National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
October 19, 2007


Responses to Christian ‘fascism’

In the interview with Chris Hedges (NCR, Sept. 21), he characterizes the Christian right as fascist and as inciting intolerance and persecution. Then, he asserts that in some cases it is right to muzzle free speech. The interviewer asks an important question, “Why should people be more OK with intolerance and persecution of right-wing Christians than intolerance and persecution by them?” Good question. While I would like to muzzle them too, I also believe that old saw about “I disagree with your point of view but would die for your right to express it.” Can we muzzle any group even if their message is intolerance for those outside it? Don’t they have an equal constitutional right to express their point of view?

I think a more democratic response is to better inform our citizenry about alternatives to and the dangers posed by the offending movement. Mr. Hedges’ concluding remarks are insightful. To blunt the religious right’s message and action we must deal with our government acting on behalf of big corporations instead of its citizens. Until that political reality changes, we need our newspapers independent of corporate control and consolidation so they can honestly print the truth of every issue facing Americans. An informed citizenry educated to think for themselves will ultimately win over the oppression of the religious right without our denying them their right to their divisive message.

Garner, N.C.

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Your interview with Chris Hedges was fine, but his answers read like a parody. Talk about an almost primitive fear of the “other.” Good Lord, the man said, apparently with a straight face, “People have a right to their opinion and they have a right to their beliefs. But they don’t have a right to delegitimize others,” just after saying he’s willing to “muzzle the speech” of right-wing Christians.

Apparently you don’t have the right to delegitimize others unless they are right-wing Christians. Your readers are too smart for this angry and petty game. I think the interview is fine because it shows just how rabid, even anti-constitutional, some left-wing zealots have become. I appreciate that you let us have a look inside this sick world. But by giving it the cover it almost seemed as if you were endorsing this ugliness.

San Diego


Thank you so much for the essay “Unfinished business” by Daryl Domning (NCR, Sept. 28). I have taught the ideas of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for 35 years and rejoice now that his genius is showing up all over the place. Professor Domning really captures the question when he names the issue as a need for a theological upgrade. With so much energy spent on the false question of religion versus science, articles such as this one can release the captives of either/or thinking so they can open themselves to the wonders of what God is continually doing in creation. Thank you for a delightful contribution to the discussion.

Toddville, Iowa

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Daryl Domning in his essay on evolution tries unsuccessfully to make a case for justifying our sinful and violent human behavior or “original selfishness” by saying that God had no choice but to make humans sinful in order to give them material form and free will. Only if one believes that matter and death are evil could this be relevant.

In fact, ideas about evolution are themselves evolving. Many archaeologists and anthropologists make a good case that humans evolved not because they had selfish, competitive genes, but because we are hard-wired for compassion, altruism and learning to work together. Many scientists posit that we are closer to our peaceful, fun-loving bonobo cousins than we are to the more aggressive chimpanzees.

Recognizing that we were created in God’s image to make positive choices is far more hopeful and believable than the misguided belief that humans are sinful because God made them that way.

Dubois, Ind.

Who’s unworthy?

I am amazed at the pomposity, the gall, the hypocrisy, the audacity of the insufferable Raymond Burke, archbishop of St. Louis, in “urging ministers to deny Communion to politicians who support abortion rights, arguing that it’s a ‘mortal sin’ to offer the sacrament to ‘the unworthy’ ” (NCR, Oct. 5). Just who was “unworthy,” Raymond, when your fellow bishops were passing around pedophile priests to prey on innocent young boys ... whom did you prohibit then, “o whited sepulcher?” Just who was “unworthy,” Raymond, when your fellow bishops, two of them in the same Florida diocese and criminal clerics each of them, were doing the very same thing to innocent young boys? Whom did you prohibit then? Whom were you prohibiting, Raymond, when several billion dollars of hard-earned donations from the “people of God” are being coughed up by diocese after diocese to pay for these criminal acts of your peers?

Columbus, Miss.


Greg Bullough’s letter (NCR, Sept. 28) once again muddies the waters regarding clergy sexual abuse. Mr. Bullough wants to bring celibacy back into the debate as if clergy sexual abuse were about sexual immaturity or other problems related to the sexuality of those who would seek to become priests.

Clergy sexual abuse is not about sex. Rape is not about sex. So long as we pretend to ourselves that sexual assault of any kind is largely caused by the psychosexual maladjustment of the offender, we will continue to misidentify the core issue. This is a crime of aggression, the abuse of power, an attempt to dominate another person. It is a crime of violence in which the weapon used is sex. These are violations of the bodily integrity of another person as a means of power, domination and aggression. And the church, like Mr. Bullough, would prefer to name this as a psychological illness that can be “treated” in some mental institution.

Lisa Reardon’s letter (NCR, Sept. 14) is much more on target. Like rape, domestic violence and incest, these are crimes upon which no one wants to raise the curtain. Sexual assault of any kind is a crime of violence. The damages are lifelong for the victims. And society prefers to soft pedal the nature of these violent crimes by blaming them on celibacy or sexual immaturity.

Harrisonburg, Va.


