Re “An Open Invitation” (Reply All, 9/26): The reaction of the distinguished group of Catholic school leaders to Charles Zech’s article, “Reinventing Catholic Schools” (8/29), was very disappointing. They missed Mr. Zech’s main thrust: In a time of limited resources, the Catholic school system has to prioritize and use its resources in the most strategic fashion.
A time of triage, as we are in—especially on the East Coast—is not a time for sentiment. I wept when we closed Resurrection School, a K-8 school in Harlem on whose board I sat. But Resurrection School had an inadequate student base, low test results, low enrollment, little community capacity for philanthropy and a state government (New York) that has continually failed to provide school choices. Almost no inner-city Catholic school can survive in such an environment.
Mr. Zech is calling for a focus on those schools and communities where resources do exist, “searching for new models for delivering the kind of education that Catholics have come to know and treasure,” while using empty school facilities in a more effective fashion.
He does not in any way propose hindering appropriate growth. And growth is happening. Look at the Drexel Fund, a new organization that hopes to create 125 new (mostly Catholic) schools over the next 10 years, which will be high quality and financially sustainable schools.
Failing to Listen
Re “Free to Serve,” by Helen M. Alvaré (9/26): The church has consistently failed to listen to married couples in the matter of birth control. Given that natural family planning places enormous stress on most marriages, most couples opt for modern, reliable birth control. Because the church refuses to admit that the decisions regarding family are best left to the couple, it has lost any moral voice on other sexual matters. Rational people look at the church’s teachings on birth control in marriage and figure that since the celibate men of the church have gotten it so wrong, the church cannot be trusted to provide rational guidance in other areas of sexuality either. Too many in the church, especially within the clerical class, forget that they are not the church—the church comprises 1.1 billion people. Long ago, Blessed John Henry Newman advised the church to “consult” the faithful in matters of doctrine. Unfortunately, the clerical class has not yet received the wisdom of his counsel.
Dismayed by Clericalism
Re “Fully Formed,” by T. Howland Sanks, S.J. (9/26): Father Sanks fears “that too much of the intellectual training still takes place in the abstract, prescinding from the context, both local and global.” I am sorry to read this but find what he writes to be true. I have a master of divinity from a major seminary in Michigan, and I find Father Sanks’s proposals to be applicable to my past experience. My first question upon reading the article is: Where is life in Christ? Do you not believe that formation in the spiritual life is the core reality that is lacking in a great majority of clergy? I continue to be dismayed by the clericalism that drives our church. Where is God in all this?
Only Passing Reference
Father Sanks’s recommendations for seminary reform hit the nail on the head, especially in relation to curriculum content. My casual survey of the curricula of U.S. seminaries a couple of years ago revealed only passing reference to the church’s relation to Orthodox and Protestant churches, to non-Christian religions, science and the arts. As he suggests, time for such courses might be made by reducing courses in philosophy.
Vocation to Follow Jesus
Thanks to Jessica Keating for “Single by Default” (9/19) and for having the courage to tell it like it is about vocation. In spite of the church’s traditional categorization of vocations into tidy packages of priesthood and the religious, married and single, this type of classification contributes to clericalism and promotes an image of God as the giant puppeteer in the sky.
As Christians we receive the same vocation to be followers of Jesus, with all that entails. How we make the journey is dependent upon many of life’s circumstances: geography, family, who or what we meet on our way, health, gender and so on. It is false to say that a widow, a single person who marries or a person who leaves the priesthood has “lost his or her vocation.”
We all receive the same baptismal call to respond to God’s love in the best way we can with the gifts, talents and circumstances of life given us.
Work Now, Marry Later
Kudos to Jessica Keating for questioning whether single life is really a “vocation.” The church does young people a grave disservice by saying that the basic vocational choices are married, religious and single life. If we are made in the image of God, our work is important. God has put the continuing evolution of creation into our hands. Some of us even believe that God has a plan for each of us and has given us unique skills to carry it out. We have to discern what we are called to do before we can decide if and when to marry.
After two-and-a-half years of prison ministry at a large federal institution, I was delighted to see the editorial “‘Tough on Crime’ Doesn’t Pay” (9/19) but saddened by its incompleteness. While there is truth to all the issues pointed out, many issues were not addressed at all.
Upon entering the penitentiary compound, one sees immediately that justice is slanted toward whites and against minorities. In establishing relationships with inmates one hears time and again about how the district attorney builds careers on the backs of those too poor to afford lawyers and on those left in the care of government-appointed barristers, who often do little other than work to convince accused to plead guilty and avoid trial. In fact, that gimmick is a cudgel used to coerce the accused by telling them that if they do not accept a plea bargain they will suffer the full measure of the law.
What about the contributing societal problems of gangs, poor schools and missing parents? There is no real chance for people to escape the barrio lifestyle that drags them into criminal activity as a way to exist. Prison staffing is also a problem—the amount of power that prison guards have invites abuse. If you are a prisoner and you complain about any kind of mistreatment you will most likely face recrimination whether your complaint is valid or not. We do not have a rehabilitative system. We do have a retributive system; we have a disgraceful system that does not work to restore dignity but instead works to destroy dignity further.
In Of Many Things (9/12), Matt Malone, S.J., writes, “I can’t imagine saying to the person sitting next to me at Mass, the one who disagrees with me on what the public policy on abortion should be, that he or she is somehow less Catholic than I am by virtue of that simple fact.” Would Father Malone hold the same view of any Catholic who, in good conscience, favored torturing terror suspects for the limited purpose of obtaining information that could be used to prevent future terrorist attacks?
In Catholic moral theology, is bigotry really a worse sin (and worse evil) than abortion? I can assure Father Malone that every racist and anti-Semite I have ever met was quite sincere in his or her beliefs, which they claim to be based on “evidence” and “the study of history,” and honestly see themselves as preaching the “uncomfortable truths” that powerful elites do not want us to hear.
We are all sinners, but as Catholics, we are morally obligated to properly form our consciences, as the Second Vatican Council taught in the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.” I am sure Catholic dissidents on the left and the right may have their individual good points, but what is wrong with calling attention to the fact that they may be jeopardizing their eternal salvation?
Racism Pervades American Life
Reading Michael Pasquier’s piece “Still Separate, Still Unequal” (8/29), on white racism in the American Catholic church, one might easily conclude “but that’s the South.” Let me assure my fellow readers that it is not. I grew up in Chicago in the 1940s and ‘50s. It was the same—the same indifference, the same patterns of segregation, the same noble-sounding but vacuous admonitions, the same pious bromides and lack of action. How many Catholics of my age will be surprised to learn that in 19 years of Catholic education in three separate institutions I had but one black classmate? Sure, there were Catholics who spoke out—both lay and clerical—but these truth-tellers got little support from church leadership. Let’s be honest: Things haven’t changed that much. Race is still the third rail of American Catholicism. The hierarchy does not want to touch it, and most Catholics do not want to hear about it. Until this changes, our church will continue to be a home for the prejudice and institutionalized racism that pervades much of American life.