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Florida Catholic Conference donates large chunks of money for anti-gay ballot measure

It hasn’t received much attention, but a last minute petition campaign for a “Marriage Protection Amendment” managed to secure a spot on Florida’s November ballot, sneaking in by the skin of its teeth on Friday. Given that Florida has already enacted a state-wide “Defense of Marriage Act,” one has to wonder why another push is being made by anti-gay organization s and institutions to keep this issue in the minds of voters.

Oh, wait. I know. It’s because conservative religious voters need a reason to go to the polls this November, seeing as how they are pretty unhappy with their choice of potential GOP nominees. So, sure enough, Florida4marr has secured a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage yet again.

Does anyone else feel like they’re reading the back of a shampoo bottle? Rinse. Wash. Repeat. Over and over again, every election cycle.

The specific language of the ballot measure says, “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”   Sixty percent of Floridians need to vote yes on the amendment in order for it to become law.

Not surprisingly  , the Republican Party of Florida was the largest bank roll for the campaign to get this measure on the ballot. They spent a whopping $300,000 collecting more than 600,000 signatures. But the number two donor? No, not Domino’s Pizza. No, not the Christian Coalition. But the Florida Catholic Conference, which gave nearly $50,000 for the effort. Yes, the same Florida Catholic Conference whose vision statement says they are guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of his Church.

Of course, I’m sure if Jesus had $50,000 to burn, he wouldn’t have spent it going after gays and lesbians. You know, not when 15% of children under 18 live under the poverty level in the state. Darn that pesky Jesus and his message of economic populism.

Whether this amendment will bring out conservative voters in the Fall remains to be seen, but the gauntlet has once again been thrown. Ironically, Florida’s GOP Governor, Charlie Crist, has asked the Republican Party to stop spending money on this campaign, saying there are more important issues that warrant the money. Maybe somebody should convey that message to the Florida Catholic Conference, since the teachings of Jesus don’t seem to be doing the trick.

Thankfully, the ballot measure has already drawn organized opposition, in the form of the bipartisan “Florida Red and Blue Committee.” They call this ballot measure “dangerous and disingenuous  ,” and are organizing a drive to educate voters on why the amendment is not only unnecessary, but another example of the government bursting into the doors of citizens’ private lives. Check the Florida Red and Blue Committee out. Friend them on Facebook. Do whatever you can, so that come November 2008, organization s like the Florida Catholic Conference can be sent a message that they should feed the poor, clothe the naked, bless the peacemakers, and be good stewards of the Earth, rather than try to control who loves who. Darn that pesky Bible.

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Domino’s Pizza endorses Mitt Romney

Get the door. It’s Domino’s. Or, make that Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s, who has just thrown his endorsement to former Massachusett s Gov. Mitt Romney in the race for the 2008 Presidential election. Why Mitt Romney? In the words of Mr. Monaghan:

“As someone who values the importance of faith in one’s life, I recognize in Mitt his deep religious convictions which will serve him well in facing the critical moral issues facing our society,” said Monaghan. “I believe he will stand firm on the pro-life issues and for the traditional family values that our country was founded on and which are so critical to the future of our nation.”

When not endorsing Presidential candidates, Monaghan is busy creating his own conservative Catholic oasis in Southwestern Florida. He’s constructing a town called Ave Maria, near Naples, which has come under fire from rights groups like the ACLU. Among the reasons why it has come under fire? Monaghan has suggested that no contraceptiv es or pornography will be sold in Ave Maria, there will be no access to abortion, and rumors abound that Monaghan wound ban realtors from selling property or condos to gays and lesbians. (Monaghan, as well as a construction company he’s partnered with, have exclusive control over commercial real estate in the town.)

It’s curious that Romney would be so proud of an endorsement from a man, like Monaghan, who wishes to limit free speech and commerce, while threatening to skirt around the Florida State Constitution in order to pursue his religious agenda. It’s also curious that Monaghan would choose a candidate, like Romney, who has a wishy-washy history with most of the social issues that fuel Monaghan’s philanthropy  (and some might say, vision for world domination).  

