Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Capital Punishment & Catholic Social Teaching

Lampstand has published a book about this, Capital Punishment & Catholic Social Teaching: A Tradition of Support, and recently, while reading another book, Choosing Life: A Dialogue on Evangelium Vitae, I came across a seminal point rarely noted in the public discussion—for obvious reasons—in a chapter contributed by George Weigel.

An excerpt.

“As Father Langan’s essay notes, the traditional response of Western societies to the monstrous evil of willful murder has been capital punishment. For a variety of reasons, many of those societies have now abandoned this practice. Abolition, according to Evangelium Vitae, is the morally preferred course if it can be accomplished in ways that do not amount to an abrogation of society’s right of self-defense. But abolitionists have not completed the necessary public moral argument when they make a strong case, on prudential grounds, for eschewing the death penalty. For if a public moral recognition of the reality of monstrous evil is a necessity in a free society, then abolitionists have to tell us how society is to give expression to its unambiguous condemnation of monstrous evil if it lays aside the death penalty.

“This is not to suggest that the current practice of capital punishment in the United States is essentially a matter of bearing witness to the reality of monstrous evil. Insofar as one can tell, it is a sense of retributive justice, combined with fears for public safety, that motivates most supporters of the death penalty today. Moreover, supporters of the traditional position (Father Langan’s “approach A”) ought to be deeply concerned that the trivialization of the death penalty through ubiquity or frivolous sentencing (which might happen were “approach B” to prevail in either its pragmatic or its symbolic forms) could have the deleterious coarsening effects on the public moral order.

“Still, the free society must attend seriously to its definition of the boundaries of the morally acceptable. And it must be able to give public expression to its absolute condemnation of certain monstrously evil acts. If that is not to be done through the instrument of capital punishment, then other instruments will have to be devised.” (p. 229)

Weigel, G. (1997). Evangelium Vitae on capital punishment: A response to John Langan. In Wildes, K. Wm. & Mitchell, A. C. (Eds.). Choosing life: A dialogue on Evangelium Vitae. (pp.223-230). Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Self Fulfillment & Money

Devout Catholics have always accepted the teaching of the Church that living a principle-driven life is more important and more fulfilling than a money-driven life, and this new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, reviewed in City Journal discusses that.

An excerpt.

“For as long as big business has been around, management has operated under a simple principle: if you want people to do more of something, pay them more. Hence, bankers earn bonuses for posting big gains. Managers earn bonuses for meeting quarterly earnings targets (and get fired when they don’t). It’s worked reasonably well as the economy has trudged along over the past few decades.

“But lately, people have begun questioning the efficacy of this approach. “In the first ten years of this century—a period of truly staggering underachievement in business, technology, and social progress—we’ve discovered that this sturdy, old operating system doesn’t work nearly as well” as it could, Daniel Pink writes in his new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Why? The carrot-and-stick approach was created for an economy of assembly lines and mindless number-crunching. But these days, “for growing numbers of people, work is often creative, interesting, and self-directed rather than unrelentingly routine, boring, and other-directed,” says Pink, a former speechwriter for Al Gore whose previous book, A Whole New Mind, so captivated Oprah Winfrey that she gave copies to the entire 2008 graduating class at Stanford, where she delivered the commencement address.

“An accumulating pile of academic research shows that rewards tend to focus the brain more narrowly on the specific task that earns the rewards—thus making it harder to encourage employees to develop creative, innovative solutions. That’s fine if you’re a manager trying to get people to stuff as many envelopes as possible. It’s not so good if you want people to dream up new products or product positioning, create new designs, generate article ideas, or, for that matter, write symphonies.

“So Pink offers a different prescription. The best motivation, he suggests, is intrinsic, that is, when people want to do the work because they find the work itself fulfilling. That doesn’t mean such workers don’t want to be paid well. They do, of course, and they also like free coffee and in-office massages as much as anyone else. But leaders who understand this higher level of motivation compensate people in a way that “takes the issue of money off the table, so they can focus on the work itself.” They pay their employees well for their industry, but equally important, people aren’t pitted against one another through compensation schemes that pay some people way more than others for the same work. These leaders create an environment where people want to do their best. This involves giving people lots of autonomy over their time, their tasks, their techniques, and their teams; providing them an opportunity to work toward mastery of their professional craft; and imbuing their work with a sense of purpose.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Saint for the Times

All saints are so for their times, but the story of St Nicholas Owen—whose feast day was last Monday—is remarkable for the fairly recent memory of the great persecution of Catholics in England and the measures this remarkable man took to hide and protect them, as reported by American Catholic's Saint of the Day.

An excerpt.

“Nicholas, familiarly known as "Little John," was small in stature but big in the esteem of his fellow Jesuits.

“Born at Oxford, this humble artisan saved the lives of many priests and laypersons in England during the penal times (1559-1829), when a series of statutes punished Catholics for the practice of their faith. Over a period of about 20 years he used his skills to build secret hiding places for priests throughout the country. His work, which he did completely by himself as both architect and builder, was so good that time and time again priests in hiding were undetected by raiding parties. He was a genius at finding, and creating, places of safety: subterranean passages, small spaces between walls, impenetrable recesses. At one point he was even able to mastermind the escape of two Jesuits from the Tower of London. Whenever Nicholas set out to design such hiding places, he began by receiving the Holy Eucharist, and he would turn to God in prayer throughout the long, dangerous construction process.

“After many years at his unusual task, he entered the Society of Jesus and served as a lay brother, although—for very good reasons—his connection with the Jesuits was kept secret.

“After a number of narrow escapes, he himself was finally caught in 1594. Despite protracted torture, he refused to disclose the names of other Catholics. After being released following the payment of a ransom, "Little John" went back to his work. He was arrested again in 1606. This time he was subjected to horrible tortures, suffering an agonizing death. The jailers tried suggesting that he had confessed and committed suicide, but his heroism and sufferings soon were widely known.”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Socialism & Terror

The great enemy of the Church—the prince of this world—has found socialism a worthy tool for many years (so clearly warned against in the 1878 encyclical on socialism by Pope Leo XIII, Quod Apostolici Muneris) and socialism’s predilection for violence is congruent with Satan's hate for humanity.

The essential book, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, notes the strategy favored by Lenin.

“Lenin’s primary objective was to maintain his hold on power for as long as possible. After ten weeks, he had ruled longer than the Paris Commune, and he began to dream about never letting go of the reins. The course of history was beginning to change, and the Russian Revolution, under the direction of the Bolsheviks, was to take humanity down a previously untraveled path.

“Why should maintaining power have been so important that it justified all means and led to the abandonment of the most elementary moral principles? The answer must be that it was the only way for Lenin to put his ideas into practice and “build socialism.” The real motivation for the terror thus becomes apparent: it stemmed from Leninist ideology and the utopian will to apply to society a doctrine totally out of step with reality.

“In that respect, one may well ask exactly how much pre-1914 Marxism there was to be found in pre-1914 or post-1917 Leninism. Lenin of course used a number of Marxist axioms as the basis for his theories, including the class struggle, the necessity of violence in history, and the importance of the proletariat as the class that brought meaning to history. But in 1902, in his famous address What is to be Done? He proposed a new conception of a revolutionary party made up of professionals linked in an underground structure of almost military discipline. For this purpose, he adopted and further developed Nechaev’s model [see note below] which was quite different from the great socialist organizations in Germany, England, and France.

