Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 92 (April 1999): 2-9.
When I left the ordained ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and was received into the communion of the Roman Catholic Church, I made a private decision that I would not use my conversion for apologetic or critical purposes. But I must break my own rule after reading the article by my former pastoral colleague and now sister in the Catholic faith, Jennifer Mehl Ferrara, on her complaints about the Catholic Church ("Becoming Catholic: Making It Hard," January). I do not know Ms. Ferrara, and I intend nothing here to be taken ad hominem. But I must insist that her description and criticism of the Catholic Church is skewed, and is so by the very reasons she gives for her conversion to Catholicism.
Ms. Ferrara embodies a crisis of conscience with which I also struggled: the apparent apostasy of the ELCA, at least at its official levels. Was this sufficient reason for leaving the Lutheran communion, and the ELCA, for Rome? Ms. Ferrara and I seem to have led eerily parallel lives in making this decision, down to the very books and authors we read. But I arrived at the very opposite conclusion of Ms. Ferrara: No, the apparent apostasy of the ELCA bureaucracy was not for me a reason to leave, but rather, as an ordained pastor, all the more reason to stay and struggle. It is the duty of the ordained clergy to correct abuses as far as they are able, to protect their flock from these abuses, and to expose these abuses by theological and pastoral criticism. I first had to reject all the negative arguments for leaving before my conscience was ready, for positive reasons of my own, to enter Catholicism.
What emerges from Ms. Ferrara’s description of her decision to leave her pastoral ministry and the Lutheran communion seems to me to be the typical temptation and subsequent disillusionment of those searching for more pristine pastures in the Church of Rome. Her story seems to be one of a person expecting to find the "evangelical catholic" ideal in Lutheranism in full flourish in the Roman Catholic Church, and becoming bitterly disappointed and critical upon finding that the Catholic Church is not Lutheran, but precisely, Roman. This is all the more tragic in that the ELCA lost a rare species—a confessionally orthodox pastor—while in the Catholic Church the laicized Pastor Ferrara has no chance of ever exercising any pastoral office.
What needs to be said is that the Catholic Church of Vatican II—and even of Pope John Paul II—is not "Lutheran," nor is it the neo–Tridentine repristination that Ms. Ferrara seems to long for. Catholics, by–and–large, do not sing Lutheran chorales, or have any special affinity for J. S. Bach. Catholics, by–and–large, do not think of or approach the Mass and the Holy Eucharist in the same way Lutherans have come to approach "Sunday worship"—as a social time for a close–knit family. For all the "modernism" and "innovations" Ms. Ferrara despises, Catholics still approach the Mass with a devotion, awe, and reverence that may appear distant and even indifferent if one is not integrated into Catholic culture. Catholicism, up until Vatican II, had no history of congregational hymnody or liturgical participation to speak of, which means that Catholic liturgical music and hymnody will be "modern" and will reflect the incarnational theology of Vatican II.
I wonder if Ms. Ferrara gave serious thought to changing her theology upon entering the Catholic Church. Catholic theology is shaped by a balance between Augustine and Aquinas. It has a positive and optimistic anthropology, especially in the doctrine of free will. While salvation is entirely by the grace of God, it is nonetheless a continual balance of prevenient grace, cooperative grace, and human free will engaged in a spirituality of growing and deepening mutual communion between God and each person, as each person is engaged in a spiritual pilgrimage home to God. That pilgrimage is determined by the person’s response in worship, prayer, devotion, penance, and works of charity to the continuing gifts of grace of the Holy Spirit offered in the sacraments, the preached Word, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, and in the immediate presence of God in the hearts of all the faithful by which God speaks cor ad coram through devotional meditation, prayer, and contemplation. This is the very core, in practical terms, of Catholic faith, life, and devotion. To Lutheranism, it is still the epitome of "works–righteousness."
A repristination of neo–Tri–dentine liturgy, piety, and practice, with a proper spicing of orthodox Lutheran theology and tradition, is in no way what Vatican II was about, what the Holy Father intends, or what Roman Catholicism is or ever will be. It saddens me that this seems to be what Ms. Ferrara wanted and expected, and that she has now become yet another bitterly reclusive "traditionalist" in her new home in the Roman Catholic Church. What she has sought and found is not the Tradition, but pious antiquarianism (an easy mistake to make). It also saddens me that Ms. Ferrara did not remain Pastor Ferrara (for all its anguish and paradox), to engage and challenge not only the ELCA with an authentically orthodox Lutheranism, but also to so engage and challenge the Catholic Church from the Lutheran side of the dialogue, where her eloquence and her criticisms would have had a hearing. The Catholic Church needs to see many examples of such competent, clear–thinking, traditional, and orthodox ordained women if Catholicism is ever to relent on two millennia of tradition and itself open ordination to women.
