Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: October 2017

October 2017

Just Another Form of Masculinity-Worship

The Rev. Raymond T. Gawronski, S.J., writes that “the priest symbolizes the Bridegroom, but he is not the Bridegroom; rather he lends his male body and soul to Jesus to re-enact these symbolic nuptials…. It would be utterly bizarre to have a woman at the altar symbolizing the Bridegroom” (“Why Was Christ a Male & Why Did He Ordain Only Men?” Jul.-Aug.). Perhaps Fr. Gawronski will explain how the symbolism of women’s bodies excludes us from other aspects of the priesthood, such as preaching and contributing to decisions about Church policy. Even nuns of the Order of Preachers are not admitted to preach, yet anyone who has heard the Rev. Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopalian priest, can only hope for more women preachers, the sooner the better.

When men presume to make decisions affecting women’s lives, the results are rarely to our advantage. Take, for example, the recent change in Church policy about pregnant brides, which was made surreptitiously and caught many women by surprise. The Church, in keeping with its affirmation of the natural family, used to realize that marriage was the healthiest solution to an irregular pregnancy. Priests today, in spite of their pro-life teaching, move heaven and earth to talk the father out of marrying the mother of his child. If he turns out to be a man of honor and resists the priestly pressure, the Church then extracts the last second of the six months of prenatal counseling before the wedding, although it could easily be completed afterwards. This achieves the misogynistic goal of shaming the bride, who will “show” as she walks down the aisle. So much for St. Joseph and his reluctance to expose Mary publicly.

To the male mind, annulment statistics are more important than the dignity of women and the well-being of babies. Of course, this policy only affects the devout, as anyone else can easily escape to city hall, a Protestant church, or even Planned Parenthood. There is nothing like kicking your own in the teeth. Women’s input into policy would prevent the withholding of sacraments as a means to humiliate women and would edge the hierarchy toward a little transparency, accountability, and consistency in the process.

Fr. Gawronski accuses Eve of being “a hedonist from the beginning.” On what grounds? It is women much more than men who are pestered nonstop for sexual favors; polygamy is far more common than polyandry; and prostitutes are used mainly by men. There is a pattern of men seeking pleasure at women’s ex­pense while pro­jecting blame onto us for their lust.

Eve may well have accepted the temptation to be like God because Adam had lorded it over her by having the nerve to name her, instead of asking her what she would like to be called. Nor, for all his vaunted male courage and urge to protect, did he rush to her defense. There was a self-centered lack of respect on Adam’s part, rather than hedonism on Eve’s, from the very beginning.

Many modern women need convincing that Christianity is not just one more form of masculinity worship. The male response to the symbolism of our bodies may keep the altar the last male preserve, but preaching and making decisions about our Church and our lives are functions of the intellect and are therefore human, not exclusively male, activities.

Laurie Cherbonnier

Professor of Philosophy, Holy Apostles College & Seminary

Winnetka, Illinois


We’re certain Fr. Gawronski would have been eager to address Ms. Cherbonnier’s objections were he able; but he has passed on to his eternal reward.

Ms. Cherbonnier blames Adam for Eve’s succumbing to the Serpent’s temptation because Adam “lorded it over her by having the nerve to name her” and he lacked “respect.” This is mere uninformed speculation. What do we know about Eve? God says of her: “Your desire shall be for your husband” (Gen. 3:16). So we know Eve was desirous of sexual contact with her husband. Sexual contact is generally pleasurable. Hence, it is not unfair to call Eve a “hedonist,” someone devoted to pleasure.

What Ms. Cherbonnier leaves out is Fr. Gawronski’s equally damning description of Adam as “basically lazy.” We should note that God’s correctives combat the corrupt natures of both Adam and Eve. Her pleasure-seeking is balanced by pain in childbirth, and his laziness by exertion (“the sweat of your brow”). And the ultimate punishment of death is visited upon them both, as well as on their progeny, men and women alike, in equal measure.

