Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

'Humanae Vitae' sign of troubled times

"Thomas Stransky, an official of Rome's Secretariat for Christian Unity, suggests that the church is suffering from a "silent schism" of rebels who are remaining Catholic in name but are "hanging loose" from the institutional church." -- Time Cover Story, "Catholic Freedom v. Authority," November 22, 1968

Wow. Amazing.

To get more color and gain greater understanding of the torrential times surrounding issuance of "Humanae Vitae," take a read through the Time cover story from November 22, 1968.
And here are words from the culprit who started it all -- Charles E. Curran in his book Loyal Dissent, published 2006. (No wonder Catholic University had such a notorious reputation. Thankfully, today, CUA is a papal flagship in America.) Looks as if then-Rev. Curran was an adviser at Vatican II and let his pride override the purpose of his service to our Church. Curran was "let go" from CUA in 1986. Since some time after that, he has taught at Southern Methodist University.

While Curran makes himself out to be brave and righteous in his (misguided) dissent, there is no denying that the true conscienable objector and hero in this saga is now-Cardinal Stafford, who held to the truth through the firestorm of hatred, distortion, manipulation and coersion.

Let's offer a prayer of thanks in this moment for the courage of Pope Paul VI and for all those of his time and ours whose values and virtues lead them to discern, accept and act in God's truth.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

One priest's holy dissent in 'Humanae Vitae' firestorm

“A pastor and several seminary professors had abused rhetoric to undermine the truth within the evangelical community.” --Cardinal James Francis Stafford

In contrast to Father Paul Byrnes' pride in being one of the 72 signing dissenters to Pope Paul VI's "Humanae Vitae" stands Cardinal James Francis Stafford in his humble resignation to the laws of God and nature -- and obedience to his Pope and to his conscience. Here is a summary of Cardinal Stafford's poignant recollection of those heated August 1968 events, and his reflections on the source for the storm and the effects of the rumblings that shake the Church yet today. The full version of the cardinal's essay may be read at

Humanae Vitae
"The Year of the Peirasmòs - 1968"
by Cardinal James Francis Stafford

… [Pope Paul VI, issuing “Humanae Vitae”] met immediate, premeditated,
and unprecedented opposition from some American theologians and pastors. …

On the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, I have been asked to reflect on one event of that year, the doctrinal dissent among some priests and theologians in an American Archdiocese on the occasion of its publication. It is not an easy or welcome task. But since it may help some followers of Jesus to live what Pope Paul VI called a more “disciplined” life (HV 21), I will explore that event. …

In 1968 something terrible happened in the Church. Within the ministerial priesthood ruptures developed everywhere among friends which never healed. And the wounds continue to affect the whole Church. The dissent, together with the leaders’ manipulation of the anger they fomented, became a supreme test. It changed fundamental relationships within the Church.

Some background material is necessary. Cardinal Lawrence J. Shehan, the sixth Archbishop of Baltimore, was my ecclesiastical superior at the time. Pope Paul VI had appointed him along with others as additional members to the Papal Commission for the Study of Problems of the Family, Population, and Birth Rates, first established by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1963 during the II Vatican Council. There had been discussions and delays and unauthorized interim reports from Rome prior to 1968. The enlarged Commission was asked to make recommendations on these issues to the Pope.

In preparation for its deliberations, the Cardinal sent confidential letters to various persons of the Church of Baltimore seeking their advice. I received such a letter.
My response drew upon experience, both personal and pastoral. …

In a confidential letter responding to his request, I shared in a general fashion these concerns. My counsel to Cardinal Shehan was very real and specific. …[T]he unitive and procreative meanings of marriage cannot be separated. Consequently, to deprive a conjugal act deliberately of its fertility is intrinsically wrong. To encourage or approve such an abuse would lead to the eclipse of fatherhood and to disrespect for women. Since then, Pope John Paul II has given us the complementary and superlative insight into the nuptial meaning of the human body. …

Some time later, the Papal Commission sent its recommendations to the Pope. The majority advised that the Church’s teaching on contraception be changed in light of new circumstances. Cardinal Shehan was part of that majority. Even before the encyclical had been signed and issued, his vote had been made public although not on his initiative.

