' nor the permanent guard stationed here to maintain order.

JPI: Set to the side of the walkway and ignored by all the tourists and note the absence of dates for his 'reign.' A blip on the radar screen, yet the Pope who should have been....and the true example of collaborative, discerning, pastoral leadership. The genuine saint is ignored, the rock star with large elements of  unpurified ego (if my uncharitable judgmentalism can be forgiven) receives the adulation of the masses. If this were all there was to the story, then Marx would be vindicated and this would be a prime example of the delusional power of the "opiate of the masses." But the story has yet to be concluded and the Spirit is at work in those marginal, desert places of the world that give rise to prophets with no recognizable official authority and no endorsement from the great religious institutions - such as the wandering Hebrew prophet from a hill town in Palestine who emerged out of no where and who startled the religious authorities by his shocking iconoclasm. "By what authority do you do these things?"

Jan 29, 2010

Wisdom and Tolerance versus Self Flaggelation!

Since I've been remiss in posting on this blog for several weeks, I wanted to reference two great articles at other sites. One is  by Redemptorist Bishop Kevin Dowling, the bishop of Rustenburg, South Africa - A very spiritual, wise response to the crisis of authoritarian control in the Church today, which you can read here

"Tensions and differences should be expected among thinking Catholics, therefore, but they should be managed by people who follow, not the route of power and control, but the way of discernment in the Spirit. Then all those concerned will consciously allow God to be God, and be open to recognizing the "fruits" and that "by their fruits you will know them". This calls for a respectful encounter between religious and hierarchy, with a conscious commitment to listening to what is deeper than the words, to what God may be saying through the other.

If only such leaders were in the ascendancy in Rome, but alas, such a wise, tolerant, open-hearted attitude does not thrive in the killer atmosphere of the Vatican today. 

The second article is a brilliant analysis by William Lindsey of the recent news of self-flagellation on the part of John Paul II, which you can read at the new progressive blog, Open Tabernacle.  I for one, would have to second William's justified suspicion that John Paul's penchant for severe mortifications is somehow psychologically connected to his deeply ingrained taste for authoritarian control. Just remember the Jansenists. We need to be reminded that the only flagellation the Master is known to have experienced resulted from his identification with the outcast and the marginalized and it was not self-imposed. 

 "There is, I suspect, in the psyches of some people who imagine that they have achieved a kind of self-mastery through extreme asceticism a link between the desire for self-mastery and the desire to master and control others. I have known at least one ascetic, a Benedictine monk who is now abbot of his community, whose spirituality revolves strongly around self-mastering practices of asceticism—and who is, in my view and that of many others who have been on the receiving end of this monk’s punitive behavior, more interested in dominating rather than loving others."

The first great painting below is by the Renaissance master, Tintoretto, and is remarkable for its respectful restraint. The second, however, is by a nineteenth century French painter, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, and demonstrates (in my opinion) a discomforting erotic fascination with the torturing of sweet, innocent flesh and the morbid fascination with suffering and pain of traditional Catholic piety.The third painting comes from a very traditionalist blog, Overheard in the Sacristy, Dedicated to the Restoration of a Catholic Identity, a very interesting site to peruse. The last image comes from the same traditional site and my wicked wit sees a direct connection between the piety of flagellation and the over-exaltation of the priestly state which makes such images so disturbing to us today. I want to caption the photo, "What's Wrong with This Picture?"

Jan 24, 2010



Excellent video contrasting images and news reportage of Haiti and Gaza. A very fine piece of demythologizing.

Jan 23, 2010

The Vision of St. Luitgarda

The most famous and artistically the most important statue on the St. Charles Bridge in Prague, belonging to the top art works of Baroque sculpture, represents the Vision of St. Luitgarda, Cistercian nun from the Convent of St. Trond, who, when praying, had a vision of Christ coming loose from the cross and letting her kiss his wounds. (This statue figures prominently in a novel I'm currently writing.)


Haven't been posting much lately because I'm working intensely on completing a novel set in Prague, both a political thriller and a love story between two young gay teens, one a Romany boy (of privileged circumstances) and a Vietnamese boy. The two boys have a close friend, an Arabian boy named Fouad, who disappears in Prague under mysterious circumstances It is their suspicion that Fouad has been "disappeared" (passive voice intentional) because of his connections with certain Muslim groups associated with the Cerny Most Mosque in Prague. The two gay teens go in search of their friend in Slovakia and Poland and make a startling discovery, but this costs the life of the Romany boy, Alexy, and leads to the abduction (rendition) of the Vietnamese boy as well. A former Jesuit, now turned police inspector (based on a real individual) and a Catholic nun from the Little Sisters of Jesus (who work with the Romany) together with an elderly couple who discover the Romany boy's body in a park, join together to solve the case and rescue the Vietnamese boy from certain torture and death. The book, which has both Christian and Buddhist subtexts, is partly directed towards a young gay teen  readership (The Romany boy is modeled on one of my former students, the Vietnamese boy is modeled on another youth who disappeared in Prague some years ago.).

