Before the New Deal, liquidating parishes, Obama’s plan

Municipal Welfare

Charles Michael Andres Clark’s article “Truth Deficit” (September 9) was a breath of fresh air, and persuasive in most points. As a historian who studies the history of social welfare, however, I must call attention to one more myth that Clark perpetuates instead of discrediting. The late eighteenth century actually did have robust social-welfare programs. The biggest expenses for towns and counties in that period were poverty relief, including groceries, firewood, housing, physicians’ visits, medicine, even full-time nurses if necessary. While not universal, this kind of care was guaranteed to most Americans. Strange as it sounds, America’s first tea partiers were far more committed to helping the vulnerable than we are.

Gabriel Loiacono

Oshkosh, Wis.

Sin Of Omission

Paul Moses’s otherwise helpful review of Jason Berry’s Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church (“Greased Palms,” September 9) was marred by a serious omission. In his discussion of cases “when parishes are liquidated for their assets to pay settlements to victims of sexual abuse,” Moses states that “Berry does a good job of showing how the deck is stacked against the rights of lay Catholics.” For the past five years, this practice has been illegal under canon law. Since a 2006 letter from Cardinal Dario Castrillón on behalf of the Vatican Congregation for Clergy advising U.S. bishops on parish restructuring, any assets associated with a closed parish follow the people to their new parish(es), and do not become the property of the diocese. Moses does not provide any examples that occurred since 2006 because there have been none. To repeat this myth—that parish restructuring stems from the desire of bishops to seize parish assets—feeds into the worst fears of parishioners and is simply not true. Canon law was reinterpreted by the Holy See on this issue to protect the rights of lay Catholics against the abuses found in the Archdiocese of Boston and elsewhere.

Jeffry Odell Korgen

Montclair, N.J.

Time To Up The Ante

As a Royko-reading Chicagoan transplanted to D.C., I found myself doing a lot of nodding as I read Margaret O’Brien Steinfels’s article “The Obama Gamble” (September 23). What worked well for Obama the candidate in the first round of the economic crisis—his “no drama Obama” thoughtfulness as John McCain staggered during the TARP debate—now feels like passivity in the face of Republican candidates brimming with an almost metaphysical certainty. Obama needs to reach deep into his Chicago roots and do a little Harold Washington, fight back and trust that people know he has earned the right to do so.

Greg Metzger

Rockville, Md.

As Promised

Regarding “The Obama Gamble”: As far as I can tell, Obama is following the course he laid out in The Audacity of Hope. In that book he stresses the urgent need for healing the wounds caused by the fierce partisan battles that have plagued Washington since the Reagan days. He charted an agenda not of radicalism but of bipartisanship, finding common ground and building solutions on it. He even called on the nation to engage in an open discussion about abortion in order to find out if prolifers and prochoicers could at least agree on measures that might lower the incidence of abortion and address some of its social and economic causes. But after three years of banging his head against the wall, he now needs to pull a Harry S. Truman on this do-nothing Congress and rail against them for their inability to take care of our most serious problems.

Robert Killoren

Columbus, Ohio

Published in the 2011-10-21 issue: 
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