Saturday, December 23, 2017

As the Feast of the Holy Innocents approaches, Cardinal Bernard Law is laid to rest in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

Cardinal Bernard Law, the criminally negligent prelate of the Boston Archdiocese, died this week.  Pope Francis gave the creep his papal blessing, and he will be laid to rest in a chapel of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

Law was forced from his bishop's throne after the Boston Globe published a series of searing stories on sexual abuse by priests--abuse Law knew about and covered up. Law should have gone to jail, but the Vatican spirited him away to Rome where he was made archpriest of one Rome's major basilicas. 

Law's funeral took place on December 21. I don't know when he will be buried, but wouldn't it be appropriate if the burial ceremony took place on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents?

Since 1950,over 6,000 American priests have been accused of sexually abusing children, and several dioceses have been forced into bankruptcy by victims who sued the Catholic Church.  Most of this abuse was covered up by the Catholic hierarchy, yet not a single bishop went to jail.

So on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, let us say a prayer for all the children who were raped and sodomized by Catholic priests--children whose lives will never be repaired, even by the prayers of Pope Francis. Let us say a special prayer for the victims who committed suicide, for the victims who were further humiliated by the Church's lawyers, and for the families who were hushed up by parish priests who cared more about protecting their brother clerics than about protecting the safety of Catholic children.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Nihilistic old white men who commit mass murder: We will see more of them

Old and in the way, that's what I heard them say
They used to heed the words he said, but that was yesterday
Gold will turn to gray and youth will fade away
They'll never care about you, call you old and in the way.

Old and in the Way
lyrics by David Grisman
Sung by the Grateful Dead

Americans are accustomed to serial killers. According to the New York Times, mass shootings have occurred in the United States at the rate of more than one a day over the last 477 days.

We can sort these killers into discrete categories. Some are religious extremists--the Boston Marathon bombers, the Orlando shooter, the San Bernardino murderers. Some are disaffected young men: the killers at Columbine, Sandy Hook, and the Charleston, SC church.

And there is at least one more category: disaffected, older white men. Stephen Paddock,an affluent  64-year-old man, who killed or wounded more than 500 people in Las Vegas a few days ago, is the latest old white guy to commit mass murder. Before Paddock, there was James Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old geezer from Illinois who shot a group of Republican congressmen while they were practicing for a charity baseball game. And don't forget John Russell Houser.  Houser, a 59-year-old loner, opened fire in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, killing two people and injuring nine others before shooting himself.

What did these men have in common? All were older white men, all killed complete strangers, and all committed suicide (or allowed themselves to be killed by the police). And I think it is fair to say that these three men had lost all sense of purpose as they entered old age.

Let's face it. Growing old is no fun.  As we grow older, we realize that we did not achieve all our dreams and that our time on earth is drawing to a close. We feel our strength and vigor ebb away as we hunker down for the last stage of life.  Our regrets and mistakes loom larger and larger in our minds while our meager triumphs and happy times grow dim in our memories.

And as death approaches, we find we are not afraid. At times we almost long for death. This movie lasted too long; we want to see "The End" appear on our movie screens. And we don't give a damn who shows up at our funerals.

In a healthy culture, old people derive meaning and purpose from their families--especially their grandchildren. If they are fortunate, they are respected for their wisdom and are sought out for wise counsel.  Some of us belong to civic organizations or take comfort from religious faith.

But in postmodern America, a lot of old white guys don't have any of that. They lost the families they started when they were young. Their jobs, which were obsessions when they were in their twenties and thirties, now reveal themselves to be meaningless and boring. They've lost all interest in religion and find religious people excruciatingly tedious.

And some of these old guys turn to nihilism; and some of them have guns.

I wish I believed the Stephen Paddocks of the world are the rarest of aberrations, that we will not see the likes of him again in our lifetime.

But I know differently. Our culture does not honor the old; it offers no solace to the elderly. The indignity of our approaching death reveals itself, the meaninglessness of existence becomes apparent; and some old men express their disappointment in murder.