Perhaps the fact that Monaghan sold his share in Domino’s to Bain Capital in 1998 – the venture capital firm founded by Romney – had something to do with the endorsement.  

Yes, it is nice to see billionaires sticking together.

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The Great Perplexity for Catholic Voters

New Hampshire polls close in just a few hours, but in the build-up to today’s primary, Manchester’s Catholic Bishop John B. McCormack gave an insightful quote that hints at the proverbial wall that many Catholics all over the country will be beating their heads against in the struggle to determine how to cast their vote. “Some candidates advance proposals that fail to mirror the commitment of the church to the protection of all human life. In many cases, these same candidates advance other policies and proposals that can be supported in light of church teaching. This frequent mixture of laudable and unacceptable positions causes great perplexity,” said Bishop McCormack.

What’s a Catholic to do when (1) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote, (2) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote for the candidate who best espouses the Church’s moral teachings, particularly on respecting life, and (3) no candidate on either side of the political aisle fits into the “perfect” mold of the Church’s moral teachings?

Now that’s a dilemma. Thank God I belong to the United Church of Christ now.

The battle for the Catholic vote will likely rev up in the coming weeks and months, as we get out of primary election mode and into general election hysteria. Who knows what lurks in the hearts (or empty vessels they pretend are hearts!) of political operatives and pollsters this year in terms of nabbing the Catholic vote. One thing is almost for certain: the right is going to argue that Democrats are unsuitable because of issues like abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, and gay marriage. The left is going to argue that Republicans are unsuitable because of issues like poverty, immigration, health care, education, and most importantly, war. Who’s right?

Well, if you look at what the institutiona l Church (i.e. The Catholic Bishops Conference) has said, here’s their take on the number one issue that should inform a Catholic voter’s conscience in 2008 (quoted directly from Faithful Citizenship, released every Presidential Election season by the Bishops):

The right to life and the dignity of the human person.
Human life is sacred. Direct attacks on innocent human beings are never morally acceptable. Within our own society, life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed. This teaching also compels us as Catholics to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the unnecessary use of the death penalty, as well as to pursue peace and help overcome poverty, racism, and other conditions that demean human life.

Talk about triangulatio n! Did Mark Penn write this for the bishops?

Whether it’s McCain, Romney, Giuliani or Huckabee who ends up the eventual GOP nominee, clearly they don’t fit the bill given their records on issues like war, the death penalty, and torture (particularl y Romney, who wouldn’t rule out using waterboardin g as an interrogatio n technique). And that’s not a liberal Massachusett s blogger saying this…that’s the institutiona l Catholic Church.

On the Dem side, it gets trickier. Sure, you can argue (like the right will) that Obama and Clinton support abortion rights and support stem cell research, thus Catholics in good conscience shouldn’t vote for them. But when you peel back the layers of these complex issues, particularly abortion, and start to look at which party’s platform might actually lead to a reduction in abortion rates and teen pregnancy rates because of how it handles issues like economic justice, poverty, health care, and education, the waters get much muddier. That’s because Obama’s and Clinton’s principles seem to line up more with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching than, say, a war hawk, someone who wants to jail clergy for feeding illegal immigrants, those who would execute entire populations of prisoners, and those who would condone torture.

So the great perplexity for Catholic Voters, and Bishop McCormack put it, might just be turning away from the rants and raves of Bill Donohue, Phyllis Schlafly, Deal Hudson and others who would sabotage Catholic Social Teaching to fit their own political sympathies, and looking more deeply at the moral teachings of the Church.

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The Catholic League goes after “The Golden Compass”

Another news cycle, another round of stories quoting Bill Donohue and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Given all of the media attention Bill Donohue gets, you’d expect his organization to be a major public policy think tank. It’s not. It’s one person – BD himself – and he bilks the 501c3 organization for a mind-blowing $300,000 annual salary.

