The Andrew Walton Idiot Defense

Please read Galante and Fol­lieri: the Bishop and the Con Man, which lays out the details men­tioned in this post.

The Dio­cese of Cam­den is in fran­tic spin con­trol mode after yesterday’s rev­e­la­tions that Bishop Galante per­son­ally received $400,000
from high fly­ing Euro­trash con man Raf­faelo Fol­lieri for the sale of a
beach house the Bishop had been unable to unload. Follieri’s the guy
who’s been try­ing to buy up Catholic church prop­er­ties across the
coun­try while mak­ing out with his Hol­ly­wood girl­friend on San Tropez
beaches
and par­ty­ing it up with Bill Clinton’s sleezy bil­lion­aire
buddies.

It seems like a pretty clear cut case. Galante had his hand in Follieri’s cookie jar.
Sold his beach house to the guy who stood to profit most from the
Bishop’s plan to sell off half of South Jersey’s churches. Old­est story
in the book. Give him the cell next to Follieri’s and they can rem­i­nisce about
the good old days (NSFW).

I’ve been won­der­ing just how the Dio­cese would try to spin this story
as it waits for fed­eral inves­ti­ga­tors to come knock­ing at the door. And
today the offi­cial Spokesper­son in Charge of Fairy Tales called up all the papers. Ladies and gen­tle­men, we present you with:

The Andrew Wal­ton Idiot Defense

Turns out some­one at the Vat­i­can called some­one at the
Dioce­san offices back in 2004 telling them to sell to Fol­lieri. That’s
it. No one can remem­ber who made the call. No one can remem­ber who took
the call. For all we know Fol­lieri filled his mouth with cot­ton balls
and did his best Mar­lon Brando imi­ta­tion from the pay phone across the street.

The Arch­dio­ce­ses in Boston, New York, Newark and else­where told Fol­lieri they had enough bridges thank you very much, but poor Grandpa Joe was con­fused and started lend­ing him priests and giv­ing him the keys to the beach house.

How could any­one imag­ine that Fol­lieri was a crook? He seemed like any
other Mother Teresa choir boy with his $10,000 suits, New York pent­house,
heroin habit, con­victed mob asso­ciates, San Tropez week­ends and expensively-maintained Hol­ly­wood girl­friend. “Nobody was aware of prob­lems with Mr. Fol­lieri or his com­pany at that time.” Yeah right. Nobody. Nobody. Nobody. Nobody. Nobody. And I’m the widow of the late John Paul II, recently deceased Pres­i­dent of the Vat­i­can, with frozen assets in Nige­ria I’d like your help in secur­ing. Please email me back at your ear­li­est con­ve­nience Andy Wal­ton, I know you won’t be disappointed.

Reach up high, clear off the dust, time to get started

It’s been a fas­ci­nat­ing edu­ca­tion learn­ing about insti­tu­tional Catholi­cism these past few weeks. I won’t reveal how and what I know, but I think I have a good pic­ture of the cul­ture inside the bishop’s inner cir­cle and I’m pretty sure I under­stand his long-term agenda. The cur­rent lightening-fast clo­sure of sixty-some churches is the first step of an ambi­tious plan; man­u­fac­tured priest short­ages and soon-to-be over­crowded churches will be used to jus­tify even more rad­i­cal changes. In about twenty years time, the 125 churches that exist today will have been sold off. What’s left of a half mil­lion faith­ful will be herded into a dozen or so mega-churches, with the­ol­ogy bor­rowed from generic lib­er­al­ism, style from feel-good evan­gel­i­cal­ism, and orga­ni­za­tion from con­sul­tant culture.

When dioce­san offi­cials come by to read this blog (and they do now), they will smile at that last sen­tence and nod their heads approv­ingly. The con­spir­acy is real.

But I don’t want to talk about Catholi­cism again. Let’s talk Quak­ers instead, why not? I should be in some meet­ing for wor­ship right now any­way. Julie left Friends and returned to the faith of her upbring­ing after eleven years with us because she wanted a reli­gious com­mu­nity that shared a basic faith and that wasn’t afraid to talk about that faith as a cor­po­rate “we.” It seems that Catholi­cism won’t be able to offer that in a few years. Will she run then run off to the East­ern Ortho­dox church? For that mat­ter should I be run­ning off to the Men­non­ites? See though, the prob­lem is that the same issues will face us wher­ever we try to go. It’s mod­ernism, baby. No focused and authen­tic faith seems to be safe from the Forces of the Bland. Lord help us.

