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
and partying it up with Bill Clinton’s sleezy billionaire

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 facade 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 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”: given by Father Tim Byerley, who also works with the “Collegium Center”:, a kind of religious education outreach project for young adult Catholics in South Jersey (I mentioned it “a few months ago”: 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”: (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”: has become the “secular state religion”: 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”: 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.