As we know, the Pope decided otherwise. This sets the scene for the tragic drama following the actual date of the publication of the encyclical letter on July 29, 1968.
In his memoirs, Cardinal Shehan describes the immediate reaction of some priests in Washington to the encyclical. “[A]fter receiving the first news of the publication of the encyclical, the Rev. Charles E. Curran, instructor of moral theology of The Catholic University of America, flew back to Washington from the West where he had been staying. Late [on the afternoon of July 29], he and nine other professors of theology of the Catholic University met, by evident prearrangement, in Caldwell Hall to receive, again by prearrangement with the Washington Post, the encyclical, part by part, as it came from the press. The story further indicated that by nine o’clock that night, they had received the whole encyclical, had read it, had analyzed it, criticized it, and had composed their six-hundred word ‘Statement of Dissent.’ Then they began that long series of telephone calls to ‘theologians’ throughout the East, which went on, according to the Post, until 3:30 A.M., seeking authorization, to attach their names as endorsers (signers was the term used) of the statement, although those to whom they had telephoned could not have had an opportunity to see either the encyclical or their statement. Meanwhile, they had arranged through one of the local television stations to have the statement broadcast that night.”

The Cardinal’s judgment was scornful. In 1982 he wrote, “The first thing that we have to note about the whole performance is this: so far as I have been able to discern, never in the recorded history of the Church has a solemn proclamation of a Pope been received by any group of Catholic people with so much disrespect and contempt.” …

In Baltimore in early August, 1968, a few days after the encyclical’s issuance, I received an invitation by telephone from a recently ordained assistant pastor to attend a gathering of some Baltimore priests at the rectory of St. William of York parish in southwest Baltimore to discuss the encyclical. The meeting was set for Sunday evening, August 4. I agreed to come. Eventually a large number of priests were gathered in the rectory’s basement. I knew them all.

The dusk was clear, hot, and humid. The quarters were cramped. We were seated on rows of benches and chairs and were led by a diocesan inner-city pastor well known for his work in liturgy and race-relations. There were also several Sulpician priests present from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore to assist him in directing the meeting. I don’t recall their actual number.

My expectations of the meeting proved unrealistic. I had hoped that we had been called together to receive copies of the encyclical and to discuss it. I was mistaken. Neither happened.

After welcoming us and introducing the leadership, the inner-city pastor came to the point. He expected each of us to subscribe to the Washington “Statement of Dissent.” Mixing passion with humor, he explained the reasons. They ranged from the maintenance of the credibility of the Church among the laity to the need to allow ‘flexibility’ for married couples in forming their consciences on the use of artificial contraceptives. Before our arrival, the conveners had decided that the Baltimore priests’ rejection of the papal encyclical would be published the following morning in The Baltimore Sun, one of the daily newspapers. The Washington statement was read aloud. Then the leader asked each of us to agree to have our names attached to it. No time was allowed for discussion, reflection, or prayer. Each priest was required individually to give a verbal “yes” or “no.”

I could not sign it. My earlier letter to Cardinal Shehan came to mind. I remained convinced of the truth of my judgement and conclusions. Noting that my seat was last in the packed basement, I listened to each priest’s response, hoping for support. It didn’t materialize. Everyone agreed to sign. There were no abstentions. As the last called upon, I felt isolated. The basement became suffocating.

By now it was night. The room was charged with tension. Something epochal was taking place. It became clear that the leaders’ strategy had been carefully mapped out beforehand. It was moving along without a hitch. Their rhetorical skills were having their anticipated effect. They had planned carefully how to exert what amounted to emotional and intellectual coercion. Violence by overt manipulation was new to the Baltimore presbyterate. The leader’s reaction to my refusal was predictable and awful. The whole process now became a grueling struggle, a terrible test…. The priest/leader, drawing upon some scatological language from his Marine Corp past in the II World War responded contemptuously to my decision. He tried to force me to change. He became visibly angry and verbally abusive. The underlying, ‘fraternal’ violence became more evident. He questioned and then derided my integrity. He taunted me to risk my ecclesiastical ‘future,’ although his reference was more anatomically specific. The abuse went on.

