Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Peter’s Barque

An excellent reflection on the current sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, from the American Spectator.

An excerpt.

“The other day my wife and I went to the Pontifical High Mass at the National Shrine in Washington. The occasion was the fifth anniversary of Benedict XVI's papacy. The pope has gone out of his way to revive the old Mass (Tridentine rite), and the organizers had been looking for some publicity. The Shrine is an enormous place, seating 3,500 people, and a half-empty church wouldn't look so good. Answered prayer:

“A few days before the event, the Mass attracted huge press attention. But not of the desired kind.

“The planned celebrant was Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia, who was prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome in the years 1996-2006. In other words, he was one of the leading curial officials during the later years of Pope John Paul II. Castrillon turned 80 last July, so he is no longer a voting cardinal.

“Then the never-ending saga of sexual abuse reared its ugly head. It was revealed that in 2001 Castrillon had written an embarrassing letter to a French bishop, commending him for refusing to report a criminally abusive priest to the police. The priest had sexually abused 11 minor boys and was later sentenced to 18 years in prison. The bishop received a three-month suspended sentence for not reporting the crimes, in violation of French law. Castrillon had written to the bishop (of Bayeux-Lisieux):

“I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration. You have acted well and I am happy to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son, a priest.

“Then, on April 16, speaking in Spain at a conference on the legacy of John Paul II, Castrillon really stirred up trouble. He said that in 2001 he had shown this letter to John Paul II, who had authorized him to send it. Then it was posted on the website for the Congregation for the Clergy, where it has long been a public record. It was deliberately publicized just as Cardinal Castrillon was due to arrive in Washington for an event celebrating the pope's anniversary. The goal, surely, was to add to the negative publicity already heaped on Pope Benedict. The letter, of course, actually implicated his predecessor, John Paul II, in tolerating the cover-up of criminally abusive priests.”

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Technology & Crime

Seattle has developed a superb tool to allow residents to determine the crime rates in their neighborhoods.

Another excellent example of technology working to help people burdened by crime, as reported by the Seattle Times, though not including sex or domestic violence crimes is a mistake as the general vicinity could be included without violating anyone’s privacy.

The more information people have, the better they can protect themselves.

An excerpt.

“The Seattle Police Department launched a new online crime map Monday to give residents a quick, easy way to see the kinds of crimes committed in their neighborhoods.

“The map features a collection of icons — a fist represents an assault, while a can of spray paint indicates a graffiti call, for example — which, when clicked on, provide a general description of the offense, when and where it occurred and a "general offense" number that can be used to request a redacted copy of the original police report.

“Sex crimes and domestic-violence incidents are not included out of a desire to protect victims, according to police spokesman Mark Jamieson.

“The map provides a look at crime "in a snapshot of time" and is aimed at increasing the department's transparency, Jamieson said. Incidents are posted approximately 12 hours after they occur.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

St. Irenaeus, Gnosticism & the New Age

Today is his feast day and he was the Church Father who took on the heresy of Gnosticism, which still plagues the Church today in its many manifestations of New Age spirituality.

The New Age was addressed magnificently in the document from the Vatican Pontifical Council on Culture: Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christina Reflection on the “New Age

Irenaeus was very important to the history and development of the social teaching of the Church for his writings about the early heresies, refuting them eloquently and decisively.

An excerpt from his entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

“Bishop of Lyons, and Father of the Church.

“Information as to his life is scarce, and in some measure inexact. He was born in Proconsular Asia, or at least in some province bordering thereon, in the first half of the second century; the exact date is controverted, between the years 115 and 125, according to some, or, according to others, between 130 and 142. It is certain that, while still very young, Irenaeus had seen and heard the holy Bishop Polycarp (d. 155) at Smyrna. During the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, Irenaeus was a priest of the Church of Lyons. The clergy of that city, many of whom were suffering imprisonment for the Faith, sent him (177 or 178) to Rome with a letter to Pope Eleutherius concerning Montanism, and on that occasion bore emphatic testimony to his merits. Returning to Gaul, Irenaeus succeeded the martyr Saint Pothinus as Bishop of Lyons. During the religious peace which followed the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, the new bishop divided his activities between the duties of a pastor and of a missionary (as to which we have but brief data, late and not very certain) and his writings, almost all of which were directed against Gnosticism, the heresy then spreading in Gaul and elsewhere. In 190 or 191 he interceded with Pope Victor to lift the sentence of excommunication laid by that pontiff upon the Christian communities of Asia Minor which persevered in the practice of the Quartodecimans in regard to the celebration of Easter. Nothing is known of the date of his death, which must have occurred at the end of the second or the beginning of the third century. In spite of some isolated and later testimony to that effect, it is not very probable that he ended his career with martyrdom. His feast is celebrated on 28 June in the Latin Church, and on 23 August in the Greek.

“Irenaeus wrote in Greek many works which have secured for him an exceptional place in Christian literature, because in controverted religious questions of capital importance they exhibit the testimony of a contemporary of the heroic age of the Church, of one who had heard St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, and who, in a manner, belonged to the Apostolic Age. None of these writings has come down to us in the original text, though a great many fragments of them are extant as citations in later writers (Hippolytus, Eusebius, etc.). Two of these works, however, have reached us in their entirety in a Latin version:
• A treatise in five books, commonly entitled Adversus haereses, and devoted, according to its true title, to the "Detection and Overthrow of the False Knowledge" (see GNOSTICISM, sub-title Refutation of Gnosticism). Of this work we possess a very ancient Latin translation, the scrupulous fidelity of which is beyond doubt. It is the chief work of Irenaeus and truly of the highest importance; it contains a profound exposition not only of Gnosticism under its different forms, but also of the principal heresies which had sprung up in the various Christian communities, and thus constitutes an invaluable source of information on the most ancient ecclesiastical literature from its beginnings to the end of the second century. In refuting the heterodox systems Irenaeus often opposes to them the true doctrine of the Church, and in this way furnishes positive and very early evidence of high importance. Suffice it to mention the passages, so often and so fully commented upon by theologians and polemical writers, concerning the origin of the Gospel according to St. John (see GOSPEL OF SAINT JOHN), the Holy Eucharist, and the primacy of the Roman Church."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reentry, Using Media

Anything that broadens the discussion of crime, criminals, and rehabilitation, is a good thing, and this effort profiled by the Washington Post, is a good example.

An excerpt.

“The federal agency tasked with supervising parolees as they reintegrate into the District has launched an aggressive media campaign that asks area business leaders to articulate what it will take for them to hire offenders.

“During a taped segment, which is posted on the agency's Web site and YouTube channel and will air on local television stations, officials from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency discuss the incentives available to businesses that hire individuals who have spent time in the criminal justice system. The agency also asks for comment from employers. There are also six radio segments in the works that will include interviews with both employers and offenders.

"We don't know what the response is going to be; what we're trying to do is crowd source the issue of hiring offenders," said Leonard Sipes Jr., a public affairs specialist with the agency and host of the program. "This project is about tapping into the knowledge of the business community and finding out what their bottom line is ... they know better than anybody else what they need, what they want, who they'll hire and who they won't hire."

“At any given time there are roughly 16,000 people in the District under the agency's supervision and though the unemployment rate of the group has dropped from 50 to 47 percent over the past six months as the economy has improved, Sipes said reintegrating into the District presents some unique challenges.

