James J. DiGiacomo
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In the sacristy after Mass, a woman told me that she was very disturbed by something I had said during my brief homily. I was commenting on the Gospel reading in which Jesus says that the fields are white for the harvest and that we should pray that the Lord sends workers into the fields. I observed that there were two possible reasons for the alarming shortage of priests: 1) God is calling people, but they are not responding, or 2) there are people who feel called but are not accepted, such as women and married men. I then asked: “Are such people called? Only God knows for sure. So let’s pray that we listen to the Spirit.”

The parishioner (I’ll call her Virginia) objected to my bringing up the possibility of women being called to the priesthood, because Rome has pronounced any discussion of the issue as out of bounds. I replied that I was aware of this; but since I have yet to hear any personally convincing arguments against women’s ordination, I continue to wonder. And it was this very wondering that offended her! How could I, a priest, have any reservations when authority has spoken? And worse still, how could I even intimate such reservations from the altar?

Any attempt to explain my thinking was, of course, futile. Such a conversation was doomed from the outset and destined to go downhill, which it did. For this dispute was not just about women’s ordination but about something much more basic. It goes to the very heart of what it means to be a Catholic, and it sheds light on the divisions that presently trouble the church and threaten to tear it apart. Virginia and I are like two ships passing in the night, and we both have millions of companions on our respective vessels that seem to be drifting farther and farther apart.

It would be well to point out, at the outset, that we are not disagreeing about some article of the Creed or other basic dogma. As in other derivative issues, like artificial birth control, capital punishment and end-of-life care, the substance of the faith is not at stake. These questions are important but must be kept in perspective. And there should be room for serious adult Catholics to reflect, question and debate such issues without reading one another out of the church. This is not to say that one opinion is as good as another, or that sincerity is all that matters. We’re talking here about a search for truth. The question is, how should we search for the truth?

For Virginia, the answer is simple. Listen to those in authority, especially the pope and those around him, whose judgments are final and not subject to review. The reasons they give for their decisions are irrelevant; the only thing that matters is the source. Her attitude is based on genuine faith in the vicar of Christ, confident that any pronouncement emanating from the Vatican comes from God. Any attempt to question its validity is tantamount to a rejection of the faith. But for me, and others like me, there is a problem. We have these little gray cells that persist in working even after respected authority speaks. We can’t seem to turn these cells off, and we tend to wonder, to question, to speculate, to evaluate, to criticize. In short, we can’t help thinking; and if those of us who are priests think out loud, Virginia and her friends are scandalized. She thinks our job is to tell people when to stop thinking, instead of giving bad example and continuing to speak when we have all presumably heard the last word.

In the final analysis, it’s all about loyalty. How can you refuse to give unquestioning assent and still call yourself a loyal member of the church? Isn’t the very notion of loyal opposition a contradiction in terms? It depends. I question the wisdom of some church policies and disagree with some decisions, but I do not leave the church. I work within the community of believers, accepting and obeying regulations and procedures even as I try to do my little bit, preaching and teaching and writing, to change them by appealing to minds and hearts. I know enough church history to realize that down the centuries, fallible church leaders have made mistakes and pursued misguided policies, many of which have in time been corrected with the help of the Holy Spirit. I am often annoyed, sometimes disappointed and occasionally angry, but I try not to lose patience and I keep the faith. And there are millions more like me.

If these divisions among Catholics were found only in the pews, it would be bad enough. But they go all the way up through the clergy and the episcopacy. Everyone knows that there are litmus tests to be passed before priests can become bishops or bishops become cardinals. And there is a disturbing development going on in the seminaries and among the priests themselves. Many of the younger clergy find their identity in professing unquestioning assent to authority, and they explicitly differentiate themselves from those older priests who have failed to purge themselves of the disease of critical thinking.

There have always been careerists and climbers among the clergy who were willing to stifle individuality for the sake of advancement, but now there is a rising generation of priests who are moved not just by ambition but by a disturbing collectivism that narrows options for service and styles of leadership. These men are interested not in asking questions but in giving answers. Questions make trouble; answers provide assurance. Inquiring minds are not only annoying; they are superfluous. All the answers we need are ready at hand, supplied by documents and pronouncements that are self-justifying and need no validation.

This movement comes at a time when many Catholics are suffering from a loss of nerve. Empty convents and rectories, half-empty churches, closing schools, contracting parishes and sexual abuse scandals eat away at our confidence. There is an understandable hunger for stability, for certainty. Unity is sought through uniformity. Catechetical materials are vigorously scanned and blue-penciled. Stimulating topics and speakers are no longer welcome in parish halls. Adventuresome theologians are not just criticized; they must be silenced. All this amounts to a kind of intellectual circling of the wagons—a skill at which the clergy have often excelled.