In 1914 Lenin made a definitive break with the Second International. At the moment when almost all socialist parties, brutally confronted with the power of nationalist sentiments, rallied around their respective governments, Lenin set off on an almost purely theoretical path, prophesying the “transformation of the imperialist war into civil war.” Cold reason led him to conclude that the socialist movement was not yet powerful enough to counter nationalism, and that after the inevitable war he would be called on to regroup his forces to prevent a return to warfare. This belief was an act of faith, a gamble that raised the stakes of the game to all or nothing. For two years his prophecy seemed sterile and empty, until suddenly it came true and Russia entered a revolutionary phase. Lenin was sure that the events of this period were the confirmation of all his beliefs. Nechaev’s voluntarism seemed to have prevailed over Marxist determinism.

“If the prediction that power was there to be seized was correct, the idea that Russia was ready to plunge into socialism, making progress at lightning speed, was radically wrong. And this was one of the most profound causes of the terror, the gap between a Russia that wanted more than anything to be free and Lenin’s desire for absolute power to apply an experimental doctrine.” (p. 737-738)

[note: Nechaev] "Throughout the nineteenth century one section of this revolutionary movement [the Russian Land Movement] was linked to violent activity. The most radical proponent of violence within the movement was Sergei Nechaev, whom Dostoevsky used as a model for the revolutionary protagonist of The Devils. In 1869 Nechaev published a Revolutionary Catechism in which he defined a revolutionary as:

“A man who is already lost. He has no particular interest, no private business, no feelings, no personal attachments, and no property; he does not even have a name. Everything in him is absorbed by one interest to the exclusion of all others, by a single thought, a single passion…revolution. In the depths of his being, not simply in words but in his actions as well, he has broken all links with society and the world of civilization, with its laws and conventions, with its social etiquette and its moral code. The revolutionary is an implacable enemy, and he carries on living only so that he can ensure the destruction of society." (p. 730)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Prisons & Reentry

As the focus on reentry escalates—a good thing—the tendency to replicate the program failures of the past, hoping they will work this time, also increases.

Key among them is the assumption that a specific service like employment, housing, counseling, etc, are what cause the internal transformation leading to criminal reformation.

This article from the Wall Street Journal focuses on services, in contrast to the model reentry program developed by Lampstand which focuses on conversion to Catholicism.

An excerpt from the Journal article.

“BALTIMORE—Out of prison after serving 7 1/2 years for drug-dealing and armed robbery, Cedric Petteway is struggling to find a job in the worst economy in decades.

“The 32-year-old father of two says he has submitted more than 500 resumés for entry-level jobs in the past seven months, to no avail.

"There are times when I think about going back to selling narcotics," says Mr. Petteway, who estimates he used to earn more than $40,000 a month running a cocaine-dealing operation in West Baltimore. "It's going to take a lot of determination, but I can't resort back to that."

“Cash-strapped states from California to Maryland are releasing thousands of prisoners as they seek to trim ballooning prison budgets. But the same squeeze compelling them to free more inmates makes it tougher for those ex-convicts to start a new life, and is fueling a debate about how best to prevent them from returning to crime.

"Even in the best of times some of these prisoners don't do well when they get out," says David Pate, a social-work professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "Now they have even greater challenges to face."

“Some policy makers are pushing states to help ex-convicts assimilate. "The battle here and in other states has been whether money saved by reducing incarceration will then be reinvested into programs designed to keep people safely out of prison," says Michigan Republican state Sen. Alan Cropsey, who supports devoting more resources to counseling parolees.

“The U.S. ranks as the world's incarceration leader with 2.3 million people, or 0.8% of its population, in prisons and jails. In the past two decades, tough-on-crime laws have caused state corrections budgets to more than quadruple, to $52 billion in 2008. But recidivism remains high; about two of three people freed from state prisons are rearrested in three years, according to a 2002 study by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“Lately, some states have warmed to the idea that rehabilitation outside prison can be cheaper and more effective. The math on these sorts of initiatives is simple, says Adam Gelb, a public-safety specialist at the Pew Center on the States: A day in prison costs $79 on average; a day on probation costs $3.42. "States can substantially beef up supervision in the community and do it at a fraction of the cost of a prison cell," he says.”

Friday, March 26, 2010

Building New Prisons

It is heartening to see, as reported in the Sacramento Bee, that one candidate for governor of California, Meg Whitman, understands the basics of supply and demand—when the prisons are over-flowing, build new ones rather than release prisoners early—acknowledging that law enforcement and the courts are fulfilling their public mission by apprehending and sentencing criminals appropriately.

An excerpt.

“Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman called Wednesday for building new prisons to house some of the state's 150,000 inmates as she sparred with her rivals over the best way to fix the state's costly and overcrowded corrections system.

"(Overcrowding) is a sign that we have not invested in the infrastructure in California," Whitman said in remarks to a gathering of public safety officials in Sacramento. "We are going to have to create some capacity to invest to make sure that we have the infrastructure that we need in the next 50 years."

“Whitman, who opposes raising taxes and wants to reduce the state work force, declined to identify a specific funding source for the costly new facilities, saying instead that cash could be freed up by cutting other areas of government.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Prison Health Care

The idea expressed in this article from the Los Angeles Times—to have the University of California take over prison health care—is an excellent one; and the downside of losing jobs is a result of increasing efficiency through technology, leading to the requirement of the modern labor force to commit to life-long learning, which many are.

An excerpt.

“The Schwarzenegger administration wants to put the University of California in charge of state prison inmates' medical needs in an overhaul of the troubled corrections healthcare system that could save $12 billion over a decade, officials say.

“The arrangement, similar to a centralized system of managed care, would dramatically expand the use of telemedicine, a technique by which patients are seen by doctors in remote locations over a screen with an Internet connection. It would institute electronic record-keeping so providers could access medical information from anywhere.

“And the plan, still being refined, could include the purchase or construction of a central hospital near several prison infirmaries for housing and treatment of the chronically sick. That would reduce the state's current -- and expensive -- practice of paying correctional officers overtime to transport and guard inmates at community hospitals around the state.

“Eventually, the program would mean a sharp reduction in the number of employees providing care.

“The proposal would require approval from lawmakers and from federal judges presiding over inmate lawsuits on inadequate healthcare. It could meet with opposition from unions for state workers whose jobs might change or be eliminated.

“The program, recommended by a Texas company that the state hired as a consultant, would be an effort to reduce, and ultimately end, oversight of California's prison medical care by federal courts.

“After a receiver took control of the system in 2006, medical costs skyrocketed. They reached $2.5 billion a year, including mental health care, which the receiver does not control, and have since declined to $2.2 billion. But they remain far higher than in other states, according a report by NuPhysicia, the state's consultant.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Peter’s Letter to Irish Catholics

George Weigel comments on the powerful letter.

The letter can be read on the Vatican website.

An excerpt from George Weigel's comments.

“In a March 20 pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI vigorously condemned the physical and sexual abuse of “children and vulnerable young people” in which Irish priests and religious women had engaged for decades, and mandated an Apostolic Visitation of various segments of the Irish Church.

