Whither Christian Courage?

Father Matthew Habiger's commentary “Must Catholic Politicians Disown Their Faith?” (Commentary, April 11-17) is deeply appreciated and well thought out. Thank you for it.

I am concerned by the Church in this country taking an almost radical stance against political involvement. After all, most people, Catholic or otherwise, are involved at some level and it is an involvement with a dire need for direction. I think our Holy Father as bishop in Poland in some ways has shown us that political involvement is absolutely necessary to protect the flock from injustice. His involvement with the governments of the world since he became Pope is a similar kind of involvement. He has not hesitated in challenging world leaders and governments to protect people and promote their good.

The important issues facing our political leaders today, as you point out, are issues of deep morality — often far deeper than the teachings of any church. They are rooted in the natural law and I am disturbed that the Church seems to often have this “hands-off” attitude just because something involves politics.

Many will say, “Oh no, the Church has made many pronouncements.” But pronouncements can be most unrelated to the life of the average person where the rubber meets the road.

All we have to do is look at the yearly appeal of pro-lifers who seek to use simple fliers in an attempt to convince their fellow Catholics to support life in the next election. As a participant in those activities for a generation now, I know that most pastors rely on the false “cover” that we must not do things anywhere near their church for fear of offending the powers that be. God forbid we risk losing our tax exemptions.

Last Sunday, Sen. John Kerry boldly proclaimed political messages from Protestant pulpits whose pastors seemed to have no fear of losing their tax exemptions. What is our real problem? Sad to say, there seems to be a strong tendency on the part of our pastors to seek the safest path possible. If we as a Church do not overcome this kind of cowardice, we in a sense deserve to lose every moral battle that comes along.


Lawrenceville, New Jersey

From Death to New Life

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is clearly a masterpiece of Christian art, with many layers of carefully-crafted theological and aesthetic meaning. My fourth viewing on Good Friday revealed yet more of the Paschal Mystery to me.

I baptized 12 adults at this year's Easter Vigil. Some of them did not want to go under the water and all of them, once they actually felt the waters closing in over them, found it shocking. As I watched the water close over their faces, I remembered the last scenes of Christ's scourging from the movie. Gibson portrays Christ face up, receiving the lashes from above, eyes closed, and muffles the sound so that we seem to be looking down upon one as under water. In fact, he is truly undergoing that “baptism of blood” he foretells in Luke 12:50. No longer even flinching under the blows, having surrendered himself completely into the Father's hands, Christ appears almost at rest. It is a masterful and profoundly theological depiction in image and sound.

I saw this same image in the faces of those I was baptizing. I saw them ultimately submitting to their own death under the water. Once they had made the decision to enter the font, the sacramental death of baptism swept them up into the life of grace, and they did not resist. They rose from that death newly fashioned in the Father's image. Immersion in water is no longer just a symbolic cleansing, because Jesus was not play-acting during his scourging.

As a pastor of a large parish, seeing many people's lives unfolding around me, I am struck by how closely Gibson's movie portrays the sacramental life of real Christians here and now.

Father Joseph Illo Pastor, St. Joseph's Church

Modesto, California

Discussing Sin

In “Russell Shaw on the Crisis” (April 11-17), Delia Gallagher quotes columnist Shaw saying that the real crisis has been taking place for the last 30 to 40 years in Catholicism in the United States: “What about sexual abuse by clerics in the United States that is not a crime — that does not involve minors but involves consenting adults? It's not against the law, it just happens to be a serious sin. Nobody is discussing that.”

Indeed, no one is discussing serious sin, whether it be with minors or adults, by clerics or laypersons, from most of our pulpits. The only person who mentioned serious sin at the bishops' sex-abuse meeting in Dallas two years ago was Gov. Frank Keating, who said, Let's face it — we're talking about mortal sin! (He didn't last too long on the lay review board after that.)

Since the exposure of the clergy sexual-abuse crisis, we have learned that five bishops were removed because of homosexual acts not only with adolescents but also with adults. This is not being addressed; worse, some are still active not in governing in a diocese but in the dispensing of the sacraments in their own or some other diocese.

Forgiveness yes, always. Penance, yes, always a penitential spirit should be present. In Alcoholics Anonymous, the fourth step is to “make amends, wherever possible, to those you offended.” And what about all those priests who worked in the personnel departments of a diocese, then and now, who are part of the “cover-up”? We truly need to ponder Matthew 18:15-17.


Tarpon Springs, Florida

War or Salvation

Contrary to Father James Schall's assertion in “The Real Spanish Disaster” (Commentary, April 4-10), the outcome of the March 13 Spanish election is to be applauded. If democracy is possessed of any virtue, it is the unwillingness of the electorate to tolerate bad judgment by politicians. The Iraq war was hugely unpopular with the Spanish public from the very beginning. The March 11 bombings in Madrid just brought this fact home. The transparent attempt by the Aznar government to pin the blame for the bombings on the Basque separatist group ETA only made things worse.

Before Father Schall presents us with the false dichotomy of supporting President Bush's war or of appeasement, he should reflect — as did the Spanish voters — on the tissue of lies that were presented as America's justification for starting the war. As we should have seen a year ago and as is clear to everyone now, the government of Saddam Hussein had no connection with the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, it did not possess any weapons of mass destruction nor the means of delivery to anywhere near U.S. territory and it posed no danger to anyone but the Iraqis themselves. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell now admits the “mobile biological weapons labs,” the highlight of his U.N. slide show, were no such thing.

Father Schall would have us support “President Bush's policy of finding and destroying terrorist groups wherever they are found” and recognize that “the present governance of the Muslim world itself needs to be changed.”

Well, it is our attempt to change the governance of Iraq that got us into the mess we are in now. Far from destroying the terrorist groups, the war on Iraq is breeding new terrorists and providing new targets of opportunity for them where none existed before.

The only way to crush the Iraqi insurgency is for our military to adopt tactics totally incompatible with Christian principles of just war and antithetical to American ideas of freedom. Iraq — and all of the other countries in the Muslim world — does present us with a choice. We can either serve our empire or save our soul.


Brookeville, Maryland

Over the Wedge

Terry McAuliffe's assessment that late-term abortions and same-sex marriages are “wedge issues” shows how out of touch he and the Democratic Party are with reality and the American public (“Party Leaders, Both Catholic University Alumni, Spar at D.C. Campus,” April 4-10).

No, abortion is not a “wedge” issue. It is a central issue for those who have not piddled away their moral compass in order to gather votes. Taking away the sacredness of each individual life has huge societal ramifications, many of which we are experiencing right now. Same-sex marriage is also not a “wedge” issue. How could he be so patronizing about it? In what culture would a change so enormous be considered a “wedge” issue by thinking people?

I urge all registered Democrats to leave the Democratic Party, as I did, and register as Independents until the party takes back its soul and re-establishes a modicum of integrity. There is no excuse for a person of faith or intelligence to associate with and vote for people who play so recklessly with the truth.

Terry McAuliffe, you and your party's ability to think has been compromised. There is no excuse for trivializing such important issues for political convenience. Your alma mater must be truly embarrassed.


Niwot, Colorado