"The District of Columbia is a very difficult market to operate in," Sipes said. "It has one of the highest per-capita rates for having a bachelor's degree and advanced degree, it's a city that attracts people from all over the United States and all over the world."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Restorative Justice

I was able to meet with a Restorative Justice group recently—sponsored by the Diocese—and was surprised at how deeply this mantra has apparently penetrated the detention ministry efforts of many in the Church.

While appreciating the deeper discussion the concept of restorative justice has brought to the criminal justice dialogue, its utility with the people to whom our work is addressed—professional criminals who commit crimes as a profession, for the money, and who have served time in maximum security prisons, comprising approximately 50% of the prison population, and are the dominant group defining and shaping criminal/carceral world culture—is much too limited.

With this population, the salvific tool with the most potency is the classical Catholic teaching of punishment, penance, and redemption.

Restorative justice is addressed in a seminal article by Fr. Andrew Skotnicki, Ph.D., the foremost Catholic criminal justice thinker currently writing about criminal justice issues from a Catholic perspective:

“Can justice be restored? In short, the Christian ethical response I am suggesting would be yes. Restoration is a principal component of justice; but it is not the only component. Justice also requires punishment. The schema for restoration suggested by contemporary philosophers and criminologists would require a thicker description of the nature and meaning of criminal offences, as well as a more substantial role for the state as representative of the body politic.

“One of the more contentious figures in theology and ethics, perhaps more now than in his own day, has been Anselm. His doctrine of the atonement, while written as a theological treatise to explain why Christ had to undergo suffering and death, has had substantial repercussions in the area of criminal justice. In brief, Anselm argued that the wilful disobedience of humans to the order established by God was of such magnitude that any human expression of remorse would be futile. Human beings sinned and thus only a human being could make restitution and effect reconciliation. Therefore, God became human in Jesus to shoulder the burden of our infidelity. The doctrine has been attacked by critics as suggesting everything from divine pettiness and hubris to a case in cosmic child abuse.

“While by no means the first to do so in the Christian tradition, Anselm is a representative figure in a long line of arguments that maintain that punishment and reconciliation, like justice and mercy, find their most creative expression when held in tension with one another. Punishment is not absolute, as the theory of penal retribution claims, because justice is improperly served solely by looking backward at the offence. However, neither is justice fulfilled in theories such as rehabilitation or deterrence whose sole concern is future-oriented, that offenders amend their behaviour whether through treatment or out of calculated self-interest.

“The answer is that justice demands both punishment and re-integration. The offence against God’s commandments, against the harmony of the universe and the sanctity of creation must be addressed. To put it in legal terminology, transgressions of the law itself must be punished independent of the specific harm caused to humans. However, paralleling the theology of the atonement, although punishment can be just, punishment in itself does not produce justice. Justice also must embrace equity, mercy and reconciliation. (pp. 192-193)

“Restorative justice has done society the service of reinvigorating in a provocative way the ancient human questions of our debts to one another and how we are to address those who honour those debts badly or not at all. It is not so much a novel innovation as it is a renewing of the primordial search to restore fractured social harmony through communication and accountability. Despite the shortcomings documented in this paper, its advocates are right that justice should aim at restoration; and they are particularly right, as Braithwaite claims, that crime is far more than a violation; it is an invitation to build a more loving community. What I have argued in this paper is that a loving community is one that is also just; and that justice in its desire to restore must not fail to punish. (p. 204)

Skotnicki, A. (2006). How is Justice Restored?, Studies in Christian Ethics, Vol. 19, No. 2, 187-204

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reentry Meetings

This format of providing services to parolees, as reported by the Sacramento Bee— though services have not been shown to be the key element in rehabilitation, internal change being the animating factor—can have a negative impact by congregating large numbers of parolees in the same place at the same time.

It is always more convenient for the programs to deal with people in groups, but the most effective change will occur through one-on-one peer relationships.

That being said, we wish them the very best.

An excerpt.

“Seated in a cavernous hall surrounded by dozens of parolees, Chassirae Fuiavamaae had a change of heart.

“Fuiavamaae thought attending a Parole and Community Team meeting, which is mandatory for parolees just released from prison, would be a waste of time.

“Then she heard a man who served time for murder speak about achieving impossibilities and a woman who turned from felon to advocate – stories of transformation that touched her. "Being here, it showed me that there's help out there," Fuiavamaae said. "There are people who care for us."

“Once a week in Sacramento, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's parole division holds the meeting – called PACT for short – at the Charles A. Jones skill center building on Lemon Hill Avenue.

“There, newly released parolees are introduced to a smorgasbord of nonprofit agencies that provide resources including housing, employment, educational opportunities, substance abuse and anger management counseling.

“The Department of Motor Vehicles also participates in the meeting, which functions similarly to a job fair with different booths the parolees can visit.

“Officials describe the event as a "one-stop shop" for parolees looking to assimilate back into society. "A parolee gets information here about providers at their fingertips," said Robert Graham, a corrections parole agent.

“Graham said the program has been in place statewide for about 10 years. As of January 2009, there were 74 PACT program locations throughout California, corrections officials said.

“Daiquari Ross, PACT's community resource coordinator, said about 65 percent of providers report that parolees utilize their services.

“The rate of recidivism among paroled felons – the rate of felons returning to prison within three years – is 49.9 percent in Sacramento County, according to 2009 corrections data that track felons released from prisons in 2005 for the first time. That's below the statewide rate of 59 percent.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Prison Population Increases

State population is down but Federal is up, resulting in an overall prison population increase of 0.2%, as reported by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics Press Release.

An excerpt.

“WASHINGTON – During 2009, the number of prisoners under jurisdiction of state correctional authorities decreased by 2,941 inmates (down 0.2 percent), the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, announced today. This was the first decline in the state prison population since 1972.

“Twenty-four states experienced decreases in their prison populations and 26 had increases. Six states reported declines of more than 1,000 prisoners: Michigan (down 3,260), California (down 2,395), New York (down 1,660), Mississippi (down 1,272), Texas (down 1,257), and Maryland (down 1,069). States reporting the largest increases included: Pennsylvania (up 2,214), Florida (up 1,527), Louisiana (up 1,399), Alabama (up 1,282) and Arizona (up 1,038).

“The federal prison population increased by 6,838 (or 3.4%) which accounted for all of the increase in the U.S. prison population. The increase in federal prisoners was slightly less than the average annual growth of 4.1% in the federal prison population that occurred from 2000 through 2008.

“By yearend 2009, the U.S. prison population (state and federal prisoners combined) reached 1,613,656, increasing by 0.2% during the year. The increase of 3,897 prisoners was the smallest annual increase during the current decade.

“As of June 30, 2009, state and federal prisons and local jails had custody over 2,297,400 inmates, a decrease of 0.5 percent since yearend 2008. This decrease resulted from the 2.3 percent decline of inmates held in local jails, which hold over a third of the custodial population each year.

“Midyear 2009 incarceration rates for inmates held in custody in prisons or jails differed by race and gender. Black males, with an incarceration rate of 4,749 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents, were incarcerated at a rate more than six times higher than white males (708 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents) and 2.6 times higher than Hispanic males (1,822 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents). Black females (with an incarceration rate of 333 per 100,000) were more than two times as likely as Hispanic females (142 per 100,000) and over 3.6 times more likely than white females (91 per 100,000) to have been in prison or jail on June 30, 2009.

