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  Readers Write

"Special Needs, Unconditional Love"

I read with great interest your recent article, "Special Needs, Unconditional Love." You see, my youngest son is also autistic, diagnosed two years ago.

I want to thank you for this moving article. Mr. Naseef's wonderful words of wisdom have touched me and, no doubt, countless others. I'm sure his work has brought him tremendous comfort over the years. Everything that Mr. Naseef said about parents of disabled children going through stages of grief is so true, but it was a healthy path to travel. It gave us the strength we needed to persevere for our son.

I was so sad to read that all the avenues that Mr. Naseef "explored that might possibly lead to a cure were dead ends," for our experience has been a much different one. A lot has changed in the treatment of autistic children since Mr. Naseef's son was diagnosed. In 1987, the intensive behavioral teaching methods of Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas came to the forefront in an article published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Data from his intensive, long-term experimental treatment group (diagnosed as autistic) showed that 47 percent achieved normal intellectual and educational functioning after receiving 30-40 hours per week of individual instruction, for two or more years, in Applied Behavioral Analysis (the practice of breaking down teaching into small increments-including self-care, social, communication, play and pre-academic skills).

Unfortunately for desperate parents of recently diagnosed autistic children, there are many claims of miracle cures out there. Applied Behavioral Analysis is the only scientifically proven approach. Our son is proof that it works. The progress that he has made in just a year with this type of treatment is nothing short of amazing. He has gone from a child with no self-care skills, a little language, and few play or social skills, to a boy who speaks in sentences and conveys emotions (yes, he also receives speech therapy), plays appropriately with toys alongside other children and even participates in games with his peers. He is a whiz on the computer and functions at and beyond age-level with pre-academic skills. With his shadow (trained in Applied Behavioral Analysis), he is thriving in a regular afternoon preschool classroom this year. 

This is no "quick fix" and requires a tremendous amount of work on the part of our entire family and, especially, our son, who receives 35 hours/week of instruction. While our son still has a very long road to travel, we are filled with hope for his future. 

To all of the other parents of children with disabilities I would say NEVER let anyone tell you that there is no hope for your child. As Mr. Naseef has shown, YOU are their hope. 

Lisa M. (Port) Vaillancourt '85
Van Buren, Maine


This has bothered me for so very long but, suspecting it to be a thoroughly lost cause, I have never raised the issue before. Now, however, the pope has. According to an AP report in today's Providence Journal, "On Sunday, the pope plans to express regret for the Crusades, the Inquisition and other 'faults of the past.'"

Isn't it time that we, the College, stop referring to ourselves as "Crusaders"?

And, in light of this, doesn't simple logic also suggest that we, the College, drop the use of "In Hoc Signo Vinces"? 

John Forasté '67
Barrington, R.I. 

As a College of the Holy Cross alumna (1986), I have for some time been uneasy about the use of the name "Crusaders" for the school's athletic teams. In this time of papal introspection about the Church, its history and its followers, I think the time has come for the school to change that name.

The Crusades were dark moments in Church history and certainly not something to glorify. The use of the term "Crusaders" for Holy Cross athletic teams exalts the deeds of the original crusaders, who in fact massacred hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews and Muslims and committed other acts of violence and destruction. Keeping "Crusaders" as our name in this more enlightened time is no longer appropriate and actually contradicts the Jesuit values that most alumni hold dear.

Many major schools have changed the name of their athletic teams from offensive to non-offensive names. For example, the Marquette Warriors became the Golden Eagles. The Stanford Indians became the Cardinals. And the St. John's Redmen became the Red Storm. 

To be consistent with our most cherished Jesuit and Christian values, can the College of the Holy Cross do any less?

Martha (Lepore) Delaney '86
Jefferson, Wis.

Ex Corde Ecclesiae

Over the last couple of years, I have been proud to watch my alma mater engage the question of what it means to be a Catholic college. My pride turned to grief, however, when I received the spring issue of this journal. I am a professor of philosophy at a Catholic university, and as such have spent not a few hours in seminars and on panels, talking about and writing about Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the Applications. It saddens me to see these documents so misrepresented.

