May 29, 2010

Malawi Gay Couple Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison Pardoned

(Thanks to The Wild Reed for this wonderful news, which gives off a ray of hope for justice for gays in Africa.)
Malawi Gay Couple Sentenced
to 14 Years in Prison Pardoned

By Raphael Tenthani

Associated Press
May 29, 2010

Malawi's president on Saturday pardoned and ordered the release of a gay couple sentenced to 14 years in prison, but said that homosexuality remains illegal in this conservative southern African nation.

Activists were searching for a safe house for the couple, fearing they could be attacked upon release.

Malawi has faced international condemnation for the conviction and harsh sentencing of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza. President Bingu wa Mutharika (right) announced the pardon, saying it was on "humanitarian grounds only," during a press conference with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Lilongwe, the capital.

Earlier in the week, the top U.N. AIDS official and the head of an international donor organization met Mutharika in Malawi and expressed concern that criminalizing homosexuality would keep a vulnerable group from seeking HIV/AIDS counseling and treatment.

Joseph Amon of Human Rights Watch said the president was no doubt responding to the international outcry over the case.

"I hope that other leaders of African countries with anti-gay laws see that this is just not acceptable in the international community," Amon told The Associated Press by telephone from New York.

Malawi is among 37 African countries with anti-gay laws.

In Senegal police have rounded up men suspected of being homosexual and beaten them, and a mob last year pulled the corpse of a gay man from his grave, spat on it and dumped it at the home of his elderly parents.

In Zimbabwe this month, two employees of a gay organization spent six days in jail on allegations of possessing indecent material and displaying a placard seen as insulting to President Robert Mugabe, an outspoken critic of homosexuality.

In Uganda, a proposed law would impose the death penalty for some gays.

Even in South Africa, the only country that recognizes gay rights, lesbians have been gang-raped.

In Malawi, a judge convicted and sentenced Chimbalanga and Monjeza earlier this month on charges of unnatural acts and gross indecency, both colonial-era laws. They were arrested in December, a day after they celebrated their engagement.

Crowds of Malawians had heckled the two during court hearings, with some saying after they were sentenced to 14 years at hard labor — the harshest possible sentence — that they should be imprisoned longer.

Undule Mwakasungure, a gay rights activist in Malawi, told The AP Saturday he was concerned about the couple's safety, and working with other activists to find a safe house for them and possible arrange for them to leave the country at least temporarily.

"There is homophobic sentiment. I think they might be harmed," Mwakasungure said.

Edi Phiri, who fled Malawi for Britain five years ago after being beaten because he was gay, said the two might need to seek asylum outside of Malawi.

"They will be out of prison, but what will happen next?" Phiri said. "The community will see them as outcasts. I don't think they will be safe in Malawi."

A cousin of Chimbalanga, Maxwell Manda, told The AP earlier in the week that Chimbalanga wanted to leave Malawi upon his release.

Mwakasungure and Phiri said the pardon was welcome and could fuel campaigns to overturn Malawi's anti-gay legislation and try to change attitudes.

"The public needs to appreciate that the world is changing," Mwakasungure said. "It won't be easy. But I think that as time goes, people will start to appreciate. We're not talking about changing the law today or tomorrow. But we have to start the process."

Mutharika's comments Saturday underlined the challenge activists face.

"These boys committed a crime against our culture, against our religion, and against our laws," Mutharika said. "However, as head of state, I hereby pardon them and therefore order their immediate release without any conditions."

But he added, "We don't condone marriages of this nature. It's unheard of in Malawi and it's illegal."

Ban praised Mutharika's decision but said, "It is unfortunate that laws criminalize people based on sexuality. Laws that criminalize sexuality should be repealed."

While the order was immediate, a prison spokesman told The AP they had not received notification to release the two men by Saturday afternoon.

Mwakasungure, the activist, said he hoped the release would be delayed until Monday or Tuesday, to give him time to prepare a safe house.

May 27, 2010

May 26, 2010

The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness and the Mystery of Death

I'm presently reading Stanislav Grof's inspiring book, The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness and the Mystery of Death. Grof is one of the pioneers in consciousness studies and his findings amount to deeply spiritual revelations into the ultimate mysteries of human existence. If we get too caught up in the depressing aspects of failing religious institutions, it is wise to examine the considerable evidence for a flowering of consciousness in our times. Signs of rebirth are everywhere if we know how to recognize them and eventually they will effect the Christian tradition as well, but a considerable part of that effect will be to humble the tradition, compelling it to take its rightful place alongside of, and not over, a plethora of rich spiritual alternatives. Here is a little blurb from Wikipedia:

Stanislav Grof (born July 1, 1931 in Prague, Czechoslovakia) is one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology and a pioneering researcher into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of analysing, healing, and obtaining growth and insight into the human psyche. Grof received the VISION 97 award granted by the Foundation of Dagmar and Václav Havel in Prague on October 5, 2007.

And here is an extremely interesting account from a theology student who was involved in a train disaster with the collapse of the Munchenstein Bridge in 1891:

Near the Birs Bridge, I felt a sudden, strong shock that ensued from our erratic progress. But at the same time the train stopped in the middle of the fastest run. The shock threw the riders up to the roof. I looked backwards, unable to see what had happened. From the powerful metallic crashing that resounded up ahead, I presumed that there had been a collision. I opened the door and intended to go out. I noticed that the following car had lifted itself upwards and threatened to tumble down on me.  I turned in my place and wanted to call to my neighbor at the window' "Out the window!" I closed my mouth as I bit my tongue sharply.

Now there took place, in the shortest possible times, the ghastliest descent that one can imagine. I clung spasmodically to my seat. My arms and legs functioned in their usual way, as if instinctively taking care of themselves and, swift as lightning, they made reflex parries of the boards, poles, and benches that were breaking up around and upon me. During the time I had a whole flood of thoughts that went through my brain in the clearest way. The thought said, "The next impact will kill me." A series of pictures showed me in rapid succession everything beautiful and lovable that I had ever experienced, and between them sounded the powerful melody of a prelude I had heard in the morning: "God is almighty, Heaven and Earth rest in His hand; we must bow to His Will."

