Ending a 19th year behind prison walls might evoke far more “Misses” than “Hits,” but that’s not the case behind These Stone Walls as 2013 draws to a close.
Every weekend, FOX News hosts “The Journal Editorial Report,” a half hour of commentary on the week’s news by members of The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. I try not to miss its incisive news analysis and often find topics to write about in that brief half hour. In the last few minutes each week, the panel is asked to weigh in on “The Hits and Misses of the Week.” My own Hits and Misses present a view from behind these walls, and are not in order of importance or chronology. I invite you to submit your own Hits and Misses of 2013 in comments on this post.
MISS: AT THE MERCY OF SNAIL MAIL
This post was supposed to appear a week ago, but it ran afoul of the same “Miss” that began 2013 behind these stone walls: Snail Mail. I wrote of it in “When the Caged Bird Just Can’t Sing: The Limits of Prison Writing.” It took a full eight days for this post to get from Concord, NH to Indianapolis, IN to be scanned. So once again, I have the last word on the Hits and Misses of the Year.
A HOMERUN HIT: THE LOST TREASURE FOUND
In “Behold Your Mother! 33 Days to Morning Glory” just a few weeks ago, I wrote of a long lost treasure, a reproduction of Fra Angelico’s famous painting, “The Annunciation.” It was a gift at Ordination in 1982 from a now long deceased dear friend. It was last seen on my office wall at the Servants of the Paraclete center in New Mexico when I left there to face trial in 1994. I had no idea what became of it.
Last week I received a Christmas card from Father Liam Hoare, another old friend and former Servant General of his community. Father Liam wrote: “I was surprised to read of your lost treasure, ‘The Annunciation,’ but it isn’t lost. It adorns the wall of my room in Ditmer, MO, where, in safe keeping, it awaits news of your freedom.” I’ve been smiling since!
HIT OR MISS? YOU DECIDE!
And also in “Behold Your Mother” I wrote that Pornchai-Maximilian and I, along with 12 other Catholic prisoners, entrusted our lives to Marian Consecration on the Feast of Christ the King on November 24, 2013. I just did a little math. That date was my 7000th day in prison. What a sense of irony – if not outright humor – God can have!
A MISS AND THEN A HIT: POPE BENEDICT XVI SHOCKS THE WORLD
It now seems far more distant, but it was just 11 months ago that a prisoner stood at my cell door on a February morning and asked, “Can a Pope quit?” When I shook my head, he said, “I think this one just did.” I tuned in to the news, and my heart, like many of yours’, just sank in dismay.
I call this “A Miss and then a Hit” because over the next month before the Conclave, some of Benedict’s own heart was discerned and revealed. As the Church grappled with what to call a retired Pope, I came up my own title, “Benedict the Beloved,” in the first of three successive posts on this historical event. If you missed them during the glut of Catholic news at the time, I hope you might visit anew: “Pope Benedict XVI: The Sacrifices of a Father’s Love” “Sede Vacante: The Sky is Not Falling on the Catholic Church“ “On the Successor of Peter Amid the Wind and the Waves”
A GLOBAL HIT: TIME MAGAZINE’S “PERSON OF THE YEAR”
The news of Pope Francis as Time Magazine’s 2013 “Person of the Year” is momentous for the face of the Catholic Church on the world stage. In ten short months this Pope has captured world attention more than any figure in modern history. He has single-handedly moved the Church beyond the relentless media glare of scandal and ridicule. This Pope has become his own media event with a message to a world now listening intently.
A TSW reader wrote to me in mid-2013 to thank me for writing about Pope Francis. “You put my mind at rest,” she wrote, “and informed us about something very important – that all we are told to think and believe about this Pope is filtered through the news media.” Another wrote, “Your posts on Pope Francis have helped me see him in a whole new light.” A third reader wrote, “Reading your posts on the Holy Father, one could never tell you are writing from prison.”
