National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
November 26, 2004

Letters No Nazis here

In the editorial “Catholic election follies continue” (NCR, Oct. 22), I read that in the opening paragraphs of his Oct. 1 pastoral letter “On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good,” St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke compares today’s United States to Nazi Germany.

I read Archbishop Burke’s letter and found no such statement. Nowhere does he compare the United States with Nazi Germany. He refers to Nazism in the context of Germans who had moral concerns with events in their own country’s past. He complains about the “secularism” of American culture “with its tendency to exaggerated individualism,” but there is not even an oblique reference to the Third Reich here.

I write as an outsider, as a Canadian who lobbies neither for nor against Archbishop Burke. I do expect the media, however, especially the Catholic media, to refrain from scurrilous inaccuracy.

Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

Hilmar Pabel is associate professor of history at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby.

The editors respond: Far from “scurrilous inaccuracy,” a fair reading of St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke’s letter offers more than an “oblique reference to the Third Reich.” Burke is clearly equating the evils of Nazism with the evils of abortion in the United States. In the editorial, we said Burke was over the top. Mr. Pabel is free to disagree with that characterization, but it is a fair one -- even an unavoidable one.

Communion denial

An overwhelming sadness came over me while reading “A pro-choice Catholic politician speaks out” by John Hottinger (NCR, Oct. 22).

I imagined the deep pain I would have felt had I been denied Communion at my mother’s funeral. When we bring our dead for burial, we need support for our loss and understanding for our pain. The purpose of a funeral is to comfort the living and pray for the dead. What comfort did this priest give? Where was his sensitivity to the needs of the bereaved family? Where is this priest’s compassion?

Keller, Texas

Priests and marriage

I can appreciate that Fr. Charles Schuster realizes that a truly happy marriage is a very difficult goal. However, his comment that “to be truly effective, a priest must devote enormous amounts of time and energy to the people he serves” indicates that he needs a reality check. I know many fine and effective priests, but I don’t know any who put in the kind of time, energy and continuing study that my husband, an academic surgeon, and others in his profession do, and still manage to sustain satisfactory relationships with wives and children. Obviously some priests might fail at marriage, as do other human beings, since not one of us has reached earthly perfection, but then they might also fail as priests for other reasons.

There is no disputing the shortage of priests. We have been raised as Catholics to celebrate the eucharistic liturgy as one of the fundamentals of our faith. Celibacy was a latecomer in the history of Catholicism, and the time to make it optional is now.

Los Angeles

Monastic toner price

I read the article on “Lasermonks” (NCR, Oct. 8), and when I came to work I immediately wrote to our president explaining why we should use them for our toner needs. I got the go-ahead immediately. The appeal of huge savings and helping charity at the same time was too good to pass up, but, as we found, it was also too good to be true.

When I instructed my employee to compare the monks’ prices and those of our current supplier, the 80 to 90 percent discount was not apparent. In fact, in some cases the monks’ prices were higher for the same exact toner.

So, unfortunately for the monks, we had to stay with our current supplier. As our president said upon hearing the news: “The devil is in the details”!

Cambridge, Mass.

* * *

The misconception about our pricing is understandable. I hope this will clarify things. The article mentioned that customers can save “up to 80-90 percent” on our products; this is dependent upon which products you are purchasing and what you are comparing. Across the board, our prices are lower than most office supply chains. When corporations buy in bulk directly from large non-retail suppliers, they are usually buying at very discounted rates, so the savings comparison will not be as dramatic.

In the three years since we’ve been in operation, the number of complaints we have had in regard to our pricing is extremely small. In those cases, we have always been able to meet the customer’s needs, whether that meant lowering our prices or offering free shipping. The fact that we do charitable works with our profits has also been an enormous incentive for people to do business with us.

Sparta, Wis.

Cindy Griffith works for MonkHelper Marketing, the marketing and customer service branch of Lasermonks.

