Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: February 2001

February 2001

Bishop O'Donnell Responds

In your New Oxford Note (“Flannery O’Connor: And Her Own Received Her Not,” Nov.), you take me to task. I have no quarrel with your agreement or disagreement with me; that is your business. But I do have a quarrel with the inaccuracy of your remarks. The statement about “no similar books” was not mine. Neither have Flannery O’Connor’s works or any other author’s works been banned from the Catholic schools here.

You say you have not heard the words “nigger” or “pickaninny” used for thirty years. Perhaps that would indicate that my association with our Black people here in the Diocese of Lafayette is closer and more understanding of their rights and needs than yours might be.

Edward J. O'Donnell

Bishop of Lafayette

Lafayette, Louisiana


You say Flannery O’Connor’s “works” (plurabphave not been banned from your “Catholic schools” (plurab~ But we never said that, so you are not addressing the point. We said that you banned her work (singular), A Good Man Is Hard to Find, from Opelousas Catholic High School (singular).

That you said that “no similar books” may be used at Opelousas Catholic High — i.e., books similar to A Good Man Is Hard to Find in the sense that characters use words such as “nigger” or “pickaninny” — comes, as we indicated, from Rod Dreher’s report in The Weekly Standard. Your quarrel is with him, not us. Moreover, the “no similar books” statement was also attributed to you by World magazine (Sept. 16, 2000).

You say that other authors’ works have not been banned. Well, not yet — presumably because the issue of other authors hasn’t yet arisen. Or are you promising that certain works of Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and James Baldwin will not be banned, even though racially offensive words appear in them? If it’s a promise, put it in writing, and we’ll gladly publish it.

Indeed, we said we have not heard the words “nigger” or “pickaninny” used in thirty years. You imply that you have heard those words used because you have a “closer” association with black people than we do. So are you saying that it’s because of your close association with black people that you hear the words “nigger” and “pickaninny” used? Well, if black people themselves use those words, what’s the problem?

Sacred Heart Seminary

Chester, New Jersey

St. Trash?

Twice married and divorced Tommy Mottola, the chief honcho for Sony Entertainment Corporation, got married again on December 2 in New York City. This time the ceremony was performed by a Catholic priest — a monsignor, no less — in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

What a scandal! St. Patrick’s is a House of God, not a backdrop for a crowd of Hollywood trash who have grown rich by polluting the culture with their immorality.

It’s no wonder the post-Vatican II Church in America gets so little respect and is losing members left and right. Too many of today’s Church leaders are so weak they can’t say “no” to celebrity. Nor can they stand up for Church teachings on life and family issues. These weaklings are a disgrace to the Faith.

What’s next for the New York Archdiocese? Will it rent out St. Pat’s for a Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” concert? Don’t laugh! A lot of our priests, nuns, and bishops might well say, “Why not?”

Emilia Santiago

Community College of Rhode Island

Detroit, Michigan

A Response From Sacred Heart Seminary

As a member of the faculty of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, I read with great sadness your New Oxford Note, “Would Wojtyla & Ratzinger Have Been ‘Weeded Out’ of Sacred Heart Seminary?” (Nov.). In the July-August interview in St. Catherine Review, upon which your Note was based, Editor Michael Rose took at face value everything reported by former Sacred Heart seminarian Jason Dull. Rose made no effort to contact any current seminarians, faculty, or members of the administration to help determine whether Dull was a trustworthy source.

In late October, Rose came to the Detroit area as a speaker for the “Call to Holiness” conference. He met for over an hour with several of our seminarians, who took him to task for his lack of journalistic fairness. By the end of the meeting, he was sincerely apologetic. Subsequently, Bishop Allen Vigneron, the Rector, received a written letter of apology from Rose.

Rose is to be commended for admitting his mistakes. However, you published an item based on his interview, and so the seminary’s reputation has been further maligned.