“The visitation seems likely to result in major changes in the Church’s leadership in what was once one of the world’s most intensely Catholic countries, and is now one of the centers of aggressive secularism in Europe. “Sinful and criminal acts” against the young “and the way Church authorities dealt with them” are, the Pope suggests, among the reasons that Irish Catholicism has imploded in recent decades. And Benedict does not hesitate to draw the necessary conclusion from that analysis — radical reform is the only path back to a vital and vibrant Catholic Church in the land of St. Patrick.

“There is very little euphemism in Benedict’s pastoral letter; its language is both unprecedented and unsparing, as is its candor about the failures of bishops in dealing with abuse. Abusing priests and religious women are told, bluntly, that “you betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals.” Moreover, the Pope writes to the abusers, “you have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and have brought shame and dishonor upon your confreres. Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Orders in which Christ makes himself present in us and in our actions” — which is to say, you have profaned holy things.

“The Irish bishops are also, and deservedly, called to task in no uncertain terms: “Some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously” to address problems of sexual and physical abuse that had in some instances become institutionalized in Catholic facilities, including those that cared for trapped orphans — “grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred.” And because of that, the Pope told the Irish hierarchy, your “credibility and effectiveness” has been “seriously undermined.”

“In a sound-bite global media environment, these sharp and (from a Vatican that still prefers the subjunctive mood) almost startlingly blunt statements are likely to draw the most attention. Other aspects of the Pope’s letter are worth noting, however, because they indicate that the corporate mind of the Vatican is, at long last, beginning to come to grips with the full implications of the patterns of clerical sexual predation and episcopal malfeasance that first came to light during the American “Long Lent” of 2002.

“The letter acknowledges, for example, that two factors in the cover-up of sexual and physical abuse in Ireland were an excessive deference to ecclesiastical authority and a misplaced concern for the Church’s public reputation; the safe care of Christ’s little ones, the Pope insists, must have absolute priority over worries about how revelations of the sinfulness of Church professionals will “look,” and must have absolute priority over the career prospects of men in ecclesiastical office. As for the conditions in Irish Catholicism that created the warped ecclesial ecology in which abuse took place and was then denied or hidden, the Pope forthrightly notes “inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and religious life” and “insufficient human, moral, intellectual, and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates.” That no small part of these two failures was shaped by the doctrinal and moral chaos of the post–Vatican II period, during which there was a tendency in Ireland (and elsewhere) “to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without reference to the Gospel,” is also noted.”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sexual Abuse in the Church

As the ugly facts keep turning up, now in Europe, the brushes with the Holy Father are being promoted by many in the secular press, but this wonderful article from the Daily Telegraph puts things into context.

An excerpt.

“The fact is that sections of the media will not be happy until they have implicated the Pope in sex-abuse scandals – and if the dots don't quite join up, never mind: it makes good copy and the Successor of Peter isn't going to sue, is he? One Guardian columnist welcomed the news of the Pope's visit with the claim that he had "colluded" in the deaths of millions of Africans. "Don't tread on the corpses," she sneered.

“Mgr Georg Ratzinger, the Pope's ancient older brother, has also been dragged into the spotlight. As head of the Regensburg choir school, he was innocent of any abuse that took place there before his time. But he admitted slapping the occasional wayward choirboy, so naturally he has been thrown to the wolves.

“Yet there are also Catholics – and, again, I'm one of them – who are furious that a culture of secrecy has enabled a small minority of clergy to assault children: generations of children, in some cases, their crimes consistently hushed up by lazy slugs in diocesan offices who would rather expose young people to assault than damage "the good name of the Church".

“As a journalist working in the Catholic media, I've encountered again and again a level of deceit reminiscent of the flunkeys of a tinpot dictator. Charles Chaput, the current Archbishop of Denver, a lonely campaigner against episcopal back-slapping, has condemned the "clericalism, excessive secrecy, 'happy talk' and spin control" that enabled the establishment to move abusers around parishes like pieces on a Monopoly board.

“Russell Shaw, the former director of communications for America's Catholic bishops, has written about the "stifling, deadening misuse of secrecy that does immense harm to the Church". “But Shaw also raises the unfashionable topic of "legitimate secrecy of the kind required to protect confidential records and people's reputations".

“Let me give an example. A priest I know slightly was accused of a sexual crime that he didn't commit. He was removed from his parish so quietly that his parishioners didn't know what was going on. He returned, months later, equally surreptitiously, having been cleared by police. Some of his flock resented the "secrecy". Yet it saved the career and reputation of an innocent man.

“When he was the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer, Cardinal Ratzinger defended and enforced this legitimate secrecy. In 2001, he demanded to be sent bishops' files on accused clergy, because he did not believe the cases were being handled with sufficient rigour. He cited a 1962 document which stressed the need for confidentiality. But – and this point is crucial – Ratzinger used his new jurisdiction to act far more harshly against sex abusers than had their useless local bishops. From that point forward, writes John Allen, an American Catholic journalist, "he and his staff seemed driven by a convert's zeal to clean up the mess".

“What are non-Catholics to make of all this? I'd argue that, like Catholics, they need to resist sweeping conclusions and try to reconcile two truths. The first is that many Catholic bishops, especially in Ireland and America, betrayed children, families and their own good priests by covering up for abusers. The crimes may have reached their peak as long ago as the 1970s, but the culture that enveloped them has yet to be fully dismantled.

“The second is that secularists who despise Catholicism are manipulating tragedies to marginalise Catholics and blacken the name of a Pope, Benedict XVI, who has done far more than his predecessor to root out what he calls the "filth" of sexual abuse. Unfortunately for the Pope, his enemies inside the Church, who include members of the College of Cardinals, are happy for him to take the rap. Ratzinger was never "one of the boys", the "magic circle" of bishops who covered for each other, and now he is paying for it. Expect some judicious leaking of scandals to sympathetic journalists just in time for his visit.

“Ultimately, only the Pope himself can resolve the tension between guilt and innocence, and he needs to act fast. The "Rottweiler" nickname was always misleading, given his personal gentleness, but it would be no bad thing if he launched a ferocious attack on sexual predators and their hand-wringing accomplices in the higher ranks of the clergy.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

Think & Pray

In a message resonant to all Catholic leaders within the Church and apostolates of the laity, the Holy Father teaches us of the centrality of these two essential principles of spiritual leadership, in this article from Chiesa.

An excerpt.

“Benedict XVI has taught it to the faithful in a general audience, against those who call for a new beginning for Christianity, without hierarchy or dogmas. The secret of good governance, he said, is "above all to think and to pray"

“ROME, March 18 – Few have noticed it, but in the thick of the storm that has battered the Catholic Church in the wake of the scandal presented to the "little ones" by some of its priests, Joseph Ratzinger has faced the challenge in a way uniquely his own. With a surprising lesson on the theology of history, not without references to his own experience as theologian and pope….

“At the center of the lesson stands Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, doctor of the Church, one of the first successors of Saint Francis as head of the order he founded.

“And this is the first of the autobiographical features. Because it was precisely on Saint Bonaventure's theology of history that the young Joseph Ratzinger published, in 1959, his thesis for certification to teach theology, which has recently been republished.

“The novelty of this early text was that it compared, for the first time, Saint Bonaventure's theology of history with the highly influential version of Joachim of Fiore.

