Friday, June 27, 2014

False report of babies’ bodies found in Irish septic tank recalls long history of anti-Catholic prejudice


The stories were lurid almost beyond belief. Irish nuns charged with taking care of unwed mothers and their children had disposed of hundreds of children’s bodies in a septic tank. The New York Times reported it, as did newspapers around the world. It was a horrific nightmare for the Church, signaling yet again the hypocrisy and cruelty of this scandal-plagued institution.
The only problem is that the story is false.
There were mass graves, the result of high death rates from disease and malnutrition in Ireland for centuries. But the suggestion of women religious casually disposing of babies in a septic tank is something else entirely, born of rumor and sloppy historical surmise.
It all began in the town of Tuam, County Galway, where local historian Catherine Corless said she found that almost 800 children at a home for unwed mothers run by the Sisters of Bon Secours had died there from 1925 to 1961. When she did not find records of the children being buried in local graveyards, she guessed, based on local lore, that the bodies were somewhere on the grounds of the abandoned, long ago destroyed home.
Based on no bodies and slim evidence, the media was off to the races: “Galway Historian Finds 800 Babies in Septic Tank Grave” was the headline in the Boston Globe, repeated in one form or another for days. Cries for an investigation by the Irish government soon followed.
Lost in the clamor was any real historical research about conditions in Ireland at the time and the reality of such homes. But as cooler heads began to look at the evidence, or lack thereof, the story began to fall apart. The Associated Press, for example, apologized for a raft of errors in its reporting on the case: “In the June 3 story, the AP quoted a researcher who said she believed that most of the remains of children who died there were interred in a disused septic tank; the researcher has since clarified that without excavation and forensic analysis it is impossible to know how many sets of remains the tank contains, if any.” Others have expressed doubt that a septic tank was ever used.
It is likely, however, that far fewer people saw the multiple “corrections” and “clarifications” than saw the original stories. The indefatigable Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has already published an analysis of the controversy titled “Ireland’s ‘Mass Grave’ Hysteria.”
What interests me, however, is how quickly so many people were willing to believe that Catholic nuns would callously dispose of babies in such a disgusting way. In fact, the story evokes a long anti-Catholic tradition best represented by the allegations of a woman in the book “The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk.” First published in 1836, it was a perennial best-seller in the 19th century.
Discredited almost as soon as it was published, “Maria Monk” claimed to be the story of a young nun initiated against her will into the horrible secrets of the Church. Hers was a fantastical tale of perverted priests and sexually abused nuns. When babies were born of such unions, “they were always baptized, and immediately strangled.” This sordid tale of perversion and murder both titillated and outraged the Protestant audience for which it was written, but such lies came to be deeply embedded in the national consciousness. Today there is a willingness, compounded by coverage of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, to believe that the Church is somehow uniquely capable of endorsing terrible horrors.
It is little wonder that the media would rush to believe such a tale. More disturbing is how many Catholics believed this story as well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sudanese woman sentenced to death re-arrested

After having her death sentence for refusing to renounce her Christian faith revoked by a Sudanese court yesterday, Meriam Ibrahim has been re-arrested along with her husband at an airport.

According to the BBC, close to 40 security officers detained Ibrahim along with her husband, Daniel Wani - who is a U.S. citizen - and their two children Tuesday at an airport in Sudan’s capitol while attempting to leave the country.

Further details regarding the reasons why the couple were arrested have not been made available.

The arrest follows Ibrahim’s release from prison Monday after an appeals court dismissed her death sentence.

In May, the 27-year-old woman had been charged with abandoning Islam under Sudanese law. Because her father was a Muslim, Ibrahim was legally considered a Muslim even though her mother raised her as a Christian after her father left the family when she was 6 years old.

Despite pressure and multiple death threats, Ibrahim refused to renounce her Christian faith while in prison.

Her husband, Daniel Wani, told the BBC Monday that he was looking forward to seeing his wife and wanted his family to leave Sudan as soon as possible.

