National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
January 23, 2004

LettersMarried priests

Thank you for Dick Ryan’s Dec. 26 article, “Priests tell bishops: Marriage enhances ministry.” It chronicles what could become a drum roll that leads the U.S. Catholic bishops to dare consider doing what Jesus did not hesitate to do, namely calling married men, like Peter the fisherman, to the priesthood.

An update: The 58 active and retired priests of the St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese who invited their confreres to sign onto the letter to Bishop Wilton Gregory (as indicated in your article) found 120 priests (so far) willing to sign and have their names made public. That constitutes 26 percent of our presbyterate striking the drum.

St. Paul, Minn.

* * *

There are many Catholics, myself included, who have thought a married clergy would solve the problem of an insufficient number of vocations to the priesthood. Recently clergy from a few dioceses have petitioned for a change in the celibacy rule. I read the following articles from the Christian Century magazine for April 11, 2001: “Fit for ministry?” by Barbara Wheeler; “Where are the younger clergy?” by David Wood; “Call Waiting” by Chapin Garner; and in the Nov. 29, 2003, issue “A clergy shortage? Pulpit Supply” by Patricia Mei Yin Chang. Having read these articles, I realized that I had a naive, idealistic view of a married clergy. The research done for these articles convinces me that there may be serious unintended consequences from allowing optional celibacy and that there may not be an increase in quantity or quality of priests. Those who promote a married clergy should read the Christian Century articles.

Deerfield, Ill.

Supporting marriage

Fr. Robert Drinan (“The Mystery of marriage,” NCR, Dec. 19) is right that the church needs to do more to support marriages.

Michael McManus of Marriage Savers calls the silence of the churches regarding marriage “a scandal.”

As marriage is a sacrament of the church, married couples deserve our support. However, I believe marriage is an ideal and not a value in our church. We are willing to sacrifice to achieve values, while we believe strongly in ideals but don’t make the sacrifices necessary to achieve them.

We do have tools to strengthen and save marriages. Here in the Twin Cities, I work with Retrouvaille, a ministry to hurting marriages. Since 1989, more than 5,000 couples have participated locally and most of them will stay married. Marriage Encounter has also enriched many marriages.

The problem is not that we lack resources to help couples live out their promises, but that we commit so little energy to these ministries.

Another example: 2004 is the U.N. International Year of the Family and I have seen nothing about participation by the U.S. Catholic church. In my mind, this is another tragic omission.


Antiabortion planks

Kudos to Matt Zemek for so ably skewering both the Republican and Democratic parties on the issue of abortion (NCR, Dec. 26).

American people of faith have for too long allowed extremists, certain politicians and the media -- each for their own reasons -- to polarize the issue of abortion.

The political parties should be challenged to support such “antiabortion” planks as:

• adequate child support payments, federally supplemented when necessary;
• a living wage;
• affordable housing;
• affordable day care;
• and, most especially, education for all so that young women (and young men) can envision a future for themselves.

Valley Stream, N.Y.

Values vs. virtues

Reading John Allen’s article about the Catholic language wars promulgated by the church hierarchy -- values versus virtues and whether human beings deserve any “rights,” or can only hope for “salvation” -- I am reminded of what Casy, “the preacher,” says in John Steinbeck’s illuminating novel, The Grapes of Wrath: “There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing. And some of the things folks do is nice, and some ain’t nice, but that’s as far as any man got a right to say.”

Unless he’s a cardinal? And can always cast “the Word” as a “stone”?

La Crosse, Wis.

Jose Padilla

There is another prisoner besides Saddam who is in the news and must be considered: Jose Padilla. While the world celebrated the capture of Saddam, a federal appeals court ruled that Jose Padilla must be released from military custody. Mr. Padilla is a U.S. citizen, arrested on American soil, who has been held for 18 months without charges as an “enemy combatant.” The ruling was a stark reminder that the Bush administration, which talks so much about promoting democracy abroad, doesn’t seem very concerned about following democratic rules at home.

Dubuque, Iowa

The Florida vote

Allan Lichtman’s Dec. 19 article “Why is George Bush president?” reminded me that I had read in Jim Hightower’s “Lowdown” that Katherine Harris removed 57,000 mostly African-Americans from the poll lists in Florida on suspicion of being felonious.

Now, it seems that by some Machiavellian machinations any state can emulate her.

Long live democracy.

Managua, Nicaragua

* * *

Mr. Lichtman claims more than one in 10 ballots cast by blacks were tossed out. I was not aware that ballots in Florida were marked by the race of the voter when they are cast. I have used statistics enough to know you cannot identify the race of a voter by looking at ballots from a ballot box, no matter if they were counted or spoiled and therefore not counted. Florida has a total population of 15.9 million, 2.3 million of whom are black, 2.6 million of whom are Hispanic/Latino. Since 30 percent or more of the eligible registered voters did not vote in 2000, and with blacks making up roughly 14 percent of the total Florida population, how then is it possible to label any individual ballot as being cast by a certain race?

