The National Catholic Review
Slowly But Surely

I read with interest your editorial about the Cardinal Newman Society, Measuring Catholic Identity (3/27). That organization does not seem to recognize the irony of choosing as their patron a holy priest who himself was the subject of much vilification and animus by persons not unlike those who make up the current membership of that organization.

My suggestion would be that they rename themselves as the Msgr. George Talbot Society. Talbot, like Newman a convert from Anglicanism, was a domestic prelate to Pope Pius IX for nearly two decades and, in that capacity, besmirched Newman’s reputation in the papal household, accusing him (falsely) of being a supporter of Garibaldi, thwarting Newman’s desire for a Catholic College at Oxford, picturing him as being disloyal to papal authority and calling him the most dangerous man in Europe. He served as the Vatican agent of those in England who had no love for Newman, especially Cardinal Henry Edward Manning. Talbot, if he is remembered at all today, is remembered as the one who said that the laity’s role in the church was to hunt, to shoot, to entertain.

Providence, however, works slowly but surely. Talbot had a mental breakdown and ended his days in an asylum near Paris. Newman eventually became a cardinal and is now on the way to canonization. For all that, it is terribly sad to see Newman’s name associated with such persons, who are not at all unlike those who served as watchdogs of Orthodoxy against Newman in the 19th century.

Lawrence S. Cunningham
Notre Dame, Ind.

For the Better

Thank you for Bringing Back Charity (3/13), by Richard Ryscavage, S.J. The following observation may seem mundane, but it is something that a great many people in our fortunate, affluent country, including many of the clergy, as yet do not realize. The American dollar goes a very long way in the third world and can do wonders there. For the equivalent of only $105, a pedal-powered sewing machine can be bought in Eritrea, providing an Eritrean war or AIDS widow with a means to support her family. A similar amount can buy a milk cow for a desperate low-caste head of household in India, providing him/her with a similar means of income. In Latin America $240 ($20 a month) helps provide tuition, books, a uniform and sometimes even food for a needy child for an entire year.

If you can help, yes, it is your problem. No, you can’t help everyone, but help all that you can. And yes, if you use your brain and do a little investigating before giving, the money does get to where it is intended and will become a godsend in changing some desperate person’s life for the better. I believe that God smiles on this much more than he does on $75,000 baptismal fonts.

Christopher X. O’Connor
Albuquerque, N.M.

Dignity and Rights

Thank you for the commentaries on Deus Caritas Est in the March 13, 2006, issue of America. Each commentator was respectful and shared observations from his or her individual perspective. Since the encyclical was addressed to more than bishops, priests, deacons and men and women religious, may I share some observations as a member of the lay faithful?

There will always be natural disasters, pandemics and epidemics that will require that people of faith respond with charity. But where the people are oppressed by injustice, the suffering is greatest. We have but to look at our experience with the Katrina devastation. It was in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward that the people suffered the most. Yes, Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi lost his ancestral home; but Senator Lott was not then homeless. He had other homes in which to sleep.

World health experts tell us that tuberculosis is a good marker of where poverty is. It is even more true where tuberculosis crushes the breadwinner for want of $15 in effective medication, treatment easily available to the moderately well-to-do.

The church’s social teaching argues on the basis of reasoning and natural law.... It recognizes that it is not the church’s responsibility to make the teaching prevail in political life. This is troubling. If we substitute life issues for social in that statement, we see the church actively seeking to make that teaching prevail in political life. Why should the church not do so for social justice?

Perhaps emphasizing the splendor of the church’s charitable activity blinds us to the effect of power and special interest.

We can give a person a fish and they will eat that day; or we can insist on their dignity and rights, and they will eat every day.

Larry Donohue, M.D.
Seattle, Wash.

Clarity and Concern

Don’t Forget Justice, by Thomas Massaro, S.J., (3/13) gave me great hope and consolation. Since I have had the opportunity to offer presentations on the social justice tradition of our church for over 25 years, I have found participants within the Roman Catholic tradition to be more than eager to learn about social justice as if they were hearing it for the first time. I believe Pope Benedict’s understanding of love includes the full range of that noblest of virtues and would not want the more recent emphasis on social justice to be lost. I commend Father Massaro for his clarity and concern regarding the latest encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

Mary Elizabeth Clark, S.S.J.
Philadelphia, Pa.

