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Vatican Archives Shed Light on Holy See’s Activity During the Armenian Genocide

by Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA/EWTN News via NCRegister.com

VATICAN CITY — Ahead of Pope Francis’ Mass commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, newly released historic documents confirm the Holy See’s broad commitment to helping the Armenian people at a time when few others would.

Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers. Kharpert, Armenia, Ottoman Empire, April, 1915 – Wikipedia/public domain

Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers. Kharpert, Armenia, Ottoman Empire, April, 1915
– Wikipedia/public domain

The Italian Jesuit-run magazine La Civiltà Cattolica stressed that newly published documents “prove how the Holy See, always informed about events, had not remained passive, but was strongly committed to face the issue” of the Armenian Genocide. “Benedict XV was the only ruler or religious leader to voice out a protest against the ‘massive crime.’”

The Armenian Genocide is considered to have begun on April 24, 1915, with a massacre of Armenians in Istanbul. Over the next eight years, 1.5 million Armenians would be killed and millions more displaced.

However, such killings were perpetrated before, when much of the region was still under Ottoman rule.

For instance, a March 27, 1896, letter by Franciscan Father Domenico Werson, who was serving as a missionary in Aleppo, recounted the massacre of Christians in Marasc and its vicinities.

Most of the documents in the newly published series are from the archive of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. They have been published in a series of four books by Jesuit priest Father Georges-Henry Ruyssen. In advance of the series’ March 21 release date, the latest edition of La Civiltà Cattolica published a summary.

The documents on the “Armenian Question” date from the end of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century.

The collection of documents includes letters from popes and to Ottoman sultans; documents and dispatches by Vatican secretaries of state and prefects or secretaries of other Vatican dicasteries; documents and reports by the apostolic delegates; and letters by Armenian patriarchs and bishops with firsthand information.

There are also reports by eye witnesses.

The documents note the actions of Pope Benedict XV, who sent two personal letters to Sultan Muhammad V Reshad on Sep. 10, 1915, and March 12, 1918, respectively.

The pope’s effort was the climax of several attempts at mediation carried forward by the Holy See to help Armenians. Pope Leo XIII tried a mediation beginning in 1859. The Holy See sought to be a mediator with Djemal Pashà, commander of the Turkish army in Syria, for the freedom of 60 Armenians sentenced to death in 1917. Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, the Vatican secretary of state, mediated with Mustaphà Kemal Pashà in 1921 for the safeguard of the lives and the goods of surviving Christians in Turkey.

The Holy See did not only work in diplomacy, but also sought to assist surviving refugees.

The Holy See, La Civiltà Cattolica wrote, “mobilized a continual flow of financial aid and supplies in an era when there were no other international humanitarian organizations beyond the Red Cross and the Near East relief [organization].”

The Holy See especially assisted orphans and founded “many orphanages” open to people of every religious confession. Young orphan Armenian girls were also hosted in the orphanage in the apostolic palace of Castel Gandolfo, near Rome.

The documents record the reasons why countries did not take any stance on the genocide and did not defend the Armenian people when the first signs of genocide were visible.

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, the publication of these documents may shed light on the reasons why this genocide was perpetrated in the midst of a general political indifference.

As for Pope Francis, he will celebrate a Mass marking the centenary of the genocide in St. Peter Basilica on April 24.

La Civiltà Cattolica underscored that, in the late 19th century, the question of the future of the Armenians “was forgotten step by step,” because the “gradual passivity of European diplomacy” worked to “preserve at every cost the integrity of the Ottoman Empire.”

Archbishop Augusto Bonetti, the apostolic delegate to Constantinople from 1887-1904, summarized the international situation.

France and Russia both aimed to preserve “the integrity of Turkey.” France had made major capital investments in the region, while Russia wanted Turkish relations to be dormant so it could focus on the Far East.

In Archbishop Bonetti’s view, Germany had a material interest in the continuation of the war between the Greeks and the Turks, while England had “important political interests in Turkey.”

US anger over IS ‘atrocity’ against Christians in Libya

via News.Yahoo.com



Tripoli (AFP) – The United States condemned the “brutal mass murder” of 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya following a video released by Islamic State militants purportedly showing their execution.

The 29-minute IS video appears to show militants holding two groups of captives, described in text captions as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church”.

National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan decried the killings and called for stability in Libya, which has been mired in political chaos and unrest since the 2011 uprising that toppled former strongman Moamer Kadhafi.

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the brutal mass murder purportedly of Ethiopian Christians by ISIL-affiliated terrorists in Libya,” she said, using another name for IS.

“This atrocity once again underscores the urgent need for a political resolution to the conflict in Libya to empower a unified Libyan rejection of terrorist groups.”

Ethiopia said its embassy in Egypt was trying to verify the video to ascertain if those murdered were indeed its nationals.

The video portrays a masked fighter in black brandishing a pistol, who makes a statement threatening Christians if they do not convert to Islam.

The video then switches between footage of one group of about 12 men being beheaded by masked militants on a beach, and another group of at least 16 being shot in the head in a desert area.

It was not immediately clear who the captives were or how many were killed.

Before the killings, the video shows purported footage of Christians in Syria, saying they had been given the choice of converting to Islam or paying a special tax, and had decided to pay.

The video bore the logo of the IS media arm and was similar to past footage released by the jihadists, including of 21 Coptic Christians beheaded on a Libyan beach in February. Several Libyan jihadist groups have pledged allegiance to IS.

Addis Ababa says IS, which has seized chunks of Syria and Iraq and won the support of jihadist groups across the region, has also gained a foothold in Ethiopia.

“There are elements of IS around Ethiopia who are already carrying out operations, even though under a different name,” said Redwan, referring to the Shebab group.

“We will keep on fighting them.”

Since the 2011 revolt, Libya has been awash with weapons, has rival governments and parliaments, and is on the edge of all-out civil war as armed groups battle to control its cities and oil wealth.

Officials have repeatedly warned that Libya could become a jihadist haven on Europe’s doorstep unless the violence stops and a national unity government is formed.

And waves of would-be immigrants including Ethiopians have been using Libya as a stepping stone to embark on perilous sea crossings to Europe. More than 700 people are feared drowned in the latest disaster.

On Sunday, UN envoy Bernardino Leon said after weeks of brokering talks between rival Libyan factions that they had reached a draft accord which is “very close to a final agreement”.

Speaking to reporters in Morocco, Leon also said preparations were under way for armed groups to hold direct talks to end the conflict.

Referring to the IS video and fighting in Libya, Leon said: “We know that the enemies of peace, the enemies of the agreement, will be active and be even more active in the coming days and weeks.”

