Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: May 2011

May 2011

Liturgical Reform & the 'Protestantization' of Catholic Liturgy

I appreciate the NOR’s habit of publishing articles that offer different perspectives on such topics as liturgical reform. In his review of The Development of the Liturgical Reform: As Seen by Cardinal Ferdinando Anto­nelli from 1948 to 1970 by Fr. Nicola Giampietro (Mar.), Arthur C. Sippo is right in his overall perspective that liturgical reform predates Vatican II. In fact, the liturgy has been evolving for almost 2,000 years. However, never before in the history of the Church was a liturgy of venerable use arrogantly dismissed, as happened in the wake of Vatican II.

Sippo writes that, according to Cardinal Antonelli’s memoirs, it’s not the case that the post-Vatican II reform was a “Protestantization” of the liturgy, as “radical traditionalists” allege. It’s interesting to note, however, that, according to Alfons Cardinal Stickler, Pope Paul VI himself wanted to “assimilate as much as possible of the new Catholic liturgy to Protestant worship.”

Sippo writes that “improved historical scholarship and the patris­tic renaissance” of recent years has “given birth to a new consciousness of the liturgy as a dynamic participation of the faithful in the prayers and rites of the Church.” I would counter that the Novus Ordo Mass has diminished historical traditional rites, has created a wholesale vacuum in terms of vocations and converts, and has almost entirely diminished the central purpose of Holy Mass, that of sacrifice. On this point, Msgr. Bru­nero Gherardini has said, “In all truth Modernism hid itself under the cloak of Vatican II’s hermeneutic…. The new rite of Holy Mass practically silenced the nature of sacrifice, making of it an occasion for gathering together the people of God…. The eucharistic gathering was given the mere sense of sharing a meal together…” (The Ecumenical Vatican Council II: A Much Needed Discussion). Lest one think Msgr. Gherar­dini’s words are the rantings of a “radical traditionalist,” one should note that Gherardini has served as a canon of St. Peter’s Basilica, under­secretary for the Pontifical Academy of Theology, professor at the Pontifical Lateran University, and editor of Divi­nitas, a leading Roman theological journal.

Sippo concludes, “After forty years of the Pauline missal, we will be soon using a new Roman missal that will try to return the literary majesty to the Mass that the earlier reform had abandoned in favor of more colloquial and contemporary language.” This will be the equivalent of repainting a Ford Pinto: A repainting of the exterior does not the engine remake. Related to this point, Msgr. Gherardini writes, quoting Msgr. Domenico Bartolucci, master of the Sistine Chapel at the time, that the Novus Ordo “was born without music, I would even say with a poorly concealed aversion to music,” which opened the door to “amateurism, to poor taste, to superficiality…. There will soon be available a new translation of the various texts [of the Mass], certainly improved regarding some verses, but I will not marvel at all if for other passages there will be more problems than in the first edition resulting from certain exegetical or historical-theological eccentricities….”

Chris Conlee

Editor, The Catholic Response

Rock Hill, South Carolina

When I read Arthur C. Sippo’s review of The Development of the Liturgical Reform in the March issue of the NOR, I thought perhaps the National Catholic Reporter had been sent to me by mistake.

I noticed especially Sippo’s benign treatment of Archbishop Anni­bale Bugnini, chief architect of the Novus Ordo Mass. If, as Sippo states, the archbishop was “the man of the hour,” then that hour was nothing less than the time when the ancient Roman liturgy was transformed into a Protestant-Catholic hybrid Mass. “We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy,” Bugnini once wrote, “everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren, that is, for the Protestants.” How can thoughts like this be laudable or even benign? Here we have the root cause of the liturgical abuse that would plague the Church for the next forty years.

Liturgical reform should be organic. It should not be the kind of revolution that reinvents, in an “instant oatmeal” moment, a so-called contemporary liturgy. There is little about the Novus Ordo that is praiseworthy. From the hordes of lay ministers to the bleak tables instead of high altars to bare churches and Evangelical-style hymns — and yes, and even down to the design of modern vestments — thousands of years of sacred tradition have been given a bloody punch in the face.

