National Catholic Reporter
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April 18, 2003

LettersTerrorism and war

I abhor war. I wish the war had never started, but it did. What most people do not realize is that it began over 23 years ago when a group of terrorists seized the American Embassy in Tehran. It continued for the next 23 years, beginning with Americans being kidnapped and killed in the Middle East. It continued through April 1983 when an explosive-laden vehicle crashed through the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63. It continued six months later, when 241 service men and women were killed by a truck loaded with over a ton of explosives smashing through the gate at the U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut. It continued through December 1983, in a suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait.

It continued in September 1984, with another van exploding at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. It continued through April 1985, spreading out from the Middle East when a Madrid restaurant frequented by U.S. military personnel was blown up. It continued through August 1985, when 22 Americans lost their lives at the U.S. Air Force Base at Rhein-Main, Germany. It continued two months later, when terrorists hijacked the ocean liner, Achille Lauro, and a wheelchair-bound American was singled out and executed. It continued through April 1986, when a terrorist bomb killed four aboard TWA Flight 840. It continued through 1988, when Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed out of the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 aboard.

It continued in January 1993, now coming to United States soil when two CIA agents were shot and killed in Langley, Va. It continued through February 1993, with the first attempt at the World Trade Center, when six were killed and over a thousand injured. It continued through November 1995, at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, when seven service men and women died. It continued through June 1996, when the Khobar Towers were bombed, and 19 were killed and more than 500 injured. It continued in Kenya and Tanzania, when the U.S. embassies in both countries were bombed, killing 224. It continued through October 2000, when 17 sailors died in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Aden, Yemen.

Then came 9/11.

Despite what some people say, we are not the aggressors. We did not start the war. But now, after sitting on our butts doing little or nothing for more than two decades, we are doing something. We are trying to end a war of repeated attacks on America that began more than 23 years ago. We finally have a president willing to say, “Enough is enough!”

Baltimore, Ohio

* * *

The Bush administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated al-Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result is to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. Sept. 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to do to ourselves. Have we become blind, as Russia is blind in Chechnya, as Israel is blind in the occupied territories, that overwhelming military power is not the answer to terrorism?

Dubuque, Iowa

The case for war

James P. Ward has the right to criticize those who, unlike him, oppose the war with Iraq (NCR Letters, March 28). But his pro-war arguments are flawed.

I agree it’s morally justifiable for “an individual to defend himself against an aggressor,” as Mr. Ward states. But for someone to become an aggressor, he has to commit an aggression. That’s why Mr. Ward can’t logically conclude that a nation has “the right to defend its citizens against ‘possible’ attacks by an aggressor.” In this case, Iraq is not the aggressor, for an aggression hasn’t taken place.

Besides, if we carry Mr. Ward’s logic further, we can justify anyone razing his neighbor’s house on the pretext that the neighbor is a potential aggressor. This amounts to advocating the law of the jungle, rather than the behavior of civilized people.

The church has always taught that there’s such a thing as a moral war, says Mr. Ward. OK, but what does that have to do with the issue of whether or not this war is morally justified?

According to Mr. Ward, “Jesus never taught radical pacifism, was friendly with Roman soldiers and cured the centurion’s son.” Wait a minute. Are we to assume that befriending the foe and doing charitable works for him is not a radical way of striving for peace? And what should we make of Jesus’ admonition that “it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you ... whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”?

If Mr. Ward’s intentions were to make a watertight case in favor of this war, I say he failed miserably.

Bear, Del.

* * *

The Rev. Martin Deppe in his letter in the March 28 issue is correct. On paper, the war on Iraq is a violation of treaty, thus unconstitutional and an impeachable offense.

However, plutocrats control every branch of the federal government today. The government had broken more than 100 treaties with American Indians over the centuries, and the administration is operating as if the Constitution does not apply to it. The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The administration ignored it by executive order in its “faith-based initiative,” thus damaging secular charities and playing favorites among religions.

