Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: September 1990

September 1990

Vanauken: Disturbing

As an adopted child my­self, I read Sheldon Vanauken’s “Discovery” (June) with great interest and emotion. He comes as close as one can, I think, to the depth of loss and pain involved in adoption, without himself knowing first­hand what it is to be either the mother or the child. He comes very close. I have not yet begun a search for my birth-mother — perhaps I nev­er will, and soon (I am over 30) it will be too late — but I will immediately search for Vanauken’s book A Severe Mercy.

As a woman who has had an abortion, and who consid­ers herself not “pro-abortion” but certainly “pro-choice,” I was of course disturbed by Vanauken’s conclusions on this side of the issue.

When people exclaim about how grateful I must be to the mysterious woman who “saved my life,” I find myself responding (usually in silence, and usually long after the con­versation is over) that what I feel for that woman, whom I have never met and long to know, is not so much grati­tude as compassion: compas­sion for having to decide alone about a pregnancy she did not create alone; compassion for her fear and courage; compas­sion for the aching she may feel for the lost and missing child who is me. Any “grat­itude” I feel for the joy of life is directed to a larger source of that life than the woman who chose to bear me. I feel a lov­ing empathy for her — the same empathy I have for the women (and I among them) who have chosen a different, and equally fearful, painful way.

I believe that no woman can be “for” abortion. But we can be for choosing — honestly, humanly, responsi­bly, faithfully, fearfully — what our reason and faith and hearts tell us is right.

I may never know my mother. I want to believe, and on most days I can, that, as we stood separately before the same terrible, lonely choice, she and I faced our choosing in the same spirit.

I have questions — deep unanswerable questions — but for her, not gratitude, and for myself, not regret. I would not choose ever to have another abortion. I would not choose ever to be denied the choice.

The Rev. Victoria Safford

Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence

Northampton, Massachusetts

Vanauken: Exactly Right

My heartfelt thanks to Sheldon Vanauken — his “Discovery” (June) was exactly the article I would have writ­ten, were I of a more literary bent.

I am an adoptee, and last fall I was reunited with my birth-mother. Our experience bore some close resemblances to what Vanauken describes in meeting Marion — the joy, the tears, the exhilaration of a mystery revealed, the thrill of seeing yourself in someone else’s face for the first time, the discovery of a “soulmate” (no one needs to tell me that my personality is genetically ordained). I am still awestruck at the entire situation — this is the woman in whose womb I lived at the beginning of my existence.

I must save my heartiest Amen, though, for Vanauken’s conclusion — for it is indeed to see things right-side-up. When I was in college I came to realize that I was probably fortunate to have been born before Roe v. Wade — if my mother had had an abortion, it would have been me who was destroyed. It made my blood run cold to realize that, in an­other time, I would have been a candidate for abortion — me, not some faceless “fetus.” In time, that became my strongest motivation to search for my birth-mother — I wanted to thank the woman who, at a cost of personal suffering I could only guess at, had brought me into the world.

So, my thanks to Vanauk­en for having “eyes to see” the truth behind a beautiful story, and the courage to tell it.

Craig Kellogg Galer

St. Elizabeth Medical Center

Lansing, Michigan

Meaty & Thick Protestantism

In his guest column in the July-August issue, James Prothero asks for a list of “meaty” Protestant authors. Assuming he means authors with a spir­itual dimension to their work, I’d suggest he try novelists Frederick Buechner, Reynolds Price, John Updike, and Larry Woiwode, poet W.S. Merwin, or essayist Annie Dillard for starters. I’m surprised Prothero, a high school English teacher, isn’t familiar with the work of any of these authors. Or perhaps they don’t fit his requirements for “meatiness.” If not, perhaps he can let us know why these authors are not as worthy of our respect as those Catholic authors he named.

As a liberal Protestant, I must take exception to his characterization of Protestant­ism as inherently “thin,” and its implied trivialization of the Protestant faith experience. I see the essential difference be­tween the two traditions as one of responsibility: The Catholic is answerable to the corporation in matters of faith and morals; the Protestant is answerable directly to God. Prothero’s failure to find spir­itual depth in Protestantism is, I suggest, a matter of tem­perament rather than of any inherent shallowness to Protes­tantism. To imply that either tradition is the only one that can offer true spiritual depth is naive. And to describe a Prot­estant’s reaction to the “author­ity” of the Catholic Church as one of fear is ridiculous; we don’t fear that authority, we deny it.

