Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: December 1995

December 1995

'Bumper Sticker' Theology

Although you state in your editorial concerning the document of a group of U.S. bishops that they should leave the Catholic Church and join another and that no offense was intended (“Down the Old Schism Trail,” Sept. 1995), I found your editorial personally extremely offensive.

If you had engaged the issue of the role of bishops and collegiality according to the documents of Vatican Council II and not in the frivolous and caustic manner you did, you would have, I feel sure, come up with a more thoughtful response and not the “bumper sticker” theology that your editorial exudes.

According to your perspectives, you would have to name all the great bishops of the patristic period and all the Orthodox bishops living and deceased as “Episcopalian.” Surely these issues are worthy of more serious reflection.

Most Rev. Rembert G. Weakland

Archbishop of Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


What we actually said was that before leaving the Catholic Church, one should “reconsider” the road one is on, and that if, after reconsidering, one still finds oneself on the schism trail, it would be better to leave as an individual than to lead a schism. We said the ecclesiology presented by you and some 40 other U.S. Catholic bishops is Episcopalian. You chafe at the word “Episcopalian,” but do not disown the essence of our analysis. So you should not feel offended. While you appeal vaguely to collegiality, Vatican II, and the great bishops of the patristic era, you make yourself quite clear when you indicate that it would not be accurate to characterize the ecclesiology of “all Orthodox bishops living and deceased” as Episcopalian: You thereby signal that an Eastern Orthodox model of collegiality, rather than an Episcopalian model, is what you are drawn to. Thank you for your nuance, but it’s an ecclesiological distinction without much of a difference. Again, Your Excellency, no offense intended.

Tough Love

Your September 1995 editorial, “Down the Old Schism Trail,” was necessarily hard-hitting, but you handled the subject with an abundance of grace, wit, and charity. Today it is politically correct to tolerate dissent and subtle internal schism, but unfashionable to stand up and be counted as a faithful son or daughter of the Church. However, the internal problems of the American Church, like those of a dysfunctional family, cannot be remedied if we remain in “denial” or settle for a false irenicism. There is a taboo among many Catholics against identifying schismatic tendencies. I commend you for your courage in addressing this taboo, for it’s a taboo which is fatal to true Catholic unity.

Leon J. Suprenant Jr.

Steubenville, Ohio

Not to Be Taken Lightly

Congratulations on your fine editorial, “Down the Old Schism Trail” (Sept. 1995), which questioned the 40 or so U.S. bishops who protested against Rome. I hope some good will come of the editorial: I hope it will be a wake-up call. Moreover, anyone who has noticed your reticence over these many years in such matters must take your words doubly seriously.

(Name Withheld)

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Congratulations on your September editorial, “Down the Old Schism Trail,” on the 40 or so U.S. bishops. It is a masterpiece of analysis and discernment. It should be framed for posterity.

Rev. Albert J. Heber

St. Michael Church

Convent, Louisiana

When Catholic Bishops Sound Like Protestants

Your “Down the Old Schism Trail” (Sept. 1995) was one exciting editorial to read, and re-read. I read it to one of my classes. Regarding those 40 U.S. Catholic bishops who protested against Rome, and whom you critiqued, I was struck by how Reformed they are. That caused me to be ever more suspicious of being Presbyterian, which is what I am.

Rev. Prof. Brett Webb-Mitchell

Duke Divinity School

Durham, North Carolina

On Archbishop Weakland

Regarding your editorial, “Down the Old Schism Trail” (Sept. 1995): Although I have not read the material you so vehemently contested, I must protest your application of the term “schismatic” to legitimate open criticism of papal policy statements — as contrasted to formally declared infallible definitions — emanating from the Holy See. I particularly reject the application of that harsh term to Archbishop Weakland, a prelate I value and admire as a personal friend but, even more, for the magnificent work he has done as leader of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, which I still consider my ecclesiastical “home.” We have occasionally discussed some of the issues the NOR editorial would rule closed to “open discussion” by members of the Mystical Body of the Church.

