National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
April 21, 2006

Letters Cuba’s forbidden charms

“Paradox Rules in Cuba” (NCR, March 24) documents the result of the U.S. embargo. Cuba’s politics are not vastly different from those of our “friends” (communist China and the Saudi undemocracy), so why do we punish Cuba with an embargo? Is the policy spawned from sour grapes for what Castro denies us? During the Batista era, Cuba was the playground of America’s rich and famous, rife with prostitution and gambling controlled by the Mafia, amid severe poverty. We want Cuba on our terms -- to restore “paradise lost.”

Colts Neck, N.J.

‘Little guy,’ defined

If Robert Royal wants to talk about the “little guy” (NCR, March 10), why doesn’t he address why Republicans have strongly opposed an increase in the minimum wage for 10 years, putting our workers way behind any other industrialized country? He could also try to explain why his hero Sam Alito’s record on the courts shows him to be clearly against the real “little guy,” the middle and lower economic sectors, with a history of always ruling in favor of big business interests. If he’s not even in favor of a living wage, does it really matter what he thinks about the disposition of unused embryos?

La Guaria, Moravia
San Jose, Costa Rica

The Vatican beat

I’m saddened by John Allen’s departure from Rome as NCR’s Vaticanologist, even though NCR says it’s only a part-time departure (NCR, March 31). It’s not going to be the same; it can’t be. The distinguished Italian Vaticanologists are “distinguished” because the Vatican beat is their one obsession. One can’t be all things to all people. Just don’t let Allen stray off into other greener pastures.


Safe babies

It was good to read Richard McBrien’s column on the status of limbo (NCR, March 24).

As a hospital chaplain, I had the experience of meeting parents after they had a stillborn child. In my research on limbo I found somewhere in the writings of Monica Hellwig the heartening statement that it is the theologians who are in limbo. The babies are safe in the arms of God.

St. Paul, Minn.

Food and war

Kudos to Colman McCarthy for his thoughtful article “Cruelty-free eating is the only way to go” (NCR, March 17), in which he shows the inconsistency of “[dining] on other creatures while working for peace and justice.” It’s no coincidence that the peace movement and the vegetarian movement have the same slogan: “All we are saying is give peas a chance.” More seriously, there are strong connections between dietary choices and the potential for war.

The Hebrew word for war, milchama, is derived from the word locham, which means both “to feed” and “to wage war.” The Hebrew word for bread, lechem, comes from the same root. This led Jewish sages to suggest that lack of bread and the search for sufficient food and other resources tempt people to make war. Hence, feeding tremendous amounts of grains to animals destined for slaughter, instead of feeding hungry people, can increase the potential for war. And over 70 percent of the grain produced in the United States and over a third produced worldwide is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as an estimated 20 million people die of hunger and its effects annually. In addition, animal-based diets and modern intensive livestock agriculture also have major negative effects on human health, animals and our imperiled planet.

Staten Island, N.Y.

Richard H. Schwartz is president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America.

Velázquez’s Jesus

As a longtime admirer of Sr. Wendy Beckett, I was heartened to read her piece “Velázquez’s Jesus is scourged, yet serene” (NCR, March 24). I am exhilarated when art historians point out some aspects of a painting that missed my comprehension. In this case, it is the beam of light that emanates from Jesus’ head. I learned two interesting facts from Sr. Wendy: that Diego Velázquez painted that single beam of light radiating toward the child; and that the child is not just an innocent bystander, but the symbol of the soul.

Art is nonverbal expression, true; but, many times, the artist imparts so much symbolism and deep meaning (some subtle) that it is thrilling to have these meanings brought to light by art historians such as Sr. Wendy Beckett. I have long been familiar with the painting in question, but those two aspects eluded me until I read Sr. Wendy’s analysis.

Staten Island, N.Y.

Unsworth steps down

I read with sadness that Tim Unsworth is retiring from the role of humorist (NCR, March 17). Tim had perfect pitch in his writing about the church in a wise and witty way. Tim knew that the Gospels had comical lines and scenes. In these sometimes grim days for Catholics, we need to recall the amusing and comical witness of Tim.

Best wishes and good health to him and his wife Jean.

East Syracuse, N.Y.

Parish constitutions

Leonard Swidler’s proposal for universal parish constitutions as well as eventual diocesan constitutions and a universal Catholic constitution (NCR, March 17) is an idea whose time has come. The Association for the Rights of Catholics has been teaching this concept for more than 25 years as a way to ease the church into the 21st century.

The inevitable shortage of parish priests around the world is going to make frequent participation in eucharistic celebrations impossible. It will leave Catholic parishes without leadership except where forward-thinking communities have moved into the pastoral-team approach to management. More and more dioceses are facing financial scrutiny, which will no doubt result in the demand for stricter accountability and fiscal reform.

The archaic system of governance in the church is broken and needs to be repaired. Our bishops seem to be stuck in a rut as to how to bring this about. There is no need to wait for their action anyway. A simple way for needed reform to take root is through the organization of a parish constitution using sound organizational techniques to ensure democratic input. Such constitutions do not need approval from a bishop at the parish level.

A parish constitution would stand as the structural bones for Catholic communities that will have to deal with the frequent shifting of male clergy in the coming years. It would give employees guidance on mission and ministry within the community, give members a sense of continuity and reinforce their sense that they are the church.

Princeton, N.J.

Mary Louise Hartman is the former president of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church.

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, April 21, 2006