Friday, 31 October 2014

Jack O' Lanterns are Cute!

Squash O'Lantern
When I got to Aldi this afternoon, having spent the morning in diligent washing and hoovering, all the pumpkins were sold. I checked Lidl, but there were no pumpkins there either! So I bought the largest butternut squash I could find and took it home.

Then I went to the neighbouring Historical House for lunch and watched a Polish film. It had an All Saint's Day cemetery visit scene which I thought very apropos--even though, er, in the film the visiting family's loved one's grave had been moved. This scene, and the scandal of the removed body, reminds me of the cemetery in Kraków B.A. and I visited two years ago tomorrow and how it had a big monument to the "Victims of Communism" with dozens upon dozens of glass lamps around it.

When I got home this evening--racing to get there before visitors arrived for the ghost story tour downstairs (nowt to do with B.A. and me up in our attic)--I began digging away at the butternut squash. I soon remembered that the last butternut squash I carved up was months old and therefore rather dried out inside. This one, alas, was a thick and juicy young one, so scooping out its flesh reminded me rather of  those islanders who chip away at whole tree trunks to make boats.  But I prevailed, and our squash o'lantern has been grimacing out the dining room window for some hours.

Above is a photo of the squash from a Hallowe'en past.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Little Dogs are Super Cute

B.A. and I have a protracted argument about what dog we're going to get, when we get a dog. I want a pug. He wants a border terrier. He argues me into accepting the border terrier point of view, and for a few months I am all about border terriers. But then I see a pug, or a photo of a pug, and the argument starts all over again.

It's been going on about five years.

Another super-cute little dog is the Tibetan Spaniel, and I have a good friend back in Toronto who actually is a Tibetan Spaniel. Among his many names is Minger Dawg.  He is unfailingly cheerful and adorable, even though he is no longer a spring puppy. Just the thought of ol' Minger Dawg helped me sail through a day that involved a full-up Pilates class and the magnetic online pull of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. Ah, Minger Dawg! Being an innocent pupster, he doesn't have the slightest clue who Jian Ghomeshi is although I think he might enjoy a Pilates class or two. 

I shall now add a Tibetan Spaniel to my Pinterest board.

By the way, here  is my latest Catholic Register article. If you're not Catholic and consider yourself of the Left, you might hate it. And if you are Catholic, but dissent drastically on pelvic issues, you might also hate it  And if you are here avoiding thoughts about the Synod, it is about the Synod. So all three groups, be warned! 

The Brave Woman & Jian

Warning: mention of sexual/physical violence in post.

Canadian star Jian Ghomeshi's Facebook post was salacious and creepy, and I don't want to talk about it. But now one brave woman has come forward to speak on CBC radio about a physical attack on her. That's worth talking about.

This woman is brave because internet has made the entire world a gossipy neighbour, and I can't imagine any woman in Toronto wanting to be known among her friends and acquaintances as "one of the women who got whacked around for kicks by Jian Ghomeshi." I didn't recognize her voice, and I'm relieved.  I know a number of women in the Toronto arts scene, including the music scene. And my guess is that everybody would like a job, or at least an interview, at the CBC.

She is also brave because inevitably hundreds of people will ask the air (or the internet), "Why did she go back?"  She says that when she was with him in a car, he suddenly grabbed her hair, pulling her head back. She didn't like this, and just went home. Then he asked her out again, and she went.

She did a pretty good job explaining why she did this when you consider all the judgement and suspicion implied in such questions as "Why did you go back?" as if the woman involved hasn't asked herself this a thousand times. However, I thought I would throw in my own two cents about such a common female response to bad male behaviour as "going back."

Sudden craziness like a moment of surprise violence is "negging" writ large. It's shocking and throws many women off our balance. "What the heck was that?" we wonder. It is so illogical in part because it seems completely out of character--especially if the guy is a self-declared feminist or Catholic or intellectual or whatever other identity we don't associate with brutality. ("Was it me? Did I do something?") It bothers us a lot. It's like some object is out of place on the chimney piece, and we think we will go nuts unless we can fix it. So we meet again with Mr Momentarily Crazy for reassurance. And very often, we are relieved  because Mr Momentarily Crazy is his charming old self again. He's handsome, he's witty, he's relaxed. Everything is cool, and so if we think that maybe we "did" something "wrong", he obviously doesn't think so. Whew!

And then, as quick and as unexpected as lightning on a sunny day, he is nasty again.

Pick-up artists (PUAs) seem to think it is the unusually beautiful girls who fall for negging. Their theory is that the beauties hear so much flattery, the only way to get their attention is to surprise them with insults. (e.g. "That coat makes you look like a dirty little snowflake."). But my theory is that it works on women who have a certain kind of thought process and take whatever men say seriously, even if those men are complete strangers talking to them in a bar.  Other women get angry as soon as they hear an insult and/or don't automatically assume all men are as straightforward as their own brothers or, ahem, women. Actually, the beautiful girls might see through tricks faster than the ordinary girls.

Negging works on me and, up until six years ago, if a charming and handsome man was suddenly nasty to me, I would worry about it until I saw him again "to make things right."I have, in fact, been slapped in the face by a date--many years ago--and I did absolutely nothing about it, even though I always told myself I would never, ever stick around if some guy hit me. I think I said something like "You shouldn't have done that" and he said "It was your fault."*  No, it darn well wasn't.  But I let it slide, which was, pondering it all now in tranquility, my call to make.

That brings me to the next question in the Scandal Ghomeshi:  "Why didn't you go to the police?" Well, my cherubs, I have been to the police about someone (neither Ghomeshi, whom I have never met, nor the slapper), and it was not great. The police asked me all kinds of questions about my relationship with the weirdo and wrote it down in his notebook. That I did not like. Also, the someone hit the roof and sent me really vicious, scary emails which left me a quivering wreck and ultimately led to my moving into a convent for a year. (Great security system, incidentally.)

So I maintain absolutely that it is a woman's call if she should go to the police or not, and if she decides not to, this does not mean she has to forever hold her peace. Waiting until other women come forward, gauging the public reaction, and then handing in her testimony to support them seems very reasonable to me. Incidentally, I think the best way to stop unwanted harrassment (by a man or a woman) IS to go to the police, and I would hope that if some guy knocked me to the ground and beat me around the head I would go to the police and demand justice, but it hasn't happened, so I don't know.

Can you imagine going to the police, wondering 'Oh gee, is this guy with the notebook a big Ghomeshi fan? Oh crap, the station radio is playing the CBC. Oh super crap, now the CBC is playing "Once I was the King of Spain".'

But to return to the theme of my vulnerable thought processes, I am supremely fortunate that I met Benedict Ambrose, who habitually overturns expectations in a nice way. Instead of behaving in crazy ways, he says crazy things--making puns or comically exaggerated claims all the time. And of course almost as soon as my squirrel-like mind starts scurrying around, it just relaxes, and I laugh. Negging, on the other hand, is the humour of orcs.

*The phenomenon of guilty men who say "It was your fault" as a kneejerk reaction is an interesting theme. Who are they really talking to, eh?

Update: This is brilliant. Of course, if you are a fellow contrarian, you could see it as much proof of the insidiousness of gossip as you can of the reputation of Jian Ghomeshi.  However, it also illustrates how gossip is sometimes how people protect each other--especially the vulnerable--from powerful people who could hurt them. One of the tragedies is that no-one seems to have said to Ghomeshi, "You have got to stop touching women all the time. It is creepy, and just because they don't say anything doesn't mean they don't hate it."

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Gypsy Caravans are Cute

The horse is off munching grass somewhere
I know what you are going to say, but--aha! The majority of Gypsies in the UK are not Roma but
Irish Travellers, a whole different branch. And the contemporary culture of Irish Travellers is now a staple of British television, thanks to the popularity of "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding."  Meanwhile, the average 40-something Irish traveller woman looks exactly like me, only more expensively dressed.

Meanwhile, my sister-in-law is a real Romanian, so I don't want to hear any more of this BBC "Romanian" nonsense. Gypsies are Roma, Irish Travellers and New Age Hippies, not Romanians.

The most amusing episode of the show, incidentally, included a Gypsy beauty contest. This contest featured a pile of Irish Traveller girls and one drop-dead gorgeous, very Polish-looking, Roma girl. The Roma girl won.  The Irish Traveller girls sulked.

Anyway, when I think about Gypsy caravans, I am not thinking at all about the trailers and illegal building sites of today but about the glorious wagons of yesterday.

