Letters to the Editor: November 2020
Where Are Today’s Warrior Bishops?
I recently read two books about Church leaders who vigorously resisted Nazism as it squeezed out most things Christian. One book, The Lion of Münster: The Bishop Who Roared Against the Nazis by Daniel Utrecht (2016), is about Bl. Clemens von Galen, bishop of Münster, who openly and consistently denounced the anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic policies of the Third Reich. Almost all other German bishops chose diplomacy as their response, acquiescing to rather than confronting the Reich and risking censure or worse.
Von Galen stood alone, staring down the regime and working his way to the top of the Nazis’ assassination list — in his case, to be death by hanging. One of Hitler’s men convinced him that revenge is sweetest when served cold, that it would be better to wait until after the war to make a spectacle of von Galen. By war’s end, von Galen was in Rome, celebrated as a hero and made a cardinal.
The second book, An Embassy Besieged: The Story of a Christian Community in Nazi Germany by Emmy Barth (2010), is the story of Eberhard Arnold’s resistance to the Third Reich. Arnold was the leader of a small Anabaptist community, the Bruderhof. The members were dedicated to Jesus and evangelization, lived in common, and were radically committed to nonviolence. As such, they were anti-war and anti-military service, in spite of the Nazis’ ultimate demand for nationwide conscription. Like von Galen, Arnold was a spiritual warrior who implored, explained, and resisted step by step, year by year, proclamation by proclamation as the Reich continued to apply pressure on all Christians.
The Nazis intensely persecuted the Bruderhof, threatening to send its members to concentration camps and ultimately forcing them to flee Germany to a Bruderhof community in England. Through all this, Arnold never backed down. He stood alone. His radical commitment to Christ, and his conviction that God had called the Bruderhof to be a witness to the Truth, led him to repeatedly recite that Truth to all in the higher echelons of the Reich, including Hitler himself.
As I read about von Galen and Arnold, I kept asking myself: Where are the warrior bishops in our Catholic Church? The coronavirus shutdowns are only part of a much greater, ongoing squeeze on the Church in the U.S. Most of our bishops, it would seem, have had their authority neutralized by the sex scandals and have become either timid or wary, perhaps both. As Pieter Vree wrote, our “bishops blithely refuse to act independently of their secular overlords” (“Will the Coronavirus Lockdowns Usher in a Mustard-Seed Church?” New Oxford Notebook, Sept.). So did the majority of bishops under the thumb of the Nazis. Where are the von Galens of our day?
A vibrant Church needs fearless, radically committed leaders in love with Jesus Christ, as well as men and women equally committed to the Gospel who will follow them. Perhaps what the Lord is doing through the current pandemic is pruning His Church, “spewing” out of His mouth the lukewarm, those neither hot nor cold who are content to join the ranks of the “dones” and “nones.”
The Church may very well shrink in numbers, as Vree predicts, but she may grow in purity and holiness. Pope Benedict XVI said, “Since a consumer culture exists that wants to prevent us from being in accordance with the Creator’s plan, we must have the courage to create islands, oases and then great stretches of land of Catholic culture where the Creator’s design is lived out.” A number of ecclesial movements in the Church are doing just that.
Vree wonders whether the coronavirus shutdowns will usher in a mustard-seed church, a return to the principles and zeal guiding early Christian communities, such as those in Acts 2. Will the pandemic act as a long-overdue catalyst for radical change in the Church? Time will tell, but without bold, fearless, confident leadership, it won’t work. Fortunately, God is in control, and He will have the last word.
Warren, New Jersey
Pieter Vree’s column says everything that I have been saying for the past six months or so but with the signature zest that can only come from the NOR.
It made me reflect on a question I had when the bishops closed down the churches in lockstep with the Zeitgeist, and the Easter issue of Inside the Vatican had color pictures of the Holy Father aimlessly walking around St. Peter’s by himself. I guess we were supposed to be moved by that.
