National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
May 7, 2004

LettersArtificial feeding

Regarding your article titled “Artificial nutrition, hydration: Assessing papal statement” (NCR, April 16): If Catholic health care institutions are forced to comply with this latest stance of the Vatican regarding the cruel and inhumane practice of forced artificial feeding and hydration, it will very likely mean a significant loss of patients/ clients in those facilities. Such a mandate could well be the death knell for Catholic health care, which would be a huge loss to the entire health care community, including the general population.

I find it a curious thing that, according to the Vatican, letting nature have its way in the matter of human reproduction is an absolute, but letting nature take its course is denied in the realm of allowing death to happen. Such a contradiction and total lack of logic creates a huge credibility gap for the Vatican, which renders any Vatican pronouncement on life and death issues irrelevant.

As the writers of the article observed, “Mandating useless or unwanted interventions might well be the violation of the person’s dignity. … Such interventions are morally counter-indicated as both harmful and extraordinary.” Amen.

Tacoma, Wash.

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Jane Brody’s article in The New York Times for Dec. 30, “Facing the Inevitable: In Search of a Good Death,” contains this paragraph:

“When difficulty swallowing makes eating or drinking impossible, the question of tube-feeding arises. But dying patients are usually not hungry, Ms. Pitorak explained, and ‘the absence of hydration and nutrition may even induce an analgesic euphoria’ as ketone bodies build up in the blood. Even a little sugar administered intravenously can counteract this euphoria, she noted.”


But now the Vatican has instructed Catholic hospitals to feed and hydrate us when we are dying, whether we want it or not. Our choices about our last days are taken from us. Instead of the euphoria nature provides to ease our dying, we must be subjected to force-feeding, a form of torture.

Does Dr. Navarro-Valls of Opus Dei have an explanation for this? Will this be done to prolong the life of the pope?

St. Louis

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It appears obvious that the strongest argument in favor of withholding artificial hydration and feeding is that “The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality. Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended” (preface of Christian Death I). If we have the faith to accept this, why should we needlessly want to prolong the lives of our loved ones from this reality through artificial means? If we don’t have the faith to accept this truth that sets us totally free, we should pray for it.

Copperas Cove, Texas

Ekeh a bit naive

In his “Viewpoint” essay (NCR, April 23), Ono Ekeh argues his support for pro-choice John Kerry, a position that cost Ono his job with the U.S. bishops’ conference. Mr. Ekeh rightly, I believe, makes the case for addressing the tragedy of abortion not with a change of law but with a change of values in this society regarding “respect for life” in general. Law reflects the values of a society. Certainly, the institutional church would prefer to have the law of the land support and enforce the church’s values in these matters. It would make things so much easier. Challenging and changing the values of a people is much more difficult -- and it requires a level of magisterial credibility that has been sorely weakened in recent years.

I found one statement in Mr. Ekeh’s essay especially striking and, perhaps, a bit naive given his employment in the conference and his status as a theological student. He wrote that he “believed that the Catholic church in the United States appreciated the benefits of a vigorous discussion from differing ideological arenas, where criticism and divergent views signal the health and vibrancy of a community and not a lack of commitment.” Would that this were so! In the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “We were hoping …”

Owings Mills, Md.

Foot washing

Interesting that some bishops cite the “example of Jesus at the Last Supper” to exclude women from the Holy Thursday foot washing. It’s true that Jesus didn’t include women in his symbolic act. He washed the feet of male Jewish Christians.

I’ll wager that at least some of the bishops who excluded women did include some male gentiles.

New Cumberland, Pa.

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Archbishop John Donoghue’s recent letter to pastors in the Atlanta archdiocese has received much attention. As a Catholic priest ministering in the Atlanta archdiocese and ordained by Archbishop Donoghue in 1996, I believe that he has taken a courageous step in upholding the sacred tradition of the church. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his apostles. At that same meal, he instituted the priesthood and the blessed Eucharist. He commanded his disciples to follow his example. There is an intrinsic link between the priesthood of Jesus Christ and the ritual washing of the feet of the apostles. So often our secular world has tried to redefine the priesthood in language of “rights” and “power.” No man has the right to be ordained a priest. He is called by God to act in the person of Christ. As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “no man takes this honor upon himself.”

The essence of the priesthood is humility and service. What has not been stated in any article is that Archbishop Donoghue is a successor of the apostles, appointed by our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. He is our direct link to Christ through apostolic succession. One of his main duties as bishop is to shepherd the flock entrusted to his care -- he is to teach, sanctify and govern. He is to uphold the sacred traditions of the Roman Catholic church. Throughout his time in Atlanta, Archbishop Donoghue has been a model of humility and service. Ordained for nearly 50 years, he shows us what to it means to be a man of God. He chose as his episcopal motto “To live in Christ Jesus.” He has truly lived this out and gives us an example of selfless service.

