Priest = Toilet? Professor’s Crude Analogy Draws Fire from Catholics – UPDATED

A college professor holds up a picture showing a priest holding a crucifix on one side, and a toilet on the other side.  Between the two images is an equal sign.

“What does this mean?” he asks his audience.

Someone quickly yells, “They’re both full of shit!”

The audience laughs; and the professor gleefully strolls around the classroom, repeating the refrain.

*     *     *     *

Does this bother you?


Well, it bothers the Catholic League; and it bothers me.

I’m bothered on two counts:  because the exercise is truly blasphemous and disrespectful of the Catholic faith and of all the Catholics seated in the room; and because such cheap stunts have so often replaced higher academic discourse in contemporary education.

I’ve got to hand it to Bill Donohue, the Catholic League’s feisty founder, for defending the Catholic faith from contemptuous professors like this one.

Professor Weil

On September 27, Professor Timothy Weil, practicum coordinator and professor of behavioral sciences at the University of South Florida, flashed the controversial poster as part of a presentation to the Florida Association for Behavioral Analysis, which was meeting in Daytona Beach.  Weil has insisted that no harm was intended, and that his exercise was misinterpreted.  The Tampa Tribune quoted his email response to an attendee who protested.  Weil wrote:

“It seems the purpose of the exercise may have been missed.  It was an attempt to show that through language, we are able to relate a wide variety of things that we come across in daily life — even those things that have seemingly no link such as the two pictures that I had on the screen.  Please know I had no goal of a preferred response on the part of the audience … I only needed to present stimuli that were seemingly mis-matched to make the point about how we are able to relate arbitrary stimuli without much effort.”

Is that what he meant at the time, or is the crafty professor trying to do damage control, as USF investigates the matter?

Weil went on to explain that the exercise revealed more about the learning history of those who respond, than it does about the presenter.  Some people, he said,

“…responded positively to the priest and toilet bowl images—saying both help people, for example”

and that he could not, as presenter, be blamed for the person who responded with the profanity.

But consider this:  Instead of a Catholic priest, imagine on the left side of the poster one of the following:

    • An African-American
    • A Muslim
    • A Jewish rabbi

In any of those cases, the drawing would have been deemed offensive and you would probably have found the classroom exercise to be transparently discriminatory.

And you would have been right.  There exists a creative tension between academic freedom and the respect due to individuals and groups; but it is unacceptable to make an unfavorable inference about one of the bulleted groups above (to even speak the “N” word, for example, or to pair a black face in a drawing with a hangman’s noose).

Catholics, likewise, deserve respect in the public square, and an offense deemed politically incorrect deserves a review and a warning by university officials.  If it’s wrong for statist governments like Nazi Germany or Communist Russia to have co-opted the classroom with their political propaganda, it’s also wrong for left-leaning professors to demand that the university provide a platform for their rants, and that captive students embrace their skewed narrative.

The Tampa Tribune, in its report looked back on two other complaints against institutions of higher education in the state of Florida, one at USF and the other at Florida Atlantic University:

Universities are accustomed to dealing with conflicts between academics and religious or ideological advocates and typically give educators leeway in the name of academic freedom.

Earlier this year, a professor at Boca Raton-based Florida Atlantic University was placed on administrative leave but then had his contract renewed after leading an exercise in which students were asked to write the name “Jesus” on a piece of paper, put it on the floor, and stomp on it.

The exercise was meant to address the importance of symbols in culture.

In 2010, USF raised the ire of the Florida Family Association when the group learned a drag performer would appear in a class called Queer Theory.  USF administration supported the professor.

UPDATE:  I’ve just received the following response to my request for comment.  Although I had directed my email to Professor Weil, the response came from the department’s dean, Dr. Julianne Serovich.  I’m predicting that as in the case of the drag performer I noted above, Dr. Weil will be defended and protected by the university, and no action will be taken.  I’ll keep you posted.

Here is the content of the university’s response:

Thank you for contacting the University of South Florida with your concerns.  The university is reviewing the incident that has been brought to our attention.  The University of South Florida will be responding directly to the individuals concerned in the near future and will be sharing the outcome with the Catholic League. In advance of the response, USF  takes such concerns seriously. At the same time, USF affirms the principles of academic freedom, which include the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in an educational context, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research and creative expression.  On the part of our faculty,  the exercise of academic freedom comes with responsibility and should be consistent with USF’s values of respect, integrity, civility and collegiality.

