Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: July-August 2014

July-August 2014

A Dull Plodder

As Terry Scambray makes clear in his review of Paul Johnson’s Darwin: Portrait of a Genius (May), Charles Darwin was hardly the scientific giant of present-day adulation. In fact, flattery of Darwin has reached its apogee now that he is often called the greatest scientist of all time, the man who had the “best idea” in the history of mankind.

Yet the truth, as Scambray points out, is that Darwin was very much a man of his time — and a dull plodder at that. He spent eight years writing a four-volume study of barnacles. Yet, oddly enough, barnacles are never mentioned in The Origin of Species. Why? Was it impossible to discern evolutionary evidence in these complex and obscure creatures he knew so well? Instead, he devoted almost every bit of his magnum opus to tedious examples of artificial selection in domestic animals. He brushed away the glaring advantage of artificial over natural selection with rhetoric along the lines of “I see no reason why” natural selection might not have fashioned the eye or any other organ or living thing. For such schoolboy ineptitude he was roundly criticized by his contemporaries, all of whom are now consigned to history’s dustbin, regardless of their skills and biological competency.

As for Darwin having honestly formulated his theory based on slowly accumulating evidence, his own private notebooks reveal that as early as 1844 he proclaimed that he would “transform the ‘whole [of] metaphysics.'” We will not find such words in the works of Newton, Pasteur, or Einstein. Perhaps they were not genius enough.

Scambray wisely warns against laying “yet another coat of bronze to the iconic figure of Darwin.” It’s too bad Paul Johnson felt he had to take on the role of literary foundry man.

Laszlo Bencze

College for Biological Sciences, University of California, Davis

Roseville, California

Plowing the Sea

Flogging Darwin with all the old accusations of plagiarism, intellectual dishonesty, blah, blah, blah, is an unproductive and tiresome exercise. By most contemporary accounts, Thomas Jefferson was not a terribly likeable man and was probably a profound hypocrite on racial matters, but that should not detract from his brilliance and the importance of his legacy. The interesting question is indeed a matter of legacies. As one of the pillars of modernism, Darwin’s concept of evolution by natural selection did indeed change the world — and that is what Terry Scambray is truly exercised about. He, like neo-Thomists in general, hates modernity (“modernism” ironically being an antiquated concept) and wishes it would go away. He would take us back to the (now rescinded, though still voluntarily taken) anti-modernist oath imposed by Pope Pius X in 1910. He takes a position “more Catholic than the Pope” when he rejects Pope Pius XII’s accommodation with evolution in Humani Generis (1950). There is something touching, even noble, about such futile efforts to plow the sea.

Arthur M. Shapiro

Davis, California


Laszlo Bencze’s and Arthur M. Shapiro’s letters are good examples of the way the Darwin debate proceeds — the first offers an informed critique of evolutionary theory; the second changes the subject, mentioning assorted extraneous matters while assuming that evolution is true.

Mr. Bencze, for his part, shows that Darwin, contrary to the uncritical devotion he enjoys, was merely a product of his time; in other words, paraphrasing Voltaire, “If Darwin didn’t exist, it would have been necessary for the 19th-century intelligentsia to have invented him” — so desperate were they for a completely materialistic explanation for life. Not to mention, as an inseparable part of this desire, the political necessity for progressives to discredit the ancien régime; in this case, the Tories and their hoary traditions thought to be synonymous with a discredited Christianity.

Intellectual historians, even the great Paul Johnson, appear to understand that Darwin was merely one among many who have tried to show how the world made itself. But for some reason, these historians can’t muster the will necessary to point out his abject failure to do so. By contrast, Mr. Bencze does exactly that by showing clearly and concisely why Darwin’s misdirected and inept attempts to capture the prize were also lame. I admire Mr. Bencze for doing what so many others seem to lack the courage or understanding to do.

