The National Catholic Review
Our readers
Thoughtful Advice

I’m glad that Cardinal Avery Dulles stood up for the rights of priests to receive due process when they are accused of wrongdoing (6/21). As he points out, the definition of sexual abuse has been expanded to include even verbal offenses, while at the same time the public embarrassment and losses from even being accused innocently have increased greatly. It is no service to one group (those alleging abuses) to take away the legitimate rights of another (those accused of abuses).

In the meantime, as Cardinal Dulles’s thoughtful article is published, the Vatican has promoted Cardinal Law to a major church in Rome, has dragged its feet on dealing with priest discipline actions and as yet has not punished or removed one American bishop for wrongdoing in the entire sexual abuse scandal. Maybe Cardinal Dulles can offer his colleagues in Rome some thoughtful advice next!

Frank O’Hara
Hallowell, Me.

Scandalous Situation

In his systematic, thoughtful article, Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., makes several valid, important points and suggests changes that would help to protect the rights of priests accused of sexual abuse (6/21). But in his zeal to protect innocent priests, he fails to consider the nature and effects of pedophilia, and thus he gives too little consideration to the rights of victims and of society at large.

As a recently retired licensed professional counselor who has had experiences with pedophiles and their victims, I feel compelled to state the following facts relevant to the article: Victims of childhood sexual abuse are often unable to speak of it until years after its occurrence. Some cases of abuse are never reported; others are reported only after the abuser is known to have died. Pedophiles, by their own admission, rarely have only one victim. Clinicians who have worked with both abusers and victims know that Cardinal Dulles errs when he states, “...if the only accusation against a person is from the distant past, it is reasonable to assume that the accused person does not pose a present danger to society.” The statement that elderly or mature priests present no threat to children seems to indicate a failure to acknowledge the sexual responses of males in their 60’s, 70’s and beyond. Pedophilia, like some other addictions and diseases, is treatable but rarely curable. Although others could be mentioned, these facts provide reason enough to employ a “zero tolerance” policy.

Because Cardinal Dulles discusses sexual abuse of children as a sin and not an addiction or illness, he states that repentant abusers, after correction, ought to be forgiven and reinstated—welcomed back “as full participating members.” In Christian love we do forgive offenders, but to allow known pedophiles to return to active ministry would pose a threat to society. This would be a repetition of the very mistake that greatly contributed to the scandalous situation in which the church in this country now finds itself.

Marie R. Garon
New Orleans, La.

What Examples?

In “Children of the Council” (6/7), the Rev. Andrew Greeley explains the facts and origins of the decline in Mass attendance but does not draw many conclusions. One of those will be a decrease in priestly vocations. The main cause of the vocation decline is the reluctance of parents to recommend the priesthood to their sons, but I suspect that a significant secondary cause is that teenage boys simply do not encounter priests very often. One can go through Catholic education from kindergarten to doctorate and be taught only by lay people. Since Humanae Vitae, few Catholics go to confession, where they used to come in contact with a priest, no matter how brief the encounter. Lay people are more and more the ministers people meet. The only place a teenage boy could be sure of seeing a priest is at Mass, and as fewer Catholic parents go to Mass, fewer boys will see priests being priests. What examples will they want to follow if they just do not see any examples?

Joseph F. Kelly
Cleveland, Ohio

Time to Move On

In response to “Children of the Council,” by the Rev. Andrew Greeley (6/7), surely it is more than time to move on from the motivation of fear. Fortunately, even as a child, I never went to Sunday Mass out of fear of mortal sin. There are other motives for participating in the Eucharist that can be awakened with good teaching and homilies. Basically, I think people need to realize that who we are and what we have (talents, health, etc.) are gifts from God, which can be difficult for modern people who think everything they do is due to their own efforts. If one realizes everything is gift, then it is easier to praise and thank God for that with Jesus at the Eucharist. As an educator, I have often recommended that parents ask their children before going to Mass, “What can we thank God for this week?” Also, convincing teaching about community worship and the need to hear God’s word can be other motivators.

Carol Lesch, S.S.N.D.
Milwaukee, Wis.

Not Easy

Joseph A. Califano Jr.’s descriptions of the ethical conundrums he faced as Lyndon B. Johnson’s domestic adviser and Jimmy Carter’s secretary of health, education and welfare put the flesh of reality on the moral uncertainties confronting both Catholic politicians and the Catholic hierarchy in the new century (7/21). One could feel his agony as he strove mightily to reach the best compromise on one difficult issue after another. Many other career fields, in and outside government, pose similarly difficult quandaries; the intelligence profession that I pursued was replete with moral perplexities.