All popular movements have their buzzwords, and this one is no exception. The patrons of mental somnolence have a favorite: serene. Sometimes serenity is a good thing, a mark of emotional health, as when Pope John Paul II, in his last hours, was described as serene in the face of approaching death. That was admirable, even inspiring. At other times the word is used to manipulate and to offer false comfort. Time and again during the last several years, when pronouncements from the Vatican provoked consternation and disbelief on the part of thoughtful Catholics, the papal spokesman advised one and all to welcome the latest bad news “in a spirit of serene acceptance,” or words to that effect.

This is not the kind of serenity that comes from inner strength or conviction, but rather that of Alfred E. Newman, the resident dunce of Mad magazine: “What, me worry?” Cheer up, everyone; cool it. If no one gets excited, then everything must be all right. But in the church today, everything is not all right. There are pressing needs to be addressed, policies to be reviewed, problems to be faced, dogmatisms to be challenged, issues to be taken off back burners and closed questions to be reopened. At such a time, being serene is just another way of being in denial.

At this moment in the life of the church, those who refuse to close their eyes, turn off their minds, and settle for slack-jawed certainty are in for some bad times. They look more and more like blue staters in a red-state church, as the true believers move into positions of power and influence and set out to silence the voices of reason.

We have been down this road before. A hundred years ago, Catholic biblical scholars were being harassed, threatened and discredited for questioning outdated, untenable interpretations of Sacred Scripture. Sixty years later, during the Second Vatican Council, they were vindicated, and their best work was endorsed as official Catholic teaching in the “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), the French Jesuit paleontologist and religious thinker, never got to see his impressive body of work in print. He had to die first, so that friends and admirers might see to its publication. John Courtney Murray, S.J. (1904-67), the U.S. theologian, fared somewhat better. He lived to see his teaching on religious liberty vindicated by the council, but only after enduring years of enforced silence imposed by mediocre minds. In all these cases the operative force was fear—fear of confusing or disturbing the faithful. Such concern is not improper. What is mistaken is the attempt to maintain clarity by silencing voices and closing minds. In so doing, those who use these tactics create a desert and call it peace.

Today the Catholic Church stands at a crossroads. This is a time fraught with peril and possibility. There is a place for caution and prudence, but also a need for creativity and courage. A jumble of conflicting voices frightens the guardians of order, but we have more to fear from a false impression of unanimity achieved at the price of stifling the most active minds among us. It is a characteristic of many dysfunctional families that their members are unable to bring their differences to the surface and deal with them. Many noisy, quarrelsome households, on the other hand, are actually healthier.

Yes, Virginia, there is another opinion out there, and it’s all right. You do not have to agree with it, but try not to be shocked at its expression. It means you belong to a church that is not dead but alive, and where the little gray cells continue to grow and flourish in freedom.

James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., is the author of many books on religious education and youth ministry.

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Maryann Schneider | 9/20/2008 - 10:56pm
No wonder the Jesuits have a bad reputation, if many are like you, they have strayed from the true faith. Virginia is right! You ought to listen and learn from her. Why are you a priest? If you don't like our Holy Roman Catholic Church and the laws of our church, you should never have entered it and you should leave! You dishonor God by your actions. You want to change our church to suit your own anti-Catholic thinking. You think highly of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who was a heretic! One of the reasons people are turning away from going to church is because of infiltrators like you who have entered the Church to bring it down,but you will not succeed, for Jesus said. "The gates of hell will not prevail"! I will pray for you to see the truth. We have noticed the young priests are more traditional and more God oriented how wonderful to see it happening. The tide is turning.
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Austin J. Maher | 5/22/2005 - 8:18pm
After focusing on the current conservative trend in the Catholic Church of late, your article on Little Gray Cells proved to be a welcome breath of fresh air. Thank you. We need more of it.

Frank DeVito | 5/21/2005 - 8:13pm
I was so relieved to read James DiGiacomo's article, "Little Gray Cells." After hearing the disturbing news about the departure of Thomas Reese as editor, I was concerned that "America" would pursue a safe route and publish "orthodox" articles.

I use the word "orthodox" in parentheses because I have witnessed the same dynamic that Father Giacomo describes: Raising a question about a Church policy and/or practice is equated with being "un-Catholic" or "unorthodox." Fortunately through the centuries, great Catholic thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Rahner, and Gutierrez, did not share this understanding of orthodoxy. If they did, we would not have the legacy of their incredible and beautiful thinking. I want to add one more point to DiGiacomo's message: dialogue goes both ways. I am often upset with the way that our "Red State" Catholic thinkers are characterized: unthinking drones who blindly follow the dictates of Rome and/or Washington. I have witnessed the tyranny of our "Blue State" Catholic thinkers who are too quick to consider themselves "enlightened" and are quick to ridicule conservative Catholics who "don't get it."