My question is about Alessandro Manzoni’s book The Betrothed. We were told at Pope Francis’s election that it is his favorite novel, one he kept close by on his nightstand. The narrative contrasts two priests: one a hypocritical coward (a parish priest, Don Abbondio) and another who exhibits heroic sainthood (a Capuchin friar, Padre Cristoforo). As the story goes, Pope Francis is a big fan of Padre Cristoforo and wags his finger at the weak Don Abbondio.
It turns out that Padre Cristoforo is a heroic saint of a priest because, rather than cower in a parish and kowtow to an overbearing local baron by the name of Don Rodrigo (think Governors Newsom, Pritzker, or Cuomo), he is in the hospital nursing people and bringing them the sacraments during another big scourge — namely, the plague!
It’s been several years since I read the book (Francis was elected in 2013), but I think Padre Cristoforo even dies from the plague.
So, my question is: If Francis prefers priests like Padre Cristoforo, then why do we have a pope and so many bishops acting like Don Abbondio? Maybe in the inimitable style of the NOR, Vree can do some digging on this question and further enlighten his happy readers in a future issue.
Pieter Vree is right about the U.S. bishops’ response to COVID-19. The Church seems to be more occupied with making life easier for everyone than in saving souls for eternity. Pope St. John Paul II’s encouragement, “Be not afraid,” has been abandoned for “combat COVID-19 by any means.” Death is a natural part of life, but the impression given is that there is only nothingness after the last breath.
The same progressives who screamed for the execution of Terri Schiavo, for the “mercy killings” of the sick and elderly, and for the extermination of the unborn and recently born are now furious in their efforts to “save” us all. The Church went nearly all-in with the “do-gooders,” aiding the state in its efforts to control people. Imagine: An infinitesimal, parasitic virus so easily caused the government to discard the “separation of church and state”!
Meanwhile, the nation shamefully watched protestors and Marxist rioters get a pass this summer from being forced to abide by the government’s ridiculous coronavirus mandates, and grocery stores remained open while churches were locked.
If our leaders had taken a moral stand, people of all faiths would have lauded the Church for years. Her leaders could have proclaimed in solidarity, “Stores remain open to feed the human body. Our churches will remain open to feed the soul!” Instead the Church buckled faster than she did to totalitarian aggression in 20th-century Europe. Who will stop the government when the next influenza season hits and a political party decides that by spreading paranoia it can subjugate and punish America’s vast array of “deplorables”?
Excited to gain corona money and ruin a thriving economy, states inflated case and death counts. The Centers for Disease Control recently acknowledged that only six percent of overall deaths attributed to COVID-19 were caused exclusively by the virus. The science was understood from almost the beginning: children do not readily spread or die from this virus, cheap drugs and pharmaceutical cocktails prevent death, and ordering the infected elderly to nursing homes is a sure way to euthanize a vulnerable demographic. No one can even say definitively, with unbiased scientific studies, whether the mini-hijabs everyone must wear in church and in public actually prevent the spread of COVID-19. And when it comes to masks, look how rapidly the nauseating “My body, my choice” mantra was scrapped.
The Church is being hammered from the decades-long sex-abuse scandals and by the politicization of her hierarchy, a managerial class eager to do the bidding of its elitist secular counterpart. Maybe there was no alternative but to bow down before anti-Church lawmakers.
After this mayhem and psychosis subside, how will the Church respond to Jesus’ query, “Did you feed My sheep?” Who will step up to be the iconoclasts needed to smash the cursed video screen for perpetuity? How can our mustard-seed Church operate outside of our timeless top-down system? She will surely be smaller in size because of the loss of the “dones” and other sheep, but will she really jettison the sexually deviant and corrupt prelates who have brought her to this sad, mournful point?
As I sit here wearing my New Oxford Review T-shirt, reflecting on Pieter Vree’s column, there are two things I want to share.
First, early in the 17th century, Japan’s rulers outlawed the Catholic Church. For the next 250 years, there were no church buildings, no priests, no Bibles, etc. But the hidden Catholics of Japan pulled off one of the greatest feats in salvation history. Despite the government’s campaign of annihilation, the Japanese laity passed down the faith through a dozen generations in total isolation. They managed to keep the Rite of Baptism and the liturgical calendar intact. When the government finally lifted the ban on Catholicism in 1867, more than 30,000 Japanese Catholics emerged from hiding.
