Post 150

Full Frontal: How it All Went Down

A few months ago, I spoke, in person, to Fr. Martin Carroll about the possibility of having the nativity play in the basement of the Basilica. He told me to put my request in writing.


At 00:22, May 19th, I got the party started:

Dear Fr. Martin Carroll,

Further to our in-person conversation several months ago, I am interested in holding this year’s performance of “A Christmas Karol: The Karol Wojtyla 2016 Nativity Play” in the basement of St. Joseph’s Basilica.

I have spoken today with Mary Ann Provencal and it seems that there are dates in December which may work. We have not proceeded with any concrete arrangements, because I require your approval.

The performance is a one-day event and lasts approximately one hour.

Prior to the performance, we rehearse on site, and set up our props.

The main audience members have historically been the relatives of the actors, but tickets are sold to members of the public as well. The cast is made up of approximately 40-50 children of all ages. I have run this play since 2007 and so there have been 9 annual performances.

Mary Ann asked me about live animals. We have never used live animals, but if I had access to a live donkey, I would be happy to include it in our show.

I have experience running theatre events in non-theatre locations. Fr. –, of — Parish, has invited me to run the nativity play at his parish and although I have not done that, I did run one very successful performance of Tobit in the church hall there, on August 9, 2014. It was attended by many parishioners and received a standing ovation. My point is that I would be quite capable of organizing, from beginning to end, a theatre performance in the Basilica’s basement. There would be no reception following the performance and we would time the performance so as to avoid parking conflicts for people arriving or departing from Mass.

In the past, I have sold tickets for the show to cover my expenses. I do not make, as far as I know, a profit from the nativity play.

Archbishop Richard Smith has written a letter endorsing the play twice (both times that I asked) and this was published in the program for those years. I have also provided him with a copy of the script, which I am attaching for you now.

This traditional nativity play is an opportunity to evangelize and has been well-received by participants and those who have attended.

I know that the Basilica’s basement has been used as a venue for watching movies and I once attended a live theatre event there. I am also grateful that you recently (2014) granted permission to me to use the space to run rehearsals for Tobit.

My family and I are regular parishioners of the Basilica.

Please let me know whether you would agree to this use of the space, or whether you have any questions about my request.  

If you approve, I would finalize arrangements with Mary Ann Provencal (or with you, if you prefer).  

I would also request, from her or you, some rehearsals sessions in the same space, depending on availability. I am quite flexible about dates and times. I have typically run a once-per-week rehearsal over a span of about 7 or 8 weeks, but if this is cumbersome, I could make due with 2 or 3 rehearsals at the Basilica and I could look elsewhere for other rehearsal locations.

I am aware of no other nativity plays being run in the city of Edmonton.

I look forward to your response.

Yours truly,
Mena J . . .

I thought it was a pretty good letter.

I attached a copy of the nativity play script.

I didn’t get a reply.

As I review the date-stamps, I see why.

It wasn’t until MAY 26th, 2016, that Fr. Martin Carroll finally forwarded my email (it was 2:50 p.m.), using his iPhone to Ms. Mary-Ann Provencal, Basilica Manager.


He would have given some kind of instructions to her.

This is what I received, from Mary-Ann Provencal.

I received this at 3:12 p.m. (May 26):

Dear Mena:

I’m replying to your email dated May 19th on behalf of Fr. Martin Carroll:

In light of the Archdiocesan policy on Safe Environments and Abuse Prevention and Volunteer Management, we only allow Parish Groups and Catholic Organizations to run children’s programming in the facility.

God bless,

Mary-Ann (for Fr. Martin)

My reply, at 4:02 p.m. (May 26) to Mary-Ann Provencal, was as follows:

That’s stupid.
Please tell Fr. Martin Carroll I said so.
I will probably make a fuss about this.


At 4:05 p.m. (May 26), I forwarded the 4:02 p.m. email directly to Fr. Martin Carroll with the following words:

Ah! No need — I’ll tell him myself (forgot I had his email address)

At 4:12 p.m. (May 26), I sent an email to Archbishop Smith, as follows:

Dear Archbishop Smith,

I enclose my request to Fr. Martin Carroll which I recently sent (see below).

