Reasonably Catholic: Keeping the Faith

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A transgender Christian woman and a lesbian atheist: a love story

To listen to the episode, click below:

Sharron and Brianna at WESUSharron Emmons and Brianna Johnston at WESU. Sharron’s book of photographs, Transfiguration: How Bright Is the Light, created in completion of a Wesleyan University Master of Liberal Studies degree, focuses on Brianna, who at age 50 transitioned into the woman she’d always felt herself to be inside. They both hold leadership positions at Metropolitan Community Church in Hartford, a welcoming congregation.

Here are two photos from Sharron’s book:




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On ‘having a soul and being true to it’– writer Blanche McCrary Boyd’s moral journey

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Blanche BoydWriter Blanche McCrary Boyd has just published Tomb of the Unknown Racist, her third novel in a trilogy; the other two books are The Revolution of Little Girls and Terminal Velocity. Reared in the segregationist South, Boyd says she faced a terrifying choice between her conscience and her family, a conflict that informs her work. All fiction is moral fiction, says the longtime Connecticut College professor, whether its author is aware of it or not, since not to take a stand is to take a stand. In our interview, as in all her writing, starting with her 1980s book of essays,  The Redneck Way of Knowledge, Boyd proves to be both funny and deep. She’s frank about, among other subjects: her recovery, through AA, from drugs and alcohol; and about overcoming her own homophobia regarding whether lesbians can be suitable mothers of sons.

Learn more about her and her work at

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Latest Catholic parish reform effort: creating a space for priests to listen to women

HeadshotKateSmalldrm_futurechurchFr Tony Flannery

L-R: Kate McElwee, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference; Deb Rose-Milavec, executive director of Future Church; and Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, who’s no longer allowed to publicly minister because of his liberal views on women’s ordination contraception and homosexuality.

They were interviewed by phone during a break in a meeting in Slovakia of the International Church Reform Network.

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To inspire your Fourth: encouraging messages of hope and action from a few of your fellow citizens

Click below to hear the episode:

chief(WPRI photo)

In an interview originally intended for Memorial Day, RI Supreme Court Chief Justice (Ret.) Frank Williams, a Lincoln scholar, on presidential character — or lack thereof.

And members of the 16th annual Brake the Cycle of Poverty ride, below, pause along their Tour de Connecticut. The cyclists stopped at churches, retreat houses and government offices to highlight the growing problem of poverty and urge greater economic opportunity. For information about how you can take part, either as a rider or support staffer, email


John3Tom21Top, l-r: John Ryan, Wendy Rego, Tom Breen; bottom, l-r: Maureen Flanagan and Katie Johnson



“All will yet be well again”

Below is the commencement address Chief Williams delivered in May to graduates of Mississippi State University, where his and his wife Virginia’s collection of Lincolniana is archived:

“An Army of One”

        This is a great occasion and I am delighted to be with you.  Thank you, President Mark Keenum for your  progressive leadership and for the expertise and scholarship of the distinguished faculty and staff at this great institution. Their spouses and companions are not to be forgotten either.  A special thanks to the relatives and friends who gather together today to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates, who have worked so hard, and for many, who have persevered – although faced with great personal sacrifice.     

       Congratulations Class of 2018! 

       Parents, this is your celebration too – especially for writing those monthly checks.  I know you must feel relieved as you watch your investment walk across the stage, knowing that your asset will deliver some keenly anticipated dividends.  Unfortunately, for many of you, after your investment walks off the stage, it will parade back into your homes where rent, laundry, and internet access are free.  There will be, I assure you, more bills.

       At my commencement ceremony from Boston University, I had no idea who the speaker was or what he said.  Realistically, I acknowledge that your experience will likely be the same.  Like you, I wanted a short speech, since you, too, are not going to remember who your speaker was anyway.  Frank J. Williams – W-I-L-L-I-A-M-S.

         Each of you is here today because of someone else:  a parent, a sibling, a teacher, a neighbor, a mentor, someone who had faith and confidence in you, someone who nurtured your dreams.  As you leave here today, take a moment to think of those who have come before you, who have helped you along the way, who are at your side today.  Mississippi State University is what it is because of you and you are what you are because of Mississippi State University. 