Second, I am reading a book called The Black Death by Rosemary Horrox (1994). The first part describes the events in 1348-1349 by people who actually survived the plague, written mostly by members of religious orders. Some didn’t have nice things to say about priests and their actions. The other parts are explanations and responses, and the last part is on the plague’s consequences.
What am I getting at? History certainly repeats itself, and the people’s behavior in Europe during the plague is quite similar to what people are doing today. So during the current mess (which includes weak Catholic leadership, to say the least, as Vree writes), we need to have faith, and each one of us must do good always and everywhere. Thus, there is hope, a candle in the midst of a dark valley.
The NOR says it the way it is. Thank God for that.
Port Washington, New York
Ed. Note: Yes, you too can get a New Oxford Review T-shirt of your very own — or an NOR hoodie, golf shirt, onesie, BBQ apron, tote bag, coffee mug, or beer stein. Go to www.cafepress.com/newoxford to browse the selections. They make great gifts!
I very much enjoyed Pieter Vree’s thoughts on a smaller, more intense Church. They reminded me of thoughts provided, several decades apart, by two very wise men.
The first was from my favorite professor, John Lukacs, who consistently dismissed the “semi-Catholic” American Church of the late 1960s. His contempt was directed especially at the new generation of “with it” priests who routinely earned the description “vapid,” a word he reserved for people destined for a lower circle of perdition. (He treated Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon, and Karl Marx even more harshly.)
Years later, at Holy Cross Abbey, in Berryville, Virginia, my spiritual advisor and I were talking about the declining size of their community. He said that, if nothing else, the Cistercians had left some lovely ruins in their past, and even though the Church seemed to lose half her size every 500 years or so, she always regrew. I write this noting that the Cistercian community in Berryville, which had declined from 25 or so when I first met with them (in 2000) to eight, has added its first novices in several years.
Silver Spring, Maryland
Ed. Note: John Lukacs, R.I.P., was a Contributing Editor of the NOR.
The Old Testament story of Israel’s exile from and return to the Promised Land is something to consider as we face our post-COVID Church. The last Davidic king died in Babylon, ending a 500-year dynasty that had seen times of prosperity followed by corruption and conquest, but eventually reform, led by a prophet and a good king. That cycle was shattered by the Babylonian Exile. After 70 years, a remnant returned to Judah, now populated by subsistence farmers. They rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple, but their confident, worldly religion was gone. Instead, we see the rise of Wisdom literature and Israel’s domination by foreign governments — first the Greeks, then the Romans. It was into this situation that Jesus was born.
Christ has already come, so we won’t be looking for a new Messiah after our COVID exile. But the Church will be smaller, as Pieter Vree rightly points out, and poorer. Much smaller, much poorer. Simplicity and self-reliance will be our daily virtues, as well as solid orthodoxy. No more big tent. No more “all are welcome in this place” regardless of what they believe.
Sounds refreshing to me.
The Darkest Aspect of Theological Insanity
Frederick W. Marks has summed up as well as anyone could the darkest aspect of Catholic theology in thought and action (“The Ancient Game of Guilt Abatement,” Sept.).
The guilt abatement of which he speaks is indeed ancient, but it seems presently to have taken on a new, stark, and terrifying life of its own. If I may quote the Catechism: “The triumph of Christ’s kingdom will not come about without one last assault by the powers of evil” (no. 681). It seems likely to me that if the end times are indeed fast approaching, and we are all in the judgment dock, then “guilt abatement” would be the Devil’s most popular device for getting us to avoid the indictable truths we most need to know about ourselves.
Does Mr. Marks see any signs whatever that we are not now subject to the “one last assault by the powers of evil”? Or that the current dominant theological insanity can be overcome? Or that we can at least rid ourselves of practicing guilt abatement? Or that, miracle of miracles, we can rid ourselves of liberal theologians?
