Sunday, January 31, 2010

Catholics, China & Freedom

The recent struggle with Google that China finds herself involved with, points back to the early efforts of the West to influence the East, many of which were Catholic—as this article from the Wall Street Journal reports.

An excerpt.

“The earliest missionaries in China, such as the great Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), introduced science as part of their aim to spread the Christian faith.

“In fact, there is an interesting parallel between those early Christian missions and our contemporary efforts to spread universal human rights, especially in regard to China. Ricci and his colleagues, as Jesuits, believed that the best way to influence the Chinese elite was to adapt to Chinese culture, to wear Chinese clothes, to speak in Confucian terminology, to "go native," as it were. They were criticized by other Catholic orders, who saw this as a shameless betrayal of Christian principles. Only the true faith should be preached, with no compromises to heathen views.

“A very similar debate is going on today between those who believe that applying Western notions of human rights and democracy to China is counterproductive. Many a politician, businessman or media tycoon has argued that adapting to special Chinese conditions is surely more effective if one wishes to have any influence in China. The fact that this argument is usually self-serving does not make it necessarily wrong, but so far it has certainly not been proven right. Chinese human rights have not been noticeably advanced because of foreign compromises with Chinese illiberalism.

“The dilemma for the Chinese elites, ever since the early Christian missions, is the question of how to adopt useful Western ideas while keeping out the subversive ones. Intelligent Chinese knew perfectly well that much of Western knowledge (how to construct effective guns, say) was not only useful but essential as a way to make China strong enough to resist foreign aggression. But the tricky part for scholar-officials was how to use that knowledge without weakening their own position as guardians of Chinese culture.

“To mention just one example, greater knowledge of geography and other civilizations made it harder to maintain that China was the center of the world which should naturally be paid tribute to by barbarian states. In ancient times, foreign barbarians were ranked with the beasts. By the time Matteo Ricci, in 1602, showed the Chinese a world map (now on view at the Library of Congress), some foreigners were treated with more respect, but the old Sino-centric defensiveness had far from vanished. If the Middle Kingdom was no longer the perfect model of civilization, its traditional political arrangements became vulnerable to domestic challenge.

“One way of dealing with this problem was to separate "practical knowledge" from "essential" culture, or ti-yong in Chinese. Western technology was fine, as long as it didn't interfere with Chinese morals and politics. In practice, however, this was not feasible. Political ideas came to China, along with science, economics, and Western religion. And they did help to undermine the old established order. One of these ideas was Marxism, but once Mao had unified China under his totalitarian regime, he managed for several decades to insulate the Chinese from notions that might undermine his power.”

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Catholic Criminal Justice Leadership

Another reminder that the institutional Church in America is seriously misinformed in their ability to understand criminal justice issues, is this new policy of providing free needles to drug users, as reported by Catholic Culture.

Phil Lawler responds appropriately.

An excerpt.

“The argument for distributing clean syringes is essentially the same as the argument for distributing condoms: It's no use arguing against pre-marital sex or illegal drug use; people are going to do these things anyway. We might as well help them stay alive.

“By giving out needles (or condoms), we give people a superficial sense of security while they engage in acts that are demeaning, destructive, and gravely sinful. We're sending the message that we doubt they can help themselves-- and thereby discouraging them from trying. We're telling them that we don't think they're capable of overcoming their impulses or their addictions. We're saying that the die is cast; they are-- for now, at least-- beyond the point at which they can turn their lives around. It's bad enough when this message comes from the government. But when it comes from the Church-- the institution that exists solely to offer people the prospect of redemption-- it's especially deadly.”

Friday, January 29, 2010

More Sexual Abuse Revelations

The horrorible crimes from within the Church continues to unravel as these stories, reported by the Washington Post, of systematic sexual abuse at one of the most pre-eminent Catholic schools in Germany, remind us of the failure of many priests and bishops to protect their flock—instead becoming predators upon them.

I've posted on the sexual abuse within the Church previously, listing important books to read to understand and realize the depth and cause of this evil.

An excerpt.

“BERLIN -- Several students at one of Germany's most prestigious high schools were sexually abused for many years by their teachers, the school's director said Thursday.

“Father Klaus Mertes says he has sent out 500 letters to alumni of Berlin's private Catholic Canisius Kolleg to determine the extent of the case after seven ex-students recently reported they were abused in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Canisius Kolleg is one of Germany's pre-eminent schools, alma mater of many politicians, businesspeople and scientists.

“Mertes said Thursday that the seven, and likely many more, were abused by two ex-teachers who were members of the Jesuit order.

"I'm deeply shocked and ashamed about these appalling assaults, which are not just single incidents, but took place systematically and over several years," Mertes wrote in his letter to the school's alumni.

“At a press conference at the local archdiocese's office, Mertes said the school had been guilty of looking the other way when the abuse cases happened.

“He said the letter was an apology and a signal to other possible victims to come forward.

“Mertes said the two Jesuit fathers taught at the school for eight years before leaving in the late 1980s.

“They are no longer members of the Jesuit order, but after the allegations surfaced earlier this month, they were contacted by its independent counselor for sexual abuse victims.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Unity: The Work of the Millennium

The bridging of the deep divide between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church—centered around differing views of the primacy of Peter—is work that will take time and this article from Cheisa examines why, and also why it has never seemed more promising.

An excerpt.

“ ROME, January 25, 2010 – This evening, with vespers in the basilica of Saint Paul's Outside the Walls, Benedict XVI is closing the week of prayer for Christian unity.

“There are some who say that ecumenism has entered a phase of retreat and chill. But as soon as one that looks to the East, the facts say the opposite. Relations with the Orthodox Churches have never been so promising as they have since Joseph Ratzinger has been pope.

“The dates speak for themselves. A period of chill in the theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches of Byzantine tradition began in 1990, when the two sides clashed over so-called "uniatism," meaning the ways in which Catholic communities of the Eastern rites duplicate in everything the parallel Orthodox communities, differing only by their obedience to the Church of Rome.

“In Balamond, in Lebanon, the dialogue came to a halt. It hit an even bigger obstacle on the Russian side, where the patriarchate of Moscow could not tolerate seeing itself "invaded" by Catholic missionaries sent there by Pope John Paul II, who were all the more suspect because they were of Polish nationality, historically a rival.

“The dialogue remained frozen until, in 2005, the German Joseph Ratzinger ascended to the throne of Peter, a pope highly appreciated in the East for the same reason he prompts criticisms in the West: for his attachment to the great Tradition.

“First in Belgrade in 2006, and then in Ravenna in 2007, the international mixed commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches started meeting again.

“And what rose to the top of the discussion was precisely the question that most divides East and West: the primacy of the successor of Peter in the universal Church.

“From the session in Ravenna emerged the document that marked the shift, dedicated to "conciliarity and authority" in the ecclesial communion.

“The document of Ravenna, approved unanimously by both sides, affirms that "primacy and conciliarity are mutually interdependent." And in paragraph 41, it highlights the points of agreement and disagreement:

"Both sides agree that . . . that Rome, as the Church that 'presides in love' according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch, occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs. They disagree, however, on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as protos, a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium."

"Protos" is the Greek word that means "first." And "taxis" is the structure of the universal Church.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Priests II

After the horror of the sexual abuse years, the wanderings in the secular desert, and the virtual complete breakdown of American Church leadership to do anything about it all—though several stalwart bishops tried and still speak out—there are new priests coming into the Church who are truly on fire, and they will help reform the American Catholic Church.