With this thought in the midst of all the fearful turmoil, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of undying peace. Twice more the car swung upwards; then the forward part suddenly headed perpendicularly down into the Birs, and the rear part that I was in swung sideways over the embankment and down into the Birs. The car was shattered. I lay jammed in and pressed under a heap of boards and benches and expected the near car to come crashing down on my head' but there was sudden quiet.  The rumbling noise stopped. Blood dripped from my forehead. After a short struggle I worked my way out of the heaps and fragments and through a window. Just then I formed for the first time, a conception of the immensity of the disaster that had taken place...

Stanisilav Grov then continues:

Heim concluded his paper by stating that death through falling is subjectively a very pleasant death. Those who have died in the mountains have, in their last moments, reviewed their individual pasts in states of transfiguration. Elevated above corporeal pain, they experienced noble and profound thoughts, glorious music, and feelings of peace and reconciliation. They fell in a magnificent blue or roseate Heaven, and then suddenly everything was suddenly still. According to Heims, fatal falls are much more "horrible and cruel" for the survivors than for the victims. It is incomparably more painful in both the feeling of the moment and subsequent recollection to see another person fall than to fall oneself. In many instances spectators were deeply shattered and incapacitated by paralyzing horror and carried a lasting trauma away from this experience while the victim, if she or he were not badly injured, emerged free of anxiety and pain. Heim illustrated his point with his own personal experience of seeing a cow falling, which was still painful for him, while his own misfortune was registered in his memory as a powerful and even ecstatic transfiguration - without pain and without anguish - just as it actually had been experienced. 

May 23, 2010

Avant garde Thai director wins Cannes’ Palme d’Or

Cannes, May 24 (DPA) 

Bangkok-born director Apichatpong Weerasethakul won top honours at the Cannes Film Festival Sunday for his movie about human beings taking on animal forms in the Thai jungle and a man celebrating his past lives.

Weerasethakul’s “Lung Boonmee Raluek Chat” (Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives) was one of 19 films vying for the Palme d’Or, one of the most prestigious awards in cinema.
The 39-year-old director told the gala ceremony that the experience of winning the award was “surreal”.

He said that 30 years ago his parents took him to the cinema but he was too young to know what was on the screen. “I didn’t know the concept of cinema,” he said. “With this award, I think I know a little more what cinema is, but it still remains a mystery. I think this mystery keeps us coming back here and to share our world.” Known as something of an avant garde filmmaker, Weerasethakul’s success in winning the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) was also something of a surprise with his movie’s quirky story leaving some festival goers perplexed, while others were enthralled.

Weerasethakul has gained strong recognition at film festivals around the world over the years, wining the 2004 jury prize in Cannes for “Tropical Malady” about gay lovers and a trek to find a metamorphosed tiger. Two years earlier, he gained the festival’s Un Certain Regard section’s top prize for “Blissfully Yours”. This year’s race for the coveted Palme d’Or came down to less than a handful films, with many festival goers considering this year’s programme to be somewhat patchy. But then the motion-picture business is only slowly emerging from the financial crisis that swept the global economy over the last more than two years.

Czechs beat Russia 2-1 in ice hockey worlds final

Associated Press Sports
updated 4:10 p.m. ET May 23, 2010

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) -The Czech Republic won the ice hockey world championship on Sunday by ending Russia's 27-game winning streak at the tournament with a 2-1 victory.
Jakub Klepis gave the Czechs the lead after 20 seconds, and captain Tomas Rolinek made it 2-0 with less than two minutes left in the second period. Pavel Datsyuk pulled a goal back for Russia with 35.3 seconds left in the game.

It took the Czechs only 20 seconds to grab the lead when Jaromir Jagr set up Jakub Klepis to score in Germany.

The Russians recovered and laid siege to the Czech goal but netminder Tomas Vokoun was in superb form.

Tomas Rolinek made it 2-0 in the second period before Pavel Datsyuk managed to cut the deficit 35 seconds from the end in a dramatic finale.

Datsyuk had found the net earlier but officials ruled the puck was put in a second after the end of the first period.

It was the Czechs' sixth world crown since the separation of Czechoslovakia, adding to their titles in 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2005.

Russia, the record 25-time champions, last lost at the Worlds in 2007. They were knocked out in the quarter-finals of the Vancouver Olympics in February.

Sweden beat hosts Germany in the third-place play-off.

It was the Czechs' sixth world title since the separation of Czechoslovakia.


I've been closely following events in Thailand this past week, but found them too upsetting to comment upon in this blog. This video just released says it all - for any who are interested. Red Shirt protesters, from the poorest areas of the country in the North and Northeast, fueled and financed by former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a military coup in 2006, occupied a prime area of downtown Bangkok for the past two months. Their demands were for the immediate resignation of the current prime minister, Abashit Vejjajiva, to be followed by elections. When the government offered a compromise with elections scheduled for next November, the Red Shirts seemingly agreed, then broke the deal with further demands. The government then sent in the army to disperse the nearly 5,000 protesters who had exercised a stranglehold on a key area of the city. The dispersal was followed by a night of rampaging, riots and arson which set the capital city ablaze. The situation is too complicated for easy analysis. For any who are interested, Thailand has two superb English language daily newspapers, which offer excellent commentary from a variety of perspectives.
The Bangkok Post
The Nation

May 22, 2010

The Nun, the Squirrel, the Hawk and the Golf Ball

The Golfing Nun

 (thanks to Confessions of a Liturgy Queen for this story.)

A nun walks into Mother Superior's office and plunks down into a chair. She lets out a sigh heavy with frustration.

'What troubles you, Sister?' asked the Mother Superior. 'I thought this was the day you spent with your family.'

'It was,' sighed the Sister. 'And I went to play golf with my brother. We try to play golf as often as we can. You know I was quite a talented golfer before I devoted my life to Christ.'

'I seem to recall that,' the Mother Superior agreed. 'So I take it your day of recreation was not relaxing?'

'Far from it,' snorted the Sister. 'In fact, I even took the Lord's name in vain today!'

'Goodness, Sister!' gasped the Mother Superior, astonished. 'You must tell me all about it!'

'Well, we were on the fifth tee...and this hole is a monster, Mother -540 yard Par 5, with a nasty dogleg right and a hidden green...and I hit the drive of my life. I creamed it. The sweetest swing I ever made. And it's flying straight and true, right along the line I wanted...and it hits a bird in mid-flight !'

'Oh my!' commiserated the Mother. 'How unfortunate! But surely that didn't make you blaspheme, Sister!'

'No, that wasn't it,' admitted Sister. 'While I was still trying to fathom what had happened, this squirrel runs out of the woods, grabs my ball and runs off down the fairway!'

