Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dear Mr. Kristof of the New York Times: You Are Not a Nun

Dear Mr. Kristof, contrary to the title of your recent New York Times essay, “We Are All Nuns,” you are not a nun.  

Of course, I know the title of your essay was only a rhetorical flourish. I think the point you were making is that all liberal-minded people are in solidarity with the nuns’ organization that is being investigated by the Vatican. 

I write briefly to comment on a few of the statements in your essay: 

Nicholas D. Kristof:
Not a Nun
First, you disapprove of the Vatican’s decision to review an umbrella organization of American nuns. “In effect,” you wrote, “the Vatican accused the nuns of worrying too much about the poor and not enough about abortion and gay marriage.”

As a Catholic, I deeply resent the implication that the Vatican accused women religious of worrying too much about the poor.  That is not true, and you know it.

Second, you imply that the nuns’ umbrella organization is in trouble for varying from Church doctrine on gay marriage and abortion. I do not know the details of the Vatican’s concern about the nuns’ organization, but I would be astonished if a single American nun favors abortion; and I think it is mischievous of you to suggest that American women religious as a whole disagree with Church doctrine on abortion and same sex marriage.

Third, you seem to believe that concern for the poor and support for gay marriage and abortion are inextricably linked. But that is not true.

Throughout the history of our Church, thousands of women religious and secular Catholic women have sacrificed their lives to serve their fellow human beings. Many of them were martyred, and some of them have been canonized. All these women lived holy lives in obedience to Church doctrine on human life and marriage.   

It is absurd and insulting to suggest--as you did in your New York Times essay--that the only people capable of Christian charity are people who endorse postmodern notions of sexuality and the value of human life.


Kristof, N. D. (2012, April 28). We are all nuns. New York Times.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Maureen Dowd Attacked the Catholic Church Again in Today's New York Times

Maureen Dowd attacked the Catholic Church again in today's New York Times.  First, she points out that most Catholics believe birth control is morally acceptable, implying that only the bad old bishops are concerned about the Obama administration's health insurance mandate.

Saint Kateri Tekawitha
Next, she implies that our bishops have no business opposing the health insurance mandate because they've done a terrible job dealing with the sexual abuse scandal. The church is obsessed with sex in ways that it shouldn't be, she says, and not obsessed with sex in ways that it should be.

I would like to make three brief points. First, even though a majority of Catholics may not agree with Church teaching about birth control, that does not mean they are indifferent to the Obama administration's health insurance mandate, which is an assault on religious freedom and a gratuitous insult to the Catholic Church.

Dowd and the Obama administration seem to think no one is upset about the health insurance mandate but a few cranky bishops, and they may be right. But I don't think so.  We will see how Catholics vote in the November election. Personally, I am offended by this affront to my Catholic faith.

Second, it is absolutely true that the Church stumbled badly in dealing with the sex abuse scandal. But that does not mean that Church doctrine on sexuality and human life is bogus.

Servant of God
Rose Hawthorne
Finally, the Obama administration's health insurance mandate is an unprecedented attack on Catholic social institutions by our national government.  Even during the Know Nothing period of the 1850s and the anti-Catholic revival of the Klan in the 1920s, the national government did not harass the Catholic Church in the performance of its human services. Catholic hospitals, Catholic orphanages, Catholic schools, Catholic colleges, and Catholic soup kitchens remained unmolested by the federal government even during the worst of the anti-Catholic frenzies.

It is true that Catholic churches were burned during the Philadelphia Bible riots, and the Charlestown convent was sacked by nativists in 1834. Nevertheless, what the Obama administration has done--forcing Catholic institutions to consider closing rather than knuckle under to the health insurance mandate--is truly reprehensible and without precedent in terms of federal policy.

Saint Katharine Drexel
Dowd portrays our Church's spiritual leaders as misogynists, writing that the bishops and the Vatican "care passionately about putting women in chastity belts." Let us close our ears to this nonsense and reflect on the American Catholic saints who sacrificed their lives to the Catholic faith and who performed many good works while remaining loyal to Church doctrine. Let us reflect on Saint Katharine Drexel, Saint Elizabeth Seton, Saint Francesca Cabrini, Saint Kateri Tekawitha, Servant of God Rose Hawthorne (Nathaniel Hawthorne's daughter), and Servant of God Dorothy Day.


