The National Catholic Review
This Mess

Your editorial about sexual abuse by priests (2/18) reminds me that the past secrecy of our bishops in this matter is somewhat analogous to the Nixon administration’s coverup of Watergate. The Watergate break-in was bad enough, but the coverup made Nixon’s White House lose whatever credibility it once had.

The church hierarchy too has made matters much worse by refusing to recognize the problem of priests who prey on youngsters. Some of the same bishops who complain about the lack of vocations to the priesthood are the very ones guilty of covering up this horrible scandal.

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk is to be applauded for his courageous stand on this issue. But mere guidelines and apologies are not enough. What is needed during this Lenten season is an honest and sincere appraisal of how we got to this woeful state of affairs and how we are going to extricate ourselves from this mess.

Edward J. Thompson
Farmingdale, N.Y.

Chastity

Your editorial comments on sexual abuse by priests oddly used the term sexual sobriety. Since when is alcoholism and its major recovery term associated with a disease such as pedophilia and ephebophilia? This reader sees the use of the term as an attempt to project that recovery is a reasonably attainable goal similar to the recorded recoveries of millions of alcoholics since the founding of A.A. in 1935. While alcoholism is a serious disease, in most instances it can be successfully treated. The treatment of adult sexual abusers of children has no successful track record. Obviously sexual chastity should be the goal.

Alcoholics have one primary goal: to stay sober. Linking the recovery term in a cliché fashion to gross impurity that destroys children is not accurate.

Edward J. FitzPatrick
Blauvelt, N.Y.

Onion Dip

I must have missed the day in the novitiate when we received our battle orders to go out and fight the scourge of anti-Catholicism detailed in William A. Donohue’s report from the Catholic League (2/18). Here I’d been thinking I was supposed to be loving my dear neighbor and trying to see the face of Christ in everyone I meet, when all this time I should have been scouring the press and compiling a lot of little picky insults to put in an annual report! Of course confronting the question of whether to have poinsettias in the county courthouse is a lot more likely to bring about the kingdom than confronting the county commissioner who wants to tear down affordable housing. Obviously I’ll have to do less of the latter so I can start devoting more attention to offensive ads for onion dip. I’d hate to think I wasn’t fulfilling my vocation.

Baya Clare, C.S.J.
St. Paul, Minn.

Verification

Thank you for attempting to document religious bigotry by publishing the The Ten Worst Anti-Catholic Atrocities of 2001, by William A. Donohue (2/18). I hope that recent events have recommitted us all to the principle of religious freedom.

However, as a Catholic and even as a longtime America reader, I will unfortunately have to obtain verification of the events cited by Mr. Donohue from sources I can trust.

As you may remember, Mr. Donohue and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights were vociferous and effective in their condemnation of the ABC television series Nothing Sacred in 1997-98. This weekly, hour-long series was the best thing about our church I have ever seen on television. Although it may never have gained an audience satisfactory to network executives, the show was undoubtedly harmed by Mr. Donohue’s boycott efforts against major advertisers.

I know from shared viewings and discussions with Catholics and other Christians that Nothing Sacred was a tremendous asset for Catholicism in America. When the program was canceled, our church lost a positive media presence. In my opinion, Mr. Donohue was partly responsible for one of the worst anti-Catholic atrocities of 1998.

I love your magazine and respect Mr. Donohue’s right to an opinion. But I will never trust his bluster, even in America.

Chris Wiseman
New Orleans, La.

More Than Fictional

J. R. R. Tolkien didn’t expect that everyone would like The Lord of the Rings. As he pointed out in its foreword, he disliked many of his critics’ works. But fairness and truth must make me refute the description of Tolkien given by Richard A. Blake, S.J., and the motivations Father Blake attributes to him for writing The Lord of the Rings (2/11).

Tolkien was never a medievalist. He was a great philologist, who began young inventing languages for elves, dwarves, orcs and humans long before he met C. S. Lewis. Nor did he write to escape his surroundings. The overarching theme of his great multi-volume epic (The Lord of the Rings is the conclusion) is the destructive force of greed and lust for power. These evils corrupt across the spectrum, from gods and demigods to men, elves, dwarves and nature itself. Incidentally, much of The Lord of the Rings was written during World War II, when to an Englishman a conquering totalitarian power must have seemed more than fictional.

I am usually squeamish about monsters, but in The Fellowship of the Ring, I found the scariest parts were kindly Bilbo’s morphing into a monster upon seeing the ring and the orcs’ brutal destruction of the trees of Isengard. The ring and the obsession that it evokes tempt everyone stronger than Frodo. Some, like Boromir and Saruman, yield; others, like Gandalf, Galadriel and Aragorn, successfully resist. Only reluctant Frodo can carry the ring to its doom, because only he hates and fears it enough to bear it safely, though at great personal cost. I thought the movie made this point clearly.

Nancy Perich Daly
Houston, Tex.

