Monthly Archives: November 2010

Is ‘Superman’ Catholic?

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the ever-affable newly elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made a recent appearance on “Fox and Friends.”  Using the national spotlight to plug Catholic education, the archbishop said a key to the success of parochial schools has been their accountability.

“Our parents can choose or not choose to send their kids there,” Archbishop Dolan said, “so – darn it – we better produce! Because, if we don’t, next year they’re going to go somewhere else.”


Parents of murder victim offer forgiveness

In the nearly 14 years I’ve covered the State House in Annapolis, I’ve heard a lot of arguments for and against the death penalty. Proponents often insist the ultimate punishment deters violent crime and exacts justice. Opponents say it’s inhumane and unfairly targets minorities.

Few people have provided more powerful personal testimony against the death penalty than Vicki Schieber, the mother of a murder victim whose Catholic faith propels her to forgive.

Vicki and her husband, Syl, will share their story tonight at the Greene Turtle in Fells Point beginning at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Tap into Your Faith series for young adults.  

Below are excerpts from a story I wrote a few years ago in The Catholic Review, along with a CR video clip featuring Vicki. The Schiebers will discuss much more at tonight’s talk and answer questions. Everyone is welcome. 



When police arrested the man who brutally raped and murdered Shannon Schieber in 1998, the Schieber family faced unrelenting pressuring to seek the death penalty.

The district attorney, prosecutors, members of the media and others in Philadelphia assured Shannon’s parents that putting their 23-year-old daughter’s killer to death was the only way to serve justice and bring them “a sense of closure.” Some even implied that failing to pursue the death penalty was a sign they didn’t really love their daughter.

Reflecting back on those heart-wrenching days, Vicki Schieber, Shannon’s mother, said her family was “re-victimized” by the debate surrounding the death penalty. Knowing the Catholic values her daughter embraced, Mrs. Schieber said there was no way she could demand the taking of another life. “The death penalty wasn’t going to honor Shannon’s life and it wasn’t going to bring her back,” said Mrs. Schieber, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C., who spoke at a Nov. 7 forum on the death penalty sponsored by the archdiocesan respect life office at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.

“I thought about everything we ever taught Shannon to believe — to turn the other cheek, to show compassion and to be forgiving,” Mrs. Schieber said. “If you have a set of principles and then don’t live by them when you are tested, were they ever your principles to begin with?”

Mrs. Schieber’s request for a sentence of life without parole was ultimately given to Troy Graves, who also pleaded guilty to 13 other sexual assault in two states.

What Shannon would have wanted

Mrs. Schieber said it wasn’t an easy decision. She and her family struggled with tremendous anger that someone would snuff out the life of a daughter she described as the “joy of our lives.”

Shannon was gifted “beyond belief,” according to her mother. At 18 months, she was already reciting the alphabet — forward and backward. By the time she was 3, she was reading at a second-grade level. In school, Shannon earned top grades, serving as president of her high school and president of her freshman class at Duke University, where she graduated in three years with a triple major in mathematics, economics and philosophy.

Shannon was also very committed to social justice. She earned a full scholarship at the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia — not with the intent of making boatloads of money for herself, Mrs. Schieber said, but to have a successful career in finance so she could help the poor.

“After her death, Shannon was sitting on my shoulder, telling me, ‘Don’t let him kill all of you, too,” said Mrs. Schieber. “She was telling me to take all that energy and do good with it.”

To pursue the death penalty would have put her on the same footing as the murderer himself by being willing to take a life to satisfy one’s own ends, Mrs. Schieber said.

‘No such thing as closure’

It is wrong to suggest that executing people brings a sense of closure, according to Mrs. Schieber. Every time she sees a beautiful young family in church, she is reminded that her daughter will never have the chance to marry and raise a family of her own. Even if the killer were executed, those reminders will persist throughout her life, Mrs. Schieber said.

“There is no such thing as closure when a violent crime rips away someone you love,” she said.

Mrs. Schieber pointed out that the death penalty is a human institution and subject to mistakes. More than 120 people have been exonerated for murders they did not commit, she said. At a practical level, the death penalty is also a waste of money, according to Mrs. Schieber. Sustaining the death penalty infrastructure and appeals process costs millions of dollars per case, she said. “It only costs about $50,000 (annually) to keep my daughter’s murderer in prison,” she said.

As the Maryland General Assembly is expected to debate a bill replacing the death penalty with sentences of life without parole, Mrs. Schieber urged Catholics to sign petitions in support of the effort to help convince lawmakers to support a culture of life.

“All life is sacred,” she said.


The Little Sisters of the Poor ain’t no patsies

(CR Photo/Owen Sweeney III) Sis Carnes and Little Sister of the Poor Lawrence Pocock share a conversation.

Thom Loverro of The Washington Examiner has a nice column about how the phrase “playing the Little Sisters of the Poor” has become one of the ultimate sports insults. 

I’ve visited St. Martin’s Home for the Aged in Catonsville many times, where I’ve seen the Little Sisters of the Poor care for the sick and dying.  I can testify that these heroic women definitely ain’t no patsies.  

Here’s an article in The Catholic Review that describes their work in much detail.

A snip from Loverro’s column:

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Ohio State president Elwood Gordon Gee caught some heat last week for insulting the quality of opponents Boise State and TCU face on their football schedules in the continuing debate about the BCS and the crowning of a national champion.