One of them has written about his entrance into the priesthood and here is an excerpt.

“Winter 1989, downtown South Bend, Indiana. The night is snowy and crisp. Inside the bar, already humid and smoky, the guitarist lights his cigarette, takes a long, patient drag and wedges it among the strings in the head of his guitar. As the smoke drifts from his mouth he begins moving his fingers across the fret board, the distortion turned up to eleven. The opening riffs of Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" crackle from the bending strings. Standing next to him, I watch his fingers glide effortlessly across the wood and steel. The toe of my boot taps to the chucky thumping as the bassist, my older brother, and the drummer make their entrances. With my forehead already sweaty from the lights and body heat of the room, I gather the lyrics in my head, press the microphone to my lips and begin navigating through the first verse. The crowd packed tightly into the small place begins pulsing with the beat. I feel the palpable rush from that invisible electricity between band and crowd beginning to fill the room. As the music crescendos to the refrain, I saunter over to my brother's side of the stage area where he is cuing the approaching vocal harmonies. He steps up to his microphone and we belt out, "Ain't talkin' 'bout love".

“Nine years later in the Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, I lie prostrate, my forehead pressed into the cool marble floor. The smell of incense and burning candles mingles with the warm June air imbuing it with a holy fragrance. The tightly packed church, imploring the intercession of the angels and saints of Heaven, chants the litany of the saints for us who are about to be ordained priests. The invisible and peaceful presence of grace fills the church. After the examination the Archbishop, a successor to the apostles, lays his hands on each of our heads and pours the scented chrism on our hands.

“I shake my head a little sheepishly whenever I compare the two scenes in my mind. The black trench coat remains, but the faded jeans, leather boots and concert-T-cut-into-a-tank-top have been traded in for a Roman collar, a shorter haircut and more sensible footwear. I still enjoy rock music, yet now my heart is much more taken by the beautiful simplicity of Gregorian chant and rich texture of Renaissance polyphony. The gig hustling and musical thrill seeking were traded in many years ago for something else, something infinitely better and greater – a pearl of great, great price. I am a Catholic priest.

“In this Year for Priests, I have been asked to share something of my own vocation story explaining why a guy of the so-called Generation X would become a Catholic priest. Why would a man of such a generation freely promise lifelong celibacy, obedience to God through his bishop, daily, committed prayer, and then have his life poured out in (hopefully) loving service; to people most of whom he has never met? To top it all off, he is also supposed to have great joy in doing it all? My response on that June day was simply a small echo of the millions of voices of men who have uttered this same 'Yes' for the past two millennia.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Priests I

We must seek out great priests, for they are the consecrated knights of the kingdom of heaven, the mightiest empire the world has ever seen, and to follow them into battle against the evil one, we must know that they are able warriors, chaste, true, brave, kind, and relentless in battle.

We see in the letter of Peter establishing the Year for Priests in June of 2009, how great is the priest and how high the standards upon which he must stand, imbued with the holy tinder of prayer, devotion, and contemplation, a fire to light the way home for the parish flock.

An excerpt.

“There are also, sad to say, situations which can never be sufficiently deplored where the Church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers. Then it is the world which finds grounds for scandal and rejection. What is most helpful to the Church in such cases is not only a frank and complete acknowledgment of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God’s gift, embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors, religious afire with love for God and for souls, and insightful, patient spiritual guides. Here the teaching and example of Saint John Mary Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The CurĂ© of Ars was very humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy”. He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: “O, how great is the priest! … If he realized what he is, he would die… God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host…”. Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he would say: “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest… After God, the priest is everything! … Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is”. These words, welling up from the priestly heart of the holy pastor, might sound excessive. Yet they reveal the high esteem in which he held the sacrament of the priesthood. He seemed overwhelmed by a boundless sense of responsibility: “Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love… Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth… What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods … Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshiping the beasts there … The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you”.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dissent in the Church

There has been a wave of dissent through politics directed against the teaching of the Church in America for many years, and sadly, much of it emanated from the actions of one of America’s most revered families; which is written about in this article from The Catholic Thing.

An excerpt.

“What faithful Catholic did not ponder late Tuesday night that the election of Scott Brown to the “Kennedy seat” was God's judgment on Kennedyism. Kennedyism being the proposition that one may defend the sick and the poor in some circumstances but in other circumstances support their deliberate killing.

“After all, Brown's election is the precursor to the final deathblow to Kennedy's lifetime project to nationalize health care. And though Brown did not run as a pro-lifer, he ran to kill that monstrous bill, which would have been the largest expansion of baby killing in our post-Roe history.

“There are reports that Democrats even lost Hyannis Port, that fabled location in our national mythology. Is it possible that the Kennedy contagion has finally and happily passed?

“Teddy Kennedy was one of the most poisonous figures in both our national politics and in our Church. His disgraceful and dishonest performance at the hearings for Robert Bork to the Supreme Court was a watershed in our venomous political discourse (He sheepishly told Bork later, “nothing personal,” as if the judge accepted, as Ted did, that sometimes you just have to tell malicious lies in politics.) What’s more, and worse, Kennedy led the way for Catholic politicians and their followers to support the killing of unborn children and still delude themselves into thinking they remained good Catholics.

“A few years ago a senior member of Kennedy’s staff called one of the organizers of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast who had been quoted in the paper that Kennedy would be welcome to come to the breakfast, but he would never get the microphone. The staff member was stunned that one of America’s most prominent Catholics would be spoken of thus. He even tried to convince the prayer breakfast organizers that Kennedy was really pro-life.

“A few months ago the Democratic front group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good hosted a fundraiser featuring the pro-abortion pol Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and referred to her as coming from the most prominent Catholic family in America.

“In some hearts Camelot will never die. Not even losing the “Kennedy seat” will douse the flame of their ardor – dreams of ponies, fine-cut lawns, sailboats, touch football, and pool-parties at Hickory Hill. Hickory Hill is now run down and for sale. Nobody wants it, and for most of us Camelot died roughly at the same time that Mary Jo Kopechne gasped unsuccessfully for one more breath.

“And so, we may breathe a sigh of relief. No more will this family darken our national discourse. There were heirs apparent. They say the competition was between Bobby’s son Joe III who had dropped out of Congress and now partners with Venezuelan thug Hugo Chavez to sell heating oil in New England, and Jack’s daughter Caroline who turned out to be not so bright or talented in her quixotic quest to be named U.S. Senator from New York. However, neither of them grabbed for the brass ring.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010


This is the most important part of the mass in one respect—that it adds to the mystery and beauty of the mass rather than taking from it—but all too many priests deliver much less, and this is the subject of this article from Chiesa, which looks at using sacred art to shape and deepen the homily.

An excerpt.

“ROME, January 21, 2010 – A stir was made recently by Bishop Mariano Crociata's criticism of the shoddy quality of many Sunday homilies.

“Crociata is the secretary general of the Italian bishops' conference. Speaking at a conference on the liturgy at the end of the year, he called many of the homilies given from the pulpit every Sunday insipid "mush," almost an "inedible dish," and in any case "hardly nourishing."

“His criticisms were picked up by "L'Osservatore Romano" and by Vatican Radio. There were some who retrieved a quip Joseph Ratzinger made when he was a cardinal: "The miracle of the Church is that it survives millions of terrible homilies every Sunday."

