National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
August 29, 2003

LettersGay marriage

As a gay man, there’s only so much I can take before I have to speak out. Sometimes what feels like a personal attack has to be countered with equally strong words.

How dare the Vatican and the Roman Catholic church have the audacity to call gay marriage “gravely immoral”? What’s gravely immoral is:

And the list goes on and on. With its documented history of bloodshed, violence, corruption and intolerance, for the Roman Catholic church to label anything as gravely immoral is the ultimate act of immorality.


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I’m deeply puzzled how the church expects the non-baptized to see the logic of its position on gay marriage or partnerships. Can we really force non-Catholics to be life-long celibates if they are gay? More to the point, can we force them to deny themselves any human intimacy and commitment to one another? Actually, I think that fear has entered the Vatican gates because if gays are lining up to commit themselves to each other for life, then the old accusation that homosexuals are uncontrollably promiscuous becomes redundant.

New York

War in Iraq

In the Aug. 1 issue, Richard Hughes of Hawaii wrote a letter that 200,000 people disappeared under Saddam Hussein’s rule. This is intolerable. Hughes inferred that that justifies our invasion.

Let’s explore this history. In the mid-1950s the Iraqi people overthrew the British and began a process of democratic elections. The United States didn’t like the direction Iraq was heading and installed Saddam Hussein. We trained him and his people, we supplied him with weapons and money, and we supported his overthrow of democratically elected leaders.

Over the years we encouraged Saddam’s tactics. We used him against Iran. [Donald] Rumsfeld (during his first tour) met with him on numerous occasions. We were neutral when Saddam asked our State Department for permission to invade Kuwait.

During the first Gulf War, we bombed Baghdad (killing hundreds of civilians) and also bombed much of Iraq. We destroyed their water, sewer and electrical systems. We used depleted uranium in our shells and bombs and permanently contaminated the earth. Then we led sanctions and bombing to prevent rebuilding and cleanup. The World Health Organization said that during the 10 years of U.S.-led sanctions, 1.2 million Iraqis died because of lack of clean water, proper sewage treatment and medicines. Most of these were children. We are now beginning to see the effects of depleted uranium -- deformed children, high cancer rates.

To invade a country, to kill Iraqis, to place U.S. troops in harm’s way to correct a problem that we created is beyond intolerable. I believe all parties involved in this atrocity must go before an international court and be tried for crimes against humanity.

Grass Lake, Mich.

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Amidst bombs bursting in air over the heads of the innocent Iraqi people, this is what I heard loud and clear: “Make no mistake! Let the blood of Saddam Hussein and his two sons be upon my head and the heads of my children [Americans].” As a retired old Catholic priest, I pray everyday as I celebrate Mass that the curse that President Bush has invoked upon this nation will not be executed unto the third and fourth generation. NCR is to be commended for exonerating the American people and their bishops (NCR, Aug. 1), who extricated themselves from the tangled web Bush has woven with poor Tony Blair whom he has deceived. The world should know that President Bush, acting unilaterally, did not get the blessings of the pope and his bishops (this time) as did the Crusades under the aegis of former popes.


Alternative history

I must say that I was absolutely delighted to see the piece on Gore Vidal in the Aug. 1 NCR. I’ve been reading some of his books most of the summer, and I hope that the interview will stimulate even more interest in Vidal’s historical “fiction.”

I place quotation marks about the word because what Vidal offers is what may be better termed an “alternative history,” a history refreshingly bereft of the mythologies and shibboleths about what many of us think was “true.” Vidal has been called a modern La Rochefoucauld, but he is also an American Bernard Shaw, i.e., he is unafraid to explore the most important subjects of religion and politics with a sharpness and penetration most rare.

Every Christian ought to read Julian and Creation, his novels about imperial Christianity and the search for the meaning of religion, respectively. Every American should read his Burr, which explores the messy beginnings and uneasy foundations of the “old republic,” minus the hagiographic glorification of “founding fathers.” For instance, Vidal’s Jefferson is a brilliant but duplicitous empire-builder willing to undermine the Bill of Rights whenever it suits his purposes; and Vidal’s Washington is a hopeless military bungler, who would have lost the Revolution but for the aid of the French, yet was a politician of surprising genius.

