A young man wandered into a Southern church during a healing service. The exuberant preacher invited anyone in need of prayers to step forward. The 20-year-old, thinking he had little to lose, walked up the aisle. “What can we do for you, son?” the preacher asked loudly. “I’m worried about my hearing,” the young man replied.
“Step right on up here!” shouted the preacher as his flock braced themselves for a miracle. The preacher placed his hand on the boy’s head and called upon the Lord to restore him body and soul and cast out every discomfort. After several minutes of the preacher’s ALLELUIAs and a chorus of shouted AMENs, the preacher stepped back from his subject. “How’s your hearing now, son?” the preacher asked loudly. “I don’t know,” said the young man. “It’s not ’til Thursday!”
The story was a big hit in my current locale where the only kind of hearing anyone ever worries about is the latter. If you read Ryan MacDonald’s brief “Special Report,” you know that I also have one to prepare for. I’m not sure when it’s coming, but it’s coming. It could be many months away. Justice at this level moves at a glacial pace. It takes a lot more effort and evidence to get a priest out of prison than to put one in these days. Catholic League president, Bill Donohue also wrote of these developments in a great editorial in the April issue of Catalyst entitled “Father MacRae’s Appeal.” Rill Donohue wrote:
“The website Of the National Center for Reason and Justice, (www.ncrj.org) provides all the legal information you need to make up your own mind.”
That must be true because there are some who don’t want you to read those documents and make up your own minds. Just last week, a friend read me a series of ugly comments posted by SNAP members denouncing my appeal. The comments were posted at the website of the Philadelphia Inquirer after a story about the ongoing prosecution/persecution of Catholic priests and Church officials there. I had not realized how much of a threat to the agenda of SNAP my own appeal might be until I read Ryan MacDonald’s report, “Why Do SNAP and VOTF Fear the Case of Fr. Gordon MacRae?” at his A Ram in the Thicket website.
Right now, however, I have a far greater challenge to face than the temper tantrums of SNAP members long accustomed to having their distortions rule the day. It’s a greater challenge even than waiting for the legal system to catch up with justice. The most immediate and daunting challenge I face at this moment is one many of you have to take on as well. It’s called spring cleaning.
As you know well, my world of the last nearly 18 years consists of an 8 by 12-foot cell which must be shared by two prisoners, one of whom wrote “The Duty of a Knight” two weeks ago. Well, it turns out that it isn’t the duty of a knight to do all the spring cleaning while I just sit here on my bucket (umm . . . I mean this big plastic one) and type. We need to do something prisoners are required to do periodically. We have to empty out this cell completely, and clean everything.
That’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s true that our “home” consists of four concrete walls, a concrete floor, and a concrete ceiling. It can all be cleaned and painted in no time, hut having to first empty the cell is intimidating.
There are strict limits on the amount of paper prisoners can have in their cells, and I now face the daunting task of reviewing every one of the thousands of pages of paper amassed over the last three years of investigation, legal review, correspondence, and my writing for TSW, Catalyst, Spero News, et. al.
Our friend, Pornchai, will attest to the fact that 50 percent of my writing time is spent trying to find things I cannot ever seem to find. Of course, even back in the more peaceful days of priesthood when I had ten times this much personal space and my own office, I still could never find anything. Maybe its just me!
TALES FROM THE SCRIPT
My “filing system” is not very well thought out. It consists of just stacks upon stacks of paper which I have to excavate whenever I’m in search of anything I previously wrote. I’m at a point at which I must better organize all that I have written, remove duplicates, file it in some semblance of order, and be able to refer to it all for future posts. And I have to do all this while also reducing my volume of paper by at least 50 percent.
I’m blessed with a very good memory. I keep a list of all my TSW titles over the last three years, and when I quote from past posts I can usually do so accurately just by looking at my list of titles. I can remember everything I’ve written and most of what I’ve read. As my list of titles grows longer, however, I see the need to re-read past posts and collect them in a better filing system that I can refer to.
About a year ago, my friend, Joseph – whom I wrote of in “The Fermi Paradox” – took all my TSW posts during a boring day in prison and placed them in chronological order in the hope we could find some binders to store them in. Joseph’s neat organization didn’t last long, however, once I got back to business as usual.
So between preparing for my upcoming appeal, and collecting past TSH posts, I need a time out. Last year at this time, TSW went on a one-month hiatus with a series of re-runs. I thought of doing the same for the month of May, but then our friend, Pornchai had a much better idea. Emboldened by his well received recent guest post, “The Duty of a Knight,” Pornchai suggested inviting a few other guest writers to stand in for me.