Naturally, I want one. And I have a wonderful fantasy in which B.A. and I travel all over rural Poland with a glorious painted caravan and a horse. Sadly, neither of us can play the violin. And even more sadly, B.A. is not that interested in Poland. But there is nothing to stop me from travelling all over rural Poland in a glorious painted caravan in my imagination. And perhaps one day I will have one to put in the garden. And a garden to put it in

Thank you for telling me about Pinterest. Of course I have heard of Pinterest, but it hadn't occurred to me before to sign up. So I have signed up and you can find out what I think is cute by looking up my account (hint: under my real name).

I have discovered  that not only that a few minutes of finding cute things on Pinterest gives me a long-lasting emotional lift, but just contemplating cute things I have found on Pinterest calms me down. For example, today when I was worried I may have lost my wallet, but there was no way to check, I contemplated gypsy caravans instead and felt much, much better. Of course, the Gin and Tonic helped, too.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Not Cute, But Moving

One sad part of Catholic life is watching or hearing loved ones reject their Catholic faith. And I don't mean just slipping and sliding in the mud of sin and following this blind alley and that while all along going to Sunday Mass. I mean loved ones not going to Mass anymore, saying that they are "recovering Catholics" and being hostile about the faith.

But there must be a lot of sadness in embracing the Catholic faith once again (or at all). One could lose a lot of friends. Of course, to re-embrace the faith would be a real falling in love, and so the sacrifices may feel well worth it. After all, I moved away from a lot of friends and family that I miss very much to marry B.A. 

So I was very moved to read this conversion story by a returned Catholic. And then my blood ran cold when he wrote about a subsequent confession. It isn't that he continues to sin (duh); we're all on a narrow and upward path, after all, and we're supposed to confess all the sins, not just the big ones. It was the response of his heretical confessor. 

And it wasn't just the heresy that disturbed me. It was the testimony that "being nice" and "being tolerant" don't help sinners in the long run. It was message that passive betrayal of Catholic sexual teaching can lead to the end of Catholic belief in the lives of many Catholics. We have to guard the line, and guarding the line can be agonizingly hard, especially when, at the same time, we love the people crossing it but will give us almighty hell for saying anything. It's easier not to say anything, really, in certain cultures, especially mine. 

For example, I once listened to a fellow theology student publicly discuss his latest boyfriend. He found him very attractive, but he was sorry he was a Protestant because he really wanted a fellow Catholic as a boyfriend this time, someone who shared his theological and spiritual interests. However, the good news was that this guy could put him on his work health insurance at once, which would be a real relief, etc. 

Well, to quote someone we all know, "If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?" Or, rather more to the point, if a Catholic falls short of Catholic moral standards, and he seeks the Lord and has good will, and is not someone I love very much, why should I stick my nose in to be bitten off? Which, when you think about it, is pretty freaking cowardly--even if according to time-tested Canadian social norms.  

I was going to say something obvious about the mid-term relatio, but I have sworn off the Synod for the week. Instead I will look at super-cute gypsy caravans.

H/T Fr. Z.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Illustrated Alphabets are Cute

Thirty-two letters! The ćma is a nice moth. My arch-enemy is a mol.

Holly Hobbie is Cute

Yesterday while searching for cute, I came across Holly Hobbie. When I was little, Holly Hobbie was all the rage. My parents were not sympathetic to buying things that were all the rage, but I did get Holly one Christmas, and great was my joy.

Holly is probably now living in the toy trunk under the train set.

Apparently the Holly Hobbie doll came after, not before, the Holly Hobbie illustrations, which I also loved when I was little. I think I had a book of them, and it mesmerized me.

Only yesterday did I discover that Holly Hobbie is the name of the image's creator, not just the image itself.  And I am myself older than the doll, which blows my mind, as I thought she was from the Olden Days. Indeed, she meant the Olden Days to me, along with The Little House books.

The Olden Days, in case you are wondering, meant Canada's and America's pioneer days--the nineteenth century ones. The eighteenth century ones, once I heard about them, seemed too scary to me. The Legend of Sleepy Holly was Not Cute, nor was The Scarlet Letter, whose comic book form fell into my much-too-young hands. I associated the Olden Days with the countryside, flowers, small animals,  quiet, horses, nice bonnets. Little Women was also set in the Olden Days, though the March family seemed hectically urban next to Holly Hobbie and The Ingalls Family.

I would have been surprised to know that there was crime in the nineteenth century. My nineteenth century did not involve crime, war, injuries, rampant injuries or all that much death. It was a magical world of grandmothers who baked cookies, wore cameo lockets and lived in small cottages by the woods.

By 1978, I was so entranced with the Little House books that I thought the solution to the world's woes was to get rid of money and live by the barter system. I envisioned a return to agrarian society, and when I explained all this to a school visitor, I was sent to the once-a-week gifted program. I suppose my IQ scores must have played a role in the decision, but I have always thought it was my firm opinion that returning to the fields was the way to go that got me in

If civilization collapses, I will know I was right.  Meanwhile, I know perfectly well that the nineteenth century had horrors of its own. However, I am glad I didn't know that when I was very small.

Moxy Fruvous No Longer Cute

And don't go looking up why. If you're Canadian, you probably know why. If you're not Canadian, you will not thank me.

"Why did Seraphic mention Moxy Fruvous?" you will steam. "How can I get those images out of my head? DANG!"

I only mention it because I wrote a paid article about the Synod on the Family, turned to the internet for distraction and got caught up in the scandal about Jian Never you mind!

Cute, I want cute!

The sad thing is my brother Nulli and I loved Moxy Fruvous, and I only stopped loving them when I found out about their politics. Let's just say they were not into the Gospel of Life.  And it seems one of them was definitely into... Never mind!


Gardens! Toads! Lily pads!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A Holiday in Cuteness

Fun fun fun till Daddy takes Belindy away!
Tonight I am going to express my displeasure with the shenanigans that marked the Synod of the Family by reading Familiaris Consortio. And for the rest of the week I am going to take a break from all Catholic news, especially Vatican news, by reading nothing on the internet that is not about The Cute.

Would readers kindly suggest blogs that collect and celebrate cute, fun, girly stuff for our amusement? My cute interests include ladybugs (and Polish songs about ladybugs, aka biedronki--isn't that a cute word?), polka dots, vintage fashions, Paris in the 1950s, babies, grandmothers of all kinds, very small houses, gypsy caravans, impressive jewellery, shoes, expensive perfume, recipes for cakes, pies and cookies, ornate stairwells, classic children's picture books,  rag dolls, central European folk design, ballet (I am out of my thirty year anti-ballet snit), alphabets, wooden toys and hagiographies for children.

My Great-Uncle Art of blessed memory (born c. 1900) gave me a very cute broom that was also a black rag doll, which I called Beloved Belindy after Raggedy Ann's black friend. Both this broom and my Raggedy Ann book were confiscated by my parents as appallingly racist. I wonder where they are. My mother never throws anything out, so possibly my Beloved Belindy broom still exists in some box. At the time (1975) I hadn't the slightest idea what was wrong with sweeping the floor with a simulacra of a black woman. And in later years when I heard about the need for black dolls, I was even more confused as to why my parents had taken mine away.

Oh dear. Now even my post on cuteness has depressingly political overtones. To soothe any frazzled nerves, I should point out that the only black people I ever saw in 1975 were Gordon and Susan on Sesame Street, who were also the only married couple on Sesame Street, which rather confused me, and David. Oh, and Uncle Ben of Uncle Ben's Rice and Aunt Jemima of the pancake mix. All much better  role models than Beyoncé and Jay-Z.  I hadn't the foggiest clue there was something called racism and that my poor Belinda was a symbol of it. My childhood Toronto neighbourhood was still rather Anglo-Saxon, with Germans and the occasional Italian to liven things up. Oh, and "Uncle" Waldemar, of course, exuding Slavic glamour all over the place.

Update: Cute rag dolls!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Renée's Face

I read once that the more often someone sees you, the more attached they become to you. And this might explain why I felt so terribly sad when Princess Diana was killed. I had seen thousands of photos of her by then. I've seen more photos of Princess Diana than of my own mother and certainly more often. Could it be that the "reptile brain" that can't tell the difference between a murder right in front of you and a murder on your computer screen can't tell the difference between a real loved one and a mere celebrity?

I have never thought this much about Renée Zellweger before. I never read anything about her personal life, and even now I didn't quite catch the name of her current boyfriend. But I did like her face. She had a wistful, sweet young lady's face, which I expected to turn into a wistful, sweet matron's face and then a wistful, sweet granny's face. Had she been a stage actress, she would have started out as Juliet and Ophelia, graduated to Lady Capulet and Queen Gertrude, and then earned a sack of cash as the next Miss Marple. But, alas, she is not a stage actress, which is proven by the fact that she has had her face removed.

