National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
July 2, 2004

Letters Never choose evil

Msgr. Daniel S. Hamilton’s letter in the June 18 NCR may bring him to the attention of the orthodoxy police who will haul him before the holy inquisition to clip the pompom from his biretta. What could he possibly mean that Sen. Rick Santorum was “forced” to choose between two evils? Did some nefarious force rob him of his free will? I do not know where the monsignor studied theology, but when I was absorbed in the Summa of St. Thomas at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, more than 40 years ago, I learned that traditional Catholic moral theology always taught that we could never choose to do evil, even a lesser evil. For instance, a priest could never violate the seal of confession even to save the whole world, and a poor mother of 10 children who would starve if there were another mouth to feed still could not choose to abort the one in her womb to spare them. Political agendas make for poor and tortured theology.


Risky Reagan editorial

Thank you for writing the only editorial on the death of President Reagan that does not treat him as a merger of St. Francis, George Washington and Marcus Welby (NCR, June 18). But be prepared for an avalanche of letters from Ronnie idolaters anxious to burn you at the stake for suggesting that the man was flawed.

Peoria, Ill.

Victims in the Holy Land

Your May 28 edition revealed a disturbing anti-Israeli bias. First, there was the picture of the Palestinian woman and child sitting in the rubble of a wrecked home. Second was your story “A Women’s Journey to the Holy Land.” One of the participants was dismayed by the presence of the Israeli security fence.

Since 2000, Israel has been victim to a brutal intifada. Suicide bombings have killed hundreds and maimed hundreds more. Shootings have claimed the lives of women and children -- even babies. What is Israel to do? Lie down and die?

And let’s not forget the reason Israel was founded in 1948. In Christian Europe, Jews were tormented for generations. Years of anti-Semitism culminated in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Treblinka. By U.N. mandate, the Jewish people were given a homeland, so they would never again be victim to the whims of other nations.

We modern Catholics teach that the Jewish people have retained their covenant with God. That covenant involves land. We also teach that every nation has the right to defend itself -- yes, even the Jewish nation. And when you live with enemies like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, tough measures are needed.

When the Jewish people are safe in their land, maybe the walls can come down. Until then, we Christians should pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Most important, we should remember that as light unto the nations, our older brothers and sisters in faith gave us our scriptures and our Savior. God help us if we let the Jewish people down again.

Ringwood, N.J.

* * *

A small crowd of less than 150 persons stood outside the Israeli consulate in Chicago on May 21 shouting, “End the occupation now!” The city, the press, the world at large is consumed by Iraq but ignores the crime against humanity in Gaza.

One sign struck my heart: “We are all Palestinians.” During the Nazi occupation of Denmark, the local citizens took to wearing the Star of David, saying in effect, “We are all Jews.” Who will stand with terrorized Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza today?


Stem cell correction

Patrick Dobson did an excellent job of explaining the science of stem cell research to lay readers (NCR, June 18). His portrayal of Sen. Anita Yeckel should encourage others to think critically and form their own judgment on these issues.

There was only one point that jumped out at me as an inaccuracy that needs correcting:

The Stowers Institute conducts very basic research on early development of the nervous system in embryonic mice, and this research may yield knowledge that is relevant to regeneration. However, the institute currently conducts no research on spinal cord injuries in experimental animals. As far as I know, Washington University in St. Louis is the only institution in Missouri that is conducting notable research on actual spinal cord injuries in adult experimental animals.

William B. Neaves
Kansas City, Mo.

Neaves is the president and chief executive officer of the Stowers Institute for Biomedical Research.

Rainbow sash ban

In response to the article “Protesting gays denied Communion” (NCR, June 18):

As the only straight, married Catholic wearing a rainbow sash to attend the noon Mass on Pentecost Sunday at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, I feel a few items require clarification. The politicization of this issue began with Cardinal Francis George’s letter ordering parishes to deny Communion to Catholics wearing a rainbow sash. In this election year, with President Bush advocating a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the cardinal chose this time to make a public stand against homosexuals. He was under no obligation to do so, and indeed bishops in St. Paul, Minn., and Los Angeles welcomed Catholics wearing sashes. Many of us at Chicago’s cathedral attended Mass wearing a sash in response to the cardinal’s public display of intolerance.

