Cautionary Note

Thank you for publishing Thomas A. Shannon’s clear and concise article (2/18) about the complex moral and ethical issues surrounding attempts at human cloning to obtain stem cells for therapeutic use, and the related question of induced parthenogenic cell division of human eggs for the same purpose. This article documents the need for care and caution by the scientific community in continuing such research and, importantly, emphasizes the very preliminary stage of our knowledge in the use of stem cells. Implied also is a cautionary note for the magisterium in its authoritative pronouncements about the beginning of human life, when it fails to consider at all the advances in the science of embryology over the last several decades. I hope we can all benefit from the expertise of Professor Shannon and his colleagues.

Robert M. Rowden
San Rafael, Calif.



Your editorial on Enron was perfect, and I use the word advisedly (2/11). Not a day late nor a dollar short, but perfect.

One of your deep-pocketed readers/subscribers should take out full-page reprints in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and in Houston’s hometown paper.

It’s often said that when Wall Street catches cold, the world markets come down with the flu. Well, this time the street has a full-blown case of pneumonia.

Frank Moynihan
New York, N.Y.


Kudos to John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., for his well-reasoned, on-target critique of Bush’s budget (2/25). Let us hope we are all beginning to wake from the angry nightmare and sleep of 9/11.

Peter Carey, S.J.
Indianapolis, Ind.

Activated Interpretation

Karima Diane Alavi begins her assertion of the peacefulness of Islamic faith (3/4) with a seriously distorted quotation from the Koran (Ch. 5, v. 32) that omits an essential clause, here in italics: Whosoever kills an innocent human being, unless for a soul or for corruption done in the land, it shall be as though he has killed all mankind.... Muslim fundamentalists, as is well known, see the West as corrupt, thus qualifying the innocent for destruction.

Islam has, indeed, seeds of peace, but as evident here, seeds of violence also. Ms. Alavi rightly describes levels of jihad. But it is at the fourth leveljihad of the swordthat the Muslim conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries and later under Turkish Muslims occurred and at which hundreds of thousands of Muslim fundamentalists today roil various parts of the world.

Islam has no separation of church and state. The Koran and Islamic faith are dominant. With no hierarchy or single voice, individual interpretation has free reign, even in declaring the death penalty. In 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini declared a death penalty on author Salman Rushdie. Last June a Muslim cleric in Jordan called for the death of author Kalid Duran, who besmeared the image of Islam. These clerics and the Sept. 11 hijackers had not hijacked Islam, as Ms. Alavi maintains, but simply activated a widely accepted interpretation of Islam.

Ms. Alavi writes of the Dhimmiprotected ones. This notion developed when Muslims conquered non-Muslim lands and made accommodations to the vast non-Muslim population, so much an essential part of the economy. When Islamic control became complete, as in today’s Muslim states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others, freedom of religion became nonexistent and conversion punishable by death.

Ms. Alavi is not persuasive.

(Msgr.) Harry Byrne
New York, N.Y.


The term Kumbaya as now used (3/4) is less the title of a song than a shorthand form of derision. It captures in one word an attitude of pure sentimentality, devoid of rationality and permanence.

John M. Michels
Spokane, Wash.


Articles like Kyrie or Kumbaya (3/4) set up a false caricature of the reformed liturgy today. It’s the straw man fallacy. Name one parish, please, that is still singing Kumbaya at Mass.

In a recent issue of Commonweal magazine, the Rev. Andrew Greeley berated liturgists for banning Gregorian chant. Well, I have been a liturgist for 20 years now, and not only have I not heard Kumbaya sung at Mass since 1967, when I was 7 years old, but I must have missed the meeting where chant was outlawed, too. Some progressive parishes in the Midwest began teaching their assemblies to chant the Kyrie in Greek or the Agnus Dei in Latin in the late 1980’s. (I’m not talking about the nostalgic or retrograde few that have a professional choir usurp the role of the faithful by giving a Palestrina concert at Mass.)

The parish I belong to in Chicago, whose typical parishioner (according to demographics) is a single woman in her mid-20’s, has done so at least since 1990for 12 years. Other parishes do not do it because the pastor or the music minister judges it not to be effective toward the full, conscious and active participation of the faithful in the liturgy that is their right and their duty by reason of their baptism (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 14). Glib articles like Kyrie or Kumbaya play into the hands of those who argueagainst all evidence and truththat the reform of the liturgy begun by the Second Vatican Council is a failure. How many times did Catholics in the pews chant a Kyrie (or anything at all) at Mass before Vatican II?

David Philippart
Chicago, Ill.

Mercy of God

The Feb. 25, 2002, issue of America is a cornucopia of reasons why I subscribe to your publication. Not the least of these is the salient and practical article by Edward Vacek, S.J., Do Good People’ Need Confession? Rarely is such an intelligent and pastoral challenge offered in dealing with the declining use of the sacrament of reconciliation. I find Father Vacek to be theologically and spiritually clear in his reasoning for our cultural excuses for not going to confession. His challenge to all of us is to rediscover the positive side to a personal sense of sin, one that I myself have tried to cultivate more this Lent. I have invited my community to do the same.

As a university chaplain, preaching on confession is not my favorite topic, but it is one I felt obliged to address as I found fewer and fewer Catholics using this wonderful sacrament as a means for growth in their spiritual lives. In fact, I believe the chief reason many Catholics avoid confession these days is that we priests do not preach about it.

As I came to realize how vital this sacrament is to living a mature Christian life, I also realized I wasn’t going to confession enough. As a priest, it is hard to ask folks in the pews to do what I am not doing, so my first step was to be more honest and start going to confession myself. When I preached about my own reasons for not going to confession, it seemed to make a connection with people. The bottom line has been a significant increase in penitents coming to seek the mercy of God and the community of the church. I also feel that the hearing of confessions makes me a more effective minister, because it makes me more honest with myself, my community and God.

Father Vacek’s article came as a welcome word of encouragement this Lent. I have recommended it to my community and hope more articles about the healing sacrament of confession will follow. It is high time for us priests to stop deceiving ourselves, start preaching about this sacrament and, if necessary, start using it more in our lives.

(Rev.) Ed McNally
Oswego, N.Y.


The memento article by George M. Anderson, S.J., (Of Many Things, 3/4) was a wonderful way for me to begin reading that issue of America. Just recently a longtime friend of our family died, and many of her associates are asking us for at least a photo (or some mementothere’s that word again) that would serve as a reminder of her. We have nothing but our remembrances of her lifea most giving one, filled with strong character. Father Anderson’s words serve us all to recall people we know who have passed on to a better life. How nice it is that Father Anderson has the bits of a scarf, the wood cross, the ballpoint penall small itemseach most significant. Thank you for sharing your reminiscences and indeed your reminder that there is great wealth in living sparsely and treasuring the simple things that become more meaningful to us as time passes.

L. Merker
Pittsfield, Mass.


In Ethics Notebook (2/25) John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., takes issue with what he calls the right-wing chorus claiming that the wealthy are entitled to the money they earn in lieu of paying it in steeply progressive taxes. He insinuates that they are mistaken, and it really is not their money, though he fails to say who he thinks it does belong to. My problem with this is that if he truly doesn’t believe that money earned by work belongs to the individual who earns it, then it must belong to the government or the community; yet he is unwilling to say this, and that is dishonest. The fact is that wealthy folks are footing the bill for a lot of services that are being used by others who make less money, and they should be thanked instead of vilified.

Kevin P. Morrissey
Woodbridge, Conn.

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