Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: June 2010

June 2010

Playing Devil's Advocate

Fr. Raymond T. Gawronski, in his article “John Paul II: A Character Study” (Apr.), rightly notes that “there was a palpable sense of holiness” around John Paul. Still, “only the Church can declare someone a saint.” That note of caution is in order, especially as Pope Benedict XVI put his predecessor on the fast track to canonization. Normally, a cause must wait until the candidate has been dead for five years. The devil’s advocate was also eliminated from the process (by Pope John Paul, in 1983).

John Paul’s papacy was long and controversial, and a cooling-off period would seem to be the prudent course. If his role in helping bring the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion was a significant one — as it may well have been — then that alone might merit the accolade “the Great.” But that is another issue. The question, it seems to me, is what weight should be given to John Paul’s hands-off attitude toward the governance of the Church in assessing his cause for beatification and canonization.

This is underscored by the many and continuing reports of predatory assaults on young people by Catholic priests and bishops. The sanctity of the man who was pope when many of these things happened cannot be entirely separated from the bad news on his watch. Was John Paul derelict in his duty in fostering a culture of secrecy and even cover-up, in order to protect the hierarchy from shame and embarrassment? If so, was he a saint?

Detailed dossiers of sexual abuse by members of the Church hierarchy were brought to the Pope’s direct attention, more than once. In one report, he pushed back the thick folder of documents placed in front of him, took a quick glance, and said, “It is not good for me to read these things.”

The governance of the Church was John Paul’s principal obligation, yet such accounts seem to show that he routinely delegated that duty to others. It was as though he could not quite bring himself to accept the possibility that manifest evil could dwell within the Church hierarchy.

Recently published investigations of the Legion of Christ have disclosed that John Paul’s secretary of state, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, received cash in exchange for friendly treatment of the founder of the Legion, Fr. Marcial Maciel. It seems more than likely that John Paul never knew what Sodano was doing. But if so, that must have been because he really didn’t want to know.

Recent developments have raised further questions. Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy from 1996 to 2006, sent a letter of commendation in 2001 to a French bishop who refused to report a criminally abusive priest to the police. The priest had sexually abused 11 minor boys. Castrillón wrote: “I rejoice to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and all the other bishops of the world, prefers prison to denouncing one of his sons and priests.”

Then, speaking at a conference in Spain on the legacy of John Paul II, Castrillón said that he had shown this letter to John Paul, who had authorized him to send it. It was then posted on the website of the Congregation for the Clergy, where it has been a public record for nine years.

(The current enthusiasm by the news media for exposing all these problems in the Church has clearly been directed at trying to link them to the present Pope. Yet the more these details emerge, the clearer it becomes that Benedict has made heroic efforts to straighten out the disarray he found when he came to the Chair of St. Peter. In fact, he began to do so in 2001.)

Castrillón’s letter and John Paul’s willingness to turn a blind eye toward improper clerical behavior will no doubt be the subject of much further analysis. But it does seem that for John Paul the exercise of discipline within the Church had a low priority. Administrative discipline was “seldom effectively utilized during his pontificate,” as the president of Trinity Communications, Jeff Mirus, wrote recently. He added, on the Catholic World News website: “For the past fifty years, the curial culture in Rome has not been a culture that sent strong administrative disciplinary signals. Clear administrative directives were seldom issued and even more rarely enforced, whether by pontifical wrath, careful control of ecclesiastical honors, timely promotion or timely demotion.”

It was also disturbing to many Catholics (including, by report, Cardinal Ratzinger) that John Paul apol­ogized so frequently for the errors of churchmen past. An Italian journalist kept a tally and there were over 90 such apologies. John Paul then delivered a ritual summation of these apol­ogies in March 2000 at St. Peter’s in Rome. The catalogue of sins, which might have been drawn up by a progressive politician, included religious intolerance and injustice toward many groups, including women, indigenous peoples, immigrants, the poor, and the unborn.

