National Catholic Reporter
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November 21, 2003

LettersSynod of laity

Thanks for your articles on Fr. Roger Karban and the Synod of the Laity in southern Illinois (NCR, Oct. 24). My wife and I grew up in the Belleville diocese and have known Fr. Karban and the good work he has been doing for the past 30 years. We still read his commentaries and reflections on the Sunday readings that appear in The Messenger, the diocesan newspaper for the Belleville diocese. His commentaries and reflections have helped keep us connected to the Catholic church after moving to the so-called “orthodox” diocese of Arlington, Va., a diocese that permits its diocesan paper to promote the agenda of the biblical fundamentalist International Council of Catholic Biblical Inerrancy, who smear the good names of biblical scholars such as the late Fr. Raymond Brown and challenge the work of respected Catholic biblical scholars.

Fr. Karban has been a great help to a number of us in keeping us focused on what is essential, as your article about the synod made clear by telling the stories of those who have been touched by his scholarship and pastoral concern.

Chantilly, Va.

On labyrinths

Regarding the Oct. 3 article on labyrinths: I was shocked that NCR would print such a derogatory column about what a labyrinth is. Obviously, Tim Unsworth has no clue of the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. His comparison shows his ignorance. His tone of disrespect was in poor taste and inappropriate. He makes insinuations that poke fun at a solidly theological contemplative prayer walk.

Mr. Unsworth’s choice of words was disrespectful, degrading, and had no class. He might have been trying to be satirical, but he clearly came across in a way that put others down in this poor attempt at journalism.

Las Vegas

‘Joan of Arcadia’

Ashley Merryman’s viewpoint article on “Joan of Arcadia” (NCR, Oct. 31) left me a little puzzled. It seemed that the focus of the article was the content of the billboard sign rather than a critique of the unwatched program.

I have watched virtually all of the programs because of the Joan of Arc comparison. The most interesting thing to me about the program is how God seems to be present in so many people natural to Joan’s environment. Each manifestation of God offers Joan a challenge that, when often ruefully done, positively affects others. Now, that would be to me a more serious and effective critique of the program than an ad campaign.

Seal Beach, Calif.

Israel and Syria

Steven Zunes’ attempt (NCR, Oct. 24) to support the concept of equivalency in the Mideast conflict between Jews and Arabs joins others in this cause by failing miserably. Until now, he says, Syria and Israel have “avoided attacking the other’s country directly.” The obvious implication is that they have each attacked only indirectly, but of course Syria has been guilty repeatedly of direct attacks through Lebanon.

He goes on to say, “Unlike the Lebanese government, the Syrians have always maintained a degree of control over Palestinian refugee camps inside their country.” Does anyone actually believe that there is a real Lebanese government -- that Lebanon is not a fully subjugated client state of Syria? Or that the only effective non-Syrian power in Lebanon is Hamas and similar anti-Israel terrorist organizations?

Mr. Zunes proves his obliviousness to logic when he fails to understand why Islamic Jihad would want to set up camp in Lebanon when the members come from Gaza and the West Bank. For Syrian protection, of course!

I’m always amazed when Arab terrorists, who target noncombatants including women and children, are equated to Israeli military responses directed at terrorists hiding behind children and the skirts of women -- when Israelis are expected to come to the table on a par with those who still maintain the goal of a Palestine reaching from the Jordan to the sea. Where’s the logic in that?

Toledo, Ohio

* * *

With the presidential election just a year away, President Bush has conveniently and opportunistically gone back to his pre-election position of letting Israel and the Palestinians settle their own differences. Bush likes to boast of being the first American president to propose a Palestinian state for the Palestinians, but it is obvious he tilts toward favoring the Israelis.

The dangerous Bush doctrine of preemption has stirred up a hornet’s nest in the Middle East with the United States’ invasion and occupation of Iraq. Israel’s early October bombing of an alleged terrorist camp deep inside Syria seems to show that Israel has adopted, with President Bush’s approval, the Bush Doctrine.

The United States and Israel are making more enemies worldwide; the doctrine of preemption will come back to haunt both nations. Why can’t President Bush put aside electoral politics and get Israel to withdraw all of its occupation forces from Palestinian territories? That would send a signal the United States and Israel are serious about there being a Palestinian state. There will never be peace in the Middle East as long as the Bush-Sharon doctrine of preemption is in play.

Louisville, Ky.

The Anglican communion

“Schism looms after stormy Anglican meeting” (NCR, Oct. 31) portrays accurately the deteriorating situation within the Anglican communion.