I don’t know the per­centage of Protestants who ex­perience their faith on a deep mystical level versus the per­centage of Catholics who do, but I suspect it’s not very dif­ferent. In my own experience, I’ve met as many lukewarm Catholics as Protestants.

Protestantism obviously wasn’t the right approach for Prothero; it is for me, an ex-Catholic, as it is for millions of other Americans. In His house there are many mansions. In spite of what Prothero believ­es, there are many Protestants who are well-read, understand Catholicism, experience a “thick” Christianity as well as a “thin” Christianity, and who would die for a faith as real as his. It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t seem to have met many of them in his spiritual journey.

William F. Ingogly

House of Theological Studies, Oblates of the Virgin Mary

Lisle, Illinois

Try John Milton

I’m sure I won’t be the only non-Catholic or Catholic who will suggest “meaty” Protestant literary figures to James Prothero (see his Jul.-Aug. guest column). Perhaps he might like to start with John Milton.

Marie Boudreaux, M.D.

Dept. of Political Science, Marquette University

Whippany, New Jersey

McGovern's Omission

Regarding “The Evolution of Liberation Theology” by Fr. Arthur F. McGovern (June): I’ve heard people who lean toward liberation theology say that there’s no way to know or love God except by knowing and loving our fellow human beings. This, however, is con­trary to Scripture, Church tra­dition, and the teachings of the saints, all of which agree that we can know and love God Himself as a distinct liv­ing person. I wonder how McGovern would deal with this problem in liberation the­ology.

Rick S. Conason

Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Byzantine-Ukrainian Catholic)

New York, New York

Crossing Ideological Lines

Since I first discovered the NOR a couple of years ago, I’ve been consistently impress­ed by your intelligent and balanced approach, combined with your boldness in not fear­ing to cross the ideological lines.

Bro. Steve Eyerman, OMV

Roslindale, Massachusetts


“Bag-lady” Rhonda Chervin (June) seems quite pleased with herself.

Joseph A. Jordan

Black Canyon City, Arizona

Abortion: No Ordinary Sin

I was chagrined to read John Cort’s column in your May issue. He takes Bishop Austin Vaughan to task for failing to distinguish between personal and public morality. Cort argues that, according to John Courtney Murray and to­day’s Catholic consensus, not everything that is immoral can or should be made illegal by the state. This is hardly news, however, especially to a theo­logian of Bishop Vaughan’s stature. St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologiae, I-II, Q.96, A.2, says that the law should not punish all vices: “Now human law is framed for a number of human be­ings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Where­fore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which society could not be maintained; thus human law prohibits murder, theft, and suchlike.”

Bishop Vaughan never said that a politician who re­fuses to punish every sin is in danger of going to hell. But abortion is not just immoral. It is a terrible evil, or, to use the words of the Second Vatican Council, an “abominable crime.”

Gov. Mario Cuomo argues that there is no clear con­sensus at this time on making abortion illegal. But if a society reaches a consensus that blacks or Jews or handicapped people are dispensable and outside the protection of the law, would that justify a failure to insist on their fundamental rights (especially the right to life)? No. There is a profound moral obligation on Cuomo to try to shape consensus to bring about what elementary morality requires.

Not only is Cuomo not speaking out against abortion, he is vociferously opposing limits on it and pressing for public funding of it. Strangely, moreover, he is willing to op­pose consensus on other is­sues, such as capital punish­ment. Therefore, we can only conclude, with Bishop Vaugh­an, that one of our brothers in the Faith is indeed co-operat­ing materially in very serious evils, thereby putting himself in danger of hell. Charity de­mands that Cuomo have not only our prayers, but our hon­est admonitions to forsake such a terrible path.

