National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
November 18, 2005

Letters Beyond Chutzpah author

I agree with Alan Dershowitz that, ideally, readers should decide truth for themselves “based on the facts” presented in our respective books (NCR, Letters, Nov. 11). The difference is that I did not try to suppress publication of his book, but he did try to suppress publication of mine. Dershowitz denies this. There’s a simple means to resolve this dispute: He should make public his and his lawyers’ correspondence with my publishers and with Gov. Arnold Schwarzennegger. Why has Dershowitz adamantly refused to do so if he has nothing to hide? In his fecund imagination Dershowitz has conjured up a global conspiracy headed by Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn and myself to defame and destroy him. In reality, I merely sat down and did what any serious scholar does when reading a book. The central thesis of Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel is that, contrary to what mainstream human rights organizations have reported, Israel’s human rights record is “generally superb.” I scrutinized his sources and the logic of the argument. My conclusion, copiously documented in Beyond Chutzpah, is that Dershowitz plagiarized from a notorious hoax and fabricated and misrepresented his source material. Neither his tantrums nor his slanders can alter these incontrovertible facts. Indeed, leading scholars at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Oxford University, Harvard University, M.I.T. and Berkeley peer reviewed my manuscript for University of California Press and enthusiastically recommended its publication. Incidentally, all of these scholars are Jewish.


Compensating victims

In a recent letter to the editor, J. Neil Williams and M. Sakurai agonized over the “obscene” amounts of money for which victims of sexual abuse are asking and the destruction these demands cause to Catholic parishes (NCR, Oct. 14). They feel that members of parishes have “rights” too. I would like to say that the Catholic teaching I received didn’t speak of rights. It spoke of privileges and responsibilities, two parts of a continuum.

Our privilege is to be in the community, the body of Christ, which they speak of as “having worked so hard to create.” In a body, when your brain signals that your limb has been injured, you react by favoring and protecting that appendage. Until the whole body becomes healthy again, you are unable to do the work of the body.

Our responsibility as Christian brothers and sisters is to provide restorative justice and healing to persons sexually abused by priests, nuns and other Catholic church personnel and to victims’ family members. Abuse affects families across the generations. Compensating these victims is not charity. It is a responsibility. Like Christ, we must seek out the injured, lift them to our shoulders and carry them until they are safe and well.

How much compensation should “obscene” nightly sexual abuse for two years by a nun in a boarding school exact? Money, time, apology, solidarity -- whatever the cost -- Christ calls us to a just response to victims and their loved ones. Better to ask what more can we do rather than: “Haven’t we done enough?”

Eagan, Minn.

Catholic college identity

I am no right-winger, and I could not agree more with Fr. William C. Graham’s excellent piece in the Colleges and Universities special section (NCR, Oct. 28). I have stopped supporting my alma mater as it has swung from the late ’50s extreme of mandatory daily 7 a.m. Mass and something like seven years of required Catholic philosophy and theology courses, to the other extreme of “Vagina Monologues” productions and virtually no Catholic philosophy or theology requirement. I’m told that the majority of theology department offerings there are non-Christian. Have Catholic colleges and universities been seduced by the worldly gods of achievement and fortune? Why bother having such “Catholic” schools if they are no different from secular institutions?

Roswell, Ga.

War Made Easy review

I wish that I could share the more upbeat assumptions in Brent Cunningham’s review of my new book War Made Easy (NCR, Oct. 28). He may be correct that this is an “age of wall-to-wall media criticism” -- but the media criticism reaching most people is routinely superficial and rarely challenges the basic propaganda mechanisms of the warfare state. My book’s subtitle describes what needs to be much better understood: “How presidents and pundits keep spinning us to death.”

Far from being old hat, the patterns of media manipulation for war are not widely understood. The U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, for instance, is scarcely remembered in the United States. Likewise, illusions persist about President Nixon’s “Vietnamization” program that stepped up the tonnage of bombs dropped on Vietnam while U.S. news outlets promoted the illusion that the war was winding down because American troops were being withdrawn.