'Oh, that would have made me blaspheme!' sympathized the Mother.

'But I didn't, Mother!' sobbed the Sister. 'And I was so proud of myself! And while I was pondering whether this was a sign from God, this hawk swoops out of the sky and grabs the squirrel and flies off, with my ball still clutched in his paws!'

'So that's when you cursed,' said the Mother with a knowing smile.

'Nope, that wasn't it either,' cried the Sister, anguished, 'because as the hawk started to fly out of sight, the squirrel started struggling, and the hawk dropped him right there on the green, and the ball popped out of his paws and rolled to about 18 inches from the cup!'

Mother Superior sat back in her chair, folded her arms across her chest, fixed the Sister with a baleful stare and said...

'You missed the fucking putt, didn't you?'

May 21, 2010


When I despair I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and, for a time, they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it. Always. Whenever you are in doubt that this is God's way, the way the world is meant to be, think of that, and then try to do it His way.

Mahatma Gandhi

May 20, 2010


The heroic (if foolhardy?) Malawi gay couple I posted about several days ago have been sentenced to 14 years of hard labor. Prayers are needed, action more so. 

Today a gay couple in Malawi were sentenced to serve the maximum possible sentence of 14 years in prison. They were convicted on May 18th of unnatural acts and gross indecency. Personally, I think jailing people for expressing their love is both unnatural and indecent.

In December, Steven and Tiwonge celebrated their love with a traditional engagement ceremony at the hotel where Tiwonge worked. The publicity generated by the ceremony alerted authorities, leading to their arrest. They knew the risk they took, but are so dedicated to each other and their relationship, they proceeded anyway with their public declaration of love. Because of that commitment and desire to spend their lives together in a loving relationship, they are now sentenced to serve prison time. Tiwonge purportedly released the following statement  prior to the sentencing:

“I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless.”

At the sentencing, the judge stated he was giving the maximum sentence in order to scare the public and inhibit other gay people from following this “horrendous example.” Amnesty International considers Steven and Tiwonge to be Prisoners of Conscience  and declared the sentence to be an “outrage.” The men have three weeks to file an appeal and Amnesty will continue to campaign vigorously on behalf of these two men. We will call upon the Appeals Court to overturn their conviction and release them unconditionally. Check back soon as an action will be live on this case in the next few days. In the meantime, please go here to get information about how you can urge the US Congress to take action on behalf of Steven and Tiwonge.

Taken from: Opposing Views.

May 16, 2010


Taken from the lovely site, Confessions of a Liturgy Queen, this is a passage with which I resonate completely. Please read the whole article here: On Ritual

When I first returned to the Catholic Church after a long absence, one of the chief reasons for doing so was to become connected with something much larger than myself, something more significant, more meaningful, more serene than my own emotional turmoil, my own misguided and failed aspirations. I now believe that it is, for me and for millions of Catholics, the ritual of the Mass that helps to make that connection. That ritual, in all its component elements—the entrance procession, accompanied by the opening hymn, with the crucifer, the acolytes, followed by the priest in his vestments and moving slowly up the centre aisle of the church, and ending in the genuflection before the altar; the consecration of the bread and wine and the elevation of the host and the chalice before the assembled congregation; the final blessing by the celebrant—transports me to a place of peace and joy that the HD broadcast of a gorgeous opera from the Met does not, that a thrilling concert of baroque music does not, that a brilliantly written and acted play or film does not.

The same author has written an insightful article on the Old Catholic Church for the website, Life as a Human:

Not far from where I live there is a pretty little blue and white church called St. Raphael’s Old Catholic Church. I didn’t really notice this lovely church until I read an article about it in the local newspaper a couple of years ago. Since reading that piece I have passed the little church many times, and as my relationship with Roman Catholicism began to take on a more disaffected tone, I thought more and more about attending Mass at St. Raphael’s.

From that newspaper story and from research online, I learned that the Old Catholic Church (OCC) was inclusive and non-judgmental, but still Catholic in its fundamental theology and in its liturgy. These qualities are certainly a draw for me. Yet I could not seem to make the move; in fact, I couldn’t even step through the door of the little church.

I am not sure about other denominations, but Roman Catholics are funny people when it comes to loyalty to their Church. I have been angry with my Church on so many occasions over its intransigent stance on issues like homosexuality, clerical celibacy, the ordination of women, and contraception.

I have been frustrated by rigid adherence to doctrine that simply does not make sense to the modern mind. But I could not turn my back on the Church of my baptism. I have spoken with and read about other Roman Catholics, more disaffected than I, who also could not see themselves crossing over to the OCC, even if they had stopped attending their own church. One blogger who had just written about his experience attending a beautiful Christmas Mass at an Old Catholic church in Prague told me that he would somehow rather be a “schism of one” than join the OCC (This is not 'Yours Truly' living in Prague, though I don't feel inclined to join either, but that's a gentle dis-inclination. Joining seems like a perfectly respectable option to me if you feel so called. I don't.)

Perhaps it was my writer’s curiosity that overcame my reluctance, but about a month ago I finally made myself attend the Wednesday 8:30 am Mass at St. Raphael’s. I have attended twice more since then.

Read the whole article here: The Old Catholic Church by Ross Lonergan

Just for the record, I did not find the liturgies of the OCC here in Prague to be in any remote way dissimilar to RCC ritual, except for the fact that the celebrants received communion last - after the congregation. 

May 15, 2010

Malawi gay couple who 'married' face harsh prison sentences

Taken from The Guardian UK

  A man whose same-sex "marriage" has become a symbol of the struggle for gay rights in Africa has vowed to become a martyr rather than give in to homophobia, campaigners say. Tiwonge Chimbalanga and his partner Steven Monjeza are facing a possible 14 years in prison with hard labour after becoming the first gay couple in Malawi to declare their commitment in a public ceremony .

Peter Tatchell, the veteran British gay rights campaigner, has maintained contact with the pair at the maximum security Chichiri prison in Blantyre as they prepare to stand trial next week.

Tatchell told the Guardian he received a defiant message from Chimbalanga that said: "I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless."

Tatchell, of the rights group Outrage!, also quoted Monjeza – who is described as thin and weak with jaundiced eyes – as saying: "We have come a long way and even if our family relatives are not happy, I will never stop loving Tiwonge."

