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The Shepherds and the Wolves April 9, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Last night we took a woman and her daughter to dinner at Liuzza’s and to Brocatos, people my wife knew in North Dakota who came here on a Lutheran Church mission to work on homes in St. Bernard Parish for the St. Bernard Project. The church that hosted them was an Evangelical Lutheran Church led by a pastor who himself lived through the disastrous flood of Grand Forks, N.D. and who willingly took on to rebuild a church and congregation here in Lakeview.

What happened here, my wife told her friend, had reaffirmed her faith in organized religion: so many religious volunteers have come and done so much work. I wanted to disagree, but I bit my tongue. It is not organized religion that is rebuilding our community, and most certainly not the church my family professes, the Roman Catholic Church.

My own growing distaste for that institution (not its people, mind you; certainly not all of the clergy) was firmly cemented when It joined the pantheon of clannish hate cults, jumping up to their too-tight clerical collars into the Gays Aren’t People campaign of the last few election cycles. My loathing was made stronger watching the local hierarchy decide without explanation which parishes would live and which would die in the post-Federal Flood city, especially the painful episodes of St. Augustine’s and St. Francis Cabrini. the “cathedral of the lakefront“.

One simple fact to know about The Church, or any church: where parishes returned, congregations followed. Where pulpits were left empty and the churches left filled with the rotting remains of vestments and missals, people were slow to return if they came back at all.

Witness the miraculous recovery of the Vietnamese-American community of New Orleans East, an area like most of those east of the Industrial Canal lade completely to waste. Led by Father Vien Thé Nguyen, Our Lady Queen of Vietnam first sheltered those who stayed for the storm then led the recovery of their community.

Or look at Lakeview. Fr. Paul Watkins, the parochial vicar (associate pastor) of St. Dominic Catholic Church in there , told Brian Denser of WTUL’s Community Gumbo in 2007: “we have spearheaded the recovery…everywhere the priests were allowed to return those neighborhoods have come back. The parishes that were closed…the neighborhoods are all exceptionally grim.”

Now, take a drive in the area around Parish Avenue where Cabrini Church once stood to you can understand what other areas of the city looked like, say, two years ago.

Today the Archdiocese of New Orleans will announce the closure of additional parishes. These are not those drowned by the failure of the federal levees. Take for example Our Lady of Good Counsel on Louisiana Avenue in Uptown new Orleans. Accomplished local novelist (and blogger) Poppy Z. Brite distributed a statement that tells us the story of the church where she was just baptized into the Catholic faith this past Easter:

This 114-year-old church ministers to 450 families, including a large number of elderly and disabled parishioners who do not have the ability to travel to another church. Both OLGC and another historic Uptown church, St. Henry’s (which is 152 years old and ministers to 300 families) are to be closed in April. Our Lady of Good Counsel was one of the first Catholic churches to reopen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Since then, we have repaired the
minor wind damage we sustained in the storm, doubled the size of our congregation, and made great progress toward paying off our debt to the archdiocese. Our congregation ministers to the local poor through the St. Vincent de Paul Society and other organizations, and we hold a popular St. Joseph’s altar each March 19, where the saint is honored and the public is fed.

Our Lady of Good Counsel is architecturally significant, with a magnificent high altar, remarkable stained glass windows, a working pipe organ, and other details that would make it part of a standard church tour in any European city. Under the archdiocese’s current
ruling, this beautiful and sacred building will be sold off to the highest bidder and could even be torn down. Only in New Orleans do we have so many unseen treasures, and only in New Orleans, it seems, are we so ready to throw them away.

An arch diocese, indeed.

Here is the beautiful building the Archdiocese intends to sell off to the highest bidder. Given the building type , unless another faith’s congregation takes it over it will be demolished. I wish the same fate on those who would demolish this as others wish on the Taliban who demolished the great cliff Buddhas. The two groups differ only in degree, not kind.

In the aftermath of the attempts to destroy the nation’s oldest African-American Catholic congregation and the demolition of Cabrini Church, I’m near speechless. What more can I say about Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes and his arch-henchman Fr. William Maestri? Having dropped the F-bomb more times this week than I have in all the months and years since 8-29, I think this time insteadd I’ll just quote (but not profess) the words of a simple carpenter whose teachings Hughes and Maestri once swore to profess: Forgive them. They know now what they do.

