National Catholic Reporter
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February 18, 2005

Letters Gramick responds to Orth

I wish to respond to Maureen Orth’s article, “Gramick’s charity to Shanley is more than he deserves” (NCR, Jan. 14), which questions my intelligence and judgment.

Orth states that “Sr. Jeannine obviously has never read the 1,600-plus pages of the Boston archdiocese’s file on Paul Shanley.” Actually, I have. More precisely, I have assiduously studied parts of it and skimmed over other parts. I spent more hours than I cared to reading about mostly mundane issues such as finances, assignments and health.

The file contains many letters of complaint about Shanley from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The press has touted the existence of these numerous “sexual” grievances, with the implication that these are complaints about sexual impropriety. On the contrary, the “sexual” complaints revolved around Shanley’s position on the church’s sexual theology, not Shanley’s sexual behavior.

Orth asserts the church did “absolutely nothing to stop him for over four decades.” There was one allegation in 1967, which Cardinal Richard Cushing’s assistant investigated and judged to be without foundation. The file shows no other accusations until 1993, after the Porter case made clerical sexual abuse a very public issue.

By this time Shanley was in California of his own volition, not to avoid allegations. He had resigned his position because he could not subscribe to a 1989 oath of allegiance the Vatican imposed on all pastors. When the 1993 allegations of abuse were made, Shanley returned to Boston to undergo evaluation in accordance with the policies regarding sexual misconduct at that time.

The file shows that Shanley was removed from active ministry and began work as a layman at a low-cost housing facility in New York. He was to have no contact with children, not function as a priest and be monitored by a social worker and by a priest-official of the New York archdiocese. When the housing position was eliminated, Shanley returned to California in 1997.

Allegations of sexual abuse surfaced in California, but prosecutors declined to indict because of lack of evidence. In 2002, Shanley voluntarily surrendered to law enforcement authorities when he learned of the indictment in Massachusetts.

All this is confirmed in his archdiocesan file, albeit the file must be studied meticulously, in part because items are not arranged chronologically on the compact discs. Many items are duplicates, leading to confusion; others are scribbled notes or illegible.

Orth correctly states, although without verification from me, that I have never spoken to any of Shanley’s accusers. After my visit with Paul in the Cambridge jail, I asked a well-connected journalist in Boston to facilitate my meeting some of Shanley’s accusers. His contact(s) responded, “Tell her to read the newspaper.” I would be grateful if Maureen Orth would assist in this regard because I firmly believe that listening is the first step in any search for truth and healing. But real listening cannot occur in an atmosphere of repeated, exaggerated and heightened rhetoric, which has surrounded this case.

I hope this terse reply illustrates that my original statements were not “fatuous.”

Mount Ranier, Md.

Three degrees of George

I wish to thank Paul Lea Lujanac for correcting my historical blunder in referring to the President as George II. I hereby humbly acknowledge that I should have designated the current occupant of the Oval Office as George III.


Experts on the news

Regarding Raymond Schroth’s “Media” column about Jon Stewart (NCR, Feb. 4): Several years ago, a writer from CounterPunch pointed out that the “McNeil-Lehrer Report” looked at both sides of an issue and ended up by shrugging their shoulders and suggesting that the issue was just too complicated for mere citizens to understand and we needed the experts to understand it for us.

Jon Stewart, on the other hand, will do something like show us Condoleezza Rice answering a question in an absurd way and giving us a “Can you believe this nonsense?” kind of look.

Seems to me that Jon Stewart very deeply cares about politics and the issues and by choosing satire, picks a much better method to energize his audience and get them to care than the “McNeil-Lehrer Report,” which encourages leaving it all up to the experts.

Horsham, Pa.

The question of evil

The question of evil allowed to occur without divine interference has perennially plagued people of faith. Marjorie Reiley Maguire brings the topic to the table relative to the tsunami (NCR, Jan. 28).

The same religious shock is not experienced from evils deliberately caused by human agents. Somehow we understand them better. We are not as dismayed by the number of dead and wounded in Iraq.

Paradoxically, some so-called “acts of God” are due to human failure. We are not only gifted with a lovely planet home, but also with ways to preserve and enhance it. Means are available to predict tidal waves. Some cannot afford them. God has provided. We have not.

What, however, of the tragedies and evils that happen in spite of our best efforts? Is it callous to repeat that we have not here a lasting city; that suffering has a hidden purpose; that Jesus suffered too; that suffering has the power to ennoble us? Not if we add that every tear will be wiped away, that for suffering there will be comfort lasting eternally. In the throes of death, St. Aloysius wrote that all that was lost is stored a hundredfold on the other shore.

