From what I saw and what others are saying, it was quite an operation at the Aquinas Newman Center this week when the former Dominican chapel, as it had evolved over 64 years, was re-made into a “traditional” church.

The Dominicans are gone, banned by the Archbishop effective Tuesday, and the views of parishioners on the changes were not solicited.

So there they were, the newly-appointed parish priests, seminarians receiving on-the-job training in authoritarianism, even the Archbishop, all marching in, tossing out what they found unacceptable, often just not fancy enough, whatever suited them — out with the old, in with the ancient.

Giddily redecorating their conquered prize, they were like Huns who had just taken the castle.

THE END IS NEAR

July 3, 2014 — Leave a comment

The final Masses under the Dominican Order at the Aquinas Newman Center were held last Saturday and Sunday, June 28 and 29.

At each Mass, Fathers Dan Davis and Rich Litzau, the only Dominicans still in residence as their departure day neared, thanked the congregation warmly for their love and support over the 64 years of Dominican service to the parish.

There were several standing ovations at each Mass and each closed with a “Vaya con Dios” prayer and a community blessing over the Dominicans, with congregants singing the Dominican blessing.

The Dominicans are leaving ANC by virtue of their removal from the parish by the Archbishop of Santa Fe effective June 30.

Parishioners reluctantly left the Church, many with tears in their eyes, providing final hugs to the last of the “banned” or “deported” priests, as they are sometimes described in the parish. Other Dominican parish priests and a religious brother had left earlier, reporting to new assignments in the Midwest.

Big changes at ANC are already in process.

The artwork that has been a prominent feature of the ANC chapel for many years will no longer be displayed. With such a bounty, the parish was able to display a different selection of original sacred art in each liturgical season. Even an Our Lady of Guadalupe painting has been rejected as sacred art, despite the reverence with which she is held in Hispanic New Mexico.

Many of the altar vessels (in particular, those not made of silver or gold) and linens have been deemed inadequate and are being discarded. The rejected linens were lovingly hand-sewn by parishioners over the years.

The altar wine was found to be insufficiently pure and will be replaced.

The parish’s modest tabernacle does not meet the new staff’s standards and is being replaced by a more elaborate one.

[It’s a wonder that funds for all this are being made available. Is it thought that such finery will win over a skeptical parish? All that glitters is not gold.]

Next on the hit list was the library. On Wednesday, seminarians and others were brought in to review all the books in the parish library and to remove those deemed unsuitable.

The former ANC staff is largely being eliminated. Minimally compensated lay people have for many years directed various parish programs such as RCIA, campus ministry, religious education, parish liturgy and development. Now all but the music director (though he will no longer oversee liturgy) have been advised that priests and deacons will assume the management of most or all of these activities.

The use of lay Eucharistic ministers who distributed communion is being discontinued. Hereafter, only priests, seminarians and deacons will be permitted to distribute communion. Long communion lines can be expected.

It appears the new staff of two diocesan priests who replace the former Dominican staff of four priests and a religious brother will be stretched quite thinly.

Canon law since 1983 has expressly permitted girls and women to serve as altar servers and for years they have served in that capacity at ANC. But that will end. Only men will hereafter be permitted to be altar servers and they will be required to wear cassocks and surplices.

As rumored, the chapel is being extensively remodeled. Decades ago, in the spirit of Vatican II, the parish community moved the altar from the east end of the somewhat narrow chapel to its middle, bringing parishioners closer to the presider at Mass and each other. Until now, the congregation has sat in a semi-circle around the altar.

Apparently this has been deemed not sufficiently orthodox and so workmen arrived early Tuesday to begin tearing down the existing altar and moving it back to its former location and adding other orthodox features. Members of the Knights of Columbus are to arrive soon to add even more traditional trappings.

On the chopping block is an adoration chapel containing the tabernacle. It was created years ago at the west end of the chapel. It provided parishioners who wished to pray quietly outside Mass times the opportunity to do so in solitude. The tabernacle will be relocated to the new altar, a move which the new pastor has characterized as “moving Jesus out of the closet”.

Similarly, a small chapel at the rear of the church building, formerly used for smaller prayer services and for daily Masses, will no longer be in service.

It’s very hard not to consider all these actions high-handed. Decisions in all these matters are being made and carried out by persons who know little or nothing about the parish, its parishioners or its 64-year history.

ANC parishioners were not consulted on any of these changes. The new pastor resisted all attempts to meet with parishioners before the July 1 transition date, saying he was too busy.

As all of the public Masses during this week were canceled, most parishioners will learn of the remodeling of the chapel and the many other changes for the first time at this weekend’s services.

What’s next? God only knows.

