National Catholic Reporter
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December 26, 2003

LettersMigration from El Salvador

I am grateful to NCR for focusing on the plight of immigrants in several recent articles. As a Maryknoll lay missioner in El Salvador, I’d like to share some thoughts about how immigration looks on this side of the border.

A growing number of people from the rural area where I work are joining the 70,000-plus Salvadorans attempting to reach the United States annually. The result is massive family disintegration. Children are growing up without knowing their dads and, in some cases, their mothers. In some cases they are parceled out among grandparents, aunts and uncles. Hope in this impoverished rural area is found in leaving.

I hate the lack of jobs, the lack of income and the economic circumstances in El Salvador that make farming, as well as urban living, doomed to increasing poverty. When Carlos (not his real name) tells me he is sad because he misses his mother, I ask him what he most misses. (She left when he was 2 years old.) With the honesty of a 7-year-old, he responds, “I miss her when she doesn’t send money.” Ernesto (not his real name) hasn’t been able to concentrate on school lately. His dad, who has left children from different mothers in El Salvador, is living with a newly formed family in the United States. He recently wrote to Ernesto saying he is going to take him to the United States. Ernesto doesn’t know his dad and doesn’t want to go. He is quite afraid, despite the fact that there is almost no possibility of this happening.

You might ask: How are the earnings brought in through the “American Dream” helping? After all, despite extreme hardships in the United States, Salvadorans send home $2.2 billion a year. The families I know notice a difference in the meager amounts of money they are receiving: Their children, though still living in very poor conditions, may not be suffering from malnutrition. The teenagers have their stylish jeans. There is an electrical wire leading to the home, and a TV set. I notice poverty, loneliness, violence (physical and sexual), an increase in consumerism and an absence of hope.

If life on both sides of the border is worsened by migration, what can we U.S. citizens do? I believe we ought to join immigrants in the United States and residents still in their home countries in their struggle to achieve the right to dignified lives. To do this, we need to ask the questions: Why must people immigrate? How do our own economic policies, especially the quest for free trade agreements, further diminish the possibility of foreign countries focusing on the needs of their own people through local production and local consumption?

Bajo Lempa, El Salvador

Birth control

The NCR editorial on birth control in the Nov. 21 issue calls the bishops’ initiative to teach the truth about contraception to American Catholics “another hollow assertion of authority.” Some may abuse their free will when they reject this teaching, but the authority is anything but hollow since it comes from Jesus Christ. (“You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”) Vatican II reaffirms this spiritual reality when it says that the faithful must give the assent of their mind and will to the teachings of the pope even when he is not speaking ex cathedra. Many Catholics (and non-Catholics) are unaware that all birth prevention pills cause early abortions some of the time. Consequently, the number of human lives killed by contraception is far greater than those killed by surgical abortion. Please do not help perpetuate the ongoing world holocaust of unborn babies by encouraging rebellion against the church’s teaching.

Ridgefield, N.J.

McIntyre vs. the IHMs

I feel I have an advantage over Fr. John Francis Kobler (“Reevaluating the IHM Controversy,” NCR, Oct. 10) in that I have read both Anita Caspary’s book about the matter as well as Msgr. Francis Weber’s laudatory biography of Cardinal McIntyre. There was much that was praiseworthy in Cardinal McIntyre’s life. However, he had neither the disposition nor the relevant experience to deal with adult women as adults.

Historians and casual observers of post-Vatican II Catholic behaviors will probably never agree on who threw down which gauntlet when. We felt then and now that the cardinal’s unwillingness to permit us to engage in the experimentation called for by Pope Paul VI was illegitimate interference in our internal affairs. He thought we were uppity women who had to be brought to heel.

Far from leaving the cardinal’s loyalists “high and dry,” we liquidated most of our assets in order to provide what we could. That the archbishop assisted them in significant ways was altogether appropriate in that the loyalists’ leadership had been encouraged by the cardinal not to accept the decrees of the lawfully elected chapter (the community’s policy and rule-making body).

Fr. Kobler’s deceased fellow Passion-ist, Carroll Stuhlmueller, gave us valuable encouragement and guidance back then. We still use it.

Los Angeles

Prescription drug bill

NCR has a superb record of supporting that which is for the common good of humanity. In the United States, at present, Congress has passed an absurd conglomeration, filled with pork, called a “Prescription Drug Bill.”

Will Catholics, and others, allow the ill-advised imprimatur of the AARP on this bill to cause them to support it? Seniors are being asked to saddle their grandchildren with an enormous debt. The Wall Street Journal of Nov. 24 said, “The Republican Congress is turning into something of an embarrassment, if not a crackup. Who is going to pay for all this stuff?”

The next question is “Does that “compassionate conservative” George Bush care or know how to spell the word veto?

Greenville, S.C.

