National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
March 11, 2005

Letters God and democracy

Patrick Kelly in his article “Does God support democracy?” (NCR, Feb. 4) is so right. It is high time the Catholics in the United States and the rest of the world question the policy of the Bush administration’s (jihad) mantra: “Freedom via democracy, at any cost, in the name of God.”

Bush and Co. have their priorities wrong. Jesus has said he will judge us on whether we feed the hungry, not whether we give them freedom at any cost.

Are people better off because they live under a government that pretends to follow the democratic system?

Free elections in many so-called democratic countries merely provide a change of government that steals more than the previous one and where the poor get poorer and the rich richer.

If Bush really wants to follow the teaching of Jesus, he should first practice and spread honesty, justice and forgiveness. These are the first requirements and the purpose of government.

Antigua, Guatemala

* * *

I was greatly encouraged to read Fr. Kelly’s perspective on God’s viewpoint, or lack of viewpoint as the case may be, on America’s theological place in the world. I thought for years that I was the lone voice in the wilderness, and an unwanted one at that. I was verbally excoriated by my parish priest for expressing the same sentiments that Fr. Kelly expresses, that “the God of Christianity is misrepresented as the God of the United States of America,” when I protested the parish Mass on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, where the most prominent symbols of worship were the flag, battle fatigues and officers’ uniforms.

Silence in the face of God-hijacking by America so that America can claim divine providence as she pursues her own goals is not an option for this Catholic. I hope that Fr. Kelly’s article gets wide reading and that leaders take notice of the danger that is present when one mixes religion and nationalist fervor. We are living that danger today.

Virginia Beach, Va.

* * *

It is idle to ask “Does God support democracy?” Of course he does, to the extent that it is true, just and good; of course he does not, to the extent that it is not true, just and good.

George Bush believes in God and scripture. He believes in freedom and the worth of each individual. He believes that God is the foundation of a person’s rights, and not the state. You can’t hang a man for those beliefs.

But a modern inquisition might.

Fr. Kelly writes: “There is nothing in the teaching of the Catholic church that would support the president’s claim that God is behind the march to freedom. … The church was quite suspicious of such enthusiasm through much of the 19th century.” Indeed it was. Rome condemned “Americanism” and “modernism” as heresy. In the 1950s, Paulist ordinands were required to take a fourth vow: denunciation of the heresy of “modernism” -- the phantom heresy.

Perhaps Patrick Kelly et al. are condemning George Bush for heresy. And if not heresy, at least scandalosa and for being “offensive to pious ears.”

Cayuga, N.Y.

Bad things happen

Regarding the article by Marjorie Reiley Maguire, “Was the tsunami an act of God?” (NCR, Jan. 28):

I am a licensed clinical psychologist and a certified thanatologist (death, dying and bereavement). As a grief educator, I know that following a loss grievers ask, “Why?” over and over again. We want answers, but rarely do we get them.

When catastrophes like the tsunami unfold, our belief system is stretched, challenged and even shattered. Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, “Can grievers forgive God for not creating a perfect world where the right thing would always happen and we would always be safe?” Before these events we may have believed that God is absolute benevolence and perfect justice, and now we are trying to make sense out of it all. Abraham Twersky, a Pittsburgh rabbi and psychiatrist, writes, “Probably the best we can do is to understand that we cannot understand.”

Rabbi Kushner was asked after Sept. 11, 2001, “How could God let this happen?” He responded, “But God’s promise was never that life would be fair. God’s promise was that we would not have to confront the unfairness alone. Psalm 23 does not say, ‘In the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil because there is no evil in the world.’ It also does not say, ‘I will fear no evil because people get what they deserve and I am a good person.’ It does say, ‘I will fear no evil because Thou art with me.’ ”

Bethel Park, Pa.

McCarthy on Wallis

After reading Colman McCarthy’s attack on Jim Wallis (NCR, Feb. 18), I wonder if Mr. McCarthy might have missed the central theme of the book, hearing the cry of the poor, which gets no mention in the article. Mr. McCarthy accuses Mr. Wallis of imposing his personal God on the rest of us, then goes on to impose the McCarthy personal view that politics and faith are obviously never to be integrated. Is this a disguised effort to conserve dualism?

“A very tired tale” perhaps, but remember the very tired “no peace without justice.” Sometimes it takes a lot of pounding to tenderize meat.

Burlingame, Calif.

Friends for life

The relationship between Matt Killion and Dick Ryan (“A friend for life and death,” NCR, Feb. 18) is cause for celebration. The priesthood, marriage, family, careers, the good and the difficult times, all blessed by friendship. From a man’s perspective, it seems women are better at making and keeping friends. I think we men need to become better at it. Mr. Killion and Mr. Ryan are good role models. I am inspired. Thanks for sharing!

