Writing about Padre Pio: how it influences real life
“You don’t write about Padre Pio anymore…”
People have been querying me as to why I don't write as much as I used about Padre Pio.
One reason is because I fear offending people. My more liberal friends (who think that it’s ‘pointless’ for me to be so into religion) find Padre Pio ‘disturbing’. Why? Mostly because they are thrown off balance by the stories of Padre Pio ‘reading souls’ and telling people their darkest sins in the Confessional or of Padre Pio’s stigmata and bleeding palms.
Friends tell me that they ask themselves: Is it real, this supernatural, Catholic stuff? Why does it make me feel guilty – when I dismiss all things holy as hocus pocus?
It’s safer to write about the miraculous healings, obtained through Pio’s intercession, such as when someone made a complete healing from cancer after they touched a relic of Pio’s. These phenomenal cures show Pio’s compassionate side, and make him likeable to readers.
But it gets hazardous when you write about Pio’s gruff, grim comments on sin. People start to ask themselves; if Pio said that to this man or woman, what would he say to me?!
It’s less disagreeable to cite the extreme examples such as when Padre Pio prevented a gangster from killing his wife. No friend of mine (as far as I’m aware!) has tried to kill his wife, so they won’t see themselves in the vigilante who wanted to bump off his wife, so that he could take up with other women.
When I regularly wrote little anecdotes from the life of Pio, it used to draw out two reactions in people: love and hate. People who are striving to be openly Catholic, to believe in all that is seen and unseen, love the Padre Pio anecdotes. They felt that their faith was reinforced when they heard about Pio’s conversations with souls in Purgatory and his ability to ‘bilocate’ - be in two places at the same time. The way he could read minds, see into the future, and see who was in heaven and hell.
By the same measure, some people would hate it that I wrote about Padre Pio’s clemency. One example is when he said that Julius Fine, a devout Jew, had died and gone to heaven. One person got in touch to reprimand me that I was turning Pio into ‘a Catholic Rasputin’. An esteemed academic from a Catholic university sent a long memo, quoting Catholic doctrine to evidence why Pio was mistaken that Julius Fine had gone to heaven. I wanted to ask the academic how they could prove that Pio could not see heaven, but let the matter go.
There is something about Padre Pio that has a habit of stabbing consciences.
Some years ago, when I blogged about Padre Pio’s refusal to absolve a woman who had got an abortion, I got three different reactions. Firstly, one plain-spoken British girl who had an abortion, but as a result became infertile, told me that had Pio refused her absolution, she would not have felt worse because of her regret that she aborted the only child she was ever able to conceive. She also said that Padre Pio’s stubbornness in refusing absolution, ‘seemed cruel’, but, ‘a change from the casual way that people say an abortion is like having a tooth removed. I’m always told ‘get over it’ by my pro-choice friends. They say that I am ‘nasty’ and letting women down by complaining about a hard-won right to control my body. No one told me that I’d never have another baby – no one mentioned that instead of being in control – I’d lose all control of my fertility.’
I asked her if she thought that Pio seemed too angry about abortion. ‘Well, he could not be more angry than me about it,’ was her response.
Secondly, a very hard-working priest in London said to me that it was not a good idea to publicise that Padre Pio had refused absolution because it would put people off going to Confession.
And thirdly, a man in the US got in touch with me to say that he had been outside an abortion clinic, offering financial and practical aid to women who may be having an abortion because of poverty or pressure. He had read my blog post about Padre Pio and abortion, and it was playing on his mind. One pregnant woman ignored him, when he talked to her, but he persevered and gave her details of help other than abortion. He does not know if she kept the baby, but he is sure that he would not have tried to reach her had he not heard that Padre Pio said abortion was so serious. So, one woman did get offered other options, and may not have felt trapped into one dire course of action.
Padre Pio has been dissed as misogynistic and women-loathing. Why would I, a female journalist, write about a saint so seemingly against women?
Because looking into his life, I found many examples where he took the side of women. Once he bi-located and appeared to a young girl who was walking down a road. She had a knife on her, and was planning to kill a boyfriend who had taken advantage of her. ‘He’s not worth it’, were Padre Pio’s words and he was very gentle with her. She decided not to murder her not-worth-it boyfriend.
While he did refuse absolution to at least one woman for having an abortion, he also refused absolution to at least one man, who had used many, many different women for sex.
Perhaps it is not that Pio treated women very differently from men, but that people sadly take cruel pleasure in meditating on the harsh way Pio treated some women. It’s telling that Pio’s refusal to give some men absolution is not as well publicised.
Another reason that I have been loathe to write about Pio is that quotes and teachings attributed to Padre Pio can be used as tools of religious control freakery.
By detailing the life of Pio am I giving sticks to religious control freaks so that they can beat other people?
I knew a devout lady who used to scold other women for wearing trousers and would say that Padre Pio was against women wearing trousers. Was he? Padre Pio told a woman in confession not to sell trousers in her shop. This was a conversation that the woman-shop-owner was at liberty to repeat – but not Padre Pio as he was bound by the seal of Confession. But we don’t know if the trousers that she planned to sell were…ordinary slacks…or hot pants! As usual, the devil is in the detail. The Catholic Church has no official teaching against women wearing trousers. But this one anecdote is used to rebuke women, while it is ignored that Padre Pio also took issue with men who wore trousers, such as when he asked priests why they were in laymen’s clothes and not in their religious robes, such as the white Dominican habit.
It was ironic because the-devout-lady-who-told-other-women-not-to-wear-trousers used wear see-through stockings. Now, Padre Pio told his spiritual daughters not to wear see-through tights/hose. Would the-devout-lady have liked if someone had plucked at her skin-coloured tights and told her that Padre Pio wasn’t too keen on them, either?
I return to why I began writing about Pio. I was fascinated by him. I know that were I an atheist, that I would be attracted like a moth to a flame to any story about Padre Pio. Like no other ordinary human being in history, I have found, that Padre Pio’s life stirs in me a yearning to find out more about heavenly realms. Why did Pio clean his face at night – because he would often be visited by Our Lady in the evening.
You see, I’m like the man outside the abortion clinic. I know that were it not for Pio’s insistent stance that abortion is wrong, that I would not have bothered, persevered until my own life was on the line, to give so many women help during crisis pregnancies. A time comes to mind when I was helping a teenager from a very religious Muslim background hide her pregnancy until she was 24 weeks. She had to conceal ‘it’ until such time as her family would not be able to force her to abort, because they wanted to save face and not look bad in front of their Muslim neighbours for having a pregnant, ‘sinful’ daughter. She has a baby boy now.
You see, I’m like my friends who feel guilty when they hear stories about Pio. Were Pio alive today, I doubt that I would go to Confession to him. He would make…suggestions…that I’d find too hard to bear. My nerves could not take it. I’m not alone, there are bishops alive today who find it gut-wrenching to read stories about Padre Pio. And Padre Pio was a severe judge of himself, always quick to say that God found fault in him as, ‘God finds fault even in the angels’.
But my effort to write about Pio is not just for my own good, but might help someone in some unknown way that I will only know when I go to God. You see, there we have it again, that belief in heaven that is inspired by the way Padre Pio saw Pius XII in paradise.
Here marks my new and latest attempt to write up accounts about Padre Pio.