National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
October 15, 2004

Letters Peaceful Muslims detained

Regarding “Arrest of Cat Stevens breaks trust with moderates” (NCR, Oct. 8): A high-ranking U.S. official once asked me, “What is the single most detrimental scenario we must avoid at all costs, if we are ever to convince the world that our fight is against terrorism and not Islam?”

I quickly answered, “Forgoing bin Laden the terrorist, while nabbing Yusuf Islam the peace activist.”

Well, actually, this conversation never took place. But how I wish it had.

For here we are indeed: The worst-case scenario is playing out before our eyes! Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri remain free, while we focus our resources on stifling the reconciliatory voices of highly revered Muslim peace activists like Tariq Ramadan and Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens).

Whether or not we mean to do so, the message we are sending out to the world is shamelessly clear: Peaceful Muslims are not immune to our retaliation and wrath.

I remind myself of a quick lesson from the 19th century. French colonel Alfred Dreyfus stood humiliated and dejected throughout his court martial in Paris, 1898. Yet after the dust had cleared, the ordeal went down forever as a shameful episode of French history. Dreyfus had been accused of treason, but just as with Yusuf Islam and Tariq Ramadan, no sufficient evidence was ever put forth to support the accusations. Just as with them, his only crime was belonging to the wrong religion at the wrong time (in Dreyfus’ case, Judaism).

If not remedied, the Yusuf Islam episode will also be remembered as nothing more than a shameful episode of U.S. history.


Ahmed Rehab is communications director for the Council on American Islamic Relations in Chicago.

On life and liberty

Your editorial regarding abortion (NCR, Sept. 24) has a revealing sentence: “Of all the liberties Americans enjoy today the right to terminate a pregnancy is one of the least jeopardized.”

The Catholic tradition has never considered abortion as “a liberty to be enjoyed.” It has always been considered a horrendous crime, from the Didache, to Gaudium et Spes, to Evangelium Vitae.

NCR continues to drift further and further away from the authentic Catholic tradition.

St. Louis

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The Sept. 24 editorial “A new approach to reducing abortions” presents a thoughtful and much needed method of addressing issues: asking questions.

More than the journalistic tool, asking questions is our only tool to empower our democracy, empower our freedom and assert our rights.

Spiritually, it is how we know God within the darkness. If the kingdom is within us, we must cut through the distortions, illusions, noise and fears by asking questions, calling out in the darkness to find the simple, eternal source of love within us. “Ask and you shall receive.”

Thank you for an insightful editorial, and keep asking questions.

Cedarville, Mich.

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May I suggest that there might be a better way to reduce abortion? According to my wife’s ob-gyn, it is possible to remove the fetus from a woman who is but does not want to be pregnant. Then the fetus can be transferred via the vaginal canal to a woman who cannot conceive but desperately wants a child. This can be and is being done.

We might call this “early adoption.” While this might be expensive, I do not think it would be as much as the nearly $15,000 that a friend and his wife spent going to China to adopt a young girl. I do not know, but I would guess that God just might have as many women wanting babies as there are women who do not want theirs. I do understand that there is already some “adoption” of the embryos rejected for the in-vitro fertilization process.

It is less certain but probably possible that the fetus could be transferred to a male. This, I understand, has been accomplished in mammals.

Austin, Texas

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There have been marches, prayer vigils, posters and banners. Small children have been exposed to gross pictures. There have been bombings and shootings and incidents of vandalism at abortion clinics. There have been pronouncements from the pulpit and cold tombstone monuments erected and memorials held for the unborn. None of this has had an effect on the source of the problem. I have not seen any demonstration pointing at the males who impregnate the females and then abandon them or take them to the abortionist.

We’ve had abortion laws and continued to have abortions just as we had prohibition and still had alcohol and alcoholics. Passing laws and changing the Constitution doesn’t put a stop to everything.

My mother talked about how as a registered nurse she sat at the bedside of girls who were dying of blood poisoning because some guys had taken them to a dirty back-alley quack. Those girls died alone in shame while the guys went on to lure others. They didn’t even admit their guilt by visiting the girls in the hospital.

When is the pressure going to be put on those males? The fingers have been wagged at the females long enough.

Neenah, Wis.

