National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
September 22, 2006


Goodbye to New Orleans

I found Deborah Halter’s story of parting with two beloved homes in one year, her city, New Orleans, and her church, particularly compelling (NCR, Sept. 1). The two have touched my life in poignant ways, as well: New Orleans, indirectly, through my musician son whom I welcomed as an evacuee and whose frustration I have shared as he tries to rebuild his life, and the church with which I have struggled throughout my adult years but which now arouses dismay as I watch helplessly its restoration to a pre-Vatican II modality. In Ms. Halter’s discernment process, the earthly city’s corruption typifies the creeping dysfunction of the celestial city.

We are now followed from bedroom to voting booth to determine who may or may not receive Communion. This climate of exclusion demeans the Eucharist and betrays the deliberate lack of discrimination Jesus showed in teaching and practice. In refusing to restore our own married priests to active ministry and by limiting the ordained priesthood to celibate males, the hierarchy has made the Eucharist subordinate to holy orders. Although the current year is designated as the year of the Eucharist, it seems to me that much of the focus has been on idealizing the priesthood, as though to compensate for the trail of abusive priests and the failure to acknowledge the pain of their victims.

Ms. Halter’s decision to seek ordination in a different faith community is the Catholic church’s loss.

Wimberley, Texas

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“The long goodbyes” by Deborah Halter was one of the finest pieces of writing about New Orleans that I’ve read since Katrina hit. Or was it that she simply struck such a profoundly deep chord in my own heart with the story of her journey as a woman in the church? Thank you for publishing this moving and thoughtful piece.


* * *

“The long goodbyes” was one of the most inspiring articles I’ve read in some time. Of all the reporting on New Orleans, she affected the Northerner in me and made this southern tragedy so real. I loved the way she weaved “church” into the mix and the line: “I have carried with me the faith, but not the institution.” So many of us can identify. So many of us wish Ms. Halter well in her newly chosen faith journey.


Embracing the earth

In your editorial, “The difficult case of the common good,” you lament the scrubbing of the common good from our cultural vocabulary (NCR, Aug. 25), pointing to individualism as the culprit. Humans have increasingly alienated themselves from the nation, the village, even the extended family. Now we have nuclear families and hyper individualism as seen on the immensely popular television survivor shows. Individualism is alienation from other humans and society as a whole. But how did this happen? What’s the cause? I believe individualism is a logical extension of our alienation from the earth and all her creatures. Once we scrub nature from our vocabulary, we spiral down to survival in its rawest sense.

You say the time is right to promote the common good once again, but define the common good in human only terms. However, the common good is broader and deeper than justice and peace for humans. It embraces God’s entire earth. Indeed, one can say if we do not achieve eco-justice, social justice will be irrelevant since humans will be among the first species to die out in an environmental disaster such as dramatic climate change.

Eco-justice and social justice are not either-or propositions. They are both-and, win-win. If we clean a river, we help its creatures and provide clean water for people. If we save a rain forest from clear cutting, we allow the earth to bring fresh air to all breathing creatures, including humans. If we stop poisoning the land, the crops we produce will be fit for consumption. If we stop raising animals in filthy conditions, giving them antibiotics to ward off disease will be unnecessary, thereby reducing the chance of getting mad cow disease, E. coli or avian flu.

Ridgefield, Conn.

The truth about abuse

The Viewpoint article “The scandal of silence” by Diane Pawlowski (NCR, Aug. 25) is untrue. Ordinary Catholics did not look the other way when priests abused children. Ordinary Catholics were so inculcated with the higher nature of priesthood and priests that thoughts of their violating children were unthinkable. When the reality finally broke into the consciousness of laypeople, it produced a rage of betrayal that is still bubbling. The scandal is more properly directed at the Catholic hierarchy. The level of blind trust, almost on the level of a faith itself, will never be enjoyed by the clergy of the U.S. church again. The illustration accompanying the article shows a man and woman covering eyes and ears. As a parent and grandparent, I know of no Catholic who did that except priests and bishops.

Fairfax, Va.

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Diane Pawlowski’s article gives me a chance to articulate two things. First, while all of us blame the priests and bishops for all of the horror that has been visited on abuse victims, their families and friends, we must also be willing to turn inwardly to see that some of the fault, albeit small, lies with us. We may not have seen evidence of abuse as Diane relates in her article, but we abdicated our God-given responsibility to function as an integral part of the church community. We, as a community, gave absolute power to the clergy, which has become absolutely corrupted. Obviously, this did not happen over a short period of time but it is now time to reclaim our responsibility for the good of the church and the good of the clergy.

Second, I am a victim of clergy sexual abuse at the hands of a serial predator. I finally came forward after nearly 20 years of silence. I was too young to fully understand the incident when it occurred. However, at some point prior to my going public, I came to the realization of what had happened and that it was probably still going on. Because of fear and guilt, I remained silent despite the fact that I was confident that other victims were being abused. To those later victims of Fr. Earl Bierman, I can only offer my sincerest apology and ask your forgiveness for not coming forward. Please forgive my cowardice.

