Your August 17 editorial (“$660 Million”) reflects a narrow and very deficient comprehension of the complete picture in the Los Angeles archdiocese’s sexual-abuse settlement. The focus on the amount of the settlement and the notion that it will seriously limit the church’s mission to the needy of the archdiocese is misleading. Readers should be aware that Cardinal Roger Mahony has used tens of millions of dollars donated to the archdiocese to pay his many attorneys to create every type of roadblock imaginable to any form of settlement of the lawsuits. It must also be said that the primary reason the lawsuits were even filed is that the victims had experienced severe frustration in their efforts to receive justice or compassionate care from the church. These men and women, their families, and their supporters are indeed among the neediest of the needy in Los Angeles.

The monetary drain to the archdiocese is nothing compared to the devastation experienced by the victims and their families. No one in the archdiocesan administration, especially Cardinal Mahony, ever made any effort to assess the spiritual and emotional damage done to the many abused by the clergy. The cardinal’s publicized visits with eighty or so victims were for public-relations and legal purposes; they were certainly not an expression of authentic pastoral concern. The public apologies served as a thin mask for the continued brutal efforts of the cardinal’s attorneys to devalue the victims and minimize the unspeakable damage done because the official church “didn’t care.”

The editorial and the recent article by Mark Sargent (“Vengeance Time,” April 20) are uncharacteristic of Commonweal’s image as an honest and independent review. Both have unduly focused on money, both have not only trivialized but also insulted victims, and both have displayed an attitude toward the sexual-abuse tragedy that can be described as naive and seriously limited. If Commonweal wants to serve the needy in the church, publish articles or editorials that reflect an awareness of the complete and painful truth of this terrible nightmare.

Vienna, Va.



As the editorial noted, “a bishop’s fiduciary responsibility does not override the demands of justice for victims.” Commonweal has always insisted on the primacy of such justice. Yet that does not mean that victims are the only ones worth considering in this tragic chapter in the history of the church in the United States. Apparently Fr. Doyle would rather we not mention the uncomfortable fact that a $660-million settlement has consequences for those who are not abuse victims. He suggests it would be better if we did not point out that church social services and other activities will likely be hampered by the enormous payouts. Doyle is to be commended for his work defending victims and for calling the church to account—matters Commonweal has written about consistently. Still, while every instance of sexual abuse calls for justice, not every lawsuit settlement guarantees that outcome.



You end your August 17 editorial by saying that healing will never begin without clear acts of penitence by church leaders. True, but I do not think that penitence is the only thing called for. There must also be some structural change, one that involves checks and balances on a monarchical episcopacy. One man simply cannot have all the say. Accountability to the faithful is a necessity. Please don’t tell me that divine institution or revelation forbids such a thing. Without this second “lung,” healing will merely be a wish.

Tracy, Calif.



For the life of me, I cannot understand why there has been such controversy over the pope’s recent motu proprio (“The Old Rite Returns,” August 17). So the Latin Mass will be more available. This is something to go into high dudgeon over? Is the post–Vatican II Mass being prohibited? Are those who prefer it going to have to drive hundreds of miles to find it?

Your average Catholic parish has about six weekend Masses to choose from. I really can’t see the Latin Mass occupying more than two of those slots, and I imagine that one of these will be the early Sunday morning Mass. This is worth getting all worked up over?

Dallas, Tex.



I find the four views on the Tridentine Mass very helpful. They are all learned, well argued, and judicious. One thing I sorely miss is consideration of the possible impact of the restoration of the so-called Tridentine Mass on the churches of the global South, where the majority of Catholics now live. The orbit in which Summorum pontificum dwells is so European and North American. Ask an Asian or African Catholic what the Tridentine Mass, with its quaint rituals and the Latin language, means for them, whether it reveals “a secret place where Almighty God dwells hidden in our world, a foretaste of heaven amid the trials and disappointments of earthly mortality.” It might, but at what cost to their native languages, cultures, and religious traditions? It might also appear as another attempt at colonizing, at exercising what has been called “white privilege.” When will the Catholic Church begin to be truly catholic? When it does, the Tridentine Mass will appear to be what it really is, a local and even parochial liturgical tradition, not to be exalted above the other liturgical traditions that help us encounter the Absolute Mystery in fear and trembling and to build up a community in joy and solidarity.

