Posts Tagged “angelic”

Angel statueMany of my readers will have heard about the so-called “angel priest” in Missouri. If not, here’s a quick sketch: There’s a car accident and a teen is trapped in a car. Crews are trying to extricate her, but having no luck. A priest magically materializes out of nowhere, prays with her, tells rescuers their efforts will now be effective, and voilà! they free her. The priest then magically disappears. Later photos show no one at the scene who looks like a priest. There doesn’t seem to be any way a priest could have just wandered up to the accident and left without anyone seeing him go, so everyone decides this “priest” is an “angel” and the teen’s rescue is a genuine miracle. It was widely reported, including in this USA Today article (cached), although virtually every media outlet in the country mentioned it in some way.

I’m sure some of you wonder why I never mentioned this story while it was racing through the country last week. The reason is, I was sure there was more to this story that hadn’t been revealed, and didn’t want to remark on it until additional information had come in.

It turns out I was right to wait. There was more to be told about this event. As CNN reports, we now know this priest was no “angel,” but a plain old flesh-&-blood human being (WebCite cached article):

[The Rev. Patrick] Dowling, a priest since 1982, revealed in a comment on a story posted on the National Catholic Register that he was the man who prayed over Lentz, 19, while emergency workers treated her for injuries after an August 4 accident.

Dowling wrote in the comment, which has since been deleted: “I absolved and anointed Katie, and, at her request, prayed that her leg would not hurt. Then I stepped aside to where some rescue personnel and the pilot were waiting, and prayed the rosary silently.”

Dowling’s presence had been a mystery because officials at the scene said it seemed as if he appeared from nowhere, couldn’t be found in any pictures taken at the scene and left without anyone seeing where he went.

Rescuers said the mysterious priest told them to be calm and their tools would now work.

I want everyone to note that Fr Dowling’s account of this event differs a bit from the reports of those involved. In particular, he never says he told crews their equipment would now work, when it hadn’t before. It turns out, there’s a reason they were able to free the trapped teen: Right about then, the car had been righted, and fresh equipment was brought up to the crash, those did the job.

He also mentions that he identified himself to a trooper or deputy, so people later claiming that no one knew who he was, were lying.

This is a sterling example of how “miracle” stories can be confabulated and fabricated from otherwise-mundane events. We have an accident scene with a lot of people around, all trying to get something done (namely, free someone from a wrecked car, and gather evidence for an accident investigation). It’s chaotic and hard for anyone involved to know what’s going on outside of whatever it is s/he is doing. There’s also a little embellishment, plus some strategic omissions (e.g. the trooper to whom Fr Dowling identified himself conveniently failing to mention he knew who the priest was, while this story about an “angel priest” flashed around the country). And there’s also the little matter of lying about the circumstances (i.e. folks insisted there’d been no possible way anyone could have approached the accident scene; obviously that couldn’t have been true).

I have to give credit to Fr Dowling for his honesty afterward in revealing who he was. I’m sure lots of believers out there will nevertheless view this is a “miracle” in spite of his admission and in spite of the fact that it was righting the car — plus a fresh rescue crew with fresh equipment — that got Ms Lentz extricated, not some mysterious “angel priest’s” magical intervention. Believers never let pesky little things like “facts” get in the way of an emotionally-compelling story.

Note: The famous urban legend debunking site Snopes just weighed in on this story (cached).

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Comments Comments Off on The All-Too-Human “Angel Priest”

little angel / tzunghaor, via Open Clip Art LibraryThe massacre in Aurora CO late last week continues to draw religious impulses out of people. Their responses range from asking themselves where God was while a young man was slaughtering people[1], to spewing pious rage over irreligion causing the massacre, to putting up memorial crosses as a display of public piety[2], to seeing an angel over the theater in which the shooting took place. KMGH-TV in Denver offers this story accompanying a photo which — some say shows precisely that (WebCite cached article):

A 7NEWS viewer snapped a photo that shows what she said is an angel in the clouds above the vigil site for the theater rampage victims.

Tellingly, the article concludes by inviting commenters to report whether or not they see this angel. At the risk of pointing out the obvious: If you have to ask people if they can see this “angel” … then — sorry to say — it’s probably not there!

Here’s the picture in question, I invite you to be your own judge:

'Angel' in clouds above Century 16 theater, Aurora CO / Crystal Fuller, via KMGH-TV

‘Angel’ in clouds above Century 16 theater, Aurora CO / Crystal Fuller, via KMGH-TV

I certainly don’t see anything like an angel in this picture. Yes, there are some clouds in a “spray” arrangement above the theater, but honestly, it looks more like a dreaded “funnel cloud” formation, than an “angel.”

And even if this truly were an angel, looking down on the prayer vigil … one wonders why there’d have been a supernatural intervention at that moment, rather than during the shooting itself. That angel could have showed up and used his/her/its awesome angelic power to prevent shooter James Holmes from blowing away a whole bunch of people. Showing up only after the fact seems just a little bit “too little, too late,” don’t you think?

Look, I get that people love to see things like this at times when their emotions are frayed. Really, I do understand it. But I’m not sure it’s really worth anyone’s time to try to see this supposed “angel.”

Photo credit, top: tzunghaor, via Open Clip Art Library.

Photo credit, middle: Crystal Fuller, via KMGH-TV.

[1] No one would have to ask or answer such an absurd question, if not for the widespread yet irrational notion that God is both omnipotent and benevolent. In a universe which God supposedly created and which nevertheless has evil in it, this combination of traits in a deity is a logical impossibility.

[2] Unfortunately for Christians with such impulses, their own Jesus explicitly and clearly forbid his followers ever to express their piety in public. They really need to start obeying the founder of their own religion, and stop pulling this kind of crap all the time.

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