custodian Mark Kenney cleanses St. Cecilia Cathedral

Mark Kenney, a custodian at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska, was justly outraged at the desecration of the sanctuary during the annual Flower Festival. And he acted on that just anger by “cleansing the temple”.

The main sanctuary was filled with displays of flowers. People came through the sanctuary, not to worship God, not for any holy purpose. They came to see the flowers … and costumed mannequins.

The theme of this year’s display was “A Night at the Movies”. The display includes a large figure of Mary Poppins, suspended in the air from a cable, and displays at floor level of mannequins dressed as: Lawrence of Arabia, Amadeus, The King and I, Doctor Zhivago, Beauty and the Beast, and Queen Elizabeth I as well as displays based on the movies: Grease, the Wizard of Oz, and the Sound of Music. In all, two dozen films are featured in the festival.

See the photos here: Flower Festival is Blooming and here: Photos.

There was also a cardboard statue of the Buddha in a chapel below the main sanctuary. Kelly: With a pair of bolt cutters and sense of indignation, custodian cuts down what flies in church. Mark Kenney took a pair of bolt cutters and cut the cable suspending the figure of Mary Poppins. He tossed the cardboard Buddha out a door, along with some of the mannequins.

Kenney, “in a letter to the archbishop objected to ‘pop art’ and ‘absurd, secular cultural icons’ in the cathedral.” He also said that the Festival was a “desecration” of the sanctuary.

“Kenney said in an interview this week that he will make restitution. But he says secular items such as movie characters are inappropriate in the sacred space of the cathedral and amount to sacrilege and idolatry.” [ article]

From a theological point of view, Kenney is correct that these displays, in the main sanctuary and the chapel, are offensive to God and to the holy Catholic faith.

What would Jesus have done? Pretty much the same thing that Kenney did.

{21:12} And Jesus entered into the temple of God, and he cast out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of the vendors of doves.
{21:13} And he said to them: “It is written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer. But you have made it into a den of robbers.’ ”

{11:15} And they went to Jerusalem. And when he had entered into the temple, he began to cast out the sellers and the buyers in the temple. And he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the chairs of the vendors of doves.
{11:16} And he would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple.
{11:17} And he taught them, saying: “Is it not written: ‘For my house shall be called the house of prayer for all nations?’ But you have made it into a den of robbers.”
{11:18} And when the leaders of the priests, and the scribes, had heard this, they sought a means by which they might destroy him. For they feared him, because the entire multitude was in admiration over his doctrine.

{19:45} And entering into the temple, he began to cast out those who sold in it, and those who bought,
{19:46} saying to them: “It is written: ‘My house is a house of prayer.’ But you have made it into a den of robbers.”
{19:47} And he was teaching in the temple daily. And the leaders of the priests, and the scribes, and the leaders of the people were seeking to destroy him.
{19:48} But they could not find what to do to him. For all the people were listening to him attentively.

{2:13} And the Passover of the Jews was near, and so Jesus ascended to Jerusalem.
{2:14} And he found, sitting in the temple, sellers of oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers.
{2:15} And when he had made something like a whip out of little cords, he drove them all out of the temple, including the sheep and the oxen. And he poured out the brass coins of the moneychangers, and he overturned their tables.
{2:16} And to those who were selling doves, he said: “Take these things out of here, and do not make my Father’s house into a house of commerce.”
{2:17} And truly, his disciples were reminded that it is written: “Zeal for your house consumes me.”
{2:18} Then the Jews responded and said to him, “What sign can you show to us, that you may do these things?”
{2:19} Jesus responded and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
{2:20} Then the Jews said, “This temple has been built up over forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?”
{2:21} Yet he was speaking about the Temple of his body.

It does not matter if the Flower Festival is not a venue for buying or selling flowers. The objection that Jesus had to the buying and selling in the Temple of Jerusalem was not only that it was commerce, but also that it was entirely secular. Sanctuaries are a house of God, a house of prayer. The Jewish Temple of Jerusalem was a foreshadowing of the Messiah. And every Christian sanctuary is a symbol of the body of Christ; it is a representation of the Church Herself. A sanctuary is a place of worship.