It is absolutely outrageous that a Catholic mother cannot hold a Catholic nativity play in the basement of the Catholic Basilica, a concept which has been endorsed by you.

What is the point of your endorsement of this play if your home parish does not consent to have me run the play on its premises? That is a very hollow endorsement indeed!

Shall I contact some Pentecostal “Church” for cooperation?  

(If I do, you shall be sure that I’ll let the secular media know why I did so.)

All this talk of evangelization, yet paired with administrative hurdles which cripple my unpaid volunteer efforts! Shameful!

Mena J…

I received an almost-immediate reply. The following day, May 27, 2016, at 6:22 p.m. an email arrived in my Inbox.

It went like this, and gave me hope:

Dear Mena,

On behalf of Archbishop Smith, Bishop Bittman acknowledges your email.

With your presumed permission, it will be forwarded to Father Martin Carroll directly for his re-consideration, in light of the fact that after examination, the proposed play does not conflict with the archdiocesan policy on Safe Environment.

With kind regards,

Josee Marr

At this point, I ask the reader to pay close attention to three things about this hope-giving reply:

  1. Bishop Bittman, through his assistant, says that it is “a fact” that the nativity play does not contradict the policy.
  2. Bishop Bittman, through his assistant, says that they have re-opened the issue with my “presumed consent.” In other words, please note that they decided, on their own, to return to the matter to Fr. Martin Carroll. I did not ask for the matter to be put back into his hands.
  3. Bishop Bittman, through his assistant, makes no complaint about my choice of words.

So far, so good.

As a matter of fact, let’s nickname that hope-giving reply Green Light, You’re Right, because at that point, Bishop Bittman agreed that there was no conflict, and they re-opened the issue. Things were Looking Up for the Nativity-Play-That-Could.

I wrote back just after midnight, when I checked my emails. My permission wasn’t requested, as you can see by this phrase, “With your presumed permission,” but I thought that by adding my express permission, it would set at rest the mind of Josee Marr or anyone else at that office.

So I wrote on May 28, 2016 at 00:23

Dear Josee,
Thank you.
Yes, you have my permission.

On June 1, 2016, I received an email from Ms. Mary Ann Provencal. She wrote:

Hello Mena,
Fr. Martin has asked me to ask you for your mailing address so that he can correspond with you through the mail.
Thank you.
Mary Ann

I wrote back less than an hour later, producing, without any questions, my home address for their use.

On June 3, 2016, Fr. Martin Carroll wrote to me again, but this time, it was a typewritten letter.

Dear Ms J–,

As a further response to your email dated May 18, 2016, let me be clear: I do not give you permission to use the parish facility to stage your 2016 “A Christmas Karol: The Karol Wojtyla 2016 Nativity Play.” 

This decision is based on careful discernment of your request and the various parish and archdiocesan policies that exist, including but not limited to:

Policy No. 1104       Groups, Associations and Movements
Policy No. 233         Facility Usage
Policy No 361          Volunteer Management
Policy No 354-360   Safe Environments and Abuse

Please note that this decision is final.

If, in the future, you wish to be involved as a volunteer in any form of ministry or event production at the parish, I suggest you schedule an in-person meeting with me to discuss those possibilities.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Martin Carroll


Please note the following things about that letter:

  1. He does not refer to the Archbishop’s email to me [I am still rather unclear as to whether Josee Marr is the administrative assistant for the Archbishop or Bishop Bittman or both — perhaps it’s obvious and I’m just missing it, but now I am quite convinced she works primarily for Bishop Bittman, but she was the one who responded when I addressed my correspondence to the Archbishop], and anyone reading the letter would think that everything that occurred between my first request and this letter didn’t even happen.
  2. He does not cc the Archbishop, so I have no way of knowing whether anyone at the Archbishop’s office knows what Fr. Martin Carroll has written.

I received that letter on June 7, 2016. I was glad that the letter was a letter, as opposed to an email. After all, an email can be changed. You can mess with it in a way you can’t mess with a typewritten letter. I am planning to save it, as a Specimen, shall we say, showing he wrote in that way. On the other hand, I note that an email would have reached me faster — she had requested my home address on June 1st.

