National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
August 25, 2006


New Orleans history

Thank you for the story of New Orleans religious in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (NCR, July 28). I am compelled to note, in response to Ms. Lefevere’s opening line, “When the history of religious women in New Orleans is written ...” that a very good beginning has already been made on that task, a work titled Religious Pioneers: Building the Faith in the Archdiocese of New Orleans published by the archdiocese in 2004. It is a collection of about 30 biographies of women and men who made significant contributions to their communities, including those intrepid Ursulines into the second half of the 20th century. The book is described at

Fayetteville, Ark.

We are the body of Christ

The article “Sash trouble at the cathedral” (NCR, July 14) brought me back to a dream I had just days before. I was in my church, walking up to receive Eucharist. As I walked up to the Communion minister, my hand was not held properly and she refused to give me Communion. I was angry and told the minister that if all our church was concerned with was how I was holding my hand while our world is in shambles with war, poverty and disease, I would no longer concern myself with the church’s official teachings. That dream clarified things for me.

I have struggled as a gay man in a committed relationship and have continued to practice within the Catholic faith. For months now, attending Eucharist has caused me anxiety and pain, and I finally stopped. I felt guilty until that dream and the article on the rainbow sashes. Denis McGrath of the Minneapolis archdiocese claims, “If you are brought up Catholic and you believe this is the body and blood of our Lord, this is not something you haggle over and break into pieces.” Our church leaders and the hierarchy are the problem; the Eucharist and each of us as the body of Christ is not. I would like to ask Mr. McGrath and the archdiocese: Who is doing the haggling?

Akron, Ohio

No Gospel, no peace

Barbara Brown Taylor seems to be stating that she is not comfortable with clergy expressing an informed opinion on moral issues in her piece, “Inside the churches, the war seems far away” (NCR, July 28). She states that clergy “must think at least twice before taking stands that church members may hear as choosing sides.” Reinhold Neibuhr observed that “the Gospel cannot be preached with truth and power if it does not challenge the pretensions and pride, not only of individuals but of nations, cultures, civilizations, economic and political systems.” His insight reminds us that the Gospel must be preached. If that is choosing a side, so be it. Isn’t it possible, perhaps probable, that the history of war repeating itself is because we Christian clergy have been too reluctant to take sides? It’s as much a pastoral responsibility to preach the Gospel as it is to hold broken hearts in our hands, especially if the broken heart is the result of a war initiated on false pretenses.

If Ms. Taylor was able to pick up a prayer book in Harvard’s Memorial Chapel that covered prayers written over the last 1,700 years with sentiments directed at justice, the reverent use of freedom, the appropriate exercise of power and generosity in response to weakness, she errs in stating that such ideals are neither pro-war nor antiwar. They are very much antiwar. However, in spite of that prayer book and countless others manifesting similar petitions for dispositions of peace over 17 centuries, there is no peace. Is the clergy’s reticence lending to the recurrence of war?

Lake Park, Fla.

* * *

Barbara Brown Taylor is right about why Iraq is so rarely mentioned from the pulpit. People do seek comfort and encouragement at Mass. We do not want to be reminded of what divides us. As a pastoral minister, however, I’ve had to ask myself why I do not discuss Iraq during [catechumenate] sessions, Bible study, or Communion services. The best answer I have is that I am so disgusted with the policies of the present administration, that I fear that I cannot address this issue objectively. But Christians are called to follow the teachings of Jesus. Church leaders do need to raise questions about how we can be faithful disciples in our present situation. It’s not just the war. It’s also the environment, economics, popular culture and much more. I now realize that Christians also want the church to be relevant, and how can we be relevant if we do not address the issues that people care about and raise questions in light of the Gospels? If we do not do this, there surely will be more heartbreaking pictures like the one that accompanied Ms. Taylor’s article.

Fairport, N.Y.

American peace

The editorial page headline, “Mideast crisis also sign of U.S. failure” (NCR, July 28), is only true in the minds and hearts of those who yearn for global peace. The reality, however, is that the Mideast turmoil is part of the U.S. strategic plan being carried out by the Bush administration, which closely follows the principles of “The Project for the New American Century.” This 90-page document maintains that “if an American peace is to be maintained and expanded, it must have a secure foundation on unquestioned U.S. military preeminence.” Thus the concept of “American peace” is defined as a continuance of American economic growth. Our corporations must have the ability to turn ever-increasing profits and for this we need the military to guarantee a steady flow of energy and raw materials, which is the reason for our heavy military presence around the oil fields of the Mideast and elsewhere. Looking for weapons of mass destruction and bringing democracy to Iraq are just charades. Our real attitude is “the earth is America’s and the fullness thereof.” Targeting Iran next is understandable with this mentality. And Hugo Chávez’s days must also be numbered. Isn’t it time for regime change at home?

Colts Neck, N.J.