Now in my second year at Sacred Heart, I find much that is very encouraging. Our seminary is not perfect because it includes human beings liable to sin. However, we need prayers, not articles that present misleading images.

Prof. Robert Fastiggi

President, CUF

Boca Raton, Florida


As for those apologies you refer to, Mr. Rose tells us that their essence is found in his editorial in the November-December St. Catherine Review (SCR), from which the next three paragraphs are drawn.

His apology covers four basic items, only one of which was mentioned in our New Oxford Note, namely, seminarians being advised not to pray in seminary hallways. Rose says that that claim by Mr. Dull is “not independently verifiable.” Moreover, that issue of SCR carries a letter from two Sacred Heart seminarians who say, as Rose summarizes them, that “there is no restriction on praying.”

Rose also gives credit where it is due. For example, he says that Sacred Heart seems to have “improved significantly” in the last seven years under the leadership of Bishop Vigneron, and Rose speaks highly of “some of the newer faculty members.”

Nevertheless, Rose’s apology is far from categorical. He says that “no one seems able to refute the claim that Sacred Heart’s formation team (a small group of priests who can make or break a seminarian right up to ordination) leaves much to be desired….” And: “It is clear that the trouble is not Bishop Vigneron but some of his key players at the seminary. There are verifiable reports that some of those men harass seminarians they find too ‘rigid’….” Also: “One of his staff once told Bishop Vigneron that with the formation program being the way it is, he wouldn’t have made it through Sacred Heart to ordination.” And Rose says he “conferred with individuals, both laymen and clergy, who have intimate knowledge of the seminary. Even today, these same people insist that…the essentials of his [Dull’s] complaints are valid, particularly his criticism of the formation team. In fact, it is because of the formation team that some priests and laity still do not recommend Sacred Heart Seminary to young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood, despite the improvements at the institution in recent years.”

Our New Oxford Note was entitled “Would Wojtyla & Ratzinger Have Been ‘Weeded Out’ of Sacred Heart Seminary?” For the NOR, that is the heart of the matter and, given what Rose says about the formation team, we stand by that query. We pray that you, Prof. Fastiggi, about whom we have heard good things, will fight the good fight (1 Tim. 6:12), and that Bishop Vigneron will provide further positive leadership, so that such a question will no longer need to be asked.

Warwick, Rhode Island

Too Optimistic

I enjoyed Lee Penn’s article “The Great Realignment of 2004-2012…,” which was subtitled “Looking Backward From Year 2015” (Dec.). The only correction I’d make pertains to the declaration of independence from Rome by the newly-formed American Catholic Church in the year 2005. Looking backward, Penn says that 36 bishops and one cardinal split from Rome in that year to go with the new Church.

But given that there are so many bishops and even cardinals these days who give only lip service to the Holy Father, I’d say that of the some 408 bishops and eight cardinals today, only 36 bishops and one cardinal would stay with Rome.

Ralph Hartmus

Steubenville, Ohio

Let's Have a National Debate

Thanks for speaking of me as “a reasonable fellow” in your New Oxford Note, “Let’s Admit It: The Anti-Catholics Are Right!” (Dec.). There you called attention to my essay in Our Sunday Visitor in which I raised the question of whether pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be excommunicated.

At the end of my essay, having explained that I myself am not sure of the correct answer, I asked readers to give me their opinions. The response was tremendous — nearly 100 people writing in, the great majority of them favoring excommunication. Thus the great bulk of my respondents agrees with you.

“Would excommunication,” you ask, “‘deter’ pro-abortion Catholic politicians? We won’t know until the Church tries it. (Let’s have the guts to try it!)” But it isn’t simply a question of guts. It’s a question of prudential judgment. Before bishops proceed to excommunicate Catholic politicians, they should be reasonably sure that this action won’t make things worse. It’s easy to imagine that a number of strategic excommunications will mobilize Catholic voters and convert Catholic politicians. Yet it is equally easy to imagine that a few injudicious excommunications will play right into the hands of the pro-abortion movement.

