And Many More
Congratulations on ninety years of excellent North American, lay Catholic journalism. I have been reading you pretty much since 1951, during William Pfaff’s initial tenure (“Trying My Hand,” October 24). Neither you nor I (to say nothing of the pope) has always been infallible, but I’ve always found your prose worthwhile, enlightening, and enjoyable, your poetry frequently beyond me, and your letters to the editor revealing. I only wish more people could be exposed to your “considered opinions” (to quote your former editor Margaret O’Brien Steinfels). May your magazine and our planet continue on for at least another ninety, and may your readership increase aplenty!
Regarding “A Question of Conscience: The Excommunication of Ignaz von Döllinger,” by Thomas Albert Howard (October 10): A lesser known but significant aspect of Döllinger’s conservative early decades was his influence on the definition of “true Catholic art.” It was Döllinger who recommended that Alexis-François Rio read Karl Friedrich von Rumohr’s 1824 text on Italian painting, and who encouraged Rio to write a history of Christian art (1836). Rio, along with Comte du Montalembert, author of The True State of Religious Art in France (1837), promoted the formula for true religious painting: “To illustrate dogma, to symbolize the traditions of the church set down by the magisterium—to have nothing in common with humanitarian philosophy.” These dictates set the tone for neo-Catholic art (also known as the Nazarene style) that critiqued the late style of Raphael in favor of the purity of Fra Angelico—a truly interesting period in which conservative politicos and royalist sympathizers like Rio and Montalembert were part of an elite coterie drawn to liberal theologians.
Someone has finally gotten it right. In Thomas Baker’s review of Young Catholic America by Christian Smith, et al. (“Kids Today,” October 24), it comes out that the main reason young married Catholics are not becoming practicing Catholics is the ban on birth control. The problem is not bad priests, bad sermons, or an old, all-male hierarchy. Most priests are good men and do a good job with well-thought-out and prayerful sermons.
The typical American family has two children. The reason they don’t have more is because they are using the pill, or another form of contraception. A woman and her husband with those two children would have to be hypocrites to say they are good Catholics. People don’t like to be hypocrites, so they fall away. The Catholic Church teaches that by practicing artificial birth control people are committing serious sin, risking eternal damnation, and therefore cannot receive Communion. The church turns against them, not the other way around.
Humanae vitae is the problem. Pope Paul VI (now beatified) was advised not to ban the pill but he did so anyway. Encyclicals have been wrong before. Church leaders (including the pope) must admit the error of Humanae vitae.
Thank you for Cathleen Kaveny’s insightful reflection on what the church got right in the 1970s (“That ’70s Church,” October 24). I began working in parish faith formation in the 1980s. At that time we were using Carl Pfeifer and Janaan Manternach’s This Is Our Faith catechetical series. Janaan used to affectionately refer to it as the “Cadillac of religion texts.” It was the successor to Life, Love, Joy, and it retained the three-step process that I believe Carl and Janaan adapted from Thomas Groome’s “shared praxis” pedagogy. If teachers understood and used this method, it was almost impossible even for volunteers to teach a bad lesson. Unfortunately, in later years the method was diluted or abandoned so that publishers could cram in more doctrinally correct “content.”
For years the popular and politically correct wisdom has been to blame all the church’s problems on the failure of Catholic religious formation over the past two or three decades of the twentieth century. The authors of Young Catholic America (reviewed later in the same issue) seem to endorse this conclusion. They blame the large number of “disengaged” Catholics today on the lack of “unified, lucid, authoritative instruction.” One wonders if they took time to actually look at something like This Is Our Faith or the texts Groome wrote for Sadlier—or the well-intentioned new series that were found to be “in compliance with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
Catholic religious education in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s did not fail our children. They were the best educated generation of young Catholics in the history of the church. What failed was the broader church, which is to say all of us. We prepared our youth for a church that never quite developed—a church grounded more in word and sacrament than devotion and duty. In effect, we catechized them to be aliens in the church, so—contra conventional wisdom—it’s no great mystery why so many are “disengaged” as adults. The good news is, the vision of church that was so attractive back then is no less attractive now. You see it on the faces and hear it in the voices of Catholics, engaged and not, who are mesmerized by Pope Francis. In him they see hope for a church built on life, love, and joy.