National Catholic Reporter
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December 17, 2004

Letters Haitian violence

Jane Regan’s “Violence surges in Haiti” (NCR, Nov. 12) paints a picture of Haiti as a land of self-inflicted violence.

Ms. Regan’s closing paragraph talks about Haiti’s history of violence, but she doesn’t mention the kind of state-inflicted violence to which the Haitian majority has been subjected for more than 200 years. She doesn’t allow for the possibility that any of the current violence coming from the so-called “pro-Aristide” gangs could be acts of self-defense against the random shooting of peaceful protesters by government police or the wanton murders of teenage street boys by hooded vigilantes, who formerly served in the army, “cleaning the streets.”

This summer in Port-Au-Prince I visited a Haitian classmate from my seminary days in Rome in the 1960s. I went to Haiti to see for myself how President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s campaign to liberate the poor could have ended in such disgrace as it is reported to have ended.

The question I wanted to pose to my classmate was, “Would you agree that the anti-Aristide movement you were a part of last year has been subverted by the powers that have always opposed a liberation of the poor?” He agreed that this may well be true, but wasn’t ready for Aristide to come back.

I have become convinced that the violence against the poor in Haiti is not self-inflicted. It is inflicted by people -- including Americans -- who think might makes right and want to keep it that way. I support the return of President Aristide and the rule of constitutional law.

Barre, Vt.

Native name change

In Minnesota, “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” there is a large and beautiful lake named Mille Lacs. Its outlet river is named Rum. The Sioux Indian name for the Rum River is Mdo-te-mi-ni-Wakan. According to historical documents found in Minnesota Geographic Names (Upham, 1920), white explorers gave the Rum River its current name in the late 18th century. The white men mistranslated the word wakan, turning a word that means sacred (or spirit) to mean an alcohol spirit, rum.

My efforts to show due respect for the sacred word wakan led me to seek a change in the derogatory name of the Rum River.

Twenty years of work within the Catholic church, countercultural organizations and indigenous communities gave me the experience and contacts I needed to inform my fellow citizens along the river and throughout the state of Minnesota.

Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Minneapolis and Saint Paul archdiocese has given his support for my effort to change this river’s name. And a bishop secretary of the Pontifical Council of Peace and Justice wrote me to let me know that the Pontifical Council has “taken note” of this social justice ministry of mine.

Wahkon, Minn.

Thomas Dahlheimer is a Catholic social justice activist and the founder and director of the Rum River Name Change Organization, located in Wahkon.

Renaming the scandal?

With the publication by The Catholic University of America and Purdue University of a national study on the sexual abuse scandal (NCR, Nov. 19), perhaps it is time for NCR to rename this “the bishops’ sexual abuse scandal,” as it is perceived by nearly 75 percent of the people in the pews.

Our good priests, some 98 percent of all priests, have been hurt, embarrassed and stereotyped beyond belief by this. Perhaps by correctly titling this scandal, publications like NCR can help lay the blame directly on those responsible.

Atherton, Calif.

Base communities eroding

“Base communities, once hope of church, now in disarray” (NCR, Nov. 12) by Barbara Fraser and Paul Jeffrey is an accurate portrayal of the demise of the base Christian communities as an integral part of the church in Latin America. One of the keys to that unhappy event is the fact that democracy, when it arrived in Latin America after Vatican II, was not true democracy but rather a hybrid of that system called Free Market Democracy. In this hybrid, the market does not serve democracy; rather, democracy serves the market and is defined exclusively by those who control the market.

But what is saddest is to note is that the official church, under the present pope, concurred in this scandal. When the Conference of Latin American Bishops came together in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968, guided and affirmed by Pope Paul VI, they aimed to implement Vatican II for the Latin American reality. At this meeting, the documents of Medellín affirmed that the bishops of Latin America would commit themselves to live simple lives, rid themselves of all signs of wealth and privilege and promote the basic Christian community as the most basic element of the church.

This papacy has directed its best efforts to restore the trappings of a hierarchical church, and the documents of Medellín are little more than corollary to official church teaching today. The base Christian communities are being strangled by the coming together of the religious, political and economic powers of the day.

San Antonio

Middle East conflicts

Stephen Zunes (NCR, Nov. 5) downplays the importance in the mind of the Bush administration of Hamas fundraising activities in Iraq. I sincerely believe that George Bush thinks that everything he is doing over there is benefiting Israel’s security. I think we didn’t engage in preemptive war; we simply joined Israel’s war against those who support the Palestinians.

The question was, would the U.S. public support simply joining a war against Israel’s enemies? I think the Bush administration decided not to chance it, and then played up the WMD propaganda instead. Iran, which is also essentially at war with Israel, is next, and it is not the Bush administration’s style to try to broker a nonproliferation agreement between Iran and Israel; I would not be surprised by a bombing campaign against Iran in March, possibly followed by our troops.

I also have a mild criticism of NCR (even though I think you guys are the best): While the American press wonders about its “mistakes” in believing the WMD lies, they are aggressively building up the U.S. public’s fear toward Iran. NCR inadvertently (I hope) joined in this several weeks ago (NCR, Aug. 27) by publishing a cartoon showing Bush looking in the wrong places for WMDs. Iran was in the background depicted as a wolf. Israel, a country well-known for having WMDs, was left out completely.

