Saturday, October 31, 2009

City of God

Along with the scriptures, the study of St. Augustine and St. Aquinas remains essential for Catholics to understand the founding stones of their faith.

The major work of St. Augustine, The City of God, lays out the ground for us to understand the world (city of man) through an understanding of the divine, and the city within which the faithful and just live, (City of God).

For many generations it was misunderstood as a rationale for temporal rule by the Church, but that has been corrected, as this article from 30 Days notes.

An excerpt.

"It is interesting to note that Augustine’s present relevance coincides with the unfashionableness of the medieval version of his thought, with the definitive waning of that political Augustinism which supplied the theoretic justification of papal supremacy over imperial power in the running quarrel that lasted from Gregory VII until Boniface VIII. The many studies that have emerged in recent decades on the work of the bishop of Hippo, from that of Reinhold Niebuhr to those of Étienne Gilson, Sergio Cotta, Joseph Ratzinger and others, all proceed from a re-appraisal of Augustine’s position, in particular that expressed in De civitate Dei, [The City of God] along with a critique of medieval political Augustinism. The theses of these studies could be summed up as follows: for Augustine the dualism between the two civitates, the “city of God” and the “earthly city” is not to be identified with the conflict between Church and State. “The City of God, with resplendent walls of adamantine, is the supernatural goal of the believer; with Saint Augustine, it becomes achievable in this life. All just men are citizens. The conflict between Christians and Romans, Church and Empire, provincials and government ceases: it shifts into the conscience”. Augustine’s model, secondly, differs both from the potentially revolutionary eschatology of Origen – which tends to de-legitimize the ordinances and laws of the State because they are not in line with the requirements of the Gospel – and from the political theocracy of Eusebius of Caesarea who, identifying Christian universalism with that of Rome, laid the ideological basis on which Byzantium was to found its “Christian” empire. This double distinction, from Origen and from Eusebius, enables us, in third place, to see the model set out in De civitate Dei as absolutely not theocratic, and this despite the fact that during the Donatist controversy, particularly in his Letter 93 to Bishop Vincentius, Augustine lets one glimpse a possible use in that direction. It is this “use” that explains the “political Augustinism” which, as Gilson well explains, led his followers to affirm “a dual and complementary tendency. On the one hand, forgetful of the great apocalyptic vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, they reduced the City of God to the Church, which in Augustine’s authentic view was no more than the ‘pilgrim’ part, working in time to enlist citizens for eternity. On the other, there was the ever growing tendency to mistake the earthly city of Augustine - the mystical city of perdition - with the temporal and political city. From then on the problem of the two cities became that of the two powers, the spiritual power of the popes and the temporal one of States or princes”.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Abortion, Crime & Juveniles

This post from the Crime & Consequences blog looks at the extreme contradiction exhibited by the American Psychological Association which argues that juveniles are mature enough to decide for themselves about having an abortion but not mature enough to know they are committing crimes; the sad result of ideology driving policy.

An excerpt.

"The lead article in this month's issue of the American Psychologist is an article titled Are Adolescents Less Mature than Adults? The article attempts to reconcile the contradictory positions of the American Psychological Association highlighted by Justice Scalia in his dissent in Roper v. Simmons: “[T]he American Psychological Association (APA), which claims in this case that scientific evidence shows persons under 18 lack the ability to take moral responsibility for their decisions, has previously taken precisely the opposite position before this very Court. In its brief in Hodgson v. Minnesota, 497 U.S. 417 (1990), the APA found a "rich body of research" showing that juveniles are mature enough to decide whether to obtain an abortion without parental involvement.” Simmons at 617 (Scalia, J. dissenting)

“Since those lines were laid to text, the American Psychological Association has tried to defend its position that when it comes to obtaining an abortion, the scientific evidence shows that adolescents posses the cognitive capacity to make that choice free from parental consent yet when it comes to the criminal punishment, juveniles as a categorical group, are insufficiently mature to be subject to the full range of criminal sanctions available under the law. The article in this month's American Psychologist claims to demonstrate how these positions are compatible despite the robust intuition that they simply can't be.

“To accomplish this feat, the authors suggest that when it comes to decisions about abortion, what matters are abilities that they call cognitive capacity. These are considered abilities which permit logical reasoning about moral, social, and interpersonal matters and can be sufficiently measured by examining working memory, verbal fluency, and short-term memory. Likewise, they posit that when it comes to decisions related to criminal matters - such as whether it is legally and morally wrong to murder someone, as Simmons did - those abilities reflect more on psychosocial maturity. And those latter abilities are under-developed in most adolescents.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mentoring Grants

The Second Chance Act has awarded $10 million in mentoring grants and that is potentially good news if some of those organizations are astute enough to utilize reformed criminals as mentors, but based on the history of most government funded mentoring programs—which have been around for decades—the mentors are traditionally non-criminals who have little knowledge and training in the aspects of the criminal world their mentoring must counteract.

We wish them all well.

Here is a link to the pdf notice with names of the grantees and funded amounts.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Leadership, Crime & War

Too often, the public leader who speaks of terrible things and the deep sacrifices a country needs to respond to them, is cast aside by a nation loathe to confront the often brutal nature of reality.

In this context, the support of the Catholic Church for the equally brutal responses to crime and war—capital punishment and just war—are often resisted by many, even in the Church, who are not willing to even acknowledge, let alone confront the terrible nature of evil.