With surprising coherence I was eventually able to respond that the Pope’s encyclical deserved the courtesy of a reading. None of us had read it. I continued that, as a matter of fact, I agreed with and accepted the Pope’s teaching as it had been reported in the public media. That response elicited more ridicule. Otherwise there was silence. Finally, seeing that I would remain firm, the ex-Marine moved on to complete the business and adjourn the meeting. The leaders then prepared a statement for the next morning’s daily paper.

The meeting ended. I sped out of there, free but disoriented. Once outside the darkness encompassed me. We all had been subjected to a new thing in the Church, something unexpected. A pastor and several seminary professors had abused rhetoric to undermine the truth within the evangelical community. When opposed, they assumed the role of Job’s friends. Their contempt became a nightmare. In the night it seemed that God’s blind hand was reaching out to touch my face.

The dissent of a few Sulpician seminary professors compounded my disorientation. In their ancient Baltimore Seminary I had first caught on to the connection between freedom, interiority, and obedience. By every ecclesial measure they should have been aware that the process they supported that evening exceeded the “norms of licit dissent.” But they showed no concern for the gravity of that theological and pastoral moment. They saw nothing unbecoming in the mix of publicity and theology. They expressed no impatience then or later over the coercive nature of the August meeting. Nor did any of the other priests present. One diocesan priest did request privately later that night that his name be removed before the statement’s publication in the morning paper. …

An earlier memory from April 1968 helped to shed further light on what had happened in August, 1968…. During the height of the 1968 Baltimore riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I had made an emergency call to that same inner-city pastor who would lead the later August meeting. It was one of numerous telephone conversations I had with inner-city pastors during the night preceding Palm Sunday. At the request of the city government, I was asking whether the pastors or their people, both beleaguered, might need food, medical assistance, or other help.

My conversation with him that April night was by far the most dramatic. He described the view from the rectory while speaking on the phone. A window framed a dissolving neighborhood; his parish was becoming a raging inferno. He said, “From here I see nothing but fire burning everywhere. Everything has been set ablaze. The Church and rectory are untouched thus far.” He did not wish to leave or be evacuated. His voice betrayed disillusionment and fear. Later we learned that the parish buildings survived.

Sorting out’ these two events of violence continued throughout the following months and years. The trajectories of April and August 1968 unpredictably converged. Memories of the physical violence in the city in April 1968 helped me to name what had happened in August 1968. Ecclesial dissent can become a kind of spiritual violence in its form and content. A new, unsettling insight emerged. Violence and truth don’t mix. When expressive violence of whatever sort is inflicted upon truth, the resulting irony is lethal.

What do I mean? Look at the results of the two events. After the violent 1968 Palm Sunday weekend, civil dialogue in metropolitan Baltimore broke down and came to a stop. It took a back seat to open anger and recriminations between whites and blacks. The violence of the priests’ August gathering gave rise to its own ferocious acrimony. Conversations among the clergy, where they existed, became contaminated with fear. Suspicions among priests were chronic. Fears abounded. … Priests’ fraternity had been wounded. Pastoral dissent had attacked the Eucharistic foundation of the Church. Its nuptial significance had been denied. Some priests saw bishops as nothing more than Roman mannequins.

Something else happened among priests on that violent August night. Friendship in the Church sustained a direct hit. Jesus, by calling those who were with him his ‘friends,’ had made friendship a privileged analogy of the Church. That analogy became obscured after a large number of priests expressed shame over their leaders and repudiated their teaching.

Cardinal Shehan later reported that on Monday morning, August 5, he “was startled to read in the Baltimore Sun that seventy-two priests of the Baltimore area had signed the Statement of Dissent.” What he later called “the years of crisis” began for him during that hot, violent August evening in 1968.

