Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gambling Nun Condemned to Life of Solitary Confinement

Sister Marie Thornton had a serious gambling problem. So serious, she stole nearly $1 million from Iona College to fund her habit, where she served as a trusted financial officer.
A judge spared Sister Suzie (as she is known by the Order of St. Joseph) three years in federal prison after she pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement. The church was not so lenient, though.  If she stays with the convent, Sister Suzie will likely spend the rest of her life in solitary confinement, rarely allowed out of her small Philadelphia dorm room.
According to court records, the church forbids her from leaving the convent to see family or friends or being seen in public whatsoever. She can only leave the convent to go to therapy. She can’t take meals with fellow sisters, nor can she work in the Mother house doing clerical jobs.
“She can’t even go the store and get milk,” a source told the New York Post. “My belief is she will never have contact with people again.” The source said that the order will never allow her to teach again. Thornton holds a doctorate in education and served as an assistant school superintendent for the Archdiocese of Newark. She served in the convent 48 years prior to the criminal conviction.
Thornton should be punished. To be honest, she ought to have gone to jail for several years. Her actions were inexcusable, notwithstanding her inability to control the urge to gamble. She stole from a small college that trusted her, and threw away valuable (and limited) funds that were meant to educate students.
She selfishly traveled to casinos throughout the east coast with this money, using the college’s corporate credit card to pay for chips, blowing as much as $5000 each visit. She would submit false vendor invoices for reimbursement to Iona College to cover for her reckless spending.
Iona College got a $500,000 insurance payment for the theft. The college did not seek restitution from Sister Suzie, and since nuns take a vow of poverty, practically the entirety of her salary ($180,000) went to her religious order. She must do 2,000 hours of community service and three years of probation to avoid prison time.
Sister Suzie has lived in isolation and shame for the past 2 ½ years since confessing to the crime. She committed a terrible crime, and should face severe consequences. She must take the steps necessary to recover from her gambling addiction, and prove to her convent that she is worthy of being trusted again.
However, what does the church hope to accomplish by keeping her permanently isolated? What is the incentive for her to even recover, if she is going to be treated like a pariah until the day she dies?
Sister Suzie is a woman of God, and like any human being, she is capable of sinning. She’s not a bad person, but a sick person, who coped with the trauma of horrific childhood abuse by gambling.
By recovering, Sister Suzie will be able to better service the church and members of the community, especially those who are addicted to gambling. Forcing her to live a life of shame is cruel, and makes the church look extremely hypocritical. Where was this kind of harsh punishment when priests were implicated in horrible crimes against children?
Christianity stresses the importance of forgiveness for sinners. Unfortunately, Sister Suzie is learning that the Catholic Church isn’t quite so compassionate---especially to recovering gambling addicts.

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