Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Forgotten, But Not Gone.

Margalit Fox has written the first book of the summer that I am excited about reading, The Riddle of the Labyrinth. It's the story of Alice Kober. As the New York Times review summarizes:
The events of the past grow more alien as our distance from them increases, receding until they become, finally, unknowable. Unknowable, that is, but for those who take it upon themselves to decode the symbols, to examine what others see as indecipherable or unimportant, to sift a story from the chaff and to resurrect names, places, actions and ideas that would otherwise be lost. Alice Kober, the subject of Margalit Fox’s new book, was one such scholar. A classics professor at Brooklyn College in the 1930s and ’40s, she played a key role in solving one of the 20th century’s great academic riddles: how to read a 3,400-year-old script known as Linear B, unearthed amid the ruins of the Minoan civilization of Crete, the mythic home of the labyrinth of Daedalus and the Minotaur.

Kober deserves much of the credit for “one of the most prodigious intellectual feats of modern times,” Ms. Fox writes. Yet after Kober’s death in 1950, she was promptly forgotten.
Kober's contribution was neglected in favor of that of Michael Ventris, who built on her work and finished cracking the code of Linnar B.

Kober, like Ventris, was an amateur scholar.

I'm reminded of the brilliant student of Syriac, and other ancient dialects, C.R.C. Allberry. Like Kober and Ventris, he devoted his life to "decoding" without a Rosetta Stone a ancient language with the result that, for the first time since Augustine's time, written work of the Manichees themselves could be read, instead of relying on what their more orthodox foes described them as believing. Allberry published the portion of the psalms as A Manichaean Psalm Book-Part II in 1938; he died in World War II, in combat. Allberry's achievement is hailed, and his work used as a means of exploring the poetry and theology of the Manichees by Saeve Soederbergh, who pays generous tribute to Allberry.

(By the way, this is so not my field. I discovered Allberry's work through the depiction of him by his close friend C.P. Snow, in Snow's novel The Light and the Dark; Snow's evocation of the life in Cambridge between the wars, his skill at sounding the depths of his friend's character drew me in, and when I discovered there was a real life model for the fiction, I was curious to find if Allberry had left any trace. I found very little accessible--but stumbled on a copy of the Psalm Book, which is the only genuinely rare book I own. I doubt it's terribly valuable, mind you; too old brandy as Allberry and Snow would say.)

As to Kober, as a result of her work:
When the code was finally cracked, the result did not immediately appear equal to the intensity of the pursuit; if the archaeologists on Crete had hoped to find the Minoan equivalent of the Library of Congress, instead they seem to have unearthed the offices of the I.R.S.

But even bureaucracy has its poetry; thanks to the decoded script, we are introduced to an island where people worshiped familiar gods like Poseidon alongside intriguing ones like the Mistress of the Labyrinth, and where folks were walking around with names like Gladly Welcome, Snub-Nosed and — here’s the guy who must have been the life of Knossos back in the day — Having the Bottom Bare.

Ms. Fox is attentive to touching traces of idiosyncratic humanity, past and ancient: The church pamphlets and library slips Kober cut up to serve as index cards during the paper shortages of World War II; the “scribal doodles” — a bull, a man, a maze — found on the tablets; the mark a Cretan scribe made when erasing a character on wet clay with his thumb all those centuries ago. “To look at the tablets even now is to be in the presence of other people — living, thinking, literate people,” she writes.
For me, that's worth the price of admission. I have an affection for scholars who expand our horizons and whose work lives on even after their names are brushed aside in history. I look forward to "meeting" Alice Kober, and am glad that she is being accorded the recognition that is her due, at long last, her due. At least she, unlike Allberry, didn't have to become fictional in order to do so.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Antonin Scalia, Hypocrisy, and the Thanatos Drive



In McQuiggin v. Perkins, decided yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided by a narrow majority that actual innocence, if proved, serves as a gateway through which a petitioner may pass whether the impediment to consideration of the merits of a constitutional claim is a procedural bar, as it was in Schlup v. Delo and House v. Bell, or expiration of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act statute of limitations, as in this case. Or, in English,the Court decided that in the case of a genuinely innocent person unjustly sentenced to death, habeas corpus may still be available even if the one year statute of limitations to file has been blown. This doesn't mean the convict will be released automatically; just that his or her claim will be heard.

Of course, principled conservative Antonin Scalia is apoplectic:
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) provides that a “1-year period of limitation shall apply” to a state prisoner’s application for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. 28 U. S. C. §2244(d)(1). The gaping hole in today’s opinion for the Court is its failure to answer the crucial question upon which all else depends: What is the source of the Court’s power to fashion what it concedes is an “exception” to this clear statutory command? That question is unanswered because there is no answer. This Court has no such power, and not one of the cases cited by the opinion says otherwise. The Constitution vests legislative power only in Congress, which never enacted the exception the Court creates today. That inconvenient truth resolves this case.

****

It would be marvellously inspiring to be able to boast that we have a criminal-justice system in which a claim of ‘actual innocence’ will always be heard, no matter how late it is brought forward, and no matter how much the failure to bring it forward at the proper time is the defendant’s own fault.” Bousley, 523 U. S., at 635 (SCALIA, J., dissenting). I suspect it is this vision of perfect justice through abundant procedure that impels the Court today. Of course, “we do not have such a system, and no society unwilling to devote unlimited resources to repetitive criminal litigation ever could.” Ibid. Until today, a district court could dismiss an untimely petition without delving into the underlying facts. From now on, each time an untimely petitioner claims innocence—and how many prisoners asking to be let out of jail do not?—the district court will be obligated to expend limited judicial resources wading into the murky merits of the petitioner’s innocence claim. The Court notes “that tenable actual-innocence gateway pleas are rare.” Ante, at 2. That discouraging reality, intended as reassurance, is in truth “the condemnation of the procedure which has encouraged frivolous cases.” Brown, 344 U. S., at 537 (Jackson, J., concurring in result).
It has now been 60 years since Brown v. Allen, in which we struck the Faustian bargain that traded the simple elegance of the common-law writ of habeas corpus for federal-court power to probe the substantive merits of state-court convictions. Even after AEDPA’s pass through the Augean stables, no one in a position to observe the functioning of our byzantine federal-habeas system can believe it an efficient device for separating the truly deserving from the multitude of prisoners pressing false claims. “[F]loods of stale, frivolous and repetitious petitions inundate the docket of the lower courts and swell our own. . . . It must prejudice the occasional meritorious applicant to be buried in a flood of worthless ones.” Id., at 536–537.
So, there. Scalia the principled conservative would rule that the Court cannot impose equitable tolling in a statute that does not expressly provide for it. The text must be followed in all things, right?

