Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: March 2009

March 2009

Pray for Miracles

Mitchell Kalpakgian’s article “Miracles Do Not Speak Halfway” (Dec. 2008) echoes my own experience. As a young man I prayed God to send me a good wife. He began to do so while I was in San Francisco and she in her native Ireland. By a series of seemingly random coincidences we met almost two years later in New York. It was her last day of work at an office where I went to meet a friend. Each of us felt the instant and thrilling recognition of the other that is commonly called love at first sight. We were soon married, and she has given me six children and a lifetime of love.

Her faith was equal to mine. A few years after our marriage, with a beautiful baby on the way, I suddenly received notice that a great career opportunity had been withdrawn. We were both very distressed. In search of guidance, I opened our Bible. The first words I saw were, “Behold the lilies of the field….” Full of confidence in that message, we never looked back, and other opportunities came as needed.

I never deserved such a good and loving wife, but God doesn’t perform his miracles by halves, and not according to our merits.

If you want miracles, pray for them.

Juan J. Ryan

New Providence, New Jersey

Bad Counsel

In his letter to the editor (Jan. 2009), Rick Bohler challenges the editor’s reply to Mark Feliz (Nov. 2008) that divorce is a mortal sin though circumstances “alter culpability.” Bohler describes the editor’s reasoning as a “shotgun approach to a much more complicated situation.”

Bohler says that he went to counseling through Catholic Charities because he’d been in a “stormy” 20-year marriage to a “psychologically unstable” wife. The counselor recommended seeking nullity but told him he had to get a civil divorce first, as evidence of the irreconcilability of the parties.

Seems like the wrong conclusion and the wrong counsel.

First, I don’t know of any Church teaching that requires a civil divorce before nullity proceedings can be started. Individual tribunals might require it, but not the Church.

Second, Bohler has been given the impression that a stormy marriage is an invalid marriage. The Church teaches that we are married for better or worse — and there are times in every marriage when it’s for worse. We carry our cross because we vowed to help our spouse get to Heaven. We didn’t vow to take someone else’s spouse when the going gets rough.

In 2006 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a consolidated report from Catholic canonists and tribunal officials that, among other things, expressed concern about “multiple annulments granted to the same person.” How appalling is that? The full report can be viewed at the USCCB website, www.usccb.org.

The solution to these problems is to close these annulment mills at once and open reconciliation offices in their places, where Catholic teaching about marriage is promoted, as well as that on divorce.

Would God “hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16) if it were not a mortal sin? I don’t think so.

Sheryl Temaat

Monument, Colorado

Better Not to Be Born

In view of Vincent A. Droddy’s assertion that “even to suffer eternal punishment in Hell is better than ceasing to exist” (“God’s Love Is Unrelenting,” guest column, Jan.), I wonder what he makes of these words of Jesus: “The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Mt. 26:24; Mk. 14:21). Jesus was not then speaking in generalities about sinners, but about a specific person whose fate He knew, so I do not read His statement as hyperbole.

Hurd Baruch

Tucson, Arizona


Jesus said it would have been better for that man if “he had never been born,” not if “he had never been conceived.” Those who are conceived but not born do not have an opportunity to commit actual sin, and so, whatever their eternal destiny, it is assuredly better than an eternity in Hell for the one who betrayed the Son of Man.

Wrong Recipe

One can identify with the disappointment of Richard and Elizabeth Gerbracht with the currents of subjectivism and relativism in the Church (“Phenomenological Soup for the Catholic Soul,” article, Jan.). But why describe this as “Jung Juice” leading to permissiveness about homosexuality, abortion, contraception, and many other ills? The psychologist Carl Jung is noted for breaking off from Freud because of disagreement with Freud’s sexual theories. The connection is not clear. Even less clear is the reason for mention of Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger as “cooks” of the “phenomenological soup.” Possibly Kant’s ethics could be pointed out. But Hegel strongly opposed Kantian subjectivism. And Descartes and Heidegger mostly practiced metaphysics. If the Gerbrachts were looking for a source, some offshoots from phenomenology such as deconstruc­tionism might have been a better bet, not to mention theological “modernism,” which has been a concern for the popes. In any case, the sources of subjectivism and relativism in the present milieu are multiple and complex.