Why can’t women preach? Due to a little thing called apostolic succession. The Catechism explains: “No one can give himself the mandate and the mission to proclaim the Gospel. The one sent by the Lord does not speak and act on his own authority, but by virtue of Christ’s authority; not as a member of the community, but speaking to it in the name of Christ…. From him, bishops and priests receive the mission and faculty to act in persona Christi Capitis” (no. 875). Christ sent males to preach, those males did likewise, and the succession of males “sent” in this manner continues to this day in an unbroken chain. Those who take issue with this arrangement would do better to take it up with our Lord in prayer than accuse the Church of misogyny for adhering steadfastly to Christ’s example.

Ms. Cherbonnier claims there’s been a “recent change in Church policy about pregnant brides.” This is simply incorrect. The Church does not have, and has never had, any kind of “policy” regarding pregnant brides — there is no mention of anything like this in canon law. To be clear: Pregnancy is not an impediment to sacramental marriage.

Ms. Cherbonnier claims that the Church “extracts…six months of prenatal counseling before the wedding.” There’s no mention of anything like this either in canon law.

What the Church does is offer and encourage participation in a marriage-preparation (“pre-Cana”) course. The length of the course varies from diocese to diocese. But even this is not official Church-wide “policy.” All the Church officially requires is “personal preparation for entering marriage so that through such preparation the parties may be disposed toward the holiness and duties of their new state” (can. 1063§2). This is a very loose requirement — no standard length of time is given, nor is the content of the type of “personal preparation” spelled out.

But this requirement is necessary to help the engaged couple understand the gravity of Christian marriage and prevent them from rushing into a hasty decision, which they might later come to regret. A pregnancy in no way mitigates the seriousness of sacramental marriage, and so most pastors likely would still require a pregnant couple to undergo marriage preparation, even if that means the bride would be unable to hide her condition during the wedding. Frankly, the Church should have no interest in helping a couple hide the truth for the sake of appearances — not when there are graver matters at hand, such as determining the depth of the couple’s commitment and instilling in them an appreciation of the duties of a married couple not only to each other but to the children they may conceive and/or raise, to the ecclesial community, and to God Himself. Moreover, a pastor may in good conscience counsel caution if he senses that a pregnancy is causing undue pressure and interfering with one or both party’s free consent.

To call Catholic marriage-prep “the withholding of sacraments as a means to humiliate women” is to woefully misunderstand the nature of sacramental marriage — or to have a profound lack of respect for it. The Church is not in the business of “shaming” or “humiliating” brides or brides-to-be but offers marriage-prep to try to prevent women from becoming victims of desertion or divorce down the road. In this sense, the Church is indeed acting in the interest of the “dignity of women and the well-being of babies,” neither of whom is served by the break-up of a marriage. Numerous studies have proven that the children of single mothers have a higher likelihood of living in poverty than do children who live with both a mother and a father. For this reason, annulment and divorce statistics are important to the “male mind,” as they should be to female minds as well.

Ms. Cherbonnier’s anger at the Church is palpable. Perhaps her mind could have been put a little more at ease had she read the article that preceded Fr. Gawronski’s in our July-August issue, “Is the Future ‘Female’?” by Frederick W. Marks, an ode to the influential and indispensable role women have played, and continue to play, in the life of the Church and society at large.

Joseph Arias

Associate Professor of Theology, Dean of the Graduate School, Christendom College

Alexandria, Virginia

Abjure All Factions

David D. Jividen calls our attention to the real evils of schism — evils that often seem underappreciated by both self-styled “progressive” and “traditional” Catholics (“St. Cyprian on Schism: A Patristic Reality Check,” guest column, May). Jividen understandably focuses on the text of St. Cyprian’s “On the Unity of the Church,” as it is a most able witness to the common patristic teaching on the sin of schism.

Indeed, when reading the Fathers, one is struck by the amount of attention they devote to warnings against separating from the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ. In addition to the writings of St. Cyprian, those interested might also consult the writings of Fathers such as St. Irenaeus (e.g., Against Heresies, Book 4, ch. 33, no. 7: “Those who foster schisms…can never make amends in such measure as to match the wickedness of their schism”), St. Augustine (e.g., Against a Letter of Parmenian, Book 2, ch. 2, no. 25: “There is nothing more serious than the sacrilege of schism…there can never be any just need for severing unity”), and, most especially, St. Ignatius of Antioch. All the writings of St. Ignatius are easy to find in print or online, and they are well worth reading, both for the apostolic doctrine they contain and for the many statements that complement the teachings of St. Cyprian and others on schism.

