Exegesis—Catholic Style

There are a number of tactics available for use by Catholic apologists who choose to challenge statements they consider detrimental to the public image of the Catholic Church. One of these involves the use of misinformation, usually delivered with bluster and deprecatory comments concerning the character of the individual who had the temerity to utter something unflattering to Mother Church. I once posted an article addressing predatory sexual activities of some Catholic priests. The article included the following:

In the summer of 1962, I visited the heart of Mexico for the first time. Members of my wife's family were justly proud of Mexico's historic treasures and eager to show me some of them. One of the places we spent time at was the beautiful city of Puebla, located about 70 miles outside Mexico City.

Puebla is a colonial city, filled to overflowing with magnificent public buildings, churches, museums, and other sights to thrill tourists. Among these tourist attractions is the former Convent of Santa Monica, built in 1606. The convent was ordered closed in 1857, when President Benito Juarez abolished convents and monasteries, but continued to operate in secret. The secret was discovered in 1934, and was truly shut down.

Wandering around the convent was interesting. One area was particularly interesting, being that it was in a former convent in which religious women supposedly were cloistered away from the temptations of the flesh. Stuffed into wall niches, lots of wall niches, were little wooden boxes, or more accurately, little wooden coffins containing the remains of only God knows how many tiny little bodies – infants who had been born inside the convent walls, died there, and were buried there.

I haven't thought about the sight of all those little boxes in a very long time. Today, I was reminded of the many secret horrors Catholic religious are capable of when shielded from public scrutiny.

A Catholic apologist not noted for the accuracy of his interpretations took exception to the above. Accordingly, he posted an attempt at refutation on the message board of his web site. I then responded to his comments.

In what follows, the apologist's words are in blue; my words that the apologist quoted are in red.

In his response, the apologist included quotations from a number of web sites. He appears to have carefully selected his quotes, being careful to not post those things that would appear to support what I had written from my recollections.

In his opening shot, the apologist quoted part of my post, the emphasis is his:

“Wandering around the convent was interesting. One area was particularly interesting, being that it was in a former convent in which religious women supposedly were cloistered away from the temptations of the flesh. Stuffed into wall niches, lots of wall niches, were little wooden boxes, or more accurately, little wooden coffins containing the remains of only God knows how many tiny little bodies – infants who had been born inside the convent walls, died there, and were buried there.”

Please notice that, in this paragraph, I specifically stated that I was “wandering around the convent.”

The apologist followed my words with a few of his own, clearly designed to promote his agenda:

Now, you must understand that Ron is a master of anti-Catholic propaganda - it appears to be his profession. He knows exactly what he is writing and why. And his words indicated in bold are a masterful use of innuendo and letting one's prejudices fill-in the blanks.

His purpose, of course, is to buttress the current breaking sex-scandal allegations with a little piece of "history" gleaned from his long ago trip. The innuendo, what he wants one to believe by filling-in with their prejudices, is that the nuns in this long ago convent were having sex and producing children - even killing the children.

He "says" all of this, without actually saying so!

Sigh! It would seem that The apologist's prejudices indeed were filling in blanks – blanks that simply are not there. My words are a straightforward account of what I had seen at the convent, as explained to me by one of the people working there.

One of the apologist's “complaints” was that I provided no tourist info:

Tellingly, Ron didn't produce any official tour guide or brochure info on the background of the coffins in the walls. Are we to believe that he doesn't recall any tourist information on this subject, why the coffins were in the walls? Or is it more likely he is concealing the this info., not deeming it supportive of his propaganda?

The apologist clearly had no experience of visiting tourist locations in the interior of Mexico; certainly not in the early 1960's. One of the most significant archeological sites in North America is the well-preserved religious center known as San Juan de Teotihuacan. This amazing place is home to the pyramids of the sun and moon, temples, ball courts, and other pre-Columbian buildings. It is an historical treasure that I have twice visited. There were no fences, no barricades, nothing to control entry into the area, which covers perhaps 300-400 acres. Some parts of the site were weed- grown and in need of simple trash pickup. There were no restrooms, though the undergrowth and scrub brush in and around the site provided privacy for the relief of internal urgencies. There was no government tourist office, nor official guides. The only non-tourist presence I recall was in the form of a few folks selling cold drinks and snacks from makeshift booths.

Such a “laissez faire” approach to tourist attractions was typical of what I experienced some 40 years ago in the heart of Mexico. As I recall, the only 'Tourist Info' available when I visited the convent had to come from the venders clustered around the place. They weren't passing out brochures. :o)

The then apologist selectively quoted from the official historical description of the convent – now a dead link:

At the beginning, the convent of Santa Monica was built to lodge the Spanish wives that, due to their husbands' productive occupations, were left alone…. Michaela Úrsula de la Vega gave new life to the construction; she founded a house for "lost" women. There were many in the city and they constantly scandalized it….

