December 2, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Posted in women | 3 Comments
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Womanpriest: Tradition and Transgression in the Contemporary Roman Catholic Church. By Jill Peterfeso. NY, NY: Fordham University Press, 2020. 272 pp. Paperback. $30.00.

I became involved with the women’s ordination movement in 1975 when two of the leaders of the Grail, on the staff of whose organic farm I was serving at the time, told me I was going with them to the first women’s Ordination Conference in Detroit. I was not terribly interested in the issue at the time, but those were the days when people still actually obeyed orders.  So I went, and the conference transformed my understanding of the issue. 

Seventeen years later, when I was beginning my doctoral studies at Temple, I became involved in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference through Regina Bannan. From there I became a member of the national Women’s Ordination Conference board and served as president of the board for several years.

But I was not enthusiastic about the first Roman Catholic Womanpriest (RCWP) ordinations on the Danube in 2002, or the ordinations in North America and elsewhere that followed. In those days I more or less belonged to the Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza “ordination is subordination” school.

But Jill Peterfeso’s splendid new book, Womanpriest, has forced me to reconsider that position. The book is an ethnographic study of members of the RCWP group that burst on the public stage in 2002, and of the Association of Roman Catholic Womanpriests (ARCWP) that more or less split off from the original group in 2010.  Ethnography is based on field work with a particular group, involving interviews, observation, data collection, etc. But Peterfeso expands this into a kind of dialogic ethnography in which she includes, especially in the introduction and conclusion, some of her own experiences in womanpriest communities, and how this has influenced her own Catholic identity 

Peterfeso draws from her research a number of themes that embody and clarify the reality and impact of RCWP and ARCWP on contemporary Roman Catholicism.  In chapter 1 she details the ways in which womanpriests use the deeply personal narrative of “calling” to dispute the Vatican’s claim that their ordinations are illegitimate. Focusing on the centrality of the experience of “being called” in the lives of five prominent womanpriests, Victoria Rue, Juanita Cordero, Gabriella Velardi Ward, Mary Grace Crowley-Koch, and Kathleen Kunster, Peterfeso argues that such narratives enable these womanpriests to dispute Rome’s claim that only men are “called”, and that they are nothing but activist agitators. Rather they are multidimensional, faithful, reflective women who, in order to obey God’s call, must disobey a patriarchal institution.

Peterfeso begins chapter 2 with the story of a Havertown priest writing to our own SEPA-WOC, claiming that WOC members are not “true Catholics.” She goes on to show that the retention of “Roman Catholic” in the title of the group demonstrates a commitment to Roman Catholic identity, and the ways in which Roman Catholicism since Vatican II has sent out mixed messages, bringing the word “conscience” into the Catholic vernacular as well as refusing women who feel called the right to follow their consciences. Recent Roman Catholic history is precisely what inspires womanpriests to craft ways to make Roman Catholicism work.

These methods combine “conflict and creativity” (chapter 3). In response to what they perceive as the decline of the celibate-male-priest-centered Western Roman Catholicism, womanpriests create “discipleship of equals” communities that give members a way of moving their Catholicism to a better, fuller expression. But such creativity brings conflict with it, as when ARCWP split from RCWP over issues of governance, particularly how to have leadership without authoritarianism.

Womanpriest ordinations (chapter 4) are a prime instance of such creativity and conflict, demonstrating as they do womanpriests’ location on the line between reforming and transforming the institution. Such ordinations elicit not only Vatican condemnation as “contra legem,” but also feminist theological critique for its ostensible collusion in institutional “subordination.” But they also focus badly needed public attention on the issue of women’s subordination in the institutional church, and this is no small achievement.

The emphasis on the centrality of the community in the celebration of the sacraments is another of the transformative effects of womanpriest leadership (chapter 5). Here, too, however, creativity and conflict overlap, with some participants seeing the ontological nature of the sacraments and apostolic succession as more important than community participation. But in this case, as in many others, the most significant thing, in Peterfeso’s estimation, is that womanpriests engage in actions, not just argumentation. (And there’s a photo of our own Eileen DiFranco in the middle of the chapter!).

