National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
January 30, 2004

LettersLiturgical changes

With how much consultation with their own parishioners did the U.S. bishops accept the changes to the liturgy mandated by the Vatican?

How many changes mandated by the Vatican were revised to reflect the needs and wishes of American churchgoers?

I suspect these questions are rhetorical.

Pay, pray and obey?

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Caryll Houselander

Thank you for Deborah Halter’s homage to Caryll Houselander (NCR, Dec. 12), the all-but-forgotten laywoman mystic whose writings had considerable influence prior to the ’60s. It is precisely the clarity and simplicity of her writing that make accessible for us the mystical nature of Christian existence.

For the past 50 years I have used an abbreviation of her “Stations of the Cross” in a liturgical setting for Good Friday. I have yet to find a more compelling text for the ritual of identifying the Mystic Christ in human suffering.

Next we need a symposium to bring Houselander’s vision to the attention of younger faith-seeking generations.

Redding, Conn.

Celebration of Christmas

Now that the celebration of Christmas has passed, let’s talk about the celebration of Christmas!

In his infancy narrative, St. Luke points out there were “Shepherds living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flocks.”

But why? It wasn’t done just to protect their flocks from predators -- that task was ever on their minds and any shepherd would be ever watchful. It was done in the way Luke describes during the birthing time of the ewes, and that was always in the spring, probably in April.

So, then, from Luke’s infancy narrative we discover that Jesus was most likely born in April, not December. If the church were to attempt to restructure her liturgical calendar to correspond more accurately to Luke’s Gospel, it would, of course, cause not only liturgical upheaval, but also a kind of societal revolution! So I suppose we’re stuck with the status quo.

I do see it as imperative, however, considering what the American Civil Liberties Union -- ACLU -- and other secularists are doing to Christmas, that we Catholics and all Christians come together absolutely assuring that, come hell or high water, we will put Christ back into Christmas and keep him there!

Bronx, N.Y.

Sen. Paul Simon

In his column (NCR, Dec. 26), Colman McCarthy captured the humility and the greatness of the late former Sen. Paul Simon.

From working with him, I can confirm that Sen. Simon had a modest opinion of his importance.

For example, Sen. Simon was one of the cosponsors of the Family Unity Demonstration Project in the 1994 Crime Bill. This allowed parents incarcerated for nonviolent crimes to serve their sentences in a community facility with their small children. However, although 20 million dollars was authorized, there was never any money appropriated.

On the last day of Sen. Simon’s service in the Senate, I got up the nerve to send a note to him on the floor of the Senate reminding him to work for the project’s funding. With an hour left in the Congress, I was shocked that he personally reported back to me that he was still working on it.

When “sine die” occurred shortly thereafter and the money was not appropriated, he took the time to console me and then left the Senate for the last time. I watched him walk out of the Capitol, down the steps, and drive off in his car that looked at least 10 years old.

No accolades, no looking back, just another day at the office doing to the very last minute what he had done all his public life.


Sullivan is the executive director of CURE, a national prison reform organization.

* * *

So much of the coverage of Paul Simon missed a key part of his life. His wife, Jean, was Catholic. Together they wrote Catholic-Protestant Marriages Can Succeed.

Lakeville, Mass.

Carl Jung and the church

I am an Episcopal priest as well as a psychotherapist and candidate in the Analyst Training Program at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago. As such, I have grappled with the life and work of Jung for many years. He is a complicated, challenging figure whose thought and life reward careful study, especially by those who take religious experience seriously.

Judging by her Jan. 9 letter, Margaret McCarthy would benefit from such study. Her assertion that “Jung hated the church -- thought that it was the source of all psychological problems” is simply wrong and malicious. Jung was profoundly engaged with religion and religious experience throughout his life. As such, he was aware of the church’s strengths and weaknesses. This awareness led him neither to embrace nor reject the church or Christianity. Rather, as a psychiatrist it led him to treat it.

Jung conducted a lengthy seminar on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, wrote a major work on Transformation Symbolism in the Mass and penned a profoundly personal book on Job. McCarthy might be surprised to know he was elated by the doctrine of Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven.

