Your editorial “Extraordinary Means” (April 8) captures the careful nuances of Catholic moral reflection on end-of-life care. It is unfortunate that this nuance has not been present in the general discussion of the tragic case of Terri Schiavo. As your editorial notes, many people have incorrectly cited Pope John Paul II’s March 2004 statement at a conference in Rome as the last word on this issue. In that statement the pope said that providing artificial nutrition and hydration for PVS patients “in principle” is to be considered morally obligatory. A better translation of the Latin phrase might be “as a general rule.” However translated, it is clear that the papal statement does not eliminate the need for ethical reflection and discernment on the specifics of each case. Such discernment could well conclude that, in a particular instance, artificial nutrition and hydration is not obligatory.
Similarly, as the editorial notes, papal statements must be studied for their authority in the context of previous and subsequent papal statements. On November 12, 2004, the Holy Father, addressing a Vatican conference on palliative care, reaffirmed that a “decision not to start or halt treatment will be deemed ethically correct if the treatment is ineffective or obviously disproportionate to the aims of sustaining life or recovering health.” While the focus of this address was not the same as the March statement, it does present the larger ethical context within which the earlier address is to be studied.
(REV.) MICHAEL D. PLACE
The writer is former president of the Catholic Health Association.
I was surprised and troubled by Luke Timothy Johnson’s sympathetic review of John Cornwell’s The Pontiff in Winter (“Tragic Flaws,” March 25). In my opinion, Cornwell is a fabulist and a hack who delights in doing “hatchet jobs” on popes he doesn’t like. Hitler’s Pope, his attack on Pius XII, was devastatingly exposed by Justus George Lawler in his truly scholarly Popes and Politics. The Pontiff in Winter deserves the same kind of scrutiny. If Commonweal is going to retain my respect, loyalty, and support, I insist that a rebuttal review be published. That way the magazine will remain true to its liberal tradition that I have cherished over the years.
(REV.) CHARLES P. WEBER
TEACHING THE SCANDAL
Plaudits to Paul Lakeland for his insightful, trenchant, but respectful “Scandal 101” (March 25). It took courage and delicacy to lead his students through the morass of this dark night of the church, and Lakeland did it marvelously with an admirable dose of humility, identifying his need to learn along with his students. He touched on the neuralgic issues of this situation and put them in perspective. He has done much to see “that something stronger may rise out of these ashes.” That something may be Lakeland’s students, who will have a solid, adult, and faith-filled concept of the church. His students are very fortunate.
JEREMIAH MCGINLEY, OFM
Fair Lawn, N.J.
HANG ON, STEVE
Paul Lakeland writes that one of his students (“Steve”) had his faith shaken by Lakeland’s class on the sexual-abuse crisis. I want to say, “Hang in there, Steve; you’ll make it.”
I am a seventy-six-year-old cradle Catholic. When I was a sophomore in a small public high school, Martin Luther only rated two or three sentences in our history textbook. The teacher knew that I was a Catholic, so he asked me if I could find out more about Luther and report the following Monday. Our school was so small that we did not even have encyclopedias, and I did not know where to go for information. We had no public library. So I decided to ask our priest after Mass on Sunday. The priest was an old German, and when I made my request in the sacristy, he exploded, saying, “That’s a closed subject. We don’t talk about it.” He chastised me severely and called me a bad Catholic for even asking the question. How’s that for a young person having her faith shaken?
For years the whole incident festered in my mind and heart. I remained faithful to the church, and learned to find God wherever I could. Over time I forgave the old pastor, and I have directed RCIA in my parish for eleven years. So to Steve and all the other young people: Don’t give up on the church. You’ll make it. I did.
Bravo to Richard Alleva (March 25) for bringing the art of Carl Dreyer to light. I’ve long thought that The Passion of Joan of Arc is the best film rendering of a religious subject. Through the expressions of Maria Falconetti’s face, Dreyer was able to more vividly express the complete sacrifice of oneself to the will of God than a director like Mel Gibson did with an unlimited supply of fake blood. I can only hope that renewed interest in religious films after The Passion of the Christ will lead others to check out Dreyer’s gem.
THE COMING CRISIS
I’d like to see politicians, bishops, and Vatican officials respond to Douglas Roche’s compelling article about our “coming nuclear crisis (“Our Greatest Threat,” March 11). Considering George W. Bush’s nuclear policy, it’s astounding that so many bishops supported him in the last election.
In addition, I think Eamon Duffy’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, is worthy of wide notice (“A Historian’s Faith & Hope,” March 11). Thank you for inviting four astute writers to comment on it. I feel, however, that Duffy’s response may well have been the best of the lot, and much shorter.
In her review of Eamon Duffy’s new book, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson describes “Faith of Our Fathers” as “an old patriarchal hymn that ignores the faith of our mothers.” This is a startling embrace of literalism. One wonders how Sr. Johnson remains in an order named for St. Joseph and founded in the 1600s by two men. Those facts far more justly evoke the word “patriarchal” than does Fr. Frederick W. Faber’s lyrical homage to the English Reformation’s martyrs, among them five holy laywomen: Saints Margaret Ward, Margaret Clitherow, and Anne Line; Blessed Margaret Pole; and, in Ireland, Blessed Margaret Bermingham Ball.
WHAT A VIRTUE
Regarding Gregory Maguire’s and Laura Sheahen’s articles on Catholic hope, “Hopeful Still” (February 25): Hope is a must, from God on down. The daily readings for Lent remind us: God hopes we will listen, not drift further away from him and from each other. I believe true hope lies in the humble truths of our faith: our acknowledged sinfulness, and our trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance, which sustains the church still, despite our frailty. This hope is cemented in a faith which is centered on the cross and the Eucharistic remembrance of what the cross means. This is the hope that trusts that we will overcome our faults and failings, our false securities and foolish righteousness.
MARK FRANCESCHINI, OSM
WHAT ABOUT ARNOLD?
William Byron’s article on Catholic politicians (“Prolife & Prochoice,” February 11) was most interesting. I wonder why the bishops have condemned prochoice Democrats while remaining silent about prochoice Republicans. In my mind, the bishops were right to censure John Kerry, Edward Kennedy, and other Catholic lackeys for the abortion-rights movement. But what about Giuliani, Schwarzenegger, and other prochoice Catholic Republicans? I’m afraid the bishops have neglected the church’s social teachings and are playing politics.
JAMES E. ORTON
El Centro, Calif.