Monday, August 31, 2009

Constancy & the Center of the Church

As a convert of five years, it took me awhile to learn that the true hierarchy of the Church—the Vatican in Rome—supersedes the local and national hierarchies, and though the local and national hierarchies issue statements that I once thought were binding on me as a Catholic, I learned that it is only when those statements are congruent with the teaching from the center: the Holy Father and the teaching expressed in the universal catechism, the Vatican’s Catechism of the Catholic Church, that I am so bound, to remain in league with the Church.

The actions of local and national Catholic leaders—whether clergy, theologians, or politicians—if followed without reference to the center, can often lead us astray, and that is what happened this weekend with the funeral mass of a Catholic politician, as expressed in this story from The Catholic Thing.

An excerpt.

“The Catholic Church in America suffered another grave scandal this weekend. As was the case in the priestly abuse crisis, it was centered in Boston. If you are a Catholic and did not feel distressed and scandalized watching Senator Kennedy’s funeral at Mother of Perpetual Help Church in Boston Saturday, I have to ask in all frankness: why not?

“The scandal has nothing to do with his personal sins. I hope he confessed them and was forgiven, as I hope myself to be forgiven. The Church is always generous to sinners who make even the slightest gesture of repentance. In that, she shows that she is not a merely human society bound by certain rules, but the living communion of saints and the presence in this world of the merciful heart of God.

“The scandal likewise has nothing to do with partisan politics. If you think it does, as some of the Commentors on Brad Miner’s gentlemanly Friday column believe, you should compare Brad with the New York Times obituary, which felt obliged to record that Ted’s shoulders were “sometimes too narrow” for the task he inherited. And that, contrary to the eulogies, he could be savagely unjust and demagogic, as even some followers admitted (e.g., in the Bork hearings), tarring mere opponents as racists, sexists, and elitists. All such shenanigans are an unfortunate feature of partisan passions, but only of passing importance.

“The distress – and the scandal – arise from only one thing: the Church’s failure to show the slightest reservation about the man who, more than any Catholic and perhaps more than any American political figure, has led the pro-abortion forces in Washington. Even worse, his longstanding pro-abortion leadership gave political cover to other Catholic politicians and confused simple lay people. That’s what scandal (in the theological sense) does: it becomes a stumbling block for the faithful about the very truths of the faith.”

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Restoring Congruence

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults has been brought into congruence with the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), in regards to the relationship with the Jewish people, as reported by the Catholic News Agency.

The CCC is the universal catechism of the Catholic Church, but each national conference is able to develop their own catechism for use in their country, as long as it is congruent with the CCC, and often fine tuning is required; as occurred with the CCC itself between the first edition in 1992 and the second (and authoritative) edition in 1997, though the first edition remains an excellent resource for study.

An excerpt from the article from Catholic News Agency.

“Washington D.C., Aug 28, 2009 / 06:19 am (CNA).- The Vatican has given a “recognitio” to a change in the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults which clarifies Catholic teaching about the Jews’ covenant with God, the U.S. bishops said.

“The first version of the catechism, in its discussion of God’s covenant with the Jews, said “Thus the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them.”

“The revision reads “To the Jewish people, whom God first chose to hear his Word, ‘belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ.’”

“Romans 9 and paragraph 839 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are cited in the revised passage.

“The Vatican’s “recognitio” is a statement that a document is in keeping with Catholic teaching. The change was approved at the U.S. bishops’ 2008 June meeting in Orlando, Florida.”

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Caring for Creation

The Holy Father reminds of our responsibility to be good stewards of the Lord’s creation in his weekly audience last Wednesday.

An excerpt

“The Earth is indeed a precious gift of the Creator who, in designing its intrinsic order, has given us guidelines that assist us as stewards of his creation. Precisely from within this framework, the Church considers that matters concerning the environment and its protection are intimately linked with integral human development. In my recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, I referred to such questions recalling the “pressing moral need for renewed solidarity” (no. 49) not only between countries but also between individuals, since the natural environment is given by God to everyone, and so our use of it entails a personal responsibility towards humanity as a whole, particularly towards the poor and towards future generations (cf. no. 48). [see section 48 below]

“How important it is then, that the international community and individual governments send the right signals to their citizens and succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment! The economic and social costs of using up shared resources must be recognized with transparency and borne by those who incur them, and not by other peoples or future generations. The protection of the environment, and the safeguarding of resources and of the climate, oblige all leaders to act jointly, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the world (cf. no. 50). Together we can build an integral human development beneficial for all peoples, present and future, a development inspired by the values of charity in truth. For this to happen it is essential that the current model of global development be transformed through a greater, and shared, acceptance of responsibility for creation: this is demanded not only by environmental factors, but also by the scandal of hunger and human misery.”

Section #48 from Caritas in Veritate

“48. Today the subject of development is also closely related to the duties arising from our relationship to the natural environment. The environment is God's gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole. When nature, including the human being, is viewed as the result of mere chance or evolutionary determinism, our sense of responsibility wanes. In nature, the believer recognizes the wonderful result of God's creative activity, which we may use responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of creation. If this vision is lost, we end up either considering nature an untouchable taboo or, on the contrary, abusing it. Neither attitude is consonant with the Christian vision of nature as the fruit of God's creation.

Nature expresses a design of love and truth. It is prior to us, and it has been given to us by God as the setting for our life. Nature speaks to us of the Creator (cf. Rom 1:20) and his love for humanity. It is destined to be “recapitulated” in Christ at the end of time (cf. Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:19-20). Thus it too is a “vocation”. Nature is at our disposal not as “a heap of scattered refuse”, but as a gift of the Creator who has given it an inbuilt order, enabling man to draw from it the principles needed in order “to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). But it should also be stressed that it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense. This having been said, it is also necessary to reject the opposite position, which aims at total technical dominion over nature, because the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a “grammar” which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation. Today much harm is done to development precisely as a result of these distorted notions. Reducing nature merely to a collection of contingent data ends up doing violence to the environment and even encouraging activity that fails to respect human nature itself. Our nature, constituted not only by matter but also by spirit, and as such, endowed with transcendent meaning and aspirations, is also normative for culture. Human beings interpret and shape the natural environment through culture, which in turn is given direction by the responsible use of freedom, in accordance with the dictates of the moral law. Consequently, projects for integral human development cannot ignore coming generations, but need to be marked by solidarity and inter-generational justice, while taking into account a variety of contexts: ecological, juridical, economic, political and cultural.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

Culture of Death

It appears the new administration is becoming firmly set culture of death policies, from a president who approves of abortion virtually anytime, and through the appointment of staff who apparently support mandatory population control, as noted in this article from The Catholic Thing.

