National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
November 5, 2004

Letters It’s not Greek to John

Regarding the letter by Fred B. Ithurburn (NCR, Oct. 8): The passage of John’s Gospel in which the word logos is used is not modeled on any Stoic or other Greek work, but on the opening passages of the Book of Genesis -- a sign that this is going to be a Jewish, not a Greek document; a sign that it is of the prophets, not the philosophers -- for apostolic Christianity always claimed to be the culmination and continuation of the prophetic strain of Judaism, opening wide its doors to all humanity.

Louisville, Ky.

Never said ‘naked’

I wish to clarify a statement attributed to me in an article on liturgical dance by Patricia Lefevere (Ministries, NCR, Sept. 17). But before doing so, I want to commend Ms. Lefevere on her comprehensive and illuminating coverage of this topic. She treated it with a sensitivity often found lacking in media coverage that addresses dance as an expression of prayer and worship.

The quote in question is “Christ redeemed us with his naked body -- not with his mind.” I did not use the word “naked,” nor would I, because its meaning would be too easily misinterpreted by those who are adamantly opposed to liturgical dance. I, and others, have already been maligned by these adversaries on Web sites and via personal e-mail.

The unreported meaning behind my quoted statement is that “Christ redeemed us with the sacrifice of his body, not his mind (that is, not by logical/intellectual feat); therefore isn’t it appropriate that we offer the gift of our bodies back to him in praise and thanksgiving?”

I appreciate this opportunity to make my intention clear and offer my regrets to Ms. Lefevere if there was a misunderstanding during the course of our phone interview.

Stow, Ohio

Kathryn Mihelick is the director of the Leaven Dance Company in the Cleveland diocese.

Priests, celibate or otherwise

The NCR editorial “A straight line to no more priests” (NCR, Oct. 8) clearly summarizes the present state of the optional celibacy issue but does not offer any thoughts as to where we go from here.

To date, discussion of optional celibacy has been cast in the context of “all or nothing.” Are there no alternatives? Might not the Holy See allow the hierarchy of one nation to ordain married men without granting similar permission to all nations? Or might the Holy See grant permission for an individual bishop to ordain a married man for his own diocese without reference to other dioceses? Such precedents in fact already exist.

At the request of the hierarchy of the United States, Pope John Paul II in July 1980 granted a Pastoral Provision by which married former clergy of the Episcopal church may be ordained as married priests. In 1986 the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops received an identical provision, and in 1995 the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales requested and received the provision for their jurisdictions.

In the United States, married former Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian clergy also have been ordained as priests through dispensations granted on a case-by-case basis in response to the petition of a sponsoring bishop.

Let us not frame optional celibacy as a tug of war between hardliners and reformers. Let us study in depth the experiences of the married priests who presently minister in over 20 percent of our dioceses, and let us develop ways to identify lifelong Catholic married men who feel called to the priesthood, to help them discern their vocations and to facilitate communications among them. Rather than expect a cosmic shift in attitude or law on the subject of optional celibacy, we may look for change to come with less fanfare.

Berryville, Va.

* * *

In a church just rocked by a sex scandal, in a culture riddled with sexually transmitted diseases, abortion and pornography, what is NCR’s plan for priestly vocations? More sex.

This is a cartoonish solution (goofy and daffy) animated by Sigmund Freud.

Eagan, Minn.

* * *

Last year I read the statement of a Peruvian bishop who wrote that in some of the villages in his diocese, because there are few priests, the Eucharist is celebrated only once in four years. I don’t believe this bishop’s diocese is an exception among Latin American dioceses.

In the October 2003 Japan Catholic News, a priest in Wuan, China, said that five priests serve 502 villages, 200 of which are “Catholic villages.” How often, do you think, is the Sunday Eucharist celebrated in those villages?

In many African villages the Eucharist is seldom celebrated because there are few priests. In the United States there are more than 2,500 churches without an ordained pastor, and Communion service without Mass is the norm in many places. Even here in Japan, where the number of priests per Catholic is probably one of the highest in the world, there are already churches without Sunday Eucharist, and according to the September 2003 Japan Catholic News, the number of priests in Japan will decrease 50 percent within the next 15 years.

Because Catholics have a need for the Eucharistic liturgy, a right the Vatican II Constitution on the Church states explicitly, it is evident to me that a grave sin of injustice is being committed. The only reason people are unable to participate in the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy is a church norm that requires priests in the Latin rite to be unmarried. In every church without an ordained pastor there are people able to be ordained, except for the church regulation requiring celibacy.