Acting President Frank Vellaccio (Page 71) calls the bishops' acceptance of the Applications "disappointing," apparently because it does not continue "dialogue" that has been going on for nearly 20 years, and "focuses attention on a small number of issues of canon law." Of course, the Applications do no such thing. They are an implementation procedure for the entirety of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, a beautifully written and argued document that I urge everyone to read again. It is an obstructionist tactic to call for infinite "dialogue" without resolution. And it flies in the face of the spirit of truth that animates real dialogue to concoct scary scenarios about the mandatum to frighten the uninformed.

David O'Brien, for example (Pages 70-71), finds three points of "anxiety" in the mandatum. First, he says that the question of who will be qualified to teach Catholic theology will be placed in the hands of non-academics. Of course, the mandatum does no such thing. Even putting aside the outstanding academic credentials of many of our bishops, and especially the pope, the question of who teaches theology remains quite explicitly in the hands of the institution. Whether what the professor professes qualifies as Catholic is the role of bishops-a terrible and difficult job, but one given to bishops by Christ Himself. 

Second, O'Brien claims that the mandatum requires the theologian to surrender professional integrity, merely professing truths defined by the hierarchy. Of course, the mandatum does no such thing. Bishops and theologians both serve Christ and His Church, but in distinct roles: bishops as defenders of the Truth as it is known, theologians as explorers of the boundaries of the truth according to the methods of their discipline (i.e., with proper academic freedom). This hardly surrenders integrity, but is rather a means to preserve it. O'Brien, however, has given away the game by noting that what theologians want is a "partnership" with the hierarchy, a voice alongside the hierarchy's in articulation of the faith. No such partnership can exist. Theologians want to define what counts as the truth to be defended, thus making it impossible for them ever to be seen as outside the faith. (Perhaps this is what Rev. Michael McFarland, S.J., means when he refers (Page 5) to an "elastic" definition of "Catholic"-although it is the elasticity of Silly Putty, moldable into any shape, bouncing erratically from point to point, ultimately meaningless.) Such a role would put many theologians at odds with those who already have a deposit of faith to defend. Professional integrity does not demand that one can determine for oneself what counts as Catholic, but rather that one have the honesty to acknowledge when one has broken with that deposit of faith. 

O'Brien's third anxiety is that non-academics will "now have the legal foundation to challenge theologians and harass administrators" in the name of orthodoxy. We can only imagine the consternation in the theology common room: "What? Ordinary people daring to challenge me? Why, I have a number of degrees!" Indeed, what is the world coming to, when theologians are held accountable by the ordinary people they are called to serve?

Fr. McFarland, the incoming president, claims that the Jesuit tradition has a special way of being Catholic, which focuses on inquiry, keeping Catholicism in dialogue with the world, open to "intellectual currents"; the Church, you see, has no fear of the truth, since "the truth is not inconsistent with God." For this reason, the particular juridical norms do not fit the Jesuit context, for they envision a situation different from that of Holy Cross, claims Fr. McFarland. Of course, the norms do no such thing. What Fr. McFarland claims to be the unique Jesuit tradition is in fact what Ex Corde describes as the function of any Catholic college or university. As such, the juridical norms are written precisely for the Holy Cross context, and all universities calling themselves Catholic. 

The tone that is struck by all three men is remarkably similar, and seems to rest on a similar misunderstanding: that canon law, an Apostolic Constitution, and indeed all matters of faith and morals, are decided by a vote of the bishops or the acceptance of individual institutions. O'Brien says the bishops "adopted" the mandate under Vatican pressure, as though they had a choice. Vellaccio wants to find an implementation "which will be broadly acceptable," as though there will be a poll on the issue. Fr. McFarland, most remarkably, asks whether it is possible to "adapt the norms to our context or make them fit?" 

May I make a suggestion? Rather than continue seeking the adulation of the rest of the academic community and to maintain your "standing"; rather than working for the greater glory of the College; why not try working "For the Greater Glory of God"? May I suggest that you humbly, and prayerfully, try adapting your context to the norms? If you do so, it is certain that God will bring abundant blessings to your work. 