Those of us who live in what used to be called Christendom locate personhood in the human face. We associate a covered face with death, bandits, terrorists, kidnappers, stealth and the depersonalization of women. The two exceptions are religious ritual (translucently veiled bride at wedding, translucently veiled widow at funeral) and costume parties. We identify each other by our faces, and our babies will smile at a paper plate if you draw two eyes and a smile on it. 

In romantic comedies, a plain girl we have come to like becomes a prettier version of herself.  In horror films, someone we have come to like becomes entirely different. And I think we all have nightmares about someone we love not recognizing us, or someone we love changing so much that we do not recognize them. That's what kids' films so often get wrong. Every little girl I ever talked to on the subject liked "the Beast" better than the Disney prince he turned into, and I certainly preferred Robin the Frog to the guy in The Frog Prince.

And so we come to Renée Zellweger and her rejection of her own face, a face that many of us had grown fond of through such films as Jerry Maguire, Nurse Betty (my favourite) and Bridget Jones' Diary. A pretty face, a little goofy perhaps, in the way the perpetually young are goofy, and tending to turn pink with emotion. Like most of us, she was not a pretty crier. As Bridget she held out hope that ordinary girls, girls who gain weight and blush and get runny noses, might be liked by the Mark Darcys of the world, "just as you are."

And now that face is gone and a new face has been shown to us. I don't like it. It looks stretched, shiny and mean.

Apparently Renée had disappeared from sight for five years, which I didn't notice, thanks to constant reruns of the  Bridget Jones films and Renée's original face on the original book in bookshops from Toronto to Warsaw. And if she had been discovered privately, minding her own business, buying things in a shop, I would have assumed she had deliberately changed her face to change her identity, to give up an onerous celebrity for the sweet peace of going about incognito. I might have wondered if she had had a stalker (actually, I still wonder) so scary and persistent, changing her face was the only way to go. However, she made the public appearance instead of turning down the honour, and so my conclusion is that, like so many other screen actresses over 25, she has undergone the knife, and the knife has slipped. 

Undergoing surgery to erase the natural signs of aging is what, like fat, we might call "a feminist issue". Saint Thomas Aquinas, who was not at all interested in feminist issues, would probably despise it as a form of lying (read him on cosmetics) and quite possibly as contra natura. I think it is an exaggeration and exploitation of the female fear of not looking sexually attractive to men. And yet being sexually attractive to men is NOT the be all and end all of female life. Indeed, once you are married, you no longer have to care about wakening (and shouldn't want to wake) desire in any other man, and once you are over 40, your power to do it has greatly decreased (except among eccentric young Englishmen, bless them) whether you like it or not.  At 45, you should not strive to look like an apple tree in flower but one in, er, fruit. Perhaps I need to work on that simile. At any rate, I would recommend trying to look like the best middle-aged version of yourself you can be instead of trying to recapture what you looked like at 25.

I'm sad that we will never see the middle-aged version of Renée Zellweger's 25 year old self. And I feel sad for her that she will no longer see her elderly loved ones alive in her own face. I will never mess with my face because to a certain extent my face is a mix of my parents' faces and their parents' faces, especially my red-haired grandfather. 

"Boy," said I to my mother this summer, "Grandpa will never really be dead as long as we are alive."

When I think of what my mother looks like now, and what my grandparents looked like then, I'm not afraid of growing old. If my nephews and niece love me as much as I love my grandparents, that's love enough for me.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Killing Beauty, Killing Reverence

Everyone who loves the traditional liturgy should read what Mulier Fortis has to say about the sad, reactionary events at her Blackfen parish.

What kind of formation leads a priest to choke off the wellsprings of devotion in his parishioners?

This is really very sad.

Catholics are not Presbyterians; we do not choose our priests. Parishioners have to take the priest they are sent.* The most we can do to protest an autocratic or irreverent priest is appeal to the bishop, who probably ignores most complaints for the first six month anyway, knowing that people dislike change. There's also the complication that there aren't enough priests to go around anymore. I think this is partly the laity's fault for A) using contraceptives and B) discouraging their sons from becoming priests. So what comes around, goes around.

But obviously the laity is not entirely to blame, and it is not surprising that the laity take to blogging as (perhaps) the one way of getting the attention of bishops and the rest of the faithful. This, no doubt, is condemned by some as "gossip." However, as I recall from some feminist thing I read as an undergrad, "gossip" against people in power is one of the few ways the powerless can fight back.

There is gossip that maligns someone weaker or your equal in strength, and that is pretty bad. For example, there is no reason whatsoever to tell anyone you saw a married acquaintance having a drink in a pub with a man not her husband. Big fat deal. It could be her brother. It could be a colleague whose girlfriend has just dumped him. It could be me having yet another Polish lesson with yet another Polish Edinburgh Uni student. But if you tell, or the person you tell tells, the story right, you could do serious damage to the reputation of the married lady.

However, there is "gossip" that is merely the expression of your dismay about someone in authority, like your boss or your parish priest, who misuses that authority. This is not gossip that ruins reputations but tells the truth and demands justice.

We really need to get down to brass tasks. As I said in the Catholic Register, a priest's primary tasks are to say Mass and to hear confessions. Naturally he has a number of other things to do, too. But if he refuses to say Masses that feed (and have fed) the souls of his parishioners, and if he refused to be available to hear confessions than, really, who does he think he is? A social worker?

 *I very rarely go to my parish church because I prefer the FSSP apostolate, which does not as yet have its own parish here. We share a church with its ordinary parishioners, the way the Maronites shared my childhood parish church.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


This morning I looked at the stacks of dishes, glasses, cutlery, fine china and pots in dismay. I spent Monday and Tuesday getting on top of the housework I neglected last week, and on Tuesday I made myself scrape the bacon fat from the three pans covered in bacon fat. Sadly, I was out of hot water before could get them completely clean. Our access to hot water, at the top of this very old house, is not something we can take for granted.

We are more-or-less guaranteed hot water and 9 AM and at 5 PM, and we can "order" more hot water from the boiler by pushing a button an hour before we'll need it. (Whether we get it or not is a frequent household argument. Getting the "extra" hot water means running water into the sink for ten minutes or more, waiting for the hot water to come.) Naturally I usually forget to push the button, and anyway I loathe standing in front of the sink for ten minutes waiting for the water to go warm, so I prefer to wash the dishes shortly after 5 PM. Sometimes there is enough hot water at 10 AM, however, when is when I begin housework. Fortunately, today was one of those days, for last night we had a dinner party. We had only two guests, but as usual we had three courses and plenty of vegetables roasted in olive oil.

Olive oil. Butter. Cheese.  Meat. Cream. All have fat which means all create grease. When I wiped all the dishes under the tap last night, the water was cold. And of course this necessitated the deluxe washing job this morning.

My first thought was, "Do I have to?"

My answer was, "YES."

So I battled the grease and thought about the human condition. Rumour Godden wrote about this very poignantly in An Rumour  Episode (thank you, Sinead) of Sparrows. To be a human means fighting dirt, grime and grease. Whatever else happens, we have to keep clean. Cleaning never ends. It gets boring, and we don't want to do it, but we have to, or we descend into undignified and even disgusting chaos.

And this means battling not only the grease, but that part of ourselves that says "I don't wanna." Sometimes the only way to win the daily battle over grease is to win the daily battle over oneself.

Naturally you all think this is a metaphor for sin, and I suppose it could be, but really my biggest battle is to make myself do stuff I simply don't want to do. Take piano practice, for example. (Warning: my example takes over the entire post.)

When I was a child, my home was full of sunlight and music. The music was primarily provided by my brother Nulli who began to play the piano at the age of  six. We started lessons simultaneously, with the same teacher, but Nulli got the lion's share of her attention because--well, I am not sure; after all I was only seven--but I think it was because he was so quick and so enthusiastic and probably a teacher's dream. Nulli was so good that by comparison I seemed pretty terrible, especially to myself, and being reminded of that during my half an hour a day practise was agony. "Why can't you be more like your brother?" demanded my next teacher, and I didn't know. I just thought God liked him better.

