Reply All: Join the Conversation

The End of Catholic Education?

Re “Our Reason for Being,” by Michael Naughton, Don Briel and Kenneth E. Goodpaster (2/1): American Catholic higher education is alive and well despite decades of criticism by popes, bishops, a handful of faculty and lay Catholics convinced that Catholic colleges and universities have sold their souls for academic respectability. I have tremendous respect for the authors who make that damaging case again. They put a new and even more insulting label (“teleopathy,” an “end or purpose” marked by “disorder or sickness”) on this narrative of supposed betrayal of Catholic integrity by unnamed college and university leaders. They are simply wrong.

They treasure the unity of knowledge supposedly achieved by Catholic theology. They apparently expect administrators and trustees to tell the faculty to stop short-changing the liberal arts and translate this unity into the curriculum. In fact, serious people from many disciplines—and many faith communities—would dearly love to share such a unified body of knowledge. But they have noticed that differences persist, even among Christians, despite the wisdom of the Catholic hierarchy and the brilliance of orthodox Catholic theologians. And of course the authors cherish “the complementarity of faith and reason.” But surely we know by now that, unfortunately, the dialogue many Catholics speak of must in the end be one way: listening to others can help us to know better how to persuade them to see things as we do.


All this is fine for a confessional college, a valued subset of American colleges, or for a set-apart Catholic studies program, as too many have become. For a Catholic university, as for any serious and responsible American Catholic, a sense of shared responsibility for the common life, not a countercultural critique of everybody but us, is the best starting point for the intellectual life, as it is for citizenship and, indeed, discipleship. The practice of genuine dialogue about fundamental human questions, and the pursuit with others for the unity of the human family, are central and enormously important elements of contemporary intellectual and cultural life. Catholics have much to contribute to this work. But they will best do so when they take up that work from the inside, in genuine solidarity with all others. Solidarity and shared responsibility, not identity shaped by teleopathy, provides the best basis for the future of American Catholic higher education.

David O’Brien
Professor Emeritus, College of the Holy Cross
Worcester, Mass.

Is Abortion Debatable?

The 2003 statement by the Society of Jesus of the United States, “Standing for the Unborn,” reprinted in part in Of Many Things on Feb. 1, strikes me as unrealistic. The statement speaks of “the abortion debate” and urges “tolerance and mutual dialogue” while avoiding “any sort of moral relativism.” I suggest that this is the state of the abortion controversy: There is no debate.

Some Catholic moral positions are debatable. The Jesuit statement mentions Catholic opposition to the death penalty. I agree with that view, but I have no problem regarding the issue as debatable. Advocates of the death penalty claim that it is a deterrent. That is a plausible argument; it just happens to be largely unsubstantiated by facts. Contrast the abortion controversy. What credence can Catholics extend to advocates of legal abortion? The Catholic position is that the unborn child from the moment of conception deserves “full legal recognition and protection.” If that were the law, abortion in every instance would be the unlawful taking of a human life. I find it impossible to imagine what reasonable grounds could be given for permitting such a procedure. Debating abortion comes to sound like debating the pros and cons of genocide.

Dennis O’Brien
Middlebury, Vt.

Reaching Teens

In “Credo” (1/18), Bill McGarvey describes his reaction to one musician’s thoughtful explanation for abandoning the Pentecostal Christianity of his youth: “I couldn’t help but think, ‘You’re not an atheist; it’s just that the tools you were given to understand faith as a child no longer worked as an adult and your faith wasn’t able to grow up with you.’”

This quote is spot on for so many teens who (rightly, I think) question so many of the views and practices they see around them in the church or from folks on behalf of the church. It stops them from engaging at a deep level and makes it difficult to get them even to look at the real message Christ brought.

Young people are wonderfully idealistic, and the desire to help out in our world is there—alongside all the natural ambitions they have to progress in their chosen paths. It’s our job to ensure the conceptual tools of faith fit the purpose. There needs to be more of a bridge built between the world of spirit and the concrete everyday world we live in for Christianity to resonate with teens.

Louise Harrison
Durham, England

Middle Class Dividends

Re “Defending the Middle Class” (Editorial, 1/4): The editors write that there are ways to support the middle class “that merit the support of lawmakers across the ideological spectrum”; what follows is a list of ways to redistribute the current pie.

