Prudential Judgments

Your January 29 editorial, “Prolife, Yes, & Pro-reform,” like most reporting on the subject, treats the Stupak amendment and the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as opposing federal funding of abortions. That is not accurate. The amendment would permit federal funding of abortions in the case of rape, incest, or physical threat to the life of the mother. I think that is the language of the Hyde amendment. The USCCB accepts that standard in federal legislation. Yet the USCCB’s public statements on health-care reform often skirt the issue by referring to “elective abortions”—typically buried in documents voicing the bishops’ opposition to proposed legislation. The media has not focused on that issue.

The USCCB claims to be taking an absolute moral stand on an issue that can brook no compromise. In fact, the bishops are making a prudential judgment, balancing political realities against moral issues. There is nothing wrong with that. But it flies in the face of the image they want to present—and have been successfully presenting. If they were compelled to acknowledge that they are willing to support public funding for some abortions, the basis of the argument might shift dramatically.

Chris Lan
Denver, Colo.


Debt Of Gratitude

David Gibson’s article “God-obsessed” (January 29) was an inspiring reminder of how much we theologians struggling to be Catholic owe to David Tracy. The profile covered all the main ingredients of Tracy’s theological journey and left readers with ever greater anticipation of “the Big Book.” I was especially happy that Gibson pointed out that “Tracy sees ‘massive global suffering’ as ‘the overwhelming issue’ in the modern world.” That issue will ground, direct, and animate not only Christian theology, as traditionally understood, but also what is today called “comparative theology”—the effort to do theology interreligiously.

Paul F. Knitter
New York, N.Y.


Owe You One

Thank you for Paul J. Griffiths’s engaging review of Gary A. Anderson’s book Sin: A History (“In the Red,” January 29). I’m going to buy a copy ASAP. But the review leaves me with a question: In the midst of all the talk about a more literal translation of the English liturgy from the Latin, has there been any mention of changing the language in the Lord’s Prayer from “trespasses” to “debts”? You know: “et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.” Or would that be a bit too literal for the folks making the decisions?

Marian Ronan
New York, N.Y.


Schoolyard Dialogue

While I appreciated Commonweal’s issue on interreligious dialogue (January 15), I would have preferred to see a greater focus on interreligious engagement among the laity, which doesn’t necessarily improve along with the efforts of our religious leaders. Six years ago, as a sixth-grader in a Catholic school, I had a religion textbook with a section emphasizing the kinship between Christians and Jews, which portrayed the Jewish celebration of Passover in a positive and respectful light. Many of my Catholic classmates made derogatory, anti-Semitic comments and defaced the pages that covered that subject. Other times I have heard schoolmates make offensive comments about Islam and Hinduism. Relying on the trickle-down effect is not enough when it comes to improving interfaith relations.

Alicia Holland
Bronx, N.Y.

A Bigger Story

I agree with James Fredericks that there are “No Easy Answers” to the challenge of interreligious dialogue (January 15). I also agree that our dialogues “should be seen as ministry, a form of the church’s service to the world.” Perhaps “a common search for the truth” in which all religions could witness to their traditions with “humility and frankness” could be found in telling such stories within the larger narrative of human evolution.

Rather than “What does it mean to be Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, etc.?” we might ask “What does it mean to be human in this evolving universe and how can religion help to answer that question?” That would be a truly humble starting place in a conversation about what believers have in common.

Vatican II taught that the church is the “sacrament of Christ in the world,” the unity not only of the human, but of humanity with all creation. In doing so, the council echoed Teilhard de Chardin, who passionately proclaimed: “Even if I were to lose in succession my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God, and my faith in spirit, I feel that I should continue to believe invincibly in the world.”

Alice Macdonald
Santa Barbara, Calif.


Hooked Again

Usually when I find my Commonweal it is under a pile of other magazines and books. And just when I am ready to recycle it before reading it, I scan a few pages—and then I am hooked. You get me every time!

With the January 15 issue you gave us Thomas Lynch’s “Preaching to Bishops” and Jonathan Odell’s “Coming Home: A Gay Christian Speaks to Fundamentalists,” along with other terrific features from impressive writers. These people lift my spirit, challenge my assumptions, and give insightful perspectives. Many thanks.

Dick Ullrich
Baltimore, Md.


Slim Pickings

Thank you for expressing concern over Rome’s poaching a few Episcopalians in a rather abrupt manner (“Business as Usual?” December 18, 2009)—but don’t worry too much. The last priest at my Episcopal church was an ex-Jesuit who served us for twenty years. Four out of ten members in our vestry grew up Catholic, including a lovely woman who was a Maryknoll sister for fourteen years. I’ve met two women who joined our church because their Catholic priest said he would not give them Communion again if they had an abortion, and several couples who left because they were tired of lying about using the pill. My church recently interviewed a woman priest who grew up as a Catholic in Louisiana and left the church when she could no longer ignore her call to the priesthood. It’s nice that some members of the Anglican Communion have found a church whose bishops are all muscular, card-carrying heterosexuals (or at least have the decency to stay in the closet), and a place where women are never seen at the altar. Enjoy!

Louise Murphy
Berkeley, Calif.

Might As Well Be You

Fr. Nonomen’s description of selecting parish council members by drawing names from a basket (“Parish Councils,” December 4, 2009) is similar to the method used for many years at St. Joseph’s Parish in Howick, South Africa. In 1985, when South African Redemptorists and IHM Sisters of Monroe, Michigan, began work as a parish team, they discovered that the parish council was entirely white, even though the parish community was multiracial.

The same people were elected to the council year after year. So the parish instituted a drawing. For several weeks, parishioners were invited to submit nominees. Names were drawn on a Sunday—after prayer.

At the first meeting of the new council, the members looked around and asked, “Who is not here?” If, for example, they were short a young person, or a black woman, or an Indian man, they’d seek one out and invite him or her to join the council. That system worked well for many years, giving the parish multiracial leadership, until a few years ago when a new pastor decided that elections were “needed.” A pity.

Susan Rakoczy, IHM
Hilton, South Africa

Further Reading

Thank you for the moving piece “Misery Will Never End,” by Jean Sulivan (translated by Joseph Cunneen), in the December 18, 2009, issue. Sulivan was a writer of unusual depth and perception. He died in an automobile accident in Paris in 1980.

For readers who are unfamiliar with Sulivan’s work, I recommend his spiritual journal Morning Light, translated by Joseph Cunneen and Patrick Gormally and published by Paulist Press.

William J. Tierney
Jacksonville, Fla.

Isn’t It Ironic?

The juxtaposition of Jack Miles’s “Trading Places” and Jonathan Odell’s “Coming Home” makes an already fine edition (January 15) even better. And it points to a rather sad irony in today’s Catholic Church. Both Miles’s informative, wry, and occasionally hilarious observations on the relationship between the Anglican and the Roman Catholic churches, and Odell’s moving and perfectly written story of a gay man’s struggles with his fundamentalist heritage, bring to life the tensions between large Christian bodies that lay claim to all truth, and the sometimes competing truths of their members.

The irony is that while both writers felt free to identify themselves, recent Catholic authors, dealing with similar themes, have had to use pseudonyms.

Bill McLaughlin
Beverly, Mass.

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Published in the 2010-02-26 issue: View Contents
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