Thom Nickels

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

It is interesting that Arthur C. Sippo would use the adjective “radical” several times in his review of The Development of the Liturgical Reform to describe traditionalists who find error in the Novus Ordo Missae but never used the same adjective to describe the change in the form of the Mass between 1962 and 1970. More interesting is the preposterous allegation that the liturgical reforms initiated in 1948 by Pope Pius XII, most notably characterized by the abbreviation of the Holy Week liturgy, were intended to culminate in what was propagated 22 years later as the missal of Paul VI.

The Protestantization of the Catholic Mass — a fact Sippo rejects — is most certainly evident to anyone who examines how the Mass was refocused as a banquet, as opposed to an unbloody sacrifice. Most alarming is the change in the form and rubrics of the consecration to “create” a Mass acceptable to the theology of both Catholic and Protestant worship. In the Lutheran Mass, the presbyter holds up the bread at the consecration and says the words, “This is My Body.” At that point, he believes the spirit of Jesus surrounds and becomes consubstantial with the bread through the prayers and presence of the congregation. He then genuflects before the consubstantial bread. Likewise, in the Novus Ordo, the rubrics were changed so that the first genuflection is omitted, the words of the consecration are spoken aloud by the priest, and then the priest genuflects or bows to the newly consecrated host. In that way, both Catholic and false theologies are satisfied.

Martin Luther declared that the Canon “stinks of ‘oblation,'” and that word was purged from the new missal, as was the complementary term “altar,” which was changed to “table.” The altar is the instrument of consummating the oblation. If there is no oblation, no altar is needed. Tables are for meals and have replaced the altar in both fact and word.

More dramatic is the displacement of the words “the Mystery of Faith” to an acclamation after the consecration. The “Mystery of Faith” is the chalice of Christ’s blood and our singular and proper belief in transubstantiation. It is not “when we eat this bread and drink this cup….” But the latter and its variations are more acceptable to Protestants, who do not believe in transubstantiation. With respect to “eating this bread…,” consequential to a valid consecration, there remains nowhere on the altar (or table) bread or wine, except in a Protestant service. This is our perpetual Roman Catholic faith. If we are eating bread, we are not at a valid Catholic Mass.

Vincent A. Ferrelli

Syracuse, New York

Arthur C. Sippo’s review of The Development of the Liturgical Reform by Fr. Nicola Giampietro reminds us that the reform of the Mass began during the pontificate of Pius XII, who gave us the beautiful Triduum services. These changes were moderate, however, in comparison with those of the Novus Ordo. If one compares the latter with the Latin Mass, it is undeniable that it represents not merely a reform of but a wholesale change to the Mass.

Pope Benedict XVI, who has for some years been studying the causes of the unrest surrounding the New Mass, called upon Archbishop Mal­colm Ranjith to help with the investigation and with the “reform of the reform.” The New Mass is quite faulty, according to the archbishop, who wrote the Foreword to Fr. Giam­pietro’s book. He attributes the faulty changes to the actions taken by the Con­cilium group, which included Archbishop Annibale Bugnini as secretary, six Protestant ministers, and various liberal Rhine Group bishops and periti, who were working for ecumenical unity with Protestantism, unfortunately to the detriment of Catholic teachings and tradition.

Archbishop Ranjith credits Cardinal Antonelli’s insights into the complex workings of the liturgical reform prior to and following the Council, but also says that the Concilium implementers veered away from the actual intent of the Council Fathers and that therefore today’s liturgy is not a true realization of the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium. Speci­fically, Archbishop Ranjith states that basic concepts like sacrifice, redemption, mission, proclamation, conversion, salvation, and adoration as integral elements of Holy Communion are missing in the New Mass, while dialogue, inculturation, ecumenism, Eucharist as banquet, and evangelism as witness have become more important.

One last but important note: Pope Paul VI never admitted publicly that Bugnini was a Freemason, but after an article by Tito Casini, a noted Catholic writer, about Bugnini’s Masonic membership, and after private papers to the same effect were given to Paul VI, Bugnini was quickly sent to Iran in 1975 as a papal pro nuncio — an “obvious demotion,” as Sippo says. Bugnini had hoped to have local bishops initiate even more changes to the Mass, but this hope fortunately did not materialize. These factors, when viewed in their totality, as well as the severe weakening of the Church Militant, raise serious questions as to the benefits derived from the changes made to the Mass, and underscore the importance of Pope Benedict’s “reform of the reform.”

Sr. Eleanor Colgan, S.N.D.

