It felt like a punch to my gut to hear that there may be a scene in the upcoming Padre Pio movie where Shia LaBeouf in his role as Padre Pio curses a woman out of the confessional. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that Shia has become Catholic, and it is an occasion of great joy. I was, however, a bit troubled to hear Shia sounding quite sure that Pio cursed in the confessional when he was interviewed by Bishop Barron, but I thought this might be a misapprehension, not a description of a scene from the movie. I have not seen the movie, however, and I hope it is not the case that by “curse” they mean that Pio used foul language or blasphemed. Not a few people have been asking me, “Well, did Pio ever curse?” The answer is a simple no; Pio never cursed in the confessional and there is no record of him ever cursing in the entire 81 years of his life from his birth in 1887 to his death in 1968. As I will illustrate, when he was a little boy, his mama took pains to ensure her son never cursed. Later when he was an ordained priest, Pio did use colorful insults that he directed at certain penitents when they knelt before him, but there was always extremely good reason, in fact, on at least one occasion he shouted an insult to save a life.
In Southern Italy of the 1890s, the time when Pio was a young boy, cursing and blasphemy were – on occasion – a deplorable part of life, sometimes people prayed fervently and when their prayer went unanswered they blasphemed in public. Pio was then called “Franci” (Fran’chee). His mother, Giuseppa Forgione had a habit that when she heard a blasphemy or foul language, she dropped to her knees in her gleaming white dress and said aloud, “Blessed be God!” This act of reparation was a rebuke to the person who had cursed in her company and it could have won her enemies, but she did it anyway. She was never so strict a mother as when she was making sure her boy Franci did not curse and she solemnly instructed him to leave the presence of anyone who cursed or blasphemed regardless of who they were. Irrespective of human respect.
The Scocca family were the closest family friends that the Forgione’s had, and both families were very interdependent. Franci’s best buddy during childhood was Mercurio Scocca, and one day they were both shepherding their sheep, and when they got bored, they started a game of wrestling. While both boys tried to pin the other to the ground, Mercurio cursed, and instantly Franci leapt up and fled. This could have led to the Scocca family feeling insulted (had they been narcissistic they would have resented little Franci for being so upset at Mercurio for cursing), but instead it impressed upon young Mercurio that cursing and blaspheming were horrid sins.
Giuseppa was more disturbed by blasphemy and more severe with her children about it than any other wrong-doing. She felt it worse than criminality and she was easier on criminals than on blasphemers. Her little boy Franci was the child for whom cursing was a child.
When he was an ordained priest, Pio saw that the devil was close to those who blaspheme and curse – he knew this because he saw satan linger intently by someone who used profanity against God. This marries with the revelation given Sr Mary of Saint Peter who was shown that satan himself leads the souls who blaspheme. Taking Pio at his word, and assuming that he is portrayed as one who cursed in a movie, then this is an errant portrait of Pio as one under the sway of the demonic.
But while he never cursed, Pio could be combustible in the confessional. As a young priest, when he was newly famous and hearing confessions for 19 hours a day, he lamented to his spiritual director that he did lose control of his temper. These outbursts did humble the young Pio, however, because he felt his human weakness and thus had more empathy with sinners. But a moment of anger is altogether different to an occasion of cursing and/or blasphemy. For one thing, Pio did not mean to lose his temper and he was sorely sorry afterwards and contrite. More to the point, when Pio used cross words these were not blasphemies or curses. It is lamentable that Pio’s angrily spoken reprimands could be thought the same as blasphemy or cursing.
There was a time when his anger was righteous – and he threw out a man who was plotting to murder his wife with the words – “Go away, go away! Go away! Don’t you know that it’s forbidden to kill somebody?” Other times Pio employed carefully crafted rebukes. There was the time he called an adulterer – a husband who was cheating on his wife – a “litterbug”. This pointed to the filth of the man’s sin when he was entertaining two women – his long-suffering wife at home and the other woman. This man had the reputation of holiness but his private life was so sordid that he was spoiling lives with the trash of his infidelity as well as giving woeful bad example to other husbands.
There was one intriguing occasion when Padre Pio shouted an insult at a most beloved disciple, Mary Pyle. One day, when Mary knelt before Pio to confess, he shouted so everyone could hear, “SCIAGURATA!” This means, “Wretched one”, and yet it was so hard to fathom why Pio would offend dear Mary Pyle this way, and why he was so intent that the other women waiting to confess would hear him. Mary Pyle was born in Manhattan, and was a wealthy heiress who came to live by Padre Pio and gave away most of her inheritance to good causes, including building a seminary in Pio’s hometown of Pietrelcina. But the time that Pio shouted an undeserved insult at her was in 1933. His “imprisonment” had just ended; that time of 2 years when he had been locked away, forbidden from hearing confessions and only allowed to say a private daily Mass that none of the faithful could attend. Most unfortunately for Mary Pyle, she had come in for some unfair blame during the 2 year suppression of Pio’s ministry, and some local women thought she had helped to cause Pio’s persecution. She was also the object of much jealousy. Later, Pio explained to Mary why he had maligned her in front of the women who had unjustly blamed her, “Some of these women would have killed you, because of the terrible resentment of you that they had in their hearts.”
[This post was informed by Ruffin’s Padre Pio, The True Story, and The Golden Arrow which is available at the Spirit Daily bookstore and Frank M. Rega’s Padre Pio and America which is available at Tan Books. ]