Even so, he was hardly uncritical of religion -- as we could expect a man to be who was born the son of one pastor and nephew of eight others, and who later spent a long professional life as a clinician. Yet, in an interview late in his life, Jung was asked whether he believed in God. “I don’t believe,” he said. “I know.” I suppose you can believe in God and hate the church, but I don’t see evidence of this in his writings or his life.

Glen Ellyn, Ill.

* * *

I am responding to a letter to the editor by Margaret McCarthy in which she comments on Richard Thieme’s article of Dec. 12 on homosexuality. I am an ex-Dominican and married priest as well as a Jungian analyst.

As to the church, Jung often considered himself a Protestant because of his valuing what is called the “Protestant Principle,” that God saves us within, but also considered himself a Catholic because of his love of the church’s mystics and its religious sense of symbol. Jung often wrote about the importance of dogma and discipline in the church because these were necessary prescriptions for most people. However, like the early Gnostics, he felt that these institutional requirements were not enough, that one had to translate dogma and outer disciplines into an interior experience of God. In other words, a depth theology or a mystical view of religion had to be the necessary goal of all Christians and indeed members of any world religion. The institution is in the service of the person, not visa versa.

Jung considered the 1950 dogma of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven as the “most important spiritual development since the Reformation.” Why? Because it honored the “feminine principle” in the Godhead, as he put it.

Jung’s honoring the feminine principle is in tune with the remarkable impact that the book The Da Vinci Code is having on the American public. It is a novel in which the goal is a recovery of the feminine principle or what the author, Dan Brown, calls “the sacred feminine,” a necessary aspect of soul that focuses more on cooperation than competition, more on relationship than abstraction, more on love rather than power.


Historian in demand

In the Dec. 26 article “Historian in demand,” R. Scott Appleby contends “weak religion” actually increases the likelihood of bloody ethno-religious conflict in crisis. In the absence of spiritual guides and religious educators, cynical politicians can more easily manipulate and exploit the volatile prejudices and passions of a religiously illiterate population that feels itself victimized, erecting a sacred canopy over what is morally illegitimate, Appleby writes in The Ambivalence of the Sacred.

Germany, 1920-45, was a good Christian nation of Catholics and Lutherans, the country of Cardinal Ratzinger and Hans Küng. This does not fit Appleby’s guidelines of a “weak” religion but it was a bloodbath of the Jewish people permitted by Christians who knew better. Germany was not weak in Christianity but they were first in the hatred of Jews.

The Passion Play 2000 in Oberammergau apologized to the Jewish community about how the Jews were portrayed in the past plays. It is not a weak religion but how prejudice is portrayed in that religion. This includes homosexuals, pluralism and modernism.

Richmond, Mich.

Married clergy

An article in the Jan. 9 edition of NCR concerning the dismissal of John Strange, the NC Catholic editor, identifies Bill Powers as having left the “active priesthood” or, as some would say, an “inactive priest.” I’d like to make a suggestion. I know Bill and I know he is still active and he’s still a priest. Furthermore, I personally left and married more than 30 years ago and now have two lovely granddaughters. I’m still a priest and, believe me, at 74, I’m still active as a priest. I identify myself as a non-clerical priest. I have an official decree to prove that I’ve been “reduced to the lay state.” I think the label “non-clerical priest” is more accurate than “inactive priest.”

The firing of John Strange is indeed strange. But the bishops do have good reason to be defensive. Our local pastor read a letter from our bishop preparing us for a shock that is coming at the end of February. A comprehensive report on clerical pedophiles is scheduled to be released then. How dare anyone suggest publicly that the church “is sick”?

Jonas Ridge, N.C.

* * *

Rather than optional celibacy, the only change to the priesthood I hope for is the charism to change the embittered whine of liberal dissenters (squeezed from sour grapes) into the yes of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. A profound yes that is humble and obedient -- even unto death.

Eagan, Minn.

Catholics and politics

I applaud Matt Zemek’s Viewpoint article on U.S. politics (NCR, Dec. 19). I am running for the congressional seat of Rep. Henry Hyde and wonder why being pro-life cancels out being pro-war, pro-death penalty and pro-School of Americas in the church’s view of social justice. Though I am a secular Franciscan, I am running on a pro-choice platform as a Democrat, though antiwar, anti-death penalty and anti-School of Americas.

