An Open Letter to Bishop Malone, Diocese of Portland, Maine
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
I was present for your speech at the annual Pro-Life Education Association Awards Luncheon, Saturday, September 11, in Augusta. You are a powerful, dynamic speaker, with a masterful command of language including flawless diction and delivery, and you appeared to have wowed the audience in speaking of abortion and euthanasia as the primary evils of our day -----without question all the right words at the right time and for the right to life soldiers assembled there.
We have heard the same before, again, and again, and yet little has changed within the diocese, except perhaps that Mainers' hearts are more hardened against or heedless of the sanctity of life, especially that of the most vulnerable among us. In ecclesiastical circles, I understand that Maine is considered among the worst of dioceses. I have had three out-of-state priests' word on this, and they ought to know what makes the rounds.
During your talk you expressed what seemed to be a genuine concern about the apathy or lack of pro-life belief and action on the part of many in the diocese, noting that the numbers match the non-Catholic population. You seemed almost bewildered -----I could hear the frustration in your tone and within the context of the words employed to convey this to us. I am surprised you seem surprised. After all, you come from the Archdiocese of Boston, a very large diocese with enough Catholics to turn the tide, yet where the most pro-abortion politicians are elected year after year. Why should Maine be so different from its big sister state an hour and half away?
You have been here barely five months as I write this column, but we have been here, in the trenches for most of our adult life, a long time, over thirty years, and Catholics even longer than this. We have seen the debâcle of the faith within the same thirty year period, and it began from the pulpit, then slowly wound its way down into the hearts of the flock, untended by the shepherd:
First, we stopped hearing about the mortal sin of contraception as a general rule-----there have always been the exceptional priests. Then the families started becoming smaller, again as a general rule. So when Roe v Wade became settled in law and abortion part and parcel of social life and the sine qua non of political life, it was difficult for contracepting couples to be very sympathetic to pro-life as they had already decided that they could decide for themselves-----abortion was just one step removed, even though many of them would not have had one for themselves. But I recall some of the same mothers telling me that they would not hesitate to get their teenage daughter one if need be. These mothers, by the way, were and are regular communicants, who attend weekly Mass without fail. Their consciences are deadened to the fact that objectively, this, too, is a mortal sin.
Then I noticed what appeared to be a curious thing about the same time, but which turned out to be less curious and just plain human nature, from the standpoint of the effects of Original Sin:
Priests could be categorized in two camps: pro-life and non pro-life. In some parishes pro-life speakers have to go through a veritable gauntlet to speak or simply pass out flyers. Priests accustomed to bad counseling in the Confessional [I hear from parishioners here and there] were soon inured to diminishing the sanctity of life except for the death penalty and war. Abortion, like its twin sister, contraception, was just too close to touch because it was too close to home. One priest told me that he could not talk against contraception because he was "afraid to lose his parishioners." He failed to grasp that he had already "lost" them spiritually. They were merely there physically. Their salvation was his primary concern and he was thinking numbers to fill the pews. Of course, he also failed to notice that the actual numbers were shrinking anyway because the children being conceived and born were dwindling every decade. Speak of irony! And imagine having to have an organization called Priests for Life. Should not every priest, by definition be for life? All priests by virtue of their ordination should be priests for life and so much so that no formal organization should be necessary, where some belong and some do not. Imagine!
