National Catholic Reporter
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August 1, 2003

LettersIraq reality

Included in Demetria Martinez’s May 23 column was a beautiful poem by Lisa Suhair Majaj, “A Few Reasons to Oppose the War.” It began:

because our bodies are soft and
easily harmed
and destruction is a way of
dying, not living …

Now that we know how appalling was the suffering caused by Saddam Hussein and members of his family, I propose a rewrite -- with a more empathic message: “A Few Reasons to Have Opposed Saddam”:

because Iraqi flesh is soft and
painfully harmed
and his cruelty was a way of
dying, not living
because the Iraqis are so utterly
and so prone to grief …
because each morning the wild-
flowers outside my window
were raising their red faces to
the Son
because we are all, each one of
in love with the Light.

Human Rights Watch reported that 200,000 people disappeared during the 24 years of Saddam’s reign. On the average, that’s about 23 Iraqis disappearing, every day, for a period of 24 years. By comparison, few people were regrettably killed or wounded during the brief advance on Baghdad.

Those who answered their nation’s call for preemptive action and who fought and died to free the Iraqis from torture and death did not die in vain, because, “No one has greater love than this …” (John 15:13).

Kula, Hawaii

* * *

More and more, it appears that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was decided aforethought, and that ensuing discussions, disclosures and declarations by the administrations of the United States and Great Britain were merely flimsy justifications.

If it is true that the grounds to justify our invasion, the first “preemptive strike” in our nation’s history ( alleged ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, alleged possession of and intent to use weapons of mass destruction, alleged machinations by Saddam to obtain uranium from Africa, alleged ability to strike “within 45 minutes”), are all false, then the judgment by Pope John Paul II and most major U.S. religious leaders would be sadly true: that a preemptive war against Iraq would not be a just war, and therefore would be immoral.

If this is the case, then all God-honoring people need to repent from this objective state of national sin. I am on my knees nightly in this regard.

Las Vegas

* * *

Read President Bush’s lips. There you will see clearly the lie: “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” It is one of many lies. It doesn’t matter who put the lie in his mouth, George Tenet of the CIA (who currently takes the blame), Condoleezza Rice, Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney. It’s the president’s lie. He told us many times many ways that Iraq was an imminent threat to us.

Even when confronted with direct evidence of the uranium lie, the president and his advisers say, the lies don’t matter. You are better off Saddam is out -- and we will stay four, five, 10-plus years and manage the huge Iraqi oil supply to your benefit. Don’t complain. We will continue to kill, and expose U.S. soldiers to endless guerrilla attacks on foreign soil for your access to oil (overwhelming profits for a few CEOs, and a comfortable life style for a shrinking number of common citizens).

But what citizens have lost is fundamental. The Bush administration has decapitated the democracy. They have decided they will manipulate the truth and mislead us where they will. They will do our thinking for us -- for our own good -- but most substantially for their military/oil industry sponsors.

What is to be our response to this bloodless coup by our chief executives, who have presumed to execute war with all the resources of our country, disinforming us of the true causes and reasons? Do we allow ourselves to become the next society of bread and circuses and fascist machinations? It’s time to throw the bums out. Please take action in any way you can. Two possibilities to stand up for truth and a Congressional investigation at this time are presented on the web: and .html?s=demnews (no endorsement of the Democratic Party intended).

Port Huron, Mich.

Kudos to Berggren

Thank you for Kris Berggren’s column “Role model mom isn’t picture perfect” in the July 4 issue. I am grateful for courageous people like Kathy Itzin who, despite discrimination by the church’s hierarchy and persecution by groups such as Catholic Parents Online, continue their service to the church. The generosity and courage displayed by people like Kathy make them worthy role models.

The church’s understanding of human sexuality remains rooted in outmoded Thomistic/Aristotelian categories. Until the institutional church comes to grips with, as Kris Berggren writes, “new advances in human understanding and knowledge,” many of our present troubles will continue.

Thank you, Kris, for reminding us, “The bottom line for Catholics is the primacy of human conscience . . . that interstitial space where faith and knowledge meet.” Thank you, Kathy Itzin, for giving us a living example of what that means.

