Friday, August 23, 2013

Paddling Children is Contrary to Catholic Values: Catholics Can Help Wipe Out Corporal Punishment in the Public Schools

To strike a child in any way, to make him kneel in a painful position, to pull his ears, and other similar punishments must be absolutely avoided.
                                                                   Saint John Bosco (1815-1888)

Sister Mary Stigmata (The Penguin)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Almost everyone is familiar with the stereotype of the Catholic nun who wields a ruler in the classroom, banging kids on the hand for the slightest infraction.  Who can forget Sister Mary Stigmata ("The Penguin"), whopping Jake and Elwood Blues with a rattan stick in the Blues Brothers?

But Catholic schools have stopped beating the kids.  According to the Center for Effective Discipline, an aggressive opponent of corporal punishment, not a single Catholic diocese permits corporal punishment in diocesan schools. 

Catholic schools did not stop administering corporal punishment due to a change in Catholic doctrine. In fact, corporal punishment is not even mentioned in the Catechism.  Rather we have come to a more Christ-like understanding of the dignity of a child and the obligation of adults to protect them from harm. Most Catholics would agree with Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, who spoke out forcefully against corporal punishment in 2011. "I do not believe the teachings of the Catholic Church as we interpret them in 2011 condone corporal punishment," Archbishop Aymond remarked.  "It's hard for me to imagine in any way, shape or form, Jesus using a paddle."

Unfortunately, however, kids are still being beaten in some of he public schools.  Although 31 states have abolished corporal punishment in the schools, 19 states still allow it.  Thirteen of these 19 states are in the South. In fact, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, 75 percent of all school-based corporal punishment takes place in just five Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas.

Red states still permit corporal punishment in schools.

Catholics can help abolish school-based corporal punishment in states where it is still permitted.  Let's support school boards that abolish corporal punishment as a matter of local policy, something urban school boards are increasingly willing to do. Let's let our state legislators know that we support a state law abolishing corporal punishment in schools.  And let's support federal legislation to ban corporal punishment in schools.

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of New York introduced legislation to abolish corporal punishment in schools during the last Congressional session, but the bill died in Committee.  I am going to contact Representative McCarthy and urge her to reintroduce the bill. I encourage you to do the same.


Richard Fossey & Robert Slater (2012). “The only thing I wanna hear out of you is nothing!” Is it time for federal legislation to ban corporal punishment in the schools? Teachers College Record, ID Number: 17008.

Christopher B. Goodson & Richard Fossey (2012). Corporal punishment is on the wane in Southern schools: Encouraging evidence from Florida, North Carolina and Texas. Teachers College Record, ID Number: 16940.

Stephanie Phillips & Richard Fossey(2012). Retiring the paddle: Local school boards wipe out corporal punishment in urban Texas. Teachers College Record Online, ID Number 16745.

Dr. Gregory Popcak. Catholic Bishops Weigh in on Corporal Punishment. blog site. July 9, 2013.  Accessible at:

Note: Dr. Gregory's blog posting on Catholicism and corporal punishment is excellent. I obtained the quote from Saint John Bosco and Archbishop Aymond from Dr. Popcak's blog. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Dear President Obama: Please Do Just One Noble Thing

Today's Sunday Times contained two stories about manifest injustice--injustice that President Obama has the power to correct.

Nicholas Kristoff wrote a heart-rending essay about Edward Young, a 43 year-old man who was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for possession of seven shotgun shells.  Mr. Young had been convicted of burglary several times as a young man, but he had pulled his life together, was working,
Please do just one noble thting.
and has a wife and four children.  Nevertheless, William Killian, a federal prosecutor, went after him under the Armed Career Criminal Act. According to Mr. Kristoff's article, Mr. Young must serve his entire 15 year sentence;  he has no chance for parole.

And John Grisham told the story of Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian man who was sold to the American military under a bounty program while living in Pakistan. The military took Mr. Hadjarab to  Afghanistan, where he was tortured, and then moved him to Guatanamo.  He has been imprisoned by the American military for 11 years now, even though he was approved for release in 2007 under the Bush administration. According to Mr. Grisham, Mr. Hadjarab poses no threat to American security whatsoever.

Mr. Kristoff believes Mr. Young should be released from federal prison, and Mr. Grisham thinks Mr. Hadjarab should be freed from Guatanamo.  I feel sure both men are right.  After all, Mr. Grisham is
a highly renowned author; and Mr. Kristoff is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a famous advocate for human rights.  President Obama has the authority to release Mr. Young and Mr. Hadjarab  immediately. Wouldn't it be inspiring if the President pardoned both men? Like right now?

William Killian prosecuted Edward Young for
possession of 7 shotgun shells.
Let's be honest. Even the President's most ardent admirers must admit that Barack Obama has accomplished very little during his five years in office. He promised hope and change, and yet we are still mired in the Afghan War. He promised to shut down Guatanamo, but Guatanamo still operates. He promised to help the middle class, but millions of Americans are still burdened by under-water home mortgages.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons for Mr. Obama's uninspiring presidency.  With the exception of Obamacare, the Republicans thwarted almost all of the President's legislative initiatives.  Wars are not easily gotten out of, and Guatanamo turned out to be far more difficult to close than the President anticipated. Mr. Obama wanted to help middle-class mortgage holders, but the banks wouldn't cooperate.

