National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
July 29, 2005

Letters Circus no ‘celebration’

I always expect good journalism and insightful articles from NCR. It truly puzzles me, then, how Mike Daley’s “Starting Point” about circuses (NCR, July 1) could have slipped past the editor’s desk. I found the article inane and uninformed to the point of being blatantly offensive.

Perhaps I can comprehend Mr. Daley’s delight with the myriad of dazzling human circus acts. I cannot comprehend his inability to realize just how horrific is the life of a circus animal. Animals in circuses are taken from their natural habitats, chained, forced to spend their lives in cages and trained with whips and prods -- just so they can “perform” for gaping crowds. There have been attempts in not a few communities in the United States to ban these cruel animal acts.

I am amazed that Mr. Daley, a teacher, did not take the time to look beyond the tawdry tricks to the darker side of a suffering circus animal’s life. I fail utterly to see how he can regard the treatment of these animals as a “celebration of the kingdom.” Animals, whom God has imbued with such beauty, grace and dignity, are an important part of God’s kingdom. They were created for his glory, not for our cheap entertainment. As fellow members of the kingdom, they deserve our compassion and respect. They receive little of that under the big top.

Newton Highlands, Mass.

Hezbollah’s status

Stephen Zunes’ attempt to justify Hezbollah’s terrorist activities and disassociate the organization from Palestinian terror groups (NCR, July 1) completely ignores realities on the ground.

Mr. Zunes’ claim that Hezbollah is simply engaged in “legitimate acts of self-defense” against “foreign occupation forces” in Lebanon runs contrary to the United Nations’ confirmation that Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon was complete.

Furthermore, there is no basis for Mr. Zunes’ downplaying of Hezbollah’s involvement with Palestinian terrorists. In 2001, after Jordanian officials arrested three Hezbollah operatives trying to smuggle Katyusha rockets into the West Bank, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the organization, proclaimed: “It is a duty to send arms to Palestinians from any possible place.” In February of this year, the Palestinian Authority complained that Hezbollah was attempting to shatter the fragile ceasefire with Israel by offering extra money to Palestinian terror cells that succeed in carrying out attacks against Israel.

Although Mr. Zunes praises the European Union’s supposed refusal to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the European Union has in fact designated Hezbollah’s “External Security Organization” as a terrorist group, and while the EU council has yet to do the same for its political wing, on March 10 of this year the European Parliament voted 473-33 to blacklist the entire organization.

Finally, Mr. Zunes fails to mention Hezbollah’s control of the Al-Manar television station -- yet another means through which the group propagates anti-Semitism and advances its terror agenda. The only way a terrorist organization can achieve legitimacy is if it alters its fundamental ideology, forfeits its weapons, and renounces violence as a means to a political end.

New York

Kenneth Jacobson is the associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Stephen Zunes responds: I have never attempted to justify terrorist activities. Terrorism by its very nature is unjustifiable.

I have never supported the extremist ideology of Hezbollah or the actions of its militia. What I stated was that armed resistance against foreign occupation forces does not meet the legal definition of terrorism, a term that is generally restricted to attacks against unarmed civilians. While Israel has indeed completed its withdrawal from Lebanon, it is still occupying the Golan region of Syria.

I am personally unaware of Hezbollah engaging in terrorist attacks over the past decade. I am quite open to the possibility that there may have been some terrorist attacks by Hezbollah that have not been brought to my attention. None of the Congressional offices, academic authorities or terrorism experts whom I have contacted has been able to cite any such incidents, however.

I did not “praise the European Union’s supposed refusal to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.” I simply stated that the European Union presumably has a better understanding of the activities of that political party than does the U.S. Congress, whose previous resolutions regarding Lebanon have demonstrated a profound lack of understanding of that country’s complex political history.

The Anti-Defamation League should focus on fighting the scourge of anti-Semitism, not attacking pro-Israel scholars like me who happen to take issue with a particular congressional resolution regarding a Lebanese political party.

Florida, watch out

Regarding “Ecology” by Jeff Severns Guntzel (NCR, June 17):

The president of the United States has reason to be concerned about global warming. His brother Jeb is the governor of Florida, a state whose highest elevation is only 200 feet above sea level. Should global warming get worse, almost all of Florida could have to resort to dikes, like Holland, to keep the sea out.

St. Louis

Schiavo conversation

Regarding “Schiavo autopsy points up need for end-of-life discussions” by Patricia LeFevere and Robert McClory (NCR, July 1):

Yes, we do need such discussions -- conducted with understanding and reasonableness, especially by the concerned family members, aided by trusted physicians and counselors, free of the public spectacle that came to mark the suffering Schindler and Schiavo families.

