The National Catholic Review
Medieval Practice

Thank you for your well-reasoned editorial about the number of innocent people condemned to death in America, and the public’s growing distrust of a flawed death penalty system (2/7). Wrongful convictions, however, are not the only problems evident with this medieval practice. The system is arbitrary, unjust and riddled with inconsistencies. Death sentences are doled out overwhelmingly to poor defendants and racial minorities who kill whites. More than 90 percent of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977 have taken place in states of the former Confederacywhat’s called the Death Belt. While proponents claim that the death penalty deters crime, no study has ever demonstrated this. State killing is revenge, pure and simple. As you pointed out, a sentence of life without possibility of parole protects society and stops the cycle of violence. We commend the Catholic Church for its leadership on this issue, and look forward to the day when the government no longer stoops to the crime for which it punishes the perpetrator. To quote Bishop Gabino Zavala, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, The power to take a life is God’s.

Jeff Gillenkirk
San Francisco, Calif.

Healing Remedies

The Vatican should not reopen a sexual abuse case against Marcial Maciel, L.C., the founder of the Legionaries of Christ (1/31). It cannot hurt the elderly founder but will do great damage to the many fine priests and seminarian Legionaries. I cannot see any good being accomplished. The accusers are seeking only revenge and are exhibiting hatred. At this late date, I doubt if the full truth can be ascertained. That is why there are statutes of limitation. There are healing remedies available to the accusers. They should use them. The Legionaries have been so successful and their spiritual formation so excellent that I believe this is simply another attack by Satan who hates anyone who is trying to make Christ’s message succeed. The Legionaries of Christ represent a reformation movement in the Catholic Church. They should be imitated, not destroyed.

Anthony Lutz
Vienna, Va.

About Murder

Msgr. Robert W. McElroy’s essay, Prudence and Eucharistic Sanctions (1/31), is clearly an attack on the moral teaching of the church, and your publishing it is the same. The abortion issue is identical to the holocaust in Nazi Germany. It is about murder.

I doubt that you will publish my letter; you don’t side with dissidents from your point of view. Nevertheless, I shall continue to write. Monsignor McElroy writes: What does matter enormously is that Americans will in general recoil from the use of the Eucharist as a political weapon, and will reassess their overall opinion of the church’s role in the political order.... [Sanctions] will also undermine support for the church’s entire effort to bring Gospel values to the structures and policies of American government and society.

To that I ask, So what? Did not Jesus face the same antagonisms? Did he escape from the wrath of the government and of the chief priests?

Numbers 2, 3 and 4 in the article pose the same attitude: Be politically correct and escape criticism and persecution. We are going to be persecuted no matter what the church saysby atheists, agnostics, secularists and others who hate us. Loyalty to Jesus is risky; the rewards, however, are more than deserved.

John C. Morris, M.D.
Ordina, Calif.

More Thunder

I’m pastor of a small parish in western Oregon, and I am appalled at how seriously the narrow decisions of individual bishops have muddied the waters and confused the faithful, causing a polarization that makes it almost impossible to raise complex questions from the pulpit. Is there adequate dialogue with pastors on these decisions that seriously affect and compromise their ministry? I couldn’t agree more with Msgr. Robert W. McElroy’s article, Prudence and Eucharistic Sanctions (1/31). But I would like to broaden the perspective on what is happening, and therefore why the situation will continue to be dicey.

When an individual’s very identity is under sustained attack and erosion is taking place, there’s an automatic inner response of acting out the inner trauma, trying to rid oneself of psychological toxins. Institutions, at least to some degree, imitate this process. I wonder to what extent the eucharistic sanctions in the political realm are related to the wider assault on the authority of our consecrated leaders from other quarters? Is it possible that they are acting out these deeper, more serious issues? And if so, why this arena? Perhaps because it is apparently (superficially) safe and shows they really do have power and will be listened to. If this observation is to any extent correct we may be in for more thunder and lightning than we would like.

History warns us how an apparently harmless cloud on the horizon no larger than a fist can suddenly turn into a tornado. I fully agree with Monsignor McElroy that the eucharistic sanctions issue is charged with dynamite and, unless dealt with before the next national elections, will have immense implications for Catholicism’s future as a voice for justice within the American political systemand within every parish across the United States.

Jack Morris, S.J.
Rockaway, Ore.

Personal Identity

I am writing to comment on the article, Prudence and Eucharistic Sanctions by Msgr. Robert W. McElroy (1/31). I thoroughly agree that prudence is a necessary virtue to be practiced in making any moral decisions associated with the lives of others. I also agree that great care should be employed in any determination of using the Eucharist as a tool to sanction an outside action.

But in pointing out the partisan divisions that make it difficult for a politician to become an elected official, I think that only the symptoms of a greater wrong have been discussed in the article. I refer here to the assumption of a persona by a person who then represents that person in law exclusive of his own personal identity.

I offer as an example the celebrity who will endorse whatever might pay for the use of the celebrity’s name. But also, consider the corporate C.E.O. who sets aside his personal belief to act for the corporate person, whether the C.E.O. agrees with the morality of the corporate action or not.

Is any of this different from the action of a politician who would deny his personal identity to take on a persona of the political majority to act as their representative according to the law of the land?

I would therefore say: Yes, let us exercise prudence. But please, treat the illness and bring about a defining determination of the morality of personal identity and responsibility, where it begins and where it ends.

Quentin Johnson
Great Falls, Mont.

Significant Moments

Thanks for the Of Many Things column by James Martin, S.J. (1/17). The ritual-like exchange of the small brass keys as his former neighbors left for their new residence in an assisted-living community reminds us of the value of marking important occasions with symbolic gestures. Mrs. Ash and Mrs. Martin clearly understood that such significant moments in life cry out for celebration, not only in symbolic action but, as Father Martin shows us by his example, in published words.

James P. Cooney
Blue Bell, Pa.

Not Forgotten

Re the editorial, Not So Fast, Mr. President (2/14): Thank you for addressing this important issue and for pointing out the dangers involved in privatizing Social Security accounts. The poorest workers, those who earn minimum wage sporadically throughout their lives, are also the least educated and the most likely to have no clue how to invest their money. These same workers have no opportunity to save and are barely able to survive on what they currently earn. They will also receive the lowest benefits when they eventually retire. Despite increased education and the creation of high-tech, well-paying jobs, there are way too many people in this country who fit the picture I describe. They should not be forgotten.

Sandra Sandvoss
Milwaukee, Wis.

Anticipation

Thanks for Lorraine Murray’s delightful essay, When Relatives Visit (2/7). The anticipation of the visit seems always to be more enjoyable than the actual visitan all too human experience, I suspect.

Anna Seidler
San Francisco, Calif.

Recently in Letters