Monday, 11 July 2011

Once upon a time Fr John Corapi, now the Black Sheep Dog

No ‘anonymous’ comments or comments with abusive threads or language will be moderated.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Tree of Life, worthy of the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes film festival

Originally, I wrote this article for Faith Online at The Times on July 1st, 2011.
Terrence Malick’s eye-catching epic captures the spiritual struggle between grace and nature
Terrence Malick’s new film The Tree of Life (12A) is nothing short of revolutionary. It abandons narrative structure, is almost entirely lacking in plot, but centres on a modest Catholic family, The O’Briens, in 1950’s small town Texas.
The film begins in the microcosm of O’Brien family life, when they are staggering from the news that their second son, a gentle, musical youngster has died at the tender age of 19. Malick then jumps to a macrocosmic perspective - by uniting this tragic death to collages depicting the dawning of the universe. There is no script for this 20-minute section, showing life’s progress from mere cells to jellyfish, and then to dinosaurs. It lurches back to Mrs O’Brien giving birth to her eldest boy, Jack in the 1950s.
We get to know the O’Brien family, where the characters are personifications of the perceived struggle between grace and nature. Mr O’Brien (Brad Pitt) represents brute nature, an overbearing patriarch, soured by his failed ambitions, and too demanding of his young sons. Mrs O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) is an angelic, ageless, slender matriarch who characterises saintly grace. She tirelessly nurtures her three children and stands in the way of the father when he is at his most vile. She is heard saying; “No one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.” The film is seen through the eyes of their eldest son Jack (Hunter McCracken), and his lifelong fight to be reconciled with the two forces his parents embody.
Brad Pitt’s role as Mr O’Brien verges on the stereotypical authoritarian father who persists in making his children tough, squashes their spontaneous characters; insist they call him ‘sir’, and locks is wife in a painful arm wrestle when she prevents him from punching them. One scene demonstrates the fear Jack has for Mr O’Brien, and the film’s central flaw. It shows Mr O’Brien lying underneath a car, and tinkering with the engine. The son’s attention is captured by the jack propping up the car. He knows that if he sets it down, the car will crush his father. The son grapples with the temptation, but resists it nonetheless. But, in the same way, the intense relationship between the dictatorial father and the oppressed son engulfs and threatens to defeat the true experience of the film. Sean Penn plays Jack as an adult, who is a successful architect. Penn adopts these weighed-down, twisted postures, demonstrating that Jack has been moulded from flinching under his father.
They are practising, conventional Catholics, in a 1950’s mode of wearing netted lace hats to Mass and routinely receiving the sacraments. They listen in total silence to a priest’s sermon on the story of Job. The priest confirms the Catholic understanding of Job’s plight; that his trials were not punishments and that hardship comes mysteriously to good and bad people. They are Catholics more by traditional practice, then by consistent Catholic thought. Coming home from Mass in the car, the father undermines the priest’s sermon by cynically telling the boys that good people are the ones punished. Jack in particular questions the point of goodness, and experiments by being mischievousness. Is it okay to misbehave by jumping from pew to pew in the local church, or by sneaking into a house and rifling through a woman’s undergarments, as long as his father isn’t there to overreact and punish?
The O’Briens watch as a little boy is taken dead from a local swimming hole, and Jack asks; “Lord, where were You? Why? Who are we to You?” Malick’s triumph is that Jack’s spontaneous, childlike questions do not challenge belief in God, but seek to clarify our role as His creatures.
There is a preoccupation with footage of middle-aged Jack riding cage-like elevators in metropolitan corporate towers, contrasting with the child Jack being overwhelmed by the natural world of the riverbank, or his front lawn. The suggestion being; has our obsession with urban edifices, replaced our wonder of nature? Indeed, is there a certain vanity and pointlessness to man-made high-rise buildings; we can build higher into the sky, but never come closer to the Divine? Do we closet ourselves in concrete, while separating ourselves from the Creator’s glorious natural surroundings? Good questions, but not in praise of man’s God-given ingenuity, and with resounding pessimistic overtones.
The Tree of Life, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes film festival, undoubtedly sets stratospheric standards for filmmaking and will become a classic among professional filmmakers and photographers. An emerging cliché is that every frame of a Malick movie could be a painting. This is not a Hollywood blockbuster, but fine art. But for the average viewing public, the film may suffer from having too much of a good thing. Malick’s signature imagery, while initially holding the viewer in wide-eyed wonder, is too prolonged and too dominant, and risks inflicting eye-strain.
While we follow Jack on his lifelong struggle to choose between the way of grace and the way of nature, is there really a choice? Or at our human level, do we contrive that such a choice exists? It was the union of Mr O’Brien (nature) and Mrs O’Brien (grace) that brought their sons into the world. Their marriage is a view of the universe in microcosm. Throughout The Tree of Life, there is the atmosphere of nature and grace being in opposition to each other, but the film arrives at demonstrating that not only are they intrinsically linked, they are essentially and inexplicably so.
12A, 139 minutes 
See more from The Times Faith Online here.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Send-up of The Tablet

Skip to one minute, fifty five seconds to get to the really fun part... The irony is of course that The Tablet say that not allowing altar girls is insulting to women, but they cut or 'edited' a letter from a female supporter of the Tridentine Mass. Now, who is suppressing and restricting women's opinions?