Washington, D.C.



My first reaction to the return of the Latin Mass was “much ado about nothing.” Surely there cannot be many people who really want or insist on the Latin Mass? I am old enough to remember the old Latin Mass and I do not remember a great degree of contemplation of the mystery of the Eucharist. Mostly I remember flipping through my missal to find the translations of what was being said in Latin, and finding that the English translation was often just as obscure. I also remember how bored many people seemed and how often priests had to tell people not to sneak out before the Mass was over.

I appreciated the viewpoints of all four articles, but found the final one, “Getting the History Right” by Bernard P. Prusak, the most enlightening. When I learned that the church at the time of the Council of Trent condemned the use of the vernacular at Mass and the reception of Communion under both forms, that even translations of the Ordinary of the Mass were put on the Index of Forbidden Books, I could not but be amazed at how what was once condemned has become commonplace. It is a short distance from there to wondering how many things that are now decisively condemned by the church will one day be taken for granted, such as the ordination of women and acceptance of homosexual sex. Too bad I won’t live long enough to see it.

Brandon, Fla.



The articles on the return to the Latin Mass were timely and asked some important questions. They also reminded me of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, who stated that the people need “miracle, mystery, and authority.” When you mix a sweet-sounding dead language with “smells and bells,” you have a combination that some people find hard to resist.

My wife and I were in Italy in June and a friend invited us to a Latin Mass at the seminary of a new institute. It was Trinity Sunday and there would be a solemn High Mass. There were more than twenty seminarians and at least four priests. About twenty-five people in the congregation were apparently regulars. The Mass was a throwback to more than fifty years ago. The Latin was impeccable and the seminarians sang perfect Gregorian chant. I happened to know the Mass by heart from fifty years ago and sang along without causing disruption, but I later learned I was not supposed to have done so.

The choreography of the Mass was perfect, the servers lifting the skirts of the celebrant’s chasuble at the consecration. The congregation was silent except for a few “Amens.” The entire Canon of the Mass was either whispered or read so silently that the congregation could not hear. There was a lot of incense, beginning with the offertory and ending with the consecration. The bells rang five times, beginning at the Sanctus. Communion was given while people knelt at the altar rail—on the tongue, and not under both species. The priest kept repeating in Latin, “Corpus Domini Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam” (May the body of the Lord Jesus Christ guard your soul to everlasting life)—quite a mouthful.

The entire experience was curious. It was perfectly carried out and I had the feeling I had attended a performance but that I had not gone to Mass. (I should add that I have nothing against the Latin Mass. I am a Latin teacher.)

I wondered what kind of training the seminarians were receiving and what kind of priests they would become. Would they be remote and legalistic, bound rigidly by rules, or would they be accessible and pastoral? Although I was impressed with the perfection of the service, I was left cold. Nonetheless, seminaries of this kind seem to be flourishing and have more vocations than most dioceses produce. Perhaps the Grand Inquisitor formula really works.

Stony Brook, N.Y.



In her article, “A Step Backward” (August 17), Rita Ferrone writes: “The old lectionary had a one-year cycle of readings. Almost all of the Gospel passages were taken from St. Matthew.”

This is incorrect: of the fifty-four possible Sunday Gospel readings, twenty are taken from Matthew, but eighteen come from Luke, thirteen from John, and three from Mark.

Dublin, Ireland



I am grateful to Mr. Wood for this correction. Nevertheless, in the old lectionary, readings from Matthew outnumber readings from any other evangelist and the voice of Mark is seldom heard. It is true that all the evangelists are represented, and that Luke and John appear with some frequency, especially around Christmas and Easter. But the point I was making remains valid. The three-year lectionary produced following the Second Vatican Council is enormously richer than the one-year cycle it replaced.