Now that I am a decade older than my mother (though still younger than that awful teacher) was when all this was going on, I understand why I couldn't be more like my brother. First, my brother had constant positive reinforcement from adults from the moment my father discovered him playing.  (Dad thought a friend had dropped by.) Nulli's natural ability won him praise from family and stranger alike. He was the apple of his teachers' eyes. Second, my brother played the piano for hours a day.  Before I had woken up on Saturday mornings, he'd be downstairs in the sunny, pine-lined music/TV room, playing away. The old lady next door had been a singer, a radio star, and she asked her housekeeper to open the window so she could hear him.

I was a year older, so it hurt. Well, no. My playing hurt. I loved that my brother was such a talented musician, and that adults thought he was so great. And I really loved waking up on a sunny Saturday or Sunday morning to the sound of Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. But I thought being great at music was just something he had, not something he had developed and worked on every day. I sincerely thought God had given my brother a gift (which He had, to a certain extent) while making me "bad at music."

Because I am older than my parents were, and because I alone know what I was thinking when I was 7 to 14 and then 16-18 when, voluntarily, I tried again (yes, 9 years of private lessons), I know exactly what an adult should have said to me. And it is this:

When your little brother played "Fur Elise" from memory, never having touched a piano before, it was not a miracle from God, but an indication that your brother has a very good ear for music and a very good memory. He sat beside your father at the piano and watched and listened while you were off doing something else. (Indeed, you weren't even home.) It's as simple as that. 

Everyone thought he was marvellous, and indeed he is, but he works very hard to be that good. He doesn't play for hours because he is so good; he is so good because he plays for hours. And the better he gets, the more he loves it, and the more people praise him. He loves the challenge of a new piece; he loves figuring things out, the way your mother likes doing puzzles. It's not magic. it's mental effort.

Unfortunately, you are indeed in his shadow, which I know seems against nature, since you are older than he is, so I can only suggest that you stop comparing your playing to his playing and ask your mother for a teacher who does not even know you have a brother. And when you get a new teacher, I suggest you practice the piano for one whole hour a day--half an hour of the things the teacher wants you to do, and half an hour on a piece you really like and that your parents forbid your brother to play.  

That will be YOUR piece, and I want you to love it and find out as much about it as possible. Go read books about the composer, and see if you can find out when he or she composed it and why, and why other people really like it too. Write me a story about the composer. And if you practise for an hour a day, feeling happy and interested, instead of miserable and a failure, when you graduate from high school, most people who don't play piano will think you play as well as your brother. And maybe, on a very special day, you really will. 

When I finished washing the dishes, I discovered it had only taken me an hour. But Wednesday's task is to clean the bathroom, and I really didn't feel like cleaning the bathroom.

"Do I hafta?"


 I cleaned the bathroom.

And now I will write a letter in Polish.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Where Was Their Mother?

For about forty years Catholics have been fighting the idea that fathers are redundant. And now we are faced with the proposition that mothers themselves can be redundant. As a woman, this horrifies me on the deepest level. Which crusty old Athenian was it who wailed that if only men could have sons without women's help, how wonderful life would be? I forget; I haven't reread the passage since I was an undergrad.

On Saturday night, the BBC--radio, internet and television-- ran a news item about the Synod on the Family so confused, so untruthful and so biased that my husband shouted his outrage at the top of his lungs when he heard it on the radio. Later I heard it on the 10 o'clock news with visuals and a short interview with two handsome Italian men in their twenties or thirties who were sitting on what looked like a child's bedroom floor with four or five children of roughly the same age playing around them. The BBC presenter described them as their children, and my heart cried out, "Where is their mother?"

To be honest, it is likely the children had different mothers--all white, I think, more on that anon--but the actual, factual origins of the children were not explained. How, I wondered, had the "gay couple" collected them all? Had they sired them, adopted them, or bought them from a surrogate? And how much did they pay? They looked very relaxed to be the parents of four or five children under ten.  I know Italian parents of three children, and they look exhausted.

"You look tired," said the father to the mother one time I visited.

She looked at him with mingled amusement and amazement.

"I've been tired since [the first one] was born," she said.

The "gay couple" said that they wanted to raise their children as "Catholics", but there was nowhere for them to go. Somewhere somebody played the world's smallest, saddest violin for the epitome of rich European male privilege.

The BBC published the interview as part of its intensely confused, untruthful and biased story without anyone asking why the "gay couple" wanted to raise their children as Catholics in the first place. At the very heart of Catholicism, at the very middle, right in the centre, is a young mother holding her baby in her arms.

"Who's that, Popcorn?" asked Alisha, Popcorn's nanny, pointing to an icon on the kitchen wall.

Popcorn was about two then; she squealed with enthusiasm.

"That's Jesus' MA-MAAA!"

I wonder how many women across Britain looked at the "gay family" and thought "How cute!" and how many looked and cried, "Where is their mother?" For no matter how mad we--especially we women--get mad at our mothers later--when we are very small, we long for our mothers. And I believe that, despite all the reprogramming attempts, the vast majority of women long for their children.

Adoption is much more controversial that we generally think it. Many mothers who give up their children do so not because they "cannot cope" with a child but because they know the children will be better off without them. If they had the money, or the help, or whatever else, they would keep them. Google "adopting Syrian children" and you will immediately find a lecture on how the Syrians wish to keep their children, so keep your greedy hands off.

Adoption is also expensive. I know a married woman who has not been able to get pregnant, but her husband makes a good salary, so they have looked into foreign adoption. But they have discovered that the only affordable option is to apply within the USA. However, because they are "white" and the majority of babies available for adoption in the USA are "black", they have to take special consciousness-raising classes. The woman loves these classes, but I am not so sure I would. If anything is a social construct, it's so-called race. And many people become furious at the idea of mixed-race adoption anyway as if being "raised by white people" in the USA puts a not-particularly "white"-looking child at a great disadvantage, as is (/sarc on/) so obvious in the life and career of Barack Obama (/sarc off/).

We are all told that the state and everybody else wants what is best for the children. And the Catholic faith, which has had two thousand years to study the question, says that what is best for children is to be raised by their biological parents, including a woman (their mother) and a man (their father). In unfortunate circumstances, it may be better (or, in case of orphans, absolutely necessary) for a child to be raised by another woman and man married to each other: B.A. was raised by his divorced mother and her married parents, and I credit his grandfather for the fact that B.A. has done as well as he has. Funny how it never occurs to me to credit his mother and grandmother, too.  I guess, being behind the times, I just take mothers' participation in the lives of their children for granted.

When I think about Catholic married couples who struggle to have children and/or who struggle to earn enough money to raise their children, it makes me furious to see a pair of white men on television who appear to have collected children like toys complaining of their own marginalization. But that comes later. What such a sight does first is to draw my attention to the glaring absence of


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Homemade Pizza Recipe

HOMEMADE PIZZA RECIPE (Yield: 2 pizzas, Time: 1 hour )

This recipe is primarily for readers who are young male university students in the UK living on pizza. The idea that I have readers who are spending their food money on expensive, second-rate pizza when they could very easily make their own cheap, amazing pizza disturbs me greatly.

If you have no cooking utensils at all, which is sometimes the case with young male university students in the UK, then you need the following to make cheap, amazing pizza:


- a large bowl (metal is good)
- a cup measure for liquids
- a scales
- measuring spoons
- 2 baking trays/cookie sheets
- a spoon
- plate
- a clean towel
- rolling pin (or wine bottle full of water with a cork firmly back in, if desperate)
- baking paper (optional, but highly recommended) 
- a sharp knife

You can find all these things very cheaply in a Poundsavers or some other junk shop. Or just ask your mother, who will be delighted that you are cooking for yourself. Just don't tell her it's for pizza.

I'm presuming you have access to an oven. If you don't have your own oven, I suppose you could ask a neighbour if you can put your pizzas in her oven for ten minutes. 



1 package of yeast out of the box of instant yeast
1 tablespoon of sugar (or tiny packet of sugar you saved from Costa Coffee)
4 oz (200 mL) warm water
300 grams strong (i.e. bread) flour 
1 teaspoon of salt (or three little packets of salt you saved from wherever)
olive oil (optional)


two balls of basic economy mozzarella cheese (44 p each at Tesco)
packet of cheap German salami (£1 at Tesco--you'll find more stuff for that price at Aldi or Lidl)
two or three mushrooms (pennies)
tomato paste (from a tube)
black pepper, dried basil, dried oregano (all optional)


Dough first.

1. Put the sugar at the bottom of the measuring cup and pour in warm water to the "4 oz" mark. Stir with the spoon. Dry the spoon.

