CONTRA MUNDUM is an occasional Blog committed to the theological reflection on the present situation with a special focus on the religious establishment. CM seeks to summon persons to theological awareness and religious obedience. Raymond J Lawrence Jr.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Raymond J Lawrence Commentary

“The current attempt by Anglicans at self-immolation over homosexuality is only superficially related to homosexuality as such.”


The current attempt by Anglicans at self-immolation over homosexuality is only superficially related to homosexuality as such. (New York Times, Feb 20, p.1) The underlying struggle is over the place of sexual pleasure---and women--- in the religious life. Women are, after all, the most lethal objects of sexual pleasure! It’s a very old debate in which goes back at least as far as Plato, and the disdainful have largely carried the day in Christendom, just as they continue to carry the day in worldwide Anglicanism.

It is noteworthy that the Bible exhibits little of this disdain for sexual pleasure, and only a modest amount of gynophobia. Generally the biblical texts are positive toward sexual pleasure, and in spite of a rather entrenched patriarchy, generally unafraid of women.

The spiritual followers of Plato co-opted Christendom, rendering the Judaeo-biblical tradition irrelevant on matters of sexual pleasure.

This long-fought struggle is traced and analyzed in my new book, Sexual Liberation: The Scandal of Christendom, Praeger, 2007.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A review of James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword:The Church and the Jews

In the public mind anti-semitism is a problem that fulminated with Nazis rule in the 1930s, and has diminished subsequently. James Carroll, distinguished historian and former Catholic priest, lays out in gruesome detail in Constantine’s Sword how Hitler was simply the culmination of a long, relentless, and pervasive anti-semitism that was cultivated by Christianity beginning in the New Testament itself. (Even the moniker ‘new,’ Carroll points out, is a slur against Jewish scripture.)

The attempt to separate Jesus from his Judaism has been a continuing theme in Christianity from its early days. Many of the early Christians were eager to commend themselves and their cult to the Roman Imperial powers. This became easier when Christians could distinguish themselves from Jews. Opinion makers of the Roman Empire were largely anti-semitic.

The contempt for Jews ran deep in the Empire. Jewish refusal to pay homage to Roman gods, and Jewish affirmation of sexual pleasure were the two principal roots of such contempt. Romans were willing to add new gods to their pantheon on the slightest pretext, and the moralists of Rome were very negative toward sexual pleasure. It was thought to disrupt the mind. Jews were contemptuous of idolatry and unabashedly affirming of sexual pleasure, as their religious texts show.

The first Christians were all Jews---Jews who followed Jesus. Some of their seriously observant fellow Jews held the first Christians in contempt. The apostle Paul (or Saul, as he was at the time) actually persecuted them. As the Church grew, it took in increasing numbers of non-Jews. As the decades passed, Christians became increasingly interested in appealing to the Romans. To further this appeal Christians presented themselves increasingly as distinct from Jews, and even as victims of Jews. This led gradually to Christianity’s emergence as a new and distinct religion. It pulled away from Judaism until finally Jesus was understood no longer as a Palestinian rabbi, but, in the Roman manner, as a god who visited earth in mufti.

It was an ingenious move politically. Thus the gospel of John, written probably more than a century after the death of Jesus, and the last of the canonical gospels to be written, is brutally explicit about the culpability of the Jews in the death of Jesus. Jesus himself is quoted denouncing the Jews as the offspring of Satan. (John 8) Such vitriol did not come from Jesus, but from later Christians as they battled Judaism. Seventy-one times ‘the Jews’ are castigated in John’s gospel. In the three other gospels, written only decades after Jesus’ death, reference to ‘the Jews’ appears a total of only seventeen times.

In the New Testament as a whole, Jesus is portrayed either as a thoroughgoing Jewish rabbi who meant to call Jews back to obedience to God, or an ethereal being dropped down mysteriously into human history to excoriate Jews and Judaism. The latter is the revision that Christianity developed and promoted---and continues to promote. Thus anti-semitism became an intrinsic and continuing part of Christianity. When the philosopher Johann Fichte (1762-1814), carried the Christian position to its logical conclusion, proposing that Jesus was not even a Jew at all, other European philosophers and thinkers concurred without even a debate.

About the same time the anti-semitic Gospel of John was written, all Jews were expelled from Jerusalem by order of the Emperor. Even later Christian emperors did not show the Jews any mercy. (The anti-Christian Julian the Apostate, an historical exception, rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem as a gesture of contempt toward Christians, but it was torn down as soon as he was gone.) When the parvenu Muslims conquered Jerusalem from the Roman Empire in the 7th century, Jews were then allowed to return. Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together in relative harmony for another five hundred years. When the Christian crusaders first arrived, in 1099, with cross and sword in hand, they murdered every Jew in Jerusalem, burning them alive in their synagogue. Only when the Muslims reconquered the city a century later were the Jews once again allowed to return.

Ambrose, the esteemed fourth century Christian theologian who was Augustine’s mentor, referred to Jews as “Satan’s surviving agents,” and urged violence against them for their denial of Christian claims. He declared himself ready to burn synagogues “that there might not be a place where Christ was denied.” Augustine was more gentle. “Let them survive, but not thrive,” he said. About the same time St. Chrysostom, bishop of Antioch, preached that “the synagogue is not only a whorehouse and a theater; it its also a den of thieves…[where the Jews] live by the rule of debauchery and inordinate gluttony.” Inspired by such preaching, the year 414 saw the first pogrom in history, when the Jewish community in Alexandria was destroyed.

In the famous twelfth century stand-off between Abelard and Bernard of Clairvaux, as one might guess, Abelard was sympathetic to Jews, and Bernard, inspirer of the crusades, was contemptuous of them. The Pope made Abelard an outcast, and Bernard a saint.

In the Fourth Lateran Council of the Catholic Church, in 1215, Jews and
Saracens in every Christian province were ordered to wear identifying markers on their clothing to indicate their religion, a practice revived by Hitler in the 1930s.

In 1304, in Florence, a certain Giordano da Rivalto rallied the citizenry, charging that Jews were still murdering Christ. Twenty-four thousand Jews were slaughtered.

When the Black Plague arrived in Trier in 1349, the entire Jewish community was taken to be responsible, and murdered.

1391 is a date of terror for Spanish Jews. The preaching of Ferrant Martinez incited widespread massacres of Jews and the conversion of synagogues to churches. Jews were given the choice of converting or being killed. Many converted and became known as ‘Conversos.’ (Both Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross were descendants of Conversos. And each was dragged before the Inquisition for allegations of sexual activity. Teresa eluded the charges, but John did not.)