What does Bill Donohue do to earn that money? He lambastes Kathy Griffin. He criticizes Joy Behar and The View. He rants on the Folsom Street Fair. He protests companies that say “Seasons Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas” . And in his latest round of media whoring, Donohue is launching a vendetta against the upcoming Nicole Kidman movie, “The Golden Compass.”

I cannot figure out why mainstream press gives this guy any credence. He is a one man shop pretending to speak for a movement. Their Web site lists no other staff other than Donohue, and their 990 IRS report (posted on Guide Star) lists only one other paid person – Bernadette Brady, Vice President (and she makes $170,000!). He speaks for a movement of one.

Moreover, he’s not officially a representati ve of the Catholic Church. Time after time the media lets him offer a Catholic position, but he has no formal ties to the institutiona l Church. He’s not a priest, nor does he work for the US Bishops Conference. True, his physical office space is part of the New York Archdiocese s property, but he’s not employed the by Archdiocese.  

So to recap: Bill Donohue. Rants about pop culture while pretending to be the official voice of a major U.S. religion, while cashing in a $300,000 annual salary as director of a NON-PROFIT. It’s no wonder you won’t find much about poverty or economic injustice on his organization ’s Web site!

Donohue’s venom toward “The Golden Compass” stems from what he thinks is an anti-religio us bent, and suggests that the author of the “Dark Materials” fantasy trilogy (which “The Golden Compass” is a part of) is an extreme atheist. Donohue hasn’t read any of these books, of course. Nor has he seen the movie yet. Yet AFP still gives him a soapbox to stand on.


Though I usually find her a bit abrasive, I think Kathy Griffin has it right when it comes to Bill Donohue. Check out this YouTube clip of her comedy special, where she trounces Bill Donohue. Donohue went full force after Griffin when she won an Emmy and told the audience that no one had less to do with her winning the award than “Jesus.”  

I’m starting to think that no one has less to do with the work of Bill Donohue than Jesus. But that’s beside the point. Enjoy Kathy Griffin’s clip, and go see “The Golden Compass,” just to spite Bill Donohue. Then give the books to your children for Christmas!

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Romney gives the faith speech

Many of Mitt Romney’s advisers have been on him for months now to address his religion, but it likely took a new poll out by the Des Moines Register showing him five points behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, that has Romney ready to give his John F. Kennedy speech on religion. Ala Kennedy and his Catholicism in 1960, Romney is preparing to talk about his faith - Mormonism - for the first time this Election season.

Despite the endorsements of many prominent Christian conservative s, including Bob Jones, Paul Weyrich, and David Keene, Romney is still perceived as having problems resonating in socially conservative circles, especially among evangelicals . This could be one of the reasons, if not the reason, his support is slipping in places like Iowa, where the Republican caucus is dominated by social conservative s. Seems like most of these folks are jumping ship to Mike Huckabee, 30 days before the caucus. Being the nerd that I am, I watched a town hall on C-SPAN tonight with Romney, and sure enough, three of the questions from caucus-goers referenced Mike Huckabee.

And that’s the story line here. While there’s some historical relevance to Romney, one of the first Mormons to be competitive in a Presidential race, giving a speech about his faith, the talk smacks of inauthentici ty. Romney has been running for President for more than a year now, and he’s resisted talking about his faith at all costs. All of a sudden he finds himself slipping in the polls to Huckabee, and he decides to give a national talk on “Faith in America.”

Romney’s campaign is saying that the address will be a chance for Mitt to “share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected.” But the underlying reason is that Romney’s being schooled by Huckabee in Iowa, and needs to respond.

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Vote in the common good

One of my favorite political buzzwords from the past few years has become “the common good,” a phrase I’ve seen most used as an umbrella term for the breadth of issues that should inform a person’s conscience when they vote. It’s a great retort to the groups, religions and individuals out there who suggest that only single issues should matter when it comes to casting a socially just vote.