That “old schism trail,” let us not forget, can lead in two directions, and, to be frank, the past several issues of the NOR seem to have focused on issues and arguments that sometimes seem to be heading in the direction of a narrowing “ultra-Romanism.” Historically, the Church has suffered as much, possibly more, from a “creeping infallibility” which seeks to quash discussion of serious moral questions or structural problems. Though I am not an ardent crusader for women’s ordination, I find the argument stressing a “2,000-year tradition” weak. Tradition does not exclude the possibility of change, should it serve the needs or fulfill the purpose of the Church. Such changes in tradition have been frequent over those 2,000 years, to our great benefit.

The editorial ignores the distinction between pope as person and papacy as divine office. Of course when a pope speaks, his words always are to be given full consideration and respect; but only when he exercises the power of infallibility is the matter closed to legitimate dissent. As a conscientious objector to World War II, for example, I was greatly troubled by the public statement of Pius XII that, in effect, denied individual recourse to one’s private conscience when a nation declared it had been unjustly attacked (as, of course, all did, including Nazi Germany). All succeeding popes and the Vatican Council have since taken a quite different position. Was it wrong for me to stay in an alternative service camp and do what I could to advance my cause? Does the fact that John Paul II has declared conscientious objection to be a “sign of maturity” demean military service?

In conclusion, I wish to express my pride in and gratitude to Archbishop Weakland and the some 40 members of the U.S. hierarchy who have shown their respect for the authority and responsibility of their exalted position by speaking out to defend the right and practice of collegiality affirmed at Vatican II.

Gordon C. Zahn

Boston, Massachusetts


I was surprised — and pleased — by your editorial, “Down the Old Schism Trail” (Sept. 1995). You have, over the years, bent over backwards to avoid getting involved in internal Catholic disputes, but you are right: The Weakland-led bishops are on the schism trail. By the way, the writing style of your editorials has improved over time, as evidenced by this one.

Thomas W. Case

Cincinnati, Ohio

Wow & Wow Again

I had every intention of not renewing the NOR after my subscription expired, not because my wife and I don’t thoroughly enjoy it, but because we have so many other things that we should read. It’s a matter of priorities. But after reading your September 1995 editorial, “Down the Old Schism Trail” (wow!), and Fr. Larry Silva’s September 1995 article, “The Priesthood Is Not Just a Job” (wow! wow!), we decided to renew our subscription for another three years. Thank you for your courage, as well as your clear perceptions!

Paul R. Smith

Walnut Creek, California

No One Has To Be Evil

In her letter to the Editor (Oct. 1995) complaining about a particular anti-abortion article in the NOR, Jeanne Petersen said, among other things, that “the slow and tortuous life visited on an unwanted child is only an extended ‘abortion’ — i.e., murder.” The Editor’s response (Oct. 1995) was very good, but was only half the response that we think should have been given.

What was completely absent in Petersen’s letter was any sense of the free will of the parents of an “unwanted” (i.e., unplanned) child. Implicit in her letter was the idea that the parents inevitably do terrible things to their child because they did not anticipate the child’s conception. This is nonsense. No one has to be evil.

Part of what is terrible about abortion is the mentality that one should always get whatever one wants and only whatever one wants; if one receives any surprises or temporary inconveniences, something is terribly unfair and one has the right to respond violently and maliciously.

Ralph and Karen deLaubenfels

Athens, Ohio

My Arrows

Thank you for the pleasure of Francis X. McCarthy’s frantic pan of my novel, The Priest (Oct. 1994).

While it has been gratifying to get raves in those venues that count most, commercially or critically — The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly, Parnassus, Yale Review — the book is, after all, meant to be a satire on the condition of the Catholic Church in America, and one would like to know if one’s arrows have found their mark. McCarthy would have it that I am a “pipsqueak Sadean epigone,” that my novel is “pitiful,” a “hurricane of sin, psychosis, and sleaze,” and “excites lust, dementia, bigotry, and sadistic sexual fantasy.” In the last respect, he proves his own case by himself fantasizing that I have nipple rings. In fact, I have no piercings whatsoever.

What shall I imagine of McCarthy in return? Only that like the hero of my tale, or like Hawthorne’s Rev. Dimmesdale, he should feel a burning and unassuagable shame that cannot be repented until it is publicly acknowledged. I’m pleased to think that in at least this one case my missile has gone right to the heart.