On June 8 at 4:07 p.m., I sent an email to the general email address (an outsider is never given the direct email addresses of anyone at the office, and so when you write, or when you receive an email reply, things are rather blurry) of the archdiocesan office. It strikes me that it is difficult to write confidentially (about spiritual matters, for example.)

But anyway, this is what I wrote:

Dear Ms. Josee Marr AND/OR Archbishop Richard Smith AND/OR Bishop Gregory Bittman,

I have retyped, below, a letter from Rev Martin Carroll, dated June 3, 2016, addressed to me. I bring it to your attention because you may not be aware of the decision made or the wording of this typewritten second rejection. I received it yesterday.

Do you support this “final decision”? It is in direct conflict with the words coming from your office on May 27th.

It appears that Ms. Marr was incorrect when she emailed me to say that “the proposed play does not conflict with the archdiocesan policy on Safe Environment.”  In addition, based on Rev Martin Carroll’s letter to me, it appears that Ms. Marr (or the person for whom she writes) failed to consider the maze of other policies in place in this archdiocese. Indeed, it must be a complicated mess of policies and man-made trivialities that there could be such confusion about whether a nativity play can be held by a layperson in the basement of the Basilica.

I moreover draw your attention to the last sentence of the letter which could be read as a permanent ban against me as a volunteer in “any form of ministry” at the Basilica. This is nearly scandalous, if it means that. Nevertheless, due to the poor construction of the sentence, there are multiple possible readings of it.

Am I not welcome at the Basilica?

It strikes me as ironic that a play dedicated to Karol Wojtyla play would be denied entry into the very building which was made into a Basilica by Pope John Paul II himself.

It strikes me as ironic that the day before the meeting was held in our archdiocese, organized by L–, of the Office of Lay Apostolate, The Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, June 4th, where various laypersons of the archdiocese were invited to describe their apostolic initiatives etc etc etc, Rev. Martin Carroll composed his letter to me (below).

I look forward to your reply.

Mena J…

(I retyped Fr. Martin Carroll’s letter.)

I waited.

And waited.

There was no reply.

At one point, I received an email from someone else at the office of the Archbishop. She wrote to me out of the blue, so it seemed, sending along a document – something about Collaboration. I had no idea who she was or why she was sending it to me. As it turns out, she had been directed to send out the document to all the people who had initially indicated that they may be attending that meeting about evangelization. (I had ultimately declined to attend what struck me as probably a waste-of-time gathering, an entire day filled with speeches and self-congratulation.) But I guess I was still on the email list.


I continued to wait.

I had no idea how things would turn out. Whose office would prevail? I wasn’t the one who sent it back “for reconsideration.”

Nope. That was done without a forewarning to me (not that I would have disagreed – after all, if the idea is theirs, they must think it would make some kind of a Difference.)

I waited.

What was going on behind the scenes?

Nobody asked me to come and attend to explain anything more about my project, and nobody seemed to want me In Person. (When I showed up in person, I was asked to write a letter. When I wrote an email, I was requested to provide my home address so that he could correspond by postal mail. When I deal with his assistant, I use email and telephone. And as for the future, I am supposed to schedule an in-person Meeting. How unpredictable! The method keeps changing according to the preferences of Fr. Martin Carroll, even though he has an iPhone.)

But anyway, nobody wanted me In Person or any other way during Let’s Discuss time. There wasn’t going to be Collaboration with me, in terms of coming to a Decision.

Alright. That’s okay.

They were going to discuss this On Their Own.

They were going to figure out What to Do.


Tick tock tick tock.

I got a letter yesterday, June 24, 2016. It came in the mail (another Specimen). I have a nickname for this one. Same issue, same office, same Bishop, but altogether different reply.

The nickname?

How about:

No Way Jose, Red Light

I retype:

21 June 2016

Dear Mrs J…

I write in response to your letter of June 8, 2016, respecting your request to rehearse and stage “A Christmas Karol: The Karol Wojtyla 2016 Nativity Play” at St. Joseph’s Basilica.

As with other Pastors of parishes, the Archdiocese defers to Fr. Martin Carroll, Rector of St. Joseph’s Basilica, in matters concerning the day to day operation of the Basilica. Fr. Carroll has indicated that he is not prepared to host the rehearsal and staging of this play at the Basilica. In our view, this is Fr. Carroll’s decision to make, and he has already indicated to you that his decision is final.