Gonzales, Calif.

* * *

In his screed on Arafat (NCR, Nov. 19), Yossi Klein Halevi portrays Arafat as the devil and Israel as the peace-seeking nation. He neglects to mention that in a preemptive strike in 1967, Israel illegally invaded Palestinian territory, occupied it and arrogantly created Israeli settlements. He fails to state that Israel has ignored two United Nations resolutions demanding that it withdraw from Palestinian territory. How would Halevi like it if some group illegally occupied his house, set up its people to live in his rooms and then had the gall to want to negotiate with him over giving the house back to him? Although not condoned, after 36 years of illegal occupation, suicide missions should be no surprise.

Halevi leaves out a news report by Amnesty International contending that Israeli forces committed war crimes in Jenin and Nablus last spring during a large-scale offensive in the West Bank, killing Palestinians, blocking medical care, using people as human shields and bulldozing houses with residents inside. During 24-hour curfews on the cities, Palestinians could not shop for food, bury their dead or go to the hospital for emergency treatment, and were shot for attempting to do so. In one form or another, these war crimes continue today. These are not the acts of a civilized nation but of terrorists; these acts do not lead to the peace that Israel allegedly espouses. The Arab League has offered to recognize Israel and safeguard its borders if it will withdraw its troops, but Israel refused this peace offer.

Dubuque, Iowa

* * *

I appreciate your newspaper, and the Nov. 12 issue (with the lead article “Victory for cultural conservatives”; The Latin America “base communities” article; and “The triumph of Greater Israel” by Neve Gordon) was particularly interesting. It is my opinion that a just peace in Israel and Palestine must come from American Jews.


Nuns vital as ever

I agreed with the gist of the letter by Greg McDonald of Norwalk, Ohio (NCR, Nov. 12), until I got to the last two lines about religious women. I don’t know what has been happening in Norwalk, but the religious women I know have always had Christ at the center of their lives, and I think predictions of our extinction are premature.

I am dismayed that Mr. McDonald is apparently unaware of the work of religious women that flourishes in spite of declining numbers: ministries in education on all levels; administration of such institutions as colleges, nursing homes, hospitals, retreat centers, domestic violence shelters and transitional housing for homeless people; nursing and other medical ministries; prison ministry; hospice ministry; social justice ministry; outreach to the marginalized; and missionary work that has demanded much sacrifice, even the ultimate cost of sisters’ lives. And all these ministries are those of just a couple of communities (Ursulines of Cleveland and of Youngstown, Ohio) whose numbers have declined but whose dedication has not.

Rather than write us off, Mr. McDonald might want to support us in our efforts to serve God’s people. Even though numbers of vowed religious (men and women) are lower today than in the peak years of the 1950s, in their ministries they are more vital and necessary than ever.

Youngstown, Ohio

Abortion solution

Nobody is “pro-abortion.” No one says: “Oh, I think I will get pregnant so I can have an abortion!” Abortion is not the problem. The problem is unwanted pregnancy. If you don’t like the solution of abortion, work on the other solutions.

Problem: A woman is working full time but is unable to feed a child. Solution: Make minimum wage a living wage. A woman does not have health care benefits. Solution: Work for universal health care. A woman is single and needs to work, but child-care would eat up most of her salary. Solution: Subsidize daycare instead of cutting the subsidy, as this administration has done.

Young girls and women need to know the sexual facts of life. Families, schools, churches and social agencies need to make sure they are informed about sex and how to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Planned Parenthood spends 90 percent of its time and money on sex education and family planning. Think of the number of abortions it has prevented!

These solutions are easy to accomplish. More serious contributors to the problem of unwanted pregnancies are rape and incest. To combat these acts of violence we need to change the psyche of our society that tells us women are inferior, a source of sin and less valuable in the sight of God.

Until these issues have been solved, we cannot condemn the women who fall through the cracks. We need to spend our time and energy to solve the problem for which I believe both pro-choice and pro-life are working.

Mattawan, Mich.

The gift of lupus

Arthur Jones’ article about lupus sufferer Maureen Pratt (NCR, Nov. 19) hit home. I was told in 1953 that I had lupus and told that I probably had about six months to live -- not the best news for someone in her mid-20s! Obviously, I’ve beaten that rap and several other similar statements during later years’ flare-ups.

I’m not the writer/poet that Maureen Pratt is, but I totally concur that learning to live within the limits lupus sets for each particular patient is essential. More important, however, is Pratt’s (and my) recognition that lupus provides, if one is open to grace, a wonderful spiritual journey. Accepted as a reality to be lived with, it opens wide the door to see life in terms of eternity -- death during flare-ups being a potent possibility. It puts the spiritual and ordinary day-to-day aspects of life in a new perspective. Like Pratt, I believe that lupus has taught me lessons I never otherwise would have leaned: to foster and use my talents productively and to know that they are gifts from God, who does take good care of me and seems unending in gifts of mercy and love. I am blessed, too, that my vocation as a lay Dominican nurtures my faith. Without it, I am really not sure that I would be alive and as thriving as I am. I look forward to Pratt’s book to see how much we share views of the gift of lupus to our lives.

Berkeley, 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, December 17, 2004