Thomas M. Disch

New York, New York

Machines vs. the Family

In criticizing “The Decline of the Family…” by Rev. Howard Curtis (July-Aug. 1995), Dorothy O’Connell made some worthy points (letter, Oct. 1995), but also helped me to appreciate the original article all the more.

I don’t doubt that O’Connell’s household is more productive than her grandmother’s, at least at first glance. Modern productivity, however, is quite deceiving. Our factories, shops, farms, and feedyards are consumeristic in their demand for nonrenewable resources like petroleum, and in their production of problem byproducts like toxic waste or feedlot runoff. This consumerist model leads eventually to the conviction that people threaten the planet, and from there to the population control mindset evident in Beijing, Title X, Planned Parenthood, etc.

Furthermore, O’Connell’s husband doesn’t seem to need her or their children in running his feedyard, nor does she need him for her hospice work, etc. They are, in daily practice, independent producers, which hinders rather than aids their bond as a family.

Thus, modern, mechanically enhanced “productivity” appears to work against the family. On the other hand, the subsistence farm of yesteryear (and the Amish of today) achieved true productivity in a natural, sustainable way. And the manual work entailed, while tedious and difficult, meant that people were a vital resource, not a problem, and so the family was strengthened.

Gerald DePyper

Duluth, Minnesota

The Real Rahner

Karl Rahner could respond to Charles James’s article, “Karl Rahner’s Baneful Impact on Theology” (Sept. 1995). Indeed, Rahner himself says: “faith in the indestructibility of the Church’s faith, in the fact that she will abide in the truth of Christ, implies a faith in the fact that there are propositions in which, taken individually, this faith of the Church is articulated, and which at the same time share in the indestructibility of this faith. Christian faith means faith in Jesus Christ expressed in a historical mode and having a historical reference to Jesus Christ over and above the reference to Him achieved through grace…certain propositions about Him will endure permanently…it is impossible for the Church, while having such propositions, to be herself totally incapable of recognizing them as such in the individual concrete case…the Church is convinced that she actually knows of such true and indestructible propositions as such…. These assertions are in ecclesiastical parlance called infallible and inerrant propositions” (TI, XIV, 57). Are they in the parlance of Charles James, an Anglican? If so, who will point them out? Who will first point out the historical Church? If your well-meaning critic knew Rahner better, he would see that Rahner is far more Catholic than himself.

Dick Rolwing

Reynoldsburg, Ohio


Yes, Rahner does ground the indestructibility of certain propositions in the indestructibility of the Church herself. But on the next page of the volume you cite we read that our trust in the Church is grounded in our personal and individual experience of the Spirit (TI, XIV, 58). A typical Rahnerian qualification. It follows that our trust in the Church’s infallible and inerrant statements rests on a criterion of personal experience. And yes, there is room in my Anglo-Catholic parlance for words like “infallible” and “inerrant.” But thankfully, the legitimacy of these terms does not depend on my personal experience.

Rahner: Even Worse

Charles James argued (article, Sept. 1995) that Karl Rahner has had a baneful influence on theology because he wants to use mystery as a criterion of theological truth.

Even more baneful, in my opinion, has been Rahner’s championing of what he calls “theological pluralism,” for this emasculates the Magisterium. In 1969 Rahner argued that in our time the Magisterium may not intervene to end a theological debate, because, to do so, it would have to employ one particular philosophy, and now there are many conflicting systems, all equally valid. For him, Heidegger’s existentialist system, which he had himself adopted, was in no way inferior to traditional Thomism. Accordingly, he had no compunction in rejecting Pope Paul VI’s condemnation of contraception in Humanae Vitae, because in it the Pope accepts the teaching of St. Thomas that some actions are intrinsically evil — i.e., can never under any circumstances be lawful. Anyone who has adopted an existentialist metaphysics must, if he is logical, be a situationist (or relativist) in ethics, for if there are no universal essences, there can be no universally binding moral laws. Moreover, Rahner disagreed with the terms in which the Fifth Lateran Council defined the immortality of the soul, since these were taken from Thomistic philosophy.

Rahner also rejected the definition of the Council of Trent that Christ instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders at the Last Supper, and, in the last year of his life, urged that, in the interests of ecumenism, the Church should rescind her dogma of papal infallibility.

G. H. Duggan, S.M.

St. Patrick’s College

Upper Hut, New Zealand

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