Thank you,

Dr. Julianne Serovich
Professor and Dean
College of Behavioral and Community Sciences


Shepherd in Combat Boots: A Conversation With Father Kapaun’s POW Friend

Father Kapaun celebrating Mass on a Jeep

Father Emil Kapaun, U.S. military chaplain during the Korean War, was captured on November 2, 1950.

Two days later and twenty miles away, Lieutenant Bill Funchess was captured by the Chinese Communist Forces and taken to a prison camp, where he was thrown into a 9-by-9-foot thatched roof mud shack.  There, lying in the cold on a dirt floor, were eleven seriously wounded enlisted men.

Emil Kapaun, a Catholic priest, died in that camp; his fellow soldier Bill Funchess, a Methodist, became Father Kapaun’s friend and caretaker in the last weeks of his life.

Bill Funchess – today

Sixty-three years later, Bill Funchess remembers like it was yesterday; and he welcomed my questions, talking openly about his experiences as a prisoner of war in a Valley Camp in North Korea.

Father Kapaun and Lieutenant Funchess were both forced by their captors to march north; but the two were imprisoned in different compounds, and it wasn’t until February 1951 that they actually met.  Funchess had been permitted out for a rare walk in the camp.  Funchess was searching for something to eat when he stumbled upon a man who had kindled a fire, and who was melting snow in a roughly crafted tin pan.  “Would you care for a drink of water?” asked the man.  “Yes, I certainly would,” exclaimed Funchess.  The priest gave him about half a cup of water, and Funchess still remembers his kindness.  “I’ve never tasted anything so good,” he explained, adding that it was the first water he’d had to drink since his capture.  Until then, he and the other soldiers had survived by eating snow.

Lieutenant Bill Funchess (on the phone, right)

Within a week, Father Kapaun climbed the fence into the compound where Funchess lived, where the priest helped many of the sick and wounded prisoners.  Shortly after, Chinese officers realized, though, that Funchess was an officer living among enlisted men; and he was relocated to an officers’ camp, again separated from Father Kapaun.

But in April 1951, the door to Funchess’ shack was thrown open by Chinese guards, and a man was thrown to the floor.  It was Father Emil Kapaun, who was suffering from a blood clot in his right leg and was having difficulty walking.  Perhaps, said Funchess, the guards hoped to isolate him from the Catholics, in the mistaken belief that prisoners of other faiths wouldn’t bond with him.  Perhaps, too, they hoped that the prisoners in that hut would care for Father Kapaun.

Father Emil Kapaun

The priest, the only Catholic whom Lieutenant Funchess had gotten to know, was an inspiration to his fellow prisoners.  When he was able to walk, he cared for the other POWs with no regard for their faith background; Catholic, Protestant or atheist, all were the recipients of Father Kapaun’s kindness.

Lice were a significant problem for the prisoners, sucking their blood; and a soldier who didn’t pick lice from his body could lose a significant amount of blood, greatly impairing his health.  Father Kapaun would doggedly pick lice from prisoners who were unable to care for themselves.

He scrounged around, said Bill Funchess, visiting the various warehouses and stealing soybeans or other food for the other prisoners to eat.  At great risk to himself, he would cross the barbed-wire fence to visit other compounds and help the men imprisoned there.  He would lead prayers for both the Catholics and the non-Catholics.   Lieutenant Funchess reiterated, as though reminding himself:   “He did many good Christian-type things for the POWs, with no regard for their religious background.”

However, Father Kapaun’s health continued to deteriorate.  When the priest was no longer able to walk, Lieut. Funchess cared for his wounded friend.  Seeing his serious condition, Funchess offered him the choicest spot on the cold dirt floor, sleeping against the wall, so that no soldier stumbling through the total darkness of the hut to urinate in the night would mistakenly step on the priest’s injured leg.  Funchess got all the prisoners to move over, to squeeze Fr. Kapaun into the safe spot near the wall.  Then, with no warm clothing or blanket and no heat, Funchess rested against the priest on the coldest nights, helping to stave off frostbite and further illness.  As the two men clung together for warmth, they did a lot of talking.

Funchess took it upon himself to perform an extraordinary act of kindness for Father Kapaun.  When the weakened priest lost control of his bladder and bowels, it was Lieutenant Funchess who would scrub the soiled hut and wipe clean the gaunt body of his friend.

