National Catholic Reporter
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October 1, 2004

Letters McBrien neglects the moment

In “Radcliffe’s talk begs the issues” (NCR, Sept. 3), Fr. Richard McBrien reacts to the first of the talks I gave to the National Federation of Priests Councils, which was printed in Origins May 27.

I feel honored that my words should be analyzed by such a distinguished theologian. However, I believe that he fails to grasp the purpose of this lecture. I was invited to explore how priests may live this moment of crisis and demoralization with hope. I mention three causes of demoralization: the gap between the moral teaching of the church and the lived experience of many Catholics, the polarization of the church in the United States, and the scandal of sexual abuse and how it was handled.

Fr. McBrien is disappointed that I do not offer an analysis of the root causes of these occasions of demoralization. I should lay the blame where it is due. I agree that such an analysis is important and is a necessary part of facing the crisis. But I was asked to do something slightly different, which was to ask how priests can live this situation with hope and creativity. One cannot do everything in a 50-minute lecture!

With reference to the gap between the teaching of the church and the lives of the people of God, it is true that I do not probe the tricky question as to whether this is because these teachings are untrue. Instead I do suggest briefly what I believe to be a deeper root cause, which is the loss after Trent of the understanding of moral theology as a practical wisdom rooted in experience. However, my main point, to which Fr. McBrien does not allude at all, is that we can grasp this moment creatively, seeking together with the people of God, in mutual attentiveness, to speak a fresh Word of grace now.

It is true that when I consider the polarization of the church in America, I do not ask who or what is to blame. Such a historical analysis is clearly necessary but was not within the limit of that lecture. Instead I ask what we may do about it creatively now and how the church may be renewed if we reach across the boundaries of division. Just to stay with Fr. McBrien’s insistence on blaming the guilty is to remain stuck within the polarization. I believe that he is far too pessimistic, giving the impression that within the present situation nothing can be done. This suggests a strange ecclesiology in which only those high up in the hierarchy have any authority.

Finally, with reference to the crisis of sexual abuse, I do not offer an analysis as to who is to blame. Instead I ask how this too might be a moment of grace for the church. Incidentally, I am surprised that Fr. McBrien finds it odd that I should believe that the murder of the Son of God on the cross is a more profound moment of crisis in the life of the church than the present crisis of sexual abuse. Certainly the abuse of children by priests is a terrible scandal and also the way that some bishops handled that, but it is on a different level from humanity’s rejection of God’s love incarnate in Christ.

I do not for one moment wish to deny that in this moment of crisis we need clear and unflinching analysis. But I am saddened that Fr. McBrien wishes to remain at this level and entirely overlooks my brief suggestions as to how we live this hard moment as a time of grace and hope.

Oxford, England

Demands of renewal

Fr. Richard McBrien (“Radcliffe’s talk begs the issues”) believes that Fr. Timothy Radcliffe (“Priests and the crisis of hope within the church,” NCR, Sept. 3) skirts underlying problems about hierarchical power in the church. Though I have the highest regard for Fr. McBrien’s voluminous theological contributions to the church, I find myself believing that he too begs significant questions. The institution of the church has been devastated by biblical, philosophical and scientific scholarship. How many of us are going through the motions exteriorly while interiorly pursuing modifications in our Christian beliefs and practices to somehow coherently nurture our ultimate faith in life’s meaning? When are we going to begin the dialogue, shape the agenda and take the appropriate action to renew the church for the 21st century? How many of us have attempted to influence the institution for years so that begging questions might be transformed into daring to ask the right questions: Who we are, where do we stand in this universe? What’s to be done and why? Addressing these questions will produce the necessary metamorphosis. Yes, we must dare to take the leap of faith required to pursue these questions. But radical renewal has always demanded this. There is a time limit to “running on empty.”

Lake Oswego, Ore.

Chaput questions view

I read the story “Lawyer’s stone campaign takes bishops to task” (NCR, Sept. 17) with interest. I remember Ms. Merryman’s original letter for its unusual -- for a lawyer -- inattention to what I had and hadn’t actually said.

I’m surprised, though, that I’m merely on Ms. Merryman’s “Watch list/you decide.” Perhaps that will change when she reads the current issue of Lay Witness magazine. For the record, I can imagine no “proportionate reason” that would allow a serious Catholic to vote for a candidate who actively supports the right to kill an unborn child -- unless it would be to defeat an even more vigorously pro-abortion candidate. What could possibly be proportionate to the more than 40 million unborn children in this country already killed by “choice” since 1973?

