Holy Catholic Rollers Praying For Osama?

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that attempts to cover the following story are a mess. The hook is that South Floridian Henry Borga paid the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach $10 to put bin Laden’s name on the prayer list there. The name appeared with four others under the mass intentions section in the church’s pamphlet, with a cross next to bin Laden’s name.

You can imagine that this is going over like a lead balloon among many parishioners and observers. But the coverage leaves a bit to be desired. The first story I read was “Prayer request for Osama bin Laden at Catholic Church in West Palm Beach.” It’s been updated and improved since the first version I read.

The story explains that the Mass intention was made a week ago and gets a few quotes from folks. Borga says that Osama bin Laden “needs forgiveness and compassion from God.” Here are a few others:

“I think it’s totally wrong, he doesn’t belong in the Catholic religion. For what he did to Americans, he doesn’t belong anywhere,” says Lois Pizzano, a Catholic Church member. “It’s unconscionable, it’s sacrilegious,” said Pizzano.

Father Gavin Badway admits many in his congregation are unhappy. But he says the church has never turned down a prayer request before. He says making the right decision isn’t always easy.

“Their hearts are troubled because they’re thinking emotionally about what he has done and he has done a lot of evil. Nevertheless, Jesus tells us, love and forgive,” says Father Badway, who is the church pastor.

There are some Christians supporting Father Badway’s decision to honor the request and pray for bin Laden’s soul.

“I can see why they’d want to do that since the Bible does say to love your enemy and pray for those who hate you,” says Aaron Wormus.

OK, so I appreciate the quotes from the guy who paid the money and the priest and the various folks with different views on whether this was a good idea.

But particularly if you are not a member of the Catholic church, you’re going to need many more details than this, right? The stories keep switching between the terminology of “prayer request” and “Mass intention.” That could be clarified. Either way, I had no idea that it was typical to pay money for prayer requests. I’d like to know more about this. I’d like to know more about what prayers for the deceased or Masses offered for the deceased are intended to accomplish. I was reading this piece earlier today in Catholic publication Crisis about how reactions to Osama bin Laden’s killing reveal an ignorance of just war tradition. It would be nice to have a bit more explanation of how that tradition clarifies such mass intentions , too. A collection of quotes — although helpful and nice and better than their absence — is just not going to cut it.

And then, what about this headline from the NBC affiliate in Miami?

Holy Roller Defends Bin Laden Prayer Request

Holy Roller? What does that even mean? I mean, I know what it means when it’s referring to a a member of Protestant sect “whose worship meetings are characterized by spontaneous expressions of emotional excitement.” I know what that means. I know the term is used to describe Pentecostal Christians.

But since the man in question is a member of a Catholic parish, I’m kind of confused why the NBC affiliate in Miami thought it would be a good term to use here. Even if the term didn’t have derisive connotations.

It’s a shame because there’s actually a lot of material here for a good story. It just requires much savvier reporting than we’re seeing thus far. Let us know if you see better coverage of the Osama bin Laden prayer request.

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  • Jerry

    When I read this headline, I was grateful I did’t have any food in my mouth. Once my mind started working again after absorbing the blog headline, I found out why you had written that: it accurately reflected what you were writing about. Sigh.

  • http://www.faithandgeekery.com Justin

    It appears that the Miami station dropped the headline and gave it a less condescending one:


  • Kathy

    Catholics pray for local and national leaders at every Mass, anyway. I don’t know why this should be so scandalous.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    I’m kind of confused why the NBC affiliate in Miami thought it would be a good term to use here.

    Because as bad as so many print journalism outlets are today — especially at accurate and informed coverage of religion — local television news is a million times worse and staffed by newsreaders and writers considerably less skilled or perceptive.

  • bob

    Kathy has it. The story might be that it’s a story. For 2000 years Christians have prayed for the emperor, the sultan, for whoever was in charge — and likely persecuting Christians, too. It’s nothing new. Praying for this or any other president isn’t a political statement. Why isn’t THAT reported!? I expect the $10.00 is a donation to make the gesture? I can’t recall ever hearing of anyone making a cash offering to have someone by name or office commemorated in the prayers of the Orthodox Church.