Even in counties with a higher percentage of blacks living there, it is statistically more likely that a spoiled ballot was cast by either a white or Hispanic or Latino. Votes are counted at a county level with both Democrats and Republicans overseeing to ensure fairness and by statute the responsibility for the conduct of elections is in the hands of county supervisors. In 24 of the 25 counties that had the highest ballot spoilage rates, the county supervisor was a Democrat. In the remaining county the supervisor was an Independent, not a Republican. Were all those Democratic supervisors plotting against Gore? A more accurate assessment of this issue is in the dissenting reports by civil rights commissioners Abigail Thernstrom and Russell Redenbaugh, which proves that voter discrimination is a political myth.

Garden City, Utah

Allan Lichtman responds:

Despite the lack of racial identification on ballots, well-established statistical techniques, accepted as reliable in voting-rights litigation by the U.S. Supreme Court, demonstrate consequential racial disparities in ballot rejection rates in Florida’s 2000 election. In Florida, we have data for nearly 6,000 voter precincts on the racial composition of actual voters (voter sign-in sheets include racial identification) and the numbers of valid and rejected ballots. Analyses reported in my study published in The Journal of Legal Studies (January 2003) show that 11 percent of ballots were rejected in precincts whose voters were 90 percent or more black, compared to just 2 percent of ballots in 90 percent or more white precincts. Statistical analyses that examine the relationship between ballot rejection and racial composition for all precincts yield similar results.

The report of the two dissenting civil rights commissioners contains no evidence contradicting the finding of major racial disparities in ballot rejection. The dissenters’ argument that such disparities are explained by factors such as racial differences in education and income are refuted by analyses showing that major racial disparities persist even after statistically controlling for education, literacy, age, income, poverty, ballot design, voting technology, first-time voting and the race or party of the election supervisor. Not surprisingly, most supervisors in counties with the highest ballot rejection rates were Democrats, given that these were also the most heavily black counties. However, I pointed no fingers of blame at supervisors or any other officials, but called for studies to determine the causes of disparate treatment of black voters in Florida. The dissenters and their political allies have done everything in their power to obscure what actually happened in Florida and make sure that such studies never take place.

Reorganizing the bakery

A while back (NCR, Oct. 24) Rosemary Reuther wrote that feminism should be about a companionship of men and women who can really learn to communicate and enter into relationships for the mutual enhancement of one another. Did she not notice back there in the ’60s that many feminists (including myself) were saying that we did not want just our share of the male pie, we wanted instead to reorganize the entire bakery? By which we clearly meant exactly what Rosemary Reuther says we “should” have been saying.

This vision of ours was virtually never represented in the media. The men running the media preferred that if there was to be change, it would be that women would become like men, do what men do, rather than women and men choosing how we wanted to live, and live better, in the world. Our vision would have transformed societal structures that clearly would take power from the powerful who, alas, are still up there, misrepresenting feminists if they bother with us at all.

Wellington, New Zealand

SOA protest

Patrick O’Neill’s reports on the SOA and protesters (NCR, Dec. 19) were excellent. I would like to add one thing that I feel is important to O’Neill’s report. Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio is the only presidential candidate that would close down SOA.

Vero Beach, Fla.

* * *

As most of your readers know, there have been peaceful protests at the School of the Americas in Columbus, Ga., for the past 13 years.

The assembly of nearly 10,000 in November 2003 was a moment when all participants experienced a meaner spirit than in the previous gatherings. Could the mood shift come from the new officer-in-charge, Gen. Benjamin Freakley, who just returned from the violence in Iraq?

Kathy Kelly started Voices in the Wilderness from her Chicago apartment. She has made numerous trips to Iraq and has been going about the United States to present a picture of the suffering in Iraq from the perspective of Iraqi children and ordinary citizens. Other members of Voices in the Wilderness carry on the same mission.

Kelly was among those who crossed the line into Fort Benning and was arrested. It is sufficient to say she was “brutalized” by the military police. At one moment, she said that she would not allow the abuses to continue and “went limp,” refusing to cooperate with the police. Without provocation from a nonviolent woman, five male officers came to use unnecessary force, one man putting his knee into her back. A lung was collapsed during the harsh encounter.

Her observation is one that all citizens of this nation might ponder. “If this is the way I am treated before nearly 10,000 people who can act as a witness, how does the military treat those who are hidden from public view in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere?” The United States is now involved in over 100 countries.