The witness of the Church Fathers should indeed provide a “reality check” for us all, especially when we might be tempted to separate from the one Church of Christ (under the authority of the pope and the bishops in union with him), either to the “left” or to the “right.” In his letter to the Smyrnaeans, St. Ignatius of Antioch writes: “Abjure all factions, for they are the beginning of evils…. Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the catholic Church.”

Michael Suozzi

San Diego, California

A Pseudo-Religion's Unknown Origins

Your New Oxford Note “The Song Remains the Same” (Jul.-Aug.), which deals with the matter of homosexual clergy, complains about the lack of severe strictures against this group. If the screening process for candidates for the priesthood had not deteriorated, would there still be a homosexual presence in the priestly population? This requires an exhaustive study of the history of the homosexual phenomenon. No single historian in the history of historiography could or can be equal to the task.

In 1980 a gifted historian, John Boswell of Yale, created a sensation with his book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. His views were attacked by homosexual historians and many others, including Catholic scholars. As pointed out by Matthew Keufler, editor of The Boswell Thesis (2006), a collection of essays on Boswell’s writings, little was available about the history of homosexuality in antiquity and the ages of faith at the time of its publication. Therefore, Boswell’s views were to set off a trend toward understanding what constituted the homosexual “problematic” since the early times. Boswell followed with Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994). He died on Christmas Eve of that year from the ravages of AIDS. He was 47 years old. He became a Catholic as a teenager, having converted from Episcopalianism.

What Boswell and his associates have tried to prove is that the Church, while following the mandates of the Mosaic law on sexual sin, did not bring to bear its full censure of homosexual sin until the 14th century. Boswell points to the example of two fourth-century Roman soldiers, martyrs, and saints, Sergius and Bacchus, who he claims were homosexuals. They were highly favored by the Byzantine emperor until it was discovered that they were Christians.

I think Boswell would agree that the key to the present homosexual controversy lies in an understanding of the history of this matter since antiquity and what was done about it century by century. The fact that modern means of communication allow every scandal to be known worldwide immediately doesn’t mean that in former times there was no homosexual problem, only that it wasn’t as widely reported.

The homosexual challenge to the Church is enormous. Homosexuality in the so-called postmodern world is a mass cult, a pagan world “religion” with processions, amulets, sacrifices, pilgrimages, idols, and orgiastic rites. This homosexual pseudo-religion challenges all religions for primacy. It incorporates Baal, Moloch, Adonis, Cybele, and all monstrous and diabolical idolatries dressed up in new garments. Indeed, unless the Church, as you rightly point out, clarifies, distinguishes, and unifies her teachings on this pseudo-religion, she will irredeemably fragment and destroy herself, piece by piece.

Piroska Haywood

West Lafayette, Indiana

A Blight & a Scourge

Frederick W. Marks demonstrates convincingly that the Church did not oppress women in the past, but rather that in the Christian times of the Middle Ages, as well as in Old Testament times, a large number of women took an active part in government, and in other areas, such as education and scholarship (“Is the Future ‘Female’?” Jul.-Aug.).

In other words, it is wrong to think that women have been “liberated” by modernity. In fact, as Marks points out, the sexual revolution, which is part and parcel of modernity — even its necessary social foundation — has hurt women and, I would add, benefited men because it has made sex readily available and, for them, cost-free. As Marks states, “Whenever promiscuity is rampant, as it is today in the U.S., those hardest hit are the ones desolated by desertion and forced to cope with unwelcome pregnancy, along with the damage, both physical and psychological, that results from attempts to avoid it.”

Marks also correctly points out that women, far from gaining anything from modernity, have suffered a grievous loss. Unless they are in an especially fortunate position, women no longer have the choice to be full-time wives and mothers. Instead, “in addition to giving birth and raising offspring, they must be breadwinners.” This is a blight and a scourge that makes normal life — for both husbands and wives, as well as children — impossible. It robs the whole family of the most important component of life: time. The saying “time is money” is totally wrong. Time is far more important than money, because time is life.

