Needs at This Time

The proposed national plenary council for U.S. bishops (Signs of the Times, 8/26) sounds like a desperate exercise in self-validation. The time would be better spent in a critical self-examination of bishops’ needs at this time in church history.

For example, what should be the job description of a bishop/cardinal in the 21st century? What should be the job description for a priest? What are the educational needs that will bring bishops/cardinals up to speed to become competent managers? This is a serious issue. What programs need to be devised for the continuing education of bishops/cardinals?


The teaching office of the bishops is a relic of a church that no longer exists. We are no longer a congregation of ignorant peasants. Many faithful Catholics are better educated than their bishops. Additionally, it is time to re-examine the truths that the Catholic Church teaches in the light of history, scientific discoveries and biblical scholarship. Bishops need to learn to listen again to theologians who have pondered these revelations of God’s presence in our midst.

There are even more frightening issues to be faced. Do these men dare stand up to the Vatican and assert that they, English-speaking ecclesial authorities, have the competency to decide what should be the English-language translations of biblical and liturgical texts? Do they dare stand up to the Vatican and say that there is a crisis in the number of priests, and say that they will ordain whomever they please to assure that the faithful will have access to the sacraments? Probably not. But some time soon, dynamic leadership will have to emerge to save the church.

Jim Harvey
Rockaway Beach, Ore.

Other Animals

William J. O’Malley, S.J., might have better luck teaching his students an effective sexual morality based on reason if he were to draw a more clear distinction between making out and making love (Understanding Sex Before Sin, 9/23). Making out through physical intimacy is driven by the sexual desire we have in common with other sexually reproductive animals. Making love is driven by the desire to be close to, to know, to help, to care for, to share with, to make happy the beloved. Letting another person come close enough to know our deepest emotional needs and weaknesses so that he or she can love us according to our needs requires a great deal of security and trust before we can permit such vulnerabilityan environment best created through a loving attachment within a committed relationship with a long-term partner.

Convincing young people of the reasonableness of this understanding of our unique human sexuality is not easy. They live in a secular culture that does not recognize any distinction between physical intimacy and emotional intimacy and obscures the distinction between making out and making love, unaware of the importance of security and trust for the latter.

Marilyn M. Kramer
Wausau, Wis.

Salvific Grace

For some years now my favorite occasional columnist in your publication has been Valerie Schultz. Her writings have always struck me as being faith-filled, riveting and inspirational. Many have written concerning her Tangled Sheets (7/1). Many too will doubtlessly be moved by her Daughter of Doubt (9/23).

May I also say that Randall Rosenberg’s article (9/23) may be of enormous help to all who may find themselves in her situation: For Rahner, God is constantly gracing’ the experience of every human being, whether or not one is explicitly aware of this realitywhether it be the doubting daughter, the sorrowing mother or the tired lovers in those tangled sheets. The theology of the universal presence of salvific grace in all creation has long been a marvelous aid for me.

Andrew A. Galligan
Tracy, Calif.

From a Clinical Psychologist

The Rev. Andrew Baker’s well-meaning but inchoate assemblage of prejudicial, pseudoscientific and somewhat bizarre spiritual notions regarding same sex attraction and the lack of suitability for priestly ordination of chaste homosexuals (9/30) left me amazed. His odd catalog of prudential doubts seemed almost a parody in its pandering to those old images of gays as effeminate, lacking proper masculine behavior, and tempted against chastity by the ever-present and overwhelming mass of same-sex seminarian classmates. Missing was any sense that (ironically) the sorts of fears and temptations he ascribes to disordered gay men are felt as well by their straight brothers, such as the need to minister to female parishioners prudently, avoiding insensitive clerical cliques, care in proclaiming the church’s teaching regarding artificial contraception within marriage and so on.

I am, finally, surprised that he seems to ignore the efficacy of the sacraments, prayer and spiritual ascesis in supporting the gay seminarian or priest in his journey toward deeper union with Christ in sacerdotal service within the church.

Vincent Hevern, S.J.
Syracuse, N.Y.

How to Explain?

The issue of America containing the opinion of Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz (Signs of the Times, 7/29) arrived here in Asia on Sept. 4. As the spiritual director of a diocesan major seminary, I wonder how to explain his view and that of Bishop Thomas G. Doran that homosexuals should not be priests. Are not heterosexual persons also subject to constant temptation?

As to the comparison with alcoholics, drug addicts and kleptomaniacs, I deny the parallel.

Harry von Voorst tot Voorst, S.J.
Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Spiritual Power

Here are some questions I wish your magazine would answer regarding priesthood (9/30).

We have heard the phrase, Once a priest, always a priest. Today we are hearing that authorities in the church can defrock brother priests, laicize other priests, excommunicate priests and excommunicate lay people. All this makes us lay people question: Who is a priest? What makes a priest a priest? What makes a Mass a Mass? Where does spiritual power reside?

Who is a priest? Is the spiritual power of priestly authorities, who are supposedly the humble servants of the same God, somehow greater than the spiritual power of their fellow human beings (men and women who also are servants of God)? Can an overzealous priest keep those with diverse opinions out of God’s spiritual arms?

What is a Mass? If a priest decides to leave the priesthood and get married, he also agrees not to say Mass. However, if he performs a ceremony, and declares that the ceremony is not a Mass but a celebration to glorify God, and the people at this celebration decide that the effect of that celebration is the same as the effect of a Mass, then are not the people making a decision that this person has given them the equal value of a Mass? Are not the people the ones who decide what is a Mass? Are not the people the ones who assert the value of a particular person as priest? The people in the congregation are the ones who decide if the person who is acting in the priestly capacity is drawing them closer to God.

Are we to believe that those who are disfigured physically, mentally or emotionally cannot raise the Host? Are we still believing that the halt and the blind cannot enter the temple? Can we believe that our authorities are so far from sin that they can forbid others entry to God or the ability to lead others to God? Who is the powerful authority that is privileged to put walls between people and the infinite God?

Cora E. Cypser
Katonah, N.Y.

Perceptive Insight

I often find the insights of John R. Donahue, S.J., in The Word thoughtful and perceptive. This was especially true of Staying Out of Prison (9/9). His final statement struck deeply: Only those who have experienced mercy and forgiveness can mediate this to others. The power of binding and loosening can be exercised only by those who have experienced God’s compassionate and undeserved mercy and have learned to forgive a brother or sister from their hearts. What a wonderful way to link two consecutive Sunday Gospel readings! And how timely in light of the zero tolerance’ policy adopted in Dallas by our bishops.

A number of my fellow priests have been removed from their ministries because of an isolated sexual incident that happened a long time ago, despite living chaste, dedicated lives since then.

The anger and rage of the victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy are real and understandable. But should that have wiped out all compassion and forgiveness in Dallas?

(Rev.) Ronald E. Kotecki
Milwaukee, Wis.

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