We acknowledge that Archbishop Smith has written letters in the past in which he has thanked the play’s cast members, their families and the audience. The thanks expressed in those letters was genuine, and we appreciate that it takes a lot of time and effort to mount such a production. However, those letters are not a carte blanche for you to demand the use of St. Joseph’s Basilica or any other church for the staging of this production.

With respect to the last sentence of Fr. Carroll’s letter to you of June 3, 2016, I do not see any suggestion whatsoever of a “permanent ban” against your volunteerism at St. Joseph’s Basilica, and I believe it is most unfair to Fr. Carroll for you to suggest as much. In the course of pursuing this matter, you have used such terms as “stupid,” “outrageous,” “shameful”, and “scandalous,” to describe the decisions of others. I respectfully suggest that this hyperbolic approach is unproductive and unhelpful to respectful and courteous dialogue.


Gregory J. Bittman
Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton

c. Fr. Carroll, Rector, St. Joseph’s Basilica


My favorite thing about this letter is that there is no longer any mention of any policy or anything. All of that talk has been abandoned. Now what we have is the archdiocese standing behind the decision of a rector because he is a rector. Nobody is now saying that his Decision has Merit. Nobody is now saying that his Decision is In Keeping with Policies A B and C. As a matter of fact, nobody wants to talk about Policy at All.

Instead, it’s all about the letter D. It’s about Deference, unilateral Decision and Day-to-Day management. Indeed, the letter D rules the Day. Denial is the name of this game.

I am left not knowing why sometimes a Policy is so Entirely Important and sometimes the Policy goes Unmentioned. One office says the nativity play is a Violation. One office says it’s not.

But at least now they skip all talk of these hurdles. They won’t bless Fr. Carroll’s list of four policies. They won’t even touch that landmine now.

So they are closer to the truth.

You get the impression

That Fr. Martin Carroll

Just didn’t wanna

It’s his Final Decision.

He don’t wanna host it (“Fr. Carroll has indicated that he is not prepared to host the rehearsal and staging of this play at the Basilica.”)

(Too busy, perhaps, allowing singers to charge $30 per ticket to have concerts upstairs – sanctuary, main Basilica.)

And they’re Okay with That. (“In our view, this is Fr. Carroll’s decision to make …”)

Uh, so then why didn’t you say that in the first place? Why did you send, with my ‘presumed consent,’ the issue back into his lap if the Buck had Always Stopped There?

So that’s the good news (a little bit more transparency about the Real Reason.)

However, there are at least two troubling things about this letter, other than the fact that it took quite long to be written.


In the first place, Bishop Bittman seems entirely confused about what I thought Archbishop Smith’s endorsement meant. Did I:

a) take his endorsement as a carte blanche to demand the use of St. Joseph’s Basilica?
b) take his endorsement as a carte blanche to demand the use of any other church?

Did I?

No, I did not.

What I do think, however, is that it is entirely strange to write, on one occasion, that you support the concept of a nativity play if, on the next occasion, you support the Red Light given by the rector operating your home parish (Archbishop Smith is named as the primary person in charge of the Basilica according to the parish bulletin).

I think that’s weird, and I think it proves that the endorsement doesn’t have a lot of traction.

If you like the idea of something, wouldn’t you be Quite Glad to give it a home where your name appears at the top?


The second troubling thing is the final paragraph. Keep in mind that Bishop Bittman’s opening sentence was that he was writing in response to my letter of June 8th.

Only one of the impugned words actually appear.

He had to go looking elsewhere for the others.

He collects 2 of these words (“outrageous” and “shameful”) from my email dated May 26, 2016 to Archbishop Smith.

How strange. He already responded to that email. It was an email which produced results. (Keep the root word ‘produce’ in your mind.) That’s the email which produced his hope-giving initial reply:
(Green Light, You’re Right.) That email wasn’t suddenly brought to his attention just now.

He didn’t say, back then, that my language was troubling. He did not. But now, the same sentences merit a stern Reprimand. (Uh, alright.) A sudden switch, looks like.

So I find it entirely unfair that, now, instead of quoting sentences from my letters, he goes digging for individual words. He reviewed my emails, but this time, he was looking to find and repeat me back some solo words.