I have no desire to deny to Ms. Ferrara the free exercise of her conscience. Her conscience led her to the Catholic Church, and I am happy to have her with me as a sister in the faith. It was the inner voice of God speaking to my conscience that led me into the Catholic Church as well, although down a very different path.
Still, I do not, cannot, accept Ms. Ferrara’s motive of deep frustration with the ELCA as in any way a sufficient reason for leaving Lutheranism for Catholicism, and I would encourage no one to follow such a path. And I simply do not recognize the Catholic Church that I have come to know and embrace and love in Ms. Ferrara’s cautionary tale. For those contemplating entering the Catholic Church from Protestantism, I would counsel that they be sure that they want the Roman Catholic Church in the totality of what it really is, and are not projecting on it an idealized vision of what they wish their own denomination were like.
Mark E. Chapman
I read Jennifer Mehl Ferrara’s article with some disappointment. Not because she changed from a Lutheran Christian to a Catholic Christian, but because she seems to have no substantial spiritual or religious reason for doing so. I can understand her leaving the ELCA for its lack of conviction and commitment on a number of issues, including abortion, and in leaving that church body, she seems to show some heartfelt spiritual understanding. However, her substitution of Catholicism seems, in contrast, to lack any spiritual basis whatsoever; at least her own words indicate no such basis.
It is significant that the only reason given by Ms. Ferrara to explain her "becoming Catholic" is that she viewed the "Roman Catholic Magisterium, and especially this Pope, as the keeper of the faith for all of Christendom." But one cannot help wondering about the spiritual quality of a person’s faith, whether former Lutheran pastor or newly converted Catholic, who would use the wisdom of men as the reason for conversion to Catholicism rather than the wisdom of God as found in the truths of the Bible.
Ms. Ferrara compounds this apparent lack of spiritually or religiously valid reasons for her decision by relating her efforts to find a Catholic Church where she felt comfortable. She finds one, finally, with a "seemingly endless variety of distinctively Catholic devotions." Her message is clear that what she is looking for is the proper form; the substance is decidedly secondary, if not irrelevant. As long as the organist plays Bach, the choir is first rate, and the parishioners are pious with a profound reverence for the liturgy, what more could one want?
James A. Winterstein
While reading Jennifer Mehl Ferrara’s essay, I winced empathetically. When I converted to Catholicism six years ago, I experienced many of the same annoyances and frustrations: the ugly 1960s design of my parish church; music at Sunday Mass that was so bad it was actually a relief when there was no organist and hence no music; occasional sermons that were inane, chaotic, or simply unintelligible.
But this is not a new problem; and it doesn’t affect converts alone. In a now–celebrated personal letter, Flannery O’Connor wrote, "It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it, but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it" (emphasis added). This letter was not an exercise in post–Vatican II stoicism. Surprisingly, it was written in 1955—a time regarded fondly by many Catholics of a certain age as the veritable high–water mark of the Church in America.
Someone should have warned Ms. Ferrara against coming to the Church for the "atmosphere" (although, with her evident intelligence and her background as a Lutheran minister, one might expect she would avoid such a delusion). She describes one priest who evidently tried. When asked by Ms. Ferrara for the name of a "traditional parish," he retorted, "Why do you want to become Catholic?" (Why indeed?!) But the irony was lost on Ms. Ferrara; after abandoning her own parish and then a second, she proceeded to join "Holy Rosary" parish. There she could observe quaint ethnics in a "beautiful sanctuary . . . [people] kneeling, genuflecting, and crossing themselves . . . [praying] hours, rosaries, novenas," etc.
Holy Rosary has, for now, provided Ms. Ferrara with the ambience she was looking for. But what will she do when a new pastor with new ideas arrives (priests are forever being reassigned)? And what about poor St. Mary’s parish, within whose boundaries Ms. Ferrara evidently resides? If all the "good" Catholics of St. Mary’s decamp to Holy Rosary, who will provide the leaven of persevering faith and selfless service that can, in time, enable the parish to provide more effectively for the spiritual needs of all parishioners? (To a Catholic, "parish hopping" smacks of a Protestant mentality, a does–it–make–me–feel–good? sensibility.)