Compromise in a host of endeavors, including domestic, foreign, trade, fiscal and various social policies, and in designing and passing their implementing legislation, is often desirable, good and even necessary for the functioning of the state. But compromise is logically, legally and morally unacceptable where the act at issue is gravely and intrinsically evil. Murder, for example, is one such issue. Here Catholic doctrine, moral law and natural law coalesce and are unequivocal. It does not take the Catholic Conference of Bishops or indeed the bishop of Rome to speak to such an issue. Whatever they might say by way of reinforcement is helpful to the faithful but is, in fact, redundant.

Thus it was that twice in the 1980’s, Bob Casey, at the time governor of Pennsylvania, who had been a year behind both Joe Califano and me at Holy Cross College, was denied the opportunity to address the Democratic National Convention because it was feared he might urge that a pro-life posture not be excluded out of hand from the party’s platform. He was given a chance to recant and resume his rightful role as one of the party’s most respected and attractive national leaders. In effect he was given the chance, if he toed the line, even to accede to the presidency. He said, “I can’t.”

So when Califano and others say it is important to have Catholics among the nation’s leaders, I say, “Fine”, so long as they’re Catholics who believe in and follow Catholic doctrine and not simply nominal Catholics willing to compromise anything and everything to avoid offending voters or jeopardizing their jobs.

Catholicism is not supposed to be easy. Jesus repeatedly told us how difficult it would be to follow him. Loving your neighbor is not enough. There are times when the only way you can resolve a moral dilemma is to eschew compromise, bite the bullet and yield to the will of the Lord.

Gerard P. Burke
Cambridge, Md.

Pray for Guidance

The June 21 issue of America is definitely a “magazine for all seasons.” As someone who has been involved in Jersey City and Hudson County politics since 1971, I could identify and sympathize (obviously on a much smaller scale) with the differing opinions expressed in the various articles relating to Catholic politicians and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Having served in many different positions during the years, I must admit to falling to my knees several times to pray for guidance and inspiration when various legislative and administrative policies seemed to conflict with my Catholic faith. In fact, the only time I remember spending more time on my knees was in Holy Cross College, when daily Mass was mandatory.

Recently a dear and personal friend of mine, New Jersey State Senate majority leader Bernard Kenny, announced he was leaving the Roman Catholic Church because of the sanction (refusal of Communion) being imposed by the Archbishop of Newark. Before homelessness, AIDS and battered women became buzzwords for social service problems, Senator Kenny, on his own time and in his unassuming way, was a volunteer in these areas of concern. Bernie Kenny was a Catholic whose life exemplified Christianity.

While I am sure many individuals far more learned than myself will respond to the June 21 issue of America in their own way, I see the following fantasy. There is a line waiting to enter “the kingdom.” The Lord himself walks by. He sees Senator Kenny and says: “Bernie, come right in! You saw me when I was homeless, sick and hurting, and you comforted me.” From the rear of the line a voice is heard: “I object! Following Directives #1783 and #2039 and Canon 915, I refused to administer the Eucharist to Bernie Kenny on earth; therefore he must be denied admission to your kingdom.” Jesus looks and responds, “And who are you?”

William A. Macchi
Jersey City, N.J.

Daily Struggle

I was gripped by the editorial about malaria (5/10). I was in Uganda in December 2003 with the Grail as they celebrated 50 years of struggle and work and life and celebration in that country. I visited our dispensaries and health units and felt so very helpless—with so little they could do so much. Truthfully, with so little money, they do so much. But when I was taking my weekly malaria pill, I felt guilty that so many folks are dying of such an easily curable disease, while—as you say in your editorial—in “our” countries, it is wiped out. Where is our understanding of caring for our brothers and sisters?

I have photos of empty medicine cabinets in Mushanga and a dispensary building that is waiting for medicines and a nurse. But there is no money. I really don’t know how my Grail sisters manage, except that when there isn’t a drought, they can live off the land. Uganda has rich soil. My sisters in Mushanga told me that each month they get money for drugs, but these are depleted by mid-month. They receive very little in the way of financial contributions from the patients, and their counseling of AIDS patients—which is growing daily—is totally free.

Mary Kay Louchart
Bronx, N.Y.

