Monday, September 14, 2009

My Great-Grandfather Blecha, Al Capone and a Priest

Back in 1881, my maternal grandmother’s father, Albert Blecha, got off at the wrong train station in Eastern Kansas. He had intended to go to a community that had a large Czech population and a Catholic church. He soon discovered that he was in a community with no Catholic churches within several days’ journey, and decided that going to a Protestant church was better than being a total social pariah. But for that quirk of fate in the town’s religious demographics, the Blecha family might have remained Catholic. He spent the last thirty-eight years of his life farming in Greenwood County, Kansas.

Just yesterday, I happened to be listening to a Catholic radio station and heard a story which I FERVENTLY hope is not true. The speaker related that many years before, he had met an elderly priest who as a young man, had been assigned to a diocese in Chicago where Al Capone’s organization was active. I want to point out that what I heard is, as any good lawyer would tell you, at least double and possibly triple hearsay. This, however, is what I heard the commentator say.

He said that the priest had told him that Al Capone took Catholic ritual so seriously that if he was going to have someone who had not really ticked him off “whacked,” he would arrange for a parish priest to hear the doomed man’s confession before he went for his last ride. On the other hand, if Al decided that someone not only needed to be killed, but had also really ticked Capone off, he would arrange for the doomed man to be invited to a party with drugs, alcohol and prostitutes and would order his hit man to wait until the target was in flagrante delicto with the prostitute, whereupon they would inform the guest of honor that he was in a state of mortal sin and would then shoot him. (The commentator would not mention what, if anything, became of the poor prostitute. Jeez…talk about a hostile working environment! I find it difficult to believe that any working girl would willingly sign on for that arrangement.)

Let me say again that I find that story of very dubious authenticity. But I was appalled beyond words that the radio host seemed to take the attitude that Al Capone was “quite a guy,” and was happy Capone held Catholic ritual so close to his heart. It certainly casts Catholic doctrine in a terrible light. If you’re a business associate of a man who steals and murders on a regular basis, terrorizing an enormous city for years and are about to be “involuntarily retired,” so long as a parish priest hears your confession, then, although this is the hour of your death, you’re promised an eternity in paradise. On the other hand, if you happen to dally with a prostitute, your next stop is an appointment with eternal fire.

Hearing that particular commentator’s story made me profoundly grateful for the fact that Great-Grandfather Blecha got off at the wrong stop.

Greenwood, Kansas in 1878.

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