Letters to the Editor: May 2019
Appalachia Against Soft Fascism
Hilarious Bookbinder’s dystopian vision of a future Appalachia in “Culture Wars, Inc.TM” (March) owes more to Aldous Huxley’s scientifically and corporately controlled Brave New World than it does to George Orwell’s 1984. Bookbinder is right to make the Appalachian region the center of resistance to a godless corporate socialism that’s swallowing our culture like The Blob. Mao and Stalin knew that rural folk hold on to their traditions, so they starved them out. Our previous administration seemed to want to let them die out by opiate addiction.
And why not? Around nearly every bend of the road in West Virginia you’ll find three empty crosses on a hill. Not only that, fully 95 percent of the 420 counties of the designated region of Appalachia voted for Donald Trump in the most recent presidential election. That kind of behavior makes today’s corporate socialists unhappy.
The author has taken every detail of his story from today’s headlines and corporate advertisements. A cake shop refuses to bake for a cause it doesn’t believe in. The courts rule against the traditional family and homeschooling. Corporations obsessively promote globalism. Meanwhile, the lone patch of dialogue could have been spoken by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez herself: “I mean, the Universe has given me the ability to rationally plan really well.” Last, but not least, gluten-free cookies do indeed crumble easily!
Bookbinder also subtly satirizes a host of trendy authors like Cynthia Ozick, Don DeLillo, and other literary neon lights who have made capitalism the boogeyman of their literary output. Reality, however, has seen big government and big business symbiotically (or parasitically) intertwine into a soft fascism.
But it’s hard to know if it’s the government that’s the crab-like creature covering the face of big business and shoving a tentacle down its throat for the purpose of implanting an Alien egg, or the other way around. Does the government control Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, or is it the contrary? The author explores this monstrous relationship and gives us much to think about.
What would make this satire even more compelling would have been a well-limned hero or heroine on whom to hang our sympathies. Jonathan Swift had his Gulliver, and John Kennedy Toole his Ignatius. Bookbinder needs to give Ma Appalachia a name, a face, a few character tics, and an Achilles heel.
Kannapolis, North Carolina
What’s Wrong with the World?
While reading Jesse Russell’s guest column “The Hollywood Scandal Behind the Clerical Scandal” (March), in which he argues that the scandal involving Theodore Cardinal McCarrick and Donald Cardinal Wuerl may have been made public in order to diffuse the Hollywood scandal, I thought of an anecdote related to G.K. Chesterton. As the story goes, when The Times (of London) asked famous authors to respond to the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” Chesterton reputedly responded, “I am.”
Though I am not a famous author, were this same question posed to me today, upon honest reflection, I would also have to answer, “I am.” Let me explain.
So much of the discord found in our present culture seems to revolve around power — who has it and how they wield it. This is especially true in the Catholic Church. As Pieter Vree rightly states in his column “Wuerl, the Flesh & the Devil” (March), “Many of the leaders of the Church, the men who are running the show, aren’t so much interested in professing the truth as they are in protecting their prestige and preserving their power.” This power resides primarily in their position as bishop, a position not bestowed on them by the lay faithful but by Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis.
Craig F. Montesano, in his guest column “A See of the Second-Rate” (March), acknowledges that it doesn’t really matter who consecrated these men as bishops. What does matter is the way in which many of them have used their power in the fulfillment, or lack thereof, of their priestly role and responsibilities, for which they will one day be held accountable to God. However, this is only one part of the story of our present discord. The second part involves me.
One day, I will also be held accountable to God for the part I played in what is wrong with the world, which includes the present condition of the Church, due to how I too wielded power. This power, positively speaking, comes from prayer, including praying for our priests, and living virtuously with the aid of God’s grace.
Unfortunately, I have been sorely lacking in these areas. In addition, I believe I will be held accountable for how I have contributed to the sorry condition of our present culture, as reflected by Hollywood but extending far beyond that entity, also due to how I have exercised power. Negatively speaking, this power comes from how I have chosen to utilize my time and money.