In addition to a renewed understanding of orthodoxy, we need a renewed understanding of what it means to be a "thinking Catholic."

Phil Morley | 5/25/2005 - 9:36pm
If articles such as this one by Fr. DiGiacomo continue, my fears that the Spirit may be stifled will lessen. But it worse comes to worse and America is muzzled, there MUST be an organized opposition. This magazine has been precious!
Thomas A. Cahill | 9/2/2005 - 11:40pm
Editor ?

Ref. ?Little Gray Cells, J.J. DiGiacomo, pg. 17 ? 19, America, May 30, 2005

Physicists and cosmologists are using their ?Little Gray Cells? to back themselves into a corner where, because of a universe exquisitely defined to allow complex carbon based life forms, they have to seriously consider an all powerful and intelligent creator, the dreaded ?Strong Anthropic Principle?. The alternative is a random collection of a vast number of never-to-be-observed universes, with the most recent estimate from String and M Theory being 10 (power +500) parallel universes. While most are void and lifeless, one just happens to have the right combination of parameters to allow complex life to develop and us to see and understand it. However, because these parallel universes can never be observed, the idea lies outside of Physics, which requires empirical validation, and thus forms only a Philosophical construct.

If physicists can be pushed towards a creator by their ?Little Gray Cells?, why should we also not come closer to God by our intellectual efforts? We have no fear of truth, which is unitary, so we should not be afraid to apply science to religious investigation. For an example, the early Church fathers believed in a physical as opposed to allegorical Adam and Eve. They knew God face to face and still defied Him. How would St. Augustine have thought if he had had modern science as a guide? How would he have handled Original Sin if there were no Original Sinners? In another example, our knowledge of human development and the key role of free will in our salvation could raise a question as to when in our development is the immortal soul is gifted to mortal mankind? Can one be saved if one never has had the opportunity to freely choose good or evil?

I think we have much to gain and little to lose by making true theology and true science handmaidens of Truth, leading to a Catholic theology that is both intellectually and spiritually satisfying. This was, after all, one of the goals of the early Church Fathers, and a goal that we must continue to address under the confidant guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Thomas A. Cahill, Professor of Physics and Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Davis CA

John W. Crossin,OSFS | 6/11/2005 - 1:39pm
Dear Editors:

A missing element in James DiGiacomo’s “Little Gray Cells” is reflection on the public nature of ministry. The priest, and the lay minister as well, has chosen to be a public minister in communion with the church. I recall that at ordination I promised the ordinary “obedience and respect.”

I find most priests, whether young or old, to be thoughtful and sensitive. “Critical thinking” is not limited to a single age group. The results of such thinking can go in rather different directions, however.

The public minister’s allegiance is not first of all to his or her own opinion. Those who minister in the name of the church need to explain its teaching publicly in effective ways—or remain silent.

Louise McAllister | 6/1/2005 - 6:10pm
Editor:

I have been seriously considering canceling my subscription to America. Today I read James DiGiacomo’s article, Little Gray Cells, and I will stay with you a while longer in the hope that articles of this kind will not be blue-penciled.

In spite of Tom Reese’s exit, I will continue to hope that America will not become a mouthpiece for the Vatican. Opinions like Fr. DiGiacomo’s will sustain that hope. Please keep challenging your readers with thought-provoking pieces.

Louise McAllister

Seattle

Anna Seidler | 5/23/2005 - 3:22pm
The article re "Virginia" being displeased at Father's homily about the causes of the lack of seminarians reminds me of how difficult change appears to be for many, and especially when one is aging or "on in years." Keeping everything the way it used to be, including our Catholic faith and church rituals is how stability comforts some of the aging. Their bodies are failing and changing with hearing and eyesight diminishing. Could be a matter of wanting control where at least our beloved Church remains the way we remember it from our youth. It takes time and lots of patience which Fr. seems to be demonstrating to allow those recalcitrant members of our Church to catch up to new thinking and /or possibilities, especially on how to increase the numbers of those entering seminaries and becoming priests.

Thanks for the article, a thought-provoking one indeed.

Anna Seidler

Richard M Snyder | 5/20/2005 - 9:31pm
Many thanks to James Di Giacomo for his lucid and uplifting article on the use of our Little Gray Cells. It was a timely reminder to all of us that, though it may seem that the disciples of blind and mindless obedience have the upper hand today, we can't let go of the hope and joy brought to us by the Fathers of Vatican II.

Ernesto Burden | 5/30/2005 - 8:24pm
Two things struck me as problematic with Father James J. DiGiacomo’s essay “Little Gray Cells” in the May 30 issue of America.