About ten years after this trajectory began, that is ten years after it became perceptible to me, I witnessed the impossible occur: the rise of the pro-abortion politician, who thinks he remains a Catholic in good standing, and in parish after parish he was fêted, allowed to speak, hold a place of honor, and as always, receive Holy Communion. One of the parishes where this occurred most recently was at your Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception [of all places and so named], last year, when Sen. Susan Collins, self-described Catholic in good standing was honored publicly by the pastor; she also received Holy Communion and as she went back to her pew she was seen by others to look around as if to say, "See ...!" This was the impression she imparted and which they reported to me. Now she should have had her head bowed, but then, the others should have as well. However, one can understand human nature and the effect that knowing she was in line for Communion must have had on some of them, so I can overlook this on their part. After all, if we are supposed to "dialogue" and understand in patience the abortion-supporting politician, [per your speech] ought not we extend the same to parishioners who pause to glance at others at such a time? Especially given human nature? Sen. Collins is one of the most pro-abortion Senators in the US Congress, with a national reputation and she sits on the Judiciary Committee, which does not portend well for future justices who understand justice from a Christian perspective. She is also a good speaker and excellent at wielding the form letter to her constituents as an act of polite dismissal. So you see, what you do say to her as her shepherd [and ours] is very much our business, despite the rudeness in your reply to the cogent question asked by Prof. Terry Hughes at the impromptu Q&A after your talk. It is very much our business because we have to deal with the afterwards, each and every time.
In my work as an activist, and a writer, I have opportunities to hear from the folks in the pews, perhaps from a vantage perspective because I must deal with "human nature" as an analyst because writers must understand the relationship between ideas and their consequences in social and political life. It's part of the trade so to speak. All too many of the folks are telling me that they do not understand what the big deal about voting for pro-abortion politicians is all about, precisely because they know that these same pols can receive Holy Communion any and every time, while they, some of whom are divorced and remarried may not . . .
Your Excellency, sometimes things are not as complicated as we make them out to be. Sometimes the most obvious clue provides the answer to the mystery.
You know, Bishop Malone, many a time I have heard the priests speak of the Church as a family, so let us use this analogy:
When our sons were young and one of them misbehaved in a sinful manner, my husband and I had to apply a discipline, not only to demonstrate that the sinful behavior could not be tolerated for the sake of his soul, but also to dissuade the others from following the bad example. I was not given to spanking, but used the "time-out" whereby the offending son had to go to his room and think about his offense. Until he could explain to me why it was wrong and what he was going to do to correct his behavior and amend his ways, he could not come out except to use personal facilities. That "time-out" was like a little exile, usually of short duration, but an exile all the same. It accomplished what it was supposed to. A "dialogue" occurred, first between God and him and then between him and me and the change for the better always ensued, at least for that particular behavior. Without the "time-out", the exile [refrain from communion with the rest of the family], that son would not have been forced to really think things through and use some of that time, I am sure the best portion of it, to pray. The son I had to use "the discipline" on the most often, is now a very holy priest, a very dedicated priest. When he was in the seminary he thanked me for being a "sarge" of a mother. He said he had learned self-discipline and fortitude and was very grateful. What do you think would have happened if I had merely spoken to my sons then dismissed them at the offending moment? No penalty, quite an example and incentive from a human nature standpoint, for the others to be lax in their Catholic comportment. Not that I was the perfect mother, far from it. I know what it is to be uncertain as to how to proceed, to be bone-weary and want to take the easy way, and sometimes did, to the detriment of my soul and my children's. So I know it is not always easy to have such responsibilities. Learn from my mistakes, Bishop, be a better father than I was a mother, some of the time. Oh, do not be like me, and say, "If only . . .". Dialogue must come after discipline sometimes, not before. The dialogue before does not appear to be effective as nothing changes, at least regards the support for and advocacy of abortion "rights".
Scripture teaches us infallibly that "scandals must come, but woe to those from whom scandals come." Our Lord wanted to prepare us for this eventuality, but also for us to prepare ourselves spiritually and mentally so we would not be the source of such a thing. But human nature being what it is, most people are bound to be touched by scandal anyway. The scandal or bad example of pro-abortion politicians receiving Holy Communion is so dire as to speak for itself. You told us that you were reluctant to ban these politicians from Holy Communion, in union with the Bishops' Conference because they "may have repented before receiving." You said that Card. Ratzinger agreed with you. I notice that modern bishops love to quote him selectively. They seldom do so when the matter is Tradition. You also mentioned that there other grave sins, etc., the implication being that we must not single this one sin out. Almost within the same breath you said that abortion was the primary sin of the age and most grave, citing the Holy Father. He has said that the sin of abortion was different and it is, for it carries an excommunication in of itself, while other sins as a rule do not, including other kinds of murder.