Except, of course, for the fact that Scalia doesn't consistently apply statutory or constitutional texts when they don't reach results that he favors. A minor but salient example that I've pointed out before, in Bell Atlantic Company v. Twombly, the Court in an opinion Scalia joined overturned 50 years of unbroken precedent interpreting the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure consistent with Congress's expressed policy that pleadings be liberally construed to create a brand new, tougher standard that made it easier for defendants to get courts to dismiss cases. The statute hadn't been amended, Congress had not changed the declaration of policy, even; the Court just didn't like the result.

Similarly, Scalia has said in interviews that the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause ("no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws") does not apply to women, because the Framers would not have intended it do so, even though they used the broad word "person," traditionally understood to include women as well as men.

And, famously, in Bush v. Gore, Scalia joined an opinion that was not only wildly inconsistent with his previously expressed interpretation of the 14th Amendment, but which blatantly ignored the tie-breaking mechanism in Article II sec 2 of the Constitution. Moreover, Scalia joined Chief Justice Rehnquist's concurrence, which overturned the Florida Supreme Court's decision as a matter of Florida law, an area where both Scalia and Rehnquist had previously asserted (quite correctly) that the federal courts have no jurisdiction.

Oh, and that last bit--that habeas corpus review was initially limited to purely jurisdictional issues? Not so much.

All of which is to say that textual integrity is for Scalia a tool, not a goal. He rules as his gut tells him, following the text when convenient, and disregarding it in favor of some other hermeneutic when it isn't. And Scalia has long been committed to the notion that the State's interest in finality of criminal convictions is far more important than the protection of innocent defendants caught up in the mistakes of the justice system.

Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Everybody Knows the Deal is Rotten...[Humanities Style]



So in April, I posted this little dirge for job prospects in academia for not just law school graduates but for humanities graduate students. The seriousness of the law school's straits really hit home to me when an insider, Paul Campos, created a whole blog dedicated to exposing the extent to which law schools were saddling the unemployable (i.e., redundant lawyers) with the undischargeable (i.e., debt).

Now, in terms of graduate school in the humanities, comes Philip Sandifer (whom I've been reading for his Doctor Who exegesis), on a similar mission:
Which is, as it happens, terribly silly. Academia is not a meritocracy. It’s a lottery, in which the grand prize - a tenure track position - is dangled over the heads of everybody so that we agree to work for the appalling wages that adjunct faculty get. I’ll use numbers from the University of Akron, since I have them ready to hand: adjuncts make up 70% of the Univeristy of Akron faculty, and teach 62% of freshman and sophomore classes. They make up 15% of the faculty budget. The annual income for a lecturer teaching a 4/3 load - i.e. the equivalent of full time - is $20,038, which isn’t even $2000 more than the median income for fast food workers in Ohio.

Meanwhile, the odds on tenure track appointments are astonishingly grim. It’s not unusual for a job to get five hundred applicants. There were, last year, maybe two dozen jobs in my field. This is, to be clear, a change. Academia was not always dominated by part time labor. There has been an active decision at multiple universities to move away from full-time tenured faculty and towards cheaper adjuncts. There has been an active decision to expand PhD programs because PhD students provide extremely cheap labor. There has been an active decision to allow skyrocketing administrative salaries and increased bloat of administration while refusing to expand faculty. There’s been an active decision to favor MOOCs and other such solutions, often prepared by for-profit companies, for the sheer cheapness of them.

. . .

San Jose State University’s philosophy department recently penned a letter objecting to the adoption of a for-profit MOOC using a lecture from a Harvard professor. In it, they point out the staggering perversity of a majority-minority campus watching rich white Harvard students engage in dialogue with a professor while they have no access to said professor for questions. This in a course that is supposedly about social justice. The lesson isn’t how to act like an aristocrat - it’s realizing your place on the social ladder.

This is the sad and tragic fact of teaching. The bulk of the curriculum is obedience and the toleration of monotony - the primary skills needed for the bulk of jobs students at lower level state universities are ever going to have. The value of a college degree is proof that you have the personal responsibility necessary to navigate four years of courses. In the end little more than doing the assignments is necessary. .... Students are simultaneously taught to chase the grade and that the grade is achievable through empty labor. The result is students who are extremely good at school, a process visibly distinct from intellectual thought. My students are better at passing reading quizzes without doing the reading than they are at actually reading and analyzing literature, and it’s difficult to blame them for their chosen skillsets.

And I just can’t participate in a system that gouges those students with crushing debt just to teach them the art of drudgery.
I can't speak to the truth of this myself, of course, other than to say that this rings true according to all I'm reading and hearing at second hand. My own adjuncting was done as a lark, for the sheer joy of the cut-and-thrust of classroom byplay, and the even greater pleasure of seeing younger minds catch fire. Oh, not every night, of course, but, ah, the sheer joy of it when it happened.

Seeing Sandifer, who clearly shares that same love of teaching, turn against an academic career is sad, and his reasons make me wonder at how much talent we're losing in what has become a badly run business that bilks its customers, when it should be so very much more.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Belated Bede Day Post

I missed the feast day of one of my favorites, the Venerable Bede. My favorite passage:
[Edwin, the king of Northumbria, urged by his Christian wife Ethelberga, and by the bishop Paulinus,] answered that he was both willing and bound to receive the new faith which the bishop taught, but that he wished, nevertheless, to confer about it with his principal friends and counselors, to the end that, if they also were of his opinion, they might all be cleansed together in Christ, the Fount of Life. Paulinus consenting, the king did as he said; for holding a council with the wise men, he asked of every one in particular what he thought of the new doctrine and the new worship that was preached.