An excerpt.

“First President Obama appointed Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who supports limitations on end-of-life care, as his top medical advisor. Now he has named John Holdren, another culture-of-death stalwart, as his top science advisor.

“This newest Obama czar openly stated his support for mandatory abortions in Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment, a book Holdren co-authored with Paul and Anne Ehrlich some years ago:

“There exists ample authority under which population growth could be regulated. It has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe ...

“Ecoscience also casually mentions sterilants in drinking water or staple foods of those who “contribute to social deterioration,” the implantation of long-term birth control devices in women who have already given birth to two or three children, and an international monitor empowered to enforce population limits on any nation under scrutiny. (The Ehrlichs and Holdren have claimed, quite implausibly, that they were just listing possibilities then under discussion.)

“Grilled by Senator David Vitter about these and other disturbing views last month, Holdren stated that it was “no longer productive” to think about optimal population size – but conceded little else. The media, as has become their custom when some Obama appointee is revealed to have an outrageously radical past, merely noted the hysteria of Holdren’s opponents but did not explore his positions.

“The Obama Administration’s social planners stand in a long tradition of progressives who reject the Judeo-Christian belief in the sanctity of human life. Many people still doubt that liberal-minded people actually hold such beliefs, but, as history shows, American progressives have often endorsed eugenics and other morally repugnant practices. Eliminating inferiors, they argued, is permissible in the name of preserving society as a whole. Holdren and his allies wouldn’t put it that way, because it plays badly – even to an adoring media. But they don’t hesitate to talk about restraining population in the name of preventing climate change – one of Dr. Holdren’s recent preoccupations.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reentry, Transitional Jobs

This new program “The Joyce Foundation’s Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration: Testing Strategies to Help Former Prisoners Find and Keep Jobs and Stay Out of Prison”, is one to watch—especially as it will be strictly evaluated using random selection and a control group—crucial to determining program effectiveness.

The program involves providing subsidized transitional jobs, usually of 4 months or so, to just released prisoners, and along with the other services being provided, may actually make a dent in the reentry numbers, at least for the short term; but the moral problem of providing criminals with services not available to those who are struggling who are not criminals, remains.

We will come back to this in a year, when the full evaluation is expected, to see how it does.

Two excerpts from the report.

“The TJRD project targets men age 18 or older who were released from state prison within 90 days prior to enrollment in the study. It is widely believed that the first weeks after people are released from prison are a critical period in determining whether their transition will be successful. Men with all types of criminal histories were accepted into the project, with no project-wide restrictions based on the number or type of previous offenses (there were some limitations in individual sites).

“The sites recruited men into the study from January 2007 through September 2008. Slightly more than 1,800 men entered the study in all, with the site totals ranging from about 375 to 500.” (p. 12)

“All provide participants with temporary, minimum-wage jobs that offer 30 to 40 hours of paid work each week; all aim to identify and address behavior or performance issues that emerge at the work site; all provide a range of ancillary services and supports to participants; and all help participants look for unsubsidized jobs to follow the transitional jobs, often with the help of job developers who reach out to employers to identify job openings for participants.” (p. 10)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mantras and Reality

One of the mantras that has defined much of the speculation about crime and criminals over the past several decades is that crime is a result of social structural inequities and criminals are victims of society and/or rapacious government—depending on who is currently in power.

If any aspect of this was true to any significant degree, then a struggling economy would surely suggest a rise in criminality as socially directed criminals respond to less opportunity to be productive citizens by increasing their criminality, but as this article notes, that is not occurring yet.

From a traditional Catholic perspective, the social cause of crime is not true—to any significant degree—and criminals remain individuals who act on their own, know what they are doing, and have made their decisions and acted upon them in a relatively well thought out and utilitarian process based on the values of the world they perceive.

This social causation of crime perspective lies at the heart of the decades old failure of rehabilitation programs to actually rehabilitate, as they fail to rely on the truism that criminals are self directed individuals and as such, will only respond to rehabilitative strategies that present them with true reasons for leaving the criminal world for the communal—which the Lampstand model is built upon and addressed in the series of books we have published.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Catholic Martiality

One of the many terrible consequences of the great heresy of the reformation and the subsequent plunge into relativity in all things, has been a loss of the understanding of the martiality of our faith, the congruence and singularity of the mind of God as expressed in both the Old and the New Testaments.

As our secular world struggles with wars of various kinds—from drugs to crime to terror—we must remember that the only war worth fighting and the one that has already been won, is the war against evil; both within our hearts and within our community.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Love & Mortification

I have always thought the admonition in Matthew 18: 8-9 about cutting off your hand if it offends you, referred more to an unrepentant member of the Church whose scandal called for the ultimate penalty of banishment or capital punishment as the verse (18:6) preceding it surely did; but as we see in the story of the first saint in the New World, St. Rose of Lima, it can also mean what it says, literally.

An excerpt.

“The first canonized saint of the New World has one characteristic of all saints—the suffering of opposition—and another characteristic which is more for admiration than for imitation—excessive practice of mortification.

“She was born to parents of Spanish descent in Lima, Peru, at a time when South America was in its first century of evangelization. She seems to have taken Catherine of Siena (April 29) as a model, in spite of the objections and ridicule of parents and friends.

“The saints have so great a love of God that what seems bizarre to us, and is indeed sometimes imprudent, is simply a logical carrying out of a conviction that anything that might endanger a loving relationship with God must be rooted out. So, because her beauty was so often admired, Rose used to rub her face with pepper to produce disfiguring blotches. Later, she wore a thick circlet of silver on her head, studded on the inside, like a crown of thorns.”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Constancy & Confusion

Over the past several decades, the constancy of the teaching of the Church on many of the foundational principles has been challenged by internal dissent and a struggle to reshape the Church to become more congruent with the shapeless remnants of the Protestant Reformation.

