April 1995

Missing the Point

I am always saddened when I read a letter in the NOR like that from Joyce Mullan (Dec.). She canceled her subscription because she finds the "smug tone" of many articles "very disturbing," and because she, a "cafeteria Catholic," feels more Protestant than Catholic. But she is missing the point of the NOR.

I am a Reform Jew. There are aspects of Catholicism -- indeed, of Christianity -- with which I differ. However, I did not initially subscribe to the NOR because I thought I would agree with all of its positions, or even a significant portion of them. I subscribed because an ad promised me an intellectually challenging review which, while Catholic, is at the same time ecumenical. I have not been disappointed.

When the NOR appears in my mailbox, I greet it with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension -- anticipation because I look forward to digging in and reading the magazine, apprehension because I know I am going to have to work, read and reread, go back over, think, consider, and put long-held beliefs and positions under the relentless glare of thought fostered by challenging articles. Because of the articles I have changed or modified certain of my positions. Sometimes I disagree -- vehemently -- but I am always challenged intellectually.

So I wish Mullan would change her mind. Sure, sometimes there is a tone of smugness, of righteousness, and perhaps a touch of holier-than-thou. But the NOR reminds me of what a wonderful law professor told us the first day of class: "We are not here to teach you the law, but we are here to teach you to think." Sometimes the NOR bothers me. Sometimes it provokes me. But it makes me think. How dull it would be if I could read the NOR and agree with everything in its pages!

Bruce M. Bogin
Noailhac, France




Putting Children First

In Kalynne Hackney Pudner's excellent article on marriage (Nov. 1994), I found almost no mention of children. "The object of the marriage commitment," she writes, "is the spouses themselves…." Of course that's true, but I would put the emphasis on children as the ultimate purpose of marriage. If children are put first in marriage, then love, fidelity, and stability should normally follow, since these are basic needs of children.

In traditional monogamous marriage, sacrifice is willingly accepted for the sake of the children. It can be said, then, that anything that is inimical to the best interests of children should, in a good society, be resisted. That includes abortion, homosexuality, out-of-wedlock births, hedonism, day care, "alternative" forms of marriage, and all the rest, including feminism, which obviously tends to marginalize children.

Michael Clark
Central Argyle, Nova Scotia




Blown Away By Coles

The columns by Robert Coles in the NOR just blow me away.

The truth he grasped about birth control from that nun in his January-February 1995 column is what the Church's opposition to birth control is about. Why don't more people grasp it? It's so simple, and so profound.

Sr. Genevieve Walsh
Medina, The Philippines




Slippery Slope

Although John C. Cahalan opposes gay rights legislation that would in his judgment make homosexuality socially acceptable (article, Dec. 1994), he offers "gay-bashing" as legitimate grounds for specific legislative protection, and thinks homosexual behavior should be legally permitted. But gay-bashing has come to be defined as anything not in support of the homosexual lifestyle, and justice is not served by codifying specific legal remedies for a questionable category of individuals. Moreover, when one removes moral absolutes from consideration, one degenerates into a sense of obligation to ungodliness. If we want our country to be one nation under God, there is no room for government ratification of ungodly pathologies. Homosexuality is a perverted, destructive aberration. We should help those afflicted see this in the kindest, most considerate manner possible. But accommodation is just another step down the slippery slope.

D.A. Redmann
Shorewood, Wisconsin




Let Me Try Again

Ralph St. Louis's brief review of my book To Hunt, To Shoot, To Entertain (Jan.-Feb. 1995) covers four of its 201 pages. In case anybody wonders, the other 197 pages deal with the history, theology, and sociological expressions of clericalism (a phenomenon which in the U.S. is at least as widespread among the Catholic laity as among their clergy), the harm done to the Church by clericalist attitudes, and related matters.

As for the four pages on which St. Louis comments, it appears I did not make my meaning entirely clear. Let me try again.

The Catholic community in the U.S. is said to number 60 million, give or take a few million. Does anyone seriously imagine this vast body of people has an impact -- as Catholic -- on public life at all proportionate to its size? We Catholics are routinely put to shame by Jews, evangelicals, and secular humanists. There are many reasons for that, but one reason lies in the clericalist assumptions shared by most Catholic clergy and laity.

