Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pro Life Confusion

Archbishop Burke has spoken out about how the confusion caused by the election document put out by the US Conference of Bishops partially contributed to the election of the current president, an avowed supporter of abortion on demand.

This muddying of the waters of Catholic doctrine by Bishops whose call is to teach it, is not new, with results that continue to cause great harm to human life, supporting—by not clearly opposing—the great evil of abortion.

This confusion around the ancient teaching of the Church has also been exhibited by the same conference of Bishops around capital punishment by calling for its abolishment, in clear contradiction to the ancient tradition of the Church which has always supported it.

An excerpt.

“Archbishop Raymond Burke, the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, named a document on the election produced by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops that he said “led to confusion” among the faithful and led ultimately to massive support among Catholics for Barack Obama.

“The US bishops’ document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” stated that, under certain circumstances, a Catholic could in good conscience vote for a candidate who supports abortion because of "other grave reasons," as long as they do not intend to support that pro-abortion position.

“Archbishop Burke, the former Archbishop of St. Louis Mo. and recently appointed head of the highest ecclesiastical court in the Catholic Church, told that although “there were a greater number of bishops who spoke up very clearly and firmly ... there was also a number who did not.”

“But most damaging, he said, was the document “Faithful Citizenship” that “led to confusion” among the voting Catholic population.

“While it stated that the issue of life was the first and most important issue, it went on in some specific areas to say ‘but there are other issues’ that are of comparable importance without making necessary distinctions.”

“Archbishop Burke, citing an article by a priest and ethics expert of St. Louis archdiocese, Msgr. Kevin McMahon, who analysed how the bishops’ document actually contributed to the election of Obama, called its proposal “a kind of false thinking, that says, ‘there’s the evil of taking an innocent and defenceless human life but there are other evils and they’re worthy of equal consideration.’

“But they’re not. The economic situation, or opposition to the war in Iraq, or whatever it may be, those things don’t rise to the same level as something that is always and everywhere evil, namely the killing of innocent and defenceless human life.”

Friday, January 30, 2009

Economics, Graduate Level

This is an excellent article from a professor at the Catholic University of America, which takes a very deep look at the current economic crisis from a historical viewpoint.

The gist is that we allowed the financial sector to become too com0plicated for anyone to understand and though tremendous amounts of money were made by its top people, now much larger sums are being lost by everyone else as we try to rebalance our national economy with its global connections.

I worked in the financial sector for a few years and remember the excitement as Wall Street leaders reshaped the institutions—very bad move from the hindsight of today— that had kept us relatively safe since the depression; and it is because we know so much about how it has happened, as this article—one of many—reveals, we also know how to get out of it and appear to be going in the right direction to do so.

An excerpt.

“The history of socialism is the history of failure—and so is the history of capitalism, but in a different sense. For the history of socialism is one of fundamental failure, a failure to provide incentives and an inability to coordinate information about supply and effective demand. The history of capitalism, by contrast, is the history of dialectical failure: it is a history of the creation of new institutions and practices that may be successful, even transformative for a while, but which eventually prove dysfunctional, either because their intrinsic weaknesses become more evident over time or because of a change in external circumstances. Historically, these institutional failures have led to two reactions. They lead to governmental attempts to reform corporate and financial institutions, through changes in law and regulation (such as limited liability laws, creation of the FDIC, the SEC, etc.). They also lead market institutions to reform themselves, as investors and managers learn what forms of organization and which practices are dysfunctional. The history of capitalism, then, is the history of success through dialectical failure.

“History rarely repeats itself. There are some standard patterns in economic recessions, but major recessions are characterized by something novel. If only this were not the case: economists have devoted a great deal of attention to learning the lessons of the Great Depression that began in 1929, not least Ben Bernanke. As a result, we are unlikely to make the errors of monetary policy made by the Fed in that era (of tightening money when it should have been loosened); or the errors of fiscal policy made by the Treasury (such as raising taxes when they should have been lowered); or the errors of ideological tone made during the 1930s, when anticapitalist rhetoric frightened many potential investors from making new investments. In all of these respects, we have learned from the past.

“Unfortunately, initial conditions are too different from case to case to simply apply some historical template that would permit us to fully understand what is currently happening, let alone how to deal with it. Instead of explaining why this recession (or depression) is just like the others, we should attend to what is new and especially problematic about the current downturn and why it may not respond to policies modeled on avoiding the errors of the past.

“What is old and what is new in the current economic downturn? Major recessions typically begin with a rapid change of prices in the market for some asset or commodity; that price decline then affects financial institutions (banks), leading to a decline in the availability of credit, and then to a decline in commercial activity. Usually, then, localized crises in capitalist societies are reflected in the financial sector. When the crisis reaches the financial sector, it becomes a more general crisis.

“This time, too, there is an underlying commodity bubble, namely in housing. But it has had much wider ramifications, because financial institutions have become interconnected in two unprecedented ways. First, once distinct financial services became interconnected: banking, credit, insurance, and the trading of derivatives have become interlinked because they are conducted by the same companies. Second, financial institutions are more connected across national borders, so that there are entities across the globe that invested in toxic American-made instruments and are suffering as a result (including municipalities in Norway that invested tax revenues in American collateralized debt obligations, now worth 15 percent of their face value).”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Criminal Control of Government

This has been an issue throughout history and during the past couple of centuries that control has largely gone underground—at least in the first world nations—exerting its influence though relationships and political influence; with the direct control through violence largely relegated to those third world countries locked away in the darkness.

The situation in Mexico has become different, and this article from the Wall Street Journal examines it.

An excerpt.

“A murder in the Mexican state of Chihuahua last week horrified even hardened crime stoppers. Police Commander Martin Castro's head was severed and left in an ice cooler in front of the police station in the town of Praxedis with a calling card from the Sinoloa drug cartel.

“According to Mexico's attorney general, 6,616 people died in drug-trafficking violence in Mexico last year. A high percentage of those killed were themselves criminals, but many law enforcement agents battling organized crime were also murdered. The carnage continues. For the first 22 days of this year the body count is 354.

“President Felipe Calderón began an assault on organized crime shortly after he took office in December 2006. It soon became apparent that the cartels would stop at nothing to preserve their operations, and that a state commitment to confrontation meant that violence would escalate.

“As bad as the violence is, it could get worse, and it is becoming clear that the U.S. faces contagion. In recent months, several important American voices have raised concerns about the risks north of the border. This means there is hope that the U.S. may begin to recognize the connection between American demand for prohibited substances and the rising instability in Mexico.

“The brutality of the traffickers is imponderable for most Americans. Commander Castro was not the first Mexican to be beheaded. It is an increasingly popular terror tactic. Last month, eight soldiers and a state police chief were found decapitated in the state of Guerrero.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Catholic Schools & President Obama

I did not know that our new president attended Catholic schools when young, and during this Catholic School Week when many schools are struggling but continue to provide excellent education, that experience may be helpful, as this Wall Street Journal article notes.

In our area a Catholic high school, Loretto, just closed, which has been here for over 50 years.

An excerpt from the WSJ article.

“Of the many parallels between Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy, one has eluded all coverage: Both attended Catholic school as children. In fact, while JFK may have been the Irish Catholic from Boston, he spent less time at the Canterbury School in Connecticut than did young Barry (as he was then called) at St. Francis of Assisi in Indonesia.

“At a time when America's 6,165 Catholic elementary and 1,213 secondary schools are celebrating Catholic Schools Week, President Obama's first-hand experience here opens the door to a provocative opportunity. In his inaugural address, the president rightly scored a U.S. school system that "fail[s] too many" of our young people. How refreshing it would be if he followed up by giving voice to a corollary truth: For tens of thousands of inner-city families, the local parochial school is often the only lifeline of hope.