Cincinnati, Ohio

While I appreciate Arthur C. Sippo’s review of Msgr. Giampietro’s new book and surely intend to read the book myself, I must take issue with one of Dr. Sippo’s statements. He asserts that “we did have what were called ‘Dialogue Masses,’ in which someone from the congregation would lead the people in saying some of the prayers from the missal in English, but it was always independent of what was going on at the altar….”

Either Sip­po’s memory is faulty or he experienced a total aberration of what the Dialogue Mass was — and certainly what I experienced in all three of my boyhood parishes. The Dialogue Mass meant total and real participation in the action of the Mass as it was unfolding — that is, the congregation (perhaps led by a priest who was not the celebrant or even by a layman) gave all the proper responses to the celebrant in Latin, in unison with the server. There were no responses by the congregation during the Canon because there were none to give and the whole Canon was done in silence by the celebrant.

While, in general, I support the structure of the Mass as it emerged after the Council, it is surely a caricature of reality to suggest — as some “reformers” and “liturgists” have done over the past forty years — that the congregation was composed of mute spectators engaging in private devotions in the pre-conciliar liturgy. Where that was the case, it was in violation of liturgical norms, not in har­mony with or obedience to them.

The Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas

Pine Beach, New Jersey


It seems that my review of The Development of the Liturgical Reform has struck a nerve among the people who are still fighting a rear-guard action against the reforms sanctioned by the last four popes and implemented over forty years ago. As I noted in my review, the changes made were intended to be practical and to assist the congregation to fully participate in the Mass and not just be remote spectators while the priest did obscure things and whispered incomprehensible prayers.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the Tridentine Mass. But I like the Paul­ine missal as well (except for the abysmal ICEL translation, which will happily be gone soon). I have been all over the world and the majority of the world’s Catholics have embraced the reform. Those who knew both the old and the new liturgical forms generally prefer the new one. They feel they are more a part of the ritual and they get more out it.

Many traditionalists cannot accept this. To them extraneous sacrificial rituals added onto the Mass to emphasize one aspect of the Eucharist are more important than creating a liturgy that is popular with the faithful. And in their zeal, they seem to forget that the real essence of the Mass is the consecration and that the words of institution alone confect the sacrament.

The charge of “Protestantiza­tion” tells me few if any of these people have ever been to a Protestant worship service. If any of them had, they would realize that such services are anemic, colorless affairs composed of the three H’s — hymns, hallelujahs, and harangues. When I was in the military, I attended some Protestant services as an observer to show support for our chaplains. When I did, I always felt like a rich man gone slumming. I find Protestant services boring and infinitely inferior to the Holy Mass.

It is true that when the Protestants originally broke with the Church they created simplified rituals in the vernacular and invited the congregation to take a more active role in worship. In dialectic response, Catholics retrenched the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and the liturgy became more clericalized. The Mass became something the priest did alone — the presence of a congregation seemed optional. As time went on, the two sides further polarized in opposite directions. I cannot imagine that anyone in the 21st century could actually think that this was something enduring and immemorial.

The Mass is a sacrament and a sacrifice. It is the public celebration and re-presentation of the completed work of Christ for our redemption. It is meant to be liturgy: public worship. It was originally meant to be a communal meal modeled on the Passover Seder, which Jesus Himself used in instituting the Eucharist. Read any good Passover Haggadah and you will see that the Seder is a family meal with the father of the household presiding in a priestly manner. At this ritual there are songs, prayers, Scripture readings, ritual questions and answers, and the shared meal of a sacrificial lamb.

The Protestants foolishly abandoned the sacrificial meaning of the rite, but Catholics de-emphasized the communal aspects. The Pauline reforms sought a better balance. What looks “Protestant” is merely less clerical and more centered on the congregation as the People of God and the Mystical Body of Christ. In adding the new emphases, it was deemed practical to eliminate some of the overt sacrificial content not essential to sacramental validity.

The changes in the Mass to which most traditionalists object are the omission of externals — prayers and actions — that in their minds emphasized the sacrificial nature of the rite. These externals were borrowed from the rites of Temple sacrifice. But they were not part of the Last Supper, which Jesus told us to use as His anamnesis or ritual memorial. What Jesus did in the Upper Room was to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin and to inaugurate a New Covenant in His own blood. That is what is captured in the words of institution and it is, in and of itself, sufficient to make the Mass a sacrifice.

