Fact Checking Father Daniel Moloney’s Email Message To M.I.T. Catholics

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/06/19/fact-checking-father-daniel-moloneys-email-message-to-m-i-t-catholics/

[Editor’s Note:  Below is the body of the email message of Sunday, June 7, 2020 that got Father Daniel Moloney fired as Catholic chaplain of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, interrupted by analysis. Father Moloney’s text is in this font. The analysis is in this font.] 

 

My brothers and sisters in Christ,

It pains me not to be able to preach at a time like this. The Gospel says one thing, and everyone else is saying partial truths, at most. George Floyd was killed by a police officer, and shouldn’t have been.

 

Fact Check:  True.

Video evidence shows a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for 7 minutes 46 seconds while Floyd was handcuffed and lying on the ground on his stomach, even after Floyd was unresponsive, according to prosecutors. (Prosecutors have decreased their calculation of the time period by one minute, as of Wednesday, June 17.) A summary of an autopsy states that Floyd died of “Cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

There is no evidence that the police officer’s actions were justified.

 

He had not lived a virtuous life. He was convicted of several crimes, including armed robbery, which he seems to have committed to feed his drug habit. And he was high on drugs at the time of his arrest.

 

Fact Check:  Mostly True.

George Floyd pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon on April 3, 2009 and was sentenced to five years in prison, according to the Harris County District Clerk in Houston, Texas. He served almost four years. It’s the most serious of nine separate criminal cases brought against him in Harris County between 1997 and 2007. Others include theft, possession of narcotics, and possession of narcotics with intent to distribute.

The robbery, according to a probable cause statement filed by prosecutors, took place August 9, 2007, when Floyd was 32. Floyd posed as a water department employee and forced his way into a woman’s home, where he was joined by five other men who were accomplices, according to the court document. While inside, Floyd “placed a pistol against the complainant’s abdomen” and looked for items to steal, according to the probable cause statement. An accomplice hit the woman in the head and side with a pistol when she screamed for help, according to the court document, which has been published by Snopes.com.

As for recent drug use, tests on Floyd’s body after he died May 25 showed “fentanyl intoxication” and “recent methamphetamine use,” according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Father Moloney’s statement that Floyd “had not lived a virtuous life” could be qualified with a reference to his involvement in a church in Houston after he got out of prison and his participation with a drug rehabilitation program. Friends, family, and co-workers have spoken highly of Floyd in recent weeks since his death.

This evidence of virtue could be qualified with a reference to Floyd’s apparent continued use of drugs and his attempt to pass a counterfeit 20-dollar bill at a store shortly before his death.

Given that Floyd is the victim of an unjustified homicide committed while he was helpless, the statement that he “had not lived a virtuous life,” even if largely true, could be seen as insensitive, if taken out of context.

 

But we do not kill such people. He committed sins, but we root for sinners to change their lives and convert to the Gospel. Catholics want all life protected from conception until natural death. The police officer who knelt on his neck until he died acted wrongly. I do not know what he was thinking. The charges filed against him allege dangerous negligence, but say nothing about his state of mind. He might have killed George Floyd intentionally, or not. He hasn’t told us. But he showed disregard for his life, and we cannot accept that in our law enforcement officers. It is right that he has been arrested and will be prosecuted.

 

Fact Check:  True

The police officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested Friday, May 29, four days after Floyd’s death, and was charged with third degree murder and manslaughter. Minnesota state law defines “culpable negligence” as one circumstance of several that can justify a charge of second degree manslaughter. The state attorney general added a charge of second degree murder on Wednesday, June 3, on the theory that even if Chauvin didn’t mean to kill Floyd, he caused Floyd’s death while committing another crime – third degree assault.

Chauvin has not spoken publicly about what he did or what he was thinking.

 

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, most people in the country have framed this as an act of racism. I don’t think we know that.

 

Fact Check:  True

Chauvin’s motive for treating Floyd the way he did – while knowing he was being video recorded by cell phones – is not clear.

The two men worked in security at a Latin night club in Minneapolis at the same time, according to the former club owner. It’s not clear whether the two men knew each other or had a history, but authorities have not publicly ruled it out. Whether race was or wasn’t a factor has not been established publicly.

Chauvin has not spoken publicly about why he did what he did.

Chauvin drew 18 complaints during his approximately 18 years as a Minneapolis police officer, resulting in two written reprimands, according to news reports, but details of most of those incidents are scanty. The only case widely reported on so far involves a white woman.

The former owner of the nightclub where Chauvin worked has said he was overaggressive when dealing with fights among African-Americans at the club, but she didn’t fire him over it – Chauvin worked at the club as an off-duty police officer for 17 years.

 

Many people have claimed that racism is major problem in police forces. I don’t think we know that.

 

Fact Check:  Debatable

These two sentences above helped get Father Moloney fired. The university’s dean for student life subsequently condemned him because he “failed to acknowledge … the devastating impact of systemic racism – especially within the criminal justice system …”

Systemic racism in policing is the key. Does it exist?

One side says police in America deal disproportionately with blacks because blacks commit a disproportionate number of crimes – which is true.  One example:  In 2018, blacks made up about 13.4 percent of the country’s population, but blacks accounted for about 53.3 percent of homicide arrests (6,380 out of 11,970), according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

If the numbers are weighted for police interactions, evidence of racial bias is scanty, particularly when it comes to police shootings of civilians. A July 2019 study (published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), for instance, found “no overall evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities in fatal shootings.” Heather Mac Donald, a pro-police conservative author, recently cited similar data in a Wall Street Journal column headlined “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism.”