No committed Catholic could vote for a candidate who was avowedly racist or anti-Semitic or who supported genocide. All of these sins are “single issue” deal-breakers at the ballot box. So it’s baffling and shameful to watch decent people who should know better struggling to find a way to vote for candidates who collude, directly or indirectly, in the worst social injustice of our time -- abortion.

“Here on earth, God’s will must be our own” certainly is a great quotation. Too bad so many Catholics seem so selective in applying it.

(Archbishop) CHARLES J. CHAPUT, OFM Cap

El Salvador wall

Thank you for sharing with your readers the progress Latin America is making on the long road of reconciliation in “Beyond Bloodshed” (NCR, Sept. 10).

The cover photograph of someone’s hand touching the names of those who died in El Salvador’s 12-year civil war evokes perfectly people’s response to the memorial, “Nombres para no olvidar” (Names Not To Be Forgotten), in San Salvador. This wall is a “monument to memory and truth. This is a space for memory and its intent is to immortalize in the Salvadoran conscience the names of the women, men and children -- victims of human rights abuses during the repression of the 1970s and in 1980 and in the ensuing Salvadoran civil war of 1981-January 1992” (statement on opening panel).

When I have visited the wall, I have seen schoolchildren tracing names and people taping flowers to the wall and have observed an atmosphere of respect and reverence. The names memorialized are grouped by year of death and means of death: “Homicide” or “Disappeared.” There is a noticeable spike in the quantity of names in 1980-1982. Well-known names, such as Oscar Romero or Rutilio Grande, are mixed in with all the others with no special identifier. The overall effect of the wall is sobering, very much like our Vietnam Memorial.

The caption under the photograph on Page 13 states that the wall was “sponsored by several private groups.” Your readers should know that the churches of El Salvador also contributed to this wall. For example, the Vermont-based nonprofit Fundación Cristosal, a foundation that walks with the Anglican Episcopal church of El Salvador, raised enough money in Vermont for the Anglican church of El Salvador to donate 150 names to the memorial.

Ludlow, Vt.

Lee Crawford is canon missioner of the Anglican Episcopal church of El Salvador and the secretary and communications officer of Fundación Cristosal.

Out-of-touch bishops

It takes a while for NCR to reach me in Caracas and so I just read the news (NCR, July 16) that the Latin American and Caribbean bishops (CELAM) plan to have their fifth general conference in Rome in 2007.

I am surprised that they did not choose the North Pole. There they could have been even farther from the Latin American reality and from the ideals their predecessors expressed in Medellín and Puebla.

Caracas, Venezuela

Hans Küng inspires hope

I just finished reading the profile of Hans Küng and I can’t thank you enough for including it in your paper. I have been so disgusted with the politicians, the parties, the nasty name-calling and the overly long campaigning in our country. I avoid any and every speech made by any of the candidates because I am bored, bored, bored and disgusted with the 2-year-old behavior of the supposedly adult people who want to run our country. Oh, for a civilized six-week campaign about the important issues facing our country! All that needs to be said could be said in that length of time and the campaigners could spend more time dealing with the issues of unemployment, poorly run schools, lack of health care for all Americans, poor housing, poor nutrition, etc. I had lost hope!

However, after reading this profile of a thoughtful, committed priest who holds no resentments against those who brought him down, hope has sprung in my heart once again. I can’t thank you enough for helping to lift the depression I have been experiencing. I view him as “a voice crying in the wilderness” and thank God there are those in high places who are listening.

Northbrook, Ill.

Bishops’ hidden knowledge

A recently found parchment missing from the St. Mark’s Gospel report of the Last Supper, Chapter 14, discovered these missing words from Jesus: “But you, Judas, cannot receive my body and blood because you have already sinned in your heart and are about to sin even further.”

So you see, for 2,000 years our bishops -- way ahead of the rest of us -- have sensed this injunction. They now feel free to apply it.

Democrats, beware!


Film defies expectations

Cunneen was disappointed that the beautifully written and filmed “Maria Full of Grace” didn’t do what he’d hoped: explore religious dimensions and tackle political dimensions. His expectations weren’t met, so he left the theater not realizing that Joshua Marston quietly challenges us to consider trade conditions and why the drug running flourishes.