Saintly Words

Thanks for the articles on Deus Caritas Est (3/13). Alberto Hurtado, our newest Jesuit saint, said that La Caridad comienza donde termina la justicia (Charity begins where justice ends). Also, Debemos ser justos antes de ser generosos(We should be just before being generous).

John Henry, S.J.
Arica, Chile

Presence and Charm

The legion of those who admire Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., must have been delighted with the publication of his article Nourishing Head and Heart (3/20).

In September 1937, a brilliant young Jesuit scholastic joined the faculty of Regis High School in New York City to begin his regency. Mr. Burghardt, S.J., was then 23 years old and taught Latin, Greek and German to the upper classes. He also coached the rather successful freshman and JV basketball teams. I doubt there was a single student in the school who was not aware of his presence and charm during that one year of regency.

He left for Woodstock, Md., in 1938 to begin his theological studies and was ordained in June 1941 at the age of 27, unusually young for a Jesuit.

I had the privilege, along with a fellow Regian, Eric Compton, to serve Father Burghardt’s first Mass at Woodstock, where he would remain for many years as professor of patristics.

In the Burghardt tradition of honoring the Trinity, his continuing Jesuit life can, in my judgment, be summarized in three categories: a delightful person, a brilliant scholar, an outstanding preacher of the Just Word.

James P. Murphy
Seaford, N.Y.

Distinctive Contribution

In his article about seminaries and what should be expected of the priestly formation they provide, Will the Seminaries Measure Up? (3/20), Ronald Witherup, S.S., reports that the primary goal of seminary education should be to integrate four major components of formation (human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral). That is a happy thought. But permit me two observations.

First, recent studies of American seminaries suggest that this integration will not come easily. These studies (and my own limited experience) indicate that there is little evidence that parish priests do much to communicate to their congregations either the results of recent biblical scholarship or of post-Vatican II theology about the church, the sacraments or the liturgy. Too often, one hears Scripture talked about in a fundamentalistic way, as if it were akin to modern journalism or popular history. As the weekly column The Word in America, by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., shows, the richness of Scripture is not inaccessible to ordinary lay people, but neither is Scripture as obvious as yesterday’s newspaper. To change this situation, priests will have to show more concern for both their own and their congregants’ minds.

Second, and not wholly independent of the first point, parish priests have to find a better way to show that they really believe that lay people are intelligent and deserve to be talked to as adults. They too, after all, are baptized and thereby charged to make their own distinctive contribution to the church’s mission.

Bernard P. Dauenhauer
Watkinsville, Ga.

Greedy Individualism

It seems to me that more is riding on the plagiarism lawsuit about The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood, Holy Grail than you suggest (Current Comment, 3/27).

Back in 1982, Holy Blood, Holy Grail was presented to the public as a work of nonfiction. This pose opened it to treatment as nonfiction, and nonfiction has always been regarded as a legitimate research tool for authors of fiction. Dan Brown’s novel makes no secret of its debt to such self-styled scholars as Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln. Thus, in suing him for plagiarism, they must either admit their own earlier work is pure fiction and that they or their publishers fibbed in labeling, or else pretend that Brown’s novel is nonfiction and ought to have been copiously footnoted.

As I see it, a court decision for Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln would threaten every fiction writer who has ever based any novel, play or short story on research done in any nonfiction work still in copyright. This is not merely a question of two misleading books and one misleading movie. It is a question of whether novelists and dramatists can remain free to base their stories on all available nonfiction, or whether we are henceforth condemned to have nothing but fiction based on the authors’ pure imagination, abetted only by nonfiction resource materials at least half a century out of date. As an occasionally published writer of quasi-historical fiction myself, I am entirely on Dan Brown’s side! I don’t want to have to fear plagiarism lawsuits from some half-forgotten nonfiction research tool should one of my novels unexpectedly become a bestseller.

This alleged-plagiarism farce strikes me as one more symptom of greedy individualism running rampant over community spirit. It is hardly a question of literary quality. Shakespeare could hardly have crafted his plays under the grasping, overpossessive spirit that permeates the modern copyright situation.

Phyllis Ann Karr
Rice Lake, Wis.

Recently in Letters