Christopher Gaul died Oct. 18, 2012. (CR file photo)
Kneeling in the small parking garage at
Catholic Review headquarters about a decade ago, Christopher Gaul and I went to
work changing a flat tire on his small sports utility vehicle. Gaul, my former
managing editor, confidently wielded an iron wrench to unloosen lug nuts while
I waited to help him remove the damaged tire.
After a few minutes, my keen journalistic
powers of observation kicked in.
“Ummm, Chris,” I said, unable to contain a laugh.
“You’re changing the tire that’s not flat.”
The metallic clank of a dropped tool echoed
in the garage before Chris looked at me with a bemused smile. He was soon
laughing with me at our automotive incompetence.
“Shut up,” Chris said in an urbane British
accent. “You are not to tell anyone of this.”
Christopher Gaul was one of the great
characters in the history of the Baltimore press.
Suave, intelligent, driven, funny and
ambitious, Chris was a fixture at the Catholic
Review from 1995 to 2005. He served in a variety of award-winning roles
including senior correspondent, managing editor, associate editor and host of
television and radio programs.
It will be a year Oct. 18 since Chris lost
a nearly yearlong battle with lung cancer. His distinguished journalism career
included stints as a reporter for The Sun and The Evening Sun, an investigative
reporter and documentary film producer for WJZ-TV,
and a medical reporter for WBAL-TV.
Raised in the Church of England, Chris
became a Catholic as a teen a few years after his mother joined the church in
the late 1940s. Gaul’s godfather
was William E. Barrett, a Catholic writer whose novels include “The Left Hand
Chris long ago told me he was attracted to
the romance of the Catholic Church – stories of fantastic saints and martyrs, a
theology that ran deep, and liturgy that inspired awe. I always had the sense
that he was on a spiritual journey – sometimes stumbling, but always staying
Chris was one of
my greatest mentors. I learned more from reading his eloquent prose and sitting
next to him at the Catholic Review than I did in any writing course. More than
that, he became a friend.
Several times a
year, I visited Chris and his wife, Pam, at their Essex home not too far from
where I grew up. Sometimes we enjoyed a cookout or took in a football game. On his
last Christmas Eve, I joined Chris’ family for a dinner that featured his
famous Yorkshire pudding. Another time, ushering in a new year, I watched the
husband-and-wife team dance with their beloved Weimaraner show dogs at the stroke of midnight.
As Chris neared
the end of his life, he began giving things away. He had already given me a
copy of the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible (which he steadfastly
described as the most eloquent Catholic translation), an icon of St. Paul and a
St. George medal from France that I wore until it broke free of its chain and
In those last
months, Chris also gave me spiritual books and a bag of “holy dirt” he
collected while on pilgrimage to one of his favorite shrines in Santa Fe.
longtime dream, Chris received special permission to make his definitive
promises as a lay member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites just
months before he died – even though he had not completed formation.
The day before Chris lost his battle with
cancer, I visited him one final time. As a wet cloth perched on his forehead, Chris
rested in bed while his beloved canines lingered nearby. On the wall hung a framed
copy of Jean-Francois Millet's familiar painting of peasants pausing in a field
for the Angelus – a retirement gift from The Catholic Review editorial
department in honor of the tradition Chris started at the newspaper of praying
the Angelus every day at noon.
Soft classical music hung in the air as I
thanked Chris for being such a good friend and mentor. Within hours, he was
Christopher Gaul enjoys his retirement party with some of the people he mentored:
George P. Matysek Jr., Rachel Richmond and Jennifer Williams.
I often wonder what Chris would make of the
changes that have taken place in the church since his death – the stunning and
humble retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of the Argentine Pope
I suspect he would be intrigued by our new
pope’s emphasis on mercy, since one of Chris’ favorite prayers was a
soul-searching one he borrowed from the Orthodox: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of
God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
He would be pleased, I think, to know that some
of the people he mentored at The Catholic Review are using the skills he honed
in them to cover these exciting times with a sense of fairness, balance
and perhaps even some of his style.
Yes, Chris is gone. His legacy is not.
Rest in peace, friend.
October 17, 2013 04:39
By George Matysek
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland's former lieutenant governor, is weighing in on Sarah Palin's new book, "America by Heart."
