Monday, November 14, 2016

Open Letter to Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel and complaint about Msgr. Richard Mouton of the Lafayette Diocese: The Jubilee of Mercy

202 LSU Avenue
Baton Rouge, LA 70808


Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel
Lafayette Diocese
Lafayette, Louisiana

HAND DELIVERED

Re: Complaint about Msgr. Richard Mouton

Dear Your Excellency:

Today I went to confession at the Cathedral, where I met Msgr. Richard Mouton, who refused to confess me. I am not complaining about being refused confession. Rather I am complaining about Msgr. Mouton’s rudeness.  When I left him, I felt as if I had been stripped of all my human dignity.

I returned on Monday from a 12 day pilgrimage to Rome, where I attended the canonization Mass for Mother Teresa and visited many of the great holy sites of Italy. This trip was sponsored by the Catholic Press Association; I am a member of CPA through my editorship of a Catholic history journal.

This is the Year of Mercy, and I walked through several Holy Doors and received instruction about how to apply for a plenary indulgence. Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe accompanied our pilgrims group, and I attended Mass almost every day of our journey.

By the end of my pilgrimage, I had collected 5 plenary indulgences, and I resolved to give them to five people who had injured me many years ago when I was young. I realized of course that I needed to go to confession in order to receive a plenary indulgence and I needed to do this quickly.  Although I live in Baton Rouge, I work in Lafayette, and I decided to go to confession at the Cathedral today.

I became a Catholic almost 20 years ago after I married my present wife.  Against many obstacles, we managed to raise and educate four children. All are now in their 30s, all are married, and all are working and own their own homes. We have six grandchildren.

I entered the Catholic Church in a rural parish in Louisiana and was told by my parish priest that there was a “local solution” regarding my divorce.  It wasn’t until later that I learned that many priests believe my parish priest was wrong on that issue and that I am not entitled to go to confession or communion or even to call myself a Catholic.  I attempted to get an annulment but abandoned that process on the advice of my spiritual adviser, a devout Sister.

I disclosed my divorced status to Father Mouton. He refused to confess me and harshly told me not to go to communion until I got my status straightened out by my parish priest in Baton Rouge. Before he did this, however, he questioned me closely about sex.

I left the confession booth feeling stripped of my dignity. My Catholic faith has been deeply shaken, and I do not know whether I can even call myself a Catholic.

Now I would like to make a couple of points. First, I have considered myself a deeply committed Catholic—although certainly imperfect. I served seven years on the Texas Catholic Conference Accreditation Commission, the body charged with accrediting Catholic schools in Texas; and I was president of the Commission for three years. I am Editor of Catholic Southwest, a regional Catholic history journal that has won several awards for excellence from the Catholic Press Association. My wife and I were chaperones for a group of Catholic young people at Catholic World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany; and I participated in a five-week Catholic mission to Tanzania in 2004.

In addition, I have served as a formal RCIA sponsor for eight people who came into the Catholic Church as adults, and I volunteered at a Catholic Worker Hospitality House in Houston when I was living in Houston years ago. For ten years, I have sent monthly contributions to two Tanzanian Catholic priests—sending them a total of more than $10,000 to assist them in their ministry.

I do not tell you this to say I am a good person. I am not. I am deeply flawed.  And this brings me to the final point I wish to make.

I grew up in a Protestant household in southwestern Oklahoma under conditions of extreme physical and psychological abuse. My father suffered from PTSD due to his experience as a prisoner of war in a Japanese concentration camp. He was in fact a survivor of the Bataan Death March. My mother had severe psychological problems for which she received no treatment.  I was repeatedly beaten quite severely by both my mother and my father when I was a child and experienced psychological abuse as well. 

For a host of reasons—including my own sinful nature and my parents’ pathologies—I did not understand the Catholic view of marriage as a young person. I am a divorced person. Through the grace of God, my wife and her family, and my Catholic faith, I have gradually healed over the years, although I am still a deeply flawed man.

I have accomplished a few things in life; I have a law degree from the University of Texas and a doctorate in education policy from Harvard University.  But the center of my life is my devotion to the Catholic faith and to my family—my wife, her parents and siblings, my children, my stepchildren, and my grandchildren.

Over the past 20 years, I have taken communion over a thousand times in Catholic churches on four continents.  If I have committed a mortal sin by receiving communion, which Father Mouton may believe, then I am surely damned.

So I am registering this protest and complaint against Msgr. Mouton. Msgr. Mouton brutally disregarded my dignity. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, he showed me no compassion, no mercy.

