I’m sure we are all pleased that the Linkers have been blessed with a son,
as Damon Linker reports in “Fatherhood,
2002” (November 2002). Moreover, it is good to know that mother and child
(and, we must now add, father) have passed successfully—indeed, triumphantly—through
the perils of gestation, labor, delivery, and middle–of–the–night lactation
it is always a tricky matter—not impossible, but tricky—for the relatively inexperienced
to offer their hard–earned wisdom to the relatively experienced. And those of
us sufficiently worn down by the years, who now get up a few times overnight
just to go to the bathroom ourselves rather than to see to the needs of a newborn,
may perhaps be forgiven for having our suspicions aroused by the fact that Mr.
Linker supposes that he and his wife have now gotten past “the most physically
and emotionally taxing era of parenting.” God bless you, Damon. May it be so
for the two of you. But I’d like a report twenty years or so from now, when
you may well look back on this time as a golden age. (I also note, just in passing,
that although Mr. Linker has the “parenting” lingo down, a reference to “my
wife” is still a bit hegemonic, drawing, as it does, the identity of Ms. Linker,
if she has taken that surname in preference to her father’s, rather too firmly
into the orbit of Mr. Linker.)
aroused by the notion that the toughest part might already be past, I began
to note other troubling aspects of Mr. Linker’s account of his experience of
fatherhood (if I may be just a bit archaic in my terminology). For example,
I found myself unable to decide whether his heroic middle–of–the–night labors
were motivated chiefly by a laudable effort to help Ms. Linker with burdensome
and tiring responsibilities, or whether they were motivated chiefly by a desire
for experiences he found personally fulfilling. (It is striking, for example,
that he should describe the unconditional love one gives to one’s child as a
gift the giver experiences. I had thought the point was that the child should
experience it.) I even detected a slight whiff of regret at his own inability
to lactate, a sad biological fact that should concern those gnostic enough to
think simply in terms of “parenting.” I’m sure he helped, and helped nobly,
on many occasions, but I found myself wondering whether it was just possible
that his desire for fulfilling experience might occasionally have deprived Ms.
Linker of moments feeding her son that could have been calm, still, even highly
sensuous—had it not been for her husband stumbling around in search of fulfillment.
But I may be wrong, and that is surely for the spouses themselves to decide.
Some other matters
are less reserved for private judgment. I am, for instance, surprised that Mr.
Linker, philosophically sophisticated as he is, should suppose that fashioning
a “thoroughly modern, egalitarian marriage” must ideally mean splitting all
tasks (lactation, alas, aside) down the middle with no division of labor. That
an egalitarian marriage can be structured in such a manner is, of course, obvious.
But it’s less clear to me why Mr. Linker supposes that (to borrow an analogy
from C. S. Lewis) stones laid in a row should be more appealing than an arch.
Moreover, I am quite confident that, if the day comes when Baby Linker is blessed
with brothers and sisters (known to him, perhaps, as siblings), Mr. Linker and
Ms. Linker will often come to see that equal treatment of these children does
not at all mean identical treatment.
Or again, there
is nothing wrong with spouses deciding to put less emphasis on their work outside
the home in order to share in the pleasures of domesticity (and it is that,
not sacrifice, that Mr. Linker actually has in mind). But I would find this
more persuasive were Mr. Linker less captive to the notion that being at home
with one’s child constitutes a horrible deprivation. With apologies to many
fine colleagues past and present, I often found the company of my young children
more interesting than the company of my colleagues. (I have, though, tried as
best I can to be guided by a truth that seems to me immutable: one’s children
are never as interesting to others as they are to oneself. I commend this truth
to Mr. Linker, lest the many predictable achievements of Baby Linker incite
in him the impulse to provide regular reports.)
is for my taste just a bit too much slaying of the father going on in Mr. Linker’s
essay. He does a disservice, I suspect, to his own father and to many other
fathers in his suggestion that only an experience of fatherhood like his own
(rather brief) experience can enact or express unconditional love. Working hard
to earn a living and thereby to provide for one’s children is surely at least
one way to enact such love. With all good will and with the hope that fatherhood
may continue to be as satisfying for him as it has thus far been, I commend
this possibility to Mr. Linker.
Damon Linker is definitely
on to something. As my forthcoming book, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: Religion,
Ideology, and Male Familial Involvement (University of Chicago Press), will
show in greater detail, the rising generation of fathers—especially Christian
fathers like Mr. Linker—are significantly more involved in the lives of their
children than were their fathers and grandfathers. But Mr. Linker goes beyond
his own experience as a father to speculate that contemporary fatherhood is
on course towards a thoroughgoing model of gender equality. He seems unaware
of the fact that the division of labor in contemporary American families remains
strongly gendered in practice, even though most couples subscribe to an egalitarian
ideology in theory.
fathers spend more time with their children than did previous generations, mothers
still do the lion’s share of child care (and household labor). In 1998, for
instance, the average father of children at home in the United States devoted
just slightly more than half the time to child care (fifty–seven minutes a day)
that the average mother did (104 minutes a day). One of the reasons that fathers
of children at home devote less time to their children than do mothers is that
the vast majority of these fathers work full–time outside the home, while a
majority of mothers do not. Consequently, married fathers with children at home
generally earn about 70 percent of their families’ income—that is, more than
twice as much as do married mothers. Thus, at least in the U.S., it does not
seem likely that we will be adopting the egalitarian model of family life advocated
by Mr. Linker anytime soon.
Even in European
countries like Sweden that provide generous, paid parental leave to both mothers
and fathers and strong cultural support for egalitarian norms, fathers are much
less likely than mothers to take time away from the labor force to be with their
children. Moreover, these countries also see women in the workforce tending
towards professions like daycare, education, and social services that enable
them to maintain some type of contact with children, and men tending towards
professions like business that have little to do with children. So even high
levels of female labor force participation can mask significant gender differences
in the ongoing level of connection that men and women have to the caring functions
traditionally ascribed to mothers.
Since the 1960s,
the United States has witnessed dramatic gains in paternal involvement among
fathers who reside with their children (sadly, a shrinking share of the population
of fathers). But Mr. Linker should not confuse his brief experience as a “new
man,” and perhaps the experience of his well–educated peers, with trends in
the nation as a whole. The day when the average American father is up with baby
on a 50–50 basis is by no means in sight.
W. Bradford Wilcox
Department of Sociology
University of Virginia
While I appreciate almost any effort to glorify fatherhood, I believe Damon
Linker’s “Fatherhood, 2002”
suffers from several core errors. These errors lead him astray as he attempts
to discern the role of fathers in contemporary society.
First, Mr. Linker
perceives a generational gap between him and his elders concerning the role
of a father. His argument seems to be that attending childbirth classes and
being present during the birth of his son have given him and his cohort an entirely
new and different perspective on fatherhood. As Mr. Linker and I are only a
year or two apart in age, I suggest that this difference is not generational,
but instead experiential. Might not the critical difference between Mr. Linker
and his fifty–something interlocutor be not that the former was permitted into
labor and delivery, but instead that the latter has actually raised a child—and
probably more than one—to adulthood? I would suggest that it is the eighteen–plus
years of experience as a father, and not the absence of a therapeutic childbirth
class, that has created the “gap” Mr. Linker experiences.
Second, Mr. Linker
has fallen into the trap that social science graduate students are taught to
avoid from their first day of training. He has extrapolated from his data. Mr.
Linker has three key experiential points—the pre–birth coursework he attended
with his wife, the (vicarious) experience of childbirth, and six months of tending
a newborn infant. From these experiences, Mr. Linker creates an “egalitarian”
paradigm to cover experiences—the birth of a second child, schooling, sibling
rivalries, puberty, watching children leave home—about which he knows nothing.
This is not to say that one cannot speak about things one has not experienced,
but Mr. Linker hinges his essay on the universality of his personal experience,
leaving his argument lacking where that experience ends.
From his data,
Mr. Linker derives an authoritative endorsement of egalitarian “parenting.”
