Knock knock. Who’s there? Rutger Hauer.

Hi, I’m The Jerk. You might remember me from that time I was marketing athletic clothing for Catholic women.

Pretty classy, am I right? Big seller in the Steubenville.

At this point, some of you may be wondering where Simcha is, and why she is letting me get away with this again.

See, for reasons even I don’t quite get, there are times Simcha ditches the blog and allows me to post here. Confidentially, this usually happens around the same time The Moody Blues tour comes around.

Dorks in White Satin

This being county fair season, Simcha is otherwise indisposed for the duration.

During the last foray into the depths of my movie watching despair, Cari  made a request for the next review. I immediately rejected her idea as stoopid. Then, I remembered some of the other movies I’ve reviewed.

OK,  so Cari gets her review.

Ladyhawke!!

 Before we delve too deeply into this mess, I gotta say, I have no memory of watching this movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I did watch it just a few nights ago. I was mostly sober too. But, it just kinda of slipped away right after watching. Strangely, this is not the first time I’ve watched this very same movie, only to forget it nearly instantly.

If I can reveal a little bit about myself – don’t worry, the pants will stay on – I never forget movies, or TV shows for that matter.

Seriously, I can pretty much give you a run down of every episode of F-Troop, or anything starring William Bendix, and don’t get me started on the first season of Murder She Wrote, before that show lost its edge.

The point is, I have a mind for crap entertainment. I never forget this stuff.

Even your old buddy Kolchak?

Especially my old buddy Kolchak. Though, that zombie episode kinda blew.

Aside from the other night, the memory of which gets hazier the more write, and the more beer I drink, I did see Ladyhawke in the theater when it came out. I remember the theater lobby. I remember the popcorn. I remember the lights going down. But the movie?

You remember me, right?

Who?

I’m Rutger. Rutger Hauer.

Umm.

I starred in the Ladyhawke?

Ahhh.

The producers manage to find the Dutch equivalent of NyQuil for the leading man. Honestly, this guy is a lamer version of Christopher Lambert.

Thank you!

We’ll get to you later.

Hey, Dutch people, lookit, we kinda saved you like every time The Nazis invaded you, and you thank us with Rutger Hauer? Next time don’t expect us to come running.

The plot, as I gather, concerns this here Hauzer fellow and his pet bird, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Cheep cheep. Cheep cheep.

Some of you fellas may disagree with me here, but this lady is like the boring version of cardboard. Has she ever been interesting? She’s not even convicncing as a lady cursed to turn into a hawke every day. You wants a convincing bird lady?

BWAAAKAAAAAAAAAAAAA! 

Anyhoo, so it seems Rubarb and Birdy were in love, but it had to be kept secret from the scheming, control-freak cleric whose sexual perversions led him to use black magic.

 

Yes. Please send all hate mail to thejerksoesnotlikeyou@gmail.com.

No, the bad guy movie bishop is this guy:

He kinda looks like my grandma, before we put her in the home.

Bishop Old Lady here puts a curse on Ruger Howitzer and Birdy Bird Bird so that all day, she’s a hawke, but all night he’s a wolf. This movie easily could have been called Manwolf. Except that’s even stupider than Ladyhawke.

This wacky curse keeps the pair separated, even though they are always together. It’s one of those great unrequited romances that make up so much our our literary culture.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQc9L2RbQkw

C’mon. Like I’m the only one who sensed the tension there?

The unhappy couple was betrayed to the bishop inadvertently by their confessor, who kinda blurted it out when he had too much to drink and was talking to the bishop. Not gonna say anything about confessors I have had. Not. Gonna. Say. Anything.

The filmmakers managed to get the great Leo McKern for the role of the disgraced priest.

Leo gotta eat.

But the whole lynchpin for this movie? The one actor whose dynamism pulled it altogether into a rousing entertainment? The next great action star?

They didn’t get that guy. Instead, they hired this guy:

Yup. Matthew Broderick. It kinda makes sense to put him in a period picture set in the middle-ish ages, with knights on horses and whatnot, given his – let’s say- proclivities.

Neigh!

It’s not that this is the worst movie ever made. Far from it. It’s just kinda dull, and extraordinarily forgettable. It’s almost as if this was created as an experiment in induced memory loss. I do blame the director, Richard Donner.

 

I put the “smug” in “Smug A-Hole”

Not to be all judgey, or anything, ’cause being judgey is bad, but this guy is going to Hell. Not only did he make Superman boring, not only did he fail to ever make a sequel to The Goonies, but this is the moron who helped make Mel Gibson a major action star.

If you want to see a real movie, with a vaguely European leading man, ton of action, a kickass soundtrack, and loads of Sean Connery, I suggest Highlander.

About time, sweetheart.

Speaking of which, Highlander will be the subject of my next review. Assuming Meatloaf still plans to bring his tour out this way, expect that sometime soon.

 
 
 
 
 

The Contraceptive Mentality, Part 2: Grave reasons and obedience

This is part two of an essay about NFP and that notorious “contraceptive mentality.”  In part one, I discussed where the phrase originally came from and what it means, and a bit about the difference between contraception and using NFP to avoid pregnancy. This essay can be read independently, but I’d rather you read part 1 first!

grave reasons to avoid pregnancy?

It is true that you can’t avoid having a baby for just any old reason, or for no reason at all, as long as you’re using NFP to do so.

Pius XII said in 1951:

The mere fact that the couple do not offend the nature of the act, and are prepared to accept and bring up the child (which in spite of their precautions came into the world), would not be sufficient in itself to guarantee the rectitude of intention and the unobjectionable morality of the motives themselves.

In other words: you’re not magically insulated from sinning just because you don’t use contraception.

He said:

[T]o embrace the married state, continuously to make use of the faculty proper to it and lawful in it alone,[in other words: to have sex] and on the other hand, to withdraw always and deliberately, with no serious reason from its primary obligation, would be a sin against the very meaning of conjugal life.

Pretty serious stuff. He’s saying that if you get married and then only ever have sex in infertile times without a serious reason, then you are sinning against marriage itself.

People who look down on NFP love to throw about this quote and say, “SEEEEE? Pius XII said that if you don’t have a baby every 18 months, it’s basically not even a marriage!”

Some Catholics will tell you you have to be just about dying before you can consider putting off conception. You have to be in a concentration camp, or you have to have cancer, or your roof just blew off, or your head just fell off. 

But that is not what the Church teaches. She asks us to think carefully, to pray, to consider our other children and our other responsibilities, and to behave in a loving and considerate manner to our spouses, and then to decide whether or not this is a good time to accept the great gift of a child.

The Church (in Pius XII’s Address to Italian Midwives and Paul VI in Humanae Vitae) gives us examples of the categories of reasons we can legitimately have for postponing or avoiding conception: “medical, eugenic, economic, and social reasons” or “physical, economic, psychological and social conditions.” But it doesn’t get specific. It just gives the general categories.

It doesn’t spell out the specific good reasons because they vary very widely from couple to couple, and in individual couples from year to year, or even month to month. Something that’s a serious reason for one couple might be no big deal for another couple; and something that was a huge concern when I was 20 might seem like nothing when I’m 40, or vice versa.  (There’s an entire chapter about this, called, “Why Doesn’t the Church Just Make a List?” in my book.) I believe the lack of specificity from the Church is deliberate, because it’s an invitation for individuals to assess their particular situations, rather than taking shelter in (or running scared from) a “check box” mentality in their spiritual lives.

The man and woman confer the sacrament of marriage on each other, and so it is up to the two of them to decide, as the experts in their particular marriage, if they have a just, defensible reason for using NFP.

Maybe you don’t believe me! You hear people saying that the Church teaches you must have “grave reasons” to postpone pregnancy. 

Well, it’s doesn’t. Angela Bonilla has done some great legwork here. Her essay is short, but here’s the even quicker version: In his address to Italian Midwives, Pius XII said “gravi motivi” which sure sounds like “grave motives” — which sure sounds like your motive has to be, like, “I’m almost in the grave, here!” But that’s called a “false cognate.” “Grave” in Latin sounds like it should translate directly to “grave” in English, but it doesn’t.

