National Catholic Reporter
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November 7, 2003

LettersFast-track canonizations

The looming spate of fast-track canonizations gives me pause. Rather than get more of our great predecessors pedestalized, I would think that in the spirit of Vatican II we should revisit the whole notion of canonization. We are all the people of God and no one of us should go through the embarrassment of being singled out. It smacks of the whole picking and choosing of those who are to be installed as monsignors among the priests.

The vast majority of us are not robed cardinals. We are not installed ceremoniously as protonotary apostolics or monsignors. We are not enthroned as canonized saints. We are the ordinary, untouted, stumbling ones who keep falling and getting up again as we try to follow in the footsteps of the one who became ordinary and walked our paths. Canonization is not for the likes of us. Selective canonization is not for the likes of any one of Jesus’ followers. There has to be a better way. Sr. Rose Tillemans in her “Questions of a Cradle Catholic” makes the plea: “For those of us uncanonized/ Will some system be devised/ Whereby all our friends and kin/ Might know if we are out or in?”

Brecksville, Ohio

Justifying greed

“Candy ain’t dandy in this classroom” (NCR, Oct. 10) does an excellent job of pointing out the problem of institutionalized greed as played out in a classroom setting. But what is also frightening is the justification that seems to be prevalent for such greed.

“Material property is the God-given right for all authentic card-carrying Christians” seems to be the new Christian gospel. Therefore, since God allows Christians to be greedy, Christians also have the right to use violence against any heretic or secular humanist who denies that this is God’s will.

But where does such justification exist in the Christian gospel? Jesus, at the very beginning of his public ministry, rejected the tempter who wished to equate the kingdom of God with wealth and power. Since Jesus rejected the offer of wealth and power as qualities of the kingdom of God, it’s amazing to note how those very elements have become attributes of the kingdom in the minds of many U.S. Christians.

Love is the benchmark of Jesus’ gospel and sanctified greed has no place in it.

San Antonio

The Dalai Lama

I was shocked to read Colman McCarthy’s vituperative assessment of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama (NCR, Oct. 10). It’s clear that McCarthy is no Gandhi. Gandhi would never have uttered such belligerent, mocking and contumelious words about another spiritual leader -- all in the name of peace.

As a Catholic, I have participated in three small group encounters with His Holiness at Christian-Buddhist dialogues in India, Italy and Belfast, Northern Ireland, and I can assure Mr. McCarthy that this man is no “lightweight.” Is McCarthy simply uneducated about the Dalai Lama or is McCarthy actually as choleric, condescending and rude as he sounds?

McCarthy takes a few phrases of the Dalai Lama out of context to mock a man who has had family members and neighbors murdered, raped and dishonored, a man who has lost his country and is fast losing the very ground of his Tibetan culture to the Chinese. McCarthy totally ignores the fact that the Dalai Lama is a recipient of daily death threats, some from within his own Tibetan community, because he counsels patience, nonviolence and even compassion for his Chinese oppressors. Does a shallow “headliner” make himself vulnerable to violence every day for the sake of peace? Does a mere “showman” get up each morning before dawn to meditate and to pray for peace? Does an “entertainer” spend every waking moment traveling, speaking and teaching about peace when he would probably much rather be on his home soil with his community?

Yes, the press follows the Dalai Lama with great interest, and quite often this media attention trivializes his words and presence (where are the good, theologically trained and faithful journalists?). I can agree with McCarthy that sometimes His Holiness will speak in very general ways about our human capacities for peace, happiness and hope. His vision can sound too simple. But it would be a mistake to ignore the depth of wisdom from which his words come.

Boston, Mass.

Jonas is director of The Empty Bell, a center for Christian contemplative prayer and Christian-Buddhist dialogue.

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What in the world is Colman McCarthy thinking? Is Buddhist bashing acceptable to the Center for Teaching Peace? His Holiness the Dalai Lama received his title by brokering peace among warring Mongol tribes. He won the Nobel peace prize for his peaceful activities in helping people around the world. He has continually tried to engage the communist Chinese who illegally invaded Tibet and destroyed their monastic way of life.

I find it unacceptable that the editors of NCR would allow this article to be printed without calling into question Mr. McCarthy’s ignorance on this issue. I believe he should offer an apology in the name of peace to his holiness. Mr. McCarthy is no Dalai Lama, and for sure no Gandhi.

Philmont, N.Y.

The priest shortage

Congratulations on a superb article by Joe Feuerherd on the priest shortage in the United States (NCR, Oct. 10). It is a crisis and that is evident to all who know the situation. That applies especially to our bishops. They are not blind, but are they afraid to speak the truth? There seems to be an attitude of ignoring the situation in the hopes that it will go away. This reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw that read: “Ignore your health and it will go away.” In the NCR article Fr. Paul Sullins is quoted. He doesn’t believe the situation to be a crisis, but rather a manageable problem. But, as pointed out, his argument falls short on a number of fronts. One of the fronts that is not mentioned is the question of aging priests and the health problems that occur on a more frequent basis. The average age of a diocesan priest is in the mid to late 50s; of a religious order priest, in the lower 60s. When I was ordained in 1965, the average age of priests was about 20 years lower than it is now. Will someone step forward and tell me that age and health are not factors in the unfolding story of the priest shortage and its effect on ministry?

