Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: January 2001

January 2001

Why Were the Altar Rails Removed?

Regarding Fr. Regis Scanlon’s excellent article “On Bending the Knee to Receive Holy Communion” (Sept.): I venture to say that this discussion would be unnecessary if altar rails had not been removed.

I have yet to hear a valid explanation as to why they were removed. They were removed from this parish before I arrived (otherwise they would still be here). At all-night vigils with an early 5:30 a.m. Mass, I place two kneelers in front of the sanctuary area, and all the faithful are able to kneel to receive Holy Communion.

At general Masses three to five people either genuflect before receiving or kneel to receive. I am convinced that to receive Our Lord kneeling should be the norm. There is (as far as I know) no specific mandate on this point, because it has always been assumed that one does kneel — until recent times. It’s hard to emphasize the Real Presence when people are allowed to stand to receive.

Fr. Robert Copsey, S.O.L.T.

St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church

London, England

Applause — for the Glory of Man

Amen and amen I say to Mrs. John R. Moore for her letter (Nov.) about the magnificent Mass she attended at Christendom College. She also mentions many of the traditional practices that are missing today in most Masses elsewhere — which are replaced by “added attractions” that make church seem like a town meeting.

One of my pet peeves is the applause at Mass for this or that — or whatever. Who needs it? Any action by any person at Mass should be for the glory of God — who needs no applause — not for the glory of that person.

Mrs. R.F. Hain

President, The Acton Institute

Edmond, Oklahoma

Fr. Sirico Replies

I write in reply to an article in the October issue, “Can Economic Justice Be Achieved Without Law?” by Thomas Storck.

Mr. Storck criticizes the following statement of mine: “The way to have people make better choices is not to coerce their economic decision-making, but to inform their personal morality.” Unfortunately, Storck extrapolates from this excerpt an entire worldview to which he assumes I ascribe, including the idea that economic activity is an end in itself. Anyone familiar with my writing knows that I have claimed again and again that this is not the case. Economics is important but not total; it can provide truth about man, but not the whole truth; it is a necessary part of human existence, but it is not sufficient for human thriving.

Acton Notes, from which Storck draws his inference of my views, is a brief, popularly oriented monthly newsletter sent to donors and supporters of the Acton Institute. Anyone truly interested in gaining a robust, complete, and properly nuanced view of my positions and those of the Institute would do well to read at least a portion of the many monographs, scholarly articles, and other written materials that have been produced by the Institute over the past 10 years, especially our journal Markets and Morality (most of which is available at www.acton.org).

In the quotation Storck cites, I was simply attempting to make the point about the kind of non-coercive truth the Church proposes to the world that is outlined by John Paul II. In reference to the imposition of the true and good on others in the name of ideology, the Pope says, “Christian truth is not of this kind…the Church’s method is always that of respect for freedom” (Centesimus Annus [CA], n. 46). The model here, as Dignitatis Humanae (DH) points out, is Christ: “For He bore witness to the truth but refused to use force to impose it on those who spoke out against it” (DH, n. 11).

Contrary to the implication of the article, I am in full agreement with the traditional Christian understanding of freedom as being in necessary relation with the truth. John Paul II is especially good on this point: The notion of freedom exercised in relation to truth has been a resounding theme of his pontificate. To believe that freedom is not the equivalent of license, however, is not necessarily to fall back on the power of the state as the normative enforcer of morality. To say, for instance, that a person commits sin and distorts his freedom by gossiping about his friend is not to say that there must be laws against every sort of gossip in order for people to be truly free (even if well-considered laws against slander and libel might be justified). The law is not always the most effective or the most appropriate instrument for bringing about the recognition of truth and the commitment to live according to it. In other words, the law — like economics — is a means, not an end.

Storck misrepresents my statement as implying that the law is irrelevant to morality and the economy. The principle of subsidiarity clearly permits certain limited interventions when necessary, but warns that “such supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons touching the common good, must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of State intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom” (CA, n. 48).

