National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
December 19, 2003

LettersWomen and the church

With all due respect, Bishop Wilton Gregory’s belief that the church has “turned the corner” on the sexual abuse crisis (NCR, Nov. 21) is unconvincing in face of church’s incorrigible alienation of women from the priesthood and positions of hierarchical authority.

The church’s “theologically principled” bias against women, a faith and morals issue, is sexual abuse nonetheless. Church hierarchy is in blind and total denial on this issue -- and at odds with lay sensibility.

New Hampton, Iowa

Outlawing war

Regarding the Nov. 7 article, “Outlawing War: Reforming the language of war is the first step toward ending it”: Gabriel Moran’s thoughtful reflection on the linguistic fallacies tied to a singular definition of power as force, as coercion, merits praise. But I’d be reluctant to endorse his call to outlaw war. While appealing, that recommendation will not take us down the path to peace.

Opening with a review of the noble effort contained in the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, the essay reaches a similar conclusion, the need to outlaw war. The problem with the agreement of the late ’20s quickly became apparent in the early ’30s. Then as now, we have heard repeated calls for reconciliation and arbitration in the event of tensions between states, or between peoples and states. In the ’30s, the real difficulty came with the inability of nations to put into place an enforcement mechanism in the event of aggression. We have the same problem today. While fully in agreement with Gabriel Moran’s admonition against a reductionist understanding of power, I strongly believe that the call to outlaw war would fall on deaf ears. And it should.

Taking the opposite view, I recommend that the issue of peace would be better served were the United States to commit fully to respect the Constitution regarding the requirements for a legally sanctioned declaration of war. That would permit open and critical debate, time to evaluate the motivations and purposes of policymakers, time to define the objectives of war and when these will be satisfied.

In recent history few, if any, debates occurred before armed intervention began. Worse still, the present administration has elaborated a doctrine of preventative war. The supposed possession or intended acquisition of weapons of mass destruction was presented to public opinion and to Congress as justification for war on Iraq. Whose turn tomorrow?


Terence Murphy is a professor of history at the American University of Paris.

Gibson’s ‘Passion’

Folks, I just read Ray Schroth’s long article on Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (NCR, Nov. 28). Although we certainly would have different interpretations of Mel’s Catholicism (my interpretation from firsthand is far more benevolent), a correction or two for myself: My first name is William or Bill, not Robert. I taught for 15 years at UC Berkeley, not UCLA. I also taught at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, by the way.

Los Angeles

Fulco is NEH Chair in Ancient Mediterranean Studies in the Department of Classics and Archaeology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

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While I respect Fr. Schroth’s opinion about the upcoming Mel Gibson film “The Passion,” I disagree with his conclusions. Personally, I appreciate the warning from the conference of Catholic bishops about this film and do not consider this a threat to artistic freedom. Their caution seems to me a prudent way of protecting decades of interfaith dialogue and understanding. This film has the capacity to set that conversation back permanently.

With all due respect, it is not up to Fr. Schroth or trusted Loyola Marymount Jesuits to determine whether or not this film is anti-Semitic, it is up to the Jewish community. Just as it is inappropriate for me to make a statement of affirmation about which of the Christian Gospels is historically accurate, it is inappropriate for a priest to make judgment on the threat this film poses to the Jewish community. Fr. Schroth asks, “Is there a residue of anti-Semitism in Christian audiences that would be inflamed by a film’s depiction of Jesus’ suffering?” My answer is yes, there is. Elie Wiesel recently said, “For the first time since 1945, I am scared [for the Jewish people].” Whether Wiesel or I are right, why do we need to risk inciting ill will, hatred and violence?


In praise of Unsworth

I believe there is a special place in heaven for Tim Unsworth (NCR, Nov. 21), who shares his gifted insights and makes us laugh at the same time. Many of us born-Catholics yearn for spiritual nurturing and would accept it gladly from organized religion if those piddly rules didn’t keep getting in the way. Luckily, we are now mature enough to say “No” to practices that demean us, interfere with our spirituality, and have not as their goal getting us closer to God. Non-practicing Catholics who utilize parts of other religions, pray, and donate their time and money to humanity-serving organizations make do without formal Catholic church-authorized ceremonies, sometimes inventing other ceremonials that nurture. Others double-dip in meditation, centering, and loving/helping their neighbor as they are able.

