National Catholic Reporter
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July 16, 2004

Letters Rainbow sash origins misunderstood

Your June 18 NCR article pointed out some unnecessary public suffering and conflict about the rainbow sash at some U.S. Masses at Pentecost.

The rainbow sash, as it originated in Australia in 1997, simply meant that homosexual people were publicly seeking the loving welcome of Christ to all, including gay people, by going to Communion.

The chronology of church teaching on the issue of homosexual orientation has varied somewhat. In 1997, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference in “Always Our Children” used the term “gay” positively for the first time, based presumably upon the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1973, which removed the orientation from the list of mental disorders. In 1999, the pope apparently signed, under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s advice, the silencing of U.S. Fr. Robert Nugent and Sr. Jeannine Gramick for their refusals to sign an agreement that said the orientation is, according to church teaching (c.f. 1986 Vatican document), “objectively disordered.”

In 2003, Chicago Cardinal Francis George stated to his pastors that church language about homosexual people needed to be reviewed in relation to rejecting violence against gay folks. He indicated that the philosophical, theological church language might be misunderstood in the psychological language realm concerning homosexual people.

We all understand from where the Vatican’s term “objectively disordered” arises, namely the view of biological procreation as the objective natural order of sexuality. The violence of language is experienced in transferring this philosophical language into a psychological domain, perhaps as Cardinal George was suggesting.

Furthermore, the implication in the Vatican statement that homosexual genital expression is “intrinsically disordered toward evil” demeans the orientation as if it is helplessly addicted toward promiscuity and hedonism. All people are called to committed growth toward holiness and virtue based upon God’s love in Christ for each one of us. Thus celibacy can be a real, vital life for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.

The U.S. rainbow sash conveners have been called upon several times to address the core meaning of the sash. Your article indicates they are confused. Words and phrases such as “politics/political,” “protest,” “demand a change in church teaching” and so on are mainly media hype that polarizes and sensationalizes and does not seek understanding. I again make it plain: The sash originally was about publicly declaring sexual orientation and being welcomed by Christ in the church as such -- nothing more or less. The U.S. rainbow sash movement has tended to confuse the basic primary issue of orientation with homosexual behavior, couples, marriage, banning Communion, civil politics like pro-choice, etc.

Richmond, New South Wales, Australia

The fall of Pentecostals

In chronicling the “rise of Pentecostalism,” Sr. Marie Vianney Bilgrien (NCR, June 18) omitted to mention the high dropout rate among Pentecostals, especially in Latin America. In his book Evangelism and Apostasy: The Evolution and Impact of Evangelicals in Modern Mexico, Kurt Bowen notes, for example, that as many as 48 percent of those raised in the second generation of Pentecostals no longer claim any religious affiliation. In his article “Shopping Around: Questions about Latin American Conversions,” Edward Cleary also points out that older Chilean Pentecostal churches are losing new members at a similar rate, “perhaps third- and fourth-generation ones.” According to other missiologists, the dropout rate among Pentecostals is just as high elsewhere. Sadly, the weaknesses of Pentecostalism (among second- and third-generation believers) grow worse as Pentecostal churches grow older.

Easton, Mass.

Don’t waste your vote

In reference to the June 18 letter in NCR from Leon Ward, regarding our Republican, conservative Congress, White House and Supreme Court and the fact that abortion is still legal -- I just have to say, Amen! I too was disenfranchised during the Reagan/Bush years, through three “Walks for Life” in Washington. The right to abortion was never once threatened by the politicians who claim to despise it. The right to abortion will never be addressed politically. So, voting for anyone solely because he/she is “pro-life” is a wasted vote. Besides, anyone who can turn a blind eye to poverty, declare war and condone prisoner abuse isn’t “pro-life.” These Republican politicians may be “antiabortion” but they are most certainly not “pro-life.”


Negroponte’s deadly policies

The July 2 NCR article on John Negroponte (“When John Negroponte was Mullah Omar”) was so timely, what with Negroponte just installed as U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

My companions and I worked with Witness for Peace in Nicaragua’s northern mountains in the ’80s, and from our firsthand experience and testimonies we can second what Dennis Hans pointed out: From Honduras, Negroponte oversaw the killing and maiming of thousands of civilians and poor farmers in those Nicaraguan mountains.

Is this the man anointed to oversee the same kinds of things in Iraq and surrounding countries?

Park City, Utah.

Priestly statistics

In his review of Priests, by Andrew Greeley, Paul Philibert does wonders for my self-esteem by listing me, along with my colleague Eugene Bianchi, among the “experts frequently cited by the national press for their interpretations of the sexual abuse scandals.” Alas, the notoriety is illusory. As far as I’m aware, neither Gene nor I have been quoted on the matter. Our recent book Passionate Uncertainty: Inside the American Jesuits looks at Jesuits and former Jesuits from various angles, ranging from spirituality through ministerial performance to sexual orientation. But you won’t find “abuse” in the index.