Better Balance

Even though your job description does not include trying to guess what I will like, let me tell you how much I am enjoying the magazine again. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I think the overall style is more varied now. The relentless tone has eased up, and the presence of some personal voices provides the balance that I was hoping to see.

I find Father George Anderson’s musings about New York to be very moving. His effortless prose and genuine voice set just the right tone (for me). Ellen Rufft’s essays are hard to forget. The one about the poor having few options was beautiful—she brought life to the subject in an immediate, vivid manner. I would also like to mention how much I enjoyed Father James Martin’s essay about various family Christmas customs. I always look forward to his writing, and found that particular piece to be perceptive and touching.

I offer these examples because it is hard to explain a vague term like balance. I like to hear writers speak in personal terms...then I have a backdrop for the heavy-duty articles. America takes on the toughest subjects, and that is why the church and the country need it so badly. Unfortunately, the supply of tough subjects appears to be endless. When I wrote to you last time, the world was in a real mess. Now everything is worse.

I had gotten worried when I started to lose interest in reading the magazine. I am glad to say that I am back to reading America, enjoying it and recommending it to others.

Diane Filbin
Chicago, Ill.

Comments

Bob Revitte | 8/2/2004 - 5:55pm
Father Kalscheur's article is carefully nuanced and serves as an apologist's response to the pro-choice position of John Kerry and most of the Catholic Democratic members of Congress. Once more they are off the hook if Fr. Kalscheur's rationalization is allowed to go unchallenged.

Accepting the premise that the abortion issue is settled law in this country does not mean that Mr. Kerry et al have a free ride. Certainly such corollary issues as blocking up or down votes in Congress of judicial nominees who don't favor abortion and rejecting legislation that favors abstinence should not be moral or political struggles for Catholic members of Congress. But where do we find these members when the votes are counted? It's deplorable.

The Church's teaching in these matters is clear and hardly ambiguous. Those Catholics who can't accept what the Church teaches and believes about human dignity and the duty of an informed conscience should not have a problem with Bishops who request they refrain from the Eucharist.

Being a Catholic means being committed to the Church, its founder and its beliefs. Is that really a tough decision? If so, maybe those who face a conflict of faith should refrain from identifying themselves as Catholics and seek help in resolving their conflict.

Meanwhile, those who accept the Church and its leaders with all their shortcomings wish those in conflict, especially Catholic politicians, would please announce to the Catholic community they are having great difficulties with the Church's teachings and will refrain from the Eucharist and from calling attention to others of their situational ethics which may be good politics but not good moral teaching.

Martha J. Camele | 7/25/2004 - 12:40pm
There have been many calls lately by Bishops, Priests and other “concerned” peoples to withhold (ex-communicate) politicians who vote or advocate for the legality of abortion in any form. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is studying whether to sanction Catholic politicians, or others, who take public stances contrary to Church doctrine.

Yet, the USCCB’s Office of General Council has stated that “Section 501(c)(3) of the (Internal Revenue Code) prohibits organizations that are exempt from federal income tax under its provisions, including Catholic organizations exempt under the USCCB Group Ruling, from participating or intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office...this prohibition has been interpreted as absolute.” The Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s policy on Catholic Involvement in Political Issues states that “the Church’s primary responsibility in the political arena is one of being educated – of being aware of the moral implications of political issues…In fulfilling the responsibility to provide moral guidance on political issues, however, the Church does not wish to engage in political activity. Consequently, Church leadership should not…endorse individual political candidates or take any action that could be construed as an endorsement on the part of the Church.” I would think that sanctioning/ex-communicating a candidate because of their political views is political activity, and absolutely can be construed as an endorsement (un-endorsement).

What political views shall the Church consider worthy of the sanction of withholding communion? After over 100 years of official Church documents on social issues, and as documented by the U.S. Bishops Pastoral on Civic Responsibility, it is clear that there are more areas of responsibility than just abortion. The U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral states that “in accordance with God’s plan for human society, we are called to commit ourselves to protect and promote the life and dignity of the human person and the common good of society as a whole. We must always remember God’s special concern for the poor and vulnerable and make their needs our first priority in public life. We are concerned about a whole range of social issues: economic issues; labor; rights and responsibilities of every person; option for the poor and vulnerable; dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity (global); care for God’s creation.” These are the seven themes of Catholic social teaching and the heart of Catholic social tradition. Abortion, although an important issue, is just one issue within just one of these tenets. Where is the outrage and the calls for sanctions against those politicians and candidates who publicly support the gutting of health care programs for the most vulnerable groups of people? Where are the Church’s efforts to discipline those who enact official governmental policies that destroy the earth and its resources? Will the Church refuse communion to those who publicly support the expansion of the death penalty? What about those government officials who knowingly lie to justify the abandonment of international peace efforts, in a rush to war?