When it comes to power, it seems to me that while some people can try to appropriate it for themselves, most of that power must be given to them through complicity by the average person, which includes me. Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brie Larson, Bill Cosby, Mark Halperin, Matt Lauer, LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick, Madonna, Beyoncé et al. would not have the power they do if we did not patronize their companies; watch or attend their movies, TV shows, sporting events, or concerts; buy or listen to their music to the extent we do. Not all these people are involved in sex-abuse scandals; nonetheless, to my mind, they reflect much of what is wrong with our world today.
As Montesano reminds us, the Lord said, “Where thy treasure is, there thy heart is also.” If our treasure lies not in the power had by those named above and others, to the extent that we have given these people their power, it seems that our treasure lies in owning, consuming, and being entertained. (See Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business to understand what I mean.)
In my desire to be less of what’s wrong with the world and more of what’s right, I am endeavoring to spend more time in prayer and less money and time consuming and being entertained. I hope my fellow NOR readers will join me.
Tired of Papal Charades
On February 16 the Vatican announced it had defrocked Theodore Cardinal McCarrick. Two days earlier, Pope Francis announced he had named Kevin Cardinal Farrell, McCarrick’s roommate for six years, camerlengo, the prelate who runs the Vatican between the death or resignation of a pontiff and the election of a new one. What message is the Pope trying to send? We will most likely never know, at least not from Francis himself.
This is magnified by the fact that Francis refuses to dialogue with those who disagree with him. When Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò issued his “testimony,” Francis responded first with silence, and then he suggested that Viganò might be in league with the Devil. Add to that Francis’s refusal to release the documentation regarding the McCarrick cover-up, and many of us laity feel “left out.”
This seemingly endless game of charades, very typical of Francis, engenders a lack of trust. We lose confidence in his motives, and we question his ability to lead with prudence and consistency. We desperately need a pope who personifies truth and reflects the mind of Christ as best as he can. Sadly, under Francis, confusion is the norm.
Bruce Sabatino, M.D.
Ed. Note: To learn about Francis’s allusion to Viganò as being in league with the Devil, see Pieter Vree’s Nov. 2018 column, “Ecce Papa Franciscus!”
No Tattling Allowed!
Most young children learn that tattling is not a good way to make or keep friends. Down through the ages, this unwritten but well-subscribed-to mandate has been present in fraternal organizations. Bishops are the hierarchical leaders of a very exclusive fraternal organization, the Catholic Church. They will not publicly tattle on their fellow bishops.
Certain elements of worldly cultures tend to view homosexuality and its ramifications as acceptable and normal. Once the culture accepts a behavior as normal, it pretty much becomes permanent (think Moses and divorce).
European culture endured centuries of monarchical governance. The basic bureaucratic structure was characterized by a lack of personal responsibility and accountability, and, most of all, a tendency to procrastinate. The Vatican is a longstanding, European-style bureaucratic organization, and it is not likely to change.
Pray for Archbishop Viganò. He has it right.
An Apostle of Relativism
Jason M. Morgan’s characterization of the Theodore Hesburgh postage stamp as a tribute to a man who gave his imprimatur to a secular, degenerate culture is spot-on (“By the Lakes of Babylon,” March). For a country increasingly devoted to the trashing of the principles on which it was founded, Fr. Hesburgh is the natural poster boy.
Hesburgh’s pernicious influence is not limited to the secularization of Notre Dame. He played a major role in the decline of the Catholic Church in the U.S. Indeed, a strong case could be made that his influence has been a significant factor in the silence of the bishops on Catholic moral teaching, extending even to the sex-abuse crisis.
Few outside academia know about the infamous “Land O’ Lakes Statement.” Of those who do, few have read it. Most who have heard of it believe it to be a heroic statement of academic freedom. Few know or care to know that Hesburgh was an apostle of relativism. Modernism was his creed, Land O’ Lakes the charter, and “contemporary Catholic universities” where the creed is taught.
