National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
September 24, 2004

Letters Catholic prisoners ignored

I was intrigued by your guest opinion by Kenneth E. Hartman (NCR, Aug. 27). Sadly, the voice of inmates is rarely heard and even more rarely taken seriously. Thank you for having the courage to print his message.

When I think of how the church ministers to this country’s inmate population, I get depressed. As an inmate, I know the relative ease with which the church ignores its incarcerated members. Three years ago, I was fortunate to be confirmed in the Catholic faith by Bishop William Franklin of the Davenport, Iowa, diocese. He brought with him a message of outreach to incarcerated Catholics in the diocese and a deacon he had named the head of prison outreach. (In the Davenport diocese there are three state prisons and numerous county jails.) Three years since, I have yet to see the deacon again or hear of any outreach to the prison population besides the regular ministry of a local parish.

It seems that most media outlets demonize common criminals in order to increase their audience. Over time, this phenomenon has turned public opinion from rehabilitating and restoring misguided souls to an attitude of: “Let’s get the bastards before they get us.”

As Catholics, I thought we were to rise above prevailing public sentiment if it was contrary to church teaching. Can we honestly say as a church that we searched for and retrieved the one lost sheep? Currently 2 million lost sheep live in cages and wear stripes. We aren’t hard to find.

Although we live in separate prisons, I can hear Mr. Hartman’s whispers through the bars and nod in silent assent.

Oakdale, Iowa

Eucharistic prayers need pep

Fr. George Wilson (NCR, Aug. 27) laments the almost universal experience of celebrants racing through the formulaic language of the eucharistic prayer. He suggests that celebrants should introduce their own variations into the prayer in order to make it more personal, but he is concerned that such innovators might incur the wrath of authorities concerned about heresy.

I wholeheartedly concur with his recommendation, but I have a suggestion that might pose less danger of adverse reaction. That is that the celebrant should simply omit parts of the eucharistic prayer. I occasionally attend Episcopal and Lutheran eucharistic services, and the prayers attending the consecration are almost inevitably spoken with more reverence and intelligibility than at even the most expert Catholic service.

Those celebrants are able to take the time appropriate for such a solemn moment because their eucharistic prayer consists of very little besides the account of the Last Supper. Even our shorter eucharistic prayers are encumbered with recitations and invocations that are far from essential and that take attention away from the elements that are really important. So, Father, next time how about deleting half the prescribed language and cutting in half the speed of your recitation of the rest?

Doylestown, Pa.

* * *

Sometimes, at Sunday Mass, I am suspicious that our celebrant may be using one of the eucharistic prayers approved for children’s liturgies -- and then I am grateful, awake, alert and attentive.

Why? Because I’ve been engaged, rather than doing what Fr. Wilson in his article calls “woolgathering.” In faith, I know the eucharistic prayer is central. In fact, it’s hard to keep one’s mind on it until perhaps the acclamation when I re-engage because I get an opportunity for inclusion. That’s not to say I remain fully engaged until the Great Amen. I’ve often wondered how the celebrant stays awake, but it may be because his hands are extended and it takes conscious effort to keep them up!

I feel guilty when I realize how the whole text washed over me without my acquiescence or attention. If I’m “supposed” to be there, surely the words count. Otherwise, the presider could just pray silently (and more quickly), illustrate through gesture what’s happening, and we could move on to the next part of this sacred event. I really want to be present. I really want to make these moments count. They are too few, after all. But I’m an easily distracted woolgatherer, and I need lots of help remaining engaged as one of the priestly people called to lift up my heart on Sundays.

(I am a member of a parish where Fr. Wilson sometimes presides on Sundays and greatly assists the congregation in remaining present body and soul the whole time.)


Küng’s colleagues

Much as I enjoyed Patricia Lefevere's article on Hans Küng, I wish that somewhere in it she had mentioned the work of his longtime colleague, Leonard Swidler of Temple University. Without Dr. Swidler, I doubt that most of us in North America would even know about Fr. Küng. Also, the global ethic and global business ethic attempts probably owe more to the work and Web sites of Dr. Swidler and Dr. Ingrid Shafer than to the efforts of Dr. Küng.

Cayuga, Ontario

Deal Hudson and Bush

As reported in Mr. Feuerherd’s article (NCR, Aug. 27), Mr. Hudson brushed off a reminder that his actions had cost someone else’s job by saying, “If you are going to play in the box, than you have to take the consequences of your ... utterances and ... actions.” Now the shoe is on the other foot. There is justice, after all.