The sometimes excessive specificity of bishops' statements on political questions ("political" in a broad sense, obviously) is a manifestation of the clericalist assumptions of which I speak. An example I give in the book -- an archbishop's letter to a congressional committee regarding a "pesticide control act" -- offers a mildly amusing illustration. The deeper, larger problem, which is not amusing at all, has to do with clericalist ecclesiology. It is reflected in another archbishop's comment, defending the U.S. bishops' pastoral letter on economics, that "the Church" must be involved in these matters. Indeed it must. But who is "the Church"? Is it only the clerical hierarchy, as the archbishop's comment would seem to suggest; or is it all of us -- clergy, religious, laity -- with our diverse but complementary responsibilities in carrying on the Church's mission?

I quite agree with St. Louis that "no one knows how much, if anything, could be done by others if our bishops fell silent." That is the great reduction to which a clericalist ecclesiology ultimately points: Either the clerical hierarchy does everything or nobody does anything. If things have not always worked out that way in the Church, it is only because people often have more sense than to carry out fully the implications of a bad theory.

So, without wishing to silence the bishops, who have a crucial role to play -- a role that is properly theirs as the agents of the Magisterium, namely, to teach social doctrine to the laity -- one might reasonably hope to see a well-formed laity also begin to assume their proper, autonomous role in shaping a just social order in light of the gospel.

Russell Shaw
Washington, D.C.




Vanauken: Comic Book Writer

As fiction, Sheldon Vanauken's "New World Aborning" (Jan.-Feb. 1995) falls flat. Mark and the Professor (his characters) are as life-like and believable as comic-book characters. None of his characters develops, and the plot is pedantic and predictable. I can't believe you wasted paper and ink on this.

Catherine A. Thiemann
San Diego, California




Vanauken Strikes

I just finished Sheldon Vanauken's story "New World Aborning" (Jan.-Feb.). I share the concern of his character, Mark ("The Sleeper"), and ask the same question: "We could still change direction, but will we?"

After awakening in 1997, The Sleeper speaks about "something no one else has seen" or something others have seen and perhaps tried to speak about but without being able to "be heard." That struck me! My letters to the editor sent to various periodicals date back 40 years and fill four shoe boxes. I believe many people have seen what The Sleeper saw, and tried to sound the alarm -- but without effect.

All this can easily cause one to hate proponents of Political Correctness. Perhaps Rush Limbaugh enjoys tremendous popularity because he makes it easy and satisfying to hate. But hating does not hurt my enemies; it hurts me. It has contributed to two heart attacks, and could lead to eternal suffering. I wonder how many are fighting hate, as I am. A key to Hell is hate.

Robert T. Jefferson
Goshen, Indiana




St. Vladimir: Catholic

Christopher Decker's guest column (Jan.-Feb.) was incorrect in implying that Prince Vladimir of Kiev and his people became Eastern Orthodox. Actually, they became Byzantine-Rite Catholic, in 988. Vladimir died in 1015, and the Orthodox schism didn't take place until 1054. Vladimir is honored as a Catholic saint (as well as an Orthodox saint).

Robert J. Gorman
Chicago, Illinois




Desiring To Be Deceived

I was puzzled by the final paragraph of Episcopalian John Orens's letter (Jan.-Feb. 1995) responding to Dale Vree's review of the reissue of John Henry Newman's Anglican Difficulties (Oct. 1994). Orens poses the question: "shall we follow Vree into the quagmire of ancient quarrels, and flog old Mr. Gorham…?" I did not remember that Vree had flogged the Rev. George Gorham, and, being an Episcopalian myself, I was alarmed. To refresh my memory I again read the offending review, but found that Gorham wasn't even mentioned.

As the years pass, many Episcopalians are becoming aware of the results of their church's decision to ordain women. There is a story of a man who set fire to his house to rid himself of an infestation of mice, but who, after initial delight at the success of his eradication measure, discovered that he had no home to live in. The decision to ordain women was a rejection of the Apostolic Ministry present in both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church for over 1,900 years. In order for Episcopalians to claim that they are part of the Church Catholic, it is necessary to assert that all of the Catholics of Christendom, past and present, have been wrong in their understanding of the Apostolic Ministry, and only contemporary Episcopalians have got it right. The absurdity of the assertion is so apparent as to need no rebuttal.

Another consequence is that any possibility of intercommunion or re-union of the Episcopal Church with the Roman or Orthodox communions has been irrevocably foreclosed. In its ecclesiastical relationships the Episcopal Church must now associate with the liberal Protestant denominations, which are steadily declining in membership, prestige, and influence.

As Episcopalians become more aware of these results, many become agitated intellectually and emotionally, and respond by denying the reality of the circumstances in which they find themselves. In one of his sermons Bishop Butler made the observation, "Things and actions are what they are, and the consequences will be what they will be," and asked, "Why then should we desire to be deceived?"

Thor Thonvaldsen
San francisco, California



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