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Lauren Handy's promise, papal palm patrol, and the Cross at the center of the world

Hey everybody,

Today is Tuesday, April 5, and this is The Tuesday Pillar Post.

The news

Lauren Handy isn’t like a lot of pro-life activists.

Handy, activism director for Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, describes herself as a “progressive…leftist,” whose organization says their work to end abortion is part of “challenging the oppressive status quo,” and is committed to “magnifying secular, feminist, liberal, and LGBTQIA+ identifying pro-life voices.”

Her tactics are different too. Handy was arrested last week by federal authorities, and has been charged with a federal crime stemming from a 2020 “rescue” operation at an abortion clinic. She faces more than a decade in prison.

But Lauren Handy made global headlines last week because while she was in federal custody, police removed the bodies of five unborn babies from her D.C. apartment. There has been speculation that she had them for a publicity stunt, or for some ghoulish purpose.

We asked Lauren this week for her own account of what happened, and why those babies were in her apartment.

Here’s part of what she said:

These children were murdered. [A physician] murdered them. And not only that, some of those children had been in his office for months. Each of the abortion containers were dated, with the date of their abortion, and some of them were in December.

I didn’t have those babies for months. I didn’t kill those children. All I wanted to do was uphold my promise that I would give them a funeral and a burial. And I feel like I did the best that I could for the circumstances that I was placed in.  

We’re really not trying to make a spectacle out of everything.

Handy, her group, and her tactics are controversial among pro-lifers. They will be debated, there will be hot takes and strong feelings. But whether you think you agree with her or not, read Lauren Handy’s own words about what happened, right here.

It’s not the crime…

New Vatican court filings show that a senior papal advisor decided not to report suspected criminal activity connected to the Vatican’s London property deal, because a criminal report would be bad publicity.

Back in 2018, when the Vatican bought a London development property as an investment, the property broker did a funny thing: When the building was being transferred through him to Vatican ownership, he used a moment in which he had control to restructure things, and then demanded more money before the sale was complete.

The Vatican says that was extortion; the broker, Gianluigi Torzi, says the Vatican should have read the fine print in its contracts.

While Torzi held the building, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, sostituto at the Secretariat of State (kind of a papal chief of staff), told Pope Francis in 2019 that he did not report the alleged extortion to financial authorities, because that would lead to “unpredictable reputational damage” — a public relations scandal.

Instead he decided to “enter into negotiations” with Torzi — pay him the money to make him go away.

Eventually, the pope authorized a criminal investigation into the whole thing. But Peña Parra’s approach raises some alarms: the archbishop effectively decided it would be better not to report an alleged crime than suffer the possibility of scandal.

And that kind of thing — whether pertaining to finances or clerical misconduct — is supposed to be in the rearview mirror.

Read the whole thing here.

[By the way, The Pillar met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin in 2021, to ask him about indications of the kind of illicit sexual activity within the Vatican that could easily become the fodder for extortion. We noted that the ecclesial propensity to avoid scandal or embarrassment could encourage that kind of extortion. We were given a friendly meeting, absolutely no on-the-record comment, and sent on our way. I wonder if the questions still seem outlandish within Vatican offices.]

Cardinal Reinhard Marx said last week that Catholics can doubt the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching, discussing specifically the Church’s doctrine regarding the morality of homosexual activity. The cardinal’s remarks raise some questions about how doctrine works, and what heresy is, formally speaking. Ed tackled some of those questions on Friday.

Check it out.

Palm Patrol

When you go to Mass on Palm Sunday, you’ll likely be handed a single palm frond to wave about during the liturgy, and later fold into some kind of origami cross.

When each of my children is handed a palm, the fronds will become weapons in their hands, and they’ll spend the whole of Mass jousting and stabbing with them.

Eventually some child will stick the point of the palm frond in his ear or up his nose, and the whole congregation will hear him howl in surprise, as he learns that sticking pointy things into facial orifices usually hurts.

Pope Francis and the cardinals of the Roman Curia will have a more serene Palm Sunday experience, and they’ll also carry cooler palms: tall, ornate, and elaborate braided affairs.

Perhaps you’ve seen them:

Credit, Vatican Media.
Cardinals and bishops hold parmureli at Palm Sunday Mass in 2019. Credit: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

If you’re anything like me, you’ve wondered at least once how you can upgrade from the single frond on offer at the parish to the pretty palm plumage on offer at St. Peter’s Basilica.

