‘Bearing Witness’

I spent last night at the Catholic Information Center for “Bearing Witness: Nurturing a Culture of Life through Love and Encounter,” which featured Catherine Hadro and Mary and Bobby Schindler:

Join Catherine Hadro, host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, and Mary Schindler, co-founder of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, for an evening of prayer, remembrance, and hope.

Catherine Hadro and Mary Schindler will sit down for an intimate conversation on the topic of nurturing a Culture of Life through love and encounter. Mary Schindler will share positive and life-affirming stories from the fight for the life of her daughter, Terri Schiavo, a prominent victim of the culture of death. Catherine Hadro will speak on her experience as host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, sharing some of the most touching personal stories she’s experienced after hosting 100+ episodes of Pro-Life Weekly, and closing with reasons for hope amidst a culture indifferent to the intrinsic dignity of human life.

Bobby Schindler, President of Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network and brother of Terri Schiavo, will also be in attendance. All attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the book, “A Life That Matters: The Legacy of Terri Schiavo, A Lesson For Us All.”

The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network co-hosted “Responsibility to Care: What Euthanasia Victims Can Teach Us” at the Catholic Information Center last year, and last night’s “Bearing Witness” conversation followed in that tradition of life-affirming conversations.

Visiting Guiding Star

I visited Guiding Star yesterday as part of a day of service; my first service visit in a few years. Guiding Star is a refuge for mothers and children in North Philadelphia who want a choice other than abortion in response to pregnancy, and it’s a particularly vital place for mothers whose partners or family make choosing life an impossibility. Guiding Star and places like it around the country exist to serve women in a way that Planned Parenthood should be emulating, because Guiding Star and places like it represent real and life-affirming choice.

It was good to be at Guiding Star, and to spend time with some of those living there and some of those volunteering from across Greater Philadelphia. As a board member of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, which manages Guiding Star, I see financial statements and operational reports every quarter, but I rarely get the sort of personal experience of the place as I did yesterday.

Trocadero

The Trocadero in Philadelphia closed recently. Danya Henninger writes:

The Trocadero Theatre, a mainstay on the Philly concert circuit for nearly four decades, appears to be closing for good.

Even before ownership confirmed the shutdown, which was first reported by Philly Mag based on comments from promoters and staff, fans across city began sharing their laments for the gritty Chinatown venue.

Its most famous recent splash was as the site of a 2014 comedy show recording that became a key factor in the chain of events that led to Bill Cosby’s conviction for sexual assault.

Originally opened in the late 1800s as the Arch Street Opera House, the theater hosted vaudeville and minstrel shows. It then became a popular destination for burlesque, and also showed movies. A century after it first opened, in 1986, the historically-designated space was remodeled and turned into a concert hall-slash-dance club.

Though it wasn’t ever the fanciest spot (or the cleanest), the Troc’s central location — right off the corner of 10th and Arch — helped it become a defining part of Philadelphia nightlife.

Bands who stopped there before blowing up include Guns N’ Roses, Bob Dylan and Die Antwoord. The main event stage and the balcony bar hosted everything from wholesome school fundraisers to psychedelic PEX parties, grungy tribute concerts and slick TV specials.

I had only been to the Trocadero maybe three times, and all while at Archbishop Wood. The first time I went, I was leaving from my grandmother’s house. When I told her where I was going, she raised her eyebrows and asked what I was planning to do there. I forget the concert. “When I was about your age, the Trocadero was a burlesque house.”

I would guess it’s likely to re-open at some point, but who knows.

Cafe Milano

I visited Cafe Milano late last year for a fundraiser and see it often when I’m walking home. I knew it had a history, but didn’t realize what a role it has played in Washington:

As the sun was setting one recent evening, two black Chevrolet Suburbans pulled up next to Cafe Milano, the Georgetown restaurant where some of the world’s most powerful people go to be noticed but not approached. Steven T. Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, slipped out of one of the vehicles and lingered with his Secret Service detail in front of the restaurant’s wall of windows. His fiancée, the actress Louise Linton, emerged wearing a sleeveless blush-pink jumpsuit, as if this were Studio 54 by the Potomac.

On the other side of the glass at this longtime power-dining fishbowl, the mood was clear: This was dinner and a show.