Morgantown, W.Va.

Speakers at Catholic U.

As a former vice president for student life at The Catholic University of America, I read with interest Tom Roberts’ Editor’s Note headlined “Students can handle dissonance” (NCR, Feb. 4) about vetting speakers on Catholic campuses, with specific reference to Newt Gingrich’s recent appearance at Catholic University. The student newspaper, The Tower, reported student protest surrounding Gingrich’s talk but made it clear that students were not protesting his right to be invited to speak on campus, only that other speakers have been refused that permission. The impression left and apparently believed by many students is that the university vets speakers, films and programs at the whim of the president. The student handbook contains a highly nuanced presentations policy that the NCR patrons -- and Catholic University students -- should find of interest. This policy was hammered out and approved by the board of trustees in 1990. An excerpt is presented below:

“The Catholic University of America, as a private institution, is not required to provide a forum for advocates whose values are counter to those of the university or the Roman Catholic church. The university recognizes a distinction between objective explanation and advocacy in the presentation of issues. This means, therefore, that it may refuse permission to prospective speakers who in its judgment promote or advocate such counter values. This also means that balanced programs explaining positions on both sides of controversial societal, political, moral and/or ecclesiastical issues may be staged in the pursuit of a more complete educational experience and a greater understanding of the issues.”

The whole policy may be accessed on the Catholic University Web site (

Owings Mills, Md.

Frances Perkins

Please tell me that naming FDR’s Labor Secretary as a man (Francis) was a typo (NCR editorial, Feb. 4)! Or did the editorial writer just assume that FDR’s Secretary of Labor must have been a man way back then? Frances Perkins was an able woman, the first to hold Cabinet rank in the United States, a position she held from 1933 to 1945. She made a great contribution to women’s rights, child labor and factory legislation.

Congratulations on an excellent paper, which I need and look forward to every week.

Palm Harbor, Fla.

Social Security

I found your article on the Bush administration’s proposal for Social Security to be complete and thorough (NCR, Feb. 4). I only have one quibble: The subtitle on the cover should have read “revoking the social compact” instead of “rewriting the social compact.”


Rendition and torture

On Feb. 18, The New York Times reported in graphic detail how the United States “renders” some prisoners to countries like Syria to be tortured. This policy is even more disgusting than the rest of the present U.S. use of torture for it says, “We know that what we want done is so illegal and so immoral that we dare not do it ourselves. So we will arrange for someone else to.”

Judaism, Christianity and Islam teach that every human being is created in the image of God. It is God’s own image that is being torn to pieces by “electrical shocks, pulling out fingernails, the forced insertion of objects into the rectum.”

It is shameful that Alberto Gonzales, head of what is called the Department of Justice, has refused to condemn “rendition.” It is almost as shameful that every religious community in America is not crying out against this sinful violation of all moral values.


Censure of Haight

Roger Haight was my dissertation director. I am deeply troubled by the Vatican censure of him.

The Vatican treats Haight’s Christology as suspect. The heart of the conflict is, I think, rather ecclesiological. Haight’s profoundly catholic emphasis on a God whose salvific presence is accessible to all creation is in conflict with the starkly Manichean worldview that has guided this papacy and vitiated its claim to defend a catholic ecclesiology. For the current regime, the world is evil, and the church a solitary bastion of truth in the darkness of contemporary culture.

To approach culture in this way is to prevent any constructive dialogue between faith and culture. In the worldview dominating the current papacy, keeping faith is equated with parroting creedal statements formulated in a culture alien to that in which we live. A primary task of any tradition that wishes to remain vital -- communicating its central tenets in concepts that make sense to each successive era -- has been actively resisted by a papacy that ironically proclaims itself as the sole guarantor of tradition in the church.

Institutions that systematically suppress their thinkers, poets and prophets are institutions that court decay. Is it any accident, I wonder, that, under a papal regime that has ruthlessly muzzled the church’s intellectual class, there have also been horrific revelations about a betrayal of pastoral authority on the part of most bishops unparalleled in the modern history of the church?

W.D. Lindsey
Little Rock, Ark.

* * *

Thank you so much for the article on Roger Haight in your issue of Feb. 18. I can’t tell you how liberating and exciting the article was for me. I am 60 years old and to see in print from a Catholic theologian what I have believed and been afraid to believe and express was a wonderful thing. Thank you, NCR and Roger Haight.

Amarillo, Texas

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, March 11, 2005