National Catholic Reporter
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February 24, 2006

Letters ‘Brokeback’ bravo

Bravo! for Chuck Colbert’s personal story “My own ‘Brokeback Mountain’ ” (NCR, Feb. 3). It was a pleasure to find such an open, honest, soul-bearing gay article in a Catholic publication.

I came out in the ’80s and attended Mass with my partner for 6 years. Sadly, I left the church when I learned the monsignor didn’t approve the “sin” of our loving relationship.

Prior to coming out, I was your typical parochial school-educated young man, last of the altar boys who said Mass in Latin. I married the college sorority girl I met at a local Newman Center. We both felt the family pressure to take the marital plunge due to our “getting on in years” -- we were in our late 20s! We took the easy, granted not right, way out to please family, society and the church.

Mr. Colbert’s article pretty much tells a common story ... unfortunately, Catholic or not, the gay truth was unacceptable, unspeakable and unforgivable in the cowboy Southwest when I married. Sad that living a lie became the safest and most acceptable way to live one’s life.

Had the love repressed in “Brokeback Mountain” been allowed to express itself openly decades ago, I suspect the result would have been a good deal more honest, caring and loving relationships, fewer divorces and suicides, and the universal church may have spared many parishioners decades of much sadness, turmoil and confusion by acknowledging the truth of universal love.


God willing, I’ll return

Isabel Gibson (NCR , Jan. 27) praises Gen. MacArthur’s “I shall return” statement, but her criticism of adding on the often-used phrase “if all goes well” makes me wonder why Ms. Gibson equates this latter expression with “playing it safe, committing to nothing”? Hispanics say, “si Dios quiere,” and people in the Jewish tradition say, “im yirtzeh Hashem.”

Ariel Sharon’s condition comes to mind. Although his mentality and will as a strong leader paralleled that of MacArthur’s, would the world not have thought of him as an arrogant and presumptuous leader had he used the general’s phrase?

Having faced a serious illness last year myself, I know so well that haughty declarations of executing certain plans and actions must always be preceded by an “if all goes well.” And my faith enables me to translate this to “if God is willing.”

Not a bad thought to be guided by. It does not connote “committing to nothing.”

Carlsbad Calif.

Detroit’s financial trouble

Regarding “Financially strapped archdiocese subsidizes troubled center” (NCR, Feb. 10): Detroit Catholics have inherited a Washington monument. We’ve called it the “white elephant in Washington.” Many Catholics have known about the debt related to the John Paul II Cultural Center; we just haven’t known the amount.

In 2004, a committee of Call to Action of Michigan queried the archdiocese’s Presbyteral Council about this. The council responded that the question deserved looking into and forwarded the question to Cardinal Adam Maida. No response was received. In December 2005 reporters from the Detroit news media began asking if clergy or laity could provide documentation to link the debt of the John Paul II Cultural Center to the financial problems of the Detroit archdiocese. We thought that we would see something in the Detroit papers shortly. We were surprised to see the revelation come from Joe Feuerherd of NCR.

We believe Catholics of Detroit need to hear about this debt, especially when schools and parishes are being denied needed funds because there is not enough money to loan. In December 2004 St. Gregory Parish, Detroit, petitioned the archdiocese for $100,000 to repair a boiler, and was told there are others who have more need for the short funds available. It took NCR to flush this out, and we are grateful for that. Thank you.

Farmington, Mich.

Tom Kyle is the secretary of Elephants in the Living Room, an organization of concerned Catholics in the Detroit archdiocese.

John Edward’s rosary

I’m writing in response to “A psychic guru prays the rosary” and the sidebar “The chatter behind the story,” which explained editor Tom Roberts’ objections to the piece and the staff’s conversation about whether or not to run it (NCR, Feb. 3).

Yes, it was a good idea to publish Retta Blaney’s review of John Edward’s book on praying the rosary. You provided an opportunity for your readers to check themselves on the how and why of their daily rosary praying.

It’s a shame John Edward omits the “meat” of each decade and loses the chance to interweave the insights of the mysteries with his intentions. For example, he could concentrate on the first sorrowful mystery of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, see the suffering of Jesus’ isolation and connect it to praying for a friend going through a sad loneliness in his or her life.

John Edward seems to miss the point. He reminds me of so many others of his age who possibly don’t want to face up to the fact that Jesus died for them. I wonder if they could be thinking that if they stay away from church they can avoid seeing themselves as sinners in need of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Summit, N.J.

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I am with Tom Roberts, and I am heartily glad your sidebar accompanied the review or I would have gagged on my coffee.

New York

Bonhoeffer’s morality

In “Bonhoeffer was wrong” (NCR, Jan. 27), Raymond Schroth mixes apples and oranges and confuses abstract theory with lived experience.

George W. Bush is totally incompetent as a national and international leader, but Schroth’s “Field Marshall” Bush is not Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s movement from pacifism to participation in an assassination plot against Hitler was grounded in his own lived experience amid the horror of Nazi Germany, led by a man who exterminated 6 million Jews and intended to establish a master race. The Sermon on the Mount can never be a normative blueprint for action in such situations. One needs to beware of those such as Schroth who stand in moral judgment against Bonhoeffer and the actions of the Resistance movement. All assassination plots and their consequent traumas are not equal, particularly when compared with the trauma of Auschwitz and the stated goals of Hitler’s Nazi regime.

Bonhoeffer was not the one with power, abusing it and using it as a license to kill. He stood with the powerless and joined with them in their attempt to end the madness. He did show us the true cost of discipleship.

Reston, Va.

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I have to disagree with Fr. Raymond Schroth’s conclusion that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor for our time “in courage, yes,” but “in moral judgment, no” (NCR, Jan. 27).

While Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for his complicity in the assassination attempts against Hitler, his brother-in-law and co-conspirator Hans van Dohnanyi wrote from his own cell to ask Bonhoeffer to interpret Matthew 26:52 (“All those who take the sword will perish by the sword”) in light of their choices. Bonhoeffer made no excuses: They “would have to accept” that they were “subject to that judgment.”

Bonhoeffer’s contacts through the Abwehr had alerted him and his co-conspirators to the military’s dissatisfaction with Hitler and had reassured the plotters that Hitler’s death would split the military from the Nazi Party, effectively bringing an end to the war. Bonhoeffer’s own role in the plot was to use his ecumenical contacts in the United States and Britain to gain assurances that the Allies would not exploit Hitler’s death to mount a devastating attack, to ensure that the coup would lead to peace. Fr. Schroth is right that the death of one man almost always is too temptingly facile to change the course of history. If the plotters’ information was correct, Bonhoeffer may have experienced a rare exception.

Bonhoeffer’s Ethics grapples with the questions raised by Fr. Schroth, and in this work Bonhoeffer dealt with the demands of “responsible life” in the peculiar circumstances of a totalitarian state. To do nothing under Hitler’s regime was to permit the war; to act was to kill. This meant, in Bonhoeffer’s circumstances, that no matter the judgment that would fall on him for his complicity in killing, he had to act for love of those who were harmed by the war and to ensure that they could share in the world. It seems to me that Bonhoeffer was willing to bet on the mercy of God. But the fact remains in no way unchanged: Bonhoeffer did not believe the moral law permitted the killing of Hitler. He did seem to believe that God might forgive it -- and only “might.”

Aiken, S.C.

Steven P. Millies is assistant professor of political science at the University of South Carolina-Aiken.

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I am so happy that there is at least one other person in this world who does not accept murder as a justifiable, indeed, honorable, act. One must be against capital punishment whether it is committed against innocent victims or despicable tyrants. I am glad Fr. Schroth made that point in print.

East Hampton, N.Y.

Victims and church lawsuits

It is sad to read the conclusion in your Jan. 20 editorial that “victims have nothing now but the courts in which to force a reckoning,” reinforced by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton’s conviction that “a settlement of every case by our court system is the only way to protect children and heal the brokenness within the church.” It is sadder still to realize that this is probably the way things will play out in the coming years.

To say that the courts are the only recourse is not to say that the courts are the best recourse for all victims. Not all will come forward and subject themselves to the adversarial nastiness that plays out between the attorneys and church officials. Many who do come forward may exact some measure of justice, a good thing to be sure, but will not experience the kind of healing for which they yearn.

The Albany, N.Y., diocese supports an independent mediation assistance program, developed and administered by retired state Judge Howard Levine. The program operates independently of the diocese and is open to victims who no longer have legal recourse or who wish to explore an alternative to legal action. Go to for a link to the program’s Web site. An evaluation of this program by the John Jay College is pending.

To be sure, many victims in the Albany diocese are taking the court settlement route. But this fledgling program suggests that the courts are not the best recourse for all victims, at least in the diocese of Albany.

Bloomington, Ill.

Belleville diocese

Bonaventure Anya, in a letter to the editor (NCR, Feb. 3), asserts that “hidden racism” is the reason that priests of the Belleville, Ill., diocese questioned the leadership of their bishop, Edward K. Braxton. However, Bishop Braxton’s predecessor, Bishop Wilton Gregory, was also African-American, and the priests did not voice any such concerns about him.

Jeff Hellweg claims in another letter that the reason for the priests’ meeting and statement is the “unorthodoxy” of the Belleville clergy, which Bishop Braxton was “assigned ... to battle.” (On Dec. 14, 30 priests met; 24 signed a statement. On Feb. 1, 37 priests met. There are less than 75 active priests in the diocese.) If lack of orthodoxy in the Belleville diocese was a problem that needed Vatican intervention, why was Bishop Gregory elected president of the U.S. bishops’ conference by his peers and promoted by Pope John Paul II to the archdiocese of Atlanta?

The Belleville priests’ actions are rooted in Bishop Braxton’s lack of communication, collaboration and pastoral leadership.

Carlyle, Ill.

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Does Bonaventure Anya realize that the Belleville diocese had 10 wonderful years with Bishop Wilton Gregory?

The love and caring Bishop Gregory showed the parishioners of the diocese while he was here were enough to garner the love and respect of the priests and laity. The priests and laity felt that they were listened to during Bishop Gregory’s term, but it is not so with Bishop Braxton’s monarchical, pretentious and arrogant attitude. The Catholic church may not be a democracy, but someone needs to point out to Bishop Braxton that the Belleville diocese is not his personal monarchy with the priests and laity as his serfs.

I don’t think the situation in the Belleville diocese has anything to do with racism. It has to do with feeling that we are not being listened to.

Summerfield, Ill.

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The first meeting of concerned clergy after the installation of Bishop Braxton took place in my parish. I also attended the recent meeting of concerned clergy in Okawville, Ill., which included more priests than the first gathering. I have been wondering when the race card would be played, and now it has been in your letters to the editor.

Bishop Braxton’s skin color is not the issue here. The issue is his behavior in dealing with his clergy and laity. Bishop Braxton has no reason to come here to make us orthodox, since we already are and are deeply concerned about the future of our diocese. It concerns me that those who played the race card and accused us of being not orthodox do not live here in our diocese. We wonder where their expertise about us comes from.

Germantown, Ill.

Fr. Steve Humphrey is pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Germantown, Ill.

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 24, 2006