Similarly, an Orwellian void has swallowed up key facts beyond the lies that rationalized the invasions of Grenada and Panama in the 1980s, the Gulf War of 1991, the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and the assault on Afghanistan in 2001. Today, the conventional media wisdom would depict the invasion of Iraq as glorious if not for the failure of the occupiers to “win.”

It’s hard to imagine how we can overcome such media manipulation without much better public understanding of how it has worked.

One factual correction of the review: It referred to “CNN executive Eason Jordan’s straight-faced admission that he had cleared on-air commentators with the Pentagon before the first Gulf War.” Actually, as the book says, CNN’s Jordan obtained this clearance just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

San Francisco

Dressing for church

John S. Marquette’s letter about church attire is interesting (NCR, Oct. 28). He does need to lighten up. There was a time when one could support a spouse and a few kids working five days a week, eight hours a day. Now both spouses must work outside the home, sometimes at more than one job, just to pay the rent or make the mortgage payment with a little left over for food, medicine and recreation. Nowadays Sunday is the only day a family has to go to the beach or the zoo or what have you.

We should praise the Holy Spirit that people are serving at Mass. An easy fix is for the priest to provide albs for all lay ministers. That way there would be no need for people to change clothes to enjoy Sunday with their families and John S. Marquette wouldn’t be scandalized.

St. Louis

Dinosaurs and evolution

Contrary to Stafford Betty’s diatribe about intelligent design (NCR, Oct. 21), I say intelligent design has no place in any science curriculum.

Such “design” concepts, intelligent or otherwise, may make Jungians and other New Age advocates -- as well as our neighborhood evangelicals -- feel good about themselves. They can, then, say that there is something superior about us carbon-based bipeds. But I’ve always found the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould to be most eloquent in describing how random changes are in Darwinian propositions. The fact that we now seem to be on top is a result of millions of years of changes, yes, that just happened to happen -- and could have easily happened some other way, in which case we might not even exist as a species!

Indeed, advocating Bush’s endorsement of intelligent design opens the door for many of that regime’s other evangelical fights with science, with evidence, and with reality!

Let’s use our brains, contrary to the Bush ideologues, and study real science.

Hyattsville, Md.

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Regarding “Intelligent design theory belongs in the science classroom”:

We don’t need a more compelling argument that “intelligent design” is a religious theory, and not a scientific one, than to have a professor of religious studies advocating for it in NCR. Professor Betty would have a terrific case for intelligent design if only that archaeopteryx had instantly sprung wings and flown away. His arguments were not scientific; they’re not even compelling anecdotal arguments. They’re an interesting conversation over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Human intelligent design is in trouble when we can’t let the scientists decide what is a scientific theory and what isn’t.

San Leandro, Calif.

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Concerning Stafford Betty’s problem with the flying dinosaur -- I’m no biologist, but it would seem to me that its ability to fly evolved by the animal running along and flapping its arms, and the more “fluff” it had growing on its arms, the more speed it had, until flight speed was reached!


Vatican hypocrisy

Angela Bonavoglia’s article, “Sexual hypocrisy from the Vatican” (NCR, Oct. 21), is most powerful. She did an excellent job of explaining the sexual hypocrisy and the misuse of power of the church leadership.

However, as too often noticed by myself and other survivors of nun sexual abuse, the hypocrisy continues by ignoring those of us who were sexually abused by nuns.

Ms. Bonavoglia’s article should have said, “Many Catholic girls and women and boys have been victims of religious’ sexual transgressions, ranging from pedophilia and child sexual abuse to sexual exploitation, harassment, molestation, rape, beatings and potentially negligent homicide. Many sexually active priests and nuns have left a trail of wounded women and men in their wake.”

