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January 16, 2012

Beware ‘Pastores Dabo Vobis’

Contrary to what Katarina Schuth, O.S.F., reports in “A Change in Formation” (1/2), there is no evidence to suggest that levels of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy concentrated after 1960. Anecdotal evidence abounds of abuse and cover-up predating 1960. With the widespread use of “Pastores Dabo Vobis” in seminaries (a document ghost-written by a Sulpician theologian), the hierarchy is returning to an exalted post-Tridentine identity formation, first successfully promulgated by the French school and lasting until the Vatican II era. This identity creed can only guarantee situational group narcissism and its concomitant sexual deviances, as it did for the 400 years it was in the ascendancy, having replaced the more grounded identity found in Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule, now all but forgotten.

Simply adding psychological, moral and spiritual fail-safes on top of the indoctrination may weed out some men, but it will not yield a healthy priesthood. A few men may be first attracted to and then actually survive a training by which they are hyper-invested in a rococo ideology that tries to tell them they are both special and kenotic members of Christ. But this is a recipe for both ego inflation and deprivation neurosis, which, when combined, will continue to breed psychologically and spiritually brittle men and a greatly weakened church.

Clare McGrath-Merkle, O.C.D.S.

Baltimore, Md.

Render Unto Caesar

In response to “Obama Seeks ‘Right Balance’” (Signs of the Times, 12/19/11), the Catholic bishops’ argument that Catholic institutions would not be protected by the religious employer exemption and would be forced to discontinue health coverage for employees or cease offering some social services, it seems possible that even a modified mandate would be unacceptable to Catholic organizations.

I suggest an alternative: consider the health insurance mandate as being dictated by Caesar. In Jesus’ time the taxes rendered to Caesar supported many immoral activities—crucifixions, temples to Jupiter, public religious celebrations. But refusing to pay meant ceasing to function. Today, for Catholic organizations, the small part of the health insurance payments supporting the mandate would be like a tax payment rendered to Caesar so as to continue functioning. Rendering to God would be to continue the good work, teaching compassion, so lacking in our society. Any diminution of Catholic presence would delight the followers of Ayn Rand, to whom compassion is a four-letter word.

Don Rampolla

Pittsburgh, Pa.

A Cost Overwhelming

In response to Kevin Clarke’s Of Many Things column (1/2): It seems to me that we are a country that will always be at war. We have a thousand military bases around the world. The cost of casualties will continue to climb. Coalition deaths totaled 4,803, of whom 93 percent were Americans. U.S. wounded were 32,200. Iraqi deaths are estimated at between 103,000 and 114,000. The war resulted in 1.24 million internally displaced people and more than 1.6 million refugees.

In their book The Three Trillion Dollar War, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimated the projected cost of veterans’ health care and disability payments to be between $422 billion and $717 billion. The number of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder is at least 168,000. The suicide rate for Iraq/Afghanistan veterans is one every 36 hours. We have left Iraq a devastated country and squandered capital that could have improved our cities, schools and infrastructure. The official casualties number hundreds of thousands, but we are all victims.

Rich Broderick

Cambridge, N.Y.

Off With Their Heads?

Concerning “More Human Rights” (Current Comment, 1/2) on the persecution of homosexuals in Uganda, Kenya and Saudi Arabia: Judging from my time spent in Saudi Arabia, the accusation is unjust. There no one is “beaten or killed” because of sexual orientation, at least not by the legal system. The crime for which the death penalty is occasionally inflicted is homosexual acts. No doubt this is draconian by our standards; but all sorts of sexual acts that are not criminalized in the developed world are capital offenses in Saudi Arabia, including adultery and bestiality. The U.S. secretary of state certainly could not have intended to imply that it is a violation of human rights to criminalize sexual activities that society considers deviant. In fact the United States does this too—e.g. rape, though it does not execute rapists.

Amy Ho-Ohn

Boston, Mass.

Silence Violates Integrity

Thank you for “More Human Rights” about the oppressive anti-gay bill in Uganda. Catholic leaders have been shamefully silent on international human rights violations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This is indeed a pro-life issue. The leaders’ silence bespeaks a homophobia that is destructive not only to others but to themselves, as they violate their own integrity by their silence. Uganda’s population is 42 percent Catholic, the largest denomination in the country. Catholic leaders speaking out could make a real difference on whether Uganda accepts or rejects this legislation. I invite those interested to see the New Ways Ministry Web site for more information.