“Non-U.S. citizens accounted for 4.1 percent (94,498 inmates) of the inmates held in custody in state or federal prisons. An additional 2,778 inmates held in state custody were under age 18.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reentry Efforts

This effort in Michigan using mentoring is one that has been tried for many years, with varying degrees of success.

A chief problem is the lack of good mentors—with the kind of training and temperament to be helpful but not victimized—as the program increases in volume and more released prisoners need mentors.

That being said, we wish this program as reported by USA Today, the best of luck.

An excerpt.

“GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — James Churchill was nearing the end of a 10-year prison term for armed robbery last year when he struck an unusual bargain with an unlikely partner.

“If Churchill, a career criminal at age 34, could stay out of trouble during his first months of freedom, police Lt. Ralph Mason pledged to help find him a job.

“The collaboration between cop and criminal in a state with the nation's highest unemployment rate is remarkable and so far, successful. Eleven months after his release, Churchill has been employed for nine months — without incident — by a industrial plumbing company, earning up to $21 per hour.

“Churchill says he was "shocked" by Mason's help, but the officer's intervention is a sample of the untraditional methods Michigan officials are using to help ex-offenders re-enter society and slash troubling rates of those who return to prison.
As communities across the nation struggle to assimilate about 700,000 ex-offenders who leave prison each year, according to the Justice Department, local Michigan officials are recruiting doctors, clergy, business leaders and even police as mentors to help keep them out.

“At a time when crime is at historic lows in many parts of the country, former offenders' successful re-entry into society is among the major challenges facing the criminal justice system. Nationally, nearly 70% of all offenders are re-arrested within three years of release, and 50% return to prison over the same period, Justice Department records show.

“The numbers are "daunting," says Jim Burch, acting director of the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance, which will oversee $165 million in grants to communities nationwide to help former offenders make the transition. So far, the U.S. government has distributed $28 million to try to cut recidivism by 50% during the next five years.

“The legislation and a sluggish economy — which has forced states such as Kansas, Michigan and Tennessee to shutter prisons and increase the ranks of offenders on parole or probation — have injected a new urgency into efforts to end the costly careers of habitual offenders.

"It will take some time before we see change across the board," Burch says.

“Yet, four years into the Michigan experiment, known as the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative (MPRI), the program is producing some promising results. The project, based on intensive intervention in all aspects of life, begins before release for offenders who state officials believe pose the highest risk of committing new crimes and returning to prison.

“Statewide, the rates of ex-offenders sent back to prison have dropped from 55% to 38% since the program started, says John Cordell of the state Department of Corrections.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Salt in the World

A very nice reflection on salt—the cooking kind and the spiritual kind—from The Catholic Thing.

An excerpt.

“The Bible tells us to be like salt in the world. But the New York Times, not to mention local, state, and federal governments, now tell us that salt is killing us, and we have to cut it out. Who’s right?

“Well, both and therein lies a tale of a simple substance and human perversity. Man has both made war for salt and now makes war on salt.

“Salt is one of the necessities of life. The body uses salt to balance fluids. Without salt we die. Before refrigeration, salt was one of the main methods for meat preservation. It was likely in the preservation process that we noticed that salt improved the taste of food. It was also used to disinfect wounds and even as a unit of currency.

“Salt used to be very hard to get. Kings and commoners lusted after it. The Hapsburgs used salt to raise money for armies. For a time, the Venetians made a killing by cornering the salt market – and went to war over it. And as recently as the late nineteenth century a salt war pitted Texans against Mexicans. But now it’s so common that we barely notice it, except when we think we’re getting too much of it.

“So how are we to understand the biblical admonitions about salt today? Salt is mentioned in Genesis, Leviticus, Ezekiel, Exodus, Numbers, Second Chronicles, the Psalms, Job, Jeremiah, Judges, Matthew, Luke, Mark, and Colossians. We are told to be the salt of the earth, and that if salt loses its saltiness, it’s good for nothing.

“Thomas Keller, arguably America’s greatest chef, runs two of the finest restaurants in America: Per Se and the French Laundry (located respectively in New York City and Yountville, California). Keller was once asked about the chef’s most important skill. He said, “Knowing how to season. Actually, knowing how to salt.”

“Professional chefs such as Keller season before, multiple times during, and even after cooking. Keller boils green beans in water so salty it takes like soup. He cooks pasta that way, too. Professional chefs are not afraid of salt, and each use of salt imparts something different through the process, giving food what they call “depth of flavor.” As those of us who cook know, consistent and proper seasoning is what makes food what it’s supposed to be, and in the final tasting even gives glory to God.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

Venerable Matt Talbot

June 18th was the feast day of the patron of alcoholics, and American Catholic Saint of the Day notes his life.

An excerpt.

“Matt can be considered the patron of men and women struggling with alcoholism.

“Matt was born in Dublin, where his father worked on the docks and had a difficult time supporting his family. After a few years of schooling, Matt obtained work as a messenger for some liquor merchants; there he began to drink excessively. For 15 years—until he was almost 30—Matt was an active alcoholic.

“One day he decided to take "the pledge" for three months, make a general confession and begin to attend daily Mass. There is evidence that Matt’s first seven years after taking the pledge were especially difficult. Avoiding his former drinking places was hard. He began to pray as intensely as he used to drink. He also tried to pay back people from whom he had borrowed or stolen money while he was drinking.

“Most of his life Matt worked as a builder’s laborer. He joined the Secular Franciscan Order and began a life of strict penance; he abstained from meat nine months a year. Matt spent hours every night avidly reading Scripture and the lives of the saints. He prayed the rosary conscientiously. Though his job did not make him rich, Matt contributed generously to the missions.

“After 1923 his health failed and Matt was forced to quit work. He died on his way to church on Trinity Sunday. Fifty years later Pope Paul VI gave him the title venerable.”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers Day: Fathers Matter

The social teaching of the Church is built upon the inviolable dignity of the human person and the ancient sacredness of the human family.

This story from USA Today discusses connecting fathers in prison with their children.

This paper from The Heritage Foundation examines the importance of fathers in the family.

An excerpt from the blog post about the paper.

“A wedding ring on Dad’s finger is more than a symbol of his commitment to Mom. It also proves to be the ultimate anti-poverty weapon for their children. Now that’s something to celebrate and encourage this Father’s Day. It’s fitting on Sunday to honor all the fathers who strive to keep that commitment, even when they grow weary.

“The principal cause of child poverty in the U.S. is the absence of married fathers in the home,” Robert Rector, senior research fellow in domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, writes in a new paper. “Marriage is a powerful weapon in fighting poverty. Being married has the same effect in reducing poverty as adding five to six years to a parent’s education level.”

“In the paper, accompanied by 12 new charts on marriage and poverty, Rector illustrates the severe social costs of record-high births outside marriage – and of homes without fathers.

“The escalating rate of births to unmarried women – four of every 10 babies overall, but more than half the Hispanic births and a staggering seven of every 10 births for blacks – is driving the collapse of marriage in America, especially in lower-income neighborhoods.”

Saturday, June 19, 2010


1) In case we believe the sacrifice to this evil god has ceased, Fr. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, in this article from New Oxford Review, reminds us it has not.

An excerpt.

“Those who are uncomfortable with the thought and talk of demons have a decision to make: Remain in the dark and ignore a basic teaching of the Church regarding spiritual warfare or open your eyes and join the rest of us in the fight against the demons who are working evil in our midst. One such wicked work is the dirty business of abortion. No human activity glorifies Satan and his minions more than abortion.