Much as I respect Peter Jeffery’s work on the inconsistencies of Liturgiam authenticam, I find his August 17 article, “Widening Our Hearts,” to be flawed by false dichotomies. He is clearly trying to avoid caricaturing either version of the Roman Mass. Yet I believe that our choice is not between sacrament or word, contemplative or communal, transcendence or relevance, the Burning Bush or the Sermon on the Mount.

Both versions contain word and sacrament, but in the Tridentine Mass, to whom is the word addressed if it is read sotto voce by the priest? And reducing the power of the sacrament to a viewing of the host and the chalice after transubstantiation is not a very effective encounter with either.

Of course, in the postVatican II rite, bad reading can hide the challenge of the vernacular word. And a priest whose proclamation of the Eucharistic prayer is not filled with “wonder, love, and praise” can diminish the awesome experience of uniting us with Christ’s self-offering.

Yet there are places in this country where the synthesis of old-rite elements within the celebration of the post–Vatican II Mass has been very successful. Sunday Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago and at St. James Cathedral in Seattle are services filled with incense, bells, chant, and a real reverence for the sacrament. The word is proclaimed with power by excellent readers, and the community participates dynamically in word, song, and gesture.

The real dichotomy at work here is between “presbyturgy” and “liturgy.” Is the Eucharist in the Roman rite going to be the “work of the priest” or the “work of the people”?

Cincinnati, Ohio



In your July 13 editorial (“Dialogue?”), the editors applauded Daniel Finn’s presidential address to the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) that called for dialogue within our ideologically fractured church. The price of such dialogue was “fewer public statements that defend theologians against ecclesiastical power.”

But why is our church wracked by divisions? Remember that Pope Paul VI secretly dismissed the findings of his own birth-control commission when writing Humanae vitae and then purged any dissenting priests or theologians. Cardinal Franjo Seper, in like fashion, secretly suppressed the unwelcome findings turned in by the Pontifical Biblical Commission when he issued the 1976 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document opposing the ordination of women (Inter insigniores). This document was found to be biblically, theologically, and pastorally flawed by eight out of ten Catholic theologians publishing on the topic. Unwilling to acknowledge this, the Vatican again resorted to iron-fisted policies. In response, the CTSA wisely shielded theologians by allowing them to stand under the protection of the collective vote of the society.

John Paul II championed the Solidarity movement for its ability to oppose collectively an oppressive government in his homeland. When the Vatican wall of secrecy and coercive power is torn down, then and only then can the CTSA safely become the center of dialogue that the editors so admire.

Cincinnati, Ohio



What a delightful surprise to arrive at The Last Word (“From Grease to Ashes,” July 13) by Stephen Aubrey and find a picture of O’Rourke’s Diner in Middletown, Connecticut. It was like running into an old friend in a totally unexpected location.

For generations my family has vacationed at nearby Lake Pocotopaug, and almost since the time that it opened I have been passing the diner. In the 1950s, it was one of the familiar landmarks that signaled to restless brothers in the back seat of my father’s old Ford that the long journey to the lake was almost at an end.

More recently my brother, sister-in-law, and I made it a point to visit O’Rourke’s each summer to sample Brian O’Rourke’s breakfast concoctions. Although we could never claim to be regulars like Aubrey, Brian always greeted us warmly with slices of his peach melba and took time to pass a little craic, as the Irish say.

The tragic fire last August brought to light Brian’s extraordinary generosity to local food pantries and soup kitchens as well as his legendary hospitality. It is heartbreaking to see the diner still boarded up and without a knot of hungry customers waiting outside for seats. One can only hope that the scorched shell of O’Rourke’s Diner is not “the last word” for this beloved greasy spoon.

Ridgewood, N.Y.

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Published in the 2007-09-28 issue: View Contents
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