National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
April 2, 2004

LettersIsrael's Wall of Shame

Feeling alone and helpless as she watched Israel build the 30-foot wall in front of Our Lady of Sorrows Home, Sr. Dominique Croyal, director, sent out a plea for international help. She spoke with me by telephone. “It’s a daily struggle for the Palestinians who are constantly humiliated and assaulted.”

The wall is literally blocking the mission of the sisters caring for the elderly poor. Their home is now on the Jerusalem side of the wall. On the other side -- Abu Dis and the West Bank -- are the families of most current patients, staff, ambulance service and merchant-suppliers to the home. Since there are no permits to enter Jerusalem, staff maintenance, family visits, food, other service deliveries, and transporting the elderly poor from the West Bank are at stake. When patients die, families “must shift for themselves to bring the bodies back to the other side.” The future of Our Lady of Sorrows Home is in jeopardy.

Divided Abu Dis is a microcosm of the devastating effects of the wall throughout the West Bank. Abu Dis has lost its medical center, Markaz al-Salaam, cut off by the wall. West Bank doctors and patients no longer have access. The main vegetable market is now on one side of the wall and the owner’s home on the other. The home of the headmistress of a school is on one side and the school on the other, losing hundreds of students in the same predicament.

Americans subsidize directly or indirectly the wall and the Occupation. The number of Palestinian Christians is dwindling. Interference with the work of religious orders in the Holy Land goes unchallenged. Palestinian Christians ask, “Where are the churches in the United States?”

Sr. Croyal concludes, “We are worried. Thousands of Palestinians are anguished as they see the Wall being built. We hope that you will become our spokespersons and call for the destruction of this Wall of Shame. We count on your prayers, and on your taking action.”

Please respond to Sr. Croyal’s plea. Register your protest against this wall by contacting your congressional delegation.

Burlington, Vt.

Ralph Nader

Except for the nuclear family, and perhaps the clan, what governs the ethical dynamism between groups is the balance of power and the reigning aspiration of justice. This is the realm of politics. Colman McCarthy (NCR, March 12), in my opinion, doesn’t seem to understand this. He posits Ralph Nader as the paragon of principle midst the equally unprincipled Republicans and Democrats and the paladin of “true political competition.” Both of these may be true and McCarthy, as well as Nader, has a right to their opinions.

But given the disastrous consequences of the Bush administration policies in virtually every aspect of life, how in the name of anything approaching common sense can one support a Nader presidential run that could, conceivably, shift the balance of power again to Bush in a tight election. Has there ever been a time in American politics when the choice wasn’t the lesser of two evils, if one wishes to characterize the struggle that way? Has there ever been a candidate so principled that he/she successfully transcended the complex dynamic of the power struggle between/among multiple groups and forced the honest, principled individual voter in the various camps to eschew “tactics-based politics” in favor of the “conscience-based politics” that McCarthy espouses?

Colman McCarthy is a man to admire for his consistent honesty, clarity and depth. On the matter of Ralph Nader and his 2004 presidential candidacy, however, he might gain some insight from a book that Al Sharpton (whom McCarthy cited as referring to Nader as an “egomaniac”) considers his favorite, Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society.

Tarentum, Penn.

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Coleman McCarthy still wants us to believe that Nader didn’t seriously damage the Bush/Gore election results. Apparently he thinks that if you have a serious (Nader-type) leak in the bottom of a bucket, you don’t actually lose anything!

Lawrence, Kan.

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Colman McCarthy has it just right regarding the decision of Ralph Nader to run. Ralph, it seems to me, gives people a choice, a candidate who is really from the people and for the people. And I think Jesse Ventura had it right too when he said that an election is not like a horse race. In a race, you put your money on the one you think will win whether you like him or not. In an election, you should vote for the one your conscience tells you deserves to win. And you should help that person however you can.

As I see it, the political system of, my beloved country needs a kick in the pants to help return it to a genuine democracy of the people, by the people, for the people instead of the present situation, best described as government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. The real problem as I see it is: The majority of eligible voters simply do not bother to vote because they see the outcome being determined by big money. And they do not see either major party making the common people’s concerns top priority.

Finally, I do not buy the bellyaching about how Ralph prevented the Democrats from winning last time around. No, it was not Ralph; it was the Democrats who did not vote at all who threw that election. And if they refrain for the same reasons again this time around, then the Democrats deserve to lose, and the nation deserves George W. for another four years. Maybe that might just be enough to wake America up in time for the elections of 2008.

