In Praise of Letters

Like many of our readers, I suspect, I turn immediately to the letters page when I open up a magazine or newspaper. Two recent letters on two different articles stood out this week, and I think they're worth highlighting here.

The first is in response to Bill Keller's review of Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy in the New York Times Book Review. (Read our own Fr. Ray Schroth's response here.) The second graph is particularly astute, and serves as a cautionary note to journalists in both the secular and Catholic media:


To the Editor:

It’s probably true that in 2,000 years a great many of the 265 popes have been as bad as John Julius Norwich claims — unlike our 44 presidents, who have been outstanding leaders in every way. But I question the ability of an “agnostic Protestant” and a fallen-away Catholic to disengage themselves from any animus toward the institutional church.

While a point-by-point refutation of the book and the review is beyond my ability, one bit sticks in my craw: Keller quotes Norwich’s conclusion that progressive Catholics (and I count myself one) have been disappointed by the failure of recent pontiffs to make progress “on the leading issues of the day — on homosexuality, on contraception, on the ordination of women priests.” To my mind, the “leading issues of the day” are war, hunger and the exploitation of the poor and the defenseless. The Vatican has spoken forcefully on each of these issues and many more that degrade our fellow men and women.

East Hampton, N.Y.

The second letter is one of many the New Yorker published in response to Aleksandar Hemon's devastating account of his infant daughter's death. After reading Hemon's essay I was shellshocked, unsure how to respond to his caustic refutation of any attempt to find "meaning" in such a horrible reality. Ken Klonsky succeeds where I could not:

I have never read anything as harrowing as Aleksandar Hemon’s account of his baby’s death (“The Aquarium,” June 13th & 20th). It is often said that losing a child is the most painful thing a person can endure, and the despair Hemon expresses is usually unspeakable. With greatest respect for the writer, I must disagree with his conclusion that “Isabel’s suffering and death did nothing for her, or us, or the world.” What it did for me was to affirm the power of one small human life.

Ken Klonsky
Vancouver, B.C.

Tim Reidy


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Vince Killoran
6 years 7 months ago
"The Vatican has spoken forcefully on each of these issues and many more that degrade our fellow men and women."

Some, but not with the resources and fervor as with issues of reproduction rights and sexual identity.

I'd love it if the Vatican re-called their ambassador over acts of war or poverty as they did in Ireland in the past day.
6 years 7 months ago
David, as usual, not sure how to respond, but I do take exception to your characterization of Hemon's essay as maudlin. It's an emotional subject, of course, but full of real pathos. I wonder if you've read it.


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