Belmont, N.C.

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“Like all Christians, the laity have the right to receive in abundance the help of the spiritual goods of the church, especially the word of God and the sacraments from their pastors” (Lumen Gentium, emphasis added). I didn’t say that; the Council fathers did. Now, I know Americans are more likely to absolutize rights-talk than others, but if I had pastoral responsibility for the church I’d be feeling intense moral pressure to be sure I was doing all I could to assure that that right is not an empty gesture.

Haverhill, Fla.

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Your Oct. 10 editorial “The growing cost of mandatory celibacy” prompted me to recall a recent conversation I had with the director of the office of worship in a diocese here in the Midwest.

We were discussing a particular pastor’s reluctance to say morning Mass because he “was not a morning person.” After praising the pastor’s “honesty,” the director of worship added, “Besides, Catholics don’t have any right to the Eucharist.” Needless to say I was a bit startled by the remark. I had grown used to hearing Catholics referred to (at least by themselves) as a “eucharistic people.”

All this leads me to ask the NCR to invite some theologians to weigh into that particular issue: “Do we have a right to the Eucharist?” And what should we be willing to sacrifice for that right?

Kansas City, Mo.

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Concerning the cost of mandatory celibacy, it is interesting to note that Bishop Wilton Gregory, in his reply to Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan, mentioned the difficulty that some Protestant churches are having in providing for enough clergy. True enough, but with a difference. They cast the net wider, reaching out to older people, divorced people, remarried people. Many of them welcome gay and lesbian candidates, even with partner in some churches. And some of them authorize seminary students for full ministry in small parishes before ordination. These are creative efforts by which they do succeed in providing for full resident pastors. Where are our creative steps to cast a wider net in the Catholic church of the United States? Or is the net getting even smaller? It seems to me that birth control was an issue for marriage, not ordination.


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I have no doubt that those religious and priests who take a vow or make a promise of celibacy receive many graces for their sacrifice and dedication. I have no doubt that celibates bring special charisma to the people they serve, as do married priests and deacons in both the Eastern and Western church. I have no doubt that sacrifice of celibates, despite a few lapses in chastity, is very good for the church. And I have no doubt that eventually the Holy Spirit will guide the leaders of the Roman church to relax the requirement of celibacy for ordination to the diocesan priesthood.

As I understand matters, a gift is something freely given without any expectation of reciprocation. On the other hand, something offered in expectation of a return, a quid pro quo, is not a gift but an offer. The requirement of celibacy (You vow celibacy, we ordain; you no vow celibacy, we no ordain) for ordination to the priesthood precludes the possibility of a gift. Required celibacy in this case is not a gift. When celibacy is optional for ordination to the priesthood, then it can indeed be a gift.

I am confused. Why do we speak of “the gift of celibacy” in respect to the ordained priesthood?

Dubuque, Iowa

Pope John Paul II

It was clear to me from reading this article (NCR, Oct. 10) that John Paul II, in spite of his best efforts, could not be all things to all men (and definitely not to all women). But then again, why should he be? He is just one man, and although he has thought deeply and prayed deeply, he has his blind sides just like everyone else. Even the doctrine of infallibility does not shield him from that.

As we look to the future, a new pope who will inevitably come, our church needs to have much more trust in the Spirit, which was given to the church as a whole and not just to be filtered through the papacy. What is not possible under this pope may well become possible under another. The Spirit seems to be speaking loudly on many fronts today. The next pope needs to be a listener and not just a traveler and speaker. He cannot decide that there are certain things he does not want to hear. The Spirit will out in any case.

And when it happens that the hierarchy recognizes a new understanding of the role of women in the church, a new understanding of what it means to be a married Catholic, a new understanding of the situation of homosexuality, I imagine that someone from Rome will start, “As we have always taught ...”

Or perhaps the Spirit will teach the church something about honesty and humility.

Brandon, Fla.

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As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s pontificate, I want to wish him well. As newspaper columnists, theologians and pundits scramble to analyze the pope’s accomplishments and disappointments over the past quarter century, I thought it would be interesting to grade him on areas dear to the hearts of those active in the reform movement.

It is important to state that the categories and grades are strictly my own. You will find that in the final analysis, I have found John Paul II to be an average pope. An area that might generate differences of opinion is that of our pontiff’s welcoming presence to young people. I have chosen this as my eighth category and have given John Paul II a C+. I am sure many Catholics believe he deserves an “A” in this area. Yet, I feel we must look beyond the pageants and World Youth Day, which are categorized by mobs of young people screaming in excitement as the pope passes by them. We must never forget that half our children are girls -- girls who will grow up to realize they are second-class citizens in the Roman Catholic church.

Here is my report card for John Paul II:

His work toward world peace: A

His work on Jewish/Catholic relations: A

His relationship with cardinals and bishops: B

His work on ecumenism: B

His relationship with the clergy (priests, deacons): B-

His encyclicals: B-

His approach to liturgy: C

His treatment/understanding of women: D

His understanding of and approach to the modern world: D

His work toward inclusivity in ministry: D

His treatment/understanding of gays and lesbians: E

His treatment of priests who entered into marriage: E

Rochester, N.Y.

Grosswirth is national secretary of The National Association for a Married Priesthood (CORPUS).

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National Catholic Reporter, November 7, 2003