Yet, as Harvey Mansfield has forcefully reminded us, the verb “to parent” is
a recent addition to our language. While the distinction is hard to discern
when the object is a six–month–old infant, I would maintain that Mr. Linker
will soon find out that his job is not “to parent,” but instead “to father”—an
entirely different task (albeit with some overlapping responsibilities) than
“to mother.” Mr. Linker seems to believe that an egalitarian marriage must necessarily
be an androgynous one. Does he really wish the androgynization of marriage—and
by extension, society—to proceed to the point where “parenting” is all that
a child requires, or deserves? Does he realize where the logic of his argument
leads? To bring up just one difficulty, perhaps Mr. Linker could explain the
behavior of similarly egalitarian “new men” in Western Europe, with their below–replacement
fertility and high rates of extramarital cohabitation.
I do not believe
Mr. Linker realizes how much his “egalitarian” marriage rests on the relatively
easy nature of the work he performs (try staying up with the baby after several
successive overtime shifts at the mill) and the fact that he has only one child.
If he is blessed with more children, I suspect he will find that certain stubborn
facts—specialization, division of labor, comparative advantage—might cause him
to question his androgynous model.
essay is not without merit, as he does highlight—following Christopher Lasch
and Allen Carlson, inter alia—the tensions that traditional families have faced
in post–agrarian society. And his concern that the dignity of women not be sacrificed
to societal transformation is certainly a valid one. But Mr. Linker seems to
believe that only women have been affected by these societal changes, and that
adapting to our new world requires abandoning traditional sexual roles. Does
he really believe that nature is so fragile that a century of industrialization
and automation has rendered it obsolete?
There are certainly
tensions between contemporary society and the family. But I would maintain that
people of faith should not surrender to these tensions, but instead resist them.
And let me assure Mr. Linker that men, as well as women, feel the strain. No
one, male or female, can “have it all.” But men will simply never feel these
tensions to the same extent as do women. Neither Mr. Linker nor I will ever—no
matter how supportive we attempt to be—be able to ovulate or lactate. Biology
has consequences. I would suggest that Mr. Linker accept this fact, get a good
night’s sleep, and perhaps wake up with his son early in the morning to permit
his wife a few hours uninterrupted rest.
Douglas A. Ollivant
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
My husband and I have something in common with Damon Linker, author of “Fatherhood,
2002.” We too have a new baby boy, born August 2, 2002. Our son joins seven
older sisters and brothers. How commendable for Mr. Linker to get up in the
wee hours to keep his wife company while she nurses the baby; however, my dear
husband is skeptical that a significantly older Mr. Linker will still be doing
so with their eighth newborn.
“thoroughly modern, egalitarian marriage in which equality of obligations is
the default position” seems appealing on the surface. He anticipates that he
and his wife will both work outside the home, and dodge the babysitter tension
by sharing equally the responsibilities of child–rearing. Realistically, I think
this will be difficult and stressful to achieve. To avoid daycare, parents will
need complementary part–time jobs, full–time swing shifts, or home–based employment.
I am sure Mr. Linker, supportive as he sounds, would not demand that his wife
be out bringing home an equal amount of bacon because he did half the housework.
But there is a regrettable modern phenomenon of husbands who prefer a maximum
wifely paycheck and full–time daycare for the youngsters over supporting a wife
as a stay–at–home mother to the children.
I can testify
from experience that the Linkers may find traditionally female–dominated fields
more compatible with their need for flexibility in employment. Nurtured on the
1960s barrage of feminist ideals and self–fulfillment indoctrination, I chose
to study the nontraditional (for women) field of engineering. Not until my childbearing
years did I realize that part–time and/or flexible jobs in this field are not
the norm. I am encouraging my own daughters to carefully consider the demands
of mothering when choosing a career path, and they are leaning toward more flexible
careers in the medical field and education.
While Mr. Linker
poignantly recognizes that “there’s no substitute for the act of devoting oneself
to another person,” he still seems to think that a career is the answer to the
possibility that a stay–at–home mother might be lonely at home, and he does
not want women to “suppress their desire for the goods that come from pursuing”
a career. However, there is a cost involved for the family and the church when
women choose en masse the lure of money and recognition rather than the self–sacrificial
route of the homemaker. Relief of loneliness and acquisition of worldly goods
cannot compete with the supreme calling of the stay–at–home mom to lay down
her life for others, and the intangible rewards of pursuing that call. She can
minister to the needs of husband and children and, unlike her working counterpart,
may still have some time and energy to volunteer, “to show hospitality, wash
the feet of the saints, relieve the afflicted, and devote herself to doing good
in every way” as did the commended woman of 1 Timothy 5:10.
Houghton, New York
Damon Linker is a good modern husband. He is attentive, sensitive, and conscientious
about doing his 50 percent to make a successful egalitarian marriage. He is
also a new father, and in good Fatherhood
2002 style, Daddy Linker does more than the customary share of feeding,
changing, holding, and rocking. It gives him a great deal of satisfaction to
contribute his fair share.
But he and his
wife have been doing full–time Parenthood 2002 for a while now, and it’s time
for mom to decide whether to stay home with the baby or go to work. Mr. Linker
is, of course, supportive of his wife as she faces this “tragic choice.” Being
an intelligent man, one whose occupation requires thinking rationally, he is
well–suited to do the pragmatic and moral calculations necessary to playing
his role in the team decision–making process.
up the pros and cons, this is what he comes up with. Feminist ideology is here
to stay—a point for mom working. Lack of handy extended family members—point
for working. Male–egalitarian–partner types can’t ask women to “suppress their
desire for the goods that come from pursuing an occupation outside the home”—another
point for working. Women need the “public recognition of the workplace”—working.
The length of the maternity and paternity leaves granted under Family and Medical
Leave Act are too short—working scores again.
To be fair, Mr.
Linker tries to help the stay–at–home side by considering the point of view
of “premodern” conservatives. He sympathizes with traditionalists like his parents,
but he can’t, in the end, give credit to the arguments of an old–fashioned generation
that made expectant dads wait in the Stork Room during delivery.
So, after weighing
the arguments advanced by feminism, materialism, and progressivism, Mr. Linker
concludes that some kind of daycare arrangement is obviously justifiable. QED.
I suppose modern
readers would think it petty if someone pointed out that all the arguments on
the working side of his equation are either non sequitors, not true, or what
we used to call vices. And far be it from me to be insensitive to a nice young
husband’s stress faced with the heavy moral calculus required to Have It All.
But someone needs to tell Mr. Linker that there’s a crucial constant missing
from his equation—the B–A–B–Y. It seems that Childhood 2002 means being the
forgotten factor in the moral equation.
Thank you for publishing Damon
Linker’s moving and intelligent dispatch from the front lines of first–time
fatherhood. It is all too easy for a conservative to confuse “how things were
done fifty years ago” with “how nature means for things to be done,” and Mr.
Linker exhorts us to shake off any such confusion. It may suit the modern economy
for families to send fathers out to earn bread and keep women home to bake it;
it is less clear that such an arrangement is suitable to the needs of parents’
and children’s souls. Do we imagine St. Joseph would have been satisfied to
be with Jesus only a little each evening and on the weekends?
have argued for nearly a century that men and women have no intrinsic differences,
only conventional ones. While this claim seems evidently false to anyone with
the slightest experience of life—let alone the experience of raising boys and
girls—it does not therefore follow that men’s and women’s spheres must be as
separate and distinct as possible. Children benefit from spending substantial
amounts of time with their fathers: How can we ask our children to love God
the Father if that appellation suggests to them a deity with little spare time
for children and not much knack for ordinary daily caring and loving? Fathers
benefit likewise from the experience of tenderness given and received, over
and over, with patience and exasperation and boredom and hope. Mothers, too,
benefit when fathers spend more time fathering: suddenly spaces open up in their
lives for prayer, for volunteer work, for wage–earning, for reading novels and
maintaining friendships and all the things that get pushed aside by the needs
of young children. How many women might consider that third child (or fourth?
or fifth?) if they thought it would not mean the end of the necessary quiet
spaces in their lives?
