National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
February 3, 2006

Letters The infallibility question

John R. Koller’s letter (NCR, Dec. 16) expressed shock at the idea that someone would not believe in papal infallibility. We must remind ourselves that this doctrine was not part of Catholic belief for almost the first 2,000 years of the church’s history, as it was not pronounced until near the end of the 19th century. It is not an article of faith mentioned in the Apostles Creed or the proclamation of faith we recite after the Gospel every Sunday. It was opposed by a number of churchmen, notably Cardinal John Henry Newman.

The doctrine that I remember as being declared infallible was the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the teachings of the church on matters like artificial contraception, the ordination of women, celibacy of priests and homosexual persons are not infallible declarations.

San Francisco

Belleville’s Braxton

Thank you for running the article by Bob McClory about the courageous priests and laity in the Belleville, Ill., diocese who are speaking out about their disappointment and frustration with their bishop, Edward Braxton (NCR, Jan. 13). At the end of the article, one priest stated that things are no worse there than in other dioceses. If that’s true, why aren’t others speaking up? The people in Belleville have set a precedent. Frustrated Catholics everywhere should follow suit.

Fort Wayne, Ind.

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Robert McClory’s article about the Belleville diocese is without merit. What are these 24 out of 72 active priests in the diocese accusing Bishop Edward Braxton of? Is it for having the guts to implement a norm/directive approved by the Vatican in 1988 and by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1994? Is it wrong to get two additional priests from foreign countries that have more priests to help in the Belleville diocese? I am ashamed when I see priests who promised the bishop obedience, and demand so from their parishioners, behaving otherwise. Fr. Mark Stec seems unaware that the norm for celebrating Masses in the absence of a priest was approved by the Vatican in the year he was ordained a priest.

Honestly, if Bishop Braxton were white, these 24 priests would never have had any problem with his administration. These 24 priests’ actions are nothing but hidden racism, and their attitude should be condemned by every good priest and lay Catholic in the diocese of Belleville. As a point of clarification to these 24 protesting priests, let me say that the Catholic church is not a democracy, so expecting the bishop to contact them before he makes every decision is not possible. NCR should not give these confused priests an avenue to further their personal agenda.

Owings Mills, Md.

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I read your brief article on Bishop Braxton in Belleville and your editorial in the same issue. The truth comes out when the NCR article references “controversy” with Braxton in a previous assignment because of his “conservative theology.” No doubt Braxton was given his new assignment by John Paul II to battle the unorthodoxy of this diocese. The 33 percent of priests who signed the complaint are not so much upset by Braxton’s “arrogance” as they are by his orthodoxy. Your editorial states that this situation is not uncommon. How true! We will hope that more bishops overrule unorthodox practices and teachings being embraced by apostate priests and laity.

Parker, Colo.

Tracing Satan

Regarding Jerry Ryan’s review of The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots, by T.J. Wray and Gregory Mobley (NCR, Jan. 20):

I am a librarian with an M.A. in religious studies who has taught religion and theology for 15 years and currently works in the readers’ advisory department in a suburban public library. I also read this book and think that Mr. Ryan is being unfair to the authors. Even though he admits that they stated the parameters of their work from the outset, he criticizes them for not covering additional topics (e.g., the nature of evil; the Incarnation) and for not covering the concept of Satan in a specific way that apparently fits in better with his own beliefs. If the book is read within the authors’ parameters rather than Mr. Ryan’s, it will be seen as a thorough account of the development of the biblical concept of Satan written for the layperson.

I also take exception to Mr. Ryan’s description of their writing as “flippant” -- I found it rather humorous -- and his attributing that to their treating the Bible as “mere” stories. On the contrary, myth and metaphor are some of the most powerful stories we have because they teach us basic truths about ourselves. (Mr. Ryan might want to read Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth for a better understanding.) Wray and Mobley have done the research and given the fruits of their labors to us in a readable way, and I thank them.


Royal on homosexuality

I love NCR and depend upon it for what I consider to be enlightened, reasoned views of the Catholic church and current events. I was surprised, therefore, to read “Current views of homosexuality ignore ancient wisdom” by Robert Royal (NCR, Jan. 13).

Mr. Royal makes a number of pronouncements and confident statements about what God intends -- for example, “homosexuality is disordered in both natural and supernatural terms” -- but I find most disturbing his assertion that homosexuality is a serious disorder that “contributed to our ‘pedophilia’ crisis.” (I don’t know why he put the word “pedophilia” in quotation marks.) Homosexuality is not pedophilia; I thought that we have been laboring to clear up that misunderstanding and to not scapegoat gay priests for the sexual abuse of children in the church.

Perhaps you printed this article to generate discussion, but it represents a point of view that many of us know only too well and one that has caused a great deal of suffering. As we human beings acquire more knowledge, understanding and discernment, it is sometimes appropriate for us to evaluate and rethink “ancient wisdom” and traditions; torture is one that comes to mind.