         Through no fault of your own, you are entering this world at a time when our nation is divided by conflicting policies and an unavoidable War on Terror.  My generation is partly to blame.  We left this country vulnerable, opening the door to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that forever changed this nation.  And, as represented by the gridlock in Washington, we are a house divided.  As Abraham Lincoln said in 1858 just before the Civil War, “…A house divided against itself cannot stand… I do not expect the house to fall – I do expect it will cease to be divided.” 

           I take comfort, however, in knowing that our nation has prevailed before, despite tough times.  You, the new leaders of America, are charged with an important duty – the preservation of democracy.  Our nation needs men and women like you to help it bind its wounds.  I am confident that you are well equipped to do just that if you have courage, resilience and empathy.  Through the efforts of hard working Americans like you, who cherish patriotism, loyalty, friendship, family, service, and sacrifice, all will yet be well again.

       So, I charge you to re-instill faith in our country, which is after all, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “The last best hope of earth.”

       Democracy is a living, breathing thing.  It requires our sustenance to continue.  In your time at State, you have learned much and have grown intellectually, emotionally, and socially.  But now, you have a greater challenge, the broader mission of running the race of life with all of its “friction and abrasion.”  For our republic to survive and prosper, you need to reserve some time for service.  So put those smartphones down and get out there.  Embrace life.  Volunteer, run for office, serve in the military, join the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or Teach for America, discover your cause and immerse yourself in it. [I am pleased to note that 25 of your class will soon be commissioned second lieutenants in the U. S. Army and Air Force]. Hold tight to the other things in life that matter too: your family, your friends, your religion, and the people who prepared you to succeed. 

       So get up, get out there and make every day better than the last.  One person can make a difference.  Early in this new century, an army major general had created the slogan, “An Army of one.”  By this, he celebrated the value of the individual, but he also reinforced the concept of commitment to a cause greater than self.  The general who wrote of an “army of one” understood the importance of the team. He perished when an aircraft struck the Pentagon on 9/11, giving his life so others might live.  

       The violence of the last century claimed over 100 million lives, so now we are due a peaceful century.  You have the power and responsibility to create that kind of a world.  I agree with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, that in order to create a happier, peaceful world, we need to first find inner peace.  World peace can be achieved through seeking inner peace and mediating conflicts – not through the use of weapons. 

       Since my retirement from the judicial bench, I mediate cases in an effort to bring people – families, businesses, state agencies –  together so they can resolve their disputes – some of them ugly and contentious – without their taking their hostility to the streets or in the courts where there is a very real chance of unhappy results for all. 

       We build resilience into ourselves – as no one is born with it.  We build resilience into the people we love and we build it together as a community.  It is an incredibly powerful force and it’s one that our country and world need a lot more of right now.  It is in our relationships with each other that we find our will to endure, our capacity to love, and the power to make lasting changes in the world. 

       Do not fear failure either, failure is part of everyone’s narrative.  Learn from it. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Failure is as much a part of life as success and disappointment is as much a fact of life as fulfillment.”. That is the beauty of America because we continually get new chances, new opportunities to get it right.

       The truth is: we cannot solve the problems we face by blaming someone else.  We are all in this together, and we all must be part of the solution.  America’s power in the world comes not from the walls we build, but from the doors we open offering opportunity. 

       Virginia and I gave you and Mississippi State a gift.  It is the collection about Abraham Lincoln and our Civil War.  We wanted it to come here for many reasons and one of those is to give you access to the rudiments that Lincoln possessed – a fundamental vision, a golden temperament, and a shrewd strategy for how to cope with the realities of the moment. 

       He saw America as a land where ambitious poor boys and girls like himself could transform themselves through hard work.  We call it, “the right to rise.”

         Lincoln’s temperament surpasses all explanation.  His early experience of depression and suffering gave him  self-honesty and imbued him with political courage He had a double-minded personality that we need in all our leaders.  He was involved in a bloody Civil War, but he was an exceptionally poor hater.  He was deeply engaged, but also able to step back; a passionate advocate, but also able to see his enemy’s point of view; aware of his own power, but aware of when he was helpless in the hands of fate; extremely self-confident but extremely humble.  His strengths reflected discernment, which involves waiting, listening, letting competing options for action emerge and choosing one after prayer and deliberation. 

       Lincoln had empathy.  He recognized a shared humanity between himself and African-Americans.  Slavery was wrong, and he knew it needed to end.  It was in conflict with the very principles of our Founding.  What better place is there for our Lincoln Collection, gathered in Rhode Island and throughout the world, than here at Mississippi State University as not only a symbol but a resource for continued healing in this great land?

