Sustaining Life

The commentary by John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., Food for Terri Schiavo (11/24), was right on the mark. As a permanent deacon, a medical oncologist and a father of four, I applaud his clear and cogent discussion of the issues involved.

Why must our society confront this issue over and over and over? Despite previous debates about Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Crouzon, Hugh Finn and now Mrs. Schiavo, we continue to argue over the lengths to which medical and social science must go to maintain life. And it seems that each of these discussions becomes more fractious, difficult and painful for all parties involved. In the most recent debate, a grieving, suffering husband is even being accused of ulterior motives when he merely tries to honor his wife’s final wishes.


It seems to me there are two basic issues involved in these discussions.

First, with recent advances in medical care, miraculous things are possible and almost commonplace. Septuplets who could have never survived in an earlier age, now do. Heart and lung transplants are commonplace. We remove half the brain of children with uncontrollable seizures and they develop normally. Over half of all Americans with cancer are cured of their disease, and we even replace people’s livers destroyed by alcohol. So one could fairly ask, why can’t we cure Karen and Nancy and Terri?

Second, the Right to Life movement has had a tremendous impact on our society, and more and more Americans are rightfully asking if abortion for any reason, at any time is acceptable or justifiable. As Americans, we increasingly accept the need to protect the lives of the unborn, the retarded, the innocent and those incapable of speaking for themselves.

As a result of these advances, it has become more difficult to determine when any medical intervention is excessive or extraordinary. However, just as we are called to respect life; so too, are we called to respect death. The two are a continuum and cannot be separated.

(Deacon) P. Gregory Rausch, M.D.
Frederick, Md.

In Defense of Capitalism

Re Edward M. Welch’s article, The Church Was Right About Capitalism (12/1):

I believe the church was right about capitalism, but the author is not. When you allow the government to get involved in owning and managing economic resources, you invariably end up with a much more destructive situation, in which the people of a country become dependent on the state, rather than on God.

It is true that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) teaches that regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds. Because of its (human) nature, government will always seek to increase its own power and authority over the people, rather than allow the people to follow God. You don’t have to look far to see the result of socialism and Communism in our world. The godless states of Eastern Europe during the second half of the 20th century demonstrated how regulation and power in the hands of government lead to the denial of our dependence on God.

Capitalism, even with its faults, encourages hard work and an efficient use of resources. It allows people the freedom to be challenged, which encourages them to rely on God and family more than on the state.

The catechism also teaches that a reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended. Although some limits on capitalism may be required to minimize its negative side, one must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. The key is to keep regulation reasonable and, more important, to keep in mind the just hierarchy of values when imposing regulation. Too often in the United States, the government is more concerned about the well-being of plants and animals than of human beings. Clearly, such choices are not in keeping with the teachings of the church.

Rick Cabral
Irvine, Calif.

Letting Go

I appreciated Valerie Schultz’s reflections in Metanoia (12/8). It seems to me that every friendship ends and that losing one is often painful. What I wish for the author is that she allow herself to have the change of heart necessary to recognize that she may have to let her old friendship fade away and allow herself to experience the ordinary sadness of life. I have found that it’s good to practice letting go of even those things that I think are irreplaceable. Eventual loss of all we cherish and hold dear is simply what life demands.

Nicholas Niederlander
Two Rivers, Wis.

Inviting Disaster

Your editorial, Invincible Ignorance (12/1), calling for the Democrats in Congress to break with the majority party and investigate the question of how Mr. Bush got us into war in Iraq was an astonishing document.

You suggest a ruthless investigation by the Democrats to discover exactly how the Congress came to be persuaded to declare war on Iraq. Every document is to be brought to light, every official is to be cross examined as to what they knew and when they knew it.

Twice in your editorial you insist that the process must reach all the way to the top. Not very subtly you take purposeful aim at the president of the United States. So when the report is published, what action is to be taken? And by whom? Congress? The courts? The media? The military? A mob?

The Jesuits of the United States must be aware that in all the wars waged by our country there has always been a minority that has opposed the war, sometimes to imprisonment.

The minorities who opposed our wars have, sometimes investigated, long afterward, the process by which the war was brought about. But always the efforts to bring matters to light, to reveal secrets (secrets often dictated by law) have taken place long after, indeed generations after the war had been concluded.

But you want to initiate something new, something that would go beyond Vietnam riots and Pentagon papers. Even while battles are being fought, while thousands of troops are still in grave danger, while men and women are risking their lives and dying, as they carry out the expressed will of Congress and the government of the country, you propose an investigation whose successful conclusion (you hope and expect) would destroy the government. Otherwise why investigate at all?

(Rev.) Robert J. Mullins
St. Cloud, Minn.

False Hopes?

