Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: March 2002

March 2002

May He Sit Alone

Having grown up surrounded by Americans whose families came from Ireland generations ago, I am aware of the terrible things the English did to the Irish (they weren’t very nice to my forefathers, the Welsh, either). However, Stephen Rombouts is over-the-top in his refusal to stand for Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus (guest column, Dec.).

For one thing, we stand to honor the music and the glorious news it proclaims (“for unto us is born…”), not to honor King George II, although he began the tradition. Secondly, we do not need more division based on something, however horrible, that happened hundreds of years ago. We should be aware of history, but we should not carry resentment forward. To do so is un-Christian and harmful to the human fabric. The many wars around the world stem, for the most part, from ancient wrongs never forgotten.

I shall continue to stand for the Hallelujah Chorus and trust that Mr. Rombouts will be alone in his foolish and unchivalrous sitting.

Dorothy Wynne

St. Joseph's Catholic Church

Williamsville, New York

The "Real Lesson" of AIDS

This is in response to Fr. Anthony Zimmerman’s article “AIDS: Mother Nature’s Big Stick” (Dec.). There are flaws in Fr. Zimmerman’s underlying logic. If AIDS is “Mother Nature’s Big Stick” to bring us back in line regarding sexual morality, what was “she” trying to teach us with the Black Death back in the 14th century?

And if “she” is trying to teach us a lesson, perhaps the goal is not what Fr. Zimmerman believes. Look at the target populations. AIDS is still not one of the 15 leading causes of death is the U.S., as per the 2002 New York Times Almanac (pp. 377 ff.), and the mortality rate is actually going down. The problem is even smaller in most of the remaining industrialized nations. But consider the African countries he points out in his article which have a high incidence of AIDS. They are all places with runaway population growth.

When God said (Gen. 1:28), “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it,” perhaps He was not thinking of six billion, and when He said, “Have domain over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth,” perhaps He did not intend us to exterminate them.

Could it be that this is the real lesson being taught?

Walter Stock

Glendale, New York

What Those in Hell Have Already Said

I’ve just gotten around to reading your October Editorial, “That Mosquito on the Tuxedo,” commenting on Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’s further ruminations on universal salvation.

Neuhaus persists in seeing Jesus’ many words about those who go to Hell as merely warnings, rather than predictions or prophecies, and therefore Neuhaus feels warranted in “hoping” for universal salvation. Even if Jesus’ words were only warnings, which I don’t believe, what good would that do the people already in Hell? And since there are people already in Hell, it makes no sense even to “hope” for universal salvation.

As I wrote in my letter (Jul.-Aug. 2001), the Old Testament places Korah, Dathan, and Abiram by name in Hell (Num. 16:23-33).

I would like to add here that the Old Testament cites the words of human beings already in Hell: “We fools…. We have erred from the way of truth…. We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction…but the way of the Lord we have not known. What hath pride profited us? Or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow…. Such things as these the sinners said in hell: For the hope of the wicked is as dust, which is blown away with the wind…” (Wisd. 5:4-9, 14-15; Douay-Rheims). The hope for universal salvation is a hopeless cause.

Istvan Varkonyi

New York, New York

Civil War Revisionism: No Thanks!

For the past few weeks I have been haunted by the letters from Richard Savadel and David Bovenizer (Dec.) responding to the article by John L. Botti (“The ‘Catholic’ Politician of 2001 & the Southern ‘Gentleman’ of 1860,” Oct.). Savadel asks: Does anyone really believe the North went to war because of slavery, that half a million men died to stop slavery? My answer: yes, absolutely. I would only quote (or rather paraphrase from memory, mostly) the letters of Col. Robert Gould Shaw, who was killed in action while leading a regiment of former slaves in 1863. His letters to his parents state that “we must make it a whole country, for all who live here…” so that all may have a voice, and that “we fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written….” I am sure that any honest examination of evidence (e.g., personal letters and diaries of other Union soldiers, like my grandmother’s grandfather, who was wounded at Shiloh) will reveal that many soldiers really did fight and die to end the evil of slavery.

