Why We Go Back to Bethlehem, Again and Again

I noted with interest the Register’s front-page article “St. Joseph Gets His Due” (Nov. 26 - Dec. 2) about the new movie The Nativity Story, which opened in the United States on Dec. 1.

Over the years, the depiction of the Nativity of Our Lord (the crèche) has taken on very special meaning to Christians since it captures the quiet dignity of the birth of the Christ-child.

Surprisingly, it is not well-known that its depiction as such did not make its initial appearance until well over 1,000 years after the actual event. (We have St. Francis of Assisi to thank for the custom of constructing crèches for Christmas.)

Since that time, theologians, philosophers and ordinary people have shared their perceptions about this monumental event. Two of the lesser known insights into the Nativity are:

— When Jesus became an adult, he stated: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). This gave deeper meaning to the brightness of the star that had shone over Bethlehem three decades prior. Archbishop Fulton Sheen contrasted this light with the mid-day darkness that enveloped the area when Jesus died on the cross.

— The Wise Men symbolize the rich, while the shepherds symbolized the poorest members of society. The message of this metaphor is that the love of the Messiah knows no economic, social or class barriers.

Thomas E. Dennelly

West Islip, New York

Finding Limbo

Contrary to Father James Gilhooley’s op-ed column “How Long Will Limbo Be in Limbo?” (Nov. 26 - Dec. 2), the Catholic Church will not, and cannot, discard the theological deduction known as limbo, declaring, or even seeming to declare, that all unbaptized infants go to heaven.

What is at stake is the Catholic dogma of original sin, which, as the Catechism teaches, is “an essential truth of the faith” (No. 388-9).

In addition to the core of this dogma, there is a derivative dogma: the truth that the souls of those dying in original sin only are punished in some way in the next world. This de fide truth was taught by two ecumenical councils: Lyons II in 1274 and Florence in 1439. As Pope Innocent III taught in 1201, this next-world punishment is deprivation of the beatific vision. For these reasons, the Church is irrevocably committed to the position that unbaptized infants cannot attain the supernatural happiness of the beatific vision in heaven. The Church cannot retract a dogma, for she cannot contradict herself in her official teachings.

Nevertheless, Father Francis Connell’s 1949 Baltimore Catechism informs us of the following, under question 324: “Infants who die without baptism of any kind do not suffer the punishments of those who die in mortal sin. They may enjoy a certain natural happiness, but they will not enjoy the supernatural happiness of heaven.” This unending, unmerited natural happiness is what we mean by limbo.

But can infants who do not receive the sacrament of baptism reach heaven via baptism of desire? No, for Pope Pius XII taught on Oct. 29, 1951, that baptism of desire is not open to infants. While the new Catechism says that we may “hope” for “a way of salvation” for unbaptized infants (No. 1261), this hope, in the light of the unbroken continuity of Catholic teaching, has to be understood as the hope for limbo. Limbo, in addition to being a kind of damnation (loss of the beatific vision), is, simultaneously and paradoxically, a kind of salvation (salvation from hell).

Catholics should realize that one of the terrible consequences that would flow from an impossible “abolition” of limbo would be an increase in the number of abortions. If, as confused Catholics claim, all unbaptized infants are guaranteed heaven without any risk, then it is better to be aborted than to be born. After all, those who are born run the risks of sinning mortally, dying unrepentant and being sent to hell for all eternity.

The bottom line is that Christ’s promises to the Catholic Church (Matthew 16:18 and 28:20), and the protective intercession of the Mother of God, will prevent the Church from overturning the dogma of original sin — or any other dogma.

Stephen M. O’Brien

Staten Island, New York

Let Parents Parent

Regarding “Diocese of Manchester Creates Complementary Safe Environment Programs” (Nov 12-18):

There are reasons why many dioceses throughout the United States feel uneasy about presenting these programs. It’s because many parents are outraged that this type of material is being brought into the classroom.

There are valid reasons why parents and the Catholic Medical Association oppose these programs in the school. Looking at the curriculum and not knowing where a facilitator will take a sensitive discussion certainly causes concern for parents. This curriculum may be slightly different from some of the other controversial programs, but the topic of sexual abuse remains the same. Since the topic remains the same, parents will not know where the discussion goes as it unfolds in a classroom with someone other than a parent. 

As the article states, this is the job of the parent. How can a diocese support the role of a parent, while at the same time, step into their shoes? You don’t make parents responsible by taking responsibility away from them. If this were really an issue of aiding parents in their role, these programs would be offered after school hours so students can opt in — instead of requiring students to opt out.

