National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
August 26, 2005

Letters Memories of Arthur

Every current NCR reader knows the iconoclastic writing of Arthur Jones (NCR, July 1 and Aug. 12). The many journalists who worked for him when he edited the NCR in the 1970s and early 1980s also know Arthur as a challenging, inspiring mentor.

A quarter century ago, Arthur plucked me from local reporting in Chicago into a national beat focused on U.S. economic conflicts. His encouragement overcame my self-doubts; his demands impelled me to tell the stories of poor and working people struggling for justice with precision I didn’t know I possessed. When those people and their stories propelled me down a path very different from Arthur’s, from journalism to activism, his fatherly guidance helped me discern my choices.

More importantly, remember Penny Lernoux, the great chronicler of Latin American life and church, whose last book (on the Maryknoll Sisters) Arthur helped complete after her untimely death. With courage and foresight years ahead of other U.S. editors, Arthur’s editorial decisions made her work echo through North America. With challenging headlines like “Capitalism’s Rot Changes Christianity,” he showcased her reports on the impact of Latin America’s enslavement to the global finance system.

Absent Arthur’s instinct for great stories, absent his demand that NCR chronicle the forces shaping the lives of the powerless with the depth others reserve for presidents or pop-culture icons, Lernoux’s work would have had far less chance to shape our consciousness. Thanks to Arthur, NCR readers understood a quarter century ago the depth of the debt crisis and other pressing Third-World issues that activist rock stars like Bono and Sting have only recently catapulted onto the rest of the world’s front pages.

Long Beach, Calif.

Steve Askin is a former NCR Washington Bureau chief and Africa correspondent who now works with the Service Employees International Union.

No sympathy for Miller

The editorial “Applause for a reporter’s courage”(NCR, July 15) might have convinced me but for the last paragraph where you laud Judith Miller for going to jail “to protect the integrity of the profession.”

Judith Miller has, in fact, done as much to undermine the integrity of the profession as Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Ruth Shalit or countless other fabulists. Her career has been advanced by her willingness to serve as the mouthpiece of hardliners peddling stories to advance the neoconservative agenda, from John Poindexter to Ahmad Chalabi. Her use of anonymous sources led The New York Times to issue an editorial note correcting her false reports on weapons of mass destruction, the now famous aluminum tubes and the Russian biowarfare expert who purportedly delivered smallpox to Saddam Hussein, an editorial note exceeded in length only by the Jayson Blair note.

Judith Miller still got a better deal than the thousands of soldiers who’ve lost their lives in a war she did so much to sell. She also got a better deal than the other folks sent that day to the overcrowded Washington jail, not the “state of the art” new jail in Alexandria, Va., that her lawyer got for her.


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I do not applaud Judith Miller. She shilled the lie of WMDs for the administration. She championed its darling, Ahmed Chalabi. It’s no stretch to imagine that the source she’s protecting is Karl Rove. She’ll be rewarded.

Los Angeles

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Judith Miller’s refusal to cooperate with a criminal investigation is far from noble. Remember that her source (Karl Rove?) was, at best, engaging in an act of revenge to send a message to anyone who might be tempted to question the propaganda campaign to convince Americans to engage in an illegal invasion, and, at worst, was committing a treasonous felony and was trying to amplify this act by going to members of the press with this information. By not revealing her source, the “Lady General” isn’t going to prison to protect journalists’ ability to investigate important stories but, rather, she is fighting to continue her position as the principal font for government-sponsored disinformation.

Tacoma, Wash.

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Your editorial “Applause for a reporter’s courage” missed the point. The news leak actually referred to a piece of secret information that should not have been printable in a legitimate news outlet. This would seem to negate any justification for concealing the identity of the author of such a revelation. The leak itself is the crime. Therefore the reporter should only reveal the name of the author of this crime, not the name of the innocent person (Valerie Plame) who is the unsuspecting subject of the revelation.

San Antonio

Tom Roberts responds: The rather harsh exaggerations characterizing Judith Miller’s work aside, it seems necessary to point out that the editorial in question was clearly an endorsement of the action she took on principle to protect the identity of her source and was not in any way intended as an endorsement of her reporting.

