Letters | Individual vs. Social Sin

VACCINES & ABORTION

In a statement released by the USCCB affirming the moral permissibility of getting the COVID-19 vaccine, the bishops remark, “we should be on guard so that the new COVID-19 vaccines do not desensitize us or weaken our determination to oppose the evil of abortion itself and the subsequent use of fetal cells in research.” David Cloutier (“A Dangerous Confusion,” February) suggests that the concern the bishops have with desensitization to abortion is a valid one, and I agree with him that it is important to recognize how vaccines derived from a cell line that began with cells from an aborted fetus “bear the stain of individual and social sin.”

But I do not think that complaints about the tendency for some Catholics (including the USCCB) to focus on the issue of abortion at the expense of other moral concerns necessarily indicates a desensitization toward abortion; rather, these complaints are attempting to point out a preoccupation with abortion among some American Catholics who see any sign that abortion isn’t a first priority as an indication that it is being overlooked entirely.

Massimo Faggioli (“Lots of Politics, Little Legitimacy,” Commonweal website) points out the difference in tone between the USCCB statement on Biden’s presidency—which expressed alarm over Biden’s policies that support and may expand abortion access—and its 2016 statement congratulating Trump. Faggioli concludes that “the January 20 statement from the conference was one more indication that a number of U.S. bishops are indifferent to what happened in this country under Trump, and saw no reason not to support him a second time.” Without suggesting that desensitization to abortion is nonexistent (I agree with Cloutier that in some circles, this is an issue), I believe that the desensitization of many bishops toward Trump and his policies deserves our concern—and the bishops’ concern—as well.

The USCCB should do more to recognize the stain of individual and social sin that Trump leaves in his wake. Its statement on the COVID-19 vaccines offers no guidance on how vaccinations should be distributed with an accounting for the pandemic’s particular toll on Black and Hispanic communities and the poor, and its statement congratulating President Biden makes little mention of the many serious problems with which he will contend: the threat posed by violent white-supremacist groups, racial bias in policing, the ongoing pandemic, and climate change. As Cloutier concludes, “our most important duty is to act consistently to fight injustice here and now, wherever we find it.” I hope that the bishops can recognize and speak out as forcefully against these legacies of evil as they do against abortion. 

Emma McDonald
Boston, Mass.

 

WHICH PARISHIONERS?

Nicholas Cafardi makes “a modest proposal” for change in the bishop selection process (“An Ambrose of Our Own,” January). The subsidiarity he suggests may be well intentioned, but his broad-brush statement that “the people know who the good priests are” and so we should “let the people tell the nuncio who these priests are” is ill-advised. Who are these people? Does he assume all parishioners put principles ahead of personalities, or that all are sensitive to the pastoral needs of the community and choose to set aside personal agendas? I am reminded of a recent merger of parishes where I witnessed the vitriol that a truly good priest—a man who in Cafardi’s words is “a pastor and close to the people”—endured in the process, and so I have no need to imagine the chaos that would ensue at the “after Mass” town-hall meetings he proposes. Egads! But Cafardi does make this point: consulting the priests within the diocese and making an effort to select the new bishop from among them is reasonable and manifests the subsidiarity he desires.

James K. Hanna
McMurray, Pa.

 

SOUR GRAPES

In all that I have read about our former nuncio’s attacks on Pope Francis (“The One Missing Fact,” January), I have seen nothing about what seems to me the most obvious reason. Francis passed Viganò over for cardinal, and he has been nothing but sour grapes ever since Francis’s first consistory.

Ron Naumann
Jamesville, N.Y.

 

ESTO PERPETUA

I was delighted to read not one but two discussions of the Latin language in January’s issue: Charles McNamara’s “Cicero Will Outlive Your Tweets” and Cathleen Kaveny’s “Thinking Latinly.” Both Kaveny’s tribute to “celebrated Latinist” Reginald Foster and McNamara’s review of Nicola Gardini’s book Long Live Latin challenge the characterization of Latin as a “dead language.”

I had a magnificent Latin teacher whose reach, like that of Latin study itself, went beyond parsing Seneca into most other precincts of my life as a writer, so I savored Kaveny’s portrait of Foster, who swapped out “dead language” for “ancient language” and dubbed homework ludus domesticus (“home play”). Both of these discussions noted the merits of rescuing Latin from the stodgy.

McNamara points to Gardini’s argument that because of their excellence, ancient texts have endured and promise to continue to endure in ways contemporary linguistic constructions (like tweets) can’t and won’t. Gardini’s book, McNamara writes, “bounces from Catullus backwards.” Catullus is where I started forty years ago, when Elementary Latin infused my undergrad poet’s head with shooting stars. That little bird (to which McNamara alludes)—that passer, deliciae meae puellae—doesn’t have to die.

Michele Somerville
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Published in the March 2021 issue: 
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