As these new centurions of the Roman Catholic Church draw out the last nail, wagering perhaps over what the auction price will be, it is important we remember this: Our city is being rebuilt by in a very large part by individual volunteers who understand, who have internalized an important part of the message of Jesus: to help the downtrodden, the afflicted and oppressed. They come not at the direction of men with great offices in Rome or opulent television studios in the suburbs of the south. They come because of their personal commitment to live out the charge laid on them twenty centuries ago:

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

The Catholic Church, an anchor of this Franco-Iberian founded city, is just another institution that betrays us, just as government–the city, the state, and the central government–have betrayed us. Each of these looked on our suffering and saw an opportunity for profit and advancement. Tomorrow the NOLA Bloggers will bury our good friend Ashley Morris, and we will remember one thing he leaves behind, his own charge to people not his disciples but certainly his comrades: Sinn Fein, Ourselves Alone. The Church’s actions today remind us that the institutions we have trusted are now run not by shepherds but by wolves. We can only save ourselves by our own actions and in spite of them.

Sinn Fein, New Orleans. And thank you, Claudia and all of the volunteers of all faiths (and none) who have come and helped to rebuild our city. May you hold Hughes and Maestri in your prayers and beg for them mercy and forgiveness, for I should give them neither.

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Comments»

1. KamaAina - April 9, 2008

Dude, you’re on a roll! Keep up the good work.

Sidelight: Blessed Sacrament on Constance is also on the hit list. While certainly no architectural gem, like Good Counsel, it did provide me, and Mom, with one of our many treasured New Orleans memories. I had heard that they celebrated gospel Mass there, and so, still being loosely affiliated with the Church at that time (around 1990), I decided to take Mom, who was visiting.

Sure enough, they did indeed celebrate gospel Mass at Blessed Sacrament. It was pretty much the high point of my last-ditch efforts to reconnect with the Church. One sincerely hopes that the tradition will continue after the merger with St. Joan of Arc. We’ve lost more than enough local color recently…

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2. Bayou Bob - April 9, 2008

Why don’t you get off your pious pompous ass and help the Church?

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3. jh - April 9, 2008

I think there is a lot to contemplate in your post. However there is a tad of rage that might be clouding judgement too.

This isnot all the evil Catholic Church Hierarchy. Some time ago families that the Chruch assisted at every turn and educated decided to do their own thing. Gingin wne tdown, they had smaller families, they did not pass down the faith to their children. What we have are two generations of largly uneducated Catholics. No wonder we don’t have any priests.

THe VOcation shortage, The Church, Catholic Families, and yes even two decades of population leaving the state al have to so with what we see today. There is blame to around and none of us are innocent

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4. Poppy Z. Brite - April 9, 2008

I find it difficult to defend the Catholic Church as an institution, and impossible to defend the hierarchy (which is why I openly admit to being a schismatic, one who finds value in the Church’s teachings but does not acknowledge the absolute power of the Pope or Church hierarchy). However, I can’t deny the fact that the ritual of Mass helps me find a tranquil place inside myself that I’ve had a hard time finding otherwise, especially these past 2 1/2 years. Our Lady of Good Counsel brought me to that spot and I was received into the Church in hopes of giving back some of that help. Whether I will be able to find that relationship with another church I cannot yet say.

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5. Wet Bank Guy - April 9, 2008

Yes, I am angry. I am angry at all of the institutions that have failed us, and the Church is among those. Maestri and Hughes are no different than Nagin and Blanco and Bush: inept is the best one can say, but there seems to be enough evidence that they see our disaster as an opportunity to profit, or at least are willing to do so.

My anger at the church goes back a long way, to a recognition of the role the church willingly played in the preservation of segregation of education (and I benefited from that education; De La Salle ’75). By doing so they contributed to the ills we confront today. It was my first hint that the church my go so far as to destroy the city to advance itself by growing its influence through the parochial and Catholic schools.

Next, the work of the hierarchy and an activist faction of the laity to take up the GOP’s Leninist program of infiltrating and co-opting useful organizations made it clear that I was not welcome at the church unless I swallowed the whole program. They invited only the GOP Congressional candidate into the school, and the children made little bumper stickers. How lovely. In 2000, the pictures of Bush were ready and up on the wall long before the election was settled. It was clear that my parish was not a place I was welcome.

