National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
April 4, 2003

LettersOnslaught on the environment

I thank you for recalling our attention to the havoc Bush is wreaking on our environment (NCR, March 14) while he is doing the same on our economy, our civil liberties, our relations with other countries, and the idea of world peace.

As a long-standing tree-hugger, I want to emphasize something mentioned in passing in one of the articles: Forests that are thinned too much dry out more quickly than more intact forests, increasing the danger of forest fires. Snags and brush are an integral part of forest ecosystems that provide habitat for synergistic species and act as mulch for greater moisture retention. A forest that has a certain overall size is its own ecosystem; reduce that size and you have a forest that can no longer “water itself.” The danger is thus not only of more forest fires but of loss of the forest altogether if its remaining elements can no longer sustain themselves.

It is no exaggeration to say that our continued existence depends on the existence of trees. If we allow wholesale decimation of these worthy giants, our own decline is not far behind.

San Antonio

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It was helpful, amid all the distractions of the impending war, to call our attention to the “Bush assault on California green laws.” That is a significant element in the overall policy of this administration, but all the ramifications of the president’s departure from sound government must be viewed together in order to assess their impact on our country and the world. It is important to consider as a whole his mania for war, his lack of diplomacy, his dismantling of international treaties, his scorn for the United Nations, his arrogant view of America’s place in the world, his neglect of the economy, his cynical tax plan and, as you have reminded us in this article, his abuse of the environment. If the Democrats cannot defeat George Bush in the next election on the basis of his record, they should terminate their party as a total failure.

Camarillo, Calif.

* * *

As a dedicated environmentalist, I thank you for your March 14 cover stories on Bush vs. the environment. I would like to add to what Rich Heffern wrote about forest decimation.

Logging of our national forests is subsidized by taxpayers and operates at the tremendous loss of over $1 billion per year. Yet our national forests provide less than 4 percent of our wood products. With waste reduction, increased recycling, and greater use of wood alternatives, we could easily eliminate the need for logging of our national forests altogether.

Logging related to our national forests accounts for only 2 percent of national forest jobs. Recreation, wildlife and fishing activities provide 88 percent of national forest-related employment, and these are far more sustainable occupations.

Not only is logging of our precious national forests an environmental insult, it is costly and unnecessary.

San Antonio

Do-it-yourself funerals

If you think that ecclesiastical crackdowns and such behind-the-scenes maneuvers in the face of sexual abuse by priests and complicity by bishops is appalling, start thinking outside the box. For example, you don’t need a priest to do your memorial service. Pick up a booklet from the magazine rack of your local church called “Order of Christian Funerals.” Plan to have a celebration of life or fond farewell party at a hotel, a family member’s home or in a funeral parlor space.

Just pick some Lectionary readings from the booklet lists: from the Old Testament, the Psalms, from the New Testament, epistle and gospel readings. Plug your selections into the service planning form in the booklet. Select some music you would like and have it put on a DVD or other recording instrument. List the music in the appropriate place on the planning form. Then make sure your family knows where your form and music will be stored, as well where other items to be displayed can be found. The booklet suggests all of these for any funeral. Now all you need is a competent reader. Family members can participate as well. A laminated obituary announcement with appropriate prose or scripture on the reverse side makes a nice memorial card to hand out.

In place of a Communion service, plan to have a personal sharing time for family and friends. Some may wish to say a few words. Freshly baked bread might be shared in a small gathering. A piece of bread could be dipped in wine. Voil`a! Best of all, your family members will not be subjected to the plague that comes with the appearance of Roman collars these days. Remember, we are the church!

Albuquerque, N.M.

* * *

I have to strongly contest Fr. Robert Hoatson’s letter (NCR, March 14) with regard to the eulogy “problem” in the Newark archdiocese.

Father, I happen to agree with Archbishop John Myers regarding these “eulogies” because I can tell you from personal experience, I’ve been to many funeral Masses that were more than scandalous. They were insulting. One man even had the audacity to use a quote that contained a vulgarity that the deceased occasionally used in order to get some humor going from those in attendance.

The funeral Mass as evidenced in the Order of Christian Funerals states that words of remembrance should be given at a vigil service, but that the homily of the funeral Mass be grounded in the scriptures chosen and how the deceased strived to incorporate the Christian life while on earth.