As in 2004, we’ll likely see a push by very misguided Catholic groups to whittle the Catholic vote down to four issues: abortion, gay marriage and gay adoption, stem cell research, and euthanasia. These Catholic groups take these four issues and distort them for the sheer purpose of electing Republicans, while completely ignoring the breadth and depth of Catholic Social Teaching – the social principles that form the foundation of the Catholic faith.

Forty days out of the Iowa caucuses, a group of Catholic organization s have released a “Common Good Voting Pledge,” to draw attention to the wide range of social issues that should inform a Catholic’s conscience as they prepare to vote. The groups – including Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Pax Christi USA, NETWORK, Catholics United, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – have one basic, but profound, message: Building a culture of the common good requires us to balance our own self-interes t with a commitment to greater common interest as well.

Two specific issues are highlighted: a commitment to fight poverty, and a commitment to end the war. On fighting poverty, the groups say: 37 million Americans live below the poverty line in the world’s richest country. Half the world nearly three billion people live on less than two dollars a day. These are moral scandals that violate human life and dignity. Poverty is linked to many affronts to human life, including abortion and war. We are called to put our faith into action and care for the poor and most vulnerable.

On ending the war: The Iraq war has lasted more than four years and the number of casualties now exceeds 3800 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. War disproportio nately affects the poor in society and drains needed resources from vital social programs. Pope John Paul II insisted that “war is always a defeat for humanity.” Pope Benedict XVI believes that it is “right to resist war and its threats of destruction. ” The U.S. bishops have called for a “responsible withdrawal” of troops.

You can sign the pledge by clicking here, or download copies of the pledge for distribution by clicking here.

The more “the common good” frames the discussion of religious voters in the 2008 election, hopefully the less polarized we’ll be as a nation. As Jane Addams once said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

Now if only that statement were on the daily talking points given each morning to candidates running for President.

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“Pro-life” politicians and a culture of life

I meant to write about this last week, but Republican Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter (R-Michigan) went after the group Catholics United in an opinion piece in the National Review, because Catholics United had the audacity to ask the question: Is it pro-life to vote against S-CHIP?

Is it pro-life to vote against health care for children? That’s an easy answer – no. But tell that to Rep. McCotter, who voted against the S-CHIP legislation and by default, voted against health care coverage for millions of children. I wonder if this is another example of a “pro-life” politician failing to recognize that life exists beyond the moment of birth?

McCotter went full throttle on Catholics United, calling them false prophets, characterizi ng them as the devil, and saying that they were committing a sin by suggesting that “pro-life” politicians shouldn’t have voted against S-CHIP. Clearly Catholics United struck a chord with Rep. McCotter.

And for good reason: for far too long, “pro-life” politicians have been able to get away with voting for war, voting against health coverage, voting to scale back social programs for the poor, and voting for education cuts, while failing to recognize that these votes cut against the grain of the “culture of life” they supposedly champion.

McCotter’s mad because someone called him on his hypocrisy – that he may label himself pro-life, but his definition of “life” ends at birth. As a devout Catholic who publicly tosses around his faith, McCotter should know that a definition of life that fails to encompass health care for children is not only incomplete, it’s contrary to the own social teachings of his faith.

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Mitt Romney proud of Bob Jones endorsement

Bob Jones University in South Carolina once threatened to arrest its gay alumni, up until the year 2000 banned inter-racial dating on campus, and has previously called Catholicism a cult and the Pope the anti-Christ.   Rumor also has it that the university refuses (or at least refused) to honor Martin Luther King Jr., and that a former Chancellor once called King an “apostate.”

All that said, one has to wonder why Mitt Romney’s campaign was so proud last week to receive the endorsement of Bob Jones III. To quote Romney spokesman William Holley: “We’re proud to have Dr. Jones’ support and look forward to working with him to communicate Governor Romney’s message of conservative change to voters.”

