Degraded Process

It was very disheartening to read the article by John W. O’Malley, S.J., on Pius IX (8/26). Why have saints at all, if there is so much politics and deceit involved in the process of becoming a saint? Shouldn’t a saint be a role model and provide encouragement for how one might live one’s life? The process seems to have been degraded to a reward for fame and notoriety or a contest among religious orders to see who can have the most saints. Why should any individual or any group lobby or push for years to get someone canonized? It is only that the people in the church are inspired by the life of a person that should be the reason for having saints. Any other reason should be suspect.

Joseph T. Gilbert


Philadelphia, Pa.

Discernment; Overhaul

What are saints for? Certainly any new ones should be models for Christians living in this 21st century. John W. O’Malley, S.J., in his article on the beatification of Pius IX (8/26) raises the issue of whether this beatification is an empty effort on the part of the Vatican to counterbalance the elevation of John XXIII. In other words, is it another example of spin? It is at least that, and perhaps it is another addition to the structures of deceit of which Garry Wills has written.

It gets to be embarrassing to be a Catholic Christian who has to read in Time that the beatified Pius IX was one who called Jews dogs. Though Father O’Malley cautions us not to judge past historical actions by present-day standards, aren’t we talking here about some basic human attitudes, supposedly built into the life of a graced Christian who is striving to live a Christ-like life? Then again there seems to be ample evidence that Pius IX was not a very stable personality, and that is why it took all this time for him to emerge as a good candidate for beatification. Just in time to make it on the very day as John XXIII; Vatican II policies balanced nicely by Vatican I ones.

What are saints for? Certainly they are not meant to be pawns in games played out to score ecclesiastical points. Saint-making needs an overhaul, and it needs a great deal more discernment than it is presently getting.

John J. Hollohan

Naples, Fla.

Risk of Harm

Shirley Vogler Meister’s response (Letters, 9/9) to your editorial Elder Abuse (7/29) reflects a common viewpoint. I work as a social worker/M.S.W. consultant in a small, family-owned, for-profit nursing home. Many families assume that religious nursing homes give better care. As Ms. Vogler Meister states, I discovered how harsh care can be in secular (for-profit) care centers.

I do not find that to be the case in the area where I work. The combination of the federal government’s change in Medicare rates (P.P.S., or prospective payment system) and a full economy has meant that nursing homes cannot staff at the previous levels, and they cannot recruit and keep good care. The nursing home industry is in crisis, and the elderly are being victimized.

I also do not agree with Ms. Burger’s assertion that surveyors have to see abuse to cite it. This is not true in Massachusetts, and I doubt that it is true elsewhere. Most who work in nursing homes have good souls and do not harm or intend to harm the elderly. However, changes in staffing levels because of P.P.S. do increase the risk of neglect or human error, which can result in serious harm. We need to act now. The issues are complex but we cannot be soothed by the thought that care is going to be better in a nonprofit nursing home.

John Dwyer

Worcester, Mass.

Intriguing Example

Msgr. Harry Byrne’s pillorying of Pius IX (Letters, 9/9) is intriguing as an example of the ill effects of a narrow and highly selective view of the church’s history in this nation. He blasts Pio Nono for his fierce espousal of a union of church and state [that] seriously affronted American views on democratic government and furnished a specific reference for anti-Catholic feeling. Unfortunately for this argument, the intensity of American anti-Catholicism was at white hot levels long before the Syllabus of Errors, or even the conclave of 1846. The burning of churches and convents, the killing of Irish Catholic laborers, the creation of active, organized political parties dedicated to the deliberate exclusion of Catholics from American civic life needed no stimulus from Pius IX. Cartoons vilifying the hierarchy and lurid tales of clerical and religious debauchery like Maria Monk’s had long been common currency in the American press and popular culture before Pius IX. To pin the blame on him for such bigotry, and its effects of Catholic disenfranchisement until after World War II, is simply inaccurate.

The American experiment of the separation of church and state, like its republican constitution, was such a radical innovation that it has taken generations for our own people to assimilate its implications. Certainly this is even more true of Europeans, where the union of throne and altar was so long a given of political and religious life that it was nearly impossible to conceive of an alternative. Pius IX was a pope who struggled for what he saw (correctly in many places, in the wake of the French Revolution) as the very survival of the church he was solemnly charged to defend. He did so with the intellectual, theological and religious tools at his disposal, however wanting they may be by our norms. It is grossly unfair to arraign and condemn him by our standards, in a kind of ecclesiastical example of ex post facto justice. Moreover, it is absurd to condemn him for not endorsing notions of religious freedom that in fact did not fully develop in this country, or (more importantly) apply to non-Protestants, until the 20th century.

Pius IX did much to foster the growth of an American Catholic Church that would help to translate American political vocabulary into terms a European-steeped church could grasp. Moreover, Pius IX did little to prevent the faithful in this country from working out for themselves, through their provincial and plenary councils and the work of pioneer bishops, priests, religious communities and lay people, how to be American Catholics fully and simultaneously. A little judiciousness in the matter, like that of John W. O’Malley, S.J. (8/26), would serve American Catholics far better in appreciating Pius IX’s very real significance for the growth and development of the church in this country.

Michael Tidd, F.S.C.

Baltimore, Md.

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