Dowd, M. (2012, May 23). Father doesn't know best. New York Times, p. A21.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Comment on the Recent New York Times Story About Tuition Tax Credit Programs That Benefit Private Schools

I am commenting today on an article that appeared in today's New York Times on tuition tax credit programs that benefit private schools. Entitled "Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools", the article reported on tuition tax-credit programs that operate now in eight states.

I wish to make four points:

1) Poor families deserve the same opportunity to put their children in religious schools as wealthy families.  Although the laws vary from state to state, the general idea of tuition-tax-credit programs is to allow taxpayers to receive a tax credit for donations to a scholarship program that will allow low-income families to attend private schools--including religious schools.

Of course, wealthy families can afford to put their children in religious schools, but poor families cannot. I believe that a poor Catholic family should have the same opportunity to attend a Catholic school as wealth Catholic family. Therefore, I support tuition tax-credit programs.

The article reported that some of the benefiting schools (probably Protestant) teach the doctrine of creationism and fundamentalism, but so what? In Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), the Supreme Court ruled that families have a constitutional right to put their children in private schools--including religious schools. It is no one's business whether a particular religious school promotes creationism.

2) Contrary to the message imparted in the title of today's New York Times article, tuition tax credit programs do not channel public money to private schools. The article quoted one commentator about the programs, who correctly said: "The difficulty of getting at this thing from a constitutional point of view is that there are private dollars coming from a private individual and going to a private foundation." As the Supreme Court has made clear in several rulings, programs that benefit private schools in such a way do not violate the Establishment Clause.

3) Public education organizations have vigorously opposed almost any government program that benefits K-12 private schools, but they have said nothing about the federal student aid program that has benefited for-profit colleges enormously, even though the for-profit colleges have high student-loan default rates and some of them have been accused of fraud.

Personally, I would like to see the National School Board Association, National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers leave the K-12 religious schools alone and focus some of their ire on the for-profit colleges--which have a dubious record of serving students well.

4) Finally, If anyone would like to read an even-handed discussion of the tax-credit tuition voucher programs, I recommend Kevin Welner's book entitled Neovouchers. (Mr. Welner is quoted in the New York Times article.) I do not know whether Mr. Welner is an advocate for tuition tax-credit programs, but he describes them fairly and accurately.


Saul, S. (2012, May 22). Public money finds back door to private schools. New York Times, p. 1.

Welner, K. (2008). Neovouchers; The Emergence of Tuition Tax Credits for Private Schooling.    Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Retort to Maureen Dowd’s Most Recent Attack on Catholicism, Which Appeared in the May 20, 2012 issue of the New York Times

In an article entitled,“Here comes Nobody,” which appeared in the May 20, 2012 issue of the New York Times, Maureen Dowd unleashed her latest attack on Catholicism. In doing so, she drew on the standard themes of anti-Catholic rhetoric; she attacked the Church for its hypocrisy, its intolerance, and its weakness.
Maureen Dowd:
Dowd began by reminding readers of the recent sexual scandals of the Church. And she is absolutely right to criticize the Catholic Church for the sexual sins of our priests--sins that were often covered up by the bishops. The pedophile priest scandal is a shameful episode in the history of our Church--an eternal blot on our Catholic heritage and a reminder that all people and all institutions are capable of appalling behavior.
But the Church’s own sins do not negate Church doctrine on life and human sexuality, which Catholics believe to be eternal and unchanging truth. That the Catholic Church and its members are fallible is irrefutable; but Catholic doctrine--we Catholics believe--is not.
Dowd also attacks the Catholic Church for its intolerance to dissent and debate. She quotes approvingly from a speech by Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and a Catholic, who is promoting federal policy that is abhorrent to our Church. Contentious debate is a strength in our country, Sebelius said, contrary to other nations where “a leader delivers an edict and it goes into effect. There’s no debate, no criticism, no second-guessing.”
Sebelius and Dowd are correct if they conclude that the Catholic Church is not a debating society. Unlike many of the Protestant denominations, our Church does not bend to the fads and fashions of the day. We rely on our Pope, our Catechism, Scripture and Church tradition to guide us in our lives. So if the charge against us is that we are not wishy-washy enough for the postmodern age, we plead guilty.
Finally, Dowd suggests that the Catholic Church’s intolerant views are a sign of the Church’s weakness. “Absolute intolerance is always a sign of uncertainty and panic,” she writes. “Why do you have to hunt down everyone unless you’re weak?”
Dowd completely misunderstands the Catholic Church in the United States if she thinks that the Church is weak. Roman Catholicism is the largest religious group in America and has been since the mid-nineteenth century. Many of our churches are bursting at the seams. It is not uncommon for parishes to schedule six, seven, and even eight weekend Masses.
My own parish, St. Ann’s Church in Coppell, Texas, is one of the largest Catholic parishes in the United States. Often people cannot find a seat at the weekend Masses, and the walls are lined with parishioners who stand throughout the entire Mass.
Dorothy Day
When I look at my fellow parishioners, I see many young families with children, I see immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, I see adult converts to the faith. Let me assure you, Ms. Dowd, our beliefs are not based on fear or coercion but on the firm conviction that our Church is our mother; our Church is the spouse of Christ.
And if we were to leave the Catholic Church, where would we go? Should we guide our lives by the editorial page of the New York Time? No. Catholics understand that there are basically only two ways to understand the world we live in--understanding that comes from our faith or postmodernism, which is the philosophy of selfishness, greed, condescension, and the hunger for power and recognition.
Like Dorothy Day, perhaps the greatest American Catholic of the postmodern age, Catholics strive for life--for the abundant life. To turn from that path toward the views espoused by Ms. Dowd and the New York Times, will ultimately lead us only to cynicism and despair.