My friend Arthur Shapiro’s letter demonstrates why we began conversing years ago: Though he enjoys respect for his work in the field of Lepidoptera, he is also known for his intelligent commentary on the intersection of science with the broader culture. In the present context, however, one would have hoped for some enlightenment on evolution from a Distinguished Professor of Evolution and Ecology, another of his well-deserved titles, and an honor he curiously omits.

Unfortunately, Dr. Shapiro offers mere triumphalist assertions about how Darwin’s ideas have prevailed and about how resentful anti-Darwinists like me cling to reactionary movements like neo-Thomism — neo-Thomism being, apparently, my refined replacement for the “guns and religion” clung to by déclassé people.

Though Dr. Shapiro repeats the rumor that Pius XII made an “accommodation with evolution in Humani Generis,” what the Pope did was merely open the door for its acceptance by the Church if the theory panned out. As Pius cautioned, “Some imprudently and indiscreetly hold that evolution, which has not been fully proved even in the domain of natural sciences, explains the origin of all things” (no. 5). He also warned against the “fictitious tenets of evolution which repudiate all that is absolute, firm and immutable” (no. 6).

In other words, theists are free to accept or reject evolution in a way that materialists are not free to. That is, perhaps God did provide a materialistic way to make life, even though He hid Himself behind all of the processes that go into forming life. Of course, such an approach would exclude Darwinian evolution since, by definition, Darwinian evolution has to be undirected and accidental. Materialists, on the other hand, must believe in a totally materialist explanation for life, regardless of the evidence, because nothing else is available to have done the job; so evolution, or some materialist scheme like it, must have made the world.

If I may ease into a large generalization: Pius XII’s position here is part of a Catholic tradition dating back to the widely misunderstood Galileo case, a tradition carried forward by John Paul II in his remarks on evolution, that a scientific theory should not overstate its case. In a word, it should remain scientific — which is to say tentative, contingent, and open to dispute.

Who can deny the habit of many scientists to inflate their claims — even to cross the bounds of their discipline, butting into the business of other disciplines — as they often do? Popes as well as ordinary people have noticed this propensity, which often accompanies the power inherent in the scientific enterprise.

Regardless, all of this is a distraction from the issue of whether Darwin was right.

That Darwinists rarely engage this question was what first aroused my skepticism about evolution and prompted me to begin searching for rebuttals to critiques of evolution. But I invariably found only ad hominems coupled with artful digressions in the manner of Dr. Shapiro’s letter.

Joseph H. Gehringer

Chaplain, Pope John XXIII High School

Manahawkin, New Jersey

Clarifying the "Clarification"

In his letter on “the Bible and how we should understand it” (May), Fr. Philip M. Stark repeats the absurd claim of Fr. Raymond E. Brown that “most likely none of the evangelists was himself an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus.” Although the Church has never taught that Mark and Luke were “eyewitnesses,” they were so closely associated with the Apostles that the Second Vatican Council declared that “the Church has always and everywhere maintained, and continues to maintain, the apostolic origin of the four Gospels. The apostles preached…and then, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they and others of the apostolic age handed on to us in writing the same message they had preached…the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John…” (Dei Verbum, no. 18).

Regarding the Church teaching that Matthew was the author of the Gospel bearing his name, Fr. Stark claims that it is “not well known” that the 1911 and 1912 rulings of the Pontifical Biblical Commission (which I cited in my March letter as being “binding upon all Catholics”) were “set aside by the same commission in a 1955 ‘clarification.'” Perhaps the reason it is “not well known” is the fact that this never happened.

Fr. Stark’s claim is false on at least two levels. First, in 1955 the secretary of the commission wrote a magazine article expressing his personal opinions about those earlier rulings. To claim that the personal opinion of one member of the commission, expressed in a magazine article, “set aside” the earlier rulings of the entire commission is ludicrous. Second, the earlier rulings were made binding in a 1907 motu proprio issued by Pope St. Pius X. Such a papal decree cannot be “set aside” by comments made nearly 50 years later in a magazine article by a priest.