Chimbalanga, 20, and Monjeza, 26, made history when they committed to marriage at a symbolic ceremony last December – the first same-sex couple to do so in the southern African state, where homosexual acts are illegal.

Two days later, the couple were arrested at their home. Facing taunts and jeers, Chimbalanga, wearing a woman's blouse, and Monjeza appeared in court to answer three charges of unnatural practices between males and gross indecency. They were denied bail, supposedly for their own safety, and have been forced to endure dire conditions in jail.

The couple are due back in court on Tuesday, when magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa will deliver his verdict. Angry residents and relatives from Machinjiri township, on the outskirts of Blantyre, say they will not allow them to return home if they are set free.

"They have given this township a bad name," said Maikolo Phiri, a local vendor.

Zione Monjeza, an aunt of Monjeza, said: "We as a family have been terribly embarrassed to be associated with this gay thing. It's a curse and a big shame. We will chase them away if they are freed."
Nchiteni Monjeza, Monjeza's uncle, said: "I won't drop a tear if they are jailed – they deserve it."
But for others, the couple are social revolutionaries in this impoverished, landlocked nation that usually makes headlines only when someone like Madonna flies in.

Homosexuality has an Orwellian invisibility in Malawi, where gay rights and transgender activism was not merely suppressed but virtually non-existent. Yet Chimbalanga told the New York Times in February: "I have male genitals, but inside I am a complete woman. Maybe I cannot give birth to a child, but I menstruate every month – or most months – and I can do any household chores a woman can do."

Some have now been emboldened to speak out. George Thindwa, head of the Association for Secular Humanism, said: "The gay movement is gaining ground. The country should simply accept gays."
A retired economist, Thindwa, who has not openly declared whether he is gay, added: "We are giving them moral support by bringing them food, money and clothes to prison." Thindwa's group has joined the Centre for the Development of the People, which is financing the couple's defence. The case could be seen as a test case for the struggle between gay rights movements and resistant conservative sentiment across the continent.

Gay sex is still illegal in 37 countries in Africa. A recent poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 98% of people in Cameroon, Kenya and Zambia disapprove of homosexuality. But encouraged by legal advances in South Africa, a new wave of activist movements are making a stand and pushing the boundaries in Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Zimbabwe and other countries in ways unthinkable a generation ago. Gay and lesbian lifestyles are also much more visible.

This assertiveness is apparently being met by a ferocious backlash from religious fundamentalists and politicians determined to preserve the status quo. It has been described as a proxy war between US liberals and Christian evangelicals, both of which pour in funding and support to further their cause.

Uganda has become a central battlefield after legislation was proposed last year advocating punishments for gay sex that range from life imprisonment to the death penalty. The country has come under intense pressure from activists both inside Uganda and overseas.

It emerged last week that a special committee organised by president Yoweri Museveni has recommended that the bill be withdrawn. That would be a important victory for organisations such as Freedom and Roam Uganda (Farug) and Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug).

Val Kalende of Farug, which was set up in 2003, said: "I believe that now is the season and time for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the continent. The LGBT rights movement has grown and it has come to a point where people can no longer be silent about injustices."

Asked if the gay rights lobby is resulting in a surge of homophobia, Kalende added: "Yes. Long before we built a movement here, no one bothered about us. We got away with so many things. When we decided to come out and claim our space, society came harshly against us.

Britain Refuses Lesbian Iranian Filmmaker’s Asylum Request

Kiana Firouz, 27 years old, is an outspoken Iranian LGBT rights activist, filmmaker, and actress. When clips of her video documentary work featuring the struggle and persecution of gays and lesbians in her country were acquired by Iranian intelligence, agents began to follow Firouz around Tehran, harassing and intimidating her. She fled for England where she could safely continue her work and studies.
She plays a starring role in Cul de Sac, a documentary film produced in the UK about the condition of lesbians in Iran, and based heavily on Firouz’s own life story. Directed by Ramin Goudarzi-Nejad and Mahshad Torkan, the movie will premiere in London in a few days. Since the trailer was posted on YouTube in December 2009, Cul de Sac has attracted global media attention, with thousands of views. Apparently, some of those views included members of Ahmadinejad’s puppet media in Iran. They know who Firouz is and what she stands for. They may want her to come back to the country she was born in to answer for it.
Still from Cul de Sac.
Firouz, understandably, has requested asylum from the British government. Much to everyone’s shock and dismay, the British Home Office has rejected her application for refugee status. Yes, they know she’s gay. Yes, they know she could be deported back to Iran at any time, and that if this happens, Firouz will most likely be sentenced to torture and death after being found guilty of the “unspeakable sin of homosexuality” because she has participated in explicit lesbian sex scenes in the movie, and been a fierce proponent for human rights in her country.
In Iran, the punishment for lesbianism involving mature consenting women consists of 100 lashes. This punishment can be applied up to three times. After a fourth violation of Iranian law, a woman convicted of “unrepentant homosexuality” is finally executed by hanging, often publicly, in front of a howling mob.
Kiana filed for a court appeal following the Home Office’s decision to reject her application for asylum, but the judge overruled her appeal. According to Kiana’s lawyer, the last remaining chance is to appeal the judge’s decision, but the risk of deportation is imminent.
The EveryOne Group, an international human rights organization, which was involved in the asylum cases of the lesbian Pegah Emambakhsh, who risked being deported from London to Tehran in 2007, and of the Iranian gay, Mehdi Kazemi, appeals to the British government and the democratic forces of the European Union, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, that Kiana Firouz be immediately guaranteed adequate humanitarian protection and that the order for her deportation be repealed, given that on return to Iran she will face a death sentence not only because a lesbian but because of her civil rights activism.
The EveryOne activists invite concerned readers to send protest e-mail messages to the British Home Office ( requesting that Kiana receive refugee status as soon as possible, for she is a symbol of the international fight against homophobia and repression of gays and lesbians in Islamic countries.

I’ve spent a fair amount of my day researching, fact-checking and  attempting to verify this story, and I can’t figure it out: why is this news not EVERYWHERE right now? Why is this petition for Firouz so anemic? There should be hundreds of thousands of names on that list.

And yet, I am only just catching wind of Firouz’s story from a chance visit to Kim Boekbinder’s blog, where Kim posted a heartbreaking letter written by an Italian friend of hers, Sylvia K.