Many years earlier, C.S. Lewis wrote that when someone apologizes for the sins of others, the sin of detraction masquerades as the virtue of contrition. In an essay on these papal apologies, Avery Cardinal Dulles quoted the English Catholic historian Paul Johnson as saying something similar. In such circumstances, the expression of repentance is a “disguised manifestation of pride.”

But I hasten to add that the Church belongs to eternity, and even though her present standing in terms of worldly prestige seems to have declined, one cannot pretend to know how to weigh these things.

Furthermore, the test of canonization is personal sanctity, not administrative competence. Obviously, John Paul was a man of personal holiness. But it is precisely because his papacy was so far-reaching that the Church should proceed without haste in formally discerning his sanctity.

Tom Bethell

Washington, D.C.

Ed. Note: For more on the investigation into the Legion of Christ and Benedict’s “heroic efforts to straight­en out the disarray he found when he came to the Chair of St. Peter,” see our New Oxford Note “The Double Life of Marcial Maciel” in this issue.

Novel Theology, Troubling Applications

I am normally very appreciative of the reflections of Fr. Regis Scan­lon. His recent article “The Validity of Homosexual Vows of Chastity in Religious Life” (Mar.), however, has me concerned on a number of levels.

First, I have never seen Fr. Scanlon’s argument advanced in any theological literature in history. Surely, a reasonable person can hold that someone with a profound homosexual orientation would be unsuited for religious life, especially due to temptations in a predominantly or exclusively same-sex living situation. However, that is quite different from saying that a person with such an inclination could not make a valid vow of chastity. That would be like saying that only the extremely wealthy can validly vow poverty since a poor person has nothing to give up!

Second, it is a short step from Fr. Scanlon’s position on the consecrated life to making the same assertion about such a person’s priestly ordination. That is, if someone with a homosexual orientation cannot validly profess a vow of chastity, could that same man be validly ordained? Some years ago, the editor of a Catholic periodical did make that very claim, and theologians across the spectrum roundly condemned his argument — an assertion never made by the Magisterium, if for no other reason than that it would cause havoc in the Church if the faithful had to determine the sexual proclivities of the clergy in order to ascertain if a sacrament had been validly administered (since the valid ordination of the minister would be in doubt). The Church dealt with worthiness-of-minister questions in the Donatist crisis, we should recall, and set very minimal demands, precisely for the peace of conscience of the faithful.

Third, were Fr. Scanlon or anyone else to pursue his logic and apply it to priesthood, one could argue that heterosexual men should be barred from priestly ordination since most of a priest’s time is spent with women, thereby placing such a man in a constant state of temptation. Such an assertion, of course, would be ridiculous.

Perhaps the most important point to make in this entire discussion is one that Fr. Scanlon does not address at all — namely, that after the Fall all sexuality is deeply wounded and disordered. That is why the Church has always had a very healthy cautionary attitude toward sexuality, even within the bonds of Christian marriage. Overly pious and romantic views of sexuality — even within the covenant of marriage — fail to take seriously how easily sexuality can be perverted, which is one reason I have never been a fan of the so-called theology of the body attributed to Pope John Paul II and expounded and expanded upon by various successors to his line of thinking. Catholic theology of sexuality is not Puritanical or Jansenistic, but it is careful, sending up an amber signal to all, regardless of sexual orientation.

The Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas

Editor, The Catholic Response

Pine Beach, New Jersey

Our Increasing Tolerance of Increasing Intolerance

Apropos your New Oxford Note “The Silent Spectre of Religious Cleansing” (Apr.): The problem with our benevolent tolerance of the most abhorrent acts of intolerance toward Christians, both from militant Islam and the equally militant secular “West,” is that this terribly clear existential contradiction — our “tolerance” of the extinction of a culture of tolerance — is cultural suicide.

Catholicism? Christianity? Col­­­lateral damage through policy and complicity at the highest levels; policy both defined by, and as the brutal expression of, the imposition of secularism as the summum bonum.