Fr. Stark then makes the false claim that “after Pope Paul VI’s reorganization of the Roman curia in the early 1970s” the commission’s statements “no longer carry any magisterial authority.” But when Pope Paul reorganized the curia and downgraded the commission, he did absolutely nothing to affect its earlier rulings; they still have the same “magisterial authority” they had when they were first issued. After 1971 the commission could still issue rulings, but these newer rulings had no “authority.”

Fr. Stark tries to support his ideas by citing the commission’s “even less well known” 1964 instruction that discusses three stages in the development of the Gospels. Here again he is off base on at least two levels. First, these stages are certainly well known to serious Catholics. They were presented in detail in Dei Verbum (no. 19), and more recently in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 126). Second, these stages have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the question of whether Matthew and John were the authors of the Gospels that bear their names. Not once in the past 1,900 years has any pope or council, father or doctor of the Church, or any distinguished Church leader ever suggested that the Gospels of Matthew and John were not written by the Apostles. It is somewhat ironic that the recently canonized Pope John XXIII gave a talk in 1962 in which he hailed St. John as both an Apostle and an evangelist. But Fr. Brown and Fr. Stark have other opinions.

Finally, Fr. Stark repeats the old liberal nonsense that “no reputable scholar today assigns composition of the Gospels to within a few years of Jesus’ Ascension.” To the contrary: Claude Tresmontant dates John’s Gospel to between A.D. 36 and 40. Rev. Jean Carmignac concludes that Mark was written around A.D. 45, and Matthew and Luke about 10 years later. The Magdalen Papyrus, a copy of Matthew’s Gospel, has been dated to A.D. 60, suggesting that the original document was written 10-12 years earlier. And a tiny bit of Mark’s Gospel, fragment 7Q5, was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, suggesting that the original dates to a decade or two before A.D. 68.

Matthew Dugandzic

Silver Spring, Maryland

On the Origin of Virtues

I was intrigued by the title of Justin Paulette’s article “Are There Male & Female Virtues?” (May) because I have long pondered this question myself. After reading his article, it seems to me that if gender-specific virtues exist, they are nothing like Paulette’s description of them.

As Paulette acknowledges, a virtue is an operative habit that seeks a mean that is determined by reason, disposing the person to act well consistently. To take Paulette’s example, courage is a mean between cowardice and foolhardiness. While a coward flees when he should stand and fight, a foolhardy man stands when he should flee. A courageous man, however, stands when he should stand, and flees when he should flee. If women, as Paulette claims, have historically been encouraged to flee from danger, this fleeing can be just as courageous as men’s standing, provided it is in accord with reason. Courage, therefore, is not a specifically masculine virtue; men and women may exhibit it differently depending on what is reasonable for them to do in their given circumstances.

But this raises another question. If men and women have historically tended to face dangerous situations differently, why should that bear any normative weight today? A virtue predisposes a person to act as reason dictates, independent of what people have done in the past. If a virtue were merely a habit that conforms a person to act as his ancestors did, then we would never have witnessed the glorious leadership of St. Joan of Arc.

As for Paulette’s discussion of chastity as a specifically feminine virtue, this claim seems outright harmful, as it suggests that men need not restrain their sexual appetites as forcefully as women do. But as Paulette himself acknowledges, our Lord demanded perfection from everyone, which entails possessing all of the virtues (which St. Thomas Aquinas also calls “the perfection of a power”) to the greatest possible degree. Furthermore, Paulette’s justification for entrusting chastity more to women than to men — i.e., that this has historically been the case — is manifestly false. St. Augustine argued the opposite in De Bono Conjugali.

It seems then that there are no gender-specific virtues, at least not as Paulette talks about them. Rather, the virtues apply differently in different circumstances as reason dictates, and these differences may manifest themselves differently in each gender according to historical circumstances.

Ronald J. Carroll, M.D.

