National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
September 17, 2004

Letters Persuading the pope

Regarding John Allen’s article “Church governance in limbo” (NCR, Aug. 27): Some of the blame for this situation may go to clerical celibacy. Imagine if Pope John Paul II had a devoted wife for all these years. Some time ago she might have said, “John, you are tired and not well. You have done all you can. Retire. Stay home. We will age together. God loves you.”

Rensselaer, N.Y.

Rethinking absolutes

Thanks to Tom Roberts for his “Debunking stereotypes” editor’s note (NCR, Sept. 3). It is quite easy to be an absolutist when you are never faced with reality. It puts me in mind of the sign-carrying pro-life folks who have never had to deal with a pregnant 12-year-old who is living in a shelter because Mom “stood by her man.” Working with sexually abused children forces a person to rethink all of the absolute beliefs they hold dear.


Abortion a religious question

Fr. Frank Pavone (NCR, Letters, July 30) objects to my putting “the abortion debate in the realm of religious rather than purely rational arguments,” maintaining that the section from “The Gospel of Life” I quoted “is indeed a rational argument.”

The quotation I used was taken from a context in which John Paul II refers to both “empirical data … of scientific research” and the philosophical notion of “a spiritual soul.” However, it is clear that he does not ground his argument ultimately in either science or philosophy when he claims that “over and above all scientific debate and philosophical affirmation … the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception” and cites the fact that “the church has always taught and continues to teach” this as the ultimate reason for the truth of this claim.

Considered epistemologically, the argument in “The Gospel of Life” is neither scientific nor philosophical but theological. Theology makes rational use of science and philosophy, which seek to know truth without recourse to religious belief, in order to better understand truths that believers believe that God himself reveals to them (by way of scripture and tradition). If church teaching on abortion makes use of science or philosophy, it relies ultimately on religious faith for the truth of its conclusions and, in this way, achieves, from its own viewpoint, a degree of certainty in this teaching that neither science nor philosophy can provide.

St. Louis

Real-world rain

I was shocked to read James Behrens’ “Starting Point” (NCR, Aug. 13) in which he makes fun of religious men who had the courage to keep “right on marching into the world and [get] drenched.” He even has the un-Christian rudeness to refer smugly to “what many of us lower folk might say [is] stupidity” in referring to their action. Perhaps these are safe words to write from the dry haven of his holy monastery. Perhaps he, like a lot of other holier-than-thou folks, need to get their feet -- and the rest of their selves -- good and soaking wet in the real world, where it rains like hell sometimes, despite what “our mothers told us”! What is Christianity all about, anyway, Fr. Behrens, if it’s not about going where it’s tough and unpleasant and sometimes cold and wet with indifference, animosity or worse?

I wasn’t going to bother to write until I gasped at the last page, where I saw him quoted again in “Last Words” like his were some holy words of wisdom dripping from the lips of a wise sage. Ugh! And this in the same issue that devotes five pages to “Migrants risk their lives in search of a future”! Bet those poor, dumb migrants don’t have the sense to come in out of the rain, do they? Guess they should have listened to their mothers, or perhaps better yet, to the wisdom of Fr. Behrens.

Corvallis, Ore.

What it means to be a man

I find myself in strong agreement with Roland Wilhelmy (NCR, Letters, Aug. 27), who laments the lack of reflection on what it means to be a man, both in the recent Vatican document and in society at large. Women have done a great deal of work in recent decades, both in visioning and in working at their own development, while men have done much less. The Vatican document shows the same lack of symmetry. In my more than 30 years of mentoring men as a therapist and spiritual guide while trying to become a man myself, I have learned much about the issues we men struggle with and the daunting but rewarding path to growth that lies before us all.


Two sides of Catholic media

Regarding your Aug. 27 article, “The Real Deal,” I was wondering if anyone over there at NCR believes that Jesus Christ ever would have published such an exposé. Any cursory read of that transparently biased article will reveal NCR’s abandonment of both journalistic objectivity and Christian charity. You may have begun intending to write a generally negative profile of the “moralistic” (read orthodox) Mr. Hudson, but when you came across embarrassing information, you seized the opportunity to try to ruin his reputation. Editor Tom Roberts, in his accompanying editorial note, tries to explain why NCR would act this way. His argument boils down to, “Well, Deal Hudson started it!” If vengeance is what passes for acceptable Catholic behavior these days, then God help us all. Perhaps NCR needs a transformation of its own.

Woodbury, Conn.

