National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
December 9, 2005

Letters Girls and vocations

Thanks to Renee Schafer Horton for her viewpoint in the Family Life special section, “When it comes to vocations, mother’s hands are tied” (NCR, Nov. 18). She has captured a conversation had by many mothers and daughters in many Catholic households for many years. I had my conversation with my mother almost 40 years ago. It was then that I learned that imaginary playing priest was “silly” when you were a girl. However, if you were a boy, it was often interpreted as one “sign” of “the call to priesthood.” It’s all in the interpretation, no?

Albuquerque, N.M.

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Renee Schafer Horton’s article presents an accurate picture of the openness most Catholic mothers have to exposing their children to religious vocations. However, during the ’50s and ’60s there was also deep pressure placed on many sons to become priests, as this was considered the best gift a son could give a Catholic mother. As a young girl, I remember my mother talking with other parish mothers about the “progress” that at least one son was making toward a priestly vocation. In addition, these mothers became identified as ideal mothers if they had a son in seminary and were almost beatified if this son became ordained. If a mother had more than one son in the priesthood, this mother was considered a saint in the parish. I felt sorry for my only brother, who lived with this pressure and eventually left the Catholic church.

As for me, like Renee’s daughter, I was the one who had the calling to the priesthood. I was the one who did not play with dolls but rather practiced saying Mass. However, during vocation week in sixth grade when I revealed my desire to become a priest, I was told by the priest that girls can’t have such thoughts and I should go to confession.

I went on to a career in science and business; I married and have three fine sons. However, the deep stirring in my soul continues. When will our hierarchy open themselves to understand what Galatians 3:28 (“There is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”) is all about?

Durham, N.C.

Women priests

I found Bridget Mary Meehan’s use of the Bible to justify women priests narrow and shallow (NCR, Nov. 4).

In studies of salvation history, we see that God’s covenants are emphasized. We are familiar with his covenant mediators: Adam, Noah, Abram, Moses, David and ultimately Jesus. The first one was a marital covenant between Adam and Eve.

When Christ came, he too affirmed the marital covenant but in a spiritual manner. His bride, as referenced in the Gospels, is the church. Priests, acting in the person of Christ, are also spiritually wedded to the church.

What the above affirms is the male/female nature of the marital covenant. Having women priests would be a radical and illegitimate change in the covenant for then a priestess (female) would be spiritually wed to the church (female). Contrary to the way it was “in the beginning.”

Meehan’s angle on ordination does nothing to persuade people as to why the church should overthrow something that came from the creative hand of God.

Eagan, Minn.

Katrina damage

Mary B. Good’s graphic description of the unspeakably horrible condition of the school in New Orleans touched my heart and moved me to tears (NCR, Nov. 18). Thank you for helping me to remember how much is needed for a very long time yet before the New Orleans poor can return home -- and how much is needed even to improve the conditions that existed before Katrina hit. It is good to be reminded to continue to hold them all in my prayers and to keep the donations going.

Cupertino, Calif.

Silent bishops

Regarding your editorial headlined “The disappearing bishops” (NCR, Nov. 25):

Thank you for being so honest -- for telling it like it is now in the Catholic church. The bishops should be ashamed of themselves for their silence.

Your courage to be so clear and so honest makes me want to renew my subscription. At least some do not want to place their collective heads in the sand!

Cherokee, Calif.

Gay theology pioneer

The article about gay theology and the life of Fr. John J. McNeill (NCR, Nov. 11) made me think that Fr. John was going to great lengths to rationalize his lifestyle. It’s quite a stretch when he says he sees “gay marriages as a ‘new paradigm’ that will in time rescue straight marriages from their present dysfunctional status in modern society.”

What is difficult for some of us old naive churchgoers is to see that many of our priests have “feet of clay” just like many of us. All the time we thought they were so special because they could live a celibate life.

Now we have a priest ordained in 1959 who began acting out his sexual fantasies by “searching out sexual encounters” until 1965, when he met his present lover and partner in a New York bar. Then for the next 23 years he continued functioning as a Jesuit priest. I guess any lifestyle for a priest is acceptable to the hierarchy as long it is not made public.

Fr. John did make one point with which I am in full agreement: “The whole trajectory of the church is toward the era of the Spirit, when each will know the truth in his heart and there will be no need for extrinsic authority.”