An excerpt:

No major newspaper even remotely talks about Kiana’s story, nor do gay activists. People don’t seem to care much at all. I do. Last night I wrote to Kiana. Nothing much, only to say that I was so saddened and angry, that her story had moved and inspired me and that I was SO thankful to her for standing up for what she truly believed in… This morning before going out I found her reply. It goes like this :

“Dear Sylvia
I am proud of you. we should proud of each other for being strong. I am so thankful for your supportive and kindly letter. It does not matter what is going to happen to me. Its all about freedom.
Take care and do not forget you are not alone, we are many…

I wrote it on a piece of paper and hurried out of the house.
I spent the greater part of this rainy day sitting in one of the University’s courtyards, crying alone [...]  I look at myself, always complaining about homophobia in Italy, about the fact we have no equal rights, and I feel like a fucking piece of shit. Because for me, it is SO easy to go to London, to Paris, to Berlin and be the butchest fiercest lesbian around, without having to be afraid of being lashed 100, 200, 300 times and then hung, a thick rope around my neck, people rejoicing all around.

It does matter what happens to Kiana Firouz. This should not be a reality for her, or anyone else.
Here is the official Cul de Sac website.
Here is the petition endorsed by Kiana Firouz herself.
And this is her story.
Let’s make some noise, comrades.


Chris Hedges' column from Truth Dig: May 9, 2010  

Both an outstanding critique and a heartrending lament for the demise of organized religion, if a little bleak.  It tends to ignore more positive signs of spiritual renewal outside the framework of religious institutions. Food for Thought. 

It is hard to muster much sympathy over the implosion of the Catholic Church, traditional Protestant denominations or Jewish synagogues. These institutions were passive as the Christian right, which peddles magical thinking and a Jesus-as-warrior philosophy, hijacked the language and iconography of traditional Christianity. They have busied themselves with the boutique activism of the culture wars. They have failed to unequivocally denounce unfettered capitalism, globalization and pre-emptive war. The obsession with personal piety and “How-is-it-with-me?” spirituality that permeates most congregations is narcissism. And while the Protestant church and reformed Judaism have not replicated the perfidiousness of the Catholic bishops, who protect child-molesting priests, they have little to say in an age when we desperately need moral guidance.

I grew up in the church and graduated from a seminary. It is an institution whose cruelty, inflicted on my father, who was a Presbyterian minister, I know intimately. I do not attend church. The cloying, feel-your-pain language of the average clergy member makes me run for the door. The debates in most churches—whether revolving around homosexuality or biblical interpretation—are a waste of energy. I have no desire to belong to any organization, religious or otherwise, which discriminates, nor will I spend my time trying to convince someone that the raw anti-Semitism in the Gospel of John might not be the word of God. It makes no difference to me if Jesus existed or not. There is no historical evidence that he did. Fairy tales about heaven and hell, angels, miracles, saints, divine intervention and God’s beneficent plan for us are repeatedly mocked in the brutality and indiscriminate killing in war zones, where I witnessed children murdered for sport and psychopathic gangsters elevated to demigods. The Bible works only as metaphor.


Once again, John McNeill has posted a very wise, compassionate and insightful response to Pope Benedict’s recent oblique reference to gay marriage as one of ‘the greatest threats to the human race.’ John reminds us that ‘gay marriage’ isn’t just about fairness and justice for gay people, it constitutes an essential gift to the culture at large by helping to heal the imbalance and defects of patriarchy. Therefore, gay people have an ethical responsibility to press for  equality of marriage that goes beyond our own personal needs and rights. We are called to offer a new paradigm of human relationships, one that is more human and fulfilling because both partners remain in touch with the masculine and feminine aspects of their psyches. Against all of the opposition and hatred, intolerance and bigotry, LGBT people must offer a service of love and justice to a wounded, confused and imbalanced world. However, as Terence Weldon reminds us frequently with his numerous stories at Queering the Church, LGBT are making advances each day in the most unlikely of places. The tide is turning and from the point of view of history, the recent intransigence of Church leaders towards gay marriage, however painful to contemplate, is just one small bump on the road.

Below are three paragraphs from John’s inspiring article, the beginning, middle and end. Please go to John’s website to read the whole article: John McNeil: Spiritual Transformation

On his recent pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, Pope Benedict XVI used the occasion to announce that he thought the greatest threat to the human race, apart from abortion, was gay marriage! To my knowledge no mention was made of the nuclear arms race; no mention of the destruction of the environment; no mention of disease, poverty and starvation which afflict the vast majority of humanity; no mention of the decrease in respect for the sacred value of the human person which has led to a remarkable increase in genocide, violence, murder, torture and enslavement. Which leads me to wonder what alternate universe the Pope lives in; what alternate reality is he dealing with? ….

Jesus Christ’s message of equality and love has been contaminated by the institutions of patriarchy, male privilege, and the repression of the feminine. The time has come for the Church to cleanse itself and throw off these aberrations. Gay spiritual groups, I believe, are leading the way for the whole Church to bring about this transformation. The primary example of this liberation can be found in gay marriage. ….

Which brings us back to the question : Why is Pope Benedict XVI so consistently over the top with his homophobia and so out of touch with the reality of the LGBT world? He was willing, at least unconsciously, to destroy the celibate gay priesthood by forbidding gay men the right to ordination. The only explanation I can reach to understand the ferociousness of Benedict’s attack on the LGBT community is that unconsciously he is a self-hating gay man who projects out his fear and loathing on the gay community at large!

May 13, 2010

Loss and Liberation from the Formal Institutional Church

A very interesting post from Confessions of a Liturgy Queen (which I'm shamelessly borrowing in part-thanks to Glorfindel for alerting me to this blog!) A 'lapsed' Catholic forty years away from the fold, returns to the Church, only to withdraw from his parish because of the institutional homophobia of the Church. He finds this withdrawal both painful and liberating, an experience which mirrors my own, and that of many marginal Catholics in these days.


A Priest's Loyalty

It has been almost two weeks since I wrote to my parish priest to tell him that I was excusing myself from membership in the parish I love because I could no longer accept the institutional homophobia of the Church and at the same time maintain my personal integrity. I copied the priest-in-residence in the e-mail. Both of these men know me quite well. As of today, I have not received a response from either priest.

I am frankly not sure whether I am surprised or not by their silence. I do know that I am disappointed. And although I do not like to admit this, I am hurt. I feel as if I have been left in the cold; it may even be that they are glad to be rid of me because my absence means there will be no more letters or comments on the Church and homosexuality. Or they may have sought advice from the Chancery and been told that the best response is no response; after all, this guy has chosen not to accept the wise teachings of Mother Church.