A better translation of the phrase, and the translations which now appear on the Vatican website, uses the following phrases when it talks about the reasons for using NFP to space or avoid pregnancy: “serious reasons,” “just causes,” “worthy and weighty justifications,” “defensible reasons,” and “just reasons.” Janet Smith, no loosey goosey liberal squish, says that “the range of reasons is broader and perhaps more liberal than many think.”  

And these just and serious reasons, as Pius XII said, “not infrequently arise.” Ask yourself: if you have to be in super duper agonizing trouble before you can use NFP, then why did he say that they happen a lot? The Church asks us to be careful and thoughtful. The Church does not ask us to ruin ourselves, or to absolutely refuse to listen to our doctors, or to refuse to listen to our spouses, before we can use NFP. The Church cares for us more than that.

obedience is educational

So.  Am I saying that any reason at all is a good enough reason to put off having kids? Am I saying that it’s impossible to use NFP for trivial or selfish reasons?

No. It can happen. Nice young lady is planning her wedding, and she’s making a checklist of everything important: buy 43 yards of burlap and gross of mason jars for centerpieces at the reception, schedule a bunch of tanning sessions, and lay in a good stock of games for the honeymoon just in case she’s fertile on her wedding night, because duh, she’s getting married to her boyfriend, not to a bunch of babies. Babies are smelly little crotch goblins, and they ruin your abs and ruin your fun, and probably she’ll work her way around to having one at some point when she needs attention, but she truly cannot see what having a baby has to do with the super awesome love story she’s documenting on Instagram right now. 

That there would be a selfish reason to use NFP. Most people can see that there is something wrong with this attitude. It’s one thing to expect more from your marriage than simply cranking out babies, but it’s another to despise the very idea of having children. This is not what the Church had in mind when it says that “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children” and that children are the supreme gift of marriage. 

Familiaris Consortio says, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” The Church really means this. The Church is not okay with us thinking of sex and marriage as fun and babies as gross.

But goodness knows, there are other ways to be selfish in marriage besides selfishly refusing to consider having a baby. People like to speak as if eagerly conceiving is generous, and trying to avoid conceiving is selfish, but married love is more complicated and more demanding than that.

As one commenter said:

You can be selfish by imprudently indulging your sexual desires without consideration for the good of your spouse or of existing children or of any child that might result. Or you can be selfish by refusing to even discuss the possibility of more children when your spouse desires them. You can be selfish by putting all of the burden of family planning decisions on your spouse, so that they have to tell you “yes” or “no” all the time. You can be selfish by withholding yourself to punish or try to manipulate your spouse when you’re unhappy with them. Or you can be selfish by making sexual demands of your spouse when you know they feel unloved and used by you. You can be horribly selfish and abusive by coercing your spouse into sex through threats, force, or manipulation (psychological or religious).

Using NFP doesn’t automatically protect you from being selfish in these very serious ways, and neither does refusing to use NFP. People speak as if using NFP or not using NFP is the final word on what kind of marriage you have, but it’s really just the beginning. 

 But here’s the thing. A selfish, petty, immature view of sex and marriage very often corrects itself, over time, if you’re trying hard to be loving and obedient in other ways; because a loving marriage, a marriage that is obedient to what the Church really asks of us in its teaching on sexuality, is an educational marriage.

Think of all the dumb ideas you had about marriage when you were unmarried, or a newlywed. You were wrong about all sorts of things. You were immature. You were selfish. You were naive. You had stupid priorities. This is what it’s like, being young and inexperienced. You think you know so much, but you don’t.

And Jesus is willing to work with this. The Church just asks us to have the right overall intentions, more or less, and the Church asks us to try to be obedient, and to go to confession when we’re not. And starting with simple obedience, simply refusing to use contraception in marriage, is an excellent start.

If a young couple in the 21st century says, “All my friends have had IUDs since they were 14, my dad’s having a vasectomy party tomorrow, my step mom is angry at me for not giving her a grand dog instead, and my OB/GYN wrote “just an idiot” on my chart . . .  but I’m going to install an app to keep track of my cervical fluid, because for some reason the Church says I should” — my friends, this is a big deal.  This is really something big. That’s something the Holy Spirit can and almost certainly will build on.

Paul VI says in Humanae Vitae:

The teaching of the Church on the regulation of birth, which promulgates the divine law, will easily appear to many to be difficult or even impossible of actuation. And indeed, like all great beneficent realities, it demands serious engagement and much effort, individual, family and social effort. More than that, it would not be practicable without the help of God, who upholds and strengthens the good will of men.

In other words, it’s hard to go against the world, and the Church knows it. Even a celibate old white man knows it. Obedience, especially obedience in matters of sexuality, is hard – probably harder today than it ever has been, when we have people telling us we’re foolish and selfish and creepy and irresponsible for trying to behave as if our marriage vows actually mean something.

But Paul VI went on:

Yet, to anyone who reflects well, it cannot but be clear that such efforts ennoble man and are beneficial to the human community.

Obedience is the fertile soil where all kinds of wonderful fruits can grow, and woe to him who wants to barge in and trample all over a nice, new little garden just because it’s not already mature and bountiful like a well-established orchard that’s been cultivated and nourished for decades. 

Paul VI acknowledges that the way of virtue is a process, not an instantaneous event, which is why he urges priests to preach the truth but to be gentle, encouraging, and loving, and urges married couples to keep praying, keep repenting, keep moving forward:

“without ever allowing themselves to be discouraged by their own weakness.”

It’s like the parable, where the one son refuses to obey his father, but then he feels bad about it and does what his father tells him to do after all. And Jesus says that that guy did his father’s will. Obedience to Christ — even immature obedience, even gloomy obedience, even half-understood obedience, even stop-and-start obedience — is a big deal. Jesus likes obedience. Jesus honors it. Jesus runs with it. He picks up the slack in our attitude, and He uses it to instruct us. I’ve seen it happen, over and over and over again. It’s happening to me right now.

So if you come across someone who’s using NFP for what seems to you to be trivial reasons, you really don’t need to defend Christian sexuality with a big heavy mallet and go, “NO! STOP! You are using NFP with a contraceptive mentality! You’re just like the rest of the world, and shame on you!”

If a Catholic you know is heading into marriage with the intention of never having children, then yes, you probably need to say something, especially if you think you’re in a position to prevent an invalid marriage from taking place and causing pain and sorrow down the road.  The Church understands the very nature of marriage is a state that obligates us to at least be willing to accept the gift of children.  That’s what marriage means. It means binding yourself together in front of God and becoming fruitful in the way that God wants you to be fruitful.

But marriage is instructive. It’s educational. Grace is educational. Obedience is educational.

back to grandma

Remember the very old grandmother, the one who needs your help? Remember how there was an undeniable difference between caring for her because you love her and then inheriting her fortune, and caring her to lull her into a false sense of security, murdering her, and inheriting her fortune? Let’s return to her.

Let’s say you go to her house with the intention of completely deceiving her. You’re just a jerk. You’re going to take care of her, but you’re just there for her money. You sweet talk her in the most insincere way, because you just don’t take her seriously as a human being. You just want to use her.

So you move in, and you go through the motions: you say good morning every morning, and comb her hair, wash her face, help her pick out her clothes, listen to her stories, look through her photos, live in her house . . . and slowly, you start to get attached. You start to realize that this is someone you actually care about, and that she actually cares about you.

And it changes you. When she dies, she leaves you her money, and yes, you’re happy about it.. But you’re even happier that you got to know her. You’re a different person now. You started out doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons, but if you keep at it, your reasons start to change. You start to change.

I get letters like this all the time, about NFP. People say, “I started out using contraception in my marriage, and then we switched to NFP because the Pill was making me crazy and giving me migraines and killing my sex drive. But had no intentions of ever having another baby, because I liked being a size 3, and I had this gorgeous white velvet couch.”

They say, “I wasn’t ready to hear the full message that the Church wanted to give to me. But we started using NFP over the years, and slowly, slowly we changed . . . ”

That’s a direct quote. This is what happens when you obey God, because his commands are not random. He has his reasons for asking us to do the things he asks of us: because he wants to teach us about about selves, and he wants to teach us about him. He wants to teach us how to love him.

the phrase makes more trouble than it’s worth

In the mean time, let’s just drop the phrase “contraceptive mentality.” Every single time I’ve seen the phase used, it’s used incorrectly, and this is dangerous.

