National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
September 29, 2006


The costs of war

Your editorial “Costs of war go deeper than money” (NCR, Sept. 8) pointed out how much has been spent on the Iraq war. Remember, too, this is borrowed money. Until it is repaid with interest, the amount may be many times over, as is the amount paid on a 30-year mortgage. I would add to the other editorial on that page the following: And what did we get for the invasion of Iraq? The overthrow of a petty dictator who was not a militant, or even a devout, Muslim. As in Afghanistan, attempts to set up any government that is not well-supported by the people will fail. Well-supported means more than votes; it means, for example, using phones to call the police or the army when militants arrive anywhere in the country. If people are satisfied to be protected by their militia, then they should have their own autonomous government such as the one the Kurds have in the North.

Avondale, Colo.

* * *

Please look around. You think the Sept. 11 attacks happened in a vacuum? What about the attack on the USS Cole? How about the first attempted bombing of the World Trade towers? Do you think the terrorists will stop plotting to kill you if the U.S. military forces leave Iraq? They do not like you because of where you’re from and what you believe. They are going to keep coming. Your view is naive. Better to expend effort to figure out how to win than get out of an uncomfortable (for you) and inconvenient circumstance. Quit thinking that freedom does not require time and effort to maintain. I’m Catholic and, yes, I did my time and have an honorable discharge. So toughen up and meet the challenge. There is no safe place to run to -- not in this world.

Lincoln, Neb.

* * *

Nationwide statistics during the past three years suggest that American efforts to secure Iraq aren’t succeeding. According to figures that the Brookings Institution research center compiled from news and government reports, the bloodshed has mounted with each U.S.-declared step of progress. When L. Paul Bremer, then the top U.S. representative in Iraq, appointed an Iraqi Governing Council in July 2003, insurgent attacks averaged 112 weekly. When Saddam Hussein was captured that December, the average was 133 weekly. When Bremer signed the hand-over of sovereignty in June 2004, it was 315 attacks weekly. When Iraq held its elections for a transitional government in January 2005, it was 427 weekly. When Iraqis voted last December for a permanent government, it was 525 weekly. When U.S. forces killed terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June, it was up to 630 weekly. Attacks have increased in lethality as well as number: There was one multiple fatality bombing in July 2003. Last month, there were at least 51.

American policies have failed because the analysis of the situation as a rosy success is wrong; it is not related to reality. The wounded Iraqi man on the street conveys the best explanation for what’s happening in Iraq. Does the American public want to continue to support this administration that is in denial, or will it vote this dangerous regime out in 2008 and its sycophant Republican congresspersons in 2006?

Dubuque, Iowa

In Israel’s shadow

Thanks for the recent analyses on Lebanon by Stephen Zunes and Margot Patterson (NCR, Aug. 25). For perspective, it might be well to recall that when Russia wanted to base missiles in Cuba in October 1962, we were ready to embark on World War III. All the nations living in Israel’s shadow suffer the presence of more than 200 nuclear weapons, plus the sophisticated hardware we’ve supplied for decades. We’ve been making Israel the second-most militarized nation in the world. In addition, Israel has broken the economy of Palestine, targeted civilians and indeed has its neighbors in a stranglehold. Now the infrastructure of Lebanon has been crippled. My definition of terrorism includes nations that threaten to use weapons of mass destruction and nations that target civilians as we do in Iraq and Israel does in Palestine and Lebanon. The best way to peace is for the United States and Israel to do an about-face.

Sacramento, Calif.

Courageous governor

Catholic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas is a courageous advocate of a woman’s right to privacy even as she stands personally opposed to abortion. Rather than indulge in rhetoric that does nothing to sustain life, she has chosen to minimize the necessity for a woman to end a pregnancy by introducing legislation that supports adoption and other family-friendly measures. In fact, during her tenure, abortions in Kansas have decreased from over 12,000 to fewer than 11,000. But she is still criticized by her own archbishop, Joseph Naumann of the archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., because she vetoed a bill which would require abortion clinics to document the reasons their clients gave for seeking a late-term abortion. Gov. Sebelius has also vetoed other bills that attempt to violate the privacy of women by regulating abortion clinics in a manner not required of other outpatient surgery clinics, and been criticized by her church for doing so.