Townsend, a Catholic, is particularly concerned that the former Alaska governor has criticized President John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. It was in that landmark address that Kennedy asserted that he should be judged by his political views and not his Catholic faith.
Palin argues that Kennedy “essentially declared religion to be such a private matter that it was irrelevant to the kind of country we are.” Instead of embracing faith as a part of what defined him, Palin argues, Kennedy ran from it -- failing to reconcile his private faith with his public role.
In a Dec. 5 opinion piece in The Washington Post, Townsend defends the assassinated president, her uncle. She says Palin's argument "seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office."
A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.
If there is no religious test, then there is no need for a candidate's religious affiliation to be "reconciled." My uncle urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.
Kennedy cited Thomas Jefferson to argue that, as part of the American tradition, it was essential to keep any semblance of a religious test out of the political realm. Best to judge candidates on their public records, their positions on war and peace, jobs, poverty, and health care. No one, Kennedy pointed out, asked those who died at the Alamo which church they belonged to.
But Palin insists on evaluating and acting as an authority on candidates' faith. She faults Kennedy for not "telling the country how his faith had enriched him." With that line, she proceeds down a path fraught with danger - precisely the path my uncle warned against when he said that a president's religious views should be "neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office."
Townsend contends that her famous uncle "was courageous in arguing that government funds should not be used in parochial schools, despite the temptation to please his constituents." She argues that although many Catholics would have liked the money, Kennedy "wisely thought that the use of public dollars in places where nuns explicitly proselytized would be unconstitutional."
When Townsend ran unsuccessfully for the governor's office in 2002, my former editor and I had a chance to interview her for a profile in The Catholic Review. Interestingly, back then, although Townsend vehemently opposed vouchers that could help parents choose which schools to send their children, she favored providing public funds to continue a state program that earmarked money for nonreligious textbooks in Catholic and other nonpublic schools.
"It's proved helpful to the citizens of this state, to the children of this state," she said, "and I think when we see programs that help the kids I think we should continue them."
Townsend has often been a lightening rod within the Catholic Church. An incredibly staunch supporter of keeping abortion legal, she has spoken dismissively of American bishops who defend the sanctity of life and who hold politicians accountable, saying they have "lost their way."
In the election issue of The Catholic Review eight years ago, Townsend said she favors "choice" because she believes "women can make the best decision on what they should do with their bodies." Asked twice whether there are any restrictions on abortion -- any at all -- that she would support, she dodged the question by saying repeatedly, "I trust women."
In that interview, Townsend said her call to public service grew out of the Catholic commitment to reaching beyond oneself.
"I was always taught by the nuns to do your duty and to figure out what your talents are and how best to use them," she said. "Part of it is to figure out how you can, as the Bible says, love your neighbor. And I think I've discovered that public life and public service is the best way to use my talent."
What do you think?
Is asking a candidate about his or her faith laying down a religious test for office? Was it fair for us to ask Townsend and other candidates about how their faith shapes their approach to leadership and public life? Is faith such a fundamental part of what defines a person that it makes it fair game in evaluating a candidate? Where do you draw the line?
I really want to hear from you.
December 05, 2010 08:41
By George Matysek
The Redemptorists of the Baltimore Province are making it about as easy as it gets to read snippets of daily Scripture this Advent. Every day, they are sharing a short Bible passage on Twitter, Facebook and their website. Twitter only allows messages of 140 characters or less, so these messages are short and sweet! In this hectic time of year, take a few seconds (really, that's all it takes!) to reflect on the true meaning of the season.
December 04, 2010 10:20
By George Matysek
When you're sending your Christmas cards this year, don't forget the pope.
A website sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications has a link where users can write a Christmas message or share a photo with the Holy Father. The greetings will also be shared at the Pope2You website.
What would you say to the pope this Christmas season?
12/10/2010 - Update: Lots of folks are taking a look at this post! Be sure to visit www.catholicreview.org/matysekblog for similar posts.
December 02, 2010 04:36
By George Matysek
Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the popemobile for Mass in Nationals Park April 17, 2008 in Washington. (Owen Sweeney III, Catholic Review)
Could Pope Benedict XVI soon be tooling around in a solar-powered popemobile? A snip from the AP:
Anyone have a fast, solar-powered electric popemobile for his holiness?The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI would gladly use one as another sign of his efforts to promote sustainable energy and take care of the planet, but one has yet to be offered.
Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, who runs the Vatican City state, said Wednesday Benedict would certainly prefer an electric popemobile to a traditional, petroleum-powered one given the priority he has given to making the Vatican a leader in green energy.
His comments came during a presentation of a book on the Vatican's ecological efforts: "The Energy of the Sun in the Vatican." The book documents the 2008 installation of photovoltaic cells on the roof of the Vatican's main auditorium and the 2009 installation of a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria.
The technology has won awards and garnered Benedict a reputation as the "green pope."
The Germany-based firm SolarWorld, which provided the photovaltaic cells on the auditorium, said Wednesday it has discussed the idea of providing the pope with a solar-powered electric car.
SolarWorld marketing chief Milan Nitzschke said the main hurdle is to get the Vatican security apparatus to sign off on it, since some still have concerns — unfounded, he said — that electric cars don't accelerate as quickly as traditional ones.
"It's really no problem," he said, noting that electric cars can go from 0-100 kph in three seconds.
"This is something we have to discuss with the people who are in charge of the security aspect, but of course this is possible and it would be a very, very huge symbol."
December 01, 2010 09:44
By George Matysek
Susan Crane is no stranger to prisons.
The longtime anti-nuclear peace activist, a resident of the Jonah House community in West Baltimore, has already served five years for various peace actions – including a 1999 protest at the Warfield Air National Guard base in Middle River, where she and three others hammered and poured blood on two A-10 Warthog aircraft. The demonstrators tried to raise awareness that the planes had the capacity to fire depleted uranium.
Crane is at it again. One year ago on All Souls’ Day, she used a bolt cutter to rip open chain-link fences at a U.S. Navy nuclear weapons storage depot in Bangor, Wash.
Working with two Jesuit priests, a Sacred Heart Sister and another lay woman, Crane helped sprinkle blood on the property and symbolically hammered on roadways and fences. The Catholic peace activists unfurled a banner that declared Trident missiles to be “illegal” and “immoral.” They also scattered sunflower seeds – the international symbol of nonviolence.
Charged with conspiracy, trespass, destruction of property on a naval installation and depradation of government property, Crane and the others await the start of a Dec. 7 federal trial in Tacoma.
I had a chance to talk with Crane for a story in this week’s Catholic Review. She was as passionate as ever and not in the least bit remorseful for what she did. She knows she’s facing the possibility of a long prison sentence.
No matter what you think of her tactics or position on the issue, I'd encourage you to check out the story and consider her reasoning. She is convinced that her Catholic faith compels her to oppose nuclear weapons.
Here are some questions and answers that didn’t make it into the story:
Matysek: Have you given any thought to what you will do if you have to spend time in prison?
Crane: I’m a special education teacher, so I would probably teach GED classes. The women are very interested in learning. There’s no lack of work to do. I’d try to get a Bible study group going. The conditions in federal prisons aren’t made to encourage people. They are made to degregate people who are considered throw-aways in society.
Matysek: How can you raise awareness about nuclear weapons if you are in prison?
Crane: Certainly, inside the prison, there’s a lot of work that can be done and a lot of listening that can happen. A lot of people have written to me and I’ll be able to write to some of them.
Matysek: Do you have any regrets for the actions you have taken?
Crane: I don’t have regret for going in and saying no to these weapons. I wonder if I can do enough. I do hope other people will think about these weapons and realize how devastating they are. Every president except Johnson has threatened to use weapons against another nation. That’s staggering. We have to stop threatening to use them to get our way.
Matysek: If you had not been stopped and arrested after you entered the naval property, what would you have done?
Crane: Probably put up our banner and symbolically hammer on the bunker. It's a symbolic action, yet it's real. We are saying as clearly as we can we need to disarm these weapons.
December 01, 2010 11:40
By George Matysek
In the nearly 14 years I've covered the State House in Annapolis, I've heard a lot of arguments for and against the death penalty. Proponents often insist the ultimate punishment deters violent crime and exacts justice. Opponents say it's inhumane and unfairly targets minorities.
