For the past five years, I’ve hosted a (semi) regular feature on my blog – Fish Fry Fridays. This series of blog features me and Ledcat visiting area fish fries and writing up reviews.
Here’s how it works. We visit a different fish fry each week. The location is determined first by proximity to the Northside because of Ledcat’s job. She works until at least 5 PM and most fish fries wrap up between 6 and 7. We can occasionally get across a bridge and up the road, but for the most part – we stay north of the City.
In review, the factors we assess include:
- Atmosphere/Volunteer Friendliness/Engagement
- Menu: variety, portions, taste and price
- LGBTQ cultural competency
- Ecofactors such as reusable/disposable items, recycling, etc
We’ve been doing this for several years. Consistently, the two most significant things that could be improved at ALL of the fish fries – community engagement and environmental stewardship. No one does either of these well. Someday, a future society will think our fish fries involved the consumption of styrofoam containers, a side of condiment packets, and sporks. ‘What sort of strange fish were these?’ they’ll say. Or gurgle because their lungs no longer function.
Everything changed last year when the Grand Jury Report was released by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in August. It wasn’t that I wasn’t aware of the horrors of these atrocities, but as I write in my latest column for The Pittsburgh Current
But the whole time I wrote these, I knew about the sexual violence occurring in the Church. I was one of the kids who grew up knowing that most of the priests in our parish (Holy Spirit in West Mifflin) were just terrible. That was proven true when I discovered that the parish was staffed by child predators for at least 23 consecutive years. My friends were preyed upon and still deal with those scars today. I have never been unaware of the magnitude of sexual violence in the Catholic Church or Christianity writ large. It has shaped my life in ways that are difficult and painful to describe.
I read accounts of local parishes struggling to reconcile the realities of the grand jury report and hear very little acknowledgement of how these remaining parishioners were complicit in these events. Instead, people focus on what they will lose — their church buildings might close, their schools might be consolidated, their losses are potentially catastrophic. But very few people take that next step of considering that all of these things were built on a culture that has been skewed toward violence, abuse, and power hoarding for the past several millenia. Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, have violent histories.
In truth, rather than hand-wringing over what this will costs the remaining faithful, all of us who grew up in this violent culture deserve an apology by the adults who failed us as children and young adults. Our lives are the catastrophic loss, not the buildings or stained glass windows or Central Catholic “mafia” connections. Those can all be replicated or replaced. Or, just maybe, left behind as we move toward a culture that protects children and adults from sexual violence.
And as an adult now, I must hold myself accountable for how my Fish Fry Friday reviews feed into the fish fry cultural fetish.
I’ve wrestled with how to approach Lent quite a bit. I could just stop the reviews and move on to something else, but that wouldn’t help me reconcile my own anger, frustration, and deep hurt. Raging silently for 40 days isn’t quite appealing either.
So I turned to an unlikely source – the quasi-Catholic fish fries that happen at VFWs, fire halls, Protestant Churches, Elks lodges, and so many other places. I used to find some of the fries a bit tacky and tasteless because they seemed to be appropriating Christian culture and encroaching on fundraisers that were essential for many parishes. I don’t like when people play unfairly.
But now I realize I can still enjoy what I like about fish fry culture, support causes I believe in, and write 6-7 weekly posts exploring the post Grand Jury Report Catholic culture in Pittsburgh. At the same time, I do wish these other entities wouldn’t just dance on the remains of closed Catholic parishes and consider themselves above the fray when it comes to the community accountability for these atrocities.
I wish some or any of these institutions that fundraise on a concept tied so innately to horrific sexual violence would have the decency to own how that legacy fuels their fundraiser. It could be something as simple as donating a percentage of the proceeds to SNAP (Survivors Networks of Those Abused by Priests) or other survivors’ organizations. It could be programming around sexual violence and child abuse. It could be safe space stickers.
Please take some time to read my full column where I make the case as to why I think this is a problem we should be discussing robustly and regularly throughout Pittsburgh.
My plan is to identify 6-7 other fish fry events that we will attend and review. I also plan to use these reviews as launch pads for that ongoing discussion of Catholic/Christian culture, sexual violence, priorities, and so forth. If you have a suggestion, please leave a comment.
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Here’s where we’ve been in years past:
Friday February 27 – Fish Fry Friday: Church of the Assumption in Bellevue 2018
Friday February 24 – Fish Fry Friday: Riverview Presbyterian Church (Perry North) – Part One
Friday March 3 – Fish Fry Friday: St. Catherine of Sweden (Allison Park)
Friday March 18 – Fish Fry Friday: Riverview Presbyterian Church (Perry North) – Part Two
Friday March 25 – Fish Fry Friday: Our Lady of Grace (Scott Township)
Friday March 29 – Fish Fry Friday: Elks Lodge 339 (Northside)
Shrove Tuesday February 28 – Shrove Tuesday Pancake Dinner Calvary United Methodist Church (Northside)
Friday, March 3 – Fish Fry Friday: Return to Church of the Assumption (Bellevue)
Friday, March 10 – Fish Fry Friday: St. Peter & Our Lady Queen of Peace on #NorthsidePgh
Friday, March 25 – Fish Fry Friday: St. Teresa of Avila (Perrysville)
Friday, March 31 – Fish Fry Friday: Judah Fellowship (Hill District)
Friday, April 7 – Fish Fry Friday: St. Maximilian Kolbe (Homestead)
Friday, April 14 – Fish Fry Friday: Elks Lodge 339 (Northside)
In 2016, we visited:
Friday, March 26 – Fish Fry Friday: The Elks Lodge on Pittsburgh’s Northside
Friday, March 12 – Fish Fry Friday: St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Ross Township
Friday, March 7 – Fish Fry Friday: Most Holy Name of Jesus on Mt. Troy
Friday, February 13 – Fish Fry Friday: St. James in Sewickley
Wednesday, February 11 – Fish Fry Friday: Ash Wednesday Edition at Assumption Church
In 2015, we visited:
- Immaculate Heart of Mary in Polish Hill
In 2014, we visited:
- Risen Lord Catholic Church in Marshall-Shadeland
- Coraopolis Elks in Coraopolis
- Most Holy Name of Jesus in Troy Hill
- Church of the Assumption Parish in Bellevue
- Judah Fellowship Christian Church in Central Northside
If there’s a fish fry we should visit this year that is NOT associated with the Catholic Church, please leave a comment with details.
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