The column by Thomas Massaro, S.J. (“Blessed Are the Poor” 1/26), discussing the moral requirements of the current economic downturn, is a wonderful addition to the pages of your magazine in these challenging times. Many of us feel bad about our own losses from these events and forget “the other” in our communities. National, state and local budgets will be stretched to the breaking point over the next few years. We have already seen that those who are most vulnerable and those without a voice will be the first to feel the impact, because those cuts are the easiest to make.
Giving a voice to those in need and reaching out to help is our baptismal call. Please continue to speak out, to challenge, encourage and support the rest of us to work on behalf of all who are less fortunate.
Right and Wrong
Re your editorial on the recent controversy over Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to rescind the excommunication of four bishops associated with the Society of St. Pius X (“Reaching Right,” 2/23): There is a much larger issue at stake than communication within the Vatican or the Vatican’s approach to public relations. I have a hard time accepting that Pope Benedict’s decision was an expression of desire for unity alone. There are many others in the church who have been silenced or excommunicated for their desire to make the church more loving and inclusive, and yet the open hand of friendship has been extended to those who uphold opinions that are clear rejections of the dignity of the human person.
Why has there been no effort by the Vatican to reach out to those courageous faithful who have tried to make the church and the world more loving and compassionate and open to the dignity of all people? Reaching out to estranged bishops who maintain hateful ideas that only do further violence to the Jewish people simply does not make sense.
New York, N.Y.
That All May Be One
While the editorial on Pope Benedict’s attempt to reconcile the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X to the church (“Reaching Right,” 2/23) recognizes the pope’s obvious desire to foster unity within the church, his lifting of the excommunications of the four bishops will have unforeseen consequences. Many will be watching to see if there is balance and consistency with regard to the treatment of theologians and others who have been perceived as leaning to the left. Your editorial touched on this toward the end, almost as an afterthought. But if building up the unity of the church is Benedict’s vision, no group must be excluded or ignored.
Denis E. Quinlan
A Rock and a Hard Place
As a journalist for 20 years and a seminarian two years away from ordination, I know that the space between a person who articulates a message and a person who digests that message can be a dangerous one for both parties. This is as true for the space between the writer and his or her reader as it is for the preacher in the pulpit and the parishioner in the pew. And this is the space where Pope Benedict XVI has been spending a good deal of time lately. Why?
As you state in your editorial “Reaching Right” (2/23), the Holy Father is passionate about ecclesial unity, and such unity is the primary reason he struck such a conciliatory chord with the Society of St. Pius X in recent weeks. This is not to say that Benedict or a future pope would not extend a hand to leaders of progressive groups somewhere down the line.
But where is the laity in all this? I have lay friends on both ends of the spectrum, and they have some basic things in common. Groups at both ends feel marginalized, and both feel they are standing up for core beliefs. How, then, can a pope who is both the primary authority on core Catholic beliefs and a passionate advocate of unity address this situation?
Pope Benedict’s answer is to work through the necessary issues to bring the leaders of such groups back into communion with the universal church, thereby guaranteeing both the validity of the sacraments they administer and the peace of mind of their members.
Nobody is completely happy with the situation, but I believe Benedict is doing the right thing. When such groups are securely within the church, the pope can exercise a level of control that he cannot when they are operating outside it. Were the Holy See to state that underlying reason more clearly, perhaps all parties would grant Benedict a little more slack as he traverses some very uneven terrain.
Who’s in Charge?
Your report on the controversy over the Society of St. Pius X was helpful, but important issues remain unexplained, primary among them the concept of episcopal authority. Comments about Bishop Richard Williamson “not having a canonical function in the church” and “not licitly exercising a ministry in the church” are opaque to those of us not conversant in the technical jargon of canon law.
The issue of the authority of a bishop within and outside his diocese is a central concern that has not received adequate public discussion. In the recent presidential election, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a remarkably well-balanced and carefully nuanced document on issues that Catholics should consider when casting their vote; it was then ignored by a number of high-profile U.S. bishops. It would seem in practice that each bishop individually (but apparently not the U.S.C.C.B. collegially) exercises authority within his own diocese but also often has significant influence well beyond its geographic borders.
It is this question of authority that makes the comments of Bishop Williamson (and the lack of official clarification addressing this aspect of his remarks) so troubling. Not only do Bishop Williamson’s egregious statements need to be addressed, but so also does the meaning and authority of his role as a Roman Catholic bishop in making them.
Robert V. Levine
War No More?
In “Finding Renewal” (2/16), James R. Kelly properly argues for a consistent ethic of life, but his linking of pro-life positions to pacifism raises serious questions. Should the United States withdraw from Afghanistan in the name of nonviolence? Should the United States, like Japan years ago, forever renounce war and abjure the use of force in international affairs? Can any nation defend itself against attack?
A more nuanced approach would call for careful application of just war theory. Such an approach should certainly include, as Kelly states, respect for the sanctity of life of innocent civilians as much as that of the unborn. It should also include strict adherence to rules of engagement that require every effort be made to avoid “collateral damage,” obviously a necessity in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention in Gaza.
Henry J. Kenny
The Catholic Difference
I believe, with Gerald F. Cavanagh, S.J. (“What’s Good for Business?” 2/9), that Catholic business schools can make a difference. But it would be interesting to know if, in the current financial debacle, anyone has documented that graduates of Catholic institutions made any difference—or if they just went along with the rest of the crowd in producing a self-serving, take-all-you-can-make ethic that has brought us to this present state of disaster.