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“A Patron Saint For Handguns?”: The Lizard Incident That Produced Wayne LaPierre And The NRA

When a new pope gets elected later this month, one of the many decisions he will face is whether to grant official recognition to anoint a Patron Saint of Handgunners.

The candidate is Saint Gabriel Possenti, a 19th century Italian monk who allegedly saved a village from bandits with a handgun before dying of tuberculosis at 23.

The St. Gabriel Possenti Society established itself over 20 years ago with the sole purpose of getting Possenti recognized as handgun enthusiasts’ official saint, agitating and campaigning on his behalf. The 501(c)3 charity group, whose seal includes a drawing of Possenti and a revolver, encourages members to lobby local clergymen, write letters to Vatican officials, and “obtain numerous Gun Saint tokens and deposit them in church collection baskets of your denomination.”

According to the group, Saint Gabriel Possenti saved the villagers of Isola del Gran Sasso from a marauding gang of 20 renegade soldiers by demonstrating his marksmanship with a revolver in 1860. When the gangsters (whom the group notes were also “would-be rapists”) descended on the town, Possenti fired at a lizard in the road and killed it with a single shot.

The bandits, terrified by his excellent shot, fled the town and the day was saved. “St. Gabriel Possenti performed this feat of courage without causing physical harm to a single human being,” they note.

The legend, however, may be little more than that, as some allege the gun incident never occurred. One website dedicated to the saint notes that the tale only appears in one of the four biographies on Possenti, and that the author of the relevant one, Rev. Godfrey Poage, acknowledged that “some of the accounts in his book were invented to ‘enliven’ the story.” Furthermore, Possenti died only two years later and thus would likely have been in late stages of tuberculosis, the critics note, and thus in no shape to fight off 20 armed gangsters.

In a statement sent today marking the upcoming feast day of the saint, Society Chairman John Snyder acknowledged the historical dispute and defended the “lizard incident.”

“The Poage account of the lizard incident remained non-controversial for over a quarter of a century. It wasn’t until I began promoting St. Gabriel Possenti as a Patron of Handgunners in the late 1980s that anti-gun bigots began a belated attempt to attack the account of the lizard incident. It seems they are more concerned with being politically correct than historically accurate,” Snyder said.

Snyder wrote a whole book about the incident, “Gun Saint,” which features an illustration of the young Saint Gabriel Possenti firing a gun as bearded gangsters flee in all directions.

The group even claims biblical passages support the use of guns for self-defense. You can read about them in a printed monograph, which the Society will send to you for a reasonable contribution of $10.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, February 21, 2013

February 22, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How The Vatican Almost Embraced Birth Control

Since 1870, when the Roman Catholic Church formally pronounced popes infallible, a lot of Vatican energy has gone into claiming that doctrine never changes—that the church has been maintaining the same positions since the time of Jesus. Of course, historians know better: Dozens of church conferences, synods, and councils have regularly revised the teachings, all the while claiming utter consistency. Thus, when the advent of the birth control pill in the early ’60s coincided with a major push for church modernization, there was widespread hope among Catholics that the reform-minded Pope John XXIII would lift the church’s ban on contraception. After all, the Second Vatican Council had explicitly called for greater integration of scientific knowledge into church teaching.

John did establish a small commission for the Study of Problems of Population, Family, and Birth, which his successor, Paul VI, expanded to 58 members. Its job was to study whether the pill and issues such as population growth should lead to a change in the church’s prohibition on all forms of contraception (other than abstinence during periods of fertility—the “rhythm method”). The commission was led by bishops and cardinals, including a Polish bishop named Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II. (The Polish government did not allow Wojtyla to attend meetings.) They were assisted by scientists, theologians—including Protestants, whose church had ended its own opposition to contraception three decades earlier—and even several lay couples. One of them, Patty and Patrick Crowley from Chicago, carried letters and stories from Catholic women worn out by multiple pregnancies, medical problems, and the financial burdens of raising large families. The commission deliberated for two years, amid much anticipation from the faithful.

The Vatican’s position on birth control has long held something of a paradox: Catholics are encouraged to plan their families, to bear only the number of children they can afford, and to consider the impact of family size on a community and the planet. In recent years, under Pope Benedict XVI, the church has also made a major push to embrace environmental stewardship. Yet Catholicism has also been the most intransigent of the world’s religions on the subject of contraception, alone in denying its use even to married couples.

This may have made some theological sense in the first century of Christianity, when Jesus’ followers believed he would return in their lifetime: Their mission was to prepare for the Second Coming by devoting themselves to the worship of God. Sex, they believed, was a distraction. The good life was best lived in celibacy—even in marriage. When the wait for the Second Coming evaporated, the belief that sex for its own sake was sinful did not, and abstinence remained the ideal.

Yet by the first half of the 20th century, change seemed to be in the air. In 1930, Pius XII issued the encyclical (papal letter) Casti Connubii (“on chaste wedlock”), which acknowledged that couples could seek pleasure in their sexual relations, so long as the act was still linked to procreation. Then, in 1966, Paul VI’s birth control commission presented its preliminary report to the pope. It held big news: The body had overwhelmingly voted to recommend lifting the prohibition on contraceptives. (The former Archbishop of Brussels, Cardinal Leo Suenens, went so far as to say the church needed to confront reality and avoid another “Galileo case.”)

Catholics rejoiced, and many began using the pill at once. But their hopes were dashed when, in July 1968, Paul VI released an encyclical titled Humanae Vitae (“on human life”), reaffirming the contraceptive ban. It turned out that three dissenting bishops on the commission had privately gone to plead with the pope: If the position on contraceptives was changed, they said, the teaching authority of the church would be questioned—the faithful could no longer trust the hierarchy.