Walker Percy, who converted in the late 1940s at about age thirty, related the following during a 1983 interview: "I know many Catholics who have been very upset by Vatican II and everything that has happened since. It never bothered me because the important thing is the sacred deposit of the faith. As long as that’s intact, everything else doesn’t matter."
At the heart of that sacred deposit is the doctrine of the most holy Eucharist, "the source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11). In the Eucharist, Christ is present to the faithful—body, blood, soul, and divinity—during every celebration of the Mass. Christ is the Bread of Life who holds out the promise of salvation for those who "take and eat." This is true regardless of whether the liturgy appears aesthetically beautiful or vulgar, whether the priest celebrating Mass seems a saint or a clown.
Ms. Ferrara writes of her "trek to Rome" as it if were an action completed. One hopes she will come to understand that, as with many of us, her "trek" is only beginning.
George G. Peery III
In "Becoming Catholic: Making it Hard," Jennifer Mehl Ferrara slams her local Catholic churches for creating a "stumbling block" for her to conversion to Roman Catholicism by the way the liturgy of the Mass is celebrated. However, I must take issue with her sweeping dismissal of today’s Catholic Church.
In my opinion, Ms. Ferrara’s gravest mistake is her over–generalization about Catholic churches based on her experience in one community in Pennsylvania. Also, in her perspective, the liturgy should elicit awe, which conflicts with those who maintain the liturgy is to find God in the community and not some remote and transcendent Being. I believe that a coexistence of both views is possible and not in contradiction of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium).
As to the physical structure of the church itself, I can assure Ms. Ferrara that not all Catholic churches are devoid of statues or have their pews arranged in a semi–circle. In any case, the idea of the facing of the pews is to recall the idea that the Church is a community of believers—not just individuals involved in their own personal prayer. In fact, liturgical rites are designed for full participation in the community and as sharing of community.
Yes, there is variation in music at Catholic churches—reflecting the local church population, not being mandated from Rome to follow a certain musical tradition. Ms. Ferrara seems to be confusing unity and uniformity, but in Article 37 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Vatican II rejected the concept of strict and rigid uniformity to specifically allow bishops to adapt the liturgy to different peoples and different regions.
I suppose what galls me the most is Ms. Ferrara’s underlying assumption that all Catholic churches should have uniformity in all—from priests with sermon notes, to the number of statues displayed, to the music played. Yes, I too am an educated middle–class white female who enjoys a solemn and awe–inspiring environment for my worship, but my particular tastes do not dictate the liturgical practices of the Catholic Church.
Sugar Land, TX
When I read Jennifer Mehl Ferrara’s essay, I was struck by déjà vu. A cradle Catholic, a few years ago I too looked for a church that didn’t resemble a meeting hall, one with statues, a large crucifix, traditional confessionals, communion railings, missions, Benediction, good music—well, you get the picture.
I found it at our beloved Holy Rosary Church in Portland, Oregon. According to our Diocesan paper, the Catholic Sentinel, it has the largest Sunday and daily Mass attendance in the Archdiocese. The confessional lines before most of the Masses are long, children receiving First Communion are taught to receive on the tongue, the blood of Christ is not offered, and there are no Eucharistic Ministers. The Holy Week services are exceptional. I could go on and on. I quote from a recent bulletin: "We draw from all over the metro area and beyond. . . . The bottom line is that most people who come to Holy Rosary come for the liturgy, adoration, preaching, confessions, the Rosary, and other devotions."
Perhaps the name "Holy Rosary" is not a coincidence.
Marie J. Suminski
I can identify with the struggle Jennifer Mehl Ferrara faced. Every time I have attended Mass with my dear Catholic friends, the lack of decent music has been painfully evident. Being raised in a very musical family and being a piano technician for many years before entering the pastoral ministry have been both a blessing and a curse. I am so thankful, though, that Ms. Ferrara has found God’s place for her in the Catholic Church. However, her journey raises some additional questions for me.
A number of other Protestant pastors, as we know, are converting to Roman Catholicism for some of the same reasons Ms. Ferrara converted. But would the great gospel hymns of the Protestant church those pastors bring with them be welcomed in Mass? If not, could the inclusion of these sound theological hymns be a part of liturgical renewal and open the way for other struggling, conscience–stricken pastors with musical sensitivities?