I disagree with Damon Linker
about the importance of stay–at–home moms to the raising of children. Yes, our
society has changed, but the fundamental needs of our children have not. Despite
feminism’s claims, many intelligent, well–educated women have put public recognition
and the pursuit of a career aside to commit full time to the important task
of raising their children—sometimes, as in my case, at great financial sacrifice.
I have done this because I think there is nothing more rewarding than raising
physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy children, and because I believe
it is one of the most important things I will ever do.
I am not concerned
with feminist ideology or with the “egalitarian tendencies of modernity,” neither
of which seems to have resulted in the raising of better children. What I am
concerned with is being there when ten–month–old Elizabeth takes her first step,
watching five–year–old David get off the school bus, and listening to two–year–old
Mary happily chatter away. My children will always know that their mom considered
being with them more important than pursing a career as an attorney.
Yes, at times
my life seems unappealing. While other women my age in my profession are consulting
with clients and bringing in sizable incomes, I am changing diapers and pinching
pennies in order to pay off my school loan. Yes, at times I feel isolated, but
the rewards are much greater than any sacrifice that I make. My children are
special, irreplaceable gifts from God, and I am richly blessed and honored that
He has afforded me the privilege of raising these precious human beings. I trust
Mr. Linker and his wife will think long and hard about their son’s needs before
deciding who will be there for him.
Fergus Falls, Minnesota
It was a Saturday morning when I read “Fatherhood,
2002,” and I had just changed the diaper of my nine–month–old. A few feet
away, my four–year–old was watching Saturday morning cartoons. I was minding
the little ones so that my wife, now pregnant with our fourth child, could have
a chance to sleep in. Mr. Linker’s advice that fathers should help out more
in the home was certainly apropos; and of course it’s hard to argue with that.
However, his other advice was not well taken by this father of four, holder
of two demanding jobs, and husband of a stay–at–home mom, even in the twenty–first
What I take issue
with is Mr. Linker’s position that traditional (he used the very telling term
“premodern”) marriage roles—in which the father earns the family keep, and the
mother cares for the children and home—are neither possible nor desirable for
“most people.” One of Mr. Linker’s main reasons is that traditional roles “face
powerful opposition from feminist ideology.” With all due respect, if we start
down the slippery slope of worrying about feminist opposition, we will end by
rejecting not just traditional roles, but fatherhood itself. Feminist ideology
has already demonstrated a preference for same–sex relationships and non–procreative
sex. The real question is not whether fathers will face opposition from feminists
(they already do), but whether the opposition deserves respect and acceptance.
I am also uncertain
what is meant by “a thoroughly modern, egalitarian marriage.” Mr. Linker mentions
this in contrast with “male friends from an older generation.” For my own part,
I am older than Mr. Linker, but only by five years; I might therefore be considered
of the same generation, and yet I find myself consciously and deliberately “out
of step” with my generation. The reason? My prior commitment to the God of Judeo–Christian
revelation, who was, generally speaking, accepted by the “older generation”
and rejected by mine (though there are signs He is making a comeback). Anyone
who really accepts and understands Judeo–Christian tradition will find the teaching
clear, even if often glossed over: the husband is—or at least should be—the
head of the family. While it is very nice to say one’s marriage is “egalitarian,”
the honest truth is that there can be no absolute equality in a marriage—unless
it becomes a divorce. A marriage is like a couple dancing a waltz. Both dancers
are equally important; however, one leads, the other follows. Otherwise they
eventually go separate ways and there is no more dance (partnership) to speak
of. I do not presume to judge the case of Mr. Linker, but in my experience,
most couples who tout their “egalitarian marriage” are cases in which the wife
is playing the role of head, but neither she nor her husband are likely to admit
it. Absolute egalitarianism in marriage is at best a noble, if unattainable,
goal, and at worst an invitation to self–deception and hypocrisy.
L. A. Carstens
Damon Linker replies:
When I submitted “Fatherhood,
2002” to my fellow editors, I warned them that it might be controversial.
My endorsement of government–supported paternity leave would, I surmised, generate
some annoyance on the part of our more libertarian readers. But my colleagues
knew better. Every one of them predicted that my advocacy of “thoroughly modern,
egalitarian marriage” and parental roles would be far more contentious. How
right they were.
Meilaender’s charming letter raises or gestures toward many of the criticisms
launched in the others, I will begin with his. Professor Meilaender thinks he
has caught me in a contradiction—or even a series of them. On the one hand,
I indicate that I did my best to help my wife immediately after the birth of
our son in an effort to relieve her of “burdensome and tiring responsibilities”;
on the other, I appear to have been motivated to do so by a “desire for experiences
[I] found personally fulfilling.” Likewise, he notes that I consider “the unconditional
love one gives to one’s child” to be a “gift the giver experiences” when, in
fact, “the point” of such a gift should be that “the child . . . experience[s]
it.” Prof. Meilaender implies that these contradictions or tensions reveal an
underlying confusion on my part: while I sometimes treat “being at home with
one’s child [as] . . . a horrible deprivation” and “sacrifice,” at other places
I write as if I long to enjoy the “pleasures of domesticity.”
To judge from
some of the other letters, Prof. Meilaender is not alone in his perplexity.
Vivian Rohe, for example, praises the “self–sacrificial route of the homemaker”
and condemns me for assuming that one can raise children without a cost. Judy
O’Neill, by contrast, apparently believes that I consider the life of a full–time
homemaker to be one of unremitting drudgery—and that my wife and I have decided
to rely on daycare in order to allow her to avoid it. (For the record, we have
no such plans.)
So which is it?
Do I think that caring for one’s children is a burden or something from which
we benefit? As I worked very hard to make clear in my essay, I think it is both.
Indeed, I must admit to being somewhat dismayed that so many readers failed
to understand that I meant to be making the simple and obvious, but also profound,
point that raising children involves sacrifice as well as joy—and even that,
paradoxically, the former can lead to the latter, which is something to which
Ms. Rohe rightly draws our attention when she writes of “the intangible rewards
of pursuing . . . [the] call” to devote one’s life to another. I thus consider
raising a child to be a very great good, although also a complex one that requires
the sacrifice of other goods on the part of both parents.
I suspect that
confusion about my position arose, at least in part, from the fact that I meant
to emphasize that mothers and fathers have traditionally had to make very different
kinds (and degrees) of sacrifices in raising children—and that these differences
have changed over time. Men, for instance, have traditionally been called upon
to sacrifice relatively little, since their role as provider for the household
did not fundamentally change with the arrival of children; whether a couple
had no children, one child, or several, the man’s responsibility consisted primarily
in supporting the family financially by going to work outside the home.
With these traditional
husbands and fathers in mind, Prof. Meilaender informs us that “working hard
to earn a living and thereby to provide for one’s children” is perfectly compatible
with “enact[ing] or express[ing] unconditional love.” I’m sure it is. Still,
I wonder why he so stubbornly resists the possibility that, in contributing
more than they traditionally have to the life of the home—that is, in recognizing
the domestic goods (and sacrifices) from which their traditional roles have
excluded them—fathers might become capable of enacting or expressing that love
in a purer, more direct way.
and rewards faced by women—traditionally assigned to the task of caring for
the children full–time in the home—have been very different. As I pointed out
in my column, the structure of premodern social life provided substantial support
to mothers. But today that structure has largely broken down, frequently leaving
them isolated and overwhelmed (as Diane Grotberg, for one, admits). Moreover,
many women (and not only women) have come to realize that their exclusion from
activities outside the home was based largely on false assumptions about their
natural capacities and the activities to which they are naturally suited. (I’ll
return to the issue of nature in a moment.) The result is that women today find
themselves divided between the same competing (private and public) goods as
men, although for many women the division is much more stark.
are the tensions that define modern fatherhood and motherhood—and it is the
attempt to mitigate them that leads so many families to pursue the egalitarian
ideal I sketched in my column. W. Bradford Wilcox (along with L. A. Carstens
and Ms. Rohe) is certainly right to note that, in practice, “the division of
labor in contemporary American families remains strongly gendered.” Yet surely
the fact that, as Prof. Wilcox concedes, most couples today “subscribe to an
egalitarian ideology in theory” is, historically speaking, a profoundly significant
change that will have important long–term consequences for the structure of
the family, even if “the day when the average American father is up with baby
on a 50–50 basis is by no means in sight.”