The first is a problem of tone. Father DiGiacomo’s essay implies that people who have accepted, subordinated themselves or otherwise acceded intellectually to some authority outside their opinion or feelings, both lack the “little gray cells” that “blue state” people such as himself have, and that they are “slack jawed” in their certainty.

It’s possible for thinking people to dislike or disagree with what that authority teaches, while still continuing to wrestle with it rather than simply rejecting it in favor of a sense of personal authority.

The essay’s second problem is, in arguing that his rejection of authority is a reflection of his intellectual potency, Father DiGiacomo ignores the fact that every rational argument rests on authority, even if it is only the authority required to come to a mutual definition of terms. In the case of theological matters, I am willing to accept that I do not have the time or expertise to synthesize two thousand years of doctrinal developments that lead to the understanding of issues I may disagree with the church on. Shall I then base my reasoned choices on the authority of a magisterium that has struggled, and continues to struggle, through millennia of doctrinal development and represents, ideally, the thinking of all the bishops and faithful of the world over all time? Or shall I base my understanding of, and commitment to, church teaching on an individual person’s opinion?

It is reasonable to question authority at times, just as there are times when it is rational to assent to it. Even, and perhaps especially, when that authority is the Church and the objector is a priest or bishop. But if this is so, why does Father DiGiacomo, as the authority figure in his parish, disparage his parishioner Virginia for having the temerity to pose a question of protocol: is it appropriate for a priest to teach from the altar, a position of authority granted him through the church, that certain church teachings are incorrect? Whether you believe it’s appropriate or not, it seems like a fair question. Unless you believe that authority should be questioned in general, but not when that skepticism is directed at you.

James E. Michaletz, CSV | 5/27/2005 - 9:23pm
I compliment Jim on this very fine article. His comments are excellent, but more importantly, he said some things that needed to be said. Too many people feel that any dissent from "official Church" is wrong and too many of the hierarchy in the USA have placed misguided loyalty ahead of the "sensus fedelium".

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 sign of a healthy hierachy. Loyalty is an admirable virtue but not to the detriment of a viable, collaborative Church.

Judith S. Sholes | 5/25/2005 - 1:58pm
I am glad that I waited to write a letter conveying my negative reaction to the firing of Reese because I now feel a bit better...though still nervous...about the future of America. My immediate fear was that the magazine would be reduced to the content of the average diocesan newspaper and that there would no longer be room for discussion of topics that indeed need to be discussed, such as mandatory celebacy, the return of married priests to ministry and the role of women. The article by Father DiGiacomo, however, gives me hope that the thought police will still allow serious adult reflections on these non-doctrinal matters that concern many of us. May this be a harbinger for continued future thoughful articles such as this. If not, I fear, the future of America will be in doubt.

Timothy Coldwell, FSC | 5/22/2005 - 12:49am
Dear Editor:

I appreciated James DiGiacomo's "tone of voice" as much as, if not more, than his message. It is important to dialogue, but as important to avoid a strident or superior, condescending tone. DiGiacomo is clear and unflinching so he cannot be dismissed for trying to plant sweet-smelling spiritual nosegays about catholicity and universality.

If it is loyalty that differentiates those who want to wonder out loud and those who want to leave the wondering to the hierarchy, perhaps we can learn a lesson from the Loyalists of the American colonial period. The higher loyalty, many realized, was to conscience, even if it meant challenging the governors and the governance that knew so much and meant so well.

Patrick Mongan | 6/10/2005 - 9:41am
It is ironic, but to me very sad, that J. Digiacomo does the very thing he accuses Virginia of doing. He portrays a very negative caricature of those who seek to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church. As a convert who is a physician I have not put my "gray cells" to sleep. Rather I am excited to be part of a Church that teaches the fullness of Christ's message. When I converted I made a choice to humbly embrace the teachings of the Church and live by them, even the ones I found difficult. I have yet to regret this decision. I chose to believe that the wisdom of those who went before me is something to be treasured and will take many years for me to fully comprehend. Yes, there have been those who were silenced and then recognized as truly presenting truth. What about the many who gave false teachings and created great pain for the Church? Finally, James seems to imply that only those who agree with him are the "voices of reason". Does James really want to bring the 2 ships together? From the tone of his article, I think not.

Virginia Smith | 6/2/2005 - 3:46pm
In light of recent regrettable events involving the content of "America", I commend your courage in publishing this article. DiGiacomo's concerns mirror my own (although I do wish he had chosen another name for his hypothetical parishioner). When free discussion, not to mention dissent, is not only discouraged but stifled, the Church is in serious trouble.

