National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
October 31, 2003

LettersReligious superiority

“Smashing the ‘idol’ of religious superiority” by John L. Allen Jr. (NCR, Sept. 19) was a most important article. Christian pluralism seems to be a taboo subject in the church, according to the Vatican document Dominus Iesus, but it deserves far more study as it may well be the most important issue the church faces in the modern world. Christian pluralism and the unity of all the major religions of the world may be the only answer for the very survival of mankind and our planet Earth.

Radical social change in the world is essential for the survival of humanity and our planet. For radical social change to succeed in the world, it must be accompanied with a powerful and unified religious vision, working for a just, sustainable and compassionate world.

Sarasota, Fla.

Proximity no excuse for war

Of all the absurd spins that the George W. Bush regime has used to justify the invasion of Iraq, the most ridiculous must be the one that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice gave us as justification for our invasion. It’s in “a region from which the 9/11 threat emerged,” says Ms. Rice (NCR, Sept. 26). By the same logic, the United States should have invaded Switzerland during the Second World War because it was not only in the region of Germany and Italy, but its people were actually tied to those nations by language and culture!

When caught in a lie, as this regime now finds itself, any defense, no matter how absurd, begins to look good in the face of next year’s elections. Fictitious weapons of mass destruction that Iraq did not possess should be replaced by another WMD, namely, weapons of mass distraction. The policymakers of our current federal government possess those weapons in great abundance.

Thank you, NCR, for having the courage to tell it like it is.

San Antonio

Papal infallibility

Pursuant to the letter from Monica Zabar of Arlington Heights, Ill. (NCR, Oct. 3), I’d like to add what Pope John XXII wrote in a 1324 papal bull: “Infallibility is a pestiferous doctrine, a pernicious audacity.”

Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Tolerance in dress code

I was appalled and embarrassed to read about the poor administration of the Regina High School dress code (NCR, Oct. 3). Clearly a hijab is not merely “self-expression” but a mandate of faith for practicing Muslim women. Are Christian girls prohibited from wearing crosses or crucifixes at school? According to the article, the administration desires that the uniform code reflect their Catholic identity. But as far as I know, Catholics identify with the gospels’ message of inclusion, not the Old Testament rigidity of exclusion that Jesus was trying to reform.

The administration at the high school seems to be mirroring the hate propagated by the Bush administration toward Muslim and Arabic peoples. This hate can be seen in our country’s foreign policy toward Israel and Palestine and other areas in the near and Middle East. Regina High School could embrace the diversity in their school, thereby fostering the Catholic values of unity, charity and understanding.

Roeland Park, Kan.

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The main purpose of Catholic schools is to foster the following of Christ as understood in the Catholic tradition. Catholic schools seek primarily to promote Catholic identity and values and only secondarily religious and cultural diversity. Thus, Patricia Morrison’s commentary was totally off base.

As a former president of our local Catholic school board, I supported our principal’s decision to expel a student who wouldn’t follow our dress code in regard to body piercing. I applaud Sr. Maureen Burke’s decision “to maintain the Catholic character of the school” and not allow the wearing of the hijab.

Catholic schools have a responsibility to not force Catholic religious practices on their non-Catholic students. In our Catholic school the non-Catholic students are not required to join in the praying of the rosary. However -- and here’s where Morrison goes astray -- Catholic schools have no legal, religious or moral responsibility to allow non-Catholic students to practice and promote their religious practices.

Alamagordo, N.M.

Episcopal apology

Bishops who are targeted by legitimate claims of knowingly harboring pedophile priests still have to deal with victims harmed by their past conduct. Fortunately, the record has revealed that an entire decade has elapsed in which sexual abusers have been totally restrained; however, the victims have not been relieved of suffering from the cover-ups that continue to date and they are seeking justice from the corporate bodies. Why can’t bishops, too, repent to right the wrongs and relieve these suffering members for Christ’s sake?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, at the University of Notre Dame on Sept. 11, recalled South Africa’s experience of “restorative justice” to right past wrongs without resorting to retribution. By fostering accountability and forgiveness, the people promoted healing over punishment and reconciliation over revenge (NCR, Oct. 3).