During a visit to London last year while still an Episcopalian, I met with Fr. Alan Hopes in his Chelsea rectory on the banks of the Thames. He was one of the first 11 Church of England priests to be received and ordained by the late Cardinal Basil Hume in 1995. Since then, over 600 Church of England priests and five bishops have followed him. He prayed with me and encouraged me to continue my faith journey. Six months ago he was appointed auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Westminster (London).

After returning to the States, I received support and encouragement from my best friend, her pastor and a retired priest friend of ours. During this Easter Vigil, I was received into the church by Fr. George Dunkley at St. Mark’s Parish.

There are thousands of disaffected Episcopalians searching for a new spiritual home. I hope all Catholics, both clergy and laity, will, as opportunities present themselves, reach out and extend a hand of friendship and welcome.

San Marcos, Calif.

Palestinian suffering

Israel announced Oct. 24 plans for 300 new homes for Jewish settlers. At the same time, Sharon issued demolition orders for 12 out of 18 Palestinian homes in the village of Akaba.

Two years ago Israeli peace activists and international critics saved the only health clinic in Akaba from being demolished by Israeli bulldozers. Once again Akaba is threatened. Demolition orders have been issued not only for the homes, but also the kindergarten and village mosque. According to Gush Shalom (Israeli Peace Bloc), the villagers pose no security threat. Their only “sin” is they live on land that Sharon wants to annex for the projected Eastern Wall, which will cut off the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank. If Sharon succeeds, the Palestinian lifeline will be totally blocked. With two-thirds of their homes demolished and the social, cultural and religious infrastructure of Akaba destroyed, Palestinians feel that Sharon just wants them out.

Akaba stands as symbol and paradigm of a harsh form of ethnic cleansing used against Palestinians while Israeli settlements expand. Every day Israeli bulldozers are destroying lives and livelihoods. Will the world remain silent?

Burlington, Vt.

Sr. Miriam Ward spent three weeks in Israel and the Occupied Territories in June and July.

* * *

The fisheries sector in Gaza supports more than 55,000 people, including 3,000 fishermen. But as the Israeli occupation continues, the future of the sector and the fate of thousands of Palestinian fishermen hang in the balance. Fishing is an inherited trade in Gaza. Fishermen grow up learning nothing else and possess few other skills.

The Oslo Accords, signed by the PLO and the Israeli government in 1993, gave Palestinian fishermen the right to work in a 23-mile zone along the Gaza Strip coastline. However, fishermen have rarely been allowed to exceed 12 miles and the fishermen cannot afford to make mistakes.

Israeli military boats monitor the coast and are ruthless in their response. They have shot indiscriminately at the fishermen, thrown boiling water on them and forced them to undress and jump into the sea. Such treatment violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, which enshrines the rights of noncombatants in wartime. The Israelis have also been known to destroy docked fishing vessels with missiles and confiscate fishermen’s boats and equipment; more than 100 fishing vessels have been completely destroyed by Israeli gunships. The fishermen say that the Israelis do what they want, that there are no laws governing them and that they only seem to want to bother them when it’s fishing season. No fish trade is permitted from Gaza to the West Bank or Jordan, though demand continues to exist there. Fishing output is now at 10 percent of its normal rate. The question here is: Who are the terrorists?

Dubuque, Iowa

What Julia Child eats

Let me get this straight. Julia Child is a butter-, egg-, and cream-eater and, even worse, a carnivore, and, as such, we Catholics should condemn her life’s work and join Barbara Stasz of St. Paul, Minn., in killing plants instead (NCR Letters, Oct. 31)?

I disagree with Ms. Stasz. I do however believe we need to find better methods of raising and harvesting meat products, as the meat processors are finding out. There is however, no biblical reason to stop eating meat. The plants and animals of the earth were given to mankind to use. There is also no need to condemn those who have gone before us.

What the latest research shows about the physical condition of Americans is that we need to exercise more and pay attention to how many calories we are consuming based on our level of activity.

Why not start with moderation in all things?

Blessed are they who eat butter in
Blessed are they who eat eggs in
Blessed are they who eat beef in
Blessed are they who eat pork in
Blessed are they who eat chicken in
moderation, and most important:
Blessed are they who treat these
products and creatures with
care and respect as the wonderful
gifts that they are from our
Creator who made our bodies
and understands our physical needs.

Get out the measuring cups and you will see that one serving of just about anything you want to eat is a half of a cup, not the one and a half cups most of us pile on our plates.

