Sunday, March 21, 2010

walk and chew gum

Before I was asked to auction off a meal with the Bishop at the annual fund-raising dinner for Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, I had already agreed to be the honorary chairman for their "Kids Helping Kids Fun Walk." The event benefits Columbus Home, a refuge for boys who are victims of abuse and neglect. Sponsors are still needed for the walk. Sponsorships are $250 (full), $125 (half), or $50 (partial). Call (865) 524-9896 if you can help.

The annual walk will be on Sunday, May 16 at All Saints Church. The parish grounds have a walking trail that is popular with Knoxvillians of all denominations.

WBIR anchor John Becker and I recorded a public service announcement for the Fun Walk. He wore a WBIR track suit and I wore one of Fr. Ragan Schriver's shirts with a Catholic Charities logo on it.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

without a net

Skydiving and bungee jumping will never appeal to me. I wonder if the rush that you get from surviving is similar to the feeling I had last night when I stepped off the stage at the benefit dinner for Catholic Charities of East Tennessee. Event chair Tami Hartmann asked me to auction off an expensive bottle of Beaux Frères wine and then auction off dinner for ten with Bishop Stika right there in front of Bishop Stika.

photo by Cynthia Moxley; used by permission Cynthia Moxley and Alan Carmichael were seated front and center. I joked that I might finally rate a mention in Cynthia's Blue Streak blog, which was recognized by the News Sentinel's readers last fall. She wrote about the dinner and included a photo of me in full auction action.

At the time, I thought my anxiety came from doing shtick in front of the Bishop and so many priests and people I knew from church. In hindsight, I realize that my jokes were no worse than the things I said at the roast for Fr. Ragan Schriver. For example, I said that whoever bought the pricey Pinot Noir should share it with Bishop Stika because it was heart-healthy. I also said that I hoped someone from my parish would buy the dinner and once everyone was relaxed and in a good mood, they would lobby the Bishop for an additional priest to be sent to All Saints, which now has only two left. However, I can't remember most of the things I said. Fr. Christian Mathis, who recognized me from my blog, posted one of my jokes on Twitter. If you were there last night and can help me fill in the blanks, please leave a comment here.

The Bishop graciously accepted my wisecracks and afterward asked if I had previous auctioning experience. I told him it was actually my first time and that I had tried to copy Bear Stephenson, the great auctioneer at the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction. I still have a lot to learn. I think my case of nerves happened when the bidding for the dinner at any Connor Concepts restaurant slowed and eventually stopped at $3,500. I guess I was hoping for more.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

mad magazine

The big news at All Saints Church this morning was that Fr. Tony Dickerson has asked Bishop Stika for a leave of absence from the priesthood. We were all asked to pray for Tony, who is a favorite of my family. It's got to be a tough job. There are many former priests out there including one of my mother's relatives. Fr. Tony got a big laugh a couple of months ago when he told the congregation at 8:15 a.m. Mass that he suspected they liked to go to church early so they can beat the Baptists to Cracker Barrel.

Bishop Stika has been in my thoughts for two other reasons this past week. In the newest edition of the East Tennessee Catholic, the Bishop responds to some hateful anti-Catholic propaganda that was recently distributed in Pigeon Forge. The story hit the local news just before my wife and I headed out of town, coincidentally to the Bishop's hometown of St. Louis. Because of our travels, we didn't realize that it made the national news too.

The ridiculous pamphlets falsely allege that Catholics are not Christians and that our belief in the Holy Eucharist was stolen from ancient Egyptian sun worshipers. I wonder if the author has ever driven past a Catholic church, much less opened a book to do any research about it. I found a great blog post written by a priest who is a convert to Catholicism. He quotes Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who said there are very few people who disagree with what Catholics believe, but there are millions who disagree with what they think Catholics believe. I was reminded of my late grandfather who used to question what it was that modern-day Protestants were protesting.

The last bit of Bishop Stika news to cross my desk last week involves me more directly. The annual Catholic Charities dinner is this Thursday. I was invited to auction off dinner for ten with Bishop Stika at The Chop House. Given my experience, I hope I can get away with a joke or two about fasting and abstinence during Lent.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

archie's place

They say that New Yorkers don't visit the Statue of Liberty. I never have, even though I grew up in the nearby suburbs. I try not to repeat that mistake when traveling, which is why I'm surprised it has taken me this long to make it to the top of the Gateway Arch. The Arch is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis.

On our 3,000 mile road trip in the summer of 2007, my family had the bad luck of visiting the Arch two days after a power outage caused all sorts of havoc. I got some nice pictures from the base, but did not ascend. We thought about going to the Arch in January, but it was completely engulfed in fog.

This past weekend, my wife and I made a quick trip through St. Louis after picking up our son at college. We had enough time on Saturday to go up in the Arch and to see the excellent (although dated) movie, "Monument to the Dream." I just put the DVD on my wish list.

The documentary shows how the landmark was constructed in the early '60s. It made me wish I could go back and see television news coverage from the raising of the last piece on October 28, 1965. I did find a good YouTube video with some pre-Arch history. A model outside the theater shows the last piece being raised into place.

The land below the Arch looks like a quiet, grassy park. It conceals an underground complex with two theaters, gift shops, a museum and more. The Museum of Westward Expansion featured lots of information about the Louisiana Purchase and an interesting smaller exhibit about baseball teams moving and expanding to the West. The warning not to touch the taxidermied animals amused me. Apparently not everyone knows that dead bison grow no hair.

The view out the city side of the Arch was more interesting than the view out the river side. Looking toward the north I could see the Edward Jones Dome. Looking toward the south I could see Busch Stadium. I really want to attend a Cardinals game there some day.

