Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: May 1999

May 1999

Hatred & Lies

I read Lee Penn’s December article on the United Religions Initiative (URI). It was a rich opportunity wasted. The author could have taken the purpose and principles of the URI or methods and design, and he could have begun a probe about the truth of the matter. Instead, he armed himself with just enough extraneous, selective background to appear as though he had a grasp of the subject. By the end of the first full paragraph he gave way to hysterical propaganda; by the end he was using prayer to God as a vehicle for his hatred. Lies abounded — e.g., George Soros has never supported the URI in word or dollar. Penn assumes an unlimited capacity for paranoia in his readership, so he breathlessly serves up a decadent assortment of non sequiturs hoping to satiate even the least discerning appetite. He states his first two objections to the URI and in both instances said that what he finds repulsive is not the actual policy of the URI. What the URI stands for and aspires to has been presented openly for anyone to read. It is a shame that the truth could not have been the focus. Pursuing peace among religions is a threatening prospect to millions of people. I assume this Penn sides with the sword.

The Rt. Rev. William E. Swing

United Religions Initiative

San Francisco, California


There is a lawyers’ saying that applies to the Episcopalian Bishop’s letter: “If you have the law on your side, argue the law. If you have the facts but not the law, argue the facts. If you have neither the facts nor the law on your side, pound the table and shout.” That’s what Bishop Swing is doing. Every part of my article about the URI is based directly on what Bishop Swing, the URI, the Gorbachev Foundation’s State of the World Forum, and their New Age allies have said in books, in magazines, on the Internet, and in interviews. An updated version of the NEW OXFORD REVIEW article, with footnotes for every item, will soon appear in the Journal of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, a Berkeley-based evangelical Christian think tank that describes itself as “a frontline ministry confronting the occult, the cults, and the New Age movement.”

Bishop Swing says, “Lies abounded — e.g., George Soros has never supported the URI in word or dollar.” Maybe Swing does not know what his own organization has been doing. An article on the front page of the March 1997 URI News Update, the official URI newsletter, states, “The Copen Family Foundation, the Soros Foundation and I*EARN (International Education and Resource Network) have awarded $20,000 to establish a URI Youth Network.” Once the Bishop has checked up on what his own staff is doing, he should take time to read carefully what has been said by Robert Muller (who has publicly supported the URI since its founding), Barbara Marx Hubbard (a member of the URI “Organizational Design Research and Development Team” set up at the 1997 URI summit), Neale Donald Walsch (who describes himself as “chairperson of the Committee on Spirituality and the Global Social Agenda for the United Religions Initiative”), and the State of the World Forum. All of this was discussed, briefly, in my article.

Bishop Swing says that his goal is simply “pursuing peace among religions.” His own writings, however, indicate a much broader agenda for the URI. In his 1998 book The Coming United Religions, Swing calls for a “common language…for all religions and spiritual movements…. Merely respecting and understanding other religions is not enough.” For further evidence that the URI is ultimately about creating a new syncretistic religion, see my letter in the April NEW OXFORD REVIEW.

Ignatius Press

Perrine, Florida

Would Russell Shaw Restrain Jesus?

In replying to your November editorial, Russell Shaw writes (in “Responding to the Crisis of the Church,” March) that the civil war inside the Church “should be waged by rules of decency and restraint.” Oh? The war in the Church pertains to the salvation or damnation of immortal souls. The stakes are so high that the “decency and restraint” we show should match that of Christ when He flogged the money-changers out the Temple.

Victor J. Dirse

Washington, D.C.

I’ve read the writings of Russell Shaw in various places, and often they leave me unsure of his exact position. But now I know what the trouble is: He views the crisis in the Church like a crisis in the Republican Party or some other secular outfit. He cites no Scripture. But Jesus’ words in John 15:1-2 might tell us about God’s intentions for the Church: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Moreover, Shaw’s stated goal of evangelizing the secular culture of postmodernity is preposterous so long as the Church is a tangled mess.

Peter Glickert

St. Francis, Wisconsin

Russell Shaw’s plea for better dialogue among Catholics cannot be faulted, but his overall view of the crisis in the Church is unsettling. Most orthodox Catholics regard bad liturgy and bad morality as the key problems in the present crisis. Unfortunately, Shaw is on a different wavelength. For example, he doesn’t mention amoral voting, he quickly skirts over sexual immorality, and he says nothing about lousy liturgy (unless his cryptic reference to “abuses” is supposed to cover that).

It also appears that Shaw is soft on dissent (as you suggested in your Nov. 1998 editoriab~ In his March piece he says that, in regard to the crisis in the Church, he favors a “balancing act” and he warns against any course of action that would gratuitously “divide” or “scandalize” the Church. This suggests that if a dissenter protests loudly enough, no corrective action should be taken.

