National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
May 5, 2006

Letters Women and children

Although I am pro-choice, I learned much from Mary Ellen Neill’s article “The continued betrayal of women” (NCR, April 21) and agree with much of what she said. Like her, I think we are overwhelmed by the constant emphasis on sex in our culture -- so I should not be too surprised by her claim that 50 percent of pregnancies are unintended. Her account of “Birthright,” the pregnancy support program, was poignant. There are few things as important or emotionally, spiritually and financially demanding as raising a child. Childbirth should be very intended. If Catholics can convince people to wait for marriage and sex based on real love and the readiness to have children, then abortion will never be a choice. Godspeed on that mission.

Norristown, Pa.

Powerless people

In a recent column, Sr. Joan Chittister (NCR, April 14) described the positions of delegates to the U.S.-Iraqi Women’s Global Peace Initiative. “Forget about the oil,” they said. “Never mind about Sunni-Shiite differences.” “Save the children.”

Sr. Chittister describes these positions as uniquely, characteristically female. Yet as I think of people like Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, I find their actions in office were not unlike those of men.

Sister is describing the voices of the powerless. The powerless people she was talking with happened to be thoughtful women.

Mountain Brook, Ala.

Ethics of eating

Regarding Colman McCarthy’s column “Cruelty-free eating is the only way to go” (NCR, March 17): We can ask if Jesus might have taken a pass on the Last Supper had he shared McCarthy’s views concerning animal rights and the eating of the flesh of slain sentient creatures. Did the Lord call certain disciples to become fishers of men in order to save them from the shameful business of killing fish? As one who is more and more appalled by the almost casual killing of humans in our mad lusts for war and the death penalty, I do not fully understand why I still feel impelled to justify the killing of chickens and swine to feed hungry Katrina evacuees and the city’s poor. Go, multiply the loaves and the fish and kill the fatted calf.

Gramercy, La.

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How nice to see the issue of vegetarianism covered in Colman McCarthy’s “Cruelty-free eating is the only way to go.” As a peace activist for many years and a vegetarian for 16 years, I’m consistently amazed by the defensive and often unkind response of some peace and social justice activists to those of us who suggest, like Gandhi and Tolstoy, that advocating peace while dining on corpses is incongruous.

It is a fact that eating meat supports cruelty to animals, wastes and pollutes our natural resources, contributes to global poverty and worker exploitation and often makes us fat and sick. Those peace and social justice activists who attempt to defend their meat eating don’t even bother to respond to these facts, probably because no response is possible. The Web site has an amazing breadth of information, all of which should be of interest to people who are trying to make the world a kinder place.

Again, thank you for including this important article. I agree with Mr. McCarthy and feel that it is empowering to live my values at every mea1.

Circle Pines, Minn.

Catholic schools

Regarding “Boston College to rescue ailing Catholic school” (NCR, Catholic Education, April 7):

The first collaboration between a Catholic university and a Catholic elementary school was created two years ago between St. John’s University and the New York archdiocese. This partnership includes professional development for teachers, curriculum revision, consultation on school organization and the formation of an advisory board on fiscal and other affairs, including the secretary for education of the archdiocese and the dean of St. John’s School of Education.

Good results are beginning to emerge. We welcome Boston College to this much-needed effort and encourage every other Catholic university to do likewise.

Queens, N.Y.

Jerrold Ross is the dean of The School of Education at St. John’s University in New York.

Torture survey

The data reported in your article “Americans, especially Catholics, approve of torture” (NCR, March 24) is appalling. I grew up at a time in America when we were taught never to take unfair advantage of someone else. Two boys would never attack one other boy. To do so was cowardly. No one would ever attack anyone who could not defend himself. That was worse than cowardly. And you never hurt anyone just to be hurting him. That was cruel and uncivilized.

But then, we were also taught that the president was someone to be admired and respected. All priests could be trusted, even with children, and bishops were the epitome of honesty and good judgment.

Times change.

Cambridge, Md.

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Your article about Americans approving of torture made a deep impression on me. As a survivor of concentration camps KL Auschwitz and KL Flossenburg (more than four years), I experienced some torture and I saw much more of it. Why do so many Americans approve of torture?

I believe that there exist three main reasons for it. First is lack of imagination. The majority of people just will not or cannot imagine what torture really is and how it destroys human beings. So they make light of it. If Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney experienced just a middle-strength torture for few hours, they would surely change their minds on this subject. So would most of the people in the Pew survey.

The second reason is fear. After the Sept. 11 attack, the blessed feeling of safety in America vanished. Now many Americans would approve even the strongest measures, moral or immoral, that will make them feel safe.

