National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
August 13, 2004

Letters Colman McCarthy chases a mirage

Colman McCarthy’s encouragement to Catholics to leave the church (NCR, June 18) especially saddens me because I have so long admired what I understood to be his stalwart work for peace. His discovery -- however many years ago -- that Catholics are not members of a pacifist church seems to be about 2,000 years late. I fear there is no church (or non-church) organization that is fully pacifist, and that the one Colman seems to be advocating is far more narrow than even the curia’s fondest dreams.

Catholics, we hardly need reminding, belong to a sinful church. (When Cross Currents published Karl Rahner’s sober article “The church of sinners” in spring 1951, it was far from a revolutionary idea.) They not only are capable of being led into war by righteous leaders who want to impose “democracy” with bombs, they are also adulterers, fornicators, racists, sexists, capitalists, imperialists, liars and anti-Semites, people who practice violence against homosexuals and abortionists despite having millions of members who are themselves homosexuals and practice abortion. It’s pretty depressing but should remind us that Jesus chose fishermen and even tax collectors as his first disciples, and they all abandoned and denied him.

But who will separate us from the love of God and the company of those who remember Jesus’ insistence to “Do this in memory of me”? I fear Colman (and too many others) see in this mystical ritual -- in which we participate, often all too mechanically, every Sunday -- only a piece of institutional legislation on a level with the institution of cardinals. He apparently fails to perceive the intimate connection between the Eucharist we receive and the communion we are asked to create in our parishes, our neighborhoods and the wider world. The need to “do this” in his memory clearly implies the need to feed the hungry, to bind up the wounds of those who are ill, to visit the prisoners and work to create the peaceable kingdom to which Colman aspires. If too many pastors and bishops fail to preach this and are satisfied with a mechanistic (and perhaps magical) understanding of Eucharist, there is all the more reason to speak out. Colman’s “peace-based life” implies as strict a credo as Catholicism, and Catholics who protest against the Vatican’s refusal to deal seriously with the shortage of priests that threatens their ability (in conjunction with the ordained) to “do this in memory” of Jesus are not imprisoning themselves in “artificial ties to a headquarters” but working for a kingdom that has not yet “come.”

I have no more confidence than Colman that the accomplishment of needed reforms, in a church that will always need to be reformed, will be a speedy one. But we have the assurances of Jesus, the presence of the Spirit and the inspiration of all the saints, from Francis to Dorothy Day, to give us persistence and courage. The fact that Rome is trying to tighten controls should suggest that its bureaucrats recognize that it is becoming harder and harder to contain an increasingly educated laity in today’s interreligious world.

There is far greater smugness in withdrawing into a “pure” church of one’s own than in struggling to make sure that the Eucharist nourishes us for a peaceful world that is constantly bringing us closer not only to Orthodox and Protestant Christians but to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, as well as to those millions of believers who consider themselves without religion.

Nyack, N.Y.

Joseph Cunneen is cofounder of Cross Currents and often goes to the movies.

Law’s posting to Rome

After reading John Allen’s piece “O’Malley calls Law post poorly timed” (NCR, July 16), I was nearly seething with anger, not toward John Allen but toward Archbishop Sean O’Malley and Pope John Paul II.

In the minds and hearts of most persons, there could never be a “good time” (or good reason, for that matter) for naming Bernard Law to a post in Rome or anywhere else within the church. And with a monthly stipend of $5,000? Of course Catholics everywhere, not just in Boston, don’t “really understand the appointment.” The appointment of Bernard Law to any post, even if only ceremonial in nature, is simply beyond comprehension. Perhaps it is our leaders who don’t “really understand.”

Wichita Falls, Texas

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O’Malley says Cardinal Law’s appointment to the basilica was “poorly timed.”

He is completely wrong! O’Malley gave six months’ notice about when he would close churches so the Vatican had enough time to find a way to “thumb the Boston lay Catholics in the eye.”

San Francisco

Latin America’s future

Part Three of the series “Latin America Today” (NCR, July 16) left me with many emotions: chagrin; anger, yet understanding; and a sense of déjà vu. I worked with Catholic Relief Services, the Institute for Human Progress and the Peace Corps in Mexico and Central America between 1956 and 1968. From the report one can see nothing has changed since then except the nomenclature. We now have Codels and mancomunidades, when we then had community development and credit unions and co-ops. The level of poverty appears as great, if not more so.