Anyone who doubts that slavery was evil really should reflectively read the autobiography of Frederick Douglass. His account makes clear at once the immorality, lies, and murder which slavery in the U.S. needed, fostered, and engendered. His reports are based on firsthand experience, and show beyond any shadow of a doubt that murder and rape were carried out many times with impunity by slaveholders, and that husbands and wives, as well as parents and children, were routinely and heartlessly separated (so much for “family values”). Any student of ancient history will recognize immediately that slavery in the ancient world was a far cry from slavery in the American South. Slavery as mentioned by St. Paul was not based on assumptions about the inferiority of a certain race; nor was it based on a systematic and cruel de-humanization of the enslaved (e.g., separation of families) which insisted on treating humans as work animals. Rather, slavery in the ancient world was more likely to be the result of conquering other peoples without regard to race. It was not identical to the practice which so many Americans died to end.

Revisionist historians tell us that Lincoln was racist because he stated in his presidential campaign that he would not seek to abolish slavery. Other revisionists say that Lincoln’s realpolitik aggression toward the South was the real cause of the war, not slavery. The problem with revisionist history is that it tends to present some, but not all, of the facts. Lincoln was hoping to win the presidency, so he stated that he would not seek to abolish the status quo. Does that mean he was in favor of slavery? Of course not; it only takes a careful examination of the Lincoln/Douglass debates of 1858 to see that he regarded slavery as evil. As for Lincoln’s purported “aggression” toward the South, a good biography of “Stonewall” Jackson makes clear that the drums of war and secession were beating fairly strongly among Southern gentlemen the day after Lincoln’s election. Lincoln’s opposition to slavery was well known then; it is only called into question among fashionable revisionist historians now. The mobilization of Federal troops by Lincoln in the Southern states may have seemed like aggression, but it would only seem so among persons who had already begun to see themselves as a separate country. Would a mobilization of National Guard troops today be seen as “aggression” if they are only seeking to provide defense against groups of American citizens who are planning to overthrow the government? It seems that all the talk of states’ rights and Northern aggression are attempts to obfuscate the real issue: The South had slaves and wanted to keep them. We can respect the good elements of Southern culture, and deplore the atrocities of Sherman and the post-war carpetbaggers, but we (and those who defend the South) need to face the fact that slavery was evil, and had the South won, slavery would have continued.

Finally we come to the statements that haunted me the most: descriptions of support for the Confederacy from Catholics. I have always regarded Pius IX as a good and holy man (and still do); but if he expressed sympathy for the Confederate States of America, I can only hope he was not fully aware of the cause for which he apparently had sympathy, and recall that only Our Lord and Our Lady are without sin. As for the prominent Catholics Bovenizer mentioned who supported the Confederacy, it appears they were ensnared by the subtle and crafty tactics of the minions of the Father of Lies to lend their support and authority as Catholics to something terribly sinful and immoral. It is not political correctness to say this; it is honesty.

Finally, I am gratified to recall that there were large numbers of Catholics (especially Irish) who fought and died for the Union, and for the men and women in bondage whose poetry was yet to be written.

Larry A. Carstens

Castaic, California

Novelty for the Sake Of Novelty

Michael D. Rains’s guest column is astute in drawing a comparison between the New Coke debacle and the new Mass (“A Tale of Two Classics,” Dec.). In each case a novelty was introduced for no intelligible reason.

I made my first Holy Communion in 1964, before the radical overhaul of the Roman Missal commenced. When the adults in my milieu wanted something new and different on a Sunday, they waited until evening, when they watched The Ed Sullivan Show. At no point did I hear a clamor, or even a whisper, calling for changes in the Tridentine Latin Mass.

I urge all Catholics to vote with their feet. In my area there is a diocesan-approved Latin Mass at Holy Trinity in Boston, at noon on Sundays, and at 7 p.m. on holy days of obligation. Traditional Mass sites elsewhere can be found on the Internet at www.traditio.com.

Jim Macri

Malden, Massachusetts

Christology, Corrected

There was a statement of heresy (not intended, I’m sure) in the “bookmarks” section of the December edition of your worthy publication. The statement appeared in the review of the book Anima Christi: “A devotion to this prayer, offered to the human hypostasis of Christ….” As defined in the early ecumenical councils of the Church, in Christ Jesus there is only one hypostasis, the divine one of the Son. Christ has two natures, divine and human, and one divine hypostasis (see #468 in the Catechism). We can perhaps speak of the personal traits of His humanity, so to speak (see #472 in the Catechism). But there is only one divine person (the English translation of hypostasis), who is our Lord Jesus Christ.

William Fredrickson, Obl. O.S.B.