I find myself especially disturbed by the effect such a position will almost certainly have on highly intelligent, well educated young Catholics. When I taught seniors in a Catholic high school, I told them the mantra for the class would be 'creating God-centered people who know how to think'. I also wrote a book, "God for Grownups", along the same lines. To teach the diametric opposite runs counter to everything I believe. To my mind, there is no academic discipline in a Catholic school where critical thinking skills are more crucial than religious studies.

"America" is quite probably the only magazine I subscribe to that would leave me with a palpable sense of withdrawal were it not available. Your voice is more important than you may realize.

Tom Howard | 6/1/2005 - 6:46pm
I was very disappointed with Fr. Digiacomo's article, "Little Gray Cells."

If the parishioner called Virginia ever sees this article, she could be hurt and even insulted. Worst yet she could actually disconnect herself from the sacramental life, since her priest decided to disclose a private conversation she had with him in the sanctity of the sacristy in the national press.

It is understandable that many American clergy feel threatened with our new Pope and many readers of America are confused by Fr. Reese's resignation.

For those who wear collars it is important to remember that the laity do not have the luxury of the pulpit or the convenience of having a magazine owned by our religious order to use when we feel threatened. All we can do is offer feedback in a loving way and let go.

Nicholas Clifford | 5/30/2005 - 7:59am
The most appalling thing about Father DiGiacomo's article is his points need to be spelled out at all. In any other circles, the need to use one's brain should 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 remain children in our thinking -- in contradiction to (among others) St. Paul himself (I Cor. 14:20, for example. So, Fr. DiGiacomo's arguments, uncessary 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. Nicholas Clifford
Carolyn Disco | 2/21/2007 - 2:23pm
I read with interest the letter by Revs. Joseph and Philip Breen (1/30) citing the shortage of priests as the main problem in the church today. They called it a grave crisis, noting the advanced age of many pastors, celibacy as an obstacle, disquiet over the number of homosexuals in seminaries and rectories, and the lack of support for vocations by mothers.

But I see the problem differently from the Breen brothers. Perhaps the shortage of priests is the work of the Holy Spirit, forcing changes that are necessary for the future but resisted by a celibate male culture still imbued with absolute power. They ask America magazine to lead discussion of related subjects foreclosed by Rome even to bishops under threat of removal from office, when in fact magazine editors face the same penalty.

Can these discussions include making celibacy optional for diocesan priests, asking why a married Catholic priest should first have to be an Episcopalian priest? What about discussion of women priests or—horrors—married women priests? Where are we headed, if not toward the revelation that nothing in Scripture forbids such? And tradition that blocks the spread of the word of God in sacrament and ministry needs to evolve, as the Spirit moves where it wills. (Still breathing?)

The longstanding clerical mindset that combines all administrative, legal and executive powers in one person, the bishop, unaccountable to the people of God, must pass into history as have other feudal structures. Broadening our understanding of priesthood, both in and outside of orders, allows the talents of all to find expression. It also helps foreclose the culture that brought us the sexual abuse scandal, abetted as it is by an inbred sense of exemption and privilege.

So the discussions will be held, whether in chanceries or not, as change makes its inexorable mark from below. Those little gray cells, as James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., called them (Am., 5/30/05), refuse to stagnate and in prayerful contemplation move forward with optimism and hope for a renewed, truly accountable church.

Thomas A. Cahill | 2/19/2007 - 8:00pm
You can only blame yourselves! As a Jesuit-trained scientist (Holy Cross, 1959; Ph.D. in physics from U.C.L.A., 1965), I was trained to use my “Little Gray Cells” (5/30) in a continual challenge of hypotheses, no matter how enticing, no matter how vigorously promulgated by respected authorities. It worked for me in a satisfying career in teaching and research at U.C.L.A., diverse foreign universities, and the University of California Davis. I taught entry-level physics for hard science majors for many years. Among the most pathetic cases I encountered were students from a conservative or evangelical background who had somehow to mesh a literal interpretation of the Bible with the overwhelming evidence of science. In many cases they resorted to “God the Great Deceiver,” who made the world in six days circa 5,000 years ago but imbedded in the world misleading clues about a universe 13.5 billion years old. They were not allowed to use their “little gray cells” in whole areas of their existence. Off limits. Do not tread there!

So are we, Catholic students and faculty together, supposed to turn off our little gray cells as we walk through the door of the church? That seems to be the desire of some in authority, but it blocks us from a more profound and holistic knowledge of our existence. One area that I would like to see examined is a discussion of the effect of science on religion. The early church adopted a literal interpretation of the Bible now rejected by science, the Catholic Church, and most mainline Christians. Thus, the human interpretations of Jesus’ message in the early church were in some respects biased by the incorrect science of the times. What would the early Fathers have concluded based on more accurate scientific knowledge? In many cases, the question is not relevant. But in a few, the impact could be significant. How would knowledge of the lack of a physical, as opposed to metaphorical, Adam and Eve have modified the thinking of St. Augustine on original sin? Could he have conceived of an all-determining original sin that cast humankind into the abyss without an original sinner?