Howard Kainz

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


In our article we do not describe Descartes, Kant, et al., as cooks but ingredients. The cooks of a pot of soup on the stove of the Catholic Church would be the bishops and priests. Faithful Catholics expect bishops and priests to keep contaminants out of the mix. Unfortunately, many of them failed to meet this expectation.

The professional specialties of Descartes, Kant, et al., are not especially relevant to our story. Neither is Jung’s break with Freud (Jung came up with his own bizarre sexual beliefs). Our story is about religious belief and practice; what is relevant is that those individuals were theological wretches and that Jungian belief influences much of current Catholic practice. Evidence of this shows up in many (certainly not all) Catholic parishes and schools. We gave examples of a few of our experiences. You’ll probably find the same thing at a parish near you.

For a detailed explanation of the damage done to the Catholic faith by Descartes, Kant, et al., including by modernism and deconstructionism, see Philip Trower’s excellent book The Catholic Church and the Counter-Faith (Family Publications, 2006).

Thumb in the Eye

Although I find the NOR’s stance on the war on terror wrong­headed and worthy of the epithet “neoliberal,” I know of no one on the current scene who can so deftly and effectively stick his thumb in the eyes of the Fr. Flapdoodles and Sr. Snakebites running amok in the Church.

Please accept this donation as a modest token of my appreciation, if not endorsement, of all that you do. The NOR simply must survive, if not thrive.

Ronald Malleis

Ashtabula, Ohio

Apostolic Penitentiary

In your New Oxford Note “Where Do We Go From Here?” (Jan.), you mention “James Cardinal Stafford, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See….” Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See? What on earth is that? Who’s confined in it, and for what offense? I thought the Church quit doing that sort of thing a long time ago. Surely there is some mistake!

Glen R. Weeks

West Falls, New York


Despite what its name might seem to suggest, the Apostolic Penitentiary is not, in fact, a jail. It is a tribunal in the Roman Curia that has jurisdiction over matters in the “internal forum” — i.e., matters that relate to the spiritual good of the individual. Such matters include excommunication, absolution, commutation, penance, and dispensations involving sins of a severe nature that the local bishop is not qualified to remedy. The Apostolic Penitentiary primarily hears five types of cases: that of a man who directly participated in an abortion (for example by paying for it) and later wants to enter the priesthood, priests who have broken the seal of confession, priests who have offered sacramental absolution to their own sexual partner, the desecrating of the Blessed Sacrament, and making an attempt on the life of the Pope. The Apostolic Penitentiary also has jurisdiction over the granting of indulgences, and is charged with the selection and oversight of confessors stationed in the patriarchal basilicas of Rome, as well as promoting the practice of the Sacrament of Confession.

The Apostolic Penitentiary was formed in the 12th century. James Cardinal Stafford has been its head since 2003 and holds the title Major Penitentiary. The work of the Apostolic Penitentiary is to help penitents guilty of serious offenses find forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church. Its work is deemed so essential to the life of the Church that the office of the Major Penitentiary is one of the few in the Curia that is held even during times of sede vacante, after the death of a pope but before his predecessor is installed. The role of the Major Penitentiary is to decide courses of action in the types of cases mentioned above. The Major Penitentiary observes the seal of confession; all actions in the internal forum are held in absolute secret.

Msgr. Gianfranco Girotti, the number-two man at the Apostolic Penitentiary, told the Associated Press (Jan. 15) that “even though it’s the oldest department of the Holy See, it’s very little known — specifically because by its nature it deals with secret things.” So this past January, the Apostolic Penitentiary hosted a two-day conference in Rome, to which it invited the public to learn about what it is and what it does. Despite the secrecy surrounding the Apostolic Penitentiary, one thing that cannot be hidden, Msgr. Girotti said, is that the Sacrament of Confession is “threatened in this time of secularization” because “the sense of sin has been forgotten.” It was thus the intent of the January conference to “relaunch” the Sacrament of Confession, as Msgr. Girotti put it, which accords perfectly with the nature and import of the work of the Apostolic Penitentiary.