Almost 50 years have passed. In the Far East, a great deal has changed in 10 to 20 years. What will happen in Latin America during the next 50 years?

The United States casts an enormous shadow over the rest of America. Until we, the American people and our government, not only the nongovernmental organizations, are willing to extend significant support to indigenous efforts in Latin America at self-help and independence, especially in the areas of immigration and trade, little will change in the manner we would support. Eventually, change will take place, but unless we are meaningfully involved, the outcome may not be to our liking.

The lack of progress in Latin America over the last 50 years should make a person think.


Off the martyr list

In these times when Muslim extremists target Christians and Jews and the suicide bomber is called a martyr, it is more than interesting to recall the decisions of the Council of Elvira (c.305), which dealt with Christians who were engaged in similar violence against pagan shrines and idols. Canon 60 of that church council declared: “If anyone breaking idols is killed in the process, since this is not written in the Gospel and would never be found occurring in the time of the Apostles, he is not to be called or received into the ranks of the martyrs.”

Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia

Abusive priests on the lam

Thank you, NCR staff, for summarizing the work of The Dallas Morning News in your article “Priests said to cross borders to escape abuse charges” (NCR, July 2). This article evoked fury and disgust within me that compared to when I first learned of the sex abuse scandals. If the priests committing these crimes are sick individuals who need help, how much sicker are their bishops and superiors who protected them by helping them to cross international borders to escape the law? This old boys’ club network is revolting. When is this dysfunctional family of ours going to seek the help it so desperately needs? And how many lives will be destroyed in the meantime?

One further point: This NCR article was a wonderful contrast to “Rights of Accused Priests” by Avery Dulles in America (June 21). Thanks for your courageous and consistent reporting!

Waite Park, Minn.

Keleher left no mess

I was dismayed by the comments of Tom Roberts in his Editor’s Note (NCR, July 16). Having been an 18-year resident of the Belleville, Ill., diocese and a friend of Archbishop James Keleher (whose last name Roberts could not even be bothered to spell correctly), I am angered at his allegation that Keleher left behind a “mess” for Bishop Wilton Gregory to clean up.

Rather, the reverse is the case. As early as 1985 (Keleher became bishop in 1984), when Keleher first got word that the priest-founder of the diocesan summer camp was accused of abusing children, he removed that priest from his position as director of the camp. True, he allowed him to remain pastor of a small parish, but no doubt Bishop Keleher thought that with the priest removed from the freedom of the camp setting there would be no further abuse of minors.

When in 1992 massive allegations were leveled against priests in the diocese of Belleville, Keleher took decisive action, removing at least four priests and one deacon from ministry. When Keleher was named archbishop of Kansas City, Kan., in 1992, the diocese was well on the way to dealing effectively with abusive priests. Wilton Gregory, much lauded for his limited and unremarkable leadership of the diocese, only had to continue what Keleher had begun.

It is interesting that in order to praise Gregory for his dubious leadership, it is necessary to slander a good and holy bishop like James Keleher. That speaks volumes about Roberts and Wilton Gregory as well.

Grand Rapids, Mich.

A Lutheran view

As an outsider but a faithful subscriber, I have major doubts about the Roman Catholic commitment to its antiabortion stand. I am a retired pastor and former bishop of the Lutheran Church in America (known as the ELCA now). Presidential hopeful John Kerry has been informed that he is to be denied the sacrament if he shows up in church in certain dioceses. Most bishops and Catholic laity are not willing to make antiabortion the sole litmus test of one seeking high government office in our nation. A vocal minority is adamant on the issue. All seem to go along with the church’s official position.

My question is does any Catholic really believe the party line that abortion is always killing a human being?

A true believer would surely not rest with picking on a presidential candidate but would be actively seeking to force the criminal system to charge everyone connected with such a murder. An abortion usually requires a premeditated collusion between a woman and certain persons in the health care industry. If abortion is really killing a human being, then every woman who has an abortion and every doctor and nurse and other family members and friends involved are guilty of premeditated murder. Why is there no campaign to achieve, at minimum, a life sentence for those who share in this act? Is it the fear that law would probably call for the death penalty that keeps Catholics from pushing the logic of their belief?

Placerville, Calif.

Voters to move to Rome?

What is a good Catholic to do in the upcoming presidential election? Cath-olic in good conscience wonder if they can vote for George Bush due to his full support for preemptive war and capital punishment. They feel equally confused as to whether they can support John Kerry due to his partial support for preemptive war and abortion. Is there a purist pro-life candidate running?

