National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
March 17, 2006

Letters A beautiful issue

As beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, so does excellence lie in the mind of the reader. Your Feb. 10 issue was excellent! From your cover story and coverage of issues in the nation and world to Neve Gordon’s column on Hamas, it was a most stimulating hour. With the specific exception of Robert Royal, yours is a newspaper I enjoy reading beyond all others.


Cartoon firestorm

Regarding the Perspective by Margot Patterson, “For Muslims, no humor in cartoons” (NCR, Feb. 17):

NCR and most other U.S. publications used good judgment in not printing even one of the offensive cartoons that appeared and reappeared in Europe.

Shame on anyone, anywhere, who belittles or insults any aspect of another’s belief system. A likely loss of life and property damage should have been foreseen by the presumably well-read Danish editors. Such cartoons are further evidence to most Muslims that Christians have little regard for Islamic faith and values.

While blasphemy might not shock and awe most people in our materialistic society, it is still highly offensive to anyone with the gift of faith, Muslim, Christian or otherwise.

Since little is sacred in Western society, it is difficult for Christians to appreciate how any kind of blasphemy offends and disturbs devout believers of other religions. A few years ago, some “creative artist” exhibited a crucifix in a container of urine. The outrage was minimal considering the offense. Those who mock the beliefs of others would do well to wear body armor.

A few hundred years ago, blasphemers were routinely burned at the stake. Now people yawn. What does that say about our society?

Birmingham, Mich.

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Margot Patterson’s Perspective on Muslims and cartoons is, at best, unclear. Does she really want to live in a “religion-dominated world, where trifling with the Almighty is not acceptable, where God is serious business”? I don’t. I frankly don’t choose to believe in a divinity who gets upset about being insulted. Such a divinity is ... well ... a lot like us. Which is no surprise, since we’ve created that god in our likeness (or the likeness of the males among us, anyway). No thank you.

I also don’t want to live in a world where publishing a joke making fun of Jesus, or Moses, or Muhammad, can be equated with “setting fires that will burn the house down.” It’s quite similar to: “You’re free to express your beliefs, but if you burn a flag we’ll lock you up.” The God, or the prophet, I’d prefer is one who doesn’t care about an insult any more than a flag does. It’s human beings who get upset when they’ve chosen to tie their hearts to a “religion” or a “patriotism” they’ve created for themselves.

Wilmette, Ill.

* * *

In her Perspective, Ms. Patterson states, “If we want a dialogue with Muslim societies, we can’t disrespect their God, which incidentally is our God as well.”

The furor is over depicting the Prophet Muhammad, not Allah. Though it is certainly debated and debatable whether Allah and Yahweh are the same, Muhammad is just as certainly not our God. That distinction does not make the cartoons any less blasphemous to Muslims nor does it make their publication any less disrespectful of others’ beliefs. But equating Muhammad with God is equally blasphemous to both Muslims and Christians, which is an overabundance of blasphemies.

New York

Royal opinions

It wouldn’t take too many articles like “Current views on homosexuality ignore ancient wisdom” by Robert Royal (NCR, Jan. 13) for us to cancel our subscription to NCR. It was narrow-minded, illogical and bigoted to the roots, to the sorry neglect of reason, common sense and a Christ-oriented perspective on the reality of life as it is in the real world. Why can we not awaken to the reality that our Father-Mother God loves us and accepts us as we are and merely asks us to “love thy neighbor as thyself”?

Timonium, Md.

* * *

Robert Royal apparently believes scripture condemns a homosexual lifestyle. Scripture also supports slavery and capital punishment for adultery. More to the point, all the passages in scripture that allegedly refer to homosexuality are disputed by reputable scripture scholars. Furthermore, the notion that a loving God created upward of 10 percent of the human race “intrinsically evil and objectively disordered” is absurd. And I think it’s high time more Catholics stepped up to the plate and said so.


* * *

It has been dismaying to read your letters section in recent weeks. There seems to be enormous animus against Robert Royal simply because he told the truth about homosexuality: It is a disordered state. We were made by God to cling to each other as man and woman. Homosexuality is one of the consequences of fallen nature. Homosexual people and homosexual friendships are very often quite beautiful, but homosexual sex and the desire for homosexual sex are disordered. Properly ordered sexual desire and activity are heterosexual. This is basic Catholic teaching. Why are people so outraged by it being presented in a newspaper with “Catholic” right in its name? Is it because we are more formed by our culture than by our faith? Is it because readers have grown used to seeing Catholic teaching denigrated in your pages rather than celebrated?

