National Catholic Reporter
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November 14, 2003

LettersPriest shortage

Your article on the priest shortage was very good (NCR, Oct. 17). I have been saying to my friends that we don’t need a few more priests, we need 50 times more.

The large churches we are building because of the priest shortage have turned our people into filling-station Catholics. They run around all week, and then Sunday they come in to get their shot of holy fuel with no idea of who is next to them. They are not involved in the running of the church. In contrast, the early church was a home church, composed of small groups that knew one another.

To have 50 times more priests, we would have to allow women priests, married priests and part-time priests. If we had this many priests, people would gather around their favorite priest. They would know one another. They would be a community, not a crowd.


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Never once have I heard mentioned the survey that the then-minor seminary rector Daniel Pilarczyk commissioned in the early 1970s to ask what influence the requirement of celibacy had on young men’s decision to enter the seminary. The overwhelming response was a negative influence, as shown by the percentages per category: active priests, 68 percent negative; high school guidance counselors (who should better know?), 90 percent; college students, 84 percent; college seminarians, 86 percent; and theology seminarians, a whopping 94 percent. These statistics should have indicated (30 years ago!) that we were facing hard, lean years personnel-wise. However, Pilarczyk, now archbishop of Cincinnati, puts a positive spin on it, misinterpreting the results and saying that while few people see celibacy as an inducement to the priesthood, those who are most positive about it are priests themselves (yes, only 68 percent of them indicated a negative influence). He goes on to say that he wonders if celibacy is less a real issue in the priesthood than people have been led to believe. (Get your head out of the sand, Dan!)

Would we be in a better position today if Pilarczyk had honestly interpreted the results of the survey and disseminated them to all the bishops and to Rome? And why have the bishops never prevailed on Rome to come up with a pastoral solution to the impending (actual) shortage?

Dayton, Ohio

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It is a sign of a healthy church that Catholics are no longer accepting the present form of priesthood. The present structures must die to be transformed to a more vibrant, life-giving and healthier priesthood and church. While many may think the prayers for increased vocations have gone unanswered, I believe God is answering loud and clear. All we need to do is listen!


Giving credit

Why is it that in reporting and referencing Bishop Vincent Malone’s comments in Healing Priesthood: Women’s Voices (NCR, Briefs, Sept. 12), there is never a mention of the two women who edited this marvelous resource? In a book filled with the wisdom of women, the Catholic press seems unable to acknowledge the contribution being made to a very complex and very important conversation by many important contributors. In a text of 130 pages, Bishop Malone’s two-and-a-half pages are very much worth reading, but truly do not warrant the impression given that the referenced title is his.

Worcester, Mass.

Claims about condoms

I usually do not read John Allen’s paean to the Vatican because I have no need to have my blood pressure raised to a dangerous level. However, I was sent a copy of one of his latest (“The Word from Rome,” Oct. 17), one in which he quotes the Vatican’s total ignorance both on AIDS and the use of condoms as gospel. The person who sent the Web column to me, who is usually quite bright, was medically “confused,” to use one of the Vatican’s favorite terms, and wanted to know if the Allen column had any validity. I informed the person that the column was totally fallacious in its medical content and the only thing that had any validity was that both the disease (AIDS) and the product (condoms) actually exist.

As a nurse, may I suggest that, if the rest of his columns are as inaccurate and insensitive as this one, you precede them with a disclaimer that designates the columns as “dangerous to one’s health.” That column on AIDS and the use of condoms was so full of medical inaccuracies and Vatican lies that it was, in truth, quite close to malignant. As an active Roman Catholic, I found its lack of Christian love and compassion made me shudder.


Latin errors

The elementary mistake in Eugene Kennedy’s Latin (NCR, Oct. 3) was only repeated by the letter writer of Oct. 24. It’s Sacramenta propter homines.

If we’re going to bandy Latin phrases around, let’s at least be sure it’s correct Latin (accusative plural, not ablative singular).

Northglenn, Colo.

Starbird and the Magdalene

Ed Conroy (NCR, Oct. 31) could have added a correction to his reference to Starbird’s The Woman with the Alabaster Jar. Starbird follows the old-time teaching of the Western Fathers that the anonymous woman with the alabaster box mentioned in the synoptic gospels (Luke adds that she was a sinner) is the same person as Mary Magdalene and Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus. The continuous tradition of the Eastern Fathers, endorsed by modern scripture scholars as well as by the texts chosen for the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, holds that they are three distinct persons.

Utica, N.Y.

Cotton subsidies

Can anyone really believe that such powers as the European Union and the United States would permit the elimination of subsidies on cotton so that such countries as Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin and Chad could enjoy a level playing field in the sale of cotton (NCR, Oct. 10)?

Never. Free trade is never free. It always has stipulations such as subsidies. Free trade is a benefit to wealthy investors and corporations, but for working people in poor countries it is a disaster.

No, there are no level playing fields. As Mother Teresa has said: “The dispossessed keep growing because the forces of globalization leave more victims in their wake than beneficiaries.”

