Immense Debt

Thanks to Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., for his magnificent tribute to my former professor, Karl Rahner, S.J. (11/8). I was a student at the University of Innsbruck from 1958 to 1962 and witnessed firsthand the genius and humility of this great priest-theologian.

The church owes an immense debt to Karl Rahner, who inspired so much of the renewal of the Second Vatican Council.


While Rahner could be very serious and profound, he was also very gentle and gracious. I recall sitting with him in the exam room for my oral final. Here was a struggling young American taking an oral exam in the presence of this world-renowned theologian. He pardoned my nervousness, he repeated questions in German and Latin and, like a father, complimented me to give encouragement. The students rightly called him Karl the Great.

(Most Rev.) Donald W. Trautman
Erie, Pa.

Yeast in Dough

I needed the pick-me-up provided by the editorial Toward Visible Unity (11/8). As former rector of St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York, and a British Anglican at that, the prospects for the Anglican Church look bleak in this country to meall the more so as I was senior chaplain (secretary) to Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury during the decade of the 60’s, when things looked considerably brighter. I was directly involved in that extraordinary gesture of Pope Paul VI during the March 1966 visit to Rome, when the Holy Father took off his ring and placed it on Michael Ramsey’s finger. What could that profound and surprising gesture signify?

Now the Windsor Report has aroused the ire of some African and Australian and American prelates, and a schism of some kind is certainly possible. I sadly wonder what my old and sainted employer would make of it all; and musing miserably about it, I opened the latest copy of America, to find charity and clarity in its editorial and the reassurance that the yeast in the dough is still doing its work. I offered my priesthood to the prayers of Our Lady when I was ordained in 1956, for the reunion of her blessed Son’s church in holiness and truth.

(Rev. Canon) John Andrew
New York, N.Y.

Full Promise

I reflected on your editorial Pledging Allegiance (11/1), that we do a lot as youngsters that we don’t fully comprehend. How many of us really understood what it meant to receive the sacramental body of Christ at first holy Communion? But we kept going back, and with God’s grace our faith matured and our understanding developed. Isn’t it similar with the pledge? Whether or not under God is retained, we can hope that the ideals of liberty and justice for all will take root in young hearts and make for an involved and informed citizenry. We need to understandfor all its flawshow good we’ve got it in this country and at the same time our responsibility to those among us who have yet to taste the full fruits of its promise.

Julia Comely
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Alternative Affirmation

I am writing with what I hope will be received as a gentle reminder that there are many believers who refuse to swear an oath. As a consequence it is not only the unbeliever who requires an alternative form of affirmation before testimony in court, for example. I live and work in a community with many Anabaptist members, whose belief does not allow for swearing an oath, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and similar civic rituals (11/1). Notwithstanding that, we have recently read angry letters to the editor from people who are critical of Lancaster Mennonite High School for abstaining from the singing of the national anthem before sporting events. A very thoughtful reply from a student explaining Anabaptist belief on the matter was met with one especially abusive reply.

These are not issues on which people are well informed, but that lack of information does not hinder comments and worse which reflect that ignorance. Our religious freedoms are so precious, so necessary, so underappreciated and so misunderstood. We live at a time when some use their conception of belief as the standard to which all should conform, and nonconformity is not tolerated.

Matthew J. Creme Jr.
Lancaster, Pa.

Appropriately Applied

Archbishop Harry J. Flynn wrote a clear article on the dilemma the conference of bishops faces in dealing with sexual abuse (10/18). Everyone is shocked by what sexual abuse has done to the victims, their families and the church. It is a very emotional issue, a sinful issue and a criminal issue. Zero tolerance seems a first step in an overall response. However, the nagging question about the one-size-fits-all approach is still unanswered. In one New England parish, the parishioners were ready to accept the priestly ministry of their pastor, who had a problem in the past. They would monitor his behavior, but were not permitted to do so. Zero tolerance did not allow the laity a voice when the question of abuse and pastoral ministry affected them personally. Zero tolerance does not insure justice for the accused.

Have the bishops discussed the question of a financially just severance policy for a defrocked priest? It is true that dismissal from priestly ministry does not deprive one of life and limb. However, one-size-fits-all falls short here too. I hope our bishops will not see zero tolerance as a carte blanche by which they can absolve themselves of any financial responsibility to the men they have ordained.

As Archbishop Flynn rightly quotes from the National Review Board: Zero-tolerance for the immediate future is essential to the restoration of the trust of the laity in the leadership of the church, provided that it is appropriately applied.

(Rev.) Patrick J. McLaughlin
Medford, Mass.

Immoral Excess

In No to the Death Penalty (11/1), Dale Recinella gives a strong, well-informed argument against any Catholic support for the death penalty. A further reason, in my view, is the obvious fact that no one is ever executed who is not already incarcerated. That individual, assumed and adjudged guilty is already removed from civil society. Only continued incarceration is needed for protection of society. Evidence for the deterrence value of execution has never been objectively persuasive.

Execution therefore is in every instance gratuitous, unnecessary, chosen freely but not necessarily. In every instance it is an avoidable killing, a usurpation of the Creator’s ultimate dominion over human life.

One wonders why the church has never reached this same assessment of a practice now outlawed in much of the world. In less developed societies, which lack adequate legal and prison systems, execution may be a necessary protection for societybut not in the United States.

John C. Schwarz
Ann Arbor, Mich.

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