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Buried In Baltimore: The Mysterious Murder Of A Nun Who Knew Too Much

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Interesting case, long dormant, described by Laura Bassett in Huffington Post:

On a frigid day in November 1969, Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain of Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, called a student into his office and suggested they go for a drive. When the final bell rang at 2:40 p.m., Jean Hargadon Wehner, a 16-year-old junior at the all-girls Catholic school, followed the priest to the parking lot and climbed into the passenger seat of his light blue Buick Roadmaster.

It was not unusual for Maskell to give students rides home or take them to doctor’s appointments during the school day. The burly, charismatic priest, then 30 years old, had been the chief spiritual and psychological counselor at Keough for two years and was well-known in the community. Annual tuition at Keough was just $200, which attracted working-class families in deeply Catholic southwest Baltimore who couldn’t afford to send their daughters to fancier private schools. Many Keough parents had attended Maskell’s Sunday masses. He’d baptized their babies, and they trusted him implicitly.

This time, though, Maskell didn’t bring Wehner home. He navigated his car past the Catholic hospital and industrial buildings that surrounded Keough’s campus and drove toward the outskirts of the city. Eventually, he stopped at a garbage dump, far from any homes or businesses. Maskell stepped out of the car, and the blonde, freckled teenager followed him across a vast expanse of dirt toward a dark green dumpster.

It was then that she saw the body crumpled on the ground.

The week prior, Sister Cathy Cesnik, a popular young nun who taught English and drama at Keough, had vanished while on a Friday-night shopping trip. Students, parents and the local media buzzed about the 26-year-old’s disappearance. People from all over Baltimore County helped the police comb local parks and wooded areas for any sign of her.

Wehner immediately recognized the lifeless body as her teacher. “I knew it was her,” she recalled recently. “She wasn’t that far gone that you couldn’t tell it was her.”

Cesnik was still clad in her aqua-colored coat, and maggots were crawling on her face. Wehner tried to brush them off with her bare hands. “Help me get these off of her!” she cried, turning to Maskell in a panic. Instead, she says, the priest leaned down behind her and whispered in her ear: “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”

Maskell, Wehner understood, was threatening her. She decided not to tell anyone. “He terrified me to the point that I would never open my mouth,” she recalled.

Two months later, the police announced that a pair of hunters passing through a dump outside of Baltimore had stumbled upon the body of the missing nun. Cesnik had choke marks on her neck and a round hole about the size of a quarter in the back of her skull. An autopsy confirmed she had been killed by a blow from a blunt object, probably a brick or a ball-peen hammer. But no one came forward with information about the murder, and the police never solved it.Over the past year, however, Wehner and other Keough alumni have begun piecing together their memories and talking openly for the first time in decades about the traumatizing things that happened to them in high school ­— events they believe are connected to Cesnik’s murder. And a group of them has launched their own investigation in hopes of answering the questions that continue to vex the police: Who killed Sister Cathy — and why?

Gemma Hoskins set a bowl of Doritos and a plate of sugar cookies on her dark wooden coffee table and passed out typed copies of the January meeting agenda. One by one, her guests took their places around the oriental rug in her pale-yellow living room. “I’ll start by introducing everyone, because we have a few new faces here,” Hoskins said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2015 at 12:47 pm

Red-state America compared to Baltimore

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Thomas Edsall writes in the NY Times:

In the fall of 1969, Merle Haggard topped the Billboard country charts for four weeks with “Okie from Muskogee,” the song that quickly became the anthem of red America, even before we called it that.

“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee, we don’t take our trips on LSD, we don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street, we like livin’ right and bein’ free,” Haggard declared. “We don’t make a party out of lovin’, we like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo.”

Times have changed.

Today Muskogee, Okla., a city of 38,863, has nine drug treatment centers and a court specifically devoted to drug offenders. A search for “methamphetamine arrest” on the website of the Muskogee Phoenix, the local newspaper, produces 316 hits.