The lonely river

As a former Mississippi riverboat deckhand and a former priest, I read with great interest your Sept. 17 feature on Sr. Joy Manthey and her work with the captains and crews of Mississippi riverboats. The article was well written but it did leave some questions in my mind. She is with the New Ministry on the River program of the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey. Is she working in New York harbor or along the Mississippi? I found myself wondering about the spiritual training and development following her call to religious life. The article addresses the loneliness of crewmembers. One wonders how she handles the loneliness that must be hers, a woman in a virtually all-male environment.

She is to be commended for being out there “where the moans and groans are.”

NCR does a great job in seeking out and publicizing the increasing number of outreach programs that are part and parcel of the revitalizing declericalized church.

Riverside, N.J.

Abandoned Democrats

Your editorial position (NCR, Oct. 1) on how Catholic voters should respond to Kerry and his support for abortion is appalling. Yes, “the world is complicated, facts and circumstances matter,” but that does not mean that “thoughtful Catholics [have a] right to interpret the world and ... issues” when it comes to Catholic doctrine. Abortion is murder and violates the basic tenets of our Catholic faith. For Kerry to continue to support abortion and profess that he is a Catholic is an insult to the millions of Americans who don’t believe that murder is a political choice.

Finally, your statement that the effort to educate Catholics about politicians who assault the basic tenets of our faith is “a deliberate and decided attempt to delegitimize the Democratic Party in the eyes of American Catholic voters” hits the mark. The Democratic Party has left Catholics in the lurch. It’s time we returned the favor.

Aptos, Calif.

No decision on dance

Thank you for the wonderful coverage of dance in the Catholic church (“Ministries,” NCR, Sept. 17). Given that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy could easily have reiterated the “no dance in the West” stance of the 1975 Notitiae article, I consider its decision not to pursue the topic of liturgical dance a victory.

Indeed, the minutes of the June bishops’ liturgy committee meeting “cited the need for further scholarly studies … which might explore forms of movement which might be found to serve as an appropriate part of processions.” The committee’s answer was thus neither “yes” nor “no.” By saying, “Maybe we don’t have enough information to make a decision,” the committee bought us time. In this time of liturgical backtracking, we welcome such gray.


Flawed nuns

Your account of the August meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Fort Worth, Texas, broke my heart (NCR, Sept. 24). I was there with survivors of abuse by sisters, hoping until the very last minute that the leadership would change its hard-and-fast position against the victims. I honestly expected at least some of the 400 sisters to stop, look at the photo of each survivor taken at the age of the abuse and say simply, “Tell me. Tell me what happened.” I was sure that Sr. Constance Phelps would arrange for at least one half hour when the young women and men could speak of betrayal, sleep disorders, flashbacks, loss of faith. I even expected a response from Dr. Mary Robinson and Sr. Theresa Kane to my request to relinquish some of their allotted time to the survivors. It was important to SNAP that survivors speak to all 400 nuns, not just a select group.

But I was crushed to discover the sisters behaving as badly as have the American bishops. They walked briskly to the Exhibition Hall, took flyers from us, but never broke stride. They assembled, listened to accounts of injustice far away and left our own former students standing mute outside, barred from the proceedings.

The members of the leadership conference no doubt left the conference with a sense of satisfaction: Resolutions were passed, bold statements were made. But they did not clean house. Their reputation as bold leaders, truthful defenders of the poor and compassionate healers is in tatters.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Pro-choice isn’t pro-abortion

It was reassuring to hear Cardinal Theodore McCarrick say in relation to U.S. legislators who believe abortion should be kept legal that he has to listen to people as well as talk with them (NCR, Sept. 3).

Our church hierarchy argues for the life forming within a mother’s womb. We wish they would argue with the same intensity for life that is already born. What about all the children maimed and killed in war? What about all the babies who become deformed in the womb because of the fallout associated with war? What about their health care? What about the babies and children who are abandoned by their fathers after they are conceived or born? What about the children with inadequate nutrition to keep them alive or healthy? The list can go on and on.

Where is the cry from the men in official church positions in relation to these children? Are their lives of less value than those forming in the womb?

Pro-choice is not pro-abortion. Other church leaders besides Cardinal McCarrick need to listen to women and understand why they even seek abortion. If war can be understood as acceptable in some circumstances, why cannot abortion be at least similarly understood?