“Joachim of Fiore has had a tremendous influence on both Christian and atheist thought, in his own century and in later ones, up until our own time. Thirty years ago, the theologian Henri De Lubac dedicated a two-volume study to this influence, entitled: "La posterité spirituelle de Joachim de Flore."

“When today, in reaction to the scandal of some priests, appeals come again for an epochal, radical purification of the Church, a new Council to be a "new beginning and rupture," a spiritual Christianity made up of the bare Gospel without any more hierarchies or dogmas, what is being invoked if not the age of the Spirit proclaimed by Joachim of Fiore?

“In his lesson last March 10, Benedict XVI described and made accessible with rare clarity the contrast between Joachim and Bonaventure. He showed how Joachim's utopia found fertile ground in Vatican Council II to reproduce itself once again, successfully opposed, however, by the "wise helmsmen of Peter's barque," by the popes who were able to defend simultaneously the novelty of the Council and the continuity of the Church.

“It's a small step from spiritualism to anarchy, Benedict XVI warned. That's the way it was in Saint Bonaventure's century, and that's the way it is today. In order to be governed, the Church needs hierarchical structures, but these must be given a clear theological foundation. This is what Saint Bonaventure did in governing the Franciscan order. For him, "to govern was not simply a task but was above all to think and to pray. At the base of his government we always find prayer and thought; all his decisions resulted from reflection, from thought illumined by prayer."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Facing Evil

One of the greatest accomplishments of the devil is convincing people he doesn’t exist and the refusal to face criminal evil lies at the heart of our inability to rehabilitate criminals—for without personal responsibility there can be no personal reformation— and then there are just those who are really not at all clear on the concept, as well represented by this story from USA Today.

An excerpt.

“WASHINGTON — Prisons in eight states let convicts work in jobs that give them access to Social Security numbers and other personal information for the public, despite years of warnings that the practice should end, a federal audit finds.

“Most of the prisoners hold jobs processing public records for federal, state and local governments, according to the audit released this month by the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General. The work often involves entering and processing data on documents such as student transcripts, tax files, and health care and labor claims forms.

"Although we recognize there may be benefits in allowing prisoners to work while incarcerated, we question whether prisoners have a need to know other individuals' Social Security numbers," the audit says. "Allowing prisoners access to Social Security numbers increases the risk that individuals may improperly obtain and misuse (the data)."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Social Justice

Social justice is in the news; in this recent letter from a national social justice group, the response from the USCCB, and many radio and television commentators equate it with Marxism; but the social justice principle as embodied in Catholic teaching is profound, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches.


“1928 Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.


“1929 Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him:

“What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.

“1930 Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church's role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.

“1931 Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that "everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as 'another self,' above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity." No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a "neighbor," a brother.

“1932 The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be. "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

“1933 This same duty extends to those who think or act differently from us. The teaching of Christ goes so far as to require the forgiveness of offenses. He extends the commandment of love, which is that of the New Law, to all enemies. Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is incompatible with hatred of one's enemy as a person, but not with hatred of the evil that he does as an enemy.”

Friday, March 19, 2010

California Prison Health Care

The Legislative Analyst’s Office new report on the issue has been released.

An excerpt.

“The 2010-11 Budget: Prison Receivership Proposals Pose Significant Financial Risks

“In February 2006, the federal court in the Plata v. Schwarzenegger case pertaining to inmate medical care appointed a Receiver to take over the direct management and operation of the state’s prison medical health care delivery system from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). (A nonprofit corporation was subsequently created as a vehicle for operating and staffing the Receiver’s operation.) Almost two years later, the court appointed a new Receiver to continue and expand the efforts initiated by the first Receiver in bringing prison medical care up to federal constitutional standards. In this brief, we (1) provide a status report on the Receiver’s actions, (2) present an overview of state spending on inmate medical care, (3) analyze the various requests contained in the Governor’s budget for the Receiver, and (4) identify issues and recommendations for legislative consideration.”

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Church Triumphant

An aspect of our worldly life that is often too easy for us to forget, is that the most powerful aspect of our Church is the Church Triumphant, and to remember it, carrying it with us as part of the spiritual armor sorely needed during our apostolate work on earth, is why daily practice is crucial—mass, prayer, rosary, recollection and examination—the spiritual swords of truth and the armor of God.

This article from Inside Catholic reminds us.

An excerpt.

"The reasoning of the Church from remotest antiquity was simple: If I can ask you -- my brother or sister in Christ, who happen to be walking around on this earth -- to pray for me, then why can't I ask my brother or sister (or mother) in Christ to do the same?

Because the dead are dead? Not according to Jesus Christ:

“[H]ave you not read what was said to you by God, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not God of the dead, but of the living"? (Mt 22:31-32)

“Because they don't know what's happening on earth? The extremely dead Moses seemed to be pretty acutely aware of what was happening on earth when he appeared to Jesus and the apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration and "spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem" (Lk 9:31).

“Because they don't care? It runs rather counter to the logic of the entire tradition to say that the saints who have been perfected into the image and likeness of the God who is love will choose to express that love by being transformed into heavenly couch potatoes who do not give a rip about their suffering brothers and sisters on earth and who respond to the cries of the martyrs with, "I'm all right, Jack. I've got mine. Tough luck for you." Certainly the Letter to the Hebrews does not envision such a preposterous scenario, but instead sees us urged on with the love and prayers of the saints when it tells us: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2)

“And again when it concludes this passage by saying: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.”

“The author of Hebrews, like the apostles at the Transfiguration, has a lively awareness that the saints in heaven are passionately involved with the progress of the Church on earth.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Carceral/Criminal World Expansion

As reported by USA Today.

An excerpt.

“Rival prison gang members, including warring white supremacist and Hispanic groups, are brokering unusual criminal alliances outside prison to assist Mexican drug cartel operations in the U.S. and Mexico, federal law enforcement officials say.

“The groups, including the Aryan Brotherhood and Mexican Mafia, remain bitter enemies in prison, divided along racial and ethnic lines. Yet outside, the desire for profits is overcoming rivalries.

“Kevin O'Keefe, chief of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives criminal intelligence division, says investigators have linked the rival gangs to stolen vehicles, some loaded with currency and weapons, moving toward Mexico from Texas, Colorado, California and even Georgia.

"They realize that the financial gain is so lucrative that they have been willing to work together," O'Keefe says. "It's all about business."

“Herb Brown, section chief of the FBI's gang division, says the groups use tactics of intimidation and violence. "What has concerned us — and, frankly, surprised us — is the increasing nexus between these gangs and the cartels," he says.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Glee in Gehenna

They are chortling in Hell today, for nations have fulfilled the prophet’s words:

“This is the nation which does not listen to the voice of the LORD, its God, or take correction. Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.” (Jeremiah 7:28)

In France, the situation is, as reported by The Oxford Review.

An excerpt.

“How bad have things gotten in the Catholic Church in France? According to a report in La Croix, they've never been worse. The French Catholic weekly has published the results of a recent survey taken by the Institut français d'opinion publique (IFOP). “Among other startling statistics, IFOP found that the number of Frenchmen who identify themselves as Catholic fell from 81 percent in 1965 to 64 percent in late 2009. What's more, the number of self-identified Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week fell from 27 percent to an appalling 4.5 percent during that same time period.