The other side says police tend to harass blacks more than whites because of racial profiling that stems from racial bias, and that these otherwise-unnecessary encounters with police artificially pump up the number of police encounters with blacks, rendering the findings of the study that found no bias in police shootings untenable.

Critics of police cite studies showing that police tend to stop black drivers more often than whites (so-called “Driving While Black” incidents) and tend to search their cars more frequently.

Some claim that disproportionate numbers of arrests and convictions of blacks is itself evidence of racism, whatever the reasons for the arrests and criminal cases.

The debate on college campuses recently, though, seems to be not whether police are biased against blacks or whether so-called “systemic racism” exists, but whether those contentions are allowed to be debated.

The frequent answer nowadays:  No.

 

Police officers deal with dangerous and bad people all the time, and that often hardens them. They do this so that the rest of us can live in peace, but sometimes at a cost to their souls. Some of them certainly develop attitudes towards the people they investigate and arrest that are unjust and sinful. We should pray that never happens, but we can see how it does.

 

Fact Check:  This analysis is based on observation, not statistics, so it’s hard to prove or disprove.  It seems plausible, however.

 

Many parts of our country have been experiencing a five-year crime wave, providing some context for why the police are trained in aggressive tactics. In 2019, 150 police officers were killed in the line of duty by the violent men they were trying to arrest. That number should be zero, we can all agree. But that context does not justify being overly aggressive — their public trust requires that they exercise great restraint. Criminals have human dignity, too. That’s why we Catholics are asked to work to abolish the death penalty in this country.

 

Fact Check:  Somewhat True

Violent crime has increased in recent years, but it remains near historic lows, particularly compared to the 1970s.  Still, in places like Detroit, Memphis, Birmingham, Baltimore, and St. Louis, crime rates in recent years have been high.

“Only” 48 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2019 as the result of felonious acts, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That’s less than one-third of the 150 figure that Father Moloney mentions, but still a high number. The average was about 56 a year between 2009 and 2018, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Still, these facts are not the main point of the paragraph above. Father Moloney’s point here seems to be that police officers have reason to be wary, but mustn’t be what he calls “overly aggressive” because it isn’t just.

 

Today tensions are high, with charges of racism flying over social media, and countercharges of agreeing with domestic terrorists flying back. People are unfriending and cancelling each other. I hate this. Racism is a sin, as the Catechism says (#1937). So is rash judgment (#2478). Solidarity with our fellow human beings is “a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood… sealed by the sacrifice of redemption offered by Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross to his heavenly Father, on behalf of sinful humanity.” (#1939).

 

Fact Check:  True

Tensions are high, charges and countercharges are flying over social media.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in # 1935 (with links removed):  “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of … race” and five other categories “must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”  (The Catechism’s # 1937 develops this point in a related vein.)

The Catechism’s # 2478 recommends that a person avoid rash judgment by being “careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.”

The Catechism’s # 1939 links solidarity with the suffering of Jesus as Father Moloney quotes from it above, and also identifies solidarity as “friendship” or “social charity.”

 

Our solidarity with one another is deeply frayed now. Everything we say (or don’t say) is treated with suspicion, rather than charity.  I hate this too. I’ve talked to multiple people in the Boston area who want the protests here to stop because they are afraid of more riots and looting. I’ve talked to others who want everyone to join the protests, but are uneasy about having police present. One group says that, of course racism is bad, but the riots are really bad — 18 people have been killed, including one police officer. Others say racism is what’s really bad — look at all the victims of police aggression — and to bring up the riots is to distract from the good the protests are trying to achieve. Still others are upset that all this talk about racism has pushed violence against women, institutionalized sexism, and other types of injustice out of the national consciousness. Everyone’s mind is made up, everyone’s angry with each other — even though everyone says they’re opposed to injustices and sins. In a different moment, people strongly opposed to public violence, racism, and sexism would admire each other, despite their different emphases.

 

Fact Check:  The paragraph is mostly based on Father Moloney’s description of conversations he has had recently, and therefore isn’t easily confirmed or denied.

As of Monday, June 8, 17 people had died in the riots nationwide, according to one news story. Another account puts the number at 22. One of those killed was a federal law enforcement officer. Another was a retired city police captain.

 

Cardinal Sean has released two statements, one a week ago and one on Friday. I wrote something that, were we able to celebrate Mass together, might have been my homily for this week, a week which saw the feast of the Ugandan martyrs bookended by the Solemnities of Pentecost and The Holy Trinity. Members of the TCC have decided to append the Chaplet of Divine Mercy to the weekly Zoom rosary on Fridays, to pray for God’s “mercy on us and on the whole world.” The problems we face are the result of sin, as I said above. And the only way to conquer sin is with prayer, grace, and holiness, by which the Holy Spirit brings us more deeply into Christ’s New Covenant with the Father.

 

Fact Check:  The factual statements are accurate.  The analysis is a matter of religion.

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, our Lord tells us. May we all be counted among them.

 

Fact Check:  True

The peacemakers line comes from the beatitudes, which Jesus describes during his \Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:9.

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