And here we come
to the heart of the matter. Confusions about my position aside, perhaps the
most striking thing about the letters is their almost uniform hostility to my
praise for an alternative to the hierarchical model of marriage. Many were inspired
by this praise to defend the traditional family structure against what they
took to be my assault upon it (what Prof. Meilaender calls my “slaying of the
father”). These defenses take a number of forms. Some, like Ms. O’Neill and
Mr. Carstens, seek to defend tradition as such, baldly asserting that (in Carstens’
words) “the husband is—or at least should be—the head of the family.” I must
admit to finding such declarations unpersuasive. One problem with them is that
they presuppose the existence of a coherent, intact “tradition” on these matters
that, for many of us, no longer exists. Despite what Ms. O’Neill thinks she
can infer from my column, my own family, for example, was far from traditional.
My parents divorced when I was eight years old, I’ve had no contact with my
mother since I was nine, and my younger brother and I were raised exclusively
by my father from that time forward. Needless to say, for children of such untraditional
households, appeals to the tradition of the stay–at–home mom and the full–time
working dad can’t help but sound like a call to innovation.
And this points
to the more fundamental problem with such appeals—namely, that tradition is
considered to be prescriptive only when we believe that it embodies, reflects,
or expresses truths that transcend the merely traditional. What I understood
myself to be doing in my column was simply describing a situation in which growing
numbers of husbands and wives no longer believe that the traditional division
of labor in the family adequately embodies, reflects, or expresses the truth
about how best to answer the call to love and serve one another and their children.
of the limits of appealing to mere tradition can be detected in some of the
letters. Hence Prof. Meilaender’s and Douglas A. Ollivant’s (tentative) attempts
to bring in notions of human nature. Yet even here, I am struck by how weak
the arguments are. Oddly enough, both authors speculate that my desire to participate
more fully in raising my son is somehow connected to a deep–seated longing to
lactate. The proposal would seem to imply that Messrs. Meilaender and Ollivant
believe traditional family roles are linked in some mysterious way to a woman’s
ability to breastfeed, although, unfortunately, they never explain the connection—just
as they fail to confront the fact that breastfeeding was actively discouraged
by doctors and social norms in the middle decades of the twentieth century,
when the traditional division of labor in the family was rarely questioned.
All of which reluctantly leads me to conclude that their suggestion has about
as much substance—and perhaps the same intention behind it—as a playground taunt
To the bit about
lactation, Mr. Ollivant adds the observation that women alone can ovulate. True
enough. Though in this case, too, I fail to see what such a biological fact
tells us about the suitability of either parent for raising (as opposed to conceiving
and birthing) children. (I’d also like to suggest to Mr. Ollivant that he apply
his very sensible warnings about the dangers of extrapolating from available
data to his thoroughly unsubstantiated assertions about a link between the prevalence
of “new men” in Europe and the continent’s “below –replacement fertility and
high rates of extramarital cohabitation.”)
I’m afraid that
if the hierarchical family has any hope of surviving in the long term, it’s
going to require a better defense than this. I, for one, doubt that such a defense
is possible—as does, I presume, Jennifer DeRose, whose praise I note with gratitude.
The traditional family’s stark division of labor is simply too much at odds
with the way too many of us now live and think about what it means for a husband
to “love his wife as himself” (Ephesians 5:33). Eventually most Americans—if
not the authors of the most critical letters, then almost certainly their kids—will
come to accept and affirm the not–so–radical proposition that, for their own
sake no less than that of their wives and children, fathers can and should contribute
more to the family than a paycheck.
Mary Ann Glendon’s trenchant analysis in “The
Hour of the Laity” (November 2002) points ineluctably to the emerging dilemma
for those concerned to find the appropriate role for lay people in the current
crisis of the Church in the United States.
On the one hand,
the proper and specific sphere for lay participation in the Church’s mission
is—as Vatican II, Pope John Paul II, and common sense all indicate—the secular
order (“the world”). On the other hand, not just the current crisis but the
right ordering of relationships within the Christian community both demand a
heightened role for the laity within Church structures and institutions, including
a meaningful part in the shaping of decisions. We have hardly begun the hard
but crucial task of sorting–out that this situation requires.
As this work
goes forward, it will be essential to set aside the clericalist mentality, common
to so many laity and clergy alike, that raises obstacles to clear thinking.
Flannery O’Connor got it exactly right. When someone asked her, back in 1959,
why she, a Catholic writer, wrote so much about Protestant zealots, she replied:
“To a lot of Protestants I know, monks and nuns are fanatics, none greater.
And to a lot of the monks and nuns I know, my Protestant prophets are fanatics.
For my part, I think the only difference between them is that if you are a Catholic
and have this intensity of belief you join a convent and are heard from no more;
whereas if you are a Protestant and have it, there is no convent for you to
join and you go about in the world, getting into all sorts of trouble and drawing
the wrath of people who don’t believe anything much at all down on your head.”
remarkably acute; and it cuts more ways than one. It is not necessary to be
an aging ’60s–style Catholic dissident, as Professor Glendon unfortunately suggests,
to believe that clericalism—which reserves a truly serious living of faith,
whether in the Church or in the world, to clerics and religious—must finally
go. Only then will a comprehensive response to the crisis on the part of the
Catholic laity truly be possible.
The Catholic reader, saturated but still shocked at ongoing “Scandal Time,”
turns eagerly to Professor Mary Ann Glendon’s article “The
Hour of the Laity” for some help, as she puts it, in seeing things “afresh.”
A lawyer’s clarity, perhaps, or at least the fresh insight of an observant layperson.
But the tip–off
to the inadequacy of her interesting comments comes very early: the “sleeping
giant” body of laity is beginning to stir—roused by media coverage
of clerical misconduct. Is the coverage to be yet again complained
of? What is missing, of course, as the reader continues, is any discussion at
all of the role of the bishops. As Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, and
others have repeatedly pointed out, the present scandal is two–edged—clerical
abuse and episcopal malfeasance. The outrage among the laity in Boston,
for example, now described as the crisis epicenter, is primarily directed at
Bernard Cardinal Law’s cover–up policy. But Prof. Glendon finds no need to even
mention the bishops until the fifth page of a seven–page article and the word
“clericalism” never appears at all. One might have expected that the habladors
of which she speaks would turn out to be the episcopacy, but, no, they are the
assimilated theologians, educators, and clergy.
have indeed been repeatedly addressed by letters from the popes and called by
the fathers of Vatican II; Prof. Glendon thinks they “have lost a lot of mail,”
but where was the letter carrier? Isn’t the shepherd–teacher the carrier of
the message to the laity?
There have been some attempted
lay initiatives aimed at engaging the secular culture, at the evangelization
for which Vatican II called and for which Pope John Paul II pleaded in his largely
ignored exhortation, Christifideles Laici. Nationally, Catholic Campaign
for America has flopped; Catholic Alliance has flopped. Neither had much support
from the bishops and, in fact, Catholic Alliance was kicked by at least two
bishops as it stumbled out of the starting gate.
Sounding ever more like a defensive
spear carrier for the bishops, Prof. Glendon goes on to attack the presumptuousness
of Boston’s Voice of the Faithful (VOTF)—a mixed bag of dissenters and of enraged
Catholics loyal to the Magisterium—purporting to speak for all the laity and
also to flog the hapless Governor Frank Keating. How quickly it is forgotten
that Keating was appointed by the self–applauding, media–driven bishops at Dallas,
along with Leon Panetta and Bob Bennett; these are secular political choices
already regretted. (One has to wonder who authored the attack on Keating in
the Boston Pilot where his words were distorted to suggest that
he was urging protesting Catholics to skip Mass.)
