Letters | Labor's losses, 'parvity,' hands off the ointment


The editors appear to overlook their own evidence in their essay on “Walker, Work & Dignity” (October 9, 2015). After describing an American economy that has increased net productivity 64 percent since 1980 while real wages have stagnated, they draw a conclusion based on a 1984 study that “productivity and the dignity of workers can and often do go hand in hand.” What they could have said was that the past thirty years have broken the connection between dignity (represented by wages) and productivity: it now appears that workers can be squeezed indefinitely to produce more and more for less and less. To return to the editors’ larger point, this is the “Walker Revolution” and the new normal. If we want to argue for stronger labor unions, it will not be on the basis of economic growth as represented by the GDP.

Frank Schweigert
Saint Paul, Minn.



It was heartening to see you remembered “Ronald Reagan’s decision in 1981 to fire eleven thousand employees in the air-traffic controllers union” in your editorial, “Walker, Work & Dignity.” It’s one of the high points or low points in his presidency, depending on where you stand. I was living and working in Philadelphia at the time. Bicycling home from work, I stopped to cross the street in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There was a cop there to direct traffic, and I mentioned it to him. His remark that you don’t fool with Reagan sounded almost praiseworthy or respectful, certainly not sympathetic to the workers.

This was a big blow to the unions. Whenever I hear Reagan compared to FDR, I vomit.

Jerry McCarthy
Yonkers, N.Y.



Donald Cozzens’s take on “under pain of mortal sin” (“Sins, Mortal & Otherwise,” October 9) brought me back instantly to a little red book titled “Safeguards of Chastity” that I found under my pillow as an eighth-grader, circa 1966.

Subtitled “A Frank, Yet Reverent Instruction on the Intimate Matters of Personal Life for Young Men,” it was written by the Rev. Fulgence Meyer, a Franciscan missionary, and published in 1929 in Cincinnati.

After looking at the first few pages, I was so horrified, I threw it in a drawer. Roughly a half-century later, I still have it. I’m not sure I can explain why.

After thumbing through it again a few days ago, after years as a seminarian and decades as a husband and father, I’m grateful that most of the bats have left my belfry. OK—there are a few stragglers.

Thanks, Fr. Cozzens, for reminding us of how much we have grown.

Bob McCabe
Chesapeake, Va.



Donald Cozzens’s article “Sins, Mortal & Otherwise” hits the nail on the head as to why the hierarchy and clergy have lost credibility as moral guides for the average Catholic Christian. The central issue has to do with the moral principle of proportionality as regards the consequences of particular sins. As the article indicates, it doesn’t appear logical that eating meat on Friday or missing Sunday Mass should be made equivalent to murder and adultery, all of these acts being considered “grave matter” and qualifying as mortals sins for those who commit them.

The other major issue has to do with there being no “parvity of matter” as regards sexual sins, meaning that official church teaching, for all practical purposes, has no category of venial sin in the sexual area. Every thought, word, or deed of a sexual nature “outside of marriage” is grave matter and therefore mortally sinful.

Once again the issue of proportionality emerges. Does a teenager masturbating commit as serious a sin as a bishop who transfers a known pedophile to a parish without warning the pastor, or even worse, giving the pedophile priest a positive recommendation? Common sense would recognize that the latter offense is exceedingly more serious than the former.

Most discriminating Catholics are not willing to accept a doctrinal system that does not allow for degrees of sinfulness in the sexual area as it does for all other violations of the Decalogue. Also, there is the acknowledgment that the traditional “act-centered” morality makes no use of modern scientific approaches to sexuality that recognize developmental processes in humans achieving sexual maturity. These moral issues will remain continual points of division between the clergy and laity unless there is mature dialogue about them within the church.

Thomas Severin
Connellsville, Penn.



Donald Cozzens has written a decent essay on a quaint theme: mortal sin. I think the concept needs a good critical look and perhaps he has begun one, but I have some reservations about his article.

First there is no “poverty of matter.” He meant or should have meant “parvity of matter.” “Parvity” comes from parvitas, or smallness.

Second, I wish he had distinguished what he remembers being taught with what he should have been taught or should have learned. Surely good theologians in the 1940s and 1950s knew the difference between sin and temptation, but Cozzens’s memory has blurred this distinction.

Third, there seems to me a great difference between the church interpreting the Ten Commandments of the Decalogue, the church teaching the “natural law,” and the church creating its own laws like fasting and Mass attendance.

Renewal means that we have to look at our teachings in the light of the Gospel and our most sober and serious assessment of what the Gospel says about God’s law, natural law, and church law. We should not start putting all these things on the same level.

Paul A. Hottinger
Naperville, Ill.



I enjoyed the recent article by Donald Cozzens discussing various aspects of the concept of mortal sin. I don’t think many practicing American Catholics deny the idea of mortal sin or hell, but many seem to live their lives without fear of committing a mortal sin or being sent to hell at judgment after death. Some believe that it is very difficult to commit a sin whose gravity rises to the level deserving of eternal punishment. The idea of the proportionality of offense and a just penalty may be involved here. Others believe that they live a morally good life and try to follow the teachings of Christ. The issue is whether they are ever by commission or omission guilty of a very serious sin. My observation in my Catholic world is that at Sunday Mass virtually everybody goes to Communion every Sunday. It is also a fact that many have not gone to confession in years. Our parish of two thousand families offers confession to parishioners for thirty minutes a week. Mostly older people receive the sacrament. My question is whether there is a problem of lax conscience among Catholics today. Is the concept of mortal sin dying among practicing Catholics?

John Buggy
Drexel Hill, Penn.



A recent column by Rita Ferrone, “Unction Dysfunction” (September 25) and a letter by Br. William Longo (Letters, October 23) assert that the pope can change the church discipline that requires a priest to administer the Sacrament of the Sick. Regarding the sacraments, canon law is subject to sacramental theology, which also binds the pope. The Anointing of the Sick is intimately connected to the Sacrament of Penance and therefore cannot be delegated to a deacon or layperson, as Ferrone and Longo suggest. The rite itself makes many references to this sacramental complementarity. If, as Br. Longo contends, lay people heard confessions and anointed the sick during the late Middle Ages, it must be noted that in no way was this practice ever recognized as sacramental. After the Council of Trent these ministrations disappeared.

(Rev.) Michael P. Orsi
St. Agnes Church, Naples, Fla.

Published in the November 13, 2015 issue: 
Also by this author
A Chat with Pope Francis

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads