80th Birthday Reflections Part 6: Political Order

Just in case readers might have forgotten: my project in this series of reflections on the occasion of my 80th birthday is to illustrate Richard Rohr’s observation about human growth in terms of the “three boxes” into which, he says, everyone’s personal growth trajectory more or less fits. According to Rohr, if we’re lucky, the first part of life is characterized by order, the second by disorder, and the third by reorder. In those terms, I’ve been very lucky.

I’ve tried to illustrate that luck in previous entries in this series. There I briefly described how I mostly benefitted from a highly ordered life starting in a very Catholic household with loving parents. Those years included nine years of education in St. Viator’s Catholic school on Chicago’s northwest side. Then, I shipped off at the age of 14 for a monk-like, highly regulated existence in a seminary preparing teenagers for a life of celibacy and service to God. In St. Columban’s minor seminary in Silver Creek, New York, we were already being shaped to convert what we understood as pagans in foreign missions like Korea, the Philippines, Burma, and Japan. 

So far, my story has taken me from my family home in Chicago and subsequently in Warrenville, Illinois to that seminary in Silver Creek. From there I attended a corresponding college seminary in Milton, Massachusetts. I then completed a novitiate-like “spiritual year” in Bristol, Rhode Island. That was followed by four years of “graduate” scripture and theological studies back in Milton. Then finally, following my ordination in 1966, I completed my formal education with five years of doctoral studies in Rome, Italy. By then, I was 32 years old.

When I left my story off, I was in the middle of telling about those halcyon years in Rome.

My hope is that sharing such reflections might help me better understand my own journey as I enter my ninth decade. In the process, it would be wonderful if readers would also be stimulated to similarly examine their own transitions from order to disorder and hopefully to the ongoing process of reorder.

In any case, I want this particular blog entry to help me (and anyone mildly interested) better understand my own political development. Recounting its story will stretch me far beyond Rome to most of western Europe. It will then take me to more than 40 years of teaching (and learning!) at Berea College in rural Appalachia. Sabbaticals and other travel opportunities sponsored by Berea ended up peppering my journey with subsequent long stopovers in Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, India and Cuba. At each of those stops, I learned political lessons that have informed and shaped my life. I’ve been lucky indeed.

But let me begin at the beginning.

My parents were basically apolitical. As a truck driver, my father was a Teamster Union member, but he never betrayed any corresponding political consciousness. (I just remember that he didn’t like paying union dues.) My mother sometimes spoke of her preference to “vote for the man, not the party.” Together, both mom and dad claimed to be Independents rather than Democrats or Republicans. However, their leanings were clearly towards the GOP.

Apart from that, my first recollection of a significant political thought came when I was a freshman in the high school seminary (1954-’55). We were off at some sort of day of recollection at a nearby rival seminary. And older priest (I’ll bet he was about 50!) was onstage giving a keynote address. In its course, the old man remarked for some reason that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (a decade earlier) amounted to the most heinous crime in human history.

I was completely shocked. At the time the McCarthy hearings were in full swing. Anti-communism was in the air. I wondered, “Why would a priest say something so unamerican? Was he perhaps a communist? Surely no priest could be a communist.”

My question was framed like that because at the time, anti-communism was in the very air all Americans breathed. After every Mass, we all offered specially mandated extra prayers “for the conversion of Russia.”

The sentiment invaded our minor seminary with a vengeance. The Columban Fathers had just been expelled from China by the 1949 Communist revolution. So “Old China Hands” returning from “fields afar” addressed us frequently about their experiences with such evil incarnate. They told us that the communists hated the Virgin Mary and her rosary. That was enough for any of us. Nothing could be eviler than that.

I remember that during one study hall on May 2, 1957, one of my most admired teachers who was monitoring the session came by my desk and whispered, “A great man died today.” He was referring to Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Politically speaking, that was the world I grew up in. I had no idea what communism was other than an anti-God, anti-Mary worldwide conspiracy by absolutely evil people.

Again, cut off as we were from the news and unexposed to any historical information other than that conveyed in standard (boring) history books, no wonder my political formation was so narrow. Everyone’s was.

It was also no wonder that when I cast my first ballot for U.S. president (1964), I voted for Barry Goldwater. I did so not only because of strict “American” indoctrination, but also because I greatly admired my mother’s brother, my uncle Ben. Of all my relatives, I thought he had the most respectable job. He worked in some capacity at Chicago’s First National Bank; he went to work in suit and tie each day. [Everyone on my father’s side of the family were laborers – brick layers, bartenders, plumbers and general construction workers. One of them was a bookie. (I remember him showing us one day his basement with a whole array of phones connected with his work.)]

So, in my desire to be more informed and sophisticated politically – more like Uncle Ben – I had long conversations with him about issues of the day. He steered me towards the Republicans and criticism of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War resistance.

For instance, in 1967, when Martin Luther King voiced his searing criticism of U.S. aggression in southeast Asia, I thought, “It might be well and good for him to speak about civil rights for blacks, but now he’s gone too far. What does he know about foreign policy and Vietnam?”

That was the state of my political consciousness when I went off to Rome at the age of 27.

And that’s precisely when political disorder set in to complement the theological disorder I’ve already described.  

(Next time: the particulars of political disorder)

80th Birthday Reflections Part 5: The Priesthood & Disordered Celibacy

My first year in Rome, James Kavanaugh wrote a national best seller called A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church. It was a general critique of the Catholic hierarchy for not going far enough with the Vatican II reforms. For Kavanaugh, the church was still too priest and hierarchy centered. It needed more democracy. 

However, what most of us remember about A Modern Priest was its rejection of celibacy as a prerequisite for ordination. The book sparked many discussions at the dinner and supper table where our community of 12-15 young priests took our meals each noon and evening.

There, debates about scripture, theology, politics were the liveliest and best-informed that I’ve ever experienced. And I took part with great enthusiasm. My studies at the Anselmo were radicalizing me. They took me beyond post-Vatican II positions I had previously never dreamed of regarding church reform, the inspiration of the Bible, Jesus’ divinity, Mary’s virginity, the Reformation, papal infallibility, the priesthood itself, and, of course, celibacy.

Reluctant Celibates   

Intense debates about that latter issue were influenced not only by Kavanaugh, but by the more general sexual revolution that was a central part of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The contraceptive pill had been introduced in 1960. And with the fear of unintended pregnancy largely shelved, sexual freedom became the watchword of the day. Priests were not immune from any of that.

Previously, I mentioned earlier my own concerns about “reluctant celibacy.” Every priest I knew shared them. In fact, as I traveled (on motor scooter) and worked with priests in Austria, Germany, France, Spain, England, Ireland, Scotland, Belgium, Poland and elsewhere during my summers in Europe, I couldn’t help but notice that some priests had openly set aside their reluctance. For all practical purposes, they had become married priests. (Later, in Brazil, Costa Rica and elsewhere in Latin America, Africa and India I came across evidence of the same phenomenon.)

