National Catholic Reporter
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April 22, 2005

Letters Pope John Paul II

As a 25-year-old, I have known only one pope my entire life. This leader of our faith, so one with the world’s problems and so above its frays, so gregarious and so immersed in prayer, so funny and so disarmingly sober, showed us how we as young Catholics must strive to live. Whether discussing AIDS in Africa with a rock star or war in Iraq with a president, he demonstrated that we must embrace and cooperate with the elements of this world to transform it into the next. In more religious terms, we all must work together to effect God’s kingdom here on Earth.

Reared in both the “Me” 1980s and the still culturally undecipherable 1990s by parents who balanced Vatican II change against the rigid Catholicism of their youth, many members of my generation have struggled to find their place in the church, which often seems to be one scandal away from alienating us for good. As we turn to a new pontiff, we must consider why, in the face of adversity and even atrocity, we continue to proclaim our Catholicism, even if we often struggle to live it fully. Catholic literally means “universal,” and what figure in our generation, or even the last several, has been more able in spreading the faith, more universal in his message or actions?


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John Allen’s talk at the recent Voice of the Faithful conference on Long Island was insightful and well received (NCR, March 25). Particularly informative was his description of the various political groupings among the cardinals who will take part in the next papal election.

Perhaps we should hope that when selecting the next pope, the cardinals use just one criterion: personal holiness instead of politics. What if the cardinals could set aside their various ideologies and simply look for the most holy among them? Holiness, closeness to God, finds outward expression through humility. Who is the most humble among them? Surely Catholics would rally behind a humble, holy servant regardless of his ideology.

In the same way, wouldn’t it be best if this were also the sole criterion used for the selection of bishops? What local priest exemplifies closeness to God? Surely the community knows.

What would our church look like 20 years from now if leaders were chosen based on their personal holiness instead of ideology or loyalty to the institution? I believe we would become a church more in line with what Christ intended. I suspect we would also become a church that our children and grandchildren would want to belong to.

Hauppauge, N.Y.

Dan Bartley is co-chair of Long Island Voice of the Faithful.

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I am upset about the way NCR has chosen to portray our church and the legacy of John Paul II in the obituary written by John L. Allen Jr. While I expect this type of rhetoric from secular media, I never expected it from a Catholic publication. While it is true that the church has issues that may be deemed “divisive” by some, John Paul II was one of the most ecumenical and unifying popes we have had. Unfortunately, some equate unity with compromising basic truths of our faith, and under this erroneous definition, then perhaps John Paul II is guilty as charged.

Sadly, two perceptions of the American church (one is hierarchical while the other is pseudo-democratic) continue to divide American Catholics. In the United States we are so unaccustomed to the idea of obedience (due to our democratic mode of operation) that we feel we just do not need to do it. As Catholics, one thing we know is that in matters of faith and morality our church has the Lord’s promise of protection from error. Our history has proven this to be true and I trust that our current problems will submit to our Lord’s pledge. Let us pray that our next pope can heal some of the wounds this mentality (not John Paul II) has left upon the church and that as Catholics we embrace all of the truths of the magisterium and of our rich tradition.

Isla Verde, Carolina, Puerto Rico

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The words that Pope John Paul II composed in preparation for this week’s post-Easter Mass should be heeded by the entire world, Catholic and non-Catholic:

“It is love which converts hearts and gives peace to all humanity, which today seems so lost and dominated by the power of evil selfishness and fear: Our resurrected Lord gives us his love, which forgives, reconciles and reopens the soul to hope.”

John Paul’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq and to globalization is well known, and his message serves to remind us of this. There are too few logical voices in positions of power willing to make a stand for peace, sanity and goodness. We can only hope that the new head of the Catholic church will continue the policy of speaking out against the current culture of corporate and governmental greed, corruption and warmongering.

Los Angeles

Proper diction

Regarding the phrase “and with your spirit,” there is no reason to capitalize the word “spirit” as your printed version of Cardinal Francis George’s words did (NCR, March 25). It simply refers to ruah or nepesh, a person’s center of life and emotion and thus a person’s self, not the Holy Spirit.

With this as background, I go to my main point. When the time comes, people should be instructed to say “and with your spirit,” not the almost meaningless “and with your spirit.” The accent on your delivers the same meaning as “and also with you,” where “you” gets English emphasis just by being at the end of the phrase.

The emphasis on your even works backward to suggest that Dominus vobiscum (“the Lord be with you”) actually means “the Lord be with your deepest selves,” where all of us -- greeter and greeted -- may feel sad or lonely or worried and in need of divine as well as human company.

St. Louis

Medical rights

In “Schiavo case highlights divisions in Catholic views on treatment” (NCR, April 1), Fr. Michael Orsi’s attempt to compare Terri Schiavo to a “baby dependent on adults to provide food and nutrition” was irresponsible and only adds to the ongoing confusion over this issue. The brain of a baby, while still developing, will become capable of reflective self-consciousness, that is, it has a future. But Terri’s cerebral cortex -- the center of thought -- and her thalamus, which connects the brain stem to the cortex, were no longer functioning. There was no consciousness or sensation. Dead neural tissue was being replaced by cerebrospinal fluid. The only part of her brain that was functioning was the brain stem, which regulates functions such as breathing or heartbeat. We were witnessing reflexive events, not conscious awareness. We should not confuse reflexive events with reflective activity. Was the withdrawal of food and nutrition intended to hasten her death? Of course. It is intended to provide a peaceful and painless death to someone beyond any hope of recovery. It is justified by any reasonable analysis of proportionality. Finally, although it is not the most salient point in this instance, Catholic teaching has always taken economic factors, individual and social, into its decision-making on these matters. Think of the economic consequences to the health care system -- the loss of the use of these resources to assist the babies whom Orsi cites, and others -- if we keep persons in similar situations alive using current technologies.