Finally, Funchess confided, one of the prisoners, on a walk through the camp, found what appeared to be the top half of a pot-belly stove.  “It would be a fine toilet for Father Kapaun,” the soldiers thought; and Funchess applied the skill he’d learned from Fr. Kapaun, fashioning a rudimentary bucket of tin to fit beneath the seat.  After that, the prisoners in his hut would assist Father Kapaun in getting to the toilet; and Lieutenant Funchess would carry the bucket outside for emptying.

Their time together was short.  In the second or third week of May 1951, Chinese officers and guards burst into the hut and dragged Father Kapaun out.  They were, they said in broken English, taking him to the “hospital”—or to what prisoners more realistically called the “death camp”, since most of the prisoners who were taken there never left to rejoin their fellow prisoners.  Lieutenant Funchess recalled only two prisoners who had survived and came out of the hospital.

Funchess pleaded with the guards to leave Father Kapaun in the room where he was.  He was in no condition to be moved.  Other POWs, especially the Catholics, came running and tried to intervene.  They were almost physical—pushing, shoving the Chinese guards and the Chinese English-speaking officer.  The guards, though, were determined to take him—probably, Funchess thought, because they intended to take him to the ersatz “hospital” and allow him to die.

Funchess recalled that the guards permitted five or six Catholic POWs to take Father Kapaun out of his room and up the path to the so-called “hospital.”  Once at the hospital, the guards closed the doors and sent the POWs back to their camp.

[The New York Times, reporting on the same story, reported that Father Kapaun had suffered from a blood clot, dysentery and then pneumonia, and in May 1951, guards sent him into isolation, without food or water, to die.]

There was no word for several days; finally, they got the word that Kapaun had died on May 23, 1951.  Lieutenant Funchess didn’t know whether the earth had warmed sufficiently to allow a burial, or whether Kapaun’s body had been unceremoniously dumped in a heap, awaiting warmer weather.

*     *     *     *

The Story Goes On

A military mass kit, like those used during the Korean War

Some time later, after he was transferred to North Korea’s Camp #2, Funchess saw the five- or six-year-old daughter of the Chinese commander playing with a set of gold “cups” which had once belonged to Father Kapaun.  Nothing in his Methodist faith had prepared Funchess to understand the purpose of the “gold cups”; but most likely, the little girl had acquired the priest’s military mass kit—and the cups were the chalice, ciborium and paten used in the liturgy.

*     *     *     *

Lieutenant Funchess told me about another prisoner of war, a Jewish prisoner by the name of Jerry Fink.  Fink, a Chicago native who had been trained as a military pilot, had been shot down on his first mission; and Fink and Funchess had spent a week together in “the hole,” an underground cell in the prison camp.  Fink obtained rough wood from the woodpile, and used it to carve a crucifix for Father Kapaun.

Head of Christ, from the crucifix carved by Jerry Fink, with a crown of thorns fashioned by Bill Funchess

Funchess, too, contributed to Father Kapaun’s crucifix.  He had climbed to the rafters in a camp building and found a pair of tinsnips, which he used to cut the barbed wire.  From the snipped wire, Funchess had fashioned a crown of thorns for the crucified Christ.

The crucifix, which is 24 to 26 inches high and perhaps 12”-15” across, was brought out of the camp by Catholic POWs when they were released at the end of the war.  It is now enshrined at St. John Nepomucene Church in Pilsen, Kansas.

*     *     *     *

On April 11, 2013, nearly sixty-two years after his death, Rev. Emil J. Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in an East Room ceremony in the White House.  Receiving the Award was Father Kapaun’s nephew.  The President, in presenting the award, said,

“This is an amazing story.  Father Kapaun has been called a shepherd in combat boots.  His fellow soldiers who felt his grace and his mercy called him a saint, a blessing from God.  Today, we bestow another title on him — recipient of our nation’s highest military decoration.

“I know one of Father Kapaun’s comrades spoke for a lot of folks here when he said, ‘It’s about time.’ ”

*     *     *     *

The Diocese of Wichita and the Vatican have begun the formal process that could lead to Father Kapaun’s canonization.  In 1993, it was announced that Fr. Kapaun would receive the title of “Servant of God”.


Lord Jesus, in the midst of the folly of war,
your servant, Chaplain Emil Kapaun spent himself
in total service to you on the battlefields and
in the prison camps of Korea, until his
death at the hands of his captors.

