National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
September 2, 2005

Letters Fr. Cushing dismissal

Thanks for your usual lucid reaction to Fr. Robert Cushing’s dismissal as assistant pastor at St. Teresa of Avila parish in Augusta, Ga., because he apologized for the bombing of two Japanese cities, one with a considerable Catholic population, during the waning days of World War II (NCR, Aug. 12). It is not surprising that many of our compassionate countrymen would express dismay over his action, but the fact that Fr. Cushing’s pastor, as well as the local ordinary, would remove him for his courageous witness is well nigh incomprehensible.

The church has always forbidden the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians during war, a stance reflected in international law. Fr. Cushing is not the party who is inconsistent with the magisterium of the church.

In their 1983 document “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response,” the U.S. bishops wrote, “The crisis of which we speak arises from this fact: Nuclear war threatens the existence of our planet; this is a more menacing threat than any the world has known. It is neither tolerable nor necessary that human beings live under this threat.”

Finally, perhaps the local hierarchy failed to notice this item from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race and the harm it inflicts on the poor is more than can be endured.” Those words are a direct quote from Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes.

Arlington, Va.

Deacon Gene Bétit is the social justice and outreach minister at Our Lady Queen of Peace Roman Catholic Church in Arlington, Va.

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I was appalled, but not surprised, to read of the treatment Fr. Robert Cushing has received from clergy and laity because of his apologizing for the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I am reminded of those bishops who forbade priests and religious from participating in the great civil rights marches of the ’60s.

The high school students I teach know that church teaching forbids the direct targeting of civilians in war or the causing of disproportionate damage to noncombatants -- both teachings violated in the atomic bomb attacks. Fr. Cushing’s bishop, his pastor and his hostile parishioners are evidently unaware of this teaching.

During World War II Pius XII said: “Never put a man in a position where he has to choose between his religion and his country -- because most of the time he’ll choose his country.” As have Fr. Cushing’s bishop, pastor and hostile parishioners.

Bordentown, N.J.

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We probably should not think too unkindly about Fr. Robert Cushing; after all, he wasn’t even born in the time period he is so concerned about, the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My own experience might be some indication why some of his parishioners are withholding contributions toward the building of a new church.

As a sergeant in the 1035th Signal Company attached to the Air Force, my unit was on a 30-day leave in the United States en route from the European theater of operation to the Pacific when President Truman made the decision to drop the bombs. Prior to that, my buddies and I were well aware that thousands of us would never return from an invasion of Japan.

I’m sorry, Fr. Cushing, but my wife Jean and I celebrated that day of victory.

Clinton, N.J.

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I think our brethren in St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Augusta, Ga., lack the courage to confront unpleasant realities.

Two specific realities come to mind.

First: In American culture, we revere our military people because they are supposed to be brave enough to do what most of us cannot do; they have the courage to risk their lives in battle against enemy soldiers in order to protect us.

Second: Instead of combating the enemy soldiers directly in Japan, our armed forces flew behind the Japanese soldiers and incinerated 150,000 Japanese civilians.

These two facts are true beyond discussion. And they point to a third fact: Any soldier who slaughters innocent civilians to accomplish a military goal is a war criminal.

Why are those Augusta Catholics so enraged at Fr. Robert Cushing’s apology? At least he has the courage to face facts. He is a brave and intelligent man.


Women’s ordination

Thank you for your informative article on the Women’s Ordination Worldwide Conference (NCR, Aug. 12). Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, a former professor of mine, continues to be a personal inspiration and guide; she is a brilliant light for women everywhere, especially in the church. Having said that, I want to disagree with her on one point: I believe women’s participation in ordained ministry must be accepted by Rome and seen as fully valid by the institutional church.

First, any new ecclesial structures created by women would be as vulnerable to the sins of oppression and the temptations of power as is the institutional church is today. Second, and perhaps more important, because Catholics seek the presence of God through the institutional church and its sacraments, women’s ministry must be present and available there.

