In Saecula Saeculorum

Re the article by Thomas G. Casey, S.J., suggesting we replace Latin with English as the official language of the church (“Ave atque Vale,” 6/8): While I may be biased as a student of the classics, I think that Latin holds a significant place in the Catholic Church and should continue to do so. The church uses Latin in official documents precisely because it does not change. In other words, what the pope writes today will be interpreted or understood in a similar manner, dependent on the original Latin text, perhaps even in 100 years.

Because English, as Casey states, “never stops venturing into new territory,” there is the possibility for error and confusion later on. Eternal truths should be communicated in eternal words.


Ben Emmel

South Orange, N.J.

Words of Wisdom

I hope Julie Irwin Zimmerman’s “Science and the Path to Parenthood” (7/6) will be circulated widely around the world. The response of the church to reproductive technology is often clouded, and as the article states, Catholics know what is forbidden but know little about what is allowed or possible.

Are children and young people given enough correct information even to know about the church’s stance on reproductive technologies, even when we now have so much more information than ever?

Rosemary Keenan

Perth, Australia

Parish or Perish

When I read “Why Race Still Matters,” by Gerald J. Beyer (5/18), I was reminded of Gibson Winter’s book from 1962, The Suburban Captivity of the Churches. This book argued that Protestant churches unwittingly but powerfully accepted our nation’s racism by accepting as the boundaries of their faith communities America’s racially structured neighborhoods. Then as now, I see this as a profound problem with our Catholic communities in their determination of parish boundaries.

Perhaps in addition to episcopal teaching on racism, we might see preaching in action by creative experiments in boundary-crossing parish structures. Our faith structures could then struggle to unite what our social structures divide and alienate. That combination of word-teaching and deed-preaching about racism would surely shed light and breed hope.

Jack Glaser

Santa Ana, Calif.

Forgotten Partners

While I appreciated Gerald J. Beyer’s comments in “Why Race Still Matters,” I would like to make an addendum. In order for a dialogue about race to continue among Catholics in the United States and among African-American Catholics in particular, we need the continued presence of black Catholic parishes. These parishes are today experiencing more unfair and unjust situations than ever before, and their existence is threatened to a far greater degree than that of their suburban sister parishes.

It is good to remember that the American bishops called racism a sin in 1979. African-American parishes need to be lifted up, encouraged and supported if there is to be a Catholic dialogue about race that is meaningful and holy.

Even though African-American Catholics are encouraged by Barack Obama’s election, the ordinary daily life of African-Americans remains the same. American Catholics need to know that black parish life has not become any easier these days, but is more stressful and much more problematic, as the bishops downplay or neglect the main focus of offices for black ministry, euphemistically renaming them offices of cultural affairs or offices of diversity.

Black parishes need to exist in this dialogue on race and in all aspects that make the church truly Catholic.

(Rev.) Theodore K. Parker

Detroit, Mich

War No More

Thank you for the reflections by Matt Malone, S.J., on the hope for peace (Of Many Things, 7/20). Keep saying what you’re saying. It is awful what we are doing to our own soldiers and our country, to say nothing of the horrible damage we are inflicting on the rest of the world.

Bruce Byrolly

Cambridge, Mass.

Atomic Omission

You published an article on energy choice (“The Ethics of Energy Choice,” by William H. Rauckhorst, 7/6) with no mention of the word “nuclear.” Future historians will get quite a chuckle when they read this.

Morrie Pongratz

Los Alamos, N.M.

Get Over It

Re your editorial, “For the Common Good” (7/20): How can “single-payer healthcare” be considered by a Christian intellectual? Have we not seen the consequences of government monopolies anywhere?

I must confess that I was shocked in my youth to find I did not have a right to free sheets and towels when I first occupied a dorm room. I got over it. The American people, with the help (not hindrance) of the church, must get over it. Only a capitalist system has worked to create wealth. If we want a quality health care system, it must harness the attention of all of us.

Chris Mulcahy

Fort Myers Beach, Fla.

On the Other Hand…

“For the Common Good” (Editorial, 7/20) should be required reading for all citizens of the United States and our representatives. If there is no common truth, then both parties can hide under the cover of postmodern philosophical gibberish. Dueling ideological caricatures are no substitute for the good of the whole society. As a nation that claims a religious core, we must ask: “Where is the consideration of a loving God in this modern mess?”