Among the Christian leadership there were those who actually defended and protected Jews from persecution, Pope Boniface IX (1389-1404) being one of them. Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484), who left us the Sistine Chapel, personally favored Jews, but political pressures made him cautious. His humanitarianism did not prevent him from inaugurating the Spanish Inquisition. He personally appointed the infamous Torquemada (1420-1498), who as the first Grand Inquisitor made his name synonymous with torture. Jews and dissenters of any sort fell victim to his police methods, a practice that persisted for 300 years. (Joseph Ratzinger, the current Pope Benedict XVI, held the same Vatican position as Torquemada in the pontificate of John Paul II, though his methods of enforcement were toned down.)

Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) welcomed in Rome some of those Jews who were fleeing Spain during the persecutions of Ferdinand and Isabella. But that same Pope had bestowed on the anti-semitic king and queen the honorific, “Catholic Monarchs.” His humanitarianism was at least ambiguous.

The fate of the Jews could not be separated from the crackdown on dissent in the Catholic Church. An organization that executes dissenters in its own ranks is not going to be able to offer Jews, the consummate dissenters, much grace in the long run.

Jan Hus, who was a forerunner of the Reformation, was condemned as one who “counseled with the Jews.” He was burned at the stake in 1415.

Carroll is not quite even-handed with Martin Luther’s anti-semitism. In his early years Luther was a stout defender of Jews, as rightly he should have been since he, more than anyone, restored part of Christianity to its Jewish origins. However, Luther turned against the Jews later in life for two reasons. Jews failed to come to his support, as he thought they should, in his death struggle against the Catholic authorities. And worse, from Luther’s perspective, Jews allied themselves with Luther’s two betes noires, the Pope and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, king of Spain, grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella. Charles was committed more to suppressing Protestantism than in protecting Jews. He made an alliance of convenience with the Jews. With the support of the Emperor, Jews during that time actually assisted Rome in collecting monies from the infamous indulgences, further alienating Luther.

After Charles abdicated in 1556, his son and successor Philip II voided all the support that his father had provided the Jews. Philip announced: “All the heresies which have occurred in Germany and France have been sown by descendants of Jews, as we have seen and still see daily in Spain.” He was referring to the Conversos in Spain. Even the descendants of Jews who converted to save their lives were in constant danger, simply because of their Jewish ancestry. Eventually, anyone who sought leadership or status in Spain had to prove limpieza de sangre ('purity of blood'), which is to say that they had no Jewish blood back to the fifth degree of family lineage. Only in 1946 did the Jesuits abolish the prohibition against accepting men into the order unless they could prove limpieza de sangre.

The Jews in Rome had little time to relax. By 1553 they were being burned selectively. Pope Paul IV (1555-1559), issued the bull, Cum Nimis Absurdum. It called for Jews to live in ghettoes. It claimed that God had condemned them to eternal slavery because of the killing of Jesus. It called for Jews, again, to wear distinctive badges to identify themselves, and forbade them from owning property or attending Christian universities. It called for them to be subject to higher taxes than Christians. This encyclical was the most detailed anti-semitic document until the Nazis in the 20th century.

The squalid Jewish ghetto at the foot of Vatican Hill remained in place until the godless soldiers of Napoleon dismantled it in 1796. After Napoleon’s defeat, Pope Paul VII (1800-1823) rebuilt it. The ghetto was enforced through the papacy of Pius IX (1846-1878) who referred to Jews as ‘dogs.’ Pius IX was infamous as well for kidnapping and keeping a six-year-old Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, for pederastic purposes.

It is noteworthy that in 1781, in Revolutionary France, the Jews were granted full citizenship for the first time in the entire history of Christian West.

Most people already know of the mid-20th century pope, Pius XII, who temporized while the Jews were exterminated, and who was silent while the Jewish ghetto within earshot of the Vatican was attacked, its residents shipped to extermination camps. Pius XII managed to excommunicate all Catholics who considered themselves Communists. But he could not manage any such judgment on Catholic Nazis. Goebbels, Himmler, Bormann, and Hitler remained at least nominal Catholics throughout the Holocaust. If anyone had any doubt, they were reminded by the Cardinal Archbishop of Berlin who ordered a requiem mass to be celebrated in all churches to commemorate Hitler after his suicide in April, 1945.

Most everyone knows too, of Pope John Paul II’s rapproachment with the Jews, praying at the temple wall in Jerusalem, for example. As encouraging as such gestures were, they were cancelled out by the beatification (the first step toward sainthood) of Pius IX and Pius XII, and of the Croatian Cardinal Stepinac who was a fierce foe of Communists, but who looked the other way when Nazis-allied Ustashi occupied his country and rounded up Jews.

Catholic leaders have demonstrated a pattern of ambiguity in their references to Jews. Cardinal Augustyn Hlond, the Primate of Poland, is a case in point. In 1939, alluding to the Germans, he declared that Catholics should not hate Jews or do violence against them. In the next breath he added: “There will be a Jewish problem as long as the Jews remain. It is a fact that the Jews are fighting against the Catholic Church, persisting in free thinking, and are the vanguard of godlessness…” He also endorsed the Nazi boycott of Jewish business in Poland. Hlond staked out both positions for himself, but his net effect was of no benefit to Jews who were exterminated mostly on his turf.

James Carroll has written an astonishing book in Constantine’s Sword. It should make anyone who considers herself Christian feel the need to go take a long bath. The dogged and relentless Christian history of repeated assaults on Jews because they are Jews cannot fail to leave any Christian with a sense of shame. In the shadow of Carroll’s mountain of historical evidence, even such a despicable person as Adolf Hitler seems little more than an all too typical Christian, a little on the fanatical side.

The notion is often bandied about that the Pope, or some other Christian authority, should apologize to the Jews for the Holocaust and the Church’s failure to stand against it. In light of Carroll’s book this is a facile proposal. How can one apologize for twenty sordid centuries of anti-semitism? Rather we should all rethink the whole theological and philosophical foundation of Christendom itself. As Harvard New Testament scholar Helmut Koester put it, the New Testament itself, in placing itself in opposition to Judaism, was ‘a tragic historical mistake.’

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Boy In The Bubble

Rev. Raymond Lawrence: David was almost certainly the first human guinea pig in history. The first human being to live their entire lives in a laboratory capsule. And I don't think we ought to do that again.

When David Vetter died at the age of 12, he was already world famous: the boy in the plastic bubble. Mythologized as the plucky, handsome child who had defied the odds, his life story is in fact even more dramatic. It is a tragic tale that pits ambitious doctors against a bewildered, frightened young couple; it is a story of unendingly committed caregivers and resourceful scientists on the cutting edge of medical research. This American Experience raises some of the most difficult ethical questions of our age. Did doctors, in a rush to save a child, condemn the boy to a life not worth living? Did they, in the end, effectively decide how to kill him?

Bruce Jennings, Medical Ethicist: It is amazing that we can do this. But perhaps we are overstepping the bounds of our knowledge when we try to conduct experiments that are so risky, so perilous. Is it really the desire to cure and to help and to save a child? Or is it pride and egotism?