Fukushima, Japan

* * *

Those promoting voluntary celibacy among priests fail to take into consideration some very important facts. First of all, the institution of marriage is in even a worse crisis than the priesthood, with more than half of marriages ending in breakups. Joining one crisis situation, priesthood, to another crisis situation, marriage, is hardly the way to solve either. Are we so naive as to expect that the marriages of priests would be immune from the social factors tearing marriages apart?

A second point is that more and more people are coming to realize that a truly happy marriage is a very difficult goal. Married people could be the first to tell us that marriage is anything but “a part-time job.” The married are constantly hearing that they have to give more time to their spouses, more time to their children and more time to themselves.

To be truly effective, a priest must devote enormous amounts of time and energy to the people he serves. It would appear most difficult to combine two vocations that are so demanding, and at the same time to come up with happy priests and happy husbands and wives.

This litany is not meant to exonerate anyone from responsibility for his acts, but is a call to remind us that corruption is a reality all through our society. Any solutions we propose to correct the errors in our institutions must take that into consideration.

Perhaps a paraphrase of Shakespeare might give us a starting point: “The fault is not in the stars [read institutions], but in ourselves.”

Concepción, Chiriqui, Panama

Thérèse’s parents

Tim Unsworth says of Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, that “much of their marriage was spent practicing celibacy” and that they “finally read the directions and produced five girls, all of whom became nuns” (NCR, Oct. 8).

Actually, the couple lived as brother and sister for only the first 10 months of their 19-year marriage. After that, a confessor insisted they live as man and wife, and in the next 15 years, they produced nine children, seven girls and two boys. Three died in infancy, one at the age of 5.

The Martins provide an interesting example of married life. Zelie ran a successful lace business from her home in Alençon, and Louis traveled to Paris to sell the lace to the great department stores. He did this in addition to running his own jewelry business. For anyone interested in the lives of this couple, I recommend Guy Gaucher’s The Story of A Life: St. Thérèse of Lisieux and the two volumes of Thérèse’s Letters.

St. Louis

Staying in the church

Thank you for publishing the article “Why I Am Still a Catholic” by Richard K. Taylor (NCR, Oct. 1). Once again, as when I was on the catechist team for the catechumenate process at St. Francis of Assisi in Sacramento, Calif., a convert is reminding me of important reasons to remain in the church.

Add to that my resolve when I came back after 20 years away from the church: “I tried staying away. Now I am going to stay and make ‘them’ deal with me.” I am in it for life!

Sacramento, Calif.

* * *

I turned eagerly to Richard K. Taylor’s article “Why I am still Catholic.” But I found it devastatingly depressing. What about those of us who don’t have a church community like his?

I did once. St. Elizabeth’s, a Franciscan parish in Oakland, Calif., was my home for 16 years of grace and challenge. Without that experience, I would not even be hanging on by my fingernails. With that in my soul’s journey, I am still worn out and beaten down by the accumulated weight of it all, to borrow your editorial’s words.

What words for the rest of us, Richard?

Eureka, Calif.

* * *

Richard Taylor’s “Why I am still Catholic” is a wonderful testimony to his faith. As someone who also joined the Catholic church as an adult in 1982 and who has sometimes hung on by her fingernails, I found every word of Taylor’s article to be inspiring and true.

I am hoping that my parish staff will use it as part of our discussions on the future of our ministries.

Fairport, N.Y.

Life in a coma

I am writing in response to the article “Do you pray for life or death?” (NCR, Sept. 24).

I was involved in an automobile accident when I was 18. I remember many things from when I was in a coma/persistent vegetative state, though like Terri Schiavo I appeared to be unaware of what was happening to me. Initially, I had an awareness of being very calm and peaceful with no sense of time. I remember having a rash on my body that burned severely, but I was unable to communicate this to anyone. Then I remember having trouble breathing when I had pneumonia and thinking I would smother to death. I remember being able to breathe after the tracheotomy and thinking, “What a miracle. I can breathe again.” I remember when I had pneumonia, being put on a tilting bed and feeling the misery of being packed in ice and wondering why I was being so cruelly treated. Then I remember my dad screaming, “Tessie, squeeze my hand.” I always say that I wanted him to be quiet, so I squeezed his hand. That was what woke me up. I was in this condition for five weeks.

As a direct result of this experience, I strongly believe that the feeding tube should never be withheld from people in a persistent vegetative state or coma condition unless there is a living will indicating otherwise.

Baton Rouge, La.

Cheer up, NCR!

I am surprised to see the editor’s “Inside NCR” picture with a smile on his face.

The contents of NCR are surely the most pessimistic, negative and whiney one can find in all of media. Your columnists are the Gloomy Guses of Catholic journalism.

What is wrong, folks? We (Catholics) are a saved people of joy. Buck up. This is after all a transient experience, even for the learned among us.

Tiburn, Calif.

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, November 5, 2004