Saturday, October 31, 2009

Who Am I?


The best passion is compassion.
- Jamaica

You may be asking yourself that question, as well you should. Let me introduce myself. I am black, Catholic and female. I know what it is to be a pariah. I also know what it is to be a victim of a violent rape. But I am a child of God, and His loving mercy allows me to minister to priests in prison for the same offense that I suffered – not at the hands of a priest. In the past few weeks some of our more visible entertainers have said rape is not rape when committed by a celebrity, and they seem to conclude that there are degrees of rape. Rape is rape – always has been and always will be.

I hasten to add that not all priests in prison are guilty, and not all accused priests are guilty. Yes, many have fallen from grace, but they remain priests because that special mark can never be erased. Most of our Church leaders are so afraid of being heckled by the likes of SNAP and VOTF that in their haste to dispense with the priests they view as troublesome, they have swiftly thrown those priests to the wolves, slammed shut the Church doors, and seemingly have forbidden the priests in their dioceses from having any contact with imprisoned priests. Indeed, they have willingly sacrificed their common sense.

As a victim of rape at age 11, held down on a bed with a gun to my head, I know there is no way that I can ever forget that. I am surprised that anybody believes that a rape victim suddenly remembers being raped some 30 or 40 yrs. later. As the Church offered more and more money, many “victims” suddenly began to “remember” being raped by a priest. Those millionaires and their greedy lawyers are enjoying their money now, but they will have to face the Lord on Judgment Day. I would love to be a fly on the wall on that Day.

Some of you may remember reading the article I wrote that was published in the National Catholic Reporter on July 20, 2007, titled, “Throwaway Priests.” I wanted to know how our Catholic priests in prison were being treated. The response was overwhelming. I heard from priests in dioceses, priests in prison, priests who married, and priests who had left the Church for various reasons. I now write to some 30-40 priests in prison who have opened their hearts to me. I ask what they need and try to obtain newspaper and magazine subscriptions; books; money for telephone and commissary items. Friends who initially frowned on my ministry are now helping a bit. Every now and then someone will send $25 or so to purchase paper, ink cartridges, or stamps. I am thrilled with that. I have asked friends not to send me any more birthday or Christmas presents, but instead to send the money to Fr. Gordon J. MacRae’s defense fund.

Our priests in prison don’t want sympathy and they don’t whine. They don’t hate anyone and they aren’t angry at anyone. For the most part, they are puzzled as to the silence from their brother priests. That is what hurts them most of all: the lack of visits or messages from their brother priests, some of whom have had the audacity to tell these wounded priests that they want no contact with them. What a slap in the face. It’s as if their being in prison is contagious, and a letter to or from them will contaminate those outside. In fact, every priest is only one telephone call away from being behind iron bars themselves. I remind you again that every priest in prison is not guilty.

The Catholic Church that I joined (after much angst from a reluctant mother), taught about love, forgiveness, compassion, and justice. I have seen precious little of that vis-a-vis our priests in prison, and they are OUR priests in prison. Many of the imprisoned priests are very elderly and don’t have family members still alive. Priests in prison suffer from the lack of Catholic materials. Few have access to a priest or a confessor. Some imprisoned close to their home parish have never had a visitor from anyone connected to that parish. Their families live in fear that some organization unworthy of being named here, will find out where they live and picket their neighborhoods, and on it goes. I call that unabated hate and ignorance. What kind of people are we who sit by silently, never asking publicly for prayers for priests in prison? No one ever speaks of forgiveness and compassion in their regard. No one ever asks What Would Jesus Do? Why? Because they know the answer.

From their pulpits our bishops literally embrace “victims” and beseech us to pray for them as they, the “victims” reach for the money being thrown at them which is probably more welcomed than the prayers. Few of their former parishioners care enough to reach out to them. I have felt the presence of our Lord every day since the night a gun was held to my head. I was going to die that night; the rapist told me so. He said he was going to kill both of us after that horrible act. I could only think of my mother walking in and finding us dead. I had to spare her that. I was traumatized, but the Lord must have given me the words to convince him that I would remain silent. I was silent for 45 years, but I never forgot. I wish I could have.

I pray that we may be responsible, forgiving, compassionate and loving members of our Church.

I pray that we see the plank in our eyes before we complain about the splinter in the eyes of others.