The Boy in the Bubble: Full PBS Transcript American Experience

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Faith-Based Medicine

RESPONSIBLE religious leaders will breathe a sigh of relief at the news that so-called intercessory prayer is medically ineffective. In a large and much touted scientific study, one group of patients was told that strangers would pray for them, a second group was told strangers might or might not pray for them, and a third group was not prayed for at all. The $2.4 million study found that the strangers' prayers did not help patients' recovery.

The results of the study, led by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston, came as welcome news. That may sound odd coming from an ordained minister. But if it could ever be persuasively demonstrated that such prayer "works," our religious institutions and meeting places would be degraded to a kind of commercial enterprise, like Burger King, where one expects to get what one pays for.

Historically, religions have promoted many kinds of prayer. Prayers of praise, thanksgiving and repentance have been highly esteemed, while intercessions of the kind done in the Benson study — appeals to God to take some action — are of lesser importance. They represent a less-respected magical wing of religion.

Read The Full Article in the New York Times

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Rev. Raymond J Lawrence Jr.

PBS Announcement

PBS ANNOUNCEMENT: "The Boy in the Bubble"
The American Experience (PBS) will show 'The Boy in the Bubble" Monday, April 10. This case is extremely interesting, and raises profound ethical issues. Raymond Lawrence and Joseph Fletcher were involved in the case in the 70s. The show's producer and director, Barak Goodman, has a record of producing solid and responsible TV journalism.

Raymond Lawrence is the director of Pastoral Care & Clinical Pastoral Education at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia Presbyterian Center NYC. He is also the General Secretary of The College Of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy (CPSP)

Bursting The Bubble

Bursting the Bubble

Bursting the Bubble"Bubble Boy" David Vetter was hardly the happy, well-adjusted child portrayed in the media. Thirteen years after his death, his friend Mary Murphy is fighting to tell his story.BY STEVE MCVICKER

As the "Bubble Boy," David Vetter was famous across the U.S. Newspapers, TV shows and magazines portrayed him as a happy, well-adjusted child who struggled cheerfully against the immune deficiency that condemned him to a life inside a plastic bubble.

But according to a person David called his best friend, the boy wasn't struggling cheerfully. In 1978, although he was not quite eight years old, David had realized his life would be lonely, dull and short. His helplessness enraged him. Before he was born, his body had been donated to science.

"Why am I so angry all the time?" he asked psychologist Mary Ada Murphy one summer evening. As he sat in his plastic isolation chamber on the third floor of Texas Children's Hospital, he could see Fannin Street from the room's window. But he couldn't touch that outside world, or participate in it.

"Whatever I do depends on what somebody else decides I do," he said. "Why school? Why did you make me learn to read? What good will it do? I won't ever be able to do anything anyway. So why? You tell me why."
"I can't say why," replied Murphy. Since David was three, she'd spent countless hours of her personal time with him.

David was angry, and he worried that he was going crazy. Murphy explained to him that anger was a natural reaction to his situation. As usual, she tried to help him cope with an unbearable situation -- a life much different than the one portrayed in the media.

Years later, Murphy said, David asked her to set the record straight, to write a realistic account of his life. In 1995, she planned to publish just such a book: Was It Worth It? The True Story of David the Bubble Boy. But shortly before her book was to be released, David's parents and Baylor College of Medicine officials sent strongly worded letters to the publishing company -- WRS, a small outfit in Waco -- withdrawing the written permission they'd given Murphy to write about David, questioning her facts and hinting at a lawsuit. WRS backed down, and the book never appeared.

As told by Murphy, David's story is not of triumph over adversity, but of the human cost of medicine's headlong rush toward the new. Even 13 years after his death -- when the ethical debate has moved on to cloning and genetic screening -- his story still serves as a cautionary tale.

And it continues to divide the opinions of people who cared for him. One member of the group that treated David asked not to be quoted by name for fear that Mary Murphy's enemies would retaliate. "It is important for you to understand that there is a powerful hierarchy at Texas Children's Hospital," said the former hospital employee. "And they are very angry at Mary. And they do not want to be reminded in any way, shape or form that this may have been a bad decision."

In 1970, Carol Ann and David Vetter Jr. had their first son -- also named David Joseph Vetter. Six months later, the baby died of Severe Combined Immune Deficiency Syndrome. He'd been born with a defect in his thymus, a ductless glandlike structure crucial to developing disease resistance. He was at the mercy of any passing germ.

A trio of doctors from Baylor College of Medicine told the Vetters that the defect might have been caused by a mutant gene. If so, the probability that another of their children would bear the disease was 10,000 to 1. But the doctors also explained that the defect might be carried on one of the mother's X chromosomes. If that was the case, and the Vetters had another son, the odds were 50-50 that he, too, would be afflicted by SCIDS.

The doctors -- John Montgomery, Mary Ann South and Raphael Wilson -- told the Vetters that should they choose to have another child, and should that child also have SCIDS, the newborn could be placed in an almost completely sterile isolator that would protect him from disease until a cure was found -- which, the doctors thought, was only a matter of time. The project would be financed with federal research grants.

The Vetters were predisposed to the doctors' plan: They were anxious to have another child, especially a son to carry on the family name. As Catholics, they may have been especially swayed by Dr. Wilson, a scientist who studied germ-free environments and was also a brother in the Order of the Holy Cross. In Europe, Wilson had been involved in a similar project: Two retarded twins had been successfully treated in sterile isolation. Remarkably, the twins' immune systems developed to the point that they could be removed from their isolators before they turned three.

There was little discussion -- and certainly no public discussion -- of what would happen if no cure for SCIDS appeared soon, or of how long a child could or should be kept in such isolation. The medical technology existed. The ethical questions would come later.

As was later reported in People magazine, the Vetters' second David Joseph -- the one who would become famous -- was delivered by a cesarean section on September 21, 1971. The room at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital had been cleaned five times in an attempt to make it as germ-free as possible. No more than ten seconds after David was removed from Carol Ann's womb, he was placed inside the sterile plastic isolator that would be his home.

Prior to the delivery, the Vetters had arranged for a priest to be on hand to baptize their son after he'd been placed inside the bubble. Like almost everything else David would touch during the next 12 years, the holy water was sterilized.

David was transferred to a room at Texas Children's Hospital, which was then a part of St. Luke's. His bubble, made of transparent polyvinyl chloride film, sat on a plain wooden table next to a window.

Attached to the "crib bubble" was a small "supply bubble," which contained items such as diapers, clothes, vitamins, food, washcloths, medicine and water. Sterilizing such supplies was no simple task. First, labels and glue were removed from bottles and jars containing pre-sterilized food. Then those and other necessities were loaded into perforated cylinders, which were placed in chambers filled with ethylene oxide gas, at a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit, for four hours. Afterward, the containers had to be aerated for one to seven days before they could enter the bubble.

The walls of the bubble were fitted with heavy-duty rubber gloves so that his parents and medical personnel could handle David. Using those gloves, they diapered and fed the baby, and hugged him as best they could.