That radical Islam has as little tolerance of secularism as it has of Christianity is rigorously suppressed in popular discourse, despite the fact that the purely secular impulse from which it derives will be the next victim both of Islam and its own indifference. Some call this “tolerance,” others call it “correctitude” — and both, clearly, are euphemisms for madness.

Geoffrey K. Mondello

Asst. Editor, Boston Catholic Journal

Stoneham, Massachusetts

Why AUL Opposed State Personhood Amendments

In his reply to my April letter, Leo Hunt states that Americans United for Life (AUBp”publicly urged political and religious leaders not to support [personhood or human-life amendment] efforts in Colorado and Montana in 2008.” He asks: “If prolife organizations like AUL do not believe it is feasible to establish absolute protection for the unborn at the state level, how will they ever regard it as feasible at the national level”?

The answer is simple: The proposed life amendments in Colorado and Montana would not currently pass muster in a court of U.S. law under any judge; they would be ruled unconstitutional. Roe v. Wade must be overturned first, or a federal life amendment to the U.S. Constitution must be enacted, before anything at the state level could be legally binding.

If a state passed an amendment to its constitution and was challenged in court — which no doubt it would be, and fast — it would lose, further entrenching our law in abortion precedent. If the case were appealed and chosen to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, there are still five justices who would likely support Roe. I highly recommend that all who are interested read the information at the AUL website: http://dl.aul.org/abortion/what’s-the-point-of-a-state-human-life-amendment.

Maura B. Butler

Washington, D.C.

Leo Hunt (article, Jan.-Feb.; reply, Apr.) goes to lengths to promote and defend a personhood amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But I must ask: How will this come about? Who are the justices on the Supreme Court or in the district and appellate courts who are going to work to get this passed? We simply don’t have enough justices to make it happen.

We in Nevada came out against the state personhood amendment in 2008 as a political idea because it threatens our people in office. It offers no exception for cases of rape and incest and would ban virtually all abortions except for serious threats to the life of the mother. Let’s face it: A large percentage of prolifers support abortion in these cases (I don’t). These things divide the prolife vote. When we opposed the personhood amendment in Nevada we were thinking of Dean Heller, the prolife challenger to Harry Reid, and others who are prolife or sympathetic to our cause. If we are dividing our vote, then Planned Parenthood is increasing its votes. If we take such a “perfect” stand, we will end up depleting our legislatures of prolife members or those who aren’t overtly prolife but who support baby-saving measures. In the end, such hard-line efforts will split the prolife vote and succeed only in inadvertently helping to elect people who support such legislation as the Freedom of Choice Act.

Reta Tallman

Reno, Nevada


Faith is a virtue, it is often said. This is one of those truisms our fallen nature remembers only faint­ly, and thus bears frequent repetition. The object of faith is God, not man or human affairs. A prime manifestation of faith is the confidence that God will guide those who act with fidelity to the truth onto the best path possible, both moral and practical. Mother Teresa said that God called her “not to be successful, but to be faithful.”

Let it be granted for the moment that personhood amendments will meet with the barriers described. Even then, of course, Maura Butler and Reta Tallman have not considered the possible long-term impact of a movement that was willing to take such action openly and directly, even if it fails at first. Nor are we discussing the many forms of action, political and non-political, that offer real partial victories without moral collaboration in evil. But let us grant that the personhood movement will meet mighty barriers. I cannot see where Butler and Tallman have considered the moral reality of what they advocate. Practical calculation comes foremost and in complete isolation. I am not aware of any clause to the principle that one cannot do evil so that good may result; I do not choose to believe that St. Paul simply forgot to add, “except when the American legal system comes into existence.”

I do not think there is much I can write that would convince someone on the other side of this divide; the main lines of argument have already been laid down. But I humbly suggest that, after the inevitable division that is even now coming upon us, those who practice fidelity will find many unexpected causes for hope. Hope is another virtue; and this we must frequently remember as well.

