National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
December 23, 2005

Letters Deacons can preach

Just a point regarding Monica Zabor’s letter (NCR, Nov. 25):

Ms. Zabor said the celebrant didn’t have the courage to speak on what she saw as “the duplicity of the scribes and the Pharisees” in Matthew 23:17. Instead she said the deacon “bypassed the recent ban on deacons preaching” and “read a broad, safe interpretation of Matthew 23.”

For the record, there is no archdiocesan ban on deacons preaching. I’ve been a permanent deacon in the Chicago archdiocese since December 1980. If anything, we have been trained, are encouraged and, in my parish, mandated to preach. There is no “ban” to be bypassed. It would not be good for the Catholics of the Chicago archdiocese to have such an idea going about unchallenged.

Berwyn, Ill.

Deacon Joel Chrastka preaches at St. Leonard Parish in Berwyn, Ill.

A woman’s vocation

Thanks to Renee Schafer Horton for her insightful reflection on vocations to the priesthood (NCR, Nov. 18). It made me want to cry, and brought back memories: of being a young Methodist woman planning to go to seminary to prepare for the ordained ministry, then becoming a Catholic and having to forfeit that dream; of hearing priests say during my decades as a parochial liturgist, “You would make a wonderful priest”; of hearing clergy say to me the summer I was chaplain of Ghost Ranch (National Conference Center of the Presbyterian Church in America -- yes, they hired a Catholic for the chaplain position that summer), “It’s too bad you can’t be ordained.” At times, I’ve been angry, but the fight in me has gone now, and because of that -- as Ms. Horton says in her article -- there are some who might say I never had a priestly vocation to begin with. They’d be wrong. I now sit at the bedside of the dying and, with harp and chant, accompany those on the fragile transition from life through death to life.

Tucson, Ariz.

Priests as anthropos

Regarding the opinion pieces on the ordination of women (NCR, Nov. 4): Condoleezza Rice does not need a sex change to represent President Bush at international meetings.

Why does a church so rich in life-giving symbols fall into dead literalism? St. Paul used anthropos (“human being”) in referring to Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:7 and Romans 5:15). And so did the Councils of Nicaea, Chalcedon and Constantinople. So why can’t a human being of whatever gender represent Jesus Christ in the liturgy?

Las Cruces, N.M.

Gay theology pioneer

Thank you for the article “Gay theology pioneer trusts ‘God’s shrewdness’ ” about John McNeill. In October 1973, at the age of 25, I was close to suicide, having “failed” in my five-year attempt at reparative therapy. NCR published an article by John McNeill titled “The church and the homosexual.” For the first time I read that God loved me as I was -- a gay man -- and I stepped back from the act of ultimate despair.

Today I know that God loves me and blesses my 24-year-old relationship with my partner. This does not discount, however, the pain that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons suffer at the hands of our church with its condemning edicts, unrealistic “pastoral” letters and narrow teachings. The suffering is redemptive, however, and I remember what a Trappist monk once told me: “Your pain is like the blood of the martyrs and is bringing about change in the church, even if you won’t see it in your lifetime.” Someday the church will see and ask forgiveness for its sin against us.

Whether or not he is ever declared so by the church, John McNeill is a saint -- the saint of the GLBT community.

Hilliard, Ohio

* * *

Regarding “Gay theology pioneer trusts ‘God’s shrewdness’ ”:

So are we supposed to admire a priest who took a vow of celibacy and then lived with another man like a spouse? Considering his orientation, I suspect his motivation for his writings was in part self-serving.

Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Royal on free trade

It’s hard to know how to address Robert Royal’s “Hurricane Hugo” (NCR, Nov. 18). NCR’s attempt to open its pages to dialogue with members of the new right produces only a monologue because the new right thinks it has all the answers.

What is most insulting is to find references insinuating that leftist leaders “in guerrilla fatigues” ruined Latin America in the ’60s and ’70s. Anyone who actually lived in Latin America in those years and did not receive their information at cocktail parties or from corporate news outlets would have known that those people running around in guerrilla fatigues were mostly graduates of the School of the Americas.

When a socialist dictatorship like Cuba, cut off from world commerce by the United States, can still boast of being a nation where no one starves and can claim an infant survival rate higher than any other Latin nation, even as high or higher than the United States, the aberration called “free-market” democracy holds little appeal to the majority of the people.

