Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Catholics are the Worst Sinners: And that’s the Good News

When I was a boy, learning the essentials in the catechism of my faith, I took it as a given that Catholics were the worst sinners. And I am convinced now that they are. It was easy as a boy of the `30s to appreciate why. Review some of my leading purported co-religionists of that era in alphabetical order: Tony Accardo, Jim Adduci, Louie (Two Gun) Alterie, Samuel (“Samoots”) Ammatuna, Tony Barosso, Louis (“Little New York”) Campagna, Anthony (“Tough Tony”) Capezio, Al Capone, Ralph (“Bottles”) Capone, James (“Big Jim”) Colosimo, Joseph (“Caesar”) DiVarco, Tony D’Andrea, Sam (“Mad Sam”) DeStefano, Vincent (“Schemer”) Drucci, Ada and Minna Everleigh Rocco Fischetti, Michael Genovese, Sam (“Momo”) Giancana, Joe (“Machine Gun”) Granata, Mary Louise (“Texas” and “Hello, Sucker”) Guinan, Edward (“Big Red”) Kelly, George (“Machine Gun”) Kelly, John “(Honest John”) Kelly.

Pasqualino (“Patsy”) Lolordo, Joey (“The Clown”) Lombardo, “Machine Gun Jack” McGurn, Eugene (“Red”) McLaughlin, Cornelius (“Con”) Moore, George (“Bugs”) Moran, Timothy (“Big Tim”) Murphy, Durland (“Jimmy”) Nash, Frank (“The Enforcer”) Nitti, Dion O’Banion, Al Prignano, James Ragen, Fred Roti, Paul (“The Waiter”) Ricca, Vincent Solano, James (“Turk”) Torello, Johnny Torrio, Roger (“The Terrible”) Touhy, John F. Viche (gunned down in my suburb of Park Ridge) and Jack Zuta to name a few. (Were I making the list today I’d add John (“Quarters”) Boyle who hijacked $5,000 worth of quarters from the tollway, repented and got involved in the Hired Trucks scandal before being sent away (from my hometown of Park Ridge).

Then (when I was a kid) you got to the Big 3 world leaders: Adolf Hitler of Austria, Josef Stalin of Georgia (who trained at a seminary) and Benito Mussolini of Rome. In fact in those years few contemporary role models were held up to us in school—beginning and ending with Mother Cabrini. Now I have a book of saints all of whom were Catholics but few who lived at the same time with the Chicagoans I list in the first two paragraphs. So now you understand why I decided early as a kid that Catholics were the worst sinners. The priests scandals haven’t improved my view.

After we understood how sinful Catholics were, we considered the pay-off for them—and to us potentially. God could toss them into hell any time He wanted to; we deserve to be cast into hell; they were all under a sentence of condemnation to hell; the devil was willing and eager to seize them as soon as God would release them; it didn’t matter that these Catholics were feeling well and in good health; eventually they would fall into bad health and die; all the evasions men make to ignore the prospect of punishment do not avail; God is under no obligation to spare them for a moment.

When you are 11, those ideas sort of concentrated the mind. Indeed, these sins convinced Protestant reformers to split from the Church and form their own. But their facing up to sin by willing it away never convinced me. And just when we were facing up to depression, came the solace. After the reformers of Protestantism challenged the sacrament of penance, along came the Council of Trent to uphold it on every count. Every count. And for the over-scrupulous, it prescribed three conditions for defining serious sin. Once when I was on a radio show with Gerry Brown, the former governor of California who was seeking the presidency, he touted his training as a seminarian. “Very well, then,” I said, “tell me the three conditions for mortal sin.” He tried until the veins stood out on his forehead. He got the first one right: “grievous matter.” He described but didn’t define the second—calling it full acceptance of sin whereas the nuns told us it is “sufficient reflection.” He gave up and punted on the third; I told him “full consent of the will.” The beauty of the instruction was this: the nuns smashed our pride and our youthful unconcern about death. They brought us crashing to earth. Then just when it was unbearable, they presented the relief. They taught us how to recognize sin and what to do about it.

Even with our eleven-year-old insouciance, after the nuns instructed us in this, most of us sought frequent confession. Then we took a short course in the history of the Church. If you ever want a roadmap to every vile evil mankind can plunge into, listen to the history of the Church from immediately after Christ left it to now. (That history convinced no less a world-weary cynic like Robert Novak, a former unbeliever, to convert just a few years ago at another low-point in Church history whereupon he told the Legatus group I attend, “I decided this is the Church for a guy like me. If an organization can survive all the bad people, wrong judgments and tremendous errors for more than 2,000 years and emerge intact, I want to be with it.”)

It pleases me to think I am corrupt, rather like how Everett Dirksen would describe all of us members of humanity, “a piece of s---t.” And since then, whenever I am reminded about the dereliction and corruption of Catholics, I thank God I am one for I know what to do. It is fitting that the very first saint—the very first one—was not Peter or Paul or the martyrs. It was a Jewish insurrectionist named Dismas. Known as the “Good Thief” he lived an utterly worthless life and was put to death with a companion on either side of Christ. The companion berated Christ and shouted in agony, if you are what you say we are, bring us down from here and save us! Dismas rebuked his partner in crime, saying shut up, this man is innocent and we are not.

Then turning to the figure in the center, Dismas said, remember me when you get into your kingdom. Christ’s answer rings through the ages and is a profound encouragement to sinners like me: This day you shall be with me in paradise. This day. This day.

Thus the only human being who got a green light to heaven from the Master himself, was a bum, an insurrectionist, a no-good, probably adulterer, possibly a homosexual, a child molester or a wife-beater—maybe all these things. Therefore, ask why I don’t leave the Church because of its faults? How can I when I consider my own? It’s the right place for me to be. Besides, if I leave I won’t have the opportunity to say to Him: Remember me when--.” I pray God I will hear the same answer.


  1. John Thomas McGeeanFebruary 7, 2006 at 3:16 AM

    This was a very good blog Tom. As my dad, the Lord have mercy on him, used to say: One of the proofs of the Divinity of the Church is that she has been able to withstand the assults from within.

  2. Re: Dismas -- Any insurrectionist during a time of empire couldn't have been, as he proved at his end, all bad....nor are the Catholics. I'll bet that if I published a political cartoon with insulting images of the Pope or even Jesus, Catholics wouldn't even burn my house down, unless they were really riled up by those well compensated with an agenda.