Srs. Rindler, Gramick and Quinn are the co-directors of the National Coalition of American Nuns.

Ordinary evil

Peter Riga wants us believe that the Devil is the only way to explain evils like the Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia (NCR, Letters, Sept. 24).

“If there is no Devil, then there can be no logical explanation for atrocities committed by ordinary men and women.”

Well, Peter, isn’t the logical explanation ready-to-hand? Just assume that each and every one of us is capable of the worst kind of murder and torture given the right circumstances. It’s a terrifying thought but not a gratuitous assumption. Just look at a few of the past centuries and watch the horror unfold. Just ask combat veterans. Just think of Hannah Arendt’s meditation 50 years ago on the fact that the Nazi death-camp administrator, Adolph Eichmann, was apparently the most respectable kind of family man.

I don’t want to debate about whether the Devil is here or there or is or isn’t. I say let’s just leave the Devil out of it for the moment and get on with what Jesus instructs us to do -- help the victims of the terrible evils that surround us.

Lawrence, Kan.

Liturgical dudgeon abroad

Like Fr. Robert Drinan (NCR, Sept. 24), I too shared some heavy and melancholic moments in London.

I passed by Brompton Oratory, Cardinal John Henry Newman’s place of residence, work and community, to see the sign inviting people to the two Sunday Masses. One was the Tridentine Mass and the other was the new Mass in Latin.

I also attended Mass at Westminster Cathedral. The Catholic presence there, in London, one of the most international cities in the world, was proper but drab. The loose scattering of people (community?) could note that the only gestures to the world church were the foreign-born celebrant who could not be understood and the prayers for the pope.

None of these was as bad as the three Masses I attended at different churches in Ireland, which I would rank as the three worst liturgical experiences I have had in the last 20 years.

It is time to be melancholic, but it is also time to challenge and invite the laity of each and every parish to demand better liturgy.

New Hope, Minn.

Debate response

In the first presidential debate Sept. 28, I was hoping to hear two things.

First, I wanted to hear John Kerry lay out his plans for Iraq and for winning the war on terror. I wasn’t disappointed. Kerry staked out a strong plan to bring peace to Iraq and to refocus our efforts to fight terrorists around the world.

Second, I wanted to hear President Bush tell the truth about Iraq, but he refused. While his own intelligence services, military advisers, Republican colleagues and even his secretary of state have said that Iraq is in chaos, Bush still presents a version of Iraq seen through rose-colored glasses.

This debate made it clear: John Kerry is a leader we can trust to tell us the truth when it comes to our nation’s security. George Bush has had his chance. I’m ready for a new direction.

For those who weren’t sure that a vote for John Kerry was the correct way to go before, they should have little doubt now.

Kansas City, Mo.

Other political choices

Many Catholics may be dismayed at the choices in this year’s presidential election.

We have George Bush, who started an unnecessary war in Iraq that has resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 soldiers and several thousand Iraqi civilians, including many children. Or we have John Kerry, who voted for the war and favors unlimited abortion on demand.

What is a pro-life Catholic to do?

Well, Catholics should be aware that there are other choices such as Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party and Michael Peroutka of the Constitution party. Both oppose Roe v. Wade, recognizing that the Constitution leaves the regulation of abortion to the states, not the federal government. Both would significantly reduce the size and cost of the federal government, which would reduce a great burden on American families. And both would end the United States’ current interventionist military policy.

Some may be concerned that a vote for a candidate who “can’t win” is wasted. But what could be more of a waste than voting for a candidate who lacks real respect for human life simply because he is the lesser of two evils?

Rochester, Minn.

Celibacy and birth control

No one seems to have mentioned this, but surely we won’t have a non-celibate clergy until some form of birth control is OK’ed?


Missing scripture explained?

Mr. Jack P. Sullivan’s letter in the Oct. 1 issue of NCR was highly amusing. How did he stumble upon this missing tidbit of scripture and how does he know that it was from the Gospel of Mark? Why has this new tidbit of scripture not been more widely announced? Or is it actually the case that this tidbit of scripture has been in the back pocket of Karl Rove all the time?

Springfield, Ill.

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 15, 2004