Friday, May 4, 2012

If You Visit San Antonio, Don't Miss the Spanish Missions

Most tourists who visit San Antonio spend their time on the Riverwalk, drinking watered-down margaritas, and eating mediocre Mexican food.  Many will visit the Alamo, which has a gift shop larger than the shrine itself.  You can buy a faux coonskin cap for your grandchild there, which I highly recommend.

Few San Antonio visitors visit the Spanish missions, which line the San Antonio River near the city. There are five missions: San Jose, Concepcion, San Juan, Espada, and the Alamo. With the exception of the Alamo, all are active Catholic churches, even though the National Park maintains them as the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

These missions are lovely examples of Spanish baroque architecture, perhaps the finest examples in the United States. Unlike the Spanish missions Junipero Sera found in California in the late 18th century, which were mostly adobe, all the San Antonio missions are built of stone.
Americans have largely ignored the Spanish contributions to American history, culture, art, religion, and  architecture.  And we have impoverished ourselves by our ignorance. As the great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson observed, Baroque culture in the New World exhibited "a rich flowering of regional types of art and architecture."  Moreover, as Dawson pointed out, Baroque culture in New Spain showed the influence of Native American culture, seen most clearly in religious art.
Today, there has been a revival of Spanish-era religious art in Northern New Mexico, where artists have produced lovely retablos, bultos and altar screens that draw their inspiration from the religious art of the Spanish colonial era.  Here we see artists reproduce the images of saints who were dear to the inhabitants of Catholic New Mexico from the 17th century through the 20t century. St. Isador, Santo Nino, Santiago, and San Pasqual were important saints in the northern Rio Grande Valley for more than four hundred years, and devout Catholic sought their aid in dealing with illness, drought, and the terrifying raids of the Apaches and Comanches.
As Dawson noted, the Spanish baroque art and culture of the New World stands in stark contrast to the artistic expressions of Anglo America, where indigenous influences are entirely absent. Nothing illustrates the sharp difference between the Catholic imagination and Anglo Protestantism than a comparison of the severe and sharp-steepled New England Congregational churches with the warm and elaborately decorated Spanish-era churches of Texas, New Mexico and California.
So the next time you visit San Antonio, rent a car and drive down St. Mary Street until you get to the Spanish missions of 18th century San Antonio.  Concepcion and San Jose are the loveliest. Be sure not to miss those two sites. 
And as you stroll the grounds of these historic missions, reflect for a moment on the Catholic imagination that inspired the architecture of the Spanish missions. The people who built these missions were mystics--they believed in bilocation, in the intercession of the saints, in the real presence of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist.
And think what we lost as a people when Americans embraced the crabbed and impoverished worldview of the Puritans and the welter of Protestant denominations that sprang pathologically from the Protestant American mind.  Although our history books won't admit it, the Reformation was not motivated by a desire to stamp out corruption and superstition in the 16th century Catholic Church; it was fueled by hubris, materialistic greed, and political calculation--which has come to full fruition in the postmodern worldview of America's governing elites. 


Christopher Dawson. The Dividing of Christendom. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1965. (Originally published by Sheed & Ward). 

