Some things never change. Terry Golway, in Return of the Know-Nothings (3/29), aptly takes Harvard professor Samuel Huntington to task for contending that Hispanics, and in particular Mexicans, are somehow a threat to the values that made America great. But as Mr. Golway notes, much the same was said about the Irish and Italians in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Yet history shows that none of these predominantly Catholic groups ever challenged the American creedthey absorbed it. What seems to be bothering Huntington is the challenge to WASP hegemony, not the failure of Catholic ethnics to assimilate.
In 1986, the main sponsor of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), John Tanton, wrote a private memo (subsequently leaked to the press) expressing his concerns about Latino fertility rates and their Catholicism. Now Huntington is sadly on board. Fortunately, most Americans understand that Little Italy and Spanish Harlem are very much a part of the American mosaic. So, for that matter, is Chinatown. I would have thought that social scientists employed at Harvardwhich once had a quota for Catholics and Jewswould be beating the drums of diversity, not division. But, alas, some things never change.
William A. Donohue
President, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
New York, N.Y.
Amid all the discussion, debate, charges and countercharges about Mel Gibson’s film (3/8), one should not hesitate to state the obvious that The Passion of the Christ is a pornographic movie. With its obsessive objectifying and destruction of the body, its desacralizing of the flesh, its voyeurism, its erotics of violence and above all its suppression of the word made flesh, it becomes a lurid tale that reflects the spirit of the culture more than the Gospel of the risen Christ. In short, Gibson has made a truly hopeless film.
John F. Desmond
Walla Walla, Wash.
Good for America for tackling a complicated subject like agricultural subsidies in An Imbalance of Power (3/11). Cesar Ferrari and Carlos Novoa, S.J., articulated how U.S. trade policies directly affect people in poor countriesthe very recipients of our foreign assistance. And they have done so with a fluency born of personal experience.
Bread for the World Institute’s 2003 Hunger Report shows that the amount of money rich nations spend on agriculture subsidies ($300 billion annually) is an astounding six times what they give poor countries in development aid. Research released in the report also found that eliminating subsidies and protection in rich countries would allow developing countries to triple their annual net agricultural trade (exports minus imports), from $20 billion to $60 billion.
Going one step further, not only does the current system of subsidies hurt developing countries, it is not effective in dealing with poverty and economic decline in rural communities here at home either. About 80 percent of subsidy payments go to only a handful of farmersprimarily larger, commercial operators that grow specific commodities. Approximately 60 percent of U.S. farmers receive no subsidies at all. We also need a U.S. farm policy that targets assistance not based on what a farmer produces (corn, wheat), but on whom it should help, like smaller farmers, struggling rural entrepreneurs and poor people.
Bread for the World Institute heartily agrees that developing countries need a global rules-based trading system, and that citizens of rich nations, especially Christians, must press their governments to adopt just international economic policies.
(Rev.) James McDonald
With gratitude and hope I applaud Robert M. Rowden’s diagnosis that the laity are absolutely powerless in the government of their church (The Real Agenda, 2/23). What he might not realize is that most priests who are not pastors are also powerless in the governance of their church, when no accountability whatsoever is demanded of pastors by their own bishop. Thus one man is all too often the absolute czar in the local church. All voices calling for sanity and sanctity are muted. Dysfunction becomes the debilitating condition the faithful parishioner must buy into and be silent. All suffer. The dysfunction spreads. Haven’t most of our problems begun in the local church, where the dysfunction could have been halted at its onset? For me the need for oversight and independent auditing of parish and diocesan finances is simply an integral part of the larger need for reviews of parishes and pastoral leadership by outside committees of clergy and laity along the lines of the procedures used in academic accreditation, insightfully and sanely proposed by Peter Steinfels in A People Adrift. The fresh air of outside review boards may well be the healing tonic at the local level for the good of the whole church.
James N. Gelson, S.J.
Highland Beach, Fla.
A Heart That Prays
I was deeply touched by Valerie Schultz’s article Mortal Flesh (3/1), in which she described her emotions at the news of her mother’s breast cancer, because my eldest sister was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and is now undergoing the Via Crucis of cancer therapy. I sense that all Valerie’s articles in America well up from a heart that prays and meditates deeply.
(Rev.) Gino Dalpiaz
Stone Park, Ill.
Sign of Welcome
Much to my surprise, I find myself taking exception to what John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., says in his column on Feb. 16. Perhaps I misunderstand him. He seems to be saying that he agrees with the actions of bishops who refuse Communion to politicians who vote pro-choice. He seems to say that such refusal is based on Communion being a sign of unity in faith that is restricted to fully integrated members of our faith community. In the first place, I question the action of anyone who calls himself or herself a follower of Christ who ignores Christ’s very clear admonition to not judge. No priest or bishop can judge the state of soul of anyone but himself, and to judge a politician who comes forward seeking Communion seems clearly against the very clear words of Jesus. Secondly, we don’t have to ask ourselves, What would Jesus do? because we have very clear example at the Last Supper, when he is described in Scripture as sharing Communion with all his Apostles, in spite of his knowledge (and comments) that Judas had already betrayed him and was no longer a member of the faith community. I think that we have to stop seeing Communion as a reward for good behavior and restore it to its place as a sign of inclusiveness and welcome to all who ask for it.
Peter M. Kopkowski
San Diego, Calif..
This aging subscriber is in the process of going through his stuffa memory-jogging exercise, both sweet and bitter. You may get a smile out of an item I found.
You are likely aware that the building now known as America House used to be the Phi Gamma Delta Club of New York. I am a member of this college fraternity and stayed at the club on a few occasions. I came across a bill for one such visit in September 1960. I am enclosing a copy. It’s hard to believe: $7.50 for a room and 84 cents for something I had at the bar. Those were the days!
I remember the club as a congenial place. Young graduates stayed briefly when they got their first job in the big city. A few elderly brothers occupied the wing chairs in the library. The national fraternity did not own the club; it was an independent enterprise of the graduate brothers from many chapters who lived in New York. I don’t remember when they decided to close and sell the property, but I hope it has worked out well for you. There may be a memento or two around. Perhaps the fraternity coat of arms still graces the library. The open motto in Greek beneath the shield still guides us: Friendship, the Sweetest Influence.
Thomas R. Mulcahy
Arden Hills, Minn.
I believe the reports of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the National Review Board set up by the bishops grossly underestimate the percentage of priests accused of sexual abuse who were involved with alcohol or other drugs (3/22). The report notes that 19 percent of accused priests had substance abuse problems, but only 9 percent used drugs or alcohol during their acts of abuse.
The reality is almost certainly many times that 9 percent number. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has done extensive analyses of national data sets that reveal that alcohol or drugs are involved in more than 70 percent of child abuse cases, the overwhelming proportion of rapes (e.g., 90 percent of college rapes) and most cases of incest. Alcohol is the most frequently implicated disinhibiting culprit in all forms of sexual abuse. I believe the studies commissioned by the bishops probably relied on faulty memories or records that did not include any reference to alcohol or substance abuse (a common omission in medical and criminal records until recently).
The bishops would be wise to educate their clergy about substance abuse and be particularly sensitive about the danger of sexual misconduct by priests who suffer from alcohol or drug problems.
Joseph A. Califano Jr.
New York, N.Y.