Marine, Minn.

‘Passion’ guide

Regarding the Passion Guide in the Feb. 20 issue: I read John Allen’s questions with disbelief. His reports from the Vatican are written for mature adults. His questions about Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” aren’t. Allen’s questions, particularly for Topic #1: The Passion, are infantile. Although Question 2 asks viewers to imagine “What do you imagine Jesus is thinking and feeling during these events?” who can imagine this? How in the world can anyone imagine another’s pain without having suffered anything similar? That’s only one example of my dismay with this guide. More’s the pity that Allen, a fine correspondent, was given this assignment and that he didn’t dissuade the editors.

Los Angeles

Sex abuse coverage

You are to be congratulated for the most thorough and incisive reporting I have seen in a Catholic periodical about the reports on clerical sex abuse in your March 12 issue. The inside the Review Board piece by Jason Berry was particularly informative.

The day the paper arrived, news came that the Vatican had appointed several new bishops, apparently without any clergy or lay input -- a major recommendation of the Review Board.

This seems to represent a “business as usual” approach from leadership. Will the conference of bishops supinely acquiesce to the continuance of this process or will some or any speak up for change? Failure to do so will speak volumes about their commitment to the process they began.

Los Alamos, N.M.

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Thank you for your editorial (NCR, March 12) saying the scandal is not history. It surely is not. We need Christ’s forgiveness begged for and Christ’s Way followed. Until the humiliated and humble bishops lead us, the laity, by their example to Christ in great prayers of contrition and penance, all their paper pushing is just that. One more report, one more procedure, one more useless exercise of human limitation. What we need is Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the Way, the Truth and the Light of the world.

Long Beach, Calif.

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Jason Berry’s essay “How deep will the bishops’ review board dig?” and William Bole’s Viewpoint “Press accounts of abuse miss half the story” (NCR, Feb. 20) are studies in contrasts. Berry’s observations about abusive priests and their bishop-enablers move from righteous indignation to vengeful bloodlust. Bole’s comments seem to acknowledge the complexity of the issues involved and that life is more gray than black and white, even when it comes to the horror of abuse and the victims who have suffered the most. Bole also exposes the flaws of current press accounts of this tragedy, flaws that are certainly present in Berry’s approach to this tragedy.

Berry presents the secular version of excommunication and burning at the stake, that of shaming and firing incompetent bishops, as remedy for the scandal at hand, whereas Bole’s approach seems to be more in keeping with our Catholic tradition on penance, forgiveness, reconciliation and healing for all involved.

Justice inspired by the rage of Berry and others like him in the church is in reality an injustice to all. Bole’s approach embraces a balanced, compassionate Catholicism that in the long run will bring justice and healing to victims and reconciliation to the church.

Augusta, Ga.

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Regarding “Board got rare look at hierarchical ways” by Jason Berry (NCR, March 12): This was a most distressing article. It reinforced the idea, steadily becoming clearer and clearer, that we lack true Christ-like leadership in our church. Although some of the bishops are no doubt holy men, it is hard to see that holiness when they live in palaces, have only the best of everything and make sure that we, the “simple faithful” (as Cardinal Ratzinger calls us), do not disturb them with allegations of impropriety. They say that they failed by wanting to protect the church, but we are the church, I would like to remind them, and they did not protect us.

What I really want to see in the church is a humble and simple-living hierarchy, one that looks and acts the way Jesus taught.

It is significant to me that bishops are the only persons on the chessboard still around, the only remnants of the feudal days. Interesting too is the fact that on the chessboard, bishops can only move diagonally, on an established path.

Brandon, Fla.

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These words in Fr. Tom Doyle’s article (NCR, March 12) brought tears to my eyes: “There are also the men and women who were seriously abused both physically and emotionally by religious women. They are finally appearing on the radar and represent another dimension of the horror story.”

I’ve told my story of abuse by a novice mistress in a novel. I hope others will open up about nuns who beat them, slapped them, touched them inappropriately, accused them unjustly, expelled them unfairly, and so on.