(The Rev.) Mark A. Rains
Mark E. Chapman credits me with being clear–thinking, but he must actually believe me to be very confused indeed. Why else would I look for a post–Vatican II Lutheran orthodoxy in a repristination of neo–Tridentine liturgy, piety, and practice? I suppose my confusion stems from the fact I gave no "serious thought to changing [my] theology upon entering the Catholic Church."
Mr. Chapman has read an awful lot into a short opinion piece the subject of which was not my theological transformation but my experiences with Roman Catholic worship. Suffice to say, I agree with Mr. Chapman that Roman Catholicism has a way of orienting one’s priorities toward matters of spiritual discipline and sanctification. What I would argue is that Catholic worship in its present form does little to help people along in the spiritual pilgrimage that he describes. Prayer, devotions, penance, emphasis upon Mary and the saints, true meditation and contemplation are in short supply in many Catholic parishes. (Inexplicably, the very practices and theology that Mr. Chapman holds up as being distinctively Catholic he labels antiquarian when found in the parish that I attend.) In sum, I did not want or expect Catholicism to be an idealized version of Lutheranism; I had hoped Roman Catholic worship would be Roman Catholic and, as such, would reflect and participate in the ancient traditions and mysteries of the Church.
However, most of Mr. Chapman’s ad hominem criticisms do not address my views of the liturgy but my reasons for becoming Roman Catholic. For the record, I strongly disagree with his assertion that the "apparent apostasy" of the ELCA leadership is not reason enough to leave. The ELCA is an accomplice in the murder of unborn babies. I really believe that; and I did expose this fact through "theological and pastoral criticism" in the pages of Lutheran Forum and elsewhere, only to be met with complete indifference. (My former bishop’s response was to say it is not an issue about which the laity cares.) I reached the point where I personally felt compelled to separate myself from "evildoers."
I also think Mr. Chapman’s distinction between negative and positive reasons for becoming Catholic is overly simplistic. Most pastor converts whom I know were initially disillusioned with their own denominations. In my case, the apostasy of the ELCA opened my eyes to the deficiencies with Lutheranism itself (especially with Lutheran ecclesiology), which, in turn, led me into an exploration of and eventually deep appreciation for Roman Catholic teachings and theology. In the end, I came to believe that faith in Christ and faith in the Church is one act of faith and that the Roman Catholic Church is the truest manifestation of the Church.
I assume Mr. Chapman reached a similar conclusion, which is why I am surprised he thinks I should have remained a Lutheran pastor. I have to wonder if he takes seriously the words of Lumen Gentium, 14: "Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by God through Jesus Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in her could not be saved"; and, if so, why he cares so little about my salvation.
Most surprising is his suggestion that I should have stayed Lutheran in order to take a stand against the teachings of the Church on women’s ordination. Interestingly, Mr. Chap–man and I both wrote articles in favor of women’s ordination for the same issue of Lutheran Forum several years ago. I now not only accept but agree with the Magisterium’s arguments against women’s ordination. He apparently does not. I ask, which one of us is having problems accepting the "Roman Catholic Church in the totality of what it really is"? Though I am happy to have Mr. Chapman as a brother in the faith, I do wish he would refrain from placing upon me the burden of his vision of what he wishes Roman Catholicism were like.
James A. Winterstein also criticizes me for what I failed to say about my reasons for becoming Roman Catholic. Again, space constraints do not allow for a full explanation, but I will say this: I don’t need a "valid" reason for becoming Catholic. When Walker Percy was asked why he became Catholic, he usually replied, "What else is there?" He knew this answer was "smart–mouthed" and so do I, but it does convey my conviction that Roman Catholicism is not a "substitute" for Lutheranism or anything else. On the subject of the liturgy, Mr. Winterstein appears to have missed my point entirely: I was not looking for "proper form" but "substance," or, as I put it, "the Truth made manifest" in the liturgy.
Both Messrs. Winterstein and Chapman seem to have trouble accepting at face value my belief in the truth of Roman Catholicism. Whether or not they are satisfied with my reasons for becoming Catholic, I am, by the grace of God and the work of the Spirit, where I belong, and that is what is important.
