This column originally appeared in Catholic New York June 9, 1988.
After 30 years or so of turning out newspaper columns, I’m long since used to the idea that readers aren’t going to agree with everything I write. In this business, I figure, you’re ahead of the game if you get a fair reading, and even more so if you draw a thoughtful response.
Those things happened in an extraordinary way with a column I wrote in this space on May 12 titled “We Miss The Ryans.” It was about friends and former neighbors I identified as the Ryans, although that is not their real name. One among the most active members of our parish, they had moved to Florida some years go, and now, on a visit north, told us of their total involvement in a fundamentalist church. They are fully committed Christian, as I believe they always were, and continue today to speak warmly of the Catholic Church. But they no longer count themselves among its members. I wondered, in the column, what it was that led to all this, and how we can afford to lose people like the Ryans.
The reader response was incredible, not only in the number of letters received, but in the thought and care that went into them. (Well, there was one exception; a reader wondered why I missed the Ryans when I should have been saying “Good riddance.”)
I’m sorry that we were able to reprint only a couple of the letters: most ran far beyond our allowable length. But I acknowledge them here with thanks. That goes in a special way for Patrick Nolan of Manhattan, whose comments ran to 14 typewritten pages, and to Dorothy Randle of Staten Island, who wrote six pages.
If there was a common thread running through most of the replies, it was the wish that the Church take particular pains to be responsive to world conditions and to listen to the voice of its people.
“I am glad that someone in your position is aware that the Church losing dedicated, contributing people,” wrote Regina Cassidy, of Staten Island. “The Catholic Church means lot to me, and I am sorry to see more and more people slipping away, people who try to be involved but cannot find a place.”
Mr. Nolan offered the thought that Catholics should perhaps view Pentecostals in a positive light, since “their success may well be part of God’s plan for bringing about openness and restructuring in the Church.” The Church has to identify and acknowledge problems, he said, adding: “It won’t help much to give the same answers our grandmothers and great-grandmothers would give if they were to return among us.” He continued:
“We believe in miracles. Yet… we must go forward one step at a time. However, it might be in our best interests to take one step in each generation, rather than once every four or five hundred years.”
There were a couple of minor misreadings of what I had said originally. In a letter published in our June 2 issue, James Sinclair of Suffern felt I did not sufficiently regret the loss of the Ryans, looking only to their peace and well-being. Perhaps I did not adequately express the sentiment, but I believe that from the Church’s standpoint the loss of the Ryans and of people like them is a keen one. And in this week’s Letters section, John J. Flynn of Manhattan thinks that CNY is wrong to “decry the development of spirit-filled Pentecostals.” There was certainly no intention to do so in the May 12 column. Quite the contrary, in fact: if a church that emphasizes strong family ties, traditional values and trust in Scripture is growing rapidly in this country, it must be answering a deeply felt need.
So once again: I do miss the Ryan in our own worshiping community. I think that they have lost something, and so have we. I’m concerned about whatever it was that led to their departure from the Catholic Church. Your letters—and the love for the Church that fills them all—tell me you're concerned, too.”