Presence of Grace

I read with delight the article by Edward Vacek, S.J., (2/25) endorsing the use of frequent confession. I found it timely for two reasons: my daughter-in-law (a Baptist) recently asked me to explain the reason for making confession to a priest. I covered much of what was discussed, but also stressed the presence of sacramental graces enabling the penitent to effect changes in his or her life. I would have liked to see this aspect included in the article. Without it there is little difference between confession and psychotherapy or counseling. The article was also timely for me because the Archdiocese of St. Louis is discussing the sacrament of penance in its current sessions of small-church meetings.

George Garthoeffner
Ellisville, Mo.

Adult Concept

Last year during Lent, I decided to make the effort to return to the sacrament of reconciliation after a 15-year hiatus [see the article by Edward Vacek, S.J., 2/25]. Resources for reading on this are scarce. The best one on form I found is actually an Episcopal book.

Fortunately, my pastor is a skilled confessor and, like Christ whom he represents, sensed my struggle and welcomed me with open arms. In order to return to the sacrament, I had to analyze why I stopped. One reason was the Vatican II changes, which I never took the time to become comfortable with. I never liked Bless me Father, for I have sinned, so I changed that. I did not like the Act of Contrition I was taught, so I found another one. I realized that I could speak on an intimate basis with my good women friends but had no experience of intimate conversation with men, other than my spouse, and this was another barrier to overcome. I also needed to develop an adult concept of sin that went beyond disobeying my parents three times. We are taught reconciliation as 6-year-olds, but the sacrament demands self-examination of the most adult and mature sort. I don’t think there is an area that begs for adult catechesis more than the sacrament of reconciliation. More time and effort, I believe, is also warranted in teaching the ministry of the sacrament to our clergy.

Ellen Vancura
New Ulm, Minn.

Never Too Old

The article by Edward Vacek, S.J., on confession (2/25) was excellent, very practical and beautifully written. It also brought back a memory of my grandmother, a weekly penitent every Friday since she was 12.

One day in her 90’s (in the late 1970’s) she came out of the confessional fuming. I’ve never been so insulted in my life! she puffed. That new young priest told me I didn’t have to come to confession so often. Does he think I’m too old to get into mischief? The nerve!

Catherine Foley
Taylor Lake Village, Tex.

Comments

Jane L. Engelke | 3/4/2002 - 10:34am
Richard Blake’s review of “In the Bedroom” captures the artistic flavor of the film and asks relevant moral questions, with which I agree. I do however take exception to some of his analysis. It appears that he has little knowledge about the complexities of parental grief and even less knowledge of complicated grief that results from sudden violent death of a child or other loved one.

First and foremost, Ruth Fowler did not “make herself into a victim.” Sadly, her victim status was thrust upon her. She is obviously traumatized and her behavior is not inconsistent with many who suffer from such victimization. The very relationship that should be healing is not and the two people who loved Frank the most grieve alone together and in two different ways. This too is not surprising and quite common with grieving parents. The priest/minister who tries to counsel Ruth is ineffective, and I am not surprised at that either. He does not simply “walk with her,” and listen to her anger. Why is he not outraged at Frank’s murder? Why doesn’t he accompany this broken family to court and advocate for them? He offers only words that try to make sense of what is a mystery and can’t be heard above the noises of terror that resound in Ruth’s ears and mind. Who validates her anger? Who is outraged by a criminal justice system that releases a murderer back into the community where the family of his primary victim lives? Richard Blake’s statement that the darkness is “louder” than the images made me recall the words I spoke to the judge at the time of the sentencing of the young man who killed my son. In speaking of Thomas I said: “His presence was so gentle that his absence is violent.” Perhaps it is this daily violence that holds Ruth captive and which is intensified by her encounters with the murderer of her son.

Grief and anger are alienating and we walk, we do not run through this dark valley. Hopefully we will have wise and loving persons to accompany us on the journey. Unfortunately, it appears that only one family seems to feel Ruth and Matt's pain. Sadly, wanting to help they lose their moral compass and in the end all of them are no better than Frank’s killer.

Nick Wagner | 3/4/2002 - 2:32pm
Does Edward Vacek really mean to call millions of baptized, communicating Catholics self-deceived, Pharisaic sinners? (Do "Good People" Need Confession, Feb. 25.) The mothers, fathers, children and grandparents who say their prayers religiously and remain staunchly faithful in the face of dreadful preaching, diminishing sacramental care, assaults from secular postmodernism, and just the daily grind of keeping their homes together should be lauded for their saintliness, not excoriated for their failures.

Without more supporting sociological data, one is hard pressed to accept Fr. Vacek’s assertion that Vatican II has made us less conscious of our sinful natures. While we are not confessing our faults weekly in number and kind, we are confessing Jesus as our Lord and Savior in record numbers. We do this with our Sunday "Amen's" when one of our brothers or sisters in faith confronts us with "The Body of Christ" or "The Blood of Christ" in our eucharistic confession of praise and thanksgiving.