This struggle has been highly visible within the United States and after years of consultation and deliberation, the Vatican has begun to directly address the confusion, and one result is the action beginning with one group of religious, as reported by Catholic World Report.

An excerpt.

“The unprecedented decision by the Vatican to undertake an apostolic visitation to assess the quality of religious life in orders of sisters in the United States came as a big surprise to many people when it was announced in January. That surprise was doubled with the news two months later that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) will be conducting a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents most of the leaders of US women religious.

“But people who have been closely watching the deterioration of many of the women’s religious orders in this country were not at all surprised that the Vatican initiated these assessments. Indeed, many sisters themselves have asked and prayed for Vatican attention to the condition of women’s religious communities. Certainly there is concern that the numbers of sisters are plunging and ecclesial properties are being converted to secular use, but even more critical problems are evident: many sisters no longer work in apostolates related to the Church and no longer live or pray in community, and sometimes sisters even openly dissent from Church teaching on matters such as women’s ordination, homosexuality, centrality of the Eucharist, and the hierarchal nature of the Church.

“Likewise, the LCWR has had a stormy relationship with the Vatican for the past 40 years, and the LCWR has been very clear about its determination to “transform” religious life as well as the Church itself.

“The Vatican has said very little about the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR by the CDF, but an April 2 letter from the LCWR to its members informing them of the CDF notification was obtained by the National Catholic Reporter. That newspaper reported that the CDF was undertaking the assessment because doctrinal problems that were discussed with LCWR leadership in 2001 still remain.”

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Martyrdom Today

We in the United States rarely think of martyrdom as it relates to Catholics for it has never been a deep reality here, as it has been in all other countries in the world at some point, but it continues today, deeply and horribly in some Asian countries, as noted in this report from Catholic Culture.

An excerpt.

“From Mumbai, India, reader Alex Kannattumadom writes:

“We acknowledge and appreciate the efforts you put up for a good cause. It is high time you look beyond your own territories to see, especially, the Church in India. She is going through a very precarious situation. You see the media headlines: Church burnt in Karnataka state, Bible burnt in Gujarat, Priests murdered in broad daylight in Arunachal, Nuns raped in Uttar Pradesh. The Clergy and the laity had to flee to thick forests and had to stay there for weeks in Orissa. The Holy Host is desecrated in public.

“Still we keep the lamp lit, unflickering, on a high lamppost. We In India deserve a moral boost and assistance from you.”

“Over the years we have carried literally hundreds of stories about the sufferings of Christians in India-- as well as the trials that our Christians brethren face in other countries. (See today's Feature about the latest fervent pleas by Vietnamese Catholics for an end to government oppression.) But I'm sorry to say that these stories attract fewer readers than most other CWN headlines. That's a shame-- literally-- because Alex Kannattumadom is right. Wherever Christians are suffering for the faith, they deserve our support.

“Maybe there isn't much that we can do to help our fellow Catholics living thousands of miles away, apart from praying for them. But prayer is the most important step that we could take to preserve their hope and their courage. And the knowledge that we are praying for them should bolster their morale.”

Friday, August 21, 2009

Court Intervenes in Capital Punishment Case

In a case that has drawn the attention of Pope Benedict XVI, the US Supreme Court held that a lower court should examine the new evidence being presented that claims to exonerate a man convicted of killing a police officer, as reported by USA Today.

Though the highest court has not intervened in a capital punishment case in this manner for nearly fifty years, it is perhaps good to do so now and—whatever the outcome—bring more resolution to the, as yet unconfirmed, argument that many innocent people have been executed.

An excerpt.

“WASHINGTON — In an exceptional move Monday, the Supreme Court ordered a U.S. court in Georgia to hear new testimony in the case of Troy Davis, who was sentenced to die for killing a police officer and whose appeal has drawn international attention.

“The justices said a lower-court judge should determine whether fresh evidence "clearly establishes" Davis' innocence. Since a jury convicted him 18 years ago, seven of the prosecution's key witnesses have recanted their testimony about what happened in a Savannah, Ga., parking lot the night officer Mark Allen MacPhail was shot.

“The high court rarely intervenes in death penalty appeals at late stages and almost never when a condemned inmate is filing the kind of special petition that Davis did. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said in their dissent that it had been nearly 50 years since the court accepted such a petition.

“Davis' case comes amid growing questions about the possibility of innocent convicts on death row and courts' treatment of evidence that emerges after a conviction.

“His claim of innocence had won earlier support from former president Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI, and his latest bid drew "friend of the court" briefs from the NAACP and former U.S. House member Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Capital Punishment & Life Without Parole

Many capital punishment abolitionists argue that life without parole is adequate to protect the innocent from the aggressor whose crimes deserve the ultimate sanction; yet capital punishment supporters argue that life without parole can always be changed while capital punishment is a final resolution.

This article from the Des Moines Register reports on local action buttressing the argument offered by supporters of capital punishment.

An excerpt.

“In March 1984, just three days after his 18th birthday, Stanley Hart III conspired with two accomplices to murder his aunt at her rural Keokuk home, a crime that sent him to prison for life.

“Hart promised a younger teen a car, $2,500 and all the beer he could drink to kill Marilyn Hart, 53, in hopes of gaining access to his family's wealth.

“Twenty-five years later, Hart, grandson of a once-prominent state senator, remains behind bars at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.

“Hart, 43, has behaved well there, earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Iowa and graduate degrees in business and theology. Dozens of people have written to Iowa officials supporting a commutation of his sentence, which would make him eligible for parole.

“But like all Iowa prisoners serving life sentences, Hart has a slim chance of winning freedom. Iowa is one of the most difficult states in the nation for an inmate serving a life sentence to gain release, according to a study issued last month by the Sentencing Project, a Washington advocacy group.

“Iowa's three most recent governors have commuted life sentences only nine times in 26 years. At the same time, the population of lifers in Iowa's prison system has risen dramatically, from 162 inmates in 1983 to 617 today, an increase of 281 percent.