Because our plan was to leave early enough on Sunday to get home to watch the Oscars (we made it with minutes to spare), we wanted to go to a vigil Mass on Saturday night. St. Louis has a plethora of Catholic parishes and we hadn't decided which one to visit. I even asked my friend Fr. Ragan Schriver for suggestions. Once we had seen the movie and looked at the Museum of Westward Expansion, it was after 5:00 p.m. and we didn't have time to get to either of the churches Fr. Ragan had mentioned. I was collecting some brochures from the ranger at the information desk when I realized the answer was on a flyer in my hands. In fact, two hours earlier, I had photographed The Old Cathedral from 630 feet up. We could easily walk there in time for the 5:30 Mass.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

can't spell omega without omg

Darwin Day passed me by with no fanfare this year. I was aware that last Friday was the 201st birthday of both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln but had other things to do. In fact, my wife and I were sharing a table at the World Marriage Day dinner with Dr. Kelly Kearse and his wife. Dr. Kearse was my son's chemistry teacher in high school.

During the course of the evening, Dr. Kearse mentioned that he had downloaded and listened to my interview with Bishop Stika from last year. I told him about some of my other interviews online, including those with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass. By the way, the two will be coming in soon to record an interview about their new book, "The Bone Thief."

Dr. Kearse emailed me the other day to say thanks for a photo I sent him from that night. He also told me that he had downloaded seven more interviews from my site. He had just listened to the interview with the author of "Thank God for Evolution."

The conversation with Dr. Kearse, coupled with the start of Lent, inspired me to use my WiFi clock radio to listen to podcasts of some online homilies as I settle in for bed. One of the files turned out to be not a homily but a lecture by Fr. Don Goergen about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I've heard the first half-hour a couple of times as I drifted off to sleep. The whole podcast is an hour and 25 minutes long. I plugged in some headphones and have been listening to the rest of it tonight while watching the Olympics on TV.

It's pretty heady stuff about cosmogenesis, biogenesis, psychogenesis and Christogenesis. A few of Fr. Goergen's quotes stood out for me:
  • God creates the universe evolutably.
  • The world is evolving and that evolution is a manifestation of God's creative activity.
  • The world is moving in the direction of increased complexity and increased consciousness.
  • Darwinism doesn't necessarily mean atheism.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

is my soul prepared

Yesterday's Ash Wednesday post generated some reaction in my email box from a local mom:
I read on your blog about Beth's problem with the public school's attendance policy. I worked with a public school as the attendance secretary, which required entering the tardies, absences and excuses. I was told that the absence or tardy was black or white. You either were or you weren't. The excused or unexcused piece is where the religious holiday allowance would come. In other words, going to the orthodontist in the morning still makes you tardy but it is excused and not held against the child. Most perfect attendance awards do not take into account tardies. When my daughter took part in the Bishop's installation, all three of my children were excused from school -- but they were still absent.
After I had uploaded the blog entry, I watched the beginning of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and noticed that both Guillermo and Cleto Sr. were proudly wearing their ashes on national television. Too bad Joe Biden's priest merely put a thumbprint on the vice-president's forehead instead of a bold cross like Guillermo and Cleto got.

My Facebook friend count dropped by one on Wednesday. A friend from church had posted that she was giving up Facebook for Lent. I didn't realize she was going to deactivate her account.

Fr. Ragan Schriver did not give up Facebook for Lent. He is fairly new to the social networking site and has been adding friends rapidly. It's not surprising to me. Whenever we meet for dinner at Trio Café, it is impossible to walk across Market Square without meeting several people who know Fr. Ragan.

I saw a post on Fr. Ragan's wall that is worth sharing here even though it involves one of my least favorite songs of all time. When I was general manager of the student radio station at George Mason University, it was a running joke how much I hated "King of Pain" by the Police. It was overplayed by the volunteer deejays who picked their own songs.

Someone shared a link to a "King of Pain" parody called "This Time of Forty Days." Obviously the comedy stems from the line "There's a little black spot on your head today." I was amused and will look for more material online from Catholic comedian Nick Alexander. Had I known about it, I could have used his "YMCA" parody a year ago when I sponsored a friend into the church.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

sacramental health

Fr. Ragan Schriver calls me an "out-of-the-closet Catholic." It's not that I'm doing anything differently than when I lived in Burbank, it's just that there are fewer Catholics in Knoxville, so my beliefs stand out from the crowd. Blog readers and radio listeners are aware of my faith, so it's no surprise that I would get an email like the following from someone I'll call "Beth."
Dear Frank,

I wanted to see how you felt about an issue that I seem to be having with the county schools. With it being Ash Wednesday, I wanted to take my children to get their ashes at morning Mass. A friend suggested I call the school to make sure that it wouldn't count against them, making them tardy. I thought for sure that it wouldn't, due to the fact it is a religious holiday. Well, I was wrong!!

First when I called the school, they had no idea what Ash Wednesday was, and didn't know how to handle my phone call. Then they passed me to the Assistant Superintendent. Well, she was no help either, asking what was Ash Wednesday and why couldn't we just go to a later Mass. I tried to tell her that the whole point was to wear your ashes all day. It isn't something you get and then go home, shower and go to bed. Then she tried to tell me it wasn't even on the calendar!!

Finally, without being able to give me an answer, she went to ask the Superintendent. When she got back, she said there was no way he would allow it. It would be marked as a tardy. At this, I was angry. How prejudiced toward us Catholics; how unfair that my children who have never been tardy this year are going to have it count against them, all because we are going to attend Mass.

I was furious. She told me that there was nothing in the county policy about excused tardiness due to a religious event. Then she told me she was sorry, you know the majority down here is Baptist not Catholic! I know that we could go to an evening Mass but that's not the point. You are SUPPOSED to get ashes in the morning and have them on your head all day as a symbol. I know that you are Catholic and I was wondering what your thoughts on this were. We are going to church at 9:00 a.m. and the kids will have to go to school late and just have it count against them.
I applaud Beth for standing up for her beliefs. I might have done the same thing if I had been in her position. In fact, I have opted out of an upcoming work-related event that conflicts with the Easter Triduum. Beth's email made me glad that my wife and I made some sacrifices to send our children to Catholic school from kindergarten through high school.