Notre Dame's Full Nudal Affrontery

After reading Thomas P. Scheck’s tribute to the late Ralph McInerny (guest column, Apr.), I wonder how such a towering intellect could have been at Notre Dame for a half century, been so productive, and yet might as well never have been there at all in terms of influencing the place, its faculty, students, and alumni to anywhere near the same degree as eighth-rate intellects (Fr. Richard McBrien comes to mind) at ND have. Specifically, I mean transforming the place from what it was when Dr. McInerny arrived in 1955 to what it had become when it bestowed an honorary doctor of laws degree on a newly elected U.S. President so committed to killing “unwanted” human beings that he even wanted babies who somehow survived an abortion to be killed by neglect. Killed after they were born and therefore entitled to the full protection of U.S. citizenship, because, as he said on the floor of the Illinois state senate, the child’s mother had paid to have a dead baby.

That question, but not an answer, was forcibly delivered by another question asked in one sentence of Scheck’s account. In recounting working under McInerny in the Jacques Maritain Center (on the seventh floor of the Hesburgh Library — Fr. Hesburgh occupied the top floor six stories higher; is there a message here concerning the ND pecking order?), Scheck recalls a social gathering at which a tenured professor asked him with a grimace, “What’s it like working with right-wing weirdoes?”

A year before New York Governor (and presidential hopefubpMario Cuomo gave his speech to a packed house at ND, Daniel Maguire was invited by Frs. Hesburgh and McBrien to be the John A. O’Brien Visiting Professor of Moral Theology at ND. In an article in Ms. magazine titled “A Catholic Theologian Visits an Abortion Clinic,” Maguire asked the female director, an ordained minister in the Church of Christ, to see the “contents” of the bag after a suction abortion. He examined the “fleshly matter” and proclaimed, “I could have held it in my fist. I’ve held newborn babies. I know the difference.” Reading that, I thought, “If someone had run Maguire through a meat grinder, would Maguire know the difference?” After a year of “preparing” ND students like that, is it any wonder they gave Cuomo a standing ovation when he told them it was only fair for him to take their money as taxpayers to pay abortionists to kill the next generation of Americans, because he couldn’t impose his “Catholic” views on others?

What undisclosed planning went on in secret meetings by Hes­burgh, McBrien, and others at ND to bring Maguire in for a year to “prepare” students to welcome with a standing ovation what Cuomo told them? McInerny was at ND back then. Was bringing him into this planning even mentioned, let alone seriously discussed? If not, and I say not, why not? What was the hidden agenda being enacted here that couldn’t be made known, especially made known to the parents of students paying the astronomical tuition (compared to “value received”) for an ND “education”? Were any ND alums in on this planning? What were the ideological underpinnings behind this agenda? Why was that ideology preferable to the teachings of Jesus Christ? Was Jesus Christ even mentioned during this planning? If so, in what context and in what way was He mentioned? What about His Mother, Notre Dame?

Some day a definitive history of ND will be written that snatches away the fig leaf of Catholic “respectability” that still keeps us from viewing the “full nudal affrontery” that is ND today. It will have to be written by someone who was either present when these plans were laid and who much later had a conversion experience, or by someone who painstakingly puts together the myriad pieces of this puzzle in an investigation worthy of Father Dowling.

Terence J. Hughes

Orono, Maine

Updates on the ND88

It was about as close to martyrdom as I will ever come. No one shot at me or threatened me, but in May 2009 I decided to give myself as a living sacrifice for the unborn and in reparation for the outrages committed against our Blessed Mother Mary. I also gave myself because I love my Church and I love the truth that my Catholic faith teaches in its fullness. You see, I really believe what our bishops say, and I follow in obedience what our Holy Father teaches. For being a good, obedient follower of our Lord and His pillar and bulwark of truth on earth — the Church — I am still being prosecuted now, more than a year later, along with 87 others.