Anyone familiar with NCR’s editorial position is aware that long before it became acceptable in mainstream media circles, this paper opposed the war in Iraq, did not believe from the start the justification for it and has consistently criticized those who have attempted to spin an ill-conceived quest for access to resources into a crusade to spread democracy.

Changes in Spain

John L. Allen’s excellent article on the religious conflict in Spain (NCR, July 1) reminded me of my first trip to Spain with a group of French Catholic students for Holy Week in 1954. We stayed at what I decided were the coldest convents in the world and did the usual tourist things: Madrid (with the Prado), Toledo and the Alhambra, surely one of the most beautiful spots in the world. We ended with Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday in Avila, the beautiful medieval city set among gently rolling hills, the home of the great St. Teresa.

Spain was then in full Counter Reformation/postrevolutionary mode: women dressed in long black dresses, clergy and nuns everywhere, and Franco’s army. They were a poor- looking lot -- drab, not-too-clean uniforms on slack bodies. On Good Friday, all the churches were open. Contingents of soldiers, perhaps 15 to 20, were marched to the altar where an officer would have them kneel, pray, stand, genuflect and go on to the next church. It was a country of total religious repression. No one dared to question the church; it was illegal for non-Catholics, especially Protestants, to hold public religious services.

The church in Spain for too long clung to feudal prerogatives, forgetting the Christian message of tolerance and nonviolence. That no longer works with an affluent, well educated, more generous population. They seem to be intent on teaching the church the meaning of the word “love.”

Winsted, Conn.

Evolution debate

As a practicing Catholic and a biologist, I found Archbishop Christoph Shönborn’s July 7 article in The New York Times an embarrassing abdication of human intelligence.

I am also troubled by the coverage that NCR gave to this issue, especially John Allen’s reporting in “Catholic experts urge caution in evolution debate” (NCR, July 29). Like most media reporters, Allen’s attempt at evenhanded treatment of intelligent design versus evolution achieved little more than providing a forum for the creationists. Intelligent design is not science. Allen refers to Michael Behe as an important contributor to a Catholic reappraisal of evolution. Whatever Behe’s Catholic credentials may be, he is not a scientifically competent critic of evolution. I would have hoped that Allen would have provided a more discerning analysis.

NCR also seems to suggest that the issue is not very important and that Catholics should not be drawn into the discussion. This is a mistake! A prince of the church (Schönborn) has joined political hands with a fundamentalist anti-science group (Discovery Institute) whose mission is to see intelligent design given equal time with evolution in our school curricula. If Schönborn’s views represent the stance of the Catholic church, it is an embarrassment to all thinking Catholics.

Albuquerque, N.M.

Sidney B. Simpson Jr. is emeritus professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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The debate regarding God and evolution can never be settled by way of science because the concern is metaphysical. Vatican I insisted that God’s existence can be proved by unaided reason, and that is the best we can do; also, Romans says: “His [God’s] invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made ... for although they knew God they did not ... give him thanks ... they became fools” (Romans 1:20-22).

In 1954, while on a physics field trip from Ames, Iowa, to Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, my professor, who was driving, spent about 100 miles going on and on about the universe -- how fabulous it is, how complicated and great it is. So fabulous, in fact, that “there can’t be a God great enough or smart enough to create it.” He chose to be a fool.

St. Louis

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After reading the July 29 article “Catholic experts urge caution in evolution debate,” I was left with a feeling of “much ado about nothing.” Then it came to me: The problem with the tiredness of the evolution controversy is located precisely in the notion of “debate.”

A debate is an ego-exercise; it is about winning and control. Yet at the heart of evolution, there remains, even with all of our science, the great Mystery. The proper approach to this reality of our human condition is not through the ego but through a spiritual maturity that overcomes the need for debate and enters with humility and openness into a dialogue.


Language change

It is time to remove the word anti-Semitism from our language (NCR, Letters, July 29). The proper word to describe people who dislike or hate Jews is anti-Jewish.


Howard Clark Kee is president of the American Interfaith Institute.