This history resonates with the sense of the lived reality, absent the cold, lifeless marble of our national legends.

La Crosse, Wis.

Apples to oranges

Regarding Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras comments in an interview in Rome July 7 in Rome and reported by John L. Allen Jr. in the July 18 issue: I admire the cardinal’s brave stance against the atrocities in his country and I pray for his safety and that of all who support him. Their actions are truly commendable.

However, when the cardinal compares these and other atrocities going on in our world with the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, he is comparing apples to oranges. The crimes of massive poverty, racism, environmental degradation and drug trafficking are not (to my knowledge) being committed by ordained men, nor are they being covered up by bishops. The identity of these perpetrators invalidates such a comparison. These men betrayed the trust placed in them because of their office and disregarded their moral and pastoral responsibilities.

Because of their actions, the whole church is in need of healing, not just the victims and their families. Bishops, priests, deacons, religious and last, but not least, the laity, we all need healing.

The first step in any healing process is facing the truth. Until the laity sees more of this in members of the hierarchy, healing will not take place nor will trust be restored. In my opinion the cardinal’s comments do not help the healing process.

Sun City Center, Fla.


In his review of Phillip Jenkins’ book, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice in the Aug. 1 issue, Jim Fisher dismisses Jenkins’ errors of fact (Charles Curran as being a professor at American University rather than at The Catholic University of America and JFK’s presidential campaign described as “the 1964 race”) as being “quirks”

Facts are important. Truth matters. What other facts are the basis of Phillip Jenkins’ assertion there is a new American anti-Catholicism? Are the facts accurate?

Coventry, R.I.

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Methinks Philip Jenkins doth protest too much. Sure, some hostility toward Catholics remains, but mainly among Protestant fundamentalists, many of whom do not believe that Catholics are really Christians.

Catholics are proportionately represented in Congress, business and the professions, and public schools are now friendly to Catholics, as evidenced by the huge shift of kids from parochial to public schools since 1965.

What some would regard as Catholic bashing is aimed not at Catholics generally but at the church’s hierarchy. See, for example, the important 2002 book by Spanish psychologist Pepe Rodriguez, Pederasty in the Catholic Church: Clergy Sex Crimes against Minors, a Drama Silenced and Covered up by the Bishops (Ediciones B, Barcelona), unfortunately available only in Spanish; or Rodriguez’s earlier book, The Sex Life of the Clergy (Ediciones B, Madrid); or the popular 2002 Mexican film “The Crime of Padre Amaro,” adapted from Portuguese writer Eca de Queiroz’s 1875 novel of the same name.

“Liberal” criticism of the hierarchy is fueled by the mishandling of the sex abuse scandals and the bishops’ crusades for school vouchers, seeming indifference toward the plight of the public schools that serve 80 percent of Catholic kids, and their negative stance toward reproductive rights.

Silver Spring, Md.

The harvest of the laity

I write to commend you on several interesting, enlightening and inspiring articles in your Aug. 1 issue. Specifically, Michael Shields’ Viewpoint article, “Double standard in public life hurts Catholic credibility,” in which he states, “God gives every person the wonderful gift of free will and for conservative Catholics to claim that liberal Catholics are not Catholics based on a single issue of abortion is both shortsighted and hypocritical.”

Also inspiring in this same issue were the many excellent letters from Catholic lay people and clergy, notably, Ron Zeilinger of Milwaukee (“I firmly believe that a vocation is a grace given by the Spirit … in order to build a completely different church than we have known heretofore”) and Fr. Kenneth Smits, OFM Cap, Madison, Wis. (“The gifts of God need to be adequately recognized and employed in the governance of the church. In this time of disaster, I believe it will be the laity who save the church, not the bishops or priests.”) If my Catholic theology is correct, I believe it is possible to elect a lay pope. Has this not been done on one or two occasions during our 2,000-year history? We can hope, this would then lead to equality for all of the people of God, opening up the priesthood and office of bishop to women, including the office of the bishop of Rome.

Another letter in your Aug. 1 issue from Roberta Miller of Columbus, Ohio, says, “We need to be as inclusive as Jesus, who is our model.”

