National Catholic Reporter
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April 15, 2005

Letters Sex abuse and the Vatican

I love the line from John L. Allen’s piece on Condoleezza Rice and the Vatican: “A senior Vatican source told NCR some months ago that the possibility of becoming implicated in civil litigation is one reason the Holy See has been reluctant to enter into the details of sex abuse policy in the United States” (NCR, March 11).

Didn’t the pope himself convoke an extraordinary synod of U.S. bishops to come to Rome in spring 2002 to directly “enter into the details of sex abuse policy in the United States”?

Interesting (or “wanting it both ways”) that for all of Allen’s cry for a decentralization of the U.S. Catholic church from the grip of Roman centrality and more autonomy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, somehow holding the pope and the Holy See responsible for what happened on U.S. soil by U.S. priests makes some sort of sense.

Good to remember the only victims here: those poor, innocent kids. I don’t consider their molesters “priests,” but archcriminals.

Mahwah, N.J.

Arctic drilling

What will I tell my grandchildren? The Bible says we humans have been given dominion over the “beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.” Not exploitation, not careless overuse, not delivery of poisons. We are to be caretakers and protectors of this wondrous world. Where are the Bible believers today after the U.S. Senate voted March 16 in favor of abandoning the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for a measly amount of oil? It was argued that this action “might” help keep oil prices down. Are we so desperate to save 10 cents a gallon at the pump that we would sacrifice our caretaker role of the earth? Are we going to let global warming destroy our coastal cities and eliminate our glaciers because our high standard of living is more important than the good earth and sharing it with our children’s children? Dare we ask these questions? I repeat: What will I tell my grandchildren? That my generation didn’t give a damn?


War hurts the world

The comment by Tom Beaudoin that “no one has the right to claim they support this war unless, in good conscience, they would volunteer to send their most beloved family member to die” (Quotable and Notable, NCR, Feb. 25) brings tears to my eyes each time I read it. My son departed March 24 for Iraq with his Army unit from North Carolina. That alone has me a bit on edge, but what was even more distressing was my son’s remark last week that he and his buddies had just returned from having their “memorial” photos taken. At my puzzled noise, he explained that when the first groups of dead soldiers were returned from Iraq, it was discovered that those brave souls didn’t have good photos for their funerals so the Army is correcting that now.

I am not even sure how I feel about this matter beyond the fact that nothing positive has happened since the beginning of this war. The lives lost from the U.S. standpoint are unbelievable, and what the people in Iraq have suffered is mind-boggling. I will hope and pray that soon this wonderful country of ours will see that we are in the wrong and making decisions that are hurting the world.

Lukeville, Ariz.

The examined life

It was with concern that I read Colman McCarthy’s article on the evils of testing (NCR, March 11). As a person who has worked in assessment for a number of years, I can say that this argument is not new.

Many experts in the assessment world tend to agree with the spirit of this article. Indeed, the Bush administration’s policy in regard to testing as put forward through “No Child Left Behind” is problematic. Its reliance on the use of one measure at one point during a student’s school year as a gauge of academic success has been condemned by every reputable psychometric organization in the nation. Multiple measures of achievement are needed, not just one brief snapshot, for a true picture.

What is problematic is the attitude Mr. McCarthy seems to exhibit toward assessment of students in general. He references many notable educators throughout history, including himself, who have never given tests and describes the evaluation of students as one of the “fearful” aspects of American education. It is as if any attempt to discover what a student has learned is to be condemned.

Good teachers constantly evaluate students, Mr. McCarthy. They use many means, including standardized tests, which are not the evils you depict in the article. They know what their students have learned on a daily basis. No fear.

Socrates himself was perhaps the greatest assessor of all time. Remember, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Chippewa Falls, Wis.

Vocations Down Under

I write in regard to an article by Kathy Coffey concerning the church in Australia, “Hope from Down Under” (NCR, March 4). I am able to assure you that her recent experience of ecclesial life in Australia is not, thankfully, representative of wider church life in this country. While there are pockets of dissent and misguided enthusiasm (as Ms. Coffey discovered), the areas of truly vibrant and youthful renewal are characterized by their faithfulness to the church.

