National Catholic Reporter
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April 14, 2006

Letters Limbo gap

In his column (NCR, March 24), Fr. Richard McBrien discusses the disappearance of the hypothetical doctrine of limbo and then goes on to assert that the absence of that doctrine (limbo) could lead to the disavowal of the doctrine of original sin as it has been traditionally taught and understood. I am astounded by that speculation.

Without the premise of original sin, just what was the redemption all about? When we speak of Christ the “Redeemer,” just what do we mean?

If, as Fr. McBrien says, the Roman Catholic church disavows the doctrine of original sin, what happens to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and the doctrine of the Assumption?

Why can’t we accept the fact that there simply is no logical inference to be drawn from the scriptures that helps us understand what happens to the soul of an unbaptized human being who dies before reaching the age of reason? It seems to me that we can admit that gap in our theology without turning our most fundamental beliefs upside down. We don’t know; St. Augustine didn’t know. Let it just stay at that.

Mercer Island, Wash.

Good Friday mothers

The Romans erected three crosses on Golgotha the day Jesus of Nazareth was put to death. The middle cross bore the savior, and the other crosses bore thieves or criminals -- depending on the translation you read. All four Gospels narrate this event.

Though Luke mentions women who stood weeping at a distance, and John tells us that women, including Jesus’ mother Mary, stood weeping under Jesus’ cross, none of the Gospels mentions the other women who might have wept on Golgotha that day or in the potter’s field when Judas took his life.

The mothers not mentioned in the Gospels confront me as we approach the end of this Lenten season, and have done so since Sept. 18, 2001, when I became one of them. I now find myself standing with Mary, the sorrowing mother of the innocent victim, as well as with the mothers of the guilty. I do not know the role my daughter played in her death, nor have the police or medical examiner been able to determine how and why she died. There are, of course, several different possibilities -- none of which belong in the life of a funny, generous and loving but troubled young woman, the child who wept with me over the losses thousands of women experienced on Sept. 11, 2001, and whose violent death a week later united me with them.

Before Francesca died, I’d empathized with women who must bear the burden of unknowing, those whose children’s deaths remain unresolved. I also grieved for those who had no doubt, who knew their children died as victims of murder or war or suicide. I knew that they too had loved their children no matter what identity those children wore to death. I participated in their sorrow from a distance. Until Sept. 18, I had not considered that other mothers might have stood with Mary on Golgotha, or in the potter’s field, grieving their shattered children on the day Jesus died. I now know that when those three crosses cast their shadows across the horizons of the earth, they united all of us who mourn.

Schroeder, Minn.

Gay adoptions

I’d just seen an interview with Dr. Todd May, a philosophy professor at Clemson University, on the tube when I read your March 24 issue with Rome ordering Catholic organizations to cease making adoptions to homosexual couples. The two meshed.

The interviewer had asked Dr. May why some subjects didn’t seem to bother us and others, like homosexuality, were like gasoline on dry grass; they lit a fire. Dr. May said that homosexuality is one of those subjects that hits us deep inside and touches our fear that we may be homosexual. When we attack homosexuals, we’re attacking our own fears.

And what group could be more vulnerable to such fear than a band of celibate males who sometimes parade in lovely dresses? So the source of Rome’s homophobia is understandable but, as TV’s Steven Colbert says, “Just because the pope is infallible doesn’t mean he can’t make mistakes.”

And indeed he can -- either that or God does! God creates, year after year, nation after nation, a population that is a steady 11 percent homosexual. Why? How do we know? We’re not God. He has his reasons. Maybe he likes to brighten our lives a little with their theatrics and their art and music. Maybe he just likes their Christ-like sensitivity.

Whatever, the pope’s words weren’t ex cathedra, were they? If not, let’s put them in the suggestion box and go on giving more kids loving homes.

Anderson, S.C.

* * *

How baffling that while the entire planet falls apart before us, the church hierarchy fixates again on “pelvic sins.” Gay/lesbian adoptions join divorce, contraception, abortion as the major sins, while the greater sins of war, torture, devastated ecosystems and clergy child abuse seem to evaporate into polluted air.

Scientifically, sexual orientation is a given, not a choice. Ten percent of populations are gay. When Jesus fed the 5,000, about 500 must have been gay. Was Jesus concerned about “moral outcasts” sneaking in to his banquet? I think not.

St. Catharine, Ky.

* * *

Would we rather have all those kids find loving and supportive homes, or give them into the hands of some couple where the husband drinks and beats his wife? Hey … as long as it is “a man and a woman.”