Anyway, although I am obviously feeling sorry for myself over this, and these feelings certainly cannot be separated from what I write here, the purpose of this post is not to elicit sympathy (after all, it was I who made the decision to withdraw; I was not kicked out of the parish) - so please do not offer any. It is rather to muse about what might be going on in the minds of these two men. And I do mean muse - or speculate - as I am in no way privy to their thoughts, nor am I a psychologist.

In the two weeks since I withdrew from my parish, I have felt the loss keenly. Yet I am also beginning to experience a kind of liberation. The Church has unwittingly freed me to explore other options like the Old Catholic Church, which welcomes everyone without judgment, and gay-friendly Anglican communities. No matter which option I choose, however, I believe that if I were ever fortunate enough to find a Roman Catholic parish in which the pastor was truly modern and truly pastoral, I would return in a heartbeat. 

Read the rest of the article here: Confessions of a Liturgy Queen

May 11, 2010


(thanks to Terence Weldon at Queering the Church for the link to this article at dot.commonweal. Very interesting comments follow the article at the site. )


Models of the Future Church

Posted by Lisa Fullam

Back in 2004, the archdiocese of Boston announced the closure in one fell swoop of more than 18% of its parishes . In the midst of all the shock, sadness, anger and dismay, some parishes decided to refuse the order to close, and began to maintain round-the-clock vigils in the churches to keep them open. Saturday’s Boston Globe included a piece from a member of one such church. Money quote:

While the universal Catholic Church seems on the verge of imploding under the weight of its own moral crisis, the weekly gathering of this close-knit congregation generates a palpable spirituality that is rare and unique.

The St. James phenomenon (replicated across sister parishes in Massachusetts that also chose vigil over closure) is changing church culture by pioneering a post-institutional brand of grass-roots Catholicism.

I’m intrigued by this. We all know of situations of priestless parishes still under the auspices of various dioceses: a priest may zoom through to dispense the sacraments, but day-to-day pastoral care is carried out by non-ordained people. One troublesome point in these parishes is the separation of the practice of ministry from the celebration of the sacraments, in which the latter are rare special events run by strangers, not a regular part of the worship life of the community. A second concern is the lack of uniform standards for people running such churches–one parish might be run by a gifted lay minister with an M.Div., but the next might be run by a person without a shred of theological or pastoral training. 

But these “Heavens, no, we won’t go” parishes are a different kettle of fish. Instead of divorcing ministry from sacraments, these communities have formed a new model of church with generally egalitarian leadership, continuing to celebrate Eucharist as the “source and summit of the Christian life,” and developing a vibrant sense of community. The divorce here is of the community from the hierarchy of the Church. (I still worry about the theological training of the leadership. But there are lots of qualified people thereabouts–if theologically-literate leadership is important to the community, they can find people with both vocation and education to lead and/or teach.) 

We’re at a time of increasingly diverse “versions” of Catholic parish life, including the two I mention here. With or without the cooperation of Church leaders, the Church is changing. 

To which I'd like to add this quoted discussion from NCR which I posted last September:

It was Schillebeeckx who contended in his 1980 book Ministry: Leadership in the Community of Jesus Christ that the church had gone awry by connecting the faithful’s right to Eucharist to some “magical power” of the hierarchy to ordain, thereby disconnecting it from the community of Christians. He noted that the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century had declared any ordination of a priest or deacon illegal, as well as null and void, unless the person being ordained had been chosen by a particular community to be its leader.

Because the church has basically ignored that clear directive of the early church throughout the second millennium, Schillebeeckx recommended “new possibilities” for reconnecting the Eucharist to its community roots, even if such actions contradict current church law. In “Church and Ministry,” the newly released document, the Dominicans put forward such “new possibilities” as this: “Men and women can be chosen to preside at the Eucharist by the church community; that is, ‘from below,’ and can then ask a local bishop to ordain these people ‘from above.’ ”

If, however, “a bishop should refuse a confirmation or ordination” of such persons “on the basis of arguments not involving the essence of the Eucharist, such as a requirement that deacons or priests be celibate, parishes may move forward without the bishops’ participation, remaining confident “that they are able to celebrate a real and genuine Eucharist when they are together in prayer and share bread and wine." 

taken from National Catholic Reporter interview, December 14, 2007

This quote has always had a powerful effect on me, as a daring solution to so many ills besetting the Catholic community in this time, the sexual scandals being at the top of the list. It would require extraordinary daring to implement, however, and culturally would be next to impossible to receive widespread acceptance (to judge by the comments and reactions at dot.commonweal. to the above article.) However, in those communities deprived of the services of a priest for as long as a year (1 yearly visit for confession and baptisms in some remote mountain villages in South America), the 'lay catechist' should surely be entitled to lead the community in the celebration of the Eucharist. But I've also proposed elsewhere that communities of disaffected gay Catholics, who feel bound in conscience to remain outside the formal worship of the Church, should then gather together and celebrate the Supper of the Lord.

May 3, 2010


 (thanks to reader John Lliff for this link to The Washington Post)

Your Holiness, 

Though our churches differ in many ways, we believe in the same God. As your brother in Christ, it pains me to see Catholics struggle with your response to recent allegations of sex abuse by priests. Since my denomination has also battled these demons, I want to share with you what I have learned as a bishop of the Episcopal Church. 

About 20 years ago, our church became aware of sex abuse by our clergy here in the United States. To our shame, we learned of it in lawsuits filed by victims alleging that some of our bishops had minimized the seriousness of the abuse and/or swept their claims under the rug. Some cases were related to the abuse of children; others involved male clergy who took advantage of their pastoral relationship with vulnerable women to manipulate them into sexual relationships. These men violated the sacred trust placed in clergy to focus on parishioners' needs and to separate those needs from their own. To prevent further such abuses of power, we moved quickly for the good of the victims and of our church.

Whether or not civil courts recognize a statute of limitations, the church must hold its clergy members accountable to their vows to be faithful shepherds of their people. In 1994, the Episcopal Church opened a two-year window of opportunity to hear complaints about priestly abuse of the pastoral relationship with adults. Just because an event occurred many years ago did not make it any less egregious, especially since perpetrators rarely have only one victim. We addressed all complaints through our canonical disciplinary process. 

