Over the years, I have received my fair share of intemperate letters. One hesitates to respond, let alone to respond in kind. Within reason, readers have a right to blow off steam. Many of these writers accuse Commonweal, absurdly, of being pro-abortion. Others, just as obtusely, indict us for being anti-Catholic, often with the added advice to get out and find a home in the Episcopal Church, or some other “failing” Protestant denomination. I recently received an especially aggrieved missive warning that, for my failings, I already had “2 strikes” against me. The author began by stating, as most such letter writers do, that his comments were not for publication. He just wanted me to know about his growing disappointment with Commonweal. I will defer to his wishes. I will not publish his letter, but out of respect for his opinions I will respond to it.
The author was particularly incensed by a solicitation for Commonweal’s American Catholic in the Public Square Award, which will be given to Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, this October in New York City. Because of the price of tickets and tables the average person cannot afford to come to the dinner, the writer complained. That is true. That Sr. Keehan is a very deserving recipient of this award is something that we are proud to announce—but not only announce. The dinner to honor her is also a fundraiser. Held every two years, the event is designed to attract and engage potentially philanthropic-minded supporters of the magazine and increase Commonweal’s visibility. I’m not ashamed to say that we need the money. We really do. (Attendance at the dinner for Commonweal editors and staff is subsidized.) We do other events that are quite affordable. We also put out a magazine that costs twice what we charge for it! But I suspect that despite his complaints about the costs, his real objection to the dinner is our honoring of Sr. Keehan, who broke with the U. S. bishops and supported the passage of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In that light, I was not surprised when my irritable correspondent ended his opening salvo by charging me with the sort of “liberal elitism” that supposedly doomed “Hillary’s” campaign.
He went on to complain about Commonweal’s Christmas card, judging it “disrespectful” and “insulting,” an “abomination” that revealed how “isolated from normality” Commonweal is. This came as something of a surprise, since we thought the card, a depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Christian artist Alfonse Borysewicz, was striking and beautiful. My correspondent thought its somewhat abstract design a defacement of Mary. When it comes to art, of course, opinions differ, but the card, while not a stereotypical rendering, was hardly disrespectful, let alone insulting.