“As pope, Ratzinger has made it abundantly clear that he thinks one of the primary duties of the Church is to elevate the quality of the homilies.

“The homilies that he gives himself at public celebrations have become a characteristic feature of his pontificate. He prepares them personally, with extreme care. In fact, he proposes them as a model. He even constructs the messages that he reads at the midday Angelus each Sunday, from his window over St. Peter's Square, as little homilies on the Gospel of that day's Mass.

“But there is one particular way to follow up on this intention of Benedict XVI. And it is the way of sacred art.

“Fortified by the art that adorns countless churches all over the world, homilies could be a better introduction to the sacred mysteries than words alone (and even usher people into them, as in the "Virgin Annunciate" by Antonello da Messina reproduced above, where the viewer looks at the Virgin from the same position, outside of the painting, as the angel Gabriel).”

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I’ve long felt that the orphanage is a much better model for housing and helping orphaned children than the group home model that has largely replaced them, and this article from the Wall Street Journal reporting on a long study by Duke University, helps move that argument forward.

An excerpt.

“Last month, Duke University researchers issued the first report on their multiyear study of 3,000 orphaned, abandoned and neglected children in developing countries in Africa and East and South Asia. About half were reared in small and large "institutions" (or orphanages) and half in "community" programs (kin and foster care). Contrary to conventional wisdom, the researchers found that children raised in orphanages by nonfamily members were no worse in their health, emotional and cognitive functioning, and physical growth than those cared for in their communities by relatives. More important, the orphanage-reared children performed better than their counterparts cared for by community strangers, which is commonly the case in foster-care programs.

“Critics of orphanages point out that children are always better off in loving and safe biological families. That's always been the case, of course, but many kids have no hope of access to such families. There are about 143 million orphaned children, and tens of millions more abandoned, in the world today. Over a half-million American kids are in foster care (which is often luxury care by the standards of orphanage care in poor countries), but still a sizable percentage of American foster-care kids will have their disadvantages compounded in one important way: They will spend their entire childhoods in the worst of all possible situations, "permanent temporary care," in which they will be moved from one placement to the next to the next, many losing count of their foster homes before they "age out" of the system at 18.

“When Newt Gingrich suggested in 1994 that many welfare kids would be better off in orphanages, Hillary Clinton declared the proposal "unbelievable and absurd." Conventional child-welfare wisdom hasn't changed much since.

“I watched the Gingrich-Clinton debate with a personal interest, having grown up in an orphanage in North Carolina in the 1950s. I wrote a column for this newspaper defending my own orphanage and others like it: "Most critics would like the public to believe that those of us who went through orphanages were throttled by the experience. No doubt, some were. However, most have charged on." The children at Barium Springs Home for Children worked a lot and didn't get the hugs many children take for granted, but we did get advantages that many children today don't get—a sense of security, permanence and home.

“I was shocked by the number of orphanage alumni who called, faxed or emailed in agreement. What's more, many added, "My orphanage was better than yours," which made me wonder if the experts knew what they were talking about.

“During the past decade I have surveyed more than 2,500 alumni from 15 American orphanages. In two journal articles, I reported the same general conclusion: The orphanage alumni have outpaced their counterparts in the general population often by wide margins in almost all social and economic measures, including educational attainment, income and positive attitude toward life. White orphanage alumni had a 39% higher rate of college graduation than white Americans of the same age, and less than 3% had hostile memories of their orphanage experiences. University of Alabama historian David Beito replicated the study with several hundred alumni from another orphanage, reaching much the same conclusions.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reentry, Jobs

This is an excellent program, as reported by the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, based on social enterprise principles, and though it doesn’t focus on professional criminals—those hardest to rehabilitate—it is providing a valuable service for those it does help, mostly drug offenders.

An excerpt.

“Kevin Lynch appears to be one lousy company president at first glance.

“Lynch runs a 25-year-old St. Paul-based business that makes no profit and has an annual worker turnover rate of about 400 percent. Lynch, who grew up in Edina, doesn't just celebrate this: I actually caught him last week congratulating an employee who is leaving to go work for — get this — a major competitor.

"You developed skills here, and now the world is going to benefit from them," Lynch tells a woman named Veronica during a small gathering at Rebuild Resources Inc.'s lunchroom last week. "This is exactly what's supposed to happen, and if that happened to everyone here, it would put us out of business, but it would also be the ultimate outcome."

“Say what? This guy should not be allowed to run a shower, let alone a business. It all becomes clear after you understand what Rebuild Resources is all about. It's a nonprofit social enterprise business that provides services and jobs for people in recovery, particularly ex-offenders returning to the community.

“Judging from the hundreds of graduates — nearly 1,000 since 1984 — whose photos line the walls of the main office, the firm may be one of the city's little-known success stories.

“About 68 percent of those graduates landed permanent jobs over the years. The firm helped place 28 people, 56 percent of 2008's program graduates, in permanent jobs in the midst of the nation's deepest recession since the Great Depression. Only two graduates, 3.5 percent of the total, went back to jail. Meanwhile, the nonprofit's revenue grew from $747,260 in 2006 to $1.4 million in 2008 on the business side, along with $600,000 in philanthropic funds raised that year to help finance programs.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bank Accounts For Released Prisoners

Giving a released prisoner a bank account with a debit card in the city he is being released to is an excellent idea, simple but good, as reported by the Guardian; with the revelation that it began at a privately run prison!

In the college-based criminal rehabilitation program I developed and managed from 1975 to 1978, we created a social survival skills class, for college credit, that addressed these type of issues (opening a bank account, renting an apartment, interviewing, dating etiquette, parenting, etc.).

An excerpt.

“There are times when even though something stares you in the face, you cannot see it. So it was when I heard of the scheme, by the Co-operative bank, to supply bank accounts to serving prisoners. That was in 2006 and although I thought it a good idea (I am for anything that "normalises" prisoners) I had no idea how effective it would be in reducing reoffending rates.

“The project started at Forest Bank, a private jail in Manchester, after a member of staff realised the problems prisoners without a bank account faced when they were discharged and approached the Co-op bank seeking their help. Within a year, 500 inmates had opened accounts and 193 of them were tracked on release and a report on their progress was published by the Research Unit for Financial Inclusion at John Moores University, Liverpool.

“The report that 37% of those monitored had reoffended, compared to the national reoffending rate of about 76%, a 50% decrease. Massively promising, but would those figures hold up, or were they a flash in the pan? The Co-op and the university have now published more up-to-date figures and those leaving jail with bank accounts are still half as likely to reoffend as those without.

“Of those on the pilot, leaving prison with a bank account, almost 80% said they had never had one before. Interviewing some of them provided some revealing responses. "Having an account gave me a sense of self-respect, made me feel part of society," said Jonathan. "It [the account] opened many doors and gave me a sense of identity," said another. "All I knew about was the giro," said another, "and I used to go in and draw it out. Knew nothing about banks."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ex-Gang Members & Police

Though this partnership—reported by National Public Radio—is very worthwhile, until it becomes professionalized, and institutionalized within the teaching of the Church, the major reason for crime reduction will remain broken-windows policing and three-strikes sentencing, resulting in full prisons and less street crime, as the sidewalk merchant (comment highlighted) in the excerpt below understands.