Stephen Paddock, mass murderer


477 Days. 521 Mass Shootings. Zero Action From Congress. New York Times, October 3, 2017.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dorothy Day, a Broken Family, and Sexual Abuse at Maryfarm: Some of the world will not be saved by beauty

Dorothy Day was a journalist, and she left an enormous written record that can help us understand her life and her work. She wrote articles for The Catholic Worker newspaper and Commonweal Magazine. She wrote novels, one of which was published under the title of The Eleventh Virgin. She wrote two memoirs: The Long Loneliness and From Union Square to Rome; and she published On Pilgrimage and Loaves and Fishes, which are collections of brief essays. And she kept a diary. Her diaries, edited by and published by Robert Ellsberg, total more than a thousand pages.

Yet a student of Dorothy Day could read all that Dorothy had written and all that has been written about her and still be shocked and astonished by The World Will Be Saved By Beauty, the story of Dorothy Day's life written by Kate Hennessy, Dorothy's youngest grandchild.

One knows, after reading just a few pages of Hennessy's book, that Kate inherited Dorothy's gift for language and for storytelling. Hennessy's narrative about Dorothy's search for meaning as a young woman is as gripping as any novel.

Second, much of the book is an examination of Dorothy's relationship with the two most important people in her life: Forster Batterham, the father of Dorothy's only child; and Tamar, Dorothy's daughter. People who are generally familiar with Dorothy's biography know that Dorothy loved Forster deeply, but her relationship with him ended after Dorothy baptized Tamar as a Catholic and then became a Catholic as well.

But Hennessy tells us that Dorothy's relationship with Batterham continued for several years after the couple ceased to live together. In fact, at one point Dorothy believed she might be pregnant with Forster's second child. Hennessy gives us deeper insight into the kind of man Forster was--a man of deep conviction but no fortitude--a man Malcolm Cowley described as a person who would not let anything interfere with his whims.

Tamar's life, as told by her daughter, impressed me as deeply tragic. She was wooed by Dave Hennessy, a man loosely attached to the Catholic Worker movement and 13 years Tamar's senior. Dorothy did not want Tamar to marry Dave. As Dave's daughter Kate Hennessy wrote, everyone knew he was trouble. But Dorothy fumbled in her effort to break the bond that Dave had managed to patiently construct with Tamar as he waited patiently for her to reach the marriageable age of 18.

Tamar had nine children with Dave Hennessy, who was never able to support his huge family. Like Forster Batterham, Dave was a dabbler who rarely held a steady job. He was an alcoholic and verbally abusive to his young wife. Long before Tamar gave birth to her ninth child, she had lost interest in her husband.

And now here is the shocking revelation slipped into the middle of Kate Hennessy's book. All students of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement know that the Catholic Worker farms were the brainchild of Dorothy's collaborator, Peter Maurin. Maurin saw communal farms as the way to get people out of the city and into the countryside, where families could support themselves and lead a Christian life.

Dorothy, however, saw the farms as places where food could be raised to support the Catholic Worker's food lines, as  well as quiet, sheltered places for retreats. In fact, Maryfarm, the Catholic Worker's largest experience with rural living, attracted an assortment of misfits, and it was impossible to get all of Maryfarm's residents to work cooperatively and productively.

Of course, we already knew that the Maryfarm was a failure, even before Kate Hennessy's account of the farm was published. What we did not know, however, was that a faction of the Maryfarm residents came under the spell of Guy Tobler, a French attorney, who manipulated the lives of some of the Maryfarm residents, a group made up of a few married couples and single men.

Hennessy reveals that the Tobler perverted the Christian environment Dorothy and Peter Maurin were trying to nurture at Maryfarm and created a culture of manipulation, subjugation of women and children, and even sexual abuse.