It is obvious that the laity do
have to be energized to become evangelizers, reminded of their history in the
extended sense. This has to come from the bishops who need to heed the Pope’s
call to “be not afraid.” The bishops have to emerge from under their desks,
use their crosiers, and be shepherds. The crosier was once known as the “rod
of correction.” It is dispiriting to learn of one cardinal saying that he was
“happy” with the way the bishops had handled the crisis and of another shepherd
who described himself on the radio as but a “saluter.” (In my own diocese, after
dilatory reaction to three distinct scandals, the bishop worsened the public
relations—read evangelization—disaster by having a letter read in every parish
in which he insists—five times—that he acts “immediately.”)
Vatican II did indeed call for
lay participation in the Church and in the evangelization of the culture. It
has not happened. Instead of heading out from the pews to engage the culture,
part of the congregation wanted to assimilate and part wanted to charge into
the sanctuary. Confusion and blurring of roles abounded as to proper ministry
and the nature of evangelization. Clericalism continued in its two formats:
collegial clericalism in which the fraternity bonds together to protect the
image, and condescending clericalism in which the “pray, pay, and obey” attitude
toward the laity continued and even the advisory parish council concept collapsed.
An understanding needs to be reached
as to how this hierarchy–laity cooperation can really work. Voice of the Faithful
may be dismissable as a bunch of tired Call–to–Action types, seizing the opportunity
that the crisis presents to push old agendas, but the reality remains that the
episcopacy has not figured out how to cope with and motivate a laity too assimilated,
too sophisticated in a secular way. As but one glaring example, the bishops’
educational efforts have been so diffused and the bishops personally so risk–averse
that the majority of Catholics have no problem routinely supporting pro–abortion
Before the long–awaited “hour
of the laity” can even begin, there must be a modus vivendi worked out between
the neo–Protestantism that the enragées of VOTF seem to invite and which Prof.
Glendon fears, on the one hand, and the condescending and collegial clericalism
which Prof. Glendon does not mention, on the other. The bishops have to act
like bishops, ignore the secular media, become countercultural, and find the
courage to use their crosiers.
Mary Ann Glendon’s portrait, “The
Hour of the Laity,” is incomplete. Her comments on faith illiteracy and
the need for greater adult formation are valid. Yet she has overlooked two fundamental
elements: trust and leadership—especially from the clergy and the hierarchy.
I know quite a few committed faithful
lay Catholics, steeped in fidelity to the Magisterium, who have devoted their
talents to evangelization. Sadly, they have become disenchanted with the substandard
business and administrative practices that got in the way of fulfilling the
mission. In one particular case, a strongly pro–life woman with superb credentials
in fund–raising and communications raised serious legitimate concerns about
the institution’s investment policy and related fiduciary practices. The reaction
from management and board leadership (both lay and episcopal) was dismissive
and evasive. When she relayed this experience to a highly respected priest–friend,
his comment was, “One thing you need to learn about the Catholic Church is that
it values loyalty over honesty.”
While devout Catholics will readily
agree that the Church is fundamentally a sacramental communion, it is also true
that the Church must operate as an institution. It is in this arena that the
Church has much to learn from its counterparts in other faiths—particularly
regarding financial support, where Catholic giving is far behind. Since philanthropy
is rooted in trust, our Church leadership must come to terms with the full impact
of the mistrust that has arisen from the clergy sexual–abuse scandal.
It is on these very temporal matters
that the Church is much in need of reform, both structurally and culturally.
The laity, faithful and literate, stands ready to serve.
Susan Emily Jordan
Mary Ann Glendon’s “The Hour
of the Laity,” an analysis of American Catholicism’s loss of identity, also
accurately describes the situation of confessional Protestants (Lutheran, Reformed).
As our ethnically connected communities (Swedish, German, Dutch) disperse and
the privatizing pressures of American culture intensify, we too find it increasingly
difficult to maintain a living confessional heritage. Our storytellers also
seek out other stories to tell. And in my own denomination (the Christian Reformed
Church) we also see a growing democratizing of our institutional church life
accompanying the decline in awareness of Reformed identity. I find Professor
Glendon’s analysis illuminating, challenging, and encouragingly hopeful. Thank
It seems to me that there is another
dimension to her analysis. Does the public silence of the laity not receive
implicit encouragement when the institutional Church itself through its bishops,
assemblies, synods, and social justice offices enters the public arena as one
more political lobbying group? When the Church goes beyond sending President
Bush a letter reminding him of Christianity’s traditional teaching on just war
and asks him to consider these criteria in dealing with world terrorism, and
instead specifically writes to tell him that it is against the gospel to invade
Iraq, what happens? First, the laity receives a message that its public involvement
as believers is not necessary. After all, the official Church is already
publicly witnessing for Christ and the gospel. What is every bit as serious
is the message sent to the laity that their political judgment as Christians
is not to be trusted. After all, there may be church members who come to the
“wrong” conclusion. Now partisan politics becomes identified with the gospel
itself and political disagreement becomes dissent from the gospel.
I submit that this is an untenable
position for the Church. The irony is that in a feverish desire to be relevant
and involved in public life, to equip God’s people for more active service in
the broader arena of culture and society, the institutional Church may in fact
be contributing to immobilizing the laity. The result would be an even greater
loss of identity, with the Church’s story known by fewer and fewer. The lesson?
The Church may be more relevant when as an institution it in fact does less.
Professor of Systematic Theology
Calvin Theological Seminary
Grand Rapids, Michigan
I commend you for Mary Ann Glendon’s “The
Hour of the Laity,” which is an excellent and timely article. I would like
to make two comments on the article, the first being a friendly correction and
the second a friendly amendment.
Professor Glendon describes a
“great upsurge . . . of lay associations, formation programs, and ecclesial
movements. These groups, so varied in their charisms, so rich in storytellers,
are providing a way for Catholics to stay in touch with each other and with
their tradition under diaspora conditions.” She then gives a list of such groups,
among which she includes Opus Dei, mistakenly in my view. Opus Dei is not an
association, a formation program, or an ecclesial movement. It would not even
be correct to call it a “lay organization,” at least not any more correct than
it is to call the Archdiocese of Boston a “lay organization.” Opus Dei was founded
by a priest, has a bishop at its head, and numbers many priests and bishops
among its members; its full name, before it was erected as a personal prelature,
was the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei. This is surprising
to many people who know that the great majority of the faithful of Opus Dei
are laypeople, but to notice this is to make a theological point very much in
tune with the rest of Prof. Glendon’s article.
The charism of Opus Dei is secularity,
which describes a missionary outlook rather than a state of life. Secularity
implies that Christians look to the created world and the age in which they
live not as an enemy to be fought or as a disease from which to be cured, but
as something to be loved and redeemed.
Secularity does not mean secularism,
which is loving the world without attempting to order it toward God’s will.
Rather, it is the conviction that Christ became incarnate and founded the Church
in the world so as to sanctify all that is good and noble around us. This conviction,
and the outlook and practices that follow from it, can be shared by anyone,
priests as well as laypeople, which is why priests as well as laypeople can
join Opus Dei. Since there are vastly more laypeople than priests, it only makes
sense that there are vastly more laypeople than priests in Opus Dei. The large
absolute number of lay faithful in Opus Dei to some extent follows from its
charism, rather than being essential to it. (Obviously, Opus Dei hasn’t cornered
the market on secularity, any more than the Franciscans have cornered the market
on poverty; the particular role of Opus Dei is to foster and teach secularity,
and to form people to love the world passionately and pursue holiness just as
Secularity is opposed to a theological
tendency, influenced by the beauty of the monastic vocation with its contemptus
mundi (“contempt for the world”), to act as though to follow Christ completely
requires that everyone, not just those with a monastic vocation, must reject
the world and witness to the life to come where we will live “as angels” (Matthew
22:30). It is also opposed to the view Prof. Glendon describes in her article:
that “the best way for the laity to be active is to be involved in ecclesiastical
governance.” I found Glendon’s quotation from Basil Cardinal Hume to be exactly
right: the Christian’s task is to evangelize the world, and an excessive attention
to the workings of the Church is almost always an unhelpful distraction.