It is obvious that traditionalists will never be convinced that the Pauline reforms were a good thing for many people. This is primarily because traditionalists wish to impose their sensibilities on the entire Church, as if theirs were the only way to be Catholic. In this sense they are no better than the liturgical fascists who suppressed the Tridentine Mass in the 1970s.

We are Catholics — the Greek word katolicos literally means “unity in diversity.” We celebrate unity but not uniformity. The Pauline missal is not for everybody. Those who prefer the Tridentine Mass should have it, and John Paul II and Benedict XVI have tried to make that possible.

By the same token, the modern liturgies are perfectly orthodox and confect the same anamnesis. They have the benefits of being in the vernacular and involving the congregation more directly in the liturgy. This is not a “Protestant” thing. It is a recapturing of some aspects of the liturgy that had become obscured over time. Elitist notions that the people who love the Pauline missal are not real Catholics are unwarranted, uncharitable, and unacceptable. There is room for both traditionalist and mainstream Catholics on the Barque of Peter. Neither should despise or try to suppress the other.

Fr. Stravinskas commented that the Dialogue Masses he knew of were not what I described. My memory is quite good, and at St. Anthony’s Parish in Union City, New Jersey, what I described in my review was common at weekday Masses. I was told that these were “Dialogue Masses.” I may have been misinformed. I never saw anything like what Fr. Stravinskas described in my youth in any of the Masses I attended or served. That just goes to show that there were different customs in different places even in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Mourning the Daily Paper

A resounding “bravo” to Cal Samra for his article “The Death of the Daily Paper” (Mar.). As a retired journalist, I can attest that he is squarely on the mark. I, too, am appalled at the state of newspapers today, whereby shallow fluff and biased opinion has replaced hard news, objectivity, and integrity. The craft of journalism is a thing of the past.

Until my escape in May 2009 from a once-respected New England daily, I witnessed first-hand the decline Mr. Samra describes. Generally, as dedicated newsroom veterans retired or passed away in the 1960s and 1970s, they were replaced by 20-something tyros — mostly feminism-oriented — brandishing diplomas from journalism schools but generally lacking news judgment, general knowledge, and facility with the English language. To them a newspaper job is just a paycheck and not a calling.

The attentive reader opening any newspaper today is horrified by the disgraceful writing, editing, and factual inaccuracy.

The decline can be blamed, to some degree, on the influence of puerile television output and the overrated Internet morass. But the other culprits have been mediocre, technology-obsessed publishers who hired semi-literates, and an educational system that has discarded academic standards. Newspapers inevitably reflect this dumbing-down, offering pages filled with People magazine-type drivel and graphics instead of literate food for thought. Pandering to special interest groups has become the modus operandi.

I am sure that Mr. Samra, like me, is glad to be out of the newspaper game, which, like Hollywood and other media forms, is now only a pitiful shadow of its former self.

Michael D. Hull

Enfield, Connecticut

Regarding Cal Samra’s article on the demise of newspapers: Whenever someone feigns evenhanded disdain for the liberal/conservative divide, we’re about to be served a whole lot of arguments entirely from liberal premises and assumptions. Without any sense of irony, Samra takes for granted the liberal notion of a political spectrum, when the real culture war, as conservatives constantly point out, concerns the nature and origins of truth and authentic human rights, which they also point out can only rationally be understood as divine endowments, not political inventions.

When our national press corps almost universally professes a very cynical atheism and hatred of religion, by their own admission, by their own boastfulness, we know they are going to get questions of truth and authentic human rights wrong all the time, which is precisely what they do.

Good riddance to the professional hatemongers of mainstream media.

Edward J. Baker

Fresh Meadows, New York


To Michael D. Hull

It’s tempting to view Mr. Hull’s comments on my article as brilliant, since he agrees with me. I thank him for adding some of his own excellent insights.

I regret to say that while the Catholic press generally does a splendid job, some of my criticisms of the secular also apply to the Catholic press, which is sometimes also lacking in objectivity and courage. Through the years I’ve been surprised to watch the Catholic press ignore inspirational stories that would have made the Church look good. Too often it feeds readers a diet of joyless and humorless fare.