“To put it in perspective, those of us who observe trends in the U.S. Church have expressed concern that average weekly Mass attendance in this country hovers around the 30 percent range (which represents a slight uptick, according to the latest data from Georgetown's Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate). That's roughly the same as France's high at the close of Vatican II, when the "extraordinary form" of the Mass — the Tridentine Latin version — was still the ordinary form. The Eucharist is supposed to be the "source and summit" of Catholic life, but for French Catholics it's long been a source of ambivalence. Perhaps we have here an inkling of why Church Fathers in the mid-20th century thought a reform was necessary. Unfortunately, Vatican II made an already bad situation worse. Nowadays, if not for tourists, the great historical cathedrals of France would be like empty airplane hangars.

“On the catechetical side, things aren't much brighter. A whopping 63 percent of French Catholics believe that all religions are the same — that is, they profess the heresy of indifferentism. Seventy-five percent want the Church to reconsider her teaching against artificial contraception; 68 percent want the Church to do the same regarding abortion. These are staggering figures for a country that was once referred to fondly as "the Church's eldest daughter."

“These figures just scratch the surface of a severe crisis. According to official Church statistics, in France between 1996 and 2005:
• Catholic marriages fell 28.4 percent;
• baptisms fell 19.1 percent;
• confirmations fell 35.3 percent;
• the number of priests fell 26.1 percent;
• the number of religious sisters fell 23.4 percent.”

Monday, March 15, 2010

Unintended Consequences

One result of the new law governing prisoner releases is that violation of parole terms itself, cannot be used to return someone to prison, leading to the consequence of someone clearly—according to the informed judgement of parole or police officers—involved in criminal behavior, who could have been rounded up via term violations, but as actionable evidence may not be available, no more.

An excerpt from the article from the Los Angeles Times.

“The union representing Los Angeles police officers said Wednesday that a parolee with 19 arrests and four convictions underscores how laws meant to ease prison overcrowding could pose a serious -- and ongoing -- threat to public safety. Ezra Hooker Sr. was arrested Jan. 5 after allegedly pointing a rifle at a prostitute and leading LAPD officers on a high-speed chase on South Los Angeles freeways.

“During the pursuit, which LAPD investigators said hit 100 mph, Hooker threw a brick at officers and discarded a rifle before crashing his car. Hooker was found to be wearing body armor at the time of his arrest, police said.

“Sources familiar with the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about Hooker's criminal record, said the 43-year-old South L.A. resident had 19 prior arrests dating back to the 1970s, including murder and manslaughter. He served time in state prison for narcotics and gun possession.

“Yet he was classified by the state Department of Corrections and Parole as a low-level offender and had most recently been paroled in February 2009, according to sources.

“A new law that went into effect this year aimed to cut the state inmate population by about 6,500. The reductions, targeting low-level offenders, are achieved in part through good-behavior credits but also by revising parole rules to stop police agencies from returning nonviolent offenders to prison for minor parole violations.”

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sexual Abuse in the Church

There were two crucial documents released yesterday by the Vatican concerning sexual abuse in the German Catholic Church.

1) Note Issued by Holy See Press Office Director,

2) Promoter of Justice at Doctrine of Faith on Paedophilia

This story from Catholic News Agency summarizes the documents.

An excerpt.

“Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See's Press Office, released a statement on Saturday morning in which he made three "observations" regarding sexual abuse by people and in institutions of the Catholic Church. He also addressed dismissed as unfounded attempts to link the Pope to a decision to transfer a priest found to have committed sexual abuse when Benedict XVI was Archbishop of Munich.

“The first of the three "observations" made by Fr. Lombardi was to point out that the "line taken" by the German Bishops' Conference has been confirmed as the correct path to confront the problem in its different aspects.

“Fr. Lombardi included some elements of the statement made by Archbishop Robert Zollitsch at a Friday press conference following his audience with the Pope. The Vatican spokesman highlighted the approach established by the German bishops to respond to the possible abuses: "recognizing the truth and helping the victims, reinforcing the preventions and collaborating constructively with the authorities - including those of the state judiciaries - for the common good of society."

“Fr. Lombardi drew attention to Archbishop Zollitsch's affirmation, without any doubts, of the expert opinion that the vow of celibacy of the priest has no relationship to cases of pedophilia.

“He also reaffirmed that the Holy Father supports the German bishops in their plan and that this approach could be considered "useful and inspiring" to other episcopal conferences in similar situations.

“Secondly, Fr. Lombardi referred to the interview given to Avvenire by the "promoter of justice" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who explained in detail the norms of the Church for investigating cases of sexual abuse of minors.

“The Vatican spokesman highlighted the most important element of the interview: that the Church has in no way promoted hiding the crimes, but has put an "intense activity" in motion to confront, judge and punish them in an appropriate manner "within the framework of ecclesiastical ordinance."

“He also wrote that it is important to note that special attention was given to these themes when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"His line has always been that of rigor and coherence in confronting even the most difficult situations," added Fr. Lombardi.

“The final observation Fr. Lombardi made was that a recent communique from the Archdiocese of Munich answers questions about a priest who was found guilty of abuses after being transferred from Essen to Munich, where Cardinal Ratzinger was archbishop at the time. The communique, he stressed, shows that the archbishop was completely "extraneous" to the decisions made after the abuses were verified.

"It's rather evident that in recent days there are those who have sought - with a certain tenacity, in Regensburg and in Munich - elements for personally involving the Holy Father in the questions of the abuses. For every objective observer, it's clear that these efforts have failed," he stated.

“The Vatican spokesman concluded by reaffirming that "despite the tempest," the Church sees the course to follow "under the sure and rigorous guide of the Holy Father."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Part of the Problem?

Continuing to advocate for that which has not worked—traditional rehabilitation programs focused on jobs, drug abuse, housing, etc., about which we've posted—could be defined as being part of the problem, and that describes this recent editorial from America magazine, which, unfortunately, too often describes the institutionalized Catholic approach in America to criminal justice.

What works is an internal transformation the criminal undertakes, based on truth potent enough to trump the truth of the criminal/carceral world; and that truth is the Great Story of the Catholic Church, told through her social teaching by a transformed criminal, as outlined by the Lampstand Foundation.

An excerpt from the editorial from America.

“Recession-driven prison closings may provide state lawmakers an opportunity to promote a more rational approach to criminal justice that still puts public safety first. Draconian sentences even for low-level offenders have long crowded penal facilities, and over the past two decades the building of new prisons has increased dramatically. In the 1960s and 70s an average of four prisons a year were under construction, but in the 1990s the average jumped to 24 a year. Correctional costs now swallow up huge portions of many state budgets. According to a March 2009 report by the Pew Center on the States, total corrections spending has reached an estimated $68 billion, an increase of 336 percent since 1986.

“For some states, this spending has produced disquieting signs of skewed spending priorities. In Michigan, for example, one of the states hit hardest by the recession because of its ties with the ailing automotive industry, the state government spends more on corrections than on higher education, despite having already closed half a dozen penal facilities.

“Other states are considering early release for low-level offenders who seem to present little risk to public safety. Arizona, New Jersey and Vermont reduced the sentences of thousands of probation and parole violators who had been returned to prison for violations of various kinds. Early release, though, can work well only if strong re-entry programs are in place—initiatives that provide help with housing, jobs and substance abuse. According to Marc Mauer, executive director of the nonprofit Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., the commitment to re-entry programs has grown over the past decade—a positive sign of a practice he hopes will continue.”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Papal Infallibility & Capital Punishment

From the first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992 to the second edition of 1997, the Catechism, the magisterial heart of the Church, moves from clear support of the use of capital punishment by affirmation to muddy support by deprecation.

