National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
June 20, 2003

LettersAbortion as litmus test

In the May 23 issue, some bishops are saying to Catholics in public life that there is “no compromise on abortion” because abortion is the killing of innocent human life, right?

In my view, starting wars is the killing of innocent human life. Supporting the booming business in guns and weapons manufacturing and sales is assuring the killing of innocent human life. Refusing to help solve environmental pollution problems -- and especially deliberately contributing to them -- is slow torture and killing of innocent human life. Aiding wealthy people and corporations at the expense of aiding the poor, desperate and helpless is also a torturous killing of innocent human life.

To zero in on abortion is, to me, to ignore the forest because of a tree. It is a skewed morality.

Southfield, Mich.

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I believe American bishops and Vatican officials have dodged the real issue surrounding the abortion debate. Ninety-five percent of abortions are due to unwanted pregnancies. Vatican officials had a golden opportunity to be men of service prior to the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The well-qualified committee that submitted its report with recommendations pertaining to birth control was totally ignored by the Vatican. The abortion issue cannot be an either/or stance. It requires dialogue and collaboration with those who have expertise in the area of human reproduction and moral ethics.

Those seeking elected positions are public figures who are at the mercy of the voters. They make themselves vulnerable. I wonder how many present-day bishops would be in that position if the Catholic people had a say in their election or appointment.

Venice, Fla.

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Your editorial on the “one-issue agenda” in the May 23 issue aptly commented that there is no wiggle room in the church’s teaching on abortion, yet there is a bit of wiggle room for its teachings on war, on the death penalty, and with regard to the poor. The reason this difference exists may be the hierarchy’s personal involvement, or lack thereof, with respect to its various teaching.

The church’s involvement with the Crusades forced the hierarchy to justify war under some circumstances; likewise with the Inquisition and the death penalty. Many have argued that the Vatican Museum should sell its treasures to help the poor, yet the hierarchy feels that it is more important to hold them in trust for humanity. Getting personally involved with these complex issues brings out the gray that is present when individuals with an informed, involved conscience contemplate the morality of their actions.

Abortion, on the other hand, is something that the all-male hierarchy has not had to deal with personally, except perhaps in a clandestine manner. So of course it is easy for them to condemn it as an intrinsic evil, since it is women who must make the ultimate decision.

Atherton, Calif.

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It’s great to see U.S. bishops challenging Catholic politicians who vote against basic moral principles. Let us support those bishops calling politicians to account on abortion and pray that this will begin a broader calling to account on the range of Catholic teaching including war, poverty and injustice.

Auckland, New Zealand

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I share the concerns of those who think that to focus on abortion to the exclusion of all the other issues that affect life is shortsighted. To the other issues to be considered such as the death penalty, war and the whole range of economic issues, I would add one more.

On Jan. 29, 1988, the Catholic bishops of the Philippines issued a pastoral letter titled “What is Happening to our Beautiful Land?” They describe the original beauty of their islands, the devastation that is taking place and reflect on this in light of the gospel, and they call it sinful. Toward the end of their letter, they call on individuals to become involved “to heal our wounded country.” Turning to the church, they write: “Like every other group, the church as a community is called to conversion around this, the ultimate pro-life issue.”

To call the environment the ultimate pro-life issue may at first come as a shock. If we reflect, however, we can see that unless we have air, water and soil that is pure enough to sustain health, all life will be threatened.

St. Francis, Wis.

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In the May 23 issue, NCR succinctly spotlighted the dichotomy between the American bishops and our post-Vatican II American Catholic church.

The bishops appeared to be of a mindset that they can somehow force Catholic politicians and parishioners into their “party line” on a “litmus test” of abortion.

Yet these very same bishops have yet to force their own membership into their “party line” issued at their meeting in Dallas last year regarding “criminal celibates.”

Bishops, what you do speaks so loudly I can hardly hear what you are saying!

Pascagoula, Miss.

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What intrigued me most about the articles and the editorial on Catholics in public life was that there were no women interviewed, nor did a woman write either article. Until women who want, or wanted, to have children are brought into this discussion, the bishops will unfortunately remain clueless and will continue to think that they can arbitrarily enforce their decisions on women.

Oddly enough, men are allowed by the bishops to equivocate on war and the death penalty, where innocent lives are also lost. But women must not be allowed either to express an opinion or assume any decision-making responsibility on a subject that impacts them directly.

Perhaps the bishops need to have sessions of good old 1970s-style consciousness raising.

Cambria, Calif.

Defending Santorum

I’m confused about Fr. Robert Gahl’s defense of Sen. Rick Santorum’s extremist statements about gay people in your May 16 issue. Gahl attacks Santorum’s critics for representing “the implacable rule of the totalitarian thought police [that] exists to censor public debate.”

Let me get this clear: Gahl is talking about Santorum’s critics, and not the Vatican itself? Gahl is clearly an implacable defender of Vatican teaching about human sexuality. Is Fr. Gahl really suggesting that the Vatican itself has encouraged or even permitted free and open discourse about issues of sexual morality in, say, the last four decades?

