Reformulating Reform

In my review of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church (3/10), I professed a profound sympathy for much of Bishop Robinson’s analysis of the clerical sexual abuse scandal. Indeed, I believe that his analysis of much of what ails the church is substantially on target. In the review, I noted my support of many of his proposals for reform. However, I also complained of some shoddy argumentation and offered three examples. In a subsequent issue of America (3/31), Bishop Robinson wrote a letter challenging these examples.

I am writing to acknowledge that two of his examples indeed have merit. I was troubled by his apparent rejection of the doctrine of the Ascension, but upon re-reading his text, I acknowledge that he was challenging only a literal understanding of that doctrine and not the doctrine itself. I also suggested he had appealed to a secular parliament as a model of church governance. In fact, in his book he uses the analogy of the parliament without ever suggesting that the church itself must actually adopt the model of the parliament.


Against Bishop Robinson’s third complaint, I stand by my contention that his questions regarding church teaching on infallibility suggest some misunderstandings of that teaching. I also would insist that my claims about his theological argumentation still hold. His book’s most significant failing is simply that he tried to cover so much ground that he left himself open to misinterpretation with sketchy treatments of complex topics.

The contrast is particularly evident if one compares the sweep of his book—which addresses topics as diverse as church teachings on artificial birth control, homosexuality, premarital sex, infallibility, the role of the curia, the election of bishops and the structure of seminary education—with Archbishop John Quinn’s book, The Reform of the Papacy, which considered a much more carefully circumscribed topic and offered a much more precise and well-developed agenda for reform.

In the light of the serious questions being raised by Robinson’s own bishops’ conference regarding his standing in the church, I felt a careful acknowledgement of the legitimacy of some of his complaints was justified.

Richard R. Gaillardetz

Toledo, Ohio

Chrysostom in Context

In “Jewish Views of Other Faiths” (5/19), Gilbert S. Rosenthal wrote that “John Chrysostom alone (fourth century) delivered eight vitriolic anti-Jewish sermons….” My father, Paul W. Harkins, translated these homilies in his 1979 book Discourses Against Judaizing Christians. If he were still with us, he might explain more eloquently than I that he believed Chrysostom was preaching more against Christians who wanted to have it both ways as Judaizing Christians, rather than directing vitriol against Jews.

Patrick Harkins

Terre Haute, Ind.

Demographic Trends

Thank you for developing your wonderful Web site. Each week this 87-year-old, a reader of the print edition of America for almost 50 years, eagerly looks forward to discovering what’s on tap online. The variety of subject matter and interesting presentation both add much richness to your magazine.

Carol Bocain

Albany, N.Y.

Archaic Translation

Re: “A New Roman Missal,” by the Rev. Paul Turner (5/26): I find it curious that after all the work done in revising the English translation of the Mass, there has apparently been no effort to update the translation of the “Our Father.” A significant amount of time and effort has been spent by scholars and bishops on the “I/We” phrasing in our translation of the Nicene Creed and on the “And also with you/And with your spirit” phrasing of the response of the congregation at Mass. But will there be no modernizing of “art,” “hallowed,” “thy” or “trespasses” in this holy prayer? I seldom use these words in conversation or in worship except for this archaic translation. If God’s faithful can courageously endure “the dew of the Holy Spirit” in the new translation of the Mass, I think they will survive the translation of the “Our Father” into modern English. At the least, it ought to be an option.

(Rev.) William C. Moisant

Tualatin, Ore.


“Ireland’s Jewish Patron Saint,” by Thomas G. Casey, S.J. (5/26), was a lovely article, but Casey’s statement that St. Patrick was from England cannot be true, because there was no such place as England at the time. St. Patrick seems to have come from Roman Britain. It was the later Anglo-Saxon invasions that led to the development of what we know as “England.”

Fergus O’Donoghue, S.J.

Dublin, Ireland

Constancy and Creativity

As an academic liturgist and a facilitator of parish liturgies, I have often benefited from the lectures and articles of Robert Taft, S.J., as I did from “Return to Our Roots” (5/26). But I was disappointed with some of his comments on variety and creativity in liturgical celebrations, which seemed to lack a “both/and” perspective or nuance.

Taft is correct, up to a point, that “repetition is of the essence of ritual behavior.” On the other hand, mindless or lazy repetition of rituals without any creativity is also the essence of liturgical boredom. And the more often our people experience bland and boring worship, the more they leave for rituals in other churches that speak to and inspire them because their liturgical leaders put time, money and talent into deeply moving and powerfully creative rites, even if such rites can sometimes lack a sense of being rooted in a tradition.

Taft also laments those who think they are Beethoven or Shakespeare when bringing creativity to liturgy. However, the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” calls for every person who facilitates our rituals to put effort into a nourishing, inspiring and challenging balance of sameness and surprise, of constancy and creativity. It says that “pastors of souls must…realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, more is required than the mere observance of the laws governing valid and licit celebration. It is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part knowingly, actively and fruitfully.” This cannot be done by emphasizing repetition at the expense of creativity.

Taft carefully notes that “too much variety is the enemy of popular participation,” so he is obviously not opposed to some variety. I would have preferred, however, that his comments on repetition, variety and creativity manifest a more balanced and holistic view.

Richard Ling

Highlands Ranch, Colo.

A Guarantee

Thank you for “The Forgotten,” by Pierre de Charentenay, S.J. (6/9). The fate of Iraqi Christians should be as important to humanity as was the fate of Muslims in Sarajevo in the early 1990s, and their tragedy should inspire the same solidarity around the world, especially from the liberals and progressives who were so actively involved in the Balkan dramas. As de Charentenay rightly notes, the survival of Christians in Iraq (like moderate Muslims in Bosnia) is the guarantee that people of different faiths and origins can live together.

Jean-Paul Marthoz

Brussels, Belgium

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

In this episode, we will share the story of Marie Collins, an Irish survivor who became an advocate for victims of sexual abuse and served on the pontifical commission for the Protection of minors at the Vatican.
Deliver UsMarch 19, 2019
Mourners hug on March 18 after visiting the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, the site of a terrorist attack last Friday. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
First, reach out to your neighbors and local mosque to show concern and compassion. Then call out those in your life who dehumanize others.
Saadia AhmadMarch 19, 2019
This undated photograph shows a close-up of the table where executions are carried out by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison in California. (CNS photo/courtesy of California Department of Corrections)
Everything about the death penalty system seemed to be designed to deny hope. 
George WilliamsMarch 19, 2019
“We need a permanent legislative solution for those who have spent their lives contributing and living in the United States, the country they know as home,” Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Tex., and chairman of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Migration, said while endorsing the latest iteration of
J.D. Long-GarcíaMarch 19, 2019