A Glance Behind the Iron Bars

 "Crime" is usually understood to mean a violation of a human law so serious that it is punishable by death, imprisonment or other severe penalty.  But it also means any evil act or sin-the violation of a civil or a moral law.

I first became interested in the disproportionate amount of crime among Catholics while I was still a priest.  The very numerous crimes of drunkenness and physical violence ' particularly cuttings and stabbings, among the Catholic people, resulted in the victims being taken to St. Joseph's Hospital emergency room while I was still chaplain there.  Furthermore, the doctors and nurses called August in Phoenix the "Mexican mating season," as the frequent disregard of the formalities of Church marriage was notorious.

I can recall one instance when I was called all the way to a hovel on a ditch bank in Tolleson, west of Phoenix , to give last rites to a dying Mexican Catholic.  His children (about twelve of them) asked me to marry their parents before giving Extreme Unction.  The man was in a coma.

I explained to the children that unconscious people could not be married and asked furthermore why it had not been done before any of them were born.  A son replied that if they had been married "in the Church they could not have separated and remarried because that would have been a sin.  It was better to wait until near-death and then marry when there was no desire to marry someone else.  I found through my years as a priest that this was a common practice.

As a young priest I was the chaplain of the local county and city jails.  Here, too, I was struck by the number of Catholic guests.  Nor were they all Mexicans.  The Irish Americans were doing their part, too.

On several occasions when I spoke to the girls at the Good Shepherd Convent, Arizona 's only female reform school, I noticed that the number of Catholics seemed large.

Every priest hearing confession is aware of the very great incidence of drunkenness among his penitents.  He also knows its prevalence among the Catholic clergy.  I can well remember when bishops forbade Christmas midnight Mass for several years because the inebriation of parishioners made a scandal of the sacred ceremony.  On Christmas Eve of 1960, my wife and I picked up our car in a garage after dinner.  It was nine o'clock .  I asked the attendant why he was dressed up.  He answered, "I've got to go to midnight Mass, but I've got three hours to get drunk first."

One of our favorite Franciscan stories concerned St. Boniface Church in San Francisco .  A group of Catholics had celebrated New Year's eve with much liquid assistance.  New Year's day is a Catholic holy day, and all the faithful must attend Mass.  At 4:45 A.M. the phone awakened the priest who was on call for the San Francisco Emergency Hospital .  "You got Mass in your church at five o'clock ?" "No," the priest replied, "our first Mass is at six." "G-- d--," the voice answered, "thisch party's gotta last another hour."

While I was a priest at St. Mary's in Phoenix , a sick call came from one of the girls in a local house of prostitution called the Cozy Rooms.  The pastor called a caucus of the clergy.  It was decided that Fr. Martin Knauf should go because he was the eldest and least likely to raise eyebrows as he went in the door.  When he returned he was sad.  What depressed him was not so much the sinfulness of the girl but the conclusion that all of the girls in the establishment must be Roman Catholics.  A crucifix hung on the wall of the waiting room and the only bit of reading matter on the table had been a Baltimore Catechism.

One of the largest "houses" in Phoenix was owned by a Catholic who was occasionally conscience-stricken and sought my priestly advice as to the propriety of this source of revenue.  The decision from moral theology was that the leasing of a building for purposes of prostitution was not sinful if other buildings were also available.  In this case the Catholic could not stop the traffic-he would merely lose the profit.  When our hospital opened, I realized the difficulty that Negro and Latin-American doctors were having in securing office space.  I suggested to the good Catholic that the girls be evicted and that the building be remodeled into a professional one for minority-group doctors, dentists and lawyers.  The plan was turned down because it would not produce as much income as the other profession.

In the ignorant days of my priesthood, I was called to the northeast part of Phoenix on McDowell Road to minister the last rites to an Italian-American dying of tuberculosis.  I heard his confession and gave him.  Holy Communion.  He seemed to rally and moved with his wife to a more secluded part of town.  I visited him monthly with the Holy Sacraments for half a year.  I inquired as to why all the shades were always drawn, and he said that in his weakened condition his eyes were very sensitive to light.  He always gave me a five or ten dollar bill for Mass for his parents' souls.

One day the shades were up but the house was locked.  The couple had gone.  A neighbor told me the story as related to him by the police.  The man was not a tubercular, and he was not dying.  He was a Chicago gangster, hiding out.  The girl was not his wife but his "moll." They were both Roman Catholics and used the sacrament routine" and my visits to divert suspicion.  They had abruptly taken off without my priestly blessing when tipped off that the Chicago police had trailed them.

