National Catholic Reporter
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April 23, 2004

LettersVenezuela coverage

Thank you for your detailed report on the U.S. involvement in the attempted ouster of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (NCR, April 2). Since long before the ouster of President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, Guatemala’s lawfully elected president in 1954, the United States has been involved in overthrowing democratically elected presidents or collaborating in the manipulation of the electoral process in many of our Latin American and Caribbean neighbors. From northern Mexico to southern Chile, we have interfered in the internal affairs of our southern neighbors whenever they have displeased our government and/or the commercial interests that too often are able to manipulate it.

NCR may not win any accolades from the powers that be in Washington for this fine and balanced piece of journalism. But the God that we claim to serve, whose kingdom is based on peace and justice, must certainly be happy to know that some of his/her followers are faithful to the great commandment of love of neighbor. And if we are searching for an authentic peace in our world, we might do well to remember the words of a great Mexican president: “Respect for our neighbor is peace.”

San Antonio

Untener a man of the past

I am sadly amused, although not surprised, at the sappy over-eulogizing of the former bishop of Saginaw, Mich., Kenneth Untener (NCR, April 9). May he rest in peace, but at least when speaking about him, we should be honest. And honestly, what is so humble about a man who refused to submit himself to the teaching and discipline of the church he promised to serve, what is so caring and pastoral about a man who drove some Catholic families to drive three hours every Sunday for Mass because their own parishes were intolerable? A man who was all for the “laity,” as long as the laity agreed with his vision of “church.” And what is so visionary about a man whose ideology and vision has not been replicated anywhere and will die with his generation because it is not being widely replicated with my generation?

I understand that he is very popular with you older folks at NCR and Call to Action and the like, but the future of the church is in us “young fogys,” as Fr. Andrew Greeley recently referred to our next generation of priests and church professionals. You may not like that, but at least you should be honest about it.

Every person I have ever met, particularly in the field of church work, who admires anything even close to Bishop Ken’s vision is over 50. Young people, particularly young Catholic women -- I am 24 -- are embracing a much more dynamic John Paul II-esque interpretation of Vatican II, which includes liturgical fidelity, attraction to Christ-centered (and habit-wearing) religious life, and not only an acceptance of but a love for the church’s teachings on the all-male priesthood and the immorality of contraception. And we are the ones graduating from theology schools to minister to youth, teach religion and write textbooks.

Bishop Ken may have been a well-meaning, nice man. I hope that God is as merciful to him as he will be to me when all the mistakes I have made in my ministry are before him. But to call him a “visionary” seems both dishonest and blind when his vision did not capture the next generation!

Brighton, Mich.

Prolonging life

My congratulations on printing courageously and accurately the opinions of American and Australian ethicists who take exception to the Vatican commission’s judgment that patients in a persistent vegetative state must be maintained with artificial hydration and nutrition (NCR, March 26).

Such a conclusion obviates the long, honorable and widely respected Catholic moral tradition regarding obligatory (ordinary means) and optional (extraordinary means) of prolonging life. This tradition can be traced to the Dominican moralist Raymond of Penafort (died 1275), master general and confessor to the pope. In 1400 the Dominican archbishop of Florence, Antoninus, wrote, “Nemo tenetur vivere medicinaliter.” (No one is obligated to live dependent upon medicine.) Fifty years ago the renowned Jesuit moralist Gerald Kelly wrote, “Nemo tenetur ad inutile” (No one is bound to the futile) while applying to such cases the exemptive principle of moral repugnance.

Perhaps rather than Matthew 25:37, (When I was thirsty ... ), the more relevant biblical text might be Ecclesiastes 3:2: “There is a time to be born and a time to die.” Thus for caregivers the salient question might be to know what time it is.

St. Louis

Lisson is a professor of medical ethics at St. Louis University.

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As a former practicing hospice nurse and as a laywoman with a Ph.D. in theology with an emphasis on health care ethics and spirituality, I found it extremely distressing to see the statement by the Holy Father about the removal of feeding tubes from a patient in a persistent vegetative state. Having sat by the bedside of many terminal patients and having worked in a nursing home situation in which there were two patients who had been on tube feedings for over 20 years (one in her 40s and one 38, one from an accident and one from an accident of surgery), I found it upsetting to see the statement from the Holy Father on the “immorality” of removal of feeding tubes.

As medical people, we try to “heal.” However, when life has gone beyond the possibilities of healing, we must be willing to let go, as our parents and grandparents did when life became untenable.

As a nurse, I know that feeding tubes were made so that people in “in between” states could be allowed to live while their bodies healed enough to allow them to function again.