This, despite the fact that she has an outstanding record, and in 2005 was named one of the five best governors by TIME magazine. What is it that motivates church leaders like Archbishop Naumann to become so incensed about abortion that he will ask Kansas Catholics “to pray for Governor Sebelius that she might reconsider her long-held position supporting legalized abortion,” but remain silent about war, the death penalty, environmental abuses, workplace injustices and all the other social issues that also wreak havoc on life? As the King of Siam would say, “It is a puzzlement!”

Roeland Park, Kan.

Evolution and Adam and Eve

Benedict’s affirmation of microevolution while denying macroevolution to escape materialist philosophy won’t work (NCR, Sept. 8). Microevolution has to have something to work on. The earth was once just a hot rock with nothing alive on it. Can God create through macroevolution? Very likely. Best to leave it at that. Benedict has more serious problems to contend with as a result of evolution, for example, Adam and Eve. If no Adam and Eve, who committed the original sin? The complications are endless. So much of what the church teaches has been built on the Fall that it will be difficult to unpack.

Gainesville, Fla.

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.

Mexican war was wicked

In her article, “When the Irish were Mexicans” (NCR, Sept. 1), Rosemary Ruether notes: “As anti-immigrant leaders today fume that ‘we are being invaded’ by Mexicans, it is worthwhile remembering who invaded whom.” One also hopes that these same anti-immigrant leaders will remember the words of a captain in Gen. Winfield Scott’s army who noted in 1847 that our American troops acted like savages toward Mexican noncombatants: “Their conduct toward the poor inhabitants has been horrible and their coming is dreaded like death in every village.” Likewise, Ulysses S. Grant noted in his memoirs: “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico. I thought so at the time, when I was a youngster, only I had not the moral courage to resign.” Even Gen. Scott himself, leader of the Mexican City campaign, privately in 1846 told Richard Pakenham, British minister to the United States, that he was “ashamed” of the war and “entirely opposed to the idea of territorial aggrandizement at the expense of Mexico.” Indeed it is worthwhile to remember who invaded whom.

Easton, Mass.

Sr. Mary Luke Tobin

Some years ago at a retreat I had the incredible good fortune to meet Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, a woman who was herself free at every moment. We were talking about Thomas Merton and I mentioned, somewhat timidly, that I had written a little poem incorporating one of Merton’s statements from his book The Sign of Jonas. She immediately said, “Let’s hear it.” Knowing the quotation, she joined me in the last two lines spontaneously. I’ll never forget that encounter. Thanks to Patricia Lefevere for her article on this truly exceptional woman (NCR, Sept. 8).

San Rafael, Calif.

Callings come from God

When I try to describe the meaning of vocation and calling to students, I mention love, service, passion and gifts. I’ve devoted my ministry to helping students seek meaning and purpose in their lives by asking, “What are you being called to do?” “Who are you being called to become?” Recently President Bush used the word “calling” in a different way. In his Sept. 11 statement on where America stands in the war on terrorism, he said, “The war against this enemy [Islamic extremists] is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation.”

In all of the literature on vocation I have read, I have yet to see war listed as a pursuit that some humans are called to follow, much less an entire generation. True callings draw us closer God, to the fulfillment of our human potential, to our brothers and sisters. War separates us from God, signifies a weakness in the human condition, and divides us from one another. I have no argument with President Bush’s description of terrorist actions as evil, but aren’t the terrorists the ones who follow callings to war and to violence? As Americans who supposedly value freedom and human dignity, shouldn’t the calling of our generation be calls to love and to peacemaking? While President Bush often speaks of the American pursuits of freedom and peace, he did not use these words in his definition of calling. That’s a disturbing omission. Callings ultimately come from God. How could God possibly be calling an entire generation to war?

De Pere, Wis.

Rebecca Welch is assistant director of the Program of Faith, Learning and Vocation at St. Norbert College

The church and New Orleans

In her tale of two cities, Deborah Halter writes about her bittersweet separation from both New Orleans and the church (NCR, Sept. 1). She weaves her frustration with her former church into the story of her separation from her found love, New Orleans. Her article is a lengthy but well-put-together purgation. One can sense that her love remains for both New Orleans and Rome. One might say that Ms. Halter has been invaded by two spirits -- ironically, both women: Sophia and Katrina -- and she is not able to reconcile either with her former loves. The Big Easy is no longer big or easy. The church that she had hopes of being the big easy, following Vatican II, is still big but not that easy. In Charles Dickens’ fine historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, one theme that could be sensed throughout is “recall to life.” This theme, too, seems to be the essence of Deborah Halter’s article, hope for both of her exes: the church and New Orleans. My prayers are with her and her exes.