George Koenig

San Francisco, California

I have great admiration for the person and work of Russell Shaw. (Ignatius Press has published two of his books.) However, I believe he exemplifies a very widespread fallacy which I call the fallacy of false symmetry.

The fallacy results from the attempt to take a “moderate” position between what one perceives as two extremes. Referring to his own previous statement that “conservative Catholics often come across as good haters,” Shaw now adds that “progressive Catholics are pretty good haters too.” To demonstrate this, he continues: “A tale of two cardinals illustrates the problem.”

The first cardinal is Cardinal Ratzinger. And Shaw refers to the “character assassination” done by the National Catholic Reporter in quoting Hans Küng saying of Cardinal Ratzinger, “‘He is the chief authority of the Inquisitorial office. It’s like having a general conversation about

human rights with the head of the KGB.'” Thus is illustrated the hatred of the progressives. The second cardinal is Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago. Shaw mentions that a Catholic journal published a long profile “highly critical of him for championing the ‘consistent ethic of life’ that many prolifers think weakens their cause.” The unnamed journal is The Catholic World Report, of which I am the publisher. It was an article by James Hitchcock. What is the symmetric hatred evidenced by Hitchcock’s article?

“Missing from this account…was any mention of the presidential campaign of 1976 — a hugely serious omission for anyone claiming to interpret the late Cardinal’s record on abortion.” Thus is illustrated the hatred of conservative Catholics.

But how symmetrical is this? On the one hand, you have a journal (the Reporter) that has publicly opposed a number of irreformable magisterial teachings — notably on the ordination of women and on human sexuality — quoting someone who publicly dissents from Church teaching and who has been forbidden by the Holy See to teach in the name of the Church. On the other hand, you have a journal (The Catholic World Report) whose public

position is recognized by friends and enemies alike as magisterial, and an article by someone whose knowledge of and fidelity to the Magisterium are exemplary.

Usually it is The Wanderer which is used for this fallacy rather than The Catholic World Report. Whether or not one agrees with the content or style of The Wanderer, the important distinction between a publication which upholds the Church’s teaching and one which does not is disregarded.

About a year ago there was an article in the National Catholic Register — a periodical which I support and which I believe has been steadily improving over the last year — where someone was quoted without commentary as saying in effect that “there are two extreme factions in the Catholic Church. On the far left you have Call to Action. And on the far right you have Mother Angelica and EWTN.” That is simply preposterous.

Call to Action espouses positions which are inconsistent with the faith of the Catholic Church. Mother Angelica firmly supports the full teaching of the Church.

I will leave it to someone more competent to speculate on the psychological origins of this false symmetry. But empirically it seems to be most often used by those who want to consider themselves as “moderates” and think they can so position themselves and achieve a “consensus” by staking out a position between “extremes” of their definition, carefully avoiding any reference to a standard of objective truth which might be “divisive.”

Fr. Joseph Fessio, S. J.

San Angelo, Texas

The Common Cup & Public Health

In criticizing the guest column by a certain E. Coli about the health hazards of receiving Communion from a common cup (Dec.), Fr. Allan Hawkins says, “It is cravenly faithless to suggest that the Lord’s Precious Blood could be the vehicle of disease or death…,” and Ann T. Septic (Diane Sullivan) says, “If Christ could cure a leper, why couldn’t He miraculously rid the Communion Cup of any danger of menacing germs?” (letters, Feb.). But it is rash and presumptuous to expect a miracle — it is to tempt God (see Deut. 6:16 and Mt. 4:5-7). And it is not “cravenly faithless” to abstain from the common cup. The rules of medical hygiene and contagion in God’s order admonish mankind to take the necessary precautions dictated by that order. Lack of reverence for that order is an affront to Christian humility, an act of Pride, and a violation of the cardinal virtue of Prudence. Have we arrived at a “modern” form of superstition?

For clarification: The bacteria, viruses, rickettsia, treponema, et al., are not on the outside of the cup, which is wiped, but inside the cup in the liquid. No competent infectious-disease specialist would ever advocate a common cup. Indeed, the common cup as used in Catholic Masses is actually against the law in Texas precisely because it is bad public health.

John P. Coughlin, M.D.

Mt. Pleasant, Iowa

I have never received Communion from the cup, though I have a very good reason to want to, for it is now the only way I can receive without doing damage to my health. About one year ago I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, an auto-immune condition characterized by sensitivity to gluten in wheat and a few other cereal grains. There is no known cure for this disease, and the only treatment is complete elimination of the offending grains from the diet.

The first Sunday after I was diagnosed I received the Host at Communion. I had not yet understood how strict I needed to be with my diet. I had a relapse of my symptoms — acute enterological (gut) distress. I’ll spare you the details. I cannot receive from the cup because of my circumstances and place of residence: I am a prison inmate.

