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 successfullyindeed, triumphantlythrough the perils of gestation, labor, delivery, and middleofthenight lactation and defecation.
Nevertheless, it is always a tricky matternot impossible, but trickyfor the relatively inexperienced to offer their hardearned 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.)
My suspicions 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 middleofthenight 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 sensuoushad 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.)
Finally, there 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 fathersespecially Christian fathers like Mr. Linkerare 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.
Although married 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 (fiftyseven 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 fulltime 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’ incomethat 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 welleducated peers, with trends in the nation as a whole. The day when the average American father is up with baby on a 5050 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 fiftysomething interlocutor be not that the former was permitted into labor and delivery, but instead that the latter has actually raised a childand probably more than oneto adulthood? I would suggest that it is the eighteenplus 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 pointsthe prebirth 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 experiencesthe birth of a second child, schooling, sibling rivalries, puberty, watching children leave homeabout 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 sixmonthold 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 marriageand by extension, societyto 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 belowreplacement 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 factsspecialization, division of labor, comparative advantagemight cause him to question his androgynous model.
Mr. Linker’s essay is not without merit, as he does highlightfollowing Christopher Lasch and Allen Carlson, inter aliathe tensions that traditional families have faced in postagrarian 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 everno matter how supportive we attempt to bebe 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 “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.
Mr. Linker’s “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 childrearing. Realistically, I think this will be difficult and stressful to achieve. To avoid daycare, parents will need complementary parttime jobs, fulltime swing shifts, or homebased 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 fulltime daycare for the youngsters over supporting a wife as a stayathome mother to the children.
I can testify from experience that the Linkers may find traditionally femaledominated fields more compatible with their need for flexibility in employment. Nurtured on the 1960s barrage of feminist ideals and selffulfillment indoctrination, I chose to study the nontraditional (for women) field of engineering. Not until my childbearing years did I realize that parttime 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 stayathome 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 selfsacrificial route of the homemaker. Relief of loneliness and acquisition of worldly goods cannot compete with the supreme calling of the stayathome 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 fulltime 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 wellsuited to do the pragmatic and moral calculations necessary to playing his role in the team decisionmaking process.
After adding up the pros and cons, this is what he comes up with. Feminist ideology is here to staya point for mom working. Lack of handy extended family memberspoint for working. Maleegalitarianpartner 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 shortworking scores again.
To be fair, Mr. Linker tries to help the stayathome 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 oldfashioned 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 equationthe BABY. 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 firsttime 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?
Anthropologists 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 lifelet alone the experience of raising boys and girlsit 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 wageearning, 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 stayathome 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, welleducated women have put public recognition and the pursuit of a career aside to commit full time to the important task of raising their childrensometimes, 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 tenmonthold Elizabeth takes her first step, watching fiveyearold David get off the school bus, and listening to twoyearold 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.
Diane Grotberg Fergus Falls, Minnesota
It was a Saturday morning when I read “Fatherhood, 2002,” and I had just changed the diaper of my ninemonthold. A few feet away, my fouryearold 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 stayathome mom, even in the twentyfirst century.
What I take issue with is Mr. Linker’s position that traditional (he used the very telling term “premodern”) marriage rolesin which the father earns the family keep, and the mother cares for the children and homeare 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 samesex relationships and nonprocreative 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 JudeoChristian 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 JudeoChristian tradition will find the teaching clear, even if often glossed over: the husband isor at least should bethe 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 marriageunless 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 selfdeception 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 governmentsupported 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.
Since Gilbert 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 contradictionor 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 “selfsacrificial 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 fulltime homemaker to be one of unremitting drudgeryand 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 joyand 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 childrenand 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 homethat is, in recognizing the domestic goods (and sacrifices) from which their traditional roles have excluded themfathers might become capable of enacting or expressing that love in a purer, more direct way.
The sacrifices and rewards faced by womentraditionally assigned to the task of caring for the children fulltime in the homehave 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.
These, then, are the tensions that define modern fatherhood and motherhoodand 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 longterm consequences for the structure of the family, even if “the day when the average American father is up with baby on a 5050 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 isor at least should bethe 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 stayathome mom and the fulltime working dad can’t help but sound like a call to innovation.
And this points to the more fundamental problem with such appealsnamely, 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.
A recognition 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 deepseated 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 connectionjust 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 substanceand perhaps the same intention behind itas a playground taunt of “faggot.”
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 possibleas 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 Americansif not the authors of the most critical letters, then almost certainly their kidswill come to accept and affirm the notsoradical 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.
Listening to the Laity
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 isas Vatican II, Pope John Paul II, and common sense all indicatethe 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 sortingout 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.”
This remains remarkably acute; and it cuts more ways than one. It is not necessary to be an aging ’60sstyle Catholic dissident, as Professor Glendon unfortunately suggests, to believe that clericalismwhich reserves a truly serious living of faith, whether in the Church or in the world, to clerics and religiousmust 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 tipoff to the inadequacy of her interesting comments comes very early: the “sleeping giant” body of laity is beginning to stirroused 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 twoedgedclerical 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 coverup policy. But Prof. Glendon finds no need to even mention the bishops until the fifth page of a sevenpage 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.
The “peoplecalledtogether” 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 shepherdteacher 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 Magisteriumpurporting 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 selfapplauding, mediadriven 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 relationsread evangelizationdisaster by having a letter read in every parish in which he insistsfive timesthat 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 hierarchylaity cooperation can really work. Voice of the Faithful may be dismissable as a bunch of tired CalltoAction 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 riskaverse that the majority of Catholics have no problem routinely supporting proabortion legislators.
Before the longawaited “hour of the laity” can even begin, there must be a modus vivendi worked out between the neoProtestantism 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 leadershipespecially 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 prolife woman with superb credentials in fundraising 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 priestfriend, 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 faithsparticularly 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 sexualabuse 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 you.
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 passionately.)
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 Philosophy 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 neededin 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, propoor) 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.
The Person and the Court
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 Courtpast or presentbelieves 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 prolife initiatives, but they might lead the Court to actually deny the personhood of the fetus, which would be a serious setback for the prolife 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 prolife 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.
Justice Antonin 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.
Although the 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 position.
An essential 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 ways.
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 prolife 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, litigation.
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 prolife 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 persona 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 personsmy 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 preRoe, New York abortionondemand statute enacted in 1970. Do we want more decisions like these?
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 oneway street with no exit.
The Educator’s Task
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.
The teachers’ 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 littletonone 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 their good.
Take an example. Let’s say I prepare for over three hoursas I just didto 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 studentsbecause 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 educated.
St. Paul on Slavery
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.
A Prejudicial Reading?
One must expect to be attacked when one writes an oped 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 strawman thesis that I wish to say “that the heroic life and witness of John Paul has been for naught.”
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 Americaand 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 teachingand 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 madebut which was ignored by Fr. Neuhauswas 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 homilyin 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 sexualabuse 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 hardhearted clericalism makes himwell, possibly a candidate for the episcopate.
Speaking for 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 sexabuse 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 twentynineone 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 EditorinChief 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 fairminded 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.”