Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: November 1999

November 1999

Catholic Higher Education: Sad & Sick

Marian E. Crowe’s article “Can We Revitalize Catholic Higher Education?” (Sept.) brought back sad memories. I converted to Catholicism in 1994. Since I was not a cradle Catholic and had not attended Catholic schools, I was unaware of what was going on in Catholic education. My ignorance or naiveté cost me.

I have a Ph.D., and when I applied to Catholic universities for a teaching position, I actually believed that I was applying to academic communities in which love for the Catholic faith would bind us together. I was so excited at my first interview at a Catholic university. Teaching is a calling for me, and the idea of beginning each class with a prayer seemed so right. I really thought that the primary purpose of Catholic colleges and universities was to strengthen the Catholic faith of their students. My interview was a shattering experience. My academic credentials and teaching experience were taken seriously by the hiring committee, but the moment I expressed my faith and referred to the university’s mission statement, there fell an embarrassed silence, as though I had committed some grievous faux pas. One of the priests on the committee seemed visibly discomfited when I addressed him as “Father.” Obviously, my enthusiasm did not play well with this crowd. I did not realize at the time that the hiring committee, as well as the faculty, consisted mostly of nominal Catholics and non-Catholics. There was one supportive Jesuit priest, but he was easily outvoted.

Although the experience hurt, my ignorance was such that I thought this institution was perhaps an anomaly. So I applied to several more Catholic universities.

Same story. Although there were always one or two priests at each university who warmly supported me, the other faculty I met seemed embarrassed by, contemptuous of, or downright hostile to my expressions of faith and my view of teaching as soulcraft. I was shocked to discover that many educators at these “Catholic” universities did not take Catholicism (or Christianity or any religion for that matter) seriously. And when I realized that even some of the priests were not really believers, I felt dizzy, as though what I had converted to was a sham — the Wizard of Oz effect.

I did not know that so many Catholic professors — including priests and religious — were embarrassed by their association with the Church. I didn’t realize the extent of their aggressive secularism. I am now teaching at a private university that is secular — but honest about it. I guess it’s better this way. If I had been hired at one of the “Catholic” universities, I think that the everyday betrayals would have caused me even more anguish: a continual reminder of that widening, deepening gap between what a Catholic university was meant to be and what it has become.

“Can We Revitalize Catholic Higher Education?” I doubt it. Right now, the thing, taken as a whole, is demented, like a sick joke. Too bad it can’t be swept away and then rebuilt by, say, vigorous Jesuits — the real ones of yesteryear. But this is magical thinking — as illusory as my conversion days when I so eagerly, so naively, spoke of my faith to hostile hiring committees.

After my experiences with “Catholic higher education,” I have to wonder: Why do Catholic universities — whose intellectual heritage is rich beyond compare — so desperately want to become something else? This illness must be the result of that “Catholic self-hatred” that I, thank God, never learned. So here’s the weird paradox: I am grateful to be a Catholic who did not grow up a Catholic.

Ruth Clements

Pontifical Catholic University

Los Angeles, California

Marian Crowe’s article on Catholic higher education is the best I’ve seen on the subject.

We should strongly support Rome in the Ex Corde Ecclesiae confrontation. With regard to the Catholic institutions of higher learning that have problems with Ex Corde: If they reject it, let them go! The Church should officially state that they are no longer Catholic institutions. Then Catholic parents who routinely send their children to such “Catholic” colleges and universities assuming they will receive a “Catholic education” would wake up to what is really going on.

Albert R. Doyle

St. Edward's Church

Valley Cottage, New York

The Discriminatory Concept of "Hate Crimes"

Regarding David Peterson’s column on the big to-do about hate crimes (“The New Totalitarianism: Forcing People to Be Tolerant,” Jul.-Aug.): I’d like to think that most Americans are opposed to violent crime and attacks on houses of worship no matter who the victims are, and that’s why the establishment media publicize attacks on minorities. But when it’s a member of a minority who attacks, then the media often decide to look the other way — in order to prevent any “intolerance.” For instance, black churches aren’t vandalized any more often than other churches. Or any less either. So it seems that if any bigotry is involved it’s hatred of Christians. But let’s keep that our little secret while we carry on about how attacks on black churches prove that white racism is the threat.

Consider this headline from my local paper, The Morning Call of Allentown, on August 25, 1999: “Man, 19, pleads guilty to Monroe rape/ He had said his arrest was racist/ Prosecutor said evidence was there.” According to the story, the man had broken into a house, carried a 15-year-old girl to an abandoned house where he raped her, then “stabbed her in the neck and chest, hit her over the head with a board and choked her.” The girl played dead, and then the man dumped her into a seven-foot hole which he covered up. After his arrest (in May 1998) his lawyer had issued a news release claiming the man was “the victim of a rush to judge the closest available African-American suspect.” But the DA’s office pointed out that the girl (who is white, and who managed to survive) had identified him and that her blood and hair were found on him. The DA’s office had the evidence. The man pleaded guilty to rape, robbery, kidnapping, and aggravated assault, but he was not required to plead guilty to attempted murder. If white racism were a problem in this country, a white Louis Farrakhan would have instantly jumped up and made a big deal of this case. But the only person to bring up race was the attacker.