Salt Lake City

* * *

Kris Berggren’s essay about the denial of an “excellence in catechetics” award to Kathy Itzin (NCR, July 4) severely criticizes Catholic Parents Online, the group that alerted Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis to Itzin’s life as a partnered and parenting lesbian, and limits its criticism of the archbishop to a hint that his quick decision in the matter might have been influenced by his candidacy for Boston. Speaking as somone who has been targeted both by Catholic Parents Online and by Harry Flynn, I think that Berggren was unfair to the group and too easy on the archbishop.

Yes, the secretive Catholic Parents Online might be in fact very tiny. That does not negate its right to speak out concerning the good of the church.

And yes, Catholic Parents Online usually functions as a single-issue group. It was founded to counter the influence of a single issue group, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered-friendly Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, which had provided “safe staff” training for several hundred educators preparing for Catholic high school outreach to GLBT students.

CPO went after certain parishes only because the Catholic Pastoral Committee had listed them on its Web site. On the same Web site, the group found out about Kathy Itzin. In all this the members of CPO did what they had the right and obligation to do. They spoke out in the name of conscience.

That is just what the group did late in December 1999, when it posted on its Web site ( an essay I had written for the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Luther, John Paul and the necessity of dissent.” At the same time, president Colleen Perfect encouraged friends of CPO to complain about me to the Catholic high school where I had taught for 10 years.

By then the archbishop, not yet dreaming of Boston, had been after me for a year. In December 1998 the Star Tribune had published my essay, “To many Catholics, outreach programs for gays not enough.” I do not know that CPO complained about that one. But the archbishop soon spoke of me in a letter to the president/principal of the high school. Next he sent the superintendent of Catholic schools to speak with him and then told him face to face that perhaps it was not appropriate to have a theologian teach high school religion.

I responded to all this with the 1999 column on dissent. CPO members did complain about that. But I suspect that what made the school let me go at the end of that year was a visit to the principal paid by Auxiliary Bishop Frederick Campbell.

This is how the archbishop operates.

Yes, CPO put pressure on him, both in the matter of Kathy Itzin and in the earlier canceling of an appearance at St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis by a GLBT activist. But CPO did not make him respond as he did to a request from the parish council after the first incident: a request for a meeting to talk about the pain caused by his action.

Flynn responded, in a way many would call typical, that he also felt pain, for different reasons, and that he would meet with them, but with his own topics for discussion, and in the presence of two auxiliary bishops, the vicar general, and the chancellor! With all the big guns at his disposal.

CPO I can live with. Harry Flynn is another matter.

St. Paul, Minn.

* * *

Thank you, Kris Berggren, for your column in the July 4 issue. Tears came to my eyes first, then no words and finally, wow! How can a church that should be modeling the teachings of Jesus Christ treat someone so cruelly? My heart felt such heaviness for Kathy Itzin. This well-deserved award was really recalled?

The most authentic teaching of our Catholic faith, which needs to be protected, should be one of love, not discrimination.

Tucson, Ariz.

Pacifism is activism

Thanks to you and to Colman McCarthy for his article, “History shows pacifists aren’t dreamers,” in your July 4 issue. Mr. McCarthy’s distinction between passive and active resistance is especially valuable. I sometimes think that “hawks” believe the word pacifist comes from the word passive, and that pacifism means not doing anything in the face of violence. It actually derives from the Latin word pax, meaning peace. So as Mr. McCarthy points out, the reality is that pacifists are people of action, but without resorting to the same violent tactics as those they decry.

Mr. McCarthy further cites several historical instances that show the value and power of nonviolence and the fallacy of militarism as a means to democracy and peace. Our culture is so obsessed with pragmatism, knowing how something works, that if we can’t see and understand something (in this case, pacifism), we refuse to trust it or accept it. But Christianity is a religion of mystery. We may not know exactly how the Lord’s grace works in the face of evil, but Mr. McCarthy’s article shows us that observing the (seemingly illogical) nonviolent philosophy of Jesus works, even when practiced by non-Christians. What could be more pragmatic? It works! As Christians, may we learn to trust that Jesus Christ knows a thing or two about how to face down the forces of evil without becoming evil in the process.

Portland, Ore.

Protesting circumcision

A groundbreaking circumcision lawsuit was settled this spring in New York, although terms of the settlements have not been publicly disclosed. William Stowell filed suit in 2000 against the Catholic hospital where he was circumcised as a newborn in 1981, and against the physician who circumcised him.

Stowell’s case did not claim an unexpected outcome, but questioned whether a physician could legally and ethically remove normal, healthy tissue from a nonconsenting minor for nontherapeutic reasons. No national medical group in the world today recommends routine circumcision.