This is a significant movement and one wonders what led to this change.

We know that the new and more restrictive language on the use of capital punishment in the second edition originated from the encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, of March 25, 1995, and for an explanation of the change in language, we have the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) who presided over the Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, responsible for overseeing the publication of the Catechism, reported by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in First Things, The Public Square: A Clarification on Capital Punishment (1995): “Clearly, the Holy Father [John Paul II] has not altered the doctrinal principles which pertain to this issue as they are presented in the Catechism, but has simply deepened the application of such principles in the context of present-day historical circumstances. Thus, where other means for the self-defense of society are possible and adequate, the death penalty may be permitted to disappear.”

Lampstand published a book on this: Capital Punishment & Catholic Social Teaching: A Tradition of Support which explores the issue in depth.

In a recent post at Catholic Culture, the issue is noted in relation to when the Holy Father speaks infallibly.

An excerpt.

“Quite apart from the pope’s intention, there are large areas in which Christ has not promised to protect the pope’s utterances, and equally large areas in which the Holy Spirit is not bound by the nature of the Church to protect the pope from error. If the pope chooses to comment to the whole Church about some situation in the world which is not a matter of faith and morals (such as opining, as John Paul II did, that modern penal systems make the death penalty mostly unnecessary), he has no special protection. He may be right or wrong, and the faithful may agree or disagree. If he teaches theology to a particular class, or makes a spiritual point to a group of pilgrims, or argues a point of doctrine in a private letter to his best friend, the Holy Spirit can see there is no risk of binding the whole Church. In other words, whenever the pope is speaking in his private capacity as a man, or is not addressing the entire Church, or is discussing something other than faith and morals, he is not infallible.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

20 Year Study Finds 80% Recidivism Rate

This new study validates what most correctional and law enforcement professionals already know…almost everyone who goes to prison eventually comes back.

It is reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and one striking piece of data, is that the authors—whose treatment program only has a 60% recidivism rate—claim that as success, indicative of the dismal state of traditional rehabilitation efforts.

An excerpt from the Commercial Appeal story.

“Jeff Smith had been free of drugs for four years. Two of those years were during a stay at the Shelby County Correction Center and two were while working at the Salvation Army after his release from jail.

“It was at the Salvation Army that Smith, 54, says he felt "a sense of purpose for the first time in years." He was doing what he says he loves best -- working as a carpenter and furniture refinisher. And he counseled other former inmates to try to keep them from repeating their mistakes.

“Smith wishes he had followed his own advice. "I was tempted by the devil, and I failed," he says. Carpentry, counseling and church services at the Salvation Army weren't enough to break the "revolving-door" cycle that means, like Smith, up to 94 percent of former inmates will be rearrested and up to 81 percent will wind up behind bars again.….

“A 20-year study of recidivism by Correctional Counseling Inc., a Memphis-based behavioral therapy program, is the longest study of recidivism in the country, say psychologists Dr. Greg Little and Dr. Kenneth Robinson.

“It followed 1,381 inmates who first served time at the Shelby County Correction Center between 1987 and 1991. They were taking part in a new treatment program designed by the psychologists that since has gone from a local pilot program to one used in 47 states and eight countries.

“There were 1,052 inmates who used the new program (called MRT for moral reconation therapy) and 329 inmates in a comparison group who received only standard therapy. Results of the 20-year study include:

“About 94 percent of inmates receiving only standard counseling had been rearrested and 82 percent of them wound up back behind bars.

“Of those receiving MRT therapy, 81 percent had been rearrested and 61 percent again wound up behind bars. It was reduction of about 25 percent from the group that did not receive MRT therapy.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Budget Cuts & Prison Rehabilitation

Though the story from the Sacramento Bee decries the budget cuts for in-prison rehabilitation programs, the evidence—over a long period of time and based on strong evaluation research—indicates that in-prison programs do not work, and in one spectacular case in California, actually make the problem worse.

The costly failure by California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation—$1 billion for all prisoner and parolee drug treatment programs since 1989, and $278 million of that for in-prison programs—was reported by the Office of the Inspector General (2007):

“According to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, more than 36,000 of the state’s 172,500 inmates—21 percent of the adult prison population—are serving prison terms for drug offenses. An even higher percentage reportedly has underlying substance abuse problems. A recent University of California study estimated that 42 percent of California inmates have a “high need” for alcohol treatment and 56 percent have a high need for drug treatment. Recidivism rates for California inmates in general continue to be among the highest in the country.

"In a 50-page special review released Wednesday, the Office of the Inspector General reported that numerous university studies of the state’s in-prison substance abuse programs conducted over the past nine years consistently show no difference in recidivism rates between inmates who participated in the programs and those who received no substance abuse treatment. One five-year University of California, Los Angeles, study of the state’s two largest in-prison programs found, in fact, that the 12-month recidivism rates for inmates who received in-prison treatment was slightly higher than that of a control group." (Office of the Inspector General, Sacramento, California, February 21, 2007 Press Release “The states substance abuse treatment program for inmates do not reduce recidivism, yet cost the state $143 million per year” , pp. 1-2 italicized in original)

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“California prison officials began touting a new public safety reform in January that would encourage inmates to complete a rehabilitation course and earn six weeks per year off a sentence.

“Inside Folsom State Prison, though, inmates and instructors leading such courses are skeptical it will work.

“In reality, they say, budget cuts approved by legislators last year, needed to cope with an unprecedented fiscal crisis, are devastating programs that are the basis for the new credit and for helping inmates stay straight once free.

“The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is slashing $250 million – almost 45 percent – of the $560 million it was to spend on rehabilitation this fiscal year.

“That means a 30 percent trim in high school equivalency and other literacy and vocational courses – 800 out of 1,500 instructors have been let go – and a 40 percent cut in substance-abuse programs.

"I just hope someone up there has a brain and can see what the impact of this will be," said Folsom State Prison school Principal Jean Bracy.

"You cannot take people and throw them in a cage," she said, "and expect them to be OK when they get out without rehabilitation."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Does Incarceration Reduce Crime?

The expansion of the prison population resulting from three-strikes sentencing—mandatory minimums—obviously reduced crime, as is obvious to correctional, prosecutorial, and law enforcement professionals; however, many academics and public policy commentators still resist the obvious, as does a recent article in the Sacramento Bee.

The result of research examining the crime reduction in the 1990’s, from the book Why Crime Rates Fell, concludes that: “the expansion in the prison population did contribute in an important way to the reduction of crime rates in the 1990’s” (p. 98)

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“Imagine you decided to draw a bath, turned on the water, and then left the room to answer the phone. When you returned five minutes later the tub was overflowing. What would you do first? “Turn off the water streaming into the bath or open the drain a crack? Of course, you'd turn off the water to stop the flooding from getting worse.

“Now, imagine a corrections system overflowing with prisoners. How much good is releasing prisoners early without doing something to slow down the flood of people entering the system?