St. Louis

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Let’s face it. Neither side deserves to win this war. No doubt Saddam Hussein is a murderous thug, but Iraq is a sovereign country. The U.S. invasion of Iraq is immoral and illegal. America will surely win this war, probably in short order; but we may lose our collective soul in the process.

Fairdale, Ky.

* * *

I feel that Operation Iraqi Freedom, the name the government has given this war, would more appropriately be called “Operation Iraqi Liberation” or O.I.L. for short.

San Antonio

Military service

Recently, I read in the March 7 issue of NCR an advertisement from a group of people that read: “Brothers and Sisters in the Military – Refuse to fight! Refuse to Kill!” Reportedly this was made into a flyer and was being distributed at military bases across the country.

My problem is these people are proud that they knowingly and willingly make this plea to you in violation of federal criminal laws by enticing young military personnel to refuse the order to go to war. They know statistically that few civilians are ever prosecuted for such crimes. Of course they are also encouraging military personnel, much more directly, to violate the law. The chance of military personnel’s prosecution and imprisonment is much greater than the civilian population.

Amarillo, Texas

* * *

I find it difficult to comprehend the lack of moral fiber of an editorial board to actually accept funds for the printing of the advertisement encouraging service personnel to invalidate the oath to which they have sworn. But to quote the ad: “Wrong is easy.”

I believe it is reprehensible to print and distribute such vitriolic, unpatriotic misinformation directed toward influencing service personnel. Haven’t we had enough scandal in this church? Your paper and its “high ideals” might be better served by offering prayer, respect and encouragement to those who are currently involved in maintaining the right that you have to print anything.

It is sadly fascinating to witness the self-interest and the lack of integrity in the writers of this crassly uninformed and irresponsible diatribe. There seems to be so little shame left in this country! Does your board believe that “the end justifies the means” as do the writers of the ad? It certainly would seem so! Freedom, including freedom of speech, isn’t simply “free” — it demands responsibility like all other gifts.

Surprise, Ariz.

* * *

After wading through thinly disguised military bashing in the article “Feeding the military machine” (NCR, March 28), one finally gets to the heart of the matter near the end: “There is the reality that not every child is college bound ... we want to see the students go somewhere rather than see them not do anything.”

That says it all. The liberal, do-gooder, touchy-feely types have stabbed public education in the heart, and the products of most public education institutions are ill-equipped to do much of anything. Witness the dropout rate, poor reading skills, poor SAT scores, and the litany goes on. Private schools and schools that embrace some type of military discipline are sought after by parents and students alike. Students want, and need, order, discipline, commitment and accountability. Those of us over 50, products of Catholic schools, recall daily Mass, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Angelus at noon, prayer in school, the three R’s, geography and lots of discipline. We earned self-esteem. Those schools produced some pretty good, productive, solid citizens.

Brevard, N.C.

The Bush league

One just has to wonder whether any of the Supreme Court justices has had second thoughts regarding his/her vote in Bush vs. Gore in year 2000?

West Orange, N.J.

* * *

I was so disheartened by our government’s invasion of Iraq and by the actions of the Gang of Bush. They have cut our ties with people of good will around the world, trashed our rights of freedom in this country, designed our economy to enrich the military/industrial/financial complex, and ripped up former efforts to leave a decent environment for our children.

Ladybird Johnson’s idea for helping our environment was for everyone to “plant a tree, a bush or a shrub.” Instead, we have planted a toxic shrub that is going to strangle us.

Plymouth, Wis.

Protecting children

In response to “U.S. is stingy in caring for its children,” which appeared in the Feb. 14 issue: Perhaps rather than finger-pointing, it would be more advantageous to encourage all groups of people to work together to protect children. The “so called ‘pro-life’ people” to which Daniel Maguire makes reference are volunteering at and donating to crisis pregnancy centers and the like, which provide emotional, economic and spiritual support to young mothers and their children.

Let us not attack one another, but rather, unite together under the same cause, to protect all children, born and unborn.

