National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
April 9, 2004

LettersYoung NCR readers

We are seniors at Notre Dame Academy in Worcester, Mass. After reading selections of your newspaper in religion class, we would like to see more! We think that your newspaper could appeal more to younger readers if you discussed, in more detail, the relationship between popular culture and the Catholic religion. We feel that this would be an extremely interesting topic for young people to know about what their church thinks about the younger generation.

Worcester, Mass.

Church teaching on sex

The article by Sidney Callahan (“Sex matters,” NCR, March 19) is unacceptable. The author is self-righteous and narrow-minded. She approves of Catholic teaching about sex. The reality is that Catholic teaching about sex is destructive. I can’t have peace of mind and accept Catholic teaching about sex.

She obviously believes the nonsense in Humanae Vitae that somehow sex is connected to “love-giving” along with “life-giving.” Then, sex without “life-giving” is condemned. No reference is made [in Humanae Vitae] to [condemning] sex without “love-giving.”

There are some who have experienced sex only as exploitation and degradation. The church ignores these people. Your author barely acknowledges their existence. Then she brushes them off with some patronizing words.

Silver Spring, Md.

‘Passion’ articles

Tom Beaudoin wrote an article in your publication March 19 about the film “The Passion of the Christ” that listed some reasons why he thought the work was somehow anti-Christian. I must have read 200 reviews worldwide about the film. Many of them are good analyses and thoughtful. This article was beyond frivolous. Contrary opinion is good if it is informed opinion, but an article this superficial does not belong in a serious publication. No one is watching the movie without some context. Viewers know that Christ suffered for and loved all mankind, that he was a practicing Jew all his life and that his message was peace and not violence. There is violence in this film, but barely more so than on the nightly news, and it is in context. The Gibson film was a magnificent work of art and pro-Christian without any doubt. Based on ticket sales, perhaps more than 30 million people have seen it, and I hope millions more do as well.

Falls Church, Va.

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I just finished reading Tom Beaudoin’s article about “The Passion of the Christ.” Excuse my language, but what a bunch of crap. I thought it was poorly written, too. The article wasn’t that long -- he didn’t need to use the word ‘banality’ twice. Why was it even published?

Pass Christian, Miss.

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The piece I just read calling “The Passion of the Christ” anti-Christian is just about the best article I have read on the issue. Concise and unashamed. Mel Gibson, however, should be ashamed of what he has produced, a film about Jesus that is nothing more than a cheap horror flick.

Ferndale, Mich.

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I thought the articles of Edward Miller and Tom Beaudoin on the movie by Mel Gibson were two of the best I’ve read yet. I will not see the movie, and always take the opportunity to encourage others not to see it. My opposition to the film has nothing to do with free thought and expression and people making up their own mind about things; it has all to do with distorting the story itself. Mel Gibson is doing to the Passion narratives what Oliver Stone did to the Kennedy assassination. What good is all the wonderful scholarship in scripture that has taken place over the years if it never reaches the people and the only good to come from it is to say it has taken place? I remember hearing a scripture scholar once say that the greatest threat to the faith was sentimentality, to reduce the faith to sentiment. This movie runs the risk of reducing the message of Jesus to an emotive response only and not an assent to the truth of the event.

Liberty, Texas


Regarding the article about cloning (NCR, March 19): God is the sole life-giver. God has free will, and does not make mistakes. If God puts life into clones, human or otherwise, then they are holy and to be cherished as all God’s creation is. The characterization of a human clone as a separate part of humanity is the root of prejudice toward an inevitable group of humans. I do not think that God would make such a distinction.

Church teaching on this matter is irrelevant because it ignores God as the creator of life. Historical church teaching has evolved over centuries and has never had to deal with the capabilities of today’s science. In fact, the church tends to ignore science. A more holistic and healthy approach would be for the church to embrace science and understand that the more we learn about nature and the universe, the more we learn about the creator.

I agree that once human life is created, it should not be destroyed.

Mansfield Center, Conn.

Bishop Imesch

We are deeply saddened by the terrible reality of the sexual abuse of minors in our society, particularly when committed by a member of the clergy. We firmly believe that Bishop Joseph L. Imesch is fully committed to protecting every single child from sexual abuse. Under his guidance, the Presbyteral Council and other consultative bodies of the Joliet diocese have worked together with Bishop Imesch to establish policies and procedures to address the issue of the sexual abuse of minors.

In 1990, Bishop Imesch, with the support of the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the presbyterate of the Joliet diocese, established a Diocesan Review Committee to investigate all allegations of sexual abuse. The Review Committee has been primarily composed of distinguished lay people representing particular areas of competence since 1993. More recently, we have worked to establish a diocesan-wide “Pastoral Policy Regarding Sexual Abuse of Minors and Standards of Behavior for Those Working with Minors.” These policies require criminal background checks for all adults working with children. Approximately 11,000 priests, deacons, lay employees and volunteers have participated in the three-hour “Protecting God’s Children” program since last June. Identification of abusers, victim’s assistance and prevention of future child sexual abuse are priorities for the Joliet diocese.

It is unfortunate for Jason Berry (NCR, Feb. 20, “How deep will the bishops’ review board dig?”) to have quoted a church bulletin article written by Fr. Ray Klees, a priest of the Chicago archdiocese from St. Cletus Parish in LaGrange, Ill., calling for the resignation of Bishop Imesch. By his own admission, Fr. Klees based his opinion on “stories” he heard concerning a former Hinsdale priest convicted of child sexual abuse. These “stories” cannot be verified by the facts presented in the criminal trial. Fr. Klees’ accusations were made from unsubstantiated rumors and hearsay and should never have been printed in your paper.

Fr. Klees’ public attack on Bishop Imesch’s character was uncalled for. Bishop Imesch has been resolute in his desire to address the issue of sexual abuse and has successfully guided our diocese for nearly 25 years. As members of the Presbyteral Council of the Joliet diocese, we are deeply troubled by the disparaging remarks Fr. Klees has made against a bishop we highly respect and fully support.

The members of the Presbyteral Council of the Joliet diocese beg forgiveness for the sins of the past and pledge to work alongside Bishop Imesch in addressing all aspects and issues concerning clergy sexual abuse. It is our fervent prayer that the Lord may bring healing to all victims of abuse. We are optimistic that the future will hold greater protection for children as we together move forward for the sanctification of all members of the Catholic church.

Presbyteral Council
Joliet, Ill.

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While I deplore the sexual abuse that some priests have wantonly inflicted on children, I also lament the bias that accompanies some of the reporting of these sad events. I refer to the article by Jason Berry.

I have in mind his reporting of an item that apparently appeared in the bulletin of St. Cletus Parish, LaGrange, in the Chicago archdiocese. In January the pastor, Fr. Ray Klees, reported the incident of a priest in a nearby suburb in the diocese of Joliet. “He’s gone to prison, where every proven abuser belongs,” writes Klees. He continues, “According to media reports” the priest “had been assigned a number of times, knowingly, on the ‘watch’ of Bishop Joseph Imesch, the Joliet diocese’s bishop.” Then Klees asserts, “If those reports are true … then Bishop Imesch ought to resign immediately.” A rather brash and outrageous demand, I hasten to say, from a priest who does not even belong to the Joliet diocese.

I am a priest of the Joliet diocese, so have more than a cursory interest in what affects our bishop. Did Berry bother to authenticate what he apparently rushed into print from such a flimsy source? Apparently not, but it suited his purpose, for in his article he gleefully appended, “Good for Ray Klees.” So much for truth in reporting.

Missing from Berry’s ponderous saga is the fact that Bishop Imesch wrote a reply to Klees for the benefit of St. Cletus parishioners and asked to have it appear in the parish bulletin. A reasonable request, it would seem, to someone who has just publicly called for your resignation. Before sending this letter, I telephoned St. Cletus rectory to inquire if the bishop’s letter had been published in the parish bulletin and was told, “It had not.” I was then informed that “the pastor was away” and nothing more would be said. End of conversation. Probably also the end of the full story for Klees’ parishioners.

Lisle, Ill.

Jason Berry responds:

In 1978 a Detroit archdiocesan priest, Gary Berthiaume, was sentenced to six months in jail for a single, plea-bargained count of child molestation. Joseph Imesch, his former pastor, visited him behind bars. Once out, Berthiaume packed off to the Cleveland diocese and an assistant pastor’s position with parishioners naturally unaware. In 1986 I obtained depositions from a civil case involving Berthiaume. Attorney Mark Bello learned that he had six victims -- four boys in one family, two in another. Two troubled families whose mothers he befriended and whose children he went through like a row of dominoes. Bello settled his client’s lawsuit for $325,000. The second family received $60,000 for their troubles.

Years later, when “Father Gary” gave civil testimony in a Cleveland law office, he took the Fifth Amendment 25 times when asked about his acts of sexual assault.

In 1986, I had a freelance assignment for The Cleveland Plain Dealer for an article on Berthiaume. The Cleveland diocese threatened suit for defamation if the newspaper divulged Berthiaume’s name, arguing that he had paid his debt to society and his ministry would be ruined. Nineteen years ago was a different media environment. In a decision I supported, The Plain Dealer published a long commentary, based on my reporting, which summarized what Father had done and called on Bishop Anthony Pilla to identify him. Pilla refused. Victims of other priests began calling The Plain Dealer, which published an investigation of its own.

I wrote about these events in Lead Us Not Into Temptation (1992), without identifying Berthiaume for legal reasons. Meanwhile, he was accused of abusing a youth in Cleveland; the case settled out of court. He has since been identified by The Plain Dealer and the Daily Southtown, which covers the Joliet diocese, where Berthiaume moved from Cleveland to take a position as a hospital chaplain with support of Bishop Imesch. In April 2002 as the media caught up to him, Berthiaume left that position.

The Berthiaume case is one example of Imesch’s approach to dealing with clergy sex abuse. Whatever formal measures he may have taken under public pressure to deal with the problem, the Berthiaume case, for one, shows a less-than-resolute approach to removing abusive priests from public ministry.

Roman Catholic presidents

NCR correspondent John Allen reported in early 2002 that Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., at an Opus Dei affair in Rome, declared that he “regarded George W. Bush as the first Roman Catholic president of the United States.” Silly me, I thought that honor went to John F. Kennedy. Now that John F. Kerry will be this year’s Democratic nominee, will Santorum regard Bush as a more “real” Catholic than Kerry?

Silver Spring, Md.

Change in the church

This is a sad and tragic moment in the history of our church. To hear that over 4,000 priests allegedly abused over 10,000 children and teens has shaken all of us.

I know that our bishops are doing the best they can at this difficult time. The love, concern and prayers of many accompany them in the struggle.

Just after the release of the long-awaited reports on the sexual abuse crisis, Bishop Wilton Gregory, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated, “The terrible history recorded here today is history.”

Many people I know wish it were this simple. It seems to me that the process has only begun and there is much work ahead of us. As a Catholic priest for 31 years, I believe that if there is any hope of recovering our dignity, respect and trust as priests and bishops, we must implement the following:

I pray that our bishops will take the above seriously and discuss it among themselves and with our church leaders in Rome. May God bless each of them in these challenging times.

Columbus, Ga.

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 9, 2004