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REPORT ON THE “TOWN HALL MEETING”

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:  The Jackson Lab is a genetics lab based in Maine, which is also involved in the world of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research (HESC).  Thomas S. Monaghan, Founder and Chancellor of Ave Maria University has given the “go ahead” for the land to be allocated  for this lab in Ave Maria, Florida– the town he promoted as a “Catholic hub.”

Really, folks. Really.

“Fantastic!  This is a gift of God.  This is an answer to prayer.”

Yes… this is how Dr. Michael M. Waldstein described his initial reaction to the proposed opening of the Jackson Lab in Ave Maria, Florida, during a “town hall meeting” in Ave Maria.  The Jackson Lab’s services include holding workshops and providing resources for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research.

Dr. Waldstein is Max Seckler Professor of Theology at Ave Maria University.

 

Something is amiss in the town of Ave Maria, Florida.  It is the last place one would expect to find a proposed location for a controversial genetics facility called The Jackson Lab—a project that could cost taxpayers over 260 million dollars.  A project that has proven to be divisive in Collier County—because it is loved by some, and despised by so many.

A coffee house featuring religious posters and icons depicting Catholic history and thought, served as the watering hole for approximately one hundred people, who attended a town hall meeting on December 14– in the center of the small, but overwhelmingly Catholic community of Ave Maria, in rural Eastern Collier County.   The audience was comprised of residents, students and visitors.

Three men sat near a microphone, ready to conduct a panel discussion and provide information about the Jackson Lab, and its proposed move to this town.  One of the panelists was Dr. Michael Waldstein– introduced to the audience as Max Seckler Professor of Theology at Ave Maria University.  He is also a resident of Ave Maria.   The two other panelists were Mike Hyde– VP for The Jackson Lab’s Advancement and External Relations, and Blake Gable, President of Real Estate and Minerals Project Manager for the development of the Town of Ave Maria.

The moderator was Carlos A. Figueroa, a resident of Ave Maria, who is also a member of the Ave Maria University Board of Regents.  On July 27, 2010, Mr. Figueroa spoke before the Collier County Board of County Commissioners and expressed his enthusiasm for the Jackson Lab proposal.  His statements were televised, and are part of the county’s official public records of archived meetings. Yet, during the Ave Maria Town Hall Meeting, Mr. Figueroa made the following statements:

“I am not against or for… [incomplete sentence by speaker].  I am waiting to learn the facts about everything that’s going on before I make my own decision.  I want to go on record with that.”

“I have supported the petition as it was presented to the County Commission as a citizen of Ave Maria, and I will continue to support it until the facts are laid out on the table, and I find something to oppose.”– Carlos A. Figueroa – Dec. 14, 2010 – Ave Maria Town Hall Meeting

Amazing!

Mr. Figueroa made it very clear to the audience that questions for the panelists would have to be written on cards,  and at the end there would be a time for final comments.  The audience began to fill out the cards obediently, and turned them over to the organizers.  Dr. John Jaroma, whom I discuss further below, vigorously opposed this– but was firmly instructed by Mr. Figueroa to follow the rules, because “We’re trying to do this for everybody’s benefit.”

Really… for everybody’s benefit?

I noted only two or three Ave Maria University faculty members in the audience.  Two of them are priests.  One of these two priests, Fr. McTeigue, respectfully disagreed with some of Dr. Waldstein’s views on the Jackson Lab project.  The only faculty member who stands out with indignation is Dr. Jaroma, who appears to have been recently hired as an assistant professor of mathematics, according to AMU’s website.

But, Ave Maria University has a history of considering “disruptive” such open expressions of opposition, even when these expressions take place off campus.

I wonder how much Dr. Jaroma needs his job.

If there were other faculty members somewhere in the premises of the coffee house or pub, they certainly did not identify themselves publicly in opposition to the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab project– which came as no surprise.

Mike Hyde did his usual sales pitch for the Jackson Lab, and tried as hard as he could to avoid answering my specific questions regarding the Jackson Lab’s involvement in providing workshops and  resources for Human Embryonic Stem Cell research, a grave violation of the sanctity of life.

Here’s an audio clip of my questions to Mike Hyde.  Listen carefully to how Hyde repeatedly tries to avoid giving me an answer:

 

This lack of transparency is why Collier County Commissioner, Tom Henning, has called the Jackson Lab proposal “an embarrassment.” The  Ave Maria-Jackson Lab scandal has now entered the courtroom battleground, where Collier County citizens are trying to stop the use of millions of taxpayer dollars– for what many see as nothing but a bail out of  Tom Monaghan and Barron Collier Companies’ Ave Maria real estate experiment.  An experiment which began with the “Catholic Town” promotion, then the “Every Lifestyle” promotion– and now the suggestion of a town with a futuristic genetics/biomedical cluster.  Indeed, an odd assortment of promotions.

When Hyde was asked if the Jackson Lab would agree to not engage in activities at the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab site, that Catholics consider ethically unacceptable, Mr. Hyde responded that the Jackson Lab would not enter into any such agreement.  This is one question he answers without hesitation.

