National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
October 22, 2004

Letters Poetry appreciation

Two gold stars go to Joanne M. Gull of Phoenix for her untitled poem that repeated the refrain, “But if perchance Thou wouldst not” (NCR, Sept. 24).

I can feel Emily Dickinson nod her quiet approval.

Cayuga, N.Y.

Washington cardinal

The article on Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the bishops’ conference (NCR, Oct. 1) would come as no surprise to informed people in Washington. The cardinal fancies himself as “court confessor” to the Kennedys and other Democratic politicians who profess to be Catholic in name but not in practice. Incidentally, the cardinal received similar criticism for his posture on sexual abuse by the clergy. His position on that scandal was “business as usual.” He did everything that he could to fight the zero-tolerance policy ultimately adopted. Fortunately, the cardinal is rarely here; he’s like the pope and is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Washingtonians detest his column “Thinking of You.” It should be retitled “Thinking of You While All the Time Thinking of Me.” The cardinal may be the darling of NCR, but Washingtonians hope that his retirement will be accepted by the pope when he turns 75 next year. It will be not soon enough.


Câmara’s inspiration

The article on the legacy of Dom Helder Câmara by Francis McDonagh (NCR, Oct. 1) touched me deeply. As a Detroit archdiocesan priest working in Recife, Brazil, from 1964 to 1967, I had the opportunity to get to know him intimately. I brought the agreement from the Detroit archdiocese signed by Cardinal John Dearden in which the Detroit archdiocese promised to supply priests for its Recife parish for the next 100 years and I watched Dom Helder sign it. I translated several of his inspiring and motivating speeches from Portuguese into English. I witnessed countless acts of humble service by that saint. One example was when, dressed in his simple cassock, he grabbed a shovel and joined 40 men working in a ditch to dig out and clear slimy debris containing human waste so that the rain could wash away the filth of the area into the nearby river. (As a good and holy priest, I had been prepared only to watch and supervise -- his example made me find a shovel and follow him.) After I was married and he visited Detroit, he saw me on the street and actually ran half of a city block to embrace me.

Dom Helder was so holy and inspiring to me and to countless others. I would love to know whom to contact to obtain a copy of that film about his life, “O Santo Rebelde,” and show it to people in Detroit. All of us need every ounce of inspiration we can get.

Thanks to Francis McDonagh for keeping the flame alive.

Royal Oak, Mich.

Report card questions

I am compelled to respond to the piece by David C. Cochran, “How Catholic are the candidates?” (NCR, Oct. 1). While his piece attempts to grade the two major candidates on those social issues most relevant to Catholic teaching, I believe the scorecard he has created is very simplistic and was purposely constructed with a bias that leads to erroneous final grades and, therefore, a wrong conclusion.

The issues of concern to the practicing Catholic population in this country are not of equal weight (or should not be). Of the issues graded for both candidates, it is easily argued that none surpasses protecting human life. This is a paramount teaching in our church, and our scriptures and doctrines support this issue to a far greater degree than any other on David Cochran’s report card. While the environment and foreign affairs are also important, how can he possibly equate them with protecting human life? I cannot even begin to guess how much greater this issue is (or should be) to practicing Catholics than the others. It could also be easily argued that the family is the second-most important issue. If David Cochran applies this sort of scoring system to the grading of political science essay exams at Loras College, I feel very sorry for his students.

When all is said and done, though painful to many of us, the final grades on Catholic issues in a properly weighted report card are very different from those assigned by David Cochran.

It is most unfortunate that some of us can weigh these issues equally and may use such a faulty measurement system in deciding how they will vote this November.


* * *

For me, the nuclear question stands at the head of any pro-life priority list, yet it does not merit a murmur in the religious or secular media. David C. Cochran’s report card graded Bush over Kerry for protecting human life, but did not deem it important to compare their stands on weaponry that can eliminate all planetary existence.

A yawning chasm divides Kerry’s and Bush’s willingness to employ the most lethal weapons of mass destruction.

For starters: According to the Nuclear Posture Review released in 2002, the Bush administration now accepts a first-strike nuclear policy. Jettisoned is the decades-long commitment not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. Kerry rejects this kind of insanity.

Veteran observers predict that in another term Bush will withdraw from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Not content with our 10,000 warheads, he is itching to test even more lethal nukes. John Kerry has always opposed nuclear testing.

In 2001 Bush abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 so he could proceed with a Star Wars defense system. In his years in the Senate, Kerry consistently voted against nuclear horrors such as antiballistic missile defense, the MX missile and B-1 bomber.

The 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty called for the total elimination of nuclear weapons as the only guarantee against their threat and use. The ominous policies of the proliferation president risk global nuclear chaos. Kerry supports the treaty.

So who is more protective of human life? What about the readiness and threat to use, test and increase the nuclear arsenal that can wipe out all humankind? Would not a vote against this disdain for God’s creation proportionately more than offset a vote for a permissive abortion policy?

It seems to me that this crucial issue deserves a hearing that it is not getting.

Crofton, Md.

Drinan on Catholics

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan (NCR, Sept. 24) wrote: “My students, like almost everyone, did not realize that the Catholic church established the great universities at Oxford and Cambridge.” One of our diocesan priests, who, by no coincidence at all, is a former Dominican friar, would like me to point out to your readers (and Drinan’s students) that the “church” did not found the universities of Oxford and Cam-bridge; they grew out of Dominican Houses of Study, or Studium Generale as they were called then!

Bray, Ireland

* * *

I greatly enjoyed Fr. Drinan’s article on the state of mind of English Roman Catholics, and as an Anglican I appreciated his care and courtesy in referring always to “Roman Catholics” instead of simply “Catholics” (a term to which, in an English context, both Rome and Canterbury lay claim).

All the more surprising therefore was his slip in the penultimate paragraph when he credits the “Catholic church” with, among other things, founding Oxford and Cambridge. This is misleading because of course the pre-Reformation church was not the ultramontane Roman church we know today but simply the church of the West. When this fragmented in the 16th century, the English church challenged the notion that
Catholicism was dependent on union with Rome (as had the church of the East five centuries before).

Therefore to identify totally the pre-Reformation English church with the Roman Catholic church of today is a gross oversimplification. The Church of England, by dint of its continuity with the past in terms of its buildings and (overwhelmingly) in its ordained ministry at the time of the split, has the greater claim. But better for neither of us to lay
claims but to rejoice in our common Catholic heritage, avoiding anything that might renew old and tired controversies.


Richard Giles is dean of the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.

Ethnic parish loyalty

Regarding the story about the Polish parish in St. Louis (NCR, Oct. 1):

What shepherd is this who in his short tenure has managed to persecute, confuse and demoralize a community of one of the most steadfast and faithful ethnic groups in church history -- distancing himself from this flock with an ecclesial iron curtain?

No, Archbishop Raymond Burke, it doesn’t appear that they are going to hock their heritage for your legal bills. Win this battle and it will be a pyrrhic victory for your archdiocese and your legacy.


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National Catholic Reporter, October 22, 2004