Perhaps the reason confessional lines have gone the way of birettas and cassocks is the faithful are too busy being about the Father’s business, proclaiming the Gospel by the quiet example of their lives. Quite the contrary to Fr. Vacek’s assertion that Catholics are neglecting their relationship to God, the post-Vatican II faithful seem more aware, alive, awake and involved in actively participating in their faith than was the case in our pre-Vatican II childhoods.

I was surprised to read that the confessional is the place in which we most explicitly experience "the divine invitation to deep honesty." What then do we experience in the Eucharist? Can there be - in the confessional or elsewhere - an invitation more explicit than, "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to this supper"? Can "the divine offer of forgiveness" be made any more explicit than by the breaking of Christ’s Body and the spilling of Christ’s Blood every Sunday?

Just because the confessional lines are empty doesn’t mean Catholics don’t get it. Our full and active participation in the Eucharist indicates just the opposite. Instead of blaming the faithful for a ritual practice that has lost its meaning, let’s reform the ritual to more clearly celebrate the ongoing work of reconciliation that Catholics are participating in every day.

Jane L. Engelke | 3/4/2002 - 10:34am
Richard Blake’s review of “In the Bedroom” captures the artistic flavor of the film and asks relevant moral questions, with which I agree. I do however take exception to some of his analysis. It appears that he has little knowledge about the complexities of parental grief and even less knowledge of complicated grief that results from sudden violent death of a child or other loved one.

First and foremost, Ruth Fowler did not “make herself into a victim.” Sadly, her victim status was thrust upon her. She is obviously traumatized and her behavior is not inconsistent with many who suffer from such victimization. The very relationship that should be healing is not and the two people who loved Frank the most grieve alone together and in two different ways. This too is not surprising and quite common with grieving parents. The priest/minister who tries to counsel Ruth is ineffective, and I am not surprised at that either. He does not simply “walk with her,” and listen to her anger. Why is he not outraged at Frank’s murder? Why doesn’t he accompany this broken family to court and advocate for them? He offers only words that try to make sense of what is a mystery and can’t be heard above the noises of terror that resound in Ruth’s ears and mind. Who validates her anger? Who is outraged by a criminal justice system that releases a murderer back into the community where the family of his primary victim lives? Richard Blake’s statement that the darkness is “louder” than the images made me recall the words I spoke to the judge at the time of the sentencing of the young man who killed my son. In speaking of Thomas I said: “His presence was so gentle that his absence is violent.” Perhaps it is this daily violence that holds Ruth captive and which is intensified by her encounters with the murderer of her son.

Grief and anger are alienating and we walk, we do not run through this dark valley. Hopefully we will have wise and loving persons to accompany us on the journey. Unfortunately, it appears that only one family seems to feel Ruth and Matt's pain. Sadly, wanting to help they lose their moral compass and in the end all of them are no better than Frank’s killer.

Nick Wagner | 3/4/2002 - 2:32pm
Does Edward Vacek really mean to call millions of baptized, communicating Catholics self-deceived, Pharisaic sinners? (Do "Good People" Need Confession, Feb. 25.) The mothers, fathers, children and grandparents who say their prayers religiously and remain staunchly faithful in the face of dreadful preaching, diminishing sacramental care, assaults from secular postmodernism, and just the daily grind of keeping their homes together should be lauded for their saintliness, not excoriated for their failures.

Without more supporting sociological data, one is hard pressed to accept Fr. Vacek’s assertion that Vatican II has made us less conscious of our sinful natures. While we are not confessing our faults weekly in number and kind, we are confessing Jesus as our Lord and Savior in record numbers. We do this with our Sunday "Amen's" when one of our brothers or sisters in faith confronts us with "The Body of Christ" or "The Blood of Christ" in our eucharistic confession of praise and thanksgiving.

Perhaps the reason confessional lines have gone the way of birettas and cassocks is the faithful are too busy being about the Father’s business, proclaiming the Gospel by the quiet example of their lives. Quite the contrary to Fr. Vacek’s assertion that Catholics are neglecting their relationship to God, the post-Vatican II faithful seem more aware, alive, awake and involved in actively participating in their faith than was the case in our pre-Vatican II childhoods.

I was surprised to read that the confessional is the place in which we most explicitly experience "the divine invitation to deep honesty." What then do we experience in the Eucharist? Can there be - in the confessional or elsewhere - an invitation more explicit than, "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to this supper"? Can "the divine offer of forgiveness" be made any more explicit than by the breaking of Christ’s Body and the spilling of Christ’s Blood every Sunday?

Just because the confessional lines are empty doesn’t mean Catholics don’t get it. Our full and active participation in the Eucharist indicates just the opposite. Instead of blaming the faithful for a ritual practice that has lost its meaning, let’s reform the ritual to more clearly celebrate the ongoing work of reconciliation that Catholics are participating in every day.

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