National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
January 13, 2006

Letters 'Extremists'

I consider the editorials in NCR one of the best parts of the paper. “Extremists drive church agenda” (NCR, Dec. 23) was yet another instance of that.

While the editorial noted, “Much depends on how bishops handle the controversies,” it went on to claim, “The Catholic voice has grown weak.” I see that the Catholic voice has grown weak precisely because too much has been historically allowed to depend on how bishops act, how they handle controversies.

Church teaching led by the bishops is behind the times, and the laity are moving forward. That makes for a separation that prevents the whole people of God from working together in a spirit that might honor the Spirit.

The exclusion of the press from the Boston Catholic Charities $500-per-plate Christmas dinner betrayed a further division, that between the big-buck donors who make the crumbs that fall to the floor and the lower-class people who are invited to feast on what that moneyed class did not need or want -- for tax purposes.

Archbishop Sean O’Malley was too good to attend that dinner and help the moneyed make crumbs, but he is not too good to dictate the spending of the collected funds or the closing of parishes with no consultation with their people of God.

Berea, Ohio

* * *

In your lead editorial for the Dec. 23 issue, you describe the so-called controversy in Boston, a city that you allege is a case study of Catholicism. You describe rigid, intolerant conservative Catholicism. You also document -- and illustrate -- the same rigid intolerance, only you claim it is valid because it is liberal.

This is the double standard that will, indeed, divide the U.S. church: You have no tolerance of those whose views differ from yours.


* * *

Calling someone you disagree with “extremist” and painting your own biased opinion is intellectually dishonest and, quite frankly, getting boring.

Don’t call people names who are trying to get us to live a holier life as a church. In future times, we might well call them prophets. If the church in Boston had been more vigilant through the ’60s and ’70s, it wouldn’t be in the situation it’s in now. Decades of rationalization and compromising the truth are now being reaped. Let’s give O’Malley credit for trying to right the ship.

And finally, if any of your editorial staff wishes to call me a name -- well, where I come from, you do that to someone’s face if you just can’t resist being a rude and hateful person. You have my address. Stop by anytime.

Austin, Texas

NCR responds:
The extremism referred to has nothing to do with legitimate conservative or liberal views of anything. The reference was to bloggers who, among other invective, referred to a highly regarded priest as “pure evil.” It is distressing when such views drive the agenda and force a bishop’s hand. “Extremist,” in this case, is a moderate and understated description.

Archbishop Burke

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has accomplished something extraordinary (NCR, Dec 23).

He has escalated what should be a tolerable disagreement over the control of parish assets into one where people attending Sunday Mass at their own parish, in their native language, celebrated by a duly ordained Roman Catholic priest, “sin gravely.”

The use of the Eucharist as a lever against liberal politicians was questionable at best. Burke, however, has sunk to a new low by holding hostage the sacraments from an entire parish and key cultural center in order to wrest property from a group of people who honestly feel that it isn’t his to take. At Christmas, no less.

Does an administrative dispute justify turning the Eucharist into a mortal sin? What’s more, does the bishop have the moral authority to wield power in such a way? Is ours a God who would take such a move seriously?

Is this the quality of leadership we expect from our archbishops?

And Archbishop Burke probably thinks that the parishioners of St. Stanislaus Kosta are the ones who are out of control.

Annandale, N.J.

John Paul a saint?

In the report on certain theologians advocating a more thorough evaluation process in the fast-moving canonization for Pope John Paul II (NCR, Dec. 16), no reference was made to the often-ephemeral character of the high-power publicity of world tours and the charisma of an appealing and interesting personality.

The popularity of John Paul, due to his world tours and public contact with millions of people around the planet, cannot be allowed to be a prism (or worse, a magnifying glass) through which his pontificate and his life are refracted and evaluated. Only when such factors are tested by time will they be revealing of holiness.

Further, in any review of John Paul’s policies there must be an evaluation of how, over his whole pontificate, he dealt with the bishops (many of whom he chose) who mismanaged clerical sexual abuse matters, thereby damaging not only the victims of abuse but our Catholic faith, our faithful priests and the Catholic church itself.


President Carter’s values

Thanks to Fr. Robert Drinan for his perceptive review of former President Jimmy Carter’s new book Our Endangered Values (NCR, Dec. 16). Carter is a man whose Christian faith is far more deep, real and meaningful than that of the so-and-so currently in the White House.

Carter’s definition of fundamentalism, which he also presented in an address to a Baptist conference in the United Kingdom in July 2005, is one of the best and most succinct I have seen.

We need more Baptists like Jimmy Carter and Bill Moyers and fewer of the Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson type.

Silver Spring, Md.

* * *

I appreciated your issue of Dec. 16, in which you featured so well the 25th anniversary of the deaths of the four Maryknoll women martyrs. Along with several hundred other U.S. citizens, I was in El Salvador for that inspirational occasion. Visiting the site of their martyrdom deeply moves every visitor’s heart.