FREDERICK W. MARKS REPLIES:
Although I do not regard myself as qualified to say that we are on the cusp of the end times, I am fully aware of the reason for Mr. Sundell’s concern. The unparalleled erosion of morality we are witnessing in our time brings to mind one of Christ’s darkest sayings: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith upon the earth?” (Lk. 18:8). Bakers, florists, and photographers are being forced to provide services for same-sex marriage celebrations even though sodomy is gravely sinful in the eyes of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Sixty million American children have been slaughtered in the wombs of their mothers since Roe v. Wade (1973). State governors are voicing support for infanticide. God forbid that we should be treated the way the inhabitants of Sodom were treated 4,000 years ago when they were incinerated for sexual perversion (cf. Jude 7).
The good news for those who hunger and thirst for justice is that while it might be the worst of times in the industrial West, it is the best of times elsewhere. In Africa and parts of Asia, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are booming. Religious zeal is skyrocketing. Even in our own country, orders of habited nuns are thriving, and many priests, especially those of the younger generation, are courageously loyal to the Magisterium. Support for Raymond Brown’s groundless attack on scriptural reliability seems a thing of the past. There is a heightened interest in Bible study and evangelization. I could go on and on.
Getting back to Mr. Sundell’s query about apocalyptic pronouncement, Scripture takes a dim view of the practice. Paul warned against false prophecy when he addressed the subject (cf. 2 Thess. 2:2-3), and Jesus told His disciples not to bother their heads about the timing of the Last Judgment as it was something not even the angels were given to know (cf. Mt. 24:36; Acts 1:7).
Time and again, false prophets have led folks astray. As early as the second century, Montanist alarmists were preaching up a storm. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Anglican bishop of London gave the faithful 50 or, at most, 60 years to prepare for the end of the world. In 19th-century America, Millerites bought “ascension robes” and, confident of divine deliverance, jumped off the branches of trees they had climbed — to their death. Yet none of this dissuaded Jehovah’s Witnesses from proclaiming 1914 as the year of doom; then 1940; and, finally, 1975. Falsehoods ad seriatim.
I thank Mr. Sundell for his letter, and for the questions he raises. Sooner or later, there will be a reckoning, and when it comes, our bags will be packed and ready to go. In the meantime, I trust that the two of us, along with others of like mind, will do what we can to breathe life into a nation steeped in the culture of death.
Augustine & Newman
Paul Krause caught my attention with the title of his article, “Tolle Lege: The Wisdom of the Great Books” (June), and he reminds us that St. Augustine said, “Tolle lege — take and read.”
John Henry Newman, prior to his conversion to Catholicism, read an article in the July 1839 issue of Dublin Review in which Catholic bishop Nicholas Wiseman quoted Augustine against the schismatic Donatists: “Quapropter securus judicat orbis terrarum, bonos non esse qui se dividunt ab orbe terrarum, in quacumque parte orbis terrarium” (The calm judgment of the world is that those men cannot be good, who, in any part of the world, cut themselves off from the rest of the world). Reflecting on this in Apologia pro Vita Sua, Newman wrote, “For a mere sentence, the words of St. Augustine struck me with a power which I never had felt from any words before…they were like the ‘Tolle, lege, — Tolle, lege,’ of the child, which converted St. Augustine himself.”
Prior to this time, Newman’s belief in the branch theory, or Via Media, of Christendom was firm. “I had confidence in the Via Media, and thought nothing could overset it,” he wrote. But “by those great words of the ancient Father [Augustine’s interpreting and summing up ecclesiastical history], the theory of the Via Media was absolutely pulverized.”
Its demise marked the beginning of Newman’s journey to Rome, which he painstakingly describes in his Apologia, and which I recommend without hesitation to NOR readers.
Thomas E. Williams, M.D.
Canyon Lake, Texas
Follow the Science!
Regarding Michael S. Rose’s column on John le Carré’s book The Constant Gardener (Literature Matters, Sept.): Neither le Carré nor Rose has a clue as to how pharma research for new meds is actually done. Neither one really understands the science.
