National Catholic Reporter
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March 3, 2006

Letters Judging war

Colman McCarthy effectively quotes Ernest Hemingway, H.L. Mencken and Adm. Gene LaRoque in “There’s nothing noble about war” (NCR, Feb. 3). Similarly, Mitch Albom, in The Five People You Meet in Heaven, conveys a corresponding mindset that resonates in my heart: “Young men go to war. Sometimes because they have to, sometimes because they want to. Always because they feel they are supposed to. This comes from the sad, layered stories of life, which over the centuries have seen courage confused with picking up arms, and cowardice confused with laying them down.”

Ellsworth, Maine

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In “There’s nothing noble about war,” Colman McCarthy as much as says that those who die in warfare are not really heroes but victims of corrupt political leaders who are just using them for their own vain and self-aggrandizing purposes.

According to this kind of thinking, we should no longer honor the thousands of people who gave their lives in wars throughout the course of human history. If Colman’s thinking is correct, then we should condemn all of the following persons: George Washington, who commanded the armies that won American independence; Abraham Lincoln, who presided over the war that preserved the Union and resulted in the abolition of slavery; Woodrow Wilson, who presided over the war “to make the world safe for democracy”; Franklin D. Roosevelt, who presided over the war that resulted in the defeat of the genocidal Nazi regime and the Japanese warlords; Harry S. Truman, who accepted the surrender of the Japanese aggressors; and, of course, do not forget Joan of Arc, a canonized saint who drove the English occupiers out of her native France. If Colman is correct that there is no such thing as a just war and that those who participate in or lead any war are without exception evildoers, then every one of the aforementioned persons must be condemned as malefactors and schoolchildren must be taught not to respect them as role models.

Somehow I doubt that Colman’s concept of non-heroism will ever be accepted as correct by more than a minuscule fraction of the human race.

Claymont, Del.

Cartoon furor

Kudos to Margot Patterson (NCR, Feb. 17) for helping us understand the mystery of Muslim fury. She says Western cartooning “becomes an attack on the sacred itself.” Ah, is this not exactly what happens when a child is violated by a trusted priest? Outrage deep and furious is called for and can be expected in both cases. It’s the unthinkable.

Burlington, Vt.

Lutheran identity

In her review of Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism by Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom (NCR, Spring Books, Feb. 10), Charlene Spretnak makes an egregious error on Page 2a, center column.

There she writes, “His [Martin Luther’s] new version of Christianity emphasized the ‘radical sinfulness’ of humans, the inconsequential nature of the sacraments (except baptism and ordination, called by Protestants ‘ordinances’), the ‘radical sovereignty’ of a distant God (no more co-unfolding with divine presence of the organisms in Creation, as St. Thomas Aquinas had perceived), and the reactive sweeping away of nearly everything except the Bible, the one touchstone needed for faith in God.”

First, Luther did not invent a “new version of Christianity” in any way! He is a disciple of St. Augustine through and through. The strain of thought that understands human nature as entrapped, or enslaved to sin, in the most radical sense of those words, comes directly from the writings of the New Testament.

Next, Luther never called the sacraments “ordinances.” Others such as Ulrich Zwingli or John Calvin are the ones who came up with that nomenclature. Luther was unyielding in his insistence of the True Presence in the holy Communion.

Next, Luther insisted that baptism and the holy Communion (not ordination) were the two chief sacraments. And he is the one who demanded that the people be able to receive both the Body and the Blood, the bread and the wine, in the celebration of the holy Communion -- counter to the practice of Rome up until Vatican II. Luther also called “Confession and Forgiveness” a sacrament almost all of his life and it is only near the end of his writings that he quit using that designation.

I fear that on these points Spretnak’s review is far off base and seriously misrepresents Lutheran understanding.

Kenyon, Minn.

The Rev. Keith E.O. Homstad is pastor of Hegre Lutheran Church in Kenyon.

Limbo history

I just noticed that in the Feb. 3 issue, Tim Unsworth has got Pelagius and Augustine more or less backward on limbo. Pelagius was not excommunicated for denying limbo -- rather, the position affirming the existence of limbo was ascribed to the Pelagians and condemned at a council at Carthage in 418. Pelagius’ own position was unclear; he held that unbaptized infants do not enter the kingdom of heaven, but said he did not know where they do go. Some of his followers, however, for instance Julian of Eclanum, clearly affirmed limbo, although not by that name. Augustine, by contrast, held that unbaptized infants are damned due to original sin (see, for instance, his The Predestination of the Saints 13.25).

Emmitsburg, Md.