I understand that some women are so desperate that they will make dangerous choices not to bring another child in the world. Two weeks after the Hyde amendment was passed, a woman in Texas died from an illegal abortion because she could not obtain a legal abortion, leaving her daughter without mother or father. Perhaps she would not have been so desperate if there had been programs in place for health care, education and child care, but sadly all we could offer this poor woman on welfare was that we would not pay for her abortion.

We need to make serious changes in the way our society treats the least of us and in doing so we will eliminate the desperation that governs the lives of many women.

Rolling Meadows, Ill.

* * *

Regarding “Covering the candidates” (Letters, NCR, Jan. 9): I think your response to Terri Zins was rather lame. You may have corrected Zins’ comments on “money and name recognition,” but Zins’ salient complaint stands. It appears that NCR in its “attempt to show where the Democratic presidential race is headed” is merely mirroring the effects of mainstream media’s apparent shunning of Dennis Kucinich and his forthright statements, positions and outstanding leadership and voting record in Congress.

I agree with Zins -- let us hear more (at least in NCR) about those candidates who “stand for almost everything NCR advocates.”

El Cajon, Calif.

Church governance

The attitude of the hierarchy, in reaction to priests’ letters on ordaining married men (NCR, Dec. 26), illustrates the degree to which the role of bishop, a full successor of the apostles, has shrunk over the centuries. The bishops are powerless, it seems, to even represent the views of their priests to the Vatican, to which, also, decisions about celibacy are reserved. In the most successful days of Christian evangelization, St. Paul and the early successors of the apostles made decisions for the good of souls on their own, even on such things as marriage and ordination regulation. St. Paul checked out his basic teaching with other apostles, so there was unity but without uniformity. Instant communication has enhanced the centralization of power, but change is in the wind. Future history will tell whether the Vatican will take the initiative of loosening the reins, or take the path of tolerating bolder leadership by bishops, even perhaps in decisions about ordination.

Riviera Beach, Fla.

* * *

I noted with interest, in the clergy sex abuse stories of the Dec. 26 issue, how often a “spoonful of sugar” is offered to the Catholic community by bishops reporting the financial costs of the scandal in their dioceses. Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, for instance, accounted for $85 million by saying that these dollars came from the sale of archdiocesan property and insurance, not from parish assets, or diocesan or parish collections. Well, where did the money come from to acquire those assets? Where does the money come from to pay those insurance premiums? From the faithful, of course! Unless private priestly fortunes are being expended, it’s just another example of the obfuscation we’ve come to expect.

While the celibate bishops meet to excoriate the faithful who have chosen to ignore the sexual policies of the Vatican or Catholic politicians who are able to distinguish between personal beliefs and the force of law upon others, they work diligently to avoid any personal responsibility. After all, it was those ill-formed homosexual priests who fondled boys, wasn’t it? Clericalism, secrecy and absolutism are still the rule.

Recently on the feast of St. Steven, we read from the 6th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles that the apostles proposed that men be selected to be deacons. And that this proposal was accepted by the community. Does anyone remember the last time the hierarchy proposed anything for acceptance by the community? How have we come to ignore this model of church governance?

Toledo, Ohio

* * *

Your editorial (NCR, Dec. 19) and subsequent article (Dec. 26) on Bob Herring and Nativity of Our Lord Parish well publicize an emergence of adult Catholicism.

I believe part of this adult Catholicism is a strong responsibility on the part of each of three groups: the laity, the clergy and the hierarchy.

The laity has a responsibility to raise concerns and demand a hearing when they perceive a serious injustice in church personnel matters. The clergy are responsible to ensure that their personnel decisions will survive scrutiny of both canonical and civil authorities, as well as the harsh sunlight of media publicity. The hierarchy is responsible to allow decision-making at the lowest practical level while exercising proper oversight to assure fairness to all.

Perhaps the days of the nod, the wink and everything done behind closed doors are over for good.

San Marcos, Calif.

* * *

Once again we see what is a recent phenomenon in the Catholic church -- priests speaking out to the hierarchy for better treatment and understanding of people in the church.

But ordinary Catholic priests have always been closer to the people than the hierarchy has been. In pre-Revolution France, the hierarchy was close to the aristocracy in privilege and power. In pre-Medellín Latin America, the hierarchy was wedded to the upper classes. Even in the United States, it didn’t take long for the hierarchy to be considered part of the ruling powers, along with governors and mayors of major cities.