If Rose would take just a brief look at the history of modern pharmacology and the science involved, he would note that the innovation and development of medicines have saved countless lives all over the globe, not just in the First World. Actual data from the World Health Organization — an institution Rose maligns — demonstrate that the average life expectancy has improved dramatically over the past 100 years, with a noticeable gain since the 1990s, when HIV/AIDS was wrecking the African continent. Retrovirals made all the difference in turning this trend around, as the WHO states. This is in no small measure due to the science of modern medicine and pharmacology.
Everyone likes a good yarn, but instead of relying on entertaining novels, let’s make sure that science, data, and reason inform and educate.
Catholic Socialism: A Contradiction
Although he has made many good, inspiring, and even provocative points, I am increasingly concerned with the direction David Mills has been going in his Last Things column.
He concluded his July-August column by referring to an initiative of his that is essentially contradictory in nature — namely, writing about “a debate on whether a Catholic can be a socialist.” He has made similar passing references to the possibility of “Catholic socialism” in previous columns as well.
Such a “debate” was definitively settled nearly a century ago, in the authoritative venue of communication of the highest level of the Church. His Holiness Pope Pius XI, in his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, stated the following: “If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist” (no. 120).
Although there are fine distinctions among them, socialism, communism, and Marxism have the same teleology: The state is to become supreme and will thus inherently have authority over what it would deem “superstition,” which would include “illicit” recognition of and deference to a “fictitious” Supreme Being. In a word, in their fullness, these political systems must become atheistic. Adhering to any variations of this — i.e., recognizing and permitting deference toward a Supreme Being — would thus not constitute one’s being, as the Holy Father called it, “a true socialist.”
Sloppy definitions of terms, like that of socialist, probably come about due to a failure by Catholics to really understand the words of Our Lord Jesus, but which socialists do understand: “No man can serve two masters” (Mt. 6:24). The socialists, communists, and Marxists have a better comprehension of this fact than do many believers, and thus they conclude that the Divine Master has got to go.
Fr. Joseph Klee
DAVID MILLS REPLIES:
It would be nice if Fr. Klee had bothered to read what I wrote. The sentence to which he refers says only: “One of my articles [in my new Catholic Herald column] takes up white privilege and another a recent Catholic Answers debate on whether a Catholic can be a socialist.” Readers might note that here I expressed no opinion on the matter. Fr. Klee mentions “similar passing references to the possibility of ‘Catholic socialism’ in previous columns,” which I never made.
Waiting for My Privilege
In his July-August Last Things column, David Mills writes about “white privilege.” At 12 years old, I got my first job tarring a roof. Since then, I was drafted and served my country in the Far East, attended college at night for 14 years, have worked up to three simultaneous jobs, put my children through college, and tried to be a loving and supportive protector and provider for my wife and children. At 81, I am still out there trying to earn a buck.
When is this so-called white privilege going to kick in for me?
Or is working hard, obeying the law, loving your country, being responsible for your family, staying sober, not shooting your neighbors, and not aborting your children now called “white privilege”?
As a great politician and rhetorician from Delaware once said, “Come on, man!”
Southampton, New Jersey
DAVID MILLS REPLIES:
It’s not a difficult matter to understand. The reality of white privilege has nothing to do with how hard one’s life has been. It has to do with the disparity in the ways white and black people are treated. Something to which many conservative black Christians — several of whom I mentioned in my column, all of whom could be NOR readers — testify. I’ll not address the racist implications of the next to last paragraph.
Racism & Violence in America
Regarding Casey Chalk’s column “The Catholic Church in the Crosshairs” (Revert’s Rostrum, Sept.): There is no doubt that America is in a culture war. We are seeing the destruction of our historical statues and monuments by angry mobs who believe America’s roots are immersed in slavery, not freedom. They have denounced America as a racist nation. As I ponder these events, I ask myself, “Who are the real racists in America?”
Planned Parenthood is our nation’s largest abortion provider. In the U.S., the abortion ratio is much higher among black women than white women. In New York City in 2015, more black children were aborted than were born alive. Why don’t those black lives matter? Isn’t this obvious racism?