Clinton, N.J.

Dialogue with a rabbi

Tom Roberts’ dialogue with Rabbi Yehiel Poupko is poignant -- patient yearning for agreement, to sing the same song, knowing that a gulf remains (NCR, Nov. 4).

Both believe that “all human beings are created in tselem elokim, the image of God.” Both know the inhumanity and the guilt of the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians after Washington repeatedly blocked Palestinian independence, sponsored an unfair partition and has since blinked at Israel’s land grabs and repression of the occupied millions.

But Poupko and too many Israelis believe Eretz Israel their birthright and reject the morally obligatory restitution for the wrong done -- a return of the Palestinians’ human dignity. Instead, they defend the indefensible idea that Israel does not target civilians when three times as many Palestinian noncombatants have been killed as Israelis, five times as many Palestinian children. I see no integrity in that.

Such rejection denies Palestinians the dignity Israelis claim for themselves. Our dialogue with a local rabbi quickly followed suit. Explaining the Jews’ violent entry into the Promised Land, he observed: “When I woke up this morning, there was an ant in the bathtub; I gave it a chance to leave and it didn’t.”

Poupko’s faulting of the Presbyterian divestment as contempt for Judaism and Israel is revealing; divestment is, for once, a response to the abuse that Israeli/U.S. power cannot thwart.

Tom and the rabbi should keep talking, as we will here, though from the perspective of justice, the talk is, finally, only talk -- no walk.

Portland, Maine

William H. Slavick is the coordinator of Pax Christi Maine.

Caesar’s due

South Korean student Pius Ko Dongju refuses military service because he says in doing so “he would abandon Jesus’ Gospel” (NCR, Nov. 4).

Has he never read Matthew 22:21: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”? In legislating military service, South Korea is not requiring him to “abandon Jesus’ Gospel.” It is simply requiring him to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. The United States once had compulsory draft laws. Were we too requiring citizens to “abandon Jesus’ Gospel”? I think not.

Northglen, Colo.

U.S. and Latin America

Robert Royal’s negative portrayal of Cuba in his column “Hurricane Hugo” (NCR, Nov. 18) is certainly not what my wife and I experienced. If you measure Cuban society by gross domestic product and consumer goods, Royal is correct. But if you measure society by the closeness of communities and the physical and spiritual health of its people, then Cuba is far more successful than the United States.

Unlike what Royal alludes to, we easily traveled across Cuba under a U.S. Department of the Treasury religious/humanitarian license. We had the freedom to go and come when and where we wanted. We were greeted warmly and hospitably everywhere. Royal wants to return to Latin America, and my wife and I want to return to Cuba; however, our freedom to travel to Cuba has ended, due to the Bush administration’s revoking our travel license, making it a crime if we return.

Coram, Mont.

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Robert Royal may believe that going the Chávez route would deprive the poor of the advantages of free trade but history contradicts him. First we must remember that President Bush represents global corporations. What he and the World Bank want to impose on other countries is the type of unrestrained capitalism we got rid of in this country in the 1930s. That’s exactly why there is so much poverty in Latin America today. His idea of a free-trade zone is to turn Latin America into one gigantic sweatshop for global corporations, and to heck with the people and their environment. As Bush knows and John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man reveals, Latin American countries would have to eliminate whatever social safety nets they have in order to pay their interest on their international loans. As Bush has done in the past, he will deal with the rich few and let the rest starve in their slums.

On the other hand, Chávez believes that the people of Latin America are entitled to a social safety net, to decent jobs that pay a living wage, to education and to health care. Therefore, in Bush’s eyes, Chávez is an enemy, and the Bush administration has cranked up its propaganda machine to paint the man as a dictator. He was elected, and he was, in effect, re-elected after a recall election. Furthermore, the United States did participate in a failed coup attempt against him. It’s President Bush, not President Chávez, who seems inclined to act like a dictator. The history of U.S. relations with Latin America is not pretty; for decades, U.S.-based corporations have acted like dictators backed up by the U.S. Marines.