In 2013 just under two-thirds of the births in the city of Muskogee, 62.6 percent, were to unwed mothers, including 48.3 percent of the births to white mothers. The teenage birthrate in Oklahoma was 47.3 per 1,000; in Muskogee, it’s 59.2, almost twice the national rate, which is 29.7.

Muskogee County voted decisively for Ronald Reagan in 1984 and for Republican presidential candidates in the last three elections. In 2012, Romney beat Obama 57.4 to 42.6.

Why am I talking about Muskogee? Two reasons.

The first is that the Baltimore riots have become a vehicle for conservatives to point to the city as an emblem of the failure of liberalism and the Democratic Party. The current state of affairs in Muskogee suggests that the left does not deserve exclusive credit for social disorder.

The second reason is that worsening conditions in working-class white Republican communities indicate that the conservative moral agenda has not decisively won the battle for the hearts of America’s youth.

But let’s get back to the conservative reaction to Baltimore.

John Nolte, who writes for, Tweeted at 9:26 p.m. on Monday, April 27, “Baltimore is what happens when you replace the two-parent family with a welfare check & union-run public schools.” An hour later, Laura Ingraham, a talk-show host, followed suit: “No fathers, no male role models, no discipline, no jobs, no values = no sense of right & wrong.”

Baltimore “is a Great Society city that bought fully into the big-government vision of the 1960s, and the bitter fruit has been corruption, violence and despair,” according to Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. “This is a failure exclusively of Democrats.”

Never one to miss an opportunity to critique the opposition, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal declaimed:

“Let’s not forget who has run Baltimore and Maryland for nearly all of the last 40 years. The men and women in charge have been Democrats, and their governing ideas are ‘progressive.’ This model, with its reliance on government and public unions, has dominated urban America as once-vibrant cities such as Baltimore became shells of their former selves.”

Many regular folks share these views. “The cause of disproportionate crime and poverty rates among blacks in Baltimore and the U.S. is the continued degradation of the nuclear family,” Thomas Neale of Baltimore wrote in a letter to the editor of the local Sunpapers.

Insofar as conservatives identify the erosion of the traditional family as a cause of civic disorder, the erosion is not limited to minority communities in Democratic cities. These trends are increasingly characteristic of white communities in red states.

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Take the statistics in the first chart, which was produced from data collected and analyzed by Child Trends, an organization that conducts research on the quality of children’s lives. It shows that for the last few decades the out-of-wedlock birthrate among African-Americans — exceptionally high at more than 70 percent — has risen less rapidly than the white rate. Among African-Americans, the out-of-wedlock birthrate has gone from 57.3 percent in 1980 to 71.4 percent in 2013, an increase of 25 percent; the white rate over the same time period has gone up 205 percent, from 9.6 percent to 29.3 percent.

The highest rates of white teenage pregnancy in the 30 states with available data are in red states. While the national white teenage pregnancy rate in 2010 was 38 per 1,000, white rates were at least 10 points higher in nine states: Oklahoma (59), West Virginia (64), Arkansas (63), South Carolina (51), Alabama (49), Mississippi (55), Tennessee (51), Kentucky (59) and Louisiana (51). Each of these states cast decisive majorities for Romney in 2012.

The high pregnancy and birthrates among white teenagers in states where the Christian right and Tea Party forces are strong reflect the inability of ideological doctrines stressing social conservatism to halt the gradual shift away from traditional family structures.

In fact, the map in the second chart shows that the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the most socially conservative denominations in America, is dominant in every one of the nine states with the highest white teenage pregnancy rates, with the sole exception of West Virginia.

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Conservative religions have proved powerless to halt unwed motherhood, cohabitation and other trends that defy traditional morality — in part because these trends reflect the limited authority of the old order in the face of a global phenomenon known among researchers as the “second demographic transition.”

Regions as diverse as Europe, Japan, South America, Canada and the United States are undergoing a profound shift in fertility, reproductive attitudes and behavior. The changes include rejection of premarital virginity, social acceptance of single parenting, and the replacement of values stressing family obligation with values stressing personal autonomy.