Few people have provided more powerful personal testimony against the death penalty than Vicki Schieber, the mother of a murder victim whose Catholic faith propels her to forgive.
Vicki and her husband, Syl, will share their story tonight at the Greene Turtle in Fells Point beginning at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Tap into Your Faith series for young adults.
Below are excerpts from a story I wrote a few years ago in The Catholic Review, along with a CR video clip featuring Vicki. The Schiebers will discuss much more at tonight's talk and answer questions. Everyone is welcome.
When police arrested the man who brutally raped and murdered Shannon Schieber in 1998, the Schieber family faced unrelenting pressuring to seek the death penalty.
The district attorney, prosecutors, members of the media and others in Philadelphia assured Shannon’s parents that putting their 23-year-old daughter’s killer to death was the only way to serve justice and bring them “a sense of closure.” Some even implied that failing to pursue the death penalty was a sign they didn’t really love their daughter.
Reflecting back on those heart-wrenching days, Vicki Schieber, Shannon’s mother, said her family was “re-victimized” by the debate surrounding the death penalty. Knowing the Catholic values her daughter embraced, Mrs. Schieber said there was no way she could demand the taking of another life. “The death penalty wasn’t going to honor Shannon’s life and it wasn’t going to bring her back,” said Mrs. Schieber, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C., who spoke at a Nov. 7 forum on the death penalty sponsored by the archdiocesan respect life office at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.
“I thought about everything we ever taught Shannon to believe — to turn the other cheek, to show compassion and to be forgiving,” Mrs. Schieber said. “If you have a set of principles and then don’t live by them when you are tested, were they ever your principles to begin with?”
Mrs. Schieber’s request for a sentence of life without parole was ultimately given to Troy Graves, who also pleaded guilty to 13 other sexual assault in two states.
What Shannon would have wanted
Mrs. Schieber said it wasn’t an easy decision. She and her family struggled with tremendous anger that someone would snuff out the life of a daughter she described as the “joy of our lives.”
Shannon was gifted “beyond belief,” according to her mother. At 18 months, she was already reciting the alphabet — forward and backward. By the time she was 3, she was reading at a second-grade level. In school, Shannon earned top grades, serving as president of her high school and president of her freshman class at Duke University, where she graduated in three years with a triple major in mathematics, economics and philosophy.
Shannon was also very committed to social justice. She earned a full scholarship at the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia — not with the intent of making boatloads of money for herself, Mrs. Schieber said, but to have a successful career in finance so she could help the poor.
“After her death, Shannon was sitting on my shoulder, telling me, ‘Don’t let him kill all of you, too,” said Mrs. Schieber. “She was telling me to take all that energy and do good with it.”
To pursue the death penalty would have put her on the same footing as the murderer himself by being willing to take a life to satisfy one’s own ends, Mrs. Schieber said.
'No such thing as closure'
It is wrong to suggest that executing people brings a sense of closure, according to Mrs. Schieber. Every time she sees a beautiful young family in church, she is reminded that her daughter will never have the chance to marry and raise a family of her own. Even if the killer were executed, those reminders will persist throughout her life, Mrs. Schieber said.
“There is no such thing as closure when a violent crime rips away someone you love,” she said.
Mrs. Schieber pointed out that the death penalty is a human institution and subject to mistakes. More than 120 people have been exonerated for murders they did not commit, she said. At a practical level, the death penalty is also a waste of money, according to Mrs. Schieber. Sustaining the death penalty infrastructure and appeals process costs millions of dollars per case, she said. “It only costs about $50,000 (annually) to keep my daughter’s murderer in prison,” she said.
As the Maryland General Assembly is expected to debate a bill replacing the death penalty with sentences of life without parole, Mrs. Schieber urged Catholics to sign petitions in support of the effort to help convince lawmakers to support a culture of life.
“All life is sacred,” she said.
November 30, 2010 06:31
By George Matysek
(CR Photo/Owen Sweeney III) Sis Carnes and Little Sister of the Poor Lawrence Pocock share a conversation.
Thom Loverro of The Washington Examiner has a nice column about how the phrase "playing the Little Sisters of the Poor" has become one of the ultimate sports insults.
