The Lay of the Land

This issue together with the previous two should give the reader a sense of what we are trying to do in Catholicism in Crisis. It is both difficult and all too easy to say what you are going to do before you do it. This journal had its origin in a sense of a crisis among Catholics, one that is due in large measure to a confusion about roles in the Church. More of that in a moment. I want first to say something about two reactions to this journal, one amusing, the other deeply saddening.

Among the questions asked at the press conference in Washington last November when the inaugural issue of Catholicism in Crisis was introduced to a waiting world was, “Where does the money come from?” On such an occasion, that is a fair question. The answer is still pretty much what it was then. We are operating on a shoestring. We have received a handful of small donations; Michael Novak and I have both put money of our own into the journal. Increasingly now, subscriptions are relieving the pressure. But we are very far from solid financial ground. Originally, we had hoped for a grant that would sustain us during a trial year without the need to rely on subscriptions. We are still mendicants. But we have every confidence we will survive.

That question about money is sometimes asked in order not to talk about the issues raised in the journal. If only the questioner could uncover a Daddy Warbucks behind it all, he could dismiss the journal on that basis. Those on the left seem certain there are large sums of money available to their foes; the extreme right often laments the meager resources with which it must confront the overflowing coffers of the enemy. We in the sane center have no doctrinaire call on a class of supporters. Perhaps as the shape of our journal becomes more distinct with each issue we will attract the wherewithal to continue without anxiety.

It is amusing to be considered the beneficiary of what Communists call Wall Street Circles. It is saddening that some, if only a handful, have attacked Catholicism in Crisis on the ground that it should, not come forth from the Jacques Maritain Center at the University of Notre Dame. Two correspondents claimed, clearly before having read the journal, that Catholicism in Crisis stands for everything Jacques Maritain opposed throughout his life. It is understatement to call this hyperbole. But that is not the worst of it.

Three or four people wrote Father Hesburgh demanding that he suppress this journal. Father Hesburgh, of course, sent these letters on to me. As Director of the Jacques Maritain Center, I serve at the pleasure of Father Hesburgh. Before Michael Novak and I launched this journal, I discussed the matter with Father Hesburgh. He said it was fine with him and went on to give me some useful advice. Those who imagine that Father Hesburgh would snuff this journal at their bidding have no knowledge of the man. He need not approve of all the contents of Catholicism in Crisis — not even Novak and I do that — in order to wish it to continue. Nonetheless, as a result of those letters, I told Father Hesburgh that if he wished me to drop mention of the Jacques Maritain Center … He did not let me finish the sentence. His hope is that Catholicism in Crisis will continue to be the occasion of useful discussion.

It goes without saying that I regard what we are trying to do in this journal as compatible with the views of Jacques Maritain. Furthermore, Maritain stands as a great symbol of the lay Catholic intellectual, forever brooding over secular and transcendental issues, seeing them through the lens of faith. This is not to say that I think the views expressed by me or others in this journal are identical with things Maritain wrote or even implied, in a strong sense, by his writings. The same must doubtless be said of the views of those students of Maritain who oppose things written in this journal.

This is not a journal of the right; it is not a journal of the left. We intend to occupy the sane center. If you ask what that is, I refer you to the articles we have already published. They represent a spectrum of opinion, not a single outlook. Few of them would have found a welcome in the pages of America or Commonweal or The National Catholic Reporter. That is why this journal is needed. There has to be a constant reminder that Catholics are not of one mind on contingent political and social questions. It would be possible, for example, to conclude from Catholic journals that we all know in our heart of hearts that socialism is the only economic system halfway compatible with our beliefs. In the meantime, of course, we are all capitalist, if only by way of our retirement plans.

The Church’s severe remarks about capitalism are matters of record; so are Her even more severe remarks about socialism. Does this mean that a Catholic who favors socialism is thereby a dissenter, less than loyal, culpably indifferent to the Church’s teaching authority? Not necessarily. Such a Catholic would doubtless wish to argue that socialism as the Church condemns it and socialism as it might be are not the same thing. Presumably the practical capitalist who is also theoretically in favor of capitalism does not wish to mean by the term what the Popes had in mind when they inveighed against it.

Father Chenu dismisses the social and political teaching of the Church as mere ideology, reflecting its unconscious sell-out to bourgeois values. Sic transit gloria theologi. When the discussion moves to that level, it is no longer a matter of wondering if socialism in some sense or capitalism in some sense is compatible with the great moral guidelines of the Church’s teaching. The very teaching itself is being debunked. That is a crisis.

When our bishops come frighteningly close to proclaiming one opinion on contingent matters the official view of the Church, that is a crisis. When they do so by adopting a stance that seems more political than episcopal, that is a crisis. When bishops overlook, in a sense not intended by episcopein, wildly hetorodox doctrines, liturgical transgressions and outright dismissal of clear Catholic teaching from pulpits in their jurisdiction, when they permit grievous injustice in their seminaries (see The Purge at Wadhams Hall below), that is a crisis.

The Blessed Mother said at Fatima that war is a punishment for sin. It is not the crime, it is the punishment. Why is there a threat of nuclear war? Surely not because of some bloodlust in the Pentagon. Not because the citizenry is inadequately aware of what bombs can do. That is like attributing herpes to inadequate sex instruction. It is absurd to think that what we need, or what we want, from our bishops is more scenarios in the manner of Jonathan Schell.

The problem is not weaponry. The problem is not want of knowledge. The real problem is not even the global designs of the Soviet Union. Religious leaders, our bishops, have the duty to point out the real problem and the real solution. Public and private moral practises in the United States call out for divine punishment. Mention of the Nazi Holocaust still gets a mandatory shudder, but those 17,000 aborted fetuses in a trash container in California are shrugged away as if they were the invention of fanatics.

It is a crisis when the bishops are associated with the sort of thing contained in the first and second drafts of a proposed pastoral letter on War and Peace. I would rather read Tolstoy and think of history as a congeries of accidents. From bishops I would like a statement on war and peace that did not make us sinners feel so righteous.


Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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