National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
May 12, 2006


Rome isn't home

I read with interest your editorial “We thought Rome would never notice” (NCR, April 14) acknowledging that the new papal nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, is impressed by the vitality of U.S. Catholicism. Your conclusion -- “We hope he makes more known in some circles the good things he has seen in the U.S. church” -- reminds me of the ninth-century Irish monk-scholar Sedulius Scotus, who wrote to his fellow Irish pilgrims after his visit to the eternal city: “Who to Rome goes, much labor, little profit knows; for God, on earth though long you’ve sought him, you’ll miss at Rome, unless you’ve brought him.”

I hope with you that those in some circles heed your admonition and that of the Irish monk.

Kennebunk, Maine

Board member roles

Regarding “Catholic reform from below” by Leonard Swidler (NCR, March 17), which offered 10 steps toward a constitutional parish:

I agree with all that Swidler wrote, but there is one essential step missing. Having spent a career in the nonprofit world both as staff and as a board member, I know that one of the biggest problems comes when board members do not understand their proper and fiduciary roles and do not perform them or stray into the roles of their staff or others. Therefore, an 11th step must be to attend to the effective and proper preparation of people to serve on the board of any such nonprofit organization at the parish level. Without the needed qualifications and preparations for such board service, be assured that before long we will be facing even more serious problems than we have now.

Sacramento, Calif.

More participation

I live in a retirement community, over 400 residents, so many generous and caring people doing plenty of internal (68 committees) and external volunteer work. Maybe there are 30 Catholics here. How did so many people get to be so good without receiving the sacraments or going to Mass every Sunday? My point: I don’t think we need so many priests (and nuns) as we had when the church was in a siege mentality, defending itself against the Protestants, atheists and secularists. Perhaps NCR could get someone to consider whether we really need more priests instead of more participation -- at all levels -- by the simply baptized.

Pomona, Calif.

Bishops on immigration

You are correct in supporting Cardinal Roger Mahony on immigration ( NCR, April 7).

Civil laws, as with church laws, are human-made and must give way to God’s law of love for one another as found in a well-informed and reformed conscience. Cardinal Mahony is rightly following his conscience in urging all to provide for the needs of immigrants, legal or illegal, although civil law would prohibit such humane help. Even well-meaning lawmakers are human and get carried away by pressure from their constituents who may narrowly interpret the “common good” as what they commonly perceive as good for them, and pass laws that are detrimental to the greater good of the whole human family.

Florissant, Mo.

* * *

What does it mean to give “amnesty” to the illegals who constantly breach our borders? When will it end -- when all the millions upon millions of poor have left Mexico? When the United States is equal to Mexico’s very poor economic status? Then what?

Why don’t the cardinals reprimand Vicente Fox for keeping his country in such a poor state of affairs? Why aren’t there jobs for Mexicans in Mexico? Why are we supposed to harbor the endless flow of Mexicans who stampede into the United States demanding “rights”? It hurts everyone in this country: the poor, the working class, the middle class too, as more and more benefits are demanded by a group who have no legal right to be here. Someone has to pay, and it is not being done by the illegals or the fat-cat corporate Americans, who pay these people under the table less than they would if they had to hire an American citizen.

Why not open our borders to all the poor of the world who can manage to get here one way or the other? Why not let in all the Africans, who in many cases are poorer than the Mexicans? What about the poor Asians? Why not let everyone into America? Open all the doors and all the windows. Forget the quotas, let them all in -- or are the cardinals showing preferential treatment to Mexicans, who are from a so-called Catholic country? If Mexico was Muslim, would these cardinals take the same stance? I wonder.

Memphis, Tenn.

* * *

Congratulations to Cardinal Mahony for his courageous stand in support of our Hispanic immigrants. I pray all the bishops of the United States will join with him in welcoming the strangers among us. From my own personal experience, I have witnessed their deep faith, their family values and their work ethic. We could all learn from them and improve our country by imitating them. Our Statue of Liberty cries out, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” That call is being heard and responded to by our brothers and sisters from the South. Having issued the call, can we fail to accept the response?

Cordova, Tenn.

* * *

Has Cardinal Mahony considered that his urging to aid and abet illegal immigrants is technically sedition?

Portola Valley, Calif.

Sloane Coffin memories

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, preacher, prophet, mensch, colleague and friend, died peacefully of congestive heart failure in the midst of Holy Week and Passover, sitting in the sun in his garden in Strafford, Vt.

My fondest memory of Bill is listening to him a few cells down in the Washington jail, leading the singing of old favorite hymns, spirituals and freedom songs with his booming cheerful baritone and incredible memory. (He knew the words of practically every verse of each hymn; after the first verse the rest of us hummed along as he belted out the words.) We sang well into the early morning hours. Ninety-five of us, women and men of Clergy and Laity Concerned, had been arrested the previous afternoon in the rotunda of the Capitol while singing, reading scripture and praying. This liturgical outpouring followed a defeat by two votes of a Senate bill cutting off funding for the Vietnam War. It was probably 1972. Our witness knew no closing time. The guard who escorted me out was in tears, and I whispered to him, “It’s all right, brother.” Leading our worship in the rotunda, and again our singing through the following night, Bill gave us all hope with his wide smile, quick wit, uncommon courage.

In a time of darkness and senseless war, Bill Coffin still offers us hope and cheer. Way to go, Bill.