Fortunately, there often arises in these times, leaders who are willing to raise their voices and continue to speak even when ridiculed.

England was fortunate to have such a leader in Winston Churchill many years ago, as we are fortunate to have such a leader as Richard Cheney today, as this report from the Center for Security Policy notes.

An excerpt.

“[Churchill’s] assessment of the growing dangers posed to Britain and the Free World was not just unwelcome among Brits who wanted no more death and destruction after the horrific bloodletting of the so-called “War to End All Wars.” He was reviled and treated as a political pariah for taking to the floor of Parliament again and again to warn that another conflagration was coming. His enemies belittled him; he largely lived in self-imposed internal exile; and his public friends were few.

“Yet, Churchill’s role in keeping the flame of freedom burning during those “wilderness years” was arguably as important as his subsequent service to King and country. He challenged the pollyannish British intelligence assessments of the Nazi rearmament program and goaded Her Majesty’s Government into beginning to correct its woeful under-investment in military procurement.

“Churchill took it upon himself, despite his unpopularity, to travel the country and educate Britons, often in small groups, about the mounting dangers in Europe and around the world that their leaders refused to see – or discuss. In so doing, he helped prepare the country for the hardships ahead and the sacrifices that would be required to meet them….

“Today, there is a Churchill in our midst. Like the original “Last Lion,” he is loathed and slandered by his critics. His utterances about the present and growing threats and his past service to his country are savaged by the national leadership, even as they try to dismiss him as “discredited” (as Senator Carl Levin put it on Sunday) or a liability for his party (as innumerable political operatives and pundits insist).

“Our Churchill’s name is Dick Cheney.

“The Churchillian qualities of our former Vice President were much in evidence last Wednesday night when he received the Center for Security Policy’s Keeper of the Flame award. Despite his characteristic soft-spoken delivery, Mr. Cheney rendered a withering indictment of the Obama administration’s security policies.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reentry Jobs

There is nothing more heartening for a criminal just released from prison—whose intention is to go straight—than a simple straightforward job with an understanding boss and a decent paycheck, and this program appears to be providing that, as reported by the Indianapolis Star.

Our prayers are with them.

An excerpt.

“Gregg Keesling's conversation is frenetic and varied, his social mobility (and lung capacity) surely unparalleled.

“He consoles felons just out of prison, talks sustainability with earnest young environmentalists and joshes about Purdue football over lunch with his fellow Rotarians.

"Gregg has this ability to engage people, to talk with all people," said Jannett Keesling, his wife of 26 years. "Of course, he can keep going for hours. People ask me, 'How do you cope?' "

“But joking aside, her husband is making a name for himself -- here and across the nation -- for his innovative approach to solving problems.

“Last week, Keesling received an award for innovation from the prestigious, San Francisco-based Social Venture Network (an earlier recipient was Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's).

“Keesling was honored for his work with the nonprofit company he started in 2006, Workforce Inc. The Eastside company hires ex-offenders and helps them transition back to society while helping to improve the environment.

“Workforce Inc. strips electronic equipment, mostly computers, and sells the electronic waste to recyclers.

“The company's plan -- the only one of its kind in Indianapolis -- addresses two of the nation's most pressing concerns: what to do with felons newly back on the streets (about 5,000 a year in Marion County alone) and what to do with the toxic innards of discarded computers.

"Gregg is a visionary leader, and he's really changing our society," said U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indianapolis.

“The next adventure

“Now comes Keesling's next big social venture: On Monday, Workforce Inc. will open what is expected to be the city's most comprehensive recycling center.

"Plastics, glass, metal -- they're going to be taking everything," said Renée Sweany, who runs an environmental affairs Web site and is the marketing manager for the Hoosier Environmental Council. "The fact (Keesling) incorporates a social mission with their environmental mission is just a win-win."

“Workforce Inc., with its $1.5 million annual budget, survives mostly on grants, public and private. But Keesling is trying to lessen its dependence on those sources by increasing sales. And that means recycling more junk.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Catholicism, A Branch of Christianity?

I heard a Catholic priest describe the Church in this way in a homily recently, and though I don’t know what he actually meant, the metaphoric reference would be more accurately used by describing the Church as the tree, and other ecclesial communities calling themselves Christian, are more aptly described as fruits that have fallen from the tree of Christianity—the Roman Catholic Church—and are now laying on the ground slowly rotting as the distance between their past, before the Protestant Reformation when they were still part of the Church, and their present, clearly showing their increasing distance from God, for the longer they are lost, the further they are from God.

The singular truth of the Church is explained most recently by the document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in 2007, Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church.

Truth is from the Church, the Roman Catholic Church—founded by Christ—only, and whatever bits of truth exist in other ecclesial communities came originally from her, but the longer the bits of truth remain separated from her fullness of truth, the more degraded the bits become, as they lay upon the ground where they have fallen, rotting as their source of life, the tree of the Church, grows without them.

This is analogous to criminals, who, through their longevity within the criminal world and living by its truths, the greater the distance between them and God; and the more difficult to find the way back.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Extraordinary Discussions Begins

In a discussion—noted by Inside the Vatican—surely as important as that begun by Pope Benedict XVI with the Islamic world at Regensburg, which was blogged on earlier; the conclusions drawn from various interpretations of what occurred during Vatican II are going to be reexamined, and that is a very good thing.

An excerpt.

“Pope Benedict XVI has just made a dramatic choice, one which will certainly be numbered among the major decisions of his pontificate.