Brooklyn, New York

It's "Inclusive" Language

That’s “Needlessly Offensive”

I concur with Dale Vree’s review of The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy (Dec.). And more! The spokesmen for so-called inclusive language say that standard English is “needlessly offensive.” Oh? I know from experience what most people find needlessly offensive: In my 51 years I can recall only two individuals who voiced an earnest, personal objection to the use of the generic he/his/him (etc.) in standard English. By contrast, I can’t count how very many people I’ve heard express varying degrees of impatience, contempt, and even outrage over the unnecessary, meddlesome “gender-inclusivizing” of our beloved hymns, Scripture, and liturgical texts.

Gerald DePyper

South Range, Wisconsin

True Friendship

Like Sheryl Temaat (“Shacking-Up: A ‘Divine Imperative’?,” Jan.), I was taken aback by Msgr. Joseph M. Champlin’s advice to parents that they not tell their cohabiting children that they’re living in sin and need to go to Confession. I love St. Francis de Sales’s words about correcting a friend (or child!) who sins: “As to sins, we neither occasion them nor tolerate them in our friends. It is either a weak or a sinful friendship that watches our friend perish without helping him, that sees him die of an abscess and does not dare to save his life by opening it with the lance of correction” (Introduction to the Devout Life, chap. 22).

Rian Girard

Hoboken, New Jersey

Illicit Children's Liturgy

Regarding Rash Iglesias’s perplexity about possible abuses in the children’s liturgies he’s witnessed: Everything he mentioned in his letter (Jan.) is against the liturgical law as found in the Directory for Masses With Children. The document is located at the front of every Sacramentary, but can also be found online in the document section of www.catholicliturgy.com.

Ian Rutherford

Colorado Springs, Colorado

The Ladder of Accountability

I followed with agreement the movement of thought in your “Cheap Grace in Holland” (New Oxford Notes, Jan.), until I got to the line, “We dare say that, without the Holy See, the Dutch Church would officially be facilitating and blessing sin.”

Why do you stop there on the ladder of accountability? “Let’s be candid,” you went on to say. Yes, let’s. The Holy See appointed and holds in communion those bishops in Holland who turn a blind eye to “wayward priests or laity.” This has been going on for forty years now.

Perhaps you should have written this: “We dare say that, with the Holy See, the Dutch Church is unofficially facilitating and blessing sin.”

Fr. Ray Williams

Bryson City, North Carolina

The Beginnings of Human Life

Robert Clark raises issues related to the beginnings of human life (letter, Nov.).

(1) He says, “Current orthodoxy teaches that life begins at conception.” I respond: No, not at conception but at fertilization. Some of our opponents wrongly equate conception with implantation. When a human sperm “docks” successfully with a human oocyte, and a new life begins, this is a human life which comes into instant being by the power of God’s creation and will never end.

(2) He asks: Is a human egg ensouled the moment it is fertilized by a human sperm? Yes, but more precisely, neither oocyte nor spermatocyte is ensouled. God creates the new human life in the merged gametes.

(3) He asks: If an embryo is frozen, is the soul then “imprisoned”? Unfortunately, yes, so to speak.

(4) About Thomanesque delayed ensoulment: St. Thomas could not know that the human embryo has the DNA plans of a human being. The initial human DNA unravels sequences; it does not receive inserted additions.

Fr. Anthony Zimmerman

Nagoya, Japan

Stem Cell Research & Hitler's Experiments

In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July 1949 entitled “Medical Science Under a Dictatorship,” Dr. Leo Alexander discussed the preparatory propaganda that initiated the practices of euthanasia, ktenology (a term he originated meaning the science of killing), and the medicomilitary research that followed. He outlined the motivation for the atmosphere of death under the Nazi regime and briefly described some of the experiments that were performed.

The overriding atmosphere that permitted experimentation on human beings was a warped mentality slowly and carefully crafted. Alexander stated that it began as “a propaganda barrage…directed against the traditionally compassionate…attitudes towards the chronically ill.” Once this was generally accepted, other factors presented themselves that facilitated the implementation of medicomilitary research.

The first was the availability of “material.” There were tens of thousands of men, women, and children in concentration camps dying of several causes or waiting to be put to death by a variety of methods. There were also many captured Jewish soldiers of enemy armies. It was evident that they would eventually die or be eliminated anyway, and so the Nazis found satisfaction performing experiments on what otherwise would be wasted.

