Have a Wonderful & Merry Christmas and a Happy & Prosperous New Year!
We will begin blogging again on Monday January 5, 2015.
Have a Wonderful & Merry Christmas and a Happy & Prosperous New Year!
We will begin blogging again on Monday January 5, 2015.
This is such a good idea, though too long in coming, as reported by Catholic Culture.
Pope Francis played a key role in mediating talks between the US and Cuba, resulting in an exchange of prisoners and opening the way for the first direct talks between the neighboring countries in more than 50 years.
At a December 17 news conference in Washington, President Barack Obama acknowledged the importance of the papal intervention: “I want to thank Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is,” he said. Obama revealed that the Pope had written personal appeals to him and to Cuban President Raul Castro, urging a release of prisoners and a diplomatic thaw.
The Vatican later disclosed that in October, the Holy See had quietly arranged to receive diplomatic delegations from the US and Cuba for “a constructive dialogue on delicate matters.” The Vatican statement promised that the Holy See would continue to support diplomatic efforts to normalize relations between the two countries.
“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” the Vatican announced.
Retrieved December 18, 2014 from http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=23543
Great article from the New York Times about the Holy Father and prisoners at Sing Sing.
OSSINING, N.Y. — Inside a cool, rugged chapel of tan brick and brown benches, the Rev. Tom Ahearn read a passage about repentance from the Gospel of St. Mark. “A voice of one that cries in the desert,” Father Ahearn said. “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.”
The congregants nodded in recognition. The reading was anything but abstract: The men in the pews were convicted felons serving time at Sing Sing prison. Inside the chapel — fittingly named for Our Lady of Hope — their voices were strong, rising above the laughter of men joking after dinner or the rumble of Metro-North trains speeding past, just outside the thick walls ringed with coils of razor wire.
The faithful gather there for Mass and Bible study. Yet this particular service, during the Advent season of hope for a weary world, was extra special. A drawing by one of the inmates had been presented to Pope Francis who, in turn, sent a rosary, blessed holy cards and a promise to keep them in his prayers.
Denis Martinez, 30, who has spent 11 years behind bars for a shooting, seemed dazed. It was his drawing — of the three crucifixes on Calvary reflected in an eye — that was given to Pope Francis. His own faith, he admitted, is sometimes shaky. But like many of the inmates who come to the chapel, he still feels great affection for the pope.
“I can’t believe one of my drawings was given to the pope, while I’m here, trapped,” he said. “His message is one I believe in, one of social justice. Those of us who’ve been on the floor, like I’ve been on the bottom, we know about struggle.”
The unlikely exchange of gifts and prayers was the result of an idea that came to Betty Woodward, a former public relations executive in New York who started volunteering at Sing Sing seven years ago. She had often talked to the men about Pope Francis and how he was shaking up the Vatican.
Global warming is still a very controversial subject, calling for caution in asking the faithful to act a certain way, as this article from Catholic Culture shows.
In Pope Francis’ message on climate change, made public today, he implicitly taught and explicitly applied a moral principle. “The time to find global solutions [to global warming] is running out,” Francis wrote. “There is therefore a clear, definite and urgent ethical imperative to act.” This is a particular application of the moral principle that every human person is obliged to exercise good stewardship over creation.
As a particular application, this moral counsel depends not only on the veracity of the principle but also on a proper recognition of the situation in question. In other words, if the globe is not warming, and/or human power can not do anything about it, and/or time is not running out, then the principle of good stewardship (which the Church understands infallibly) does not demand moral action in this particular case (which Church leaders must assess prudentially, like everyone else).
In contrast, yesterday’s letter by Pope Francis on the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia stated a moral principle and emphasized the need to apply it properly, but did not specify the particular application. Here is the passage:
The mission of the Christian family is, today as it was yesterday, to announce to the world the love of God through the strength of the Sacrament of Marriage…. We are called to look again at our lifestyle, which is always exposed to the risk of being ‘contaminated’ by a worldly mentality—individualist, consumerist, hedonist—and to rediscover the high road to live and propose the grandeur and beauty of matrimony and the joy of being and making a family.
In this form of teaching, a Churchman will always be completely correct as long as he teaches according to the Magisterium. Thus, in this case, errors can creep in only when the moral principle—which is certain—is denied, ignored, or applied incorrectly by married couples in real life.