Blake Gable, who appeared uncomfortable throughout the evening, was displeased by my question regarding the unanimous decision made by the Collier County Board of County Commissioners approximately two and a half hours earlier, requesting that Ave Maria’s Fiscal Impact Report be examined by the Clerk of Courts.  Gable rejected my question, even though the Board of County Commissioners action was televised, and is an official public record, as noted in the following video clip:

In the following audio clip Blake Gable denies that anything is wrong with the Ave Maria Fiscal Impact Report, dismissing the action taken by the Collier County Board of County Commissioners– much like a wandering street merchant in Istanbul dismisses any questions about the authenticity of his rugs:

Blake Gable’s reaction before this captive audience in this remote town in the Everglades, is part of the history of how the developer communicates with those who trustingly came here following the promotion of this town.

Ave Maria… where anonymity thrives

The town hall meeting was sponsored and organized by “private residents” of Ave Maria—an oxymoron, considering that there is nothing private about a public town hall meeting.  Once at the coffee house, two of these “private residents” organizers made sure to let the residents in the audience know that the meeting would be conducted their way—or the highway.

Case in point:

When Dr. John Jaroma complained that the panel was comprised only of supporters of the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab project, he asked if he could join the panel with his opposing views.  Instead, he was threatened with removal from the premises by one of the organizers.

I was then approached by another organizer who returned the three cards where I had written my name and each speaker’s name.  This organizer told me that I had to write my complete question on each card, which would then be read by an organizer.  I had noticed that the questions were being read without identifying the audience member.  I responded that I wanted to ask my questions openly and directly to the panel, instead of an anonymous card.   The annoying and rude organizer proceeded to tell me that I had to do it his way, or I could leave.

I asked Dr. Waldstein to intervene on my behalf, so that I could pose my questions personally and directly to the panel– given that the “organizers” refused my request. The meeting was nearly over by the time I was finally allowed to ask my questions– which involved financial issues concerning the town, Jackson Lab business activities, and matters of “ethics” in Catholic higher education.

The atmosphere of control and intimidation at this town hall meeting may explain the propensity for anonymous activity in Ave Maria, including anonymous letter-writing, ad hominem attacks and character assassination– at times falling to the level of soot-streaked prisoners of the gutter.

Sadly, anonymous communication is a manifestation of fear.

So, on this unusually cold December evening in Southwest Florida, Dr. Waldstein found himself cast in the role of panelist, discussing issues of ethics, in relation to the Ave-Maria Jackson Lab project.  To this end, he quoted from the theological depth of John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Dostoevsky, etc.

During Dr. Waldstein’s opening remarks he emphasized that he had received “particularly important” instruction to speak in his own name.  Yet, during his presentation he brought up and defended Tom Monaghan and Nick Healy—Chancellor and President of Ave Maria University, respectively, by stating that he rejects “in the most decided terms the suspicion that has been raised about Mr. Monaghan and Nick Healy, that they are willing to set aside moral considerations for financial gain”.

What’s the reason behind this suspicion?

Monaghan provided the 50 acres for the proposed location of the Jackson Lab in Ave Maria– then gave the reported “Go ahead with it”  for the project.  Nick Healy has publicly embraced the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab project.  (See Naples Daily News, April 10, 2010). 

Yet, Dr. Waldstein stated during this meeting that Ave Maria University has not taken a public position on the Jackson Lab project.  Many find this contradictory, at best.

Here is Dr. Waldstein’s answer to the question of the university’s position, posed by a member of the audience, shortly before the meeting ended:

“It  [Ave Maria University]  has not taken a public position on that question.  The bishop is on the Board of Trustees.  Such a statement would have to be made by the Board of Trustees, and the bishop would have to have the main voice in it.”  

Well, there are a few “issues”– to put it mildly, that need to be considered:

  1. Nick Healy is the president of Ave Maria University.
  2. Nick Healy has made public statements embracing the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab project.
  3. The bishop accepted an invitation to join the Board of Trustees, only as an ex officio member.
  4. The bishop has never granted Catholic recognition to Ave Maria University.  I question whether the bishop would make a statement on behalf of Ave Maria University, any more than he would on behalf of Florida Gulf Coast University.
  5. The bishop has already expressed his serious concerns about the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab project– through a statement published by the diocese on July 23, 2010.
  6. When Thomas S. Monaghan made the 50 acres available for the Jackson Lab project, he did so upon consultation with the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Pittsburgh, and made it public.   He surely can continue to seek their guidance.

Dr. Waldstein added that his role as a panelist was not to  “join one or the opposing side, but to bring to bear the authentic principles of Catholic ethics, as Father Tatman [the pastor] expressed, in a recent sermon, in accordance with the bishop’s instructions.”

Waldstein acknowledged the bishop’s statement, and added:

“As I understand it, the bishop has not said to the Jackson Lab, ‘Don’t come, we don’t want you.'”

As a prelate, the bishop’s statement regarding the Jackson Lab was clear and firm.  He went as far as to question whether the project should even be considered authentic economic development.  But, it is not the job of a bishop to give specific direction to the Jackson Lab.

