National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
November 12, 2004

Letters The Catholic ‘tent’

Joe Feuerherd’s article about the “Catholic Outreach” rally at the Republican National Convention (NCR, Sept. 17) was quite interesting. All these hard-nosed right-wingers making fools of themselves could be a cause for laughter under other circumstances.

I am personally insulted by these people calling people like me not only “bad Catholics” but “heretics.”

I am 81, born, raised and a practicing Catholic all my life, and I am not going to take this phony nonsense.

Corpus Christi, Texas, Bishop Rene Gracida sounds like a pious fraud when he says that the views on abortion choice are different when applied to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki. Only Kerry is wrong! The good bishop is full of hot air.

As for the canon lawyer from Santa Monica, Calif., Marc Balestrieri, he sounds like he believes Galileo was wrong. (The Holy Office really messed that one up.)

We, too, are antiabortion. We believe in creating a culture of life rather than damning people.

If anyone wants to question my Catholicism or my Americanism, take me on. My Irish temper is looking forward to a good knockdown debate. I’ll take on the Holy Office, if needed.

El Centro, Calif.

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As I understand Bishop Rene Gracida’s position, it is acceptable for Catholics to be pro-choice provided they oppose partial-birth abortions and vote Republican. Bob Dole’s “big tent” is now a cathedral.

Dayton, Ohio

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The problem with the single-issue focus being preached by our leading Catholics is that such a Catholic pronouncement is … well … anti-Catholic. The word “catholic” means universal, and the great distinctiveness of the Catholic worldview, the Catholic vision, the Catholic imagination, is that it is all-encompassing, non-exclusive and holistic. The Catholic perspective is not an either-or proposition but a both-and lens through which the world is seen in a broad, inclusive embrace of all truth, wherever it is found; it is an eminently comprehensive approach.

Classic examples of Catholic both-and thinking would be the belief that Jesus is both true God and true human being; Mary is both Mother of God and created by God; people are both saints and sinners; scripture has both literal and symbolic meaning; grace operates in both the sacred and the profane; the Catholic faith is both a great deposit of revealed truth and a threshold to infinite mystery. Catholics embrace both faith and works, both faith and reason. The fully “catholic” person moves toward greater and greater integration of opposites and acceptance of seemingly conflicting truths, bridging the tension-filled gap with the realization of a basic complementarity at the heart of creation.

San Antonio

Michele Maxwell is codirector of the Marian Center of San Antonio, a Catholic evangelization ministry.

Good London liturgy

We’re sorry that recent North American visitors to London have found the state of Catholic liturgy here so dismal (NCR, Sept. 24); many of us who live here share their dismay. When they return they might like to join lesbian and gay Catholics for our first and third Sunday Masses, celebrated at 5 p.m., St. Anne’s Church, Dean Street, Soho. Our heterosexual friends are on record for saying they come “because it’s the best liturgy in town!”


Depressing messages

In describing what he says to his students in a once-a-semester class devoted to depression (NCR, Sept. 17), Colman McCarthy writes, “No depression is so severe that you are the only person who has ever had it.” Yet hearing those same words while in the throes of a deep depression, a young person -- in fact, anyone -- would probably find it hard to give them credence. The disorder lends itself to thinking in ultimate terms and in a totally self-absorbed and exaggerated way.

The fantasy may go like this: “He’s wrong. I am the sickest person in the world. I do not belong with normal people. I should be put away. When they put me away, they will find out how sick I am, so I will never get out. That is something I cannot face.”

The person is caught in a tunnel that is closed on both ends: can’t stay, can’t leave. And such persons dare not share their fantasy lest they inadvertently help to start the hospitalization process.

I’d like to make one suggestion: a plea to health professionals, television and film producers and folks in between to educate the populace on the day-to-day operation of a typical hospital psychiatric unit. None of us is free of media-related images that evoke horror and revulsion at the thought of being confined to what was once called a mental institution. Those images need to be replaced by reality: a quite ordinary place of healing, marked usually by quiet, by caring persons and especially by friendships as wellness takes over.

Takoma Park, Md.

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Regarding letters to the editor (NCR, Oct. 8) about the childhood depression column: I found the letters printed regarding this subject to be just more of the same -- depressing highlights. Didn’t anyone (except me) write anything hopeful? There are about 350-plus efficacy studies in cognitive-behavioral treatments attesting to the successful treatment of depression in adults that are now being studied in children. And the area of depression prevention is growing. Creating awareness of suffering without also providing your readers avenues for hope simply contributes to the suffering.