We can blog the ques­tions of course. Why would some­one who dis­likes Catholic cul­ture and wants to dis­man­tle its infra­struc­ture become a priest and a career bureau­crat? For that mat­ter why do so many peo­ple want to call them­selves Quak­ers when they can’t stand basic Quaker the­ol­ogy? If I wanted lots of com­ments I could go on blah-blah-blah, but ulti­mately the ques­tion is futile and beyond my figuring.

Another piece to this issue came in some ques­tions Wess Daniels sent around to me and a few oth­ers this past week in prepa­ra­tion for his upcom­ing pre­sen­ta­tion at Wood­brooke. He asked about how a par­tic­u­lar Quaker insti­tu­tion did or did not rep­re­sent or might or might not be able to con­tain the so-called “Con­ver­gent” Friends move­ment. I don’t want to bust on any­one so I won’t name the orga­ni­za­tion. Let’s just say that like pretty much all Quaker bureau­cra­cies it’s inward-focused, shal­low in its pub­lic state­ments, slow to take ini­tia­tive and more or less irrel­e­vant to any cam­paign to gather a great peo­ple. A more suc­cess­ful Quaker bureau­cracy I could name seems to be doing well in fundrais­ing but is doing less and less with more and more staff and seems more inter­ested in donor-focused hype than long-term pro­gram implementation.

One enemy of the faith is bureau­cracy. Real lead­er­ship has been replaced by con­sul­tants and fundrais­ers. Finan­cial and staffing crises–real and created–are used to jus­tify a water­ing down of the mes­sage. Pro­grams are dri­ven by donor money rather than clear need and when real work might require con­tro­versy, it’s tabled for the façade of feel-goodism. Quaker read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers: no I’m talk­ing about Catholics. Catholic read­ers who think I’m talk­ing about Catholics: no, I’m talk­ing about Quak­ers. My point is that these forces are tear­ing down reli­gios­ity all over. Some cheer this devel­op­ment on. I think it’s evil at work, the Tempter using our leader’s desires for posi­tion and respect and our the desires of our laity’s (for lack of a bet­ter word) to trust and think the best of its leaders.

So where does that leave us? I’m tired of think­ing that maybe if I try one more Quaker meet­ing I’ll find the com­mu­nity where I can prac­tice and deepen my faith as a Chris­t­ian Friend. I’m stumped. That first batch of Friends knew this feel­ing: Fox and the Pen­ing­tons and all the rest talked about iso­la­tion and about reli­gious pro­fes­sion­als who were in it for the career. I know from the blo­gos­phere and from count­less one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions that there are a lot of us–a lot–who either drift away or stay in meet­ings out of a sense of guilt.

So what would a spir­i­tual com­mu­nity for these out­sider Friends look like? If we had real vision rather than donor vision, what would our struc­tures look like? If we let the generic churches go off to out-compete one other to see who can be the bland­est, what would be left for the rest of us to do?

20080608-xcjchpscnwekhsh85kg2hr7nbf.previewI guess this last para­graph is the new revised mis­sion state­ment for the Quaker part of this blog. Okay kids, get a step stool, go to your meet­ing library, reach up high, clear away the dust and pull out vol­ume one of “A por­trai­ture of Quak­erism: Taken from a view of the edu­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline, social man­ners, civil and polit­i­cal econ­omy, reli­gious prin­ci­ples and char­ac­ter, of the Soci­ety of Friends” by Thomas Clark­son. Yes the 1806 ver­sion, stop the grum­bling. Get out the ribbed pack­ing tape and put its cover back together–this isn’t the frig­ging Library of Con­gress and we’re actu­ally going to read this thing. Don’t even waste your time check­ing it out in the meeting’s log­book: no one’s pulled it down off the shelf in fifty years and no one’s going to miss it now. Really stuck?, okay Google’s got it too. Class will start shortly.

The bishop gets THAT LOOK

I’ve been busy with work lately and much of my free time has been spent help­ing Julie and the Savest​marys​.net coali­tion. St. Mary’s is one of about sixty South Jer­sey Catholic churches the bishop is try­ing to close down and replace with smily happy Megachurches. I’m still not going Catholic on you all, I just don’t like short-sighted reli­gious bureau­crats with secret agen­das, and I like places and peo­ple and churches with roots and history.

On Tues­day night Bishop Galante and his posse came to visit St Mary’s and were greeted by an over­flow crowd. He came with charts and a game show host of a priest for MC who tried to start the meet­ing with a pasted-on smile and crowd-control speak­ing rules. The St Mary’s parish­ioners were hav­ing none of it. There were over five hun­dred peo­ple in the pews ask­ing why the Bishop wanted to shut down a church with sound finances, an impas­sioned priest, an involved laity and the where­withal to con­tinue another hun­dreds years.