2. Slice open the packet of yeast and sprinkle the yeast on top of the sugary warm water. Put the measuring cup aside.

3. Pour the flour and salt into the bowl (remember 300 g flour, just a teaspoon of salt) and mix well, so the salt disappears.

4. Make a well in the middle and pour in the yeasty-sugar water and a big glug of olive oil.

5. Stir so you have a damp, stiff dough, all flour incorporated. 

6. Using the inside of the bowl, make a big dough ball. 

7. Sprinkle flour on your CLEAN table top or counter, and then knead the big dough ball for three minutes. Kneading basically means to squish half of it with the bottom of the palms of your hands, flip it over and squish it again. Flip, squish, flip, squish. Three minutes of this nonsense.

8. Divide the big dough ball into two and roll them into two smaller dough balls. Sprinkle a little flour on the plate and put the dough balls on it. Cover them with the towel and put the plate somewhere warm. 

9. Wait 45 minutes to an hour. 

10. Your dough balls will have expanded and the room will smell like bread, which is a very good thing.  Take each dough ball in turn and roll it very thinly on the floury counter or table with the rolling pin. If you can be bothered (or can afford the extra money), rolling it out on baking paper saves you much hassle. You get baking paper where you get plastic wrap and tin foil. 

11. When each ball is as flat and big as you can make it (circular or square, it does not matter), slip it onto a baking tray/cookie sheet.

Now you can put the toppings on. 

1. Mix the tomato paste with a little bit of oil or water and paint it onto the dough with the back of your spoon.

2. If you want to add dried herbs like basil, sprinkle a little evenly over the tomato paste.

3. Cut the mozzarella balls into circles and put them on the tomato paste.

4. Arrange the German salami on top of and around the mozzarella.

5. Slice the mushrooms and any other topping you want (green onions, red peppers, whatever edible plant substance) and arrange around the salami. 

5. If you have any Parmesan cheese, which is expensive, so you probably don't, grate it on top. 

6. Turn on the grill part of your oven. Put in the first baking tray with an oven mitt. Grill each pizza for about 7-10 minutes, watching them so as to save them if they start to burn. Take each tray out with a baking mitt. Put them on the stove. Turn off the oven. Wearing mitts, carefully side the pizza onto some portable surface to cool a bit. 

Now you have two hot delicious pizzas that will taste better than anything you could have bought from the freezer section of Tesco/Aldi/Lidl for a fraction of the cost---eventually. Naturally buying your utensils will make it more expensive the first time.

What is a Family?

I saw the CNS headline saying that the Synod had given encouragement to the "traditional" families, which suggests that Francis X Rocca's sub-editor thinks there are other kinds of families. The creeping relativism of sub-editors drives me nuts; they should all be sent to theology school.

Personally, I do not think B.A. and I constitute a family on our very own. God has not blessed us with children, so in my view we're just a married couple rattling around a very big house. If we were a tree, we might be a handsome leafy green apple tree--but one of the ones that never bears fruit.

However, if I think of us not as a tree but as a BRANCH of a tree, the tree being our Canadian family whose branches have embraced those of  my sister-in-law's Romanian family, then I can think of us as a family. Our branch, I hope, gives support and shade to the fruit-laden branches.

The model of a family that is just PARTNER+PARTNER annoys me to no end. It's like a diet of chocolate: chocolate is all very nice, but it's not enough to keep you going. And what an impoverishment of one's identity to be a PARTNER first and last. I myself am not a partner, but a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a sister-in-law, a daughter-in-law, a niece, a great-niece, a grand-daughter and a great-grand-daughter. (I'm not really a cousin, though, since I have no first cousins and barely know my second cousins and first cousins once removed. They aren't on the prayer list.)

My family is as rich in relationships as it is because three married couples, my American grandparents, my parents, and my brother's in-laws, had more than one child. My nephew Pirate rightly lobbied me for Scottish cousins, and I told him he should request more cousins from his current source of cousins.

Oh dear. I do wish I could give him Scottish cousins. Instead I will leave him and his Canadian cousins some legal and technical problems when B.A. and I shuffle off this mortal coil--what to do with all the furniture, etc. Poor them. They will have to take time off work and squabble over the paintings. However, the  thought cheers me up immensely.

Yes, I am indeed part of a living and growing family, and will be even when I am dead. I envision wonderful three-sided (at very least) discussions about  B.A.'s and my health, eccentricities, deaths and property. YAY! And since I was brought up to pray for the soul of my never-married, childless Uncle Art, I see no reason why my niece's and nephews' children shouldn't be brought up to pray for our souls. (Uncle Art, by the way, gave me a wonderful toy broom when I was very small. I loved it. Little did Uncle Art know this gift would help to keep his memory green into the 21st century.)

The only family there is is the "traditional family". However, everyone belongs to one. It doesn't (or shouldn't) matter if you aren't the trunk or the most important or the most fruitful branch or taken from a sick tree and grafted onto a healthier one or, indeed, even alive on earth anymore. Family is family. Blood is thicker than water.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Canadian Brunch

I have a rotten cold, and every time I attempt to do the housework or grocery shopping, I feel worse. So now I am shut up in the former linen closet (now our library) in a dressing gown in a battered armchair in front of the sunny window. A laundry line of T-shirts, upside-down like bats, interrupts my view of the windowed door.

A linen closet features in Nancy Mitford's wonderful The Pursuit of Love, and when I first read it, I was confused because my mother's and grandmother's linen closets were, well, just like broom closets, only with shelves. But now that I live in a house rather like the one Mitford was writing about, I understand. A proper Historical House linen closet is the size of a Canadian child's bedroom with shelves running around the walls. Mitford's little girls clamber onto the shelves and lounge on them. And as our shelves manage to hold up the weight of our books, I can see that.

Our linen closet has space for short IKEA bookcases, stashed under one of the bottom shelves, a pull-out sofa, a side table, a desk, the desk chair our CD/tape player sits on, and of course this armchair. I fasten the laundry cables around shelf brackets and take them down when the laundry is dry.  The library is small, so it is easy to keep it warm. It's a very cozy room; a good place to nurse a violent cold.

But I keep thinking about brunch, and how much I would love a good brunch. It is Saturday, which in Toronto is most definitely brunch day, although I suppose some Torontonians think Sunday is brunch day. However, I think of Sunday primarily as church day, even if one eats brunch food afterwards.

Brunch is not part of my life in Scotland. It's not that Scots don't know how to make a good fry-up--of course they do!--it's just that there's nobody to brunch with. It's just not a brunch culture. When I catch up with people, it's generally in late afternoon over coffee (4 PM) or a cocktail (5 PM).

How I long for a good Toronto brunch. In my mind's eye, I am imagining my dear friends Trish, Lily, Lala and Half Pint all together in, say, Kilgour's Bar Meets Grill, the brunch hangout of my youth.  I hope it is still there. And I wonder if Ron, my favourite waiter (and an actor) is still there. It is (or was) in Toronto's Annex, which is to say Bloor West Avenue on the west side of the University of Toronto's  St. George campus. "Seekers' Books"--a spirituality/occult shop--is (or was) beneath. To enter Kilgour's, you must climb a wide flight of stairs.

Kilgour's has (or had) a SPLENDID brunch menu. If you are poor, you can have toast, eggs and potatoes and endless coffee for surprisingly little. But if you are feeling flush, you can choose from a wide variety of Eggs Benedict or omelettes.

Let me see. What do I want today?

Oh, how glorious to be at a big table with Trish, Lily and Lala, waiting for Half-Pint. Naturally we all ask for coffee at once. And water. Ron is the waiter. He looks exactly the same. At the bar, the barman and the big guy on the bar stool are watching a hockey game on the TV. Who is playing hockey at eleven in the morning, eh?

I think I will have fried eggs over easy with bacon, very crispy, brown toast, no butter, with jam on the side, not leaving off the fried potatoes. And yes I want ketchup with that. I toy with having a Bloody Mary, at it is eleven AM and one may legally order one, but I don't want to run the risk of becoming drunk. Brunch is for sharp-witted chat. Drinks can wait for evening and forays into the clubs we almost never go into these days. In the afternoon Liz, Half-Pint and I will shop. Lala has to go somewhere with her husband at one, and Trish has a rehearsal.

Trish has poached eggs and toast. How disciplined. I used to be that disciplined. I used to eat egg-white omelettes! Lala has ordered a mushroom omelette, and Lily has chosen the most luxurious Eggs Benedict, the one with caviar on top. I feel a qualm. Maybe I should have ordered that? But no. I want my bacon, and ordering bacon as a side strikes me as horrible, Babylonian excess.

Or do I want sausages?

