Years ago, I discussed editorial policy with a columnist at a local daily who favored a public policy I vehemently opposed. When readers responded to a column, the editor published them, or did not, based on reader interest, quality of writing, and other criteria. The newspaper did not shy away from publishing controversial responses and rebuttals, as they sparked notice from local readers and sometimes even increased subscriptions. My columnist buddy might revisit a topic, but one thing he never did was respond to individual letters. After all, he enjoyed a guaranteed forum, and the prospect of being roasted in a local newspaper could easily exert a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas. This is a wise and just practice that WEDNESDAY JOURNAL, especially Ken Trainor, should emulate.
Oak Park resident Joe Wemhoff wrote a thoughtful November 17 viewpoint concerning the role of the Catholic Church in public discourse, which was certain to stir up strong opinions. WEDNESDAY JOURNAL Senior Editor Ken Trainor responded with a disgraceful, sarcastic, personal attack against Mr. Wemhoff, which should never have been printed. Clearly stating that he has his own opinions concerning Catholic teaching, Trainor glosses over substance, and uses most of his ink to blast Mr. Wemhoff in a tone normally confined to Middle School lavatories.
According to Trainor, Mr. Wemhoff is not interested in communication, just a banker, "more concerned with deposits and withdrawals." He makes outrageous presumptions concerning Mr. Wemhoff's spiritual life. "Do you experience that, Joe? I suppose not. You're too busy keeping track of the infractions the rest of us are committing." Trainor asserts that Mr. Wemhoff is "a hall monitor," has an "unhealthy obsession with orthodoxy," is "God's theological enforcer," a "Hall Monitor/Tattle-Tale Catholic," a "modern-day Pharisee," and a "hypocrite." As a columnist myself, with a larger reader base than Trainor, I am ashamed this sophomoric rant ever made it into print.
Trainor has passed off his tirades as journalism in the past, but this example is so egregious that I feel compelled to respond. As no one seems to be editing the Editor, please allow me to present Mr. Trainor with some guidelines for civilized discourse.
First, respond only to ideas, not to individuals. Journalistic integrity requires that local readers should be able to express their sincere thoughts freely, without fear of being attacked in their neighborhood newspaper.
Second, show a little intellectual humility and listen to others. It comes with the territory, and they might say something you need to hear. Stop being so defensive. When people attack something I have said or written, I listen respectfully to their thoughts. Perhaps I didn't express my own ideas clearly. Maybe I should rethink my position.
Third, journalism requires the truth. As an American, you have a right to your own religious sensibilities, but please label them as such. By your own free admission you sincerely reject several basic teachings of the Catholic Church concerning the Eucharist, the commandments, the liturgy, and the afterlife. That's fine, but it's not Catholicism. It's "Trainorism" and should be labeled as such. The fact that you claim "half of Oak Park's Catholics" may agree with you is interesting, but irrelevant. There are a billion Catholics in the world. You can find a bunch that will agree with just about anything.
Fourth, show some respect for the religious beliefs of others. Would you have attacked a Jew or Muslim with such vindictiveness?
Ken Trainor owes an apology, and a public one, to Mr. Wemhoff. Dan Haley owes an apology to readers of WEDNESDAY JOURNAL for publishing this trash.
We should engage in civil discourse, not guard the gates of Heaven
I enjoyed Ken Trainor's use of the hall monitor/tattle-tale/theological enforcer metaphors in last week's column ("The spirit vs. the letter of the law"). They crystallize so much about the way I've been feeling for years about an attitude that has gained too much currency in the church. When I encounter that attitude, I always want to ask people what they think of Matthew 7:3-5 and Matthew 6:5-6, and (if I were in a caustic mood) why closet-praying isn't a sacrament.
It's not our job to be the keepers of the gate on God's behalf, and it's hard to know how to approach people who have placed themselves before the gate as defenders of the true and only heaven. I'm working my way through Robert Ellsberg's All Saints; and the saints he chose for yesterday's (Dec.2) reading were Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel, who were murdered, probably on Dec.2, 1980, in El Salvador by a death squad for their work on behalf of the poor through the Church. Ellsberg writes of them that, "Their murderers dared to call themselves Christians, indeed defenders of Christian values. And they died not simply for clinging to the true faith but for clinging, like Jesus, to the poor." When the guardians of the true faith start putting up signs in front of their churches telling people who don't agree with them that they are going to hell, or start telling people that they should be excommunicated, or that they should leave the country, or that their ideas are too immature to be tolerated, I find that frightening, not just because it seems the possibility for civil discourse has been shut off, but because it brings us one step closer to justifying whatever harm might befall the other and then either gloating or not bothering to care, all in the name of protecting "Christian" values and making sure the wrong people don't get into heaven.
Dov Baer of Mezritch, in his list of ethical ideas (I know this because I'm reading a book by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner on Jewish mysticism, not because I claim any particular expertise in ethics), wrote that, "A person needs to learn the habit of praying and singing in a soft voice and even to cry out to God in just a whisper...Even the cry that comes from communion with God should be in just a whisper." I think that's why the only "church" I feel comfortable in any more are the Taize services at Ascension. A real communion take place there?#34; again, as Dov Baer says, prayer becomes a way to "join with God in great communion." We are all kelipot, the broken shards of a formerly whole world, and our seeking after communion with God (devekut?#34;Unio mystica) is to participate in the tikkun olam, the repairing of the world, or what Jesus called the realization that the kingdom is among us.