Los Angeles

Moral choice is not so clear

This letter is written in response to “An election guide for honest-to-God serious voters” by Joan Chittister (NCR, Sept. 17). Let me first say that I agree that God is not a Republican or Democrat or a Baptist or an Anglican or a Catholic for that matter. Most simply and most mysteriously, God is God! And he full well expects all of his children to be Christian citizens as expressed in Romans 13. He expects us to fully participate in the affairs of government to include the election process. Many fine organizations such as the Christian Coalition provide “scoreboards” to enable the Christian citizen to make the right choices.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that we are to take care of the poor, the widowed, the fatherless and the prisoner. It’s a matter for us as individuals in the church to perform this important function. It is not a matter for the government to take care of the poor.

In this article the author says that the moral choice is clear: “Now count the pluses. The program that will bring the most aid to the poor is the moral position.” However, I must take strong exception to what the author considers as the highest moral ground. In fact, in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II called the right to life “the first right, on which all the others are based, and which cannot be recuperated once it is lost.” Also, Mother Teresa said, “If abortion is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” The record also indicates that Sen. Kerry has voted five times to protect the perverted practice of partial birth abortion.

Finally, the concept of “whichever program does the best job of taking care of the poor” as the one to choose seems terribly flawed. It also seems that this moral imperative provides a convenient way for many to vote for a pro-abortion candidate.

Charlotte, N.C.

Health care reform

Your editorial “Disaster looms in health care crisis” (NCR, Sept. 10) told a compelling story about the huge disparities in our health care system, the dire need for major reform, and the “us versus them” mentality that is standing in the way.

It may take some time to bridge the divide, but an alliance between unions and Catholic hospitals would be a good place to start. In California, for example, the Service Employees International Union and Catholic Healthcare West have an agreement to jointly support a campaign against Proposition 72, a November ballot measure that would overturn a new state law requiring businesses with at least 20 employees to provide health coverage or pay their fair share into a state purchasing fund.

Labor unions and Catholic hospitals are natural partners on this crucial issue. Both, after all, are shouldering a disproportionate burden for the failure of our health care system to guarantee access to care for everyone. Workers are paying for the rising costs of health care that are being passed on to them by employers as well as the lion’s share of taxes. And Catholic hospitals are providing more and more care for the rising ranks of the uninsured, even as government reimbursements are declining.

Working together, we can begin to break down the barriers between “us versus them” and imagine a day when everyone has access to quality health care, and no one is paying more than their share.


Mary Kay Henry is executive vice president of Service Employees International Union.

Kudos from health industry

I have recently learned that the Oct. 22 issue of NCR will mark your 40th anniversary as a publication committed to coverage of social justice issues.

As a reader -- and often-quoted interview subject -- let me congratulate you and your staff on four decades of chronicling the activities of the church’s health and social services ministries.

Of note is NCR’s regular health feature and “beat assignment” under the auspices of editor at large Arthur Jones. His eclectic selection of story topics has provided readers with a better understanding of issues facing the Catholic health ministry’s ability to serve people and communities, especially the less fortunate among us. Also noteworthy are other regular contributors, John L. Allen Jr. of the Rome bureau and Joe Feuerherd of the Washington bureau.

The board and staff of the Catholic Health Association of the United States join me and the entire Catholic health industry in wishing you and your staff all the best for many years to come.

St. Louis

Fr. Place is the president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

No nation without sin

The recent anniversary of Sept. 11 got me thinking about the U.S. response to the terrorist attack and our own preemptive war on terror. Below is a parable that came to mind.

It was early morning and Jesus arrived at the center of town. The poor and homeless started coming to him, and he taught them. Then George W. Bush, Tony Blair and some other “world leaders” brought Saddam Hussein to Jesus.

“Teacher,” they said. “This man has broken the law. He kills his own people. We think he may have terrible weapons, and there is a good chance that he will break the peace. The law says we should make war against him.”

Jesus borrows George W.’s thousand-dollar Waterman pen and begins to doodle on a pad. First he draws a mushroom cloud and writes Hiroshima underneath it. Then he writes Millions Killed by Abortion, Genocide in the Sudan and East Timor.

Next Jesus draws a stick figure of a child and writes 20,000 Children Die Each Day of Hunger. Tears begin to stain the paper as he continues to doodle.

He writes the words Apartheid, Slavery, Segregation, Discrimination. He doodles a tree then puts a large X through it and pens Rainforests Destroyed. He continues to write Indigenous Peoples Virtually Exterminated in the United States and Australia.

He brushes the tears from his face and looks at George W. and the rest of the “world leaders.” “OK, but the country without sin can fire the first bullet in this preemptive war.”

“And Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

Ocala, Fla.

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, October 1, 2004