Bowie, Md.

Conflict over evolution

I was happy to see your editorial about Fr. George Coyne (NCR, Sept. 1). I have always valued his take on the intersection of science and faith. He has been one of the few voices that speak convincingly to the practicing Catholic scientist. According to your editorial, he was stepping down of his own volition. However, according to an article in Science in August 2006, Fr. Coyne was fired by the Vatican. If true, I find this very upsetting. The article in Science suggested that the reason that he was fired was because of his conflict with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn on evolution. Schönborn’s article in The New York Times some months ago was an embarrassment to all thinking Catholics. Many of us protested Schönborn’s lack of knowledge about evolution and his pandering to creationists. I have great respect for Fr. Coyne for responding to Schönborn. If the Vatican did fire him, I have much less respect for the Vatican.

Albuquerque, N.M.

NCR responds:
Jesuit Fr. George Coyne, in an e-mail to Religion News Service on Sept. 9, said he volunteered to step down, citing a need for fresh leadership at the observatory following his 28-year tenure. “Upon my return from a vacation, during which I purposely avoided the news, I hear some media reports that I have been dismissed by the pope. This is simply not true.”

Papal infallibility

I believe that Daisy Swadesh’s letter (NCR, Sept. 1) is mistaken about the infallibility of the pope. In his book Papal Sin, Garry Wills states: “The only two formal exercises of papal infallibility in modern times have been definitions of Marian dogmas, of her Immaculate Conception by Pius IX and of her assumption into heaven by Pius XII. We have been led to believe that every edict coming from the Vatican is an infallible statement.”

Los Gatos, Calif.

The right to organize

Tom Schindler in his article, “Unionizing Catholic hospitals” (NCR, Aug. 11), provided a strikingly clear expression of the church’s teaching on the value of unions in our modern society, especially its essential social nature and its intent to help us build the kingdom here on Earth. We are encouraged because we are nurses working at Resurrection Health Care, a Catholic hospital system in Chicago, where our coworkers are trying to form a union. While the religious orders and lay executives who run things here pay lip service to the church’s teaching on unions, they have hired a high-priced anti-union law firm to quash our efforts at every turn.

Our experience is a prime example of the imbalance of power that Mr. Schindler describes. To say, as Resurrection management does, that employers should have the same rights to oppose unions as workers have to seek to form them is to effectively negate the church’s support for workers’ rights to organize. When you have the situation we have, where eight union supporters have already been fired and many more harassed and intimidated, the resulting climate of fear nullifies that right.



Not dressed for summer

The picture that accompanied your article about the pope and Mozart (NCR, Sept. 1) was much more interesting to me than the debate contained in the article. The sidebar next to the picture stated: “Pope Benedict XVI plays the piano at a summer retreat in Les Combes, Italy.” Great to see the pope playing a piano, but if he was at a summer retreat, the picture would have been even more touching if he looked like he was dressed for summer and not ready to preside over something official.

Wheaton, Ill.

LCWR rebuffs victims

While the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was celebrating its 50th anniversary by speaking in self-congratulatory terms about “advocacy and outreach” (NCR, Sept. 8), it was once again leaving survivors of sexual abuse by sisters out in the cold. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, has for several years pressed the conference to make room in its agenda to hear from survivors of this under-recognized and under-reported phenomenon. Each time SNAP has been rebuffed and told that the conference is not the time or the place. The ironies are too tragic to escape notice.

Social justice apparently belongs “out there” and not within the LCWR. The conference passed a resolution condemning torture by governments. When will the sisters condemn the re-victimization of those who press abuse claims against their colleagues? In one thing these leaders have achieved parity with their male counterparts. Their arrogance towards abuse survivors and denial of the problem is certainly unsurpassed.

Doylestown, Pa.

Let churches pay taxes

A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Congresswoman Katherine Harris, the Republican who was Florida’s secretary of state during the infamous 2000 election, provides yet another warning why we must prevent such people from gaining public office. Her comments before a conservative Baptist audience expose her animosity toward the rule of law, her thirst for power and her clear willingness to employ whatever means are necessary to achieve a theocratic agenda. Like many of her conservative religious colleagues, she views anyone who disagrees with her not only as wrong but immoral, if not evil. These folks believe they should lead and that the rest of us should obediently follow.

It is time to remind these misguided zealots that, contrary to their mantra, we protect religion when we keep it as far as possible from government and from public money. If these religious conservatives continue to push nonprofit organizations into the political arena, let us eliminate the tax exemptions of all religious nonprofits and then use the funds to strengthen our public schools with higher teacher salaries, smaller class sizes and expanded programs for gifted students. Having churches, church schools and religious broadcasters pay property taxes, for example, would reduce greatly our unfortunate dependence on gambling revenue. Such income is not worth the lives that gambling destroys nor the crime that it fosters.

Labadie, Mo.

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National Catholic Reporter, September 22, 2006