Correspondence

Welcome to the Web

I just checked out your Web site for the first time. Quite well done. You are to be congratulated. I’m looking forward to frequent visits. Thanks for making Commonweal available on the Web.

BILL BOGEL
Saint Louis, Mo.

Don’t be out of date

Congratulations on your new residence in the virtual space of the World Wide Web. May I suggest that you consider putting your most recent issue on display rather than an older one. Other periodicals with an interest in “the public [and virtual] square” have taken this approach.

(REV.) JARLATH QUINN
Bronx, N.Y.

The editors reply:

These wise words and our feeble answer will appear on Commonweal’s web site in about a month, when this issue is posted. It is felt here that people who have laid out $44 for a subscription should have the first chance to see the product, and that nonsubscribers equipped with computers and modems should have an incentive to join the family. The cover page and the table of contents of each issue will be posted promptly; only some issues will be reproduced in full.

Caravaggio all over

At about the same time as you published your symposium titled “A Message from Caravaggio” [June 20], I bought a paperback novel by Margaret Truman, Murder at the National Gallery, the setting of which is an exhibition of paintings by Caravaggio. It’s good summer reading, mentions many of the artist’s works, and sketches his life.In his The Story of Art, E.H. Gombrich gives an interesting account of the painting Saint Matthew and the Angel. It was commissioned by a church, but the first version was rejected as not suitable (Caravaggio was a bold and innovative artist). He then created a second and more acceptable version, the one illustrated in your article. Both paintings are reproduced in the introduction of Gombrich’s book; he seems to prefer the rejected version as being more honest.

PATRICIA LEIPER
Sacramento, Calif.

Caravaggio as tout

Though Caravaggi’s Saint Matthew and the Angel is, in my opinion, an uninspired painting, writers inspired by it turned out an interesting five articles on the nature of divine revelation. Mr. Prusak had a good idea.

I know Caravaggio is a great artist but sacred art is not his speed. Emil Antonucci’s cover on the same subject has the spirit that Caravaggio’s painting lacks. I would admire his painting if he intended to depict a Neapolitan angel giving a tip to a nice old surprised man to bet on Tetra Domino in the third race at the Coloseum. In that case, the painting might inspire me to call my bookie.

FRANK NIGRA
Monroe, N.Y.

They weren’t ‘yentas’

I was taken aback by the headline, “Yenta Power,” over my review of Nathan Stolzfus’s Resistance of the Heart [August 15]. The joking tone is inappropriate to the subject, an uprising during the Holocaust, and the use of the word yenta is questionable in any context and incorrect in this one.

To check my understanding, I called Dr. Mordkhe Schaechter, senior lecturer in Yiddish studies, emeritus, at Columbia University. He confirms that yenta is a derogatory term that applies correctly only to a sentimental, talkative, and highly traditional Jewish woman. The women of the Rosenstrasse Resistance, discussed in the review, were Gentile.

Both Dr. Schaechter and I are sure that Commonweal’s error was unintentional.

MADELINE MARGET

A scandal overlooked

The issue of part-time employment raised by the Teamsters’ strike against United Parcel Service can alert us to a neglected topic in the ongoing discussion of Catholic higher education.

In his Commonweal article [March 28] on the expense of a college education, Dennis O’Brien forecasts some “scenarios for greater efficiency”-options that may be resorted to by those institutions that have failed to reach a “philosophical consensus” necessary to avoid the “free-market model” of operation. Among other predictions, O’Brien includes the employment of more “adjunct” (that is, part-time) faculty, which he describes as a “cost-cutting strategy...already widely practiced and regarded as ‘scandalous’ by traditionalists.”

Just what the “traditionalists” consider scandalous is not clear. Would that it were the failure to pay part-time faculty salaries they can live on. Unfortunately, the real scandal is that the exploitation of part-time faculty is not a scandal! So widespread, accepted, and unexamined is the practice that some community colleges already employ more than 80 percent of their faculties on a part-time basis [Chicago Tribune, June 16].

