I Fear You Are Wrong

I welcome your editorial “Laity Near the Top?” (2/21), but I fear that as long as we have the celibate hierarchy in Rome calling all the shots, it will never lead to anything positive. The beautiful sayings you quote from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are contradicted by the concrete decisions they have made, including the appointment of loyalist bishops who subscribe to every word coming from the Vatican and the new liturgical translations, to mention only two. They still think that they, not the people, have all the answers.

Tom Lenert

Los Angeles, Calif.

Christ Left No Structure

A couple of the comments posted online concerning your editorial “Laity Near the Top?” (2/21) refer to the “hierarchical structure given to us by Christ.” I cannot think of a Catholic theologian or Scripture scholar who would not contest that statement. The Gospels make no mention of a hierarchical structure. Christ chose Peter, the “rock” on whom the church would be built (that is open to interpretation) and commanded him, “Feed my sheep.” The Acts of the Apostles refer to overseers, which we translate as “bishops,” and elders who presided at the Eucharist, which we translate as “priests,” and servants, whom we call “deacons.” These are functions, not offices exercising power. The hierarchical structure was given by Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century. Much of the structure of the church is adapted from the Roman empire. There is nothing sacred about our structure, which is neither infallible nor unchangeable.

Ken Lovasik

Pittsburgh, Pa.

An Old Good Idea

The editorial “Laity Near the Top?” (2/21) reminds me that in the lifetime of many of us, one of the hierarchy’s greatest follies was not listening to Paul VI’s birth control commission, composed of distinguished lay persons, when it handed in its report supporting artificial birth control. The negative domino effect of the decision to reject the report haunts the church today. The life experience of laypersons is an untapped mine of riches that could, over a long period of time, begin to heal much of the damage that has led to the empty pews described in America’s editorial. The idea of a council sharing functions with the College of Cardinals is not new. The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church made this proposal 15 years ago.

Mary Louise Hartman

Princeton, N.J.

Say Clearly the War Is Wrong

Blessings on Bishop Robert W. McElroy for his excellent article, “War Without End” (2/21). Would that the bishop might take the next step and declare that the war in Afghanistan is immoral. Bishop Carrol Dozier of Memphis said about Vietnam in 1970 that the only moral alternative was the immediate withdrawal of all American troops. Would that every bishop would provide guidance to our youth not to become part of a professional army. Many Catholic religious leaders share Bishop McElroy’s perspective, but they have not clearly proclaimed this war to be immoral. Perhaps Bishop McElroy can give his fellow bishops the courage to do so.

(Rev.) George J. Kuhn

Yonkers, N.Y.

We Would Help, Except...

Re “Saving the Neighborhood” (2/28): I don’t know if all this hindsight and nostalgia on urban neighborhood life is all that accurate. I grew up in a neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., and while we knew everyone in our parish and perhaps those who lived within a 10-block radius of our apartment, people still tended to adopt a mind-your-own-business attitude when it came to the more troublesome aspects of various families. We knew who drank, who hit their wives and abused their kids, but no one ever did anything about it, and the police were not likely to respond to those situations unless things got seriously out of control—by which I mean that the abuser could no longer talk his way out of it. People helped when food and clothing were concerned, but not with the kind of problem Jared Loughner and his family were in.

Nora McKenna

San Francisco, Calif.

Two-Way Street

What Cardinal Donald Wuerl says about listening in “Pass It On” (2/28) is important, but listening has to be a two-way street. There should also be an openness to learn from other times, places and traditions, from Native Americas, the East, American mystics, philosophers and scientists. So the issue is not just whether the world is listening but whether the church is listening. To teach “unchanging truth” requires understanding how, if it is the truth, it can still be more deeply understood and expanded.

Michael A. Olson

Drayden, Md.

Bent Body, Great Beauty

The article by Jon R. Sweeney and Michal Woll on their visit to Our Lady Before Tyn in Prague (“Alt- Honeymoon,” 1/24), portrays a bleak and depressing church. I found it difficult to recognize the church I had visited 20 years ago, shortly after the Velvet Revolution. The church then was dusty and not cared for and the lighting dim, but it was filled with people. It was the Saturday of Holy Week and the baptism of children was the center of the vigil.

I kept noticing a small hunchbacked woman moving almost furtively down and across the aisles. I dismissed her as a street person looking for the exit.

Following the baptisms, a choir of young women began singing. At first I could not see where the music was coming from, but eventually I was able to find the choir; and there I discovered the woman I had presumed to be a street person. She was directing the choir. The acoustics amplified the women’s voices and filled the large Gothic space. The director, whom I had carelessly reduced to a church mouse in my own mind, was leading the voices with energy and artistry that transcended her own body’s limits.

Malcolm Warford

Staunton, Va.

All Sound and Light

Just back from an Israel-sponsored trip to the Holy Land for Catholic journalists, I was interested in Alicia von Stamwitz’s “Waking Up in Jerusalem” (2/21). Our guide and driver were not allowed to accompany us to Bethlehem, since Israelis are not allowed into the Territories. As the days went on I became keenly aware of the propaganda we were hearing and how archeology too can be used as propaganda, especially as I listened to explanations of sites we visited. The trip had been billed as “spiritual, non-geopolitical,” but I wondered how politics could ever be disengaged from the religious aspects.

In particular I began to realize that the Palestinians had been “non-existed,” as if they had disappeared. There was an eerie feeling at the amazing sound and light show on the history of Jerusalem at the citadel, which fast-forwarded over several centuries of history to arrive at today’s reality, with no mention of the Palestinians who had lived there in the 20th century and before. With very few exceptions we never got to meet any Christians. Which leads me to thank America for its coverage of Christian communities in the Middle East.

Bernadette Gasslein

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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