National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
December 10, 2004

Letters Bat poverty out of the park

In dramatic fashion, the Boston Red Sox rallied from down three games to the New York Yankees to win the opportunity to play in the World Series. In the minds of the Red Sox faithful was the famous curse levied on the team by Babe Ruth after Boston traded him to the Yankees in 1919. The Red Sox have not won the World Series since that time.

Sure that the curse could be broken, the entire city of Boston united behind the dream of a World Series victory. Red Sox fans from every walk of life stood side by side with signs proclaiming: “We believe,” “Reverse the curse” and “This is the year.”

What if the human family sought to reverse the curse of poverty with the same faith and energy those fans brought to the Curse of the Bambino?

More than 35 million Americans live beneath the poverty line. Almost 13 million are children. Two and a half million who work full time still find life above the poverty line out of reach. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters and food pantries report that the needs of the poor outstrip their capacity to respond.

There was another time in U.S. history when poverty was far more widespread. In 1959, more than 22 percent of the population lived in poverty. The church faithful and others, recognizing the scandal, demanded that national leaders declare war on poverty. Food stamps, housing assistance and aid to needy families ensured that by 1970, the poverty rate had been cut by more than half to 12.5 percent, where it remains today.

The annual Catholic Campaign for Human Development collection is another way that Catholics work to combat poverty. The campaign was established by the bishops’ conference in 1969 and has funded more than 4,000 programs throughout the United States that help to restore poor people to full participation in the life of the community.

The bishops’ “Economic Justice for All” pastoral letter, written in 1986, taught that the fundamental moral measure of an economy is how the poor are faring. We will soon have a new Congress and a fresh legislative start. This invites us to call on Congress to make eliminating poverty a high priority.

The Red Sox faithful have a lot to teach the church faithful: If only we’ll choose our dream, stand together and stay up sleepless nights, working, watching and waiting for the impossible to happen, this could be the year!



Mary Wright is education coordinator for Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Scott Klinger is religious outreach coordinator of United for a Fair Economy.

Charism and contemplation

Thanks to Jeannette Cooperman for her article “Pentecostals live with hellfire and joy” (NCR, Nov. 12). I identified with her experience and her questions about Pentecostal joy and Catholic propriety and “perfunctory” prayer. I’m Roman Catholic, but I have evangelical friends in a community called The Vineyard. Behind the preacher there’s a rock band that flows in and out of the sermon and finally takes over completely. I really love that joyous experience of praising God. But then my soul swings to the Roman Catholic contemplative experience as well, where words and music fall away into what Pseudo-Dionysius called “the dazzling darkness.” I originally sensed this inward dynamism from exuberant love to apophatic silence in St. John of the Cross and the Carmelites. (I was once a Third Order Carmelite.) I don’t know if John danced, but his love poetry certainly wants to dance.

Of course, there’s no good reason why we can’t create liturgies that praise God in many different ways. Why not? I don’t believe that exuberant joy necessarily needs to be paired with superstition or with an impending sense of evil’s attack. But it sure is curious that these passionate extremes do somehow merge for a lot of charismatics, Pentecostals and evangelicals. I live in Massachusetts, where the Roman Catholic church is collapsing with astounding rapidity. Maybe it will have to die before we can co-create some new integration of passion and calm reflection in Christ.

Northampton, Mass.

Robert Jonas is director of The Empty Bell, a Christian prayer sanctuary in western Massachusetts.

Poetic affinity

I was thoroughly charmed by Brian Doyle’s poem “Nine,” so warm and evocative (NCR, Oct. 29). I have sent it to friends who’ve already reported they’ve sent it to friends. I’m reminded that once NCR printed a poem called “Bereavement” that I wrote. A man called from North Carolina to say he’d copied it for everyone in his county. Some poems hit a nerve.

Arlington Heights, Ill.

Maciel allegations

When he talks about “Demonstrably false allegations” and “Fr. Marcial Maciel’s innocence as proven by the documentation” (NCR, Letters, Nov. 12), Fr. Owen Kearns is attempting revisionist history. Marcial Maciel’s innocence has never been proven.

The Vatican first investigated the Legion of Christ between 1956 and 1958. Seminarians were so coerced, as some later admitted, that they lied at the time to protect Maciel from the charges of drug and sexual abuse. When the investigation was concluded, the Vatican never released any report clearing Maciel, as claimed by the Legionaries.

Part two of the book Vows of Silence by Jason Berry and Gerald Renner is a well documented exposé of the Legionaries. The Hartford Courant newspaper ran a series on the Legionaries of Christ in 1997.