It is not by coincidence that a country that has legalized the slaughter of its most vulnerable citizens does not put the treatment of its children first on its list of priorities.

Arlington, Va.

* * *

Having read Dennis O’Brien’s “Abortion: Maxims for moral analysis” (NCR, March 7), I find myself no closer to a resolution of the impasse between for pro-abortion and antiabortion factions. Although the author does make several valid arguments, my confusion likely arises from Mr. O’Brien’s severely flawed reasoning in his maxims.

Mr. O’Brien’s first maxim asserts that “traditional” Catholic teachings would always value the life of an unborn child over that of his mother. Yet I know of no document or formal teaching that states this. In fact, Catholic principles do acknowledge that situation is relevant and do permit the termination of pregnancy when it is ectopic (that is, not implanted in the uterus but elsewhere in the mother’s pelvis) and threatening the mother’s life from bleeding as well as in other circumstances. In these situations, both lives are accorded equal value for their intrinsic human dignity with the recognition that we are imperfect human beings acting in an imperfect world and that some of our actions as physicians may have unintended consequences.

Maxim Two rests upon the assumption that “one need not invest fetal life with all the values claimed for it ... ” However, every human being that has ever lived began life as a zygotic human being, progressed to an embryonic stage and into a fetal stage prior to postnatal life (i.e., after being born). We do not become human beings with value at some arbitrary time determined by professors, judges or legislators.

Maxim Three also starts with a correct assertion: “No woman should be compelled to have an abortion.” Several points need to be clarified here. First, so that women might not be compelled to have abortions, we need to establish a culture that does not compel them to have sexual intercourse. Our media, our entire culture currently has a pathologic addiction to sex that forces many women (and men) into behaviors that produce millions of unintended pregnancies every year in this country alone. Modesty and chastity engender more loathing than AIDS or terrorism. Second, we need to understand that every chemical birth control agent, such as the pill in all its forms, Norplant, Depo-Provera, etc. act only part of the time as contraceptives, i.e., preventing ovulation or fertilization. The rest of the time they act as abortifacients, agents that cause abortions by preventing either the implantation or successful nurturing of a zygotic human life. Thus anyone who opposes abortion would be duplicitous if they condoned the use of these drugs, which also have serious side effects. Natural Family Planning is just as effective as these agents (and more effective than barrier contraceptives), has no side effects, is associated with divorce rates 5 to 10 times lower and is accepted by the Catholic church. Why would any moral being not opt for Natural Family Planning?

I find it ironic that Mr. O’Brien presided over the university where I witnessed my first abortion as a medical student. At that time, not being a Catholic, I had qualms but kept my concerns to myself. In the following years I witnessed and procured many other abortions. And then one day, like Paul on his way to Damascus, I had an encounter with Christ and converted. I have seen this grisly argument from both sides and Jesus has told me what I must do for the least of my brethren; let us pray that Mr. O’Brien does as well.

Medfield, Mass.

* * *

I believe that Dennis O’Brien has completely missed the mark in the abortion debate. He starts the article by saying, “Pro-life and pro-choice have staked out theological positions that ... are almost impossible to resolve.” He then goes on to try to resolve the differences.

I have talked to people on both sides of the debate. They are hardened into their positions. They all believe that they are morally correct and do not want to hear any reasons. To come to a resolution, we have to begin by acknowledging that their positions are in fact irreconcilable. But difference of belief is not the problem. The problem is that one side is attempting to coerce the other into acting in accordance with the former’s beliefs.

The moral maxim here should be to love your neighbor as yourself. Loving your neighbor does not mean that you have to believe what your neighbor believes, but it implies that you have to respect your neighbor’s beliefs even if you do not like them. Shooting or burning your neighbor, blocking access to or generally harassing his business or attempting to pass laws against his activity is not loving.

If the pro-life movement expects to make changes, it must take a new approach. We need to return to a church that is recognized even by its detractors as loving each other. As Christians, we need to start showing compassion and understanding to the women who are desperate enough to seek an abortion.

Naperville, Ill.