It would appear that a key difference between Storck and myself is that Storck believes that Church social teaching has specified exactly where, when, and how the government must intervene in society, while I believe that the Church has promulgated principles of social teaching, which are to be applied by people in the time and circumstances in which they find themselves. The exact extent and nature of government legislation on economic questions is a prudential question on which faithful Catholics may disagree. It is not a static dogma: “When it comes to reducing these teachings to action,” the Blessed Pope John XXIII wrote in reference to social teaching, “it sometimes happens that even sincere Catholic men have differing views” (Mater et Magistra, n. 238). Storck, contrary to John XXIII, seems to think that anyone who disagrees with him on whether or not the state should intervene in a particular case (again, one Catholic principle among many is that the state may and should intervene in some cases) cannot be at the same time a sincere and faithful Catholic.

The Church’s social teaching, the current Holy Father has emphasized, is a branch of moral theology — it is not economic theory, it is not social science, it does not answer technical questions concerning how effective a specific policy is or what are the best means to achieve a desired end. A corollary to this point is that the Church does not propose or endorse any economic system. “The Church has no models to present,” John Paul II insists, “models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political, and cultural aspects…” (CA, n. 43). Again, “The Church’s social doctrine is not a ‘third way’ between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism, nor even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed to one another; rather, it constitutes a category of its own” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 41).

It should be clear by now that the Church is not in the business of proposing specific economic plans, policies, or systems. She articulates the principles that ought to guide workers, businesspeople, politicians, and others participating in the economy. It is the task of those acting in the economic sphere to determine just how these timeless and indispensable principles apply in specific settings and circumstances. And on those applications, even “sincere Catholic men” can have different views.

One part of the mission of the Acton Institute is to educate the religious community on the merits of a scientific approach to economics and the exciting possibilities inherent in the project of unifying sound economic theory with transcendent truth. In this, we are following the principle that “the more men and women of science engage in rigorous research to penetrate the laws of the universe, the more insistent becomes the question of meaning and purpose, the more pressing the demand for contemplative reflection which cannot help but lead to a profound appreciation of the sense of man’s transcendence over the world, and of God over man” (John Paul II, Address to the International Conference on Space Research, Jan. 11, 1997).

The Rev. Robert A. Sirico

Chairman, Catholic Radio Association

Grand Rapids, Michigan

A Straw Man

The article by Thomas Storck, “Can Economic Justice Be Achieved Without Law?” (Oct.), was an attack on a straw man, implying that the libertarian position of Fr. Robert Sirico is in opposition to or actually hostile to the rule of law.

Libertarians do not believe that freedom from coercion is the highest good, only the highest political good. Above it are the values that make liberty worthwhile and functional, namely virtue, culture, and civilized behavior. That is why most rational libertarians have grounded their philosophy in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition.

No advocate of the free market disdains law. The laws of property, trespass, nuisance, contracts, and individual rights shape the contours of the market and guide it to the common good. That is why a free society tolerates a free market in hula-hoops and medical services, but not in hired killers.

The Church is the teacher of moral values and must guide people to the right way by persuasion, not coercion. A compelled virtue is no virtue, since it was not done out of one’s free will; that is why the Church opposes forcible conversions. Private moral behavior regulated by the state is almost always counterproductive. Public immorality, such as public displays of pornography, can be regulated under nuisance statutes and quality of life ordinances, but this must be done locally, by the people most affected by it. I guarantee you that government prohibition of pornography on the Internet would soon be followed by a ban on the opinions advocated by the NOR as “hate speech.” Would Storck really entrust the moral development of our society to a government that has turned the White House into a brothel and tolerates the surrounding of every one of its military bases around the world with strip bars and bordellos?

We are not doing anyone any good by surrendering to the state each individual’s requirement to improve himself morally. As for the morality of the interventionist/welfare state, we should remember that “Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

Philip Dinanzio Jr.

Yonkers, New York

Unrepented Sins Foreseen

I’ve read two criticisms of Fr. Regis Scanlon’s March 2000 NOR article, “The Inflated Reputation of Hans Urs von Balthasar,” one from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (First Things, June/July 2000) and the other from Fr. Edward Oakes (First Things, Nov. 2000). Both Neuhaus and Oakes contend that it is not settled that we cannot hope that all men will be saved. I wonder how they would respond to the following from Ludwig Ott’s manual, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (which has a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur dated 1954): “God, by an Eternal Resolve of His Will, predestines certain men, on account of their foreseen sins, to eternal rejection. (De Fide.)”

