I was just at your Web site and found you now have search capabilities by topic. I hoped someday it would be done. My prayers have been answered. Thank you. Now my growing shelf of saved hard-copy issues can more easily be accessed during discussions with friends and family. Please tell your print readers about this new service. It is a godsend.
Forest Lake, Minn.
Reason and Morality
Thanks for your editorial Missile Defense Follies (4/2). The editorial is correct, and all of my friends agree. But the politicians do nothing. You are right that they are afraid of the defense contractors. I think the religious voice in the United States has a chance to be an independent voice of reason and morality. Your editorial is a good example.
Lawrence Cunningham’s remarks on the saints (4/9), in reviewing the new edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, constitute a delightful piece. For a real eye-opener, check out the entry under March 2 for St. Chad. In light of what happened in the 2000 presidential election in our country, perhaps we can petition the Vatican to name St. Chad the patron saint of contested elections!
(Rev.) Lee F. Bacchi
Value of Life
The articles by Paul Lauritzen, Neither Person nor Property, and Lisa Sowle Cahill, Stem Cells: A Bioethical Balancing Act (3/26), highlight the growing conflict between the research done by publicly funded organizations that are subject to federal regulations prohibiting the creation of embryos for research purposes and private business enterprises that are not regulated.
Private commercial organizations engaged in biotechnology tend to keep the results of their research secret. Such organizations may create embryonic stem cells for research purposes without public oversight. The financial rewards to these companies and their investors are likely to be substantial. The inevitable result will be pressure to allow the publicly funded research organizations to compete by lowering the standards by which they are regulated. Professor Cahill is surely right when she states that it is disconcerting to witness how often public standards in biomedical research change to follow the money.
Attempts at embryo manufacture have implications for society as a whole. Questions concerning the value of life and what it means to be human are too important to be left to the wishes of a for-profit commercial enterprise. What is needed is an oversight body with authority to review research in this important area and to make suggestions to the appropriate legislative groups regarding proper oversight of for-profit organizations.
Thank you for Lessons Learned by Patrick J. Malone, S.J., (3/5). I remembered reading and being deeply touched by a previous article of his, A God Who Gets Foolishly Close (5/27/00). Would you be so kind as to thank him for me for his writing, for his courage and his deep faith, which I am sure is an inspiration to all who have read his articles, as it is for me.
Debra Freeman, S.S.A.
Victoria, B.C., Canada
Thomas Merton and Simone Weil share something more than using the same church, Corpus Christi in Manhattan (4/9).
In the fifth volume of his journals Merton notes his discovery that it was his godfather and guardian, Dr. Tom Bennett, who treated Weil in her final illness. Merton commented: Funny that she and I have this in common: we were both problems to this good man.
The problem with the BBC-created graphic image of Jesus (4/23) is that it is not an intelligent man’s face. The skull measurements common in the Holy Land at his time had left to the artist those features that mark an emotionally primitive individual, the looks that are the result of lucky or unlucky brain wiring and upbringing and life experiences.
Certain types of devotion seem to go together with certain visual images. In our Catholic world, the mass-produced Sacred Heart statues have, for a century or more, well-nigh left Jesus to the weak-minded. This new image will most likely serve to reinforce the disbelief of the viewing public, not because of the short hair or the olive-colored skin but because of the stupidity of the facial expression.
Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., has rightly and persuasively alerted us to the plight of the earth and the urgency of taking remedial action to correct it (4/16). She goes too far, however, when she states, Save the rainforest’ becomes a concrete moral application of the commandment Thou shalt not kill.’
For centuries Catholic philosophy and theology placed a qualitative barrier between mankind and the rest of creation. This is exemplified in the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: All other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him fulfill the end for which he is created. Darwin changed this way of thinking forever when he discovered natural selection and showed us that mankind is a product of biological evolution and an integral part of nature. Some of Darwin’s followers, however, have carried this to the extreme. Some have gone so far as to say that man is having his day now but will eventually become extinct and be replaced by some other species. Others used paleontological evidence to depict man to be by nature a predatory, weapon-wielding killer-ape and used this to explain why the world is in such a mess. Over the years this approach has unfortunately seeped into the environmental movement, even though calmer minds have shown that the evidence had been misinterpreted and that human society, with its rules of behavior, suppresses or at least controls any predatory impulses.
Thou shalt not kill is a rule that refers only to our treatment of other human beings. Throughout our history we have hunted wild beasts, domesticated plants and animals, and irreversibly changed some rainforests and other environments, and we shall continue to do so. We could not have evolved nor can we survive without killing. We can and do kill members of other living species, but we should not do this indiscriminately or destructively. It is here that we are morally bound. Julian Huxley said it best more than 50 years ago when he wrote, By means of his conscious reason and its chief offspring, science, man has the power of substituting less dilatory, less wasteful and less cruel methods of progressive change than those of natural selection, which alone are available to lower organisms. The time for us to begin using this power is long overdue.