“Abortion is fundamentally a business — a business based on a perverse concept of human rights. Abortion is a commodity cleverly marketed to women under the ideological rubric of "free choice" that draws in huge profits from the deaths of innocents. The abortion industry is a profit-driven, raw killing machine. The enormous amount of cash it generates is the "lifeblood" that perpetuates its existence.

“The spiritual dimension of this grisly business, however, is its systematizing of ritual blood sacrifice to the god of child murder who, in the Old Testament, is called Moloch. This demon of child sacrifice appears in many forms and cultures throughout history — Phoenician, Carthaginian, Canaanite, Celtic, Indian, Aztec, and others — but it is always the same bloodthirsty beast that demands the killing of children as a form of worship. This demon seeks public endorsement and ever new expressions of killing to increase its "worship." In some of the ancient forms of these evil practices, huge drums were beaten beside the places of sacrifice as the rituals proceeded. These drums were used to drown out the screams of the victims who were being sacrificed on the altars.”

2) Moloch, as worshipped in Carthage, was built of metal, hollowed out to allow fire to heat his outstretched hands upon which were cast the children of Carthage in a sacrifice dramatized by Flaubert in his historical novel Salammbo:

An excerpt.

“The brazen arms were working more quickly. They paused no longer. Every time that a child was placed in them the priests of Moloch spread out their hands upon him to burden him with the crimes of the people, vociferating: "They are not men but oxen!" and the multitude round about repeated: "Oxen! oxen!" The devout exclaimed: "Lord! eat!" and the priests of Proserpine, complying through terror with the needs of Carthage, muttered the Eleusinian formula: "Pour out rain! bring forth!"

“The victims, when scarcely at the edge of the opening, disappeared like a drop of water on a red-hot plate, and white smoke rose amid the great scarlet colour.

“Nevertheless, the appetite of the god was not appeased. He ever wished for more. In order to furnish him with a larger supply, the victims were piled up on his hands with a big chain above them which kept them in their place. Some devout persons had at the beginning wished to count them, to see whether their number corresponded with the days of the solar year; but others were brought, and it was impossible to distinguish them in the giddy motion of the horrible arms. This lasted for a long, indefinite time until the evening. Then the partitions inside assumed a darker glow, and burning flesh could be seen. Some even believed that they could descry hair, limbs, and whole bodies.” (Chapter XIII)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Catholic Identity

Many organizations that claim a Catholic identity are part of the Call to Action fringe of the Church, which is slowly being excommunicated as individual bishops realize that virtually all of the beliefs that they advocate for are against traditional Church doctrine.

The Church moves very slowly to remove dissidents from her embrace—continually seeking their penance for their dissent—and we need to be patient with that slowness, for it is a sign of her mercy and love.

This article from The Catholic Thing examines that fringe of the Church in relation to its support for a strongly pro-abortion politician.

An excerpt.

“In the 2008 election, Barack Obama clearly stated his intention of making unrestricted abortion the law of the land. And in spite of warnings from some bishops that a vote for him would be sinful, 54 percent of Catholics got on the Obama bandwagon. Arguably, without the Catholic “factor” in swing states, Obama would not have won. President Obama has subsequently packed his cabinet with Catholics. Catholic congressmen led the battle to include abortion coverage in implementing universal health care. How to explain such a definitive departure from an unbroken tradition of opposition to abortion, beginning even in the first centuries of Christianity?

“Educated and sophisticated Catholics, fully aware of where an Obama presidency was heading, often justified their support of Obama by pointing out that aborting over a million babies annually in the United States was just “one issue” in the social-justice portfolio. Other issues such as stopping the war in Iraq and fighting poverty could be regarded as equally important. Often they would cite the “seamless garment” metaphor of the late Cardinal Bernardin. They were apparently unaware or uninterested in the fact that Bernardin himself explicitly deplored the “other issues” interpretation in a 1988 interview published in the National Catholic Register.

“But if the conscience of many Catholics is so different from that of others, what is the explanation for the discrepancy? Aside from the oft-cited circumstances that helped assure an Obama victory in the last election – namely, “Bush derangement syndrome,” the financial crises, the dissatisfaction with the Iraq occupation, etc. – other factors germane to the Catholic electorate need to be taken into account:

“1) Long-standing Catholic affiliation over many decades with the Democratic Party seemed to many (in contrast with the Republican stereotype as the “Party of the rich”) to have values more akin to Catholic social-justice ideals – ideals that led many Catholics to participate in civil-rights movements during the late 1960s. The election of a black president in 2008 symbolically became the final crowning of those efforts with success.

“2) Abortion, for some reason, is not widely viewed as an issue of social justice. When trusted Democratic leaders like Ted Kennedy (largely as a result of a two-day meeting with theologians at Hyannisport in 1964), Al Gore, and John Kerry shifted ideologically from being pro-life to “pro-choice,” the shift was taken as being a mere blip on the political radar screen rather than a sea-change in moral principles or the sacrosanct “liberal” interpretation of human rights. Unlike the case of slavery in the nineteenth century, when public awareness of the plight of oppressed fellow humans could hardly be avoided, the victims of abortion are almost completely invisible. It is much easier than in the case of slavery, which nagged at the conscience of onlookers, to ignore the painful destruction of pre-born children. If abortion is homicide, it is an anomalous case of almost purely private homicide. Any public displays of the effects of abortion in our culture are classified as “obscenity.” Teenagers, for example, have been forbidden by their school principals to wear T-shirts with pictures of aborted fetuses.”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Old Covenant & the New: Forever Linked II

As posted earlier, the relationship of the Church with the Jewish people is divinely linked and eternally unbreakable, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us:

“The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, "the first to hear the Word of God." The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews "belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ", "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable."

Consequently, any weakening in the historically strong alliance between Israel and the United States is of serious concern, and this article from Caroline Glick notes the current situation.

An excerpt.

“Since the navy's May 31 takeover of the Turkish-Hamas flotilla , Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his advisors have deliberated around the clock about how to contend with the US-led international stampede against Israel. But their ultimate decision to form an investigatory committee led by a retired Supreme Court justice and overseen by foreign observers indicates that they failed to recognize the nature of the international campaign facing Israel today.

“Led by US President Barack Obama, the West has cast its lot with Hamas against Israel.

“It is not surprising that Obama is siding with Hamas. His close associates are leading members of the pro-Hamas Free Gaza outfit. Obama's friends, former Weatherman Underground terrorists Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayres participated in a Free Gaza trip to Egypt in January. Their aim was to force the Egyptians to allow them into Gaza with 1,300 fellow Hamas supporters. Their mission was led by Code Pink leader and Obama fundraiser Jodie Evans. Another leading member of Free Gaza is former US senator from South Dakota James Abourezk.

“All of these people have open lines of communication not only to the Obama White House, but to Obama himself.

“Obama has made his sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood clear several times since entering office. The Muslim Brotherhood's progeny include Hamas, al Qaida and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, among others. Last June, Obama infuriated the Egyptian government when he insisted on inviting leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to attend his speech at Al Azhar University in Cairo. His administration's decision to deport Hamas deserter and Israeli counter-terror operative Mosab Hassan Yousef to the Palestinian Authority where he will be killed is the latest sign of their support for radical Islam.