Try as I might, I’m having a hard time developing enough Christian goodness to be forgiving or even nice about the forthcoming changes at Newman which include running off the Dominicans who staffed the parish for over 50 years and then unilaterally deciding to redo the church and staff before their first day in charge so that all evidence of the Dominicans’ presence will be eradicated.

But it’s also true my wife and I also recognize that we have  taken the joys of our relationship with the Dominicans over more than 50 years for granted.

We had it so good for so long. All we had to do was show up at Mass and be informed, guided, encouraged and inspired by any one or more of our thoughtful Dominican preachers.

We never had to wonder where to go for a meaningful sermon, to get spiritual guidance, or find an intelligent voice of reason when we needed it.

It was all there for the asking.

Now we’re forced to explore and discover what our future parish connection will be. Stay with the parish and its new pastor? Sample other parishes? Check out the preaching there? Gauge their music programs, the availability of Bible study, the quality of the catechism programs, their Mass schedules, other possible considerations?

This could be good for us, make us stretch a little, think harder, become more proactive in our desire to be good Christians, take a more affirmative, intentional role in determining our spiritual future.

Yes, what the Archbishop and his designated pastor are doing is hard to forgive.

Here’s the sad thing: we’re presided over by an Archbishop who after 50 years as a priest still doesn’t realize that changing the layout of the Newman Center chapel really isn’t going to make its parishioners better Catholics.

A CATHOLIC SPRING

March 25, 2014 — 2 Comments

A Catholic Spring Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Is it silly to group these together?

A bit, if only because one is not Arab. Overblown? Maybe. Frivolous? Sort of. Ridiculous? Not really.

All around the world, whether governments, religious organizations or other big institutions are involved, there always seem to be a few leaders who believe they have all the answers, certain there’s no reason for any input from those they claim to serve. In every case, it’s just a matter of time before things start going bad.

Until recently, you could count the Roman Catholic Church among these hapless few. You saw the headlines.

The Catholic Church actually made the decision to change its ways fifty years ago at Vatican II. But the Vatican II reforms were pretty much put on ice during the reigns of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

All that has changed in the course of the last twelve months as Pope Francis has made it clear that Vatican II really is the law of the land and it’s time for the Church to get in sync.

Unfortunately, some haven’t gotten, or choose not to hear, the message. They hope Pope Francis is just a flash in the pan.

As only one example, six months after Pope Francis became Pope, our traditionalist Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe was still saying in the Archdiocesan newspaper how grateful he was that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had kept the lid on Vatican II reforms.

Demonstrating just how he feels about all that Vatican II foolishness about dialogue and collaborative decision-making, the Archbishop marched in to the Aquinas Newman Center at UNM on a Monday morning a few weeks back, announced that effective July 1 (just a few days before his mandatory retirement) he was cleaning house, removing the Dominican staff, sending them back to where they came from and installing traditionalist priests of his choosing.

His actions stand a good chance of wrecking a growing and thriving parish of 750 families and hundreds of UNM and CNM students.

Ironically, this was the same month that Pope Francis declared that bishops need to work more cooperatively with priests from religious orders in their dioceses and respect their unique ways. Like the Dominicans, for instance.

The Aquinas Newman Center was actually created by the Dominican Order, not the Archdiocese, more than 60 years ago and has been staffed by the Order ever since. Two diocesan priests, one a 26 year old, have been chosen to replace the four Dominican priests and a religious brother the Archbishop has banished. The new priests will hardly have the capacity to serve parishioners in anything near the robust fashion the Dominicans have and there is little likelihood they will turn them into traditionalists.

So why would the Archbishop make these moves? Why push out four Dominican priests when the Archdiocese has such a shortage of priests that each year it has to bring in more and more Asian and African priests to staff its parishes?

The reasons for what the Archbishop has done are simple, and not limited to a lack of priestly vocations as he claims.

The Archbishop simply likes the old ways of the Catholic Church and he thinks the Dominicans should have foisted them on the Aquinas Newman Center. You know, the ones where Archbishops get to tell everyone what to believe, what’s sinful, how to vote and who is allowed to receive Communion (not divorced and remarried Catholics, for sure). And oh yeah, and who gets to speak from the pulpit (women? no chance, doesn’t matter who they are).

Not surprisingly, this kind of stuff is a hard sell at a university-based parish.

Well, the Archbishop has sure fixed their wagon. He’s got the Dominicans packing up and heading off while flummoxed parishioners are doing all they can to stop the destruction of their parish. And Archbishop Sheehan? Well, he’s preparing to move into the not-so-modest-or-Pope Francis-like retirement house the Archdiocese bought for him in the Oxbow development overlooking Albuquerque.

Was Archbishop Sheehan forthright enough to step up beforehand, tell the Dominicans or the parish what he was thinking, provide any kind of warning before his Monday Morning Massacre? No.

