National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
April 11, 2003

LettersCallahan on sexual morality

Sidney Callahan’s March 21 article chastising the church for its “rigid,” “distorted,” “flawed,” “inadequate” and “stunted” teachings on sexual morality is par for the course for vigorous proponents of the New Morality -- which actually is nothing but the Old Immorality. Sidney must be a proud member of the CCTAC -- popularly known as the Cafeteria Catholic Call to Action Crowd.

It is not surprising, of course, that one of her favorite rejects is Humanae Vitae. She alleges, incorrectly, that the great Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, poor fellow, caved in to pressure from those poor misguided conservatives.

Sidney declares that “the sense of the faithful must be consulted” in revising the church’s antiquated teachings on sexual morality. What a totally nebulous, subjective can of worms! Just who, pray tell, are “the faithful”? And who, pray tell, would decide who they are? I surmise that Sidney might define them as “faithful dissenters” -- an oxymoron if there ever was one.

Well, I have two bits of news for her: 1) The church will not and cannot ever change or eliminate its established teachings on artificial contraception or homosexuality (nor on abortion, which subject she neglected to address). 2) Vatican II, contrary to what she indicates, in no way whatever suggested that such teachings be modified, adapted to the modern world or eliminated.

Albuquerque, N.M.

* * *

I am afraid I do not share Sidney Callahan’s hope that this “learning church,” as she calls is it, is ever going to achieve a combined SAT score above 850. Much of her fine article, “Stunted teachings on sex has role in church’s crisis,” is well argued and convincing. Nevertheless, she might have saved herself some time and ink by simply calling for the Catholic church to get out of the “Dear Abby” business altogether.

Many of the problems of Catholicism are the result of its adamantine obsession with controlling other peoples’ lives -- particularly their sex lives. This might have had some validity in the days when the clergy were the only educated people in society. But those day are happily over. American Catholics, at the very least, are not stupid people.

They are surprisingly capable of theologizing about their own lives and their own sexuality. And they can do it with a personal experience and perspective the clergy is not even supposed to have. What reliability can we possibly place in an officialdom that firmly refuses to take into consideration contemporary and honorable scientific investigation, not to mention the somewhat more authoritative views of people who actually have sex on a regular basis? But unfortunately throughout history inexperienced and, dare I say it, incompetent people are often found to be the ones making up the rules -- something to do with, you should pardon the expression, the Peter Principle.

Ms. Callahan cites seriously flawed moral and theological issues in “official” church teaching. She needs to throw in psychological, medical and biological points of view as well. It is amazing that a church, whose social teaching is intellectually so advanced, can have ideas on sex that are naive, one-dimensional and positively preadolescent.

Isn’t it time we all grew up, read a book published after 1545 and used our brains? If you have a question about your soul, ask your priest; if you have a question about sex wouldn’t you do better to ask your doctor, your nurse practitioner or your best friend, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta or even just the one you love?

Wayne, N.J.

* * *

If you follow two trails of Sidney Callahan’s opinions on the church and sexuality, you are lead into a dense fog. The first has to do with homosexuality. In Genesis 1:27-28, it says God created male and female and told them to be fruitful and multiply.

The definitive sexual act of the homosexual cannot result in a baby and in some instances the act can kill you. How does Ms. Callahan still believe in a life-giving and loving Creator when these two realities (inability to reproduce and sex may kill you) are compared to the text in Genesis? It would be a mean-spirited creator that indicates homosexual attraction is good and virtuous, but will not let you reproduce and your sexual acts may kill you.

Second, she implies Humanae Vitae is a moral teaching error. If it is in error, that would call into question the church’s claim to be inerrant regarding faith and morals. The questions that follow are: What other teachings are then in error and how is one to discern and who is to discern what is truth? If the Holy Spirit guides and protects the church from error, how does one find truth in conflicting agendas?

Ms. Callahan’s viewpoints are confusing and do not lead to the light.

Eagan, Minn.

Respecting the Conventions

When five American captured soldiers were paraded in front of the Iraqi television cameras on Sunday, Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. secretary of defense, immediately complained that “it is against the Geneva Conventions to show photographs of prisoners of war in a manner that is humiliating for them.” He is, of course, quite right. If you break the articles of the Geneva Conventions, you should expect to be prosecuted for war crimes. This being so, Rumsfeld, as head of the defense department, is responsible for a series of crimes sufficient to put him away for the rest of his natural life. His prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, where 641 men (nine of whom are British citizens) are held, breaches no fewer than 15 articles of the Geneva Conventions.

It is not hard to see why the U.S. government fought first to prevent the establishment of the international criminal court and then to ensure that its own citizens are not subject to its jurisdiction.

