Heroic nuns, means & ends, class prejudice, etc.

Thank You, Sisters

Regarding your May 18 editorial “Rome & Women Religious”: I visited a fetid Bolivian prison with a diminutive American sister of the Daughters of Charity who brought warm food and medicines to starving and sick prisoners. I rode on the back of a motorcycle in Cochabamba with a gregarious Maryknoll nun who ministered to blind street people. I visited a home for abandoned, disabled children in Venezuela, operated with great love by Dominican sisters. I have worked here in Syracuse with Sisters of St. Joseph, whose own Sr. Mary Vera inspired the well-regarded nonsectarian home for abused women named Vera House. So many of us had members of the various religious communities as teachers in our youth.

While there have been women who were poorly suited for religious life and caused real pain, in general these women have helped make Christ’s presence felt and have lived in service to all. For the Vatican to question their leadership and their ways of living the renewal that Vatican II called for breaks the hearts of many who believe that their fidelity to the message of Christ is to be celebrated, not questioned or demeaned by a hierarchy that cannot even discipline itself. Sisters of all stripes, we respect you, thank you, pray for you, and love you. May the Spirit sustain you as you continue your paths of ministry.

David E. Pasinski

Fayetteville, N.Y.

Means & Ends

Jo McGowan (“Simplifying Sex,” April 20) invites Fr. Roger Landry to visit India, where, presumably, the conditions of life would persuade him to change his views on contraception within marriage. As the late Pope John Paul II noted in his book Love and Responsibility, no less a person than the father of modern India, M. K. Gandhi, “confesses that twice in his life he had succumbed to propaganda in favor of artificial contraceptives. He came to the conclusion that in one’s actions one must be able to rely on one’s own internal impulses, to control oneself. Let us add that this is the only solution of the problem of birth control at a level worthy of human persons.”

Like many critics of the Catholic Church’s teaching on human sexuality, instead of confronting the teaching itself, McGowan takes one interpretation of it, by one priest, and finds it to be immature and disconnected from the experience of married couples. When she writes that “families have a right to make their own decisions about contraception,” she is in effect stating that the church is in error when it teaches that an ethical norm is involved in choosing the means of birth control. Her term “one-size-fits-all rules” is just another way of saying that no such norm exists, that God does not care what means couples choose.

Ronald Dubson

St. Louis, Mo.

Bad History

If justifications for class prejudice weren’t clear enough in his book The Bell Curve, it seems Charles Murray has now made them explicit (see Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “The New Segregation,” May 4). As a lifelong blue-collar worker, I find Murray’s “inclusiveness” abhorrent. His contention that white people of all classes once lived around each other within a shared culture does not match my experience. Nor does it match that of my old friends, my crew at work, or my small-town relatives. Those of us on the other side of the class divide knew full well at an early age where we belonged. The divide was reflected in the gross differences between rich and poor school districts in funding, caliber of teachers, and preparation for further education. We experience daily the aggravations of being mistreated at work, plus the denigration of educated elites who detest racial prejudice yet seldom reflect on class discrimination.

Class consciousness, the threat of a mobilized majority, rose briefly in the 1930s, and it was enough to scare the genteel families of the managers and owners like the one Murray is from. Given the volatile political situation and the terrifying specter of the USSR, the economic elites cut a deal known as the corporate compromise. Labor had the assurance of a comfortable slice of the economic pie. And why shouldn’t ordinary working people, who help create wealth, be able to enjoy a little comfort?

Then the Democrats abandoned labor in the late ’70s in favor of a strategy of appealing to suburban undecideds. The result? Declining voter turnout and hardly any voice for working Americans. Since this is the land of opportunity, failure and poverty must be the outcome of personal inadequacies. Read Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus, a searing account of rural white fundamentalist America, his homeland, where economic hope is all but gone. Yet people whose poor education has given them little chance now believe the fault is only in themselves.

The one percent has no need of us any longer. But they know the masses are fearful and potentially dangerous. Hence the current propaganda that only the wealthy create jobs. Or books like Murray’s, meant to reinforce our belief in our own inferiority and to dismiss, with a particularly wicked twist on morality, the growing inequality as the outcome of people being too lazy or stupid or immoral to invest properly.

C. Rafi Simonton

Daly City, Calif.

Welcome Back

I was happy to see Robert K. Landers’s piece on James T. Farrell (“A Lion at Bay,” May 4). All five of Farrell’s great O’Neill-Flaherty novels, including Father and Son, which Landers mentions, are back in paperback, published by the University of Illinois Press. (I wrote the introduction.) Another book of interest is Chicago Stories, twenty short stories with Chicago settings and themes—Farrell was a brilliant creator of short fiction as well. He is a great writer and his work speaks to us now with as much urgency as ever.

Charles Fanning

Carbondale, Ill.

Keep Confessing

I was disappointed in the articles on the sacrament of reconciliation (“The Floating Sacrament,” April 6). None of them addressed how far current practice has strayed from the intended spirit of its renewal. Revisiting the theology of that renewal, including the three forms of reconciliation, would respond to the concerns expressed in the articles. A Lutheran pastor friend recently remarked, “I hope you Catholics never lose confession, because if we cannot look another person in the eye and say, ‘because of Jesus’ love, your sins are forgiven,’ what else do we have to say?”

(Rev.) Dennis J. Lynch

Stevens Point, Wis.

A Welcome Prodding

This United Methodist subscriber and avid reader finds Commonweal a blessed instrument in helping mind and soul keep some balance in these chaotic times. John Garvey’s “We Are Complicit” (March 23) was a disturbing and necessary prod to both. Thank you for the consistent high quality of your material.

Donald Walden

Urbana, Ill.

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