A Public Failure
Re “When I Was in Prison” (Current Comment, 2/29): “For profit” is not the root of the prison problem. Every organization has financial performance goals, even America, even the Jesuits, even your local church. The problem is a lack of oversight generally of privatized services by public entities, in many cases resulting from poorly designed contracts and a tendency of public agencies to consider their responsibility transferred to the private operator once the ink is dry.
Almost anything can operate successfully and as a “win-win” as long as privatization is executed through a well-crafted contract that has meaningful operating parameters and provisions for effective program oversight and administration. Blaming “for profit” here is like blaming a writer for an error-filled article when the editor gave no instructions and performed no review before publication.
“Life Without Work,” by Ted Nunez (2/22): In “Laudato Si’” Pope Francis expressed his concerns about income inequality, the environment and the economy. A basic income guarantee could be beneficial on all three of these issues—with the following caveats. The basic income must be funded from environmental taxes and not economic taxes. That means no tax on individual income, corporate profits, sales or property. Just a tax on the earth that we are still trying to kick others out of. That also means no subsidies other than an earth dividend distributed to each adult—no Wall Street bailouts, no energy subsidies, no housing subsidies, no entitlements. No government so big it prowls the earth looking for monsters to destroy.
Accountability in Flint
Re “Flint Was No Accident” (Editorial, 2/15): The editors’ tracing of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., back to the Reconstruction era and blaming it more proximately on “environmental racism...lack of solidarity and numbness of conscience” left me bewildered. To me, it looks as if government employees not doing the jobs they were hired and paid to do was the issue, as was the emergency manager’s attitude that murky, foul-smelling water was acceptable as long as lab employees stated it met purity standards.
Why the city emergency manager, who clearly has access to the governor, did not insist that employees correct the coloration and odor (which would have led them to discover the lead and the inadequate treatment) is an open question. For those who believe racism is at the heart of this, please note that the city emergency manager is a black man and an attorney, so I am inclined to doubt that his actions or inactions were racially motivated.
Attitudes of bureaucratic lethargy and unresponsiveness in individual public workers were the issues here, pure and simple, and the results are indeed tragic, especially for the children involved. Restoring a proper water supply and providing proper treatment and compensation for those affected are going to be expensive for taxpayers at one level or another. But if we ignore facts, or bend them to fit a political or social bias, that does not help us move forward. Forgive me for not being able to grasp the big picture described by the editors and focusing on individual actions and accountability.
Facts and Figures
Recently, the water in Sebring, Ohio, was also found to have unsafe lead levels. The village is 98 percent white. Go figure.
Catholic ThroughAnd Through
I applaud J. Michael Byron’s recognition in “What’s Catholic About It?” (2/8) that Catholic studies departments at Catholic colleges are an anomaly. The Catholic intellectual tradition should permeate a school’s curriculum and culture. This will allow truth to emerge under academic scrutiny without jeopardizing the reasonableness of faith. To enable this, a school’s administration and faculty must constantly refer to the school’s mission and the integrity of the Catholic worldview, which, as Father Byron correctly implies, is more than departmental and catechetical.
A Scandalous Suggestion
A legal studies department at a law school is an absurdity, but an American studies department at an American university is not. Rather, it seems to me that what the Father Byron calls a “conceptual problem” is simply an objection to the very idea of an interdisciplinary department. I think something interesting could be written about whether interdisciplinary departments make sense, but the idea is hardly self-refuting.
Father Byron’s suggestion that Catholic studies departments are nothing more than counterfeit theology departments in which inadequately credentialed “John Paul II Catholic” ideologues play at theological study while indulging in adulation of “certain popes and bishops, and those scholars who agree with them” is much more interesting. The evidence for such scandalous claims must be very compelling indeed. I only wish he had shared some of it.
A Click Away
Thanks to Megan K. McCabe for “Create in Me a Just Heart” (2/8). Porn is a ubiquitous temptation. I have not looked at it in a long while, but I am aware it is always just a few mouse clicks away. Friends who make their living on the Internet say porn accounts for a shocking portion of all online traffic.
Oddly, I cannot recall ever hearing it addressed in a homily—not from a traditional perspective and not from a feminist perspective. I fear that this neglect leads more than one of the faithful to believe mistakenly either that it is no big deal to subject oneself to such a heart-hardening influence or that she or he is one of only a handful of Catholics who do so.
What ISIS Wants
Re “Cupich: Confront Gun Violence,” by Judith Valente (2/1): Did Archbishop Blase Cupich really say that “ISIS is not ideological in the sense of wanting to promote a particular faith or religion”? I wish Ms. Valente had asked him to clarify. ISIS says that they want to establish or have already established a caliphate, and that ultimately all people should submit to Islam. True, they are misinterpreting or perverting Islam, but they certainly want to “promote a particular faith or religion,” i.e., their twisted version of Islam. I cannot find a way to align the archbishop’s statement with the stated goals of ISIS.
Welcoming The Elder Son
Re “The Merciful Father,” by Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi (2/1): In my own experience the tendency has been to focus on our relationship to the prodigal son and, in turn, on the father’s relationship to us. Recently, however, I have been struck by the equally merciful, yet completely disparate, response of the father to “the other brother.”
The elder sibling refuses to “return to the fold,” so to speak, because his expectations of his home have been turned upside down by the father’s conduct toward the prodigal. In this case the father does not wait for the elder to “come to his senses” but goes out to confront the elder brother first! This, too, is merciful, as it evidences, in Monsignor Vaghi’s terms, “restorative power of God, revealed here in the father’s initiative of love and welcome”—to his elder son. He invites the elder to set aside his self-righteousness and judgment in order to be reconciled with his brother and father.
What Jesus Taught
In “Our Reason for Being” (2/1), Don Briel, Kenneth E. Goodpaster and Michael Naughton describe the two pillars of Catholic universities as: 1) the pursuit of the unity of knowledge; and 2) the complementarity of faith and reason. I do not find either of these concepts in the Gospels or the words of Jesus. They sound like something from Thomism. That’s O.K., but I want to base my Catholic faith and education on Jesus, not on St. Thomas Aquinas, as intelligent as he was. What if the pillars were taken from Jesus’ own teaching ministry, as in Lk 4:18-30? Good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed—maybe that would get to why there was a crucifix in the first place.
I am grateful to David Hollenbach, S.J., for his fine article “The Rights of Refugees” (1/4), but I had expected to find something about how the international community should deal with the causes of the refugee crisis. I am in no way a statesman, and as a semi-retired Jesuit of 81 my job is to pray for the Society of Jesus and for the world.
I am praying for the reform of the United Nations, that it may truly be representative of the people (not just the governments) who send their delegates to it; that it may have more power to enforce its resolutions; that reports by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees are thoroughly dealt with—not just with regard to what to do with victims but also what to do about the injustices in the countries from which people have to flee. And, as prayer can also be about the impossible, I am praying for a declaration against the arms trade—which is at the root of all the conflicts that are mushrooming all over the planet. The free trade of arms should be illegal, just as the drug and slave trades are, and steps, including military action, if need be, should be taken to stop it.