It reasonably follows that if those of us who were responsible for the cover-ups, regardless of our motivations, would but concede our faults publicly, we would relieve victims of suffering and relieve us of legal claims. In the interest of human charity, this is the least we should do and it may save charitable dollars at the expense of only hierarchical prestige.

Yuba City, Calif.

Julia Child and animals

I both smiled and frowned when reading the article headlined “The zest of Vatican II and Julia Child” (NCR, Sept. 26). I smiled because the author, Diane Filbin, described a happy time with her mother when they used to sit down together and watch the Julia Child TV cooking show.

My own mother and I used to do something similar, only we sat at the kitchen table and shared recipes and food ideas. We never watched Julia Child because she was well-known for using so much butter and many animal and dairy products in her recipes and cooking classes. She became famous by touting the heavy use of these products, and showed little concern about the fat and cholesterol content of her recipes or the cruelty to the animals whose flesh and byproducts she used.

Julia Child is a cook who belongs to yesterday, a time when heavy cream sauces, butter-laden foods, meats oozing with saturated fat and cholesterol, desserts laden with butter, lard, cream cheese, sour cream, whole milk were considered the healthy way to eat. Animal products figured heavily in every meal served when I was a child and, tellingly, many of my male relatives died of heart attacks in their early 60s.

As a Catholic, I believe we should respect Jesus’ call for mercy and compassion toward all living beings by not eating them. There is nothing merciful or compassionate about today’s factory farms and slaughterhouses where animals are abused. If people such as Julia Child choose to eat meat, they need to know that they are supporting sickening violence against innocent animals.

St. Paul, Minn.

Free trade for workers

The editorial headlined, “Cancún exposed hypocrisy of wealthy nations” (NCR, Sept. 26), fails to mention another sticky point in the World Trade Organization’s bag of tricks. A real free-trade policy would have to free people as well as products to cross borders. The one that the World Trade Organization is producing is a sure path to economic slavery because it exploits the poor workers who cannot follow their products into the rich countries.

If Mexican workers were free to follow the radios, computers and autos they produce into the United States, there would be very little need for a $2 billion-a-year-plus system of border guards. The money saved would go a long way toward providing health care insurance to the working poor in this country who cannot afford it in our present economy.

San Antonio

Criticizing the Dalai Lama

Colman McCarthy’s petulant critique of the Dalai Lama (NCR, Oct. 10), including an unflattering comparison to Mahatma Gandhi, managed to reduce both great men to one-dimensional cartoon characters. McCarthy quotes Gandhi as saying, “I do not believe in any war,” as though this is the sum total of the man. The quotation may be true enough, but it is also true that Gandhi participated in three wars.

Pacifists seem to have a hard time dealing with the fact that Gandhi’s thought is quite nuanced and defies pigeonholing in absolute categories. He does hold steadfastly to the principle that nonviolence is always the best alternative, but he acknowledges the gray areas. The following are quotes from All Men Are Brothers:

“Taking life may be a duty. … Even manslaughter may be necessary in certain cases. Suppose a man runs amuck and goes furiously about, sword in hand, and killing anyone that comes in his way, and no one dares to capture him alive. Anyone who dispatches this lunatic will earn the gratitude of the community and be regarded as a benevolent man. ...

“In life, it is impossible to eschew violence completely. Now the question arises, where is one to draw the line? The line cannot be the same for everyone. Evil and good are relative terms. What is good under certain conditions can become an evil or a sin under a different set of conditions.

“I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his physical force, which he could and wanted to use, and defend me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence.”

Rockingham, Vt.

Recall, circus-style

While I was personally against the circus-style recall of Gov. Gray Davis and deemed the negative news headlines against Arnold Schwarzenegger immediately prior to Oct. 7 highly inappropriate, I find it difficult to accept the double standard prevailing today. Schwarzenegger, without even the minimal political successful experience of a small town mayor, is now officially governor of the state of California. Priests, on the other hand, sometimes guilty of far less grave actions (often single incidents of some minor youthful indiscretion 30 or 40 years ago), but victims of money-driven lawyers (recipients of most of the highly publicized settlement money) and, sadly, at the “mercy” of lawyer-driven bishops, are not allowed to celebrate Mass publicly or even to appear in clerical attire. Are we living in the same country?