Thomas G. Plante’s five reasons for hope after the sexual abuse scandal (After the Earthquake, 1/5), are not persuasive. The author cites research that suggests that sexual abuse of children among such groups as teachers, coaches and scout leaders occurred in these groups at a frequency comparable to that among Catholic priests. Is this a sign of hope for Catholics? Does any research indicate that those who oversaw teachers, coaches and scout leaders suspected of such abusive behavior concealed that fact or transferred their charges to other districts without a word of warning? In my view this was the worst malady of our Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal, and no ecclesiastical penalty ever seems to have been sought or exacted for it.

The hierarchy has now severely censured the clerics guilty of abuse, but what has been done to ecclesiastics who allowed it to continue? Each diocese now has an advisory board that is consultative, not deliberative, appointed by the bishop himself to aid him in matters of sexual abuse. Considering the circumstances, there are many who do not believe such measures go far enough to restore hope and trust in our system of church authority.

Andy Galligan
Tracy, Calif.

I found Thomas G. Plante’s article very interesting and yet very naïve. His five reasons for hope missed the mark in my opinion. In fact, his article never identifies the real problem in the church today, that of poor and even corrupt leadership. Let me address each of his points:

1. We are not in this alone. For me, there is little hope associated with the argument that we as Catholics are no worse than the rest of the world in having approximately two percent of our priests involved in a sexual encounter with a minor. Richard Sipe, in his book Sex, Priests and Power, gives a much higher estimate of 6 percent, and it is not difficult to find other experts who put the number as high as 8 percent. In any case, what business professional working for a company that practices General Electric’s Six Sigma (zero defects) would find hope in being average?

2. Cohort effect suggests fewer cases. Everyone knows that the vast majority of young people who are sexually abused never come forward. This is especially true of young men living in a seminary and dependent on the protection of their superiors. With few exceptions, these victims, who are church leaders today, have never spoken out for fear of losing their jobs, their reputations, their support network. I take no hope in a church leadership that hides the crimes in which they have been involved.

3. Productive changes in church policy and practice. Here again Thomas Plante is trying to deliver good news before the story is written. Many excellent steps have been suggested and a few even implemented. The weakness is that all the good committees mentioned are only advisory to the local bishop or religious superior. We have no built-in checks or balances to guarantee further abuses will be handled correctly.

4. Voice of the Faithful is here to stay. I guess our author was trying to be politically correct by not mentioning older and more active Catholic lay groups that have long carried the message that the faithful are the church. Yes, there is great hope that Catholics are finally getting it. Our church is far too precious to allow a relatively few incompetent leaders to make all the decisions without consulting the sense of the faithful.

5. What is now in the light must stay in the light. Here I agree with Thomas Plante entirely. Now let’s expand the discussion and look at how the church treats its employees, women, reproductive sexuality, priests who have left the priesthood, Catholic theologians, etc.

Tom Hill
Olympia, Wash.

Thomas G. Plante’s five reasons for hope after the sexual abuse scandal are much too optimistic.

1. It may be reassuring to know that the percentage of pedophiles among priests does not exceed that of the general public, but the real scandal is that bishops put the institutional needs of the church ahead of the welfare of children. This issue has still not been addressed.

2. The cohort effect may be exaggerated if the recent victims are still too young to admit to abuse. When I think of the teachers and coaches in a nearby Catholic high school who were dismissed (without reason given to parents) over the last 10 years, I see that a disproportionate number of their favorite students are those with problems.

3. The June 2002 policy of the American bishops is helpful, but it allows bishops to ignore the recommendations of their advisory review boards, even though the actions of bishops are the source of the scandal. The limitations set by the Vatican in November 2002 on the American policy return the opportunity to judge priests to Rome, where the standard of proof makes it difficult to remove pedophiles.

4. Voice of the Faithful may be here to stay, but the vast majority of Catholics do not affiliate with organized opposition groups. In many places there were no parish meetings for two-way discussion of the scandal. Pastors are reluctant even to announce the measures taken to protect children lest they remind people of the scandala patriarchal approach far from the goals of V.O.T.F.

5. What is now in the light may not stay in the light. I have spoken to many Catholics who were in denial even six months into the scandal.

I would like to think there is hope, but I fear what everyone really hopes is that the problem will fade away. We have far to go before we turn the corner with solutions that address the multiple sources of the scandal.

Barbara Cortese
El Cerrito, Calif.

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11 years 11 months ago
As a nephrologist, I would like to underscore the concerns raised by P. Gregory Rausch, M.D., in his letter (1/19). In treating the terminally ill, it is often possible to distinguish between treatments that are truly life-sustaining and procedures that are more intrusive than therapeutic. A point may be reached where there is more being done to the patient than for the patient. It is important not to erode the dignity and serenity of the transition to eternal life, along the spiritual path that leads to redemption.


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