On May 1, Sister Darlene Nicgorski, a School Sister of St. Francis, was convicted of smuggling illegal aliens to sanctuary in this country. (Several other sanctuary workers, including two priests, were found guilty in the same case.) On May 2, Sister Darlene held a press conference in New York, re-affirming her dedication to the sanctuary movement. “The church is alive and growing in Central America where there are martyrs today and where the church is having to stand up for what it is about,” she argued. And she pointed out that several American bishops — she mentioned Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee — have strongly supported sanctuary work. But Sister Darlene lamented the silence of the U.S. bishops’ conference, complaining that “the bishops as a group took the legal opinion of corporate lawyers instead of following the Spirit.”
Speaking of lawyers, both canon lawyers and civil attorneys for the Church are worried about the potential implications of civil lawsuits against priests and their dioceses. The most dramatic case to date occurred in Lafayette, Louisiana, where in 1983 a priest confessed to having sexually abused dozens of boys over a period of years. Critics charged that Lafayette’s Bishop Gerard Frey had acted too late to curb the priest’s perversion, and many of the boys’ parents filed suits. To date, the Diocese of Lafayette has settled out of court with over a dozen families, at a cost running into millions of dollars. In May, Pope John Paul II named Rev. Harry Flynn, of New York, as coadjutor bishop for Lafayette, and eventual successor to Bishop Frey.
Porn Battles: In Washington…
All around the country, 7-Eleven convenience stores are taking pornographic magazines off their shelves. The parent Southland Corporation decided to take that step shortly after receiving a letter from the Department of Justice, which pointed out that recent studies demonstrate a link between pornography and violent crimes. (Spokesmen for Southland and 7-Eleven insist that the timing is a coincidence.) Playboy magazine has announced its intention to sue the Justice Department for allegedly intimidating its distributors.
Sometime soon — probably early in July — a blue- ribbon presidential commission on pornography will release its report, with a raft of new evidence that the industry aggravates a host of severe social problems, such as rape, murder, child abuse, and numerous sexual perversions. In anticipation of that report, pornographers are busily wrapping themselves in the First Amendment. Meanwhile, leaders in the battle against obscene literature point out that the problem can be dramatically alleviated without any new legislation; all that is required is the political will for the Justice Department to enforce existing criminal laws.
Oddly enough, just as the anti-pornography drive appeared to be reaching full speed, Penthouse magazine provided a vivid new example of the need for restraints. The latest issue contains a series of nude pictures of Brooke Shields — taken several years ago, when she was quite young. For a price, Penthouse readers can buy their own set of those pictures, too. Interesting. Only two sorts of people would want those pictures: people with an abnormal interest in Brooke Shields, and people with an abnormal interest in nude children. Apparently Penthouse — supposedly one of the more respectable “adult” magazines — caters to just such appetites.
. . . and at Fordham
Last month Catholicism in Crisis mentioned the case of Phyllis Zagano, who no longer teaches at Fordham University, and Screw magazine columnist George Gordon, who still does. Screw, we neglected to mention, is viciously anti- Catholic: the magazine invited its readers to participate in a pool to predict the death of New York’s late Cardinal Cooke; Pope John Paul and Cardinal O’Connor have both been depicted in crudely doctored, grotesque photos. But Professor Gordon has calmly advised that Catholics should not be offended. Actually, he explains, the magazine is “more anti-Semitic than anti-Catholic.” Now isn’t that lovely?
Leaks, Foreign and Domestic
In May, CIA director William Casey complained bitterly that “leaks” in the press had compromised the safety of American agents abroad. Around Chernobyl, “leaks” of a different sort were demonstrably costing lives. But by golly nobody in the Soviet Union was accused of talking too much to the press.
Ideas Have Consequences
The disclosure that the Soviets do not put containment structures around their nuclear reactors — nor intend to in the future — brings an incredulous response from Americans. How, we find ourselves wondering, can they take such a cavalier attitude toward a technology with the potential to do such grave damage to people and the environment? Don’t they see themselves as stewards of the earth’s resources? Ah, but that’s a peculiarly Christian notion.
Catholics Need Not Apply?