All the claims of Robert Royal’s articles are easily found in U.S. daily news media because most of our media are also corporations and will not bite the hand that feeds them. I suggest that NCR stick to its agenda of presenting and doing critical analysis of the news and put off any attempt at dialogue until this phenomenon called the new right implodes and its advocates are forced to speak to -- not dictate to -- the rest of the world.

San Antonio

* * *

It was disappointing to read the “Chávez-bashing” column in the Nov. 18 edition of NCR. Mr. Royal writes that President Hugo Chávez’s opposition to the free trade agreement deprives the poor of the advantages of free trade. I notice that he avoids mention of the effects of NAFTA on the poor of Mexico. Are they better off? In the Nov. 11 NCR, Bishop Álvaro Ramazinni wrote of the popular opposition to CAFTA in Guatemala and his fears that “free trade” does not translate into “fair trade” and that the poor of Guatemala will suffer even more as the country is opened up to even greater exploitation by international investors.

Like Mr. Royal, I also remember the ’70s and ’80s in Latin America. However, those very leaders whom Mr. Royal sneers at I felt represented hope. I have visited Venezuela in the last two years and found it an exciting place to be -- full of hope and change. Are the poor of Venezuela better off with Chávez leading the country? The answer is a resounding yes.

The figures speak for themselves. Thanks to the 10,000 Cuban doctors tending the poor in the barrios of Caracas, health care has greatly improved. Eighteen million people now have free health care. Social expenditures run about 5 billion dollars a year, wiping out illiteracy and providing 40 percent of the population with subsidized food. Hugo Chávez is enormously popular throughout Latin America because he has the courage and chutzpah to stand up to American bullying.

Vashon, Wash.

* * *

Robert Royal’s “Hurricane Hugo” ignores the disastrous effect the NAFTA “free trade” agreement has had on Mexico’s poor. We are intimately aware of the desperate plight of Mexico’s small farmers whose markets in Mexico have been destroyed by the importation from the United States of low-priced produce. The output from monster government-subsidized U.S. agribusinesses cannot be matched by small farmers, either in Mexico or the United States. Displaced Mexican farm families are moving to cities such as Cuernavaca, where they live on the streets scratching out an existence in dire poverty.

“Free trade” is another name for the Bush doctrine of “handouts to the wealthy, and the poor be damned.”

Fairfield, Conn.

Tepid religious leaders

Some of us remember well how proud we were in the early ’60s and ’70s to see priests, rabbis, ministers, nuns and seminarians marching with Martin Luther King Jr. and César Chávez, witnessing to the moral relevance of nonviolent action in defense of human dignity. These activists were not only addressing issues of race; they were addressing the scandal of homelessness and the obscenity of power.

Where is that witness today? I recognize that many religious leaders are busy, but a strong, obvious, credible witness to peace and justice is sadly lacking. Preemptive warmongering, environmental desecration and blatant self-interest (for example, perjury, corruption, torture) have robbed our children of a spiritual legacy and our nation of credibility, particularly with the marginalized. Where are religious leaders when obscene policies are going down? Tom Brokaw interviews conservative evangelicals who manifest concern for the unborn and the sacredness of marriage but never say a word about dead soldiers (much less Iraqi citizens), or the death penalty, or gay-bashing, or profiteering or religious hypocrisy. King provided us with wisdom for times of crisis: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Where is the light going to come from? Where is active love to be seen? How did religious leaders lose the courage and vision they once had? No one needed to tell people to march at Selma or go to jail with campesinos struggling for their rights. Perhaps a reminder is necessary.

Olympia, Wash.

Vatican document on gays

The recent Vatican document on the suitability of gay men to be ordained pointed out that it is not so much a man’s sexual orientation that is a prohibiting factor but a man’s support of “gay culture.”

Does this mean that candidates for the Roman Catholic priesthood can listen to Bing Crosby but are forbidden to listen to Crosby and Judy Garland duets?


* * *

I am dismayed that the Vatican may refuse to ordain certain individuals to the priesthood because of their sexual orientation. Lived sexual fidelity to a particular state in life has to do with grace, commitment, self-understanding and other-centered love, not orientation. If the Vatican seeks to exclude from ordination all who have some trait that it considers “intrinsically disordered,” perhaps no one should be ordained.

Perhaps the church should look for reassurance to the countless lay gay and straight Catholics who work intimately with each other and those whom they serve in professions such as medicine, counseling and social work, and yet remain faithful and chaste despite shared passion for their work, deep affection for each other and even sexual feelings.

