Letters 05.26.19

Readers respond to Register articles.

(photo: Register Files)

Burn With Courage!

On Ash Wednesday, our bishop, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, wrote against the horrifying “infanticide” legislation of New York and now other states.

Bravo to bishops who grip their croziers and speak out. But they stop fatally short of connecting the dots, of noting the elephant in the room.

Abortion and infanticide are owned and undeniably advocated by one party.

“Catholics” in that party scandalously mislead the faithful, challenged by only a fistful of bishops — about that same, less than five, number as there are pro-life Democrats: 277 pro-death Dems; 255 active, silent bishops.

Eighty-two years before our bishop’s statement, almost to the exact March date, a papal encyclical was smuggled into Nazi Germany and surprisingly read from every pulpit.

It was explicit about the evils of the Reich, zero general admonition. It was entitled Mit Brennender Sorge (“With Burning Concern”).

Burn with courage, bishops! We face an evil that must be met head-on — explicitly.

                        John Imler

                        Syracuse, Indiana


Following Peter

Relative to “Archbishop Chaput: Have Hope, Because ‘God Doesn’t Lose” (March 29, NCRegister.com). Thank you for your exceptionally insightful and well-timed intervention at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

I think you told the seminarians there exactly what they needed to hear. In a time when we could all be seized by despair, you reminded us that God is still in charge of the universe he created and that he “doesn’t lose.”

I made copies of this article and passed it around to friends as well as to my bishop, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle.

There is only one paragraph to which I am forced to take exception.

And that is where you are quoted as saying the following: “And many bishops are also frustrated ... with Rome for its unwillingness to acknowledge the real nature and scope of the abuse problem. Clerical privilege is not the problem. Clericalism may be a factor. ... Not naming the real problem for what it is — a pattern of predatory homosexuality and a failure to weed that out from Church life — is an act of self-delusion.”

I am afraid that in this case you and many other Church leaders for whom I have otherwise the greatest respect missed what Pope Francis really said in his “Concluding Address to the Participants of the Vatican Summit on Child Protection” (Feb. 24, NCRegister.com):

“No explanations suffice for these abuses involving children. We need to recognize with humility and courage that we stand face-to-face with the mystery of evil. ... She (the Church) feels called to combat this evil which strikes at the very heart of her mission.”

The Pope continues: “What would be the existential ‘meaning’ of this criminal phenomenon? In the light of its human breadth and depth, it is none other than the present-day manifestation of the spirit of evil. If we fail to take account of this dimension, we will remain far from the truth and lack real solutions.”

So Pope Francis is far from saying that clericalism is the cause of the abuses, sexual or otherwise; he goes much deeper than that. It is the spirit of evil that is at the root of the problem — at one point he also uses the adjective “diabolical.”

I think all Christians, especially Church leaders, should pay attention to that instead of being fixated on the secondary causes, whether homosexuality, clericalism or whatever.

I firmly believe that Pope Francis is right, and we should investigate — and find solutions for — the abuse crisis in light of what he so clearly expressed. (And stop throwing around accusations at one another and recognize that there is a good reason why Our Lord chose Peter and his successors as guides for his acrimonious Church.)

With great respect and affection, and always praying for God’s protection over all of us.

                        Gabriel Szabados

                        Seattle, Washington


Questioning Mary

Regarding “Misreading Mary Magdalene” (Arts, April 28 issue):

I have three comments on this review:

First, in the Gospels, the Scribes and Pharisees often criticize Jesus for associating with tax collectors and other sinners, including sinful women, but not for his relationships with women in general.

Rather than seeing these relationships as evidence of his “subversive disregard for Jewish social norms,” I think they indicate that those norms were not as rigid and oppressive toward women as Deacon Greydanus seems to assume. 

The Gospels’ treatment of women does not make the case that Jesus dealt with them in a revolutionary manner, but rather that they had considerable freedom to make their own decisions and act as they pleased.

Second, the reviewer seems to accept the film’s denial of Mary’s sinfulness, that she wasn’t really possessed by demons.

While the Gospels do not list her sins, they do attest that Jesus exorcised seven demons from her (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2).

Some commentators seem to think that portraying her as a great sinner diminishes her stature as a saint.

On the contrary: The worse sinner she was, the more hope it gives the rest of us to be able to turn our lives around and to strive for holiness.

Third, the question of the identification of Mary of Magdala with Mary of Bethany.

It is easy to understand the arguments against this identification.

How could a woman from a well-off family in Bethany become a demon-possessed sinner from Magdala?

But ... Mary of Bethany loved Jesus deeply. She chose the better part; she sat at his feet to absorb his teaching, his presence. Six days before the Passover she anointed his feet with nard (John 12:3).

If Mary of Bethany is not Mary of Magdala, where was she on Good Friday and Easter Sunday?

Living only a few miles away, wouldn’t she have been at the foot of the cross and at the tomb with the other women?

         Michael Sullivan

         Lincoln, Nebraska


Deacon Steven Greydanus responds: John 4:27 tells us that Jesus’ disciples “marveled that he was talking with a woman.” Jesus’ behavior here was doubly surprising: He was speaking both to a woman and to a Samaritan.

The woman herself expressed surprise in verse 9 that Jesus addressed her, “a woman of Samaria,” and John highlighted the latter issue (“For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”). Yet the fact that he was talking with a woman was at least as astonishing, even to his own followers who knew him.

That’s one small indication of Jesus’ defiance of cultural norms that are admittedly not a major New Testament theme.

Still, our historical sources on this score go beyond the New Testament, and we can confidently say that Jesus’ treatment of women was not the norm.

Every saint in heaven, except the Blessed Virgin, was a sinner.

The movie’s revisionism on Mary Magdalene’s demonic possession is certainly a problem. But there are also reasons for concern about the great imaginative elaboration in the medieval tradition of Mary Magdalene’s past as a specifically sexual sinner.

I wish the film had allowed its heroine to be genuinely oppressed by demons and to need real redemption from real sins — for that matter, I wish the idea of sins were a bigger theme overall — but I’m glad that she wasn’t depicted yet again as a prostitute or adulteress.

On problems with identifying Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany, I go into greater detail than this space allows at DecentFilms.com/marymary.