hile the bright and the beautiful occupied Wall Street last week, along with the grungy, the gullible, the vicious and the just plain stupid, my remaining brother-in-law, Robert Bruton, occupied a bed in the Terence Cardinal Cooke Heath Care Center at the northern end of Fifth Avenue. He has been bedridden for a year now, and is not getting any better.
The Wall Street “Occupiers”, and their comrades in London and in many other parts of the world, like to distinguish between the 99 per cent who are jobless or deeply in debt, or both, and the one per cent who are fat cats, very often the bankers who have been bailed out by the people. Like the rest of us, the protesters do not know what to do about the economic calamity. Some would like to strip the one per cent of all their wealth, if not their lives, but the rest of us know that such moves will not solve our financial problems. All the same, the protesters’ hostility to deregulated robber capitalism finds support among many Catholics.
The Pope will have been alarmed by the riots in Rome last Saturday, but he will obviously have understood what inspired them. On Saturday morning, addressing the annual congress of the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation, he commended the “types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself”. Capice, Goldman Sachs?
What the “Occupiers” perhaps don’t understand, but Benedict surely does, is that there are some who do not show up in the 99 per cent demographic. People like my brother-in-law simply do not count. Bobby has no debt, and before he went into hospital last October he did not have a bed. He was too poor (and too feckless) for such things.
Bobby lived in a 10ft by 7ft cell in what had once been a convent. He had a chair and a television and a cupboard full of books, most of them about anthropology. He slept on cushions. There was a small sink in his cell, but the loo and the shower were down the hall.
Nobody knew exactly what was wrong with him to begin with. For some time they thought he had TB, but eventually discovered that the growth in his lungs came from the black mould that had been seeping through his floorboards. He had a strangulated hernia, too, as a result of C Diff. Perhaps the doctors saved his life. Now Bobby has a tracheotomy and is hooked up to tubes and drips. He is 65, which is the new 45, or, in Bobby’s case, the new 85.
His legs are useless, bent almost double because he has spent the last year lying in bed with his knees up. Mary has visited him three times in the past year, and will visit him again at the beginning of next month. She and her sister have tried to chivvy up the staff, but without much success. Phone calls go unanswered.
It’s all been very disappointing. Call me a naïve and sentimental old RC if you like, but to begin with I had high hopes of the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center. Here is part of its mission statement: “Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center is a long-term care facility sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and conducted in accord with the medical, moral and ethical teachings of the Catholic Church as promulgated by the Archbishop of New York.
“Our belief in the dignity of every human person compels us to provide a continuum of high quality services in a comprehensive and compassionate manner.” Like many Anglo-Irish-Scottish-German Catholics, the Reid-Brutons are not especially well-adjusted. We’ve all been lapsed at one stage or another, and for years on end. My sister-in-law is now a Baha’i. Bobby probably hasn’t been in a church voluntarily for more than 40 years. Given the circumstances, I thought Terence Cardinal Cooke was made in heaven for him: he would get first-class medical care and (just as important) first-class pastoral care. Maybe Bobby would find God in his suffering. Well, he hasn’t, not yet. Apparently he was once asked once by someone at Cardinal Cooke whether he was a believer, and he said no, very firmly. What can you do? The spiritual ethos of the centre does not inspire much confidence; it is almost comically interfaith. Yet interfaith is better than no faith, and it ill becomes a Londoner to sneer. On Monday I got a very nice message from the healthcare people at the Archdiocese of New York making it clear that they take my concerns seriously.
Bobby is his own worst enemy. He has smoked all his life, in spite of his chronic asthma. He drank too much. For all his undoubted intelligence, he has spent most of his life doing menial work at a bookshop in Greenwich Village. He is yet another old man who did not look after himself and is now paying the price, through state benefits, that the unlucky pay. The only thing that will work for him now, it seems, is a miracle. If any reader has a moment or two to spare, I’d be grateful if he (or she) would say the Memorare on his behalf. At least, though, he still has a sense of humour. When Mary rang him a couple of weeks ago to say that she’d be over at the beginning of November, he said: “I’ll see if I can keep that clear.” All but the most intransigent liberals have received the new translation of the Mass with good grace. But if the new words are to achieve anything, they must accompanied by deeds. Bowing during the Creed would be a good start. Couldn’t parish priests remind their congregations that they are expected to follow the rubrics in their missalettes? That means bowing during the Creed; in other words, inclining your body forward at an angle of at least 45 degrees. It’s not difficult or demeaning, or even dangerous (though it is of course easier and more Catholic to genuflect).