"When an inner-city public school does what most Catholic schools do every day, it makes the headlines," says Patrick J. McCloskey, author of a new book called "The Street Stops Here," about the year he spent at Rice High -- an Irish Christian Brothers school in Harlem. "President Obama has a chance to rise above the ideological divide simply by giving credit where credit is due, by focusing on results, and the reason for those results."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Belloc on Christian Battles

Hilaire Belloc was a wonderful writer and his histories simply explain so much that can be complicated by an over-intellectual slant to it. This chapter excerpt from one of his many books, The Battleground: Syria and the Seed-plot of Religion, examining the impact of Christianity upon the world is marvelous.

Sometimes, as horrible as it is, it just takes a war.

An excerpt from the chapter posted on Ignatius Insight.

“Almost every force has been called in to explain this and that in the past-except the force of doctrine: dogma. Race has been appealed to; economic circumstance; military circumstance (certainly more important than the other two) has been appealed to, and the chief rôle has been given (by those who understand and value a decisive victory) to the fact that men were what they were because of this and that battle.

“All these forces have their place in the story of change, but until quite lately the supreme factor of religious conflict has not been understood. It has puzzled and it has irritated, so that commonly it has been dismissed. Yet supreme it is.

“The central thing in the business of Europe is the Doctrine of the Incarnation: the affirmation that God had appeared among men, and the denial thereof. From the first public announcement of that affirmation about A.D. 29-33, it has been the main issue dividing all men of the Graeco-Roman world, moulding and unmoulding our society.

“Constantine had established his peace, he had founded his new city, he was prepared (from A.D. 325) to administer vigorously and with justice a united, orderly, permanently established society, when he found himself at the outset confronted by a storm within that world which took him by surprise, puzzled, and exasperated him. The magnitude of it he at last perceived, though he could not understand why it should be so great--and by the time he died it was the main issue in the world over which his successors were called to rule.

“This storm had arisen on the fundamental question of Our Lord's Divinity.

“Let there be no error; the question is fundamental not only to that time but to our own. It remains the root question for those who ridicule the doctrine, for those who are indifferent to it, and for those who would defend it. With Jesus Christ as God incarnate there is one view of the world. With Jesus Christ as a Prophet, a model, or a myth, there is another: and the one view is mortal enemy to the other. The meat of the one is poison to the other.

“The point in that early day was this:

“There had been presented before the world by this new thing, the Christian Church--this Ecclesia, this new society which had permeated and at last transmuted our civilisation--a compact set of doctrine and morals and a whole way of living dependent on those doctrines and morals.

“There had arisen in Syria and spread throughout the civilised world, even into the East (where it was being persecuted and would ultimately be crushed), all over the West from the Euphrates to the Atlantic (where it had triumphed), a Christian society into which men became compact. It took some time to amalgamate the millions of the Greco-Roman world into that body. For two lifetimes at least after Constantine there remained recalcitrant exceptions; but anyhow, the New Thing had, by 325, won.

“It had changed the values of human action, and the nature of social life. Despair, which the old pagan civilisation universally admitted, from which it turned away its eyes by following pleasure on the one hand, however shameful, or honour on the other, however sterile; despair, Epicurean or Stoic, was, by the Christian hope, denied its empire. Not only was man immortal, as the wisest of men had long known, not only was he possessed of human dignity, as all the pagan world well knew, not only were slave or freeman, millionaire or pauper, equal in essence; but men (said this new authority, the Church) are destined to Beatitude.”

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hope & Pope Benedict

The path to faith takes many forms, even intellectual, but in the end it is the child-like wonder at discovery of something that your entire being resonates with as supremely good—total love—and it is that we strive for, though striving too hard renders the search meaningless.

Tracy Rowland, writing on the theme of hope in Communio (requires subscription), notes:

“This notion of the need for childlike receptivity to the work of the Holy Spirit steers the Catholic faith away from the tendency, so strong in pre-conciliar Thomism, to present the faith as an intellectual system requiring mostly sound philosophical foundations for its comprehension. While not dismissing the need for sound philosophy, in both of his encyclicals Pope Benedict has emphasized the more personalist or affective dimensions of the act of comprehension. In Spe salvi he adds to this accent on the response of the human heart to God, the theme that love transcends time: the saints’ “way of acting and living is de facto a ‘proof’ that the things to come, the promise of Christ, are not only a reality that we await, but a real presence.” (#8) We believe not only because something is logically coherent but because we have seen the beliefs embodied in the practices of the lives of the saints whose love for others is what makes belief plausible and persuasive and even compelling.”

(Variations on the Theme of Christian Hope in the Work of Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, Communio International Catholic Review, Volume XXXV Number 2, Summer 2008, p. 206.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Roe vs Wade & Fr. Neuhaus

January 22 was the anniversary of Roe vs Wade and the beginning of the American fight to protect the life of the most innocent human beings, and one of its greatest warriors, the recently deceased Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, delivered this speech to the July 8, 2008 meeting of the National Right to Life Convention.

First Things will run this speech every year which is a very good thing.

An excerpt.

“We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.

“Against the encroaching shadows of the culture of death, against forces commanding immense power and wealth, against the perverse doctrine that a woman’s dignity depends upon her right to destroy her child, against what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of the present time, this convention renews our resolve that we shall not weary, we shall not rest, until the culture of life is reflected in the rule of law and lived in the law of love.

“It has been a long journey, and there are still miles and miles to go. Some say it started with the notorious Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 when, by what Justice Byron White called an act of raw judicial power, the Supreme Court wiped from the books of all fifty states every law protecting the unborn child. But it goes back long before that. Some say it started with the agitation for “liberalized abortion law” in the 1960s when the novel doctrine was proposed that a woman cannot be fulfilled unless she has the right to destroy her child. But it goes back long before that. It goes back to the movements for eugenics and racial and ideological cleansing of the last century.

“Whether led by enlightened liberals, such as Margaret Sanger, or brutal totalitarians, whose names live in infamy, the doctrine and the practice was that some people stood in the way of progress and were therefore non-persons, living, as it was said, “lives unworthy of life.” But it goes back even before that. It goes back to the institution of slavery in which human beings were declared to be chattel property to be bought and sold and used and discarded at the whim of their masters. It goes way on back.

“As Pope John Paul the Great wrote in his historic message Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life) the culture of death goes all the way back to that fateful afternoon when Cain struck down his brother Abel, and the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And Cain answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said to Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” The voice of the blood of brothers and sisters beyond numbering cry out from the slave ships and battlegrounds and concentration camps and torture chambers of the past and the present. The voice of the blood of the innocents cries out from the abortuaries and sophisticated biotech laboratories of this beloved country today. Contending for the culture of life has been a very long journey, and there are still miles and miles to go.

“The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed. I expect many of us here, perhaps most of us here, can remember when we were first encountered by the idea. For me, it was in the 1960s when I was pastor of a very poor, very black, inner city parish in Brooklyn, New York. I had read that week an article by Ashley Montagu of Princeton University on what he called “A Life Worth Living.” He listed the qualifications for a life worth living: good health, a stable family, economic security, educational opportunity, the prospect of a satisfying career to realize the fullness of one’s potential. These were among the measures of what was called “a life worth living.”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Another Jesuit Controversy

The Jesuits are one of the great orders of the Church, whose universal work is very congruent with the Lampstand apostolate, and an order with which I have a particular fondness.

I belong to a Jesuit parish, graduated from a Jesuit college and constantly study the works of the great Jesuits, including Fr. Rodger Charles, Fr. John Hardon, and Avery Cardinal Dulles, yet the fairly recent tendency of some of its leading theological lights to come into open conflict with the Church regarding doctrine is of continual dismay.

The latest case is presented by Chisea.

An excerpt.

“ROMA, January 22, 2009 – Roger Haight, 72, a theologian, belongs to the Society of Jesus. But the Jesus of his writings is too far from the one proclaimed in the Creed, in the judgment of the Vatican authorities who keep watch over correct doctrine.