The Archdiocese of Omaha erred gravely by permitting the Flower Festival, and any similar secular events, to be held in the sanctuary of the Cathedral. A concert of religious music might be permissible. But a concert of mostly secular music should not be allowed, nor should any entirely secular event be held in any sanctuary, not the smallest chapel, not the largest historic Cathedral.

The article cited above includes many quotes from Catholics who objected to Kenney’s actions and who defended secular events at the Cathedral. I will give a brief reply to each claim.

‘ “Obviously, context is everything,” the priest said, noting that the cathedral also is home to about six concerts a year. No sacrilege or disrespect is conveyed, he said, in the concerts or the dozens of exhibits at the flower festival.

“Cathedrals,” he said, “are kind of the epicenter for culture presentation and development.” ‘

No, cathedrals are a place of worship.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that context is not everything: “1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery.”

Sacrilege is intrinsically evil. It is never justified by a good intention, nor by the circumstances, that is to say, the context, of the act. Intrinsically evil acts are immoral due to the moral nature of the act, independent of intention and circumstances. Therefore, an act can be the sin of sacrilege, without any bad intention, and regardless of the context.

The fact that many other secular events are held in the sanctuary is no defense. Rather, it is an admission of guilt, multiplying the offense.

‘Eileen Burke-Sullivan, a theologian and vice provost for mission and ministry at Creighton University, said she sees no problem. The cathedral and the archdiocese, she said, have supported the arts in Omaha for many years.

“In mixing thematic popular culture with the beauty of God’s creation in flowers,” she said, “I don’t think there’s any inherent idolatry.” ‘

There is no theological argument in Sullivan’s assertion. She doesn’t think it is idolatry. Well, perhaps the offense does not rise to the level of idolatry. But the offense is not “mixing thematic popular culture with the beauty of God’s creation in flowers”. Rather, the offense is using the sanctuary for an entirely secular purpose, showcasing popular culture in a place consecrated for the worship of God.

Who attends these festivals? Everyone and anyone: non-Catholic Christians, non-Christian believers, atheists, agnostics, and in all likelihood many persons who have thoroughly rejected the teachings of Jesus and His Church. There is no call to repentance or to the sincere worship of God in these events. The holy sanctuary is treated as if it were a concert hall or an arena.

‘In a letter of termination two days after the festival incident, Gutgsell wrote to Kenney: “None of the florists and none of the volunteers, any number of whom took time off their work or traveled some distance, had the slightest intention or reason to dishonor the Cathedral. You assigned the word ‘desecration’ to the entire project and as a result slandered anyone associated with it.” ‘

Intrinsically evil acts, such as sacrilege, are inherently immoral, by the very nature of the act, regardless of intention or circumstances. A good intention is not sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed.

Slander is only slander when the accusation is false. Since this secular display is blatant sacrilege, the word desecration is accurate. The truth is an absolute defense against a claim of slander.

“It was a beautiful show, and nothing was inappropriate.”

The assertions of persons defending the Festival are baseless claims. They simply say that nothing is wrong here. It may have been a beautiful show. And perhaps nothing in the show would have been inappropriate, if it was held in a secular meeting place. But none of these apologists for sacrilege give any theological justification for their claims, nor do they address the main problem: a secular event held in a holy place.

What does Canon Law say?

Can. 1205 Sacred places are those which are designated for divine worship or for the burial of the faithful by a dedication or a blessing which the liturgical books prescribe for this purpose.

Can. 1210 Only those things which serve the exercise or promotion of worship, piety, or religion are permitted in a sacred place; anything not consonant with the holiness of the place is forbidden. In an individual case, however, the ordinary can permit other uses which are not contrary to the holiness of the place.