Gay priests

Henry Gall’s letter on the celibacy issue (NCR, Nov. 28) deserves a response. He states: “Gay priests are not personally involved in the celibacy issue, and hence would be more willing to uphold the status quo.”

I consider that statement patently ridiculous. Every gay priest I know struggles over the mandated life of celibacy just as much as any heterosexual priest. The natural human urge toward intimacy at multiple levels, including the physical, is not limited to heterosexual persons. This is a God-given instinct about which all celibates (gay or straight) have to struggle every day, seeking to find appropriate ways of expressing and receiving that intimacy. It just happens that gay priests have an instinctive desire for intimacy with other men, not with women, but the desire for intimacy is the same.

I would also point out that gay priests have a burden heterosexual priests never even dream about -- namely, the fact that the church they have devoted their lives to officially declares them to be “objectively disordered” along with all other homosexual persons. The absurd implication is that God made a mistake in creating them gay (I believe it is not a freely chosen lifestyle). A further implication is that the church made a mistake in ordaining them, even though they were called to priesthood by that same church in the person of the ordaining bishop.

No heterosexual priest, no matter how much he struggles with the multiple personal issues involved in mandatory celibacy, has to wake up every day of his life knowing that his church really doesn’t like him all that much and basically wishes he would just go away.

Not personally involved in the celibacy issue? How absurd!

Minneapolis, Kan.

* * *

Regarding the Nov. 14 article “Fractures apparent in the Anglican Communion”: Rather cheeky of V. Gene Robinson to say [of unhappy Episcopalians] “they will always be welcomed back into our fellowship.” Neat. He’s the one who left his church and split it.

Tragic that they have discarded the sacrament of marriage. Sacraments won’t mean anything now, nor will scripture and tradition.

Not a happy time.

Cayuga, N.Y.

* * *

James Ullman (NCR Letters, Nov. 21) asks that all Catholics extend friendship and welcome to thousands of disaffected Episcopalians/Anglicans seek-ing a new spiritual home because of “the deteriorating situation” in that communion. I, for one, will be happy to do so, for we are all created by the one same God.

Perhaps, though, the deteriorating situation he sees in the Episcopal/ Anglican communion is due to that communion dealing with difficult issues with which the Roman church should -- and eventually will -- have to deal.

San Marcos, Calif.

Liturgy and robotics

Fr. John Giuliani’s letter (NCR, Nov. 28) refers to “an ecclesial institution offering little more than robotic exercises.” Compare, for example, the Collect in the Roman Missal for the First Sunday of Advent with that by Thomas Cranmer in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The first reads:

“All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

Cranmer’s version is the following:

“Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.”

The gist of the two is clearly the same, but it would be dishonest of me to claim that the modern vernacular version elicits in me more than a yawn.

Liturgy is valueless if it fails to inspire our worship, and the questions are: Which of the two versions of this collect has the capacity to inspire worship? Which sounds more like a human prayer than an invitation to a robotic exercise?

Fort Gratiot, Mich.

* * *

The First Sunday of Advent has brought the new liturgical norms set forth in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM). Tim Unsworth (NCR, Nov. 21) commented on the minutia with some annoyance and a sense of paranoia, but I can express only sadness.

I grew up in pre-Vatican II times when members of the assembly were just spectators. But after the council, I was spiritually awakened by the opening up of liturgy to the people by Search for Christian Maturity and campus ministry (outdoor Masses and the whole assembly standing around the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer) and later a parish that truly believed in the full, active, conscious participation of the laity. We stood proudly at the Eucharistic Prayer as the priest thanked God for “counting us worthy to stand in your presence.” We truly were participating in the sacred mysteries along with the presider.

In a parish whose motto is “God’s People in Extraordinary Variety,” there are people of all races, ages and ways of life and people on all sides of the liturgical spectrum: Some of us stand and some kneel; some love organ music, others appreciate more the contemporary music with a piano and guitar. Yet when we come to the table, we all are one. Our diversity does not detract from our unity.

Now we must kneel. The sense of creativity in helping to plan liturgies that will be meaningful to one’s own congregation is disappearing. And the dividing line between the priest and the people is becoming ever wider. We are becoming spectators again. I feel only sadness.


Grenada and Iraq

Fr. Denka H. Toma, a priest living in Iraq, gave us insight into his country’s slipping into chaos and terrorist violence under U.S. occupation. His people are unable to assume power and govern themselves because of U.S. control (NCR, Nov. 28).

In “Looking back at the invasion of Granada” in that same issue of NCR, we are enlightened by the University of San Francisco’s Stephen Zunes regarding the similarities of the two wars 20 years apart. Our White House administration deliberately made false claims to justify the invasion of the small island, and world reactions, including U.N. citations of it being an act of aggression in violation of international law, were ignored. And when our citizenry was informed of the wrongdoing, we blessed Reagan with increased popularity and his administration with the approval of two-thirds of the American public. One wonders how much this precedent affected the Bush administration, the leaders of which had been long coveting the oil of Iraq, in deciding to wage war.