* * *

Mr. O’Brien posits the “pro-life” abortion debate position, on whether the “child” or “baby” should be protected when he knows that at conception and for weeks thereafter, there is no “child” or “baby.” Nothing can be holy or moral that is not true.

A fertilized egg is microscopic; weighs about 1/500th of an ounce; and has no body, no brain and no sex, all of which develop later. It has no soul, either, which is infused later as taught by St. Augustine, St. Jerome and St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest minds Christianity ever produced, whose teachings were noted by Pope John Paul II in his abortion papal encyclical, Evangelium Vitae.

New York, N.J.

Sisters at odds

It’s clear that my Feb. 21 letter annoyed Sr. Karen M. Kennelly, but since she was unable to refute any of the points I made, she focused on one I didn’t make. Nowhere in my letter did I claim that the History of Women Religious organization hasn’t grown. My point was that the organization has failed to examine the historical fact that 100,000 women left the convent beginning in 1966. The programs from the organization’s triennial conferences prove my point, just as Kennelly’s letter illustrates the anger and denial that still exist. (And I didn’t say Margaret Thompson was a nun: It was the editors who put “Sr.” before her name, not me.)

St. Louis>

Ave Maria University

Eugene Kennedy’s cynical reflections on Thomas Monaghan’s Ave Maria University (“Serpent in pizza king’s swanky Eden,” NCR, March 21) were, in my opinion, both cruel and myopic.

Is there something so very wrong about Monaghan’s carrying an imbedded memory of the church that, in the hands of the Sisters of St. Joseph, cared for him and loved him after his father died? (The majority of practicing Catholics today, I submit, carry with them their own warm and undying memories of the church as it first reached out to them in the turmoil/innocence of youth.)

Monaghan’s vision for Ave Maria echoes what was found at my alma mater (Notre Dame) in the pre-’60s era of the Catholic church in America. Those were proud and confident days for American Catholics. The Ave Maria that I knew (i.e., Notre Dame) had its own unmistakable and unabashed “lease on Eden.”

Will Ave Maria reflect the real world beyond its campus? Certainly not! Conversely, just how effectively do the majority of America’s university professors, in their Don Quixote, Ivory Tower worldview, prepare students to encounter a world beyond their Eden of academia?

Jesus proclaimed, “You shall be holy, as my heavenly Father is holy!” Ad multos annos to a university that makes a decisive dedication, that desires to be consecrated and well pleasing to God. Monaghan’s vision is, in biblical terms (i.e. Romans 12:1), intelligent service, worthy of historic Catholic academia!

Parkland, Fla.

Bronx history

I enjoyed the article in the March 14, NCR about St. Augustine’s Parish, Bronx, New York City.

Why? A bit of history your readers might enjoy that illustrates how time changes all things, even parishes.

My mother was born in Manhattan in 1890. The family moved to the Bronx. Mother and her friends sang in the choir at St. Augustine’s. It was called the cathedral of the Bronx. There was a doctor of music in charge of the choir. The choir was so professional that one year they put on “La Bohème.” Some of Mother’s friends sang in the chorus of the Metropolitan.

Mother never got a chance because her strict German father said, “The day you set foot on the stage is the day you leave this house.”

One day I mentioned St. Pius X. Mother replied that her only memory of Pope Pius X was that all the women had to leave the choir when his norms for liturgical music were promulgated.

I became the pastor of our local African-American parish at one time and hosted the local jazz Mass. It was fun when the old wooden building shook to the music.

I guess all things go full circle.

Corpus Christi, Texas

Church accountability

Like a letter from a bishop to the members of his flock, Rosemary Ruether’s column (NCR, March 21) that the “Church needs a deeper accountability” should be read from the pulpit of every church in America. The letter should be read by the best reader in the church, and the entire assembly — including priests and staff — should listen first to the words with their ears and then to the promptings of their hearts. I can’t believe this is the first time I have seen such appropriate reflection on the clergy sex abuse scandal in print.


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: Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2003