****

Another of the king's chief men, approving of Coifi's words and exhortations, presently added: " The present life man, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter amid your officers and ministers, with a good fire in the midst whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and immediately another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry but after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space but of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.'
A beautiful evocation of the transitory and contingent nature of life, that makes me think of this marvelous version of a beautiful and profound song:



Happy Bede Day, even if late.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Forced March Forward on Fugee

The fallout from the scandal in New Jersey of Father Michael Fugee, the priest who, all now admit, violated the terms of his criminal plea bargain (resolving the criminal charges based on his admitted sexual groping of a teenage boy), and improperly engaged in youth ministry continues, and, if anything, has accelerated. Today, Newark Archbishop John Myers announced the resignation of his Vicar-General, John Doran, who signed the plea agreement with Fugee on behalf of the Archdiocese. Archbishop Myers has an opinion piece in tomorrow's Star-Ledger in which he places the blame pretty squarely on Doran and portrays himself as a victim. He writes, "We are not perfect. But people who suggest we have not taken seriously the oversight of our clergy and do not put the security and safety of our families and parishioners, especially our children, at the forefront of our ministry are just plain wrong."

Well, half a mo, guv.

Let's have a look at the shifting accounts of Archbishop Myers with respect to Fr. Fugee. From the Archbishop's op-ed, May 25, 2013:
When I first learned several weeks ago that Father Michael Fugee may have violated a lifetime ban on ministry to minors, I immediately ordered an outside law firm to conduct a full and thorough investigation of the matter. I told the firm I wanted to know what happened and why. I said I not only wanted to know if there was any wrongdoing, but that if there was wrongdoing and it rose to the point that authorities should be notified, I wanted them notified as well.

The investigation uncovered certain operational vulnerabilities in our own systems. We found that the strong protocols presently in place were not always observed.
In a similar letter to parishioners, also dated tomorrow, Archbishop Myers repeats this account, with a salient difference: "I immediately ordered an outside law firm to conduct a full and thorough investigation of the matter and to cooperate with the Bergen County Prosecutor in all areas." (my italics.)

He immediately ordered a full and thorough investigation, and full cooperation with the prosecutor's office. Got it. So that is, of course, why the Archdiocese initially maintained that Fugee had done nothing wrong, hinting that it was aware of his behavior all the time. But it actially is worse than that. Look at it in context.

On February 7, responding to a story about Fugee's promotion, Archbishop Myers wrote to the clergy under his supervision that:
The Archdiocese followed all of the[] elements of the Charter and the Memorandum of Understanding in the more-than-a-decade-old case involving Father Michael Fugee. At the end of the entire process, Father Fugee's acquittal and dismissal of all charges, and the [Archdiocese's] Review Board's conclusion that no sexual abuse occurred, , guided me in my decision to allow him to return to ministry. It is also important to note that, in reaching my decision, the recomendations of the County Prosecutor regarding Father Fugee's ability to return to ministry and future assignments in ministry carried great weight. We have followed these recommendations fully.
Um, wow. A couple noteworthy aspects to this letter, before we take the next step:

1. Archbishop Myers is clearly claiming that the decision was one he personally made;

2. Likewise, he is clearly claiming personal familiarity and full compliance with (see p. 1 of the Letter) with the terms and conditions of the Memorandum of Understanding;

3. He is also claiming to have fully followed the prosecutor's recommendations.

Now, a few points. First, Father Fugee was convicted, not acquitted. His conviction was reversed on the basis of a faulty jury instruction and an error in the judge's charge to the jury. The Memorandum of Understanding explicitly recites the latter ground, to which the Archdiocese is a signatory, recites that fact, and that the Memorandum of Understanding was entered into in order to resolve the case without a retrial. So--no acquittal, savvy?

Second, the full compliance with the Memorandum of Understanding? Not so much, as the document makes clear:
...[A]s part of his employment/vocation with the Roman Catholic Church, [Fugee] shall not have any unsupervised contact with or any duties that call for the supervision/ministry of any child or children under the age of 18.

Article 4 It is agreed and understood that the Archdiocese shall not assign or or otherwise place Michael Fugee in any position within the Archdiocese that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or to minister to any minor child or children under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved. This includes, but is not limited to, presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.

It is agreed and understood that Michael Fugee shall not accept any position within the Archdiocese of Newark or any other Archdiocese under which he is assigned or or otherwise placed Michael Fugee that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or to minister to any minor child or children under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved. This includes, but is not limited to, presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.
(Emphasis added.)

Oh, but wait--the Archbishop just didn't know about the violations in February 2013, right? Not if the April 28, 2013 statement of Archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness is anything to go by; far from expressing shock or chagrin, Goodness defended Father Fugee:
Goodness denied the agreement had been breached, saying the archdiocese has interpreted the document to mean Fugee could work with minors as long as he is under the supervision of priests or lay ministers who have knowledge of his past and of the conditions in the agreement.

"We believe that the archdiocese and Father Fugee have adhered to the stipulations in all of his activities, and will continue to do so," Goodness said. Even if Fugee heard private confessions from minors, those supervising Fugee were always nearby, Goodness said.

"The fact is, he has done nothing wrong," the spokesman said. "Nobody has reported any activity that is inappropriate, and I think that’s important to know, especially given that he’s a figure whose name is public and whose past is public."
Several days later, on May 2, Father Fugee issued a statement embedded within one from the Archdiocese, in which he claimed to have performed all the acts in question without permission or knowledge of the Archbishop, which the Archdiocese adds in its portion of the statement would not have been granted, and of which it learned only two weeks ago. But the veracity of that statement is, to put it with the maximum of charity, questionable. Because if you're an Archbishop who's just discovered that a convicted sex offender you have given a second chance to has deceived you and flouted the agreement your Archdiocese has signed alongside him, you don't send out your flack to defend the guy, do you?