The IS execution of Copts in February prompted retaliatory air strikes from Egypt, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pushing for the creation of a joint Arab military force to battle jihadists.

Arab military chiefs will meet on Wednesday in Cairo to discuss how the force will be created, its role and financing, an Arab League official said.

A US-led coalition of Western and Arab nations is already waging an air war against IS in Syria and Iraq.

IS has carried out atrocities against minorities — including Christians and Yazidis — sparking fears for the fate of vulnerable communities in mostly Muslim nations.

Christians Accept Execution Rather Than Islam

by Raymond Ibrahim via RaymondIbrahim.com

Approximately two months after the Islamic State (IS) published a video depicting its members slaughtering 21 Coptic Christians in Libya, on Sunday, April 19,  the Islamic jihadi organization released another video of more Christians in Libya being massacred, this time for not paying jizya—extortion money demanded of the “People of the Book” according to Koran 9:29.



Two scenes appear in the 29-minute-long video published by al-Furqan, the Islamic State’s media wing.  The first scene consists of a group of Christian Ethiopians dressed all in black, on their knees, with their arms tied behind their backs.  Masked IS members stand behind the Ethiopians with rifles aimed at their heads.  According to the video, this scene takes place in the city of Fezzan.  The Christian captives are called “Worshippers of the cross belonging to the hostile Ethiopian Church.”

The second scene shows more Christian Ethiopians dressed in orange uniforms and standing on the shores of Barqa, the same region where 21 Egyptian Christians were earlier decapitated for refusing to convert to Islam.

Other scenes include the narrator referencing the fatwas of medieval jurist Ibn Taymiyya that proclaim all Christians “infidels.”  Then Abu Malik ibn Ans al-Nashwan, apparently one of the group’s leaders, appears saying that “The dealings of the Islamic State with Christians under its authority is according to Allah’s Sharia [Islamic law].   Jizya [tribute] is imposed on those who accept, and war on those who resist.”

The final scene is of the Christians in Fezzan being executed by gunfire to the back of their heads and the Christians in Barqa all having their heads carved off.

It is likely that the reason these Christians “resisted” to pay jizya was that they did not have the money—migrant Christian workers in Libya, whether from Egypt or Ethiopia, are about as poor as they get.

And they refused the only other option that could have spared their lives according to Islamic law—renunciation of the Christian Trinity and conversion to Islam.

The narrator continued by saying that IS had “invited” the Christians of Raqqa, Syria to enter Islam, but they refused.   So IS demanded of them payment of jizya and they complied and were permitted to live.  Next follows a scene depicting Christians in Raqqa—according to the video’s claims—saying how “peaceful” life is under the Islamic State, and that the caliphate does not compel them to do anything except pay jizya.

Whether scripted or not—and odds are on the former—these supposedly “content” Christians are hardly representative of the overwhelming majority of Christians in territories annexed by the Islamic State.

In the summer of 2014, IS issued a statement concerning Christian minorities, saying “We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract—involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.”  Hours after this ultimatum was proclaimed, the jihadis began painting the letter “n” on Christian homes in Mosul—in Arabic, Christians are known as “Nasara,” or “Nazarenes”—signaling them out for the slaughter to come and prompting a mass exodus of Christians from the region.  Many older and disabled Iraqi Christians, unable to pay the jizya or join the exodus, opted to convert to Islam.

In one instance, three Islamic State members burst into the home of a Christian family, demanding jizya.  When the father of the house pleaded that he did not have the money, the intruders raped his wife and daughter in front of him. The man was reportedly so traumatized that he committed suicide.

The new video of the executed Ethiopians shows other scenes and cities under the Islamic State’s jurisdiction, including pictures of churches in Ninevah and Mosul being destroyed purportedly because Christians there did—or could—not pay jizya.

At one point, the same masked narrator appears speaking about the “battle between truth and falsehood”—a reference to Islam’s dichotomized worldview, which certainly did not originate with “ISIS.”   For example, during an interview conducted one decade ago, when asked about the status of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiriresponded:

Jihad in the path of Allah is greater than any individual or organization. It is a struggle between Truth and Falsehood, until Allah Almighty inherits the earth and those who live in it. Mullah Muhammad Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Laden—may Allah protect them from all evil—are merely two soldiers of Islam in the journey of jihad, while the struggle between Truth [Islam] and Falsehood [non-Islam] transcends time (The Al Qaeda Reader, p.182).

This statement best encapsulates why the slaughter of Christians and other “infidels” will continue—regardless of whether we call the jihad “al-Qaeda,” “ISIS,” “Boko Haram,” “Al Shabaab,” or “Lone Wolf.”  Jihadi leaders, ideologues, emirs, sultans, caliphs, even the prophet of Islam himself, have come and gone for nearly 1,400 years—but the jihad rages on.

And, lest Western readers in general, Christians in particular, think this is just happening “over there,” the same narrator, speaking to the West in general, also said—right before the slaughtered and decapitated bodies of the Ethiopian Christians were shown—that “you won’t have safety, even in your dreams, until you embrace Islam.”

ISIS executes more Christians in Libya, video shows

By Eliott C. McLaughlin via CNN.com

CNN)ISIS operatives have executed two groups of prisoners, believed to be Ethiopian Christians, in Libya, according to a video released Sunday by the terror network’s media arm.

The al-Furqan Media video — which is highly produced and titled “Until There Came to Them Clear Evidence” — shows two groups of men, one in orange jumpsuits and the other in black, being killed at different locations in Libya, according to the video’s narrator.

One group is beheaded on a beach along the Mediterranean Sea, while the other group is shot in Southern Libya, hundreds of miles away.

“All praise be to Allah, the Lord and cherisher of the world and may peace and blessings be upon the Prophet Mohammed. To the nation of the cross, we are back again on the sands, where the companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, have stepped on before, telling you: Muslim blood that was shed under the hands of your religion is not cheap,” the narrator says in Arabic on the 39-minute video.

A video released by ISIS claims to show two groups of men being killed in Libya.

The narrator continues, “In fact, their blood is the purest blood because there is a nation behind them (which) inherits revenge. And we swear to Allah: the one who disgraced you by our hands, you will not have safety, even in your dreams, until you embrace Islam.”

Quoting Mohammed, the narrator says that those who “perform prayer and pay alms” will have “their blood and property” protected by the Prophet unless Islam dictates otherwise.