Portland, Ore.

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I read the Robert Royal article with a sick feeling in my stomach. I could not believe it was given credence or space in NCR. Gay and lesbian people are gifts from God -- just like each and every one of us. They, too, come from God “trailing streams of glory.” Also, to equate pedophilia and homosexuality is inaccurate and un-Christlike. Pedophilia is an incurable disease. Homosexuality is innate.

Wilmington, Del.

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I give up. I have done my best to read Mr. Royal with an open mind, to broaden my horizons so to speak. But anyone who says homosexuality is the reason behind 75 percent of the priest pedophiles has closed this mind. If you want to present conservative and/or opposing views, you need to find someone who does not insult our intelligence.

Orrington, Maine

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This article is utterly devoid of sophistication. I am unhappy you printed it and hope you regret it.

Easton, Pa.

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I saw no anti-Catholicism in the remarks made by Elton John after his civil union, but rather a call for authentic justice and charity. If Elton John was “demonizing the Mosaic prohibition against same-sex relations,” as Robert Royal says, then he indeed was addressing a real problem that inhibits communion among peoples. While I agree that Mr. Royal is entitled to his opinion, I do not agree that it is the right opinion.

As to Mr. Royal’s conclusion, some “take it as gospel truth that moral opposition to homosexuality could only have been dreamed up by perverse Italians in funny outfits,” I would not go that far, but I would add that science must be able to speak to religion on this matter. Would that our theologians would express themselves as articulately as Mr. Royal did on this subject.

How does one explain the silence of American Catholic theologians on the social sin of homophobia? Why are Catholic journalists the only ones willing to tackle the topic? Are we suffering from a hardness of heart that blinds us to the way of Jesus? “You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and be converted and I heal them” (Matthew 13: 14-15).

I am always thankful for NCR’s openness to all sides of a discussion. However my gayness is not a personal preference, as Mr. Royal seems to think. It is a sexual orientation. We must push past our own personal indifference, ignorance, egoism and the selfishness of our society if we are going to be able to see the other as a neighbor.


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

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Robert Royal revealed his prejudice when he wrote, “homosexuality often undermines the fatherly qualities of a good priest.” There are many homosexual priests with good fatherly qualities and there are many good homosexual fathers.

Neenah, Wis.

Trouble at the movies

“Brokeback Mountain” is no sad story of unfulfilled love (NCR, Jan. 20). It is a story of unfaithfulness.

Regardless of the initial sexual interlude of the main characters, both marry. This means that they have deceived innocent life partners, and they continue to live lives based on unfaithfulness and lies. Because they continue in their extramarital affair for many years, they willingly cause pain to their partners and their children. Not to mention each other.

Why are two characters who are so dishonest and cause so much damage to innocents so highly praised and portrayed in a manner that elicits sympathy? The kind of lifelong pain portrayed here is, in fact, self-inflicted and a mirror of the pain the characters inflicted on others by their total lack of faithfulness and honesty to each other and to their wives and children.


More on hunting

I’m writing in response to the responses you printed regarding “Ten clichés to make a hunter happy,” by Colman McCarthy (NCR, Dec. 16).

I suppose I’m always surprised at how vehement the pro-hunting camp is, given that curtailments on hunting don’t threaten their safety or, in most cases, their livelihood. It is a “sport,” and most other sports don’t include killing another animal or inflicting senseless cruelty in the chase or trapping of prey. I’m sorry, I just don’t believe it is anyone’s right to kill, and when hunters get all bent out of shape about criticisms of their macabre pastime, I just want to remind them of that.

Montpelier, Vt.

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As a devout Catholic, devoted animal rights activist and longtime NCR subscriber, please allow me to respond to those who were offended by Colman McCarthy’s recent anti-hunting piece (Letters, NCR, Jan. 13 and Jan. 27).

Let’s be clear: Hunting is a part of the animal overpopulation problem, not a part of the solution. To attract more hunters (and their money), federal and state agencies implement programs -- often termed “wildlife management” or “conservation” programs -- to boost the number of “game” species so that there are plenty of animals for hunters to kill and, consequently, plenty of revenue from the sale of hunting licenses. It speaks volumes that although more hunting permits are being issued and tens of thousands of elks are killed every year by hunters, there has been no reduction in the population. Pick up any hunting magazine and you’ll learn that conservation programs are all about increasing deer populations, not decreasing them -- more animals to kill.

And killing animals for fun or family bonding? It is cowardly, not Christian, to stalk and kill God’s creatures. They are made of flesh, blood and bone, like we are. They have the same five senses. They enjoy playing, basking in the sun and the other joys of God’s creation -- just like we do. The late Carl Sagan, who was adviser to the animal rights group at Cornell University, asked the question, “How smart does an animal have to be before killing her constitutes murder?”