As for instances involving children, we have no statute of limitations on reporting abuse. Those suspected of committing child abuse are immediately reported to the civil authorities for investigation.
Rather than refusing to acknowledge our transgressions, we sought to change our church's culture -- an effort that took no small amount of courage. In my diocese in New Hampshire, and across the Episcopal Church, we perform a thorough background check on every bishop, priest or deacon who serves under my authority. We correspond with every employer the clergyperson has ever had and every bishop under whom the clergyperson has ever served to determine whether there is a history of complaints. 

While procedures vary from diocese to diocese, we here in New Hampshire require six hours of abuse-prevention training for clergy, all other employees of the church (organists, parish administrators, maintenance workers), youth workers and elected parish leaders. A refresher course is required every five years. Events with and for children may never be conducted without two adults present and always in view of each other. This protects children from abusive behavior and protects adults who might be falsely charged. Many of our parishes have installed windows in the clergy office doors, so that no activity -- even private counseling -- may go unobserved.

We want many pairs of eyes watching for signs of abuse. We want everyone to know how to report suspected abuse of children and abuse of the pastoral relationship between clergy members and parishioners. We want to keep the issue before our church -- clergy and laity alike -- and to keep the conversation going.

But the thing victims most want to hear from the church, especially its leadership, is: "I am so sorry. This should never have happened to you, especially here. We are going to do everything in our power to see that nothing like this happens again." Victims live with their horrific experiences and know that their abuse can never be undone. And so they seek assurance that the church will change the system that allows abuse to go undetected and take action to hold perpetrators accountable. Child abusers do not deserve protection; they must be reported immediately to civil authorities and prosecuted.

The Christian church -- like any institution -- is as capable of sin as any individual. We have been wrong before, from the Inquisition and the Crusades down to our defense of slavery (using scripture) and our denigration of women. Over time, the church has repented for these sins and sought to change its ways. The discovery of sexual abuse by clergy is another situation that calls for the church's repentance and reform. 

I would not presume to instruct you. That would be arrogant. Nor would I impose upon you advice you've not sought. But I do offer you the benefit of my experience as you seek to deal responsibly with these challenges to the integrity of your church. Your letter to the faithful in Ireland and your meeting in Malta with victims were a good start. I hope the future will bring more truth-telling, which will make your church a better, safer place. 

However, I believe it is misguided and wrong for gay men to be scapegoated in this scandal. As a gay man, I know the pain and the verbal and physical violence that can come from the thoroughly debunked myth connecting homosexuality and the abuse of children. In the media, representatives of and advocates for the Roman Catholic Church have laid blame for sexual abuse at the feet of gay priests. These people know, or should know, that every reputable scientific study shows that homosexuals are no more or less likely to be child abusers than heterosexuals. Psychologically healthy homosexual men are no more drawn to little boys than psychologically healthy heterosexual men are drawn to little girls.

Sexual activity with children or teenagers is child abuse, pure and simple. Meaningful consent is impossible, by definition, for the underaged. You will not rid your church of sexual abuse by throwing homosexuals out of your seminaries or out of the priesthood. Homosexual priests have faithfully and responsibly served God throughout Catholic history. To scapegoat them and deprive them of their pulpits is a tragedy for the people they serve and for the church. Yours is a problem of abuse, not sexual orientation. 

I will pray for your church and for you, as I hope you will pray for my church and for me. In Luke 12:2-3, Jesus tells us: "Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the rooftops."
And may God have mercy on our souls.
Your brother in Christ,
Gene Robinson

V. Gene Robinson was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003 as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. He is also a part-time senior fellow at the Center for American Progress

May 2, 2010


 This just in from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times

Maybe the Catholic Church should be turned upside down.

Jesus wasn’t known for pontificating from palaces, covering up scandals, or issuing Paleolithic edicts on social issues. Does anyone think he would have protected clergymen who raped children?
Yet if the top of the church has strayed from its roots, much of its base is still deeply inspiring. I came here to impoverished southern Sudan to write about Sudanese problems, not the Catholic Church’s. Yet once again, I am awed that so many of the selfless people serving the world’s neediest are lowly nuns and priests — notable not for the grandeur of their vestments but for the grandness of their compassion.

As I’ve noted before, there seem to be two Catholic Churches, the old boys’ club of the Vatican and the grass-roots network of humble priests, nuns and laity in places like Sudan. The Vatican certainly supports many charitable efforts, and some bishops and cardinals are exemplary, but overwhelmingly it’s at the grass roots that I find the great soul of the Catholic Church.

The Vatican believes that this newspaper and other news organizations have been unfair and overzealous in excavating the church’s cover-ups of child rape. I see the opposite. No organization has done more to elevate the moral stature of the Catholic Church in the United States than The Boston Globe. Its groundbreaking 2002 coverage of abuse by priests led to reforms and by most accounts a significant reduction in abuse. Catholic kids are safer today not because of the cardinals’ leadership, but because of The Boston Globe’s.

Yet the church leaders are right about one thing: there is often a liberal and secular snobbishness toward the church as a whole — and that is unfair. 

It may be easy at a New York cocktail party to sniff derisively at a church whose apex is male chauvinist, homophobic and so out of touch that it bars the use of condoms even to curb AIDS. But what about Father Michael Barton, a Catholic priest from Indianapolis? I met Father Michael in the remote village of Nyamlell, 150 miles from any paved road here in southern Sudan. He runs four schools for children who would otherwise go without an education, and his graduates score at the top of statewide examinations. 

Father Michael came to southern Sudan in 1978 and chatters fluently in Dinka and other local languages. To keep his schools alive, he persevered through civil war, imprisonment and beatings, and a smorgasbord of disease. “It’s very normal to have malaria,” he said. “Intestinal parasites — that’s just normal.” Father Michael may be the worst-dressed priest I’ve ever seen — and the noblest. Anybody scorn him? Anybody think he’s a self-righteous hypocrite? On the contrary, he would make a great pope.

