National Catholic Reporter
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March 10, 2006

Letters Bishops as CEOs

I applaud Michael J. Gallagher for suggesting that bishops should start thinking like CEOs who find it difficult to get key personnel (NCR, Religious Life, Feb. 24). He sums up his suggestions by saying that bishops should “think outside the box.” But Mr. Gallagher has locked himself in the box when he advises the bishops “not to be afraid to put strong emphasis on a celibate priesthood.”

One thing a good CEO would do is take a hard look at the benefits package he is offering key personnel. Asking recruits to forgo the basic human instinct of a loving relationship and a family would not be high on his benefits list.


On Fr. Neuhaus

In the Editor’s Note (NCR, Feb. 17), Mr. Roberts, referring to a Commonweal editorial, offers an appraisal of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. However witty and insightful, his comments are, at heart, a personal attack. Isn’t that exactly what we need less of in this wonderful church of ours?

Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

Lutherans and Catholics

Charlene Spretnak’s article “The Triumph of Luther?” (NCR Spring Books, Feb. 10) was a very one-sided assessment of the current state of Catholicism.

She argues that Lutheran and evangelical churches influenced by modernity have brought about a watered-down version of Catholicism, which I would call “Catholic Lite.” While this term may be viewed pejoratively by her and those of the traditionalist movement, “Catholic Lite” has the advantage of describing a Catholicism relieved of the encrusted baggage it had accumulated from Trent to Vatican II.

Ms. Spretnak also laments that this new Catholicism is doctrinally, liturgically and spiritually inferior to the old triumphalistic, monolithic, narrow-minded and anti-ecumenical Roman Catholicism that existed prior to Vatican II.

Catholic Christianity has always been undergoing changes since Pentecost, the church’s official birthday. I would suggest that Ms. Spretnak read Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture by Jaroslav Pelikan. This marvelous work shows how the Catholic church has adapted and “Christianized” the culture of each age in order to make Christ and his church meaningful to that age.

I was also concerned with her overemphasis on the superiority of Catholicism’s sacramental system over Protestantism, which “focused strictly on the text.” Closer to the historical truth is that both Catholicism and Protestantism largely narrowed to just two the various pathways for reaching and interacting with the Divine. As Gary Thomas points out in Sacred Pathwaysý there are nine valid pathways by which we can find intimacy with God. And while sacrament-centered worship has the preeminent place in the Catholic tradition, the church has never claimed the other eight are wrong. One of the pathways Thomas describes is “Loving God Out of Doors.” Theologians such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Diarmuid O’Murchu have reminded us that at the heart of the cosmos is Christ, that “all things were made through Him” (John 1:3) and that all nature is thus sacramental.

While by no means perfect, Catholic Lite is here to stay -- all the restorationist steps by John Paul II notwithstanding. Catholic Lite is a valid approach to adapting Christ and his church to our 21st-century world.

Alamogordo, N.M.

* * *

In her review of Is the Reformation Over? Charlene Spretnak writes: “Religious acts such as the Eucharist were viewed by the Reformers, after Luther, in the modern, semiotic manner: reduced to a mere sign that reminds us of, or signifies, something, rather than the more ancient sense of spiritual participation in the field of meaning of a symbol.”

I sort of thought she was agreeing that Luther did, and Lutherans do today, believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But then she makes the statement that 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’) …”

Luther held that there were two sacraments (not ordinances), baptism and Eucharist. Unlike evangelicals, Lutherans hold very closely to the Catholic understanding of these two sacraments as conveying God’s grace, and not just as some sort of human repetition.

Clinton, Md.

* * *

Charlene Spretnak responds:
In a letter in the March 3 issue of NCR, Lutheran Pastor Keith E.O. Homstad corrected some of the points about Luther in one section of my review of Is the Reformation Over? I agree with all of Rev. Homstad’s corrections, and also Rev. Miller’s, about Luther’s positions, all of which are accurately stated in my book Missing Mary, as are the many differences between Luther and Calvin (and Zwingli). The problem in the review occurred in my trying to address the positions of various evangelicals, Luther, and all Protestantism in a short space with regard to number of ordinances or sacraments; in one spot it got garbled. Luther indeed maintained belief in the True Presence in the holy Communion, but downgrading five of the sacraments and rejecting the more holistic, aesthetic, cosmological, mystical orientation of traditional Catholicism did constitute a new and different kind of Christianity. Both Rev. Homstad and Rev. Miller are right that Luther was a bridge figure who maintained a lot of Catholicism, but Luther asserted that we cannot take too much honor away from the Virgin Mary, and (on music) that the only organ needed by a Christian is the ear, so as to hear Holy Scripture read from the pulpit. What a huge turn that was away from the full aesthetic spiritual beauty of traditional Catholicism! After him, the subsequent denominations moved even further away. It is odd that we do not even have an encompassing term for the traditional Catholic orientation in its fullness; even the term “sacramental tradition” is too narrow.