During the years since leaving the priesthood, I have met thousands of Protestants, Jews and other non-Catholics and have been astounded at the difference in their moral code and their behavior in public and private life from that common to Roman Catholics.  This has been most forcefully impressed upon me as I have been privileged to go through the thirty-two degrees of Freemasonry.

I have developed an insatiable thirst for the true story of the system that held me , and millions upon millions of others, captive, mentally and physically, for so many years.  I have been shocked at the revelation of its real history, written not by scandalmongers and anti-Catholics, but by sound, careful, erudite, accepted scholars.

I learned the true history of the lawlessness and iniquity of my former Church, as seen by myself during my priesthood, and I determined to discover whether my own experiences were borne out throughout America and the world.

Securing any true statistics regarding the Catholic Church is extremely difficult.  All favorable features of the Church are grossly exaggerated.  AU facts that might discredit the Church are suppressed as much as possible.  This is the reason for its vast system of censorship.

The Roman Catholic Church cannot survive free criticism of itself.  Thomas Sugrue, himself a Catholic, wrote:

 When in the sixteenth century Protestantism split the Western Church in two, self-criticism vanished from the parent body, the Roman Catholic Church.  Four hundred years later, in the latter half of the twentieth century, it is still absent, and the damage its exile has caused within the Church is incalculable because there is no way to more than hazard what Catholicism might be today had her rulers not theorized that criticism by Protestantism from without-a criticism expressed continuously and powerfully by the simple fact of Protestantism I s existence-made criticism from within too dangerous to tolerate."

 Only a fool would deny the fact that there are some millions of honest, church-going, law-abiding, Catholic citizens.  Every American has them as neighbors, fellow workmen and fellow-citizens.  And with millions of them, the lodestar that guides their lives in righteousness and frequently into great personal and financial sacrifice for God, for their fellowman and for their future in eternity is the Roman Catholic Church and its moral code.

Unfortunately, there are very many others who do not fare as well.  A very embarrassing number of our Roman Catholic brethren find their way into our jails and penitentiaries.  Across the country there is an alarmingly higher percentage of Catholics in penal institutions than even the heavily inflated figure claimed by the hierarchy to be the proportion of its followers in the general population.

Probably the most thorough study of criminal Catholics, Crime and Religion, was done by three Franciscan priests, themselves prison chaplains.  In a very detailed work, replete with tables covering statistics for many years, the authors readily admit that crime among the Church members is very prevalent:

 The data at first blush are staggering and there would seem to be only one logical inference deducible from the figures face to face with the fact that the United States census of religions for 1926 finds only forty per cent church affiliation among the inhabitants of America .  And that inference is: Convicts as a class seem to be the most religious people in the country.  Or, from another angle: The sixty per cent of our people who profess no religion are represented by scarcely ten per cent of our prison population, whereas the forty per cent who profess adherence to religion are represented by close upon ninety per cent of our prison population.  Therefore, what use religion?

 The reverend priests wrote their book not to focus attention on the failure of Catholicism but to explain it

Table 1. Percentage of Catholic Prisoners Compared

to Percentage of Catholics in Total Population'

                                      CATHOLIC CATHOLIC

                                      IN STATE IN PMSON

          Arizona                        33.16%    53.26%

          Arkansas                           1.21         3.14

          California                        16.83       43.61

          Colorado                         10.91       37.42

          Connecticut                     38.88       50.63

          Florida                              2.76         0.74

          Idaho                                4.19       18.51

          Illinois                             19.04       32.35

          Indiana                              9.67       14.47

          Iowa                               11.80       21.90

          Kansas                              7.05       10.94

          Louisiana                         27.88       16.22

          Maryland                         16.11       21.36

          Massachusetts                 37.92       53.29

          Michigan                         18.73       17.33

            Minnesota                     18.23       38.65

            Mississippi                      1.65         0.58

            Missouri                        13.06       22.03

            Nebraska                       10.66       23.03

            New Hampshire             30.74       56.88

            New Jersey                    26.82       47.66

            New Mexico                  43-32       66.67

            New York                     26.73       56.46

            Ohio                             16.39       24.03

            Oklahoma                       2.15         1.76

            Oregon                           5.95       18.96

            Pennsylvania                  21.48       38.41

            South Carolina                0.59         1.00

            Tennessee                       1.01         1.99

            Texas                              9.10       12.20

            Utah                                2.30       32.79

            Vermont                        21.50       40.28

            Washington                     6.35       29.43

            West Virginia                  4.35         7.75

            Wisconsin                     23.79       43.52

             Wyoming                        7.13       32.18

 away.  Even though more than two decades have passed since this study was released, their figures are still significant.  The authors noted that their study extended over many years, and although both the prison and the national populations have increased, the ratio of Catholic prisoners has remained constant.