“Critics want to reduce that number, citing the high cost in dollars - nearly $19 million a year to house current lifers - and in lost human potential. But that notion threatens to disturb Iowa's uneasy truce over capital punishment: Iowa lawmakers have repeatedly rejected the death penalty, but only because "life means life" for the most serious crimes, noted Corwin Ritchie, executive director of the Iowa County Attorneys Association.

“The issue highlights the conflict between two deeply held societal views about crime and punishment: that everyone deserves a second chance, and that some crimes against society are so heinous that criminals must forever forfeit their freedom.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Catholic Movies

I love movies, and agree with this article from The Catholic Thing, that they are congruent with and reflect our culture.

So many of my favorites embody the great battle between good and evil, whether crime dramas, westerns, sci fi, or fantasy; and I was pleased to discover that John Wayne (one of the all-time greats) became a Catholic before he died.

This article looks at American Catholic movies.

An excerpt.

“I suppose I’ve seen 3000 movies.

“I’ve written about a couple here (Doubt and Death Takes a Holiday), and I’m not alone in believing that the evolution of this quintessentially American art form reflects changes in the larger culture. Consider especially the evolving status of Catholics on the big screen.

“Before the talkies, there were few priests or nuns or genuflecting laymen on film, although there were Catholics. Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops were based upon the myth – or was it the reality? – of the ubiquitous Irish-Catholic cop. But American Catholic moviemaking began in earnest when John Ford (born Sean Aloysius O'Fearna or John Martin Feeney, depending on when you asked him) first started directing silent movies in the Twenties.

“His part-silent, part-sound feature Mother Machree (1928) was notable for its sympathetic portrayal of a Catholic family – and for the beginning of Ford’s twenty-four-film collaboration with a then twenty-one-year-old actor named John Wayne. (Wayne converted to Catholicism shortly before his death in 1979.) The Informer (1935) with Victor McLaglen – Catholic in that it deals with the Irish Republican Army – cemented Ford’s reputation as Hollywood’s top director and won him his first Oscar. He would go on to adapt Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory as The Fugitive (1946) with Gregory Peck, The Quiet Man (1954) with Wayne, and The Last Hurrah (1958) with Spencer Tracy. Ford had directed 140 films by the time he died in 1973.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Capital Punishment, Judges Dissent

With a hat tip to the Crime and Consequences blog, this article from the New York Times expands on judges dissenting from their colleagues ruling allowing the sentence of capital punishment to proceed.

Lampstand supports capital punishment as it is a sanction that has been supported by the Catholic Church since the very beginning.

We recently published a book on Capital Punishment and the announcement is posted here.

An excerpt from the New York Times article.

“It took just 80 words for a federal appeals court to deny Kevin Cooper’s most recent plea to avoid execution. But attached to that order was a forceful 101-page dissent by a judge, all but pleading to spare Mr. Cooper’s life.

“The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man,” it began.

“The judge who wrote the dissent, William A. Fletcher of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, argued that the police and prosecutors had withheld and tampered with evidence in the case for decades; Judge Fletcher even accused the district court of having sabotaged the case.

“Compared with the dry, mannerly prose found in many opinions, Judge Fletcher’s passion in Cooper v. Brown is startling. But these kinds of fervent, lonely dissents, urging that a prisoner’s life be spared, have noticeably increased in the last decade, compared with previous years, according to a review of death penalty opinions by The New York Times, as confirmed by experts in the field.

“In dozens of capital cases in recent years, appeals court judges, some of whom have ruled in favor of the death penalty many times, have complained that Congress and the Supreme Court have raised daunting barriers for death row prisoners to appeal their convictions, and in many cases the judges have taken on their colleagues.

“There is an increasing frustration among federal judges throughout the system,” said Eric M. Freedman, a critic of the death penalty who teaches on the subject at Hofstra Law School.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

U.S. Bishops on Universal Health Care

A press release from Catholic News Service notes the launch of a new website from the bishops on the current public debate around universal healthcare.

An excerpt from the press release.

"Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2009 / 05:25 pm (CNA).- As the American health care debate continues, the U.S. Catholic bishops have launched a webpage to promote support for a “truly universal” health policy that respects human dignity.

"The page on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) includes letters for bishops to Congress, videos, facts and statistics, frequently asked questions, and links for contacting members of Congress.

"According to a USCCB press release, letters to Congress include USCCB pro-life chairman Cardinal Justice Rigali’s August 11 letter which criticized abortion provisions in the House version of health care legislation. The site also reproduces the July 17 letter from Bishop William Murphy, which outlines the bishops’ concerns and priorities for health care reform from a social justice perspective.

"The new webpage also includes videos of USCCB staff explaining the bishops’ position on health care. Kathy Saile, the USCCB’s director of Domestic Social Development, outlines the prelates’ general position and concerns. Richard Doerflinger, associate director of Pro-Life Activities, describes how abortion relates to the debate over health care reform."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Abortion & Constancy of Teaching

The respect for human life and the responsibility to protect the innocent, is firmly centered within the Catholic faith, and upon it rests the mandate against abortion and euthanasia, and the support for just war and capital punishment.

The Church was largely alone in the mandate against abortion in the ancient world, as this post by Chiesa, responding to the publication of a book about abortion within the current nation of China.

There are many within the Church and without who have fought against these ancient teachings of Catholicism, and though the teachings often appear on shaky grounds, they have held, and the constancy of each—as reflected within two central documents of the magisterium, the Catechism from the Council of Trent and the Catechism of the Catholic Church from the Council of Vatican II—is crucial for the Church.

An excerpt from the article from Chiesa.

“One of the ideas that recur most in the writings of the first Christians is in fact their desire to frequently repeat one concept: we Christians are different from the pagans, in part because we do not kill our children, neither within our women's wombs or outside of them.

“In chapter XXX, paragraph 2 of his "Octavius," the second-century apologist Minucius Felix, comparing the teaching of Christ with that of the pagans, writes: "you expose your newborn children to wild beasts and to birds; or strangling them you crush with a miserable kind of death. There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, smother in their very bowels the seed destined to become a human creature, and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And you learn these things from your gods, for Saturn did not simply expose his children, but even devoured them."

