In the review that you recently published of our book, Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy (“The New Integralists,” November), Timothy Troutner included, among many tendentious and downright false assertions about the work, the claim that it “clearly breaks with Vatican II’s teaching on religious liberty.” This is an absurd accusation and can only imply that the reviewer is willfully interpreting Dignitatis humanae in such a fashion as to deliberately create a rupture between its doctrine and the “traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ,” a rupture which Dignitatis humanae expressly denies. It is thus the reviewer and not we who attribute error to Dignitatis humanae. What he fails to grasp is that, as the declaration itself explains, man’s right to religious liberty arises from his “moral obligation to seek the truth.” To be sure, the right continues in those who have failed to fulfill the obligation, but Catholics have not failed to fulfill it. Thus their rights are not impeded but vindicated by a requirement imposed upon them to “continue to profess that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter.” As John Paul II famously observed, “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
St. John Vianney Theological Seminary
TIMOTHY TROUTNER REPLIES:
My review suggested that integralism gets its persuasive power from its claim to be the only game in town for those who think tradition is important—and that if an alternative narrative is provided that accounts for the full sweep of Catholic history, the spell is broken. Should authors Crean and Fimister acknowledge that I affirm tradition without being an integralist, the game would be up. So I’m not surprised to see my position mischaracterized as an affirmation of “rupture,” a claim that depends on a false dichotomy: either read Dignitatis humanae as nothing other than a repetition (however timid, ambiguous, or garbled) of an allegedly perennial teaching, or admit a betrayal of the faith.
That document presents itself as neither bare repetition nor rupture. Instead, its narrative, which my review echoes, is more subtle, claiming to “develop the doctrine” of the Church and bring forth “new things that are in harmony with the things that are old.” It does not jettison the “moral obligation” of individuals and societies “to seek the truth.” But it does argue that over the centuries the “leaven of the gospel” has deepened our awareness of how this search is to be undertaken: “the truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth.” Having reflected more deeply on “the way of Christ and the apostles” and the dignity of every human being, the council sees Christian wisdom at work in modern efforts to expand the scope of religious freedom and repents of those aspects of the Church’s past that were “hardly in accord with the spirit of the Gospel or even opposed to it.”
The manual, with its narrative of decline, cannot account for these “new things,” and thus it relies on a forced reading of the Dignitatis humanae at odds with its plain meaning. Those who wish for a story faithful to all the treasures of the Church, both old and new, should look elsewhere.
A RANDIAN APPROACH
Mercedes K. Schneider’s review of Douglas N. Harris’s Charter School City, on the New Orleans public-school experiment, left me wondering which writer skirted the margins of a vastly complex subject (“Bad Education,” November). This may be unfair to Harris, whose book I have not yet read, but from my reporting on the post–Hurricane Katrina charter-school takeover in City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300 (UNC Press, 2018), I find that Schneider has omitted key information.
She is absolutely right to criticize the state of Louisiana’s treatment of the seventy-five thousand Orleans Parish public school teachers: unionized, fired, thrown into freefall shortly after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina flood that swamped 80 percent of the city. The legislature’s creation of the Recovery School District has long been attacked by teacher advocates and liberal reformers for this gross injustice. Odd, then, that Schneider makes no mention of the teachers’ class-action lawsuit against the state, which won a $1.5 billion verdict, only to be overturned by the state supreme court.
Treating teachers like riff-raff was a price for the Ayn Rand approach to reform shaped by Leslie Jacobs, but serious corruption had long deprived poor children of a good path to learning. In support of the state’s seizure of the city’s public-school system was a powerful former teacher, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a centrist Democrat. Blanco, who died last year, recoiled from the embedded rot in the Orleans Parish School Board offices. The administration (not teachers) had become a sewer of corruption sending a parade of bottom-feeders into prison.
Many teachers’ struggles spotlight the Machiavellian logic behind the Recovery School District, which has seen an improvement in test scores and graduation rates. The charter system is now being folded back into the public-school system with reformers holding elective offices on the board. The root problem is a poverty level at roughly 30 percent of the population, and many at-risk children whose needs outweigh the services most schools provide. I will read Harris’s book in hopes of insight on how the new system might work, though Schneider’s criticisms of his work give me fair warning.
New Orleans, La.
THE USEFULNESS OF GOSSIP
The excellent article “Reconsidering Chisme” by Neomi De Anda (December) has two glaring omissions regarding the usefulness of gossip. One is merely alluded to: had the hierarchy listened to gossip, Theodore McCarrick’s sexual crimes and those of many others would have been discovered much earlier. And chisme is not only a way of dialogue; it is a way of learning, which must precede communication. In our asymmetric Church it is all too often the only way the laity learns what the clergy is thinking and doing. Gossip can be cruel or intended for the good; the latter use is necessary.
THE TOLL OF CYSTIC FIBROSIS
Reading Roberto J. De La Noval’s informative and compelling article “Unwrapping Lazarus” (December 2020) was a bittersweet experience for me. I lost my younger brother Charles to cystic fibrosis in 1955. He was three years old and had been diagnosed at a year old after a bout with pneumonia. His passing left a void in my life that I still feel today.
Throughout my lifetime, I’ve followed seemingly sporadic treatment breakthroughs for cystic-fibrosis patients. For a while there wasn’t much news about CF; it was eclipsed by other diseases in the headlines. Then, little by little, I began to hear that some people with cystic fibrosis were living longer and even had professions and families. Now further strides have been made and, as De La Noval puts it, “a new light has appeared on the horizon” for those with cystic fibrosis. For this news and in my brother’s memory, I rejoice.
It is, at best, a complicated and debilitating disease for those who suffer from it, and it is gut-wrenching for their loved ones to watch their suffering and be powerless to do anything about it. I was too young to realize the gravity of my brother’s situation, but I think back to how my parents must have felt knowing my brother had an incurable disease. I have felt like Lazarus’s sister Martha, who lamented that “if Jesus had come sooner, my brother would not have died,” but now, thanks to De La Noval’s article, I can also celebrate that today many cystic fibrosis patients have the chance to live longer and fuller lives.
Mary H. Donohue