“Previously, on December 13, 2004, the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, headed at the time by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued a notification condemning some of the ideas that Haight had expressed in a book published five years earlier, "Jesus, Symbol of God." It concluded by prohibiting the Jesuit from "teaching Catholic theology."

“As a result, Haight left his professorship at the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, run by the Jesuits. But he did not stop teaching theology. He moved on to the Union Theological Seminar in New York, a non-Catholic institution founded by the Presbyterians in 1836. Leading Protestant theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich have taught there. Today, it is independent of the control of any individual Christian denomination.

"Haight has also continued to publish books of theology presenting his basic ideas. Two of these in particular are "Christian Community in History," in three volumes, and "The Future of Christology."

“But now the Vatican authorities have again acted against him. They have ordered him to stop teaching theology anywhere, including non-Catholic institutions, and not to publish books and essays on theological subjects. This – as the previous notifications said – will last "until such time as his positions are corrected to be in complete conformity with the doctrine of the Church."

“The new provision dates back to last summer, but it was made public only in January of 2009. Haight has not commented on it.

“The examination of Haight's positions, both this time and before the notification in 2004, was conducted according to the usual procedures. The Vatican congregation for the doctrine of the faith entrusted the case to the superior general of the Society of Jesus, who in turn activated the American province of the Society, to which Haight belongs. He was asked to send clarifications and corrections on points indicated as erroneous. And he did so. But this did not convince his judges to clear him. In 2002, there was even a curious setback. Haight's response arrived at the Vatican after the deadline, and created doubts about its authenticity: it did not seem certain that he had actually been the one who had written it. They sent it back to him demanding that it be returned with his signature on every page.

“The reasons given in support of Haight's condemnation are not insignificant. The 2004 notification lists them meticulously. In the judgment of the Vatican authorities, Haight uses a theological method that subordinates the content of the faith to its acceptability on the part of postmodern culture. And for the objective realities defined by the articles of the Creed, it substitutes symbols.

“The result is the loss of substance of key truths of the Christian faith like the preexistence of the Word, the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, the salvific value of the death of Jesus, the unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of Jesus and of the Church, the resurrection of Jesus. On each of these points, the Vatican notification says how and why Haight contradicts Catholic doctrine.”

Friday, January 23, 2009

Helping Nonprofits That Help Others

The National Council of Nonprofits has called on the new Obama administration to adopt a plan to help the nonprofit community which does so much to help those folks in the community who have fallen on hard times—whether through their own fault or circumstances beyond their control—and it is a pretty good plan.

Here is an excerpt from the press release.

“Washington, DC (Dec. 22, 2008)-Working in close collaboration with its state association members across the country, the National Council of Nonprofits has submitted its recommendations to President-Elect Obama's Transition Team, which had requested the organization's insights regarding ways the federal government can work better with nonprofits.

“To put its recommendations in context, the National Council of Nonprofits' report emphasizes: "The nonprofit sector serves as America's social safety net to provide for people needing basic human services like food, shelter, and health care. Yet that community safety net is unraveling rapidly, straining to endure the additional weight dropping on it from the economy. With more people losing their jobs due to layoffs, losing their homes due to foreclosures, and losing all or a portion of their health insurance due to employers cutting jobs and benefits, the demand for nonprofit services is skyrocketing."

“At the same time, the report continues, "nonprofit revenues are plummeting as foundation assets evaporate, state and local governments cut contracts and freeze reimbursement rates, corporate donations shrink, and individuals suffer financially. The nonprofit sector remains committed to providing as much relief as possible to those in need. However, despite the purest intentions and the strongest dedication, community nonprofits cannot continue to do so much more with so much less for very much longer."

“The report provides an overview of how the economy is harming nonprofits, and cites a projection by noted public service expert Dr. Paul Light that the menacing economy could wipe out as many as 100,000 nonprofits within the next six months. "If that happens," the National Council says, "then many needy people will have no place to turn." Moreover, that will significantly increase the number of jobs lost across the country.

“The National Council of Nonprofits' recommendations include the following:

• Creating within the first 100 days the Social Entrepreneurship Agency for Nonprofits called for in the Obama Plan so it can help strengthen nonprofits-especially community-based organizations, because 93% of all charitable nonprofits have revenue under $1 million.

• Focusing the economic recovery plan "first on maximizing operating budget relief for state and local governments" to prevent additional state operating budget reductions because "future cuts to state and local governments will greatly exacerbate our nation's current economic crisis."

• Establishing a new Community Services Protection Fund to restore "the public/private covenant between governments and nonprofits by investing in nonprofits that perform work that traditionally has been performed and/or funded by government - because past government policies that shifted government human service programs to nonprofits often did so without full payment to provide those services."

• Eliminating the distinction between the Standard Business Mileage Rate (now 58.5 cents per mile) given to corporate and federal employees and the substandard Charitable Mileage Rate (now just 14 cents per mile) for volunteers so there is one rate, set the same way, and treated the same way for tax purposes so volunteer workers helping others are treated the same as paid workers.

• Strengthening democracy by restoring the American people's ability to amplify their voices through nonprofits so the people may participate meaningfully in their government. “

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pope to President

Pope Benedict sent a very nice telegram to President Obama.

The press release.

“VATICAN CITY, 21 JAN 2009 (VIS) - Made public yesterday afternoon was a telegram from Benedict XVI to Barack Obama, congratulating him on his inauguration as forty-fourth president of the United States of America.

“In the English-language telegram the Holy Father offers his "cordial good wishes, together with the assurance of my prayers that Almighty God will grant you unfailing wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high responsibilities.

"Under your leadership", he adds, "may the American people continue to find in their impressive religious and political heritage the spiritual values and ethical principles needed to co-operate in the building of a truly just and free society, marked by respect for the dignity, equality and rights of each of its members, especially the poor, the outcast and those who have no voice.

"At a time when so many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world yearn for liberation from the scourge of poverty, hunger and violence, I pray that you will be confirmed in your resolve to promote understanding, co- operation and peace among the nations, so that all may share in the banquet of life which God wills to set for the whole human family.

“The Pope concludes: "Upon you and your family, and upon all the American people, I willingly invoke the Lord's blessings of joy and peace".

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Assessing the Change

It will be some time before any change that may be emanating from the new president and his administration in the area of criminal justice becomes evident, but we have some hope that the faith based initiative in the criminal justice arena continues.

For the former president, the faith based initiative was the center piece of his work in criminal justice and that is a good place to start for the new administration; and one hopes they stay with it and perhaps even expand it.

The Second Chance Act is the legislative program—not yet funded—that moves the work of prisoner reentry forward and there might be some differences in how it is administered from the new leadership of the Department of Justice.

Here is an excerpt from the Department of Justice about the Second Chance Act.

“The Second Chance Act was signed into law by President Bush on April 9, 2008. While the appropriations have not been officially counted in the Congressional budget, the House has tentatively appropriated $45 million while the Senate has set aside $20 million.

There are currently more than 2 million people serving sentences in federal and state prisons, and 10-12 million people cycling through local jails every year. Ninety-five percent of all prisoners incarcerated today will eventually be released into our communities, and it is important that we provide them with the resources necessary to not be one of the 66 percent of people whom are rearrested within three years. The Second Chance Act will help ensure that the transition from prison or jail to the community is safe and successful.

There are 33 cosponsors in the Senate, including Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), Ranking Judiciary Committee Member Arlen Specter (R-PA), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

“In addition, there are 92 cosponsors in the House, including Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL), Chris Cannon (R-UT), John Conyers (D-MI), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Randy Forbes (R-VA), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

“Key Provisions
Demonstration Grants. Provides grants to states and local governments that may be used to promote the safe and successful reintegration into the community of individuals who have been incarcerated. Allowable uses of funds include employment services, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victims services, and methods to improve release and revocation decisions using risk-assessment tools.