The third reason is tradition. In the past, let’s say the Middle Ages, torture was a normal judicial procedure. It seems that in modern times we are marching back, step by step, to the harsh customs of yesterday. In North America these customs lasted rather long. Some of the tortures used in the South by slave owners are almost identical with those used in German concentration camps. Today, we have again professional interrogators, formerly known as inquisitors.

We should discuss those reasons. Maybe that will change the minds of torture approvers.

Lake in the Hills, Ill.

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As a secular reader of NCR, I find the news stories that I most appreciate are those in which religious convictions are the basis for humane, caring and compassionate actions and outlooks.

The information reported in “Americans, especially Catholics, approve of torture” would, I would think, be dismaying to the followers of the faiths surveyed, especially when the poll indicated that secularists condoned torture in lesser percentages.

Bishop John H. Ricard of Florida, who is quoted in the article, makes the wise observation that the vulnerability felt after 9/11 has led to a “temptation to respond in kind,” and that must be resisted. But from my outsider view, I would think that faith and the teachings of the Gospel, most especially in times of travail, would inoculate followers from subscribing to cruel treatment of their fellow humans.

Since that’s not the case, I can only comment that the title of the popular movie “Lost in Translation” seems appropriate to describe the disconnect between the Gospel and life in America today as it is lived by its followers -- a problem deserving of attention.

Montclair, N.J.

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In regard to your story on Catholics approving of torture, I’m not the least bit surprised. Being Catholic never meant you had to follow what Jesus said or did. Come to think of it, when Jesus does come back I’m quite positive that there will be good Catholic boys and girls in the U.S. military who take pleasure in torturing him the second time around.

Hamlin, N.Y.

Gay adoptions

In reading Richard McBrien’s column “Gay adoption raises wider questions” (NCR, April 7), I was dismayed by the quote from the Vatican congregation that children are harmed by gay adoption. There is no empirical evidence of this. It is yet one more example of settling things by a “philosophical” approach.

Winona, Minn.

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A gay male couple adopts a 5-year-old kid. When the kid is 10 years old and asks, “Where’s Mommy?” how do we respond?

Taichung, Taiwan

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Vatican officials play hardball, threatening to close parishes, campus ministries, now perhaps even Catholic Charities offices, that do not conform to their ethically myopic ways. I marvel that intelligent people pay them any heed, but I understand the realities of real estate and social/pastoral services that are in the balance. But playing off the well-being of children against the well-being of people who are poor, ill, old or otherwise in need of services that Catholic Charities has provided for decades is ethically unacceptable. No Catholic theology of sexuality, however conservative, trumps the demands of justice and the works of mercy.

Silver Spring, Md.

Mary E. Hunt is the codirector of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual.

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Regarding your editorial “Boosting the anti-gay troops” (NCR, March 24):

It was an excellent idea to consult the Child Welfare League of America’s data on adoption of children by gay couples. As your editorial states, “More than 30 years of sound social science research … demonstrate irrefutable evidence that gay men and lesbians are as well-suited to be parents as their heterosexual counterparts.”

And you might also want to check with the 500,000 potential adoptees and see if they want to be adopted by a gay or lesbian couple if the situation presents itself. My feeling is that they would be overjoyed to be part of any family and would love the security that a family would bring them.

It is not a perfect world, and Jesus embraced the imperfections en masse.

Maitland, Fla.

* * *

Your editorial on adoption by gay parents missed the mark. Why cite “rather bizarre conclusions” for supporters of the church’s teaching while praising the Child Welfare League of America without saying that the league is a grand proponent of gay rights?

Is what the league knows about adoption by gay parents right and what the Catholic church knows wrong? How did you decide that?

Vatican II taught us to learn from sociology and psychology. There we learn about environmental conditioning, clever use of media to unconsciously change people’s views of gays.

Environmental conditioning has three stages. First, desensitization -- comedy, news stories, cinema, showing gays as regular folks and good parishioners.

Secondly, scholars and celebrities cite historical figures (Abraham Lincoln) and biblical folks (David and Jonathan) as gay. Some people will believe this just as some believe Jesus and Mary Magdalene took off for the French Riviera. Bash contrarians as homophobic, lacking in compassion. Force retractions (Dr. Laura).

Thirdly, there is capitulation: Live and let live.

Environmental conditioning seeks power, not truth or charity. It’s ideology.

How much does it have to do with what your editorial has to say? Who knows? The church’s teaching may look old-fashioned, but its goal is not social manipulation but a prophetic voice for the truth.

Boys Town, Neb.

Fr. Val J. Peter is executive director emeritus of Girls and Boys Town, a refuge for troubled youth located outside Omaha, Neb.

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As for adoptions, I say let’s restrict them so that gay men adopt female children and lesbians adopt boys only.

Penn Yan, N.Y.