"You will not be able to pray properly until you experience light surrounding you from every direction; feel that light everywhere." (Dov Baer again)
At this time of year, whether we celebrate Hanukkah, Dewali, Ramadan, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the solstice, or just the annual decorating of the house with strings of lights, instead of telling each other to go to hell, or to go to Cuba, or to stop being hypocrites, let's calm down, speak in a whisper, and try to find ways to share the light that don't amount to "only if you start to think the way I do."
Feelings of unity more suited for a block party than communion
This letter is in response to Ken Trainor's column "The spirit vs. the letter of the law." It would take far too long to dissect the dubious theology found in Mr. Trainor's December 1 column. However, I do feel compelled to set the record straight.
Mr. Trainor's take on Holy Communion is certainly unique, but not even close to the teaching of the church he claims membership in. The "poignant" feeling that comes over him, as an eclectic group of people pass by on their way to receive the "tasteless, unleavened wafer" and "inexpensive wine," is touching. I'm glad that he is able to get that lovely warm fuzzy feeling while partaking in this "symbolic feast." This said, I can't help but think that these affectionate sensations of "unity" are far more appropriate for his annual block party.
What Communion means to Mr. Trainor, "coming together in union," is wishy-washy when compared to the actual teaching of the Catholic Church. Communion, to all Catholics, should mean receiving the body and blood of Christ, and entering into union with God Himself. Instead of paying attention to "fellow communicants as they pass by," one should, according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, be making fervent acts of faith, hope, love, and contrition. Receiving Communion is a privilege that gives the recipient a close union with Jesus Christ, and is the greatest aid to living a holy life. Perhaps, Mr. Trainor would benefit by treating it as such, and in turn treat those who disagree with him with greater charity.
True Christian charity is helping one avoid a trip to hell
The furor in these pages over my VIEWPOINTS letter of November 17 reminds me of an anecdote about President Harry S. Truman. Once, a reporter asked Truman about his reputation as "Give-'em-hell-Harry." He replied, "I never gave anybody hell. I just spoke the truth, and they said it was hell."
I never?#34;publicly or privately?#34;wished damnation on anyone, as Dan Haley, Ken Trainor, and one of the letter-writers alleged. My exact words were not a curse but a statement of fact: "Why doesn't Bishop Paprocki excommunicate McNally, Dan Haley?Trainor, and Bowman? He doesn't have to. Under Canon Law 1364, 'an apostate from the faith, a heretic?or a schismatic incurs automatic?excommunication?' " My ending was "Pray for them and for McNally"?#34;hardly a malediction. The formal definition of a heretic is in Canon Law.
I think the sharp response to my letter is more than the usual case of liberals projecting their own mean-spiritedness onto others. In this age of relativism, I posited an absolute. In this age of unlimited license, I showed a limit. In this time of "primacy of conscience," I pricked mal-formed consciences with objective truth.
The attacks on the Faith in these pages are virtually a reprise of the Syllabus of Errors first proclaimed on this date, December 8, in 1864, by Pope Pius IX. The views of many modern Oak Park "Catholics" can be found in the 1907 encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis by Pope St. Pius X against the heresy of Modernism. And so much of what we hear from our pulpits is not authentic Catholic teaching. Father Edward O'Connor, CSC, wrote in the June, 1997, issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review: "A great apostasy is taking shape right now?#34;not by people openly leaving the Church, but by those who remain in it while distorting its doctrines."
Where does so much error come from? From two generations of catechesis based on balloons and the Beatles' phrase, "All you need is love." From local pastors with agendas. From some bishops who avoid teaching moments. From laity who prefer the broad, easy path to the "narrow gate" taught by Jesus. Ultimately, from Satan.
To refute all the attacks on the Faith would take more space than Katharine Grayson, editorial page editor, could allow. Instead, I suggest that my fellow villagers read Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church?#34;a 2,000 Year History. Written by H.W. Crocker III, a critically-acclaimed novelist and convert, it shows how the unchanging, eternal truths of the Magisterium have prevailed through the centuries. Read Crisis magazine, New Oxford Review, The Wanderer, This Rock, or any of the exploding number of orthodox Catholic publications. Visit Catholic Answers at www.catholic.com.
Today, December 8, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, Patroness of the United States. On this day, what is most needed is loyal submission to the Faith that her Divine Son founded. What is least-needed is the "independent thinking" of the fallen angels.
In a talk several years ago at St. Patrick's Parish in downtown Chicago, Francis Cardinal George was widely reported as proclaiming that "Liberal Catholicism is a failed experiment." Obviously, this message has not reached everyone in Oak Park.
Let me end by assuring Ken Trainor that, of course, I will greet you cheerfully whenever I see you. Petty unkindness is both a sin and unbecoming. And I hope that when we meet, Ken, we might talk. True Christian charity means not letting one's brother or sister run headlong into hell.
Joseph A. Wemhoff