This whole “liberation” business is an artificial construct of the cultural Marxism developed by the Frankfurt School and popularized — actually imposed — by the media and educational system. “Liberation” carries a transitive connotation: Someone is liberating someone else. It is based on the Marxist claim that there is always an oppressor class in a society and an oppressed class, and reality is forced into this template. Thus, women are an “oppressed” class that needs liberation. Such condescension is deeply insulting.

We need more voices like that of Frederick W. Marks to point out the historical record and the inherent differences between the roles of men and women.

Ronda Chervin

Cromwell, Connecticut

Bravo to Frederick W. Marks for his great and informative article. Even though I have written books on the women saints, some of what Marks wrote was new to me.

I have a few brief refutations of errors in this area that I use in apologetics, which NOR readers might find helpful.

Women priests. I like to use this image: Suppose you were directing a Nativity play in your parish. Even if Clark Gable happened to be a parishioner, wouldn’t you choose any female instead of him to play the role of Mary? Likewise, at Holy Mass, the priest is in the role of Jesus, who was a male.

Inclusive language. Addressing a male debater: You are a father. If your son tells you that he loves how tender you are, you would be glad. But would you be glad if he then asks if he can call you “Mommy”?

Artificial contraception vs. natural family planning. I rejoiced when blacks stopped trying to look white by straightening their hair and using lotions to look paler. I liked the motto “black is beautiful.” By analogy, a woman shouldn’t see her fertile time as her “bad time” and try to be like a man who can have sex without becoming pregnant. She should see her fertile time as her “glory time,” and any man who wants to have sex with her at her fertile time should not ask her to destroy her fertility. Postponing intercourse in the fertile time is a regretful decision not to use it, and is different than destroying it.

Andrew S. Erdélyi

Merrick, New York

Return of the Mighty Hordes

While reading your New Oxford Note “Silence of the Shepherds” (Jul.-Aug.), on Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis, playing footsie with Islam, it occurred to me that no one is willing to say it like it is. The spread of hordes of Muslim “refugees” not only in Europe but the U.S. and Canada is nothing more than the fulfillment of Muhammad’s dictum to conquer the world. Muhammad and his followers set out to rule the world as soon as he got on his camel and headed for Jerusalem. They eventually marched to the Iberian Peninsula, Constantinople, the Mediterranean, and on to the southern belly of Eastern and Central Europe, attacking and subjugating Christian nations one after the other.

Christians are subject to all sorts of accusations regarding the Crusades, which is just so much nonsense. None of the Christian kingdoms conquered by Islam attacked first, causing retaliation. Case in point is the Catholic Kingdom of Hungary, which endured 150 years of Muslim occupation. My ancestors Mihály (Michaebpand Jakab (James) Erdélyi died in defense of the fortress of Eger, Hungary, in 1552. You can visit the restored fortress, where a marble memorial lists the names, including the Erdélyis, of those who died in its defense.

The echoes of bloodthirsty Muslim mobs chanting “Allah, Allah, din, din” can still be heard in the skeletal precincts of the fortresses that eventually succumbed to the mighty hordes of Islam. Hungary to this day has not forgotten and, as a consequence, is unwilling to accept Muslim immigrants, despite the threat of severe economic sanctions by the European Union.

Look around the U.S., including here on Long Island, and you will see countless mosques with their centers and madrasas popping up like mushrooms after an early summer rain shower. Muslims now demand the enforcement of Sharia law in place of the laws of our nation. They should be barred from entering and settling in the West.

Don Murray

New York, New York

Islam has been waging a war against the rest of the world for 1,400 years. And it will continue as long as Muslims believe that Allah orders them to do so. There have been many recommendations about how to deal with this situation, ranging from appeasement and denial that the problem exists, on the one hand, to tough military action on the other. None of these will work because they do not address the root cause of the problem.

Although there are millions of peace-loving Muslims, there has always been a minority that acts on Muhammad’s claim that Allah (God), as dictated in the Qur’an, wants Muslims to convert the world by force. But the truth is that there is no foundation for such a claim.

