Good Ways to Disagree

I truly regret that David S. Toolan, S.J., (Of Many Things, 1/1) was insulted because he believes I caricatured people like his parents in the talk I gave at the Chicago Commonweal Forum last Oct. 6. The paper I presented argued ideas. It should be possible to trace the history of an idea and disagree with it without being accused of insulting the person who holds it. I think many of Immanuel Kant’s central ideas were profoundly mistaken; he was still a genius and we profit from discussion with Kantians.

My argument with the Catholic liberal project was and is that it has run its course, as has its conservative counterpart, because the political labels distort rather than describe a church which no longer, since Vatican II, defines herself primarily as a society. There are many good ways to disagree with that argument without misrepresenting it or reducing it to personal insult. I lambasted no one and called nobody exhausted; nor did I imply that any of Father Toolan’s friends are morally spineless wimps.


I respect the Commonweal Catholics Father Toolan mentioned in his column and for many years have enjoyed what they write, both when I agree with their ideas and when I disagree. I might even enjoy a genuine critique of what I argued from Father Toolan, if he would care to make it. As it is, I’m sorry my talk occasioned his column; but I believe what he wrote was unfair, at least to the argument.

Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Archbishop of Chicago

Chicago, Ill.

Sensitive Charm

Thank you and the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley for his most excellent article (11/20/99). I’m a new member of our parish adult initiation committee, and have been somewhat confused between the R.C.I.A. rules and recognizing that the diversity of the backgrounds and situations presented by our candidates and catechumens requires great sensitivity and flexibility. Fortunately, our pastor and education coordinator bring the necessary sensitivity and balance to the process. Father Greeley’s splendid article should be required reading for all R.C.I.A. committees and parish councils.

Paul Somoza

Camden, Me.

Intolerable Liberal Bias

I have been a subscriber to America for most of the last 35 years. I believe that the magazine has changed in a lot of ways that I think are not conducive to a full and completely fair discussion of viewpoints that are of some importance, at least to me. Your left wing liberal bias is becoming, to me, intolerable.

I see no balance of opposing viewpoints in the articles you pick to publish. From the steady stream of the narrow viewpoint I perceive emanating from the editors of America, I am not sure that I am a product of the same culture that you folks are. When was the last time you presented an article which suggested that your first responsibility to yourself and to your community was to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps? Does that phrase send up a red flag? Good!

To read your magazine, you would think that this country is coming apart at its economic seams. This country might be coming apart spiritually, but it is not coming apart economically.

How about marriage and the dreadful abyss which so many of our faithful seem to have fallen into? Please don’t refer me to some inane sociology study and poll. Give us some sacramental theology. Or how about Mass attendance? Or is that too mundane?

Robert J. Bartusek

Des Moines, Ia.

Just Society

John Kavanaugh, S.J., rightly included John Stuart Mill among the moralists of the millennium (12/11/99). While so many philosophy teachers in Catholic universities listed Mill among the adversaries of various theses, especially his evaluation of pain and of personal choice, Mill led the way in three areas: women’s rights, the practical values of participation in government and industrial ownership. In his last edition of Political Economy he moved far from Adam Smith to recommend worker-ownership of manufacturing plants as the best means of ensuring a just economic society.

William Barnaby Faherty, S.J.

Professor Emeritus of History

St. Louis University

St. Louis, Mo.

Never Forgotten

The poignant essay by George Anderson, S.J., expressing his affection for his address book (Of Many Things, 12/11/99) expressed many of the feelings I have toward my own now long-lost address book.

Shortly after retirement my wife and I spent two months in Central America riding the old American school buses that serve as the major source of public transportation in that part of the world. We shunned luxury hotels and restaurants and joined the large group of young backpackers from all over the world who were traveling in the same manner. Except for our age, we were no different from the rest and were readily accepted into the cult that looked down on the packaged tours.

All went well as we traveled the highways of Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Never once did we feel unsafe, and we were always treated with courtesy by our fellow bus travelers. After crossing into Costa Rica from Nicaragua, one could easily imagine being in parts of Florida around Miami. It was then we let our guard down.

After a few days in San José, we went to the central bus terminal known as the Coca Cola, where we settled down in yet another converted school bus to await our departure to the nature reserve near Manuel Antonio on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Just prior to leaving, the bus was filled with vendors hawking soft drinks, tamales and candy, as was always the case in Central America. The bus had a circus atmosphere, and soon after leaving I reached up to get our Lonely Planet Guide from my backpack, only to discover that one of the vendors had made a haul. My backpack was gone. Gone were my wallet, toilet articles and other necessities of life, including my address book of many years.