Santa Maria, Calif.

Impatient women of God II

I refer to the two letters by women which you titled “Impatient women of God” (NCR, Sept. 1). These women have a right to be impatient, and irate as well. This is the 21st century and still the Catholic church’s male hierarchy is telling women that their vocations to the priesthood are invalid, as if God talks to these priests and bishops personally and tells them this. I’m a student who lives in Nevada but attends college in Arizona. I never miss an opportunity to attend Mass when it is said by Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori, recently elected senior bishop of all the Episcopal dioceses. She will be installed as presiding bishop on Nov. 4 at Washington National Cathedral. It is important for us women to see that we do image Christ and can fulfill our calls to the priesthood. After seeing Bishop Katherine celebrate Mass, it is hard for me to return to services at my Newman Center or at my home parish. If Catholic bishops attended a Mass celebrated by Bishop Katherine, they would see they have nothing to fear from female priests or bishops.

Catholic priests must declare that they will not support the ordination of women or they can’t be bishops. Are their own power and status so important to our bishops that they willingly spurn the Holy Spirit’s call to women who have a priestly vocation? Sixty percent of the sheepskins granted in this country are earned by females. Intelligent women can’t give credence to the notion that we can’t image Christ because we have vaginas and not penises. This is medieval mummery, and yet it’s the only reason the church can come up with for denying us one of the sacraments. By devaluing the dignity of 60 percent of its members, church shepherds are forcing many of us to leave the fold and join other religions where our gifts are valued. We women can be patient no longer.

North Las Vegas, Nev.

Questions about 9/11

I saw pictures of the dead and heard the cries of their families on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. I pondered those attacks and wondered how they could have happened, then asked myself: Why were there no reprimands, demotions or firings associated with the government failures that permitted the attacks to occur? Ten days following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Lt. Gen. Walter Short and Admiral H. Edward Kimmel were demoted. They were forced to resign in March 1942. Why did it take 15 months until the 9/11 Commission was formed? A commission was set up immediately following the 1941 attack to investigate it. Why should we believe the findings of the 9/11 Commission when its staff proposals were constantly diluted by partisans from one party or another, and when senior staff members were selected who never should have been hired because of their own conflicts of interest? Why is it out of the question that our government might have purposefully let the attacks happen? The same government subsequently used false intelligence and lies to justify sending our troops to war in Iraq. There is one thing we desperately owe our fallen: a truly independent commission to investigate the as yet unanswered questions.

Lower Gwynedd, Pa.

Muslims offended

It’s astonishing that Muslims all over the world are offended by Pope Benedict’s remarks that Islam has strains of violence, particularly the concept of violent jihad. Not one of the pope’s Islamic critics ever responded specifically to what the pope said, only that he said it. The nature of the God we worship determines the action we take; the place of violence in religion and conversion and these strains of violence in Islam itself. It does little good to repeat the mantra among Muslims that Islam is a peaceful and tolerant religion when everyone knows that it is not. The proof is that everywhere there are numerous Muslims there is religious violence: for example, in Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, England.

What the pope pointed out must be answered specifically by Muslims, not with bromides but with solid arguments. The points the pope made are the same points raised by non-Muslims everywhere. No more false ecumenism and above all no more bromides about Islam being a peaceful and tolerant religion.


* * *

A familiar sarcastic question is: Is the pope Catholic? After Benedict XVI’s recent speech in Germany, the question should be reworded: Is the pope Christian? And the sad answer is “No!”

Capitola Calif.

Church reform

Regarding the Notable and Quotable (NCR, Sept. 15): “We have 2,000 years of church history, with so many sufferings, including many failures. ... The church has revived after so many crises with a new youth, with new freshness.” What is Pope Benedict telling us? That Vatican II was just one among many failures? That the council did not, after all, engender a new youth and freshness? That the flowering of liturgy and ecclesiology following the council, beaten down by the “traditionalists” (medievalists) like Ratzinger and his ilk, was just one of those sufferings we must all endure? When will the hierarchy come to realize that true reform does not come from the top down, but from the bottom up? Bottoms up!

Springfield, Ore.

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: (When sending a letter via e-mail, please indicate "NCR Letters" in the subject line. We've installed a new spam filter on our letters e-mail account. If it's not clear to us that yours is a letter, we might delete it.) Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number

National Catholic Reporter, September 29, 2006