Any statement attributable to God involves information that is beyond nature. Therefore, it requires some evidence testable by natural means that are genuine in source and content. There are two such natural means: (1) witnesses to the transmission of the revelation, and (2) miracles by which God, using events that are detectable in nature but have effects that are beyond the natural capacity of the action, shows His approval of the information delivered. Judaism and Christianity both claim divine revelation, and both support their claim with evidence. And it is precisely here that Islam falls short.

For comparison, Christianity is based on the testimony of Christ to His twelve Apostles, men whom He appointed to be the witnesses of all He said and did during the three years of His public life, and who spent the remainder of their lives testifying to these events, even in the face of persecution, torture, and death (for all but one). Not one of them recanted. The Gospels tell us that Christ performed scores of instantaneous healing miracles and even raised three people from the dead before rising from the dead Himself after being crucified. Catholic Christianity claims many modern miracles as well, such as the healings that have taken place at Lourdes since 1854 and the spinning of the sun off its axis and its seeming approach to earth, as witnessed by 70,000 people at Fatima in 1917.

Islam, on the other hand, offers no witnesses to Allah’s supposed dictation of the Qur’an or any similar information to Muhammad, directly or through an intermediary; the claim of divine revelation is based on his word alone. And there are no supporting events truly beyond anything explicable by natural means that show God’s approval of Muhammad’s claim.

Without these necessary items of evidence, there is no foundation for any of Muhammad’s teachings, including instructions in the Qur’an to make war against people who are not Muslim. By forbidding his followers from reading the Christian Scriptures and making comparisons, Muhammad locks them into a blind faith, something people would not accept in any other area of their lives. The praiseworthy elements of Islam, such as faith in God and reverence for Him, prayer, fasting, and care for the poor, could have been taken from Judaism and Christianity, which were both present in Arabia in Muhammad’s time.

Muslims owe it to themselves and to the world to take an unbiased look at this lack of evidence for Muhammad’s claim of divine revelation, because without it there is no foundation for anything he taught. This can be undertaken only by Muslims, but non-Muslims must help make them aware of this problem, its cause, and what must be done about it.

Raymond J. Mattes Jr.

Norfolk, Virginia

It Ends with a Thud

Regarding Hurd Baruch’s review of Conclave (Jul.-Aug.): Author Robert Harris did his homework. He accurately portrays the historic trappings of a papal conclave. If you wish to know and understand what goes on behind closed doors in a conclave, you can read about it here. There are flaws in the process, political by nature, along with greed for power, prestige, and title. 

Harris’s book does contain a few errors. He indicates that one of the leading candidates is a black cardinal who, if elected, would be the first pope from Africa. In fact, there have been three African pontiffs in the long history from Peter to Francis: Victor I (189-199), Miltiades (311-314), and Gelasius I (492-496). 

Harris has a clear bias against the traditional Latin liturgy of the Roman rite. The traditional clergy in his book, especially the one leading candidate for the Petrine office, are demonized throughout the narrative. Harris writes: “To a layman, the euphemisms of terror were as universal and baffling as the Traditional Mass.” Wow!

As Baruch indicates, the ending will throw a lot of readers. It is such a bizarre finale, so out of the ordinary and farfetched that Harris has made a sham out of a sacred and traditional practice of the Catholic Church. What was an interesting and historic depiction — a tutorial on the workings of an arcane conclave — comes crashing down in the last few pages. What a disappointing end to an otherwise interesting read.

Thomas Storck

Westerville, Ohio

One of Many Objections

Mary McWay Seaman dismisses Robert J. Kendra’s call to “put men back to work with blue-collar jobs” by putting “tariffs on all manufactured imports” (letters, Jul.-Aug.). Seaman offers the standard arguments for the supposed universal benefits of free trade based on the idea of comparative advantage as commonly found in economic textbooks.

There are multiple objections one can make to the notion that free trade is always and everywhere a benefit. I will mention only one. The idea that jobs move around because each nation “has its own unique manufacturing strengths and weaknesses” is mostly a myth. Industries close and factories move because companies want larger and larger profits, to be achieved by lower labor costs. Meanwhile, when manufacturing jobs disappear here, what exactly are the workers who formerly had such jobs supposed to do? Where are they supposed to work? What new jobs are magically created for them? Not everyone can be a CEO, a highly paid media performer, an athlete, or a physician. Low-paying healthcare and retail jobs are mostly what’s left.