Mary Murphy's office was only two doors away from David's room. She was working as a psychological associate at Baylor College of Medicine's Center for Developmental Pediatrics, and she watched as a constant parade of visitors -- princes and royalty, even Beverly Sills -- trooped past her door, intent on seeing David; he served as a kind of tourist attraction for VIPs. It was said that Hermann Hospital had a helicopter, and Texas Children's had the Bubble Boy.
Murphy passed by David's room many times each day, but she never looked in. The project appalled her, and she wanted nothing to do with it.

Murphy had come to psychology late in life. As a college student during World War II, she'd studied to be a mechanical engineer. But instead of pursuing that career, she married and moved to Texas. After her husband left her, she and her infant son found themselves alone in Houston.

"I had a baby, a penny and a potato," laughs Murphy, a matronly but attractive woman with short white hair. To support her son and herself, she went to work as a waitress. Murphy remarried, and in the late 1950s, she enrolled part-time at the University of Houston. She graduated in 1967, and earned her master's degree two years later. While an instructor at Baylor, she began her doctoral work. In her office at Texas Children's, she struggled to complete her dissertation, examining the stresses that beset families of children with birth defects.

By the fall of 1974, David was no longer a constant presence outside Murphy's door. A plastic bubble had been set up in the Vetters' home in Conroe, and the child could spend two to three weeks at a time there. Ironically, Murphy met David not at the hospital, but in his home.
Her mentor, Dr. Barry Molish, was working on an article about David's psychosocial development, and asked Murphy to assist him by giving the child psychological and intelligence tests. She agreed reluctantly, and on the day after David's third birthday, she and Molish drove to Conroe in the pouring rain.

To Murphy's surprise, she was smitten with David, a handsome, dark-complected boy with a thick mop of black hair and dark, wide-spaced eyes. She wondered how the boy could survive in such a confined space. The isolator bubbles were periodically replaced with larger models as David grew, but even the largest was tiny: six feet by two feet by four and a half feet. (Later, a sterile "playroom" would be attached.)

Murphy could barely hear the boy speak over the roar of the bubble's blower motors, and she asked to turn them off. David laughed. "He said I was dumb," she remembers, "and didn't I know that the bubble would deflate if the motors were turned off?"

In spite of the noise, Murphy administered tests. Asked to define a tree, David responded that it was a brown rectangle with a green oval on top. She was stunned, amazed that a three-year-old would know so much about geometry but so little about the stuff of daily life.

No, she told David, the green part was made of leaves. He replied that she was totally wrong.
To prove her point, she fetched her umbrella and went outside. As David watched through a window, she broke a small limb off a tree and brought it inside for him to examine through the plastic. "You never saw so much astonishment in your life," she remembered. She left the Vetter home that night feeling that there was much she could teach David -- but she had no intention of doing so.

A few days later, Murphy's boss informed her that David was back at Texas Children's, and that his mother and the hospital staff were having trouble with him. Specifically, a photographer from United Press International was standing by to snap the first pictures of David as he entered his newly constructed playroom. Roughly 11 feet long, six and a half feet wide and eight feet tall, the sterile space marked a huge addition to David's world. But to the embarrassment of the medical team, he refused to crawl through the stainless steel tubing that connected his bubble to its new addition. Since Murphy and David had gotten along so well, David's mother suggested that Murphy might help coax David into the play area. Murphy agreed to try -- but only after she finished her other duties for that afternoon.

Around 4:30, she walked the short distance from her offie to David's quarters, confident that she could remedy the situation in no time flat.
David seemed glad to see Murphy, whom he remembered as "the lady with the leaf." Even so, he rebuffed her attempts to get him into the playroom. After a couple of hours, she gave up for the day.

As she left, David looked in her eyes. "Lady," he said, "you will be back."He was right. By the following day, Murphy had decided that trying to talk David into the playroom was useless. Instead, she borrowed a bowl of goldfish from the desk of a third-floor secretary, and placed the bowl on the far side of the playroom. David was excited by the fish, and tried to convince Murphy to bring them next to his crib. She refused.

The strategy worked. Anxious to examine the fish more closely, David crawled through the tube, down the three-stepped ladder and into the playroom. UPI got its photographs, the medical team got its good publicity and Murphy was invited to help in David's day-to-day care.
Privately, nurses complained to her that the playroom incident was minor compared to other problems they were beginning to have with the child. "They wanted him to behave and be compliant," said Murphy. Eventually, she became known as "the fire extinguisher": the person to call when David was in emotional crisis.

Three and a half years after David's birth, Texas Children's Hospital finally discussed the ethics of keeping a child isolated indefinitely. Now many hospitals have ethics committees that routinely consider complicated decisions. But in the '70s, such groups were rare.

On February 26, 1975, about 30 doctors, theologians and other concerned parties -- including Mary Murphy -- gathered in the hospital's conference room. All the chairs were filled, and people stood in the back of the room. Dr. Wilson, the project's scientific director, gave a synopsis of David's history, then opened the session for questions.

The most pointed of those questions came from Dr. Robert Main, another chaplain. "You're in the honeymoon stage of treating him now," said Main, who had examined David. "One day he will take a look at himself and decide he doesn't want to be in there till he gets to be 15 years of age."

Nonetheless, Dr. Montgomery, another of David's original doctors, brought the meeting to an upbeat close. Under similar circumstances, he said, he would start this project again with another child.

"How many more?" someone asked."Until I determined that there was no more information to be gained by such a thing," Montgomery replied, "or if the outcome was certain."

The Reverend Raymond J. Lawrence, the chaplain of Texas Children's, had convened the meeting, but he was disappointed by its results. The real ethical issues, he says, were never discussed.

"The great scandal of the Bubble Boy was that he was conceived for the bubble," says Lawrence, now director of the department of pastoral care at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. "The team that did this didn't think through this very well. They didn't consider what would happen if they didn't find an immediate cure. They operated on the assumption that you could live to be 80 years old in a bubble, and that would be unfortunate but okay."

In the years since, Lawrence's outrage has not abated. He continues to maintain that the three original doctors convinced David's parents to conceive him because they wanted a test subject for their studies of immunology. The doctors flatly deny the charge.

No other ethical conferences on the subject were ever convened. And when contacted recently, Dr. Montgomery stood firmly by the decision to place David in the bubble. "At the time, we were encouraged by everything we knew," he says. "If people didn't take chances, none of us would be here. Columbus would have stayed in Spain and would have been selling tortillas, because he was warned he would sail off the edge of the earth."

Mary Murphy didn't have a lot of free time to spend with David. During the day, her job required her to evaluate other kids at the hospital's developmental center; at night, she needed to work on her doctoral thesis.

She says David offered a bargain: If she would work on her dissertation in his room at the hospital every other evening, including Saturdays, he would promise not to talk.