Just before Christmas 1946, Dorothy walked away from Maryfarm permanently. In February 1947, she informed the archbishop that Maryfarm was no longer affiliated with the Catholic Worker. How could it be, once it had been perverted by a force of primordial evil?

I was drawn to Dorothy Day many years ago; I felt a kinship with her because we both misspent our youth (although my youth was much more misspent than Dorothy's). But learning these new details about Maryfarm caused me to admire Dorothy Day even more. Surely by the witness of her life, she helps us realize that God calls us to be faithful, not successful. And as Dorothy's life shows us, the Christian life can be a hard and bitter life; it is indeed, to borrow a phrase from Dorothy--The Long Loneliness.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A proliferation of MBA programs: Killing the goose that lays golden eggs

Private liberal arts colleges are under severe financial stress, and many are struggling to lure undergraduates through their doors. Mom and Dad are increasingly unwilling to pay $50,000 a year for their children to attend obscure run-of-the-mill liberal arts colleges.  After weighing the cost and benefits of a private college education, enrolling at a nearby public university often looks like the best option.

To attract new revenues, a lot of private liberal arts colleges are investing heavily in graduate education. They are finding that many young professionals are willing to invest heavily in graduate degrees, particularly the MBA. Moreover, in the past at least, employers have been willing to pay tuition costs for promising mid-level managerial employees to get MBA degrees.

To tap this market, colleges began rolling out executive MBA programs (EMBA). Most of these programs had two attractive features: 1) Classes were offered in intense weekend sessions, allowing students to continue working full time. 2) Many EMBA programs included international experiences, such as a two-week excursion to China, to expose students to international business opportunities. Generally, the EMBAs included some razzle dazzle like catered lunches for weekend classes and upscale classroom settings.

And the colleges priced their EMBA programs as high as the market would bear. Even MBA programs at public universities became shockingly expensive. And, to wring out every last dime from the MBA market, universities all over the country began ramping up off-campus EMBA programs to tap urban markets, and they also rolled out online programs, which could be delivered inexpensively to large numbers of students.

But in their greed, the colleges may have killed the goose that laid those golden eggs. Some employers have concluded that the extravagant cost of EMBA programs is not justified and are pulling back from funding EMBA programs for their employees. And students are becoming more sensitive to price. LSU's EMBA program, for example, may be more prestigious than ones offered by Louisiana's regional institutions, but the regional degrees are much cheaper.

In short, I think American businesses and business employees have figured out that EMBA programs are all sizzle and no steak.  One of my young relatives just finished an EMBA program that included a China excursion, and he told me that his professors often did not know as much about the subject they were teaching as he did. He was grateful that his employer paid for his degree because, in his opinion, the degree was not worth the cost.

And I know an attorney who thought he could enhance his marketability by adding an MBA to his JD. He borrowed money to get his MBA credential, and now he regrets that decision.

It is hard to know how to advise a young person who wants to obtain a post-graduate degree in order to land a better paying job. When I was young, getting a law degree was a no brainer; a JD degree from a reputable law school was a ticket to a good career. Now there are thousands of law school graduates who have six-figure student-loan debt and no job.

I think MBA graduates are beginning to experience the same disappointment with their graduate degrees that JD graduates have been experiencing for the last 10 years. Unfortunately, graduate education is not opening the door to opportunity for many bright young Americans; it is only leading to mountains of student-loan debt.


Rick Seltzer. Deans see challenges for off-campus E.M.B.A. programs in the United States. Inside Higher ED, August 24, 2017.

Rick Seltzer. Marygrove College to end undergraduate programs after fall semester. Inside Higher ED, August 10, 2017.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tamar Hennessy, Dorothy Day's Daughter: Patron Saint for Lapsed Catholics

In 2002, the Vatican named Dorothy Day a Servant of God--the first step on Dorothy's road to sainthood. Pope Francis put in a kind word for her when he spoke before Congress in 2015; and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, called her "a saint for our time." Some day, Dorothy will surely be canonized.