San Francisco

* * *

We trust that when the priestly sexual misconduct unfolds in California, the people there will show as much acceptance and understanding toward some of the errant priests as they did toward their governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Carbondale, Ill.

Pope John Paul II

I usually enjoy the insightful articles by Vatican correspondent John L. Allen Jr. and especially appreciated his Oct. 10 article about John Paul II (“Twenty-Five Years”) because it expressed many of my own conflicting feelings about this pope. As a Catholic since birth, I have long admired the way that Pope John Paul II urges young people to aim for higher standards than the violence and promiscuity promoted by popular culture. But I cannot understand why John Paul II did not hold priests and bishops to the same high standards recommended for the laity.

His silence on the sexual abuse crisis ended last year with a weak acknowledgement that clergy sexual abuse of children is a “crime and a sin.” But that statement, combined with repeated insistence by Vatican officials that the media exaggerated the scandal, failed to reveal the pope’s role in the scandal. While his present physical condition may be a causal factor, it is obvious that long before he was stricken with Parkinson’s disease there were serious problems in the priesthood, and if he wasn’t aware of them, he should have been.

Police officers in New York City in the 1960s knew that priests, rabbis and ministers were among the men hanging around public toilets or exposing themselves on subway platforms, but in lieu of arrest, their activities were reported to their superiors. When a man seeks sexual gratification in public places, he has a serious problem. If the man is a celibate priest, the entire church has a problem. Yet a misguided sense of respect by law enforcement officials, combined with the negligence of church leaders, contributed to the scandal of a dysfunctional church and led to the current crisis of faith.

Rockport, Mass.

Priestly celibacy

How can Fr. Gino Dalpiaz claim that priestly celibacy is “unquestionably of apostolic origin” (Letters, NCR, Oct. 17)?

Did he never read the New Testament story of Jesus [healing Peter’s mother-in-law]?

Dayton, Ohio

Attacks on al-Jazeera

The United States is determined to suppress the independent Arab media. On April 8, the Americans bombed the office of the al-Jazeera television station. The United States bombed al-Jazeera because it was angered by reports that did not confirm its one-sided picture of the war. Al-Jazeera has been broadcasting both sides of the war, but the Americans could not allow such freedom of expression to prevail.

The United States sent its first warning to al-Jazeera in November 2001, bombing its Kabul office, destroying its equipment and forcing its journalists to flee. An al-Jazeera cameraman was sent to Guantanamo Bay as a war prisoner.

Then the Americans opened fire on Abu Dhabi television, whose identity was spelled out in large blue letters on the roof. The next target was the Palestine Hotel in Iraq, the headquarters of world media representatives. An American tank fired a shell and two more journalists were killed. Thus the United States tried to conceal evidence of its crimes from the world and kill the witnesses.

These actions of the U.S. military are not those of a civilized and humane nation and the administration that approved them should be voted out of power.

Dubuque, Iowa

The Magdala message

Contrary to Andrew Greeley’s claim that Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code is “fantasy,” I would argue that the novel is appealing to millions of readers because it speculates on the conspiracy of burying the feminine face of God in early and 2003 Christianity.

I had not read an entire novel in years, yet found myself glued to the book, my female DNA pulsating with the possibilities of the premeditated subjugation of women and the continuation of such practices.

The mystery is not to be found in the novel, but in the question of how women can still be second-class world and church citizens 2,000 years after Jesus made it perfectly clear that women were to be equally trusted as friends, and designated as apostles proclaiming the good news.

The Magdala message, similar to the 100th monkey allegory, is being simultaneously included in a mystery novel, in dozens of books on Magdala, Gnosticism and the Holy Grail, by Call to Action’s requests to honor and upgrade the image of Magdala on her July feast day, and a recently publicized Magdala article in Time magazine.