Peterfeso’s next chapter examines how womanpriests’ reality as “worker priests,” due to the unavailability of congregational salaries, facilitates their involvement with other groups and church leaders, roles that can be both inspiring and confusing. Then, in chapter 7, Peterfeso explores, in a way that I find deeply moving, how the actual bodies of womanpriests have the potential to reposition the gendered, sexual and sacred natures of the priesthood, a revisioning that is especially needed in light of the sex abuse crisis.

What is, for me, however, the most moving part of Womanpriest is Peterfeso’s concluding chapter, in which she brings into clear view the dialogic dimension of her ethnographic research. She does so by returning to material in the introductory chapter about her involvement in a womanpriest congregation in St. Louis, Therese of Divine Peace Inclusive Roman Catholic Community.  Initially, Peterfeso was unable to decide what to make of the womanpriest Masses there. Did they remind her of the thousands of Catholic services she had attended throughout her life or did they unsettle her because womanpriest culture is unlike the Catholicism that she knew?” Such concerns led her into a reexamination of larger questions about Roman Catholicism as well as about women and religious authority.

By the end of her research, however, Peterfeso realizes that her initial uncertainty about the womanpriest phenomenon had receded considerably. At the beginning, for example, she missed kneelers—RCWP liturgies are rarely in churches. She also had mixed feelings about the “enthusiastic affection” of RCWP liturgies which deviated from the relative anonymity of standard Catholic Masses. Gradually, she came to like engaging more directly with others, as in shared homilies, concelebration of the Eucharist, and interacting more before and after the liturgy. Her research also made her more unhappy about the many manifestations of the institutional church’s “history of viewing women as less holy than men.” Ultimately, she writes, “Like the Roman Catholic liturgy, like the Catholic liturgical calendar, my annual visits to Therese are becoming ritualized. I find comfort in this familiarity” (120).

These shifts in her personal assessment of the womanpriest phenomenon did not stop Peterfeso, scholar that she is, from raising further critical questions, such as those about the whole future of the womanpriest movement—its small, aging membership, for example—or about conflicting attitudes toward women in the fastest growing part of the church, the Global South. But the shift in her own perceptions illustrates graphically her compelling argument that participating in a womanpriest community, and experiencing a womanpriest celebrating the liturgy, is one of the surest ways to bring people around to supporting women’s ordination.

It is not possible, even in a long review like this one, to do justice to the careful and original thinking Jill Peterfeso brings to the issue that is so important to us, women’s ordination. But if what I have written here doesn’t send you dashing out (or dashing on-line!) to buy a copy of Womanpriest, consider this: I now think that ordination isn’t always subordination. And I think that dancing back and forth across the line between tradition and transgression may well be just the strategy we need to reform the Roman Catholic Church.

This review appeared in the Nov. 2020 to February 2021 issue of EqualwRites, the newsletter of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference.

My Catholic Line-in-the-Sand

November 17, 2020 at 3:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments
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As many of you know, I am a lifelong Catholic. A number of my great-grandparents were Irish immigrants. I did fourteen and a half years in Catholic schools and colleges. I have been a registered member of a Catholic parish for virtually all my life, with a few possible exceptions, as when I was living on communal farms in the 1970s.

But I recently cancelled my membership at the ostensibly liberal Jesuit Church of St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan. I never plan to join another parish or, God help me, give another penny to the institutional church, except to the nuns, who are barely part of the “institution.”

Here’s a timeline of the events that led up to my decision:

In truth, I was already pretty freaked by Cardinal Dolan inviting Trump, even if he also included Hilary Clinton, to speak at the Al Smith Dinner in 2016. Then there was his phone call last April with 600 Catholics, many of them bishops and the heads of Catholic institutions, adulating Trump . I was so scandalized by that that his inviting Trump but not Joe Biden to speak at the 2020 Al Smith dinner a few weeks before the election didn’t surprise me at all. (And just so you know, Dolan is the head of the archdiocese in which Xavier is located, though I used to commute in from the diocese of Brooklyn.)