By refusing Communion only to Catholics wearing a sash, Cardinal George said that it is all right to disagree wholeheartedly with the Catholic church, just as long as you keep it to yourself. Isn’t it what is in our hearts and minds that matters more than our public appearance?

I am not gay, but as I told the bishop presiding at the Mass, this is something in which I strongly believe. I try hard to follow Christ’s teachings and love my neighbors in the true Christian sense.

If the church maintains these prejudiced views of intolerance, it is exactly young, loving Catholics like me that this decidedly un-catholic Catholic church will drive away.


Going to Kiev

In his informative article “Going to Byzantium,” Patrick Giles describes the amazement of Prince Vladimir’s emissaries at the beauty of icons and music in Byzantium (NCR, June 4).

I wish to point out that Prince “Vladimir” was not a prince of Russia, but of the Kyiv Rus, which is often mistaken for Russia. Kyiv (Kiev) is and always was the capital of Ukraine and was the seat of Prince Volodymyr the Great, a saint of the church who brought Christianity to Ukraine in 988.

As a matter of interest, I wish to add that the iconostasis as well as the icons are not only in the tradition of the Orthodox church, but also of the Byzantine rite Ukranian Catholic church of which I am a member.

Watertown, Conn.

No justice for juveniles

Congratulations to Arthur Jones on a job well done. His two-part series on “Juvenile Justice” (NCR, April 23 and May 28) not only brought to light what is going on in the justice system, it was welcomed with applause by the men with whom I live as an inmate here at Norfolk Prison. Some were treated as adults when they were mere juveniles.

Mr. Jones and I both know that what he reported on was only the lighter side of the goings-on in the juvenile justice system. The war stories that were told to me paint a picture that is just too horrific and would give everlasting nightmares to the average citizen.

Indeed, children should not be tried as adults. Many organizations and foundations such as the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation along with the American Bar Association agree.

Amnesty International has produced numerous reports on the injustices juveniles have suffered in the United States. In fact this country has the worst record in the world when it comes to the most hideous of all evils: execution.

How hypocritical a people can be. An adult with a childlike mind is not tried in court, but a child is tried as an adult.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Treat people as if they were what they should be, and you help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

Thank you, Arthur Jones, and thank you, NCR.

Norfolk, Mass.

Bush and the pope

Although chastised by the pope, George W. Bush still seems to believe he is doing God’s work in Iraq. One might conclude that Bush actually believes that he, not the pope, is God’s representative on earth.

Why does Bush believe Christianity tolerates violence? Does he believe being pro-life means only opposing abortion?

Pro-life means respecting all humanity in all its forms. It includes striving for peace, charity, justice, compassion, truth and even clean natural resources. As U.S. Catholics, we are being asked by the pope to weigh all the issues.

If John Paul II could vote in the U.S. presidential election this fall, for whom do you think he would cast his ballot?

Lone Rock, Wis.

Church silent on torture

A view from abroad: Compared with some other organizations, the U.S. Catholic church seems almost silent on the torture of prisoners by agents of the U.S. government. What is the problem? Why the reluctance to speak out? The credibility of the church is fading fast.

Mount Hagen, Papua, New Guinea

Pavone on abortion

In an impressive display of power, some bishops have opted for the heavy-handed strategy of denying the Eucharist to politicians and voters on the question of abortion. I suspect that the more they are criticized the more adamant they will become.

Unfortunately, they seem more powerful than pastoral. A more Christ-like attitude was taken by Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, in an essay in NCR (“Defending the dignity of the human person,” May 28). The essay was solid, well reasoned and persuasive. It was for me, anyway, but I’m antiabortion to start with. It gave me fresh reasons for my position. More important, it provided the best approach to the subject; namely, a rational discussion. If your reaction is to condemn, deny and excommunicate, you’re a judge, not a shepherd, and you’ll turn people off and away. Example: When I learned that the nonsectarian National Right to Life Committee (I was a member of the New York branch) had teamed with a couple of Catholic organizations to get bishops to excommunicate and deny the sacrament as a policy, I cancelled my membership. I do not want to deprive anyone of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I assume the honesty and sincerity of my opponents. I prefer Fr. Pavone’s way, the way of persuasion and charity.

