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January 8, 2007 VOL. 45, NO. 1Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers

Theological lapse

Catholics everywhere should be outraged at the scandalous behavior of an unnamed official of the Diocese of Rome who denied Christian burial to a terminally ill man who asked to be removed from life support, thus ending years of suffering from muscular dystrophy.

It is the constant teaching of the Church that no one is required to accept extraordinary medical means to preserve his life. Tubes inserted in the throat and stomach for breathing and nourishment certainly constitute extraordinary means, by any rational understanding of that term.

In almost 20 years of hospital ministry, I have often assisted patients and their families in making this crucial decision in faith and confidence that when their life is clearly at an end they can depend on the love and mercy of God to make this decision with a peaceful conscience.

Aside from the theological lapse involved, the refusal of compassionate pastoral care a few days before Christmas is appalling. The Holy Father would seem to need a better vicar for his diocese.

Father Basil De Pinto
Corpus Christi Parish

Church teaching is infallible

Adrianus Rommeise’s letter (“Outdated Church Laws,” Voice, Dec. 11) characterizes the U.S. bishops’ recent statement calling for married couples to live the Church’s teaching on contraception as a sudden enforcement of an “outdated law.” He suggests that using contraception is just a matter of “conscience,” and the bishops’ statement will only cause Catholics to leave the Church.

Mr. Rommeise displays a fundamentally flawed understanding of the nature of the Church and her teaching on contraception. The Church is Christ’s bride, His mystical body on earth, entrusted with the power to “bind and loose”; i.e., to infallibly declare the truth of revelation in matters of faith and morals. (Mt. 16:18; 18:18.) The Church cannot err when she exercises this authority, for she speaks the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Pursuant to that authority, the Church has uniformly, continuously and infallibly taught the intrinsic evil of contraception; she has declared her teaching “to be held as definitive and irreformable. “ (See, e.g., Vademecum for Confessors 2:4, Feb. 12,1997.) There is nothing “sudden” about the teaching, which remains essential to a proper concept of Catholic marriage.

The fact is, Catholic couples have never been free to reject the Church’s teaching as long as they can “live with [their] own consciences.” After all, while conscience may affect individual culpability, it does not change objective morality. Thus, once the conscience has been fully informed, a Catholic’s deliberate decision to live contrary to the Church’s teaching becomes not a matter of “individual conscience,” but individual disobedience. It becomes a decision to reject Jesus by rejecting His Church.

If the bishops’ promulgation of infallible teaching causes Catholic couples to leave the Church, those couples probably never accepted the operative reality in the first place: that Jesus is God, who founded a Church with the authority to infallibly declare His will in matters of faith and morals.

In the absence of that understanding, it would be no surprise if, to paraphrase Mark 10:22, “...the young couples went away sadly, for they had many condoms.”

Thomas Hockel
Walnut Creek

Primacy of conscience

In the front page article, “Bishops, OK statements on Iraq, gays, contraception” (Voice, Nov. 20), the U.S. bishops cited certain positions on contraception et al. which, if held by Catholics, would or should preclude them from the reception of Communion.

Relative to this statement, I am wondering if it would not be helpful to revisit the Second Vatican Council document, “Declaration on Religious Freedom” which established the primacy of personal conscience.

The Council Fathers clearly stated that “the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church,” but it was then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, theologian, who when commenting on this Vatican II document said, “Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, is one, which in the last resort is beyond the claim even of the official church.”

It seems to me that we might all profit from a revisiting of the Council documents, particularly “The Declaration on Religious Freedom,” in adult ed programs, homilies, The Voice, etc.

Joan Leslie

Same-sex affliction

Anna Marie Franco says U.S. bishops “approved a disturbing and confusing document on homosexuality.” She wants “positive vision and perspective on the subject” (Forum, Dec. 11).

But “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” (www.nccbuscc.org/dpp/Ministry.pdf) is already too nuanced. As six Catholic mental health professionals have written, it should have advocated practical teaching about the horrendous dangers of homosexual activity, and the successes of reparative therapy.

Such interventions have been validated even by Dr. Robert Spitzer, who led 1973’s politically-driven mad dash to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders.”

Beneficially, the bishops’ Ministry document does oppose both homosexual adoptions and “same-sex ‘marriages’ or any semblance thereof.” And it does cite Romans 1:26-27’s warnings about self-destructive societies wherein women “exchanged natural relations for unnatural,” and men likewise “burned with lust for one another…and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.”

Further, the document does state that “Departure from the Church’s teaching, or silence about it [including, presumably, the Church’s recognition of homosexual inclinations as objectively disordered]… is neither caring nor pastoral.” But it ought then to recognize that most diocesan “outreaches to gays and lesbians” routinely misrepresent Church teaching.

Franco recommends FortunateFamilies.com as allegedly following “the tenets of the Catholic Church.” But the site in fact contradicts some Catholic precepts and carefully omits others. For consistently authentic “vision and perspective,” Catholics afflicted by same-sex attraction disorder should visit Courage (http://couragerc.net).

Michael Arata

Truth commission needed

The Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal has received much media attention; some allege this is “Church bashing.” Exposing the truth is not Church bashing. Bringing the abuse to light should facilitate appropriate action. 