Anti-Catholic Bigotry Is Not Dead: It Was Only Sleeping

On March 9, 2012, the New York Times printed a full page advertisement in its Friday edition that was a full-force, frontal assault on Catholicism. Styling itself an “Open Letter to ‘Liberal’ and ‘Nominal’ Catholics,” the advertisement urged Catholics to quit their Church. “You’re better than your church,” the advertisement wheedled, “so why stay?” Sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the ad attacked the Church’s stance on sexual issues--contraception, abortion, and gay marriage.
A scene from the Philadelphia Bible Riots
Source: The Granger Collection,
The Smithsonian
Catholics should be grateful for this insult, because it alerts us to this simple truth--anti-Catholic prejudice is not dead in the United States; it was only sleeping. Catholics may have lulled themselves into believing that anti-Catholicism died in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States. If a Catholic can be elected President, we persuaded ourselves, then Catholics have been invited into full participation in the Nation’s public life.
In fact, however, it was probably a movie, not the election of John Kennedy, that signaled greater public tolerance for American Catholics. Going My Way, starring Bing Crosby as the amiable Father O’Malley, depicted Catholics as charmingly eccentric genuflectors who were basically harmless. Released in 1944, Going My Way was wildly popular, and Bing Crosby got an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Unfortunately, we now see that the decline in open anti-Catholic prejudice that we saw in the late twentieth century depended upon an implicit bargain. “We will tolerate you Catholics,” our post-modern secularist culture promised, “so long as you don’t take your religion seriously.”
For awhile at least, this is a bargain that Catholics appeared to accept. We began eating meat on Fridays, we slackened our zeal for Catholic schools, and many of us ignored Church teachings on sexuality and marriage. 
But not all Catholics agreed to the bargain. Joining with evangelical Protestants, some Catholics fought abortion and same-sex marriage, and many protested recently when the Obama administration sought to force Catholic hospitals and social-service agencies to fund contraception through their health care policies.  And in response, anti-Catholic prejudice stalks the land again--proclaiming its message in the New York Times.
Anti-Catholicism is as old as the nation itself; it crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower. Indeed, in 1647, the Puritans banned Jesuits and all Catholic priests from entering Massachusetts Bay Colony and proscribed the death penalty for any priest who disobeyed the law.  Most American colonies adopted their own versions of the English penal laws, and Catholics did not gain their full civil rights in the United States until well into the nineteenth century.
From the seventeenth century through the early twentieth century, anti-Catholic bigotry has flared up again and again--often expressing itself in violence. The burning of the Charlestown Convent in 1834, the Philadelphia Bible riots of 1844, and the kidnapping of Catholic priests by Klansmen during the KKK revival of the early 1920s show anti-Catholicism in its ugliest and most violent form. But more genteel acts of anti-Catholic bigotry also form part of our nation’s history.  A 1921 Oregon law--promoted by the Ku Klux Klan--attempted to wipe out Catholic parochial schools in the state of Oregon.
Catholics might tell themselves these bad old days are gone forever, but the recent New York Times advertisement is a reminder that anti-Catholic prejudice is deeply rooted in our secular, post-Protestant culture--especially among the nation’s intellectual elites and in our universities.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dear New York Times: Please be accurate when you describe Dorothy' Day's life and work

In the April 29, 2012 issue of the New York Times, Gina Bellante wrote an essay about the Catholic Worker movement, which was founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. In the last paragraph of an otherwise fine article, Ms. Bellafante wrote of “Rome’s ingratitude” and infered that the Catholic Worker’s “vision of Catholicism” has come under review by the church establishment.”
Dorothy Day, Servant of God
Of course, that inference is inaccurate. Dorothy’s work and writings are in perfect harmony with the great papal encyclicals on social justice. In fact, Dorothy Day has been named a Servant of God by the Vatican, the first step toward canonization.
I wrote a letter to the Times, pointing out that Ms. Bellante's essay had inaccurately suggested that the Catholic Worker movement is disfavored by the Vatican.  My letter wasn't published.
Of course, the Catholic Church is portrayed unfavorably all the time in the main stream media. In the same issue  of the Times in which Ms. Bellafante's essay appeared, Nicholas Kristof and Maureen Dowd wrote op ed essays that were very hostile to the Vatican. As Catholics, it is our responsibility to defend our Church and its leaders when they come under attack.  We should all be writing letters to the New York Times and any other media source that portrays our Church in a negative light


Bellante, Gina. (2012, April 29). A different intersection of Church and Politics. New York Times, p. 28.

Dowd, M. (2012, April 29). Bishops play church quesens as pawns. New York Times, Sunday Review, p. 11.

Kristof, N. D. 2012, April 29). We are all nuns. New York Times, Sunday Review, p. 11.