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Our readersDecember 23, 2013

Open the Doors

The Continuing Crisis,” by Jon Fuller, S.J., M.D. (12/2), addresses important issues and appropriately recognizes terrific work Catholics are doing to combat H.I.V./AIDS. That being said, as a young Catholic working in the H.I.V./AIDS community, I believe important questions for our church remain.

New H.I.V. cases are spiking among poor young men of color in the United States. This population does not use drugs or have unprotected sex at higher rates than others, but they are infected far more often. As a church, we should continue to promote universal access to health care. Additionally, we should not turn a blind or judgmental eye to these young men, many of whom believe the doors to God’s house, the church, are shut on them because they have fallen short of moral expectations.

We must ask ourselves: Can we open our arms and welcome them into our community and remind them that they too are loved? In “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis says the church cannot be “shut up within structures…within rules which make us harsh judges…while at our door people are starving.” Doing this pushes our brothers and sisters farther into the shadows, which leads to more infections. It makes for bad public health and bad Catholicism. The church doors should be wide-open.

Matthew Ryan
Hartford, Conn.

Make Effective Laws 

In her brilliant piece “Criminal Injustice” (12/2), Margot Patterson once again illustrates that brevity is indeed the quintessence of eloquence. She properly notes that both liberals and conservatives bought the lie of “lock ’em up and throw away the key” as the path to public safety. It never was and never will be the pathway. Nation after nation around the world illustrate that the only ways to go are humane treatment, addiction services and mental health support.

What is of paramount importance for us as Catholics and Christians is that the power to change all of this is in our hands. We got into this terrible situation by misguided, harsh and inhumane legislation, starting in the early 1980s. The best way—if not the only way—out of this is through effective and efficient reform legislation. States like Arkansas, Georgia and South Dakota are already on their way.

We should all heed Ms. Patterson’s words and speak out for Christian treatment of our incarcerated brothers and sisters in Christ.

John S. Santa
Southport, Conn.

Not Only Prisons

I agree with everything Margot Patterson writes about the injustices permeating the “U.S. criminal justice system.” But I would note that the criminal justice system encompasses more than imprisonment. Ms. Patterson, like many other Christians, focuses on only one prong of the criminal justice system: incarceration and, specifically, prisons. Similar attention should be given to other components (the police, the courts) of the criminal justice system.

Tobias Winright
Saint Louis, Mo.

Suffering in Our Midst

Thanks for writing, in “Criminal Injustice,” so boldly and clearly. Having been involved with prisoners and their families for more than 20 years, I can attest to the pain and fracturing that these terrible injustices cause. I see it as the sin of slavery gone underground. It is frustrating that most Americans are totally blind to this phenomenal suffering right in our midst. Every couple of hundred miles in this country there is a huge compound filled with human beings who are thrown away and forgotten.

Beth Cioffoletti
Online comment

An Artist Responds

Re “Wrong Image” (State of the Question, 12/2): For the most part I agree with Susan Black’s assessment of the cover (using my art) of America’s issue on women in the life of the church (10/28). Indeed it could be stronger in image and is too soft in color—although the original is brighter. I don’t know if the muting was intentional in the reproduction or the way the paper absorbed the ink.

The cover was a difficult one, and I struggled with it. Any image of us women is inadequate, I write with a smile. I am grateful to know that art is taken seriously and that it can be a powerful teacher. At the same time, I hope one does not get stuck in any image that keeps one from moving into the center. I appreciate the comment. I take it to heart.

Ansgar Holmberg, C.S.J.
Saint Paul, Minn.

Help Requested

In “Reply All” (12/2), Elizabeth Keck questions America’s limitation of “responsible parenthood” to the topic of natural family planning. I agree with her critique. Responsible parenthood requires discussion about the formation of conscience, a neglected subject in recent Catholic literature.

After Vatican II (1962-65) and “Humanae Vitae” (1968), much was written and many lectures were given on this important topic. Today many people are more aware of the right of conscience, but many remain unaware. Does America (and other publications) feel that the effort was so well done that nothing more needs to be said for lay decision-makers in the 21st century? My experience tells me the church needs to do much more repetition on some basic issues.

In the 1960s, a theologian explained how to teach the formation of conscience to a gathering of clergy. A person asked, “If we explain all this to the laity, won’t many of them make mistakes?” The insightful answer: “Of course! But the number of mistakes will likely be about the same as those made by the priests who told them what to do, or not to do!”

Is contraception always O.K.? No. Is it always wrong? No. How can we know the difference? Maybe America will help again.

William J. Peters
Pittsburgh, Pa.

History Lessons

I was disappointed when I read “Room for Debate,” by Anthony J. Zavagnin (11/25), about the discussion of same-sex marriage with his high school class. He missed an opportunity to explain the church’s teaching. Jesus was considered kind and forgiving, but he did not shy away from the controversial discussions of his day. When asked about divorce, Jesus referred to Genesis: “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife” (Mt 19:5).

Mr. Zavagnin also could have related this teaching to the separatist movement, in which Pilgrims left Europe and came to the New World. The Pilgrims wanted to worship God on their terms and not have the head of state decide religion for them. The First Amendment gives Americans the right to practice religion outside of church doors, but today there are many examples where people are being sued for following Jesus’ message, like when a baker or photographer is sued for saying no to a same-sex couple.

Mr. Zavagnin missed an opportunity to teach religion and history.

Yvonne Balcer
Jersey City, N.J.

Religious Insights

Re “O’Neill’s Dark Passage,” by Kevin Spinale, S.J. (11/25): In 1946 Life magazine published an interview with Eugene O’Neill, in which he made a statement that I found strange, considering his many plays and the known facts about his life. He stated that the most important idea that mankind should remember is “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?”

Also, in “Of Many Things,” by Matt Malone, S.J., about the “three Johns” who died in 1963 (Pope John, John F. Kennedy and John LaFarge, S.J.), it should be noted that on the same day Kennedy died, C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley died too. Peter Kreeft wrote a book titled Between Heaven and Hell, about the three men who died on Nov. 22, 1963.

Al Sistino
Orland Park, Ill.

Status Update

Readers respond to “The Founding Father,” by Anthony Egan, S.J. (Web only), on the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

As a South African, it’s wonderful to see Madiba recognized and honored with such love and respect. We have lost a true gentleman.

Ryan McCarthy 

Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest leaders in my life. He led by example as much as he led by his words. His life was a witness to the power of forgiveness, compassion for those who struggle, empathy for those in power, intellect put to the greater good and fortitude against all odds. I think he is unmatched by any of today’s leaders.

Teresa Trujillo 

The world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela because this servant-leader gave hope to people in a seemingly hopeless situation. He sacrificed himself for others rather than living a quiet, peaceful life. His is a legacy of the courage to do what is right and good despite the personal cost.

Sharon Flack Mussomeli 

Madiba was a spiritual giant who walked among us. In looking over photos of him, I am struck by how many of them show him emanating joy with wild abandon!

Carolyn Key Krecker 

Food for thought: A line from the book Thomas Merton on Mysticism seems to address those contradictions noted about Nelson Mandela: “Man is not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them, and see them in the light of exterior and objective values that dwarf them.”

Debora Morrison Short 

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