That was one aspect of the priesthood and the sexual revolution; priests were voting with their feet against mandatory celibacy; mostly informally some were getting married. Another aspect was that priests in general were leaving in droves in order to marry; they were seeking Vatican dispensations from their vows – including 3/4 of those who had entered the high school seminary with me back in 1954. In fact, thousands upon thousands of priests worldwide were abandoning their vocations.

In between those two categories were priests I knew who had girlfriends – something totally unheard of in the church I had grown up in. There, particular female companionship was absolutely forbidden. Even more, it was entirely scandalous for ordained men to seek dispensation from their vows. And no one (at least in the U.S. church) would live openly with a female partner. At least, that was the church I knew.

The Big Ed Factor

The girlfriend phenomenon showed up with a vengeance on Corso Trieste with the arrival of a character called “Big Ed.” He was a bullshitter; there’s no other way of saying it. And he changed the atmosphere in our house. Not that he lived there, but he was greatly admired by a whole clique of my friends who did.

Big Ed claimed he was a priest. But I’m not sure about that. That’s because (as I said) he was an inveterate liar. His shtick was to tell the girls that he was Tom McNeely, the 1960s heavyweight prizefighter whom he apparently resembled. (He’d tell them that as he mixed, shared and downed pitchers of boilermakers.) I suspect the ruse worked with many women. But who knows if he was telling the truth about being a priest?

What I do know is that his shtick worked with that clique I mentioned. Not that they believed him about being McNeely. But they all thought he was very cool. And they certainly admired his savoir faire with the women. For a while there, it seemed that they went out clubbing with him almost every night. All of a sudden, every conversation the next morning at breakfast was about Big Ed this and Big Ed that. Suddenly the man was a legend; he could do no wrong.

I bring him up because Big Ed epitomized the changes I’m describing here around the issue of priestly celibacy. As the years lengthened following Vatican II, we all found ourselves loosening up in relation to the restrictions that were so much a part of our seminary lives. We were drinking more, clubbing more, and interacting more with women. Eventually, I was no exception – except in my doubts, suspicions, and reservations about Big Ed. Even according to my own more relaxed standards, he seemed over the top.

My Own Crisis

Yes, eventually, I succumbed – or rather, I would say I finally appropriated my own sexual identity and acceptance of close female friends. I made the decision to do so at the age of 30. I won’t go into detail about the resulting discoveries, relationships and repercussions – things that all of us have gone through, but at ages much earlier than 30.

Before any of that, my own decision was hastened by those lively discussions mentioned earlier. I mean my growing “radicalism” had not passed unnoticed by the rector of our house on Corso Trieste. So, one morning just before my 30th birthday, he said he wanted a word with me. I remember our walking together in our residence garden ‘round and ‘round the house in deep discussion.

The rector informed me that he had written a letter about me to the Columban Superior General. Because of what he heard me saying at table, the rector had identified me to our Society’s leadership as “dangerous” and unfit to teach in the seminary after the attainment of my doctoral degree. Moreover, the rector said, he was disturbed by the fact that some young females from a high school on our street had been seeking me out for spiritual guidance. He thought that was inappropriate and suspect.

I was completely shocked. First of all, I was amazed that the letter had been written before discussing it with me. But secondly, there was absolutely nothing inappropriate about those meetings with the girls in question. I was actually proud that my Italian was good enough to do something “pastoral” other than simply offering Mass at local churches and convents. (At this point, I was involved in an alternative, lay-led church connected with the high school. In the middle of each week, its members met to discuss and prepare the following Sunday’s liturgy. It was extremely inspiring). Thirdly, I knew that unlike others in our community, I was studiously avoiding relationships I still considered ill advised.

Processing It All

I remember subsequently writing such reflections in my diary. They drove me to think more deeply not only about celibacy, but about decision-making in the religious group I had joined and generally in the church. The celibacy obligation, I knew hadn’t been imposed on priests till about the 12th century. And it had largely originated from the desire on the part of church officials to protect ecclesiastical property from inheritance by the offspring of priests.

I now allowed myself to recognize that such avaricious motivation had created an entirely patriarchal, basically misogynist and hypocritical subculture. It inflicted guilt on young people for following the dictates of the second most powerful human drive (after self-preservation) viz. their sexual instinct (or as Darwin might put it, propagation of the species). The church did that in general. Practically speaking, it reduced faith to obsession with sex. It had in the process put unbearable burdens on unsuspecting young boys like me at the age of 14. In retrospect, all of that seemed like an unwitting form of abusing children too young to give informed consent. And then by the time age of consent was achieved, we were all too indoctrinated (not to say brainwashed) to escape.

With all of that more or less unconsciously in mind, the priests I was increasingly encountering were exercising what theologians called the “sensus fidelium” about celibacy. (Something similar had happened more widely regarding contraception and divorce.) As I was coming to understand it, that theologically recognized “sense of the faithful” referred to near unanimous agreement on the part of lay believers about a matter of faith or morals regardless of what the hierarchy might say. That implicit unanimity, I saw, had already been achieved among priests across the Catholic Church; they no longer believed in celibacy. Among other Christians, that consensus had long since been reached following the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Regardless of what the hierarchy might say, the people had spoken. In short, I concluded that celibacy was no longer a priestly obligation.


As I write these words, I’m not even sure I should be sharing their revelations. It would be very easy for readers to get the wrong idea judging harshly the young priests I’ve described (including myself) as hypocrites cynically unfaithful to a vow we had freely taken. It would be very easy to be shocked, repelled and (for Catholics) to feel somehow misled and even betrayed.

In retrospect however, I see it quite differently. As I knew them, the men in question had in no way abandoned their faith. They remained very good priests – compassionate, understanding, idealistic and kind. We were simply products of our time characterized by a sexual revolution that touched everyone.

Even more (as the great German theologian Karl Rahner put it) the young men in question were not sinners; rather, we had been sinned against. And the offending party was an ecclesiastical institution whose stubborn regulations had laid a nearly unbearable and certainly unnecessary burden on the shoulders of good willed, highly motivated youths who had accepted obligatory celibacy with little notion of its implications outside the seminary’s protective walls. We simply wanted to be priests, not celibates.

I’d go even further. The priests I’m talking about were implicitly or explicitly influenced by the very theological studies I’ve been celebrating here. Following Vatican II those studies affirmed the insights of secular disciplines such as history, sociology and psychology. Freud, Jung, and their successors had shown that the celibate decision involved much more than just saying no. And yet, no one was there to help priests figure out what that “more” entailed. In other words, many of us had moved from Rohr’s first “order” box into inevitable “disorder” around our celibacy. It would take most of us a long time and many errors before we could get to “reorder.”

