National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
June 3, 2005

Letters Modern royal wedding

Your incisive editorial “When the pageantry wears thin” as usual makes the right points and asks the right question (NCR, May 13).

Pity about the peevish, throwaway lines about the British royal wedding. The only “ancient rituals” visible there were those of prayer and penitence, and of “regalia” I think there was none.

But I must be careful! Old anti-Anglican habits in sections of the U.K. Catholic press mustn’t lead me into the same kind of paranoia that you rightly observe in the U.S. Catholic church.

This cradle Anglican thanks you for being so consistently a voice of sanity and even prophecy, not least in these difficult days of transition for the Catholic church.

Kidlington, Oxfordshire, England

Doctors on lawsuits

It was heartening to read Colman McCarthy’s article “Malpractice lawyers deserve more credit” (NCR, May 6). Malpractice lawyers are all that keep the patient safe -- both in medicine and surgery.

In the past, “We bury our mistakes” was the basis for many doctor jokes. It is no longer the basis for jokes but has become a reality; the orchestrated cover-up among doctors to shield one another and hide the chart until the statute of limitations has expired is a common maneuver.

Fear of a lawsuit should not be the compelling force for physicians to do their best for patients and to return them to good health, but unfortunately this fear is all the patients have protecting them, as physicians cut corners and cover for one another, sacrificing patients. Even the proxy form is being manipulated against patients and their families.

The ones pushing up the cost of malpractice insurance premiums are the incompetent physicians who are being protected by the “white coat wall of silence.”

Fortunately, there are many physicians driven by compassion and strong value systems, but fault needs to be placed at the feet of the perpetrators.

Flushing, N.Y.

Sr. Patricia Thomas is a doctor of internal medicine in New York.

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Mr. McCarthy is correct about Bush using the division between doctors and lawyers for political gain. However, I don’t think Mr. Bush is making the divide any worse than it already is.

Recently I received an article from the National Medical Foundation for Asset Protection about a 44-year-old ER physician who took his life while embroiled in a five-year lawsuit.

One of my colleagues was sued after she appropriately sent a patient to the ER. The patient was evaluated in the ER and sent home. He suffered an event after returning home and therefore sued. This was a patient she had seen only that time. It was later revealed that the patient was noncompliant with medical care. Another colleague referred a patient to a specialist for further evaluation of his serious symptoms, but the patient did not go as directed. He had a delay in the diagnosis of his serious condition, for which he later sued the referring primary care physician. My colleagues lose sleep and worse over these suits, and their spouses do as well. I have more stories I could share. I have been lucky to avoid a suit so far, but I know my time is coming.

From the Common Good Web site, I learned that one of the reasons the United States probably doesn’t have a strong Olympic diving team any more is that kids aren’t being exposed to diving because public pools are removing diving boards so as not to get sued. Also from that Web site I learned that the Milwaukee diocese is being sued because a church volunteer ran a red light and seriously injured an elderly man. The diocese should be responsible for the behavior of its priests, but volunteers? Will other organizations that rely on volunteers be sued likewise? If a volunteer from my hospital causes an accident in a situation apart from the hospital, should my hospital be sued?

So much needs to be done to restore sanity to our legal system.

A colleague called while I was writing this. One of his patients is suing a surgeon over a bad outcome. The patient developed an infection and the wounds did not heal correctly. These things happen in medicine. The surgeon was not malicious or neglectful. Bad things sometimes happen with every possible safeguard in place.

Ardmore, Pa.

Jane Zendarski is a doctor of osteopathic medicine at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Israel and Palestine

The two articles in your May 13 issue, from Lauren Anzaldo (“Shame over settlements is in short supply”) and Eran Lerman (“Expanding settlements are part of the battle for Jerusalem”) reflect perfectly the reality on the ground. The Palestinians are a beaten people who, at least for the foreseeable future, will be given only what Israel wants to give them, and the world, especially the Arab world, accepts this reality and gives mere lip service to their cause. As Lauren Anzaldo says, we do not even feel shame in this.

