Ever since he first learned of a local satanic group’s plans to use a public theater to perform a "black mass," Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City has been urging public officials to cancel the event and asking Catholics to pray for that intention.
He has been unsuccessful, and this Sunday, the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu will take to the stage in an 88-seat theater within the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall to reenact a ritual that is an inversion of the Catholic Mass. Though they were forced to hand over what they claimed was a consecrated Host, which they planned to desecrate during the ritual, the sect still plans to perform their own version of a "consecration" over a substitute "host," as well as a "Satanic Exorcism."
Outside, groups opposed to the use of public space for this event will be praying and protesting. Archbishop Coakley will be leading a prayer vigil several hours earlier at an Oklahoma City church.
Aleteia spoke with Archbishop Coakley Friday about his attempts to keep the black mass out of Oklahoma City and to strengthen his flock through prayer.
This year, we’ve seen attempts to perform the black mass for the public in two places—at Harvard University and in Oklahoma City. We see a group called the Satanic Temple attempting to install a statue at the Oklahoma State capitol and the same organization announcing that it will open 15 chapters nationwide. In your view, is there a rise in Satanic activity? If so, what accounts for it?
There certainly seems to be a new boldness among satanic groups in that they’re coming out of the shadows, which is where they’ve been very comfortable dwelling up until now, and displaying a much more public face. I’d never heard of a public black mass before the event that was scheduled at Harvard, only to be followed by the one here in Oklahoma City.
So there certaily seems to be an increase in public satanic activity; whether that indicates that there is more satanic activity, I don’t know. it could well be with the rise of secularism and the growing fashionable nature of atheism these days. It kind of leaves the door open to this kind of interest or curiosity and influence.
Going back to this summer, as this story was developing, can you tell me about your negotiations with city officials when you were trying to convince them to cancel this event? What was each side’s basic position, and why did they not seem to get it that this sort of thing is deeply offensive to Catholics?
In my conversation with our city officials, they indicated that they found the event deeply offensive as well. Though none of them around the table were Catholic, they found that this was offensive to all Christians.
But as their justification for doing nothing to stop it, they indicated that they were bound by the Constitution, bound by their own by-laws, the fact that the city had to remain neutral about the kinds of programming that would take place in a public facility.
The bottom line was that they were afraid of a lawsuit, and that they were not willing to risk a lawsuit and the costs to taxpayers to defend a lawsuit, which they felt was unwinnable.
As they appeal to the First Amendment, so might also the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu, so might also the Satanic Temple, which wants to install a statue of Baphomet at the state capitol. Is it a challenge for you, to come up with an argument that trumps an appeal to the Constitution, to religious liberty?
For one thing, I think there are other regulations restricting what can be placed on the steps of the state capitol. There are all kinds of codes, and I think anybody who wants to can’t come along and place the monument of their choice there. I think they permitted the Ten Commandments to be placed there because the capitol is the place where lawmakers make laws, and the Ten Commandments are a set of laws, so it had a certain fittingness, whereas there’s nothing fitting or appropriate between a statue of Satan and what takes place within the capitol.
So personally, I don’t think that’s going to ever go anywhere.
But we’re not responding to the black mass performance in terms of religious liberty. They will be doing their satanic rituals in the future as they have in the past—and I suppose they have a right to do that—but the nature of this black mass, in my view, is that it is not authentic religion; it’s really more akin to hate speech. It’s a direct attack upon the Christian faith and the Catholic Mass and the Eucharist. It’s deliberately intended to inflame and incite, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a form of speech that is appropriate for a public venue. Not all speech is protected speech. If, for example, a group had desired to come and rent this same facility for the purpose of burning the Quran or lighting a cross in a racist, Ku Klux Klan sort of demonstration, or somehow committing anti-Semitic acts, I think the city likely would have found a reason to prevent that. Not all speech is protected speech.
But there seems to be perhaps a double standard being applied here that we don’t recognize—that the black mass is equally offensive to Catholics and to Christians. That’s a great cause of concern. That was an argument we tried to make to our city leaders.
With this "Dakhma of Angra Mainyu" present in town, and with its leader, Adam Daniels’ claim to have had a consecrated Host, have you been worried about possible theft of the Eucharist from any of your churches, and have you asked priests to take extra care that someone, say, receiving Communion by hand might walk off with the Host? Have any extra steps been taken to safeguard the Eucharist?
Yes, of course, I have asked our priests to work with their deacons and any extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, and to ensure that they were exercising special vigilance in light of the fact that a satanic group had somehow acquired, illicitly, a consecrated Host, to ensure that there were special safeguards that assure us that those who receive Communion in whatever way, on the hand in particular, are in fact consuming the Host.
What became of the Host that Daniels was forced to return?
Very often with what might happen with a Host that is dropped or if somebody gets sick after having received Communion, there are procedures in place for reverent and proper ways to dispose of the Host, through the use of the sacrarium at the church. So that’s what I did with the consecrated Host that we had received. I treated it with reverence and respect and honor and placed it in the sacrarium, so that it was taken care of in a proper manner.
Could you discuss what effects this whole episode has had on the faithful in your archdiocese? What are some of the things people are saying about a deepening understanding of the reality of sin and evil, perhaps, or the importance of living a prayerful, sacramental life?
I think there have been good fruits. It’s kind of galvanized our Catholic community and our ecumenical relations here in Oklahoma. We Catholics are a very small minority of the population, and it’s certainly brought particular attention to our Catholic faith, particularly our faith in the Eucharist and how important that is to us, the mystery of the Real Presence. It’s given us an opportunity to talk about that and to preach and to teach about that. We’ve been conducting holy hours in all of our parishes. So it’s certainly given us an opportunity to have a bit more of a public witness in our community. Our Catholic people have certainly learned the Prayer to St. Michael if they had not learned it previously, because that’s been prayed at all of our Masses over the last couple of months.
So it has been an opportunity to be a little more up front about our Catholic faith. I’ve heard anecdotally about people who have read about our Catholic beliefs, particularly in the Real Presence, who have expressed an interest in learning more about that. The very lawsuit that was filed to regain possession of the illicitly-acquired Host talked about transubstantiation in the legal briefs. So we’ve had opportunities to talk about our faith that we might not otherwise have had.
So I think ultimately there’s been plenty of good fruit. People have been praying; people have been spending time before the Blessed Sacrament. We trust that God will bring good out of this.
Could you share with us some of your thoughts and feelings about this satanic sect in your city, particularly its leader, Adam Daniels?
I’ve not met Mr. Daniels. Perhaps I’ll have an occasion to do that in the future, but I’ve been praying for him, for his conversion. I don’t think it’s a large sect, but they’ve certainly let their presence be known. I think they have sought attention and they have received attention from this. For the future I’m not sure if we’re going to hear more from them or not but will certainly be prepared to respond appropriately if this sort of event presents itself again. I think we’ll certainly be more vigilant and more intentional in the future.
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.