Torture, Guadalupe, Lustiger, priests

FOR THE RECORD

Your reply to my December 21, 2007, letter (“Waterboarding & the Law”) includes a major error of fact and an important omission, which together leave your readers misinformed.

Contrary to your assertion, in the December 2, 2002, memo you referred to, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did not approve “exposure to cold weather or water” or “use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce misperception of drowning,” the latter known as waterboarding. Southern Command had requested approval of a variety of techniques, divided into three categories. One of the four Category III techniques was waterboarding. In his December 2 memo, Rumsfeld authorized use of only one of the four Category III techniques—the one he approved was neither waterboarding nor “exposure to cold weather or water.”

It is also important to note that on January 15, 2003, Rumsfeld rescinded his December “approval of the use of all Category II techniques and one Category III technique...”

The relevant documents have been declassified and are in the public domain, including in The Torture Papers, edited by Karen J. Greenburg and Joshua L. Dratel, and Torture and Truth, by Mark Danner. The points above should help set the record straight for your readers regarding the Department of Defense (DOD) and waterboarding. To borrow language from your reply, things have not changed in the Department of Defense regarding waterboarding; as far as I can ascertain, DOD has never approved its use. If you have evidence to the contrary, I would like to see it.

ALBERT C. PIERCE
Alexandria, Va.
The writer is University Professor of Ethics and National Security at the National Defense University.

 

THE EDITORS REPLY

Albert C. Pierce has been patient and persistent, and his reading of the December 2 memo is accurate. We stand corrected.

 

HISTORY IS IMPORTANT

In his article on Our Lady of Guadalupe (“A Gringo’s Devotion,” December 7, 2007), Gene Sager indicates he’s “always been skeptical of historical arguments that support or undercut religious devotion.” He says that his own devotion “is not based on historical documentation but on experience.” This position, though very appealing in one sense, requires considerable qualification if it is to be compatible with Christian orthodoxy.

The attractiveness is undeniable: The books of Job and Jonah contain teachings true to experience, not dependent on the historicity of the events described. And Paul’s personal experience of Christ made him as fully authorized an apostle as the Twelve who had known Jesus of Nazareth.

Yet history is inseparable from the claims of Jewish and Christian believers. Cut Exodus and Sinai off from history and all haggadah is reduced to edifying inventions. Then there are the infancy narratives of the New Testament: Matthew’s long genealogy, Luke’s references to Herod, Augustus, and Quirinius. Flawed as they may be (by modern standards of historiography), these accounts make a point: Jesus was actually born, at a particular time, of a people with a particular history who had entered into a covenant with the Lord. Jesus’ death, too, is part of history: he suffered under Pontius Pilate. And he died “once for all,” as the author of Hebrews insists. Otherwise, the Easter story is just one more vegetation myth, and Christ is a minor deity tracing a cycle of seasonal death and rebirth.

JULIAN IRIAS
Davis, Calif.


LUSTIGER & ST. MARIA OF PARIS

Steven Englund’s article on Cardinal Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger (“Le Bulldozer,” November 23, 2007) brought to mind a little-known incident in Lustiger’s life.

On May 1 and 2, 2004, Mother Maria Skobtsova and her companions were canonized by the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople. The glorification ceremony took place in the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral of Paris. Cardinal Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, assisted at the ceremony and requested that all the Catholic faithful of his diocese commemorate these saints of the universal church every year on July 20, their feast day. This, as far as I know, is unique.

Mother Maria was an unlikely saint. Twice divorced and the mother of a natural child, she took the monastic habit when she was in her forties and founded a house of hospitality in Paris. Her “monastery” resembled a Catholic Worker house more than anything else.

Mother Maria was an original by any standard. She shocked many people by hanging out in bars late at night, smoking in public, and showing little patience with the long Orthodox liturgies and stringent fasts; compassion for the poorest came before all. During the German occupation, Mother Maria’s house became a place of refuge for Jews. She gave false certificates of baptism to those who asked. The Gestapo eventually caught on and Mother Maria, her son Georges, and Fr. Dimitri Klepinin, the “chaplain” of the monastery, were arrested and later died in concentration camps. St. Maria of Paris and her companions have also been recognized by Israel as “righteous among the Gentiles.” It could be said that Mother Maria hit for the cycle.

JERRY RYAN
Winthrop, Mass.

 

A GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED

Thank you for the refreshingly sane and authentically Catholic reflections of Daniel P. Sulmasy (“Preserving Life?” December 7, 2007). My family and I endured weeks of soul-searching Catholic-rooted reflection about removing my mother’s feeding tube before her death nearly ten years ago. Unfortunately, the most uninformed participant in that dialogue was a young priest who should have known better. I hope this Commonweal article will help him and others understand what extraordinary care is truly about.

JOHN ALONZO DICK, MD
Heverlee, Belgium

 

BELEAGUERED PRIESTS

In his November 23, 2007, article, “The Other Health Crisis,” Fr. Paul Stanosz gives a host of reasons why he is concerned about the health of priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. But are the concerns the Milwaukee priests face unique? I don’t think so.

Shifts in the church’s ecclesiology, the increasing multicultural nature of the people of God in the United States, parish clustering and mergers, more international priests serving in dioceses, the aging of priests, and the U.S. bishops’ advocacy of parish and diocesan financial accountability—all these point to the fact that this is not business as usual.

While some surveys of priests have documented that, as a group, clergy score higher on measures of personal and professional satisfaction than any other professional group, the fact remains that this is not the case in some dioceses. The reasons are complex. Often, local dynamics have more to do with the problem than other factors.

If, as Fr. Stanosz writes, the greatest threat to Milwaukee priests’ well-being is denial, perhaps that’s where the energy should be focused—helping overcome such denial. In The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the writers suggest what they call “creative linking”—connecting priests across generational lines, theological persuasions, ethnicity, and different places of origin. The plan is helped by “unofficial” yet highly important priests known for their wisdom as “spiritual fathers” who often carry the presbyteral memory of the diocese.

(REV.) RICHARD VEGA
Chicago, Ill.
The writer is the president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils.

Published in the 2008-01-31 issue: 
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