Prof. Christopher Wolfe

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Examining the Mass Media

The third New Oxford Review Forum of Los Angeles was held at Loyola Law School on June 2. Entitled “Image and Spirit: Catholic Perspectives on Film and TV,” it offered an examination of the power and influence of the mass media.

Fr. Elwood Kieser, pro­ducer of Romero, gave a per­sonal account of the making of that film. Kieser and writer John Sacret Young traveled to El Salvador in 1983, at the time of the papal visit, and had firsthand encounters with the victims of repression and civil strife. The Paulist priest described the effect on him as “radicalizing.” He found the poverty and injustice appall­ing, but the Salvadoran Church the “most inspiring” witness to the gospels he had ever experienced. He came away determined to make the film story of the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero, and he told of the seven-year struggle — financially, artistically, and spiritually — involved in its creation. The project was turn­ed down by all the television networks and major studios. (One network felt the story lacked “love interest.”) It was, ultimately, through the sup­port of the Church that the necessary finances were raised. The film received mixed re­views, though largely favorable in the religious press, and was not successful commercially, but Kieser is satisfied that it bore witness to a significant number of people. He is de­termined to press on with sim­ilar projects.

Sr. Gretchen Hailer, an educator and media consultant to the Archdiocese of Los An­geles, presented an overview of the effects of the media, both positive and negative. She opposed a view of the media as inherently evil or corrupt, offering a reading from Matthew in which the word “media” was substituted for “parable” to suggest that each age must find its own cultural forms of understand­ing. She cited several examples from popular television shows, such as The Simpsons, where serious questions and genuine values are examined in the context of pop culture. Her greatest concern was the lack of systematic education about the media and the wide­spread passive acceptance of their content.

The third panelist was John Furia Jr., a former Pres­ident of the Writers Guild of America. His perspective was personal and incisively critical. In making his “personal jour­ney” as a successful writer and producer, which includes mov­ies (The Singing Nun) and tele­vision series (Kung Fu), he discovered that his religious values made him an oddity, someone often treated as “a reformed drunk at a wine-tast­ing.” While acknowledging many talented and morally aware individuals in the media industry, he found the indus­try largely indifferent to moral­ity of any sort, all the while pandering under the guise of “mere entertainment.” Furia proposed the need for nothing less than a “revolution” in the thinking within the media in­dustry if its responsibilities are to match its overwhelming power.

In the spirited discussions that followed during the day, the Forum participants reflect­ed a considerable awareness of the gap between religious/ethical values and the orienta­tion of the media.

The media’s attraction, of­ten addictive, was related to the vacuum created by the de­cline of family and community, and the need for people in a secularized culture to seek structure and identity. It was pointed out that the limited values pushed by the media are not necessarily destructive or negative in themselves, but the relentless “absolutizing” of those values, whether they be aspects of consumerism or sexuality, is leading to an in­evitable conflict with the reli­gious community, and with the Catholic Church in particu­lar. Perhaps the most damag­ing influence of the contempo­rary media, it was suggested, is “the evil of banality,” in which human experience is so often rendered hollow and uniform.

The next Forum, to be held in late September, will be on the “nature of community,” with discussion based on the book Habits of the Heart by NOR Contributing Editor Rob­ert Bellah.

Ron Austin

Studio City, California


We’ve been privileged to receive a gift subscription (via your Scholarship Fund) to your excellent magazine. We don’t want to miss it — especially for the formation of our young monks. However, our funds are still very low; we have no regular income; we are just a poor monastery. May I beg you the favor of asking your friends to renew our subscrip­tion? I know publishing a magazine is expensive, so we’d appreciate it even more. Be sure that the Lord will bless you and your friends.

Abbot Boniface

Redwood Valley, California

Ed. Note: We collected $367 on our last Scholarship Fund Drive in May 1987. The gifts we receive for the Scholarship Fund are used exclusively to renew subscriptions for readers who express a desire to continue receiving the NOR but regretfully are unable to renew because of limited income. Those funds were exhausted with the last Scholarship Fund renewal we awarded to a family last June. We appeal to you, our readers, once again, to help us replenish our Scholarship Fund so that we may continue to respond generously to requests such as Abbot Boniface’s. Thank you for helping us main­tain this important service.

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