Richland, Wash.

Kathleen Hockey is author of Raising Depression-Free Children: A Parent’s Guide to Prevention and Early Intervention.

Hopeful comments

I especially appreciated Tom Roberts’ comments in “Inside NCR” Oct. 1 with his quotes from The Boston Globe’s James Carroll about the war policy of George W. Bush. Thank you for continuing to help yank the curtain away from the wizard. That one short article is the sort of thing that gives me hope and why I continue to subscribe to NCR.

San Antonio

Priestly future

I read with interest your Oct. 8 editorial “A straight line to no more priests.” While a married clergy is probably a way to increase vocations to the priesthood, there are a few things to be considered. First, the church has, as indicated, a precedent for a married clergy -- the inclusion of Anglican priests to the Roman Catholic priesthood (though it should read dozens rather than hundreds!). The main reason for the request to join the Roman church was due to the Church of England’s decision to ordain women to the priesthood. Second, rather than allowing priests to marry, what about inviting married men to join the priesthood as is currently done with the permanent diaconate? Lastly, NCR should also be greatly concerned about the declining numbers in women’s religious orders. Talk about extinction! In less than 50 years many of these branches will be gone. Maybe it’s time for them to reexamine their apostolates and religious life, eliminate the “hug the trees” and “fit in with the crowd” ideas of the late 1960s and re-establish Christ as the center of their lives.

Norwalk, Ohio

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Referring to “Priests responding to survey favor celibacy discussion” (NCR, Oct. 8), I must say I have heard so much on this subject I didn’t think there could be more, but to hear that younger priests want not only to be celibate but to force it on others just blew me away.

Davie, Fla.

Maciel allegations

In the Oct. 15 issue, Jason Berry once again repeats demonstrably false allegations against Legionaries of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel, as he tries to make a case against the Holy See’s position on sexual ethics in general and the sexual abuse scandal in particular.

We wish to affirm once again Fr. Marcial Maciel’s innocence as proven by the documentation we have made available to the public. Repeating the same falsehoods over and over again is a disservice to NCR’s readers. They can get the facts at

Cheshire, Conn.

Helping Sudan

The tragedy described by Sr. Joan Chittister (NCR, Oct. 1) is lamentable, but her inference appears to be that if the United States does not take a direct hand in solving this, we are neglecting our duty and should shoulder the lion’s share of blame for what is happening there! My question is, “Where is the United Nations in this instance?” The United Nations bemoans the inhuman dimension of this crisis but does nothing. Where are France, Germany, Russia and others who also see the need and do nothing, individually or collectively?

Working through the existing Sudanese government is fruitless. In some ways, it resembles the failure of many Third World nations and governments. A case in point: Rotary International, working with UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other nongovernmental organizations, embarked on an effort in 1985 to provide the vaccines necessary to rid the world of polio. Rotary International had achieved over 99 percent of that goal until the Kano state in Nigeria refused to allow volunteers to administer the vaccines, declaring them to contain “harmful substances that could cause HIV/AIDS and sterility.” Eleven months later state officials had a change of heart, but it was at the expense of those in Kano and surrounding states who had contracted and spread the disease during this period. There are times, regardless of how hard we try and how well intentioned our efforts, when some nations and governments are incapable of recognizing a helping hand or of helping themselves and their citizens. Unfortunately, this is all too true in Sudan.

Ames, Iowa

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Wait, wait! Did I hear Sr. Joan Chittister advocating the election of a president who would have the U.S. “strongly involved in an international (U.N.?) police force that would stop the killing … in the Sudan”? Sr. Joan is probably too young or chooses not to remember that the last U.N. police action in Korea some 50 years ago cost us 36,000 dead and 92,000 wounded, as well as 4,000 severely traumatized POWs. In addition, the United States has had to maintain a guard force of over 40,000 troops for the past 52 years in that country. But I know how Sr. Joan would have this U.N. “police force” stop the genocidal murders of the Janjaweed Muslims without using Marines or smart bombs or the like -- she would have them throw one of her books such as Life is for Living at them.