As Murphy worked on her dissertation, David spent his time watching television and, later, doing his homework. (He had tutors, and attended an elementary school class in Conroe by telephone hookup.) He showed a flair for math, but rarely read for pleasure, a fact that disappointed Murphy. She'd hoped that books would provide him an escape from the bubble.
Instead, over the years, his sense of hopelessness increased. "Even though David was only five," wrote Murphy, "he recognized his difference and dreaded what the future held -- limited choices, feelings of alienation and an increased need to be polite and compliant so as not to reveal his anger."

Most of the time, David lived deep within himself. "He was always used to being very polite," she remembered. It took her a long time to tell when he was saying what he meant, and when he was saying what she wanted him to say. "That is, I guess, one of the things that kept me uncomfortable," she admitted. "I sensed he was being excruciatingly polite sometimes when he didn't really want to be. Most kids that age don't have that kind of façade. They don't bother."

Sometimes, though, David revealed his inner turmoil -- though at great cost to himself and the people who cared for him. Given the news that Dr. Wilson had a heart attack and was in intensive care, he smeared excrement all over the inside of the bubble; hospital workers spent three days cleaning the mess. Murphy theorized that David's reaction betrayed his deep fear of abandonment: Wilson's heart attack was one more piece of evidence that people would leave him, and that he was powerless to follow.

Other fears manifested themselves in recurring dreams. In one, David was attacked by thousands of spiders. In another -- which disturbed him even more -- the King of Germs dispatched thousands of his wives to invade the bubble. David was able to kill the wives, but the king simply married more to send after him.

"I don't know if it's a bad dream or if they're really pouncing on me," he told Murphy. "Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I'm losing my mind."

Murphy tried to turn the dreams into games and think of ways he could kill his dream world enemies. Though he learned to cope with the nightmares, she says the fear of insanity plagued him from then on.

In 1977, NASA developed for David what was known as the Mobile Biologistical Isolation System. Basically, it was a $50,000 space suit that would allow David to venture outside the bubble. That July, Murphy joined the crowd in David's room: David's parents, NASA engineers and hospital staff, all gathered to see his first adventure in the suit. A camera crew was on hand to record the event.

To get into the suit, David had to crawl through an eight-foot tunnel that connected the suit to the bubble. Every movement was scheduled, but as the countdown began, Murphy says David asked her to hold him with the gloves that extended into the bubble. He wanted to be as far from the space suit as possible.

"I don't believe this," he said. "Mary, can you believe this? Look at that thing at the end of the tunnel. Now that's what I'm afraid of. Germs could be in there."

When the time came for David to crawl into the tunnel, he balked, and said he needed a few more minutes. After those minutes passed, he repeated his request -- and after those minutes, asked yet again for a few more. Finally, after the camera crew left the room, David entered the tunnel, pathetic and trembling. At one point, he got his head stuck in the suit and let out a bloodcurdling scream.

But once in the suit, he discovered it wasn't so bad. He held his gloved hands in front of his faceplate, grinned from ear to ear and said, "I like it." Never before had he taken more than six steps in any direction. But with his mobile support system, he was able that day to travel about 30 feet down the hallway, where he got a cup of ice and handed it to a nurse. It was the first time he'd ever given something to another person.

Though David seemed excited by the excursion, he voiced reservations about the suit before each of his six subsequent outings. When he outgrew the suit, it was replaced -- but he never wore the replacement.

Years later, when David saw a videotape of the made-for-TV movie loosely based on his life, he was most amused by the movie's treatment of the space suit. In The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, John Travolta played a 17-year-old boy who'd lived his entire life in sterile isolation. David laughed at the idea that his character could simply wear the space suit back into the isolator without contaminating the bubble.

In the grand tradition of made-for-TV movies, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble ended on an upbeat note: Travolta, without consulting anyone, simply decided to walk out of the bubble, join his buxom girlfriend on horseback and ride off into the sunset -- presumably to a good time and a certain death.

Certainly, the movie was a long way from realism. But unlike the press, Hollywood at least recognized that David's situation could not and should not go on indefinitely.

Newspapers and TV revealed no such shreds of grimness. In September 1977, the Houston Post reported cheerfully that "a sixth birthday is extra special for most boys and David's will be no exception." The article maintained that David "continues to thrive and develop at above-average rates." To the outside world, David was just a happy, healthy child, miraculously unscathed by the sterility of his life.

Reality was less pleasant. "The summer before David's eighth birthday marked the beginning of the end," Murphy wrote. "Painfully aware of being different and not belonging to a peer group, he inevitably concluded, 'Let's face it -- what do I have in common with kids my own age? Nothing.' "

His explosive rages grew more frequent. After exhausting himself, he'd be aghast at his behavior, afraid that people would leave him and not return.

Murphy was disturbed by David's preoccupation with death and fascination with fire. He drew giant flames to burn down the hospital or his home. He'd then pretend to extinguish the flames by urinating on his drawing.

He developed facial tics, and would nervously rub the bridge of his nose until it was raw. He was frightened of change. And as he began to enter puberty, Murphy says, he'd occasionally engage in open masturbation, embarrassing his nurses and teachers.

By then, she was seeing less of David, who lived almost full-time with his family in Conroe. She occasionally visited him there, but most times, they talked by phone.

Though David grew to enjoy being at home in Conroe, he was at first reluctant to leave the hospital for an extended period of time. "How can I tell my mother that I don't want to live at home?" he asked Murphy a few months before his tenth birthday. "I love my parents very much, but I can't tolerate the thought of six months." As if to prove he meant what he said, he paced, threw himself on the floor of his bubble, pounded his fists and screamed and cursed -- all so violently that Murphy was frightened for him.

She tried to comfort him. "You should be with your parents and your school friends," she told him. "A hospital is no place for a boy to grow up."

Still, David was inconsolable. "Why didn't they do something to me before I was old enough to care?" he asked. "When I was three, I wouldn't have cared. When all this mess started, didn't they ever think about or realize that they were dealing with my life? They made decisions without ever thinking about anything except what they wanted to do, not about all this crap that I'm in.

"I am a mouse surrounded by ten cats, and there are no dogs to chase the cats away .... Where do you suppose I could get some legal advice?"

Over the years, the composition of David's medical team changed. One by one, the three original doctors moved to new jobs in different cities; eventually Baylor's Dr. Ralph Feigin and Dr. William Shearer headed the team. (Both declined to be interviewed by the Press.) It was Feigin, Murphy said, who encouraged her to take the meticulous notes from which she constructed her book. By the time David was nine -- three years into Feigin's stay at Baylor -- Feigin pushed to resolve the boy's situation, which he described as "intolerable for everyone."

Since David's birth, his doctors had hoped that his immune deficiency could be corrected with a bone marrow transplant. But an exhaustive search failed to turn up a perfectly matched donor, and research had not progressed to the point that a less-than-perfect match might work.