Ironically, it was the prohibition on contraception that would help erode the church’s power with European and American Catholics. Laypeople overwhelmingly disregarded it, and bishops throughout Europe undermined it with statements reassuring couples to “follow their consciences.” American bishops were more circumspect, but a survey of Catholic priests in the early ’70s showed that about 60 percent of them believed the prohibition was wrong. Father Andrew Greeley, a noted sociologist, traces the decline in church membership and even vocations to the priesthood in the mid-1970s to Catholics’ disillusionment with the church’s integrity on birth control.

The church then turned its attention to Africa and Latin America—where bishops were more dependent on the Vatican for support, and Catholics, it was thought, were more traditional in their views of marriage and sexuality. The Vatican was able to keep the flock wary of modern birth control in part by linking it to colonialism: The West, the argument went, wanted to control poor people and reduce their numbers, instead of addressing the causes of their poverty.

A Congressional Research Service report on the 1994 United Nations population conference in Cairo recounts the church’s decades-long fight against population and family planning aid: “The Vatican…has sought support for its views from the developing world by accusing the West of ‘biological colonialism’ in promoting family planning programs and has sought allies in the fundamentalist Islamic nations of Libya and Iran.” (In this endeavor, it had the support of the Reagan and Bush administrations, which battled global family planning efforts seen as Trojan horses for abortion rights.)

The birth control-equals-colonialism argument was undercut, however, at the 1994 conference, when the UN for the first time framed the right to reproductive health as a human right. The shift was unwelcome news inside the Vatican­—where the conservative Pope John Paul II had begun to dismantle some of the reforms of the ’60s—and it hardened the church’s resolve. Suddenly, opposition to contraception became almost as high a priority as battling abortion. At the UN, the Holy See announced that if family planning were designated as a part of primary health care—a designation that would define the terms of international aid for churches and NGOs.

Even US bishops, who had pretty much ignored contraception for 20 years, began a fresh effort to persuade American Catholics. A new “theology of the body” postulated that eschewing artificial contraceptives could foster deeper, more spiritual relationships, even—in a bit of Goddess-speak—put women in touch with nature. But few Catholics bought into the new rhetoric; it is estimated that pill use among American Catholic women is slightly higher than in the US population at large.

What will it take to get past this paradox? In my view, nothing short of a change in the rules that prohibit priests from marrying. It is no accident that the religions most in favor of contraception—such as Anglicanism—are those that have long allowed their clergy to marry. The Catholic Church had married priests for its first 1,000 years, until it became difficult to support their wives and children (and to determine which property belonged to the church and which to the family).

The vehemence with which today’s church defends the ban on contraception—Benedict XVI has shown no sign of departing from his predecessor’s position on the issue—is the same with which it refuses to consider a change to the celibacy principle. No pope understood this better than John Paul II, who reserved his harshest condemnation for priests who defied the marriage ban. He knew that if the church’s leaders had families to provide for, the ban on contraception wouldn’t have a prayer.

This story originally ran under the headline “Close Your Eyes and Think of Rome: How close did the Vatican come to embracing birth control?”


By: Frances Kissling, Mother Jones, February 10, 2012

February 11, 2012 Posted by | Birth Control | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does Michele Bachmann Have A ‘Reverend Wright’ Problem?

Joshua Green of The Atlantic is reporting that Rep. Michelle Bachmann has long belonged to a church that, well, has some odd views about the Catholic Church:

Michele Bachmann is practically synonymous with political controversy, and if the 2008 presidential election is any guide, the conservative Lutheran church she belonged to for many years is likely to add another chapter due to the nature of its beliefs–such as its assertion, explained and footnoted on this website, that the Roman Catholic Pope is the Antichrist.

The short, obvious response to the idea that this might hurt Bachmann’s presidential aspirations is, in a few words, “Reverend Jeremiah Wright.”

After all, President Barack Obama’s ties to Reverend Wright and his church didn’t hurt his presidential campaign nearly as much as expected — as he went on to win. Even in 2008, the idea that Obama was a covert black radical hiding behind a moderate liberal façade seemed far fetched. There was little connection between Wright’s views and Obama’s actual policy agenda.

This could, however, create problems for Bachmann. After all, unlike Obama, Bachmann has placed her religious views front and center in the campaign, most recently by signing onto a “pledge” issued by a group of social conservatives in Iowa affirming a number of paternalistic policy positions. In signing the pledge, Bachmann was promising to fight marriage equality, pornography, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and even the presence of women in the Armed Forces. Bachmann’s religious views, unlike Obama’s, are easily connectable to a definable policy agenda. So her religious views will be far more relevant than Obama’s — and many of the policy positions she’s adopted as a result aren’t likely to be popular outside of the GOP base.

George W. Bush frequently credited Karl Rove’s outreach to Catholics as key to his ascension to the White House. Has Bachmann — who left her former church last year and disavowed its views on Catholicism — damaged herself with this key segment of the electorate? That’s anybody’s guess. But generally speaking, some of her religiously informed political views will be a major liability among the broader electorate, should she win the nomination, and may even discourage Republicans who want to win the White House from voting for her. The more stories like this one expose the extent to which some of Bachmann’s religious views smack of bigotry, the worse her chances will get.

By: Adam Serwer, The Washington Post, July 14, 2011

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Bigotry, Catholic Church, Conservatives, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Iowa Caucuses, Populism, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Swing Voters, Teaparty, Voters, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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