“Market Assumptions” (11/3), by Bishop Robert W. McElroy, is a thoughtful, well-reasoned and inspired explanation of Pope Francis’ statements on income inequality and how some cultural assumptions in the United States make a full appreciation of his critique and challenge difficult. I find the article’s focus for meaningful change, however, simplistic, confusing and off target.
Pope Francis and many if not all of his modern predecessors focus on a relative measure—inequality of wealth between the rich (or ultra-rich) and the poor—to the near exclusion of an absolute measure, the state of the poor today as compared to prior periods. Bishop McElroy cites a startling statistic: the 85 wealthiest people in the world own more than the poorest 3.5 billion. But here is an equally startling statistic. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of the world’s population in abject poverty was cut in half as 700 million people climbed above the extreme poverty line.
We do not have to choose between less income inequality and higher absolute standards for all, most important the poorest. But how to achieve both is a very complex question. Over-simplified statements and policies that rely on them do not help; they confuse. If Pope Francis feels that he needs to put his voice behind the inequality side of this argument to offset the prevailing culture and momentum on the other side, I can appreciate that. But I am sure that the entrepreneurs around the world who continue to heed God’s call to participate in the ongoing co-creation of this world, who dream for their markets to be even freer, would appreciate more than an occasional acknowledgement squeezed between critiques of the market.
“Listening to Ebola” (Editorial, 10/27), is a thoughtful article that supports solidarity rather than fear. I must admit, as a former public health emergency preparedness professional and current professor, that I have been disturbed by the fear mongering and lack of compassion expressed by many people of faith. I expect members of Congress to pump the people up and neglect the common good, as that has become the norm, but I did not expect it from priests and other people in the church. Ebola victims are the modern day lepers. Today it would appear the Gospel instructions about caring for the sick and the poor only apply if the sick are not contagious and the poor are not people of color.
Re “Commons Sense,” by Nathan Schneider (10/20): It’s the “tragedy of the market” that leads to over-exploitation of resources beyond their carrying capacity. Markets know no limits, especially when the state promotes an impersonal market order of individuals and economic growth at all costs. By contrast, intact, self-provisioning communities develop committed relationships among people and with nature.
In his latest book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Jeremy Rifkin demonstrates how the Internet is blowing apart private property and proprietary business models because collaborative commons are often more efficient and innovative in generating new value. That is why most software companies build business models around open source software, why drug companies do more research via open collaborative networks and why more firms look to social participation with “prosumers” as the way to build their brands.
Incentives for betterment do not come only or even primarily through markets. Belonging to a community of peers and shared ideals is a tremendous catalyst of value creation.
A Painful Process
My compliments to Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., for her comments in “Revisiting Remarriage” (10/6). Nine years ago I wrote anonymously about my experience of the annulment process in these pages (“The Anguish of Annulment,” 2/28/05).
I commend her focus on streamlining the annulment process, eliminating fees for annulment, deleting the need for witnesses while taking the applicants’ word on their experiences and encouraging the use of the internal forum for annulment, which would enable “individuals convinced that their first marriage was not sacramental to approach Communion according to their own well-formed conscience.”
I would add one more suggestion: Eliminate the use of diocesan tribunals. Give each pastor the ability and responsibility to declare an annulment. Allow him the ability to reach that decision after meeting with his parishioner and listening to the case she or he presents. After all, pastors have the ability to forgive the most grievous of sins, something far more consequential than determining whether a person entered a marriage without fully understanding its sacramental implications.
These approaches to annulment would alleviate the turmoil and pain that were felt by my wife and me and our children in the annulment process, which are also felt by many others who have gone through a Catholic annulment and which are feared by many contemplating the annulment process.
“Everyone’s Vocation” (9/29), by Russell Shaw, is an excellent take on the essential role of well-formed Catholic adults in achieving the mission of the church. In my 30 years in catechetical ministry, I have participated in the challenge of forming Catholic adults to understand this role.
After Vatican II there was a period of excitement for promoting adult faith formation. But the effort for adult faith formation has never received the ongoing commitment of personnel and resources required to provide a comprehensive and practical approach to adult faith formation in our parishes. Are church leaders willing to encourage, form and empower Catholic adults to participate in the decision-making processes at all levels of church life? To achieve this requires an authentic process of dialogue involving listening to one another, being willing to address honest questions and being open to considering new and challenging approaches.
It is sad to observe that in recent years there has been a significant reduction in the commitment of money and personnel directed specifically to adult faith formation in many parish and diocesan budgets. This does not bode well for achieving the vision that Mr. Shaw so clearly and vibrantly presented.
I am far from an expert on seminary education, but it is my sense that the problem outlined in “Rough Diamonds” (10/27), by Gerard O’Connell, is a very real one indeed. Put simply, many Catholics are far better and more broadly educated than they were 50 years ago, and not surprisingly they expect similar levels of education among those who lead them. Just as an exercise, I recently checked (admittedly through Wikipedia) the educational formation of about 25 of our American bishops. With perhaps one exception, all had experience only of a Catholic education that was probably rigorist (rather than rigorous), and most had gone on to get Ph.D.’s in canon law.
Where are the scholars of history, literature or physics and so forth? Where is any evidence of engagement with the outside world and broadness of vision, of the sort one would expect of a graduate of, say, the University of Michigan or Stanford or the University of Chicago? Of course, Cardinal Bernard Law is a Harvard man. But so was Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J.
“Looking for the New Shepherd” (9/22), by Judith Valente, proves that the history of St. Ambrose, a layman successfully elevated to bishop of Milan, lives on in Chicago. It also lives on in smaller places such as Greensburg, Pa., where we modern-day Ambrosians energetically solicited broad written input from our laity about the qualities we knew we needed in our next bishop. What an adventure as we learned to voice diocesan needs respectfully, with positives (e.g., “simple life, small house”) and with prayers to the Spirit to shout or whisper our needs to the good St. Pope John. Readers can see for themselves at www.greensburgsnextbishop.org.
In his New York Times column, “The Pope and the Precipice” (10/25), Ross Douthat suggests that the trajectory of the Synod on the Family could “sow confusion among the church’s orthodox adherents” and lead “eventually to real schism.” On America’s blog, In All Things, the church historian John O’Malley, S.J., responds, arguing, “Sometimes change is required precisely in order to remain faithful to the tradition” (10/29). Readers weigh in.
I agree with Father O’Malley that Mr. Douthat’s insinuation about having another living pope feeds the fire of schism. But I applaud Mr. Douthat’s strong argument, as he voiced the concern of many Catholics, who might even consider themselves “middle of the road” with respect to their views, Catholics who did not like the drum beat of “change whether you like it or not” coming from the synod followers of Cardinal Kasper et al. A well-constructed argument and debate is needed in our church, not the shouting match that masquerades as argument we have become all too used to in the United States.
Mr. Douthat’s article was indeed disturbing, drawing lines within the church that serve only to alarm. Father O’Malley’s point about the teaching magisterium is well taken: if these are truly bishops acting in concert with the bishop of Rome, then who is anyone (on either side of these unhelpfully demarcated “lines”) to question their authority? That would seem to me to be an ironic point of heterodoxy!
We must remember what “church” is. It is not an institution. It is a living, breathing collection of human beings chosen by Jesus (one hopes) to be his bride. Do brides stop growing? If you just answered no, then would it not be reasonable to believe that for the Catholic Church to remain alive, it too must change?