“Mentoring Grants. Provides grants to nonprofit organizations that may be used for mentoring adult offenders or offering transitional services for reintegration into the community.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

King & Neuhaus

A remarkable article about his memories of working with Dr. Martin Luther King, from Fr, Neuhaus, who died earlier this month, written in 2002.

So well summed up in the last paragraph “…God writes straight with crooked lines…” is the remarkable life and thought of Dr. King, whose memory we honor this week and whose legacy is so fittingly fulfilled by the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first black President of the United States.

An excerpt.

“I know it is a fact, but it is nonetheless hard to picture: Had he lived, Martin Luther King, Jr. would now be seventy-three years old. Everybody of a certain age has memories, if only of television images; many were there when he spoke, others marched with him in Selma or Montgomery, and some of us were, albeit intermittently, drawn into his personal orbit. The last I count as one of the many graces of my life, and it no doubt explains why I read, almost compulsively, just about everything published about the man and the time. Now we have Marshall Frady’s Martin Luther King, Jr., the latest volume in the “Penguin Lives” series. It is a valuable addition to the many accounts we have of the man and the movement he led.

“I am in the minority with my admiration for Ralph Abernathy’s 1989 autobiographical account of the movement, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down. Abernathy was beyond doubt closer to King than anyone else. After the assassination, he took King’s place as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), although he knew as well as anyone that he was no Martin Luther King. His book was harshly criticized for its candor about King’s sexual vagaries, but other published accounts had been more explicit on that score. What I think got to many reviewers is that Abernathy refused to toe the line on the leftist ideology of the movement and even, in the early eighties, took a conservative turn, offering some favorable words on, of all people, Ronald Reagan.

“His gravest violation of conventional tellings is that he declined to see black Americans as a victim class oppressed by white racism, or to depict the movement as a response of revolutionary rage. As he told the story, King was a privileged son of the black bourgeoisie of Atlanta and he, Abernathy, was the heir of a tradition of black dignity in a rural Alabama he describes in almost idyllic terms. Abernathy was daringly “incorrect,” and he paid a steep price for it. “Though slavery as an institution was wicked and foreign to the will of our Lord,” he wrote, “it was not uniformly cruel and abusive. Some slaves, in the midst of their degradation, were treated with a measure of Christian charity, just as some prisoners of war have always been treated better than others. In the worst of circumstances, the human heart is still a mysterious variable.”

“His grandparents were slaves, but did not understand themselves to be victims. “In Marengo County during the first half of the twentieth century, the name ‘Abernathy’ meant integrity, responsibility, generosity, and religious commitment—and it came to mean that largely through the life and testimony of the black Abernathys. . . . So I feel no shame in going by a last name to which my father and mother brought such character and dignity. It was their name. They didn’t just borrow it from a long-dead white man. They paid for it with their exemplary lives and therefore owned it outright when they passed it along to me.”

“Abernathy says that as a boy he was aware of racial segregation, but to him and other blacks in Alabama it was no big deal if the white folks wanted to have their own drinking fountains and a separate entrance at the post office. What did rankle is that white folk wouldn’t call his father “Mister.” The demand for white courtesy, and respect for the dignity that black folk knew they possessed—that was the issue in what came to be called the civil rights movement. That was the issue when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a refusal that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott to which Abernathy recruited Martin Luther King, Jr., thus launching them both on a tumultuous course that they could neither anticipate nor control.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Faith Based Reentry

The effort begun by President Bush to have faith based groups work with reentering criminals has issued its final report and from the early results, it looks promising; though there is some question about the selection process which screens out professional criminals; as most professional criminals will have some violent crime—by the definition of violence (robbery is considered violent) used by crime reporting bureaus—on their record.

And if a rehabilitation program is not working with professional criminals, it won't be very effective for very long.

As reported by Ted Gest at Crime & Justice News:

“Participants in a Bush administration prisoner re-entry program had a recidivism rate of only 15 percent, far less than the average 44 percent one year after release, says the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In a final report, the office said that nearly 16,000 people had been helped as of last September, at a cost of $115 million. That is a small fraction of the roughly 700,000prisoners released every year in the nation. The report said that grants went to 73 faith-based organizations and 63 criminal justice agencies.

“Of the roughly 16,000 ex-convicts enrolled in various programs, nearly 11,000 were placed in jobs; others went to educational programs and skills training. The report also discussed the separate federally funded Serious and Violent Offenders Re-entry Initiative, which got $110 million in federal funds. Participants in that program were 15 percent more likely to have a job and 12 percent less likely to test positive for drugs than were non-participants, 15 months after their prison release. Prisoner re-entry programs will be started or expanded under the new federal Second Chance Act, which has not been funded yet by Congress.”

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Catholic Faith Loyalty

The loyalty of the Catholic faithful to the Church is stronger than that of Protestants, according to this report.

That certainly validates my personal experience as a Catholic convert and member of several Protestant communities prior to becoming Catholic; there was just not enough there there in the Protestants to remain loyal to.

With Catholicism, though you may study for a lifetime, the treasures you find within the ancient traditions of the Church will continue to renew your faith; with the Protestants on the other hand, the deeper I studied the flimsier the foundations were revealed to be.

An excerpt.

“Phoenix-based Ellison Research released the results of the poll on Monday.

“The good news for the Catholic church is that six out of ten Catholics will not even consider attending church in any other denomination, which is far higher than for Protestants. The bad news, of course, is that four out of ten active Catholics would at least be open to another denomination, even though most would prefer to remain in the Catholic Church,” commented Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research.

“The survey of a representative sample of 1,007 American adults included 471 respondents who regularly attend worship services at a church broadly considered to be in the Christian tradition, categorized into Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, and Orthodox.

“Respondents who attend worship services at least once a month were first asked the specific denomination of the church they attend most often. This distinguished “Southern Baptist” from “Free Will Baptist,” for example.”

Saturday, January 17, 2009

US Bishops to Our New President

A wonderful letter was sent by the President of the United States Catholic Bishops Conference to President Elect Obama.

An excerpt.

“Dear Mr. President-elect,

“As our nation begins a new year, a new Administration and a new Congress, I write to outline principles and priorities that guide the public policy efforts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). As President of the Bishops' Conference, I assure you of our prayers, hopes and commitment to make this period of national change a time to advance the common good and defend the life and dignity of all, especially the vulnerable and poor. We continue to seek ways to work constructively with the new Administration and Congress and others of good will to pursue policies which respect the dignity of all human life and bring greater justice to our nation and peace to our world.

“As Bishops, we approach public policy as pastors and teachers. Our moral principles have always guided our everyday experience in caring for the hungry and homeless, offering health care and housing, educating children and reaching out to those in need. We lead the largest community of faith in the United States, one that serves every part of our nation and is present in almost every place on earth. From our experience and our tradition, we offer a distinctive, constructive and principled contribution to the national dialogue on how to act together on issues of economic turmoil and suffering, war and violence, moral decency and human dignity.

“Our nation now faces economic challenges with potentially tragic human consequences and serious moral dimensions. We will work with the new Administration and Congress to support strong, prudent and effective measures to address the terrible impacts and injustices of the economic crisis. In particular, we will advocate a clear priority for poor families and vulnerable workers in the development and implementation of economic recovery measures, including new investments while strengthening the national safety net. We also support greater accountability and oversight to address irresponsible abuses of the system that contributed to the financial crisis.

“The Catholic Bishops of the United States have worked for decades to assure health care for all, insisting that access to decent health care is a basic human right and a requirement of human dignity. We urge comprehensive action to ensure truly universal health care coverage which protects all human life including pre-natal life, and provides access for all, with a special concern for the poor. Any such legislation ought to respect freedom to choose by offering a variety of options and ensuring respect for the moral and religious convictions of patients and providers. Such an approach should seek to restrain costs while sharing them equitably.