But that night was not a total loss. The test was unexpected and unwelcome. Its unhinging consequences continue. Abusive, coercive dissent has become a reality in the Church and subjects her to violent, debilitating, unproductive, chronic controversies. But I did discover something new. Others also did. When the moment of Christian witness came, no Christian could be coerced who refused to be. Despite the novelty of being treated as an object of shame and ridicule, I did not become “ashamed of the Gospel” that night and found “sweet delight in what is right.” It was not a bad lesson. Ecclesial obedience ran the distance. …

The violence of the initial disobedience was only a prelude to further and more pervasive violence. Priests wept at meetings over the manipulation of their brothers. Contempt for the truth, whether aggressive or passive, has become common in Church life. Dissenting priests, theologians and laypeople have continued their coercive techniques. From the beginning the press has used them to further its own serpentine agenda.

All of this led to a later discovery. Discernment is an essential part of episcopal ministry. With the grace of “the governing Spirit” the discerning skills of a bishop should mature. …

A brief after word. In 1978 or thereabouts during an episcopal visitation to his parish, I was having lunch with the Baltimore pastor, the ex-Marine, who led the August 1968 meeting. I was a guest in his rectory. He was still formidable. Our conversation was about his parish, the same parish he had been shepherding during the 1968 riots. The atmosphere was amiable. During the simple meal in the kitchen I came to an uneasy decision. Since we had never discussed the August 1968 night, I decided to initiate a conversation about it. My recall was brief, objective and, insofar as circumstances allowed, unthreatening. I had hoped for some light from him on an event which had become central to the experience of many priests including myself. While my mind and heart were recalling the events of the night, he remained silent. His silence continued afterwards. Even though he had not forgotten, he made no comment. He didn’t lift his eyes. His heart’s fire was colder now.

Nothing was forthcoming. I left the matter there. No dialogue was possible in 1968; it remained impossible in 1978. There was no common ground. Both of us were looking into an abyss - from opposite sides. Anguish and disquiet overwhelmed the distant hope of reconciliation and friendship. We never returned to the subject again. He has since died while serving a large suburban parish. … “Lord, remember the secret worth of all our human worthlessness.” …

Francis Cardinal Stafford
Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Faith a guide through politics

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters on October 26, 2008.

Election messages are convoluted with thunderous clanging and clamoring for months on end – the contending voices and maneuverings of candidates and their interest groups. The crescendo peaks as Election Day nears. We voters weary; but we know our duty: To persevere in sorting through the noise and confusion, to discern the truth: To exercise our privilege to vote – and to vote responsibly in accordance with our consciences.

“When he listens to his conscience,” states the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1777-78, available at, “the prudent man can hear God speaking.... [M]an is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right.”

“Faith helps us see more clearly the truth about human life and dignity that we also understand through human reason,” states the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in its 2007 publication titled “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” (available at

The bishops continue: “The United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism or discrimination. … Our nation’s tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions into public life.”

Politics reflects society; and society is complex – and often self-interested. Considering the myriad of issues is dizzying. Listening to the rhetoric is confounding. We citizens are obliged, though, to seek clarity and to vote for the ticket that our faith and reason tell us is best for the common good – now and into the future.

Catholics are urged to be guided by our “moral convictions” when discerning our vote, rather than being swayed by a candidate’s party or other affiliation. In the Faithful Citizenship publication, the bishops state that voters should “examine candidates’ positions on issues and (their) integrity, philosophy and performance.” Prudent consideration, then, of the candidates’ formation, motivations and records is a practical place to focus.

The publication summarizes seven “themes of Catholic social teaching (to) provide a moral framework for decisions in public life.” The first listed is “Right to Life”: While no voter should be single-issue minded, the bishops note, “a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.” The right to life is basic to all other rights. (Visit

The next theme listed has to do with the sanctity of marriage as “the fundamental unit of society…(a) sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children (that) must not be redefined, undermined or neglected,” as marriage between one man and one woman is essential “to promote the well-being of individuals and the common good.” Society is built upon families. (Visit

In addition to calls to preserve life and family, five other themes are noted by the bishops as most deserving of voters’ discernment: Balance between individual rights and social responsibilities; treatment for “the weakest among us;” dignity of work; pursuit of justice and peace; and stewardship for the environment.

No one tells me how to vote; but I appreciate the Church’s wisdom and guidance in basic moral matters of life and dignity. Faith is a steady compass for navigating the political storm.

