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Our readersOctober 22, 2001

Passionate Language

Thank you for the Oct. 1 issue. I was particularly touched by the essays by Patricia Kossmann and James Martin, S.J., and I thought your editorial was persuasive. Under a variety of Catholic insights on prayer, the Eucharist and goodness itself, America provides some significant terms for a dialogue about how we should proceed.

As our nation responds through diplomatic pressures and perhaps military measures, I have been surprised, however, that Catholic leaders are not invoking the biblically and theologically rich phrases “sanctity of life” and “option for the poor.” For instance, they cannot be found in the U.S.C.C.B.’s insightful letter to President George W. Bush (Origins, 10/4/01) or in any of the otherwise moving sermons that appeared in the previous issue of Origins.

During the past summer, the cardinals and others raised our consciousness about embryonic life by bringing together the idea of the sanctity of life with the need to defend poor, defenseless human life. This combination worked effectively to remind people not otherwise inclined to recognize some claims that human embryonic life should enjoy. Similarly, when the conference’s bishops and agencies (Pro-life, Justice and Peace, Catholic Charities, etc.) have fused these two key religious concepts together on other issues in the past, they have effectively forged a consensus that people of the church, citizens, the media and policy makers have readily recognized.

While many call for a response of any measure whatsoever by the president to the terrorists, many are not at all considering the lives of the poor Afghani, Pakistani or Iraqi people, or other defenseless Arab civilians in harm’s way. Using phrases like “civilian immunity” is important, but it lacks the biblical foundations, the rhetorical effectiveness and the connectedness with other life issues that “sanctity of life” has. Similarly, “option for the poor” alerts us to consider our moral obligation to speak for those who cannot speak—today this means the many people who are not terrorists but who are impoverished and who stand in harm’s way.

I hope that as the dialogue continues, our religious leaders will use that passionate language, familiar to them and to us, as they have consistently done in the past.

James F. Keenan, S.J.

Cambridge, Mass.

Sully the Name

I was very pleased to see the Sept. 17 issue of America, which published my perspective on Dominus Iesus and the Jews, and I was particularly grateful to the editors for inviting Eugene Fisher to provide introductory comments, which couched substantive disagreement in such kind and flattering terms.

Then I turned to the editorial, and my pleasure was transformed into dismay. The editors assert that the issue of Israeli-Palestinian relations “threatens to poison the goodwill that has been attained [between Catholics and Jews] over generations”: they then proceed to demonstrate the validity of this observation far more effectively than they intend.

“American Catholics,” we are told, “indeed many American Jews, are appalled at the brutality of the actions of the Israeli government and its military forces. They are equally [my emphasis] appalled at the suicidal and murderous acts of factions among the Palestinians.”

We would do well to recall that the latest intifada erupted in response to far-reaching, wrenching concessions proposed by Israel at Camp David. The Israeli government’s reaction to savage lynchings and suicidal terrorism has been marked, despite inevitable misjudgments in relatively rare instances, by unmistakable, even extraordinary restraint. How are Jews to react when intelligent people who usually exhibit subtle, sensitive ethical judgment profess their inability to discern the moral difference between a state’s use of restrained military force to protect its citizens against mass murder and the intentional, targeted killing of babies sitting in their strollers in a crowded restaurant?

Fortunately, the editorial’s unqualified assertion that American Catholics equate these two behaviors is incorrect. I had the privilege of attending several meetings on Jewish-Catholic relations with the late, deeply lamented Cardinal John O’Connor, and I feel confident that he would have unhesitatingly rejected this equation, as would most American Catholics. By projecting their own moral obtuseness onto an entire community, the editors of America libel their coreligionists and—in the eyes of readers who believe that libel—sully the name of Christianity itself.

David Berger

Brooklyn, N.Y.


The letter from the Rev. Robert Mullins, “The Wrong Vulgate” (10/1) is a tissue of false and misleading statements. It was the Catholic Biblical Association’s executive board, not Richard Clifford, S.J., that sent a letter to all the bishops to introduce an article by Father Clifford. Father Mullins bases his statements on a misreading of a newspaper report, though the relevant documents were easily available on the C.B.A. Web page. My article did not identify Nova Vulgata with the critical edition of the Vulgate of San Giralomo, as he states, but says that it is a “revision” (i.e., a reworking) of that work (see the article of A.-L. Descamps, secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, in Esprit et Vie, 1979, pages 598-603). Father Mullins’s assertion of four editions of Nova Vulgata between 1984 and 1992 is likewise erroneous. We were quite aware of the editio typica altera of 1986 (which Father Mullins does not mention); it is referred to in our letter to the bishops (and in Liturgiam Authenticam [footnote 33]). But there is so little changed in the text of that edition that it is no exaggeration to say that the Nova Vulgata of 1979 was “set in concrete.” The “editions” Father Mullins refers to are not editions of Nova Vulgata at all, but utilizations of the Nova Vulgata’s New Testament text (only) in two editions of a Greek-Latin New Testament edited by Barbara and Kurt Aland, the first edition (1983) using the 1979 text and the second edition (1991) using the 1986 edition.

Joseph Jensen, O.S.B.

Washington, D.C.

Right Direction

As someone who escaped from the recent attack of the World Trade Center unharmed, I read the reflections of John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., (10/1) and immediately thought of one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s last public statements: “The choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is between nonviolence and nonexistence.” We are at an important crossroads. I love my country as much as the next person, but the blind patriotism of these past few weeks has left me feeling empty. I am not a pacifist by inclination, but the future physical, spiritual and mental health of the nation, I believe, depends on how well we are able to integrate the legacy of King, Gandhi and Thomas Merton into our daily lives. Thank you, Father Kavanaugh, for pointing us in the right direction.

Gene Roman

Newark, N.J.

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