National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
October 24, 2003

LettersBashing the military

I have had it with NCR’s military bashing! The editorial in the Oct. 10 issue, “Using high-tech dreams to seduce our kids,” is a real piece of work.

Yes. The military, like any corporation, has to recruit. And if they benefit from economic conditions so what? Are they not supposed to recruit? It is, when all is said and done, a volunteer military. Membership is not driven by tyrants and dictators.

Yes, the military makes a lot of promises and manages to live up to most of them. A good education, a sense of order and discipline lacking in most young lives and in the civilian environment, decent pay, and the chance to see beyond the borders of this country.

I’m a product of 24 years in the U.S. Navy. I needed to get away from home in 1956. Best decision I ever made. Got a good education in the Navy, which eventually led to an MBA. Traveled a lot and saw firsthand the misery and poverty brought on by dictators and tyrants in the Philippines, China, Africa, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. And I can tell you in no uncertain terms that it was, and is, our strong military that has kept this country free. Yes, we have a lot of warts, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Maybe all you pious pacifists ought to get out from behind your computers and spend some time “embedded” with our troops around the world, not just in Iraq. In the meantime it will be those seduced kids who will forever, and willingly, protect your right to bash the military.

Brevard, N.C.

Baathism in Iraq

Ahmed Hashim’s article on the Iraq insurgency (NCR, Sept. 26) clearly presents the complexity of the situation. Central to any solution in Iraq is the role of the Baath party. Baathism is a movement that grew out of Arab rejection of European manipulation and domination, especially in Syria and Iraq. A central tenet of Baathism is secularism in the Arab context -- the limiting of Islam as the dominating force of political and social life. Unlike Western Christianity, which has been effectively limited by various forms of separation of church and state, Islam has never had to undergo the limits and critiques of Enlightenment rationalism. Baath took power in Iraq in the ’60s and implemented a secularist program. Saddam Hussein, like many other military officers, was a Baathist and maintained Iraq’s secularism after he took power in a coup in 1979. In spite of sharing with most Arab countries totalitarian politics, the Baathists Saddam and Assad in Syria limited the power of religious leaders and promoted secular education and women’s rights. Both nations developed internal strengths and were able to effectively oppose both U.S. and Israeli policies in the Middle East. The other Arab states where religious leaders hold sway, especially the monarchies of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are inherently unstable and easily manipulated. I saw this secular-religious struggle play out during my five years in Egypt.

The chief mistake of the U.S. occupation is the destruction of the Baath party instead of eliminating its pro-Saddam leadership while maintaining its secularist policies. By ignoring 30 years of secularism and catering to tribal, ethnic and religious leadership, especially the Shiites, the United States has opened the country to fanatic and fratricidal civil wars. This is only the beginning.

San Ysidro, Calif.

Seeking historical truth

I am a long-time NCR reader, and though I very much agree with the points made regarding “dialogue” with non-Christians, especially Islam, I cannot agree when you note (Perspective, Oct 3): “Acknowledging centuries of tension between Christianity and Islam ‘this sacred [Vatican II] council now pleads with all to forget the past and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding.’ ”

I suppose as a historian, and a church historian in particular, I find this statement in Nostra Aetate, though it was a revolutionary and generally excellent document, unfortunate, for how can such “understanding” be achieved if the past, and especially its shadow parts, are forgotten? As the American philosopher George Santayana noted: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness,” and “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.” Or again, as Pope John Paul II warned in Tertio Millennio Adveniente, “The church must not be afraid of historical truth. … Historical truth must be sought severely, with impartiality and in its entirety.”

Hales Corner, Wis.

McNally is a professor of church history at Sacred Heart School of Theology.

Liturgical abuses

An update on John Allen’s report on the outdated liturgy document (NCR, Oct. 3): It had been reported there might be a ban on clapping at services. This week I watched EWTN broadcast the installation ceremony from Rome for Cardinal Justin Rigali, Philadelphia’s new leader. At the end of his installation there was a round of applause including that of Cardinal Bernard Law, prominent in his front seat.

Rensselaer, N.Y.