New Harbor, Maine

Justin Paulette asks, “Are There Male & Female Virtues?” The quick answer is no, but there are powerful fundamental biological differences between males and females. The differences reside in the Y chromosome, which provides adolescent-like levels of testosterone during the second trimester of pregnancy in male fetuses, organizing the male brain differently from that of females. Testosterone production is then suppressed until puberty, at which time it is constantly turned on until testicular failure. Testosterone is responsible for libido and aggression in males. Males are constantly libidinous, females are not. (A graphic demonstration of the role of testosterone can be seen in Familial Male Precocious Puberty syndrome.)

Temperance, as it applies to sexual behavior, is all about controlling genetically conferred behaviors. This is unequally challenging for males and females.

Matthew Terranova

Hackensack, New Jersey

Justin Paulette’s article on male and female virtues touches on what is perhaps the central conflict and controversy in our culture. For the first time in human history, so far as it is known, an entire civilization, Western culture, seems to be asking if gender actually exists, and if so, how many genders there are. The people who run Facebook attempted an answer this February by increasing to 58 the number of options from which the website’s users may select to describe their gender.

It seems, then, that the modern Western world now defines gender psychologically and emotionally: A person is not what his anatomy says he is; he is primarily what he thinks or feels he is. Gender has become subjective, lacking any objective standard. Gender, then, only exists as a social construct, a role one chooses for oneself. Clearly then, modern Western culture must of necessity reject the concept of “gender-based values.”

Tina Chong


South Korea

Justin Paulette thoughtfully proposes a blueprint to society by reinstating gender-based responsibilities to our social structures. Although his thesis is primarily based on relegating social responsibilities through gender-based virtues, his article also underscores the importance to society of gender-based roles.

Catholicism, which unifies the corporeal and spiritual selves into a psychosomatic totality, tells us that men and women are complementary, and that women ought to be permitted to play their part fully according to their particular nature. In 1984 Pope St. John Paul II stated, “Your body can express the most intimate part of your soul, the most personal sense of your life, namely, your freedom and your vocation.” Hence, depriving women of an esteemed social role rooted in feminine nature can also deprive them of a conduit to express their spiritual identities.

It should be no surprise then that post-sexual-revolution societies are yearning for an earlier ethos in which gender-based social roles are valued. This is being demonstrated in Western Europe, where social critics purport that the rise of female leadership in the region’s far-right parties, such as Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front and Pia Kjærsgaard of the Danish People’s Party, is backlash from a society that’s lost its regard for the traditional roles of homemaker and wife. With these roles devalued by post-feminist societies, women have enacted what social scientists refer to as “last place aversion,” the desire to outrank other groups, and have reverted to political ideologies that promise restoration of self-worth for wives and mothers.

A study of metaphysics can provide a possible explanation for this “regression” back to conservative ideologies. In The Sickness unto Death, Søren Kierkegaard outlines the internal mechanics of our current, postmodern societies: “Naturally the world has generally no understanding of what is truly horrifying. The despair that not only does not cause any inconvenience in life, but makes life convenient and comfortable, is naturally enough in no way regarded as despair. A man in this kind of despair can very well live on in temporality; indeed he can do so all the more easily, be to all appearances a human being, praised by others, honored and esteemed, occupied with all the goals of temporal life. They use their abilities, amass wealth, carry out worldly enterprises, make prudent calculations, etc., and perhaps are mentioned in history, but they are not themselves. In a spiritual sense they have no self, no self for whose sake they could venture everything, no self for God — however selfish they are otherwise.”

In short, can gender-based social constructs not only bring good order to civilization but also help cater the ontological fulfillment of our spiritual identities?

The Rev. Daniel O'Mullane, S.T.L.

Sparta, New Jersey

Reasonable Grounds

I commend Michael Thomas Cibenko for his guest column “Who Made This?” (Aprib~ I found it to be elegant in its simplicity, bearing weighty truths with grace. Mr. Cibenko, through his three-year-old son’s observations, has given flesh to the interplay of created and Creator, of faith and reason, and of philosophy and theology. He has managed, in just a few simple paragraphs, to teach these complex realities with clarity. I am thankful for the illustration and the insights, which will forever aid my own understanding and that of my students. A must read!