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We pray daily that God continues to give editors and writers like you the determination, wisdom, insight and grace “to inform and inspire” (see NCR mission statement) those of us in the church who so often hear only the voice of self-righteous conservatives like Deal Hudson. Profound thanks for such a carefully researched and balanced article.

Wonder Lake, Ill.

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The recent publication of Joe Feuerherd’s story on Deal Hudson in NCR and Deal Hudson’s various responses, both in the public media, the Catholic media, in written correspondence to Crisis subscribers and in resigning as Catholic adviser to the Republican National Committee, should make us all pause to think about the role of Catholic media in the body of Christ and in the world.

I think it may be time for a cease-fire and a pause for reflection. We are called to be Christ-bearers to a broken world. That calling includes the Catholic media. The liberal Catholic media, such as NCR, emphasizes love and the preference for peace and is a voice for the poor and the disenfranchised, but often does so by minimizing the role sin plays, taking issue with the truth as taught by the magisterium and ignoring the need for the redemption that only Christ can bring. The conservative Catholic media, such as Crisis magazine, emphasizes truth, rejection of sin and loyalty to the magisterium, but often does so in an uncharitable, self-righteous and destructive way, with little or no concern for the poor or disenfranchised.

What is particularly disturbing in the last few months is that the liberal Catholic media has clearly aligned with the Democratic Party and Kerry, while the conservative Catholic media has clearly aligned with the Republican Party and Bush. Both have forgotten that we are to be clearly aligned with Christ. That is all. That is our mission. Catholics belong to a third party that is not represented in this election. For some reason the Catholic media hasn’t acknowledged or helped us work through this dilemma. Both parties are right. Both parties are wrong.

Deal Hudson’s tactic to go outside of the Catholic community and publish a response in the National Review, defending himself to non-Catholics by claiming that Mr. Feuerherd’s facts were allegations and that his motives were political, does a disservice not only to Mr. Feuerherd’s professionalism and to NCR, who had not yet published the story, but to the Catholic church’s image in the world. This is a discussion that should have been kept within the Catholic community. It has to do with who we would like representing the Catholic point of view to non-Catholics and what we would like them to be saying and how they should conduct themselves as Catholics. It strikes at the heart of the role of the Catholic media in the world.

It’s time to insist that our Catholic media bring Christ, not party politics, to their Catholic readership and to the public forum. Let’s keep our unity within the body of Christ, for we have a common enemy in Satan, who does not sleep, and who would like nothing more than for us to be divided and at war within our own ranks.

Silver Spring, Md.

Allen notes that this letter was also sent to Crisis magazine.

Clinton didn’t start the war

The final sentence of Fr. Raymond Schroth’s article “Clinton through other eyes” (NCR, Aug. 27) slurs Clinton by suggesting that if he had resigned, as he should have, according to Schroth, the war in Iraq would not have been fought. The war, however, is the result of Bush’s deliberate policy; in no way at all is the war attributable to Clinton’s admittedly shameful dalliances.

Why doesn’t Schroth suggest that Bush resign, both for deceptively leading the nation into war and for inadequately (through Donald Rumsfeld) prosecuting the war that he insisted on fighting?

Osterville, Mass.

War in Iraq won’t work

War is a breeding ground for terrorism, torture, killing and other forms of violence. Violence begets violence. When will this spiral of violence end?

Iraq was decimated during the 1991 Gulf War. Then her people were starved through more than a decade of brutal sanctions. Those who visited Iraqi hospitals during those years saw the tortuous consequences of war: children dying of cancer due to radiation exposure from the U.S. military’s use of depleted uranium, people with treatable illnesses unable to get help because the sanctions kept medical supplies out of the country and untold environmental destruction. What mother watching her child die as a result of U.S. actions wouldn’t describe her plight as torture?

Yes, Saddam Hussein tortured and murdered his own people, but isn’t the United States, which has twice waged major bombing campaigns on this small nation, doing the same thing to Iraqi citizens, not only their military, but innocent civilians as well?

I am outraged by torture, whether it is done at the hands of Hussein’s henchmen or by those men and women at Abu Ghraib serving under President Bush.

Jesus said, “Love your enemy.” Every great religion has its version of the Golden Rule, a term first used by Confucius: “Do as you would be done by,” or “Treat others as you would wish them to treat you.” It would seem that such a belief would render violence unacceptable except perhaps in defense of the innocent, and then only in a very limited way.

Yes, Hussein has been deposed, but most Iraqis now say they are no better off under the U.S.-led occupation. As Gandhi said, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

War is an antiquated, violent method of solving problems. Human beings must learn how to resolve their conflicts using nonviolent solutions. We cannot hope to live in a world free of terrorism and war until we eliminate the violence and killing that stands in the way of true peace.