George G. Peery III is critical not of my reasons for becoming Catholic but of the unrealistic expectations I had for Catholic worship. He is not the first person to remind me of Flannery O’Connor’s famous line about suffering as much from as for the Church. I too am a big fan of Flannery O’Connor and, having read her letters, I doubt she would have suffered lightly the liturgical shenanigans of the present time. In particular, as is evident from the very letter in which this quote appears, she had little use for sentimentalism, which has become a defining characteristic of this age and the liturgical music and practices emanating from it.
Obviously, I respect Walker Percy, and Mr. Peery’s point about the "sacred deposit of faith" being the important thing is well taken; and, of course, he is right when he says the Holy Eucharist is at the heart of that sacred deposit and Catholic worship. However, I cannot accept his suggestion that, as long as the Canon of the Mass is intact, the remainder of the worship service is of little consequence. As I said in my piece, that which surrounds the liturgy of the Eucharist influences our understanding of it. Surely, the current lack of faith in the Real Presence described by many Catholics derives in large measure from modern liturgies that secularize and trivialize the sacred order.
Aesthetics matter because they reflect and inform our theology. Contrary to what Julie Donati assumes about me, I do understand that the liturgy may need to be adapted to the temperaments and traditions of different peoples. (I would add that the section of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy to which Ms. Donati refers is primarily intended as a guide for mission activity but has been misused as a legitimation for all sorts of liturgical mischief.) Actually, I encountered a mind–numbing uniformity in Catholic worship that was simply astonishing given the vastness of the Church’s treasury of liturgical music and practices. Of all the parishes I have visited, only Holy Rosary offers a genuine variety of musical selections (traditional, contemporary, Latin, Italian, even Protestant) and devotional practices. I would also remind Ms. Donati that the variations and adaptations permitted by Article 37 do not extend to matters that might compromise "the faith or the good of the whole community." This is precisely the danger posed by many of the liturgical changes that have occurred since Vatican II.
I know the current aesthetics reflect an attempt "to find God in the community," as Ms. Donati puts it. The problem is when people look for God in the community they often find themselves and mistake their discovery for God. In "The Worthiness of the Liturgy," Hans Urs Von Balthasar warns, "Anything solemn and ceremonial that does not direct hearts and minds to the one being solemnized is evil, in proportion to how much the character of the solemnity becomes detached from its object and becomes itself the center." The practices of what Mr. Peery terms "quaint ethnics" are, in fact, time–honored practices that direct our hearts and minds towards God. As Marie J. Suminski’s letter indicates, many Catholics yearn for these practices. Those in charge of worship ought to think twice before blithely replacing them with liturgical rites designed to celebrate the community.
Was I justified in trying to find an awe–inspiring worship service? Perhaps I am, as Mr. Peery says, guilty of a Protestant "parish–hopping" mentality. If so, it is a mentality shared by an increasing number of cradle Catholics, such as Ms. Suminski. For what it’s worth, I did not undertake such activity thoughtlessly. I spoke to several priests and Catholic intellectuals, the most orthodox of whom all recommended I look for a parish where I could worship. After all, my experience with Catholic worship was standing in the way of my conversion. Whether or not I should have found a different way to overcome that impediment is debatable, I suppose, but the purpose of my piece is still important I think—to help Catholics understand how worship looks and feels to potential newcomers. As Mark A. Rains’ letter and other correspondence that I have personally received make clear, the state of Catholic worship is an obstacle for others thinking about becoming Roman Catholic. I continue to believe that ought not be the case.
We Jews have a long experience of oppression and marginalization, some of which is shared with Christians who have lived under Muslim rule. Thus I experienced a certain shock of recognition at the comments of Habib C. Malik ("Christians in the Land Called Holy," January). Just as many Jews in Europe tried to "normalize" themselves, so too have many Arab Christian intellectuals in this century, particular in those areas most exposed to modernization. George Antonius, author of The Arab Awakening, a leading exponent of twentieth–century Arab secular nationalism and founder of the Ba’athist Party that ostensibly still rules in both Iraq and Syria, was a Palestinian Christian. Likewise, George Habash, the Marxist–nationalist leader, is of Christian origin. Just as Jewish revolutionaries from Leon Trotsky to Rosa Luxemburg tried to universalize their lives into larger political movements, so too many Arab Christians pursue normalcy by leading secularizing movements. Mr. Malik’s article is a wonderful prayer that even in Palestine our two communities can find some way to establish common ground.
