National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
July 18, 2003

LettersCommencement walk-out

The June 6 article, “St. Joseph’s University grads, teachers walk out on Santorum,” states an absolute falsehood when it says “about a third of the faculty and graduates of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia walked out of their commencement ceremony May 18 to protest the school’s conferring an honorary degree on Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.”

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, about 1,000 persons graduated from St. Joseph’s May 18 and about 80 walked out, which means that about 8 percent, not one-third, walked out. But since both students and faculty walked out, let’s assume that 10 of those who walked out were faculty and 70 were students, which means that only 7 percent of the students walked out. Assuming that maybe 100 faculty members were present, that means that only about 10 percent of the faculty walked out. It should also be noted that 50 of those present gave Sen. Santorum a standing ovation. In no way can those figures be manipulated to justify the statement that one-third of those present walked out. This is an absolute falsehood, whether intended or not, and you owe your readers both a retraction and an apology in a future issue.

Claymont, Del.

NCR responds:

NCR reporter Dennis Coday was told by Sr. Elizabeth Linehan, the organizer of the protest, that approximately a hundred students and faculty, or in her words, about one-third of those attending, walked out on the graduation ceremony at St. Joseph’s University. Other sources Coday spoke to also estimated that approximately a hundred people walked out on the ceremony. Mr. Ward is correct that 100 people does not come close to being a third of the graduating glass. After receiving his letter, NCR checked with officials at St. Joseph’s University, who reported that the university graduated 725 students this spring and most but not all attended the May 18 event at which about 60 faculty were present. The newspaper regrets the error.

Privatizing government

The June 6 NCR editorial, “With tax cuts, U.S. abdicates responsibility,” identifies two issues, namely, who really pays the bills for the excesses of the federal government, and what is the real plan of this Bush administration.

While this administration granted a $350 billion tax cut for the rich, the same administration simultaneously signed a bill to raise the U.S. national debt by $1 trillion. In other words, the Bush administration is paying for the tax cut by borrowing money that the federal government does not have. Two conclusions are obvious, both of which require uncompromising response from the religious community because they deal with issues of basic morality.

The first conclusion is that the poor and the middle class will have to pay for this extravagance with some type of new taxes and with a concomitant limit on the basic services that they have a right to expect from a competent government. The second is that the Bush administration’s long-range plan seems to be to bankrupt the federal government so that all government services can be turned over to the corporations that they serve.

San Antonio

Oath of silence

Ex-Gov. Frank Keating’s resignation from the Catholic bishops’ National Review Board underscores the problem of secrecy in the church hierarchy, which he compared to La Cosa Nostra, whose capos are sworn to silence. Keating and Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley are specifically frustrated by the intransigence of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony.

The problem is that every cardinal has sworn an oath of silence. According to Bread Rising, June 2003, every cardinal makes a vow to the pope “never to reveal to anyone whatever has been confided to me in secret and the revelation of which could cause damage or dishonor to Holy Church.” This vow corrupts the cardinal’s obligation to obey civil laws that apply to everyone, including laws prohibiting false statements and obstruction of justice.

As a result, many cardinals and bishops (following the cardinals’ leads) have not openly communicated with the Catholic laity or with civil authorities. Their vow to the pope has come before the interests of children, the faithful, and district attorneys.

What can American Catholics do? First, pray for Cardinal Mahony. Second, until the vow is changed, oppose the appointment of any cardinal as a bishop. Cardinals might be appointed ambassadors, but no one making a solemn vow to not uphold American laws should be allowed to control large spiritual, human and material resources of our church. Lastly, demand a role in future church governance that can prevent a secret, all-powerful church hierarchy from causing further damage and dishonor to our church.

Edina, Minn.

Listening to the laity

The May 23 issue of NCR reports that bishops have been publicly chastising Catholic politicians who do not support every effort to make abortion illegal. Let me add a brief comment to the strong NCR editorial that criticized these bishops.

