National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
September 26, 2003

LettersDemocracy in the church

One could not help but be impressed by the late Msgr. Philip J. Murnion’s efforts to find common ground among the constituent members of the Catholic church. But, realistically, can this ever be attained under the present governing structure? I noted recently the commission granted by Rome to a newly appointed bishop: He was given the power to serve as the executive, legislative and judicial authority in his diocese. One might view this as total power. Under this system Catholics would have to rely upon the benevolence of their spiritual leader, because they would have no real input whatever into church governance.

Compare this to the recent process undertaken by the Episcopal church to decide several highly controversial matters. Two bodies independently debated whether to confirm a gay bishop and bless same-sex unions. One body composed of lay persons, deacons and priests openly debated and came to a decision. A second deliberative body composed of bishops followed the same process. Both bodies had to agree in order to enact a change in church governing rules. It was heartening to witness this open, democratic process, yet disheartening to realize no such process is available to Catholics. While some may argue that matters of doctrine must be decided on a hierarchical level, would not matters of church governance be better handled by a more democratic process? Can common ground be found in any other way?

West Orange, N.J.

The Palestinian wall

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.” So wrote Robert Frost. In June, I visited the “wall,” a 200-mile, 25-foot-high barrier, now 90 miles complete, in the northern West Bank. President Bush calls it a “problem” and an “obstacle to peace.” Sharon defiantly tells Bush, “The fence will continue to be built.”

The “problem” is nothing short of creating an apartheid state at best, ethnic cleansing at worst, and an ecological disaster to boot.

Running deep into Palestinian territory, the wall cuts off thousands of acres of fertile farmlands, 63,000 olive trees already uprooted, and leaves in its wake destroyed homes, water wells, access to markets, destruction of both animal habitat and culture, reducing a self-sufficient people to poverty.

“Voluntary transfer,” a euphemism for ethnic cleansing, is really behind the “wall,” that is, making life so miserable for Palestinians that they will leave of their own accord. If the wall continues to be built, and Palestinians do not leave, the result will be an apartheid state. Palestinians will be isolated in their Bantustans, cut off from one another, village from city, north from south, all from Jerusalem and Gaza, hardly a viable state.

Completed, the wall will cost $2.25 billion. The human cost cannot be measured.

Burlington, Vt.

Iraq war demands more questions

Day after day the news reports on Iraq provide us with accounts of attacks on coalition forces, meetings of Bush administration officials assuring us that order is being restored, and interviews with military personnel trying to enforce this order. We are assured that victory is ours, and that the hunt continues for Saddam Hussein, his supporters, and the weapons of mass destruction. The single most important question seems to focus on Saddam, his family and supporters, and the weapons: Where are they?

This is an important question, but concerned people of faith need to ask for more.

Our faith teaches us that all life is sacred. We are dismayed that the killing of both coalition and Iraqi forces and civilians continues. Iraqis continue to die each day as a result of disease and lack of clean water, sufficient food, medicine and sanitation. They too are “casualties” of the war, and we need to ask for a full accounting of this war’s cost in human lives.

Catholic social teaching encourages all persons to participate in and contribute to the life of the community. This is the right and responsibility of every human being, While the United States has committed itself to rebuilding Iraq, it cannot do so alone, nor can it do so without the cooperation of the Iraqi people. A question arises: Where are the Iraqi women in this cooperative effort? Should they not have major roles?

Warfare creates special threats to the integrity of earth. The damage to the environment -- the pollution of water, air, land -- and the destruction of animals and their habitats continue as the lethal remains of depleted uranium and unexploded weapons cause death and destruction. What is being done to remove these lethal remains of war and to restore the vitality of the land in Iraq?

The actual cost of the war to the citizens of the United States becomes more evident with the escalation of the military budget. Combined with a budget that includes massive tax cuts, this is forcing drastic reduction of domestic health, education, housing and welfare programs. Why are we not asking: Who is paying for this war and its aftermath? The cost to the economically poor of the United States will extend for many years. They are losing jobs, homes, health care and opportunities.

It is difficult to understand the twist of American idealism that has taken place. Perhaps the central question we need to ask is not, “Where are Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction?” but, rather, “What have we, the American people, done by our choice of violence and war? Why did we choose violence, dominance, and aggression over the other options urged by the world’s citizens and governments?”

Sr. Tina Geiger, RSM, Sr. Marilee Howard, RSM, Sr. Susan Severin, RSM
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Silver Spring, Md.

Gay marriage

Mark Elliot (NCR, Letters, Aug. 29) is not only an angry gay man, he is using innuendos, half-truths and lies to justify his pro-gay marriage stance. The Catholic church has made mistakes in the past. No one denies that. But to think gay marriage is not gravely immoral borders on a total ignorance of the Bible!

Fort Lee, N.J.

