April 1992

Fierce Mothers, Human Rights & Santa Maria

Jean Bethke Elshtain’s “The Passion of the ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ in Argen­tina” (Jan.-Feb.) goes to great lengths to fit Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo into a lengthy discussion of Mother arche­types and literary genres. This seems to be the major signifi­cance of these women accord­ing to the article.

Might I suggest that the overriding significance of these women might be their daring witness to the human rights cause of disappeared people (los desaparecidos), tortured pris­oners, people arrested, beaten, and abandoned without due process of law? These women remind us that it really hap­pened and that it is not a fic­tion. Their weekly presence in the Square of Buenos Aires has been heard wherever human rights are championed around the world.

Las Madres were something of an embarrassment to the Argentine military. While they could be labeled as locas and emotionally unstable, they did not give up. Having lost loved ones, neighbors, friends, they were willing to stare down the soldiers’ rifle muzzles. Their gutsy persistence was not lost on the international media. They became well-known in Europe and Latin America, but less so in the U.S. This kind of global public relations echo is one reason the military was eventually replaced by a civil­ian government in Argentina.

It may be fair to compare Las Madres with the Eva Peron cult or figures in Greek tra­gedy, as Elshtain does. Might it also be in order to compare these women with strong women of the Judeo-Christian tradition? Figures like Esther, Ruth, Judith, and Deborah are courageous women who have not just a motherly but human concern for their cause. Of course in the New Covenant there is Santa Maria. But the sidebar with the Magnificat of Mary, which was spliced into the article (by the editor?), seems to serve mainly literary purposes. The archaic language shrouds everything in another age. There are more current translations that are more con­gruent with the 20th-century lives of Las Madres. It could be mentioned that this was the woman who bore pain as La Madre, this was a woman who spoke prophetically as La Ma­dre. The suffering women who are concerned about justice have a forebear in the figure on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico 400 years ago — the dark Virgin of Guadalupe. Here is the Arche­type for suffering women in the Americas.

Prof. Richard P. Hurzeler
Dept. of Anthropology, Stephen F. Austin State Univ.
Nacogdoches, Texas




The “Game” of Democracy

Having read and enjoyed Jean Bethke Elshtain’s article “The Passion of the ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ in Argen­tina” (Jan.-Feb.), I offer an an­swer to a query of hers. She quotes from an essay by Maria del Carmen Feijoo the phrase, “ensures women’s participation in the democratic political game.” Elshtain asks, “why…call it a ‘game’ rather than a way of life?” Now, presuming Feijoo had original­ly written her essay in Span­ish, the word juego means, in this context, “give-and-­take,” which makes perfect sense because democratic poli­tics are nothing if not “give-­and-take,” which is another term for “daily living” or a “way of life.”

Cyprian Mercieca, T.O.R.
St. Thomas More Friary
Washington, D.C.




Not My Feminism

As someone engaged with the third-way path of the Green movement, I appreciate the personalist focus of most of your contributors and often read the NOR cover to cover. I must say, however, that I find most tedious your editorial inclination to see feminism as one of the acids of modernity rather than as a bona fide justice issue.

That bias was apparent most recently in your handling of “The Passion of the ‘Moth­ers of the Disappeared’ in Ar­gentina” by Jean Bethke Elsh­tain (Jan.-Feb.). You featured your subtitle for that article, “Fierce Mothers as Deficient Feminists,” on the cover, al­though that subtitle is quite misleading. Elshtain describes the ambivalent and sometimes disapproving response to “the Mothers” she encountered from intellectual Argentine women who are primarily postmodernist in their orienta­tion! Elshtain correctly put in quotes the many lockstep ex­pressions of their cult. She surely must know that the courageous actions of “the Mothers” are celebrated in countless feminist books and articles by grassroots activists. Why she did not make that clear is puzzling; your amplify­ing the misrepresentation is disappointing.

By the way, a critique and rebuttal of deconstructive postmodernism, which asserts that there is nothing in human experience except “social pro­duction” (of concepts, socializa­tion, etc.), is included in my recent book, States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age. The critique is based on spiritual, feminist, and ecological/cosmological in­sights.