On the other hand, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. It is actually more important for a Catholic to attend Sunday Mass. At All Saints, they must have realized that public school kids could not attend Mass until later in the day. The children's choir sang at the 5:00 p.m. service tonight. I think the public school could treat Beth's decision to take her children to Mass on Ash Wednesday the same as if they had an orthodontist appointment. They could count it as an excused absence.

Beth's email was on my mind as I attended the noon Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral. I was struck by the seeming contradiction of today's gospel passage that instructed "wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden."

I got my ashes and wore them to my next appointments. I was reminded of my first day on the job at Comedy World, which also happened to fall on Ash Wednesday. I showed up with ashes on my head and laughed at the comments from Bobby Slayton and others.

Beth emailed me again this afternoon to say that her child's teacher tried to wipe off the ashes because she didn't know what they were. The child was smart enough and comfortable enough to stop the teacher and explain. Obviously she learned that from her mother.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

horse and carriage

The celebration of World Marriage Day at All Saints Church is a good deal. If a couple will mark a significant anniversary (1, 5, 10, 15, etc.) during the year, they are invited to a nice, sit-down dinner in the parish hall. My wife and I like it so much that we volunteer to be servers on the four years between our 0s and 5s. This year's event was held on Friday night.

The evening starts in the church with a blessing from the pastor. Fr. Michael Woods likes to ask the couples where they met. My wife and I got a few chuckles when we described our meeting in a night club called the Wax Museum under the figure of Neil Armstrong.

Photo proofs from this year's dinner are now online at The cakes shown in the first few shots were made by our friend Chris Kite. My wife and I were fortunate to end up sitting at the same table as Dr. Kelly Kearse and his wife Kathy. Dr. Kearse was my son's high school chemistry teacher and helped inspire his love of science. Before the night was through, I talked a little politics with Gary Loe, who has announced his candidacy for the state House seat being vacated by the headline-grabbing Stacey Campfield.

One of the couples in attendance will celebrate their 70th anniversary in 2010. Fr. Michael had them cut the cake and got the husband to sing a little bit of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." When it was time to get the dancing started, a Glenn Miller song came on and Fr. Michael grabbed my wife's hand and spun her around the floor a few times. Later, she and I danced some and tried to teach others the proper hand motions for "YMCA."

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

tell me ma

Fr. Michael Woods mentioned both Amy Brace and Ashley Reisser in his homily at the 5:00 p.m. Mass tonight. He told a beautiful story about Ashley's mother, who told him she hopes they never find the men who ran from the car that dragged her daughter. She imagines that they are probably scared and praying for Ashley's continued recovery.

Although we had originally planned on eating at home, my wife and I ended up going out to dinner after Mass. We went with my wife's mother and brother, who had stopped off on their way from Virginia to Georgia. They were here on Valentine's weekend last year too and we waited a long time to be seated at Mimi's Café.

This year, I chose a place where the tables would turn over fairly quickly. We went to Hard Knox Pizzeria and used a gift certificate that I had purchased for half price (plus service charge) from the radio station's website. It's a place I've wanted to try since I first heard of it last year.

Fr. Michael was able to join us for dinner before having to head back to All Saints to give a blessing at the Mardi Gras dance which benefits Catholic Charities of East Tennessee. I asked him about Vols coach Derek Dooley, whose parents were parishioners of Fr. Michael's during his days in Athens. He said he had received a response from the coach, who indicated he would bring his parents by the church when they visit Knoxville. As the conversation turned to other topics, Fr. Michael mentioned that there is an old YouTube video of him singing at a biker bar. Why? It was to raise money for the Ulster Project.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

school shooting

The talk at church tonight, as it has been all throughout Knoxville today, was yesterday's shooting of the principal and assistant principal of Inskip Elementary School. The members of All Saints Church were especially concerned since assistant principal Amy Brace is the daughter of fellow parishioners Jim and Connie Brace. Dr. Jim Brace is the associate dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee.

One of the choir members prepared special "prayer blankets" for the two victims. The blanket is a symbol of the prayers being offered by church members. The people on the prayer chain at All Saints had heard some possible details of the attack. Assuming their information is accurate, it sounds like Amy Brace is lucky to be alive. They report that she has a through-and-through gunshot wound on her forearm and that a bullet grazed her scalp without penetrating her skull. One parishioner wondered if Amy's arm slowed or deflected the bullet enough to keep it out of her brain.

Principal Elisa Luna's injuries are more serious. Countless prayers are being offered for her recovery too.

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

fight to life

Father Michael Woods commented on the influence of social media during his homily at today's 11:45 Mass at All Saints Church. He had just returned from visiting Ashley Reisser and her family at UT Medical Center. The Maryville High School senior was critically injured in a wreck on an icy Pellissippi Parkway last night.

The story in the Knoxville News Sentinel spells out some of the horrific details. Ashley and her friends got out of her car after a fender bender, as did the driver of the other vehicle. Two other cars, a Mitsubishi and a Honda, also slid on the ice and collided with each other. The cars in the second crash hit Ashley and her friends and then hit the other driver from the first crash as he tried to help the girls. The red Mitsubishi drove away. The men in the Honda got out and ran. Knoxville Police are looking for a red Mitsubishi Eclipse with Tennessee license plate 825-SQP. It should have a broken left rear taillight and damage to the passenger side.

I first heard about the wreck from Ashley's brother-in-law, who is a good friend of mine. I was his RCIA sponsor last Easter. He is a parishioner at Sacred Heart Cathedral and needed to know how to contact a priest at All Saints, where the Reissers go. I texted Fr. Michael Woods, who was able to visit the hospital after the 8:15 Mass.

I told Fr. Michael about a Facebook page that had sprung up overnight. By 10:30 a.m., 1,578 members had joined the group "Pray for Ashley Reisser and everyone involved in the wreck." As of this writing, the membership has climbed to 3,881. Fr. Michael mentioned the group in his homily and told how the family was touched by the outpouring of prayers online.