Yes, dangerous.

It’s dangerous becuase encourages us to judge each other. “They use NFP, but are they using it in the right way?” Who cares? What, your own soul doesn’t keep you busy enough? It’s none of your business. You have no idea what their real reasons are. For all you know, they’d like a dozen children, but they can’t. In the mean time, you’re sinning by assuming anything. For real, that’s a sin.

It may actually cause other people to despair.  It may be really, really, really hard for them to reject contraception. Telling them they’re obeying the Church but still failing can make them think, “Why bother?”There’s no way I can please such a demanding God.” And they will quit. 

 It can make marriage into a reductive numbers game. Generosity and fruitfulness and trust in God in marriage can take many forms besides pregnancy – and selfishness and pride and vanity can take many forms besides avoiding pregnancy.

It encourages us to approach God with fear, and to look for rules rather than seeking a relationship. I’ve seen this, too: a woman who’s clearly barely surviving, and she’s trembling, tears rolling down her cheeks, terrified that she’s committing the sin of contraception with her mentality. She completely forgot that God loves her and doesn’t want her to be miserable.

We would do better to speak less about sex and more about love. Less about how to manage conception, and more about how to grow in love. 

DIscerning in your own marriage

I’ve been talking about refraining from judging other people’s motives for using NFP. But what about it the one we’re worried about is ourselves? What if we’re afraid we have selfish or petty reasons for using NFP, or that we actually do have a contraceptive mentality, in the strictest sense, even though we’re using NFP?

Well, maybe you do. NFP isn’t magic. Some people find NFP really simple and routine, and it would be fairly easy for them to just get in the habit of avoiding a pregnancy without really having to think about it much, so they never do.

I have heard that there are people like this. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually met one, but I suppose there are.

But decent people tend to question their own motives, and to wonder if they’re letting themselves off the hook. If you are uncertain about your reasons, and you’re troubled by the idea that your reasons to avoid pregnancy may not be legitimate, do start with being obedient, and offer your obedience to God. It can actually be a form of pride to persuade yourself that simple obedience isn’t good enough, and that your faith is so fancy, you have to do extra!

But then after obedience, ask God to open your ears to whatever is the next thing he’s telling you. Pray this a lot. Be patient. Let God speak to you on his own time. But here’s the thing: Be ready to hear that God is not mad at you. Be ready to hear that you’re not sinning. Be ready to be at peace for a time. 

And you could ask yourself:

Do I actively hate children? Do I routinely describe babies as parasites or tumors? Do I throw rotten fruit at 15-passenger vans? Do I feel a deep sense of disgust and contempt when people talk about married love, chastity, fidelity, and goodness? Do I think the institution of the family should be abolished?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may have the contraceptive mentality that John Paul II was talking about. That “anti-life” mentality.

Here are some more questions to ask yourself:

Do I deeply fear children because I’m afraid they’re going to mess up my life when I got it just the way I like it? Do I avoid learning more about the Church’s teaching on sexuality because I’m afraid I’ll have to change something? Do I think of children mainly as a burden to be escaped, without making any effort to learn how to enjoy them? Am I using NFP as a sop to God, so he’ll retreat and leave me alone in the rest of my life?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, that doesn’t mean you should have another baby just to teach yourself a lesson; but maybe you are listening to the world too much. Or maybe you’re approaching your faith as a kind of checklist of sins to avoid, rather than as a relationship with God.

Or maybe you are having some spiritual difficulties that go beyond discerning family size. Sometimes fear and reluctance toward children has its origins in past or current abuse. Maybe you are in a material or emotional crisis and need help.

Maybe you just need to get caught up on sleep! See if there’s any way you can go on retreat. Try to commit to five minutes of morning prayer a day, and see if you feel more at peace with where you are and where you’re headed. And seriously, get caught up on sleep. It’s ridiculous how much it helps. 

Maybe you’re just in a really hard season right now, and you need to give yourself some time, and you can revisit these questions later. 

Here are some questions you cans ask yourself while you’re using NFP:

Does God make me nervous sometimes? Do I have mixed feelings about having a baby? Would I cry if I got pregnant right now? Do I feel like I’m done having babies? Do I sometimes feel angry and resentful about how difficult it can be to live the Church’s teaching on sexuality? Do I wish I could go to the bathroom without people pounding on the door asking for ice pops? Do I wish I could just have sex and not worry about it?

If you answer anything at all to these questions, you are probably a normal human being who is having a normal marriage. You’re fine. But do get some sleep. And remember, God isn’t mad at you. 

But be content to start with obedience. At the heart of love for God is obedience. That is how all the saints express it: you start with doing what you can, and that’s how you let God into your heart — and there is no telling what he will do to the place, once he gets in.

This is especially true when we’re being obedient about sexuality. When we disobey God about sexuality, we make it into a dead thing. And no wonder it’s hard to understand, then, why we can’t just do it whenever we want, however we want: Because it doesn’t feel sacred. We allow ourselves to grasp it carelessly, like Uzzah, thinking it’s just another heavy thing to hoist around and move where we will. But inside it is something sacred, something that comes to us from eternity. You don’t just go grabbing it. 

But when we do obey, even with white knuckles, God has this tendency, sometimes, to open up the ark and let us play. 

****
Image: Photo by Vassill via Wikipedia; Relief, Auch Cathedral , France: the Ark of the Covenant (public domain)

NH Diocese of Manchester publishes names of 73 accused priests; questions remain

The Diocese of Manchester in NH has published a list of 73 priests accused of sexual abuse of a minor since 1950. The list includes names, ordination date, status, and assignments of accused priests, but it does not include the accusations. 

When asked why the list does not include specific accusations, diocesan spokesman Thomas Bebbington said, “The status is intended to provide enough information so the public is aware that the person is not in ministry and why.”

The list includes more names than are listed on the bishop-accountability.org website, which includes 62 names. Bishop-accountability.org does include details about accusations in most cases.  

The diocesan list includes several categories: Cases concluded canonically or criminally, cases in process, priests accused after laicization, deceased priests, and religious orders/other.

Notably, none of the priests named are affiliated with the scandal-ridden Legion of Christ, which ran a private boarding school for high school boys from 1982 to 2015 in Center Harbor, NH.

The Legion was founded by the late Marcial Maciel, a pedophile priest who allegedly raped some of his own illegitimate children, and it has been perpetually rocked with scandals and accusation of institutional sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse. As recently as January of this year, the Legion continued to extol Maciel.  

When asked for clarification as to why there were no Legion of Christ priests named on the list, Bebbington said, “The Legionaries of Christ is a religious order and its members are not incardinated in the Diocese of Manchester. The list only includes members of religious orders assigned to ministry by the bishop of the Diocese of Manchester. ”

“Incardinated” means “under the bishop or other ecclesiastical superior.” I asked Bebbington if the bishop has any control over whether unincardinated priests work in his diocese, if he has not assigned them to ministry there. He has not yet responded. 
UPDATE:  Bebbington clarified: “A bishop does not have control over priests and religious who are not incardinated in his diocese.  They report to the superiors in their own orders, rather than to the diocesan bishop.” He also said that a bishop does not have control over who is assigned to institutions such as private high schools or colleges. 

Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor and the Legion of Christ, Inc., were named in a lawsuit in Connecticut in 2017. The plaintiff said that, when he was a student at ICAS in NH, Fernando Cutanda, or “Brother Fernando,” a “supervisor, mentor, and spiritual leader” employed by the Legion-run school, repeatedly raped him in several locations on the school property. The lawsuit says that, feeling guilt and shame, the alleged victim told a Legion of Christ priest, Fr. O’Carroll, what had been happening. Fr. O’Carroll, whom the legal documents describe as “in charge of I.C.A.S. at the time,” allegedly told the boy to say five rosaries “for his sins” and told him “God will take care of things.” According to the lawsuit, “Brother Fernando” allegedly raped the boy again after Fr. O’Carroll allegedly heard of the abuse. The school was dismissed as a defendant in 2017, and the Legion settled with the victim in October of 2018. Although the school is in New Hampshire, the lawsuit was filed in Connecticut since the Legion of Christ, Inc., is headquartered there.