“He has decided, in effect, to reopen formal debate on the Second Vatican Council and its teaching.

“The new dialogue, which will take place in Rome between the leaders of the Fraternity of St. Pius X (the followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre) and Vatican experts will take place on October 26 at the Vatican, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said today.”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Economics & Crime Theory

In reading this story in the New York Times about the conclusions reached by implementing aspects of game theory in crime reduction, we see the unfortunate consequences of assuming criminals—especially professional criminals—are somehow going to quit being a criminal if the odds of getting caught are impacted by increasing law enforcement focus on specific criminals.

Experience would indicate that the opposite is true. There is perhaps no more law enforcement focus on criminals than within prisons, yet prisoners have historically been able to continue their criminal activity and in addition, get, almost, anything they want inside prisons, even within super-max and death rows.

An excerpt.

“One way to make apprehension and punishment more likely is to spend substantially more money on law enforcement. In a time of chronic budget shortfalls, however, that won’t happen.

“But Mr. Kleiman suggests that smarter enforcement strategies can make existing budgets go further. The important step, he says, is to view enforcement as a dynamic game in which strategically chosen deterrence policies become self-reinforcing. If offense rates fall enough, a tipping point is reached. And once that happens, even modest enforcement resources can hold offenders in check.

“Consider violent crimes committed by drug gangs. In many cities, such gangs are too numerous for police to watch them all closely. Knowing that they are unlikely to be caught and punished, members can violate the law with impunity. In such situations, Mr. Kleiman argues, the police can gain considerable leverage just by publicizing an enforcement priority list.

“It is an ingenious idea that borrows from game theory and the economics of signaling behavior.

“To see how it works, suppose that all drug violence in a city is committed by members of one of six hypothetical gangs — the Reds, Whites, Blues, Browns, Blacks and Greens — and that the authorities have enough staffing to arrest and prosecute offenders in only one gang at any one time. Mr. Kleiman proposes that the police publicly announce that their first priority henceforth will be offenders in one specific gang — say, the Reds (perhaps because its members committed the most serious crimes in the past).

“This simple step quickly persuades members of that gang that further offenses will result in swift and sure punishment. And that is enough to deter them.

“With the Reds out of action, the police can shift their focus to the Whites. They, too, quickly learn that violent offenses result in swift and certain punishment. So they quiet down as well, freeing the police to focus on the Blues, and so on.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Anglicans

Constancy of faith, and clarity of truth, accomplishing what the founder of our Church proclaimed, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things unto Me.” (John 12:32)

This article from the Times of London about the new Apostolic Constitution of Pope Benedict XVI regarding the Anglicans, notes the possibility of a mass move to Rome.

An excerpt.

“Leaders of more than 400,000 Anglicans who quit over women priests are to seek immediate unity with Rome under the apostolic constitution announced by Pope Benedict XVI. They will be among the first to take up an option allowing Anglicans to join an “ordinariate” that brings them into full communion with Roman Catholics while retaining elements of their Anglican identity.

“The Pope’s move is regarded by some Anglicans as one of the most dramatic developments in Protestant christendom since the Reformation gave birth to the Church of England 400 years ago.

“Archbishop John Hepworth, the twice-married Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion, who led negotiations with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, said he was “profoundly moved” by the Pope’s decision and would immediately seek the approval of the group’s 400,000 members worldwide to join.

“He described the development as “a moment of grace, perhaps even a moment of history”.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reformed Criminal Entrepreneurs, Follow Up

As we noted in this earlier post, this program had been hailed for its innovative approach, but, as this story from the Austin Statesman reports, it may now fall due to one of the most common of grassroots program failures—the sudden departure of the founding leadership—and that is always a tragedy.

An excerpt.

“The founder of the nationally acclaimed Prison Entrepreneurship Program has abruptly resigned after she was banned from entering state prisons for having improper relationships with four ex-convicts who graduated from her program.

“In a letter to supporters, Catherine Rohr, 32, who founded the Houston-based program five years ago, acknowledged that "mistakes in my personal life involved inappropriately close relationships with four free men who were also PEP graduates."

“Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said Thursday that Rohr was banned last week from prisons and from work with parolees after investigators confirmed she had "engaged in inappropriate behavior."

"Our policies are clear: Volunteers cannot have personal or intimate relationships with current or former offenders," Lyons said.

“Prison officials said they are investigating whether Rohr had inappropriate relationships with any convicts still in prison or any still on parole. They said she acknowledged only two improper relationships to investigators in an interview two weeks ago.

“Rohr, a former Wall Street venture capitalist, had been widely credited with training felons in how to start businesses and become successful once they left prison.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Capital Punishment Support Remains High

The Gallup Poll released the results of its latest poll.

An excerpt.

“In U.S., Two-Thirds Continue to Support Death Penalty

“Little change in recent years despite international opposition
by Frank Newport

“PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's annual Crime Survey finds that 65% of Americans continue to support the use of the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, while 31% oppose it -- continuing a trend that has shown little change over the last six years.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Second Chance

This program, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, sounds pretty good.

The truth telling is crucial and the founder appears to be able to maintain it, but his approach is probably not going to be replicable, as finding people who have a great relationship with the local mayor (which has an impact on securing other local agency/business collaboration) and enough courage to deal with criminals this forcefully—without being an former criminal with criminal world status—will be almost impossible.

That being said, our prayers are with this effort.