Maybe American Catholics just have to move to the Vatican and naturalize as citizens of the papal state. Are there any suburban housing developments in the Vatican available for a possible influx of true believers? In this possible new living circumstance, the Vatican clergy would always provide holy Communion to those who completely follow the church’s pro-life teachings, and any new naturalized Vatican citizens would not have to worry about voting in elections in the nondemocratic, papal, monarchical nation-state. This radical option of moving to Rome would solve all the problems of conscience for bewildered Catholics facing the apparent unsuitability of all candidates in the U.S. presidential election in November.

De Pere, Wis.

Republicans chasing Catholics

I was more than a little disturbed when I read the “Washington Notebook” article about the Republican National Committee seeking parish directories and membership lists (NCR, July 30).

While I certainly believe that my faith is connected to how I live my civic life, I do not want my parish membership targeting me for political fundraising. My other organizational memberships make that happen already. In addition, the assumption that the GOP fully represents my values in its platform is patently incorrect. Has the Republican National Committee read the bishops’ “Statement on Faithful Citizenship”? The themes of Catholic social teaching are listed as key considerations in making decisions that are politically responsible this election season.

Even if we only focus on life and the dignity of the human person, that requires much more than a copasetic position on abortion. The bishops in this measured and well thought out statement are explicit that the life of every person, even a convicted criminal on death row, is sacred from conception to natural death. I have seen very little evidence that the president embraces such a full definition of dignity of each human person, much less promulgates policies that embody an option for the poor and vulnerable, solidarity, caring for God’s creation or the call to family, community and participation. Instead, I have witnessed an administration that seems to value institutions and markets above individuals and families.

It is unreasonable as well as naive to believe that Catholics are a monolithic voting block. Catholics across the country should not allow themselves and their parish directories to be used as political chips. Instead, our religious leaders must engage us in what it means to be guided by a full body of teachings this election season.


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I am disgusted to hear that the Republicans are seeking directories from the Catholic churches around the country. It is an invasion of my privacy, and I will stop all donations to the church if I hear about this request being granted.

Severna Park, Md.

9/11 commission report

It has been stated by the Bush administration and various pundits that the reason for the 9/11 attack is because terrorists hate democracy and the United States is a democratic nation. The lie to this is found in the report by the 9/11 commission. It states, “America’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.”

And if you read Page 147 of the commission report carefully, you will not miss a key sentence throwing light on the motive of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom the report labels “the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks”: “KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experiences there as a student but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

Let it be noted that in 1967 Israel illegally invaded Palestinian territory, occupied it, and arrogantly created Israeli settlements, making it difficult to conduct peace. Israel has ignored two United Nations resolutions demanding that it withdraw from Palestinian territory. How would anyone like it if some group illegally and forcibly occupied their house, set up its people to live in their rooms, and then had the gall to want to negotiate with them over giving the house back to them? After 36 years of illegal occupation, suicide missions and “terrorists” should be no surprise, although not condoned. How to stop terrorism? Solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fairly.

Dubuque, Iowa

Equal-opportunity slurs

The article by Demetria Martinez, “Hip-hop help for budding activists” (NCR, July 2), provides much food for the intellect. What strikes me about the title of the group called “The League of Pissed Off Voters” is the dignity of it. We all know that the term “pissed off” is one that is used almost exclusively by people of advanced education and high status. When you hear people use that expression, you know right away that they are probably of the professional class and command an impressive vocabulary. And the title of their handbook -- How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office -- is equally impressive. Can you imagine a handbook titled How to Get Stupid White Women Out of Office? Wouldn’t darling Demetria and her fellow (oops! I mean “companion” -- sorry, ladies) feminists just love that? How about How to Get Stupid Black Men (or Women) Out of Office? Now that would be worthy of a blessing by the Rev. Jesse Jackson or the Rev. Al Sharpton. What an example of gender equality and racial equality that title is -- I mean the one with Stupid White Men in it.

I really think that darling Demetria is old enough to realize that slurs against men and white people are just as unacceptable as slurs against women and non-white people.

Claymont, Del.

Pro-life ad in NCR

Regarding the ad by the American Life League on Page 15 of the July 16 NCR, “183 Catholic bishops lost in the Rockies”: Oh, my goodness! Is anyone looking for them?

Brookfield, Mo.

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, August 13, 2004