The list of accused sexual offenders published by the Diocese of Manchester does not include monks or religious brothers who are not priests.

The Union Leader reports that Bishop Peter Libasci said in a statement about the list:

“This is meant as an act of ownership and accountability. It is my hope that by making this information available, we are holding ourselves accountable to the evils of the past, and offering timely assistance, support and resources to those individuals and families who have been affected by the sexual abuse of a minor.”

He also said “On behalf of my predecessors and the Church in New Hampshire, I am sorry. I seek your forgiveness for the grave sins of abuse and betrayal of trust that representatives of the Church committed.”

The Diocese of Manchester is the 136th American diocese to release a list of accused priests (there are 197 dioceses in the U.S.). But in 2002, the diocese was among the first to undergo an investigation by state prosecutors of decades of sexual abuse and cover-up in and by the diocese, just after the Boston Globe exposed a similar, even more widespread scandal in the neighboring Archdiocese of Boston. 

In 2003, the Attorney General released a report on their findings, and the Diocese paid $5 million in settlements to 62 victims who were abused in the time period between the 1950’s and the 1980’s.

The Attorney General’s report was not an exhaustive list of accusations, but was meant to highlight only details of a much broader and deeper scandal. 

According to the report, John McCormack, who was bishop at the time of the investigation, had a long history of reassigning priests who were known pedophiles and of keeping secret the names and actions of known molesters. McCormack served as Bishop from 1998 until 2011. In 1984 he worked closely with Cardinal Bernard Law in managing accusations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.

According to the report, McCormack acknowledged that the diocese of Manchester paid for the legal defense of Gordon MacRae, and said he thought MacRae’s sentence was disproportionately harsh and that the priest wasn’t much of a threat. MacRae was convicted of sexually assaulting several boys, including during a pastoral counseling session inside the St. Bernard church in Keene.  

Before McCormack was bishop, Bishop Odore Gendron served from 1975-1990.  According to the Attorney General’s report, Gendron worked with police to keep secret reports of sexual abuse. According to the report, one of the abusive priests, Paul Aube, personally asked Bishop Gendron not to be assigned to work with youth after he was caught, but the diocese went on to assign him to work in youth ministry in a different parish. He then assaulted other minors, according to the report.

In today’s statement, Bishop Libasci said:

Each and every day, I pray that victim-survivors find healing. I also fervently pray that we never allow such darkness to enter our Church again. With these new efforts, I hope to continue on a path to restoring your trust. 

Bishop Libasci, who was appointed in 2011, has spoken several times on the issue of the sex abuse scandal, and has struck a notably different tone from his predecessors. In October of 2018, after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was made public, he wrote:

“These revelations have left me sickened, shaken, embarrassed, and heart-broken. I have heard from many of you, either directly or indirectly, that you are justifiably angry, discouraged, and saddened that Church leadership has breached your trust and failed to protect children, youth, seminarians, and vulnerable adults adequately.”

He acknowledged at the time that the steps the diocese is taking “are only the first steps” that the diocese needs to take.

“I will rely on my consultation with you, the People of God, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to identify the best path forward,” he said.

“I have committed myself to the Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart,” Libasci said. 

 

The contraceptive mentality is real, but it’s probably not what you think

When we were in marriage preparation class many years ago, there was one evening devoted to instruction on Catholic sexuality. The teaching couple said, “You guys have heard about NFP, right?”

And we said, “Yes.”

And they said, “Whew.”

And that was pretty much it. I’m paraphrasing, but that was pretty much all we got, other than the advice to keep the lines of communication open, and to invest in gold. And that was okay with me. I thought we knew everything already anyway. We did intend to use NFP, eventually, once we had a grave enough reason. But we weren’t afraid of babies, like some people, and we certainly didn’t intend to be one of those couples who used NFP with a contraceptive mentality

Oooh, that contraceptive mentality! Boy, it sounded pretty bad whenever it came up in the Catholic groups and message boards I frequented as a new wife. The context was always, “Most couples these days are using natural family planning with a contraceptive mentality.” Or, “The contraceptive mentality has crept into our marriage prep classes. Whatever happened to being open to life and trusting in God?” 

The phrase “contraceptive mentality” is loosely used to mean, “Using natural family planning in such a way that you might as well be using artificial contraception.” It’s used to mean, “cheating the system.” It means, “You can’t fool God. You may be using NFP and calling it Catholic, but if you are making an effort not to have babies, then that’s what contraception is: trying not to have babies. God is not deceived.”

Is this true? Is it possible to use NFP with a contraceptive mentality?

origins of the phrase

Before we answer this question of whether it’s possible to use NFP with a contraceptive mentality, let’s find out where the phrase “contraceptive mentality “actually came from. It’s not in the catechism!  And it’s not in Humanae Vitae. This phrase was coined by John Paul II, first in the apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio in 1981, and then in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae in 1995.

 Strangely enough, he wasn’t talking about contraception, exactly; and he definitely wasn’t talking about natural family planning. In Familiaris Consortio, he mentions the “contraceptive mentality” in the context of a bunch of things that have gone wrong in the modern family. He references

a disturbing degradation of some fundamental values: a mistaken theoretical and practical concept of the independence of the spouses in relation to each other; serious misconceptions regarding the relationship of authority between parents and children; the concrete difficulties that the family itself experiences in the transmission of values; the growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; the ever more frequent recourse to sterilization; the appearance of a truly contraceptive mentality.

And in Evangelium Vitae, he uses the phrase in the context of how artificial contraception leads to abortion. He says:

[T]he negative values inherent in the “contraceptive mentality” – which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act – are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected.

In both of these cases, he’s using “contraceptive mentality” to mean “the mentality that one has when one uses contraception,” or perhaps “the mentality that leads one to use contraception.”

Tellingly, in both cases, he’s contrasting the contraceptive mentality  with obedience to Church teaching. He’s not using “contraceptive mentality” to mean “using NFP for less-than-dire reasons” or “using NFP selfishly.” That simply isn’t in the text. He’s not talking about NFP at all, or about people who are trying to follow Church teaching. He’s talking about people who are rejecting Church teaching with their behavior by literally using contraception. 

He’s saying, “When we reject the Church’s teaching on contraception, i.e., by using contraception, bad things happen. The family is weakened. Marriages break up. We start killing babies.” And so on. That’s how he used the phrase that he invented.

The phrase “contraceptive mentality” also turns up in one more document, also in 1995, in The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality from the Pontifical Council on the Family. It’s in a passage warning parents to make sure that nobody teaches your kids to fear and despise virginity and babies, and it uses the phrase: “the contraceptive mentality, that is, the ‘anti-life’ mentality” 

So that’s what the phrase means: it means the mentality which teaches you to use contraception, which also teaches you to be promiscuous, to not value love, marriage, family, and fidelity, and to have abortions. It means rejecting Church teaching and being anti-life. It’s not about your NFP attitude, it’s about literal contraception and the bad things that go along with literal contraception.

Is it possible to use NFP contraceptively?

When the phrase was coined, it wasn’t intended to mean “doing NFP wrong.”

But does that really matter? It’s a pretty good phrase. Can we stretch it a bit past what JPII originally meant, and still make a valuable point? Is it possible to do NFP wrong? And is that a big problem in the Church? Is it really true that a majority of couples who use NFP are doing it wrongly and are probably committing a mortal sin because they don’t really have good reasons to space or avoid pregnancy?

First of all, let’s look at some numbers. According to various studies, anywhere from 2 to (maybe, maybe) 20% of Catholic couples do what the Church asks them to do, and reject contraception to avoid pregnancy. There’s a lot of dispute about the numbers, but they are all low numbers. So even if most of these couple are using NFP selfishly or for trivial reasons, that’s still an extremely small number of people, and not a widespread problem. A widespread problem is when fully half of American Catholics don’t know what the Eucharist is.) So you’d have to live in a bit of a bubble to think there’s massive numbers of people using NFP for less than saintly reasons. 

But I mention numbers just to get it out of the way. A serious sin is a serious sin, and even if only a few people are doing it, it’s worth addressing, because nobody wants to fall into serious sin.

First, let’s look at the idea that it’s possible to use NFP as contraception. If two couples want to avoid a pregnancy, and one uses NFP and the other uses contraception, what does it really matter? Their goal is the same, right? They both are trying not to have a baby.

