The National Catholic Review
Spiritual Journey

Many thanks for the wonderful two-part Faith in Focus article by James Martin, S.J., on his experiences at Lourdes. While reading of the faith experiences of other pilgrims was inspiring, I especially appreciated reading Father Martin’s honest reflections on his own spiritual journey. He made a somewhat reluctant visit to Lourdes, only to find that un-nameable, intuitive something that stayed with him, and his experience blossomed into the prayerful and engaging song of hope published here (8/2, 8/16).

His story reminds me of a young woman we know about who also made a journey and upon recognizing that intuitive something, leapt into her own song of hope and triumph: My soul does glorify the Lord, my being rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. Father Martin has reminded us, quietly and powerfully, that God still looks with favor on his lowly servants, that we still call the young woman blessed, and that Holy is his name. Thanks for the refreshing journey.

Elizabeth Thecla Mauro
Lake Grove, N.Y.

Seismic Shift

First, let me say to Valerie Schultz, I feel your pain (9/13). I raised a fine young man in a lifestyle that centered around the church, but he no longer practices or claims the faith. I was a parish professional, with various titles, for 20 years. Sometimes I think that was precisely the problem. Because of my work, he got too close and saw too much. Every unjust occurrence became part of our living room conversation. Once when we were discussing vocations, he shot back at me, Mom, are you crazy? Don’t you think I know how they treat you? Don’t you think I know who makes you cry? Why would I want to become one of them?

Post-Crisis Morale Among Priests, by the Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti, (9/13) was interesting. Because of my aforementioned 20 years in parish ministry, some of my best friends (as the cliché goes) are priests. I do not know of one who has not been negatively affected by the scandal. The fact that they feel confirmed in their vocations does not mean they haven’t struggled and suffered. The support of the people is supposed to be one of the greatest strengths of priests, especially of the diocesan clergy, so one of the most difficult aspects of the past several years is the distance and uneasiness that the scandal has created between priests and people. Not that priests as priests are necessarily held in suspicion. But out of self-protection, priests have created new boundaries.Their sense of isolation is profound.

Last year, one of my friends traveled to Mexico to visit the home village of some of his parishioners. Upon returning, he remarked on the warmth and affection expressed toward him by the villagers. There was no way to explain to them how different things are up here, he said. So I decided to just relax and enjoy it. That he even had to think about the issue illustrates the profound difference created by the scandal, along with our response to it.

Even for layfolk, things are different. New regulations abound, like No adult should ever be alone with a group of children. All formation groups, no matter how small, require two teachers or a teacher and an aide. The regulations are prudent (I’m not arguing against them; if they protect one child from harm, they are worth it), but they create a sense of caution and distance that was not there before.

Something is seriously wrong with the sampling techniques or the questions, or both, if surveys do not reflect the sadness and loss within the hearts and souls of many, if not most priests, and lay church workers as well. Most of us have experienced a seismic shift in our pastoral relationships, and things for us will never be the same. Before we can embrace the new reality, perhaps we need to grieve for the innocence of our past, gone now forever.

Kristeen A. Bruun
North Richland Hills, Tex.

Dismayed

Post-Crisis Morale Among Priests (9/13) assumes that if a priest is happy in his work, his overall morale is good. Not so! A good golfer enjoys his or her well-played rounds on the links while, at the same time, being dismayed at the policy-making process of the U.S.G.A. and an autocratic board of governors at his local club.

As an octogenarian priest, I have been happy in my 59 years of priestly ministry, the last eight as retired weekend associate in a wide-awake parish. But I and countless others are dismayed at overall church governance with its ever-increasing centralization of authority and a creeping infallibilism and, on the other hand, local governance isolated from effective participation of the presbyterate in agenda and policy formation. On the ministry level, a priest can be happy; on the organizational level, the morale of the club may be poor.

(Msgr.) Harry J. Byrne
Bronx, N.Y.

The Laity Also

Why doesn’t the Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti (9/13) write an article on Post-Crisis Morale Among the Laity? After all, it has been our children who have been abused, in large part because of some priests who ignored such activity and the bishops who knowingly transferred abusers. What about our perspective on this scandal? The Spirit speaks through the laity also, and so we should be heard. But one can only be heard when someone else is listening. Otherwise, the speaker whistles in the wind. I hope some of you out there have bishops who listen and who act as servant leaders, actively working at healing the wounds inflicted as a result of this sexual abuse crisis. The ones who were abused are not the only victims.

Anne Kerrigan
West Islip, N.Y.

Willing Participants

The Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti’s optimistic opinion of priestly morale issues seems to be based on a questionable methodology and a bias toward a desired outcome (9/13). From what I know of sampling, he has taken a survey of willing participants, which may or may not reflect the presbyterate in those dioceses, let alone the nation. Perhaps he had professional assistance in the development of the survey and in interpretation that he does not cite, but as it appears, a 64 percent return ratewhile possibly quite highis a self-selection that leaves out a third, who may be quite disenfranchised from the whole process!