“For his part, the great Tertullian, in his "Apologeticum," chapter IX, states: "For us Christians murder is expressly forbidden, and therefore it is not even permitted for us to destroy the fetus in its mother's womb. Preventing birth is murder in advance. It doesn't matter at all whether one destroys a life already born or crushes it at birth: what is about to be born is already a human being. Every fruit is already contained in its seed."

“Another very important document from second-century Christianity, written in Asia Minor, the Letter to Diognetus, reiterates the same ideals in this rather concise manner: "Christians marry like everyone else and produce children, but they do not throw away their newborns."

“On this same theme of infanticide, the historian A. Baudrillart has written: "There may be no matter on which ancient pagan society and modern Christian society are in more stark opposition than in their respective ways of thinking about children."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Holy Day of Obligation

Today is a Holy Day of Obligation, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and has been traditionally, though the U.S. Bishop’s Conference says that if the Assumption falls on a Saturday or Monday, as it does for 2009, then, as noted on their website: “the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.”

Consequently, though our home parish is a Jesuit parish, we like to attend the local parish of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter for High Mass in the Extraordinary Rite on Holy Days and will so later this morning.

For converts like us, the experience of a High Mass on Holy Days is one not to be missed, as the solemnity, grandeur, ritual, and mystery, punctuated by Gregorian Chant, is connected with the ancient rhythms of the Catholic Church, and it will thrill your heart and soul.

The Fraternity is, as noted on their website:

“A Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right founded with the approval of His Holiness Pope John Paul II in 1988, for the formation and sanctification of priests in the framework of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite and their pastoral deployment in the service of the Church.”

Friday, August 14, 2009

Early Release to Reduce Corrections Budgets

While both sides of the political aisle may wish to reduce funding within criminal justice, the early release of prisoners as a means of doing so usually appeals to only one side; who too often make criminal justice related decisions without a clear understanding of the danger of increasing the population of unreformed criminals—particularly from maximum security prisons—within communities.

Considering that the normal release strategy is currently rewarding us with a recidivism rate of 70%, the hope that early release may improve that is indeed hopeful.

In a new report from the Vera Institute, The Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Rethinking Policies and Practices, a larger part of the rethinking revolves around early release of some form through an expanded use of community corrections.

My first salaried position within criminal justice was as a student research assistant on a federally funded program to create an evaluation instrument for community corrections programs and I spent as much of my time in the field visiting programs as in the office analyzing data.

What I gained from this experience was a great respect for evaluation but little hope that community corrections could play much of a role in criminal reformation and subsequent research results over the past 30 plus years since that initial experience have done little to change my opinion.

We’ve posted several times on the failure of current rehabilitative efforts and one informative post is here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Theology & Ideology

The invisibility of ideas has always driven the visible actions of politics and perhaps at a much higher level in our country over the past few years than ever before.

The theology behind invisible ideas is often difficult to discern, but the signs are there for those wishing to study them.

In that respect the two books by a British historian—newly commented on by The Catholic Thing—are significant to help us understand today’s political movements, as we noted in an earlier post, with quotes and links to the books.

An excerpt from the review from The Catholic Thing.

“In two remarkable books, Earthly Powers and Sacred Causes, British historian Michael Burleigh, has traced the clash of religion and politics from the French Revolution to our own times. Burleigh shows that modern materialist creeds – Jacobinism, Fascism, Communism, and Nazism – had these common traits: They viewed man, not as a person created Imago Dei, but as a speck within mass society devoid of freedom, self-responsibility, and conscience; and to supplant organized religions, these secularists portrayed themselves as pseudo-divine and elevated their revolutions to religious status.

“The French Jacobins suppressed the Church (by 1794 only 150 of 40,000 churches were offering Mass) and replaced it with a civic religion. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was a political gospel. Baptism was redefined “as the regeneration of the French revolution begun on July 14, 1789.” Communion: an association of French people “to form on earth only one family of brothers who no longer recognize or worship any idol or tyrant.” Penitence: “the banishment of all those monsters. . .unworthy to inhabit the land of liberty.”

“To eliminate the Lord’s Day, a calendar was created with ten-day weeks. Holydays were replaced with secular feast days called Virtue, Genus, Labor, Recompenses, and Opinion. Notre Dame Cathedral was converted into a “Temple of Reason.” An opera singer was worshipped as the “Goddess of Liberty.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Professional Standards

Peer work within the criminal justice profession is several decades old and overdue for standards to be applied to those working to help in the field where they once were part of the problem.

This has been accomplished somewhat in the addiction field, and bringing the standards to street intervention programs, as this article in the Los Angeles Times reports, is an excellent idea.

An excerpt.

“Officials on Monday unveiled a federal bill that would create national standards and accountability for gang intervention workers as part of a Los Angeles-based effort to professionalize the growing and controversial field.

“The bill, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), is the first such national initiative to regulate intervention workers who act as liaisons between law enforcement and communities. Police and intervention workers have a long history of distrust, but authorities have come to rely on intervention workers for such matters as monitoring street gossip and preventing retaliatory shootings.

"We gave the world the Crips and the Bloods," Watson said during a visit to the headquarters of Communities in Schools, a North Hills youth center. "Now it is time we take a leadership role and change the tremendous influence gangs have had on young people and the entire society."

“The bill is modeled after a similar, locally approved plan introduced by Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas.

“Among other provisions, the bill spells out those services the federal government expects intervention agencies to deliver, such as street mediation and crisis response at schools. It also seeks to hold intervention agencies accountable by using "evidence-based" accounting of gang-related violence and the numbers of young people who have been routed into job development programs.

“The standards would apply to intervention agencies seeking direct federal funding or local government agencies seeking federal funding for contracted intervention services. Watson said she will ask U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to sponsor a companion measure in the Senate.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Film, Crime & Misdirection

In this review of the new film Public Enemies from America magazine, a common mistake is compounded, conflating white collar con men whose crimes are largely built upon the cupidity of folks striving to realize the American dream, with street criminals who take money (and often much more besides) from the innocent; and it is a conflation serving no purpose other than excusing street criminality through the portrayal of it being structural rather than individual.