To protest or disobey the archbishop’s directive is both prideful and arrogant. It shows a lack of understanding and appreciation of the will of Christ as expressed in the magisterium (teaching office) of the church. As Catholics, we cannot pick and choose what to believe and what not to believe.

Peachtree City, Ga.

Unsworth on Cardinal Law

It is dismaying to be reminded by Tim Unsworth (“The stage trial of Cardinal Law,” NCR, April 16) that Bernard Law, though no longer archbishop of Boston, is still a cardinal, that this man who knowingly and persistently failed to protect the vulnerable from predators known to him still has a vote in the election of the next pope.

The cardinalship is a title conferred by the pope, and it is something that the pope can take away. It is something he should take away if he has any sense of how his inaction is diminishing his moral authority.

And where is the organized protest? This is not a matter of being vindictive against the man. It is a question of not allowing general silence and acquiescence to proclaim that the continuation in high office of someone who has brought such disgrace on the church is normal and acceptable.

Madison, Wis.

* * *

I believe that one of the most cowardly journalistic ploys is a hatchet job on easy targets. In his NCR column Tim Unsworth did not have to remind us so venomously of Cardinal Bernard Law’s awful record with abusive priests in Boston. We know that sordid story only too well. And I don’t know what to make of this line from Unsworth: “Now for this consummate careerist who insisted on being addressed as ‘Your Eminence’ there is only hell.”

Furthermore, as a member of that generation of older priests who, yes, bow our heads in shame over the scandal caused by so many of our brothers, let me assure Mr. Unsworth that we are not finding solace in booze as he presumes to suggest. In fact, for many of us our lives are being played out in thanksgiving and admiration for the numberless lay Catholics who, despite the scandal, support us in our vocation to serve them.

Back to Cardinal Law. I offer another side to this flawed human being (as a flawed human being myself). Some years ago a resigned priest from the Boston archdiocese who was dying of AIDS called Law to ask if the he would consider celebrating his funeral Mass. The cardinal immediately agreed and then told the priest that if he needed a place to get care, the cardinal’s residence was open to him.

Some time later Law heard that the priest in question was in a local hospital and went to see him. A classmate of the priest told me what happened. Law entered the sick room and found the dying priest being tended by his lover. The cardinal embraced the latter and thanked him for taking care of his priest-brother. I think someone once said a word about who should cast the first stone.


Meat pros and cons

I read Colman McCarthy’s column in the April 9 issue of NCR and came to the conclusion that he is the most misinformed consumer I have ever encountered.

I am a food animal veterinarian who has been in practice for 32 years. Over 95 percent of my time is spent on insuring the optimal health of ruminant animals so they can provide food and fiber for the consuming public. I take pride in my work.

I have always contended that I would eat an animal food product any day before consuming a plant product. The animal filters out all the impurities in the plants that come from the contaminated water, air and soil ingredients that the plant incorporates into its structure. A healthy food animal usually insures a healthy end product, which we eat! Who knows if the plant is healthy? Who is inspecting the fruits and vegetables that we are eating? All meat animals are individually inspected other than fish. Milk is the most inspected food product that one can purchase in the grocery store.

The cattle industry can take credit for reducing the amount of material that would be placed in landfills if not fed to ruminants, which can digest byproducts not utilized by simple-stomach animals. Citrus pulp, beet pulp, soy hulls, distillers’ and brewers’ grain byproducts, soybean meal, fruit pumice and many other feed ingredients that are of no value to man as a source of nutrition can be fed to ruminants. What to do with the byproducts of fuel production from corn and soybeans without the almighty cow?

Ruminant animals have been providing food and clothing for man since the days of the Old and New Testament. I personally think the almighty Lord has placed the animals on this earth to use, not abuse. Eating animal food products is part of life on this planet.

Martinsburg, Pa.

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I was happy to see Colman McCarthy’s “Think twice before asking ‘Where’s the beef?’ ” in NCR.

We Christians have been taught that animals have no souls and are here for man’s use. So, with such superior thoughts over the animal kingdom, their flesh has been served for years at church functions, mainly because people like the fatty taste of it.

Most churches make money by serving animals at their festivals, suppers, prayer groups, etc. Church kitchens are filled with the odors of roasting, frying, boiling, stewing animal flesh. Seldom if ever has this huge amount of animal cooking/eating ever been questioned by church members, priests, bishops or the pope. Parishioners and clergy often die of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, but still there is silence from church leaders. Perhaps they are quiet because they like the taste of animal flesh themselves or are afraid of annoying the meat-eating people in the pews. Too much annoyance may mean a drop in the collection basket on Sundays.