As Christians, we can take a moral stand and instead of contributing to the violence, torture and death in the world, we can follow in Jesus’ footsteps and practice kindness, mercy and love for all God’s creatures. Fr. John Dear explained in an essay on factory farming recently, “I am convinced that society will look back on human arrogance and cruelty toward other animals with the same horror and disbelief that we presently reserve for atrocities committed against human beings.”

Norfolk, Va.

Bruce G. Friedrich is the vegan campaign coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

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Regarding Colman McCarthy’s Dec. 16 column: He ends it writing of Ernest Hemingway, who “finally and fittingly” killed himself. What’s wrong with him? More and more, this peace activist is becoming nothing more than an arrogant, self-righteous, angry individual. Does he possess an ounce of sympathy for those who have committed suicide? Does he have any inkling of their pain?

Bronx, N.Y.

War protester

I certainly uphold Elizabeth McAlister’s right to protest any war or military action (Ministries, NCR, Jan. 20). However, if she breaks some law or regulation, no matter how inappropriate that law may be, she has to suffer the consequences. In addition, I wonder where she would have stood in 1775 or on June 6, 1944? On Omaha Beach trying to turn back the allied troops?

By the way, when she says, “God continues hoping amid the night, and God continues weeping thousands of tears through thousands of human eyes” -- doesn’t she know that God doesn’t “hope” or “weep”? That would entail changing, and God never changes!

Milmay, N.J.

Limbo and so on

Regarding your editorial “A little flexibility regarding limbo” (NCR, Jan. 6): You note that the Vatican will soon teach authoritatively against the concept of limbo. You then say, “Few will regret seeing limbo struck from credible theological speculation.” In other words, when the Vatican teaches a thing authoritatively, it sets a limit on credible theological speculation. Glad to see you acknowledge this. Does this mean that your paper now accepts the teaching against women’s ordination? After all, the Vatican -- in fact the whole history of the church -- has been quite clear on this. That would seem to put it beyond the limits of credible theological speculation, no? Or do you only accept church authority when it jibes with your own editorial agenda?

San Diego

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St. Augustine blew it. He should have talked with his mother first. My stillborn sister should have been buried with her mother, father and priest brother instead of being buried in unconsecrated ground only a few yards away.

Marlboro, Mass.

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As I read the Jan. 6 editorials, “The latest Bush threat to democracy” and “A little flexibility regarding limbo,” all I could think of was how similar the government of the church and the U.S. government are. Both abuse power. There was a time when being an American Catholic gave me two solid pillars upon which I could rest. In spite of flaws, both seemed solid and secure. No more.

Every day there are new revelations of the Bush administration arrogantly assuming powers beyond what the Constitution allows. As for the church, I have lost much respect for its authority after the long years of papal dominance by John Paul II. John Paul did some admirable things during his time, but he did not exemplify the message of the Gospel in which Jesus said that his followers were not to copy the rulers of this world who loved to lord it over their followers.

Now limbo has gone away and the church that claims never to err has said that after all, it didn’t teach this infallibly. No, but it treated it as if it were infallible, a situation that is all too common in the church.

So there is cause for hope: Someday this church will admit that homosexuality is not a fundamental disorder, that women can be priests and that all that nonsense about birth control and condoms was, after all, not taught infallibly.

How I would love to have a humble church! How I would love to have a president who could admit that he makes mistakes!

Brandon, Fla.

Bishop Gumbleton

As a survivor of clergy abuse and a priest, I welcome Bishop Tom Gumbleton as a fellow survivor (NCR, Jan. 20). I was placed on administrative leave by Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J., on Dec. 30 after filing a $5 million lawsuit against a number of Catholic institutions and dioceses.

I am sure great priest survivors like John Bambrick of Trenton, N.J., Gary Hayes of Owensboro, Ky., Bruce Teague of Springfield, Mass., and others will be in solidarity with Bishop Tom as he comes to the realization that sexual abuse, whether it occurred 60 years ago or yesterday, has a profound effect on its victims. Tom Gumbleton, the 15-year-old prep seminarian, was violated by a man who represented God, and his “going public” is a crucial step in his healing process. Perhaps we “simple priests” who have attempted to alert our bishops to the damage clergy sexual abuse causes will have an entrée now into the bishops’ conference now that a bishop has had the courage to announce his abuse. We know there are many other bishops who are suffering from the ravages of sexual abuse, and others who are sexual abusers themselves. Perhaps the bishops will muster the courage now to deal with both groups -- the abused and the abusers among them. Let the healing begin!

West Orange, N.J.

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, PO Box 411009, Kansas City, MO 64141-1009. Fax: (816) 968-2280. E-mail: Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, February 3, 2006