“You pay (tax) with willing submission, feeling yourselves subdued. Our battle is a battle between faith and blasphemy, between truth and falsehood, until there is no more polytheism — and obedience becomes Allah’s on its entirety,” the narrator says.

Earlier in the video, a different speaker says Christians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul were given the choice to embrace Islam or maintain their Christian faith and pay a tax.

“The Islamic state has offered the Christian community this many times and set a deadline for this, but the Christians never cooperated,” the speaker says.

ISIS posts video of purported mass beheading

At the beginning of the video, a man who appears to be a judge in a court enforcing Islam’s Sharia law holds up documents and says a Syrian Christian had owed a Syrian Muslim 550,000 Syrian pounds (about $2,900) since 2004, but the Muslim was unable to obtain the money under President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“After applying to the Islamic court he got his money back within one month,” the man says.

The law cited throughout the video comes from the Quran’s Surah 9:29, whose exact translation is an area of dispute among religious scholars. The gist is that Muslims are commanded to fight those who don’t believe in Allah or the Last Day (Islam’s equivalent of Judgment Day) unless the nonbelievers pay a tax or tribute.

In February, ISIS released a video of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt being executed on a Libyan beach. Those captives, too, wore orange jumpsuits.

In that video, released by al-Hayat Media Center, another ISIS media arm, a masked man references the killing of Osama bin Laden and his burial at sea.

“The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah, we will mix it with your blood,” he threatens in English.

A lesson to be learned by all from the Armenian Genocide

by Robert Kachadourian via TheOaklandPress.com

The Armenian Genocide Centennial is compelling evidence that humanity hasn’t learned very much in the previous millennia of its existence.

The genocide in the Middle East we currently see so vividly portrayed in our living rooms perpetrated by evil incarnate, unfortunately isn’t a new manifestation.

The last century has been called the bloodiest in the history of mankind. The Armenian Genocide was the beginning of those events — and was a precursor to those devastating occurrences that followed.

The Centennial Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide this year marks the carnage that resulted in slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians. Another 500,000 were orphaned.

The Armenian Genocide took place because of man’s inhumanity to man, indifference and the world’s very short collective memory.

Most of us read history in a vacuum and really think we aren’t affected by events that take place thousands of miles away. We also feel events that occurred years ago are far removed from us.

As we are already midway in the second decade of the 21st century, the events that affect us aren’t “over there”. The world has come into our living rooms through the communications explosion that has jettisoned us into the age of super telecommunications. Cyberspace has turned outer space into an obtainable dimension.

The Armenian Genocide was a wake-up call no one woke up to! The Jewish Holocaust wouldn’t have occurred if the Armenian Genocide had been recognized as an event that needed world attention.

When Hitler in 1939 was commenting about the carnage he was to lead the world to as he prepared for World War II, he was asked about his policies of extermination.

His answer was, “Who today remembers what happened to the Armenians”?. The die was cast.

Indeed no one really remembered enough to do anything about it. However, there were many future Nazis who were soldiers in the German Army in Ottoman Turkey during WWI who knew.

Rudolph Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz, and many of Hitler’s henchmen, saw what happened to the Armenians. It was genocide in its totality.

Based on the lack of ultimate concern by any entity who could make a difference, 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered, half a million were orphaned and the remnant were scattered to the four corners of the world.

What’s our response today? Genocide still continues. Sometimes it’s called ethnic cleansing. The results are the same.

The epic motion picture story of “Schinder’s List” captures the appropriate response. This award-winning masterpiece is the saga of what one individual did to save many hundreds from the Holocaust.

Oskar Schindler was an entrepreneur in occupied Poland who saw that the Jewish laborers he was using would eventually be sent to death camps.

He constantly created a list stating that he needed these people for the war effort. Thus, his response when he saw the need was responsible for saving several thousand lives.

“Schindler’s List” gave the appropriate response of “Never Again”. It’s screenplay was written by Steve Zaillian. Zaillian stated he drew upon the experience of his own Armenian background to compose such an outstanding drama depiction of the Holocaust.

The irony is that a person writing about the Holocaust drew from his grandparents experience in the Armenian Genocide. Was a thread of commonality there?

After 100 years, there’s a message here. People collectively at sometime, some how and some where must say unequivocally “Never Again”

So far we have failed. Current events are a stark reminder of this. Therefore, as you view programs, events and general references to the Genocide made in our area for this Centennial Year Commemoration, remember not to forget.

Indeed the “Forget Me Not” flower is the symbol of all the ceremonies. That says it all.

The “Forget Me Not” flower in reality must be thought of as having two parts. The first part states that we should never forget the Genocide. The second portion should elicit the response “Never Again”.

Genocide, Holocaust and other like manifestations must be eradicated from civilization’s vocabulary. Indeed there can be no civilized society if the barbarous acts referenced are present whatsoever.

The Armenian Genocide began 100 years ago. May it be said us that a century later marked the beginning of the end of such useless atrocities. In the meantime, “Forget Me Not”. That’s a beginning.

Robert Kachadourian of Bloomfield Hills is an area resident media consultant. He hosts ‘FYI’ which can be viewed in southeast Michigan.

Who really won? The sisters or the Vatican?

One of my first interviews with the late Cardinal Francis George who left this world last week, contained a memorable phrase. Let me paraphrase this moment in the conversation. When I asked about how polarized American Catholics had become, he replied in effect, This is a problem of importing political language into the family of God. We are not liberal or conservative we are Catholic. Then the tip of the spear: “The Catholic Faith is not liberal or conservative- it is true.”

The failure of almost all secular and many religious journalists to grasp this point leads them to write misleading, distorted stories. If you are wearing lenses that only see black and white, you will miss all the colors in the world. The most recent example comes from the coverage of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF) report on their evaluation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Almost all the coverage framed it in terms of a battle between hardened doctrinal authorities who were all crusty male members of the hierarchy versus the soft, servants of the people who were all properly assertive female sisters who only wanted to be treated like women instead of girls. Ugh. Just read the stories from the AP or New York Times.

Ann Carey is the author of Sisters in Crisis and has been studying the evolution of American female religious for decades. I know of no one better equipped to handle this topic with a keen eye, a sharp mind and a Catholic heart. She’s also a good writer.

- Al Kresta

Who really won? The sisters or the Vatican?

The various “LCWR vs. The Vatican” news stories have misunderstood or misrepresented many of the basic facts

 by Ann Carey via CatholicWorldReport.com

A French journalist I know called me for help on an article she was writing about the reform plan for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) accepted April 16 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

She said she was confused by all the articles on the topic in the U.S. press and wanted to ask me “Who really won? The sisters or the Vatican?”

