National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
April 8, 2005

Letters The boundaries of life

Terri Schiavo’s story has simmered for years throughout the underground pro-life/pro-family media. There is no one who wouldn’t have preferred to see Terri’s plight settled privately. However, Terri’s is an issue of death by non-consent perpetrated by one man who by all alleged accounts long ago divorced himself from the bonds of marriage in common law if not in official procedure. One can’t live with someone else and father children with someone else and have a more justified claim to the custodial care of a woman (who left no will, solidly implied or written) than the parents who gave her life.

If Terri tragically loses the fight (she didn’t pick) for life, we know it won’t be in vain. A brain-damaged woman has shown the whole world that the death-culture, leftist establishment feeds on lies, revision and pompous secular righteousness to try and separate us from our humanity and our souls.

The Holy Father had better not lose consciousness or else his tracheotomy tube might be removed; nor people with colostomies, whose openings could be sewed up while they were unaware; nor people with pacemakers or those on life-sustaining medications. They might be threatened like Terri.

Having worked among special-needs people for more than 15 years, I have shed a tear or two over this case. Though she is now not the Terri her family once knew, she is the same Terri, there to be loved and appreciated more than ever.

Cannington, Ontario

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Terri Schiavo’s parents say they have fought to keep her alive for 15 years.

For shame.

I say for 15 years they have kept her in limbo and deprived her of her eternal reward in heaven.

Garden Grove, Calif.

* * *

Life on earth is not absolute. Death comes to us all eventually. Since we humans have found ways to keep a person alive who would otherwise die, we have been debating when it’s appropriate to use those extraordinary means and when it’s better to let go.

But those of us who are Christians believe that our souls go on to a better life. And so the stance of “absolute pro-life on earth” is puzzling. Why do some believe it right to hold Terri Schiavo’s soul hostage in her no-longer-functioning earthly body and deny her the right to continue on to heaven? Why do they prolong her suffering?

We have the example of Jesus, who lived with a death sentence hanging over him from the time he was conceived. (Since women pregnant out of wedlock were stoned to death, he would have died if Joseph hadn’t accepted Mary.) When the time came and he could do no more on earth, he hesitated and then went resolutely to his death instead of running away from it. He returned to show us there is abundant life beyond our earthly death.

Terri Schiavo’s life still serves a purpose. She stands as a cry of conscience to all of us to decide this modern dilemma: What are the criteria for life on earth? We need to decide. We need to stop letting the absolute pro-lifers silence the debate.

Farmington, N.M.

Condemn my books, please

I’m wondering if NCR might know who I could contact at the Vatican to discuss possible condemnation or censure of a couple books I have written. While mine are nowhere near as substantive and controversial as Roger Haight’s book (NCR, Feb. 25), sales are poor, and I am sure that something I wrote is at least “wannabe heresy.” My publishers might not agree with my methodology, but I sure would welcome the Vatican’s help in boosting sales and am willing to send them a portion of my royalty checks as a token of my appreciation.

Fresno, Calif.

Cornel West in 2008

As an overseas subscriber, I’m responding late to “Dogmas that threaten democracy,” regarding the newest book by Cornel West (Spring Books, NCR, Feb. 11).

I remember thinking in 2000 that Cornel West would be the ideal Green Party candidate for 2004. This article was a reminder to me that he remains an ideal candidate for 2008 as either a Green or a Democrat. Our country is in desperate need of someone who can step beyond political infighting and become a political prophet in a time of backbiting, political maneuvering and the adolescent behavior that seems to be on the rise from so many politicians.

The past few decades have produced stale, plastic politicians on both the left and the right who are unable to inspire and captivate the citizens of our country. Both Al Gore and John Kerry are painfully obvious examples of this. Cornel West is brilliant, captivating and an independent thinker. He is willing to be critical of those on the left and the right with regard to the failure of both to place people before economics, and the common good before corporate good.

Perhaps most important at this time is the fact that Cornel West can represent the “religious left” with a credibility and sincerity that few can. He has the ability to reach out to a wide electorate: the working class, intellectuals, minorities, Christians, Muslims and independents. If he were able to find the proper running mate, what could stop him?

Mombasa, Kenya

Nuns as abusers

In a review in NCR last year of David France’s book Our Fathers (NCR, May 21), Kathy Shaw opened with, “Just when you thought everything had been written about the current sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church …” Ms. Shaw makes a good point. Everything has not been written about the scandal.

What needs to be said and explored is this: Nuns do it, too! I am a victim of sexual abuse by a nun in a boarding school setting. She came into my room for two years every night after lights-out and criminally sexually abused me. The effects have been devastating for my whole life. The response from the nuns has been too little, too late, and too reluctant.

