Now There’s a Fourth

Peter Heinegg’s perceptive review of Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature (1/2) reminded me of an incident almost a half-century ago. I grew up a few miles from Talcottville, the upstate New York village where Wilson spent part of each year. As a Princeton undergraduate, I had learned about Wilson and wrote a review of his memoir, A Piece of My Mind: Reflections at Sixty for the local daily in Watertown. In the course of the review I referred to his prolific and catholic mind (lowercase c’), but the editor at the paper changed this to Catholic mind (capital C’)a major distortion, to say the least.

When the review appeared, I was off in Army basic training at Fort Dix, N.J. My mother wrote to say that Edmund Wilson called and wants to have dinner with you. I followed up on the invitation instantly on my first furlough home. The two of us Princetonians had a long, convivialvery convivialevening solving the world’s problems: the c problems, not the C ones.


It was for me an extraordinary encounter that ended with Wilson’s jocular pontification: You know, Duffy, there are only three people from upstate New York who’ve ever amounted to anythingyou, me and John Foster Dulles, and I have grave doubts about him. It was nice of Peter Heinegg to bring back this memory.

James H. Duffy
New York, N.Y.

Never Failed

So Joseph Bukovchik (Letters, 10/31) and Gene Gagnon (Letters, 12/5) are unhappy that America seems to be drifting toward conservatism. How dreadful.

As a reader/subscriber since 1942 (that’s right!), I have seldom agreed with your editorial policies, but I assume your writers arrive at them after much study and prayer. It would be nice, as a disagreeing conservative, to be granted the same courtesy without being called a radical.

The issue is not being for or against peace, life, poverty, conservation, violence, etc. The dichotomy is in how to deal with these issues, and it is possible to have the balanced discussions these gentlemen long for when we concede that each side is acting in good conscience.

Despite our divergent opinions, I have always looked to America for the accuracy and completeness of its reporting on church documents and decisions, and it has never failed me.

Elaine Galliart
Shawnee, Kan.

More Obvious Balance

Interesting that Gene Gagnon (Letters, 12/05) is disturbed that America appears to be moving in a more conservative direction, asserting that the change is due to fear of backlash from conservative bishops. And here I am a well-aged, decades-long America subscriber, rather relieved to see that the magazine is finally developing and publishing a more obvious balance in its weekly offerings, which it has needed for some time. Surely the dictates of the Gospel allow for a broad range of opinions, wrought from the vigor of calm reasoning and the balm of mutual charity. And how is it that the climate of the day among the informed dictates that one’s every positionreligious, cultural, economic, politicalmust toe the liberal line? What a shame that intelligent, well-educated and faithfully practicing Catholics must feel assigned to back seats from the drone of the liberal left, when there is every reason to strive for balance in assessing the problems confronting the church and society, since solutions to most of these distress-ors are more likely to be found on the middle ground. Thankfully, it appears this fact has finally dawned on the good folks at America.

Marie Hanson
Rancho Murieta, Calif.

Change of Tone

I’d like to express a difference of opinion with the letters to the editor that protest a change of tone in the magazine since the resignation of the last editor. I am continuing our subscription for exactly that reason and waited until your last issue to do so.

I too detect a difference but take that to reflect the vision of the new editor and his choice of writers. I like it. Until recently I thought America was becoming strident, and the constant harping on the clergy scandal and the failure of the bishops to be everything to everyone was getting tiresome. I could always read other publications or the secular press to get those views.

So if it is a change of tone or just a change of top personnel, I like it and hope you continue to do a good job for all of us.

Mary F. Pfordresher
University Heights, Ohio

Same Situation

I read with interest David L. Martinson’s article, The Media, the War and Truth’ (1/2), about the challenge to journalists to report truthfully about our government, the war in Iraq and the events in our country.

It struck me as ironic that the same situation exists in our church. Catholic journalists are not free to report truthfully about the problems in our church. This is all the more scandalous in a church that preaches it has the truth for all of humankind. Let’s pray our problems will be addressed truthfully and healed in this new year.

I have always looked to America to report the truth in its articles. I felt it was the one place where there was no spin.

On a better note, I was happy to see the article on historicity in the Bible by Richard J. Clifford, S.J., (1/2). We need more of these on Bible study and background.

Dee Butler
Montrose, Pa.

Below the Surface

David L. Martinson crafted an excellent article on truth and truthfulness (1/2). He brought to light a reality that has simmered just below the surface for quite a while, but especially since the 2002 sexual abuse crisis in the church. Too bad he applied the focus of his article to the U.S. media and the Bush administration.

He would do well to analyze the past and current communications coming from the Catholic hierarchy as to whether they provide a truthful and complete narrative...in a way that was intelligible to the public and free of ideological jargon intended more to persuade than enlighten. There would be no lack of hierarchical specimens for applying the distinction between communicating the truth’ and truthful’ communication.

The once mighty voice of the hierarchy is now a whine and a whimper, and constantly suspect. Let’s apply Bonhoeffer’s there is a way of speaking which is in this respect entirely correct and unexceptionable, but which is, nevertheless, a lie to statements coming out of the archdioceses of Boston and Philadelphia and many other dioceses. Lawyers advising bishops would do well to express the real as it exists in God.

