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 In fact there are dozens of unjust laws that could be repealed.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.


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.