At first I was stunned by this win-lose terminology, and I wondered why she would have considered the doctrinal reform of a canonically-erected entity to be a conflict of some kind, with the outcome producing a winner and a loser.

My own impression of the outcome was that everyone won because the CDF had helped the LCWR to be a better organization for sisters by refocusing its role to be “centered on Jesus Christ and faithful to the teachings of the Church,” according to the final report.

Then I took time to read several media stories on the topic and discovered that some of the articles made it sound as if the CDF’s reform of the LCWR indeed was adversarial, akin to “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” or a new “Star Wars” sequel.

Consider, for example, this headline from the April 16 New York Times: “Vatican Ends Battle With U.S. Catholic Nuns’ Group.” Writer Laurie Goodstein then went on to use such inflammatory language as “confrontation,” “vexing and unjust inquisition” and “standoff.”

Several other articles used similar language, saying the reform effort was a “takeover” of the group, and some simply declared that the sisters had won a battle with the Vatican. Miriam Krule writing for Slate called the reform agreement a “victory and vindication for LCWR.”

Religion News Service even assigned a score to the CDF reform of LCWR in its headline “Nuns 1, Cardinal Müller 0.”

It seems as if some writers simply shaped the outcome to reflect their own hopes and expectations. No wonder my French friend was confused.

Adding to her confusion were articles that contained downright incorrect information on the topic, making me wonder if the writers had actually read the CDF-LCWR joint final report. Perhaps accurate research is just not their thing.

For example, several articles reported that the reform was ended “abruptly” or “early,” an indication that the Holy See just wanted to be done with the matter. “The review was supposed to run until 2017,” declared the April 16 International Business Times. The Associated Press and Jesuit Father James Martin writing atAmerica made the same claim, while St. Louis Public Radio insisted the reform “was set up as a four-year investigation.”

Had those writers done their homework and actually read the CDF 2012 mandate, they would have seen this sentence: “The mandate of the Delegate will be for a period of up to five years, as deemed necessary” (emphasis added). Thus, if the LCWR had accepted the reforms readily, the process could have been concluded in weeks instead of years. The five-year time frame was set to avoid endless dialogue, a method of dealing with church officials that LCWR officials have used for years.

It should be noted that most of the articles criticizing the reform never bothered to quote at length the joint CDF-LCWR final report or accompanying press release. To do so would have disproven many of their claims, so some writers simply cherry-picked or distorted passages or used partial quotes to convey a meaning quite opposite the speaker’s intention.

For example, Elizabeth Whitman writing for the International Business Timesglibly reported that CDF Prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Müller said his office was “confident that LCWR has made clear its mission to support its member institutes.” The writer left off the rest of the prefect’s sentence and paragraph, which continued: “by fostering a vision of religious life that is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the Tradition of the Church. It is this vision that makes religious women and men radical witnesses to the Gospel, and, therefore, is essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church.”

Over at Religion News Service, writer David Gibson creatively selected the prefect’s above words to praise the LCWR: “Mueller said he was confident that the mission of the nuns ‘is rooted in the Tradition of the Church’ and that they are ‘essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church.’”

If I were still an English teacher, I would have Gibson diagram the prefect’s sentences so that he could see the cardinal said it is the proper vision of religious life that is rooted in the tradition of the church—not the LCWR mission—and it is that proper vision which is essential for the flourishing of religious life—not the LCWR sisters.

Adding to the misinformation is the creative speculation about the role of Pope Francis in bringing the LCWR reform to a conclusion, with several writers proclaiming that his emphasis on mercy precludes any correction of dissent. TheNew York Times article declared that “Francis has shown in his two-year papacy that he is less interested in having the church police doctrinal boundaries than in demonstrating mercy and love for the poor and vulnerable.”

I didn’t know that doctrinal integrity was incompatible with mercy and love, and I don’t think Pope Francis believes this either, for he has stood strong on doctrinal matters while modeling mercy and love.

It also is amusing to read the speculation about the LCWR audience with Pope Francis, for the Vatican has issued no information about what was discussed, and the LCWR news release about the meeting does not even mention the CDF reform of the organization. Rather, the LCWR reported that the papal audience “centered on Evangelii gaudium, the pope’s apostolic exhortation.”

Yet, some writers speculated that the pope had apologized to the LCWR at the audience. The New York Times quoted theologian Eileen Burke-Sullivan saying the papal audience was “about as close to an apology, I would think, as the Catholic Church is officially going to render.”

If Ms. Burke-Sullivan had been paying attention, she would have known that the LCWR had asked Pope Francis for an audience during the reform process, and some sisters had not been shy about expressing their hope the new pope would reverse the decision of his predecessor to approve the CDF reform.

Mark Silk, also writing for Religion News Service in a blog strangely titled “Spiritual Politics” got the quote right, but characterized it this way: “Müller purred his approval.” Silk went on to write it is “perhaps significant” that the cardinal’s address from last year telling the LCWR leaders to heed the reform “is no longer to be found on the CDF website,” and he provided an erroneous link to prove his point.

I hope Prof. Silk won’t be too embarrassed to learn that Cardinal Müller’s full address is still on the Vatican website here, and there is no evidence that he has backed away from what he told the LCWR in 2014: “The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life.”

However, Francis had told the CDF to continue the reform, and he did not grant an audience with LCWR until an hour or so after the CDF accepted the terms of the LCWR reform. If Pope Francis had not approved the LCWR reform, he could have stopped it the day he was elected.

I think the confusion of my French journalist friend can be cleared up simply by carefully reading the primary documents involved—the CDF-LCWR joint final report and its accompanying press release, and the 2012 CDF mandate of reform.

It’s too bad so many journalists in this country did not do so before writing their articles.

Kresta in the Afternoon – April 20, 2015

Talking about the “Things That Matter Most” on April 20, 2015

4:00 – The Catholic Church and the Armenian Genocide

We’re looking into the history of the Armenian Genocide and the role the Catholic Church played in resisting the evil. Our guests are Richard Norsigian, Bob Kachadourian and Hayg Oshagan, who are working to ensure that the horrors of the genocide are never forgotten and never repeated.

5:00 – Kresta Comments: The Legacy of Francis Cardinal George

Francis Cardinal George, the longtime Archbishop of Chicago, passed away last week after a long battle with cancer. Al looks back on the life and legacy of a hero of the Catholic Church in America.

5:20 – Déjà Vu: ISIS Releases Video of Christian Executions

ISIS has released another video depicting the execution of Christians. This time the 30 martyrs are from Ethiopia. Raymond Ibrahim joins us to discuss this latest atrocity and the ongoing attacks on Christians by Muslim extremists.