I recently interviewed Ron Lesthaeghe, an eminent demographer and professor emeritus at the Free University of Brussels, who was in Washington last month for meetings at the National Academy of Sciences.

Lesthaeghe describes the current transition as follows: . . .

Continue reading.

From later in the article, an important note:

The violent crime rate in both cities has fallen over the past decade, just as it has nationwide, although the 22.3 percent drop in Baltimore is four times as large as the 5.6 percent decline in Muskogee.

So in terms of crime, Baltimore is doing better than Muskogee. I wonder whether the right-wing pundits who weighed in on Baltimore will comment on that. (Actually, I don’t wonder at all: they won’t.)

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2015 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Religion

Federally-Funded Abstinence-Only Education: ‘Flushing Taxpayer Dollars Down The Toilet’

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UPDATE: Relevant news report: Chlamydia Outbreak Hits Texas High School With No Sex Ed

The appeal of abstinence-only sex education baffles me. (One explanation: That it’s unimportant whether it works or not, the purpose being simply to make a statement about sex.) Tara Culp-Pressler reports at ThinkProgress:

It didn’t take more than a series of tweets to ignite a national controversy about what kind of information American kids are actually learning in their sex ed classes.

When Michigan resident Alice Dreger attended an abstinence-focused presentation at her son’s high school, and live-tweeted the information that the students were hearing about how condoms are full of holes and sex is a component of a bad lifestyle, she sparked widespread outrage. Her tweets were reprinted in national news outlets, and may help her local lawmakers push for sex education reform.

On the very same week that Dreger successfully raised awareness about the harmful nature of abstinence education, however, members of Congress quietly approvedadditional federal funding to prop up these programs.

Last month, lawmakers designated $25 million in additional funding for Title V, an 18-year-old federal program that doles out matching grants to states that agree to implement abstinence-only programs. The funding increase didn’t get widespread attention because it was slipped into a bipartisan health policy bill — a piece of legislation that was widely praised as a historic reform to the Medicare program.

Experts in the field of sexual health, who are armed with decades of evidenceproving that abstinence programs don’t accomplish their stated goals of delaying teens’ sexual activity, aren’t exactly pleased with Congress’ latest legislative move.

“It’s very depressing,” Elizabeth Schroeder, a sexuality education expert, told ThinkProgress. “You’re basically taking this money and wasting it. You’re just flushing taxpayer dollars down the toilet.”

“We’re all frustrated by this,” Debra Hauser, the executive director of Advocates for Youth, added. “Why are we still in a place where we have federally funded programs that have to include information teaching young people that sex outside of marriage will cause them physical and emotional harm? It just seems absolutely crazy.”

Hauser is referring to the fact that Title V puts forth an eight-point definition of “abstinence education” that enshrines a very conservative approach to sexuality into law. In order to be eligible for the funding, programs must teach, for instance, that “sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 May 2015 at 12:46 pm

Corporations will do anything to increase profits: Big Tobacco Reinterpreted the Koran to Try to Lure Muslim Smokers

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Kaleigh Rogers reports for Motherboard:

When it comes to Big Industry flexing its muscles to manipulate the masses, the tobacco industry has a particularly dark record. But a review published this month in the American Journal of Public Health shows Big Tobacco went even further than we realized, attempting to woo largely Muslim countries by telling them their religious beliefs against tobacco use were wrong.

A team of researchers combed through the Legacy Documents Tobacco Library: an online collection of 14 million documents from the tobacco industry, many of which were were made public after the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. The team spent nearly two years searching specifically for documents that referred to Islam and Muslims, analyzing those documents, and comparing them to other historical records. They also consulted with an advisory group of Islamic representatives to gain better context.

What they uncovered painted a stark picture showing that, for decades, Big Tobacco not only felt threatened by Islamic beliefs against tobacco use, but also actively worked to try to change those beliefs, including enlisting lawyers to reinterpret the Koran.

“Once we got into it, it became clear that there was a significant body of evidence that showed it wasn’t just a minor issue, it was a major issue for them,” Mark Petticrew, a professor of public health evaluation at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and co-author of the study, told me on the phone.