Now, to gain the same level of clarity in the first example we must recast the teaching like this: “If global warming is a serious threat, and if we can do something about it, then we have a moral obligation as the stewards of creation to reduce global warming and/or mitigate its effects.”
Retrieved December 12, 2014 from http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/the-city-gates.cfm?id=940
Police critics desperately refuse to attribute crime rate declines to proactive policing, but, as Heather Mac Donald points out in City Journal, their record, at least in New York, is a losing one.
For the last six years or so, Eli Silverman, a retired professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and John Eterno, a professor at Molloy College and a former NYPD cop, have been promoting the idea that the record-breaking New York City crime drop is a mirage. New York precinct commanders have been forced to doctor their crime statistics, they said, because of excessive pressure from top brass to show a continuous crime decline.
Silverman and Eterno placed the blame for this alleged number-fudging on Compstat—the weekly crime-analysis meetings introduced in 1994 by New York police commissioner William Bratton, then in his first tour of duty in that job. Compstat revolutionized policing by holding precinct commanders ruthlessly accountable for crime patterns on their watch; it led to the longest and steepest crime drop on record. But, according to Silverman and Eterno, Compstat became an inflexible mechanism, especially under Ray Kelly, commissioner from 2002 to 2013. It imposed an insatiable demand for crime improvement that could only be satisfied by cooking the books.
Silverman and Eterno’s thesis, however, rested on a methodologically flawed survey of NYPD captains. It ignored the massive commitment that the department makes to data integrity and the severe punishments it metes out to those commanders who can’t explain suspiciously rosy crime drops. Nor did their charges account for independent measures of crime, such as the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey and auto-insurance claims, which tracked the NYPD’s reported crime data to a T. No matter. The NYPD’s many critics, including the New York Times, embraced Silverman and Eterno as part of a larger campaign to discredit the department’s assertive, data-driven style of policing.
If the crime drop of the Kelly years was in good part the product of data dissembling, that crime drop should have halted or even reversed itself now that we are almost a year into Bratton’s second tenure as New York’s top cop. Bratton has distanced himself from some of Kelly’s policies, such as the alleged pressure on cops to conduct pedestrian stops of suspicious individuals. Bratton would presumably also change the allegedly draconian ethos of Compstat under Kelly. But rather than petering out, the New York crime drop has continued. Felonies are down 4 percent this year; absent a December killing spree, homicides will reach their lowest point in 2014 since the modern era of police record-keeping began in 1956.
Retrieved December 12, 2014 from http://www.city-journal.org/2014/eon1210hm.html
In the recent turmoil around American intelligence agencies behavior after 9/11, the views of all concerned—giving you a balanced view—can be read at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/national/cia-interrogation-report/document/
A very nice roundup from The Catholic Thing.
Northern Europe has become one of the world’s least religious regions. British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, has legalized same-sex “marriage” and said that he opposes abortion. . .after twenty weeks of pregnancy. A decade ago, Scandinavian Christian Democrats, whose national flags contain crosses, opposed including references to Christianity’s role in European culture in the European Constitution’s preamble. In today’s Britain and Scandinavia, laissez-faire morality is the reigning political dogma and religious apathy is the dominant worldview.
At the same time, the state churches of the region have retained some social importance. In Britain, the queen remains head of the Church of England, while Anglican bishops are peers in the House of Lords. Meanwhile, polls consistently show that levels of trust in the Lutheran Church are high in Scandinavia. Most Scandinavians are baptized, married (if they marry – over half of births are to non-married couples), and buried by state churches. In Sweden, most families light Advent candles and St. Lucy’s Day processions remain popular.
André Malraux predicted that the 21st century would be religious, or it would not be at all. Sociologists note that, even in secularized societies, people thirst for things spiritual. Despite the aforementioned social and cultural visibility of Protestantism in Northern Europe, however, the Lutheran and Anglican Churches there are dying. British sociologists predict that practicing Anglicans will soon meet the fate of the Dodo and woolly mammoth, falling from 800,000 to just 50,000 by mid-century (Episcopalians face similar disastrous prospects in North America). In Sweden, 4 percent of Lutherans attend services regularly, while the corresponding figures in Norway and Finland are below 2 percent.
