National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
April 30, 2004

LettersGive a mouse a Bible

I read Jeannette Cooperman’s article “Going beyond the kiddie version of God,” (NCR, March 26) first on the Internet, then again the other day after I received in the mail my copy of the paper.

In between, I gave it a fair amount of thought.

The story If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is really tantalizing. Now, if the mouse is Japanese, he will want a Japanese cookie called senbei made of rice flour -- crispy, not sweet, but maybe flavored with soy sauce. Then he will want a cup of warm green tea to go with it. And since this is the cherry blossom time, he will want it served under the cherry trees. So he will need a straw mat to sit on. And next, he may want a bottle of sake, which is customary for cherry-blossom viewing. He will need a small porcelain cup from which to drink the sake. After that he may feel like singing, and will want a portable karaoke stereo cassette player.

And so it is when you start with the assumption that the Bible is not inspired, God is not almighty and Jesus is not divine.

Suppose we grant that the Bible is inspired. That doesn’t mean that God dictated it word for word. Only that God insured that the basic message, “I Am With You Always” (“Yahweh”), didn’t get lost, and the rest was up to the writers’ ingenuity and imagination.

If God is not almighty, then there is no answer to the problem of human evil. All we can say is that we are really in trouble and it looks like it is getting worse. Or we can struggle with the problem, as the author of Job did, and conclude that because God is almighty, somehow God will find a way.

If Jesus is not divine, then maybe we should look to the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as more relevant. But let’s think about the Incarnate Word. Jesus wasn’t just a nicer human, as the first Christian heresy maintained. His humanity wasn’t merely a mirage, as others thought. He was not two people, one divine and one human, somehow joined. God was so completely human in Jesus that even he didn’t understand fully what was happening. He prayed in Gethsemane, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me, but your will be done.” This was the only way he could show God’s “I Am With You Always.” Surely, he was the one most surprised at the moment of Resurrection.

Anyway, if the Bible is not inspired, etc., all we can look forward to is being remembered as a photo in a family album -- and maybe not even that.

Ikeda City, Japan

Video on gay marriage

After reading Tom Roberts’ “Perspectives” article in the NCR April 9 issue, I downloaded the video he referred to from the Preserve Marriage Organization. It was truly lower and more offensive than I could have imagined. First of all, that the bishops approved this inflammatory and untrue diatribe against homosexual unions from a right-wing fanatical organization was bad enough. But taking time out from Mass to show it to the congregation is both unbelievable and unacceptable. With smoke and mirrors to deflect their scandalous handling of the clerical abuse mess, the bishops have turned the banquet table of our Lord into an altar of intolerance. Where are the words of Christ that preach forgiveness, love and acceptance? Where are comfort and spiritual nourishment in words from the pulpit? Paraphrasing Michael Moore, “Hey, dude, where’s my church?”

Huntington, N.Y.

Remembering Untener

When I voluntarily left my religious order six years ago, I set out on my own to seek incardination into a diocese. Ken Untener and the Saginaw, Mich., diocese stood out among all others with a welcoming spirit of tolerance and uncommon trust, and readily accepted me.

Shortly after settling in, I noticed something I had not seen in any other diocese. Many priests and other ministers imitated Ken’s pastoral style and even some of his mannerisms. But as you pointed out, the ongoing legacy Ken Untener leaves the wider church is not his varied and unique talents. It is his almost self-effacing love. That is a gift that will last forever.

Alma, Mich.

Foot-washing ban

This year it is Bishop John Donoghue giving orders about foot washing. Why is this such an issue with some men? Women wash feet all the time -- of children, the old, the sick. Men do it once a year and it becomes a big deal.


Venezuela coverage

If Venpres, the state press agency of Venezuela, counts on rehashes of its propaganda, then Bart Jones is a stellar buyer (“U.S. funds aid Chávez opposition” and “Where the money goes,” NCR, April 2). That is, after Ms. Eva Golinger-Moncada, who is editor and publisher of the slick, an exclusively pro-Chavez e-zine of decidedly Marxist stripe.

So it is no surprise that Mr. Jones chooses not to ask Ms. Golinger-Moncada where obtains its financing.

And it is no surprise that Mr. Jones is silent on the mounting politically-motivated violations to human rights in Venezuela. These have been documented by Human Rights Watch, which has declared the evidence unquestionable. The abuses are so severe that two Venezuelan ambassadors have resigned, no longer able to publicly proclaim their allegiance to the regime.

Venezuelan judges who do not comply with the government’s orders have been fired from their posts, as reported with alarm by the International Bar Association. And 7,000 petroleum industry workers have been fired for signing a legally constituted petition to revoke the mandate of President Chávez.

