Taking the advice of Matt Malone, S.J., I read “side-by-side” the two essays on Israel/Palestine, “For Israel,” by John Conley, S.J., and “Gaza Again,” by Margot Patterson (8/4). Father Conley disappointed.
My disappointment, bordering on intellectual shock, is not because I side with those who so annoyed him with calls to “divest in and sanction Israel” but because his rejoinder seems devoid of sound logic. He himself says his reaction was “simple.” His argument reads like something we might expect from a teenager trying to justify some transgression: “Hey, everybody else is doing it, so what’s the big deal?”
Violations of human decency and moral conduct, actions barely short of war crimes, must be condemned. So, yes, condemn them all—loudly and clearly—including Israel. Of all the countries “doing the same thing,” Israel alone is the democratic country; Israel alone is a people whose history most graphically exposes the evil of one agent raining down massacre on innocents among its enemies. There is not a shred of legal or moral defense for shooting one person through the heart with a pass-through bullet to kill the enemy standing behind.
Israel may not be alone in deserving condemnation, but by no means ought it to be protected against being condemned.
Margot Patterson would have us believe that Israel launched its current war against Hamas simply out of animosity for the Palestinians or for some sort of revenge over the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli settlers. She ignores the fact that Hamas has been shooting rockets into civilian neighborhoods in Israel since 2000, making life for the people there all but impossible.
And while Ms. Patterson bemoans the fact that the Palestinians “are too weak to induce Israel to make peace,” she conveniently forgets that it was Israel who accepted President Bill Clinton’s final status peace deal in 2000 and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who offered an even more generous deal in 2008—only to be ignored by the Palestinians.
As people of faith, we have to stop taking sides in what has become a truly tragic situation for both Israelis and Palestinians. When we do this, we do not act as peacemakers, we act as participants in the conflict. I wish America would start printing articles that show love and concern for both sides and offer an honest and constructive way out—instead of simplistically trying to make one side look like the bad guy.
Justice for Peace
Congratulations to Margot Patterson on her strong, honest commentary in “Gaza Again.” All the veils that mask the continued Israeli deprivation of the Palestinian people need to be pulled down. The public must free itself from the propaganda that has for too long held U.S. policy hostage.
The Catholic community, even on the 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” must openly distinguish between its abiding commitment to the Jewish people, including a Jewish homeland, and acquiescence to the relentless Israeli dispossession of the Palestinian people from the last remaining vestiges of their own home.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it known—at a Hebrew-language press conference—that he will never agree to a two-state solution. The alternatives, then, are either apartheid, a word Israelis despise but that describes the current and likely future reality, or “transfer”—that is, expulsion or ethnic cleansing, which is much discussed in the growing right-wing Israeli community.
It is time for the world and the church to insist that justice for Palestinians be the foundation of a peaceful order in the Holy Land.
Sr. Cora’s Care
Thank you for the article by Cora Marie Billings, R.S.M., “Saved by Grace” (7/7).
In 1993-94, I was a newly ordained priest of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus—the one that owned and sold slaves. Before my doctoral studies, I asked to spend two years in parish ministry and was missioned to the Jesuit parish in south-side Richmond, Va. Part of my ministry involved assisting other parishes in the diocese, including St. Elizabeth’s church, where Sister Cora served as pastoral coordinator. Reading her article called to mind my ministry as occasional “Mass priest” for her parish and the many ways in which Sister Cora contributed to my priestly formation.
I especially recall Holy Week 1994, when I served as presider and preacher for her mostlyAfrican-American parish. Sister Cora wisely and graciously guided this Irish-American Jesuit through all the Easter triduum liturgies. It is a tribute to Sister Cora that since then it has never been said of me that I am “as helpless as a Jesuit during Holy Week.” Sister Cora’s life of ministry and commitment continues to encourage and inspire me as a Catholic, a Jesuit and a priest.
More to the Story
In “Saved By Grace” (7/7), Cora Marie Billings, R.S.M., told the sad story of her great-grandfather, a slave owned by the Jesuits, transporting the priests to Visitation convent in Georgetown to celebrate Mass. Her article begged for some additional information about Jesuit slaveholding, and America provided it in a sidebar by Thomas Murphy, S.J., author of Jesuit Slaveholding in Maryland, 1717-1838.
Father Murphy’s book is well written, researched in depth and very instructive. His sidebar within the Billings article outlined in just a few paragraphs the complicated web of circumstances that led the Jesuits to become slaveholders, to oppose abolition and to sell off the final 272 slaves to Louisiana and how they rationalized it all. But he did not mention that they also rejected gradual manumission and that they did not teach their slaves to read and write. Nor did he repeat the inescapable and embarrassing conclusion in his own Epilogue, that “the Jesuits contradicted their own teaching about human dignity through their possession of slaves.”
A Worthy Defense
In “After Hobby Lobby” (Editorial, 7/21), the editors react to the recent Supreme Court decision, stating, “America has vigorously denounced government overstepping in this arena while at the same time expressing concern that the church may have joined the public policy discussions in too great detail.”
Were the Jesuits in El Salvador, who were at the forefront of the battle against governmental oppression, which denied the poor’s basic Christian rights to religious liberty, food and housing, guilty of joining “the public policy discussion in too great detail”? Aren’t religious liberty and the right to life also rudimentary Catholic values worthy of our unwavering defense? If so, why the editorial critique of other Catholic institutions, like the University of Notre Dame, to name one, for their “willingness to join the courtroom fray,” which the editorial board feels “risks diminishing the church’s ability to engage in a mutually respectful dialogue with civil society”? We rightly look to our Jesuits for moral leadership, not timid political correctness, on such fundamentals as religious liberty and the protection of life from the moment of conception.
“Prisoners Dilemma” (Editorial, 8/4) succinctly captures the sorry state of our “correctional” system. Its dysfunction has been apparent for many years. Not only does it woefully fail to “correct” the conduct of prisoners, it succeeds in producing better-trained criminals upon their release.
Recently, some realistic hope for reform has emerged. Conservative Republicans—many of whose policies helped exacerbate the problem—are now championing reforms. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Senator Rand Paul and the anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist have embraced ideas like repeal of mandatory minimum sentences, increased rehabilitation programs and alternative sanctions for low-level drug offenses. Let’s hope the Congress, whose dysfunction and inability to agree on any legislative reforms have been staggeringly depressing, can come together to pass some common sense reforms.
While there have been sporadic attempts to integrate schools and universities into the reform movement meaningfully, as recommended in the editorial, stronger involvement by academia should be encouraged by our civic and elected leaders.
A More Effective Audit
Having served as a diocesan director of safe environment for seven years, I read “How Effective Is Annual Audit?” (Signs of the Times, 8/4) with great interest. During my tenure, the diocese was audited three times for compliance with the charter, so I have some experience with the process. As the article indicates, “The annual audits rely on self-reporting and record-keeping by the dioceses themselves.” Although I had records to support the data I reported, no auditor ever asked to see them. Instead, they accepted the data at face value. Certainly, allowing the auditors access to source records, including clergy records used for self-reporting, and requiring them to verify the accuracy of the reported data would be a first step in improving the audit process.