As for the “Catholic Lite” letter from Mr. Stopa, I noted throughout the review that lots of Catholics will be delighted with the Catholic-evangelical blendings. Among progressives, certainly Mr. Stopa’s view is the majority and has been well represented in NCR over the years. I stated, by the way, that recovering our full spiritual tradition need not require a simplistic roll-back to the 1950s.

Recently I was invited to address an audience of progressive Catholics at the Newman Center in Berkeley, Calif. Several pointed out that many young progressives and liberals now seek an ongoing experience of the fuller spirituality of traditional Catholicism. One of the Paulist fathers told us that in the seminary he had attended the senior and elderly priests, plus half of the young priests -- but almost none of the ages in between -- are very interested in recovering a richer experience of our Catholic spiritual heritage. I was delighted to hear it.

Not-so-kind words

Fr. Joseph McGowan (Starting Point, NCR, Feb. 24) may have thought that by saying he wasn’t interested in attending a campus party he was speaking “directly, briefly and honestly” to his fellow Jesuit, but I believe he forgot a little rhyme I learned in the second grade: “Politeness is to do and say -- the kindest thing in the kindest way.” His response was decidedly self-serving.

Alexandria, Va.

Essence of martyrdom

As a historical theologian in the Catholic tradition, I take exception to Joan Chittister’s article on the martyrdom of Fr. Andrea Santoro (NCR, March 3). Chittister responds to the preliminary discussion of Fr. Santoro’s beatification with her own preemptive opposition, rooted in two notions with which I take issue.

First, she limits martyrdom to those who die for refusing to renounce explicitly their Christian faith. While many Christians have laudably achieved martyr status in face of such a challenge, particularly during the reigns of Roman emperors Decius and Diocletian (as Chittister acknowledges), many more have suffered martyrdom simply as a response to their manifest fidelity to the church. I cite the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who died at Auschwitz not for refusing to renounce Christianity but for taking the place of a condemned man in a truly Christ-like manner. Fr. Kolbe’s commitment to the priesthood resulted in his bearing a cross of intense suffering that eventually led to his death. Second, Chittister makes a particularly offensive comment when she writes: “The world is already dealing with a passel of Islamic fundamentalist martyrs for the faith, called jihadists. … The world doesn’t need Christian ones, too.” If Chittister feels that Fr. Santoro’s life does not merit official beatification or canonization, that is her prerogative, but must she rank Fr. Santoro with Islamicist terrorists?

Fort Wayne, Ind.

‘Ladies’ and priesthood

I really don’t understand why folks write letters to the editor. However, it’s a chilly, rainy, quiet holiday here in suburban Atlanta, and Fr. Gino Dalpiaz’s letter in the Feb. 17 issue kind of ticked me off.

“Get over it, ladies,” he says? Is there something more than a theological issue in play here? The day the ladies “get over it,” a lot more guy priests might actually have to show up at the office with some predictability, take phone calls and carry their end of the load.

However, it’s what follows that I have trouble parsing: “There are more important things than the ministerial priesthood. The primacy of charity is more important than that of power and jurisdiction.” So that’s what ordained or ministerial priesthood is about -- power and jurisdiction?

Stone Mountain, Ga.

Detroit center

Regarding the John Paul II Cultural Center story (NCR, Feb. 10):

This year I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve as the parish pastoral council chair at my suburban Detroit parish. During fall 2005, my pastor and I were called before the Detroit archdiocesan College of Consultors. We were reminded, rather pointedly, that the money our parish had borrowed for new construction was not borrowed from the archdiocese but from the people and parishes of the archdiocese and that we were expected to repay the loan in a timely manner -- to the people and parishes with the archdiocese acting as loan and collections agent.

With all due respect to Cardinal Adam Maida, I wonder if the College of Consultors approved the rather extravagant loan and loan guarantee to the John Paul II Center in Washington. I wonder if the College of Consultors is going to call before it the JP II Center executive director and board chair to remind them that the money borrowed was not borrowed from the archdiocese but from the good people and parishes of the archdiocese and that the JP II Center is expected to repay the money in a timely manner -- to the people and parishes with the archdiocese acting as loan and collections agent on behalf of the people.

The JP II Center was, arguably, a good idea. I believe, though, the money could have been better spent on more important unmet needs in the archdiocese.

Oakland, Mich.

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 10, 2006