“From New York to Los Angeles, murders and other violent crimes are at a 50-year low. In Los Angeles, that's partly because police and ex-gang members are working together to make the streets safer.

“In 1990, people wouldn't dare stand in the alleyways of 77th Street in South Central L.A. Down the street, there's a police station. Even so, there used to be drive-by shootings. Area residents say they used to hide their children in the bathtubs at night to avoid the stray bullets.

"It was very scary," says Lorna Hawkins, who lost two sons to gang violence in 1988 and 1992. "Bullets fly through these houses and these windows like they were nothing, because these people don't know how to shoot. Little coward, baby-shooter killers. When the sun was going down, everybody better be somewhere in the dark, hiding. That was what it was like. It was hell."

“Today, it's a different story, Hawkins says. "They say the streets haven't been this safe for 50 years."

“Former Gang Members Intervene

“For decades, safe isn't a word that would have described much of L.A. In the 1980s, at the height of the crack epidemic, the city's murder rate sometimes approached 1,000 per year. Last year, it was 314. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says violent crime is down by nearly 11 percent.

"I used to shine shoes on 7th and Broadway, and I can tell you, there was a time when L.A. was this safe, but that time was in the 1950s," he says.

“They calm rumors. They also create peace. They broker peace between feuding factions. They also mentor and try to remove gang members from the life of violence.

“Today on 7th and Broadway, the shoeshine boys have been replaced by sidewalk merchants like Jesus Sevala, who sells cold sodas and telephone calling cards. He says he doesn't see too many robberies these days. Sevala says the neighborhood is safer because many of the old troublemakers are locked up.

“Gang violence is still a problem, but Los Angeles' new police chief, Charlie Beck, says former gang members turned interventionists are helping put a dent in crime.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I hope you enjoy this wicked humor from Catholic Culture as much as I did, and alas, you must read the whole thing, but here is an excerpt.

"You must go to the place from whence you came, there to remain until ye shall be drawn through the open City of London upon hurdles to the place of execution, be hanged and let down alive, and your privy parts cut off, and your entrails taken out and burnt in your sight; then your head to be cut off and your body divided into four parts, to be disposed of at her Majesty's pleasure."

“With those words Queen Elizabeth's Lord Chief Justice dispatched the English Jesuit priest Edmund Campion to his death at Tyburn. The year was 1581. The charge was treason. Campion himself was unruffled by the verdict: "It was not our death that we ever feared. … The only thing we have now to say is, that if our religion do make us traitors, we are worthy to be condemned; but otherwise are, and have been, as good subjects as the Queen ever had."

“St. Edmund Campion, martyr, lives on as a model of cheerful, gutsy, devout intelligence disciplined toward the single goal of recovering and rebuilding Catholic churchmanship where it had lain in ruins. I was amused and delighted, therefore, to learn that the Jesuit magazine America announced that it will give its 2009 Campion Award to none other than Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“The choice is a chancy one. Many will take offense at the sly malice of the Jesuits in pretending to congratulate the man who, by his elegant unfitness for the job, has done more than any living Christian to bolster the esteem of the Roman Catholic Church in the eyes of his co-religionists.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Increasing Punishment for Sex Offenders

The Lampstand Foundation supports the use of capital punishment for sex offenders—which a few states already impose—and this article from the Washington Post that the Supreme Court is considering allowing indeterminate confinement for sex offenders is a step in the right direction, if it comes to be.

Offenses such as pedophilia and rape—which even criminals in maximum security prisons loath—that reach way beyond the thievery and violence that marks the lives of most professional criminals; and which appear to be an level of evil behavior that is so deep-seated that it will never be corrected in this world, calls for the ultimate sanction.

An excerpt.

“A majority of Supreme Court justices seemed inclined Tuesday to accept that the federal government has the power to indefinitely hold prisoners who are deemed sexually dangerous, even if they have completed their sentences.

“Solicitor General Elena Kagan told the court that, when Congress passed a law authorizing civil commitments in such cases, it was doing "something pretty simple and very reasonable." But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said Congress exceeded its authority, because the power to authorize what is normally a state function cannot be found in the Constitution.

“But Kagan told the court that it is simply an extension of the federal government's recognized power "to run a responsible criminal justice system." She said that if the federal government cannot find a state willing to take responsibility for a sexually dangerous prisoner about to be released, federal officials have to step in.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to agree. "You are talking about endangering the health and safety of people," Ginsburg said. "The government has some responsibility."

“Others -- Justices Stephen G. Breyer and John Paul Stevens, notably -- seemed responsive to Kagan's analogy that the federal government would be within its rights to detain a soon-to-be-released prisoner who had a dangerous communicable disease.”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Criminal Reformation

The ability of government—or government funded huge bureaucratic programs—to be successful transforming the lives of criminals has been shown to be a dramatic failure, with the national recidivist rate hovering around 70%.

Within Catholic social thought, the truth that deep change—and change from criminality to non-criminality is a very deep change—can only occur within the individual, and most effectively within the relationship with one other or a small community, whose reason for being is to effect that change.

This article from Catholic Culture is helpful.

An excerpt.

“…When we sort this out we gain a new and richer understanding of authentic human development. In recognizing that love both includes and goes beyond justice, we suddenly understand the fundamental message of Catholic social teaching over the past forty years, which Benedict has so recently attempted once again to make clear. It is but a restatement of my earlier point: “Authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension” (Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, #11).


“In the course of history, it was often maintained that the creation of institutions was sufficient to guarantee the fulfilment of humanity's right to development. Unfortunately, too much confidence was placed in those institutions, as if they were able to deliver the desired objective automatically. In reality, institutions by themselves are not enough, because integral human development is primarily a vocation, and therefore it involves a free assumption of responsibility in solidarity on the part of everyone. (#11)

“As I suggested in the previous essay, it is exactly this task of authentic human development that massive bureaucratic programs are by their very nature incapable of fulfilling. Rather, such development is most effectively pursued within the context of a community, among people who know and feel responsible for each other. Within a true community, the needs of individual persons and families can be recognized and addressed with a deeper understanding of each problem and a more human commitment to effective, long term solutions. Similarly, within the context of (properly-motivated) smaller community businesses, the needs of weaker members of the community can be addressed creatively and in a context of solidarity.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Justice Swift & Sure Works

The second guiding criminal justice principle of the Lampstand Foundation is:

2) The response to crime should be swift, balanced, and just.

When justice is for sale, either through wealth, influence, or ideology, a fertile soil is created from which crime grows. The training and education of professionals in the criminal justice system is built on a foundation of traditional and well-reasoned concepts of justice and it needs continual reinforcement to remain an effective response to crime: "You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. (Leviticus 19:15)”

This article from the New York Times examines the deterrent impact of swift justice upon crime.

An excerpt.

“IN 2004, STEVEN ALM, a state trial judge in Hawaii, was frustrated with the cases on his docket. Nearly half of the people appearing before him were convicted offenders with drug problems who had been sentenced to probation rather than prison and then repeatedly violated the terms of that probation by missing appointments or testing positive for drugs. Whether out of neglect or leniency, probation officers would tend to overlook a probationer’s first 5 or 10 violations, giving the offender the impression that he could ignore the rules. But eventually, the officers would get fed up and recommend that Alm revoke probation and send the offender to jail to serve out his sentence. That struck Alm as too harsh, but the alternative — winking at probation violations — struck him as too soft. “I thought, This is crazy, this is a crazy way to change people’s behavior,” he told me recently.

