The National Catholic Review
Something Different

As a lover of France and French, I have long been fascinated by Joan of Arc, although I find her truly problematic (Believe Me If You Like, by James Martin, S.J., 5/22). Why would God call her to lead an army and fight to put a weak king on the throne of France? But aside from that, I delighted in the fact that she followed by doing what she believed she was called to do, no matter what anyone said. The proceedings of her trial show her to be a spirited and witty young woman, a match for the ecclesiastical court in spite of her lack of theology or education. When asked, shouldn’t she be doing weaving and cooking and all the other things women do, she answered that there were plenty of other women doing those things. Surely one could be spared to do something different. She was well aware that her refusal to wear women’s clothing irked the bishop too, never mind that he himself wore silks and laces and gowns as women did. And I do not think that she was not sexually assaulted by the soldiers because she was plain. Since when have soldiers been that discriminating? I believe it was because she projected an utter trust in God and conviction of her calling, a quality that set her apart. Ultimately, it has always seemed to me that she was condemned because she was a woman who managed to get out from under male control both in the church and in society.

Lucy Fuchs
Brandon, Fla.

Not the Darkness

I commend you on four articles in the May 22 issue: first, Christopher Ruddy’s visionary article about Pope Benedict’s papacy; second, Dolores Leckey’s moving insights on how Pope Benedict has affected her life and ministry; third, the delightful tale by James Martin, S.J., of how he came to connect with Joan of Arc; and, finally, the magnificent overview of Woody Allen’s movies by Robert Lauder. All are memorable.

For me, these four articles contained something that I have found missing in recent issues. All four of them are positive, constructive, insightful and hopeful.

Americathe nation as well as the magazineis best served by articles such as these. Most of us, I believe, are tired of carping and grousing. We are looking for the light, not the darkness.

John McCarthy
Boston, Mass.

Better Ways

You have swallowed whole the Sentencing Project’s wonted horror of incarceration (Women in Prison, 5/29). You may think it fair to entertain a different perspective.

For all of the reasons set forth in your editorialmotherhood, physical and sexual abuse and so forthjudges are extremely reluctant to sentence women to prison in the first place. (Fewer than 1,000 of Maryland’s 23,000 state prisoners are women.) Women come to prison because the alternatives, for a specific offender, have been offered and rejected. She has neglected her children, gone back to drugs and crime, and violated the terms of community supervision. A woman in prison is not someone struck by lightning, but a repeat victim of her own bad choices. Her family is something she remembers once she is detained.

Although women are often full partners with male offenders, their sentences are usually much shorter for the same offenses that men commit. At least in Maryland, women have better things to do while incarcerated, and they are released to better networks of support. The good news is that women are much less likely than men to require another sequestration at state expense. Prison deters women from returning to crime much more successfully than it does men.

If there are better ways to manage repeat offenders than incarceration, you should get the Sentencing Project to tell you exactly what they are.

Hal Riedl
Baltimore, Md.

Merton Inspires

As a faithful reader of America, I was curious to see what sort of letters I’d read in response to The Silenced Monk, by Robert Nugent, S.D.S., (5/15). Michael Belford, Not Far Enough (6/5), wrote that the article was interesting and informative as far as it goes. But I suggest it did not go far enough.

Au contraire! When the adult education class of the Episcopal parish of which I am rector recently asked me to speak on Being Christian in a Time of War, Nugent’s article on Thomas Merton became a springboard for doing exactly what Mr. Belford suggests in stirring the hearts of the faithful toward lively dialogue and action. It has inspired me to invite a local Mennonite minister, eager to start an ecumenical peace and justice network in our community, to join us. Using Merton’s censored book, Peace in a Post-Christian Era, which, according to Nugent’s article was not published in its entirety until 2004, there’s no telling how far we might be able to go in raising consciousness concerning our baptismal calling to be peacemakers, not just peacekeepers.

Thank you for your weekly fare of delicious, substantial food for thoughtand action!

(Rev.) Bob Hudak
Greenville, N.C.

Lighten Up

After reading Fiction Trumps Fact, Saints or Assassins? and The Schwenkfelder Code (6/5), referring to The Da Vinci Code, both novel and movie, and Dan Brown, the book’s author, I unrespectfully have this to sayDuh! It is one of the most thoroughly entertaining novels and, subsequently, movies to appear in years. I have not come across one person who did not understand it was fiction except for nervous clergy and religious writers. I am a faithful Catholic, as are most of my acquaintances, and we have been insulted by the belief of some of our church leaders that we are too impressionable to be exposed to anything, fact or fiction, resembling a different viewpoint. The laity’s faith is not threatened by Dan Brown, his book or the movie, and explanations and denials by the clergy are simply making a mountain out of a mole hill. Let us enjoy this entertainment and lighten up.

Geraldine M. Henry
West Islip, N.Y.

Wrong Targets

Teachers in a large inner-city high school in Waterbury, Conn., applied for a $2,000 grant from Wal-Mart. Before the paperwork was sent to Wal-Mart, the Waterbury Board of Education voted not to allow the school to apply for the grant because of Wal-Mart’s past labor practices. Like Father Christiansen’s story (Of Many Things, 6/5) of the Presbyterian church divesting from the Caterpillar company for doing business with Israel, there seems to be a fine line between reasonable economic protest and lunacy.

How many drivers were killed by an earlier version of the Ford S.U.V.? Does this mean that individuals should divest from Ford or Firestone?

Forget about Caterpillar or WalMart. Activists and investors alike should be going after the Enrons of the world and the oil companiesand with a vengeance!

Joseph P. Nolan
Waterbury, Conn.

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