Also, when hard questions needed to be asked, neither the Catholic, Protestant, nor the secular press had the courage to ask them. As one example, the role of psychiatrists in misleading the bishops into the pedophile scandal. The secular mental-health establishment, which advised and duped the bishops on these grave matters, reaped a bonanza of profits from their ineffective, fraudulent therapies. They took a lot of the money but none of the blame for the scandal, which has badly damaged the Church. For more on this topic, see my article “Bishops: Think Twice Before Taking Psychiatric Advice!” (NOR, Nov. 2010).

To Edward J. Baker

I agree with Mr. Baker that the secular press has often failed to report on religious matters fairly and evenhandedly. I do, however, have difficulty understanding a conservative who, for example, calls Walter Cronkite a “communist” and someone who says a kind word about Cronkite “a communist dupe.” Nor do I understand a liberal who calls prolifers “fascist pigs.” There are “professional hatemongers” everywhere — among conservatives and liberals, and found in the mainstream media and on the Internet. These folks make it virtually impossible to have any civil dialogue, which is greatly needed in a democracy.

As a former newspaper reporter, I’ve gotten uncomfortable with the words conservative and liberal. Who can say these days who is a conservative or who is a liberal? Most people are conservative on some issues and liberal on others, with numerous variations and modifications on specific issues.

I can’t recall anywhere in the Bible that Jesus called Himself a “conservative” or a “liberal.” I can’t recall that He ever asked any one of the numerous people He healed if they were “conservative” or “liberal.” I frankly don’t see anywhere in the Bible that He was very much interested in politics.

There's No Escaping Mystery

It was satisfying to find out that at least some atheists admit to having faith (“In Lawsuits He Trusts,” New Oxford Note, Mar.). Both Christians and atheists often refer to atheists as nonbelievers, but atheists are indeed believers. An atheist maintains that God does not exist, something that cannot be proven. Thus, he believes that God does not exist. The nonexistence of God is his faith.

An agnostic has faith too. An agnostic maintains that he has no faith because he believes in neither God nor atheism. He tries to get around it by saying that he simply does not know. However, an agnostic has to decide to live either as if it matters or as if it doesn’t matter. The way he decides represents his faith.

Everyone has to believe something. We can’t get away from mystery.

Francis J. Slama

Montgomery, Illinois

Catholic Social Teachings: A Mess of Abstractions

You suggest that Americans might be “unclear on the concept” of Catholic social teaching (New Oxford Note, Mar.), more particularly on the encyclical Caritas in Veritate. It outlines “the Church’s vision for ‘integral human development’ in economics, society, and politics.”

Cardinal Turkson of Ghana came to Washington, D.C., in January and reported finding “in certain circles” some unfavorable responses to the encyclical. Some words and phrases are not properly understood, it seems. “Social justice” is one of them — it is often “mistakenly connected to socialism.” The cardinal might also have pondered the word “liberal,” which has more or less opposite meanings in Rome and in Washington. And what about “development,” the word most commonly used in this papal document? It can mean lots of things depending on its context.

Many on the right, you wrote, “get their noses out of joint” when confronted with “the demands of social justice.” Could that be, you ask, “because they simply don’t understand the meaning of ‘social justice’?”

Well, yes. It could. I was expecting that you might go on to tell us what it does mean, and what the demands of social justice are. No such luck.

Going back to St. Thomas Aquinas and indeed to Justinian, the operative word has been justice and it meant — and still means — “giving to each his due.” But “social justice” is now used by the Catholic Left to mean equality, or any attempt to attain equality by income transfers and other government means.

If it is something attained by welfare or income transfers, then you are on hazardous ground. Pat Fagan and the Family Research Council have recently pointed out the ever-decreasing percentage of intact families in the U.S. Only a little over half of Americans now grow up to be teenagers with both parents still living together. For black Americans it is down to 17 percent. Fathers have in many cases been superseded by the state. Welfare programs contribute to family breakdown because intact families in many instances will not qualify for benefits. I know it isn’t the position of the NOR that fathers who break their marriage vows, or who conceive children out of wed­lock, should be excused from parental responsibilities because the government (i.e., taxpayers) will replace them. But what is your position?

Your parallel between “well-respected conservative Catholic commentators” with their “neat little ideological boxes” and liberal Catholics with their own “ideological boxes” was inappropriate. You level an evenhanded scorn at those (on the right) who object to social encyclicals that preach respect for something undefined called social justice, and those (on the left) who object to far more fundamental Catholic teachings, such as opposition to abortion, which is murder.