As a lifelong Catholic, I’ve never heard a homily or even a few words on kindness to animals. Almost no one ever stops to question where these millions of farm animals come from, how they are treated in factory farms (many filled with growth hormones that force their bodies to grow faster than nature ever intended), how they are treated when sick, what happens to their young, how they are treated in the feedlots and slaughterhouses or (dare I ask it?) what freedoms the animals might want out of their own lives.

Today there is such a wide variety of foods available, healthy and cruelty free, that animal eating should be a thing of the past in churches that proclaim God made all living beings and called them “good.” Cruel animal activities flourish in a Christian society because we have not been raised to question them. I hope that Colman McCarthy’s article will be the beginning of this questioning.

Circle Pines, Minn.

Islam vs. McWorld

As a long-time amateur student of Arabs and Middle Eastern affairs, I find your “Islam vs. McWorld” (NCR, March 26) one of the most accurate analyses of the situation I have encountered for a long time.

The West vs. Islam problem is twofold. First, Islam suffers from the same defect that troubled Christianity during its more formative years. That problem was the failure of early church leaders to distinguish between spiritual and temporal matters. It really wasn’t until Pius IX that the church finally realized that church and state must be separate and the pope’s jurisdiction was spiritual only.

That is Islam’s current problem. In most Arab countries the local Islamic clergy enjoy a de facto power to veto actions of the civil government on the grounds that the actions violate the Quran. In some, candidates for public office must first be vetted by the local ayatollah. As there is no centralized Islamic authority, i.e., no pope, there is often little consistency between what Islam permits its followers to do in one country when compared with another.

Further, the Quran itself is loaded with ambiguities, permitting multiple interpretations, even in the same Arab country. Arabic is a language with only one-fifth the number of words contained in most Western languages. Nuances in meaning that are possible in English amount to huge gaps when Arabic is involved.

The other problem is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Responsible Arab politicians will concede privately that Israel is here to stay and are reconciled to a separate Israeli state. However, it is political suicide for them to concede this publicly. The East-West conflict over Israel and the Palestinians would be over in a matter of days if Israel would withdraw from the whole of the West Bank of the Jordan River, which it captured in a preemptive strike in the 1967 War. End the occupation in its entirety and provide for equal access to the Temple Mount for both Arabs and Jews and there will be instant peace, and all of the Western “Mc’s” would flourish.

San Francisco

Untener for all seasons

I didn’t know Bishop Untener personally, only through his little books. How kind of him to share his journey with us! How sad that we have so few prophets in our midst whose life is a challenge to all of us to be more like Jesus. I thank God for him.

How sad too, that so many young people, like your letter writer Bette Woods (NCR, April 23) take such pride in being unlike Bishop Untener. She seems to feel that a visionary’s worth is measured by the number of young followers instead of fidelity to the Lord. No doubt Jesus himself would be too unorthodox for her. Jesus was not accepted by his hometown, and all the other prophets were killed as well. It’s not about popularity.

Thank goodness not all of our young people are the “young fogys” she is so proud of being. My own daughter Katie is a religious studies major who understands that it’s all about the relationship with God, and not the clothes being worn.

We treasure our little black books with Untener’s Lenten meditations and the little white books with his Easter meditations because we realize that through Bishop Untener’s love of scripture, we have been deeply touched by God.

Lisle, Ill.

Standing with oppressed

After viewing the Mel Gibson “Passion of the Christ” film, I couldn’t stop reflecting about how much things have changed in 2000 years, but so far as Christ is concerned they remain the same.

Israel, once a victim of empire, now joins the empire in victimizing others: they the Palestinians, and we the Iraqis, Colombians and wherever the corporate tentacles of power extend.

Meanwhile, Jesus, a victim himself, hangs in there with the poor, the captives, the oppressed, the prisoners and the slaves of empire.

I’m strongly inclined to help Jesus with this great commission but I’m not sure where to begin.

Devils Lake, N.D.

Democracy in Venezuela

Bart Jones’ article “U.S. funds aid Chávez opposition” (NCR, April 2) provided ample illustration that when it comes to U.S. policy toward Latin America, the more things change, the more they stay the same. U.S. policy today looks like it did toward Nicaragua in the 1980s.

National Endowment for Democracy spokesman Chris Sabatini claims that the organization is “promoting democracy and defusing festering tensions that could lead to civil war.” Providing aid to organizations involved in coups and armed uprisings like Nicaragua in the ’80s, and Venezuela and Haiti recently, clearly erodes democracy. Funding one side of a tense political conflict fuels polarization.

The Bush administration has returned to the bad old days of Latin America policy of the 1980s. And small wonder, considering this administration contains the same cast of characters: Otto Reich, John Negroponte, Elliot Abrams, Dick Cheney and others, as did the Reagan/Bush administrations. This is not about democracy; it is about U.S. military and economic hegemony.