In a letter [Correspondence, April 25], Jerome Wolbert asks: “Will Mr. O’Brien just sit back and relax while his younger colleagues are made into a new class of migrant workers?” But is there any evidence on record to support the hope that tenured faculty would vigorously protest?

Unfortunately, the colleges and universities-including Catholic institutions where one might expect a “philosophical consensus,” at least on the issue of social justice-have created and are maintaining an educated underclass of teachers with doctorates and master’s degrees. Compensation can be as low as or even lower than 25 percent of full-time salaries. No benefits are paid. And, with straight faces, some Catholic administrators ask instructors to teach the social documents, including “Economic Justice for All”!

In short, many Catholic institutions have adopted “free-market practices,” a far cry from the “enlargement of heart...and mind” called for by Cardinal Newman and by Professor Stephen Pope [Commonweal, March 28], to say nothing of the gospel and Catholic social teaching. This exploitation of part-time faculty is one of the means by which Catholic institutions of higher education are being secularized.

IRENE P. LEAHY
South Bend, Ind.

The writer replies

I am no enthusiast for “adjunct” (part-time) faculty, but before ascending the moral heights it is worth wondering why exactly have colleges-even Catholic colleges!-engaged in this unhappy practice. I doubt that it is simple wickedness. University and college tuition being what it is in private institutions, there is great resistance to increasing income by higher charges to hard-pressed parents. (I assume that the local well-known institution there in South Bend must have broken the $100,000 mark for four full years of instruction + room + board + football.)

If one cannot increase income, one tries to control expenses. Alas, faculty salaries are a major portion of the expense budget. Adjuncts are paid less pro rata than full-time faculty. Is that fair? Since adjuncts are not on the tenure track, presumably they do not play as important a role in the long-term plans of the institution as do the full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty who are the core of the institution. Core faculty might well believe they deserve better compensation.

Of course, one could appoint only full-time, tenure-track faculty, but that does increase expenses and-because of tenure-significantly decreases flexibility in staffing as new fields emerge, older fields succumb to lack of student interest, or the enrollment simply declines overall. Community colleges, being dominated by immediate and changing student interests (that is part of their mission), need to maintain maximum staffing flexibility; thus the 80-percent part-time faculty noted by Ms. Leahy.

An alternative strategy for the traditional (not community college) institution would be to “cut the frills”; that is, administration, fund-raising expenses, football (or hope for a Bowl bid!). I have never met a faculty that did not believe that the grass was cut too often. Whether “cutting frills” is an exercise in fiscal realism or the rhetoric of general frustration is one of the great mysteries of collegiate management.

DENNIS O’BRIEN

Numbers can mislead

My sorrow over the recent death of Archbishop Thomas Murphy of Seattle was heightened when I reread Charles Morris’s article [“A Tale of Two Dioceses,” June 26]. The article was lively and thought-provoking. But it is also a telling example of much that is described in the media as “research” about the American Catholic church. Knowing Archbishop Murphy’s phenomenal interest in all aspects of church life, I know he would have asked me about the sources and accuracy of Morris’s data on the Seattle archdiocese. I would have had to respond, as I am doing now, that the article is very much in the school of “two anecdotes justify a journal-publishable trend, and a third merits a book.”

Along with anecdotes and impressions, Morris makes frequent references to “survey data,” with no mention of who did the survey or when. These vague assertions would not merit comment but for the fact that Morris suddenly turned specific when he got to a “test” of the religious approaches used in the dioceses of Lincoln and Saginaw-a test that, unfortunately, relied on research done by Mark Chaves and his colleagues at Notre Dame. I say “unfortunately” because the data quoted in the article were misused by Chaves and misunderstood by Morris.