Murphy recounted a meeting in June 1980, when Feigin conceded that a cure for David was still years away. Nevertheless, the doctor was concerned about "a deterioration in the boy's mental status," as well as the possibility that federal funding for the project would eventually dry up. (Conservatively estimated, the cost of keeping David alive eventually came to somewhere around $1.3 million.)

According to Murphy, Feigin and Shearer attempted to convince the Vetters to remove David from the bubble and place him on a regime of gamma globulin and antibiotics. Basically, the doctors were hoping that David's body -- like those of the twins in Europe -- had miraculously begun to develop an immune system.

Murphy believed the plan was a way to bring David out of the bubble and let him die. Despite her affection for the boy, she thought it was the right thing to do. The Vetters, though, rejected the idea after consulting with the original trio of doctors.

Four years later, even those doctors agreed that something had to be done. Researchers in Boston had made advances in transplanting unmatched bone marrow. Montgomery and the other two original doctors convinced the Vetters that an unmatched bone marrow transplant was a risk worth taking.

The transplant was set for October 21, 1983, precisely a month after David's 12th birthday. The boy told Murphy that he didn't believe the transplant would work, and he seemed ambivalent about his prospects. But he seemed less frightened of death than of the alternative: life outside the bubble. "He was actually afraid that it might work," said Murphy, "and that he wouldn't be able to adjust when he came out."

Against David's wishes, Baylor hired a camera crew to record the procedure. David wanted Murphy to be at his side, and even advised her on what to wear to the transplant, so that she'd look good in the newspaper. His first choice was turquoise, but he settled for a red blouse, a red velvet vest and a red print skirt.

David's older sister, Katherine, donated the marrow, which was treated by doctors in Boston and flown to Houston to be introduced into David's system. In the wee hours of that Friday morning, Texas Children's Hospital was informed that the plane had arrived at the airport. Less than an hour later, Dr. Shearer walked into David's room with a white Styrofoam ice chest.
Murphy thought that the precious fluid sloshing inside a plastic bag looked like pink lemonade. The procedure was more like a blood transfusion than an operation. Through the intravenous lines that ran into the bubble, Katherine's bone marrow slowly dripped into David's system.

The transplant seemed to go well, and for a few months, doctors dared to hope that David might leave the bubble. But by December, it was clear that something was very wrong. In early February, David was plagued with diarrhea, fever and vomiting so severe that he had to be removed from the bubble to be given intensive treatment. He died 15 days later, on February 22.

It turned out that the screens of Katherine's bone marrow had missed the presence of Epstein-Barr, the virus that produces mononucleosis. An autopsy revealed that David's body was riddled with tumors; he died of Burkitt's lymphoma. According to Dr. Shearer, the information gleaned from David's autopsy led to the discovery that viruses can cause cancer. Besides specific medical advances, David's case also changed the way that doctors approach genetic problems. "What David's story best illustrates is medicine's hopelessness in dealing with symptoms of disease," says Terry Sharrer, the curator of health sciences at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. David's space suit and one of his isolators are now part of the Smithsonian's collection.

According to Sharrer, the Bubble Boy's life coincided with the birth of molecular medicine, which is aimed at fixing a genetic fault rather than combating its results. "David's case," he says, "ended a line of medical thinking that went back a thousand years."

During the last 15 days of David's life -- his first days outside a sterile field -- he spent many of his conscious hours watching TV. He was amazed by the inaccuracies in the saturation coverage of his life and imminent death. And he was especially irritated by a reporter who said his space suit had given him mobility.

"Mobility?" David asked Murphy rhetorically. "What mobility?"One last time, he made her promise that she'd write a factual account of his life and death.

She began the book about eight months later. She wrote in her spare time, snatched from the moments when she wasn't at work or caring for her ailing mother. Along the way, she obtained the written permission of both the Vetters and officials at Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine.

In 1995, Mary Murphy's book seemed on the verge of publication. In its spring catalog, WRS Publishing called it a "captivating inside story" and "provocative question-raiser." But as it turned out, some people close to David would rather not see the questions raised.

In February, Dr. Feigin wrote WRS that he'd been told that portions of the book were drawn from conversations between hospital employees and David or his parents. He warned that such usage might violate Texas laws providing for patients' privacy, and suggested that the publisher review the manuscript carefully.

Roughly a month later, WRS received another letter, this one from David's parents, who had divorced. His father, David Vetter Jr., is now the mayor of Splendora. His mother, Carol Ann Demaret, is married to Kent Demaret, who as a reporter covered the Bubble Boy story for People magazine.

After reading a draft of Murphy's book, Demaret drafted a letter blasting it. Over the course of 28 pages, he complained that the work was "not defensible on any grounds" and amounted "to an assault on a dead child." The letter suggests that Murphy manipulated David and that he would never have asked her to write such a book. It also complains that the words she attributes to David are much different from his way of speaking. "The supposed 'quotes' are not in the true 'voice' or spirit of David," the letter states. "They do, however, sound exactly like Murphy."

It is true that much of what Murphy says and writes about in her book cannot be corroborated, since the people who could confirm or refute her claims refuse to be interviewed. But many of the letter's objections simply do not pass muster. For instance, the family ridicules as a "hallucination" Murphy's contention that David was manipulative -- an observation previously published in a 1977 academic paper in Pediatric Research. Additionally, during his short life it was often reported that David had both an above-average intellect and vocabulary.

David's parents declined to be interviewed for this story. Contacted by phone, David Vetter Jr. said, "I don't have time to talk to you. I don't want to talk with you. Thank you for calling."
Carol Ann Demaret's phone was answered by her husband, who said in a friendly fashion that he doubted that she'd be interviewed. By mail, he later confirmed that.

During his phone conversation with the Press, Demaret described the book as "bad news." Asked about the relationship between Mary Murphy and David, he replied, "She visited him occasionally." Of all the charges leveled against Murphy, the most unlikely one is that she exaggerated her relationship with the boy. Even Team David members who disagree with her conclusions confirm that she and David were close. "In order for David's life to be most meaningful, his parents and we all tried to be upbeat about it even though we knew that things were wrong," said Mary Ann South, one of the original three doctors. "As I recall, [Murphy] picked up on a lot of developmental things about him that nobody wanted to face."

Facing unpleasant truths -- especially about well-meaning people -- is never easy. University of Houston history professor James H. Jones is the author of Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, which documents a 40-year study in which more than 400 black men with syphilis were deliberately left untreated. In the foreword to Murphy's book, Jones stated that she shows how "good people err for the best of reasons."

"If David's life proved anything," wrote Jones, "it was that love, kindness and good intentions do not necessarily translate into sound decisions or produce the desired results."

Last fall, Mary Murphy began having nightmares. In the recurring dreams, she somehow disappointed her mother and could never reach a desired destination. She awoke with an overwhelming sense of sadness. Her psychiatrist told her the dreams were related to the book. "I made a promise," Murphy explained, "and I need to keep it."

Now 70, she is reshaping the manuscript and hopes to find another publisher. But she won't water down her thesis; she promised to tell David's story, no matter how sad.