Thirty percent of an electorate of over 12 million signed the petition late last year to recall President Chávez. Many more could not sign for fear of losing their jobs. President Chávez had publicly issued verbal threats against the livelihood of civil servants and military personnel if they dared sign. And he made sure that hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans now living abroad were forbidden to exercise their constitutional rights. Since 1999, the current government has ushered in the systematic destruction of the local economy and the privatization of national assets to global interests. So much for the anti-globalization rhetoric that President Chávez tries to foment to gain global accolades.

A meteoric rise in corruption among military generals and high-ranking government officials, plus almost $1 billion in oil concessions to Cuba have left the Venezuelan economy in shambles -- long before and since the work stoppage by petroleum workers in late 2002-early 2003.

In exchange for the ballooning deficit with Cuba, thousands of Cubans are flown in to act as teachers and medics in a host country that suffers from 20 percent unemployment.

The common denominator in the revolutionary process is “polarization,” as Mr. Jones noted. But perhaps not known to Mr. Jones is that the perpetrator of the polarization is none other than President Chávez. It is the president who ties up the private media in forced broadcasting, normally once a week, sometimes more often. For hours at a time, Chávez delivers his extemporaneous non sequiturs, threats and lies. And he keeps the population in a state of turmoil. There is a reason for systematically destabilizing a society and its economy. And the answer is not democracy.


Hedderich describes himself as a politically independent citizen of Venezuela and Canada.

Bart Jones responds:

The writer’s accusation that the articles are “propaganda” is risible. The two pieces are a balanced and fair presentation of both sides in the debate over the National Endowment for Democracy’s activities in Venezuela, with extensive comments from both endowment officials and critics of the agency. If the articles are “propaganda,” then others in the media must be engaged in the same nefarious activity, since news outlets, including Reuters, one of the world’s largest news agencies, have since picked up on the story as well.

As for Golinger, she can speak for herself, but she has stated that implications her Web page is funded by Chávez are ridiculous and defamatory. The writer seems upset the articles do not lay out the multiple failings and abuses he attributes to Chávez. But he’s missing the point, since that was not the focus of the extensive NCR pieces. They were about the National Endowment for Democracy, which the writer fails to mention at all. The debate over whether Chávez is a hero to the poor or a dangerous dictator was addressed in a paragraph that in a fair and equal manner gave both sides their say.

* * *

There’s an old joke, maybe based on a true incident, in which a journalist asks Fidel Castro why there are no free elections in Cuba. Castro immediately answers, “Because Cuba is a democracy.” This, in a nutshell, is the mentality that afflicts Chávez also. He has no idea of what a democracy is, as is evident from so many attempts at thwarting democratic expression. (This week Venezuela’s congress, highly manipulated by him, will pass laws that in effect will subordinate Venezuela’s supreme court to his will.) Even if it were true that the United States is meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs, it is also true that Chávez would like to rule in the style of Latin American dictators, under the pretext of American intervention and socialist ideals.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

* * *

Regarding “SOA Watch scores victory,” NCR, April 9: While I am 100 percent behind SOA Watch and its efforts, as a priest who has spent many years in Venezuela, I feel called to make some comments with respect to the organization’s efforts in Venezuela. That President Chávez withdrew his officers from the SOA is fine. But the fact is that this is rather hypocritical on his part, since it serves his purpose to validate his government before the world by withdrawing from the SOA, while at the same time he is getting better (worse) preparation for his officers in Cuba and from Cubans here in Venezuela.

Another thing: The situation in Venezuela is much too complex for persons to come here for a few days and feel they understand what is happening. The latest Venezuelan bishops’ declaration about the situation gives a different view.

Caracas, Venezuela

McCarthy on meat

Thank you for Colman McCarthy’s thought-provoking article “Think twice before asking, ‘Where’s the beef?’ ” (NCR, April 9). It made me think that perhaps the real problem is what, with some writer’s license, I will call “Mad People’s Disease” (MPD).

MPD enables many intelligent people to be greatly concerned about eating meat after one “mad cow” is found in the United States, while they ignore the many scientific studies that link heart disease, stroke, many types of cancer, and other chronic degenerative diseases, as well as various digestive problems to animal-based diets.

MPD enables otherwise compassionate people to ignore the fact that 10 billion animals in the United States alone are raised for food annually under cruel conditions, in crowded, confined spaces, where they are denied fresh air, exercise and any natural existence. MPD enables people normally concerned about the well-being of their fellow human beings to disregard the fact that 70 percent of the grain grown in the United States and over one-third of the grain grown worldwide is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as an estimated 20 million of the world’s people die annually because of hunger and its effects.