I had already been deeply disturbed by the number of Catholics, particularly white Catholics, who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Though the total percentages are disputed, white Catholics seem to have voted for him by more than half in 2016, as did a great many of them in 2020. My father, the shift worker, must be spinning in his grave, having told us as kids that if we ever voted Republican (or crossed a picket line) we would go to hell.

Another thing that’s been driving me nuts is the “spiritual communion” prayer offered at Xavier and, I assume, at a lot of other Catholic churches since the onset of the pandemic and the closing of churches. Just what everyone needs, isn’t it, is to hear that their communion at Zoom Masses isn’t real? As if Vatican II didn’t teach us that the Word of God is also the Body of Christ? One of the comforts of this period of Zoom liturgies was when the celebrant at a lay-led Eucharist inviting us all to bring our own cup of wine and piece of bread to the celebration with us. How’s that for ordaining everybody?

But the two things that really pushed me over the line—this may surprise you—happened at the Xavier Zoom Mass on August 9. That day was the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. Now the Jesuit Pope, Francis, has stated unambiguously that nuclear weapons are immoral. And thanks to Trump’s recklessness, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has positioned the Doomsday Clock, the indicator of the imminence of nuclear war, at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it’s every been since they began counting in 1947,. But the Jesuit priest who celebrated the 11:30 Mass that day, including a carefully prepared reflection on the scripture readings, never mentioned the Nagasaki bombing. This though the founder of the Catholic community in Nagasaki was Francis Xavier, the saint after whom the parish is named. And the bomb was dropped several thousand feet from the Catholic cathedral in Nagasaki, just as the community was gathered for the Sunday morning Mass.

I emailed the priest a few days later to express my distress over this omission. He is by no means young; perhaps he was unaware of the anniversary? He never responded to my email.

I thought about all of this for quite a while before terminating my membership, but finally decided I had no choice. I by no means intend to stop being a Catholic. There are several small Catholic Eucharistic communities, led by womanpriests or laypeople, that I join on Sunday mornings. And as my husband, the Baptist minister, is given to saying, I will be a Catholic till the day I die, no matter what institutional failure I am currently enraged by: after all, when I fall down and skin my knee, I say “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”

But I have decided that I am finished with the institutional church, especially here in the US, where most of the bishops ignore what even the Pope is saying. I feel a bit sad, but enough is enough.


November 15, 2020 at 6:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Well, I wrote to you a while ago about the health problems I had been dealing with. I am now excited to report that I can see light at the end of the tunnel, figuratively and almost literally.

I am still tired from the pneumonia I contracted in September, but I have recovered from the pneumonia itself. So I was able to have my second cataract surgery last week, on November 9. The check-up the next day showed that the surgery had gone very well. I am about to end my week of pasting a plastic eye patch over my right eye before bed every night. And I am a week into the multiple eye drops that my long-suffering husband has been putting into that eye four times a day, a process that ends in three more weeks.

I am also going in in three weeks to get a prescription for new eyeglasses, which will move my distance and reading vision to 20/20. But my current distance vision is already vastly better than it had been for several cataract-impeded years. And I got a pair of reading glasses for the shirt-term at the local Duane Reade on Wednesday for twelve dollars.

I must admit, walking around without glasses has been a strange experience for me. I have been wearing glasses since I was eleven years old, that is to say, for sixty-two years. I keep pushing my glasses up my nose even though I am not wearing any. And I have discovered that at my age, wearing glasses makes me look less old than not wearing them, because they cover up the black circles under my eyes. So I really can’t wait for that new prescription.

I am also wildly excited to report that I am going out to Woodside to get my hair cut on Wednesday–and I am going by myself! Now that I can see again, my esteemed companion has agreed to my going out on my own. He was going everywhere with me, or driving me there, between my first cataract surgery and the second, because I really couldn’t see straight, and he didn’t want me falling down and breaking something!

Also, the day before Thanksgiving, I am getting a crown put in to replace one of the two eye teeth that broke during my recent ride through hell. The other one I will get done, but not until well into the new year. I have had enough medical procedures to last me quite a while.

Thanks to all of you who responded to the earlier post about my health, “Humbled.” It meant a lot. And I promise that soon, I am going to write about something besides my health troubles, God willing.