Regarding your cover story on Archbishop Rowan Williams and the Anglican controversy (NCR, Sept. 14): Church institutions that impose conditions upon participation in ecumenical dialogues, as Catholic officials have done, will find it much more difficult to make progress toward statements of common understanding. The churches for which the institutions speak do not stand still while the discussions carry on. If they are true to the Spirit who breathes in and among their members, they are going to be moving targets. Sometimes, as in the post-World War II years, they adapt outmoded parochial structures and converge. At other times, as today, they reassert their legacies and the structures that made them possible, resuming separate orbits.

I pray that Vatican officials, and the faithful whom they are meant to serve, acknowledge the work of the Spirit among the members of other communions and religions, as the first Peter acknowledged the Spirit working in the household of the pagan Cornelius. May we not dictate to others the ways in which they will work out their faithfulness to the urging of the one Spirit. May we humbly be more alert to the beams in our own eyes as we engage in fraternal admonition about others’ splinters.


Other kinds of parishes

Thanks for your editorial “In praise of the parish” (NCR, Sept. 28) regarding the important role of parishes in bringing grace and reconciliation to our world. We are mindful of Matthew 25:36 -- “I was in prison and you came to me.” Your editorial is prophetic in describing how and why the local church comes in many forms, including “prison parishes,” which you recognized. Having ministered in a variety of prisons in Kansas and California for several years, we constantly see Jesus in the inmates and detainees who touch us weekly in their prison parishes. Indeed, we find parishioners behind bars, surrounded by walls and razor wire with their hopes, fears, doubts and faith, no different from those parishioners with whom we worship on the outside.

San Diego

Cardinal’s comment

In September I returned to St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, Mundelein, Ill. for the 50th anniversary celebration of the ordination of my class. It was an impressive occasion with Cardinal Francis George of Chicago as celebrant assisted by New York Cardinal Edward Egan and Archbishop James Kelleher of Kansas City, Kan. Both Egan and Kelleher were members of that class. Cardinal George, partly reminiscing on his own meteoric rise through the clergy to his present position, commented that the phone calls he’d received telling him of the pope’s wish to appoint him to the sees he had occupied spoke of the simplicity of the process. Then the cardinal made an unexpected comment. He said that should anyone in the congregation receive such a call, he was certain it would be equally uncomplicated “unless they had a couple of kids stashed away in the attic.” I leaned over to a friend next to me and whispered, “Not funny, your excellency.”

As reflected in Mary Pat Fox’s letter (NCR, Sept. 21) commenting on the Vatican secretary of state’s remark that the United States had faced “this trial (of the clergy sex abuse scandal) with great dignity and courage,” the hierarchy seems incapable of seeing this or any other ecclesial issue as being about anything or anybody but them. It’s all about them, not the flock, not the Spirit, not the children, it’s all about them. Who was it who said, “I came, not be served but to serve?”


Preference for the poor

Your editorial imagining an apostolic letter (NCR, Sept. 28) made me proud once again to subscribe to NCR. How ironic that while Rome and the U.S. bishops puzzle and worry over Peter Phan, you urge attention rightly to the poor and miserable in the world -- Darfur and elsewhere. Some no doubt will label the letter “naive,” but I applaud you and wish just once that the hierarchy would in fact act with a true preference for the poor in ways you suggest. Thank you for the window of grace.

Neskowin, Ore.

Communists in Spain

The essay by Mary Ann Cejka (NCR, Sept. 14) presents a dismal picture of Spain’s Franco while seeming to imply that the communists were not like that. Readers should know that over 100 members of my congregation, Brothers of the Christian Schools, were killed by the communists. For the most part they were just grade school teachers. I have no information on the numbers of other religious congregations and priests.

Winona, Minn.


A summary offering to Fr. Richard McBrien’s excellent article “Document stirs furor, not change” (NCR, Sept. 21): The teaching of the Catholic church regarding salvation as expressed in the Vatican II document, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” is that salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ is the reward for anyone of good conscience, even though that person has never heard of Jesus Christ.

Austin, Texas

Respect for others’ beliefs

Hooray! A progressive Catholic priest, Peter Phan, is speaking out in favor of tolerance, love and non-dualism in terms of spiritual beliefs and practices (NCR, Sept. 28).

Although I am not Vietnamese by birth or biological ancestry -- at least not in this lifespan -- I am a Buddhist practitioner and have Vietnamese friends, some of whom are a strange mixture of Catholicism and Buddhism. Yet it is important to allow people with a different ancestral spiritual background to practice according to their personal beliefs without question. I understand from the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh that the French Jesuits responsible for converting the Vietnamese people to Catholicism realized that they needed to allow such things as ancestral altars in homes, realizing tolerance and love in this way.

I was raised a Catholic, became a Baptist in my young adult years while in England, started the process to convert to Judaism and am now a Buddhist. At the same time, I consider myself to be a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu and a Buddhist. In fact, given my current experiences with Zen Buddhists, I may convert to Mahatma Gandhi’s Hindu faith if I do not switch to Tibetan Buddhism. Life has taught me that we are not separate from one another and need to respect the beliefs of all people, if for no other reason than for the sake of peace and harmony in this lifetime.

Portland, Ore.

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National Catholic Reporter, October 19, 2007