National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
March 21, 2008


Exodus from the church

“Catholics lose more members than any other group” (NCR, March 7) reminded me of another striking exodus. More priests have left active ministry in the church than are currently ministering, yet no one in the leadership ranks of the hierarchy has launched an inquiry as to why their exodus. If the hierarchy can allow more than 50,000 priests, ordained at great expense, to leave active ministry, all the while bemoaning the shortage of clergy but without caring to ask the question why, what makes anyone think that they will care to ask the why for departing Catholics who have likewise voted with their feet?

Columbus, Miss.

Cruel nuns

Marlene Sweeney writes that the old stereotype of the cruel Catholic nun should be put to rest (NCR, “The sisters’ story retold,” Feb. 22). This image would not have such strength if there were not a great deal of truth behind it, and it may never die until the last of the children abused by a generation of nuns passes from the scene. In the 1950s, the days of “a Catholic education for every Catholic child,” parochial elementary schools of 1,300 children or more were the norm. Classes of 80 led by a 25-year-old nun with a high school education were not uncommon. The only way to maintain order in a class that size was unrelenting discipline. Personal attention to the needs of any one student was essentially impossible.

The nuns as well as the children were victims of a deeply flawed model of Catholic education. Many graduates continue to harbor deep resentment over the treatment we received in parochial school. Many of my former classmates turned their backs on the church in their teens and have stayed away. Perhaps the orders of religious women could show a greater sensitivity and humility than the bishops and priests who committed much graver abuses. If religious women would be able to speak their regret for the deeds of their predecessors, the resentments of a generation of parochial school students would be diminished, and perhaps stories about the “brutal sisters” would decrease.

Gaithersburg, Md.

Iraq war

Jim Dubik, the outstanding Army general quoted in your editorial, is of course correct that “the war is not over” (NCR, Feb. 8). Most thinking Americans long for an ending. What NCR and certain politicians seem to miss is that if we just pick up our marbles and go home, the war will still not be over. It will be over only for Americans -- and that almost certainly only for a limited time. Instability breeds violence, and violence feeds on itself. We’ll get an ending of sorts but it won’t be a happy one, especially not for Iraqis and their neighbors.

We started the unjust war in Iraq for grossly insufficient reasons. We are responsible not only for the war but for its future consequences. We have sown the dragon’s teeth, and it would be not only irresponsible but deeply immoral for us to just walk off and leave them, endlessly fomenting violence. Yes, end the war, and end it with dispatch and justice. Get the best deal we can as quickly as may be, recognizing in advance that it will be far from perfect. But taking up Pilate’s finger bowl is not the moral answer. It will not stop the war and will only make it more likely that we’ll be back in the killing fields again, sooner rather than later.

Morgan Hill, Calif.

No evil people

Fr. Dallas Darling’s article “Did Hitler think he was doing good?” (NCR, Feb. 8) shows an incredible paradox that can also be found in a contradiction within the Gospel. Jesus asks us not to judge but then refers to “the wicked” or “evil men.” I attribute this to something lost in the translation. On a more modern level, if I conclude that “terrorists” are evil, I am quite capable of lack of empathy for this enemy and certainly do not care about their pain or suffering.

I like the ideas put forth by Fr. Anthony de Mello and others that perception of “evil people” is an illusion. The antidote is found in the Gospel itself: “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” If we all made the effort just once, one enemy at a time, to understand that at the root of all hurtful behaviors is the perpetrator’s desire to seek fulfillment of some need, be it protection or otherwise, we would see that there are no “evil” people. We could truly reconcile. Hitler could not empathize because his resentment blinded him to the humanity of his enemies. Those who crucified Jesus were blind to his humanity, much less his divinity. We are all capable of the same blindness.

Gonzales, Calif.

Bishop Braxton

Regarding your article on Bishop Edward Braxton (NCR, Jan. 25), I can only ask, “Has the man no shame?” While he served in the St. Louis archdiocese, I had several opportunities to meet him. I was always touched by his homilies. Obviously he can talk the talk better than he can walk the walk.

Is it any wonder the laity are fleeing from the church? To steal $10,000 in funds from a program established for the benefit of a special ministry for children over the written objections of the foundation board is arrogance beyond belief. When a bishop uses $8,000 to purchase “custom clerical garments,” as quoted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, from funds intended for the missions, I would call that “vanity of vanities.” I wait in wonder to see whether the Vatican will turn another blind eye to yet another blot on the name of the church.

Washington, Mo.