Seldom has the confluence of so many factions, involving so many leaders presumably of good intentions, effected a more embarrassing scene than that at Terri Schiavo’s hospice, caught by the ubiquitous TV cameras for the world to see.

Political figures pronounced freely and apodictically on the patient’s condition. In the absence of a consistent position by the bishops, the traditional and highly nuanced Catholic teaching on this question was left to be communicated by religious figures such as the monks from Minnesota and Priests for Life, who joined forces with some of their political counterparts in gratuitous charges of “murder” and “starvation.”

Venice, Fla.

* * *

A number of experts are quoted verbatim in the article on the autopsy of Terri Schiavo. Those who wish to read verbatim the remarks of Pope John Paul II on artificial nutrition may go to the Web site of the National Catholic Bioethics Center: Search that Web site for “John Paul II’s address on nutrition and hydration, March 20, 2004.” One has to poke around the site to find it.


* * *

Like many others, I felt moved by the Christians who knelt in prayer for the family of the late Terri Schiavo. But it made me wonder why during the winter we don’t see similar vigils drawing attention to near-comatose victims who are living on city sidewalks. They’ve been taken off life support, too.

Dubuque, Iowa

* * *

Thank you for your editorials and articles addressing the Terri Schiavo case and defending the traditional moral teaching of the church on end-of-life treatments.

The comments by Stephen Heaney in the July 1 article were particularly disturbing in light of that teaching. Heaney insisted that removal of the nutrition and hydration equipment was a “case of deliberate killing.” If he believes that to have been Terri’s husband’s intention, it is an unwarranted leap. Heaney surely has no special insight into Michael Schiavo’s private intentions.

Heaney’s claim that the tubes were more beneficial than burdensome is a judgment that, in the light of Catholic moral teaching, is reserved to the patient herself or to the one who has the care of that patient, not Congress, the courts, President Bush or Gov. Bush. Although many people may have doubted the sincerity of Michael’s intentions, the fact remains that the courts had clearly established his legal right to make that decision on his wife’s behalf.

Denville, N.J.

Allen not her cup of tea

Recently, after I had expressed my dissatisfaction with the tedium of John Allen’s Vatican commentaries, a friend quipped that Allen’s critical faculties may have been blunted by one good dinner too many in Rome! My own hunch is that his problem is the result of access bestowed by powerful Vatican figures in exchange for his discretion on matters of church politics. Either way, he seems to have lost his salt, sounding increasingly like a court stenographer. The new pope’s dogmatism, his remoteness from the lives of ordinary people, is so un-Jesuslike. Allen should be thundering, in the manner of a latter-day Amos, at Benedict’s fastidious refusal to engage both the politics and the politicians who continue to do irreparable harm to populations and the environment.

How I miss NCR’s former Vatican correspondent, Peter Hebblethwaite. My sense of loss is heightened as I am staying with my son in Oxford, England, sleeping in a room less than 200 yards from Hebblethwaite’s grave -- Tolkien’s, too. Hebblethwaite’s erudition was not all that impressed me. He loved the church greatly, but hated its sinfulness and was unafraid to say so. This sort of passion seems quite lost these days, and I mourn its passing.

South Bend, Ind.

Conservative column

Robert Royal’s column (NCR, June 17) appears to be written in the English language but is too opaque for this simple graduate of a Catholic college. Royal seems expert at creating straw men, such as, skepticism and militant secularism, without naming names or examples.

It was ingenious of him to mention Bush’s fight against “militant secularism.” Poor, brave Bush, battling the Iraqi and foreign insurgents plus the militant secularists -- it is just too much. After all, everyone knows that “militant secularists” are “cultural elites” who are part of the “liberal press.” In addition to that, he failed to mention, many of them are bloggers.

And “skeptics,” good heavens, they are a “pointed threat.” Now there is a cliffhanger. I suppose if you continue to publish Royal, he will let us know how we are threatened and by whom.

I realize NCR cannot afford a Bill Buckley, but why do you feel this need to have a “conservative” voice on your opinion pages? Don’t you think we are inundated with the right-wing point of view in the diocesan press?

Ross, Calif.

Pray for immigrants

Thank you for the Patricia Zapor article recognizing the plight of Latinos in this country and publicizing the Holy Week demonstration in Tijuana protesting the loss of life at the U.S.-Mexico border (NCR, May 20).

People without papers come to this country not out of defiance but out of desperation. The suffering poor from Latin America have to flee from the ravages of hunger so that they too can survive. Here, these people are improperly nourished, sleep-deprived, often sick and victims of crime. Their housing is substandard and they live without heat in the winter or ventilation in the summer. They are isolated and alone and miss their families terribly.