“So Alm decided to try something different. He reasoned that if the offenders knew that a probation violation would lead immediately to some certain punishment, they might shape up. “I thought, What did I do when my son was young?” he recalled. “If he misbehaved, I talked to him and warned him, and if he disregarded the warning, I gave him some kind of consequence right away.” Working with U.S. marshals and local police, Alm arranged for a new procedure: if offenders tested positive for drugs or missed an appointment, they would be arrested within hours and most would have a hearing within 72 hours. Those who were found to have violated probation would be quickly sentenced to a short jail term proportionate to the severity of the violation — typically a few days.

“Alm mentioned his plan to the public defender, who suggested that it was only fair to warn probationers that the rules were going to be strictly enforced for the first time. Alm agreed, and on Oct. 1, 2004, he held a hearing for 18 sex offenders, followed by another one for 16 drug offenders. Brandishing a laminated “Wanted” poster, he told them: “I can guarantee that everyone in this courtroom wants you to succeed on probation, but you have not been cutting it. From now on, you’re going to follow all the rules of probation, and if you don’t, you’re going to be arrested on the spot and spend some time in jail right away.” He called the program HOPE, for Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation With Enforcement, and prepared himself for a flood of violation hearings.

"But they never materialized. There were only three hearings in the first week, two in the second week and none in the third. The HOPE program was so successful that it inspired scholars to evaluate its methods. Within a six-month period, the rate of positive drug tests fell by 93 percent for HOPE probationers, compared with a fall of 14 percent for probationers in a comparison group.

“Alm had stumbled onto an effective strategy for keeping people out of prison, one that puts a fresh twist on some venerable ideas about deterrence. Classical deterrence theory has long held that the threat of a mild punishment imposed reliably and immediately has a much greater deterrent effect than the threat of a severe punishment that is delayed and uncertain. Recent work in behavioral economics has helped to explain this phenomenon: people are more sensitive to the immediate than the slightly deferred future and focus more on how likely an outcome is than how bad it is. In the course of implementing HOPE, Alm discovered another reason why the strategy works: people are most likely to obey the law when they’re subject to punishments they perceive as legitimate, fair and consistent, rather than arbitrary and capricious. “When the system isn’t consistent and predictable, when people are punished randomly, they think, My probation officer doesn’t like me, or, Someone’s prejudiced against me,” Alm told me, “rather than seeing that everyone who breaks a rule is treated equally, in precisely the same way.”

“Judge Alm’s story is an example of a new approach to keeping people out of prison that is being championed by some of the most innovative scholars studying deterrence today. At its core, the approach focuses on establishing the legitimacy of the criminal-justice system in the eyes of those who have run afoul of it or are likely to. Promising less crime and less punishment, this approach includes elements that should appeal to liberals (it doesn’t rely on draconian prison sentences) and to conservatives (it stresses individual choice and moral accountability). But at a time when the size of the U.S. prison population is increasingly seen as unsustainable for both budgetary and moral reasons — the United States represents 5 percent of the world’s population and nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population — the fact that this approach seems to work may be its biggest draw.

“The HOPE program, if widely adopted as a model for probation and parole reform, could make a surprisingly large contribution to reducing the prison population. In many states, the majority of prison admissions come not from arrests for new crimes, as you might think, but from probation and parole violations. Nationwide, roughly two-thirds of parolees fail to complete parole successfully. Todd Clear, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, estimates that by eliminating imprisonment across the nation for technical parole violations, reducing the length of parole supervision and ratcheting back prison sentences to their 1988 levels, the United States could reduce its prison population by 50 percent.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

On Priests, the Holy Father, & Reform

My wife and I are recent converts to Catholicism, having been baptized in 2004, and our period of discovery concerning the issues involved in parish selection have led us to visit other parishes.

We finally realized that the primary equation in the selection of a parish should be the constancy of the priest with the Holy Father and the dogmatic teachings of the Church, as well as his pastoral skills.

We have found such a priest, (which I've posted on before, here and here) and settled in our final parish for as long as he is there, as he is.

He is a new priest, on fire with his calling, and with all the troubles in our Church and the world, it will be to him and the priests and bishops like him, who will, as they have always in the past when troubles threaten the Church, join with the Holy Father and carry the fire of reform throughout the Universal Church; as it was taught in the recent letter from Pope Benedict XVI proclaiming the Year of Priests.

An excerpt.

“There are also, sad to say, situations which can never be sufficiently deplored where the Church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers. Then it is the world which finds grounds for scandal and rejection. What is most helpful to the Church in such cases is not only a frank and complete acknowledgment of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God’s gift, embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors, religious afire with love for God and for souls, and insightful, patient spiritual guides. Here the teaching and example of Saint John Mary Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The CurĂ© of Ars was very humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy”. He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: “O, how great is the priest! … If he realized what he is, he would die… God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host…”. Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he would say: “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest… After God, the priest is everything! … Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is”. These words, welling up from the priestly heart of the holy pastor, might sound excessive. Yet they reveal the high esteem in which he held the sacrament of the priesthood. He seemed overwhelmed by a boundless sense of responsibility: “Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love… Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth… What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods … Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshiping the beasts there … The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you”.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Knights of Malta Prison Ministry

The Knights are one of the oldest orders in the Church—founded in 1048—and though they have always been concerned with social issues, their entry into prison ministry is relatively new; and it is one we heartily pray will be very successful.

One page of their prison ministry section of their website introduces their goals.

• To provide Mass and other religious services for prisoners.
• To provide religious instruction to prisoners, especially through the Right of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program.
• To recruit and train volunteers to visit prisoners and/or help in other ways; i.e., corresponding as a pen pal.
• To provide the prisoners with religious materials, such as Order of Malta Bibles and Prayer Books, rosaries, other books, magazines, and materials.
• To inform the public and legislators of needed reforms in laws and practices.
• To improve the public perception of people who are imprisoned.
• To support halfway houses and foster employment opportunities for prisoners after they are released.
• To work with families of prisoners to offer them hope and support at a difficult time in their lives.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Guns & Drugs

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the new major police effort to reduce crime is targeting illegal gun ownership; which runs up against the very old truth “When you outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have them”, or; enterprising criminals—and professional criminals are very enterprising—will always find ways to get guns, as they have always found ways to control drugs.

An excerpt.

“In the roll call room of Baltimore's Northwestern District Police Headquarters, a squat building in a neighborhood of liquor stores and crumbling row houses, photos of the city's most wanted suspects flash on a new, flat-screen TV.

“They are not necessarily drug kingpins or murderers or even dealers. But to Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, they are top priority in this city with one of the highest homicide rates in the country; a city that residents occasionally, grimly, refer to as Bodymore, Murderland.

“They are, he says, "bad guys with guns." And he wants them off the street.

"If you start boiling down the violence in Baltimore – the homicides and the nonfatal shootings – you find that 50 percent of all the people we charge with those offenses have one thing in common: They have gun offenses in their backgrounds," Mr. Bealefeld says. "And we know that when bad guys get out, they get guns again. They don't work for IBM. They don't hand out Bibles. They stand outside with guns waiting to perpetrate another crime."

“And so, Bealefeld says, he has made it clear whom his officers should be targeting.

"I don't aim to make [it] all that complicated," he says. "Find out all we can about gun offenders and focus on those guys."

