Archive for the ‘Penny Lernoux’ Tag

Feast of Penny Lernoux (October 9)   Leave a comment

Above:  Latin America

Image in the Public Domain

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PENNY LERNOUX (JANUARY 6, 1940-OCTOBER 9, 1989)

U.S. Roman Catholic Journalist and Moral Critic

Penny Lernoux–journalist, defender of the poor and oppressed, and advocate for Liberation Theology–comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via two books.  The first one is Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997).  The other volume is Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday, editors, Cloud of Witnesses, second edition (2005).

Lernoux, born in California on January 6, 1940, was a cradle Roman Catholic.  She became a journalist.  In 1962, as an employee of the United States Information Agency (U.S.I.A.), she traveled to Latin America for the first of many times.  After leaving the U.S.I.A., she went to work for the Copley News Service in the early 1960s.  Our saint, an employee of that news service for about a decade, continued to travel professionally in Latin America.

The Cold War made for nasty bedfellows, all in the name of fighting communism.  The United States Government usually supported Latin American right-wing military dictatorships that sent death squads to execute innocent civilians.  The United States Government even installed some of these dictatorships, all in the name of fighting communism.  These governments were not communist, at least.  Most Roman Catholic bishops in Latin America supported these repressive governments, which were not communist, at least.  Lernoux became disenchanted with her Church and her country in the 1960s.  She remained so for the rest of her life.

Yet our saint found grassroots heroes of faith who renewed her faltering faith.  Maryknoll Sisters helped to renew Lernoux’s faith.  She also met Roman Catholic priests and missioners who worked and identified with the poor and oppressed, despite great risks to themselves.  Lernoux began to tell these stories.  Her first book, Cry of the Poor:  The Struggle for Human Rights in Latin America–The Catholic Church in Conflict with U.S. Policy (1977), was part of that endeavor.  She really lowered the boom on the Vatican and the United States Government in In Banks We Trust:  Bankers and Their Close Associates:  The C.I.A., the Mafia, Drug Traders, Dictators, Politicians, and the Vatican (1984).  She also wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education and the National Catholic Reporter.  Furthermore, our saint spoke in North American churches, telling the stories of their Latin American counterparts.

Lernoux found another reason to criticize the Vatican.  The Church had betrayed the promise of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), she alleged.  For example, Pope John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) were busy silencing dissent in the 1980s.  People of God:  The Struggle for World Catholicism (1989) did nothing to make Lernoux less unpopular at the Vatican.

At the end of her life, Lernoux was writing her fourth book, a history of the Maryknoll Sisters.  In September 1989, Lernoux received her diagnosis of cancer.  On October 8, she aged 49 years old, died in Mount Kisco, New York.  She left behind a husband (Denis Nahum) and a daughter (Angela).  

Robert Ellsberg and Arthur Jones completed Lernoux’s last book.  Hearts on Fire:  The Story of the Maryknoll Sisters debuted in 1993.

Lernoux understood the divine preference for the poor in the Bible.  She, in her words, walked

in solidarity with the poor.

So did many Latin American Roman Catholic priests, lay people, and religious.  So did Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara (1909-1989), who challenged his fellow Latin American bishops to identify with the poor and the oppressed, not the rich and the powerful.  And so did El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980), who became a martyr.

The poor and the oppressed need more advocates of the calibre of Penny Lernoux.

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God of the poor and oppressed,

thank you for the work and legacy of your servant Penny Lernoux,

a journalist, an advocate for the poor and oppressed, and a faithful dissident.

Help us, we pray, shake off the barriers to recognizing oppression and exploitation,

and our roles in perpetuating those sins.

May we, in the name of performing righteousness,

not commit and perpetuate evil.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 4:1-10

Psalm 15

Revelation 18:1-24

Luke 6:20-26

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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