Might we agree that an infusion of $2 trillion into the American economy would promote either investment (by business, into new plants and equipment) or consumption (by companies spending on new hires and training or shareholders spending their dividends)? That would benefit the middle class by creating new jobs, by putting upward pressure on wages and because 47 percent of American households own shares of corporate stock and would therefore collect dividends.

The $2 trillion could arrive very quickly if the U.S. tax code were changed to eliminate the income tax on repatriated profits, which were already taxed by the country in which the profits were earned. Or is this bit of objective reality too much at odds with political loyalties?

Joseph J. Dunn
Online Comment

Asylum Versus Assimilation

“The Rights of Refugees,” by David Hollenbach, S.J. (1/4), is fine as far as it goes. However, as much as I deplored our country’s getting involved with Iraq in the first place, I am not so sure we are as responsible for that country’s mass migration as the author seems to suggest. A good deal of the blame must be assigned to the tribal dissension that has been a part of Iraq’s history for hundreds of years, as well as to the Arab Spring phenomenon.

Additionally, I wonder if we, as a nation, do not have enough on our plate already just trying to deal with the migration problems of this hemisphere, especially from places like Guatemala and Honduras. Should those migrants not take precedence over people from the Middle East?

Finally, I wish the author had more explicitly recognized the difference between asylum and immigration, the former being inherently aimed at providing relief from political persecution, poverty and the like for as long as needed; the latter aiming to more or less permanently assimilate foreigners into our country, regardless of their need for asylum. Indeed, it has been suggested that instead of encouraging or permitting people to make a lengthy and generally very dangerous journey through many other countries to our border, we would better serve the need for asylum by setting up temporary, well-policed housing facilities for migrants much closer to their home countries.

Paul A. Becker
Online Comment

Rules of Celibacy

“For Better or Worse” (1/4), Sidney Callahan’s review of D. Paul Sullins’s work, Keeping the Vow, asks: “will optional celibacy become the rule, as in all the other 20 rites in communion with Rome?” In fact, at least three of the 23 or so Eastern Catholic Churches (not rites) enforce a celibate priesthood: the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church and the Coptic Catholic Church.

Phyllis Zagano
Hempstead, N.Y.

Unnecessary Suffering

I read with sadness and dismay “Freed Speech,” by Caridade Drago, S.J. (1/4). He was subjected to so much misinformation, resulting in so much unnecessary suffering before his deliverance. Science now tells us that stuttering is a genetic condition. It tends to run in families. My great uncle, uncle, brother, his daughter and my son suffered from this condition. Thanks to excellent speech pathologists and programs around the country, both my niece and my son are now fluent.

If you have someone in your family who suffers from this most public condition, please take advantage of one these programs. No one needs to go through life unable to communicate thoughts and feelings without the accompanying anxiety, frustration and embarrassment of this disfluency.

Patricia Hathaway
Detroit, Mich.

Mother Mary

I truly enjoyed “The Pregnancy of Mary,” by Nathan Schneider (11/23/15). Many of us women, and some men, believe deeply that Mary did have labor pains. If she did not, then she wasn’t quite like us women. We tend to feel closer to Mother Mary knowing that she was like us in every way and suffered like us too. We believe that she was born without sin and also believe her Immaculate Conception had nothing to do with suffering. I do not think that Father God had everyone suffer physical pain, even his son, yet Mary did not. Our holy Brother was like us in every way; so was his birth. If his birth was different from ours, than he is not like us in every way.

I have come closer to Mother Mary in believing she is like all women and not someone put on a pedestal by men. She is very much like a mother and not a goddess. She has helped me in so many ways as a mother for she knows what we feel and go through. She has lost a child; she has lost a husband; she has suffered over her son being wrongly accused; she has outlived her family. The holy Mother of God knows a woman’s concerns, aches and pain, discomforts and disappointments as well.

Mary K. Williams, O.F.S.
Beavercreek, Ohio

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

Women served as deacons in Europe for about a millennium in a variety of ministerial and sacramental roles.
Brandon SanchezJanuary 15, 2019
In preparation for the gathering in Abu Dhabi, I find myself asking why my conversations with the future Pope Francis so powerfully affected both of us.
Abraham SkorkaJanuary 15, 2019
Photo: iStock
Included on the list is John T. Ryan, S.J., who from 1989 to 1994 was an associate editor for development at America.
Michael J. O’LoughlinJanuary 15, 2019
Did you ever wonder why Jesus was baptized? What sins did Jesus have to repent of? Nothing.
James Martin, S.J.January 14, 2019