Fundamentalist motive

The “more nuanced understanding” offered by Margot Patterson and her experts (NCR, Oct. 8) doesn’t work. She says the reasons for extremist Islamists (why not “terrorists,” Ms. Patterson?) are political repression and mass dislocation. And these explain the Taliban blowing women’s brains out in a full soccer stadium because they went to school?

These explain why terrorists fly planes into buildings, killing themselves, planeloads of innocent people and 3,000 people in the buildings and wounding tens of thousands more, all in the name of their God?

These explain how grown people can herd 1,000 children or more into a gym, make them drink their own urine, murder them and blow themselves up in the name of whatever?

This is the West’s fault? This is the president’s fault?

The terrorists hate President Bush, hate Israel, hate the West, hate America, hate Christians and hate you and me, Ms. Patterson.

Perhaps another expert, William Shakespeare, can help toward the truth (“Julius Caesar,” Act 1, Scene ii): “The fault ... is not in our stars/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Dearborn Heights, Mich.

Better Catholic answers

Regarding “A Catholic response to Catholic Answers” by Steven P. Millies (NCR, Nov. 5): Bravo! Well said! I am glad someone agrees that the Catholic church’s mission is salvation of souls through love in the person of Jesus. Catholic Answers has done more to promote discord and division in the church with its agenda and “letter of the law” mentality than any other organization in recent memory. I’ll take Mother Teresa of Calcutta or Elizabeth Ann Seton’s example of Christian living over Catholic Answers’ version any day.

Richland, Wash.

* * *

Thank you for your Viewpoint piece “A Catholic response to Catholic Answers.” A few weeks prior to the election, “A Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics” (published by Catholic Answers) was distributed to my congregation as an insert stapled inside the Sunday bulletin. I read it, and was troubled by its narrowness. Reducing consideration of the sanctity of life to only five issues seemed simplistic and overly political. What about war? The death penalty? Overbearing uses of power that promote famine and deadly disease?

Looking at it again, I found no imprimatur, no evidence of any official church body “signing off” on it, no endorsement by any council of or individual bishops. Its inclusion in the bulletin implied an authority it did not actually possess as far as I could tell. I am sure that some of my fellow parishioners believed that this little insert came from the official church.

I am an adult convert drawn into belief by the beauty of God’s creation, by the writings of the saints and by power of grace. The late Cardinal Bernardin’s powerful articulation of the sanctity of life, the “seamless garment,” speaks to me constantly of the inclusiveness of the love of Christ for all his people and of the Creator for all creation. This wholeness of heart is what we strive for, and we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, confusion and doubt and plain bone-headedness. We need all the help and guidance we can get. Good guidance, with all the insight and nuance the church has to offer. If there is going to be a pamphlet of Catholic answers, it should include more of them.

Highland, N.Y.

After the election

As Joe Feuerherd reports, “faith-based voters made all the difference for Bush.” The Catholic bishops, with their “no Communion for Kerry” campaign, helped elect Bush again. Too bad more of them did not speak out on the unjust Iraq war. So many just said nothing. My shepherds are lost. Baaaa.

Rensselaer, N.Y.

* * *

Regarding your editorial “Tumble ahead for ‘values’ agenda” (NCR, Nov. 12): Let me comment on only one part of your sour grapes. President Bush does not value tax cuts and war. He values letting people keep more of their hard-earned money, and he values freedom. Values you obviously don’t share. While he may not actively work to overturn Roe v. Wade, I do know he will work to balance the judicial branch away from its wacky liberal extreme to one that values life and encourages others to do so. The fact that you disapprove of any effort to encourage others to value life and restrict abortions is appalling. You need to take “Catholic” out of your name and substitute “Radical.”

The Woodlands, Texas

* * *

I think the trend of the last few elections has taught us that the Democratic Party’s absolute stance on a constitutional right to an abortion is a dead weight that threatens to sink the liberal cause. My solution is simply to take abortion off the table by not opposing the overturn of Roe v. Wade. I know that this is heresy to many liberals, but hear me out.