An excerpt.

“Reporting from San Diego - His style is a mix of Socrates and Don Rickles. His goal is to coax, bully, tease, demand and manipulate ex-convicts into getting ready to find a job.

“One of the first chores is to get them to drop the habits they picked up behind bars: lying, faking, refusing to make eye contact, getting verbally aggressive when disrespected, thinking of the whole world as just another overbearing prison guard.

“Scott Silverman is relentless. "You're doing that thing again, something between a smirk and what you call a smile," he tells one student.

“He stops short another who begins a rambling explication of his crimes. "The point is: the boss doesn't want to hear this, folks," he says. Another tries to explain why he was late to class, something about being followed by a cop. Silverman rolls his eyes with a mocking look.

“At the beginning of the three-week Second Chance program for ex-cons, students are taken aback by Silverman's bluntness. Some quit. Silverman, the program's founder and executive director, does not care. He boots out other students, telling them they are not ready to drop their loser ways.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Early Release Reality, Part Two

Following up on yesterday’s post, a new article from the Denver Post reports the response and one failure.

An excerpt.

“Faulty projections about how much money the prisoner early-release plan could save may force Colorado to consider other budget-cutting measures, including slashing corrections programs and staff, officials say.

"It doesn't appear to be working," said state Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, referring to Gov. Bill Ritter's plan to cut $19 million from the budget by releasing thousands of prisoners on parole up to six months early. "Their assumptions were bad, or something."

“Lambert, a member of the legislature's Joint Budget Committee, said the issue should be addressed when the committee meets in November and December.

“JBC chairwoman Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, said the state may have to go back and make more cuts.

“Following a report Wednesday in The Denver Post that showed a sex offender, a man convicted of vehicular homicide and a felon arrested 46 times were among the first 10 inmates given early releases, Republican lawmakers called on Ritter to end the program immediately.

“On Thursday, the newspaper learned that Rick Martinez, 48, an inmate with a record of 46 arrests, absconded on Oct. 6 and a warrant for his arrest has been issued.”

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Early Release Reality, Part One

The profiles of prisoners considered for early release in Colorado, reported by the Denver Post, should accomplish two things: (1 stimulate national discussion around appropriate sentencing for sex offenders and habitual offenders, and 2) remind us that prisoners are so for a reason.

An excerpt.

“A man accused three times of sex offenses, a drunken driver convicted of vehicular homicide and a third man nabbed 46 times for alleged crimes including assault are all among the first 10 Colorado inmates granted early prison releases.

“And they were considered the best of the bunch.

“The 10 whose sentences were cut by weeks or months by the Colorado Parole Board were among a smaller-than-expected number the board considered safe to let go. And the volume and diversity of the 10 inmates' prior offenses shows how difficult it will continue to be for the state to choose among thousands of convicted criminals for early release.

“The early-release initiative, announced Aug. 18, is part of a plan to save $19 million toward filling a $318 million gap in this year's state budget.

“State officials have projected that over the two years, 8,003 inmates will be eligible. Gov. Bill Ritter has said that killers, kidnappers and sex offenders would not get out early.

“Corrections officials initially estimated that the parole board would deny 20 percent of the early-release cases, leaving about 6,400 who could be released up to six months early.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

School Violence, Historically

This article from the Philadelphia Inquirer is a good reminder of the consistent history of violence in American schools.

An excerpt.

“Four boys assault their teacher, who later dies of her injuries. Across the country, newspapers compete to unearth the most lurid details of the episode. It seems the boys were annoyed at being detained after school.

“So they threw rocks and other debris at the screaming teacher, until she couldn't scream anymore.

“A modern-day example of inner-city youth violence? Hardly. It happened in the small town of Canton, Mass. - in 1870.

“I thought of the Canton tragedy as I watched Attorney General Eric Holder at last week's news conference about youth violence in Chicago. Standing beside Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former schools chief in Chicago, Holder expressed outrage at the recent murder of 16-year-old Derrion Albert as he walked home from school. Holder called for a return to America's "old-time" values.

“But school violence is itself a time-honored American tradition, dating to the very dawn of the Republic. Despite our nostalgia for the good old days, America's schools have always been disorderly and violent places. By pretending otherwise, we might miss what is truly new - and truly troubling - about present-day violence….

“School violence would spike in the 1960s and early '70s, echoing the overall rise of crime in American society. Increasingly, though, it involved guns. By 1991, 26 percent of high school students reported that they had brought a weapon to school in the previous 30 days; of those, about a third said they had carried a gun.

“Contrary to public perceptions, most forms of school violence have decreased since the 1990s. So has the reported carrying of weapons, to about 18 percent of high school students. But roughly a third of those still carry guns, which remain the most common cause of youth homicide in America.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

St. Callistus I

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Callistus, the only redeemed criminal to become Pope, and one of the patron saints of this apostolate.

Excerpt from American Catholic.

"The most reliable information about this saint comes from his enemy St. Hippolytus, an early antipope, later a martyr for the Church. A negative principle is used: If some worse things had happened, Hippolytus would surely have mentioned them.

"Callistus was a slave in the imperial Roman household. Put in charge of the bank by his master, he lost the money deposited, fled and was caught. After serving time for a while, he was released to make some attempt to recover the money. Apparently he carried his zeal too far, being arrested for brawling in a Jewish synagogue. This time he was condemned to work in the mines of Sardinia. He was released through the influence of the emperor's mistress and lived at Anzio (site of a famous World War II beachhead)."