In 1679, a new bishop, the most illustrious don Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz Zahagún (1637-1699), arrived in Puebla de los Ángeles. He was really concerned about the women disorderliness and decided to reestablish the spiritual absorption. He founded a house for the "lost" women entrusting it to Santa María Egipcíaca. In the destroyed building, he founded a "college for Spanish widows".

The apologist capped that edited citation with his only explanations for the presence of the little boxes:

This is the part Ron conveniently left out. Traditionally, convents have often been hospitals and places of refuge. The women taken in by the nuns would explain births inside the convent. And infant mortality would explain the deaths.

What follows is the full text of the description that the apologist carefully selected his points from. I have highlighted those portions that the apologist used in his post. The most interesting reading seems to lie in the un-highlighted words:

At the beginning, the convent of Santa Monica was built to lodge the Spanish wives that, due to their husbands' productive occupations, were left alone. This risked their honor and their lives. Therefore, in 1606, don Julián López and the Franciscan monk Reynoso decided to erect a building to give accommodation to these women and, at the same time, a small church for these women was built. However, the money donated by such noble gentlemen was not enough to support the women living in this shelter resulting in the abandonment of the building..

Micaela Úrsula de la Vega gave new life to the construction; she founded a house for "lost" women. There were many in the city and they constantly scandalized it. Hence, the architectonic space became a reformation center of the female behavior. This was achieved by means of prayers and work, which, according to some historical files, was a frank abuse for the sheltered women. The spiritual patron was María Magdalena. After a while, what once was the kingdom of God became Satan's kingdom because the building was in terrible conditions and because the sybaritic men from Puebla jumped over the fence and it became a concubinage house.

In 1679, a new bishop, the most illustrious don Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz Zahagún (1637-1699), arrived in Puebla de los Ángeles. He was really concerned about the women disorderliness and decided to reestablish the spiritual absorption. He founded a house for the "lost" women entrusting it to Santa María Egipcíaca. In the destroyed building, he founded a "college for Spanish widows". The building gradually transformed from a insignificant building to an important compound. Cells, oratory, refectory, sanitary facilities, washboards, etc were constructed and the help of the merciful people from Puebla was requested to build a new church. The Spanish ladies did not want to go back to the confinement. Consequently, the bishop gave instructions for giving accommodation to poor and well-educated maidens. After some time, according to his plans, it became a place for the wives of Christ, a monastery occupied by virtuous and poor women. The only convent of the city where no dowry was required to enter the monastery.

Santa Mónica became the saint patron of this new institute by chance. The rule chosen by the bishop for these women was the spiritually absorbed Augustinian rule of strict observance. He saw this rule in practice in his hometown Palencia in Spain.

By carrying out these principles, the lives of the virtuous and merciful collegiate women became the lives of nuns. 20 collegiate women ordained on May 24th, 1688. From that moment on, the nuns lived in confinement, poverty, obedience and chastity, praying and doing penance and working with their hands and working in the kitchen for their support, which basically came from renting some properties owned by the convent.

With the promulgation of the Reform Laws in 1856, the army and church privileges were suppressed. In Puebla, the Law of Reduction of Convents and Reestablishment of Communities (Ley de Reducción de Conventos y refundación de comunidades) was proclaimed on February 23rd, 1861. In that moment, the nuns from Santa Mónica had to leave their home and were sent to the ex-college of Jesús María.

During 328 years, these walls heard the women from Puebla entering and leaving this building. These women lives were the example of the values that ruled the behavior of the young women who aspired to become virtuous women to be able to marry Christ or a man and form an honorable and Christian family.

Keep in mind that 1688 date when 20 women were ordained as nuns. It will be significant a bit further down the page.

The apologist then posted part of the museographic description of the site that dealt with the church, failing to provide anything about the convent itself, which followed. This was intended to dismiss the little wooden boxes as being nothing more than religious reliquaries, a word for which he provided a definition. Here is what the apologist posted:

What about the wooden coffins in the walls?

The only info on that was this: [referring again to the now-dead link] www.inah.gob.mx/inah_ing/mulo/htme/mulo2101d.html

“The church is decorated with Neoclassic altars and with oil paintings depicting San José, Virgen de Guadalupe, Sagrado corazón, Nuestra Señora de la Luz and Corazón de María. On the latter, across from the image of el Señor de las Maravillas, there are reliquaries embedded to the wall.

Here's a definition of "reliquaries:" http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/DictionaryResults.aspx?lextype=3&search=reliquaries [I updated his link]

[ rel·i·quar·y [rélli kwèrree ] (plural rel·i·quar·ies) noun [/br] container for relics: a container or shrine where relics, for example, the remains of a saint, are kept

That's right, it isn't clear that these "wooden coffins" contain dead babies, as Ron states.