“This scenario describes the problem and choice confronting California. Laws requiring lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent offenders, and mindless minimum sentences imposed under the state's "two-strikes" and "three-strikes" laws, have contributed to an overcrowded prison system. Confronted by a court order to reduce its prison population and a budget crisis requiring steep spending cuts across the board, California has made the mistake of opening the drain a crack while leaving the spigot wide open.

“A new state law will provide for the release of approximately 6,500 prisoners over the next year. Local officials must recalculate how they plan to shorten sentences for good behavior and other credits. These recalculations will lead the state to release eligible offenders early. Offenders convicted of serious, violent or sex crimes are not eligible. The measure will purportedly save the state more than $100 million.

“California's secretary of corrections called the law a "win-win situation" because it will cut down on recidivism and allow parole agents to focus attention on more-dangerous former convicts. Sentencing-reform advocates, including Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a nonpartisan advocacy group that opposes one-size-fits-all sentencing laws, could only shake their heads at such a statement.

“If the secretary is right, then why were these 6,500 people sentenced to such long terms in the first place? Wouldn't it make more sense to assess risk and recidivism factors and make those part of the sentencing calculation? Unfortunately, California's mandatory-sentencing laws prohibit such sensible reckoning.

“Mandatory minimums in California, as elsewhere, impose mandatory prison time on offenders who might be better served by shorter sentences, drug treatment or other graduated sanctions.

“There are more than 41,000 prisoners serving time under California's "two-strikes" and "three-strikes" laws; two-thirds of whom did not commit crimes against people. Many are housed in maximum-security prisons that cost taxpayers an average of $31,000 per prisoner per year. It is these laws that created California's prison morass and led to the current attempt to address it through the early expulsion of prisoners.”

Monday, March 8, 2010

St. John of Ars

He is my natal saint, and ever since I have become a Catholic my interest has been drawn to him. Having collected many books about him and spent many hours reading them, especially the priceless book of his homilies, the news of this new book, The Grace of Ars, from Catholic Culture, is wonderful.

An excerpt.

“St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, spent his whole ministry as the pastor of the small parish at Ars in France. He was known for his sanctity in his own lifetime, he performed many miracles, and he could read souls. Having died in 1859 at the age of 73, he was declared venerable within fifteen years by Pope Pius IX in 1874. Pope St. Pius X beatified him and recommended him as a model to parochial clergy in 1905; Pope Pius XI canonized him in 1925 and made him the Patron of Parish Priests in 1929. He was the subject of an encyclical by Pope John XXIII in 1959 ( Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia), and he was the subject of Pope John Paul II’s Holy Thursday Letter to Priests in 1986. Finally, last year Benedict XVI inaugurated the current Year for Priests in honor of the 150th anniversary of John Vianney’s birth, and commended his example to all the priests of the Church

“Apparently there is something about the Curé of Ars. That “something” has been discovered by Fr. Frederick L. Miller (Chairman of the Department of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland) in the course of guiding several pilgrimage-retreats to Ars for priests and seminarians. His new book The Grace of Ars synthesizes the experience and spiritual depth of those retreats. Reading it is, hopefully, a first step toward receiving the immense graces occasioned by a study of and devotion to the incomparably fruitful yet simple priesthood of John Vianney.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Satanic Influence

While there is no way of knowing whether the specific charges raised in this book by a renowned Catholic exorcist are true or not, the fact that Satan has been able to exert influence within the very heart of the Church has been established since Judas.

Excerpts from the related article from the Catholic News Agency.

“Rome, Italy, Mar 3, 2010 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- A renowned exorcist in Rome recently released a book of memoirs in which he declares to know of the existence of Satanic sects in the Vatican where participation reaches all the way to the College of Cardinals. A second demonologist, also residing in Rome, entered the debate this week, clarifying the origins of the information and defending the Vatican's clergy as an "edifying and virtuous" collection of prelates.

“In a book of memoirs released in February, the noted Italian exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth affirmed that "Yes, also in the Vatican there are members of Satanic sects." When asked if members of the clergy are involved or if this is within the lay community, he responded, "There are priests, monsignors and also cardinals!"

“The book, "Father Amorth. Memoirs of an Exorcist. My life fighting against Satan." was written by Marco Tosatti, who compiled it from interviews with the priest.

“Fr. Amorth was asked by Tosatti how he knows Vatican clergy are involved. He answered, "I know from those who have been able to relate it to me because they had a way of knowing directly. And it's something 'confessed' most times by the very demon under obedience during the exorcisms."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Free Will

It is a foundational principle of our apostolate, that criminals act freely in becoming criminals and have the capacity to act freely in transforming their lives.

This article from Culture of Life is an excellent introduction to the ongoing discussion around it, with a look at the often absurd reasoning used by those who deny the reality of free will.

An excerpt.

“…an opinion on human agency with Anthony R. Cashmore, professor of biology at U. Penn., and author of the lead essay in the recently published inaugural issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) [1]. The aim of Cashmore’s essay is to establish the proposition that “the concept of free will is an illusion,” and, having so argued, to propose that the time is right for our society to reconsider the concepts of behavior and responsibility and hence the nature of the criminal justice system.

“For purposes of this short piece, I don’t intend to engage his argument for penal reform. But I do want to address his denial of free will, since his conclusion is widely shared by biologists, philosophers and psychologists (researchers, not clinicians). His position is called ethical determinism, a view of human agency holding that all acts of the will are sufficiently determined by causes other than the will; in other words, there are “sufficient reasons” accounting for all the choices we make. There are, of course, reasons for most of the things we do. But to say there are sufficient reasons means that there is no element of volitional indeterminacy—no freedom—in our action; it’s all accounted for by causes outside the will. Acts of the will in Cashmore’s view are caused by a combination of subtle forces arising from genetics, environment, and what he calls biological
"stochasticism," that is, an inherently random dimension of the behavior of complex living systems, especially the randomness factored into the process of neurological hardwiring that takes place in infants and fetuses.

“Why then do most people believe they can and have made free choices? Cashmore argues it’s because they are wired to believe it. Natural selection has found it advantageous to maintain in humans the illusion of free will—an artificial sense of self-agency. The illusion gives rise to the correlated illusion of human responsibility, which itself has considerable adaptive advantages for human communities. But “the reality is, not only do we have no more free will than a fly or a bacterium, in actuality we have no more free will than a bowl of sugar.” Our “selfish free-will genes” maintain in us the biophysical conditions that perpetuate this illusion, and will continue to do so long as they are successful in conning us into believing in free will.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

Criminal/Carceral World Culture Expanding

As it has been for several decades, the expansion continues, as this story from The Tennessean reports.

An excerpt.

“Overwhelmed police officers admit gangs have taken hold in all corners of Tennessee to sell drugs, steal and kill. What was once largely an urban crisis has spread to suburban and rural communities.

“Middle Tennessee's gangs are no longer just graffiti-spraying juvenile delinquents.

“They are armed and dangerous criminal enterprises that recruit young people with the allure of fast money, street status and a sense of belonging — even if the group they join may get them killed or sent to prison.

"People don't understand there are drive-by shootings going on in Murfreesboro," said Ed Yarbrough, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. "There are witness-elimination killings happening at (the) Hickory Hollow Mall (area). We've got this mindset that suburban areas don't have a gang problem, but we need to wake up to the fact that they do and drive them out."

“As in Tennessee, gang activity has spiked nationwide.

