National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
June 18, 2004

Letters NCR’s redesign

I wish to say congratulations. The new look is clean, crisp, inviting and worthy of the content of your fine weekly.


[Batastini is vice president and senior editor of GIA Publications, Inc.]

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I think the new NCR looks like a dead computer face. Obviously anything Catholic has money concerns right now. Thanks for not cutting your fine writers. I smell my mom’s tactic, “I like burnt cookies.”

Waukesha, Wis.

The wages of Law

Cardinal Bernard Law, after nearly destroying an archdiocese, shaking the foundations of faith for countless people, allowing the rampant abuse of too many children and showing his proficiency at avoiding the truth is rewarded with an honorific position, a grand Roman apartment, a staff to wait on him and over $12,000 a month or about $150,000 a year for an allowance!

Our average teacher in a parish school makes somewhere around $30,000.

So the message the Vatican wants to convey? Could it be that covering up abuse, reassigning abusive priests and finding creative ways to lie and cover up is far more valuable and worth more than educating our young in faith, arts and sciences? Actions always speak louder than words.

Ormond Beach, Fla.

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A new cardinal law: The wages of sin is a basilica. The other American bishops who covered up abusers and moved them around the diocese and still have kept secret what they did should now retire and join Law in his new place in Rome.

Rensselaer, N.Y.

The bishops on abortion

Your editorial “We’re adults, we can handle disagreement” (NCR, May 21) highlights the fact that U.S. bishops have proposed different approaches to Sen. Kerry and other prominent Catholic politicians who continue to present themselves for Communion despite their advocacy of abortion rights.

Canon law provides that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion” (Canon 915). An increasing number of bishops, despite the severity of this penalty, feel obliged to invoke this canon as a necessary pastoral remedy, while others are still trying to persuade the politicians to come around on these issues without taking this step.

I think it’s important, though, for Catholic publications to stress the three points of general agreement among the bishops on this issue:

These are significant points of agreement among our bishops that should not be lost in the “denying the Eucharist” debates.

Steubenville, Ohio

[Suprenant is the president of Catholics United for the Faith and publisher of Lay Witness magazine.]

Time to leave?

As a lifelong devout Catholic who contributes substantial funds to the church, it is with a heavy heart that I announce I am leaving the Roman Catholic church. The recent turn toward politics as exemplified in Colorado and Oregon disgusts me. Catholic dogma also opposes the death penalty, child molestation and the Iraq war. Will Communion be denied to all death penalty advocates? Child-molesting priests? Republican office holders who continue to prosecute the war? I don’t think so. The church is guilty of the sin of hypocrisy. I shall never enter a Catholic church again and will now devote my energies and considerable monies to encourage other Catholics to abandon the church as well.

New York

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Having finished the May 14 issue of NCR, I made this statement to my wife: If the bishops and/or the Vatican condemn Sen. Kerry and screw up the presidential election, I am leaving the church (after 76 years)!

The institutional church has plunged toward the depths since the heady days of Vatican II. We have held in there because “it’s our church; it doesn’t belong to the pope or the Vatican or the bishops.”

Well, maybe it’s not our church anymore.

However, at Mass this Saturday morning, while gathered around the altar and experiencing a beautiful eucharistic service with our associate pastor, I realized I couldn’t abandon this priest. Also, I couldn’t abandon our pastor who delivers wonderfully prepared, intelligent and challenging homilies.

Ah, the value of good priests.

I will not abandon them.


The ideal of the church

In his essay “Betraying the tender ideal of the church” (NCR, May 21), Michael Parise has given voice to the hearts and souls of many of us parish priests who labor in the contemporary scandal-ridden church. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for saying pointedly, acutely and accurately how we feel post-Dallas.

Over the years, the bishops have listened to therapists. Their insights blew up in the church’s face. Then they switched to insurance brokers and lawyers. That transition did not do much better for the church. Now we are embedded with the FBI and criminal background checks. When will we face this scandal as a church?

A retroactive zero-tolerance policy that does not discriminate between the number of times or the nature of the crime is immoral at best and un-Christian at its worst. Add to this the double standard by which accused priests are treated versus accused members of the hierarchy.

We priests need to start realizing that we are independent operatives when we are in trouble; we are self-employed when it comes to paying our Social Security, and we amount to no more than employees when it comes time to fill a spot that needs filling. We priests need to realize that we need to care for one another in the face of all too easily filed false charges because, when they are falsely filed, we are left by the charter and by our bishops hanging in the wind.

Merrick, N.Y.

