National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
October 7, 2005

Letters Colman and Cindy

As a longtime fan of Colman McCarthy, I find his “faint praise” for Cindy Sheehan out of line (NCR, Sept. 16). Hey, come on, Colman: Doesn’t everyone have conversion moments, even if they’re late in life? And even if it takes some horrible, traumatic event? Didn’t even the crucifixion of Jesus -- a horrible, traumatic event as well -- become a conversion point for disciples who ran away, one with sword still in hand?

Cut Cindy some slack, please. Maybe it took the death of her own son to convert her, but it did it. Some of us are not born pacifists but get there via other events, eventually, and with the grace of God.

Park City, Utah

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Colman McCarthy should be ashamed of himself. Take it from a Gold Star brother, who, in 1965, came belatedly to see President Johnson’s folly and the immorality of the Vietnam War in its clear light -- after his oldest brother was ambushed and killed by the Vietcong.

McCarthy, who arrogantly dares to define who are the “genuine” leaders of the peace movement (himself included, I gather), displays a near-pharisaical disdain for Cindy Sheehan. He not only analyzes her “problem” as one of terminal naiveté, but also accuses her of complicity with militarism for raising a son who joined the Army.

What sort of an elitist implies that a mother is to conceive, rear, bury and mourn a perfect pacifist (like himself?), and anyone who demonstrates less than this becomes grist for his own unsullied, bullying, pacifistic mill?

Tarentum, Pa.

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I would rather see a “Cindy” change her mind or mend her ways than one who is against the war from Day 1 but does nothing.

Ansonia, Conn.

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Colman McCarthy’s article was too hard on Cindy Sheehan. It seems to me it doesn’t matter what her personal peace history is. Like it or not, she’s being compared to Rosa Parks because she has captured the media attention necessary to energize people into action. I wasn’t always a peace activist but morphed from hawk to dove during Vietnam. Because I’ve been on both sides, I believe I’ve been an effective and active voice for peace -- a genuine leader in local peace activities. I believe Cindy is a genuine leader too, and with encouragement rather than disdain, she’ll prove to be more than “a dabbler in theatrics.” More power to Cindy and those rallying beside her.

Springfield, Ohio

Peggy Hanna is the author of Patriotism, Peace and Vietnam: A Memoir.

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Overall, I am well pleased with the first issue of my new subscription. However, I am disappointed by Colman McCarthy’s 14-inch diatribe against Cindy Sheehan. I have always understood that the Catholic position (and the general Christian position) is to welcome converts rather than vilify them for coming late to our tenets.

Soquel, Calif.

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Colman McCarthy totally misses the point. It doesn’t matter if Sheehan raised her son to join the military and participate in war. What matters is that she is no longer comfortable with that position. Perhaps it took having her son killed to bring about her conversion, but conversion is what it’s all about.

In my daily loving kindness meditations, I visualize George Bush on his knees, weeping, crying “mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” to God and the rest of the world as he begs forgiveness. I imagine his conversion.

When enough people who support this immoral and unjust war (and their number is still legion) experience in their hearts the enormity of what is wrong, they will no longer be able to participate in war.

Cindy Sheehan is a powerful reminder that such conversions are possible.

Dubois, Ind.

U.S. and Australia

Your editorial on the present state of the U.S. federal government in the wake of Katrina is welcome (NCR, Sept. 9). In Australia, our federal government has been doing America’s bidding for years, joining in your wars, praising George W. Bush’s ever more asinine actions and statements and just generally going with the American flow. The story is that one day we might get into trouble and then the United States will come to our aid. Now the secret is out. If America comes to our aid the way it has come to the aid of New Orleans, I’d rather take the risk of occasionally offending the United States and saying, “No! We can get by on our own, thank you very much.” I feel great sympathy and fellowship for the poor folk around the Gulf of Mexico who have suffered so much in these terrible times as I feel for the people of Iraq and your young men and women going there to die. For your federal government and your president, I feel nothing positive at all. I fear them.

Eastwood, New South Wales, Australia

Judge Roberts

Fr. Richard McBrien makes some interesting points about the consideration of Judge Roberts’ religious views (NCR, Sept. 16), but the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominees are a constitutional process, and this is what the Constitution says: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Now, I guess we could give that a narrow, legalistic reading, so that it does not apply to consideration by individual senators of a candidate’s religious views. The paradox then becomes this: In order to justify consideration of a nominee’s religious beliefs, we must engage in the same kind of narrow, legalistic reading of the text that many people (myself included) are afraid Chief Justice Roberts will engage in.