Sorry, I've been a litigator for 20 years, and my detector for the argumentum excrementum taurorem is pinging. Loud.

Several days after Fugee resigned, so too did each of the youth ministers and the pastor who had allowed Fugee to participate in youth retreats and other activities with teens. These activities were quite open, by the way, sometimes being shared in photos on Facebook.

Meanwhile, the faithful, clerical and lay, are up in arms, with New Jersey politicos State Senate president Stephen Sweeney, Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) calling for Myers to step down, the County Prosecutor continues to investigate, possibly weighing charges against the Archdiocese. In sum, the laity and secular society are sending a clear message: We're not accepting the notion that the Church is the sole judge of its own clerics' behavior, even the highest of them.

And it's working. Ever read Flashman at the Charge? The bit where Flashy and Scud East are fleeing their captivity in Russia (carrying Valentina, the daughter of the officer with who they've been billeted, whom East loves and Flashy, well, acts as usual with), only to be pursued? And as East frantically drives, Flashy starts trying to lighten the sled on which they are speeding over the tundra, hurling provisions over the side, and then, with a (rare) pang of regret, tosses the sleeping Valentina tenderly over the side into a snowbank, sincerely hoping her own people get to her before the bloody wolves do--

Yeah, that soft, muffled sound you heard was Doran hitting the snowbank, Valentina-style.

Don't believe for a minute the rhetoric about reform; the fear of a laity and of secular authority at last awakened to their responsibility, and hoping to placate them, lull them back into old patterns of deference and respect, are at operation here.

And that's why I believe, as I wrote Wednesday, that the formation of Catholic Whistleblowers network should be hailed, as conservative Rod Dreher quite properly does. Only so can the Church be healed; the hierarchy are still too committed to their culture of clericalism, for the reasons I hope to explain at greater length in future.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Catholics for Accountability--and Those Against

I believe that this qualifies as good news:
They call themselves Catholic Whistleblowers, a newly formed cadre of priests and nuns who say the Roman Catholic Church is still protecting sexual predators.Although they know they could face repercussions, they have banded together to push the new pope to clean house and the American bishops to enforce the zero-tolerance policies they adopted more than a decade ago.

The group began organizing quietly nine months ago without the knowledge of their superiors or their peers, and plan to make their campaign public this week. Most in the steering group of 12 have blown the whistle on abusers in the past, and three are canon lawyers who once handled abuse cases on the church’s behalf. Four say they were sexually abused as children.
The fact that one of this group is Rev. Thomas Doyle, who has been indefatigable in his zeal for justice for victims over three decades is immensely encouraging. The participation of Anne Barrett Doyle, of the indispensable resource BishopAccountability.org, which curates a wealth of primary documents as well as helpful context-providing summaries and timelines is also very encouraging.

Of course--it never fails, does it?--Bill Donohue is appalled. After all, he writes, the crisis is long over, ending in the 1980s. He's back again to discounting Fr. Michael Fugee, whose confession to a 2001 offense is now reduced to a triviality:
One might think that a group called Catholic Whistleblowers would blow the whistle on bishops who are shielding molesting priests. But they can’t even name one. The best they can do is mention the arrest of Father Michael Fugee in Newark for violating a judicial order. In the 12 years since his case was thrown out of court—for groping a teenager while wrestling in front of family members—there have been no complaints. No matter, this is all about getting Archbishop John Myers, not Fugee.
Actually, Fr. Fugee has been charged with criminal contempt for violating his plea agreement, one which the Archdiocese co-signed, and which the Archbishop's spokesman first denied Fugee had violated, only to change the story days later to claim the Archdiocese did not know of the conduct he had scant days earlier defended as lawful. So, yeah, it looks like Archbishop Myers has been shielding a priest, previously found guilty of molesting, who entered a plea agreement rather than face retrial, and who violated the terms of the agreement. In 2013.

Donohue is so defensive of the hierarchy that he will can't keep his stories straight. On May 3, he wrote that:
Father Fugee now says he violated his agreement with the Newark Archdiocese and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office; thus, his decision to step down. His dishonesty is appalling. Moreover, he has clearly impugned his character.
...
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: any priest who is guilty of committing a crime, especially sexual abuse, should have the book thrown at him; he will get no defense from the Catholic League.
But now the very act about which Fugee was dishonest, and which "impugned his character" (Donohue uses language like a drunk lumberjack with an axe) is guilty of a mere triviality with no ill intent--it was in front of the boy's family, after all. One of the two incidents happened in front of the boy's mother, according to Fugee's confession, but the priest also notes that the boy "shut down immediately" when grabbed sexually by the priest, who admitted his excitement on both occasions.

Catholics deserve a better defender than this overwrought bullyboy. Thomas Doyle is certainly one. Pope Francis may well prove to be one; he's certainly off to a good start.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Song Remains the Same...

From yesterday's Newark Star Ledger:
Late in 2007, members of a secretive review board in the Archdiocese of Newark began the task of determining whether the Rev. Michael Fugee had committed sexual abuse by groping the genitals of a 13-year-old boy during two impromptu wrestling matches.

If the allegations were found credible — and if Archbishop John J. Myers concurred — Fugee would be banned from ministry forever in keeping with a landmark zero-tolerance rule adopted by the nation’s bishops in 2002.

The board, composed mainly of lay people appointed by Myers, had at its disposal Fugee’s police confession, documents from his criminal trial and a copy of an agreement he signed with law enforcement pledging he would never again work with children. It also had evidence of Fugee’s entry in a state rehabilitation program, itself an acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

Yet the panel found no sexual abuse occurred, clearing the way for the priest’s eventual return to ministry.
When it subsequently became clear that Fugee was violating the restrictions contained in the agreement, "Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, initially said Fugee’s actions were within the scope of his agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office because he was supervised at all times. Goodness later reversed himself, acknowledging the agreement had been violated but saying Fugee acted alone."