We now ask you, Lord Jesus, if it be your will,
to make known to all the world the holiness
of Chaplain Kapaun and the glory of his
complete sacrifice for you by signs of
miracles and peace.

In your name, Lord, we ask, for you are the
source of peace, the strength of our
service to others, and our final hope.


Chaplain Kapaun, pray for us.

“Prepare to Be Shocked”: Milwaukee Archdiocese to Release Personnel Files

On Monday, July 1, as part of its ongoing bankruptcy case, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will release thousands of pages of confidential documents regarding the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests.

Included in the documents will be personnel files of 42 priests.  Also slated for release are depositions of Milwaukee’s former Archbishop Timothy Dolan, now leader of the New York Archdiocese; retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland; and retired Bishop Richard Sklb, as well as the deposition of Daniel Budzynski, a now-defrocked priest.

The Most Rev. Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee

Archbishop Jerome Listecki warned of the graphic nature of the documents in his weekly letter to local Catholics.  “Needless to say, there are some terrible things described in many of the documents,” he said.  “Prepare to be shocked.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offered a hint of what the documents will contain:

According to interviews and court records, the documents are expected to include: details about how church officials shuttled abusive priests from one parish or school to the next without divulging their histories; correspondence between the archdiocese and the Vatican, which has the final word on defrocking priests; evidence that the archdiocese under Dolan paid some priests to accept that decision without protest; and graphic accounts of sexual assault of young people.

The wisdom of releasing such shocking personal information has been questioned by some.  Archbishop Listecki worried that dredging up abuse cases from the past and making the information available to the general public would be painful for the victims themselves.

But Jeffrey Anderson, attorney who has handled most of the 575 sex abuse claims against the Archdiocese, had demanded the release of the documents and called their release a victory for victims and survivors.  “From the outset,” Anderson said, “what survivors have wanted most is to protect other kids.  And the only way you can do that is to have full disclosure of what has been done in the past.”

The Milwaukee Archdiocese is the eighth Catholic diocese to file for Chapter 11 protection since the inception of the clergy sex abuse scandal.  Under Chapter 11, the archdiocese hopes to minimize its liability in mounting sex abuse lawsuits, and retain sufficient assets to allow it to continue in its mission of serving the spiritual needs of Milwaukee’s 700,000 Catholics.

Archbishop Listecki first announced last April that the documents would be made public.  On July 1, he will keep that promise by linking the documents on the Archdiocese’s website.  The 6,000 pages show some of the following themes:

  • Terrible things happened to innocent children.
  • People were ill-equipped to respond — to victims and families, and to perpetrators.
  • Church leaders and other professionals tried their best to deal with the issue given the knowledge available at the time.
  • Reports of abuse were often not brought to the archdiocese or civil authorities until decades after they occurred.
  • The archdiocese consistently showed care and concern for abuse survivors, and paid for therapy for individuals who were harmed.
  • The incidents of abuse date back 25, 50, even 80 years.
  • The majority of perpetrators were not known to the archdiocese until years after they committed the abuse.
  • In the 1970s and 80s, priests were often removed from their parish for “medical reasons,” sent for counseling and, based upon a recommendation from their therapist or medical professional, reassigned to another parish.
  • Twenty-two priests were reassigned to parish work after concerns about their behavior were known to the archdiocese.
  • Eight of those 22 priests reoffended after being reassigned.
  • Civil authorities did not always pursue investigations and neither did the archdiocese.
  • Even when priests were prosecuted and found guilty or pled no contest, they often received probation as a sentence and did not go to jail.
  • People often reported concerns about a priest that were not instances of sexual abuse, but rather concerns about unusual or questionable behaviors, such as uninvited attention/affection — what we know today as possible signs of “grooming.”
  • In the early 1990s, a more formalized approach of outreach to abuse survivors and in dealing with offenders began to emerge.

Archbishop Listecki, addressing his flock via his weekly blog, says:

These are not easy moments for the Church, but I am strengthened by the consistent promise of prayers and support from the people in the archdiocese.  Our hope is that the publication of these documents can help bring this chapter of our history to a close and allow us to continue to focus on our desire to work with abuse survivors, and to focus on education and prevention.  We pray for those who are abuse survivors and pledge our continued support for those who have been harmed, following the Lord’s command to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

More information about the release of documents can be found in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

You can read Archbishop Listecki’s letter to Milwaukee Catholics on the archdiocesan website.