Ron, I will have the sausages instead.

Oh, alas. I have looked up and seen the laundry line. Ron and Les Girls have disappeared. Perhaps I will put my sneakers on and risk the cold kitchen. There is bacon in the fridge. I could certainly make a cheese omelette. Sadly, we are out of bread and coffee.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Time to Expel the Annulment Myths

One of the most important things I have read in the past week (and what a week!) was the interview with Cardinal Burke when he talked about annulments. I have had an annulment myself, of course. It was granted about fifteen years ago now. (I mention this in this week's issue of the Toronto Catholic Register. Buy Sunday!) And I have often been hurt by the "rubber stamp" remarks of never-married Catholics sighing over the laxity of The Church Today.  It's not that I felt "rejected" or "judged" (for most people back home did not know I had ever been married): it's that I felt a thrill of doubt about the process. Sometimes the only thought that kept me sane was the principle of "Roma locuta, causa finita."

Cardinal Burke, bless him, explained that the process was a lot looser between 1971 and nineteen eighty-three*, and was tightened up thereafter. Now, this is perhaps not so consoling for those who were granted decrees of nullity in the 1970s, but as my papers came through in the 1990s, I am terribly relieved. It confirms what I was told at the time: my case was judged and double-judged. Thank heavens.

If I want to terrify myself into fits, I could  imagine how my case might have been heard prior to 1971,  but I was not even born prior to 1971, and anyway at university I would have had a LOT more clerical backing in my most heartfelt desire to marry a fellow Roman Catholic. (Indeed, I had an embarrassing interview with a priest about the pressure I felt under from unwanted suitors, and he just laughed.) Before 1971 it was acknowledged that a mixed marriage presented extraordinary difficulties; it was not used to show how wonderfully ecumenical and modern we are. And, incidentally, back then the non-Catholic party ALSO had to take an oath to raise any children Catholic.

But I digress.

There are too many Catholics, simple good-hearted Catholics, who do not even bother to apply for decrees of nullity because of all the myths.  The biggest myth is that it is expensive. I was presented with a bill of $600 and was permitted to pay it in installments.  And I could have claimed it on my taxes as a charitable donation.

I had one friend, an atheist ex-Catholic, who kept making jokes about my offering to pay for "the church roof." There are countless antiquated jokes like this. They are jokes, bad jokes. Perhaps they were fine back in the days when all Catholics were growing up in a pro-marriage Catholic mono-culture at a time when divorce laws were stricter and relatively few Catholics divorced. But they are totally inappropriate today. They are a scandal for they lead simple-hearted people to despair.

Myth 1. It's expensive.  No, it isn't. And you don't pay until it's all over anyway, and you can negotiate the when, and perhaps the how much.

Myth 2. The whole point is to enrich the coffers of the Church.  No, it isn't! The fee is to pay everyone who works on the case. My divorce cost more than my annulment, and my divorce lawyer charged me the Legal Aid rate.

After almost 20 years, I think the analogy still stands.
Myth Three*. It's a just "Catholic Divorce", a con-game. No, it isn't. It is a prayerful process in support of marriage and the family ensuring that justice is done. I felt, when I was married the first time, like a fox whose leg was caught in a trap. I gnawed off my leg to get out of the trap, and the Church, through the annulment process and the sacraments, healed my poor wounded leg. Now you can barely see  the scar.

Myth 4. It's unbearably painful. 
Myth 5. It's a doddle. No sweat. Piece of cake. A laugh. My condolences to any Catholic who met people from the Marriage Tribunal who yukked it up. The people I met took it all very seriously although I think they may have been surprised that I took it even more seriously than they did. I suspect many people don't bother to seek one until they find someone else to marry.  For me remarriage was not the principal issue. Dissolving the bond was the issue.

I found the process very painful. But here I am alive to tell the tale. And married to a very nice Roman Catholic my mother rightfully adores.

Myth 6. Any faithful Catholic knows all about annulments and can give solid advice.  So wrong. I'm not even sure I didn't make a mistake by using the expression "dissolving the bond." I'm not a canon lawyer. The more I know about annulments, the more I know I don't know. Any remarried Catholic who wants to regularize her/his situation should go straight to their parish priest. They shouldn't talk to their Aunt Betsy, their friend's friend who "got an annulment", or me. Parish priest.   Even if he doesn't know that much, he knows how to START the process.

Myth 7. It's a compromise with the world's attitude towards marriage.  It isn't.  Personally, I attribute the high number of annulments not to the divorce rate, per se, but to the artificially prolonged immaturity of the Baby Boom and Baby Bust generations.

I believe that very few unhappy couples born after 1945 actually understood/understand what marriage was/is and how difficult it is by its very nature when they married. And I also believe that marriage has become even MORE difficult in societies where marriage is under constant attack by the sexual revolution and consumerism.

And I also--alas--think that many Roman Catholic priests have been remiss in the ways they have prepared or not prepared Roman Catholics for marriage in anti-marriage societies. It is not enough to bellow at us "Marriage is not a contract, it is a COVENANT" without warning us that without a shared commitment to our core values (and for  devout Catholics that includes Christ), we're toast. Again, priests should talk less about how beautiful mixed marriages are (though certainly they often are, on a case-to-case basis, if not as an institution) and more about how they are a difficult exception from the norm.

Of course, the laity is probably also greatly to blame for the unpreparedness of themselves to marry at a reasonable age in ways too many to enumerate here. I, for example, was shockingly immature when I was 25, despite everyone telling me from childhood how mature I was. But I was never mature; I was just terrified of authority.  Life hurt so much, I took refuge in daydreams, make-believe and story-telling, never more so than when I went to university and found, not Arcadia, but Sodom and Gomorrah.

*When the number three begins to appear all the time, you will know that I have a new laptop.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

I Stand By Edward Pentin

I'll never forget when I met Edward Pentin, the journalist who recorded Cardinal Kasper's comments about, among other subjects, the African bishops, in Italy.

He came to visit fellow journalist Hilary White on one of her bad days, when she was undergoing experimental chemo for cancer. It was August 12, 2011, to be precise, after three in the afternoon.  Edward came to see how she was doing. She had just woken up from a nap.

Now, I hope Hilary doesn't mind me mentioning this, but Hilary was not doing all that terrifically well. She spent most of her time asleep or looped on drugs. She was as bald as Dobby the House Elf.  She was gaunt.  She was often in terrible pain. And she was occasionally inclined to tell visitors the ghastly details of her treatment or symptoms. I saw one chap almost die from discomfort.

But not Edward. Edward never flinched. He listened to everything Hilary said with interest and compassion. He chatted with me, too, about Seraphic Singles. And I was very impressed. I liked him very much, not only for coming to visit Hilary, but for being so present to Hilary, if you understand what I mean. He didn't flinch. He didn't shuffle. He didn't avert his gaze.

Other friends and journos in Rome who know Edward Pentin much better than I do, know that Edward does not tell lies. And they also know that Edward records everything. So here is a link to Edward Pentin's recording of Cardinal Kasper's remarks. 

 Meanwhile, I just keep reading all the interviews with Cardinal Burke, for they are truly inspirational and make me feel so much better about this Synod. And B.A. and I keep praying to Saint John Paul II, which is a bit of a departure. As I keep saying, I was not brought up in the modern (i.e. post-Pius IX) papal cult, and I  got all excited about Benedict XVI only because of B.A.'s influence and the importance of Benedict's great Motu Proprio in our lives. However, Saint John Paul II wrote so much to support the family and the Gospel of Life and did so much, in joy, to contradict the Sexual Revolution, that he really seems to be the right saint to whom to pray right now.

Fifty Shades of Hey!

Very rarely is there a letter in the Catholic Register about me, your humble scribe. Now that I have access to the whole, online thing (subscription only, alas), I generally scroll forwards to the Letters section. I read the contributions there with interest, noting that the lion's share are about Mr Coren or Father D'Souza, assigning praise or blame as the writer wills. Seldom do I get either, although rather more blame than praise.

My favourite anti-Dorothy letter was from a priest in retirement, who took me to task for being snippy about Catholic schools, and I saw his point, as I said in the next CR. And I heard by the grapevine that he was greatly pleased by my response, which was rather a relief. His work for the Catholic schools had been stellar and life-long.

But I am not as thick-skinned as all that, and occasionally I feel a bit cross, particularly when the letter-writer produces not blame so much as sneer and accuses me of various thoughts and aims that I do not actually have. Some accusations are nasty enough to prompt the editorial decision not to print the letter. However, the most recent one has been allowed to go in, which I don't mind as I have the right to reprint my article myself.

