Of Saints and Scoundrels

St. Padre Pio

St. Padre Pio

(This guest column is a reflection by Padraig Caughey, the Irish gentleman who runs the marvelous Mother of God Forum. It is on hiatus for a few more weeks, so Caughey was kind enough to offer this column. It reminds us all that the battle between good and evil, even in the Church, is nothing new, but an ongoing battle through every generation of the faithful. As bad as the child abuse scandals were in the United States, they were perhaps nowhere as pernicious as in Ireland.)

The Feast of Saint Padre Pio 23rd September

I met my first Saint when I was just 16 years old. I had often heard his fellow religious describe him as such, speaking about this priest in tones of almost awe. For myself , a teenage boy, who loved to read the lives of the saints and had been reading about them avidly all my life and who wished more than anything to be a saint myself , it would be like a dream to meet one. In those far off days back in 1970 I was in a Junior Seminary of the Passionist Order. They caught them young in them days and I had gone away to join them when I was just 15 years old, having wished to be a priest since I was about five .

The priest I was to meet with was Father Paul Mary CP. He had for most of his priestly vocation been a missionary in South Africa. The old saying goes that no man is a hero to his valet. The principle, I suppose, being , that when you get close enough to any diamond, no matter how big and how beautiful on the surface ,when you get up close by living with them you start to see the flaws. This principle holds more true than ever when it concerns brothers and sisters who live closely together side by side in their Religious Houses and where every diamond flaw will loom as large as a Tibetan chasm.

I once read a report by a Capuchin Priest who, although he had never actually met Saint Padre Pio, was asked why he regarded the stigmatic as a saint. The Father wisely replied that it was because although he had met many religious priests and brothers who had lived side by side with Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotoundo none of them, not a single one had ever found the least bad thing to say of the old saint. This particular diamond had been held to the glaring light of community life and been found to be without flaw. A true miraculous jewel of grace. When a neighbour claims a man or woman to be a saint you tend to eat the story with a large pinch of salt, when the guys husband or wife tells the same tale you begin to sit up and take notice.

I first saw and met Father Paul Mary for the one and only time coming down the small windy stairs at the back of house and he knew me and greeted me by name. We only spoke for a minute or so but he left me in awe and awe I preserve to this day over 40 years later.

How so? What about a meeting of a minute with a total stranger impressed itself so deeply on my heart that now at the distance of nearly half a century it is impressed with the odor of sanctity that I can smell those flowers of holiness still? Well I come from a very large family, they did things big back then. Ten children. I tried to count my cousins at one time and stopped counting at a hundred. Even my High School had been big with over a 1000 pupils grouped in equally big classes. Even so I was loved and well loved or I would never have had the tree of Faith grown so hardily strong in my little soul. Even so I was always , always one among many and with so many others to scatter love and attention too I had to reach out and grasp crumbs of attention of very busy parents and teachers as they rushed by. Looking back on it too I was a child who so needed love and would have readily given it back in return. But having failed so often to find the caress of love in those around me had retreated to the lonely places of prayer in empty chapels and the lonely vastness of Irish Mountains and hills to pray to someone who always had the time to listen and give love to a lonely Irish boy. To Mary the Mother of God who was never too busy to listen and to speak when I came, as I often did to sit at her feet for comfort. For God in the busy lives of others had carved an empty place in His heart that he desired that only He and His Blessed Mother Mary would ever fill….

But with Father Paul Mary it was different , so different. Although we only spoke together for two minutes I had his total loving attention. I seemed to be at the center of his Universe. This is what I remember, not the words, or the advice or anything else but this; the loving attention.

Father Paul Mary taught me that the saints, that I had so often read about, were real people, that they really did exist because I had met one in the flesh. More than that he taught me that being a saint was something I myself could aspire to, that it was possible that I could be a light of love in a world that so often simply hustled by.

Some years later I heard that Fr Paul Mary had been critically injured in Soweto (South West Township) when he was stoned by local youths in rioting associated with apartheid violence in South Africa. I asked a Passionist priest how he was doing and was told that although his body was recovering, his heart was broken as it was the very people he was trying to help who had stoned him.