“Nearly 800,000 gang members and 27,000 gangs operate across the 50 states, a Justice Department survey shows. Some estimates have the figure at 2 million gang members.

“While there are no statewide numbers, gangs are present in most of the state's 95 counties, including many communities in the Nashville area, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report says. Police have identified 5,000 gang members in Davidson County. Murfreesboro estimates 400 to 500. Columbia has 200….

“Gangs call themselves the Bloods, Gangster Disciples, Sur-13, Kurdish Pride and dozens of other names. Some are chapters of national brands. They recruit in schools and in parks. Girls are joining at increasing rates, and affiliation among whites is on the rise — shattering stereotypes that gangs attract only minorities and boys….

“In a smoke-filled apartment in Jackson, 10 gang members gathered for a meeting. A painting of the Virgin Mary hung on the wall above the leader. He called himself Crazy Joker and said he oversees the Sur-13 gang in Tennessee. Sur-13 is one of the nation's fastest-growing gangs and pledges allegiance to the Mexican Mafia, a Mexican-American criminal organization.

“We're in it to make money," said Crazy Joker…”

Thursday, March 4, 2010

St. Katherine Drexel

She was a truly extraordinary American saint—whose uncle was Anthony J. Drexel, founder of Drexel University and financial partner of J.P. Morgan—who spent the final 20 years of her life in a small room praying, dying at age 96.

Her feast day was yesterday, and her story is told by American Catholic’s Saint of the Day

An excerpt.

“If your father is an international banker and you ride in a private railroad car, you are not likely to be drawn into a life of voluntary poverty. But if your mother opens your home to the poor three days each week and your father spends half an hour each evening in prayer, it is not impossible that you will devote your life to the poor and give away millions of dollars. Katharine Drexel did that.

“She was born in Philadelphia in 1858. She had an excellent education and traveled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn.

“She had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by reading Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities.

“Back home, she visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions.

“She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O’Connor, she wrote in 1889, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.” Newspaper headlines screamed “Gives Up Seven Million!”

“After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established 50 missions for Indians in 16 states.

“Two saints met when she was advised by Mother Cabrini about the “politics” of getting her Order’s Rule approved in Rome. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans.

“At 77, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Apparently her life was over. But now came almost 20 years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her various prayers, ceaseless aspirations and meditation. She died at 96 and was canonized in 2000.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Data Driven Policing

While the data about past crimes works very well in policing current crimes—as Compstat has long proven—using data to predict where it will occur seems more problematic, but this group claims to have done it, as this announcement from Governing notes.

“Once a week on television's "Numb3rs", a mathematical genius helps his FBI brother solve a crime using his prowess in math. In real life, a quartet of mathematicians from the University of California at Los Angeles have created a new mathematical model that helps police understand how crime hotspots form — and what they can do about them. It tells law enforcement whether a police response will eradicate a hotspot or simply displace it by defining a hotspot as either supercritical or subcritical. Supercritical hotspots arise when small spikes in crime pass a certain threshold, and create a local crime wave; subcritical hotspots arise when one large crime spike, such as the presense of a drug den, draws in more criminals. Rigorous policing simply displaces the supercritical variety, but can completely eliminate subcritical hotspots. The UCLA researchers are collaborating with the Los Angeles Police Department in hopes of eventually predicting where subcritical hotspots will form so they can step in before crime erupts.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Soldier Saint

The work of Lampstand requires a martial stance and that stance is heartily exemplified by the soldier saints of the Church, such as St. Ignatius Loyola, clearly the most well known.

St. Camillus de Lellis is another, less well known, but as the founder of the famous order, the Hospitallers, his life is a remarkable story, captured in this book from Ignatius Press and reviewed at Ignatius Insight.

An excerpt.

“The novel, A Soldier Surrenders, is the story of the dramatic conversion and inspiring goodness of the soldier Camillus de Lellis who lived in the late 1500's, and became the founder of the religious order known then as "Ministers of the Sick", and today now called the "Hospitallers". “The story of St. Camillus is one that is filled with an intriguing combination of drama, military battles, sickness and disease, conversion to God, and great charity for countless suffering people, be they dying soldiers, prisoners or patients in the hospitals that he founded.

“Camillus is a saint that anyone can identitfy with since he was a very worldly man, a huge man at 6 foot 6 inches height, a soldier who fought against the Turks, and one who had a terrible addiction to gambling that continually reduced him to poverty and shame. He also suffered tremendously throughout his life from various ongoing ailments including a crippling leg disease for 46 years, a rupture for 38 years, chronically painful feet problems, and a distaste for food that caused him an inability to retain it. None of his own great sufferings kept him from always thinking of others first, and striving to serve the many sick and dying people under his care.

“He eventually conquered his personal weaknesses like gambling, but not without a long and constant struggle, an example of perseverance that will inspire anyone with their own personal moral, spiritual or physical struggles. God rewarded him with many followers who joined his order to serve the sick and dying, as well as great spiritual gifts including prophecy and miracles. St. Camillus was a forerunner of the work of the International Red Cross, and he used that same symbol for his own religious order. Camillus was canonized by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746, and was proclaimed patron of the sick and of hospitals in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.”

Monday, March 1, 2010

Criminal’s Aging Out

One of the myths many criminal justice practitioners labor under (due to a lack of intimate understanding of criminal world culture) is that criminal’s age-out, that is, after they reach a certain age—generally the mid fifties or so—they do not have the inclination anymore to commit crimes and face the penalties that might result.

As one of the most astute clinical psychologists working with criminals notes:

“It is widely believed that criminals outgrow crime or “burn out.” The burnout theory may be based on the fact that some older criminals cease to get arrested for street crimes, and so they don’t return to prison. It is true that as the street criminal ages, he is not as agile and literally cannot run as fast as he used to. He has mellowed out only in that he takes fewer big risks and his offenses may be less serious. But his criminal personality remains unchanged, and people still suffer at his hands.” (Samenow, S. E. (2004). Inside the Criminal Mind: Revised and Updated Edition, New York: Crown Publishers. (p. 159)

This story from the Boston Globe is one—of many that turn up regularly—also refuting that myth.

An excerpt.

“The clerk’s killing in December captured the region’s attention. The day after Christmas, a gunman wearing a scarf over most of his face robbed Dangol, a Nepalese immigrant working at a Tedeschi Food Shop in Jamaica Plain, of $746 and then shot him. The crime was captured on a store surveillance videotape.

“A state parole officer who saw the video said he recognized the gunman as his parolee, Corliss, a 63-year-old convicted murderer freed in 2006.

“After Corliss was arrested, Parole Board records reviewed by the Globe showed that he had a criminal record that dated back more than 40 years, including a conviction for a remarkably similar slaying, the 1971 shooting of an unarmed store clerk in Salisbury. He had also escaped from prison twice, and in 1991 had violated parole three months after the board released him.

“But Corliss was 60 when he appeared before the full board in 2006. Most inmates that age, criminologists say, have long passed the time when they are most likely to commit crime. “And the records provided to the Globe mentioned no disciplinary problems in prison since 1991.

“Five board members voted in July 2006 to parole Corliss over the objections of one member who wrote that Corliss posed an “ongoing public safety risk.’’ As is customary, board members who participated are named, but not how each voted, out of concerns about retaliation.”