One point Mr. Cibenko makes bears embellishing. He says, “Denying the existence of God, from the standpoint of reason, therefore becomes as absurd as suggesting that the rock tower by the creek came into existence by its own will or through some series of random events.” The question that remains, should we reflect on the seriousness of his statement, is on what possible grounds reason can stand without the existence of God. If God does not exist, what sense does it make to speak of order in the universe, or our ability to reason? No science can withstand such radical skepticism.

Sharon Weaver

Hanover, New Hampshire

Freighted with Meaning

Rosemary Lunardini’s review of James Monti’s A Sense of the Sacred (Apribpis a wonderful exploration of how liturgy is freighted with meanings that transcend time and culture. As Mrs. Lunardini points out, Monti’s book serves best when dipped into for specific liturgical seasons. I would add that those instructing others in liturgical matters would benefit from it as well. It would be helpful to those teaching RCIA and confirmation as well as those instructing new altar servers.

Monti’s emphasis on the Sarum Rite in England makes this book of special interest to the Anglican Ordinariate, the liturgy of which is informed by the rite in Salisbury, and the mission of which is, in part, to share a special sense of the sacred in liturgy with the larger Catholic Church.

Terence J. Hughes

Fort Pierre, South Dakota

A Farce of Monumental Proportions

Christopher Manion, in his article “Canon Fire: Burke vs. Wuerl” (Aprib| claims that Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont holds the trump card that will ensure that militantly pro-abortion Catholic politicians continue to receive Holy Communion. If I may be irreverent, I would be delighted to see the likes of Archbishops Bernard “Out” Law, Roger “Phony Baloney” Mahony, and Rembert “the Weak” Weakland answer in Congress, under oath, why they moved homosexual predator priests from parish to parish, thereby ensuring that they always had young altar boys to sodomize. I would also be delighted to see the likes of Leahy and other pro-abortion Catholic Democrats on Leahy’s Senate committee assume the role of interrogators. In my dream of dreams, I would relish a back-and-forth exchange, with the archbishops branding the senators “baby butchers,” and the senators branding the archbishops “child molesters” (the word homosexual would never be mentioned). It would be farce of monumental proportions. But only in my dreams. The trial that counts will be on Judgment Day, with Jesus Christ presiding.

Somewhere I read that Cardinal Mahony spent a billion dollars of L.A. archdiocesan money to keep from even appearing in a closed-door hearing before a grand jury. Weakland routinely threatened pro-life activists with episcopal retaliation. Law presided over Boston, the epicenter of clerical sexual abuse, gleefully exposed by the Boston Globe, epicenter of anti-Catholic bigotry in Massachusetts (according to The Persistent Prejudice by Michael Schwartz).

These two episcopal crimes must be punished — and not by making lay Catholics pay the lawyers’ fees. The first crime is administering our Lord in Holy Communion, in full view of faithful Catholics attending Mass, to Catholics who have based their political careers on doing all they can to maximize the killing of the next generation of Americans by the savage brutality of abortion. The second crime is destroying the bodies of unsuspecting boys by exposing them to ravaging sexual diseases and, worse still, destroying their souls by snuffing the flame of innocence and igniting the furnace of depraved passion, both leading to a ruined life and an early death. Which crime is worse? We will find out.

Bernard M. Collins

Silver Spring, Maryland

The Endgame

Those who read the NOR are painfully aware of the distressing comments about pro-life activities made by prominent persons. The recent comments made by Bishop Nunzio Galantino of Cassano all’Jonio, the second-highest ranking member of the Italian episcopal conference (confirmed by Pope Francis in March), were especially difficult to bear. Bishop Galantino told La Nazione newspaper this May that the Church has “concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia.” He told the paper, “I don’t identify with the expressionless person who stands outside the abortion clinic reciting their rosary, but with young people, who are still against this practice, but are instead fighting for quality of life, their health, their right to work.”