In contrast, the local parish priest was closer to the people, understood their lives and problems and supported them.

Now these priests are courageous enough to risk their “careers.” Pope John Paul II has told the clergy that they should not be tempted by careerism. Yet, they all know that their careers depend on not ruffling feathers with their superiors. There are reasons why some auxiliary bishops will never have their own dioceses and why some parish priests will never become bishops.

It is interesting to read of great reformers and saints in the church. For many of them, the greatest obstacle they had to overcome was the disapproval and sometime condemnation of church authorities. Has anything changed?

Thank God for these priests who care more about the people than their advancement.

Brandon, Fla.

Liturgical language

John Allen’s article was surely correct in lamenting the loss of a poetic or sacral language in the liturgy, and the quoted examples of Fr. Jeremy Driscoll clearly illustrate his point. But to think this goes along with a return to Thomistic theology scares me.

Theological expression surely depends upon philosophy, and philosophy depends upon the science of the time. The science of Thomas’ time bears faint relationship to the science of evolution, of the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics, of the big bang theory. A theology today must rest upon a philosophy that is founded upon the new science -- not values, but verities? Verities gave us anti-Semitism, the Crusades and the Inquisition, and the arrogance of such “certainties” currently has engaged us in an immoral, illegal war. We need the humility to understand that we cannot know anything for certain, for everything depends upon Yahweh, upon what surpasses our grasp.

Lexington, Va.

Language about gays

Bravo to Fr. Ken Lohrmeyer of Minneapolis, Kan., and NCR for his Dec. 26 letter on gay priests. The sentence that really brought up a wellspring of emotional sadness for me was: “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 go away.”

How true those words are not only for gay priests but for gay people in general. I am constantly aware that I am a minority in my church and that some people wish that my partner and I would just go away. I say to hell with them all! No one will drive me from the church that I love. No priest, no bishop, no archbishop, no cardinal, no pope, no one at all, period!

Palm Springs, Calif.

* * *

Twenty-three gutsy and prophetic Chicago archdiocese pastors have written an open letter to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church regarding the pastoral care of gay and lesbian persons (NCR, Jan. 9). Their respectful yet strong statement refers to the language in recent church documents regarding gays and lesbians as demonizing, abusive, vile, toxic and increasingly violent. The pastors ask that this stop immediately and that these pastorally destructive statements be replaced with an earnest and respectful dialogue with the members of the body of Christ, and ask that their letter be duplicated, signed and sent to one’s pastor, local bishop, national bishops conference or the Vatican.

Can we even call ourselves a church if the dignity of an individual human person can be so assaulted by language such as “approval or legalization of evil” or “intrinsically disordered”? This is a grave scandal to believers and unbelievers alike who have a right to some authentic and compassionate spiritual leadership in the church.

As a retreat director for some 23 years, I have often heard the painful and anguished stories of gay or lesbian persons whose lives have been made more difficult by the excluding tone of the church’s statements giving legitimacy to the distancing by their families and the violence perpetrated through homophobic gay-bashing.

Now I await a heartfelt plea for forgiveness. Thank you guys, for acting like the men you are called to be!

Oak Park, Ill.

* * *

Regarding your article on gays: No one chooses his or her sexual orientation. Thus it seems that all should have equal rights to relationship.


* * *

The courageous Chicago priests who have taken serious issue with our church’s official language regarding homosexuality have made one rather serious oversight. They ask the question, “Has any other group of people within the body of Christ been so assaulted and violated by such mean-spirited language?” They assume, as they ask, that the answer is no. We are then to conclude that those of homosexual orientation have been singled out and “demonized” (their choice of words). It would be bad enough if they were correct; unfortunately they are not.

Women have been literally demonized from Genesis to Paul to Tertullian, “You [women] are the devil’s gateway,” to Aquinas, “Women are defective and misbegotten males,” to the 1976 Vatican Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood, which states that women cannot be priests because they do not bear a “natural resemblance” to Christ. And our church continues today to inflict on us this “two-nature anthropology” (code word “complementarity”) that divinizes men and demonizes women.

I sincerely hope the Chicago priests get the dialogue with the hierarchy that they seek. It would be well, however, for them to become more aware that the group they speak for is not alone in their struggle to avoid demonization by the official language of our church.

Wexford, Pa.

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 30, 2004