In the same issue of NCR a few pages later, I was disturbed by Fr. Drinan’s plaudits (deserved?) for President Jimmy Carter as such a religious person. I am a longtime fan of both Fr. Drinan and President Carter, but Drinan’s praises hit hard for one who had just returned from El Salvador.

I couldn’t help but think of how President Carter ignored the plea of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1979 not to send any more weapons to El Salvador’s military. Carter’s choice to ignore the archbishop literally became a bullet in the heart of the archbishop a few months later in 1980. Carter’s choice to ignore Romero also contributed to the torture and murder of the four Maryknoll women. Surely the deaths of these five religious people and thousands of others bears heavily on President Carter’s religious heart. It’s sad that Fr. Drinan didn’t tame his praises for Carter with some mention of these five martyrs.

Park City, Utah

A modern work of art

I just received the Dec. 23 issue, and the first thing I did, after marveling at the cover art, was to check the credits regarding the artist. I wasn’t too surprised to find that the work is part of The Saint John’s Bible, which I have read about. I want to say that this is one of the most beautiful and enthralling pieces of modern religious art that I have seen. It is exquisite, even in its reproduction on a piece of newsprint. I cannot wait to see the real thing, and I thank you for publishing the exhibit dates. Needless to say, anything else you can report on this modern wonder will be truly appreciated.

Fuquay-Varina, N.C.

Responsible hunters

Colman McCarthy’s opinion piece “Ten clichés to make a hunter happy” (NCR, Dec. 16) exposes his ignorance.

His first blatant error was to suppose hunters still wear plaid red-and-black clothes. In fact, for decades the color has been blaze orange for gun deer-hunting, camouflage for many other kinds of hunting. You can certainly tell that Colman has never tried to stalk and call a turkey.

The other deficit in his knowledge is his lack of understanding that deer and game management is done by the state, here in Wisconsin by the Department of Natural Resources. Game management is the same as agricultural management. Just as you manage and harvest corn and lumber, so too you manage game by killing a certain number so the herd or flock does not exceed the carrying capacity of the habitat.

I am not a member of the National Rifle Association, but I have taught hunter safety for more than 20 years. Part of that education -- which Colman so “deerly” needs -- is all about game management and carrying capacity. If it were not for the sportsman/woman, then deer, pheasant, American bald eagles, sandhill cranes, geese and ducks, wolves, elk and other wildlife would not be as plentiful as they are today because hunting and fishing enthusiasts pay self-imposed sporting taxes and donate heavily through fundraising organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Whitetails Unlimited and Pheasants Forever to restore and maintain crucial game habitat -- that’s restoring environmental areas back to God’s original natural conditions. Without these revenue sources, Wisconsin and other states would still have wildlife populations at a decimated pre-1930 level.

Iola, Wis.

Trey Foerster is a hunting education instructor in Wisconsin and past president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

* * *

Colman McCarthy’s column “Ten clichés to make a hunter happy” was obviously printed by you in error. I’m sure Mr. McCarthy meant to send the column to PETA, not NCR. What a piece of drivel! I’m not a hunter, but I found this article to be a complete waste of ink in your paper.

Hampton, Va.

* * *

I was greatly disturbed by the vast generalizations about hunters in Colman McCarthy’s Dec. 16 column. I loved a hunter in college, and now my daughter is dating one. While I can’t defend killing “helpless” animals, and I personally am against hunting, I will defend the culling of overgrown herds of deer -- just as they were culled by the ancient hunters hundreds of years ago -- by responsible hunters. Yes, there are bad, crazy, just-let-me-kill-something hunters. But there are many, perhaps the majority, who are just following in their father’s footsteps and grandfather’s footsteps and great-grandfather’s footsteps. They are responsible hunters and they follow the ethical rules of the hunt. They use all the meat, they use the hide and, as much as it might disgust me, they use the heads as decorations. They aren’t just out for blood for no good reason. In the cases of the men I know who hunt, their families live off the meat during the winters.

Yes, we’ve put nature all out of whack with our cars (I’m not sure if Mr. McCarthy drives one), our insatiable need for instant everything (not sure if Mr. McCarthy uses the Internet or a microwave) and our overconsumption of everything from coffee to beef. And because of this, there is no longer the correct cycle. There are no longer mountain lions to cull deer herds, for instance. I have no solution, but calling hunters names and ridiculing them hardly seems a step in the right direction. It is sophomoric and just as hateful as what the right wing does to liberals.

Tucson, Ariz.

Tracing the plague

It was only a passing remark, but Joyce Rezendez falsified history in writing that “the returning Crusaders brought back the plague” (“The gentle art of Fra Angelico,” NCR, Dec. 16). The progress of the Black Death has been reliably traced month after month by its first appearance in each city. It reached Crimea and Black Sea ports from central Asia in 1346, then traveled by rat-borne fleas on merchant ships to Constantinople, Sicily, Genoa, other Mediterranean ports, and then inland through 1349. This was not the era of the Crusades.

Utica, N.Y.