It is with a sense of growing unease that, over the years I have subscribed to NCR, I notice what I experience as a bias against Israel on the part of your reporters and interviewees and the staff who selects and prints their words. Poor Palestine. Poor Lebanon. But never poor Israel, and rarely, if ever, are Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon castigated for using their own civilian populations as human shields for their weaponry and the firings of that weaponry.

There is a whole, ancient history of that unhappy region and its peoples that has not, insofar as I know, been addressed by NCR. Maybe it’s time that you did that in such a way that has compassion for all sides and that addresses the long-standing complexities that are involved in the present suffering that is experienced on all sides, Israel included. Otherwise, I will wonder whether NCR, while mostly a progressive Catholic newspaper, doesn’t yet cling to the unacknowledged, age-old Catholic tradition of Jew-bashing. Surely, NCR and its readers deserve better.

Tacoma, Wash.

Bickering over language

For almost 2,000 years the church insisted on using a language that has been dead for more than a millennium. I’m old enough to have been alive during the later years of that not so enlightened period of the Catholic church. I didn’t hear any discussion then as to whether or not the faithful understood what the priest was saying or just went mumbling and tagging along for the ride. Now, prompted by Rome’s obsession with micromanaging, the church hierarchy is bickering over the use of “one in being” in lieu of “consubstantial” as if their meanings were contradictory. Does anyone honestly believe that God, who knows what’s in our hearts way before it comes out of our lips, gives a hoot about the words we use to communicate with him? Does God prefer the hypocrisy and highfalutin language of the manor to the sincerity and simplicity of the shanty? Lord, have mercy!

Bear, Del.

* * *

While the advocates of a return to the Tridentine Mass have lamented that the Roman Catholic church lost much of its “soul” after Vatican II, I have rejoiced in the more inclusive, down-to-earth appeal of the church after Vatican II. No longer did one have to be a professional opera singer in order to sing hymns during the Mass. No longer did one have to study an archaic language in order to understand what the priest was chanting. No longer was it enough to simply kneel like a mannequin while the priest shuffled from one side of the altar to the other. This inclusiveness was an enormous spiritual and emotional comfort to me when my mother died after a long bout with cancer and after the tragic death of my youngest brother, when “On Eagle’s Wings” was sung at his Mass. There are those poor unfortunate people who want to keep the word of God all to themselves and who want to deny it to others by mandating the continued use of Latin. Then there are others, like myself, who know that it is foolish, if not heretical, to constrain the joy of the word of God through the use of obscure languages and similar methods of concealment.

Springfield, Ill.

The patriarchal church

When will you men get it? Sexism is an issue of injustice. In Tom Roberts’ editor’s note and John Allen’s report on “Global South ethicists take center stage” (NCR, Aug. 11), reference was made that women’s internal issues in this patriarchal church can be equated with the ludicrous attention given to inconsequential responses at the Mass. How dare you trivialize women’s equality in the Catholic church? These women are not only dedicated to eliminating sexism in the church, but are activists in all the social and economic justice issues referred to in this report. John Allen writes that the future of Catholicism might be “less preoccupied with internal debates or campaigns for church reform, and more energized about changing the world.” Somehow I believe that changing a patriarchal church will change the world.

Kansas City, Mo.

A fool for peace

I am sure Robert Royal would prefer a comprehensive philosophical debate about his article, “Defeating evildoers is our only option” (NCR, Aug. 11), but I am afraid I am simply too disheartened to go that route. I know I risk having my comments reduced to the saccharine “What would Jesus do?” tradition, but as I read his article on the war between Lebanon and Hezbollah I couldn’t help but wonder: In anyone’s imagination, could we picture Jesus saying anything akin to Mr. Royal’s “solution”? Before we step too far away from our tenuous grasp of the “good news” or Gospels, does anyone rightly recall Jesus ever encouraging violence as a path to resolve violence? “Religious people who believe in peacemaking should not fool themselves,” Mr. Royal says. We have invested 2,000 years and our current life gamble on the ultimate expression of nonviolence, in this wonderful, resurrected fool.

Riverview, New Brunswick

* * *

Robert Royal’s latest column has no place in any Catholic publication. In the same issue, NCR carries two articles about the call for a cease-fire in Lebanon by both the Vatican and by the U.S. bishops. Meanwhile Royal unapologetically adopts a radically contrary view. Is NCR going to make a habit of publishing those who openly defy core church teachings? Will we hear from NARAL and other pro-choice groups in future issues? If we are going to have an open dialogue, NCR should give them a platform as well.

There was a religious leader 2,000 years ago whose repeatedly expressed views on peacemaking were 180 degrees different from Royal’s. That leader fooled himself all the way to a humiliating and excruciating death on a cross. Any publication dedicated to the teachings of that leader should not be wasting column inches on columns like Royal’s.

Miami Shores, Fla.

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National Catholic Reporter, August 25, 2006