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Who Is Incoherent?

Re “A.C.L.U. v. U.S.C.C.B.” (Current Comment, 1/20): The editors dismiss the A.C.L.U. lawsuit but ignore the facts alleged in the complaint. The plaintiff’s case was allegedly one of at least five cases in that hospital system, discovered by a public health educator/researcher, in which the patient miscarried due to “preterm premature rupturing of membrane” before viability. The hospital had not induced labor in any of the cases, according to a vice president of the hospital, because the U.S. bishops’ directives prohibited Mercy Health Partners from inducing labor in that situation.

The editors cite Directive 47 of the “Ethical and Religious Directives,” which allows treatments and procedures “that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman…even if they will result in the death of the unborn,” as allowing the procedure. But is the “premature rupture of membrane” a pathological condition directly cured by inducing labor? Directive 45 says the “directly intended termination of a pregnancy before viability” is never permitted.


Is it so clear, as the editors say, that “the A.C.L.U. the directives actually work in the field”? Are the editors suggesting that most Catholic hospitals would ignore the inconsistent directives, so the bishops should not be held to account? Who is being incoherent? 

Paula Ruddy
Minneapolis, Minn.

The Law of Love

The recent A.C.L.U. lawsuit against the U.S. Catholic bishops should challenge our complacency about the future of Catholic health care, but for more reasons than its threat to religious freedom. The fact is that Catholic hospitals, doctors and review boards risk censure from bishops should they interpret Directive 47 to allow the abortion of a non-viable fetus to save the mother’s life. Directive 45 clearly prohibits direct abortions.

The problem is that the distinction between direct and indirect abortion in these cases is not relevant, because the moral purpose underlying the prohibition against direct abortion—to protect life—cannot be realized. Tragically, the child will die when the mother dies. The positive moral decision, then, is to save the mother’s life. Medical professionals and the public at large know this, and the law of love requires it.

It falls upon the U.S. bishops to present a compelling case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for allowing Catholic hospitals to take all necessary medical steps to save the life of the mother.

Jack Kehoe
Sugar Land, Tex.

The Decision to Leave

In “Post-Clerical Catholics” (1/6), Bill McGarvey writes, “Those of us who hope that Pope Francis’ popularity will inspire a younger generation to enter our doors or lapsed Catholics to return would do well to ask ourselves difficult questions: What are we inviting them to? Are we simply welcoming them back to a church that reminds them why they left in the first place?”

Most formerly active Catholics that I know did not “fall away” or “lapse.” The choice to leave active participation in the Catholic Church was deliberate and followed a great deal of thought and struggle and prayer and reflection.

Pope Francis is wildly popular—even with former Catholics like me. He is popular with the young, with atheists, with members of other religions and, of course, with the poor and outcast. But will it be enough if the teachings that have driven so many out of the church are not revisited—and changed?

Until the tiny group of men who define doctrine and govern the church recognize that the whole church (all 1.1 billion) must share in both doctrinal development and governance, there will be no real reason for most former Catholics to return to being active Catholics. Those Catholics I know who stay do so in spite of official teachings, not because of them.

Anne Chapman
Online comment

Bill McGarvey’s response to Ms. Chapman: I have no doubt that there are enormous numbers of Catholics who have walked away because of very real issues they have regarding the church’s position on any number of subjects. But the fundamental issue with younger generations regarding religion is one of relevance. Why bother belonging to an institutional faith community at all? They aren’t “joiners” in the same way their parents and grandparents were. This is statistically true across the board for Jews and Christians in the United States and is even direr in mainline Protestant denominations—some of whom would appear to be more welcoming in terms of the issues [Ms. Chapman] mentioned.

Pope Francis’ enormous popularity is grounded in the tone of what he says and, most important, what he does. He has not altered doctrines but emphases. His simplicity is transformative for many because it appears so authentic and Christ-like. That is all to the good but it hasn’t yet resulted in a mass return among young people in the United States. For that to happen I think even more fundamental hurdles need to be overcome, like “why bother joining anything?”

What Is Necessary?

Another quote from Flannery O’Connor, regarding the Real Presence of God in the Eucharist, is relevant to “Post-Clerical Catholics.” She wrote, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it,” adding, “It is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

The only possible reason a sane person could leave behind the sacramental gifts of eternal life is that they have ceased to believe those gifts are necessary for their salvation. In the end, whether lapsed, collapsed or prolapsed, the issue is fundamentally a loss of faith. All the rest—the quality of sermons, of singing, of priests or community—is beside the point, window dressing. The key question for our post-Vatican II generation is: How did so many Catholics come to lose the faith, to somehow think they can survive without it, all of it?

I have no interest in a Country Club Church that accepts me for who I am, or validates me in my personal opinions. I want a church that calls me to conversion, and has the divine sustenance to protect me from a final death. If it’s not all true, and not essential for avoiding eternal damnation, then “to hell with it.”

Tim O’Leary
Online comment
Editor’s Note: To follow the entire conversation among readers about “Post-Clerical Catholics,” visit

The Causes of Violence

Re “Push to Reduce Gun Violence Continues Despite Senate Setback” (Signs of the Times, 1/6): Gun violence is a symptom, not a cause. The causes of gun violence are endemic to the frayed fabric of our culture. Therefore, the question of the why of gun violence must take precedence over the how.

Consider some elements which contribute to our social disintegration: Conscience formation and discipline are woefully lacking. Many children live in divorced or single parent households. Ninety percent of prison inmates between the ages of 20 and 30 were raised without a father. Many children witness domestic violence, and are victims of abuse, neglect and/or bullying. Children are exposed to the rampant violence of video games, television and movies. No recent perpetrator of gun violence has lived during some period when the United States was not engaged in war.

All the above contribute to our dysfunctional milieu. The moral compass is impaired. Suddenly the end justifies the means, whether in war or an irrational outburst of violence that takes an innocent life.

Gun violence can be understood only within the context of America’s moral crisis.

Meanwhile, legislating against weapons is little more than applying a Band-Aid to a hemorrhage.

Charles Butera
East Northport, N.Y.

Critical Thinking

Saving the Humanities,” by Raymond A. Schroth, S.J. (12/23), is a marvelous defense of the liberal arts. The late Senator Patrick Moynihan referred to the U.S. population as “dumbing down” due to the lack of emphasis on the study of the liberal arts. The digital age is sapping the lifeblood of the minds of young people. Multiple choice tests are replacing essays that stimulate thinking.

I sent the article to my sister-in-law, who taught at Duchesne High School in Houston for 26 years. She sent the article to the school president who, in turn, sent copies to the entire faculty. Writing and reading broaden the mind. Father Schroth wrote, “The liberal arts help make us human beings,” which sums up the whole article.

It is critical that we increase the study of liberal arts before we turn out students who do not know how to think.

Patricia O’Neill
Rockville Centre, N.Y.
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