By contrast, the Catholic Church is experiencing a mini-renaissance in Northern Europe. There are currently more practicing Catholics than Anglicans in Britain. In Scandinavia, there are about 600,000 Catholics, roughly 3 percent of the region’s population (a proportion similar to that of Catholics in Asia). Certainly, part of this has to do with immigration. Since the European Union expanded to include less prosperous former East Bloc states in 2004, Scandinavia and the British Isles have been deluged by immigrants from the Catholic nations of Poland (2.2 million Poles have left their country in the past decade), Slovakia, Croatia, and Lithuania.
While Mass is celebrated in Polish or Serbo-Croatian across Northern Europe, the region’s indigenous population is also being drawn to the Catholic Church. In the past decade, the number of British seminarians has grown fourfold. This cannot be explained by immigration (young Polish immigrants who enter seminary usually go home) or by short bursts of enthusiasm, such as that after Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2010, as this upward tendency has been ongoing for ten years.
Retrieved November 29, 2014 from http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2014/a-catholic-revival-in-northern-europe.html
The left’s narrative has long identified crime with social disease, so including prison and ‘mass incarceration’ as health issues is their congruent move towards their dreamt-of goal, prison abolition.
The New York Times reports.
When public health authorities talk about an epidemic, they are referring to a disease that can spread rapidly throughout a population, like the flu or tuberculosis.
But researchers are increasingly finding the term useful in understanding another destructive, and distinctly American, phenomenon — mass incarceration. This four-decade binge poses one of the greatest public health challenges of modern times, concludes a new report released last week by the Vera Institute of Justice.
For many obvious reasons, people in prison are among the unhealthiest members of society. Most come from impoverished communities where chronic and infectious diseases, drug abuse and other physical and mental stressors are present at much higher rates than in the general population. Health care in those communities also tends to be poor or nonexistent.
The experience of being locked up — which often involves dangerous overcrowding and inconsistent or inadequate health care — exacerbates these problems, or creates new ones. Worse, the criminal justice system has to absorb more of the mentally ill and the addicted. The collapse of institutional psychiatric care and the surge of punitive drug laws have sent millions of people to prison, where they rarely if ever get the care they need. Severe mental illness is two to four times as common in prison as on the outside, while more than two-thirds of inmates have a substance abuse problem, compared with about 9 percent of the general public.
Common prison-management tactics can also turn even relatively healthy inmates against themselves. Studies have found that people held in solitary confinement are up to seven times more likely than other inmates to harm themselves or attempt suicide.
With all of the turmoil currently in the air about this intersection, some facts are helpful, and this article from City Journal reports them.
When Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, legislators mandated that the attorney general begin studying and reporting on excessive use of force by police. Soon after, the Bureau of Justice Statistics developed a series of recurring studies that measured everything from police behavior in specific situations, like traffic stops, to incidents in which police use force. Much of the data was based not on reports by local police departments, but on direct surveys of citizens, providing some 20 years of information on how the police interact with American citizens, and how those citizens see the police.
If Congress believed that this new data might provide some context and insight for national debates about the use of force by police, such as the one we’re having now in the wake of grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for their role in deadly incidents in Ferguson and Staten Island, legislators were largely mistaken. After the Ferguson grand jury made its ruling, President Obama told the nation that “the law too often feels like it’s being applied in a discriminatory fashion.” Since the Ferguson incident involving Michael Brown and officer Darren Wilson last August, the New York Times has published stories about communities where minorities get stopped more frequently than whites, implying racial discrimination. But these stories ignore Bureau of Justice Statistics data showing that crime victims disproportionately identify minorities as perpetrators of crime, too. Senator Rand Paul has even used Ferguson to launch an attack on the war on drugs, saying that it puts the police in a difficult situation in dealing with the public—though drugs had little to do with the confrontation between Brown and Wilson (except as they may have influenced Brown’s aggressive behavior).
Despite such pronouncements, two decades of data on police interactions with the public don’t support the idea that something extraordinary is afoot, that the police are becoming “militarized” as President Obama has suggested, or that distrust between police and local communities has produced an enormous spike in conflicts. By contrast, the data show that significant crime declines have been accompanied by a leveling off and then a reduction in confrontations with the police, as reported by Americans of all races.