In the past year I have had frequent reactions to the slightest gluten, such as from eggs fried on the same griddle as pancakes. So I read E. Coli’s satirical piece with some interest. My concern was not so much for germs as for the “particles of cracker” detected in and on the “glass” in Coli’s little experiment, even though I’m not sure whether it was a real experiment or a figment of Coli’s satirical imagination. Since my “medical excommunication” I have kept hope alive through anticipation of receiving Our Lord from the Chalice after my release from prison. But now I began to wonder if the only safe way for me to receive would be by being the first one to receive from a particular Chalice!

I believe that my situation and experiences have something to say by way of refuting the claims of letter writers Ann T. Septic (Diane Sullivan) and Fr. Allan Hawkins. They say, respectively, “If Christ could cure a leper, why couldn’t He miraculously rid the Communion Cup of any danger of menacing germs?” and “It is cravenly faithless to suggest that the Lord’s Precious Blood could be the vehicle of disease or death….”

Couldn’t Christ have miraculously made the Host safe for me to receive, especially since it is the only way I can receive Him? Yes, He could have but He didn’t. By logic, only one exception is necessary to set aside a rule purporting to be universal. Might I then propose that we are not dealing here with a matter of craven faithlessness but of presumption?

The miracle of Communion is that it is spiritual food and drink at the same time it is physical nourishment. The accidents of bread and wine remain after the Consecration (and other “accidents” can occur after reception!). Could I hope for a miracle of protection from the properties of the gluten proteins in wheat? Or for that matter, a miracle cure of my condition? The Lord could do either one, but I leave that for Him to decide. But I know I won’t jump off the upper tier of this correctional “temple” to test Him (see Mt. 4:5-7).

I also submit that it is not “cravenly faithless” but exactly scriptural “to suggest that the Lord’s Precious Blood could be the vehicle of disease and death.” St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 says it clearly: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.” It is because of a loving miracle that Christ makes Himself present to us. It is because of His humility that He allows Himself again and again to suffer the insult and abuse of the Cross through the sacrilegious and unworthy reception of the majority of American Catholics, those who no longer believe in the Real Presence and treat that Presence with all the reverence of a potluck supper.

The return of Communion in both kinds to the Catholic Church began as an illicit abuse. Christ and His Church suffered because of it, and since it has become licit through concessions from the Holy See, the suffering continues — for example, when those who refrain from sharing the cup with the man with the bushy mustache who just blew his nose are called “cravenly faithless.” I do not have access to the actual history, but my guess is that much of the traditional Eucharistic “etiquette” came about for very practical reasons and was guided by devotion to the Real Presence: to avoid accidental sacrilege, to facilitate the reception of Communion by many from the hands of one priest, and — with the many plagues of the Middle Ages — to avoid the spreading of disease.

My devotion to the Holy Eucharist has not waned since I have not been able to receive. I accept the priest’s blessing and pray my spiritual communion, offering my inability to receive in reparation for those who do receive sacrilegiously and in mortal sin, and for the many prisoners who cannot receive because they have no priest or Eucharistic minister to come to them. Many saints in history grew in heroic virtue despite being deprived for a time of access to the sacraments. They progressed because of their desire. I place myself under their patronage and pray for those who receive without holy desire — who do not hunger or thirst for righteousness, having been sated by the pleasures of this world.

Ernst voor de Wein (Roger Slemmer, #806851)

Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility

Parchman, Mississippi

Am I a Buffoon?

I am a 25-year-old man on death row. I’ve been a Christian for one year and half a second. I saw your ad in a recent First Things entitled “Does Jesus Have Two Mommies?” I was moved and strengthened by your message, and amused by the ad’s clever writing style. Being out there in Berkeley, you are indeed, as you say in the ad, behind enemy lines — as am I.

Though I am not a Catholic (I’m still in C.S. Lewis’s hallway), I have great affection for the Catholic Church. I desire that she gain her senses, and not allow herself to be eaten alive by her enemies, inside or outside. Well, you are out there fighting for her, and so I am consoled.

I am so bombarded by the Tom Brokaws and Katie Courics and their ilk that at times I question whether I am right about Christ after all. All the world is going in the opposite direction, and I feel like a buffoon standing around holding a grenade whose pin has just been yanked out. I feel so vulnerable that I don’t even read my Time magazine anymore, for fear I may get tricked by its sophistry.

I was instructed in illogic, purposelessness, and hopelessness, and they — with my help — brought me to prison. It wasn’t until I got to death row that I had a chance to read some Christian apologetics and get my thoughts to flow sequentially. As a result, the absurdity of “the world” became manifest to me, and I became a Christian. Curiously, it was on death row that I finally found a reason to live.

My purpose in writing is just to thank you for being there for those of us who feel alone and are apt to be seduced (once again) by the Sirens of our culture. Even in my cell, I need to know that in this dark and decaying world there are pockets of sanity out there. So please: Fight! Fight! Fight!

Edwin Hart Turner, #67290

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