A Hedge, A Statue, and 30 ‘Hail Marys’


Img_1921This week the New York Times had an interesting story about a cathedral being built in Oakland, CA that includes a garden for the victims of sexual abuse by priests. The garden was the brainchild of two women who were raped as children. However, other people see the garden as an empty gesture.

Any good rehab hospital will tell you that gardens are indeed therapeutic. Though this one sounds a little conceptual and under-flowered, it might actually make somebody feel better.

However, given the unbelievable range, scope, number, and cruelty of the crimes against children committed by Catholic priests, somehow I feel a bigger garden-related gesture might be in order. A church that can afford a $660 million settlement with victims in Los Angeles alone, has very, very deep pockets indeed. I’d say, sell the Vatican and every doodad in it and then fund sustainable farming programs to ensure that no African child ever goes hungry again. That would be a first step.


  1. “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

    I could not open the NY Times link, Michele, but this post struck me as disrespectful to these two women seeking healing through their vision of a garden, Catholics, and any small group of thoughtful people who are trying to change the world in their own way.

    And I am not Catholic, but try to be respectful of any person’s beliefs. So I respect your belief that the world is changed through “corporate” actions, be it big churches, big government or big business.

  2. So you don’t think the Catholic hierarchy has done enough penance for their sins? First they need to accept that these were mortal not venial sins that require more penance.

    That is one garage sale I would sure want to attend. I could use a few Gothic doodads to work with the under theme of my cozy little cabin.

  3. Let’s bear in mind that the Catholic church is not an institution dedicated to child abuse, nor are all Catholic priests pedophiles.

    That said, I agree that it is heinous that the church has not done more over the years… decades… centuries… to expose and punish sexual abuse by priests.

    Gardens of healing are a lovely gesture. The garden by itself is not penance for the crimes, but a gesture of comfort toward victims. Penance on the part of the church must include a comprehensive plan to prevent future abuse, the refusal to tolerate sexual abuse by church members, and a restructuring of the “Good Old Priests” network that has swept sexual abuse under the rug for so long.

  4. The Los Angeles diocese kicked elderly nuns out of their homes to pay for that settlement. Maybe they should sell the gardens to make sure the nuns don’t go hungry?

  5. I was raised a Catholic, and I agree with you, Michele, that for centuries the Church has been far more interested in protecting its own institutional power and privilege than in helping those in need. Only the “corporate” action of various secular legal systems around the world has forced the Church (again and again) to provide some measure of justice to its victims.

    Gardens are wonderful, and they can be great agents of healing. I applaud the work of those 2 women in helping to create such a garden. But let’s not fool ourselves that the crisis of sexually abusive priests is over. The only real solution is to
    vigorously prosecute the Church hierarchy whenever they criminally conspire to protect paedophile priests.

    Sending a few archbishops to prison for a good long term would do far more to protect and heal victims than any garden, however lovely, ever could.

  6. Go kneel in a creepy black closet, put some money for your sins in the basket , light a few candle and arbitrarily say 4 hail mary’s and 2 our fathers and you are forgiven . Go out and start it all over again until next week.
    The little black closet, money basket and candles will be waiting for you when you return .
    You’ve got your ‘get out of jail’ pass until next week in the creepy black closet.

  7. I, too, was raised Catholic. My own brothers (altar boys) talk about the creepy priest that everyone knew to stay away from. I, too, believe not enough has been done to atone for the abuses or ensure they never happen again. I also agree that the wealth and opulence at the Vatican could be better served helping the poor (WWJD?). When one of my sisters forwarded me the NY Times article a few days ago, my response was that every Catholic church should have a garden or memorial of some sort, along with a hotline for victims of abuse (past and present). “Never again” has long been a mantra for Holocaust victims — it applies here as well.

  8. A week ago, I was at the Vatican and posted about our visit there earlier this week (http://web.me.com/charlierj/ArtOfGardening/Home/Entries/2008/8/19_The_2%2C000_year-old_garden..html).

    Michele, you were reading my mind, part of my post read:
    “I am in awe of the Vatican – there is immense wealth in the hundred of billions of dollars there – the properties, buildings, art. Much of the art (like the Pieta and Sistine Ceiling) is of incalculable value. The treasury & art collection holds hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of valuables. I keep telling my wife, that if I were Catholic, and subject to the constant drum of tithing and requests for donations, I’d be cheesed. They seem to have enough money. They could liquidate a chalice or two from the treasury to raise some money if they’re that cash poor.”

    They could solve a lot of hunger problems/disease curing/poverty issues/restitution for damages done with a small portion of that wealth.

    Or, they could help their individual churches with infrastructure and community outreach, as opposed to capital campaigns, fundraising goals and annual campaigns aimed at dedicated parishioners.

    The rest of the post was a rant about Roman gardens.