Several years ago, reporter Mike Wallace asked actor Morgan Freeman, “How are we going to get rid of racism?” Freeman replied, “Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.”
A great man (color not a factor) said not to judge people by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. When we look at each other as unequal because of skin color, then we are the real racists.
God created each of us equal. Skin color does not matter to Him, and it should not matter to us. Every life He created matters. We are all God’s children, which truly makes us all brothers and sisters. It is sin, not racism, that is systemic. Racism exists because of systemic sin. And there is only one cure: Love your neighbor as yourself (cf. Mt 22:39).
The unfortunate riots connected to the death of George Floyd that have wracked our country are bringing about incidents of rage and grief. The history of blacks in America is something with which we need to come to grips.
Blacks were brought to America in the first place because white landowners needed heavy labor to grow cash crops for the European markets — cotton, sugar, and tobacco. Slavery was an easy fix to the workforce problem. By the 1850s, the wealthy needed more land to continue exploiting foreign markets. Some wanted to expand the business of slavery into new states. Ultimately, this led to the South’s leaving the Union, causing war. Most think that the Civil War started over slavery. It was actually a war over the indissolubility of the Union; slavery was the moving subtext of the war.
The war was devastating for both sides, and the blacks were caught in the middle. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed the slaves on paper, but it did nothing to welcome them into their new freedom. Blacks had few possessions, lived in a racially biased society, had little education, owned virtually no land, and had few skills with which to better themselves. The one place most blacks felt they were listened to and understood was in church. The black churches served as shelters, teachers, and companions, places where justice for the human spirit was articulated.
After the Civil War, blacks were thrust into a complex political situation. Nothing was prepared for them upon exiting slavery. There was talk of land distribution: 40 acres so the black freedmen, as they were called, could become landowners. Various government officials attempted to grant them land and a mule, but, by and large, the talk didn’t turn into action. Congress did establish the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865 to help in the socialization process, but it was a challenging program to administer, and the Southern states countered with legislation called the Black Codes in 1866. These laws were almost as bad as slavery had been.
Blacks in the U.S. have a long history of painful and often unjust treatment. Is there hope? Yes, if we can treat each person with dignity and respect for our common humanity. We cannot change the past, but we can understand how it has led to the situation we are in today. And there is something we can do to make it better. Jesus taught that there are two commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. If we can embrace our neighbor as a human being, if we can respect his full dignity, then we can begin to change our community and our country for the better. Then, we may dare say, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1776, “All men are created equal.”
Lake Linden, Michigan
It’s difficult for me to think of a time when I did not feel welcome in the Catholic Church. I was raised Catholic and have attended Mass every Sunday for my whole life. I have always felt a sense of belonging when I step into a church. I also happen to be white, of European descent.
I’ll never forget the day when one of my African-American friends made a joke about how there are no black Catholics. She said this very casually. Her tone of voice did not indicate that this comment was meant to be provocative. But it provoked something inside of me. I didn’t say anything at the moment, but when I thought back to her comment later on, my first reaction was to defend the Church, listing every black Catholic I knew in my head. I came up with a list of about five people.
What I realized much later is that it doesn’t matter how many black Catholics I, as a white Catholic, can name. If my black friend does not feel welcome in the Catholic Church, that means there is a problem, and we must address it.
The problem is not with my friend’s perception, as I wanted to believe at first. I wanted to point out why she was wrong, and that she had misperceived and misjudged the Church. And while the simple fact may not be accurate, because there are black Catholics in the world, her feeling of not being welcomed is not something I get to argue against. We don’t get to correct others’ feelings. If I talk in a loud tone of voice to my sister, for example, and she perceives me to be angry and is therefore hurt by what I say, I can explain to her that I didn’t intend to sound angry, but I don’t get to argue with the fact that she was hurt. What I should do is listen to what she said and focus on not raising my voice the next time, so I don’t hurt her again.