Glendale, Calif.

Civil discourse in the U.S.

I read your excellent editorial on civil discourse in American political and religious life (NCR, Oct. 31) and the related article by Fr. Raymond Schroth. The conclusion I reached for the sorry state of right vs. left discourse is that most conservatives either were born without a sense of humor or had it removed somewhere along the line.

I recently heard Bill O’Reilly on Terri Gross’ “Fresh Air” program on NPR during which he whined about the questions Ms. Gross asked him, as opposed to those she asked Al Franken on a previous interview. He then was rude enough to walk out of the studio before the interview was over. Unfortunately, I did not hear the Franken interview, so can’t make any objective judgment about O’Reilly’s claims. However, recognizing that Franken is a humor writer, while O’Reilly purports to be a serious commentator on American politics, I wouldn’t expect the interviews to be very much the same.

Being the product of a Jesuit high school and The Catholic University of America, I was sorry to hear that O’Reilly credits his similar education for his conservative stance. If I were the Jebbies, I’d cry foul.

Eagle, Idaho

About NCR

Congratulations to the staff of NCR on its 40th anniversary (NCR, Oct. 24).

Thank you for the informative, timely and objective news you present on a broad range of subjects of interest to people of faith. May you prosper.

Arlington Heights, Ill.

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I received a subscription to your newsletter as a gift, and I read it to stay abreast of the variety of dissenting opinions expressed by American Catholics. I find your articles to be incredibly disheartening. It seems like every issue raised by your newsletter is cast in the light of a larger polemic against the church hierarchy and traditional Catholicism. Instead of seeking to better understand Catholic teachings, NCR is obsessed with lending its energy to skepticism and mistrust of everything produced by the magisterium. I do not recognize in your articles any faith in the promises of Christ to preserve his church in all truth. You rail against Catholic clergy and the hierarchy for not being more horizontal in power structure and open-minded while ironically you yourselves are closed to the ideas of more traditional Catholics and those who have any love for the magisterium.

It is an ancient Catholic practice to pray for our leaders. This is only done in some pejorative way in NCR (as if to say, “Oh God, when will you deliver us from authoritarian old men who cannot see the light of progress?”). We may admonish our leaders when they act wrongly, but let us do so in love and remember that we must still respect and follow their teachings, when in union with the bishops and the pope, and pray for them daily (not against them). Tearing down the institution and rebelling against the hierarchy and authority are adolescent impulses that rend the body of Christ; they are the opposite of what we see in the lives of the saints, who humbled themselves and were docile to the promptings of the Spirit and the teachings of God’s church, whether they found them difficult or not.

Berkeley, Calif.

Adults in the church

I enjoyed Chuck Colbert’s reporting of Fr. J. Bryan Hehir’s comments at Boston College (NCR, Oct. 24). I would respectfully disagree with Fr. Hehir on one point.

If he really means, “We’ve got to treat adults as adults in the church,” then he is “calling for a revolution.”

His recognition that an educated laity is “in a strategic leverage position” actually says that the revolution is won. The educated laity will never again allow the hierarchy to marginalize it. The hierarchy will resist painfully, but the honest and proper response of the laity to the sex abuse scandals and to the pastoral failures of the bishops shows that the old days are finished.

San Leandro, Calif.

Heeding God’s call

In response to the Oct. 10 article by Demetria Martinez regarding Genevieve Chavez and women’s ordination:

All of our life is a “call” from God from the moment of our conception to our death. We are always called by God in the big and little of life. Some of us serve as single persons, some as married, some as vowed religious.

There is no reason why women cannot be called to ordination, be it as deacons or priests, other than culture and habitual taboos. God does not distinguish between men and women in his love and call.

That said, I also share what I have shared with the Call to Action group here in southern New Mexico. Since a vocation is not something we lobby for, the Holy Spirit acts within individuals and in the church. What we need to do is be ready for that call when history and culture can reconcile with God’s calls. We can be ready by being good scholars of church history and deepen our study and knowledge of theology, Along with this we need to grow in holiness. We need to understand deeply who God is within ourselves, in others and in the church.

Let’s pray and work with each other; deepen our relationship with God; engage in solid studies to better understand the God we wish to serve. And then wait for the Holy Spirit to act within the church and within individuals.

Deming, N.M.

Defending liberty

“Homeland security” and “preemptive strike” laws are an outright attack on fundamental liberties our nation has stood for from its beginning. By these laws Congress has shattered the Bill of Rights and conceded its right to declare war to the executive branch. Putting unprecedented power in the executive branch means the Pentagon, FBI and CIA will run the country. Congress is just window dressing.

Worst of all, we’ll be less secure because speaking our minds on the excesses of corporate greed protected by executive power will put our lives in jeopardy.

I believe a people who willingly trade liberty for security will have neither, and deserve neither liberty nor security!

Devils Lake, N.D.

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, November 14, 2003