Some reporters from WATE saw my prayer requests on Twitter and Facebook and asked me to put them in touch with the family. The story just aired on tonight's 11:00 p.m. news. A reporter from The Daily Times in Maryville posted her phone number on the Facebook wall, inviting family members to call her for a story to be in Monday's paper.

I was impressed by the "retweets" of the prayer requests. Some were by a morning deejay at a Christian radio station and one was by an outfit called Prayer Network. At least two others helped spread the word too.

The family members have posted some encouraging news on Facebook. Her sister wrote that Ashley probably should not have survived the crash but instead is showing some improvement. Although Ashley has a fractured skull and several other broken bones, doctors are optimistic for her recovery. The power of prayer is strong.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

disaster relief

The best thing to donate after a tragedy is money. Respected agencies like the American Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services and The Salvation Army can buy more with each dollar than we could at retail prices. However sometimes we feel more helpful by giving items instead of cash.

One Knoxville retailer is collecting now-worthless Lane Kiffin t-shirts for victims of the Haiti earthquake. Disgruntled fans of the Tennessee Vols were more than happy to be shed of reminders of the coach who jilted them.

Another organization I respect is accepting items. Remote Area Medical will fly their transport plane from Knoxville to Haiti on Friday. Here is the list of needs I received via email today:
Aspirin – as much as you can provide

Ibuprofen/ Tylenol – liquid for infants
Tablets for adults

Anti-diarrhea medication (like Imodium) tablets or capsules (not liquid or liqui-gels) – as much as you can provide

Anti-itch cream (Benadryl)

Vaseline (we can use up to 20 pounds)

Antibiotic cream (Neosporin) as much as you can provide

Ace bandages – as much as you can provide

Ziploc bags – all sizes

Fine tip sharpies - 20

Alcohol in plastic bottles up to 50 bottles

Wash cloths – will be lower priority so will be one of the last things packed

Dish towels (flour sack cotton, not washcloth type – basically those that would leave less lint) these are for use by doctors when treating patients

Empty bottles with multi-hole pop up caps various sizes (these can be filled with water to flush debris) you can find smaller ones in travel item section at Walmart

Crutches – If stoppers, handgrips and arm pads are in good shape.

Eye drops – non-medicated (saline, liquid tears) as much as you can provide.

Gauze pads – 2x2 and 4x4 sizes

Band-Aids – 20 to 30 boxes


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Thursday, January 07, 2010

mid-season replacements

Two of Knoxville's biggest parishes will get new leaders on February 1. News of the changes was released today. Bishop Richard Stika acknowledged that the timing is unusual but necessary to accommodate a priest who needs to care for his mother and a convent that needs a chaplain.

At St. John Neumann, the ornate church that looks like a cathedral, Fr. Patrick Garrity replaces Fr. John Dowling. I imagine that one of his top priorities will be to get a rectory built on the parish property. A residence for the priests was somehow not included when the massive new church opened just over a year ago. Fr. Dowling goes to St. Francis of Assisi in Fairfield Glade.

At Sacred Heart, the cathedral that looks like an ordinary church, Fr. David Boettner replaces Msgr. Al Humbrecht as rector. Technically the title of pastor of a cathedral is held by the bishop. I suspect that Fr. Boettner will be in charge of building a new cathedral that looks like a cathedral in the big hollow space in front of the current structure. Msgr. Al heads to Holy Spirit in Soddy-Daisy.

Fr. Joe Brando comes out of retirement to become pastor of St. Mary in Gatlinburg. It doesn't sound like a bad gig, considering how many other people love to retire in the Smokies.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

cold turkey

After playing holiday music for the last month, or in some cases two months, the all-Christmas radio stations across America will cut us off tonight. For one station in Knoxville, it's a good thing. For another, it's too soon for me. I even went so far as to suggest via Facebook that Love 89 keep Christmas hymns on the air for another twelve days, mixed in with their regular playlist. It might keep more seasonal listeners around for their "30 Day Challenge."

For Catholics like me, Advent, the season of anticipation, ended yesterday. The Christmas season started last night and runs until the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. When the choir at All Saints Church wanted to repeat last year's Christmas Cantata during Advent, our pastor said no, it had to be during the Christmas season. You can come hear it for free on January 8 at 7:30 p.m. and January 10 at 2:30 p.m.

Love 89 normally plays Christian light rock. During Advent, they mix in a lot of secular tunes by Christian artists, which is how I discovered that I loved "Sleigh Ride" by Relient K and "Jingle Bells" by Denver & the Mile High Orchestra. Starting tomorrow those secular songs will get a rest until next year. I wish Love 89 would continue playing their versions of some traditional carols like a new favorite I heard for the first time this year, "O Holy Night" by Point of Grace.

Nationwide, Christmas airplay is dominated by non-religious songs. It's been that way for years. The list that ASCAP releases annually changes very little from year to year. The only religious entry on list of the top holiday songs of the decade is "Little Drummer Boy."

My love of Christmas music is connected to my enjoyment of cover songs. It's fantastic to hear an artist improve upon a previous recording. Even "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" can be re-done brilliantly, as it was by Poe. The Brian Setzer Orchestra regularly updates Christmas classics. The one good cover song I "discovered" on our local commercial holiday station this year was "Feliz Navidad" by Jon Secada. Yes, Mr. Deejay, that was me calling on the request line to ask for the artist's name.

Unfortunately, cover songs can also go horribly wrong. One of my favorite songs, "Baby It's Cold Outside" was ruined by the clash of Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton's voices. Porky Pig's version of "Blue Christmas" might be funny once but it does not hold up to repeated airplay. Because of the atrocious lyrics, I doubt any artist could salvage "The Christmas Shoes." Only Patton Oswalt's hysterical but very R-rated deconstruction is worth a listen.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

man of the hour

When the parish council started planning a farewell reception for Fr. Ragan Schriver, he said he hoped that it would be fun. It was more than fun, it was hysterical. This afternoon's event at All Saints Catholic Church, was inspired by the old Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.