One is known by what comes out of one’s mouth. I would hate to approach the pearly gates and have to stand on the truthfulness of these diocesan communications.

Dennis Kirby
Bloomington, Ill.

Longtime Reader

This is the first time I write to you, though I have read America for over 50 years. Your editorial A Child Is Born (12/19) was incredibly beautiful. In the same issue the article The Historical Mary, by Robert P. Maloney, C.M., was wonderful. I am keeping the issue because it is so beautiful and I want to reread those pieces.

Ruth M. Kirwan
Washington, D.C.

In the Air

The recent Of Many Things column by Jim McDermott, S.J., (1/2) was superb! As one who visits New York City often and tends to juggle too many balls in the air with career and family, etc., I needed to hear Father McDermott’s wise counsel to live in the world one day at a time.

Richard H. Koppes
San Francisco, Calif.

Write More Often

A snow day here in Connecticut allowed me to catch up with the last three months of America. The Nov. 28, 2005, issue was the best. Teaching About the Jesus of Islam, by David Pinault, was perfectly timed and an excellent teaching tool; the article by John A. Coleman, S.J., on religious liberty was too. It reminded me of the complexities surrounding the passage of that sea-changing Vatican document.

Besides these articles, I was moved by the vignette by Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., (fittingly, not at all a eulogy) on Monica Hellwig. I had no idea of Hellwig’s Dutch, Jewish, Medical Missionary background. What an impressive woman; what an impressive career. And the brief piece by Ladislas Orsy, S.J., was wonderful for its quiet reminder of the basics. Finally, the book reviews were right on target: José M. Sánchez’s critique of a flawed work on the Holocaust, and Gene Roman’s fine analysis of values evangelists and legal secularists, in Divided by God. Really, this was a solid issue!

Dolores Liptak, R.S.M.
Cromwell, Conn.

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11 years 11 months ago
I read with interest the letter by Revs. Joseph and Philip Breen (1/30) citing the shortage of priests as the main problem in the church today. They called it a grave crisis, noting the advanced age of many pastors, celibacy as an obstacle, disquiet over the number of homosexuals in seminaries and rectories, and the lack of support for vocations by mothers.

But I see the problem differently from the Breen brothers. Perhaps the shortage of priests is the work of the Holy Spirit, forcing changes that are necessary for the future but resisted by a celibate male culture still imbued with absolute power. They ask America magazine to lead discussion of related subjects foreclosed by Rome even to bishops under threat of removal from office, when in fact magazine editors face the same penalty.

Can these discussions include making celibacy optional for diocesan priests, asking why a married Catholic priest should first have to be an Episcopalian priest? What about discussion of women priests or—horrors—married women priests? Where are we headed, if not toward the revelation that nothing in Scripture forbids such? And tradition that blocks the spread of the word of God in sacrament and ministry needs to evolve, as the Spirit moves where it wills. (Still breathing?)

The longstanding clerical mindset that combines all administrative, legal and executive powers in one person, the bishop, unaccountable to the people of God, must pass into history as have other feudal structures. Broadening our understanding of priesthood, both in and outside of orders, allows the talents of all to find expression. It also helps foreclose the culture that brought us the sexual abuse scandal, abetted as it is by an inbred sense of exemption and privilege.

So the discussions will be held, whether in chanceries or not, as change makes its inexorable mark from below. Those little gray cells, as James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., called them (Am., 5/30/05), refuse to stagnate and in prayerful contemplation move forward with optimism and hope for a renewed, truly accountable church.

11 years 11 months ago
As I am perusing the letters (1/16, 1/30) discussing the “new direction” that America is taking (or perceived to take), one thought comes into my mind: it would be a sad day for the church and the country (all of us) if the editors ever fell into the trap of making a respectable magazine into a “conservative” or “progressive” publication. It would be a day of betrayal. It would hand over America to an ideology in place of an intelligent and responsible search for the understanding of the mysteries of heaven and earth. We all want to be “conservative” in the sense of wanting to preserve and protect our Tradition (please note the capital T); we all want to be “progressive” in the sense of seeking a deeper intelligence of our faith and a wiser way of handling God’s creation. America must never give up the noble labor of raising hard questions; it should never exchange possibly disturbing but truth-seeking articles for charming communications. It should say what the church and the country need to hear for their greater good: there is no other way of serving the greater glory of God.

11 years 11 months ago
A recent spate of letters (1/16, 1/30) either complaining about or applauding the contents of this magazine strikes me as unfortunate.

If the editorial position of America were the focus of such approaches, these missives would be understandable; instead, they are part of the broad scene we see today where folks basically want to hear what fits in with their preconceived views.

If America is to retain a position as a lively forum for ideas in the church, where the ongoing process of discernment (with the tensions of disagreement that implies) continues, then a broad approach is both correct and necessary.

Continuing dialogue in charity is what will keep us together as a church, even if it makes us uncomfortable.


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