National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
April 18, 2008


Illegitimate baptisms

Regarding “Wrong language renders baptism null” (NCR, March 21): Has anyone in the hierarchy informed our “Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier” that people baptized using that formula are not really baptized? Does anyone suppose that God cares more about legal formulas than about the intention of faith? Jesus himself repeatedly followed the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law by healing and working on the Sabbath. Years later, St. Paul asked the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard?” and then proclaims, “You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness.” Will we soon learn from the official church that the baptismal formula must be proclaimed in Aramaic, so as not to “change any words of Jesus”?

Newton, N.J.

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Identifying and rooting out these false Christians must be a high priority. Already some may have invalidly been ordained and might be chosen as future bishops. Though some may mistakenly believe they are Christians, if this cancer in our midst is not eradicated, some could even end up as members of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Dubuque, Iowa

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Just when we were beginning to think that the church’s sacraments weren’t just magic after all but meaningful events in our spiritual life, we have the boys in red dresses and white lace reassure us to the contrary. But look on the positive side. This new clarification will greatly facilitate the marriage invalidation process. All I have to do is distinctly remember that my baptizer didn’t use the exact words from Matthew 28 and bingo! I’m off to a new marriage. I wonder if God is just laughing, or maybe crying.

San Diego

True theology

Thank you for the important article by Christa Pongratz-Lippit (NCR, March 21) with her transcription of a revealing conversation between Cardinal Franz König and Fr. Jacques Dupuis. This is essential reading as we prepare for the uncertain advent of the pope to New York. The books by Fr. Dupuis are also essential reading. There is mention that true theology builds faith, hope and charity, and thus we read with gratitude the edifying works of such Catholic theologians as Frs. Dupuis, Tissa Balasuriya, Jon Sobrino, Dan Berrigan, Ernesto Cardenal, Ignacio Ellacuría, Edward Schillebeeckx, Leonardo Boff, Charles Curran and so many others whose Catholic careers suffered under the uncharitable Holy Office, yet whose writings we joyfully continue to read. An old expression notes the church is most true when under open persecution, as in El Salvador or ancient Rome. Now in the United States, our church finds persecution and silencing mainly by the quiet pen of juridical accountants.

Columbus, N.M.


It may be true that as John J. Thulis writes in his letter to the editor (NCR, March 21), “Pacifists enjoy the luxury of freedom of speech because generations of men and women gave their lives to guarantee freedom of speech.” It pains me greatly, however, that I have not ever heard anyone who uses such a line go on to explain this: Many of the men and women of those generations found nonviolent ways to give us, and later help preserve for us, many of the constitutional rights we as Americans enjoy today. As much as our military-industrial-complex-obsessed society would like us to believe that all who have gone to war and returned with medals and citations are heroes, they are not. Some may be, but not all of them are. The sacrifices and privations that soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen face today may be great but they pale in comparison to the privations our nation inflicts on the people of other nations around the world, in and out of our war zones.

The sacrifices of our military would be meaningless if it were not for those who regularly and nonviolently exercise their freedoms to question those in authority in keeping with the traditions of the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah, Jesus of Nazareth, St. Francis of Assisi, Henry David Thoreau, John Kline, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero and Rachel Corrie to stand up, live differently, speak clearly and love compassionately.

San Antonio

Caring women

Regarding the letter to the editor concerning cruel nuns (NCR, March 21): As a student in a Catholic grade school in the 1940s and 1950s, I have to say that I never met one. These hard-working, caring women taught classes of never fewer than 60 children without the help of special education teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists or nurses. They did it all. Did they ever get sick? Probably, but I can’t ever remember having a substitute teacher. These nuns had a work ethic that made the Green Bay Packers look like sissies. I have no idea what their formal education was, but I do know they were smarter than any of us. They were determined that each of their students, mostly from working-class homes, got a basic education sufficient to get into a college preparatory high school.

More important, they inculcated in us a love of learning, high standards of academic excellence, an appreciation of hard work and a sense of right and wrong. I can never thank these wonderful women enough. God bless and reward them for their lives spent in the service of others. We will not see their like again, and the church and the country are poorer for it.

Arlington, Va.

Wealth not the problem

Regarding your editorial “Old sins revisited” (NCR, March 21), on Rome’s newfound sins: Give me a break. Third-World poverty is not caused by my prosperity. It is caused by psychotic ruling despots who thwart progress by banning the rule of law and property rights, who impede the free market, and who foster corruption. As for the “sin” of having too much money -- what hogwash. Let’s say I get lucky, like Bill Gates maybe, and start a successful software company. When do I stop amassing wealth in order to ward off sin: After my first billion or my 50th? And how do I stop without sabotaging my company, leaving it prey to competition and putting innocent employees out of work?

Our No. 2 man in the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the official who declared these new sins, needs a course in economics. He may then learn that the money rich people make is not stashed away under mattresses. Nor is it all squandered on harlotry and high living, but reinvested in ways that create jobs. And jobs are what poor people want, not handouts. The archbishop may also learn that free enterprise has done more for humankind than 2,000 years of misguided -- and always shifting -- Catholic social doctrine.

Oxford, Miss.

Bush’s war

I want to express my appreciation and support of the masterly critique of the “Bush’s War” TV program by Fr. Raymond Schroth (NCR, March 21) in which he lays out the pervasive errors and crimes of the Bush administration whose officials have so far been spared the punishments and impeachments that their illegal, immoral actions deserve. I hope Fr. Schroth will continue to divulge the extensiveness of the damage done by this administration to the United States during the last eight years. Preemptive war, abrogation of treaties, distrust of allies, torture and maltreatment of prisoners of war have all caused worldwide antipathy toward this great land. Wide publication of articles like Fr. Schroth’s will do much to bring this country back to its honored position among nations, as will more TV exposés like “Bush’s War.”

Mount Dora, Fla.

Leaving the church

Regarding the discussion of “Catholic Exodus” (NCR, March 7): It has been often said that people leave the church of their childhood in their early years when, among other things, they discover the opposite sex. There are many of us who discovered the same sex and, whether we wanted to stay or not, we felt no invitation to do so but even the opposite, so we also left. Very few of us returned. Those who came back did so after coming to an acceptance of what James Thurber said: Do not look back in anger nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.

Piedmont, Calif.

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National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2008