When I was born, there were approximately 1.3 billion people in the world. According to the Guttmacher Institute, between 1980 and 2010 mothers all over the world had 1.3 billion of their children killed by abortion. The United Nations tells us that Italy ranks near the top of the list of dying countries, as measured by the cold reality of the fertility rate. There is growing hopelessness and there are no jobs because the “young people,” over whom the bishop wrings his hands — the mammoni (“mama’s boys”), as some Italians mockingly call them — refuse to have children. A study conducted by the EU on the living habits of young adults in 25 countries reveals that 64 percent of Italians between 18 and 35 still live with their parents.

Married or unmarried, the Italians simply refuse to replace themselves. Italians and their worldwide companions in the “millennial generation” are the foretellers of what awaits a sterile world. Beginning in 2050 the visible, countable collapse of the world’s population will begin in earnest. Depopulation is an endgame — so either find work associated with population growth and stability, or stick around, find a hole to crawl into, and watch the end arrive. The Italians, Spanish, British, Germans, French, Japanese, and just about everyone else, including Americans, are all in the same boat. In every respect, the future belongs only to the fertile.

F. Douglas Kneibert

Sedalia, Missouri

Not Above Informed Criticism

The May issue contains some very interesting letters on the question of whether it is right and proper to question certain of Pope Francis’s public statements and the impressions they leave on the general public. Fortunately, we have more than subjective judgment to go on here. The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses this very point (no. 907), quoting the Code of Canon Law: “In accord with the knowledge, competence, and pre-eminence which they possess, [laymen] have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and have a right to make their opinions known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of the faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons.”

So it would seem that even the Pope is not above criticism, so long as the opinion is an informed one, comports with the faith, and is delivered with reverence and the respect due the Holy Father. Taking all of these things into consideration, the NOR, in my opinion, has remained within those guidelines.

Fr. George Ryan, C.S.P.

Port Richmond, New York

The NOR has performed a valuable service in publishing articles and New Oxford Notes critical of Pope Francis. The counterargument of docility, put forth by several letter writers, does not apply to honest criticism. Docility means to submit to censure from an ecclesial authority who is properly admonishing us against our personal sins of pride and the myriad ways pride distorts our thoughts and damages the souls subject to our bad witness. It does not mean agreement with mistaken ideas, from any authority, even if they appear worse than intended because they are extemporaneous.

When Francis’s remarks are misrepresented by an obstinately ignorant media, we have a right and an obligation to add clarity to what Catholic truth presents to mankind. If a gross mischaracterization occurs, Francis has an obligation to revise his witness publicly, and those close to him have the obligation to caution or even correct him. We all have an obligation to pray for greater clarity from Pope Francis.

Henry Borger

Laurel, Maryland

Social Justice: A Trojan Horse

I had an experience in 1969 or 1970 that illustrates the efforts of some Catholic priests and nuns to shift the focus of the Church’s mission from “saving souls” to “social justice,” as discussed by Fr. John A. Perricone in “A Caricature of Charity”(May). At Mass one Sunday, a visiting priest asserted in his sermon that for the previous few decades the Church had been ignoring her obligation to help the poor by dedicating most of her efforts to religious exercises and devotions. He said that this emphasis on spiritual matters was misguided and gravely wrong, and that Catholics must start helping the poor.

As I thought about his message, I became increasingly agitated because I realized that his premise was wrong; I knew from personal experience that many, many Catholics had been working long hours to help the poor and had been contributing substantial sums to charitable organizations. Every priest and nun I had encountered in the archdiocese (Washington, D.C.) consistently emphasized the importance of helping the poor. I was so upset by his false assertion that I confronted him after Mass and told him that his views were an insult to my parents’ generation who had worked very hard to help such organizations as the Christ Child Society and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He assured me that he had no intention of insulting anyone, but after reading Fr. Perricone’s article, I suspect that he was not being sincere.