“On international affairs, we will work with our leaders to seek a responsible transition in an Iraq free of religious persecution. We especially urge early, focused and persistent leadership to bring an end to violent conflict and a just peace in the Holy Land. We will continue to support essential U.S. investments to overcome poverty, hunger and disease through increased and reformed foreign assistance. Continued U.S. leadership in the fight against HIV-AIDS and other diseases in ways that are both effectively and morally appropriate have our enthusiastic backing. Recognizing the complexity of climate change, we wish to be a voice for the poor and vulnerable in our country and around the world who will be the most adversely affected by any dramatic threats to the environment.

“We will work with the new Administration and Congress to fix a broken immigration system which harms both our nation and immigrants. Comprehensive reform is needed to deal with the economic and human realities of millions of immigrants in our midst. It must be based on respect for and implementation of the law. Equally it must defend the rights and dignity of all peoples, recognizing that human dignity comes from God and does not depend on where people were born or how they came to our nation. Truly comprehensive immigration reform will include a path to earned citizenship with attention to the fact that international trade and development policies influence economic opportunities in the countries from which immigrants come.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Individual & the Economy

We too often think that someone somewhere can come up with the answer that will make things that are going wrong, right, and that is true if you are thinking eternity and God, but in the world, events and structures are created in a random yet supernaturally ordered way that is influenced by the proverbial butterfly wings and the actions of billions of people.

This article from Acton looks at that in relation to the economy.

An excerpt.

“Many people cannot get the idea into their heads that society was not created nor is run by a single authority. Now someone objected to this idea once by saying that since God created everything, He is effectively the creator of society as well.

“That is true in a sense, but one thing I have insisted on, along with the late Pope John Paul II, is that God made man a co-creator with him. This applies not only to creativity in the commonly understood sense (inventions, art, literature) but to society and the market as well. John Paul II held that we humans have self-possession and self-governance, which give us self-determination. Men are in control of their actions (assuming they are not slaves to their passions, public opinion, or something else), and therefore are responsible for those actions.

“This self-determination includes the setting up of institutions, usually occurring over long periods of time and resulting from trial and error. These institutions serve the function of human flourishing. For example, look at the way universities have evolved since the later middle ages. They began as monastic schools, gradually opened to others, developed into universities in major cities, and are now represented by the innumerable and diverse institutions we see today. Are they perfect? Of course not -- nothing man does can be so. But one cannot argue that they have not been centers of great learning and progress for the benefit of the human race.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Brooks on Neuhaus

David Brooks wrote a wonderful column on Richard John Neuhaus, the great Catholic priest and writer who died earlier this month.

An excerpt.

“William D. Eddy was an Episcopal minister in Tarrytown, N.Y., and an admirer of the writer and theologian Richard John Neuhaus. When Rev. Eddy grew gravely ill about 20 years ago, I asked Neuhaus to write him a letter of comfort.

“I was shocked when I read it a few weeks later. As I recall, Neuhaus’s message was this: There are comforting things you and I have learned to say in circumstances such as these, but we don’t need those things between ourselves.

“Neuhaus then went on to talk frankly and extensively about death. Those two men were in a separate fraternity and could talk directly about things the rest avoided.

“Neuhaus was no stranger to death. As a young minister, he worked in the death ward at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, a giant room with 50 to 100 dying people in it, where he would accompany two or three to their deaths each day. One sufferer noticed an expression on Neuhaus’s face and said, “Oh, oh, don’t be afraid,” and then sagged back and expired.

“Much later, Neuhaus endured his own near-death experience. An undiagnosed tumor led to a ruptured intestine and a series of operations. He recovered slowly, first in intensive care, and then in a regular hospital room, where something strange happened.

“I was sitting up staring intently into the darkness, although in fact I knew my body was lying flat,” he later wrote in an essay called “Born Toward Dying” in his magazine, First Things. “What I was staring at was a color like blue and purple, and vaguely in the form of hanging drapery. By the drapery were two ‘presences.’ I saw them and yet did not see them, and I cannot explain that ... .

“And then the presences — one or both of them, I do not know — spoke. This I heard clearly. Not in an ordinary way, for I cannot remember anything about the voice. But the message was beyond mistaking: ‘Everything is ready now.’ ”

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Good Intentions

The good intentions of bringing former gang members back into efforts to reduce gangs cannot work without a deep commitment to professional training, academic education and an internal spiritual transformation to leave the criminal world—with honor—and be able to effectively transform others.

This program in Los Angeles has not yet reached that goal but appears to understand some of the elements that are needed.

We wish them the best.

An excerpt.

“Marlo "Bow Wow" Jones was a well-known gang intervention worker in South Los Angeles. Last March, the former member of the Grape Street Crips was working on a gang reduction effort with USC football Coach Pete Carroll.

“Connie Rice, the prominent civil rights attorney, called Jones a charismatic figure who could bring rival gang sects together.

“Police officers who worked with Jones said he helped prevent retaliatory shootings.

“But on Saturday, Jones was arrested on charges of robbing and beating a member of the rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony at the Universal City Hilton hotel.

“His arrest has again shaken the world of gang intervention, which relies on former gang members to help police prevent violence and get gang members out of the life.

“Jones is the latest of several well-known gang intervention workers to be accused of falling back. And some believe his case underscores the need for changes in the city's gang strategy.

Rice, who wrote a lengthy report on Los Angeles' anti-gang strategy last year, said Jones' arrest raises a key question: how to keep former gang members from slipping back into gangs.

"He was very useful and made himself a go-to person," Rice said.

"He was not a professional. He didn't have the value system of a professional and the dedication of a professional," Rice said.

“The Rev. Jeff Carr, who oversees the mayor's anti-gang programs, said Jones' arrest is resonating.

"They are devastated and worried that their comments will be characterized in the frame of this individual," Carr said. "But that's not the lesson that should be learned."

“Rice and Carr believe officials need to do more to monitor gang intervention programs, including criminal background checks and drug testing.

“At the same time, there is a need to build more professionalism by giving gang interventionists a salary, healthcare benefits and training, they said.

"This is a more high-risk enterprise than most. It's the reality of the business," Rice said.

"We are trying to create a profession here. The [anti-gang] groups are going to stumble. The agencies are going to stumble. This is an experiment," she said.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Crime Rates

This is an excellent article from the Los Angeles Times by James Q. Wilson, one of our best thinkers about crime and public policy, in which he discusses the relationship—or non-relationship—between crime rates and the economy.

An excerpt.

“If you think a down economy causes crime to rise, think again. The reasons that drive crime rates are unclear.
By James Q. Wilson
January 8, 2009

“Last week, the Los Angeles Police Department reported that in 2008, for the sixth consecutive year, crime fell in the city. At a time when the economy was reeling and unemployment was rising, serious crime dropped about 2.5% over the previous year.

“I wish we fully understood why.

“During the last two decades, scholars have made great progress in explaining why some individuals are more likely than others to commit crimes, but very little in explaining why the crime rate in a city or nation rises or falls.

“Everyone knows that there is more crime in economically depressed inner-city neighborhoods than in affluent suburbs. That fact leads naturally to the assumption that if a community becomes more prosperous, crime rates will go down, and if income levels decline, crime rates go up.

“Economists who have checked this view have discovered that it is often true, but not always. They have found, for example, that the burglary rate goes up by 2 percentage points for every 1-percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate. That sounds like a big change until you realize that if the unemployment rate rises from 6% to 8% (which is about what it is in California now), the burglary rate will increase by 4%. Because burglaries aren't measured all that accurately (some are never reported, and police vary in how they report the statistics), it's not certain that we would even notice so small an increase.

