Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: January-February 1994

January-February 1994

Those No-Brain Traditional Catholics

The letter from John J. Burke (Oct. 1993) epitomizes everything I detest in traditional Catholics. The real fight in the Church is between no-brainers like Burke, who are psychologically predisposed to authority set in stone, and those others not surprised when we learn the earth is not flat, time and space are not constant, and God has no penis. This is because we think “truth” is hard to come by and elusive, not handed to us like a parental Christmas gift wrapped in Disney paper.

Unlike E. Thomas Dowd (letter, July-Aug. 1993) I will not leave the Catholic Church, and unlike Anne Pilsbury (letter, May 1993) I will not let my subscription to the NOR lapse. I will remain a dissident Catholic in defiance of the Burke crowd. (Any bets Burke is a big Ollie North fan?)

Steve Betley

Central Argyle, Nova Scotia

Horsham, Pennsylvania

Chase Me Back to Protestantism?

I’ve followed the debate (letters, June through Nov. 1993) started by Sheldon Vanauken (“Choosing a Church,” April 1993) with keen interest.

I was raised a Seventh-Day Adventist. At about age 40, I concluded that the denomination was a conscious fraud. I flirted with Anglicanism before having a 10-year sojourn with Lutheranism. I took the final step of Confirmation into the Roman Catholic Church in 1991.

Why did I do it? Mostly I found the music more to my liking than what I’d heard in liturgical Protestantism. I found myself more socially accepted. I liked the option of Saturday worship, which was what I’d been used to in Adventism. I felt more comfortable with Catholic sexual teaching — Protestant positions are much the same, but not as firm. And Catholics smoke less than liturgical Protestants.

I don’t believe in papal infallibility, but I see the need of a final authority, even when it is occasionally in error. I wear the term “neopapist” proudly.

Do I believe that Mary is “ever Virgin” and interceding for us with Jesus? Possibly. I certainly enjoy hearing the Salve Regina sung, and my third favorite holy day is Assumption. Still, I deeply suspect it’s all a charming cult based on baptized Mother Goddess worship. At any rate, it mitigates the patriarchal ferocity of Judaism and Islam, not to mention pre-Nicene Catholicism.

Transubstantiation? I envy anyone who can believe it. But Thomas Aquinas didn’t believe it, so why should I?

I’m sure Sheldon Vanauken’s disciples would love to chase me back to Protestantism. But my Catholic-born girlfriend isn’t at all bothered by my independent thinking. She believes in astrology (I don’t) and abortion under rare circumstances.

There are some of us who simply aren’t mindless sectarians. We get just a little nervous around true believers of any stripe. We’re not fully “papist.” We’re just more “Catholic” than “Protestant.”

Donald A. Whidden

Chapala, Jalisco

Titusville, Florida

Looking For the Long-Lost Church

Thank you for the rich irony in your October 1993 issue. Brian Barbour’s review of The Hind and the Panther by Aidan Nichols highlights the very issues in Anglicanism that Fr. Bernard Green bewails in his “Tremors in the Foundations of the U.S. Catholic Church.” A liberal faction, whose credo runs, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are committed to peace and justice,” has taken over the Episcopal Church and, as Green points out, is making strides toward control of the U.S. Catholic Church. Whether one calls this ideology “liberal” or “consumerist” is not really relevant; the point is that liberal-consumerism, which has already gutted the mainline Protestant denominations, is opposed to the Christian faith: Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox.

Both Green and Barbour have correctly identified this liberal-consumerist view of the spiritual life as the most important foe on the current battlefield. My difficulty with both of them, and with the NOR for that matter, is the idea that simply identifying the problem does much of anything to solve it. Faithful members of the Episcopal Church defined the problem accurately two decades ago, with full reference to the Anglican tradition. They were run over in the road by a church hierarchy hell-bent for modernity and “relevance.” Defining the problem did little except to salve their consciences, as they later withdrew into small splinter-churches or joined Anglican-use Catholic or Orthodox parishes. Unfortunately, the liberal-consumerists now control the Episcopal Church (including the real estate and pension funds), and claim they define what it means to be Episcopalian. All without changing the creeds. One can still say the Nicene Creed on a Sunday morning, though very few people would think of taking it literally, much less requiring others to do so.