In considering the following figures, it is important to remember that the reported percentages of the total number of Catholics to the total population in the several states are not based on actual counts but merely on Roman Catholic estimates.  They not only suffer from exaggeration, but they do not exclude those who have voluntarily left the Roman Catholic Church.  These inflated guesses as to the percentage of Catholics in the states would increase the discrepancy between Catholics in and out of jail.  But even when using the false Catholic estimates, the comparisons are shocking enough.

The statistics presented in 1936 by the Catholic chaplains who authored Grime and Religion are shown in Table 1. The first column gives the percentage of Catholics in each state, as claimed by the Roman Catholic Church.  The second column has been computed by actual count.

An interesting additional fact is that, of this large number of Catholic prisoners almost forty-seven per cent had attended Catholic parochial schools, either exclusively or in addition to public schools.  Of the balance, almost seventeen per cent had attended no schools at all.4

The results of the priests' studies are in sharp contrast to shallow and careless statements of Monsignor Matthew Smith, the late editor of the Register chain.  Speaking of delinquency, Smith wrote:

 The problem is growing worse year after year.  It is not really hopeless, however, for, despite the efforts of secularists to deny the facts, every survey of prisoners in relation to religious schools shows that these schools stand far ahead of others in preventing delinquency.  Even parish schools have some failures, but they have far fewer than other schools.  AU but a very small percentage of prisoners who are Catholics are from secular (i.e., public and private) schools.5

The reverend authors found, in a specialized study of murderers in Illinois , that it was not true (as alleged by anti-Catholics") "that all Illinois murderers are Catholics." Only forty per cent are Catholics-in a state where the Catholic Church claims only nineteen per cent of the populace and actually, of course, has far less.  In spite of what the catechism says of the means of holiness, and in spite of the fact that Catholics have twice as many murderers as they would be entitled to if Catholics were only equally as immoral as Protestants, the priests end the study of homicide with this strange sentence:

There is no justification so far as our findings go, for the suspicion or the charge that Catholics, such as they are, are unduly represented in murderers' row.

A very interesting side of the Franciscans' study in crime lies in their further attempt to justify or explain away the number of Catholic criminals, probably the main reason why the book was written.  Here is their logic.'

More men than women become criminals.  There are more Catholic than Protestant males.  A large percentage of Catholic immigrants are from countries with high rates of illiteracy, such as Italy , Spain and Mexico .  Illiterates are generally criminally inclined.  Also, illiterates cannot argue their way out of crimes as well as those who know English well, are shy and don't know the tricks of getting good lawyers.

Furthermore, statistics show that children of large families are more apt to go bad than those of very small families.  Catholics uniformly have larger families.  Many Catholic criminals come from broken families.... Many prisoners list themselves as Catholic merely to receive preferential treatment from prison authorities.... A very large percentage of Catholic prisoners had no high school education (ninety-one in New York ).... Fifty per cent were backward or truant in grammar schools. . . . And so the argument goes.

It seems particularly inappropriate to shrug off Catholic crime by blaming immigrants, particularly those from the south European and Latin American countries.  This is an admission of the inability of Roman Catholicism to educate effectively-either mentally or morally.  Those countries from which the prisoners come have been conditioned by the highly vaunted Catholic education and culture for some two thousand years in Europe and over four hundred years in Latin America .

The priest-authors admit that Protestant European countries gave America far better emigrants than did the Catholic countries-by three to one.

 The Government's Census of Prisoners reported 13.8 per cent of foreigners in all the prisons of the country in 1923, whereas the authors' canvass of the Catholic prison chaplains of the country (1918) ... disclosed the high average of 38.92 per cent of foreigners among Catholics prison inmates in thirty-six prisons of the country.,,  

The Bureau of Prisons of the U.S. Department of justice states that, in 1951, 26.4 per cent of all federal prisoners were Roman Catholics.  In that year, less than nineteen per cent of the population was even claimed to be Roman Catholic.