Francis J. Murray
I am prompted by the cover article of the April 23 issue to extend my thanks to you for your work on behalf of the church.
Even had Pope John Paul II not recently honored Walter Kasper with the red hat, his words On the Church alone would merit him the title Eminence. Indeed, those insights of Cardinal Kasper’s friendly reply to Cardinal Ratzinger clearly indicate that he is well chosen for the presidency of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. If he brings the same pastoral vision to that ministry which he exhibits in his words published in America, we can look forward with great hope. He certainly has brought hope to many of us within the church who have begun to doubt whether the vision we remember from the Second Vatican Council is the same as the viewpoint that seems to be prevalent in other members of the Roman Curia or in the current hierarchy in the United States.
(Rev.) Thomas G. Fait
A deafening chorus of anonymous amens must have greeted your editorial Due Process in the Church (4/9). It echoed so well the statement made to reporters in Rome on Feb. 27 by Jacques Dupuis, S.J.: The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith followed faithfully its norms for investigating theologians. Of course it can be asked whether these norms are justified. The relationship between the central doctrinal authority of the Church and the thought of many, many theologians today is a big problem (Origins, 3/8).
I have often cringed at statements from the C.D.F., in spite of my deep personal esteem for Cardinal Ratzinger, the quintessence of gentleness and affability, and in spite of the fact that I know well his good secretary, my S.D.B. confrere.
This, however, triggers again a nagging and disturbing thought: the magisterium does not claim to have the world’s leading theologians at its service. Otherwise the C.D.F. would be the greatest theological faculty in the world. But its theologians have something the others do not have: the pope’s ear and the power to censure their colleagues.
The question raised by Father Dupuis and by your editorial is serious. We are all in your debt for the light your reasoned reflections have brought to a topic of such current practical import.
Larry N. Lorenzoni, S.D.B.
San Francisco, Calif.
All right, I’ll take the politically incorrect position.
I think the article (3/19) urging gay teachers not to come out in the classroom is right on target. Gerald Coleman, S.S., articulates the situation clearly, with wisdom and a strong sense of reality.
What is troubling about the numerous letters criticizing his position is not the writers’ disagreement with him, but their apparent presumption, widespread today, that homosexuality is a legitimate alternative to heterosexuality. I think it is not. Our physicality says it is not. Common sense says it is not. The human need for complementarity and challenge says it is not. Life’s need to continue says it is not. Christian faith says that homosexuality’s inability to produce life is an affront to God the creator of life.
On the subject of gay teachers coming out in the classroom, let’s shift the scenario to a parallel that is less emotionally volatile in order to see more clearly. Presumably we are all sinful. That is, we all have in us a strong tendency toward some objectively disordered activity with which we struggle throughout life. So shall one teacher stand up in the classroom and declare: I am a bigot! Or shall another say: I am a coward! Or another, I am a pedophile! Or I have an uncontrollable temper! Or I am a philanderer! Or I am an habitual liar! Or I am selfish, vain and arrogant! (Well, we already knew that!) Why not? These things are a part of their identity.
Silly questions, of course. Such declarations would be seen as poor taste, bad judgment and generally inappropriate and unacceptable. So why does homosexuality get such a unique preference? Because gays should receive love, respect, dignity and justice? No. In this context that is an expression of sentimentality, not charity. Homosexual persons should receive love, respect, dignity and justice because they are persons, not because they are homosexual, just as the hypothetical teachers above would not seriously expect to receive love, dignity and respect for their bigotry, cowardice, pedophilia, wrath, philandering, etc.
As creatures, we have a human need to give the honor and glory to God’s creative and redemptive work, not to our distortions of it.
The Realm of Abstraction
The article by Gerald Coleman, S.S., (3/19) is another example of twisted thinking and practice on gay and lesbian issues in the church. It is arrived at by holding firmly, on the one hand, to homosexuality as an ontologically intrinsically disordered condition and, on the other hand, the church’s teaching on the dignity of the homosexual person, having a right to respect, friendship and justice. His conclusion is that the rights and dignity of the homosexual person have to be limited. Now everyone knows there are homosexual men and women, not only among the Catholic laity, but throughout the ranks and offices and employment of the church and all its religious communities. But it has to be kept a big secret. We can stand having all these intrinsically disordered people around, but not publicly. It would compromise and embarrass the teaching of the church too much. Which is all to say that Don’t ask, don’t tell (both in the military and the church) is an uneasy compromise, inherently unequal and unjust, which cannot endure. Thank heavens the church teaching retreated into ontology, the realm of abstraction. May it become steadily more abstract as reality moves on. The church, even kicking and screaming, is likely to have to follow society in the ever more public acknowledgement of homosexual orientation. May we be ready to acknowledge this grace.
Ken Smits, O.F.M. Cap.