  9. I’m an ex-Catholic, and for good reason, but I still find the tone in the original post and Michele’s follow up “Go kneel in a creepy black closet” really bigoted. Those priests who have committed sexual abuse (whether pedophilic or not) should be de-frocked and subjected to prosecution to the full extent of the law. It is a scandal how various dioceses have protected these men. However, NOT all Catholic priests are abusers. And not all Catholics are guilty of the sins of those who are in leadership positions. The Church is a bureaucracy and guilty of horrible things like many corporations and bureaucracies. But tarring the religion itself and making fun of it is bigoted. I’m not wild about Mormonism or Islam, either. Can I post on Garden Rant about how much they suck, too?

  10. I’ll add to the chorus of voices of former Catholics. I read this NYT article and thought “Ick.” (It’s interesting, too, that there’s been no mention of this garden in the local press.) Although I respect the intentions of the women who planned the garden, this is a little like a big chemical company that poisons a community building a healing garden–while they continue to poison people. The church has not done nearly enough to fundamentally change the institution that enabled the pedophile priests. Anyone who thinks the behavior has stopped is kidding themselves. And while the pedophile priests are certainly a minority of the priesthood, the entire priesthood is tainted by the church’s protection of those priests.

    As for selling the Vatican to feed African children, I don’t understand how doing something that’s not related to the sin (and something we should be doing anyway) helps those who have been directly damaged. It’s a penance to make the sinner feel better rather than the ones sinned against.

    If this healing garden helps some of the victims, then I guess it’s a good thing. I was particularly touched that they wanted a memorial site that would be outdoors because so many victims will still not set foot inside a church. That really says it all, doesn’t it?

  11. How like a Catholic bureacracy to minimize the healing garden of the multi-million dollar cathedral. They should have skipped the cathedral, put the money into recovery programs and used one of the churches in a disbanded parish as the cathedral. Hopefully, the plaque won’t end up filed away in a cleaning closet.

  12. Thanks for the clarification, Jim. Sorry, Garden Rant Michele.

    Even though I am an ex-Catholic, I get riled up at the way it has now become okay again to tar all Catholics with the same brush. People who’ve learned their American history know the long history of anti-Catholic prejudice in this country: KKK, Know Nothing Party, Thomas Nast’s vicious editorial cartoons for Harpers…ring a bell?

    As for selling off The Vatican’s wealth, I couldn’t agree more. The Church herself needs to heed a vow of poverty. Just don’t forget there are plenty of good works done by Catholics – Catholic Worker Movement, liberation theology, support of the UFW, Father Roy Bourgeois’ spearheading of opposition to the School of the Americas…

  13. Spidra.
    Not only are these two Michelle’s / Michele’s different people , I guaranty you, they have different experiences with the Catholic church too.
    I bet Michele hasn’t lived the last 14 years with someone who was in the Catholic seminary bound to be a priest or that she had two nuns in her family. ( got a couple of weeks available for some real good honest to goodness Catholic perversity ? )

    Bigoted ? – You can twist that word up in your mind if that is how you want to eschew or rationalize to yourself what the church has done to it’s former members.

    They are former members for a reason.

    Now pass the donation basket ( cuz they are sure as hell not going to liquidate any of their own funds ) , and don’t forget to genuflect on your way out.

  14. Spidra Webster, I am an ex-Catholic, living with practicing Catholics. You shouldn’t take any of this personally.

    Men in frocks living in stained glass houses who have sex with children should expect to be mocked.

  15. Hey, were we all raised Catholic here at the Rant?

    The thing that galls me most, I suppose, is the church’s failure to address the basic recruiting problem at the heart of this scandal: celibacy. Or the pretense of it. That requirement eliminates most wise, humane, grown-up people.

    The wisest people I know–the ones best qualified to lead a flock–know all about love.

    But I stray off-topic…

  16. Ok already. I have never been a Catholic. I’m what most would call a conservative Protestant. I agree the Catholic church has had a problem with sexual abuse. But reality has shown that every religion has had members of its ministry involved in some sort of sexual abuse. Even non-religious organizations have had similar problems. So my view is that sexual abuse is a human problem, not that of a particular religion. The bottom line should be that every denomination should recognize its own problems and set up solid programs and policies to resolve past issues and prevent future abuses. Civil courts have played a major role in helping victims of every denominational presuasion, because without the courts most of the cases would have been swept under some already bumpy rug. A healing garden might help. But the problems are so numerous that healing parks would seem more appropriate.

  17. It is clear that you have no actual knowledge or experience with modern Catholics teachings or the church itself. Th ignorance of statements like “creepy black closet” is offensive – just fyi – since Vatican 2 confessions are done face to face usually in an office or side room. Those “closets” are not built in new churches and are only used in cliched movies.

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