Green’s article seems to give weight to a sentiment current among disaffected Episcopalians: “Don’t bother to go to Rome. They’re only 20 (or 10 or 15) years behind us. You’ll just have to face the same issues and pain all over again.” Green accurately sees the advent of an American Catholic Church which will break with Rome. What he does not see is that the issue is not the integrity of Catholicism (as it was not the integrity of Anglicanism 20 years ago) but the integrity of the Christian faith. Green writes, “There are many who, while they belong to the Church, do not think in terms of the sort of commitment which would bind one to the Church. If they do think of themselves as committed religiously, it is to something called ‘Christianity,’ of which Catholicism is simply one expression. They can hop from Church to Church as they feel inclined. A Church is only a useful resource, not something one commits oneself to out of principle.” My response is a firm, “Yes, that’s right.” Green correctly discerns that there are those who choose a Church because of what it offers them in terms of “self-fulfillment,” “career opportunities,” athletic programs, etc. What Green does not discern is that there are those of us who are committed to Christianity but have yet to find a church that will not abandon the faith. Thousands of good and faithful Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and yes, even Catholics have seen their Churches shift from something their grandparents would have recognized to organizations that spout “truths” hard to swallow, let alone stomach. We “shop” for a parish, not because we are looking for a “style” that fits us, but because we are seeking a priest who believes the Christian faith, who does not regard the Resurrection as merely the Apostles’ interpretive memories of “the Christ event” but as historical fact, who can say with a straight face that he believes Scripture to be the trustworthy Word of God, who believes that God still acts within, through, and sometimes despite His Church. Further, we seek a parish where a priest may hold those views openly, not as a matter of private conscience, and a parish of people who support their priest.

One might gather that I am a 1928 Prayer Book Episcopalian or a Tridentine Catholic; I am neither. I am simply one of that large number of disaffected Christians who seek a home, a Church we can trust to be the Temple of the living God. The Catholic Church trumpets its claims to that effect, often in the pages of NOR, but the substance of that claim is often only an appeal to tradition, authority, and “being right.” None of which addresses the real needs of real Christians, Catholic or otherwise. St. Paul told the little congregation in Corinth, “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom…but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power….” Paul had no need to proclaim his own “rightness”; he had a Gospel anointed by the Spirit and attended by works of power. Where is that Church today? And even if a particular Church can demonstrate its unequivocal rightness — right doctrine, right worship, right authority structure — we may still rightly ask, “But where is your love, specifically your love for Jesus?” We are looking, Fr. Green, for the long-lost primitive Christian Church.

R.N. Wightman

Austin, Texas


Sorry, but there is no primitive long-lost Christian Church which represents some “pure” Christian faith, something distinguishable from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church developed early as the vessel for that new-born faith, and even many Scripture scholars outside the Catholic community are willing to acknowledge this.

In the development of this community, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, morality and immorality, and love and its lack, have always cohabited to some degree. They are seldom easy to sort out. It took time for the Church to identify clearly heterodox positions such as Gnosticism. It took time to discern the immorality of slavery. We are only now becoming aware of the immorality of capital punishment. The struggle to love is constant (who among us always loves perfectly?). And we are once again having to fight the Gnostic distortion.

Unfortunately, in your talk of a pure, primitive Christianity, you actually exemplify an aspect of Gnosticism. Your Christianity is your own disembodied, ahistorical version of the faith. But my sympathies are with you because, by and large, I think your shopping will lead you to a commitment to Catholic orthodoxy; still, you are “shopping” for a Church that reflects what you have decided is “the truth.” The only legitimate position is to be in the historical community of faith, and suffer through the situation. The Spirit is with this community; ultimately, the Catholic Church will be faithful to her Apostolic heritage. To affirm this is central to the Catholic faith.

The Fateful Turning Point

In his article on “Tremors in the Foundation of the U.S. Catholic Church” (Oct. 1993), Fr. Bernard D. Green gives us a very lucid and useful analysis of the “fault lines” along which so many unfortunate “fractures” have occurred in recent years.

But does Green go far enough? We must have the honesty and courage to acknowledge that our present predicament stems from 1962 — from the very ambiguous notion of aggiornamiento. One can but surmise what Pope John XXIII really had in mind when he called for action to bring the Church up to date. Relative to what? And in what ways? But we do know it was a fateful turning point. How can one not have been saddened since then to see the Church, the “mother and teacher of nations,” shed so many venerable traditions in an attempt to accommodate the spirit of the times? As though this were an age of faith!

The second source of our woes lies, not in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, but in the innovations that have followed. I have heard the new Mass described as one of immanence rather than of transcendence. And it is true that it sometimes slips into the spirit of Protestant services.