He betrays a certain bias throughout from his remarks minimizing sexual deviances of a few priests over the past 50 years (4 to 6 percent acknowledged is not a minimal number) to his contrast of 70 percent said that celibacy has been positive with married couples’ rates of satisfaction, which he rather derisively speculates is less. The latter remark seems particularly gratuitous and is simply not a good comparison without many qualifiers.

Finally, even in this sample, if one in six say that their own morale is not good, one in six likewise say they would marry if they could, one in three who do not think of celibacy as positive, and one of three do not have a good relationship with their bishops, there are far more issues at play than this interpretation admits. This is not a one-third empty, two-thirds full type of issue, considering the nature of the priesthood and the needs of the church.

David E. Pasinski
Fayetteville, N.Y.

Alike Recover

The Rev. Steven J. Rossetti’s article (9/13) is a welcome corrective to stereotypes about priests. But the headline, Post-Crisis Morale Among Priests, is a disservice.

The crisis to which it alludes is far from post. Thousands of survivors bear its scars every day, and the church that sent them their betrayers reaches out to few of them. Hundreds of accused priests are in limbo, neither dismissed nor exonerated. Millions of dollars in lawsuits hang over dioceses, with most bishops content to leave them to their successors, and others file dilatory motions to wear out the accusers.

In particular, the lack of openness and accountability that made possible the bishops’ coverup scandal continues, allowing who knows what other scandals to fester in the dark. Until the crisis is truly post, how can the morale of priests and parishioners alike recover?

Fred McGunagle
Westlake, Ohio

Good Relationship

The Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti’s questioning of priests’ relationships with their bishops bears further investigation (9/13). With the divide that has occurred since the Second Vatican Council between the hierarchy and the lower clergy, who have become much closer to the laity, and especially since the selling out that many priests feel since the Dallas charter, many of the lower clergy interpret a good relationship with the bishop to mean: He’s really not too relevant to my ministry and life. He’s there in the chancery, and so long as I keep him off my back and happy, we get along.

(Rev.) Joseph N. Sestito
Manlius, N.Y.

Illicit Realm

The article by David R. Obey, My Conscience, My Vote, (8/16) raises the question, is it truly moral to discourage disrespect [sic] for all law by passing laws that are unenforceable? Abortion was illegal before Roe v. Wade. Yet in those years before Roe, obstetricians and gynecologists of my generation day after day saw women with the gruesome complications of back alley abortions. Those desperate women were economically as well as socially destitute. They most often arrived in the emergency room alone, abandoned not only by the men who had begotten the pregnancies but also by their families and certainly by the abortionist. Many became permanently sterile either from the pelvic infections that followed the procedure or from life-saving hysterectomies. It is estimated that in the years before Roe, one-third of the maternal mortality rate in the United States was attributable to illegal abortions.

All this changed with Roe. The decline in mortality rate that began with the advent of antibiotics continued steeply downward. A whole generation of physicians and nurses has never attended a woman with complications of an illegal abortion. While the true incidence of abortion prior to Roe will never be known, the magnitude of abortion as a symptom of social illness is very visible now. Abortion is a reportable procedure. The more than one million done yearly in this country is mind-boggling, but remembering what the country experienced before abortion became legal should give us pause about seeking to return it to the illicit realm of omerta, the scandal that everyone knows about but talks about only behind closed shutters.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the past five years indicate that both the number and the rate of abortion are declining. The decline in numbers can be partially explained by the shrinking population base of women aged 15 to 44 (the official age of fertility), but the decline in the abortion rate suggests that a shift in attitude is occurring. The reasons for this are unclear. One possibility is pre-abortion counseling that points out available resources that can enable a woman to carry the pregnancy to term. The strongest deterrent to abortion may be the sight of the tiny beating heart, hands, feet and face of an unborn child on ultrasound.

A healthy society is abortion-free. The church rightly holds out to us the vision of achieving such a goal; and most Americans want that, I believe. When one is dealing with a symptom, however, prudence requires that one seek out and treat the cause, the primary illness, in order to eliminate the symptom.

Carol F. Williams, M.D.
St. Louis, Mo.

Exhortation Is Helpful

Realigning Catholic Priorities, by Lisa Sowle Cahill, (9/13) is a fantastic review of reoriented priorities in the real world. I am fed up with the general lack of understanding of this wider viewpoint in Christian and Catholic Christian circles. I consider the Republican pieties about render to Caesar, which exclude Catholic social justice working at the governmental level, as dangerously naïve and certainly contributing to the undermining of our safety nets in health, education and social care for women and children, the poor and oppressed. I also would like to find a way to start a petition to the bishops insisting that the use of any litmus test and exclusion of legislators from Communion for upholding the Constitution in our diverse society are wrongheaded and counterproductive. Moral exhortation is helpful; servant leadership is helpful. Autocratic, belligerent and arrogant stances are not. Thanks for the great article.

Martina Nicholson, M.D.
Soquel, Calif.

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