National Catholic Register


Letters to the Editor

BY John Lilly

July 23 - August 5, 2006 Issue | Posted 7/23/06 at 10:00 AM


Stem Cells: Victory Belongs to the Accurate

I am one of the scientists in the picture that accompanied your article “Saved by Stem Cells” (July 2-8).

I am a pro-life stem-cell scientist and have been active in the ethics of the embryonic stem-cell debate for quite some time. I have two problems with what you wrote.

1. Your article suggests that children with cerebral palsy can be cured by autologous transplantation with cord-blood stem cells. The anecdote that you describe will inevitably raise hopes in parents of children with similar conditions. However, you completely fail to mention that there is absolutely no scientific proof that cord-blood stem cells have any benefit in childhood neurological conditions. There are no FDA-approved clinical trials and no data from animal experiments that support this approach. In fact, one has to really ask how any physician could conduct such an experiment. The apparent improvement in this single case proves nothing. The Internet is replete with testimonies about “cures” of all sorts, especially for desperate conditions such as cancer.

Again, let me state very clearly: Your article as written (without the disclaimer regarding the lack of scientific rationale for this treatment) is misleading and a disservice to your readers. It could well drive some desperate parents into the hands of stem-cell quacks, currently a growth industry.

2. Your article is an example of the claim that “Adult stem cells can do everything embryonic stem cells can do.” This statement has never been true and is not true now.

Let me use the example of hematopoietic stem cells, the bone-marrow stem cells used for the treatment of severe blood disorders such as leukemia. These cells are typically cited by Catholic publications as evidence that adult stem cells are “just as good as embryonic stem cells.” While it is true that many patients have been successfully treated by bone marrow transplantation over the past 20 years, the mortality rate still approaches 50% for patients who do not have a matched donor, such as a relative who happens to share their blood type. That is the majority of patients, more than half.

It now appears possible, however, to make perfectly tissue-matched blood stem cells from embryonic stem cells and then use them for transplantation. Scientists at Harvard have successfully applied this procedure in mice. It goes something like this: Cloning (nuclear transfer) is used to create an embryo from the patient’s skin cells. The embryo is then destroyed to make embryonic stem cells, which are then converted into blood stem cells in the lab. If this could be done in humans, blood stem-cell transplantation would become much safer for the many patients who need it. I use this example to illustrate that embryonic stem-cell technology likely will have “benefits” even in the realm of classic adult stem cells. In addition, the technology opens up many other opportunities for improved human health. It will take time to get there, but it will happen.

It is important that we represent the scientific facts truthfully even if they are inconvenient for us. I don’t want us to be in a position of having to back-paddle a few years from now when people are beginning to be cured with embryo-derived cells. In my opinion there is a very high likelihood that this will happen. Our argument against embryonic stem cells is not scientific — it is moral and ethical!

Markus Grompe, m.d.

Oregon Stem Cell Center

Amnesty Advocate

Regarding “Immigration’s 2 Catholic Camps” (June 25-July 1) by Father Andrew McNair:

A few further points need to be made. Illegal immigrants took few jobs that any Americans wanted. The prosperity of the ’80s and ’90s created a labor shortage in the factories and warehouses amongst contractors in all law-paying service industries. American businessmen broke the law openly, welcoming illegal immigrants and enriching themselves. The authorities made few efforts to enforce the law.

Nor did the public mind. Neither students nor dropouts showed any enthusiasm for mowing lawns or working at Burger King, let alone a factory. Money could be made easier by getting a union card from a relative or becoming a salesman or going into computers. Illegal immigrants became essential to our economy.

We did not enforce the law because we profited from illegal immigrants. I’ve worked around and I know. The illegal immigrants were paid less. They were exploited. Still, they earned more than was possible in their native lands. They also had children here, perhaps a few million, all of whom are American citizens. Their children cannot be deported for any reason. This creates a dilemma. What happens to the children of illegal immigrants — American citizens — if their parents are deported? I have yet to hear anyone in this debate ask about the children.

Interpreting the law of charity in its strict sense, we owe an obligation to illegal immigrants. The unions now feel threatened. Well, the unions are an elitist and highly non-productive minority of American workers who have thrived for decades on patronage and Mafia corruption.

Then we have those who rant about the hospital costs that illegal immigrants add to. This is pure nonsense. Illegals almost never use a hospital or public service. The health-insurance system in America is collapsing under the weight of our affluent seniors who have lifetime benefits from their corporation, union or civil-service job, or for whom the cost of insurance is a trifle. Every year they run up [enormous] bills that insurance pays.

The current gleeful and vociferous attack on illegals is swamped with hypocrisy. The only real solution, and charitable solution, is total, blanket amnesty.

