National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
March 25, 2005

Letters Catechism and controversy

After reading Deborah Halter’s critique of the new catechism for the United States (NCR, March 11), I have come to two conclusions:

1) That 99.9 percent of American Catholics aren’t going to care what’s in the catechism.

2) The emphasis of catechetical translators Msgr. Michael Wrenn and Kenneth D. Whitehead’s picky orthodoxy leads me to believe that their nitpicking, which eliminates Merton from the catechism, is not due to a search for “correctness” but instead a search to include only people as examples who provide us with little to no hope of emulating them. If one can’t possibly emulate someone’s example, it leaves one safe in pursuing only the letter of orthodoxy, without the weighty burden of orthopraxis.

Wrenn and Whitehead’s fears have reared their ugly heads -- fears of actually having to live a life based on Jesus’ example. These fears then free them from that obligation by propping up a wordy orthodoxy as an easy alternative. It allows them to sit in their tower and criticize instead of putting them on the ground actually having to live Christian values in their everyday life.

Tucson, Ariz.

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I was reading the article on the new catechism and got so upset at what the critics were saying about Merton and the others who weren’t up to the standard of orthodoxy that I started to re-read the article to see if I was missing anything. And I found what I needed to see. They wanted to exclude Cardinal Joseph Bernardin because he was “controversial”! Then my blood pressure subsided and I could breathe easier, and everything seemed to be all right. If these Catholics are excluded because their faith expressions were controversial, then they were in good company. You can’t look at a crucifix during Lent and not see that Jesus died at the hands of people who were convinced that his faith expression was too controversial. Merton and the others are the ones who the church needs to hear from, now more than ever.

Liberty, Texas

Voting guides

I am writing in support of Joe Feuerherd’s article “Bishops’ ‘Faithful Citizenship’ undermined by conservative groups” (NCR, Feb. 25).

I have a number of conservative Catholic friends who promoted the “Voters Guide for Serious Catholics” while ignoring “Faithful Citizenship.” I cannot understand how any true Catholic who has an awareness of the life of Christ and a commitment to the teachings of the church can single out “five nonnegotiable issues.” It is elementary to a Christian conscience that no sin is negotiable.

When Christ was asked what is the greatest commandment, he did not single out any issues as being most important. His response was: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second most important commandment is like it: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22.37-39). These are behaviorally all-encompassing.

Many of the conservatives who subscribe to the “Voters Guide” are supporting and promoting programs that deepen the plight of the poor in health, education, food, clothing and shelter. This includes the working poor. Many also support capital punishment and a “U.S.-first” philosophy when it comes to acts of charity, war and conduct during wartime.

The “Faithful Citizenship” document was wonderfully considered and developed. As it says, it is very difficult for a Catholic to subscribe to the complete philosophies of either the far left or right. Both have agenda items that are not in keeping with a well-developed Christian conscience.

Fairfield Bay, Ark.

Abortion debate

Regarding Fr. Richard McBrien’s “Reframing the abortion debate” (NCR, March 4): I’m dismayed that as learned and savvy a commentator as Fr. McBrien would be so taken in by anything written by Frances Kissling, let alone provide a platform for her in NCR. Ms. Kissling has consistently shown herself to be willing not only to oppose the church’s teaching on abortion but also to thwart the church’s efforts to advocate for the unborn. The sorry pastiche of specious reasoning and sophistry that he finds so compelling should be seen for what it is: nothing more than the latest in her unrelenting efforts to try to force a moral alternative where there isn’t one and a tack to advance her cause by adopting a disingenuously conciliatory tone toward the pro-life movement.

St. Louis

* * *

Richard McBrien’s article about Frances Kissling was most encouraging. Perhaps we can start to understand abortion without the absolutes from both sides. For too long, church leaders and others have treated abortion as if it were the only issue that mattered, looking at it in isolation from other social issues. Too often, pro-choice persons have been just as absolute, not even willing to concede that late-term abortion is offensive to almost everyone.

When we value human life, we value all human life, not just that of the unborn. And on the choice side, we all must remember that none of us has absolute freedom. My personal freedom ends or is compromised where it meets someone else’s freedom. Still, the idea of women’s right to their own personal bodily choices resonates with me. Historically and sociologically, there are too many cases of women being subject to whatever men wanted, women who have no rights of their own. We need only think of rape and sexual slavery, of women’s value being only that of producing children.

The solution to this is not criminalizing abortion but giving women opportunities to develop their personhood with education and economic security. Maybe we can start toward this.

Salyersville, Ky.

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 25, 2005