Every town, no matter its size, has a bar or restaurant where the powerful gather to hold court. Washington has Cafe Milano. It has been a destination for high-ranking members of media and of governments around the world since it opened in November 1992, on the same day Bill Clinton, now a Cafe Milano regular, was first elected president. It is a place where diners can enjoy relative privacy as they dine on grilled calamari and velvety burrata. It is also the exact sort of establishment that President Trump might have disparaged as a candidate, when he emphasized that his leadership would mean that the cozy bonds forged among the capital’s elite would be broken. …

Franco Nuschese, the restaurant’s owner, became well known in this city for making high-profile people feel comfortable and guarding their privacy. …

Representative Debbie Dingell, Democrat of Michigan and a longtime fixture of Washington’s social scene, suggested that bipartisan behavior can sometimes rise above the fray at this establishment.

“If you have a relationship with someone,” she said, “it’s much harder to demonize them.”

I think places like this help literally to keep the peace, in the sense of serving as “release valves” from the tension and animosity and partisanship that dominate our politics.

Epiphany stations

Visited Epiphany on Dumbarton after work today for Lenten Stations of the Cross. We arrived just a moment or two before 7pm, and there were three of us for the half hour or so of prayer.

Epiphany is one of those places that brings you mentally to a simpler place; it feels like a place outside of time in some sense, in the way a sacred place should. There were only three of us there for Stations of the Cross. It’s not been a practice that I’ve participated in for years, but I’m glad to return to it.

Along Wisconsin

A view from a morning’s walk along Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown:

I took this on my way to work, headed toward Arlington. I’m grateful for this period of life, where the mornings include scenes as beautiful as this. What lends a neighborhood like this so much of its spirit is its general lack of the derivative and mundane. Even when there’s little activity, the aesthetic of the street is welcoming and lively, hinting at people yet to appear.

Joining the board of the Mount Nittany Conservancy

In September I was appointed to the board of the Mount Nittany Conservancy, and this weekend I’ll be in State College to participate in the first meeting of the year.

Mount Nittany was one of the first natural symbols for Penn State, and continues to be probably the most recognized symbol of Central Pennsylvania and the Nittany Valley. The Mount Nittany Conservancy was founded in 1981 as a way to continue conserving hundreds of acres that had been purchased for preservation in previous decades, and to create a vehicle for continuing conservation and stewardship of Mount Nittany in its natural and “unimproved” state. The Mount Nittany Conservancy manages more than eight miles of volunteer-maintained trails and a number of scenic overlooks. If you’re not familiar with Mount Nittany, start with Conserving Mount Nittany or check out “Inspiriting Mount Nittany,” a talk I gave at Penn State last year:

There’s also “The Story of Mount Nittany,” a beautifully-produced feature on Mount Nittany that will make you feel like you’re right there in Lemont, at the Mountain’s trailhead and ready to hike:

And a few years ago I tried to answer Why Mount Nittany is on every Penn Stater’s bucket list:

In “The Legends of the Nittany Valley,” folklorist Henry Shoemaker records some of the American Indian and settler stories that provide a cultural and historical foundation for Penn State mythology, including Mount Nittany as our sacred symbol and pristine retreat, the love story of Princess Nittany and Lion’s Paw, and even the reclusive Nittany Lion.

Yet stories alone have no independent life to speak of; their significance grows from the affection, tenderness, and patience of the reader, from the moments spent in solitude or near friends with the words of a long-dead peer over a coffee at Saints or W.C. Clarke’s. Herodotus or Dante would be nothing without the gift of time and attention paid in gratitude by the living reader. It’s through that gift that we reverence something culturally significant, and make something from the past a part of our present time.

This is what tradition is, if distilled: the continuing act of encountering the past, helping it come alive again in some way, and then in due course becoming a part of the past ourselves as we look to the future. This beautiful notion is encapsulated in an even more beautiful, practical example: The singing of Robert Burns’s 1788 “Auld Lang Syne” every New Year’s Eve. It’s a literal and lyrical Scottish injunction to remember our friendships and honor days gone by on the eve of a new time.

This helps explain why Mount Nittany, by all accounts an ordinary Pennsylvania mountain, is nonetheless sacred for Penn Staters and the people of the valley. As with the stories of the past, we’ve infused the Mountain with a distinctive meaning. Penn State Professor Simon Bronner writes that we “inspirit the land” of Mount Nittany and places like it. We do this in a thousand distinct ways, through hikes alone to learning and sharing the same stories to nights spent with friends around a small fire.

The Mount Nittany Conservancy is what makes our experience of the Mountain possible—specifically what makes our experience of it as a natural space, protected from development, a perpetual part of the Nittany Valley experience. …

Nearly a century before many of us were born, Henry Shoemaker declared: “There is no spot of ground a hundred feet square in the Pennsylvania mountains that has not its legend. Some are old, as ancient as the old, old forests. Others are of recent making or in formation now. Each is different, each is full of its own local color.”