Most of us do not fear con men, feeling, justifiably or not, that we can generally hold our own by operating from the old warning that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”; but we do fear street criminals, as we know that they often hurt us not only financially but also physically, and as certainly as we wish con men who rob the gullible of their life savings to be put away, we demand it of street criminals who prey upon the innocent.

An excerpt.

““Public Enemies” presents a good story, but nothing surprising: Dillinger went on a crime spree and the F.B.I. killed him as he came out of a Chicago movie house in July 1934. The film gains interest with spectacular action sequences. Mann offers enough bank robberies and shootouts to keep even a restless 12-year-old boy in his seat for the full two hours and 15 minutes. Yet the story lacks sparkle. And the characters, even Dillinger himself, fade into the narrative without demanding much emotional investment. One senses a conscious strategy here. Johnny Depp, as the protagonist, and Christian Bale, playing his nemesis Agent Melvin Purvis, stand at a distance from their characters, appearing content to accompany them as they wander from one action sequence to the next. Their motivation remains in the background. Does Dillinger need the money, or does he want to humiliate law enforcement agencies? Or does he merely enjoy living on the edge? Purvis becomes obsessed with his job, but does he seek personal satisfaction or a leading role in the new F.B.I.? Or has he allowed himself to become a Hoover sycophant?...

“Now Mann has given us a Dillinger for the bailout generation. The action sequences make him an old-time gangster, whose Tommy gun rains death on lawmen and bystanders without discrimination. Yet Dillinger remains opaque, in the image of today’s buttoned-down gangsters. Today’s mobsters do not rob banks; they loot them with credit-default swaps. Faceless and all but anonymous in their striped suits, they no longer race their black sedans down country roads to evade the sirens of their tormentors. Today, gangsters ride their corporate jets and stretch limos to board meetings and Senate committee hearings. They don’t brandish machine guns; they send e-mails from their laptops. They don’t have sworn enemies in law enforcement; they have well-paid lawyers who find the loopholes to make their activities appear legal. And what of their motives when they have more millions than they could possibly spend in a lifetime? Ego? Proving to themselves that they are above the law? The thrill of the chase? They are ruthless, but dull. Mann’s John Dillinger would fit right in. But would Jackie Reilly insist on being Bernie Madoff during our Saturday game of Ponzi scheme?”

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Wolves Among the Faithful

During the sexual abuse trauma that still stalks the Church, many calls were raised concerning the still unresolved responsibility of the bishops who supposedly knew about the actions of many of the predatory priests—and bishops—but did nothing.

This story from Catholic World Report of the satanic actions of one archbishop must certainly cause pause among the faithful, and one waits and wonders about the consequences from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and/or the Vatican.

An excerpt.

“It sounds like an over-the-top Tom Wolfe novel: a successor to the apostles conducts an affair with a male graduate student, is accused of “date rape” and emotional harm by said student, and raids the collection basket of the faithful to hush the student up, then, as the bishop settles into a cushy retirement, he pens a “coming out” memoir in praise of homosexual behavior, all the while retaining the canonical rights and privileges of a retired archbishop and receiving pats on the back from fellow clergy.

“Alas, this is no racy and risible fiction; it is the real story of Archbishop Rembert Weakland. The retired archbishop of Milwaukee released June 15 his autobiography, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop. In it he admits to several affairs with men, crowns himself the first voluntarily “out” bishop, and argues that the Church should endorse the “physical, genital expression” of homosexuality, as he put it to the New York Times in May.

“If we say our God is an all-loving god,” he said to the Times, “how do you explain that at any given time probably 400 million living on the planet at one time would be gay? Are the religions of the world, as does Catholicism, saying to those hundreds of millions of people, you have to pass your whole life without any physical, genital expression of that love?”

“Weakland gave this interview to the Times, by the way, from the “Archbishop Weakland Center, which houses the archdiocesan cathedral offices in downtown Milwaukee.” This small snapshot of episcopal decadence—an openly “gay” bishop spouting heresy while sitting in a diocesan office still named in his honor—would be amusing if it weren’t so sad and scandalous.

“If Church officials worried about the corruption and perdition of souls as much as they fret about “tolerance” and “collegiality,” they would end this disgusting farce and suspend Weakland’s faculties. Instead, they sit on their hands as Weakland, outfitted in his priestly collar, grants interviews to news outlets about the glories of mortal sin.”

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Abolish Life without Parole?

In what is surely the type of effort that seriously undercuts one plank of the intellectual position of the capital punishment abolition movement—that life without parole is sufficient to protect the innocent from the aggressor—a report from the Sentencing Project calls for the abolition of life without parole,

This article from the Boston Globe examines this position.

An excerpt.

“OF THE 2.3 million people in prisons and jails in the United States, roughly 140,000, or 6 percent, are serving life sentences. Of that number, about 41,000 - 1.8 percent of all inmates - were sentenced to life without parole. Both numbers are at an all-time high.

“Should Americans be troubled by this? The Sentencing Project thinks so. In a new report, the liberal advocacy group complains that the growth in life sentences has been costly and unjust. It “challenges the supposition that all life sentences are necessary to keep the public safe,’’ and particularly disapproves of life without parole.

“As a matter of policy, the Sentencing Project supports abolition of both the death penalty and life without parole, an eccentric position that most Americans don’t share. Nevertheless, the group’s new report - “No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America’’ - has drawn deferential media attention, with stories appearing in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and Agence France-Press.

“But good PR is not a substitute for sound analysis.

“In its very first paragraph, “No Exit’’ asserts that the high incarceration rate is the result of “three decades of ‘tough on crime’ policies that have made little impact on crime.’’

“America’s prison population has unquestionably grown in recent years, as prison sentences have lengthened and more criminals have been locked up. But far from negligible, the “impact on crime’’ has been dramatic. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Americans experienced 44 million crimes in 1973. By 2007, that number had dropped to 23 million - and this even as the population grew by more than 75 million.

“During those “three decades of ‘tough on crime’ policies,’’ in other words, crime in America was nearly halved. Since the mid-1990s, the plunge in violent crime has been especially steep: from more than 51 crimes of violence per 1,000 US residents in 1994 to 21 in 2005 - a 59 percent reduction.”

