The National Catholic Review
Our readers

Those Who Love Them

With gratitude, I applaud America for Of Many Things by Patricia A. Kossmann, the editorial on Elder Abuse, Elderhood for the World by Thomas E. Clarke, S.J., and On Dying Well, by Myles N. Sheehan, S.J., in the July 29 issue. I could write glowingly about each one, but succinctly say instead how refreshing it is to see America cover subjects that many in the Catholic press avoid.

My own advocacy about elder care arose when my mother was physically abused in an Illinois nursing home and my mother-in-law suffered similar mistreatment and neglect in an Indiana nursing home. (My sister and I resorted to nursing homes only after years of on-hands caregiving. Our mothers needed professional help. So, in good faith, we finally chose care centers; but we only exchanged one set of problems for another. Our mothers are now at peace with God.)

Around the same time that I discovered how harsh care can be in secular (for-profit) care centers, I also began volunteering at St. Augustine Home for the Aged, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Indianapolis. What a joy to be there! The environment is consistently clean and serene, and one immediately feels the presence of Christ. If what they are doing could be replicated by all nursing homes, elder advocacy would fall by the wayside, because loved ones would enjoy proper care, safety and dignity. Residents at St. Augustine have happy elderhood, and they die well in the care of those who love them.

Shirley Vogler Meister

Indianapolis, Ind.

Crawling Crocodiles

John W. O’Malley, S.J., is too gentle with Pius IX (8/26). The pope acted in accord with his conscience. The ultimate justification used by an extremist or fanatic.

Pius IX undermined the church’s intellectual credibility with his Syllabus of Errors. By his fierce espousal of a union of church and state, he seriously affronted American views on democratic government and furnished a specific reference for anti-Catholic feeling. Cartoons by Thomas Nast featured grotesque images of Pius IX and of crocodiles, jaws shaped like bishops’ miters, crawling up to the nation’s capitol flying the papal flag.

Both scholarly and demagogic sources quoting Pius IX helped to deny full entry of Catholics into American political life. It took several generations of subsequent popes and thoughtful Catholic theologians like John Courtney Murray, S.J., the experience of Catholics and non-Catholics serving together in World War II and, in the opinion of some commentators, the coming to the papacy in 1958 of the genial John XXIII to dispel the shadow of Pius IX and in 1960 to see John F. Kennedy elected as the first Catholic president.

(Msgr.) Harry J. Byrne

New York, N.Y.

 

Gathered Influence

I very much appreciated the commendation by George Anderson, S.J., of the Society of Friends (Of Many Things, 8/12). Historically, the Quakers were at the forefront of the struggles against slavery, dehumanizing prison conditions and women’s inequity long before more mainstream churchesincluding the Roman Catholicgot the message.

My wife and I have often said that if we weren’t Catholic, we would have been Quaker. There would be both gain and loss in such a move. Her parents belonged to a Friends meeting 80 percent of whose budget went outside the maintenance of the meeting itself, since it neither owned buildings nor employed professional ministers. My parish recently spent $3 million to repair a roof and gild a ceiling. On the other hand, when my father-in-law was dying, despite his lifelong objection to organized religion and despite the kindness of individual Friends, an Episcopal priest (a woman) had to be imported to perform a ritual blessing that seemed to allow him to die in peace.

Nonetheless, I agree with Father Anderson that we billion Catholics have much to learn from those mere thousands of Friends whose influence continues to exceed their number.

Roger Bergman

Omaha, Neb.

Far From Easy

Thomas J. McCarthy's statements about "the infamously grueling annulment process" (From This Clay, 7/29) hardly do justice to the tribunal personnel and other pastoral ministers striving to make people as comfortable as possible in a difficult situation.

His sister's experience is unfortunate but not typical. While parties in his group claimed to "know someone who had begun the annulment process in good faith only to throw up their hands after...a chilling, humiliating ordeal," a discussion with others who stayed the course might have revealed a totally different perspective.

Nullity trials are far from easy and certainly far from perfect. While changes are needed, they will not come from one-sided presentations of the issues.

(Msgr.) John R. Amos
Judicial Vicar, Archdiocese of Mobile

Mobile, Ala.

Comments

William Bekurs | 5/5/2009 - 8:47pm
Msgr. Amos has since "resigned" his Holy Orders, and married his long time secretary (who is the divorced wife of a Greek priest) W. M. Bekurs Mobile, AL 251-609-0585
Michael Tidd, F.S.C. | 1/22/2007 - 9:24am
Msgr. Harry Byrne’s pillorying of Pius IX (Letters, 9/9) is intriguing as an example of the ill effects of a narrow and highly selective view of the church’s history in this nation. He blasts Pio Nono for “his fierce espousal of a union of church and state [that] seriously affronted American views on democratic government and furnished a specific reference for anti-Catholic feeling.” Unfortunately for this argument, the intensity of American anti-Catholicism was at white hot levels long before the Syllabus of Errors, or even the conclave of 1846. The burning of churches and convents, the killing of Irish Catholic laborers, the creation of active, organized political parties dedicated to the deliberate exclusion of Catholics from American civic life needed no stimulus from Pius IX. Cartoons vilifying the hierarchy and lurid tales of clerical and religious debauchery like Maria Monk’s had long been common currency in the American press and popular culture before Pius IX. To pin the blame on him for such bigotry, and its effects of Catholic disenfranchisement until after World War II, is simply inaccurate.

