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

References

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.

References

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.



References

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
References

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.

References

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.


Monday, May 8, 2017

A Holy Cross Vice President writes confidential email hinting that the college may close and mistakenly sends it to the entire student body. Oops!

Kelly Jordan, Vice President for Student Affairs at Holy Cross College in Indiana, sent a confidential email to a boarding school administrator last April, hinting that Holy Cross may soon be closing. Kelly told his correspondent that he might "spend the better part of the coming school year closing down the college."


Unfortunately for Vice President Jordan--and for Holy Cross, for that matter--Jordan's email was mistakenly sent out to the entire student body. Oops! The South Bend Tribune, a local newspaper, picked up the story; and now the whole world knows that the future of Holy Cross is in doubt.

Father David Tyson, interim president of Holy Cross, sent out the usual damage-control email message, assuring students that "I look forward to classes beginning in August and working with the faculty and students to create a bright future for the college that fully reflects the Holy Cross mission."

Note that Father Tyson did not contradict VP Jordan's message that Holy Cross might soon be shutting down.

Holy Cross is clearly in trouble. Its former president stepped down earlier this spring along with three of its five vice presidents. The college is quite small--only about 500 students; and the future of many small liberal arts colleges is uncertain.  Less than a year ago, two small Catholic colleges announced they were closing: St. Catharine College in Kentucky and St. Joseph's College in Indiana.

Most small liberal arts colleges depend heavily on tuition revenue, and a lot of them are having trouble attracting students. The National Association for College Admission Counseling recently published a list of colleges that still have room for incoming freshmen or transfer students in their fall 2017 classes. As of early this month, there were more than 500 colleges and universities on that list.  A majority of those schools were private liberal arts colleges with less than 5,000 students.  Seventy-seven of those schools had 1,000 students or less.

A lot of small liberal arts colleges are fighting to survive; and many will fail over the next two or three years. Holy Cross's recent embarrassment raises questions about how college administrators should deal with their own institutions' struggles.

Obviously, small-college administrators should do everything they can to attract new students and revenues. But there comes a time when college leaders need to ask themselves if they have a moral obligation to shut down rather than attract more new students into an institution that is on the road to closure.

If so, when should students and staff be told? I can't answer that question, but for Holy Cross the question is moot thanks to the fact that a confidential email message went public.

Photo credit: South Bend Tribune


References

College Openings Update: Options for Qualified Students. National Association for College Admission Counseling (n.d.).

Margaret Fosmoe. Holy Cross VP paints bleak future for college in emails mistakenly sent to students.  South Bend Tribune, May 6, 2017.

Scott Jaschik.  College Will Suspend OperationsInside Higher ED, February 7, 2017.

Scott Jaschik. 350 Colleges Still Have Room for New UndergradsInside Higher ED, May 4, 2017.

Emily Tate. College VP Sends Email on Possible ClosureInside Higher Ed, May 8, 2017.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Divorced Catholics are the illegal aliens of the Catholic Church. Perhaps they will all go to hell along with the priests who denied them communion.

I lived in Houston for six years--a lovely city. During my time there I got to know several undocumented immigrants--or to use a less politically correct term--illegal aliens. Every illegal immigrant I knew was a hard-working, law abiding individual. Several were practicing Catholics and some had families.

But an undocumented immigrant's life is different from the life of a citizen. A traffic stop, a minor misunderstanding, an encounter with an unsympathetic police officer--any small incident can turn an illegal immigrant's life upside down and trigger the process of deportation.

If you want to visualize just how tenuous an undocumented immigrant's life is, watch The Visitor, a terrific movie starring Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, and Danai Gurira.  Sleiman plays Tarek, an undocumented Syrian living in New York City. One minute everything is fine and then Tarek is wrongly accused of jumping a turnstile in a New York subway station. Two plainclothes police officers arrest him, and he is whisked away to a detention center. Eventually he is deported back to Syria.