Finally, the church’s gleeful entry into the politically motivated pogrom of hate against gays in the last several elections, the complete co-option of the church by an activist GOP laity that follow the Republican version of the tactics of Lenin and Trotsky, the take over and co-option of useful institutions for their own ends.

I have been clear here and on Wet Bank Guide: the Federal Flood swept away all of my loyalties except those to this city, my family and my friends. Any group or organization that hinders our future is my enemy. The Church’s history of a willingness to throw people under the bus for its own advancement has been clear since the days of the mass white flight into private, largely Catholic schools. Their actions since the storm have merely reinforced that. The Church joins that long list of people with whose skulls I think we should armor the levees.

I don’t wish ill to those who take comfort in their faith and in their church (by which I mean, ultimately, their parish which is their experience of the Church). I raised my children in the church, attended Mass, gave, did the minimum I had to in order to meet the commitment I made (for love of my wife) so that she should be married in the church. My wife taught faith formation. She does not share my anger, but she understands it, shares it in a small way if it is about the politics, the historic support of segregation through private education or bay bashing.

I don’t want to help the Church. I want to help the parishes our city needs to survive. If the archdiocese acts against that they are, like anyone else who acts against the interests of this city and its people, then it should expect that partisans of the city first and foremost should view them as I do.

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6. Marco - April 10, 2008

They could auction of a few square feet of treasure The Church owns in the Vatican museum.

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7. New Orleans News Ladder - April 10, 2008

Whoa! That was great, if painful and angry. But that is the first Noble Truth (of da’famous Four Noble Truths): Pain Is Real. And as we see from you bloggery, so is Redemption than’ya vury mush. I am wit’you, Noble Wet Bank. You are a really good writer and the reason I have only 3 articles posted so far today. You pull me along like a mischievous friend into Dante’s Inferno. Damn…one-o-these days…

Given the plethora of articles on these “faith-based groups” I read daily and try to hang onto da’Ladda (and I t’ink I even snagged one on yer Lutheran friends), I believe that they are having their notions of what constitutes “faith” challenged in a way that only Goddess could devise. However, none of these scenarios comes close to to the cultural resilience of the Vietnamese community in New Orleans. Having survived ‘Apocalypse Now’ they will, by God, survive ‘Apocalypse NO’. And, as any Lafcadio Hearn fan knows, that they have been fishing this area for nearly as long as anyone else. (see da’book: Inventing New Orleans) They are apart and part of New Orleans culture, the part that stays during and after hurricanes and the “a’part” that doesn’t go around saying “Hey everybody look! I got Nawlins culture!”…the part that you have to look to find.

Child Molestation settlements have not been proferred in the discussion of the Leaders of the Church’s real estate divestitures.
$996,140,000 apps to date nationally–(I wanted to drag the whole wiki over here. It is disgusting…and that is just wiki and only the cases in the United States Franchise. Sorry y’all, but I would take my time with a child molester–and laugh about it later over a beer wit’da devil his’self in Hell. No lie.
When the leaders of the Church accomodate the rape of children within its walls then where is the faith of the parents held? I doubt in very high regard. If someone can absolve the raping of a child then (and I have looked them in the eyes) they will have no problem fucking over anyone else for financial gain after a devastating man’made or natural disaster. Nooo problem at all.
Until the Catholic Church can present me with the heads of every one of their pedophiles, not on their own altar but in criminal court, they have no place suffering the faith of children to come unto them, least of all we Survivors of the of the Crucifixion of New Orleans.
And don’t get me started about “isolated incidences”…don’t Even go there.
And you are completely in saying this is all about the money, just as the Church’s response to child rape by its priest.
A better word would be “Savvy”. I suspect that if one dug a little deeper we’d probably discover a PR company hired to handle the timing of these press releases. I mean, the deal was done and shook before the faithfull had even buried their dead from the storm.

