Letters to the Editor, part 2

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Author: Readers

Editor’s note: The letters that appeared in the Summer 2005
print issue are marked with a double asterisk (**).

Thoughts from other Church members

** Thanks for Mr. Weigel’s fine article, “The Work Yet To Be Done.” However, he could have included one unfinished job left over from John Paul II. At the risk of sounding provincial, maybe he could address the ugly sex scandal that has shattered a lot of idealism of many lay Catholics—if only a declaration to the effect that priests who are found guilty and convicted of doing ugly things to children will be turned over to authorities and defrocked. With all the eulogies following the pope’s death, it may be unseemly to suggest that this great man failed to condemn the clergy responsible for these travesties. But the assigning of Cardinal Law to say the eulogy Mass for the pope further distressed the Catholics I have talked to.

William Youmans
Clearwater, Florida

** George Weigel is certainly well-qualified to write on John Paul II’s legacy, but his writing (so reflective of his admiration for the late pope and Weigel’s ideological bent) should be balanced by an article that recognizes John Paul II’s shortcomings (for example, his view of women, refusal to discuss a noncelibate clergy for the Latin church and his failure to address the sex abuse scandal). Weigel’s affirmation of John Paul’s statement that the Church is not authorized to change the men-only rule for clergy should not go unchallenged in a university magazine.

Michael Burke ’57
Canton, Massacusetts

** As someone who has taught European politics for more than 15 years, I could only roll my eyes heavenward at Weigel’s distorted depiction of a dying, apostate Europe. Compared to the United States, western Europe has lower abortion and violent-crime rates, less poverty, less child mortality, less income inequality, less acceptance of the harsh effects of unfettered markets, fewer health disparities and no capital punishment. Europeans have overwhelmingly opposed George Bush’s immoral Iraqi war, so deemed by Pope John Paul II. Europe has its challenges, to be sure, yet it bears witness to greater respect for the culture of life than anywhere else, including, I would argue, allegedly more “Christian” America.

Patrick Ireland ’83
Brownsville, Texas

** As a lifelong Catholic, I was saddened by the Weigel article. The papal biographer states that the issues the cardinals will not want to change are artificial birth control, abortion, euthanasia, male priesthood and celibacy. Then he discusses the great issues in the world—for example, that “Europe is dying” of atheistic humanism. Logically, who is dying? Is the Church dying because it is rooted in the past and out of touch with Europe and the world? Is a church that feels authorized to outlaw artificial birth control, ban women from the priesthood and insist on unmarried male priests really working honestly at understanding the lives of its people? Women brought news of Jesus’s resurrection and were leaders in the early Church, so why is the Church not authorized to consider women priests now?

** Rome is out of touch with its faithful, as its laggard response to priestly abuse also reveals. The good Catholic parish priests who care for their people and try to help solve problems of poverty and injustice are not out of touch. I suggest the Church give power to those who walk with its faithful, the parish priests. Or the Vatican and newly named Pope Benedict may find themselves growing even more irrelevant. Colorful and good TV, but as empty of significance as the British monarchy.

Pat Kenny Nemo
Saint Paul, Minnesota

** George Weigel speaks eloquently about the unfinished work of John Paul II, but there is another project he doesn’t mention: the Project for the New American Century, the right-wing think-tank Weigel belongs to, which led our nation into war. Weigel continues to follow the neo-conservative line in slamming the United Nations for its supposed corruption in the Oil-for-Food program in Iraq and suggesting the United Nations be overhauled. However, American professor Joy Gordon and British M.P. George Galloway testified in the U.S. Congress about Oil-for-Food, demonstrating that the real scandal was the sanctions themselves, which resulted in the deaths of perhaps a million people, mostly children.

Weigel’s list of “great issues” facing the new pope should have included the threat of U.S. imperialism, as evidenced by our tacit support of Latin American death squads, CAFTA and sweatshops, the World Bank and Third World debt, and the war in Iraq.