William J. Collinge is Knott Professor of Theology at Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Md.

Ecumenical goals

“Between hope, despair at ecumenical meeting” (NCR, Jan. 27) was an energizing article, but I can’t think that we’ve been serving the Gospel if the best we can do after 40 years is to have a cardinal in an Anglican Communion line asking for a blessing.

There was a time when Anglicans and Roman Catholics were talking about merging jurisdictional boundaries in England. Hopes for a grand family were high. Yet as another year adds itself to the distance from Vatican II, our goal gets set further in the future. How sad, how sad.

When I had read to the end and read Cardinal Kasper’s comment that “God will bring the ecumenical movement to fruition, albeit in God’s own manner and time,” my heart sank. If that’s the Anglican and Roman Catholic perspective, we might as well shut down the respective offices for unity. Do the good clerics not know that God’s work is our own? Do they not understand that when we reach the golden city, the Lord will sternly ask us what got in the way of God’s own commands, and why did we settle for so little for so long?

Fort Wayne, Ind.

John Edward ‘chatter’

I was dismayed at the comments made in “The chatter behind the story” concerning John Edward (NCR, Feb. 3).

The review and commentary on his book on the rosary, it seems to me, stood on its own merit without such derogatory comments as “snake-oil salesman,” “huckster,” “fluff” and so on being attributed to him by personal opinion from your staff. I have been a counselor and spiritual director for more than 25 years and have walked with hundreds of wounded, abused, abandoned, hurting souls, and in the vast majority of the cases of the deeply wounded a notion of “communion of saints,” or that those who went before are still alive and some way in close contact, was essential to their healing. John Edward may take that notion a step further than your staff are comfortable with but that does not seem to me to justify the disrespect it shows to either John himself or the thousands who are given genuine hope that it is true -- their loved ones, hurtful ones, broken ones still live, as our Catholic faith professes.

Maria Stein, Ohio

Larry Reichley is program coordinator of the Spiritual Center of Maria Stein.

Questions for Royal

Most newspaper columnists serve a function. Does Robert Royal serve a function besides antagonizing people who don’t share his beliefs? It appears that is all he has done so far. Honest Democrats will admit that the Alito hearings were not their finest hour. There’s no need to rub their noses in it, which Royal seems to do while wringing his hands in glee (NCR, Feb. 10).

There are so many worthy subjects that Royal could be educating NCR readers about besides abortion and homosexuality. That stuff is old hat. I’d love to see him apply his faith and reason to the following questions: Why is the war in Iraq moral, even though Pope John Paul II didn’t think so? Why were President Bush and his aides morally justified in lying to the American people about Iraq’s weapons capability in order to get us into the war? Why are Bush’s budgets not immoral in the way they reward the rich at the expense of people on Social Security, Medicare and other assistance? Is Bush not displaying arrogance and hypocrisy by permitting torture and reserving the right to order torture despite signing Sen. John McCain’s bill that outlaws torture? Is Bush not being a hypocrite by forbidding taxpayers’ money to be used for stem cell embryo research, even though embryos that are never used will be thrown in the trash?

All those questions raise issues that a conservative should be able to answer. After all, they describe the actions of a “compassionate conservative.”

Road Macungie, Pa.

Women’s ordination

The photograph accompanying the article “Some women seeking ordination won’t wait for church’s OK” (NCR Jan. 27) shows women making a liturgical fashion statement. But this story is about more than clothes.

According to the article, the women quoted desire an “egalitarian priesthood,” and once the authority has shifted to them, it will be used to sacrifice traditional moral and doctrinal beliefs in the cause of inclusiveness. Their proposed “church of inclusion” is a new invention based on secular models as well as on the modern churches for whom scripture and tradition are acceptable only when they support current social thinking.

The women’s ordination movement is founded on the false assumption that the church is too masculine. In my visits to various parishes for Sunday Mass, I’ve noticed a consistent ratio of approximately 30 women to every man present. This feminization of the church has alienated the young men, who have left, and I predict that if women are ordained, the majority of women who do not feel discriminated against will follow the men out the door.

The women of the “floating ordination” movement are probably doing necessary charitable work but, nonetheless, they are ministering to a small community that is pseudo-catholic by definition of their beliefs. No one can wish bad for these people but we can in charity ask them to tolerate the hundreds of millions of Catholics who have reverence for the historicity and apostolicity of the church, which features attract thousands of converts every year.

Florence, N.J.

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Thanks to NCR for keeping the subject of women’s ordination alive after it was nearly banned by the Vatican in 1995.