If one prefers a broader reading of constitutional rights, then I think any questions about a nominee’s faith are totally off-limits. That is the spirit of the Constitution, isn’t it?

Staten Island, N.Y.

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After reading Richard P. McBrien’s piece on questioning the faith of judicial nominees, I wondered if the most important issue had even been addressed. As Catholics and Christians, we are called to live our faith on a daily basis.

A Christian businessman is first a Christian. He cannot put aside his religious beliefs to suit his business needs. We expect people in the workplace to be Catholic first and employees second.

Recently we have begun to insist our politicians be faithful to their Catholic beliefs. We rightly should expect our political leaders to act in the best tradition of what they, as Catholics and Christians, believe.

Why then do we even entertain the notion that judges or Supreme Court justices put aside their beliefs when interpreting the Constitution? Does the Constitution or any of man’s laws override the law that we have from the Hebrew scriptures or the law that Jesus emphatically gave us in his teachings in the Gospel? The answer, I would hope, is a resounding “No!”

The question for John Roberts or any person of faith is not “Will your faith interfere with the performance of your judicial duties?” Rather it should be “How can anyone of faith put aside his beliefs and let any other set of rules, laws or regulations take precedent over the teachings he has based his life upon?”

Candler, Fla.

On the border

One of the first writers at NCR who captured my attention was Demetria Martinez. As Latinas, we share many ideas of life. Yet her article about the crossers on the Mexico border and the people who have been prosecuted for assisting them gives me great concern (NCR, Sept. 2).

I am fortunate that I can provide for my family, and I realize that most of the crossers only want to do the same. I often feel that people in other parts of the United States think that we on the border hate the crossers. That is far from the truth. My own family is from Mexico two generations ago. We speak Spanish and even though we do not travel to Mexico today, we have a great bond with that country.

The areas that I believe Ms. Martinez did not illuminate in the article are in showing the frustration and confusion that many of us face daily with the vandalism, trash, crimes and drains on community systems. The crossers come night and day through the small town where I live in Arizona and it is a nightmare in some ways. I pray that anyone needing medical assistance receives it, no matter their home country; yet bills must be paid, and that makes me wonder why Mexico isn’t ever charged for services that are used by their citizens here in the United States.

Why can’t I ever read an article about border crossers that shows all sides of this complex and difficult matter?

Lukeville, Ariz.

Christian fundamentalism

I just read your article on Christian fundamentalism (NCR, Sept. 23). It was insightful in terms of historical development, but it failed to address how the fundamentalists view and respond to Roman Catholics.

Despite living in southern Ohio, which has a large Catholic population and influence, my children frequently are subjected to comments in high school such as “Catholics aren’t Christian” and “Catholics don’t read the Bible.” A conservative Presbyterian who is a close relative of mine is comfortable in public conversations -- with me present -- to express the sentiment “I hate Catholics.”

My guess is that you consciously avoided addressing how fundamentalists treat us. Though Catholics work hard to feel “we” are part of “them,” they do not share the sentiment. Trust me: Their concept of prayer in school does not include a “Hail Mary.”

Centerville, Ohio

Pastoral administrators

I read your Ministries special section (NCR, Sept. 16) with deep gratitude, especially because of Paige Byrne Shortal’s two articles on Marla and Tom, who are part of a gathering of more than 90 pastoral administrators at Racine, Wis., every spring. We seem to be so invisible in the church, but each day we go to our parishioners untiringly with a message of God’s love.

We can build buildings, clean toilets, etc., but we are not allowed to preach, nor can we anoint the dying or preside at marriages and baptisms after we have spent months preparing people to receive the sacraments. We each have a sacramental minister who comes in on weekends, who does not know our people intimately or know what has happened in the parish all week long, but they are the official leaders of prayer, even when some of them have been abusive.

I personally had more than 50 priests come in during my pastorate at one parish for 13 years. Many of these priests were excellent, but one was suffering from Alzheimer’s -- and he was my celebrant for Holy Week. Some practically destroyed everything that was built during the week.

