National Catholic Reporter
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May 14, 2004

LettersKerry and the church

The New York Times and CNN are reporting that some American bishops are meeting with Vatican officials to specifically discuss Sen. John Kerry, a lifelong practicing Catholic. It was reported that the church hierarchy, bowing to criticism from the conservative wing of the church, are discussing Kerry’s openly pro-choice stance on abortion and his position on stem-cell research to ostensibly decide how to instruct American Catholics to vote.

This move by the church clerics is yet another chilling indication of the Catholic hierarchy’s draconian attempts to exert control over the political as well as religious behavior of Catholics and is an egregious violation of the separation of church and state. It is noteworthy that while the pope condemned the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its continued occupation of that country as an act of immorality, there was no huddle at the Vatican to discuss condemning conservative Catholic politicians who supported the war. Similarly, there is no outcry among American bishops and the Vatican for the multitude of other ways conservative politicians violate the church’s social gospel.

If the Vatican makes the mistake of condemning Sen. Kerry, it may finally succeed in destroying the Catholic church in the United States. If, as I expect, the bishops formally condemn Sen. Kerry and, in effect, “order” American Catholics to vote Republican, my family and I -- and I suspect many others as well -- will leave the Roman Catholic church for good.

Fayetteville, Tenn.

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The confusion in the secular media about abortion and Catholic politicians causes ill will among Catholics. Sen. Kerry, for one, does not oppose Catholic church teaching on abortion. He opposes trying to solve the problem by law with its accompanying penalties. Law could merely drive abortion underground and create the same evils that existed under the prohibition of alcohol. I would like to see legislation tried, but I cannot condemn those who differ in opinion. One consolation all have is that polls show that our teaching of the beauty and sacredness of life is having success. This could also be a wiser course than the political.

Riviera Beach, Fla.

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Regarding the April 23 article by Ono Ekeh, he makes some good points about how the church calls us to be pro-life on a wide range of subjects. To address the political issues involved in the pro-life area is indeed a touchy subject. He quotes the Holy See’s Doctrinal Note, “It is not the church’s task to set forth specific political solutions -- and even less to propose a single solution as the acceptable one -- to temporal questions that God has left to the free and responsible judgment of each person.” Ekeh goes on to say, “An example is the abortion issue, for which Kerry has had his commitment to his faith repeatedly questioned.”

While there are many possible solutions to the problems of poverty, homelessness, hunger, health care and so on, the church has always been consistent and vocal about the evil and objective sinfulness of abortion. I was not aware that the Catholic position on abortion was “left to the free and responsible judgment of each person.”

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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Thank you for printing Ono Ekeh’s thoughtful writing in “More than one pro-life way.” And great gratitude to Mr. Ekeh for speaking out so clearly and generously.

Is the Catholic church no longer teaching the primacy of individual conscience? To forbid critical thinking, dialogue and individual responsibility is the mark of a cult.

Catholic schools in the 1940s and ’50s taught us that depriving the worker of a just wage and defrauding widows and orphans are among the sins that cry to heaven for vengeance. Pope John Paul II advised against the war in Iraq, and the just war theory proscribes preemptive war.

It’s difficult to comprehend that elements in the Catholic church are trying to align with George Bush and Dick Cheney’s neoconservative movement with its emphasis on American hegemony through violence.

If my conscience allows me to remain Catholic, it will be because of people like Mr. Ekeh.

Wilson, Wyo.

Communion policies

My confused non-Catholic friend asked me how come a priest can refuse Communion to a politician who is pro-choice, and does not refuse Communion to a person who practices birth control. And since the pope has come out clearly against the war, why do not bishops or priests refuse Communion to politicians and soldiers who publicly support the war? And now I am a confused Catholic.

Sheboygan, Wis.

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Without commenting on recent comments that John Kerry shouldn’t receive Communion -- he is allowed to if he is not conscious of a grave sin. It should be noted that under the church teachings reaffirmed by the Vatican, President Bush is not allowed to receive Communion whether or not he is conscious of grave sin.

Staten Island, N.Y.

Help for those who stutter

I am 30 years old and began stuttering at age 3. Needless to say, my childhood and adolescence had their rough spots. At age 21, when I graduated from college, I looked into the priesthood, contacting a couple major orders and two archdioceses. Unfortunately, at that point in my life, my speech was very bad and I was repeatedly told that it would not be practical for me to become a priest. I was not interested in becoming a brother.