St. Louis

Papal art exhibition

I have been to the Vatican and St. Peter’s several times in my life and found it fascinating and beautiful. “St. Peter and the Vatican” (NCR, March 12), now in the Cincinnati Museum, was in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last year. We were fortunate to be able to purchase tickets in advance and to view one of the finest exhibits we have ever seen. We saw more in this exhibit than in the “Treasury” of the Vatican. Everyone who can travel to Cincinnati or San Diego should do so just to see this outstanding art and historical presentation. We recommend buying your tickets in advance.

Issaquah, Wash.

Bishop O’Brien

Regarding Bishop Thomas O’Brien in Phoenix: Phoenix Catholics are beginning to learn that despite Bishop O’Brien’s human frailties, it is far better to have a bishop who implements Vatican II reforms -- albeit a bit reluctantly -- than to have one who reverses them with vigor.

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Faith of the laity

While the abuse report is devastating (NCR, March 12), it is not a great surprise. What has caused me to respond immediately is the pull quote on Page 9: “One finds a commitment and love of being Catholic, which is undoubtedly more than church leaders sometimes deserve.” What a strange and inaccurate statement.

Having worked with adult faith formation for 20 years, [I find] adult Catholic Christians of today love the church and are committed to their call to discipleship that comes from their baptism. Their commitment is anchored in Christ and the richness of what the Catholic Christian tradition offers. It does not depend on church leaders, so they are not shattered by the misuse of power and authority. They know from their grounding in scripture that Christian authority is for “service” and not “power over.” So the sinfulness and corruption does not shake their faith in Christ and his church.

As members of the living body of Christ, our bishops and priests are with us on the journey and in need of prayer like all of us. In my years of ministry I have worked with great priests who were men of the Gospel and also some saintly bishops. Two of the latter were [shunned] by other bishops because they spoke the truth aloud at bishops’ meetings. It is wonderful when we have people in leadership positions who model the Gospel, but our faith cannot depend on anyone other than God. The Catholic church today has never been so alive. For that reason, people join the church in large numbers every year, including this year. The spirituality and commitment of the laity empowers my vocation day by day.

Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Obesity for the soul

The article on obesity (NCR, Mar. 5) triggered a thought about the overabundance of concern we all seem to have for our physical well being, while we seem to have no comparable concern for our spiritual nourishment and healthy souls. If walking once a week is too little exercise on the health side, Mass (or services for non-Catholics) won’t cut it for a healthy soul. Think of the bygone era(s) when church bells were rung to call people to prayers morning, noon and night. Sure, it is out of the question in a frenetic lifestyle, but there are caring ways to nourish the soul -- prayer for the elderly, the sick. Also, prayers for those who are supposed to be our shepherds (leaders), and for the children, especially since the temptations of the modern world and the politically driven policies have become so hard-nosed and uncompassionate.

I would go on and on, but I’ll conclude by saying that I pray we’re not afraid to nourish our souls -- even to extreme obesity (until they burst)!

Orlando, Fla.

Open letter to Mel Gibson

Mr. Gibson, Thank you for bringing to life onscreen your beautiful portrayal of Jesus’ final hours leading up to his crucifixion. Your film is truly an exploration of faith and a powerful reminder of what he endured and suffered to redeem our sins.

Because of the film’s subject matter, I request that you donate a portion of the profits generated by the film to Catholic Relief Services or to another Catholic charity of your choice. Ten percent of the total profits from a film depicting Jesus’ suffering and death would be a beautiful gesture, and a way to show that your intentions for making the movie were pure.

You took a great risk in putting forward the $25 million it took to get the movie made. Now that the financial success of the film is assured, you are in peril of appearing to exploit the subject matter of the film for your own financial gain unless you make a public announcement of how the profits from this movie will be distributed. This is not to suggest that you should donate the entire gross from the film. Clearly, your risk should be rewarded, and those that took part in the film should be paid their fair share. However, the money that is pouring in is staggering. Ten percent or more of your profits would prove to be an incredible boon to a charity such as Catholic Relief Services, which served 62 million people in 91 different countries last year with an operating budget of under $300,000.

I am not associated with Catholic Relief Services or with any other charity beyond the fact that I am Catholic and I recognize the need that exists in the world. I would hope that you recognize the incredible opportunity you have to use a percentage of the profits from this beautiful, powerful and haunting film to enact real change in the world. Catholic charities need money to continue feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. What better source than a movie portraying the passion of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

South Bend, Ind.

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, April 2, 2004