Charlene Spretnak
Moss Beach, California




Olsen, Yes; Zahn, No

As a monk and student of Patristics for almost 40 years, I must agree with Glenn Olsen (letter, Nov.), and disagree with Gordon Zahn’s contention (letter, Jan.-Feb.) that the early Church was pacifist, for there is no clear historical proof that it was. Apart from rare excep­tions like Hippolytus, all other early references usually given to support the thesis are quot­ed or interpreted out of proper context. For example, Fr. Bryan Hehir, who helped prepare the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on war and peace, was especially guilty of doing this, to justify his own pacifist leanings. And this includes the famous quotation from St. Martin of Tours.

It was Martin’s biographer, Sulpicius Servus, who wrongly interpreted Martin’s statement as pacifist. The chronology of Martin’s life is somewhat dis­puted, but scholars believe he spent nine years in the army, the last six as a baptized Chris­tian, as a member of the elite imperial guard in service to the (by then) Christian emperor.

Martin had long felt a call­ing to the priesthood and monastic life. This is the proper context of his request to the emperor for release from the army: “Hitherto, I have served you as a soldier. Allow me, now, to become a soldier of God — I am a soldier of Christ. It is not lawful for me to fight.” It was wrong (unlaw­ful) then, as it is today, for priests and religious to bear arms. That this was really what Martin had in mind, rather than a statement of paci­fism, is clearly seen from what he did immediately after leaving the army. He was ordained to clerical orders and entered monastic life.

Fr. Timothy Michell, O.C.S.O.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey
Lafayette, Oregon




Do Something?

I have just received my third issue of the NOR. I can­not begin to express how enriching I have found the ar­ticles therein. It is most unfor­tunate that the majority of the people in the U.S. today de­vote themselves to reading the equivalent of “entertainment” news, if they are reading at all, instead of thoughtful, meaning­ful publications such as yours. But then, they might feel com­pelled to actually do some­thing, or to take same responsi­bility for the world in which they live.

I will begin law school this fall. I have no idea where my career will take me, but if I should ever find myself finan­cially well off, I will most certainly keep your publication in mind when considering donations to worthy causes.

Karen L. Kramer
Omaha, Nebraska




Bumper Stickers in the Night

More middle of the night bumper-sticker thoughts: A counter to the “Pro-child, Pro-­family, Pro-choice” bumper­ sticker could be: “Pro-family, Pro-children, Pro-covenant.”

Isn’t it singular that the pro-choice (opt-out) people say “pro-child” instead of “pro-­children”?

It’s true that, with the covenant between man and God, there is a “choice,” owing to free will. However, the only real choice is for God.

Steffen Richards
Berkeley, California




Abortion, Academe & “The Jesuit Tradition”

Excepting the uncharacter­istically mush-mouthed column from Robert Coles, the March issue was very good. Patricia Wesley’s “Abortion, Academe, and the American Psychiatric Association” was excellent. I would like to add a footnote of sorts to her remark, “The pro­spective, carefully controlled research that might provide some answers to the complex question of ‘post-abortion syn­drome,’ called for years ago by then Surgeon General Everett Koop, has not been done. The APA and its Committee on Women aren’t pushing for it to be done, either.”

“Aren’t pushing for it” is what might be called a massive understatement. Three years ago, I talked to an old friend who was just completing her Ph.D. in psychology at Ford­ham University. (Yes, a uni­versity “in the Jesuit tradi­tion”!) She told me that her original proposal for thesis re­search had been turned down; she had wanted to do just such a study of post-abortion syndrome, but had been told that there was no such thing and therefore any such re­search would be inadmissible.

The problem doesn’t exist; therefore you may not in­vestigate to find out if it does. So much for academic inquisi­tiveness and objectivity!

Madeleine Lewis
Oakland, California




Bell’s Wisdom, Women’s Wisdom

In reply to Daniel Bell’s letter (Jan.-Feb.) responding to my letter (Nov.) about his Sep­tember article: It is wonderful that Bell has discovered that Wisdom is feminine and that he is delighted with this in­formation.