I would like you to tell me whether Msgr. Mouton's treatment of me accords with these words of Pope Francis, which I found posted outside the door of the Shrine to Saint Rita of Cascia in Italy:
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God forgives sins, which are really removed; yet there remains the negative imprint that sins have left in our behavior and in our thoughts. 
The Mercy of God, however, is even stronger than this! It becomes indulgence on the part of the Father who, through the Bride of Christ, his Church, reaches pardoned sinners and frees them from every residue left by the consequences of sin, enabling them to act with charity, to grow in love, rather than to fall back into sin.
Can Msgr. Mouton’s judgmental assessment of me really be the view of the Catholic Church? And if it is, please tell me how this view can be reconciled with Pope Francis’s papal exhortation, Amore Laetitia (which I have read).

In closing, I will say that I may take my status up with my parish priest in Baton Rouge as Father Mouton directed, or I may not. I do not wish to be stripped of my dignity again as I was by Father Mouton—even if I am required to do so to become fully reconciled to my Church.

Sincerely,



Richard Fossey, J.D., Ed.D.,
Paul Burdin Endowed Professor of Education
University of Louisiana at Lafayette



Note to Blog readers: This letter is slightly modified from the letter I hand delivered to Bishop Deshotel last September. I added the passage from Pope Francis that I found outside the Shrine to Saint Rita of Cascia. I have received no response from Bishop Deshotel.


Msgr. Richard Mouton, Lafayette Diocese


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Divorced Catholics in the Jubilee Year of Mercy: No Mercy for Catholic Survivors of Broken Marriages

I came across this lovely quote from Pope Francis last September while visiting the Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia in Italy.  Appearing on a large poster were these words:
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God forgives sins, which are really removed; yet there remains the negative imprint that sins have left in our behavior and in our thoughts. 
The Mercy of God, however, is even stronger than this! It becomes indulgence on the part of the Father, who, through the Bride of Christ, his Church, reaches pardoned sinners and frees them from every residue left by the consequences of sin, enabling them to act with charity, to grow in love rather than to fall back into sin.
Did Pope Francis intend for these powerfully reassuring words to apply to divorced Catholics? To divorced people who wish to become Catholic?

I believe he did. As the Pope said in Amoris Laetitia, his recent Apostolic Exhortation, "No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!"

As Pope Francis pointed out in Amoris Laetitia, the Synod Fathers have reached a general consensus with regard to people living in irregular situations, which he quoted:
In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried, or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God's plan for them.
This was possible, Pope Francis added "by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Of utmost importance to divorced Catholics, Pope Francis wrote that divorced and remarried Catholics "need to be fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal." Indeed, Pope Francis emphasized:
Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel. This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children, who ought to be considered most important.
Tragically, these powerful and holy words, written by Pope Francis during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, have been explicitly rejected by many Catholic priests and bishops.

How ironic. The Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal--this catastrophic episode in the life of the American Church--is a stain on the Bride of Christ that may never be wiped away. Certainly, the priests and bishops who participated in this scandal or who covered it up are in urgent need of mercy.

And yet so many of our priests and bishops offer no mercy whatsoever to divorced Catholics, even in this, the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Msgr. Richard Mouton, Lafayette Diocese


References

Pope Francis. Amoris Laetitia--The Joy of Love. (2016)


Thursday, November 10, 2016

The student loan crisis in the first 100 days: Please, President Trump, provide bankruptcy relief for distressed student-loan debtors

Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election, and we can throw her promise of a tuition-free college education in the ashcan. Meanwhile, the student loan crisis grows worse with each passing month.

Eleven million people have either defaulted on their loans or are delinquent in their payments. More than 5 million student-loan debtors are in long-term income based repayment plans that will never lead to loan payoffs.Several million student borrowers have loans in deferment or forbearance while interest continues to accrue on their loan balances.

Soon we will have a new president, and an exciting opportunity to look at the federal student loan program from a fresh perspective. What can President Trump do to bring relief to distressed college-loan debtors. Here are some ideas--respectfully submitted:

FIRST, TREAT THE WOUNDED.

President Trump can do several things quickly to alleviate the suffering.

Stop garnishing Social Security checks of loan defaulters. More than 150,000 elderly student-loan defaulters are seeing their Social Security checks garnished. President Trump could stop that practice on a dime. Admittedly, this would be a very small gesture; the number of garnishees is minuscule compared to the 43 million people who have outstanding student loans. But this symbolic act would signal that our government is not heartless.

