National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
June 17, 2005

Letters Priests in love

It was with great dismay -- though, sadly, little surprise -- that I read Fr. Andrew Connolly’s oleaginous endorsement of Priests in Love: Roman Catholic Clergy and their Intimate Friendships (Summer Books, NCR, May 20). Connolly’s opening statement, in which he declares that author Jane Anderson “has done the Catholic church a great service,” should be reworded to reflect more accurately what’s been done. The only so-called service that’s been performed here is on behalf of priests who persist in believing that it’s all right to exploit paramours on the sly while ostensibly remaining wed to their vocation.

I was once as the Naomi cited in the review, in a relationship with a Jesuit -- publicly presented as “friend” and privately told, in bed, how much my love of this man had improved his relationship with God and others. The relationship proved to be all about supporting his spirituality, ego and sexuality, while I, like the hidden portrait of Dorian Gray, was manifesting all the signs of being gradually destroyed by his secret love of me.

I entered the relationship with no ulterior intentions, in complete trust of this man’s priesthood and his avowed honorable motives. Over the course of several years, he all but leeched me dry before moving on, right after having told the biggest lie in saying he wanted to marry me. Eventually, I learned I was not the first or only woman he’d used and abused.

It is one thing to assert that celibacy should be optional. I agree wholeheartedly with that. But celibacy is not yet optional. Priests who have already taken such vows and then rationalize that “having a little on the side” is all right are among the worst of self-serving hypocrites. Did Anderson ask these priests what happens to the priests’ discarded “friends” or to the children that some of these priests have fathered out of wedlock?

If this book failed to explore the often-tragic aftermath of “priests in love,” then I would say Anderson owes us a follow-up book devoted to those Naomis (or Nathans) who were not only rejected by the priests who formerly claimed to love them but rejected and scorned by the church as well.

Edgewood, N.M.

Alexandra Roberts is the manager of the online support group Women Abused by Clergy.

An activist’s open letter

An open letter to Pope Benedict XVI and U.S. Catholic bishops:

The removal of Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese as editor of America magazine is a grave injustice in our church.

I have been a Catholic priest for 33 years. Before entering the seminary, I was in the military -- an institution that does not tolerate freedom of thought, debate or dissent. I do not believe Jesus intended his church to be modeled after the military.

Among people of faith, no matter what our faith tradition may be, no one has a monopoly on truth or some direct line to God, Yahweh or Allah. I believe truth is revealed to everyone, not just the hierarchy.

Therefore, I respectfully ask that as our newly elected pope and as Catholic bishops of the United States, you reinstate Fr. Thomas Reese as editor of America magazine. What a wonderful message of hope this would send to all people of faith and goodwill.

Last, on the subject of injustice, I appeal to you to ordain women in our church. Years ago, you and I said “yes” to God’s call to priesthood. I have women friends who are saying God is calling them to be priests in our church today, a church in dire need of vocations.

Who are we as men to say to women, “My call is valid, but yours is not”? I cannot believe having women at the altar is a problem for a loving God who created the cosmos and each of us. Let’s face it. No matter how hard we try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always a sin.

In prayer and love, I look forward to your response.

Columbus, Ga.

Blank generation

I was deeply touched by the sincerity and humility of J.J. Hayes Rivas’ article “Surprised by grief” (NCR, May 13). J.J. claims to be from the “blank” generation. If so, I would like to hear more from the blank generation. His masterful treatment of the effect of John Paul II’s death on him was an explosion of truth and acceptance of reality. The key to the explosion was J.J.’s admission that “a Catholic,” according to Karl Rahner, “must be willing to take the most unpalatable teachings of the church seriously … must confront his or her own preconceived notions with those teachings and be willing to change.”

Carey, Ohio

Don’t give up

I was touched by the two letters from Kevin O’Brien and Robert W. Heidrich (NCR, June 3) about leaving the Catholic church or, more to the point, being pushed out. I agree these are dark times for thinking Catholics. I also agree that the clerical face of the church is out of touch with the reality of the daily lives of Catholics. Certainly I respect and understand the decision of these two individuals not to swim upstream anymore and just leave.