The group found plenty of evidence that countries with mostly-Muslim populations were uncertain about whether or not tobacco use fit with their religious beliefs. In 1984, for example, one Pakistani newspaper declared that jihad should be waged against smoking. And there was a lot of evidence that the tobacco industry not only recognized this growing concern about tobacco use in Islam, but also feared it. Internal memos from executives at British American Tobacco throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s describe the rejection of tobacco use by Muslims as a “serious problem,” “a real danger to the industry,” and “a hurricane” that Big Tobacco must be prepared to fight.

Rather than accepting that some cultures and religions aren’t interested in drilling through a pack of Marlboros in a day, the study shows the tobacco industry took efforts to change the minds of Muslims and portray anti-tobacco beliefs as “extremist.”

An excerpt from a 1981 article in Tobacco Observer cited in the study illustrates how the industry routinely framed these beliefs:

In the early days of tobacco in the Old World, sadism went hand in hand with opposition to smoking, as smokers encountered persecution as brutal as anything meted out to religious dissidents and witches. … Throughout the Muslim world fanatical mullahs and ayatollahs ranted against tobacco as one of the “four pillars of the tent of debauchery.”

Records show Big Tobacco also enlisted Islamic leaders to try to spread the word that tobacco wasn’t haram (prohibited) and that the Koran made no restrictions on tobacco use. They even had a team of lawyers pore over the holy text in order to interpret it in a way that permitted tobacco use fully. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 May 2015 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Business, Health, Religion

Who’s afraid of Pope Francis?: Interesting times in the Catholic church

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Gary Will has a good column in the NY Review of Books.

An authentic pope should be a scary one. Jesus scared the dickens out of people (it cost him his life). Is Pope Francis truly scary? One might think so from the reaction of some guardians of orthodoxy, men like New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who thinkshe must threaten the pope with schism to protect the sanctity of marriage, since “this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.” But ecclesiastical nitpickers have no armies of similar thinkers to summon. This is not even medium scary.

Now, however, something is looming that has billionaires shaking in their boots, and when Catholic billionaires shake, Catholic bishops get sympathetic shudders. These are the men who build their churches, hospitals, schools, and libraries. Catholic lore has made winning over such Money Men the mark of the true church leader—the Bing Crosby priest crooning dollars out of a cranky donor in Going My Way, or the J. F. Powers priest putting up with a wealthy boor to get a golf course for his retreat house.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan was recently reminded of these facts of churchly life by Kenneth Langone, a co-founder of Home Depot. The cardinal is working to restore St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, at a cost of $175 million. Langone asked why he and his fellow benefactors should raise such money when the pope is denouncing “the idolatry of money.” He said the pope’s criticism will make his fellow donors “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”

But this, too, was a minor threat. Langone was simply threatening to withhold money. Now, as the pope prepares a major encyclical on climate change, to be released this summer, the billionaires are spending a great deal of their money in a direct assault on him. They are calling in their chits, their kept scientists, their rigged conferences, their sycophantic beneficiaries, their bought publicists to discredit words of the pope that have not even been issued: “He would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate,” they say. They do not know exactly what the pope is going to say in his forthcoming encyclical on preserving God’s creation, but they know what he will not say. He will not deny that the poor suffer from actions that despoil the earth. Everything he has said and done so far shows that Francis always stands for the poor.

Those who profit from what harms the earth have to keep the poor out of sight. They have trouble enough fighting off the scientific, economic, and political arguments against bastioned privilege. Bringing basic morality to the fore could be fatal to them. That is why they are mounting such a public pre-emptive strike against the encyclical before it even appears. They must not only discredit the pope’s words (whatever they turn out to be), they must block them, ridicule them, destroy them. The measure of their fear is demonstrated by an article in First Things, the Catholic journal that defended the donations to bishops of the pederast religious founder Marcial Maciel. The First Thingswriter Maureen Mullarkey calls the pope “an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist,” and continues: “Francis sullies his office by using demagogic formulations to bully the populace into reflexive climate action with no more substantive guide than theologized propaganda.”