“Given Obama's attitude towards jihadists and the radical leftists who support them his decision to support Hamas against Israel makes sense. What is alarming however is how leaders of the free world are now all siding with Hamas. That support has become ever more apparent since the Mossad's alleged killing of Hamas terror master Mahmoud al Mabhouh at his hotel in Dubai in January.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Year of Priests

The homily from the Holy Father concluding the Year of Priests is—as is so much from this pope—a powerful call.

An excerpt.

“Dear Brothers in the Priestly Ministry,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“The Year for Priests which we have celebrated on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of the holy Curè of Ars, the model of priestly ministry in our world, is now coming to an end. We have let the Curé of Ars guide us to a renewed appreciation of the grandeur and beauty of the priestly ministry. The priest is not a mere office-holder, like those which every society needs in order to carry out certain functions. Instead, he does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ’s name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life. Over the offerings of bread and wine he speaks Christ’s words of thanksgiving, which are words of transubstantiation – words which make Christ himself present, the Risen One, his Body and Blood – words which thus transform the elements of the world, which open the world to God and unite it to him. The priesthood, then, is not simply “office” but sacrament: God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf. This audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings – who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead – this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word “priesthood”. That God thinks that we are capable of this; that in this way he calls men to his service and thus from within binds himself to them: this is what we wanted to reflect upon and appreciate anew over the course of the past year. We wanted to reawaken our joy at how close God is to us, and our gratitude for the fact that he entrusts himself to our infirmities; that he guides and sustains us daily. In this way we also wanted to demonstrate once again to young people that this vocation, this fellowship of service for God and with God, does exist – and that God is indeed waiting for us to say “yes”. Together with the whole Church we wanted to make clear once again that we have to ask God for this vocation. We have to beg for workers for God’s harvest, and this petition to God is, at the same time, his own way of knocking on the hearts of young people who consider themselves able to do what God considers them able to do. It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the “enemy”; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life’s dangers. Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in “earthen vessels” which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God’s courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility. The word of God, which we have sung in the Entrance Antiphon of the liturgy, can speak to us, at this hour, of what it means to become and to be priests: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29).”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Solitary Confinement

1) This was the norm in the first prisons in the country during the 18th-19th centuries, which resulted in a recidivist rate of around 10%, as Skotnicki notes:

“The central coordinates of the separate and silent systems, silence, work and moral/religious training, were not found to be ineffective as formal guiding principles. It was the conditions surrounding their implementation, particularly in New York with its inordinate demand for financial stability, and its unfortunate misuse of corporal punishment, that eroded their value. Despite the fact that the statistical methods utilized to determine the effects of the penitentiary discipline on recidivism often missed reconvictions in other states, were certainly tinged with ideological bias, and cannot be necessarily equated with penal methods, it would be a mistake to ignore their findings out of hand. The chaplains who conducted them were not always blind supporters of the administration. History provides clear evidence that they were willing, to a significant degree, to critique institutional practices. Still, their data concerning recidivism was most favorable. Prior to the Civil War, the rates of reconviction were consistently less than 10%, with the data from the Eastern Penitentiary being the lowest.” (Skotnicki, A. (2000). Religion and the Development of the American Penal System. New York: University Press of America. (p. 145)

2) The rise of legal advocacy groups and various prison reform movements have worked to reduce its use—based primarily on the argument that it caused mental illness among the prisoners during that early use—and it is being reduced even more, as this story from USA Today reports.

An excerpt.

“State prison officials are reducing the number of offenders in solitary confinement — once among the fastest-growing conditions of detention — as budget pressures, legal challenges and concerns about the punishment's effectiveness mount.

“States such as Mississippi, Texas and Illinois have decreased the number of inmates in solitary confinement, a dramatic acknowledgement, analysts say, that states can no longer sustain the costs of hard-line criminal justice policies.

"The whole philosophy of being just tough — locking people up and throwing away the key — has not solved the problem," said Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, Democratic chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

“Decisions to return dangerous inmates to the general prison population anger some prison officials, who say the changes could threaten the safety of corrections officers and other inmates.

"The departments of correction are rolling the dice with public safety. ... This is going to blow up," said Brian Dawe of the American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network, an association of officers.

“The number of prisoners in solitary confinement — typically locked away for 23 hours a day — grew 40% from 1995 to 2000 when there were 80,870 segregated inmates, a study by The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons found. The overall prison population increased 28% during that time. Isolating prisoners, the private study found, is often "twice as costly."

Monday, June 14, 2010

California Prisons & Supreme Court

The court appears to be moving to decide the long running circuit court battle with the state over control of the prisons, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

An excerpt.

“A legal battle over who gets to control California's massive spending on prisons — judges or corrections officials — may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, with overcrowding at the state's 33 prisons at the center of the debate.

“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state officials have challenged an edict from three federal judges that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must cut the prison population by 40,000, or about a quarter of its 165,000 inmates. The judges' order, issued last August, cited overcrowding as the main cause of healthcare failures that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and left inmates to die from treatable conditions at the rate of one per week.

“The three-judge order brought to a head the tension over a decades-long judicial practice of intervening in prison management to correct what have been deemed unconstitutional deficiencies in state custody. Courts have empowered a phalanx of overseers and experts to mandate reforms on prisoners' healthcare, psychiatric treatment, parole rights, access to law libraries and other matters.

“But as California's budget woes increasingly pit the jailers and judicial monitors in a struggle for scarce resources, the monitors have become a point of contention.

“The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide as early as Monday whether to review the three-judge order to reduce overcrowding. Some observers of the legal tug of war over inmate treatment believe the conservative justices on the high court want to weigh in on what they may see as judicial activism. When the state appealed the reduction order, the justices suspended a two-year deadline for releasing inmates or building prisons to house them.

“The standoff leaves inmates and guards wrestling with rising tensions that can lead to violent outbreaks like the Aug. 8 riot at the California Institution for Men at Chino, where inmates crammed into 200-bunk dormitories went on a rampage that injured about 250 and destroyed 1,300 beds.”

Friday, June 11, 2010

Reforming Criminals

This jobs for ex-criminals idea, reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, has had some success in different places in the past, but is no longer as enticing.

Nonprofits working with government to help reform criminals are attempting the most difficult work imaginable, in an environment where fully 70% of criminals being released from prisons, return within three years.

The only thing that will work, as is true with most service work involving a personal change in behavior, is an internal conversion to a way of life that is diametrically opposed to that of the criminal world, rather than just a delivery of a specific service—like a job, housing, etc.

Internal conversion is the core of our criminal reformation work at the Lampstand Foundation.

An excerpt from the Inquirer article.

“It was an idea successfully peddled by Michael Nutter even before his mayoral election: Offer tax credits to businesses that hire ex-offenders.

“But with the program up and running for nearly three years now, the administration finds itself working to save it, acknowledging that while it earned Nutter national recognition early on, no employer to date has actually applied for one dime of the $5 million in tax credits available each year. And nobody has been hired.

"We try to fix a lot of things at once, and it does take time around here," said Everett Gillison, Nutter's deputy mayor for public safety, who oversees the initiative.

“Nutter had conceived of the program as a crime-fighting tool, anticipating that providing jobs to former prisoners would help keep them from committing crimes again.

“Businesses that participate can receive tax breaks of $10,000 a year, for up to three years, on the business-privilege tax they pay for each ex-offender they hire for at least six months.

“To pay for the program, the administration put aside $5 million annually, restricting participation to 500 ex-offenders yearly.