Another great lesson, that the saints always rest on the Cross to which they are nailed. Another Catholic missionary priest to South Africa told the most interesting tale about apartheid and the Catholic Church out there. He visited a Catholic Convent and found that the black nuns were using one toilet and the white nuns were using another in the same convent, in the same community. When he protested to the white Irish Mother Superior she told him coldly that it was the law. No matter how he insisted it offended against charity she refused to budge. He said he noticed two kinds of Irish Catholic Missionaries out in South Africa during apartheid; those who cooperating with segregation, regarding it as the law and those who refused to bend the knee and struggled against it , even at the cost of imprisonment and social leprosy. He also noticed that it was the Irish Missionaries who had fought against injustice in Ireland who went against apartheid and those who tended to go along with the powers that be that willingly bent the knee to gross racialism and injustice.

Again a good definition of a saint as someone willing to hang on the Cross for others, while a scoundrel will run for cover in deep moral cowardice and indifference..


Soweto uprising against apartheid.

This I think , for me, is so good a description of the saint and of the scoundrel. The saint, like a house fire, gives of the heat of love, making those around him/her more alive and joyous the scoundrel , on the other hand draws in the warmth of love and makes all around him more cold and dead.

There is an old saying that there is no one more hard to live with than a saint. I never found it so. It is a joy to be around them. Padre Pio , for instance, is described as the life and soul of his recreations. They challenge, certainly, but which of us never needs to be challenged? But much more than this they bring the fire of Christ, the fire of love, into our lives and I recall with deep gratitude one 16 year old kid who so needed the warmth of meeting a saint and got it.


Fr Paul Mary CP


As for scoundrels….well scoundrel indeed was Fr C, though I state at once that when I knew him, before he went to prison for five years I found him a very funny and amusing character and was very fond of him. He made me laugh. I recall one time talking with him about Padre Pio and the length of his masses, which sometime took three or four hours and were described by one witness, Maria Winowska as follows:

The Capuchin’s face which a few moments before had seemed to me jovial and affable was literally transfigured. . . . Fear, joy, sorrow, agony or grief …. I could follow the mysterious dialogue on (his) features. Now he protests, shakes his head in denial and waits for the reply. His entire body was frozen in mute supplication….

Suddenly great tears welled from his eyes, and his shoulders, shaken with sobs, seemed bowed beneath a crushing weight. . . . Between himself and Christ there was no distance…. I defy those who have been at San Giovanni Rotondo to attend Mass as mere spectators…. One Friday I saw him panting, oppressed as a wrestler at bay trying in vain with swift tosses of the head to shake off some obstacle which prevented him from uttering the words of Consecration. It eventually resembled single combat from which he emerged victorious but broken. On other occasions after the Sanctus great drops of sweat poured from his forehead, bathing his face which was distorted with sobs. Here was truly the man of sorrow at grips with the agony.


Fr C, however, had a very different take on Saint Padre Pio. He grew cross, said he too could take three or four hours to take to say mass..if he wanted the attention and what was so special about Padre Pio and on and on and on… This was so very different from my own understanding of the saintly Capuchin as to make me laugh. It was so exactly the opposite of the view everyone I ever knew, here in Ireland , where Padre Pio was always held in awe. It startled me, for here was a shadow of the terrible opposition the saint met from the very highest quarters of the Vatican and the Clergy right from the very beginnings of his Apostolate. Fr C, I could plainly see, was jealous of the saint and the huge veneration and admiration in which he was held. Thus in his own turn the irascible Fr C gave me a light into the thinking of the Vatican Monsignori who wished to crush the Saint for, had it been jealousy with them too?

Fr C was a small bustling little man and wrote many, many very well selling religious little booklets which sold very well and he had his very own little following amongst the pious Faithful. On one occasion , he appeared to have worked a not inconsiderable miracle. A childless couple who had been married some years came to him to ask his prayers and blessing that they might have a child. A short while thereafter the lady conceived and they had a healthy, bouncing baby boy. The Doctors themselves declared this miraculous as they stated that the physical condition of the mother made conception impossible, yet she had indeed conceived shortly after Fr C’s blessing!

But before you break out the candles to light in front of a picture of Fr C I must relate the story of his downfall. I was in them distant days very innocent. I think partly this arose from the fact that during my three and a half years in the monastery I did not spend a lot of time talking to folks or hearing the gossip. Since it was a Trappist Monastery, with few legitimate occasions for talk and no recreation periods my innocence of what was going down around me may be more understandable. I had however heard a rumor that Fr C had been caught near a children’s playground in a town some miles away. He had been arrested by the police. But the Church, having considerable authority in Ireland back in those days, had him released into their charge to protect themselves from bad publicity.(this was of course very, very wrong of them there are worse scoundrels than priests who abuse children and that is the scoundrels, the Bishops priests and Cardinals who covered up for them,. They displayed gross moral cowardice and indifference to the suffering of the abused children) .

