Much to be commended was this year’s conference of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists . It was the society’s twentieth, and held at the Kellenberg Memorial High School on Long Island, an impressive institution itself. The conference offered several plenary addresses, including one by Robert P. George on “Conscience and Its Enemies,” and 70 break out sessions in seven groups throughout the weekend. The schedule can be found here .

I enjoyed everything I went to, but particularly a break-out session on the question of whether New York’s crime rate is actually dropping. The main speaker, John Eterno, a retired NYPD captain and professor at Molloy College, has written a book titled  The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation . He argued that the crime rate has indeed dropped, though not as much as the city claimed, and that the city’s pursuit of good figures has led many officers to fudge the figures, by for example recording serious crimes as less serious crimes. If they don’t fudge the figures, bad things happen to their careers, he reported from his own research, which included extensive surveys of working police officers. A lively and very interesting conversation ensued, some of which I’ll be reporting on the January “While We’re At It” section.

This isn’t a subject I would have pursued on my own, though it interests me, and certainly on my own I would not have been able to learn as much about it in 75 minutes as Eterno and his colleague’s discussion taught me. It’s an example of the value of the conference, which was increased by all the other sessions on matters of Catholicism and social science not likely to be dealt with in other scholarly settings. And at the meals and two early evening receptions, the organizers gave you plenty of time to talk with people, and an interesting bunch they proved to be.

As I say, it is an organization and its conferences events to be commended.

Update: One other thing I forgot. Cardinal Edward Egan, the former cardinal archbishop of New York, spoke at the closing dinner. He spoke on “The Challenge of Episcopal Leadership Today,” and if you are like me, this subject will not strike you as promising. The address was quite good, and made helpfully concrete the nature of the bishop’s work, observations that in other hands would have remained abstract.

Particularly striking to me was the cardinal’s insights into the temptation to give up on parishes and place one’s hope for local church life in ecclesial movements and on the need to make the parish primary, as (this is a crude paraphrase from memory) the place where the average Catholic finds his life and fellowship and where a real and irreducible diversity of people are brought together for common ends, especially for sanctification. A very helpful address even for the layman.

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