Now, things have taken a turn for the better. Five years ago I became involved with an organization called the National Stuttering Association. Based in New York, the association is the largest organization of people who stutter in the world. They have chapters all over the country. I started attending group meetings and learned from different members about the various speech therapies that are available. I started a therapy three years ago and my speech is so markedly improved that now two major religious orders and a couple of dioceses are trying to recruit me. I feel like a high school basketball star being courted by nationally ranked college basketball programs.

My life has been greatly changed by this organization (www.WeStutter .org) and has paved the way for my seriously exploring the priesthood. I hope that this letter helps anyone interested in a religious vocation, or in any secular vocation for that matter. I ask that people who read this letter bring it to the attention of someone they know who stutters.

Niantic, Conn.

Dark side of Kenya’s slums

Your April 2 edition arrived here in Nairobi last week and since NCR is my only connection with the U.S. church scene, I avidly read the article by Robert Scalia on Kibera.

While it is undoubtedly true that he experienced Kibera as he reported, that’s only half of the truth of Kibera. The other half happens after sundown during the 12 hours of darkness -- where another world prevails. An all-too-accurate documentary of that world was made by a volunteer at Nyumbani in 2000. It is shocking, alarming, dismaying, despairing to the extent that it has won (at last count) 14 national and international awards. In it, one is confronted with brutality (two teenagers burnt alive for stealing), prostitution (women who “worked” simply to feed their children), spurning, (stigmatization of AIDS patients), etc.

Nairobi, Kenya

D’Agostino is founder and medical director of Nyumbani, an organization that provides outreach to children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Liberals can love Mary

Hearty thanks for your prominent feature (NCR, April 30) by Andrew Greeley on why we Catholic religious liberals can logically favor reasonable devotion to Christ’s mother, Mary. I know some alienated progressives who were deeply comforted by a passage in a Greeley novel (was it Occasion of Sin or maybe Valentine’s Eve?) in which a widow and a divorced man are having an affair (which soon leads to marriage), during which romance they sometimes pray the rosary together while taking walks. Greeley thus implied that people who disagree with some Vatican rules can still legitimately find comfort in the rosary. That’s good news for us progressives who have heard prominent ultra-traditionalists imply -- without scriptural support -- that Mary was sexually frigid and morbid and most admirable for those two qualities.


Silence of U.S. Jews

Stephen Zunes’ excellent piece in the April 16 NCR describes the Israeli practice of political assassinations, complete with formulaic “apologies” for the murders of any children and other inconvenient passersby who get in the way of this missile or that. But this is not “news.” Neither is the requisite “tepid” response of the Bush administration “regretting” the “necessity” for such action; we’ve heard all that again and again.

No, the real news in Zunes’ essay is that the supposedly “liberal” Democratic party is not just what Patrick Buchanan rightly termed “the Amen corner” in its reflexive affirmation of any Israeli policy, but the party is militantly, slavishly pro-Israel. And while, as Zunes states, that is certainly because a “vicious and endemic anti-Arab racism” is permitted among the party’s elite, there is another reason that perhaps Zunes doesn’t care to address but only imply. Very well then, I’ll say it:

Both the two major political parties shamelessly pander to the Jewish vote in the United States. Historically, of course, that vote has gone mainly to the Democratic Party. Yet this is merely craven politics, hardly shocking. What is truly repulsive is that while, as Zunes writes, there is substantial opposition among Israeli Jews to the brutal policies of the corrupt Sharon, American Jews have been largely silent. And their silence indicates acceptance, if not approval. But Jews, more than most, should abhor silence in the face of criminal injustice; they should know the grave moral danger of keeping silent.

From a major political party we expect little but the usual corruption, but the corruption of a people is not an expected thing: It is a genuine tragedy.

La Crosse, Wis.

Sex abuse in Canada

Regarding “Bishops seduce and abandon review board” (NCR, April 23): As someone who lives in Canada, I have watched with interest the exposure of how the bishops in the United States have covered up the numbers of victims and sex offending priests. Canada is no different from its American neighbors in its efforts to cover up, and to date we have not had the extensive media coverage that no longer allows the problem to be ignored.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in communion with the Vatican has tried desperately to have this seen as an American problem. I had hoped that the U.S. bishops would now do the right thing and put all their forces to work to eradicate the problem and set an example for the world and make the Gospel I learned as a child come alive. The American bishops had a real opportunity to practice the Gospel that they preached. How tragic that in the end they could not lead us in a real moral revolution.