However, we have raised the physical life to an absolute when we no longer allow our physical beings to dissolve into God once again in the peaceful process of natural death. Having sat at the bedside of terminal patients as a practicing hospice nurse, I know what it is to see humans return to their Creator.

Our technological age has made it impossible for us to embrace the limits of our humanity. We think that we must heal in order to be successful health care practitioners.

On the contrary, we, as practicing health care professionals, need to learn to sit with others in their extremity and to allow them to pass away into the arms of God much as our parents and grandparents did years ago when technology had not become a god to be worshiped.


Mel Gibson’s movie

What a stupid article Tom Beaudoin wrote about “The anti-Christian ‘Passion of the Christ’ ” (NCR, March 19). Why lift the rocks of the institutes of lower living to find people to write for your newspaper? He’s a neo-ist. Which means he’s a phony.

Fremont, Calif.

Colman McCarthy on Nader

While I generally agree with Colman McCarthy, I was apparently not the only one who challenged his pro-Ralph Nader stand (NCR, Letters, April 2).

Two of the three letters dealing with Nader in that issue challenge Mr. Nader’s prudence in running in 2004 as do I -- and I’m tired of the rationalizations of those who supported Nader in 2000.

The letter from Br. Richard Roller, who defends Nader’s running, is an echo of too many of the rationalizations. While those of us on the “left” may have examined our consciences more than many who defend even “compassionate conservatism,” we are sometimes blinded by our own sanctimony. Perhaps Br. Roller will feel vindicated by those “Democrats who did not vote at all” getting “George W. for another four years.” But what about the poor, those who’ve lost their retirement benefits, their jobs, or their sons and daughters because of George W.’s reelection? What about those suffering or dying in the next country Dubya’s regime chooses to invade? What about the dissolution of Social Security or other social welfare benefits should Dubya and those who control his administration deinstitutionalize those benefits in favor of their wealthy patrons?

The 2004 election is likely to be a close one -- though with Dubya’s record it shouldn’t even be a contest. Nader is sure to break that close tie. What rationalizations will we hear from the Naderites when they start to lose their own security?

Hyattsville, Md.

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One thing I’d like to say to Colman McCarthy and the affluent white guys who have beatified Ralph Nader: Grow up! Ralph, the ascetic and poor, turns out to be a multimillionaire. The legacy of safe cars turns out to be due to the Japanese who discovered safety sold. Al Gore did not lose the 2000 election; he won. It was stolen with the help of 96,000 Nader votes in Florida. The last time a third party succeeded was in 1860. Money has been a factor in American elections since 1800 -- get used to it.

Despite that, the Democratic Party has a remarkable record, from the eight-hour day and unemployment compensation to Medicare and the Voting Rights Act.

Nader and the Greens show their true middle-class colors in the contempt they show for the Democratic base: African-Americans, labor, feminists, the old. The Greens were succeeding in sabotaging Paul Wellstone’s last campaign (with not a peep from Nader). In France, they nearly threw the election to the protofascist Le Pen and ended up electing the corrupt, conservative Jacques Chirac. In over 60 years, I have never seen such a dangerous group of psychopaths as we now have in the White House and Congress. I hold Ralph Nader and Colman McCarthy responsible.

One final note: Jesus did not hang around with rich guys from the suburbs. He thought the tax collectors, thieves and whores were more honest and trustworthy.

Winsted, Conn.

Sex abuse coverage

I agree that Jason Berry’s essay and William Bole’s Viewpoint (NCR, Feb. 20) were “studies in contrasts” but unlike Fr. Allan J. McDonald (NCR, Letters, April 2), I don’t believe that Berry’s observations went from “righteous indignation to vengeful bloodlust” while “Bole’s approach embraces a balanced, compassionate Catholicism.”

Instead, I think Berry is asking for bishops to be held accountable, not by “shaming and firing” but by admitting their negligence and resigning their positions. Bole, on the other hand, ignores the root causes of the crisis, the abuse of power in our church. That is not “history”; it continues today and will continue as long as Catholics insist on circling the wagons and blaming everyone but the hierarchy.

Justice, healing and reconciliation to the church are meaningless concepts as long as the men responsible for spreading child sexual abuse across the country are still in positions of power and honor.

The following line from a New York Times editorial regarding the resignation of two editors of that paper is also relevant to the Catholic church: “The welfare of a great institution is always more important than the careers of the people who run it” (June 6, 2003).

Rockport, Mass.