“A lot of other factors affect the crime rate as well. It often goes up when the population gets younger, and when drug abuse becomes more common. Murder rates are profoundly influenced, at least in big cities, by gang activity. We don't have good ways of understanding why gang activity changes, though we suspect that changes in behavior are influenced by what the police do, whether gang truces have worked and whether gangs are fighting over drug and other illegal transactions.

“All these imponderables make it difficult to fully understand why crime rates rise and fall. In the 1960s, the national homicide rate rose by 43%, even though the country was in a period of great prosperity and low unemployment. The homicide rate fell in the 1980s, even as the economy was wobbling, with high interest rates and a steep rise in business bankruptcies. In the 1990s, the murder rate fell by 39% at a time when unemployment also was declining.”

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fr. Neuhaus Remembered

He was one of the greatest writers of the Catholic faith in America I have yet come across and his monthly column in First Things will be sorely missed, but his books (some 30 or so) will be around for quite some time.

Here is a great remembrance from The Weekly Standard, from his fellow editor at First Things.

An excerpt.

“He was the greatest reader I ever met. The greatest reader, and a cigar smoker, and a walker, and a preacher, and a brewer of some of the worst coffee ever made. What odd items the mind latches onto in moments of grief: the tilt of a friend's head, the way he used his hands when he spoke, an awful meal shared a decade back, a conversation about a book only a month ago.

“Only a month ago--it was only a month ago that he was still whole, still sharp, still himself. Novels and movies always seem to me to get it wrong. Grief doesn't conjure up ghosts. Grief renders the world itself ghostly. The absent thing alone is real, and in comparison, all present things are pale, gray, and indistinct: a vague background to the sharp-edged portrait of what is gone.

“And, oh, what sharp edges Richard John Neuhaus had. He wrote and wrote and wrote--a discipline of writing that almost every other writer I know has told me feels almost like an indictment: 30 books, and innumerable essays, and all those talks he flew around to give. And, just as an incidental, 12,000 words a month poured out in the column, The Public Square, that anchored every issue of First Things, the magazine he founded.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Daily Practice

In the work of transforming criminals from a commitment to the criminal world to a commitment to the Lord and the Catholic Church, the daily need to be prepared is mandatory, as the work is physically dangerous, draining—emotionally and spiritually—but done with the proper preparation and daily strengthening, it is perhaps the most rewarding work of all; classically directed to the greatest of those whom Christ came to call home, the sinners.

This excellent article from This Rock looks at the daily preparation from the aspect of the military, a wonderful parallel.

An excerpt.

“Your military training as a reserve officer will also help you in your civilian career," said the commanding officer. As a good leader, he had taken each of us officers-in-training aside to find out how our basic training was going. I—a second lieutenant (pronounced "lef-tenant" in Her Majesty’s Royal Canadian Artillery) being addressed by a lieutenant colonel—simply nodded and said: "Yes, sir."

“I had just completed the second week of the Basic Military Qualification (BMQ) course, otherwise known as "boot camp" in the Canadian military. Whether enlisted or commissioned, a full-time soldier or a part-time reservist, every Canadian soldier’s career begins with BMQ: It’s baptism into the Canadian Forces.

“It is also overwhelming, so at the time I did not see the connection between boot camp and my day job as a canon lawyer and Catholic apologist. That would change after I finished BMQ and returned to my civilian duties. Today, basic military training is almost second nature when I engage in Catholic apologetics. Civilians, too, can draw on military training principles in defending the faith. With that in mind, here are ten things BMQ taught me about being a foot-soldier of the Church Militant.

“1. Wash up early.

“Except in cases of emergency, a soldier’s day does not begin until he tidies up. Reveille is followed by teeth-brushing, shaving, and hand- and face-washing. A full shower waits until after physical training (PT). The morning wash is just a quick cleanup before changing into PT gear and forming up for morning exercise.

“A clean soldier feels fresh and ready to tackle the challenges of the day. The routine is also good hygiene.

“In the same way, as Catholic apologists we should begin our day with a spiritual cleanup: an examination of conscience whereby we examine our previous day’s words and actions in light of Church teaching. Did we remember to pray for those who asked? Did we use harsh words with a family member? In short, did we always reflect Christ in our behavior?

“An examination of conscience allows a Catholic apologist to recognize his strengths and weaknesses early in the morning. The apologist can then pray for God’s grace before heading out to be salt and light to the world. Just like a soldier is a soldier any time he wears the uniform and not only in the heat of battle, so too is a Catholic apologist a member of Church militant at all times—not just when debating. An examination of conscience affords good spiritual hygiene.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Catholics & Environmentalists

Catholics share a deep concern for the environment with the environmental movement but for an entirely different reason.

Catholics place human beings at the center of life, but the environmentalists see humanity as just another life form and this article from This Rock examines this.

An excerpt.

“Central to John Paul’s teaching was that the principal objective of environmental protection is the benefit of human life: "The most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life evident in many patterns of environmental pollution. . . . Respect for life, and above all for the dignity of the human person, is the ultimate guiding norm for any sound economic, industrial or scientific progress" (7).

“Human Life at the Center

“This is where Catholic teaching on the environment departs from much of modern environmentalism: The Catholic approach is centered on humanity, not an abstract notion of nature. The Commission has also explained that some environmentalists take serious objection at this notion: "Christianity has been accused by some as in part responsible for the environmental crisis, for the very reason that it has maximized the place of human beings created in the image of God to rule of visible creation" (Communion and Stewardship, 72).

“In 2007, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace gathered some 80 experts representing the scientific, political, economic, and spiritual sides of the climate-change debate to discuss "Climate Change and Development." At the closing ceremony, Renato Cardinal Martino, president of the Council, said: "Nature is for the human person and the human person is for God . . . The person has an indisputable superiority over creation and, in virtue of his personhood and being gifted with an immortal soul, cannot be placed on an equal plane with other living beings, nor can he be considered a disturbing element in the natural ecological equilibrium." Discussing what it means to be a good steward, Martino explained:

“’Nature is not an absolute, but a wealth that is placed in the person’s responsible and prudent hands. . . . The person does not have an absolute right over nature but rather a mandate to conserve and develop it in light of the universal destination of the earth’s goods which is one of the fundamental principles of the social doctrine of the Church.

"Pope Benedict XVI has also advanced this idea. In his 2008 World Day of Peace address, Benedict reminded us that humans have a duty to protect our environment for the benefit of mankind. This legitimate respect for and concern about the environment is not the same as viewing "material or animal nature more important than man." The pope made clear that human beings "are of supreme worth vis-à-vis creation as a whole."

"No More Value Than Slugs"

“Environmentalists who blame Christianity and its influence on Western Civilization for ecological problems tend to reject the Christian notion that humans are special. These people are pantheistic at heart. Pantheism is an ancient religious outlook that makes no distinction (or at best a very unclear one) between the Creator and the creation. Under this view, God is not transcendent: God is in all and all is part of God. As such, there is no special role for humans in nature. Of course, this results in the rejection of a Christian view of mankind, understanding of creation, and teachings related to God’s plan for humanity.

“John Davis, the editor of Earth First! (the self-proclaimed voice of the radical environmental movement), has written: "Human beings, as a species, have no more value than slugs" (The Environmentalist’s Little Green Book). David Foreman, writing in the same magazine, said: "We advocate biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake. It may take our extinction to set things straight" and "Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental" (qtd. in J.H. Huebert and Walter Block, "Environmentalists in Outer Space," The Freeman, March 2008). David Graber, a biologist with the National Park Service, said: "I know scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line . . . we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth. . . . Some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along" (qtd. in Glenn Woiceshyn, "Environmentalism and Eco-Terrorism," Capitalism Magazine, September 30, 1998). Dr. Reed F. Noss of The Wildlands Project said: "The collective needs of non-human species must take precedence over the needs and desires of humans" (qtd. in Michael S. Coffman, "Taking Liberty," Range Magazine, Fall 2005). Similar, if less extreme, sentiments can be found in many environmental writings.”