Read more about him, plus a picture, here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Good Technology

Though it may be questionable as to privacy issues, this is an excellent use of DMV data bases, as reported from Twin Cities.

An excerpt.

“RALEIGH, N.C. — In its search for fugitives, the FBI has begun using facial-recognition technology on millions of motorists, comparing driver's license photos with pictures of convicts in a high-tech analysis of chin widths and nose sizes.

“The project in North Carolina has already helped nab at least one suspect. Agents are eager to look for more criminals and possibly to expand the effort nationwide. But privacy advocates worry that the method allows authorities to track people who have done nothing wrong.

"Everybody's participating, essentially, in a virtual lineup by getting a driver's license," said Christopher Calabrese, an attorney who focuses on privacy issues at the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Earlier this year, investigators learned that a double-homicide suspect named Rodolfo Corrales had moved to North Carolina. The FBI took a 1991 booking photo from California and compared it with 30 million photos stored by the motor vehicle agency in Raleigh.

“In seconds, the search returned dozens of drivers who resembled Corrales, and an FBI analyst reviewed a gallery of images before zeroing in on a man who called himself Jose Solis.

“A week later, after corroborating Corrales' identity, agents arrested him near Greensboro, where they believe he had built a new life under the assumed name. Corrales is scheduled for a Los Angeles hearing.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Natural Law & Criminal Reformation

The connection here, through the prism offered by Jacques Maritain in his book, Man and the State; is that when shown, by transformed criminals who are deep knowledge leaders, (described in our program model summary) the truth of living within what is natural to us— through a moral embrace and transcendence of the truths of the world—criminals will respond to that truth as it is more powerful than the truth they are living by.

And, they will discover—again if guided by a transformed criminal—that the “fullness of being” they have been seeking through the criminal world and its various and temporary sensual inducements, is available on a permanent basis through sacramental life.

An excerpt from Man and the State:

“When I said a moment ago that the natural law of all beings existing in nature is the proper way in which, by reason of their specific nature and specific ends, they should achieve fullness of being in their behavior, this very word should had only a metaphysical meaning (as we say that a good or a normal eye “should” be able to read letters on a blackboard from a given distance.) The same word should starts to have a moral meaning, that is, to imply moral obligation, when we pass the threshold of the world of free agents. Natural law for man is moral law, because man obeys or disobeys it freely, not necessarily, and because human behavior pertains to a particular, privileged order which is irreducible to the general order of the cosmos and tends to a final end superior to the immanent common good of the cosmos.” (p. 87)

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Crowd

In this article from the Boston Globe, criminal justice practitioners speculate about why teens—acting in gangs—commit crimes that appear to be senseless, but often result from a decision they have made to act with evil intent at a particular time and place; and whoever is in their way at that point becomes a victim.

The behavior of crowds to influence individual behavior in ways individuals may not do on their own has been well studied for centuries and one book is The Crowd by Gustave Le Bon, written in the 19th century but still relevant.

An excerpt from the Boston Globe article.

“In all of the cases, a public outcry went up about the senselessness of the crimes. But specialists say there were distinct methods at work - such as the teens working in teams to pull off the killings.

“Boys will feed off each other - feeling like everyone hates us, we’re a band of brothers, wild and dangerous, that does ruthless things,’’ said Ted Kirkpatrick, co-director of Justiceworks, a crime and justice research unit at the University of New Hampshire. “Then it becomes a whirlpool that increases in intensity and speed and aggression.’’

“Groups embolden people. The leader of a group is rewarded by the fact that others are following his lead - so much that they will kill for him. And on the flip side, the followers are gratified when they are complimented by someone they admire on their toughness,’’ said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University.”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize

A famed writer, who brings her Catholic perspective to bear on many public policy issues, has written the definitive commentary on the recent award to our new president, who has—as of yet—no history of exemplary service to humanity over a period of many years that is traditionally connected to this once prestigious award.

An excerpt.

“It is absurd and it is embarrassing. It would even be infuriating if it were not such a declaration of emptiness.

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has embarrassed itself and cheapened a great award that had real meaning.

“It was a good thing, the Nobel Peace Prize. Every year the giving of it was a matter of note throughout the world, almost a matter of state. It was serious. It mattered that it was given to a woman like Mother Teresa in 1979. She had lived for 30 years with the poorest of the poor; she and her Missionaries of Charity dressed their wounds, healed their illnesses, and literally carried them from the streets to mats and beds in a home where they would at least have in death the thing they had not had in life, someone to care for them. She didn’t just care for them, she did the hard thing: She loved them. Her life was heroic, epic, and when she was given the Nobel Peace Prize, it was as if the world were saying, “You are the best we have. You are living a life that should be emulated....

“This is an award for not being George W. Bush. This is an award for not making the world nervous. This is an award for sharing the basic political sentiments and assumptions of the members of the committee. It is for what Barack Obama may do, not what he has done. He hasn’t done anything.

“In one mindless stroke, the committee has rendered the Nobel Peace Prize a laughingstock, perhaps for as long as a generation. And that is an act of true destruction, because it was actually good that the world had a prestigious award for peacemaking.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Catholic Constancy & the American Bishop

The role of much of the American Catholic leadership over the past several decades has been an embarrassment to many of the Catholic faithful; but recently, that embarrassment has begun to recede, as more of the American bishops speak out on the ancient truths of the faith, rather than the “truth is relative” perspectives put forth as orthodoxy for all too many years.

