National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
March 19, 2004

LettersChristian-Muslim relations

John Schmitt in the Jan. 16 NCR raises a very important question when he asks, “Does God see Christians and Jews having a close relationship, while Muslims -- who worship the same God -- are off to the side?”

Worshipping Allah (God) is consummating the proper relationship of man to his creator. But to believe that its founder, Muhammad, was inspired by God to form a religion is to undermine the role of Jesus, who fulfilled destiny in his act of redemption.

Muhammad was a political genius who upgraded the lives of his people by unifying them. Prior to his campaign, Bedouins lived as tribes in small groups. Muhammad had noted the cultural strengths of Jews and Christians, which he attributed to their religions. Thus, the best way to achieve his vision of unity was to form a religion.

Although he was illiterate, his persuasive powers gained many converts, and as a military genius he conquered his opponents. Records reveal that he approved the assassination of three opponents. Many captives were enslaved.

His close apostles recorded many of his insights in the Quran. He envisioned heaven as a place, not a state of being as Pope John Paul proclaimed.

It is proper to pay homage to Muhammad as the father of his people but not as a prophet comparing with Jesus and Abraham.

Park Ridge, Ill.

Mother Mary Skobstova

Your book review in NCR Feb. 6 gave us the story of an astounding woman. Mother Mary Skobstova: Essential Writings was reviewed and her biographical sketch captured my heart. Why have we not heard of her before? She was gassed by the Nazis for protecting Jews in her Paris monastery. She was twice divorced and had an illegitimate child before her vows. She had a Dorothy Day-like mission for the marginalized. She was a poet and ascetic and wrote of her convictions. Most likely because she was of the Orthodox church, we have heard little of this saintly person.

Mother Maria contended that we should dedicate our “spiritual life” to those in need because everyone there possesses the image of the living Christ. She spoke in criticism of those individuals and churches that are preoccupied with their “spiritual life” at the expense of people in need. The article characterized her views as “sheer madness” for some reason.

I would respectfully suggest two things: First, we Christians should all memorialize Mother Maria. Secondly, I would correct the quote “He who seeks to save his soul will lose it,” if she said it, and conform it to scriptural statements, for instance, in Luke 9:23-6 and 17:33, which read as follows: “He who seeks to save his life will lose it.” Then, both her life and her truths, mad to some, may serve as an imitation of Christ in the opinion of the rest of us.

Yuba City, Calif.

Marketing religion

Jeannette Cooperman must be writing in a vacuum in “Religion joins what it cannot beat: commerce” (NCR, Feb. 13). Maybe it wasn’t a paid announcement, but even God used available media -- stone tablets -- to deliver a lasting message to the Israelites. Gutenberg’s first major book in movable type was the Bible, and surely he sold copies to make ends meet. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen had to find a sponsor for his inspirational TV show, “Life is Worth Living.” Indeed, NCR does not exist without paid advertising, like the one next to Cooperman’s column.

I think Ms. Cooperman misses the point. While it is true that marketing and promotion pervade virtually every aspect of American life, it is precisely that fact that requires voices of faith to be heard via similar vehicles. Msgr. Robert Ottoline likely didn’t have that problem 30 years ago or didn’t realize he did. Times change.

And not all of it is “commerce.” Nothing in the radio spots we aired asks anyone to buy anything or join anything. Instead, we encouraged people to think about Christmas as more than that day when we are “swimming in stuff” in the deepest waters of any day of the year. Had any media outlet been willing to help us deliver this message without buying space or time, we would have done that. But that would not be newsworthy today, and our message would not have seen the light of day. To conclude that we “joined what we could not beat” by paying to invite our neighbors to share small tokens of love with each other during the true 12 days of Christmas is illogical and spiritually small.

Finally, the “carefully enunciated” order’s name is Adorers of the Blood of Christ, not “Adorers of the Precious Blood,” though that earlier name may be how she remembers us while sneaking smokes in a school where we may have taught. (Incidentally, Jeannette, we probably knew, and you’re forgiven.)

