National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
May 30, 2003

LettersImitators of Jesus

The April 25 NCR article on the Catholic Common Ground Initiative meeting to discuss the identity and ministry of priests caused me to remember an experience I had several years ago. The local parish was performing the gospels for the four Sundays before Easter especially for the benefit of a large group preparing to join the church. One of these gospels is the story of the person born blind, and I was selected to play the part of Jesus who cured this person and challenged the leaders of his day.

A few days after this Sunday performance, while shopping, I heard a small, but loud, voice say, “Look, Mom, there’s Jesus!” My reaction was to think, “This kid thinks I am Jesus Christ. I better watch what I say and do.” Years later I still have flashbacks to that child’s voice, like at this moment.

Adult Catholics expect their priests to demonstrate Jesus-like qualities, but not to be Jesus’ body doubles. In fact, we are all called to be imitators of Jesus, and this is our real “common ground.”

We have a disgraceful history of insisting on Jesus look-alikes for priests while excluding others with real Jesus like qualities because they cannot “image” the male Jesus.

One of the participants at the Catholic Common Ground Initiative meeting (as reported by NCR) made the point that “there has been too much focus on ecclesiastical issues and too little focus on Christ.” I completely agree, and we must get that right before we can solve our other problems as a church.

Wexford, Pa.

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The report about the recent Catholic Common Ground conference on “The Priest in the Church” was informative, perhaps in an unintended manner.

The declared purpose of the conference was to follow a plan aimed at exploring issues in tension about priesthood with the purpose of seeking “common ground.” According to NCR, rather than seek common ground: “Nearly all participant speakers raised new concerns, often without reference to the ideas of previous speakers.” Perhaps next year consideration might be given to a conference based upon a paradigm of open dialogue, rather than a model that merely provides a forum for conferees to express personal and unrelated perceptions of reality.

One major priesthood issue not considered at the recent conference is the rapidly declining number of priests due to deaths, retirements, voluntary departures, lack of vocations and, more recently, expulsions. To remedy this omission, perhaps next year the conferees might dialogue on whether, as a particular norm for the United States, the ordination of married men as priests should be permitted, without prejudice to universal canon law. Simply put, should the Catholic bishops of the United States seek general permission from the Holy See to ordain lifelong Catholic married men as priests? The ordination of married men always has been the tradition of Eastern Catholic churches. For more than 20 years the Holy See, on a case by case basis, has allowed the ordination of hundreds of convert married men in the United States, Canada, England, Wales and elsewhere. No example is available of a lifelong Catholic married man who has been ordained as a priest in the Western church.

To suggest dialogue is not to prejudge the outcome. Rather, it is to propose open-minded, well-documented consideration of the subject based upon credible background materials used to guide the dialogue.

Berryville, Va.

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I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Fr. Donald Cozzens, his writings and his work. I must however take exception with him on one important issue as reported in the article “Priestly identity in church’s time of darkness”

It is not the “present crisis” that has led many adult Catholics to become adults in terms of their interactions with church authorities.”

On the contrary, this is a gradual process that has been going on for decades, from the time of the antimodernist fulminations, and even back to Galileo. The church appears to be almost systemically unable to treat educated Catholics as adults. As long as church authorities continue to insist on telling Catholics how they must and must not act, particularly in sexual matters, and what and how they must think in all matters of faith and morals, it will continue to alienate large numbers of Catholics who will either seek to nourish their spiritual lives elsewhere or give up the practice of religion entirely.

We live in a country where freedom of thought, association and speech are part of our very Constitution and are engrained into each of us. On the other hand, we adhere to a church where these virtues are constantly under attack, and especially in these days. One has only to remember what happened to Frs. Hans Küng, Jacques Dupuis, Edward Schillebeeckx and Charles Curran, to mention but a few. Catholicism must be inculturated not only in Africa and Asia, but right here in the United States. That means first and foremost a long overdue acceptance of the fact that modern, well-educated U.S. Catholics increasingly think and act according to their consciences and still relate to their God through the Eucharist and other sacraments.

Summit, N.J.