“Vibrant” has become the Bishop’s stock answer, his new favorite code word. Like a Pres­i­dent backpedal­ing on the ratio­nales of an unpop­u­lar war, his spokes­peo­ple have admit­ted under pres­sure of evi­dence and easy solu­tions that the clo­sures aren’t due to a priest short­age,  finan­cial prob­lems at the tar­geted churches, or the lack of lay par­tic­i­pa­tion and involve­ment. The only expla­na­tion the bishop can offer for clo­sure is “vibrancy.” But every time he tries to define “vibrant” he ends up describ­ing St. Mary’s and dozens of other local churches he wants to close.

There’s obvi­ously more to the def­i­n­i­tion than he’d like to share. One parish­ioner asked whether he thought a small church was even capa­ble of dis­play­ing the “vibrancy” he demands. He refused to answer, which sug­gests we’ve finally dug down to a real answer. His fix for South Jer­sey is Megachurches that cop strate­gies from the Evan­gel­i­cal move­ment and con­sol­i­date power more closely in the dioce­san offices. 

The bishop gave the church-saving move­ment its best metaphor when he dis­par­aged the lit­tle churches he wants to shut­ter as “Wawa churches.” Read­ers from out­side the Mid-Atlantic region might know that Wawa is a local con­ve­nience store chain but that’s like say­ing water is a com­mon chem­i­cal com­pound. You can’t drive more than twenty min­utes with­out pass­ing three Wawas. South Jer­sians prac­ti­cally live there. The bishop might was well con­demn moth­er­hood, base­ball and apple pie if he’s going to take on South Jersey’s Wawa.

One dis­grun­tled “Catholic in name only” cam­paign sup­porter rose to reclaim the Wawa label, say­ing that all these lit­tle churches were indeed like Wawa: ubiq­ui­tous, open at all hours, with good food that brought peo­ple in. The bishop obvi­ously prefers the Wal­mart model: big box, big park­ing lot, hid­den Eucharists, gameshow-host priests and clowns for music direc­tors (seri­ously: check out this post of Julie’s and scroll down to the Great­est Amer­i­can Hero dude). I’m not sure why some­one who dis­likes Catholic cul­ture so much would want to become a priest and I’m really not sure why some­one who dis­likes South Jer­sey cul­ture so much would agree to be its bishop. One blog­ger recently wrote “I have gone through enough merg­ers and con­sol­i­da­tions to know one thing
is true: reduc­tions in man­power and assets are made for tighter
con­trol” which sounds like as good an expla­na­tion as any other I’ve heard. Power and money: same as it ever was.

I was fol­low­ing the kids around out­side for much of what turned into a speak-out ses­sion but I got to see twenty sec­onds of my wife Julie’s tes­ti­mony on the Fox affiliate’s 10 o’clock news. Julie had THAT LOOK when address­ing the bishop. It’s a look I know too well, it’s a look that means “I’m right, I know it, and I’m not back­ing down.” If I’ve learned any­thing over the course of the last seven years of mar­riage it’s that I don’t stand a chance when Julie gives me THAT LOOK: it’s time to con­cede that yes she is right, because any other option will just pro­long the pain and delay the inevitable. I saw hun­dreds of peo­ple giv­ing the bishop that same look last night.

It’s nice to see South Jer­sey stand­ing up to an out­sider who hates its cul­ture and wants to force change for the sake of his own power and profit. We get a lot of it down here. The power guys usu­ally end up win­ning: the woods get chain­sawed and the farm­lands buried under vast expanses of generic box stores and cookie-cutter McMan­sions financed by Philly money and greased by the pro-development laws of North Jer­sey politi­cians. I could be wrong, but after this week I don’t think the bishop stands a chance. The ques­tion now is how long he’s going to pro­long his . And how many churches will he suc­ceed in tak­ing down in the name of “vibrance?”

