National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
February 8, 2008


John Dear’s pacifism

Jesuit Fr. John Dear’s Viewpoint piece (NCR, Jan. 25) was rife with many ironies, but the principal one is Fr. Dear’s embrace of a fundamentalism that the Jesus to whom he is so passionately committed clearly rejected. In Fr. Dear’s world, the military is evil and pacifism is the only Christian way. One can only be an authentic Jesuit by embracing pacifism and not “having to do with any military anywhere.” I would love to live in a world so black and white, in which the answers to our problems are so simple.

Unfortunately, I have to live in the real world where things are not so clear-cut. For example, the world has been clamoring for a robust intervention in the crisis in Darfur, but for such intervention to be effective it would require well-trained, disciplined soldiers to serve as a counterweight to the government and militia forces now acting with impunity. The world is complex, and Jesus expected us to use the intellect with which God gifted us to make wise choices, to discern that to which we are called in the midst of complex realities. Jesus’ insight formed the core of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, the discernment of spirits. Fr. Dear’s fundamentalist world is attractive, but I prefer Jesus’ world, in which we discern as adults what our God calls us to do in the hard realities of life, knowing that the world is not black or white, good or evil, but an admixture of both.

New York

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Is high school ROTC “an evil program” that trains young people “how to murder”? Fr. John Dear thinks so. When I was in high school ROTC, I recall being taught military history, drill, first aid, map reading, and the use of the Springfield rifle, a single-shot, bolt-action gun. Murder wasn’t in the syllabus. He says it is “shocking and scandalous” that a priest would be a military chaplain in Iraq or West Point. The problem is not chaplains teaching ethics or morality. Problems arise when they don’t teach these subjects.

Fr. Dear doesn’t just want individual Christians to be noncombatants; he wants to eliminate militaries and weapons from the world. Does he also want to eliminate police forces? As long as there is sin, there will be need for the use of force. Scripture says this is in accordance with God’s will (Romans 13). Christians may choose not to participate, but nowhere does scripture call on Christians to seek to take away police and military powers from secular governments.


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Jesuit Fr. John Dear’s article fits well into today’s political climate. It appears we can expect about the same level of honesty from some of the clergy. I’m truly saddened that so many people in positions of leadership feel it’s all right to play loose with the truth in order to make their point. For this reason I take umbrage at Fr. Dear’s remarks. His statements make me cringe, such as: “Most of our universities and high schools train young people to kill in an evil program called ROTC.” Then again he says, “I don’t understand how we claim to follow the nonviolent Jesus yet support someone who works in a torture center.” This is akin to saying that we’re sending our young men to seminaries to teach them to molest children.

While he’s entitled to his opinion, I maintain that when the facts do not justify the opinion, it’s time to change it. Lies and misrepresentations do not make an opinion correct. I question what drives a man to speak such vile rhetoric, besmirching the servicemen and women who fought and are still fighting for his freedom to say it.

Carlsbad, N.M.


Regarding Andrew Lam’s Viewpoint piece, “When teaching becomes scutwork” (NCR, Jan. 11): In my experience over the years, our collective zeitgeist never accorded teachers the respect the task we entrust to them deserves. Low pay and lack of resources are only two expressions of that fact, yet we ask more and more from our educators, especially in the elementary years. The latest round of “blame the teacher” manifests itself in more testing and tying remuneration to student achievement, while teachers’ pay stagnates and budgets decrease. No wonder students undermine and underrate their teachers on the Web. They do what society taught them.

I am the husband of an elementary school teacher and principal. Over the years I’ve been made aware of all the latest thinking in education as my wife earned her advanced degrees and certifications. Only one intervention out of all the programs, new teaching methods and “no-child-left-behind” testing schema actually positively influences achievement. That is class size. A ratio of one teacher to 15 students proves ideal for student learning. How much more learning could be achieved; how much less discipline problems would there be; how much would we all benefit if the zeitgeist demanded real progress? No one knows because no one has tried it. Doubling starting salary for teachers and halving class size sounds like a good start to me.

Rockford, Ill.

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Teaching does not become scutwork due to scandal or the zeitgeist. Teaching becomes scutwork in those places where teachers have lost the connection to the future. We teach for the future. When we cannot connect with or pay adequate attention to that future, then we have failed our students. Scutwork happens! Such failure to focus on the future must be actively battled.

At our middle school we have students placing letters they write to themselves inside a 10-year time capsule. They write about their history and their plans for the future. Then they place the letters into a 350-pound vault bolted to the floor in our school lobby. When students return at their 10-year reunion to retrieve these letters, we will listen carefully to the presentations they will be invited to give to students 10 years younger than themselves about their recommendations. Questions they will be asked will include “What would you do differently if you were 13 again?” When teaching focuses on the answers former students give to such questions 10 years later, teaching is no longer scutwork. Teaching must focus on the future.


Bernard Law

In John Allen’s article on Cardinal Bernard Law, “After the fall” (NCR, Jan. 25), he writes, “Catholics from cultures lacking Anglo-Saxon concepts of corporate liability, which includes Italy, sometimes struggle to understand why bishops should be held accountable for the misdeeds of their priests.” Are Vatican leaders really that delusional?