I've visited St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville many times, where I've seen the Little Sisters of the Poor care for the sick and dying. I can testify that these heroic women definitely ain't no patsies.
Here's an article in The Catholic Review that describes their work in much detail.
A snip from Loverro's column:
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Ohio State president Elwood Gordon Gee caught some heat last week for insulting the quality of opponents Boise State and TCU face on their football schedules in the continuing debate about the BCS and the crowning of a national champion.
"Well, I don't know enough about the Xs and Os of college football," Gee told the Associated Press. "I do know, having been both an SEC president and a Big Ten president, that it's like a murderer's row every week for those schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day."
What is it about the Little Sisters of the Poor? Why, in every sports debate that comes up about quality of opponents, does somebody like Gee feel the need to disparage the Little Sisters of the Poor?
They don't even have a football team.
The fact is the Little Sisters of the Poor is a fine Roman Catholic religious order for women that helps the elderly poor in 31 countries around the world.
They deserve better than to be defined as schedule patsies.
"We've heard that before," said Amelia Arnold, who works in the development department in the Baltimore office. "We think it is funny. Most people don't realize we are an organization and the work that we do ... but we have had some Ravens players here for programs."
November 28, 2010 08:45
By George Matysek
Handel's Messiah is always big this time of the year and choirs around the archdiocese are probably working on "For Unto Us a Child is Born" and the "Hallelujah Chorus" for Christmas.
Here's what can happen when the organist accidentally hits the transpose button at a most unfortunate moment.
By the way, Ed Polochick and The Concert of Artists of Baltimore will perform a much better version next Friday at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore. Their performances are outstanding. You won't want to miss it.
November 28, 2010 12:13
By George Matysek
Be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world.
That's the resolution two debating titans will take up tonight in Toronto in a matchup that's likely to attract a lot of attention around the world.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a convert to Catholicism, will argue in favor of religion's positive impact, while well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens will take up the opposite view.
Hitchens, a British-born American who is battling esophageal cancer, has been a scathing critic of religion. He has long attacked Blessed Mother Teresa as the "Ghoul of Calcutta" -- charging her with using her fame to promote the "fundamentalist agenda" of Pope John Paul II.
Two weeks after Blessed Mother Teresa visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore in 1996, the Baltimore Museum of Art hosted a showing of Hitchens' documentary called "Hell's Angel -- Mother Teresa of Calcutta." The Catholic Review reported that the showing attracted protestors and sparked outrage across the archdiocese.
Bill Blaul, then the communications director for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told The Catholic Review that he turned down a request from the video's producers to appear with Hitchens at a panel discussion at the event because the atheist's reputation as a "religion hater and Mother Teresa basher'' had preceded him.
"I was not about to sit across the table from him, representing the archdiocese," Blaul said. "It would have been like debating someone from the Ku Klux Klan.''
Blair, who established Blair's Faith Foundation in 2008 to promote understanding between religions, has announced that he will donate his speaking fee for tonight's debate to his foundation.
The former prime minister, who served in that capacity from 1997-2007, has also established the Tony Blair Sports Foundation to increase opportunities for young people to participate in athletics.
Thousands of people around the world are paying money to watch tonight's debate online.
Expect sparks to fly.
Here's a snip from Winnipeg Free Press.
The question to be argued before some 2,600 audience members is a chance to hear two important voices debate religion's impact in an era of globalization, said moderator Rudyard Griffiths.
"With Tony Blair we've got someone who has wielded power at the highest levels but also has an enduring belief that faith can make the world a better place," said Griffiths.
"In Christopher Hitchens, arguably the world's most prominent atheist and someone who in many ways has dedicated his intellectual life, his writing, to making the case for why he thinks religion poisons everything."
When the event, part of the Munk Debates, was announced last month, Blair said he had a "formidable opponent" in the British-born turned American journalist, author and Vanity Fair columnist.
"Understanding religion and people of faith is an essential part of understanding our increasingly globalized world," said Blair, who released his memoirs in September.
"Challenging the myths that are born out of the actions and words of a controversial few is incredibly important."
Votes will be taken at the beginning and end of the debate Friday at Roy Thomson Hall to determine who had the more convincing argument. Results will be posted on the Munk Debates website.
November 26, 2010 06:55
By George Matysek