“Upon its implementation in 2007, media outlets invited Nutter to publicize the program. A national nonprofit, the Democratic Leadership Council, christened him as the "New Dem of the Week" for implementing it.

“But locally, employers and ex-offender allies alike complained about the program's burdensome requirements - requirements that the administration is now asking City Council to lift before recessing June 17.

"It wasn't working the way it was envisioned to work, so we had to figure out how to make it easier," Gillison said. New legislation was approved last week by Council's Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.

“Among the changes, the administration is hoping to remove a stipulation that employers provide $5,000 worth of tuition assistance to the ex-offenders they hire.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sexual Abuse in the Church, Resources

In the sexual abuse horrors of the past several years within the Church—well documented in many books, reports and news stories, but is best compiled in these three books: The Rite of Sodomy: Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church, by Randy Engel (2006), The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture, by Philip F. Lawler (2008), and Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, by Leon J. Podles.

A fourth resource is the book, After Asceticism: Sex, Prayer and Deviant Priests, by the Linacre Institute, which is another crucial resource for understanding sexual abuse in the Church so as to be able to confidently address it when working in the field of criminal reformation.

This book fills in a missing piece of the issue by probing deeply into the movement of the priests of the Church—during the mid-twentieth century—away from the traditional asceticism practiced by its saints; an asceticism whose rewards were perhaps reflected most notably by Pope Pius XII, among the popes under which the Church has gone astray over the past 60 years, and a waywardness against which he fought so mightily, a battle slowly being revealed as his cause for sainthood moves forward.

Two excerpts from After Asceticism.

“The heart of the spiritual life is a spiritual union with God, and this union constitutes a type of friendship. In a theory of friendship, three factors require close attention: love, insight, and zeal. Philosophers such as Aristotle note that the foundation of true friendship is the mutual love between the two friends, which depends at a minimum upon the cardinal virtues of temperance, courage, justice and prudence. Once the friendship is established, the communication between the friends will nurture the relationship. Hence the psychology of the ascetic must be directed to enhancing communication between man and God and limiting those things that interfere with this communication.” (p. 157)

“We draw three important lessons from this doctrine. First, the aspiring ascetic who has not cultivated a friendship with the Lord has failed to achieve the primary benefit of the practices of self-denial. Without keeping their proper purpose in mind, the ascetical practices will result at best in a barren life, but more likely in self-deception or even the destruction of true religion in the person. This further suggests that the disintegration of asceticism may be signaled by ascetical abuse, or by its insidious dissolution. Either way, persons with no zeal for maintaining their friendship with god will not long persevere in the practice of self-denial without doing harm to themselves or to others. Of course, we would suggest that the dissolution of ascetical discipline may not occur all at once, and in most cases, is probably gradual and insidious. In fact, the complete surrender of one’s chastity may be the final moment of a process that began many months or years previously. (This observation would be consistent with the finding that most abusive priests were many years past their seminary training when the first abuse incident occurred.) (p. 160)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hannibal Lector of the Priest Abusers

This series of stories—from Catholic Culture, Wikipedia, and the Sunday Tribune, Ireland—about one of the most predatorily evil priests sexually abusing children, and how he has essentially blackmailed the Church into providing for his retirement, is a horrifically evil paradigm of many stories that have caused a great scandal in the Church, and deepens the importance of clearly confronting this scandal and realizing its impact in the history of the Church for any who are working in the area of criminal reformation based on Catholic social teaching.

An earlier post notes some resources.

An excerpt from the Sunday Tribune.

“Defrocked Irish paedophile priest Oliver O'Grady is considered one of the world's most dangerous clerical sexual predators. Yet he lags far behind Sean Fortune and Brendan Smyth in Irish society's collective consciousness. Probably because most of the children O'Grady preyed upon were in the US, not here.

"He's the Hannibal Lecter of the clerical world," says attorney Patrick Wall of Manly, McGuire & Stewart in California. Wall, a former Benedictine monk, has been tracking O'Grady across the globe for several years, serving him with civil actions from his alleged victims in the US. "He's admitted to abusing post and prepubescent boys and girls. The youngest he molested was a nine-month-old baby and he's slept with mothers to get close to their children."

“O'Grady was deported to Ireland in 2000 after spending seven years in prison in the US for sexually abusing two brothers. The former priest came to public attention when he agreed to feature in a documentary discussing his sexual abuse of children. Deliver Us From Evil was released in 2006 and featured many of O'Grady's victims discussing the impact his abuse had on their lives. The film, which was nominated for an Oscar, also showed how high-ranking clergy in California moved O'Grady from one parish to another over several years when allegations of sexual abuse emerged.

“In the film, O'Grady attempts to explain the mindset of a paedophile and rapist and it becomes apparent he has no grasp of the devastation his actions have caused. He is childlike and fantastical as he recounts grooming and abusing boys and girls.

“Some of the film was shot in a playground in Dublin and outside a school, which caused some controversy. Scenes where O'Grady's demeanour changes noticeably as children run around him have since been cut from the film. He becomes agitated, uncomfortable and is visibly at a loss as to how to behave.

“O'Grady gained the trust of various congregations in northern California in the 1970s and '80s as he was continuously moved around when allegations surfaced. He confessed his problem to Los Angeles bishop Roger Mahoney, but was allowed to continue serving as a priest in various congregations.

“In 1998, Mahoney, by then a cardinal, spent four hours on the witness stand in a civil action taken against the diocese over O'Grady's abuse and testified that he sent the Irish cleric to a psychiatrist after the 1984 police investigation into possible molestation. O'Grady's psychiatrist's report stated: "Father O'Grady reveals a severe defect in maturation, not only in the matter of sex, but more importantly in the matter of social relationships," it stated. "Perhaps Oliver is not truly called to the priesthood." Despite this, O'Grady was then appointed pastor of St Andrew's Parish in San Andreas and then associate pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Turlock, where his abuse of children continued unabated.

“When O'Grady was in prison, having been sentenced for the sexual assault of the two brothers, he struck a deal with the Catholic Church. He agreed not to testify at the civil action taken by brothers John and James Howard about how he told church authorities about his abuse in return for receiving his full church pension at 65. He turns 65 on 5 June.”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Holy Father Forms Middle East Bishops Group

Pope Benedict XVI formed the group, announcing it in a speech June 6th , and laid out its reason and purpose in The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion & Witness.

CNN reports on the formation of the group.

An excerpt.

"(CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI launched a "special assembly" of bishops focused on the Middle East on Sunday, during a visit to the divided island of Cyprus.

"The group aims to "help to focus the attention of the international community on the plight of those Christians in the Middle East who suffer for their beliefs," he said in announcing the group, a part of the Catholic Church's Synod of Bishops.

"A Vatican statement outlining the church's position on Christians in the Middle East, introduced by the Pope on Sunday and On the Vatican website, says the interfaith strife arises from Muslim theocracies.

"Often times, relations between Christians and Muslims are difficult, principally because Muslims (make) no distinction between religion and politics, thereby relegating Christians to the precarious position of being considered non-citizens ... The key to harmonious living between Christians and Muslims is to recognize religious freedom and human rights," the statement says.

"The 51-page document says... that with the exception of Turkey, in countries with a Muslim majority, Islam is generally the religion of the state and the principal source of legislation, inspired by sharia, or Islamic law.

"In some countries, the State is Islamic and sharia is applied in not only private life but also society, even for non-Muslims, with the consequent deprivation of human rights. Islamic States generally do not recognize religious freedom and freedom of conscience," the statement says.