Meantime, stay well!


September 26, 2020 at 4:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Over the summer, I had gotten back to blogging. But then, after August 23, I stopped again.

I’m writing this post to explain what happened.

Towards the middle of August, there was a small event that may have been a warning: eating supper one night, my top left eye tooth broke and popped out. My dentist had been mulling over whether to do a root canal on it when his office shut down for the pandemic. I guess that problem is solved.

Then, on August 31, I had the first of two cataract surgeries, both of which I had been greatly anticipating, since the pandemic had forced my earlier appointments to be cancelled back in March. Not being able to read street signs, house numbers, etc., is pretty annoying.

The surgery went fine, but afterwards I began feeling sicker and sicker, with symptoms the details of which I’ll spare you. On September 6 we went to an urgent cares place and I was diagnosed with pneumonia. For the next ten days or so, I felt pretty bad, but the antibiotics seem to have done their job. Most of the symptoms are now gone, except for feeling really tired and a little stupid which apparently can follow pneumonia for quite a while..

The other after-effect is that my primary care physician more or less ordered me to postpone my second cataract surgery until November to avoid a reccurrence of the pneumonia. Apparently pneumonia sometimes follows anesthesia. If you have ever had cataract surgeries, though, you may recall that between the two surgeries, the vision in one eye is seriously different from the vision in the other. My husband is now walking everywhere with me for fear I’ll fall down and break a bone.

With more than 200,000 people dead from the corona virus, I really can’t complain about all this. No ventilator, even. But it was a pretty humbling experience I am almost never sick. One of my doctors is given to telling me I’m an “extremely healthy seventy-three year old.” So I’ve been pretty puzzled by the whole experience. Maybe I am actually going to get old someday, and need to be helped when I walk, or to feel so tired I can’t just sit down and write like a wild woman. What a thought!

As for now, though, I’ll be back to you soon.

Because Internet?

August 23, 2020 at 11:12 am | Posted in class,, Internet,, Writing, | 3 Comments

I think back, occasionally, to an experience I had a few years ago. I was teaching a January interim course on environmental racism at New York Theological Seminary, the Black Hispanic and Asian interdenominational seminary up near Columbia where I have an appointment.  I have been teaching in majority Black seminaries since the late 1990s.

It has long been my practice, when teaching a seminary course, to have the students write a two-page paper to the assigned readings, a practice I learned from my own dissertation advisor, Laura Levitt. When I read the papers, I correct them for spelling, grammar and punctuation, as well as content. I deduct half a letter grade for every five errors, but if the student rewrites the paper, I restore the grade. Students at the American Baptist Seminary of the West, in Berkeley, where I taught for ten years, were fascinated, and in many cases, deeply grateful for the corrections. One of them asked me once whether, if she made the corrections I had indicated, that would make the paper better. I said I certainly hoped so. In some cases, no one had ever had a paper marked for them before.

Three students from Union Theological Seminary, across the way from NYTS, had cross-registered for the environmental racism course. After the second class, when I had returned the papers, they came up and asked me how I justified the corrections I had made. “The Chicago Manual of Style,” I responded. They subsequently dropped out of the course.

I assumed at the time that their offense at my corrections had something to do with class, though a friend who taught at Union at the time said they would never have had a paper marked in such a way; Union professors occasionally wrote a comment at the end of a paper, and the grade, but nothing else. Union is an Ivy-League seminary, with tuition something like four times as high as the tuition at NYTS. The three students themselves were all Black, but I still figured they wondered how this woman from the inferior seminary across the street had dared correct them. I myself had enrolled in the M.Div program at NYTS in the 1980s after taking a few courses at Union because my working-class self was seriously put off by the economic privilege of many of the students at Union. It was also the case that the NYTS courses were offered at night, and I had to work in the daytime to support myself.