Although I wouldn't press the point too strongly, divorced Catholics are the undocumented aliens of the Catholic Church. According to Catholic doctrine, divorced people may not receive the sacraments of the Church unless they live a celibate life.

Divorced Catholics who wish to remarry or divorced persons who wish to become Catholics must have their marriage annulled by a diocesan tribunal, an expensive, time-consuming and humiliating process. Unless they are able to prove their prior marriage was not a true marriage at all, their annulment application will be denied.

The annulment process is truly bizarre, a throwback, one might say, to the Spanish Inquisition. I am told a majority of annulment applications are denied, but I have heard stories about people getting an annulment simply by writing a large check to the Catholic Church. And I know it is possible to get a marriage annulled even if there are children from the union.  One woman I know got an annulment of her marriage even though she and her husband had been married more than 15 years and had four children together.

Most Catholic skip the annulment process altogether and continue to receive the sacraments--or at least the Sacrament of Communion. Sympathetic priests sometimes counsel there is a "local solution" to divorce and that Catholics can receive communion if they make a good confession. Other priests say this is nonsense; and no bishop, as far as I know, endorses the idea of a local solution.

Thus, divorced Catholics reside in the Catholic community like undocumented immigrants. Year after year, they attend Mass, make financial contributions, and volunteer in Catholic works of charity.  Just as undocumented immigrants begin to feel like American citizens, divorced Catholics begin to feel they are Catholics in good standing. Indeed, sympathetic parish churches might be described as"sanctuary cities" for divorced Catholics.

But then one day, a priest of the old school finds them out and tells them they are forbidden to receive communion or go to confession unless they obtain an annulment.  Much like Tarek in The Visitor, they are whisked into  spiritual detention; and for all practical purposes, they are kicked out of the Church.

It would be pleasant to believe that the priests who condemn divorced Catholics are the Church's best priests;  but in fact, they are the worst.  The priest who denied me the sacraments was one of the priests who tried to cover up child rape by a fellow priest years ago.

I know many divorced Catholics who have left the Catholic Church because of the Church's harsh official stance on divorce. They come to realize that for many priests and bishops, the thief on the cross, the woman at the well, the adulteress Jesus forgave--all those Bible stories are simply tales for the nursery.

In fact, in the minds of many Catholic priests and prelates, the Catholic Church is not the Bride of Christ. Rather, it is an exclusive civic organization, much like the old whites-only country clubs where only the "best people" were allowed to play golf.

Pope Francis would like to bring divorced Catholics back into the Community of Faith, but even Pope Francis, a truly holy man, cannot overcome the mean-spiritedness of a large segment of the Catholic clergy,

Monsignor Richard Mouton was the spiritual cop who tried to deport me from the Catholic faith. I imagine he believes I will burn in hell for going to communion more than a thousand times before I got picked up in a random traffic stop in a communion booth.

And perhaps Monsignor Mouton is right. If so, the most frightening aspect of this prospect is the sure certainty that I will share a cell in Hades with Monsignor Mouton himself.

The Visitor


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Governor Cuomo's plan to offer free public college education for New Yorkers will wreck private colleges in the Empire State

Like Bernie Sanders, I buy my clothes at Joseph A. Banks, where almost everything Banks sells is on sale almost all the time. For example, Joseph A. Banks sells very good men's dress shirts for $89, but this week they are on sale for 2 for $89.

The on-sale-all-the-time business model works well for Joseph A. Banks, but it doesn't work so well for private liberal arts colleges--particularly the nondescript little colleges that are so common in the Northeast and upper Midwest.  These colleges are now discounting freshman tuition by  an average of 48.6 percent, the same discount rate that Joseph A. Banks sells its shirts. For undergraduates as a whole, the average discount is 42 percent. 

Basically, more and more people are buying a liberal arts education at wholesale prices. And even with steep discounts, private colleges are having trouble luring new students to their campuses.