Daniel P. Moloney
Doctoral Candidate in
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
Mary Ann Glendon replies:
Russell Shaw hits the nail on
the head when he writes that we must set aside the clericalist mentality if
we are ever to properly sort out the relationship between clergy and laity both
within the secular order and within the institutional Church. Mr. Shaw understands,
as Charles Molineaux and Susan Jordan do not, that clericalism afflicts the
laity as well as the clergy. That mentality leads to confusion in both spheres
about their complementary roles in evangelization, and to passivity on the part
of laypeople just where their active presence as Christians is most needed—in
public and professional life.
Mr. Molineaux’s clericalism displays
itself in his complaints that bishops have not been “letter carriers” of papal
messages to the laity and have failed to remind us laypeople of our history
and our mission. I, too, would welcome more vigorous teaching by bishops, but
does Mr. Molineaux really need a bishop to point him to what is written to and
about laypeople in Christifideles Laici? Mr. Molineaux takes me to task
for devoting little attention to bishops in my article on the laity. If I were
writing about bishops, I would readily agree with him that they ought to “ignore
the secular media” and “become countercultural.” Mr. Molineaux would have done
well to heed that advice himself last spring before using or being used by the
secular media to call for the resignation of Bernard Law, one of this nation’s
most countercultural (prolife, pro–poor) cardinals.
Ms. Jordan characterizes my article
on the laity as “incomplete” for failing to criticize the bishops. Her letter,
however, is incomplete in a more troubling way. Over the past year, Ms. Jordan
has been prominently featured as a leader and organizer on the Voice of the
Faithful website. Her letter speaks of trust, but her neglect to mention that
affiliation does not inspire confidence. The letter puts me in mind of what
Dr. Johnson once said of a dinner guest: “The more he talked of honor, the faster
I counted my spoons.”
It is hard to know what to make
of Ms. Jordan’s vague allegation that the “business practices” of unnamed Church
leaders interfered with “evangelization” by an unnamed lay woman. This sounds
to me like one side of an employment dispute. Since when did lay people have
to receive a salary in order to bring Christ to the world? As Paule Verdet,
a veteran of Catholic Action who teaches at Boston University, recently wrote
to me, “The formula chosen by Voice of the Faithful to express their goal, ‘Keep
the faith and change the Church,’ means very little to me. I’d rather say, ‘Live
the faith and change the world!’”
No less problematic than clericalization
of the laity is secularization of the clergy. I am grateful, therefore, to Professor
Bolt for making the important point that inappropriate involvement in worldly
affairs by ministers, priests, and bishops may well have contributed to the
reluctance of many lay people to take the initiative to be active as Christians
in public life.
Finally, Daniel Moloney is correct
to point out that, strictly speaking, Opus Dei is not a “lay organization.”
In response to his friendly letter, I can only say that I used a shorthand term
for the sake of verbal economy and that I am happy to have furnished the occasion
for his more accurate description of that, um, personal prelature.
Without going into the tactical merits of the current approach of the National
Foundation for Life (NFFL) to “personhood litigation,” I would like to challenge
the logic of Paul Benjamin Linton’s argument against it (“How
Not to Overturn Roe v. Wade,” November 2002).
The essence of
Mr. Linton’s position seems to be this: since as a matter of indisputable fact
“no member of the Court—past or present—believes that the unborn child is a
‘person,’” in the sense of the Constitution, it follows that efforts to have
the personhood of the fetus defined by law are worse than hopeless. Not only
do such efforts divert scarce energy and resources from more promising pro–life
initiatives, but they might lead the Court to actually deny the personhood of
the fetus, which would be a serious setback for the pro–life movement as a whole.
My main objection
to this line of reasoning is that it seems to treat the moral truth of the matter
as if it were entirely beside the point. Mr. Linton writes almost as if it doesn’t
matter whether or not an unborn child is, in reality, a person, morally entitled
to the protection of the law. If Justices do not hold it, then any attempt to
establish it as true is an exercise in futility.
But the question
of whether an unborn child is a person is much more than academic. It has everything
to do with the most fundamental principles of our nation’s founding, and the
moral underpinnings of our institutions of justice.
From our beginning
as a nation we have held that all men are created equal, and are endowed with
the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But our understanding
of who “men” are has developed dramatically over time. Such developments do
not occur out of thin air. They come from persuasion. And persuasion typically
begins with the staunch moral commitment of a tiny minority. They win over the
majority in time, not, primarily, by their rhetorical brilliance or their strategic
acumen, but by their patient and uncompromising witness to the truth. It is
truth that commends itself eventually to the conscience of society as whole.
At least, this is what we hope and pray for.
Thus, while discussion
of legal strategies and practical pros and cons in the pro–life movement is
all well and good, none of it compares in importance to sustained reflection
and debate about the absolutely central questions of the moral realities at
stake in abortion. If we lose interest in those, we are lost indeed.
Kathleen van Schaijik
Ann Arbor, Michigan
I was disappointed by Paul Benjamin
Linton’s article criticizing a litigation strategy by the National Foundation
for Life (NFFL) advancing the personhood of the unborn. Everyone can appreciate
the wisdom of avoiding a strategy doomed to failure, creating precedent even
more hostile to the natural rights of the unborn. Still one must ask: Can things
really get any worse? In Roe, the Court concluded that “the word ‘person’
as used in the Fourteenth Amendment does not include the unborn”—a conclusion
that Casey left intact. Thus, one is left to wonder how the consequences
could be worse should NFFL’s strategy fail.
Scalia has gained admirers by arguing that the Constitution is “silent” on abortion,
so that the states are free to protect the practice or prohibit it as they see
fit. Whatever virtues Scalia may possess as a judge, this argument must be regarded
as a weakness. If unborn human beings are constitutional persons, they are entitled
to the same protections afforded others. Presumably these protections would
prevent women from killing their children in utero.
Constitution does not expressly state whether “person” includes the unborn,
it is similarly silent with respect to any number of constitutional terms. The
First Amendment does not define “religion,” yet the Court does not let states
do so, nor does the Court shrink from giving content to the term in its decisions.
Likewise with “speech,” “probable cause,” “searches and seizures,” “due process,”
and “equal protection”—undefined terms all. Instead, since Chief Justice John
Marshall’s day, the Court has insisted that it is “the province and duty of
the judicial department to say what the law is.” Thus, it is incumbent on the
Court to give meaning to the constitutional term “person.”
Mr. Linton is
right to note that none of the Justices have endorsed or even appeared open
to the claim that an unborn child is a constitutional person. Still, even in
the most deplorable aspects of its abortion decision, the Court has yet to make
the naked declaration that not all human beings are constitutional persons.
Mr. Linton is
also right that the failure to recognize the unborn’s personhood reflects a
defect in judicial will, not intellect. It is precisely in this regard that
NFFL’s strategy has much to recommend it, not because it would succeed in court,
but because it would force judges to argue in favor of such an indefensible
characteristic of the rule of law is the reasoned elaboration of judicial decisions.
It would be incongruous for courts to admit that an unborn child is a human
being and to simultaneously deny him or her the protections of legal personhood.
With the notable exception of slavery and a few wholly discredited decisions
such as Buck v. Bell, the categories of “human being” and “person” under
the Constitution have been coextensive. Thus, to exclude some human beings from
the protections of personhood cannot fit within our jurisprudence. Although
some contend that Roe was a logical development in our law, Roe
and its progeny constitute an aberration, a source of incoherence, a mutant
strain of “law” unable to thrive without artificial aid.