I was asked to serve as roastmaster. In addition to the guest of honor, the dais was populated with three other priests, a local news anchor and me. Fr. Tony Dickerson and Fr. Michael Woods talked about the craziness of life in the rectory with Fr. Ragan. Former pastor Fr. Chris Michelson gave a different perspective on the story of hot candle wax spilling onto Fr. Ragan's head at the Easter Vigil. John Becker of WBIR often plays tennis with Fr. Ragan. He told a funny story about the priest's car smelling like a locker room because of all the sweaty workout clothes tossed into the back seat.

Like at the 2007 Adult Social, I did some of my own material before, between and after the other roasters. In honor of the three points in each of Fr. Ragan's homilies, here are three of the stories I told about him. I deviated from my script slightly but two of the stories are completely true!
Fr. Ragan has been at All Saints for a long time and maybe it is time to move on. After 12 years and 600 plus Sunday masses, he has officially run out of "3 Things." I hate to bust you on this but the sermon about the baby in Walmart? Heard it! In fact I heard it again last week when I went to Mass at Holy Family. I did a little research and found out that the little baby… is now 13 years old!

Last year there was a big tennis event at Thompson-Boling Arena called Rock N Racquets. They had Andy Roddick & Serena Williams plus entertainment by rock singer Gavin Rosdale. Gavin is well known in the music business for the alternative rock band he used to be in and he's fairly well known in the People Magazine world for being married to singer Gwen Stefani (she sings Hollaback Girl and a bunch of other songs you might know). Well Fr. Ragan doesn't know any of those songs. He's backstage waiting to meet the tennis players and finds himself standing next to Gavin Rosdale. He's trying to make conversation and the only thing he can think of to say is "so… you're married to Gloria Estefan?"

Fr. Ragan is well known in the community. It seems like everywhere you go, at least one person has a Fr. Ragan story. I was recently at a function with several local TV reporters. Two of them said they had interviewed Fr. Ragan in the past. One is a married woman with two kids who talked about how impressed she was with the work they do at Catholic Charities and how impressed she was with his enthusiasm about getting to know his new neighborhood in Seymour. The other reporter is a bit younger and single. She said "Oh Fr. Ragan! I could go CATHOLIC for him!" She went on but I'll stop there. Suffice to say, the phrases "if only" and "not celibate" were involved.

After the five roasters, Fr. Ragan made some remarks and thought we were finished. At that point, we told him to cut a cake that turned out to be an iced cardboard box. Under the lid was an assortment of fruits and nuts. The two ladies who organized the party closed out the festivities by singing a tribute to the tune of "We Love You Conrad" from "Bye Bye Birdie." During the song, Fr. Michael displayed props like a cup of yogurt and a box of Fiber One cereal. At the end of the song, all the roasters sprinkled soaked Fr. Ragan with some dish-washing sponges on wire handles, much the same way he overdoes it with holy water during the Easter season.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

felix sit annus novus

Fr. Ragan Schriver received a birthday gift from his new congregation at Holy Family Catholic Church last night. They gave him a set of what they called "pastor vestments." The purple chasuble and stole were similar to the ones he wore to celebrate the first Mass of Advent, but the new ones were adorned with the Chi Rho symbol that looks like PX to us. I took a blurry picture with my phone.

Cantor Karen Burry could barely contain her excitement about the gift. The presentation would occur at the end of Mass. She told my wife about it as soon as we walked in the door of the church. Karen, like my wife, is one of the better cantors in the diocese. I recognized her from some RCIA ceremonies at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

There was no organist at Mass last night but there was music. I noticed that Karen carried a remote control to the ambo before the processional hymn. When she hit the button, the organ played a song that the previous pastor had recorded onto a floppy disk. Karen sang some parts of the Mass a cappella and changed disks for the offertory, communion and recessional hymns. The Holy Holy Holy, the Memorial Acclamation and the Great Amen were all sung to the tune of "O Come O Come Emmanuel."

The Byzantine items and iconography that I wrote about in August have been removed from the sanctuary. Fr. Ragan was able to get an ever-so-slightly damaged statue set of the Holy Family at a great discount from the Paraclete. He said that one of Mary's fingers was broken off but stared blankly when I said "just like Daryl Hannah."

Next weekend Fr. Ragan will concelebrate all the Masses at All Saints. Following the 11:45 service, I will emcee a roast in the parish hall. All are welcome.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

friar consent

There was a high-level showbiz lunch meeting at Aubrey's today as Fr. Michael Woods and I started planning a "roast" of Fr. Ragan Schriver. The comedic tribute will take place at All Saints Catholic Church after the last Mass on December 6. Fr. Ragan has been appointed pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church after many years in residence at All Saints.

When I saw Kristin Farley at a charity event a couple of weeks ago, she asked if she and her daughter could attend. I said yes, because my jokes would be G-rated. That's not what she meant. She wanted to know if the event was open to everyone. Yes, as the hymn says, all are welcome.

Both Fr. Michael and I have several anecdotes about Fr. Ragan. I plan to contact Fr. Ragan's sister and his friend John Becker to see if they have any funny stories to share. Another likely source of material will be Fr. Ragan's mentor, Fr. Gary Braun. Let me know if you have any zingers about one of the most popular priests in the diocese.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

forgive them, Father

The parishioners of All Saints Catholic Church received some disturbing news this weekend. Dozens of consecrated hosts were found stuck to the underside of the pews last Sunday. Fr. Michael Woods celebrated all the Masses this weekend so he could deliver a homily explaining that desecration of the hosts is punishable by excommunication from the church. The same message was conveyed to the students of Knoxville Catholic High School on Thursday morning during their Mass at All Saints.

There are some Christians who take the beginning of the Bible literally. They believe that creation happened in seven days, just like the book of Genesis says. As a Catholic, I was taught that the creation story was a nice way of explaining the world to early humans and that the process took considerably longer than a week. I summarize my belief in three words: "God created evolution."

