John Paul II hates Jeremy Pechanec. On February 22nd, right around 2:30 a.m., the 28-year-old Pechanec was shot in the back of the head in what some have speculated was a drug deal gone awry. He was left brain-dead, lying on the sidewalk in the middle of downtown Cleveland, just a few steps from the bar where he’d been drinking. (The bar is called “Scorchers,” and makes a tidy profit off its “Wicked” wings — evocative word choices that may explain the late Pontiff’s antipathy.) Over the next several days, Pechanec’s organs were harvested and his unusuable remains interred. The deceased Pope, despite his plain interest in securing a swift beatification and canonization, did nothing.
But there was a man kneeling next to Jeremy Pechanec when he was executed, gang-land style, on that ugly winter’s morn. Pechanec’s friend, Jory Aebly, was shot as well. The bullet shattered his skull and whizzed through two hemispheres of gray matter before coming to rest against the interior of his forehead. According to EWTN — “The Global Catholic Network”— Aebly’s injuries were “non-survivable.” (Though according to a local news channel’s dispatch from the day of the shooting, Aebly was doing “better than expected” from the moment he arrived at the hospital.)
Aebly’s doctors at Cleveland’s MetroHealth medical complex, including neurosurgeon Robert Geertman, could not operate. Too much brain in the way. Too many bits of bullet floating around the noggin. Of course, these concerns meant little to MetroHealth’s Catholic chaplain, Fr. Art Nedeker. Nedeker administered The Sacrament of The Sick, and beseeched the dead Pontiff to pray on the young man’s behalf. And — and this is the salient bit — as Aebly lay unconscious in his hospital bed, Nedeker gave him a rosary that had previously been blessed by Pope John Paul II, back when John Paul II was still corporeal. According to EWTN, Aebly’s condition “consistently improved” thereafter. By Thursday the 26th, Aebly was speaking and interacting with his medical staff and family.
“I stand before you today and can say, to my mind, that Jory is a miracle,” said Fr. Nedeker, in a press conference announcing Aebly’s release from the hospital on March 31st. Said Dr. Geertman, “It’s one in a million.” The Catholic press, which has been falling all over itself in an orgy of smug self-congratulation ever since Aebly’s discharge, consistently fails to report Geertman’s next sentence: “If [the bullet’s] off another centimeter, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” This is a curious omission, one by which we may gauge Catholic publishers’ understanding of their readers’ credulity. To wit: dead Popes may, on occasion, magically heal brain injuries, but Papal manipulation of bullets via postmortem telekinesis is ridiculous.
Due to the obvious supernatural overtones of Aebly’s swift recovery, the Holy See has sworn to investigate. Even now, professional servants of God may be hard at work in Cleveland, attempting to ascertain whether Aebly’s recovery was a genuine miracle or just dumb, blind luck. This is of some concern to John Paul II. Depending on their type, two, three, or four miracles must be ascribed to a believer before s/he may be beatified, and John Paul II is still two miracles away.
Which brings us back to the original question. Why does the dead Pontiff hate Jeremy Pechanec? Why would the erstwhile Pope postpone his own inevitable beatification and canonization by electing to help only one of the wounded boys, when he could just as easily have expedited things with a twofer? Nedeker’s explanation — that there was only one blessed rosary available* — feels somehow inadequate.
When Swift came calling, Dr. Geertman was unavailable for comment. (Stay tuned.) But one spunky hospital worker, who asked to remain nameless, was quite forthcoming. Asked whether she believed Aebly’s recovery was the work of the dead Pontiff, she laughed. “Hell no!” she said. I hope the Catholic investigators will log her reply and give it due consideration. She is a professional, after all.
Recent news on Aebly’s status has been hard to come by, but we may assume that the extent of his recovery will be unknown for some time. Whether he fares well or poorly — and I certainly hope for the former, though I’ll stop short of praying for it — the headlines he attracted will have done their work. This grim episode of his life will be gleefully remembered by the faithful as a supreme vindication of their faith. They will not remember Jeremy Pechanec at all.
Brandon K. Thorp is a theater critic with Village Voice Media, and a frequent contributor to South Florida’s NPR affiliate station, WLRN.
* Actually, Fr. Nedeker didn’t say that, nor would he. He’d dodge the question. Because any honest accounting of God’s usual laissez faire approach to the world’s random violence and cruelty inevitably opens up a whole army of uncomfortable questions re: the nature of divine will and intervention, none of which have ever been adequately answered by the pious. One thing’s for sure: If this thing is confirmed as a miracle, it means that the God of the Vatican is so capricious that he would allow the life or death of a young man to hang in the balance of a chaplain’s decision to give away a particular rosary, and that he interceded on Aebly’s behalf, as opposed to Pechanec’s, primarily to bring glory to a dead Pole in a funny hat. There is an element of vanity here — an impulse against which the Bible contains countless prohibitions, and to which the Vatican long ago acquiesced. - BKT