St. Louis

Franklin is provincial of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, U.S. Province.

Catholic art

Regarding your article in the Feb. 20 edition about religious art, I protest. Where is the art that uplifts? Your discussions seem to center on defending these excursions into self-expression as not really pornography. Is that the best that can be rendered? Where is the art that enlarges, enhances us instead of splattering us? We are poorly served if this is all that can be done by our serious artists with Catholic fibers in their beings.

Rye, N.Y.

Hispanic Catholics

I have lived all my adult life in Texas, deep in the Anglo-Hispanic culture. I love it, and our family is richer for it. With a friend, I visited the San Antonio missions, San Jose and Conception, again last week. I know these “Hispanics” -- they were once Mescans, then Chicanos and Latinos, currently Hispanics -- to be good, hard-working people, whether they are documented to be here or not. I have passed through neighborhoods that they have cleaned up and revitalized without political fuss; they are good citizens including their support of an orderly society with law enforcement. The amount of money they send home to their families in Mexico is awesome. Bringing with them a culture of “machismo” (which has nothing to do with the Catholic church), their families are the strongest of the three social cultures -- Anglo, black, Hispanic -- that predominate in this state. By tradition, they are Catholic, but not as the Jan. 30 NCR cover story on Hispanics would suggest.

The Catholic religion, as opposed to faith, came to this Hispanic world from Spain, the land of Torquemada, as the term “Hispanic” implies. Mostly, Spain came to conquer and to steal, and history records that it did this successfully, extensively and for more than two centuries. In addition, Spain brought disease and death by exposing the native populations to microbes unknown in this hemisphere before their arrival. When the dust had settled, the population was of mixed blood and the language was Spanish. Along the way, the Spanish brought padres who were probably less interested in spreading the faith than in socially organizing the local population in support of the primary mission of Spain (see above). Thus the Catholic religion was grafted onto local ancient cultures -- Mayan, Aztecan, Incan, etc. -- less than 500 years ago, and had little to do with “conversion to the faith.” In fact, the local populations retained most of their ancient beliefs, customs and practices, but so long as they worked in support of the missions, they were Catholics. The Hispanics I know today were never Roman Catholics; at best, they are Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholics, followers of Juan Diego in their veneration of the Virgin who appeared to this shepherd boy and left her image emblazoned on his cloak. The better-educated Hispanics will note that the Catholic church has consistently taken the side of the wealthy landowners and cruel leaders, and that this has not changed. Thus, I found the views of Jeff Guntzel somewhat strange, since those views seem to be based on the assumption that the Catholic church already has ’em and just needs to do more. Some might suggest that the Catholic church get its own house in order first, and I would concur. Meanwhile, most Hispanics I know are doing fine.

Marble Falls, Texas

* * *

Thank you for the article exposing to readers the vision and needs we encounter as we work with the ever-growing Hispanic group of Catholics. I congratulate NCR for presenting this timely topic in such an objective and challenging manner.

The facts and objectives described in your article as taking place in several parts of the country find a realistic echo in our own situation here in the Northeast. As an auxiliary bishop supervising about half a million Hispanic Catholics in the Boston area, I must confess your article was relevant and daring for us here. The Instituto Fe y Vida has been providing guidance and inspiration also to us in this part of the country and continues to provide much information and leadership in the field of youth and young adults. The problem of “structural exclusion” that Dr. Carmen Cervantes of this Instituto speaks about is very real among us in the Northeast. To provide effective ministry to Hispanic youth constitutes an uphill struggle. It is my hope that articles such as yours will bring to the front burner this particular challenge at all levels of diocesan leadership and substructures.

The Catholic bishops have been responding with serious initiatives on behalf of the Hispanics and, more specifically, the Hispanic youth. For example, “LA RED,” which is the National Catholic Network of Pastoral Juvenil Hispana, is promoting initiatives at a national level. Some of these initiatives include: lay leadership programs, encuentros, publications, Bible for Youth, evangelization of youth and young adults, and others.