The couple's young son Martin has lived in prison with his mother since February. Ibrahim gave birth to their second child, a baby girl, while in prison in May.

Besides the crime of apostasy – or the abandoning of the Islamic faith – Ibrahim was also charged with adultery. Her marriage to her Christian husband was not considered valid since she was considered a Muslim.

She was to receive 100 lashes for the adultery charge and was sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Killer of US priest arrested


Fifty years ago Italy’s most famous modern saint was being treated like a criminal


Fifty years have passed since 1964, when Padre Pio was freed from certain tight constraints that bound him.
The humble Italian friar had been blessed with supernatural gifts such as reading souls, hearts and minds, and also phenomenal intercessory powers such as interceding for the sick so that they obtained miraculous cures from God. But in 1960 Padre Pio’s ministry was seriously limited following a strange series of events.
I find it dangerous for my stress levels to reflect on the way it was started by his fellow friars attempting to manipulate him. A very divisive issue was the money poured into the hospital, which Padre Pio had founded, the House for the Relief of Suffering.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds were donated for the construction of the hospital. Excited by the idea of making quick cash, Padre Pio’s superiors asked him if they could use the donations for a get-rich-quick scheme. Padre Pio refused because the money did not belong to him. When they lost huge sums on the scheme, they commanded him out of obedience to give them the donations for the hospital. To their chagrin, he refused again. This earned him their displeasure, and in order to seek evidence against him, they bugged his confessional – though Padre Pio cut the wiring with a pen knife.
A detailed report on Padre Pio’s alleged wrong-doing was put before Pope John XXIII. It included allegations that Padre Pio had sexualised contact with some women who went to him for Confession. Stefan Campanella’s book is a masterclass in understanding the events leading to the false information given to St John XXIII, and the consequences for Padre Pio.
An Apostolic Visitation was called for. The CDF, then known as the Holy Office, gave the role to Mgr Maccari. In the summer of 1960, the solemn Mgr Maccari visited Padre Pio, during the saint’s 50th anniversary of his ordination, and then drew up a list of sanctions. Fr Apostoli’s broadcast, Padre Pio: The Later Years, covers the topic of Mgr Maccari’s visitation well.
Padre Pio was prohibited from celebrating weddings and baptisms, he was only given a strict 30-minute slot for Mass, which was tight when you consider that Padre Pio spent four hours celebrating Mass on a feast day. Some individuals were barred from going to him for confession, and when he did hear Confessions, he only had three minutes for each penitent. He was not allowed to speak to women alone. In addition, monks at the monastery who were his friends were sent away, including some who acted in a nurse capacity to St Pio because he was so ill. Also, Padre Pio had to sign over the title of the House for the Relief of Suffering.
Most gallingly, Padre Pio’s superior, Fr Rosario, went further than the CDF. He put up embarrassing signs telling people not to approach Padre Pio, forbade the other friars from showing kindness to Padre Pio such as helping him up the stairs or bringing him a glass of beer in the extreme heat.
For a time it looked like Padre Pio would live out his remaining years being treated as a miscreant. For a wonderfully detailed account of this period of time in St Pio’s life, I recommend Renzo Allegri’s book,Padre Pio: Man of Hope.
But Paul VI changed things around rapidly. The Pope was not averse to St Pio. As Cardinal of Milan, Paul VI had sent a request for prayers to Padre Pio in 1959. In 1964, Pope Paul intervened with the CDF and ordered that Padre Pio be allowed to practise his ministry “in complete freedom” and that he was not to be confined “like a criminal”.
It is now 50 years since Padre Pio’s good name was restored in 1964. This is a cause for celebration in itself, but there is further reason for joy. The fact that it happened in 1964 means that Padre Pio had four whole years before his death in 1968 to practise his ministry and establish his reputation as a saint. For sake of argument, had the sanctions been lifted in 1967, then Padre Pio would have had very little time to freely demonstrate his saintliness, before dying in 1968.