National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
June 4, 2004

Letters Wrong pope

Jerome F. Downs in his letter “Islam vs. McWorld” (NCR, May 7) seems to have cited the wrong pope. Pope Pius IX and his successors Leo XIII and St. Pope Pius X never recognized the Italian state as having legitimately acquired the Papal States. It was Benedict XV who, during the First World War, lifted the ban on Catholics taking part in Italian elections and Pius XI who finally recognized Italy and signed a concordat with Mussolini establishing the parameters of mutual recognition.


No one at the table?

On Oct. 11, 1962, the first day of the historic Vatican II, Pope John XXIII gave his one and only address to the council fathers. In that address he said:

“The church has always opposed errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays, however, the church prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnation.”

Some members of the American hierarchy recently said that Catholic politicians who support the right to choose should be denied the Eucharist. The severity of this decree is far from the spirit of Blessed John XXIII. We know well the teaching and position of the Catholic church on the question of abortion.

That great and singular Vatican Council II also decreed that freedom of conscience is an inalienable right of all people no matter what their religious affiliation might be.

We cannot violate consciences by threats and condemnations. Who will be condemned next? Will the pastor have to deny the Eucharist to Catholics practicing birth control?

Indeed the Eucharistic procession at every Mass will become shorter and shorter. Catholic politicians are in an impossible dilemma.

Fort Myers, Fla.

* * *

Perhaps the greatest “abuse” in reference to the holy Eucharist today, a century after Pope St. Pius X urged us to receive Communion “frequently, even daily” is the increasing difficulty of using it (Sacramentum Redemptionis, 32).

A first communicant with celiac disease can be forced to make a cruel choice. Do pastors know about the availability of low-gluten hosts from the Benedictine nuns of Clyde, Mo?

An older person who has chosen to live near the church to be able to go to Mass daily may find services no longer available there.

The sacraments are for the people.

St. Paul, Minn.

* * *

In response to the bishops and priests who are refusing Communion to politicians, I want to welcome them all to any Mass I celebrate. And I welcome them to share Communion with our community.

As a priest and psychotherapist, I find this exclusionary behavior abusive, judgmental and reminiscent of the old Catholic Inquisition.

I have enough trouble dealing with the beams in my own eye without trying to pick at splinters in others’ eyes.


Taxing Catholics

Since Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has decided to interject himself and the Catholic church into American electoral politics on a direct level, maybe it’s time to reconsider the church’s tax-exempt status.

Santa Rosa, Calif.

Surprised by sin

Fr. Michael Parise (“Betraying the tender ideal,” NCR, May 21) writes about the suffering of priests resulting from the priest sex abuse scandal.

The pain, frustration and dilemmas are similar to what many people go through due to situations in their families or at their jobs. I worked for an electric company in a large city and lots of people hated us for high rates and the occasional outages that never occurred at a good time.

Fr. Parise stops short of giving us the essential moral insight -- that his story demonstrates the devastating consequences of sin. Because it is so passé to talk about sin in the first place, we are often unprepared and ill equipped when the consequences of sin fall upon us, the so-called innocent bystanders.

Bay City, Mich.

Gay marriage

This morning I read Richard Rodriguez’s essay “The American Neighborhood” (NCR, April 23). In a profound summary for all of us who live on the margins of the church, he states, “The church is no longer my teacher, maybe because my life doesn’t teach the church.” But I would add that, in fact, his life is teaching the church, albeit in a painfully slow manner. When he stands at Mass with the man he loves week in and week out, all the people in that sacred place are invited to renew perspectives and examine prejudice. Furthermore, essays such as this not only teach, they feed all who long for truth spoken with compassion, creativity and respect for mystery. In this case, it happens to be truth spoken from the margins. Jesus often spoke from the same location.


Prejudice a timeless practice

In your April 23 issue, an ignorant letter by Peter Riga was included: “It’s the wall, not the film.”