Why Parental Notification Was Defeated in California

Some clarification is required pertaining to your New Oxford Note “Where Do We Go From Here?” (Jan.) about abortion and the 2008 elections. The example is given of the defeat of restrictions on abortion, particularly the California “parental-consent” (actually, it was parental-notification) initiative, Proposition 4, “the second consecutive time the people rejected such a proposition.” In fact, it was the third time a parental-notification initiative failed to pass in California. While these can be thought of as abortion-related defeats, there are other factors involved:

1. Each time the parental-notification measure was on the ballot — in 2005, 2006, and 2008, as Propositions 73, 85, and 4, respectively — it was made clear to the voter that the measure would restore to California parents of girls under 18 the right to be at least notified by the doctor before an abortion is performed on their minor daughter. In California, girls under age 12 can obtain an abortion through, for example, Planned Parenthood, with the assistance of a school employee, a friend, even an older predator who impregnated her (and wishes to destroy the “evidence”), without a parent knowing anything about it. Polls show that 70 percent of California voters are in favor of parental notification. Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood pulled out all the stops, and spent roughly $20 million to mislead California voters, even securing large donations from out-of-state Planned Parenthood affiliates to finance telephone robo-calls featuring Hillary Clinton, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (pro-abortion friend of Roger Cardinal Mahony), and others, and to finance deceptive, fear-mongering TV commercials and extensive phone-banking. In spite of this, Proposition 4 did the best of all the life-related votes in five different states, losing by a narrow margin of four percent.

2. The Catholic hierarchy largely fell into lockstep with the executive director of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops (CCCB), Ned Dolejsi, and under his direction gave little more than tepid support for the parental-notification initiatives. Signature-gathering to qualify the initiatives was largely blocked in some dioceses and in many parishes, as were attempts to inform parishioners about the importance of voting for parental notification during each of the three attempts. One pastor of a large parish even invited and personally assisted Planned Parenthood staff to distribute “Vote No on Prop. 85” after Sunday Masses just before the 2006 election at a table in a breezeway just outside the church doors.

3. During this past election, when it appeared that the tide might have turned, California’s defense of marriage initiative, Proposition 8, became the all-consuming interest of the California bishops, and huge amounts of money from Catholics and Mormons flooded into California to save the word “marriage.” Suffice it to say that the CCCB not only did not effectively oppose the precursor “domestic partnership” legislative bills, but in fact gave at least tacit approval for their passage. Sadly, the bishops have also supported the annulment mills that operate in their chanceries, which have substantially eroded popular belief that Catholic marriages are lifelong and indissoluble.

Due in part to the competition for campaign funds and the actions of the bishops and their bureaucrats, the most recent parental-notification measure, Prop. 4, had available campaign funds less than one-twentieth of the roughly $35 million that was poured into the Prop. 8 marriage initiative. When asked about money for Prop. 4, Dolejsi made it clear that money was to go to Prop. 8, not to the Prop. 4 campaign.

So much for concretely protecting vulnerable young girls from abuse and sexual predators, and reducing the number of abortions in their ranks. It is estimated that around 20,000 minor girls undergo abortions every year in California — with a large percentage of these secret abortions paid for by taxpayers.

Where do we go from here? It’s up to the bishops. Until we have bishops who are willing to fight against abortion and the evils of sodomy, materialism, and socialism, we will continue to allow abortion and sexual depravity, including taxpayer funding of clandestine abortions performed on tens of thousands of vulnerable young girls.

The good Fr. Thomas Eu­teneuer, president of Human Life International, is right: We must repent — for our sins and our neglect. This must include being more militant in monitoring the deeds and misdeeds of our bishops and their liberal public-policy bureaucrats.

Laurette Elsberry

Sacramento, California

A 'Brazen' Bishop

As usual, I read each issue of the NOR from cover to cover. I’d like to take exception with your January New Oxford Note “What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate (Catholic Teaching).” It may have been tongue-in-cheek, but you characterized Bishop Joseph F. Martino of Scranton as “brazen.” Bishop Martino has joined my list of worthy orthodox bishops — a short list of only about one dozen prelates.

Bishop Martino had written a pastoral letter to his diocese that correctly stated the issues in the upcoming election. He discovered that one parish in his diocese was staging what might be best identified as an “Elect Obama now!” meeting. He paid a surprise visit to the parish while the meeting was underway and pointed out their errors. We have no way of knowing whether or not any minds were changed, but at least he made the effort.