Liberators, take heed

The history of Mideast invasions provides valuable insights to Operation Iraqi Freedom -- teaching that “liberators,” ranging from Napoleon in Egypt to the British in Iraq, found their grand plans for reformation faced unexpected hurdles. This history also offers sobering lessons for those inclined to a simplistic view of today’s complex world, for example, via a warning from T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia): “The foreigner and Christian is not a popular person in Arabia. However friendly and informal the treatment of yourself may be, remember always that your foundations are very sandy ones.”

Not to fear, say numerous syndicated columnists and the large majority of U.S. citizens. It is difficult to understand how all of these folks can ignore the lessons of history, buy into the “success story,” participate in related cheerleading, and apparently remain blind to the seething hatred and resentment caused by our actions, as well as to the diminution of our ability to wage a legitimate war on terror. Baseball, our national past time, provides an interesting metaphor, to wit:

It is the beginning of the crucial second inning. As expected, the visiting team had a really big first inning, but in the apparent absence of his strategy coach, the team’s manager seems confused by conflicting advice from his other coaches. To make matters worse for the visitors, some in the hometown crowd appear very unfriendly -- wanting to see the game played by their rules or not played at all. Nevertheless, exuberant fans of the visiting team’s management are already cheering and boasting about their team’s victory. Perhaps they are overcome with excitement as they envision lucrative opportunities ahead -- rebuilding the other team’s ballpark and managing their concessions.

Mount Prospect, Ill.

Why WMD are important

Who cares if we never find weapons of mass destruction, because we’ve liberated the Iraqi people from a murderous tyrant? But it does matter. After all, as Bush spokesperson Ari Fleischer said on April 10 about WMD: “That is what this war was about.” There are indications that the U.S. government pressured its intelligence workers to change their conclusions and concealed contrary information about WMD to deceive people at home and around the world. This is called lying. And we’ve liberated the Iraqi people by violating international law and United Nations principles through the policy of pre-emptive strikes that could be used against us by any nation that feels threatened by us, as many do.

Dubuque, Iowa

Christian support for war

When I read in the April 25 issue Mark O’Keefe’s article “Church leaders’ antiwar message fails in the pews,” my first reaction was: “Have we learned nothing from being followers of Christ?”

O’Keefe does well in describing the situation that finds many Catholics and mainline Protestants disagreeing with their leaders on war and peace issues, especially regarding the war in Iraq. But why is this so? The Rev. M. William Howard Jr.’s comment that “church leaders have ‘an informed’ and ‘critical assessment’ of the war and the Bush administration’s justifications that church laity, relying on popular media, lacks” is patronizing and unhelpful.

Why would faithful Christians support a war against a nation that did not attack us directly, a war that has brought terrible suffering and violent death? Why would Christians acclaim Jesus as the Prince of Peace and then look for any pretext to argue that Jesus would have supported war under certain circumstances? Why do many Christians refuse to see war as a moral issue?

Perhaps some of us actually view this war as a profoundly moral campaign to liberate the people of Iraq from an evil government. Whether or not this was the motivation behind the United States’ going to war, one can only hope that the outcome will be peace and freedom for Iraqis. But we are required to ask if the end justifies the means, given the present chaotic situation.

Perhaps some of us were concerned that the people opposing the war cared nothing for the well-being of our service personnel involved in it. A person with that attitude, however, is not a person of peace. But as Christians, we are required to look beyond national boundaries and care about the well-being of all people.

And perhaps some Catholics, grateful for the right to worship freely, believe that we must give our country unconditional loyalty.

Above all, there is Sept. 11. Many of us want our government to do whatever it takes to ensure that such a monstrous attack will never happen again. Some Americans do see a connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorists responsible for atrocities like Sept. 11. And they fear that the antiwar movement is being used by tyrants and terrorists.

Yet, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be people of peace. We are called to be pro-life. And we are called to see God’s image in every human being.

I think that the Christian peace movement must develop and model effective alternatives to war -- alternatives that will liberate people from tyranny and oppression. In the end, I believe that good Christians support war because we can’t imagine any viable alternatives. And that is very sad.

Fairport, N.Y.