So I put together a short list of writers I thought you might like to hear from during my brief time-out from These Stone Walls. I needed only four guest writers, but I made a list of twelve names thinking that some might not want their names and work associated with TSW. To my shock and great surprise, the first four people on my list – three of them priests – all accepted immediately.
I have asked our guest writers to write on any topic they wish, and to submit their posts a week in advance to our TSW editor, Suzanne. I told them that they need not share their posts in advance with me. I’ll read them just a few days after you do, when printed copies are mailed to me during May. These guests are all far more accomplished writers than I am, and their stepping up is giving me a much-needed month off to prepare for many upcoming challenges.
I would like to ask you to welcome these guests. Please let them know you have read their posts by leaving lots of comments. (Well . . . maybe not TOO many!) I am not actually going anywhere. Your comments will still be printed and mailed to me. I might even have a chance to leave a few comments of my own.
It’s interesting how things change. For my first twelve years in prison, I wrote and wrote to deafened ears in our Church. From my cell in prison, I must have written thousands of letter, articles, and commentaries that were never seen or acknowledged. One does not have to be guilty of any crime to be tainted by scandal, but today it is that very taint that enables me to see the state of justice in our Church a little more clearly. As I wrote in “Faith Trumps Relativism” last October:
“In the Solar System of Church life, I often feel as though I’m writing from the Oort Cloud, that cast-off rocky debris field circling our Sun out beyond the orbit of Pluto. Sometimes life out here lets me see a bigger picture. This might be one of those times.”
Now, three years after These Stone Walls was launched, I find myself increasingly in the opposite position. In recent months, I have had to turn down three invitations from three major Catholic publications to write for them. The problem was that all three publications wanted original articles and not anything previously published at TSW. Armed with just an old Smith Corona typewriter – all that my prison will allow – I just could not keep up with both a weekly TSW post and articles for other publications. I also could not do this to Charlene Duline who spends a good deal of her spare time scanning and correcting my typewritten posts every week, and to Suzanne, our Managing Editor, who is masterful at formatting and choosing graphics to publish our posts.
I also turned down an offer to let These Stone Walls be “absorbed” into a much larger Catholic publishing venue on-line. These Stone Walls is unique in the Catholic on-line world. We very much admire and appreciate our readers, and will remain an independent Catholic blog.
IN THE SPIRIT OF FR. RICHARD JOHN NEUHAUS
These Stone Walls will be three years old in July. As I did this year in “New Year’s Resolutions and a Remembrance from East of Eden,” I have begun each of those years with a post about how deeply felt is the loss of Father Richard John Neuhaus. The religious arena of the American public square is diminished by his absence and that of his long time friend, Avery Cardinal Dulles. These were great American Catholic churchmen. As is clear on our “About” page, their joint suggestion that I write became the inspiration behind These Stone Walls. So the credit for TSW’s very existence – or the blame, as the case may be, falls partly on them.
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was born on May 14, 1936. It is the Feast of Saint Matthias, the person chosen by the Apostles to serve the Church in place of Judas, the betrayer. There is something prophetic in this fact. Please join me in prayer for Father Neuhaus on May 14, his 76th birthday.
And as a tribute to his memory, there is something you can do to help both me and These Stone Walls during the month of May if you’re willing. Changing minds and hearts about the state of justice for priests in both our culture and our Church is a huge challenge from behind prison walls. Rut it’s a challenge we have met with some milestones along the way. Increasing the visibility of These Stone Walls in the Catholic on-line world is the single most effective tool we have.
You can help in this by sending a link to TSW to your friends and contacts, by posting links on your social network pages, and by mentioning TSW in your comments on other sites. There is in fact much more to the story of accused Catholic priests than what SNAP and the secular media have spread about. The other side of this story needs to be told. Thanks for helping.
So, first up as our guest writer on These Stone Walls next week is a Catholic voice many of us have come to respect and admire: Father George David Byers, STL, STD from Holy Souls Hermitage. Please welcome him and our other May guests. I’ll be back in one month, ready to write anew, but you may also hear from me here and there with some comments of my own.
In the meantime, I will offer each day in prison in the month of May as a share in the suffering of Christ for the readers of These Stone Walls. Our friends in Christ who are with me behind these walls pledge to do the same. May the Lord bless you and keep you.