One bishop who stood up to the Legionaries and strictly curtailed their activities in his diocese was James A. Griffin of Ohio. Effective Oct. 15, 2002, the ban on the Legion and Regnum Christi applied to all of the parishes, facilities and organizations in the Columbus diocese.

The truth of the awful allegations against Marcial Maciel and the Legionaries is too well documented by NCR, The Hartford Courant, Jason Berry, Gerald Renner and other legitimate sources to be dismissed by Owen Kearns.

Pope John Paul II said it best: “There is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.”

New Castle, Del.

Torturous regimes

As a longtime subscriber to NCR, I was especially pleased that you devoted a fine article as well as your last-page editorial to the shameful issue of the use of torture by our government agencies (NCR, Nov. 5). This dire situation has been badly neglected by the national media and I hope your stand will be repeated in the wider press.

I have a special interest in this matter, as I was captured by Japanese forces in World War II after my submarine was sunk. I was tortured, beaten and starved initially on capture and for the next 11 months, which was spent in solitary confinement in a Japanese naval interrogation camp; I was not given official POW status by the Japanese until release from that first camp. Later camps continued the beatings and food deprivations, and many of the Japanese guards as well as higher-ups were convicted in war crimes trials after the war.

Our Iraqi war servicemen and those higher up in the Defense Department should be investigated and tried for the tortures in this current war. Several of the personnel at my first Japanese naval camp were executed for the crimes and many were given long sentences. What has seemed to be forgotten is that the actions of the few torturers among our service personnel is reflecting on the mass of our honorable servicemen and women and, as such, those guilty of these crimes should be brought to justice.

Mount Dora, Fla.

* * *

It has been amazing to me how some Latin American dictators such as Bolivia’s Hugo Banzer Suarez or Guatemala’s Efraín Ríos Montt, among others, have been able to maintain political power after well documented reigns of death and terror. However, the current Bush administration neoconservative cabal, including such Iran-contra scandal veterans as John Negroponte, Otto Reich and Elliott Abrams, seems to have done the same.

Besides their involvement in the Iran-contra scandal, Negroponte and Reich were involved in heavy-handed propaganda campaigns during the 1980s that attempted to cover up human rights atrocities committed by proxy military regimes funded, trained and supplied by our government. Abrams also helped support some of the most repressive regimes in Latin America and helped conceal their abuses, mostly in countries dominated by the United States’ fruit industry or the so-called Banana Republics.

In 2001, the irony of Abrams’ appointment and title was likely lost on the Bush administration when he was given the post of senior director for democracy, human rights and international operations.

Now, as the war in Iraq unravels and casualties mount, the Bush “Banana Republicans” may run out of photo-ops. After all, you can only land on an aircraft carrier so many times before it loses its luster.

La Crosse, Wis.

Repent, George Bush

As a bishop and leader of a denomination, I generally shy away from blaming the church for various problems. However, the presidential election showed that the Christian church is failing as a teacher of the Gospel. Up until today we could blame George Bush for the atrocities in Iraq. As of the election we the people of America, the world’s supposed leader in democracy and freedom, have guilt on our hands for ratifying the least moral president we have had in years.

The church’s failure is shown by the fact that so many supporters of George Bush cite “moral values.” Excuse me? What god do these people worship? Do they really think a country stained with the blood of 100,000 dead is a moral improvement over one stained blue dress? Rome obsesses ad nauseam about abortion. The mainline Protestants let out-of-step Third World conservatives hold them back from real progress in equality out of fear of breaking up their communions. The evangelicals are more concerned about Old Testament rules than Jesus’ message of love. Meanwhile, a president who attacks a country based on false assumptions, loses the respect of most of the world and strives to write discrimination into our very Constitution is touted for his “moral values.” If George wants to be our moral leader, he should start with sincere repentance, literally “rethinking” (even at the cost of having to flip-flop), and point us truly toward God’s love and away from the culture of fear and hate that up until now he has promoted.

Irvine, Calif.

Mark Shirilau is archbishop and primate of the Ecumenical Catholic church.

Post-election ‘name-calling’

Some people lose. And some people are just poor losers. Sr. Joan Chittister seems to place herself into that latter category (NCR, Nov. 19).

Just consider a couple of Sr. Joan’s words and expressions to describe the winning side: “extremism,” “fear,” “religion run amuck,” “radical right fundamentalist,” “paranoia and ignorance masking as religion.”

Such name-calling and lambasting strikes me as being characteristic of a poor loser. It’s time to quit the whining.

Perham, Minn.