Santa Monica, CA
The article by Habib C. Malik was right on. I have been in Israel many times over the past few years. Once, during Advent, I was staying at the Notre Dame Institute, which is run by Christian Arabs and is much frequented by Christian tourists in the Holy Land. They had a Mass, in English, every day, and I usually attended. During Advent they often sang "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Only instead of the refrain being "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel," it went "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Jerusalem"—the (political) idea being that Jerusalem was now under an oppressive occupation and deserved to be ransomed by God’s coming.
The Catholic hierarchy did not do the Christian Arabs a good deed when it taught them to continue to resist the Israeli occupation. Yet the optimistic vision of the last part of Mr. Malik’s piece can still prevail: Under more forward–looking leaders in the Church, Arab Christians can still evolve "a theology and moral vision that will recognize Jews as elder brothers in the faith of Abraham."
David Novak’s "Jews & Catholics: Beyond Apologies" (January) raised serious points for both religions to ponder. I was greatly heartened by his statement, "My own view is that the Jewish response [to the Vatican statement "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah"] is largely mistaken, and that it reflects a misunderstanding not only of Catholic theology but of Jewish theology as well." Precisely: a theological document needs to be read theologically.
Toward the end of his article, however, Professor Novak misunderstands the position of Pope Pius XII. The Holy See does not condemn governments, it condemns policies of governments, as it did with Mit brennender Sorge. If one looks at the denunciations of fascism, Nazism, and communism, one sees that nowhere is the government condemned; rather it is the policies of a government.
While it is instructive to see the similarities between what was said about Pope Benedict XV during World War I and Pope Pius XII in World War II, to expect the Holy See to back one side in a war is unrealistic. The Holy See, particularly in wartime, does not issue blank checks to any government.
Thus, the "silence" of Pope Pius XII is a false accusation against a Pontiff who as Secretary of State under Pius XI addressed thirty–four notes of protest to the German government. One can see how skillfully Pius XII, as a pope in the midst of a war, used the nuncios and the agencies of the Holy See to protect those who had no protector, a point underlined by the Chief Rabbi of Rome who took Pope Pius’ own baptismal name at his baptism.
(The Rev.) Winthrop Brainerd
Epiphany Parish in Georgetown
I am happy that Father Brainerd is "greatly heartened" by my insistence that the recent Vatican statement on the Catholic Church and the Holocaust be read by Jews theologically. Dialogue between Christians and Jews should always be theologically grounded, so much so that when political issues are under discussion, each participant in the dialogue should come with his or her political theory in hand. Nevertheless, Fr. Brainerd chose not to elaborate on his theological appreciation of my article; instead, he quickly accuses me of misunderstanding just how the Vatican operates in the world of realpolitik, and that is the thrust of his whole letter.
He takes issue with my analysis of the moral debate about the role of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust. Yet, I did not take sides in that debate. I simply pointed out the arguments both pro and con concerning the actions and inactions of that complex and enigmatic pontiff and why, therefore, the Vatican statement would have been better if it left discussion of him for another, more specifically historical, statement or if it had left the whole question to the judgment of impartial historians when more evidence finally becomes available.
In any case, why couldn’t Pius XII have denounced the whole Nazi regime if or when (another point of historical debate) he learned that it was engaging in genocide as a matter of official state policy? Could one not do so based on St. Thomas Aquinas, whose thought had been placed at the very center of modern Catholic teaching by Leo XIII, and who was especially venerated by Pius XII? According to Aquinas, a regime loses its moral validity when it acts in such clear violation of natural law. Here again, justifiable prudence may well have prevented an explicit denunciation from being publicly uttered at such a dangerous time; but that point is still subject to more thorough historical review and moral judgment.
Further, when Fr. Brainerd mentions Benedict XV during World War I, does he really think that either the Germans or the Allies engaged in state–sponsored genocide then, even though certain atrocities did occur? If not, then his analogy of the situation of Benedict XV and that of Pius XII is spurious.
The most disturbing part of Fr. Brainerd’s letter is the last part of the last sentence, where he refers to the conversion of the former Chief Rabbi of Rome and his taking the baptismal name Eugenio after Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli). This point is presented as a proof of how grateful some Jews have been for having been saved from the Nazis by Pius XII. Now, no Jew today who is honest could deny that some Jews were indeed saved due to the orders of Pius XII to certain Italian monasteries and convents to offer them a hiding place. But that secret virtue of Pius XII does not answer the question of his overall public stand on Nazism and the Nazi regime. Finally, the mention of the conversion of Rabbi Israel Zolli (something still quite painful to his former community, virtually none of whose members followed his example) strikes me as gratuitous. Obviously, Pius XII did not make conversion to Catholicism a condition for his life–saving actions.