Herndon, Va.

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I have a mother with dementia, and her right to live is no different from mine. In a society where we seem to talk more about rights, I have come to believe that not one right I have should take away another’s. Perhaps I should say that I have learned this with the raising of my six children and the responsibilities of living in a family. Surely the same reason applies when living as part of the world and the greater family.

In Terri Schiavo’s case, Fr. Michael Orsi was right: The problem was not that she was dying, but that she could not eat. Our only confidence must be that our God sees all, and that at the end of the day it is he who will judge the hearts of men, both Michael Schiavo and the numerous courts and judges who allowed this criminal act to be played out as it was.

May God have mercy on all who go against his law, “Thou shalt not kill,” and God bless America.

Paeroa, New Zealand

The place of money

I appreciate NCR’s analysis of world events through the lens of the radical Jesus. That is why the contrast of two recent articles stands out so boldly.

The first (Feb. 25), “Christian missionaries gave India ‘the gift of English,’ ” spoke about Anjali Mishra, who is employed by an American company. Her English-speaking job has given her money to buy all sorts of things she never dreamed possible.

The second article, printed March 25, was “Catholic masters of the universe.” The suggestion from Harvard University President Lawrence Summers that Catholics lack intrinsic aptitude in investment banking was countered in disturbing ways. “The deal is the goal, and the money is the way to keep count of their goal,” said one of the investment bankers.

Both of these Catholic “success” stories were never questioned in light of the core values of faith. Is it a good thing that a Catholic school graduate in India can get a corporate American job and begin to consume like an American? Is it a good thing that Catholics participate in an economic system that is shifting money and power globally into a smaller number of transnational companies and becoming very wealthy in the process? Economic drivers are the most obvious place our society disconnects from the values embodied in Jesus.

Portland, Ore.

Signs of fascism?

Many thanks to Rebecca Beyer for surfacing the reality of the fascist leanings in our country today (NCR, April 1). Since capitalism has always been cozy with fascism (Mussolini, the father of fascism, defined it as “the coming together of corporations and the state”), the connection with religious fundamentalism is also a natural one. After all, fundamentalism, because it is such an obvious catalyst for absolute obedience and violence in society, needs a strong, centralized government to provide the ambience in which it can flourish. In a genuine democracy, fundamentalism is usually recognized as a fringe movement that is only supported and promoted by “crackpots.”

The signs of fascism are obvious. They include propaganda and a complicit news media, the repetition of lies to achieve its goals, a religion of exaggerated nationalism, and patriotism as a religion of absolute obedience to the leader’s wishes. These are all signs that were well recognized during World War II in Italy, Germany and Spain and seem to have been revived in the corporation-dominated government that Ronald Reagan’s administration promoted.

This movement toward a neofascist state in the current Bush administration, allied with fundamentalist religion, has isolated the United States from its traditional allies and is the harbinger of a violent world if it is not seen and understood by the majority of the people in this democracy. I hope we will see more of this exposé in the news media, led by NCR.

San Antonio

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I was glad to read the article in which it was reported that author Chris Hedges is writing a book warning of the grave danger posed to America by those dangerous fascists in the “Christian right.” I believe that the danger posed to America by the “Christian right” is the gravest danger to America since the night in October 1938 when a Martian force landed in New Jersey and began an invasion of the United States. Some people think that was a hoax, but it really happened; it was broadcast live over the radio by Orson Welles.

Claymont, Del.

Death penalty questions

At the end of his letter (NCR, Feb. 25), Joe Grannen asks, “Are we to accept Christ’s reception of the death penalty for our salvation as justified, and then be asked to grieve and protest about the execution of an eight-time murderer?”

Christ’s death on the cross for our sins cannot be seen as a reason to kill those he died to save. Our Good Friday liturgy speaks of the death of Christ as a happy fault that merited so great a redeemer. Since we are all sinners, we do rejoice in our redemption, but we grieve the price Jesus had to pay.

Pope John Paul II said all life is sacred and no one has the right to take another’s life. Jesus didn’t endure suffering and death to teach us how to kill but how to live, to forgive, to love our enemies and do good to those who harm us.

Frontenac, Minn.

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The editorial “Cruel and unusual at 18 and beyond” (NCR, March 11) in my opinion does not go far enough in its condemnation of Justice Antonin Scalia’s pro-death penalty position.

I am concerned that a Catholic such as Scalia can consistently take positions that advance what the pope called the “culture of death” and not be taken to task for it. I appreciate the conservative position that people of goodwill may, in principle, disagree about whether particular uses of the death penalty are justified or not. But I can’t reconcile that with the current teaching in the Catholic Catechism (Sec. 2267) that occasions where the death penalty are justified “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” Conservatives like Scalia take what is an “eye of a needle” exception and act as if the exception negates the rule. Whether or not a Catholic should in 2005 support the execution of minors seems to me to be quite settled. As long as there are jails to hold them for the rest of their lives, there is no permissible reason for murderers to be executed. This is now established Catholic doctrine.

I would have had no problem with Scalia’s dissent if he had noted personal opposition to the death penalty as other justices have done and was just voting out of allegiance to court precedent. But in his dissenting opinion, he says, “Some murders are not just the acts of happy-go-lucky teenagers, but heinous crimes deserving of death.” This leaves no doubt that if he were on the 17-year-old murderer’s jury, he would have voted for the death penalty. And that’s troubling.

Clifton, 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, April 22, 2005