But surely Barack Obama has the power to perform a few noble deeds, right a few wrongs, and alleviate a little suffering. After all, he is the President. So why not release Mr. Hadjarab from Guatanamo and let Mr. Young out of federal prison? Why not just do the right thing once in a while?

Like millions of Americans, I am disappointed in Barack Obama as a president.  But he could redeem himself substantially in my eyes if he demonstrated a little compassion every now and then. If President Obama made just a few decisions based on sympathy for the downtrodden--whether or not his actions helped him in the polls or juiced his campaign coffers--he would go a long way toward rehabilitating his presidency. So why not release Edward Young and Nabil Hadjarab from prison?


John Grisham. After Guatanamo, Another Injustice. New York Times, August 11, 2013, Review Section, p. 4.

Nicholas D. Kristoff. Help Thy Neighbor and Go Straight to Prison. New York Times, August 11, 2013, Review Section, p. 1.

Friday, August 9, 2013

St. Edith Stein, Who Triumphed over the Nazi Death Camps: Pray for Us

My father survived the Japanese concentration camps of World War II.

My father was an Army Air Corps pilot when the war began, stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines. Not long after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines; and my father was
Edith Stein
captured along with most of the American army in the spring of 1942.  He survived the Bataan Death March, the so-called "Hell ships" that transported American prisoners to Japan, and three and a half years of captivity in Japanese concentration camps. In August, 1945, he was liberated from a Japanese prison camp in Korea after the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Without a doubt my father suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Although he married and had three children, he never got over what he experienced as prisoner of war. For my father, the war never faded into the past--it was always present.  Unlike many combat veterans who refuse to speak about their war experiences, my father often talked about the concentration camps--sometimes as if his prison experiences were something that had happened just a couple of weeks ago.

My father could be violent. He physically beat his children, and he had a few violent episodes with adults. He never embraced his status as a father. In fact, I was his first child and he tried to have me aborted. He actually brought my mother to an abortion doctor without telling her what he had planned for her.  Why she refused to abort me I do not know.

My father's prison-camp experiences set the context of my childhood.  As a small child, I heard my father's stories about murder, torture, starvation, and suicide.  I was quite familiar with all these concepts by the time I was four years old. My mother put my father on a pedestal--the great war hero, the survivor of the Bataan Death March.  He had an Oklahoma license plate for his pickup truck that proclaimed "X-POW" in case anyone might forget that he was an ex-prisoner of war and thus entitled to an exemption from being a regular person.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
My family was about as far from being a Holy Family as it was possible to get. Except for those times when he beat us, my father was almost completely indifferent to his children.  He showed no affection for my mother, and I don't think he ever gave her a present.  As far as I know, my parents never celebrated their wedding anniversary.  In fact, I did not know my parents' wedding date until after they both had died and I found an old newspaper clipping about the wedding.

From this anxiety-ridden childhood I passed into anxiety-ridden adulthood. With no model of a loving father or a loving family life, I inherited my father's difficulties with relationships. I struggled to find my vocational identity in the world of work.

Then in mid-life, I became a Catholic, and I began to see the world as God wanted me to see it.  I began to understand how God wanted me to live and work and to be a husband and father.

And when Pope John Paul named Edith Stein a saint of the Catholic Church I was astonished.  Saint Edith Stein, as all good Catholics know, was born in the Jewish faith, converted to Catholicism as a young woman, and entered the Carmelite order as a nun, where she took the name of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. In August 1942, she was living in a Carmelite convent in Holland when the Nazis ordered all Jews--even Christian converts--to turn themselves into the police. 

Although it is well documented that she had opportunities to escape, Edith Stein turned herself over to the Nazis and went to her death at the Auschwitz concentration camp in peace and serenity. It is said she comforted others--especially children--who travelled with her in the boxcars that took her to  an Auschwitz gas chamber.

Edith Stein's feast day  is August 9th--the day of her death at Auschwitz; and August 9th is also my birthday.  I interpret this apparent coincidence as  a special consolation to me--the son of a concentration camp survivor, and a special message from God that the Catholic faith conquers all hate, violence, abuse, and all the indignities of life on earth. 

Although I myself do not have the courage or strength of faith of Edith Stein, I am comforted to know that God has called up a few people--his saints--as examples of faith and courage. This sustains me in my times of doubt and anxiety; and I hope Edith Stein's example will comfort and sustain all Catholics on this her feast day.

St. Edith Stein, pray for us that God will give us strength, faith and courage to face whatever befalls us in this postmodern world.

Prisoners in Japanese Concentration Camp


Robert Royal. The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. New York: Crossroads Books, 2000.