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Sensitive to Learning

In response to Adults Left Behind (10/11), in which William J. Byron, S.J., observed that society owes our illiterate adults something in compensation for failing them when they were children, a reader, Rudy Cypser, wrote (11/1) that this is another case of finding the root cause of symptoms and trying to do something about it.

But if the root cause of illiteracy is something that happenedor did not happento these unfortunate citizens in their early years when they were receptive to learning, can they really go back? The evidence would indicate otherwise; for hundreds of adults, it is too late now to make a substantial difference through adult remedial instruction. It is also prohibitively expensive.

This is why programs like the Harlem-based Casa de los Niños for 3- to 5-year-olds, under the direction of the Montessori Development and Training Corporation, are sorely needed if we want to interrupt the cycle of illiteracy.

The alternative to remedial programs is to catch children when they are sensitive to language development and learning in general. If you have a small child in your life, you know his constant Why?; and if you care about that child, you will not become impatient and turn off his natural curiosity by sitting him in front of the television set to be quiet; instead you will, as psychologist J. McVicker Hunt has said, match his level of readiness to know with appropriate learning activities or find an affordable institution that provides them. All the research points to this wisdom, but all too few academic programs for young children apply it effectively. Why do we wait until failure sets in and then wring our hands? Why do we waste time and throw away so many lives?

Marion Ragsdale
New York, N.Y.

Fundamentally Intolerable

I wonder why Dale Recinella’s article, entitled No to the Death Penalty, appears on the Nov. 1, 2004 cover with the added leading words, Why U.S. Catholics Must Say.... Was that an editorial innovation, designed to raise the ire of those of us who bristle at being told by those without magisterial authority what we must say and do and believe as Catholics?

Admittedly, the cover title does appear to reflect the author’s conclusion that it is simply not possible to be a faithful Catholic and support the use of the death penalty in the United States. This assertion, however, is manifestly false, since I am and I do.

The author points out particular examples of injustice within our justice system, which indeed should give all of us pause; certainly the process for imposing the death penalty should be and must be improved. Still, it is unreasonable to expect or require that infallible accuracy in verdict and/or sentencing can ever be achieved. I am not persuaded that a number of alleged mistakes, even literally fatal mistakes, necessarily invalidates the legitimacy of the overall process or makes capital punishment per se fundamentally intolerable.

An interesting distinction is made between law as determination of the truth and law as process. Both aspects are essential, and elusive. While process may sometimes penalize the innocent, as the article describes, it also can serve to protect the guilty, as when evidence must be suppressed due to errors in its collection or presentation. Truth must sometimes give way to legal procedure, and that door swings both ways.

The words from No. 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, around which the author builds his position, were not in the original 1994 text, but were added in the revision of 1997. Clearly, this formulation is a quite recent development in the ongoing evolution of Catholic social doctrine. That current U.S. implementation of the death penalty, albeit imperfect, is absolutely inconsistent with fundamental Catholic belief and magisterial teaching has not been adequately demonstrated here to support the mandate of the cover title or the validity of the author’s concluding statement.

Robert V. Levine
Collegeville, Pa.

Efficient and Loving

Observations on Abortion and Politics, by John Langan, S.J., (10/25) was a splendid treatise on what could be the most difficult moral issue facing the collective human conscience today. Abortion, however, is but the center tome of a three-volume series. The first volume is Contraception; the third is Adoption. Unless we pay at least equal attention to those subjects, we will continue to be mired in the inherent divisiveness of treating symptoms rather than causes.

At the risk of being naïve, let me state that abortion as a method of birth control is wrong, simply wrong. Anyone who thinks otherwise would benefit from further education in science and ethics. It would be so much more positive if pro-choicers better emphasized the prevention of unwanted pregnancieswhere choice really liesas opposed to the ordinarily espoused pro-choicing designed to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. In other words, pro-choicers should spend more of their time and money on the cause (conception) and not the after-the-fact remedy (abortion). True, we would still have to deal with the most extraordinary hard cases, as described in the article; but even before debating this point, we would already have witnessed a dramatic statistical decline in abortion.

Next, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, infertility affects 6.1 million female Americans, or 10 percent of the population of reproductive age. A large number of these women, with and without partners, yearn for a child to love, nurture and raise. Most of us know someone who can recount horror stories of what it takes to adopt in the United States. And most of us know someone who preferred going overseas for an adoption. Again, we symptomatically dwell on something other than getting the adoption system to be an efficient and loving solution of life, and not death.

Ignacio J. Silva
Lancaster, Pa.

Normative End

I agree with your editorial The Catholic Mind (10/18). I would like to make two suggestions that might get some thinkers started in a different direction.

First, legal positivism has dominated American jurisprudence. It needs to be addressed head-on as flawed. Someone should explore the full meaning of the Ninth Amendment and lay a real foundation for the rights retained by the people, including the rights of unborn babies.

Second, happiness has been ignored as the normative end of all human living. The rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence is still valid, but someone needs to develop our right as Americans to pursue happiness, the ethical ideal of a good and virtuous life. Catholics need to identify the normative end in addition to the terminal end of eternal happiness with God in paradise. Education in virtuous living is sorely needed in every school, public and private. This may be the most important contribution Catholics can make to solve the problems of drug and alcohol abuse, crime, promiscuity, cheating, apathy, etc.

Anthony Avallone, Esq.
Las Cruces, N.M.

Role of Prayer

Thank you for taking notice of the 40th anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio (Toward Visible Unity, 11/8). In conjunction with the anniversary, I think it’s important to note that Pope John XXIII revealed his intention to call the council on Jan. 25, 1959, the final day of the 52nd annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Coincidence? Serendipity? Probably not. But it’s definitely a reminder about the role of prayer in the modern ecumenical movement, something that all of us can contribute.

James J. Gardiner, S.A.
Garrison, N.Y.

Comments

Anne Bedessem | 11/21/2004 - 5:17pm
I do not understand why Father Byron's (Adults Left Behind, 10/11) concern for adult illiteracy should be measured against the need for early chidhood education and be found wanting.

For reader Marion Ragsdale (11/22) to dismiss adult remedial instruction as "too late" makes it impossible for many adults to match the children in their care "with appropriate learning activities or find an affordable institution that provides them."

Of course, it is absolutely imperative that children be given early training, but we should not have to choose between that and adult remedial education.

An illiterate adult cannot give the child the help needed. Even for an educated adult "an affordable institution" is often beyond his or her horizon.

Anne Bedessem | 11/21/2004 - 5:17pm
I do not understand why Father Byron's (Adults Left Behind, 10/11) concern for adult illiteracy should be measured against the need for early chidhood education and be found wanting.

For reader Marion Ragsdale (11/22) to dismiss adult remedial instruction as "too late" makes it impossible for many adults to match the children in their care "with appropriate learning activities or find an affordable institution that provides them."

Of course, it is absolutely imperative that children be given early training, but we should not have to choose between that and adult remedial education.

An illiterate adult cannot give the child the help needed. Even for an educated adult "an affordable institution" is often beyond his or her horizon.

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