Stephen J. Heaney '79
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minn. 

Responses from Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., and Professor David O'Brien

I would like to clarify two points raised by Professor Heaney in relation to my remarks, and then make a general observation. First, Professor Heaney objects to my saying that what it means to be Catholic is "somewhat elastic." That was simply an observation. I don't see how anyone who has studied the history of the Church or observed the Church today could come to any other conclusion. There are many different, valid ways of being Catholic. That does not mean that "any" way is valid, as Professor Heaney accuses me of saying; and it certainly does not make it "meaningless."  I started that section of the interview by saying that being Catholic does mean something, and schools that call themselves Catholic need to be held accountable for that.

Second, Professor Heaney cites my statement that it is the Jesuit charism to focus on inquiry and maintain a dialogue with the intellectual currents of the time, and goes on to say, supposedly representing my argument, that "for this reason [emphasis his], the particular juridical norms do not fit the Jesuit context. ." Those are his words, not mine, and you will not find anything like that in my statement. What I meant was that the norms do not in all cases easily fit the context of Holy Cross and therefore would need some adaptation to be effective. For example, the norms seem to envision a separation of Catholic theology from the rest of theology and religious studies. I do not think that makes sense in a small, integrated, undergraduate, liberal arts program like Holy Cross. We can do a much better job educating students in the faith if we keep Catholic theology as an integral part of the program. I do not think the idea that laws must be adapted to specific circumstances is such an unusual or dangerous idea. We do it all the time. Especially in a case like this, where the norms are being applied to such a broad range of institutions, differing in size, structure, sponsoring organization, history, population served, and mission, some adaptation will always be necessary. The bishops seem to recognize this when in their document they talk about the need for ongoing dialogue and a relationship of communio between the hierarchy and the schools.

Professor Heaney is welcome to disagree with us on the interpretation of Ex Corde and its implications for Holy Cross. He raises some good points. Moreover, I am glad that Professor Heaney has such a passionate interest in the future of Holy Cross as a Catholic and Jesuit College. So do we. I am saddened, however, that he seems to be assuming bad faith on the part of me, Professor O'Brien and Dr. Vellaccio, that somehow we want to weaken Holy Cross' relationship with the Church or undermine its mission as a Catholic and Jesuit College, that we are not working "For the Greater Glory of God." That is unfair. Professor O'Brien and Dr. Vellaccio have given long and faithful service to Holy Cross and have worked tirelessly on behalf of its Catholic and Jesuit mission, since long before Professor Heaney came to the College. For that, they deserve some respect.

Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J.

Thanks to Stephen Heaney of the wonderful University of St. Thomas for his vigorous response. He makes clear there are at least two sides to the question of academic theology's role in the life of the church. I hope he will have a chance to share his views with others concerned about this question, perhaps in a Common Ground dialogue. I suspect he would find the experience helpful. 

Still, on Ex Corde, there are problems. Disappointment was the all but universal reaction of university leaders and bishops who have been close to higher education to the Vatican rejection of the 1996 document. Anxiety is widespread, even among bishops, and it should be. If Professor Heaney is right, "Catholic" is what the bishops (does he really mean Rome?) say(s) it is. Fortunately he is not right. Bishops and theologians in the United States even before the Ex Corde discussions had worked out procedures to handle conflicts which respect proper roles of each. Dialogue and shared responsibility mark that text. One expects that the same spirit of mutual respect will allow them to work out procedures that will contribute to the unity and integrity of the American church, provided they are allowed to do so. Professor Heaney's dismissal of anxiety about harassment by self-appointed theological vigilantes whose e-mails get read in Rome simply shows that he is out of touch with the recent history of our Church.

There are even bishops who have become guarded in addressing their people for fear someone in the back of the room is taking notes. It's too bad, because what we need is more (a lot more) public debate, not less, if we are to have even the prospect of an intelligent and engaged American church.

David O'Brien 
Loyola Professor of Roman Catholic Studies


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