Eucharistic minister

Years ago I served as a eucharistic minister for my college’s Newman Association. One Sunday evening as students stood in my line to receive Communion, I noticed a student who had been exceptionally cruel to me. Though I am certainly in no position to “cast the first stone,” I was nevertheless annoyed that she was standing in my line. And for a second, I thought of just not giving the Eucharist to her. I felt a certain sense of self-righteousness, that I was better, more worthy and more “Catholic” than she was.

But I realized almost instantly that I had no business bringing my own judgment into this matter. Whether or not this person should receive the Eucharist was not my decision. I did not own the Eucharist, and I was not the one giving the host to her. Rather, I was the person who had the fortune and blessing of being able to present the host to her. The person giving it to her was Christ, and only he had the authority to take it away from her.

White Plains, N.Y.

Baltimore programs

Arthur Jones did a marvelous portrayal of the spirit-filled work on the margins in Baltimore, particularly the involvement and dedication of the religious congregations in the archdiocese (NCR, July 29). Not only have sisters, brothers and priests walked the walk, but they also have formed a justice and peace initiative to talk the talk.

The religious communities have formed the P. Francis Murphy Justice and Peace Initiative to “become a common voice for justice and peace.” Bishop Frank Murphy, auxiliary bishop from 1976 until September 1999, when he died of cancer, was a champion and model for justice in the church and in society.

One factual citation in the article to correct: GM, not Ford, closed its minivan plant this year and virtually ended the last large-scale manufacturing in Baltimore.


Dick Ullrich works for the P. Francis Murphy Justice and Peace Initiative.

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I was delighted to see Fr. Dick Lawrence on the front cover of the July 29 issue. He is one of the really “good guys” in the Baltimore archdiocese. The article did an excellent job of highlighting many of the good programs that are taking place in Baltimore. Unfortunately, there were two glaring omissions. Nowhere was it mentioned that Our Daily Bread will be moving to a location adjacent to the Super Max prison. Cardinal William Keeler buckled to the wishes and demands of the Charles Street merchants and will remove the homeless and hungry to a location where the general public will no longer have to see them. And the article made no mention of Viva House, a Catholic Worker House in one of west Baltimore’s worst neighborhoods. Brendan Walsh and Willa Bickham, aided by a corps of volunteers, have been working with the poor since the late ’60s. They feed close to a thousand people a sit-down meal every week, in addition to distributing food bags and other necessities.

Columbia, Md.

Religious order priests

Fr. Vincent Poirier in his letter “Diocesan and religious clergy” (NCR, July 15) makes a strong point against the appointment of religious to head diocesan seminaries and episcopal sees.

A further point is the appointment of religious to pastor diocesan parishes because of the shortage of diocesan priests. The reasons against such appointments are the same. Religious priests are educated, trained, and function in the charism of their community and not in the charism of the diocesan priesthood.

To compromise the needs in a local parish just to have a priest say morning Mass distorts the title “pastor.”


Fr. Groarke is the pastor of Holy Name of Jesus in Philadelphia.

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Fr. Vincent Poirier writes that he does not believe religious order priests are suitable candidates for the role of ordinary. As a religious myself, I find Fr. Poirier’s letter not simply wrong-headed but highly offensive. In the first place, his logic flies in the face of multiple instances of religious who were not simply good, but stellar examples of what it means to be a bishop. Please demonstrate the deficiencies of men like Antoninus of Florence, Bartolomeo de las Casas or Pius V, just to name a few from the ranks of my own order. How did their religious profession render them less capable of responding to the needs they addressed in their dioceses? It didn’t!

To suggest that membership in a religious community automatically renders a man ineligible to be appointed to a see is like saying that profession of religious faith makes a candidate ineligible to serve in public office. Episcopal inadequacies are more likely personal than the result of seminary training, no matter if the man is a diocesan priest or a Dominican.

Yes, it’s true that a religious has a special relationship to his community. But it simply does not follow that this will pose a handicap for him in his ministry outside of his community. In fact, I find the opposite to be true. In 27 years as a priest, it was my religious vocation that consistently supported and sustained that ministry and never once interfered with it.