Here is the full letter, from Joe Shaw's post 'Is The Table Mysogynistic?'
As a woman who acts as a local representative in Arundel and Brighton of the Latin Mass Society, I find your claim (Leader, 18 June) that not allowing female altar servers at the Extraordinary Form insults me is quite absurd.

I challenge you to provide your readers with evidence for this bizarre claim that the tradition of male altar service has anything to do with “ritual uncleanliness” (sic). On the contrary, this tradition is quite obviously a reflection of the fact that only men can be ordained as priests, and it is because male service at the altar emphasises the different roles of the sexes in relation to the sacrifice of the Mass that it has special value. The Extraordinary Form of the Mass represents the preservation for future generations of this and many other venerable traditions, and it is for this reason described by Pope Benedict as a “treasure” for the whole Church.

Before you reject these traditions as ‘insulting’ you should reflect on the fact that they formed the basis of the liturgical life of women, as well as men, for countless centuries. Is it not more insulting to women to picture us as helpless and passive oppressed victims of a misogynistic Church for nineteen centuries? Give us a little more credit than that.

Annie Mackie-Savage
Eastbourne, East Sussex

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Fascinating video on the Corapi controversy…

‘Irish Stew’; A tacky soap opera? Part of Irish Church history? Lord save us!

The following is part of Voris' series on Ireland, and doesn’t come with cooking instructions. It's part of the recent history of the Church in Ireland, and not the plot of a tawdry soap opera. Am I forgiven for confusing one for the other? In Ireland, apparently one priest was 'allowed' to take over – Fr Ledwith – at Maynooth Seminary. Fr Ledwith became head of St Patrick’s Seminary Maynooth in 1985. Previous to becoming head of Maynooth, six seminarians brought forth charges that Ledwith had sexually harassed them… Then in the 1900s Fr Ledwith made a financial settlement to a man who said that Ledwith abused him as a minor.

Oh, and Ledwith has been laicised and is now a well regarded speaker on new age religion. I’d bet he doesn’t mention that he was accused of rape and sexual misconduct, when he’s explaining New Age doctrine such as those swinging crystals that trap good energy. But it's not fair of Michael Voris to keep reiterating that 'homosexuality' was the prime factor in the disgrace surrounding Ledwith. Ledwith may be homosexual - and that's his private business - but the problem was that he was sexually bullying seminarians, and was not called to account. According to Catholic teaching, all those (be they heterosexual or homosexual) who were complicit in letting Ledwith carry on, share in his guilt.

Michael Voris sometimes barks up the wrong tree; such as arbitrarily saying “The single most prevalent issue that brought down the Church in Ireland was homosexuality...”. That's just not true, and risks tarring all people who have same-sex attraction with the same brush. It was sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, the silencing of someone who sought to bring justice, and 'the cover up'. If Ledwith had sexually harassed women, could it be said that heterosexuality had been the biggest problem? No, we would concentrate on the illegality of the issue; that Ledwith was a sexual predator whose crimes were odious.

Voris speaks about a ‘few Irish Catholics foraging among the ruins’. That might be us, but if I doubt that it’s right for us to take pride in this matter; after all, with Church leaders employing someone like Ledwith, it’s harder to blame Catholics in Ireland for not being faithful.

Where was Micheal Voris when Bishop Walsh was speaking (in favour of...?) abortion to Irish university students?

Cut to three and a half minutes into the video below to get Voris’s take on Ireland's retired Bishop William Walsh, and the retired bishop’s doubts about the afterlife, the Divinity of Christ and his being in favour of ordaining women priests. But there was a time when Bishop Walsh gave ‘us’ a pitch in favour of abortion – or did he? Decide for yourself.

Picture it; summer 2005. We were university students, perched in seats, hunched over note pads, gel pens at the ready to take down Bishop William Walsh’s words. We were swots/boffins supreme and were expecting Bishop Walsh as a guest lecturer on religious matters in contemporary Ireland. Every word he said would be scratched down, and repeated to impress the faculty. A stooped figure in black turned the corner into the lecture hall. Hundreds of students fixed their gaze on this bishop, perhaps the first bishop they had seen in the flesh since their confirmation. An unusual quiet descended. Bishop Walsh strode onto the podium, dressed in simple clerical garb with shaking hands and a ready sigh. He looked at us from beneath a grey fringe hanging over his forehead, and did he give John Henry Newman style rhetoric in defence of Church teaching? Not quite. He meditated on how he had seen Catholic parents raise children with disabilities, and ‘how hard’ it was for the parents involved. Then said that he was ‘unwilling’ to totally denounce not going ahead with certain pregnancies..because…well…sher…sher…grand…when he heard someone was carrying a child with a disability, then he was ‘unwilling’ (this word was repeated countless times) to condemn ending the pregnancy.