How cheap!

Even newspapers allow speakers to keep

A whole sentence

Or two.

But apparently, that’s not how Bishop Bittman plays the game. Send an email his way and he’ll quote you back,






Hmm. How gross.

And as for my words, he refers to them as ‘hyperbolic.’ A hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration, going far beyond fact.

So, let’s consider the words.

I used the word “stupid.” He found that in my email dated May 26th, not addressed to him.

Oh dear! Such a word! Did Mena call someone stupid? (A reader may wonder.) No, as a matter of fact, she did not. If you had been able to see the whole sentence, you’d see, quite clearly, that this isn’t the case.

The whole sentence was, “That’s stupid.” It was a good sentence, kind of Straight to the Point, and expressing exactly what I thought of the words, “In light of the Archdiocesan policy on Safe Environments and Abuse Prevention and Volunteer Management, we only allow Parish Groups and Catholic Organizations to run children’s programming in the facility.”

(Since when is “Parish Groups” a phrase warranting Capitalization? While blogging, I sometimes capitalize Just For Fun, but surely she’s writing a Serious Letter.)

Parish Groups?

Ah yes, I know what that is!

St. Thomas More Parish has some of those! One is called “Card Social” and they get free space so that they can, um, play Bridge. Sad but true. When I used to rehearse at St. Thomas More, David Matwie always put me in line behind all the Parish Groups.

Yes, I know all about Parish Groups.

Too bad I don’t have one.


And the other thing allowed into the Basement is this thing called a “Catholic Organization.” Organization is capitalized too, I see.


I’m not an Organization.

I’m Catholic.

But I’m not an Organization.


I’m organized.

But I’m not an Organization.


So, according to Fr. Martin Carroll, that disentitles me from using the basement. It struck me as stupid. And I said so.

Moving along, I used the word “outrageous.”

Let’s see the sentence.

Here’s what I wrote:

It is absolutely outrageous that a Catholic mother cannot hold a Catholic nativity play in the basement of the Catholic Basilica, a concept which has been endorsed by you.

What was outrageous? Was it a person? No. Was it a decision? No, actually it was not.

Well then, what was outrageous?

The predicament was outrageous. It is outrageous that the archdiocese has so burdened itself with policies that an ordinary layperson cannot access the basement of a church due to those policies. The policies are there to help the Church do its job, and the Church includes – from what I gather – laypeople. The policies should enable, not impede. If you create so many rules (Father Martin Carroll mentioned four and suggested that there could be more) that you cripple the efforts of laypeople to do something so innocent and simple for children and youth and their families as a nativity play, then you’ve gotten yourselves into an Unnecessary and Very Silly Pickle.

The predicament is outrageous. So that’s what I wrote.

The next word is “shameful.”

It was used like this: “All this talk of evangelization, yet paired with administrative hurdles which cripple my unpaid volunteer efforts! Shameful!”


So, how was that used?

What was shameful? A person? No, I didn’t write that. A decision? No, I didn’t write that either.

Well then, what was shameful?

The policy was shameful, insofar as it created hurdles for regular folk trying to carry out works of evangelization. Or, to be more specific, the policy itself may be beautiful in and of itself – clear wording and nice sentences – but if it is used in such a way that it cripples (or needlessly discourages) the efforts of someone who asks for nothing more than to do something with a proven record of evangelization, then yes, it is a shameful one. (Performance spaces aren’t easy to come by, and not everyone has $2000 – 3000 hanging around to book something decent. A church hall or basement is a solution.)

The final word was “scandalous.”

This is the only word taken from my letter of June 8, 2016.

This is how I used it:

I moreover draw your attention to the last sentence of the letter which could be read as a permanent ban against me as a volunteer in “any form of ministry” at the Basilica. This is nearly scandalous, if it means that. Nevertheless, due to the poor construction of the sentence, there are multiple possible readings of it.

Am I not welcome at the Basilica?

You will note my very careful use of this word. And here, I really stress the importance of being fair to people. If you quote only one word, you will deprive me of my actual phrase. Two words, in this case, would have been far more fair, don’t you think, Bishop Bittman?

Why say I wrote: “scandalous”


I wrote “nearly scandalous”?

I didn’t write the word “nearly” for nothing.