Sticking with Genesis a bit further, the key message involves the role of free will and the ability to make choices in full knowledge of the consequences thereof, good and bad. The church has wisely said that an immortal soul, a gift of God, cannot arise from material evolution. Would our more accurate knowledge about the development of human consciousness modify how the church analyzed when that transcendental gift occurs? Could such a gift occur when a being has no ability rationally to choose good and evil with knowledge of the consequences thereof and an ability to modify behavior? How does that touch upon the role of infant baptism for a human being who has yet to be able to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge?

The church has waltzed around these questions for centuries, trying to merge our knowledge of a just and loving God with a series of mostly philosophical constructs (limbo?) designed to paper over the fundamental problems. It would be far better to address these problems head on with a bit of Catholic little gray cell thinking so that we can present a unified “truth” that blends science and religion in a way to attract thinking people everywhere. On most days, that includes at least some of my students.

Eugene Gerard | 2/16/2007 - 4:07pm
“Little Gray Cells” by James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., (5/30) highlights the sad state into which the church’s intellectual life has sunk. At the time of the Second Vatican Council, the church was confident enough in its doctrine to engage the world on issues like the meaning of Scripture, freedom of conscience and past mistakes of the church. Now it seems the church’s leaders are resorting to the doomed tactics of thought-suppression and prohibition of discussion. Have they accepted that their doctrinal positions will not stand up to scrutiny?

When the church’s official position was that Galileo was heretical, that torturing dissidents was justifiable, that reading books on the Index was cause for excommunication and that freedom of conscience and religion were Modernist errors, wasn’t the church helped to return to its Christian mission by members within who convinced the leaders that their official positions were perversions of what Christianity is all about?

Does today’s hierarchy prefer to continue appearing intellectually shallow and out of touch with human experience rather than allowing educated and dedicated Catholics to discuss controversial issues?

Pat Knuth | 2/16/2007 - 3:16pm
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.

Frank R. Haig, S.J. | 2/16/2007 - 3:20pm
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?

Tom Howard | 6/1/2005 - 6:46pm
I was very disappointed with Fr. Digiacomo's article, "Little Gray Cells."

If the parishioner called Virginia ever sees this article, she could be hurt and even insulted. Worst yet she could actually disconnect herself from the sacramental life, since her priest decided to disclose a private conversation she had with him in the sanctity of the sacristy in the national press.

It is understandable that many American clergy feel threatened with our new Pope and many readers of America are confused by Fr. Reese's resignation.

For those who wear collars it is important to remember that the laity do not have the luxury of the pulpit or the convenience of having a magazine owned by our religious order to use when we feel threatened. All we can do is offer feedback in a loving way and let go.

Nicholas Clifford | 5/30/2005 - 7:59am
The most appalling thing about Father DiGiacomo's article is his points need to be spelled out at all. In any other circles, the need to use one's brain should 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 remain children in our thinking -- in contradiction to (among others) St. Paul himself (I Cor. 14:20, for example. So, Fr. DiGiacomo's arguments, uncessary 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. Nicholas Clifford
Austin J. Maher | 5/22/2005 - 8:18pm
After focusing on the current conservative trend in the Catholic Church of late, your article on Little Gray Cells proved to be a welcome breath of fresh air. Thank you. We need more of it.

Frank DeVito | 5/21/2005 - 8:13pm
I was so relieved to read James DiGiacomo's article, "Little Gray Cells." After hearing the disturbing news about the departure of Thomas Reese as editor, I was concerned that "America" would pursue a safe route and publish "orthodox" articles.

I use the word "orthodox" in parentheses because I have witnessed the same dynamic that Father Giacomo describes: Raising a question about a Church policy and/or practice is equated with being "un-Catholic" or "unorthodox." Fortunately through the centuries, great Catholic thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Rahner, and Gutierrez, did not share this understanding of orthodoxy. If they did, we would not have the legacy of their incredible and beautiful thinking. I want to add one more point to DiGiacomo's message: dialogue goes both ways. I am often upset with the way that our "Red State" Catholic thinkers are characterized: unthinking drones who blindly follow the dictates of Rome and/or Washington. I have witnessed the tyranny of our "Blue State" Catholic thinkers who are too quick to consider themselves "enlightened" and are quick to ridicule conservative Catholics who "don't get it."

In addition to a renewed understanding of orthodoxy, we need a renewed understanding of what it means to be a "thinking Catholic."

Phil Morley | 5/25/2005 - 9:36pm
If articles such as this one by Fr. DiGiacomo continue, my fears that the Spirit may be stifled will lessen. But it worse comes to worse and America is muzzled, there MUST be an organized opposition. This magazine has been precious!
Thomas A. Cahill | 9/2/2005 - 11:40pm
Editor ?

