October 1997

Good for Laughs

The letter from T.Z. Csaky, M.D., titled “Don’t Knock Dirt-Eaters!” (Jul.-Aug.) has had me laughing for days. It seems that Csaky, who accused Thomas Storck (article, May) of “homophobia,” believes that pica, the pathological practice of eating dirt, is somehow an inherited trait. For those of you who did not have your secondary education in biology thwarted by lousy schools, you should remember the theories of French naturalist Jean Lamarck, who in the early 19th century proposed that adaptive responses to the environment produce structural changes that are capable of being inherited. Remember that good yarn about the giraffe?

I’m glad to see that the lack of any phenomenological support for Lamarckism has done little to dim its attractiveness. As a fellow closet Lamarckian, I have regularly flapped my arms for 30 minutes every day in the hopes that I will grow wings. At the very least, my children should sprout some feathers.

Barry H. Hellman Jr., M.D.
Norfolk, Virginia




Patience, Mr. Herz!

In his letter to the editor (Jul.-Aug.), Albert Herz castigated Pope John Paul II for weakness and lack of leadership. Herz needs to have patience. The present abuses in the Church cannot be set aright by a single individual, even if he be pope. Responsibility must be shared by bishops. There are thousands of bishops, many of whom were appointed by the present Pontiff’s predecessors. Moreover, John Paul certainly cannot know the majority of bishops personally, even those he himself appointed. He has had to depend upon the opinion of his apostolic delegates and other churchmen to guide him, and in some cases he has been let down. It would be most unrealistic to consider a pope, Chief Shepherd though he be, an autocrat who can dismiss local ordinaries without a highly complex and lengthy due process that would cause even more undue disruption and scandal. Thus John Paul’s recourse to prayer and example to his brother bishops and priests.

Unlike Herz, I consider John Paul a superb leader who perhaps one day will be called “the Great.” True, his major talent, like that of Leo XIII, lies in regaining the Catholic Church’s rightful place in world affairs. His successor, like that of Leo’s successor, Pius X, will doubtless have the special task of tending more to internal affairs. But the groundwork has to be laid. The Holy Spirit guides His Church well, but, let’s face it, He has His own timetable.

In the long history of the Church a period of turbulence followed every Council and sometimes lasted for decades. Why should we, in our topsy-turvy world, expect otherwise? Things will turn out well, even if not in my lifetime — or Herz’s.

Fr. Gerald A. Buckley, O.P.
Western Dominican Preaching
San Francisco, California




David Slays Goliath, Again

Regarding Stanley Grip’s article on Fr. Vincent Rigdon (Jul.-Aug.): The U.S. Catholic bishops’ 1996 postcard campaign against President Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban was an impressive and remarkable show of solidarity and potential power on the part of the bishops. But it was short-lived, as the bishops forfeited all they gained, as well as their credibility (at least as far as the Federal government was concerned), when they reacted with total silence to the Department of Defense’s order to its military chaplains that they not follow the bishops’ initiative. Instead of an immediate outcry by the bishops in response to the obvious counter-attack by the government, it remained for a David in the person of Fr. Rigdon, an Air Force Reserve Chaplain, to slay the Goliath.

Victor J. Dirse
Perrine, Florida




Meeting L. Brent Bozell

Fr. Raymond Gawronski’s tribute to the life of L. Brent Bozell (Jul.-Aug.) got me to recollecting.

It was around suppertime on a cold winter evening in about 1980 when I got an odd and disturbing phone call at the Pax Center in Erie, Pennsylvania. “Pax” was your typical Catholic Peace ’n’ Justice center: good as any, better than some. At that time I was organizing an outfit called Prolifers for Survival, to wage protracted courtship between the peace movement and the prolife movement: “Ban the Bomb, Not the Baby” was our schtick.

The voice on the other end of the phone was ancient, masculine, raspy, and urgent. This man was calling to grill me about my stand on the various Life Issues, construed in the broadest possible way. What did I think of assassination? Euthanasia? Hiroshima? Purity? The Papacy? Poverty? Did I love Our Lady of Guadalupe? Had I ever considered suicide? Did I perchance speak Spanish?

After 15 minutes of intense questioning, the sandpaper-voiced man said he’d just have to drive over to talk more about these matters. “I could meet you for coffee sometime,” I offered, thinking: Here’s one hurtin’ buckaroo. “Where are you calling from?,” I asked. “Washington, D.C.” Oh.

Sometime after midnight there was a knock at the door. It was snowing heavily, and here was this scrawny gent, badly dressed, sockless, and somewhat slurry of speech. The Pax community did shelter and soup kitchen work at that time. I thought he was a bum looking for a place to crash. I brought him inside to give him a sandwich and coffee, and a referral to the Men’s Shelter. But there wasn’t any alcohol on his breath. And he was talking about Aquinas and the Just War Theory.

Golly, I thought. It’s the same guy. He just hopped in his car and drove all the way up from D.C. to Erie through a blizzard because he has this urgent, driving need to discuss a Catholic vision of life and death.

I finally got his name: Brent Bozell. It didn’t mean anything to me. But I could tell the Men’s Shelter wasn’t for him. I got him to bed down on our Pax Center library sofa, promising we’d have time to talk in the morning.

Morning came, and, boy, did we talk! He told me about how he and Michael Schwartz strode into D.C. General Hospital in 1970 to try to stop the abortions, and how he took a hammer and did what needed to be done to a suction machine (yes, 1970!). He heartily approved of my (more demurely) removing the hoses and screws from a suction machine during a prolife sit-in a few years after 1970. He called atomic weapons a kind of satanic sacramental, charring innocent people to smoke, an incense sweet in the nostrils of the Lowerarchy Below. He loved Humanae Vitae, loved his wife and 10 children with a reverence that made him shake, and he hated the loveless world of politics.

His body and voice seemed to be failing even then. He was a magnificent wreck: brilliant, ardent, relentless, and well-read, and yet a wreck, like a Mercedes in a ditch with a busted axle and broken glass on the seats.

He was unnervingly humble. He was here sitting at my feet almost, quizzing me and noting seriously everything I said, as if I were a font of wisdom, when his poorest, least coherent thoughts were more interesting than anything I had in my repertoire of small borrowed ideas.

We kept in touch. I eventually pieced together who this Brent Bozell is in the world of Catholic thought. I found out about Triumph magazine, and Brent’s break with his brother-in-law Bill Buckley, whom he regarded as “too liberal.” I found out that traditionalism, which I had always thought was cold, formal, and heartless, could flow like hot lyricism from a heart of love.

He was a challenge to the Right because he loved the poor, and wanted, like Peter Maurin, to be with them, to look like them, to serve them. He saw America as being under judgment because of the nuclear arms race and godless capitalism. He had very little use for what passes for political conservatism in America.

He was a challenge to the Left because every fiber in him was traditionalist in the most radical sense: feudal, Gregorian, patriarchal, popish, gold on the monstrance, hairshirt to the skin.

Brent Bozell came from the Right, I from the Left. Yet we ended up in agreement on All The Disputed Questions. Now that he has passed on to shelter in the Heart of Mercy, I am going to pray for his intercession in matters requiring a miracle. I will report how it works out. I expect something wonderful.

Juli Loesch Wiley
Johnson City, Tennessee



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