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus- 1936 – 2009

One of the truly great Catholic apologists has died.

Fr. Neuhaus was a convert and the founder and editor of the great journal First Things, which was a real treasure to discover when I did as a convert.

The final pages of each issue have traditionally been devoted to Fr. Neuhaus’ reflections, The Public Square, which I always read straight away upon receiving the magazine.

Here is an excerpt from the news of his passing from First Things.

“Our great, good friend is gone.

“Fr. Richard John Neuhaus slipped away January 8, shortly before 10 o’clock, at the age of seventy-two. He never recovered from the weakness that sent him to the hospital the day after Christmas, caused by a series of side effects from the cancer he was suffering. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening after a collapse in his heart rate, and soon after, in the company of friends, he died.

“My tears are not for him—for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

“I weep, rather, for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.”

Thursday, January 8, 2009


This review from First Things of the new film about the plot to kill Hitler is excellent, and I did not know that the main character—Count von Stauffenberg—played by Tom Cruise was a devout Catholic.

An excerpt.

“Edmund Burke once said that he did “not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people,” but in the case of Germany, that claim has been sorely tested. Ever since the horrors of the death camps were exposed, the world has been asking how such barbarism could have taken place in a supposedly civilized country. The answer, more often than not, has been to point an accusing finger at the German people, and to mock the “Good Germans”—those ordinary citizens who, though not murderers themselves, made Hitler’s crimes possible because of cowardice and passivity.

“This tendency to ascribe mass accountability, however, has obscured an important fact: There really were good Germans—incredibly brave men and women who risked their lives, and even gave them, to save their country from cataclysmic ruin. There were far too few, to be sure, but it’s these people who represented Germany at its best, and should not be forgotten.

“Among the noblest was Claus, Count von Stauffenberg, a Colonel who led a daring conspiracy to overthrow Hitler, and came very close to succeeding. Stauffenberg came from an aristocratic Catholic family whose love of God, Germany, and European culture led him to break with the Third Reich, after initially serving it. In fact, Stauffenberg—who lost an eye, half an arm, and two fingers fighting in North Africa—was actually slow to join the resisters. But when he did, he went further than any of them, placing himself, literally, on the frontlines. Stauffenberg’s attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944—the last of over a dozen such efforts—is now the stuff of legend: Having achieved privileged access to Hitler, he was able to plant a bomb, inside a suitcase, next to the dictator during a military briefing at Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair compound, shortly after noon that day. After the bomb exploded, Stauffenberg, certain that Hitler had been killed, raced back to Berlin to set in motion “Operation Valkyrie,” a plan utilizing the German Home Army to erect a new anti-Nazi government. Ironically, Valkyrie had originally been approved by Hitler himself, to restore order, in the event of an emergency; but Stauffenberg and his allies ingeniously devised a strategy to use the plan against the Fuhrer. But, as one of the conspirators presciently warns Stauffenberg in the film, “This is a military operation—nothing ever goes according to plan.” The bomb did kill four, but not Hitler, and when he emerged a short time later, speaking defiantly on German radio, the would-be coup collapsed: Stauffenberg and his allies were rounded up and immediately executed; many of their relatives and friends would soon suffer the same fate. At the time of the operation, Stauffenberg knew there was only a small chance of success, but felt compelled to act nonetheless: “Even worse than failure is to yield to shame and coercion without a struggle.” Had he succeeded, millions of lives could have been saved in the remaining months of the War….

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Israel & The Vatican

In the long tortured, and ultimately triumphant, history of the Jewish people, the fairly recent emergence of the state of Israel as a refuge for the horror that befell the Jews during the Second World War by the German government of Adolph Hitler; the Catholic Church acted with great courage and passion, doing all it could to help, literally saving the lives of thousands of Jews.

However, the Vatican’s record since the formation of the state of Israel, has been less courageous, according to this article from Chisea, seen through the perspective of the current troubles in Gaza.

An excerpt.

“ROMA, January 4, 2009 – During the days of the Christmas celebrations, Benedict XVI spoke out repeatedly against the war centered on Gaza.

“But his words have fallen on deaf ears. Failure isn't new to the authorities of the Holy See, every time they address the question of Israel.

“In more than three years of pontificate, Benedict XVI has introduced innovations in relations between the two faiths, Christian and Jewish. These innovations have come at the risk of misunderstanding and opposition, both among Catholics and among Jews.

“But in the meantime, little or nothing seems to have changed in Vatican policy toward Israel.

“The only change – and it's a marginal one – is in tone. Until a couple of years ago, with Cardinal Angelo Sodano as secretary of state and Mario Agnes as director of "L'Osservatore Romano," the criticism of Israel was incessant, heavy-handed, sometimes shameless. Not any more. With Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretariat of state has softened its tone, and under the direction of Giovanni Maria Vian, "L'Osservatore Romano" has stopped launching invective and has made more room for religious and cultural debate.

“But the general policy has remained the same. Of course, the authorities of the Catholic Church do not defend the existence of Israel – which its enemies want to annihilate, and is ultimately at stake in the conflict – with the same explicit, powerful determination with which they raise their voices in defense of the "nonnegotiable" principles concerning human life.

“This has been seen in recent days. The authorities of the Church, and Benedict XVI himself, have raised their voices in condemnation of "the massive violence that has broken out in the Gaza Strip in response to other violence" only after Israel began bombing the installations of the terrorist movement Hamas in that territory. Not before. Not when Hamas was tightening its brutal grip on Gaza, massacring the Muslims faithful to president Abu Mazen, humiliating the tiny Christian communities, and launching rockets every day against the Israelis in the surrounding area.

“About Hamas and its vaunted "mission" of wiping the Jewish state from the face of the earth, about Hamas as an outpost for Iran's expansionist aims in the Middle East, about Hamas as an ally of Hezbollah and Syria, the Vatican authorities have never raised the red alert. They have never shown that they see Hamas as a deadly danger to Israel and an obstacle to the birth of a Palestinian state, in addition to its being a nightmare for the Arab regimes in the area, from Egypt to Jordan to Saudi Arabia.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dorothy Day

I have been a devoted reader of Dorothy Day’s books (and books about her) since I discovered them during the process of becoming Catholic, and this new book, The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, collecting and editing the material from her diaries—she began diaring soon after her work with the Catholic Worker began and continued until her death—is an extraordinary repository of her thoughts.

Though I do not agree with her on all of the positions she espoused, especially that of pacifism, she is a great example—saintly even—of the work of the social teaching of the Church in action through the laity on the streets.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction.

“For those who have studied Dorothy Day’s published writings, the voice in these diaries is mostly familiar. In her column, “On Pilgrimage,” she regularly described her travels, her activities, and her reading of the “signs of the times.” And yet certain themes stand out here, such as the intense discipline of her spiritual and sacramental life. She attended daily Mass, which usually meant rising at dawn. She prayed the monastic hours from a breviary, a practice she adopted even before becoming a Benedictine oblate in 1955. She devoted time each day to meditating on scripture, saying the rosary, or other spiritual exercises. None of this is particularly remarkable. And yet the matter-of-fact recital of such habits underscores the fact that her daily life was spent in continuous reference to God. As she writes, “Without the sacraments of the church, I certainly do not think that I could go on.” (p. xvii)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Time & the Real

The Holy Father reminds us that God becoming man is not an idea; it is a reality, a deep reality that forms the foundation of our world and counters all of the evil it is capable of, in the only time that matters, eternal time.

An excerpt.

“At the beginning of the Mass the Pope recalled that "the liturgy again invites us to meditate on the same Gospel proclaimed on Christmas Day, that is, the Prologue of St. John. After the chaos of racing around buying gifts these past days, the Church invites us to contemplate again the mystery of Christ's birth in order to better understand its profound meaning and its importance for our lives".