Lafayette, La.

* * *

Some information that might be interesting for SOA Watch appears in the book entitled A Ditadura Escancarada (The Dictatorship Made Public) by Elio Gaspari, columnist for the Folha de São Paulo, relative to the dictatorship in Brazil. When I read pages 303-306, there is no doubt in my mind that the School of the Americas trained Brazilians in methods of torture. In 1964, 105 Brazilians passed through the school. These men practiced torture as was noted by School of the Americas Watch.

Curitiba, Brazil

Tony Blair’s Communion

I’m amazed and appalled that John Allen would describe the gesture of giving Communion to Tony Blair by Pope John Paul as “personal generosity” and “ecumenical sensitivity” (The Word From Rome, NCRonline, Jan. 2). Either it was wrong to give an Anglican Communion or it is an outrageous sin to deny Communion to the same. The Mass is not our property to play around with, particularly by exclusion. It’s Christ’s sacrificial meal and he calls all those who seek him to his banquet. This is a case of inviting the rich and famous to the feast and excluding the poor and unknown. I can see our Lord’s reaction to that!

New York

Religion vs. spirituality

This letter is in response to Paige Byrne Shortal’s article “Cocktail Chatter” (NCR, Dec. 19) in which she states that being “spiritual” is no replacement for religion. I adamantly disagree. She indicates that religion is the guide when you make moral choices. I think that scripture should be the guide. She says that spirituality is not enough if you get sick or someone you love dies. She asks, “What gives you meaning and purpose in this life?” Well, I am darned sure that it is not religion. When I’m sick, it surely isn’t my religion that carries me through, and when I lost my husband it was only my spiritually that held me aloft.

Attending church is a fine thing to do and listening to a wonderful choir under Shortal’s direction would be an enhancement to the liturgy, but attendance at Mass doesn’t form a relationship with God. She asks in her article, “If you aren’t religious, who do you pray to?” Of course, I pray to God just like everyone in the pews at Mass on Sunday. I think she has the thrust of her article reversed. It should be “Religion is no replacement for being ‘spiritual.’ ”

Washington, Mo.

* * *

Find a column for Paige Byrne Shortal. I laughed right out loud reading her piece. She has it down pat!

Somerville, Mass.

* * *

“Cocktail chatter” compares a bad description of “spiritual” with a glowing description of “religion,” and concludes, well, I couldn’t find a conclusion. But the comparison itself limps. First, Shortal’s chatter partner would probably practice religion as much as he practices spirituality, in other words, not at all. More important, religion does not necessarily yield the lessons Shortal attributes to it. As one who recently left religion’s embrace, finding it a hierarchical stranglehold, for a fuller focus on spirituality I find the second far more conducive to a vital adult relationship with God.

St. Louis

Canonizing saints

The canonization of saints is as outmoded as the creation of monsignors. Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day deserve better. We should develop something like the Hall of Fame. This would in no way be ecclesiastical but completely ecumenical. One small step towards peace.

Beaumont, Calif.

Modernity and religion

Prof. R. Scott Appleby’s question in the Dec. 26 issue -- “How do you stay faithful to the religious tradition in an age which we describe as modern, which means ... skeptical, not given to authority ... agnostic in method?” -- is not difficult if we remember that the inferences that comprise that tradition share something in common with modern ideas: Namely, both are attempts to express reality; both are subject to revision and development; and their points of agreement are generally ignored.

I often wonder, for example, why religious leaders say so little about the consistency of the Big Bang theory of the universe’s origin with the main storyline of Genesis.

The fact that objective reality is based on a logic that our minds can grasp using the scientific method makes belief easier.

Plymouth, Mich.

Civil discourse

In June 2000 the U.S. bishops issued a statement calling for civil discourse in both Catholic and secular media. Among the behaviors identified as demonstrating a lack of civility is “presuming deceitful and mendacious motives on the part of others.”

Your Nov. 28 editorial states in part: “Some may see in the Bush administration’s new initiative to promote marriage -- as a way to turn around and stabilize the lives of poor people -- one more thinly veiled attempt to accommodate the ideologues of the far right, including the religious right. It would be a tidy way to mollify that wing of the party, viewed as essential to the president in his reelection bid.”

Does this seem consistent with the bishops’ guidelines? Do these guidelines not apply to you? Does the “some may see” construction give you carte blanche to be uncivil?

I read your online articles regularly and am often disappointed at the smug, self-righteous, self-congratulatory tone of the writing. You do make some excellent points, and there are probably more important things on which we agree than on which we disagree, but because you go out of your way to be insulting to people like me (Republicans, conservatives), I fear that I am missing much of the benefit of what you have to offer.

Lakewood, 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, January 23, 2004