The problem that Greeley has with our work concerns our samples. We divided the 430 participants in our study about equally between Jesuits and former Jesuits. The fact that the geographic breakdown of our sample of Jesuits matches the actual distribution of Jesuits in the United States, confirming that we’ve got it right, must have escaped Fr. Greeley.

As for former Jesuits, no one -- not even the Society of Jesus -- has bothered to keep systematic records of their whereabouts, so drawing a “representative” sample of these men is like sampling the homeless. However this may be, the demographic characteristics of the former Jesuits we interviewed resemble closely the corresponding traits (age, geographic distribution) of Jesuits themselves.

The chief difficulty with Greeley’s claim that celibacy doesn’t drive men out of the priesthood is that nowhere does he directly compare (as we do) priests and former priests. We found that Jesuits tend to be happier in their work than former Jesuits, and this jibes nicely with Greeley’s assertion that Catholic priests “score higher on measures of job satisfaction than doctors, lawyers” and other professionals. But when it comes to clarifying the role of celibacy, Greeley neglects to make the obvious contrast. Drawing conclusions about the supposedly minor impact of celibacy in causing men to leave the priesthood without including ex-priests is like making inferences about the causes of divorce on the basis of information from only one of the (ex-) spouses.

Glendale, Calif.

McDonough is professor emeritus of political science, Arizona State University.

A real imposter

I am trying to catch up on my reading after returning from vacation so I just finished reading Jeannette Cooperman’s entertaining May 14 article, “An imposter priest creates confusion.”

In 1963, we attended a Mass in Seattle, presided over by an imposter priest. During the homily the imposter priest told us that United Airlines had lost his luggage so that if we “saw a United Airlines plane flying over head we were to throw a rock at it”! Later in that week another priest became suspicious when he saw a gun in this visitor’s luggage. The imposter was a former convict who had stolen a priest’s luggage and ID and then had gone to the bishop to volunteer to help out during vacations. Some people then also worried about their Sunday obligations, etc.

Thank you for bringing back some funny memories and for entertaining thoughts on this. (I was trying to remember if there were any other bits of homilies that I remembered over 41 years.)

Martinez, Ga.

The qualities of a bishop

Tom Roberts’ “Perspectives” article, “The fringe is in control of the agenda” (NCR, June 4), well exposes the ominous template, if such it is, of “this papal administration” in selecting Archbishop John Myers for Newark: a bishop whom The New York Times last month described as eminently confident, conservative and frank, with a clerical style of “robust leadership” that is mistrustful of an articulate laity and those (such as Voice of the Faithful) who may threaten traditional structures.

Somebody at the Vatican, though, fails to coordinate this template with the 301-page document from the Congregation for Bishops, released in March, which describes the ideal modern bishop as one who is “sincere, open to dialogue, sensitive to the joys and sufferings of others, friendly and willing to serve.” Who, pray tell, is not listening?

Venice, Fla.

Hospitality or penalties?

Expanding on Patricia Zapor’s article (NCR, May 14) about the interpretation of sacramental penalties, there are informal ways church employees effectively separate Catholics from their communities without written sanctions. These demonstrate how authority can be used without concern for a canonical foundation and unrelated to public sinfulness or questions of doctrine and theology.

At one parish in the Portland, Ore., archdiocese, I received anonymous letters claiming harm to the lay administrator along with words of retaliation taking the form of rumors and stories and calls to my employer. There were calls from parishes that received anonymous letters warning them not to allow me in their parishes. I sought new employment after my employer was called and became concerned about the rumors and stories. The pastoral staff invoked the authority of the archbishop to declare me out of the church, even as anonymous letters warned me to stay away from other metropolitan area parishes.

Oregon remains the most unchurched state in the nation. And the second largest denomination in the country after Roman Catholics is inactive Catholics. Under these circumstances I remain convinced that the biblical model of hospitality is more promising than penalties. Extend invitation. Create safety. Provide nourishment. Develop relationship. Encourage transformation.

Milwaukie, Ore.

‘Pro-life’ language problem

I take issue with the graphic on your cover this week (NCR, July 2). I believe that the term “pro-life” is a misnomer and does not at all represent the typical position of the antiabortion movement.

There was an effort years ago to try to establish a true pro-life movement and agenda, (Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, I believe, called it the “seamless garment” pro-life stance) where all life would be respected. But I don’t understand how any individual or organization that supports the death penalty, supports our policies in Iraq that kill thousands of innocent men, women and children, and who favors cuts in health care and other benefits for the poor, can appropriately be called pro-life.

Whether one is antiabortion or in favor of abortion rights, I believe that the appropriate use of language ultimately serves everyone’s best interests.

El Paso, Texas

Reasons to stay

Normally I have enjoyed Colman McCarthy’s articles, whatever the subject, but I was disappointed with his June 18 article “Catholics should obey or go.”