 Photo of lead actor from Czech film, Marion, about the harsh conditions meted out to Romany children in reform schools in CZ. Much younger than my own character.

(This poignant Poem was written by Simon Deacon, who is currently serving a sentence at Her Majesty's Prison, Leicester....he would like it dedicated to Charlene. )

A Gypsy Boy
A Gypsy boy came home one day,
To find his true love had gone away,
When he asked the reason why...
This is what she did reply...
"Because you chose a life of crime...
Gypsy boy ..do your time..
If you had chosen an honest life
I would have gladly been your wife. "
In Jail they found him dead,
and in his cell ..a note that read...
"Dig my grave and dig it deep,
Place red roses at my feet
Upon my chest a turtle Dove..
to show the world I died for love."
So all you Gypsy girls bear in mind,
A good Gypsy boy may be hard to find,
So, when you find one
Love him true,
Because this Gypsy boy
Would die for you.

Jan 18, 2010


I'm currently doing research for a crime novel I'm writing set in Prague and Eastern Europe, a political thriller with religious overtones revolving around a gay teen love story. In the course of my research, I came across the remarkable story of this saintly marginalized Christian woman, Magdeleine Hutin, the founder (much to her surprise) of the order of the Little Sisters of Jesus, who are inspired by the witness of the great desert hermit, Blessed Charles de Foucauld. The Little Sisters for many years ministered to traveling Gypsy-Romany circuses and one of their sisters is currently a tight rope walker in Italy and is apparently quite famous. I'm surprised the Vatican has not fulminated against this woman for engaging in work not suitable to a religious. Apparently not.

From their website:

We are an international community founded in Algeria in 1939 by Magdeleine Hutin.  She was born in 1898 in a small village on the French-German border, the youngest of six children.  By 1925 she was the sole support of her mother, having lost the rest of her immediate family to war or illness.

Growing up along a border which was constantly in question and having been displaced by war, the pain of divisions left a deep imprint upon her spirituality.  Magdeleine wanted her life to somehow reach across that which separates people from one another, to be a sign of love to those who were rejected by others.
While she desired to be a religious, due to poor health none of the orders she knew of would accept her.

Magdeleine waited 20 years for some kind of sign that she should go to North Africa to follow in the footsteps of Charles de Foucauld.

Her dreams were considered foolishness.  The hoped for sign finally came in the form of a potentially crippling bout of rheumatism when her doctor advised her to go somewhere where it never rained…

She immediately left for Algeria (1936) with her mother and one companion, Anne, who eventually left.  After two years of intense work, she asked to spend time in the novitiate of the Sisters of Africa (the White Sisters as they were known) where, at the urging of the Bishop, she wrote her Constitutions and made her first vows on Sept. 29, 1939.

In order to be able to visit the nomadic people who lived in tents outside of the villages, they asked their first friends in Algeria to teach them how to ride.  

As World War II was breaking out, Sr. Magdeleine was forced to return to France.  She used that time to share her dream with anyone who would listen to her.  Soon others began joining her.  It began as a small group geared only to presence among the nomads of the Sahara Desert and in the midst of Islam. Everything radically shifted in 1947 when she realized that this same form of contemplative presence could be lived anywhere. With the War over, more and more women began joining her.  She began traveling around the world defying the conventional wisdom that her dream was unrealistic.  Her "little sisters" would go wherever there was a handful of people or a group that was inaccessible in some way to other forms of Church presence.

 Serving tea to a Tuareg friend under the tent

Little sister Magdeleine was also clear that, although truly a contemplative vocation, she did not want to be cloistered in any way.  She had to struggle with those who did not find the life-style of ordinary poor people to be appropriate for religious life.  While many questioned the audacity and novelty of her vision she always acted with full knowledge of the Church.

Early nomad community in Algeria with “neighbors.”  

The “top” on their tent designated their belonging to the particular clan that “adopted” them.  

By the early 1950’s she began traveling extensively behind the "Iron Curtain" throughout the Cold War years and until a few months before her death.  She founded clandestine communities that have only recently been able to exist openly

Travelling in Prague in a modified van
which served as camper.

True to our nomadic roots litle sister Magdeleine also founded communities among migrant farm workers, gypsies, traveling circuses and carnival workers.

In Touggourt, Algeria with friends

Early community among gypsies.  

For 25 years we traveled with circus workers in the USA. Here they all join in praying a blessing over the tent at the beginning of season.  While we are not actually on the road right now, we are still in touch with these friends of many years and miles. 

Little Sister Magdeleine died in 1989 at the age of 91 after celebrating the 50th anniversary of the foundation and receiving the final approval of the Constitutions of the congregation that she never started out to found.  She is buried in Rome.   