Land O’ Lakes did indeed sever Notre Dame from the authority of the Catholic Church. But it wasn’t limited to that school. It was signed by the heads of all the prominent Catholic universities of the time. It was also signed by the assistant general of the Jesuit order, and not coincidentally, by the now-infamous Rt. Rev. Theodore E. McCarrick, then-president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico.
Although Land O’ Lakes appears to be applicable only to Catholic higher education, it had a much broader purpose. It established an alternate Catholic Church. Land O’ Lakes declared that “the critical reflective intelligence” of the Church is found not in the Magisterium but in “the contemporary Catholic university,” in which is also vested the power to “objectively evaluate [i.e., judge] all aspects and all activities of the Church.” Feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether wrote in 1980 that Land O’ Lakes created “an internal schism…between two magisteria, the magisterium of the professors and the magisterium of the pope and hierarchy.” Msgr. George Kelly wrote in 1995 that it “largely succeeded in creating a two-headed church,” one of which is “an anti-church…in which the definitive teaching of the magisterium can be, and often is, contradicted, doubted or explained away. This ‘second magisterium,’ as it has sometimes been called, has its base in the Church’s college system.” Fr. Hesburgh, the principal author of Land O’ Lakes, agrees with these scholars. Writing in America magazine in 1986, he declared that a true university cannot allow the Vatican to define what is and is not authentic Catholic teaching.
One would expect that when any institution, religious or secular, arrogates to itself the power to decide what is and is not Catholic teaching, the weight of the Church would fall on it. And one may reasonably ask why that did not happen. The answer may be that “power speaks to power.” The Vatican spent more than ten years in a futile attempt to negotiate a reasonable resolution with Hesburgh. When that failed, Pope St. John Paul II promulgated Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990), his apostolic constitution that defined the nature and purpose of a Catholic university. As its implementation was left to the bishops, it was effectively dead on arrival in the U.S.
Land O’ Lakes sets out the principles for the “modern Catholic university.” It is to “present a collegiate education truly geared to modern society.” There must be “no boundaries and no barriers.” The student must be allowed to “express his Christianity in a variety of ways and live it experientially and experimentally,” and with the faculty “explore together new forms of Christian living.” Students will participate in liturgy “creatively contemporary and experimental,” and they “will find the meaning of the sacraments for themselves.” And “modern Catholic universities” have been reaping the bitter fruit of these directives.
Morgan regards the Hesburgh stamp with appropriately cynical humor. Yet the effect of Land O’ Lakes cannot be taken lightly. For 60 years American Catholics have sent their sons and daughters to these institutions to be formed in the Catholic faith. Since 1967 they have been defrauded.
What is the antidote? Perhaps, as Morgan suggests, it is to buy a Hesburgh stamp, but use it to send Morgan’s article to the Catholic parents of a college-age son or daughter. Better yet, it is to cease all financial support of these institutions and transfer that support to one of the few truly Catholic, truly orthodox colleges and universities — institutions where a student can obtain a high-quality education and be truly formed in the Catholic faith.
Michael V. McIntire
Big Bear Lake, California
While I do not usually speak in defense of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, I disagree with much of what Jason M. Morgan wrote in his March column.
First, whatever else can be said in criticism of Fr. Hesburgh, his devoted priestly life cannot be doubted. As Wilson D. Miscamble makes clear in his splendid new biography, American Priest: The Ambitious Life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh, Morgan is way out of bounds in writing that “Fr. Hesburgh wasn’t, you know, ‘religious.’” And Fr. Miscamble is no Hesburgh apologist.