The catechism (No. 2297) in “respect for bodily integrity” states, “Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.”

In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics described circumcision as “amputation of the foreskin,” and the American Medical Association called elective circumcision “nontherapeutic.” Catholic hospitals that circumcise infants for nontherapeutic reasons violate the moral law.

St. Peter, our first pope, said circumcision was unnecessary in Acts 15:10. Pope Eugene IV in 1442 issued a papal bull that states, “Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practice circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation.”

Catholic hospitals must start respecting the bodily integrity of male infants, and not wait for more lawsuits before they do so.

Groton, N.Y.

Bishops playing defense

The continuing struggle of the U.S. hierarchy to deal with the continuing sex abuse crisis was correctly observed by Joe Feuerherd as defensive (NCR, July 4). It is surely true that the bishops now understand how vital the sex abuse scandal, at least in its pedophilia aspects, can be. It’s also true that many are striving to come to grips with the problem. Cardinal George is right: It is “outrageous and totally unjust” to suggest the bishops have “done nothing.”

What is problematic is that they haven’t done enough. Self-serving statements such as Archbishop Harry Flynn’s comment on their monumental efforts does not help -- more modest statements about how much more they need to learn and do, as Eugene Kennedy suggests in the same issue of NCR, would be more appropriate.

At a minimum, three (interrelated) areas need to be broached:

Tying all these issues together is the perceived need to maintain power and control and to limit damage. As paradoxical as it may seem to some, it is only by giving up that need for power and to limit damage that power will be kept and damage ended. Defensiveness and public relations are not the answer.

Los Alamos, N.M.

* * *

Reflecting upon the recent meeting of the American Catholic bishops in St. Louis, I believe the most fundamental issue concerns systems of governance. The problems of the American bishops seem to be in two areas: handling of personnel (clergy and bishops) and finances (secret payoffs and more). These point to underlying problems. One problem is the utter inadequacy of the oversight provided by Rome, largely through a self-reporting system. To think that the pope and a few offices in Rome can adequately provide such oversight, not only for the American bishops but for all the bishops of the world, is to believe in Santa Claus. This was a disaster waiting to happen, with many preliminary warnings.

The other problem is the inability of the bishops to exercise effective oversight among their peers. The history of the Catholic church abounds with centuries of local synods of bishops taking disciplinary action against other bishops. The Catholic church preaches subsidiarity (for society), but doesn’t practice it itself. For credibility, the church needs to practice what it preaches.

Enter the first crack in the system with a lay advisory committee to oversee the implementation of the Dallas charter. It breaks open the whole system, revealing its flaws even more. Actually, we need much more lay oversight, and at every level. We can no longer afford to hide or bury the sins of the church. We have legions of committed Catholics throughout the country who have training and experience in issues of personnel and finance. The gifts of God need to be adequately recognized and employed in the governance of the church. In this time of disaster, I believe it will be the laity who save the church, not the bishops or priests.

Madison, Wis.

Marketplace of possibilities

Your two articles on the historic Kirchentag that brought together Catholics and Protestants in Germany omitted one of the most significant aspects of that gathering: The Agora or “marketplace of possibilities” as they termed it, was a huge section of the conference site where hundreds of groups such as Pax Christi, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Oxfam, FairTrade, various world mission and relief efforts had space to not only display their materials but to schedule speakers, workshops, activities, etc. Nobel Laureates such as the Dalai Lama and Adolfo Perez Esquivel and religious leaders such as Hildegard Goss-Mayr and Thich Nhat Hanh were also featured. This made for an exciting and challenging opportunity for the participants.

As an American speaker at the Kirchentag, I found no anti-Americanism but I found everywhere profound puzzlement and strong criticism of the policies of the Bush administration.

Nyack, N.Y.

The Rev. Richard Deats is coordinator of communications of the U.S. Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Frank Keating’s departure

Much of the reaction to the departure of Frank Keating from the national review board of lay Catholics charged with enforcing the charter against child sexual abuse adopted by America’s Roman Catholic bishops has focused on the credibility of the bishops, implying that his leaving makes them less credible.

I and other Catholics dedicated to ending the death penalty in this nation -- a goal that aligns perfectly with Catholic teaching -- thought early on that Keating would become the embarrassment he is and that his very appointment undermined the hierarchy’s credibility. I believe his departure provides the bishops an opportunity to recover some credibility as the review board carries out its mission without Keating.