"God took me by the hand and, blindly, I followed…
in what seemed the most total darkness, and in the most disconcerting absence of human means, but with unlimited trust in Jesus, Master of the Impossible."

l sr Magdeleine

Jan 16, 2010


Read this powerful article,

Before and After the Quake

The Incapacitation of Haiti


on Counterpunch, from which I quote:

"The media coverage of the earthquake is marked by an almost complete divorce of the disaster from the social and political history of Haiti," Canadian Haiti Solidarity Activist Yves Engler said in an interview. "They repeatedly state that the government was completely unprepared to deal with the crisis. This is true. But they left out why."

Why were 60 percent of the buildings in Port-au-Prince shoddily constructed and unsafe in normal circumstances, according to the city's mayor? Why are there no building regulations in a city that sits on a fault line? Why has Port-au-Prince swelled from a small town of 50,000 in the 1950s to a population of 2 million desperately poor people today? Why was the state completely overwhelmed by the disaster?

To understand these facts, we have to look at a second fault line--U.S. imperial policy toward Haiti. The U.S. government, the UN, and other powers have aided the Haitian elite in subjecting the country to neoliberal economic plans that have impoverished the masses, deforested the land, wrecked the infrastructure and incapacitated the government.

The fault line of U.S. imperialism interacted with the geological one to turn the natural disaster into a social catastrophe.

Jan 14, 2010

Jan 12, 2010

The Peace of Assisi

I've just returned from a peaceful, prayerful two days in Assisi, after taking my Presbyterian cousins around Catholic sites in Paris and Rome. I found the whole experience deeply moving and these last three days gave me time to reflect on my own sense of vocation as a gay catholic spiritual writer as well as on the future of catholic Christianity and the possibilities for its healing and spiritual growth. I hope to write up these reflections over the weekend and will most likely first post them on the collaborative, progressive, catholic blog, Open Tabernacle. Just to offer one insight, as I was strolling down the main thoroughfare leading to St. Peter's Square, I was struck by how much Roman Catholicism is a mass, popular folk religion with its key iconic figures, like Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa (whom I much admire for her genuine holiness, despite some serious blindspots), serving the role of pop stars in the secular media and thereby becoming the objects of massive and irrational projection. To this list has now been added the dubious figure of "Saint" Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, possibly the least likely candidate for canonization in the whole long history of the church. Holy cards and books bearing his visage and name are everywhere to be seen around St. Peter's and the overall effect upon one such as myself is chilling. Yet this cheapening and dishonoring of the canonization process is also a hopeful sign of the end of one particular cultural way of being Catholic, whose time of diminishment has come, making way for a new form of christian spiritual authenticity. However, travel to Assisi some two hours away by train and one is immediately transported into another rarefied atmosphere of profound peace and presence, where the very best of the Catholic spirit continues to thrive and inspire - far from the cold corridors of the Vatican and the burnished, marble mausoleum that is St. Peters.

Jan 3, 2010


Well, I'm off to Rome with my cousins, Anne and Martha, (and Anne's gay son, Glen). We have an audience scheduled with Pope Benedict :) so my Presbyterian cousins can tell poor Benedict what they think about the Church's position on gay people, "Silly, really silly." Back in a week.

Response to Anyonomous

 An anonymous comment left on my previous posting asked me if I could find one Doctor of the Church or one Ecumenical Council which has not affirmed that homosexual relations are intrinsically sinful. The individual then went on to say that he had led an openly homosexual lifestyle for thirty years before 'returning to the Church. William Lindsey's response to this 'anonymous comment' can be found in the comments section of the posting below. Here is my very rushed response (I'm entertaining relatives at the moment, and taking my very Presbyterian cousins, Martha (74) and Anne (76) and Anne's gay son, Glen  (49), on a pilgrimage of leading Christian holy sites, much to their amusement.).

I found the 'anonymous' comment heartbreaking and sad, if true, that an openly gay man could be so seduced by false doctrine as to turn his back on his own God given and God-loving nature. How utterly sad and tragic, no wonder the individual feels such a need to project this darkness onto others. I would suggest that the real question to be asked is this. Can we find one significant teacher,  Doctor of the church,  bishop,  Pope who did not teach for hundreds of years that Jewish people were Christ killers and their refusal to accept Christ as their savior 'anything other than sinful'? This judgment then necessitated hording the Jewish people under Papal control into ghettos and requiring them to wear the yellow star, which was meant as a warning to Christians of the danger of contamination with these most sinful of God's creatures. Jews, gypsies, homosexuals - how frequently they have been lumped together throughout history and declared inherently disordered and sinful for one reason or another. How fallible and cruel the judgment of Church and society.