Chesia notes one such episode involving the American president.

An excerpt.

“ROME, October 8, 2009 – "I will always forcefully defend the right of the bishops to criticize me," Barack Obama pledged just before his meeting with Benedict XVI last July 10.

“Indeed. About 80 of the Catholic bishops of the United States are in open disagreement with him on crucial questions, in primis the defense of life. Among these is Cardinal Francis George, president of the bishops' conference and archbishop of Chicago, Obama's city.

“And there's also the bishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput, 65, member of a Native American tribe and a Capuchin Franciscan. Last year, he published a book that starts getting its point across right from the title: "Render unto Caesar. Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life." It is right to give Caesar that which belongs to him. But one serves the nation by living one's own Catholic faith in political life.

“Chaput does not like the fact that in Rome, at the Vatican, they turn a deaf ear to the criticisms of Obama made by the American Church. He especially didn't like the effusive praise heaped on the American president last July – in conjunction with Obama's meeting with the pope – by a venerated cardinal of the curia, Georges Cottier of Switzerland, theologian emeritus of the pontifical household, in an article published in the magazine "30 Days."

"30 Days" is a magazine of ecclesiastical geopolitics that is widely read in the Roman curia. It is directed by the most "curial" of Italy's veteran Catholic politicians, senator for life Giulio Andreotti. Published in six languages, it reaches all the dioceses of the world, and fully reflects the realist politics of Vatican diplomacy.

“After reading Cardinal Cottier's enthusiastic article – enthusiastic above all about Obama's speech at the Catholic university of Notre Dame – and having read before this an editorial in "L'Osservatore Romano" that was also highly congratulatory of the first hundred days of the American president, even for his "support of childbirth," Chaput felt compelled to reply.

“He put pen to paper and responded point by point. To Obama, to Cardinal Cottier, and to the Vatican secretariat of state. And not in an American newspaper, but in a newspaper printed in Rome, so that the Vatican would see it.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

Our Lady of the Rosary

This is the month of the rosary and this post from American Catholic, gives a good history of the rosary, the premier contemplative prayer of the Church, which prayed daily is a great help to our internal life and connection to Christ through Mary.

An excerpt.

“Pope St. Pius V established this feast in 1573. The purpose was to thank God for the victory of Christians over the Turks at Lepanto—a victory attributed to the praying of the rosary. Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church in 1716.
“The development of the rosary has a long history. First, a practice developed of praying 150 Our Fathers in imitation of the 150 Psalms. Then there was a parallel practice of praying 150 Hail Marys. Soon a mystery of Jesus' life was attached to each Hail Mary. Though Mary's giving the rosary to St. Dominic is recognized as a legend, the development of this prayer form owes much to the followers of St. Dominic. One of them, Alan de la Roche, was known as "the apostle of the rosary." He founded the first Confraternity of the Rosary in the 15th century. In the 16th century the rosary was developed to its present form—with the 15 mysteries (joyful, sorrowful and glorious). In 2002, Pope John Paul II added the Mysteries of Light to this devotion.

“The purpose of the rosary is to help us meditate on the great mysteries of our salvation. Pius XII called it a compendium of the gospel. The main focus is on Jesus—his birth, life, death and resurrection. The Our Fathers remind us that Jesus' Father is the initiator of salvation. The Hail Marys remind us to join with Mary in contemplating these mysteries. They also make us aware that Mary was and is intimately joined with her Son in all the mysteries of his earthly and heavenly existence. The Glorys remind us that the purpose of all life is the glory of the Trinity.”

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Crime, a Public Health Issue?

In a strategy that has been adopted for other social problems that also stem from individual choice—such as addiction—folks in Chicago would like to redefine youth crime as a medical issue, but as we know, crime is a personal act, as the Catechism teaches us:

“1868 Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
- by protecting evil-doers.

“1869 Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. "Structures of sin" are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a "social sin."

An excerpt from the Chicago Tribune:

“Every year, scores of Chicago children are shot, knifed and beaten on the city streets. Almost as frequently, new policing strategies are rolled out, anti-violence programs are launched and private and public money is thrown at the problem.

“But youth violence acts like a disease, an epidemic really. And researchers and experts say the cure lies not in this haphazard treatment of the symptoms but in addressing the causes with targeted, scientific methods.

“Researchers and experts are coalescing around the idea that violence should not be seen solely as episodic criminal behavior. Instead, they argue, it should be seen as a public health issue and treated like other diseases, a method that was used to combat other seemingly intractable problems like tuberculosis outbreaks and smoking.

“That approach sounds promising, but its success, researchers say, is dependent on something that Chicago and the nation lack: rigorous evaluation of which programs work and which ones waste time and money.

"Despite all the money and all the pilot programs that have been started, we are floundering around," said Jens Ludwig, a criminologist and head of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which is evaluating anti-violence programs. "We should do more of what they do in medicine."

“Chicago's continuing struggle to combat youth violence over the years has sparked everything from gang interventions to an ambitious plan in Chicago schools to pair troubled youths with intensive mentoring and even jobs. The latest spasm of violence, a fatal melee among Fenger High School students, is bringing federal education and law enforcement officials to Chicago this week.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Month of the Rosary

Attending daily mass and praying the rosary daily are most satisfying and worthwhile.

As this is the month of the rosary, here is an article about the rosary from Bishop Wenski of Orlando, Florida.