You also express amazement at those who dismiss “social-justice issues” on the ground that such encyclicals are not authoritative. “What is this but rank dissent?” you ask. If you want to keep me out of the ranks of dissent, please explain why welfare policies that satisfy the dictates of social justice don’t undermine far more fundamental Catholic teachings, such as marriage and chastity. Let me put it this way: Politician A opposes abortion and seeks the abolition of welfare programs. Politician B is an abortion supporter and votes to increase welfare at every opportunity. As a Catholic, which politician should I support? Surely you are not saying that it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other (because both support something good and both support something bad).

My own view is that Catholic social teaching is a mess and has been for decades. The documents are far too long, for one thing. Caritas in Veritate is equivalent to a short book. With its 159 footnotes it is written for the benefit of academics. What is needed is something that can be read from the pulpit on Sunday. This particular encyclical is also a mass of abstract nouns, and is, as such, hard to focus on. How these abstractions affect the man in the pew, who has to pay the taxes to support the welfare of others, I do not know. What are “dynamic faithfulness,” “technocratic ideology” (should we abolish computers?), “development as a vocation,” and so on? Trade unions are viewed as an unqualified good, even though they contribute to unemployment (by erecting barriers to entry and raising wages above market levels). The document complains about “the downsizing of social security systems” yet claims not to “interfere in any way in the politics of states.”

I think these social encyclicals are, to a large extent, political documents, with conflicting parts that appeal to various ideological constituencies. There is little recognition that these groups have goals that are often incompatible. Perhaps recognizing this, the documents have recourse to abstractions that are cloudy enough to dull the mind. But that ensures they will be read by few people except for academics. My feeling for some time is that Catholic social teaching is a bone the Pope throws to the Left. Without it they would feel left out.

Tom Bethell

Washington, D.C.


What does social justice mean to us? “Our” definition can be found in Article 7 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2401-2463). The demands of social justice are delineated there as well: the right to private property and access to employment, respect for creation, aid to the poor, etc. We don’t have a private definition that deviates from official Church teaching.

The application of this teaching, however, is open to discussion. And here is where we invariably run into problems: It is no secret that liberal Catholics have hijacked the social doctrine of the Church and twisted it so that it appears to support their favored policies — welfare and income transfers being excellent examples. The widespread ignorance among rank-and-file Catholics about what the Church actually teaches has allowed liberals to get away with this. Moreover, the silence from the conservative wing of the Church — whether based on ambivalence about or suspicion of the teachings — has given the liberals a virtual monopoly on the topic.

But why should conservative Catholics be content to abandon the social doctrine of the Church only because the liberals have usurped it? Fulfilling the demands of social justice is integral to a fully Catholic life, regardless of one’s political mindset. Liberals and conservatives are free to disagree on how best to pursue social justice within the guidelines set forth by the Church, but none of us is free to ignore the demands of social justice or to presume that they apply to others but not to ourselves.

That the teachings are dense and the presentations dull is hardly a good reason to dismiss them out of hand — economics isn’t called “the dismal science” for nothing. Unfortunately, the Church’s social teachings don’t easily boil down to bumper-sticker phrasings. But just because encyclicals on the subject don’t make for scintillating reading (John Paul II was notoriously long-winded) doesn’t mean the subject itself has no value. On the contrary, it is of supreme value, derived as it is from Christ’s exhortation in the Gospel to “do unto the least of these.” Caritas in Veritate in particular is chockfull of brilliant papal insights; though it is a fair objection to say that it tries to cover too much ground in one fell swoop.

In our New Oxford Note we pointed out the mutual habit among liberal and conservative Catholics to dissent from Church teachings that don’t suit their ideologies — conservatives who dismiss social justice and liberals who dismiss sexual morality. We refrained from making a judgment as to whose is the greater guilt; our aim was simply to point out that guilt exists on both sides. All have fallen short in one way or another. We would agree that liberals bear the greater guilt — the right to life is the fundamental human right, and the rights that fall under the category of social justice, for example, are moot if one is not living.