I believe one of the most unfortunate results of the shift in emphasis from spiritual matters to charitable work was the effect it had on nuns. As has been well documented, in the decade after Vatican II a huge percentage of nuns left their orders, and many of those who stayed were no longer interested in teaching. They wanted to do social work. Consequently, Catholic schools have fallen on hard times, which I believe is one of the main reasons the Church is in such dire straits now. Unfortunately, the true effects of societal developments like the loss of so many nuns from Catholic schools take so long to manifest themselves that few people can recognize the now-distant cause of the problems.

Thomas Storck, in his reply to Fr. Perricone (“New Names for Old Things,” also in May), presents an erudite explanation of the basis for Church teaching on “social justice” and the “preferential option for the poor.” Unfortunately, Mr. Storck fails to discuss the underlying philosophical disagreement between Americans and Europeans about how best to organize a society for the benefit of the majority of people, including the poor. It is this disagreement that causes many Americans to react negatively or warily when such terms as “social justice” are used by Catholic leaders. Many Americans like me suspect that Catholic leaders have never accepted the validity of a free-market society as proposed by John Locke, Adam Smith, and Friedrich Hayek, and adopted here in the U.S. Catholic publications that deal with economics seem to reflect the European preference for a planned, centrally controlled economy. They appear to believe that the poor can obtain “social justice” only through government actions directed by political leaders, who are perceived to be wiser and more caring than ordinary citizens.

Conservative Americans reject the idea of a planned and controlled economy. They see such economies as contrary to our nation’s founding documents and philosophy, which they are convinced have produced the most successful society in the history of the world. Conservative Americans suspect — with good reason — that the promotion of “social justice” is actually a Trojan horse whose true purpose is to fundamentally transform our society, and they do not believe our society needs transforming. America, they believe, has done very well with economic freedom, and they oppose any scheme, even if it comes from the Vatican, that compromises that freedom. If that makes conservative Catholics like me who subscribe to this viewpoint “cafeteria Catholics,” as Storck charges, then so be it.

William J. McCauley

Santa Ana, California

Contrary to Thomas Storck, it really isn’t that difficult to “discern and understand” why the “Catholic subculture” underwent a change from 1965 to 1975 such that by the end of that decade “a Catholic might believe nearly anything — or nothing,” and that “today, one can find Catholics…who ignore…Catholic teaching on faith and morals.” Isn’t it obvious that the inability of so many Catholics to be what they claim to be — namely, Catholics — is that they were never properly taught how to be Catholics? Even prior to 1960, Catholic schools in many areas simply could not accommodate all the children whose parents wanted them to have a Catholic education; consequently, many Catholic children were forced into public schools. Many more were subjected to public-school education for financial and/or transportation reasons.

There is a solution to the Catholic education problem, but it will not come until public educational funds are distributed equally to all parents. Then, and only then, will all Catholics be able to educate their children as Catholics. Educational vouchers for all parents is the solution.

Hurd Baruch

Tucson, Arizona

In reply to Thomas Storck’s argument that the Church’s promotion of “social justice” through almsgiving is in line with longstanding Catholic teaching, in my experience that fact is not being challenged by those who oppose what we have come to view as the present “entitlement state.” What bothers me and many other laymen is not that the Church teaches that we have an obligation to aid the poor — we do that gladly! We differ from many Church leaders when it comes to prudential judgments about issues such as the following:

(1) Who are “the poor,” and how do we define “poverty” and “the poverty level” for benefits, including whether various types of aid, from free food to free cellphone service, should be counted?
(2) How much should the government give to the poor — on an individual basis and in gross as a dollar amount or percentage of national income — and on whom should the burden of taxes for the same be placed?
(3) Should aid be unconditional, or should conditions be attached — should some service be performed in return, like attending classes or refraining from using food stamps to purchase cigarettes and alcohol?
(4) What are the effects of government largesse over generations within a family and within certain cultures?
(5) Has the government displaced the Church in cases where application of the principle of subsidiarity would lead the government to stand aside and allow churches to provide aid?
(6) Has the Church compromised her mission and teachings by cooperating in social projects with the government under rules that prevent the Church from teaching even basic biblical morality when dealing with aid recipients?