Catholic saints are often designated as special patrons for particular groups of people. St. Thomas More, for example, is the patron saint of lawyers. St. Adrian of Nicomedia, I am told, is the patron saint of arms dealers; and St. John Vianney is the patron saint of priests. Dorothy Day, when she is canonized, might become the patron saint for the homeless.

As far as I know, no saint has ever been designated as the patron for lapsed Catholics--or recovering Catholics, as former Catholics sometimes call themselves. Surely, lapsed Catholics deserve their own patron saint--someone who will intercede for them before God concerning their special difficulties and afflictions.

And so I hereby nominate Tamar Hennessy, Dorothy Day's daughter, to be the patron saint of lapsed Catholics.  Tamar, who left the Catholic Church, never to return, is the perfect holy person to intercede for Catholics who have fallen away.

Tamar's life was deeply tragic. She was born to Dorothy Day and Forster Batterham in 1926, but her mother and father never married. Batterham was an atheist who did not believe in the institution of marriage. In fact, he left Dorothy after she baptized Tamar as a Catholic and then became Catholic herself.

Tamar did not have an easy childhood. She grew up amidst the hurly burly of the Catholic Worker movement and shared the life of poverty that her mother Dorothy embraced.  The Catholic Worker houses of hospitality collected an assortment of oddballs and eccentrics, and these were the characters who peopled Tamar's childhood.

In fact, Tamar wound up marrying one of those Catholic Worker oddballs. While still an adolescent, she met David Hennessy, a troubled young man with a loose affiliation to the Catholic Worker movement.

Thirteen years Tamar's senior and with a disfigured ear (damaged in some sort of gun incident), David was no great catch. Nevertheless, at the age of 16, Tamar made up her mind to marry him.

Dorothy did not want Tamar to marry David. As David's daughter Kate Hennessy wrote years later, everyone knew he was trouble. But Dorothy fumbled in her effort to break the bond between David and Tamar as the couple waited patiently for Tamar to reach the marriageable age of 18.

Tamar had nine children with David Hennessy--no birth control for Catholics. Unfortunately, David was never able to support his huge family. Although he operated a sketchy mail-order book selling business, he rarely held a steady job. Moreover, he was an alcoholic and verbally abusive to his young wife. Long before Tamar gave birth to her ninth child, her relationship with David was in tatters.

The couple separated when Tamar was in her mid-thirties. They did not divorce; they were Catholics after all. But Tamar never formed a relationship with another man. And years later, after David died, his daughter Kate revealed that David Hennessy was probably a homosexual.

The Catholic Church glorifies the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage; but surely even Catholic hardliners like Cardinal Raymond Burke would admit that the union between Tamar and David Hennessy was miserable and unfortunate.  Or maybe not. Cardinal Burke might say Tamar will get her reward in heaven--at  least if she remained Catholic.

But Tamar did not remain Catholic. She and her children became more and more disaffected by Catholicism; and one by one, they all left the faith. (One daughter, Martha, later returned to the Church.)

Tamar was often asked to explain why she left the Catholic Church, but she rarely talked about her decision.  "I had been trying to be a good Catholic," she told one inquirer. "The kids and I gave up on it and feel much better for it."

So Tamar became a lapsed Catholic and a bitter one at that. "One of my greatest accomplishments," she told daughter Kate, "is that none of my children is a practicing Catholic."

But Tamar Hennessy led a sanctified life--a life of sacrifice, sorrow, and simplicity. She adopted a semi-subsistence lifestyle on a Vermont farm, sometimes relying on public assistance to make ends meet. She suffered from depression and from the tragic deaths of two children and a grandchild.

Throughout her life, she was generous to anyone in need--very much in the spirit of the Catholic Worker movement. Her daughter Kate said Tamar seemed drawn "to all things broken," including people. Perhaps it was her husband's brokenness that drew Tamar to David Hennessy when she was a teenager.

