Historian’s Perspective

In reference to the article by John W. O’Malley, S.J., on the beatification of Pope Pius IX (8/26), I am moved to ask, Was it not this pope whose body the Roman citizens attempted to throw into the Tiber during his funeral procession?

I think the real question Catholics worldwide deserve to have answered concerns what meaning this beatification is intended to have. Are we supposed to pray to him for guidance? Are we to meditate on his lifeas man or pontiffas it reflected the teachings of Jesus? Or are we expected to acquiesce in the glorification of a man who was obsessed with maintaining the temporal power of the Catholic Church at any price?


Many of us who know Pius IX from a historian’s perspective see him not as a model of sanctity but as a major player on the stage of 19th-century European politics, and not much more. His convocation of Vatican I, his doctrinal issuances, his bellowingall ring of politics, power and reactionary impulses, not of grace and God’s work in the world. Father O’Malley’s citations of graceful manners and serenity of spirit serve only to underscore the lack of substantial Christian content in his historical legacy. It is true, as Father O’Malley notes, that all saints have their warts, but where is the sanctity hereother than in his almost perfectly preserved body?

The Mortara incident is just one episode in his reign, and, while it may seem crucial in our modem context, it does not necessarily portray the man as a whole. But what about him justifies beatification? As far as I can tell, it is merely his exaltation of the church’s power, which, for me and many others, is just not enough. The present pope ought to invest his efforts in finding saints whose lives imitate Christ’s and leave the politicians to rest in peace unbeatified.

Mary M. Grasso

Forest Hills, N.Y. 

Sense of Closure

I wish to protest the remarks in Thomas McCarthy’s column (7/29), which lash out at the infamously grueling annulment process. McCarthy relates that he knows six people who know people who threw up their hands in disgust after a chilling, humiliating ordeal. Even his sister had a terrible experience trying to get a Catholic annulment.

It is possible that there is a diocese somewhere in America that has such a barbaric process, but as a field associate of the marriage tribunal of the Archdiocese of Chicago for eight years, I can assure you these things would never happen in Chicago. I am also confident that my Chicago experience is typical of the vast majority of dioceses in the United States.

Normal procedures require the petitioner to submit an application, give written testimony, the names of a few witnesses and meet once with a field associate at a location near their home. The amount of the fee is entirely up to the petitioner. Great care is always taken that the process may be a means of healing, and many petitioners obtain a sense of closure over a wounded part of their lives.

I am alarmed that McCarthy’s remarks may deter some from taking a crucial step in getting back to the church and renewing their spiritual lives.

(Deacon) Norbert Ciesil

Prospect Heights, Ill.

No Going Back

Thank you for the excellent piece by John Borelli on Anglican-Roman Catholic relations (8/26). Those of us who are Anglicans and who have long worked in the area of ecumenical relations are similarly encouraged. After the gathering in Toronto last May of bishops from both churches, there is clear hope of a renewed energy in conversations that will continue the work so well begun so long ago by Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Archbishop Michael Ramsey and the other early pioneers in the ever deepening relationship between our sister churches, particularly since Vatican II.

Even in the face of the continuing roadblocks to unity that the official dialogue keeps before us, it is clear that the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church now recognize a theological, historical and liturgical relationship that is enduring. With every new report, with every new friendship, with every new local ecumenical venture, we take an irrevocable step on the road to unity.

There is really no going back now, and so we must ask how we are to proceed, and I hope that, as Anglicans and Roman Catholics, we can find common ground in the challenges we share. The former Anglican bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard, and the late Roman Catholic archbishop of Liverpool, Derek Worlock, enjoyed a model ecumenical relationship between brother bishops. They wrote a book entitled Better Together, and that seems a fine vision statement for the next generation of ecumenical endeavor between the sees of Rome and Canterbury.

(Rev.) Peter Eaton

Saint James Episcopal Church

Lancaster, Pa

Dignity and Rights

Your editorial Raise the Minimum Wage (8/26) confuses the issue and unjustly implies that anyone who opposes the effort to raise the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour is giving short shrift to workers’ dignity and rights.

