Catholic Common Ground

I couldn’t agree more with John Dean’s letter (3/26) asking for intra-church dialogue and praising Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s Catholic Common Ground Initiative. But I want to assure him and your readers that the Initiative is alive and well and that the committee, now headed by Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb, has been working diligently to foster the vision and to create opportunities for dialogue within our church.

Translating the vision into programs and getting visibility have been enormous challenges, but we now have published resources (two books, a set of videos and a quarterly newsletter) and regular activities. We have just finished our fifth annual conference (this time with young adult Catholics); we gathered leaders in liturgy for two small dialogues on worship space in November and January at Mundelein and Holy Cross College; a four-part dialogue on women in the church was held at the College of New Rochelle; and Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., will deliver our third annual lecture in Washington, D.C., in June. Anyone who would like to be on our mailing list and receive our free newsletter can contact Sr. Catherine M. Patten, R.S.H.M., coordinator of the initiative, at: The National Pastoral Life Center, 18 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012; (212) 431-7825; e-mail: commonground@nplc.org.


(Rev. Msgr.) Philip J. Murnion
New York, N.Y.

Internally Displaced

My response to the fine article by George M. Anderson, S.J., pointing out the plight of internally displaced persons (12/9/00) is long in coming because my copy of America is always a month or two behind. It has to find its way to Burundi, in Central Africa, where I represent Catholic Relief Services. He does well to bring to light this distinction between refugees and I.D.P.’s, because the international response to refugees is much greater than it is to I.D.P.’s, who fall under the authority and mandate of their own governments.

I would point out that in many countries the present humanitarian response to internally displaced persons is in fact covered, for the most part, by nongovernmental organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Jesuit Refugee Service and many other N.G.O.’s. Thanks to the support of Caritas Internationalis partners and to the U.S. government, C.R.S. was able to respond, together with the Burundian church, quickly and efficiently to the great needs of the I.D.P.’s in a situation of extreme insecurity caused by the civil war in Burundi in 1999-2000.

The question of the mandate for the protection of and humanitarian response to internally displaced people is of the highest priority and must be recognized and resolved by the international community; but until that is worked out it is important to know that the humanitarian community, in the form of N.G.O.’s like C.R.S., is present to the great suffering of the internally displaced persons in many countries.

David M. Rothrock
Bujumbura, Burundi

Encourage Tolerance

I read with great interest the interview with Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., by James Martin, S.J. (3/5). I couldn’t help recalling the circumstances when I first heard of the cardinal’s conversion to Catholicism. It was 1953. I was a foreign service officer stationed at the Embassy in Rome when the U.S. secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, paid a visit. One of my responsibilities at the time was to assist American Protestant missionaries who encountered difficulties in Italy, usually for proselytizing. Catholicism was the state religion at the time, and local officials, sometimes with clerical encouragement, harassed and hectored some unfortunate enthusiasts.

After I gave my report on the subject, the secretary wondered out loud whether we couldn’t encourage a little more tolerance. He then startled us by stating he had a personal interest, since his son had converted to Catholicism.

How much has changed in 50 years! We have made some progress toward that tolerance Secretary Dulles longed for, but no one back then dreamed his son would receive the church’s high honor, a red hat!

James L. O’Sullivan
Stratford, Conn.

Pius XII and the Holocaust

In his review of Michael Phayer’s book, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust (4/2), Prof. George F. Giacomini fails to identify the book’s major errors. To perpetuate the myth of Pius XII’s silence Phayer must disregard the frequent indictments of Nazi crimes on Vatican Radio and in L’Osservatore Romano (much of this material written by the pope or at his direction). Phayer contends also that when the pope did denounce Nazi persecution of the Jews, he did so in such vague terms that few people understood him. This is false. The record shows that Pius was well understood: in Rome (where Mussolini was furious), in Berlin (where a Nazi spokesman said the Pope was clearly speaking on behalf of the Jewish war criminal) and in New York (where The New York Times in its wartime Christmas editorials called Pius a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent). Phayer’s failure to consider this evidence vitiates a central charge in his book.

Phayer’s charge that the pope’s concern with Communism led him to denounce Marxism but not Nazism and anti-Semitism is equally untrue. The six-member Catholic-Jewish commission now examining the Vatican’s wartime documents, though critical of the pope, has said they were struck by the paucity of evidence for Phayer’s charge. They point also to Vatican promotion of the American bishops’ support for Lend-Lease and the alliance with the Soviets. In separate audiences with diplomats from Italy (1941), Spain (1942) and Hungary (1943), Pius called the Nazis far worse than the Soviets.

Phayer writes that written instructions linking Pius XII to church rescue efforts for Jews have never surfaced the identical argument used by Holocaust deniers to absolve Hitler. Phayer’s book is not the solidly researched, carefully nuanced and compelling story your reviewer supposed.

(Rev.) John Jay Hughes
St. Louis, Mo.

Objective Truth

With all due respect, I found your editorial criticism of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith absolute nonsense (4/9). This congregation now bends over backward to allow due process for theologians whose work is being questioned. This is why it can take years before the congregation renders decisions on theologiansprecisely because of the back and forth consultation that goes on.

Secular constitutional law should not be the standard of the church, as you assert. Secular constitutional law is governed by a political standard often beholden to compromise and expediency. The C.D.F., on the other hand, exists to assist the pope in his teaching office safeguarding the truth of the Catholic faith. The standard is objective truth.

Any Catholic theologian worth the name ought to have St. Ignatius Loyola’s attitude: humble submission to Christ’s church.

(Rev.) Leonard F. Villa
Yonkers, N.Y.

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