“After years of fighting the so-called "war on drugs" – the obsessive pursuit of everyone involved in drug crime, from users to dealers to suppliers – Bealefeld and other urban police chiefs nationwide are shifting their focus toward a new prime target: gun offenders.

“This law enforcement philosophy is born of the growing acknowledgment that millions of dollars and arrests have done little to slow urban America's drug trade, and that a fresh strategy is needed to further reduce violence in the country's toughest cities. From new gunshot-detection cameras in New Haven, Conn., to a gun-offender registry in Baltimore; from a Sacramento, Calif., law requiring gun dealers to notify police about people who buy bullets to a proposal approved by the Los Angeles City Council that would let landlords evict tenants convicted of gun crimes, city police departments and governments are putting new emphasis on fighting illegal guns.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Church, Divine & Human

A wonderful article, The Church as Paradox, (pp.24-29) in the November 2009 issue of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review (requires subscription) reminds us of the dual nature of the Church.

An excerpt.

“The Church is divine in it origin but remains human in its membership. For that reason it can appear as deeply flawed. According to its founder, holiness is not a prerequisite for membership; “For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matt. 9:13).

“A study of the Church under both dimensions requires looking at the Church historically and sociologically as well as theologically. Any single method would result in only a partial picture and a less than full understanding. Studying the Church on a purely theological level would result in what can be called an idealist ecclesiology, a description of what the Church should be ideally. But that bears little resemblance to the actual Church as it has been experienced in history. Reading the actual history of the Church, even when written by sympathetic authors, can be quite disturbing.

“Examples of the dark side of the Church are abundant: certain aspects of the Crusades; the Inquisition, which has remained for centuries a principal—and for many a conclusive—argument that the Catholic Church is the archenemy of human freedom; the confusion about papal succession in the fourteenth century; the corruption within the Church that contributed greatly to the Protestant Reformation; the failure of the Church to uphold consistently basic human values by becoming identified with a dominant class that was often unjust and oppressive of minorities; and most recently, clergy sexual abuse.” (pp 26-27)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Crime Rates

The struggle by many in the criminal justice field to explain crime rates dropping, indicates more a predisposed ideological perspective than a lack of facts.

This article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune underscores that it is primarily the result of broken-windows policing (first used in New York City in the 1980's) which focuses efforts on all levels of crime and on crime ridden areas, which we’ve posted on before.

When it is coupled with three-strikes sentencing, the crime rate results are dramatic, as has been in evidence.

An excerpt.

“Altogether, the waning violence and mayhem are part of a positive 20-year trend. Since the early- to mid-'90s, murders have declined by a remarkable four-fifths in New York and Minneapolis, and by two-thirds in Los Angeles.

"It is a different world," Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told the Los Angeles Times. "There was a time when it was the opposite of today -- when it seemed there was no limit on the potential for things to get worse and worse. The whole outlook has shifted now."

“The intriguing question is why. Criminology rivals economics as a dismal science, with experts constantly struggling to explain ups and downs. That crime should rise along with unemployment and desperation seemed a logical expectation -- but apparently not….

“Our view is that smarter, more proactive police tactics have contributed most to crime's decline. Reforms begun in New York in the 1980s are now routine nationwide. Officers stop known criminals for minor offenses, and guns are often confiscated. Computerized maps predict crime hot spots, and officers are dispatched to flood those zones. Gunfire detectors and cameras help patrol high-crime areas. Closer police-community partnerships have been forged in many cities. Police administrators are held accountable for lower crime numbers.

"Where police chiefs might have been perfectly willing to say, 'It's the economy or something else and there's nothing we can do about it,' their bosses -- mayors and city councils -- now know they can and should expect reductions in crime," Rutgers University criminologist George Kelling [a co-founder of the broken windows theory first proposed in 1982, link to Atlantic Monthly article which began it, is in our linked post above] told the Los Angeles Times. "There is now a pressure of, 'If you can't get the job done, we'll find someone who can.' ''

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bishops Speaking Out

The US Bishops continue to speak out regarding the scandal caused by Catholic politicians publically dissenting from Church teaching—which may sometimes call for ex-communication—and Bishop Robert Vasa recently spoke out in Oregon in a column that is a must read in its entirety.

An excerpt.

“BEND — During the course of this past year there have been a number of occasions when bishops have hinted to laity that being Catholic involves a bit more than claiming the title. This has been done, in particular, with regard to politicians who may, in their own way, love Jesus, who may attend Sunday Mass and who do identify themselves as “faithful” Catholics. The press usually hints at the big “E” word, excommunication. The question of when a Catholic should be excommunicated has even been asked quite frequently and very seriously. While bishops are extremely reluctant to take the seemingly dramatic step of excommunication, I think there is very good reason for us to explore more thoroughly what excommunication really means and why it might be considered in certain circumstances.

“The press would undoubtedly accuse Bishops who talk or even think about excommunication as being tyrannical power mongers but this is unfair. Excommunication is a declaration, based on solid evidence, that the actions or public teachings of a particular Catholic are categorically incompatible with the teachings of the Church. It is intended primarily as a means of getting the person who is in grave error to recognize the depth of his error and repent. A second reason, while somewhat secondary but no less important, is to assure the faithful who truly are faithful that what they believe to be the teaching of the Church is true and correct. Allowing their faith to be shaken or allowing them to be confused when Catholics publicly affirm something contrary to faith or morals, seemingly without consequences, scandalizes and confuses the faithful. This is no small matter. The Church, and particularly bishops, have an obligation to defend the faith but they also have an obligation to protect the faithful. We do not generally see the dissidence of public figures as something that harms the faithful but it has a deleterious effect upon them.

“I find, very frequently, when I speak a bit more boldly on matters of morality or discipline, there are a significant number of the faithful who send messages of gratitude and support. It is their gratitude which stirs my heart for it makes me realize how much there is a need to support and affirm the clear and consistent teachings of our Catholic faith for the sake of the faithful. While the press may caricature such bishops in rather uncharitable fashion, I trust that they are men devoted to true compassion and to the truth itself. Their compassion extends to those who are misled and to those who, while not misled, are discouraged when their faith is attacked without rebuttal. This discouragement of the faithful is not insignificant. When we look at the word itself we see that its root is “courage” and allowing someone’s courage to be dissipated, or “dissed” as the young might say, is harmful to the person. En-couragement, by contrast, builds up the courage of the faithful and increases their strength for doing good. It is life giving and revitalizing. Allowing error, publicly expressed, to stand without comment or contradiction is discouraging.”

Friday, January 8, 2010

Social Conditions Cause Crime?

As this most corrosive of theories slowly fades into a well-deserved death and the ancient truth of the Church—that crime is overwhelmingly the result of individuals making individual choices—once more gains its rightful ascendancy, there will perhaps also be a corresponding movement towards a future success in the many rehabilitation theories who have failed as they were built on the social conditions causation fallacy.

A recent article by Heather McDonald notes the latest results from the fallacious approach.

An excerpt.

“The recession of 2008-09 has undercut one of the most destructive social theories that came out of the 1960s: the idea that the root cause of crime lies in income inequality and social injustice. As the economy started shedding jobs in 2008, criminologists and pundits predicted that crime would shoot up, since poverty, as the "root causes" theory holds, begets criminals. Instead, the opposite happened. Over seven million lost jobs later, crime has plummeted to its lowest level since the early 1960s. The consequences of this drop for how we think about social order are significant.