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

P.S. to blog readers: This prayerful video titled "In Your Silence" sums up beautifully.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Infallible conscience not Catholic

"We need to be humble and pliable to seek and receive God's will for us, and thoughtful and "mature" in sharing it in our relationships and actions toward others. Misguidedly relying defiantly on the absolute truth of our own conscience' is not Catholic."

In my continuing research to discern the veracity of Father Paul Byrnes' "Why Catholic" presentation yesterday on the topic of "conscience," I found a wealth of information that further debunks his teaching. I shared a sampling of my additional findings and thoughts with Deacon Loren Mooney (St. Patrick Church in Cumberland):

The more I research/read, the more reassured I am that my understanding of the Catholic teaching (as opposed to Protestant or Eastern, which is what it seems we heard yesterday) is the authentic one; and the more convincned I am that Fr. Byrnes, sadly, holds a distorted, stunted, misguided view of "conscience."

Look at this: The article notes: "It's a long story, but a lot of people have been taught weak or bad doctrine for many years...."

Speaking of the "long story," here's the article I was recalling yesterday: It's by Archbishop O'Brien.

And while Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae encyclical (( may not be ex cathedra, it is a solid, inspired teaching that we Catholics are obliged to respect and obey.

I believe that "conscience," as a reasoned judgment to discern right and wrong, good and evil, in the context of our life's past, present and future, is intended to employ moral law, not usurp it; and to be a catalyst for seeking good information and guidance in order to discern facts or movements in a situation and then make sound decisions for promoting a poisitive personal impact in society; and to help us to develop the ability to learn from our mistakes or misjudgments and to know when and how to make amends with God and others for our errors or transgressions within the guidelines of the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Church's teachings and the laws of the land; and to grow a solid foundational understanding of moral truth that results in maturity -- that is, well-roundedness and responsibility -- in thought and aciton.

God is God: We are not. Our consciences are not the source of moral truth. Our consciences are ever forming, and they are falible. We need to be humble and pliable to seek and receive God's will for us, and thoughtful and "mature" in sharing it in our relationships and actions toward others. Misguidedly relying defiantly on the absolute truth of our own "conscience" is not Catholic.

Prayers 4 u (and 4 Father Byrnes),
Nancy (10-24-08)

Update: See my additional October 25 post.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Debunking 'the conscience principle'

"Rather than being our own innate moral compass, always pointing us instinctively, infallibly on the right path, our conscience is our innate sonar, a "homing" device, that calls us humbly to seek God's will for us, and to desire to listen to it, and to discern through reason -- sometimes failing, often times correcting -- the right path to take for His glory on our life's journey."

Quite a lively discussion took place in our "Why Catholic" session today. Retired Monsignor Paul Byrnes, former pastor at St. Michael Catholic Church in Frostburg, Maryland, presented his view of "conscience." Father Byrnes' view fits within the context of what Dr. Frank Mobbs calls "The Conscience Principle," an erroneous and irresponsible interpretation, the defender of the faith characterizes it in his article titled "'Follow your conscience'": but what does that mean?", of the Catholic teaching; and it is called a "heresy" in an article simply titled "Conscience" by Scripture scholar and apologist Father William Most.

Father Byrnes espouses what appears to be a distorted, stunted, out-of-context personal interpretation of a catechetical doctrine, stated in part as such in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1782): "Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions."

Father Byrnes interpreted that passage for us, among others in Scripture, saints' and popular writings, and he cited (a bit incorrectly, and blatantly out of context) Pope Paul VI's Vatican II Council "Declaration on Religious Freedom" document, to teach that personal conscience overrides moral law as equally as it does civil law.

Sadly, Father Byrnes is sorely mistaken. The Catechism teaches, and the Catholic Church has always taught, that conscience is a gift from God, a divine desire for truth imprinted in our souls, that urges us and helps us to reason and discern right from wrong -- in accordance with moral law, not in objection to it.

To obey one's conscience is to be prudent in considering the fullness and complexities of a situation and to be courageous in deciding to do what is morally right, in accord with God's and nature's laws as we understand them, especially in the face of opposition or corruption that would persuade or coerce us to do wrong. Many of the saints' biographies tell heroic stories of choices made in defense of morality, often to their own peril. The saints are our role models throughout time for exercising conscienable objection to societal pressures that would distort or corrupt our relationships with God and others.