Given the information in Bart Jones’ article, it is small wonder that a recent New York Times article called the U.S. position regarding Venezuela “compromised.” If it is serious about promoting democracy and reconciliation in Venezuela, the Bush administration needs to allow Venezuelans to chart their own future. If they want to support Hugo Chávez and the innovative social programs he has initiated, that’s democracy, and they don’t need the endowment’s money to achieve it.


Kaufman is national co-coordinator of the Nicaragua Network, a social justice and peace group.

* * *

I am writing in response to “U.S. funds aid Chávez opposition.” The article contains a number of distortions and misleading statements. While Mr. Jones offers the National Endowment for Democracy a chance to answer some of the charges leveled against it by the Venezuelan government, there are a number of troubling inconsistencies and points where he does not, and by failing to do so allows some scurrilous allegations to go unanswered, allegations that may actually put legitimate civic groups working in Venezuela in danger. First of all, although the point is given short shrift in the article, the endowment is a bipartisan, nongovernmental organization. It receives an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress that last year totaled $40 million. All of its programs are transparent and overseen by a bipartisan board of directors of distinguished Americans committed to the cause of democracy.

Second, in reading Mr. Jones’ article one would think that the concerns about human rights abuses and the deterioration of democracy in Venezuela were only shared by the endowment and the upper and middle classes in Venezuela. The only reference to human rights abuses in Venezuela comes in a quote from the endowment, as if the concern is motivated only by a desire to defend the endowment’s activities. This is all very strange, because Mr. Jones could have also cited a recent report by the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission for Human Rights that voiced concern about the erosion of the rule of law in Venezuela and the “growing concentration of power in the national executive.” He could have mentioned a recent letter from Human Rights Watch raising concerns about torture and arbitrary arrests by the military during demonstrations that occurred in March. Or he could have mentioned a number of Amnesty International statements, including one in which, after Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez denounced human rights organizations and groups that had received endowment funding, they expressed concern about the government’s apparent lack of awareness of the right of nongovernmental organizations to receive outside support and training. Or even better, Mr. Jones could have cited the Catholic church itself, which has been attacked by President Chávez for hiding the “devil beneath their vestments,” and recently expressed concern about the human rights situation in Venezuela.

But the most worrisome section of the article is where Mr. Jones allows a Venezuelan American lawyer, who earlier in the article he reveals is working closely with the Venezuelan government, to accuse a series of organizations of various things without having to present any evidence to support the claims and without giving the wrongly accused groups the opportunity to respond themselves. In an alarming violation of the very foundation of journalistic ethics, Mr. Jones quotes the lawyer’s charges of treason and violence against a number of civic groups without so much as getting a response from me, from the groups or even from an independent observer. All of the charges are false and are leveled against independent groups that have actively sought to promote and defend internationally recognized human, labor and civic rights. The most serious of these allegations that he allows to go unanswered is the charge that the group Acción Campesina, in the words of the government partisan, has staged violent protests. This is completely false and unfounded. This assertion is made without any evidence against a group that for decades has dedicated itself to peacefully helping small farmers in Venezuela gain access to credit and land. Acción Campesina is a grass-roots, democratic organization.

Journalism of this sort goes beyond unprofessional; it is irresponsible. Such charges in an environment as polarized as Venezuela’s, where President Chávez has accused human rights groups of treason, can put these groups at risk. I must admit that it is unclear to me why NCR itself did not require a more rigorous effort to check facts and allow groups to defend themselves against government attacks. By not doing so, the article and the journal become a mouthpiece for a smear campaign. This is exactly what Amnesty International criticized when it issued its public statement this last April. It is a shame that NCR allowed itself to become a part of it.


Sabatini is the National Endowment for Democracy’s senior program officer for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Tom Roberts, NCR editor, responds:
Mr. Sabatini was interviewed both by telephone and through e-mails numerous times for the articles. He was questioned repeatedly about details of the story and was quoted extensively throughout the pieces. He was also given ample opportunity to respond to allegations raised by Venezuela President Hugo Chávez and his supporters. Bart Jones went to great lengths, in his research and reporting, to give both sides of the story on a controversial topic.

Mr. Sabatini’s long statement on human rights attempts to refute the story, as have others, by raising a point that was not addressed at any length. The story was about the National Endowment for Democracy, not an in-depth examination of the human rights record of Chávez, though he was characterized in the story as a polarizing force with “autocratic tendencies.” In the case of the National Endowment for Democracy and the questions raised about its influence in Venezuelan politics, Chávez is not the problem. Destabilizing a government is.

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 7, 2004