Defending Rosary, DePetro Picks on Senior Citizen

First things first. Freedom of conscience and expression, along with the right to pray or not to pray as one desires, are some of our most important rights. Limitations on these rights should only be tolerated when there are compelling and important reasons to do so, such as balancing one person’s rights against the rights of others to not be unnecessarily inconvenienced by such expression.

That said, the recent issue brought to light by John DePetro of WPRO  on Monday evening and continuing for the full three hours of Tuesday morning’s broadcast touches on these sensitive, delicate issues the way a hammer touches on butterflies. According to DePetro, wearing his metaphorical reporter’s hat and dutifully recording his adventures on his iPhone, Brook Village Retirement Home in North Providence recently “banned a small group of residents from praying the rosary in the common area after one resident complained.

On DePetro’s radio program at least one caller thought the group in question consisted of as few as three residents.

Apparently the small group would gather in the common room at 11:30 AM on Mondays and watch The Holy Rosary with Mother Angelica and the Nuns of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery on EWTN, the Global Catholic Television Network, praying along and out loud. Another resident, Wanda Hughes, complained about the prayers which she called “an in your face ritual.”

As a result, the manager of the facility, Carol Conti, has apparently told residents that they could no longer pray the rosary in the common room.

Now is this true? Conti has made no statement to the media as of this writing, and the one resident who spoke to DePetro on the matter, besides Hughes, wasn’t really sure if prayers were allowed or not. This is the resident in DePetro’s video who says that Wanda Hughes has a vendetta against Catholics, and called them cannibals, because they eat the body and blood of Christ. He’s hardly unbiased and he wasn’t sure about the status of the prayers at all.

DePetro claimed on the radio that Wanda Hughes threatened to call the ACLU. In fact, she says just the opposite in her letter, at least the part she can be seen reading in DePetro’s heavily edited video. She specifically says, “It should not be an ACLU case.” When relating her conversation with the retirement home’s manager, Hughes claims to have said, “…the Constitution allows everybody freedom of religion…” but “The fact was that they were pushing their belief on everybody.” This hardly seems like the position of an anti-religion zealot.

Wanda Hughes seems like a very direct and honest woman in the video. She looks somewhat afraid of another resident who yells at her through the intercom while she’s talking to DePetro. The resident shrieks, “She’s what’s wrong with this building. You’re evil!”

Consider this a moment. Here’s DePetro, capturing a moment of this woman being bullied on video, and yet he’s so fixated on the idea that some residents inside the building are not allowed to pray the rosary he doesn’t even care. Wanda Hughes, whether she’s an atheist or simply not a Catholic, doesn’t factor into DePetro’s calculations. He’s on a bigger story, one that needn’t concern itself with the safety and comfort of an elder woman in a retirement home.

In DePetro’s mind, Catholics in particular and Christians in general, are under attack in this country. DePetro is happy to link the Holiday/Christmas Tree non-troversy of the last holiday season to the Cranston prayer banner, to the Woonsocket Cross, and now to the possible and unconfirmed banning of a rosary prayer group in a North Providence Retirement Home. When a guest called in and compared this imaginary pattern of events construed as attacks against Christians to historical attacks against Jews under the Third Reich in 1930’s Germany, DePetro did nothing to correct her.

The terrible thing is that because of DePetro’s ham handed intrusion into this tiny little issue that can and probably will be resolved to the satisfaction of all the parties involved if left to the residents and the management, Wanda Hughes will most likely become the victim of terrible abuse both online, through the telephone and in person. Already one person commenting on the story at 630WPRO has called Wanda Hughes an “idiot” and another has said, “As far as the complaining resident, that is what a lot of old people do if they have no friends, no family and no loved ones. They are bitter and go after the other residents that actually have a life. There are just mean people out there.”

And believe me, this stuff is mild compared to what’s coming if this story continues to be hammered on. DePetro knows full well the kind of threats and bullying people face when they speak up and out against religion and religious privilege, yet to further his false narrative of there being an atheist conspiracy against freedom of conscience, this second-rate shock-jock is willing to throw an elderly woman under the bus.

The man screaming through the intercom at Wanda Hughes was right. There was an evil in the building, but it wasn’t Wanda Hughes, it was the guy with the iPhone.

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Steve Ahlquist is an award-winning journalist, writer, artist and founding member of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism, courage and action. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member.

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"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Weisel

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu

"There comes a time when neutrality and laying low become dishonorable. If you’re not in revolt, you’re in cahoots. When this period and your name are mentioned, decades hence, your grandkids will look away in shame." - David Brooks

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