Where did Ron get his info that the remains were of babies? Is it simply his conclusion or assumption, based on a foggy memory of long ago? At the very least, he owes everyone an explanation as to his source of information.

The apologist shows his legal training and experience here as he attempts to destroy my credibility as a witness. Clearly, he wants to divert attention away from the substance of my post, which had to do with the scandals attendant to accusations from within the ranks of Catholic religious concerning allegations of predatory sexual activity of Roman Catholic priests.

Let the jury decide where the truth lies.

Now that you have read the apologist's carefully selected excerpt from the museographic description of the the convent, it is time to read what he did not make available on his site. Note: I have snipped out those portions of the description that deal exclusively with architecture and adornment. BTW, you will read that the attractive little church was officially opened for worship in 1688 – the same year the 20 nuns were consecrated. Interesting coincidence?

In the following, I have highlighted something that I believe bears on the apologist's agenda.

http://www.inah.gob.mx/inah_ing/mulo/htm/mulo2101d.html [Same dead link]

The church constitutes the most important part of the convent. It was opened to the cult in 1668. It consists of only one nave with six vaults and it was originally ornamented with golden plaster. However, it is currently ornamented with a Neoclassic style. The choir with its grating was financed by José de Veytia y Linaje. The nuns came to this place to listen to the mass….

The evangelists are located in the lunettes and the angel oil paintings are located on the groined vault of the apse. There are 24 reliquaries ornamenting the apse sides. We have to keep in mind that the more reliquaries a church had, the more famous the church was for the inhabitants of the viceregal Mexico. In addition, it is complemented by sculptures of the Virgen de la Consolación, Santa Mónica, Vírgen de Fátima and two personages of the history of the city…

The building of the Museum of Santa Mónica is the same building that was inhabited by the spiritually absorbed Augustinian nuns until 1934. It was constructed with the spirit of the counter-reform that encouraged the nun or monk community life. The austerity of the convent is only altered by the main patio where there is a combination of petatillo, glazed tile and mortar (finials of the arcades with flowers and cherubs) and hexagonal columns. It is all a harmonious combination of the talaveresque baroque of Puebla

The two central patios of this building are made of bricks covered with glazed tiles; the waterspouts are lions and cherubs. There is a niche dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe in the main patio.

There is only one arcade just like the Jesuitical convents. The simulation of arches of the adjacent walls gives more amplitude, which was a necessary sensation due to the monastic confinement.

The two bodies of the convent are separated by a cornice with mortar angels. The balustrade is made of lime and pebble and the magnificent staircase is garnished with middle size glazed tiles with stars.

The date 1911 is recorded on the Neoclassic façade of the building. This was the date when the entrance was last modified. The construction of the first women's shelter, antecedent of the convent of Santa Mónica, is uninhabited, but through the Religious Art Museum, the cells and a patio can be seen.

The tour starts on the upper floor, in the Terciopelos Hall, which consists of 5 large paintings from the middle of the nineteenth century. The paintings were made by the Cholultec artist Rafael Morante and they depict the Passion of Christ. In the adjacent halls, oil paintings from the seventeenth century can be seen. They were painted by Rodriguez Juárez, Antonio Espinoza, Juan Correa, Juan Villalobos, Pascual Pérez and Miguel Jerónimo de Zendejas. All of the paintings have religious themes. There are also sculptures of San Antonio de Padua, San Miguel Arcángel, San Francisco de Ásis and Santo Domingo de Guzmán. The exhibit is complemented by ritual objects used or worn by the sculptures.

The kitchen, refectory and library are located on the first floor. A small staircase leads to the Crypt of the Nuns.

Did you notice that part that says: "The construction of the first women's shelter, ANTECEDENT of the convent..."?

As I read the thread on the apologist's site, I became quite depressed. The words of the Catholic posters did not trouble me, I know that I am roundly disliked by many of those who would defend the demonic faith of Rome, and their calumny is nothing new to me. What made me sad, terribly sad, was that anyone should take their ranting seriously.

I wrote no lies. I do not lie, even when the truth might be harmful to me or my interests. What I wrote, I wrote honestly and as a lead-in to the meat of my post, which had to do with the reports out of Rome that were carried by Reuters, Associated Press and the National Catholic Reporter, and which were publicly acknowledged by a representative of the Vatican's secretariat of State. Since the Catholics clearly could not challenge the content of those reports, they chose to attack me as a witness who published the gist of those reports on the web.

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;-- 1 Timothy 4:1-2

That ended my rebuttal post. Now, for the delight and edification of those who have endured to this point, I offer these two fotos from the Official Mexiccan site. First, the “public” view of the cloisters of the now-refurbished Santa Monica Convent

And now the still not refurbished “cemetery," with some of the niches still discernible, that I saw:

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