Except for the address book, all of the missing items were replaced and the incident all but forgotten. That little book containing addresses dating back to my high school, service days and college days was an important part of my life. It was not replaced and can never be forgotten.

Richard Strickland

Steilacoom, Wash.

Erosion of Patient Care

Re the interview with Henry A. Foley on health care in California (1/1):

I would like to underscore his comments. As a registered nurse working for the past 10 years during the decline of California’s health system, I believe it must be stated clearly that simple greed is the underlying reason for the decline.

My nurse colleagues and I watched helplessly as one after another strategy was imposed upon us, all designed to enhance our position in the marketplace, but with the net result of eroding patient care. Mr. Foley did not mention the erosion of patient care as a factor in the decline; but now that the physician groups and H.M.O. administrators are feeling the financial pinch, people are paying attention.

Sadly, over the past decade previously wonderfully equipped and staffed units in hospitals have become bedlam as the all-powerful marketplace and its spokespersons relegated health care professionals, as well as unhappy patients who had the misfortune to be caught in today’s health care system, to the status of whining malcontents. I believe Mr. Foley is correct in his assessment that it will take an economic crisis to cause us to do something to fix the health care mess, because clearly the destruction of patient care has not.

Jerry W. Brown, R.N.

Menlo Park, Calif.

Therapeutic Emotions

As someone who enjoys popular music, I appreciated the defense by David Nantais, S.J., of pop music against those who wish to find a quick blame for our society’s ills (1/1). Nevertheless, the fact that pop music can, as Nantais puts it, build community, provide therapeutic release and contribute to spiritual life, does not mean that some pop music is not without its dangers.

Nantais makes the all too common argument that concern about the likes of Marilyn Manson is due to a generational lack of understanding. This may be true, but it does not mean that we should dismiss concerns about some of the music to which our youth are listening. The fact that my grandfather did not understand or like my mother’s Elvis, and my mother did not understand or like my Cheap Trick tells us something only about generational differences, but nothing about the music itself. The music can still be dangerous.

Moreover, if, as Nantais admits, pop music can emotionally move teenagers toward the good, it is also possible that it can emotionally move teenagers toward the bad. There may not be a direct correlation between pop music and problems in our society. However, we should acknowledge that sometimes some music, like many other aspects of our society, can be a contributing factor behind some violent, racist and self-destructive acts.

Christopher Dodson,

Executive Director

North Dakota Catholic Conference

Bismarck, N.D.

Release, Relief

Kudos and thanks to David Nantais, S.J., for articulating the meaning of popular music for our young people, long a baffling mystery for us older folks (1/1). As I read along, I realized I’ve used music as a therapeutic release since childhood, allowing it to speak to me in a way...parents, priests or teachers... could not have done at the time, or even now.

My tastes tend to classical music, but I can remember irritated looks from my parents seeing me freaking out with some loudly played symphony, wishing I’d get off the couch and do something useful. (Part of the problem was we didn’t have earphones in those days.) Mahler’s Fourth, a favorite in college years, can still bring tearful emotional release, although I’ve never fully understood why!

Even in my seminary years, the new (50’s) rock-and-roll songs provided valuable comic relief, and in student shows we reveled in shaking up the old folks (faculty) as we aped the songs of Elvis, Bill Haley, etc. Chords were struck that we never dreamed of and still don’t completely comprehend; but we had fun and it helped community building among us.

Later, working with young people, I made use of songs like John Denver’s to bring out spiritual feelings, and I hope some day a revival could continue his powerful messages.

An added pointthe world we have made for our young people gives them many things to feel insecure and even angry about. If the seemingly out-rage-ousness of some modern music can give them some emotional relief, then we should be grateful.

(Rev.) John Koelsch

Sacred Heart Church

Boise, Ida.

How Can We Not Know?

Many thanks for the article by George Anderson, S.J., on immigrants in detention (1/15). When I tell people about conditions in the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey, they ask, How is it that we don’t know about this? I recently visited an African woman who had undergone torture as a political prisoner in her own country, fled to another country and finally made it to the United States seeking asylum, only to find herself in a windowless converted warehouse. That was back in August. Now, six months later and with no end in sight, she told me that she was going to give up her quest for asylum and accept deportation. I was tortured at home, and now I am being tortured here.

Thomas L. Sheridan, S.J.

Jersey City, N.J.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
12 years 1 month ago
Thanks for the well-deserved commentary on the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley (1/29). The church needs to “listen” to Greeley more in the manner referred to by Cardinal George in his letter in the same issue.

12 years 1 month ago
Thanks for the well-deserved commentary on the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley (1/29). The church needs to “listen” to Greeley more in the manner referred to by Cardinal George in his letter in the same issue.


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