National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
June 2, 2006


The Syrian welcome wagon

I very much appreciated your articles on the couple in Damascus (NCR, April 7). As you can tell by the last name, I am Theresa’s sister.

I was privileged to be able to visit Theresa and Gabe from April 20 to May 2. It was a wonderful trip. So many sites of historical and religious value -- I could barely put my mind around the magnificence of it all. We saw desert monasteries, shrines of both Christian and Islamic pilgrimage, and naturally, places significant to Paul.

But foremost in my mind right now are the warm welcome, friendly interchanges and safety I experienced in Syria. From the moment I got out of baggage claim, the crowd of people (who I’m sure was waiting for someone other than me!) smiled and called out: “Welcome!” My first day, I was approached on the street by two lovely young women who mustered up their courage and said in their best English, “Are you from America?” When I told them I was, they said, “Welcome! Welcome to Syria! We are glad you came!” It was the first of many such experiences. People would invite me in for tea, escort me when I obviously needed directions. How different from the image that is usually conjured up when we think of “the Middle East.”

The only time I felt unwelcome was upon my return to the United States. As the plane approached the San Francisco airport, we were shown a video on how to fill out the forms for customs. The non-U.S. residents had two extra cards and were told that they would be fingerprinted and photographed upon their arrival. No word of “Welcome.” No signs in other languages besides English.

At customs, after hearing that I had been to Syria, I was directed to a special line, asked a myriad of personal questions about me and my family, and my suitcases were meticulously gone through. Special attention was paid to any papers I had -- including the ones with Catholic prayers written in Arabic. Why did my sister and her husband want to go to Syria? Why do they want to learn Arabic? Where do they go to school? How did they find the teacher? What do they do there? Have they ever held jobs in the United States? Where do I work? Where is the school? What’s the name of the school? What would I be teaching?

What a difference from the welcome I had in Syria.

Los Altos Hills, Calif.

Radcliffe’s wisdom

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe speaks volumes to all Catholics -- if. The “if” depends on each of us: Are we willing to go deeper, be more open and honest in digesting the views we have up to now dismissed as wrong, treated as threats to the truth and our well-being as members of the community of faith called church?

The problem is compounded by a parallel “blind spot.” It is the divided nation we have become and live in, the polarized society of Americans who find blind allegiance to one’s group and views calls for total rejection of those who disagree, a path that makes for an either/or world. Sadly, the same evaluation can be made regarding the church in America.

Ultimately, the source of our discontent and disillusionment is the subtle trap of self-righteousness. Being right becomes absolute. Having the pseudo-certitude of being right is our security blanket. It will come to an end only when we become vulnerable enough to put down our guard, let go of our security and trust in God’s Spirit to lead us to an inspired, enthusiastic future. We can’t wait for others to begin. The truth is: It begins with me.


Diocesan shift

Please accept my profound gratitude for the issue with the article about Bishop Robert Finn (NCR, May 12). Many of us in the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese are suffering greatly. Finn obviously believes we aren’t real Catholics and that our three previous bishops weren’t either. We could live with a tilt to the conservative if it didn’t also bring with it a lot of nuttiness, a total lack of appreciation for who we are and what we have done here. I have been Catholic for longer than Finn has been alive. I have worked in the church for 20 years -- the last 14 at the cathedral. The cathedral has risen from the ashes and become a vibrant, praying, singing, worshiping community. It should have been a feather in any bishop’s cap. It is headed downhill again.

Thank you again for putting on paper what so many are thinking. I know you usually hear from those who disagree with what you do. There are thousands out here who not only agree but hope you will continue what you are doing.

Kansas City, Mo.

* * *

Those who are let go by management are usually bitter and resentful of the new management. There are many in this diocese who appreciate all that Bishop Finn has done and the changes he has made. Now that there are new people in charge, many feel they actually have someone to take concerns and questions to without being ignored. There are many who rejoiced when Bishop Finn took over.

Ave Maria University is now offering to come to the diocese to offer a master’s degree in theological studies. This is wonderful! It is also working with Benedictine College to offer programs for adult formation and education. There is a new deaconate formation, and my husband has been waiting for one. Neither of us liked the “New Wine” program. And besides, sometimes it’s nice to try new and totally different programs.

I am sorry those let go don’t approve. But isn’t it time for them to move on and get jobs someplace else?

Blue Springs, Mo.

* * *

What Bishop Robert Finn has done to the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Key, in itself should send shivers up the spines of all the faithful who read “Extreme makeover: the diocese.” If Bishop Finn’s misunderstanding of the role of newspapers -- that they should be “true, not fair” -- is a portent of things to come as a new generation of Dei Verbum bishops comes into power across the nation, then wave farewell to the strong Catholic press that has developed under many present-day bishops such as Finn’s predecessor, Bishop Raymond J. Boland, who rightly believed that “a newspaper is not a catechism.” A strong Catholic press has the duty to reflect with mirror-like accuracy the evolution that is unfolding in a changing Catholic church.