Garner, N.C.

Rider is executive director of Consistent Life, an international network for peace, justice and life.

Poverty breeds terrorism

Frank Belcastro (NCR, Letters, Aug. 13) draws the wrong conclusion when he says that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will stop terrorism.

Denunciations of America and Israel are “dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world” because Arabs and Muslim masses generally have been thrown anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism for generations as a means of distracting the people from the depredations of their rulers. We are endlessly told that terrorism is generated by poverty, ignorance and corruption. If Israel fell into the sea, let alone if it made peace with the Palestinians, the rest of the Arab world would wake up just as poor, just as overpopulated, just as illiterate and just as corrupt as it was the day before.

The Muslim world is having a very hard time at modernization, while the dream of the lost glory of the caliphate is generating all sorts of petty tyrants and filibusters -- Hafez Assad, Saddam Hussein, Muqtada al-Sadr. Rapid population growth has created a vast underemployed proletariat of angry young men who have no chance whatever for what might be thought of as an ordinary family life. This can only be explosive.

Patterson, N.J.

No-gluten Communion

Poor, forgetful Jesus! What an airhead! At the Last Supper, he apparently laid down the law for the exact amount of gluten in the Communion hosts (NCR, People, Aug, 27). Didn’t he remember that his Father made some people who were lethally allergic to gluten? Don’t they check these things up in Heaven?

Maui, Hawaii

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I was surprised that so little space in the Aug. 27 issue was devoted to the story about Haley Waldman, the child who cannot tolerate wheat and was given a rice wafer for her first Communion. Bishop John Smith ruled that the sacrament was “invalid.” Will someone explain to me how a consecrated host can be designated as invalid? Such policies, allegedly backed by the Vatican, give rise to a number of questions. Can a bishop invalidate a sacrament at will, based on his reading of church policy? Might he do that if he suspects that a communicant is pro-choice? And if he believes a priest is too permissive, could the bishop invalidate that man’s priestly functions?

I understand that Bishop Smith’s ruling has been withdrawn. Fine, but must the wafer now be consecrated again?

The continuing sins and omissions of the hierarchy must make many Catholics such as I wonder if they want to remain in the church.

Hightstown, N.J.

‘Failure of management’

Thomas C. Fox’s editorial “The unsettling story of the Austrian church” (NCR, Aug. 13) continues the dreary recitation of Rome’s failure, now here and now there, to hold bishops accountable for their flawed overseeing of the sexual abuse crisis. “The result has been,” says Fox, “to weaken the church.”

Just a few days before, the editor of America had observed (in the Aug. 2-9 issue), “In any other institution, the failures of these bishops in dealing with the crisis would be described as failures in management.”

Also, I remember that right around this time, Aug. 18, was the anniversary of the day in 1986 when Rome apodictically pronounced Fr. Charles Curran, then of The Catholic University in Washington, no longer to be “considered suitable nor eligible to exercise the function of a professor of Catholic theology.”

Now, with the passage of time and so many dire events intervening, Charlie Curran, as he is popularly known, is still a respected theologian -- and person. And Rome?

Venice, Fla.

Bishops’ education

Have the bishops ever read the Vatican II document titled “Religious Freedom?” Perhaps the information there might be helpful.

Davenport, Iowa

Dangerous, saving hope

St. Augustine said, “Charity is good, but it must never be practiced contrary to right judgment.” I suppose that’s true of all virtues, so to answer your question, “Can hope be dangerous?” (NCR, Aug. 27), the answer must be “Yes!” This certainly applies to the physical danger into which our Holy Father John Paul II places himself when he journeys, due to his frailty. But he is a man accustomed to danger -- he’s no wimp!

St. Paul, no wimp himself, let it be known that “nothing” would separate him from Christ. This Pauline zeal sustains John Paul. He is a soteriological pope, wrapped as the word implies into all aspects of what it means to be “saved” or “redeemed” in accord with Paul’s teaching that through personal vicarious suffering we “make up” in our bodies what was “lacking” in the sufferings of Christ.

The Christ, when riveted to his cross, as John Paul is riveted to his pope mobile (or “moving papal platform”), accomplished his best work, redemption (spell it hope) for aching humanity. The pope wants to die with his boots on, and if it happens on one of his trips, what an effective witness to our culture, so frightened by the inevitability of human suffering. Yes, hope on the natural level (never as one of the three theological virtues) can be dangerous. Undeterred, Pope John Paul II says, “Do not be afraid!” That’s admirable.

Bronx, 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, September 17, 2004