Suresh Garimella’s neutron bomb approach to the humanities notwithstanding, sometimes a professor of religion comes in very handy. Take Friday, March 3 for example. On that day, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on S.16, a bill that would require clergy to report cases of child abuse and neglect even if they learned of such crimes in confidence while acting as a spiritual advisor. Like, say, a Catholic priest hearing confession, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Lined up to testify were not one, not two, but three Catholics, including Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington. You can guess what they had to say: Removing the confessional exemption would force priests to choose between state law and canon law. It would infringe on Catholics’ First Amendment right to free expression of religion.
After all of that, the committee heard from Tom Borchert, chair of the Department of Religion at the University of Vermont. And boy, did his testimony make my ears perk up.
The two big takeaways: First, the “spiritual advisor” exemption describes one and only one religious practice: Catholic confession. Second, the law as currently written creates a First Amendment issue on its own.
Yep, preparing to get back in the saddle again and host The Mark Johnson Show on WDEV radio the next three weekdays. 550 AM or 96.1 FM in north-central VT (the AM signal can be heard from Burlington to the Connecticut River valley) and live streaming at wdevradio.com. Dates and guests:
Thursday 6/25, 9 am. Jim Salzman, professor of law and environmental policy at Duke University, and expert on water issues and policy. He’s author of “Drinking Water: A History,” a book that explores the very vital — and frequently changing — role that water plays in human society. He just finished a visit to Vermont Law School as a visiting summer scholar. We’ll talk about drinking water’s past, present and future. The School has posted a YouTube video of a lecture given by Prof. Salzman; you can find it here.
Thursday 6/25, 10 am. Matt Dunne, former State Senator and gubernatorial candidate, now head of community affairs for Google. He’s actively considering another run for governor. Oops; last-minute cancellation. Dunne was supposed to fly home from an out-of-state trip Wednesday night; stormy weather prevented that. Or, as he put it in an email to me, “I’m stuck in Chattanooga.” Currently effecting a replacement guest. (Friday and Monday guests after the jump.) Continue reading →
So the Catholic Diocese of Burlington has a new bishop: Christopher Coyne, currently auxiliary bishop in Indianapolis. And let me welcome the Bish in my own inimitable way by pointing out a few of his qualifications for the job:
He knows how to lie with a straight face.
He knows how to subsume the interests of truth and justice to those of his institutional home.
He is willing to put a smiley face on some of the Church’s most abhorrent crimes in order to prop up its facade of morality.
You see, Coyne spent three tumultuous years as the media spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Those happened to be the years when the Archdiocese’s hidden history of cosseting pedophile priests came to light. And Coyne was right there on the front line, defending the purity of the Church and of his master, the disgraced Bernard Law, last seen scuttling into a Vatican spider hole.
On the other hand, he was appointed by Pope Francis, which is a mark in his favor. But it’s hard to overlook Coyne’s three years of defending the indefensible. Especially when he comes to a Diocese with its own sordid history of sex-abuse coverups and his predecessor Salvatore Matano’s all-out efforts to avoid being brought to account.
The new guy brings a lot of heavy baggage to the job. He’ll have to prove by his actions that he holds the best interests of “the least of these” above those of his ermine-wearing overlords.