I commend the newspaper for this cover story that puts into focus some of the struggles and challenges that Hispanics in America face.


Preventive war

I fail to detect an “openness to the Bush doctrine of preventive force against terrorism” that John Allen finds in his interview with Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican’s new foreign minister (NCR, Jan. 23).

Allen seems to confuse preemptive war with preventive war.

Preemptive war is a response based on a real threat. The enemy has significant and deliverable weapons and is close to using them. A country may react to forestall the threatened attack. Such supposed conditions were what the Security Council was investigating before Iraq War II. If they had been found, then that war may have been legitimated by the United Nations, with the pope concurring.

Preventive war is something else entirely. It can erupt for reasons real or imagined. Its aim is to prevent any nation from trying to rival the military superiority of a dominant power. Preventive war is the “Bush Doctrine.” (Refer to the Pentagon’s National Security Strategy document of October 2002.)

In light of this distinction, the reference to a new opening by the Vatican to the Bush administration’s worldview is a bit cavalier.

Kenosha, Wis.

* * *

Maggie Ledford Lawson’s brilliant piece on preemptive war (NCR, Feb. 27) provides one very important reason, among others too numerous to list, why American voters next November should replace George W. Bush with John F. Kerry.

Silver Spring, Md.

Part-time priests

The Feb. 6 letter by Fr. Gino Dalpiaz about the solutions to the priest shortage is interesting. Fr. Gino should be congratulated for his research. He shows that neither marriage nor women priests solves the problem.

I would ask him and others to consider part-time priests and priest for a period (like enlisting in the army for four years). In our parish, Corpus Christi in Phoenix, we have about 40 Eucharistic ministers and three deacons and two priests. The point I’m making is that many are willing to help but not to commit to full-time or forever.

Also, I have no idea why a priest has to be trained for six years. It seems that two or three years are enough with the understanding that a master’s degree is needed to be bishop. The military has a similar rule for officers.

In general, the priesthood has to be brought closer to the laity. I do not believe an elite clergy was what Christ envisioned.


Priests’ salaries

Regarding the Feb. 20 letter on priests’ salaries from Hawaii: If we were in it for the money, we wouldn’t be. Among its many meanings, celibacy sacramentalizes the principle that you can’t make a living at religion … or at least you shouldn’t try. I would never suggest a lay person seek gainful employment in the church. A lot of our problems derive from false employment expectations about the church’s ability to deliver earthly rewards. Still, to be where there are nearby beaches and warm breezes … in February!

Wilbur, Wash.

* * *

Miviwo Die, in the Feb. 20 letters section, wrote that “Catholic priests’ salaries range from $12,936 to $15,483.” I don’t have hard facts -- I’ve not heard back from my local (Cleveland) diocese, but I believe our priests make in the $20s. Whatever the official salary of a priest, we need to remember that they get many stipends from funerals and weddings, receive a car allowance, and have free homes and food. I speak from this area of the country, of course. I was shocked to learn that funerals and weddings weren’t considered a normal part of the “job” of a priest. So around here I don’t feel too badly about the financial status of priests. They have a secure job, good benefits and secure housing. The salary is more than many get, and housing and food don’t have to come out of it.

Akron, Ohio

* * *

We are women who have worked in the archdiocese as parish staff members with a combined total of more than 20 years service. In this time we have worked with many good and dedicated priests. However, we take exception to the notion that priests’ salaries are the cause of the priest shortage. The author indicates that at the top end these salaries are a bare $3.25 over the minimum wage. For a lay person responsible for a mortgage or rent, food on the table, needs of their children, medical costs, etc., this would be bordering on poverty level. However, our experience has been that food is provided, medical care guaranteed, housing paid and provided for, automobile insurance paid for, continuing education for professional growth is allowed for, not to mention the occasional yet lavish gifts bestowed on these men of the cloth by those they are serving. The salaries that they receive, although they may be lower than the average college graduate, are not needed for the day-to-day necessities of life. Teachers in our Catholic schools often times are in the same salary ranges as these priests, and yet have to provide for all of the above expenses.