Their public criticism of these political figures is a clear attempt at coercion. But coercion of this sort is repeatedly denounced by the Vatican II document “Declaration on Religious Freedom.” If these bishops have a case to make, and I believe that they do, let them make it with civility, without bullying. Will these bishops ever learn to address lay people as adults, as people who are entitled to reasoned discussion and not just given edicts? Will they ever admit that they can and ought to listen to and perhaps learn from the laity?

Watkinsville, Ga.

Phoenix bishop’s resignation

Most of the commentaries responding to the tragedies occurring in the Roman Catholic diocese of Phoenix seem to be perspectives taken from Organizational Psychology 101 and Canon Law 102. They are important and indispensable precepts to illuminate our path. Yet are they sufficient?

Only at times like these can it be appreciated that God was made man precisely to subsume into a divine process of transformation every possible moral form of weakness and corruption known to humanity. He was crucified, died and was buried into them. He rose again and descended into the hell of it all. Our challenge is to find God in our hell. It was there that we will find the God who will transform the church and every one of us from within the stretch and embarrassment in humanity.

What is happening to Bishop Thomas O’Brien and to us is ultimately not about civil or church authority. It is about the relentless and uncompromising force of the Holy Spirit transforming each of us from the destructive forces within the universe. Here we are all one and must scrutinize our own lives with the faith and hope that the church and we can be better off because of what is happening.

Gilbert, Ariz.

* * *

I don’t believe the bishop of Phoenix was an evil man. He merely typifies the kind of person the institution trains, grows and promotes to its leadership: yes-men who do as they’re told without questioning their superiors’ trained to protect the status quo, the institution (and their jobs) at all costs.

He is victim, more than criminal, a product of the institution’s own inbreeding.

Central Lake, Mich.

Environmental degradation

Thanks to Fr. Ed Eschweiler for bringing global affairs into proper focus in his letter in the June 20 issue of NCR. In trying to reconcile pro-life supporters with other persuasions, reference was made to a pastoral letter written by the Philippine bishops in 1988 titled, “What Is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?” If the air, water and soil are savaged by our “progressive” people, there will soon be nothing left for anyone. Care of Earth is our ultimate-pro-life issue.

Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I views care of Earth as a means of unifying religious bodies globally. He declares without hesitation, “To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin” (Baton Rouge Advocate, June 14).

Jacques Cousteau warned that we have the capacity to foul the ocean by means of our supertankers loaded with oil. Unbeknownst to nearly all of the 6.3 billion who inhabit planet Earth, there are already six pounds of plastic for every pound of plankton in the ocean today. Plankton provides over half of Earth’s oxygen and are food for hungry creatures in the ocean. Six pounds versus one pound sounds preposterous until we take 15 minutes or more to view “Our Synthetic Sea,” a documentary prepared by Capt. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Plastic as a petroleum-based hydrocarbon has surreptitiously filled the ocean.

Lafayette, La.

Basque identity

My roots are French Basque in origin, so I got a rise from your article “Basque terrorists threaten Opus Dei in Spain” (NCR, June 20). Twice in the article the spokeswoman for a Spanish bishops’ conference is reported as claiming that the country’s Catholic church has “never taken sides” on political issues. Who are we kidding? Spain is the country of the Inquisition. Also, in 1935 the church was instrumental in Franco’s dictatorship coming to power. A result of his rule was the suppression of some historical remnants of Basque democracy. The church’s incentive to side with the rebels arguably was for fear of communism, which fear was diminished with the removal of the Republic.

Basques have historically been a democratic people. Unique in DNA, language and culture, they prided themselves on individualistic rule and abhorrence of government. As a result, conquerors had an easy time in invading their territory only to find the people refused to bow to being governed. An exception to this general rule is their allegiance to the church, and, as noted in the article, Spanish Basques are twice as religious today as those Catholics in the rest of Spain. During Franco’s war, only two Basque provinces fought against Franco, the Nazis and the Fascists. The remainder of Basques were even persuaded by their village priests to call those who did so “Goriak” (“Reds”).

ETA’s violence is justly condemned. However, Basque people suffer it while being governed by either French or Spanish nations as well as the church. Hopefully, remaining true to their heritage and the Catholic church, Basques will someday find a complete democracy in both nation and church.

Yuba City, Calif.

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, July 18, 2003