Voice of the Faithful

As a Catholic active in Voice of the Faithful I am dismayed by David Zizik’s attack (NCR, Aug. 29). Mr. Zizik asserts that we “want to change church doctrine” and that we do “not accept the pastoral authority of the bishops.” I am dismayed because Mr. Zizik’s assertions question whether Catholics in the organization are truly Catholic. Voice of the Faithful is Catholic. On our Web site we state: “We accept the teaching authority of the Catholic church.” We also state that we “accept the traditional role of the bishops and the pope” and that “we will work with our bishops to strengthen unity in our church.” Voice of the Faithful has scrupulously avoided advocating changing any church doctrine.

Mr. Zizik does not once mention the human suffering of abused children and the response of some bishops in protecting abusing priests and forsaking the abused that have shocked Catholics. Many Catholics have concluded that our church needs not only prayer and healing but also renewal.

Based on scripture and tradition, bishops are the primary teachers and leaders of our church. But like everyone, our bishops are subject to human failing. When they fail, those who love God’s church have an obligation to work for its renewal. Mr. Zizik seems to be unable to separate the questioning of a bishop’s inappropriate actions from challenging doctrinal teaching on the role of bishop.

Bishop Thomas Daily banned Voice of the Faithful groups from meeting on church property in the Brooklyn diocese. Mr. Zizik could learn from Bishop Daily, who said in a letter to all diocesan priests when he lifted the ban on our organization that he found our documents “to be in accord with the teachings of the church.”

With Mr. Zizik we pray for our church. But we also are determined to work with our bishops to strengthen it and invite other Catholics to join us.

Chestnut Hill, Mass.

* * *

One problem with being a liberal is that we have open minds and are always willing to listen to responsible spokespeople of opposing viewpoints. The conservatives who dominate our airwaves -- Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Larry Kudlow, G. Gordon Liddy, et al. -- never experience that problem.

So, I appreciate NCR’s willingness to share its pages with people of many viewpoints. But giving David Zizik a forum to attack Voice of the Faithful was a waste.

As a fellow lawyer, I am embarrassed at his shoddy reasoning. He accuses Voice of the Faithful of seeking to change doctrine. His “evidence” is the organization’s alleged refusal to acknowledge the bishops’ authority on diocesan stewardship, fundraising and church administration, with his sole example being the organization’s alleged failure to support a Lenten prayer initiative.

His solution is for Voice of the Faithful to “respect the bishops’ governing authority” -- apparently in all areas and without question. But that’s what gave us the sexual crisis in the first place. He does not explain what “doctrine” is violated by people who speak out when bishops violate the nation’s criminal laws.

One can only hope that some good will come out of publishing Mr. Zizik’s viewpoint. Perhaps it will convince Voice of the Faithful that its timid approach, designed to offend no one, is doomed. Zizik and his ilk will never be happy, no matter what. Once the group’s leaders learn that, they can say what needs saying and perhaps avoid irrelevance.

Boise, Idaho

The loss of morality

What has occurred that we no longer have a sense of right and wrong? Has the concept of sin, or sinning, disappeared from our social conscience? Is adultery or fornication still sinful? Oral, anal and animal sex was not accepted in our society’s formulation of morals. It is still banned as pornography, but the ban is ignored except when it is published and is for profit. I am not sure whether we are a sex-crazy society, or if our standards have been adjusted (lowered) so that we can accommodate more grotesque and bizarre sexuality. Regardless, the sex now being propagated is destroying our concepts of marriage and family; the question is, can our or any other society survive when this occurs?

History would say no. This has been tried by more than one civilization. Free sex, orgies, infanticide were at the heart of the Roman Empire’s fall. In more recent times, the Russians tried to support free sex, etc., with the government taking over parental duties. It did not work. They attempted the same thing in Israel. It failed. We Americans attempted this with the Oneida experiment; it failed. I do not know of a time or place where this program has been proven viable.

Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, basically, the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Christ. We’ve done all right for over 200 years, but we now seem to be coming unglued.

Novinger, Mo.

Catholic adoption

This is in response to the letter headlined “Catholic Adoption Pol-icies” (NCR, Sept. 5). That was by a woman who long ago gave up a baby for adoption. Now she thinks she was cheated out of raising him. She says she was “deliberately misinformed” and “coerced into surrendering” her baby. She thinks she was entitled to welfare, or other financial aid or charity, so she could have raised him.

Would she want to change places with me? In 1947, I became an abandoned wife and a single parent when my son was two months old. I knew the rules of the church, and I dreaded the future, but I accepted it. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the most loving thing a single mother could do is to give up her baby.

Single parenting is a hard, cruel way of life -- for the mother and, even worse, for the child. Instead of closing the “homes for unwed mothers,” they should close the “pregnancy aid centers.” These are staffed by unqualified volunteers who should go home and mind their own business. They encourage young girls to keep children they can’t take care of. They are taken in by the line from Planned Parenthood about “parting with their own flesh and blood.”

If a girl is old enough to have a baby, she is old enough to think of what is right for the baby. She is old enough to know that this is not just another new doll. She is old enough to know that we always have to part with people we love when they move away or when we die. Also she is old enough to know that the world doesn’t owe her a living.

Silver Spring, Md.

