In his article Is This Transparency? (5/16), Russell Shaw asks whether the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is operating in a public and transparent manner. He suggests the answer may be no. Unfortunately, I think the answer is a definite yes.
Could it be possible that the secrecy of the American bishops is not really an effort to hold on to power, but rather an indication that they may very well have little or none in the first place? The danger of doing business in public is that people must take stands and give reasons for their positions. A plenary council or even a synod would have to address some of the serious problems facing the American churchfor example: the shortage of priests, the status of women, of divorced Catholics and of gay men and women in the church, and the role of Catholic politicians in a pluralistic society. The list could go on and on.
As Mr. Shaw indicates, however, according to canon law, plenary councils are held at the discretion of the pope, and their decisions are subject to papal approval. Can you imagine the leadership of the American church openly discussing these issues and taking stands knowing that their actions would undergo review by a higher authority with the possibility of a public rejection of their positions?
The situation, therefore, may be more transparent than we’d like. We know as lay Catholics that ecclesiastically we have no power. Now we have a pretty good idea that the leaders of the American church are powerless as well. Where are the courageous shepherds of the past: St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Augustine of Hippo? These are challenging times for us all.
F. Philip Johnston
Fountain Valley, Calif.
Think in the Church
The article Little Gray Cells, by James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., (5/30) was a delight and bolsters those of us who still think in the church (and we are many). To have belief also means to question so that one understands more clearly. To be loyal means to challenge, not simply to follow blindly. Thanks for articulating the need to be adult in our faith.
The most appalling thing about Little Gray Cells, by James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., (5/30) is that his points need to be spelled out at all. In any other circles, the need to use one’s brain would be so obvious that it would go without saying. Among our self-styled guardians of orthodoxy, however, the obvious is frequently less than clear, and they often appear to want us to remain as children in our thinkingin contradiction to (among others) St. Paul himself.
So Father DiGiacomo’s arguments, unnecessary though they ought to be, unfortunately need to be made over and over again, until their truth begins to sink in.
Congratulations to him, and congratulations to you for publishing it.
New Haven, Vt.
I compliment James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., on his very fine article (5/30). His comments are excellent, but more importantly, he said some things that needed to be said. Too many people feel that any dissent from the official church is wrong, and too many of the hierarchy in the United States have placed misguided loyalty ahead of the sensus fidelium.
Dissent is not a lack of faith but a sign of a healthy church. A hierarchy that can accept dissent, reflect on it and carry on discussion to pursue it further is a healthy hierarchy. Loyalty is an admirable virtue, but not to the detriment of a viable, collaborative church.
James E. Michaletz, C.S.V.
Road of Doubt
I wonder if the editors of America will ever face the reality that it is devilishly easy to raise challenges against what the church teaches but fiercely difficult to understand and accept what is presented. For instance, the church speaks of one God. How much more painless to be open and inclusive and welcome all the gods people may chance to worship? The Lord Jesus says that marriage is permanent. How much more attractive to hold that it is a contract subject to contract law that easily allows termination?
The church preaches that the Mass is a true sacrifice of the truly present Christ. How much easier to say that it is a memorial service, such as we have every Memorial Day? After all, we all know how to run a Memorial Day parade.
Would there ever be a chance that James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., might use the splendid supply of gray cells that he clearly has to help us see the wisdom of what the church teaches (5/30)? Must Catholic thinkers always push us to walk down the road of doubt? It is a well-lit path, but does it lead to life?
Frank R. Haig, S.J.
As a frequent reader of America since 1956, I must say that Dennis O’Brien’s article, No to Abortion, is surely one of the most cogent and timely articles, that I have read. Dennis O’Brien is serving the church through writing that brings clarity and understanding to the truths of our faith. His suggestions for clarifying the complexity of moral issues involved in abortion decisions sheds light and hope, much needed in our time. Thanks again to America.
Dorothy Simpson, S.N.J.M.
Los Angeles, Calif.
I have never read such a poorly researched and reasoned article in any serious magazine, let alone America, as Dennis O’Brien’s No to Abortion (5/30). To extend his ignorance of his subject for over 3,000 words was a colossal waste of space. On the other hand, if obfuscation of the abortion situation in the church and the country was his objective, he did well.
Joseph J. Reilly Jr.
As a retired lawyer who spent much of his professional career in the public policy arena, I applaud Dennis O’Brien for his article No to Abortion (5/30) and America for publishing his timely message. After years of repeal Roe sloganeering, it is high time someone pointed out the urgent need that will rise for a nuanced, pastorally sensitive policy (not posture), should that dream ever come true. The debate would move immediately to the 50 state legislatures and trigger a culture war like none we have yet seen. I see no signs that the church is ready for such an event. I hope against hope that we are capable of coming together in the sort of policy consensus for which O’Brien calls.
The contribution of the St. Louis Jesuits is not completely negative, but it turned the development of new music for Catholic worship in a direction that has proved to be a disaster (Sing a New Song, by Jim McDermott, S.J., 5/30). Dan Schutte and his friends caught on to something importantemphasis on Scriptureand pushed, by example, the new music of their day away from its touchy-feely essence back to a focus on Christ. But musically speaking, they are amateurs, and their popularityowing largely to a lack of alternativessent the entire enterprise of music for worship into a tailspin of overwhelming dominance of amateurs and hacks.
Because musical standards did not seem to matterafter all, weren’t the St. Louis Jesuits popular?no other standards seemed to matter either. The long-term consequence has been a devolution to the supremacy of attempts at music that fail to meet most reasonable musical or liturgical standards. The St. Louis Jesuits were not totally responsible for the mess we are in, but their popularity was the fulcrum on which our 30-year pilgrimage to musical and liturgical incompetence turned.
Robert P. Burke
Such a Feat
I write about the essay by Jim McDermott, S.J., Sing a New Song (5/30). Frankly, I have long believed that the St. Louis Jesuits did more harm than good to the American church with their music. They produced liturgical music that was of poor quality and negatively influenced the American church in those early post-Vatican II years. The St. Louis Jesuits were sheer amateurs, with very little musical preparation. They were still in college, studying philosophy and theology. In just a few years, they cranked out hundreds of hymns. How is that possible? Not even the greatest composers in the world could perform such a feat. A good hymn is a work of art. I have found that too many of their hymns are hard to sing, because they don’t have singable melodies that one loves to hum. There is a disconnect between our modern Catholic composers and the people in the pews. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church in America does not have a tradition of people composing beautiful, singable hymns like the Germans, French and Italians. The church in America is suffering from a dearth of good modern hymns.
Stone Park, Ill.