As for Abp. Myers, "[l]ate last week, he returned from a weeklong trip to Poland, where he celebrated Mass with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the top Vatican official in charge of policing sex abuse within the church."

How very nice.

The fact that the internal review panel could ignore the criminal conviction (overturned, it is true, but on a judicial error, not on inocence-related grounds) the plea bargain and the terms of the agreement, and Fr. Fugee's confession, is astonishing. Admittedly not as astonishing as the speed with which Arhbishop Myers' spokesman and Bill Donohue can reverse themselves on the fact while blaming others for their troubles, but pretty astonishing nonetheless.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Falling Out of the World


(Photo by D.L. Carson)


So last weekend was the end-of-term retreat, and my first return in a long time, longer than I like, to Holy Cross Monastery, a place that has always had a touch of the numinous for me. The brothers are warm, gracious hosts, the food is excellent, the grounds beautiful, the services--

ah, there's something about the regular services, in the beautifully simple chapel, with the voices chanting in unison, moments of silence to allow you to simply,

well, fall out of the world.

I don't mean run away from the world, I mean fall out of the world--disengage from the everyday, the routine, get a little perspective, and plunge back in, refreshed, rejuvenated, and possible renewed.

I first ran across that phrase on Philip Sandifer's blog, and if borrowing a theme from a highly intellectual discussion of Doctor Who seems a weird inspiration under which to gather some thoughts about a retreat, well, take it up with this guy. But "falling out of the world" appeals to me as a metaphor for a retreat, and there's even a Doctor Who metaphor for it--in the Russell T. Davies era, that lovely moment in the opening credits when the TARDIS, hurtling through the Time Vortex, suddenly takes an elegant, nice little pause so we can see her, and then, after getting her bearings and sauntering through our field of vision, why, hurtles back in.

Here it is (at 0:11-0:14):



Which explains why I haven't been posting much, right? After all, it takes a little, after falling out of and then back into the world to resume all of the routines of daily living.

Oh, and if you haven't already, get a chance to see The Way. It's a beautiful, touching and funny movie, well worth the time.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wager of Battle

The friend whom I have alluded to as my "Best Critic" because of all the assistance I have received from his close reading of my work over the years and I made a bet yesterday, even though I'm generally not a betting man. Per the terms of the wager, I'm posting it here, and asking you all to remind us when it comes due.

The wager:

The parties hereto wager upon the proposition that, prior to the November 2016 elections, a measure to impeach or articles of impeachment against President Barack Obama shall be introduced in the House of Representatives, shall reach the floor and be debated, and that at least one-third of the Republican caucus shall vote in favor thereof.

Taking the affirmative: Anglocat.

Taking the negative: Best Critic. BC adds that he estimates his odds of winning at 60-40.

Anglocat adds that he can't compute odds, being nearly functionally innumerate.

Stakes:$10

Sworn to and subscribed this 14th day of May, 2013.

*******************end document*********************

A note: Neither of us believes that any actual high crime or misdemeanor or reasonable variant thereof is likely to be identified; it's all down to our estimation of how crazed the GOP base is, and how much the House Republicans will fall over themselves to pander to its hatred of the President.

So who thinks I've got this, and who thinks its a case of a fool and his money?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Anatomy of a Scandal

I was largely incommunicado for a few days, so missed a couple of things within my bailiwick. So, OK, let's get this clear:

1. This is not a scandal.

The attack on the consulate of Benghazi was a tragedy, and, until I see something other than primal screaming from the critical testimony at the hearings, I'm presuming that the Report of the State Department Accountability Review Board has it approximately right. I'm open to persuasion, mind you. But the hair-splitting headline chasing gymnastics of Darrell Issa? Unpersuasive is a flattering description. (On Issa, I'll outsource my commentary to congressional expert Anthony Clark, who knows wherof he writes.)

2. This is a scandal. Singling out groups for governmental scrutiny based on their political views is, whatever one thinks of the views in question, absolutely reprehensible, and one of the most overt violations of the First Amendment one can imagine. I am, as anyone who reads this blog regularly might have gathered, not a fan of the Tea Party. But the protections of the First Amendment are not, thank heaven, limited to those whose views are in favor with the Administration of the day, or even to people who are "mainstream." The use of tax audits as a political weapon has a dire provenance, and there is, simply, no justification for targeting taxpayers and organizations by political belief. It's not just illegal, it's profoundly subversive of democracy. The President's condemnation was a good first step, but I hope he will follow though and make sure that the investigation is thorough, and that the results are transparent, and that remedial action be taken as appropriate.



We the People should hold the President to those words.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Across the Great Divide...



I don't often visit the conservative Anglican blogs, but I sometimes sneak a peek. This post I found interesting, not because I agree with Sarah Hey on the specifics of her exchanges with the individuals in question (I seem to have missed that one), but because I think she is right, most regrettably on this:
I’m guessing that most of us within TEC have noticed that public exchanges between conservatives and revisionists within the Anglican Communion have grown far far more rare, now, with revisionists avoiding the conservative blogs and conservatives avoiding the revisionist blogs.

I personally think that’s probably a good thing. Once one has established the boundaries of the vast chasm between the two groups in foundational worldviews, there’s little left to say, other than running through the “prayer wheel” of arguments, which we all already know anyway. The problem is not “the arguments”—it’s that none of us accept the other side’s presuppositions or even basic definitions of the most basic of theological concepts.
Now, where I disagree with Ms. Hey is on that last sentence; I think that it is sometimes, maybe often, true, but I think that we're often missing our commonalities. Also, of course, I think it's not a good thing that we've lost the knack of talking to each other without yelling. Let me address both points.