There are also some Christians who take the words of Jesus figuratively, especially at the Last Supper. As a Catholic, I believe that Jesus meant what he said and said what he meant when he took bread and said, "this is my body. Do this in memory of me." To this day, Catholics believe that the bread and wine at Mass become the body and blood of Jesus. Just because I can't see the difference doesn't mean it hasn't changed. I once heard a priest draw an analogy between the transubstantiation and the exposure of an item to radiation. It looks the same as before but is now very different.

One of the people I sponsored in the RCIA program at St. Finbar Catholic Church asked me why Jesus would want us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. I responded that the Lord wants us to be one with him, to be in communion, on a cellular level. He becomes food that nourishes us spiritually. I believe that Jesus has the power to take any form he wishes, including that which appears to be bread and wine.

Because Catholics believe in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the consecrated hosts and wine must be treated with the utmost respect. Those that are not consumed at Mass are kept in a tabernacle. During hours of adoration, a host may be displayed in a monstrance. The desecrated hosts at All Saints had to be disposed of in a sacrarium.

At St. Finbar, ushers were positioned to watch the communion lines. They made sure that the communicants consumed the hosts and did not take them outside. At the time, there was a rumor that Satanists were stealing the Body of Christ from local churches and desecrating it on their altars of evil. Somehow that is easier to understand than whatever compelled someone to stick the hosts to the underside of a pew.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

suddenly Seymour

The news that is likely to disappoint many All Saints parishioners caused cheers of elation at Holy Family Catholic Church last night. They were having a dedication ceremony for their new Family Life Center when Bishop Richard Stika announced that Fr. Ragan Schriver is the new pastor of the Seymour parish. Fr. Ragan had been there on a temporary basis as parish administrator for the past couple of months. Schriver retains his full-time job as executive director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee.

Even Fr. Ragan was surprised that the Bishop chose to break the news at the dedication ceremony. I told him that my wife and I were ready to help organize some sort of vegetarian-friendly farewell reception for him in West Knoxville. He responded that Fr. Michael Woods is already planning something. It'll be great. They certainly know how to throw a party at All Saints.

My wife and I went to the parish hoedown on Saturday to enjoy some BBQ and dancing. My first attempt at square dancing left me a little dizzy but I might have been overly tired from shooting stuff that day. The congregation from the Saturday night Spanish Mass came over when their liturgy ended. The hoedown organizers had to run out to Famous Dave's to buy more pulled pork to feed the new arrivals.

On Sunday morning I picked up a copy of the Spanish language bulletin. Even though I don't speak or read the language, I was amused by a few of the words advertising Saturday's event. Obviously my trail mix would have been an inappropriate dessert, not so much for the nuts but for the frutas secas dried fruits. Who knew?
Fiesta en All Saints. El tema es Hoedown (danza típica del los americanos). Todos están invitados. Se servirá comida y se bailará. Se pide traer postre, por ejemplo: Pastel o tarta de frutas o galletas dulces, no traer nada que contenga frutas secas por razones de alergias.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

middle class

Two weeks ago, I did a little church sightseeing in Norfolk. Last Sunday I did the same thing in Middleburg. My wife and I went to Mass with our friend Maureen at St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church. The colonial style structure was built with some special accommodations for President John F. Kennedy. According to "The Middleburg Mystique," the church had a special room with a direct phone line to the White House.

The Kennedys would often spend weekends in Middleburg. JFK probably attended Mass at St. Stephen's only two or three times before his death. The church opened in the Spring of 1963. An Associated Press article from late October described the First Family's initial visit to the church, complete with details of the fidgety children and which pew they used. "The Middleburg Mystique" says they last went to Mass there twelve days before his death. Their pew is marked by a small plaque.

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Friday, October 16, 2009


During my most recent interview with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass, I mentioned one of my family's favorite stories about our trip to Hawaii several years ago. We stayed on Molokai, which is where the Hawaiians go to vacation.

In addition to my wife and kids, my mother, my grandmother, my sister and her husband and his mother all made the trip. The whole group went on sightseeing expeditions to places like Tuddie Purdy's macadamia nut farm and a church built by Fr. Damien de Veuster. The older generation would stay back at the condo resort while my wife and I took our kids to the beach.

Fr. Damien was well on his way to sainthood during our visit. In fact, he was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI just this past Sunday. While we were off at the beach one day, my grandmother saw a news story about a relic of the holy man returning to the islands.

The hand of St. Damien was going to be somewhere in Honolulu on the same day that we would be flying home. Grandma wanted to see the hand before we left. Nowadays, it would be easy to Google the hand and find the news story Grandma had seen. Back then, I had no Internet access on vacation but I wasn't going to let Grandma down.

We flew from Molokai to Honolulu on a Sunday morning. We had gone to a vigil Mass the night before and had some time to kill before our flight to Los Angeles. I took the group to Hilo Hattie's and told Grandma that all I needed to find the hand was a phone and a roll of quarters. In those days, if you weren't at home and needed to make a phone call, you would look for a public phone and put coins into it to get it to work. Weird, huh?

The payphone had a phone book with it. I looked for listings that started with St. somebody or Our Lady of whatever. One church after another told me the same thing: the hand had been displayed there but had since moved to another church. I went through a bunch of quarters until I got confirmation that the hand was at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace.

I got everybody to the cathedral before the next Mass started and eagerly went inside to see the hand. An usher pointed us toward a side altar where it was displayed. We were told that Fr. Damien wanted to be buried among the lepers he served on Molokai but that his superiors arranged for his body to be returned to his home country of Belgium. Many years later as a compromise, his body had been exhumed and his "healing hand" removed and sent to Hawaii. I guess I had been expecting to see something that looked like a mummified Thing from the Addams Family. I was disappointed that all I saw was a box, which they called a coffin.