Finally, your enlightening article by Tim Unsworth on remembering Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy: Unsworth writes, “Catholic writers are like vintage grapes. They come in bunches.” It seems to me the Holy Spirit is using the laity of the vineyard we call “church” to bring a whole new harvest.

San Francisco

Breaching U.N. conventions

Pat Morrison’s perspective “For these children, no magic carpet” (NCR, July 18) is symptomatic of a much larger issue.

She states that only three countries in the world failed to ratify the U.N. “Convention on the Rights of the Child” including the United States. Yet she also states that 250 million children, or approximately 15-20 percent of the total world population of children in the target age group, are currently working for a living. To paraphrase Sen. Fritz Hollings, “There’s a whole lotta cheatin’ goin’ on.”

The larger issue is the seriousness and value of U.N. conventions in particular, and a whole range of U.N. activities in general. If it is possible for a significant number of the 194 nations in the world to ratify these conventions and then ignore them with impunity, what is the value of the conventions beyond simple statements of what the situation in the world should really be like if anyone cared? If the United Nations cannot assure compliance or doesn’t even expect it, then it is perpetrating a cruel hoax on the world and, in this specific case, its children.

The United Nations has apparently decided that it should be the arbiter of a whole variety of issues within and between countries. However, in many cases, it performs its self-appointed responsibilities abysmally. Child labor is a serious issue, as are forced sterilization, infanticide, torture and genocide. The United Nations publicly proclaims great programs that are honored more in the breach than in the observance. As a Catholic, I am particularly concerned with the U.N.’s advocacy of abortion as a population control technique and its pique that the United States is unwilling to co-fund its abortion efforts.

The United Nations continually violates the maxim: “Don’t begin vast programs with half-vast ideas.”

Warrenton, Va.

Bishops play hooky?

In the July 4 issue Joe Feuerherd’s boxed brief had as an almost offhand remark the statement, “Votes on a proposed National Directory … were inconclusive because the balloting took place Saturday morning, at which time the requisite quorum of bishops was no longer present.” Sounds like the academic meetings I used to go to, at which time the requisite quorum was no longer present: Many of us had taken the early plane home. Playin’ hooky? Bishops too?

Poestenkill, N.Y.

Parish takeover

Thank you for your coverage of the unprecedented takeover of our well-established and well-run Holy Spirit Parish in McAllen, Texas, by diocesan officials (NCR, Aug. 1). The article captured the commitment of parishioners, including the youth, to our parish and its dedicated staff.

As your article points out, the church has a commendable history of advocating for the right of workers to justice in the workplace and defending workers’ right to organize. How sad a commentary on Bishop Reymundo Peña that he has carved out an exception to this support when it comes to his own workers.

It is even sadder that our parish staff felt the need to unionize based on the experiences of other parishes whose staff were fired by new pastors so, as one pastor was told by Bishop Peña, they could establish their own authority in the parish.

The U.S. Catholic church has always stood with the United Farm Workers union in its struggle through the years. How appropriate that our parish workers have sought the protection of the UFW as they now struggle for justice in the church.

I have always been encouraged and comforted by Jesus’ words, “The truth will set you free.” I call on Fr. Ruben Delgado to experience that comfort by revealing Bishop Peña’s role in the firing of our parish staff members. What new pastor wouldn’t want his transition to go smoothly? What new pastor wouldn’t want to meet the parish staff, get to know them, and what they do, and how well they do it? What new pastor would want to destroy any acceptance by a parish by firing the staff before experiencing the community? I feel saddened that Fr. Delgado has allowed himself to be so manipulated and set up for failure as our pastor, having to resign before even celebrating Eucharist with the community.

I call on Bishop Peña to demonstrate leadership and make every effort toward healing and reconciliation with our parish. His statements to the press say he wants this, yet he has made no moves to meet with the staff, or the parish council, or to visit the parish.

Our parish is made up of people who have chosen to live the gospel and put themselves at the service of others. Why should any bishop feel threatened by this?

I write this on the feast of John Vianney (Curé d’Ars), the patron saint of parish priests. I pray, while he undoubtedly weeps, that he will intercede for us.

McAllen, Texas

St. Louis unionizing

In “Rigali named to Philadelphia” (NCR, Aug. 1), the present administrator of the archdiocese of St. Louis was quoted as saying, “The teachers are employees of the individual parishe