There is a middle ground in this abortion debate. The middle ground is for the Democrats to acknowledge that this abortion issue is a matter of conscience and to accept as loyal Democrats people who feel that Roe v. Wade was decided wrongly. The Democrats would still differ from the Republicans in opposing the re-criminalization of abortion. They would simply back off the stance that Democrats must swear a loyalty oath to a constitutional right to abortion. The party would permit its candidates to differ on whether the right to abortion is guaranteed by the federal constitution (as the GOP does).

In fact, I predict that liberals would come to see that the best thing that could happen to the Democratic Party would be for the Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade. That would de-federalize the abortion issue and send it back to the states. The result would most likely be freely available abortion in the blue states and prohibition in the red states. And that result is a compromise that people on both sides of the debate should be able to live with.

Clifton, N.J.

* * *

Whatever people may think of Karl Rove and the Bush administration planners, you have to give them credit for winning the election by recognizing the psychological fact that there is more than a cognitive or reasoning aspect to people -- that the emotional needs of the religious aspect are equally or more important. The religious aspect is a source of immense potential power, and that was overlooked by Kerry and the Democratic Party planners who relied on reason alone. The religious impulse reflects a profound psychological and emotional need. And psychological and emotional needs are every bit as real as the need for bread, for shelter, for material security.

If the Democratic Party wants to win elections, it should make psychological and emotional needs its focus; hire a psychologist and forget the spinmeister.

Dubuque, Iowa

Religion in the field

Regarding “Called to shopping malls and soccer fields” (NCR, Nov. 5):

Please don’t confuse secularism with consumerism and capitalism. Indeed, for many years capitalism was the domain of the “Godly” West and it was secular Marxism that was labeled “Godless.” To many secularists, it is the culture of the televangelists or the Catholic patriarchy that epitomizes crass greed and consumerism. It has been those darlings of the religious right -- Reagan and G.W. Bush -- whom we associate with condoning corporate greed untrammeled by government regulation.

As a mind experiment, let us imagine two vehicles on the highway. One is an eight-passenger, two-ton, eight-miles-per-gallon behemoth, the other a small, fuel-efficient, low-emission hybrid sedan. Which vehicle would you associate with consumerism and which with social responsibility? Which would you expect to have a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker and which would have the Kerry/Edwards (or even the Nader/Camejo)?

I suspect that if missionaries spend their time in the shopping malls and the soccer fields, they will truly be preaching to the converted.

Watertown, Mass.

Imagine there’s no war

Jeannette Cooperman’s “Imagination keeps us grounded” (NCR, Sept. 17) is a provocative reminder of a basic cultural need in America -- and one, I am afraid, likely to be ignored in our disenchanted age. I used to tell my students that violence is the flip side of creativity. True as this might be, Cooperman gets closer to the heart of the matter when she cites Jesuit Fr. John Kavanaugh’s definition of violence as “a failure of the imagination.”

In a culture dominated by the pragmatic, imaginative practice is likely to be limited to quantitative values and quantifiable evaluation, that is, by the pragmatisms of “common sense.” The pragmatist is typically intolerant of ambiguity, impatient with philosophical speculation and dismissive of refined historical and aesthetic sensibilities. What is efficient, what addresses immediate problems, what proposes concrete solutions is the first concern of the pragmatist, whose resolutions, consequently, can usually be reduced to physical equations and actions.

A case in point might be our non-reader leaders whose simplistic delineations of good and evil make John Wayne look like Duns Scotus, whose rough-and-ready posturing reduces problems of tremendous and terrifying import to the one-dimensional complexity of a shootout on Boot Hill.

Jeannette Cooperman reveals the critical implications of an ethos dismissive of the highest exercise of the imagination: We are forever disposed to go to war, not because we are basically cruel but because our leaders cannot imagine better, imagine otherwise.

San Rafael, Calif.

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National Catholic Reporter, November 26, 2004