Catholic writers, more on More, voting


In response to Paul Elie’s article “What Flannery Knew” (November 21), I have two names to add to the list of Catholic writers foreseen by O’Connor: Charles D’Ambrosio and Alice McDermott. I heard both authors speak at the 2006 Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. They share a distinctly Catholic spiritual sense and aesthetic. Both explore the darker, stranger depths of human experience, but they also depict a strong vision of redemptive grace.

In works such as Charming Billy and Child of My Heart, McDermott applies a Catholic sensibility to stories of Irish families in Long Island and the Bronx. Her characters focus on the challenges of attaining sainthood: how to respond in a Christ-like way to particular suffering? In her talk at Calvin College, McDermott pointed out that suffering is part of the human condition, that God joins us in it and offers his timeless model of a love that is not defeated by death.

Likewise, D’Ambrosio’s story “Drummond and Son” depicts a father’s sanctification through caring for his schizophrenic son. That love expects nothing in return: the son will not be saved, nor will he repay or even understand the kindness. The father loves because love is needed. The author’s intent, as D’Ambrosio explained at the conference, was to create a world in which a character can say “I love you” and not mean it ironically.

Both writers present a “catholic” view of humankind—especially in their empathetic depictions of the marginalized—and simultaneously a powerful view of God’s redemptive power. They “make belief believable” in a post-Flannery age.

Norwich, N.Y.


In his article on Flannery O’Connor, Paul Elie writes that when he uses the term “Catholic culture,” he “has in mind...mainly literary culture.” He lists six writers who exemplify excellent Catholic writing today—five men and one woman, all authors of nonfiction books. Did he consider the wonderful Mary Gordon, whose novels almost always confront issues of faith in the contemporary world, or Alice McDermott, whose marvelous fiction is steeped in the stew of twentieth-century American-Catholic culture?

Brooklyn, N.Y.


I thoroughly enjoyed Paul Elie’s article on Catholic culture and literature. Still, in his discussion of Catholic culture and literature today, Elie should have mentioned Liam Callanan. His two novels, The Cloud Atlas (2004) and All Saints (2007), strongly rooted in American-Catholic culture, are thought-provoking and a pleasure to read.

New Orleans, La.


Kudos to Mollie Wilson O’Reilly for her review of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of A Man for All Seasons (“Fanfare for an Uncommon Man,” October 24). I have read three reviews of that production—including the New Yorker’s—and O’Reilly is the only reviewer who understands the point of the script and therefore bemoans the director’s decision to cut the character of the Common Man.

The Common Man vaults the play from the realm of a personal or national tragedy to the level of universal human tragedy. All of us are confronted with either “staying out of trouble” or heeding our conscience. Of course, these are rarely matters of state, as they were for More. Through the Common Man, the audience is continually brought face-to-face with those moments. Bolt’s play shows that time and again More makes the uncommon choice, but without the character of the Common Man, the audience escapes the uncomfortable realization that the option is ours, as well.

Spring Valley, Ill.


Paul Baumann’s Last Word piece (“Confusions,” November 7), which recounted his participation in a panel discussion on whether a Catholic could vote for a prochoice candidate, alluded to his position that overturning Roe v. Wade alone would not end abortions. (I presume he meant in the United States.) I appreciate his attempt to shed more light on the effects of overturning Roe, but there are other consequences we must anticipate. Those hoping for Roe’s reversal presume that abortion will be made illegal. But are we prepared to cope with widespread disobedience of such a law? If abortion is made illegal, what punishments will be appropriate and who will be liable—doctors, medical staff, the mother, family and friends who assist the mother in getting an abortion?

Catholics, especially bishops, must be clear-sighted about what to expect if Roe is reversed. I fear that what prevails in the debate is a great deal of naiveté, usually leading to the assumption that reversing Roe will solve all our problems.

Rensselaer, Ind.


Regarding Paul Baumann’s “Confusions”: There is a group of noisy extremists among the U.S. Catholic bishops. Their immoderate statements in the abortion debate do not strengthen the prolife agenda. Of course abortion is an important issue, but the approach of these bishops has been misguided and counterproductive.

I am prolife. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago best described the church’s teaching on life issues as a seamless garment. Ultraconservatives assume that Catholics who voted for Democrats in the last election are champions of abortion and do not share the bishops’ moral concern. They are seriously mistaken.

Many Catholic voters weighed the broad spectrum of life issues and decided that the Democratic Party was more in line with Catholic social teaching. They considered the dismal record of the GOP on a host of issues and voted for the party whose overall agenda, they hope, will do more to address the root causes of abortion.

As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus caritas est, “The church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice.... The church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible.”

Tarrytown, N.Y.

Published in the 2008-12-19 issue: 
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