National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
December 16, 2005

Letters No Irish need apply

When we think about the riots in France (NCR, Nov. 25), it would behoove us also to remember the draft riots in New York during the Civil War. The Irish immigrants rioted when there was no work for them. All ads for jobs ended with “No Irish need apply.”

The Catholic Irish came to a country whose religion was predominantly Protestant. The Americans didn’t trust the “papist” immigrants, and any work available to them was at low-paying jobs. Added to that was the draft, which allowed the wealthy to buy their way out for $400. The Irish rioted and lynched blacks for being the cause of the war and for competing with them for whatever jobs were available. They burned a black orphanage to the ground.

They had come here because they were literally starving to death at home. Here the Irish were known for their “indolence” when there were no jobs. They were known for their drinking, and to this day, police vans are called “Paddy wagons” because they were first used to round up the drunken Irish on Saturday nights.

What is happening in France cannot compare to what happened in the draft riots in New York. Anywhere there is 60 percent unemployment, there is a powder keg, and no one should be surprised when it explodes.

Santa Barbara, Calif.

French abbé’s memoirs

“Memoirs of an icon shock a nation” by Marc Mazgon-Fernandes (NCR, Nov. 25) relates Le Monde religious commentator Henri Tincq’s speculation that because Abbé Pierre, the beloved French Catholic icon, confessed he committed “sins of the flesh” in his youth, it would bar Abbé Pierre from being canonized. Anyone who believes this should read The Confessions of St. Augustine. I suppose they’re saying the same thing about Dorothy Day. Just think: People with clay feet can still make sainthood!

Jackson, Mich.

Vatican document on gays

Perhaps some good news will come out of the Vatican’s instruction on gay clergy. I hope that you will soon be able to report that many gifted, selfless, holy men -- and women -- have chosen to minister in the Independent Catholic churches. We welcome those who are already ordained, as well as those who are still on the journey to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

As history has proved so well, one does not need to be in communion with Rome in order to be Catholic. The church passed down to us from the apostles thrives specifically because so many of us have been liberated from fear and small-mindedness.

Aston, Pa.

The Rev. C. Christopher Tobin is a member of the Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

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How much more simple and courteous the church could have been by issuing a short and simple statement saying that celibacy is the norm for all unmarried clergy and religious, and clergy/religious candidates, and let it go at that. All the negative publicity could pretty much have been avoided with such a totally simple statement.

Saddlebrooke, Ariz.

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In some 50 years of working for the institutional church, I’ve known a few priests whom I suspected were gay and more than a few whom I realized were misogynists. It was easier to deal with the former. When shall we see a Vatican document about the latter?


Talks with the rabbi

I just finished reading Tom Roberts’ cover story “Talking with the Rabbi” (NCR, Nov. 4). Thank you so much for exploring the Israel/Palestine conflict from the Israeli point of view. I have long tried to understand how a group of people whom I have so much respect for in other areas can commit such cruel acts against the Palestinians. I have rarely seen discussions in any paper that show the problem from a historical basis and the variety of opinions from either the Israeli or Palestinian point of view. I’ve been left with a total disconnect, since the actions of the Israeli government don’t fit with the ethics of the people I know. Please continue to publish, as you promised at the end of the article, a variety of views. May I suggest that it would be great to read an article by Rabbi Yehiel Poupko that would lay out the problem as he sees it and his ideas for a resolution.

I think there are other people like me who have seen the conflict as a “David and Goliath” scenario, and I know there is more to it than that. Thanks for continuing to provide reliable information to your readers.

Pomona, Calif.

On vocations

Recently in our local archdiocesan paper I read a letter from a young seminarian in the Louisville, Ky., area. As he spoke of his calling with great inspiration, I experienced both joy and discouragement. I rejoice for this young man, but he is only one.

Why are we as church still so narrow in our definition of vocation? Each week, I encounter numbers of gifted men and women, single and married, who would make outstanding priests. Yet the ordained men who are currently able to live a celibate live are struggling with exhaustion or workaholism because of the growing shortage of priests. If our new Holy Father wants to really serve our church, I encourage him to end this tragic limitation posthaste. Then perhaps something more important than his red shoes will be in the media again.

Louisville, Ky.

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Ah, vocations! Personal calls from God guiding each and every human life -- a good and true and great concept, but seldom a simple one. Forty, 50, 60 years ago, a number of candidates for the priesthood, after some years of earnest study, realized they had no priestly vocation. Rather, it was their devout mothers who unwittingly “had their vocations for them”! With this insight, the young men found it possible and desirable to leave their seminaries and seek their own vocations elsewhere.

Does Renee Schafer Horton’s daughter (NCR, Family Life, Nov. 18) perhaps have from her mother a priestly vocation of the same sort?

What if with the God-given gift of her own mind and heart, the daughter wanted to do some smoking -- cigarettes, perhaps a mellow reverie-fostering pipe? What would her mother say of this mini-vocation in this domineering age of ours?