(Next time: Political disorder)  

80th Birthday Reflections Part 4: Almost Famous – Sports & Music in Rome

Giulio Glorioso, Italian baseball’s Babe Ruth who offered me and a friend baseball contracts

Music, eventually acting, public speaking, and especially sports all came to play important roles throughout my life. All except acting became prominent for me in Rome too. Here, I’ll describe the forms they took once I escaped the seminary hothouse. All of them – music, public speaking and sports – contributed to my “disorder box” in a life and self-understanding that was changing and opening up to a world much wider, more complex, and far more interesting than the one I had known up until ordination.


Like most teenagers in the 1950s, I paid close attention to the Top Forty there at the beginnings of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I loved Bill Haley, Connie Francis, Elvis Presley, Patti Page, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jo Stafford, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and all of that crowd. Each week in the high school seminary, we all eagerly awaited clippings from home declaring the order of the day’s most popular songs.  

Then, in the ‘60s and ‘70s I fully embraced folk music stars like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. When hootenannies were popular on TV and in everyone’s living room, I took up the guitar.

I recall my first public coming-out with the guitar. It was at a St. Columban’s Day celebration in the major seminary in November of 1966. I had only been playing for maybe six months. Yet, I actually had the gall to get on stage and “sing” Woody Guthrie’s “Talkin’ Guitar Blues.” It turned out to be a huge hit and thereafter, any time a guitar was passed around a group, I was asked to perform that song. It was fun to do.

Along those lines, one of the most delightful features of my years in Rome were the frequent dinner parties held in our house. They always ended with a songfest. Such special occasions were frequent since our house rector was the Roman liaison between the Society of St. Columban and the Vatican. So, we often had international dignitaries and associated friends and acquaintances over for elaborate dinners (including interesting women). Archbishops, bishops, and government officials were frequent guests. All of these occasions ended up in our community room where we’d retire for cognac and cigars, and where we residents (and some guests) would perform our party pieces – like “Talkin’ Guitar Blues.” My first taste of cognac actually took my breath away. But I quickly got used to that.


Late in my seminary career, I also discovered acting. My first role probably came during my second year of theology studies – i.e. two years after we all got our bachelor’s in philosophy. I guess I was 24 at the time. Mine was a bit part as “old Jim” in “The Boys in 509.” It was a comedy that originally was “The Girls in 509.” But the title and content were adjusted for obvious reasons. (Though in previous productions, some in the seminary proved to be quite good and comically convincing with their female impersonations. Eventually however, for some unexplained reason, such quasi-trans roles were discontinued.)

In any case, success as old Jim led the next year to a prominent role in Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” There I played Detective Sergeant Trotter, the character who actually done the dastardly deed in Christie’s famous who-done-it.

The following year, I had the lead role in “Brother Orchid.” Everything was going swimmingly until the final scene, when I was to take a drink before uttering a final crucial line. The water went down the wrong pipe and I virtually lost my voice. I ended up talking in a whisper that no one could hear. I was so totally embarrassed by the fiasco that I skipped the after-party celebration. That was not a good decision. . .

Luckily, acting and theater (other than attending movies and plays) weren’t part of my life in Rome.

Public Speaking

Late in my seminary career, I came to realize that I was an effective public speaker. That was important in Rome, where we were expected to preach – in Italian.

Like most people, I had always hated the thought of addressing a crowd. In fact, my earliest memory of trying to do so (in grammar school) was that I’d get laughing fits that just wouldn’t quit. It happened every time.   

I got over that in the high school seminary, where we took various courses in public discourse and had to deliver occasional papers before our “Literary, Scientific and Debating Society” and at “Catholic Students’ Mission Crusade” meetings.  By the time we got to the major seminary, those courses became “homiletics” – how to preach. However, I was never very good at any of it. It was the usual story – nervousness, awkward gestures, speaking too fast, not preparing thoroughly enough. The complete disaster.

Then came a breakthrough. It occurred after I had a pretty severe accident skiing at the Blue Hills Ski Area near the major seminary in Milton. I had taken a fall there that nearly broke my leg. Well, the next time my speaking turn came up in class, I told the story in a way that had everyone laughing. I described coming down the hill absolutely out of control, dodging other skiers and snow-making machines, and finally falling disastrously and limping home. For some reason, everyone loved it. And there was no stopping me afterwards. Later, I remember someone a couple of years ahead of me calling me a “gallery man” after I gave a paper at some meeting or other.  I guess I was becoming precisely that.

Eventually though, it all led me to work hard at preaching. I never read from a text. Instead, I’d more or less commit to memory what I had written out. Then I reduced the text to very brief notes – just words and phrases – which I held on a small paper in the palm of my hand – in case I got stuck. I would rehearse the talk six times and go from there. In almost every case, the final product would come out much better than my last rehearsal. I always used the same method – even for long and crucial talks like my dissertation defense my final year in Rome. I had learned to preach, to speak in public. That ability stood me in good stead not only in Rome but for more than 40 years while teaching at Berea College. (More about that later.)


As for sports, I’m convinced I never would have made it through the seminary if it weren’t for sports. I loved them and from the beginning was fascinated by baseball, football, basketball, boxing, running, ice hockey, skiing, fishing, and golf. I did them all. Basketball and baseball surfaced as important in Rome as well.

From about the age of 10, boxing was one of my favorite sports. My dad and I watched “the fights” on TV every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Before that, I remember listening to radio broadcasts of fights between Joe Louis and Jersey Joe Walcott.

Personally, I even went so far as to secure an application to participate in Chicago’s “Golden Gloves” competition when I was in 8th grade. My mother went along with it till the last moment. Then she put her foot down. “No, Mike, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said. I got the message. In retrospect, my mother surely knew best. I can just imagine getting knocked silly by some much tougher kid from Chicago’s South Side.

As I mentioned earlier, sports were compulsory in the high school seminary. And I always felt sorry for the ones who weren’t athletically inclined and who often seemed tortured by having to swing a bat or run up and down the basketball court.

It was the opposite for me. (As a high school junior, I was even assigned the drill-sergeant role of calisthenics leader in the seminary gym each morning. “C’mon, you guys,” I’d shout, “quit jackin’ around and do real push-ups – all the way down! C’mon let’s do it!”). I was especially good at basketball and baseball – which, again, you’ll see below served me well in Rome.

That hadn’t always been the case. In seventh grade, I tried out for the St. Viator’s basketball team, but didn’t make it. So that summer, I practiced every day on the Independence Park courts near our home on Chicago’s Northwest side. Our family couldn’t afford to buy me a basketball, so every day I borrowed a volleyball from a neighbor kid and spent afternoons shooting and dribbling with that. It paid off.  