Cheers for all the women and men who pastor parishes as unsung heroes and invisible leaders to all but their own parishioners who love them dearly. Thank you for giving us a brief birds-eye view of two of these special pastoral people.

Birch Run, Mich.

John Allen’s reporting

Marianne Thompson’s letter of (NCR, Sept. 9) expresses my sentiments exactly about John Allen. As a longtime subscriber who looked forward to his weekly column, I now place him at the bottom of my list.

Berkeley Heights, N.J.

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I am a non-Catholic journalism undergrad student who was drawn to NCR -- and, indeed, to a greater understanding of Catholicism -- through John Allen Jr.’s journalism. And so I am confused when I read letters from NCR readers complaining about his reportage being slanted too far on the Vatican side of things. (Did these people even read his stories about the Reese dismissal?)

Marianne Thompson suggests that NCR and Allen are “in bed with power” because Allen has made some good contacts in the Vatican. But that’s what good journalists do: They build trusting relationships with their sources. It has nothing to do with being in bed with anyone, and everything to do with good reporting. Allen’s journalism is compelling precisely because he has that kind of access to information and he uses it responsibly. His reporting is thoughtful and analytical, yet still fair to those on both sides of an issue. Some would rather he toss out ethics and go on a pope-bashing rampage, but Allen is right to keep representing both sides of conflicts and issues fairly.

Allen’s journalism shows that the Catholic church is a vibrant, organic and growing body that is full of life, and not simply a bunch of warring factions out to get each other. At least, that’s what it showed me, and for that I’m thankful.

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Seminary review

Archbishop Edwin O’Brien recently suggested that even men who are gay and celibate should not be admitted to Catholic seminaries (NCR, Sept. 16). Archbishop O’Brien seems to believe that the church can reduce the frequency of priestly sexual abuse by encouraging seminarians to hide their sexual orientation. This seems like a rather clumsy and indiscriminate way to tackle a specific problem since it is predicated on the illusion that homosexuality and pedophilia are synonymous, which they are not. Blaming gay priests for the sex abuse scandals that have plagued the church is no more logical than blaming everyone who can add and subtract for the accounting scandals at Enron.

Does Archbishop O’Brien intend to apply this rigorous new standard to the American episcopacy, or only to prospective seminarians?

Fairdale, Ky.

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Does Archbishop O’Brien know that sexual deviancy is a pathology, not a sexual orientation, and that such a pathology is known to occur within certain segments of all sexual orientations?

Instead of excluding someone from seminary simply on the basis of that person’s sexual orientation, why doesn’t the hierarchy do away with the seminary system altogether? Indeed, all seminaries, by their very insular, gender-segregated nature, are unhealthy environments and breed unhealthy sexual attitudes and behaviors. (I keep thinking of the first-person account that appeared in NCR just after the national scandals unfolded, written by an unnamed priest-perpetrator who recounted his seminary experience.)

It seems to me that a much healthier approach to priestly formation would be to accept priestly candidates only when they have completed at least a bachelor’s degree on their own and have been engaged in making a living for a while. Later, if after careful psychological screening they are accepted for priestly formation, it would be well for those candidates to do their graduate work at a coed interreligious theological union while living independently, experiencing community through a parish and regular gatherings of already ordained men as well as their fellow candidates for ordination.

Until the hierarchy is willing to consider radical change in how priestly formation is done, we will not be rid of the occasional sexual deviant, homosexual or heterosexual.

Tacoma Wash.

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In my long life, I have known hundreds if not thousands of priests (and bishops) here and in my native country. I have had firsthand experience of their unselfish service to the people, their unblemished dedication to the church and their contagious holiness. Many of them were and are homosexuals, who were and are equally dedicated and holy.

If, according to Archbishop O’Brien, celibate homosexuals should not be accepted in the seminaries to be priests, what should we do with the many celibate homosexual priests (and bishops) who are now serving the people in an exemplary manner? I consider Archbishop O’Brien’s statement a stab in their backs, and I dread the idea of having this as the policy of the entire Catholic church.

Let’s be clear about something: If we look at the negative side, we can say that there have been and there are homosexual priests who have failed miserably, but no more than the heterosexual priests. To the cynics who say that homosexual priests could be a danger to their sons, we have to say also that heterosexual priests could be a danger to their daughters.

Vineland, N.J.

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, October 7, 2005