       We live in a partisan time, and I do not see a Lincoln on our horizon.  A person with his face could not survive the multi-media age.  A person with his capacity for introspection could not survive our 24/7 self-branding culture.  But we do need in our leaders, in you our future leaders, a portion of his gifts – someone who is philosophically grounded, emotionally mature, and tactically cunning. 

       Your futures are bright.  You stand on the bottom rung of a very tall ladder – let passion; sincerity and earnestness propel you to the top.

But don’t succumb to a Roman Coliseum culture that leaves no place for mercy. The civic fabric will be stronger if, instead of trying to sever relationships with those who have done wrong, we try to repair them, if we try forgiveness instead of exile. 

       Let political courage, resilience and empathy lead you. 

       Go forth and be amazing.  May God bless you.

       Hail State!



We met our goal!

A HUGE thank-you to all of you who donated to WESU’s spring pledge drive! Clearly, you understand the importance of keeping independent, free-form, non-commercial community radio alive!




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‘A voice from within me said: Walk’

Click below to hear the episode:


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For more than 150 days, Roderick (also known as Al) Dornan, 78, of Wethersfield, CT, has walked 2.2 miles every day, rain or shine and despite a bad back, along the sidewalks of his neighborhood in solidarity with Dreamers, immigrants and refugees.

Below is the link to the Hartford Courant article and photos that sparked interest in his crusade by other media and on Facebook and Twitter.

And here is the uncut audio of our entire walk together, in which he describes the inspiration he takes from deceased heroes, including his son, Aaron, who died in an accident 20 years ago, and some of the “mantras” he recites along his route.


We’re short

As of this writing, and with the close of the fiscal year just days away, WESU is still shy of meeting its spring pledge drive goal. Every donation WESU receives by this Friday (6/29) at midnight will be doubled until we reach $5,000.

Can you help keep independent, free form, community radio alive in our area? Please go to to donate online or write a check to WESU, 45 Broad St., Middletown, CT 06457




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Inspired church art, made by atheists with love

Apologies for posting this late! It’s been in draft form for months! Thanks, Holly, for bringing it to my attention!

Since we’re talking, be sure to tune in on Tuesday, 8/21, when we deal with Pennsylvania sexual abuse revelations and the burning question: What’s a Catholic to do?

Click below to hear this episode about church art made by atheists with love:

Holly and DanaDana amid CDs

Top photo: painter Holly Whiting, left, and woodworker Dana Scinto were commissioned to create art for St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in West Simsbury, CT. Lower photo: Dana takes in the CD collection at WESU.

Holly created 14 paintings depicting the Stations of the Cross.  Father Michael Whyte, the pastor, instructed her to avoid tidying up the violence of some scenes so that parishioners will realize how much Christ loves them.


Dana not only carved symbols of the seven sacraments into the front of the presider’s chair, but volunteered to carve the back, as well. She also carved the small table next to it in the sanctuary. Father Michael was adamant, says Dana, that the chair not be referred to as a “throne,” since he is not a king.

Fr. Michael WhyteTo Father Michael, the previously unadorned interior of St. Catherine of Siena parish resembled a hangar more than a church. He raised the money to commission the art and also enlisted volunteer help.

The church is located at 265 Stratton Brook Rd, West Simsbury, CT.

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‘Religious comedy is a tricky business’ — Catholic storyteller Ed Stivender juggles the secular and the sacred

Click below to hear the episode:

Ed picEd Stivender is a Catholic religion teacher-turned-entertainer who makes good use of his master’s degree in theology from Notre Dame in his storytelling. In Ed’s latest work “Like a Party,” which can be found on his website,, he portrays St. Francis of Assisi providing a tour of the Bible’s greatest hits. Ed has performed around the globe at storytelling festivals and other venues. He was called “the Robin Williams of storytelling” in the Miami Herald, and the late author Father Andrew Greeley called him “one of America’s great storytellers.”

He and his banjo playing are also findable at



Have a few extra shekels to toss toward the radio station that makes programming like this possible? Please go to and give what you can as the end of the fiscal year approaches. An amount with a five in it and a shout-out to Reasonably Catholic on the form will nicely mark this program’s fifth anniversary! Thanks!