We are dealing with a picture, and we must include its dimensions: the reality of eternity. Recall for a moment the model of eternity’s scope: If a bird’s wing touched an iron planet once every century, when the planet was worn away, eternity began. There is much time for great comfort.

Riviera Beach, Fla.

* * *

Marjorie Maguire’s viewpoint about God being either all-good or all-powerful, but certainly not both if he could stand by and allow the horrible devastation of the recent tsunami, seems superficial from someone listed as a Catholic theologian. I understand that’s just her viewpoint, and I grant that she wrote an interesting article, but to assume God couldn’t be all-good if he didn’t prevent the tsunami so he must not have been able to prevent it is an obvious fallacy.

I prefer the viewpoint that says God created the world, interferes with natural laws on rare occasions, but essentially lets things happen according to the natural order while helping man deal with events as they occur. Marjorie will probably object that this view is contradictory and simplistic, but I think it makes more sense than limiting God.

Thank you, NCR, for your wonderful publication, which contains thought-provoking articles like this one. I would be lost without my weekly dose of intelligent, insightful articles into the world, the nation and the Catholic religion as it relates to both. If I depended upon the diocesan newspaper for my insight into things Catholic, I would have a very limited and negative view of God’s wonderful creation.

Naples, Fla.

* * *

“Was the tsunami an act of God?” asks Marjorie Reiley Maguire. A Hindu would reply: “Of course.” In the Hindu trinity, God is Creator, Preserver and Destroyer.

Human stupidity made the disaster more severe than it needed to be. Coral reefs and mangrove trees were destroyed to develop beachfront property. Had they still been in existence, the tsunami damage would have been considerably less.

St. Louis

* * *

The author of the article on the tsunami opines about God’s various attributes -- goodness, power/impotence, etc. -- and about a “grieving God” in the context of that event. As a Sri Lankan who has had reason to grieve but is a believer in the God who is love, I am surprised at such opinions, considering her background. Maybe she should also reflect on fairly recent history -- on the God who could/should have smitten Hitler in 1939 or earlier, preventing World War II and the deaths of around 75 million people or could have had a thunderbolt knock the Enola Gay out of the skies before it dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and other such events. The tsunami tragedy pales by comparison.

My simple faith says that such physical evil, however vast or abominable, is in reality just the beginning of the fullness of life that awaits us all (see the old Baltimore Catechism’s question No. 2). The innocent victims of these tragedies are probably “reveling in the bosom of Abraham,” while we, the survivors, have to deal with the grief and loss and futilely wrestle with the mystery that is the “problem of evil.” I did that, arguing with my schoolmates in the mid-’40s. Maybe age -- and God’s grace -- has brought me a minimum of wisdom.

New Rochelle, N.Y.

Bringing injustice to trial

In regard to Sr. Jeannine’s piece on Paul Shanley, I am reminded of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s comment that the line between good and evil runs through the middle of every human heart. And in light of David France’s and Maureen Orth’s articles in the same issue -- especially given their solid credentials and credibility -- it becomes a daunting task to take a stand on how to treat the offender, aside from prohibiting his doing further damage. (I am speaking here of Shanley and what he is accused of, not the cover-ups, reassignments, etc. of the hierarchy.)

At first take, one may be tempted to take Sr. Jeannine’s approach as an example of what Daniel Berrigan has called “terrible innocence.” But a more thoughtful consideration might reveal in her decisions in regard to Paul Shanley an example of one of the deepest needs of contemporary humanity: a radical way to deal with violence that is not itself violent; a way to give the lie to any action labeled as “holy violence” or “justified violence” or “righteous violence” or “deserved violence” or “jihad.”

At the same time, I have no desire to diminish the importance of France’s and Orth’s reporting and the trail of pain they describe. But suppose he is guilty of all or most of the accusations. How should we -- not the authorities responsible for justice -- treat him? Between the lines in France’s and Orth’s pieces one might read a desire to make him suffer because he made others suffer. It is a common attitude in our culture; it is a most understandable and human attitude, especially if you are the offended ones, but I don’t think it’s a Christian one.

Kensington, Calif.

* * *

I would like to commend Sr. Jeannine Gramick for showing her usual courage in expressing an unpopular viewpoint that encompasses her Christian values. It seems that most people have gone from the one extreme of covering up abuse excessively to the other extreme of presuming guilt until proven innocent. It seems not too many have learned the lesson from the common high school assignment of reading Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Sexual abuse has replaced communism as the public target to pursue without regard to fundamental fairness and justice. Christians must embrace both justice and forgiveness, which is hard to do on an emotional issue hyped by the media constantly. The many who suffered sexual abuse deserve justice and protection, but so do the many who suffer from physical and verbal abuse and poverty who get scant media attention. The church’s looking the other way in these cases harmed both abuser and abused, but it was the accepted psychological wisdom of the times. Psychological wisdom changes, but Christian values, however unpopular, should remain constant.