Even if the NFFL
is unsuccessful, forcing judges to employ reason and not simply will and forcing
them to make arguments for such an untenable position might serve a greater
political purpose. It might serve to rouse the public to see such decisions,
and all the Court’s abortion decisions, for what they truly are, namely (in
Justice Byron White’s words), “an exercise of raw judicial power.” Such recognition
might lead to the wider public conversation that is needed and which Mr. Linton’s
article implicitly recognizes and proposes.
It is certainly
true that even if the Court were to overturn Roe, recognize the unborn’s
personhood, and declare unconstitutional laws permitting abortion, the procedure
would still take place. A judicial declaration would not change the hearts and
minds of Roe’s proponents. The culture of “choice,” as a culture of death,
would still rule the day.
What is needed
is not merely a legal solution to the slaughter of innocents, but a cultural
one. Society needs to engage in an honest conversation about the reality of
abortion, a conversation that was largely muted by the Court’s decision in Roe.
Politics and political discourse have a vital role to play in this process.
One would hope
that such conversation would take place if the Court were to overturn Roe
and place the matter in the hands of the states. Obviously, such a conversation
would have to precede a constitutional amendment. In either case, the real question
is, How can the issue be brought to that moment? The NFFL strategy, even if
unlikely to succeed in court, may help advance the cause of the unborn in other
John M. Breen
Loyola University School of Law
Paul Benjamin Linton replies:
Contrary to the implications of Kathleen
van Schaijik’s letter, I have not “lost interest” in “the moral realities at
stake in abortion.” Quite the contrary. It is precisely because of those realities
that I have been engaged in the pro–life movement for the last fourteen years.
And “the moral realities” should inform the public debate over abortion,
state and federal legislation (for example, fetal homicide statutes and statutes
extending wrongful death actions to all unborn children), and, where appropriate,
But in my judgment, constitutional
recognition of the rights of the unborn child will come about, if at all, only
through an amendment to the Constitution, not a court decision. It is to the
former goal (an amendment) that the “persuasion” mentioned in Ms. van Schaijik’s
letter should be directed. The political branches of government are much more
susceptible to this type of persuasion than the judicial branch, particularly
the Supreme Court, which continues to pretend that it laid the abortion issue
to rest in its decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood eleven years ago.
In attempting to stake out the moral high ground, Ms. van Schaijik ignores the
virtue of prudence. Is it morally prudent to pursue a litigation strategy that
is likely to result only in more court decisions holding, as the Third Circuit
already has in the Whitman case, that being human is not a sufficient
basis for being considered a “person”?
Professor John Breen makes a number
of points in his letter. First, he asks whether, given the Supreme Court’s holding
in Roe that “the word ‘person’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment does
not include the unborn,” the possible failure of the NFFL’s litigation strategy
could be any worse. The short answer to this question is an unqualified “Yes.”
In Roe, the Court, per Justice Harry Blackmun, professed an inability
to state when human life begins. While I, like many others, found this faux
agnosticism to be incredible on its face, a fresh reaffirmation of the Court’s
holding in Roe that the unborn child is not a person, in light
of what is now known about fetal development, would hurt, not help, the pro–life
cause. Such a decision would tend to reinforce the repellent doctrine preached
by some academics and others that having the attributes of humanity (i.e.,
being genetically of the species Homo sapiens, being alive and developing)
provides no claim to the protection of the law. Would that be helpful?
Second, after a short critique of
Justice Antonin Scalia’s view that the Constitution’s “silence” on abortion
disqualifies the Supreme Court from considering whether the unborn child is
a constitutional person—a view which I must emphasize is shared by Chief Justice
William Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas (and in which the late Justice
Byron White concurred)—Prof. Breen states that “it is incumbent on the Court
to give meaning to the constitutional term ‘person.’” The problem is that the
Court already has given meaning to the term, in Roe, and that
meaning does not include the unborn child. I do not disagree with Prof.
Breen that unborn children should be considered constitutional persons—my
disagreement is how that recognition should be brought about. In light
of the evidence set forth in my article, is it likely that such recognition
is going to come about through “personhood” litigation?
Third, Prof. Breen posits that “it
would be incongruous for courts to admit that an unborn child is a human being
and to simultaneously deny him or her the protections of legal personhood.”
Incongruous, perhaps, but not inconceivable. Indeed, that is precisely what
the Third Circuit did in the Whitman case, decided only five years ago,
and what the New York Court of Appeals did more than thirty years ago in the
Byrn case, in rejecting a “personhood” challenge to the pre–Roe,
New York abortion–on–demand statute enacted in 1970. Do we want more decisions
Fourth, Prof. Breen suggests that
court decisions denying legal personhood to unborn human beings would “rouse
the public to see such decisions, and all the Court’s abortion decisions, for
what they truly are, namely (in Justice Byron White’s words), ‘an exercise of
raw judicial power.’” This fond hope has not been borne out in our experience.
Prof. Breen himself acknowledges that society’s need “to engage in an honest
conversation about the reality of abortion . . . was largely muted by the Court’s
decision in Roe.” And that was thirty years ago, before abortion
became embedded in the culture. More recently, we saw the Supreme Court create
a constitutional right to kill a child in the course of its birth in a decision
(Stenberg v. Carhart) that betrayed no ignorance “about the reality of
abortion.” Where was the public outrage?
Prof. Breen’s letter proceeds
on the assumption, common to the thinking underlying the NFFL’s litigation strategy,
that the Supreme Court somehow can be “forced” to take cases it does not want
to review and to decide issues it does not wish to resolve. That assumption
is clearly wrong, as any attorney familiar with Supreme Court practice would
attest. With few exceptions not relevant here, the Court’s jurisdiction is discretionary,
not mandatory. The Court picks and chooses its cases and can easily avoid addressing
issues that, in the Court’s opinion, could embarrass the Court or undermine
its credibility. Cases attempting to overturn Roe on the basis of the
personhood of the unborn child, the rights of the father to prevent an abortion,
or the rights of the mother to have a relationship with her child (all theories
that have been pursued at one time or another by the NFFL and others) have never
been accepted for review by the Supreme Court and, in my opinion, never will
be. Roe will be overruled when five Justices on the Court agree that
the Constitution does not confer upon women a right to have an abortion. Then,
and only then, will Roe be discarded.
The NFFL’s “Global Project” is a wrong
turn down a one–way street with no exit.
The epiphany realized by Gregory Roper (“Teachers’
Guilt,” November 2002) is one more of resignation than restoration. It is
not so much that Professor Roper is disenthralled as that the nature of what
it is to be a teacher is now for him an alien enterprise wherein the role of
teacher is replaced by the role of instructor: my task is to present the syllabus;
if you get something out of the course, well, good, and if not, well, too bad.
For those most
involved, teaching is a profession that calls on one to strive, to seek, to
find, and not to yield. For many others it is worthy if difficult work that
sometimes rewards and sometimes frustrates. And for still others it is enough
to publish the Protocols of Roper and post a “do not disturb” sign.
unions that reject all suggestion that teachers are in some measure accountable
for the outcome of their professional activities will find welcome validation
in Prof. Roper’s observations. But it remains a puzzlement: Just when did commitment
and responsibility become liberal quackery?
Trenton, New Jersey
Gregory Roper replies:
Well, I might
ask: Just when did demanding commitment and responsibility from one’s students
become a sign of bad teaching? Jerome Steen’s letter exhibits precisely the
kind of pedagogical theology (not “quackery”—my argument suggests philosophical
error, not incompetence) that I was discussing in my essay, one that puts all
the responsibility on the teacher’s back and little–to–none on the student’s.
A teacher who asks students to accept responsibility for their work is apparently
to Mr. Steen a mere “instructor” who has somehow “yield[ed]” to “resignation.”
He makes the mistake of believing that demanding responsibility of one’s students
necessarily implies a lack of hard, dedicated commitment to those students and
Take an example.
Let’s say I prepare for over three hours—as I just did—to present Aeneid
Book 12 to my students, crafting questions not just to “present the syllabus,”
as in a lecture, but to lead them in a discussion of this thorny text so that
they will be inspired, intrigued, informed, educated. And let’s say that “Bill,”
an otherwise fine student, chooses not to read the assigned text for that day.
