Public Scandal

Having read your recounting of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s advice to the U.S. bishops on morality in voting (Signs of the Times, 7/19), I find it little wonder that there is a great deal of confusion. But it should be quite apparent to any right thinking person that the murder of 40 million innocents is not comparable to an individual’s marriage-vow problems. The point to be dealt with here clearly is public scandal. Any politician who purports to be Catholic and supports the intrinsically evil practice of abortion is giving public scandal, notwithstanding all the specious excuses that have been concocted.

Such a person should not be treated as a Catholic communicant for his own good and, more important, in order to avoid confusing people generally as to Catholic teaching and especially scandalizing the faithful. Christ’s teaching on giving scandal is frighteningly explicit.


The politician’s sin is openly public and should be dealt with by his pastor or bishop in a public manner, not with the hierarchy hiding in their offices for fear of unpopularity or loss of their tax immunity.

Not only does a public condemnation of the individual politician’s position emphasize his moral error in the arena most important to him; it would also serve to inform and emphasize to the public at large the importance of the issue in church teaching. Those who wish to follow Christ must be his witnesses and face martydom as he did in leading the faithful to the truth rather than worrying about public attack or approbation. It is significant and sad that the bishops who have done their duty by speaking out against the public scandal of pro-abortion Catholic politicians can be readily named because of their small number, which goes a long way to explaining the reasons for the difficulties, confusion and other scandals experienced by the American Catholic Church in the post-Vatican II era.

Thomas P. Dowd
Yonkers, N.Y.

Environmental Disaster

Thank you for the thoughtful article by Stephen Gambescia, Diet for a Small Planet? Fat Chance (8/16), which discusses the thought of Frances Moore Lappe. As Lappe highlights, one of the best ways to counter the negative impact of our current food habits is to adopt a vegetarian diet, or at least to reduce significantly our consumption of meat. Current methods of factory farm meat production are an environmental disaster and produce products with chemicals and hormones that are often harmful to human health, involve horrific treatment of animals and are very wasteful of the world’s limited resources.

John Sniegocki
Cincinnati, Ohio

Poor and Rich

The enthusiasm of the Knights of Columbus for President Bush and his party’s policies, demonstrated in their convention in Dallas, is at odds with Catholic social teaching, which endorses an option for the poor (Signs of the Times, 8/16). The knights have strayed from the party that gave us Medicare and Social Security, the party that fights for just wages, decent housing, medical insurance and adequate drug relief.

The moral integrity that the Supreme Knight claimed President Bush has restored to the White House is not the morality of Pope John Paul II, who opposes the carnage of the war in Iraq. The presence of cardinals illustrates the traditional loyalty of the hierarchy to the party of the rich and powerful.

(Rev.) Sebastian L. Muccilli
Lake Park, Fla.

Mercy and Redemption

As a lay member of Voice of the Faithful of Greater Philadelphia, I appreciated the article by Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., Rights of Accused Priests (6/21). To support priests of integrity is one of Voice of the Faithful’s chief goals. We are very concerned about priests who are accused unfairly of child abuse and who do not receive due process from society or the church. Even those priests who have abused children are human beings who deserve fair and just treatment.

Cardinal Dulles describes how the current approach fails to embody not only equitable treatment, but also Christian values like compassion, conversion, repentance and forgiveness. His article focuses primarily on church policy, but the process in society’s criminal justice system is equally harsh. Most dioceses have made a commitment to turn priest abusers over to the civil authorities. When priests are prosecuted, they enter an adversarial, retributive, prisonization process. They are motivated to hire a lawyer and to deny guilt in order to get off or receive a lighter sentence. The principals see one another only in court. If they address one another, it is through their attorneys, not face to face. This adversarial process is designed to fix blame and mete out punishment. Its purpose is not to explore steps that might express compassion or lead to healing for either victim or victimizer.

But an alternative approach to the retributive systemrestorative justiceis now available in 40 states through over 1,400 programs. To my mind, it can better serve both justice and compassion for priest abusers and abuse survivors. Restorative justice works closely with judges and courts but uses mediators rather than lawyers. If the parties are willing, it brings together all those with a stake in the offense in a context where everyone can be heard. During the dialogue, the victim can ask questions and explain the awful harm that he or she has suffered as a result of the offense. The offender can describe what happened from his or her point of view, admit guilt, express remorse, ask for forgiveness and make a commitment to try to repair the damage done.

Over the course of several meetings, the victim may begin to feel freed from self-damaging hatred and bitterness. He or she may come to feel that their healing has been furthered and that justice has been satisfied. Rather than continue to press charges and insist on imprisonment, the survivor may agree upon a plan (restitution and treatment, for example) by which the abuser can begin to be reintegrated back into society.

One abuse survivor with whom I discussed restorative justice told me that most victims she knows would jump at the chance to meet with their abuser and to have the kind of discussion I have described. What I want most is an admission from the perpetrator that the events as I described them actually took place, she told me. If I heard this and a sincere expression of remorse, it would bring a real sense of healing. I would be much less inclined to press ahead with criminal charges and demand punishment.

Clearly the present adversarial criminal justice system offers little in the way of resolution or healing. Values like mercy and redemption rarely enter the equation. Might the church work with the courts, abuse survivors and other relevant parties to explore restorative justice as a way to better balance the equally important values of justice/fairness on the one hand, and compassion/reconciliation on the other?

Richard K. Taylor
Philadelphia, Pa.

Biased and Slanted

I have been an America subscriber for over 50 years and for many years have arranged subscriptions for my children and friends. I have respected its many and varied stances on the affairs of the church, particularly in the United States, and its articles on the social, economic and political affairs of this country. I have not always agreed with your position on many issues, but I think you have for the most part shown a degree of balance in your views.

But the issue of Aug. 2 leaves me with considerable doubt as to America’s editorial intent. I do not remember a time when I thought you were so wrong in your bias and your blatant attempt to malign our president and his administration in favor of a candidate who makes a mockery of the teachings of the church and the moral principles that it is trying to impart to the faithful and the leaders of our country. Practically all your articles are biased with this slant.

One can easily discern the many errors in your reasoning, understanding and your subtle, but not too subtle, attempt to promote a cause that stretches the teachings of the church and the promotion of an agenda of those who have demonstrated that they will stoop to any level to promote their political position, which is devoid of sound reasoning and honest disagreement but heavily biased.

Henry S. Zaytoun, D.D.S.
Raleigh, N.C.

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11 years 11 months ago
A letter writer pointed to the scandal of a Catholic in public life supporting abortion (9/20). However, the question at issue is something else. I do not know of a Catholic politician who rejects the church teaching that abortion is evil. The controversy is about opposing abortion by law. There are grounds for a Catholic politician to see such legislation, under present conditions, as an unrealistic quick fix. Prohibition did not eliminate alcohol, but, instead spawned racketeering, an underground industry, and corrupted law enforcement. A politician may be mistaken in his outlook about such legislation, but it would be rash judgment to accuse him of favoring abortion. Some politicians also may be reluctant to criminalize fellow citizens whom they represent, who differ with them for religious reasons. All in all, the matter must be discussed charitably, with accusations restrained, and free from partisan politics. Our efforts to teach the beauty and sacredness of life have had marked success. Dedication of greater resources to pro-life public relations is called for.


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