Sex abuse, pacifism, theodicy & Cuba


Robert Nugent’s article “Meeting a ‘Monster’” (May 22) is both disturbing and challenging. I have occasionally assisted with our local prison ministry (visiting inmates who committed various crimes and helping with bail); I also have acquaintances who were sexually abused by priests. Now a father of teenagers, I was also once a parish priest myself and a friend of some of those who are now defrocked. Still, when I read of Fr. Nugent’s “work of mercy,” I have trouble overcoming feelings of anger and anguished betrayal. I am grateful for Nugent’s compassion, but I also remain lost before this mystery of iniquity. I doubt that I could approach Fr. Nugent’s incarcerated friend with such open-mindedness, or engage with him in casual church chat. I’ll pray for both of them.

David E. Pasinski
Fayetteville, N.Y.


A monster is defined in my dictionary as “a person too wicked to be considered human.” Robert Nugent writes near the end of “Meeting a ‘Monster’” that the serial molester he met in the prison was not a monster. He is wrong. If this man is not a monster, then there is no such thing. We should love and pray for such people, but we should never lose sight of the fact that they are indeed monsters. And as we pray for them we should remember the old expression: there but for the grace of God go I.

Art Fleming
Pittsburgh, Pa.



I am not surprised by the responses to my piece about a priest in prison for sexual abuse. The whole subject touches a raw nerve—as the recent report of abuses in Ireland reminds us.

I appreciate David Pasinski’s prayers for both me and the priest in prison. I’m not a therapist, so I didn’t want to pry into the priest’s psyche; nor did I feel this would have been a productive pastoral approach.

Art Fleming suggests that we “love and pray for” a “monster,” defined as someone too wicked to be considered human. For a believing Christian, there is no such thing. The fundamental and God-given dignity of the human person is a premise of all the church’s teachings about human rights. No one forfeits that dignity even by a horrendous crime. This is why the word “monster” in the title of my article was put in quotes.

Sr. Helen Prejean often faces the anger of parents whose children have been brutally killed when she ministers to murderers on death row. It is only when parents are finally able to experience authentic forgiveness and reconciliation that they come to understand and support her ministry. That may take many years. Sometimes it never happens.

Finally, I ought to make it clear that the priest I wrote about is now serving time for crimes he committed before his first incarceration in 1999. He did not abuse anyone after his parole and psychological treatment. Such treatment does work in many cases for those trying to build a new life. My article also referred to a “trust fund” one of the priest’s friends has set up for him. That fund is more accurately described as a mutual fund, and it does not involve any substantial amount of money.

Robert Nugent


Christopher Pramuk’s letter in the May 8 issue (“History & the Crucifixion”) prompted me to read the two articles to which he was responding—Peter Manseau’s “Catholics & the Shoah” (March 13) and Matthew Boudway’s “Suffering, Silence & Holy Week” (April 10). I wonder if Thomas Merton’s comment on hope can help us avoid what Boudway calls “the danger of theologizing suffering into something rational or beautiful.” In Seasons of Celebration, Merton writes, “We must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.”

James T. Dette
Weehawken, N.J.


I hope it’s not too late to respond to Vincent Callahan’s May 22 letter about my column on President Barack Obama and the University of Notre Dame (“Consumed by Zeal,” April 24). Callahan was perplexed at my claim that I “was taught to oppose religious freedom at Notre Dame.” It would have been better for me to have written that it was drawn to the students’ attention that Catholic doctrine opposed freedom of religion (which would allow error to be taught). It was also indicated by the professor that this was a matter of some awkwardness for us all and that in any event the church’s teaching would never become law in the United States.

I wonder how they handled this question at Georgetown at this time—the late 1940s? Fortunately, we were all eventually rescued at the Second Vatican Council by a Jesuit, John Courtney Murray. I might add that Mary McCarthy, who went to a convent school, once wrote that it was very good for the education and independent-mindedness of American Catholics to be taught outrageously un-American things and learn to defend hopeless causes.

William Pfaff
Paris, France


While I share many of my friend Robert White’s views with regard to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, I must take exception to his abbreviated (perhaps for reasons of space) description of its origins ("Temperate Zone," May 22). At the time, Cuba, under the aegis of the Soviet Union, was actively engaged in supporting guerrilla and terror operations in Latin America.

After a long history of military dictators, the democratically elected government of Venezuela, under Romulo Betancourt, was fighting for its very existence against terrorist attacks in Caracas and guerrilla operations in the neighboring state of Miranda and in the Andes. Betancourt openly denounced Castro for supporting and promoting these activities.

In November 1963, a large arms cache of Cuban origin was discovered on a beach in the vicinity of the guerrilla activity. Venezuela took action in the Organization of American States (OAS) claiming that Cuba had violated the nonintervention principle of the OAS charter. It called on member states to break relations and impose economic sanctions on Cuba. The Venezuelan motion carried fifteen to four, and, afterward, only Mexico ignored those sanctions.

Patrick F. Morris
Bethesda, Md.

[Robert E. White responds: Letters, August 14, 2009.]


In his perceptive review of Joseph Kip Kosek’s Acts of Conscience: Christian Nonviolence and Modern American Democracy (“The Original Peaceniks,” May 22), Nathan Schneider says that readers of this book might be left wanting to know more about several figures who were central to the nonviolence work of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). May I suggest the biographical works of FOR member Richard Deats? His concise treatments of the lives of nonviolence leaders Muriel Lester, Mahatma Gandhi, and Hildegard Goss-Mayr provide inspiration to those who continue the Fellowship’s struggle to raise an ethic of nonviolence in a war-dependent American democracy. As a counterpoint to Kosek’s final elegiac tone, might I also invite Commonweal readers to join FOR as we prepare to celebrate our hundredth birthday and look forward to the next one hundred years of what is now an interfaith journey promoting truth and reconciliation? As a practicing Catholic, I have found the FOR to be a place where I can put my just-no-war theory into practice with other committed pacifists.

Martha W. DiGiovanni
Manchester, Conn.


Lisa Fullam’s article “Thou Shalt” (April 24) raises some valuable points, but it ultimately sells short the beautiful vocations of marriage and consecrated life. The church’s sexual ethos is a communion of life, one far more determined by a rich treasury of dos than by a list of don’ts. The dos affirm that the sexual embrace images God as a sacramental embrace, a union which by its visible and human expression reveals something of the invisible and divine nature of God’s being-as-love. Such love is covenantal, irrevocable, and life-giving. Sexual union images the Trinity most fully when through this sacramental sign, the two, having become one, become three—that is, when there is an openness to new life being born from that union. That’s marriage. Fullam doesn’t mention this in the article.

Her contention that we “learn the the kind of relationships that tend to be or become sexual,” and that “deep friendship...stops short of the challenges and rewards of sexual intimacy,” simply does not tally with the celibate life of Christ, who called us friends (John 15:15), and who looked so favorably on the celibate life that he counseled those who can to enter into his own way of intimacy and love, in which nothing is lacking. Those who choose celibacy “for the Kingdom” anticipate the time when none of us will “marry or be given in marriage” (Mark 12:25). They are endeavoring to live a deeply prophetic expression of intimate union with God and others by celebrating the “Marriage of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9) here and now.

Cassian DiRocco, OSB
Valyermo, Calif.

[Another reader responds: Letters, July 17, 2009.]

Published in the 2009-06-19 issue: 
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