By Robin Vanderwall . . . If you’ve ever had a chance to view the Washington Monument on an overcast day, you may have noticed something peculiar. It’s not all the same shade of white. Part of the reason is by design. In building what would briefly become the world’s tallest man-made edifice (and remains to this day the world’s tallest stone structure), the Washington National Monument Society solicited the assistance of the several states, foreign governments, and international dignitaries.
One and all were asked to contribute a single stone, or to provide enough money for the purchase of one. So not all of the stones are cut from the same type of rock (but they’re either marble, granite, or bluestone gneiss).
One such dignitary who happily responded was Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) who sent a three-foot slab of “costly variegated marbles” recovered from ruins of the Temple of Concord in Rome (366 B.C.) and engraved with the words “From Rome.”
The Pope’s generous gift never made its way onto the monument. On March 5, 1854, under cloak of darkness, agents of the Know-Nothing party made their way to the base of the Monument, stole the Pope’s stone, carried it all the way down to a boat waiting on the Potomac, and unceremoniously dumped it in the middle of the river.
This incredulous act of bigoted hatred for Irish Catholics brought construction of the Monument (only a third complete at 150 feet) to a screeching halt. Indeed, no additional work would be done to the obelisk for 23 years when, in 1877, work on the final two-thirds resumed in earnest.
Exposed as it was to more than twenty years of environmental impact, the bottom third of the Monument remains a darker, grayer hue of white—a testament in stone about the bitter fruits of prejudice and hate.
Fast forward 150 years and we are now witness to an event that would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago: an address to a joint session of Congress by the Bishop of Rome and leader of the Catholic Church whose official titles, among others, include “Vicar of Jesus Christ”, “Successor of the Prince of the Apostles”, and “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church”.
There are not just a few old bones rolling over in their graves. Rest assured that the “Know Nothings” have spun themselves into powder.
You may wonder what Pope Francis’ recent address to Congress has to do with registrants, their families, and our efforts to restore constitutionally protected civil rights to both. The answer is, quite a lot.
While Pope Francis surely did not come straight out and declare that public sex offender registries are an affront to the Heavenly Host, he had quite a bit to say about being good neighbors and recognizing our cultural descent into an “us versus them” dichotomy of the “righteous” and the “sinner”…forgetting, as we so often do, that there is nary a saint who isn’t also a sinner.
Consider, for example, Pope Francis’ charge to our national representatives in the opening remarks of his speech:
You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.” and “…you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.
Straight from the top we hear a summation of an ancient narrative as the Holy Father portrays Moses’ responsibility as law-giver to the Hebrews. Law is not to be used as an instrument to destroy or disfigure. Just the opposite. Law is an instrument of good to be exercised with great care for the dignity of all people…not simply for the benefit of victims.
Francis chides Congress to recall the fundamental principle which, for thousands of years, has been the bedrock of Western law:
We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).
Surely these words hit close to home. Are not registrants discarded? Are they not exiled as irredeemable reprobates? Isn’t the registry a tool to deal with our “troublesome” lot of souls? Who can argue otherwise?
Having intoned the very words of Christ, Francis presses in with what I believe was his most aggressive appeal on behalf of convicted persons and registered citizens:
[E]very life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes…
…I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
Clearly this is a Pope who understands that the protection of unborn children is not the full proclamation of the Gospel, and that it may very well be that the hardest cases among us—rapists, pedophiles, child molesters, and the like—are the most needful of redemption, restoration, mercy, and the love of a forgiving people.
Let us hold onto the hope that at least a few members of our otherwise spineless, rubber-necking, parliament of bores did more than hear the words of Pope Francis, but received them. Can I hear an “Amen!”?