Yet I think there is always reason for hope in the church. Why? Well, I belong to a vibrant and spirit-filled parish. I get my support from my fellow parishioners, and that means when I am down they pick me up. I believe the best way for any Catholic to weather this storm is to cling to their parish, aka their life raft -- and weather it we will.

Now is not a time to give up. It is a time to pray and live out the faith that has been passed on to us not by the priests, bishops or even the pope, but by Jesus Christ. There is sorrow in the church today, but there is also joy. Our focus must now turn to that joy if we are going to help rebuild the church.


Joe Murray is the U.S. convener of the Rainbow Sash movement.

U.S. aid for Uganda

Christopher Ringwald’s cover story “A war on children” (NCR, May 13) added nothing new to the story of the ongoing conflict in northern Uganda and may have actually been a disservice, as it just added a few more names to the growing list of those whom people may be torn -- but unable -- to try and help. This kind of reporting contributes to donor fatigue and to the “What can I do about it?” attitude so ably expressed in the editorial.

What is missing is an answer to the question, “Who can help end this tragedy?” One of the clear answers is: the United States government. All who have reflected on this question have pointed to the need for the Bush administration to get more actively involved. How? First by broadening its foreign policy approach to look beyond its narrow prism of terrorism and take up its moral mandate as a superpower to help alleviate all conflict. Second, to come out openly and encourage Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to pursue more vigorously a non-military alternative to ending the conflict. And thirdly to begin to think of possible pressure points on the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army that would make him more amenable to finding a peaceful end to the conflict.

One form that pressure could take would be for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to actually give a substantial interview to the American media about the atrocities of an aimless conflict that harms, injures and kills thousands of women and children for absolutely no purpose. Only this kind of attention at the highest level of the U.S. administration will bring an end to this conflict and to the myriad stories of “the night children of northern Uganda.”

Jinja, Uganda

Reese’s ouster

I read the accounts of the forced resignation of Jesuit staffer Erik Meder and Jesuit Fr. Thomas J. Reese several days ago.

While reading about these resignations was deeply disturbing, the fact that one can read about them is in itself progress. As much as the church leadership would like to squelch information, that is no longer an option. Publications like NCR and Commonweal provide invaluable coverage of stories such as these. Not too long ago, these persons would have been quietly removed, no explanations given or expected. I am grateful for the existence of publications that print these stories.

Albuquerque, N.M.

* * *

I just read in Arthur Jones’ piece (NCR, May 20) that Fr. John Neuhaus implies that his friend Fr. Tom Reese maybe took a neutral position with respect to the magisterium and that one should not do that if one wishes to be accepted at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

I really wonder. Tom Reese was fair. That does not mean he was neutral regarding the magisterium. As editor of America, he was intent to present the issues and still assure that the magisterial position received its due. Tom Reese is and was loyal to the magisterium.

What’s an editor to do? The Catholic Press Association of this country should issue a stinging statement about freedom of the press -- freedom of the Catholic press. [Editor’s note: See Page 3.] Either that, or maybe the Vatican could provide online computer hookups for every Catholic household in the world. Then every baptized Catholic could tune in daily to receive the “accepted” doctrinal assertions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the truths of the day. We would not need First Things, America, Commonweal, Our Sunday Visitor or the host of diocesan papers and so on. Everybody could be fed the same line every day!

Perham, Minn.

* * *

It seems to me that all the press reports I have read about Thomas Reese’s ouster from America have carefully avoided the elephant in the living room. All have talked about this ouster coming from the “Vatican” or the “congregation.” To me, it is quite obvious that the only explanation for it is a personal order from Benedict XVI after his election as pope. The Jesuits had not buckled and had found various ways to reason with the congregation and even with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during “five years of tensions and exchanges” (NCR, May 20). The Jesuits, unlike other religious, take a fourth vow -- a vow pledging obedience to the pope. I once heard a Jesuit say that this means that if the pope told a Jesuit to say pepper was salt, the Jesuit would say it was salt. In this case, I believe the pope himself had to say out before the Jesuits said out.