Contrary to Morris’s statement, “the only weekly Mass attendance figures collected on a diocesan basis” are collected in the first instance not by Chaves but by the dioceses themselves; Chaves then asked some dioceses to provide him with their figures. What is important here is that different dioceses use different methods. Most do what is known informally as an “October count,” where Mass attendance is counted in all parishes on one or more weekends in October. Some do head counts; some simply estimate “the crowd.” Some include hospitals, Newman Centers, and special ethnic community Masses; some don’t. Some count everyone in the church, others count only adults attending the Mass but do not count any liturgical ministers.

When Chaves asked me for data from the Seattle archdiocese, I made clear to him that most diocesan Mass attendance data are very “soft” and are used internally to determine trends rather than to measure effectiveness. No single-year data would tell a complete story, nor would Seattle’s data necessarily be comparable with data from any other diocese. Chaves assured me (and researchers in other dioceses) that he would only report trends and grouped data, and that no diocese would be identified by name. Understandably, then, we were dismayed when Chaves published the information by diocese, without mentioning any of our cautions, in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion [Fall, 1994]. The media gave considerable attention to this report.

It takes a little grade-school math to show how Chaves’s method of figuring percentages turned inadequate data into something worse. In determining the percentages for Seattle, Chaves used as the numerator the number we had provided to him: adults attending Mass on a single weekend at regularly scheduled liturgies in parish facilities-the lowest possible numerator. Then he used as the denominator the estimated number of Catholics in Western Washington derived from a 1990 national survey of religious self-identification, which resulted in an estimate that included infants, the very elderly, and those not affiliated with any parish, constituting 17.7 percent of the total population-that is, the largest possible denominator.

Note the consequences. If Chaves had chosen as his denominator the estimated number of Catholics affiliated with the church (calculated according to a formula developed by the Catholic Research Forum and derived by comparing the total number of births with the number of infant baptisms and the total number of deaths with the number of Catholic funerals), the number would have been cut substantially-to 11 percent of the population. If he had used the only “hard” number available-the number of adult Catholics registered in our parishes-the denominator would have been less than 7 percent of the population. For whatever reason, Chaves used numerators and denominators that were most likely to result in church attendance figures significantly below those found in self-report surveys. Depending on what denominator he picked, Chaves could have reported the Seattle Mass attendance rate to be 42 percent, 33 percent, or 20 percent. He chose the smallest. And, using these data uncritically, Charles Morris reported that the Seattle attendance rates were “close to the bottom of the list.”

Apart from the injury to my researcher’s sense of fair play, what propels this response was Morris’s linking of purported low-attendance rates to his characterization of the Seattle archdiocese as “very liberal” (his words). I don’t usually have trouble with the “L” word, but, given the real situation in Seattle, this seems a fairly bold and unnuanced description. In reporting Archbishop Murphy’s death, the local media all emphasized his outspoken opposition to euthanasia and abortion. News clips were shown of the archbishop ordaining three new priests only two weeks earlier; voice-overs reported that there are more than twenty-five young men preparing for the priesthood for the archdiocese, reportedly a higher number per Catholic than in any other diocese in the country. Many reporters noted that the Catholic schools are full and that we have opened three new parishes in the past several years, with three more on the drawing boards. Given a chance, I would have added that parish membership has grown faster than the general population, that parish income has increased 25 percent in constant dollars in the past eight years, and that nearly half of our parishes are building new facilities or expanding what they already have.

In other words, all objective measures show an alive, vibrant diocese headed by an archbishop who was fiercely loyal to the church and whose weekly newspaper columns and frequent speeches explored the challenges we face as individuals and as a community in light of the Gospels, the new Catechism, and Vatican documents. This is a diocese that should not, cannot be lightly dismissed as “the very liberal Seattle...close to the bottom of the list.” Chaves did the Seattle archdiocese and all others a disservice. Morris compounded that disservice by repeating Chaves’s “findings” without checking them or understanding their limitations.

Archbishop Murphy would have relished reviewing my reply and would have offered helpful suggestions. I’m hoping he would approve.