And now New York's private colleges face a new threat. Governor Andrew Cuomo launched a plan to provide a free college education at New York's public colleges and universities to families with annual incomes of $125,000 a year or less.  This may pose a mortal blow to many private liberal arts colleges in the Empire State.

Charles L. Flynn Jr., president of the College of Mount Saint Vincent, said Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan has thrown the New York marketplace for higher education" into confusion." Indeed, private schools in New York compete with New York's public universities for students, and Cuomo's free-college-education scheme will definitely hurt private institutions. A report prepared by the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York estimates that  Cuomo's plan will cause enrollments to decline at New York private colleges by 7 to 15 percent. 

What can the private liberal arts colleges do to meet this threat? Not much. As President Flynn told Inside Higher Ed, his college already discounts freshman tuition by 50 percent. “How can I go above that?” he said. “We don’t have a lot more aid to throw.”

New York has more than 100 private colleges and universities, many of them obscure: institutions like Daemen College, Houghton College, Saint  John Fisher College, Hilbert College, Medaille College, Trocaire College, Canisius College, Molloy College, Cazenovia College,and Roberts Wesleyan College. Most of these schools draw the bulk of their students from families residing inside the state. 

Unless private New York colleges have elite status--Hamilton College, Barnard College, Sarah Lawrence College, etc.--they have little to offer that cannot be obtained at a SUNY institution for less money.  And thanks to Governor Cuomo, many New York families can now choose between a small liberal arts college that offers discounted tuition and a public university they can attend for free. 

The wolf is now at the door for New York's small liberal arts colleges.





References

Rick Seltzer. A Marketplace in Confusion. Insider Higher Ed, April 13, 2017.

Tuition Discounts at Private Colleges Continue to Climb (Press Release). National Association of College and University Business Officers, May 16, 2016.

Report: Effects and Consequences of the Excelsior Scholarship Program On Private, Not-for-Profit Colleges and Universities. Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York, March 2017.



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Great Falls-Billings Diocese files for bankruptcy to settle clerical abuse claims

This week, the Great Falls-Billings Diocese filed for bankruptcy to settle sex abuse claims against diocesan priests. Great Falls-Billings is fifteenth Catholic diocese to take this step and the second diocese in Montana to do so.

According to an attorney for some of the plaintiffs, the diocese will try to hold on to some of its real estate and cash, arguing that these assets are held in trust for local parishes and are not actually owned by the diocese. Good luck with that.

A spokesperson for the diocese, who will take charge of negotiations with some of the abuse victims, put the best face on this disaster. "Reaction of pastors and the laity has been largely a kind of 'What can we do to help?'" he said. "There is a feeling of we are in this together from our smallest parishes to our biggest ones."

But of course we are not all in this together. For nearly half a century, laypeople faithfully went to Mass, made their weekly cash donations, and listened to their priests and bishops. And all the while, Catholic priests were raping little boys while the Catholic hierarchy covered it up and someone washed the sheets that were stained with blood and semen.

As a Catholic convert who has loved the Church for over 20 years, I am beginning to feel like one of Hitler's camp followers who were huddled in the bunker with the Fuhrer as the Russian army crept closer, block by block. "How in the hell did we get in this mess?", those people must have asked themselves.

Christ can heal the suffering, we are told. No wound is so ugly that it cannot be salved by the Savior's blood. But we know for sure that child abuse victims never recover. They never recover. They never recover.

And so, returning to my bunker analogy, I ask myself: Is it is time for me to slip away through the rubble, leaving the fools who created this mess to their fate? I've stopped contributing to the Catholic Church altogether, sending my financial donations to a homeless shelter in Houston.

I would feel much better if the Catholic Church paid a real penance for all this suffering--if just one of the son of a bitches who covered up child rape was put in the slammer. But that has not happened and it will not happen.