Conscience is not an individual source for moral law, as Father Byrnes espouses. Moral law originates wtih God and emanates form Him. God writes the desire to follow moral law in our hearts: At Baptism, we receive His invitation to the wedding feast; and we spend our lives seeking to know Him, to be ready to recognize Him and to respond when He calls us.

Rather than being our own innate moral compass, always pointing us instinctively, infallibly on the right path, our conscience is our innate sonar, a "homing" device, that calls us humbly to seek God's will for us, and to desire to listen to it, and to discern through reason -- sometimes failing, often times correcting -- the right path to take for His glory on our life's journey.

Following is an email that I sent today to Deacon Loren Mooney at St. Patrick Catholic Church, the host site for the "Why Catholic" program.

Loren, Hi,
I appreciate and enjoy the Why Catholic presentations at St. Patrick, but I truly was surprised at Father Byrnes' (apparently, thankfully/hopefully, now quite outdated and never officially adopted) post-Vatican II popular concept of "The Conscience Principle" today.

I've done some research and found the following that I want to share with you. I hope you'll enjoy seeing them.

AD2000 is a JPII-influenced group of Christians in Australia who aim to revive and promote an understanding there of authentic Christian teachings.

Dr. Frank Mobbs is recognized in the Catholic Weekly, the official Catholic newspaper out of Sydney, as a defender of the faith.

The late Fr. William Most is consdiered to be a distinguished Scripture scholar and apologist.

(View my posts for "Why Catholic" sessions from October 9 and October 16.)
by Nancy E. Thoerig 10-23-08

Friday, October 10, 2008

Port Bolivar recovering after Ike

Associated Press photo by Sharon Steinmann: Michael Clow carries a box of Meals Ready-to-Eat given to him by the Texas National Guard on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008, in Port Bolivar, Texas. Clow rode out Hurricane Ike with his two cats and does not plan to leave.

All the familiar places and old landmarks are gone; and
eveything is covered with that grey mud. Now she cries: "It's awful.
It's just awful."

My mother and I talked recently with her suster, my aunt, Veronica whose home is on the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas, the area hardest hit by Hurricane Ike. Veronica is broken up but holding strong emotionally, hoping to get back into her house in the next couple of weeks. Sounds optimistic to me, but she believes in her own -- and the Texans' -- resiliency.
Veronica has seen her house; and things look much better for her than were anticipated at the time I wrote my post on September 14. The first floor is decimated, but not a window is broken on the second; and the roof is intact. Veronica says everthing upstairs is just as she left it.

Her house, she says, is one of two in her block still standing. The brick house across the street from her, too stiff to bend with the wind, is shattered. And the one next door is gone. Her fig and pear trees are dead; and her backyard and basement -- and the entire area -- are littered with debris, dead fish and six inches of grey mud. Anyone working on the island -- she says residents are doing their own clean up -- is adivsed to wear protective gear to avoid risking illness and infection.

"Comeaux is staying, so I know my house is safe," Veronica jokes about her young, tough Cajun friend who went in to see what was left, then refused to leave. Residents were allowed to return to work on their properties from dawn 'til dusk; then officials were forcing them off the peninsula. Comeaux said he was staying. And so, apparently, he did.

Veronica said then as time went on and the officials got to know and trust the residents, more were allowed to stay. Her son Michael had begun spending nights in her house.

Mike lost everything. His home was a trailer. It's destroyed. Among the meager belongings he found inside was a quilt his mother had made for him; and he retrieved two pairs of jeans and a belt that he found wrapped up in trees. He also found one of his cats near the top of a tree dead. He found three kittens, too, and took them back to the hotel in Beaumont, where his mom, a retired nurse, is feeding them and caring for their injuries.

Mike had been hired by the city of Beaumont to help clean up in town there; but as soon as he could get to his mom's house, she hired him. Mike works on the property, then drives the hour and a half back to the to hotel in Beaumont to clean up, then back to the house to spend the night. Armed with a portable generator, he can work by day; but there's no electricity or water or amenities in the house. Sounds scary to me for Mike to be there alone at night -- even with Comeaux nearby -- guarding the house against looting....