San Diego

* * *

About Robert Royal as an alternative voice from the right -- he is a blessing in disguise in my book. How else for NCR to evoke such urgent and well-thought-out rebuttals from readers like Linda Heidenreich, Charles P. Isola, Br. Finbar McMullen, Thomas Nelson (Letters, NCR, Feb. 10) to his Jan. 13 column on homosexuality? Other church issues, ditto. Keep him coming. He brings many of us out of the woodwork.

Santa Rosa, Calif.

JP II Cultural Center

It’s regrettable NCR’s recent coverage of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center (NCR, Feb. 10) and your March 3 editorial, “Of business practices and accountability,” fail to provide some important context -- and facts -- regarding the involvement of the Detroit archdiocese.

At this stage in its young life, it is the center that is in debt to the archdiocese, not the other way around. That is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. It can and will be addressed, here in Detroit and in Washington.

Most important, no parish or school deposits in the so-called archdiocesan bank, the Loan Deposit Program, or funds from our annual appeal, the CSA, were used for this investment.

Debt is among the reasons considered for closing schools and parishes in the Detroit area, but unhealthy finances are only part of the picture. For example, the most recent parish closed in the archdiocese had only 64 registered parishioners; there were over 40 Catholic parishes within a five-mile radius.

From 2000 to 2005, there was a 45 percent decline in student enrollment in Catholic schools in the core city and first-ring suburbs. Thirty-four Detroit public schools closed last spring, primarily for the same reason -- too few students and too many buildings.

While it’s certainly fair to compare and contrast the $17 million loan (not $40 million) made to the center with monies distributed in southeast Michigan, the totals from the past 10 years present an informative snapshot. The archdiocese has invested $162 million in its parishes and schools. Not mentioned by NCR, however, is the $46 million raised and used for need-based scholarships -- over 47,000 to date -- for Catholic and non-Catholic students in our schools. Also missing is the fact the archdiocese distributed an additional $55 million in direct grants to parishes and schools.

Ideas are important too; ideas can make a difference. Social justice. Ecumenism. The culture of life. These are just some of the issues that the center has studied and presented since its opening.

It was Cardinal Adam Maida’s judgment -- along with many others -- that the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center was and is an honorable and worthwhile investment in the future of our church and new generations of Catholics. Yes, there are those who disagree. On the other hand, some 80,000 people believed in and contributed to the establishment of the center.

It’s true the center needs to refocus its mission and priorities. As it does, one would hope that this institution seeking to promote the church’s thinking and teaching would be worthy of your support, not your derision.


Ned McGrath is director of communications for the Detroit archdiocese.

NCR responds:
Mr. McGrath says, “It is the center that is in debt to the archdiocese, not the other way around.” When you’re on the hook for someone else’s $40 million debt -- and that entity appears to have little prospect of ever paying back that huge sum -- then the lender (or the guarantor) has as big a problem as the borrower. For all its wealth, the Detroit archdiocese has limited resources. That it chose to use those resources both as a direct lender and as a guarantor in Washington to fund an entity that is by all accounts a failure, even as it closes schools and parishes, is a legitimate issue. The issues raised by Mr. McGrath could be easily dealt with if the Detroit archdiocese simply opened its books for outside inspection (the center’s debt, for example, appears nowhere in the archdiocese’s rather limited financial statements). They should do so forthwith.

Cardinal Newman Society

Bravo to Tom Roberts: Someone has finally described in print what the Cardinal Newman Society has become (NCR, Editor’s Note, Feb. 24). We have similar groups up here, especially those associated with the magazine Catholic Insight and Campaign Life Coalition and its Web site “Lifesite.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your courage. Too many of my colleagues are afraid of them.

Dryden, Ontario

* * *

You have published claims by Notre Dame theology chairman John Cavadini that there were no questions of plagiarism by Fr. Richard McBrien prior to the Cardinal Newman Society’s recent complaint, yet two weeks earlier NCR reported serious questions raised in a 1998 book review by fellow Notre Dame professor Fr. Marvin O’Connell (NCR , Feb. 10). That’s quite an oversight by Cavadini, yet NCR publishes his claims without challenge. NCR also does not challenge Cavadini’s curious notion that plagiarism is not plagiarism unless one can prove intent to plagiarize. Many Notre Dame students welcome this impossible-to-prove standard, I am sure, but I cannot find it in any published Notre Dame policy.

Editor Tom Roberts assures us that NCR takes charges of plagiarism seriously, since it’s a matter of journalistic integrity. (Perhaps also because McBrien is an occasional NCR columnist?) But NCR never reports its own investigation of the facts. You did investigate, right?

Had you studied McBrien’s column and our complaint, you would have reported that the concerns involve more than one Boston Globe article. Had you researched O’Connell’s troubling questions about McBrien’s Lives of the Popes, you would have found extensive similarities to J.N.D. Kelly’s prior work. It seems NCR is responsible only for reporting that Tom Roberts doesn’t like the Cardinal Newman Society. Yawn.

Fortunately the Cardinal Newman Society’s members don’t look to NCR for the facts, but -- silly me -- I thought that we were the advocacy group, and you were the journalists!

Manassas, Va.

Patrick J. Reilly is the president of the Cardinal Newman Society.

Hamas editorial

Your lead editorial regarding the election of Hamas as the new governing party of Palestinian authority (NCR , Feb. 24) reflects views that are in some sense correct, but for the most part trite and totally wrong.

What have past Palestinian authorities done with the millions of dollars they have received from numerous sources? I would suggest that they have either lined their own respective pockets or have bought arms in order to accomplish the one goal these fanatical groups cherish most, that is, wipe a certain country off the face of the earth. Please do not insult me by attempting to couch the Middle East political situation in terms that make those fanatical factions the hero and us the culprit. As history will attest, no country has ever done things totally correct; however, I would suggest to you that the United States has done better than most.

Thus I would further suggest you read history a little more closely and present the facts without your distorted view of the world and geopolitical issues in particular.

Shelton, Wash.

Neve Gordon

While I can’t pretend to be a Mideast expert, I can say that just about everything I think I’ve come to understand about the Mideast is eloquently reflected in Neve Gordon’s reporting and commentary for NCR. I was particularly impressed by his Feb. 10 article following upon the electoral victory of Hamas. It occurs to me it must require a very robust mind to maintain the sympathy with the Palestinians that his writing conveys. It has to take extraordinary courage to write (and, I assume, speak and teach) in Israel with the forthrightness he does.

I greatly admire him. My hunch is that he has students who greatly admire him also, and I can only hope they cluster about him and provide something of a buffer against the random madman who would solve the world’s problems by shutting down the messenger. His passion for justice places him in the company of the Jewish prophets -- Jeremiah and Isaiah particularly come to mind. Their clarion call that reaches the heart of each of us is near the center of the Jewish tradition and strikes me as the single most humanizing influence in Western civilization. NCR is very fortunate to have him as a contributor.

Livermore, Calif.

Duties of the president

I beg to differ on Joseph J. Casey’s contention in his seeming defense of NSA spying that “we did not elect a king but we did elect a commander-in-chief” (NCR, Letters, Feb. 10). We did not elect a commander-in-chief. We elected a president. Our president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and not of the country. The purpose of his being commander-in-chief of the armed forces is to emphasize the subordination of the armed forces to civilian authority. The president has no powers as commander-in-chief beyond his constitutional powers as president.

Kansas City, Mo.

Nonviolent living

I’d like to reply to Kenneth Benjamin’s letter in which he referred to the ministry of Liz McAllister and her “war protestation” (NCR, Feb. 3).

Mr. Benjamin appears to assume that Liz has no regard for the law. As a person who knows Liz, I would say that she has prayed about every action she has done, has considered its consequences and has suffered them over her 30-odd years of nonviolent protest. Missing the graduations of your children and giving birth as your husband is in prison -- that has to hurt. But as far as I have experienced, Liz has never complained or rejected the reality of having to “suffer the consequences.” Nonviolence is a way of being that would have prevented the activities of 1775 and June 6, 1944, to which Mr. Benjamin refers, from happening in the first place. War is never acceptable under any circumstances.

As for the comment, “Doesn’t she know that God doesn’t ‘hope’ or ‘weep?’ ” -- Mr. Benjamin, I guide you to the shortest verse in the entirety of Christian writings: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). God not only weeps but goes on to change death into life, hopelessness into joy and the “war” of grief into the peace of understanding. That is the world that Liz and all the other members of Jonah House Community, myself included, strive to bring about.

Hope is not a sign of weakness but of God’s unwavering good. And so I agree with Mr. Benjamin that God never changes.


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 17, 2006