That said, why should conservative Catholics be content to bear a lesser guilt? The Church’s social doctrine is founded on Gospel imperatives given to us by Christ Himself; all Catholics, in order to follow Christ wholeheartedly, must make a positive response to the demands of social justice — and this includes social and political conservatives. No, this doesn’t mean supporting a welfare state or income transfers, etc. In fact, the pertinent passages from the Catechism suggest that these approaches violate the dictates of social justice: “work is a duty: ‘If any one will not work, let him not eat'” (no. 2427); “everyone has the right of economic initiative” (no. 2429); “a just wage is the legitimate fruit of work” (no. 2434); “the seventh commandment forbids…usurping another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner” (no. 2408).

Caritas in Veritate echoes this: “Being out of work or dependent on public or private assistance for a prolonged period undermines the freedom and creativity of the person and his family and social relationships, causing great psychological and spiritual suffering” (no. 25). Nothing obscure about that. Indeed, this encyclical goes so far as to say that by “applying the principle of subsid­iarity…it is actually possible to improve social services and welfare programs, and at the same time to save resources — by eliminating waste and rejecting fraudulent claims” (no. 60). Moreover, it says that sub­sidiarity — recourse to autonomous intermediate and local aid rather than large-scale government programs — “is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state” (no. 57). There is nothing here that should offend conservative sensibilities.

It is a puzzling charge to say that recent social encyclicals are bones thrown out to the Left. The im­­plication is that they weren’t meant for conservatives, who would thus be free to ignore, say, Caritas in Veri­tate and Centessimus Annus. Could one then say likewise that encyclicals on sexual morality are bones thrown to the Right, that liberals are justified in ignoring, say, Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae? We doubt there are any conservatives worth their salt who would say so. No, papal elucidations of Church doctrine are meant for all Catholics, indeed for all people, wherever and whoever they might be (which is why social encyclicals tend to be broadly written). It is up to each of us to receive them faithfully and to apply them to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

As a former evolutionary geologist with a strong interest in the origins issue, I read with interest Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review of Jay Richards’s book God and Evolution (Mar.). It has been my experience that intelligent-design (ID) proponents, while rejecting the atheism of Darwinian evolutionists, generally share with them the belief that all life descended from a single-celled organism at some point in the far distant past. For example, on the ID blog “Evolution News and Views,” Michael Flannery wrote, “The question isn’t — and never was — evolution or no evolution. The real question is, is evolution directed, detectably designed, and purposeful common descent or is it, as Darwin himself suggested, no more designed ‘than the course which the wind blows’? In short, is evolution intelligent?”

This begs the question, however. The challenge for evolution, directed or otherwise, is that living things are persistent in reproducing after their own kind, with mutations more likely to reduce fitness than to improve it. In addition, the existence of barriers to variation in the past is verified by the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. The logical implication of directed evolution, therefore, is that overcoming barriers to variation must have required the supernatural intervention of an intelligent Designer.

However, the principle of Ock­ham’s razor says, “Don’t multiply complex causes to explain things when a simple one will do.” If the preference is for the simplest explanation, then a single appearance of biologic kinds with built-in but limited potential for variation is preferable to the number of supernatural interventions that would have been necessary for a single-celled organism to develop into the multiplicity of life forms that now exist.

I would suggest that the time is ripe for intelligent-design advocates to start applying toward common descent the same skepticism they rightly display toward the Darwinian mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection.

Jacqueline Lee

Vero Beach, Florida

Apparently most Christians who accept evolution, as described in Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review of God and Evolution, have given up fundamental Christian doctrines. This is surprising because observations from cosmology for the past half century have supported the view that our universe had a beginning. Thus, Aquinas’s argument for the existence of a first cause is valid because with a beginning you cannot have an endless chain of causes that goes back forever. If the real material universe actually had a beginning, then you are forced to stop the chain at the beginning — and then you have deductively demonstrated a first cause or given a proof of God’s existence based on empirical evidence.

Moreover, once first causality has been established, then design and contingency, purpose and chance are not opposed to each other. Something is contingent because God made it contingent. In brief, chance events do not contradict God’s purposefulness or design because from God’s perspective contingency is part of the design.

With this understanding, evolution is subsumed under divine Providence, “the plan by which God orders all things to their true end and…not even chance occurrences fall outside the scope of the universal cause” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Our Sunday Visitor, 1991).

Philip Lehpamer

Brooklyn, New York

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