I think the church seems to forget sometimes that the church is human and the founder divine, instead of the other way around.

Great Falls, Mont.

Lenten essays

Sr. Wendy Beckett’s Lenten art essays are my favorites. They are worth the price of a year’s subscription.

Mattapoisett, Mass.

American military

Your critiques of the current leadership of the Catholic church are generally moderate and well expressed, but your ongoing ranting about the fiction of “American militarism” is both unjustified and increasingly intolerable.

Claymont, Del.

* * *

“Get out of Iraq” -- what a strategy! Your March 17 editorial suggests you are either very naive or you are smoking something funny. Just in case you don’t get it, there were WMDs in Iraq. What should worry you is: Where are they now? There were and are definite links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Ask the Iraqis if they were better off with Saddam.

Unfortunately, people never learn from history. I was around in the ’30s and ’40s. Lo and behold, if there weren’t folks just like you editorializing about ol’ Adolf. Nice guy, leave him alone. It’s not our business. Three hundred thousand American lives and 50 million lives around the world were lost because of your ilk and your pacifist ideas.

Estero, Fla.

Labor and the church

It has been a while since I was on a union picket line. Think circa 1950, when my father was the “Good and Plenty” candy union’s business agent and it was on strike in Philadelphia.

Dad died of a massive heart attack during 11th-hour contract negotiations with the Philly bakeries in 1975. He was president of the Bakery and Confectionery Workers’ Union Local 6 by then.

With a history such as mine, I would think it an honor to join with the sisters, priests and laity of Chicago as they battle to organize the 8,000 workers at the eight-hospital, multiclinic system known as Resurrection Health Care (NCR, March 17). There is something fundamentally wrong when Catholic-owned institutions begin to vie with the likes of Wal-Mart in the unjust treatment of their employees.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says hospital workers do “have the right to organize themselves for collective bargaining and to be recognized by management for such purposes.” Their words reiterate the position the church has taken since “Rerum Novarum: The Condition of Workers” in 1891. It cannot be treated simply as a “business issue,” as Chicago archdiocesan spokesman Jim Dwyer put it. If the Chicago archdiocese truly believes the position the Roman Catholic church has taken for over a century, now would be a good time to take a proactive rather than a reactive stance. Cardinal Francis George should step forward and help mediate a dialogue between the two parties. It would help the credibility of the cardinal and it would help the credibility of the church, and right now we need all the help we can get.

New Castle, Del.

Immigration debate

Most Americans who are taking the position of being against illegal immigration have been thought of as prehistoric throwbacks or stupid white conservatives who don’t have any compassion for the downtrodden. Rather, I will submit to all Americans the following thought to consider: As long as the oppressed citizens of Mexico and many other nations can easily enter illegally into our country, their corrupt governments will have an easy and convenient way of “dumping” their social problems on us. Pemex, Mexico’s top oil company, is making record profits. Who is getting the money? Why are their citizens not getting adequate health care or quality education?

By supporting illegal immigration, well-meaning but terribly misguided Americans are unwitting dupes to these state leaders. In the end, our taxpayers are getting screwed and we simply provide these nations an easy way to screw their own people.

Will someone out there tell me why we do not hold Mexico’s leaders accountable?

Oklahoma City

* * *

Two unrelated national problems can be solved by combining them: illegal immigration and the shortage of deployable troops to the Iraq War. During the Korean War, two of my shipmates were foreign nationals. I asked why they joined the U.S. Navy. “To get U.S. citizenship,” they replied.

Why not offer “illegals” 17-35 years of age a choice: Serve four years in the U.S. military to gain citizenship or be deported.

Our military services could teach these people English, teach them a trade and provide for the rotation of our troops, most of whom have been on extended tours of duty. Millions of us citizens have paid our dues. Now let the illegals give to our country instead of taking from it. Can they accept the responsibilities of U.S. citizenship or do they only want the benefits?

Garden Grove, Calif.

* * *

Cardinal Roger Mahony has rightly refocused our attention on the Gospel and our obligations toward the poor, whether they are friends or enemies, whether they are documented or undocumented.

Yes, immigration law needs to be looked at, but the cardinal is right in challenging the draconian measures being proposed by this Republican Congress that would make it against the law to provide social services to people who are in this country illegally. Didn’t Jesus command his followers to feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, give drink to the thirsty? “I have come to preach the Gospel to the poor,” was his constant refrain. I think Jesus would probably break this law and would go to jail according to this legislation. As a matter of fact, that is just what happened a long time ago: captured at night, accused of breaking the law, blindfolded (hooded), made sport of, tortured, stripped naked and finally executed.

