Paul Moses

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009).

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Pope Francis, St. Francis and the Middle East

With the symbolic gesture of praying for peace with the Israeli and Palestinian presidents, Pope Francis once again brings to mind his namesake saint from Assisi.

St. Francis excelled at creating tableaux of peace and compassion, aimed at changing hearts and minds. Late in his life, he wrote a new verse about peacemaking for his poem “The Canticle of Brother Sun,” and had his friars sing it to the bishop and mayor of Assisi at a time when their conflict seemed ready to precipitate violence. According to an early account of Francis’s life, the two would-be combatants reconciled.

Pope Francis also has a knack for the compelling symbolic gesture. His decision to act on the Middle East stalemate brings to mind another effort on the part of St. Francis. With peace talks on their way to failing during the Fifth Crusade on the banks of the Nile, St. Francis took it on himself to seek out the sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil. Their meeting was peaceful and courteous—remarkably so, given the brutal violence of that war. Francis failed in his aim of converting the sultan, but at the same time he succeeded in providing the Crusade leaders with an important example: it was possible to talk with the enemy, one human being to another.


Boycotting Amazon and the new Internet Barons

I was chatting several days ago with Bill McGarvey, a friend who is co-author of the book The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing, and Everything in Between.  I told him that it struck me as an ideal present for a graduating high school student. Bill informed me, though, that he faced a problem: Amazon said on its website that it would usually take three to five weeks to ship it. This afternoon, it listed 3 to 5 seeks, then changed to 2 to 4. Either way, Amazon's shipping delay creates an obstacle for the customer who wants to give the book as a gift at a graduation party.

The problem is that Bill's book was published by an imprint of Hachette, which has refused to cave in to Amazon's increasing demands for larger payments from the publishing industry. The deliberately long shipping time is part of Amazon's campaign of intimidation against Hachette--and against its authors, their books and the free flow of ideas. It certainly puts Jeff Bezos in an odd position: owner of the Washington Post, which we look toward as a beacon of First Amendment values, and owner of a company trying to suppress the sale of books. It's brazen and it's wrong.

Ardelle Cowie, a Connecticut investor, is rightly bothered by this. According to The New York Times, she has begun a "lonely boycott" of Amazon. I wonder if it will be that lonely. After my conversation with Bill, I resolved I wouldn't buy anything from Amazon unless it was unavailable elsewhere.

Francis at the Bethlehem Security Wall

When Pope John Paul II prayed at the Western Wall in March, 2000, I was watching on a big screen in the press room at the Jerusalem convention center. Covering the pope's pilgrimage for Newsday, I wasn't fortunate enough to be in the media pool for that event.

Study: Latino Catholics joining the "nones"

For decades, polls and studies have tracked the movement of Latinos from the Catholic Church to Protestant denominations, especially Pentecostalism. But a new Pew Research poll shows that large numbers of Latinos, particularly young adults, have switched from Catholicism to the "nones."

On St. Patrick's Day, a Mayor in Trouble with the Irish


First, New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio ran into criticism from fellow Italian Americans for eating pizza with a knife and fork. Now, it seems, he is in trouble with the Irish.

Pope to Notre Dame U.: Continue to defend church teachings

Pope Francis has told University of Notre Dame officials he hopes the school will  "continue to offer unambiguous testimony" in defense of the church's moral teaching and freedom.

Bishops' plea from the Central African Republic

I don't know much about the Central African Republic, where fighting among local militias has driven nearly a million people from their homes. Like most people, I've pretty much ignored the suffering that's been going on there.

But there is an opportunity find out more in a letter the bishops of the Central African Republic have issued in a call for peace. (Zenit carried it on Jan. 15.) They downplay the religious role in the conflict, fought between what news reports describe as Christian and Muslim militias, and say it is primarily political and military. Concerning Muslims, the bishops say:  

Our faith commits us to be at the heart of the battle for life and the promotion of human dignity. What are we doing with it at this moment of crisis? The temptation to seek vengeance is great. Muslims, rightly or wrongly accused of being accomplices of the seleka, have been delivered up to mob justice and executed without reason. Let us remember that life is sacred: "Thou shalt not kill" (Dt 5:17). Let justice be done according to the principles of the law.

Working together, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Imam Imam Oumar Kobine Layama have tried to defuse the religious tensions. It's a brave mission for peace.

Monsignor Lynn's Conviction Is Overturned

A Pennsylvania appeals court has overturned the child-welfare conviction of Monsignor William J. Lynn, who was jailed over his role in supervising a priest who sexually abused minors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Bill Bratton returns to New York

It will be interesting to see what Bill Bratton does in his second round as commissioner of the NYPD. When he served in that role from 1994 to 1996, he changed policing across the country by starting the Compstat system, which quickly maps crime to identify problems.

One consequence is that by heightening the importance of crime statistics, Bratton helped to equalize crimes. That is, a murder on a street in Bedford-Stuyvesant figured just as prominently in the statistics as a murder on Park Avenue. As a result, commanders in high-crime areas were under much greater pressure to be aggressive about preventing crimes.

The down side was that after Bratton left office -- pushed out by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was jealous of the media attention his subordinate was receiving -- the new commissioner decided that the best way to keep reducing the crime numbers was to flood poor neighborhoods with large task forces of cops who were unfamiliar with the community. This did reduce the crime rate, but local residents came to feel as if the police were an occupying force. The death of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant police shot at 41 times, was the low point.

Critics have focused on the NYPD's quota-driven practice of stopping and frisking people on the street. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's opposition to that policy propelled him into office. He called for community policing.

Bratton also employed stop-and-frisk in New York, albeit on a much smaller scale than in recent years. It was part of his strategy to get guns off the street. He scoffed at community policing, saying cops weren't social workers. (That may have been posturing to ingratiate himself with Giuliani; his overall record in heading police departments in Los Angeles and Boston shows, according to de Blasio, that Bratton supports community policing.)

Could two New York mayors be more different than Giuliani and de Blasio? It will be interesting to see how Bratton manages this change.

Catholic Schools and the Common Core

One of the strengths of Catholic schools has been that they don't give in easily to educational fads. But that may no longer be the case, since more than 100 dioceses have endorsed the hotly debated Common Core standards, leading to a substantial internal debate. The Washington Post reports: