National Catholic Reporter
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September 12, 2003

LettersSteinfels’ book

In his review of Steinfels’ book (NCR, Aug. 29), David O’Brien tells of being deeply disturbed by a report that “young Catholic men tend to vote Republican because they like GOP economic policies while younger women support the Democrats in part because of that party’s unequivocal support for ‘choice.’ ”

And he is right to be disturbed. These considerations are self-regarding. They show no awareness that politics has to do with the common good or that, for followers of Jesus, the common good has among its highest priorities care for the poorest and most vulnerable.

And this raises an obvious question: Where does this double concern rank among the operative priorities of a) today’s professional clergy; and b) the bishops?

Steinfels’ approach, church-focused rather than gospel-focused, would have Catholics involved in internal church problems for the foreseeable future. Clearly these problems need faithful attention, but should they crowd out the confession of the good news, the service of the common good and the championing of the cause of the most needy in this country and across the world?

What if, instead, Catholics were to give priority to these concerns? What if they were to rediscover that their primary identity is to be followers and disciples of Jesus who taught, “Seek ye first ...”? We would see a church no longer “adrift” but already re-energized as it sought to respond to the great challenges of our time, and to deal with its own internal difficulties.

Madison, Wis.

Uneducated parish clergy

Richard McBrien’s article on lay leaders in Catholic education (NCR, Aug. 15) reminded me of the Lenten pastoral of the archbishop of Malines, Belgium, in 1907, quoted in Medievalism by George Tyrrell. The archbishop complained, “Whereas lawyers, magistrates, doctors and merchants would be ashamed to own at 40 that their professional knowledge was no greater than 20 years ago, educated Catholics of the same age are not ashamed to have learnt nothing since their first Communion.”

I am sure these words were true of England in 1907, and, sadly, I suspect are true today. The alarming fact is that, sadly, many of our parish clergy seem no better educated, if one relies on the weekly sermon as evidence. Maybe if the wake-up call is loud enough, we might hear it here in England.

Cheltenham, United Kingdom

Military myths

I was pleased to read Raymond Schroth’s “Four myths about U.S. military action” (NCR, Aug. 15). Unfortunately, those who believe that U.S. actions are morally superior to those of other nations don’t believe in mythconceptions. I have found, in general conversation, a direct correlation between those who support the war with Iraq and those who believe that a man who can keep certain personal items in his pants with everyone except his spouse is trustworthy in all other matters. Oh, and lest I forget, the party in question invokes the name of God in public, hence making him even more trustworthy. Did not the Pharisees do as much? Hmmm.

Finally, I’d like to add a fifth myth provided by a friend. This person insists the current mess in postwar Iraq is obviously the fault of a certain someone who could not keep a certain personal item in his pants.

Apparently, this friend contends, it’s this other party’s fault because he cut the military budget too much, and we didn’t have enough troops to send in to prevent this sort of thing. Even if that might be the case, shouldn’t certain other parties (without pants problems) have then increased the size of the military before carrying out this charade?

Little Falls, N.J.

Strict constructionist

Re the Aug. 29 editorial, “Dangerous to play with anti-Catholic fire”:

I think I understand most of the reasons why liberals are opposed to the presence of strict constructionists on our courts, particularly at the federal level. Liberals seem to prefer considering the Constitution to be a “living document” that can be adapted by the courts to the liberal vision of current and evolving societal norms, despite the framers’ clear intentions to the contrary.

I fear that some of the liberals in the Congress, particularly the “Catholic” liberal legislators such as Tom Daschle, Teddy Kennedy, Patrick Leahy, Joe Biden, Dick Durban and others who politically and legislatively support abortion on demand (and apply litmus tests) may, when they expire, discover (to their eternal shock and horror) that their God is a strict constructionist, that there is no mechanism they can use to keep him “off the bench” and that he does not believe his law is a “living document” subject to adaptation to the liberal vision of current and evolving societal norms. This might also be referred to as the Framer’s clear intention.

Warrenton, Va.

John Geoghan’s death

And now, sick soul John J. Geoghan is dead, murdered in prison. And the despicable bishops who transferred him, hid him, enabled him to continue his ways, have all been promoted: John McCormack to Manchester, N.H.; Robert Banks to Green Bay, Wis.; Alfred Hughes to New Orleans -- close to where the scandal started years ago; Thomas Daily to Brooklyn; and, best of all, William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., where he has allegedly ensconced himself in splendor in a convent from which he displaced the nuns who were former residents. Let’s not forget Cardinal Bernard Law, who I personally saw marching in grandiosity at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception a few weeks ago at the memorial to Bob Hope. Maybe Law was a friend of the family. But as far as I’m concerned, he should have stayed home, at the convent in Clinton, Md., where he now lives. But what do I know? I’m just a disgusted layman. And what is that in a world of holy princes?

College Park, Md.

Endangered liberty

Benjamin Franklin once said: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I recall teachers in both high school and college using this quote in regard to Germany in the ’20s and ’30s. Unfortunately, we have a similar situation in the United States now.