I understand sexuality and sexual orientation to be complex and to be influenced by many factors. To state that a particular orientation is intrinsically disordered period is like stating that every diagnosis of cancer is fatal. The church is capable of far better than this kind of thought.

Perhaps for now, we should focus on the formation of priests who are insightful about the “skin that they are in” and who are insightful about the function of grace in their lives and in the lives of those whom they serve.

Fayetteville, N.Y.

‘Condolences’ editorial

I love your editorial “For what it’s worth, our condolences” (NCR, Dec. 9). It is good to know that there are others in the church who love this lesbian in the pew.

Edison, N.J.

* * *

I just read your Dec. 9 editorial on the Vatican document. You need to change the line in your mission statement that states your company “works out of the Roman Catholic tradition.” Stop lying to your subscribers. You are as far from the Roman Catholic tradition as one can get. Your publication aligns perfectly with our Lord’s reference to “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Parker, Colo.

She’s a subscriber

For the past 25 years my mother made sure that my husband and I received NCR. I am not even sure that I always thanked her for it; she just made sure that the subscription, which began as a Christmas gift, continued year after year.

Two years ago, my mother passed away. She made sure that our subscription was renewed through 2005, and as such I recently received the renewal form. Will I renew? Oh yes! NCR has become the voice of my faith.

With our country’s political shift to the right, I am so grateful to your publication for supporting me as I continue working to base my actions on the religious faith given to me and nurtured by my parents, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in elementary school and the Sisters of St. Francis in high school. I remember many classes and Masses where we celebrated the belief that what we do and not what we say defines who we are and creates that connection with God. And yet, more and more people profess to know what is right for me and for everyone else in our community and country.

At my mother’s funeral, Fr. Hall, one of six priests and brothers in attendance, declared that he knew of not one fault of my mother, Mary, until he spoke to me, only to discover that she was one of “those” Catholics who faithfully read NCR. Everyone in attendance clapped and laughed. I know that moment made her proud.

Ventura, Calif.

The Prince of Peace

There will be no winners in Iraq. Everyone, including the United States, loses. It was a huge mistake to go there in the first place. We are now entangled in the Middle East’s cycle of violence -- an eye for an eye -- that is unending if military solutions are our only hope. Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, would have us turn our weapons into farming implements, feed a hungry world and love our enemies. Was Jesus naive? Is our trust in God or in our wealth and military might? We need leaders who are moved to offer the world Christ-like, transforming peacemaking initiatives.

Louisville, Ky.

‘Engaging the spiritual battle’

Regarding the editorial “The disappearing bishops” (NCR, Nov. 25): Not once in this editorial do you address the deep spiritual poverty of the “American church,” as NCR often likes to call it. One gets the impression that the sole purpose of the church is to solve the world’s social problems. I assure you, fallen man is not up to that task, not even the American bishops.

Your perspective comes from the material world. However, I seem to recall that Christ came first to save us from the bondage of sin, a spiritual problem. We are fallen creatures in need of a Savior. We cannot save ourselves from the bondage of sin. This is a fundamental reality that lies at the root of the problems NCR is so concerned about. The bishops must return to engaging the spiritual battle, and only then will social and political concerns begin to be properly addressed -- in the reign of Christ the King.

More “Vatican II-ism” will not solve the problem. The context of an authentic “re-formation” is the whole teaching of the church, bidding man to return to authentic and fruitful spiritual realities. To be effective, the bishops need to return to what has been taught everywhere, always, and by all in communion with Rome. That means a return to being simply Catholic. The bishops might start by refocusing from a myopic Vatican II “modernization” mentality in light of the humanist revolution -- a revolution poised to remake man and nature itself into the image and likeness of the masters of this world -- to a Vatican II interpreted in the full light of sacred tradition.

Arlington, Va.

Witnesses of joy

I don’t understand all the brouhaha about taking Christ out of Christmas, happy holidays, war on Christians, lawsuits over cribs on public property and so on. God will survive it all. I say with Gamaliel, “Leave them alone. If what they are doing is of their own doing, it will fail. But if God is behind it, you cannot stop it anyway” (Acts 5:39-39).

Let people do what they wish. If they want “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” -- so what? Not much there, but let them have their good times. Christians know what it’s all about and don’t need public endorsement of the truth that they know to be. God does not need our defense. Be witnesses of joy, and let the rest be.


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 23, 2005