Henry Borger was surely correct to be irritated by the homily he heard decades ago which charged that “the Church had been ignoring her obligation to help the poor by dedicating most of her efforts to religious exercises and devotions.” Charity toward the poor and an apostolate for social justice are two distinct things, but the Church has generally been distinguished in both of these areas. With regard to the latter, from at least the 1930s on, Catholics maintained a robust apostolate of social justice, featuring labor priests (priests assigned to minister to the labor movement who in some cases actively aided unions in strikes), the beginnings of the Catholic Worker movement, and above all, the encyclicals of popes such as Pius XI, who were not afraid of harshly criticizing the capitalist economic system. How I’d love to see a return to those days! Today, on the other hand, many Catholics seem to think that we must choose between “religious exercises and devotions” or social justice, but our fathers in the faith knew better, knew indeed that they are intimately connected. The first without the second is a false and empty religion; the second without the first is mere social work or political activity.

Mr. Borger appears to have an incomplete understanding of Catholic social doctrine. It is not a matter of a “European preference for a planned, centrally controlled economy,” as he suggests. He would do well to inform himself on this subject, since it is our duty as Catholics to adhere to Church teaching. The best source I can recommend is Fr. John Cronin’s Catholic Social Principles: The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church Applied to American Economic Life. There he will find an informed and sympathetic discussion of American economic life by a priest faithful to the Church’s social Magisterium. Fr. Cronin’s work is the best starting point that I know of for an American who fears that the Church is trying to undermine what is good in American life and substitute some sort of statist or socialist system in its stead.

But unfortunately I fear that Mr. Borger’s difficulty goes beyond a simple misunderstanding. He seems determined to cling to his economic ideas, even if they can be shown to differ from those of the Church. He goes on to say that conservative Catholics believe that the U.S. has “done very well with economic freedom, and they oppose any scheme, even if it comes from the Vatican, that compromises that freedom. If that makes conservative Catholics like me who subscribe to this viewpoint ‘cafeteria Catholics,’ as Storck charges, then so be it.”

Well, at least Mr. Borger is honest. He makes no bones about his willingness to be a dissenting Catholic. Need more be said? For myself, I make no apologies for adhering to all the teachings of the Church. But for Mr. Borger, America, and not the Church, seems to be his primary loyalty. All I can add is that I hope Mr. Borger will not be too surprised when he is joined in his dissent from Catholic teaching by others — proponents of abortion and same-sex “marriage,” for example — who also delight in American freedom and who, like Mr. Borger, find their deepest identity as Americans, not Catholics.

I applaud William McCauley for his forthright advocacy of public funds for Catholic schools. This is hardly ever heard anymore, probably in part because too many Catholic schools do not teach the faith today, and so there’s little interest in finding better funding mechanisms for them. But Mr. McCauley is right: It is an injustice not to provide such funds.

Hurd Baruch exhibits the common misunderstanding that Catholic social teaching is simply about helping the poor. Actually, it is as much about justice and about creating a social order, as Pius XI put it, that conforms to the precepts of the Gospel. This goes far beyond both charity and government aid like food stamps. If we did have such a just social order, the need for both of these would be considerably lessened. This implies fundamental reforms in our economic system, or what Pius called “reconstructing the social order.” This is a major task, and is the responsibility of the Catholic laity, but it is a task that, by and large, is almost totally neglected today. Valde dolendum est.

You May Also Enjoy

Women's Revenge: To Torture Without Guilt

Literature offers many examples highlighting the fact that, in very subtle ways, men can be victimized -- even “tortured” -- by the fair sex.

Pro-Life & Pro-War?

Fr. Pavone is a great prolife leader, but why can't he think with the mind of the Church instead of the mind of the Republican party?

Letter to the Editor: September 2014

Special Insight into a Painful Period... A Question of Historical Fact... Not So Different After All... The Ghost of Pontius Pilate... A Total Consecration... Investigating Chesterton... and more