In short, a woman has written that my column had nothing to do with religion and was "about scandal in its most salacious form."  As it might be difficult for readers to go back and check to see if this is true, I shall reproduce what I submitted below.  The sub-editor chose the title, "The Case of the Philandering Bishop"; my suggestion had quite a different tone.

I shall fisk myself, for your amusement and instruction.

Episcopal Scandal has a Silver Lining (See? Positive!)
Nova et Vetera
Dorothy Cummings McLean
Monday, September 29, 2014

Before I discuss the latest sex scandal to shock the faithful Catholics of Britain  [context], I want to assure you that I am keeping my own sins before my eyes. [Just in case you wonder.] I do this not to excuse England’s Bishop Kieran Conry, but to take some profit from his bad example, to find the silver lining of contrition in the dark cloud of hypocrisy. [A theme to which I will return. Contrition, incidentally, is a GIFT.]
It is not sexual sins per se that gnaw at my conscience as I read about Bishop Conry’s affairs, but the times I have been a scandal to people over whom I have been given authority. [The column is about scandal given by those in AUTHORITY.] As far as I know, I have been a conscientious teacher, but I am haunted by any bad example l  have given to my four younger brothers and sisters. May God, and they, forgive me. [That really hurt to write. I stared at it for a long time. I think any oldest sibling will understand this, especially if they have a family reputation for being churchy. At any rate, thinking and writing about Conroy's bad decisions made me think about my own and squirm--more than a bit!]
Kieran Conry was given the authority of the Bishop of Brighton and Arundel [Arundel and Brighton, actually, my bad]  by John Paul II in 2001.  At vigil masses on September 27, 2014, Catholics of Bishop Conry’s diocese were read a letter in which he announced his resignation. He wrote that he was “sorry to confess that, going back some years, I have been unfaithful to my promises as a Catholic priest.” The next day the UK’s Daily Mail broke the story of Bishop Conry’s affair with a woman six years before and his subsequent entanglement with a married woman. Her furious ex-husband is attempting to sue the diocese. [I left out the other stories, as Conry has not admitted to them and they are just gossip.]
Damian Thompson, Britain’s best known Catholic reporter, writes, “I doubt there was a Catholic journalist in the country who hadn’t heard rumours that Bishop Conry had a long-standing girlfriend. But we gave him the benefit of the doubt.” [Catholic journos in the UK are rather less bloodthirsty than the ordinary UK scribes.]  Now Thompson is asking if the English bishops knew that Conry was a womanizer before he was recommended to John Paul II  and before he was appointed head of evangelization for England and Wales. Was there yet another cover-up? [To err is human, but to cover-up for a fellow cleric so as to give him more authority over the laity is just the pits.]
Catholics are sick of cover-ups.[Aren't we?] Me, I’m still smarting from the revelations that Edinburgh’s own Cardinal O’Brien made sexual advances to priests. [Very true. I liked him; almost everybody who met him liked him. And he spoke out boldly for persecuted Christians, for traditional marriage, and--as many have forgotten--gay teachers in Catholic schools.] I can’t decide if it was better that he seems to have left the laity alone or worse that he sought embraces that were not only sinful but sacrilegious.[That's one for Aquinas.] But I will say one thing for the Cardinal: he has not attempted to justify his bad behaviour. [And he meekly went into exile when ordered.] Bishop Conry has. [Here comes the bigger scandal.]
It has been difficult keeping the secret,” quoth he to the Daily Mail. “In some respects I feel very calm.  It is liberating. [From what?] It is a relief.  I have been very careful not to make sexual morality a priority [in sermons]. I don’t think it got in the way of my job. [Except that part of his job was making sexual morality a priority in sermons.]  I don’t think people would say I have been a bad bishop. [Not before you gave this interview, perhaps.] But I can’t defend myself. [Though he just had a go.] I did wrong. Full stop.”
Actually, I think many people would say he has been a bad bishop. Not making sexual morality a priority in his sermons was a dereliction of duty. Participating in mortal sins with laywomen, instead of encouraging the single to seek marriage and the married to reconcile with their husbands, was a dereliction of duty. Discouraging Catholics from making frequent use of the confessional, as he has, was a dereliction of duty.  Harassing priests for using “too much Latin”, as he has, was a dereliction of duty. Frankly I am not as disturbed by the bishop’s lapses from chastity as by his flagrant derelictions from duty.
Many people like Bishop Conry very much. By many accounts, he is a warm, friendly, informal, handsome and charismatic man. [It has to be said.] However, I often wonder if Catholics are overly impressed when a bishop is just as friendly and compassionate as your average friendly, compassionate layman. [Which puts them at a disadvantage.] Bishops have a lot of spiritual and emotional power over lay Catholics, and their power over priests is almost absolute.[Which makes it all the easier to abuse.] Being charming makes that power more effective, especially among Catholics who think that to be a faithful Catholic is to defend every bishop and excuse him of any sin short of using kiddie porn. [And we Canadians all think here of Bishop Lahey, whose lawyer mentioned in his kiddie porn trial that he had been living in a sexual relationship with another adult man for years. Who knew?] But I was not raised that way [in my house, if a priest used swear words in front of kids, he was not cool, he was creep], and my fidelity to a bishop depends 100% on how faithful he is to the Roman Catholic faith [not that I would stab an unfaithful one to death with my reed pens]. I have no time for a bishop who says, believes or acts as if a sin is not a sin or a virtue is not a virtue. [Which is why I laugh heartily when accused of being a 'clericalist'.]
However, as I said, there is a silver lining [the point of this article] to such scandals, and it is that, heeding the words of Our Lord [mote versus log]—who has a lot to say about erring religious authorities [ e.g."whitewashed sepulchres!" (Matthew 27:twenty-three]—we can take stock, not only of our own egregious sins, but also of our temptation to admire certain priests and bishops, forgiving them their lapses in defending and teaching the faith, because of their charismatic public personas. 
I have written against the notion of celebrity priests quite often, annoying fans of various celebrity priests, although hopefully not rank-and-file priests that too many people take for granted. And I have a lot of affection for one or two bad-tempered old priests of my youth who, though grouchy, were solid gold. 
Anyway, I cannot see how my column is "not about religion" or "about a scandal in its most salacious form".  To me it is clearly about the importance of integrity in the episcopate and, indeed, anyone else in authority.  Father Handsome Nice Guy can be Father Weak Guy, whose sins prevent him from speaking out against sin. Father Ugly Grump can be Father Hero, who preaches against sin in and out of season, no matter how difficult his own battles.
From the tone of the entire letter, I have to assume that it is a personal attack on me. Although why   that would be is a mystery. I've never met the woman in my life.  

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Day Three...Gin Two...

Really, I should be making Polish cards. But I did, I am happy to say, drag myself away from the computer long enough to do two loads of laundry and rush out to Aldi to buy some supper. When we will eat this supper is an open question, for now B.A. is glued to his computer, too.

The first day of the Ratio Scandal was marked by dismay, the second by giggles, and the third by addiction to the continuing fuss.  I have even gone to Radio Maria to listen to one Polish bishop discuss the words of another Polish bishop, the president of the Polish bishops, Archbishop Gądecki.

Apparently Archbishop Gądecki got his opinion out so quickly because--if I and my source have this story right--he went over to Vatican Radio, where the Polish office was allowed to be open, unlike some of the other offices (this part of the tale is unclear), sat down, and broadcast his displeasure to Poland.

Now, I have met a Polish bishop, and I was quite terrified of him, for although Polish men are pretty confident as a group, and Polish priests even more confident as a group, this bishop was basically one of the kings of Poland, and he knew it. Everyone around beamed at him and giggled happily at his slightest gesture and scribbled notes madly as he made an extempore speech about women in Scripture. If a mad assassin had burst into the room, the whole group would have leaped up to save him. So imagine the actual President of the Polish Bishops. Woo!

I have had an entertaining time inventing some Archbishop Gądecki fan fiction, visualizing how it might have been when he stomped over to Vatican Radio, mad as a rabid bumblebee. Maybe I'll put it into actual words tomorrow. And now I think I really will make some flashcards.

Polish Note: I found an interesting word in my Oxford Polish-English dictionary, and used it happily in a Facebook message to a very respectable young Polish astrophysicist who at once demanded to know where I had learned it. "Probably from you," I joked, but he vigorously denied it. And the moral of the story is that you should always check interesting foreign words with your foreign friends to gauge if the words are (and when they are) socially appropriate.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Welcome Mat

You know, I've never been in a church in my life where people with same sex desires weren't welcome. In Canada sometimes one sits right up front beside the altar, as he is the priest. In theology school, there were so many gay guys around, one didn't really think about it that much. The men who got talked about were the ones who gave off no sexual vibes at all.