In many ways, I am much more conservative than many of my fellow "reappraisers" or "revisionists" or whatever you want to call us. I am an actual honest to goodness creedal Christian who accepts the truth--not metaphorical truth, either, of the Creed. I believe that the Gospels are historically very reliable--at least as reliable as the biographies of the Roman Emperors who lived roughly contemporarily with Jesus; Suetonius, Cassius Dio, and Tacitus raise issues of historical accuracy and interpretation every bit as intractable as those presented by the differences in the Four Gospels, and yet the historicity of accounts of Claudius, or of Caligula, or of Augustus is not subject to the level of skepticism that th every existence of Jesus engenders in some circles. You can basically sign me up to Charles Gore's account in The Reconstruction of Belief (1921) of the historical veracity of the miracles and Resurrection, and the accounts given in that book and in Lux Mundi (1889) of the Atonement. I'm not a believer in Penal Substitutionary Atonement theories, but in the centrality of the Atonement? Yep.

So does that make me a conservative theologically?

Well, just as the Gospel has strengthened me in my belief in liberation and equality for women it has strengthened my evolution from a slightly conservative Roman Catholic childhood to a belief that my LGBT brothers and sisters must live into the fullness of their integrity, and that the strictures in the OT and St. Paul do not reflect the Holy Spirit, but the age in which Paul lived on both topics. I think that St. Paul's breakthrough moments are far more important than his moments of falling back into the spirit of his time--there is more truth in "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" than in "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

And I believe, with all my heart in the critical importance of "Judge not, that ye be not judged."

I acknowledge many readings of the Gospel, and I'm not uncomfortable with my fellow "revisionists" and their efforts to take Scripture on board. That's because most of them are (the ones I know, at any rate) deeply in love with Christ and with his teachings. Efforts to square modern or (zoinks!) postmodern thought with the Gospel leave me cold, but my reaction to them is that of C.S. Lewis to John A.T. Robinson:
The Bishop of Woolwich will disturb most of us Christian laymen less than he anticipates. We have long ago abandoned belief in a God who sits on a throne in a localized heaven. We call this belief anthropomorphism, and it was officially condemned before our time. . . .We have always thought of God as being not only "in" and "above" but also "below" us....His view of Jesus as a window seems wholly orthodox (he that hath seen me hath seen the Father....Thus, though sometimes puzzled, I am not shocked by his article. His heart, though perhaps in some danger of bigotry, is in the right place.
I mention all this because I think that Ms. Hey overestimates the extent to which we do not share one faith; while I don't miss vitriolic flame wars, I think we lose something when liberals and conservatives divorce each other, a recognition that our way is not the only way, and that our assumptions that we understand God are partial, fragmentary and misleading--"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face".

We get too certain of our premises, and of our conclusions. I've gotten too sure of myself at times, and have benefitted form more traditionalist comments that revealed the flaws in my own reasoning. And that has led to further exchanges, I'm glad to say. In addition to being pleasant and wholesome in and of themselves, friendships with those we disagree on subjects we are passionate about can help protect us from confusing our own commitments withthose required by God, and as well against that great danger Lewis warned us about: that of The Inner Ring.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Gun Shy

Now, let me be the first to admit that I'm a little, shall we say, gun shy? Not completely;I had an uncle who taught me to shoot one when I was a boy, and enjoyed it. But this story and this story, and, finally, this: Well, time for Uncle John tae tell the tale, innit? OK, when my sister and I were eleven, and my grandmother had died, our parents and we spent a lot of time over at my grandfather's house. We were all, I'm pretty sure, emotionally numb, and, having loved our grandmother very much, nobody was thinking too clearly, so my sister and I were left alone while the adults went to the funeral home. We did what children left alone in a house they know but which has mysteries would do: explore. As my sister and I were snooping around (more realistically), she opened a drawer, finding within it a small, snub -nosed gun. Thinking it was a toy, she assumed a firing stance a la Kate Jackson, called out to me,"Charlie's Angels!"

Well, I thought it was a toy, too, and swatted her hand away from pointing at my chest. She pulled the trigger, and a loud noise, a smell of cordite, and a surprisingly small hole in the wall later, we realized that it wasn't a toy. Oh, and that I was still there. And intact. So I had that going for me.

So it goes.

******

The thing that I find so bewildering about the gun debate is the nature of the interests asserted as so paramount that they must, must outweigh even the most minimal regulation of weapons in the interest of reducing avoidable carnage (more here)--carnage that continues to mount in the nearly 100 days since Newtown, and can be summarized thus:
In 2010, gun-related injuries accounted for 6570 deaths of children and young people (1 to 24 years of age). That includes 7 deaths per day among people 1 to 19 years of age. Gun injuries cause twice as many deaths as cancer, 5 times as many as heart disease, and 15 times as many as infections
Against this, we have asserted interests that are legitimate but, in essence, trivial--the sportsman's and sportswoman's enjoyment of hunting, target shooting, and the like, or, quite frankly, inextricably intertwined with neo-confederate weirdness. Leaving the latter to the side, the tragedy is that the former--worthy of accommodation, not a bad thing in esse--has been raised by our society to a shibboleth. Even the regulations expressly deemed constitutional by Antonin Scalia's opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller are opposed as if they were the harbingers of tyranny.

Why? When I first read Gary Wills's story Our Moloch, I thought it was too strident. Now, as I look at the failure of even minimal reform and see the pro-gun forces striving to force every community to live in the shadow of the gun, I'm not so sure. Culture of death? Sadly, yes.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Father Fugee Goes Down the Memory Hole!

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark has now released a statement in which it has done a complete 180 degree turn in the story of confessed pedophile priest Michael Fugee:
On Thursday, May 2, Fr. Michael Fugee, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, wrote the following to The Most Reverend John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark:

“For the good of the Church and for my peace, I have requested permission to leave public exercise of my priestly ministry.

“In conscience, I feel it necessary to make clear to all that my actions described in recent news stories were outside of my assigned ministry within the Archdiocese. The leadership of the Archdiocese of Newark, especially Archbishop John Myers, did not know or approve of my actions. My failure to request the required permissions to engage in those ministry activities is my fault, my fault alone.

