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The Right Language

Re “A Church for the Poor,” by Bishop Robert W. McElroy (10/21): I am glad to see the phrase “the common good” used. The word “poverty” appears 22 times, the phrase “the common good” 13 times, “the poor” 10 times, “a church for the poor” three times and “the public order” three times. Not appearing is the phrase “preferential option for the poor,” which, for some, is akin to “busing students to achieve racial balance” or “affirmative action in employment or admissions.”

James Schwarzwalder
Lindenwold, N.J.

Homily Material

Before reading Bishop McElroy’s article, I suspected that he was playing “catch-up” with the pope on behalf of U.S. bishops. Oh, how wrong I was! His exposition was articulate, well thought out and comprehensive.


Perhaps the upcoming November meeting of the U.S. bishops will direct that Bishop McElroy’s article be the subject of a month of homilies in every parish in the United States. It may go a long way to align all of us with Pope Francis and Catholic moral teachings.

Vincent Gaglione
Scarsdale, N.Y.

Meaning of ‘Clericalism’

Re “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism,” by Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M. (10/21): My fear is that the term clericalism is actually shielding a bias against preferences. I am a firm believer in what Cardinal Bernardin espoused as “common ground”—that the church is big enough for people of varying tastes and perspectives (even those I may not agree completely with). An article like this cricizes clericalism in a narrow way, without taking into account that clericalism exists in those who are both conservative and liberal in ideology.

(Rev.) A. J. Flynn
Online comment

Style Is Substance

Re “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism”: I truly appreciate this commentary. We sometimes say that some aspects of a priest’s self-presentation are “only” a matter of style and somehow not truly reflective of the person. I think this understanding of style is problematic. The eminent church historian John W. O’Malley, S.J., frequently comments that style is always an external representation of a person’s deeply held personal values. From this perspective, a priest’s bearing, clothing, etc., are a reflection of his deep understanding of priesthood and his ministry.

John Swope, S.J.
Online comment

Thoreau for Students

I was thrilled to read “Reading Nature Thoreauly,” by Margot Patterson (10/14). I have only recently read Walden and was so impressed that I assigned the first chapter for my students to read. I asked them to reflect on Thoreau’s view of nature. Ms. Patterson eloquently describes Thoreau’s point: “Above all, he reminds me of my own nature—that I have one, that it should be respected, that it should be cherished.”

The students confessed to having a difficult time with Walden. Thoreau wants to liberate us from slavery to convention. Today’s students are hardly aware of how enslaved they are. Hopefully, over time, Thoreau will have the desired effect on them.

Douglas M. Blaine
Queens, N.Y.

Go Renewable

Build Reserves, Win Peace,” by Alfred James (Reply All, 10/7), a longtime professional petroleum geologist, questions “Unnatural Gas,” by Ken Homan, S.J. (8/26) as “lacking in science and fact.” But the science of high-volume horizontal hydrofracking for methane gas shows the procedure to be a dangerous threat to water and air quality and human health, and a tremendous contributor to global climate change.

The fracking industry’s own research finds that 5 percent to 10 percent of fracked gas wells leak within one year of their installation, and this figure rises to 35 percent after 30 years. This leakage may include methane and/or hazardous chemicals.

Mr. James makes the standard industry argument that wind, solar and biomass cannot possibly provide the energy required, but the industrial powerhouse Germany now produces almost 30 percent of its electricity from renewable energy, and Iowa produces 25 percent of its electricity from wind power. Other countries are rapidly developing renewable energy. By doing the same, the United States could solve energy problems and also detach itself from foreign energy entanglements.

Robert M. Ciesielski
Cheektowaga, N.Y.

No Blueprint Here

In his thoughtful review (“Things Fall Together,” 9/30) of my book, The Catholic Labyrinth, James P. McCartin correctly notes, “McDonough offers no comprehensive plan for the future” of the church in the United States.

Sometimes I would like to be able to say that I have such a plan but that I’m not talking until the time is ripe, the footnotes complete, objections anticipated, allies in place, sponsors lined up and so forth. Like actors who really want to direct, some Catholics wish they could write encyclicals. As blog posts attest, they often sound like mad scientists railing against “the fools…if only they would listen!”