In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI directly answered the claim that contraception and NFP can be the same when they have the same intention of avoiding conception. He said:

The Church is coherent with herself when she considers recourse to the infecund periods to be licit, while at the same time condemning, as being always illicit, the use of means directly contrary to fecundation, even if such use is inspired by reasons which may appear honest and serious.

In other words: no, the Church is not illogical for saying that there’s an important difference between using NFP and using contraception, even if you think you have a good reason to use contraception. He says:

In reality, there are essential differences between the two cases; in the former, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; in the latter, they impede the development of natural processes. It is true that, in the one and the other case, the married couple are concordant in the positive will of avoiding children for plausible reasons, seeking the certainty that offspring will not arrive; but it is also true that only in the former case are they able to renounce the use of marriage in the fecund periods when, for just motives, procreation is not desirable, while making use of it during infecund periods to manifest their affection and to safeguard their mutual fidelity. By so doing, they give proof of a truly and integrally honest love.

What he’s saying is that it matters why we do something, but it also matters how we do it. Doing it the right way matters.  Our intentions are important, but so are our actual bodies, and what we do with them. What we do with our bodies, what happens when we have sex, has significance. Contraception messes up that significance.

Let’s put it in different terms. Let’s say you want to lose weight. You could either start eating different foods, eating less food, assessing your habits, and spending time figuring out why you eat in a way that causes weight gain, and fixing that, and therefore losing weight . . . or you could have your esophagus fitted with a rubber bag, so that you eat whatever you want, as much as you want, and then when you’re full, you can just drag the bag out and throw away the food. Same result: you lose weight.

Are they the same thing?

It’s pretty easy to see that they are not. Being healthier, exercising self-control, taking a closer look at the rest of your life – these are the right way to lose weight. Doing the rubber bag thing is gross and weird and dangerous, and it shows that you don’t really understand what eating is for. The same is true for NFP and contraception: your goal may be the same, but how you get there matters a lot.

Let’s take another example. Let’s say you have a very old grandmother who needs some help. You could move across the country and take wonderful care of her because she’s your grandmother and you love her, and when she dies peacefully in her sleep, you get all her money, which makes you very happy.

OR, you move across the country and take wonderful care of her to lull her into trusting you, and as soon as she tells you where she keeps her will, you put your name on it and then smother her with a pillow. And you get all her money, which makes you very happy.

Same result, right? Grandma’s dead, you’re rich. But the way you got there matters a lot.  The end result is the same, but how you get there matters a lot.

 The same is true for NFP and contraception: you can have the same goal of not having children, but how you achieve that goal matters a lot.

Okay, but don’t our motives matter, too?  It’s all very well to say that NFP is licit because Humanae Vitae says so, but isn’t it possible to have bad intentions or trivial motives, and wouldn’t that be a bad thing?  Can’t we have such bad intentions that NFP really is a kind of contraception?

Going back to the example of losing weight: say I lose weight in the right, acceptable way – diet, self-control, assessment of habits, leafy greens – but I’m doing it because I want to fit into a slinky dress and make my fat sister feel bad about herself at the next family reunion.

Horrible motive for losing weight. I’m doing something bad. But I’m still not doing the same bad thing as putting a rubber bag down my throat. It’s a different kind of bad thing. So most of us can recognize that, while your motive is important, and may say a lot about where you are spiritually, your actual behavior is also significant.

Your intentions matter, but so does your actual behavior. It would be a bad thing to use NFP with selfish or petty motivations. On this we can agree. But it’s not the same bad thing as using artificial contraception. Even if your motives are not very good, still, the thing that you’re doing is entirely different in nature from the alternative. You may possibly be committing a sin, but it’s not the sin of contraception, and shouldn’t be called contraception.  Contraception, as Pius XII said, is “a perversion of the act itself,” and NFP cannot be a perversion of any act. 

I’ll get back to your rich old grandma later.

***

This is part one of a two-part essay. Next time, we’ll slip into a slinky dress and examine the idea that many couples using NFP don’t have sufficiently grave reasons for avoiding or postponing pregnancy.

Image via Pixnio

The Golden Box: On God’s will and NFP

Sometimes, it’s easy to discern God’s will.

If we’re faced with the choice of, say, robbing a bank or not robbing a bank, we all know what God wants us to do. The only exception is if we’re in an action movie, where the villain has a bomb strapped to our hero and a school bus full of innocent children will die amid flames and wreckage if we don’t rob the bank (then the answer is: yes, rob the bank, preferably while shirtless and bleeding).

Most of the time, though, there’s no dilemma: follow the law,
and you’ll be following God’s will, QED. The same is true for the most specific, basic laws of the Church: go to Mass on Sundays, and you’re following God’s will. Confess all mortal sins, and you’re following God’s will. Don’t use contraception in your marriage, and you’re following God’s will, QED.

But when we’ve already rejected contraception and are trying to figure out whether or not to take the plunge and possibly conceive a child, things get muddier. After all, how could it be God’s will that we not have a child? When you phrase it that way, it seems absurd: what, is God going to be mad about hav ing to go to the trouble of making another soul? What, are we going to spend the rest of our lives saying, “Damn, I wish I’d spent those nine months taking classes on making flowers out of gum paste, instead of being pregnant with you, my child?” No, probably not.

All right, so if it’s not against God’s will for us to have a child, then it must be God’s will for us to have a child if we possibly can, right? That seems logical. Here’s an argument you often hear from fertility-nudgers: “What if you and your husband use NFP to avoid pregnancy one month, and that child you didn’t conceive is the child who would have cured cancer (or would have grown up to be the pope who reforms the Church, or the president who puts America back on track, or whatever)?”

Yes, what if? It’s not easy to refute this view. If we think hard about what we are turning down when we say, “No baby this month!” it’s kind of terrifying. When a hamster has a baby hamster, the most it can grow up to be is an adult hamster; so if the parents don’t breed, then it’s no big deal. But when a human couple conceives a child, that is something unutterably magnificent and irreplaceable (albeit common!). You don’t even have to mean it; you don’t have to understand it, but you’ve just made something with a soul that is destined for eternity. This… is a big deal.

How can you possibly say no to this? How could it possibly not be God’s will to conceive?

I’m going to answer your question in the most annoying way possible: by suggesting that it’s a stupid question.

Most of my life, I’ve been halfway imagining that my life is a maze, and at the center of that maze is a pedestal. On the pedestal is a golden box marked (perhaps in Latin) “GOD’S WILL.” At the end of my life, I will reach the center of the maze, and I will open up the box and read what’s written on a piece of paper inside, and it will say either “Good job!” or “Nope.”

And then, presumably, I will spend the rest of eternity either
patting myself on the back or weeping and gnashing my teeth. Oh, the suspense!

When I describe the process of following God’s will this way, it’s pretty easy to see that this is silly: God didn’t give us free will as some kind of elaborate game of “gotcha,” where we stumble around in the dark while He kicks back and giggles at how silly we all look, bumping into walls. If you think God is like that, then you haven’t talked to Him lately. Or looked at a crucifix.

So how does God’s will work in conjunction with our free will? I don’t actually know. But I do know this: it’s rare for there to be one single thing which God Wants Us to Do, to the exclusion of all other things.

It’s more like when a patient mother, tired of her toddler’s in- decision, picks out three shirts which she thinks are acceptable, and says, “Okay, it’s up to you—which one do you want to wear?” If he stamps his feet and insists on going to the grocery store wearing a torn pillow case, then clearly that’s not what his mom wants; but if he chooses the truck shirt, or the bear one, or the one with green stripes, then she will work with him, and find some pants that match. She will let him suffer the tolerable consequences if the bear one is a little too warm for today, because maybe he’ll know better next time, and that means his choice was still a valuable one. The truck one and the stripy one also each have their benefits and drawbacks. She will be happy if he chooses either one.

The truth is that there are many different things—even mutually exclusive things—that can be God’s will. To switch analogies: When getting to your destination, you might take the scenic route, or the route that gets you the best gas mileage, or the route that takes you through your old hometown, or the shortcut you accidentally discover because the kids were screaming in the back seat and you didn’t realize you missed your turn.

