National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
January 9, 2004

LettersMarriage and poverty

Relative to your editorial on “Testing marriage as a cure for social ills” (NCR, Nov. 28), I would like to point out that in a ruthlessly consumer-oriented society like ours, marriage actually is deemed less desirable. A married household could get along on one car, not the two cars needed for a divorced household with two breadwinners living in separate apartments, with two sets of appliances, working at two different workplaces earning two salaries and paying two times the taxes that one breadwinner would pay. Marriage has failed because a consumer society as ruthless as ours cannot afford to let it succeed. Too much revenue and earning capacity would be lost if working adults were allowed to pool resources en masse.

We sacrifice families because we worship an overaggressive, ruthless economy based on bigger and bigger production capacity each year. As each year goes by, we need more consumers to buy more “things” with more money earned than last year. Single-family households do not fit into the worship of Mammon because by definition, families share resources. We cannot have that! What would fuel our ever increasing inferno of an economy? Marriage has failed in our society because it works directly against the individual accumulation of goods and services. People like the Bush administration’s “right wingers” killed marriage -- and they are not even clear-minded enough to realize it!

Alexandria, Va.

Birth control

Thanks for your Nov. 21 editorial about the bishops’ decision to print anti-birth control leaflets as a solution to the crisis of leadership in the church.

Some questions the bishops’ tactics elicit:

1) If plan A to disseminate leaflets about birth control fails to resolve the crisis, is there a plan B?

2) Do you really think the crisis is all over and we can get back to business as usual?

3) What’s your pastoral plan to address the shattered confidence of millions of American Catholics?

4) Does your recent behavior enact Vatican II’s reassertion of the traditional ecclesiology of church as people of God? Do you plan, for instance, to dialogue with the laity, to hear the voices of hurt and disaffected Catholics?

5) How will you deal with cynical Catholics who ask if your plan to disseminate birth control leaflets is a tactic to divert attention from your attempt to scapegoat gays for the crisis in the church? After all, you’ve been conspicuously silent about the 90 percent of American Catholics who reject the teaching on contraception, while attacking gays -- and use of artificial contraception contravenes natural law just as much as homosexual acts do.

6) Is the ecclesiology of a church for the pure and holy (i.e., the obedient and unquestioning) true to the deepest meaning of the term catholic?

7) Birth control leaflets as a solution to the crisis of pastoral leadership -- really?

Little Rock, Ark.

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Those letters in the Dec. 12 issue about Catholics who follow the church’s rules about contraception made me laugh. And the large numbers cited: Wow! I can’t remember when I last heard of a first wedding anniversary baby. Menopause babies are just as scarce. I see two- or three-child families in the pews. That means contraception.

Of my generation, which did have large families, all universally approve of contraception. Sterilization does not come up often, but three couples, Catholics in good standing, have resorted to it. One husband is a deacon. Could I do it over again, I would certainly delay our first child till we could afford her and her closely spaced siblings. And I did not feel tranquil for compliance with church law as all the tracts tell me would happen. I actually turned cartwheels when I learned I was not pregnant with my seventh at age 34. That’s no way to live. I suspect the tracts are written by couples who delayed marriage. Fertility diminishes for a first child at age 35 and older, so those women who write the tracts are not highly fertile and follow the party line of their employers, (the church) because their relative infertility makes natural methods work for them. This is true of a prominent woman in that field.

God also gave us reason: Constant worry about pregnancy harms a marriage. Reason also tells us that too many children to care for are not good for the children already born. I feel my children needed better mothering than I gave them.

In my retirement community, Protestant and Jewish friends relate their joy on conceiving their first child. That was not true of most Catholics of my age cohort. Priests who work in the trenches with us say that contraception is settled. I bless the priest who told me to use the pill. It saved us from a dozen children we could not cope with or afford.

Who is being dishonest here: the laity or the Vatican?

Monroe Township, N.J.

Bishop John Ricard

What a terrible photograph you ran with the Nov. 21 article, “Bishops to address politicians who reject church teaching,” of Bishop John Ricard, of Pensacola-Tallahassee! A compassionate, humorous, affable prelate, he is made to look like a veritable Captain Bligh at his worst. As the esteemed “Mouth of the South,” this courageous leader of not just Catholics from the South but also those from other regions whom he inspires deserves better from your lenses.


Cincinnati documents

Your Dec. 12 article, “Cincinnati’s 30 pieces of silver” by A.W. Richard Sipe, was right on.

I don’t think Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk will hand over the documents unless part of it is destroyed.

I highly suspect those documents contain sensitive material that would not only shock the Cincinnati community but the whole nation. No, I think Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk will continue to do what he has been conditioned to do, and that is to bury the truth at all costs.

Covington, Ky.

Church sale in Boston

Boston’s new archbishop’s decision, first to move in to a more Spartan residence at the center of the “pastoral life of the diocese,” as he wrote in the archdiocesan newspaper in August, and now to sell the opulent palace of his predecessors for 75 years to help pay “for an $85 million settlement with victims of clergy sex abuse” (NCR, Dec. 12) not only marks the end of what one historian has called “the O’Connell century,” featuring a leadership style that was pompous, elegant, ostentatious and exalting deference, but also symbolizes the end of Catholic triumphalism in Boston.

