A Mixed Review
Re “Can This City Be Saved?” (11/4): Kevin Clarke did a pretty good job—quite good in the back sections—reporting on Detroit, but the back half’s more nuanced multi-perspectives do not have much of a shot at overcoming the Detroit disaster images and the first nine paragraphs of Detroit collapse clichés. The cover of the issue shows the seemingly obligatory “ruins porn” picture of an abandoned church, and the only photo on the Web is that of a “once vibrant neighborhood.”
I came to the University of Detroit in 1981 and love my life at this inner-city Jesuit university. Repeated images of disaster stripped of context get wearisome.
The article could have led with the growing and increasingly creative tension about the word “Detroit.” Instead, I nearly stopped reading. That would have been a shame because America has some very good stuff buried behind the lead paragraphs.
America is a Catholic journal, so it is no surprise that it privileges the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, the work of Cathey DeSantis, C.S.J., and Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron. But America is also a Jesuit journal and should not have ignored the University of Detroit Mercy’s 22 urban clinics and the School of Architecture’s Detroit Collaborative Design Center—all of which play key roles in the rebirth of the city.
I offer thanks to America for addressing Detroit with more complexity than many media pieces. Nonetheless, it is a mixed review.
A Church for Whom?
As a Catholic in Detroit, I was disappointed that “Can This City Be Saved?” failed to address the lack of archdiocesan social services in the city. The Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance and the Capuchin Bakery, which were mentioned in the article, are independent of the chancery and were founded as a response to the lack of parish-based services.
For years Catholic services have been redirected to the suburbs, contributing to economic and racial segregation. Poor, majority African-American parishes in the city have been allowed to merge only with one another, not with wealthy suburban parishes. This has accelerated financial collapse caused by unjust loan repayment schedules demanded by the chancery. Corporate decisions by the archdiocese to merge poor parishes have had disastrous effects on neighborhoods and have significantly contributed to the decline of Detroit. It was disappointing that parishioners were not approached to provide an alternative point of view to what Archbishop Vigneron is reported to have said.
There is a deeper story here, which is relevant to the larger church in the United States. If the church abandons its most vulnerable members in the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, what does that say about us as “a church for the poor”?
What Winning Means
“Are We Winning?” by John J. McLain, S.J. (11/4), makes a very odd assertion about the ambiguity of what “winning” a war actually means. Father McLain suggests that most times it actually means, “Are we safe again?” We should not be misled into thinking safety has anything to do with “winning” a war.
Carl von Clausewitz, from whom Father McClain takes the term “fog of war,” did not have an ambiguous understanding of what winning a war meant. He insisted that winning a war took place in “the overthrow of the enemy.” It is very easy for us to reduce warfare simply to our safety, and forget that unspeakable atrocities take place in the killing of our enemies, whom Jesus told us to love in the Sermon on the Mount. Congratulations to the editors for reminding us of this difficult teaching in their plea for a broader respect for all human life (“Our Sacred Dead,” Editorial).
Blame Others, Too
Re “Paralysis in Washington” (Editorial, 10/21): I agree with your concern about the paralysis in Washington, but I do not agree with your laying the blame solely on the House Republicans. There is more than enough blame to go around, including the Senate and the White House.
I expect better from America. I thought this editorial was written by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as it contains much of his vitriolic statements. It is time to be fair in your judgments and not echo the “party line.”
Obstruction Costs Dearly
Consider the economic opportunity cost of the partisanship and gridlock in Washington. Not the $24 billion lost during the shutdown but rather the long-term failure of the United States to realize our true potential. The wrangling and threats rampant in Congress, the slashing of common purpose by the negative daily rants of media talking heads, our government’s inability to address problems with teamwork—these all stifle our ability to help each other build a better future.
As our politicians convince themselves of the righteousness of their partisan positions, will their anger and hatred become so entrenched that they become unable to compromise, unable to agree on positive outcomes for the American people and for the common good? Are we doomed to cycle after cycle of brinksmanship, ongoing uncertainty, stilted growth and loss of respect for our government, both domestic and abroad, while those in poverty catch the brunt of our dysfunction and continue to lose ground?