Later, after I left the monastery Fr C was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for a repeat performance of the same gross crime. Though a scoundrel I cannot easily describe Fr C as an evil man . There was something wrong inside him, something broken, which at the time in my innocence I did not understand. A scoundrel who did evil acts, certainly and someone who deserved to be sent to prison. I read somewhere that something like 90 per cent of abusers were themselves abused as children and of course, as is well known, by far the great proportion of sexual abuse occurs in the child’s own homes by their own near relatives. Very often the child’s own father. The abused again in their own turn abusing the abused so to speak.

There is a story told of Padre Pio which illustrates so well this meeting of the scoundrel and the saint. In the early days of Padre Pio’s mission, not too long after he had been given the visible stigmata Padre Pio was visited by a local Archbishop. This particular Archbishop had, up until then, been very vocal and open in his support for the saint. This high clergyman asked for the saint to hear his confession . In short order the raised voice of Padre Pio was heard by onlookers loudly berating the mortified dignitary who was ejected from the confessional by an enraged saint and left the monastery white faced and furious in a great hurry, never to return. The Archbishop had in fact been involved in child abuse of altar boys at his Cathedral. At last infuriated by this scoundrel’s goings on a crowd of locals gathers outside his palace, broke in and gave the scoundrel Archbishop a very well deserved beating. Breaking the proud Episcopal nose in the process.


So on this Feast of Padre Pio I think of Saints and scoundrels I have known and how I wish I might have gotten to meet perhaps the greatest saint of our times Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. How a lonely 16 year old kid who wished to be a priest would have loved to have met perhaps the greatest priest and saint of them all, the humble Friar who many claim to have been the greatest mystic of the 20th century.

In Padre Pio and other saints I am reminded so much of the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe and its story of saints and scoundrels.

 OL Guadalupe chausable 1

In it Mary, Queen of Saints, stands resplendent in glory, made beautiful because she loved. At her feet lies the snake, the greatest scoundrel of them all and on its head rests Mary’s foot triumphant crushing its evil. For the saints will always defeat the scoundrels. Just as the light of holiness and love will always overcome the darkness of evil in our Church and in our world. The scoundrels may bruise the heel of the woman, but in the end the foot of holiness will always crush their heads.

Genesis 3:15

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

St Padre Pio pray for us. Teach us always to be saints and give us the courage to recognise evil for what it is chase and crush the scoundrels, whoever and where ever they may be.

About charliej373

Charlie Johnston is a former newspaper editor, radio talk show host and political consultant. From Feb. 11, 2011 to Aug. 21, 2012, he walked 3,200 miles across the country, sleeping in the woods, meeting people and praying as he went. He has received prophetic visitation all his life, which he has vetted through a trio of priests over the last 20 years, and now speaks publicly about on this site. Yet he emphasizes that we find God most surely through the ordinary, doing the little things we should with faith and fidelity. Hence the name, The Next Right Step. The visitations inform his work, but are not the focus of it. He lives in the Archdiocese of Denver in the United States.
This entry was posted in Guest Columns, Spiritual Heroes and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Of Saints and Scoundrels

  1. Gary says:

    I wish Padre Pio could have heard my confession..at the very least I would know where i stood in the Presence of the good Lord, wondering what mountain would cover me.. At our Padre Pio prayer group there was a talk given by a couple of US Italian WW II vets who had occasion to visit Padre Pio. They too felt they were in the presence of a saint. Amos Miller is our president of the Padre Pio Prayer Group at Saint John Cantius. He is a very special person. He also is an Internal Affairs detective for the Cook County Sheriffs Dept.


    • I used to have an uncle and aunt when I was a teenager Gary who were very upfront and straight and were never afraid to pull me down a peg or two. I never realised at the time but the reason why they made me uneasy was that I was very,very immature indeed and needed a bit of seasoning.

      It is a great gift from God to have someone in our lives to stick a pin in our various balloons. I always envied married couples for having this spiritual seasoning from each other as spouses. But please God He can still find ways to present us with Padre Pio moments to confront us with the truth and even to shout and roar at us, if we are open to them.


  2. donna269 says:

    Padraig, this is such a beautiful piece to awaken to this morning. After my 7 Sorrows Rosary, it is an appropriate meditation…..St Pio, pray for us!


    • Hi Donna nice hearing from you. I don’t think I have ever done the Seven Sorrows Rosary, it sounds wonderful. I used to like following Mother Angelica on the St Michael rosary though. I admire you for still following the rosary in these dark times. I was just thinking at mass a couple of days ago on the Feast of the Holy Rosary how few people say it now.