Bernard Law did not lose his seat in Boston because of the misdeeds of his priests. He lost his seat because of his own misdeeds. He repeatedly covered up the crimes of his pedophile priests. He lied to the people of his archdiocese about his own work in moving those predator priests from parish to parish. When The Boston Globe broke the story in 2002, he was caught in a lie on an almost daily basis. Worse still, he repeatedly used the American legal system to bully and intimidate victims of sexual abuse into silence, thereby victimizing the victims again. Indeed, he even accused them of being responsible for the abuse. His call for God’s wrath on his critics surpasses Richard Nixon’s most deluded and paranoid claims of innocence and persecution.

Since fleeing to Rome, Cardinal Law has been showered with honors by his friends in the Vatican. No doubt he repaid them by voting the Roman Curia line in the conclave of 2005. That this man still holds positions of influence in Vatican congregations, including the Congregation for Bishops where he used his influence to promote those who aided him in his misdeeds in Boston, is a disgrace and a continued insult to the victims of sexual abuse.


Slow Food

I appreciated the article about Slow Food and its many aspects (NCR, Jan. 11). We should never underestimate the power of food. Not only do people need food to live but we also enjoy food as part of nearly every social interaction. And although many people in the world are content with whatever food they can get, even they delight in food that is well prepared with a bit of imagination. I know of a man I consider very holy who often fasts but never fails to comment on how good the bread is and eats it slowly in order to enjoy every morsel. I also recall how many times in the Gospels Jesus went to banquets and apparently enjoyed them too. I especially like the little barbecue along the sea when Jesus grilled fish for his disciples (John 21: 9-14). The Eucharist is our call to a banquet with our fellow worshippers consisting of two items: bread, unleavened and mostly tasteless, and wine, that element of joy and celebration. We need both.

Brandon, Fla.

Opportunities for millennials

Regarding “Odyssey years: A challenge to today’s church” (NCR, Dec. 28). We read with interest a description of the millennials living their odyssey years in society and in the church of today. We know any number of young adults who have delayed the traditional choices of a long-term career and marriage, parenting and regular church attendance and involvement. Instead, many we know have made decisions to work in poor countries for a year or so or to travel freely, earning their way through simple employment such as waiting tables, caring for a homebound person, etc. After earning enough to get them to their next immediate goal, they leave the employment and go on to the next thing.

Parishes would do well to engage these millennials in meaningful and nontraditional ministries even for short periods of time. Religious congregations too might attract this population for short-term commitments. Victory Noll is a program dedicated to non-institutional ministries in favor of the poor, associated with Our Lady of Victory Missionary Associates. It is launching a new program called Victory Noll Missioner, which engages young adult and middle-aged women who seek a meaningful ministry and a deepening of spirituality. We believe this is a wonderful opportunity for the odyssey years. Persons in this age range are indeed talented, generous, seeking to make a better world while seeking a deep spirituality. Let the church respond with opportunities to make a better world.


Greens as spoilers

Regarding “Greens connect ecology with democracy” (NCR, Jan. 11): I certainly applaud the Green Party for its particular concern for our environment, but if it runs a candidate in the presidential race again it will only help the anti-environmental Republicans. If it were not for the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in 2000, Al Gore would have been president. No one doubts his environmental credentials. He lost because of the votes for Mr. Nader in Florida and we got George W. Bush who has rivaled Ronald Reagan as the worst environmental president we have ever had. Ironically, Ralph Nader has been known as a champion of consumer issues and not the environment.

The Green Party says that the Democrats have lost their way. Perhaps in some ways they have, but they advocate policies a lot closer to the Green Party than the Republicans do. The Green Party has no chance of electing their candidate to the presidency, but it can, once again, become the spoiler and put a conservative in the White House.

Montrose, Colo.

Ron Paul

Colman McCarthy eloquently writes about Ron Paul (NCR, Jan. 25) and gives a perspective from an association he has had with Mr. Paul for many years. It confirms what I thought about Mr. Paul, that he should be our next president. Thank you, Mr. McCarthy, for a wonderful article.

Aspen, Colo.

Mental illness treatments

The “Viewpoint” by Stafford Betty (NCR, Dec. 28) has raised some concerns among the members of the Council on Mental Illness of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability. We believe the article presented an imbalanced interpretation of mental illness. The author’s suggestion that some mental illnesses could be the result of “spirits or ‘entities’ ” attaching themselves to people is contrary to modern scientific research and inconsistent with church teaching. We are concerned that people reading this article uncritically could be left with a dangerously inaccurate snapshot of the treatment of mental illnesses. We particularly worry that people with mental illness will avoid or abandon well-established, effective therapies, which would then result in suffering to the person, the family, society and the church.

In our opinion, Pope Benedict XVI’s “Letter for World Day of the Sick 2006” is a much more balanced and ultimately more helpful message. Our council’s membership represents a wide range of experience and wisdom: clergy, licensed medical and mental health care providers, lay pastoral ministers, people with mental illness, and the family and friends of people living with mental illness. Believing that all people are made in the image and likeness of God, we wholeheartedly promote a comprehensive approach to the treatment of mental illness that recognizes the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions of people with mental illness. We pray your readers will do the same.

Portland, Ore.

Dr. Thomas Welch is a member of the Council on Mental Illness of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

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National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2008