Then the spring before I left for Silver Creek, I discovered the jump shot. In 1954 that was new. Till then, no one shot jumpers. But then I saw it for the first time. It happened during a telecast of the Chicago City Basketball tournament — a game between two South Side high schools, DuSable and Dunbar. I still remember that DuSable had a player called “Sweet Charlie Brown.” He did it all. I decided to learn to shoot like him. Besides his jumper, I liked what we came to call his “Hesi,” i.e. his hesitation layup which involved leaping and maneuvering the ball deceptively to avoid defenders before laying it trickily in the hoop. Then there was Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics and his behind-the-back dribbles. At that time, no one else did that sort of thing. I wanted to do it too. No one as yet was dribbling through their legs.

In any case in Rome, the other Yank in our house, Tom Shea, was a better athlete than me. Tom was a junior my first year in the high school seminary, so I really didn’t get to know him till the summer before our departure for the Holy City. There he was to study Sacred Scripture eventually finishing his work in Jerusalem.

Both Tom and I loved basketball and baseball. And the summer before our departure for Rome, we got to know each other a lot better as a result. The two of us were staying at the major seminary in Milton. I forget what Tom was doing, but I was taking a required course in Hebrew at Harvard.

Each evening after supper, we’d drive over to Boston’s West Roxbury section to play in b-ball pick-up games there. The courts were always crowded with really good African American players. (One night, even the Celtics power forward Satch Sanders showed up. He was exactly Tom’s age.) In those contests, Tom and I would always end up on the same team in what turned out to be take-no-prisoners contests. And we always held our own. We did that the whole summer. Obviously, it was unforgettable for me.

I mention that because the basketball dynamic carried over to Rome. Every year there, Tom and I ended up playing in the city’s developmental league. Our first team was affiliated with Rome’s then professional team (Serie A at that time), Stella Azzurra sponsored by Ramazzotti liqueur.  Sometimes we’d scrimmage against the pros who were really good of course.

Every team in Italian professional basketball was allowed one foreign player. For a time, Bill Pickens filled that role for Stella Azzurra, and Tom and I got to know him pretty well. Bill was 6’9” tall and weighed 275 pounds. He had been drafted by the Atlantic Hawks and had also played pro football for the Kansas City Chiefs.

(Bill drove a Maserati and once told me about chasing down some Italian guy who had cut him off in traffic. Any of us can imagine the terror of the poor man faced with this angry Yankee giant.)

Another U.S. player for Stella Azzurra (I forget his name) was arrested for possession of over a kilo of hashish. I became his “chaplain,” visited him regularly in prison and smuggled letters written on toilet-paper to his girlfriend and others. I often wonder what would have happened to me had I been caught.

The bottom line here is that basketball greatly enriched my stay in Rome. I still remember the team meals together following away games. I recall attending basketball games in Rome’s Palazzetto dello Sport and feeling so welcome because of all the greetings from fans, players, coaches and referees. Great fun.


Then there was our near brush with fame in baseball. Tom was a great pitcher and shortstop. I played left field and had a decent arm. Tom hit with power. I was a singles and doubles guy.

Well, somehow (I’ve forgotten how) we ended up working out regularly with Rome’s Lazio entry in the Italian professional baseball league. We’d chase flyballs with the other players, hit fungoes, and take our turns in the batting cage.

Once in an exhibition game with Tom playing shortstop, I was in left field with a man on third and one out. I fielded a decently hit fly ball and the runner on third tagged up. I threw a perfect on-the-fly strike to cut the runner down. He should have been out by a good bit. But the throw went right through the catcher. He missed it. Really disappointed.

Nevertheless, the two of us impressed somebody. I say that because a few Saturdays later Tom and I got a visit from none other than Giulio Glorioso, the Babe Ruth of Italian baseball.

No kidding. I think Glorioso was managing the Lazio club at the time, and he wanted to know if Tom and I could play with the Rome team that summer. He told us we’d be traveling by train up and down Italy for away games.

Tom and I really didn’t know who Glorioso was at the time. We hemmed and hawed, but in the end said no. Instead, our plan had been to travel that summer to Vienna to study German at the university there. We stuck with that.

Regretfully by doing so, we missed out on that once-in-a-lifetime experience. Had we accepted, I’d still be telling the story. Oh wait, I guess I just did that.

(Next time: Rome and disorder around celibacy)

80th Birthday Reflections Part 3: Roman Disorder

The Anselmo, where I studied my 1st 2 years in Rome

I knew NOTHING about politics when I arrived in Rome. I knew little about the world. I knew even less of women. All of that was about to change.

Understand that in all those spheres, I had been cooped up in the seminary hothouse since I was 14. For years, we had no access to newspapers. And it wasn’t till after Vatican II that we were even allowed to watch TV news each night. As a result, I was very uninformed about a world that I was taught to consider not worth caring about. (After all, we were here on this planet to pass a test and prepare for heaven.)

With the Columbans, the saving grace was that we returned home each year for Christmas and summer vacations. So, the divorce from the world wasn’t complete. My family [my loving mother and faithful father (a commercial truck driver), my brother and two sisters] kept me more or less sane and in touch. The six of us lived in a tiny two-bedroom house that had my sisters sleeping in the same room and my brother and me sleeping on a pull-out couch in the living room. (I’m sure life was easier for them all when I wasn’t taking up so much space.)

During summer vacations, I worked for a couple of years in a gas station learning about cars and mechanics. Then, when I was 18, I took a summer job at a golf course not far from my family home now in Warrenville, Illinois. I worked there on the grounds crew every summer till I was ordained – and even a little bit afterwards.

Working at Arrowhead Golf and Country Club was a delight. Sometimes I could hardly believe that I was getting paid for that kind of labor (cutting grass, laying sod, felling trees, changing cup locations on the greens, working on small engines . . .) in such an idyllic setting. The job also allowed me to play golf for free. That was fun, but despite decent athletic ability, I was never able to master that highly frustrating game. (I continue to work on that.)

As for women. . .  They represented completely forbidden territory. “Custody of the eyes” was the order of the day. However, I do remember being fascinated by one of the girls who worked at Arrowhead’s lunch counter. I made sure to order from her during our grounds crew’s lunch half-hours each noon. I recall that she was also to be present at a year-end party I was invited to. But I decided for that reason not to attend.

With that kind of background, I flew off to Rome in 1967 taking up residence in the Columban house on Corso Trieste 57. Suddenly I found myself in a house with about 15 other young student-priests. They came from Ireland, Great Britain, Scotland, Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand; two of us were from the U.S.

Our house was headed by an Irish Columban rector and his Irish assistant. In residence too was a retired Irish bishop from Vietnam. (Such recollections make me recall that most of my teachers over my 12 seminary years spoke with brogues – quite understandable, since the Society of St. Columban had been founded in Ireland.)