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Sign of Contradiction

Though we know that standing with the Church often means standing against the world, it is good to be reminded, as in this article from Catholic News Service.

An excerpt.

“Phoenix, Ariz., Aug 5, 2009 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- On the second day of the Knights of Columbus’ annual conference, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, delivered a homily in which he spoke of Mary as a model for following God’s will and warned American Catholics that they too “will be pierced by that sword of opposition” if they are faithful to Christ.

“Noting that today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Cardinal Levada began by reflecting on the history of the feast and Mary’s role in the Incarnation.

“We see in the mystery of the Incarnation the most remarkable example of the power of God’s word: the Word himself becomes flesh, the Son of God is born in time.”

“The cardinal explained that there are two lessons connected with the Incarnation.

“First of all, he explained, “the work of creation and salvation is first, last, and always God’s initiative. Life is God’s gift, not our accomplishment.” Secondly, he continued, though it is God’s work, we also “have a role to play.”

“He went on to explain that Mary was not simply God’s instrument “by which the word became flesh, a lifeless patch of land made fruitful by the downpour of God’s word,” but she was a human “with a free will and she cooperated in God’s saving plan. Mary freely and joyfully embraced God’s will, and for this reason she is intimately connected with her Son’s mission.”

“The Mother of Jesus is involved in the whole mystery of the life of Christ, she is we might say a ‘co-conspirator’ in God’s plan of salvation,” he observed…

“As American Catholics, we can and we should work with all people of good will, regardless of their religious beliefs, to improve the lot of others.” However, he concluded, “no matter how remarkable its scientific accomplishments or technological advances,” America, “will always be a barren patch of earth without the life-giving refreshment of the word of God.”

Friday, August 7, 2009


We too often forget, in our lives in this most comfortable country for Christians, that many places in the world still witness the blood of the martyrs, and one such is Pakistan, as this story from Chiesa reports.

An excerpt.

“ROME, August 5, 2009 – They threw stones, burned homes, and pursued those fleeing, firing wildly. In the end, nine people were dead. Seven of them have the same last name, Hamid, and belong to the same family clan as Fr. Hussein Younis, a Franciscan. They include two children (in the photo by Saqib Khadim, the coffins). Their only fault is that they were Christian.

“It took place in Pakistan, in Gojra, in the province of Faisalabad in eastern Punjab. There are 1.3 million Catholics in all of Pakistan, and the same number of Christians of other denominations, out of a population of 160 million, almost entirely Muslim. But the intolerance against this small, poor, peaceful minority has become a fact of life, exploding at times into bloody aggression.

“The latest episode was sparked by an innocent marriage celebration among Christians in Koriyan, a little village near Gojra. It was July 30. Interviewed by Lorenzo Cremonesi for "Corriere della Sera" on August 3, Fr. Younis recounts:

"As is customary, at the end of the ceremony in the church the guests tossed flowers, rice, a few coins as tokens of prosperity, and slips of paper with greetings or prayers written on them. The problem is that some Muslims started to claim that the slips of paper were pages torn out of the Qur'an, an extremely serious offense for Islam and even more serious in these times of fanaticism. Very soon insults and accusations were flying, and then stones. A few homes were set on fire in the afternoon. But the more serious violence exploded on the morning of Saturday, August 1, in Gojra, around the Christian neighborhood.

"Our people counted eight buses full of extremists who had come from outside the area. Unfamiliar faces, people armed to the teeth. Their slogan was that we Christians have the same religion as the American soldiers, and therefore we are enemies, we deserve death. First they threw stones, then they sprayed gasoline, and finally came machine gun fire and bombs. Here around me everything is burned, charred. The death toll could have been much worse if the Christians had not fled immediately. My relatives were not fast enough, and they were burned alive, trapped in the flames."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Social Teaching & Interpretations

After each encyclical from the Holy Father, or other teaching from the Vatican, there are the attempts to shape the reception of it one way or another, rather than referring back to the actual words in the context of the whole.

As the social teaching of the Church played a large role in my conversion to Catholicism, I studied it—and continue to do so—religiously, including the primary documents and analytic and historic material.

The first few books about the teaching that I studied were very biased and rarely quoted the actual teaching extensively, but primarily interpreted it.

I finally found a source that does the opposite, rarely interprets, and uses extensive quote from the material to allow you to actually see the intent of the teaching.

And for those of you following this blog, you will know I speak of the work of Fr. Rodger Charles, S.J., whose two-volume work was published in Great Britain in 1998, Christian Social Witness and Teaching: The Catholic Tradition from Genesis to Centesimus Annus: Volume 1—From Biblical Times to the Late Nineteenth Century & Volume 2— The Modern Social Teaching Contexts: Summaries: Analysis.

An excellent review of the work is at the Acton Institute’s Journal of Markets & Morality.

The best place to find both volumes is either through Abe Books or through the publisher, Gracewing Publishing.

Now, Fr. Charles had a lot to say about the various interpretations of the teaching and here is just a sampling:

“In summary, the presenter of the modern teaching must deal with the whole of it, and must do so in a balanced way so that the left, right and centre can see where their responsibilities lie. This means expounding the texts in such a way that their overall message is clear. The defects of the literature in the field, including my own previous contributions, were apparent to me as I grappled with the problems of teaching the subject in the late 1980s and I decided that I would make a study of the whole Catholic tradition with the hope of providing an exhaustive and balanced treatment of it and providing a coherent analysis which the reader could see was tied to the texts, allowing that teaching to speak for itself so that the reader could make up his or her own mind as to whether I had interpreted it correctly or not.” (p. xv)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Crime, Remorse & Forgiveness

In this article in the Weekly Standard about the situation involving Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback who was just released from a sentence for running a dog-fighting club, the question is posed, “When is a crime paid for?”, which is an excellent question in the arena of criminal reformation.

The best answer, I believe, in this era of total access to criminal records, is that for reentering penitential criminals with extensive criminal involvement (which doesn't apply in Mr. Vick's case)—regardless of the crimes—is probably never; and for the penitential criminal the best response is to assume the rest of your life should be committed to helping the society you harmed during your criminal life, and you should expect nothing in return for that help.