NCR’s ‘advice’ to Europe

Your advice to European Catholics in your July 1 editorial (“ ‘Religious right’ wrong model for Europe”) is basically to abandon Catholic teaching or, to be precise, to pick and choose which Catholic teaching suits you: Forget about abortion, homosexuality, and bioethics and worry about social justice defined as warmed-over socialism. Give me a break. You folks have abandoned the Catholic faith a long time ago and should remove the word “Catholic” from your masthead. The reason European Catholicism is so dead is that it has followed your advice for the last 40 years.

Yonkers, N.Y.

Female saints

As a medievalist and a lifelong student of the history of women saints, I wanted to express how delighted I was to read Sr. Antonia Ryan’s article “An astonishing saint” (NCR, July 29).

The story of Christina the Astonishing is particularly intriguing because it highlights the challenges that face medieval historians. On the one hand, Christina Mirabilis was a sensitive soul who devoted many hours of her life to suffering intensely for the salvation of her fellow human beings. On the other hand, she appears to have been quite feisty at times. Christina was one of many medieval female saints who led an active, at times even public, holy life.

It is true that scholars continue to debate some questions about the evidence and meaning of St. Christina’s life. (For instance, can we rely fully on Thomas de Cantimpré’s vita of her? How do we evaluate the accounts of her miracles, which, even by medieval standards, are rather dramatic?) Yet there is also no doubt that her life, or at least the basics of it as represented in de Cantimpré’s vita, attest to the vitality of Christina’s spiritual devotion and to the dynamism, more generally, of medieval holy female traditions.

Even though Christina was never canonized officially, her vita was copied and translated numerous times during the late Middle Ages and the early modern era. Her story seems to have circulated quite broadly, both in written and oral forms, and she remains, as noted by Sr. Antonia, a popular figure to this day.

New York

Learning to kill

Your two book reviews on the death penalty (NCR, July 15) gave encouragement to the hundreds (thousands?) of us who are “card-carrying opponents of capital punishment.” Those of us who have signed the “Declaration of Life” always have a small card on our person that says that if we are killed by a violent crime, we do not want the person found guilty to be subjected to the death penalty.

If the young sniper John Lee Malvo had decided at age 17 to enter the military and serve as a sharpshooter in Iraq or Afghanistan, he would have been given a license to kill, perhaps a medal if he did so with expertise and enthusiasm.

We cannot continue living in ethical schizophrenia, sending people who kill off to prison for life while encouraging young men and women to hone their skills in killing. Those who were trained cannot be deprogrammed in one lifetime.

Lafayette, La.

Economic hit man

Your review of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man brings to light major issues concerning truth and justice (NCR, July 29). The book clarifies a key link in the following chain: 1) corporate support and donations strongly influence election results and 2) political beneficiaries then promote the interests of big business, 3) the U.S. government and corporations then seek to promote loans and eventual indebtedness in various vulnerable countries and 4) this leads to greater U.S. and corporate control of these countries. If that country resists this encroachment, severe, even lethal, reprisals are likely, as author John Perkins points out.

As the U.S. empire spreads over the globe, is this the way we want to use our taxes, our ideals and the good name of the United States?


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The author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man baited his hook well and the reviewer took it like a fish. To me, it seemed to be a reworking of the confession of a retired medieval missionary who finally saw that European diseases carried by the missionaries devastated the tribes that had no immunity. Or maybe it’s a reworking of the confessions of the auto executive who tempted people with zero-percent financing and ever-new models to flood the world with automobiles, paving over idyllic valleys and causing scores of deaths never seen with the horse and buggy. Or maybe it’s a reworking of the confessions of the publisher of a Catholic newspaper, read for half an hour and then thrown into overflowing landfills, all at the cost of forests being ravaged for pulp and paper mills spewing out contaminated water.

Some people believe that technology is in general pernicious and that the old, simpler ways are better. You can always find something wrong in a human endeavor, but it is misleading to simply ignore the benefits that were intended and, in most cases, achieved. Good old NCR, a great paper, brings invaluable insight to its readers. If you wanted to be a muckraker, I bet you could find lots of bad things to list as the side effects of publishing a paper in our civilization. It’s an imperfect world. Happily God has also equipped us to see good as well as evil.

Kentfield, Calif

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, August 26, 2005