If I may be permitted, Your Excellency, your like comparisons of sins is not a good analogy. Yes, there are other grave sins for which those who remain unrepentant ought to refrain from the reception of the Blessed Sacrament. However, these are private sins and can cause no scandal, since only those who are in mortal sin from these can know of them. But with the public advocacy of the right to abortion as a good and even the claim to have the right to use tax dollars for the same, the grave sin is manifest to all and thus the scandal. So it is not the same thing at all.
As for repentance, you are being too glib here. Human nature doesn't work this way, especially with sinners. I know that every time I have repented of a sin, I have been and continue to be so sorrowful that sometimes I cannot fight the tears. Believe me, if I were such a politician and saw the horror of what I had advocated, when I repented, I would not permit myself to receive Holy Communion the first Sunday, until after I had had a chance to make the public aware, in order to avoid further scandal. That little penance of one Sunday would be the least I could do, because my sin was manifest and required public testimony to repair the damage of bad example as I just said, at the very least. True repentance of a public crime involves making public amends. So we would have no doubt as to any particular case of authentic repentance. But, let us pretend that there really could be a silent case here. You are not being consistent. You said that you were in total agreement that Catholic facilities could not be used by pro-abortion politicians because of the sin of scandal. Well, why not? Could not the person have had a moment of repentance just before? How come you choose not to "dialogue" here? Even your double standard falls flat and badly: You appear to acknowledge the sanctity of the Catholic facility but not the holiness of God in the Blessed Sacrament. How so, you inquire? Because you are prepared to take action in the one case but not the other. Yet God is of infinitely more worth than any hall or building. And the sin of scandal infinitely more grave. You cannot have it both ways. But you counter, with the use of the hall, time is needed to make the arrangements so there is notice, whereas with Holy Communion it is spontaneous, so to speak. I answer, no, it is not.
When I attend Catholic funerals where there is a likelihood of Protestants or "lapsed" Catholics being present the priest almost always announces the rules for reception of the Sacrament. It is presumed to be this way. The rule is even printed in the Missal. Well, with errant Catholic politicians, it ought to be presumed by pastors in the same way. If the Church has a stated policy on the one, the other should be made clear always as a matter of habit, so spontaneity is not germane. It should be in the Missal also, even more so.
I am in complete agreement with Professor Hughes, a Saint in my estimation. I have had to pay the price, for my advocacy of traditional Catholicism, or I should say, Catholicism, period. Because I publicly came to the support of the beleaguered Holy Father, I was manifestly denied Holy Communion in my former parish and the priest made sure to castigate me from the pulpit in such manner so as to leave no doubt about who I was and how I was a public sinner [for the sin of fidelity to the truth]. The bishop let that offense pass -----his, not the so-called sin of mine. He recognized I had not sinned, of course, but the actual offense of the priest was dismissed as if on a par with my alleged one. Later a ten-year-old girl was denied Holy Communion because she chose to use the option of kneeling and it is the norm for an option in the Western rite. So, please, Your Excellency, do not tell us about not wanting to be offensive and punitive, etc., by withholding Holy Communion. It has been a practice here off and on with regular impunity! We are simply too old, too exhausted, and too abused to be in the mood for such modern nostrums. It is less a matter of scandal than who is politically [religiously] incorrect according to the chancery [a do nothing policy] and thus singled for "the treatment." We no longer buy the rationale. There was a time when we would have given you leeway for your five months' stay here, but that time is long past. We old soldiers know the rules and understand all too well the non-royal run-around, etc. We understand all too well "business as usual" when we hear it. The crowd may have been won over, because they still want to believe everything is going to be okay this time, just like all the other times when it turned out not to be so. But I cannot afford the luxury of lying to myself anymore. This kind of optimism could even be a sin of commission in some cases. Christian prudence is a virtue we have yet to learn to cultivate, to our detriment and to all those unBaptized babies put to slaughter, not to mention the tragedy and sorrow of so many women who wake up later and realize what it is that was done in their name and for their supposed freedom.