Proud of an endorsement from a school with a track record of racism, sexism, heterosexism  , and vehement hatred of other religions, including Catholicism, Islam, and Romney’s own Mormon faith? (Yes, that’s what might be most odd about this — Bob Jones III is quoted as saying “As a Christian, I am completely opposed to the doctrines of mormonism.” But Bob Jones’ fear of Rudy Giuliani is propelling him to make this endorsement.  )

This may be the biggest sign yet of how much Mitt Romney is willing to sell himself out to become President. Romney’s willing to kiss the fundamentali st ring of a University Chancellor who believes that the former Governor belongs to a cult, that the races were created separately by God for a reason, and that gay people should be arrested just for stepping foot on campus. Yes, for all of that Romney is “proud.”

At this rate, maybe Romney can angle for an endorsement from crazy pastor Rev. Fred Phelps, the uber-right bigot who protests the funerals of fallen soldiers because America tolerates the gays too much. I mean, come on, is it that much of a step from Bob Jones III to Rev. Fred Phelps? It hardly seems so.

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Ann Coulter…Perfected!? - I Don’t Think So!

Ann Coulter is back in the news…duh! The following video clip is from the CNBC show, The Big Idea, hosted by Donny Deutsch. As Deutsch gave Ann Coulter the opportunity to describe her ideal America, she made the statement that her preferred image of America (and heaven) would be like the Republican National Convention in New York…”happy, joyful Republicans in the greatest city in the world”.

Pressed to explain her idyllic world, she suggests that all Americans should be Christians…a nd that Jews simply need to be “perfected”. Sensing Deutsch’s surprise at what he obviously hears as a narrow and judgmental view, she argues that her visits to Christian megachurches leads her to conclude that they are in fact very accepting and diverse. I suspect Coulter was actually being candid and offering a glimpse of her true feelings rather than attempting to launch into a provocative screed.

I also accept her sincerity regarding her experiences at megachurches . Clearly one would expect the kinship of their Christianity to supersede their differences. It is the essence of their beliefs and it is what has defined them and made them a formidable political force. Frankly, their Christian beliefs serve to overshadow all other aspects of their lives..which helps explain their presumed need to convert all others to Christianity …a purpose I contend is an attempt to remove the dissonance which exists from the knowledge that others do not share their beliefs.

With this understandin g, it isn’t difficult to conclude that Coulter’s remarks were the expression of an earnest, though ill-informed view…one that fails to see the arrogance that accompanies a statement that all Americans should be Christians. I have no doubt it simply reflects her core beliefs and demonstrates the danger of the angst which results from this pervasive need for uniformity. In other words, acceptance stops at the waters edge (Christianit y) which compels Christians to pursue the conversion of others.

While those efforts are undertaken with sincerity, they also communicate an air of righteous disregard. I believe this explains Coulter’s apparent surprise at Deutsch’s recoiling. I think one can see that she quickly perceives her own blind spot…which leads her to attempt to pull back and explain her statement following the commercial break.

As she tries to elaborate, she suggests that Jews, per the constructs of Christian beliefs, need to be “perfected”. She continues by telling Deutsch that the notion of “perfecting” isn’t offered pejoratively …it is simply the means to explain the process and the journey by which any individual would arrive at Christianity . As she describes it, Christians have not only joined Jews in embracing the Old Testament; they simply have taken the additional step of accepting the New Testament…me aning they believe that Christ was the son of God sent to die for all of our sins.

Strange as this may seem, I found the interview to be one of the rare moments where we see the real Ann Coulter exposed. While I find her comments abrasive and insensitive, it isn’t because I believe her to be anti-Semitic . She is simply the product of Christian ideology which would arguably treat all non-Christia ns similarly. I don’t condone the mind set, but I think Coulter simply stated the obvious…that being that Christians, not unlike those who embrace Catholic doctrine, believe their faith is the only path to salvation and see nothing wrong with stating as much. In my opinion, that is why religion is so dangerous.

While many may see Coulter’s remarks as the hoped for opportunity to bring her down, the significance of her remarks is beyond her as an individual. Bizarre as this may sound, I thank Coulter for speaking her truth…becaus e it exposes a much more disquieting truth. In fact, it provides a brief glimpse of the core problem facing this country and the world…a growing degree of theological intransigenc e which has become the justificatio n for an escalating clash of religions…re ligions which have conversion and compliance as their fundamental objectives.