One can only take so much. Reciting examples of humiliated Catholics trying to fit themselves into the church rule box ignites my anger. God is love, and I believe God gave congregational (and ex-congregational) Catholics as much internal dignity as any hierarchical member. Not accepting every jot and tittle handed down doesn’t mean we are unspiritual. Au contraire, we are just not wasting the time that is available for our trying to know God better, while the churchmen dither about. May they come to their senses before more good people drift away. And God bless Tim Unsworth.

Clackamas, Ore.

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After reading Tim Unsworth’s article, “Bring back the beadle: New regulations proposed by the Vatican show a church ever more consumed by minutiae,” in the Nov. 21 edition of NCR, we were reminded of a commentary written by another acute reporter: “More darkness and division have come into the world amongst clergy of the holy church, than from any other cause.

“In cases of evildoing, they pretend not to see. The root of self-love is alive in them. Because they fear to lose their position or their temporal goods, or their prelacy, they do not correct those under them, but act like blind ones, in that they see not the real way by which their position is to be kept. …

“With a perverted hope in their own small knowledge, they spend so much miserable solicitude in acquiring and preserving temporal things, that they turn their back on the spiritual. In such as these are fulfilled the words: ‘These are blind and leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, they both fall into the ditch.’ ”

These words were dictated in the year of Our Lord 1370 by St. Catherine of Siena. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Springdale, Pa.


As an NCR reader for about 15 years, I was disappointed to read Bernardine Kline’s letter (Nov. 21). Of course, the Bible was used for many years to justify slavery as well as treating women and children as property. It’s been used to justify wars and other violence as well. None of this is a part of God’s ideal for humanity as defined in the Garden of Eden and the visions of the prophets, and neither is eating animals.

The other animals are made of the same stuff as human beings -- flesh, blood and bone. They have the same body parts and organs that we do, the same senses, and the same capacity to feel pain. Differences between humans and other animals are differences of degree, not kind. If we’re eating meat, we are eating corpses, and they are the corpses of animals who suffered terribly for our desire for a momentary taste of flesh.

Because farmed animals are exempted from animal cruelty laws, what happens to them on farms and in slaughterhouses would warrant felony cruelty to animals charges, were dogs or cats treated similarly. To say we care about peace, justice or kindness, while turning our stomachs into animal graveyards (to borrow a concept from Gandhi), is simply absurd, which is why Tolstoy called vegetarianism the taproot of humanitarianism.

Chickens and pigs do better on cognitive functioning tests than do dogs or cats. Fishes, we now know, use tools, have memories and form social bonds. Cows, like all mothers, mourn when separated from their children. And the list goes on. Few readers would beat a dog or torture a cat, but if you’re eating chicken flesh, or pig flesh, or any animal at all, you’re paying someone to do far worse to other beings who would protest if they could.

Alice Walker calls eating meat “eating misery.” Readers who would like to follow her compassionate lead can get a free vegetarian starter kit, complete with great-tasting veggie recipes, by visiting or calling 1-888-VEG FOOD. If you mention it when you call, we’ll also send you a pamphlet from the Christian Vegetarian Association.

Norfolk, Va.

Friedrich is director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ vegan outreach.

California recall

In his letter, “Recall, circus style” (NCR, Oct. 31), Fr. Larry N. Lorenzoni is upset with the recent California election: “Schwarzenegger, without even the minimal political successful experience of a small town mayor, is now officially the governor of the state of California.”

This actually bodes very well for California, Father. Remember the other actor without political experience that became governor of California and then went on to become a very successful, beloved president of the United States. His name is Ronald Reagan.

Garden Grove, Calif.

Condom ad

Our Catholic high school has subscriptions to both the National Catholic Reporter and the National Catholic Register. As principal, I read both of them and pass them on to our librarian and they are available to our students. As I read through the Nov. 21 edition of the Reporter, I came across a “Paid Advertisement” on Page 11. Frankly, it disturbed me to see that a Catholic publication would accept advertising that is contrary to what we teach and believe. I don’t know how many of our high school students read the Catholic papers in our library, but even if it is only one who reads this ad, that is too many.

Questions that need to be answered include the scientific truth regarding Cardinal Trujillo’s comments and Cardinal McCarrick’s statement. Let’s put the whole truth out there for all to see and know. Maybe an investigative article by the Reporter would help all of us understand this situation.