Virtually all economists agree that at some level an increase in the minimum wage will cause unemployment. The argument is whether the amount of increase proposed is sufficiently large to have a measurable effect on unemployment. The National Economic Council thinks not, and perhaps they are right. The Federal Reserve, on the other hand, in its August study asserts that such an increase would raise the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU) a full percentage point, which would mean that inflation might not be contained without driving the unemployment rate as high as 6.5 percent. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, told members of Congress in July that the evidence clearly shows, from what data we’ve been able to marshal, that the minimum wage does destroy jobs, does increase teenage unemployment.

The dignity of work and the rights of workers are indeed major themes of Catholic social teaching. But minimum wage legislation is simply one (and perhaps not the best) way of addressing the issue. Please don’t suggest that those who may disagree with your policy prescription on such a complex and technical issue either do not understand or reject Catholic social teaching.

Roger W Sullivan

Hingham, Mass.

Little Mirade

The article by John W. O’Malley, S.J., on (8/26) was most interesting. I’ve had the issue on my desk since it arrived, and I’ve been looking at the pope’s picture. He’s starting to grow on me.

There are only a few degrees of separation between us: 1) I knew several nuns in the community I belonged to for five years who 2) knew and lived for many years with their founding sisters, who 3) had met Peter Richard Kenrick, Archbishop of St. Louis, who 4) voted non placet on the issue of Pope Pius IX’s infallibility.

So, even though I’m not in favor of this strange man’s beatification, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. I’m asking him for a little miracle. I’ll let you know if it happens.

Gerelyn Hollingsworth

Chesterfield, Mo.

Protect Yourselves

Thomas J. McCarthy’s column on alienated Catholics (7/29) raised some valid points about our flaws as a church. It is always with sadness that we hear lousy priest or lousy nun storiesthe stories in which people tell us, I used to be Catholic until this or that happened. The stories are always the type that make us cringe, as with the author’s sister and her annulment case. I think he’s right in stating that the faith is passed from person to person, or as it has been said in the past, faith is caught, not taught. It’s all about relationships; that is where the grace happens.

Even so, a little information can be a big boon. Many of America’s readers probably realize that it is in their own best interest to read up on medical issues that affect them and to do their own research in conjunction with listening to their doctors’ advice or suggestions for care rather than simply to be passive. I think this approach is a good one to take with the church too, especially when something like an annulment is involved. Read up, find out as much as you can up front, and then go talk to your priest (who may or may not be as well read or as sensitive as you need him to be in this matter). We need to be independent enough to know what it is we’re attempting to do, so that if we hit that 1 in 5,000 chance of someone who doesn’t know or doesn’t care, at least we’ll recognize it enough to be able to do something about it before it’s too late. McCarthy suggests assuming responsibility for creating and manifesting community. I think assuming responsibility can also mean doing some research and getting some education too. It’s practical stuff.

Mary Pope-Handy

Los Gatos, Calif.

Occasional Excursions

In The Papacy for a Global Church on the issues that Avery Dulles, S.J., poses for reform consideration (7/15), my question is: Where is the Holy Spirit?

Is the Spirit with ordinary people prayerfully nominating a bishop? Is the bishop with a group of local bishops struggling to speak the Gospel in the wider community? Is the Spirit with a committee like ICEL as they let human words express eternal truth?

Or is the Holy Spirit primarily residing in Rome with occasional excursions to the larger church?

(Rev.) Richard L. Allen

Neenah, Wisc.

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11 years 12 months ago
The beatification of the autocrat monarch Pius IX ending the Constantinian era, together with the responsible parliamentarian John Paul XXIII opening the windows of the church (9/16), expresses the complementarity of two Christian ideals—a strong individual and a person for others. The two popes together are a welcome symbol for a divided Christianity. After the Incarnation, not either/or but both/and is our problem-solving paradigm.

11 years 12 months ago
The beatification of the autocrat monarch Pius IX ending the Constantinian era, together with the responsible parliamentarian John Paul XXIII opening the windows of the church (9/16), expresses the complementarity of two Christian ideals—a strong individual and a person for others. The two popes together are a welcome symbol for a divided Christianity. After the Incarnation, not either/or but both/and is our problem-solving paradigm.


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