In February 1984, she visited David the day he'd been removed from his bubble. He was conscious and calm, and seemed to realize he was dying. Wearing surgical gloves, she touched him for the first time outside the bubble, helping him to sit up and adjust his surgical mask. They held hands.

From his hospital bed, he asked that the miniblinds be raised; he wanted to see the view from his new room. But instead of the expected sunset, the window revealed only a brick wall. Murphy began to cry.

For once, their roles were reversed: David tried to comfort Murphy, reminding her of the wall in a children's book she used to read him. David had spent his whole life with barriers. This last one was hardly the worst.

According to the article his mother and Demaret wrote for People, Mary also held David's hand the night that he died. The story described Mary as David's "close friend."

"When she was leaving," Carol Ann recalled, "David said, 'Remember, I love you, Mary. Good-bye.' He had never said good-bye to Mary. It was always, 'I'll see you later.' originally published: April 10, 1997

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A critical review of New York City’s Health Care Chaplaincy, Inc.


When Prince Gregori Potemkin took Catherine the Great down the river to view his grand construction projects, what Catherine thought impressive was in reality a mere facade. His "villages" did not amount to much, but he did bequeath a vivid metaphor to the common language. The citizens of New York have been similarly taken down the river by the Health Care Chaplaincy, Incorporated (HCCI, a.k.a. HCCI & HCC), which has in the past two decades put on display an impressive array of health care chaplaincy services that are hardly what they purport to be.

HCCI is a not-for-profit corporation that provides contract chaplaincy services to health care institutions in the New York City area. It is one of the few contract chaplaincy services in the country, and the only one in the New York City area.

HCCI has been receiving of late something on the order of $4 million annually from generous benefactors, both individual and corporate, monies that purport to support chaplaincy services to New York area health care institutions. Not one nickel of that $4 million finds its way to direct support of service to patients. The health care institutions that contract with HCCI for chaplaincy services actually pay a premium fee to HCCI for whatever services they are provided.

Furthermore, an active chaplaincy department in a large New York City hospital might typically receive gifts amounting to tens of thousands of dollars annually, without even the benefit of fund-raising activities. Such funds have been commonly used to enhance direct chaplaincy services to patients. In recent years HCCI has so skillfully courted community benefactors that those funds are now largely diverted to HCCI where they provide no direct benefit to patient care in any of the New York area health care institutions.

Several health care institutions have severed their contracts with HCCI recently, and others have had discussions about termination, finding that they could set up their own in-house chaplaincy staff more economically and at the same time provide more professional and proficient structures of accountability.

On balance, the prosperity of HCCI in the last two decades, fueled by its glossy public relations campaigns, has resulted in a significant financial loss to all the health care institutions in the New York City area.

So what does HCCI do with the charitable millions that it takes in annually? They go to 1) administrative costs, 2) real estate investment, 3) the HCCI endowment fund, and, 4) various educational projects.

The financial records of HCCI are closely guarded secrets, kept even from high level HCCI staff. But HCCI is a tax exempt not-for-profit, and New York State law requires that its annual IRS report, form 990, be available for public scrutiny. The HCCI 990 reports are far from detailed, but from the aggregates reported, it is clear that monies given to HCCI go entirely to the care and feeding of the central office and its projects, and none to fund patient care services.

The central office expenditures fall into four categories:

1) Administrative costs.
Administrative costs at HCCI are off the chart. Astonishingly, the ratio of central office support staff to working chaplains is very close to one-to-one. Specifically, there are some thirty persons employed in the central office and some forty staff chaplains employed in various health care institutions where the patients are. (Even those working chaplains have certain administrative tasks in addition to their patient care work.) So what do all these central office staff do? They are engaged in administration, fund raising, public relations, and, as well, a minimal amount of educational, resource, and research projects. HCCI needs such a large central office staff because it is primarily in the business of raising money in order to support the work of raising and accumulating money.

2.) Real Estate.
In 1995 HCCI made its first real estate investment, purchasing a five-story office building in Manhattan, at 307 East 60th Street, to house its administrative offices. As the administrative staff has continued to mushroom, HCCI expanded its space recently to occupy as well a large, lavish suite of offices at 315 East 62nd Street. These offices have no beneficial impact on patient care. They are not easily accessible to working chaplains in other parts of Manhattan, and even less so to working chaplains in the suburbs. For most working chaplains, attendance at a meeting at the central office takes the better part of a day out of their work week.

No rationale exists for HCCI’s central offices to occupy some of the most expensive office space in the country, on Manhattan’s tony upper east side. These offices could just as effectively be situated in Flushing or Jersey City, or Harlem with the former President, or many other neighbor-hoods, at significantly lower costs.

An example of HCCI extravagance that adds nothing to the care of the sick is the fact that the central offices contain no less than two well-appointed chapels, one of them being something of a precious semi-private chapel for the CEO himself. Some hospitals, even among those who have contracts with HCCI, have no chapel at all, whereas the doors of the two chapels at the HCCI central office are never darkened by any hospital patient, and rarely even by a working chaplain.

3.) Endowment.
The really unqualified success of HCCI has been the building of its own endowment or net worth, which was on January 1, 2002, pegged at $24 million. HCCI’s net worth has increased in recent years by about three million dollars a year. However, what the endowment will ultimately be committed to has not yet been revealed. It simply keeps growing toward some unknown purpose.

Much of HCCI’s income has come from other endowments, such as the endowment at Trinity Church. So in effect we have a peculiar community phenomenon whereby Trinity Church, along with many other benefactors, has allocated proceeds from its endowment to build the HCCI endowment.

The process does not make sense unless the object is to create more jobs for administrators of endowments. HCCI’s pitch is that its funds will support chaplaincy to patients in area health care institutions. Its pitch would be honest if it asked for public support to build an endowment, the purpose of which has not yet been disclosed.

4) Educational Programs
The educational programs conducted in HCCI’s central office are arguably a beneficial public service. But they are for the most part redundant with programs conducted in several health care institutions throughout the city and region, even institutions that have contracts with HCCI. Thus the central office space set aside for educational events is largely duplicate space. All the educational events scheduled at HCCI could just as appropriately take place in one of several health care institutions, where the patients are. Furthermore, these educational programs are not a significant cost item. Hospitals that have such programs generally receive in service to patients a value that exceeds the cost of the program.


Successful at accumulating money, HCCI has at the same time become a morally troubled institution, troubled not only because its benefactions are used only to engorge itself, but because it has become an institution marked internally by secrecy, intimidation, cynicism, and is bereft of any process of self-criticism.

The critique of HCCI provided by current and former staff persons goes much beyond the typical complaints about leadership that one commonly hears in most any institution. The consensus gathered from our interviews is that the HCCI current leadership is bereft of a moral rudder and has failed to win the basic trust of the staff.