"It is", he said, "an astonishing text that offers an extraordinary synthesis of all of Christian faith. It begins from on high: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"; herein lies the unheard of and humanly inconceivable novelty: 'And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us'".

“Benedict XVI emphasized that this "is not a figure of speech but a lived experience! John, an eyewitness recounts it to us. ... They are not the erudite words of a rabbi or doctor of the law but the impassioned witness of a humble fisherman who, called by Jesus when he was young, in his three years of living with Christ and His apostles felt His love - to the point of defining himself 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' - who saw Him die on the cross and appear resurrected, and who received His Spirit together with the others. From these experiences, meditated upon in his heart, John drew a certain conclusion: Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate, is His eternal Word who was made a mortal man".

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Evaluation of Reentry Programs

As the problem with recidivism increases and criminals continue to return to prison at about a 70% rate nationally, new reentry programs (many of which we have posted on) keep getting spun out—or old ones retuned—to address the problem; but virtually all of them fail to establish a good evaluation process (control group, third party oversight, adequate after-program research time span) that can determine if the program is effective or not.

Consequently most programs use the story approach—tell a couple of stories of people who have made it, maybe even get them to tell their own story—and floating on the good will and sympathy generated by these anecdotal incidents, continue to receive funding.

But as we have noted before, in this earlier blog for one, the real history of rehabilitative programs nationally, after a good evaluation has been done, is another story, and it is one of failure, wasted money, wasted resources, and ultimately, wasted lives.

I was very fortunate in being employed with a criminal justice evaluation project early in my career and it has helped me to keep the necessity to establish the facts through a proper evaluation, before passing judgment or money on a program with good stories to tell.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Standing for Truth

We are created for truth and live most fully when living in it, but the world creates narratives that are lies and we struggle to find and live truth among them, some of us struggling more than others.

Michael Novak writes about this in First Things.

An excerpt.

“Human liberty depends on an accurate grasp of the human condition, not as we might like it to be, but as it is: “The truth shall set you free.”

“Let us suppose, for instance, a situation in which truth is rendered servile by some contemporary enthusiasm. If truth is held captive by a powerful force of attraction, can the human beings who live under that force ever find a way to liberty? Only by luck, great courage, and long perseverance.

“During the past hundred years, ideologies have often trumped the unimpeded search for truth. Here is where the sentence from Orwell becomes pivotal. “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

“To seek the true reality while everyone around you is applauding what many know to be false is to act as a grown woman or man. It is to show a mind that distinguishes reality from the prevailing prejudices of the age. In fact, a mind committed to finding reality—despite surrounding unreality—is the only free mind.”

Friday, January 2, 2009

An Interesting Year

As are all of them, but this one maybe more so than most, and here is a great article balancing what happened and what is really important, from Fr. James Schall, S. J.

An excerpt.

“As we begin a new year:

“An American friend in Rome emails me about The Election: “A radical break has occurred in our country’s history!” The “change” seems complete; what went before is “irrelevant.”

The Wall Street Journal writes of an ex-Soviet-KGB agent-scholar. He famously predicts that the United States will break up around the year 2010-12 into some six different nations with incompatible interests and alliances.

The Weekly Standard carries a detailed essay on Detroit, which is in such bad shape that third-world countries should begin to offer it aid.

The Los Angeles Times has an account of wide-spread bribery and corruption in China. Little is done without offering something to party officials.

“Another California paper records last year’s death toll in Mexico, 5,200 drug-related murders. Iraq is safe by comparison. California is still on Mexican maps as Mexican territory. Our job situation has slowed down border crossings, with help from the wall.

“Not a few relatives and friends are out of work or worried that they soon will be.

“No major college, as far as I have noticed, has yet lowered its tuition. The UAW offered no concessions to the car companies.

“My niece stopped at a gas station in California. She filled her tank. “Just a couple of months ago it would have cost me $50, now it is about $20.”

“When George Bush became president in 2001, the last thing he expected was a suicide bombing of the Twin Towers. I suspect that he will look better with every day after January 20, 2009.”

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Economics & Crime

Many sociologists and other criminal justice theorists think that bad economic times cause crime to rise, but in one area, where an effective policing program—broken windows policing pioneered by the current LA police chief when he was in New York and the then New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani—has been in effect for several years; crime has gone down during rough economic times, as this article from the Los Angeles Times notes.

The idea that crime comes from social structure changes is essentially a Marxist approach that has done a lot to harm criminal justice research and nothing to help the process of criminal rehabilitation; which only occurs when individual criminals make an internal decision to transform their lives.

Read about broken windows policing from an earlier blog.

An excerpt from the LA Times article.

“Despite a reeling economy, crime in Los Angeles and many other parts of Southern California fell in 2008 for the sixth consecutive year, challenging the widely held theory that crime rises at times of economic tumult.

“The continued decline, while less pronounced than in previous years, comes even as other major American cities, including New York and Chicago, have seen increases in some crimes, notably homicides.

“Violent crimes -- such as homicides and rapes -- and crimes involving thefts in Los Angeles were down about 2.5% through Saturday compared with the same period of 2007, according to Los Angeles Police Department figures. The L.A. County Sheriff's Department, which handles law enforcement for dozens of other cities, reported a 6% drop in such crimes committed through the end of November. In all, the declines amounted to about 8,500 fewer serious crimes committed in 2008.

“Throughout the region, crime was generally down or stagnant. The Orange County Sheriff's Department, which serves unincorporated areas and 12 cities, saw serious crime drop slightly. In Santa Ana, the county's largest city, there was a rise in homicides, but overall violent and property crimes dropped nearly 10%. Likewise, the city of San Bernardino had 7% fewer crimes through last month and the city of San Diego was projected to finish the year with a modest downturn.

“The numbers are striking in part because some law enforcement officials -- notably Sheriff Lee Baca -- predicted a year ago that the ailing economy would probably result in crime spikes, particularly in struggling neighborhoods where unemployment was on the rise. Unemployment in Los Angeles County is now near 9%. But the rise in crime has not materialized.

“Baca and other law enforcement officials said it still may just be a matter of time.

"Expectation of having more crime occur in dire economic times is practical expectation that has been evident from other cycles of depressed times," Baca said. "We aren't experiencing real hard economic times yet. In my opinion we have to prepare ourselves that things could get worse."

“The last time the U.S. economy faltered over a prolonged period, Los Angeles fared badly. In 1991 and 1992, crime soared to levels roughly three times the current figures. At the time, the unemployment rate in the city hovered between 8% and 10% and the crack cocaine epidemic was in full swing. The population also had a higher percentage of young males, who are most likely to commit crimes. Crime rose significantly in Orange County at the time as well.

“The number of homicides in the city of Los Angeles, a bellwether crime statistic watched closely by police and the public, continued to fall in 2008. With four days left in the year, 376 people had been killed -- 24 fewer than in the same period the year before. The total marks a 27% drop from the 517 people slain five years ago and is far below the peak of 1,092 killings the city recorded in 1992.

“The drop in violence is due, in part, to the LAPD's success in reducing gang-related crimes. Gang killings are down more than a quarter from the previous year, and the number of assaults by suspected gang members are down significantly as well.

“The LAPD's success stemming the bloodshed in the nation's second largest city stands out in a year in which other major urban centers saw homicide figures climb. New York City had 513 killings through last week, a nearly 5% increase over last year. Chicago suffered a more pronounced upsurge in violence, with 479 homicides through November, a 17% jump.

“That Los Angeles' lower numbers come after months of severe economic turmoil is especially satisfying for Police Chief William J. Bratton. He has long feuded with criminologists over the effect police have on crime rates. Academics have criticized the chief harshly, dismissing his vehement claim that police, more than any other factor, drive crime up or down. They argue that, although cops may have some effect, they are powerless to counter larger forces such as a spiraling economy or drug epidemics that can push people to desperation.”