"Furthermore, with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, attacks against Christians are increasing almost everywhere."

"It calls for "joint action" against extremists "clearly a threat to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike."

"Political Islam includes different religious groups who wish to impose an Islamic way of life in Arab, Turkish or Iranian society and on all those who live there, Muslims and non-Muslims alike," the statement says. "These Muslim groups maintain that the cause of every evil has been the failure to follow Islamic teaching. Their solution then is a radical return to Islam, giving rise to the slogan: 'Islam is the solution.'...For this purpose, some people don't hesitate to revert to violence."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mexico & the Catholic Church

Mexico is one of the most Catholic of countries, but not that long ago it was dangerous to be a Catholic priest there.

The martyr being remembered today, Fr. Joseph Perez, was killed by Mexican soldiers, as reported by American Catholic.

An excerpt.

"The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church," said Tertullian in the third century. Joseph Perez carried on that tradition.

“Joseph was born in Coroneo, Mexico, and joined the Franciscans when he was 17. Because of Mexico’s civil unrest at that time (the forces of Pancho Villa had crossed into New Mexico on a raid the previous year), he was forced to take his philosophy and theology studies in California.

“After ordination at Mission Santa Barbara, he returned to Mexico and served at Jerecuaro from 1922 on. The persecution under the presidency of Plutarco Calles (1924-28) forced Joseph to wear various disguises as he traveled around to visit the Catholics. In 1927 Church property was nationalized, Catholic schools were closed, and foreign priests and nuns were deported.

“One day Joseph and several others were captured while returning from a secretly held Mass. Father Perez was stabbed to death by soldiers a few miles from Celaya on June 2, 1928.

“When Joseph’s body was later brought in procession to Salvatierra, it was buried there amid cries of "Viva, Cristo Rey!" (Long live Christ the King!)

“The Catholic Church in Mexico today is much freer than it was in the 1920’s. Catholicism is very much alive in Mexico today, nurtured in part by martyrs like Father Perez.”

Sunday, June 6, 2010


This is a wonderful story, as reported by the New York Times, that should only get better, as this former criminal—who transformed her life in prison through education and helping others—takes that transformation to the outside after being paroled in 2005.

She completed her parole last year and the program she is working for—which employs ex-prisoners almost exclusively—has been in existence since 1999 but as yet has not completed an evaluation to determine the effectiveness of their model; but we hope, when it is done, that the success will be significant.

An excerpt.

“DIANA ORTIZ waited in a cagelike room at the Fishkill Correctional Facility that winter morning in 2005, going over it in her head again and again. She needed to find the right words, conjure the right emotions, strike the right balance between remorse for her role in the killing of an off-duty police officer and recognition of all that she had accomplished in the 22 ½ years since.

“She wanted to explain how she had blossomed behind bars, earning a high school equivalency diploma and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in prison; how she barely recognized the wispy, naïve 18-year-old who had fallen for a man twice her age, become addicted to drugs and posed as a prostitute to set up a robbery that turned deadly.

“Convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 17 years to life in prison, Ms. Ortiz had been in the same situation, prepping for a parole hearing — four times before. She knew she would have about 10 minutes to make her case to three strangers who knew little of where she had been but controlled everything about where she would go. Each previous time she had been nervous and flushed with remorse and regret. Each time, parole had been denied.

“I felt it doesn’t matter what I say, it doesn’t matter who I am or what I’ve done,” she recalled thinking. “It’s never going to change; the crime will never change.”

“The hard part about it,” she added, “was that I changed.”…

“Convicted of felony murder at trial, she spent 18 years at Bedford Hills — the state’s only maximum-security prison for women. Eventually, her fears of rape and abusive guards faded, and she began taking classes, earning college degrees. She worked as a bookkeeper and with a church ministry, helping other inmates to reconnect with their children and learn to read. …

"In a little coffee shop in Harlem not long ago, Ms. Ortiz’s eyes were wet again after she spilled her soul. Now she, like Mr. Dennison, is helping other recently released inmates adapt, working with Exodus Transitional Community, a nonprofit group where 85 percent of the staff has served time. She completed her parole last year.

“I still have those dreams of not being able to leave prison, like I’m still in there trying to get out,” Ms. Ortiz said. “I’m no longer part of the system, but I keep having them. Why am I still struggling to get out?”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Anti-Violence Program Increases Violence?

If so, it wouldn’t be the first time that a program designed to “rehabilitate” criminals, wound up making them worse, as some of the studies we posted on here note, and this article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports.

1) An excerpt.

“One of Allegheny County's foremost anti-violence groups has had no impact on homicide rates and, in fact, gun crimes and aggravated assaults increased in neighborhoods where the group focused its efforts, according to a report released Wednesday.

“The nonprofit RAND Corp. found that the efforts of the group, One Vision One Life, might also shift crime and violence from neighborhoods where the group operates to those where it does not.

“Researchers focused on the program's impact on the crime-plagued North Side, South Side and Hill District. Starting in 2006, they studied a decade's worth of crime statistics and spent hundreds of hours observing the organization's outreach workers in the field.

"In many respects, they made heroic efforts to intervene in the lives of people threatened by violence and in need of social support," the report says. "Yet, our evaluation did not find an impact on the level of violence in these Pittsburgh neighborhoods."

“The researchers partly blame "the lack of a systematic, coordinated strategy" between police and One Vision, whose work includes behind-the-scenes intervention in brewing street conflicts, programs for at-risk youth and more visible "rapid response" rallies, during which workers take to the streets in the wake of shootings to voice their message of nonviolence.

“The group's leaders weren't deterred by the 157-page report, and police officials and community leaders lined up to praise the organization, which received $286,000 from Allegheny County's Department of Human Services this year.

“Other agencies and private donors contribute to the more than $1.2 million budget of the organization, which employs about 50 people. Program director El Gray said he was concerned the report would jeopardize the group's funding, but vowed to "press on."

"The question that needs to be asked is how many more shootings and homicides would have occurred if we weren't out there on the streets, intervening and mediating?" he said. "Our street credibility cannot be documented."

2) An excerpt from the Rand Research Brief.

“One Vision work is performed by an executive director, a program director, five area managers, and more than 40 community coordinators, and supported by a data manager. Most staff members were raised in and therefore are intimate with inner-city street life and the “code of the street.”

“RAND Corporation and Michigan State University researchers assessed the effects of the program in three areas of Pittsburgh: Northside, the Hill District, and Southside. All three have per capita incomes below the national average, and two of the three have homicide rates above the city average. Northside is the largest of the three and features a critical hub of legal and illegal activities in the city. It is also undergoing gentrification, a process leading to some community conflict. The Hill District, once a thriving, prosperous, and influential black neighborhood, has suffered a precipitous decline and now has issues with guns, drugs, and individual or group disputes. Southside does not have a homicide rate as high as those in Northside or the Hill District, but its geography and topography help shelter many illegal activities, including drug dealing.

“Within the target communities, community coordinators worked with clients who were typically male, black, about 18 years old, and in need of a wide variety of assistance and services. Fifty percent did not have a job, and 30 percent had a substance-abuse problem. Yet, most were not at high risk for violence, having not been violent recently, in a gang, or in the criminal-justice system. In response to their perceptions of community risk for violence, community coordinators would undertake actions ranging from conflict mediation to outreach to community rallies against violence.

