S.J.’s and Ph.D.’s
Re “Company Men,” by William J. Byron, S.J. (5/11): The fact is, the best way for a Catholic to be guaranteed a tenure-track university position is to become a member of a religious order and to get a Ph.D. Jesuit schools are drooling all over themselves to try to get qualified Jesuits to take faculty positions. The problem isn’t the inability of assignment. The problem is that such a small number seem to be genuinely interested in the academic life. They love being pastoral, saying Masses and being super-priests. All of these things are well and good. But a few need to suck it up for the team and excel at academics, so as to provide a model for younger Jesuits and to preserve the great institutions they created.
I genuinely enjoy the Jesuits I teach, and I love the Jesuits I work with at Saint Louis University; but the crisis lies in the Jesuits themselves. We’re a long way from the glory years when Jesuits like de Lubac, Rahner and Lonergan were towering figures. Obviously there are exceptions. The order needs to take more pride in the academic part of life or quit complaining about their diminished role in the universities they founded. I am not against what Father Byron suggests here, but some of the presuppositions are a thousand miles off course.
Alternatives in Iran
Re “Preventing a Nuclear Iran” (Editorial, 5/4): I would like to hear an intelligent alternative from those who see only failure in these talks. So far, the alternative seems to be war with Iran. Is this plan based on Senator McCain’s famous “Bomb, bomb Iran” rant? I hardly view that as an intelligent alternative. The sanctions imposed by the free world have brought the Iranian government to the table. This is a most critical time, and it should be a time for unity from our political leaders. I don’t believe Iran’s government is trustworthy. Neither was the U.S.S.R., and yet President Reagan signed a treaty with them. It can be done. Thanks to America for a thoughtful editorial.
Work in Progress
As a physician who continues to meet more male and female victims of sexual abuse by clerics, I found informative “Answering the Unspeakable” (5/4), the review by Frank Brennan, S.J., of James T. O’Reilly’s The Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis and the Legal Responses. I am grateful that Father Brennan is honest enough to admit that dealing with sexual abuse of children in the church is still a work in progress, since some bishops want us to believe that it is past history.
I have a question, however. Is Father Brennan aware that parish bulletins around the country ask that accusations of abuse be directly reported to church officials, with no request to also report to the police? Even now Pope Francis seems to want the church to be in control of investigations. This is self-defeating. There will never be credibility that the right thing is being done unless all investigations are under the control of civil and criminal law enforcement.
Space at the Altar
Re “In Defense of Altar Girls,” by Kerry Weber (5/4): Thank you, Kerry Weber! I am amazed that some Catholics continue to argue that having girls around the altar takes a space from a boy, who in later years may be called to the priesthood. If God wants a man, the message will come across. And who knows, maybe the girl at the altar will be the mother, sister, friend or cousin that encourages a man in her life to become a priest because of her experience. Or maybe she will become a religious or a woman of great faith who evangelizes others to come to Christ because of her experience as an altar server.
Re “No More Nukes,” by Kevin Clarke (5/4): The letter by Pope Francis read at the Vienna Conference offered nothing beyond what St. John XXIII said in 1963. The Catholic bishops of the United States tried to declare nuclear deterrence immoral in “The Challenge of Peace” (1983) but were called on the carpet in Rome to answer the objections of the archbishop of Berlin and other “NATO bishops.” The Catholic Church has not been in the forefront on the nuclear issue for more than a generation. (Some Catholics have been, notably the Plowshare activists.)
The crux of the matter is that nuclear deterrence is intrinsically immoral. Deterrence works, insofar is it does work, only when there is the fixed intention to use nuclear weapons. The nuns taught us that bad thoughts were sinful. What thought could be more sinful than the intention to turn my key and set in motion the obliteration of millions of human beings? The humanitarian consequences the Vienna Conference speaks of go beyond what would happen in the event of a nuclear war. We’re already living with these consequences. It’s too bad there’s not something like a Geiger counter to measure the contamination of the soul.
Inside the Church
In “Outside the Lines” (4/27), Helen Alvaré makes it clear that women’s ability to maneuver from outside bureaucracies could be good for the future church. Perhaps history can assist with an additional point. There have been men, like St. Vincent de Paul, as well as women, who have so maneuvered and envisioned new ways for the church and for women to lead and serve. In 1617, Vincent founded the Confraternities of Charity, a lay association led by women, to serve people who were poor and sick. These confraternities spread throughout the world. Nearly 400 years later they are still flourishing as the International Association of Charities of St. Vincent de Paul, known in the United States as the Ladies of Charity of the United States of America.
Today’s church could benefit from St. Vincent’s vision, creativity and pragmatism. He read the signs of the times and developed sustainable, Gospel-driven responses “outside the lines” and inside the church.
May all holy men and women work together to shape the church of the future that our world needs so badly. “Love is inventive even to infinity,” said St. Vincent de Paul.
In “Confirmation Bias” (4/27), Michael H. Marchal begins by complaining that we are losing young Catholics, and he cites the decline in the rates of confirmation as evidence. But his proposal is to place confirmation in a position where it would essentially get lost in the run-up to Communion. This hardly seems likely to improve the author’s stated purpose of evangelizing young people. And the only supporting evidence he offers is that he did not find his own confirmation particularly meaningful.
So as a Catholic who did find it meaningful and clearly distinct from Communion, which I also found meaningful, I want to express my strong support for the current order, though moving confirmation back to age 16, 18 or even later, when it can be a real choice for the individuals involved, should also be considered.
I would also point out that the current order is consistent with the most original practice in the sense that this is the order that the events in the Bible occurred on which the sacraments are based. It seemed to work effectively for the apostles’ faith formation.
Thanks to Holly Taylor Coolman for her essay, "Tied Together by Love" (4/13). As someone adopted into the secret world of closed adoption in the 1950s, it was affirming to read of an adoptive parent’s willingness to enter the experience of adoption with an attitude of hospitality. Open adoption, for all its challenges, is the only honest segue into the world of adoptive family relationships.
Sadly, the U.S. bishops do not embrace the same values. Ms. Coolman mentions that she and the birth family entered a church for a “blessing”— probably not a baptism. The bishops insist that baptism not be administered before the adoption is finalized so that the information from the amended birth certificate can be copied into the baptismal register. Thus, mention of the birth parents’ identities, or the child’s birth name, can be conveniently omitted.
Hospitality, not secrets or lies, is the best response to a child who needs a home—and adoption should be about the needs of the child, not those of the prospective parents. Adoptive families are no better or worse than families formed biologically, but they are different. And such differences need to be acknowledged as Ms. Coolman has done so well.
In “A Mess and a Miracle,” by John Carr (4/13), it is noted that most Americans overestimate the percentage we spend on foreign aid. They guess 25 percent; they think it should be 10 percent; it is actually less than 1 percent. Just a couple of pages later a graphic accompanying “Metaphysics and Money,” by Gary A. Anderson, plays into that misconception by picturing the United State as number one in the “World Giving Index,” which measures foreign aid in real dollars. When U.S. giving is calculated as a percentage of our gross national product, we rank somewhere around number 20.