Second, Morgan’s account of Obama’s visit to Notre Dame seems erroneous in several respects. Morgan writes, “Fr. Hesburgh’s crowning achievement came in 2009, when President Barack Obama visited Notre Dame and Hesburgh was there to greet him. Never mind that Obama and his administration — including Catholic anti-Catholics such as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius — were forcing Catholic hospitals and convents to shut their doors if they refused to buy into the new dogmas of contraception, abortion, and homosexuality.”
To begin with, Morgan gives the impression that Fr. Hesburgh invited Obama. It was, of course, Fr. John Jenkins, then-president of Notre Dame (whom Morgan fails to mention), who invited him. And I have no idea what Morgan is talking about with respect to hospitals and convents and the “new dogmas” of contraception, abortion, and homosexuality in 2009 — or thereafter, for that matter, other than the HHS contraception mandate in 2012. At the time, we and others objected to Notre Dame’s honoring of Obama because of his pro-abortion stance — that was the extent of it. Had the situation been as Morgan describes, I think even Fr. Jenkins would have drawn back.
Third, it is not true that Fr. Hesburgh “transferred control” of Notre Dame to a “lay board of trustees.” Rather, he transferred control to a group of 12 fellows, half of whom are priests of the Holy Cross Order. The trustees have only such authority as the fellows delegate. And the university president must also be a Holy Cross priest. It is the order and the priest-presidents who bear principal responsibility for what has happened at Notre Dame.
There is much to praise and criticize about Fr. Hesburgh, a larger-than-life figure who, more than any other, stood for American Catholicism in the public eye during the last half of the 20th century. His contributions were so extensive and varied that a full measure of the man can be taken only in a book-length examination, as Fr. Miscamble so admirably accomplishes.
My organization’s interest is in Hesburgh’s role at Notre Dame, which he brought to national prominence as an academic institution, but at the cost of setting in motion forces that have significantly undermined its Catholic identity. That was certainly not his intent, but it was a result he could have foreseen and taken measures to prevent. To the extent Morgan makes this point, we are in accord.
William Dempsey, Chairman
JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:
I thank William Dempsey for his thoughtful letter. I am glad we agree that Notre Dame’s Catholic identity was the price of its secular renown. I think we might agree on more than that. Namely, I think the attenuation of the school’s Catholic identity — and that of many institutions like it — was precisely the point of the Land O’ Lakes Statement.
For example, if, as Michael V. McIntire points out in his letter, the LOL Statement calls for “creatively contemporary and experimental” participation in the liturgy, then surely there is room to doubt the very core of Fr. Hesburgh’s own identity, his priestly life. What kind of a priest would dare to “experiment” with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? What kind of a priest thinks we invent the meaning of the sacraments? Unfortunately, such priests are legion, but that does not remove the doubt that arises.
Mr. Dempsey’s second point is related to the first. Fr. Hesburgh was a Clinton partisan long before he was there to greet Obama at Notre Dame. What did he see in Bill Clinton — long before anyone had heard of Barack Obama — that made him think that the public scandal caused by a Catholic priest supporting such a moral reprobate would be an acceptable risk? (For that matter, why would any priest support any politician? Democrats hardly have a monopoly on moral wretchedness.)
Also, I don’t think I implied that Fr. Hesburgh wrote the invitation to Obama. What I did write was what is also shown in photographs from that day: Hesburgh embracing the leader of a government that has funded much of the ongoing holocaust of the unborn; Hesburgh posing for the cameras alongside him; Hesburgh presenting him with an honorary plaque; and so on. Does a man who truckles to so bloody a Caesar deserve to stand in the same ranks as an Irenaeus, an Augustine, a Clement of Rome? If this fawning over infanticidal, euthanasic, anti-Catholic power is indicative of Hesburgh’s priestly life, then, as with the experimentation with the liturgy, I think we are right to wonder out loud just what is going on.
As for the timing of Obama’s award: He opposed born-alive infant protection legislation as early as 2001. In 2006 he sponsored a Senate bill requiring states to cover contraception for low-income women. During the 2008 presidential campaign, he voiced his support for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Could there have been any doubt who the man was and what he stood for when he stood on stage and was lauded by representatives of a school named after the Mother of God?