Fr. Bozek

Hurrah for Fr. Bozek’s courage (NCR, Feb. 22). I bet what does him in is his open support for the ordination of women at the synagogue in St. Louis. Other “disobedience” could be forgiven. But according to church practice, it will be swept under the rug unless Fr. Bozek decides to let people know. I would suggest that the lay board of St. Stanislaus Parish give away to the charities of their choice most of the $9 million the parish has acquired and just keep operating expenses for the next couple years. Then it would not go into the coffers of the archdiocese and therefore into Archbishop Burke’s hands. I am praying for all involved.

New Berlin, Wis.

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Fr. Bozek for pope!


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Thank you for your excellent article on Fr. Marek Bozek. As a Catholic and Secular Franciscan, I believe the Holy Spirit is calling the church to move beyond laws into love. Fr. Bozek’s struggle to allow the Spirit to breathe new life into a barnacle-encrusted institution is an inspiration to all those with hearts wide open.

St. Francis of Assisi heard the Spirit’s call to re-create the church based on Gospel love and forgiveness, and he followed his call, only to have his dance stifled and his followers later encrusted once again with rules and regulations. Just because the church hierarchy demands obedience does not make that call right or just. The institutional church has proven itself wrong century after century. From the fifth to the 18th century the church had canons decreeing death for those who were accused of witchcraft, sometimes simply because the person caused a child to be healed or had a husband who couldn’t perform in bed, and it had canons allowing evidence gained by torture to be used as proof of guilt. The church had its inquisitions, its condemnations of our brothers and sisters who were Jews or Muslims, its misogynistic laws, its rampant oppressions. Until the church actually follows the Gospel love of Christ, it cannot stand in judgment of anyone’s soul.

Montrose, Colo.

Slandering McCain

Regarding Colman McCarthy’s column on John McCain (NCR, Feb. 22): Pacifists enjoy the luxury of freedom of speech because generations of men and women gave their lives to guarantee freedom of speech, no matter how naive, delusional or malicious the speech may be. Sen. McCain is a patriot. To call him a bully for doing his duty as he saw it is despicable.

Twin Lakes, Wis.

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I was shocked and dismayed to see that your paper, which ostensibly represents Catholic values, printed the disgusting column penned by far left-wing columnist Colman McCarthy about John McCain. Sen. McCain is a hero who has provided extraordinary service to his country. Mr. McCarthy disparages not only Sen. McCain’s military service but in effect also that of thousands of American service personnel who gave their lives for our country in Vietnam. The potentially slanderous diatribe ultimately diminishes your paper, not Sen. McCain.

Pompano Beach, Fla.

Law-abiding people

Regarding “Blind SOA activist chooses jail time” (NCR, Feb. 8): Today our courts are sentencing decorated war veterans, lawyers, blind people, priests and nuns and all sorts of law-abiding people to jail for protests at the former School of the Americas. Not only does this in some way violate the Constitution and the rights of a free citizenry, but it is simply wrong. The law is such that just people are being punished. Any law that punishes unjustly is no law that will hold the allegiance of free people. Legislators, civic leaders and particularly church leaders are conspicuously silent, which could mean that we are all at the brink of disaster, because evil only survives through the absence of good. When a citizenry sits and watches evil run rampant, the end result can be only one of unparalleled destruction. That kind of evil knocks on America’s doors. When we let decent American people go to jail without reacting, it will not be long till we’re all in jail.

Omak, Wash.

Pope’s words on women

Pope Benedict XVI spoke out recently against exploitation, discrimination and violence waged against the world’s women (NCR, Feb. 22). He noted that women are discriminated against or undervalued in some places and cultures “just for the fact that they are women.” Should we laugh or cry at this statement? Everyone in the world must surely know that Benedict XVI himself adamantly practices this very kind of discrimination. With (refutable) claims that the ban against female ordination and leadership in the church is rooted in biology, scripture and tradition, the pope keeps women in the margins for one reason only: They are not males.

Pope Benedict’s noncompliance with his own directives must surely show the rest of the world that his words need not to be taken at face value. Inclusive leadership in the church would be far and away more effective than disingenuous pronouncements such as this one.

Burlington, Wis.

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I am so happy to see that the pope has decried “the serious and relentless exploitation, discrimination and violence being waged against the world’s women. … There are places and cultures where women are discriminated against or undervalued just for the fact that they are women,” he says. One of those “places and cultures” is certainly the Roman Catholic church. I can hardly wait to see his words matched by deeds.

Rock Tavern, N.Y.

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National Catholic Reporter, March 21, 2008