These Stone Walls is going on hiatus for the month of May. Yeah, now you’ll know how I felt when “Jack Bauer Lost The Unit on Caprica.” Just as the action gets riveting, you’re in for a month of re-runs! TSW will still be up and running throughout May, but I will not be able to write new posts for the month. I’ll explain why below. A friend suggested that we feature “The Best of TSW” during May, and that seems like a good idea. I’m not the best judge of what were our stand-out posts, so I chose a couple that seemed most timely and a couple that readers seemed to like. Newer readers might be seeing them for the first time, so I hope the rest of you won’t mind a second visit to what I think are some important posts.
Anyway, here’s the scoop behind our hiatus. Most readers know that TSW has challenges not faced by other blogs and websites. As a prisoner, I have no online access at all. I have never actually even seen These Stone Walls on a computer screen. I know what it looks like only because Charlene sends me printed screen shots of it.
I type my weekly posts on an old Smith Corona typewriter while sitting on my large bucket (ummm, an upside-down plastic one) in a prison cell in Concord, New Hampshire. Remember the anxiety-dreams I described in “Protect Us from all Anxiety” on Ash Wednesday? One of them is a nightmare that my cranky old electric typewriter falls apart half way through a post. Under prison rules, if it breaks I cannot buy a new one. I can only send the old one for repairs. My very first posts on TSW had to be hand-written because it took five months to send my typewriter for repairs and get it back.
The typewriter works just fine right now, but I have to special order ribbons for it, and I’m waiting for a supply. I doubt that any other blog in the world is held up by typing ribbons. As one reviewer of TSW wrote in “A Voice in the Wilderness,” it’s the most arduous cyber-process ever!
When I finish typing my posts, I snail-mail them to Charlene in Indiana. Since TSW began, Charlene has been very gracious in scanning my posts. I keep a photocopy, and then each Saturday afternoon I call Charlene to edit the scanned posts. From there, Charlene e-mails them to TSW Editor, Suzanne in Australia. Suzanne adds all the graphics and formatting that transform my meager prose into the posts you see each week. Without Suzanne and Charlene, I would be utterly silenced. TSW could not exist without them.
The break we are taking is due to several circumstances. Charlene is planning a journey to Rome in May, and I have no one else available to scan and forward my posts. Also, Suzanne is planning a blog design upgrade. This might mean that the site will look off kilter while she adjusts the graphics and HTML/CSS/PHP/MySQL customizations to fit in with the new WordPress theme. Suzanne is on Australia time so midnight on the U.S. East Coast where I am a prisoner is 2:00 PM the next day in Australia.
TSW’s hiatus reminds me of something I wrote about last year. Once during a Sunday Mass in my last parish, I had some sort of allergic reaction that constricted my larynx. As I finished reading the Gospel, I lost my voice completely. Only a squeak would come out. So I skipped my homily while the lector led parishioners in the Nicene Creed and Prayers of the Faithful.
Then, just as I began the Offertory Prayers and Blessing over the Gifts, my voice started to return. Standing at the altar with the Paten and Host in my hands, I said, “I’m sorry there was no homily. I seemed to have lost my voice.” The entire congregation then said in unison, “Blessed be God forever!” Hmmph! Anyway, I’ve lost my voice for awhile, but we’ll be right back.
THE GOOD NEWS
If we’re known by the company we keep, then TSW is in good stead. These Stone Walls was mentioned in an April 4th article entitled “Father John Corapi and the State of Due Process for Accused Priests.” It was written for Catholic Lane, a terrific new site developed by Mary Kochan. I highly recommend Catholic Lane to TSW readers. Catholic Lane also reposted “Simon of Cyrene and the Scandal of the Cross” during Holy Week.
These Stone Walls also recently appeared at Abyssus Abyssum Invocat, the blog of Bishop Rene Gracida, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas. And we have been mentioned in comments at Life Site News and a number of Catholic blogs, Catholic media, and wrongful conviction websites.
This accounts for TSW’s recent growth in readers. It seemed to happen all at once. In March, TSW had three times the number of readers as the previous month. It’s very good news both for me, and for other priests who are falsely accused. It demonstrates something Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote to me a year before his death:
“Unfortunate though your situation is, you are in a position to carry on an effective apostolate on behalf of unjustly accused priests. The time is bound to come when the tide will shift and even the bishops will be ready to hear the priests’ side of the story. The change will come, but not before the public is prepared for it by articles such as yours. Your writing, which is clear, eloquent, and spiritually sound, will be a monument to your trials.”