In conclusion, we call this a vocation as opposed to a career for good reason. Let us look for the real reasons behind diminishing vocations. They are many, and in our opinion should not be limited to financial concern. One would hope that the young men discerning over the priesthood would be listening to the call from God to enter into a life that is today highly controversial, often lonely, yet so very needed and rewarding in ways that far surpass any amount of financial gains.

Rolling Meadows, Ill.

Manifest destiny

Americans who are ignorant of history are bound to repeat its errors. This paraphrase of a famous dictum backs up Bishop Tom Gumbleton’s theme in his sermon of Jan. 4, as quoted in the Jan. 23 issue of NCR. As a nation, we seem to forget that a religious mandate called “manifest destiny,” which matured in the 1840s, had already become the enlightened Anglo-Saxon’s guiding principle for a justified expansion of territory and influence under God’s patronage.

Early in the 20th century, this doctrine had so matured that Sen. Albert J. Beveridge, a Republican from Indiana, could identify the guiding principle of manifest destiny as follows:

“American law, American order, American civilization and the American flag will plant themselves on shores, hitherto bloody and benighted, but, by those agencies of God, henceforth to be made beautiful and bright.”

As a supplement to Gumbleton’s sermon, readers might peruse a book called Manifest Destiny by Anders Sanderson. It is the best short history of the very same manifest destiny that Dick Cheney is promoting as God’s will for his newly chosen people.

San Antonio

Secondhand editorials

Joining in NCR’s proud history of thoughtful reporting (John L. Allen Jr., Joe Feuerherd) and insightful contributors (Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton) is … I refer to your “editorial” headlined “A warrior president’s military record in question” (Feb. 13).What a shameful waste of valuable space. I read NCR for a fresh view, whether or not I agree with it. But now it appears that the back page is becoming nothing more than a place where popular political chatter is repeated. I would love to see the editorial staff measure up to the standards of the rest of the paper -- original insights, thoughtful analysis, serious commentary. Instead, I read editorials that seem to be repeating what has already been printed in partisan Web sites and editorials of other newspapers. I am embarrassed to read these cut-and-paste pieces from such questionable sources as I look to NCR for your editors’ opinions, not a copy of opinions from someone else, especially such questionable sources. Will Al Franken and Michael Moore be your next reference?

Roswell, Ga.

Fr. Richard Sinner

In your Feb. 27 issue, Tim Unsworth’s story celebrates the lives and deaths of Bill Hogan and John Donahue, two hell-raising priests from the Chicago area.

The Fargo, N.D., diocese buried Fr. Richard Sinner about the same time. He, too, landed in jail for making a fuss about social justice issues. When visited by sympathizers, he said, “It’s not bad. I’m getting free board and room and have already made five converts.”

During the Reagan administration, he rescued hundreds of Central American refugees from being returned to certain death in Chile, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Besides costing him money, it put his priesthood at risk because this wasn’t supported by the bishop. Later he joined a caravan of trucks originating in Canada, picking up supplies for Cuba all across the United States. It was stopped at the Mexican border, but after a hunger strike of a few days was permitted to proceed on its way to Cuba

He was a key member of the North Dakota Peace Coalition that held a weeklong Missile Silo Peace School and planted evergreen trees at missile silo sites. The missiles are gone, but the trees remain

Fr. Sinner was given a royal send-off by his secret admirers and dozens of priests who were silent supporters. He will be missed.

Devil’s Lake, N.D.

Updating the empire

Having recently read The Vatican Empire by Nino Lo Bello, published in 1968, I received another awakening. This book needs an update! And who else but John. L. Allen Jr. in Rome should do it? He’s awaiting the next election of a pope, and perhaps needs a new assignment. The Vatican as a business! And in many countries besides its own. Nepotism too.

Dorothy Tennessen

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, March 19, 2004