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The Lady Compromises

When Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited Washington, D.C., last month, she was given a hero’s welcome. Rare is the individual who wins praise from both John McCain and Hillary Clinton, but a leader like Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi only comes along once or twice in a generation. Like Nelson Mandela, she spent more than a decade in detention, and her release marked the beginning of a new chapter for her home country. Like Vaclav Havel, she has the opportunity to help guide her country through a crucial period, as Burma emerges from a military dictatorship and begins the journey to democracy.

So far she has proved to be adept at the difficult work of peacemaking. As the leader of the opposition party in Parliament, she has shown willingness to work with the military, her former captors. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi must be practical: the military still holds a quarter of the seats in the legislature. She knows that to help her country, still reeling from years of international sanctions, she must be willing to work with those in the opposing party. “We must learn to compromise without regarding it as humiliation,” she said.


Much has been written about the deep ideological divisions in the United States. Yet those divisions need not hamper the work of government. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi may be an international icon, idolized by Bono, among others, but she is not above the messy business of negotiation. “You can’t be driven by ideology or romanticism,” she said. Whether the democratic movement in Burma succeeds will depend largely on whether her fellow citizens share her pragmatism.

Two Go Marching In

“How many American saints are there?” is a tricky question. The answer depends on what American means. American-born? American citizen? A person who worked in the United States? Or who worked in the United States before there was a United States? Tricky or not, most lists would include: Isaac Jogues, René Goupil and Jean de la Lande, French Jesuits martyred in New York; Frances Xavier Cabrini, the Italian missionary to immigrants; Elizabeth Ann Seton, the American-born foundress of the Sisters of Charity; John Neumann, a Bohemian immigrant and bishop of Philadelphia; Rose Philippine Duchesne, a French missionary to Native Americans; Katharine Drexel, the Philadelphia heiress-turned-foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament; Mother Théodore Guérin, the French-born foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods; and Damien de Veuster, the Dutch apostle to people suffering from Hansen’s disease on Molokai, Hawaii—again, not part of the United States at the time.

To this tricky but inspirational list can now be added Marianne Cope, a Sister of St. Francis who worked with St. Damien and assumed his responsibilities after he fell ill. Marianne will be canonized on Oct. 21 along with Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th-century Mohawk woman who converted to Catholicism and died at age 24. Among American Catholics Kateri’s canonization is especially welcome news for Jesuits and their colleagues. The new saint was welcomed into the faith by Jesuit missionaries in upstate New York. Early on, her canonization was also assisted by John Wynne, S.J., her vice postulator. Father Wynne worked tirelessly on Kateri’s behalf, writing not only a biography but also scores of letters as part of the investigations in the early part of the 20th ce ntury, after he set aside his other labors—as the first editor of America.

Pay to Pray?

Last year 126,488 German Catholics chose to remove their names from a national registry recognizing their membership in the church. Individuals included in this registry pay a so-called church tax equal to approximately 8 percent of their income tax. The moneys collected are passed on by the government to designated religious groups. This arrangement brings in approximately $6 billion a year to the Catholic Church in Germany, much of which goes to church-sponsored international humanitarian aid programs. The German Bishops Conference, during its meeting in late September, announced that German Catholics who withdraw from the registry and do not pay the tax will not be allowed to participate in the sacramental life of the church.

While some Catholics may decline to pay the tax as a way of officially declaring their separation from the church, others may do it for financial reasons alone. Pastors are to contact those who have removed their names to explore their reasons for that step and explain its conseqences. This will present an opportunity for pastoral dialogue; it may also be perceived as an attempt to press Catholics to pay the tax. While Rome has approved the bishops’ actions, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts explicitly stated in 2006 that a “formal act of defection must have more than a juridical-administrative character (the removal of one’s name from a Church membership registry maintained by the government in order to produce certain civil consequences).” The church in Germany must proceed with caution as well as charity.

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Christian Rideout
6 years 5 months ago
Stating the obvious, this German tax issue is so un-American!  I wonder if other the Lutherans and others have experienced the same level of defections.
MaryMargaret Flynn
6 years 5 months ago
First thing I thought of was-Wow, even with our Constitution, for the church in America it is becoming routine for the bishops to refuse the sacraments to public figures and a lot of us lay folks seem to support them in that. Well I do agree;at least the bishops can't tax us here. thankfully as Americans we can delight in our religious liberty.
Vincent Gaitley
6 years 5 months ago
The German Bishops should renounce the tax and depend solely upon the good charity of the German faithful.  Even its covenience as a collection method can not justify this continued affront to religious liberty and practise.  That the Bishops are threatening non-payers with pastoral action of any kind is further proof of how craven and cash dependent our Church looks.

This tax lacks charity and dignity and class.  Rome should separate the German Church from any appearance of being a tax apparatchik of Berlin.   


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