Al Sharpton was on Fox News Sunday on August 29, and pointed to the attack at Columbine High as an example of “racism.” The accusation that the attack was caused by racism was also made on the CBS morning show for August 16 — one of the victims was black, you know. But Eric Harris, one of the attackers, had written at his Website that all racists should be attacked. Moreover, eight of the dead students were known as devout Christians, four Catholics and four Protestants. Andrea Peyser noted in the New York Post that Dylan Klebold, the other attacker, complained about having to sing at his family’s Seder. Anyone care to make something of that? And then there are the eight students in Paducah, Kentucky, who were shot as they formed a prayer circle in December 1997. And there are the seven youths shot dead at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth in September 1999 by a blasphemy-shouting gunman — but there was no media outcry about this being a hate crime.

Just remember, it’s not a hate crime unless the establishment media say it’s a hate crime.

Don Schenk

Allentown, Pennsylvania

War: Not "Just," But "Necessary"

Mario de Solenni in his letter to the Editor (Jul.-Aug.) expresses flawed ideas about warfare. I am a retired USAF officer with 27 years of service, including 21 months in combat in the Pacific theater in WWII as a B-25 pilot and squadron commander. War is truly what Sherman said it was: hell. Everyone suffers, and there is little that can be called justice for the victims of war, combatants or noncombatants. Justice may be served in the end, if evildoers are thwarted. But “just” may not be quite the right word for a righteous war; perhaps “necessary” is more exact. And WWII was necessary! If we had not stopped Hitler & Co., we would all be Nazis now, or dead, or in camps.

De Solenni has a valid point about the bombing of Dresden and Cologne. I don’t know why this was done. The hell of war creates anger, fear, chaos, and vengeful urges. Yet it is also a fact that Hitler produced his machines of war in or near large cities, that modern war means destroying both the capability to wage war and also the will of the people to wage it, and that civilian casualties are often unavoidable. And there is a legitimate question as to just how innocent adult civilians are: After all, the German people elected Hitler. And had we let Germany and Russia fight it out, as de Solenni advocates, Germany would have neutralized Russia and turned its full might on Europe. In the end, the U.S. would have had to face Germany (and Japan) alone. As to the Holocaust — we could not undo what had been done, but we did end it! If we had not won, there might not be any Jews alive today, and precious few Christians. We had better pray that what we are now doing to our armed forces — feminization, PC social experimentation, Clintonism — will end, or we won’t be able to stop the next bad guy.

It is horrifying that over 160,000 people died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But prior to that we warriors were exposed to plans for an invasion of Japan that would have meant the loss of one million U.S. troops and 20 million Japanese (military and civilian). You can imagine how we warriors felt when WWII abruptly ended (and make that “in spades” for womenfolk and virtually all Americans). In my combat role I was very grateful for three things: God’s preservation, the fact that all the targets in our area were totally military, and the full support of the Catholic Church. It was not unusual for our chaplain to hear confessions and give Communion as we stood in front of our aircraft before a combat mission.

And speaking of warfare, what about our current war on the unborn? Are the Americans who twice elected Clinton completely innocent of the murder of millions of unborn babies? Where are our bishops on this issue, and why are there so few excommunications? Why was Justice Brennan buried with all the pomp and ceremony the Church could muster? Is it true that Teddy Kennedy still receives Holy Communion?

Richard J. Carmody, Lt. Col. USAF Retired

Universal City, Texas

We Need a Kick in the Pants

The Washington Times (Aug. 31) reported on a poll that asked respondents if they believe that abortion destroys life. Fully 40 percent of Catholics responded that abortion does not destroy life or they are not sure. I would have thought that no Catholic would give such a response. It comes as a chilling shock that Catholic teaching is so ignored by those who call themselves Catholic. I had to ask why.

Rarely have I heard a sermon that has discussed the Church’s teaching on abortion. Are the bishops and priests afraid of something? Or have they lost their faith and just don’t care?

I fear I am a member of a vanishing Faith whose shepherds are gutless. We need a present-day John the Baptist to come forth and kick us in the pants.

Raymond N. Dombkiewicz

Riva, Maryland


Your July-August issue included a letter to the Editor from Fr. Michael Mickelson which was really just an ad hominem attack on the Legionaries of Christ. Fr. Mickelson’s letter is so confused, spiteful, and lacking in charity that I hesitate to believe a Catholic priest could have written it. In his brief letter he refers to the Legion as “politically correct” and to its members as “unctuous, mindless conformists” whose superiors’ commitment to orthodoxy “could change at any moment.” It is tempting to explain in excruciating detail how mean-spirited and inaccurate these comments are. It may be more fruitful, however, to point out that the Legionaries are the Church’s fastest-growing order of priests, blessed with special favor by the Holy Father. The presence of the Legion’s lay arm (Regnum Christi) at the Vatican’s 1998 Pentecost ingathering of new spiritual movements and the Pope’s request to have the Legion provide the seminary for his Roman seminarians demonstrate the confidence the Holy Father places in this order, founded by Fr. Marcel Maciel. As to the average Legionary priest, I leave it to your readers to seek out these committed, intelligent, and holy priests, and determine for themselves if what Fr. Mickelson says is true.

