Letters: Where Does the Catholic Church Go From Here?

New York Times

August 7, 2021

Readers discuss the papacy of Francis and the internal politics of liberals versus traditionalists.

To the Editor:

Re “The Ungovernable Catholic Church,” by Ross Douthat (column, July 29):

On reading the column, I was struck that the church is well positioned to respond to the challenges facing modern Catholicism. But does it have the courage to strike the balance needed to make the necessary modifications?

Pope Francis showed great promise early on, and managing in conjunction with the traditional Vatican machine has controversy at its very core. But he is the man at the helm.

A recent declaration on the “sinfulness” of gay Catholics and the efforts to weaponize the Holy Eucharist only make the schism wider.

The church is a global institution and as such must flex its muscles or it will falter or, worse, fail to exist.

Read the room. Like it or not, the young people will ultimately lead. The foundation for change is Christ Himself, who broke all the rules and stared down the establishment. Politics is very much in play.

Truly modernize, and let this pope do his work. It may not always be pretty, but is the church governable? Absolutely!

Louis Mastandrea
Ridgefield, Conn.

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat’s column misses the central ambition of Pope Francis’ papacy: returning the church to a proper imitation of the Jesus of the New Testament Scriptures and to His simple, yet profound message of faith and forgiveness of all.

Francis’ living out of that message from the very inception of his papacy accounts for his wide popularity among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It is a message rooted in the spiritual exercises of Ignatius Loyola (the Jesuit founder) practiced by all Jesuits and manifestly evident in Francis’ homilies and speeches, but most of all in his personal example.

Jesus’ teachings and Francis’ reminders of them run counter to a church that has morphed over time into a deeply flawed institution weaned on formalism, ideological rigidity and careerism.

Francis’ living out of Jesus’ message is not a revolution of 1848, but the following on and practical carrying out of the substance of the Second Vatican Council. The church today requires that reminder if it is ever to remain a vital instrument of God’s word.

Kevin McGinn
Westhampton Beach, N.Y.
The writer is a former Jesuit seminarian.

To the Editor:

It is important to recognize the asymmetry about exit options on Pope Francis’ conservative and liberal flanks.

The church’s conservatives would have to initiate a schism and create a new church, perhaps considering themselves the true Catholic Church. The church’s liberals have options to become Episcopalians, Lutherans or Presbyterians. In other words, conservatives would need a leader-led schism, while liberals can vote with their feet.

As Ross Douthat’s column implies, Pope Francis is arguably governing the church in a manner that just barely avoids schism from the right and even more defections from the left.

Ken Kollman
Ann Arbor, Mich.

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat continues to see the Catholic Church in terms of progressives and traditionalists. From the perspective of a former priest, I suggest that it would help to see it in terms of those who continue to fight the good fight and those who have given up.

Those who have given up are unwilling to make the necessary changes for dealing with the structural flaws revealed by the child sex abuse. There should no longer be a privileged class of male-only celibate priesthood. Such a class is too susceptible to self-deception and hubris.

Child sex abuse has destroyed both the perpetrator and the abused. Now more than ever, the world needs an authentic church that starts by recognizing its own shortcomings.

Mark Porter
New Lambton, Australia

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat reminds us of the background to the latest dramatic move by Pope Francis. But it is a pity Pope Francis insists that the Latin Mass should be restricted.

I have fond memories as an altar boy in Dublin learning the Latin Mass by heart with many words and responses still etched in my memory. But my abiding memory is of an older congregation in the pews praying quietly and reverently with cherished rosary beads in hand, almost oblivious to the Mass itself.

The Latin Mass seemed to facilitate a sense of spiritual peace and calm in contrast to the modern-day ritual of “celebrate out loud together.”

Aidan Roddy

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat’s column was depressing. But the promise of Jesus Christ, the church’s founder, that His church was built on a rock and that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” belies Mr. Douthat’s analysis and makes one confident about the Catholic Church’s future.

Amanda Bowman
New York

To the Editor:

Re “America Needs Catholicism” (Opinion guest essay, Sunday Review, Aug. 1):

Matthew Walther’s article extolling the extensive social services the Catholic Church provides doesn’t mention that the church disallows half of humanity (women) to have any decision making.

And he says nothing about the penalties to people who get divorced, have abortions or leave the church. He makes no mention of the magical thinking of the creeds and doctrines one must believe to be a Catholic.

Barbara Leedom
South Yarmouth, Mass.

To the Editor:

Kudos to Matthew Walther! Catholic social doctrine as elaborated over the past 150 years is indeed a guide for a more humane world. But how can we practice it in our two-party, deadlocked country when the voter is required to pick one subset of social principles over another, like protecting the life of the unborn, say, over saving the planet, or in this time of vaccination hesitancy, individual freedom over the common good?

As I know from years on the Peace and Justice Committee at my parish, Catholic social doctrine, although key to solving many societal ills, appears to be a tightly held secret, sadly unknown even to many Catholics.

Jakob Schmidt
Stony Brook, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Matthew Walther refers to the Christian democratic tradition in Europe.

As the era of Chancellor Angela Merkel ends in Germany, it’s worth pondering how faithfully her Christian Democratic Union and its counterparts in other European countries still represent this legacy in a largely secular, post-Christian continent.

When Europe really needed principled political Catholicism back in the 1920s and 1930s, the church failed badly. It thrived in the authoritarian atmosphere of Mussolini’s Italy and Franco’s Spain.

In Germany, the Catholic Center Party, true to its name, was in fact positioned to be a moderate alternative to both extremes of the political spectrum. For a time, it was one of the pillars of Weimar democracy. In the end, though, some of its more right-wing leaders enabled Hitler’s rise to power.

A lot depends on whether the decision makers involved are truly “people of good will.” Quite a few politicians fail to fit that description, and so, sadly, do many religious leaders as well.

Glenn Murray
Wayne, N.J.

To the Editor:

I must say I am truly appalled. The thought that we need “a revived Christian democracy in the United States” that would “draw upon official church teaching as well as pilfer from the best of secular culture” is truly frightening.

As an American Jew, I feel that the best protection that all people have from Christian coercion is a constitutionally mandated secular state that prohibits favoring any religion.

Everyone should have the freedom to pursue religion (or no religion) within the safety of their homes and institutions, but our public square needs to be free to welcome those with any religious or nonreligious tradition.

David Jaffe
Montgomery Village, Md.