National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
December 14, 2007


Weary caregivers

Your article concerning caregiving of the elderly, “Labor of love can be financially draining” (NCR, Nov. 23), lacked one important element, which is the ultimate reality for many caregivers. Placing the elderly loved one in a nursing home is often the only safe, logical and acceptable solution. In most articles I have read, there is the tacit inference that the caregiver is somehow uncaring, negligent or callous in making the nursing home decision. I assure you this decision is never easy. In case of Alzheimer’s dementia, it is often the only course of action that will not compromise the health and life of the caregiver. The stress and emotional imbalance can be lethal. The ideal situation is to read all the books, follow all the suggestions and “manage” the Alzheimer’s patient in a home setting. The reality is that most people do not have the necessary number of relatives willing to help or the cooperation of neighbors and church organizations.

Caregiving doesn’t cease in most cases when a loved one enters a nursing home. Visiting, dealing with the nursing staff, handling the staggering costs and going through the Medicaid maze of rules and regulations all are part of the continuing caregiving. The only difference is that the caregiver has free time to rest and care for his or her own health. It is amazing and wonderful that some people are able to help an Alzheimer’s patient on a round-the-clock basis. It is likewise not a deficiency when the caregiver simply cannot manage any longer.

Dunellen, N.J.

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The article on family caregiving was most welcome. The accompanying sidebar quoted Vatican officials about the pastoral care of elderly people. All parishes probably have pastoral ministries to the elderly, though probably fewer have pastoral ministries for the growing number of family caregivers.

The motto of the Caregiver Resource Network in western Michigan is “Don’t walk the caregiver path alone.” As Jesus hung from the cross, he delegated his beloved apostle to take care of his mother. St. John is ideally the patron saint of family caregivers. As Jesus’ love for us was unconditional, so too is that of most family caregivers, ready to give up their comfortable lifestyle, their health and even their life. They may die before the care recipient does because of the stress. It’s for this reason that I have suggested a ninth beatitude: “Blessed are the family caregivers; for they shall be ‘limoed’ into the kingdom of God.”

Ada, Mich.

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I can relate to the issues described as I am there as a caregiver. My husband, who is 87 and a World War II veteran, is dying of lung cancer. I am his sole caregiver at night and on weekends. He is currently in hospice, so I have support from the hospice team as I need it. I also have engaged a service that helps me with his care during the times I need to go to work and run errands. Visiting Angels, a home health care service, helps me juggle a part-time job as a director of faith formation, needed for health care benefits. It is so true that your time is not your own.

Lake Oswego, Ore.

Faithful citizenship

After reading “U.S. bishops project ‘air of unity’ ” (NCR, Nov. 23), I was prompted to think of the outstanding degree of sameness these leaders project for the Catholic in a diverse America. Years ago, corporate business sameness was portrayed as the figure of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.” Currently, corporate media giants show the same pertinent stories at the same time on TV, news, and even computer headline news. And now our spiritual leaders seem to have corporate-like concerns for “Faithful Citizenship” on political questions, the sexual abuse crisis, and ineffective monetary controls. I have a hard time reconciling this with “promoting the common good” for all of the faithful.

Fishkill, N.Y.

Health system and the union

Jack Glaser’s response in a letter to the editor to Rosemary Ruether’s even-handed essay “The sisters, the workers and the union” (NCR, Nov. 16) was disappointing on at least two counts. If, as Mr. Glaser suggests, those requesting a union were only a handful of the 21,000 St. Joseph Health System employees, the system would lose nothing by establishing a free and fair election process. The fact that St. Joseph Health System so deliberately blocks the election process indicates that its management understands that many more than a “disgruntled” handful are hoping to establish a union.

Nowhere in her article does Dr. Ruether impugn the social justice record of the Sisters of St. Joseph. My experience -- I’ve spoken to more than 50 St. Joseph Health System employees who are attempting to establish a free and fair election process, and to about five union organizers -- is that no one in or connected to the union has anything negative to say about the sisters’ record on social justice. It is because of that exemplary record that the community’s resistance to a free and fair election process at the Health System is so incomprehensible.

