Image of Ignorance of Catholic Church

By Jimmy Breslin
Newsday [New York]
October 24, 2004

At the beginning of the Alfred Smith dinner on Thursday night, an event for Catholics with money and the attitude of money, which means Al Smith wouldn't have been allowed in the door, the cardinal of New York, Edward Egan, strode imperiously into the Waldorf-Astoria towers entrance.

Mary Ann Perry reports that she attempted to give the cardinal a flier for Catholic teachers, who were picketing across the street.

Ms. Perry reports, and others report seeing the same thing, that the cardinal walked by her with a cold glance. He was going upstairs, where he would pose gloriously in a red cape and I guess his big ring.

I am unsure of the precise details because I was across Park Avenue with the crowd of teachers. We were in these metal pens that the police use in an attempt to eliminate free expression by the nonrich. In this case, the pens were erected on behalf of the cardinal and his Catholic Church.

The people in the pens were distinguished from the church in that they were of the Catholic religion, based on the Life of Christ, and the cardinal's church is a branch of a Roman corporation.

The scene of the teachers in the darkness in pens across the street and the substantial walking to dinner under bright overhead lights was the most accurate picture of the Roman Catholic Church at this time. It showed the dumb arrogance, the foolish stupidity, the blank indifference of an organization about to lose all.

They cannot pay their own schoolteachers, but the church bosses want the thrill of dominating a country.

The Catholic Church has been trying with all its silent might to influence the national election. These old white-haired fat bishops and cardinals want the issue of abortion to determine the leadership of a country. That means vote for Bush.

Both the Bush and Kerry campaigns are running Tip O'Neill campaigns: All politics is local. They make appearances on local issues and have commercials aimed at specific groups. The Catholic bishops have a national issue, abortion. And this is what they want of a nation that has itself in a war that we appear to be losing. That is some commander in chief, this Bush. It looks like we're losing to Iraq. We come with unlimited bravery and planes and tanks and artillery and the people in Iraq run around in rags and sandals and they are winning. Nobody does well in the other guy's neighborhood. But we are against abortions.

There have been 39 American soldiers killed since Oct. 10, and who knows how many hundreds had their arms and legs blown off. The cardinal did not make one mention of the carnage. Bush is against abortion, so everything is all right.

And that is the Catholic example of a leader in time of crisis. Some cardinal. His Al Smith dinner called for white ties and tails. The man who established his church walked in sandals and rags. Some church. The only time Christ showed any anger was when he chased the money changers out of the temple. Now they were having a night devoted to money.

Meanwhile, the leaflet on Thursday night that the cardinal looked upon with disdain said that the teachers were being offered a 1 percent pay raise. As nearly all the teachers earn $35,000 or thereabouts, the raise doesn't do much for them. The rest of the offer from the cardinal was health care payment adjustments that would cost a teacher $2,400 a year.

In the Waldorf kitchen, a Local 6 union guy washing dishes from the dinner gets $34,000 a year, with full medical benefits for themselves and family, and a pension of $1,250 a month.

Over in the pens, Gertrude Zagarella, 70, said she had been teaching Catholic schoolchildren for 49 years and she now earns $43,973. She teaches at St. Paul's on East 108th Street. "First grade," she was saying. "That's all I ever do. I did second grade only one year. We get public school teachers in on Title One. One teaches reading for a couple of hours. She gets $80,000. That's between us and the regular public school job. The other on Title One does math. She gets $69,000."

"Why do you stay?" I asked her.

"Love. But they say they have no money to pay us. Where do they get it to pay for these molesters?"

A woman next to her, Edwina Dunne, 73, said, "I taught 30 years. I get a pension of $583 a month."

Gertrude Zagarella works in a place where the Catholics are desperately weak. The Catholics usually can't be near anybody of color. She has in her class Latinos, African-Americans, Muslims and maybe even the odd white. The Muslims in first grade come across the smartest, and that is something that will cause whites everywhere to gnash teeth. And Gertrude Zagarella to beam. On the dark street across from the Waldorf, she waved her union placard.


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