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Moral Compass

Thanks for your editorial Enron and Morality (2/11). Teaching corporate finance, investment analysis and portfolio construction and management established that the model of wealth maximization is worthwhile and shares the attributes of all economic models. It is a great engine for discovery, and it is flawed because it abstracts from people in a humanistic sense. Students were often reminded of that absence as emphasis was placed on their integrity, grounded in rigorous honesty, not necessarily as codified by due diligence or full disclosure.

As trustees of a religious-sponsored retirement plan, we were mindful of two things: 1) our independence of the sponsoring corporation and 2) the need to be sensitive to the work of the employees whose money was in the plan. It would have been both facile and deleterious to separate investment policies and decisions from the hard-earned money of the janitorial staff, nurses, administrators and others. It was their dough over which we had a fiduciary responsibility. Although it was not explicitly stated, as I look back on it now, we saw 1) our fiduciary responsibility as grounded not just in civil law but primarily in the law of Christ and 2) that work is noble because of the nobility of the workerthat is, their work and their retirement plan were the continuation of God’s creation. Such was the moral compass.

Charles A. D’Ambrosio
Seattle, Wash.

Authenticity

In his otherwise excellent column, Thomas J. McCarthy (From This Clay, 2/4), seems to have gotten it all wrong when he states that being a father, husband, brother, friend keeps him from practicing a purer and more authentic Christian faith. The notion that living a life of voluntary poverty and being a radical follower of Christ is somehow a purer form of Christianity just isn’t so. I thought that approach had been discredited.

It is precisely in our role as fathers, husbands, brothers and workers that we become more Christlike and act as a leaven in the world. We can become other Christs, whatever our vocation in this world.

Edward Schaaf, D.D.S.
Chicago, Ill.

Food for Thought

Of course Richard A. Blake, S.J., is entitled to his opinions, and I found his review, Fellowship of the Wrong (2/11) provocative if only because it dissents from the hyperbolic praise lavished on the movie by critics and viewers alike. However, here are a few random observations from what I hope is a neutral position, without such preconceptions as Blake’s characterization of mid-century Anglo-Catholics as a dyspeptic lot. A bit of cultural bias, perhaps? Fine.

Certainly the film was concerned with action rather than plot, and I for one closed my eyes tightly several times rather than be forced to endure the gory violence. Sadly, the mission to which the fellowship is committed is lost in an overwhelming display of special effects. Tolkien wrote for our imaginations, allowing us to create an inner reality. As Blake noted, filmmakers have no choice but to construct a world that will engage our senses, if not always our intelligence. In the process, I do agree, much was confusing in the film, although I did find the characters appealing despite a predictable lack of depth. I did care what happened to them.

So how would we measure success from a detached perspective? For those who have never read The Lord of the Rings, I suppose the film is a marvel of technological achievement, and that might be enough to satisfy entertainment seekers. But the interesting thing to me is how the movie seems to resonate somehow on a deeper level, encouraging several people I know to tackle the trilogy in print, and others to reread the work after decades when it was no longer fashionable. This special effect owes nothing to the genius of the filmmakers.

May I suggest that The Lord of the Rings has a message for us now despite Tolkien’s disclaimer that he wrote it for pleasure and not as an allegory illustrating the cosmic struggle? Yet in the conflict between good and evil, the importance of each individual choice, the uses (and abuses) of power, the victory of the humble and weak over the strong and proud, fidelity to the truth and the willingness to die for it to the point of ultimate sacrifice, trusting all will be well, as Julian of Norwich saysthe work speaks to our condition now as never before, whether or not we believe the original had a deliberate Christian intent. I am sure the debate will continue about the merits of the film, and no doubt it will be judged according to the usual lowest common denominator standard of Hollywood productionsbox office appeal and superficial importance. That is out of our control. But I may hope that others will be inspired to read the book. Good storytelling has for ages touched the spirit in ways beyond sermonizing facts and arid argument.

When Frodo indignantly exclaims that the evil gollum, who causes so much havoc and suffering, deserves death, Gandalf replies: Deserves death? I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death, and also some die that deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice. Even the wise cannot see all ends.

Food for thought today?

Phyllis L. Townley
New York, N.Y.

Heroic Themes

There is a great deal in literature that enlarges upon the heroic themes in The Lord of the Rings (so much so that Joseph Campbell’s Heroic Journey is sometimes used as a guideline for writers today). Sept. 11 brought home that we are living in an age, like any age, when answering a call to heroism is vital. To say, as Richard A. Blake, S.J., did (2/11), that J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis (and the movie makers, by extension) were so dissatisfied with their contemporary world that they preferred to create alternate universes populated with creatures more to their liking than real people misses the point.

In 1955, I was a 12-year-old living in Tarzana, Calif. I read with delight The Fellowship of the Ring and was so moved by it that I wrote to Professor Tolkien. I described the book as showing another world but yet our own. I feel that this still holds true.

Julia Dugger
Randolph, N.J.

Scholarly History

Warm thanks for William A. Donohue’s excellent account of The Ten Worst Anti-Catholic Atrocities of 2001, and for José Sánchez’s article, The Search for the Historical Pius (2/18). It badly needed saying that most of what is written on Pius XII and the Holocaust is driven by politics, not by any interest in scholarly history. Sánchez is over-generous, however, in contending that the controversy died down as scholars went through the Vatican [wartime] documents published in 11 volumes between 1965 and 1981. Unfortunately, many who wrote thereafter remained ignorant of the contents of those volumes, or even of their existence. It was ignorance of this historical record, more than any other factor, that motivated the appointment of the Jewish-Catholic study group charged with reviewing these volumes, which broke up in acrimony last year.

Moreover, many critics of Pius XII, most notably Daniel Goldhagen in his New Republic polemic (called a hate crime by the normally irenic veteran of Catholic-Jewish dialog, Dr. Eugene Fisher), are guilty of far worse than ripping papal statements out of context, as Sánchez justly charges. A detailed refutation of Goldhagen’s broadside, now in preparation, will show that like John Cornwell before him, he repeatedly falsifies the historical record at crucial points.

Goldhagen’s outpouring of bigotry merits prominent mention by William A. Donohue when, a year hence, he describes The Ten Worst Anti-Catholic Atrocities of 2002.

(Rev.) John Jay Hughes
St. Louis, Mo.

Credibility

Your excellent editorial on sex abuse (2/18) correctly states that guidelines are not enough. There is no justification for the hierarchy to determine if allegations are supported by sufficient evidence. Sex abuse is a crime. Only civil authorities should determine sufficiency and prosecute or absolve where appropriate. They have the responsibility, experience and knowledge to handle allegations of criminal activities.

If a complainant approaches a church authority, he/she should be told that the church cannot/will not investigate. The complainant should be given a form stating this and providing the address of the local civil authority. It might also require a signed acknowledgment of receipt of the form. Church employee handbooks should tell employees with suspicions of others to report them directly to the civil authorities without fear of recrimination. Interim action regarding the alleged offender’s status can be handled as the church authorities choose. This process would relieve the hierarchy of a responsibility it clearly should not have. Over time, it would reassure the public that there are no coverups and perhaps restore credibility.

Eugene Bova
Overland Park, Kans.

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