Sunday, January 12

For some reason, I took Katie and Joseph to our local kids' science museum today. We'd been there before, but Katie was bored and Joseph had never experienced it since he was in the catatonic-stroller-stage, so why not.

Same old same old, of course. No matter what the size or sophistication, these joints are all the same, and I hate every last one of them from their whispering dishes to their tornados in a tube and back again.

Here's the other way they're all the same: they're all filled with kids racing madly from one "interactive" station to the next, punching buttons and heaving levers just long enough to see the lights flash or the rocket go up or the tornado start, and not, as far as I can see, learning a single thing. I've been to science museums all over, from here to Nashville to Tampa and in between in the last fifteen years, and the scene has never changed. I have never believed for a minute that these places are educational. The interactivity is supposed to engage the child's intellect, concretize the learning, and so on, but I have hardly seen a kid stop long enough to do anything but punch the buttons, much less pause to figure out what the lesson of it all is supposed to be. There's just too much information and the environment is just too stimulating. Sure, you can learn from a science demonstration - one. Per lesson. Per day. But faced with fifty booths, looking like nothing but fifty video games, what's a kid to do but go from one to the other as fast as he can, making as many lights flash and as much noise as possible? With some guidance and some interpretation, some fruit could possibly be borne, but mostly, it's just chaos.

There have been studies. Of course. I found a site that seems to be a clearinghouse for such research. Maybe it will prove me wrong, but I didn't really check out the whole site in depth yet. I was too busy clicking on the icons.

Scalia says courts misinterpret constitutional intentions on church-state relations

Scalia, the main speaker at an event for Religious Freedom Day, said decisions by his own court gave the judges in the Pledge case "plausible support to reach that decision." However, the justice said he believes such decisions should be done legislatively, not by courts. If critics of the Pledge of Allegiance persuaded the public it should be changed "then we could eliminate under God from the Pledge of Allegiance, that could be democratically done," said Scalia. The court's most conservative member was warmly received in Fredericksburg where his son, Paul, is a priest at an area Catholic church.


Yonkers parish wants priest back.

Lennon was one of six priests removed from their assignments by the Archdiocese of New York so church officials could clear up old accusations of sexual abuse against the priests. Parishioners at St. John the Baptist, stunned, believed the matter would be dealt with quickly and their pastor returned.

After all, the archdiocese investigated an allegation against Lennon in 1998 and cleared him.

Nine months later, there is no news. The archdiocese, as required by the Catholic Church's new national policy on sex abuse, has appointed a review board to study its abuse cases and make recommendations to Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York.

But parish leaders at St. John the Baptist are tired of waiting.

Vincent Vanadia, president of the parish council, is leading a minor parish insurrection, demanding Lennon's name be cleared. On recent Sundays, he has inserted into the parish bulletin open letters critical of the archdiocese's treatment of Lennon.

On Monday, the parish council decided it would not celebrate the church's 100th anniversary this year unless Lennon is part of it.

"Celebrating the anniversary without Father Lennon would be like going to his funeral," Vanadia said. "Here's the thing: If the church had something on him, why haven't they acted by now? If they don't have anything on him, then shame on them for disgracing this man."

Lennon, who turns 75 on Jan. 20, wrote a letter to Egan last month in which he maintained his innocence and insisted on being returned to his parish by Christmas. But he remains at a home in Maine, where he has stayed since his suspension.



The NYTimes offers a long study of the extent of abuse.

The Times survey counted priests from dioceses and religious orders who had been accused by name of sexually abusing one or more children. It determined that 1.8 percent of all priests ordained from 1950 to 2001 had been accused of abuse.

But the research also suggested that the extent of the problem remains hidden. In dioceses that have divulged what they say are complete lists of abusive priests — under court orders or voluntarily — the percentages are far higher. In Baltimore, an estimated 6.2 percent of priests ordained in the last half-century have been implicated in the abuse of minors. In Manchester, N.H., the percentage is 7.7, and in Boston it is 5.3.

In November, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a top Vatican official, declared that "less than 1 percent" of priests had abused minors, and that there were fewer sex offenders among priests than other groups.

But experts say it is impossible to know whether priests abuse more or less often than people in other professions, or even in the general population, because there are no reliable studies.

