U.S. Notes & Quotes

Lawn Shrines Express Cajun Love for Mary

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, Aug. 13-In a colorful exposition of Cajun Catholic life in South Louisiana, reporter Ken Wells featured a lawn ornament business to illustrate the region's devotion to the Blessed Mother.

In a story headlined “At D&D Ornamental, the Real Madonna is the Star of the Lot,” Wells tells the story of Michael DuBois and his growing business and his inventory of both religious and secular outdoor statuary.

Statues of Mary, however, have been responsible for 70% of his business, ever since DuBois, 40, established his company in 1985.

“To understand why this is a business at all, drive along any of the scenic byways of South Louisiana's Cajun belt. In many towns in this French-influenced, heavily Catholic region, every third or fourth house will have a lawn shrine — typically a small statue of Mary,” said Wells.

“We don't worship the Blessed Mother,” said Zam Tregle, a Cajun entrepreneur and one of DuBois's customers. “But we do venerate her.”

Msgr. Joseph Latino, pastor of St. Francis De Sales Cathedral in Houma, said Cajun Catholics display their religiosity with lawn shrines about as naturally as Midwesterners demonstrate their patriotism by flying a flag from the front porch. “These shrines are often put up in the belief that a favor has been granted,” he told the Journal.

“Folklorists say some of the first lawn shrines began appearing in South Louisiana after the Battle of New Orleans in 1815,” said Wells. With the city under siege by a larger British force, Andrew Jackson reportedly visited a convent of Ursuline nuns and asked them to pray to Mary for help. Concluded Wells: “The nuns said their prayers, Jackson's forces quickly routed the British, and shrines went up everywhere [in gratitude] to Our Lady of Prompt Succor.”

Misunderstood Artist or Anti-Catholic Bigot?

MILWAUKEE SENTINEL JOURNAL, Aug. 13-Artist Robert Kox “was dumbfounded when told about allegations” of anti-Catholic bigotry stemming from his “To Hell and Back” exhibit of paintings and sculptures, according to a story by reporter Tom Heinen in the Milwaukee daily. “He wondered if [Catholic] League officials read the explanations that accompany his works.”

Heinen continued: “In many cases, the artwork draws upon biblical warnings and represents Satan disguised as Mary or Jesus. In some others, it warns against worship of Mary as an idol.”

“They've just got things totally turned around,” Kox told the reporter.

It's difficult to square the brief explanation of Kox's purposes with the contents of the exhibit, which Heinen listed as including:

— “The Virgin Mary depicted as the “Great Harlot.” Christ labeled the ‘Son of Perdition.’

— “Christ wearing a necklace with the satanic symbol “666.”

— “A headless statue of Mary with “black filth” running out of her Immaculate Heart.

— “What the [Catholic League] calls blasphemous misuse of rosary beads, medals, crucifixes, scapulars and votive candles.”

The museum featuring the exhibit, Neville Public Museum in Green Bay, Wis., is operated by Brown County, which pays for maintenance and operation. “But all exhibit costs are paid for with funds raised by the nonprofit board, which also approves exhibits,” said Heinen.

“Representatives of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay have seen the exhibit,” added Heinen, “but Bishop Robert J. Banks declines to comment and recommends that people with complaints contact the museum.”

Bishop Explains Vatican Ban on New Ways Founders

THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, Aug. 14-In an interview with Utah's statewide newspaper, Salt Lake City Bishop George H. Niederauer explained that the Vatican's termination of a long-running, controversial ministry to homosexuals is not rejection by the Church of its members with same-sex attractions.

Rather, the decision to end the ministry of Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick was finally forced by the pair's dissent from Church teaching, specifically the teaching that homosexual acts are immoral.

“It was not a condemnation of their general sensitivity toward and compassion [for] people struggling with their sexuality,” Bishop Niederauer told reporter Bob Mims. “The Church has always made a distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual acts.”

“The Church recognizes [sexuality's] goodness and value in all human lives, but this power is to be used only in the context of a stable relationship between a man and a woman,” he added.

Bishop Niederauer, ordinary of the 100,000-member diocese that includes all of Utah, said “loving the sinner but hating the sin” is not a self-righteous cliché, but a rule of thumb for all Christians to follow.

“The Church needs to continue to be a loving companion and guide to people as they struggle with all the ideals of the Christian life,” he said. Still, Christian love does not mean “indiscriminate acceptance” of all behaviors, he said. “That's not true of parents of children or the Church. Parents are not being unloving when they say you shouldn't do this or do that,” the bishop said.