I suspect that no one has a blueprint for the church in the United States. Nor, I think, would such a scheme be an unequivocally good thing. “I learn by going where I have to go” is the refrain of a lovely villanelle by Theodore Roethke. If the poem has a message, it is that change is interactive. The refrain might be adopted as a motto by the terrible simplifiers who feel that paradigm shifts are the last word.

A change of heart is a beginning. Pope Francis sounds as much like a fox with lots of modest, feasible ideas as a hedgehog with one big conviction.

Peter McDonough
Glendale, Calif.

Status Update

In light of “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism,” by Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M. (10/21), we asked, “What has been your experience with new priests?” You responded:
Positive. My parish is a densely populated urban church with a majority of Spanish-speaking people. Hence, the priests hail from a vibrant, young Mexican order. We have personality variations and cultural misunderstandings to contend with, and sometimes they can be quite grave. Yet, as for the newly ordained, they are invariably quite impressive. They are orthodox (most are formed in one of Spain’s most traditional seminaries), but not in a “self-conscious” American way.

Sergio Alférez

I have found over the past 10 or 15 years that many newly ordained priests, no matter the age, are very rigid in approach and unaccepting of differences of opinion over matters in which the bishops purposely allow variance. Rather than encouraging discussion, they tend to forestall and even outright prevent it with their own pontificating oratory.... These priests make me feel neither welcome nor safe in the confessional. I long for an older priest who has been kicked around a bit and understands that there needs to be a truth-filled, very human relationship between us before I can feel comfortable in a spiritual conversation.

Stacie Court

I am sorry that so many in this thread have had such poor experiences with young priests and seminarians, but that has not been my experience. Those I have had the privilege to meet have been kind, gentle, compassionate, personable Christian men and sons of the church. Perhaps some young priests and seminarians who happen to favor more traditional forms of clerical dress, liturgical practice, etc., also have bad attitudes. Fair enough. But I also think that older Catholics, who came of age in the conciliar era, are all too ready to see these things as infallible signs of some personality defect.

Ryan Joseph

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Blog Talk

These blog posts are in response to “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism,” by Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M. (10/21).
The following is an excerpt from “Titles and Cassocks and Vestments, oh my!” by the Rev. Michael F. Duffy, which appeared on (10/11).
The problem is not with the externals. Externals matter. Signs and symbols mean something; they speak to us. The greater issue is, of course, the internals. How do we priests see ourselves in relation to the people? Often, I speak of “my” parish, or “my” people. I don’t use those words out of a possessive meaning, but rather out of affection. I am charged by the bishop with the pastoral care of the people of this particular parish. They don’t belong to me in any way. I know I’m not the boss. Even if I become a pastor, I still won’t be the boss. God is the boss. The church and all of us who are a part of it belong to him.

I agree with the rest of what Father Dan writes in his article and with what Pope Francis has been saying. Make sure to go read Father Dan’s article. It really is good. But let’s not dismiss the young clergy altogether. We are young. We have some learning to do. But our hearts belong to the Lord.

We’ve dedicated our lives to the church, not for our benefit, but because we want to serve Christ and his bride, the church.

(Rev.) Michael F. Duffy

The following is an excerpt from “The False Charge of Clericalism,” by the Rev. John Trugilio Jr., president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, on (10/14).

Father Horan, O.F.M., is correct that clericalism is a vice, which ought to be repudiated by every pope, bishop, priest, deacon and consecrated religious. Problem is that it is unfair, unjust and inaccurate to portray clericalism as merely an indulgence of conservatives or traditionalists…my experience has been that all too often it is the so-called liberal and progressive priests who behave and act in such a way as to personify clericalism.

Clericalism is a mindset, an attitude, a perspective. It patronizes and denigrates those who disagree and uses ad hominem attacks to belittle. When a priest speaks disrespectfully to an elderly woman and embarrasses her publicly at Mass merely because she exercises her legitimate option (as defined by Rome) to kneel or genuflect at Communion time rather than just stand, that is clericalism....

Real clericalism is not about attire or language, birettas or baseball caps. It is about sound doctrine, reverent worship and holy, virtuous living. I have seen priests on both sides of the fence (conservative/liberal or traditional/progressive) treat laity with disdain and contempt. It is not an issue rooted in liturgical garb.

(Rev.) John Trugilio Jr.

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