When you put a man in a dress and forbid him from having sex...well...let's just say priests molesting people shouldn't surprise anyone. It's time for the Vatican to seriously rethink that ridiculous celibacy requirement for clergy. It's also time to resurrect an old post.
A Bavarian Gandalf in Hillbilly Country
Among washhouses that have been converted into cathedrals, Bishop Karl Pruter's
Cathedral of The Prince of Peace in the Missouri Ozarks is, if not the only one, definitely the smallest.
Listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Smallest Cathedral, the little building Pruter presides over sits in his yard, on a street lined with homes much like his; older, a little run-down, most with chain link fencing and some with chickens in the yards.
Father Karl, or Bishop Karl, or just Karl if you prefer, happily takes any visitor on a tour of his house of worship in the little hamlet of Highlandville. A tree-covered town with less than a thousand inhabitants, Highlandville is easily missed by the travelers headed to Branson, just 15 miles south. Signs directing you to The Cathedral of The Prince of Peace are few and crude, and Karl’s quick tour will begin whenever someone shows up and rings his doorbell.
It takes about a minute to gather in all there is to see within the Cathedral. Karl, like some modern-day Gandalf in gray beard and purple cleric’s shirt, will show you the six pews that might seat two-a-piece if required, the cabinet that stores an urn with his first wife’s ashes, the stained glass window, and the few icons that line the walls.
The first question most visitors will have for Karl is, “How can you be married and be a Bishop?” Pruter belongs to the Christ Catholic Church, a sect within Catholicism that broke from Rome around 1061. His sect allows marriage for its clergy, and Karl is quick to point to one of his favorite icons, picturing St. Peter. Standing alongside St. Peter is his wife.
“That’s to remind my visitors that the first Pope was married,” Karl says with a chuckle in his rich voice. He gives the appearance of being up to something, like he knows a big secret. The old man is hard not to like at first meeting as his blue eyes sparkle and his unruly white hair disobeys his comb.
The little propane heater fills the room with almost too much warmth. The old rock washhouse was built over a hundred years ago and converted into a cathedral by Pruter in 1984, after a lifetime of travel, teaching, and ministering in the US and in Bavaria.
Now 82, Karl gets around like a much younger man. With a careful rhythm, he pulls the rope that rings the bell that calls the faithful to Mass twice a day. On this particular morning, I was the only one in the congregation, but Karl proceeded as if he were preaching for a thousand. In full priest’s robes, incense, and without assistance, Bishop Karl conducts a full 45 minute Mass for one. His homily was simple and reflected the brand of Christianity he has studied, written about, and propagated; Christian Mysticism.
Put simply, Christian Mysticism allows for “experiential” knowledge of the Divine. It is the practice of a quiet and simple life, not unlike that of a monk, where contemplation is stressed and knowledge of God comes from “…spending time with Him,” Karl says matter of factly. “The value of theology to Christianity is overrated,” says Pruter as he ticks off a list of well known Saints who were Mystics, “St. Augustine, St. John of The Cross, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Father Merton, St. Ignatius, Meister Eckert.”
Karl likes to point to one of his favorite paintings to illustrate just what Christian Mysticism is about. Hanging on the back wall is “The Back of Christ,” a painting that depicts Jesus walking away from the viewer.
“Because we follow Him,” Pruter says.
In the Garden of Saints, a farm field that Karl has mowed paths through, one gets a sense of the quiet life he espouses. Lined with classic Catholic statuary, Karl invites his visitors to take their time in the field and ring his doorbell when they get back.
Karl teaches religion at a local community college two nights a week and his wife works at a hospital in Springfield. On this afternoon, I am invited into his home to enjoy lunch with him and Mark, one of his five sons. Chili is served with fresh baked bread. Karl has a St. Pauli Girl beer with his chili while Mark and I request water.
“Good,” Karl laughs, “it’s my last beer!”
Karl attributes his Bavarian background and having spent so much time in Europe to his relatively lenient view on alcoholic beverages and believes that the American Christian taboo regarding alcohol is primarily cultural. On this subject, he tells the story of being approached by government authorities in Bavaria on suspicion of child abuse. A neighbor had seen Karl and his wife giving one of their infant sons water instead of beer and promptly notified the local officials of the “neglect.”
Mark and I enjoy a smoke on the porch of Karl's parsonage after lunch. Never once does Karl comment on the sin of tobacco or the evils of smoking. I do not feel judged in his presence, as I have so often felt in the presence of "men of the cloth."
A prolific author with “about eight more books to write in my lifetime,” Karl actually looks like the kind of saint he has sought to be; at peace, calm, full of love for the poor and seeking. He believes in practicing his faith rather than talking about it. He, like the Mystics he seeks to model his faith after, doesn’t want his religion to be reserved for church time, but rather to live it at all times.
“The way it’s supposed to be,” Karl smiles.
A final visit to the cathedral before I leave has me looking at the cabinet that holds the urn of his first wife’s ashes. A plaque is inscribed with the dates of his wife’s life. The plaque also says “Karl Pruter, 1920 – 2020.” I question him on this and with his Gandalf smile and husky baritone he replies, “I’m an optimist.”
Ring his bell and spend some time with Bishop Karl Pruter the next time you head toward Branson. The Cathedral of The Prince of Peace, the World’s Smallest Cathedral, is likely holding one of the world’s biggest secrets.
Addendum: The World's Smallest Cathedral property was purchased in 2005 by Larry & Darlene Jackson. They currently live in the old house next to the cathedral. They have developed the surrounding acreage into a housing subdivision called Cathedral Estates. Bishop Karl Pruter moved to Colorado and not long after, passed away. He went peacefully on a Sunday evening in November of 2007. His wife was with him at the time of his passing.
Labels: catholic church, Christians, church scandal, hypocrisy, Missouri, ozarks, pope, Pope Benedict, religion, sex, worlds smallest cathedral