We are called the Notre Dame 88. It seems that our sacrifice has been forgotten even though our case is ongoing. I expected a fine, a few hours in jail, but Notre Dame decided to have us prosecuted to the fullest extent possible, and we may be sentenced to a year in jail and fined $5,000 for our supposed “crime” of standing up for what our bishops teach about the intrinsic evil of abortion: “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions” (“Catholics in Political Life”).

Some say we broke the law and we deserve punishment for our peaceful witness in protest of the “honor” given to U.S. President Barack Obama on that Catholic campus. Our attorney, and several nationally recognized constitutional law scholars, believes otherwise. But this is how I explain this concept to my two children: Did Joseph break the law when he listened to God and helped Mary and Jesus escape Bethlehem ahead of King Herod’s order to kill all the Hebrew boys? Did Moses’ mother break the law when she floated him down the river to save him from the Egyptian authorities? Did Jesus break the law when He uttered the words in front of the Sanhedrin and Pharisees, “I am”? Should Rosa Parks have given up her seat on the bus?

In all these cases, God’s law was the truth, even though it might have broken man’s law. In matters of grave importance, such as issues of life and death, God’s law must be peaceably upheld and is always higher than the law of man. I teach my children to always follow the truth, which is Jesus Himself: “I am the way, the Truth and the life, no one comes to the father, except through me” (Jn. 14:6).

This is what we, the Notre Dame 88, have done. But many of us are still suffering for our decision even now. One of our sisters in Christ has died of cancer and we consider her to be a white martyr. One other among us is currently undergoing cancer treatment. I have suffered through open-heart bypass surgery and continuing heart issues. We ask you to prayerfully consider this: Who was following the teachings of the bishops and God’s law in this situation? Haven’t we given enough?

We are asking all good Catholics to help end our unjust prosecution. Please write your bishop and ask for this to end. Please write to Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins at 400 N. Main Bldg., Notre Dame, IN 46556 and ask for him to publicly call for an end to our prosecution. Please pray for us, for the unborn, for our bishops, and for the University of Notre Dame to truly become prolife.

Dr. Terese M. Rachor Beste

Fenton, Michigan

I’d like to update your readers on what we at the Thomas More Society are doing in defense of the ND88 (who now number 87 as one of the defendants has died since we undertook their defense). We have been and remain special counsel Tom Dixon’s sole support after he stepped forward voluntarily — and heroically — to help the defendants bond out of jail back at the time of their arrests in May 2009 and then filed appearances to defend all of them in court. Since then we have worked with Tom and have done all we can — and we’ll continue to do all we can — to get these cases favorably resolved with minimum damage to the defendants, to the cause we espouse along with them, to our Church, and to Notre Dame, which remains for so many folks a powerful iconic symbol of contemporary American Catholicism.

That contemporary American Catholicism is in very serious disarray is proved, rather eloquently and disturbingly, by what happened at last May’s commencement, the days leading up to it, and the continued pendency of these cases. Notre Dame is now as much in need of a modern “Oxford Movement” as was Oxford University itself centuries ago. Our Catholic faith needn’t be felt or disparaged as any sort of constraint, let alone as a straitjacket, but on the contrary it should be embraced as a liberating and visionary framework with which to confront the ever more complex and perplexing realities of this modern world.

Many of our American bishops spoke out against Notre Dame’s honoring our very pro-abortion U.S. President, and for doing so without qualifying the honor with an asterisk noting the university’s disapproval of his many anti-life positions. Many bishops have rallied in support of our defense of the ND88 as well.

We have made many entreaties, both public and private, to Notre Dame’s inner circle of trustees who are committed, we are told, to keeping intact the university’s identity as a Catholic institution. We’ve also implored Notre Dame’s president, Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., to call for a halt to the prosecutions, declaring that the defendants — all of whom were handcuffed, hauled off to jail, bonded out hours or days later, and who had to return to South Bend to enter pleas of not guilty — have suffered enough of a penalty for their “crime.”