* * *

In her letter to the editor of Sept. 5, Frances G. Scalise was painfully accurate in describing the abuse that was inflicted on birth parents and their children by Catholic adoption agencies. (Catholic agencies placed more children than the agencies of any other faith in the United States during the 30 years after World War II.) Fortunately, a small group of leading U.S. Catholic Charities agencies began to acknowledge those painful errors in the early 1970s. They helped to lead the way to a more humane and fully open adoption practice.

However, open adoption is still not enthusiastically practiced by all Catholic agencies, and only a very small minority of Catholic agencies is actively lobbying to change abusive adoption laws now on the books in their states. Laws must be changed so that adult adoptees have full and free access to their birth information.

Until we have worked and corrected laws that allow abuse to be inflicted, often by agencies working in our name as Catholics, we have not done justice.


Bill Betzen is the webmaster for Domestic Infant Adoption, which has a Web site at

Persecution of the church

The onslaught against the Catholic church by victims of sexual abuse and their lawyers is the greatest persecution of the church since Nero and Diocletian in the first and third centuries.

Where is the $85 million from the Boston archdiocese coming from? From parishioners -- not insurance companies. Those parishioners had nothing to do with the sexual abuse. That money will come from the mouths of the poor, the needy, the disabled, the sick and the dying. These victims of sexual abuse and their lawyers are destroying the very mission of the church to the poor. The victims of sexual abuse have now become the victimizers of other innocent victims. What the American Civil Liberties Union and the Ku Klux Klan, the haters of the Catholic church, have not been able to do is now being done by these victims. The lawyers are the ones who will profit handsomely. Do the math. Each of the 562 victims will get an average of $10,000. That leaves over $20 million for the lawyers involved in the case.

The money will come from reduced services to the poor; from fewer workers to do the social justice work of the diocese; the selling of church property held in reserve for the mission of the church; and finally from innocent parishioners who will be asked to contribute more to their church.

Do the victims realize that they are destroying the mission of the church? If they are still believers (and most seem not to be), there has to be a special curse on the blood money they will receive from the lifeblood of the Catholic church, which is really the lifeblood of the poor and disabled.


Manipulation of guilt

In “Selling orthodoxy to Washington power brokers” (NCR, Sept. 5), Joe Feuerherd explains why Fr. McCloskey was dismissed from Princeton. “Campus critics that he used his position to promote Opus Dei and that he advised students to avoid certain classes.” McCloskey says the controversy resulted from a “relatively small minority of students, professors, and townspeople who were not at all happy to have orthodox Catholic teaching present on the campus.” McCloskey’s attempt to trivialize the opposition masks the true issues of censorship and invasion of privacy.

According to The Trenton Times (Oct. 22, 1989), history professor Michael Jimenez contends “that McCloskey told students not to take courses with certain professors because they were ‘dangerous,’ and told professors he would advise students not to read philosophers such as Nietzsche and Hume because they were also ‘dangerous’ to young minds.” This practice is consistent with the testimonies of former Opus Dei members, some of whom have even witnessed book burnings. In a recent article in Newsday (Aug. 26), Fr. Alvaro Silva of Boston said “that despite his advanced degree in theology, he had to ask permission to read leading Catholic scholars whose works were on Opus Dei’s list of forbidden books.”

According to the same Trenton Times article, there “were 12 signed letters from students . . . [that] described intense questioning by McCloskey about their sex lives, their parents’ marital status and their parents’ religion. The questioning often sent students crying from McCloskey’s office.” This invasion of privacy and manipulation of guilt has been experienced by former members worldwide.

Censorship and the invasion of privacy experienced by the Princeton students are just two of the methods employed by Opus Dei to control the lives of their members. These methods, coupled with the manipulation of guilt, have nothing to do with orthodoxy.

Dumfries, Va.

Aid to Iraq

Regarding your story “Group faces $20,000 fine for Iraq aid” (NCR, Aug, 29), let me get this straight. This is the same U.S. government that strongly opposes frivolous lawsuits?

How much of our hard-earned tax money will be wasted due to the costs of the investigation and court proceedings of this suit brought against Voices in the Wilderness for bringing medicine to dying Iraqi children?

As adults living in a free society, we have a responsibility to publicize and clarify the status of conscientious objection to include not only objection to war but also objection to economic sanctions that are believed by many experts to be tantamount to weapons of mass destruction.

If we make our decisions to support wars, occupations and blockades based upon government’s deceptive fear tactics disseminated through the media, we may be turning our good conscience over to unethical forces.

I believe this to be especially true in the materialistically motivated policies of the harsh economic sanctions and the invasion and occupation of oil-rich Middle Eastern nations.

Such unjust foreign intervention binds the collective conscience of Americans to the servitude of corporate structures, oil profiteers and their campaign-financed collaborators in the White House -- none of whom are infallible in matters of morality and foreign policy.

As a conscientious objector, opposed to the cruel U.S. policies against Iraq, I am grateful for the opportunity to donate money to the truly needy people of Iraq through Voices in the Wilderness.

Liverpool, N.Y.

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 26, 2003