Whose fault is it if Bill gets little to nothing out of the sparkling discussion
that results when the other students, who did prepare, engage with my
questions? Mr. Steen would have it that it is my fault, that Bill is
an innocent child whom I have inadequately “striven for” and “sought after,”
and thus not “found.” I say hogwash, and those who believe Bill to be without
blame are victims of a Rousseauian denial of both original sin and free will;
they thus condescend to their students, treating them as children, rather than
engaging them as adults.
Mr. Steen might
wish to see the rest of my Principles: among them are “I want you to succeed”
and “Think of me as a coach, not a judge.” And he might be interested in knowing
that I advocate ruthless testing at all levels, for teachers as well as for
students—because I know that, in a fallen world, most of us need the stick as
well as the carrot to encourage us to do the hard work involved in becoming
Richard John Neuhaus cites Galatians and Colossians as saying that the Bible
condemns slavery (While We’re At
It, November 2002). This seems to reflect Paul’s observation that in Christ
there is no Jew, Greek, freeman, or slave.
But the fact
that in Christ there are no differences among us didn’t stop Paul from explicitly
accepting slavery. What does Father Neuhaus make of Paul’s admonition in Ephesians
6 where he states that slaves should obey their masters (masters being required
to treat slaves kindly)? It seems Paul thinks of slavery as just another difference
that doesn’t make a difference. So Fr. Neuhaus glosses over, rather lightly,
the acceptance of slavery it took Christianity nineteen centuries to expunge.
Slavery was an
institutional given in ancient times, and continued to be that in almost the
entire world through the eighteenth century. Christian teaching undercut it
at its principled root by denying that a human being could be mere chattel and
affirming, as in the Letter to Philemon, that a slave is a brother in Christ
owed all the duties of love. It took a long time before it was recognized that
love also and necessarily entails freedom from slavery. Ideas have consequences,
but they often work very slowly.
One must expect to be attacked when one writes an op–ed piece as controversial
as my Wall Street Journal column, “The Pope Has Let Us Down” (August
25, 2002). But one ought to be able to expect an attack coming from someone
of the stature of Richard John Neuhaus to be fair, at the very least. His broadside
against me (While We’re At It,
November 2002) is inaccurate in its facts and unjust in its conclusions.
If the only acquaintance
First Things readers had with my Journal piece was through Father Neuhaus’
selective rendering, they would not know that I wrote of my “tears and awe and
gratitude for this holy Pope,” a pope whose writings I described as “a treasure
for all mankind,” and of whom I predicted that “my descendants will surely and
rightly call . . . St. John Paul the Great.” I wrote those things because I
believe them. Yet Fr. Neuhaus ignored these words. Why? Because, I believe,
those words make it harder for him to advance his hysterical straw–man thesis
that I wish to say “that the heroic life and witness of John Paul has been for
I don’t intend
to rewrite the column here, but Fr. Neuhaus’ reading of it is so prejudicial
that the record should be set straight. The clear meaning of my column was that
the Holy Father’s lack of effective governance of the Church over the course
of his long pontificate has contributed to the catastrophe now upon the Church
in America—and that, given the goodness and greatness of the man, is a profoundly
sad and tragic thing. Indeed, I began my column praising the Pope for his homily
preached days earlier to two million Poles, which condemned modern man’s embrace
of “freedom without truth or responsibility.” However (I wrote), it is painfully
difficult to square the man who has so bravely witnessed to these truths as
Universal Pastor with the man who has presided over an episcopate that has ignored
his clear and welcome teaching—and has suffered no penalty for its defiance
of papal authority and Church teaching. Not even the rape of children by deviant
priests, and the effective tolerance of same by bishops, has moved the Pope
to discipline these men. How is it that a holy man like John Paul can appear
to care so little about the suffering his bishops have allowed to be visited
on Catholic children and families by sexually abusive priests? It is a question
that troubles all of us who love and obey this Pope, but I don’t see how it
can be ignored for the sake of keeping our consciences untroubled.
A secondary point
I made—but which was ignored by Fr. Neuhaus—was that this neglect has also made
itself manifest in other areas of Church life, such as liturgical abuses and
the rejection of Catholic teaching by Catholic institutions. This is what I
meant when I wrote that it is hard to tell my little boy “that it can be dangerous
to his body and soul to trust priests.” I have little fear that a priest will
molest my son. Yet it is still an outrage to be put in the position of having
to explain to a child after Sunday Mass, time and time again, that the Church
actually teaches something different from what Father said in his homily—in
other words, that Father is something of a fraud. John Paul cannot be expected
to police every pulpit in Christendom, of course, but the decay in catechesis
and Church discipline that has occurred on his watch is undeniable.
My message in
the column was that the Pope, by his misgovernance, is hollowing out the meaning
and authority of his prophetic witness. Who is supposed to take the Holy Father
seriously when he thunders against the evils of the modern world when he cannot,
or will not, move against the evils perpetrated by his bishops? For years, I
and Catholics like me have found every possible excuse for the Holy Father’s
inaction. “Oh, if only John Paul knew!” I’ve said to myself on many occasions.
Well, he knows. What are we supposed to make of this? Is it so far off the mark
to wonder if the protection of the perceived interests of the institutional
Church means more to the Holy Father than the faithful and their needs?
If asking those
questions makes me “so very American,” as Fr. Neuhaus puts it (with a barely
veiled accusation of disloyalty), then I proudly accept the label. I affirm
that I am a believing orthodox Roman Catholic, but if being American means anything,
it means not acquiescing in being treated like chattel by one’s supposed betters.
The laity and their children are not mere subjects meant to be at the unquestioned
disposal of ecclesial monarchs. Why is it disloyal to protest the way that the
Catholic hierarchy, including the Pope, has treated us in the matter of the
sexual–abuse scandal? If Fr. Neuhaus does not perceive that this is a question
on the minds of very many faithful Catholics, then he is even more out of touch
than I thought. And if he does not recognize the justice of that question, and
the pain asking it causes a Catholic father, then such hard–hearted clericalism
makes him—well, possibly a candidate for the episcopate.
myself, I cannot think indifference to the harm suffered by the victims of clergy
sexual abuse or to the harm done to the Church itself would in any way be consistent
with my profession of faith as a Catholic or my calling as a journalist. Along
those lines, I note that Fr. Neuhaus has spilled buckets of ink writing about
the scandal, but surprisingly little of it addressing the plight of sex–abuse
victims and their families. Fr. Neuhaus has no children, obviously, but I cannot
help thinking he spends little, if any, time talking to Catholic lay people
as well as fellow clerics and theologians. I hope that he will avail himself
of the opportunity to contact grieving Catholic mothers and fathers like Horace
and Janet Patterson of Wichita, Kansas, whose testimony helped my understanding
of this crisis tremendously. Their son Eric committed suicide at age twenty–nine—one
of five men, all suicides, molested by the same priest in the 1980s, a priest
(now in jail) known by his bishop to be a molester, yet assigned to parish work
anyway. Does what happened in Wichita have nothing to do with Rome? Maybe the
Editor–in–Chief of First Things thinks so, but if that is the case, he is not
only wrong, but is circling the wagons around increasingly smaller company.
Brooklyn, New York
It is true that
I quoted and criticized those parts of Mr. Dreher’s article with which I disagreed,
not those with which I agreed. I leave it to readers to judge whether what I
have written about the scandals has been unduly deferential toward or defensive
of bishops and indifferent to the victims. Any fair–minded reader of Mr. Dreher’s
essay, I believe, would have concluded that he does fear that priests might
molest his son, not that bad homilies pose a danger to the boy’s body. Mr. Dreher
will, I trust, be pleased to know that I have had many more discussions of these
matters with lay people than with clerics. As for my analysis of the sins of
clericalism, please see last month’s commentary on that, “The Bishops in Charge.”