Yet you delete.

As you please.

I see.

You ask me to be fair, but you


are not.

You quote solo words

Out of context.

How unfair.

Moreover, I wrote that Fr. Martin Carroll’s letter “could be read” that way. I didn’t say that it was intended that way. I used the word “If.” I said if he meant that.

Have you ever noticed the importance of that little word?


So little, yet making all the difference.

I even noted that Father Martin Carroll’s sentence was ambiguous. I noted that it was poorly constructed, leaving room for confusion.

That’s fair. I just pointed it out. I said, look at this sentence.

I’m allowed to do that.

And for his part, Bishop Bittman is allowed to Guess

and Speculate

at what Father Carroll meant.

An ambiguous sentence – hey, we could all give it a try. What do you think Fr. Carroll meant, when he wrote: “If, in the future, you wish to be involved as a volunteer in any form of ministry or event production at the parish, I suggest you schedule an in-person meeting with me to discuss those possibilities”?

“In any form of ministry”

“Or event production”

How interesting.

I suppose we’ll never know. Bishop Bittman is quite confident he knows how the sentence is to be read, but I am not sure I would credit his opinion on something like this.

Seems to me the plain English goes in quite a different direction.


Oh well.

So, to summarize, here are the words:

Stupid (decision)
Outrageous (predicament)
Shameful (policy)
Nearly scandalous (to ban, if that’s what was said)

There, that’s better.

I do not regret my choice of words, and I strongly disagree that they were hyperbolic. They were accurate and I stand by all of them.

(I also note that he said my words were “unproductive.” Those of you who are still holding the word ‘produce’ in your hands will realize that the email which used two of the impugned words (the most) was in fact the only one that produced any real results at all. The correspondence that didn’t contain as many of the words on Bishop Bittman’s naughty list were brushed quite aside. My recommendation to others in my shoes? You may want to pursue your requests armed with ordinary everyday words. They are the productive ones.)

But anyway, back to the words that I used, I say: the truth hurts sometimes.

But let’s speak truthfully and openly.

Don’t censor me.

Don’t deny me these or any other words.

They are legitimate, all-English words. They are the kind that a layperson might use. As a matter of fact, a layperson might use other words. Shorter ones. Different words for different contexts. A blog, for example, might allow a person to use quite a colourful selection. You, Bishop Bittman, may remember them, as a matter of fact, and you might have used a few once in a while.


Well, I wouldn’t deny them to you. Even now, when you’re not a layperson.

What I dislike is being scolded and lectured on my vocabulary. Am I your English student? Last time I checked, I wasn’t. Am I your pupil? Did I ask you for your opinion about my Word Selection? Did I submit a paper for your comments and grading and Helpful Suggestions? Uh, maybe not.

And is that really the point? Is that really What You Dislike? Was I not Quite RESPECTFUL Enough? To you or to your office?

I actually think I was.

I think I was.

We lay people, see, come in all shapes and sizes. We use all manner of phrases.

So how about this?

You choose your phrases.

And I’ll choose mine.

Don’t worry. If I use words that are harsh, that won’t reflect on you; it’ll be Quite Plain that it was just silly me.

But if I quote you, I promise you, I’ll quote you in full.

If you quote me, please do the same. At the minimum (uh – pretty please?) leave intact each sentence.

For a parting quote, let me open up an old program. Ah let’s see, how did it go?

Dear Friends,
I am pleased to welcome you to the 2014 presentation of A Christmas Karol: the Karol Wojtyla Nativity Play. This is becoming a beautiful tradition, and I am grateful that you are supporting it by your participation. You will have noticed, as I certainly have, the increasingly less frequent references to “Christmas” in favour of “the holiday season.” This sad and empty tendency to forget the person at the heart of it all, Jesus Christ, renders the production and performance of this play all the more important. Saint John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) famously said: “Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human life.” May A Christmas Karol enable all who share in it to discover this answer for themselves and from it draw hope and joy!
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton

Quite nice.

But I warn you. If you decide to try to stage such a play in the basement of the Basilica, don’t get your hopes up. There may be a Rector there

He may decide


He don’t want it

Don’t feel like it

He’ll send an email

via iPhone

We’ll deny it

And the Archdiocese


They won’t