He shrugged and told us that, in the past, other university students had tackled him on this, and said that abortion for the handicapped was wrong. Bishop Walsh looked from under his fringe, and told us how ‘very upset and emotional’ one female student had become because he was seemingly advocating abortion for unborn disabled children. He didn’t deny this opinion that day in the auditorium, as hundreds of Irish students (as a fact, I knew at the time that a percentage of the students present had got abortions) looked on him in flabbergasted silence. Bishop Walsh shook his hands from side to side, and restated that he was ‘unwilling’ to rule out an abortion for a mother carrying a child with a disability.

This blog does not bash ‘the bishop, the bishops!’ But this is an anecdote from my time as a university student, and is shared by thousands of other Irish ‘Catholics’ who heard Bishop Walsh’s lectures. Yes, I hold a university degree (…somewhere…). Had I not known the Catholic teaching on pro-life matters (‘from the womb to the tomb’) previous to my hour with Bishop Walsh, would I have been the wiser after hearing of his ‘unwilling’ stance to denounce abortion for say, a foetus/little unborn child with Down’s Syndrome?

So according to Michael Voris, Dublin is the-whole-of-Ireland in microcosm? This doesn't sit well with this Cork woman!

“The decline of the Church is perhaps felt nowhere more acutely than in Ireland”: wasn’t that small fact that Ireland has the highest Mass attendance of the whole of Europe considered?
But is it right to take the most liberal part of Ireland, Dublin (which means ‘black pool’ in English) as being entirely representative of the whole of Ireland? Can interviewing a few dozen on Dublin’s most cosmopolitan street be used to fuel pronouncements about the whole of Éire? Dublin is categorically the most ‘liberal’ part of Ireland (those voting records almost all-in-favour of divorce, and easier access to abortion show this, not to mention the pro-EU voting records). Michael Voris was in Dublin, but had he gone to but one of the provincial towns in Donegal, he may have recorded the exactly the opposite reactions. But then Ireland is regional, and exceedingly diverse for such a tiny island of only four and a half million.

Had Michael gone to Cork on a Sunday morning and got the reactions from the young, (oh, that queen of adjectives ‘young’) people spilling out of the Tridentine Latin Masses then there would have been a different video. In Cork, there is a high proportion, per rate of population, attending the Tridentine Latin Mass. But then Ireland is regional, and exceedingly diverse for such a tiny island of only four and a half million.
Interviewing individuals on a street setting has that instantaneous, this-is-what-the-people-are-saying feel. But many of the interviewees mentioned the Catholic influence of their grandparents. This should not pass without note.
During my preparations for a Valentine’s Day spread in The Times Online, I spent weeks interviewing a girl ‘Cindy’, who had not practiced the faith for years, and who had been in many different and colourful, cohabitating and otherwise relationships. Cindy had chosen chastity, after a long struggle to be free of the ‘baggage’ of sexual relationships. When she was deciding not ‘to sleep around’, very strong voices that kept coming back to her were from her Irish grandparents who had told her to be aware of men who would ‘hoodwink’ her with ‘the heebie-jeebies’ but who had ‘wicked intentions’. But, perhaps, I digress. This is a mere example of the tenacious example of Catholic Irish grandparents. Cindy has returned to Sunday Mass, and the sacraments as a whole, and quotes her Irish grandparents as being ‘the only people who really cared for me’. Is she an isolated example?
The Vortex has disabled comments for this video, partly because of the racist content of the comments. Racist or anti-Irish, I ask? Or were the comments from people who feel that those interviewed in the above video do not represent Ireland as a whole?

There is no real comparison between Padre Pio and John Corapi, but many contrasts

Pope John Paul II conferred Holy Orders on John Corapi in June 1991. Formerly known as ‘Fr Corapi’, he is now simply ‘John Corapi’, because in his own words, ‘I have resigned from public ministry.’ Yet he is nonetheless adamant that he will be a priest ‘for all eternity’. And here we come to the most immediate contrast – Padre Pio was canonised in 2002  – but is still known as Padre (Fr) Pio.  From St Pio’s ordination on August 10th, 1910, never was the ‘Fr’ dropped. Padre Pio was suspended from June 11, 1931, to July 16, 1933. The reasons for Padre Pio’s suspension are entirely different to those of ordained-priest-but-no-longer-called-‘Fr’ John Corapi. Padre Pio was not accused of sexual impropriety or drug addiction. Padre Pio’s two year suspension was basically because he was wrongly considered a false mystic who inspired fanaticism in his followers (as anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m very devoted to Padre Pio).