Sexual orientation

There is an ongoing effort to determine whether sexual orientation is hard-wired. Scientists at the University of Chicago have used high-tech imaging to confirm that the hypothalamus (the sex center in the brain) functions differently in gay men than heterosexual men. There is less and less evidence that homosexuality is merely a purposeful choice. The new University of Chicago findings suggest male sexual response is regulated in large part by genes or neurochemistry.

Mr. Robert Royal’s suggestion (NCR, Jan. 13) that we should look to “ancient wisdom” to discern the morality of homosexual feelings and behavior is as silly as telling NASA scientists that they should look to the ancient wisdom of pre-Copernican authority to hold that the earth is the center of our solar system. Even paragraph 2537 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges that homosexuality’s “physiological genesis remains largely unexplained.” As the Vatican’s 1975 “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics” stated: “[Homosexuals’] culpability will be judged with prudence.” Prudence is a code word in Catholic theology that covers a multitude of would-be sins!

Beaumont, Texas

Richard J. Clarkson is the former president of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification Issues Section for the State Bar of Texas.

The woman’s body

In the editorial “Model approach at Notre Dame” (NCR, April 14), Bishop John M. D’Arcy is quoted as saying “The Vagina Monologues” “reduces sexuality to a particular organ of the woman’s body separate from the person.”

This is what the Catholic church teaches by its example. Its law allowing only men to be priests reduces ordination to a particular part of the body separate from the person.

La Marque, Texas

Works of mercy

I have read angry reactions to recent statements of Cardinal Roger Mahony and Archbishop Jose Gomez about their decision to fulfill God’s mandate by assisting the poor, documented or not, even if the human law would forbid it.

The Catholic church started as an illegal organization. Its members were subjected to prison, torture, exile and death for almost 300 years until Emperor Constantine made the church legal. Since the beginning, the apostles were confronted with this dilemma: God or human authority. When they were admonished by the Sanhedrin not to preach Jesus, they responded: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right to obey you rather than God” (Acts 4:19).

If our legislators were to approve a law criminalizing undocumented immigrants and those assisting them, they would prevent Christian believers from practicing the works of mercy at the heart of Jesus’ message. Thus they would create an unavoidable confrontation between God and Caesar and put all of us in the same dilemma as the apostles.

No human law or authority is above God. This is not a matter of personal private conscience, but of legal, religious and humanitarian principles that our country must respect. More than violators of the law, those who come here to exert their fundamental right to work and survive are victims of the law. They don’t make themselves “illegal” (insulting term), but are prevented from becoming legal so they can be exploited and mistreated.

To recognize Jesus in the strangers and to welcome them is part of our final test (Matthew 25:35). For us Christians, they are our brothers and sisters.

Poteet, Texas

‘Da Vinci’ buzz

A few weeks ago the television morning talk shows were all abuzz about the movie “The Da Vinci Code,” which is set to debut May 19. One show interviewed a gentleman from an organization that is forming a protest of the movie.

When the book was released, I was one of the first to purchase a copy. It is a quick read and a wonderful work of fiction. And that is all it is: a work of fiction. The author states that as well. However, there has been much press given to its validity.

I’m not saying that man can’t protest; the freedoms that we enjoy in America allow us to do what we think is right. My point is, if we are going to rally around issues, then we should rally around those issues that will make a difference in the lives of others. In this country, there are so many other issues that are worth rallying around, such as combating obesity in this country, issues of the environment, safety in our schools and neighborhoods, the high school dropout rate in this country, drugs and sexual abuse, AIDS research, cancer research -- just to name a few.

Clinton Township, Mich.

Music in the movies

Fr. Ray Schroth’s article on Deanna Durbin with its ruminations on the golden era of American film music (NCR, March 24) shows another side of this interesting Jesuit writer. He allows us to face the contemporary loss of that ecstatic and treasured musical past. It can never be often enough.

Orange, Mass.

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I grew up in the movies. They formed my cultural consciousness: still more, my soul’s imagination.

I remember well Deanna Durbin, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, but to denigrate the ’60s generation for “turning in on itself” is a gross mishearing of that era and the eras both before and after.

Far from turning in on themselves, any number of musicians, composers and singers from the ’60s on gave prophetic expression to the social and moral upsets that older generations rejected in favor of sentimental nostalgia for untroubled times.

If it’s a movie’s musical score adaptation of classical music one desires, go hear Barber’s “Adagio” in “Platoon,” a host of Mozart in “Amadeus,” Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in “Apocalypse Now,” Bach and Gospel spirituals in “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” an eclectic selection in any Kubrick or Bertalucci movie.

One will not only hear great musical selections but will also see how music, both adapted and original, contributes to cinematic artistry.

Redding, Conn.

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National Catholic Reporter, May 5, 2006