Dubuque, Iowa

School choice

The introduction to the Catholic Education special section (NCR, March 14) said, “The American public doesn’t support vouchers or politicians who do.” Of course not.

The American public knows this issue is not, and never has been, about true school choice. It is a dressed-up attempt to expand public assistance at the expense of our public school system.

Until every family, regardless of income, has the luxury of directing their education tax dollars, vouchers will never get broad public support. I’m glad Tina Kuntz can use her vouchers to send her kids to private school and be a stay-at-home mom. It is wonderful that Doris Durica can get some of her tax money returned to her in the form of private-school tuition. But they are both on welfare. Call it for what it really is. Even worse, they have also taken several thousands of dollars from a failing school system and given it to one that is thriving. Where is the social justice in that?

Columbus, Ohio

Mr. Rogers remembered

Thank you for Christopher da Vinck’s lovely remembrance of his friend, Fred Rogers (NCR, March 21).

Although it came as a complete surprise to me that da Vinck and Rogers were friends, it seems so fitting, so right that they were. Two gentle poets bringing into the world, through their work, a calm, quiet reassurance that, despite the noise and things that make us afraid, we can find peace and love by remembering, as da Vinck says Rogers reminds us, that what is important is goodness, gentleness and compassion.

Although Fred Rogers is gone, the “Neighborhood” will continue to be shown on many PBS stations throughout the country. I suggest that it might benefit all of us, especially during this difficult time of war, if we kick off our shoes, lean back, perhaps close our eyes and let Mr. Rogers bring some sanity into this mad world. Escapism? You bet. How wonderful.

Trinity, Fla.

Poem to Ashcroft

Attorney General John Ashcroft has written more than the so-called USA Patriot Act (NCR, March 21). He is also an amateur poet. I offer this sample to your readers:

One Nation, Under Surveillance

You have the right to be silenced.
You have the right to be charged,
Sentenced by your pResident.
If you do not have a pResident
The court will appoint one for you.
Everything you say, read or e-mail
Will be used against you.

Billings, Mont.

Catholics and the war

Faith makes me try one more time to penetrate your liberal bias. I think the NCR is so far left, the right turn indicators on your cars don’t work.

In the March 21 issue, you have an editorial by Tom Roberts and an unsigned editorial on the back page, and stories on Pages 3 and 4, all against the war in Iraq. A letter to the editor by Nigel Freitas supports our operation in the Philippines and comes closes to balancing your liberal stance.

You have taken this stance despite the fact that most Catholics support the war and voted for Bush. A great paper like the NCR may well chose to lead and be different from the majority of Catholics, but you are no longer letting the majority Catholic position be heard. You and the United Nations may be headed for the garbage heap of history unless you change and represent the people, the Catholic church.

Let me make one brief comment on the Vatican’s position against war. I’m an old man, and I remember when Italy invaded Ethiopia, Albania and France and declared war on the United States. I never once heard Vatican words against war. I wonder if 9/11 had taken out St. Peter’s and the papal palace they would be talking the same way. Remember, the Vatican issued a letter against the Magna Carta because it infringed on the Divine Right of Kings. So the Vatican’s track record in international politics is not perfect, maybe not even good.


* * *

In John Allen’s article on the effort of Michael Novak to argue the U.S. case for a just war (NCR, Feb. 21), the principle of subsidiarity was invoked and stated in terms of those “closest to the facts should decide the issue.”

When did “those most affected by a judgment should be involved in the making of the judgment” get translated into bureaucratese of “closest to the facts”? That those in the position to make judgments know more than those to be affected by those judgments was exactly the hubris that the principle of subsidiarity was meant to correct.

Responsible power must involve, educate, invite in, see the need for the contribution that each member of the faithful must make to the whole body. Especially when secrecy is involved, the old saw that those who know the most should decide is overtly circular. Every corrupt autocrat uses that assertion, but that is all it is, the assertion of power.

An argument of reason and faith must present the evidence without which the judgment is merely specious. Novak should know better.

Monona, Wis.

Military recruiting

An FYI for Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, the writer of “Uncle Sam hustles to keep the ranks filled” (NCR, March 21), which by the way I noted is slanted toward a view of the Army. I’m writing to point out that although it’s a good article, it has an omission where she mentions “all four branches of the armed forces.”

The U.S. Coast Guard should be included as one of the five armed forces. In March we moved from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security. We have always been one of the five armed services and fall under the Department of the Navy only in times of war. We pride ourselves on being the more humanitarian of all the services because our missions are predominantly humanitarian (search and rescue, environmental protection, aids to navigation, homeland security).

Though we have been involved in every war/conflict, our role remains primarily one of support. We also have several recruiting/financial incentives, including a college scholarship program that pays for a college student’s last two years toward a bachelor’s degree if attending a college that qualifies. Details on this scholarship program can be viewed at: General Coast Guard recruiting information can be viewed at

Arlington, Va.