My black friend felt that she doesn’t belong in the Church. It is the Church’s responsibility to be more inclusive so that our black brothers and sisters don’t feel unwelcome.
It’s been a few years since my friend made that comment, something she probably didn’t realize I would still be thinking about years later. But I am thinking about it again, because in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Catholic Church has remained largely silent. I know that some members of the Church have spoken up. I know that others don’t want to speak up for fear of being too political, and others because they don’t want to align themselves with the violence that is happening alongside the movement or with some of the organizations involved, such as Antifa. I understand these fears and concerns; they have caused me to be silent many times as well. But racism is inarguably a violation of human dignity and a terrible evil. And I don’t think the Catholic Church is doing enough to oppose this evil at the moment when people are crying for it.
Yes, violence is evil too. This might be something holding the Church back from getting involved in the BLM movement. But think of it in this way: In the 1940s terrible atrocities were being committed during the Holocaust. In response, World War II, a very violent war, was fought to oppose these injustices. If Church leaders spoke out against the Holocaust, which many did, does that automatically mean they supported the violence of war? Even if it did, should they not have spoken out against the evil that was happening?
Racism continues to be a plague in our world. But it is a plague that many people don’t see, at least not to its full extent. One thing I didn’t see for a long time is the way racism has wounded the Church. Catholic means universal, which means everyone across the world should feel welcome and embraced by the Church. The fact that my friend felt that she doesn’t belong in the Church is a heartbreaking reality. Yes, she is just one black person. How many more are there who feel they don’t belong in a Church that is supposed to be universal? No one should ever feel like they are not welcomed by the Catholic Church.
So, what can we, as Catholics, do? I don’t have all the answers, but I think we must make it clear that we stand against racism. We can do this by updating the messages on the signs outside our churches, providing prayer cards, and praying together during Mass for an end to racism. I hope and pray that the Church will come together to stand against the evil of racism and that one day all people will feel like they belong in the Church.
As always, the NOR is a source of edification, as it challenges readers in many ways. After the death of George Floyd, the topic of police brutality has come to the fore. But there is something relevant to this topic that almost nobody talks about.
I have been in prison now for 15 years for the crime of murder, and unless something changes radically, I will die in prison. I am guilty, not necessarily as charged, but I did take a life, and so this is what I have brought on myself. So pray for me, if you will, but don’t feel sorry for me.
That said, I want to address what I call the elephant in the prison cell. Thanks to cellphone recordings, people are aware as never before of police brutality. However, this phenomenon has been well known for a long time in certain segments of society. The poor, regardless of race or ethnicity, are quite aware of it, but having little voice, they have had to wait for technology to come to their assistance. It is the poor who largely suffer the full weight of “justice” being done unto them, and we poor also populate the country’s prisons. And because of this, the poor know something else that nobody talks about. And that is that a lot of people go to prison and do not come out alive — not because of the death penalty but due to reasons similar to what happened to Floyd in Minneapolis. The authorities have a code of silence, prisoners are not believed, and activists are rarely allowed the freedom to perform independent investigations into prison-guard brutality.
This is not to say that the prisons of this country are akin to National Socialist death camps, for they are not, and most of the staff working at them perform their duties well. However, there are bad apples that infest the system who are, like officer Derek Chauvin from Minneapolis, serial offenders. For those few, the system takes care of its own in every sense of that phrase. Rarely are perpetrators held accountable, and when they are, they typically get much lighter sentences than they deserve.
The discussion of police brutality needs to include extra-judicial killings in prisons, for the numbers of those greatly eclipse the sanctioned deaths. They might even rival or exceed killings by police in the streets. And this doesn’t take into account acts of violence perpetrated against inmates who are cuffed or otherwise restrained, à la Rodney King, but who don’t benefit from video documentation. Body cams on prison guards would go a long way toward fixing this, provided the recordings were monitored by an agency not connected to corrections.
And, finally, if those who read this pray a Rosary or other prayer for my victim, Amber Bartalino, and her family, I am sure the effect would be a laudable and worthy one.
Avon Park Correctional Institution
Avon Park, Florida
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