Christmas in wartime

Before the insane season begins with billions spent on goods most people don’t need in a consumer society, may I simply draw attention to the fact that we are at war, with our young people dying in battle in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Let our celebration be subdued and our prayers increased for a peaceful end to this war. Let us celebrate by giving half of what we would normally spend on gifts to the men and women overseas or to those deeply affected by the terrible hurricanes in Florida or to the starving in Darfur, Sudan, and elsewhere in Africa.

We celebrate the birth of a poor man, born in a cave, whose only gift was a visit from poor shepherds. If we are not particularly religious, at least let us share with the ones who have lost arms and legs, who run the danger of death every day and with their families. That will bring us together as a community more than billions spent on mostly nonsense that will be forgotten.


Le mariage

Regarding the “Family Life” supplement (NCR, Nov. 19): You had a fine story on a much-needed Catholic program working in the United States to heal troubled marriages. The Montreal-founded group’s name is Retrouvaille -- pronounced Retru vay -- a French term meaning “rediscovery.”

Since many U.S. residents need this and most don’t speak French, why isn’t the program promoted in the United States under an English name? Business colleges have historically taught that if a student’s own surname is hard for his market to spell, pronounce or remember, he may wish to change it for business purposes.


Bankruptcy challenges

I feel compelled to reply to Fr. Peter O’Reilly’s article (NCR, Oct. 29). I live in a diocese that has filed for Chapter 11 protection.

I recently joined our local SNAP chapter on the sidewalk in front of the cathedral downtown to pass out leaflets regarding the bankruptcy. The ugly, venomous comments from the parishioners toward these abuse victims broke my heart. (And they did this as they walked out of a celebration of Eucharist.) Catholics are outraged that survivors passed out leaflets. They are not outraged by child rape in churches. They are not outraged by the behavior of bishops who allowed this to happen. I will go to my grave not understanding this.

My hope is that Catholics will someday wake up. Maybe when the beloved church secretary loses her job, they will wake up. Maybe when the longtime schoolteacher is laid off, they will open their eyes. My prayer is that the church secretary’s grandson won’t get sodomized in the sacristy after he serves Mass. I pray the teacher’s granddaughter doesn’t get raped in the rectory because she volunteered to answer the phone on Tuesday night.

Father, I ask you to place the blame for this crisis where it belongs. Dioceses are not in financial trouble because of lawsuits. They are in trouble because priests raped and sodomized children and bishops aided and abetted in these crimes. In this country, victims have every right to sue. And we have the moral obligation to sell every piece of art and gold, every building and statue, to try and right this horrible wrong. The victims did not commit the crimes.

Marana, Ariz.

* * *

Fr. O’Reilly is rightly concerned about the position of current and future pensioners in the face of heavy claims by priest abuse victims.

Part of the problem is that a hierarchical church presents a good target. If a Protestant minister is charged with child abuse, the particular church he is serving may also be a defendant, and eight out of 10 times it has not got deep pockets or much insurance. In short, you have one plaintiff suing one minister and one congregation. This is expensive and time-consuming for the claimant and his attorney, and there may be little ability to pay.

A Catholic diocese presents a much better opportunity. It may have a history of looking the other way at the activities of a particular abusive priest or of abusive priests generally. A tort attorney can thus often sue one diocese for many claims -- it is more “economically efficient.”

What exactly are the assets of a diocese? Usually you start with what is in its name: the “legal title.” This presents problems, especially in the 17 or so mostly Western states that recognize the “corporation sole.” (This is the concept of whoever is the bishop being himself a continuing corporation.) In practice this means the bishop owns all or almost all of the property, including church and seminary buildings, cash, investments, even perhaps cemeteries and hospitals if such are in his name. So the bishop has everything. He is a fat, unsympathetic target.

Bankruptcy laws are federal, uniform and cover the whole country. The bankruptcy court can hear all claims, value them and make a judgment without many individual jury trials. It provides a forum for the interested parties to negotiate a plan. It often works because the alternatives may not be good for either creditors or debtor.

Expect to see more bankruptcies.

New York

Joseph Sullivan is an attorney.

Another French resource

NCR fans who are also French-readers may be sufficiently motivated to look for broad coverage of interreligious developments in the invaluable bimonthly Le Monde des Religions (163 bd. Malesherbes, 78859 Paris Cedex 17). A recent 82-page issue, for example, contained an invaluable interview with Olivier Roy on the westernization of Islam; another with Florence Delay, the novelist-essayist, recently elected to the Académie Française; an essay on religious dialogue by Ysé Tardan-Masquelier, professor of comparative religion at the Sorbonne; and a discussion with Amos Oz, the distinguished Israeli novelist who has struggled for a compromise by which Jews and Arabs might share the same land.

Nyack, N.Y.

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, December 10, 2004