Don’t we need all the Marys in the New Testament to paint a complete picture of the Christian feminine? (I myself am troubled by the church’s “Be it done unto me” Mary preference. I think it has been “done unto women” much too often and too much.)

I have nothing but praise for this skillful, thought-provoking novel and a new feminist prophet, Dan Brown.

Las Cruces, N.M.

Pastoral administrators

I was happy to see the article on lay pastoral administrators/coordinators in very small parishes and missions (NCR, Ministries special section, Sept. 19). It is probably the best way of keeping the church together for this period of time.

What I missed was any reference in the story to the celebration of eucharistic services in the absence of a priest led by the pastoral administrator or others in the local community. I assume they take place when needed. Related to that, I found missing some direct reference to the pastoral coordinator being in that area so that the Catholic Christian community there can be built up and maintained.

I was glad to note one reference to the size of a typical Glenmary parish.

My interest comes from years in other parts of the country where pastors insist that the “mission” is part of the community of the main church miles away. He cannot recognize that it has its own life and personality.

The number of households in the mission area can be over 100. Yet, at times, the pastor reduces the Sundays he comes for Mass, for no apparent reason, even though some people may be as far as 35, 45, 60 miles away from the church where he lives. But they are told to come there. Nor will he allow Communion services, although trained people are available. If that Catholic Christian community is not drawn together regularly, it cannot continue to develop its life in Jesus.

Orangeville, Utah

Bolivian college

Thank you for Kris Berggren’s wonderful article on the college in rural Bolivia that the U.N. committee has named “one of the top seven antipoverty programs worldwide” (NCR, Oct. 17). Readers interested in learning more can go to www.carmenpampa or contact the Carmen Pampa Fund, 609 W. 54th St., Suite 211; Minneapolis MN 55419; tel. 612-824-6958.

St. Paul, Minn.

Flahavan is a board member for the Carmen Pampa Fund.

Costs of scandal

Your Oct. 3 article, “Costs of abuse scandal becoming clearer,” identifies a number of dioceses’ recent settlements in clergy abuse cases and it would be easy to read this article and think the bishops were cleaning up their act, albeit expensively, at least in some parts of the country.

What your article did not say was that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, operating well below the average Catholic’s radar screen, has initiated a strategy state by state through their state Catholic conference offices, where legislation is being introduced that could essentially hold future clergy molesters harmless in the eyes of the individual state law. These laws are euphemistically referred to as “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” and 11 states have passed them.

While the bishops are getting credit for their reform ways, they are busy protecting their assets in a way that is well advised by their legal counsel and despicable in its results. I hope NCR takes a good look at these “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” and informs your activist readership accordingly.

Orinda, Calif.

Modeling dissent

In your editorial of Oct. 10, “U.S. church polarized, adrift in pope’s wake,” you speak of the possibility of rupture and even schism on the part of American Catholics. Although anger can be a good catalyst for action, it might be better for us to focus on redefining authority rather than angrily challenging it.

There is an excellent precedent for this; ironically enough, it comes from a segment of the Catholic faithful who have received more than their share of magisterial injustice and insult. For decades significant numbers of people have been celebrating weekly Masses and otherwise functioning as eucharistic communities fully in communion with Rome while at the same time clearly stating that they are in principled and prayerful disagreement with specific teachings and policies rather than in schism. In the Mass, they continue to pray for the pope and their local bishop, with whom they doggedly pursue dialogue -- in many cases in spite of rebuff after rebuff.

I am referring, of course, to the member chapters of Dignity, the organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Roman Catholics. In many cases, these chapters have provided, year in and year out, a spiritual home for people who are not welcome in their local parishes as well an opportunity for priests to minister as openly gay men. (Some chapters have more priests than they can handle!)

I do not in any way speak for Dignity USA or my local chapter. I am merely calling attention to a model for principled dissent that does not fall into either external schism or, what is probably worse, the kind of internal schism that so many Catholics feel is the only way they can handle their anger, confusion and dissatisfaction. Dignity pursues a kind of spiritual nonviolence. After all, it takes two parties to fight; you can’t have a schism if one party refuses to leave!

New York

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 31, 2003