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A bundle of warmth and wiliness: Pope Francis is irresistible in Wim Wenders’s loving documentary; and his recent private comments about gays may be strategic

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new richard picRichard Alleva, who writes for the Catholic journal Commonweal, says ”Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” is the kind of documentary he usually hates, but he loved this one. Having considered director Wim Wenders’s other films, Alleva says Wenders, who was raised Catholic, “was destined to make this film.”

An interview with Wenders appears in the current issue of Commonweal:

In the second part of the show, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which works for full equality in the Church for LGBTQ Catholics, takes up a recent affirming statement — made in private to a gay survivor of sexual abuse — that God made him that way and loves him that way.  Asked why he thinks the Pope lets the current less pastoral Church teachings stand, DeBernardo theorizes that a) the Pope has other priorities, such as poverty and the environment, and b) he may be strategically paving the way for updating Church teachings by first modeling a change in its practices.

frank-dFrancis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which, among other offerings, has a daily blog of news, opinion and spirituality at


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Ireland goes Reasonably Catholic!

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Miriam in Irish Times

Miriam Duignan, center of photo, an Irish Catholic feminist activist, celebrates the landslide vote legalizing abortion in Ireland. Miriam, an occasional guest on ‘Reasonably Catholic’ since the show’s inception, tells what it was like to witness history and why the vote is “not a celebration of abortion,” but of “the primacy of conscience,” which the Church has long valued.

Savita shrine

Above, a growing shrine to Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist who died of sepsis in a hospital in Galway in 2012 after she was denied an abortion during miscarriage. Irish yes-voters affixed their Together for Yes stickers to a Dublin mural depicting her.

Below, click on the photo or headline below to access a New York Times article about Pope Francis’ effectively giving up on Europe.

Did you donate to WESU-FM during our spring pledge drive? A donation with a five in it will nicely mark the fifth birthday of ‘Reasonably Catholic: Keeping the Faith’! Please go to and give what you can. Thanks!

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‘Storytelling, secrets, and shame’: novelist J. Courtney Sullivan is inspired by her Irish Catholic family upbringing

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Courtney and coverNovelist J. Courtney Sullivan’s fourth novel is Saints for All Occasions. It’s a multigenerational family saga which follows the story of two sisters, immigrants to America from Ireland.  Such nostalgia-producing Catholic devotionals as holy cards, the miraculous medal, prayers said by rote, and the catechism learned by heart all make an appearance.

Sullivan is not a practicing Catholic but asked if she’s left the Church, she wonders, “Is that possible?”


Andrew Bolton

The episode also includes a bit of audio from the press preview of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” The show’s curator, Andrew Bolton, defends the show’s opulence as simply in keeping with the wide range of Catholic beauty.




And now a word from our sponsor:


Please go to and give what you can. Any amount with a five in it will nicely mark the fifth anniversary of “Reasonably Catholic: Keeping the Faith.” Thanks!


Back in my newspaper days, I had the honor and privilege of interviewing the late, great Tom Wolfe. God rest his soul. Here’s my piece from 1996 when he visited Brown University:

Tom Wolfe: Life is good, but for what?

Life in America is good, declares Tom Wolfe, a writer generally not known for his sunny views. But it’s far from what it should be.

The author of the best-selling Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff came to Brown University last night – yes, he was wearing the trademark white suit – to sum up “the spirit of the age” in a speech at Salomon Hall.

At a press briefing beforehand, Wolfe, a gentlemanly fellow with a warm smile, explained his measured optimism.

For one thing, he said, the country is well-liked around the world – “Even the French intellectuals have stopped complaining about it. That’s a big step.”

He described America as a “big locomotive” that can’t be derailed by pressures from left and right, and said he doesn’t worry about the presidential election. “Oddly enough,” he said, “this is really a democracy.”

It’s true, people are still as venal as he’d described them in Bonfire, a dark look at money, race and class in New York City, he said, but “at least everybody has the freedom to be venal.”

One would have to be “expecting the moon” to be glum, considering America’s money, power and standing in the world, and especially when you compare it with other societies throughout history, he said.

And yet, he said during the speech, all is not completely well.

He recalled that at the end of the last century, the philosopher Nietzsche predicted society’s moral decay, because it no longer believed in God, nor trusted in truth, beauty and other eternal verities. That decay is in full swing, said Wolfe, counting the ways:

*Going into debt – even going bankrupt – is no longer shameful, it’s a financial strategy.