These comments and others like them have meant a lot to me. Someone in my situation is in great danger of forming a sort of tunnel vision in which I could easily become a prisoner of another sort, a prisoner of my own perspective, of my own wounds as a wrongfully imprisoned priest. I am not the first, and 1 will not be the last. I wrote once that “in the Solar System of Church life, I write from the Oort Cloud.” From this vantage point, however, I see one thing clearly:» this Pope, and the world’s response to him are crucial to the life of the Church at this time in history. That is far more important than any predicament of mine. John the Baptist, in the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Advent, would likely agree!
Pope Francis has been to us a great gift. As a result, I was taken aback a bit to see in hindsight that I devoted eight posts to him this year. I hope you might revisit one or two of them, and perhaps share them with others. Here are those titles:
HIT: DIVINE MERCY OPENS A DOOR FOR PORNCHAI-MAXIMILIAN
Each year in the week before Christmas, this prison’s Recreation Department and the Family Connections Center cooperate in sponsoring a Christmas visit between prisoner-fathers and their children. Gifts are donated, and gift-wrapped by the fathers, and entertainment is provided by some talented prisoners. This Christmas, our friend Pornchai was recruited to be the puppeteer for the event’s “Gifts of the Magi” puppet show. All three of the Magi just happened to have distinctly Thai accents this year causing one observer to remark, “I knew they were from the East, but was it THAT far East?”
In June I wrote with great joy, “Knock and the Door Will Open: Divine Mercy in Bangkok, Thailand,” and the doors it described are still opening. I wrote of some newer ones in “Behold Your Mother! 33 Days to Morning Glory,” and even since that post yet another door has opened for Pornchai. We received a message this week from a man in Michigan who learned of Pornchai during a recent visit to Bangkok for a Divine Mercy retreat there. Six years ago, we wondered how we could possibly find ties in Thailand (no pun intended!) The result seems miraculous.
This year behind prison walls, there have been long, dry periods of spiritual void and sullen depression. Year after year brings such times to us, but caving into them has been slowly, subtly replaced by abandonment to Divine Mercy and its beautiful image declaring “Jesus, I trust in You.” Long sought doors, long feared to be beyond our reach, have opened in seemingly miraculous ways. Never stop knocking!
HIT: THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE, SOMEDAY, SOMEHOW!
The driving force of this tale is a story unto itself. Against the backdrop of $3 billion in often unquestioned mediated settlements like a runaway train, against an organized program of half truths and lots of propaganda, in the face of a version told almost daily in the news media and by organized groups like SNAP, well-oiled by kickbacks and shady support from contingency lawyers, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Dorothy Rabinowitz and The Wall Street Journal courageously published “The Trials of Father MacRae” in May.
I don’t want to turn this Hit into a Miss by pointing out that not a single Catholic newspaper has even mentioned this story. They are among strange bedfellows because beyond the WSJ, the mainstream secular press also shunned the story. There are none so blind as those who will not see – or won’t risk reporting what they see. It’s a sign of hope for truth, however, that since it ran last May, “The Trials of Father MacRae” in the WSJ generated close to 60,000 links around the globe, many of them on Catholic blogs and websites. The weekend the story was published in the Journal, These Stone Walls had 14,000 readers in two days even though TSW was never mentioned in the article. David F. Pierre and The Media Report covered the WSJ story in “Journalism Outside the Box,” and writer Ryan A. MacDonald wrote a riveting analysis in “Whack-A-Mole Justice Holds Court.” All three articles skillfully tore down myths and disarmed lies. It takes great courage to stand against a money and media-fueled witch hunt. These writers personify courage and truth.
TWO MISSES THAT BECAME TWO HITS
In July, I wrote that “The International Criminal Court Has Dismissed SNAP’S Last Gasp!” It described the long-awaited decision by the International Criminal Court to dismiss as invalid a “crimes against humanity” charge brought by the shady “survivors” group, SNAP, enabled by the Center for Constitutional Rights. A lie told about me – long since exposed as a lie – was nonetheless repackaged to become a part of that attention-seeking smear campaign against the Vatican. It met with a fitting end.