What would she and/or the International Olympic Committee say if a tall and strong female ice skater wanted to enter the pairs competition with a diminutive male whom she could nimbly lift and twirl over her head?

Such questions arise rather quietly from within my own vocation. Perhaps I may mention them out loud.

St. Louis

* * *

During this time of war in Iraq and other places in our world, I have been praying and wondering. So many of our young men and women are generously giving of themselves to volunteer for combat. Parents, family, neighbors and friends are encouraging them as they make their personal choice to give their lives in service of their country and its people. Some of them die in that service, as we well know from everyday news.

So a question lingers in my thoughts: Why is it that in our Catholic families across this country, men and women are not as generously giving of themselves to the call of Christ in religious life, church ministry or priesthood? Are our Catholic parents, friends and other family members failing to support and encourage as they once did?

Have we prayed that our own sons, daughters, neighbors or other family members would be chosen to serve the community of believers? Perhaps that is one of the reasons why there is a shortage of ministers in our church. Would it not be a good idea to invite the young among us to consider church vocations that lead to peace rather than those that lead to war?

I know I am grateful that others invited me and prayed for me in my life choice. Most of all, I realize how blessed I am for a family that supported, encouraged and nurtured my vocation that allows me to serve others and bring peace to our troubled world.

St. Louis

Disappearing bishops

Your Nov. 25 editorial was a great description of today’s bishops. You put your finger on the problem.

There’s a business theory that you don’t hire “A” students. They know the rules, and that is how they got to be “A” students. You don’t hire “B” students because they are striving to be “A” students. You hire “C” students. They are not committed to the status quo and are creative in their thinking and actions.

The four bishops I know personally are “A” students. They are not stupid and they were leaders among their classmates. But they are wimps who would never think of rocking the boat. They would be upset if you changed their breakfast cereal.

Yet who would dare disagree with the company line after seeing what the Vatican did to Hans Küng or Charles Curran?

I always figured the reason the bishops wouldn’t talk about mandatory celibacy, ordination of women priests, birth control and so on was that they knew they would lose the argument.

It is really a joke to hear a bishop (and this is true) say the church has held a position on, say, the pill or stem cell research since the beginning of the church. I wonder if St. Paul would know what the “pill” is or what stem cell research is all about? I guess he knew about microwave ovens, too; he just didn’t tell us about them.

The bishops always seem to be more interested in preserving the teaching authority of the church than approaching today’s issues with objective studies and modern science and psychology.

Kansas City, Mo.

Gay marriage column

I have recently subscribed to NCR. Finally, a newspaper that doesn’t sugarcoat everything that goes on in the church. The column by Rosemary Radford Ruether on gay marriage (NCR, Nov. 18) made a lot of sense in arguing that gay people are capable of a committed monogamous relationship and in saying that gay marriage should be addressed as “pro-marriage” and not “anti-marriage.”

The church is more interested in going off on a tangent about homosexual priests entering the seminary than in addressing the real issue that little boys and girls were molested by Catholic priests and the bishops and cardinals swept the issue under the carpet. I am tired of the church hiding behind the gay issue when the truth is right in front of them.

Merchantville, N.J.

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If marriage were only about being a private couple, Ms. Radford Ruether’s “Marriage between homosexuals is good for marriage” could be right: Let’s extend the privilege of legalized couple-ness to whomever wants to apply. However, marriage is not just about a private couple; it’s about family and society. To speak of marriage is also to speak of procreation in the same breath -- at least it used to be. What we are witnessing in the tolling bell for legalized homosexual marriages is the fruit of legalized and widespread contraception, a stamp of approval for sterile sexual activity.

I am sure by now many have reached for their tomatoes to pummel me, but since this is print, allow me to continue. Marriage, family and society are based on an obvious design of nature: The parts of men and women fit together. Not only that, the fitting of these parts is fruitful (procreative). In healthy men and women, it doesn’t require the artificial release of semen, extraction of ova, fertilization in a petri dish and the renting of a womb to bring forth life, as is the case when two homosexual men wish to create a family. Something seems strangely Orwellian about science, technology and mathematical calculations producing a child.

Marriage between homosexuals is not good for marriage because it’s not good for family and society. Nature has its reasons for the male and female design. I think we’d do well to give Mother Nature a little more respect.


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Having subscribed to NCR since shortly after you began, I, of course, am well aware of your “independent” Catholic views, but haven’t you tilted too far leftward by continuing your periodic columns by Rosemary “Radical” Ruether? I recall her amazing declaration years ago that the very fundamental doctrine of infallibility is “a sin against the Holy Spirit.” This can only mean that she actually rejects the Catholic church itself. Or, at the very least, that she is the ultimate cafeteria Catholic -- as also evidenced by her many other disagreements with various church teachings, such as her latest stance on homosexuality in the Nov. 18 column.

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen a refutation of her infallibility rejection. Could it be that NCR agrees with her? Please say it isn’t so!

Albuquerque, N.M.

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, December 16, 2005