My first impressions of my new community were that its members were much more sophisticated and better-informed in every sphere than I was. These guys were good. Conversations revealed that they even knew more about U.S. history and politics than me.  I found that embarrassing.

So, I started reading – no, I started studying – Time Magazine. I couldn’t wait for each week’s edition. Eventually, I won one of our periodic light-hearted quizzes we all took (and joked about) on current issues.

As for academic life in Rome, I was soon faced with an important decision – which of the Roman theological universities to attend? Ironically, even though seminary education had required four extra years of scriptural and theological study following “graduation” from college (with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy) we had nothing to show for those added four years – no master’s degree, nothing. Instead, I suppose, our degree was ordination itself – something (in the eyes of the church) much more valuable than a mere graduate degree.

In any case, before I could enroll in moral theology courses at the prestigious Academia Alfonsiana, I had to get the equivalent of a master’s degree (a licentiate) in systematic theology. The question was where?

I had two choices. One could get me the degree in one year at a school called the Angelicum. The other option was to study for two years at what I learned was (at that time) the best school in Rome – even better than the gold-standard Gregorian Institute – viz. the Atheneum Anselmianum. I chose the latter, even though in those early Roman days, I wanted to get back to the states as soon as I could. (Little did I know that I’d soon be wanting to extend, rather than shorten my time in Rome. Even my eventual five years there would seem far too short.)

If I thought I was out of my depth when I met my housemates in Rome, imagine my feelings at the Anselmo.  Classes were in Latin. Students were fluent in Greek; they referenced New Testament texts in the original language. And if I was intimidated by the theological, classical, and general knowledge of those on Corso Trieste, that was nothing compared with the international students I was thrown in with there on Rome’s Aventine Hill. They came from all over the world – from every continent. I was especially impressed by the Italians, Spaniards, Africans, Indians, and Latin Americans. In seminars, some were so fluent (in Italian, English, Latin, Greek, and of course their native tongues) that it sounded like they had written down everything they said before speaking. I was really impressed (and frankly intimidated).

And my professors!  Wow. They were so inspiring, even in Latin. Two in particular, both German, impressed me greatly. (I continue to remember them prominently in my prayers each day and I find myself tearing as I write these words.) One was Magnus Lohrer; the other Raphael Schulte.  I’m so indebted to them for the knowledge, passion, interest, and joy in learning that they communicated and transmitted. I decided that I wanted to be like Magnus Lohrer!

Significantly in terms of this account of order and disorder, my licentiate thesis centralized the topic of “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda” – the always necessary reformation of the church.

(More about Rome and its welcome disorder next time.)

80th Birthday Reflections Part 2: Disorder Enters My Highly Ordered Life

In 1962, disorder began to enter my life. Its cause was the Second Vatican Council started by Pope St. John XXIII. Out of the blue, it seemed, he decided to reform the Catholic Church – to “open some windows,” he said to the modern world. And with that decision, my life was changed forever – but not overnight.

As a basically conservative person, I initially resisted Vatican II – or at least some aspects of it. I liked the church the way it was. Everything there was so clear and certain.

But now, they were introducing English to replace the Latin Mass. The priest celebrant was turned around and faced the community. Guitars replaced organs. And the music became folksier and less solemn. All of that was fine and rather exciting.

But then, colleagues of mine became critical of things like our nightly Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, priestly vestments, and Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. (I loved that book.) The seminary chapel was radically remodeled so that the tabernacle now moved to the side, looked like a huge treasure chest. It had been designed, we were told, by a Jewish artist. I wondered, “How can someone who doesn’t share our faith in the Eucharist create art that reflects centuries of reflection on Jesus’ Real Presence in the eucharistic elements?” I remember writing a long screed in defense of The Imitation of Christ.

That was at the beginning. But gradually, I became persuaded. More progressive and better-read classmates and elders influenced me. One of them prevailed upon the dean of students to have our library subscribe to The National Catholic Reporter (NCR). It was fascinating.

But most influential of all were my classes in Sacred Scripture and theology. Our scripture professor was Eamonn O’Doherty. He was wonderful. He taught us about text criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism and more. For four years and line by line we went through biblical texts that I came to see as richer than my literalist, fundamentalist mind was ever able to imagine. What I had learned about poetry from Fr. Griffin when I was a college freshman and sophomore enabled me not only to understand what the scholars were saying, but to find my own textual meanings as well.

And then there were the theology classes. Their focus changed from preoccupation with bland traditional manuals written in Latin to actual books by controversial authors like Teilhard de Chardin, Bernard Haring, Hans Kung, Ivan Illich and Edward Schillebeeckx. I remember being greatly impacted by the latter’s Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God as we studied it under the guidance of another of our great professors, John Marley. Fr. Marley was a liturgist who helped us all develop sensitivity to the history and profound meanings associated with public worship and sacrament.

We were reading non-Catholic authors as well – something completely unheard of before John XXIII. I found Paul Tillich especially powerful.  I actually discovered sympathy with the Great Reformers we had previously been taught to dismiss and even despise. I read everything I could from the psychologists Erich Fromm, Rollo May, and Carl Rogers.

Yes, my ordered, predictable world was coming apart. Along with my seminary colleagues (and professors!!), I was questioning more and more – accepted doctrines such as papal infallibility, moral teachings on contraception, abortion, the uniqueness of the church itself, the role of priests, and, of course, mandatory priestly celibacy.

I remember reading an article in the NCR about “reluctant celibates.” Those were actual and would-be priests who felt called to the priesthood but unenthusiastically accepted the celibacy requirement without having an actual vocation to the celibate state.  

I feared I fell into the reluctant celibate category. Before my ordination to the diaconate, I discussed this with my spiritual director. We agreed that it was probably just a matter of pre-ordination jitters.

So, come December 22, 1966, I was finally ordained along with nine classmates – three of whom I had been with since my first year in the high school seminary. After 12 seemingly interminable years, I had finally reached my goal. However, by now I was a Vatican II product. The new theology and my scripture studies influenced every aspect of my priesthood from my homilies and the way I celebrated the Eucharist. Eventually, it shaped the way I dressed and the length of my hair; I even flirted with a moustache and beard.

I was at last on fire academically. During my final semester in Milton, I was honored with a request to teach an adult education class in a Boston parish. The topic was Vatican II and the Bible. I relayed to my class of 30 adults – some twice my age and more – exactly what I was learning under Eamonn O’Doherty. They loved it. The class was a great success. I was discovering that I could teach. And I loved that too.

So, I was delighted when my first priestly assignment was not to Korea, the Philippines or Japan, but to continue my studies in Rome. My Columban superiors wanted me to get a doctorate in Moral Theology there, so I could come back to Milton and teach in the seminary.

