National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
November 28, 2003

LettersOn celibacy

No matter how you cut it, sine domenica, sine ecclesia. Without the Eucharist, there is no church.

One wonders what the boys’ club on the Tiber will be governing in generations to come with no liturgy to speak of, no priesthood and no community of the faithful.

Celibacy is but one issue -- a very important one, to be sure, in rethinking what the documents of Vatican II might have brought about had they been faithfully accepted by the hierarchy and creatively applied to the reform of the church.

At 72 years old and 44 years of celibate priestly ministry, my heart breaks with sadness in seeing the progressive departure of a faith-yearning people from an ecclesial institution offering little more than robotic exercises.

West Redding, Conn.

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Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) instituted celibacy after a century of papal and clerical debauchery. The idea was: Get rid of the women and you get rid of the problem of pontifical and clerical avarice and greed.

Celibacy is not of apostolic origin, as Tim Connair correctly said (Letters, NCR, Oct. 31), nor is it a doctrine. It is, like infallibility, a non-essential tradition.

To enforce celibacy on anyone is to deny choice, as Jesus said in Matthew 19:11-12.

Arlington Heights, Ill.

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In evaluating expressions of support for mandatory celibacy, similar to that of the Arlington priests (NCR, Oct. 17), the sexual orientation of today’s priests cannot be discounted as a factor of influence. The Dean Hoge study, commissioned by the hierarchy, indicates that close to half the priests ordained between 1997 and 2002 are homosexual. Gay priests are not personally involved in the celibacy issue, and hence would be more willing to uphold the status quo on request.

Singer Island, Fla.

Rain in the Southwest

As I was absorbing the NCR poetry section of Oct. 17, I was grimly impressed by “Praying for Rain in the Southwest,” by Judith Robbins of Maine.

Within days of the issue, we had more smoke than the proverbial native blankets could ever utilize. Rather than moisture from the skies, down came more ash than Hiroshima/Nagasaki could ever imagine. And this happened in quake country.

The moisture flowing was supplied by hardworking engine companies, water-dropping helicopters and the human tears collective. Where are the techno-wonders when we need them?

Jesus spoke of a desire for “fire to come upon the earth.” Rather than our offering up trees and homes, may the fire of his love purify our hearts. Rather than our canyons flooding in the event of rains, may he touch our drought of spirit and prevent a famine for hearing his word.

San Gabriel, Calif.

The right Shannon

The second boxed correction (NCR, Oct. 31) clarifies that the editor of The Inner Experience, reviewed in the NCR Winter books section Oct. 10, is not Thomas Shannon (probably the professor of religion and social ethics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute) but my classmate, now the distinguished Msgr. William Shannon, educator, talented writer and Merton authority, forever fated to be confused with others of the same surname, or otherwise a victim of misidentification.

Even as a seminarian at St. Bernard’s (“The Rock”) in Rochester, N.Y., he was sometimes confused with Jack Shannon, from Syracuse, N.Y., already something of a television celebrity. Years later, after a successful career as a college theology professor, William Shannon’s diocesan newspaper in 1999 identified him as the author of James Patrick Shannon’s Reluctant Dissenter.

A Jesuit reviewer in America (April 3, 2000, and Oct. 13, 2003) consistently refers to him as a “former chancellor of the diocese of Rochester,” which he has not been, unless in petto. Thus, perhaps the headline of the Oct. 10 NCR review might be revised to read, instead of the “many Mertons,” the “many Shannons.”

Venice, Fla.

Military diversity

I am writing in response to Claire Schaeffer-Duffy’s article, “Feeding the Military Machine” (NCR, March 28). In her article, she writes, “African-American history is not part of the curriculum. Military history is.” A comment like this shows a complete lack of understanding of what the institution and profession of the military is and shortchanges the accomplishments of all soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen of ethnic backgrounds who have given their lives in service of their country.

As a member of the armed forces, I work side by side with people of every nation, creed and background. It is this mix of people and cultures that makes the United States military a model of integration and cooperation the civilian world should look to for guidance. The Army was the first of American institutions to fully integrate African-Americans and one of the foremost proponents of affirmative action. From its roots until today, the military has been served by men and women, regardless of color, who have contributed to the achievement of the mission of the army.

The history of the military is a subject that encompasses the achievements of Americans from every walk of life. A simple look at the hierarchy of the army will show leaders ethnically as varied as Powell, Schwartzkopf and Shinseki. By focusing on the military history of the nation, students are learning to understand the reality of true patriotism. Regardless of color, we are all American.

Westpoint, N.Y.

Depleted uranium

Two hundred tons of radioactive material was fired by invading U.S. forces into buildings, homes, streets and gardens all over Baghdad. The material in question is depleted uranium. Depleted uranium has a half-life of 4.7 billion years, which means thousands upon thousands of Iraqi children will suffer for tens of thousands of years to come. American forces admitted to using over 300 tons of depleted uranium weapons in 1991, but the actual figure was closer to 800. This has caused a health crisis that has affected almost a third of a million people. As if that was not enough, America went on and used 200 tons more in Baghdad alone this April.

This has caused leukemia to become the most common type of cancer in Iraq among all age groups, but is most prevalent in the under-15s. Another tragic outcome is the delayed growth of children. Women as young as 35 are developing breast cancer. Sterility amongst men has increased tenfold.

It is affecting American and British troops stationed in Iraq. What is mystifying is that there is no need for this type of weapon. U.S. conventional weapons are quite capable of destroying tanks and buildings. The use of depleted uranium is the true terrorism. These effects brought to you courtesy of the Bush administration.