The Times data include only cases in which priests were named, and many bishops have released only partial lists of accused priests, or refused to identify any.

....• Half of the priests in the database were accused of molesting more than one minor, and 16 percent are accused of having had five or more victims..

• Eighty percent of the priests were accused of molesting boys. The percentage is nearly the opposite for laypeople accused of abuse; their victims are mostly girls..

• While the majority of the priests were accused of molesting teenagers only, 43 percent were accused of molesting children 12 and younger. Experts in sexual disorders say the likeliest repeat offenders are those who abuse prepubescent children and boys..

• Those ordained in 1970 and 1975 included the highest percentage of priests accused of abuse: 3.3 percent. More known offenders were ordained in the 1970's than in any other decade..

• Of the 432 priests removed from or who left the ministry last year, 183 were suspended, living in limbo while waiting for church panels to decide their cases. Bishops were known to have begun the most drastic step, defrocking, for only 11 priests, despite agreeing to a policy at their Dallas meeting last year that encouraged this option. At least nine priests have been reinstated..

• The Boston Archdiocese, which received the most scrutiny in news reports last year, did have the most accused priests — 94 — but not the worst problem proportionally. More than a dozen other dioceses had a higher rate of accused priests when taken as a percentage of their active priests..




Good piece from the Globe on the lessons of Cardinal William O'Connell of Boston, whose episcopate ran from 1907-1944

But even as he exerted this public influence, O'Connell was concealing a scandal. In the 1910s, his priest-nephew and another priest of his household were secretly married to women in Boston and New York, and they were embezzling money from the archdiocese to support their double lives. O'Connell knew of this but failed for seven years to do anything about it until he was forced by Rome to remove the two from the priesthood in 1920. Boston's priests, other American bishops, and some local politicians had known the story, but deference to the cardinal's authority left them reluctant to go public with the story. Ordinary parishioners never learned of the underside of local church administration. The city's newspapers-it's not clear how much they actually knew-were unwilling to take on the leader of the region's largest church: With a word from him, circulation might drop overnight. After Rome cracked down, O'Connell continued to exercise power locally, but his authority within the national and global church itself was finished. Not until the 1980s did the full story come to light, thanks to the opening of archives in the Vatican and elsewhere.

The parallels between Cardinal O'Connell and Cardinal Law are striking, but they are of more than purely historical interest. O'Connell set in motion trends whose logical conclusion was Law. How the archbishop defined his role in the wider Boston community; how that community, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, viewed him; how an expanding Vatican influence came to outweigh local interests in choosing leaders-the patterns established after O'Connell came to Boston in 1907 remained fixed for nearly 100 years. Law's resignation, following a year of growing outcry from the Catholics of Boston, holds out the hope that the "O'Connell Century" in Boston may also have come to end. Whoever Cardinal Law's successor turns out to be, he may have the chance to move in a different, more positive direction.

At the heart of the problem was the procedure by which Catholic bishops were chosen during the O'Connell Century. Changes in that procedure came from Rome, but O'Connell knew how to take advantage of them, and he showed other American churchmen how to do the same.

Contrary to what many people assume, the appointment of church leaders was not always the sole prerogative of the pontiff. As late as 1870, a mere handful of the several hundred bishops in the world were chosen unilaterally by the pope. In most places, including the United States, the pope's role was largely to select leaders from lists prepared by local pastors and neighboring bishops. This appointment system took account of local needs and knowledge, and it produced churchmen who were intimately connected to their own people. In Boston, this system had worked wonderfully well. John Fitzpatrick (bishop 1846-1866) was a graduate of Boston Latin School, admired as much by Adamses and Lawrences as by the Irish immigrants who flooded into the city. John Williams (archbishop 1866-1907) had spent years in parish work, though he was also a capable and shrewd manager. Indeed, Williams was the last archbishop of Boston who combined competent administrative skills with fundamental decency in addressing problems. His successors have possessed one trait or the other, but never both.



What happened in Lewiston yesterday

As white supremacists preached their doctrine to a few dozen of the faithful yesterday, their neo-Nazi message was countered by an outpouring of about 4,500 people who converged on this city to promote tolerance.

By the way, the mayor was in Florida at the time...


A long look at the suspect in the Cleveland priest arson/murder case

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