In the city of Juba, I met Cathy Arata, a nun from New Jersey who spent years working with battered women in Appalachia. Then she moved to El Salvador during the brutal civil war there, putting her life on the line to protect peasants. Two years ago, she came here on behalf of a terrific Catholic project called Solidarity With Southern Sudan. Sister Cathy and the others in the project have trained 600 schoolteachers. They are fighting hunger not with handouts but with help for villagers to improve agricultural techniques. They are also establishing a school for health workers, with a special focus on midwifery to reduce deaths in childbirth. At the hospital attached to that school, the surgeon is a nun from Italy. The other doctor is a 72-year-old nun from Rhode Island. Nuns rock. Sister Cathy would like to see more decentralization in the church, a greater role for women, and more emphasis on public service. She says she worries sometimes that if Jesus returned he would say, “Oh, they got it all wrong!” She would make a great pope, too.

There are so many more like them. There’s Father Mario Falconi, an Italian priest who refused to leave Rwanda during the genocide and bravely saved 3,000 people from being massacred. There’s Father Mario Benedetti, a 72-year-old Italian priest based in Congo who fled with his congregation when their town was attacked by a brutal militia. Now Father Mario lives side by side with his Congolese congregants in the squalor of a refugee camp in southern Sudan, struggling to get schooling for their children.
It’s because of brave souls like these that I honor the Catholic Church. I understand why many Americans disdain a church whose leaders are linked to cover-ups and antediluvian stances on women, gays and condoms — but the Catholic Church is far larger than the Vatican. 

And unless we’re willing to endure beatings alongside Father Michael, unless we’re willing to stand up to warlords with Sister Cathy, we have no right to disparage them or their true church.

May 1, 2010


Ruminating over the sex abuse scandal in the Church today, I was reminded of a disturbing incident from my own childhood, which I didn't fully appreciate at the time, but which has taken on increasing significance with the passing years. My mother, Mary Jane Cameron, was a math and PE teacher at Marina Junior High School in San Francisco, at the corner of Chestnut and Fillmore Streets. and most of her students were blacks and Hispanics who had been bused in from the poor districts and projects of the city to this exclusive Marina neighborhood school for the very rich, a situation I never fully understood.  I can remember walking down the hallway to my mother's classroom and hearing her shouting authoritatively at her students, something I never heard her do at home,  and once I even witnessed her slap a boy in the face, which was truly shocking. It was a tough school and a very tough job and my mother hated it, because it required her to be so strict in order to be kind. The year would have been 1953, I was nine years old and attended the distinguished Madison Grammar School, which has since been changed to the Claire Lilienthal Elementary School.

These pictures bring back such memories of those years and I can still see myself being carried kicking and screaming down the hallway in the enormous arms of the gigantic Mrs. Mary O'Leary, our first grade teacher, because I was having a wild tantrum (the drama queen in the making). Mrs. O'Leary, because of her large bulk, always wore smocks that concealed the bumpy  outlines of her body. In the fourth grade, I was allowed to walk on my own the seven blocks from the Madison School on the corner of Divisadero and North Point Street to Chestnut and Fillmore streets, where I would skip up the stairs of Marina Junior High and enter my mother's classroom to wait for her school day to be over and the bus ride to our apartment in Pacific Heights, overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

On one bright, warm, sunny spring day, I was skipping down Chestnut street and had almost come to the corner of Fillmore, when a strange man stopped me and said, "Where are you going, sonny?" At that age, I was a very chatty, friendly child and would talk to anyone anytime anywhere, though I had been warned, and very severely at that, not to talk to strangers. Because the incident registered in my young mind at the time I have little difficulty remembering what I said to him. "Oh, I'm going across the street to meet my mother, she's a math teacher at Marina Junior High, and she also teaches PE and one time I went into the girls' locker rooms and I saw them in the showers together and once I saw a girl's titties." Babble, babble. The man laughed and then said, "Would you like a ride across the street?" and opened the door of a very large black limousine parked by the curb. I was delighted by the suggestion, and said cheerfully, "Oh, thank you very much," and jumped inside and began immediately bouncing up and down on the wide back seat. I had never been in such a large car before and this felt like such an exciting adventure. It never occurred to me until much later to notice that the car was facing in the wrong direction! The man walked around behind the car and came to the driver's door. He stopped and seemed nervous somehow, as I clearly remember it, because I got a good look at him at that moment. Very close cropped hair, almost balding, on a round head with a series of bumps in the back, stubble on the chin, not very tall, and chewing a tooth pick. After some moments of hesitation, in which he seemed to be looking at something behind the car, he opened the driver's door, leaned in and said, "Sorry, kid, I can't take you today." I was so disappointed that I just sat there with my mouth in a round little 'O.' Had I done something to offend him, I wondered, had I farted when I was bouncing up and down on the seat? Before I could figure the situation out, the man barked at me, "Beat it, kid, I'm busy." I scrambled out of the car, somewhat frightened, confused, and offended. What was that all about, I wondered, and I ran across Fillmore Street, into the swinging front doors of Marina Junior High School and up the stairs to my mother's classroom, determined to tell her all about it. However, by the time I got up onto her floor I had one of those 'uh oh' moments. My mother had always admonished me very severely for being so friendly to people on the streets and warned me time and again about the dangers of taking candy from strangers, getting into their cars, talking to them in parks. She had always advised me to "walk away" very quickly and if anyone attempted to 'interfere 'with me in any way, I was to shout out, "Police" at the top of my lungs. And so for prudence' sake, I decided to keep this little incident to myself. It would only be many years later that I would fully appreciate what a close call I had had that day, and had it not been for a fortuitous circumstance (someone staring at the man from behind the car?), I might never have seen my mother again.

My mother wasn't the only one to so admonish me. I remember an incident with my next door neighbors, Mary and Anne Murray, who had been accosted by a flasher in the park. I was in their living room when the girls told this story to their mother, and she asked very severely, "What did you do?" Anne, the oldest, said, "Oh, we just stood there and giggled." Mrs. Murray grabbed her daughter by the arm and shook her and shook her, yelling, "Don't you realize how dangerous that could have been. Don't you ever do that again. You run, you scream, you yell for the police, do you understand me? Do you understand me?" Repeated for emphasis and shouted at all three of us children. Both girls were almost in tears and I was stunned by the vehemence of the outburst, but it impressed on all of us children the fact that there were evil men out there in the world preying on young children, desiring to do nasty things to them, and we must always run and always yell for the police.

That was 1953, and the present day apologists for the sex abuse scandal in the church are trying to tell us that those were different times and people didn't appreciate the seriousness of sexual abuse and bishops wouldn't have felt the urgency to report incidents of abuse committed by priests to the civil authorities. To which my aunt Gini (mother of 13) would simply reply, "Bullshit."