5:40 – Kresta Comments: TBA

Kresta in the Afternoon – 4/17/15

Talking about the “Things That Matter Most” on April 17, 2015

 4:00 – Catholicism’s Challenges in America

The ludicrous and irresponsible news coverage of Indiana’s religious freedom law should be a warning sign for Catholics. Any opinion that goes against the status quo is going to be misrepresented and beaten into submission. Indiana isn’t the only example. We’ll talk about it with Bill Donahue.

 5:00 – Honoring Fr. Richard Neuhaus: A Life in the Naked Public Square

Randy Boyagoda joins us with a look back at the life of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Fr. Neuhaus was the author of several books, including “The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America,” was an adviser to President George Bush on bioethical issues and was a staunch defender of pro-life issues. Randy has written an extensive biography on Fr. Neuhaus and is here to talk about it.

Sex and Danger at UVA

by Vigen Guroian and William Wilson via FirstThings.com

UVa Fraternity

This past November, Rolling Stone magazine published an article that told the story of a gang rape in a fraternity house at the University of Virginia. This report soon became national news. When we first saw the article, we were uncomfortably reminded of Tom Wolfe’s 2004 novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, about sex on the college scene. We ought to have concluded immediately that what we were reading was fiction, as turned out to be the case. Our experience, however, predisposed us to assume that something like that which had been described may have happened.

There was uproar and a great deal of administrative action taken after the Rolling Stone article was published. But it is not credible that before the piece, the administration was unaware of the sexual chaos in student life. For nearly a decade, Bill Wilson was dean of the Echols Scholars Program at the university. He and others in similar positions reported to the administration what they had heard. Dozens of bright young college women told Wilson that they had been sexually humiliated, assaulted, or raped. Yet the administration’s routine response was, “There are professional programs, codes, procedures, policies, and referrals in place.” Indeed, the psychologists and therapists were already in place, the legal teams assembled, long before the storm over the ­Rolling Stone article.

Ten years ago in a widely circulated essay, Vigen Guroian portrayed the sexualization of the American college with “its grisly underbelly . . . the deep, dark, hidden secret that many parents suspect is there but would rather not face.” Guroian opened his essay, “Dorm Brothel: The new debauchery and the colleges that let it happen,” by recounting his own arrival as a student at the University of Virginia in 1966 at the dawn of the sexual revolution. He examined how its institutionalization changed student life in our colleges, bringing us to where we are now.

Over the years, we have listened to our students and have received testimonies in written assignments and ­personal correspondence about the toxic sexual environment that this university and many others have harbored. A recent female graduate of the University of Virginia wrote the following for a class assignment:

“Sex pervades almost every aspect of dorm life that I have experienced. I have seen “dorm incest” (the entire floor hooks up with everyone else on the floor), [been] “sexiled,” by my roommate having sex on my dorm bed, and witnessed date rape . . .”

Another young alumna describes the dorm life that she encountered when she entered the university.

“I arrived at UVA first semester just like many other female University students—wanting to make friends, excited for romance (genuine romance), and getting to know bright and intellectually motivated young men and women. Much to my surprise things were not so. . . . I had been thrown with others carelessly into a long-term hotel.

Most of the people in your dorm were in the “friend zone.” Everyone was a “guy.” But even with sweatpants on we recognized we had different body parts and late at night with a couple of beers things got more intimate. We were not so much male and female as we were xx who logically should give xy what they want and what we have. We were all one mutually using and abusing non-family.

Sexual license was actively encouraged and funded by the university. From “Spring-break fun packs” full of condoms and forms of contraception handed out at the student center with a cute note from a pudgy sunshine face wearing shades saying “Have a Fun Spring Break!” to “Sexual Arts and Crafts” flyers plastered on the dorm halls—the message is clear: college is a parent-funded motel party of casual and impersonal, but, yes, “safe sex.””

Fifty years ago, when the great campaign against single-sex education commenced under the banner of the sexual revolution, it was promised that by bringing the sexes into closer proximity, a healthier environment for relations between young men and women would form. It is possible that this might have happened had our schools not taken down the conventions and institutional arrangements that for generations had brought the sexes together in a more or less orderly and purposeful way.

Back then, we were told that the old order must be abolished because the standards and conventions it embodied favored men. Young women would be sexually liberated and the “playing field” leveled. Therefore, parietal hours were eliminated and mixed-sex dorms, once inconceivable, became the norm. In the process, the new unisex coeducational colleges and universities that are so familiar to us today came into existence. These institutions committed themselves to dismantling the culture of courtship that until then colleges had accepted and in a variety of ways fostered within an educational environment

The idea was even bandied about that in a coeducational setting, women would be better able to “domesticate” the men. That goal was soon forgotten, once marriage no longer figured as a social value and was replaced by the monolithic aim of success in a career.

In our day, the University of Virginia was an all-men’s college. The young women whose attention we sought also attended single-sex colleges. Contrary to popular myth, however, the girls, not we, held most of the cards. They controlled the availability of dates that we sought in calls from the single pay phone in our dormitory or fraternity house. What is more, we saw these young women almost always at their colleges, not at the university, since their visits to the university were restricted. This was no double standard, at least not one that worked to the disadvantage of females. None of us thought of these arrangements that way. We were on a date, and meeting young women at their dormitories in a common lounge overseen by a house mother was a reasonable extension of dating in high school and picking a girl up at her parents’ home. In other words, before the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, the “yes” and “no,” ­now­adays promoted as the be-all and end-all of sexual etiquette, were given moral force by a restraining and clarifying ensemble of conventions and threshold spaces that the colleges and universities saw fit to sweep away virtually overnight.

When the Rolling Stone article first broke, we received this correspondence from a young woman whom both of us had taught. After emphasizing that “the sexes have never enjoyed a state of peace” and that “misogyny and rape are as old as humans,” she continues:

“Does university life make things worse? Of course. First-year dorms are meant to create a community, and sometimes they do, but dropping teenagers into this teeming isolation brings no guarantee that anyone in the multitude will care for them. Place a group of barely post-adolescent young men in an environment with little external regulation and you end up with the lowest common denominator of behavior. A university offers professors and administrators and RAs and hotlines and whatnot, but the students aren’t living in a context that teaches wisdom and cooperation and compassion. It’s a strange isolation from everyone not of the 18–22 [age] range, from children and adults who might teach you about humanity just by living in some form of community.”