Bishop, the recipe for the moral anarchy we have now is the one that is tried and true: modern dialogue and then when that fails, more of the same. A father cannot run his family this way without losing what is the family itself, as well as perhaps his own soul, if not his children's. I will pray and make a daily sacrifice for you, Your Excellency, that you will acquire the necessary Catholic courage. As you indicated, you have not ruled out discipline, I believe the phrase was "not yet."
One day while I was praying for the conversion of Susan Collins, Our Lady told me that one Hail Mary on the Rosary was not enough. She told me that her case required a minimum of three Hail Marys and from many souls. Please pass this message on in your travels throughout the diocese and have everyone pray three Hail Marys for her. Meanwhile, as the saying goes, Pray as if everything depends on God, then take action as if everything depends on you ... I am counting on you ... and Susan Collins is counting on you. She doesn't know it yet, but she is counting on you to help her save her soul from eternal damnation.
Yours in the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Great Mother of God,
Mrs. Pauly Fongemie
ADDENDUM: To his credit, Bishop Malone came out swinging against "gay marriage" and his support for the initiative that gave us a reprieve for two years, is largely responsible for the win. He merits our thanks and praise and our prayers, for we will have to do it all over again before we can scarcely catch our breath and our equilibrium. The cultural war is all-consuming and not for the faint of heart.
This a world away from 2005, when in an unprecedented show of audacity, inanity, irony, hypocrisy and sheer mendacity, the Ordinary of Maine, Bishop Richard Malone, has publicly blamed the defeat of the overturn of "gay and cross-gender rights" on the very groups who fought valiantly despite being outspent at least 5-1, despite the Bishop himself undermining their efforts, despite the lies and deceit by many of the Catholic clergy from the pulpit, despite the biased, ultra liberal media who deliberately misquoted traditional Catholic teaching and those who accurately cite from it, despite the enormous ignorance of most of the laity who "prefer" not to know hoping it will all go away while they bury their heads in the proverbial sand, despite the fact that the Bishop who had serious concerns refused to engage in battle and wanted no part of the referendum effort, claiming he was not neutral while remaining neither for nor against [the definition of neutral], despite all of this, the natural law and normalcy were defeated this time by a mere 10 percent. We would have won handily with the Bishop's help if he had sounded the alarm to his flock faced with the specter of "gay marriage" and more in the near future.
Yet he maintained the defeat was all our fault and no part of the blame belonged to the Chancery. Truly unbelievable! Either he has lost all ability to reason or he is practicing displacement -----the transfer of just guilt to an innocent party.
At that time I wrote:
"The irony is maddening! He is in all likelihood the largest employer of homosexuals on a per capita basis in the state. He intends to hire them and keep on doing so, so he has no need of an exception as an employer. Yet he willingly took his thirty pieces of silver----the exception provided by the sodomites to their useful idiots. An exception he has no need of unless he knows something you and I do not at present. Meanwhile those of us who are landlords and employers and are also Catholic enjoy no such protection. We knew what the stakes were and continue to be and we fought and prayed with all our might, but we and we alone are to blame . . . no more need be said today about who the Bishop of Maine is or should I say who he is not ...
"The collaboration with the liberal media is undeniable! The Lewiston Sun Journal published his pack of self-serving lies without even observing normal journalistic protocol: the paper did not ask any of the representatives of traditional morality for a response to the Bishop's remarks . . . no more need be said today about who the Bishop of Maine is and who his co-conspirators are ..."
Nothing like being mugged to stop acting like a liberal.
However, some of our priests, in the year following the election of Obama were still proud of their having voted for him, even announcing the same from the pulpit here and there. Most priests are mute on pro-life, whole others are hostile, furious that a militant soldier of Christ might attempt to circulate material from Priests for Life and or similar sources. Bishop Malone needs to evangelize the poorly catechized, liberally-trained-in-the seminary priests; the people will follow, all but the diehard progressives.