Justice for All

Kathleen McChesney focuses on the most important aspect of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in her article on its relevance: the protection of children (“Is the Charter Still Relevant?” 6/8). Another aspect, protection of an accused priest against defamation of his name and unjust removal from ministry, has been totally neglected in the charter’s conception and administration. Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., pointed out in these pages (“Rights of Priests,” 6/21/04) that the bishops had contradicted in their charter the very principles embraced in their November 2000 statement on criminal justice: the dignity and presumed innocence of the accused, and that punishment must fit the crime.

Dulles wrote that the charter totally rejected the canonical statutes of limitations, had ignored proportionality (a pat on someone’s posterior to be treated the same as serial rape), had failed to define precisely “sexual abuse” (leaving it up to different bishops to make their own various definitions) and had failed to respect the presumption of innocence (removal from ministry without due process or admission of guilt).


We canonists are being sought by priests, possibly unjustly removed from ministry, sometimes even without prior notice and an opportunity to defend themselves. The bishop becomes arresting officer, prosecutor, judge, sentencing judge and appellant bench—a judicial absurdity.

In the interest of justice and intellectual consistency, the Dallas charter should be promptly amended on these issues.

(Msgr.) Harry J. Byrne, J.C.D.

New York, N.Y.

More Information, Please

Kathleen McChesney’s article about the relevance of the Dallas charter affirms its need, but unfortunately deals with only part of the problem. Citing statistics about the cost of providing training to guide parishes in providing safe environments, McChesney ignores the issue of whether and how the funds have been expended to address the twofold problem of priestly formation and episcopal accountability to reduce the chances of predators entering or remaining in the priesthood.

What were those measures, and to what extent have those efforts been effective? How have those measures affected the screening and training of the seminarians who are now in formation? What changes have been mandated for seminaries? And what charter have our bishops embraced for their own behavior?

(Deac.) Michael D. Ciletti

Colorado Springs, Colo.

Power Politics

Thank you for your eloquent, if innocent, editorial on the “Community of Disciples” (6/22). Speaking of internal divisions within the American Catholic community, you state forcefully that “polarization must stop.” Toward that end you recommend reaffirmation of shared principles, conversation led by the bishops about public policy, active civic engagement and most of all dialogue marked by “toleration, charity and respect.” Your magazine regularly bears witness to those values.

But surely readers would benefit from a little history, reminding them that the American bishops, led by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, not too long ago were developing a capacity to do precisely what you suggest. Bernardin, like America’s editors, wanted to stop polarization and strengthen dialogue. But the Vatican, important U.S. bishops, and a handful of American Catholic intellectuals purposefully rejected key Bernardin-era projects, setting sharp limits on the teaching authority and later the budget and staff of the national episcopal conference, criticizing the consistent ethic of life as inconsistent with papal teaching and dismissing structures of shared responsibility through which “dialogue” might take place.

In fact, dialogue came under suspicion; and mutual respect, toleration of differences and the search for common ground all were redefined as “liberal” values at odds with supposedly orthodox Catholic teaching. Bernardin-era moderates were accused of compromising Catholic truth for political purposes. Bernardin, who excelled at bringing passionate extremes to dialogue and consensus, was relocated as a figure of the “left,” along with the theological followers of John Courtney Murray, S.J., the architect of Vatican II-era ideas about Catholic political responsibility. Followers of the Murray-Bernardin approach, not least the editors of America, soon learned that supporting dialogue, shared responsibility and mutual respect could be dangerous. Implementing appeals like your recent editorial could bring not only sharp criticism from self-appointed guardians of Catholic identity but penalties from ecclesiastical leaders less interested in the common good than in what they regard as Catholic integrity.

How this one-sided polarization all happened, at great cost to our country and our church, was and remains a matter of politics, the acquisition and exercise of power within as well as outside the community of disciples. We have to get tougher. Your editorial appeal for a renewal among Catholics of the practice of shared responsibility, civic and ecclesial, will lose its innocence only if many of us who agree with you decide to invest a portion of our personal and collective resources in projects to change the church and bring Catholic ideas and experience to constructive engagement with our common life as Americans. If we wait, we lose.

David O’Brien

Dayton, Ohio

Keeping Cool

I have been a regular cover-to-cover reader of America for many years, and have found the content and commentary most helpful to growing and sustaining my faith. What I have admired the most was your willingness to take on the big issues and present views that challenge our church leaders and much conservative thinking. For the last year or two, though, I have detected a retreat from that aggressiveness, as if you are in a position of “lying low.” I concluded, without any real evidence, that word had come down from Rome to “cool it.”

I was impressed to read your editorial, “Community of Disciples,” which sounded like your old self. Thank you for publishing it—it restores my confidence in the magazine.

Donald Sauls

Wheaton, Ill.

From the Heart

My own heart filled and spilled over in tears as I read through to the end of “Ode to the Heart,” the winner of your 2009 Foley Poetry Award (6/8). Brent Newsom sang for all parents and all those who choose life. What a magnificent tribute to our Creator God.

Jane Connelly

Lusby, Md.

Gifts for the Journey

In “More Than a Desk Job” (7/6), Ann M. Garrido captured the essence of what administration is supposed to be. I have served as the chief executive officer of numerous hospitals and health care centers and can speak firsthand of the stresses that administrators face on a daily basis. But when I read the New Testament and realize that administration is included among the many gifts of the Holy Spirit, I understand how many times I have found the answers to problems and questions that would ordinarily stump me!

As Garrido so beautifully states, “It is precisely through embracing the mystery and walking through it [administration] that our spiritual journey becomes salvific. We open ourselves up to transformation.”

Sarah M. Voss, O.S.B.

St. Paul, Minn.

Big Shoes to Fill

Thank you to George Anderson, S.J., for providing an informative summary of the life of Daniel Berrigan, S.J. (“Looking Back in Gratitude,” 7/6). Berrigan’s life of courage and commitment to God and his fellow humans raises the question: Who among us today will fill the shoes of the Berrigans, Mahatma Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? We are in dire need of someone with their commitments to social justice and freedom for all.

James Mahon

San Bruno, Calif.

Words of Wisdom

I hope Julie Irwin Zimmerman’s “Science and the Path to Parenthood” (7/6) will be circulated widely around the world. The response of the church to reproductive technology is often clouded, and as the article states, Catholics know what is forbidden but know little about what is allowed or possible.

Are children and young people given enough correct information even to know about the church’s stance on reproductive technologies, even when we now have so much more information than ever?

Rosemary Keenan

Perth, Australia

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