The celebration versus populum (facing the people) strikes me as particularly unfortunate in that it rejects the symbolism that the Church had honored from time immemorial, that of the celebrant leading the faithful toward the seat of salvation, all turned, and striving, in the one direction that makes sense. It has been contended that the celebration versus populum was usual in the primitive Church. Not so! We know now, from the work of the late great German liturgist, Msgr. Klaus Gamber, that the concept of the altar as an image of the celestial archetype before the throne of God had always determined its place in the church building and the position of the celebrant before it.

Seen as a gathering of the faithful at the Holy Table with the celebrant acting as presiding officer, the New Mass has proved to be very costly in terms of mystery and holiness lost. The damage has been compounded by the poverty of the language used in current translations, to say nothing of the kitsch that has invaded church music.

The Mass remained down through the ages pre-eminently the “sacrament of unity” and the bulwark of doctrine. It defined exactly what it meant to be a Catholic. But now?

Michael Clark


The American Catholic Church: Unproductive

It was with great interest that I read the Rev. Bernard Green’s article, “Tremors in the Foundation of the U.S. Catholic Church” (Oct. 1993). I wish to offer my personal testimony as one who grew up in the American Catholic Church.

The parish of my youth was established by members of my own ethnic group. Most of my elementary education was received from the parish school, and I attended the local Catholic high school before going on to a secular university.

My religious education varied from ethnic nationalism at my home parish to social responsibility as a college student. Salvation consisted entirely of maintaining my Church membership and participating in the Sacraments at least occasionally. Maintaining this outward façade was all that was required of me. The most notable exception to this was my encounter with my high school chaplain, Fr. Kenneth Sommer, whose story is told in Larry Tomczak’s book, Clap Your Hands. However, at the time, I did not understand his call for a personal faith in our Savior.

As a college student, I met evangelical students who challenged me to study the Scriptures to learn what God really expected of me. As a Catholic, I believed that the Bible is the inspired word of God. However, I was surprised to see how plain and simple the Gospel is, but also how I had failed to measure up to what God expected of me.

I realized that my salvation depends on my own relationship to our Lord (Phil. 2:12), not to the Church. I also realized that I must acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of my life (Rom. 10:9-10). The Church plays a vital role in spreading the Gospel. However, she cannot of herself become the means of salvation.

Twenty years have passed since my early college days and the events that redirected the course of my life. I have belonged to evangelical Protestant churches, since that is where I find the Gospel most clearly preached. It is in this environment that I wish to bring up my family.

The American Catholic Church has become like the church in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7) that has forsaken its first love. When the American Catholic Church became more interested in making the world a better place than in seeing the lost of the world brought to salvation, she became unproductive in God’s sight. She is in danger of being like the servant who had his talent taken away and given to another because he was not doing his master’s business (Mt. 25:14-30).

If the American Catholic Church ever decides to return to her first love — Jesus Christ and His Gospel — it would have an impact that would not only shake our nation but the world itself. Until then, I am afraid that she will remain in the background while the evangelical churches spread the Good News.

Thomas J. Kunsitis

Richmond, Virginia

'Devils' As God's Messengers

Fr. Bernard D. Green’s “Tremors in the Foundation of the U.S. Catholic Church” (Oct. 1993) certainly draws the battle lines between clear “Catholic identity” and the frightful “differences” and “fragmentation” he finds in American Catholicism. But don’t the differences ultimately enrich, rather than threaten, American Catholic identity?

Balancing such diversity is not easy. But one should not “declare war” in a determined rush to eliminate one viewpoint. Surely, Carl Jung’s insight that a key to personal psychic wholeness is “an ability to hold the opposites in tension” applies to community identity as well. Perhaps we all need to become more open to those persons and ideas within our Church we instinctively find ourselves wanting to label as “devils.” Could they really be God’s messengers?

I happened to read Green’s article on the same day I read Sally Cunneen’s “Vulnerable Sharers, Peaceful Wrecks” in the October 9 issue of America. I recommend Cunneen’s reflections as a healthy antidote to Green’s too narrow and overly confrontational analysis. Here’s a sample: “It is hard to be a brave, clear witness to the faith today…. If we are perfectly clear who we are and what we should be doing, I suspect we are either wrong or fooling ourselves.”

