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A.D.A. Writ Large

Re “Dignity of the Disabled” (Editorial, 1/20): I offer my sincere thanks to America for addressing the needs and rights of people with disabilities, and exhorting U.S. legislators to rectify the wrong and bring the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to the Senate floor for a vote now.

As a former congressman who authored the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, I am encouraged by Pope Francis’ stance on including those with disabilities into the conversation about justice—that is, a faith that seeks justice. The treaty can and should be an act of American justice and leadership at a time when it is most needed. Indeed, the treaty is the A.D.A. writ large.


Already, 139 nations have ratified the treaty, but not the United States. Most of the world is clamoring for the justice the treaty will provide, yet our lawmakers take a stingy stance with the expertise Americans have developed in implementing the inclusiveness of the A.D.A. over the last quarter century. Yes, Pope Francis reminds us that it is our responsibility to welcome those with disabilities into the light. Senators must listen to him and ratify the treaty and give it as a gift to the world.

Tony Coelho
Philadelphia, Pa.
The writer is a board member of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities.

People First

Re “Dignity of the Disabled”: Thank you for your overall excellent editorial. I would like to emphasize the importance of avoiding the term “disabled” whenever possible and to use people-first language (“people with disabilities”), which can help center us on what is most important: the human person, rather than the exclusionary category.

I work as a lawyer at the American Diabetes Association. It is the person whose dignity we seek to defend: the student transferred away from her siblings upon diagnosis because of an unwillingness to provide basic care at the neighborhood school, the consummate professional fired because of the results of a blood glucose test or the daughter who died in prison because the guards ignored her pleas for medication.

Diabetic or disabled are not appropriate terms because they so often reduce our constituents to one characteristic, making them one dimensional and ignoring all of the other strengths and talents they possess. I hope that you change your editorial guidelines, and I look forward to expanded coverage of this critical topic in the years to come.

Katharine Gordon
Washington, D.C.

Secular Prejudice

Re “Goodbye to the Catholic Writer?” by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell (1/20): The reading group Professor O’Donnell describes allowed its bigotry against Catholics to deprive its members of the wonderful experience of reading Mariette in Ecstasy, by Ron Hansen—a book that, since it describes a fabricated miracle, is hardly one that lends itself to simple piety.

Sometimes one has to stand up to the prejudices of the secular intellectual. Perhaps the objecting members should have been asked what other books they would refuse to read because they describe people who believe things they do not or do things they think wrong. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which laments the loss of a society where twins are murdered, wives are beaten and masked gods rule the community? Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, which shows a woman happy, even proud, that her man cares enough to beat her? Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, whose sweet and admirable heroine lives in a house that owes it comfort to the labor of slaves?

Are Catholics alone beyond the bounds of human sympathy? Sometimes we have to defend our co-religionists out of simple justice—and also so that people do not cut themselves off from a great part of our common cultural heritage.

Brian Ragen
Online comment

A Moral Claim

In “Pension Pinching” (Current Comment, 1/6), the editors could have noted also that among the creditors of Detroit, the pensioners have the highest moral claim.

City vendors can refuse to supply goods and services unless paid on delivery. Banks and underwriters can make prudent assessments before their financial commitments and monitor their loans. But city employees had no such opportunity. They were required to pay into a pension plan but had no opportunity to examine the solvency of the plan or monitor it. This disadvantageous bargaining and monitoring position should provide the pensioners a higher moral ground in the distribution of city resources than other claimants.

When pensions are terminated in the private sector, pensioners are protected by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation and still have access to Social Security. However, this is generally not the case for public employees. Faced with the likelihood of future municipal insolvencies, Congress should either expand the scope of the PBGC or establish a federal agency to protect public pensioners. In the meantime, a bankruptcy court, as a court of equity, should consider the moral status of the claim of the pensioners in Detroit.

John J. Dilenschneider
Columbus, Ohio
The writer served as a U.S. bankruptcy judge for the Southern District of Ohio from 1967 to 1976.

Pensions at Home

“Pension Pinching” is well taken, as far as it went. In May 1998 I published an article in America on the problems in pension plans of the Catholic Church. Fifteen years later I can report that the archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, two years ago without consultation and against the advice of the chief financial officer of the diocese, froze the very modest lay pension plan.

Last September the new chief financial officer announced that the priest pension plan has 10 to 15 years of solvency. Unlike most private pension plans, church plans do not have legal protections under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Perhaps America could work with the Jesuit-sponsored Center for Retirement Research at Boston College on these issues related to church pensions. It is good to be concerned over public pensions, but too often the shoemaker’s children also lack shoes.

(Rev.) Michael Tegeder
Minneapolis, Minn.

Look to Lay People 

When I read “The First Five Years,” by Monsignor Stephen J. Rossetti (1/6), I thought something was out of sync with my experience as a diocesan priest for 44 years. First of all, the picture of the priest walking the beach in his black cassock and collar, reading the Liturgy of the Hours and waiting for the pope, while the other young people appear to be enjoying each other, tells volumes.

If young priests need challenge and support, they should look to lay people who have directed people, balanced budgets, hired and let people go, worked with staffs, planned futures and worked cooperatively with others. These lay people have much to offer young priests who lack skills, experience and, at times, maturity. Isolated priests’ groups lack the depth necessary for complete support.

Evangelism is certainly the buzz word today. If a young priest wants to evangelize, he should work with the poor, the elderly and the disenfranchised, and he should challenge congregations to do the same. They can make a difference and will feel their faith coming alive. Maybe the challenge is not secularism, but rather the unwillingness of young clergy to engage the world.

(Rev.) Patrick Cawley
Vanderbilt, Mich.

Status Update

In “Goodbye to the Catholic Writer?” (1/20), America’s columnist Angela Alaimo O’Donnell reflected on Catholic writing today. James Martin, S.J., asked, “Is the Catholic writer going the way of the Dodo?” Readers responded:

My favorite Catholic writer is Graham Greene. Maybe the tight rope a Catholic writer would walk is depicting their characters’ faith (or lack of it) without being didactic or pedantic. It’s a huge challenge.

Davanna Cimino 

I’m not really convinced. What about Helena Maria Viramontes? Mary Karr? Demetria Martinez? Carmen Tafolla? Also, nonfiction writers like Richard Rodriguez? The idea that Catholic writers are somehow marginalized in some way mysteriously related to a history of anti-Catholicism doesn’t really ring true for me.

Rachel Jennings 

Walker Percy is my personal favorite, but perhaps the Catholic filmmaker is replacing him and his ilk? I’ve heard Martin Scorsese’s films characterized as quintessentially Catholic.

Phillip Ratliff 

Ms. O’Donnell should ask her reading group to consider reading Lying Awake, by Mark Salzman, a beautiful little novel about a nun and her faith, but written by an atheist. Non-religious readers wouldn’t be able to push back as much, at least not on the same grounds.

Isabel C. Legarda 


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