The Scandals at St. Gertrude the Great

West Chester, Ohio

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December 12, 2009

Open Letter to Bishop Dolan

by a Concerned Observer

For the classicist amongst us, this concerned observer brings us an interesting comparison between the Greek tragedy Antigone, and the current situation at St. Gertrude's.  Let us pray that the outcome at SGG works out better than in Sophocles' play.

Dear Bishop Dolan,

While watching the classic movie Antigone tonight—a Greek production with the lovely Irene Pappas in the title role—I couldn’t help noticing the parallels between the situation playing itself out at St. Gertrude the Great (SGG) and in this drama by Sophocles.  Considering your broad knowledge of Western culture and your alleged friendship with Joseph Charles McKenzie, whose Catholic Institute of Arts and Letters involves itself with such dramatic works, I’m sure you know of this play, but in order to refresh your memory, I will remind you of its contents anyway.  (Please skip the part in brackets if you already know the story.)

[Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King) who has poked out his eyes and gone into exile after discovering that he has unwittingly killed his father, married his mother, and fathered four children by her: two daughters, Antigone and Ismene; and two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices.   Oedipus’s wife, Jocasta, has killed herself in the throes of this tragedy and Eteocles grabs the vacated throne, exiling his brother who returns with an army to claim the throne for himself.  The brothers kill each other in battle at the gates of Thebes, and Creon now becomes king. 

Creon’s first order as king is that Eteocles will receive a proper Greek burial, according to the religious services of the time, while Polyneice’s body must be exposed outside the gates of Thebes to be eaten by dogs and vultures.  Anyone attempting to give  Polyneice a proper burial will be sentenced to death.  Antigone defies Creon’s order, citing her blood ties to Eteocles, and the law of love over Creon’s overly harsh decrees, and is sentenced to die by being holed up in a cave.  After overseeing the holing up of Antigone in the lonely cave, Creon returns to his palace with his entourage of guards, and along the way meets a blind prophet, Teiresias.  Teiresias tells him he has done wrong by a) leaving Polyneice’s body to be exposed, and b) sentencing Antigone to death.  Misfortune will surely fall upon Thebes, warns Teiresias, if Creon does not immediately change his policy. 

Hearing these dire words of warning, Creon changes his mind and orders the cave holing up Antigone to be opened.  But by then it is too late.  Antigone has hung herself in her despair, and Creon’s son, who was her fiancé, rushes in, and seeing what his father’s actions have led to, turns his sword on himself and joins Antigone in death.  Upon hearing the news of her son’s terrible death, Creon’s wife, Eurydice, takes her own life.  In despair over his own blind stubbornness, Creon gives up his crown and is led off into the desert, never to return.]

Perhaps, Your Excellency, you have seen the parallels to the situation you currently preside over at St. Gertrude The Great.  You, of course, are like Creon, who holds onto his power and unjust commands at all costs.  The priests still in good standing at SGG are like Eteocles who receive the good favor of the state, while Fr. Ramolla is like Polyneices, who has been accused of rebellion and therefore is to be exposed in the wilderness to die.  The faithful who have left SGG to assist Fr. Ramolla are like so many Antigones who see your decrees against assisting him as manifestly unjust, especially Stephanie Johns, who like Antigone is a passionate young lady who was secretly assisting the “dead” Polyneice/Ramolla and herself was harshly punished for it.  Dr. Droleskey is like the blind prophet, Teiresias, (“blind” because he is an “ignorant layman” like Michael Cain as lampooned in “Ballad of an Armchair Pope”) who warns you to give up your tyrannous stranglehold over those who seek simple redress of their grievances.  

Many of the actual lines in this play uncannily (eerily?) describe the situation at SGG:  As Antigone describes to her sister, Ismene: “What, hath not Creon destined our brothers, the one to honored burial the one to unburied shame?  Eteocles [priests in good standing at SGG], they say, with due observance of right and custom, he hath laid in the earth, for his honour among the dead below.  But the hapless corpse of Polyneices [Fr. Ramolla]—as rumour saith, it hath been published to the town that none shall entomb him or mourn, but leave unwept, unsepulchred, a welcome store for the birds, as they espy him, to feast on at will [the demand that no one assist at Fr. Ramolla’s Masses, nor show him any sympathy].  Such, ‘tis said, is the edict that the good Creon hath set forth for thee and for me—yes, for me—and is coming hither to proclaim it clearly to those who know it not [from the pulpit, the SGG bulletin, or on]; nor counts the matter light, but, whoso disobeys in aught, his doom is death by stoning before all the folk [being pilloried from the pulpit, the SGG bulletin, or on].”

Or, as Creon himself says when he finds out that someone has been attempting to bury the body of Polyneice, and a member of the Chorus suggests that perhaps this is the work of the gods: “Cease, ere thy words fill me utterly with wrath, lest thou be found at once an old man and foolish.  For thou sayest what is not to be borne, in saying that the gods have care for this corpse.  Was it for high reward of trusty service that they sought to hide his nakedness, who came to burn their pillared shrines and sacred treasures, to burn their land, and scatter its laws to the winds? [i.e., the charge that Fr. Ramolla did not deserve God’s protection since he had tried to “destroy” SGG parish]  Or dost thou behold the gods honouring the wicked?  It cannot be.  No! from the first there were certain in the town that muttered against me, chafing at this edict, wagging their heads in secret; and kept not their necks duly under the yoke, like men contented with my sway.”

To such irrational tyranny, Teiresias speaks like Droleskey:  “Thou wilt learn, when thou hearest the warning of my art…..tis thy counsel that hath brought this sickness on our State [SGG].  For the altars of our city and of our hearths have been tainted, one and all, by birds and dogs [the reported behavior of the Lotarskies and their sons]…..All men are liable to error; but when an error hath been made, that man is no longer witless or unblest who heals the ill into which he hath fallen, and remains not stubborn.  Self-will, we know, incurs the charge of folly.  Nay, allow the claim of the dead [Fr. Ramolla and his supporters]; stab not the fallen; what prowess is it to slay the slain anew [to continue the campaign against Fr. Ramolla]?  I have sought thy good, and for thy good I speak: and never is it sweeter to learn from a good counselor than when he counsels for thine own gain.”  

And there the parallels end.  It is now up to you to, Bishop Dolan, to decide if you will follow the words of Teiresias/Droleskey and stop the unjust treatment of Polyneice/ Ramolla, and those many Antigone/Stefanie Johns who have been faithful in assisting him.  It is no small thing to have one’s situation perfectly dissected by a renowned drama of 2,500 years ago, and it is no great shame either.  In fact, I see it as quite an honor.  The Greek tragedies were given as cautionary tales—to demonstrate the path men take to tragedy, shame, and ignominy, and to offer an experience of catharsis, or vicarious suffering, so that actual men themselves would not feel the need take these paths.  The way I see it, SGG is currently on the path of tragedy, a tragedy that is affecting the whole city of Thebes [SGG parish].  But the tragedy has not come to its full culmination and there is still time to turn back.  Please do, Bishop Dolan, before you suffer the fate of Creon and be sent off into the wilderness.


A Concerned Observer