Mark J. George, S.J., ’79
Cleveland, Ohio

** If there is one thing that most gravely afflicts American Catholicism today, it is the perverse idea that somehow the “values” of American political conservatives are equivalent to “the teachings of the Catholic church.” In Weigel’s piece readers are treated to an unabashed harangue disguised as analysis of the state of the Catholic Church. It seems the author is trying to show his readers just how nicely “the teachings of the Catholic Church” fit right alongside the platform of the Republican Party. These items include a denunciation of the judiciary branch of our government, an obsession with “those secular Europeans,” a lot of hand-wringing over Islam, an obsession with the evils of science, a reactionary denunciation of academia and an attack on multilateral institutions such as the United Nations. And regardless of the issue of whether or not the U.N. Security Council gave its approval of the “Second Iraq War,” didn’t John Paul II speak directly, forcefully and repeatedly to Bush and Blair against it? Notre Dame alumni deserve more from their flagship publication.

Liam M. Brockey ’94
Princeton, New Jersey

** It has become customary to tag more “progressive” members of the Church as “cafeteria Catholics” because they emphasize certain teachings while downplaying others. This characterization, however, applies to more than progressives. It may, in fact, be constitutive of being Catholic because few can be consistent in their observance of Church teaching on the broad range of issues it addresses. Weigel discounts Church teaching by depicting John Paul II’s stance on the second Iraq war as motivated by a desire to curry favor with the European Union. In fact, the pope made it abundantly clear in early 2003 that the very concept of “pre-emptive war” fundamentally violated the basic principles underlying the Church’s “Just War Theory.” This papal teaching had everything to do with fundamental Catholic doctrine and nothing to do with “conventional European political sentiment.” Weigel accordingly obscures, through oversight or misrepresentation, the differences between his views and the Church’s on a literal life-and-death issue.

Patrick Toomey Jr. ’80
Thomas Ryan ’83, ’98Ph.D.
Miami Shores, Florida

Weigle and not McBrien on the challenges that lie ahead? I’m stunned. How can we alumni be expected to get along without having the benefit of the keen insights into the state of Catholicism, as delivered from the lofty heights of the chair of the Department of Theology? Instead we are given the commentary of a mere (necessarily uninformed) layman? I’ll bet Weigle even subscribes to the embarrassing and outdated concept of the Real Presence per Paul VI. Come on, ND Mag, get with it. We need relevance. Modernity beckons!

Whoever made this editorial choice will probably have a short tenure in his/her position, but at least one alum is grateful for the welcome lapse into religious incorrectness.

John Rippey ’58
Montross, Virginia

Given my longstanding respect and admiration for the editors at Notre Dame Magazine, it saddened me to see you give top billing to George Weigel (Spring 2005) to address the critical task of “the work yet to be done” in the wake of John Paul II. For under guise of outlining the agenda for the next Pope, your readers were submitted to his untutored generalizations about Islam, together with his fatuous dismissals of Europe- predictable Weigel signatures. Now hundreds of students whom Notre Dame has sent abroad in the past decades will be able to read such intemperate smears as confirming to anyone so filled with himself can hardly be expected to attempt the task of understanding an “other” in order to enlighten yet others. Nor is there much chance that other discerning readers be misled by his rhetorical overkill. But how could the editors fail to anticipate what they would get? And what led you to afflict such a “voice” on your readers when any one of many thoughtful minds have been solicited locally?

_David B. Burrell, CSC, ’54
_ Notre Dame, Indiana

I was presently surprised that you selected George Weigel, an orthodox Catholic theologian, rather than your Father McBrien to discuss the state of the Catholic Church and its future challenges following the death of Pope John Paul II. Dr. Weigel’s analysis was sensible, thoughtful, and compelling. I hope you see fit, in the interest of balance, to have other orthodox Catholic intellectuals write articles of a similar nature. May I suggest Robert George, Mary Ann Glendon, and Michael Novak, or even Bob Novak.