Another relic will be touring the islands for the remainder of October. The Pope presented a bone from St. Damien's heel to Bishop Larry Silva. It was briefly on display in Detroit, San Francisco and Oakland this past week.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

holy spirituals

The bellman said that the Catholic church nearest to our downtown Norfolk hotel was the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. He wanted to make sure I knew that it was a Black Catholic church and that the liturgy would have a Baptist feel to it. I've joked that my home parish in Knoxville, All Saints, is very Baptist-friendly because of all the converts in our congregation. Besides, how Baptist could it be if the church is named after the Virgin Mary? As it turned out, the experience of worshiping at St. Mary's was rather different from All Saints.

Besides the obvious reversal of the race ratio, I noticed that the last seven pews at St. Mary's were elevated on risers. My daughter noted the absence of a center aisle and my wife pointed out that there were no kneelers in the pews. The cover of the hymnals was designed with an African feel to it. "Lead Me, Guide Me" is from GIA Publications and had several informative essays about Black Catholic worship.

One of the terms I picked up from the hymnal was "dialogical preaching." During the homily by Deacon Calvin Bailey there were some exclamations of "amen" and the like. The congregation applauded after the sermon, as they did after most of the hymns. The choir swooped and swayed in their robes while they sang "I've Decided to Follow Jesus," "Amazing Grace" and "Let Us Break Bread Together" among others. My wife, who knew that last hymn, found it ironic that they sang "let us break bread together on our knees" in a church with no kneelers.

The congregation remained standing during the parts of the Mass when most American Catholics are kneeling. The sign of peace differed somewhat too as altar servers and congregants left their places to walk around the church and embrace their friends and loved ones. The readings and prayers were right out of the Roman Missal. No liberties were taken, which I've heard may happen at some other parishes in the Diocese of Richmond.

After Mass, a parishioner who introduced herself as Carol Swank approached us. Being white and all it was fairly apparent that we were visitors. She told us a little about the history of the building and took us to three areas of interest. From the choir loft we got a good view of the whole sanctuary and saw the area where African Americans had to sit in the 19th century. The old pre-Vatican 2 altar was turned 180° and moved forward, creating a space for a Blessed Sacrament chapel. Two pieces of the old marble altar rail were saved from the trash pile and placed there also.

The most interesting thing Carol showed us was something the hotel bellman had also suggested I see. The first church that stood on the adjacent plot of land was torched in 1856 possibly as a hate crime against Black Catholics. Only one thing was pulled from the flames of the burning building: a huge, hand-carved wooden crucifix. Next to it is a framed news article from the Virginian-Pilot telling the story of the crucifix.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009


The miracle of feeding the multitude was on my mind at All Saints Catholic Church this morning. In August, the Diocese of Knoxville put four loaves priests in the parish but now seems to be taking seven or eight out to serve thousands.

Few parishes are blessed with four priests to cover four weekend Masses. Since the beginning of August, the All Saints staff has been covering the Saturday evening mass in hell and back Helenwood. A few weeks ago, Fr. Ragan Schriver was sent to Seymour to cover their weekend Masses for three months. This weekend, Fr. Antonio Giraldo was sent to fill in for a sick priest in Greeneville. Deacon Tim Elliott is also sick, possibly with the dreaded flu. Fr. Michael Woods announced that All Saints has temporarily discontinued the Sign of Peace. Parishes all over the country have been doing even more than that.

Fr. Michael celebrated his third anniversary at All Saints today. Later this week, he will accomplish a goal he has been working on for a while when the parish adds a Spanish Mass on Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. Coincidentally, that's the same day as the Hola Festival downtown. Fr. Antonio won't be the only celebrant of la Misa en Español. He and Fr. Michael will share the duty, which gives the pastor an opportunity to speak directly to his new flock and to sneak in some English words.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

add Jesus as a friend?

Going to church this morning brought to mind three things, much like one of Fr. Ragan Schriver's homilies. In fact, one of his three things is one of my three things. In today's homily, Fr. Ragan told of some Mormon missionaries who once attended a weekday Mass at All Saints Church. Afterwards, they wanted to talk to him about their faith. He realized they were trying to convert him and joked that there might be bonus points for bringing a Catholic priest into the Mormon fold. Fr. Ragan said he admired that they were proud of their faith and that they dared to be counter-cultural.

My wife and I were reminded of the homily we heard last weekend in St. Louis. Fr. Gary Braun asked the question, "do you identify as Catholic on Facebook?" Somehow Fr. Gary was ahead of the curve. Today's Washington Post has an article called "Soul Searching on Facebook." It also ponders how Facebook users reply to the question about their religious views. Rather than choose the more common "Christian - Catholic" option on Facebook, both my wife and I typed in the more specific "Roman Catholic." There are 22 Eastern Catholic Churches In addition to the Roman (Western) Church.

One of the Eastern churches is the Byzantine Catholic Church. Coincidentally, this morning my wife and I went to Mass in a church where local Byzantine Catholics used to meet. The members of the Holy Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Mission now meet at the Chancery in Knoxville. Previously they worshiped at Holy Family Catholic Church in Seymour. Fr. Ragan Schriver has been temporarily assigned to Holy Family while their pastor is recuperating at Cornerstone of Recovery.

The quaint church was visible from a scenic street called Overlook Drive. Once inside, we immediately noticed two Byzantine icons on either side of the altar. Below the images of Jesus, Mary, St. John and St. Nicholas were bins filled with sand. Someone had traced a Russian cross into the sand of each box.

After Mass, I spotted Fr. Ragan's three things still on the ambo. A parishioner introduced herself and suggested that I also visit the "jail room" as she called it. Just off the small narthex was a room with an iron gate that resembled the door to a jail cell. Inside was the unusual confessional and two shelves holding several more Byzantine items, including two expensive wedding crowns.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

a matter of life and death

Capital punishment has been the main topic of discussion in Knoxville recently. The first of the trials of the accused killers of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom concluded today. The disgusting, horrific crimes have grabbed the attention of East Tennesseeans to such a degree that jurors had to be selected from the Nashville area. Letalvis Cobbins was eligible for the death penalty after being convicted of first degree murder. The jury sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Social networks are buzzing with news updates and opinions on the trial. I couldn't help but notice that many of my Facebook friends were very vocal about their desire to see Cobbins sentenced to death. On more mundane political issues, I usually agree with their views. However I was moved to post the following status update: "My unpopular opinion: glad for the guilty verdicts for Cobbins but still opposed to the death penalty. My FB friends want an execution."