Monsignor Richard Mouton



References

Dan Morris Young. Great Falls-Billings Diocese becomes 15th to file for bankruptcy. Catholic Reporter, April 3, 2017.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New Ulm Diocese files for bankruptcy to settle clerical abuse claims: What if some Catholic bishops had gone to jail?

Earlier this month, the Catholic diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in order to settle clerical abuse claims.  St. Ulm is the  third Catholic diocese in Minnesota to file for bankruptcy because of sexual abuse claims against priests.

This is the list of American Catholic dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy so far---all triggered by revelations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests:
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Tucson, Arizona
  • Spokane, Washington
  • Davenport, Iowa
  • San Diego, California
  • Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Wilmington, Delaware
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • St Paul & Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Duluth, Minnesota
  • Gallup, New Mexico
  • Helena, Montana
And of course, several other dioceses were stained by clerical abuse that didn't file for bankruptcy: Boston Archdiocese, for example, and the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. Clearly this scandal rocked the Catholic Church in every region of the United States.

It is perhaps too easy to lump this enormous tragedy into an easily summarized phrase: clerical abuse. But we should remind ourselves from time to time that we are talking about crimes against children. In fact, almost all these abuses involved a priest who put his penis in a little boy's mouth or rectum.

The psychological literature--not to mention our own life observations--confirm that these rape victims will never recover from what they experienced no matter how much counseling they receive or how much money they are paid. Some have committed suicide.

In my view, this shameful episode is not behind us and won't be behind us until the Catholic Church pays an enormous penance--and I don't mean money.  The bishops, diocesan administrators, and brother priests who covered up the scandal should be in jail--and not some fancy federal prison that has a golf course and ping pong tables.  I'm talking about a prison like Angola.

Just yesterday, Timothy Curley and Gary Schultz, former officials at Penn State University, plead guilty to child endangerment for failing to follow up on a report that Jerry Sandusky was in a shower with a small boy. They received that report in 2001, and it took 16 years for them to face justice.

Curley and Schultz have not been sentenced yet, but I fervently hope they both do hard time. I do not say this in a spirit of vengeance. Rather, it will take a harsh dose of justice to convince people they cannot shut their eyes to child rape.

Cardinal Bernard Law, who covered up clerical abuse in the Boston Archdiocese, is a prime example. Cardinal Law should be eating his daily oatmeal in the Massachusetts state prison in Shirley, not dining in some quaint little trattoria in Rome.  

All 50 states have child abuse reporting laws and child endangerment laws; and Catholic officials flagrantly violated those laws many times when they didn't turn sexual predators over to the police. Until some of these birds are jailed and publicly humiliated, the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal is not over and will never be over.


Cardinal Bernard Law: This guy should be eating oatmeal in Shirley, Massachusetts


References

Lori Falce & Shawn Anarelli. Schultz, Curley plead guilty in Sandusky scandal. Centre Daily News, March 13, 2017.

Amy Julia Harris. Several Catholic dioceses declared bankruptcy on eve of sexual-abuse trials. Minnpost.com, February 2, 2015.

Phillip Martin. In search of Cardinal Bernard Law. Huffington Post, August 7, 2016.

New Ulm Diocese to file for Chapter 11 protection. The (New Ulm) Journal, March 4, 2017.







Saturday, February 18, 2017

Louisiana man sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing a toolbox from a church: Opportunities for bipartisan efforts to end injustice

Michael Duplessis, age 34, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing a toolbox from Holy Rosary Catholic Church in St. Amant, Louisiana. Duplessis was sentenced after he agreed to a plea deal to avoid the possibility of  a life sentence.

A life sentence for stealing a toolbox! How could that be?

Michael Duplessis: Sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing a toolbox from Holy Rosary Church

Apparently, Duplessis is a repeat offender. He had previously been convicted of stealing a cellphone charger from a residence and later a boat battery. Under Louisiana's habitual offender law, Duplessis is a three-time loser and could have been sentenced to life in prison for lifting that toolbox. I imagine the plea bargain looked pretty good to him.