Ray Moster

Port St. Lucie, Fla.

What Witness?

Thank you for your clear presentation in “It’s Not All About Eve” (Christine Schenk, C.S.J., 7/6) of how I often feel as a woman in the Catholic Church. Like Schenk, I too worry about the witness we are giving to our daughters and sons. I remember hearing one notable Catholic theologian tell the story of his daughter who was denied the opportunity to be an altar server because she was a girl. Her response was, “Then why do we belong to this church?”

Thank you to Christine Schenk for her faithful, prophetic witness; may her efforts help to enlighten minds and soften hardened hearts.

Susan McCarthy, R.D.C.

White Plains, N.Y.

Expert Opinion

In “Married and Ordained” (7/20), William T. Ditewig writes that historians like Gary Macy and Phyllis Zagano must be considered vis-à-vis the ordination of women as deacons, and that women have been ordained to diaconal ministry in the past and they could be again.

While a “full and open conversation” about the ordination of women to the diaconate might well benefit the entire church, that conversation needs to take place among those with the education to examine the texts and evidence in the original languages. It will also require a firm grasp of how the disciplines surrounding holy orders have historically differed in the East and West. In a popular magazine like America, it is a serious oversight to suggest a “full and open conversation” without being clear that such a conversation will need to be conducted largely by specialists.

Cecilia Lopez

Sioux City, Iowa


Re “Married and Ordained,” by William T. Ditewig: Mere mention of the restoration of the female diaconate in the Latin church can raise hysterical hackles across the board and divert the discussion from the needs of the church to some imagined line that cannot be crossed. Those opposed as well as those in favor of the restoration of women to the order of deacon need to consider several points.

First, whether or not women were sacramentally ordained in the past is not determinative of the current needs of and possibilities for today’s church. Second, the diaconate is a creation of the church (Acts 6:1-6), and as such is not bound by the argument from authority (that Christ chose only male apostles) regarding priesthood. Third, while there is a modern instruction from Rome telling bishops not to train women for the diaconate, there are no higher authoritative statements on the matter other than those conciliar and papal documents from the early church that state at what age and under what conditions a woman is to be ordained to the diaconate.

Let the conversation continue, in charity.

Phyllis Zagano

Hempstead, N.Y.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
10 years ago
Amen, Phyllis Zagano, on every point.  What we need is an objective, clear-headed, open, and humble venture into the question of female orders.  I am always stunned by the lack of objectivity in discussions today. be they secular or religious.  As I always told my students when they asked why women couldn't be priests, "We're not sure they can't be.  What we have to try to discern is the will of God on this issue.  It does not matter what you think or what I think or what the pope personally thinks: what matters is what God thinks. " And to discern that we need tons of humility, openness and prayer.  As Ms. Zagano states, "Let the conversation continue...."
Jim McCrea
10 years ago

The freedom to choose is an important right, and one which the Church has often failed to safeguard, but our tradition of doctrine has not evolved to limit choice but to expand the mind.  Dogmas have not been defined to stop us buying rival brands of theological washing powders but to goad us into going on thinking, not settling for answers that are too small, too narrow.  They are invitations to carry on exploration rather than to end all questioning. 


Timothy Radcliffe, OP, "Does Doctrine Indoctrinate?" Priests & People, August/September, 1991.

Nicholas Clifford
10 years ago
"Eternal truths should be communicated in eternal words," writes Mr. Emmel, plumping for the retention of Latin But in what way is Latin "eternal?" It was not, after all, the language of Jesus and most of his contemporaries - Aramaic was. It is not, after all, the language of the Old Testament - Hebrew is. Nor is it the language of the New Testament - Greek, albeit a Hellenized Greek, is. Latin is a relative latecomer. Moreover, when we read Latin - or Greek (or even, for the few who can, Aramaic) - we read it through a contemporary consciousness, and rightly or wrongly in our minds translate it into a contemporary idiom.
I am not making an argument for English as the church's official language (which would be a very bad idea, I think), or for the dismissal of Latin. But let us realize that Latin, like all human languages, has about it a historical contingency of which we must be aware. An example: the phrase in the Creed "propter nos homines" is almost always translated as "for us men." But if that's what the authors of the Creed had meant, they would have said "propter nos viros," i.e., "for us men" rather than "for us humans, or mortals," which is what "homines" means.


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