Can. 1220 §1. All those responsible are to take care that in churches such cleanliness and beauty are preserved as befit a house of God and that whatever is inappropriate to the holiness of the place is excluded.

Certainly, a festival showcasing costumes and props from secular movies is “not consonant with the holiness of the place” and are therefore “forbidden”. All sacred places, from the greatest shrines and cathedrals to the smallest churches and chapels, are “designated for divine worship”. They are not to be treated like a rental hall for use by the general public for secular purposes. Such uses are termed “profane”, referring to the secular (non-religious) nature of the use.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: “2120 Sacrilege consists in profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions, as well as persons, things, or places consecrated to God. Sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us.”

It is a sacrilege to profane or treat unworthily a place “consecrated to God”, which certainly includes cathedrals, churches, and chapels. The action in sacrilege need not be particularly sordid; it need not be the type of act that would still be offensive if done in a secular place. The main reason that Jesus drove out the sellers and the buyers in the Temple was not that the sellers were overcharging, but that all commerce and all secular use of a holy place is objectionable. A holy place should only be used for holy purposes.

Would Jesus have cut the cable of the figure of Mary Poppins and thrown the cardboard Buddha and the mannequins out the door of the cathedral? He very well might have done so. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers, and he drove the livestock out of the Temple with a whip.

Does no one find it sinful, as well as ironic, that a large figure of a fictional character named “Mary” was depicted arising through the air? Recall that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed into Heaven, with body and soul united. She rose up into the air, and then was taken into the eternal Heaven. It is as if the fictional Mary, who flies upward with magic and an umbrella, and who cares for children when she is hired to do so, is replacing the Mother of God, who was assumed into Heaven, who cares for all her children, without fee.

And in most Catholic sanctuaries, there are statues of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints, in honor of God and His most devoted servants. But in that cathedral, they celebrate statues of fictional characters from movies, and the Buddha — a figure from a false religion, one with no belief in a personal God.

One of the celebrated mannequins is of Queen Elizabeth I. “One of her first actions as queen was the establishment of an English Protestant church, of which she became the Supreme Governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement was to evolve into the Church of England.” And in her later years, “repression of Catholics intensified, and Elizabeth authorised commissions in 1591 to interrogate and monitor Catholic householders.” [Wikipedia] So … why is her figure on display in a Catholic Cathdral? She rejected the Catholic faith (devoutly held by her sister Mary), helped to found the Church of England, and repressed and persecuted Catholics.

The movie Grease celebrates sex outside of marriage between the two main characters in “Summer Nights” and ridicules virginity in “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee”.

The movie Lawrence of Arabia depicts partly historical partly fictionalized events from World War I, revolving around the title character. This character is an “active participant in the Tafas Massacre” and is portrayed as a sadomasochist [Wikipedia]. The high production values and skillful acting in the film do not justify its glorification in a Catholic sanctuary.

The king in The King and I is a Buddhist and polygamist. Well, at least Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, depicted in the film Amadeus, was a practicing Roman Catholic. However, he also was an active member of the freemasons for several years prior to his death [Wikipedia].

Doctor Zhivago is about a married man who falls in love with a married woman. The entire theme of the movie is incompatible with Catholic teaching and worship. There is no place for a movie that glorifies adultery in a Catholic cathedral.

How is it that the priest, the Bishop, and a number of other persons in the Church see no problem with the promotion of these movies and characters in a Catholic cathedral?

Yes, Jesus would have driven out these profane statues from the sanctuary.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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1 Response to custodian Mark Kenney cleanses St. Cecilia Cathedral

  1. Francisco says:

    Shame on those Bishops, priests or theologians who support this type of secular event inside any Sanctuary that is a place of prayer and of worship God. Haven’t they read the Bible?!! not even at least the Gospels? Ok, any ignorant Joe may have done this, but the people who have are in a position to teach? ….. I mean, the Blessed Sacrament, the Sacrament of the Altar is right there and people there crossing and passing without any reverence and paying more attention to the Beauty and the Beast? Geesh!

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