Somehow nuns have gotten safely through the avalanche of attention from the media. Are orders of religious women escaping exposure with money and reputations intact because it is just too mind-boggling for the public to accept the thought that women abuse? Or that religious women abuse? Or are nuns able to hide successfully because they are accountable only to their provincials and the pope?

Whatever the reason(s), victims of sexual abuse by nuns must be acknowledged and compensated. Unless and until sexual abuse by all church leaders (not just priests and bishops) is investigated, the victims of abuse by nuns will continue to be ignored. Thousands of victims will live their whole lives without justice or help in healing.

The Catholic church and its victims owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the media for lancing the church’s wounds and allowing some of the infection to seep out. Unfortunately, more needs to be done. All the infection sites must be located and treated and cleansed. Many additional victims continue to suffer the self-hatred and guilt that are the lot of those sexually abused by religious leaders. Among them are those like me who have been abused by women who publicly dedicated their lives to God and privately traumatized vulnerable children and adults.

Eagan, Minn.

Sr. Dorothy Stang

Thank you for the wonderful article you wrote about my aunt, Sr. Dorothy Stang (NCR, March 4). It was passed to me by a family member. The Stang family has been devastated by the killing of my aunt, but we are also very proud to have known her and loved her. My aunt was a truly great woman. She was strong and yet gentle. She was great fun and yet seriously devoted to her work and her people. She spoke softly but everyone listened to what she had to say. She truly lived the Gospel every day of her life. We are grateful that you and other reporters are letting the world know of her life and her death. We don’t want her to have died in vain.

Niagara Falls, N.Y.

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I am writing to thank you for your wonderful report and editorial about Sr. Dorothy Stang. I attended the memorial service held two weeks ago in support of the sisters working here in Baltimore. I went without really knowing any details of how Sr. Dorothy died or even who she was. I was stunned and brought to tears to see the pictures of her funeral, amazed and awed by her sister Marguerite’s simple and eloquent eulogy honoring her sister from the perspective of their family, and mostly humbled by the presence of the Brazilian ambassador. He told us that not only was Sr. Dorothy’s murder a tragedy for the Sisters of Notre Dame De Namur, but a tragedy for all the Brazilian people. She had taken Brazilian citizenship not more than a year ago in true solidarity with the people she walked with. Through the family, her parishioners told us that they consider Sr. Dorothy not buried with them in Anapu, but “planted there.”

Here in St. Mary of the Assumption, not only are we proud of her, we will be including her in the Litany of the Saints at the Easter Vigil. She will join the first martyr of the rainforests, Chico Mendez, as a positive example of faith in action. Young people today are crying out for examples of lives that they can emulate and from whom they can take courage. Sr. Dorothy’s story will live in their hearts because it is true and real.


Lisa O’Reilly is pastoral associate for religious ministry and youth ministry at St. Mary of the Assumption Church.

Merton’s example

I must confess: Having lived 68 years on the planet, I find that Thomas Merton was the only person who taught me anything worthwhile. I never met him, but from about 1957, his books and his thought were never far from me. It is through him and the formation he provided me that I can endure the utter nonsense that passes for the management and administration of the church today.

In my family we have long hoped that Merton would never be submitted for canonization. We know that the process would open the floodgates to legions of Looney Tunes who feel it is their mission to tear people down because of one or two issues. Sure, Merton fell in love with M. -- good for him. He also kept his vows, better for him. Show me a man in his 50s (called by some social thinkers the “hurricane years”) who says he has not been intrigued by a girl half his age, especially one who has been kind to him, and I will show you a blind man or a liar.

Warminster, Pa.

* * *

Your headline “The ghost of Merton, and a new catechism” was a grabber. The article “Whose orthodoxy is it?” (NCR, March 11), by Deborah Halter, was appealingly inciting. What does it matter?

Through his glorious writings, Thomas Merton will continue to challenge intellects, change hearts, confront the constructs of evil, illuminate the world and convert more souls than any bureaucratically correct catechism can achieve.

As to his small-minded, intellectually challenged critics, we should do what Merton certainly would have done if he were still with us today: Laugh!


Exclusive language?

As one of the members of the generation the new American catechism is intended to reach, I must question one of Deborah Halter’s assumptions in her recent article. I cannot speak for everyone, but when I see so-called inclusive language in a book or an article, the impression I’m left with is usually not that the author is making a genuine effort to include both men and women but rather that the author is trying to give male readers an inferiority complex. If there are others who likewise feel excluded by so-called inclusive language, it would seem that it would be detrimental to this new catechism to use such language in its text and would reduce its effective readership to aging baby boomers, which I am sure is not what the church intends.

Steubenville, Ohio

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, April 8, 2005