MPD enables people who are concerned with the sustainability of the planet to ignore the significant contributions of animal-based agriculture to air, water and land pollution, species extinction, destruction of tropical rainforests and other precious habitats, shortages of water and other resources, global climate change, and many other threats.

MPD causes people who are concerned with religious teachings to ignore that animal-based diets and livestock agriculture violate religious mandates to treat animals with compassion, protect their health, preserve the environment and help hungry people.

Staten Island, N.Y.

Schwartz is president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America.

* * *

Colman McCarthy’s article, superb as it was, omitted one important aspect of the meat-eating phenomenon: the price paid by the animals not only in their deaths but in the quality of their lives, as they are incarcerated in ghastly factory farms. It is so often forgotten by Catholics that these are, in the words of the catechism, “God’s creatures” and that human beings “owe them kindness” (n. 2416). As meat eating, at least on the scale indulged in, is not necessary for health -- indeed, as McCarthy explains, can even be harmful -- Catholics should ask themselves whether “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly” (n. 2417) applies to this activity. Many of us think it does, and so we desist altogether. Why do not many more? (See the Catholic Concern for Animals Web site at

Witney, England

* * *

Regarding the column on meat by Colman McCarthy: I realize that you give the writers carte blanche, but here is an article that has nothing to do with religion, biblical teaching, balanced reporting or the truth.

McCarthy is not an M.D., and he is fostering the ideas of an organization -- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a vegan-run organization that is financed by Wild Oats, a chain of health food stores, and PETA, a band of lunatics who attack women wearing fur coats and are also strongly against killing any animals. What did he expect from this bunch? At least he could have presented both sides of the controversy, if there is one, instead of frightening people with his anti-meat propaganda. I would guess that he never checked the other view.

Huntington Beach, Calif.

* * *

Blessings on Colman McCarthy for telling the truth about the double-edged sword of eating meat. First, we breed and raise animals in horrendous conditions and kill them so we can eat them. Then the animals kill us in record numbers with heart disease, cancer and diabetes. How simple, how peaceful, how healthy it is to switch to a plant-based diet! Since I became a vegan 18 years ago, my cholesterol has remained low, my energy has remained high, I’ve lost and kept off 18 pounds with ease and my diet is more varied, delicious and beautiful than that of my still-eating-meat peers. I hope that the clergy hear Mr. McCarthy’s call to address the many disadvantages of a meat-based diet and start to preach that peace begins in the kitchen.

Fairfax, Calif.

Purged from parish library

You’ve been purged! The only Catholic church that I know of in the Santa Fe archdiocese that has a library is in Los Alamos, and it had a good, accessible, varied selection. Evidently, the new parish priest, a former Army chaplain who favored the war in Iraq and who insisted the archbishop forbid John Dear from participating in last year’s annual peace march to Los Alamos, has eliminated NCR from the library in favor of The Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. My first reaction was shock, then I cried. Ignorance and fundamentalism are not just in the evangelical church, but here in one of the most highly educated parishes in the United States.

Santa Fe, N.M.

Kenya’s slums

Mr. Scalia’s letter from Kenya (NCR, April 2) was a very touching description of life in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, but I was shocked to read, “It’s hard to feel bad for people who don’t feel sorry for themselves.” The cheerfulness of the people he met is a tribute to the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity, but it does not excuse him from “feeling bad” about their situation -- suffocating streets, stomachs bloated from malnutrition, garbage-strewn gutters running with refuse from rotting outhouses. What an odd twist to the story he told!

Fairfax, Va.

Griffin’s book on 9/11

In the Jan. 30 issue of NCR, you devoted nearly a full page to a review by Rosemary Ruether of a book titled The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 by David Ray Griffin, a process theologian at the Claremont School of Theology in California. Ruether admits she at first “dismissed the suggestions that the Bush administration might have been complicit in allowing 9/11 to happen as ‘conspiracy theory.’ ” Then, she says, she read this book and found it “both convincing and chilling.”

Unfortunately, her review was two months too early. When the book was finally released in March, it was swamped by Richard Clarke’s book, and hard to find. I think, since you gave it so much attention in January, NCR readers should be told the book is now available -- but maybe not at your local bookstore ( has it, and so does the publisher, Olive Branch, which can be found at I have no financial or any other connection to the author, publisher, reviewers, sellers, etc., of this book. It just “disturbed” me as much as it obviously did Rosemary Ruether.

College Park, Md.

Abuse scandal

Thank you for publishing Fr. Bourgeois’ letter (NCR, April 9). His thoughts parallel perfectly my feelings on the bishops’ scandal. Contrary to what Bishop Wilton Gregory says, this chapter in our church’s history is not closed. Until our bishops demand the resignation of every one of their brother bishops who took part in these crimes against humanity, they have no moral authority.