After the 1994 legislation passed, Justice Department researchers began exploring ways to study the issues as Congress had mandated. In 1996, they produced a preliminary report on police/citizen interactions that broadly estimated that some 45 million Americans had some type of contact with law enforcement during the preceding year. Of those 45 million, the study found, slightly more than half a million reported that the police had used force against them. This initial study, regarded as experimental, wasn’t detailed enough to say much more and was subject to large margins of error, but it led to a series of more comprehensive and in-depth reports, produced from 1999 through 2011.
What’s striking in the progression of these later studies is a steady decrease in the number of people having interactions with the police—from about 45 million in 2002 to 40 million in 2011—or from about 21 percent of the 16-and-older population to about 17 percent. One clear reason for the decline has been the corresponding drop in crime: the number of people reporting crimes or other problems to the police fell by about 3.6 million from a peak in 2002. More important, perhaps, was that reports of use of force by police also fell, from 664,000 in 2002 to 574,000 in a 2010 report. Those declines occurred across all races. The number of African-Americans reporting that police used force against them fell from 173,000 to 130,000. Among whites, the number has dropped from a peak of 374,000 to 347,000.
Since 1999, Justice Department studies have also measured how police and citizens interact during more mundane encounters, like traffic stops—vastly expanding the data about how citizens who otherwise don’t have cause to deal with the police might see their performance. In the most recent survey, in 2011, 88.2 percent of those stopped by the police said they thought officers acted properly. There were few significant distinctions by race. Nearly 83 percent of African-Americans judged police behavior to be proper, for instance. The study also asked citizens whether they thought the police had stopped them for a “legitimate” reason—and here the data on race is particularly interesting. Some 80 percent of all drivers viewed their stops as legitimate, compared with 68 percent of African-Americans. But the study also asked drivers to report the race of the officers who stopped them, and African-Americans were just as likely to say that stops initiated by white officers were legitimate as those initiated by black officers. Similarly, white drivers saw no difference in how they were treated by white officers or black officers on this question.
Retrieved December 5, 2014 from http://www.city-journal.org/2014/eon1204sm.html
This article from National Catholic Reporter (NCR) profiles an excellent program in prison that challenges criminal’s minds while introducing them to Catholicism, good idea, good story.
In our book: The Lampstand Prison Ministry: Constructed on Catholic Social Teaching & the History of the Catholic Church, we stressed that the most effective way to reform criminals was intellectually, and Catholicism has the only narrative that can trump that of the criminal/carceral world.
An excerpt from the NCR article.
The only chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society that is located in a prison is at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Shirley, according to the 83-year-old who started it there.
John Collins, who is a member of St. Mary Parish in Shrewsbury and writes columns about the popular Trappist monk for The Catholic Free Press, newspaper of the Worcester diocese, said the chapter is one of 43 in the world.
In January, three prisoners are to have essays published in The Merton Seasonal, a quarterly journal with articles, book reviews and other information of interest to the society’s members.
The prison chapter is an outgrowth of a talk about Merton that Collins gave at the request of Catholics incarcerated there.
Prisoners said they learned about him and other speakers they’ve invited to come and talk to them through The Catholic Free Press and The Pilot, newspaper of the Boston archdiocese, in whose territory the prison is located….
Shortly after ending the St. Mary’s Merton program, Collins said, he received a letter sent to him at the parish. In it Shawn Fisher, a prisoner and secretary for the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel at the Shirley prison, said they’d been reading his Merton columns in The Catholic Free Press and asked him to speak about Merton there, he said.
Speaking of Collins’ program, Deacon Arthur Rogers, a Catholic chaplain at the prison, said: “The men took to it, and he took to it.” He and Collins said about 12 to 20 medium-security prisoners attend the program the third Wednesday of each month.
“What I want to do is a book that will help them in their prayer life, and I wanted to go beyond devotional prayer,” Collins said, explaining why he chose New Seeds of Contemplation. “I wanted them to have an appreciation of quiet, interior prayer, just waiting for the Lord.”
“It challenges the minds,” Rogers said. “Some of these guys are pretty sharp. They like to be challenged.” He said he has never seen anything like this in the prison system.
Retrieved November 24, 2014 from http://ncronline.org/news/people/merton-discussions-challenge-prisoners-minds-foster-their-prayer-life