Is there such a thing as a wrong road? Yes, of course. Are any of the four I described above wrong roads? No. Are there benefits from taking one that you wouldn’t get from taking the others? Yes. But they will all get you there.

So, when we ask ourselves if it’s God’s will that we have another baby right now, it isn’t simply a matter of figuring out whether God (a) wants you to have a baby, or (b) wants you not to have a baby.

Yes, your choices about fertility heavily involve God’s will about bringing new life into the world (and sadly, they sometimes involve realizing that the road you’re on is a dark and lonely one, which will lead you to God’s will, but without the baby you longed for). But your choices also involve discerning God’s will about a number of other things—and that’s where the “scenic route vs.best mileage vs. sentimental value vs. blundering around” part comes in.

What are the other things we have to discern, besides “having a baby vs. not having a baby”?

We should try to discern if God wants us to learn self-control, or learn trust; if God wants us to focus more on the things around us, or focus more on the longterm view of our life; if God wants us to shower our spouse with extra care and attention for a time, or to stretch our concept of what our marriage is for; if God wants us to have a better understanding of generosity, or a better understanding of prudence; if He wants for us a better acceptance of our own limits, or more sympathy for the struggles of others. And so on.

These are all things which may well be within that golden box marked “God’s Will.”

One of the dreary misfortunes of living as a lonely Catholic in a world so hostile to babies is that, in our loneliness, we sometimes try to drag God down into our limited view of life: black-and-white, Lord. Just tell me what to do! But He’s probably not going to do that.

It’s not that God doesn’t care about what we do. It’s not that the little decisions (and the big ones) of our lives don’t matter to Him. They do. After all, He’s the one who made our lives this way, full of big and little pleasures and pains.

It’s just that what He wants for us is not necessarily tied, ahead of time, to one particular decision—even a decision as large as whether or not to have another child. What He wants, above all, is for us to grow closer to Him. He gives us space (and that’s what free will is: working space) to decide what makes sense, and then He says, “All right, kiddo. Let’s see what we can
do with that.”

So, we have our choices within a Catholic understanding of sexuality: we can throw caution to the wind and know as little as possible about when we are likely to conceive; we can chart somewhat, and be willing to take a chance; we can chart strictly, and understand that Sometimes Things Happen, and maybe we’ll conceive when we don’t especially want to; or we can abstain altogether. We can do any of these things, and conceive when we expect to, or when we don’t expect to. We can conceive and then lose a child. We can not conceive, and receive a child through adoption. We can do any of these things and move away from God; or we can do any of these things and grow closer to God.

That’s what’s at the heart of it: whether or not we grow closer to God.

So yes, of course there are bad choices. But there are also many, many, many good ones. Free will means having control over our own lives; it doesn’t mean having control over God. His will is not tethered to our decisions: He isn’t either gleefully or grudgingly willing to follow through with His part of the bargain. His will is larger than that, and we are smaller. And at the same time, we are more precious, much, much more precious to Him: His covenant has less “Okay, fine, be that way” and more “Go ahead, and let’s see what we can do!”

God’s will is not a checklist of do’s and don’ts, but a living, fluid, powerful force that somehow, inconceivably, finds its way into our puny seedling lives, nourishing us like the rain and making us grow and bear fruit.

So, if you insist on seeing life as a maze with a secret answer at the end, I’m going to spoil the surprise for you I already know what’s inside that golden box that says “God’s will.” There’s a little piece of paper, and on it is written your name.

That’s what He wants: you. How you give yourself to Him is a much, much longer story.

***
This essay is chapter 27 from my book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning. It is from the section called “NFP and Your Spiritual Life.” The other two sections are “NFP and the Rest of the World” and “NFP in the Trenches.” You can buy the paperback here, the ebook here, and the audiobook here

Sponsor Marquette NFP supplies for couples in need!

Okay, I forgot it was NFP Awareness Week. Just one of the many things about which I am sub-aware.

I usually host a ClearBlue fertility monitor giveaway, but here’s something even simpler: You can donate to a fund that helps couples buy monitors and test strips to use with Marquette model NFP. Marquette uses the ClearBlue Fertility Monitor to measure hormone levels in urine, to help you achieve or avoid pregnancy.  Basically, you pee in a cup once a day, dip a test strip in, stick the strip in the machine, and then it tells you what’s going on.

The fund was organized by Mikayla and Stephen Dalton. To contact them for more information about this fund, you can use this form:

or email them at NFPmission at gmail dot com.  Feel free to contact me if you have questions: simchafisher at gmail dot com.  

Right now they are not accepting new applications for assistance. There is a backlog of people they haven’t been able to help yet (they got 37 applications and could only fund 12); so any moneys collected will go toward helping those who have already applied. 

Mikayla is a Boston Cross Check instructor, and she’s the one who taught me how to use the monitor to track my cycles. She is an eminently forthright, practical, and generous person, and I trust this couple to do exactly what they say they will do with any funds donated.

I not only personally vouch for the Daltons, I can vouch for Marquette [gestures meaningfully and non-pregnantly toward our youngest child who four-and-a-half]. It has taken so much of the stress and subjectivity out of using NFP. For us, it’s been far easier to use, easier to understand, and more reliable than other methods we’ve used. I’m not bashing other methods. If your other method works well for you, wonderful! Enjoy! But some people only really find NFP manageable once they start using Marquette.  

It is more expensive than other systems, though. The monitor costs between $100 and $200, and a box of test strips costs about $35 (a box lasts me about 4 months, but this varies). It wasn’t long ago that this was completely out of our budget, and there are plenty of couples in the same boat. They really want to use NFP, but the odds are against them. 

So if you’re looking for a simple way to directly help another couple, please consider contacting the Daltons. Thanks! 

 

 

Have you heard me speak? Please take my survey!

If you’ve heard me speak, could you answer some questions? It would be so helpful to me, so I know what needs improvement and what’s hitting the mark. The survey should take about two minutes. Thank you! 

Create your own user feedback survey

Disgraced priest, Luke Reese, now caretaker for Church charity

By Damien Fisher 

The disgraced Roman Catholic priest Luke Reese, who was convicted of beating his wife and holding her against her will, is now living as a “caretaker” on a property listed as the headquarters for a charity under the legal control of the Archbishop of Indianapolis.

Also living on the property, according to the records we reviewed, is Sister Judith Ayers who is listed as treasurer of the charity, and who publicly defended Reese’s innocence.  The charity in question, Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc., has not filed federal tax returns in more than a decade.

Reese was an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism with his wife and seven children, and was ordained as a Catholic priest in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in 2016. He served as Parochial Vicar of Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis. Reese’s status was somewhat ambiguous, as he served in the Indianapolis Archdiocese but was under the authority of the Ordinariate, which is based in Houston. In September of 2017, he was placed on leave after assaulting his wife. The Ordinariate bishop, Steven Lopes, then removed him from Ordinariate ministry and suspended his faculties.

Neither the Ordinariate nor the archdiocese have agreed to answer any questions about Reese’s current living situation, and both institutions have been uncooperative since we broke the news of Reese’s arrest 

We found the information about Reese’s new home as the Indianapolis Archdiocese finds itself mired in scandal over the treatment of gay teachers at Catholic high schools. The archdiocese is currently being sued by one teacher fired from an archdiocesan school, and the diocese stripped Jesuit Brebeuf Preparatory School of its official Catholic identity when the Jesuit leadership refused to fire a gay teacher at its school. The two teachers in question are married to each other.

Reese was convicted last year after a trial on a felony charge of criminal confinement with bodily injury, as well as misdemeanor charges of domestic battery and battery resulting in bodily injury, according to court records.

On the day he was convicted of beating his wife, Holy Rosary offered a Mass to commemorate the anniversary of Reese’s ordination.

Reese was sentenced to one year of house arrest, as well as probation. On June 20 Reese’s request to transfer his probation to Owen County was granted by the court in Marion County. The new address, according to the court’s order, is in the town of Spencer in Owen County. The same address Reese gives for his new home in court records is also given as the principal address for an legal entity named Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc.

Because of privacy concerns for the Reese children, we are not disclosing the address.