“Well, I don’t know enough about the Xs and Os of college football,” Gee told the Associated Press. “I do know, having been both an SEC president and a Big Ten president, that it’s like a murderer’s row every week for those schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day.”

What is it about the Little Sisters of the Poor? Why, in every sports debate that comes up about quality of opponents, does somebody like Gee feel the need to disparage the Little Sisters of the Poor?

They don’t even have a football team.

The fact is the Little Sisters of the Poor is a fine Roman Catholic religious order for women that helps the elderly poor in 31 countries around the world.

They deserve better than to be defined as schedule patsies.

“We’ve heard that before,” said Amelia Arnold, who works in the development department in the Baltimore office. “We think it is funny. Most people don’t realize we are an organization and the work that we do … but we have had some Ravens players here for programs.”


Hallelujah Chorus Fail

Handel’s Messiah is always big this time of the year and choirs around the archdiocese are probably working on “For Unto Us a Child is Born” and the “Hallelujah Chorus” for Christmas.

Here’s what can happen when the organist accidentally hits the transpose button at a most unfortunate moment.

By the way, Ed Polochick and The Concert of Artists of Baltimore will perform a much better version next Friday at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore. Their performances are outstanding.  You won’t want to miss it.


Hagerstown parishioners step up to the collection plate

Even in a difficult economy, parishioners of St. Mary in Hagerstown are stepping up to support their church.

One year after their pastor, Father J. Collin Poston, spoke at all the weekend Masses about the real need for increased giving,  donations spiked dramatically. The parish recently reported that for the 11 months ended Oct. 31, St. Mary’s offertory was $598,898, compared to $495,411 for the same 11 months of the prior year — an increase of 20.9 percent!  That’s even more generous than what the Washington County parishioners promised to donate a year ago when Father Poston asked them to complete commitment pledges.

Kudos to the good people of St. Mary. They’re just one more example of the big-hearted spirit of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

For more on St. Mary, check out a recent parish profile in The Catholic Review by Jennifer Williams.


Why the pope wore that ‘Santa hat’

Catholic News Service photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo

A few days before Christmas in the first year of his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI sported a red velvet cap trimmed with ermine.

Known as a “camauro,” the old-fashioned headwear promptly earned the nickname “Santa hat” among some. Others questioned why the German pontiff seemed to be reviving a papal fashion not seen in many decades.

The pope answers the questions in his new book. 

Catholic News Service has the story:

“I wore it only once,” (the pope said). “I was just cold, and I happen to have a sensitive head. And I said, since the camauro is there, let’s put it on. But I was really just trying to fight off the cold,” he said.

The pope’s appearance in the cap caused a minor uproar in the media, which saw it as a kind of pre-Vatican II fashion statement. In the book, the pope said he hasn’t put it on since that day, “in order to forestall over-interpretation.”


The Great Debate is tonight

Be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world.

That’s the resolution two debating titans will take up tonight in Toronto in a matchup that’s likely to attract a lot of attention around the world.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a convert to Catholicism, will argue in favor of religion’s positive impact, while well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens will take up the opposite view.

Hitchens, a British-born American who is battling esophageal cancer, has been a scathing critic of religion. He has long attacked Blessed Mother Teresa as the “Ghoul of Calcutta” — charging her with using her fame to promote the “fundamentalist agenda” of Pope John Paul II.

Two weeks after Blessed Mother Teresa visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore in 1996, the Baltimore Museum of Art hosted a showing of Hitchens’ documentary called “Hell’s Angel — Mother Teresa of Calcutta.” The Catholic Review reported that the showing attracted protestors and sparked outrage across the archdiocese.

Bill Blaul, then the communications director for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told The Catholic Review that he turned down a request from the video’s producers to appear with Hitchens at a panel discussion at the event because the atheist’s reputation as a “religion hater and Mother Teresa basher” had preceded him.

“I was not about to sit across the table from him, representing the archdiocese,” Blaul said. “It would have been like debating someone from the Ku Klux Klan.”

Blair, who established Blair’s Faith Foundation in 2008 to promote understanding between religions, has announced that he will donate his speaking fee for tonight’s debate to his foundation.

The former prime minister, who served in that capacity from 1997-2007, has also established the Tony Blair Sports Foundation to increase opportunities for young people to participate in athletics.

Thousands of people around the world are paying money to watch tonight’s debate online. 

Expect sparks to fly.

Here’s a snip from Winnipeg Free Press.

The question to be argued before some 2,600 audience members is a chance to hear two important voices debate religion’s impact in an era of globalization, said moderator Rudyard Griffiths.

“With Tony Blair we’ve got someone who has wielded power at the highest levels but also has an enduring belief that faith can make the world a better place,” said Griffiths.

“In Christopher Hitchens, arguably the world’s most prominent atheist and someone who in many ways has dedicated his intellectual life, his writing, to making the case for why he thinks religion poisons everything.”

When the event, part of the Munk Debates, was announced last month, Blair said he had a “formidable opponent” in the British-born turned American journalist, author and Vanity Fair columnist.

“Understanding religion and people of faith is an essential part of understanding our increasingly globalized world,” said Blair, who released his memoirs in September.

“Challenging the myths that are born out of the actions and words of a controversial few is incredibly important.”

Votes will be taken at the beginning and end of the debate Friday at Roy Thomson Hall to determine who had the more convincing argument. Results will be posted on the Munk Debates website.


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