Coulter’s rhetoric and her rogue identity are ultimately little more than the epitome of a blind allegiance to a narrow ideology. Coulter invoked a Seinfeld episode to support her argument, so I think it only fair to close with one of my own. Ann Coulter and many others, who have forfeited their autonomy to a rigid set of religious precepts, are, in the end, no longer “masters of their own domain”.

I created the graphic below to demonstrate the propensity of individuals to overlay humanity with any number of religious constructs in the belief that one is superior to the other. I cant imagine an all knowing god condoning our efforts to assert that one sect has eminence over all of the others. I see man’s efforts to do so as an extreme depiction of our ever expanding arrogance. I struggle to see what would be so wrong with simply honoring the sanctity of humanity.


Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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The unimaginable cowardice of St. Thomas University

One reason why I continue to read alternative weeklies? Quotes like this, referencing St. Thomas University’s decision to withdraw an offer to Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak on campus.

“This is pure bullshit,” said Marv Davidov, an adjunct professor within St. Thomas University’s Justice and Peace Studies program.

Here’s the story of a lovely St. Paul, MN university, who was busy being influenced by a bunch of misguided, right-ward leaning interest groups. Here’s the gist in four sentences:

Archbishop Tutu gets invited to speak at St. Thomas University as part of an annual lecture series sponsored by the Justice and Peace Studies program, where Nobel Peace Prize winners come to teach young adults about peace and justice. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas gets wind of Tutu’s scheduled appearance, and contacts St. Thomas administrato rs alerting them that Tutu has said things critical of the state of Israel. St. Thomas administrato rs, bowing to pressure from this group (as well as from a national organization called the Zionist Organization of America) go over the collective heads of the Peace and Studies department and rescind the invitation. The rest of the world wonders whether there’s such a thing as academic freedom anymore.

The story doesn’t stop there, though. The Chair of the Justice and Peace Studies program, Professor Cris Toffolo, writes a letter to Tutu informing him that St. Thomas University administrato rs nixed the invite (and indicating her disappointme nt that her university would do such a thing), and that in case he wasn’t aware, Tutu should be prepared for a smear campaign by the hyper-Israel lobby. The University, its britches all in a twitter, gets word of this letter. Tom Rochon, Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, decides to write a letter of his own – to Prof. Toffolo – revoking her position as chair of the Justice and Peace Studies program.

Moral of the story? Tom Rochon is more consigliore than leader of an academy. Demoting a Professor for pulling the curtain out from behind the spineless wizard? Lame.

What’s even worse is that this is St. Thomas’ mission: “Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good.”

The common good? I’d venture to say that Archbishop Tutu knows a hell of a lot more about that than Tom Rochon and the rest of St. Thomas University’s administrati ve leadership.

For a great recap of this, check out this article from the Minneapolis/ St. Paul City Pages.

Davidov, the professor quoted up top, has a great quote in this article. “As a Jew who experienced anti-Semitis m as a child, I’m deeply disturbed that a man like Tutu could be labeled anti-Semitic and silenced like this. I deeply resent the Israel lobby trying to silence any criticism of its policy. It does a great disservice to Israel and to all Jews.”

Hopefully that’s a lesson that St. Thomas University students taken with them as they move beyond their college years.

If you think you might want to send Tom Rochon a note expressing your disappointme nt that an institution dedicated to educating students to be critical thinkers would actually rescind an invitation to one of the world’s foremost spiritual leaders, AND demote a professor who breaks rank and sides with Tutu, here’s his email address: trrochon1@st

Seems only fitting to end this post with a quote from Archbishop Tutu that may in fact be a lesson moving forward for St. Thomas University administrato rs: “I am human because you are human. My humanity is caught up in yours and if you are dehumanized, I am dehumanized, and anger and resentment and retribution are corrosive of this great good, and the harmony that has got to exist between people.”

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