Ref. ?Little Gray Cells, J.J. DiGiacomo, pg. 17 ? 19, America, May 30, 2005

Physicists and cosmologists are using their ?Little Gray Cells? to back themselves into a corner where, because of a universe exquisitely defined to allow complex carbon based life forms, they have to seriously consider an all powerful and intelligent creator, the dreaded ?Strong Anthropic Principle?. The alternative is a random collection of a vast number of never-to-be-observed universes, with the most recent estimate from String and M Theory being 10 (power +500) parallel universes. While most are void and lifeless, one just happens to have the right combination of parameters to allow complex life to develop and us to see and understand it. However, because these parallel universes can never be observed, the idea lies outside of Physics, which requires empirical validation, and thus forms only a Philosophical construct.

If physicists can be pushed towards a creator by their ?Little Gray Cells?, why should we also not come closer to God by our intellectual efforts? We have no fear of truth, which is unitary, so we should not be afraid to apply science to religious investigation. For an example, the early Church fathers believed in a physical as opposed to allegorical Adam and Eve. They knew God face to face and still defied Him. How would St. Augustine have thought if he had had modern science as a guide? How would he have handled Original Sin if there were no Original Sinners? In another example, our knowledge of human development and the key role of free will in our salvation could raise a question as to when in our development is the immortal soul is gifted to mortal mankind? Can one be saved if one never has had the opportunity to freely choose good or evil?

I think we have much to gain and little to lose by making true theology and true science handmaidens of Truth, leading to a Catholic theology that is both intellectually and spiritually satisfying. This was, after all, one of the goals of the early Church Fathers, and a goal that we must continue to address under the confidant guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Thomas A. Cahill, Professor of Physics and Atmospheric Sciences, University of California, Davis CA

John W. Crossin,OSFS | 6/11/2005 - 1:39pm
Dear Editors:

A missing element in James DiGiacomo’s “Little Gray Cells” is reflection on the public nature of ministry. The priest, and the lay minister as well, has chosen to be a public minister in communion with the church. I recall that at ordination I promised the ordinary “obedience and respect.”

I find most priests, whether young or old, to be thoughtful and sensitive. “Critical thinking” is not limited to a single age group. The results of such thinking can go in rather different directions, however.

The public minister’s allegiance is not first of all to his or her own opinion. Those who minister in the name of the church need to explain its teaching publicly in effective ways—or remain silent.

Louise McAllister | 6/1/2005 - 6:10pm
Editor:

I have been seriously considering canceling my subscription to America. Today I read James DiGiacomo’s article, Little Gray Cells, and I will stay with you a while longer in the hope that articles of this kind will not be blue-penciled.

In spite of Tom Reese’s exit, I will continue to hope that America will not become a mouthpiece for the Vatican. Opinions like Fr. DiGiacomo’s will sustain that hope. Please keep challenging your readers with thought-provoking pieces.

Louise McAllister

Seattle

Anna Seidler | 5/23/2005 - 3:22pm
The article re "Virginia" being displeased at Father's homily about the causes of the lack of seminarians reminds me of how difficult change appears to be for many, and especially when one is aging or "on in years." Keeping everything the way it used to be, including our Catholic faith and church rituals is how stability comforts some of the aging. Their bodies are failing and changing with hearing and eyesight diminishing. Could be a matter of wanting control where at least our beloved Church remains the way we remember it from our youth. It takes time and lots of patience which Fr. seems to be demonstrating to allow those recalcitrant members of our Church to catch up to new thinking and /or possibilities, especially on how to increase the numbers of those entering seminaries and becoming priests.

Thanks for the article, a thought-provoking one indeed.

Anna Seidler

Richard M Snyder | 5/20/2005 - 9:31pm
Many thanks to James Di Giacomo for his lucid and uplifting article on the use of our Little Gray Cells. It was a timely reminder to all of us that, though it may seem that the disciples of blind and mindless obedience have the upper hand today, we can't let go of the hope and joy brought to us by the Fathers of Vatican II.

Ernesto Burden | 5/30/2005 - 8:24pm
Two things struck me as problematic with Father James J. DiGiacomo’s essay “Little Gray Cells” in the May 30 issue of America.

The first is a problem of tone. Father DiGiacomo’s essay implies that people who have accepted, subordinated themselves or otherwise acceded intellectually to some authority outside their opinion or feelings, both lack the “little gray cells” that “blue state” people such as himself have, and that they are “slack jawed” in their certainty.

It’s possible for thinking people to dislike or disagree with what that authority teaches, while still continuing to wrestle with it rather than simply rejecting it in favor of a sense of personal authority.