Yes, Prof. Bell, I have been assured that the usage of “Man” is generic ever since I was young. I tried to believe it for a long time but had to give it up. I am now 72 and it has been dear to me for years that Man means exactly what the speaker or writer wants it to mean. It means “men and women” in some cases and “men” in others. Women must search the context carefully to discover which is meant. Men do not need to. They are in­cluded either way.

When I wrote of “a man” standing atop the wreckage of the planet, I was intending to make the point that this is not generic Man. This is “men.” Who has had the power for millennia to rule, decide, build, break down, make war, pollute? Women? It is not women’s ideas, women’s aims, women’s wisdom that have produced the suffering and destruction we see everywhere we look in this world. What damage women might do if they were in power we do not know. It would be different.

I have checked four trans­lations of Proverbs 31:10 et seq. What is there is a description of a paragon of wifely virtue and industry, but the opening sentence, far from suggesting that this is a description of the female sex in general, plain­tively bemoans the lack of such women. “Who can find a good wife?” it complains. If this is an example supporting Bell’s contention that the Old Testa­ment does not depreciate women, it is more empty of praise for women than I thought.

It is all very well to admire and delight in the lovely de­scription of Wisdom as femi­nine in Scripture. I do too. But cultivating, listening to, and accepting women’s wisdom as a valuable part of our collective understanding is quite another matter.

Jean D. Brooks
Montpelier, Vermont




The Third Part of the Secret of Fatima

In the history of her inter­ventions, some of Mary’s communications, writes David Hartman, are “veiled, notably ‘the third secret of Fatima,’ passed on to the Vatican in 1957 and still unrevealed. Of course, an unrevealed secret is practically a tabula rasa, and the one from Fatima has been used to project some sensational and hair-raising apocalypses” (review, Jan.-Feb.).

Are we really to believe that Mary, by instructing her seer Lucia not to reveal her message in all its parts, ren­dered its one unrevealed part “practically a tabula rasa,” thereby causing a flood of decadent apocalyptic specula­tion? We need, I think, to reject this suggestion out of hand.

In the first place, as Lucia herself has explained, there is only one Secret of Fatima, and therefore properly no such thing as a “third secret of Fatima.” In this connection, Prof. Joaquin Alonso has argued that one reason why the popes have chosen not to reveal the unrevealed part of the Secret is that the already revealed parts of the Secret have not yet been effectively communicated to the world, with the result that in the present context of ignorance and sensationalism, Fatima and its total message would be reduced to its third part (to “the third secret of Fatima”) upon a papal disclosure of Mary’s special communication — addressed (after all) to the Vicar of Christ, not to us. No, it is better to wait for a time of greater calm and deeper understanding of the total message.

In the second place, pace Hartman, it is not true that the Secret’s third part is a tabula rasa. Joao Venancio, the former bishop of Leiria, took care to note that the content of the Secret “cannot contradict what is contained in the parts of the message already known since 1942.” Moreover, the logical sequence of the known parts anticipates the one unknown part in such a way that Lucia herself could protest, “In a way, I have already said it.”

In a way, Lucia has al­ready disclosed the third part of the Secret. As Alonso ex­plains in his La Verdad Sobre el Secreto de Fatima (1976), we should bear in mind that Lucia never repeats herself in the same text, “especially when she is dealing with related things. If therefore the first part of the Secret speaks of a vision of hell and the interces­sory function of Our Lady to save sinners who would otherwise go there, and if the second part deals with the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, emphasizing particularly the disastrous effects failure to do so will bring to the world and the church in their external, political and material aspects [wars, persecution, famine] then we can be certain that none of this will be included in the third part.” The clue to the content of the third part lies in the assurance Mary gave Lucia that, “In Portugal, the dogma of the faith will always be preserved.” We should note the implication: that in other parts of the Church these dogmas are going to become obscure or even lost altogether.

It is quite possible, then, that the Secret in its papal part refers to doctrinal decomposi­tion and strife within the Church. “One conclusion does indeed seem to be beyond doubt: the content of the unpublished part of the Secret does not refer to new wars or political upheavals, but to happenings of a religious and intra-Church character, which of their very nature are still more grave” (Alonso).

John Maguire
Richmond, California



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