Atherton, Calif.

NCR’s role and impact

I read NCR to balance my more conservative Catholic reading. I just wish that progressive Catholics sought ways to work with those of us who are more conservative. Our models of the church may be different, but the stereotypes and lack of tolerance toward us are not helping to unify the church. Every time I read one of your articles, especially about those women who seek ordination, I ask myself, can this person lead a parish with both conservative and progressive members? After all, the church is not monolithic.

Our Roman Catholic identity is what makes us unique as Christians, and when NCR writes about issues in such a way that makes one wonder if its authors think that the pope is the anti-Christ, it does not help us conservatives to look at your model of the church. If anything, it does the opposite. It seems as if some of your authors are becoming what they hate about the church: authoritative, triumphal and arrogant.

Just because we disagree with your models of the church does not place us outside of the Second Vatican Council. When your authors infer this, they sound like the pre-1960s priests and nuns who only wanted us to pray, pay and obey.

We too have learned, and we have you to thank for that.

Waterbury, Conn.

* * *

I have always enjoyed, been enlightened by, agreed with and vehemently disagreed with NCR. That hasn’t changed. A friend gives me his copy when he is done. If you ever bring back “Starting Point” or any of Fr. James Behrens’ writing, I’ll re-subscribe myself!

I’m quite traditionalist or conservative; however, NCR has gradually made me aware of and attentive to another “room with a view.” A room I wouldn’t consider before. The abuse scandal has especially made a deep, negative impression on me. A wound to the heart. Reading some of this week’s full stories (and the others, when I get my friend’s copy), I am always moved to remain within the church and to continue practicing my faith because of the consistent hope expressed by your writers in the midst of so much disappointment and pain. You’re a source of spiritual growth for me now. Thank you!

Westbrook, Maine

‘Vagina Monologues’

It is difficult to believe that many of those commenting on “The Vagina Monologues” have actually read or seen them (NCR, March 19). Though they are often advertised as funny, I found very little humor. I chuckled once or twice; my tears and aches of heart came more often.

My friend said the show was “dirty.” Others seemed pained. “How could such acclaimed actors take part in what is obviously a filthy, woman-hating work?” None of these commentators had read or seen the work.

So when I went to see it I did not know what to expect. I was unprepared for the intimate revelations of women’s lives and for the depth of feelings awakened.

The young women came onto the stage and shared with us their secrets, pains, bewilderment, hatreds, fears, helplessness. Profound stillness met their words. I was not the only one brushing away tears of compassion and empathy.

There is nothing vulgar in the “Monologues” except the vulgarities visited upon women by those closest to them or those using them as business investments. It is vital that young women (and men) hear the true stories of life as female in the world of today. Our sisters need us.

Be not hypocrites like John Ashcroft, who, in covering the breasts of a statue, seemed to be telling the Creator that he had made a mistake.

Addison, Ill.

War in Iraq

The brutality experienced by four American contractors in Iraq on March 31 is indeed a terrible tragedy. Nevertheless, I pray for a reasoned response from our government in our demand for justice. If the tables were reversed, who among us could say that we would not attack a member of an occupying force that we blamed for taking away our homes, our livelihood and our family members.

How proud I’d be to hear President Bush say, “Though our hearts are saddened by this tragedy, in the spirit of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who chose not to resist evil with evil, we will seek justice, but forego revenge.” This would be a beautiful Holy Week message from a man who considers himself a true Christian.

I fear instead that we will emulate the current leadership of Israel and try to bulldoze the Sunni triangle, further compounding a terrible tragedy. My heart is heavy as I ponder the death and destruction inflicted by the empire-building of our present administration. We and our children will surely be paying for this arrogance one way or another for generations to come.

Centennial, Colo.

* * *

At last the United States has found a coalition to fight in Iraq -- corporate parasites banding together for protection.

Silver Spring, Md.

* * *

Imagine this: The American people are stirred up over President Bush and his war actions and they protest. Then out of the woodwork come actors and high-profile anti-Bush demonstrators protesting. Then Dick Clark, John Kerry and their cohorts begin public protesting! Why then wouldn’t al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the murdering terrorists believe more and more that they are right and continue or increase their killings? It would appear that all the people who have protested and not stood up to the terrorist bullies are anti-American, even traitors. I am a 63-year-old American male who has served his time in the military and I strongly believe that if we continue to lose more lives, both civilian and military, all protesters should be held liable. Please ask people to start standing up for America and help stamp out murderous, cold-blooded killers and reelect the only man who had the nerve to take action.

Raymore, Mo.

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 30, 2004