The essay’s second problem is, in arguing that his rejection of authority is a reflection of his intellectual potency, Father DiGiacomo ignores the fact that every rational argument rests on authority, even if it is only the authority required to come to a mutual definition of terms. In the case of theological matters, I am willing to accept that I do not have the time or expertise to synthesize two thousand years of doctrinal developments that lead to the understanding of issues I may disagree with the church on. Shall I then base my reasoned choices on the authority of a magisterium that has struggled, and continues to struggle, through millennia of doctrinal development and represents, ideally, the thinking of all the bishops and faithful of the world over all time? Or shall I base my understanding of, and commitment to, church teaching on an individual person’s opinion?

It is reasonable to question authority at times, just as there are times when it is rational to assent to it. Even, and perhaps especially, when that authority is the Church and the objector is a priest or bishop. But if this is so, why does Father DiGiacomo, as the authority figure in his parish, disparage his parishioner Virginia for having the temerity to pose a question of protocol: is it appropriate for a priest to teach from the altar, a position of authority granted him through the church, that certain church teachings are incorrect? Whether you believe it’s appropriate or not, it seems like a fair question. Unless you believe that authority should be questioned in general, but not when that skepticism is directed at you.

James E. Michaletz, CSV | 5/27/2005 - 9:23pm
I compliment Jim on this very fine article. His comments are excellent, but more importantly, he said some things that needed to be said. Too many people feel that any dissent from "official Church" is wrong and too many of the hierarchy in the USA have placed misguided loyalty ahead of the "sensus fedelium".

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 sign of a healthy hierachy. Loyalty is an admirable virtue but not to the detriment of a viable, collaborative Church.

Judith S. Sholes | 5/25/2005 - 1:58pm
I am glad that I waited to write a letter conveying my negative reaction to the firing of Reese because I now feel a bit better...though still nervous...about the future of America. My immediate fear was that the magazine would be reduced to the content of the average diocesan newspaper and that there would no longer be room for discussion of topics that indeed need to be discussed, such as mandatory celebacy, the return of married priests to ministry and the role of women. The article by Father DiGiacomo, however, gives me hope that the thought police will still allow serious adult reflections on these non-doctrinal matters that concern many of us. May this be a harbinger for continued future thoughful articles such as this. If not, I fear, the future of America will be in doubt.

Timothy Coldwell, FSC | 5/22/2005 - 12:49am
Dear Editor:

I appreciated James DiGiacomo's "tone of voice" as much as, if not more, than his message. It is important to dialogue, but as important to avoid a strident or superior, condescending tone. DiGiacomo is clear and unflinching so he cannot be dismissed for trying to plant sweet-smelling spiritual nosegays about catholicity and universality.

If it is loyalty that differentiates those who want to wonder out loud and those who want to leave the wondering to the hierarchy, perhaps we can learn a lesson from the Loyalists of the American colonial period. The higher loyalty, many realized, was to conscience, even if it meant challenging the governors and the governance that knew so much and meant so well.

Patrick Mongan | 6/10/2005 - 9:41am
It is ironic, but to me very sad, that J. Digiacomo does the very thing he accuses Virginia of doing. He portrays a very negative caricature of those who seek to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church. As a convert who is a physician I have not put my "gray cells" to sleep. Rather I am excited to be part of a Church that teaches the fullness of Christ's message. When I converted I made a choice to humbly embrace the teachings of the Church and live by them, even the ones I found difficult. I have yet to regret this decision. I chose to believe that the wisdom of those who went before me is something to be treasured and will take many years for me to fully comprehend. Yes, there have been those who were silenced and then recognized as truly presenting truth. What about the many who gave false teachings and created great pain for the Church? Finally, James seems to imply that only those who agree with him are the "voices of reason". Does James really want to bring the 2 ships together? From the tone of his article, I think not.

Virginia Smith | 6/2/2005 - 3:46pm
In light of recent regrettable events involving the content of "America", I commend your courage in publishing this article. DiGiacomo's concerns mirror my own (although I do wish he had chosen another name for his hypothetical parishioner). When free discussion, not to mention dissent, is not only discouraged but stifled, the Church is in serious trouble.

I find myself especially disturbed by the effect such a position will almost certainly have on highly intelligent, well educated young Catholics. When I taught seniors in a Catholic high school, I told them the mantra for the class would be 'creating God-centered people who know how to think'. I also wrote a book, "God for Grownups", along the same lines. To teach the diametric opposite runs counter to everything I believe. To my mind, there is no academic discipline in a Catholic school where critical thinking skills are more crucial than religious studies.

"America" is quite probably the only magazine I subscribe to that would leave me with a palpable sense of withdrawal were it not available. Your voice is more important than you may realize.