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Fr. Michael Parise’s anguished article on how priests are suffering because of the sex abuse scandal was accurate in its criticism of America’s bishops. The bishops’ inept handing of abusers, their overreaction at Dallas, their inability to accept responsibility and their blaming of priests reminds me of the generals blaming the lowly enlisted personnel for the Iraqi prisoner abuse.

Parise overstates his case when he claims that 95 percent of priests are innocent of wrongdoing. By their silence and loyalty to the system, many non-abusive priests are also responsible for the malaise in which the priesthood now finds itself. Every priest who turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of the young by a brother priest and failed to report well-founded suspicions is also responsible for this horror that has so diminished priestly image and morale. How many priests are there like Fr. James Scahill in Springfield, Mass., who had the courage to blow the whistle and do something about it?

The New York Times reported that many medics, dog handlers and military intelligence soldiers saw or heard of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners but did not come forward. How many priests saw or heard of the abuse of children and did the same? No, Fr. Parise, 95 percent of parish priests are not innocent of wrongdoing.

Cassadaga, N.Y.

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Thank you, Fr. Michael Parise, for powerfully and gently articulating the reality of the “tender ideal of the church” that motivates both baptismal and ordained priesthood!

Of course, that ideal’s origin is in the tender heart of Jesus, “the Good Shepherd,” and I don’t mean that as just another dose of pious, romantic pablum.

Jesus trusted -- even risked -- that “nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength,” and modeled for us such pastoral care as has captured and held the imagination of the human family ever since because it addresses our deepest, most desperate needs with healing mercy and restored hope.

Every once in a while we get a glimpse of such brothers who risk being that kind of pastor. Priests and people are powerfully drawn to and formed by these Christ-like shepherds -- Joseph Bernardin, Ken Untener, Bob Morneau and others who risk being pastors to us and human with us.

Sadly, the 2002 declarations from Dallas seem to have broken the expectation of pastoral care given from our bishops to the priests of our church.

Yet, as any priest learns quickly (though we can be good at resisting it), and most believers easily understand: Pastors need good pastoral care to be able to offer such care to others and simply because we’re human (in the divine image and likeness) too!

The church’s old saying holds true: “You can’t give what you don’t have.”


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I resonate strongly with Michael Parise in his sensitive cover story, “Betraying the tender ideal of the church.” As a Catholic woman, I have also carried a “tender ideal of the church.” This is what led me to enter the convent at age 17. Later, after marriage to my husband (who had been in the seminary) and the birth of our three children, I was led to pursue a graduate degree in religious studies. During my 20 years in parish ministry, I have experienced “battering” of my tender ideal through harassment by a pastor. Michael’s words jump out at me: “He did not validate me or my ministry; he deprived me of any sense of personal credibility.”

I am grateful for the honesty and vulnerability Michael Parise has shared in his story. He has opened a window to the grief and betrayal of priests and also of many women and men in ministry. May each of us experience healing and grace and strength to persevere -- and carry our tender ideal with gratitude.

Ellison Bay, Wis.

Young voice on record

Regarding the Untener letter written by Ms. Woods (NCR, April 23), I would like to state for the record that I am a 25-year-old woman with her master’s degree in systematic theology working in a parish and I vigorously disagree with her. Odd, isn’t it, since I’m under the age of 50? Good thing there are many more like me.

Rochester, Minn.

Breaking up the party

Every party has a pooper, so do permit me to do my part in the general pity party perpetually taking place in your letters section. I am especially moved by the whiny, self-centered tone of the letter (“The church in transit,” NCR, May 28) by Mr. Patrick Perriello.

Mr. Perriello sees discipline as “repression,” correct teaching as “rigid orthodoxy” and serious sense of purpose as “sadness.” (Hey, what’s the problem with orthodoxy, i.e. right thinking?)

I would not be one to invite him to leave the church. But, please, Mr. Perriello, leave the pity party. Stop looking for license disguised as “compassion” and laxity masquerading as “tolerance.” See the joyful church as she truly is -- don’t accept a hollow substitute that trades eutrapelia for cheap laughs, calls charitable correction “punishment” and has closed its ears and heart to the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Lake Bluff, Ill.

There’s still hope

How wonderful it was to find Fr. James Stephen Behrens’ essays in the last couple issues of NCR. I missed his wonderful, poetic voice. I was also grateful to read Patrick J. Perriello Sr.’s letter, “The church in transit.” Both men gave me bits of hope this Pentecost. Thanks and God bless all of you who transmit courage and faith through NCR.

Williams Bay, Wis.