The American experiment of the separation of church and state, like its republican constitution, was such a radical innovation that it has taken generations for our own people to assimilate its implications. Certainly this is even more true of Europeans, where the union of throne and altar was so long a given of political and religious life that it was nearly impossible to conceive of an alternative. Pius IX was a pope who struggled for what he saw (correctly in many places, in the wake of the French Revolution) as the very survival of the church he was solemnly charged to defend. He did so with the intellectual, theological and religious tools at his disposal, however wanting they may be by our norms. It is grossly unfair to arraign and condemn him by our standards, in a kind of ecclesiastical example of ex post facto justice. Moreover, it is absurd to condemn him for not endorsing notions of religious freedom that in fact did not fully develop in this country, or (more importantly) apply to non-Protestants, until the 20th century.

Pius IX did much to foster the growth of an American Catholic Church that would help to translate American political vocabulary into terms a European-steeped church could grasp. Moreover, Pius IX did little to prevent the faithful in this country from working out for themselves, through their provincial and plenary councils and the work of pioneer bishops, priests, religious communities and lay people, how to be American Catholics fully and simultaneously. A little judiciousness in the matter, like that of John W. O’Malley, S.J. (8/26), would serve American Catholics far better in appreciating Pius IX’s very real significance for the growth and development of the church in this country.

John Dwyer | 1/22/2007 - 9:22am
Shirley Vogler Meister’s response (Letters, 9/9) to your editorial “Elder Abuse” (7/29) reflects a common viewpoint. I work as a social worker/M.S.W. consultant in a small, family-owned, for-profit nursing home. Many families assume that religious nursing homes give better care. As Ms. Vogler Meister states, “I discovered how harsh care can be in secular (for-profit) care centers.”

I do not find that to be the case in the area where I work. The combination of the federal government’s change in Medicare rates (P.P.S., or prospective payment system) and a full economy has meant that nursing homes cannot staff at the previous levels, and they cannot recruit and keep good care. The nursing home industry is in crisis, and the elderly are being victimized.

I also do not agree with Ms. Burger’s assertion that surveyors have to see abuse to cite it. This is not true in Massachusetts, and I doubt that it is true elsewhere. Most who work in nursing homes have good souls and do not harm or intend to harm the elderly. However, changes in staffing levels because of P.P.S. do increase the risk of neglect or human error, which can result in serious harm. We need to act now. The issues are complex but we cannot be soothed by the thought that care is going to be better in a nonprofit nursing home.

Michael Tidd, F.S.C. | 1/22/2007 - 9:24am
Msgr. Harry Byrne’s pillorying of Pius IX (Letters, 9/9) is intriguing as an example of the ill effects of a narrow and highly selective view of the church’s history in this nation. He blasts Pio Nono for “his fierce espousal of a union of church and state [that] seriously affronted American views on democratic government and furnished a specific reference for anti-Catholic feeling.” Unfortunately for this argument, the intensity of American anti-Catholicism was at white hot levels long before the Syllabus of Errors, or even the conclave of 1846. The burning of churches and convents, the killing of Irish Catholic laborers, the creation of active, organized political parties dedicated to the deliberate exclusion of Catholics from American civic life needed no stimulus from Pius IX. Cartoons vilifying the hierarchy and lurid tales of clerical and religious debauchery like Maria Monk’s had long been common currency in the American press and popular culture before Pius IX. To pin the blame on him for such bigotry, and its effects of Catholic disenfranchisement until after World War II, is simply inaccurate.

The American experiment of the separation of church and state, like its republican constitution, was such a radical innovation that it has taken generations for our own people to assimilate its implications. Certainly this is even more true of Europeans, where the union of throne and altar was so long a given of political and religious life that it was nearly impossible to conceive of an alternative. Pius IX was a pope who struggled for what he saw (correctly in many places, in the wake of the French Revolution) as the very survival of the church he was solemnly charged to defend. He did so with the intellectual, theological and religious tools at his disposal, however wanting they may be by our norms. It is grossly unfair to arraign and condemn him by our standards, in a kind of ecclesiastical example of ex post facto justice. Moreover, it is absurd to condemn him for not endorsing notions of religious freedom that in fact did not fully develop in this country, or (more importantly) apply to non-Protestants, until the 20th century.

Pius IX did much to foster the growth of an American Catholic Church that would help to translate American political vocabulary into terms a European-steeped church could grasp. Moreover, Pius IX did little to prevent the faithful in this country from working out for themselves, through their provincial and plenary councils and the work of pioneer bishops, priests, religious communities and lay people, how to be American Catholics fully and simultaneously. A little judiciousness in the matter, like that of John W. O’Malley, S.J. (8/26), would serve American Catholics far better in appreciating Pius IX’s very real significance for the growth and development of the church in this country.

John Dwyer | 1/22/2007 - 9:22am
Shirley Vogler Meister’s response (Letters, 9/9) to your editorial “Elder Abuse” (7/29) reflects a common viewpoint. I work as a social worker/M.S.W. consultant in a small, family-owned, for-profit nursing home. Many families assume that religious nursing homes give better care. As Ms. Vogler Meister states, “I discovered how harsh care can be in secular (for-profit) care centers.”

I do not find that to be the case in the area where I work. The combination of the federal government’s change in Medicare rates (P.P.S., or prospective payment system) and a full economy has meant that nursing homes cannot staff at the previous levels, and they cannot recruit and keep good care. The nursing home industry is in crisis, and the elderly are being victimized.

I also do not agree with Ms. Burger’s assertion that surveyors have to see abuse to cite it. This is not true in Massachusetts, and I doubt that it is true elsewhere. Most who work in nursing homes have good souls and do not harm or intend to harm the elderly. However, changes in staffing levels because of P.P.S. do increase the risk of neglect or human error, which can result in serious harm. We need to act now. The issues are complex but we cannot be soothed by the thought that care is going to be better in a nonprofit nursing home.

Recently in Letters