Letters | Sex abuse & clericalism, the divine right of kings, etc.



I took note of this sentence in your editorial (“Sex Abuse & Clericalism,” September 7): “Future priests should not be hidden away from the rest of the community in cloistered communities, where they pick up the bad habits of clericalism.”

Years ago, Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee invited women to attend classes in the seminary for their degree work. I presume his thinking was: since priests work so closely with women in the parishes, they should learn early the talents of women. In the seminary classroom they would find women as friends and competitors. Soon after, Cardinal Dolan came on the scene, and this policy was revoked. In fact, the bishops of Wisconsin refused to send their seminarians to St. Francis Seminary for this reason.

“Wisdom is proved right by her actions” (Matthew 11:19).

Donald E. Sass
Milwaukee, Wisc.



Your editorial regarding sex abuse and clericalism mentions “the sweeping demands born of outrage” now being demanded throughout the American Catholic Church.

One of those demands you list is “get gay men out of the priesthood.” And of course this is being demanded because many of the victims are boys and male adolescents who are being sexually abused by male priests.

As a Catholic psychotherapist working in the archdiocese of Los Angeles who has worked with many priests and religious, I want to point out that mature and healthy sexually developed gay men do not prey on male children or adolescents. That’s a terrible misjudgment on the part of those who are often homophobic and prejudiced. Tragically and with myopic vision, they want to blame any and all gay priests or bishops for the crimes committed against our children and teens.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether gay or straight, if these priests do enter into relationships with men or women, they do so with mature and consenting adults!

The real truth is much more odious. The current clerical culture, which segregates males in a seminary system that is sexually puerile and consciously detached from heterosexually mature women and men (not to mention mature gay men and women), is a culture fraught with unconscious libido and repressed sexuality. It is one of the major factors in the sexual-abuse scandal and it must be dismantled as truly Tridentine and archaic.

The sooner this momentous task commences with both lay and clerical leadership, the sooner gay Catholic men and women will stop being scapegoated by those who are looking for some group to easily blame while maintaining the current male clerical system.

Peter K. Canavan
Long Beach, Calif.



I would that Christopher Schaefer’s fine review of Bill Pfaff’s career (“Civilizing Sentiments,” September 7) had occasioned more than mention of “a Notre Dame professor” who urged Edward Skillin to offer him a job at Commonweal. The influence of the legendary Frank O’Malley’s genius began with freshman comp where Bill and many other future English majors first encountered him.

The majors program, of which O’Malley’s courses were the centerpiece, as well as his Modern Catholic Writers courses, rewarded us with the Judaic-Christian tradition and a Christian Weltanschauung that anticipated Vatican II reforms, imbued us with a vision of human dignity and community, and challenged us—obliged us—to engage the world we met. Seventeen years after “the taffy-helmeted god,” as J.C.R. Clark dubbed him, died, two hundred of us returned on a weekend to honor him.

Bill and a half dozen ’49 English majors prayed Vespers together daily. Several considered forming an intentional community. Presciently, O’Malley did not recommend to Commonweal our recognized intellectual, Tom Gorman, or me, his mistaken choice for the senior writing medal, but Bill, who published a weekly column in the Notre Dame magazine with Jack Fraier and sat in the front row of Waldemar Gurian’s Rise of Marxism course.  

We stayed in touch and I saw him in Paris. When Bill’s columns disappeared from U.S. papers, he emailed them—for years.  

Ironically, what Schaefer characterizes as the “required reading for world leaders”—that, after 9/11, U.S. mass media rejected for its criticism of Washington’s hubris, messianism, and utopianism—is exactly what is needed today to address Donald Trump’s virtual reality.

William H. Slavick
Portland, Maine



With regard to the blame laid on Clement XI for his Ex illa dei decision against the Jesuits in 1715 regarding the Rites Controversy (“From Ricci to Francis,” September 7), church historians have, intentionally or unintentionally, pointed out the irony of the decision is that it was driven as much, if not more, by Clement’s fear of Louis XIV and the decision’s impact on church-state relations in Europe.

The Jesuits had appealed to the Kang XI emperor to affirm that traditional veneration of ancestors was not a religious practice, which he did. Clement could not accept such a judgment coming from a sovereign because it would encourage Louis, in a time when the notion of the divine right of kings was at its height, to strengthen his claim to influence church doctrine.

Doug Lovejoy
Deacon, Archdiocese of Baltimore

Published in the October 19, 2018 issue: 
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