A sordid business

Regarding “The War Crimes of Nakedgate” (NCR, May 28):

Two things surprise me about this sordid American Bush business: 1) the grand silence of the American Catholic bishops who still maintain their love affair with the “antiabortion Bush” and 2) the fact that there have been no calls for the impeachment and removal from office of Mr. Bush, who is not only incompetent but acts with arrogant disdain for human life, freedom and international law. Mr. Nixon was a boy scout in comparison, and Mr. Clinton an oversexed teenager. This man is a genuine terrorist.

Brussels, Belgium

Republicans not pro-life

As a 60-year-old, well-educated Catholic, I would like to commend young Anne Kadera for her pro-life beliefs as well as her commitment to Catholicism.

I am pro-life and would like to see a constitutional ban on abortion. It’s much past the time, however, when young Anne and others identifying themselves as pro-lifers admit to themselves that a vote for a Republican candidate is not going to give us what we want.

It had become evident to me, after having voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980, that the Republican Party had seized upon this issue and has used it effectively since to draw traditional Democrat voters into their fold. Reagan’s first Supreme Court nominee was pro-choice Sandra Day O’Connor.

We have a Republican-controlled Congress, a Republican president and a conservative Supreme Court, and yet abortion on demand is alive and well. Wouldn’t one think, given the rhetoric of the past 25 years or so, now is the time for the so-called pro-life Republicans in power to strike? Isn’t it time for a Republican senator like Rick Santorum to propose a bill that would be passed in both houses of Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the conservative Supreme Court?

It was George W. Bush, not John Kerry or Ted Kennedy or Nancy Pelosi, who said about two months ago that this country is not ready for a constitutional ban on abortion, and this is exactly what a USA Today article predicted about a year ago when it stated that as long as 60-plus percent of American voters want abortion on demand to be kept legal, the Republicans will not deliver.

Why does the pro-life movement continue to turn a blind eye?

I have traveled extensively in the Middle East and Africa and have lived in Europe because of my work. I have witnessed political conservatism in all its forms (kingdoms, tribes, sultanates, dictatorships and democracies). Political conservatism stands for one thing and one thing only, and that is that wealth, power, knowledge and resources should be in the hands of a few while the burdens are heaped upon the shoulders of the many.

And how do political conservatives take power in a democracy with free and open elections? Why, through rhetoric. Tell the voters what they want to hear, and if they’re not paying attention, which most don’t, then you can play the game for a long time.

Young, discerning people like Anne Kadera are a threat to political conservatives because people like her are searching for the truth. Eventually she will realize that most issues are not black and white and that deciding for whom to vote and for what reasons is not always a simple or easy process.

As I said, I am pro-life. I will vote for the Democrat presidential candidate come November, and my conscience is clear.


Choosing between evils

You indict Sen. Rick Santorum (NCR, May 14) for his alleged preference for pragmatism over principle in his support of incumbent pro-abortion rights Sen. Arlen Spector in the recent Pennsylvania Republican primary. But there is another way of looking at Santorum’s decision, which is neither “faulty logic” nor “tortured analysis” but traditional, accepted moral reasoning.

When forced to choose between two evils, one should choose the lesser evil. In the case at hand, Santorum could legitimately have acted to avoid the greater evil of the likely election (absent Spector as the Republican candidate) of a Democratic candidate who would go even further in his support of issues Santorum judges ethically objectionable and, beyond that, possibly overturn the Republican majority in the Senate and thus pave the way for easy passage of some legislation and the appointment of judges radically opposed to the ethical principles for which Santorum stands.

When we have to choose between two evils, we ought to choose the lesser evil as we honestly estimate that to be. Not to act at all in the case at issue would be to invite the greater evil to prevail.

Did Santorum so reason when he made his choice in this one individual instance of support for an avid abortion rights candidate, so uncharacteristic of the senator’s long-standing record? You’ll have to ask him.

Lindenhurst, N.Y.

Failure of capitalism

Regarding “Latin America Today” (NCR, May 21):

Your reporters stated that many Latin Americans think democracy has failed them. That is not exactly where the fault lies: It is the capitalist economic system that has failed them (and many others around the world, including in the United States). Any system that exalts money and denigrates people will fail people. The current dominant capitalistic system completely devalues human beings.

Latin Americans and the rest of us would be better off with Scandinavian-style economies, although those also have room for improvement. At least those economies appear to value people.

Democracy and capitalism are not the same thing; you can have democracy without capitalism and capitalism without democracy. The governments in Latin America are not exactly model democracies, but the fault lies with the economic system, not the political system.

San Antonio

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, June 18, 2004