Catholic politicians

As a Catholic and a pro-life Democrat -- I am a cofounder of the Choose Life Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party -- I share Mr. Ono Ekeh’s overall enthusiasm for Sen. John Kerry and was sorry to read that right-wing voices in the institutional church cost Mr. Ekeh his job (NCR, April 2).

The message of our Michigan caucus is that respect for life is good public policy; indeed, it is the policy basis for every progressive Democratic program of the last 75 years. Every Catholic Democratic office-holder I know, Sen. Kerry included, agrees that the moral obligation to reverence life arises early in the gestation period, and is thus substantively pro-life.

But the question that comes before legislatures is never when does the moral obligation arise, but rather when in that nine-month period can that moral obligation be made legally exactable? Although I disagree with a number of Sen. Kerry’s votes on abortion legislation, I support his other policy positions.

And for me, in any event, as bad as pro-choice on abortion is, pro-choice on war is worse.

Ann Arbor, Mich.

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If George W. Bush were to convert to Catholicism, would there be a demand from church authorities that he be denied the sacraments until he give up his support for the death penalty?

New York

Respecting Islam

It’s hard to believe that James L. Fredericks is a priest and a teacher of theology. His review of four books on Islam (NCR, March 26) is unreal.

I quote: “Solidarity means that we recognize our Muslim neighbors as beloved of God and their religion is God’s creation.” (Italics are mine.)

Does a Christian believe that the religion of Islam is God’s creation? As an old retired Lutheran pastor, I’ve been taught that a basic belief of Christianity is this: The Bible of the Old and New Testaments is the inspired Word of God, centered in the Word made flesh who suffered and died and arose as the one true God, together with the Father and Holy Spirit.

A Christian who believes that the Quran is “God’s creation” has either not read the Quran or the Bible. The “Allah” of the Quran has little in common with the Christ of scripture.

Muslims are beloved of God, as are all people, but to say that their religion is God’s creation is unreal!


It’s the wall, not the film!

Isn’t it ironic that the Israeli wall supposedly built for security and financed by U.S. money is not built on Israeli land but on Palestinian land of the West Bank? A further irony is that the Americans, who complained so bitterly about the Berlin Wall, symbol of slavery and division, are now deathly silent about an Israeli wall that does the same thing; steals some 10 percent of the West Bank and divides Palestinians into 16 ghettos where they are separated and cannot move without Israeli permission. In addition, the settlers who initially took over Palestinian land have almost complete control of the water on the West Bank with the Palestinians having virtually no water to live on. Such a wall is not only illegal; it is a pretext for international theft that the United States does not want to notice but which the international community knows too well. It is the latest maneuver by the Israelis to make life for the Palestinians so difficult that they will either acquiesce in de facto Israeli annexation or they will begin to move on to Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world, making the Israeli annexation of the territories all the easier over time.

And the Jewish community in this country fills us with the hogwash that Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” will cause anti-Semitism! Not so. It’s the wall, stupid! It fools no one concerning Israeli duplicity and pretext. That is the cause of anti-Semitism.


An offensive analogy

I am writing to express my dismay with the statement of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn. While lobbying Albany, N.Y., he compared a gay relationship to that of a dog and its master.

I am offended when the bishop compares a relationship with my partner of 15 years to that of a dog and its owner. It is rhetoric historically used to dehumanize a small sector in society while assuaging the guilt of the majority as it denies rights and privileges. This approach has inspired violence against the targeted population. It is a dishonorable approach. It is a dangerous approach. One might be able to grant that in a heated moment the bishop, while on the radio, said something he regretted or wished he had expressed in another way. The fact that the bishop has not apologized in the four weeks since his statement does not lend credence to this explanation.

Garrison, N.Y.

Catholic and Roman Catholic

The scandal that is taking place in the Roman Catholic church has placed a shadow over all Catholic faiths. As I am sure you are aware, there are hundreds of different “Catholic” faiths. Among them are Anglican, Catholic Apostolic, Celtic, Liberal, Old Catholic. Many of these groups are listed as Independent Catholics.

Just as I feel it would be wrong to label a scandal in a Methodist church group as the “Protestant” scandal, I also feel it is wrong to use the term “Catholic” when speaking of the Roman Catholic church. This may not seem like a major issue but it is. There has been a backlash against all Catholics. The blame should be placed where it belongs. Not that other Catholic groups don’t have problems, but we seem to know how to clean them up in accordance with the law. In your articles, would you be kind enough to specify “Roman Catholic” when appropriate. We would be most grateful for your consideration.

Catholic Apostolic Church in North America
Halcottsville, N.Y.

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 23, 2004