Using the fear following the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration has taken steps to curtail and rescind some of our essential liberties: the right to our privacy (the Patriot Act allows for law enforcement personnel to check library records of people without their knowledge and against the wishes of library staff), the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, the right to a speedy trial and to legal counsel.

The Bush administration and its chief spokesperson on the Patriot Act, John Ashcroft, tell us that we should trust them not to trample on our freedoms. Why should we? Those guarantees are in the Constitution precisely because the founders of this country knew that, no matter how good particular officials might be, there was always the possibility for unscrupulous people to use great power to their own ends.

Even if I were inclined to believe Mr. Ashcroft and Bush as to the nobility of their aims (and I’m not), these potshots at our sacred liberties can only weaken us as a country and a people.

If we are willing to trample on the basic safeguards afforded us by the Constitution and by the laws of this country, have we not then become the devil we had hoped to protect ourselves from?

I trust that, on his tour of the country, the citizens of the United States make their views clear, and that Mr. Ashcroft hears how terrible this Patriot Act is and how terrible the Victory Act would be and that he takes it to heart and reconsiders his reckless path.

Kansas City, Mo.

Nursing homes holocaust

During his testimony before the Missouri Senate’s Aging Committee, Tom Klammer said he didn’t understand why advocates referred to treatment of the elderly with terms like “holocaust” until he witnessed the failure of care his father experienced in nursing homes.

Those camps are often just down the street from where we live. Exteriors are nearly always impressive. Reception areas are nearly always elegant. But what you find behind those double doors will far too often shock you.

You will see bodies emaciated as a result of malnutrition. You will see bodies, spirits and minds diminished as a result of dehydration. You will see that hollow, betrayed look in the eyes of old people who have been stripped of dignity. Far too often you will see faces and bodies that are battered and bruised.

Pictures of nursing home victims have been shown to members of Congress and have appeared in newspapers and on television. What was the response to those pictures and to all those tales of horror recounted by family members of victims? All those American counterparts of “good Germans” looked the other way.

Fortunately all Americans don’t look away. Witness the efforts of Sens. John Breaux, D-La., Chuck Grassley, D-Iowa and Christopher Bond, R-Mo., and Congressman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to improve conditions in those camps down the street.

But their voices are but a whisper overpowered by the clamor of all those politicians who sell their souls for 30 pieces of silver contributed to their campaigns by the nursing home industry.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as good people. If we are, we will raise our voices in anger against this tragic revisiting of the holocaust.

Clarksville, Tenn.

Affirming celibacy

This week I heard of the 160 priests in Milwaukee who wrote and signed a letter wherein they expressed their desire for a married priesthood (NCR, Aug. 29). As a priest, I feel insulted and sad at the scandal of their disobedience, and their example to the laity, many of whom think that the married priesthood is a solution to the vocations crisis. These priests’ understanding of celibacy is lacking, and theirs is not a solution to the vocations crisis. I know that many Protestant denominations are suffering with their own decline in vocations. They have married clergy, don’t they? The solution to the vocations crisis starts with faithful witness to the gospel and the teachings of the church. This would be a good start.

I wish that I had a declarative letter to sign. Well, I guess I’ll start: I, Fr. John Pecoraro, love my priesthood, and my celibacy. It has a value in this world; it enlivens me, and is a gift and sign of Christ! Who of my brother priests will join me in stating it?

Memphis, Tenn.

Episcopal simplicity

I must respectfully disagree with William Bole’s “Viewpoint” in your Aug. 15 issue. His premise that well-meaning Catholics who live in upper middle-class houses seemingly want their bishops to live in a rented room at the YMCA is not valid.

The issue of bishops’ residences is a manifestation of a much larger frustration among many Catholics. Too many bishops continue to parade around wearing gold chains and crosses, gold cuff links, sit on thrones in cathedrals during liturgies and live in palatial mansions. They appear more as “lords of the realm” with their subjects as “lowly serfs” rather than servants of the people. This attitude translates into the choice of the bishop’s residence. I have seen pictures of bishops’ residences, such as in Long Island, N.Y., and Boston. These houses are financially out of reach of 99 percent of the bishops’ constituencies.

All these attitudes and trappings are vestiges of a medieval hierarchical approach in today’s Catholic church that most of today’s meaningful Catholics want changed. Practicing Catholics want a bishop who is legitimately concerned with the people’s welfare and acts as a spiritual leader who can be trusted and emulated. No one wants a bishop who seems to be more interested in adorning himself regally, or doing what pleases the “higher ups” for personal advancement. Archbishop Sean O’Malley’s approach of living a simple life is a good example for all those who are ordained “to serve.” Mr. Bole’s “rich laity, poor bishop” argument misses the point.

Merritt Island, Fla.

The pope’s liberalism

Regarding the Aug. 29 story by John Allen in which the pope is labeled a “liberal.” Let’s all go back to Page 306 of NCR publisher Tom Fox’s excellent book Sexuality and Catholicism, in which Fox superbly wrote: “In the Catholic church … the primary right-left political spectrum is not shaped by social issues and the role of government in these issues. It is primarily shaped by how ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ a bishop is on those issues that deal with private morality, most often sexual morality.”