It turns out you can’t. At least not that easily.

The papal palms, called parmureli, are manufactured for the pope, and members of the Roman curia, from towns in the Italian region of Liguria. And, like everything in the Holy See, the palm fronds in the Vatican have an interesting history dating back 4 centuries or so.

Where did we get the parmureli custom? And how can you build them at home? Read all about it.

‘The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World’

As we prepare for Holy Week, I offer to you an excerpt from a Palm Sunday sermon of Saint John Henry Newman, about seeing and understanding the world through the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

“Ten thousand things come before us one after another in the course of life, and what are we to think of them? what colour are we to give them? Are we to look at all things in a gay and mirthful way? or in a melancholy way? in a desponding or a hopeful way? Are we to make light of life altogether, or to treat the whole subject seriously? Are we to make greatest things of little consequence, or least things of great consequence? Are we to keep in mind what is past and gone, or are we to look on to the future, or are we to be absorbed in what is present? How are we to look at things?What is the real key, what is the Christian interpretation of this world?

What is given us by revelation to estimate and measure this world by? The event of this season,—the Crucifixion of the Son of God.

His Cross has put its due value upon every thing which we see…It has given a meaning to the various, shifting course, the trials, the temptations, the sufferings, of his earthly state. It has brought together and made consistent all that seemed discordant and aimless. It has taught us how to live, how to use this world, what to expect, what to desire, what to hope. It is the tone into which all the strains of this world’s music are ultimately to be resolved.



Let us begin with faith; let us begin with Christ; let us begin with His Cross and the humiliation to which it leads. Let us first be drawn to Him who is lifted up, that so He may, with Himself, freely give us all things.”

The Cross of Christ, Newman says, is the measure of all things.

They alone are able truly to enjoy this world, who begin with the world unseen. They alone enjoy it, who have first abstained from it. They alone can truly feast, who have first fasted; they alone are able to use the world, who have learned not to abuse it; they alone inherit it, who take it as a shadow of the world to come, and who for that world to come relinquish it.

It is not easy to begin with the world unseen. It is not easy to measure the world, or find its meaning, in the invitation to share in Christ’s suffering that is the cross. The paradox of the Christian life is that giving up life means finding it, dying to self means discovering new life.

If you’re much like me, that isn’t easy. The mystery of the Cross is that Christ redeems us by his death — and that because of our sinfulness, and his atoning sacrifice, we can enter into real unity with the Eternal Trinity. We can enter into the heart of God’s eternal love, because Christ died for us sinners.

This means that suffering, insufficiency, uncertainty, and weakness are invitations to knowing the heart of God. They are the locus of the Lord’s redemption. Our weakness reveals God’s glory.

I learned that in Lent this year, when I began asking the Lord to help me to pray.

I have long beat myself up for my perceived inability to pray — felt that I was doing something wrong, that I wasn’t trying hard enough, or even that I just wasn’t cut out somehow for the kind of intimate prayer life other people experience.

This Lent, at the advice of a good confessor, I’ve tried something else:

Lord, I don’t know how to pray. I do not focus well, I do not always hear your voice, I get distracted and irritable. I can’t pray without you. [Who can?] Help me to bring that to the cross. Make my insufficiency an occasion of your loving Fatherhood. Give me the gift of your presence.”

I’ve asked the Lord to help me interpret my own insufficiency by and through the Cross — rather than lament what I can’t do on my own or despair at my own insufficiency — to ask the Lord to redeem those things.

To accept them, to help me see them as a gift, because they are an occasion to be united with Him, redeemed by Him, and sanctified by Him.

It’s been a good Lent — not because of anything of I’ve done, but because I’ve asked the Lord to show me the presence of Calvary.

As we prepare for Holy Week, may Christ make the Cross “the key” to our “Christian interpretation of the world.”

May the Passion of Christ be for us “the tone into which all the strains of this world's music are ultimately to be resolved.”

And let’s pray for one another. May the Cross be our triumph, our victory, our hope, and our consolation.

Please be assured of our prayers. And please pray for us. We need it.

And, as always, thanks for sharing The Pillar with your friends, and for your subscriptions. We count on you:

Yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
editor-in-chief
The Pillar

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