Given all this, it is curious that Dempsey is at pains to emphasize that, no, it is really the Holy Cross priests who control what goes on at Notre Dame. Somehow that isn’t a comforting fact. With “Catholic” institutions like these, who needs secular schools anyway? In other words, game-set-match for Hesburgh and his LOL rebellion.
Do not Dempsey’s own points lead to precisely this conclusion? We seem not to be in much disagreement after all.
Regarding Mr. McIntire’s letter: Well said, sir. Hear, hear.
My Father’s Parting Gift
I am an Oregon prisoner serving a life sentence, housed in a remote corner of the state 500 miles from any family.
Last September, my elderly parents flew in to visit me — a first for me, and a big ordeal for them. The day before they arrived, I unexpectedly received in the mail two issues of the NOR, a publication I had never heard of. They were from Dad, who explained that an article in the June 2018 issue defending the Catholic Church as the true Church of the Bible prompted him to gift me a subscription [“Which Church Is the Real ‘Bible Church’?” by Frederick W. Marks — Ed.].
It was so uplifting to see my parents here after feeling forgotten for so long. After our emotional hugs and the sharing of family news, we had a deep and meaningful talk about the NOR.
My 80-year-old father reflected on his long life. He was beloved by many, a respected surgeon, and a lifelong, devout Catholic. He had a successful life by any measure. But his biggest regret was that none of his five children had embraced the Catholic faith. I myself was an agnostic; I did not marry in the Church or baptize my children or raise them in the faith. This really upset my dad.
Though all his children were confirmed, Dad failed to actively defend and promote Catholic living, feeling that leading by example would be good enough. He was genuinely at a loss as to why all his children left the Church. I explained that it had lost relevance to me; I never felt engaged with the Catholic community, and I had trouble accepting several important doctrines. However, I’ve been deeply impacted by the NOR, which presents the Catholic Church as sensitive and dynamic (even with Pope Francis shaking things up). I am impressed by the intellectual depth of the discussions in the NOR about modern topics relevant to me, such as prison reform and the redemptive power of suffering. The articles on history have been fascinating, the book reviews from a Catholic perspective excellent, and I appreciate The News You May Have Missed (I miss a lot of news in here). It has been refreshing to read that there is a lot more going on in the Church than anti-abortion protests and sex scandals, as the general media portrays the Church.
Most of all, reading the NOR made me miss the distant past when I identified as a Catholic and welcomed moral guidance from the Church. Now, feeling alienated and hopeless, I am finding solace in Catholic teaching and ritual as I ponder life’s purpose and my own legacy and fate after this time behind bars. After reflection, for the first time in my life, I believe that the collective wisdom of the Church can be trusted to guide us through life, as every time I violated or disregarded a doctrine, it resulted in a poor outcome. During our visit, Dad reaffirmed his belief in the Church and his certainty about his salvation through it.
During our visit, Dad also had a stubborn cough. After my parents returned home, the cough worsened, and Dad went into respiratory crisis. Mom took him to the ER, where he was sedated and intubated. After a difficult two weeks, he was diagnosed with extensive prostate cancer and lung metastasis — an untreatable and terminal condition. Three weeks after giving me a big good-bye hug, telling me he loved me, and urging me to pray, Dad was removed from life support.
Now I eagerly receive each issue of his parting gift to me — a subscription to the NOR. I share them with fellow inmates, thinking how pleased Dad would be to see that he did not fail to produce a proudly Catholic heir after all.
Snake River Correctional Institution
Ed. Note: You too can have a similar impact on prisoners who are searching for stability, moral direction, and something to believe in. We encourage you to consider contributing to the NOR’s Scholarship Fund, through which prisoners and others of limited financial means can receive free subscriptions.
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