The environment of the new coeducational college is for many young men and women a “strange” and lonely place, a place that is disconnected from the ordinary familial, religious, and social ties that in one fashion or other continue to lend a measure of order, direction, and purpose to relations between the sexes (as well as to other aspects of their lives). As another young woman observed in a class assignment, “Students, in essence, are not touched by regulated social sanctions because,” at the university, “there is an expectation to break rather than uphold normal codes of conduct.”

When arriving at college, seventeen- and eighteen­-year-old young men and women are invited into a jungle, for some, and a carnival, for others, of formless sex with no particular purpose other than recreational pursuits or momentary impulses. Relationships, when formed, are entered into and broken off as though they have been picked up at the bazaar and can be traded when the novelty or initial excitement has worn off. There is little or no promise of permanence and endurable belonging in any of this, and young women suffer the most for it. A recent alumna cited above writes:

“The story is a common one at UVA. Beautiful, intelligent, accomplished young woman, like one of my sorority sisters whose one-night stand “partner” could not be bothered to pay for her taxi ride home the morning after, or a friend of a close family friend whom I saw passed out on the floor at a fraternity house at 2 am with nothing on but her underwear, or a housemate of mine who was dumped passed-out drunk on our front porch one Saturday night by a group of male students with no knock, no doorbell, just a resounding “thud.””

This account is one of the many things we have heard and seen that remind us also of the damage we do to young men by our neglect of them, by our failure to give them positive ideals of manhood, manners, and values that might draw out the best from them.

Let’s be clear: The unisex university of today is a very different animal from either the single-sex or coeducational schools that preceded it. Both of us were students at the University of Virginia at the beginning of the sexual revolution. We were here when it was an all-male institution. And with a deep sense of betrayal we have listened to some colleagues preposterously assert that the sexual anarchy and sexual violence to which our own students testify originated in the “primitive history” of our youth at the university, when boys were supposed to be gentlemen and the girls at the women’s schools ladies.

The truth is that never did we feel the ideal of being a Virginia gentleman licensed us to treat young women as inferiors with whom we could do whatever we pleased. Just the opposite. The ideal of a gentleman had the moral power to put the brakes on our most tawdry and aggressive male proclivities and to make us take pride in our manhood. Some of us took seriously one line of a poem titled “The Honor Men,” which we hung in our rooms. It said “pursue no woman to her tears.” A beautifully framed print of this poem hangs in Guroian’s university office, a gift from his students.

Certainly, both of us saw and experienced some of the immoral and destructive things that happened when, in past days, young women from Randolph Macon Woman’s College, Sweet Briar, or Mary Washington College visited the university for football games or parties on “big weekends.” Nonetheless, college life in the sixties was a very different world. This bears recalling not as an indulgence in sentimentality but rather so that we might make an honest appraisal of precisely whence we came to arrive at where we are now. Perhaps there is something to be learned from the past in order to better judge the nature of what we have wrought in the present.

Back then, everything possible was in place to prevent a rape or any other form of sexual violence from being committed in a fraternity house or university housing. Women were not permitted in dormitory rooms or fraternity bedrooms. Those notorious University of Virginia gentlemen at the “Playboy School of the South” enforced their own parietal rules, and housemothers could be found at fraternity parties until 1968. Young women who visited for an overnight stay were assigned to “approved housing” that their institutions selected, rooms more often than not in the homes of widows who had space to let. If a young woman was uncomfortable with her date, a refuge was available, and there was a curfew. “No” had the force of strong conventions and in loco parentis. There wasn’t the need for draconian rules and punishments, because the university and women’s colleges represented real standards that were reflected in the arrangements they had put in place to bring the sexes together in an orderly fashion.

In reality, the schools, whether or not they understood themselves in that role, supported habits of courtship. Today’s regime discourages dating and courtship. Dating and courtship require a private space from which each sex can depart at appointed times to meet in public. There needs to be a threshold, a space of transition that communicates to a man and a woman that “Yes, I’m going out especially to see you, to be with you.” To hang out with a guy in his room in the dorm is very different from leaving an all-girls’ dorm to meet him at the library, to say nothing of a guy going to an entirely ­different campus where a chaperone waits along with a date. This difference is not one of license, and it is more than a matter of chastity. It is a mark of deeper intention and purposefulness in our most intimate relations.

Our unisex colleges and universities have abolished those spaces. What remains, what they have gone about creating, are spaces that invite and accommodate hook-ups and casual cohabitation—and open opportunities for forms of sexual violence that were not likely to happen on campus grounds in the past.

Since a fraternity event was the contrived setting for the Rolling Stone article, it is instructive to compare the fraternity party of our day with the fraternity party of today at the University of Virginia. In the sixties and well into the seventies, parties at fraternities did not lure young women with the promise of liquor and a hook-up. These were not “stag” parties, to use an old expression. These were dating events. The nearest thing to today’s fraternity parties were the mixers that the university and the sister colleges sponsored. The young women arrived and departed in buses. Boys and girls came together in the grand ballroom of Newcomb Hall: There were no alcoholic beverages or bedrooms to which to slip away. Neither the dormitories nor the fraternity houses were available for bedroom sex. And there were chaperones at the mixers. These mixers were the brunt of many jokes. The same cannot possibly be said about ­fraternity parties today. They have become ­dangerous activities.

But who is at fault? Fraternities at the university have traditionally hosted parties. Today’s parties reflect the university’s change of mind, or rather mindlessness, about sex. They evolved into what they are now because the university let it happen. The same moronic judgment that assigns twenty-year-olds as resident advisors for university housing let come into existence a laissez-faire economy of sex and the accompanying debauchery. But this economy is not “sex blind.” It devalues womanhood and undermines possibilities for lasting relationships. One young woman laments:

Call me old-fashioned, but is the notion of a guy calling a girl and asking her out to dinner so preposterous? And that is just the problem: we have been conditioned to think that even a single gesture such as this is beyond the scope of expectation. It is an outright riot in my sorority house when someone actually gets asked on a date, and I hear things like, “He must really like you,” “Oh gosh, are you guys dating? Is it official now?” And the classic “Guys never do this!”

The problem is not new. Our colleges and universities have not fessed up to the sexual anarchy and formless sex that they helped bring into existence when they sponsored and institutionalized the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies. Even as the evidence has mounted to undeniable proportions that something has gone horribly wrong with relations between the sexes on our campuses, colleges will not admit culpability for the ugly scene. Most important, they will not admit that the great experiment of institutionalizing the sexual revolution has failed at the cost of many, many ruined lives.