Remember, Father, the Mass (even funeral Masses) exist for us, not the other way around. While you certainly have the right to your opinion, you don’t have the right to engage in what can easily be looked at as blatant disobedience!


Reparations for slavery

I read with interest Fr. Robert Drinan’s article on the horrors of the slave trade (NCR, March 14). I agree that we need to teach more clearly the evils that happened in the past as well as the good. Most of the histories I have studied did not connect closely enough the fact that in the United States our embedded racism made slavery even worse. Just remember that Europeans were indentured, black Africans were enslaved. In addition, in many societies that practiced slavery, the status (slave or free) of the father determined the status of the child. In our society, the color of the darker parent determined the status of the child. (There is at least one example of the child of a Caucasian mother and black father being sold into slavery in Virginia.)

However, I disagree on his conclusion that reparations are a solution to the problem. If we give the descendants of black slaves reparations, who else should we consider? The Irish were occupied by the British for 800 years and on the scale of atrocities suffered fully as much as the black Africans here. The aboriginal people of Australia have suffered, as have the Native Americans and the Ainu of Japan. As we live today the Tibetans are being destroyed by the Chinese.

Our church and our nation should strive to destroy the attitudes of racism and other injustices; but giving reparations to one group is not the solution.

Opelika, Ala.

Selective objection

I hope that having articulated the selective conscientious objection right of conscience, the bishops will be as adamant and steadfast in defending this right and the related right to life of the people whom one refuses to kill in war as they are in defending the right of the unborn child to life. Imagine how different history would have been if all the hordes of Persian, Greek, Roman, Mongol, French (Napoleon), Hessian (British), German (Hitler), Japanese, Korean, U.S. forces in Vietnam, Iraqi soldiers, etc. had been given this option by their spiritual leaders before the “killing fields” began. How convenient for the warmongers in our government to not have to rely on a draft, which would likely result in massive draft dodging and civil disobedience. Mercenaries are much more reliable!

To argue that the right of selective conscientious objection would undermine a nation’s ability to defend itself, one only has to look at the low incidence of draft dodgers and the near universal willingness to volunteer when our nation was really threatened in ’41. The case could be made, with or without a draft, that the right of selective objection would effectively preclude the imperial aspirations of our government, just as the current massive Bush tax cuts preclude adequate spending for social programs.

Union City, N.J.

Catholic feminists

I was dismayed by the letter from Mary Eliane Theriault (NCR, Feb. 14) expressing what she perceives as Catholic feminists’ lack of concern for women who have been raped, abused, abandoned, and forgotten. Not true! There are scores of sources by Catholic feminists addressing these concerns: Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Women-Church: Theology and Practice of Feminist Liturgical Communities (San Francisco, 1986), and Miriam Therese Winter’s WomanWord: A Feminist Lectionary and Psalter (New York, 1990) both address women in many areas of disadvantage and marginalization. Each offers prayers, understanding, and calls for justice. These are just two sources for starters; countless more have been published in the last decade.

These issues are also where Catholic feminists find common ground on the issue of abortion. Feminists for Life and Catholics For a Free Choice both point to these violent acts against women as part of their deepest concerns even though they support different possibilities for dealing with them.

Third, Women’s Ordination Conference, while primarily focused on the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic church, has always spoken of the need for a renewed priesthood in part to bring to light and justice the continuing issues facing women both in the church and in society. If Ms. Theriault would send her name and address to me, c/o Women’s Ordination Conference, P.O. Box 2693, Fairfax, VA 22031-0693, I will gladly purchase her a membership to the conference so that she may learn more about the far-reaching issues currently being addressed by Catholic feminists.

Richmond, Calif.

Wear is a member of the board of directors of the Women’s Ordination Conference.

Sex abuse

At the risk of being tarred and feathered by the victim culture and its celebrity status, I wish to challenge NCR’s stand on those allegedly abused by priests. In your March 7 issue, you brought something home to me, as I was raised in the Milwaukee archdiocese to which your article, “Victims vow to keep cases in the news,” refers.

In my younger days, after I suffered a nearly fatal automobile accident, my dying body was anointed by a priest associated with the high school I attended. When I recovered, we became friends. I spent a great deal of time, sharing a room if not a bed with him in a small cottage, something, in short, which would have enabled him to be “intimate” if he were inclined to such behavior. No such intimacy or any implications thereof occurred. That particular priest has since been accused of sexual abuse in the same time period by my peer who also associated with him then.