If the Church is going to use access to Communion as a means of endorsing and condemning political candidates or those who publicly oppose any aspect of Catholic teachings, how many could pass their test?

Bob Revitte | 8/2/2004 - 5:55pm
Father Kalscheur's article is carefully nuanced and serves as an apologist's response to the pro-choice position of John Kerry and most of the Catholic Democratic members of Congress. Once more they are off the hook if Fr. Kalscheur's rationalization is allowed to go unchallenged.

Accepting the premise that the abortion issue is settled law in this country does not mean that Mr. Kerry et al have a free ride. Certainly such corollary issues as blocking up or down votes in Congress of judicial nominees who don't favor abortion and rejecting legislation that favors abstinence should not be moral or political struggles for Catholic members of Congress. But where do we find these members when the votes are counted? It's deplorable.

The Church's teaching in these matters is clear and hardly ambiguous. Those Catholics who can't accept what the Church teaches and believes about human dignity and the duty of an informed conscience should not have a problem with Bishops who request they refrain from the Eucharist.

Being a Catholic means being committed to the Church, its founder and its beliefs. Is that really a tough decision? If so, maybe those who face a conflict of faith should refrain from identifying themselves as Catholics and seek help in resolving their conflict.

Meanwhile, those who accept the Church and its leaders with all their shortcomings wish those in conflict, especially Catholic politicians, would please announce to the Catholic community they are having great difficulties with the Church's teachings and will refrain from the Eucharist and from calling attention to others of their situational ethics which may be good politics but not good moral teaching.

Martha J. Camele | 7/25/2004 - 12:40pm
There have been many calls lately by Bishops, Priests and other “concerned” peoples to withhold (ex-communicate) politicians who vote or advocate for the legality of abortion in any form. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is studying whether to sanction Catholic politicians, or others, who take public stances contrary to Church doctrine.

Yet, the USCCB’s Office of General Council has stated that “Section 501(c)(3) of the (Internal Revenue Code) prohibits organizations that are exempt from federal income tax under its provisions, including Catholic organizations exempt under the USCCB Group Ruling, from participating or intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office...this prohibition has been interpreted as absolute.” The Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s policy on Catholic Involvement in Political Issues states that “the Church’s primary responsibility in the political arena is one of being educated – of being aware of the moral implications of political issues…In fulfilling the responsibility to provide moral guidance on political issues, however, the Church does not wish to engage in political activity. Consequently, Church leadership should not…endorse individual political candidates or take any action that could be construed as an endorsement on the part of the Church.” I would think that sanctioning/ex-communicating a candidate because of their political views is political activity, and absolutely can be construed as an endorsement (un-endorsement).

What political views shall the Church consider worthy of the sanction of withholding communion? After over 100 years of official Church documents on social issues, and as documented by the U.S. Bishops Pastoral on Civic Responsibility, it is clear that there are more areas of responsibility than just abortion. The U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral states that “in accordance with God’s plan for human society, we are called to commit ourselves to protect and promote the life and dignity of the human person and the common good of society as a whole. We must always remember God’s special concern for the poor and vulnerable and make their needs our first priority in public life. We are concerned about a whole range of social issues: economic issues; labor; rights and responsibilities of every person; option for the poor and vulnerable; dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity (global); care for God’s creation.” These are the seven themes of Catholic social teaching and the heart of Catholic social tradition. Abortion, although an important issue, is just one issue within just one of these tenets. Where is the outrage and the calls for sanctions against those politicians and candidates who publicly support the gutting of health care programs for the most vulnerable groups of people? Where are the Church’s efforts to discipline those who enact official governmental policies that destroy the earth and its resources? Will the Church refuse communion to those who publicly support the expansion of the death penalty? What about those government officials who knowingly lie to justify the abandonment of international peace efforts, in a rush to war?

If the Church is going to use access to Communion as a means of endorsing and condemning political candidates or those who publicly oppose any aspect of Catholic teachings, how many could pass their test?

Recently in Letters