Does he feel the need to meet with parishioners to explain, even discuss his action? No.

Do we need a Catholic Spring? You bet.

The three gaming casinos on the Navajo Reservation have created badly-needed jobs on the reservation. But a proposed gaming compact negotiated by the Governor’s office extending and expanding gaming on the Navajo reservation should not be approved by the Legislature unless it expressly permits the approval by the State of online gaming. In 2011, the U.S. Justice Department declared that online gaming did not violate federal law. Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey have since authorized online gaming and eight other states have it under consideration. Many expect it to be adopted across the country. If New Mexico approved online gaming, the state could gain badly needed revenues. While the wisdom of expanding gaming in New Mexico is certainly debatable, the state has other options, given that online gaming could have a potentially devastating effect on tribal casinos. For example, the state could offer the gaming tribes a deal under which it would agree not to authorize online gaming if the tribes agreed to badly-needed updates to their gaming compacts. These updates would include:

  • Increased revenue sharing to replace the revenue lost by not authorizing online gaming.
  • More comprehensive regulatory oversight. The LFC staff reports it currently is not possible to determine if tribal casinos are in compliance with their compacts.  
  • Shortening the inexplicably long terms of the compacts. Many casinos have been operating since 2001 or earlier and most of the current compacts are dated 2007. But they won’t expire for another 24 years. Arizona’s gaming compacts are much shorter. 
  • Limit the deployment of so-called Class II gaming machines on which tribes are not required to share revenue. Originally, Class II gaming meant bingo games. But now tribal casinos are increasingly deploying so-called Class II bingo gaming machines that look and play like slot machines except that no revenue from these machines is shared with the state. In 2012, the Navajo Nation opened a casino devoted exclusively to Class II gaming machines that does not share revenues with the state.
  • Require, as Arizona does, that gaming tribes share some of their revenues with non-gaming tribes not so fortunate as to be located on interstate highways.
  • Require the tribal casinos to compensate local governments for the emergency services provided to them. 
  • Resolve the controversial “free play” promotions where casinos entice gamblers by letting them pay for free but if the gambler wins, the winnings are used to reduce the “net win” shared with the state.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the programs of assistance to problem gamblers that casinos are required to be provide must be enhanced. The state must be allowed to assess the extent of problem gaming, gauge the effectiveness of the treatment gaming tribes are providing and make sure enough resources are devoted to treatment.   

There is good reason to believe that problem gambling in New Mexico is far more serious problem than we now believe. A series of articles on problem gambling recently appeared in Oregon’s leading newspaper, The Oregonian. The state of Oregon contracted for an extensive study of problem gambling in that state. The study concluded that most of the revenues from the state’s licensed slot and poker machines come from just a sliver of players who lose thousands of dollars yearly, primarily from slot and video poker gaming machines. The study found that problem gamblers typically remained at slot and poker gaming machines until their wallets were empty. Past studies of problem gambling have reached similar conclusions. A recent book by an MIT scientist details how math experts and neuroscientists were hired by by gaming machine manufacturers to create whole new generations of electronic slots meant to attract younger customers used to playing arcade-style video games. The idea, says the author, is to lull players into a sense that they’re winning even as they lose 60-90% of the money they put in these machines. The newspaper reports that new gaming machines will soon be available in Oregon, and likely in New Mexico, that are designed to be even more addictive than those now in use. It’s important for New Mexico to discover whether the scope of problem gaming in New Mexico is similar to that of Oregon. The New Mexico Council on Problem Gaming, designated by the gaming casinos and racinos to carry out their obligations to assist problem gamblers, chooses not to disclose the number of problem gamblers that have contacted it. However, its most recent annual report states that 72 percent of problem gamblers who have contacted NMCPG primarily use slot machines. These gamblers averaged 21 hours per week at casinos and they had average gambling debts of $11,600. The NMCPG also reports that in 2012 tribal casinos and racinos provided a total of only $212,000 to NMCPG to treat problem gamblers, one-eighth of what is spent in Arizona for treatment. Whatever happens with the proposed Navajo compact, the decision whether to authorize online gaming does not have to be made now. That question will, however, become a moot point if the Legislature approves the Navajo compact without assurance that future approval of online gaming is permissible and does not relieve the Navajo casinos of the obligation to share revenues with the State.

A Pope To Love

February 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

It’s all his fault that I made a New Year’s resolution to resume blogging after months of chasing far less admirable rainbows, like trying to shoot my age in golf (never got that close) and becoming a decent jazz guitar player (maybe when I’m 80?).

Yes, Pope Francis. He’s lifted me out of my 20-year funk over the attempts to make Vatican II disappear as though it never happened.