Francis DeBernardo

Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

Mount Rainier, Md.

Prosecute the Real Culprits

Re “Fixing Immigration,” by Donald Kirwin and James Ziglar (12/12/11): You do not have to spend billions on the border to stop illegal immigration. You have to spend the billions on a worker identification system that will prevent job seekers from getting a job if they do not have work-related documentation. I have witnessed situations where the migra have arrested illegals while the employer watched unscathed. The real culprits in this fiasco are the employers who have gone untouched when most know their workers are illegal. Exporting the illegals themselves is only a Band-Aid on the system; eventually they will go home because they cannot find a job.

Pedro Pacheco

Tucson, Ariz.

Stereotypes vs. Anecdotes

America should be commended for “Fixing Immigration” (12/12/11), but the prospect of reform remains hostage to extreme rhetoric on both sides. For a dialogue to be productive, the right must relinquish the manipulation of stereotypes and fears to create electoral support, and the left must forgo the argument-by-anecdote designed to undermine even legitimate immigration law enforcement.

Joe Greene

Monticello, Minn.

A Voice of the Third

In response to “The Long Goodbye” (Current Comment, 12/19/11), the last sentence—“But when the shepherd surveys his flock and spots one sheep straying over a hillside to the right while a third or more of the flock is disappearing into the forest on the left, can there be any doubt about which way he should go?”—is an excellent analogy. I am one of the “third or more” who left after years of Voice of the Faithful meetings as well as writing letters to bishops and Pope John Paul II begging them to hold bishops accountable. At Penn State University and Syracuse, those who covered up the abuse of children either resigned or were fired. Except for those who retired or died, the bishops whose negligence spread the abuse are still in power, and John Paul II is on the fast track to canonization. The survivors who spoke out are responsible for the positive changes in the church in the past 10 years.

Eileen M. Ford

Rockport, Mass.

End as He Lived

Franklin Freeman’s review of Hemingway’s Boat, by Paul Hendrickson (1/2), calls for a reply. Hemingway could write like an angel, but he lived for thrills, worshiping at the altar of the idol god Pleasure: four marriages and goodness knows how many affairs, bullfighting, fighting in the Spanish Civil War, big-game hunting in Africa, deep sea fishing. The person who lives for pleasure and thrills can never get enough. This helps explain the deep pessimism in Hemingway’s writing. From the moment when the fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea catches the biggest fish of his life, he knows it will turn out badly. Too large to get into the boat, the huge catch is lashed alongside, soon the target for sharks. When the man gets back to port, all that is left of his catch is a skeleton. Is it so surprising that a man who “could never get enough” ended by blowing his brains out at age 61?

(Rev.) John Jay Hughes

St. Louis, Mo.

Tell Me a Story

I am a new Catholic, as of four years ago, and “The Long Black Line,” by Patrick Gilger, S.J. (1/2), captured much of what has drawn me to this “fallible, tissue-paper-thin church.” It is love and the great mystery of how God’s love for us is transmitted through Christ and then through each of us, person by person, like a wonderful contagion of Spirit. Thank you for the stories of how these three men helped shape one Jesuit’s life. It is important to tell stories like these.

Laura Locke

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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12 years 6 months ago

Carmelite Sister Clare McGrath-Merkle says (letters 1/16-23): "...there is no evidence to suggest that levels of sexual abuse by members of the Catholoic clergy concentrated after 1960." The support she offers for her claim-"anecdotal evidence"- is not persuasive. However, since the report she challenges -the John Jay report- targets only the 1950-2010 era, her claim stands uncontested.

Can someone who has the resources to do so give us a thorough report on the two claims? It is important. The high incidence of abuse of minors by priests: Is it simply a phenomen of the era 1950-2010 as the John Jay reprt says? Or, is it a persistent crime in the life and history of the Church, as Sister Clare says? Two different pictures of the Church are given here? Which is real? We need to know!

The question has been the elephant in our room for several years. We need to notice it.

James Crafton


Anne Chapman
12 years 6 months ago
Mr. Crafton, you might want to look for a book called "Sex, Priests and Secred Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse" (2006).  The authors are Fr. Thomas Doyle, who conducted an exhaustive research task for the US bishops in the 1980s and prepared a report for the US Bishops in the 1980s; Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk, and a sociologist who has done extensive research into this and related questions, and Patrick Wall.  From the amazon.com review: "The three distinguished authors have served as experts and consultants in over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, and have collectively spent over 70 years of official service within the church."

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