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I write the biweekly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and also report for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere. I have four daughters and two dogs.

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Soon-to-be-saint excommunicated for revealing sex abuse

This is a very important story, described eloquent by the Jesuit journalist James Martin in America magazine. Here is the rub:

The stunning news that a soon-to-be-saint was excommunicated for urging the church to take action against a sex offender is a reminder of the virulence of the crimes of clerical abuse. And the astonishing story of Blessed Mary MacKillop, an Australian sister and foundress of a women’s religious order, who will be canonized on Oct. 17, says a great deal about sanctity, about sin, about women in the church and, finally, about hope.

The saga of Mother Mary MacKillop’s excommunication was thought to be well documented in church history books, and widely acknowledged as an almost unprecedented stop on her circuitous path to sainthood.  After all, very few saints have been excommunicated—the church’s harshest penalty, which denies reception of any sacraments.  But in 1870 Laurence Sheil, the bishop of Brisbane, formally ejected her from the church.  Until recently, the story of MacKillop’s punishment was understood mainly as the result of a conflict between her and the bishop, who cited insubordination as the official reason for this extraordinary move against the foundress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart. 

But the full story is that Mary MacKillop was excommunicated out of “revenge,” in the words of one priest familiar with her life, for uncovering a case of sex abuse by a Father Keating, in a nearby parish.

Tragic Suicide, modern world to blame...

Is there anything sadder than this, the Rutgers student who killed himself — threw himself from the GW Bridge — after his roommate webcasted him hooking up with another man?

One thought: this young man might have been comfortable with his sexuality, out to his family, basically well adjusted, happy, healthy, etc., and still pushed over the edge by the thought that for the rest of his life people might be able to find amateur porn of him on the internet. That is a lot to walk around with, and I think it could push more than a few American college kids off a bridge.

Makes me nostalgic for the days when the worst your roommate could do was listen outside the door and then gossip about you.


Larry Kramer’s book is for real

Look, I have heard Larry Kramer personally talk about this mega-sprawling epic of a work that he has been writing for 30 years. And I admire, honor, and root for Larry Kramer. And yet I confess, I did not think the man was going to finish the book. So imagine how pleased I was to read today that my old publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, plans to publish the work in two volumes.


Cal-Berkeley to cut sports to save money

Cutting sports to save academics is the right move. Only an American could think otherwise. Oxford and Bologna and Université de Paris did not become great because of rugby or snooker or even soccer or crew.

Note that rugby, for example, will persist, but as a club sport, without the same level of funding. That is a perfect solution. Of course students should play sports in college; but at what cost?


One book I have no interest in reading

I noticed that Jennifer Senor — a very gifted and lively writer, many of whose pieces I have enjoyed — is going to be writing a book based on her New York magazine article about how having kids makes people less happy.

I think I read that article when it came out, or tried to, but boy am I the wrong audience. I think parenting is the best thing ever. If I had a trust fund I would work less and parent even more.

Now, I am very fortunate to have as much time as I do to parent, and to have a great partner, and to have had healthy children and a supportive community. I am gainfully employed, have a low mortgage, have no college debt, and do not have to worry about money. I am well aware that many parents have stressors I do not, and I also believe that, especially the way the poor and middle class are squeezed in this economy, many parents feel they are coming apart, with the burden of having dependents making things worse.

That said, I have a visceral reaction against people who complain about parenting. I think it is rather tacky, actually: I would not complain about my wife for public consumption, nor would I complain about my daughters to people I do not know.

And in fact it is one of the great virtues of Jennifer Senor’s piece (which I just took a quick break to read) that in fact it is very short on anecdotal whining and long on synopses of research. I hope the same will be true of her book.

But I still probably will not be able to read it. I hope it brings enlightenment, comfort, and joy to many others.