That leads to several challenges:

How many of the allegations are dubious at best? I won’t stoop to lawyer jokes here, but the attorney you quote copiously in your article has his self-interest to look after.

What constitutes sexual abuse? And what are its purported effects? According to whom?

How many “victims” of sexual abuse by priests (or coaches or camp counselors) have said, “Well, it happened, and I’ve long since gotten over it.” Or are we strict Freudians who believe that we are eternal victims of something often pretty incidental that happened a long time ago?

How much fuel are we giving to the Opus Dei Catholics who believe that Vatican II and its “liberal consequences” have included encouraging undisciplined priests to practice their sexual predation unabated -- a practice they believe would be curtailed by a far more rigid hierarchy? Barry Glassner in The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things provided solid evidence some time ago that this whole sexual abuse scandal -- and other media extravaganzas -- have been blown way out of proportion, and certainly has more negative than positive results in making the public more frightened of sex abuse than is actually warranted.

What far more insidious practices, political and economic, to suggest just a few areas for consideration, are being overshadowed by such media-fueled incidents?

Perhaps it’s time we examine the consequences of our allegations, not the least of which is to make those of us with “liberal” inclinations look like a bunch of fearmongers with martyr and celebrity complexes.

Hyattsville, Md.

Presidential news conference

Watching the president’s news conference March 6 clarified several complex issues for me.

1) The war on Iraq is the administration’s economic plan to get us out of the current economic situation.

2) The frontal attack is not just on Iraq, but also on the United Nations and the global community, as well.

3) The strategy of repeating the same answers, no matter what the question, gives the impression of a dialogue, but is actually a monologue attempting to reinforce the inevitable “war is the only option.”

San Antonio

Palestinian misery

Fr. Robert Drinan’s article (NCR, Feb. 28) self-imploded once he spoke of “the problem of Israel.” The true irony is that the Jews have extended the misery they suffered in Europe onto the Palestinians. The legacy of the Holocaust is alive and well in the occupied territories. While we ask forgiveness from the Jews, God’s court will certainly demand that Sharon et al. recite a declaration of repentance that includes, “We beg God’s pardon, and we call upon the Palestinian people to hear our words of repentance.”

San Luis Obispo, Calif.

* * *

Palestinians desperately need international protection now. Palestinians fear an American war against Iraq might be used as a cover for Israel to begin threats of transfer, that is, mass expulsion. Fearing this, Palestinians have formed The Palestinian Emergency Committee, a coalition of NGOs, religious, political and professional organizations centered in Ramallah, to organize the community and to appeal for world protection. In their appeal, they list threats published recently:

An Israeli government minister has already said, “Make their life [Palestinians] so bitter that they will transfer themselves willingly.” Shulamit Aloni, former Knesset member, comments, “This is done on a daily basis.”

Israelis in Gush Shalom (Peace Block), in solidarity with Palestinians, are trying to prevent “extreme right-wing elements in our political and military leadership from exploiting the war situation to commit acts of transfer.” Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom fears most “internal transfer,” that is, deportation of Palestinian population from towns near the 1967 borders. This happened in 1967 when Moshe Dayan drove whole neighborhoods of Palestinians in Qalqilya on foot to Nablus. Armed settlers, not subject to closure, are planning to grab adjacent Palestinian land, and terrorize Palestinians into fleeing.

For information of how you can help, e-mail: and

Burlington, Vt.

Islamic aggression

Your editorial criticizing President Bush for involvement in the Philippines seems to imply that U.S. involvement in the Philippines is a mistake and will lead to further tensions between the West and Islam. However, the Philippines is a majority Catholic country, fighting against Islamic separatists who want a separate Islamic state and the imposition of sharia law. Sound familiar? This pattern of Islamic aggression is repeated in many countries throughout the world. Indonesia, Sudan and Kashmir immediately come to mind. The lives of Christians in Islamic countries have not been pleasant for some time now. Kowtowing to Islamic aggression will not make it any better.

Sydney, Australia

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, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141. Fax: (816) 968-2280. E-mail: letters@natcath.orgPlease be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, April 4, 2003