Black Catholics

Concerning the article “Why would a black Catholic man stay in the Catholic church?” (NCR, April 28): When one views the history of the church in this country in its dealings with black people, one sees two very different themes. On the one hand you have had many dedicated Catholic priests, nuns and lay people who have ministered to the black community for more than 150 years and continue to do so. On the other hand you have the systematic discrimination against blacks in the church through the era of segregation, which continues to this day. The church has a lot to answer for in this regard. The fidelity of black Catholics in the face of such obstacles is truly remarkable, even miraculous. One has only to look to Africa to see what a model of the black Catholic church can and must become in America.

Seminole, Fla.

Classical music

Fr. Raymond Schroth’s column “Deanna Durbin, where are you now?” (NCR, March 24), reflecting on the disappearance of classical music themes in American popular culture, is a reminder of the general long decline of interest in classical music itself in this country. While there is a small percentage of the population that continues to enjoy classical music, CD sales of that genre are meager and many symphony orchestras are struggling to survive. It is ironic, therefore, that in Argentina, one individual -- Antonio Abreu -- has singlehandedly fostered a deep interest in classical music among at-risk children. Descriptions of his program can be found at

Are there any Abreus in the United States? Or are we too much the captives of an overly commercialized pop culture?

Warwick, N.Y.

A view of Cuba

In his articles about Cuba (NCR, March 24 and 31), David Einhorn fails to give adequate mention of the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba that has been in effect for the past 45 years. Since the United States lost economic control of Cuba after the 1959 revolution, U.S. policy has been to expedite Cuba’s economic collapse. This has created tremendous hardship for the Cuban people.

Regarding Einhorn’s contention that “the vast majority of Cubans have no access to the Internet,” when my wife and I stayed in Cuba we found that while it is true most Cubans do not have the Internet in their homes, they do have access to it. Our experience of Cuba contradicts much of the distorted image portrayed by the Bush administration and anti-Castro Cubans. We traveled freely throughout the country, attended worship services with Catholics, Pentecostals, Baptists and Santeria followers. We lived in a working-class neighborhood in Havana and were surprised at the number of families walking to church on Sunday mornings -- not the image of antireligious communism we had been led to believe. Visiting with farmers, doctors, teachers, laborers and people throughout the country, we found that all wanted a chance for a better economic life, and they asked for the economic embargo to end. Most of them also freely criticized Castro for being slow to recognize problems, especially the country’s previous dependence on the Soviet Union.

Now the Bush administration has canceled most religious and humanitarian licenses for people like ourselves to travel to Cuba to help deliver needed medicines. My wife and I are breaking U.S. law if we try.

Coram, Mont.

Broad border issues

We need to realize that we bear much of the responsibility for the plight of some 11 million undocumented workers in this country. Many of these immigrants came from war-torn El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in the 1980s, fleeing U.S.-backed repressive governments and death squads. They fled their homelands, seeking asylum in the United States. The U.S. government, not wanting to admit complicity in the atrocities in Central America, refused them legal asylum as refugees. They cannot return to their homelands to apply for U.S. citizenship.

The largest group of undocumented workers has come from Mexico. We need to look at the damage done to Mexico and to Central American countries by the failed free trade treaties, NAFTA, FAA, and CAFTA. These treaties, passed in haste by Congress, certainly did not lift all boats as promised, but plunged most Mexican workers and their families into destitution.

The treaties destroyed the economy of Mexico, forcing millions of Mexicans from their land and into the cities where they faced such desperate poverty that they flooded across the U.S. borders to find work. They are now exploited and living in the shadows as undocumented workers. Our government’s policies are a major cause of their plight. We need immigration reform that allows them to legalize their status and eventually become full citizens.

Shorewood, Wis.

* * *


Size in square miles

Number of Immigrants

Number per 100 square miles

USA 3,537,438 1,000,000 28
Germany 135,236 658,300 487
Japan 145,883 343,800 236
UK 50,356 418,200 830

On March 31, The Dallas Morning News had a chart titled “Immigrants entering country in 2002.” It was fascinating. I took the numbers from that chart and correlated them with the geographic size of some of the countries listed. Here is a chart for the rate of immigration in 2002 for each 100 square miles of land mass for the respective countries:

If one looks at this chart, the United States, a nation of immigrants, certainly does not appear as accepting of immigrants as many other nations. England accepted almost 30 times more immigrants per square mile in 2002 than did the United States.

God willing, this perspective may help our nation realize that we can do more.


Torture reviews

In your April 7 issue, Darrell Turner reviews three timely books about torture and discusses the treatment in one of them, A Question of Torture by Alfred W. McCoy, of the “ticking time bomb” scenario in which a terrorist’s bomb threatens tens of thousands of lives, and torturing the terrorist seems like the only way to save them. This scenario apparently stops many people from opposing torture absolutely. Prof. McCoy responds that the scenario requires “such an extraordinary string of coincidences [that it] probably never has and never will occur.”

Fine, but what if it does occur? Jennifer Harbury, whose husband was tortured and murdered by Guatemalan soldiers, including one or more on the CIA payroll, confronts this question in her book . She would keep torture the felony that it now is, with no exceptions. She says (and as a one-time prosecutor, I agree) that in the most unlikely event that a ticking bomb scenario did arise, a torturer who saved all those lives would probably not be prosecuted, and if prosecuted, would not be likely to serve time.

The problem today is not that a rare or nonexistent savior of thousands may be imprisoned, but that all but the lowest ranks in U.S. torture’s long chain of command do not go to prison. This is grotesque. The only saviors in sight are we, the people. If we act.

Weston, Vt.

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, May 12, 2006