National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
February 13, 2004

LettersBush's stance on marriage

Like George Bush, I am a Christian. Like him, I frequently refer to Bible passages to explain my actions or opinions. We even have the same favorite Gospel, Luke. So why do I so consistently disagree with the president?

Most of the answers I’ve sought in life could be found in either the Bible, which didn’t help me much on this one, or Webster’s Unabridged. In this case, Webster’s did the trick.

The most offensive issue that Mr. Bush raised in his State of the Union address -- and this is saying something -- was his proposal for a constitutional amendment to protect the “sanctity of marriage.” Why did this bother me so much? I turned to Brother Noah (Webster) for guidance.

To sanctify is to make holy; purify; free from sin; to render legitimate; to entitle to reverence.

Hmm. Can George Bush do that? Can the Constitution do that? After all, both the office of the president and the U.S. Constitution are man-made entities. Their power is temporal. Can something not inherently holy confer holiness?

The next entry under sanctify is sanctimonious, defined as making a hypocritical show of religious devotion, piety, righteousness.

That gave me a bit more perspective on the president’s stance, but I can’t say I had true clarity until I thumbed my way back to the B’s.

Blasphemy: the crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God.

Yes, that was the word I was after.

If Jesus told me to start parting my hair on the other side, I’d do it. He’s Jesus; I’d do anything he told me. But if you or the lady who sells me my morning paper or George Bush told me to start parting my hair on the other side, I’d say, “Mind your own business.”

When our actions start affecting other people -- say we dump toxic waste in the river or run a red light in a school zone -- then everybody gets to weigh in. That’s how I read the Gospels anyway. Sharing the wealth with the poor, making peace -- Jesus gives us more than permission to make a stink about these things. He commands us to make a stink about them. But he says next to nothing about sex, and he certainly never talks about sex being a societal concern.

As a woman in a long-standing heterosexual marriage, I cannot see where the presence of committed same-sex couples in my country, my community and even my circle of friends affects my own relationship. My marriage does not need defending by some piece of legislation. It is a union between two and only two people.

And so the unions of same-sex couples are between two and only two people. I would not dream of trying to tell other persons whom they may or may not love. After all, I’m not God.

Hamden, Conn.

Sr. Evelyn Mattern

Reading Patrick O’Neill’s article about Sr. Evelyn Mattern (NCR, Jan. 23) brought back so many memories of this amazing witness in the Raleigh, N.C., diocese in the late 1970s. I could not put the article down. Indeed, I woke up during the night thinking of her and the people who made those times in that growing church so alive: countless Catholics and non-Catholics caught up in the life and growth of Bishop Joseph Gossman’s widespread diocese.

When I first met her, Sr. Evelyn lived in a very unassuming “trailer” among a stand of tall North Carolina pines “out in the country.” I was new to the area and I wondered about this woman who seemed to inspire such a wide variety of feelings.

I got to know Sr. Evelyn and her ministry and I wish I could report that I took up the cause. While she worked to move people like me to action, there were many others who tried to hold the line. Gratefully, Evelyn focused on the task, was always ready to welcome help and found no need to judge the weak. Is it not the mark of the true prophet that she reminds us of the message, the path and the One who called her?

Patrick O’Neill deserves thanks for bringing Sr. Evelyn’s witness in life and in dying to NCR readers. She is of one piece with the vanishing witnesses of the last century. She truly kept the faith.

Wheaton, Md.

Tolkien trivia

Just a note to put things straight about the “Lord of the Rings” review (NCR, Jan. 16). Eowyn is not the daughter of King Theoden. She is his niece. He is her uncle!

Macomb, Ill.

Lost Gospels

I find all the attention given to Elaine Pagels’ Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (NCR, Jan. 16) overblown and tiresome. After all, most of these “Lost Gospels” were recovered in manuscript form in the 19th century, and published in the early 20th century by Catholic scholars. They were not hidden away in obscure scholarly journals; that was the only avenue to be found for publication. And they were discussed and republished in various books and several languages throughout the 20th century. I remember when I first delved into them several decades ago, eager to see what I would find, only to discover that they were such small documents of limited scope and value. A few pages at best, compared with the breadth and development of the Gospels. Elaine Pagels is making a great deal out of very little.