St. Paul, Minn.

* * *

It is clear that Bishop Finn is on the right track. I have worked for the church and attended the church’s graduate schools; nothing to me is more amusing than hearing intolerant “liberals” lament the loss of one their strongholds of intolerance.

I have been viciously attacked by “Catholics” for believing that contraception is immoral and for saying that homosexuality is disordered. I have been called a fundamentalist simply because I have taken the time to study what the church teaches and understand why it is true. The priests and laypeople disgusted by Bishop Finn’s fine leadership would have no problem at all persecuting people like me; they have been doing it for years.

I have witnessed some relatively severe abuses against the truth while teaching in a Catholic school. Things have gotten better in recent years. Yet I have heard of Catholic school teachers denying the resurrection and teaching former “Jesus Seminar” co-chair John Dominic Crossan in Catholic school “religion” classes. I have heard Catholic religion teachers say that they believe Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. I have heard a Catholic school religion teacher say that eucharistic adoration is an impediment to a relationship with Christ, and attack me for saying otherwise.

Now, a group of these people have a (gasp!) Catholic bishop. I have only one thing to say, and I will say it as my students might: You go, Bishop Finn!

Praise God, more bishops like him will follow.

Derby, Conn.

* * *

The “Extreme Makeover” article says Bishop Finn is 53 years old. That would make him about 9 at the time of Vatican II. That’s unfortunate. Speaking as someone who has lived as many years before as after, I think it’s unfortunate he hasn’t lived long enough to have experienced the church prior to Vatican II. I always thought Pope John Paul XXIII was the right man at the right time. All that I would say to Bishop Finn is: “You are beating a dead horse.”

Clinton, N.J.

* * *

Your article on the changes wrought by Bishop Finn reminds me of my youth at the time of Vatican II. Father gathered his three closest friends around him and simply told the laity what was coming. No parish votes. No open consultation. No visits from the bishop. No options. Just a map with a single road on it for everyone. Discussion on your own was optional. The hard feelings and bitterness created by those slash-and-burn methods linger to this day, as do broken hearts.

It seems that opponents of Bishop Finn could take a page from their own manuals. Open yourselves up to something new. Change can be exciting and gratifying. Learn to look at things from the bishop’s point of view. Give a little. Be willing to slaughter your sacred cows. Consider that you may actually benefit from these changes. Recognize in them the movement of the Spirit. Give diversity a change. Learn to understand someone whose theology is completely different from your own. Smile. Hug.

After all, he’s not going to go away anytime soon.

Omaha, Neb.

A girl’s dreams

I’ve been a fan of Fr. James Behrens’ writing in NCR for years, going all the way back to the pieces he wrote when he still lived in New Jersey, before entering the monastery. I’ve always found his reflections thoughtful and meaningful. But I must take issue with one aspect of his Starting Point in the April 28 issue.

He writes of a boy in India who dreams of becoming an astronomer. He describes how his mother teaches him the importance of doing well at school.

He also writes of a girl in Manhattan who dreams of … uh, what? Of “the right man to love, the right place to go”?!

Come on, Fr. Behrens, there are plenty of girls in Manhattan who also dream of becoming astronomers -- and physicists, and engineers and doctors! There are plenty of mothers of girls in Manhattan who teach their daughters the importance of doing well at school, and the evidence stretches the length of the island, from Stuyvesant High School to Columbia University.


Condom permission

Regarding the article “Vatican draft document would approve condoms for married couples with AIDS” by John L. Allen Jr. (NCR, May 5): The Catholic church’s prohibition against contraception is irreversible despite Cardinal Carlo Martini’s recent claim that condoms are the lesser evil in combating the spread of AIDS. According to Catholic teaching, it is never licit to place a barrier between the unitive and procreative dimensions of marital love.

The proposal under study at the Vatican is itself disingenuous, for it seeks to remove the legitimate choice of abstinence as a solution. Essentially, this is what is called in logic the “false dilemma” fallacy, whereby two choices are given when in fact there are three options. An uninfected partner cannot invoke “self-defense” because of the option of abstinence.

Placing virtue in a situation where it is subservient to, and not in harmony with, one’s demand for perceived rights seems more a secular approach to morality. Condoms are designed specifically to prevent human fertility from being fully accomplished and so they cannot be considered a “medical intervention.”

The Catholic church teaches that all unnatural means of contraception are evil because they thwart the natural generation of life. They open up a wide and easy road toward conjugal infidelity and cause a general lowering of morality. This is an immutable principle as propounded by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. If this is the kind of advice the pope is getting these days, we had all better get out the sackcloth and ashes.

Hamilton, Ontario

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National Catholic Reporter, June 2, 2006