Barefoot in Rome
Practicing the Faith, by John F. Kavanaugh, S.J.(11/4) gave me some comfort, the kind that comes from finding that one is not alone. Almost like Father Kavanaugh’s student-friend, I am connected with Catholic history and tradition and sought a truth worth understanding, a good worth loving and a faith to die for. Unlike the student, I believe that I have found it. (I am also some 50 years older than she is.) I have opposed capital punishment all my adult life, regard abortion as a moral and social evil, abhor the School of the Americas, the evil (yes, Mr. Bush, evil) practices that it teaches so well and the hypocrisy that allows our government to sponsor it. I also regard Bush’s obsession with war on Iraq as his own personal grudge match, no casus belli in any language. I regard many of my country’s foreign policies as bullying and its domestic policies as shortsighted and oblivious to the needs of the poor.
Along with the late Malcolm Muggeridge, I would like to see Christ walking barefoot through the Vatican. Christ was a radical, and oddly, the older I get the more radical I seem to become. At least I’m not alone!
Different Christologies beat at the heart of the different views of evangelization expounded by Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., and by Mary Boys, S.N.J.M., Philip Cunningham and John Pawlikowski, O.S.M. (10/21).
Cardinal Dulles’s Christology flows from interpretations of Jesus in the Bible. Strengths: (1) the focus is on belief in God, with Jesus the human touchstone, and (2) the Bible is a relatively stable referent through time. Weakness: when focusing on belief in Jesus as God and on literal interpretations of the Bible, people may divorce Jesus from what he stood for (e.g., Evangelical Christian Zionists).
Boys, Cunningham and Pawlikowski’s Christology is Spirit-centered, flowing from interpretations of Jesus’ Spirit for modern times. Strength: the emphasis is on what Jesus stood forloving neighbor as selfand on interpretations of what this means in our time. Weakness: a tendency to divorce the spirit of love from its ultimate referentJesusimplies the possibility of self-deception.
I believe circumstances can best dictate one’s evangelizing strategy. For example, I don’t think Cardinal Dulles would get very far expounding Jesus as the Son of God in the Knesset. On the other hand, Boys, Cunningham and Pawlikowski might touch the hearts of some Israeli legislators with appeals for showing the same basic fairness for Palestinians that they expect for themselves (such fairness being a type of love).
Ellicott City, Md.
Crisis in Housing
With regard to your editorial Crisis in Housing (10/14), I would make the following observations. You agree with the National Low Income Housing Coalition when it says an increase in the minimum wage would help remedy the shortage of affordable housing. But the Nobel laureate Milton Friedman has shown that every increase in the minimum wage since the 1940’s has resulted in an immediate jump in unemployment among teenage African Americans. The factory that employed a half-dozen sweepers to clean up at night finds it more economical to fire four of them and buy a mechanical sweeper. Whenever one legislates in the economic sphere, the law of unintended consequences seems to intrude, and minimum wage laws are no exception.
You say that the struggle for affordable housing is more severe in some parts of the country than others. California and Massachusetts stand out as the least affordable states.... Hey, wait a minute! You have just named two of the most liberal-left states in the union! The politicians who have dominated, and still dominate, these states are the very ones who have been trying to solve the affordable housing conundrum using exactly the kinds of public policies you advocate. Their nostrums have failed so badly that you cite these states as the worst. California and Massachusetts have greater affordable-housing problems than states run by more conservative politicians. Food for thought here, but I doubt the National Low Income Housing Coalition will want to chew on it.
You point out that the affordable-housing problem is extreme in San Francisco. I lived there for 30 years and watched the problem grow, largely as a direct result of legislation aimed at helping tenants. Rent control is immensely popular with those who are protected against rent increases, but it results in driving away the people who once built rental housing. That pesky law of unintended consequences means sane investors do not build rental units in rent controlled areas, unless they are getting big, fat taxpayer subsidies. Price controls create shortages, and rent controls are no exception.
San Francisco sits on a peninsula. Land is limited. The only way to build inexpensive housing is to go up. But zoning codes say no to high-rises. Rent control and tough zoning policies have severely limited increases in the supply of housing by the Golden Gate. Limited supply generally means high prices.
Will building new low-rent public housing and stopping the ongoing demolition of public housing in areas where local housing authorities have deemed units too deteriorated to be usable really help? The suggestion raises the question, why are housing authorities destroying existing public housing? The answer is that public housing has a way of deteriorating to the point where it cannot be rescued. You suggest that lots more money to do more of the same will result in a different outcome. I do not think such reasoning would win a good grade in a logic class.
In Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher found an effective way to prevent public housing from deteriorating. She sold much of the council housing to the tenants. Very quickly, graffiti disappeared and the drug dealers were gone. Of course, there are always negatives in such matters. Some of the people who bought their council flats promptly sold them and blew the money on drugs and debauchery. But the most scary result was that many council tenants settled in to their new status as property owners and ceased their longstanding automatic support of the Labor Party. They began voting for Margaret Thatcher and the Tories. I’m sure that neither you nor the National Low Income Housing Coalition would want any such thing to happen on this side of the Atlantic.
Helping the poor to a better standard of living is an important goal for society. It can better be achieved by real-world economic approaches than by politically appealing nostrums that have failed in the past and have little chance of succeeding in the future.
William O. Sumner
Some Basics About Celibacy by John W. O’Malley, S.J., (10/28) provides a concise history of the development of celibacy as an ecclesiastical discipline, culminating in Canon 277, where it is described as a gift of God. Our American cardinals in their April statement, after meeting with the pope, echoed the same description, while denying any causal link between celibacy and sexual abuse. This denial continues in the higher levels of our church.
Celibacy has not always been God’s gift to the church. In a recent 20-year period some 20,000 priests were lost from ministry; most left for marriage. Authorities have reported the abuse and rape of nuns by priests in Africa. I spent a month in the 1960’s with a bishop in Central America. He told me that every one of his native priests was living with a woman. Chat with missionaries in Latin America and Africa. The abstract ideal does not always become the reality.
Bishops in the 1998 synods for Asia and for Oceania, short of priests, pleaded to be able to ordain married men. One told of sending airplanes to islands with consecrated hosts for services. But, he said, that is not the Eucharist. But their interventions never got by the Vatican secretariat that controlled publication of the propositions presented to the pope.
Such enforced silence and deceit will continue to obstruct efforts to resolve the intellectual, emotional and now, after Dallas, canonical chaos we are in. Our authorities seem to be in a state of panic. The pope’s spokesman has said homosexuals should not be ordained; Brooklyn’s bishop has just banned Voice of the Faithful in his diocese, as has also been done in Boston, Newark, Bridgeport and Rockville Centre. In that last diocese, the bishop, faced with a priest shortage, announced that he was importing 12 contemplative Nigerian nuns to pray for vocations! Our beloved church seems to be self-destructing.
(Msgr.) Harry J. Byrne
New York, N.Y.