In “L.A. Wage Wars” (Current Comment, 6/22), the editors write, “The argument for exempting union workers, however, is a bit more cynical.” The pressures being faced by Homeboy Industries are not isolated. The Congressional Budget Office report issued when President Obama first called for increasing the federal minimum wage notes that gains in income among low-income workers could be offset by smaller businesses being forced to not hire or terminate workers to save costs. The editors should have noted the tradeoffs being faced and acknowledge that these tradeoffs are not limited to an organization with ties to the Jesuits, but are widely faced in the economy.
Created This Way
Recently I had a visceral reaction to the priest’s homily in which he lumped abortion, assisted suicide, divorce and same-sex marriage in the same sentence. The next day I read “Man and Woman Together” by Helen Alvaré (6/22). She laments that this generation “has a front row seat to the ceaselessly repeated claims that there is nothing uniquely important or special about the alliance of the man and the woman…. These claims, of course, are the very foundation of arguments on behalf of divorce laws deaf to the existence of minor children, a lively U.S. marketplace for eggs, sperm and wombs, and same-sex marriage.”
There was that conflation again, now putting same-sex marriage in the category of not appreciating the man-woman connection. Ms. Alvaré must appreciate that gay men, lesbian women and transgender people do not deny the special love, marriage and procreation of heterosexual partners. All most of us want is recognition that we are not all heterosexual, and it is not appropriate for us to partner with the opposite sex because this would not be authentic to our true selves as God created us.
The Language of Love
"A Family Embrace,”by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (6/8), was a welcome overview of the church’s still-in-process Synod on the Family. Archbishop Martin raises a question for me, however. He notes that last year’s session of the synod discussed “how to reach out to and recognize the situation of men and women of same-sex orientation.” Participants stressed “that there is a radical difference between marriage between a man and woman and marriage between people of the same sex.”
If there is “a radical difference” between the union of a man and woman and the union of people of the same sex, why use the same term, “marriage,” to describe them? Each type of union may involve love, but something significant, something “radical,” according to Archbishop Martin, is different in the relationship traditionally known as marriage. What are we avoiding by not naming these different pairings differently today?
The Iowa Supreme Court faced this question and blinked when it decided Varnum v. Brien in 2009. The court simply accepted the appellants’ claim that a different name for their unions, such as domestic partnership or civil union, was unjust discrimination. In legal terms, they wanted equal rights in law, but one aspect of their drive for equality was sameness in name.
Is it unjust to name different things differently? It has been unjust to deny homosexual people public acceptance and honoring of their honest stumblings toward love. It is not progress, though, to play language games that leave everyone feeling slightly dishonest.
Loving God’s Creatures
Re “Animals 2.0,” by Susan Kopp and Charles C. Camosy (5/25): As a Catholic and a vegan, my mind has been reeling since I read this article. It is upsetting to learn about the current state of animal manipulation. I wholeheartedly agree that we have a responsibility to take care of all God’s creatures, and although we would like to cure all diseases, this experimentation on animals creates a moral dilemma. How far do we go? It took me a lifetime to understand that animals are not only sentient beings but also that our treatment of animals carries over to how we treat one another. I understand animal testing results in beneficial medical outcomes; nevertheless, this should not be used to justify animal abuse. No matter how you slice it, it comes back to a might-makes-right attitude, and it becomes a slippery slope. Cardinal John Henry Newman said, “Cruelty to animals is as if man did not love God…. There is something so dreadful, so satanic, in tormenting those who have never harmed us, and who cannot defend themselves, who are utterly in our power.”
Daniel Healy’s complaint about “coercive unionism” (Reply All, 5/18) would be valid except for one simple fact—unions are democratic organizations. So if Mr. Healy were forced to join a union, he could advocate for changing the closed-shop provision of his union contract. He could vote for union officers sympathetic to his viewpoint. He could run for office in his local and national union. He could even organize a decertification vote. If worse comes to worst and none of those avenues work, Mr. Healy could quit his union job and be happy making on average $10.62 an hour less in wages and benefits at a non-union employer, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Sex and Sacrifice
I sympathize with the difficulties described in “Relying on Each Other,” by Rachel Espinoza and Tawny Horner (5/18). As someone who uses natural family planning and has been on the online forums, I can say there isn’t anything false in this article. The authors say they simply want to be heard and do not intend to call for a change in church teaching. I’ll extend them the benefit of the doubt, but the general tone of the article implies otherwise. Being heard and supported by church leaders would absolutely help. Another helpful component would be accepting that marriage, like anything worth doing well, requires sacrifice and the willingness to do hard things. Yes, when couples are abstaining, they can’t participate in illicit sexual acts outside of intercourse. Yes, when you practice periodic abstinence, you may have to abstain on your birthday. And yes, when you decide it isn’t time to have a baby, you have to “sacrifice the unitive” when you can’t “take on the procreative,” even when you are married. That is simply the nature of sex.
Re “Company Men,” by William J. Byron, S.J. (5/11): At an alumni dinner for Gonzaga University, I spoke with a doctor who had recently retired. He had graduated from Gonzaga in 1933. He told me that he was in freshman year when the Great Depression hit and by that spring his father told him they could not afford to send him to Gonzaga anymore. He confided in his Jesuit professor, and a plan was worked out so he could work during school and pay back whatever he owed to Gonzaga in the years following college. He then handed me an envelope, which I gave to the vice president of Gonzaga. In it were two substantial checks—one for Gonzaga and one for the Jesuit community.
At another Jesuit college a freshman came up to me after class and said his financial aid package for his sophomore year has been slashed by 75 percent. I went and talked to Jesuits, and they told me that in the old days they could work something out but now everything is through the financial aid department, and they have no influence anymore over there. The young man did not return for his sophomore year.
I am not claiming to understand the financial intricacies of running a college or the legal problems if the Jesuits still owned a college lock, stock and barrel—but something has been lost. There are now too few Jesuits, with too little influence in helping students with all their possible needs.
Readers weigh in on “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment.
For me this is one of the greatest moments in church history, and I am thankful to be alive while it happens. I am a scientist, and it has always troubled me that my church is often on the wrong side of science. For the first time in centuries, maybe for the first time ever, the church has weighed in on science at a time when it is still relevant to do so and, in doing this, establishes that there is a role for faith in the scientific understanding of creation. This is a huge deal, and I don’t think even we ardent Francis fans realize how monumental it could be.
All very nice, but I want to see him change the way the clergy operate. Turn bishops’ “palaces” into homeless centers; turn each and every parish into a center of sustainable living using alternative energy, community gardens, adult education programs, day care and so on. If this happens, then the encyclical won’t just be another lecture from someone who thinks he knows best.
By use of past papal documents, Pope Francis demonstrates that what he is saying is in line with the traditional teaching of the church. By use of current episcopal documents and reference to Patriarch Bartholomew’s teaching, he demonstrates the unity of the church in the world today. By reference to the Sufi mystic, he affirms the biblical truth that even non-Christians can find God in the natural world (Rom 1:20). It really is a beautiful document.