The way I see it, Mr. Hudson is a ruthless partisan who would stop at nothing to ensure the implementation of President Bush’s misguided policies. He was sending the wrong message to the highest office in the land. To ferret him out is no less worthy of encomium and of service to a higher cause than to smoke out a mole or expose a politician for malfeasance. NCR and Mr. Feuerherd are to be commended.

Bear, Del.

Facts and lies

Regarding the letter of Shelly Keyes in “Responses to Real Deal” (NCR, Sept. 3): President Bush’s long past problem of alcoholism, the letter rightly asserts, should not have been brought up in the 2000 campaign. The alcoholism was a publicly admitted fact. The letter goes on to say, “The same is happening to John Kerry with his war record in Vietnam,” with the implication that the swift boat stories detrimental to Kerry are also based on fact. This big lie has out-shouted the truth of Kerry’s heroism, as told by his comrades and superior officers.

East Hartford, Conn.

Venezuela referendum

Shortly after the recent referendum in Venezuela, I discussed it with a colleague who took it for granted that the election was a fraud simply because Chávez is a “communist.” When I attempted to correct him and said “populist,” my colleague responded, “What do you think he’d call himself?”

The colleague’s assertions proceeded on two levels: 1) that the election was fraudulent because the landslide was for Chávez, and 2) that the elections in the United States -- or other “free” societies -- are valid. Both of these assumptions are at best dubious. So your article on that election (NCR, Sept. 3) was particularly helpful to me. You see, I work too many hours in the “recovering” Bushevik economy to keep up on subjects that normally interest me.

In the article, you also mention the affiliation of Sumate, a group that pressed for the referendum, with the National Endowment for Democracy. My last run-in with that “endowment” was in Managua, Nicaragua, in 1990. Its representatives were attempting to argue the U.S. line that the Sandanistas were not a legitimate government (despite their having been elected). Enough of us there were better informed, and had there been an organized “debate,” we would have won hands down. Yet they got their way and Nicaragua is now poorer than when Samoza, whom we enthusiastically supported, tortured and killed Nicaraguans. In short, the endowment was the U.S. ideological arm of the terrorists we’d been supporting for years, the ones Reagan called “the moral equivalent of the founding fathers.”

So nearly a decade and a half have passed since we smothered the legitimately elected government of Nicaragua. That “endowment” is busy trying to overthrow another populist government. And we’re now staging preventive wars in other countries that have not attacked or even threatened us. What’s next on the agenda of our “democracy”?

Hyattsville, Md.

Life Teen regulations

The Sept. 3 NCR showed a picture of teenagers encircling the altar during a Life Teen Mass in Fairport, N.Y. The accompanying caption reported, “Life Teen is a youth ministry built around eucharistic celebrations.” The organization reports that 100,000 high school teens attend Life Teen Masses in about 850 parishes every week. Now the liturgical guidelines for Life Teen will be changed to conform to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. NCR reported that two of the most noticeable changes were no more gathering in the sanctuary and no more saying at the conclusion of the liturgy, “The Mass never ends, it must be lived.”

We are experiencing a period of retrenchment, especially in the areas of liturgy and lay involvement in the mission and ministries of the church. The hierarchy of the Catholic church appears to feel that it has lost power over the laity. The dictates of the GIRM that chase our youth from the sanctuary imply that laity are unworthy of occupying “holy space.” In a church where the symbols of faith are held in high esteem, the experience of communio, such as that experienced in the faith community gathering around the altar, should not be suppressed.

I am curious to know what is incorrect in concluding liturgical celebrations by saying the Mass must be lived out in the world. The word “Mass” is derived from ancient texts meaning “go forth and live what has been learned.”

Once again I wonder if God is asking, “What is wrong with these people?”

Jackson, Mich.

* * *

I was greatly distressed on reading your article about the changing liturgy guidelines for the Life Teen Masses that were started by Msgr. Dale Fushek of St. Timothy’s in Mesa, Ariz. What is wrong with this church of ours and those in control? These liturgies reach out to our teenagers all over the country and mean something of great importance to them. I have often been to Masses at St. Timothy’s and found them to be most meaningful spiritually and personally.

I think the powers that be should concentrate on their own failings and not change something that is worthwhile and has positive input on the lives of the young.

Rhinebeck, N.Y.

Praise for ritual

I am a funeral services student at St. Petersburg College and work part-time at a funeral home. I often attend funerals several times a week. I am particularly moved by the power and beauty of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox funeral rituals.