According to documents on file with the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office, Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc., is a charity with a sole member, the Archbishop of Indianapolis. The articles of incorporation, filed in 2009, list John Jay Mercer, the archdiocesan attorney, as incorporator, and Monsignor Joseph Schaedel as the registered agent. Schaedel’s address is given as the Archdiocesan offices of 1400 North Meridian. St. Sister Judith Ayers is listed as the treasurer. Ayers, according to the Archdiocesan magazine, “lives a life consecrated to God outside of a religious order.”

According to the articles of incorporation, the only “member” of the charity is the archbishop. The “member” is given authority to set the bylaws for the charity. While the charity is supposed to have a three-person board of directors, the “member” can designate one person to operate the charity, according to the articles of incorporation.

We do not know how the charity is set to operate, either with a board, or with one person designated by the archbishop. That is up to the archbishop. The board, or designate, control the charity using the bylaws set by the archbishop. 

Schaedel has since been replaced by Monsignor William Stumpf, and Stumpf lists the same North Meridian Street address. Stumpf did not respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did Mercer. 

Archbishop Charles Thompson was not the archbishop at the time Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc. was formed in Indiana, but when he became archbishop, he assumed the mantle of sole member under the charity’s terms of the articles of incorporation.

The documents do not give any indication as to what, exactly, Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc. does as a charitable organization, and the group has not filed a federal tax return, a 990, since 2002. That return was not immediately available. The only constant is Ayers. The principal address of the organization listed in Indiana state filings often mirror Ayers’s own address.

Ayers was listed as the treasurer of the organization when it was active in Arkansas in the 1990s. It is not clear how much money the organization collects in revenue, where that money comes from, or how it is spent. 

Heart of Mercy Solutide Inc. listed the Spencer property as the principal address for Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc. in October of 2018, according to state records. The property is described as a 30 acre property with two houses on site, one for Ayers, and one for Reese and his children when he has them for visitation, according to the notice for relocation Reese filed in court as part of his divorce case.

Reese touted the property in the relocation notice, stating that there is ample outdoor recreation, and enough space for his children to have their own living space as they get older. Reese’s filing does not disclose what he pays, if anything, for rent on the property.

“Father was offered a position as caretaker for the property which offers him access to the property’s amenities such as fishing, hiking, and gardens. The home is more affordable yet has many amenities,” his filing states.

The term “father” for Reese in the relocation notice notes his parental status and not his clerical state. However, as recently as January, Reese identified himself as a Roman Catholic priest in good standing in court records, even though his faculties have been suspended.

The owner of the Spencer property told us he is renting the property to Ayers, though he declined to disclose the monthly rent. The property is more than 50 miles from Indianapolis, where five of the children live with their mother, and where Reese works as a manager in a restaurant.

Ayers has a history of supporting Reese, and has made public statements blaming the victim for the assault, which Reese himself has also done. Using the screen name “Soli Beata,” Ayers said on this site:

“There is a lot of misinformation regarding this article. I am a member of that church… The alleged incident as reported sounds like author is a writer seeking sensationalism and being fed intentionally to garner sympathy for an adulteress.”

Ayers also said: 

“The events alleged regarding Father beating wife never happened either in church or elsewhere. The church was descecrated, by the two adulterers… But that was not covered by this article.”

Ayers’ assertions about the case are not backed up by the court records. 

Ayers did not respond to an email seeking answers about the charity and about Reese’s living situation.

Archdiocese spokesman Mike Krokos initially said he would get answers as to what Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc. actually does, and what Thompson knows about the charity and the Reese matter. Three days later, Krokos said he would not be answering questions about Heart of Mercy Solitude Inc.

Krokos does not answer our phone calls unless we block the caller ID function. 

Representatives for the Ordinariate, based in Houston, declined to comment on this new development.

Last month, A.G. Stockstill, Business Manager for the Ordinariate, which ordained Reese, stated in an email that Reese’s faculties were suspended in 2017, soon after his arrest. 

“Father Luke Reese was removed from ministry in the Ordinariate by Bishop Lopes on September 27, 2017, at which time his faculties were suspended.  Any further or permanent determination of Father Reese’s status as a priest is the competency of the Holy See,” Stockstill wrote.

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 178: Food, lol

Here’s what we et this week:

SATURDAY
Cookout leftovers

You’ll never believe it, but we made too much food for July 4th. Good thing, too, as Saturday turned out to be one of those ridiculous days of sudden downpours, changes in plans, awkward encounters with strangers, and a shopping trip that started five hours late and then ended before any food was purchased, because I locked my keys, phone, and wallet in the car. But don’t worry! I also locked in the snacks, so when Lucy got an urgent low blood sugar reading while we waited for AAA, all I had to do was contemplate going back into Aldi (where, recall, I had not done any actual shopping) to say, “Hey, thanks for letting me use your phone three times. Now can we have some free food so my kid doesn’t pass out?” But IT ALL WORKED OUT. But I didn’t do any shopping. So I was happy we had plenty of leftovers in the house to eat. 

SUNDAY
Berry chicken salad

It’s a damn fine salad. I think the family is tired of it, but I’m not!

Roasted chicken breast, mixed greens, toasted almonds, feta cheese, blueberries and strawberries, and a balsamic vinegar dressing. 

MONDAY
Bacon, eggs, and Brussels sprouts in balsamic honey

An old favorite we haven’t had for a while. I got the idea from Damn Delicious, where you will find plenty of simple and tasty one-pan dinner ideas.

I adjusted the proportions and cook time, so I’ll put a recipe card at the end. 

You sprinkle it with parmesan and hot pepper flakes. If you don’t overcook the egg, you can break open the yolk and dip forkfuls of bacon and Brussels sprouts in it. RECOMMENDED. 

This meal would be great with a hearty bread like challah. (I didn’t actually make challah. It’s way too hot for that But it would have been good!)

TUESDAY
Muffaletta sandwiches, onion rings, pineapple

When I was drawing up my shopping list, I asked Facebook for sandwich ideas. The first one that caught my eye was muffaletta sandwiches, but if you want some other ideas, there are 82 comments on this thread!

What I made was probably more muffaletish sandwiches than anything else. You’re supposed to have softer bread and far more meat and oil, and you’re supposed to wrap it up and let the olive salad juices seep into the bread before eating. Me, I just slapped it together and wolfed it down. We used salami, ham, capicola, and provolone on ciabatta rolls with olive oil and olive salad. 

The sandwich here looks like it was shouting, but it wasn’t really, except for that silent cry of “EAT ME” that so many sandwiches convey.

Wait, wait, here:

Have I told you I’m an award-winning writer? It’s true. 

I made the olive salad with black and green olives, some giardiniera vegetables, some capers, and a little olive oil, chopped up in the food processor. In a stunning and radical departure from my typical habits, I made way too much of it; so later in the week, I gobbled up the rest for an evening snack with crackers. And that’s why they make ranitidine. WORTH IT. 

On Tuesday we finally had a long-promised campfire with marshmallows and spooky stories.  Corrie told a short but terrifying(?) story about werewuffs:

 

Not everyone likes onion rings, so I got some, well, I got some emoji potato things. 

The package said that they mash and season potatoes and form them into fun shapes and then cook them and YOU WILL BE PROUD TO SERVE THEM TO YOUR FAMILY. Like, they came right out and made that assertion. I guess it’s normal to feel defensive when we see clearly what we’re doing.  

WEDNESDAY
Meatball subs

Wednesday was one of those miraculous “how is this my life” days, so I made sure to relish it. Damien got all his work set up in the morning and then took the kids to the beach for several hours to write, and Lena made meatballs while I sat in my room in front of a fan, writing my stupid little heart out with only the cat to interrupt me. 

I’ll post my basic meatball recipe at the end. The only thing unusual about it is that I cook them in a hot oven on a broiler pan, then transfer them to a pot or crock pot with sauce. It’s so much easier, neater, and faster then frying or boiling. 

I had accidentally bought two sizes of roll, and Wednesday was the day I discovered it’s amusing when your aging mother makes reference to “long bois,” but distressing when that same mother goes on to offer you a bag of short bois. The ways of the young are shrouded in mystery. 

THURSDAY
Pork nachos with lime crema

I put a half pork loin in the crock pot with a can of Coke and let it cook all day. Actually, I turned the crock pot on and then, a few hours later, my husband asked me if I had intended to plug it in. I told the kids I would take them out for their free 7/11 Flushies, but we ended up making something like five stops first, and I felt so bad about dragging them around in the hot car, we went to the playground. 