Mount Nittany is one of those Pennsylvania mountains, and the Nittany Valley remains a place where legends continue to take shape. Thanks to Henry Shoemaker’s stories, and the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s new podcasts, you can get a better sense for why the Mountain matters and why hiking it is such a special experience.

Hiking Mount Nittany is one of those things that finds its way onto the Penn State bucket lists of most students, and it’s something many make a ritual pleasure. A single hike often serves as an occasion for encounter with “local color” of the Mountain and the valley, a color which has a radiance that outlasts every autumn.

Holy Trinity, West 82nd Street

Visited Holy Trinity on the Upper West Side for mass yesterday. Its Byzantine character reminded me of the National Basilica in Washington, and its tile reminded me specifically of the National Basilica’s crypt. Here’s Holy Trinity:

Founded in 1898, today the Church of the Holy Trinity serves almost 1,400 parishioners on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  We seek to respond to the social, liturgical and faith needs of our active and diverse congregation by offering a wide variety of religious and social service ministries. Our Religious Education, RCIA and family programs strengthen the basis of our faith and provide an integral sense of community to all involved.

We have a rich and varied musical program whose offerings cover the gamut from Gregorian chant and polyphony to the contemporary music of the 21st century.

At the center of parish life, we have a singular, magnificent Church; built in the Byzantine style, decorated with Guastavino tile. This is our legacy from our forebears.

Please explore … the many opportunities Holy Trinity offers to celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ.

As mass was starting I tapped my Apple Watch to record the choir’s Kyrie Eleison:

I hope to be back.

Walking Broadway

We saw “Ah, Wilderness!” at the Sheen Center’s Black Box Theater today. I’ll write a bit about that tomorrow. In the meantime, sharing scenes from last night’s arrival in New York and this morning’s walk down Broadway. I initially caught the 1 from 137th in Washington Heights, planning to head directly to Columbus Circle, but due to a schedule change had an extra hour and decided to get off at 103rd Street and walk down Broadway to Columbus Circle.

We made our way to McSorely’s for lunch before the show. We met an older man named Bill who met Joseph Mitchell a number of times as a teenager. Joseph Mitchell captured probably the definitive literary portrait of McSorley’s in 1940, and he would come into the South Street Seaport-area bookstore where our older friend Bill worked when he was a teenager.

What the Freeh Report is good for

I haven’t thought much about Penn State’s November 2011 Jerry Sandusky scandal for a while. Not since the NCAA reversed itself in 2015 and voided its sanctions against Penn State and Joe Paterno, in acknowledgement of a rush to judgment driven by emotivism and vindictiveness. And not since the 2016 dismissal of felony conspiracy charges against Penn State’s former leadership, which was the most significant remaining issue with the potential to either confirm or refute the narrative of an institutional cover-up.

But I thought about the Sandusky scandal again today in light of the just-leaked “Report to the Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania State University on the Freeh Report’s Flawed Methodology and Conclusions,” a minority report of the Penn State Board of Trustees. The 2012 Freeh Report was held up at the time of its release as an independent and trustworthy investigation of Penn State’s leadership. The Freeh Report’s conclusion of institutional coverup for the purpose of protecting the image of the university not only legitimized the Penn State Board of Trustees’s snap decision in November 2011 to fire then-Penn State President Graham Spanier and Coach Joe Paterno, but it also formed the basis for both devastating legal culpability for the victims of a former employee and for the NCAA’s decision to sanction the university and its student athletes.

It was in 2015 that Penn State’s new president Eric J. Barron dismissed the Freeh Report:

“There’s no doubt in my mind, Freeh steered everything as if he were a prosecutor trying to convince a court to take the case,” Barron said, adding that Freeh “very clearly paints a picture about every student, every faculty member, every staff member and every alum. And it’s absurd. It’s unwarranted. So from my viewpoint the Freeh report is not useful to make decisions.”

These criticisms of the Freeh Report echoed those of Dick Thornburgh, former U.S. Attorney General, who in 2013 had underscored that the Freeh Report constituted merely “raw speculation and unsupported opinion—not facts and evidence.” Malcolm Gladwell has said as much. Bob Costas has said as much.