Regardless of any analyses that might classify the pope as an economic or political “liberal,” it’s a safe bet that this pope will never voluntarily move an inch towards reexamining the church’s hotly disputed teachings on issues of sex and gender. Thus, he’s no “liberal.”


Ending celibacy

Responding to the article in the Aug. 15 NCR: Congratulations, Fr. Frank Cordaro, on your honesty. What a loss your resignation will be to all of us. I am sorry our church is unable to see that handwriting on the wall. The message would be that the time has come for optional celibacy. My husband and I have served our church for the past 13 years as “deacon couple” and we have been wonderfully received in our parish ministry. We know how our priests struggle with loneliness and isolation. We have witnessed first-hand the problems that go along with isolation. How long will our church sacrifice the entire community in order to preserve celibacy?

Duarte, Calif.

Marriage and the Vatican

In reference to your editorial “Another Vatican sex disconnect” in the Aug. 15 issue: When you wrote this angry editorial, didn’t you realize that the Vatican was merely reiterating its constant and irrevocable teaching on the sacrament of matrimony as being between a man and a woman, and that it was defending this teaching against the ever-increasing mean-spirited attack upon it, by not only the secular media but also by some of the Catholic media such as NCR?

Obviously, the Vatican’s positive stance bothers the NCR to the point of its questioning the church’s doctrine of infallibility, as the last paragraph of your editorial indicates.

In your Dec. 25, 1995, issue, Rosemary Radford Ruether asserted boldly, “Infallibility is the sins of sins: a sin against the Holy Spirit.” I was amazed that you published her article, which, of course, rejected a fundamental core doctrine of the church. But, since you did publish it, why didn’t you refute it loud and clear? I don’t recall you doing so. This, along with many other articles in NCR throughout the years, makes one legitimately wonder if NCR itself has grave doubts about this essential, unchanging core doctrine of the church. Do you? Please clarify your position on this vitally important question.

I’ve read virtually every issue of NCR since it began, and NCR does have some excellent material. However, please let me make a strong suggestion. How about declaring at least a temporary moratorium on disagreeing with various teachings and rules (including Humanae Vitae) of my -- and I sincerely hope your -- beloved Catholic church.

Albuquerque, N.M.

* * *

My husband reads NCR to keep up with the rantings of the loony left. He forwarded Tom Fox’s remarks about the pope’s reiteration of the Catholic theology of marriage.

What a hysterical piece of whining! The pope’s much-needed clarification of Catholic theology was as gentle as it could be while making clear that sodomy is a serious sin and that homosexual marriage is a travesty.

This is not a new idea. It has been a belief of the Jewish religion for thousands of years and a clear teaching of the Catholic church for 2,000 years.

How can you have as a member of your staff a person who displays such ignorance of the faith and call your paper National Catholic Reporter?

There is a church for Tom -- it is called “Episcopalian.”

Libertyville, Ill.

* * *

With reference to “Vatican calls on all Catholics to oppose same-sex unions,”in the Aug. 15 issue:

Interesting that we’re back to a preemptive emphasis on procreation. In the first paragraph of the referenced document we find: “In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.” Does this not say that we marry only to have children? I thought the procreation issue had been sufficiently clarified as not a sine qua non.

The minute we subordinate, even deny, traditional marriage as a state in which husband and wife love, honor and cherish each other and make procreation the sine qua non, we deny the possibility of two men or women forming a commitment to love, honor and cherish each other.

My wife is past the childbearing age. I think we must divorce and I must find a younger woman with whom to engage in “procreation and upbringing of new human lives.”

Rochester, Minn.

Changes among sisters

The metanoia of religious sisters was clearly evidenced by two contrasting articles in the Aug. 15 issue of NCR. From women in the 1960s repressed, rule-bound and discipline-driven as depicted in the film review of “The Magdalene Sisters,” nuns have become prophetic and charismatic witnesses to the gospel of nonviolence as described in the article on the three Dominicans sentenced to prison for their Plowshares action last October. No other group in the church has taken so seriously the message of Vatican II as vowed religious women, and no one has implemented its reforms as successfully.

With their current outreach through recruiting congregational associates and volunteers, the members of religious communities offer the church a promise of future leadership that, if recognized, can supplant a faltering clergy.

Ellenton, Fla.

Left-of-center journalism

In his diatribe against the Bush administration, Fr. Raymond R. Schroth quotes sources from The Washington Post, BBC, The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Manchester Guardian.

You forgot one other unimpeachable source, Father -- the Los Angeles Times.

If you want to actually learn the truth, Father, try Fox News, “The O’Reilly Factor,” The Washington Times, Orange County (Calif.) Register, The Navy Times and The Christian Science Monitor.

Then rewrite your article. Your present sources are so far “left of center” that they are almost off the page.

Garden Grove, Calif.

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, September 12, 2003