Man, it’s been too long since we went to the playground. We used to go five days a week! Walking over a mile with the double stroller and the back carrier to while away the long, long hours, desperate to see another adult and do something besides mop up juice and wipe bottoms. Now it’s more like five times a year that we find time to go to a playground in between errands and everyone’s work schedules. This playground is cool and piney, with a little stream, and lots of trees to climb and rocks to scramble up and hills to roll down, and no end of places to hide.

After a somewhat contentious game of hide and seek, they resurrected their old Billy Goats Gruff game, using the wobbly bridge on the play structure, and man oh man, life is so different now, I just don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I guess I’ll cry. Not that I want things to go back the way they were. But still. 

Some things haven’t changed, though, and one of those things is that children would rather die than give you a decent photo, even if you bought them Flushies. Well, free Flushies. 

Just kidding. I love this. I love how Corrie has the same patient, forbearing expression as Elijah. 

Anyway, by the time we finally got home, it was quite late and I suddenly had some unexpected editing to do, so I asked Damien to finish up supper. He shredded the pork, seasoned it heavily with chili lime powder, and put it in a pan under the broiler to brown up. So we had tortilla chips with shredded meat and melted cheese, with the option to add jarred jalapeño slices and corn, salsa, and lime crema.

Recipe card for lime crema at the end. I thought it was a pretty swell meal. I vastly prefer pork to beef on nachos. 

FRIDAY
I unno.

It says “pasta” on the blackboard, but it feels too hot for that. Maybe we will just have popcorn, made in the microwave. The microwave, which we can now use again, after they told me it broke, and I asked them several times if it was maybe just not plugged in, and they swore up and down that it was truly broken, so after being annoyed about it for a month, I bought a new microwave, and when we went to plug it in, we discovered . . . well, you know what we discovered.

Yeah, I think they’re getting popcorn. 

 

Meatballs for a crowd

Make about 100 golf ball-sized meatballs. 

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground meat (I like to use mostly beef with some ground chicken or turkey or pork)
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400.

  2. Mix all ingredients together with your hands until it's fully blended.

  3. Form meatballs and put them in a single layer on a pan with drainage. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more until they're cooked all the way through.

  4. Add meatballs to sauce and keep warm until you're ready to serve. 

 

 

Bacon, eggs, and brussels sprouts in honey garlic balsamic sauce

Adapted from Damn Delicious.  An easy and tasty one-pan meal that would work for any meal. Great with a hearty bread like challah. 

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 3 lbs uncooked bacon, cut into 1- or 2-inch pieces
  • 18 eggs
  • oil for greasing pan
  • salt and pepper to taste

Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed

Garnish (optional):

  • parmesan cheese, grated
  • red pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Grease two large oven sheets. 


  2. Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Mix Brussels sprouts and bacon together, spread evenly in pans, and pour sauce all over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

  3. Cook until bacon is almost done (almost as crisp as you like it) and Brussels sprouts are very slightly browned, 18-20 minutes.

  4. Pull the pans out of the oven and carefully crack the eggs onto the Brussels sprouts and bacon, here and there.

  5. Return pan to the oven and cook a few minutes longer, just enough to set the eggs. The yolks will get a little film over the top, but don't let them cook all the way through, or you'll have something resembled hard boiled eggs, which isn't as good. You want the yolks to be liquid so you can dip forkfuls of fod into it.

  6. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes and serve. 

 

Lime Crema

Keyword Budget Bytes, crema, lime, lime crema, sour cream, tacos

Ingredients

  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 3 limes zested and juiced
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. 

Recipe Notes

So good on tacos and tortilla chips Looking forward to having it on tortilla soup, enchiladas, MAYBE BAKED POTATOES, I DON'T EVEN KNOW.

Don’t miss the downhill

My husband and I are runners. You know, more or less. We don’t run fast and we don’t run far; but we do run pretty often together, and we almost always run the same course, which has a lot of ups and downs. 

This being New Hampshire, there is hardly any level ground to travel. Most of it slopes up or slopes down, or up and down and up and down, and at both ends of our normal route, there are significant hills — one in the middle that’s short and steep, and one at the end, that’s long and very steep.

A serious runner told me that running downhill for too long — down a mountain, say — gets to be just as hard as running uphill, and you need a whole new set of muscles just to keep yourself from tipping over.

I will take her word for it. In my moderate little routine, downhills are pure bliss. Gravity does much of the work, and all you must do is point yourself in the right direction and off you go. On the downhill, my breathing comes closer to normal, my muscles relax, my stride lengthens, my vision clears. By the time we reach the lowest point and it’s time to circle around and chug right back up again, I feel refreshed, encouraged, and ready.

Except sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, before we get to the downhill, I’m struggling so hard mentally and physically, the chance to ease up doesn’t even register. Maybe I’m stressing out over some unrelated problem, or maybe I’m even worried about how I look, and next thing you know, I’ve gotten the lowest point of the loop, and I don’t even know how I got there. I’ve wasted my chance to take it easy, and now it’s time to start pushing again. I forgot to enjoy the downhill.

So I try to make a point of reminding myself where I am. To really feel my thighs loosen up, to really rest in the sensation of not having to fight against gravity, to relax my chest and my lungs as we descend.

There’s even an actual field of wildflowers at the bottom of the hill, and while I don’t stop to smell them, I do make sure I feast my eyes on them, and search out any new arrivals that have sprung up since last time. There’s always something: White and pink and purple clover, flaming orange hawkweed, purple cow vetch with its fantastical tendrils; Queen Anne’s Lace, bunches of silvery cinquefoil, some early asters, tenacious ranunculus, and clusters of jewelweed with their little orange lanterns. Hardy mulleins stand like sentinels in the tasseled grass, and you’re enveloped in the hot, sweet smell of wild weeds coming into their own.

And then sometimes you come to the bottom of the hill and it’s all been mown down, flattened and carted away by the other people who spend their time on this road, and that’s worth enjoying, too. By proxy, I enjoy the hot, hectic industry of gathering grasses in to make ready for winter. I do enjoy the downhill, when I remember to.

It’s a good motto, “Enjoy the downhill.” Most people have hills and valleys in their life, times of struggle and times of rest — maybe not absolute rest, but at least times when gravity takes over for a while, when you can push less hard, breathe more easily, see more clearly.

When you’re on the downhill, maybe a child still has a chronic illness, but the current crisis has passed. Maybe there are still unresolved problems in the family dynamics, but there’s a temporary truce under your roof. Maybe the Lord has been coming at you with brilliance and heat, but then the downhill comes, and he retreats for a while and lets you be. Maybe things are just easier for a while. There are no pressing bills for once. You’re sleeping through the night. You’re making it through the week. It’s the downhill! It’s not the same as stopping and resting completely, but it’s still so good, so refreshing, if you can recognize that’s where you are. 

But sometimes the struggle takes so much out of us, we forget to notice when the  eases up. And next thing you know, that time is already past, and now you must start chugging upward again.

If you’re struggling right now, no one needs to point that out to you. You’ll know it when you’re on the uphill, when you have to push with everything you’ve got just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

But if you’re on the downhill, you may be in danger of missing it. So do look for it. Do enjoy it. Do relish the relief it gives, and do take the chance to loosen your muscles and bring extra air to your lungs. You know darn well you’re going to need it when the road starts to rise. 

And do, oh do look for the wildflowers. See what has bloomed on its own while you were busy toiling elsewhere, and enjoy that, too. Not everything has to be done by your own two hands. There’s always something to enjoy, even if you didn’t make it yourself. 

And remember, a life of nothing but existential downhill is hard on a person, too, just like physical downhills are. It’s understandable to envy  people whose lives offer very little challenge, very few obstacles, but believe me: in a life like that, it takes a whole other set of muscles just to keep from tipping over. I have seen them tip over. And they never do get that sweet pleasure that comes with a reprieve.  

Are you on a downhill? Can you loosen up, breathe better, see better, let yourself be carried for a bit? Take note, and enjoy! You know there are more hills to come. 

Photo (color altered) by Camila Cordeiro on Unsplash