I pray that our Lord will wrap our incarcerated priests in His loving mercy.

I pray that priests who live under bridges as vagrants, will somehow find comfort in the words of our Lord that He will never abandon them.

I pray that the love that we have for each other will be enough to share with our sick and wounded priests.

I pray.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Death of Bishop Pat Ziemann by Charlene C. Duline


"A mighty oak has fallen..."
                   An African proverb

Today I learned that Bishop Pat Ziemann died yesterday at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Arizona. A few weeks ago I learned of his illness and pending death. He was dying of pancreatic cancer. Bishop Pat, as I called him, is as a monsignor referred to him, “head and shoulders above the rest.” This bishop was crucified like Christ, not guilty of any sins against children, but of a personal indiscretion with an adult who tried to blackmail him. He suffered and now he’s gone.

A few days earlier Fr. Gordon MacRae asked for prayers for a bishop who was dying of pancreatic cancer.  He would not say who the bishop was because of the bishop's concern that the media and agenda - driven groups would use this information for their own ends.

*Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.

I met Bishop Pat eight months ago at the monastery where he resided. He was an humble figure, a man, a priest, who cheerfully waited on tables and washed dishes after dinner. There were quite a few visitors at the monastery. Most were there in their splendiferous motor homes parked on monastery property. They come yearly to help the monks repair, paint, etc. and to enjoy the quietness, the spirituality, the interaction with Bishop Pat and others.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.

I was introduced to Bishop Pat by a longtime friend of his, Dolores Crowley. She and her late husband, Dr. John Crowley, spent many wonderful times with Bishop Pat. They did not desert the bishop after his fall from grace. We visited him at the monastery and he told me that his fall was the best thing that could have happened to him. He said, “It put me back in touch with my spirituality. As a bishop I was too focused on management... (and other tangibles).” Now he had dispensed with all of the trappings of being a bishop and humbly served others dining at the monastery. I was very impressed with his humility. On our last night in Benson Bishop Pat took us out to dinner at one of his favorite Mexican tiendas. What a fun evening it was. We ate and laughed. I hear his laughter now. I see his smile.

I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush

Dolores was visiting me when she brought up her home newspaper on her computer.
She looked at me in shock and gasped, “Bishop Pat is dying!”

And then I was in shock! What on earth was she talking about? Bishop Pat dying? Yet, from her ashen face I knew she was not joking. Who could joke about such a thing? I sank down on the nearest sofa and waited for an explanation. I barely understood what she said. It was something about the Press Democrat, pancreatic cancer, few weeks to live, and we both began to cry. Not Bishop Pat. Not the gentle, humble man I had come to know and love. Not the man designated by a friend of his to head a group to assist priests coming out of prison and with no place to go. His friend envisioned setting up a place isolated from the likes of SNAP, VOTF and the media; a safe place where priests released from prison could go to reorder their lives, figure out what they wanted to do in the future, and be safe from those who feel it’s their duty to cause these men to suffer for the rest of their lives. He wanted medical personnel in place, spiritual advisers, psychologists, and any therapists the priests would need in order to succeed in the next phase of their broken lives. Bishop Pat won’t be here to head the innovative and desperately needed organization, but his imprint is on the man who conceived the idea, the man who attended the seminary with Bishop Pat, the man who decided not to become a priest, but whose “brother," Bishop Pat, made him the caring man that he is today.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

A few nights after we placed a call to Bishop Pat, he returned our call. His voice was weak. He apologized to Dolores for not telling her himself of his fatal illness. I told him how much it meant to me to meet him and to spend a few days at the monastery. I wanted to ask for his blessing, but I could hear that it was an effort for him to speak. I tried unsuccessfully to choke back tears. I managed to tell Bishop Pat that I loved him, and I handed the phone to Dolores. She told him that her husband, John, will be standing at the gates of heaven to greet him. Bishop Pat said he was ready to go to his heavenly home. I’ve never blessed a bishop before, but in my heart I blessed Bishop Pat. May he go in peace. May he rest in peace.

No, the letter Z in the title of this blog does not represent Bishop Pat’s last name. The Greek letter Z means he lives. Bishop Patrick Ziemann will never die, for he lives on in the hearts of those who know and love him.



*"Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep," Mary E. Frye