Economic meltdown, the church in France, abortion


I am not competent to critique Mark Sargent’s analysis of our current financial crisis (“The Blame Game,” November 7), but I wish to take exception to his cavalier dismissal of the moral dimension of the problem. The blame game and finger pointing may not help to solve the crisis, but a concern for social justice and the common good does require transparency and accountability. To dismiss this concern as mere moralizing is to erase a large part of the picture.

Paul Krugman (New York Times, November 11) treats the moral gravity of the crisis far more seriously when he reminds us that the conservative ideology that promotes the gospel of greed did in fact help to create the current financial crisis. His quote from FDR’s second inaugural speech is right on target: “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

On a final note, Sargent adds insult to injury by propounding a moral equivalency between the behavior of the little guy on Main Street and that of the tycoons on Wall Street. I wonder which one has to worry about losing his medical coverage or going to bed hungry.

Pittsburgh, Pa.



Fr. Smith seems not to have read my article. In accusing me of a “cavalier dismissal of the moral dimension of the problem,” he ignores my observation that “there are many examples of vice trumping virtue in the financial mess.” He apparently did not notice that I used the terms “greed,” “arrogance and excessive pride,” “feckless,” “hubris,” and “recklessly” to describe the behavior on Wall Street. I wrote that there are “lots of reasons to be frightened, angry, and even nauseated” about what was done. My article absolved no one, and hardly ignored the “moral dimension.” I also did not establish a “moral equivalency” between what he describes as “tycoons” and the “little guy.” I merely made the unoriginal and hardly controversial observation that average Americans have loaded up on consumer and residential debt to an extent that many of them now realize was irresponsible, and that many Americans stopped saving and loaded up on residential debt because they believed that U.S. home values would just keep going up. That is precisely the same mistaken assumption that was made on Wall Street. Those are simply facts, and I will leave it to Smith to determine whether they compromise the “little guy’s” moral position. My article simply pointed out that those who become consumed with moralistic resentment and who do not even try to understand the complex mix of factors that caused the credit crisis also may not bother to understand dispassionately and objectively what needs to be done now to remedy the situation. I’m surprised that my call for prudence excited such an indignant response.




In Georges Bernanos’s novel Diary of a Country Priest, the young curé laments that his parish is bored stiff; there was no other way to describe it. In the 1940s, Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard of Paris sensed the coming alienation of many from the church, and he told his priests that there is no other way to encounter the workers’ world than to go beyond the wall that separates the clergy from the people. For some, I gather from Steven Englund’s observations (“How Catholic Is France?” November 7), Cardinal Suhard’s strategy is now thought to be too risky.

Yet the theology of Vatican II reminded us of the consequences of worshiping a God without a world, a God conceived as floating above history. The council urged us to go beyond the church walls and to join with the rest of humanity in the search for truth and genuine solutions to personal and social problems. Forty years ago, both Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton reminded us that the secular was the world of Jesus. Jesus gave the church the project of working in that world for justice. Let’s get on with it! Enough moaning about the word “secularism,” which is not equivalent to atheism, materialism, or relativism.

Laurel, N.Y.



Steven Englund’s outstanding article has inspired me with hope for the future of Catholic France, as aptly symbolized by the cover photo of Pope Benedict XVI being welcomed by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But the new grounds for hope, represented by such scholars as Jean-Luc Marion and Paul Valadier, SJ, are offset in the article by Englund’s lament that Catholic France is today lacking in great literary figures like Paul Claudel, Jacques Maritain, Georges Bernanos, and François Mauriac. How do we know that their places won’t be filled with current writers whose greatness will emerge only with the passing of time?  Temporis filia veritas—“truth is the daughter of time.”

Tokyo, Japan



Thank you for publishing the moving personal story of a prolife doctor trying to help a young woman who clearly wants—and will probably have—an abortion (“‘I Don’t Want It,’” October 24). The author knows she couldn’t stop the young woman or even persuade her, and she feels uneasy that she did not do more.

The story gets at something important about abortion. The problem does not start with a young woman upset about her pregnancy. It starts much earlier, even before sexual activity. There is so much that young women and their future partners need to learn about self-respect, responsibility, long-term consequences, etc. And these are issues that our culture seems unable or unwilling to deal with. When someone has made up her mind to have an abortion, it is difficult to change her mind. Of course, one can refuse to help her get one. But a woman seeking an abortion will likely find a way—often with disastrous consequences.

Personal stories such as this one show how painful these situations are. Prohibiting abortions alone will not make the problem go away. A whole cultural change is needed and I haven’t heard any politician talk about that.

Brandon, Fla.

Published in the 2008-12-05 issue: 
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