This ouster of Reese is especially disturbing because it negates Benedict’s pledge to “listen.” If honest dialogue among members of the church, such as took place in America, cannot be permitted by the pope, then how will he meaningfully “listen” to all the members of the church, and how can there be honest dialogue with members of other religions?

As for damage to the Catholic press, I say shame on you if you allow Reese’s ouster to “chill” your work. Those who are responsible for this ouster do not value our American free press.


* * *

Pursuant to your May 20 reporting regarding the “big chill” of Catholic journalism, I can only say that I am glad that you are indeed an independent newsweekly. Or else you would be censored mightily for your reporting on this chilling subject.

I have been a good Catholic girl, educated by nuns and Redemptorist priests, one of the “simple faithful” for 71 years. Finally, however, this news has pushed me over the edge to make the decision to leave the church because of the arbitrary and self-serving exercise of ecclesiastical authority.

The reality is that the people in the pews do talk about all of the hot-button issues while still attending church liturgies. However, I can no longer do that anymore, regarding it as hypocrisy.

Plymouth, Mass.

* * *

On reading your editorial concerning the sacking of Fr. Thomas Reese, I would add a comment to your statement regarding fewer Catholic venues for discussion and monitoring. It goes beyond that. There’s going to be at least one (and I’ll venture many more than that) less Catholic as well. Your editorial hit many of my hot buttons, but Fr. Reese’s departure was the one that did it. I’ll find a spiritual home where the church hasn’t forgotten what Christ taught and isn’t just a haven for a bunch of self-serving good old boys.

Ocala, Fla.

Asian reflection

Sri Lanka’s Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, in “An Asian view of Benedict’s words” (NCR, May 27), has put his finger on the problem that plagues the official Catholic church in today’s world. The problem is centered in the person of Jesus Christ.

Are we called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth, who at the beginning of his public life on earth categorically rejected the temptation to seek power and wealth and laid out the conditions for entrance into the Kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount?

Or do we follow an image of a regal Christ, reigning gloriously in heaven and supposedly represented on earth by a structure that is built on the model of power and splendor that reflects the material values of Emperor Constantine, the very values that Jesus rejected at the beginning of his public life? This is the challenge that Tissa Balasuriya is laying down.

“Then Jesus replied, ‘Away with you Satan! For the scripture says: the Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve’ ” (Matthew 4:10).

San Antonio

Teilhard’s cosmic Christ

Regarding the coverage of the 50th anniversary of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s death (NCR, April 22):

Shortly before Teilhard’s death, I had my heart and soul set on fire by reading his Divine Milieu. That, of course, was before Vatican II’s invigorating revolution, before the explosion of the Big Bang theory and quantum theology and the subsequent revival of law and order. But through all those events, for me, the cosmic Christ has remained the only still point in a careening culture of increasing upheaval and craziness.

Teilhard’s vision broke open a reality never revealed before in my 30 years of life and Catholic education. It spun me into a transformed world in which the Incarnation soared way beyond the astounding reality that God became human; in fact, the entire cosmos, every being within it, became the body of Christ with a divine mission.

We’re not talking pantheism here. We’re talking eternal divine life overflowing into limited, created being. We are in the realm where only symbolic language can unveil something of Reality. Regular discourse isn’t up to the task.

I am now 86. I have to count Teilhard’s teaching as one of the supreme blessings of my life for it has put me in touch with the reality of incarnation, death and resurrection as ongoing events in which I, in the community of Christ’s body, am a necessary, graced participant in God’s creative, ceaseless action toward the Parousia.

Doesn’t that make every action worth doing with great reverence and devotion? Doesn’t that make getting up each day deeply satisfying?


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, June 17, 2005