Veronica says it's very quiet. There are few people and no animals -- not even snakes or rats. And the lay of the land is unrecognizable. All the familiar places and old landmarks are gone; and eveything is covered with that grey mud. Now she cries: "It's awful. It's just awful."

Her son Pat spray-painted "Pat's Tries" on a piece of plywood with a message "We'll be back" and propped it up where his business had stood. But his mom wonders where he would begin to restart. Pat's house survived and is rebuildable, she says. But he lost his business, his plane, his recreational vehicle and heavy eqiupment, other property; and he lost his invesemtns in the stock market crash. Pat is 60 years old.

"But I'm gonna rebuild," she says. She'll need to be sure the house is shored up before she can move back into it and begin to make repairs on the bottom half.

After Hurricane Clara in the 1960s, when they rebuilt then, Veronica's (late) husband Pete sunk marsh anchors around the house and strung steel cables across the roof and tied them into the anchors. We believe that system saved her house this time.
"It's a hundred-year storm," she says, speculating that she should be okay for another hundred years....
by Nancy E. Thoerig 10-10-08

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mysteries in Loretto Chapel miracle unraveled

"When the Sisters of Loretto needed a staircase built for their new Chapel in 1872, they brought in a French carpenter by the name of Francois-Jean Rochas, a member of les compagnon, a French guild of celibate and secretive craftsmen." -- Arts Alliance, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Everyone loves a miracle; but some do have explanations --though well guarded, apparently, in the case of the staircase at Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The fable of that miracle, which seemingly has been explained and documented, lives on in an email that I recently received from a friend in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The email titled "Miraculous Staircase" notes that as many as 250,000 visitors pass through the chapel annually to view the suspended circular staircase. Built in the late 1800s, the chapel's construction plans apparently did not include a staircase to the choir loft. The nuns supposedly prayed for a solution that came in the form of an anonymous stranger who appeared mysteriously and offered to biuld a staircase, then disappeared without a trace -- and without his pay.

Believers specualted that St. Joseph was the carpenter -- mystery number one. A second mystery ponders on how the suspended staircase can balance without any apparent cnetral support. A third mystery wonders where the wood came from, since it is not native to the Santa Fe region.

In her book, Loretto: The Sisters and Their Santa Fe Chapel (published in 2002), as reported in, Mary Jean Straw Cook cites an 1895 obituary in The Santa Fe New Mexican for native Frenchman Francois-Jean Rochas that claims he was "an expert worker in wood [who] built the staircase in the Loretto chapel." The Wikipedia article also notes that Ms. Straw Cook "found in the Sisters' logbook an entry for March 1881: 'Paid for wood Mr Rochas, $150.00.'" And the Arts Alliance in Albuquerque states: "When the Sisters of Loretto needed a staircase built for their new Chapel in 1872, they brought in a French carpenter by the name of Francois-Jean Rochas, a member of les compagnon, a French guild of celibate and secretive craftsmen." The Arts Alliance article notes that Mr. Rochas later moved to southern New Mexico and was murdered in 1895 by cattlemen who seemingly wanted to take his water rights. Mystery number one solved.

Regarding the staircase's suspension and balancing act, Wikipedia notes that "the central spiral of the staircase is narrow enough to serve as a central beam." Mystery number two revealed.

Ms. Straw Cook alsso has found eveidence, acdording to Wikipedia, that the staircase probably was built in France, then fitted into the chapel by Rochas -- explaining, perhaps, the exotic origin of the wood. Mystery number three explained.

Today, the Wikipedia article notes, the chapel is privately owned by a company that owns an adjacent hotel. It can be booked for weddings; and visitors may enter the Gothic Revival style chapel, a small-scale replica of a larger one in Paris, to see the staircase and stained-glass windows for a fee of $2.50.
by Nancy E. Thoerig 10-09-08
picture from

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Christian film burning up box office

Check out this GodTube clip of a Fox News segment that touts the success of Fireproof. a new low-budget Christian film that opened September 26 and has surpassed bigger industry films, like one showing at the same time starring Brad Pitt, to take fourth place at the box office.