Keating’s complaint that some bishops “turned to their lawyers when they should have looked into their hearts” is ironic for us who remember his past.

As governor of Oklahoma, he had at least 50 chances to search his heart and quit listening to attorneys, and he always listened to the attorneys. As a result, 50 persons died. One of them, Sean Sellers, was a 16-year-old child when he committed the crime for which he was executed. Like a former Roman governor named Pilate, Keating served Caesar, and refused to listen to his heart when asked to show mercy and dismissed the teaching of his church, saying John Paul II is wrong about the death penalty.

With Keating gone, the bishops and the work of the members of the board can now be truly credible.

Louisville, Ky.

Bishop O’Malley’s selection

The cover story of the July 18 issue begins “Boston Archbishop-elect Sean O’Malley …” A separate article on Page 5 of the same issue begins “Newly selected Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley ...” [italics added for emphasis].

The difference in words is most significant. A small group of men, perhaps only one man, selected O’Malley to be archbishop in Boston. This group operated primarily in the Vatican. It would be earth shatteringly historical in the current Roman Catholic church practice if it could be said, in any meaningful sense, that O’Malley had been elected.

I pray that Archbishop O’Malley is successful in his efforts to assist in overcoming the many difficulties facing the Boston archdiocese and the church throughout the nation.

San Marcos, Calif.

Congratulating Zalot

Bill Zalot’s June 20 “Viewpoint” was a wonderful tribute to his father, a man who in going about his everyday, ordinary life certainly gave those who knew him the opportunity to see the face of Christ. Bill’s reflections show so clearly what is important in life -- not church buildings or clergy too concerned with the institution to remember what Christ asked of us, but the ability to love and to care for each other.

Thank you, Bill, for sharing your story. It gives me hope.

Bethesda, Md.

Lay vocations

I have been following with great interesting the articles and letters regarding the shortage of priests, religious vocations, and the necessity of providing the Eucharist for the faith community. My take on the so-called vocation crisis is this: There really is no shortage of vocations. There are plenty of them, all inspired by the Holy Spirit for our times -- vocations to lay ministry. I firmly believe that a vocation is a grace given by the Spirit, and if Catholics are not flocking to the seminaries, monasteries, and convents in our day, it is because the Spirit is not calling them in great numbers to do so, in order to build a completely different church than we have known heretofore.

We need to see what is before us with the eyes of faith. God is doing something different in our day. The people of God (the church) is going to look even more different in five to 10 years, to say nothing of 30 to 40 years from now.

I cringe inwardly when the call from the pulpit is made to “pray for vocations.” What is implied, perhaps without malice, is that the real vocations are to the priesthood and religious life. The lay vocation is also a God-given, Spirit-inspired grace, given for our time. Whatever else we need to do as the people of God to make sure that the Eucharist is there for the community will follow as we pray, reflect, and listen to the Spirit.


Moralism and individualism

Regarding the article on the Hispanic ministry conference in the NCR issue of July 4, we need to reflect in depth upon the words of Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez of San Juan: “An evangelization based on moralism must give way to one that develops an inner lifestyle that enables individuals and communities to respond to the world around them from their faith convictions.” He further notes: “The problem is that the influence of faith in culture is measured by moral righteousness.”

When the clerical and lay moral police flail against moral issues such as abortion, homosexual behavior, contraception and divorce, they continue to perpetuate the individualistic attitudes of the U.S. culture by harping on what individuals do or do not do. We need to stop our “belly-gazing.” What wonderful changes in our world could result if we focused our energies upon the social gospel of Jesus by working for social justice in matters of employment opportunities, livable wages, gender equity, racism, ageism and violence in the home. We need to be as inclusive as Jesus who is our model. Otherwise we make God into our own individualistic, judgmental image.

Columbus, Ohio

Poor shepherds

Eugene Kennedy is correct about shepherds. From Arizona to Albany, N.Y., a good shepherd is hard to find (NCR, July 4). “If a shepherd errs, he must be isolated from other shepherds, but woe unto us if the sheep begin to distrust shepherds”(Umberto Ecco, The Name of the Rose). It is time for many bishops to step down from their own self-created quagmires of mishandled sexual abuse cases and allow new leaders to take over. The king is dead, long live the king.

Rensselaer, N.Y.

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, August 1, 2003