We pay tuition and every program introduced during the school day ultimately takes time away from our children receiving academic instruction.

In addition to this assault on parental rights, we all have to wonder how much money was spent on a program that many of us, if not all of us, have already spent time discussing with our children. This is money that could go for supporting our underpaid teachers or providing a Catholic education for a family who can not afford it.

If parents wanted their children to participate in these kinds of programs, we would send our children to public schools where oftentimes they prove to be a failed effort at a costly expense. We choose to take our role as parents very seriously, and the fact that we pay tuition should indicate how important our children are to us.

These programs do nothing to ensure the safety of our children. We can’t say we support parents, then seek to undermine their role at the same time.

Ann Marie Banfield

Bedford, New Hampshire

The Polygraph Prescription

“British Priests Fight Back Against Sketchy Accusations” (Nov. 12-18) refers to the dilemma in the British Isles — yet the problem has its parallel here in many dioceses in the United States.

I am amazed that one possible solution to this problem has not been mentioned, to my knowledge, in any public forum. It may be that it’s so bizarre that it has been discounted by canon lawyers. At the risk of inviting myself to ridicule, I will propose it here:

Although the results of polygraph examinations have been denied any official credence in our courts of law, “lie detectors” have proven themselves invaluable as an investigative tool by many investigators and prosecutors.

I propose that, when a complaint of sexual abuse is received in any diocese, the complainant be asked if he or she is willing to submit to examination by a qualified polygraph operator. The same would be offered to the subject of the complaint. If the complainant agrees and the subject of the allegation refuses, the allegation should be accepted as valid and the investigation initiated. If the complainant refuses to submit while the subject agrees, the allegations should be discounted.

In my diocese, at least one qualified polygraph operator has offered his services on a pro bono (free) basis.

J. Richard Brock

Lincoln, California

Sanctity, not Shrinks

Thank you for your coverage of the Catholic Medical Association’s recommendations regarding sex-abuse prevention programs for children (“Doctors Recommend Reform of Bishops’ Sex Abuse Prevention Plans,” Nov. 26 - Dec. 2). My hope is that this will lead to more dialogue and soul searching as to the appropriateness of such programs.

I can’t help but sense that the real agenda behind these programs is to show the world what the Church is ”doing” to prevent further abuse, and not so much whether they are actually appropriate or beneficial for children. It seems that, in their haste to have a program to offer, Church leaders have sometimes neglected to reflect deeply enough on whether these programs were even in conformity with Church teaching, relying instead on psychology. Psychology has its place, but psychology alone didn’t help cure the abusers — and it shouldn’t be the basis for protecting our children.

Instead, let us look to the dioceses with the lowest numbers of priest-abuse cases: They are not the dioceses with the best psychologists, but the ones that have encouraged strong catechesis along with obedience and fidelity to the magisterium.

Barb Johnson

Brookfield, Wisconsin

Bulls Deserve Better

The Inperson interview with Adriano Moraes, “World Champion Bull Rider Is ‘Cowboy of God’” (Nov. 19-25), made depressing reading.

Mr. Moraes reconciles the inevitable cruelty of this “sport” with his Catholic faith on the basis that “animals are here to serve us.” Yet Catholic theology, as expressed in the Catechism, enjoins human beings to treat animals with kindness and gentleness, in the tradition of Sts. Francis of Assisi and Philip Neri (No. 2416). 

Does not bull riding, with its use of agonizing spurs and flank straps, cause “animals to suffer or die needlessly,” as condemned by the Catechism (No. 2418)?

Deborah Jones

Catholic Concern for Animals

Cheltenham, England



In “Communion Statement Stirs Controversy” (Nov. 26 - Dec. 2), we incorrectly identified Bishop Thomas Tobin as bishop of Youngstown, Ohio. He left that diocese to become bishop of Providence, R.I., in 2005.

In “Building a College From the Eucharist Up” (Dec. 3-8), it was former Corpus Christi Bishop Roberto Gonzalez — now archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico — who gave a former high school to the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity in order to help start Our Lady of Corpus Christi.


You can take Toys “R” Us off your “Scrooge Stores” list and add it to your “Christmas-friendly” one. Sometime between our reporter’s research period and the day we went to print with “Is ‘Christmas’ Making a Comeback?” (Dec. 3-10), the chain began splashing the word “Christmas” quite liberally in its signage, marketing and store-greeting campaign.