The victorious Israelis, as shown in Dr. Lerman’s piece, simply are playing word games as they consolidate their hold on the West Bank, construct Arabfrei tunnels and bypass roads to connect their settlements and have conned the world into thinking that giving up poverty-stricken, isolated Gaza (if indeed they ever do give up Gaza) is the first step to a viable Palestinian nation.

The Greater Israel that Zionists and hardliners like Prime Minister Sharon have sought will soon become a reality, while Israel will still be saying it is willing to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Yes, the world has abandoned the Palestinians. The use of limitless military force and support for Israel by the American government was a combination that few insurgencies would be able to overcome, much less one that was as isolated as were the Palestinians.

East Hampton, N.Y.

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Lauren Anzaldo crosses the line with her outrageous accusation against Israel for “state-sponsored terrorism” and her absurd comparison between the shame Holocaust survivors experienced and the shame Israelis should feel over settlements.

At a time when Israel stands ready to disengage from Gaza settlements, Ms. Anzaldo’s column is wholly inappropriate. Even more shocking is her suggestion that the horrors of the Holocaust bear any comparison to Israeli settlement activity.

Finally, Ms. Anzaldo fails to make mention of any shame Palestinian terrorists should feel for their massacre of Israeli civilians. If only the Palestinian people felt collective shame for the violence and terror perpetrated against the Israeli people, the conflict would have ended years ago.

New York

Rabbi Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor is the director of interfaith affairs for the Anti-Defamation League.

Tom Reese and America

John Allen, in his article “How Ratzinger became pope” (NCR, May 6), wrote, “to date there’s no evidence that he [Benedict XVI] intends to launch a new antimodernist purge.” With the news that the Vatican has forced the resignation of Fr. Thomas Reese as editor of America, one of the jewels of American Catholicism, it looks like the evidence is beginning to accumulate. America, under Fr. Reese, has been a moderate, balanced journal that presents a variety of views for intelligent discussions of issues important to Catholics today. If this kind of journalism is seen as a threat by the Vatican, then it looks like the purge has begun.

Los Angeles

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Perhaps Fr. Reese had to go because the official Vatican position on certain controversial subjects is just not convincing enough, and when placed next to an opposing view it can seem embarrassingly weak.

I asked an archbishop a number of years ago how on earth we could expect non-baptized, non-Catholic gay men and women to accept the church’s teaching that they should embrace lifelong celibacy. He agreed that it was impossible. The bottom line for the Vatican, unspoken and horrific, is that the only honest alternative to accepting secular gay partnerships is to work tirelessly to make homosexuality illegal again.


* * *

Regarding the articles about Fr. Thomas Reese:

My sister and I went to the local public school kindergarten (the Catholic school didn’t have one) with many non-Catholic classmates. One day, my mother got a call from a dear friend who reported that my sister and I were playing with two children who were non-Catholic. My mom said that we all went to kindergarten together and were friends. The neighbor, taken aback, asked Mom whether she wasn’t afraid that my sister and I might “lose our faith” by playing with non-Catholics.

My mother’s gentle response was, “If their faith is so weak after being taught at home and at school, then maybe they deserve to lose it.”

As an adult, I have thought many times about that incident. Mom’s one sentence delivered more theology than any course I have had since.

Remember what we learned in catechism -- the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s fear.

Today’s church hierarchy is a bundle of fear. Officials fear their “truth” is compromised by new ideas; they fear women and so marginalize more than half the church’s population because of the accident of gender; they fear the voices of those who explore the richness of the Gospel message in new, creative ways. They are so filled with fear that they cannot embrace even their own and so resort to proclamation and edict, the refuge of small minds.

The hierarchy of this church should have been raised by my mother. She does not tolerate such behavior!

Hampstead, N.H.

Disappointed Catholics

I received my renewal notice and will not be renewing. I did not want the occasion to pass without thanking you for helping me through many dark days in my relationship with the Catholic hierarchy. Week after week I rushed to read the bits of hope that things might be better.

I swore as a lifelong Catholic that the hierarchy would never force me out. But I was dead wrong.

