Sometime during the afternoon while walking around at the Religious Newswriters Association Conference, I saw a man wearing a priest collar. I hadn’t talked to a priest at this conference yet, so I walked over to him and started to ask him some questions.
“Hi, where do you preach?” I asked politely.
In a very clearly American accent he told me that he’s from the Vatican. He went on to tell me that he teaches literature there. Immediately, I had several questions come to mind. First, I asked him if he came all the way from the Vatican just for this conference and then I asked him how an American became a priest in the Vatican. He did travel all the way from the Vatican ahead of the Pope’s visit for this conference and he told me that he used to live in Pennsylvania. He used to work in politics as a speechwriter for both a Republican and a Democrat. I inquired more about this and he told me that he had formerly worked for George Bush Sr. and Bob Casey here in PA. He was impressed by Casey’s strong pro-life position.
Why did he leave politics for the priesthood? He sort of avoided this question a little bit, but mentioned that he was disappointed that Casey decided not to run for President. If I were drinking something, I would have spit it out at this point. Bob Casey? Run for President? I laughed out loud and not in the internet LOL way. Then he realized my error and pointed out that he was not talking about the current Senator; he was referring to Bob Casey Sr. The father of the current Senator who was apparently enormously popular. I nodded. “That makes much more sense,” I said. Bob Casey Jr. would be luck to avoid a primary challenge for his Senate seat.
I think next I asked him if he knew the Pope personally. I was surprised when he told me that he was pretty friendly with the last Pope – Pope Emeritus Benedict. Or as I refer to him, Pope Palpatine. That’s right I am now two degrees away from the former Pope. Who wants to touch me?
This prompted me asking him about the differences between the two Popes and which he liked better. Like many of the other Catholics I talked to at this conference, this Father pointed out that the two Popes are actually in agreement on pretty much all the issues. He said that the main issue is actually just about style. This current Pope has a softer tone, but on the issues they are identical.
Again, I pointed out that there is a difference in focus and that I thought that difference was important. I pointed out that this Pope seems more willing to talk about the science of global climate change and that as a person of science I thought that was important. This is where our conversation started to get interesting. The priest told me that the Church has always been a strong advocate for science. Again, if I were drinking… Again I busted out laughing. I of course pointed out that both currently and traditionally this has not really been the case and I pointed out the obvious. It was only a few decades ago that the Church forgave Galileo.
He acknowledged this and pointed out that this was just an isolated incident and that was why it was so noteworthy. “Fair enough” I said. Although in retrospect, that wasn’t the reason it was so noteworthy. It was noteworthy because it is an extreme example, not a rare example. Still, for the purpose of this conversation I was prepared to move forward. However, the good Father couldn’t leave it alone. Instead, he continued by completely contradicting himself and defending the Church’s persecution of Galileo. He said that back then all the scientists disagreed with Galileo and that he was in conflict with science, not the Church. I engaged in this debate by pointing out that at that time much of science was controlled by the Church and so he was in conflict with the Church. The priest defended his position by stating that in this case Galileo “just happened to be correct” but that he could have just as easily been wrong. His point was that Galileo’s discovery was a mere accident and that he just got lucky. The implication was that it would be like a two year old being asked tough math question and then randomly pointing to the correct multiple choice answer. So here we went from this priest claiming that the Galileo situation was a rare example to now defending the Church’s persecution and proving my point that that Church is anti-science.
If I recall correctly, this part of our conversation prompted him to ask me about my religious beliefs. Like I had with others I had interviewed at this conference, I proudly and vocally stated that I am an atheist. This somehow turned into a conversation about this historicity of Jesus and authenticity of the Bible.
I remember mentioning how some of the Bible was clearly fictionalized citing my favorite example of zombies rising from their graves when Jesus was put to death. To my surprise, he actually knew exactly what I was talking about and cited the verse. He even admitted that was a little hard to believe and may have been fictionalized.
At this point we had been talking for quite some time and I was eager to talk to other people and just to move around a little. But he kept going and we continued to talk about philosophy and debate about God and the Bible for at least another ten minutes. He clearly was enjoying this conversation and while I was too, I was also tired. It was a friendly conversation and I took note of his name tag and wrote his name down before we parted ways.
When I got home, I Googled him and discovered that the Father is actually an Opus Dei priest and that he has been interviewed by the media before on this topic. Had I known at the time that he was from Opus Dei, I would have had way more questions for him. Now I will have to think of some questions and attempt to e-mail them to him and hope he responds.
Over all, I was very impressed with this priest’s knowledge and friendliness. So few Christians are aware of the verse in the Gospels that talk about the Zombie apocalypse and it is rare to meet someone who is willing to engage in real knowledgeable conversations about the Bible and the historicity of Jesus. I think he is wrong of course, but at least he was someone who could give me a good argument for his point of view.
I liked the guy, but the nagging question in my mind after leaving the conversation is not a very flattering one. I know that for many, many years the Vatican has shifted predatory priests around the world and that they have deliberately brought many of them closer to the Vatican for protection. Here is an American priest who has been in the Vatican for decades. Obviously not all priests are pedophiles and obviously not all Vatican priests are pedophiles, but given that knowledge above, the thought did occur to me (perhaps unfairly) that he could be a pedophile. That is completely unfair for me to speculate on, but it was something I couldn’t stop thinking about. His involvement with Opus Dei only strengthens my suspicions. There is no evidence that I am aware of pointing in that direction and I totally believe he should be considered innocent until proven guilty, but the suspicion is there. I denounce and reject myself for this type of suspicion, but there it is.
- RNA Conference: What I Can’t Tell You (skepticink.com)
- RNA Conference: Lunch With Focus On The Family (skepticink.com)
- RNA Conference: Strangest Thing Heard From a Christian (skepticink.com)
- How People Can Believe In Slender Man (skepticink.com)