The Free-For-All in Our Letters Section
Our letters to the editor section has always been lively, and we are grateful to our correspondents for making it so. The letters over the past year, particularly those from participants in the great controversies stemming from Anne Pilsbury’s letter (May 1993) and Sheldon Vanauken’s article on “Choosing a Church” (April 1993), have been especially gripping, and they suggest at least two interesting questions and establish one fact. The established fact is that the NOR in its (not limitless) letters section, is truly open to a very wide variety of (pertinent and coherent) opinions; there can be no doubt of that.
Nevertheless, one reader, an Episcopal priestess, announced her decision to cancel her subscription (July-Aug. 1993) because, immediately after the Pilsbury letter, the NOR in a very brief editorial reply, stated its Catholic views on one point. To be sure, other readers supported the NOR for doing just that. For example, Richard Yonkoski wrote that, “in addition to allowing readers…to express their opinions freely, a Catholic publication has a responsibility to stand up for truth” (Nov. 1993). But the priestess’s objection to the NOR went deeper, and it is one we’ve heard from, others. Most generally, our overall stance on behalf of orthodox Catholicism is what is objected to.
The question is, therefore, whether a journal that is open to a multitude of opinions in its letters section is allowed to express a position of its own, in that section or anywhere else. To be sure, the NOR walks the razor’s edge, trying to be both ecumenical in the best sense and Catholic in the full sense, which is what we feel the Second Vatican Council has called us, and all Catholic periodicals, to be. But some readers, who find no denial of openness in our believing in Christ, do find a denial of openness in our believing in the Church established by Christ. Since the NOR publishes letters from those whose beliefs differ radically from the NOR, and since the NOR accepts articles, columns, and reviews from non-Catholics, the charges of denial of openness cannot be sustained. Unless, of course, openness means an utter lack of commitment and standards, such that tolerance becomes outright indifference. Thus, we are reminded of Chesterton’s remark that one can be so open-minded that one’s brains fall out. This is especially true in religion, not to mention Catholicism, where there are built-in limits to broadmindedness. If one wants to be meaningfully religious, but insists on dabbling in various religions or denominations, one will quickly lose one’s bearings. As Ronald Knox noted, “The study of comparative religions is the best way to become comparatively religious.”
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