We all have reason to be concerned. Aren’t we better than that?
Words of Compassion
Re “Status Update” in Reply All (10/21): Barbara Schlumpf asked a very legitimate question about the pope’s interview in America. She wrote: “It seems that Pope Francis is saying that the teachings have not changed, but let’s not talk about them. This is very confusing to faithful Catholics. What are we supposed to say to people about some of these issues?” I have some suggestions.
To people who are homosexual, say: “I can’t imagine living the rest of my life without committed, intimate love.” Then offer them lifelong, committed, intimate friendship.
To transgendered individuals, say: “You are cherished children of God in tremendous pain. You are not freaks. How can I support you?” Then support them.
To people engaged in premarital sex, say: “I’m glad I waited because...” or “I wish I had waited because....”
To people who, through whatever means, have attempted to space out the births of their children for reasons that might be a tad selfish, say: “Me too.”
We are all in this together. Let us always try to engage in these difficult discussions with love, empathy and compassion.
Mercy for the Remarried
Re “In Need of Mercy” (10/21), one of the many marvelous reactions to the interview with Pope Francis: Patrick Gilger, S.J., writes, “Being a ‘sinner’…means that humans are—at root, ontologically—always in need of the living mercy of God.”
As a former long-time judge in a diocesan tribunal that adjudicated marriage cases, may I recommend simply allowing “repentant” remarried divorcees to receive the sacraments. This would eliminate the canonical somersaults required of matrimonial tribunals giving “declarations of nullity,” and open the door to divorcees being comforted by the tangible evidence of God’s loving mercy. Ancient Orthodox discipline—and worldwide commentaries—recommend the same. New Testament teachings are the ideal, but they are obviously not lived by many today.
In “The Strength to Care” (Editorial, 10/14), you mention a study that demonstrates that the more guns there are in any one place, the more homicides and suicides there will be. It is unfortunate that we Americans are so stubborn that we need a study to prove the obvious. After all, the law of probability has not been rescinded.
As for the Second Amendment, has it not already repealed itself by its own wording? In modern times the words actually mean: “A well regulated militia [no longer] being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall be [regulated].”
Avenues to God
In “Where the Spirit Moves You” (10/7), James Martin, S.J., observes that some people may dismiss a spiritual practice as “too traditional” or “too progressive.” Either way, he writes, we might be rejecting “spiritual practices that work for other people.”
This column helped me consider the vulnerable, ill and perhaps dying. These folks are often stuck, immobilized in bed and very grateful for visitors. Those who work in these circumstances—in eucharistic ministry, hospice or faith-counseling—can benefit from Father Martin’s insight. They will want to carefully discern which spiritual practices can help that special and loved “other” person, since the person is not able to walk away from a practice that does work for them. These helpers could just ask: “Do you want me to sing selections from ‘The Music Man’? Or would you prefer that we say a rosary? Would you like both? Neither? Please tell us about your ‘avenue’ to God.”
The following is an excerpt from “Complicity in Clericalism,” by the Rev. Dwight Longenecker, on patheos.com (10/14). The post is in response to “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism,” by Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M. (Am., 10/21).
Instead of blaming the clergy completely, let’s lay some of the blame for clericalism at the feet of the laity. Why is there no criticism of the often infantile relationship between the laity and their priests? Too often the laity fall into two extremes in their relationship with the clergy—both of them immature.
On the one hand is the fawning, “Ohhh, Fawther!” type of groveling before the priest. The lay person puts the priest on a false pedestal and honors him too much—never criticizing and never questioning….
The other reaction among the laity is…they don’t have the guts to speak to him adult-to-adult and express their views and criticisms. Instead…[they] snipe and grumble and complain. This second response also contributes to clericalism because the laity perpetuate the idea that the priest is the great Father figure—the authority figure who is there mostly to rebel against in the most petty and immature way.