Their working conditions are obscene. Many labor in one room 12 hours a day, six and seven days a week, for years without seeing their wives and children. Wages for these workers average a little over $3 an hour.

These are strong Latinos accustomed to pain. They do not cry out. No one documents what is happening to them. They work when limping from sciatica, when injured from heavy lifting, when burned from hot grease or when sick from worry and despair. Why did they come here? The same reason all immigrants have come to America -- to have hope. We are a nation of immigrants. Despite what the ignorant claim, these Latinos are not draining our resources, but instead are bringing progress and profit to this country. They need your help. They need your prayers.

Christiansburg, Va.

Communion for celiacs

I was amazed when I read the brief paragraph in your June 17 issue’s “People” section regarding Elizabeth Pelly-Waldman and her attempt to persuade the bishop of Trenton, N.J., to allow her daughter to use a non-wheat substitute for Communion. I recently returned from a visit to Ireland, where in nearly every church I visited a sign was posted saying that celiacs were most welcome to receive Communion -- all they had to do was notify the priest in the sacristy before Mass and a substitute would be available.

St. Augustine, Fla.

Mary Magdalene

Thanks so much for the wonderful articles on Mary of Magdala (NCR, July 15). For the past six years, I have been privileged to help plan one of the 300 celebrations nationwide that honor this saint as well as modern women who, like her, minister to the people of God. However, in our city we have hit a snag in this patriarchal church. Last year, following our service, the pastor of our host church was advised by a representative of his bishop, now retired, that since it was sponsored by Call to Action and FutureChurch, allowing us to hold such a service would be “confusing” to “faithful” Catholics.

This year, then, we planners, faithful Catholics all, accepted an invitation to honor the saint at another Catholic church. Publicity was sent; plans were made. This time rejection has come from that church’s new pastor, who, without explanation, has simply rescinded the invitation of his predecessor. So we will be having our celebration this year at a very welcoming Episcopal church. It seems such a shame that our fearful clergy have power over who can and who cannot worship in a Catholic church, especially when the service honors a saint who was a part of Jesus’ own ministry. It is especially devastating at a time when we Catholic women are finding it harder and harder to remain faithful to a church that treats us as second-class citizens in spite of the baptism that proclaims our equality.

Roeland Park, Kan.

Don’t dissent

I am responding to those people who wrote letters voicing their disgust with various forms of corruption in the Catholic church hierarchy and subsequent dissent from the Catholic church (NCR, June 3 and 17). I want to ask them: Do you also plan to dissent from democracy and leave the United States? Point being that no institution run by humans will ever be pure and holy. That is why we are the church. If Francis of Assisi had dissented because of the vast hierarchical corruption of his day, how would the church or the world have benefited?

So, I want to encourage discouraged Catholics to persevere in their faith and be the church of mercy and love through these times. Also, may I suggest that NCR sprinkle a few inspiring clerical stories with the eye-catching, sensational ones that highlight clerical insensitivity and sins. This might help alleviate such discouragement. After all, the prayer we are supposed to live, said daily at Mass, is: “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your church.”

Richland, Wash.

Uneven review

As someone with interest in and concern about conflicts throughout the world, I was drawn to Neve Gordon’s review of Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel by James Ron (NCR, May 20). Unfortunately, what I assumed was a book review was merely another opportunity to attack the policies of the state of Israel. In the 16-paragraph “review,” Gordon briefly mentions Serbia in but the first two paragraphs. In the book, Ron examines Serbia in “Part One: Patterns of Serbian Violence” from Page 25-112. “Part Two: Patterns of Israeli Violence” is found from Page 113-188. While I do not agree with your viewpoint on the crisis in the Middle East, I have appreciated your perspective. However, I must conclude that your editorial policy does not include any attempt at an open-minded or evenhanded approach. Sadly, that places you among those at the opposite end of the political spectrum who also make no effort at fairness.

Mount Laurel, N.J.

Neve Gordon responds: Actually, NCR’s editors asked me to discuss the part on Serbian patterns of violence, but I chose not to, and they agreed to print my review as is. While I did explain James Ron’s major theoretical claims, I thought his book can teach us something extremely important about the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, my area of expertise, and used it as a springboard to underscore some developments that are likely to transpire in the region following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. This, in David Levin’s opinion, is an indication that NCR “does not include any attempt at an open-minded or evenhanded approach.” I think it proves the opposite. But to understand my claim, one needs to consider NCR within the context of the media at large, examining what kind of news and opinions the mainstream outlets consider “fit to print.” It is the mainstream media that have little to do with open-mindedness and evenhandedness, not NCR.

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, July 29, 2005