“Program Effects

“To measure the effect of the program on local violence, the researchers used a propensity-score analysis enabling them to compare One Vision neighborhoods with others in the city. They also compared the effects of the program with those suggested by One Vision staff members as being most similar to the analysis areas. Finally, they assessed any “spillover” effects of the program either displacing violence or extending crime-suppression benefits from the target communities to surrounding areas. (Because Northside is largely isolated within the city by the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers, the researchers did not test for spillover effects there.)

“The researchers measured changes in homicide, aggravated assaults, and gun assaults before and after the intervention, controlling for neighborhood attributes, seasonal effects, and trends over time. Rather than finding that One Vision was associated with a measurable reduction in violence, they found the program to have no effect on homicide rates and to be associated with increases in aggravated assaults and gun assaults in all three areas. They also found some “spillover” effects in surrounding areas; specifically, aggravated assaults increased in the “spillover” area neighboring Southside but decreased in that neighboring the Hill District, while gun assaults increased in both the Southside and Hill District spillover areas.”

Friday, June 4, 2010

Catholic Properties Being Taxed

During these tough times government has been examining removing the tax exemption given to nonprofits as a way to make some extra money, and this story from the Boston Globe reports on towns that are doing just that.

An excerpt.

“Nine cities and towns have forced the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston to pay property taxes on closed churches, schools, convents, and parish halls, contending that the buildings no longer qualify as tax-exempt because the archdiocese is not using them.

“Two of the taxed churches — St. Frances X. Cabrini in Scituate and St. Jeremiah in Framingham — have been occupied for years by former parishioners protesting their closure. But local assessors insist the church buildings are now taxable because the vigils are not sanctioned by the archdiocese.

“The archdiocese has fought back, arguing that its closed churches should remain exempt from taxation, but has had little success. In Belmont, Danvers, Lowell, Lynn, and Revere, the archdiocese has withdrawn appeals of tax bills for closed churches, reluctantly agreeing to pay reduced levies totaling about $280,000. This year, for example, it will pay the city of Lowell about $19,400 in property taxes on Sacred Heart Church, which was closed in 2003.

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars remain in dispute before the state Appellate Tax Board, where the archdiocese hopes to fend off tax collectors in Framingham, Natick, and Scituate, and where it is also challenging Revere’s decision to tax a convent that still houses a small number of nuns.

“The tax disputes have come to a head at a time of financial duress for both the archdiocese and cities and towns.

“Cuts in state aid have forced cities and towns to chop school budgets and scale back library hours. Many of the archdiocesan properties are tempting tax targets because they are expansive and in desirable areas of town, meaning their potential property values are high.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Question Authority

It was perhaps the foundational mantra of the 60’s, and it’s truth is no more clearly revealed than in the sexual abuse of children by priests, who most Catholic parents have—though certainly not as much now—taught their children are men of God to whom one’s faith and trust can be wholly directed.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church however, is clear that it is only God to whom this level of faith should be directed.

“150 Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature.”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Predator Priests & Hell

It is gratifying to read that the application of Matthew 18:6 (also Mark 9:42) is beginning to be properly connected--by the Vatican--to those predatory priests who assault children, as this story from the Irish Times notes.

An excerpt.

“HELL IS not empty. On the contrary, according to the Holy See’s Promoter Of Justice, Msgr Charles Scicluna, hell is full of paedophile priests.

“Speaking on Saturday in St Peter’s at a service of reparation for abuse committed by priests, Msgr Scicluna suggested that priests guilty of paedophile abuse were destined for particular punishment in the afterlife.

“Quoting Christ’s teaching that “whosoever shall offend one of these little ones . . . it is better that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the sea” (Mark, 9,42), Msgr Scicluna then made reference to the interpretation of Christ’s words as offered by Pope Gregory the Great: “After having taken a profession of holiness, anyone who destroys others through words or deeds would have been better off if their misdeeds had caused them to die in secular dress (ie as a lay person) rather than, through their holy office, being imposed as an example for others in their sins.

“Without doubt if they had fallen by themselves (as a lay person), their suffering would be easier to bear . . . How arid the earth becomes, how sad the world, when this icon of holiness (the innocence of a child) . . . is trampled upon, broken, sullied, abused and destroyed, prompting the Lord to cry out ‘Let the little children come unto me’,” said Msgr Scicluna.

“The Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, who fulfils some of the functions of an attorney general for the Holy See, urged a hard line in dealing with abuser priests, calling for a form of “divine surgery”, by which they would be removed from the priesthood and also reported to the relevant civil authorities.

“The monsignor, who worked alongside Pope Benedict at the Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith, would appear to be reinforcing the words of the pope who, during a recent pastoral visit to Portugal, said the sex abuse crisis was “terrifying” insofar as the greatest persecution of the church was now coming from within.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Old Covenant & the New: Forever Linked

The relationship of the Church with the Jewish people is divinely linked and eternally unbreakable, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us:

The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, "the first to hear the Word of God." The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews "belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ", "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable."

Consequently, the current troubles are of great concern, and the Center for Security Policy notes the possible raminfications.

An excerpt.

“In hindsight, it will probably be obvious that the missteps of the Obama administration vis a vis Israel were critical catalysts to a war that today seems ever more likely to engulf the Middle East, and perhaps the world more generally. Assuming such an outcome is neither the intention of the President and his team, nor desired by them, American course corrections must be urgently taken.

“To be sure, as is often the case in the moment, a different narrative is operating. The rising tensions in the region are widely seen as the fault of the Jewish State. Most recently, Israel is being portrayed as the villain of the bloody interception of a "humanitarian flotilla" bringing relief aid to the Gaza Strip.

“Before that, the Jewish State has been serially excoriated for: engaging in: "illegal" construction of homes in Jerusalem; exercising "disproportionate force" in military action in Gaza, including by some accounts "war crimes"; and being intransigent with respect to the sorts of territorial, strategic and political concessions needed to advance the "peace process" with the Palestinians.

“In each case, the Obama administration has either strongly endorsed these mimes or acted fecklessly to challenge them. Throughout their seventeen months in office, the President and his senior subordinates have been at pains to demonstrate a more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to "engage" the Muslim "world."

“The practical effect, however, has been to excuse, empower and embolden those hostile not just to Israel but to the United States, as well. Consider just a few ominous examples:

“The Iranian regime has understood that the Obama administration will do nothing to defeat the realization of Tehran's longstanding ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, the United States is now focused on how it will "live with" a nuclear-armed Iran by trying to "contain" it. Meantime, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency says Tehran has enough enriched uranium to make two atomic weapons. If true, it will be a matter of a relatively short time before such material is sufficiently processed to be ready for that purpose.

“The Syrians have, presumably at Iran's direction and with its help, transferred dangerous Scud missiles to the mullah's re-armed terrorist proxy, Hezbollah. Particularly if equipped with chemical or biological weapons (which the Syrians and Iranians have in abundance), such missiles would pose a mortal threat to Israel and her people.

“Egypt has recently conducted offensively oriented war games in the Sinai Peninsula. Their clear purpose: Honing the Egyptian military's capabilities for renewed attacks on Israel. The government of Hosni Mubarak has also failed to halt the massive network of smuggling tunnels into Gaza that are supplying another of Iran's terrorist surrogates, Hamas, with an array of ever-more-deadly weapons in preparation for when (not if) hostilities are resumed with Israel.”