There is a lot to be said for actively raising one’s children in a religious tradition. It seems that those who miss this type of training have problems as they become older and face life’s challenges. Religion can teach us several important things (aside from the Golden Rule, which I hope we have all internalized). It can:

Show us that we are part of the big picture (for example, God, Christ-mind, Buddha-mind) and that our individual existence is unimportant apart from God.

Provide us with a structure and framework to mourn our losses, put them in perspective and fully recover to the wonder of life.

Provide us with the tools (such as prayer, meditation, worship) to achieve unity and connection with life and God.

Provide us with a selfless path of joy and love that is in stark contrast to the egotistical, self-centered, materialistic values that are broadly promoted by many in our contemporary culture.

Clearwater, Fla.

Cheney’s daughter

Thank you for your editor’s note of Sept. 3. Your statement about the words of Vice President Cheney was right on target.

DignityUSA has tried to provide a place where people, no matter their sexual orientation, could “come out” and be welcomed. Unfortunately, more work is needed in this arena. Today, some gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people must still hide themselves from the hatred and bigotry of those around us. But it seems steps are being made when the vice president of our country can put aside the political rhetoric and speak as a loving parent. How refreshing it was to hear his words!

Let’s hope and pray that more and more people find the courage to speak out and support us because of who we are, not because of our sexual orientation.


Matthew Gallagher is executive director of DignityUSA.

Secret ballots ‘essential’

I have just read that Secretary of State Matt Blunt has made Missouri the first state to allow overseas military people to vote by signing their ballots and scanning them into a computer file, from which they will be e-mailed to the Pentagon, from which they will be faxed, complete with signature, to Missouri officials. It frightens me that we are encouraging people to give up their secret ballots because the military mail service might be too slow.

I am a Korean veteran, and I found the military mail service to be quite efficient. I even cast an absentee ballot that way.

My experience with the military was, however, that we were trained (in basic training and beyond) to follow orders or even hints of orders without question. This is probably essential on the battlefield. Without a secret ballot, I would have been afraid to vote differently from my superiors, and I feel sure that they would have been afraid to allow the people they supervised to vote differently from their superiors in the Defense Department (and indeed the commander-in-chief).

A secret ballot is essential to our democracy; please ask Mr. Blunt to give up his plan, which sounds to me like getting coerced votes for him in his campaign for governor. Instead, he should concentrate on being sure that the military does indeed pick up and deliver secret absentee ballots promptly.

Columbia, Mo.

Acts of the Devil

Those of us who believe in the Devil are considered quaint or religious fanatics or fundamentalists from an age of the Bible long since gone. Today we have science to explain the movement of the stars and the origin of diseases, medicines to control mental illness. No need for devils, those pointy-headed, long-tailed belching creatures from a fiery hell.

But how else to explain the unmitigated evil of the days we have seen? The Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia, Beslan? When the Israelis captured Eichmann and put him on trial, he had all the leanings of an ordinary man; a terrorist at Beslan told hostages that he, like them, had a family. But each of these men performed truly evil deeds. If there is no Devil, there can be no logical explanation for atrocities committed by ordinary men and women.

We have seen the Devil acting in and through these people, doing evil beyond our wildest imagination -- evil conceived only in the mind of a malignant force called the Devil.


Responsible for healing

It is unfortunate that in Prof. George Bryjack’s otherwise fine article “It’s never our fault these days” (NCR, Sept. 10), he is patently ignorant of the unequivocal responsibility thrust upon one taking the first step in a 12-step program.

When we admit a biological, neurological powerlessness over our brain chemistry that has resulted in the contracting of an addictive illness, we then commit to taking full responsibility for our recovery. This entails attending 12-step meetings, getting a sponsor, living one day at a time, not picking up that first drink, really working the steps.

A diabetic is powerless over his metabolism of sugar but must take responsibility for diet, exercise and insulin. A cancer patient, never having asked for a lump in her breast, must take responsibility for her own recovery.

To admit physical and neurological powerlessness is not to throw up our hands in victimhood but rather to embrace, unequivocally, our ultimate responsibility for our own health.

It is extremely insensitive of Professor Bryjack to lump those of us who are in recovery from addictive illnesses together with Donald Rumsfeld and his empty apology for the abuses of Abu Ghraib and the Catholic bishops who feigned ignorance of clerical sexual abusers.

Lake Forest, Ill.

Kathleen FitzGerald is the author of Jellinek’s Disease: The New Face of Alcoholism.

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 24, 2004