Rome still smoldering from the conflagrations set by Vatican II (’62-’65), held wonderful and unexpected surprises that would continue the disorder that I (and the entire world at the time) was coming to embrace.

[Next installment (still on disorder): Rome challenges me to grow up in every sphere – intellectual, political, and personal.]

80th Birthday Reflections, Part One: Order

(This is the first in a series of reflections on the occasion of my 80th birthday.)

Last Sunday (Sept. 6th) I celebrated my 80th birthday. I feel as if I’ve crossed a line into a new psychological and spiritual territory. I’m now officially old.

On Sunday, my daughter, Maggie, and her family graciously celebrated the event. My younger son, Patrick, was there as well. He works in DC and came to Westport for the occasion.

My elder son, Brendan, was unable to come. He works for the State Department in Paris, France. COVID-19 kept him from crossing the pond with our lovely daughter-in-law, Erin, and our recently arrived granddaughter, Genevieve Simone. (We’re still feeling bad about not yet having seen little Gigi except on ZOOM.)

Maggie invited us for lunch. She made my favorite dish for the occasion – spaghetti alle vongole (with in-the-shell clams freshly delivered from the ocean a few miles away from here). Maggie’s white clam sauce was perfect. Then, of course, there was a birthday cake (chocolate mousse – again my favorite).

After lunch we all drove to nearby Greenwich to begin an hour-and-a-half yacht ride to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The weather was glorious. There were drinks, cigars, laughter and just enjoying the boat’s swift dash to Manhattan.

In the presence of Lady Liberty, we took photos (see above), marveled at the historic objet d’art, and then turned back towards Greenwich, stopping on the way for crab sandwiches and French fries as the sun rapidly descended and the cool breezes forced us to put on our wraps.

The next evening (Monday), we reprised the celebration with friends from our new church in nearby Darien. Again, there was cake, candles, and singing “Happy Birthday.” And then everyone took turns saying nice things about me.

Imagine that: not one, but two birthday celebrations!

Still, regret was expressed that COVID kept us from a bigger party with more relatives and friends, including some former students. However, I pointed out that I already had such a celebration when I formally retired from Berea College ten years ago. I remember thinking at the time as people spoke kindly about me, “This is like hearing speeches at my own funeral. I’m glad I’m here to experience it all. What joy to be with so many relatives, friends, and so many of those I’ve taught!” For me, that was enough.

When my own turn came to speak on Monday, I quoted Richard Rohr who speaks of the “three boxes” that contain life’s memories for all of us. One is labeled “Order,” the second is “Disorder,” and the third, “Reorder.” The categories represent apt summaries of my life, I said; its elements clearly fit into such containers.

An Ordered Life

Like Rohr, I was blessed with a great deal of order in my early life – till about the age of 21. As a Roman Catholic boy attending St. Viator’s School on Chicago’s Northwest Side, I had clear ideas of who I was. I knew exactly what life was for, who God is, and what he expected of me. I wanted nothing more than to save my soul; nothing else mattered.

So, having just turned 14, I chose to leave home and begin preparation for becoming a priest. I figured that was the best way to get into heaven.

Accordingly, I shipped off to St. Columban’s Minor (i.e. high school) Seminary in Silver Creek, New York (40 miles west of Buffalo). There, every day was highly ordered with 6:30 rising and 10:00 “lights out,” intense study especially of Latin, mandatory study hall, compulsory sports activities, and strict supervision by a host of father figures, disciplinarians, and demanding teachers. At “The Creek,” I doubled down on my determination to become a priest, even as most of those I entered with either decided otherwise or were “bounced” (as we said) for disciplinary or academic reasons. 

In 1958, I entered the college seminary in Milton, Massachusetts. There, my inner student was awakened as never before by Fr. James Griffin, my English teacher nonpareil at Milton for two years. Under his watchful eye, I discovered poetry, music appreciation, and creative writing. I learned how to read with a critical eye. I feared and loved the man at the same time. He was the best.

In 1960, my classmates (now reduced from 32 to 12 in number) and I embarked on our “Spiritual Year” in Bristol Rhode Island. It was the Columban version of a religious novitiate. Its centerpiece was a 30-day Ignatian silent retreat that began on October 6th of that year. It was unforgettable. So was the entire year. It taught us to pray, silence our voices and minds, to meditate and appreciate God’s creation as never before there on the shores of Narragansett Bay.

After Bristol, it was time to return to Milton – this time to the major seminary – to complete college work on our philosophy majors and then to continue with four years of theological and scriptural studies. As far as order was concerned, it was more of the same: rising at 6:30, retiring at 10:00, mandatory classes and study periods, long periods of silence, regular spiritual retreats, daily meditation, and little contact with “the outside world.”

I thrived on it all. I still knew who I was and what was expected of me. God was in his heaven. All was right with the world – despite what was happening outside e.g. with the Civil Rights Movement and the war in Vietnam.

(I’ll soon post a reflection on the collapse of my ordered certainty.)

Unforgetting the Past: The Karmic Roots of U.S. Border Problems

Readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Sirach 27: 30-28:7; Psalm 103: 1-4, 9-12; Romans 14: 7-9; Matthew 18: 21-35. 

This week’s readings are about forgetting and unforgetting. They emphasize our tendencies to remember, rehearse and perversely treasure wrongs done to us, while denying, ignoring or dismissing those we’ve done to others. The wrongs in question can be both personal and/or political.

For today, let’s leave aside the myriad personal grievances we all nurse.  

Instead, let me focus on political resentments and point out that this week’s selections are especially relevant to an interview many of us may have seen last week on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now. The telecast spent time with Salvadoran journalist Roberto Lovato who has just published his own memoir called Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas.

Problems at the Border

In tune with our readings, the book addresses the topic of our collective amnesia about the true causes of immigration problems and their uncomfortable cure. In Lovato’s case, both remembering and forgetting connect more than four decades of destructive U.S. policy in Central America with the refugees and asylum seekers at our southern border mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Those three countries, Lovato pointedly recalls, were absolutely destroyed by counter-insurgency wars that go all the way back to 1932.

Without “unforgetting” those disasters, the author insists, we can understand neither the border crisis nor the gang phenomenon that causes it.

To begin with, Lovato reminds us why almost no one outside El Salvador remembers “la matanza” of ‘32. Instead, that massacre along with its more recent reprise at El Mozote in 1981, have been shoved down our Orwellian memory hole by the U.S. and Salvadoran states whose very job is to destroy records and manufacture the mass amnesia that afflicts American culture.  

Similarly, very few of us connect our contemporary border crisis with U.S. Central American policy during the 1980s. Virtually no one links the Central American policies of the Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, and Trump administrations to immigrant prisons and baby jails.   