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On reading that there is talk about a possible future Vatican document about liturgical “abuses,” I would like to recommend adding a notation. If there is going to be a ban on clapping and liturgical dance during Mass, there should also be a ban on some of the psalms, lest someone really takes the psalm to heart and starts clapping and dancing. If such psalms are allowed, a warning could precede the psalm telling people not to pay attention to the words of the psalm or something similar.


Respecting the Dalai Lama

Imagine picking up a well-respected Protestant newspaper and reading an article calling the pope a lightweight who is light in the head; that the pope’s message is on a level with dopey athletes; that the pope is an entertainer, complete with robes -- a shtick’s a shtick.

This is what Coleman McCarthy said about the Dalai Lama in your newspaper. Shouldn’t you stick to informative columns rather than sink this low?

Fairfax, Va.

Prison ministry

I am writing to express my appreciation for the recent article, “Journey behind prison walls: Delegation of Kentucky Catholics brings community to penitentiary,” by Margaret Gabriel (NCR, Sept. 19). Having been a member of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for the last four years, I have witnessed the dedication of many in the Catholic community to the ministry of these “least among us.”

We stand at a moment in the history of people and nations in which too many of us seek the understandable but futile desire for revenge. This desire for revenge is never satiated. As hard as it may be, understanding and reconciliation are the only real weapons we have to fight the vicious, soul-consuming spiral of retribution. Thanks again for bringing the work of these remarkable men and women of the church to a wider audience.

Louisville, Ky.

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My wife and I were privileged and blessed to be able to visit Jackie Hudson, O.P., while she was temporarily imprisoned in our Teller County Jail. Last week we were informed of an atrocity being perpetrated by the federal prison system on Carol Gilbert, O.P., one of the three Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II sisters jailed for damaging a nuclear missile site (NCR, Aug. 15). She is being held at the Alderson, W.Va., prison camp.

Carol has been ordered to give a DNA sample so she can be added to the registry of violent offenders kept by the federal government. She is not sure if she has any legal recourse to fight this. It is a matter of principle, of course, that her action was taken to prevent the most violent of all human actions, the use of city-killing nuclear bombs. She has also endured a team staffing where she was ordered to begin anger management classes (which she used to teach), turning-point classes so she can turn her life around, and a prison job. It is not clear yet if Ardeth Platte and Jackie will receive the same kind of treatment.

The biggest of all these issues for Carol is the one concerning her designation as a violent offender. The government is using its nearly absolute power to ram this down the throat of highly principled women. There has to be something that we on the outside can do about this.

Those who would like to write to the imprisoned sisters can contact me at for their addresses.

Woodland Park, Colo.

On Eugene Kennedy

“Healing the wound” (NCR, Oct. 3) by Eugene Cullen Kennedy should be stapled to every cathedral’s front door and faxed to each chancery. Eugene not only describes, with historical and theological accuracy, the current state of the church, but lays bare as well the infrastructure of a revolution in Catholic life that will make the 16th-century Reformation look like child’s play.

Heverlee, Belgium

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I write to commend you for Eugene Cullen Kennedy’s important article in the Oct. 3 edition of NCR. I find it fascinating that it is published overleaf from the review of The Da Vinci Code, the shallow but fascinating story of the same issues Kennedy deals with -- authority and bureaucracy, the loss of the transcendent in the name of order, the battle to keep masculine control, and the desperate human hunger to be fed from the Grail.

Indeed, I wonder if Kennedy has not pointed us to ways of understanding the much wider and larger issue: the extraordinary ones posed by the history James Carroll has given us in Constantine’s Sword and the challenge of pluralism explored in Paul Knitter’s Theologies of Religions. The trauma of “main line denominations” such as mine (Episcopal) over homosexuality and ordination may have roots in what he describes.

Karen Armstrong describes the phenomenon of fundamentalism in The Battle for God. She describes fundamentalism in Christian, Jewish and Islamic worlds -- a fundamentalism that is primarily biblical. I wonder if Kennedy does not lead us to consider another form of fundamentalism -- ecclesiological.

The question for us who reject the extremes is how to avoid the Scylla of one without succumbing to the Charybdis of the other. I think Kennedy may help point the way with his deep sacramentalism.


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Now that Eugene Kennedy has bedazzled us with his brilliant and scholarly theological masterpiece, let me make a suggestion to him: Please write an abbreviated version in plain English, so that we poor readers who don’t possess multiple doctor of theology degrees can better comprehend your message. Here are a few remarks from what I was able to sift out from his display of verbiage:

Albuquerque, N.M.