Besides the fact that our students could read in the ad that, “Good Catholics Use Condoms,” the other disturbing thing is that a group would show “public dissent” to a belief of the Catholic church by purchasing ad space in a Catholic publication.

I appreciate Mr. Roberts’ statements on Page 2, but let’s get the facts on the table before we start the advertising campaigns. Mr. Roberts, I agree the arguments raised in the ad are worthy of conversation, but not as a political football.

Tiffin, Ohio

Mass is principal of Calvert High School in Tiffin.

Birth control

I am not the type to fire off letters to the press. This letter, however, cannot but be written.

Usually I enjoy the diversity of NCR and read it not as gospel but as opinion. However, I was sorely disappointed to see the advertisement on Page 11 of the Nov. 21 edition.

Did I like the picture? It was comical. Did I like the header? It could be well applied to some issues. Did I like the advertiser? No. How could you give that group any type of credibility? That group is not even recognized as Catholic by anybody with an ounce of sense.

Shame on NCR for allowing such a group to advertise in their paper. Diversity is one thing; deception is another issue.

Boca Raton, Fla.

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This letter is in response to your editorial on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ decision to develop a pamphlet on Catholic teaching about contraception. My wife and I once were “faithful married Catholics” who found Natural Family Planning impractical, until we found out the side effects of contraception and accepted the fruits of Natural Family Planning. Even if there were no side effects of contraception, positive effects from using Natural Family Planning have enhanced our marriage. From being more open to communication to giving ourselves completely to one another, it has established God at the center of our marriage. I welcome a new pamphlet on the teaching of the ill effects of contraception and hope that every parish will embrace its information within their pre-marriage counseling sessions and follow up with sessions on Natural Family Planning.

Elmore, Ohio

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Glad that you noted the “birth control rerun” of the bishops. What’s one more brochure in the back of the church? The new pamphlet could take its place right beside the one that is likely still there from the ’40’s, the days of my youth: “Father Mike talks about when kissing becomes a sin!”

Rensselaer, N.Y.

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Many respected church leaders have commented that Pope Paul VI’s teaching in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae was prophetic. The word “prophetic” here has two senses. In one sense, the pope was prophetic in that with remarkable accuracy he forecasted the devastating effects of widespread recourse to contraception on women and children, on families, and on the moral fabric of our society.

But he was also prophetic in the sense of calling the people to reform their lives, to accept and live the church’s sexual morality teachings. The prophets of the Old Testament did not make up new teaching, nor did they bother preaching about matters on which the vast majority of Israelites were already on the same page with them. Instead, the prophets challenged the people to fidelity precisely on the issues where there was rampant infidelity. “Shooting the messenger” is a perennial response to messages that hit home. For that reason, prophets have never been particularly popular. They weren’t popular in Israel and Judah, and they aren’t popular in Rome and Washington.

Fast forward 35 years. The U.S. bishops have courageously urged that the church’s teaching on artificial birth control be explained more effectively to today’s Catholics. In response, the NCR published an editorial (“Birth control rerun adds little to Catholic life”) attacking this initiative, calling it “retro.” After all, “we” (presumably NCR and those who agree with the editorial) rejected this “discredited teaching” 35 years ago. Been there, done that. Why bring it up again?

Ironically, the editorial itself seemed “retro,” trotting out the old, empty rationalizations for rejecting the church’s teaching. One would think from reading this piece that the past 35 years of widespread dissent on the issue has led to some sort of golden age for marriage and family life in the United States. Meanwhile, those of us who take to heart the church’s teaching in this area are merely “Manichean extremists.” Enough was said in the editorial to suggest that those who expend so much energy rejecting the truth about marital love still don’t get it, which at least to me suggests that the bishops are on the mark in reiterating Pope Paul VI’s prophetic challenge and calling for educational resources to assist this effort.

Steubenville, Ohio

Leon Suprenant is the president of Catholics United for the Faith and Emmaus Road Publishing and the editor in chief of Lay Witness magazine for lay Catholics.

Expensive gargoyles

With all the pockets of poverty reported in NCR, do we really need an article in the Briefs section concerning spending $50,850 to replace worn-out gargoyles on Gloucester Cathedral in London?

I would think included in this would be something about the negativity of this restoration work, when the money could be so much better spent on suffering people.

Syracuse, N.Y.

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, December 19, 2003