Sr. Joan, come back to the real world and admit that the murderous Taliban in Afghanistan and the maniacal Saddam Hussein were stopped by the military might of the U.S. armed forces and not some pious platitudes. What Sr. Joan is really espousing is military force in areas of her choosing but not areas chosen by our president and Congress. And does she forget the military, medical and financial support that we have offered over the years to Somalia, Haiti, Lebanon, numerous Central American countries, Vietnam, Granada, Afghanistan and now Iraq? We have even reached out to North Korea. What country has done more for humanitarian reasons in her lifetime?

St. Augustine, Fla.

Jesus includes everyone

It is imperative for everyone (especially the bishops) to reread the synoptic Gospels’ accounts of the creation of the Eucharist by Jesus. The Apostle Judas, the traitor, was present and stayed at the Passover meal and shared the first Eucharist with his fellow disciples. If the Lord could overlook his impending betrayal by including Judas, surely our bishops could learn something from Jesus.


Life on Earth

Rich Heffern has consistently given us very good pieces on spirituality, and on ecology in particular. But his Oct. 8 article was more than that. It was a knockout. The comparisons between some of Earth’s systems and our human body’s systems, the phrase that we are expressions of Earth rather than its owners, the image of the universe looking at itself through our recently evolved eyes, the analogy between cancer cells growing wild and humans who don’t know their role in the ecosystem -- these are images that etch themselves in the memory and prompt that total conversion to which Heffern urges us. Rarely have I seen so much content expressed so lucidly and potently in so brief a space.


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Megan McKenna has said that when she asks people what is the opposite of death, they usually answer “life.” And she says: “Wrong!” The opposite of death is birth, and life is what we have in between. If we are to be not only pro-birth but also pro-life, we must be for all that is necessary for a life lived in accordance with the dignity we have as persons created in the image of God.

Some years ago, the bishops of the Philippines issued a pastoral letter called “What Are We Doing to Our Beautiful Land?” In this letter, they say that the environment is “the ultimate pro-life issue.” Clearly, the need for unpolluted air, water and soil is a pro-life issue. If we are to be authentically pro-life, we must be serious about the condition of our environment on Planet Earth.

St. Francis, Wis.

Public Eucharist

The priest who refused to give Communion to John Hottinger at his mother’s funeral (NCR, Oct 22) was completely correct in doing so. Hottinger publicly denied a major teaching of his faith by publicly stating that he was pro-choice and by his repeated public reaffirmations of this decision. As such, he was automatically excommunicated. Because of the public scandal he has given and because he is no longer a member of the Catholic faith, it would have been wrong for the priest to do otherwise in such a public forum. If Hottinger and other politicians want to court the pro-choicers so badly, let them set up their own church. Perhaps this time they could call it the “New Catholics.”

Bay St. Louis, Miss.

Catholic U. muzzle

We read with dismay your article (NCR, Oct. 15) on the speaker dispute at The Catholic University of America in Washington. Is The Catholic University to be reduced to an institute for the advanced study of the Catechism of the Roman Catholic church?

Is not a true university a testing place for ideas, a place where all sides of an argument can be presented and freely discussed? If a Catholic university maintains a policy of allowing only its own views to be presented, outside observers might conclude that its intellectual positions cannot withstand the force of opposing arguments.

One of us was a student at The Catholic University of America, a time fondly remembered. We ask that this university not abandon the standards expected of any reputable university. Honest dialogue should be regarded not only as an opportunity to defend one’s opinion and sometimes convince others but also as a chance to learn the truth declared by other voices. We believe students are exposed to these valuable lessons at such places as Boston College, the University of Louvain in Belgium and St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, and were in a long-ago time at The Catholic University of America. We fervently hope that The Catholic University will return to what is expected of a true university.

Farmington, N.H.

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Has Fr. David O’Connell, president of Catholic University, forgotten his own Vincentian history? In the mid-1960s, St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., a school run by his congregation, was severely jolted over academic freedom, but by 1970 it was inviting speakers like Abbie Hoffman and even a representative from the Soviet embassy. I was there at the time, but I was not scandalized that St. John’s was endorsing the hippie revolution or international communism. Nor should anyone today be scandalized into believing that The Catholic University is endorsing abortion just because a pro-choice speaker is given the opportunity to discuss his belief rationally.

Heidelberg, Germany

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, November 12, 2004