Lawrence J. Lippert

Cincinnati, Ohio

Reproof From Geneva

I am in the Reformed tradition, but appreciate the NOR nonetheless. However, I have at times found myself frustrated with articles, and the essence of my frustration is found in Bernard Green’s “Tremors in the Foundation of the U.S. Catholic Church” (Oct. 1993). My frustration is due not so much to Green’s theological position as to his style.

Green was trying to bring to light issues that are creating “tremors” and possibly a future schism in the Catholic Church. It is clear to me that on both sides of several of the issues are earnest people who care about the Catholic Church and its unity, but one wouldn’t know that from Green’s presentation. Time and again, one side of an issue was presented as typified by a sinful outlook or an unhealthy extreme. For example, when a woman, frustrated in her desire to use her talents in the Catholic Church, was attracted to a denomination with more opportunities, she was dismissed as merely seeking “career satisfaction.” What could be the outworking of a heartfelt desire to serve the body of Christ seemed to be dismissed as mere ambition. Also, people who make a priority of liturgies that facilitate a holistic worship of God that engages their emotions as well as their mind and spirit were dismissed as merely trying to conjure up “a particular emotional experience.”

Green’s presentation was not only unfair but schismatic, and therefore contrary to what seemed to be his intent.

Leslie Badoian

Berkeley, California

Now I See It

I was very impressed with Fr. Bernard Green’s article, “Tremors in the Foundation of the U.S. Catholic Church” (Oct. 1993). From talking with fellow Catholics, I have had a vague sense that certain attitudes are at odds with Catholicism, but could not exactly say how. But now I can.

Kevin Hammer

Fostoria, Ohio

Satanic Lies In Scripture

This, basically, is in response to Bernard Green’s “Tremors in the Foundation of the U.S. Catholic Church” (Oct. 1993).

A people who teach a dogma that exalts those who embrace it will never teach true humility. We have an innate, selfish desire to be right. The truly humbled, however, overcome the selfishness of demanding that they and only they are right, and admit they might be wrong. Failing this, self-righteousness sets in. Christians dogmatically believe they are right and anyone who disagrees is wrong. Christians exalt themselves with Scripture passages and ignore or rationalize any passage designed to humble them — e.g., “Not all who say ‘Lord, Lord….'” Where are the Christians who humble themselves before this passage? Individually, they are few and far between, and as a group, they do not exist: Each denomination thinks such passages speak to the others.

It is no wonder that American Christians seem so confused. Laypersons have been developing critical thinking skills. Gone are the days when a pope speaks and all who listen unquestioningly follow. Old traditions were established in a time when the laity was illiterate and the power to rule always, at root, became manifest through violence. As regards the latter, little if anything has changed. As regards the former, all has changed, especially in America. As educated and Enlightenment-influenced people, many American Christians gravitate away from dogma. When people no longer have their “pat and simple” answers, as dictated by others, confusion follows. Green bemoans the dialogue of “My experience is….” But there is no dialogue between disagreeing self-righteous people; there is only preaching, bickering, and anger. Self-righteous people seek to impose — often forcefully and always with mental manipulation — their present understandings, which often are the past understandings or experiences of others.

There can be no mending of rifts apart from overcoming self-righteousness. This never will happen so long as the various factions regard Scripture as the inerrant/infallible word of God. For this perception is the foundation of their self-righteous, dogmatic, and even fanatical convictions. Only when we come to embrace Scripture as a collection of books in which lies intermingle with truths will the rift-mending begin. Scriptural truth (wheat) withstands rational scrutiny. Conversely, scriptural lies (weeds) do not. To identify an in-part satanic influence in Scripture is to show clearly why some have done and continue to do atrocious things in the name of God and/or Jesus.

“Happy are you who sow beside all waters, who let the feet of the ox and the ass range free” (Isa. 32:20). If this is not a live-and-let-live verse, then it is meaningless — pointless — babble.

Will Jews, Muslims, and Christians ever “present the right sacrifices”? Perhaps. But not until they embrace reason and dispose of their self-righteousness and irrational pretensions to knowledge. The secular world has in many ways overcome irrationality and self-righteousness. Most Americans who refuse to associate with any church are still believers in God (at least in concept) and of a mind to do unto others as they would have others do unto them.

Nowhere does Jesus give us permission to judge and condemn others by quoting Scripture. Such is a mere rationalization allowing many to exalt themselves by quoting what they think is God’s word. Most Christians condemn others according to the reflections of some more or less selfish, irrational, unjust, unforgiving, revengeful writers of Scripture. Nevertheless, “the measure we give [justly] will return again to us.”