And the crossover to Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code is downright silly. For Pete’s sake, it’s a novel, or, at best, a historical novel with a very partisan view of history. The book has even occasioned a long and critical episcopal review (Madison, Wis., diocese). But last I heard, novelists were still free to imagine history in any way they wish, and readers were free to be as gullible as they wish. The book is a good read, but I’m still partisan to the Gospels on matters of faith, and I am willing to wager that both of these books will be out of print long before the Gospels are. Then perhaps they will become “secret,” too.

Madison, Wis.

Communion ban

Your article (NCR, Jan. 23) that Bishop Raymond L. Burke of La Crosse, Wis., denies Communion to politicians who support abortion and euthanasia makes one wonder about the charity of the bishop. If the legislators are wrong, receiving the Eucharist might help them have a conversion of heart.

I feel in my bones the Rep. David Obey gave an appropriate answer for someone living in a democracy. Bishop Burke [now archbishop of St. Louis] has the right of instruction and the right to lobby and vote, but he crosses the line when he tells a Catholic how the power of the law should be applied in a pluralistic democracy. Taken to its extreme, under Burke’s law, only right-wing Catholics could stand for election.

Burke goes on to say that “they will stand with us against capital punishment, but not against procured abortion or euthanasia.” Has Burke written against capital punishment? Has he told the legislators who sponsor state murder they can no longer go to Communion? Has he taken a stand against our unilateral invasion of Iraq as Pope John Paul II has time and again?

Yes, abortion is morally unacceptable. Rep. Obey and most non-Catholics would agree, but is the alternative of “back alley -- sweep it under the poverty rug” a moral alternative? If it is, let’s get the funding

Every act of contraception is a potential abortion. Where does the now archbishop stand on that? Will he deny Communion to the 90 percent who ignore Humanae Vitae?

Ridgefield, Conn.

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It deeply saddens me that the body and blood of Christ has become a weapon in the current power struggles within the Catholic tradition. One letter stated that it was “wrong” for the pope to give the Eucharist to Tony Blair. An article covered the action of Bishop Burke. I would follow the example of the pope.

Yes, abortion is wrong. I am very pro-life. Yes, euthanasia is wrong. But what about capital punishment? What about corporate fraud? To use a political stand to bar people from Eucharist is wrong.

A few years ago a Catholic governor of my state, Kansas, allowed the death penalty to be reinstated without her signature. She could not sign it, but she also said that the people had voted for it. These are difficult issues, but before we judge others, we need to make sure we are guilt-free; none of us is.

One of the neat things about this country is the separation between church and state. Let us uphold out values even in public service. Let us pray for our leaders; let us not cut them off from life. Maybe we need to work for a society in which abortions are unnecessary and a society that sees the gifts the dying offer us. Please remember, Jesus did not tell the man who betrayed him he could not “take and eat.”

Topeka, Kan.

* * *

You must have cut an important line of your article on Bishop Burke. Since he is concerned with “our consistent stance on the dignity of all human life,” including “against capital punishment,” surely he also mentioned denying Communion to all those in political office who do not oppose capital punishment. He can hardly have missed that.

Moncks Corner, S.C.

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My family and I have just finished reading and discussing the article regarding Bishop Burke and his stance against allowing politicians to receive holy Communion if they openly support abortion or euthanasia. Our question is: Does this also hold true for politicians who openly support the death penalty?


Religion and politics

I must take issue with the “Religion and Politics” graph that was part of the article “Re-igniting the religious left” that appeared in your Jan. 23 issue. The small print indicates that the information was provided by the PEW Research Center as part of the People and the Press Survey.

The illustration indicates that the least religious states are the Pacific Coast states. I can support that since I live in Oregon and worked for the Portland archdiocese for seven years as development director. Oregon is the most un-churched state in the union, followed by Washington state. But seeing the state of Minnesota, with its heavy Lutheran population, and then New York and New England, which traditionally have been Catholic strong-holds, [illustrated in the “least-religious” category] is very surprising and quite hard to believe. Also, seeing Utah portrayed as neither the most religious nor the least religious is again very surprising. I lived there 15 years and I know the strength and power of the Latter-Day Saints church, and if any state is a theocracy it is Utah. Seeing the Bible Belt as the most religious would seem to be accurate, but for the rest of the information, I sincerely have my doubts as to its accuracy.

Portland, Ore.

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, February 13, 2004