“The notion that crime is an understandable reaction to poverty and racism took hold in the early 1960s. Sociologists Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin argued that juvenile delinquency was essentially a form of social criticism. Poor minority youth come to understand that the American promise of upward mobility is a sham, after a bigoted society denies them the opportunity to advance. These disillusioned teens then turn to crime out of thwarted expectations.

“The theories put forward by Cloward, who spent his career at Columbia University, and Ohlin, who served presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Carter, provided an intellectual foundation for many Great Society-era programs. From the Mobilization for Youth on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1963 through the federal Office of Economic Opportunity and a host of welfare, counseling and job initiatives, their ideas were turned into policy.

“If crime was a rational response to income inequality, the thinking went, government can best fight it through social services and wealth redistribution, not through arrests and incarceration. Even law enforcement officials came to embrace the root causes theory, which let them off the hook for rising lawlessness. Through the late 1980s, the FBI's annual national crime report included the disclaimer that "criminal homicide is largely a societal problem which is beyond the control of the police." Policing, it was understood, can only respond to crime after the fact; preventing it is the domain of government welfare programs.”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Falling Crime Rates

It is generally attributed by those on the streets fighting crime, that the two most powerful deterrents to crime—broken-windows policing and three-strikes sentencing—have finally reached a point of large national impact and lower crime rates are the result.

This article from the Washington Post continues the argument that the reasons are largely unknown.

An excerpt.

“AS YOU HAVE no doubt heard, the first 10 years of the 21st century were dreadful -- a lost decade of terrorism, war and economic stagnation. There is some truth to that portrayal. But in one significant respect, the awful Aughties were practically a golden age. We refer to the continued progress the United States is making against homicide and other violent crime.

“According to some conventional wisdom, economic trouble breeds lawlessness. Yet in the first half of 2009, as unemployment skyrocketed, reported murders, forcible rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults decreased by 4.4 percent compared with the first half of 2008, according to the FBI. The decline in homicide was especially striking: down 29.8 percent in Los Angeles, 14 percent in Atlanta, 10 percent in Boston. With 461 murders through Dec. 27, New York was on track for the lowest number since comprehensive record-keeping began in 1963 -- when the Big Apple was a slightly smaller town. …

“If only we knew exactly why and how it has occurred. An accident of demography? The passing of the crack cocaine epidemic? We're inclined to credit policies that put more brave and dedicated cops on the street, with better technology and smarter tactics. Still New York City continued to rack up lower homicide rates in the past decade even as its police force shrank by 6,000. New York officials say that city's tougher gun laws have helped; yet Houston also recorded a drop in homicide in the first half of 2009 despite loose gun laws.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In Memoriam: John Irwin

One of the first reformed criminals to play a major role in developing public policy around criminal reformation through his books and advocacy, passed away January 3rd.

I have been reading his books for over 30 years and his work and influence will be sorely missed by the criminal justice community.

Our prayers are with his family.

Here is an excerpt from the Sentencing Project whose board of directors he was part of.

“The Sentencing Project joins the criminal justice reform community in mourning the loss of our board member, friend and colleague, John Irwin, who died on January 3rd in San Francisco at the age of 80. John Irwin was proud to be a "convict criminologist" and advocate for social justice.


“Irwin's path to academia was hardly typical, beginning with a five-year prison term for armed robbery in 1952 in Soledad Prison. During his time in prison he earned 24 college credits through a university extension program, the kind of programming that he would later note had been all but eliminated in most prison systems today. Upon his release he received a B.A. from UCLA and then earned his Ph. D. in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. He then was offered a faculty position at San Francisco State University, where he taught for 27 years before his retirement.


“Throughout his career John combined a passion for scholarship with engagement for social justice. The author of six highly-regarded books analyzing the institutions of the criminal justice system, his insights in such works as "The Felon" and "The Jail" provided cogent analyses of the interaction between the structure of the justice system and the individuals processed through that system. His research and writing examined aspects of the system that were often not popular to take on, such as his last book, "Lifers: The Long Road to Redemption," based on his lengthy interviews with people serving life sentences in a California prison.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Catholic Environmentalism

In the continuing teaching of the Church around creation—the Holy Father devoted his World Day of Peace message to it—this article from the National Catholic Reporter gives some history of the ways in which the Church has dealt with the often pantheistic manifestations of the secular religion of environmentalism, which, unfortunately, is all too often driven by dissident Catholic priests.

An excerpt.

“The modern point of departure for Catholic environmental theology was a revolutionary: French Jesuit Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who died in 1955. A paleontologist, philosopher and theologian, Teilhard believed that evolution is humanity’s participation in the redemption begun by Christ. When evolution reaches its climax in what he called the “Omega point,” Teilhard said the cosmos will achieve a form of “Christogenesis.” Those views got him into trouble with Church officials, concerned that Teilhard’s thought flirts with pantheism. Seven years after his death, the Vatican censured Teilhard’s work, and in 1981, on the 100th anniversary of Teilhard’s birth, the Vatican reaffirmed that judgment.

“Many Catholics still find much to commend in Teilhard. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, for example, the Vatican’s Permanent Observer to the UN, said in 2007 that whenever he goes to upstate New York he stops at Teilhard’s grave in Hyde Park, reflecting in the woods about Teilhard’s vision of the “Christification” of the cosmos.

“Descendants of Teilhard today include eco-theologians and philosophers such as Fr. Diarmuid O’Murchu and Fr. Thomas Berry, as well Rosemary Radford Ruether, Matthew Fox and Brian Swimme. Though each has a distinct outlook, most share a sense that if Catholicism wants to embrace ecology, it needs a radical overhaul. In 1992, Berry said: “We should put the Bible away for twenty years while we radically rethink our religious ideas.” In O’Murchu’s Quantum Theology, he suggests that institutional religion is destined for extinction. “What we cannot escape,” he wrote, “is that we as a species have outlived that phase of our evolutionary development and so, quite appropriately, thousands of people are leaving religion aside.”

“These personalities have a small but dedicated following, and they’ve helped to drive ecological questions to the forefront of the Church’s consciousness, but they’ve also set off doctrinal alarms. Fox drew a Vatican censure in 1988, and was dismissed from the Dominican order in 1992. O’Murchu attracted critical notice from the doctrinal committee of the Spanish bishops’ conference in 2006. The bishops charged that O’Murchu “speaks much of God and constantly talks of human liminal values in a ‘planetary’ or ‘cosmic’ context, but says almost nothing about Jesus Christ.”

“For a less speculative and more pastoral approach, consider a 2000 letter from the Catholic bishops of the Pacific Northwest in the United States and Canada arguing for conservation of the Columbia River Watershed. From the outset, the bishops announce their intention to steer a middle course between “economic greed” and “ecological elitism.” The core principles upon which the letter is based are stewardship, respect for nature, and the common good. They promote the idea of creation as the “book of nature,” a source of revelation and theological insight alongside the Bible. In general, the bishops move quickly from sketching a few brief theological ideas into direct application to concrete environmental problems. They’re apparently less interested in supplying a new theological vision than in mobilizing action.”

Monday, January 4, 2010

Data Driven Criminal Justice

In this article from Governing, the near future of policing through the greater use of data is noted.

Data-driven policy is also vitally needed for the criminal justice end point—criminal rehabilitation programs—which, still too often, are funded and sustained with little evidence of success.