In 1943, three-fifths of all juvenile delinquents arrested in New York City were Roman Catholics.  One-fifth at the most of the population were Roman.  In one of New York 's penitentiaries, that of Dannemora, of the 1,989 prisoners in 1941, about 1,200 (or more than sixty per cent) were Roman Catholics.  It has been pointed out by Commonweal that in Connecticut jails Catholics outnumbered Protestants by four to one?  Sing Sing prison seems to enjoy consistent popularity among Catholics, where they constitute more than half its inhabitants.10

The former head of Arizona 's reform school for boys at Fort Grant told me that during his tenure there, within the last decade, Catholics constituted from sixty to eighty five per cent of the total.  The founder of the Arizona Boys' Ranch, a voluntary institution for delinquents, wrote me on May 21, 1954 :

 I have just finished reading your book Peoples Padre and enjoyed every bit of it, for now I realize why it was so difficult for me to get much out of the Catholic people.  I also realize why Bishop Gercke (then Catholic bishop of most of Arizona ) refused to see me when I wanted additional support in an effort to build a church at the Ranch where we had fifty per cent Catholic boys.

One of the questions I asked was: "Do you think that among Roman Catholics the reaction for or against a strict sexual code can or does result in proportionately greater juvenile delinquency in the fields of burglary, assault, etc.?" The answer from one psychiatrist: "Definitely.  In a survey on juvenile delinquency I made in Rochester in 1934, 1 found this to be true.  I presented this information on juvenile delinquency before the mayor's council, composed of civic leaders and clergymen of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths.  Because so high a percentage was Catholic, I suggested these data remain unpublished.  And so they remained.  For more than a year, I have tried unsuccessfully to obtain a copy of my report."

The maligned "anti-Catholic bigot," Paul Blanshard, is much too gentle and a bit mistaken when he states: "It would be wrong to say that Catholicism is primarily responsible for crime and juvenile delinquency.  Poverty and bad housing affect the lives of Catholic workers as well as others in our large cities."

Blanshard and the sociologists do not realize that the Catholic Church is also at least negatively responsible for the poverty and bad housing which it admits constitute the decay in which the maggots of crime can fester.

The Church provides no stimulus for man to rise above poverty and struggle to better his housing or lot in life.  It canonizes poverty and insists that men humbly accept their lot in this world as ordained by God and as a test of their worthiness for a better life to come.  It fails to teach its members to think, to doubt, to question, to probe, to inquire, to want and to fight for a better world for their children than their parents gave to them.

 Some apologists explain the number of Catholic slum dwellers as an indication of the hierarchy's proselytizing Christian zeal among the oppressed.  My experience has been that the Catholic indigents are already there.  They are not poor people who have become Catholics.

It was my privilege to be among the mere handful of American priests who took an active part in the American Public Housing and Slum Clearance Program.  I founded the movement in Arizona and remained its chairman until I left the priesthood, when the local clergy prevailed upon the mayor in 1950 not to reappoint me to the Phoenix Housing Authority.

Throughout those years, one of the most difficult tasks was to overcome the inertia, the complacency, the lack of initiative of the Church, particularly the clergy and

 hierarchy.  I was accused by priests of destroying the incentive to sanctity by fighting to destroy the slums.

This same mental and physical laziness during the Middle Ages under the excuse of "spiritual detachment" or "holy poverty" is condemned by the great historian, Henry Charles Lea:

 While thus, in various ways, the ascetic spirit led to institutions which promoted the progress of civilization, in others it necessarily had a directly opposite tendency.  Nothing contributes more strongly to the extension of knowledge and of culture than individual advancement in worldly well-being.  Luxury and ambition thus have their uses in stimulating the inquiring and inventive faculties of man, in rendering the forces of nature subservient to our use, and in softening the rugged asperities which are incompatible with the regular administration of law....

Only those who have studied the varied aspects of mediaeval society can rightly estimate the enormous influence which the Church possessed, in any desired direction.  It can readily be seen that if the tireless preaching of the vanity of human things and the beatitude of mortification occasionally produced such extravagances as those of the flagellants, the spirit which now and then burst forth in such eruption must have been an element of no little power in the forces which governed society at large, and must have exercised a most depressing influence in restraining the general advance of civilization.  Not only did it thus more or less weigh down the efforts of almost every man, but the ardent minds that would otherwise have been leaders in the race of progress were the ones most likely, under the pervading spirit of the age to be the foremost in maceration and self-denial; while those who would not yield to the seduction were either silenced or wasted their wisdom on a generation which believed too much to believe in them.  When idleness was holy, earnest workers had little chance. 12

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