The first year I, a woman from a Jewish background, became a Catholic was the last year the ugly words of the Passion play were presented at Mass.

As Jewish children growing up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in Fall River, Mass., we experienced hatred from our neighbors.

Whenever my brother and I played outside, walked home from school, etc. -- there were usually some wonderful Catholic children available to beat up on my brother and shout that we were “G-- d-- dirty Jews and Christ-killers.”

This hatred was church-taught. There was no wall being built in Israel. There was no Israel!

But there will always be hate and ignorance.

Orange, Calif.

Recipe for torture

The torturing of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison by U.S. occupying forces has shocked the world, but for most Palestinians it comes as no surprise. In fact, tens of thousands of Palestinians who have served time in Israeli prisons and detention centers see striking similarities between Israeli treatment of Palestinian prisoners and American treatment of Iraqi detainees. In some cases, the torture technique or form of mistreatment is almost identical, some former Palestinian prisoners told journalists. One prisoner said that the so-called hooding technique -- whereby the detainee’s head is covered with a rancid-smelling sack for weeks or months -- was always “the first order of business” in Israeli interrogation centers.

In Israel, it is an ugly occupation, and Israel doesn’t make any pretensions about it. But in Iraq, the United States is humiliating and torturing the Iraqis under the rubric of freedom and democracy. Perhaps this is what they really mean when they talk about freedom and democracy -- namely, liberating the Iraqis from their dignity.

Dubuque, Iowa

* * *

How to make a torturer:

Place two cups of war in bowl. Blend in two tablespoons each of fear, denial, lies, impatience, and arrogance (use “We Know Best” if available).
Stir in one teaspoon of righteousness (self-variety). Add a pinch of racism. Mix thoroughly.
Pour into well-oiled pan. Sprinkle with a few more lies.
Bake at 500 degrees for 9-11 minutes. Serve immediately.

This is a recipe for disaster.


Jesus and law

Thank you for the honesty and plain good sense of Jeannette Cooperman’s piece on May 14 in NCR (“An imposter priest creates confusion”).

Unfortunately, we live in a time where discussion/debate in the church is centered around legalism. The Holy Spirit has been yelling at us, but her cries are drowned out by hearts consumed with “getting the forms correct.” We obviously need to have rules and guidelines, but we should have the wisdom and sense to not be chained by them. Isn’t that what Jesus was talking about in the Gospels when he preached against legalism? It seems to me at the back of the situation Jeannette refers to is the idea that someone can actually sanction when God is operative. That sounds like blasphemy to me!

Parkdale, Victoria, Australia

* * *

Could it be that most Christians outraged over the Ten Commandments being publicly displaced are utterly in the dark? The Ten Commandments alone do not reflect truth. The Law is a judgment without hope, without love, a judgment that persecuted Jesus through people who lacked grace enough to know none of us can uphold the laws of the Ten Commandments without Jesus. That is why he came.

Those who want to live by the Ten Commandments alone are denying themselves the beautiful, most saving reality -- Jesus, who was persecuted because of the interpretation of the Law. He was killed, mutilated, because sinners unable to fulfill the Law themselves used the Law against him. Think about that. Jesus, based on the Law, was persecuted, tortured and killed. The Ten Commandments without the “Good News” is condemning; the Law brings nothing but hopelessness to all of us because we are incapable of fulfilling it without him.

Rest assured, it quite possibly is God who doesn’t want to be on money, in the courtroom or used for an oath that is broken as often as water runs. It is not we who are taking God out of our sin; it is God taking himself out of it.

Birmingham, Ala.

No passion for ‘Passion’

Concerning “The Jesus of Journalism,” by Raymond A. Schroth (NCR, May 7): It’s always nice to hear your opinions expressed by someone else in the national press. My opinion of Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” was summed up in your article. I was beginning to believe that I was the only priest or minister in my area who did not feel it was the most powerful religious experience of my life.

Wilmington, 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, June 4, 2004