“I am sorry that my actions have caused pain to my Church and to her people.”

Archbishop Myers granted this request on May 2.

****

Following the Memorandum of Understanding, the Archdiocese did not assign Fr. Fugee to any post involving ministry with minors. His assignments were supervised administrative positions located at the Archdiocesan Center in Newark. Fr. Fugee was under continual supervision during the exercise of these ministerial duties.

The Archdiocese only learned about two weeks ago when approached by a reporter that Fr. Fugee had engaged in other activities or ministries. The activities written about in recent news stories were not part of his assigned ministry. Had the Archdiocese known about them at the time, permission to undertake them would not have been granted.

Neither Archbishop Myers nor others in the leadership of the Archdiocese gave Fr. Fugee permission to work in any ministry other than those ministries that were physically located within the Archdiocesan Center. He did not seek, nor would it have been granted, permission to engage in activities involving minors either through the Archdiocese or at any other diocese in the state. He failed to follow established procedures and protocols in place among all of the dioceses in the state designed to prevent unauthorized ministries.
Ah, well. That story sounds much better. Of course, it's wildly inconsistent with the response of Jim Goodness, the Archbishop's spokesman as quoted in the Star Ledger on April 28:
But Goodness denied the agreement had been breached, saying the archdiocese has interpreted the document to mean Fugee could work with minors as long as he is under the supervision of priests or lay ministers who have knowledge of his past and of the conditions in the agreement.

"We believe that the archdiocese and Father Fugee have adhered to the stipulations in all of his activities, and will continue to do so," Goodness said. Even if Fugee heard private confessions from minors, those supervising Fugee were always nearby, Goodness said.

"The fact is, he has done nothing wrong," the spokesman said. "Nobody has reported any activity that is inappropriate, and I think that’s important to know, especially given that he’s a figure whose name is public and whose past is public."
So, a week ago, the Archdiocese defended allowing Fugee to act in the manner that it now denies knowing about. Now it denies having given him such permission, and states that Archbishop John Myers would have denied such permission.

Of course, the reliably reprehensible Bill Donohue seizes upon this radical change in story to reassert that this is all the fault of liberals:
Father Fugee now says he violated his agreement with the Newark Archdiocese and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office; thus, his decision to step down. His dishonesty is appalling. Moreover, he has clearly impugned his character.
As I said in my report of May 1, “What is really going on here is an attempt to sunder Archbishop Myers—Fugee is not the man they want. They want Myers, and that is because they detest what he stands for.”
Fugee’s resignation does nothing to change my position. Indeed, had there not been calls for Myers to resign over this matter, there would have been no reason to comment on it.
There is a concerted effort on the part of left-wing Catholics and ex-Catholics, aided and abetted by some in the media, to take down a bishop. But not just any bishop: he must be a conservative. To this day, the way these activists have reacted to their hero, the disgraced former archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, is in stark contrast to their response to conservative bishops who have been embroiled in controversy (e.g., Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Newark Archbishop John Myers).
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: any priest who is guilty of committing a crime, especially sexual abuse, should have the book thrown at him; he will get no defense from the Catholic League. But when we see that the clergy of other religions, as well as public school officials, are being held to a lesser standard than our bishops, that is cause for action. Not until we get a level playing field will we back off.
I quote the statement in its entirety because it is a breathtakingly mendacious document. I'm not sure that there is a statement in it that is truthful. Let's look at a couple:

1. Father Fugee now says he violated his agreement with the Newark Archdiocese and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office: Er, no. He actually doesn't. He contends that his actions were outside his assignment, and that he did not request required permissions. That isn't an admission to violating the plea agreement, although it leaves him only with a narrow technical defense that he did not accept an assignment in violation of the plea agreement (which I covered here.)

2.Fugee’s resignation does nothing to change my position. Actually, it does. And pretty drastically, too. On May 1--three days ago--Donohue issued a "Special Report" in which he claimed that "the court agreement expressly allowed Father Fugee to have contact with minors, provided he was supervised. Nothing in either the news story or the editorial even suggests that Fugee was at any time unsupervised in his contacts with minors. If the Star-Ledger had such evidence, it would have said so....At bottom, the Star-Ledger has unfairly maligned Archbishop Myers, and has treated Father Fugee like a political football." The"Special Report" excoriates the Star-Ledger, demanding its editorial board resign en masse, for accurately reporting the very fact that Donohue now concedes--that Father Fugee's actions violated the Agreement. He does not even have the grace to note the inconsistency with his own prior position that this observation which he now accepts as a given was a mere three days ago compelling proof of the media's left-wing bias and iniquitous plot to "sunder" Archbishop Myers. (By the bye, Bill, get a dictionary, will ya?)

3. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: any priest who is guilty of committing a crime, especially sexual abuse, should have the book thrown at him; he will get no defense from the Catholic League Now that's a whopper. Donohue, two days ago:
Some are saying that Fugee’s legal status is conditioned on a technicality that allowed him to return to ministry. Let me make this clear: If accused Muslim terrorists, who seek to kill as many innocent Americans as they can, are given (free of charge) attorneys prepared to exploit every legal loophole there is, then I want priests to be afforded the same measures.
Liar.

I could go on--Donohue assumes without demonstrating a left-wing cadre out to get only conservative bishops, and reasserts they, and the left wing media, and not Father Fugee's actions and the Archdiocese's initial support made this a story; he claims that the decades of ecclesiastical cover-up of sex abuse shouldn't be a story since isolated incidents of sex abuse in other contexts don't get "a level playing field" in the media (Bill, this isn't a game, and it's not a competition. There are no winners here, only losers. "We're less evil than the Methodists" would not be, even if true, a defense in the eyes of the law, let alone God). But the take away from this is Donohue's continued vitriol at those he now must admit were right on the facts is to reaffirm what I wrote yesterday. Donohue and his "Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights" are morally bankrupt, and have no interest in Catholic children, only in the hierarchy.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Archbishop Myers, The Catholic League, and Suppressio Veri

In the latest outbreak of the priest sex abuse scandal, Archbishop John Myers of Newark New Jersey has allowed a priest who admitted sexually groping a teenage boy to, in defiance of a plea bargain to which the archdiocese is a party, perform youth ministry and have ongoing exposure to children:
Six years ago, to avoid retrial on charges that he groped a teenage boy, the Rev. Michael Fugee entered a rehabilitation program, underwent counseling for sex offenders and signed a binding agreement that would dictate the remainder of his life as a Roman Catholic priest.