MARY BETH CELIO
Seattle, Wash.
The writer is director of research in the
planning and research department of the Seattle archdiocese.

The writer replies:

I’m in no position to comment on Ms. Celio’s criticisms of the Chaves data with respect to Seattle. I do note, however, that the data appeared in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal, and that I spoke to Professor Chaves to ensure that I was reading them correctly.

The controversy also points up what a statistical shambles the church is, despite its reputation for monolithism. The United States Catholic Conference does its best, but since all reporting is voluntary, there are no consistent data on such basics as finance, sacramental attendance, priestly resignations or censures, etc. Aside from the annual Catholic Directory, which has many lacunae, almost all the important data are derived from special surveys and samples, Gallup polls, and the like, which is ridiculous.

Ms. Celio’s letter, however, does not invalidate my point that there is no obvious relationship between sacramental attendance and how “liberal” or “conservative” a diocese is. But she seems also to imply that my characterization of Seattle as “liberal” is somehow pejorative, which was certainly not intended. Most people I spoke to in Seattle were proud of, say, the high degree of female liturgical participation, including a number of pastoral administrators like the nun in my article, and the archdiocese’s welcoming attitude toward homosexual Catholics, which, by most lights, would place them on the “liberal” side of the diocesan spectrum.

CHARLES R. MORRIS

List me some lists

It seems everyone supports summer reading suggestions like those in your issue of June 20. I’ve been a devotee of book lists since high school-those supplied by the school, Clifton Fadiman’s Lifetime Reading Plan, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s College of One (the lists he compiled for Sheilah Graham). “If they can do it,” I keep telling myself, “so can I.”

For years I was part of a book discussion group. Some times we had a theme for the year-for example, only Russian novelists. It was educational, and fun. Currently I’m reading the Victorians: Eliot, Trollope, Tennyson, Hopkins, Thackeray, James. I read the Brontës, Hardy, and Conrad long ago.

So, my thanks to Keen, Swick, Duffy, Finn, Bates, and Steinfels for helping make certain I’ll never finish reading all those great books suggested by so many lovers of that still-very-much-written language called English.

ANN WHITE FERRIS
Hampton, Va.

The power of capital

Because you’ve opened up discussion of “The Good Side of Going Global” [Jay Mandle, July 18], I’d like to suggest an analysis that’s other than “good side-bad side” but goes to the heart of the matter: the power of capital. As a lay reader of the current situation, I would remind Mr. Mandle that capital-money available for investment-has been “global” for centuries. Assets deployed for colonization and in the slave trade are the most obvious examples. World-wide investment up to this time gives little hope that “the mass deprivation associated with underdevelopment might dramatically be reduced.” The pattern thus far has been the formation of wealthy elites in poor countries and little improvement for the vast majority. The January 1994 uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, attested to this. But mass dislocations of people, destruction of natural resources, and loss of democratic rights are well documented throughout the world.

This is not to say that all efforts toward development have been destructive. But disregard for the social and environmental consequences of profit-driven enterprises is all too common among investors. Along with reductions in government spending for people’s needs (often at the insistence of the World Bank for debtor nations), that does not bode well for the future.

The power of capital is not just money or the speed with which money can move around the world. It’s the power of its logic, its idea; the conviction now pervading every aspect of life and every corner of the globe that “everything and everybody is best served by free-market forces” (or, more crudely, “everything is for sale”). Where this logic rules, government is expected to “support the market,” in part by reducing its role as mediator for the common good through expenditures for health needs, education, housing, in particular for those whom “the market” cannot support: the aged, vulnerable workers without skills, and their families.

Recent elections in Britain and France indicate some political will to challenge the economic assumptions that have been pressuring the European Economic Union. Organizing in this country for a balance of power is possible and necessary to safeguard the social interdependence we’ve struggled for throughout this century.

DOROTHY RASENBERGER
New York, N.Y.

Published in the 1997-09-12 issue: 
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