I found out that not all my Facebook friends support capital punishment. While the jury was deliberating the sentence, I received several great comments from both points of view that are worth reading now and re-reading as each of the other defendants face their juries. I will refer to the author of each comment by first initial only. However if any of them contact me and ask that their names be used, I will happily revise the post to identify them.
A: The death penalty is not something to be taken lightly. I don't side with you on this one (well, glad for the guilty verdicts), but I can respect anyone with a different opinion on an execution. That's a touchy subject.

R: The government can't manage to run a car buy back program effectively. Why on earth should we trust them with the power of life and death?

N: The Government does not have the "power" to execute this trash, the jury and judge do. And they are us.
Frank, look at it from another angle, with children and good people going hungry, why waste the thousands upon thousands of dollars, housing this animal? Compassion is not "babysitting" this animal for the next 50 to 60 years, it is taking that needed energy and money and helping victims of them.

J: If a person commits a crime and is caught and convicted they forfeit their liberty. If the crime is truly horrific they forfeit their life. The state may be the instrument of their death but the responsibility lies with the perpetrator of the crime. That's how I see it and I think this crime certainly qualifies for the death penalty.

S: Count me among the FB friends that do NOT want an execution. Do you have a link for the back story on Cobbins? I don't know the case.

Frank: The details of this horrific case will turn your stomach.

R: Do judges and juries get things wrong? Do prosecutors engage in misconduct? Are cases pushed or dropped for political reasons? If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes," then our criminal justice system does not perform to the standard required to allow it to take a life.

N: No, the judge and jury did not get THIS case wrong!

T: Well, the problem with your argument is that it costs far more to exhaust the appeals process than to simply house a convict. Also, it's disingenuous to not recognize the jury and the judge are merely arms of the state.
The US Constitution, however, clearly contemplates the death the penalty ("no person shall be deprived of life ...."). Of course, the US Constitution is a floor, not a ceiling, so each state can decide the issue. Still, the death penalty is an ancient and barbaric practice that provides no deterrence and should be abolished.

S: No offense to N, I don't know you.... But one of the fundamental flaws with humanity is the ability to allow a desire for revenge to cloud judgment. If you didn't sit on the jury and hear all of the evidence in the case, you are making an opinion based judgment rather than a fact based judgment. While he hasn't stated such as yet, I would guess that Frank's opposition to the DP is that only God can truly judge the actions of man. Only God has all the facts and only God can claim the right to judge who should live or die.

R: I supported the death penalty for a long time. I reasoned that if I'm willing to take a life in order to defend my own, then the state should be allowed to do the same, take a life to defend the group.
Then I realized that was a flawed comparison. For example, I have the right to use lethal force to defend myself when attacked, or to defend another who is being attacked. I don't have the right to kill somebody because they attacked me yesterday, or might attack somebody tomorrow. And if I don't have the right, then why should I give it to the state?
Particularly when the state has not demonstrated the level of competence required to handle such an imposing responsibility.

N: Disingenuous? Lets read the rest of the sentence together. "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of the law". Also, Sometimes the appeals process is used to stop justice from being completed.
S, I am sorry that you think justice is revenge. I assume that like me you are not on this jury, correct? Then your opinion is also not a fact based judgment? That is why it is called a discussion. God? God did not take Channon's life, this man did.
I am not arrogant enough to suggest what Frank believes, I merely suggested another view. Frank is a good friend and I will stand by him.
What is breaking my heart is that there is more disdain for me in my beliefs than the monster that committed this unparalleled crime.
I must now go back to work so I can help feed this trash for the next 20 to 60 years, so I will be unable and unwilling to comment any further, so say what you will.

AB: The only reason I oppose the death penalty is because we cannot guarantee that no innocent life will be lost. As soon as one innocent person is killed, the whole system has/is failed.

S: I didn't say that justice was revenge. I said that the desire for revenge can cloud judgment (clear reasoning). I also didn't make a statement about the outcome of the case, you did. My point was that people who aren't involved intimately with the case don't have enough information to say if the defendant is guilty or innocent. Your statement that the jury didn't make a mistake was an overstatement because you didn't have the same information as they did.
As for Frank, I was merely extrapolating on his previously expressed Catholicism. I would never say that I spoke on his behalf. I was just pointing out that for some people (like PERHAPS Frank) this is a religious issue and should be respected as such.

T: The purpose of the appeals process is to, hopefully, ensure that the law, including procedural issues, is followed and applied correctly. You either agree to adhere to our civil liberties or you don't. I'm unclear why your being pissy with me. While I disagree with the death penalty, clearly, the US Constitution contemplates that someone can be put to death. What you were being disingenuous about was saying the "government can't put someone to death." Of course, the government -- more appropriately the State -- can put someone to death. The Constitution says so.

L: With the exception of self-defense or defense of another, it is not the province of man to mete out decisions of life or death. That said, I think those that perpetrated the horrific torture on those two kids deserve to have the same treatment done to them. But it is not our place to make it so.

Frank: I appreciate and respect all your comments, on both sides of the issue. Obviously my Catholicism is a big factor in my opposition to the death penalty. To me, capital punishment is the Old Testament way of thinking.
However, I used to feel differently. It changed when Ted Bundy was executed. I got a sick feeling in my stomach and realized that his death would do nothing to bring back the victims he killed.
The arguments about the cost of death row legal appeals and the possibility of executing even one innocent man are powerful to me. Ultimately I think killing is wrong, whether done by a criminal or by the government or by a doctor.

AB: The Catholic Church does not consider the death penalty to be intrinsically evil, nor limited to any particular era or dispensation. However, it does not support the death penalty in a society that has other means to effectively suppress the offender. So according to the Church, it isn't a proper option in the vast majority of cases, if not all cases, in the western world.

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