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Many thanks to Eugene Kennedy for this wonderful analysis of the current sex abuse crisis in the church. He gives expression to the truth that for too long now struggles in many of us for utterance.

This is a compassionate plea for us ordinary folk who long to have our sacramental/sexual life fully realized and to be healed of the wound of our split personality.

I am inspired and touched by his unapologetic and courageous concern for the pastoral need of the church grounded in preserving the sacramental character of the Catholic community.

Santa Barbara, Calif.

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I was deeply offended by Eugene Cullen Kennedy’s four-page spread in NCR’s Oct 3 issue. What a waste of my time, what a waste of paper. The ponderous article was an unending jeremiad containing everything but the ecclesiastical sink. The church is antifeminist, anti-sexuality, bedeviled by the priestly sexual abuse of children. The office of bishop and that of priest is no great shakes. After all, are these ecclesiastical offices really found in the New Testament? On and on and on. You name your favorite ecclesiastical embarrassment and you’ll find it in these four pages.

So much gloom and doom. At the end, I asked myself what was Kennedy really trying to get at with his often cute, flowery language, metaphors and images? I don’t know. Personally, I’m convinced Kennedy has sex on his brain. What a disappointing cover story for NCR to glorify with four full pages.

Stone Park, Ill.

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Re: the lead paragraph of Kennedy’s article: Many would have it that quoting a foreign language in a newspaper is done only to show how smart the writer is. It should not be used unless it clarifies the meaning. There are few things worse than needlessly quoting Latin than misquoting it as shown by your Sacramenta propter homine.

Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom

Sharon’s role in Israel

Thank you for your columns by Neve Gordon on the situation in Israel. A friend of mine was, until it closed recently, director of the Vatican Biblical Institute in Jerusalem. He has the same impression of Sharon. Back in the late 1960s Pope Paul VI, in addressing the United Nations in New York, said: “If you want peace, seek justice.” Sharon seems to have it backwards: Give me peace and I’ll think about justice. And he seems to have a knack for repeating some of history’s failures -- his own Berlin Wall, and his way of putting the natives on reservations. Some seem to think that to oppose Sharon is to be anti-Israel, but that would be no more the case than to think that voting for a Democratic or a Republican but not voting for a member of the other party would be anti-American. And when his preemptive strikes rule the day, how do we know which came first, Palestinian strikes or Israeli strikes?

Carrollton, Texas

Bishop Murphy’s home

It is sad that NCR allowed the compounded tragedy of the murder of John Geoghan, a convicted sexual abuser who hurt so many, to become the forum for Robert J. Anzelmo (Letters, NCR, Sept. 12) to direct hurtful words at others, especially when he presents some wrong information.

Mr. Anzelmo claims Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre diocese is “allegedly ensconced in splendor” in a convent which in reality is the top floor of a former convent that also houses other parish offices on the grounds near the diocesan cathedral. Renovation was underway before Bishop Murphy contacted the sisters about using the space originally slated for them as his living quarters so he could be close to the cathedral and his office in the diocesan pastoral center.

Mr. Anzelmo was right when he wrote, “I’m just a disgusted layman.”

Rockville Centre, N.Y.

Montalbano is with the Office of Public Information of the diocese.

Money and sex abuse

In the letter headlined “Persecution of the church” (NCR, Sept. 26), Peter J. Riga argues that the victims of sexual abuse who are receiving monetary compensation for their injuries are causing the poor and needy and the sick and dying to suffer more because the church must cut back on its programs in order to pay the settlements.

Why blame the victims who are entitled to compensation for the harm inflicted upon them? It appears that the poor will be left wanting because our church leaders allowed the abuse to go on for so long. Had our bishops acted like responsible humans, and caring Christians, the church wouldn’t be in the mess it is in now, and the poor would not be suffering from lack of funds.

Westbury, N.Y.

Papal visit to Slovakia

John Allen had an interesting article on Pope John Paul’s visit to Slovakia in the Sept. 26 NCR, but I was disappointed that he said nothing about the women priests and married bishops of the underground church. That is part of the history of persecution and the resistance of Catholic faith that deserves to be remembered, also.


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, October 24, 2003