Audit postponed

I was dismayed to read of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ decision to postpone the annual audit of diocesan policies and procedures mandated by the charter (NCR, April 16). Article 8 of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth requires this monitoring and the National Review Board has strongly recommended it. It is imperative that a second audit of diocesan policies and procedures be initiated as soon as possible, in order to demonstrate compliance by the bishops with the charter.

Unless the work demonstrated by the audit, the John Jay study and the Bennett Report continues, with annual audits and continued monitoring of dioceses, I fear that the issue will begin to fade from the minds of the faithful and of the leaders of our church, and create an atmosphere in which victims will continue to feel that their voices are not being heard.

All concerned Catholics should contact their bishops and request them to urge Bishop Wilton Gregory and the administrative committee to approve another audit immediately, and ensure that the audits are annual, automatic events not subject to lengthy debate and discussion. This will reflect the spirit of the charter, demonstrate the willingness and resolve of the bishops to continue to address the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse and assure the faithful that everything that can be done is occurring, as promised the people of the church in the United States.

Douglas, Ark.

Sins of right and left

Bill Clinton is a sinner. An adulterer, to be exact. There is no point in denying it. History will record the Starr Report as source material, and the blue dress and his blood sample provide scientific evidence.

Unfortunately, Bill Clinton, like most people, needed Jesus Christ in his heart. Instead of being with Jesus, Bill was in the Oval Office with Monica.

The Republican Congress spent eight years trying to prove that Clinton was an imperfect person. They spent a lot of time and money proving it, but they did finally succeed. Today, the same Congress is investigating the cause of 9/11.

Rather than throwing stones at adulterers, terrorists throw planes, rocket-launched grenades and suicide bombers. The Republican Congress, as we now know, is much more genteel than that. When they want to throw stones, they hire a lawyer.

Jesus defended the adulteress to rescue her from judgmental men who act like the Republican leaders in Congress.

Our Republican leaders, like the aristocratic survivors of the Titanic, are sitting in the dark, cold and wet, listening to the cries of the drowning victims and watching the ship that brought them sink out of sight. They are gripped by fear and comforted by a false pride that they are entitled to live. Who do they think is going to rescue them?

Most Republican leaders do not want to shine a light on their stewardship or their misplaced priorities during the last several years. They would rather blame the iceberg or Bill Clinton. And many Democrats want to blame the iceberg or George Bush.

Democratic leaders now need to have the courage to forgive our sinning Republican president and our moronic attorney general, and respond to the complaints of our Muslim adversary. There is no justice in the fear to discuss injustice frankly and respectfully. How much darkness are we Americans willing to buy before we have had our fill? The ocean is big; it will swallow us all.

Let us start by offering an apology to the world for our arrogance. All sides are waging a war of terror -- personal, political and physical -- and it can only be stopped with the power of forgiveness. We need to stop passing judgments on others as evil and listen to their complaints. Our Kissinger-inspired foreign policy has been based on the idea that the enemy of our enemy is our friend. Now we are seeing that the enemy of our enemy can become friends with them.

Auburn, Mass.

Intriguing articles

I always enjoy NCR, but I thought the issue of March 26 was special. I especially liked the two articles about Karl Rahner. I had heard the name often but didn’t know much about him. He must have been a wonderful person and very intelligent.

The second article I found inspiring is the one “The wall goes on trial at The Hague.” I have been disturbed about the Israeli wall since I first read about it and I appreciate Neve Gordon’s comments about the negative impact it will have. Jews should read their Hebrew scriptures and remember that they were enslaved in Egypt and should treat the Palestinians with compassion. I’m not defending the suicide bombers, but Israel’s encroachment into Palestinian territory, knocking down people’s homes, ruining orchards and fields, leads to such retaliation.

Another article I found intriguing was the one by Jeannette Cooperman (“Going beyond the kiddie version of God”). I remember about 40 years ago when our pastor had come by to have tea with us, and he said, “You know that the Garden of Eden is a myth that contains truth, but is not a factual historical reality.” Believe me, I was stunned and shocked. I was certain this priest was spouting heresy. He was patient with my loud recriminations and when he explained his words, I began to see that truth can be present in a story or myth and not just in “true stories.” I’ve come a long way since then, but I have compassion for those who are being hit with new information that upsets the “truths” that they thought were eternal. I felt like my world had just come apart and it was a very scary time. However, it opened up possibilities that excited me after I had time to digest this new information.

Northbrook, Ill.

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, May 14, 2004