National Catholic Reporter
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December 12, 2003

LettersCincinnati's 30 pieces of silver

The Cincinnati archdiocese sidestepped a grand jury investigation by pleading “no contest” to felonies in knowingly failing to report sex crimes involving minors and priests of the archdiocese from 1978 to 1982.

The diocese -- in the person of Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk -- was fined $10,000 and given a stern rebuke from Judge Richard Niehaus, a Catholic, who pointed out that the church had lost its way in its disregard of civil and moral law.

This is the third time U.S. courts have intervened in the operation of Catholic dioceses to regulate them or sentence them for violations of law in regard to their misdeeds in handling sex abuse of minors. The New Hampshire diocese is under the supervision of law enforcement for five years. The bishop and the Phoenix diocese narrowly escaped being indicted for their neglect of the law, and they, too, are under oversight. There was enough evidence to bring Bishop Thomas O’Brien to trial. Now, clearly, the Cincinnati archdiocese is guilty of criminal activity.

This admission of criminal guilt is historic. It is not the end of the line. In fact, those who say the American church has turned the corner on the sex abuse crisis are not correct. There is much more to come. The future and the truth are in the documents of Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and beyond. In addition, the 11 grand juries already empanelled have not received the attention they deserve either from the church or the public.

Before those who are edified by the humility of Daniel Pilarczyk or gratified by his humiliation become too complacent, they should examine closely the fine print in the Cincinnati deal. The archdiocese said that it would set up a $3 million fund for victims of sexual abuse of priests and church employees.

At first blush the offer sounds magnanimous, healing and even accountable and transparent. Is it? Or is it just the opposite? Is it another obfuscation and shell game to avoid the scrutiny of the civil courts and a new twist to seal documents? The five counts of failure to report crimes, 1978 to 1982, were all under then-Archbishop Joseph Bernardin’s watch. This is a fact not lost on those who know that the full history of abuse in Cincinnati has not yet been written. Civil cases from that time period are still to be litigated. Will Pilarczyk see that the documents are produced? Will he assure that the victims have a full hearing? Or is this another cover-up, a million-dollar buyoff and betrayal of victims and the truth?

A bit of humiliation and $10,000 are a small price for the archdiocese and Pilarczyk to pay for continuing denial of the truth and control of the documents that contain the stories of decades of betrayal. Thirty pieces of silver was an affordable sum for the Sanhedrin. It was not enough to solve their perceived problem. Money will not solve the problem in Cincinnati, either.

La Jolla, Calif.

Genetically modified crops

Your short piece on genetically modified crops (NCR, Nov. 21) seems to me to reflect a certain lack of balance in its portrayal of the “opposing camps.” The boosters have at least one argument in addition to reducing world hunger: It is to maximize the boosters’ profits. The “critics,” however, have at least one more than the three arguments attributed to them: The seeds and other inputs relevant to GM foods, the science to produce them, and the technology to deliver these goods and services to the farmers are controlled by the same kinds of profit-driven agribusiness corporations and banks that dominate the global food system generally, push non-nutritious foods on the public and continue to impoverish the real farmers who actually grow food.

A couple of years ago I wrote to Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences, whom you quote, because at a congressional hearing convened by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D.-Ohio, the bishop was cited as expressing Vatican approval of GM foods. He wrote back to me assuring me that there is nothing counter to Catholic teaching in the production and use of genetic foods and that the “precautionary principle” covered this issue.

A month or so ago, when I heard about the Nov. 11 symposium, to be convened by a different Vatican consilium, headed by then Archbishop (now Cardinal) Renato Martino, I wrote another letter, this time to Martino, expressing the hope that the discussions would take into consideration where the control in the system resides, who will benefit, and who will decide. In response, the archbishop wrote back, assuring me that he had received “several letters similar to mine” and that this matter would get full “consideration.”

I have read the agenda for the November meeting, as well as the list of participants, heavily weighted toward academe. Of the four major sessions, only the fourth is about ethics, and that seems primarily to deal with environmental, not social issues. Therefore, I am not surprised at your article’s tentative conclusion.

Arlington, Va.

Vocations crisis

Your article on the shortage of priests echoes the real resolution for vocations. It’s found in parishes and dioceses where Catholic tradition is vibrantly preached, lived and lovingly embraced. Denver; Lincoln, Neb.; Arlington, Va.; and Peoria, Ill. -- all have many priests entering the fold. The Priestly Society of St. Peter has many vocations. Those who encourage Catholics to effectively join the culture and change our faith -- there we see the shortages of vocations. When one doubts what the church teaches, why be a priest? Why go to Mass if one does not believe in the real presence, and so on? Prayer, conversion, confession, Eucharist, learning, living and loving Christ’s bride -- the church and her teachings. Faithfulness. Jesus still calls us and longs to make our souls his home. Our cup is filled -- by love.


* * *

A church official was reported to say, “What vocation crisis? … Although the number of priests per Catholic has shrunk significantly, the number of Catholics attending church regularly has shrunk to the point that the number of priests per attending Catholic is the same or even greater.”

So we can all help the vocation crisis by becoming non-attending Catholics?

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Same-sex marriage

At their November meeting the U.S. bishops reiterated their opposition to gay marriage. Sometimes our more Roman than Catholic positions sadden me. However, Boston Archbishop Sean Patrick O’Malley’s reference to never changing the Ten Commandments frightened me. There is no reference to same sex coupling in the Ten Commandments and O’Malley is just too well educated and too powerful to speak as if he does not know that.

It may be true that family life seems less stable than we would like. It may also be true that married life seems less stable than we would want. However, homosexuality (except as homosexual people were literally forced into traditional marriages to play it “straight”) is not the cause of family instability nor marital infidelity. Further pronouncements in opposition to faithful homosexual relationships will not solve the problems that come from within the traditional institution of marriage.

