I was exceedingly pleased to read in Signs of the Times (4/5) that Pope John Paul II said, The administration of water and food, even when delivered using artificial means, always represents a natural method of preserving life and not a medical act. What a relief. All these years I thought the church held that things artificial were not natural - as in artificial birth control.
Bonita Springs, Fla.
What They Were Told
The editorial and story on Rwanda are thoughtprovoking (4/19). How could this happen, and how could the world let it happen? The past cannot be changed, but we can all look at preventing such actions in the future. The article, by Mark Raper, S.J., speaks of reconciliation, and the editorial speaks of lessons to be learned. One element that is not mentioned is the role of obedience in this ghastly affair. Many commentators have mentioned that Rwandans were trained in obedience, apparently by both their government and their religious leaders. When the time came, they were told to kill their neighbors if they were Tutsi, even if they knew them well and lived side by side with them for years. The people, accustomed to obedience, did what they were told.
We in the United States live in a very violent country, but I cannot imagine that we would kill our neighbors just because we were told to do so. We are not trained in obedience, and no one will excuse any bad behavior just because we were only following orders. I often think that obedience has been too often overstressed. But we need to teach everyone and learn ourselves that no act of obedience can turn a bad behavior into a good one. It is frightening to think of all the evil perpetrated in the name of obedience throughout the centuries. Maybe our rebelliousness is not so bad after all.
Many thanks for the eloquent rebuttal by John W. Donohue, S.J., of the three most common criticisms of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (Of Many Things, 4/19). Thanks, as well, are due John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., for his equally sensitive and thought-provoking discussion of the movie’s appeal to millions of viewers (Ethics Notebook, 4/12). Passion-bashing has been something of a pastime in the leading intellectual journals, including America. It was truly welcome to hear the other side of the debate. Better late than never.
Totality of Issues
As some groups and some bishops seek to ban Senator John F. Kerry from receiving Communion because of his pro-choice views and voting record, a task force established by the U.S.C.C.B. is developing guidelines as to how bishops should deal with such politicians (Signs of the Times, 4/19). As many bishops caused unintended damage to children and to the church itself by their misuse of power in reassigning miscreant clergy rather than punishing them as required by canon law, they should be extremely cautious before further abuse of power by other violations of church law.
It must be asked, at what point does an individual following a judgment in conscience deemed erroneous by church authorities lose the right to present himself or herself as Catholic and become subject to a sort of partial excommunication by being declared less than Catholic and banned from the sacrament? The bishops have invariably urged Catholic voters to look at the totality of issues, not just one. Kerry certainly shares many social justice issues strongly endorsed by his church. Can such a person be given the canonical penalty of being forbidden to receive Communion, as Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis has been reported as doing, without specifying precisely what church law, with what penalty attached, has been violated? And without a judicial or administrative process as is required by church law? Is the bishop above the law?
And unintended effects? This abuse of power could also cause the non-electability of Catholics to public office. It is a fact of life that American voters will never elect someone whom they view as politically subservient to a religious body. For church authorities to cross the line between, on one hand, instructing and informing consciences and, on the other, trying to force a legislative position on an officeholder by a church penalty will validate the charges of anti-Catholics of a generation or two ago that church authorities would always try to force Catholic elected officials as to how to vote.
(Msgr.) Harry J. Byrne, J.C.D.
Proof of Wrongdoing
The words of National Public Radio’s Carl Castle, piercing the morning darkness, are a vivid memory: Six Roman Catholic Jesuit priests were killed in El Salvador.
It was Nov. 16, 1989. It seems that not long after that the School of the Americas became a kind of Megan’s law for American Jesuits, their students and extended family. The notion emerged that if this school could be abolished, some good could come from these tragic deaths. I have been personally invited on several occasions to attend the protests, but troubling questions remain. I was, therefore, interested to read Why Did He Do It? by J. Timothy Hipskind, S.J. (4/2).
Nations need an army to defend borders and assure security. A well-trained corps of officers can assure civilian rule, respect for human rights and necessary security for democratic institutions to function. A school that aims at these goals would seem to be a good idea. This is particularly true for nations where military overthrow of the government is always a looming threat.
Has the School of the Americas trained military officers to be a band of thugs killing innocent citizens? Does it destroy respect for democratic institutions and rule of law? Is it a co-conspirator in acts of murder and assassination? Does it teach techniques for doing these things? If the answer is yes, the school needs to be closed and its founders and operatives need to be prosecuted.
As a criminal defense lawyer for 28 years, I have always demanded proof of wrongdoing. I have seen countless acts of evil and treachery done by members of my government on all levels. I am willing to accept the proof if it is presented. On the other hand, if evidence is not presented, the School of the Americas looks like a scapegoat for terrible evil acts, and the credibility of very rational and intelligent people is at risk. Maybe the demand should be for investigation instead of closure. If the school is guilty of doing the things it is accused of having done, then appropriate accountability should follow. If the School of the Americas is being used as a symbol, then that should be stated. If it is doing good work it should be supported.
Paul W. Comiskey
I much appreciated the reflections by Mark Raper, S.J., formerly head of the Jesuit Refugee Service, about the massacres in Rwanda 10 years ago (4/19). Father Raper mentioned the three Jesuits who had been killed on the first day at the Jesuit retreat house. They were singled out, along with priests, sisters and others on their team, for devoting themselves to harmony between the two peoples of Rwanda.
The oldest of these, Chrysologue Mahame, the very first Rwandan Jesuit, was a classmate of mine in theology at College Saint-Albert, Louvain, Belgium. We were ordained together in 1961. In our final year, when we both took a seminar to prepare a licentiate paper, Chris chose as his topic St. Augustine’s treatise on the Trinity. I think of him, pray to him now as an authentic martyr, one who has witnessed to the Trinity, that holy and divine community.
James S. Torrens, S.J.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Hispanic Ecumenism by Kenneth G. Davis (4/19), led me to reflect on our local church. The non-Catholic ministers where I live have one obstacle they seek to overcome with Hispanic parishioners: their devotion to Mary. Most often they accommodate their devotion in the beginning to get them in, and then soon after try to wean them away. The Catholic Church is their heritage, and we must accommodate their needs.