I had to chuckle while reading Elizabeth Ficocelli’s Avoiding Mass Hysteria: Teaching Children to Behave in Church (5/6). She and her young ones would be as discomfited as I was by the children wandering loose at Sunday Mass in the Catholic chapel of the state penitentiary in Tijuana. Some are visiting their fathers; others are in residence with their mothers. None of their motion or commotion, however, seems to distract the prisoners from close attention to the Eucharist or the word, God bless them. As to my own reactions as a priest, I have this poetic meditation, called Suffer the Little Children:
the benches crowded and solemn
I’m bent for the consecration
and leave it to the kids!
the high pitch of their play
one near the altar peering
one visiting the pews
two running the main aisle
up and back, up and back
who’s tending them anyway?
I’m about to scold
when i remember something
James Torrens, S.J.
Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico
As auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, which is one of the largest Hispanic-populated Catholic dioceses in the United States, I was appreciative of Architects of Success (4/29). The article highlights important data, some positive and some challenging. With the accelerated growth of the Hispanic population within the Catholic Church, ways of forming Hispanic leaders among the youth should be a priority for our church. I believe the attitude taken in the article of seeing the Hispanic young people not as a problem, but as a solution, is a positive step toward forming young leaders in the Hispanic community.
I look forward to seeing more articles with the same focus on responding to the needs of the Hispanic youth in the church.
(Most Rev.) Joseph S. Vasquez
Amen to Thomas J. McCarthy’s column, Men of the Cloth (5/6), in which he writes our understanding of the priesthood needs to change. Mr. McCarthy expresses eloquently many of the thoughts that have come to me since the sex abuse crisis erupted. On June 9 I will be celebrating my first anniversary as a priest. I came to the priesthood having left the seminary system 20 years ago, and after losing my wife of 3 1/2 years to cancer. When I was ordained at age 38, I had no illusions about priesthood as a state of life exalted over any other.
Growing up, my experience of priests and priesthood was always a very human one. Perhaps having a priest in the family (my great-uncle) helped me cultivate that view, but I always saw priests as real, imperfect people. Yet in my short time serving as a priest I have spoken to several people who say that they were taught that all priests are holier than the general population, and that they thought priests could do no wrong. It’s no wonder, then, how deep is the hurt, the anger and the disappointment that people are expressing in the wake of the current scandal.
I strongly agree with Mr. McCarthy’s assertion that our survival as Catholics depends on a reorientation of our understanding of priesthood. How many of the victims (I would rather refer to them as survivors) of sex abuse by priests have said things like I couldn’t say anything to anyone about itI mean, he was a priest!; or, I thought priests could do no wrong, so I thought what he was doing must have been right?
By setting priests in a higher realm than everyone else, we have done an injustice to our children and to ourselves, and made it possible for predators and sick men to get away with terrible crimes. This crisis is, indeed, an opportunity to re-examine what priesthood is and to remind ourselves of what it is not.
(Rev.) Steven Hannafin
Thanks for the article on liturgical dance by Robert VerEecke, S.J., (3/25) and the wonderful illustration. You’d be delightedor maybe you already knowhow your Jesuit confreres are encouraging festal dance before the Gospel and at the preparation of the gifts in Majuro, Marshall Islands, where I spent two years as a college instructor. Because there is a goodly group from Kiribati (formerly the Gilberts) on the island, it is customary for them to shareone dance of Gilbertese, the other of Marshalese. The latter are especially reverent, I foundthe former more military, though not belligerent. And nobody, no matter how illiterate, could fail to grasp that the Gospel is good news. A charming detail, in my opinion, was that at the offertory, presiders were given neck garlands (not leis, but a similar concept). And before the preface, a woman (always) came to put a garland around the offered bread and wine, too, somehow recognizing a personal presence, anticipated.
Mary Elizabeth Mason, O.S.B.
I am very disappointed in your May 13, 2002 issue.
As a priest of approximately the same vintage as the Rev. Michael L. Papesh I have a difficult time reconciling my own experience of issues of celibacy and sexuality with his account. Yes, I read the papers, and I have painful personal knowledge of injury done to families who are close to me. I have also heard the rumors and gossip about brother priests as well as bishops. But his claim that winking is the ordinary response to what seems to be, by his account, almost constant, universal misbehavior does not fit with my experience as priest. That includes life in a diocesan rectory and shared life with non-Jesuit priests.
As a professor of chemistry I know little of sociological methods of study. I wonder how Professor D. Paul Sullins came to the conclusion that Catholics don’t go to Mass anymore. As a presiding celebrant, that is hardly my experience; as a member of a supplying religious community I hear more and more pleas for help from neighboring Catholic pastors and communities. I also see more of them unanswered as my brother Jesuits diminish in number and vigor. I believe the sociological data show not only a decline in numbers, but a rapidly increasing age profile for those remaining.
Finally, I find the cover and inside illustration of the Papesh article in poor taste.
Not a good week.
William F. Cain, S.J.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Open to Change
Your editorial A Meditation for Pentecost (5/13) pointed out the beneficial results for the church as the hierarchy responded over the years to the Protestant split. However, in her book The March of Folly (1984), the late historian Barbara W. Tuchman pointed out the folly of a strictly reactive response to internal dissent instead of a proactive response.
She maintains that if the church hierarchy had not disregarded the developing movements and growing sentiment of disaffection; had not been so preoccupied with protecting their personal positions and gains; had not been so convinced of the church’s permanence and the invincibility of their and its power and status and assumed the papacy could forever suppress challenges, they would have been more open to change and might have made changes that would have avoided the split.
It remains to be seen whether today’s hierarchy will merely repeat the folly of the past or whether the ponderously moving Roman Catholic Church will learn from its past and actively answer present-day dissentwhich, thanks to modern-day communication and education, cuts deeper and is much more widespread than the 16th century dissentby changing what so very many faithful are convinced needs to be changed.
Marilyn M. Kramer
The cover on the May 3 issue of America was a real embarrassment to receive through the mail. We expect that from other journals. It was insensitive. I use that highly volatile word. To be insensitive is the great cultural sin. But America would never do a cartoon-type cover about black people, Jews, immigrants, Protestant ministers or, right now least of all, gays. That would reflect on the tone of America. Yet while we agonize this church crisis, we priests are lumped together in that crude fashion.
Your publication is working hard at understanding our dirty problem. And I know there are many points of view to be shared. You know we are being lumped together as perverts, child molesters and freaks. And I am sure most of us could have done better to address this than we have.
But the caricature on the front page is not worthy of an intellectual and intelligent magazine.
America does wonderful work. But under this terrible siege, we do not need an article portraying priests as a private club.
I express my solidarity with you as a fellow priest (dare I say that?) and with the efforts of America to help us through the hell of moral negligence.
(Rev.) Philip Krogman
Green Lake, Wis.