An excerpt.

“Since the time of Pope Leo XIII, the Month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary. For generations, the recitation of the Rosary was an integral part of their Catholic piety. The famous “Rosary Priest”, Father Peyton, encouraged families to pray the rosary together at home by telling them that the family that prays together stays together. In recent years, however, many Catholics – to their spiritual impoverishment – abandoned the practice of praying the rosary. Some found it “too old fashioned”, and others found it just too hard.

“Yet, in the contemplative prayer that is the recitation of the Rosary, Mary has given us a simple yet powerful weapon for the spiritual warfare that is part of our daily life in this “valley of tears.” It is not a weapon of violence or intimidation but rather one of peace and healing for praying the rosary leads us to a more intimate relationship with the Mother of Mercy, our Life, our Sweetness, and our Hope. In a world still threatened by weapons of mass destruction, we have in the rosary – as Mary indicated to the shepherd children of Fatima – a weapon of mass conversion. Indeed, the rosary sustained many of God’s faithful caught behind the Iron Curtain during decades of communist oppression and atheistic indoctrination. Deprived of freedom to practice their religion openly and oftentimes impeded from assisting at Mass, these faithful Catholics found in the rosary the strength to persevere. And should we not recognize in the unanticipated events of 1989 when the Berlin Wall was taken down and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe dismantled the evidence of Mary’s powerful intercession?”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Good is Triumphant

As often as it may appear to us—as we witness the path of human life in the world—that evil is triumphant, it never is and never will be; for we have been promised so by the Christ, whose promises are always kept; in opposition since the beginning, to Satan, whose promises are never kept.

And though the evil one often rules men through principalities and powers, providing them worldly riches and glories, creating the appearance of battles being won, evil is not triumphant, and cannot prevent us—the faithful of the Catholic Church Militant—in our work of building up God’s reign, as the Catechism teaches us:

“394 Scripture witnesses to the disastrous influence of the one Jesus calls "a murderer from the beginning", who would even try to divert Jesus from the mission received from his Father. "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." In its consequences the gravest of these works was the mendacious seduction that led man to disobey God.

“395 The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God's reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries - of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature- to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but "we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Catholic University

The plight of most Catholic Universities—including my alma mater I am sad to say—is that they are hardly Catholic at all, a fact made painfully, but necessarily, clear by the recent book by Alice Hendershott, Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education, which is a must read book.

In this story from the Washington Times about one university that has turned around, much hope stirs in the hearts of the faithful who realize just how important our Catholic universities are.

An excerpt.

“Catholic University President the Rev. David M. O'Connell, credited with raising at least $180 million for the institution and steering the school back into Catholic orthodoxy, announced Friday he will resign in August to pursue other interests.

“The 54-year-old president, who arrived 11 years ago to a campus divided over the firing of dissident theologian Charles Curran more than a decade earlier, has had a tenure that has included a major growth spurt and a 2008 papal visit.

"I am feeling a little bit tired," said Father O'Connell, who lost 80 pounds this past year while battling diabetes. "There is a time when it's good for the institution to have a change and that time has arrived. I helped do a lot of things Catholic University desperately needed at the time and there is a momentum going now that there was not going before.

"But I don't want it to get to the place where things get complacent."

“Once he and his Jack Russell terrier "Sweetie" leave the campus, he hopes to take a six-month sabbatical, a benefit he has never enjoyed in his 28 years as a priest. He'd also like to write and study Spanish until either his religious order - the Vincentians - or the Vatican gives him another assignment.

"I've had some bishops say, 'Don't worry about what you're going to do next,' " joked the president who is widely thought to be in consideration for one of several vacant bishoprics across the country.

“When Father O'Connell, then 42, was selected from more than 100 candidates as the university's 14th president in March 1998, he was the second-youngest man to assume the post. He had just come from stints at St. John's University in New York, where he was associate vice president and academic dean, and as interim academic vice president at Niagara University, also in New York.

“He arrived at an institution riven by the tenure of Father Curran, who in 1968 led 600 theologians in a spirited opposition to "Humanae Vitae," Pope Paul VI's encyclical opposing artificial birth control.

"The Charles Curran case branded Catholic University as a hotbed of dissent even though that may have been exaggerated," said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a Manassas group that monitors Catholic colleges' fidelity to church teachings.

"There were serious concerns in the area of student life in the residence halls - a lot of partying and sexual activity there - and then a number of faculty who dissented from Catholic teaching," he added.

"The bishops on the board of Catholic University made a decision years ago that it ought to be a model for the implementation of 'Ex Corde Ecclesiae,' the Vatican mandate for how Catholic universities should be structured and governed. Father O'Connell came in with that mandate."

“Father O'Connell said Friday that CUA's status as a pontifical university, which has the Vatican's authority to issue academic degrees in canon law, theology, Scripture and philosophy that carry the church's imprimatur, spurred him to institute reforms.”

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Vatican Bank’s New President

As this article from Chiesa reveals, the new president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, is a Catholic who understands the value of capitalism and population growth, two foundational elements for national well-being.

An excerpt.

“The new president of the IOR is a staunch proponent of a capitalism inspired by Christianity. For him, a high birth rate is the main engine of the economy. …

“His most recent appearance, before his appointment, was on September 19 at the Palazzo della Borsa in Genoa. Together with the archbishop of the city and president of the CEI, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, he discussed the encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" by Benedict XVI. He said that the current global economic crisis "originated in the failure to follow the guidelines of 'Humanae Vitae', that is, in the rejection of life and the suppression of childbirth."