Matt Terranova

Hackensack, New Jersey


Praise for the Priest Maker

I was thrilled to see one of my favorite priests, Msgr. James McDonald, highlighted in your Inperson interview, “Seminary Secrets of the Priest Maker” (July 9-15).

Seven years ago, I moved my family to St. John the Evangelist in Center Moriches, N.Y., just to be in his parish. While waiting for the closing of my home, I drove by the church and saw a sight that warmed my heart: Monsignor walking to Mass in his cassock, telling his well-worn rosary beads. The first homily I heard from him, he talked about Satan, heaven and hell. I knew I was in the right place for my family, and told him so.

Msgr. McDonald built a beautiful, traditional church using the 100-year-old furnishings for the old church, and even adding more statues to some of his favorite saints. He added a gorgeous, medieval-style chapel for Eucharistic adoration. St. John’s had First Friday, First Saturday and Miraculous Medal devotions. He preached incessantly about the necessity for confession “to save your immortal soul.” He would scream as he paced the church and walked into the pews during his homilies. No one ever read the bulletin or dozed during a Msgr. McDonald homily! Often he would break into tears when describing his love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

As devoted as he was to preaching the truth, Monsignor was the epitome of the concerned pastor. He would hear your confession at any moment, anywhere, and come to the home in the wee hours to baptize a miscarried baby of more than one parishioner. He began a Spanish Mass and an institute to train catechists and lay leadership. He had a St. Gerard Majella feast day Mass with his relic, to which many mothers attribute their children’s births. Parishioners in crisis would call him on his cell phone.

We miss Msgr. McDonald at St. John’s but his legacy remains, six years since his departure from our parish. And now Msgr. McDonald — the man Bishop Murphy introduced to the Eucharistic Congress Youth Event as “the priest I most admire, who has the best relationship with youth in the diocese, a combination father and grandfather figure” — is where he can do all of us in the Rockville Centre Diocese the most good: forming priests in his own mold, that is in persona Christi.

Leticia Velasquez

East Moriches, New York

Encountering Marriage

I was delighted to read your article on marriage resources, “To Have and to Hold, Happily” (June 25 - July 1). However, I was disappointed to see that you did not mention one of the largest Catholic groups strengthening marriages today — Worldwide Marriage Encounter.

For more than 30 years, Worldwide Marriage Encounter has been sponsoring weekends for married couples to give them the tools to communicate better. They also offer ongoing marital-support groups to encourage couples to continue with what they have learned on the weekend.

My husband and I went on a weekend two years ago this month. We learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship over the weekend, but we have also benefited from our monthly get-togethers with other married couples. We’re constantly reminded that marriage is a sacrament and needs to be nourished.

I would encourage your married readers to consider making a weekend. It’ll change their lives. For information, go to


Patricia Dolezal

Canal Fulton, Ohio

A Poorly Chosen Fight

Regarding “Governor Fires Catholic for Criticizing Homosexuality” (July 9-15):

I really hate to interrupt while the authors, editors and even the august and reasonable Bill Donohue are all busily patting Mr. Smith on the back for his laudable stance, but exactly what would any reasonably politically aware political analyst expect?

Let me start by saying that I agree the man’s words were consistent with Catholic teaching and therefore are nothing to be ashamed of. That said, given the opportunity to make a point in a political venue, he chose to hug the Catechism, using language he knew (being a political analyst) was inflammatory. He could easily have made the point that the state’s interest in the marriage relationship is and always has been to safeguard the environment in which children are begotten and raised — for the benefit of the children of the society, not for the benefit of those adults who gaze longingly into the eyes of one and only one other. (The compelling interests of our state governments do not wander within 50 feet of interpersonal relationships among consenting adults, unless public health is involved.)

I am not at all ashamed of Church teaching on this or any subject. But I am a bit chagrined that the author seems to believe that throwing it in the faces of all within earshot, regardless of the circumstances, actually qualifies as standing up for Church teaching, or even apologetics. It does not. Logic and the natural law are the tools best used among those who do not know, or do not ascribe to, the teachings of the Church.

The one aspect of this I would expect a politician such as Donohue to understand is that a political appointee serves at the pleasure of the one who appointed him. His job is to serve by executing the intent of the boss. The cardinal rule among political appointees is to never become a burden to the boss. In a state that is 2-1 Democratic and on a topic with such partisan implications, Mr. Smith’s choice to pick a street fight rather than just arm wrestle was his own; the consequences for his feel-good “defense” of Church teaching may yet be visited on many others.

Choose your fights well and win them!

James Kevin Richardson

El Paso, Texas