Major Source

I commend C. Colt Anderson for acknowledging the action St. Peter Damian took regarding the crime of clerical sexual abuse of children in the 11th century (6/6). The time has come for Catholic scholars to give voice to the hundreds of saints and sinners who have done the same. Peter Damian’s notice to the pope is available in English translation, called the Book of Gomorrah. This is one of the rare major sources of the history of clerical sexual abuse that is available to all.

Patrick J. Wall
Costa Mesa, Calif.


Spark of Faith

Thank you very much for Mary Moloney Haggerty’s article A Spark of Hope Across the Atlantic (5/23). It helped explain for me something of the differences in attitude between my Dutch-Catholic heritage and my Irish-North American one. My mother and her family came to America from Limburg Province in the Netherlands in 1912 as homesteaders, with a colony of Dutch and Belgian people invited by the Great Northern Railway Company to settle on farms in north central Montana.

One of my mother’s cousins was Msgr. Henri Poels, who had an interesting career as a biblical scholar at The Catholic University of America early in the 20th century. He was the subject of an article in America some years ago, The Strange Case of Henry Poels (10/11/86). I believe he lost his faculty privileges in a dispute over his scientific and ecumenical approach to biblical scholarship. He made a strong defense of his case before the Holy Office and was later reinstated and given a doctorate honoris causa at Catholic U. I have a copy of Monsignor Poels’s brief and of his honorary degree, which my friend, the Rev. James Provost, sent me when he served as a member of the canon law faculty there.

The Catholic faith of my mother and her sisters and brothers was deep and abiding and has been one of the most important influences in my life and that of my sister. I was pleased to learn from Mrs. Haggerty that the spark of faith still lives in Limburg. After visiting Limburg and the graves of my ancestors in the churchyard of the kerk at Kessel, near Venlo, I also noticed the age and sparsity of attendance at Mass, which Mrs. Haggerty describes. I pray that the efforts of the people at Val Dieu, about which she writes, will serve the Christian faith in Europe.

Ward Shanahan
Helena, Mont.

Brought Closer

Many thanks to Greg Kandra for Teach Us to Pray (6/20). For those of us who do not easily arrive at contemplative prayer on our own, his thoughts recounting very familiar prayer experiences brought me closer.

Barbara Sirovatka
Brookfield, Ill.

Wealth of Genius

Your May 23 issue carries a letter by Msgr. James E. Mortimer that brings many reactions to mind. He was commenting on your article with advice to the new pope, who had not yet been elected (4/25). He asks for humility and silence from all in view of the fact that the new pope is chosen with the help of the Holy Spirit.

First of all, our fealty is to Jesus Christ before anyone else. What if Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, inspires someone to speak about issues and ideas that might help the church? This happened in the case of St. Catherine of Siena with good effect.

Next, the virtue of respect is a great one, to be sure; but it is not the only virtue. There are others: wisdom, courage, faith, loyalty, insight, to name a few. These can also be exercised, and should be when occasion demands.

Next, the church has a great wealth of genius that needs to be encouraged. The church needs a pontiff who respects this genius and finds ways to make it serve for the benefit of all. This can be done only if the papacy is, first of all, open to the thoughts of others. The article in question seemed to have hope that this openness would be there in the new pope.

Next, there seems to be a tendency among Catholics to confuse disagreement with disobedience. We pray for honest disagreement because that is the way to progress. Naturally, we fear the kind of disagreement that breaks out into disobedience. The history of the church contains many painful examples. But a healthy disagreement, as in the case of St. Paul with St. Peter or the case of St. Thomas Aquinas with theological positions current in his time, has made the church richer and wiser.

Lastly, humility is a virtue of tremendous proportions, no doubt about it. But it has counterfeits, which make us confuse silence and inaction as always in harmony with the greater glory of God.

Warren Schoeppe, S.J.
Brigham City, Utah

Ineffective Dream

I just subscribed to your publication. The editorial The Vanishing Dream (7/4) is nothing more than socialist propaganda. No doubt I could have spent my money more effectively.

Robert Wilson
Saratoga, Calif.

Moral Commentary

I wholeheartedly agree with your editorial The Vanishing Dream (7/4) and appreciate the moral commentary on the New York Times series of articles. It seems that two things are necessary to have an economy at the service of people and to reverse the globalizing trend of people in servitude of an inhuman economy. Both of them are not only consistent with Catholic social teaching; they are necessities because of our Christian and Catholic faith.

First, an assertion of control of governments, preferably democratic governments, by international organizations (for example, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the European Union), in preference to control by multinational/transnational corporations. The recent rejection of the E.U. constitution by the French and the Dutch is a sign of hope in this regard. The second necessity is for a renewed and recharged worldwide labor movement.

Thank you for continuing to bring attention to crucial issues, like the disturbing trends this editorial discusses, which affect every person on the planet.

(Deacon) Scott S. Dodge
Salt Lake City, Utah

Every Era

I have been an America fan for many years and am delighted to have a subscription. Yes, I read it eagerly as each issue arrives.

Then I came to the last two letters in the June 20 issue very negative responses on the St. Louis Jesuits’ contribution to church music. It is the total opposite of my reaction to their contribution to the liturgical life of the church.

As an 83-year-old Sister of Mercy with a degree in liturgical music, I delighted in and welcomed this music into the wondrous celebration of liturgical and personal prayer. A lover of Gregorian Chant and polyphony, I am deeply aware that church music must not be a performance, but a gathering of the people into a community of love and celebration. Times change; culture adapts. I am delighted at any time to revel in classics, gifts of the past, but I also yearn that the celebration of God-love may be heard and sung right from the heart of those gathered. Every era has special gifts to share.

Let me give one simple example. In 1983 my community gathered to affirm, celebrate and send our first sisters to a new apostolate in Peru. The St. Louis Jesuits’ Here I Am, Lord was a blessed and powerful choice:

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling through the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my hand.

It sings/plays the moment so intimately.

Patricia J. Corkery, R.S.M.
Merion Station, Pa.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
12 years ago
I want to demur somewhat from Patrick Wall’s letter (7/18) commending Colt Anderson’s article, “An 11th-Century Scandal” (6/6) on St. Peter Damian, which deals allegedly with “the crime of clerical sexual abuse of children in the 11th century.” In fact, Damian in his Book of Gomorrah expresses no concern whatsoever about any possible “victims” of sexual abuse or harassment, nor does Pope Leo IX in his response. They are concerned only about clerical perpetrators of sodomy, and about the “indiscreet discretion” of religious superiors who fail to expel the offenders. Adolescents and children (parvuli) come up only in a canon that Damian cites in Chapter 15, attributed to St. Basil (really by St. Fructuosus of Spain, d. 665), prescribing penance for a cleric or monk who pursues youths with kisses or other inappropriate behavior. If a mere kiss deserves such punishment, Damian asks, how much more should sodomites be punished?

I have found almost no reference to the sexual abuse of preteen children before the 20th century. It seems to be largely a modern problem, to judge from the historical record.


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