Category: Archive

Froth and Faith

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

As about 20 sinners stood in line for absolution, 250 other local souls filled an upstairs room at the Temple, sipping drinks and chatting — but the talk was less barroom blather and more about the phenomenon that has been packing out the Temple Bar lately, the final monthly meeting for the summer of "Theology on Tap."

It’s the name of the brainchild of Father Paul Check, who hit on the idea of bringing a message to the people where they were most relaxed and where they could discuss contemporary issues of ethics, morality and Catholic Church doctrine.

Clearly, his idea has been working. It was standing-room-only in the large upstairs function room, which normally holds about 200 people seated. As latecomers pushed through the crowds at the back, balancing pints of beer and glasses of wine, the speaker for the evening, psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, M.D., from Pennsylvania, was talking about divorce, narcissism and mistrust.

"Our selfishness reduces our ability to give. That is one of the main reasons for divorce in our society, and for promiscuity in our society," he said. Jill Stevens, her eyes shining, reached for her friend’s elbow through the crowd.

"This is amazing, amazing," she whispered excitedly. "Come over here." As her friend pushed her way through for a better view, they fell silent again, attention focused on Fitzsimmons’s blending of psychiatry and Catholic faith.

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Apart from the barman, Sean Staunton, distracted by refilling glasses, only one person seemed uninterested. Julia lay fast asleep at the bar, her mouth slightly parted as she breathed contentedly — but at only 3 weeks old, she has a long way to go before the ills of modern life in America weigh on her shoulders.

"We’re facing a culture of chaos," Fitzgibbons said. "Look what’s happening to our children and teenagers." The world, he said, "says, if you have a sex impulse, act it out. If you’re angry, let it out. So many people could not be here in the Temple Bar because they need to smoke a joint or drink a six pack to be in touch with their emotions."

As he spoke, people were leafing through the handout that accompanied his talk, which contained two checklists for identifying the traits of narcissism and difficulty in trusting. Speaking of the impact of these on families, he said, "We’ve got orphans with living parents."

"What I want to know," said a small, dark-haired woman at the back to her friend, "is how can I raise my son as a single parent, without being domineering."

Her chance would come later, as Fitzgibbons wound up his remarks and asked for questions. She headed deeper into the crowd so as to be better seen.

"How do you forgive someone who doesn’t want to be forgiven?" came the first question from near the front. A TV cameraman from Channel 12 News struggled past Sean behind the bar in order to get a better angle on the crowd.

"Anger encapsulates their sadness," said Fitzgibbons in response. It encapsulates sadness and promotes mistrust. And the long-term effect of mistrust is divorce."

Another question came from the crowd. Could drugs prescribed by a psychiatric doctor mask a person’s issues and emotional problems that they should be dealing with other ways?

"Certain people have chemical imbalances and medication can help. But there’s no way of measuring the chemicals in the brain," Fitzgibbons said, then continued taking questions, and talking about the issues of family and relationships, and related issues such as marriage and homosexuality.

"For those who have same-sex attractions, it’s there most often because you lacked eye-hand coordination. You feel weak in your masculinity, so you want that masculinity and are attracted by it," he said.

The woman who had wanted to ask about being a single parent, returned with a glass of wine. She gave her name only as Maria, originally from Cuba.

"How can I ask my question?" she asked the people around her. "I’m 5-foot-2."

"It’s a good question, though," her friend Pauline O’Neill said. So they pushed through to where Fitzsimmons was now speaking to individual members of the crowd.

Confessions to the rear

A priest raised his voice and pointed toward the rear exit. "We have a confessional in the office at the rear, where I can assure you, Channel 12 will not be present," he said. The crowd laughed, some heading to the bar for a refill, as others headed for the confessional.

Watching the lineup with interest was Marcus Winters, the general manager of the Temple Bar. From Sligo, Winters had been chatting one day with Father Check, who had mentioned the success he had had with a similar event that he’d organized in Washington, D.C.

"I’d say we have 250 people here at least," he said. "It’s been tremendous." From the Fairfield County Catholic, a local religious newspaper, Dr. Joe McAleer agreed.

"This is directed at youth, and it’s very relevant. It’s not 40 years ago," he said.

"There is a great spiritual hunger in the country. Look at Jesus in his time, and where and what he preached. In a setting like this; it is dignified, but welcoming."

A man clutching a pint came by, and asked if it was true, that confession was being heard in a bar.

"So, like I can go have confession if I want it? I’m Catholic. Oh my God, I can really go here?" He joined the line.

Closer to the confessional, and waiting with her two friends, was Corinne Gentile, 19, a college psychology major. She said that she had found the talks challenging. On marriage, however, she was adamant.

"Personally, I believe you can tell if [a relationship] is going to work out. People give up on marriages too easily," she said.

Back in the bar, Jill Stevens, who had pulled her friend excitedly into the crowd to get a better view, was praising the success of the evening to her colleagues.

"To think that people who think they are homosexual, that they can get therapy and deal with that discomfort," she saids. "And [Fitzgibbons] explained it so expressively, with supporting facts. I myself am a child of divorce. What’s being said here is very accurate."

But at the bar, Maria from Cuba, with Pauline O’Neill, were less pleased with the evening.

"When I asked [Fitzgibbons] my question about how to be a good single parent without being domineering, he told me to join Catholic Singles.com. He told me three times. I told him that JFK Jr. was raised by a single mother. He’s a jerk," Maria said. Her friend O’Neill, who is separated, agreed.

"If I am a single mother, treat me with kindness, love and compassion; don’t pack me off to be married again," she said. "There’s a ton of single mothers, and the way he was talking, every one of their sons was going to be messed up. The topic was relevant, but I don’t think he was a good source to talk about it.

"One gay couple here in Stamford has been in their relationship longer than me," she added, laughing.

But come Sept. 13, when Theology on Tap starts again at the Temple Bar, they both agreed that they would return. On that occasion, Rev. William Lori, the bishop of Bridgeport, will speak on the topic, "Why is the pope infallible?"

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