  • Peggy R

    I am glad the headline changed. But the article is short on understanding that this is entirely appropriate, though not comfortable, Catholic prayer.
    –Catholics do pray for the souls of the dead. Some Protestant groups don’t agree with that. This is part of Catholicism’s purgatory theology. All is not lost once one dies.
    –God wants every soul won to Him. It is a great act of charity when we pray for sinners, dead or living.
    –It is part of our Catholic duty to pray for the dead, especially those who have no one to pray for them. (All Souls Day, Nov 2).

    Canon lawyer Ed Peters suggested that perhaps, while this mass intention (which I understand people pay a small sum for) is entirely appropriate, it might have been best not to print it in the bulletin and bring attention to it.

    Religion is not politics; it is not war. I think that the Church probably would say that killing an unarmed bin Laden was unjust. CofE’s Rowan Williams has said such. As much as I do not mind OBL being killed, I have to admit they are morally right. That is the same discomfort that the public sees in having a mass said for the intention of OBL’s soul.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Thanks, Peggy. Very helpful.

  • Erin

    Regarding paying for a prayer request – when requesting that a Mass be said for a special intention, it is common practice to make a small donation to be used as a stipend for the priest offering the Mass. Presumably that’s what the $10 was for.

    Since as Catholics we believe that we can never be certain that any person has gone to hell, we offer prayers and Masses for the people who may be in purgatory. Since Christ himself taught us to pray for our enemies, it seems perfectly appropriate to offer prayers for Bin Laden’s soul. If this was controversial, then the pastor needs to do a better job of catechizing his parishioners.

  • Martha

    You may be interested to know that we’ve had a similar story over here in Ireland.

    Apparently, a church in Howth, Co. Dublin, put in the notices of their parish newsletter for Sunday 8th May that there would be two Masses offered for Osama bin Laden on Thursday 12th May.

    Naturally, there was a lot of reaction to this, and the Archdiocese eventually came out with the explantion that this was a hoax and there would definitely not be any Masses going ahead:

    “However, a spokeswoman for the Dublin archdiocese expressed surprise that such a Mass would be scheduled. She subsequently confirmed that it was a hoax.

    She said someone had telephoned the church last week asking that two services to be dedicated to the infamous al-Qaeda leader’s memory.

    His name had been taken without question by a church official and included on the list for upcoming prayers without the sanction of parish priest Msgr Brendan Houlihan.”

    Thing is, apart from the theology involved (can Catholic Masses be said for the repose of the souls of non-Catholics?), this is generally how people do make Mass requests from their local parish: ring up the parish office (or drop in) and leave in the names of those they want prayed for (with the Mass offering) and then the day is sorted out.

    So it probably was a hoax (nobody offered to pay for the Masses being said, it would seem) but there is always the possibility that it was genuine.

    I’m very interested to see that the same thing happened in Florida – could it be genuine, or could it be a hoax?

  • http://osamawasladen.com Osama Was Laden

    Thanks for all the prayers– now can somebody do something about this GIANT HOLE in my forehead?

  • Brian Walden

    Martha, Mass intentions can be said for anyone Catholic or not. I’ve had Masses said for friends and family who weren’t Catholic. Funerals are another story, I’m pretty sure you have to be Catholic to have a funeral Mass. It is perfectly within Catholic tradition to pray even for the soul of a monster like Bin Laden. In fact, it is sinful to hope that he (or anyone) is in hell.

  • http://stewedrabbit.blogspot.com Edwin

    Your characterization of the Weigel piece is inaccurate. He didn’t even attempt to make the case that opponents of OBL’s killing are ignorance of just war tradition. He just asserted that the killing was an act of war rather than of criminal justice. But he claimed that it was a “new kind of war,” which tacitly admits that it falls outside the purview of traditional just war theory.

  • Don L CT

    Praying for him is a heck of a lot more true to the Catholic faith that than those CINOs who honored this most pro-abortion and “culture of death” president in history, did in that scandalous leftist affair at Notre Dame.