The time has come for the American Catholic community to have a great national debate as to whether excommunication of politicians is a weapon that can be used prudently in the struggle against abortion.

Prof. David R. Carlin

Hudson, Wisconsin

The Mission of CUF

In light of your December New Oxford Note on Catholics United for the Faith (“In a Divided Church, Even ‘Unity’ Is Divisive”), I thought I would briefly explain for NOR readers the mission of CUF.

CUF was founded as a lay apostolate 32 years ago “to defend, support, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.” In helping the laity to grow in holiness and equipping them to bear witness to the truths of our faith, we take our cue from our late founder, H. Lyman Stebbins. He wrote in the first CUF brochure in 1968 that CUF “believes so strongly in the primacy of the spiritual and the power of the supernatural that it is convinced it could do an enormous work even if its members’ only activities were study, prayer, fasting, and works of mercy and love towards our neighbor. We believe that these are, necessarily and objectively, prerequisites for the effectiveness of any Christian work. Thus, they are in no way opposed to action in itself; they are opposed only to impatient, self-assertive, or quarrelsome action.”

One of our many services is a toll-free Catholic helpline (800-693-2484), through which we help hundreds of people each week. Every day our staff is asked to apply the teachings, disciplines, and protocols of the Church to the specific, real-life situations of those who call us for faithful assistance. This often requires us to address — and not shy away from — the significant and oftentimes tragic problems in the Church today.

Just two months ago I was in Rome, where I was told by the Holy Father and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, among others, that our work is valuable and faithful to the Church.

In November I attended the annual CUF board meeting, and was told by long-time board members, including Madeleine Stebbins, widow of our founder, that the current work of CUF is a timely and faithful application of the founding vision of CUF.

I’d like to cordially invite NOR readers to call the above toll-free number or send me an email at leon@cuf.org for more information on the CUF apostolate or to obtain a free sample copy of Lay Witness, our flagship publication.

Leon J. Suprenant Jr.

San Francisco, California

Who Killed Romero?

No mention was made in Eric Johnson’s review of Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic (Nov.), or presumably in the book itself, of the investigations into the death of the archbishop which revealed no evidence that the Salvadoran government or other “Rightist” forces perpetrated his murder. But there was evidence unearthed that the murder was the work of Marxists.

While Archbishop Romero was of value to Marxists because of his support for liberation theologians, he was of more value to them as a martyr — for they knew his murder would automatically be blamed on Rightist or government forces.

Walter G. Perry

Winthrop, Massachusetts

The Legalistic Mr. Kimball

As an Eastern Catholic, an active member of a parish of the Russian Catholic Church, I protest the jaundiced perspective on Eastern Orthodoxy (and the Christian East) offered by Frank Kimball in “My Journey From Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy and Back” (Nov.). Such anti-Orthodox polemics create unnecessary divisions among the Catholic and Orthodox faithful at a time when the Culture of Death is advancing worldwide.

Throughout his story, Kimball contrasts the beliefs and practices of the Christian East unfavorably with those of the Roman Catholic Church. However, in his apostolic letter Orientale Lumen, Pope John Paul II said: “the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church.” The Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism states: “In the study of revealed truth East and West have used different methods and approaches in understanding and confessing divine things. It is hardly surprising, then, if sometimes one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other, or has expressed it better. In such cases, these various theological formulations are often to be considered complementary rather than conflicting.” As the Pope has said, the Church needs to breathe with both lungs — Western and Eastern — to be whole and to evangelize the world for Christ.

Kimball chose to write under a pseudonym “because of his embarrassment and shame for having left the Catholic Church.” Such guilt feelings seem unwarranted. The Pope says of the Eastern and Western Churches: “A particularly close link already binds us. We have almost everything in common, and above all, we have in common the true longing for unity.” How, then, can it have been a shameful thing for Kimball to have been Eastern Orthodox for three years — before returning to the West with renewed zeal for practicing the Christian faith?