And may God bless us all.

Liberty, Mo.

Mother Teresa

Regarding the article on Mother Teresa in the Oct. 17 issue: As usual, the hierarchy of the church will ponder for “many years” before, duh, officially declaring Mother Teresa a saint. Why doesn’t this surprise me? She’s a saint to everyone but the hierarchy, and we didn’t wait until she died to reflect on her good works and wisdom.

Saints do not need the official seal of approval from the Vatican as far as I am concerned. I have met and worked alongside living saints who work in parish ministries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, homes and workplaces, and even live on the streets who are declared saints because of their works and actions. Let us celebrate these saints while still alive and emulate their faith and devotion to Christ instead of when they are dead and buried awaiting the stamp of approval from the hierarchy of the church. Maybe if these men took the time to see the every day miracles that happen when people live out the gospel life of Christ in our church communities, they would be quicker to react to the saints before their eyes. Heaven forbid they break a five-century tradition!

Fountain Hills, Ariz.

‘Mystic River’

For anyone who has not seen the movie, “Mystic River,” but has read Joseph Cunneen’s review (NCR, Oct. 31), what Cunneen omits from his synopsis is that one of the two men who sexually assault Dave wears a ring adorned with a cross in one scene and in another, a crucifix hangs around his neck. Nowhere in the movie is it overtly stated that these men are priests. However, considering this fictional story is set in Boston, I feel justified to make the leap that it is certainly possible that these men could be priests.

Cunneen concludes his review, “Clint Eastwood … has provided us with a troubling and realistic look at a Boston neighborhood where Catholicism has had little serious impact on its inhabitants.”

For me, this statement raises the question: Is the sexual abuse of children and subsequent systematic cover-up by the hierarchy intricately imbued in Catholicism?

If this is the case, then Cunneen’s conclusion is clearly wrong. Catholicism, tainted by its own sins, dramatically altered the very being of one of this town’s inhabitants. How can we not conclude that Catholicism isn’t intricately involved in the lives of the people of this story?

Long Beach, Calif.

The liberal media

Fr. Schroth’s Oct. 31 book reviews are an unfortunate example of how we church reformers can hinder our cause by harsh, exclusionary attitudes toward people with conservative civic views. He reviews three politically liberal books denying media liberal bias versus one conservative book affirming it, and rushes to a judgment favoring political liberals. Also, he implies that people who hesitate to criticize a war early (while casualties are low) are necessarily politically “conservative.” The correct word is “hesitant.” Many liberals implicitly supported the Vietnam War in its early stages. Too bad that Fr. Schroth overlooked the scholarly studies of Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman that affirm a politically liberal media bias.

Some studies reveal that not even 4 percent of affected U.S. Catholics agree with certain papal policies. Let’s envision the other 96 percent as potential church-reform recruits, whom we shouldn’t drive away by hastily dismissing all the claims of the political conservatives among them.

I know very logical people who favor broadcaster Paul Harvey and who also are at home in FutureChurch, Pax Christi and Mary Magdalene events. Let’s cultivate such politically conservative church-reform believers or at least avoid brusquely dismissing their political views.

West Allis, Wis.

* * *

A fascinating article on conservative media, formerly an oxymoron, but obviously not now. The New York Times aired similar complaints about campus activists and organizations earlier this year.

And Democrats had no problem with political influence until GOP folks began using PACs.

So why do liberals object so strenuously when conservatives exercise their rights to practice the same methods used by liberals to influence others?

Multiple conflicting voices help democracy work.

Peaks Island, Maine

Catholic colleges

Thank you for the special supplement on Catholic Colleges and Universities. As a former chaplain at the College of New Rochelle, N.Y., I always look for news of my favorite women’s college. Alas, not only was College of New Rochelle, a school whose population is more than 60 percent Latino and Black, not represented, neither is there any evidence in your supplement that Latino and black people go to Catholic colleges. One advertising photo had a black face but the other pictures told the real story. Too many Catholic colleges and universities serve an elite upper-middle class white population who can afford the skyrocketing tuition costs.

Believe me, I have nothing against white middle class folk, but our church is rapidly becoming a community of “color,” whose young faces and voices are too infrequently seen or heard in your newspaper and other Catholic periodicals.

What this might be saying about our priorities as a community of faith is another letter, but at the very least, we have to do better. Places like the College of New Rochelle need to be seen and heard in your newspaper and other Catholic journals.

Jamaica Plain, Mass.

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 21, 2003