There is a historical precedent in the field of music that might provide some optimism for those who witness the continual closing of parishes, usually in poor and minority regions of the world. Discrimination against women cannot continue if the church is to serve the faithful.

In the 1980s there were no women in the orchestras of major cities in Germany. Herbert von Karajan (1908-89) took it upon his musical genius to introduce Sabine Meyer as a clarinetist in the Berlin Philharmonic. There was such an uproar of opposition to a woman in the orchestra chamber that she removed herself from the sexist controversy and made a musical career of her own. One needs only check the Internet to verify her fame.

In the 21st century one-fourth to one-third of orchestra members are women.

When a bishop somewhere in the world decides the spiritual needs of his flock are more important than preservation of an outmoded, dying clerical system, he will introduce a compassionate and qualified woman to a seminary with the great hope she will minister someday to a diocese deprived of the sacraments.

Lafayette, La.

Papal encyclical

In John Allen’s article on Pope Benedict’s encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (NCR, Feb. 3), the pope sounds a bit patronizing to me when one considers how slow church hierarchy has been to respond in an accountable sense to victims of the sexual abuse crisis.

Explanations of love from “on high” that hold those “below” to a stricter standard than they do themselves make me wonder if Frederick Nietzsche wasn’t right when he said, “The last Christian died on the cross”!

Apple Valley, Minn.

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With John Allen, I welcome Deus Caritas Est. As an inveterate Beatles fan, I also appreciate Allen’s reference to the classic “All You Need Is Love,” a fine contribution to pop music from the Fab Four and a sentiment that summarizes the document quite neatly. But as a teacher of Catholic social ethics, I worry that the otherwise excellent encyclical may shortchange the importance of work for justice on behalf of all Christians. Bold Vatican documents such as Paul VI’s social encyclical Populorum Progressio and Justitia in Mundo from the 1971 Synod of Bishops placed work for justice at the very heart of the social agenda of disciples, calling it a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel. Admittedly, nothing in the encyclical denounces justice, but I fear that some of its rhetorical tropes downplay the hard work of participating in structural change to foster justice. Bringing up the specter of Marxist distortions, as the encyclical does twice in the pivotal paragraphs 26 and 27 that treat charity and justice, only muddies the waters. An impressionable reader might come away not with a renewed appreciation of the urgency of work for social justice, but perhaps with a vague suspicion that justice ministries risk losing sight of the virtue of charity. Let us not forfeit our church’s hard-won momentum toward a justice orientation by allowing the charity that should complement justice instead to eclipse justice.

Cambridge, Mass.

Fr. Thomas Massaro is associate professor of moral theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.

Support for resignation

Fr. Robert Pierson, who resigned from being St. John’s University chaplain, and Mary Black, who wrote the “A mother’s anguish” letter to the editor (NCR, Jan. 27), are to be commended for their acts of courage in taking a stand regarding homosexuality. As a lesbian and the mother of a lesbian, I can relate to their feelings and actions. Fr. Pierson has a ministry today that will reach even more of those whom he chooses to serve through his honesty and openness. Ms. Black gives hope to those of us who are parents and watch our children being isolated from the church in which we and they grew up. I have worked through my own issues with the church and rely on daily Eucharist for my strength. It is my child’s pain that hurts today. As I understand the catechism, we are all made in the image and likeness of God. Isn’t that more important than a human person’s concept of a human trait that is most likely genetically determined, not a choice?

East Falmouth, Mass.

McBrien allegations

On Dec. 12 my two sisters and I received word that our only brother would not live through the day. He died the next day in New Haven, Conn., at age 64. At the same time that we were preparing for his death and funeral, a friend of ours was busy doing what he has done for almost 40 years, writing a weekly syndicated column. During the week of Dec. 13 our friend wrote his column and jumped on a plane, heading for Connecticut to console our family and friends and to preside at the memorial service for my brother. My brother was a self-proclaimed agnostic; one of my aunts, a former provincial of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Hartford, Conn.; the rest of the mourners fell somewhere in between. Our friend presided at a service that brought all these people to a place of healing that most present had never experienced before, as testified by several nuns, priests, family members and friends who were there.

Our friend, Fr. Richard McBrien, has been viciously attacked by the Cardinal Newman Society for the article he wrote that memorable week in the life of our family (NCR, Feb. 10). A TV station in South Bend, Ind., falsified information in its story and presented choices for its viewers that fell just short of declaring him guilty of the allegations. What is happening to Fr. Richard McBrien right now adds more pain and suffering to those of us who benefited from his ministry.

South Bend, Ind.

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, March 3, 2006