Surely, Tamar Hennessy is a worthy saint for lapsed Catholics, all those millions of people who left the Church because in their minds at least the Church had nothing to offer them--no solace for their suffering, no sacraments to salve their pain.

Tamar Hennessy, Servant of God, pray for us that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.


Kate Hennessy. The World Will Be Saved By Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother. New York: Scribner, 2017).

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Divorce survivors and the Catholic Church: "When bitter memories freeze the tongue and songs of love are left unsung"

When burning embers in the darkness
Bring cold comfort to the heart
When bitter memories freeze the tongue 
And songs of love are left unsung

Hot Buttered Rum
Lyrics by Tommy Thompson (sung by Red Clay Ramblers) 

If you have any doubt about how fatuous the New York Times has become, then read Austin Ruse's essay in Crisis titled "The New York Times Loves a Good Love Story." Ruse began his story with this riveting paragraph:
A few years ago, the New York Times told the incredibly moving story of Robert Kennedy Jr. courting a woman who became his third wife but only after he divorced his second wife who later hung herself in the family barn after being harassed by Kennedy apparatchiks. None of this was included in the Times story.
More recently, the Times wrote another gushy story about Michael Ruhlman and Ann Hood, two accomplished writers, who crossed paths when they were younger and finally reunited and got married. However, the Times glossed over the fact that Ruhlman and Hood were both married and had children when they got emotionally evolved.

Ruse used these two New York Times stories as a springboard for his impassioned defense of marriage--marriage as the Catholic Church understands it. And I agree with everything Ruse said. Divorce is a psychological and spiritual disaster, and no divorced person who has children ever gets over it.

And as Ruse said, the harm divorce causes the children themselves is catastrophic and irreparable. "[N]o matter what the situation in the marriage, it is always best for the children for the parents to stay together." Indeed, Ruse writes, "[t]here is voluminous data that supports even the notion that it is better for a child to live in a broken home than to come from one."

But then I read Kate Hennessy's biography of Dorothy Day, titled The World Will Be Saved By Beauty. Kate Hennessy is the youngest daughter of Tamar Hennessy, Dorothy Day's only child; and Kate is Dorothy Day's youngest grandchild.

 The World Will Be Saved by Beauty is a beautifully written book. After reading only a few pages, I could see that Kate had inherited her grandmother's gift for writing.  As I turned the pages I began to see that the book is as much about Dorothy's daughter, Tamar, as it is about Dorothy.

As Kate Hennessy relates, Tamar was immersed from childhood in the Catholic Worker movement, which was started by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Although Peter and Dorothy called for a radical Catholic response to social injustice, they were both orthodox Catholics--orthodox in every way.

When she was 15 years old, Tamar met David Hennessy at the Catholic Worker farm in Easton, Pennsylvania. David was 13 years older than Tamar, and Dorothy would not allow her daughter to marry until she was 18. David waited patiently, and the two were married in 1944.

David and Tamar Hennessy lived a Catholic marriage. They had 9 children together and one miscarriage. In fact, for 14 years, Tamar was either pregnant or nursing.

But David Hennessy was a deeply troubled man. Even before he met Tamar, he got into some kind of altercation with his best friend, who shot David's ear off with a .30-30 rifle.  Not long after the wedding, it became apparent that David drank too much; indeed he eventually became an alcoholic. He was quarrelsome and only intermittently employed. He stumbled from one minimum-skill job to another and was never able to adequately support his wife and nine children.

When David got older, his mental health deteriorated and he was institutionalized for a time. Tamar finally left him, although as good Catholics, Tamar and David never divorced.

David died at the age of 92 after having lived for a time with another woman who may have been a prostitute. After his death, Kate Hennessy discovered and read her father's diaries and came to the conclusion that he may have been a homosexual.

Some Catholic marriage!

I have a Catholic Catechism in my home. I haven't read it all, but I agree with the Church's stance on marriage, family life, and the dignity of human life in all stages.