In the wake of the Rolling Stone scandal, one might have expected the university to commence a conscientious self-­examination into the underlying reasons for the present scene. Not so. The newly named President’s Ad Hoc Group on University Climate and Culture has ­created work groups that will do no more than address the obvious symptoms of the sexual malaise, such as alcohol consumption, and rehash tired methods to prevent sexual violence. Meanwhile, the university turns a blind eye to the pervasive sexual chaos that our students describe. Under these ­circumstances, the culture certainly will not change, and as for the climate, it will be characterized increasingly by intrusive administrative procedures and policing activities.

In this regard, let’s not lose sight of the fact that a falsified report of a gang rape became the occasion for a university-wide crusade to put a stop to ­sexual violence of every kind. When for administrative purposes we categorize rape as one specimen among many of sexual misconduct, we lose a vital sense of the full scale of sexual disorder that afflicts college life. When we become incapable of responding to rape as what it is, an act just one step short of murder, then all else that has gone awry with sex in the university takes on the look of normality.

Already, during orientation sessions, prior and subsequent to matriculation, deans and counselors admonish newly arriving seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds to make “good decisions” as they reconnoiter a new terrain of sexual freedom out of the purview of family, church, and neighborhood. It can seem to a young mind as if college is about sex and the bedroom first, and education and the classroom second. In these sessions, nothing is indicated, nor is advice given, as to what the “good choice” is. None of the administrators are free to speak their minds on the matter. The students are left to infer that the university has no firm belief on the subject and that, so long as partners assent to sex, anything is possible and permissible.

Consequently, when an act of sexual misconduct, violent or otherwise, is alleged, an avoidance of moral standards under the pretense of extending freedom to young adults quickly and perversely turns to finding guilt in any party conveniently at hand. Thus, the false accusation against one fraternity ­immediately implicated all fraternities, and all of the young men belonging to them became suspects. This was a dreadful thing to watch. In our classes, we witnessed confusion, humiliation, and anger in the faces of these young men. A male student in one of Guroian’s classes lamented:

“Being a ‘fraternity man,’ I have felt like I have a huge target on my back since this thing came out, and it’s tough. . . . Going beyond male-female sexuality, male sexuality in particular has fallen to a despairing place. . . . Males have been so subverted in culture sexually that there seems to be no place to exercise a healthy male pride or exhibit the wildness and chest-pumping that is part of manhood.”

The university’s transference of fault reflects its claim to moral innocence. Someone or something other than the college or university is to blame. Those who cultivate moral innocence avert their eyes from the fact that evil resides in the world. This is what is implicit in the initial counsel of “good choices.” Faced with sexual violence, the allegedly “innocent” university pleads that it is not responsible, morally or legally, for the anarchic and destructive sex that happens. “It is all the fraternities’ fault. It is the fault of the benighted heritage of a Southern male institution. It is the fault of flawed policies that state and federal governments have mandated.”

Another strategy available to a self-­complimentary moral innocence, confident in its purity, locates fault in some other object—a deck of cards, a bottle of whisky, the curves of a person’s body, an unpopular race, a fraternity. Regulate, remove, or hide these factors and the undesirable behavior will go away.

Dartmouth proclaims that hard liquor will be banished from campus and intensifies its war on the Greek system. It will institutionalize sex training for its students over the entire duration of their college stay and beef up security, but it will not admit that the college itself created the environment it blames others for. The University of Virginia is training unarmed security officers named Ambassadors, garbed in “neon-green vests,” to be on the lookout for students “in vulnerable states and guide them to safety.” Why not also position cameras in all dormitory rooms and suites?

Meanwhile, not a thought is given to the possibility that the new coeducational college that was brought into existence forty years ago is the “sick man” in our midst that invites American youth into the new debauchery.

There are many ironies in the proposed remedies of surveillance and reeducation. One irony in particular stands out. The same persons who in their youth supported the liberation of the sexes from so-called Victorian inhibitions and morals are now rushing to impose at colleges complex codes of sexual conduct that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. These codes reveal well the dilemma they face. When equality of the sexes became the epicenter of the sexual revolution, activists removed all of the conventions and arrangements that shielded females from aggressive male behavior. They had to do so, or else they would have appeared still to respect differences between men and women. But now, faced with rising numbers of damaged students, they must produce rules of sexual engagement that will stop the abuses and traumas. The dilemma is this: How do you acknowledge the special vulnerability of women to men while disallowing distinct codes of conduct for men and women? The current solution is to adopt a formal and abstract language that ­maintains the unisex ideal and keeps silent about male–female ­differences.

Perusing the new college “sex manuals” is like studying instructions for the operation of machinery. In this hyper-bureaucratic vision, mind and will are described to exist in a macabre, disembodied state: a Cartesian dualism gone positively mad. The University of Virginia document on sexual violence reads as follows: “A person who has given Effective Consent to engage in Sexual Contact or Sexual Intercourse may withdraw Effective Consent at any time. It is the responsibility of the person withdrawing Effective Consent to communicate, through clear words or actions, that he or she no longer wishes to engage in the sexual activity.” Sexual contact is “any intentional sexual touching, however slight, with any object, performed by a person upon another person.” Now who believes that sex happens this way, where persons rule over their bodies like technicians ­operating a robot?

Codes of sexual conduct, like these we have cited from the University of Virginia, are not what they seem. They are not preventive measures in the real world. The young women who visited Wilson when he was dean of the Echols Scholars Program and revealed to him that they had been raped or assaulted sexually were not complaining that university rules about sexual conduct had been violated or their autonomy compromised. They came to him deeply wounded; the only thing left for them to salvage was their pride in themselves as young scholars. They needed to be heard in a personal way, by someone they perceived as having moral authority capable of helping them determine how to live their lives.

Administrative and juridical rules supported by sanctions cannot make a humane culture. Only moral convictions about right and wrong ensconced in manners and customary restraints can ensure a healthy culture of relations between the sexes. Consent does not suffice for a sexual morality, not even in deciding right from wrong. Bad and harmful sex can happen even when there is consent. Human beings often consent to being acted upon in ways that will do them harm. Does consent alone make it right for me to do something with or to someone to which she has agreed but that I know will harm her?

Statements such as the following in the University of Virginia’s document on sexual violence are not neutral in content. “The University urges students to exercise extreme caution before engaging in sexual activity when either or both parties have been consuming alcohol.” This is a morally bankrupt and aseptic admonition. It gives the approval, if only with a nod, to the sexual free-for-all that wreaks such havoc on the lives of young men and women. And we should add, it has little or no influence over its audience. Youths do not heed voices that lack moral conviction.

