National Catholic Reporter
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November 16, 2007



Thanks for your timely article on ethanol (NCR, Oct. 26). While some of the concerns appear valid, I believe that corn-based ethanol is a necessary first step toward establishing biofuels for our transportation needs. It provides the start-up infrastructure necessary to begin reducing our dependence on petroleum-based fuels. You just barely mention cellulose, which is a much better source for long-term production of ethanol. The energy required to make ethanol from cellulose is only 5 percent of the energy contained in the ethanol while corn-based ethanol requires 75 percent of its energy to make it. Cellulose can be grown on marginal soils, giving it a great advantage. Ethanol made from algae may turn out to be the best source.

Using a turbocharger, Saab Motors has found a way to improve the fuel efficiency of an E85-powered car to equal its mileage when using gasoline. E85 is an ethanol fuel mixture widely available in Sweden, and the E85-powered car could be viable here if distribution of E85 to most service stations was made a high priority.

Ethanol is great for farmers. Some farmers have increased their income five times if they invest in an ethanol-production plant. Some farmers have reinvested the added income in wind generation of electricity on their farms. This has made them electrical-energy independent and has enabled some to sell surplus electrical energy for added profits.

You mention hydrogen, which appears to be the best long-range solution. The Creator saw fit to make hydrogen the most plentiful atom in the universe. Farmers in the high wind areas of the United States could provide nearly all our hydrogen needs by installing wind electrical generation and using the electricity to manufacture hydrogen.

Please do a follow-up article concentrating on the positive aspects of biofuels.


Think smaller

Your editorial “A return to sensible transportation” (NCR, Oct. 26), while accurate in all its proposals, does not address the major problem of corporate energy production: Megapower plants produce a great deal of our deadly carbon dioxide emissions. However, if we adopt the old Volkswagen motto of “Think small,” we could eliminate a great deal of this energy need and promote a new and reliable energy source, as well as a new area of employment that does not need a corporate structure to build and maintain it. The “thinking small” solution is a modern solar panel and a small wind turbine that could be installed in every home and business. It could be joined to a system of batteries, as in the new hybrid autos, or installed directly into the home or business electrical system to produce at least a partial solution to energy needs while eliminating absolute dependence on mega energy production systems that currently dominate the energy field, including even the giant wind farms.

This solution would provide an electrical power source that would at least keep the air conditioners on in the summer heat here in Texas and keep the furnace going in a storm while guaranteeing some electricity in any major power failure. We only need to put the brakes on our current “Think big” syndrome and learn to “Think small.”

San Antonio

St. Joseph Health System

I have admired Rosemary Ruether as a theologian and advocate, but her article, “The sisters, the workers and the union” was disappointing. First, Dr. Ruether noted that St. Joseph Health System has 21,000 workers. She met with a handful of these workers -- a group selected by the union. That leaves at least 20,990 workers from whom she heard nothing about the workplace culture she judges so harshly.

Imagine the tenure committee at her Graduate Theological Union gathering six disgruntled students, making their comments the basis for judging the quality of her classroom performance, while presenting this as a broad and objective assessment of her teaching. The claims of these students may be valid; it is an issue of proportion in making fair judgments. Second, the “corporate campaign” has become a central strategy of labor organizing since John Sweeney’s victory in 1995. In a recent congressional hearing, a scholar of corporate campaigns testified that “the goal of the campaign is to define the target company as a corporate outlaw -- a pariah institution.” In a corporate campaign, finding “moral megaphones” -- respected figures who enhance the credibility of the union’s claims in blackening the reputation of an organization -- is essential. I am disappointed that Dr. Ruether has played this role aimed at painting the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange and their health ministry as a pariah institution. My hope is that she will continue with further exploration, the kind she would demand of the tenure committee for a valid judgment. I believe she will indeed find much that needs to be reformed but still more that deserves respect.

Orange, Calif.

John W. Glaser is senior vice president for theology/ethics at St. Joseph Health System in Orange, Calif.

Women cardinals

The recent announcement naming new cardinals was another skipped opportunity by church leaders to address the old bias against women (NCR, Oct. 26). What a significant impact it could have been for Pope Benedict to incorporate Catholic women leaders into the decision-making process of electing the next pope. John Allen’s analysis of representation on the College of Cardinals referred to the nation by nation representation, the age representation, the liberal-conservative representation. No mention of the lack of representation of women and how that reflects the Catholic map. Naming women cardinals is possible. Church leaders who made the rules against naming women cardinals can make new rules allowing them. Pope Benedict gave voice to the insight that in history not enough was done by church leaders, omissions were made, and there is “an obligation on us today to make every effort” toward “coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the church.” Naming women cardinals would be a real action step toward that end.


Vegetative states

When I read Marie Rehbein’s letter (NCR, Oct. 26) taking issue with Fr. Brian Johnston’s statement that if a person lacks consciousness, he or she cannot enter into any relationship with God, I had to clarify in my own mind her question, “What is a soul?” We all form our own opinions on those things, which are of interest to us, and they are not necessarily right or wrong. I believe it is generally accepted that the condition of a soul is determined by the conscious decisions we make in our day-to-day lives. Ms Rehbein asks, “Is the soul of someone identified as being in a persistent vegetative state not possibly in communication with God?” I believe the key word in this question is “communication.” Since the soul’s condition is established by our conscious decisions, I find it hard to believe it can be changed while a person is in a vegetative state except through the mercy of God, and I cannot believe that God’s mercy is dependent on the length of time a person persists in that state. I believe Ms. Rehbein answered her own question in the last sentence: “Perhaps when Mary sang about her soul magnifying the Lord, she was referring to her brain.”

Carlsbad, N.M.

Choosing presiders

Your story on Dutch Dominicans (NCR, Oct. 12) endorsing the right of laity to choose presiders seems radical today, although it was the widespread custom of the early church. It also is not radical in other non-Roman elements of the Catholic church. Our diocese, the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit, has a well-formulated program for just that ( We are not “another church” or an “independent Catholic church” -- certainly a misnomer for anything “Catholic” -- but rather a diocese within this one Catholic church. Those who clamor for “tradition” usually mean only the last 500 years or so. We think of ourselves as much more traditional, linking our perspective to the first 500 years of the church.

Clifton, Va.

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National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2007