But all these overtures have been met with stony silence, or have been brushed off with bland statements that only the elected prosecutor of St. Joseph County is empowered and authorized to drop criminal charges. But who ever heard of a misdemeanor trespass prosecution going forward when the alleged “victim,” the proprietor of the land whose “enclosure” was allegedly infringed, expresses disinterest in proceeding any further?

I did have a personal and cordial conversation with Fr. Jenkins when he came to Chicago to give a lunchtime talk last fall. He said he was trying to be “lenient” with the ND88 by having offered them “pretrial diversion,” requiring that they plead guilty, upon which they would have to pay court costs, commit to several hundred hours of “community service,” and promise never to return to Notre Dame’s campus. I pointed out to Father that this offer was only good for half of the ND88, as many others had criminal records dating back to their involvement in the nonviolent “rescue” movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s. I told him, too, that many could not afford to pay court costs or fines or wouldn’t agree to do so, and they all felt that they did “community service” by coming to Notre Dame in the first place. Father did say that he could do something about barring them all from the campus henceforward, but apart from that he said he could do nothing more.

In response to my comment that these ND88 felt that, like Dr. Martin Luther King, whose name was favorably invoked during the commencement proceedings, they had done nothing wrong, Fr. Jenkins retorted, “Well, Dr. King went to jail!” True, I replied, but so did all of these folks, and while Dr. King was jailed at the direction of Bull Connor and the segregationists, these folks were jailed at the behest of Our Lady’s University! Quite a difference, but Fr. Jenkins just didn’t seem to see it. Why he cannot now say that the university has concluded that the ND88 have paid a sufficient price for infringing on Notre Dame’s (alleged) property rights, and therefore requests that further proceedings cease, simply escapes us.

If the cases do go on, however, we are not without defenses that may indeed prove dispositive. Whether trespass warnings legally sufficed is in doubt, for one thing, and there are other technicalities of trespass law that, if need be, we will exploit to the fullest in each individual case. Most important, however, are so-called global defenses that will likely be considered before, if ever, each case goes to trial. One key issue is whether the university police, vested with limited arrest powers under Indiana state law, were constrained by federal constitutional restrictions. When the ND88, or most of them, were arrested on campus, they were in the midst of throngs of Obama supporters — many wearing pro-Obama T-shirts or carrying signs or placards — who were roaming the campus at will. This raises concerns about “viewpoint discrimination,” a First Amendment doctrine that forbids state actors who create or superintend public fora from permitting some speakers to express their viewpoints while prohibiting others of different viewpoints from having their “say.” Our concerns in this regard were deepened given recent revelations, circulated by the Sycamore Trust, an alumni group, that the university recently treated gay-rights protesters and anti-ROTC Catholic Workers who came onto campus with kid gloves, omitting or dropping all charges. The most recent ruling in St. Joseph County Superior Court now permits us to commence “discovery” proceedings against Notre Dame, in an effort to shed more light inter alia on these alleged instances of differential treatment.

All expenses for the defense of the ND88 are being borne by our Thomas More Society, a national public-interest law firm based in Chicago. We have been defending prolifers since our inception in 1997, in response to the NOW v. Scheidler case, the federal civil extortion and racketeering class-action suit against prolifers — a case we defended and eventually won after three appeals to and arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. We pay Tom Dixon a very modest stipend plus all expenses, so as to provide the ND88 with a principled, robust defense. We need help as we are always strapped for funds, and yet we need to fight these cases ably and aggressively for as long as it takes to prevail. We are an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) charity, so all contributions are tax-deductible. Contributions may be sent by check to our office, payable to Thomas More Society, with “Oxford-ND88” noted thereon. Credit-card contributions may be phoned in (VISA, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover cards are accepted). PayPal contributions also may be made at our website.

On behalf of the Thomas More Society and the ND88, I thank you!

Tom Brejcha, President & Chief Counsel

Thomas More Society, 29 S. LaSalle St., Ste. 440, Chicago, IL 60603

312-782-1680, www.thomasmoresociety.org

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