Museums' Pro-Choice Patron; Pilgrims' Progress

Art Benefactor's Other Love: Planned Parenthood

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By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, NOV. 16, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A couple of weeks ago while I was suffering through a crowded, stuffy, noisy visit to the Vatican Museums, watching two people being carried out on stretchers after fainting in the halls, I heard a disconcerting new catch phrase among the museum staff.

Every time I commiserated with a custodian for the chaos or pointed out a visitor who appeared to be on his last legs, I was given the same line, "Well, it's their choice to come here."

More amused than outraged at this attempt to shrug off the responsibility for dangerously overcrowding the museum, I thought how ironic it was for the Vatican Museums to become "Pro-choice." Still, I never dreamed of the cold shower I would soon receive.

A few days later a ZENIT reader brought to my attention that one of the official Patrons of the Vatican Museums is also an active and public supporter of Planned Parenthood, the world's largest abortion provider.

The Patrons of the Vatican Museums were formed in 1983 as an international society organized from within the Holy See institution. The Patrons were dedicated to supporting and maintaining the art of the Vatican Museums. While there are chapters of Patrons in several parts of Europe, by far and away the greatest number of patrons can be found in the United States.

The Vatican Museums maintain an office just for the Patrons where they are brought on private guided visits and have special events and dinners on the premises.

The Patrons donate between €250 and €1,000 (about $320 to $1,280 at current exchange rates) annually to the museums and are coordinated in different parts of the United States by chairpersons who serve as links between the Vatican institution and the local area.

The chair for the Minnesota chapter is one Maureen Kucera-Walsh, as can be seen on the Vatican Museums Website on the Patrons page.

Kucera-Walsh was particularly instrumental when the "St. Peter and the Vatican" show toured the States in 2004. She was indicated in the June 2004 issue of Basilica, the magazine of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as the point person for visiting the traveling exhibition. Her Minnesota chapter restored the hammer used to verify the death of the Pope as well as the statues of Sts. Peter and Paul from the sacristy of St. Peter's.

But Kucera-Walsh does not limit her charitable activities to the preservation of sacred art. Last Oct. 9, she served as a host for a Planned Parenthood event in Minneapolis.

This event was organized to marshal support against the proposed law in South Dakota which would have make it a crime for anyone to perform an abortion except where the mother's life was in danger. One of the principal items on the agenda of this event was to "get the inside scoop on the effort to defeat South Dakota's abortion ban."

Benefactors of this event paid between $100 and $1,000 to participate. Kucera-Walsh was listed among the hosts for this event.

This activity, unfortunately, is not the extent of Kucera-Walsh's role in Planned Parenthood. In the Planned Parenthood annual report of 2005, she sits on the 2006 board of directors.

What a sad state of affairs when one can be so involved with the preservation and protection of the works of art in the Vatican but so easily turn one's back on most fundamental moral teachings and beliefs that inspired them.

The position of Kucera-Walsh reflects the common contemporary view that the art of the Vatican is somehow disconnected from the teaching of the Church that commissioned it.

That idea is fostered by portraying the artists themselves as mavericks, or religious rebels, a myth demonstrably false in the cases of Michelangelo, Raphael and numerous others, including the hands that fashioned the hammer that would touch the head of Christ's Vicar on earth when his earthly mission came to an end.

The statues of Sts. Peter and Paul, restored through the efforts of Kucera-Walsh's chapter of the Patrons, sit on the altar above St. Peter's tomb on their feast day as a reminder of the two great saints of Rome who were martyred in the attempt to bring Christianity to Rome.

With one hand, people like Maureen Kucera-Walsh polish the effigies of the saints, while with the other they dismiss what the saints died for. That gives a perverted twist to the Gospel injunction not to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing!

Like every museum, the Vatican Museums need donors, but unlike any other museum in the world, the Vatican houses artifacts and aesthetic manifestations of the 2,000-year-old belief in Jesus Christ, savior of the world. Every work in that museum bears witness to God's choice of Rome as the center of his church, the hope and trust he brought to the earliest Christian communities here, and the greatness he drove the proud and mighty masters of the Renaissance to achieve.

Undoubtedly many people who gave and produced the great art of the Vatican were sinners themselves, and found their path back to God through the patronage of great works. Nonetheless, supporting Church art while actively opposing the Church's moral mission confuses the faithful and scandalizes those who embrace the Gospel message in its entirety.

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Guest House at 50

While Maureen Kucera-Walsh was organizing the Planned Parenthood event, another group of benefactors from the U.S. Midwest was making a quiet pilgrimage here in Rome. No fancy visits to private rooms of the Vatican Museums for Daniel Kidd, president and chief executive officer of Guest House, a recovery resource for addicted Catholic priests, deacons, seminarians, and men and women religious -- there was just prayer and thanksgiving.

"None too early, none too late" is the motto of this organization founded and run by lay people to save the vocations, lives and dignity of people who have consecrated their lives to God.

Guest House was founded by Austin Ripley, a short-story writer whose life was ravaged by alcoholism. During his remarkable recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous, Ripley realized that many Catholic priests in the program were unable to benefit from the treatment and felt it was his mission to try to find a way to assist these lost men.

Overcoming much opposition from local bishops who were skeptical about the capacity of lay people to provide counseling and assistance to priests, Ripley and his wife Lee started the first Guest House in Lake Orion, Michigan, in 1956. Before his death in 1974 Austin Ripley saw the opening of a second treatment center in Rochester, Minnesota.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Guest House (it has helped 7,000 men and women), Daniel Kidd along with few benefactors and staff came to Rome on a pilgrimage to the heart of the Church they have served so many years.

In particular, they went to visit the tomb of Pope Pius XII who approved the first Guest House through the offices of Cardinal Edward Mooney, archbishop of Detroit, who interceded on behalf of the fledgling organization.

Kidd explained to me about the complexities of treated addicted priests in particular. "Austin Ripley realized that priests didn't function well in the AA environment because they had such high expectations of themselves in their roles as priests that they couldn't open up and talk about the problem."

Ripley established a safe haven for them surrounded by caregivers who would respect their dignity as priests and understand their difficulties as alcoholics. Surrounded by other priests, welcomed as ill men in need of treatment instead of outcasts or traitors to their vows, the clerics in his care began to respond.

Ripley and his wife always saw their work as an "apostolic mission" and through thick and thin they knew that God would assist them in their task. Today, Guest House has thriving alumni all over the United States.

While Guest House has had several illustrious benefactors, many give their time and energy to the center with no glamorous perks. Priests and religious sisters volunteer their time to the center while neighbors and friends have offered prayers and support to assist the endeavor.

While the Vatican Museums boast the splendid Raphael Rooms, some of the most beautiful paintings to grace its walls, Guest House claims the support of Raphael, angel of the sick, represented in an enormous mosaic gracing its first center in Michigan.

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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University's Italian campus. She can be reached at lizlev@zenit.org.