It was high praise for something produced on an aging typewriter while sitting on a plastic bucket in a prison cell. But I need your help to continue to be heard. It reminds me of the famous Zen Buddhist paradox, “If a tree falls in the forest but there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” I can type and type until my fingers are worn, but without you I am silenced forever.
You can help by mentioning These Stone Walls and linking to it on your own blogs and in your comments in other Catholic media. TSW is competing against many negative voices to be heard in a climate not very open to the underdog. I think most readers now have a sense of the enormous uphill climb toward justice faced by any accused Catholic priest – especially one who is wrongly convicted and in prison.
This tide is indeed shifting just as Cardinal Dulles predicted. Many Catholics are now coming to understand the lack of due process and other challenges to justice when priests are accused in claims that are decades old, and brought with no evidence at all. Outrage alone becomes enough to convict them – both in courts and in the court of public opinion. Outrage just isn’t a substitute for justice, however, and the public is finally seeing that. Outrage is the stuff of witch hunts, and though our crisis began with revelations of real victims of real abuse, it transformed into a classic witch hunt driven by money.
There are also other ways you could help if you are so inclined. TSW has a PayPal account, and our “Contact” page gives you addresses for helping with either a legal fund or expenses for TSW itself. Telephone calls to Charlene to edit posts, hear comments, and respond to inquiries are charged to our expense account at a rate of 15 cents per minute. Photocopies of my posts are also charged at 15 cents per page, and postage itself is a major expense, as are typing ribbons at $15 each.
These challenges are just other examples of the uphill climb TSW faces relative to other blogs. TSW is having an impact, and readers are helping. That makes all the difference, and I thank you.
THE HOPEFUL NEWS
Writer Ryan A. MacDonald has a new article entitled “Truth in Justice” recently published on These Stone Walls. It’s a complex analysis of some behind-the-scenes facts about the case against me, and it’s a truly shocking piece of investigative reporting. I caution you, however, that some of its content is graphic.
The timing for publishing “Truth in Justice” could not be better. I mentioned months ago that a team of lawyers and investigators has been working on my behalf to bring about a new appeal of my conviction and sentence. “Truth in Justice” contains some stunning information that has appeared nowhere else – not even in the otherwise exhaustive series of articles (“A Priest’s Story“) presented in The Wall Street Journal in 2005.
As I wrote in “When Priests Are Falsely Accused,” there’s a lot of irony in any case of wrongful conviction, and there is definitely no shortage of it when the wrongly convicted is a Catholic priest. It took no evidence whatsoever to send me to prison for sixty-seven years, but it takes a lot of evidence to reverse that. The process is long and expensive and very steep. It has been delayed many times because of a lack of funds, but never once because of a lack of new information.
That’s one of the greatest ironies of all. Since 2002, the U.S. Catholic Church has invested close to two billion dollars in “blanket” or mediated settlements of decades-old claims against priests without obtaining any evidence at all. What it would take to see my case through to completion represents about 1/200th of one percent of the amount invested in settlements.
The hopeful news is that we are getting ever closer to presenting a new appeal against enormous odds and obstacles. I know there is someone out there with the means and the will to help, but that person may have never even heard of These Stone Walls and our efforts. Again, you could make this hopeful news even more hopeful by reaching out to other Catholics with news of TSW.
The other hopeful news is about my brother, Scott, for whom I asked your prayers a few weeks ago. You may recall that he suffered a simple broken rib several months ago, and the ultrasound that diagnosed it also discovered a malignant tumor on his kidney. The tumor has been removed without losing the kidney, and early signs are that it was caught in time before it spread to other organs. Scott still has a lot of MRIs and other periodic tests in his future, but his prognosis is very good. He wants to thank TSW readers for your prayers, and so do I.
JUST PLAIN NEWS
Finally, in my post, “From Prison Blues to Poetic Muse” in February, I promised TSW readers that our friend, Pornchai would soon have photos available for the keepsake boxes and mantle clocks he has been carving. As soon as TSW returns with new posts on June 13, I’ll have news of how you may request one or the other or both from Pornchai.
And if you have new comments on our upcoming re-runs, my good friend, Leo Demers has volunteered to be my digital eyes and ears during May. You might remember Leo from my Holy Week post last year, “Simon of Cyrene at Calvary.” Anyway, we’re on hiatus, not hibernation, and we’ll be right back!