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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Catholic Urban Legends, Part 1

The first in a series on Catholic Urban Legends.


It is amazing what kind of crap makes it onto television.

I was on call October 31, and I had to be at the hospital at 7 a.m., even though there were no cases until 9 a.m. I live too far away to be able to stay at home until I am really needed. After changing into scrubs, I put my feet up in the operating room lounge. Before I could take a quick nap, however, my attention was caught by something on the television. The History Channel was running a marathon of shows about monsters which supposedly inhabit the earth. The format of the shows(I ended up seeing parts of more than one throughout the day) was simple:

1. Present a short history on some critter, say, The Loch Ness Monster.

2. Find some present day person who claims to have seen said Loch Ness Monster.

3. Follow supposed 'experts' as they spend vast sums of money(Your Tax Dollars At Work) trying to capture or at least photograph Nessie.

4. Get all worked up as they almost capture/photograph the monster.

5. Speculate that if only they had more money they would have been successful in proving that the Loch Ness Monster does exist.

6. Roll credits.


The episode which was on at 7 a.m. on October 31, 2009 addressed the report of giant rats living in New York City.

I think it was at the point where the rat 'experts' were 'anesthetizing' captured sewer rats by pouring isoflurane into a plastic bucket with some unfortunate rodent in it that I finally lost it. Isoflurane is a volatile anesthetic, and using it in such a manner risks killing the rat instead of anesthetizing it. I wonder how many rats just died under this treatment. The sleeping rats had little vests put on them, and the vest served as a mount for a closed circuit television. When the rats woke up, they were deployed into the sewer to photograph the giant rat. What followed was footage of a closed circuit view of the rear end of another rat.

Catholic Urban Legend

It occurred to me that there are similar urban legends in the Catholic Church; they sound very plausible until they undergo closer inspection. When the investigation of said legends end, one usually finds nothing more valuable than a rat's tail.

Today's urban legend is one which I have heard several times in my life from other men. Usually I hear about this after the other guy finds out how many children I have. The other guy then mentions how many(or few) children he has, followed by an explanation for why he doesn't have as many children as I do.

Mind you, I don't ask for this explanation.

Some of the reasons given sound very good, some sound ridiculous. The worst one I ever heard was that 'we argued so much my wife couldn't have any more children.'

'Emergency Permission'

But several times I have been told about couples getting 'Emergency Permission from the Bishop' for sterilization while the woman is delivering a child by cesarean section. The scenario follows something like this: while the belly is open, the obstetrician tells the couple that having more children would be too dangerous, and the woman must undergo sterilization right then and there. Wheels churn, and within a few moments the bishop has given permission for a tubal ligation. This happens in the course of about an hour.

Back up for a moment. This excuse is highly unlikely because it is really hard for lay people to talk to their bishop. How many lay people have spoken to a bishop - EVER? I recall once cornering our present bishop at the altar after one of my children's confirmations. My children ringed him in, cutting off escape, and he looked as if he expected martyrdom to follow. I shook his hand, thanked him and gave him a photo of our family and told him we prayed for him daily. Carolyn, on the other hand, met and spoke with Archbishop Patrick Flores in San Antonio several times while we lived there. On each occasion, I was at work, conspicuously absent from my place in a large family. I am certain the archbishop (and the rest of the world) got the impression that 'there goes a good Catholic woman, bringing her large family to Mass, while her husband is off sinning somewhere.' Whatever the circumstances, most lay people do not have easy access to the bishop.

Of course, there is an alternative to contacting the bishop which I have considered. Perhaps there is some sort of automated phone line one can call to get this emergency permission for sterilization. I doubt is exists, but if it did, I could imagine it would sound something like this:

(Ring, Ring)

"You have reached the Chancery office for the diocese of ----------- after normal business hours. If this is an emergency and you need to speak to a priest, please hang up and dial ###-###-####. Otherwise, listen carefully to the following menu, as our options have changed."

(What follows is a series of extensions to enter to reach the various ministries in the Chancery. Finally:)

"If you are in need of emergency permission from the bishop for sterilization, press 1."

(Press 1)

"Welcome to the 'emergency permission for sterilization' line. Please listen carefully to the following menu, as our options have changed.

"If your belly is open, and the obstetrician is demanding sterilization, please press 1.

"For any other reason, press 2."

(Press 1 or 2)

"You have completed the 'bishop's emergency permission for sterilization' procedure. Thank you and have a nice day."

As I said, there is no proof that such a protocol exists, yet I have heard about it more than once. I am willing to invest some of my time and a lot of someone else's money to prove or disprove the existence of this 'emergency permission for sterilization' legend. All I need are some investors, and perhaps one day I shall be featured on a show on the History Channel.

1 comment:

RobKPhD said...

Hilarious! Reminds me of that video of the automated confessional.

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Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
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