An excerpt.

“Just weeks ago, career criminal Maurice Clemmons walked into a Lakewood, Washington, coffee shop and gunned down four police officers. Although this particular crime could never have been anticipated, given his history it was a virtual certainty that Clemmons would commit more mayhem. Why was Clemmons out on the street?

“In the weeks that followed, recriminations among various agencies in different states shined a very bright light on how this dangerous, serial offender had moved freely about the country, was caught and released repeatedly. The data was all out there, but Clemmons was out on bail because nobody had connected the dots.

“The role of technology and data in crime fighting becomes more critical each year. When I was elected prosecutor in Indianapolis in 1979, I inherited an office dysfunctional in many ways but highly advanced in one — the use of then-cutting edge information tools that allowed deputies to target career criminals and make use of every detail available about their previous conduct. The tools were a bit crude and the data a bit simplistic, but it helped focus time and attention where it was needed most.

“For much of the next eight years we tried every system that seemed reasonably likely to increase effective targeting of resources, and we made notable strides. We launched the first large-city, fully integrated criminal justice system in the country, made rudimentary efforts at digital fingerprints and mugs shots, and more. The limitations on these efforts now seem glaring — we were doing our best to use information, but were limiting ourselves to reacting after the fact, rather than using data to peer into the future.

“Data-driven criminal justice advanced significantly during the 1990s. Led by Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New York City became the model for data-driven policing through its Compstat system. Compstat brought a sea change in police management, driving up performance and driving down crime rates in a way unimaginable a decade earlier.

“The Lakeview tragedy, however, illustrates that law enforcement must take the next step in digital crime fighting. To dramatically increase crime fighting efficacy, we must combine Compstat-like tools with more predictive measures. We must integrate data, not only between all facets of criminal justice (law enforcement, prosecution, courts, and corrections) but between jurisdictions. Such advancement will act as a force multiplier.”

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Archbishop Visits Prison

This is a wonderful story from the Catholic News Agency of a visit Archbishop Nienstedt made to a local prison; and reminds us of the importance of the Church becoming much more deeply involved in the ministry to criminals—inside and outside of prison.

An excerpt.

“St. Paul, Minn., Dec 20, 2009 / 02:29 pm (CNA).- Tim O’Meara, 50, heartily shook Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Most Rev. John Nienstedt’s hand and grinned broadly, his excitement transparent. He had been anticipating the archbishop’s visit for a while, he said. O’Meara is one of about 990 men who are currently in the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Rush City. Arch¬bishop Nienstedt celebrated Mass and visited with inmates Dec. 15. The visit coincided with Gaudete Sunday — the Sunday of Advent that calls people to rejoice in the Lord.

“In his homily, Archbishop Nienstedt spoke about God’s gift of joy and the faithful’s need to rejoice. He also spoke of conversion, which is at the heart of St. John the Baptist’s message in the Gospel.

“These Scriptures speak to everyone in the church, no matter what condition he or she finds themselves,” he said. “Even in this situation of being incarcerated, there can be real joy in the realization that God is here in your midst, calling you to a change of heart. . . .”

“The past is what it is,” he continued. “The future lies open to what you want to make of it.”

“Twenty-one men attended the Mass, a number that slightly disappointed inmate Eric Dahlin, 28. “There should be more people than this, but there’s not, and that’s OK,” he said.

“[The archbishop’s visit] means a lot to us,”added Dahlin. “It brings up our day — spiritually and mentally.”

“The visit was arranged by Deacon Michael Martin, a parishioner at St. Gregory in North Branch who has been assigned to minister to the offenders in Rush City since his September 2008 ordination.”

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Criminal World Culture

Its growth and sophistication, in breadth and depth, continues, as this report from the Wall Street Journal indicates.

An excerpt.

“LOS ANGELES -- After nearly two decades fighting gangs, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Detective Robert Lyons thought he had seen it all. Until he saw members of the Bloods and the Crips -- rival gangs that spent years in brutal conflict -- meeting amiably in a restaurant.

"They were talking. There was hugging and high-fiving. It was unbelievable," Mr. Lyons said. He has heard a refrain from gang members: Red (the Bloods) and blue (the Crips) make green (money).

“Gangs that were once bloody rivals now are cooperating to wring profits from the sale of illegal drugs and weapons, law-enforcement officials and gang experts say. In some cases, gangs that investigators believed to be sworn enemies share neighborhoods and strike business deals. The collaboration even crosses racial lines, remarkable in a gang world where racial divisions are sharp and clashes are often racially motivated.

"You see African-Americans dealing with Hispanics on obtaining narcotics and weapons. We're seeing Hispanic gang members involved with the Eastern European criminal figures," said Robert W. Clark, acting special agent in charge of the criminal division of the Los Angeles field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Where they see opportunities to collaborate, they do."

“Gang activity has been one of the most intractable crime problems facing Southern California for decades, terrorizing communities, claiming hundreds of lives a year in some periods and also breeding a nexus of criminal activity that has been exported to other communities. Los Angeles, along with Chicago, has long been considered one of the centers of gang activity in the U.S.

“But gang-related violence is at a 30-year low in Los Angeles, according to experts. Gang-related homicides in Los Angeles totaled 128 in through October of this year, compared with 312 in all of 2002. All reported gang-related crimes, including rape, assault and robberies, totaled 4,899 through October, compared with 7,432 in 2002.

“The sharp drop is undoubtedly a landmark success for law-enforcement officials and policy makers, who have used aggressive policing and rehabilitation programs to tackle the problem. But the reports of alliances between formerly warring gangs potentially offers a different explanation: Gangs are committing less violence because they are partnering on criminal activity, creating new challenges for law enforcement.

"Now, instead of having 200 guys that are arch-enemies with 200 other guys, you have 400 guys working together against law enforcement," said the sheriff's detective, Mr. Lyons.”

Friday, January 1, 2010

Mary, Mother of God

Today is the feast day of Mary Mother of God, and it is so appropriate to start our year with this day.

Have a very Happy New Year!

Here is an excerpt from Saint of the Day.

“Mary’s divine motherhood broadens the Christmas spotlight. Mary has an important role to play in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. She consents to God’s invitation conveyed by the angel (Luke 1:26-38). Elizabeth proclaims: “Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43, emphasis added). Mary’s role as mother of God places her in a unique position in God’s redemptive plan.

“Without naming Mary, Paul asserts that “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). Paul’s further statement that “God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out ‘Abba, Father!’“ helps us realize that Mary is mother to all the brothers and sisters of Jesus.

“Some theologians also insist that Mary’s motherhood of Jesus is an important element in God’s creative plan. God’s “first” thought in creating was Jesus. Jesus, the incarnate Word, is the one who could give God perfect love and worship on behalf of all creation. As Jesus was “first” in God’s mind, Mary was “second” insofar as she was chosen from all eternity to be his mother.

“The precise title “Mother of God” goes back at least to the third or fourth century. In the Greek form Theotokos (God-bearer), it became the touchstone of the Church’s teaching about the Incarnation. The Council of Ephesus in 431 insisted that the holy Fathers were right in calling the holy virgin Theotokos. At the end of this particular session, crowds of people marched through the street shouting: “Praised be the Theotokos!” The tradition reaches to our own day. In its chapter on Mary’s role in the Church, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church calls Mary “Mother of God” 12 times.”