“Gotti Tedeschi had expressed the same idea in an editorial in "L'Osservatore Romano" last June 6. If the economic hegemony of the world passes from the West to China, he wrote, it will be because of their different birth rates and population densities. Demographic trends determine the increase or decrease of an economy's productive capacity.

“Gotti Tedeschi has five children, "all from the same mother," he specifies. He lives in the countryside of Piacenza, where he was born 64 years ago, in Pontenure, not from from the Po river. He gets up very early in the morning, like a monk. In his BMW, he gets to Milan by dawn. He reads the newspapers in his office as president for Italy of Banco Santander, the biggest private bank in Europe, owned by a lay Spanish family, the Botíns. Then he goes to Mass, every morning, without fail.

“He teaches financial ethics at the Catholic University of Milan. But he is also a board member of Banca San Paolo in Turin and of the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, the operational wing of the treasury ministry….

“Gotti Tedeschi was formed as a banker in the American McKinsey school of international finance. As a Catholic, he converted from "superficial" to fervent in the 1960's, under the spiritual direction of the traditionalist thinker Giovanni Cantoni. The books that revealed his thought to the general public are "Denaro e Paradiso [Money and Paradise]," published in 2004, with a preface by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, and "Spiriti animali. La concorrenza giusta [Animal Spirits: The Right Kind of Competition]," published by Università Bocconi and with a preface by Alessandro Profumo, president of the largest Italian bank, Unicredit.”

Friday, October 2, 2009

Protecting the Innocent

One of the reasons the US Catholic Bishops have called for the abolition of capital punishment is that they believe modern penal technology is adequate to protect the innocent from the criminal aggressor while the agressor is locked away in prison

Consequently, in capital criminal cases, a life sentence can replace the use of capital punishment, without causing harm to an innocent person who may have played a role in the prosecution.

In my book Capital Punishment & Catholic Social Teaching: A Tradition of Support, I examined that assumption and found it wanting, as prisoners, even under the most secure lockdown status, have access to—and can control—outside criminal resources.

One method of access is the contraband cell phone and this article from the Los Angeles Times reveals how many are within prison.

An excerpt.

“State prison officials have confiscated 4,130 contraband cellphones this year, more than all those seized in the previous three years combined, according to an internal report released today.

“The findings sparked concern among legislators that the proliferation of cellphones in state lockups is a growing security problem.

“More than 100 illegal phones were discovered at the California Institution for Men in Chino, including 10 in August, according to the report from Matthew Cate, head of the state prisons system. But he said there is no evidence that inmates used the devices during a riot that occurred there Aug. 8.

“Investigations conducted within California prisons have supported allegations [that] cellphones have been used by incarcerated felons to participate in criminal activity,” wrote Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“Crimes committed by inmates using cellphones have included the planning of escapes, restraining order violations, use of stolen credit cards to purchase inmate quarterly packages and the coordination of smuggling contraband into prisons, Cate said.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Higher Education & Criminal Reformation

As a strong believer in the impact of higher education to play a role in criminal reformation—I founded and managed a college-based rehabilitation program many years ago which was very successful in terms of participants not recidivating—this report from the Urban Institute is a welcome one.

However, without the communal world teaching to counteract the criminal world acculturation, the result could merely be a better educated criminal more adept at criminally gaming the system and avoiding arrest.

An excerpt from the introduction to the report, which includes a link to the full report.

“While there has been increasing discussion about the intersection of prisoner reentry and issues of workforce development, housing, health, and public safety, insufficient attention has been paid to the role that in-prison and post-prison education can play in facilitating successful reentry. Education has been widely recognized as a pathway to assimilation and economic mobility for immigrant and other disadvantaged populations throughout U.S. history (Isaacs, Sawhill, and Haskins 2008). For people involved in the criminal justice system, education offers a path to increased employment, reduced recidivism, and improved quality of life (Gaes 2008).

“Access to education is particularly important given current economic trends. Economists predict that the labor market will tighten in the next decade and that labor market inequality, particularly among unskilled workers, will continue to grow if the demands for skilled labor are not met (Holzer and Nightingale 2007). An ever-increasing share of jobs in the U.S. economy requires postsecondary preparation, and college-educated workers earn 26 to 36 percent more than individuals who have not attended college (Decker et al. 1997). If properly designed and implemented, education programs in correctional facilities and communities can provide individuals involved in the criminal justice system with the academic instruction, vocational training, and cognitive and life skills they need to succeed in today’s economy.

“Despite its potential for changing lives, high-quality education is not readily accessible to many people involved in the justice system. Adults returning from prison and jail and those on community supervision are still overwhelmingly undereducated compared with the general population, with lower levels of formal educational attainment and poorer performance on tests of basic literacy (Crayton and Neusteter 2008). Fortunately, opportunities to address the educational needs of criminal justice populations may expand as policymakers increasingly recognize the limitations of the nation’s narrow approach to crime and public safety issues. The passage of the federal Second Chance Act in April 2008, for example, indicates a remarkable shift in the political will to address the challenges facing currently and formerly incarcerated individuals and encourage their potential to contribute to society. Instead of threatening community safety and draining economic resources, formerly incarcerated people with educational preparation and other supports can provide for themselves and their families and contribute to the economic and social well-being of their communities.”