National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
December 7, 2007


Doing good proudly

Regarding the article on the Agape community in Hardwick, Mass. (NCR, Nov. 2): The author covered what the community is and does along with a description of its two leaders, Brayton and Suzanne Shanley. As the article points out, Agape is deliberately “other” in terms of its relation to our larger, secular society. “You need to live differently to really follow Christ,” Suzanne Shanley is quoted as saying.

I observe that in separating themselves so, they tend to become judgmental in a rather triumphalist way concerning what they see as the evils of the mainstream society. Sure, the evils of violence need to be countered with nonviolence and the good that is there needs to be recognized and encouraged.

I also note this prejudicial tendency in some of those involved in our local Catholic Worker houses and in the positions of our local hierarchy and diocesan press. This can even reach the level of a haughtiness that turns people off. The icons they hold up for adulation are few, with Dorothy Day ever at the forefront.

In my own experience, I often come into contact with people in the secular world who imitate Christ yet who are seldom noticed or mentioned as worthy of praise. I fail to understand why this is so.

Worcester, Mass.


In your editorial “Seeking the fullness of Mary” (NCR, Oct. 26), you provide a lengthy list of suffering women whom Mary could represent based on what she suffered in her lifetime. However, there is an omission, and it’s being addressed by the Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations, founded in 1997. This international group met this spring in Nairobi, Kenya, where it drafted a declaration to guide jurists and policymakers when dealing with women and girls brutalized in conflict situations. The coalition has launched a global campaign to make the Nairobi Declaration part of international law. The declaration’s first of four principles is that women and girls who are victims of sexual violence in conflict situations have an absolute right to reparations.

That the women of Judaea were subjected to sexual violence during the Roman occupation is known but rarely acknowledged. The issue of whether Mary herself was a victim of this universal crime is the subject of ongoing research and published books.


Women’s ordination

Regarding the ordination of two Roman Catholic women priests at a Jewish synagogue in St. Louis (NCR, Nov. 9), I wish to praise and thank Rabbi Susan Talve and her congregation for their hospitality. The official church reacts with vitriol and condemnation. That seems to be the knee-jerk reaction to anything that does not toe the Vatican party line 100 percent. Perhaps some day the women priests shall overcome.

As a member of Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community, a parish led by a Roman Catholic woman priest in San Diego, I appreciate the fact that a local Methodist congregation rents us their sanctuary each Sunday for our liturgies. I appreciate their motto: “Open minds, open hearts, open doors.” The Catholic hierarchy is a self-perpetuating group who commits gender discrimination against half of God’s creation. For this to stop, people are going to have to demand that it stop by taking positive action. The times, they are a’changin’.

San Marcos, Calif.

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In response to “Woman rabbi takes the heat for Catholic ordination,” I am greatly offended as a Catholic woman that you would print any article giving attention to this horrible abomination on our faith. It is against the church’s magisterium, and for it these women should be excommunicated. Your paper aids in their sin by reporting it.

As a 21-year-old college student, I know that I and my peers need to be led in the right direction with good articles that help us, not confuse us any more than we are. I go to Penn State University, and every day I am given such horrible liberal and worldly messages. I look to my Catholic faith, and people such as yourself who represent it, to go against the world toward Christ. You may sell a paper or two more with your sensational stories of disgusting rituals but you are also in the process hurting people’s souls. Do not print articles that question our faith because no matter what justification you might have for such an article, it spreads sinful doubts rather than hope and solidarity with Mother Church.

Moscow, Pa.

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All of us Catholic women and men know that we are heavily indebted to Rabbi Susan Talve. The archdiocese is reported to have said she has set back Catholic/Jewish relations 100 years. Those of us working on the ordination of women know she has propelled them light years into the future.

St. Louis

Catholics in China

I would like to raise concerns about John Allen’s essay “The rise of China and India” (NCR, Oct. 19). I would suggest the headline of the Page 12 sidebar “Catholicism: stagnant in China” needs some nuance. It may be an apt description in part, but it ignores the pastoral reality in many Chinese dioceses, certainly among those with which we at the U.S. Catholic China Bureau are most familiar.

As one of the four factors accounting for “Catholic underperformance” in China, the choice of the term “schism” is unfortunate. The Holy See has never declared a “schism” to exist in China. This fact has most recently been affirmed by Pope Benedict in his pastoral letter to Chinese Catholics promulgated last Pentecost, wherein he deliberately refers only to “the Catholic church which is in China,” making no mention of any formal division within that church.

The fourth factor cited here implies that “missionary strategy” in China is on hold, missing a dynamic reality in China today. How does that strategy get implemented in China today? Our own program at the China Bureau alone these past 15 or more years, as well as many other initiatives with which we actively collaborate, give evidence of a dynamic missionary response in China. More important are the creative, visionary evangelization efforts by many church leaders across the spectrum in China over the past decade.

South Orange, N.J.

Sr. Janet Carroll works as a program associate for the U.S. Catholic China Bureau at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

A pacifist hero

In the aftermath of the beatification of Franz Jägerstätter in Austria on Oct. 26 ( NCR, Nov. 9), has the moment arrived to focus on an unsung hero from World War I? Ben Salmon was the only American to resist service in that war. He attributed his stance to his Catholic faith. A devout Catholic and Knight of Columbus, Salmon was sentenced to years of brutal imprisonment in federal prisons, much of it in solitary confinement. His hometown newspaper in Denver called him “the slacker, the pacifist, the man with a yellow streak down his spine as broad as a country highway.” It’s said that some priests refused him the sacraments. Though weakened by a hunger strike and with only a Bible and the Catholic Encyclopedia, Salmon wrote a “spirited defense of his witness and beliefs.” In the modern era, it was senseless to think that any war could meet the criteria of the just war.

Is Ben Salmon a seed planted by God a century ago that needs to blossom and call attention to Gospel values of peace, even at the price of great sacrifice and suffering? Besides a book about him, Unsung Hero of the Great War, his story is briefly recounted in Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints. Though we have no military draft now, our soldiers and our mercenary armies are busy making war around the globe. They will be until we change our attitudes and drop the addiction to war. In beatifying Franz Jägerstätter, the pope must have thought that we need good models.


Church’s ‘green’ gestures

With all due respect to Br. David Andrews quoted in “Sometimes bishops say yes” by John Allen Jr. (NCR, Nov. 16), his implied accusation that the Vatican’s seemingly favorable stance with regard to genetically modified foodstuffs is the result of the Pontifical Academy of Science’s having been “bought off” by the biotechnology companies, even if true, misses the point.

As long as the church’s hierarchy continues to condemn all forms of contraception; as long as its official teaching remains that every sexual act must be “open to the possibility of the transmission of life”; as long as it refuses to acknowledge that overpopulation is a prime factor and very possibly the prime mover of the environmental degradation, including global warming, that threatens to plunge our planet into ecological catastrophe, then that same hierarchy will be forced to approve of feeding those geometrically proliferating mouths by any means necessary, including genetically modified organisms.

Until the church faces squarely and dispassionately the fact that a finite Earth has a limited human carrying capacity and resolves to address that fact in a realistic manner, her “green” gestures will be irrelevant at best and, at worst, a sham.


Balkan story

Regarding your story by Matthew J. Gaudet about Kosovo (NCR , Nov 23): Kosovo, thanks to NATO and U.S. intervention, is the only Muslim state in Europe. During eight years of NATO presence in Kosovo, NATO did nothing but watch while Albanian mobs killed thousands of Serbs and in one day burned 125 Serbian churches, some protected by UNESCO as a historic sites. Your story just happens to help those who think that giving Muslims something in return for the killings of thousands in other parts of the world is just fine and dandy. Well, it is not. Neither is your promotion of the Albanian cause. If Albanians are not happy in the Serbian province of Kosovo, they have their own country.


A parishioner’s courage

I have just finished reading Colman McCarthy’s “A rabble-rouser in the parish” (NCR, Nov. 9). I applaud the courage and commitment of Ms. Kathy Boylan in offering prayer for the many Iraqi brothers and sisters who have been killed in this war. And what a shame that her pastor could not see beyond his nose to support her.

I too feel this way at Mass when prayers are offered for our dead but not for those whom we made dead. But having a much less courageous character, I have kept silent. We also could pray that we do not repeat in Iran the “shock and awe” of our military might. And isn’t that expression a terrible way to phrase the devastation and death our bombing created? It makes me think of Howard Zinn writing: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

Plymouth, Mass.

Body and soul

Arnult Mitchell’s conclusion (NCR, Nov 16) in response to my letter (NCR, Oct. 26) that the soul and the brain are essentially the same thing because the communication and decision-making that affect the soul’s condition occur by means of the conscious brain strikes me as hubris. Scripture indicates that the human soul is as eternal as God, preexisting conception and persisting after death. Though its condition is affected by physical, earthly consciousness and cognition, its presence is not dependent on it. The soul, it seems, would have to have its own consciousness in order to experience an afterlife. Therefore, its presence is the primary reason for supporting and protecting the physical body it inhabits.