I am sure that you are aware that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) puts out a weighty document in every election cycle. I’ve never heard it mentioned in my local parish as being a guide. That might be because it is long on rhetoric but short on direction. I recall, in a previous election year, that Sen. Richard Durbin was able to claim that closeness to the USCCB made him, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and Sen. John Kerry the three most Catholic members of the Senate.

Catholic Answers has issued short, clear directives on how a Catholic should approach an election. Why is it that the USCCB cannot do the same?

Peter A. Loughlin

Buffalo Grove, Illinois

Ed. Note: Our characterization of Bishop Martino as brazen was not “tongue-in-cheek” but was, we felt, an appropriate assessment of his unique display of courage in defense of life prior to the election, which ran counter to the standard episcopal current. We were aware of his intervention in said meeting and applaud his effort at episcopal oversight of his diocese, when so many of his brother bishops would have sat on their hands. If we were to compose a list such as yours, Bishop Martino would rate one of the top spots.

Several readers have pointed out a mistake in that New Oxford Note: We described Bishop Martino as the Ordinary of Scranton, New Jersey, when he is, in fact, the Ordinary of Scranton, Pennsylvania. We regret our error.

Welcome to Political Oblivion

The NOR is right that the first issue a Catholic must consider in voting is whether a candidate is prolife (“What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate [Catholic Teaching],” New Oxford Note, Jan.). If that candidate is not prolife, the deliberation should be over.

The problem is not with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document “Faithful Citizenship” as you suggest, but with Catholic voters’ status within the political system itself. Catholics typically vote the same as the general population. Could that be because there is no political party that embodies Catholic political thought?

Although Catholics make up 25 percent of the population, they have little influence in the electoral process. Catholics have assimilated themselves into political oblivion. Once serious Catholics take back their rightful place in the political process, then maybe the bishops’ documents regarding political responsibility will make sense.

Leonard Stevens

Toluca Lake, California

Ed. Note: Archbishop Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Sig­natura, said in an interview with LifeSiteNews.com (Jan. 28) that “Faithful Citizenship” did indeed “lead to confusion” among Catholic voters, and ultimately to massive Catholic support for Obama. The bishops’ document, he said, engaged in “a kind of false thinking that says, ‘there’s the evil of taking an innocent and defenseless human life but there are other evils and they’re worthy of equal consideration.’ But they’re not. The economic situation, or opposition to the war in Iraq, or whatever it may be, those things don’t rise to the same level as something that is always and everywhere evil, namely the killing of innocent and defenseless human life.”

How Did the Bishops Vote?

The NOR is right in blaming the U.S. bishops for failing to communicate to Catholics their moral responsibility in the voting booth. A change of course is needed. First, bishops should make it clear that it is a sin for Catholics to vote pro-abortion and a serious blemish on their Catholicism. Second, after a crucial election involving abortion, all bishops should publicly disclose their votes. A 100 percent prolife vote by the bishops would set a tremendous precedent.

Given this strong episcopal witness of faith, priests would be em­boldened to preach multiple prolife homilies, and Catholics would respond en masse with an overwhelming vote defending the unborn.

So let us pray.

George Koenig

St. Francis, Wisconsin

Fear & Trembling

Vice President Joseph Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi call themselves Catholics and are given Holy Communion, despite the fact that both of them are strongly in favor of abortion. How long is the U.S. Catholic Church going to allow them to continue to do this? Is the U.S. Catholic Church afraid of these people?

Luis M. Puig

Doral, Florida

The Supreme Infraction of the Moral Law

In the January NOR, several letters to the editor point out the dire consequences of having voted for a militant abortionist candidate. Barack Obama made clear his stance on life issues he would espouse after his election — choices all immoral — and yet many Catholics voted for him and many bishops were sympathetic to his platform. The division among Catholics on what constitutes intrinsic evil is not a debatable social question but rather an infallible biblical teaching. Murder is the supreme infraction of the moral law. Yet, unbelievably, the leaders of the Church were divided on this issue.

The U.S. bishops’ guiding document on voting, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” was vague and enigmatic, muddying the waters rather than clarifying the issues. The “lesser of two evils” proposition was easily identifiable. “Remote material cooperation” for “proportionate reasons” was the catchphrase that provided cafeteria Catholics a loophole to console their consciences.