Of course, imposing tariffs on imports is not always good policy. But it can be a wise political measure, and to dismiss it out of hand based on the textbook presentation of comparative advantage is not to live in the real world.

R.J. Matava

Alexandria, Virginia

A Check on the Temptation to Seek Structural Solutions

Casey Chalk’s convicting article “On the Waterfront in Ranong” (Jul.-Aug.) sounds a clarion call to self-examination: Do I love my neighbor as myself? Chalk’s reflections on the poor immigrants in coastal Thailand and the Marist fathers who minister to them not only give us insight into the lives of the people of Ranong — workers, students, and missionaries alike — but more fundamentally, they illustrate what the baptized are to be about in the time allotted to them in this world: doing good and dealing with evil — suffering it, mitigating it, and overcoming it.

The example of the Marist fathers is instructive on how believers ought to deal with evil: by showing Christian charity, person to person, one individual at a time. Confronted with the great evil of economic injustice and the sinful social structures that typify the fallen world, we are tempted to seek a purely structural, systematic, or political solution (and typically at the expense of distraction from what concrete good we can do for the individuals around us). The example of the Marist missionaries helps to check this temptation.

Framed in different terms, the temptation is to forget that it is not I, but Christ, who builds the Kingdom of God. My role, the role of believers, is to cooperate in Christ’s redemptive work of establishing the justice that typifies God’s reign. Crucially, this justice begins through the interior renewal of the believer by grace and charity; only from there does it reverberate into the social order. The life of visible good deeds (Eph. 2:10) that lead to a more just ordering of society requires the interior renewal that begins invisibly by grace, as the example of the Marist fathers illustrates. But that interior renewal also demands the life of good deeds. Chalk’s piece makes clear that Christian faith cannot simply be interiorized and privatized; it must be borne forth in the good works and critical self-examination that are part and parcel of the ongoing conversion that the Council of Trent calls the “increase of justification.”


Prof. Matava discerns much, even more, I suspect, than I did when reflecting on the plight of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand. As I noted in my article, I still struggle with what Matava gleans, rightly, as the most important “take away” from witnessing the work of the Marists: selflessly cooperating in the redemptive work of Christ through sacrifice, doing good, and battling evil. As I write this, I live once more in the U.S., the wealthiest country, both presently and in the history of the world. The kind of poverty and oppression I witnessed in Ranong is not so easily found in suburban northern Virginia, nor in most places in this great nation. Given this, I’ve wondered what it means to both internalize and externalize the “message of Ranong” as an American in his native land.

Christians in the U.S. are very good at being concerned about the plight of those who suffer overseas: those persecuted in Muslim lands, those suffering drought conditions in Africa, those worshiping in house churches in China. This is good, but I increasingly wonder why it seems so much easier to get conservative American Christians riled up about the plight of their brethren abroad than about those in their hometowns or native states. I know some of it is political: some poor in America take advantage of welfare; others are immigrants who take working-class jobs from Americans. Those are realities to be recognized and addressed. Yet I suspect there is another motive at work: It’s much harder and messier to enter the lives of the poor in our own neighborhoods.

As I learned helping Pakistani asylum-seekers (see my article “A Witness in Bangkok,” Dec. 2016), the culture of poverty has many deleterious effects. The poor are not just in need; they can also be irrational, inconsiderate, and even irritating (can’t we all!). To enter the lives of the economically or socially marginalized in our community is hard work, and will invariably get in the way of our own personal and professional goals and aspirations. Many times, Christian asylum-seekers called me at inopportune times while I was at work, aggressively demanded money from me at church, or lied about their own stories. Navigating those kinds of situations is not easy.

What I want for myself, as well as for others, is a Spirit-filled passion and prudence regarding how to translate the “mission of Ranong” to every community in the U.S. If every baptized American Catholic befriended — and helped — a poor family, how much richer (spiritually and culturally) would our communities become? We might learn, as my wife and I did in Thailand, that, in many respects, we need the poor more than they need us. For in the face of the poor is the face of our risen Lord: “Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me'” (Mt. 25:45).

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