From Washington, a disquieting report. As soon as William Wilson resigned as Ambassador to the Holy See, some officials with the State Department began arguing that the next Ambassador should not be a Catholic. Leave aside the obvious practical point: that a Catholic diplomat is more likely to be comfortable in — and accepted by — the Vatican. There is an important matter of principle in question here, too, In the past, it has been all too common to hear accusations that Catholic (or Jewish, or black, or Japanese) Americans cannot be truly loyal citizens. Haven’t we left that Know- Nothing attitude behind us? Or is it still alive and well, and living in Foggy Bottom?
At Christmas, 1540, the Catholic community of what is now El Paso, Texas, celebrated Mass. Almost without doubt, it was the first Mass said in the present-day United States. Since that time, of course, the church has boomed in El Paso; there are now nearly 200,000 Catholics in the diocese. But on Pentecost, 1986 — at the bishop’s orders — there were no Sunday-morning Masses at any of the parishes in that sprawling diocese.
For Pentecost Sunday, Bishop Raymundo Pena scheduled a four-hour liturgical extravaganza, held in the Sun Bowl football stadium (capacity 55,000), to mark the closing of a special diocesan synod. For two weeks before the celebration, local papers carried advertisements for “Vision ’86,” inviting everyone to come share in the “music, song, and joyous celebration. ” The ads prominently mentioned that Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio would be on hand, visiting from the Vatican; they also highlighted the closing ceremonies of the synod. They did not mention that Mass would be celebrated. Nor did they mention that 3,000 youngsters would receive the sacrament of confirmation.
Because all the priests of the diocese were expected to attend the synod, Bishop Pena announced that there would be no regular Masses anywhere else in El Paso — or in the 27,000-square-mile area of Texas that the diocese embraces — on Pentecost Sunday. As the date approached, many parishes’ scheduled special Sunday-evening liturgies, and expected unusual crowds for Saturday’s anticipatory Mass; some parishioners probably crossed the Rio to attend Mass in Juarez. And just before the event, Bishop Pena announced a general dispensation for those who could not attend Mass that weekend.
Or, as the local newspaper reported it, Bishop Pena “forgave” those who did not attend Mess. One group of Catholics in the area had protested the whole affair, and urged local priests to say Mass in their own parishes on Pentecost Sunday. Bishop Pena announced that he forgave those dissidents, too.
As it happened, the crowd in the Sun Bowl (nobody called it a congregation) was less than 40,000 people. And of that number, several thousand were compelled to attend: all candidates for confirmation (and presumably their families), all students in parochial schools (ditto), and all members of the clergy. What about the 150,000-plus other Catholics of El Paso? Don’t ordinary Catholics have a presumptive right to the celebration of Sunday Mass in their parish?
The bishops of the United Methodist Church have released their own pastoral letter on nuclear deterrence, entitled “In Defense of Creation: The Nuclear Crisis and a Just Peace.” The bishops want to convince us that a whole lot is at stake, and to make absolutely clear whose side they’re on. In their best schoolmarmish tone they solemnly announce: “We write in defense of Creation. We do so because the Creation itself is under attack, Air and water, trees and fruits and flowers, birds and fish and cattle, all children and youth, women and men live under the darkening shadows of a threatening nuclear winter.” Nuclear weapons, we are told, “usurp the sovereignty of the God of shalom over all nations and peoples.”
You wouldn’t know it by reading the Methodist bishops’ letter, but we’ve seen such naive displays of hubris before. The U. S. bishops were sharply criticized for stating, in the second draft of their own nuclear letter, that nuclear weapons threaten God’s sovereignty over his creation. Congressman Henry Hyde was so disturbed by this theological faux pas that he characterized it as one definition of original sin. But the Methodist bishops seem not to have noticed that flap. That is unfortunate, for it might have saved them from unwittingly worshipping the same nuclear idol they task others with worshipping.
New Age Narcissism
Among the panegyrics from the rich and famous on Mothers’ Day was this one from “population expert” Paul Ehrlich: “The Mother of the Year should be a sterilized woman with two adopted children.”
The Company He Keeps
The civilized world condemned Libyan terrorism. But Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega sent an urgent personal message to Qaddafy: “My brother: Given the brutal terrorist action launched by the U.S. Government against the people of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah, I wish to send sentiments of solidarity . . . .”