As devoted Catholics grieve the result of the election and analyze causes for the debacle, they seem unwilling to confront the obvious conclusion — namely, that the U.S. Catholic Church is in disarray, that there is discord among the bishops on fundamental Christian principles. By not forbidding Catholics to vote for the intrinsic evils embodied in Obama’s platform, the bishops opened wider the door to a general acceptance of abortion.

It is evident that the Church in the U.S. is abdicating its duty to defend key tenets of the faith. If the Magisterium does not forcibly assert its primacy by checking dissidence within its ranks, the U.S. Catholic Church will inevitably follow the path of the Episcopal Church, which, at present, is in the process of imploding.

Chuck Steer

Clearwater, Florida

Framing Abortion as a Human-Rights Issue

The sad truth is that most Americans do not care about abortion. This is illustrated by the fact that being in favor of abortion “rights” is seen as a logical, sensible position, whereas being prolife is viewed as being a radical, fringe belief. Furthermore, if you were to conduct a poll prior to the election, you would have probably found that the top three issues were the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the foreclosure crisis. Abortion probably wouldn’t have made the top-ten lists of major concerns for most of the electorate. I never saw any ads, either in the broadcast, print, or online media that brought up abortion as an issue voters should be concerned about.

The primary problem with the prolife movement is that it has little support from the general public, outside of a small subgroup of white evangelicals and Catholics. Although members of other groups may be opposed to abortion in some form or another, they are not inclined to get involved as activists. Unless blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and, yes, even the dreaded secular humanists, join the prolife movement, then the abortion issue will be condemned to be framed as the pet cause of a small group of white conservatives.

Second, the strategy of voting for Republicans in the hope that conservative Supreme Court justices will overturn Roe v. Wade is deeply flawed. Republicans nominated most of the justices who voted in favor of Roe v. Wade. Similarly enough, simply being “conservative” does not mean that one is against abortion. In my own home state of Georgia, the governor who decriminalized abortion was none other than Lester Mad­dox, an arch-segregationist best known for chasing away with a pickax blacks who dared enter his restaurant. Plus, the only way for Roe v. Wade to be overturned would be if someone were to bring a case to the Supreme Court that claimed that legalized abortion somehow violated his constitutional rights. Until such a case materializes, Roe v. Wade will remain on the books. Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the question of abortion would simply go to the states, most of which would keep the procedure legal.

If the prolife movement is to make any real strides, it must bring in a more diverse group of people. Abortion needs to be framed as a human-rights issue, as opposed to a question of religion or women’s rights. Using human-rights rhetoric will make the prolife case more appealing to a broader base of individuals, including those who might not be religious at all.

Last, the prolife movement must be more “in your face” about putting the abortion issue front and center in American political discourse. For any social movement to be successful, it is necessary for it to be disruptive — not violent, but to create enough disorder to cause people outside the movement to take notice. The prolife movement should examine the tactics of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Although PETA has a membership of about 500,000 people, it has been very successful in exposing animal cruelty, and has been instrumental in the passage of stricter animal-welfare laws. PETA members are so devoted to their cause that they are willing to make fools of themselves by staging outrageous stunts. Who in the prolife movement would be willing to do the same for the unborn? Although PETA’s tactics come off as extreme to some outsiders, they are done for a very rational reason. They are a small group with limited funds, and staging pranks gets them attention from the media. Consequently, almost every adult in America knows what PETA is. In comparison, how many have heard of the National Right to Life Center, the American Life League, or Human Life International?

If the Catholic Church is truly serious about being prolife, then parishes and individuals will have to become involved on the grassroots level in a much more serious manner. More Catholic families should adopt at greater rates — particularly children of color, handicapped children, and older children in the foster-care system. Catholics should also consider taking in women in crisis-pregnancy situations and helping them out for a finite period of time. Parishes should find some way to raise scholarships for at-risk children or find some way to improve the quality of education of the children of women in crisis situations. Many inner-city and rural areas are totally bereft of a Catholic presence and should be regarded as mission territory. Like the Irish monks of the Dark Ages, Catholics should work to improve the educational, cultural, and moral environment of places where crisis pregnancies and abortions are most likely to occur.

This is difficult work, but it must be done if the prolife movement is to move past the paltry gains that were made in the past forty or so years. When outsiders look at prolifers, they should be astonished by our love and seek to imitate us.

Leah Mickens

Atlanta, Georgia

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