Letters to the Editor

Feb 3, 1999 at 4:00 am
To the Editor:
The Riverfront Times did a major disservice to Father Carney and the Carney family in their feature article last week, "The Tragic Christian" (RFT, Jan. 27). This is really sad because the article showed a lot of work by the author, who entered into his writing acknowledging that he knew very little about Father Carney, liberation theology, the CIA and land struggles in Central America and who now, following his research, confesses to a great admiration of Father Carney and his struggle for the poor. However, this growth in knowledge does not excuse the underlying bias brought to the story by the RFT, the misleading of the family and especially the quoting of Father Carney in such a damaging way.

The RFT quote highlighted in large bold print read: "Now in 1981, when I am at last a revolutionary, you can imagine how much I hate this counter-Christianity that is our Catholic Church." This is an inaccurate and false quote and was immediately recognized by the family as not representing the thinking or the heart of Father Jim Carney. He spoke often in strong and prophetic terms, but he spoke exactly. He said, "I hate this counter-Christianity that is in our Catholic Church." The word "in" is a little word, but its omission changes everything. Who does not hate some of the evils in the Catholic Church? The pope himself has apologized for racism, sexism, sexual abuse, misuse of power, etc., in the Catholic Church's history. In fact, is not one theme chosen for the millennium the church asking for forgiveness for its recent and past sins? Also, the church's sins in the Third World have been many and grave, even while performing its great service.

Father Carney in his life and death did challenge the priorities of the Catholic Church and the papacy in both its thinking and acting in the First and Third worlds. Many saints have done the same. A few were even canonized. It is hard to be on the front lines in the battle for land for landless peasant farmers or to see daily the swollen bellies of starving children and be simultaneously impressed with golden garments and vestments and with huge ecclesiastical ceremonies. Maybe some Catholic people, clerics and religious can be enthralled with both these dimensions of Christian service and worship, but Father Carney could not. God's grace lived in him through his devotion to the poor and impoverished among God's children who were being exploited by uncontrolled capitalism. Isn't this exploitation message one of John Paul II's present themes concerning relations between the rich and poor nations and people of the world?

Hating the evil in the world and in the church is not the same as hating the world or hating the church. The RFT should have known the difference, at least in presenting the life and death of this wonderful priest to his hometown and world community during the papal visit.

Before closing, we would like to clear up a few other misunderstandings that RFT readers might take from the article. We would like RFT readers to know that Father Carney was definitely a chaplain for this poor Honduran band of soldiers seeking to establish justice in Honduras. Father Carney wrote, "Love sometimes demands fighting back." Why would his remains include a little wooden chalice, the holy oils for anointing the sick and dying, and his stole for confessions unless he was ministering as a priest?

We would also like RFT readers to know that Father Carney loved and esteemed the Jesuits from the bottom of his heart. He said that there was no other group of men with whom he would rather share his life. He intended his separation to be temporary.

We would like RFT readers to know that each year throughout the United States, Catholic Masses and services are held in honor of Father Carney, attended by hundreds of persons inspired by his testimony for human rights. More importantly, a national center for human rights has been built in Honduras and named after Father Jim Carney (Padre Guadalupe). He is honored as the founder of the human-rights movement in Honduras.

In closing, we acknowledge what was accurate and fair in the RFT article. Father Carney did believe that "to be a Christian is to be a revolutionary." Jesus himself turned the world's values upside-down.

In a last effort to help your readers understand Father James Carney, which we still hope was the original and genuine purpose of the RFT in writing about him, we suggest that your readers recite the prayer which was his favorite and which he recommended to others. It was written by Charles de Foucauld when he lived alone among the Bedouins in the desert:

Father, I abandon myself into your hands.
Do with me whatever you want.
For whatever you do, I thank you.
Let only your will be done in me and in
all your creatures.
And I'll ask nothing else, my Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul.
I give it to you, Lord, with the love of
my heart,
For I love you, my God,
And so need to give, to surrender myself
into your hands
With a trust beyond all measure
Because you are my Father.

Father Carney was not "The Tragic Christian," any more than Jesus on the cross was a tragic Christ. Both died for love. This was their glory. As the RFT quoted Father Carney so well in the beginning of its article: "To be killed for my love of Christ would be my greatest joy."

Eileen Connolly (sister)
Virginia Carney Smith (sister)
Maureen Carney (sister)
John Carney (brother)
W. Joseph Connolly (brother-in-law)

To the Editor:
The tragedy of Father James Carney ("The Tragic Christian," RFT, Jan. 27) goes to show Kristofferson was right when he sang, "They'd just nail 'im up if He'd come down again." Cynical? After 2,000 years of Christian love and Christian peace, perhaps we've grown more tolerant. We might excommunicate rather than crucify.

Why, the pope might even intercede on his behalf.
Brian Gilliland

To the Editor:
Certainly, it's the proper role of any alternative press to bring up perspectives which run counter to widely held and hyped notions. However, it's extremely unfortunate to follow up Jeannette Batz's excellent article ("Sins of Omission," Jan. 20) with a piece that could be run at any time and said practically nothing about the Vatican's immediate stand on militant liberation theologians (its worst sin of omission).

Without such validation, the whole article presentation came across largely to this left-of-center, returned UCC (United Church of Christ) member as a cheap shot pandering largely to trendy, largely theoretical lefties popular with your advertisers. Not to mention a good piece for a chain of "alternative" papers and for sale to others.

While the pope is definitely a company man, he struck me while here as the best progressives can hope for at this time, and there's much else to like about him.

In 1984, while part of a cotton-harvest brigade in now heavily flood-damaged Chinindega Province, I couldn't help but be struck by many Nicaraguans' twin support of the pope's '83 visit and revolutionary struggles.

Liberation theology helped bring me back to my church; however, I am mindful that as well as the positive, it also has a lot that's negative in both Marxist ideology and Catholic theology.

Mark A. Carlson

To the Editor:
Your attempts at shock journalism to sell newspapers sunk to a new low with the cover of your Jan. 27 issue. Just a coincidence that "The Tragic Christian" headline accompanied by the dreadful crucifixion artwork appeared on the stands as thousands of faithful heralded the arrival of the pope in St. Louis? I think not. I learned long ago your paper was not worth wasting my brain space reading and am now doubly convinced it rates right up there with the National Enquirer. The pope prays for you, Ray Hartmann, as will I.

Laura McCoy