Obviously a law that can send a man to prison for the rest of his life for stealing a cellphone charger, a battery and a toolbox is unjust and inhumane. In fact, Pope Francis has said that life sentences are essentially death sentences.

Surely, reasonable people can work together to repeal such a barbaric statute.

So why aren't Republicans and Democrats working together to do that? In fact there are dozens of unjust laws that could be repealed. As I wrote awhile back, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Claire McCaskill introduced a bill to stop the federal government from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters. Who in Congress could oppose such a bill?

Unfortunately, our elected representatives at the state and national level are so caught up in political warfare that nothing gets done. And the mainstream press has become so obsessed with criticizing President Trump that it has abandoned its traditional role of advocating for justice.

Just today, in my local newspaper, Richard Cohen, a syndicated columnist, published an essay that was nothing more than warmed over criticism of President Trump. In case the public had forgotten, Cohen reminded us that Trump unfairly criticized Senator John McCain and the Hispanic judge who presided over the Trump University litigation. Isn't there something more timely and important that Cohen can write about?

Enough already. Republicans and Democrats should look for problems they can solve together, and the press should resume its traditional roll of publicizing injustices like the one perpetuated on poor Mr. Duplessis. This is how democracy works after all, or how it used to work, before everyone in public life began behaving like children.

References

Richard Cohen. Can't anybody play this game? The Advocate (Baton Rouge), February 17, 2017, p. 5B.

David J. Mitchell. Man gets 10 years in burglary of church. The Advocate (Baton Rouge), February 17, 2016.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

My humble apology to people who call themselves "recovering Catholics"

A couple of years ago I wrote an arrogant blog essay entitled "Don't insult me by calling yourself a recovering Catholic." I deeply regret this essay, but I am going to leave it on the web as a penance and a reminder to myself to be more humble.

In my essay, I took umbrage at people who describe themselves as recovering Catholics.  Such people, I said, are insinuating that Catholicism is a disease like alcoholism, drug addiction or a personality disorder. I quoted G. K. Chesterton, who said most people don't leave Catholicism because they reject Catholic doctrine; they leave "to have a high old time."

I apologize to lapsed Catholics for that essay; and I apologize to the late Mr. Chesterton for using his words to buttress my argument. I realize now that millions of Catholics have left the faith because the priests they encountered don't really want them.

My nephew, for example, is a Catholic; but he married a Protestant; and his wedding took place in a Methodist Church.  Recently, a Catholic friend asked him to be the godfather for his friend's child. But a Catholic priest refused to allow it. Why? Because my nephew was not married in a Catholic Church.

How much longer do you think my nephew will remain Catholic?

I myself had a nasty experience with Monsignor Richard Mouton in the Lafayette Diocese, which I've already described. I haven't been to Mass for months. Maybe I myself am a recovering Catholic.

Does the Catholic Church give a damn about the people it turns away because they are divorced or married outside the Church? No, I don't think so.

Pope Francis is a saintly man, and if all priests and bishops had just a small fraction of his kindly qualities, the Church would be fine. But the Church is losing members by the millions; so many American Catholics have left the faith that the nation's second largest religious group is made up of lapsed Catholics.

But the priests don't care. There are plenty of Catholic rubes coming to the United States from Latin America and Asia--enough to pay the utility bills for a few more years.

Nevertheless, I think the hardhearted clergy underestimate how much damage they are doing by refusing to extend a hand of mercy to people who are divorced or who married outside the Church.

Take my own case as an example. Many of my friends and family members are lapsed Catholics or indifferent Catholics, but they respect me for sticking with it. Now they see I may not be sticking with it.  And my lapse makes it less likely that dozens of friends and family members will ever return to the fold.

But perhaps I am being too hard on our rude and judgmental priests. After all, they are evangelists in their own way. They are doing their part to build up the nation's second largest religious denomination.