The editor of First Things later apologized for the uncivil tone of this piece—but he ran the piece, which is the real act of incivility. These people are really, really scared. When they calm down enough to make some kind of argument, they fall back on their mantra of recent years, claiming nobody really knows anything for sure about the state of the earth. “I’m not a scientist,” they say. Such professed ignorance would make honest people try to learn from the scientists what they do not know. Instead, the implication is that “If I don’t know, nobody can know; it is arrogant to pretend anyone else can know what I don’t know.”

They are now adapting this argument to fit the pope. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2015 at 6:40 pm

If public transportation operates on Saturdays, Jews will not know it is Shabbat

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To quote directly (from this article):

“Imagine if there was public transportation on the streets like on weekdays. We would not know it is Shabbat in Israel,” said Rabbi Arie Stern, one of Jerusalem’s chief rabbis.

In the US, public transportation operates on Saturday, and yet US Jews somehow are still able to know it is Shabbat. How do they manage that? Calendars?

It’s a great mystery—at least to Rabbi Stern, who depends on the lack of public transportation as his only means of knowing when it is Shabbat.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2015 at 11:15 am

Posted in Government, Religion

Robert Finn, Missouri Bishop Convicted of Shielding Pedophile Priest, Resigns

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The Catholic church seems finally to be taking action against those who protected and assisted pedophile priests. Laurie Goodstein reports in the NY Times:

Three years after Bishop Robert W. Finn became the first Roman Catholic prelate to be convicted of failing to report a pedophile priest, he resigned on Tuesday as head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in northern and western Missouri.

The move comes as Pope Francis is facing mounting pressure from the faithful and from members of his own sexual abuse commission to show that he is serious about keeping bishops accountable when they have shielded or mishandled child abusers.

Parishioners and priests in Bishop Finn’s diocese had been petitioning theVatican since he was convicted of shielding a priest discovered with child pornography on his laptop, saying that the bishop no longer had the credibility to lead. In the last month, Catholics in Chile have been bitterly protesting Francis’decision to install Bishop Juan Barros in the diocese of Osorno despite claims that he witnessed abuse years ago and did nothing.

Such a resignation is extremely rare when a bishop is not ill or close to the retirement age of 75. Bishop Finn is 62 and has served in his diocese just short of 10 years.

The Vatican announced the resignation in a brief note in its daily news bulletin Tuesday, and did not give a reason. But the Vatican cited a provision in church law under which a bishop is “earnestly requested” to resign because of ill health or “some other grave cause.”

In a statement released by the diocese, Bishop Finn said, “It has been an honor and joy for me to serve here among so many good people of faith.” Francis appointed Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, who leads the archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, to administer Bishop Finn’s former diocese but did not name a successor.

Bishop Finn was convicted in 2012 on a misdemeanor charge involving the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, a charismatic parish priest who Bishop Finn had been warned was behaving inappropriately with children. When Father Ratigan took his laptop computer in for repairs in December 2010, a technician immediately told church officials that the laptop contained what appeared to be sexually explicit photographs of young girls.

After Father Ratigan attempted suicide and was sent for treatment, Bishop Finn reassigned him to live in a convent and ordered him to stay away from children. But Father Ratigan continued to attend church events and take lewd pictures of girls for five more months, until church officials reported him to the police in May 2011, without Bishop Finn’s approval.

The bishop was convicted after a bench trial, and sentenced to serve two years court-supervised probation.

Jeff Weis, a parishioner who helped to lead the petition campaign pushing for Bishop Finn’s removal, said in a statement, that with the resignation, “the prayers of this hurt community have been answered.” But he added: “The damage done is immeasurable. The time necessary to heal will be long.”

Christopher Bellitto, an associate professor of history at Kean University in New Jersey, said, “It’s two steps forward for credibility, but one step back because it took too long.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2015 at 11:04 am

Posted in Law, Religion


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