My perception was that the entire piece was nothing more than a torturous attempt to present his leaving the church as a noble act of principle.

He sets up specious either/or statements to support his arguments:

“Be a member in good standing or an outsider with no standing”: Being a member in good standing covers a lot of territory.

“Instead of a faith-based life, I’ve tried to live a peace-based life”: As a Catholic, I am quite capable of living both a faith-based life and a peace-based life.

And, of course, there is the patronizing “Some of my best friends are Catholic” statement, which is followed by “how they square their spiritual fidelity with theological dissent is, to me, beyond understanding.”

Give me a break!

Santa Fe, N.M.

* * *

In his column, Colman McCarthy says many liberals will answer that if we leave the church we will give the hawks the pleasure of our absence, which is what they dearly long for.

But then he goes on to say, “organizationally, Catholicism requires orthodoxy -- as does the Trump organization and all others with autocratic CEOs, central headquarters and nondemocratic hierarchical structures.” I totally disagree with Colman on this. He is operating on a pre-Vatican II definition of the church. Vatican II said the people were the church, and the present hierarchy deny that by their actions and claim to be the church, themselves alone, and tell everyone who does not agree with them to get the hell out. I’m sorry, but you and I are the church, and I am asking you to join with me and declare independence of those who, against the teachings of the Gospel, pretend to be the sole arbiters of what is Catholic and what is not.

I have been saying forever that membership in the body of Christ/people of God is determined by orthopraxy, not by orthodoxy. “They will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another, and for your enemies, for the poor, the prisoners, the disenfranchised of the world.” I’m staying, not because “I need the sacraments, or liturgies, or social services,” but because I love my fellow disciples of Jesus, as failed as some of them may be.

Freeport, Long Island, N.Y.

* * *

I was dismayed by Colman McCarthy’s apologia for leaving the church. Surely a man of his depth and learning has only to review a bit of church history to see that failings of leadership and people are part and parcel of the church from the beginning. We have only to think of the defections of the apostles at the Crucifixion. Peter, Paul, James, Mark and Barnabas had “violent” disagreements and even parted ways. The early church had doctrinal confusion. As the centuries progressed, notorious milestones would be the Crusades, the anti-popes, the Inquisition and leadership that failed to lead, tolerated injustice, betrayed the Gospel.

We deplore the silence of our church, clergy and lay, on such issues as the death penalty, torture and slavery (past and present). Surely the weak and poor need our advocacy more than ever.

However, this is also the church of Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, the six Salvadoran Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter, Jean Vianney, Thérèse of Lisieux, Francis de Sales, Thomas More, John XXIII and countless numbers of “ordinary” people who made choices, even heroic choices, away from self-interest and in favor of love of others, the Gospel, Christ and the church.

We are church. It is up to us to heed the call given Francis of Assisi: “Rebuild my church.” As 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love never fails.” Christ crucified and risen is sufficient reason for staying, Mr. McCarthy.

Sacramento, Calif.

* * *

Colman McCarthy can stay in the Communion line with me. We Catholics acknowledge as the highest authority the man who gave us a direct invitation to share the bread and the cup -- “Do this in memory of me.”

If we are turned away by a lesser authority, we can peacefully find direct communication with God, who continues to bless those who follow Jesus and their conscience as members of the whole (Catholic) church.

Redding, Calif.

Church factions need to talk

The church is full of divisions and factions, and one major division in the church is the one between so-called conservatives and liberals. In my opinion, both sides are happy to adhere to church teachings when it serves their interests. Conservatives want to exclude from the Communion rail pro-choice Catholics and those who advocate gay marriage. Yet conservatives ignore and even scoff at the pope’s stand on the death penalty and social justice issues in general. Liberals, of course, also pick and choose which elements of the church’s teachings appeal to them. I blame nobody in this situation, as we are all in a sense “pick-and-choose” Catholics. Theological and political issues are enormously complex, and it is always difficult to figure out what is true and good and useful. Considering the pro-choice politician controversy that has erupted in recent weeks, I would like to call for a Third Vatican Ecumenical Council devoted to the social teachings of the Catholic church.

Instead of excommunicating politicians and their voters on the basis of single issues, the council would help to forge a basic unity within the church. I would not expect all divisions and factions to go away completely, but the council would let Catholics and non-Catholics know where the church stands on a range of issues and help to focus a multi-pronged approach to global justice.

The council would be proactive. All too often in the history of the church, Catholics merely react to developments in the social, political, spiritual and artistic spheres. Catholics are so often getting pushed about by events and dragged about by historical developments. Just for once I would like to see the church be the initiator of events.

I predict that there will be many social revolutions and movements to come. If, once again, the church is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as being on the side of the status quo, then those movements, once again, will contain elements that are angry at Christianity and hostile to it.

Why not preempt the future before the future preempts us?

Albany, 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, July 16, 2004