Secrecy in HCCI reaches peculiar extremes, particularly around budget and financial matters. HCCI staff persons are directed not to disclose their salaries to each other. Persons who are assigned the title "director of pastoral care" in any of HCCI’s specific contract hospitals are given the title with few of the tools of the office. The directors, for example, are kept uninformed of the salaries of those they "direct," some of whom receive higher salaries than the directors themselves. The directors have no authority to hire and fire their own staff, nor are they permitted to participate in policy and contract discussions between HCCI and hospital administrators. The directors, in short, do not really direct anything, but merely carry a job title with little of the management authority that one would presume attends to such an office. All forty working chaplains answer directly to the central office. No one outside the central office is entrusted with any significant level of authority. Important decisions are made behind closed doors at the central office in a system seemingly designed to keep all staff on tenterhooks.

The cynicism of HCCI manifests itself most clearly in its pandering posture toward centers of money and power. Annually, HCCI bestows a so-called "wholeness of life award" on a CEO of some major corporation, in a transparent gesture to bring in financial support. HCCI’s glossy literature has through the years hyped annually the likes of Philip Morris CEO, Geoffrey Bible, in full-page glossy as one of the promoters of "wholeness of life." We will be the first to say that money from the tobacco industry is just as good as money from Trinity Church, and any gift deserves a word of thanks. However, such effusive approbation for those who promote the unhealthy interests of the likes of big tobacco is at very least unbecoming to the health care community. Such is the moral tone set at HCCI by its current leaders. There is seemingly nothing they won’t do for money. Catering to money interests throughout the whole institution is debilitating to authentic religious work of any sort. Authentic pastoral care is poisoned when religious leaders pander to bearers of great wealth.

HCCI’s leadership employs a mix of suave self-promotion and aggressive intimidation in dealings both with hospital administrators and the chaplaincy staff. It is a work of genius in the manipulation of power and money.


The original idea of HCCI was a noble one. The organization was created in 1961 with the clumsy appellation, the "East Midtown Protestant Chaplaincy." Its purpose was to support chaplaincy services for Protestants in the area designated. Four congregations created the organization: Christ Methodist, Brick Presbyterian, Epiphany, and St. James Episcopal. In the 1970s the organization appropriately became multi-faith, as did most pastoral services in public health care institutions, changed its name, and expanded its geographic reach to the entire New York area. During its first decades of existence HCCI actually used its funds to support direct chaplaincy services in health care institutions.

What began as a generous, caring innovation, undertaken by a handful of religious people from four congregations on Manhattan’s east side, has now evolved into a self-aggrandizing imperial monopoly furthering unsavory relationships that must make its founders restless in their graves.

HCCI might yet become again the blessing to the New York community that it promised to be at its beginning. Five matters must be addressed and corrected if HCCI is to be redeemed as an institution of financial and religious integrity:

1) HCCI must cure its far too top-heavy central office staff. Its financial resources and staffing must be shifted to the health care institutions where the patients are. Health care institutions are currently under severe financial constraints, and they need trained chaplains on-site, at the bedside, not ensconced in luxury offices far from any patient.

2) The moral tone of the leadership must be elevated. The chichi ambience and gaudy luxury of the central offices are unbecoming to those who serve the sick and dying. Catering to the rich is unseemly. Bullying by the HCCI administration is demoralizing. Research objectives must be independent from fund raising objectives. An end should be put to secrecy and obfuscation in financial and administrative matters. A candid self-critical process of reflecting on its own institutional values and relationships must be instituted.

3) The chaplaincy personnel in the various hospitals must be given the authority to administer their own programs and authority over their own staff. Forty chaplains answerable to one administrator in a distant office is an invitation to fecklessness.

4) HCCI should cease the process of enlarging its endowment and disclose the designated purpose of its existing endowment, and that purpose should be directly related to patient care. That is what donors generally have thought all along that their contributions supported.

5) HCCI should sell its building and resort to leased space, and much less of it, and in a lower rent district.

The generosity of New York’s benefactors has created the large expansion of HCCI over the past two decades, the results of which are a very impressive facade and a $24 million endowment. No one can rejoice at this enormous misappropriation of so much generosity. Little wonder that public cynicism about religious leadership abounds, when a public posture of serving the needy is in reality a covert way of serving self-interest. The HCCI story should grieve anyone who longs for a more humane city and more compassionate and effective services for those in need.

Prince Grigori Potemkin, however, would undoubtedly gaze on HCCI with admiration and awe.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Raymond J. Lawrence, Jr.

Raymond J. Lawrence has been the director of pastoral care at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, since 1991. He is a native of Virginia and is an Episcopal minister. He has served in parishes in Virginia and Tennessee, and has directed clinical pastoral training programs at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, Houston; St. Joseph Hospital, Houston; Brooklyn Methodist Hospital; and the Roanoke, Virginia, Mental Health Center. He is the author of The Poisoning of Eros: Sexual Values in Conflict, as well as a number of journal articles, and he publishes the journal Contra Mundum. Lawrence serves as general secretary of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, an accrediting organization for clinically trained ministers. As a hobby, Lawrence has become an expert in the identification of mushroom species
by Myron C. Madden

It was the first week-end in October of 1999. I was in process of selling the house I had lived in for forty-five years. The word came that Wayne Oates had died. So I put aside the grief over my house to enter a greater grief to go to Wayne's funeral in Louisville, Kentucky.

In the funeral procession on Monday, October 4, I had the feeling that nature should revolt, convulse, or erupt for such an event. It was the passing of one of earth's great ones. Since nature didn't speak I had the feeling that if all those cars going in the opposite direction just knew, they would stop, turn around, and follow us to the grave.

I mourned in my spirit that there was no one with the gift that Shakespeare gave to Cleopatra when Anthony died as she grieved saying,The crown th'earth doth melt, my lord! O, withered is the garland of the war, The soldier's pole is fallen! Young boys and girls Are level now with men. The odds is gone, And there is nothing left remarkable Beneath the visiting moon. (IV,15)

Wayne was my hero, my idol. He had been my mentor for more than fifty years. It all began shortly after World War II. He was teaching all the things I so sorely needed as a chaplain in combat. The seminary had not begun to deal with any approach to clinical pastoral training before it sent a batch of us off to the war. The assumption was that one could wing it with a good grip on the sacred scriptures. I am not saying that was unimportant. But it was not enough to make the vital connections between word and flesh.

Wayne had the prophetic insight that seminary education could be greatly enhanced by hands- on supervision of students, by helping them learn ministry in the process of practicing it. It is amazing to look back and see how much a big faculty, including administration, gave resistance to change. But there came a lull. Wayne marshaled forces enough to establish a strong comeback.

But, alas, the victory was lost in the end, and the forces of reaction took the day at the seminary. As we shoveled dirt on Wayne Oates' casket in Cherokee Park, not far from his mother seminary, no representative came to claim and honor him as one of its staunchest soldiers. But I recalled it was also said of another that "he came to his own and his own did not receive him."
Myron C. Madden