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Our readersSeptember 30, 2002

Just War

I want to thank you for the very insightful article by John Langan, S.J., about whether or not we should invade Iraq (9/9). But I wish to offer some points for you to consider. First, the use of the term vigilante justice seems to be an oxymoron, based on the question raised about the justice being done by the aggrieved and angry party, which implies that it is more likely to be vengeance than justice.

Second, Father Langan seems to imply that if one could prove that the consequences of an invasion of Iraq can be mitigated, then such action might be acceptable. This can never be the case, because the primary consequence of such a unilateral action would be to undermine the rule of law. What makes us different from Iraq? We claim that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons, but we have more weapons than any other nation on earth. Isn’t our willingness to restrain our power and abide by international law the very essence of the difference between us and Iraq? Wouldn’t a unilateral invasion of Iraq destroy that difference? Wouldn’t it make us the most dangerous rogue nation in the world? If we got away with such an invasion, what would convince other countries that we can be trusted to restrain our power in the future?

Even if we are able to gain support from other countries in the region, wouldn’t a pre-emptive strike undermine the just war principles? The author chose to defer consideration of the just war principles until after all can agree that the goals for the region would not be hampered by an invasion of Iraq. That is a mistake. While I have serious reservations about the just war principles (to some extent because I do not believe that the church ever applies them honestly or in a timely manner), I believe it is a mistake to wait until after everyone agrees that a war is necessary to bring up the moral principles that should instruct such decisions. Once everyone believes that war is necessary, there is great pressure to bend the just war principles to conform to that belief.

Many are looking at the issue of war with Iraq in simplistic terms. Evil must be resisted. Your article has done much to remove the blinders from people’s eyes so that they can see the complexity of what they contemplate. But it does not challenge them to see the ultimate truth. If evil is to be resisted, why aren’t we resisting war itself? The just war principles give us permission to use evil to attain justice and security. But what good is justice and security when we have embraced evil?

Stephen D. Stratoti
Egg Harbor Township, N.J.

Our Side

Thank you for the insightful and reflective articles in the Sept. 9 issue concerning the one-year anniversary of 9/11 and the current move toward war by the administration. I was particularly gratified by the column by John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., Propagandizing War. His closing comment on the possible war against Iraqours is a predominantly Christian country, presided over by a president who claims to be inspired, in political policy, by Jesus Christ... and yet it appears that our consciences seem to be utterly uninformed by the Gospels...points up what I consider to be the profound shallowness of the Christianity many Americans profess. The fact is, for many people the Gospel is not the issue, and in fact is irrelevant. The only issue that matters is being prepared to believe in a God who thinks exactly the way we think. Once we have established that truth, then everything else falls into place. We can do whatever we want, no matter how arrogant or immoral or utterly lacking in Christian values, because we have persuaded ourselves that God is on our side and is in full agreement with whatever we want to do. President Bush stands as an icon of that idiotic hypocrisy. Faith-filled people should be screaming in protest.

(Rev.) Ken Lohrmeyer
Oakland, Calif.

Restoring Justice

I congratulate the Rev. Kevin E. McKenna and the Canon Law Society of America for raising the five areas of concern about the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was hastily crafted and approved at Dallas in June (9/16). As a social worker/moralist who spent my early career working in a private psychiatric hospital in collaboration with Mayo Clinic psychiatrists, with some of the nation’s most severely abused and neglected children, I am well aware of the need to care for victims and work toward healing of their horrific wounds. But my experience working with abused children also taught me the need for those who claim to be healers and administrators of justice to deal with both the perpetrators and the victims with impeccable integrity and fairness. There is nothing more damaging than to continue perpetrating injustice in the name of restoring justice.

Certainly, the wounded ones have a need to punish those who perpetrated abuse, and they understand this as the measure of justice that is due. Yet as Thomas Aquinas pointed out in his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew 5:2, Justice without mercy is cruelty. Punishment in the Catholic moral tradition bears out this wisdom, in that redress is not the only concern. The effectiveness of the remedy toward the conversion and healing of the sinner is equally important. The just punishment thus must fit the particular needs and capacities of the sinner involved in the sin. The obvious starting point of this process is first to be clear that the person is, indeed, guilty of sin. As Father McKenna points out, the facts concerning the guilt or innocence of the alleged abuser in some cases are at best questionable, and justice requires that the church be perfectly clear about this.

Perhaps most important for the church, as a public actor today, is the need to model both compassion and social responsibility. Simply to defrock psychiatrically ill priests and turn them out onto the streets is, in my view, potentially the greater sin. At best it lacks compassion, and at worst it begs the question of whether the church believes child abuse is really so bad after all. Within the church community, those who have been found guilty can be provided with the support and supervision needed to ensure they will never harm children again. On their own, having their painful condition compounded by absolute rejection of the church, they are likely to strike out again. Further, if we really believe that all persons are created in God’s image and likeness, then our fundamental sense of respect and a pro-life stance demand that we allow the accused the means necessary for effective protection of their rights, and proven perpetrators the dignity of providing them with the limits that they themselves are unable, because of their illness, to supply.

It is my deepest hope and prayer that the U.S. bishops will exercise their authority as teachers of faith and morals in an exemplary manner by giving due consideration to the concerns Father McKenna and the Canon Law Society of America raise. Then when they take action, the Gospel will truly be proclaimed.

Dawn M. Nothwehr, O.S.F.
Chicago, Ill.


John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., writes, as do many others, that we should look for reasons why radical (and average) Muslims hate us and take such delight in our destruction (7/15). Also in common with many others, he does not suggest any of those reasons. It is implied, I suppose, that we really know all about this but haven’t the courage to admit that everything is our fault. I have no means to survey that part of the world, but the Muslims I see on television and read about in newspapers and magazines all say the same thing: they hate us for our support of Israel. If there are other reasons, other deadly sins committed by America, they keep them a secret. Nobody talks about them, not in Congress, not in the administration, not on the Sunday morning shows, not in America. Perhaps instead of silent, accusatory glances, we could discuss support for Israel. But whether or not it is truly worth the wrath of the terrorists, support for Israel is not going to end, and we might as well prepare for reality rather than distract ourselves by searching for an alternative explanation.

John R. Agnew, M.D.
Fort Myers, Fla.

Extreme Pain

I would like to set the record straight about the priest referred to in the column by Camille D’Arienzo, R.S.M., An Echo of Bagpipes (7/29). I am the mother of one of the many young men who were abused by this priest while they were altar boys under his care and supervision. He was not a one-time offender, as was implied in the article. This priest was knowingly moved by the then bishop of Brooklyn from parish to parish and allowed to continue his abuse. It is criminal what many of our bishops have done to many of our children. These young men are now in their early 30’s, and their experience still causes extreme pain.

Mary Twomey
Middle Village, N.Y.

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