Puerto Rico’s Problems
Re “Help for Puerto Rico,” (Current Comment, 11/9): The government solution to Puerto Rico’s problems in the 1950s was to provide generous tax incentives for the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture on the island. But government incentives can be capricious, and they very frequently come to an unhappy end. Wait until they stop paying investment bankers to drive Teslas.
A “U.N. solution” to the current crisis would be highly unlikely to survive challenge by creditors in the U.S. courts. If the people of Puerto Rico want a solution, they should look to the examples of Chile and Singapore.
Robert David Sullivan raises some important points in “Defining Needy” (11/9). Candidates (well, Democratic candidates) offer competing proposals for college tuition assistance, debt relief, etc. But where are the competitive proposals, including radically different models, to address school systems with 40 percent dropout rates and graduates who lack basic literacy skills, producing our national illiteracy rate of 14 percent?
The connections between illiteracy and unemployment, incarceration and chronic dependence on public assistance are well documented. How do we assure that more of our children take that first step out of neediness, and become literate?
As Pope Paul VI wrote in “Populorum Progressio,” “Lack of education is as serious as lack of food; the illiterate is a starved spirit” (No. 35).
Contraception and Dishonesty
I disagree with Helen Alvaré (“The Federal Mystique,” 11/9). Whether or not you like the Catholic Church’s position on contraception matters greatly—for two reasons. The first is that “Humanae Vitae” has been divisive and is largely ignored by Catholics. The second is that by flatly condemning contraception, the church has forfeited its opportunity to make statements more nuanced and truthful.
Church teaching focuses on the costs and disadvantages of contraception without talking about the costs and disadvantages of not using contraception. This is dishonest. Failing to discuss the issue of power in the matter of contraception is also dishonest. And dishonesty destroys one’s credibility, whether a person or an institution is speaking.
Artificial and Fraudulent
“Humanae Vitae” is actually very nuanced, no matter how many deplore it. In rejecting artificial contraception as contrary to human dignity, it points out that it is an artifice, as in “a scheme or artifice to defraud,” making what appears to be a total offering of self anything but that. Nothing good can come from fraud or deception.
Stephanie Pacheco (“Gospel for a Middle Class,” 11/9) is correct in writing that “worldly goods are not dismissed” in the Gospel; the correct question is our attitude towards them. For me the other Francis (Francis de Sales) provides a helpful perspective when he writes in his Introduction to the Devout Life about apothecaries (pharmacists):
There is a wide difference between having poison and being poisoned. All apothecaries have poisons ready for special uses, but they are not consequently poisoned, because the poison is only in their shop, not in themselves; and so you may possess riches with out being poisoned by them, so long as they are in your house or purse only, and not in your heart. It is the Christian’s privilege to be rich in material things, and poor in attachment to them, thereby having the use of riches in this world and the merit of poverty in the next.
The middle class does not have the moral freedom that arises from giving up worldly goods. Instead, our use of riches must we weighed on a moral scale. We will always have the power to do good with the wealth that is given to us.
Re “Violence Continues Over Sacred Sites” (11/2): It is a common error, but I was dismayed to find it in America—the misinterpretation of Abraham’s call concerning his son Isaac (Gn 22: 2-5). By omitting just a few words, one changes the meaning and marvelous significance of Abraham’s relationship with God. He was not called to sacrifice his son but to offer him as a sacrifice. He was aware of the difference, hence the words to his servants, “We will worship and then come back to you.” Being perfect, God does not change his mind. He was testing Abraham’s faith, and at the same time Abraham had the temerity to test God. So he raised the knife, unaware of how God would react but confident that he would not allow the sacrifice. That is what makes it such a compelling story.
Thanks to Richard G. Malloy, S.J., for “Still Seeking Hope” (10/5), which will surely help educate others and diminish the stigma associated with death by suicide. As a mother who has lost an adult child to suicide, a pastor and a suicide prevention activist, I know that the author walks on holy ground when he shares his story and thus makes it possible for others to share theirs and move forward.
But I do take issue, strongly, with Father Malloy’s assertion that “there is nothing anyone could have done to stop” someone who decides to die by suicide. It is difficult for those of us who have lost someone in this way to discover that, had we known and understood more, there are things we could have done—but the same is true of death due to physical injury or illness. We may not know enough at the time, but as research develops and education continues, we find that there is lots we can learn and much we can do to change the trajectory of suicidal ideation, so that numbers of deaths and the tremendous suffering that follows are reduced. There is no comfort, and potential great harm, in the claim that suicides are inevitable.
Silenced in Seattle
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets” (Mt. 23:37). I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ lament upon reading “Activist in the Chancery,” by John A. Coleman, S.J. (10/5), a review of A Still and Quiet Conscience, by John A. McCoy. In reference to Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle, Father Coleman quotes Msgr. Michael Ryan, who said, “The American hierarchy has produced very few great men. He is one of them.” The fact is that Archbishop Hunthausen was targeted by the Vatican for the great “sin” of being antiwar and for opposing the buildup of nuclear weapons, especially the Trident submarine, during the Reagan administration. He even went so far as to attend a public protest against nuclear buildup and withheld his taxes, giving them to charity, as a way of protesting the buildup of our nuclear arsenal.
For this outrageous and blatant Christian activism, he was ultimately disgraced and symbolically stripped of his office as archbishop of Seattle. All of this reminds us that today, as in Jesus’ day, institutional bureaucracy within the church will often act to thwart legitimate prophets in our time.
Re “Why Educate” (Editorial, 9/28): Defining education as having a college degree is dubious at best, and when considered in the context of being a good person with a good soul, the definition should be rejected outright. Since the days of Abraham Lincoln, it has been possible to get an education outside of universities while spending very little money, although it does require an incredible amount of work and determination. Through the public library system, the government makes education accessible to all. Google, Coursera and the like make it possible to gain knowledge without cost. And traveling abroad, interacting with new and different people and experiencing things outside one’s comfort zone can happen equally well with or without a university stamp of approval.
Education and institutions of higher education should not be conflated to be the same thing. Continuously educating oneself is a responsible part of being in this world.