To Cuba’s Credit
Re “A ‘Francis Effect’ in Cuba” (Current Comment, 2/23): Having served as the pastor of two parishes in Santa Clara, Cuba, from 1994 to 1998, I think I ought to point out some errors in this commentary. The editors write that “conditions in the country first started to change after the 1998 visit of St. John Paul II.” The marked increase in religious tolerance in Cuba actually began in the early 1990s, when the Communist Party changed its statutes to allow believers to become members. Reprisals against workers for attending church services were prohibited, and the local Religious Affairs party officers were instructed to intervene in such cases. Harassment of students by their teachers for having gone to religious instruction was greatly reduced. Churches were repaired (with some difficulty), although new churches were still not permitted. University students were permitted to form Christian campus associations.
God be praised for the wonderful efforts of St. John Paul II and Pope Francis. But also give the Cuban government credit for the major self-corrections it made long before any pope came to visit. And to attribute today’s improved religious freedom to the recent resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba is, in my opinion, a stretch. Permission to construct a new church building is a good step forward, but it is part of a continuum of improvements that have been happening for years.
“Prison Addiction” (2/23), Bishop Dennis Madden’s powerful exposition about the mass incarceration of young offenders, mostly African-Americans and Hispanics, for nonviolent and drug-related offenses, sounds an alarm for all urban centers. As I read about his experience in Baltimore, I kept thinking, “This is Houston.”
Bishop Madden speaks to the failure of the juvenile justice system that contributes to a subclass of uneducated citizens who are disenfranchised from voting or have great difficulty finding gainful employment. Among the horrific social problems facing urban America, this surely ranks very high.
I hope clergy and faithful citizens will take seriously the challenge to craft solutions to the mass incarceration of our youth. A reform of the juvenile judicial system is needed, as are ways to rescue young people from becoming a permanent subclass and to restore to them their God-given dignity and confidence that they can be productive citizens in their communities.
Holy, Not Perfect
“Saintly Sinners, Sinful Saints,” by James Martin, S.J. (2/23), is a column well worth reading. I suspect that what has happened in the modern era is that a form of moralism has taken over the popular imagination. It is an attitude that cannot accommodate the notion that God’s love can infuse a person who is endowed with less than a perfectly agreeable personality or that someone who acts in accord with his or her own day’s standards but not ours could be deeply in love with God and human beings.
Before the 20th century, few Europeans could escape their culture’s belief systems, systems that considered Europe the epitome of high culture. In that worldview, you were doing a favor by chastising members of “less fortunate races.” Alas, we too will be judged harshly by people several centuries from now—unless misdeeds resulting from our blindness pollute the planet to an extent that Gaia does away with humanity. Serra was a good holy man, not a perfect holy man.
The Wrong Message
Should Junípero Serra be made a saint? Absolutely not. The treatment of the people of the California missions is so odious an event in the history of the church that canonizing Serra would send a deathly message and counteract any efforts to evangelize. If it were recognized, instead, that it was not Serra but his predecessors, Bartolomé de las Casas, a repentant Dominican, and Father Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit, who made California a multicultural region that is more accepting and embracing of racial, religious and cultural diversity than any place in the past—that would be a positive and evangelizing message. Missionaries like Las Casas actually struggled through their encounter with the people of the New World and came to champion their rights as human beings deserving of respect.
What Cannot Die
“The Annulment Dilemma,” by Msgr. Paul V. Garrity (2/16), was a good article until the last paragraph. Monsignor Garrity concludes, “The fact of a divorce should be proof enough that something essential was missing in a marriage or that the marriage has died.” This statement is, in my opinion, hogwash at best. It is like saying, “The fact that I punched my friend ‘should be proof enough that’ he deserved it.” If we use this faulty logic in reverse, we are forced to conclude that if a couple does not divorce, then their marriage must in fact be valid. I think not.
Further, based on Catholic teaching, it is not possible for a valid marriage to “die.” If a marriage could “die,” then so could a baptismal seal, a confirmation seal and an ordination—and all that would be needed for “proof” of those deaths would be a loss of faith. By this logic, we are forced to conclude that if someone loses faith, then obviously his or her baptism and confirmation didn’t “take.” Or, if a priest leaves his ministry, he must never have been ordained.
Feelings can be allowed to die. A relationship can be allowed to die. But sacraments cannot die because Christ is their guarantor, and he conquered death.
Synod ‘On the Streets’
As the father of seven adult children, I was dismayed by “We Have a Lot of Work to Do,” an interview with Cardinal Reinhard Marx by Luke Hansen, S.J. (2/16). So much of the focus is on reform of the Vatican, so little on change in doctrine regarding family issues, as if the church merely needs to teach so that we laypeople understand better.
The need for more involvement of women in church administration is acknowledged, but recognition of their wisdom and perspective, particularly on family matters, is overlooked. Is there no hope for substantive change regarding second marriages, premarital cohabitation, long-term loving gay relationships, birth control? These are realities families deal with day by day.
Pope Francis urges a church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets.” Unfortunately, it seems the synod is being conducted only within the antiseptic halls of the Vatican, unable to grapple with the gritty realities families face in our fast-changing world. Happily, most are at peace with our Lord; unfortunately, many are finding little solace in our church.
Readers respond to “Raising Peter: What my son taught me about my faith,” by Mary Beth Werdel (2/23).