Duane Brown

Louisville, Kentucky

Souls Falling Into Hell Like Snowflakes

The letter from Manuel Crisol on the eternal fate of Judas (Oct.) raises yet again the question of whether there are any souls in Hell.

Let’s look at it this way: Suppose a judge and jury of total neutrality were hearing two advocates pleading on opposite sides of the question. The first one gives the standard argument that God, because of His merciful nature, cannot bear to see anyone in Hell. When asked for supporting evidence, he cannot give any.

The second advocate points out that God’s justice strongly suggests that some people are forever damned. When asked for evidence, he gives plenty: Starting with Our Lady of Fatima, he goes on to report the private revelations of a whole host of Catholic visionaries, including many canonized saints and even some Doctors of the Church. After 20 minutes, he begs to be excused, saying that although he has more material, he would rather not go on.

Now, what do you think the verdict would be?

Any Catholic with an ounce of supernatural common sense realizes that Hell is well populated. St. Teresa of Avila saw souls falling into Hell like snowflakes. Have you ever tried to count snowflakes?

If this deadly spiritual danger were really to sink into the minds of all Catholics, we would have a renewed orthodox Catholic Church professing and practicing the full Faith of Our Fathers in a matter of weeks!

Let’s leave Judas where Dante put him, and then make sure that we don’t end up anywhere near Judas.

J. Allen

Torquay, United Kingdom

Why the Clergy Don't Preach About Sin

Reference is made to Walter V. O’Farrell’s article “Selling Sinners On Salvation” (Oct).

People do not go to the confessional much anymore because in the late 1960s and early 1970s we were told that sin could now be determined by our own conscience. If the Church preached that something was a sin, but our conscience did not say it was a sin, then it was not a sin. So it’s no wonder that bishops and priests don’t talk about sin from the pulpit; we don’t have to accept their teaching. Catholics were given the chance to be Protestants, and they took it hook, line, and sinker.

It used to be that Catholics were unified in belief as to what was moral and what was sin. But since certain Church leaders opened the door for conscience to be supreme, there is no longer a unified belief system on morals and sin.

So what to do now? If Church leaders clearly refute the notion that conscience is supreme, will Catholics put aside their belief that the conscience is supreme? Or will they say that individual conscience can also reject such refutation?

What a mess Church leaders have gotten us into!

Raymond L. Givan

Moab, Utah

It's Worse Than Many People Realize

Laurie Balbach Taylor’s column, “In the Trenches at Sunday Mass” (Oct.), describes the irreverent behavior of an ignorant teenage girl at Communion and the girl’s shame when admonished by a cold glare from Mrs. Taylor. The column reminded me of a grave matter in my parish.

Recently, two persons of the same sex began standing tightly together in the front pew during Mass. Since the front pews are customarily vacant, the couple was especially prominent. During the Sign of Peace they embraced in a manner that seemed designed to display unmistakably the nature of their relationship. The pastor did nothing to admonish them. He even forbade me to put photocopies of the Catechism paragraphs about homosexuality in the pews or on the tables in the back of the church. I wrote the chancery office several letters, which went unanswered.

So I spoke to the couple, pleading with them not to advertise their apparently un-Catholic beliefs when in church. I was not loud or abusive. The last time I did this, the couple told the sacristan that I was bothering them. He called the police, who took me out of the Mass. On the front steps, as the police stood by, the pastor formally banned me from the parish.

Catholicism is in worse shape than many people realize.

(Name Withheld)

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Catholic Radio Lives

For far too long Catholics have not responded effectively to the call of recent popes, starting with Pius XII, to use modern communications technologies to evangelize and catechize. A notable exception is Mother Angelica, whose EWTN television programming is now carried by hundreds of cable systems and whose WEWN short wave radio system provides orthodox Catholic radio to millions around the world.

Since most people in the U.S. do not listen to short wave radio, during the past few years several committed groups of Catholics have started local AM and FM stations which carry programming that is in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Father and the Magisterium.

Unlike Catholic Family Radio, whose demise has been commented upon in your pages in recent issues, these stations are not-for-profit and listener-supported and therefore carry no commercial advertising. This model works, and the number of such stations is increasing rapidly, especially since these station operators formed the Catholic Radio Association to assist other local Catholic groups to go on the air. The association provides no-cost assistance in local fund-raising to acquire or build a station, as well as legal, technical, and operational assistance, including access to no-cost programming, much of it provided by Mother Angelica.