In recent months, I have begun to think that their objections might have arisen from something besides class, however. I began thinking about this after I read the Times review of Gretchen McCulloch’s book Because Internet, on the impact of the Internet on writing.  I, for example, require that quotations of more than forty words be indented separate from the other writing but not have quotation marks around them, which is standard literary practice. But I now see indented paragraphs with quotation marks around them in many of the publications I read on-line, even fairly high-class ones. One publication, I forget which one, puts a quotation mark at the beginning of indented paragraphs but not at the end. And the New York Times book review puts book titles in quotation marks, not in italics; the latter was once accepted editorial practice, but clearly, no more.

The Times reviewer indicates that McCulloch thinks that formal language—academic papers, one would think—will retain explicit rules, but I am more skeptical. The seminary attempts to remedy the current chaos with its own style guide which every student receives when they enroll, but good luck with enforcing what the guide says. Kind of like wearing face masks. Who are you to tell me how to punctuate my paper?




Pandemic Ramblings III

August 10, 2020 at 9:54 am | Posted in Climate Change, Covid-19,, Environment, Health | Leave a comment

A year and a half ago, back when people used to fly on airplanes, I went out to Claremont , California, to visit a bunch of Grail elders at a retirement community there, Pilgrim Place. During my daily walk around town, I noticed something that interested me: in front of a number of the beautiful and pricey homes were signs that read “Immigrants and Refugees Welcome Here.” And in front of those homes, or in their driveways, were multiple SUVS, vans and small trucks. I guess the residents didn’t entirely grasp why a good number of immigrants were coming north from Latin and Central America: droughts and famine caused in large part by green-house gas emissions.        And now, as I walk past the elegant Victorian-style mansions north and south of our apartment building here in west Flatbush, what do I see? “Black Lives Matter”  signs on their lawns and SUVs and trucks parked out front and in the driveways. I guess the residents don’t grasp that there are a number of reasons why people of color “can’t breathe,” not just cops with knees on their necks. Of course, lest you think anything is simple, the owners of some—a few—of these mansion and SUVs are themselves people of color. Their breathing must be pretty good.

And speaking of those mansions—I often wonder, as I walk past them, who is going to do all the landscaping and painting and repair and reconstruction of them if Trump and cronies manage to keep all immigrants out. I never hear a word of English from the current bunch of workers. Maybe all the recent college graduates who can’t find jobs would like to come out here to south-central Brooklynns to mow the lawns and repair the gutters?

And speaking of SUVs: when I was walking just north of the Parade Grounds where the soccer ball had smacked me, the day after Hurricane Isaias blew threw here, I passed a part of a huge tree that had broken off and fallen down. It didn’t hit the SUV, but it hit a big light pole, and that hit the rear-end of the SUV and smashed it. Nature’s revenge.

During my morning walk, I often think about my cataracts, especially after Hurricane Isaias, with all the branches down on the sidewalks. I can barely see them, so I have to be very careful. Occasionally I see someone walking toward me with what I think is an ice cream cone up near their face; turns out to be a cell phone! Or somebody walking with what I take to be a child, except it’s actually a dog. My cataract surgeries at the end of March and the beginning of April were cancelled at the last minute, with the end of elective surgeries. I try not to complain, with all so many people dying of covid-19. Now the surgeries are back on. I made my first of nine trips up to Weill Cornell Ophthalmology the other day, including covid-19 tests three days before each surgery. Fingers crossed. I really need to be able to see punctuation again!

Today on my walk, I passed a guy sitting on the step in front of an apartment building wearing a black tee shirt that read “No Lives Matter.” Wonder what that means? Maybe he’s a climate activist.

With that, I leave you. I have a book review to write.


A Previous ‘demic: Polio

August 9, 2020 at 4:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When I go on my daily walk up to Prospect Park, I pass a number of mansions where people, of late, have been putting many books out on the steps or the sidewalk. Lockdown culling, I guess.. On a recent walk I picked up a copy of historian David Oshinsky’s 2005 study,  Polio: An American Story: The Crusade that Mobilized the Nation against the 20th Century’s Most Feared Disease.   It won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for history.

I found it hard to imagine a book more relevant to the current crisis. Also,  I have always been fascinated , or more to the point, horrified by polio: around 1950, when we were both about three years old, a close cousin  developed polio, and I didn’t. I have never forgotten that near miss, especially as I walk vigorously around Brooklyn.