* * *

I wish to congratulate Jeannine Gramick on her call for Christian compassion for all those accused of child molestation, whether guilty or not. There is no question that our compassion and demand for justice should first and foremost go to the victims of this terrible crime. As one falsely accused of child molestation in 1988, I underwent the trial of my life in the Bronx Supreme Court in April 1989. I was found innocent of all charges brought against me.

Nevertheless, there was not a bone in the soul of my body left unbroken. Although I have forgiven both my accuser and those in church and state who brought this injustice about, I still carry this wound like the mark of Cain.


* * *

The current trial of Paul Shanley, alleged child rapist and defrocked priest of the Boston archdiocese, certainly answers any question about why so few clergy sexual abuse victims come forth to press criminal charges against their abusers. Coverage by “Court TV” and other press reveals the victim’s ordeal. The horrendous history must be remembered and recounted in excruciating detail; the characters, behaviors and credibility of both the victim and his family are examined and questioned; corroborating evidence as to the heinous character of the accused is consistently rejected by the judge in order to insure the fairest possible trial for the defendant. Although there are thousands of clergy sexual abuse victims across the country as well as victim advocates and supporters, their presence is painfully absent from the proceedings, as is necessary in our judicial system. Small wonder, then, that already bruised and fragile victims refrain from such a process. As observers, we are reminded once again that while the hierarchical felons in this shameful drama lie well beyond the arm of the law, the victims continue to be re-victimized in their pursuit of justice.

East Longmeadow, Mass.

Pelosi’s politics

I was dismayed to read a recent article by Stephen Zunes (NCR, Jan. 14) portraying House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi as an ally of President Bush and a supporter of his policies on Iraq. Nothing could be further from the truth. While she has been unstinting in her support of our troops, Rep. Pelosi’s record has been one of consistent, intense and principled opposition to the war and its aftermath. Far from bolstering the administration, Congresswoman Pelosi has given legitimacy to the growing voices for change.

Recently, upon learning that the Iraq Survey Group had concluded its efforts to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Rep. Pelosi responded: “Now that the search is finished, President Bush needs to explain to the American people why he was so wrong, for so long, about the reasons for war.” But that was hardly the first time Rep. Pelosi criticized the Bush administration’s failed policies toward Iraq.

Indeed, as Minority Whip in 2002, she led the vote against the resolution giving the president unilateral authority to go to war against Iraq. Mr. Zunes’ article fails to mention how influential Rep. Pelosi was within the Democratic Caucus in vigorously rallying more than 60 percent of our colleagues to oppose the war -- a stand that invited criticism as the administration argued its case in increasingly alarmist terms. While she did not prevail, hers was a clear voice of principled opposition, reflecting the view of many within the Democratic Party.

I strongly believe that Rep. Pelosi has not only consistently opposed this war, but perhaps more important has steadily worked to build consensus on this issue within our diverse Democratic Caucus. We are fortunate to have her as our leader.


Rosa L. DeLauro is a Democratic Congresswoman from the Third District of Connecticut.

* * *

Reading the article on Nancy Pelosi in your Jan. 14 edition made me think of a group who decided to go skiing. They debated the weather, but in the end, they went. On the way they skidded off the road, down an embankment and into a tree. Two in the party were severely hurt. They had no cell phone. How would they get help? What were they to do? Amid the pain and uncertainty, a voice came from the back seat saying, “I told you we shouldn’t have come.”

The author of the article is saying the same thing and seems to think that the Congresswoman should also have followed that example. As a matter of fact, she did vote against invading Iraq. But, once we went, she focused on the situation, not on the initial decision. There is nothing constructive about saying, “We should never have been in Iraq in the first place.” Congresswoman Pelosi should be congratulated for focusing on what needs to be done now rather than on what we should have done earlier.

Professor Zunes could make better use of his time by proposing solutions to the immediate problems: What is the best way of protecting our country against terrorists and how do we assist the Iraqi people? Hundreds of them are dying right now and thousands more will die if we just walk away.

Having created the situation in Iraq, we cannot be irresponsible and ignore it. Enough of the Vietnam War-era rhetoric. Let’s find a 21st-century solution.

Ocean City, N.J.

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, February 18, 2005