By the way, as I pointed out in that post, the far-left Center for Constitutional Rights that sponsored SNAP’S petition is located at 666 Broadway in Manhattan. Some things are just too obvious to nuance further.
On another, related debacle, I ended “The Summer of Roman Polanski, Fr. Dominic Menna, and Bishop Eddie Long” with a question pondering whether California Governor Jerry Brown had the integrity and courage to veto a bill, all too easily passed by the CA legislature, that would open a window for expired lawsuits against Catholic dioceses and institutions while exempting public schools and for-profit groups. Catholic bishops who openly spoke against the bill were bullied into silence by SNAP and VOTF who accused them of “revictimizing victims.” Governor Jerry Brown courageously vetoed the bill in November after declaring it to be unjust, ill-informed, and “simply unfair.” Bravo!
MISS: OUR BISHOPS ON EQUAL JUSTICE FOR PRIESTS
Even Catholic League President Bill Donohue, ever a champion to defend bishops against an unfair news media, took this topic on in his essay, “No Priest is Safe” in the December issue of the Catholic League Journal, Catalyst. Priests accused from 30, 40, 50 years ago are ruined without adequate defense and the proponents of “zero tolerance” among our bishops refuse to address it.
In 2006, Archbishop Charles Chaput penned an essay for First Things magazine entitled “Suing the Church.” It was incisive and very well written. Archbishop Chaput laid out a spirited defense of why laws that extend civil statutes of limitations for lawsuits – like the one vetoed in California – are deeply unjust. “Statutes of limitations exist in legal systems to promote justice, not hinder it,” he wrote.
I agree, and this is no rebuke of Archbishop Chaput, a great bishop and a good man. He has written to me in prison a couple of times. However, since the Dallas Charter and its “zero tolerance” policy adopted by our bishops in the panic of 2002, the U.S. bishops as a body have lobbied the Holy See to dispense justice without justice by dispensing with “prescription,” in effect canon law’s version of a statute of limitations. I can only quote Archbishop Chaput again: “Statutes of limitations exist in legal systems to promote justice, not hinder it.” Ryan MacDonald wrote of this double standard in a commentary for the venerable Homiletic & Pastoral Review entitled, “Anti-Catholicism and Sex abuse.”
TSW’s BIGGEST HIT OF 2013
Ummm…that would be you! I started off 2013 with a January post, “When the Caged Bird Just Can’t Sing: The Limits of Prison Writing.” Your continued letters to me, even when you may not get a quick reply, your gifts in support of me and These Stone Walls, your continued prayers for me, and your stepping to the plate in our appeal for help with legal expenses, have all been more than heroic.
These Stone Walls could not exist without you. I will never be able to adequately thank those who have helped with legal costs of my ongoing appeal, and with keeping TSW afloat through your support (please note that the “support fund” has a new address on TSW’s “CONTACT” page).
Most important of all, it is you who have spread word of TSW by sharing links with others and by sharing my posts at the social media buttons before and after each post. TSW ended its first month in 2009 with 42 readers, and will end 2013 with over a quarter-million page views around the world. I did not do this. You did!
I cannot let this New Year begin without thanking Suzanne, whose great skill as a publisher keeps TSW in existence, and Charlene who drops everything to take my calls, who scans and edits posts, and transmits them to Suzanne for her wondrous publishing magic. I owe a great debt to them, and to Lavern West who prints and mails me all your comments each week, and to Leo Demers who maintains a TSW presence on Facebook and Linked-In. I place them, and each of you, our readers, under the mantle of mercy that adorns the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Thank you for being here with me at the end of all suffering and the beginning of all hope. I offer each day in prison as a share in the suffering of Christ for the readers of These Stone Walls, and for graces that I beg the Lord will be bestowed upon you. Our friend, Pornchai, makes that same daily offering for you. Behold your Mother, and trust in the Cross of her Son.