Fullerton, Calif.

Diocesan property

In his letter to the editor (NCR, Nov. 23), Franciscan Fr. Joe Spina states, “I think the diocese had the right to prohibit the use of St. Francis Cabrini church for [Carol Curoe’s and her father’s] talk. It’s part of the diocese’s property.” If memory serves me, several dioceses that are in bankruptcy proceedings because of sexual abuse financial settlements have claimed that parishes are not part of diocesan property, and are thus protected from being sold as part of a bankruptcy settlement. It kind of sounds like bishops want to have it both ways to suit their current fancy.

Eagle, Idaho

Donating organs

Your story “The nightmare scenario of organ donation” (NCR, Nov. 16) highlighted the tragic shortage of human organs for transplant operations.

More than half of the 98,000 Americans on the national transplant waiting list will die before they get a transplant. Most of these deaths are needless. Americans bury or cremate about 20,000 transplantable organs every year. More than 6,000 of our neighbors suffer and die needlessly every year as a result.

There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage: Give organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die. Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system more fair. People who aren’t willing to share the gift of life should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs.

Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers, a nonprofit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at There is no age limit. Parents can enroll their minor children. No one is excluded due to any preexisting medical condition.

Nashville, Tenn.

David J. Undis is executive director of LifeSharers.

Women priests

I am supportive of the newly ordained women priests as described in your article “Women find a way” (NCR, Dec. 7). Nevertheless, I appreciate your printing the letter of Stephanie Pendrak who is so horrified by it. I am sure there are many Catholics who mistakenly think, as Stephanie does, that this answering of the call to the priesthood by women is somehow a “horrible abomination on our faith.” I see it as just the opposite. What a blessing that these brave women have chosen to extend their already rich ministry in a new way. It gives me hope to read that others are following them.

Recently, I attended a eucharistic celebration at which the Rev. Mary Ramerman of Spiritus Christi was celebrant. I could feel the grace and the Spirit there. Far from being an “abomination” or “disgusting rituals,” such celebrations give a message of promise and new life to the church, the center of which is the Eucharist itself. I think they will give life to a church that continues to suffer much from recent actions of the hierarchy that have little relationship to the Gospel.

Roeland Park, Kan.

Ghiberti’s doors

Regarding “Renaissance masterpiece, missed in Florence, turns up in New York” (NCR, Nov. 23): My husband Rick Steves’ coverage of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise is in his Europe 101: History and Art for the Traveler and in Florence and Tuscany 2007. His descriptions and analysis can help people understand this magnificent work.


A ‘necessary’ war

I was disappointed with Colman McCarthy’s opinion piece on Ken Burns’ documentary “The War” (NCR, Oct. 26). While I do not share Mr. McCarthy’s antiwar position, I have generally found in his articles at least an attempt to understand the other side. I have found him passionate but balanced. Not so with this article.

Just because Mr. Burns believes that World War II was “necessary” does not mean that he, or any of the rest of us who believe the same, think that all actions taken were either necessary or moral. Many of us who believe the war was just do not necessarily believe in the necessity of the firebombings and the use of atomic weapons.

He criticizes the fact that the story of the 6,000 imprisoned conscientious objectors was not included. Those 6,000 compare to approximately 400,000 who were killed. He does not mention the hundreds of other stories left out. Mr. Burns had only 15 hours to tell the story of probably the most global action of any kind since the creation of our planet. In addition, to seriously think that “a 10-year or 20-year period of resistance,” no matter what it included, would have defeated the Axis powers is folly. Had we chosen that course, we would most likely now be counting up nearly 75 years of the new Dark Ages, of tyranny, holocausts and exterminations more heinous than we can imagine. Think how many more would have died in the German extermination camps in another five or 10 years.

Huntingtown, Md.

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National Catholic Reporter, December 14, 2007