NCR responds:
You’re right: The Ninth Crusade, which ended in 1291, is traditionally thought to be the last medieval Christian Crusade against the Muslims in the Holy Land. But there were other religious crusades that continued until the 1700s, and the plague -- which continued to break out in London, at least, until 1665 -- was carried back and forth by pilgrim traffic as well as by those rat-borne fleas.

What makes a miracle?

“Is there a place for the Spirit separate from the ceaseless electrical activity of the brain?” asks Dr. Will Meecham in his opinion piece (NCR, Nov. 25). Of course there is; God’s Spirit does not depend on his creatures for his omnipotent sovereign activities. But the real question is: Can we become aware of the Spirit’s actions without the “ceaseless electrical activity” in our brains? And more: Can those electrical activities themselves exist without the activity of our God? The answer to both these questions is no.

When we create, say, a computer or its program, once we are done, it continues to exist without any further input from either designer or manufacturer. We gave those entities only the specific form in which they exist, but not their very existence itself. But God gives, and continually sustains, our very existence, including the brain’s activities; similarly, as St. Thomas points out in the Summa Theologiae, there can be no sunshine without the sun continuously radiating.

Nothing prevents God from using a physiologically unusual (“abnormal”) neurological event as the raw material for manifesting himself to us; being able to explain the physiology doesn’t make it any less a work of God than if we were simply puzzled by it. What makes a miracle a mirum (Latin mira, or “hey, look!”) is not its inexplicability by natural laws, but God’s internal grace enabling us to recognize it as such.

Fresno, Calif.

Edmund F. Kal is a physician in private practice and is on the faculty at the UCSF Fresno School of Medicine.

Reactions to Vatican II

For many older Catholics who lived through the pre-Vatican II era and then the time of the council, there continues to be a growing disconnect with how the leaders of the church treat the council documents. For us, it is a period of revisionism and retrenchment, cloaked in the guise of a true interpretation of what happened.

John Allen’s report from Rome noting the 40th anniversary of the council (NCR, Dec. 23) underscores the problem. It touches on the two most sensitive areas that most Catholics directly experience: liturgy and lay/clerical relationships.

The move by Authenicam Liturgicam to place priority on the medieval Tridentine Latin Mass and fidelity to its literal translation has already caused some problems. Now Tre la Sollicitudini gives great weight to Gregorian chant as Allen reports; again medieval texts in a tongue that is foreign to most folks are emphasized as opposed to the participatory emphasis laid down by the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.”

Allen also reports on another curial document, Presbyterium Ordinis, which, like other recent Roman documents, stresses the otherness and superiority of the clergy. This provides a convenient excuse for them not to listen to the laity and to see themselves as wiser and better than the people they putatively serve.

Many of us surmise that all this is rooted in a desperate attempt by leadership to retain power. Note carefully how Cardinal Zenon Grochelewski points out that priests in training should not be distracted by “interesting problems of the day.”

Los Alamos, N.M.

Culture of clericalism

When I was a college theology student at LaSalle College (now University) in 1976, one of my professors, a thoughtful and wise Christian Brother, often spoke to me about his dismay at the training and caliber of the seminarians preparing for the priesthood in the Philadelphia archdiocese. He felt that the isolation of their formation led to a level of immaturity that often manifested itself in an arrogance and selfishness that appalled him. Little did I know how prophetic this brother was until I read the NCR article on the grand jury report of the sex abuse cover-up in Philadelphia (NCR, Oct. 7).

I was appalled as I read the grand jury testimony of good priests who stood by and allowed the abuse of children because they didn’t want to “rat out brother priests.” I was taught that if one of my confreres was involved in inappropriate behaviors, it was up to me to go to him and to my superiors to stop the offensive behavior.

Perhaps the pope should be less concerned about the sexual orientation of current and future seminarians than with rooting out the culture of clericalism that bred a generation of men who felt they were above the law and a hierarchy that enforced that by shielding them from the consequences of their actions.

Pasadena, Md.

Bankruptcy questions

My understanding of Roman Catholic ecclesiology is that the church is an inclusive organization of people who are baptized, called the body of Christ.

If this church belongs to all the members, I surmise everything in it is for everyone’s maturation in faith, this generation and the next. These goods do not only belong to the bishops or pastors, whose presence in the diocese or parish is transient.

If crimes are specifically charged to priest-offenders and bishops who reassigned them to other places, can the whole diocese be made responsible? Isn’t it right for the erring bishops and priests to face the justice system themselves without dragging down the whole diocese? On whose authority lies the decision to file for bankruptcy or spend millions of dollars, draining diocesan property in order to compensate victims of crimes committed by individual members?

Would the bishop drain the goods that properly belong to all members when a married deacon, a eucharistic minister or any active member of the diocese (all of whom ought to have the same pastoral standing as the clergy or bishops, as Vatican II has outlined) commits a moral offense?

Of course, if the body of Christ desires, out of charity, to support the victims or, out of charity again, to rehabilitate erring members, that is a marvelous Christian expression. But what is really irreconcilable to me is that these goods, which belong to the body of Christ, are decimated at the expense of programs for the spiritual well-being of the members.

Citrus Heights, Calif.

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, January 13, 2006