Dubuque, Iowa

Bishop Reilly

Thank you for your clarifying editorial on Bishop Reilly’s remarks before a committee of the Massachusetts legislature (“Bishop brings reason to issue of gay benefits,” NCR, Nov. 7). Sacramental marriage, civil unions and medical insurance for same-sex partners should not be raked into the same arena for discussion. Given the current climate of hysteria around these matters, Bishop Reilly showed considerable courage in trying to draw those distinctions in order to focus on the immediate issues of distributive justice. His appeal to reason is admirable.

I look to the day when a bishop will publicly assert with equal reason that allowing gay adoptions does not mean “doing violence” to children and that the home of a same-sex couple can indeed be an environment “conducive to [the children’s] full human development.” Reason melded with the testimony of human experience would enrich the discussion considerably.


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Bravo to Bishop Daniel P. Reilly for opening a window on the heated conflict about the rights of homosexuals and their partners. A suggested next step might be to consider health insurance. Why link the right to affordable medical care to sexuality or living arrangements? Isn’t it time to face up to the sad fact that millions of citizens lack that basic benefit? It’s claimed that we can’t afford it. That cry is hollow when our president and Congress recently approved billions to wage war on Iraq and more than $87 billion more to rebuild it. Didn’t the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, teach us that anyone can be left without critical benefits when the principal wage earner is no longer around? This is not a “straight” or “gay” issue, but one for every compassionate American.

Bronxville, N.Y.

Sanctions on politicians

I happened to catch Bishop Joseph Galante’s remarks in the Q &A session at the end of the first day of the Washington meeting, and nearly fell from my chair at his response regarding the possible penalties to be levied against the politicians promoting abortion, and so on. The bishop (my paraphrasing) answered that those politicians might face penalties -- even excommunication -- for they must be held accountable for their actions!

Such hypocrisy! Accountable! For bishops who have disdained to accept any accountability for the shameful decisions in the sexual abuse crisis, made by many of those very same men present at this very meeting, this is unbelievable.

When the bishops acknowledge that many have been complicit and in many cases, if not for the statute of limitations, may have even committed crimes in aiding and abetting predator priests, then faith and trust in Catholic leadership may be recovered.

Dover, N.H.

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I was dismayed to know that the U.S. bishops are considering sanctions against Catholic politicians who are troubled by endorsing laws that could make abortion a criminal offense. This is one more sign that this issue should have remained a personal conscience decision rather than becoming a political hot potato. And who is next? All those who voted to go to war in Iraq? Those who favor the death penalty? These are both life issues, but I don’t hear anything about sanctions for these decision-makers. No one who is pro-life wants a woman to ever be in a situation in which she must make such a choice, but it should be hers to make. No one ever wants a child killed in war, but a world away in Washing-ton, decisions have been made that caused such killing. Where is the rage of the bishops over this or every person whose life is taken by the state in our name? I think this is another case in which celibate males have selected an issue that affects women and are running with it.

If the U.S. bishops succeed in banning Catholic politicians from church property for this or any reason, it seems to me that they will have forgotten once again that all the faithful are bound to follow their informed consciences, and that they, the bishops, are only one part of the church.

Roeland Park, Kan.

NCR’s best issue

I just finished reading most of the Nov. 7 issue of NCR, and I must tell you it is the best you have ever published. I have been a follower of M. Scott Peck for many years and have most of his books, which I have been reading over and over. I have spoken to him personally after he gave a conference to clergy that most of them did not like. I wish the pope could speak about his illness like Peck does for I am certain he would help many people who are suffering and fear death.

The article by Gabriel Moran, “Outlawing War,” is one of my favorite subjects. I believe war is the greatest plague and greatest evil that humankind has ever inflicted upon itself. I have hope that Christians and especially the Catholic church and the pope would start declaring the evil of war.

I am an 82-year-old Roman Catholic priest not permitted to function because I am married. I am also a World War II vet and that is why I feel so strongly about war. I have seen too much killing.


Sex abuse

The Washington Post-ABC poll, released Oct. 15, gave a generally very favorable rating to the papacy of John Paul II, but with one marked exception: 74 percent of Catholics faulted him for not doing more to address clergy sexual abuse. As far as people know, he merely gave a somewhat unclear sermon to American cardinals. He has not attempted to identify which church policies cause or contribute to pedophilia among priests in contrast to clergymen of other denominations who are less rigorously trained. The question of why this plague occurs in priests still gnaws at the minds and hearts of Catholics everywhere, and will not go away.

Priests remain objects of suspicion and lowered respect.

Riviera Beach, Fla.

The Dalai Lama

Coleman McCarthy’s article on the Dalai Lama was an appropriate expression of revulsion for the Lama’s apparent indifference to the U.S. killing of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians; the maiming of thousands more; the ongoing illegal bloody occupation; and 13 years of genocidal sanctions which, according to Voices in the Wilderness, Chicago, have killed over 1.5 million Iraqi children, and the degrading of millions more. It is indeed disheartening -- shocking -- that a leader who has emerged from the horrific suffering of his own people could in any way validate the long stream of American atrocities against Iraq.

One letter to NCR (Oct. 31) quotes Gandhi on “self-defense” as if to make some sort of point about justification of U.S. bombing. Is there anyone left who believes the administration’s lie about Iraq as a threat? Even U.S. media headlines read, though all too late, “Bush Lied” and “Where are the WMD’s?” Most of the world’s nations, including long-time allies, as well as millions of Americans, knew all along that the disarmament of Iraq had nothing to do with saving humanity but was carried out systematically to ensure Iraq’s defenselessness against the massive bombardment planned long before Bush II ever entered office. And long before 9/11.

Using the writer’s argument for self-defense, Iraq, the real victim, would be justified in retaliatory measures against the United States -- not the other way around.

Toledo, Ohio

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 28, 2003