That Man Again
Early in April, with Congress due to vote on aid to the contras, an organization called IMPACT bought 30-second television advertisements arguing against the aid. Among the organizations listed as sponsoring the ads was the U. S. Catholic Conference. Monsignor Daniel Hoye, the general secretary of the USCC, promptly sent a memo to all U. S. bishops, assuring them that the USCC had not approved the ad, nor joined IMPACT. On the contrary, he said, the USCC had actually declined membership. Then why was the USCC listed as a sponsor for the ad? One enterprising young man in Washington called IMPACT to ask just that question. He was told that a USCC staff member had given IMPACT the go-ahead. The staffer’s name: Thomas Quigley.
Kudos for Commonweal
How often is a researcher honest enough to change his own position when he sees the evidence piling up? In a memorable essay that appears in the May 9 issue of Commonweal, author Edward Sheehan begins with a confession that he began his research on Nicaragua “with a deep distaste for the Reagan administration’s military policy.” He retains that distaste. But he also concludes, reluctantly, that the Sandinista government is “an ugly, repressive military regime, run at the top by incompetent comandantes who have alienated most of their people, ruined the economy, and are growing more despotic.”
Along the way, Sheehan finds that aides to Cardinal Obando y Bravo “consider at least one advisor on Latin American affairs at the U.S. Catholic Conference as pro- Sandinista, if not an outright enemy.” And in case anyone has trouble identifying that individual, Monsignor Bismarck Carballo provides Sheehan with the crucial clue, complaining about “laymen in the American episcopal conference.” Once again, the finger points at Thomas Quigley.
When Congress discusses military aid to Nicaragua’s contras, the debate invariably centers on the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), whose leaders (Adolfo Calero, Arturo Cruz, and — if they can’t keep him hidden — Enrique Bermudez) are regular visitors in Washington, and effective lobbyists. But the FDN is not the only military group actively fighting the Sandinistas. On Nicaragua’s southern border, the mercurial Eden Pastora (Comandante Zero) only recently announced that he is disbanding a group that claims to represent the ital goals of the original 1979 Sandinista uprising. He, too, attracts a good deal of attention, largely by the sheer force of his personality. But very few people seem to notice that the contra effort has a third front on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast, where Miskito Indians are battling desperately to preserve their independence.
Already this year, nearly 10,000 Miskitos have fled Nicaragua, heading for safety in Honduras after Sandinista attacks on their villages. That figure is in addition to the 20,000 Indians who fled to Honduras in 1982, when the government began forcibly relocating thousands of Miskito families into “camps,” destroying their homes, farms, and possessions. (At the time, American-born Bishop Salvador Schlaefer accompanied the fleeing Indians; Sandinista planes strafed his group, then, apparently convinced that he was killed, announced that the CIA had killed him. Actually, he was — and is — quite alive.)
By now, nearly 20 percent of the Miskito people have left their traditional homeland. For those who remain, food is scarce, medicine scarcer. Sandinista attacks, killings, and kidnappings continue. Amid the many complaints about the contras, no one has yet questioned the motives of the Miskito resistance. They’re fighting for their lives.
No Ordinary Empire
In May, when Babrak Karmal “resigned” as leader of Afghanistan, Americans paid virtually no attention. After all, Karmal’s “leadership” had consisted in dancing when his Soviet puppeteers pulled the strings. And since Karmal was evidently ill, perhaps the change betokened no major policy shift. Still, for years the Kremlin has solemnly pretended that the Afghan government is independent. And ordinarily, even the most heavy-handed imperial power allows its colonies a few token displays of autonomy. So it was interesting to note that official announcement of Karmal’s resignation came from Moscow. Three guesses who chose his successor.
Private-Sector Civil Disobedience
In the old days, anyone who wanted to exert political influence simply hired a lobbyist. More recently, however, activists learned that they could gain power by mobilizing public opinion, often using public demonstrations and sit-ins to generate attention for their cause. But after a while, sit-ins became old hat; they no longer guaranteed public attention. Now a group called National People’s Action has introduced a new wrinkle. On May 5, that group staged a sit-in in Washington. But the site of the sit-in was not a government building; it was the office of superlobbyist Michael Deaver. The group sought to persuade Deaver to bring its petition (for lower military spending and more social programs) to President Reagan’s attention. “We wanted to get a message to the President,” a spokesman explained. “We thought Mr. Deaver could get the message to him.” Deaver met with the group’s leaders, and promised to “study” their petition.