Kimball describes his Orthodox experience as — in the end — a spiritual burden, with pharisaical demands made for long daily prayers and severe fasts. There are some rigorist Orthodox sects — especially the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and other “Old Calendar” churches — where this occurs. The aforementioned groups are usually not in communion with mainstream Orthodox churches; they are the Eastern equivalent to the Lefebvrian schismatics who follow the Society of St. Pius X.

The reality for members of mainstream Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic parishes is different. Eastern fasting traditions set a high goal, patterned after monastic life — but these regulations are never “binding under sin.” Our priests teach us the value of prayer, asceticism, and the works of mercy, and call on us to do what we can. Our pastors then urge us to continued progress in the Christian life, with the aim of theosis, participation by grace in the life of the Trinity.

It is odd that, after criticizing the many tasks “laid on me by the ‘pharisees’ with whom I had taken up,” Kimball recommends “stringent reinstitution of the Friday fast” as part of his seven-point plan to reform the Western Church. More law, Mr. Kimball? Eastern Catholics agree that fasting is valuable; our pastors teach this without ever implying that someone might be committing a mortal sin by eating meat on Friday. It seems that Kimball has kept a legalistic approach to the Church and the spiritual life during his journey from West to East and back.

All in all, Kimball’s story about the Christian East would have been better left unpublished — or saved for private discussion between Kimball and his confessor.

For those who want accurate information about the beliefs and traditions of the Christian East, I recommend the following:

· The 1995 apostolic letter by Pope John Paul II, Orientale Lumen — an overview of Eastern Christian beliefs, and a call by the Holy Father for Western Christians to learn from the Christian East. (This is available in most Catholic bookstores.)

· The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. The book covers the basics of Eastern Orthodox theology: God as hidden yet revealed, the problem of salvation, the meaning of faith, prayer, death, and what lies beyond. (This is available at some bookstores, and on-line through amazon.com.)

· The Eastern Catholic catechism, a two-volume series titled Light for Life, published by Eastern Catholic Churches in the U.S. It is available through God With Us Publications, PO Box 99023, Pittsburgh PA 15233.

Lee Penn

Phoenix, Arizona

God, Belittled

I’d like to offer my thoughts on the symbolism of the post-Vatican II change of having the priest face me at Mass.

When the priest had his back to me, he was facing God — and, to accept the Sacrifice, God was facing him. The priest was between God and me, offering the Sacrifice for me and the rest of the congregation. I could look past the priest and, with the priest, look toward God, who was facing both the priest and me.

Now the priest offers the Sacrifice to a God who must somehow fit between the priest and me. This way, God has His back — symbolically speaking — turned toward me, since He would be facing the priest to accept the Sacrifice. To fit between the priest and me, God has to be much smaller than before.

Joseph P. Neville

Who Are These People?

I read the election results in the paper and saw that, of self-identified Catholic voters, 47 percent went for Bush, one percent for Buchanan, two percent for Nader, and 50 percent for pro-abortion Gore. This is difficult for me to fathom. When I attend Mass now, I look around and wonder to myself, “Could half of these people have voted for Gore?”

Chris W. Carr

Ed. Note: Probably not. Of Catholics who say they attend Mass at least once a week, 55 percent went for Bush and 42 percent for Gore. We learned this from a post-election survey commissioned by Crisis magazine. (Surveys usually uncover a significant difference between practicing Catholics and the catch-all category of self-identified Catholics.)

You May Also Enjoy

Praying for a Nun

Service to others, sacrifice, suffering and purification of the soul, the soul’s immortality, pursuit of the Good — these are the bedrock of Christian eschatology.

My Episcopal Church Has Surrendered

The big topic of discussion throughout the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in July was sex.…

New Oxford Notes: June 2005

For "diversity," but not for intellectual diversity... Father Fessio goes ballistic... Freedom trumps family Now they tell you (part II)... Mammon wins again...