Why have good priests left the Church to marry over the decades, while married Anglican priests were admitted? Why were pedophiles moved and protected while victims and families were severely traumatized? Why didn’t bishops report the abuse until outside authority demanded it?

Could a truth commission create a paradigm shift away from the political and legalistic Church mentality to that in line with Jesus’ preference for the hurting? 

The Nov. 10 issue of the National Catholic Reporter had a scathing article of the Spokane Diocese. It showed the havoc resulting from the abuse and related bankruptcy proceedings.

Abuse stories prevail in most dioceses and other dioceses are also in bankruptcy. The cost in human lives, good standing, finances and influence are totally astounding. 

We Catholics have been too trusting of the hierarchy; thereby also partly responsible. Denial and unquestioning loyalty are very unhealthy and lead to loss of integrity and soul. Catholics should seriously study the abuse data.
Useful and easily accessible internet sites include Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Call to Action and Bishop Accountability.

Those of us who love the Church must become more informed and speak out boldly and truthfully. We must do all we can to right this wrong. The world so desperately needs a moral compass. 

Joe Gerhards 

Schools or cathedral?

I wish to comment on The Voice article, “Bishop clarifies plans for new high school” (Dec. 11).

When the diocese talked of the new cathedral we were told that none of the funding would affect the diocese in any way; the funding was all private money.

Now a new Catholic high school in Livermore can’t get started because all the money hasn’t been raised for the cathedral.

How can they tell us one doesn’t affect the other? Where is the truth?

The schools that exist or new schools are more important than a cathedral, but the cathedral shows power and greed like one king building a larger castle than the other king.

John J. Siino Jr.

Constitutional clarification

W. J. Dick’s Letter (Forum, Dec. 11) concerning Sandra Mortimore’s (Forum, Nov. 6) about “separation of Church and state” prompts this comment. While the exact phrase may date to 1802, the concept was clearly implied in the First Amendment to the Constitution promulgated in 1791.

Dick goes on to reflect a common misunderstanding about what the First Amendment actually says and intended. Regarding religion, it embodies two quite separate but compatible concepts: first, freedom from religion, and only thereafter freedom of religion.

The Amendment doesn’t imply, as many mistakenly believe, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of an official religion.”

Read carefully, it actually begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” (“religion” not “a religion.”) Thus, it clearly implies freedom from religion per se, not merely from some specific theology Congress might otherwise impose.

The Constitution thus assures that religious beliefs and practices of those who choose to be religious will not be permitted to intrude in any way into the lives of others, not only others who have some different religious belief but also others who choose not to be religious at all.

“Or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” then goes on to assure that those who do choose to be religious may enjoy whatever beliefs and practices they wish, provided only, in accordance with “freedom from” and as with all other freedoms, they not impinge on the right of others to be free from any involvement with such beliefs and practices or their effects.

Tom Billings

Inhumane treatment

As concerned Christians, I believe we should express our outrage at recent I.C.E. tactics. On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, they swept into Swift meating packing plants around the country, corralled imirgrant workers – most often our fellow Catholics – like cattle and sent them off to parts unknown. In some cases they were deported without access to attorneys or their families.

According to a NPR report, in many cases children were abandoned at schools without parents to pick them up – confused and frightened.

Japanese sent to interment camps in World War II were at least given some time to get their affairs in order.

The new Congress needs to have comprehensive immigration reform at the top of its agenda, but regardless, the United States should live up to its ideals and treat people who work for a living and their families in a humane manner.

Marlene Candell

Raids hurt families

On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe a massive raid on undocumented Latinos was staged at plants of Swift Packing Co. People are currently imprisoned without resource to attorneys. The action was described on some radio as terrorist. But coverage in major media has said little or nothing of the impact of the raids on plant employees and their families, particularly of the families who have no information of detained family members.

As a priest serving mostly Southeast Asian immigrants, I am fearful of what the American government meant to convey by the action undertaken precisely on the cherished feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe. This time of year and this situation call our Catholic community to vigilance for “the strangers amongst us” (Lev. 19: 34) and humble prayer before the Prince of Peace.

Father Donald MacKinnon CSsR
Director, Kmhmú Pastoral Center

BerkeleyAct for Darfur

I am an ordinary citizen of the Bay Area, but am deeply concerned about Sudanese government’s brutal campaign of mass killing, systematic rape, and forced starvation --- crimes that have taken the lives of more than 450,000 innocent humans.

There are some important things that we can do to help the more than 2.5 million Darfurians who have been violently displaced from their homes. For one, we can write and call our senators and our House representatives about Darfur on a weekly basis.

Our public officials need to enact legislation that enables targeted sanctions against Khartoum’s dictatorial rulers. They need to call on UN peacekeepers to deploy to Darfur, with or without the genocidal government’s consent. And finally, they need to support in a vocal and forthright way an immediate NATO intervention---NATO’s rapid-response forces can deploy to the region within five days.

We Californians are well-known for our concern about a number of things. Let our compassion for our fellow human beings, who are suffering terribly, be at the top of our list to respond to today.

Jo Owen
Portola Valley


The opinions expressed in letters to Reader's Forum are the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Voice or the Oakland Diocese.

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