I could repeat some of those conversations, but I don't think I will. 

The Anglican squabbles about gay ministers always amazed me because by the time I was 18, I knew perfectly well there were gay Catholic priests. At the time I assumed that it really didn't matter if a priest were gay or not because it never occurred to my innocent mind that any priest would ever, ever, ever in a million zillion years give into sexual temptation. The Thorn Birds was a big, fat, lie, and so was that creepy priest in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. No wonder Victor Hugo had been on the Index, the impious wretch!  That said, when I heard about the Mount Cashel orphanage scandal, I did believe that the Christian Brothers had done bad things to the boys, although I was not sure what, exactly.

As far as I can recall, the "out" guys (and one "out" gal) in my Canadian theology school were very nice and, I think, popular. (The "out" gal was very bright, and the apple of her thesis director's eye.) There was a gay convert I really liked with children. His "partner" was a chaplain or a religion teacher (or both) in a Catholic school, and his ex-wife... I think there was something wrong with the convert's ex-wife, for he seemed to have full custody of the kids. I could be wrong.

Alas, there was some serious drama, for his Catholic school teacher "partner" announced that he wanted an "open relationship" and to see other men, and etc. So that was rather sad for my nice classmate, who had become a Catholic in the first place because of the influence of his "partner". 

As far as I know, none of our friends ever suggested he rat out his straying partner to his Catholic school employers, just as no-one ever, I mean ever, asked him or any of the other "out" gay guys (or girl) in a nasty way what they were doing in a Roman Catholic theology school. We weren't just "tolerant"; some of us girls were very fond of them--hugs all around--and they got along well with other guys, too. We were all Catholics together.

The only time I remember anyone saying that it would be much better for the nice guy to be broken up with his rat-fink boyfriend and pursue a life of chastity is when I told one of our friends that. I think she was a bit surprised by my attitude. But no matter how "progressive" an institution I have been in, I have never forgotten the faith as it was taught by Father Robert J. Fox of the Prayers for Young Catholics book I got for my sixth birthday.

The only (and I do mean the only) nastiness about any gay guy at my college was told to me by two other gay guys at the wider university, and I was very disturbed by the story. I took it to a priest-professor (rumoured, incidentally, to be gay), and he said he would take any necessary steps. The end.

What I am saying here is that any adult woman who has spent any significant time in Church circles in the past ten years has probably already met many, many church-attending Catholic homosexuals. There's no need for a rainbow sticker; anyone who wants to can go to Mass in a Catholic church. If, however, he or she tries to bring attention to his or her sex life in some immodest way, the average Catholic is going to feel uncomfortable, whether that person is a gay man or an ordinary woman with "a special friend".  And any kind of trying to bring attention to oneself as SPECIAL, somehow apart from the rest of the congregation--with political badges or sashes, for example---is most definitely disliked. 

I believe it is disliked among the priesthood, too, and I suspect (although I don't know) most gay priests do not share the fact that they are gay with all and sundry. For many of them, it's not even that important. Being a priest is more important. And the people they work with don't even mention it or think about it all that much. I remember a super-lefty priest I knew, who has now gone to his eternal rest, who was as campy as a bed-bug, but mostly I was concerned by his unhealthy bulk.

So I have thought often about this as I spent yet another day in front of the computer, reading about the Synod on the Family.

You may be wondering if anyone ever spoke to the students about the implications of their same-sex proclivities, and the answer is that I haven't the slightest idea. I never thought it was any of my business--until I heard the rotten allegations. The professors never talked about homosexuality, really, and it wasn't until I began my PhD elsewhere that I began to see signs of the so-called lavender mafia. And it does exist, my cherubs. It does exist.

Update: In case you are horrified by my matter-of-fact tone, I should stress that I grew up in a big city and joined a drama club as soon as I got to university. Thus, I have knowingly been around gay men since I was 19. I think the ones I knew at the club were very respectful of youthful and religious innocence. They were even protective--although I suppose it is an open debate who they were protecting. When a priest in an American city (we travelled) tried to seduce one of our guys, nobody told me until we had left town.

"But I could have told his bishop!" I wailed afterwards, horrified.

"That's why we didn't tell you," they said, which just goes to show that it is not just Catholics who cover up for sinning priests.

Meanwhile, I draw the line at dirty talk and having to watch gay men grope each other. But most gay men (or, to be orthodox, men with SSA) I have known socially have been very respectful of my religious-lady limits. Like other decent men, they sense that there are some things you just don't do and say in front of ladies.

Lest We All Lose Our Heads

Well, sorry about yesterday. I didn't do any housework, I didn't make any flashcards and I didn't make Thanksgiving dinner. I sat in front of the computer reading about the Synod on the Family in increasing horror. It was just so astonishing and so ghastly that the bishops and cardinals could come up with a document that included sections 50-52.   How could they? Isn't the Holy Spirit supposed to prevent them from that kind of thing?

I didn't know about the interventions yet, and what might have been the sneaky behaviour of one particular archbishop.  All I knew was what I could read between frantic Facebook conversations with other believing Catholic pals (although not my pals in Rome, who were enjoying a lovely Thanksgiving Supper). By the time I was finally in Tesco, buying ingredients for the Thanksgiving Supper I had cheerfully promised B.A. this year, I was positively zombie-like. Could the family finances stretch to a bottle of gin, I asked myself. Gordon's was on sale.... Gordon's it was!

And I was halfway through a rather stiff G&T when I saw the wonderful news about the Polish bishops, so I think actually that was my first incident of drunk-blogging in years, if not actually the first.  Meanwhile, the news this morning has been getting better and better as other bishops, even its drafter, distance themselves from the document. It is now being reported that there were 41 interventions (protests) by bishops, and that the notorious passages 50-52 were penned by one man, Archbishop Bruno Forte.

Archbishop Tagle is in my bad books for saying, of the Report, "The drama continues", as if all this were a television show, not something that has led to devout Catholics, Catholics who are carrying their crosses, Catholics who have suffered for their faith, Catholics who have stuck to one man or woman all their lives, had all their children (or refused IVF), gone to Mass week in, week out,  supported Catholic charities, paid for Catholic schooling (or fought to keep it free), refused to go to certain family weddings, even though it broke their hearts, bursting into tears and wondering if they have been had.

 I, standing dazed in Tesco, wondered for the first time in my entire life if "Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia" were still true. And I was on the phone for an hour this morning consoling a devastated convert pal. Frankly, I hope the priests of the world were kept very busy last night, so that they can report to their bishops, "This is not a funny joke. Our people are going out of their minds."

However, as I said, bishops have been roaring out their objections to the document, and I hope the memory of October thirteenth, 2014 becomes nothing but a footnote in theology textbooks (Contemporary Heresies, Chapter 6: Gradualism). To remind us all of what a Catholic bishop who believes the Catholic faith says about it, here is a recent  quote from Cardinal Burke:

Vatican Radio: What would you like to see come out of the Extraordinary Synod?

Cardinal Burke: I’m hoping that it will take up again the great papal Magisterium, which is a gift to us, beginning with Casti Connubi of Pope Pius XI, the teaching of Pope Pius XII, then in more recent times, the prophetic and heroic teaching of Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI, soon to be beatified at the end of this synod, as well as the teaching of Familiaris Consortio of St John Paul II. Fundamentally, what I hope will emerge from the synod is this beautiful truth about the human person, who has written into his nature the call to union and communion between one man and one woman, which is faithful, which is indissoluble, and which by its very nature is procreative; it participates in the creation of new human life in the image and likeness of God, what the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World  referred to as the “crown” of marital love, the gift of offspring.

And here is the very sensible fisking of the report by the "God and the Machine" blog. B.A. asked me to read it, and I'm glad he did. The post points out the good stuff in the report while naturally raising both eyebrows at the gobbledegook that reaches its nadir in 50-52.

And here is Father Standing-on-My-Head with some very sensible questions.

Update: It strikes me that one helpful thing we lay people can do is write to our favourite parish priests to say how we received the news of the document. If all our parish priest gets is complains from people about Church teaching, they may be amazed and gladdened to get emails from people defending Church teaching. I honestly wonder at remarks like "the drama continues." Could it be that some bishops don't think ordinary rank-and-file Catholics take Church doctrine very seriously?