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.


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


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