The first thing that struck me as I read Polio was what Oshinsky argues was a major cause of the disease, in contrast something I read recently about mortality rates in Ireland, between 1870 and 1950, as detailed in a book that my Irish book group read recently–that the Jews who emigrated from Eastern Europe to Dublin during that period had much lower death rates because they had higher levels of hygiene than the for the most part poor residents of Dublin. But the polio epidemic, at least for a long time, according to Oshinsky, happened among upper middle class and upper class families precisely because they had much higher levels of hygiene than the lower classes and had thus wiped out their own immunity. Wash your hands–sometimes!

Also striking were the details about the distribution of the Salk vaccine after it had been developed and approved. Mayor Wagner of New York and other leaders were “shocked to learned” that the Eisenhower administration had made no plans for the distribution of the vaccine, believing that the drug companies “could best handle it on their own.”(218) Neither the president nor his advisors believed that national distribution of the vaccine was a “legitimate government action”: it risked provoking outcries against “socialized medicine.” Also, such a federal distribution program would set a “undesirable precedent.”  Even the American Medical Association objected to injections being given by anyone but MDs in their offices. Eventually, the epidemic shifted to poorer families because they couldn’t afford the three shots of the vaccine that the more prosperous were able to pay for. And the cost of the covid-19 vaccine is…

Oshinsky also suggests, in a sort of testimony to those who think that the current pandemic is a hoax, that the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis–the March of-Dimes foundation–had overplayed the extent of the polio epidemic in the interest of raising larger and larger amounts of money, albeit money they spent to fight polio. And in a similar sort of nod to vaccine skeptics, Oshinsky reports that after a long war between Jonas Salk, the inventor of the first polio vaccine, and Albert Sabin, the inventor of a subsequent live-virus vaccine, the country switched, in the early 1960s, from the Salk to the Sabin vaccine, a vaccine that had been first tested on mentally ill incarcerated adults.  But in 1996 it switched back becauseit was being shown that Sabin vaccine itself caused some cases of polio.

And with that, I leave you to ponder our current ‘demic.





Hiroshima at 75

August 6, 2020 at 9:29 am | Posted in nuclear war | 3 Comments

Back in the day, Eleanor Walker, my mentor in the Grail movement, was given to saying that she didn’t read her books; she “felt warmly toward them.”

One of my books that I have felt warmly toward over the years but never read is John Hersey’s Hiroshima.  With the 75th anniversary of that bombing today, on August 6, I decided that it was time to read it.

When I began to read, I realized that I also hadn’t actually read the subtitle:  The Story of Six Human Beings who Survived the Explosion of the Atom Bomb over Hiroshima.  For the book is, indeed, a masterful interweaving of the stories of six individuals who lived through the bombing—what they experienced before, during, and soon after the blast. At first I feared that the book might be too much of a happy story, since it focused on survivors, but I soon gave up on that: the book details what the survivors suffered as well as what those around them suffered and in many cases died from. But the only way Hersey could collect their stories was if they had, indeed, survived.

Another thing I totally overlooked was that the book was published in 1946—a year after the bombing—and had previously been published in The New Yorker. How on earth did Hersey ever gather the detail he weaves into these stories in such a short period of time? It did not surprise me to learn, however, that he had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction two years before Hiroshima, so extraordinarily well-told are those stories.

The six “individuals” whose stories Hersey interweaves are Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk at the East Asia Tin Works; Dr. Masakazu Fujii, the head of his own private hospital; Mrs. Hatsoyu Nakamura, a widow with two children; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German Jesuit: Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the large, modern Red Cross Hospital, and the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church.  All six were in different locations somewhat removed the center of city when the bomb exploded at 8:15 in the morning, which is part of the reason that they survived.

A year after the bombing, Hersey tells us, Miss Sasaki was a cripple, having suffered extreme damage to her legs when the Tin Works collapsed; Dr. Fujii’s hospital, which had taken him decades to build, had collapsed into a river and he had nothing to rebuild it with; the widow Nakamura and her children were destitute; Rev. Tanimoto’s church had been destroyed and “had no prospects of rebuilding”; Father Kleinsorge, who had labored ferociously to help others after the bombing, was back in the hospital with radiation sickness; Dr. Sasaki was not capable of doing the work he once could do. “The lives of these six people, who were among the luckiest in Hiroshima, would never be the same” (114).