Finally, the Catholic church, both for good and ill, is my church and I refuse to leave it. I believe we must seek reformation of the institutional structure, not its abandonment.

Women’s ordination is not only about the ordained in alternative venues, with which I am thrilled and which I wholeheartedly support, but also about those who need ministry within the institutional church. It is only by continuing to push for full acceptance by Rome and standing in solidarity with the whole church that women can initiate the church’s desperately needed journey of reform.

Elk Grove, Calif.

Allen’s ‘lost his oomph’

Just a brief note to tell you I heartily agree with Ann Pettifer’s letter to the editor headlined, “Allen not her cup of tea.”

I too have concluded that the reason Allen has lost his oomph and my interest is “that his problem is the result of access bestowed by powerful Vatican figures in exchange for his discretion on matters of church politics.” Being on the papal plane is not the best position to be in if the NCR is interested in more objective reporting. Being in bed with power is not what your paper is all about!

Santa Rosa, Calif.

Mary Magdalene letters

The statement that Fr. Leo Sprietsma quoted disapprovingly in his letter, “It would be unthinkable that hands which touch the Body of Christ in the Eucharist should touch the body of a woman,” is truly awful (NCR, Aug. 12). We don’t know who said this, but it demeans married couples, it confirms often stated church views regarding women and it demonstrates that formulating a consistent and adult theology of sexuality is a crying need in our church today. Further, if the statement was written by a member of the clergy, it implicitly places the priesthood above the rest of us folk who live “unthinkable” lives. I am angered and disgusted by the quote.

Olalla, Wash.

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I am surprised that in the flurry of letters discussing whether Jesus might have been married to Mary Magdalene, no one has drawn attention to a story that was far more widespread in the Middle Ages. While investigating the cult of St. Cecilia (the patron saint of musicians) over almost 30 years, I have repeatedly encountered the assertion in medieval sermons and other texts that St. John the Evangelist and St. Mary Magdalene were betrothed, sometimes that they were the bridal couple at Cana. The legend had many variations. It was for instance alleged that John left Mary to follow Jesus and that she began a life of prostitution as a result. Very often the story is mentioned, but vigorously denied, as is the case in the most famous of all medieval collections of saints’ lives, The Golden Legend, where it is called a “false and frivolous tale.” It was far more widespread than the linking of Mary and Jesus in wedlock, but ultimately just as fantastic. Why should the seriousness of the Gospels be lost in such extravagance?


Thomas Connolly is a professor emeritus from the music department at the University of Pennsylvania.

‘Disturbing’ column choice

I hope your idea and choice to use “The Lion’s Den” by Robert Royal as a counterbalance to … whatever … does not disturb others as it does me.

Clarence, N.Y.

Working with the unions

Your article “Split poses dilemma for labor’s allies” (NCR, Aug. 12) asked whether supporters of justice for working people should choose sides between the seven major unions that have formed the Change to Win Coalition and the unions that remain in the AFL-CIO.

The answer is a clear “no.” I hope your readers will work with every union and community group, employer and elected public official who is committed to a more just and humane society.

The seven unions that formed Change to Win -- Farm Workers, Unite Here, Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers, Carpenters, Teamsters, and Laborers -- will draw on many of the same partnerships that in the past nine years have allowed Service Employees International Union to help more than 900,000 workers join our movement: hospital, nursing home and home care workers; child care providers; private security officers; janitors; and public service employees.

While we know that the AFL-CIO shares many of our goals, it became clear that the federation is not prepared to change fast enough to achieve them. But the Change to Win unions fully intend to partner with the AFL-CIO on common public policy issues important to working people. Earlier this month, for example, members and leaders from both groups stood together in Atlanta with civil rights organizations to kick off a national campaign to renew the Voting Rights Act.

Instead of posing a dilemma for labor’s allies, we hope that “changing to win” will open up exciting new opportunities to work together for justice and dignity for all.