I struggled during the sex scandal and it was clear that the bishops had lost their moral authority. Then when they told people not to vote for Kerry because of the abortion issue and told them to vote for Bush, whose war under false pretenses is killing so many people daily, I saw that they had lost their minds.

In the end I felt that I could not lend my good name to support an organization run by a bunch of un-indicted felons.

It would be too painful to read every week how the new administration is working to drive out everyone but the ultra right wing.

So, many thanks and good luck.

San Diego

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Holy Thursday was my last supper -- at least in the Catholic tradition. With the growing wave of ultraconservatism washing over the Catholic religion, not to mention our national politic, many are drowning who show any sign of creative and mature spirituality. It seems antithetical to my poor understanding of the Gospel for the church to say that you may receive Eucharist (meaning “thanksgiving”) only after meeting certain criteria.

I’ve come to the point where I find it best not to fight. To do so would ultimately fail and the amount of money, time and energy it would take would do violence to my spirit and damage to others. Instead, I’m choosing a more radical (meaning “roots”) approach: the domestic church. It is a time to tell and listen to our stories and share a simple meal with fellow pilgrims of faith -- regardless of what that faith is -- in our homes.

The Catholic institution has become irrelevant for those who don’t need any more absolutes besides loving your God with your whole heart, mind and soul and loving your neighbor as yourself. Everything else is fluff.

I am convinced that this wave of conservatism needs to run its course. With time, it will encounter the shore of God’s unimaginable love and lose its power. Rather than trying to resist the tsunami, I’ve decided to get out of the water, seek firm footing on the shore and attempt to live a life of peace and justice for all, and to tell my story juxtaposed to the great religious stories of history.

Fresno, Ohio

Church’s ‘divine comedy’

Congratulations to Mark Massa for his review of George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral (NCR, May 6). Catholic historians have worked hard to counter the kind of historical mythology that characterizes so much popular writing about the church. Massa has put his finger on one of the biggest distortions of that history. Weigel’s work is not merely outdated but destructive by perpetuating an inaccurate version of the struggle within the church to escape political dominance and manipulation during much of the period from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The history of the church is not a static triumphalism but a process with moments of great leadership and pits of failure. It is a “divine comedy.”

Syracuse, N.Y.

James M. Powell is first vice-president and president-elect of the American Catholic Historical association.

Georgetown peace class

I am writing to you out of shock, concern and great sadness that Georgetown University has canceled Colman McCarthy’s “Literature of Peace” class (NCR, May 6). I find it hard to fathom that the administration could call to an end the best class I took during my college career.

Professor McCarthy’s approach to teaching was refreshing and unique. He possesses the extraordinary ability to open up the eyes and minds of his students and to fill them with curiosity and concern about the topics he sets out in his curriculum. Professor McCarthy is a marvel of a man, filled with light, life and compassion for his students. In my four years at Georgetown, I have never seen so many students in a single classroom respond more positively to a professor or his subject. Similarly, the ties of solidarity initiated by Professor McCarthy among the students themselves were unlike any other class I have taken. Professor McCarthy took the time to introduce himself to the class and the class to each other. In my mind, this is what college is about, not only expanding our knowledge in certain areas but also getting to know our professors and our peers, their different backgrounds and disparate beliefs. In today’s world, it is vital that we learn to accept and embrace each other, and this exactly what Professor McCarthy teaches his students. Not only do I think that it would be a tragedy to deprive future generations of his teaching, but I believe that a class like his should be a requirement in every college. I do hope that Georgetown will reconsider its decision.


Milwaukee priests

I rejoice with the priests of Milwaukee’s archdiocese over the removal of the “Ecclesial Patriot Act” of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, which tried to force unannounced search and seizure tactics upon his priests and their homes (NCR, May 6). It is particularly disturbing that the archbishop, in his own statement, blamed the press for “the perception ... that we have declared martial law on priests.” Thank God for people like reporter Mary Zahn and papers like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that exposed this trampling upon the rights of Milwaukee’s priests. With the Vatican firing of Fr. Thomas Reese as editor of the Jesuit magazine America, thank God also for NCR and other free lay-run Catholic press efforts.

Trenton, Ill

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National Catholic Reporter, June 3, 2005