Shanahan is coordinator of the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative for the U.S. Coast Guard Recruiting Command.

* * *

In your March 21 issue, Page 16 features Congressman Charles Rangel’s Universal Service Act 2003 (Bring Back the Draft). Surprise, surprise, on Page 14 Demetria Martinez is already advising young men how to avoid the draft by becoming conscientious objectors.

How things have changed over the last 60 years. For those of us born during the Depression, the “draft” was inevitable. Draft dodgers were despised; 4F’ers (physically unfit) were pitied.

The draft actually spurred volunteerism. Being drafted almost surely landed you in the Army. But by volunteering you could choose your branch of service and thus ultimately choose how you might die in combat.

I lament that that today so many people are willing to take from but so few are willing to sacrifice for our wonderful country.

Military service teaches young men and women discipline, camaraderie, pride, patriotism and job skills. Bring back the draft.

Garden Grove, Calif.

Jerry Mazenko is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Navy League, Tin Can Sailors Association and the USS C.P. Cecil Association.

* * *

As a veteran once recruited by the U.S. Navy, I read the report on military recruiting with much interest. It is my hope that future articles in the series will point out the deception in the recruiting process. Chris White, an ex-Marine with experience as a recruiter, stated that military recruiters are the first line of offense in this machinery that serves the interests of the power elite at the expense of the less fortunate.

Recruiters manipulate the poor and the young into fighting for the rich, sometimes resorting to methods that would land any other type of salesperson in jail. To increase their chances for promotion, recruiters have every incentive to be dishonest. They work hard to gloss over the biggest mission of the military: to fight in wars. One of every 15 servicepersons was killed or disabled in World Wars I and II, the Korean War and the war in Vietnam.

Recruiters lie about college benefits, often failing to tell recruits that they must pay $1,200 during their first year in the military to qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill. Two-thirds of participants who pay $1,200 never receive a dime in return. Only 15 percent graduate with a four-year degree.

Bush slashed the Veterans Affairs’ health care budget by $275 million in 2002, a fact never mentioned in the recruiter’s deceit-filled speeches about the benefits of the military. Recruiters say nothing about sexual harassment and assault -- a daily reality for the overwhelming majority of women in the armed forces.

In a study by the military to see what soldiers thought of military recruiting, an overwhelming number responded that they thought military advertisements’ promises were lies. Rather than working with the helicopters you see in slick advertisements, they found themselves “buffin’ floors and pickin’ up cigarette butts.”

Sterling Heights, Mich.

Bob Fehribach is a member of Veterans for Peace.

Ave Maria University

It’s a shame that Eugene Kennedy wrote a silly commentary on Ave Maria University (NCR, March 21). Let me assure my fellow subscribers to NCR that when one examines the board of trustees of this new Catholic university, we can be confident that the likes of Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon, Princeton professor Robert P. George, and the extraordinary, intelligent observer of all things catholic, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things, and others will provide wise advice and guidance to the brilliant publisher and educator Jesuit Fr. Joseph Fessio, chancellor of Ave Maria.

This university may serve as a model for the 230-plus Catholic colleges and universities in the United States. With that hope in mind, this Monaghan (no relation) wishes to congratulate Thomas Monaghan’s gift to Catholic higher education, which may foster in the words of Etienne Gilson “intelligence in the service of Christ.”

Drexel Hill, Pa.

Misguided ad

It was a big mistake accepting the paid advertisement that encourages military professionals to disobey their oath taken when entering the military (NCR, March 7). Civil disobedience like that led by Martin Luther King is one thing, but encouraging disobedience by the military is over the top. I cannot help the misguided ones who developed and signed this petition, but I hold NCR to a higher standard to have used better judgment than to have accepted the ad for inclusion.

Oceanside, Calif.

Cost of a residence

We read your excellent March 7 article in NCR, “Records reveal bishop’s role in Boston scandal.” Thank you for more information than we’ve ever had on our Bishop William Murphy’s role in the Boston scandal. We are grateful for NCR’s good reporting. However, you should know that the cost of his personal residence was not $5 million. That amount represents the total building fund for St. Agnes Cathedral Parish and included a million dollar revamp of the church organ, plus the demolition of a high school building. About $800,000 was spent renovating the convent for his living quarters.

Center Moriches, N.Y.

NCR responds: NCR’s original report on Murphy’s conversion of the convent, “One bishop’s high cost of living,” which was published Oct. 25, 2002, said “construction and furnishings for Murphy’s new residence” cost $800,000. We regret the inaccuracy in the March 7 story.

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 11, 2003