A number of details have stayed with me from reading Hiroshima. One is of a survivor passing by a victim whose face had fallen off and another seeing someone with fluid from their melted eyes running down their cheeks; that the radiation sickness caused three stages of suffering and sometimes death for victims, but that the bombing also caused a wide range of weeds and plants to spring up. I guess radiation isn’t all bad!

It also struck me, though it did not particularly surprise me, that the details of the bomb’s heinous effects were repressed by the US, who had occupied Japan immediately after the bombing of Nagasaki three days later, but that Japanese scientists circulated the information widely. Also striking was that the Methodist minister, Rev. Tanimoto, who worked like a crazy person reaching out to suffering survivors despite his own radiation sickness, had access to many fewer resources than the German Jesuits in Hiroshima, who had been able to rebuild their chapel and provide food to survivors fairly soon after the bombing.

Finally almost inconceivable to me was Hersey’s reporting that many survivors of the bombing did not complain about their suffering; they believed they experienced it out of loyalty to their country and the emperor. Similarly, I could hardly believe that a good number of them remained indifferent throughout their lives about the ethics of the bombing. It was just the kind of thing countries did in order to win, they believed. Others, however, hated the US ever after, as well they might have.

It can be tempting to read Hiroshima as a well-written story of something that happened three-quarters of a century ago to people on the other side of the world. But to do so would be a serious error, since various experts like William Perry are warning us that a new nuclear arms race is now underway, with the psychotic in the White House legally empowered to push the nuclear button without consulting anyone. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists now puts the hand of the Doomsday Clock at a hundred seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been. If we don’t want to pass people on the street whose faces have fallen off or enable the melting of other people’s eyes—or our own—we have to remember Hiroshima, protest nuclear funding, and most important of all, vote in November.

This article may appear in the August 2020 issue of Gumbo, the monthly publication of the Grail in the US.




Pandemic Ramblings II

August 3, 2020 at 11:33 am | Posted in Catholicism, Covid-19,, Trump | 1 Comment

When I went out on my morning walk the other day, I was thinking about the question of who wears masks and who doesn’t. Some speculate that women wear them more than men. I guess that’s true, though I also see couples where the man is wearing a mask and the woman isn’t. And there are really a lot of men pushing kids in carriages, or with babies strapped to their chests, wearing masks. But I suspect that the current intense heat and humidity are more important than gender differences. After I have walked for twenty minutes,  my black cotton mask is seriously wet. Not a great encouragement for any of us.

i have long believed that if everybody in the US just lived in the west end of Flatbush, out here in Brooklyn, they would stop hating the “other,” because there are just so many different kinds of others here. I regularly pass people speaking a foreign language—often a language I  can’t identify (Russian, Ukrainian? Chinese, Korean? Creole?). Sometimes I don’t hear a living soul speaking English during my entire walk. Another thing that often strikes me is how people—women, often—wearing strict religious clothing like Muslim women in veils and orthodox Jewish women in wigs—have cell phones shoved up against their faces. I wonder what they’re reading or watching? Finally, it cracks me up how people from every possible ethnic/racial/religious background seem to have their teenager children–especially teenage girls—giving them trouble, arguing, scowling, dressing distinctly differently from their parents. We all have a lot more in common than we think.

This morning while I was walking I was mulling over a series of articles about how the “devoutly Catholic” William Barr is less the head of the US Justice Department than he is DT’s “defender in chief,” in part because of his commitment to absolute presidential power. What the articles got me wondering about is how the US Catholic bishops have over the years refused communion to Catholic politicians who would not oppose the legal right to abortion, even if they personally would not have an abortion but have not said a word about Barr defending someone who brags about grabbing women by their crotches and has been accused of sexual misconduct numerous times. And then there’s Barr leading the Justice Department when it reinstated the death penalty after Pope Francis defined the death penalty as “inadmissible” in the Catholic catechism. I guess unborn fetuses and the right to fire gay employees are the only things that really matter.