Coming to grips with what we, the university, have done to our students, and are doing to them even now, calls for a full recognition of the irresponsibility of our current and past posturing of moral innocence, as well as for a critique of an ideology of consent that leaves very little moral ground on which to stand.

Much of what we have discussed is intramural, as we speak from fifty years of experience at a particular educational institution. Yet we are confident that what we describe is familiar to others. We have not rehearsed the history in order to go back to what was. There is no returning to the past. A culture of courtship in which sex was given form and meaning was taken down and replaced by a rudderless, sexualized campus. We do not expect that a healthy culture good for both sexes will emerge anytime soon. That will take leadership that seems nowhere on the horizon.

And the problem isn’t just the leadership at our colleges. In this fog of formless sex, students remain reticent or become defensive when they perceive that their freedom is threatened. In January of this year, the National Panhellenic Conference, an association of national sororities, instructed sorority women at the University of Virginia for their own safety not to attend the annual Boys Bid Night fraternity parties. This prompted an immediate counterreaction that has not yet played out entirely. Female students protested that this directive contradicted the gains women have made to stand on equal ground with men in social and sexual matters.

One reason the effort offends is that it comes off solely as a restriction. The conference’s directive lacked the positive social or moral context that it might well have had forty years ago. Thus, we are not surprised that young women at the university object. Nor are we surprised that the young women, many of whom attend our classes, do not see that they remain on a dangerous and uneven playing field in sexual matters at fraternity parties, or most anywhere at the university. At fraternity parties and many other places of undergraduate life outside of the classroom, the boys hold the stronger cards. This is perilous for young women. The hook-up culture that has replaced dating is all to the male’s advantage, and it threatens to turn him into a lout.

In the past century, Walker Percy observed that contemporary men and women are so used to the ragged and rapacious character of sex in their time that nothing really shocks them anymore. What used to jolt people out of the innocent’s dream life is now a thing of passive “interest” at best. Genital sex, Percy concluded, has become our last contact with reality. Cells on cells, skin on skin, has become the last evidence of being and sign of metaphysical import. But this cannot satisfy the human quest for meaning and community. Something of this order is the only possible explanation for the halo, breastplate, and sword we have extended to sex among our students, and for the furious outrage of our pathetic pretense to innocence when of late we “discovered” what has been going on around us for forty years.

A year ago, Guroian sat back and quietly listened to a vigorous exchange among thirty students in a seminar he teaches on sexuality. This was at the close of a section on the contemporary state of courtship. After a quarter-hour of intense discussion, as the classroom finally quieted, Guroian asked, “Do I hear you rightly? Are you saying that the whole thing has unraveled?” He was answered with silence. He looked around for at least one dissenting face. There was none.

Vigen Guroian is professor of religious studies in Orthodox Christianity at the University of Virginia. William Wilson is professor emeritus of religious studies at the University of Virginia and director of the Jefferson Fellowship at the Jefferson Scholars Foundation.

The Atlanta teachers’ trial: A perfect example of America’s broken justice system

by Scott Lemieux via TheWeek.com


During a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter announced that the crime under consideration was “the sickest thing that’s ever happened in this town.” Given that Atlanta, the town in question, has seen crimes including racist and anti-semitic lynchings, the serial murder of children, and a terrorist bombing at the Olympics, the bar is rather high. So what was the particularly heinous and perverse crime that had been committed?

School administrators and teachers fudged the results of standardized tests.

It seems safe to say that Judge Baxter lost his perspective. And the prosecutors who brought racketeering charges against the educators did, too. As a result, eight teachers and administrators were given jail sentences of at least a year. Three administrators were given 21-year sentences with seven served in prison, far more than the one to three years that prosecutors were seeking.

This result is a classic example of how excessive sentences and abuse of prosecutorial discretion have resulted in what amounts to a mass incarceration disaster in the U.S.

To say that the racketeering charges are breaking a butterfly on a wheel is not to condone the actions of these teachers and administrators. Whatever one thinks about high-stakes standardized tests, they had a professional duty to administer them with integrity, and their actions are fireable offenses. But their behavior does not justify prosecution under statutes intended to be used against organized crime.

My view that the loss of livelihood was sufficient punishment is far from idiosyncratic. As Dana Goldstein has demonstrated in an essential piece for The Marshall Project, it is extraordinarily unusual for criminal charges of anything like this severity to be brought in such cases, even though “adult tampering with student testing is depressingly widespread.” To provide some context, non-token jail terms have generally been reserved for teachers who are sexual predators.

The legal context of the testing should also serve to mitigate the offense. In theory, standardized testing can be a useful tool in evaluating teachers and schools, but the regime established by the No Child Left Behind Act does not use it well. The statute sets up very rigid standards derived from single high-stakes tests. The unrealistic performance targets ensure that even competent teachers run the risk of being branded failures and getting sacked, while decent schools are in danger of being declared failures and closed.

Given the structure created by NCLB, widespread cheating by desperate educators was inevitable. That doesn’t excuse their actions, but it’s also a factor that should be taken into account when determining whether a group of educators should be singled out for extraordinary punishment.

One potential defense of the prosecutors and the judge in this case is that the teachers and administrators who are being sent to prison have only themselves to blame, since they refused to cop a plea. The educators who did so were given parole, and before sentencing Judge Baxter urged convicted defendants to take a deal that would have involved shorter sentences served only on weekends. “We didn’t start out with the goal of putting educators in jail,” asserted District Attorney Paul Howard.

This is still a lousy justification for the state’s behavior, one that reveals another major problem with the American criminal justice system. Prosecutors with almost unlimited discretion can use threats of absurdly disproportionate maximum sentences to essentially punish the accused for exercising their rights to a fair trial. The defendants may have been unwise not to take a deal (and waive their right to appeal) before sentencing, but if Judge Baxter thought the terms of the deal were fair, nothing was stopping him from imposing that sentence himself.

People should be punished for their actions, not for refusing to take pleas. And the effect of this justice through plea bargain is for people who commit similar offenses to be given different punishments for wholly arbitrary reasons.

Admittedly, I would have less sympathy for guilty defendants who refused to take deals if the underlying offenses were, say, serious violent crimes the state had no choice but to prosecute. But this simply was not one of those cases. Getting the criminal law involved was unnecessary and served no legitimate purpose.

At both the federal and state level, American government tries to solve too many problems with the criminal law. In this case, the appropriate sanction for professional misconduct should be a loss of job (or perhaps a suspension or other employment-related remedy). The prosecutors were right the first time: None of these people belong in jail.

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