There is a higher understanding by which to understand Scripture. The truly meek shall one day inherit the earth.

Steven Phillips

Flint, Michigan

The Suffering of Animals: Wasted?

Regarding the immortality of animals (see John Warwick Montgomery’s “Fido in Heaven?” Oct. 1993): I have always thought it strange that, while animals endure the results of Original Sin, Christian theologians are not able to affirm that animals also share in the Redemption.

Our fellow mammals have nervous and reproductive systems similar to ours. They have similar emotions of anger, fear, hate, and love. They suffer not only the normal vicissitudes of life, but those inflicted on them by man. What a tragic waste if their suffering is to no avail.

One of these days a mad scientist will combine human genes with those of some other primate. The result will give theologians something to ponder.

Mary C. Ferris


No Point in Trying to Think Clearly

Fr. Francis Canavan, in his article “The Sexual Revolution, Explained” (Nov. 1993), tried and missed about as far as most Church teaching has done in centuries to explain sexuality. As with Church teaching, he states that “years of reading” (my italics) about sex “have left a firm impression….” But imagine how much firmer the impression is for a teenage couple in the back seat of a car. Or as Graham Greene says, “If God wanted us to think clearly, he wouldn’t have given us genitals.”

Canavan characterizes the recent film The Crying Game as “a piece of homosexual propaganda.” It is not (and I am not gay). It is a compelling story of a he and a “she” (a transvestite homosexual male) caught up in the tragedy of a religious war and a timeless yearning for love. There is never any physical sexual act between the two, and such is so abhorrent to him that even the thought makes him physically ill. At the end, when “she” realizes he is going to prison for several years to save her from what would be a terrible fate because of her sexuality, “she” utters, “Greater love hath no man….” Who else used those identical words?

Jack Darragh

Gig Harbor, Washington

Don't Mess With Mother Nature

Here’s an addition to Francis Canavan’s thought-provoking article on the sexual revolution (Nov. 1993): AIDS is the alarming new chapter in this revolution. Many medical experts think the only solution to the epidemic is the restriction of sex to coitus between a couple married for life — in other words, a return to old-time morality. This is an opportunity for the Church to reiterate her position as not only morally right but necessary according to nature.

Robert de la Bastide

Guatemala City, Guatemala

Special Favors Mean More Taxes

I was disappointed with some of Juli Loesch Wiley’s solutions to the problems women face in choosing between career and family (“Why Feminists & Prolifers Need Each Other,” Nov. 1993). She correctly states that “gifts…will be lost to everyone if women spend their lives trying to be male clones.” But does that justify giving women “extra opportunity,” as Wiley proposes?

Wiley advocates subsidized prenatal care and family allowances, both of which I assume would come from government. A study by the Tax Foundation has shown that 80 percent of a family’s income growth has been eroded in the past decade by taxes and inflation, and Richard Vedder of Ohio University has written that personal income in the average state would be significantly higher if state and local government spending only rose in proportion to increases in personal income. Wiley mentions Europe, where “the average maternity leave is five months at full pay.” She does not mention that the governments in question are faltering under debt, and companies are failing and/or moving to places that have a more favorable business atmosphere.

The women and men in our country would fare better if everyone were allowed to keep a substantially larger portion of their paychecks. And if the adults were to fare better, the children — born and unborn — would too.

Kathryn J. Larsen

Midland, Michigan

Who Came Forward to Share My Loss?

I doubt that James G. Hanink (“Left, Right, or Personalist?” Nov. 1993) has ever been an entrepreneur. He thinks a productive enterprise that provides workers with jobs does not “directly contribute to the common good.” But artists do, he assures us!

Hanink is strong on profit-sharing, but loss-sharing never occurs to him. What happens if a company has several bad years, or goes under? Do workers dip into savings or sell their cars or homes to share in the loss?

That, in fact, has been my problem. I was a government clerk for 35 years. When I twice started a productive enterprise, I invested my own capital and hired labor who were happy to have the jobs. Alas, we failed together, and, alack, none came forward to share my loss.

Robert N. Allen

Miami, Florida


You don’t say whether your companies offered profit-sharing, but where companies do, workers must offer loss-sharing. Even if your companies didn’t, remember that your workers lost too — their jobs, their livelihoods. I assume there was no worker participation in managing your companies; had there been, company performance might have been better.

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