If Gahl wants to look for examples of totalitarian thought police censoring public debate, he need look no further than his own backyard in Rome where he teaches. Under the present pope, theologians, clergy, bishops and lay folks who have dared to ask for open discussion of issues like artificial contraception, the place of women in the church, and, yes, homosexuality, have been swiftly and effectively silenced.

Gahl strikes me as utterly duplicitous in defending the Vatican position on human sexuality while attacking Santorum’s critics as totalitarians whose goal is to silence public debate.

Little Rock, Ark.

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In his comments regarding Sen. Santorum’s recent statements on homosexuality, Fr. Gahl resorts to the two most common justifications for continued anti-gay bias -- the “love the sinner, hate the sin” and “save the fragile institution of heterosexual marriage” defenses.

Maybe Fr. Gahl can enlighten us about Sen. Santorum’s love for gay individuals by revealing to us what legislation the senator supports to protect the civil liberties of gay men and women or, perhaps, by filling us in on the number of openly gay staffers the senator has (or has had) in his employ over his many years in Congress. It would be helpful to know how, exactly, a family headed by two men or two women “threatens” Sen. Santorum’s marriage and family.

New York

Pacifism as pious cop-out

I wish I could subscribe to the idea of peace that is espoused in recent issues of NCR. However, in a world in which international violence is increasing, praying for peace or seeking the “peace that passes all understanding” rather than confronting evil with an active love, which may require the bearing of arms, seems futile.

While thousands of innocents are abused and murdered by the tyrants of our world, praying for peace and refusing to support armed intervention smacks of a pious cop-out. It has taken us centuries to finally have laws that protect heads of households from abuse. Men, women and children have rights. Somehow we must convey that understanding to the world community. And using our military capabilities to rescue victims of tyranny causes no more deaths of innocents than doing nothing!

Ypsilanti, Mich.

Evangelical Christians

Evangelicals in this country pose a clear and present danger to the United States. First, their nutty interpretation of the Bible that Jesus will not return until the state of Israel is established in its entirety, as if God were restrained by human events. That would include Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). They are one with the fanatical Jews who occupy those settlements on the West Bank.

Second is their desire to go into Iraq and convert Muslims. They do not believe that other religions have good aspects through which God works and can save them even if they do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. This second invasion of Iraq by the evangelicals gives rise to a powerful belief among all Muslims that these Christians are truly Crusaders and a direct threat to Islam. This means war and more terrorism for which we have American evangelicals to thank.


The feminine God

The May 30 article on feminine images of the divine has one very bad mistake: Jeannette Cooperman is way behind on current theology. Before I was in seminary more than 25 years ago, the theologians were correcting a major mistake. Mary Magdalene was not the Mary who was a prostitute.

There is a Roman Catholic church in Minneapolis that has prayed, “Our Mother who art in heaven …” for many, many years.

Before he died Pope John Paul I said, “God is the Father, and even more so God is Mother.”

McGregor, Minn.

The cultural virus

Joan Chittister wrote the following in the May 16 article headlined “One man gives hope for a revolution in spirit”:

“From where I stand, the three vignettes -- the looting of a museum while we stood by, the guarded oil fields, the water that went for oil wells but not for people -- are all too clear a demonstration of U.S. values. It’s hard to believe that all of this is ‘liberation’ of the human spirit. But as long as there is left in the nation one man the quality of Martin Sullivan, there may still be hope for us.”

Such emphasis makes one wonder if she has not caught the “cultural” virus. Certainly, her point that the Bush administration is crass for assuring that water got to the oil locations but not to the people is so right. But her emphasis on the cultural losses has not much to do with the poor and the downtrodden and the simple of this world. While I acknowledge that humanists oftentimes behave better than some Christians, I believe it is important to remind Chittister that culture has been overemphasized by Rome for the longest time at the expense of discipleship. Sounds like she lost her focus on this one, however exemplary by other standards Martin Sullivan’s action may be.

Yonkers, N.Y.

Restorative justice

Your article on restorative justice in the May 30 issue illustrated the possibilities for transformation inherent in a process that honors the dignity of the individual and the community.

The parallels between restorative justice and traditional rites of passage are unmistakable. The young man approaching adulthood has the potential to use his developing power for great good or to do great damage to the community. Wisely, the people of native traditions understood the need to honor this time in a young man’s life and instruct him in the ways of power with male initiation rituals. The young initiate was separated from the community and faced formidable challenges as a way of deeply experiencing hardship. When the young man had been humbled, he was able to reenter society familiar with the ways of powerlessness but also secure in his ascendancy. He was then able to take his place among the community as a valuable contributing member.

A criminal has several voices struggling to be heard; the voice of power as expressed in violence and crime and the voice of repentance and accountability as humbly articulated in the process of mediation.

Incarceration without allowing for the voices of victims and victimizers to hear one another is clearly leading to further violence. Justice truly can be experienced firsthand by victims and criminals when we facilitate communication through mediation. And, like the newly initiated male emerging from the wilderness, the prisoner reformed by restorative justice can know the freedom of returning to society as a mature and contributing member of the community.

Omaha, Neb.

Letters to the editor should be limited to 250 words and preferably typed. If a letter refers to a previous issue of NCR, please give us that issue’s date. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Letters, National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141. Fax: (816) 968-2280. E-mail: Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, June 20, 2003