      My old grandmother you would think the rosary was glued to her hands it seemed to me there constantly like part of her body, just like Padre Pio. But I remember in Church as a child that generation of Catholics , if you looked around most people seemed to be saying the rosary. Nowadays even in a packed Church maybe half a dozen or so.


  3. June1 says:

    Oh, man, Gary… I think Padre Pio would have yelled at us all, ha ha! You know what I would love, though? I would love to meet a priest with the gift of reading hearts. How comforting would it be to have him just look at you and know what the state of your heart was, and therefore be able to advise you accordingly. One day, I hope and pray. 🙂


  4. Audie says:

    Thank you, Padraig, for sharing this piece with us. Father Paul Mary looks so kind in the photo of him. I like the way you showed mercy for the scoundrel, Father C., although what he did was evil and despicable, by noting his brokenness of some kind. It is much easier to love saints, but very difficult to have any love for a person who commits such terrible crimes. It’s interesting that Father C would not speak well of Padre Pio. It’s almost as though he couldn’t because of the darkness inside himself.


    • I think he was jealous of Padre Pio Audie. I think jealously , ‘Who does he think he is!!’….explains a lot of the hatred for Padre Pio and saints like him. In fact I suspect that is why folks hated Jesus so much, they were often jealous. The people who were not jealous were not full of spiritual pride and so had nothing to be jealous about.

      As to Fr C. I was very innocent at the time. I must have been the only one in the monastery who did not know his history and so took him as I found him. But even though I only saw one side of him the side I did see seemed so broken and I kind of liked him for that, that he seemed so human. I also think some of the monks were suspicious of me, as I look back for being in his company. . But I simply did not know. If I had known I would still have talked to him for as Jesus said , ‘I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance and I am afraid with my record I cannot afford to look down my nose at anyone.

      But at the end of day the words of jesus concerned Fr C’s sins terrify me , He warned that anyone who hurt the little ones, ‘Better that a millstone be tied round your neck and you be dropped in the ocean’. I would not like to face God on Judgement Day with a record like that.

      I must remember to pray for Fr C’s soul at mass this morning.

      Oh my Jesus forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven especially those in most need of thy mercy.i


      • Audie says:

        Thank you for the reply, Padraig. I surely learn a lot through this family here. I forgot to mention how much it must have hurt Father Paul Mary’s heart to have those he was helping turn on him…like Jesus also. Hope to read more from you too, Padraig.


  5. Andy H says:

    That was awesome Padraig! A wonderful read!


    • Thanks Andy, I am missing the forum so much , it is always good to hear from the family.


      • charliej373 says:

        Many of us are missing the forum, Padraig. I look forward to its return.


      • I’m so missing the forum Padraig. Being poorly catechized having left school at 14, I have learned so much about our wonderful rich faith and our precious Holy Mother – counting the days for when it re-opens.



        • St Catherine of Sienna could not read or write Mary and she is a Doctor of the Church. I think the only wisdom is the wisdom of the heart. and what is wisdom? It is , I believe the grace to refer all things to God, to see them as God sees them. Thus the wisdom of God confounds the learning of men.


          • charliej373 says:

            Hi Padraig. St. Catherine of Sienna is one of my great patrons. She wrote over 400 letters – (well, dictated most of them) – but perhaps in frustration at having to dictate all her ample correspondence, she did learn to write in 1377. Only a little more than 20 of her voluminous letters are in her hand, rather than dictated to a scribe and even her great work, The Dialogue of Divine Providence was dictated, though a few edits are believed to have been done by her directly. The best biography of her and her tumultuous times I have ever read is by Sigrid Undset here. Most of her short life she was illiterate (but what a brilliant mind!) but she was fully capable in her last three years.


          • Wow….. St. Catherine of Sienna, that was the name of the Church I was baptised in. Thanks Padraig.


  6. Andy H says:

    The stories you hear of St. Pio and the confessional always remind me a bit of what it will be like to experience the illumination of conscience. You could not hide your sins from St. Pio in the world as we will not be able to hide from them while with The Lord. It is not the time to hide but stand for them and find true sorrow and repentance. We will be humbled and must accept that humbling less we fall. I try to feel humbled in the confessional and do but boy does the sorrow and humbling begin for me long before. I pray that I always find that much needed humility for without it how could we ever then be able to accept His Mercy and Love!


    • I am old enough now to appreciate straight talking and I think it was that quality from Padre Pio I appreciate the most.