We have been warned that history repeats itself. We should take a lesson from the aftermath in Granada. Zunes points out that with the U.S. takeover, the island people’s quality of life deteriorated. They suffered widespread poverty and gained a corrupt government. The United States proved demonstrably to be inept at ruling this minute country and probably has learned nothing since to rule Iraq.

There might be a mission here for which the Holy Spirit is calling our church. It has been said that the church exists as the quintessential structure through which social revolution can be brought to certain areas of the globe. Contacts with Fr. Toma’s people, and worldwide, may make the church the only effective mediator to solve this tragic state of affairs in Iraq.

Yuba City, Calif.

* * *

My hearty thanks to NCR for Stephen Zunes’ article on the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Grenada. We Americans tend to have very short memories and the Grenada action is one that many -- including those who supported the recent “war” with Iraq and those who didn’t -- do not remember.

Professor Zunes was wise in briefly describing the history and deceit that led to that action. The invasion broke countless international laws, something unfortunately not seen as aberrant by the most powerful country in history.

In other ways, the Grenada invasion was like many either waged or supported by the United States for decades now: The country was defenseless, the action had broad public support, the media bought into it hook, line, and sinker despite the reprehensible censorship they faced. In fact, the media manipulation of the Grenada invasion provided a prototype for the next big shows of U.S. strength, both of them in Iraq (See Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War by John R. MacArthur), leading to the “embedded journalist” fiasco in the recent illegal action, the lies of which are being exposed every day.

Our terror campaigns in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Iran, Iraq, et al. are now bearing the fruit not only of Bush being despised worldwide, but of our facing terror on our own soil.

Hyattsville, Md.

A new course in Iraq

A recently published article titled “United States must choose a different track in Iraq” (NCR, Nov. 21) has caught my attention and sparked my interest. I completely agree with the author of this article, as I, too, am a firm believer that the United States must find a different way to tackle the current situation in Iraq. Conflict and fighting occurred there before our arrival and will continue after our departure unless we choose a means for resolve other than war.

I have no idea how I would deal with living in a country where all I know is the sounds of angry protesters and the not-so-distant rifle being fired. However, this is what life consists of for those living in Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations, and if the United States feels the need to involve itself, then let’s arm ourselves with our critical thinking skills and come up with a solution that actually works.

El Sobrante, Calif.

Buddhist philosophy

I was slightly amused by Patricia Lefevere’s article on the dialogues between Buddhist and Catholic monasteries as reported in the Nov. 14 issue of NCR.

The title “Sharing wisdom, prayer” is deceiving. Since Buddhists do not believe there is a god, they don’t “pray.” They merely “meditate” as the article indicates.

The box showing “Buddhism at a Glance” has no mention of a “god.” Buddhism is totally person-centered. The “Four Noble Truths” all center on the concept of suffering -- human suffering. The eight-fold path eliminates suffering. And that’s it!

Buddhism is by its very nature a works-righteous “religion.” There is no concept of grace since there is no concept of “god.” There is little doubt in my mind that Buddhism is a philosophy rather than a religion. It is a “navel-gazing” experience as one goes through the hoops of Buddhist concepts.


American bishops

I read your report (NCR, Nov. 21) on the recent meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with some misgivings.

I can possibly agree with Bishop Wilton Gregory about turning a corner, but not the corner. We’re certainly eager to see the result of another corner turned with the publication in early 2004 of more factual -- and audited -- reports from the National Lay Review Board.

A more important cornerstone, however, would be accountability to remedy the malfeasance of the band of bishops whose tolerance of clerical sexual abuse made them responsible for substantial abuse of authority. The conference of bishops -- and Roman hierarchs -- have yet to address this core issue. So many of us find it amazing that our civil authorities have allowed three (arch)dioceses to plead “no contest” to accusations of felonious action, while the USCCB and its Roman cohorts apparently fail to see any fault line in it own hierarchical structure.

Bishop Gregory is certainly correct in stating that American bishops have not yet crossed the finish line.

Collinsville, Ill.

Communion suspension

With regard to Fr. Gotthold Hasenhuettl being threatened with suspension by Bishop Reinhard Marx of Trier for giving Communion to both Protestants and Catholics back in May (NCR, Nov. 7): May I ask NCR to dig into its archives going back some 10 years or more? There its research team will find an article reporting Pope John Paul’s meeting in the Vatican with a group of German Lutheran bishops. At that meeting, John Paul presided at Mass and communicated Lutherans and Catholics alike. The pope was clearly right to do so. So, of course, was Fr. Hasenhuettl.

As a personal aside, I have frequently appealed to John Paul’s inter-Communion action when I celebrate Mass for groups of varied Christians. After all, Fr. Hasenhuettl and I can both be as clearheaded about this issue as the pope.


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 26, 2003