Dubuque, Iowa

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Robert Royal’s column of Nov. 18 struck a very discordant chord. His disparagement of “Patria o muerte” is condescending at best. Denigrating Che Guevara is passé; he’s dead and can’t be hurt. But Mr. Royal’s words can hurt others who find in his life and death a heroic figure. Mr. Royal loves Latin America. Does that mean the barrios and favelas or the hotels and areas where “free trade” zones will engender American enclaves removed from the reality of the common people? After all, we know how Mexico’s poor and farmers have benefited from NAFTA.

Fort Collins, Colo.

Gay marriage

I was delighted to read Rosemary Ruether’s column on gay marriage (Nov. 18). It is so refreshing to hear such a rational and intelligent consideration of the issue.

I am especially grateful for the argument she makes regarding the alternative conservative Christians offer, observing that the church says celibacy is a rare gift and yet that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people cannot enter into committed relationships! I have been making this argument regarding my own life situation for years -- it is so great to see it confirmed in print by such an eloquent authority.


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Regarding the article headlined “Marriage between homosexuals is good for marriage” by Rosemary Radford Ruether:

Please don’t insult my intelligence again by publishing such an article.

Your newspaper is supposed to be a Catholic family newspaper, but it has ceased to be Catholic. I think your should rename it National Pagan Reporter.

I shall not be renewing my subscription.

Fort Worth, Texas

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Thank you, Rosemary Radford Ruether, for a most sound debunking of all the myths about why gays and lesbians shouldn’t marry. Of course the world will be a better place when people are honored for love, commitment, family values and honesty. What are all of those naysayers thinking? Can anyone really imagine a horde of heterosexuals going off the deep end because 10 percent of the population is living just like they are? What’s the problem with honoring anyone being a family, straight or gay? I’m going to invest in refrigerator magnets and crayons!

Olympia, Wash.

A salvation question

Do you think that the real debate going on in the church today is whether or not there is a hell? It seems the right really is concerned about individual salvation and the left assumes that salvation is a given and just wants to do the whole love/social justice thing. What everyone is dancing around is free will.

Oshkosh, Wis.

Good priests

Regarding “Proud to be a celibate, gay priest” (NCR, Nov. 11):

Fr. Fred Daley is what a priest should be. He honored the call and is struggling to live out his vows with integrity. I believe Fr. Daley to be the norm rather than the exception among priests, whether they are gay or straight. A wonderful priest saved my life at a younger age. Was that priest straight or gay? I don’t know, and I did not care. He showed me another way. The alternative was to take my own life.

There is nothing wrong with the vow of celibacy; it becomes problematic when sexually immature people take this vow. The message I believe Fr. Daley is conveying is he is committed to living out the vow he took. If for whatever reason one cannot live out the vow, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that and leaving the priesthood.

Are there problems in the church for Catholic gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people? Yes there are. Now it is time for some in the GLBT Catholic community to stop beating up on the church, to move beyond anger and isolation and begin to expect more out of this church and to act like it is going to happen.

Integrity is a wonderful gift, and these days it is heartening to see it in a Catholic priest such as Fr. Daley. It is my hope that NCR will continue to give voice to wonderful men who happen to be gay priests. Not for being gay so much as for being priests in the truest sense.


Joe Murray is the U.S. convener of the Rainbow Sash Movement.

Eucharist presiders

The Philippine cardinal at the recent Roman synod who said that without priests we would have no Eucharist unfortunately echoes a widespread mentality among Catholics across the liberal-conservative spectrum. This error demonstrates how conditioned we have become to a long-term practice in the church without asking if it is true.

The fact is that in the early church for a reasonably long time, there was no distinction between laity and clergy as we know it today. Eucharist was celebrated in homes as part of a regular meal. The head of the household most likely presided. As the institutional church gradually developed, officers were appointed (ordained in the Roman sense of given a special mission) to regulate these liturgical observances. Still later bishops became more influential and took to themselves and their presbyters the function of presiding at the Eucharist.

I have no problem with priests celebrating as presiders at the Eucharist with their faith communities. For the sake of church order and to assure well-trained pastors, it is wise to educate certain officers to perform particular functions. But let’s not give away the theological store here. Celebrations of the Eucharist by nonordained Christians can be valid and meaningful, however much bishops may decry this. We should remember that a celibate caste in the church took control of the Eucharist and used it in part as a means of enhancing its power over the people. We should also keep in mind that God can make herself present however she wishes, whenever she wishes.


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National Catholic Reporter, December 9, 2005