Almost all of the orders of religious women in the United States are not included in the Dallas Charter and are not accountable to anyone but an obscure office in the Vatican.

Hypocrisy indeed! Victims of nun sexual abuse “are being abandoned by a church founded by a man who abandoned no one.”

Hudson, Iowa

Steve Theisen is Iowa director of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

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Angela Bonavoglia is exactly on point regarding sexual hypocrisy from the Vatican. Targeting gay priests is a misguided, cowardly response to clergy sexual abuse. As Ms. Bonavoglia indicates, large numbers of girls and women have been abused by priests. And there is no evidence that the bishops who covered up and enabled the abuse did so because they were gay. (On what does the Vatican blame that immoral and often criminal behavior?)

The hierarchy chooses to ignore facts and reality as they continue to equate homosexuality with pedophilia, abuse of power and criminality. As Ms. Bonavoglia indicates, apparently the Vatican finds it easier to scapegoat gays than to honestly examine their culture of hypocrisy, secrecy, self-preservation and sexual immaturity.

On a personal note, I thank Ms. Bonavoglia for mentioning female clergy abuse victims. Having been raped by a priest, I often feel invisible when the media covers only male victims.

Cambridge, Mass.

Colman’s ‘attacks’

It gets tiresome responding to Colman McCarthy’s attacks on good people. The latest is Jimmy Carter, in his column “Nobel Peace Prize is little better than an Oscar” (NCR, Oct. 28). Previously it was Jim Wallis; before that, the Dalai Lama.

I suspect the Nobel Prize Committee took Mr. Carter’s entire record into account when it awarded him the Peace Prize. It is true, Mr. Carter was by no means a perfect president; he made mistakes in the White House, as Mr. McCarthy outlines. But he also brokered the first Israeli-Egyptian peace accord, a fact that Mr. McCarthy neglects to mention.

Can no one redeem themselves in Mr. McCarthy’s eyes? Is that not the point of being a Christian? It would, therefore, have been nice had Mr. McCarthy made his points without resorting to calling the honor to Carter a “boneheaded choice” or referring to “sainted Jimmy, haloed by the secular canonization of a Nobel.” This rhetoric undercut the valid points in the column.

Besides, many people felt that as an ex-president, Mr. Carter was one of the world’s preeminent peacemaking statesmen long before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr. McCarthy’s percentage of winners jailed for their beliefs would have been larger had he included last year’s winner, Dr. Wangari Maathai, in his accounting. I was coordinator of Green Belt Movement International, the U.S. arm of Dr. Maathai’s Green Belt Movement of Kenya from 1994-97. Many are the times over the years that I organized letter-writing campaigns to the Kenyan attorney general, the ambassador to the United States and the U.S. State Department, urging her swift release from prison when the government of Kenya beat and arrested her.

San Francisco

Eucharist synod

John Allen’s long and detailed account of the bishops’ Synod on the Eucharist in Rome (NCR, Oct. 14 to Nov. 4) illustrates that there is an elephant in the cathedral. The sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church was alluded to during several discussions, but never truly dealt with. Surely the bishops cannot believe that it is now “history,” as Bishop Wilton Gregory said so many months ago. If that were true, Cardinal Roger Mahony wouldn’t have left town for Japan when recent court documents were released in Los Angeles implicating hundreds of priests in his diocese. Is there no accountability for Catholic bishops who protected and covered up for priests guilty of criminal sexual misconduct with minors in our church?

Apple Valley, Minn.

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So, how many women were invited to the bishops’ synod on the topic of Eucharist -- the topic that calls for one table of unity and inclusion? Or is there a separate women’s table?

Brooklyn, N.Y.

NCR responds:
The synod included 256 participants and an additional 100 other invited participants and observers, including 12 women -- eight religious sisters and four laywomen under religious vows. In’s reports on the synod, Allen devoted Report #14, posted Oct. 17, to interventions of 11 of the 12 women.

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, November 18, 2005