Or take the judgment that women were 'misbegotten males' and that the adornment of women is "not devoid of mortal sin. For whatever is contrary to a precept of the Divine law is a mortal sin. Now the adornment of women is contrary to a precept of the Divine law; for it is written (1 Pt. 3:3): "Whose," namely women's, "adorning, let it not be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel." Wherefore a gloss of Cyprian says: "Those who are clothed in silk and purple cannot sincerely put on Christ: those who are bedecked with gold and pearls and trinkets have forfeited the adornments of mind and body." Now this is not done without a mortal sin. Therefore the adornment of women cannot be devoid of mortal sin." Saint and Doctor of the Church, Thomas Aquinas, fulminating on the sinfulness of female adornment.
One would be hard pressed to find a single theologian or Bishop dissenting from Thomas Aquinas's view (during his lifetime) that female adornment was intrinsically mortally sinful.
I've simply chosen the most serious and the most trivial of churchly errors where 'sin' is concerned, though the list goes on and on and on. We are now at a point in history when the Church's scandalous error regarding the ethics of same sex loving relationships has become only too glaringly obvious. Hopefully, through the heroic efforts of gay theologians like John McNeill and James Allison, together with so many spiritual gay writers, no Catholic gay person may ever say again, "I lived as an open homosexual for over thirty years before coming back to the Church." Heartbreaking, the destructive power of such ignorance and bigotry.

I would like to end this very rushed reply with the moving words of Theologian Norman Pittenger spoken some forty years ago (quoted in John McNeill's The Church and the Homosexual)

"The primary spiritual problem that faces the Christian homosexual is his or her need, in Tillich's words, 'to accept divine acceptance': I should add that the homosexual who decided for a long relationship, as he may hope a life-long one, with another of his (sic) own sex, is almost certainly doing the very best thing that is open to him. Nor do I have the slightest doubt that God can and does bless the relationship. The basic question here for the homosexual is whether he will let the human love which to him is so wonderful find its grounding in the divine Love, in God himself. That it is so grounded I take to be a matter of fact, so far as Christian faith is concerned...

But to let it be grounded, to allow it to be consciously realized and felt, requires human surrender. So I should ask the homosexual: "Will you let God bless you? Will you let him work in your life and in your friend's life and in the life you share together?"

God made men (sic) to become true lovers; he wants them to be the best they can possibly be. To acknowledge this and try to base one existence and one's relationships on it, in full responsibility, gives that existence and that relationship a meaning and a dignity which otherwise they cannot have." 
 (The Church and the Homosexual, pg. 183).

As a concluding response, John McNeill: In my experience as a psychotherapist, I have found that the vast majority of (gay) people living out a life of abstinence do so for pathological reasons. Many have interiorized the homophobia of the surrounding culture and the Church and as a consequence hate and fear their sexual feelings. Frequently, these people are the most radical persecutors of other gays and lesbians. (The Church and the Homosexual, pg. 204).

Jan 1, 2010


Just returned from Paris for the New Year and visits to these sacred places with my very Protestant cousins (and second cousins) on my father's side. Burned candles in each Tabernacle for friends and relatives - as well as for the launching of the very special common blog, The Open Tabernacle, a common venture among six progressive spiritual bloggers (and let us hope more) that is a sign of promise and hope for this new year. I really feel this new blogsite is a gift of the Holy Spirit and a blessing on our vocation as catholic, progressive writers,  but it would not have been made possible without the strenuous efforts of Terry Weldon, the Virgin Mother of this project (no disrespect intended). Without Terry's openhearted, cooperative Yes! to this idea, it would not have borne fruit and opened itself to the world on the first day of this promising new year. Please check it out. I prayed for the success of this new venture in these three very special open tabernacles in France, each one drawing thousands of tourist visitors each year of no particular spiritual or religious orientation. Though Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame and Chartres are all rooted in the Catholic tradition, they represent something so universal in the human spirit that people of all spiritual persuasions or none are deeply moved when entering their doors. They are, to my mind, outstanding examples of 'open tabernacles,' signs of the Spirit in a secular age, and this is especially so of the two great Marian shrines. The throngs of tourists mingling with the devout testify to a deep spiritual hunger among their visitors, who encounter a Presence within these sacred spaces that is so much larger than the Catholic tradition which preserves them. Food for thought. The Catholic tradition does not 'own' these places, it has simply been given the responsibility of preserving them for the sake of the whole human community. It is the mission of this new blogsite, The Open Tabernacle, to send a similar message of openness to interested spiritual seekers.  The Catholic tradition is not 'owned' by its present self-appointed leadership. The mystery of this tradition is so much larger, and so much more open,  than it is currently being represented by its official leaders. However, as in times past, the Spirit is at work crumbling old forms and rigid structures, and freeing the liberating power of this tradition, in the image of its all inclusive Crucified and Risen Master.

Basilica of Sacre Coeur