On Ash Wednesday, 2011, a woman known to John Corapi, sent a letter to several bishops accusing Corapi of drug dependency, sexual exploits with her and other women. Corapi was placed on ‘administrative leave’ following this. John Corapi’s high profile case comes now when many accused priests are on administrative leave – and are aggravated, even depressed that they are in ‘limbo’, waiting for their case to be heard and for the possibility that their name will be cleared. Fr Corapi has implicated the woman accusing him (‘the bishop’s star witness against me’) as not being ‘sober’ or ‘sane’. John Corapi repeatedly refers to his accuser’s ‘acute alcoholism’.  Fr Corapi has resigned from public ministry because he says, ‘I have no choice… No reasonable chance of being reinstated..’ and that he ‘can’t expect a fair outcome’. John Corapi has gone on to say that ‘90%’ of his priestly ministry had always been preaching. And that he will continue to preach, but will not say Mass or hear Confessions. John Corapi is an undoubtedly gifted speaker. Padre Pio rarely preached a sermon at Mass; he had been advised from a young age that his health was not robust enough to withstand the pressures of preaching. But Padre Pio’s Mass was itself the sermon.

Padre Pio’s suspension or ‘imprisonment’ began in June 11th 1931. A directive had come from the Vatican that he was forbidden from saying Mass in public and from hearing confessions. When the news was given to St Pio, he covered his eyes with his blood-stained, stigmatised hands and said, “may the will of God be done.” Then Padre Pio immediately went to pray before a crucifix. Padre Pio never made protests judgments about the sanity of his accusers. For the two years that followed Padre Pio said a three-hour Mass in the private chapel of the Friary and the chapel door was closed. No member of the public was allowed to be present. During these lonely two years, it was widely believed that Padre Pio’s suspension would be permanent, and that St Pio would never again be a priest in the main Church.

Later it was proved that Padre Pio was innocent of all charges – a historical fact.

We do not know that John Corapi is completely blameless, we do not even know if he is partially at fault. John Corapi has said "all of the allegations in the complaint are false”. Yet, in his You-Tube broadcasts, John Corapi tells us that ‘we’ do not know all the facts and all the details. OK. Got that. But by the same token, if we do not know ‘all’ the particulars – may we fully trust John Corapi’s protestations of innocence? May Corapi expect us this of us? He has to allow for the fact that if he can’t (and yes, he can’t) disclose full details of the case, then he asks us to rely on his word, and his good will.

This is not an attempt to blame Corapi. It is an effort to separate him from closely associated with beloved Padre Pio. The biggest, and most hazardous difficulty in categorising Fr Corapi and St Pio together – is that we know now that Padre Pio was completely innocent and untarnished. Fr Corapi may profess his innocence – but who can say that they know beyond all doubt that this is entirely true? The comparison with Padre Pio is based on the assumption that John Corapi is guiltless.

In his You-Tube broadcasts John Corapi is reiterating that he can’t stay in the priesthood and ‘die’. But every ordained priest is in alter Christus – and like Jesus Christ who gave Himself for our sins – a priest may be required to suffer and die. There’s endless chatter about bishops who are ‘out to get Fr Corapi’ because Fr Corapi in a voice like a marching drum, has told ‘the truth’ and has purportedly earned the wrath of the bishops. With his self-styled role of outsider/outcast, or ‘Black Sheepdog’, John Corapi is presenting himself as a causality of the Catholic Church. This seems quite the inverse of the vocation of the priest, who may, like Jesus Christ, be called on to die for Mother Church.
John Corapi is not literally being led to a gory slaughter. But with the portentous posts on his blog, which are causing dire rumours (yes, they are rumours because ‘we’ do not know enough details to make a conclusive case) it’s made to sound as though he has to escape a terrible fate – by leaving the priesthood and giving up his habit. And this collects a lot of sympathy. That apocalyptic image of him as a fearsome hound with innocent sheep reflected in one eye, and bloodthirsty wolves in the other, conveys a not-so-subtle message that some prowl around him, preying on him.
John Corapi is however gathering grass-root support from a global garden of Catholics. Yet, is it uncharitable to ask; if Fr Corapi’s many supporters later find out that he is in fact guilty, will their faith wither away? If their faith in built on Fr Corapi, who’s foundation may be built on sand, will their faith crumble with his reputation?

PS – Supporters of John Corapi who read this blog, and may want to ‘unfriend’ me on Facebook or unfollow this blog. But I'm not against John Corapi. This post is not casting blame or aspersions on Corapi, it merely argues that the comparison with Padre Pio is hasty, and will remain unfounded until Corapi’s blamelessness is fully established.

John Corapi's Conversion Story - Condensed Version

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