Mike Drapeau

Tampa, Florida

Toward Clarifying the Religious Liberty Quandary

Jeffrey Lehmann’s article (Jul.-Aug.) criticizing Andrew Tardiff’s article (NOR, Oct. 1998) on the problem of continuity in doctrine raised by Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae (DH), seems to me well founded in regard to its principal point. That is, one cannot successfully reconcile DH with traditional doctrine by arguing that the pre-conciliar Magisterium never recognized any right of civil authority to prohibit and suppress the public manifestation of doctrines contrary to Catholic faith and morals. It certainly did recognize such a right.

Nevertheless, when Lehmann suggests that the only way to achieve reconciliation may be to “limit [the] scope” of the traditional magisterial statements, I cannot entirely agree, since part of the solution, it seems to me, is to “limit the scope” of DH itself, taking into account the distinction between divine law (in this case natural law) and ecclesiastical public law. DH itself nowhere says or implies that civil laws repressing the public manifestation of non-Catholic doctrine as such have always and everywhere been violations of divine law — i.e., of the natural human right to religious liberty. It is important to recall that this natural right, as defined in DH #2, is one with built-in, intrinsic limits. The limits are defined in #7, but only in very general terms; and the Council does not enter into the question of how these very broadly defined limits might be appropriately interpreted and applied in different historical, cultural, and demographic situations — for instance, in overwhelmingly Catholic societies under paternalistic political regimes in times of mass illiteracy.

Now, it is evident from post-conciliar changes in concordats with various states that the Holy See no longer approves restrictions on non-Catholic propaganda as such, not even in predominantly Catholic societies. But it seems to me that this should be understood as a new norm or policy of ecclesiastical public law — i.e., as a new application of the divine law suited for our times, not as a strict requirement of the divine law itself, as proposed by DH.

The problematical or controversial part of DH’s teaching, synthesized from articles 2 and 7 of the declaration, could be expressed as the following proposition P: The human person has a natural right to immunity from human coercion in publicly carrying out conscientious religious acts which do not threaten public peace, public morality, or any other rights of citizens.

Now, this would be irreconcilable with traditional doctrine only if the latter had taught the following contradictory proposition (P1): The human person has no natural right to immunity from coercion in publicly carrying out conscientious religious acts, not even when such acts do not threaten public peace, public morality, or any other rights of citizens.

But when did the Magisterium ever teach a doctrine as fierce and intolerant as P1? Not even Torquemada, it seems to me, would have thought it necessary to lay down a doctrine as severe as this in order to justify the repression of publicly active heretics. He would have said, no doubt, that such persons threaten not just one of the elements of public order listed in P and P1, but all three of them at once!

My book on this subject, arguing (against Charles Curran and others) that the kind of doctrinal development represented by DH sets no precedent for the kind of doctrinal about-face that would be involved in reversing or relaxing Humanae Vitae, may interest readers. Entitled Religious Liberty and Contraception, it can be obtained by writing to the publisher (John XXIII Fellowship Coop., P.O. Box 22, Ormond, VIC, 3204, Australia), enclosing a US$10 bill.

Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S.

Ponce, Puerto Rico


The NOR is one of my three “must-read” monthlies. Crisis and This Rock are the others. I regret the squabble between the NOR and Our Sunday Visitor about your ads. I like the Visitor, but your ads are forthright and unapologetic about the Catholic faith, as is the NOR itself. Your strong defense of Catholic orthodoxy and your reflections on what it means to be a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ are truly exemplary and, I daresay, inspirational. The NOR has been a great help in my own continuing education and in my priesthood. Many thanks!

Fr. Jerry Kopacek

Waterloo, Iowa

What the Holy Spirit Has Revealed to Me

I read “A Bunch of Self-Promoters?” (New Oxford Notes, Sept.) with much interest. I was born and baptized Catholic. But I have now read through the Bible five or more times, and so my theology has evolved from Catholicism to Reform Presbyterianism. You say that a “hallmark of the Reformation is the principle of private interpretation of Scripture.” But private interpretation is an impossibility since the Holy Spirit is involved in any interpretation of Scripture. Where the Holy Spirit leads us in that interpretation is another matter. He has led me to some Protestant leaders (e.g., James Boice, Chuck Swindoll, and R.C. Sproub| to some well-trusted pastors, and to Pope John Paul II. But I would never rely on any single Protestant leader or pastor or pope in helping me interpret the Bible.

You mention the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone. I am a firm believer in that because of what the Holy Spirit has revealed to me by Scripture and the teachings of those who have guided me. But I do not need anyone to convince me of the validity of justification by faith alone, for the Holy Spirit has done quite well in instructing me on the matter of what it is necessary to believe to have eternal life with God — and no one will ever turn me from that belief. Eternal life in the presence of God is too precious to me to believe anything else.

Frank J. Nice

Brookeville, Maryland

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