Streamline the loan-forgiveness process for people who were defrauded by the for-profit colleges. DOE already has a procedure in place for forgiving student loans taken out by people who were defrauded by a for-profit college, but the administrative process is slow and cumbersome. For example, Corinthian Colleges and ITT both filed for bankruptcy, and many of their former students have valid fraud claims. So far, few of these victims have obtained relief from the Department of Education.

Why not simply forgive the student loans of everyone who took out a federal loan to attend these two institutions and others that closed while under investigation for fraudulent practices?

Force for-profit colleges to delete mandatory arbitration clauses from student enrollment documents. The Obama administration criticized mandatory arbitration clauses, but it didn't eliminate them. President Trump could sign an Executive Order banning all for-profit colleges from putting mandatory arbitration clauses in their student-enrollment documents.

Banning mandatory arbitration clauses would allow fraud victims to sue for-profit colleges and to bring class action suits. And by taking this step, President Trump would only be implementing a policy that President Obama endorsed but didn't get around to implementing.

Abolish unfair penalties and fees. Student borrowers who default on their loans are assessed enormous penalties by the debt collectors--18 percent and even more. President Trump's Department of Education could ban that practice or at least reduce the penalties to a more reasonable amount.

REASONABLE BANKRUPTCY RELIEF FOR DISTRESSED STUDENT-LOAN DEBTORS

The reforms I outlined are minor, although they could be implemented quickly through executive orders or the regulatory process. But the most important reform--reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts--will require a change in the Bankruptcy Code.

Please, President Trump, prevail on Congress to abolish 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(8) from the Bankruptcy Code--the provision that requires student-loan debtors to show undue hardship as a condition for discharging student loans in bankruptcy.

Millions of people borrowed too much money to get a college education, and they can't pay it back. Some were defrauded by for-profit colleges, some chose the wrong academic major, some did not complete their studies, and some paid far too much to get a liberal arts degree from an elite private college. More than a few fell off the economic ladder due to divorce or illness, including mental illness.

Regardless of the reason, most people took out student loans in good faith and millions of people can't pay them back. Surely a fair and humane justice system should allow these distressed debtors  reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts.

President Trump can address this problem in two ways:

  • First, the President could direct the Department of Education and the loan guaranty agencies (the debt collectors) not to oppose bankruptcy relief for honest but unfortunate debtors--and that's most of the people who took out student loans and can't repay them.
  • Second, the President could encourage Congress to repeal the "undue hardship" provision from the Bankruptcy Code.
Critics will say that bankruptcy relief gives deadbeat debtors a free ride, but in fact, most people who defaulted on their loans have suffered enough.from the penalties that have rained down on their heads.

More importantly, our nation's heartless attitude about student-loan default has discouraged millions of Americans and helped drive them out of the economy. President Trump has given middle-class and working-class Americans an opportunity for a fresh start. Let's make sure that overburdened student-loan debtors get a fresh start too.

References

Natalie Kitroeff. Loan Monitor is Accused of Ruthless Tactics on Student Debt. New York Times, January 1. 2014. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/us/loan-monitor-is-accused-of-ruthless-tactics-on-student-debt.html?_r=0

Stephen Burd. Signing Away Rights. Inside Higher Ed, December 17, 2013. Available at https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/12/17/essay-questions-mandatory-arbitration-clauses-students-profit-higher-education

Andrew Kreighbaum, Warren: Education Dept. Failing Corinthian StudentsInside Higher Ed, September 30, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/09/30/warren-education-dept-failing-corinthian-students

Senator Elizabeth Warren to Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., letter dated September 29, 2016. Accessible at https://www.warren.senate.gov/files/documents/2016-9-29_Letter_to_ED_re_Corinthian_data.pdf

Ashley A. Smith. U.S. Urged to Deny Aid to For-Profits That Force Arbitration. Inside Higher Ed, February 24, 2016. Available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/02/24/us-urged-deny-aid-profits-force-arbitration?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=183bc9e3a3-DNU20160224&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-183bc9e3a3-198565653

U.S. Department of Education. U.S. Department of Education Takes Further Steps to Protect Students from Predatory Higher Education Institutions. March 11, 2016. Accessible at http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-takes-further-steps-protect-students-predatory-higher-education-institutions?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=

U.S. General Accounting Office. Older Americans: Inability to Repay Student Loans May Affect Financial Security of a Small Percentage of Borrowers. GAO-14-866T. Washington, DC: General Accounting Office. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-866T