The Catholic Radio Association is now assisting nearly 150 local groups, and over the next five-to-ten years expects to have upwards of 300 stations on the air.

Reaching active, lukewarm, and fallen away Catholics as well as non-Catholics, Catholic radio is changing lives and, we trust, saving souls.

The inspiring personal testimonies we receive spur us on to spread the fullness of truth. Committed and orthodox Catholics who wish to join us should write to the Catholic Radio Association, PO Box 51511, Jacksonville FL 32250.

Eugene J. Zurlo

Hudson, Wisconsin

Kangaroo Trial

In his letter (Oct.), Dan McCullough tells us: “Jews did not crucify Jesus…. [because] their nation was occupied by Rome.” Thus, he claims, there should be no apology for the crucifixion from Jews.

Although the Roman army alone had the power to pronounce and carry out death sentences, the sentences had to be established in a Jewish court. This was the Great Sanhedrin, their Supreme Court, with 70 members and a high priest as judge.

Under Jewish Law, there were 12 safeguards to ensure no miscarriage of justice occurred: requirement of two witnesses; right to employ counsel; no requirement to testify against oneself; voluntary confessions were incompetent for conviction; no circumstantial evidence allowed; no hearsay evidence allowed; presumption of innocence; trial must be in daytime and in public; no evidence allowed unless accused present; the court was to give benefit of doubt; no announcement of verdict until the following day; and no unanimous verdict could convict so as to avoid the appearance of a conspiracy.

If even one of these safeguards were violated, the defendant had to be acquitted. But in the case of Jesus, every one of the safeguards was violated in a complete kangaroo trial.

Since we are now in an era of “apologies,” it thus would seem appropriate for one to be forthcoming from Jewish groups.

Walter G. Perry

Wilmington, Massachusetts

Don't Patronize Our Youth

I greatly appreciated Frank Kimball’s article, “My Journey From Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy & Back” (Nov.), for my son is so disgusted with the dumbed-down liturgy in the Catholic Church that he is contemplating going over to Eastern Orthodoxy. The overriding emphasis in our Novus Ordo Mass is that it’s a meal, not a sacrifice; for example, the priest is usually looking around at the congregation even during the most sacred moments. It’s all very sad. My son, like other sincere young Catholics, is not attracted to trivialized liturgy. I wish we could get the bishops to understand this.

Rita Strow

St. Davids, Pennsylvania

Did Kimball Ever Acquire An "Eastern Mindset"?

In his broadside against Eastern Orthodoxy, “My Journey From Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy & Back” (Nov.), Frank Kimball is right about Orthodox deviation from Holy Tradition regarding contraception. As for divorce, however, the procedure is much like what Catholics go through with annulments (the Orthodox don’t recognize civil divorces either), only the theory is different: no legalese saying an actual marriage never existed.

He is also fair in describing his confusion about jurisdictions, such as the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), that are hostile to the rest of Orthodoxy. But if the Orthodox Church is all the patriarchates in communion with one another, are ROCA, the Old Calendarist Greeks, and the Christ the Saviour Brotherhood really Orthodox? Such groups are to Orthodoxy what the Society of St. Pius X is to Catholicism.

It is true the Orthodox emphasize the local character of the Church while Catholics emphasize universality. The Orthodox understand the universality of the Church but too often confuse it with Byzantine-ness; Kimball seems to make the same mistake many other Roman Catholics do and confuses Catholicity with Romanness.

The multiplicity of canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the U.S. is recognized by the Orthodox as an anomaly that needs correcting. It exists as a practical consequence of the Russian Revolution. Before 1917 all Orthodox, regardless of ethnicity, were part of the Russian mission in America. But after the Communist takeover of Russia, the Russian Church could no longer supervise the Orthodox in America, and so the ethnic groups appealed to the Churches in their homelands for support. All of this division is temporary and superficial and has nothing to do with the essence of Orthodoxy any more than massive liberal mistakes in papal prudential judgment or heretical church-worker apparatchiks in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church have to do with the essence of Catholicism. All Orthodox can cross jurisdictions and commune at other canonical Orthodox churches.