It is very reasonable for most people to always remain suspicious and wary of someone with an extensive criminal past, and for the reformed criminal to not accept this is not really on point with what his internal and external work should be about, coming closer to God.

An excerpt from the article.

“It was Vick's lack of "remorse" that led the judge in his case to slap him with a longer sentence than his fellow defendants. But one cannot measure remorse. (One can measure servility, which is perhaps what those who call for remorse are generally seeking to procure.) And why should we care about remorse? We don't need Vick to love dogs. We just need him not to repeat his crime.

“One of the great things about incarceration is that it relieves us of the need to look into our fellow citizens' hearts. "He's done the time," said Terrell Owens of the Buffalo Bills. He is right. We need to revive the idea of "paying one's debt to society."

“Other-wise we blacklist people forever, which is to say, we establish "debts to society" incapable of being paid back.”

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book Announcement

The Lampstand Foundation’s imprint, Chulu Press, has published its fourth book, Capital Punishment & Catholic Social Teaching: A Tradition of Support, by David H. Lukenbill, and it is now available, (free to members of the LampStand Foundation) or for sale at

An excerpt from the Foreword.

“This book is a defense of the scriptural and traditional Catholic position of support for capital punishment as expressed in the two universal catechisms, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, published by Pope Pius V in 1566, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by Pope John Paul II in 1992 & 1997 (First & Second Edition), in response to calls for its abolition.

“Based on scripture and tradition, calls for abolition are premature, though the call has generated a renewed focus on not only the magisterial history of this most ancient of teachings, but also its theological resonance within the expression of that teaching by the Fathers of the Church—ancient and modern—who most deeply reflected on it.

“While Catholic social teaching has always supported capital punishment, it has been opposed by some in the Catholic hierarchy as an unnecessary criminal justice tool, with current criminal justice technology being presented as providing adequate protection of the innocent against the aggressor, meeting the criteria established by the Holy See (1997):

“2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

“Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” (Holy See. (1997) Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed.) Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, # 2267. Retrieved July 16, 2009)

“Regarding the new restriction embedded in the traditional support, Flannery (2007) responds:

“It is true, of course, that traditional Catholic teaching does not exclude recourse to the death penalty; however, among traditional authors, it would be hard to find expressed the restriction, “when this is the only practicable way to defend lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.” (Flannery, K. L. (2007). Capital punishment and the law, Ave Maria Law Review, 5, 399-428, p. 414) (Lukenbill, 2009, pp. 9-10)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Social Justice & Life

Social justice is embedded in the guiding principles of our apostolate, and very early in my study of it as I was becoming Catholic, it was clear that the primary social justice issue was respect for life, for all other issues of social justice rest on that.

George Weigel notes the importance placed on the respect for life in the newest encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI.

An excerpt.

“In any event, there is an important theme in Caritas in Veritate that, were all Catholics to take it seriously, might have a measurable impact on the American culture wars and on the U.S. Church's internal struggle to define Catholic identity -- and that is the encyclical's insistence, repeated several times, that the life issues are social justice issues, so that Catholic social doctrine includes the Church's defense of life from conception until natural death.

“This teaching began with John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), in which John Paul warned that democracies risk becoming "tyrant states" if moral wrongs are legally declared "rights." Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger went a step further in his homily at the Mass for the Election of a Pope, on April 18, 2005.

“There, Ratzinger warned against a "dictatorship of relativism" in which coercive state power would be used to enforce the by-products of a culture skeptical about the human capacity to know the moral truth of anything: by-products such as abortion-on-demand, euthanasia, and "gay marriage." Now, as Benedict XVI, Ratzinger has moved the discussion further still, teaching that the defense of life is crucial to building the "human ecology" necessary to sustain just economic practices and protect the natural environment.”

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Space, the Next Frontier

God’s gifts to us include the capability to explore space and in a previous post, George Weigel noted the importance of further exploration.

This recent news release notes some possibilities.

An excerpt.

“July 31, 2009 - At a press conference on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, surviving astronauts from NASA’s Apollo missions made a public statement indicating that they’d like the agency to work on taking humans to Mars, instead of focusing on a return to the moon. This return, and an eventual lunar base that would serve as a jumping-off point for further ventures into our solar system, are objectives of a space-exploration initiative established by George W. Bush.

“In its 51 years, NASA has recorded a long history of achievements in space exploration. Since its inception in 1958, there have been more than 150 successful U.S. human space flights, including the Apollo moon landings, the launch of the United States' first space station, Skylab, and more than 120 flights of the space shuttle. The International Space Station was recently completed through the joint efforts of NASA and the space agencies of 14 other countries including Russia, Japan, Canada, and several European nations.”

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Reentry Program Evaluation

Though, as posted yesterday, there are many instances in the media of programs that appear to be successful—and many are for singular reasons—the evidence as determined by rigorous evaluation has still not identified large scale and replicable programs that reduce recidivism at a statistical level high enough to be able to effectively challenge the current 60-70% national recidivism rate.

Rigorous evaluation is the key, and James Q. Wilson describes the four things needed (the fifth, an independent third party evaluator, though not mentioned, is understood as necessary within the evaluation profession) in the text he edited with Joan Petersilia, Crime: Public Policies for Crime Control.

An excerpt.

“There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of crime-prevention programs under way. Many may work (and, of course, all their leaders think they work). But which actually work can only be determined by a rigorous evaluation. Not many have been evaluated in this way. A rigorous evaluation requires four things to be done: First, people must be assigned randomly to either the prevention program or a control group. Random assignment virtually eliminates the chance that those in the program will differ in some unknown way from those not in it. Random assignment is better than trying to match people in the two because we probably will not know (or even be able to observe) all the ways by which they should be matched. Second, the prevention must actually be applied. Sometimes people are enrolled in a program but do not in fact get the planned treatment. Third, the positive benefit, if any, of the program must last for at least one year after the program ends. It is not hard to change people while they are in a program; what is difficult is to make the change last afterward. Fourth, if the program produces a positive effect (that is, people in it are less likely to commit crimes that similar ones not in it), that program should be evaluated again in a different location. Some programs will work once because they are run by exceptional people or in a community that facilitates its success; the critical test is to see if they will run when tried elsewhere using different people. (p. 553)