Save St. Mary’s

Julie’s been busy this week­end fol­low­ing up on the rally she attended Fri­day, hook­ing up with all of the orga­niz­ing that’s hap­pen­ing to save St. Mary’s Church in Malaga NJ. She’s taken lots of pic­tures of St. Mary’s and yes­ter­day made up t-shirts for the cause!
One pos­i­tive ele­ment to come of the Bishop’s deci­sion to close down St. Mary’s and half the Catholic churches in South Jer­sey is how parish­ioners are com­ing together for their churches. Julie’s already typed in half of a 1997 his­tory of St. Mary’s onto the inter­net, and there are plans to inter­view elderly mem­bers, the old­est of whom remem­ber the church being built.
The story of a lit­tle church in a sleepy rural town is the really the story of the Ital­ian Catholic expe­ri­ence in Amer­ica. There’s a cer­tifi­cate in the back of the church that lists all of the dona­tions that were col­lected to build the church, some from dirt poor farm­ers who couldn’t even afford a dol­lar but still put all they could to build a house of wor­ship.
To my Quaker read­ers: don’t worry, I’m not going Catholic on you all. It’s just that even I can tell there’s some­thing spe­cial about St. Mary’s and the devo­tion and the newfound-feistiness of it’s com­mu­nity (how did they makes the Times?! And two pic­tures!). The bishop wants to sell all these lit­tle rural churches and replace them with imper­sonal mega-churches. The strug­gle for authen­tic­ity, human­ity and the remem­brance of the expe­ri­ence of those who strug­gled before us tran­scends reli­gious denom­i­na­tions. We’d all lose some­thing if churches like St. Mary’s were all torn down to make way for more Super Wawa’s.

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Rally to save St Mary’s Catholic Church in Malaga NJ

Rally to save St Mary's MalagaJulie and Theo took a bus into Cam­den NJ this morn­ing to attend a rally in sup­port of St Mary’s. It’s one of dozens of churches that the Dio­cese of Cam­den has slated for clo­sure. St. Mary’s Father Romanowski was sched­uled to meet Bishop Galante today but the Bishop can­celed at the last minute. Chan­nel Six Action News pro­filed St Mary’s a few days ago and the video gives you a lit­tle idea why it’s a spe­cial lit­tle church.
More pic­tures of the St Mary’s rally here.

The Young Conservative

The Young Conservative
Fran­cis on the cover of the mock magazine.

Photo: A new pub­li­ca­tion of the Neo Post Con­ver­gent Dia­per Set. An irony I have to point out is that I’ve agreed to have the boys raised Catholic, the faith to which Julie returned after eleven years with Friends. Can I help it if the kids look so dern pho­to­genic in front of Quaker meet­ing­houses? Enlarged photo.

Julie’s church in the news

The Philadel­phia Inquirer wrote an arti­cle on Julie’s tra­di­tion­al­ist Catholic church this week and even pro­duced a video that gives you a feel of the wor­ship. Because of the two lit­tle ones we try to alter­nate between her church and Friends meet­ing on First Day morn­ings (though my crazy work sched­ule over the past few months have pre­cluded even this). I’m in no dan­ger of becom­ing the “Catholic Ranter” any­time soon (sorry Julie!) but I do appre­ci­ate the rev­er­ence and sense of pur­pose which Mater Ecclessians bring to wor­ship and even I have cul­ture shock when I go to a norvus ordo mass these days. Com­men­tary on the Inquirer piece cour­tesy Father Zuhls­dorf. That blog and the Closed Cafe­te­ria are favorites around here. Here’s a few pic­tures of us at the church fol­low­ing baptisms.

PS: I wish the Catholic Church as a whole were more open-minded when it comes to LGBT issues. That said, the ser­mons on the issue I’ve heard at Mater Eccle­siae have gone out of their way to empha­size char­ity. That said, I’ve occa­sion­ally heard some under the breath com­ments by parish­ioners that weren’t so char­i­ta­ble. Yet another rea­son to stay the Quaker Ranter.

Call off the search parties

The retreat at the Carmelite Monastery was nice. Here’s some pic­tures, the first of those “long-remembered”:/if_i_dont_make_it_back.php tall stone walls and the rest of the beau­ti­ful chapel:
Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia
It was a silent retreat–for us at least. There were three talks about “Teresa of Avila”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_Avila given by Father Tim Byer­ley, who also works with the “Col­legium Center”:http://www.collegiumcenter.org/about.php, a kind of reli­gious edu­ca­tion out­reach project for young adult Catholics in South Jer­sey (I men­tioned it “a few months ago”:http://www.quakerranter.org/teaching_quakerism_again.php as a model of young adult youth out­reach that Friends might want to con­sider). Much of what Teresa has to say about prayer is uni­ver­sal and very applic­a­ble to Friends, though I have to admit I started spac­ing out by around the fourth man­sion of the “Inte­rior Castle”:http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/castle2.toc.html (I’ve never been good with num­bered reli­gious steps!).
I’m in no dan­ger of fol­low­ing my wife Julie’s jour­ney from Friends to Catholi­cism, though as always I very much enjoyed being in the midst of a gath­ered group com­mit­ted to a spir­i­tu­al­ity. The idea of reli­gious life as self-abnegation is an impor­tant one for all Chris­tians in an age where “me-ism”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScWdek6_Ids&eurl has become the “sec­u­lar state religion”:http://www.walmart.com/ and I hope to return to it in the near future.