ROCA once had an understandable reason to exist — communication from Russia was unreliable and liable to be Communist-tainted, so the Russian bishops in exile had to make their own jurisdictional arrangements. Still, it has faithfully preserved the practice of the pre-Revolutionary Russian Church in its liturgical and monastic life.

Of the comments I’ve heard on Kimball’s article, one is very telling: Although he doesn’t realize it, Kimball’s main problem with Orthodoxy was that he never acquired an “Eastern mindset” about fasts and prayers, always seeing them in terms of obligations under pain of sin. Orthodoxy doesn’t view fasts and a daily prayer rule in those terms. Perhaps the group he joined lacked an “Eastern mindset” and mistaught him. Perhaps in his three-year sojourn with these people, he never really left Roman Catholicism (or some legalistic caricature of it) in terms of his mindset (phronema). Though he learned the externals, perhaps he never really had an Orthodox formation. Was the group he joined really Orthodox? I know that more than one Orthodox confessor or spiritual father would have told Kimball the same thing the Catholic priest on EWTN said about prayer: Pray with your heart. A monk I know helps people tailor a daily prayer rule to do just that.

Kimball writes that Catholicism and Orthodoxy both hold to Scripture and Tradition as authoritative, but that Catholicism has the authority of the Magisterium as well. He says he once read only Orthodox material, but perhaps he missed The Orthodox Church by Bishop Kallistos (Ware), who can be wrong about some things and may have been considered too liberal by Kimball’s former church, but has a lot of good things to say nonetheless. He writes that “the Bible is part of Holy Tradition”; there are not two or three sources of the faith, but one.

Making the filioque a point of controversy, Kimball sounds like a hack anti-Orthodox propagandist. The issue was settled long ago. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son (cf. the Council of Ferrara-Florence); the Greek form of the Creed without the addition is considered normative by all of Catholicism — Roman and Eastern. The Byzantine Catholic Churches don’t use the filioque. Does Kimball, in his born-again Roman fervor, consider them heretical?

Kimball identifies the Catholic Church nearly exclusively with the Roman Church and assumes that the Roman Church’s practices and polity are normative in a universal sense. This is especially insulting when it comes to his contrast of Orthodox and Roman liturgy. And much of the contempt he now has for the Orthodox also applies in theory to Byzantine Catholics. Does Kimball hold that these are “second-string” Catholics to be patronized until he and others can set them straight and Romanize them?

I happen to agree with Kimball that overlong Vigils and Liturgies and repeating the same long prayers every day may not be the best for many layfolk (my monk friend agrees on that last point), but I am glad there are those (such as monastics) who have such services. Still, his barbs about Orthodox externals strike me as identical to the contempt shown to traditional liturgics by the liberal Catholic establishment that the NOR rightly fights. Michael Davies of Una Voce has correctly noted that the attitude to liturgy often shown in the Novus Ordo is “a harsh and even offensive condemnation of the practices of Eastern Christians.” Like a habitless nun ripping into Tridentine Romans, Kimball seems to be telling Byzantine Christians to drop their liturgical silliness and “get with the program.”

Kimball seems blind to the fact that, like the Orthodox, Catholicism in theory holds that the universal Church is made up of particular Churches in communion with one another. (The Eastern Catholic Churches are supposed to be full Churches equal to the Roman.) His former colleagues are considered by Catholicism to be particular Churches with whom it is trying to restore full communion — the Orthodox are, in Catholic eyes, de facto Catholics, not Protestants to be shown their errors and converted. One doesn’t try to tear down such Churches, as you seem to be trying to do with Kimball’s article and the more insulting sidebar, “Eastern Orthodoxy is Self-Refuting.”

When the devil can’t get Christians with liberalism, he turns traditionalists against one another instead. If Catholics want to restore communion with the Orthodox, then polemics against them isn’t the way to go.

I agree 100 percent with Kimball’s recommendations for restoring traditional practice among Western Catholics.

Regarding the Russian priest, quoted by Kimball, who said “Zapad zemlya Satana!” (the West is the land of Satan), Peter Kreeft, a Roman Catholic, has said something very similar. The Muslims call the secular West the Great Satan, and, in a sense, they are right.

Serge Beeler

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