Eliseo Medina is the executive vice president of Service Employees International Union.

Views of evolution

Regarding the John Allen article on the evolution debate (NCR, July 29):

As opposed to the creationists who believe in a God who needed a break after six hectic days of creation, and in contrast to the argumentation of the intelligent design guys and even top-brass hierarchy -- I believe that Darwin, Lamarck and others speculated on the specific “how” of evolution and that evolution is merely the expression of God’s ever-continuing act of creation. St. Irenaeus, a renowned father of the church, spoke of God “empowering” the earth he created (“Let the earth bring forth all manner of living things,” Genesis 1) to be partners in his never-ending creative action, just as he partners in populating the earth with the man and woman he sculptured. What’s the big deal? Let’s get real and stop trying to limit God’s infinite resourcefulness that we humans miserably fail to comprehend.

New Rochelle, N.Y.

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The best argument against intelligent design, it seems to me, is God’s gracing our world with approximately 300,000,000 humans having homosexual orientation. This is evolution, God’s will, God’s wisdom. Do we dare call what the creator has made “unnatural” or “intrinsically evil”; indeed, is it not “sacramental”?

Los Alamitos, Calif.

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In his recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn addressed questions of the compatibility of certain theories of evolution with the teaching of the church.

Whether the cardinal has stepped unwisely into the debate over intelligent design theory is one question. For me, however, simply as a reader of English, the most significant part of the Op-Ed piece was the use of the phrase “neo-Darwinian dogma.” It clearly stands as a rhetorical attempt to diminish a certain set of theories or hypotheses as being less than intellectually honest.

The obvious answer here is that the cardinal is pointing out that some scientists may be guilty of the same sin of which they accuse believers. Sort of using their own epithet against them. “Dogma” here is clearly not being used as it is used by the church. “Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure.” So says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which Cardinal Schönborn edited. The neo-Darwinian light along the path of faith that illuminates and makes it secure? An interesting concept, but one that I am sure the cardinal did not have in mind.

If this means anything, the one conclusion I can draw is this: A cardinal of the Catholic church apparently close to the present pope, and who edited the Catechism of the Catholic Church, has shown by his own usage that the word “dogma” no longer signifies a good thing in English.

Staten Island, N.Y.

In defense of O’Reilly

Regarding “Applause for a reporter’s courage” (NCR, July 15): To link Bill O’Reilly’s name with the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken is not fair. Better to link him with Judith Miller and applaud O’Reilly for his dogged efforts to protect innocent children from pedophiles.

O’Reilly’s voice was loud indeed when bringing to task those bishops who moved pedophile priests from parish to parish. Presently via his TV show O’Reilly is urging state governors to follow Florida’s lead and pass a similar bill in their state that would sentence those convicted of a first offense of child abuse to 25 years, a second offense to life.

Yes, O’Reilly is loud, yes he is arrogant but he gets my applause for being a crusader for children, an Irish Catholic who loves his church (as I do), fair and balanced.

Bellevue, Wash.

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In your editorial “Applause for a reporter’s courage,” you defend New York Times reporter Judith Miller for going to prison rather than reveal a confidential source for an article she wrote. I have no quarrel with that for maybe she was right and maybe she was not. What I do condemn is your description of such media stalwarts as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly as “not just journalists but entertainers” (although you are right in describing Al Franken as an “entertainer,” although “hot air merchant” would be a more apt description of him).

I subscribe to NCR because your publication is a good source of information and does have some fine articles, like the one on St. Mary Magdalene in the issue of July 15. But I think you owe those of your readers who are pro-life Christians and conservative Republicans, and I am sure there are more than only a few of us in the ranks of your subscribers, a retraction of some of the left-wing blarney that has characterized some of your editorials recently and at least give the conservative political ideology equal time. I think you owe us that much.

Claymont, Del.

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, September 2, 2005