What a treat it is for Catholics to be represented by a completely admirable person after so many years of hearing only from old cranks (even if they are my contemporaries).

What a welcome change from the standard disapproving, moralizing, self-righteous tone we’re used to hearing from the Vatican. Now we only have to hear it from the Archbishop of Santa Fe.

The best part about this turn of events has been Pope Francis’ ability to return public attention to the plight of the poor. Conservatives in the media have done a great job of selling the fiction that the poor have only themselves to blame. The result is that the War on Poverty of fifty years ago has morphed into the War on the Poor (and the sick for that matter).

Yes, he’s alienated Wall Street. The Lords of Finance, ever shallow, can’t believe Pope Francis could be so muddleheaded. Fox and CNBC propagandists rail that the Pope just doesn’t “get the concept”.

Kenneth Langone, wealthy conservative Home Depot founder and major Republican contributor, has even threatened to withhold his financial commitment to the renovation of  St. Patrick’s Cathedral unless the Pope stops making those [Gospel-based] pleas on behalf of the poor.

Talk about not getting the concept.

Joe Nocera’s recent column in the NY Times on Brazil notes that its “admittedly leftist government doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about growth for its own sake, but rather connects it with alleviating poverty and growing the middle class.”

Quite a contrast, he says, to the U.S. where Congress won’t extend unemployment insurance and wants to cut back on food stamps.

What about here in New Mexico? We’re going backwards economically but does anyone have a plan?

Will there be any consideration to doing something for those affected the most by the erosion of the prospects of the lower and middle classes?

Will there be debate about how it is we can afford corporate tax breaks but we can’t afford Pre-K?

Or are we just going to have an election where all we’ll hear are soulless poll-tested slogans and dubious negative attacks funded by out-of-state interests?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things are not good in the New Mexico economy. The job situation is desperate and getting worse. Worse, ten years of reduced state tax revenues from tax cuts is limiting the state’s ability to respond in a compelling fashion.

What is being proposed? 

The Governor proposes the New Century Economy Jobs Agenda: a corporate income tax cut, infrastructure money for local economic development, re-prioritization of capital outlay projects plus continuing the Main Street and job training incentive programs.

Democratic legislators are pushing for an increase in the minimum wage, an increase in the film production credit, a $97 million public works program, a 1% pay raise for state workers and creation of a governmental jobs council.

Options are limited

These economic development efforts don’t seem equal to the state’s dire situation.

Yet can we criticize these choices by policymakers when the state has relatively little General Fund revenue available for economic development?

This shortfall is not just because of the economic downturn. It’s because over the last ten years taxes have been reduced in the hope that the lower tax burden will aid the state in luring out-of-state businesses to New Mexico.

Gov. Richardson’s started down this path in 2003. He pushed a number of tax cuts. But the most far-reaching were exempting food and some medical services from the gross receipts tax, reducing tax revenues by about $270 million in 2012. He also lowered personal income taxes by reducing the maximum rate from 8.2% to 4.9%, reducing state revenues by more than $400 million annually.

By 2010 it was clear that with the downturn and the tax cuts, the state couldn’t balance its budget. Richardson agreed to some tax increases including minor increases in the gross receipts tax and personal income taxes that increased revenues by $170 million. He also vetoed a bill to reinstate the tax on food.

Though the half billion dollars in tax cuts over ten years were intended to make the state more attractive for businesses to locate operations here, the effort has shown little success.

Notwithstanding, Gov. Martinez is following the same path.

Last year she secured an anti-pyramiding gross receipts tax cut projected to cost $91 million annually. This year, she is proposing a corporate income tax cut in this legislative session whose full cost would be $255 million each year.

Will another $350 million in tax cuts make a difference in New Mexico’s ability to attract new business relocations? Yes, the business climate is improving but can New Mexico compete against states with the ability to offer greater incentives or have superior geographic locations?

The publication Governing carried a recent article about state economic development incentives in which one expert said that tax incentives are only part of the picture in what appeals to relocating businesses. Chris Lafakis, a Moody’s analyst who helped compile that firm’s Cost of Doing Business Index, says in this article that states with low tax burdens often lose out to others with higher burdens. Each state has its own attractions. Another commentator suggests states consider at what cost to the state are relocation incentives being given.

That is what New Mexico citizens should ask themselves. We’ve been at this tax cutting for some time with not much to show for it. Would it be better if we had spent these hundreds of millions each year on a more robust economic development effort focused on existing employers and job training for local workers? On improving our early childhood, K-12 and post-secondary education systems? On addressing the state’s $1.5 billion unfunded road construction needs?

Is it time to change direction?

Are we chasing the right rainbows?

[This post originally appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on February 25, 2013]