Nonetheless, on Lovato’s analysis, the connections are there for the rescue.  La matanza, he says, was one of the most violent episodes “in world history in terms of the numbers of people killed per day, per week, in a concentrated place.” The massacre at the hands of a U.S. supported military government killed thousands upon thousands of mostly indigenous Salvadorans.

As for El Mozote, some can still remember that horrendous U.S. crime where nearly 1000 unarmed Salvadoran villagers were slaughtered by U.S.-trained forces.

In fact, El Mazote encapsulates the entire disaster of American policy towards Central America foreshadowed in la matanza and resumed with a vengeance all during the 1980s. Under its aegis, entire towns were destroyed; homes were set ablaze and jobs destroyed; families were decimated; sons and husbands were killed; wives and daughters were systematically raped; union leaders, social workers, and teachers along with liberationist priests and nuns were assassinated without pity.

Disgracefully, much of the destruction was financed by CIA operations that flew narcotics from Central America to Florida and carried guns and ammunition back to U.S.-supported terrorist troops in Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – not to mention the Contras in Nicaragua. 

And of course, in the aftermath the militarily decommissioned terrorists continued their lucrative involvement with narcotics. They became the drug gang kingpins and foot soldiers who in turn have driven so many families northward.

All of that, Lovato repeats, must be “unforgetted” if we North Americans are to have any hope of solving our problems of immigration, gangs, drugs, and social justice. Our country owes extensive reparation to Central Americans.      

Today’s Readings

So, with all of that in mind, please consider this Sunday’s selections. On the one hand, they centralize the divine amnesia of Jesus’ Great Father-Mother God regarding our personal and communal shortcomings that some refer to as “sin.” On the other hand, our Divine Parents’ compassionate forgetfulness is contrasted with our own petty preoccupation with the way we imagine others have somehow done us wrong.

Sirach, the Psalmist, Paul, and Jesus all remind us of how easily we forget the way we’ve abused “strangers” (like those at our border) whom the Master identified as our very sisters and brothers. Ironically, unforgetting them is the karmic key to our own forgiveness and liberation.

In any case, what follow are my “translations” of today’s biblical excerpts. You can find the originals here to see if I’ve got them right. 

Sirach 27: 30-28:7: Karma is a Law of the Universe. LIFE will treat you as you treat your neighbor. If you’re vengeful, you’ll inevitably experience others’ revenge. If you’re always angry, life will seem cruel. But if you’re forgiving, Life itself will forgive you. So, forget about your own fictitious wounds. Instead practice forgetful mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. After all, life is short. Vendettas will mean nothing to you on your deathbed.

Psalm 103: 1-4, 9-12: Our Divine Mother herself sets the example. She is patient, forgiving, kind, generous and compassionate. She doesn’t remember any of our faults – not even grave “sins” we fear may have destroyed our lives. Far, far from such guilt, it’s as if she never witnessed our shortcomings at all.

Romans 14: 7-9:  Practicing such forgetfulness, none of us will have anything at all to fear from death which will simply be surrender to the One in whom we have always lived and moved and had our being. This is what Jesus himself showed us by the example of his own life.

Matthew 18: 21-35: When Peter asked him about the limits of forgiveness, Jesus said there are none at all. “Or maybe” (he joked) “you can stop forgiving after the 490th time – but be sure to keep track, Peter, as I know you will. Don’t let yourself go over 500.” (He said that with a gentle smile.) “In any case, remember what Sirach said about karma. If you’re generous to others, Life will treat you kindly; If not, you’re creating your own tragic misfortune – and that of your entire family. It’s you, not God who creates your inevitable destiny.”


Yes, Karma is a law of the universe. All the world’s great spiritual traditions teach that simple profound truth. What we do to others will eventually come back to haunt us. There’s no getting around it.

The problems experienced at our borders are simply blowback from our country’s own criminal missteps in the world. While we imagine that we’re threatened and wronged by those at our border, simple unforgetting reminds us that we’re actually the ones who have victimized the ones seeking refuge and asylum. Actually, we have nothing at all to forgive them. Instead, we owe them enormous repair.

No, it’s the ones at our border who have so much to forgive us. So far, they’ve been generous in doing so – well beyond the 500-mark specified by Jesus. Both our karmic liability and our debt of gratitude to our southern siblings are huge.

We’re indebted to Roberto Lovato for helping us unforget all of that.

Okay, okay, I’m a Conspiracy Theorist: But Let Me Tell You How & Why

This is a follow up to my recent posting entitled “Beware: Conspiracy Theorists May Be Prophetically Correct.” There, in the context of my weekly Sunday Homily, I cautioned against “cancelling” OpEdNews authors who espouse so-called conspiracy theories and who use editorially objectionable terms like “Deep State.”

In this present submission, I want to reiterate (in more detail than previously) why I think conspiracy theories with their references to Deep State are not only valuable and necessary. They correct officially disseminated misinformation by agencies such as the CIA whose programs have the expressed intention of deceiving the American public and shaping world opinion accordingly.

After all, it was CIA director, William Casey, who said infamously, “We will know that our disinformation program has been successful, when everything (emphasis added) the American people believe is false.” More recently, another former head of the CIA, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, bragged that the Agency “lies, cheats, and steals” all the time. In fact, he said, the CIA educates its personnel with entire academic courses on how to do so effectively.

Given those official admissions of deceptive intent, is it any wonder that so many of us espouse alternative explanations for events such as the Kennedy and King assassinations, 9/11, the alleged suicide of Jeffrey Epstein, or the real reasons for world-wide shut down in the face of COVID-19? Should we be surprised that many speculate about the true power of the CIA and other actors who together might well constitute a shadow government often referenced as the Deep State?

With Mike Lofgren and others, I argue here that the evidence for such hidden power is staring us in the face. It has given many of us exceptionally good reason to reject mainstream media (MSM) sources of information in favor of those I’ll list at the end of this piece.

Conspiracy Theories Defined

So, let me begin with full disclosure: I myself believe in conspiracies. (There, I’ve said it.) I do so because I’m a rational person who endorses the rule of law. And that’s my starting point – the often-ignored fact that conspiracy theory constitutes a legal category.

Juridically, the term refers to criminal activity planned by more than one person. In that sense, conspiracies happen all the time. People go to jail for them. Most often, they’re locked up based, not on some “smoking gun,” but on circumstantial evidence. The latter relies on inference [such as a fingerprint or eyewitness testimony (e.g. of a suspect fleeing the scene of a crime)] to connect it to a conclusion of fact. Classically, convictions rely on considerations of motive, opportunity and means to commit a crime. Again, most guilty verdicts are founded on such indications, rather than on confessions or video recordings.

With those factors often ignored, the popular understanding of “conspiracy theory” has come to refer to unfounded explanations of events that depart from those promulgated by sources such as government officials who by their own admission (see above) are committed to comprehensive deception.