If we do nothing and the law passes, if we keep silent in the face of injustice, then come Easter we may lament our collaboration and hear the words: “As long as you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

Ewing, N.J.

* * *

In the current debate in Congress over immigration reform, one of the sideline issues has been that those waiting in Mexico for green cards should be granted residence status before those who have already come into the United States without visas.

There are an estimated 20 million undocumented migrant workers in the United States. There are about 3 million waiting for their green cards in Mexico. Those who apply for visas at the consulate tend to be trained technicians and professionals. In order to have any chance at a green card, one must demonstrate that wealth and property in the country of origin are sufficient to make you want to return there when your visa runs out.

Those who risk their lives to swim the river or cross the desert usually have no technical qualifications, no job and little property. These men and women would not be given a green card even if they applied, paid and waited patiently in line. That is why they swim and walk. They are poor. Is this why you don’t want them here, senators?

A working person must go where there is work. The migrants come to pick your strawberries, sweep your floors, repair your roads and clean your bathrooms. Most pay taxes and Social Security. You live well because they are here. Why are you afraid of them?

The number of Border Patrol agents has more than doubled since 1995. And yet, the Border Patrol apprehends the same number of immigrants per year as in 1995. The net effect of increased border security on the number of immigrants getting across is zero. The net effect on the number of those who die trying is very high.

If the senators are so concerned about amnesty for “people who break our laws,” perhaps they should look closer to home. We tolerate torture, domestic spying, lying and bribery. But we are more worried about cutting in line.

Lake Dallas, Texas

Catholics and torture survey

Recently, I was admitted to a hospital. As part of the intake procedure, I was asked if I had any religious preference. For the first time in my life, I hesitated and then answered, “None.”

It isn’t that my Catholic faith is weak, it is that my Catholic religion is on the rocks. Your article concerning Catholics’ and other Christians’ response to torture is a good example of why (NCR, March 24). Not that I can really fault American Catholics. They (we) are like sheep without shepherds. The American Catholic bishops continue to be nonentities when it comes to being vocal evangelists. What would Christ’s response to 9/11 have been? What about, “My command to you is: Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors. This will prove that you are sons and daughters of your heavenly Father, for his sun rises on the bad and the good, he rains on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:41-45).

I suggest that if we really attempted to put into practice the teaching of Christ, there is a very good possibility much of the hatred spawning terrorism would not exist.

Sebring, Fla.

* * *

It stuns me that so many people calling themselves Catholic would approve of torture of terrorists. Terrorists or not, the commandment is to love others as we would have them do unto us. Really, would any of us want to be tortured? Why would we want others to be?

Nashville, Tenn.

Freedom of conscience

The claim made by Australia’s Cardinal George Pell that the church has never taught the primacy of conscience is startling (NCR, March 3). In its “Declaration on Religious Freedom,” Vatican II taught that “in forming their consciences the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the church.” When that text was first proposed, a number of bishops noted the obvious: One can “pay careful attention to” a teaching and still disagree with it. They proposed that the text be changed to say that “the faithful must form their conscience according to church teaching.” The commission responsible for rewriting the text claimed that the new wording proposed was “too restrictive” and that the original text “sufficiently expresses the obligation binding the faithful.” This was put to a vote by the whole council, which by a vote of 2,033 to 190, agreed with the commission. The formula recognizing the primacy of conscience remained therefore in the final text of Dignitatis Humanae. Commenting on this topic, one of the council’s most famous theologians wrote: “Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, is one which in the last resort is beyond the claim even of the official church.”

The theologian? Joseph Ratzinger.


Nuclear proliferation

Larry Boudreau is right: Nuclear antiproliferation talks are a waste of time as long as even one of the participants is permitted to have WMDs and is able to use them (NCR, Letters, March 24).

In the United States we control thousands of WMDs; ours is the only nation on earth that has used nuclear weapons, killing, maiming and disfiguring 200,000 innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yes, because of the unprecedented pressure of that moment of war, Truman can be forgiven his tragic decision, but the end does not justify the means, and that decision remains clearly immoral.

Who gives us the moral right to prevent Iran and North Korea from having the same WMDs that we have and that we have used? Nuclear antiproliferation talks will start making sense only when the United States and every other nuclear-capable country voluntarily destroy their own arsenals of WMDs and unite with every other nation on earth against any nation that would dare build them again. No nation could survive the threat of a total embargo by a united world that preaches what it practices.

San Francisco

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National Catholic Reporter, April 14, 2006