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Thursday, May 27, 2004

For your penance, I give you a basilica.

Bernard Cardinal Law gets a Roman appointment. More than a little waft of "We really don't think you did anything wrong"/golden parachute coming off of this one. I wish I could say I'm surprised.

While I recognize there's a difference between their actions, I prefer the approach taken by former Palm Beach bishop Anthony O'Connell, who is doing penance at a Trappist monastery in South Carolina.

O'Connell, once the leader of 250,000 Catholics in the five-county diocese, lives in a 10-by-15-foot monastic cell and follows the rigorous Trappist prayer schedule, which begins at 3:20 every morning. He also performs manual labor and menial tasks demanded by the regimen, including work on the chicken farm the monks operate.

* * *

The seven prayer sessions start with the 3:20 a.m. "vigils," and during the reporter's stay, O'Connell had the duty of reading aloud from scripture at that service. The last prayer of the day is "compline" at 7:35 p.m., part of which is held by candlelight.

The prayer cycle at the abbey employs the Psalms more than any other resource. They often emphasize mercy and compassion but also explore "the dark night of the soul."

The eight priests in the community -- the rest are non-ordained "brothers" -- concelebrate Mass at 7:30 a.m. every day, and O'Connell joins them in full priestly vestments. But Jeffcoat specified that O'Connell is not allowed to say Mass anywhere except at the monastery.

During the rest of the day, the monks perform lectio divina, private reading of Scripture, and they do several hours of manual work. The abbey's main means of support is a modernly mechanized chicken farm, which produces 30,000 eggs a day.

Jeffcoat said O'Connell is assigned tasks every day, which might include "grading eggs, doing laundry, taking care of infirm monks, or bagging compost," which the abbey also sells.

* * *

But O'Connell's movements are strictly controlled.

"His activities are restricted and monitored by the abbot and the monastic community to ensure no minor is placed at risk," according to a statement concerning O'Connell the monastery issued to The Palm Beach Post.

Jeffcoat specified that O'Connell has absolutely no contact with minors who may visit the monastery on day trips. He also has no contact with adult retreat participants, who often live at the facility for days at a time, she said.

"His infrequent trips away from the monastery are all carefully monitored," according to the official statement.

O'Connell, 65, goes to doctor appointments off the grounds of the abbey, "but even then he needs the permission of the abbot, and most of the time someone goes with him," Jeffcoat said. "In that community, you really can't do anything without other people knowing."

[The O'Connell story link is in the comments--linking in the post itself did weird things to the formatting.]

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