Finally, the other day after my walk, I heard Amy Goodman do the second of several interviews with Noam Chomsky on “Democracy Now.” What struck me about the interview was Chomsky’s comment on all the articles and reports claiming that Trump’s behaviors are fascist. Fascists, Chomsky pointed out, were intelligent and extremely well organized—that’s how they almost conquered the world. Trump et al, on the other hand, don’t have the faintest idea what they are doing—they’re just destroying essential parts of the social infrastructure because they can and to please their corporate supporters.

Well, I guess I’ll ramble home now. Talk to you again soon.


Fatal Diagnosis

July 22, 2020 at 3:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I was really excited when I learned last Friday that our local bookstore, Greenlight, up on
Flatbush Avenue, was reopening. So I decided to walk up and pay a visit.

I never imagined that I would buy a book with a picture of Donald Trump on the cover, but when I got to the bookstore, I decided in a flash to buy a copy of Mary Trump’s new book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man  (Simon and Schuster). Besides wanting to support Greenlight, I wanted to help run the sales up to two million, from the one million that had sold on the first day of publication.

And then, I never imagined that I would read a book about the Trump family, but when I got home I sat down and did exactly that. This post is a not a review of the book: there are plenty of good reviews out there, like the one that appeared recently in The Guardianas well as a number of interviews with the author. But I am going to share a few of my thoughts with you about the book.

The first thing that grabbed my attention is that the author’s name, Mary L. Trump, has “Ph.D.” after it on the cover. This is, in my experience, fairly unusual. Very, very many authors, particularly those of works of non-fiction, have Ph.D.’s but don’t get that advertisedon the cover. My speculation about why the publisher did such a thing is that they wanted people to know that the author, despite her last name, is not an idiot. (Mary Trump’s Ph.D. is in clinical psychology, the perfect preparation for her analysis of her family).

The second thing I want to share with you is that Too Much and Never Enough is actually a well-written, thoughtful book. Definitely not a John Bolton (or an anticipated) Michael Cohen exposé.  Dr. Trump does a fine job of laying out the history and psychological dynamics of  the Trump family as the context for the president’s ongoing pathological behavior. Basically, Fred Trump Sr.’s treatment of all five of his children was so violent and cruelly unempathic that it guaranteed that one of them, Donald, would turn out exactly like him.

And Donald did. Fred Sr., when talking about his accomplishments, would repeatedly say that everything was “great,” “fantastic,” and “perfect.” He bullied his oldest son, Fred Jr., for being weak and not domineering enough, modeling for Freddy’s younger brother Donald what he’d better do if he didn’t want the same treatment. One of the most devastating sections of the book is Dr. Trump’s narration of how the entire rest of the family abandoned Freddy–her father–when he was taken to the hospital and died of a heart attack . No one went with him in the ambulance. Donald went out to dinner. He is brother died alone

Mary Trump concludes her fatal (for us) diagnosis of her pathological  president-uncle with several devastating observations:

The simple fact is that Donald is fundamentally incapable of acknowledging the suffering of others. ‘Everything is transactional for this poor broken human being.’…I can only imagine the envy with which Donald watched Derek Chauvin’s casual cruelty and monstrous indifference as he murdered George Floyd…I can only imagine that Donald wishes it had been his knee on Floyd’s neck…But he can never escape from the fact that he is and always will be a terrified little boy.

Donald’s monstrosity is the manifestation of the very weakness within him that he’s been running from his entire life. For him, there has never been any option but to be positive, to project strengthen matter how illusory, because doing anything else carries a death sentence; my father’s short life is evidence of that. The country is now suffering from the same toxic positivity that my grandfather (Fred.Sr.) deployed specifically to drown out his ailing wife, torment his dying son, and damage past healing the psyche of his favorite child, Donald J. Trump.

In conclusion, if there’s any take-away from Mary Trump’s well-written, terrifying book, it’s that we have to get out and vote in November, and get everyone we know to vote as well. Joe Biden isn’t perfect, but compared to Donald Trump, he’s absolutely enough.



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