A heart that beats when the conscious brain no longer functions, or has not begun functioning, indicates that God has not called that person’s soul to himself. Not providing a body with those elements it needs to survive -- food, water, and air -- when it is capable of processing them, and a way of providing them is available, sends the soul on its way before it is called by God.

Morgantown, W.V.

Francis Thompson

Regarding “A misfit poet of heaven” (NCR, Nov. 9): I am delighted to have so much more information about Catholic poet Francis Thompson than I had previously. He was an important person to me in the 1960s and ’70s. Two pieces of writing had a huge influence on my becoming a Catholic, Elected Silence by Thomas Merton and “The Hound of Heaven.”

Bristol, England

Unjust immigration

I am writing in regard to Fr. Richard McBrien’s article about illegal entry into this country from Mexico (NCR, Nov. 16). He only gives the side of Cardinal Roger Mahony and not the side of morality in an objective manner. Cardinal Mahony argues that our immigration laws are “unjust ... have moral implications, and must be viewed through a moral lens.”

I would argue it is illegal to enter our country without documentation, a crime to use another person’s Social Security number to fake legality, and a crime for an employer to hire an undocumented worker. If those who consider entering this country felt they would not find employment, perhaps they would work harder in Mexico to improve conditions.

Fr. McBrien says those of us who favor a barrier between our country and Mexico to impede illegal entry are among the “more extreme” on this issue. We have a moral point as well. Many of our own citizens have had their incomes cut back due to the hiring of Mexicans who will work for much lower wages. It is time Catholic church leaders like Cardinal Mahony recognize the moral problems and work with leaders in Mexico to improve conditions there.

Bloomington, Minn.

Purging the priesthood

It takes a gay person of exceptional faith, courage and fortitude to remain in the Catholic church today. Your editorial was one of the best statements I have read in years about the treatment of gay people within our church (NCR, Nov. 2). However, it still didn’t dare verbalize the root cause of the prejudice and spiritual tyranny: the actions of Pope Benedict XVI, both now and as the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

An eloquent analysis of the problem was given by retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong at a recent convention of Dignity. Quoting from Bishop Spong expresses the reality and truth that most of the Catholic media somehow fear stating. “When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, one of his first acts was to announce his intention to purge gay males from the ranks of the Catholic priesthood. When the fine print was read, however, he limited himself to preventing aggressive or militant homosexual advocates from becoming priests. Even this pope knew full well that a purge of gay men from the ranks of the Catholic priesthood would decimate the clergy, to say nothing of culling significantly the members of the College of Cardinals, the archbishops and the bishops of that church. The duplicity and dishonesty surrounding this issue in the Catholic church is breathtaking.”

Has any member of the Catholic hierarchy had the courage to say this in public before? Did it take an Episcopal bishop to speak the truth?

Dunellen, N.J.

Wanting salt and light

I read your account of this year’s bishops’ conference (NCR, Nov.23) and was as upset and angry as I was afraid I would be. I was particularly hoping against hope for a much more Gospel-oriented outcome. Bishop Thomas Poprocki of Chicago was able to insert an amendment in the document “Faithful Citizenship,” referring to “the continuing threat of fanatical extremism and global terror.” Where I was searching for a strong condemnation of the Iraq war, the document of our bishops said: “Those whom the coalition forces are fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, are not the poor and oppressed seeking to throw off their chains, but jihadist fanatics, who believe they’re doing God’s will.”

It seems the body of Christ is not the light and salt and catalyst for change Jesus wants. The values of the secular society have infiltrated and changed the church. We are not the “City on the hill,” but have become like all other cities. Why does Emperor Constantine have such an enduring influence over the church of Jesus!

Brecksville, Ohio


In regard to your article on ethanol (Oct. 26), I think there is a strong case against viewing ethanol as a solution to petroleum dependency, global warming or air pollution. In addition to the problems writer Tom Carney mentioned with regard to the pollution created in the production of ethanol and the effect of possibly decreasing the global food supply, there is the problem of the lower energy content of ethanol. This means that a car burns roughly 40 percent more ethanol than gasoline to do the same work. So if we relied on ethanol as our transportation fuel, we’d be short 40 percent of supply as soon as we made the switch.

As far as pollution is concerned, Wikipedia says: “Use of ethanol (including the emissions from its production) emits a similar net amount of carbon dioxide but less carbon monoxide than gasoline.” But it then reports: “Ozone levels are significantly increased.” So, as far as pollution is concerned, ethanol is a mixed bag. This is one basket we shouldn’t put all our eggs in.

San Pedro, Calif.

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National Catholic Reporter, December 7, 2007