There are actually three issues: sacrament, fidelity and justice. Heterosexual marriage may have a unique place in the church. If that is so, we need to make sure that its uniqueness is a reflection of Jesus’ goals for marriage and for human family and not merely a reflection of business as usual human prejudices about humanity. That being said, the uniqueness of the sacrament of marriage does not preclude the church from finding ways to affirm faithful, lifelong human relationships that do not meet the standard of Christian marriage as Jesus defined it. Faithful human community is of value for the church and society whether or not it is actually called marriage.

The third issue is justice. Civil society provides economic and social benefits for civil marriages (even second and third marriages) that do not conform to the church’s understanding of marriage. By Catholic stands, many are not marriages and yet we do not move to have their civil and social recognition denied. It is imperative that we exercise the same support, even if not full agreement when it comes to same-sex couples. Apart from theological issues, same-sex couples need to be affirmed because, whether one is at peace with the reality or not, these couples do engage in the same housing, health care, and child-raising issues that heterosexual couples engage in but do so without the same protections and supports that heterosexual couples receive. Same-sex couples are being punished not so much for what they do but who they are. The church cannot permit itself to practice injustice even to protect its sacraments or its view of scripture. The Ten Commandments that so enamor O’Malley speak more eloquently about the issues of justice and faithfulness than they do heterosexual necessity. In a less than perfect world God calls humans to be just and to be faithful. The commandments did not call people to just be “straight.” May God grant our bishops courage to provide avenues of faithfulness and justice for all of God’s people.

Woburn, Mass.

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Marriage between two people who love each other is a laudable and quite traditional notion, so why do some people hate and fear the idea of same-sex marriage?

In most cases, it’s a simple misunderstanding. Many people think of marriage as a religious institution, but marriage is a legal government contract. A civil contract should be open to couples whether they are of the same or opposite sex, and cannot be subject to religious restrictions. Religious institutions will remain free to decide whether or not they will perform any particular marriage ceremony. But any same-sex couple must be free to say, “I do,” in city hall.

Others’ objections are more stubborn. They oppose on religious grounds even civil marriages for gay couples. The irony is that these people have their religious freedom because they have been given protection by the Constitution from someone else’s religion being forced upon them. They ought to return the favor.

It may come as a revelation to them that American law and the Ten Commandments are two different things. We call ourselves a free society partly because we permit all sorts of things that supposedly go against Holy Scriptures -- blasphemy, fornication, making graven images, coveting your neighbor’s maidservant and more. Marriage in a secular office by a justice of the peace is irrelevant to their concerns.

The single most important principle in our country is that all of us are equal under the law.

Iowa City, Iowa

Jackie Kennedy’s counselor

Jesuit Fr. Richard McSorley, who counseled Jacqueline Kennedy after JFK’s assassination, was a friend of mine. We were both deeply involved in the peace movement and pro-life activity. We often discussed war/peace, nonviolence, suicide, abortion and euthanasia. McSorley was a pacifist after his stint as a chaplain during World War II when he was imprisoned. He helped me immensely in my trauma after my tour in Vietnam. McSorley at Georgetown University was a natural to turn to because of his view on peace and his deep spirituality as well as his experience of suffering as a POW.

I applaud the revelation from his diary regarding thoughts of suicide by Ms. Kennedy, because it is most natural for people who grieve loved ones to have thoughts of suicide. Even the best of us. I went to McSorley because I, too, thought of suicide. Why did I survive while so many good young men did not? In retrospect, I owe McSorley my life, as probably did Ms. Kennedy.

I am thankful that McSorley’s diary was revealed so as to help others. We are all human and we all need each other. May he rest in the pace of the Lord.


Birth control teaching

I was absolutely shocked to read the editorial today, the “Birth control rerun adds little to Catholic life” screed (NCR, Nov. 21). Are you sure this is a Catholic publication? I could have sworn I was reading some irresponsible anti-Catholic venom from a postmodernist newspaper.

Perhaps instead of glibly asserting that one of the major teachings of the church for the past two millennia is “impractical,” your publication could imagine a world in which faithful Catholics fully lived out their lives in obedience to the magisterium. Not a return to the bad old days, but a full expression of Catholic teaching. What would that look like?

San Antonio

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I write in response to your recent editorial taking issue with the bishops’ document opposing contraception. Leaving aside the hopelessly misinformed moral theology expressed in your editorial, I wanted to address your self-righteous marginalization of those Catholics who faithfully observe church teaching on sexual morality in marriage.

I understand that, depending upon the survey one reads, Catholics who are observant of the church’s teaching on sexual morality in marriage constitute only 5-10 percent of the population of the Catholic church in America. What most people do not realize is that even if this is the case, sexually observant Catholics constitute at least the sixth largest religious denomination in the country. At the 5 percent statistic, there are more sexually observant Catholics than there are Episcopalians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, members of the Church of Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of the Assemblies of God. At the 10 percent level, you would have to add Presbyterians to that list.

No matter how you slice it, Catholics who observe church teaching on sexual morality in marriage are not, as you suggest, an insignificant group.

Disagree with church teaching if you must, but I would respectfully suggest that you do yourselves and the church no little disservice when you smugly and callously dismiss the life experience of millions of Catholics who, with great sacrifice and sincere hearts, seek to live the blessings of marital chastity.

Your editorial is inconsistent with responsible reportage.

Steubenville, Ohio

Popcak is executive director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, which is dedicated to providing Catholics with answers to difficult marriage, family and personal problems, and is the author of seven books integrating Catholicism and counseling psychology.

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National Catholic Reporter, December 12, 2003