      I heard a wonderful sermon from a priest a couple of years ago . He said that we turn into raging cruel lions the very moment some poor person even slightly refers to our littlest faults. He said even in the monastery all the brothers walked on tip toe round each other in case they even hinted at a fault.

      But in the case of Padre Pio folks seemed to be screaming at him what they thought were his faults, even thought, really, he was faultless.

      I suppose because the saints were open to the truth and humble folks were prepared to step up to the mark and give them good telling’s off. I forget the last time I got a good telling off , people would be afraid of me eating them shoes and all.

      I also suspect on the internet that is why most folks are afraid of posting, people can be such roaring lions with each other.

      Anyhow God bless.


  7. Anna Pfeil says:

    Charlie, please forgive me for being so bold as to ask if it would it be possible to use narrower margins. I so enjoy your articles but find it difficult to read all the way across the wide margin. Attention deficit kind of thing and have to quit reading. I was wondering if anyone else might have the same problem. Mark Mallet’s margins are perfect, I don’t have to stop before finishing the article.

    Thank you for all you do,



  8. Mona Hoegh says:

    i agree. Mona from Denmark


  9. Mona Hoegh says:

    Anna Pfeil. I agree. Sometimes your post is wery long. I have just been in Medjugorje and I prayd for all of this extended family. I am so glad for finding you. I visit this site several times a day and I am so happy to read the followers comments too. Greetings to all of you. Mona from Denmark.


  10. Barbara Dore says:

    For very long time…, I found a great difficulty to believe that missing a Mass on Sunday is a mortal sin until I read Padre Pio’s story a few years ago… and He shouted at a doctor who forgot to confess that he missed the Mass on one Sunday , said it is mortal sin!!!!. I got that answer from Padre Pio.


    • Matthew 7:13

      13″Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14″For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.


      • I am honestly afraid of going to hell. I think as scripture says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. I do believe we could wind up in hell for not going to mass on Sunday. Not so much because of rules and regulations as such but because of lack of love. If we loved God we would naturally be drawn to go to Mass every Sunday. If we are not drawn , then there is no love there to draw us. A place with no love is the best definition of hell I know. So we would already be in hell; its just that we haven’t died yet.


        • Janet says:

          Padraig…none of us deserves anything but hell. The good news is, nothing depends on us, except our willingness to repent. Even our desire to repent is enough. His mercy does all the rest. We need to let His perfect love cast out our fear. Jesus we trust in you! Save souls!


          • Yes Janet perfect love as St John says casts out Fear. But I love what used to be central in Catholic spirituality the three last things, Death, the FInal Judgement and heaven or hell.

            I think when Our Lady of Fatima showed the little children hell she was trying to redress a balance that had shifted. To remind us that sin was real and had consequences. I think in our modern world the balance is not that we do not believe in love, in fact we never seem to stop talking about it. But we never ever talk of Justice.

            I think this is the great lesson of Padre Pio . He reminds us of justice and consequences.

            …and we need, very,very much to be reminded.


  11. Marti says:

    Ah Padraig! Your visuals are alive and touch my heart. Thank you for sharing with us beautiful events from your heart! Padre Pio pray for us! I miss your sweet bald head! 😉


  12. Charity says:

    Absence makes the heart grow fonder…… Those words can apply to many things in this world- I say it here for our MOG family. But I sure love hanging out at Uncle Charlie’s while our home is being renovated!


    • charliej373 says:

      Ha ha…glad to have the nieces and nephews gathered around the fireplace!


    • I love Charlies’ blog. It reminds me that heaven is like a rainbow with every soul different reflecting the glory of God. We this in the Church with the differing religious Orders and see it even more now on the internet with so many different kinds of ministries.

      At least not having the forum reminds me how much I love and need it..

      God’s Will be done.

      I was concerned this evening to hear a nurse in Texas has contracted Ebola while wearing full protective gear, after the nurse in Spain, the same thing. I wonder more and more if this Red Plague has gone airborne. I don’t want to be alarmist but if it had, it fulfills Catholic Prophecy in this regard.

      I never quite know what to write about such things, is it scaring people unnecessarily? Is it spreading rumours?

      But still it has to be said, it is a source of gravest concern to al who try to discern the Sings of the TImes.


  13. Nancy says:

    Padraig, do not fear. I am a healthcare worker. I know the efforts taken every day to heal this disease as well as to prevent its spread. I am not afraid and there are others who volunteer for this duty that look upon it as a calling. They are the signs of hope that Charlie talks about.


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