Mother’s Good Example

Enclosed is a picture of my mother at the age of 99 reading America. She read it from cover to cover for as long as I can remember. Although at this time she needed help to get out of bed, she needed no help to read and ponder and pray with America magazine. My father was a graduate of Brooklyn Prep and Xavier College in Manhattan.

I am trying to follow their example and read America from cover to cover.


Elizabeth Hillmann, R.C.
Gainesville, Fla.

Gratuitous Gift

It was a delight to read Paul Mariani’s article (4/23) When Poets Write Prose. What came through was a devoted Christian’s awareness of God’s gratuitous gift to poets and poetry. What likewise came through was a poet’s invitation to us to submit poems for review despite the odds against publication.

Anna Marie Mack, S.S.J.
Maple Shade, N.J.

Unfortunate Precedent

Thank you for your editorial Due Process in the Church and the Way of Salvation by Francis Sullivan, S.J., (4/9). I am pleased by your editorial stand on the inadequacies of the procedures of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. These procedures contribute to creating an atmosphere of suspicion and repression in the church. They also contribute to the centralization of power (which is obviously not the same as authority) in the papacy and some curial offices.

The history of theology is a history of different schools and opinions and sustained arguments over the meaning of the truths of the faith and attempts to articulate them in one’s culture and relevant philosophical frameworks. It is clear that some arguments and positions are better than others and that some are flat-out wrong. But it is also clear that an assumption of an ahistorical and monolithic understanding of truth surrounded by indefensible procedures whose purpose is to guard that truth is a poor way to conduct business. Peer review among theologians has historically served as a rather effective way of evaluating a particular position. Unfortunately, the C.D.F. seems to think that the only appropriate peers are curial.

For those concerned about the application of obtaining the mandatum under Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the guidelines under which the C.D.F. conducts business and the way it treats those under investigation provide a most unfortunate precedent.

Thomas A.Shannon
Worcester, Mass.

To Be Heard

As a former criminal trial and appellate lawyer I found your editorial, Due Process in the Church (4/9), flawed in several respects.

You criticize the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith because the first part of its two-stage inquiry is held in total secrecy. It is typical that preliminary grand jury proceedings take place behind closed doors. It is not yet time to call the accused to make a defense. It is a process in which the state asks itself whether it has sufficient evidence to proceed against one of its citizens. Judgment has not yet been passed at this stage, and many investigations are dropped as a result of it. Furthermore, those parties excluded from this secret process include the press, precisely to protect the reputation of the prospective defendant.

You criticize the C.D.F. for giving the accused the right only to respond in writing. It is routine both at trial and appellate levels for judges to request that arguments, especially on technical matters, be submitted first and foremost in written briefs. They retain discretion to ask for subsequent clarification by way of oral argument. Since the subject matter of a C.D.F. investigation is almost always a written document, and the issues are technical in nature, written arguments would be normative. The C.D.F. protects a theologian’s most important right: the opportunity to be heard.

Are the terms erroneous and dangerous too broad and too vague for comfort? There are many such general terms in criminal law, like reasonable doubt, threatening manner, malice and so forth, that a judge or jury must apply to specific situations They are flexible, not totalitarian terms. I suspect that America does not so much have alternative terms in mind as it is troubled by the fact that it is the C.D.F. and not America that must apply them.

Should there be a right to appeal the C.D.F.’s decisions? To whom does America propose appeals be made when the pope himself has already said, in effect, that the C.D.F. is an extension of his own office?

Finally, America characterizes the C.D.F.’s procedures as indefensible. Imagine America’s response if the C.D.F. were to describe a theologian’s opinions with such a term.

Stephen Patton
Jacksonville, Fla.

Open Hearts

The report in Signs of the Times (4/2), Some Church Policies Alien to Hispanics, is indeed timely. This past Feb. 1, I completed a pastorate of 30 years and more at Sacred Heart Parish in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, NY. The parish in the 60’s, 70’s and the mid-80’s was heavily Puerto Rican, and for the past 15 years heavily Mexican.

Our Anglo-Saxon culture and even the traditions of the church in the United States and style of ministry do not always connect with the great Mexican influx, a great part of the future of our church in the United States. And this lack of connection is often also in the ministerial style and culture of some Hispanic priests from other countries.

Mexican people are warm and giving, faith-possessed, and their simplicity is disarming. As for priests ministering to them, including chancery officials, we just cannot minister in a two-fisted autocratic and despotic style. All of the i’s cannot always be dotted, or the t’s crossed. What will happen to our new people if we do not minister with open hearts and hands? We might just overpopulate the evangelical churches.

Did you ever try to inveigle a response to a request for a baptismal record or letter of freedom from a church 200 miles from nowhere in the mountains, or even in a city plaza? Try it.

Emma Lazarus was not a spiritual writer, but she hit the nail on the head when she wrote those beautiful words that ought be in the heart of every priest, Give me your tired, your poor.

(Msgr.) Walter C. Murphy
Douglaston, N.Y.


Thanks to poet editor Paul Mariani (4/23) for pointing out that most readers don’t read the 10 or 12 poems he selects annually for publication. Imagine, we show more interest in the ads than the poems! Did Mariani and America miss an opportunity to get our attention by not publishing a poem in the same issue? A poem, with the reflective comments in his article, could possibly have motivated us to see how poems can shout their presence and challenge our imagination to see the beauty and symmetry that does exist in this form of the written word.

Gerald F. Holland
Old Lyme, Conn.

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