What has been amazing to those who followed the Penn State and Jerry Sandusky scandals, though, is that the Penn State Board of Trustees (the same Board of Trustees that commissioned that report) has never formally accepted or rejected the Freeh Report’s findings. This, despite the fact that the Freeh Report functioned to confirm the worst possible, most malicious narrative about Penn State leadership’s handling of Jerry Sandusky, and despite the fact that the Freeh Report opened Penn State up to hundreds of millions of dollars in liability for Sandusky’s crimes. Hence the need for a minority of Penn State Trustees to produce the now-leaked “Report to the Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania State University on the Freeh Report’s Flawed Methodology and Conclusions,” which the larger Penn State Board had attempted to suppress last year. The minority trustees shared this statement in light of yesterday’s leak:

“The fact is the Board’s tacit acceptance of the Freeh Report led to profound reputational damage, along with over $250 million in costs so far to Penn State. It is perplexing that the University clings to the conclusions of a report that has been criticized by so many, including Penn State President Eric Barron. We fervently believe that the best way forward is for the Board and the University to openly and thoughtfully consider the comprehensive and well-researched findings from our review so that we can finally come to an honest conclusion.”

Gary Sinderson of WMAJ, which leaked the minority report, puts the news in context:

The document, officially titled, “Report to the Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania State University on the Freeh Report’s flawed methodology and conclusions” was completed and presented to the full trustee board in the summer of 2018.

The seven trustees who commissioned the report said the full board decided to not make its findings public.

In 2011, in the wake of the arrest of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on charges that included involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, the university commissioned former FBI Director Louis Freeh to compile a report on the university’s involvement. Freeh was reportedly paid $8 million.

In its report, the group of seven former and current trustees concluded Penn State paid for an independent investigation that was not independent, fair or thorough.

The trustees’ report said the Freeh report investigators used deeply flawed methodology and the report is full of factual mistakes. Page 18 of the trustees’ report, titled “Use of coercion,” said the Freeh investigators “shouted, were insulting and demanded that interviewees give them specific information — such as — tell me Joe Paterno knew Sandusky was abusing kids.”

This report said some university employees who were interviewed were told cooperation was a key to keeping their jobs. In fact, one employee told the investigators of the Freeh report that he was fired for not cooperating.

The trustee’s report said the Freeh team did not interview many key figures in the Sandusky scandal, including Sandusky, Paterno and university administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schutz, as well as Mike McQueary.

The Freeh report said Penn State has a football culture problem. But the trustees’ report says Freeh had a conflict of interest with the NCAA, and that his company was attempting to be the organization’s go-to investigative firm.

The trustees’ report also contains a long discussion about the Freeh team’s claim of being independent, with the trustees’ report finding the Freeh team was actually sharing information with the NCAA, Penn State administrators and the prosecutors in the Sandusky case.

Freeh has long defended his work at Penn State, saying in the past, “Since 2015, these misguided alumni have been fighting rearguard action to turn the clocks back and resist the positive changes which the PSU students and faculty have fully embraced.” Freeh’s report included more than 100 recommended university policy changes, many of which were adopted by Penn State.

And Elissa Hill at Onward State writes on the report’s takeaways:

The seven current and former trustee signatories to the report are Ted Brown, Barb Doran, Bob Jubelirer, Anthony Lubrano, Ryan McCombie, Bill Oldsey, and Alice Pope. They used their access to this source information to develop the report that was published by WJAC, disputing the Freeh Report’s findings and calling the Board’s previous “tacit acceptance” of the Freeh Report “a fiduciary breach.”

The report lays out its findings in a pretty straightforward manner:

  • There’s no support for the Freeh Report’s conclusion that Paterno, Spanier, Curley, or Schultz knew of Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children.
  • There’s no support for the Freeh Report’s conclusion that Penn State’s culture was responsible for allowing Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children.
  • The independence of the Freeh Report was compromised by collaboration with the NCAA, then-Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and the state attorney general, and members of the Board of Trustees.
  • The NCAA, Corbett, and the Board of Trustees influenced the Freeh Report with conflicts of interests.
  • The Freeh Report used “unreliable methods for conducting and analyzing interviews” upon which it based its conclusions.

The report from the small group of trustees rejects the Freeh Report, saying Freeh “did not fulfill his obligation to conduct an independent and comprehensive investigation.”

No serious person who has been paying attention to this story since November 2011 can still plausibly argue that Freeh conducted an “independent and comprehensive” investigation into Penn State’s role and culpability for Jerry Sandusky’s actions. No one seriously defends the Freeh Report except for those who paid for it and benefited from its since-repudiated findings—that is, no one seriously defends the Freeh Report except for the leadership of the Penn State Board of Trustees itself, which has a perpetual interest in discouraging any public acknowledgement of their own culpability for fiduciary breach, rush to judgment, and downright naiveté.