This dismissive meaning has taken center stage, all but consigning the legal meaning to irrelevance. Unlike that counterpart, the popular notion of conspiracy typically requires irrefutable smoking gun evidence before it may be (even reluctantly) entertained without derision.

As a result of such double standards, conspiracy theorists are often comically portrayed as reclusive nerds frantically typing their wild insights into their basement computers while wearing hats made of tinfoil to protect their brains from government surveillance and from extraterrestrial mind control.

Deep State Centrality

In this popular sense, conspiracy theories centralize allegations of hidden “behind the throne” powers – sometimes called the “Deep State” – secretly controlling events. While such allegations tend to be dismissed without serious examination, I find them to be basically credible.

By deep state, I’m not referring primarily to “the bureaucracy” – i.e. to career diplomats who remain behind no matter who’s in the White House or Congress. While such bureaucrats play their role in government continuity, they’re not really in control. Neither are they routinely trying to deceive the public. In fact, the vast majority of bureaucrats fit the description of good public servants mostly (naively, I would say) committed to the good of their country.

Instead, my list of those who are really calling the shots has to include the military industrial complex (MNC) as well as big oil, big pharma, private prison corporations, and the mainstream media (MSM) which the latter own and employ. These are the entities that truly have the ear of our politicians who (against the clearly expressed will of their citizen “constituents”) routinely vote against the latter’s interests and programs such as Medicare for all, environmental protection and a Green New Deal, free higher education, debt jubilee (especially for indebted college students) and reallocation of police and military funding to social programs, community policing and infrastructure development.

Ignoring the overwhelmingly popular will on such issues, the powers-that-be pay politicians to vote instead for increased military spending, tax cuts for the already rich, and for the deregulation of industry and finance. They discredit a Bernie Sanders and advance milk toast candidates like Joe Biden who brazenly ignore the interests of their would-be constituents. None of that is even debatable.

However, in global terms, at least according to insider analysts such as ex-CIA official, Robert David Steele and others, the Deep State is much more profound and hidden than already indicated. It embraces, they say:

  • A small number of families (like the Rothschilds and Rockefellers) in Europe, the U.S., and increasingly in Asia
  • The Free Masons, Knights of Malta, the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberger Group
  • The City of London Corporation
  • Wall Street
  • Catholic Church societies such as Opus Dei
  • Every Central Bank in the World
  • A semi-unified world intelligence agency that includes the CIA, Israel’s Mossad, and Great Britain’s MI 5 and MI 6 – and probably Russia’s KGB. All of them are more or less on the same side.

These organizations are involved in the real business of the world that (again, according to Steele) centralizes trade in gold, guns, cash, drugs, and in the trafficking of children. In other words, the real sources of international control are deeply criminal.

Official Indications of Deep State Control   

There are many reasons for believing that some combination of the above entities control world events and our information about them. Modern motivations begin with Major General Smedley Butler’s War Is a Racket and the warnings and testimony of Dwight Eisenhower regarding the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). Referring to “the very structure of our society,” Eisenhower soberly cautioned, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

Is there anyone in the country who actually believes that Eisenhower’s warning has not come true? Again, he was talking about the controlling influence of an overwhelming war machine on social and governmental structures. That sounds governmental to me. As such, the MIC persuades Americans to support and fight wars which in our era have become absolutely interminable.  

And then we have those officials like Casey and Pompeo who tell us they’re lying. Why on earth would such admissions not deprive their sources of all prima facie credibility? Why wouldn’t anyone take their confessions at face value and conclude that they have no more credibility than a trial witness exposed as an inveterate liar?  

Moreover, insiders such as former CIA operatives support those confessions. One CIA tell-all book after another includes details of “unofficial” interference in foreign elections, of secret assassination programs, cooperation with various mafias, support for terrorists, Agency drug dealing, and systematic vilification of social reformers up to and including Civil Rights icons such as Martin Luther King. (On the latter see, for instance, the government’s own COINTELPRO Report, and the findings of the Church Committee.)

Finally, evidence supporting the integration of corporate power and information sources is there for all to see. Mainstream media are unquestionably owned by the rich and powerful. Their analysts are all millionaires. They rarely, if ever, seek out for honest interview representatives of official enemies such as Venezuela, North Korea, or ISIS. Almost never do they allow victims of police brutality or their relatives to speak for themselves. Instead, the MSM’s usual suspects appear again and again: former military generals, police commissioners, corporate executives, and even disgraced politicians such as Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, and Elliott Abrams.

Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman exposed the syndrome years ago. In Manufacturing Consent and elsewhere they described a fake news system supported by fake history and fake education long before Donald Trump was a significant public figure.


In summary then, you can see why I’ve decided to accept the existence of a Deep State as explained above and to give guarded and critical credence to “conspiracy theories” about the 1963 and 1968 assassinations, 9/11, Jeffrey Epstein, and to entertain doubts concerning official explanations of the current pandemic.

Part of it is explained by autobiographical considerations. Crucially (and for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere) they include and transcend long years of formation as a Roman Catholic priest, extensive travel and extended sojourns in Europe, Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, Mexico, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and India. They include study, related reading, and conversations with activists and scholars in all of those places. 

Such experience has led me to follow the advice of Daniel Berrigan. Years ago, when he taught at Berea College, he spoke often of reading “outside the culture” – i.e. from sources distant from U.S. propaganda. With that in mind, my trusted sources of political analysis have come to include Third World activists and scholars, particularly in the field of liberation theology with its reliance on analysts like Franz Fanon, Andre Gunder Frank, and yes, Karl Marx. Closer to home, I’ve come to trust Noam Chomsky, Glen Greenwald, Chris Hedges, Amy Goodman, Richard Wolff, Krystal Ball, Cenk Uygur, Medea Benjamin, Naomi Klein, Marianne Williamson, Bill McKibben, and Pope Francis among others. I take seriously what organizations like Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement say.

Does that mean that I’ve blindly confined myself to some left-wing echo chamber no different from those who depend on Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, or Fox News to help them understand the world? I think not. And I’ll tell you why.

In contrast to the right-wing crowd, all of those listed as my sources of information and analysis:

  • Share my overriding values and aspirations to world community, compassion, and unvarnished truth.
  • Take science and climate change seriously. (The failure of their opponents to do so ipso facto disqualifies them from serious consideration.)
  • Are unwilling to entertain the possibility of a suicidal nuclear war.
  • Have a critical understanding of U.S. and world history; they are not knee-jerk apologists for “America” and American exceptionalism.
  • Are comprehensively “pro-life” in a sense that goes far beyond (as Pope Francis puts it) exclusive obsession with abortion to embrace opposition to war, poverty, world hunger, capital punishment, houselessness, racism, sexism, and class conflict.

Please tell me if that does or doesn’t make sense and why.