John J. Kearney ’45, ’48
Alexandria, Virginia

George Weigel’s commentary on “The Work Yet To Be Done” (in the Catholic Church after the death of John Paul II) is frightening. He contends that, “Europe is dying,” that Islam confronts the rest of the world along “a jagged arc…from the west coast of Africa to Southeast Asia”, that Christian humanism is “crabbed and narrow”, and that the Vatican should turn its back on cooperation with the United Nations and the European Union. He says nothing about the mission of Jesus, which was to “proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed.”

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I worked as a missionary in El Salvador. Oscar Romero led that church in a journey towards the gospel. He believed in the statement from the Second Vatican Council that, “the joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men (and women) of this age, especially those who are poor or in anyway afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” As the Archbishop so often said, “the poor are the body of Christ today. Through them he lives in history.”

Unlike Mr. Weigel, who sounds more like a representative of the Bush administration that a Catholic reflecting on the teaching of Jesus, I agree with Pope John Paul II. John Paul once said, “Let us together create a new future of fraternity and solidarity; let us reach out towards our brothers and sisters in need, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, free the downtrodden, bring justice where injustice reigns, and peace where only weapons speak.” Following this gospel truth is the way to unite left and right in the Church today and I sincerely believe that this is what Jesus, John Paul II and Archbishop Romero would want us to be doing. Everything in me hopes that this is also “The Work Yet To Be Done,” by Pope Benedict XVI.

Kip Hargrave ’67
Syracuse, New York

In the inaptly named “Tomorrow’s Church,” George Weigel dismisses in two sentences one of the most pressing issues facing Catholicism, the exclusion of called, gifted and trained women from many positions of service and leadership.

The need for greater female participation in ministry—especially in the face of the drastic priest shortage which he acknowledges in passing—is at least as worthy of in-depth attention as, for instance, European and Islamic politics. Even if one accepts the late Pope’s noninfallible proclamation that women can never be ordained to the ministerial priesthood, there are a number of creative solutions which have been cogently defended by theologians and bishops. There is scriptural and patristic evidence for the ordination of women deacons, and no theological reasons preventing it; if there were, they certainly would have been promulgated with those against female priesthood. The only reason for this silence, and the failure to provide such ministers to communities desperately in need of them, is the pragmatic threat of the slippery slope. Like Anglicans, the Catholic faithful would no longer accept restrictions on priesthood once they beheld women validly receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders and exercising a fruitful ministry. Female deacons could also serve, as male deacons did through the Renaissance period, as members of the college of cardinals. In this way, representatives of more than half the baptized could at least increase the collective wisdom available for discerning the crucial leadership role from which they are barred.

It was a serious missed opportunity not to provide a balancing article doing fuller justice to “what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

Rev. Dr. Laura M. Grimes ’88, ’04Ph.D.
Hillsboro, Oregon

George Weigel’s “The Work Yet To Be Done” reflects the same pontifical manner so evident in “Tranquillitas Ordinis,” where he uncritically wrapped the contra terror in Nicaragua and every U.S. subversion of liberation efforts south of the border in a mantle of moral righteousness.

Saying that the next pope will not change the Vatican stance on birth control or women’s ordination doesn’t make it so and overlooks actual facts: The people of God have rejected the birth control teaching, without benefit of clergy, and John Paul’s claim that the church is not authorized to ordain women falls before the history of women presiding at the Eucharist in the early church, superior theological arguments, the growing demand for equality for women, numbers of valid ordinations of women in this century, and women’s religious communities quietly celebrating the Eucharist without an ordained presider.

Nor is Weigel’s designation of “the issues” definitive. How about ending the celibate patriarchal culture that gags prophetic voices, chokes collegiality and denies half of the world’s parishes priests, a culture to blame for the Protestant ascendancy in Latin America and, from the top down and bottom up, for enabling the priest abuse scandal?

William H. Slavick, ’49, ’51M.A., ’71Ph.D.
Portland, Maine

(July 2005)

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