What Happened at St. Patrick’s Cathedral?

If the nonsense at St. Patrick’s had happened on my watch, I think I would have stopped the whole carnival, turned off the microphones and lights, and called the cops.

The debacle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral reminded me of two incidents from my time as a pastor in our Cleveland Mission parish in El Salvador.

The first event happened before I got to the mission. Some women came for a funeral Mass and the pastor gave them the time. Funerals were usually the day after the deceased parted, so the interview with those involved in preparing the liturgy came within hours of the death of the woman. The funeral procession came to the church, and it was only then that the priest was informed that the dearly departed was the madam of one of the town’s bordellos. The parish was in a town that had previously been a port city, and even after the main industry was moved to a better harbor, there was still business to be made in sin. Healing the Prostate: ... Stengler, Dr. Mark Best Price: $8.25 Buy New $12.19 (as of 06:07 UTC - Details)

The “muchachas” who worked at the bordello came dressed appropriately for the funeral. But many of the faithful were shocked. They found it hard to believe that such a scandalous figure would be given what they regarded as the luxury of a church funeral. However, the Church has had a tradition, unlike the Soviet Union pace Khrushchev, of burying even her enemies. The attitude of the mourners at the funeral Mass was not irreverent or celebratory of an “iconic” victory over the Church. There was respect, even though hindsight suggests that a responso (just requiem prayers over the casket) might have been more appropriate in the circumstances.

I do not judge the decision-making at St. Patrick’s because, unless you are there in the moment, it is hard to know all the factors involved. But I am tempted to think that some kind of “stop the nonsense” move might have made things better.

During the whole Covid fiasco, a curial priest—who came out of the chancery to substitute for a brother who had been in contact with Covid on a sick call—sat down in the presider’s chair because he noticed that not all the parishioners who were spaced in a large urban church were wearing masks. (This was when wearing masks and other precautions were considered the thirteenth article of the Creed, so help us Dr. Fauci.) It looked like it would be a standoff, until the unmasked worshipper shouted a characterization of the prince and the pea celebrant and walked out.

If the nonsense at St. Patrick’s had happened on my watch, I think I would have stopped the whole carnival, turned off the microphones and lights, and called the cops. This is not a criticism of Cardinal Dolan, whom I personally esteem, nor of his staff, who acted out of Christian charity-cum-New Yorker-tolerance of the weird. This is just a cranky old pastor, not famous for open-mindedness about things ecclesial, drawing a line in the shifting sands of our confused Church.

I have another memory of the mission that I see as applicable. When I was dividing my time between a chancery job and the pastorate of our little ex-seaport, somebody came to me advising that the woman who sold “piedra” in our town to the crack addicts had a daughter who was about to celebrate her quince and wanted a Mass. Forearmed, I met with the woman and refused to celebrate the quinceañera. She didn’t understand this; she was willing to be very generous to the parish. Her money had brought her a little respectability, however, and she had been able to buy or sponsor the local soccer team, named “Destroyers” (in English, not translated).

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Wilma, as the woman was named, owned the property immediately behind our parish old age home, which we had recently converted into the kindergarten when an order of nuns built a nursing home with our help. There was a joke about her name. The Flintstones are known as Los Picapiedra in Spanish. Wilma was the wife of Fred Flintstone, so this woman was Wilma Picapiedra. I cannot remember why the woman mentioned something about the mayor with whom we sometimes had a bit of contention but with whom we sometimes cooperated. He was scandalous, too, she said, sighing; but she gave up when she saw that I was not going to change my mind.

Three weeks later, I was at a meeting in the chancery and the rector of the cathedral told me that he had seen some of my parishioners. It turned out that the cathedral had accepted doing the Mass for the quinceañera of Wilma Picapiedra’s daughter. He was a young man and laughed at the over-the-top ceremony that had been celebrated, with mariachis at the door of the cathedral and rather exuberant wardrobes for the girl, her mother, and her attendants. My archbishop, a saintly man, just laughed off my irritation.

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