Those Vietnamese would still be where they are after Katrina even if the church had never existed. That is an historical fact as recorded in the Daily Item/Times Democrat 120 years ago by Lafcadio Hearn. And if anyone knows any Vietnamese, particularly in the community you sited, you will find such faithful resilience too surprising. But you will find the Virgin. Faith comes from work as you all know only too well. It comes wit’da fishes, not the fishers of men. People first/Church second. Ain’t that why Dude ran the money changers outta’da temple? Well? I read the story…now I read it and weep for all the faithful. Because this is sadly about the money…like you noted, Disaster Capitalism by the book.
The Church has bills to pay.
Ask yourselves who is swinging this real estate? Follow da’money. And when you find it, and who has it…give me a call. I would like to spend a’bit of not-quiet time wit’them in “discussion”. Just give me there name’z’all I need.

And Bob…screw you. Leave mah’Wet boy alone. He is obviously busy, takin’care of business,–and the rest of us–if you’d read his blogs. That is what blogs are for, you lazy and illiterate grunt’hog forkin’icehole cork’suckin syllodomite.

Victims die. Survivors live. New Orleans Lives, to an ever growing degree, by the kindness–and faith–of strangers. Sinn Féin
Pedophiles and Money Changers go to Hell–or at least to work for Big Rufus on cell block #9–as our Temples of Holy Spirit and Redemption are not the places to practice their dark arts.

And as for you Mx Brite, I appreciate the way I can love your expression of faith as much as I love your art. Right on scrib’sista you rock big dogs and purr like da’happy Cat Woman. (If I may be so bold,HA!) But do please bear in mind that I wanted to hunt down Cat Stevens myself when he sanctioned the (still current) fatah on Salmond Rushdie. While it makes perfect sense to me for artists to go whereva they feel they need to understand our human spirit because it is truly an infinitely faceted diamond, there just ain’t no cause fo’rudeness, eh? It has been artists like you who have helped me find the pieces of my own faith scattered by that storm of our own damn’nation.

Thus spake,
Editilla Orilla d’Aphasia

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8. New Orleans News Ladder - April 10, 2008

OOPS—left out the word “none’ in saying you would find the faithful resilience of the Nola Vietnamese community as: “…none too surprising”.

I worked at Cafe’ du Monde in the early eighties with a former Vietnamese colonel (and his wife, children, brothers, sisters, uncles cousins, other parents and friends…fellow refugees from Vietnam after the war) and such cohesion doesn’t surprise me at all.
Beautiful Wonderful People…if you can take the time to get to know them…as wit’da rest of the Nolafugees.

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9. D-BB - April 10, 2008

Look, you ever watch the Sopranos???? Well, that’s’ how the Catholic Church operates. It’s a business first and the least followed religion on the face of the planet if you go by how their parishioners’ beliefs.

If the people want to keep their church then they have to pay for it but don’t expect Tony Soprano (aka the Pope) to allow them to drain his resources.

Blaming that archbishop guy is like yelling at a CSR when your cable TV goes out.

Like all them child molesters….u think Pope John didn’t know about them when we all knew about them since the 50s????

Yo yo yo…Either Pope John was an idiot or he was guilty of a cover up.

Anyway….as far as I’m concern, the closures are not enough!

And you have a most bless-ed day.

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10. Wet Bank Guy - April 10, 2008

I wasn’t going to even go into the problem with priests who molested children, although the huge settlements againt some dioceses is probably at least a small factor in the decision of the American church to hang us out to dry. And I’m not expecting a bailout from overseas.

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11. New Orleans News Ladder - April 10, 2008

Errah…Dead-Beat Bastard,
do you live locked in a cage in a laboratory in the basement of a neoconervative child’porn thinktank, with nothing to do but watch cable…while They watch You.
Your words seem predictable, yo yo redundant like papering the floor of your tiny litterbox world. Do you use Mien Kampf? Contract for a New American Century? Malthus?
Bless yer heart.

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12. bayoustjohndavid - April 11, 2008

I’ve been out of commission all week, so I’ll admit that what I say is mostly based on impressions, but…

I get the impression that the archdiocese was told that it needed to make cuts. It probably only had control over where the axe fell, not over how hard it fell. Like with some of the moves we saw at area universities, I also suspect that Katrina was an excuse for cost cutting measures that the institutions would have liked to have made a long time ago. I can’t find the exact statement, but I heard something the expected loss of 18 priests to death and reassignment. That tells me that the national church decided to take away that number of priests.

The universities seemed to deliberately conflate and confuse “declining enrollments” with possibly temporary drops caused by Katrina; the church is doing something similar here. The church also doesn’t seem to care that by treating population loss as permanent, it helps to make it so.

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