For the benefit of the reader, here is a synopsis of a bishop’s role: 

It is of Catholic faith that bishops are of Divine institution. In the hierarchy of order they possess powers superior to those of priests and deacons; in the hierarchy of jurisdiction, by Christ’s will, they are appointed for the government of one portion of the faithful of the Church, under the direction and authority of the sovereign pontiff.

Besides the power of order, bishops possess that of jurisdiction; they have the right to prescribe for the faithful the rules which the latter must follow in order to obtain eternal salvation. The power of jurisdiction is of Divine origin, in the sense that the pope is held to establish in the Church bishops whose mission it is to direct the faithful in the way of salvation.

Dr. Waldstein ended his talk by bringing up, again, Ave Maria University:

We are committed to the dignity of life, and I think this is clear also to Jackson Lab.  At any rate,  faithfulness to the bishop is fundamental and I see it as being there at Ave Maria University, right now– and as remaining.” 

This final statement again contradicts his opening remarks that he would not speak on behalf of the university.  Interestingly, he also wore the Ave Maria University insignia pin on his Trachtenjacke.   University lapel pins, as is well known, are a sign of pride, marketing and promotion of a university.

Here are some eye-opening quotes from Dr. Waldstein’s presentation as a panelist, during this town hall meeting.  I find interesting the back-and-forth use of the past and present tense.  These quotes are contained in the video presented at the beginning of this article.  My comments appear in brackets:

“Fantastic!   This is a gift of God!   This is an answer to prayer.  Why?  Because we will have people, intelligent people to talk to, who stand in the mainstream of American culture…”(Dr. Waldstein’s first reaction to the proposed opening of the Jackson Lab in Ave Maria].

[MY COMMENT: Is Ave Maria University so desperate for “intelligent” people to talk to?]

“… Let’s assume that the worst charges that have been made are correct, it seemed to me in looking at the Jackson Lab as a whole, that comparing it to other institutions in the United States—for example the presidency, that the Jackson Lab was clearly one of the more responsible institutions.  That the individuals in it, that there was much institutional decency and care of, and that‘s a matter of perception, that’s how I saw it, looking at the material— certainly if you look at our president [Barack Obama] he’s in a different category.”

[MY COMMENT: I’m sorry, Dr. Waldstein—this is completely off point.  What does Barack Obama have to do with the Ave Maria-Jackson Lab deal?]

“Nevertheless, it seemed to me that on the whole,  for the university’s intellectual life the coming of the Jackson Lab was a great good.”

“In the contemporary world another form of thinking has taken hold, that many people call utilitarians,  that is, the ethically right thing to do for many people is to look at benefits and advantages.  To calculate those benefits and advantages, then do whatever it takes to bring about those advantages…  The most extreme form of that way of acting, we find in the great totalitarian leaders of the 20th century—Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini…”

Dr. Michael M. Waldstein – Ave Maria Town Hall Meeting – Dec. 14, 2010

Great totalitarian leaders”? 

Although Dr. Waldstein may have been attempting to establish the moral distinction between utilitarians and Catholics, there is a real dissonance in the words “great” and “leader”– when referring to murderous dictators like Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini.

So, where does Dr. Waldstein go from here?

I expressed my serious concerns about Dr. Waldstein’s participation in this panel, when he contacted me several days before this event– and I specifically questioned Dr. Waldstein, who is a renowned Austrian theologian, as to why he would stand next to two Jackson Lab peddlers at the local coffee house, to discuss “ethics”– nine months after the Jackson Lab scandal began.

At the end of the town hall meeting, Dr. Waldstein encouraged the audience to contact him.  He said  there is the possibility that he could be wrong.

Well, his statements, partly read from an I-Pad, speak for themselves.

Someone has to say the truth…

Copyright © Marielena Montesino de Stuart. All rights reserved.

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Watch the video,  “Ave Maria and The Jackson Lab: Dr. Michael M. Waldstein… In his own words

IMPORTANT RELATED READING:  The Town of Ave Maria, Thomas S. Monaghan and the Jackson Lab Scandal

♦   ♦   ♦

Marielena Montesino de Stuart

 

You may also read Marielena Montesino de Stuart’s commentaries through: RenewAmerica, USAToday, The Dallas Morning News, U.S. Politics Today (an EIN Service for Political Professionals-*) Poynter Online, Spero News, Daily Estimate, The New Liturgical Movement-Poland, The Naples Daily News, Les Femmes-The Truth, Culture War Notes,  ProLife Blogs,  The Wanderer, etc.

TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION:  Ave Maria, Florida + The Chronicles of Ave Maria© + Corruption in Florida + Ave Maria University + The Jackson Laboratory + Charles “Chuck” E. Hewett + Collier County Board of County Commissioners + Commissioner Tom Henning + Commissioner Georgia Hiller + Workshops and Resources for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research + Eugenics + Margaret Sanger + Tom Monaghan + Tom Golisano +  Nick Healy + Nicholas J. Healy Jr., President of AMU + Barron Collier Companies + The Ave Maria Stewardship Community District + Bishop Frank J. Dewane + Agenda 21 (Sustainable Development) and the Town of Ave Maria + How to identify Agenda 21 (Sustainable Development) in your school, community, county, state.

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