Arguing against President George W. Bush, Commonweal’s editors (“Stop It,” March 28) claim wars should not be waged to spread democracy and freedom, but “should be a last resort, undertaken only to protect the innocent, and to reestablish the conditions for peace.” Yet for the past fifty years, Catholic social teaching has taught, as Pope Paul VI said in his 1969 World Day of Peace Message, “where human rights are not respected, defended, and promoted, where violence or fraud is done to man’s inalienable freedoms, where his personality is ignored or degraded, where discrimination, slavery, or intolerance prevail, there true peace cannot be.”

This is not to say that a war to spread democracy and freedom is justified, only that the editors’ dichotomy between democracy and freedom and the conditions for peace is too simplistic.

Whether or not the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were just, the United States has taken on the responsibility of promoting democracy and freedom, which are keys to lasting peace, in that region. Helping the nascent governments of those countries defend themselves against groups like Al Qaeda, the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, and the Taliban is part of that responsibility.

Dubuque, Iowa



As Matthew Shadle’s previous contribution to these pages demonstrated (“No Exit from Iraq?,” October 12, 2007), he is insensible to many of the moral and strategic complexities of the “war on terror,” especially the situation in Iraq. One example. In his letter, it would be helpful if he would explain how the United States is to help the “nascent government” of Iraq defend itself against “the Iranian-backed Shiite militias,” when that government itself is allied with an Iranian-backed Shiite militia.

Nor is the main point of Shadle’s letter clear. He does not take issue with the editorial’s claim that “a war to spread democracy and freedom is [un]justified,” but rather asserts that “the editors’ dichotomy between democracy and freedom and the conditions for peace is too simplistic.” Yet the editorial did not posit such a dichotomy. In fact, it endorsed the traditional understanding that a just war can be fought “to reestablish the conditions for peace,” among which can be the restoration of justice. Moreover, we have repeatedly acknowledged that although the invasion was unjust, any precipitous withdrawal from Iraq now would similarly violate just-war teaching. Readers unfamiliar with the content of the editorial “Stop It” would hardly guess from Shadle’s letter that it was about President George W. Bush’s calculated misuse of “Christian language to justify his decision to go to war,” not about whether peace on earth can be established absent the pursuit of justice or what the United States is morally obligated to do in Iraq now.



Robert J. Egan’s “Why Not?” (April 11) is the best essay on women’s ordination that I have read. However, it needs improvement. Egan criticizes Sara Butler for being ahistorical. But I find Egan too historical and too linear. Sacramental thinking is not linear. When Catholics come to Communion they are not communicating with the historical Jesus, but with the Risen Jesus who is the Eternal Priest offering once and for all the eternal sacrifice in heaven that is mirrored in the earthly ritual of the church. That is what sacraments do: they mirror in the order of sign reality that escapes the senses. The sacrifice is described in the Letter to the Hebrews and is the only source for the idea of priesthood in the New Testament. When Egan says: “There was no ‘priesthood’ in the early church,” he misspeaks. There was the idea of the eternal priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priesthood is not another priesthood, but the heavenly one of Christ reflected in the order of sign.

Second, in regard to historicity and the historical-critical method, we need to remember Carl Sagan’s wise advice: “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”

Finally, the proposal to ordain women to the priesthood, although well defended in the essay, does present theological problems for some, and will not satisfy the underlying feeling that women have no say in the governing of the church. The reason is that (except on a local level) priests have no real say in the church either. I have a modest proposal that would tackle all these issues while presenting no theological problems at all: the pope should name women to the College of Cardinals.

The College was created by the popes and serves as the pope’s privy council. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, popes appointed lay nephews to this body. Ordination was not required. The pope may also want to appoint laymen to the College. This would give him counsel from the whole church, enriching his overall grasp of the issues facing Catholics and helping him give overall direction to the church. Many Catholics would feel well served by a pope who took time to listen to the issues they face. Maybe nothing would change; maybe everything would. It is worth a try and is more modest and less ambitious than beginning by ordaining women to the priesthood.

Naperville, Ill.



Though the substance and soundness of Robert J. Egan’s article is impressive and to the point, even more important is the vision that underlies it: the acknowledgement of the historicity of the church. Such acknowledgement means that no questions can be off-limits and no doctrines can be insulated from reexamination. The call to acknowledge the historicity of the church is a call to a continuous conversion and an affirmation of the development of all our traditions, a conversion facilitated by Egan’s sound advice: to get a library card and an open mind.

Eagles Mere, Pa.



Robert J. Egan’s article left me weary and frustrated. What part of the word “no” doesn’t he understand?

In Ordinatio sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II was absolutely clear when he wrote: “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren, I declare that the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church’s faithful.”

Does the pope have to stamp “infallible” all over his apostolic letter to convince certain people that he means what he says? Most people of good will would understand that the pope is putting the full weight and authority of his office behind these solemn words. This has been the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church down through the centuries.

Chicago, Ill.


[Click here to read a response to the above letters from the June 6, 2008 issue.]



Some fifty years ago, Jubilee published a letter of mine urging that canonization be extended to saints beyond the institutional Catholic Church. Among the examples I cited was Mohandas Gandhi. Now Jo McGowan has introduced us to another Indian saint: Baba Amte (“Touching the Untouchables,” April 11).

There are other exemplary lives out there that merit this kind of honor. Despite the good will expressed by recent popes toward laudable leaders of other faiths, the church continues to limit its procedures of canonization to noteworthy Catholics, usually founders of religious orders, some of questionable temperament. A few heroic lay persons, such as Franz Jägerstätter, have recently been beatified. Why not extend the iconic honor to “outsiders” of the stature of Baba Amte?

San Diego, Calif.

Published in the 2008-05-09 issue: View Contents
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