I think that E. J. Dionne’s article (“Radical, Moderate, and Necessary,” October) is among the best expositions of the “reorientation” of the American Catholic hierarchy under John Paul II and Benedict XVI and how it contributed to the perception among Americans of the moral bankruptcy of their leadership in the political sphere. The bishops’ single-minded focus on the issue of abortion, despite Pope Francis’s call to include other pro-life issues, is clearly linked to the precipitous decline in Catholic identity among the Millennials and Gen-Xers.

Yet what is missing is the behind-the-scenes story of how that reorientation came about. How could someone as opposed to Vatican II as Raymond Burke become the head of the Congregation of Bishops, overseeing the choice of Roman Catholic bishops around the world? How could someone as reactionary as Carlo Maria Viganò become the American nuncio in charge of that process in this country? Why did the American bishops chosen in this way all but hand over the “Catholic vote” to the Republican Party? Other than the desire of right-wing Catholics here and in Europe to restore a Church that they think was ravaged by Vatican II, what could have motivated such a long-term strategy?

As always when dealing with such issues, I find the best modus operandi is to “follow the money.” The scandal of Bishop Michael Bransfield’s lifestyle in West Virginia is the most overt example of how bishops have at times misused the financial resources of their dioceses. I realize that this approach is disturbingly cynical, but I believe that a lot of healing might take place among American Catholics through greater transparency about what has transpired in the past three decades or so.

Michael H. Marchal
Cincinnati, Ohio



The gang problem in El Salvador and in other Central American countries is intensified by two factors that are not mentioned in the article by César J. Baldelomar (“Zero Tolerance, Zero Progress,” October). They are the American demand for drugs and the export of American guns to drug cartels in Mexico. The guns find their way to gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. There is a ready market for guns in the illegal drug economy, engendering crime, bloodshed, corruption, and the subversion of police and judicial systems. The violence drives desperate people to seek a better future northward in the United States, where the door is closed. Given the already weak capacity of the Central American states, American guns and appetite for drugs sustain a parallel criminal state at war with the formal state. The United States, accordingly, is a threat to the national security of Central American countries.

Gabriel Marcella
U.S. Army War College
Carlisle, Pa.



Thank you to Tia Noelle Pratt for her article (“I Bring Myself, My Black Self,” November). I have been following the recent articles regarding the proper understanding of Flannery O’Connor in light of her racism. Can art reflect and transcend the sins of its creator? Stories like “Everything That Rises Must Converge” and “Revelation” suggest they can. There is no doubt that Flannery O’Connor was not “woke,” but her stories, written to my white self, taught me that the fraud and foolishness we perpetuate leads to violence, and possibly, transformation.

Since reading the back-and-forth in Commonweal regarding O’Connor, I was looking for other Catholic authors who could assist in my own struggles in understanding race and the possibility of transformation. I read an interview with the author Louise Erdrich a couple of months ago, and I can’t get enough of her books. Toni Morrison is next.

Placing or removing Flannery’s name on a dorm at a Catholic university is a worthy debate. And as it evolves, Commonweal and Tia Noelle Pratt have given us the gift of searching and celebrating the great witness and art of Catholic writers who provide a voice from the margins.

David McNaughton
Chicago, Ill.



Commonweal’s poetry editor, Rosemary Deen, is retiring this month after forty-one years at the magazine. Asked what made for a Commonweal poem, Rosemary says, “I wanted serious, witty, well-written poems,” and she could always be counted on to find them. During her long tenure here, Commonweal has published poets such as Anne Porter, Ned O’Gorman, Josephine Jacobsen, and Marie Ponsot, as well as young up-and-comers like seventeen-year-old Uma Menon (“Math Drills,” October). Rosemary chose poems that rewarded our readers’ closest attention and helped them see (and hear) the world more clearly. We’ll miss her office visits—every summer she brought homemade gazpacho—and her lively contributions to our lunchtime conversations on topics ranging from the latest biopic to the overuse of the word “iconic.” We thank her for her decades of service to Commonweal, and wish her a long and happy retirement.

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Published in the December 2020 issue: View Contents
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