Gilbert Meilaender ("So You Want to Go to College," January) argues against centrally prescribed college core curricula on the grounds that they would be controlled and subverted by the radical faculty who reign in so much of the academy, and to whom traditional liberal education is inimical.
Professor Meilaender’s account of the designs and influence of campus radicals is certainly perceptive. It is clearly not enough to institute core curriculum policies alone. Rather, methods must be found to move at the same time in the direction of standards–based policies for ensuring institutional accountability.
Higher education trustees can lead the way in reviving core studies and in realizing other curricular reforms by establishing general academic principles, setting minimum core requirements and standards, encouraging the creation of competing core curricula on campuses, and providing incentives as well as penalties aimed at campus compliance with such guidelines. Trustees can insist on appointing campus presidents who are committed to the necessary academic reforms; they can also review these presidents more stringently, holding them to greater account for the quality of the academic programs for which they bear responsibility.
My fellow trustees and I who serve on the State University of New York Board are instituting precisely such structural reforms throughout SUNY. We have strengthened the procedures by which SUNY presidents are appointed and are likely to adopt strengthened presidential review guidelines in the near future. In addition, we have taken the first steps toward providing performance funding, funding that rewards the successful attainment of system–wide academic goals as opposed to adherence to the status quo.
More immediately germane to Prof. Meilaender’s concerns, we passed a resolution last December that mandates a system–wide core curriculum that is coherent, of high quality, and composed where appropriate of broad courses—courses of a type that will not be easily commandeered by faculty with narrow agendas. Moreover, we have directed SUNY’s presidents to provide the necessary funding for these core studies and called upon SUNY’s provost for his assistance in implementing this requirement.
In the long run such measures have, in my view, much potential for redirecting colleges and universities, and even entire public higher education systems, toward the realization of the academic goals that we share. These measures will better serve Prof. Meilaender’s worthy aim—that "good students . . . will find the good courses taught by . . . good faculty"—than his proposed solution, "the most minimal of distribution requirements," so that "good students will at least be set free, and . . . with . . . a little luck . . . find the good courses. . . ."
Candace de Russy
State University of New York
The attack by Richard John Neuhaus on Jewish efforts to press claims against Swiss banks is intemperate and one–sided ("Grasping for the Gold," November 1998.) He accepts, with a figurative shrug of the shoulder, the idea that "there are no records," and that therefore the claims ought not be enforced.
Did the banks, who after all undertook, in accepting the deposits, the responsibility of stewardship, have no obligation to maintain records? Were they justified in demanding death certificates from Holocaust victims’ heirs? Does the discovery that the banks were destroying records from the 1930s as recently as a few years ago, and that records of old accounts have in fact been discovered, give Father Neuhaus any pause?
While there may be some distasteful behavior surrounding the pressing of these claims, comparing that behavior to the actions of the Swiss banks for fifty–plus years is comparing jaywalking to murder.
I have just finished reading Richard John Neuhaus’ astounding review of Cold Mountain ("Literature and the Market," Public Square, January). The sundry paths individual readers can take even when journeying through the same book is strange indeed. I, a white male Arkansan, have spent a couple of hours a day for the last week fairly reveling in Charles Frazier’s novel. Had I been given a long list of epithets with which to describe it, and had "politically correct" been among them, I think it would have been the very last I would have chosen.
One could write a small thesis exploring the curious judgments Father Neuhaus reaches about this book.
For example, he writes of Cold Mountain’s conclusion:
And, of course, as is the way with such romances, hero and heroine are united at last and set to live happily ever after. One can almost hear the sighs of the women of Westchester upon turning the last page, languorously dreaming of their Inman who, through great trial and danger, is on his way to rescue them from a world unworthy of their elevated souls.
I gather that our reviewer read the book with considerably more celerity than I, perhaps even gobbling it down whole on a transatlantic flight. The sentences from his review that I have just cited, however, suggest he didn’t quite finish the book. Inman and Ada do not live happily ever after. Inman dies in the book’s penultimate chapter.
Well, I didn’t mean forever ever after.