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October 10, 2011

How to Become Irrelevant

In response to Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s “A New Relationship” (9/26): The church has followed for centuries the axiom that theology is fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding)—faith being the catechetical part, understanding the theological. Often the church has misunderstood and condemned theologians—Origen, Thomas Aquinas, John Courtney Murray, Yves Congar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and others—who were actually breaking new ground in faith through their understanding, only to be embraced later on. In fact much of the work at the Second Vatican Council was inspired by once-silenced theologians.

Our current leadership does not seem to have learned much from the past. Most theologians, especially bishops, like Cardinal Wuerl, see their role as explaining church teaching; a smaller group—like David Tracy, Paul Lakeland, Richard Kearney, Elizabeth Johnson and others—reflect on the faith in language that can be understood in the post-modern world. They do this by entering into dialogue with the culture.

Too many of our young people are walking away with a yawn. Who will show them the relevance of faith? If all we can offer is events like World Youth Day, with its photo-ops and sound bites to advertise the faith of today’s youth, and at the same time we condemn those, like Sister Johnson, who reach out to a world we think can be ignored, we are becoming irrelevant.

Ken Lovasik

Pittsburgh, Pa.

What Really Went Wrong

Cardinal Wuerl writes in “A New Relationship” (9/26), “For too many people, their religious instruction failed them at several levels. Something went wrong.” It seems to me that what failed us was not the religious instruction but our new understanding of the church’s history, its myriad leadership failures over the centuries—yet its insistence in every age that the magisterium always knows best. This argument just gets wearying to read as it casts itself yet again in a renewed attempt to get the “faithful” to row a foundering boat. No, it was not the instruction that failed. It was not the theologians who erred in pursuing new avenues of understanding. It was the leadership that failed and still fails to be instructed by the being-born of our time.

Catherine McKeen

Calverton, N.Y.

Partners Also Need Support

A thank you to Cardinal Donald Wuerl for “A New Relationship” (9/26), a thoughtful reflection on the roles of bishops and theologians. I found myself agreeing with everything. American Catholic higher education and academic theology are certainly at a crossroads.

Will our institutions become secularized, with the emphasis on academic excellence, or will they return to their roots, handing on our faith and culture? As theologians will we explore the riches of our traditions or become one of the social sciences committed to deconstruction and critical thinking? We need the bishops to help us identify new structures for collaboration that will avoid hurt and suspicion.

One example is the case of Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J. Those who know her can find no theologian more faithful to the Gospel. If her word warrants criticism, so be it. But that she was investigated in secret and criticized harshly and publicly without an opportunity to speak for herself is scandalous to many of us.

But we need the bishops’ leadership while we journey as partners. We need correction, when appropriate, but also appreciation and support.

David Gentry-Akin

Moraga, Calif.

Innocent Israel

Supporters of Palestinian statehood should recognize the factually inaccurate history in the editorial “A State of Their Own” (9/26). There is no evidence that “Israeli fighters used terror tactics to drive more than 700,000 Palestinians out of urban neighborhoods.” Indeed Israelis forced some Palestinians out of border and urban locations, but many more heeded Arab broadcasts to leave to make the Arab invasion easier. Syria’s Prime Minister Amin admitted this: “We ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve their return.” Yet documented evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority of Arabs who left did so to avoid the violence of the invasion by five Arab countries to destroy the Jewish state.

Arab countries rejected recognition and negotiation after the 1948, 1956 and 1967 wars. In 1977 the Palestinians refused to attend the Camp David peace talks; in 2000 Arafat rejected President Clinton’s peace plan. In 2008 Abbas never responded to Olmert’s offer of peace based on territorial compromise and recognition, and today Abbas refuses Netanyahu’s plea to negotiate without preconditions.

Could it be that the Palestinian gambit at the United Nations is designed to make an end-run around negotiations, where painful compromises are required from both sides? Palestinians should make a case for statehood based on truth, not the denial of historical facts, which serves only to falsely blacken Israel rather than help the Palestinians or achieve peace.

(Rabbi) Eugene Korn

Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding

and Cooperation in Israel

New York, N.Y.

Editor’s Note: Israel’s new historians have documented steps taken before, during and after the War of Independence to drive Palestinian civilians from their homes. See especially Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (OneWorld, 2006).

Step up to the Plate

The editorial “A State of Their Own” (9/26) hits the nail on the head. The Palestinians, living in Palestine and exiled in refugee camps, deserve to get their country back—not just the bits they now live on, but the land they had before 1967. As for internal divisions: yes, the Hamas Gaza is a problem, but no one is solving that one right now. What is now the Palestinian Authority will be able to assert its sovereign control over all the land of the new state.

It is time for the United States to step up to the plate and do the right thing, this time without thousands of troops on the ground plus thousands of persons dead or displaced. It’s easy. Just say yes.

Patrick Hughes

St. Augustine, Fla.

Pandering Politicos

Forgive me if I sense just a bit of a broad-brush treatment in your indictment of the governors of Wisconsin, Indiana and elsewhere for their alleged determination to weaken collective bargaining in “Art and Toil” (Current Comment, 9/12). What is happening in those states is a reaction to public service union leaders capitalizing on the willingness of politicians to pander to union members by awarding exorbitant welfare and pension benefits that society simply cannot afford. Wittingly or unwittingly, your coverage of this important nuance confuses the issue.

Paul A. Becker

Bluffton, S.C.

Bishops Back Workers

The report on the U.S. bishops’ Labor Day statement (Signs of the Times, 9/12) is very welcome. This year’s statement is most timely, considering the efforts of the legislatures in Wisconsin and Ohio to attack unions and restrict the right of workers to collective bargaining.

It is timely because Catholic commentators have said the church’s past support for unions has been overstated and that the encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (1891) no longer applies today. This year’s statement rejects that view and affirms that “difficult times should not lead us to ignore the legitimate rights of workers.” It coincides with the letter of Archbishop Timothy Dolan requesting that his brother bishops “lift up the human, moral, and spiritual dimension of unemployment, underemployment, and pervasive poverty.” The best way out of poverty, he says, “is the living wage.”

Joseph A. Fiorenza

Archbishop Emeritus

Galveston-Houston, Tex.

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