Venice, Fla.

Science and spirituality

I thoroughly enjoyed the Spirituality section of the Dec. 12 National Catholic Reporter, particularly the articles on the cosmos and the Anthropic Principle. It reminded me of the time a few years ago when in a flight of fancy I imagined mankind in the center of the universe just like the ancients used to believe. I had read about astronomers peering out into the very edges of the universe to witness the beginnings of the stars. Then I wondered whether they were merely observing or whether they could actually be somehow partaking in creation. It seemed preposterous. After all, man exists in time, time that obviously existed before man. But God is eternal, essentially existing outside of time. So why couldn’t man’s observations be a means that God uses to create? It certainly would add a new wrinkle to the belief that man is made in God’s image and likeness. We Catholics already have examples of the eternal entering into the temporal and vice versa in Jesus Christ and in the Mass.

One nice thing about this idea is that it makes it easier to accept the concept of the Trinity and the universality of Christ’s redemption. It would put Jesus Christ in the center and at the edges in both time and space. Many people today find it difficult to believe how someone who lived on our tiny little planet 2,000 years ago could be Lord of the vast universe with its billions upon billions of stars.

I realize these are strange thoughts, indeed. But no less eminent a man than the theoretical physicist John Wheeler recently proposed somewhat similar ideas (Discover magazine, June 2002). He too talked about how human consciousness may actually be creating what it appears to be observing. Granted, he did not mention God, but as a believer I don’t see how one could leave God out of the mix.

Delta, Ohio

Covering the candidates

What happened to fair candidate coverage? Why was Joe Feuerherd (“It’s all about Dean,” NCR, Dec. 12) only covering Dean? He tells us Dean has more money and name recognition. So what? All other media are telling us that; I expect better than that from NCR. An informed electorate makes its decisions based on candidates’ stands on issues.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich seems to stand for almost everything NCR advocates: a real end to the Iraq occupation, true initiatives toward peace, adequate health coverage for all, end to the death penalty, protection of the environment, balance between workers’ and corporations’ rights. Why is NCR not giving us an article on this inspiring Catholic candidate who stands for so much of what probably most NCR readers believe in? Of course Kucinich is going to have less money and less support as long as you and other media keep focusing on Dean to the exclusion of him and other lesser knowns. Kucinich’s base is growing with huge grass-roots support; be fair and give NCR readers full information on Kucinich too.


* * *

I am disappointed that NCR has acted like big media by prematurely anointing Howard Dean the 2004 nominee of the Democratic Party. We are now a good month and a half before the first primary. At this early stage of the campaign for an election that is almost a year away, it would be useful if instead of fixating on the poll-driven horserace, Joe Feuerherd would have focused more on the way different candidates address the issues. In this respect I was especially disconcerted with his comment, “Gen.Wesley Clark is a mystery.”

In fact, Gen. Clark has been making some of the most explicit policy statements in the campaign. He has a superb Web site with well-mapped position papers on all the issues: terrorism, Iraq and foreign policy, jobs and the economy, minorities, the environment, etc. In each of these areas, Gen. Clark offers intelligent, progressive alternatives to the Bush policies that have gotten us into such a mess in the past four years. For example, he calls for a new Atlantic Charter to return us to multilateral engagement in addressing international crises like terrorism, the Middle East, global warming and the AIDS pandemic. On news programs and other public venues, he has outlined these creative ideas.

The American public has become chiefly concerned with war-making and threats to its security since the 9/11 attacks. But the Bush administration, with its doctrine of preemptive war and its neocolonial occupation of Iraq, has actually made us less secure. Wes Clark, the candidate most experienced in military and diplomatic matters, is the one most capable of addressing these concerns. As supreme commander of NATO forces, he led the successful and limited Kosovo War in 1998. With such experience he has the potential to appeal to a much broader public than Howard Dean, who has primarily raised support among Web-using elites.

Carlsbad, Calif.

NCR responds: Too much Howard Dean? Perhaps. But contrary to Terri Zins’ letter, the story in question makes no mention, none, of Dean’s “money and name recognition.” Rather, it was an attempt to provide NCR readers with a sense of where the Democratic presidential race is headed and how the people of New Hampshire are responding to the candidates. Reporting from Manchester, N.H, in late November, Feuerherd found that people were responding to Dean, whose positions on a range of issues (tax cuts, war, abortion, education) were explored in the story. While news judgment is always subjective, it’s more than defensible, in our view, to provide some insights into the positions and persona of a major presidential candidate who has become a political phenomenon.


To Richard Thieme (NCR, Dec. 12) the whole issue of homosexuality and Christianity boils down to this: The homosexual life is not the sin, but lying about it is. Anyone who objects to the acts is stuck in ethnicity or cultural bias.

Why is Carl Jung is used to justify everything “progressive”? He hated the church -- thought that it was the cause of all psychological problems. The reliance on Jung tells me that his followers and admirers in the church are really the enemies that we conservatives say they are.