But I came from a family that did not live by Catholic values. In fact, my parents suffered from severe mental health problems and were physically and psychologically abusive to their children.

I see friends--good and decent people--who are struggling with all kinds of serious life issues: divorce, drug addiction, alcoholism, unemployment, mental illness, alienation from their children, cancer, and even violence.

God help me, but I don't think the Catechism is very useful for dealing with the harsh realities of life in postmodern America. Jesus didn't operate from a catechism. Basically he just called on us to respond with love and kindness to the human suffering we see around us every day.

But a lot of scholars, theologians, priests, and bishops disagree with me. So what in the hell do I know?

Dorothy Day and daughter Tamar

Kate Hennessy. The World Will Be Saved By Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother. New York: Scribner, 2016.

Austin Ruse. The New York Times Loves a Good Love Story. Crisis Magazine, May 5, 2017.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hypocritical scholars criticize Amore Laetitia and Pope Francis: Jesus and the Pharisees

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites."

I have perused several scholarly critiques of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation about marriage and divorce.  Frankly, most of what I read comes across to me as pharisaical.  

Some old dudes in Brazil, who call themselves the Plinio Correa de Oliveira Institute,  published a turgid document (95 footnotes) claiming that Pope Francis' papal exhortation "Opens the Gates of the Church and Society for a Programmed Demolition of Marriage and the Family." Managing to be both hysterical and utterly boring at the same time, the document compares Pope Francis' pedagogical model to Jean Jacques Rousseau (!) and calls on the Pope to revoke Amoris Laetitia outright.

Father Regis Scanlon, writing in Crisis Magazine, says the document "has many Catholics thinking they are living in a nightmare." Father Scanlon asks his readers to reflect on a seventh-century doctrinal controversy during the papal reign of Honorius I, which he thinks might  help Catholics weather the Amoris controversy. 

Honorius, it seems, got too cozy with the Monothelitists; and he got a theological slap on the wrist by his successor, Leo II. Honorius, Leo charged, "did not illumine this Apostolic Church with the doctrine of the Apostolic tradition, but allowed it, while immaculate, to be stained by profane betrayal."

Thanks, Father Scanlon, for sharing that story with us. I'll bet you give great homilies!

Then there's Richard A. Spinello, a research professor at Boston College, who laments the fact that the church hierarchy is unwilling to speak out against Pope Francis's blow to "doctrinal integrity." Spinello ends his essay in Crisis Magazine by saying it is up to the laity "who must face reality and speak with candor about the deficiencies of this alien papal teaching." 

Let me get this straight, Professor Spinello. Are you saying it's Joe Six-Pack's job to tell Pope Francis what to do?  Good luck with that!

In another Crisis essay, Spinello sums up his view of Amoris Laetitia by saying: "At best, this is an imprecise work that needs clarification; at worst, it is a subtle repudiation of Veritatis Splendor and two thousand years of Catholic moral Tradition." 

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

God knows I am no theologian, but I was raised a Methodist so I can read the Bible. And this is what Jesus said in the Book of Matthew:
Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.
Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, but when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.
As I said, I am no theologian, but that passage reassures me that Pope Francis was on the right track when he wrote Amoris Laetitia. It is, after all, a message of love and mercy.

 But then what do I know? I'm just a back-pew lay Catholic who lives in Louisiana, and I know absolutely nothing about Honorius I and those wretched Monothelites.


Plinio Correa de Oliveira Institute. 'Amoris Laetitia' Opens the Gates of thke Church and Society for a Programmed Demolition of Marriage and the Family, September 29, 2016.

Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. CAP. What History May Tell Us About Amoris Laetitia. Crisis Magazine, January 26, 2017.

Richard A. Spinello. Debate Continues Over Amoris Laetitia. Crisis Magazine, May 25, 2017.

Richard A. Spinello. On Rocco Buttiglione's Defense of Amoris Laetitia. Crisis Magazine, August 9, 2016.