As the director of vocations for the largest diocese in Oceania (3.5 million people, of whom 1 million are Catholics), I am aware that we must, indeed, face the reality of the crisis at hand, which is not primarily a crisis of vocations. The supposed priest shortage is a consequence of the real problem we face: the crisis of faith. We cannot expect men to embrace the priesthood of Jesus Christ who don’t even know Jesus. Those bishops who are serious about the future of the church have faced up to this fact. They have sought to ensure that Catholic adult education and seminary training are rooted in the heart of the church and not in the periphery of speculative theology and even outright heresy (that word that no one dare utter).

Ms. Coffey also reported on the first Australian beatified, Blessed Mary of the Cross (formerly Mary MacKillop). This dynamic and courageous woman was not, however, a great dissenter of legitimate authority. She loved the church and was noted for her loyalty to the hierarchy, even when she came under its human excesses.

East Melbourne, Australia

Diversity among atheists

Brian Brennan’s piece “Atheism is its own belief system” (NCR, March 25), though informative, was a bit oversimplified. There is as much diversity among atheists as among Christians.

There are outspoken atheists, frequently intolerant and obnoxious, who “affirm the absence of God.” But there are far more “nontheists” -- who may refer to themselves as agnostics, humanists, Unitarians, humanistic Jews, etc. -- who would say that among the many things not included in their belief systems are a deity, a supernatural order or leprechauns. Just as Catholics do not include in their belief system reincarnation, predestination or zombies.

Just as there are Ayn Rand-type Libertarian atheists, there are vastly more moderate to progressive nontheists who share many important values with moderate to progressive Catholics, Protestants and Jews.

Finally, the word “disbelief” is rather useless. Everyone has a set of beliefs, and everyone is a “disbeliever” in whatever conflicts with one’s beliefs.

Moderate to progressive Catholics, Protestants, Jews and nontheists have much more in common than any of them have with either religious or atheistic fundamentalists.

Silver Spring, Md.

Wall of separation

It is quite reasonable to consider the Pilgrims and missionaries as contributors to American culture, whether Puritan Protestant or Spanish Catholic. But both groups also committed acts that don’t square with the romanticized notion of “a city on a hill” and “a new Jerusalem.” We now know that neither group was as benevolent as Alan Sears makes them out to be (NCR, Feb. 25). They were not the creators of the civic freedoms he extols.

For that, we must look to the real Founding Fathers, the most prominent of whom weren’t Christians at all but children of the Enlightenment. So when Mr. Sears talks about the “enduring principles of Christianity held by our founders,” he is practicing sleight of hand. Franklin, Jefferson and Hamilton were deists; Washington and Madison exhibited strong deist tendencies; and John Adams, though a Unitarian, leaned in that direction. Of the descendants of the Pilgrims, he said that they would “whip and crop, and pillory and roast” if not checked by legal restraints.

As a lifelong Catholic activist who grew up in a totalitarian society, I have come to appreciate the blessings of a strict wall of separation between church and state. It is a doctrine of sheer democratic genius.

This separation is especially needed at a time when righteous endeavors on behalf of the common and public good have been replaced by the greed-driven privatizations of the market place. Surely there are enough well-to-do Christians in California and the United States to finance the renovation of the missions.

Aberdeen, Wash.

A pope by any other name

Deborah Halter includes Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, alias Pope John XXIII, among her group of “exemplary American Catholics” (NCR, March 11). Exemplary, yes, but American? I don’t think so. It calls to mind how the word went around Dublin pubs after Roncalli’s election that some Irish guy called Ron Kelly had made it to the top.

Lavender Bay, New South Wales, Australia

Drawbacks of wealth

The section on wealth and the Christian (NCR, March 11) focuses on an important topic and offers some useful advice on giving. As much as I differ with John Paul II on other matters, I concur with him that we should “tremble” at our wealth as compared to the rest of God’s children. Many Christians still look upon wealth as a divine right and even criticize any reference to the necessity of helping the poor and downtrodden. Not only are they wrong on that count, but they lose out on knowing that money is a strong pull away from God. Even further, the less we are motivated by money, the nearer we are to the kingdom. The millions of self-help, counseling and other therapeutic aids on the market would hardly be necessary to a people who has found God in the richness of the Spirit.

Yonkers, N.Y.

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 15, 2005