*The “sexual revolution,” he said, is only “a prim term for the lurid carnival” going on now. Wolfe is left reeling by the concept of co-ed dorms, in which nubile youths “in the season of the rising sap” share bathrooms.

*The CEO and his “trophy wife” are not social pariahs, nor are parents of children once described as “illegitimate.”

*Young people who once would have become philosophers are so discouraged by their professors’ “rhetorical taffy-pulling” that they turn instead to the neurosciences to explain the soul, mind and psyche.

*Serving on the local museum board shows one’s “spiritual worthiness” better than joining a church.

Wolfe predicted that the views of Harvard University author Edward O. Wilson will become more and more influential with time. Wilson’s theory, said Wolfe, is that we are all biologically wired to be what we are, that “the fix is in genetically; you can struggle all you want and you can’t change it.”

Such an attitude is bound to create a tide of cynicism, said Wolfe. Already, millions are so hungry for moral certitude, they are turning to Pentecostal “tub-thumping Christianity” or else such New Age solutions as channeling, as in a spirit.

He recalled that, once, a Zen abbott asked the editor of Time magazine, “Why do you publish it?” After some hemming and hawing, the editor replied that it was for the good of the readers.

“Yes,” the abbott responded, putting his finger on it, “but good for what?”

In the same way, said Wolfe, life in America is good – but good for what?

‘New Journalism’ query

Earlier, during the press briefing in one of Brown’s elegant parlors, Wolfe talked with students who are now reading his works in class. One, Amanda Ariscom, a senior English major in tiger-striped velour pants and combat boots, asked about “objectivity” in the “New Journalism” he’d pioneered three decades ago.

Wolfe, who began his writing career as a newspaper reporter in Springfield, Mass., made it clear that although he advocated greater use of dialogue in nonfiction writing and a structure resembling that of a short story, facts are facts, and “reporting is the key to everything.”

He then launched into a general critique of his former trade: how sad it is that most cities have but one newspaper (it means reporters don’t have to work as hard), and that television and radio rely so much on it.

Asked about the Internet, Wolfe called it “the most fantastic time-waster invented since television,” adding, “at this point, I don’t want it in my house. My house looks like a computer theme park already.”

Student Amy Lorocca, a junior English major, challenged him on this: By going online, she said, you can call up as many different newspapers as you’d like, including the Moscow Times.

“You have a good point,” conceded Wolfe, with a nod. “It might improve things.”

Work hard

His advice for budding journalists? “Work harder than they tell you to.” He recalled how shocked he was, as a young reporter with the former New York Herald Tribune, to see six reporters from other papers loitering in a room at the federal courthouse, waiting to be fed verdicts by a court official, then copying down whatever the least lazy reporter called in to an editor.

Photographers are no better, he said. In his experience, “they spent most of their time complaining about being sent out of the building. They really thought it was an imposition.”

Both The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities were made into films, and Wolfe was asked his thoughts. The former was “not a bad movie,” he said, but the latter one was, mostly because the tale was too involved to tell in two hours; he thinks it would have worked better as a serial.

His favorite recent movie is Clueless, which he’s seen three times, because of its good satirical writing. He believes, however, that when it comes to explaining things and getting into a character’s head, movies are bound to fall short. In The Right Stuff, for instance, all the viewer knows is that Chuck Yeager, spiraling out of control, is in “big trouble,” but that then he ejects and makes it.

“It’s hard to think of a movie that has had a major effect on the way people think.”

Wolfe is working on a new book about the banking and real estate industries. Like his other books, it is based on long reporting.

Banking, he said he’s discovered, is “no longer what I always thought it was – a bunch of stuffy people working in a Greek Revival tomb.” Rather, the emphasis is on innovation and “mental toughness.”

Inevitably, the conversation turned to his white suit, which he said he first adopted out of “poverty,” then kept because “suddenly it became fun to get dressed in the morning.”

Yesterday, he wore it with black-and-white polka-dot stockings, black-and-white shoes he had made to look like spats, a striped shirt with cuff links and a tie tacked with a smiling half-moon. A black-edged white scarf poked out of his pocket.

What does he do if he spills something on the suit? He is always careful to bring a spare.

Soon enough, a campus spokesman was calling Wolfe to dinner with Brown President Vartan Gregorian and his guests, but a photographer got in one last question: What does he want on his tombstone?

Wolfe thought but a second, then said, “He isn’t here.”