Libertyville, Ill.

* * *

You are to be congratulated for publishing Richard Thieme’s “The Episcopalians? They are us,” though I expect it will not be well received by a number of your readers. Leaving aside the debate raging inside the Episcopal community, Thieme raises a number of points that are useful in reflecting on the study of human sexuality in our church, which still struggles mightily about questions of woman and the family.

The problem Thieme notes, of hiding one’s sexuality or sexual activity by clergy, inhibits healthy discussion , not only in regard to gay issues but also issues surrounding celibacy.

More important, as many criminal justice professionals who deal with sex offenders are aware, is that cultural perspectives powerfully influence perceptions of human sexuality -- and such influence is frequently minimized or denied. Such a mechanism seemed at play in some defensive responses to the report of abuse of African nuns by clergy there. Likewise, some statements from Rome about not admitting gay men to the seminary may also have suffered severely from cultural bias.

Finally, Thieme well notes that when an issue becomes hot-button, religious institutions tend to retreat into the military analogy of maintaining and damage control. We as Catholics have often paid a price historically for clinging to old views until science clearly overtakes them and we grudgingly reach a rapprochement. While little change seems on the horizon for how Catholicism views gays or gay relationships, at least issues about women and family might move ahead if cultural prejudices were brought into the open and examined with clarity.

Los Alamos, N.M.

Gibson’s ‘The Passion’

I carefully read the article on Mel Gibson’s new film “The Passion of the Christ” (NCR, Nov. 28).

I do not subscribe to Mr. Gibson’s (father or son) brand of “Catholicism.” However, to judge a movie on the basis of what a select few people, pro or con, say is very hasty. In reading the article, and other articles on the film, it is also clear that the scripts and or videos of this film were obtained without proper permission. If this is true, then it is unethical. Why listen to the voices of those who have jumped to condemn this movie on that basis alone? Why not make judgment on the final product?

In the end, all these so-called critics have convinced me (and tens of thousands of others, I’m sure) to go and view “The Passion.” Mel Gibson has received what many artists in the past have received: free publicity! All art is subjective, as is all criticism of art. When the final product is delivered on a movie screen or on a gallery wall, then people can make a fair judgment. Until then, Fr. Schroth is correct: “Let Mel be Mel.”

Union, N.J.

* * *

A film recreating only the passion of Christ raises theological and catechetical concerns as well as interfaith ones (NCR, Nov. 28). Jesus lived and died so that we might have life. He gave us a way to remember this gift: Eucharist. He would have said, “Do this in memory of me” on the cross instead of at the table if he wanted a reenactment of his suffering to be our memorial.

Let’s look at this like mothers. We endure pregnancy, labor and childbirth in order to give life. We celebrate that life with parties, meals, cakes and gifts, not a reenactment of morning sickness and labor pains. We don’t want our children to be motivated to love us by our pain, or to focus on that pain, but to live fully the life received.

Rather than revert to an unbalanced focus on the crucifixion alone, let us live with joy the risen life Jesus lived and died and rose to give us, celebrated and empowered by the Eucharist.


Marcial Maciel

Your editorial on Marcial Maciel (NCR, Nov. 21) further confirms that the Legionaries of Christ appear to act more like a cult than an honest religious organization. Otherwise the Legionaries would have insisted on adjudicating the charges against Maciel. The fact that this has not happened implies that Maciel is probably “guilty as charged.”

It is a sad commentary when today’s pope and Vatican officials have to defer to this type of organization because it is one of the few groups that shows fealty to the present Vatican administration.

Merritt Island, Fla.


Your Nov. 28 issue provides one of those occasions when two or more articles on different topics provide special insight. I was especially appreciative of Stephen Zunes’ article on U.S.-forced regime change in Grenada 20 years ago. His observations are especially interesting in the context of the articles on Liberia and the editorial on Rios Montt in Guatemala.

Zunes makes the point well: “Why, then did the United States invade? Many believe that Grenada was seen as a bad example for other poor Caribbean states. Its foreign policy was not subservient to the American government and it was not open to having its economy dominated by U.S. corporate interests.” He adds: “A successful socialist experiment by English-speaking blacks just a few hours by plane from the United States was seen as a threat.”

These articles reemphasize the character of U.S. government policy when it comes to our poorest neighbors. We support or at least leave alone countries with oppressive and brutal leaders (Montt, Pinochet, Somoza, Duvalier) as long as they welcome our corporations. When the rare leader steps forth with the vision to lead the country out of poverty and misery, you can count on the United States to seek to obstruct and disrupt that attempt (Salvador Allende, Maurice Bishop, Jean Bertrand Aristide). It is an outrageous, shortsighted and immoral foreign policy.

It is time we had a leader with a vision for the world that aims to enable the efforts of enlightened leaders in the poor majority of our world. Regime change begins at home!

It is also time for NCR to do an extended piece on Haiti. It would certainly fit with your fine coverage of Liberia and the Zunes article.

Richmond, Va.

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, January 9, 2004