Fugee would not work in any position involving children, the agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office states. He would have no affiliation with youth groups. He would not attend youth retreats. He would not hear the confessions of minors.

But Fugee has openly done all of those things for the past several years through an unofficial association with a Monmouth County church, St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck, The Star-Ledger found.

He has attended weekend youth retreats in Marlboro and on the shores of Lake Hopatcong in Mount Arlington, parishioners say. Fugee also has traveled with members of the St. Mary’s youth group on an annual pilgrimage to Canada. At all three locations, he has heard confessions from minors behind closed doors.

What’s more, he has done so with the approval of New Jersey’s highest-ranking Catholic official, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.
In the same story, the Archdiocese is quoted as defending these actions, not contesting them, on the ground that "the archdiocese has interpreted the document to mean Fugee could work with minors as long as he is under the supervision of priests or lay ministers who have knowledge of his past and of the conditions in the agreement. 'We believe that the archdiocese and Father Fugee have adhered to the stipulations in all of his activities, and will continue to do so,' [spokesman Jim] Goodness said."

Now, a couple of facts. First, Father Fugee in the course of questioning confessed to the crime, and the voluntariness and accuracy of the confession have not been questioned by either the Archdiocese, Myers, or Fugee himself.

The plea agreement between the District Attorney's office, Fugee and the Archdiocese recites, that the Appellate Division reversed Fugee's conviction and remanded for a new trial because "the jury instructions authored by the trial court failed to provide adequate guidance on the issue of defendant's supervisory authority."

As to the obligations under the agreement, the agreement itself provides in (as we lawyers like to say) pertinent part:
...[A]s part of his employment/vocation with the Roman Catholic Church, [Fugee] shall not have any unsupervised contact with or any duties that call for the supervision/ministry of any child or children under the age of 18.

Article 4 It is agreed and understood that the Archdiocese shall not assign or or otherwise place Michael Fugee in any position within the Archdiocese that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or to minister to any minor child or children under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved. This includes, but is not limited to, presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.

It is agreed and understood that Michael Fugee shall not accept any position within the Archdiocese of Newark or any other Archdiocese under which he is assigned or or otherwise placed Michael Fugee that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or to minister to any minor child or children under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved. This includes, but is not limited to, presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.
The use of the disjunctive "or" makes clear that the "unsupervised contact" provision does not modify the following stipulations, and that the Archdiocese's reading of the Agreement is simply untenable. Understandably, the Newark Star-Ledger has called for Myers' resignation.

In a "special report", the increasingly mis-named Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, per William Donohue, attacks the Star Ledger for this:
The editorial board intentionally distorted the agreement so it could make its case to hound Archbishop Myers out of office. It also smeared Fugee by suggesting that children are not safe in his company. Here is exactly what the agreement said:
“It is agreed and understood that the Archdiocese shall not assign or otherwise place Michael Fugee in any position within the Archdiocese that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or minister to any minor/child under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved.” (My italics.) [Note: In the next paragraph, the identical language is used to hold Father Fugee to these terms.]
In other words, the court agreement expressly allowed Father Fugee to have contact with minors, provided he was supervised. Nothing in either the news story or the editorial even suggests that Fugee was at any time unsupervised in his contacts with minors. If the Star-Ledger had such evidence, it would have said so.

****

Now, all of a sudden, the plain words of the agreement are seen as open to interpretation. But if the agreement says Fugee was not supposed to have unsupervised contact, what other plausible interpretation is there? The newspaper would have the reader believe that the agreement is ambiguous about this condition, when, of course, it is not.
Note what Donohue has done? He has accurately quoted a snippet of the language, but stopped after the language he believes he can distort to exonerate the Archdiocese--that is, the specific examples in the explicitly non-exhaustive list, several of which (youth retreats, hearing confessions) the reports indicate Fugee has violated, and has further hoped that the reader who wants to believe that the Archbishop and Archdiocese is being smeared will miss that disjunctive "or." And since Donohue has not provided a link, and has himself omitted the adumbration of specific examples that are barred, the reader will miss those unless she goes looking.

It's our old friends, suppressio veri, suggestio falsi come to pay a call, isn't it? Donohue is so wedded to his vision of "my tribe, right or wrong" that he will distort, and outright lie while claiming those who are telling the truth are slandering a good man out of anti-Catholic bias. (Donohue stresses that the church court under canon law has acquitted Fugee, a fact that seems wildly improbable in view of the, y'know, confession, but which, if true, stresses the need for secular law enforcement to not allow canon law to stand in for it all the more.)

Apparently Donohue is getting some blowback on this story; he has added a follow up in which he responds to some critics by claiming that the Star-Ledger's coverage was a "contrived story emanating from a foe of the Catholic Church" since Fugee has not been accused of having reoffended. He also writes that
Some are saying that Fugee’s legal status is conditioned on a technicality that allowed him to return to ministry. Let me make this clear: If accused Muslim terrorists, who seek to kill as many innocent Americans as they can, are given (free of charge) attorneys prepared to exploit every legal loophole there is, then I want priests to be afforded the same measures.
This is a very helpful statement, in that it clarifies two facets of Donohue's thinking. First, he's not at all interested in protecting the children of Catholic parents; he's interested only in the priests and the hierarchy. Second, he believes that the word of the Catholic Church to secular law enforcement can be broken with impunity, and that a pettifogging legalism is a morally justified response to public criticism of the Church's betrayal of its own undertakings.

After all, it's ok when terrorists do it, so why shouldn't "the one true faith"?