Freeport, N.Y.

* * *

Fr. Frank Pavone argues that an adequate vision for the country depends on a zero-tolerance policy toward abortion because unborn human beings are persons and because the ultimate goal of government should be to foster the rights of all persons who are citizens. His argument is apparently intended to be grounded in reason alone, in what are proposed as evident truths, rather than in religious belief. If valid, such an argument undoes the arguments of pro-choice Catholics whose reply to bishops is that they oppose abortion on religious grounds but do not feel justified in imposing their religious views on others.

Fr. Pavone’s argument makes assertions about the personhood of the unborn that even John Paul II does not attempt to make on scientific or philosophical grounds alone. In “The Gospel of Life,” this pope clearly refuses to rely on reason alone to defend the personhood of the unborn:

“Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life … over and above all scientific debates and those philosophical affirmations to which the magisterium has not expressly committed itself, the church has always taught and continues to teach that the result of human procreation, from the first moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that unconditional respect which is normally due to the human being in his or her totality and unity as body and spirit …” (“Gospel of Life,” No. 60; italics mine).

The conflict between bishops and Catholic politicians on matters pertaining to abortion is basically a religious one. The bishops need to explain how it is possible to bind Catholics to a zero-tolerance policy on civil abortion laws and at the same time oblige them to take seriously their obligations to respect the consciences of non-Catholics as these are set forth in “The Declaration on Religious Freedom” of Vatican Council II.

St. Louis

* * *

In Fr. Pavone’s Viewpoint article we have, once again, a lengthy exposition of the evils of abortion without any mention of the other human person involved: the woman undergoing the procedure.

I can never join the anti-choice people while they consign to invisibility the woman who is intimately involved. Who can say what pressures she is under or how coercive the pregnancy was in the first place? Are women who are allowed no choices in any other realm of life always to be held responsible for choosing whether to have sex and under what conditions?

Those who truly oppose abortions, not merely women’s right to make choices, can eliminate vast numbers of them by simply promoting adequate birth control, including over-the-counter emergency contraception. In fact, opposition to available birth control is responsible for many abortions, and making abortion more difficult to obtain is responsible for many of the late-term procedures so widely decried.

St. Petersburg, Fla.

Pro-life Democrats unite

When I read your article headlined “Faith-based, pro-life left seeks political home” (NCR, June 4), I thought the sentiments you express are similar to those that prompted pro-life Democrats in Michigan to petition for, and establish, the Choose Life Caucus of the Michigan Democrat Party, so far the only one of its kind in the country. Why don’t other faith-based, pro-life leftist parties in other states do the same?

You can access our Web site at

Ann Arbor, Mich.

Pope, not Reagan, felled wall

I am tired of hearing that Ronald Reagan brought down the USSR, the Berlin Wall and communism. There is no question that NATO protected against a possible Soviet invasion.

But the person who was truly responsible for bringing down the USSR was Pope John Paul II with his support of Solidarity, his visits to Poland, his encouragement to people in Poland and elsewhere to rise up to demand rights and dignity. Those were the cracks in the wall that brought it down, not the billions Reagan spent on more guns, ships and planes. It was the moral corruption of communism, not the might of the United States, which ultimately brought down the USSR. And it was John Paul II who had the monopoly on this -- not Ronald Reagan.


Clergy victim suicides

I congratulate you on continuing coverage of the impact of the sexual abuse scandal so painfully plaguing all of us in the church. Your loyal opposition and sense of justice give me hope for a future church of greater credibility and greater love. I was particularly touched by the tragic dimension to all this -- over 145 suicides of victims of clerical abuse (“Family assists others in memory of Eric,” NCR, June 4). My heart goes out to Janet Patterson and her family -- one of so many. God bless them all -- and may the bishops meeting in Denver, even as the survivors meet, recognize Janet’s “war room” as one in need of peace and reconciliation. Will it happen?

Neskowin, Ore.

Power corrupts

Comment regarding Eugene Kennedy’s “This in no way diminishes ...” (NCR, May 28):

We can be assured that Lincoln, Neb., Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz is far more concerned with “power” than he is with “sacred.”

Omaha, Neb.

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, July 2, 2004