If I don’t make it back.…

Monastery entranceTomor­row Julie and I are going on an all-day Lenten retreat at a Carmelite Monastery on Old York Road in Philadel­phia. She’s given me creedal cheat sheets in case I feel led to read along, as I have to fake it on any­thing past the The Lord’s Prayer.
The monastery has forty-foot tall stone walls all around and is located a few blocks from where I grew up (pic­ture cour­tesy the “monastery’s organist’s webpage”:http://home.att.net/~lucycarroll/page5.html) and it was a place of some intrigue. When­ever we would drive by I’d press my face against the car win­dows think­ing maybe I’d catch a glimpse of a nun swing­ing her­self over the wall in an escape attempt. Need­less to say I wasn’t brought up Catholic or even Catholic-friendly and so didn’t real­ize how ridicu­lous this imag­in­ing of mine was. Still, I’ve prob­a­bly never passed the monastery as an adult with­out tak­ing a quick peek at those walls. In twelve hours I enter them myself!
Julie’s gone on the retreat a num­ber of times (it’s usu­ally women-only) and has always been released to my con­nu­bial arms at end’s day. Still, just in case some­thing hap­pens, y’all know where to look! The kids are going to be with Julie’s sis­ter and their cousin and should have a good time.

Plain Dress Discussion on Yahoo

Julie, my wife, has just started a Yahoo group called PlainAnd­Mod­est­Dress.
Here’s her description:

This group is for Chris­tians inter­ested in dis­cussing issues of reli­gious plain and mod­est dress. It is not nec­es­sary to have grown up in a plain or mod­estly dress­ing group. We are espe­cially inter­ested in the expe­ri­ences of those who have come to this point as a sort of con­ver­sion or a “recov­ery” of tra­di­tion that has been lost. Tra­di­tional Catholics, Anabap­tists, con­ser­v­a­tive Quak­ers, and other Chris­tians wel­come here. The­o­log­i­cal points and demon­i­na­tional dif­fer­ences are open for dis­cus­sion (not argu­ment), as are the specifics of what type of plain dress you have been called to. Dis­cus­sion of head­cov­er­ing is also allowed here, as are gen­der dis­tinc­tions in dress. We may also share prayers for one another, as well as the chal­lenges we face in try­ing to live in obe­di­ence to the Lord. This is not a forum in which to dis­cuss the valid­ity of Christianity–no blas­phem­ing allowed.

There is much to be said about plain dress. This is not an easy wit­ness. It forces us to deal with issues of sub­mis­sion and humil­ity on a daily basis–just try to go to a con­ve­nience store and not feel self-consciously set apart. Explain­ing this new ‘style’ to one’s more worldly friends can be quite a chal­lenge. These are eter­nal issues for those adopt­ing plain dress and I laugh with com­rade­ship when I read old Quaker jour­nal accounts of going plain.
Even so, I have a bit of trep­i­da­tion about a news­group on plain dress. I don’t want to fetishize plain dress by talk­ing about it too much. The point shouldn’t be to for­mu­late some sort of ‘uni­form of the right­eous,’ and adop­tion of this tes­ti­mony shouldn’t be moti­vated by peer pres­sure or ambi­tion, but by a call­ing from the Holy Spirit–this is the crux of what I under­stand Mar­garet Fell to have been say­ing when she called pres­sured plain­ness a “silly poor gospel”. (I should say that some non-Quaker do dress more as an iden­ti­fy­ing uni­form, which is fine, just not nec­es­sar­ily the Quaker ratio­nale).
But like any out­ward form or tes­ti­mony (peace, Quaker process, etc.), tak­ing up plain dress can be a fruit­ful course in reli­gious edu­ca­tion. I think back to being sev­en­teen and buck­ing my father’s wish that I attend the Naval Academy–my “no” made me ask how else my beliefs about peace might need to be acted out in my life. It became a use­ful query. Plain dress has forced me to think anew about how I “con­sume” cloth­ing and how I relate to mass mar­ket­ing and the global cloth­ing indus­try. It’s also kept me from duck­ing out on my faith, as I wear an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of my beliefs.
So join the plain dress dis­cus­sion or take a look at the ever-growing sec­tion of the site called Resources on Quaker Plain Dress, which includes “My Exper­i­ments with Plain­ness”, my early story about going plain.