A Christian country

Thank you for the space you gave to Jim O’Leary’s prophetic and challenging reflection piece on the spiritual state of this nation (“We’re not a Christian country,” NCR, May 2). You thus continue to provide your readers with substantive food for the nourishment of our souls. May we have more of his diet?

St. Paul, Minn.

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I really enjoyed “We’re not a Christian country” by Jim O’Leary. I wish I could have e-mailed him directly to tell him how much I enjoyed reading his article. I agree with him 100 percent. I am Christian also and do not believe in war/violence of any kind. I am a Christian/Catholic, activist and American. I believe our nation is indeed blasphemous singing “God Bless America” while bombing other countries. I also believe that we should be “instruments of Christ’s peace,” since we are made in the image and likeness of him, the Prince of Peace. I am a fairly new reader of NCR, and I really enjoy it!

Joliet, Ill.

Kudos to Schroth

I am a fan of NCR and would like to make a request for more Raymond Schroth articles. His insights provide a perspective I have difficulty getting elsewhere else. I hope to see more Schroth articles.

San Diego

Papal intelligence

While I am very much aware of the ignorance and arrogance of the present administration, I was flabbergasted to read Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson’s remark, “We have much better information than the pope about what’s going on inside Iraq and what would happen in the rest of the Middle East” (NCR, May 2).

The church has been in those parts for about 2,000 years, and during that time a continuous supply of bishops, priests, missionaries and pilgrims have brought the languages and politics of that region to Rome and the Vatican. This flow did not stop when George W. was elected.

My guess is that what the administration knows it gets from paid informants and the Israelis. Could anyone in his right mind that that information is more honest or extensive than what is available to the pope?


Opposing the war

I am sorry to hear that Edward J. Donaghy is dropping his subscription to NCR (Letters, April 25), since all the pacifists he knows are cynics and anti-American. I have not met him. I have met many veterans of World War II through Gulf War I, some with Congressional Medals of Honor, many with Purple Hearts and others in between who oppose this war. I would not question their patriotism. Our U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, gives Congress the power to declare war. Congress has not done this since World War II. Everything since then has been a United Nations police action, as in Korea, Vietnam, and Gulf War I; so-called “humanitarian aid” in Somalia; NATO police action, in Bosnia and Kosovo; or blatant invasion as in Granada and Panama and now Iraq.

St. Louis

Looking for specifics

In the April 25 article, “Church leaders’ antiwar message fails in the pews” by Mark O’Keefe, there is a possible reason that is absent from his evaluation. The church leaders have clearly staked out their position that war is an evil. Anyone who has fought one would most likely agree.

Most would agree that we have a moral obligation to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper, to support and assist them when possible. What the various church leaders have neglected to provide is an example when physical intervention is morally justified.

If someone is being raped, do I tell the attacker, “Let’s negotiate, because your behavior is inappropriate”? If the rapist ignores my request for dialogue, then what? Repeat the request? How many times, and for how long? At what point am I morally obliged to physically intervene to be my sister’s keeper? If ever?

Should we have not gone to war against the Third Reich to free Poland and tried to negotiate with Hitler more? (Sorry about more Jews dying, but we were trying to avoid a war.) As I read the recent statements, I would interpret the church’s leadership’s position to be we can never use physical force to correct a wrongdoer’s actions, unless it is the final recourse -- which they in typical fashion never define.

Let the woman be raped so as to avoid violating the dignity of the attacker. Let the dictator of one country destroy his own people -- it’s not my moral responsibility to intervene in another country. Give sanctions time to work, sorry if millions of people die in the process. Let a husband beat his wife, because it is an internal issue.

When the leaders of the church provide a balanced approach to war, then perhaps people will listen. Let them deal concretely with the world rather than from an ivory tower. To lead people, the leader must not only be prophetic, one must be able to give people specifics on how to resolve the problems. When church leaders put into place a practical guide for when we are morally obligated to get involved in someone else’s conflict, then perhaps people will listen.

Have those church leaders referred to in the article answer the question: How much shall evil triumph before good men and women do something? Then maybe people will listen.

Fort Ashby, W.V.

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, May 30, 2003