I second the Rev. Robert P. Imbelli in “Family in Focus” (12/8). Father Imbelli emphasizes the importance of prayer in this process of discernment, and I would add Scripture to that. I am reminded of the Gospel reading at my wedding, “That they may be one,” from John 17, a passage we chose because we believed it revealed the heart of what marriage and family life mean in the big picture of God’s plan of love and peace for the human family and for the church.
A broad commitment to unity is central to renewing family life. Spousal unity happens in the context of environmental and economic justice, world peace and ecumenical unity in faith. And vice versa: peace and unity in the family lead to greater peace and unity in the world. I am heartened that Pope Francis has spoken about these connections and advocates for family in this context.
It often seems, however, that many Christians decontextualize the renewal of the family, trying to blame family breakdown simply on a personal lack of commitment among young people (how can young people without adequate jobs commit to a marriage?) or on isolated violations of certain sexual teachings. These things are important—but when Pope Francis says we don’t need to “talk about them all the time,” I think he means it is harmful to talk about them in way that doesn’t connect family life and sexuality to the larger picture of cosmic, environmental and social unity and that only furthers ideological polarization and the advancing of political agendas.
America’s proud record of opposing repressive laws that target lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people was once again on display in Celso Perez’s cover story, “Zero Tolerance: Why Catholics Must Condemn Anti-Gay Violence” (12/8). For several years, I have followed the horrifying trend of criminalizing LGBT people in nations around the globe. From my observation, America was the first Catholic periodical to criticize such laws in an editorial (January 2012) and strongly repeated the condemnation of these measures again in February 2014.
Mr. Perez gets to the crux of the matter when he notes that Catholic leaders’ silence about anti-LGBT legislation or, worse, their implicit and explicit support of such measures often sparks prejudiced attitudes that fuel violent acts against LGBT people. The U.S. bishops, in their 1994 pastoral letter “Confronting a Culture of Violence,” identified this dynamic when they condemned the “slow-motion violence of discrimination.”
Catholic bishops around the world are often the strongest and most vocal critics of same-gender marriage initiatives. They say they feel compelled to speak out because of church teaching on marriage and procreation. Yet, despite the fact that church teaching equally condemns discrimination and violence against LGBT people, bishops too often remain stonily silent about such matters. Why do bishops feel it is permissible to speak on the sexual ethics part of church teaching about LGBT people and not the social justice part?
In her letter challenging “Market Assumptions,” by Bishop Robert W. McElroy, Mary Dahl misses one of the most basic facts about why people work (Reply All, 12/8). After dismissing the dignity of work as a “lofty idea,” she portrays the actual motivation for working as “care for our families and ourselves.” That view sees the rewards of work as merely extrinsic.
Yet my experience of being a full-time teacher for 44 years has taught me that work’s intrinsic and intangible rewards count for far more than the paycheck—as necessary as that piece of paper is. I was constantly being inspired by the self-sacrifice and love that my colleagues would show so that their students could do their best no matter what challenges they might be facing in school or in life. And very “ordinary” workers do good jobs out of pride as well. When a new addition to the high school was about to open, I chatted with one of the bricklayers, who said that the next Sunday the construction workers were all going to bring their kids to see the good job their parents had done.
Instead of dismissing the dignity of work as mere idealism, I would suggest that readers expand their circles of acquaintances and discover how practical and motivational the concept really is. Everyone would be richer.
Law and Enforcement
“An Abortion Ban Challenged” (12/8), by Tim Padgett, notes certain instances in which El Salvador’s abortion ban has apparently been enforced with overly harsh results. Given the circumstances described in the article, the results in individual cases do seem “draconian.”
The article, however, may feed into the view, all too prevalent in our own culture, that any restrictions on abortion are somehow attacks on women. This premise has been used in our own country to fuel an attitude that abortion is an inalienable right and to seek to quash any restrictions on abortion. The fact that a law can be enforced inappropriately does not mean the law itself is wrong. This should be quite clear from events in our own country. We should not be so quick to criticize El Salvador for protecting, even if imperfectly, the lives of its citizens before they are born.
I read with dismay this recent news item: “While officials from the Kenyan government and bishops’ conference met on Nov. 19, Kenya’s Catholic bishops continued to urge people to avoid receiving a tetanus vaccine, which they say contains a hormone linked to birth control” (News Briefs, 12/8).
The tetanus vaccine is a well-studied, internationally used medication that is life-saving for both children and adults. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all pregnant women receive a combination tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis vaccine in their third trimester. There is absolutely no relation to birth control. In countries where tetanus vaccination is not routine, the disease is fatal. This was seen in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. I am dismayed that a country’s Catholic leaders are putting their people at risk of serious harm from a preventable illness.
Sin Not Sinners
Re “The Loneliest Choice,” by Rhonda Mahwood Lee (12/1): We must remember when discussing suicide that “freedom of will” exists along a spectrum and is not either/or. It is correct to say that mental illness diminishes free will, which lessens not the sinfulness of the act, but the culpability of the person committing the act. All killings—whether by accident, murder or suicide—are “evil” acts, but the person doing the act may not be held fully responsible, depending on the circumstances, intention, etc. This is true both in morality and in civil law. As such, an immoral act can be said to be sinful or evil, but we should never say that of the mentally ill person who committed the act (even if popular American media favor labeling people with terms like “murderers,” “homeless” or “poor” to make it easier for us to not see them as individual people anymore). Beware of the person (priest, confessor) or institution (church magisterium) that labels people according to their actions.
In “An Unlikely Gathering” (11/10), Gerard O’Connell talks about the follow-up to the October 2014 Synod of Bishops. He states, “Pope Francis is actually inviting, through the bishops, the entire church—priests, women and men religious and lay faithful—to participate, in their dioceses and parishes, in a global discussion of the final report....” I continually find it amazing, in both this article and others, both in America and other publications, that the “entire church” does not include permanent deacons. Really? I often wonder if the exclusion of the diaconate as part of the church is intentional or an act of ignorance. If intentional, I would like to know why. And if not, then a vast amount of ignorance exists in the church, even among the learned.
Readers respond to “Zero Tolerance: Why Catholics must condemn anti-gay violence,” by Celso Perez (12/8).
To everyone saying, “Why single out gay people? Catholics should condemn ALL violence”—yes, of course we should. But that statement is an abstraction. “We condemn violence against LGBT people” is concrete. It’s not offering a vague hope for peace but forcefully and pointedly calling out evil, un-Christian behavior that happens all over the world. This has nothing to do with Catholic teachings on marriage, with a theology of the body or with the ongoing American debate about marriage equality. This is about people being tortured and jailed and executed for being the way God made them.
How sad that America published an article by Celso Perez, a member of the oddly-named Human Rights Watch, which champions abortions and opposes any and all restrictions on it. In 2007, H.R.W. named Pope Benedict XVI to its Hall of Shame, alleging that he has undermined “human rights by actively promoting prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” I guess civility is for other people.