The second factor that seemed to justify the research on human beings was the thought that something good could be gained from these experiments. Possible benefits to be gained were, for the most part, for the military, but in at least one instance the benefits of the experimentation were for the advantage of a single individual. In this case, Dr. Gebhardt, a physician in charge of treating the wounded, had failed to use sulfonamides in the care of a German SS General named Reinhard who died of a battlefield wound infection. In order to clear himself of the charge, he needed to obtain evidence that he had not been negligent. Thus he performed a “large-scale experiment” on human victims. He showed that after sustaining the appropriate wounds, all would die of gas gangrene irrespective of whether they were treated with sulfonamides.

Alexander covered several other of the medical experiments that were expected to provide valuable information that could benefit members of the military, but I will discuss only two.

Dr. Sigmund Rascher was asked by Himmler to search for a coagulant that would prevent the hemorrhaging being suffered by SS men wounded on the battlefield. In an effort to simulate warfare conditions, Rascher tested this coagulant when it was developed by clocking the number of drops emanating from freshly cut amputation stumps of conscious prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp. Other experiments expected to yield useful therapeutic results were those concerning shock from exposure to cold water at sea. The military were losing many aviators and seamen in the icy waters of the North Atlantic and they wanted to know how long a person could be expected to survive in icy water. Prisoners were immersed in tanks of ice water, some unclothed and some dressed in aviator’s suits, and the time it took for them to die was recorded.

The third factor that led to the experimentation on human victims was that the persons on whom the work was done were not considered fully human by Nazi standards and accordingly did not have the right to live.

Alexander summarized: “these crimes…started from small beginnings…. a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.”

The divergence between medical science under Nazi dictatorship and embryonic stem cell research is enormous, and at first blush it appears grotesque even to compare the two. Certainly the extent and depth of human suffering endured by the prisoners in concentration camps and their families is not present in embryonic stem cell research. However, there are some similarities.

Embryonic stem cell research is done on human embryos — fertilized eggs in the early stages of development, called the blastula stage. This unit comprises a clump of a few to several dozen cells. These cells are undifferentiated at this point, but if allowed to grow normally they will differentiate into specific cell types and collectively form a human body. In the experimentation process the cells are teased apart and attempts are made to grow these cells individually in tissue culture. Thus the “individual” no longer exists, but the cells that had formed the “unit” will now divide and grow separately, apparently for the foreseeable future, as independent entities. The expectation is that some of these cells will be led to differentiate into a healthy specific tissue which can then be used to replace diseased or damaged tissue in a patient for whom no other therapeutic medical procedure is available. These cells might conceivably form complete organs.

In the in vitro fertilization process many eggs are fertilized with sperm; several embryos are produced but only a few are implanted into the expectant uterus.

Thus, the first similarity between medicomilitary and stem cell research is that a great supply of “material” which can serve experimental purposes is readily available. Apparently there are many fertility centers where excess fertilized eggs are being stored in a frozen, yet viable state. These centers are often not sure what to do with this “material.”

The second similarity is that this “valuable material” will eventually need to be eliminated. As more embryos accumulate, it is not reasonable to suggest that they be stored for an indefinite time. In fact, the outcry of proponents of this research is to deplore the wastage. Some say that if they are going to be thrown away anyway, it is wasteful not to use the embryos for some possible good.

The third similarity is the belief that something good will come of this research. Cures and treatments of many diseases are considered a real possibility. This research presents a promise to people suffering from a variety of illnesses and traumatic events.

The fourth and most crucial similarity presents the greatest obstacle to opponents of embryonic stem cell research. And that is whether or not an embryo in the blastula stage is a human being. It may seem absurd to compare a few cell organisms with a fully grown Jewish person in a German concentration camp. It is not within the scope of this letter to argue this point. But to those who consider that human life begins at conception, these embryos are human beings that under normal biological circumstances would develop into fully formed human beings. To those who believe that life is a continuum from conception to death, these embryos are human beings already on the journey.

A fifth similarity is that a significant portion of German society then, and ours now, is not prolife. Overall, the religious community in general and the Catholic Church in particular opposed the Nazi medicomilitary research then as it opposes embryonic stem cell research now.

The value of comparing the similarities between medicomilitary research under a dictatorship with evolving embryonic stem cell research may be to alert a well-meaning society not to allow history to repeat itself. As civilization develops, our techniques become more refined, and moral issues seem harder to identify. Thus, when moral issues confront us, it seems appropriate to compare current issues with what we have learned from the past.

Carlos Lamar Jr., M.D.

Meggett, South Carolina

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