Friday, March 31, 2006

Don't Treat Married Priests Like Pariahs

The church welcomes married Protestant ministers to its clergy--so why the double standard?

By John Horan

The starting premise--celibacy is not essential to the priesthood--is surely something everyone agrees upon. Jesus explicitly chose married men as his apostles. Peter, a married man, was Jesus' handpicked leader. The epistles clearly contain references to married bishops and priests. For the first 12 centuries of church practice, 39 popes were married, in addition to many priests and bishops. Three popes (Anastasius I, Saint Hormidas, and Sergius III) produced pope sons of their own, two of whom went on to be declared saints (Saint Innocent I and Saint Silverius).

But in the 11th century, the starting premise was mothballed. Pope Gregory VII mandated that anyone seeking ordination must first pledge celibacy, stating that "the church cannot escape from the clutches of the laity unless priests first escape the clutches of their wives." The Second Lateran Council and Pope Innocent II (forgetting the example of his fifth-century namesake) effectively put a halt to the married priesthood in 1139.

The starting premise was chained up for centuries until June 1980, when John Paul II fiddled with the lock. He made special pastoral provisions for married Protestant ministers who converted to Catholicism to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood, bringing along their wives and children--provision that, to this day, most U.S. Catholics are unaware of.

Since then, 70 Episcopalians and an assortment of Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian clerics--most of them married--have converted to Catholicism and been ordained Catholic priests in the United States. The practice continues worldwide.

In roughly that same time frame, 23,000 U.S. Catholic priests have left active ministry (100,000 worldwide). Twenty-five percent of the world's parishes are now said to be without resident priests.

So how can we start from the same premise--celibacy is not essential to the priesthood--and end up with such different conclusions concerning formerly Protestant married priests and Catholic priests who resigned and then married?

This is the way the Vatican sees it for married Protestant ministers who have converted to Catholicism and are now practicing, married Catholic priests: Becoming a Catholic priest should not require these clergy to forsake the marriage commitment made prior to becoming Catholic. The original promise of these priests--to be Anglican and to minister to Anglican congregations--can be renegotiated without it affecting their status as an active Catholic priest.

And this is the way the Vatican sees it for celibate Catholic priests: Becoming a Catholic priest requires forever forsaking a marriage commitment. Original promises by the celibate Catholic priests--to be celibate while being a Catholic priest--cannot be renegotiated without their active status as Catholic priests ending.

Clearly, the problem is not that the Catholic Church sees any problem with a married Catholic priesthood. The Holy See has affirmed this practice in both word and deed. The problem is being Catholic to begin with. You can be a married Catholic priest if you started out a married Protestant minister. But you can't be a married priest if you started out Catholic. If you are experiencing the beginning of a headache, you are not alone. Someone is confused.

Why not welcome married Catholic priests back to active Catholic ministry the way we welcome recently converted married Protestant clergy? Church leaders assert that there are two major obstacles to this. First, they say that the Catholic who leaves the ministry in order to marry is in a significantly different situation from the married priest convert. The Catholic candidate, prior to his ordination as a priest, agrees to celibacy as a standard set by the church in 1139 for all priests ordained in the Latin Church. But this does not bind the convert. His denomination permitted him to be both married and a minister. He did not promise to be celibate. Being received as a Catholic priest, therefore, should not require forsaking his freely chosen marriage commitment.

Second, it is simply not fair, the church says, to allow for the reentry of inactive married Catholic priests. Laymen who have chosen not to be priests and are now married would howl. Active celibate priests who have lived the long, solitary promise would howl. Seminarians who have not pursued or who have cut off promising romantic relationships would howl. People in the pews would howl because the Father who left to become a Mister is back as a Father Mister.

The fact of the matter is that most priests struggle with celibacy--a human-made requirement for ordination. They live with a prerequisite that must be complied with in order to get to their real call, which is to be a priest. Candidates to the priesthood desire with all their hearts to be priests. They pray with all their hearts that something might help them live out the celibacy cover charge in a relatively healthy and life-giving fashion.

So what are we to do? I think the first thing to do is let people know about the starting premise that celibacy is not essential to the priesthood. Let Catholics figure out whether welcoming married, converted Protestant ministers--while excluding married Catholic priests--makes sense. Let them fiddle some more with the lock on the box and move the furniture around a bit in their minds. See what happens.

The second thing is to encourage inactive married Catholic priests to act actively. There are plenty of places to start: rural parishes, people who want to get married but have been turned away from their parish, wake services, priestless parishes, and base communities--the list goes on and on, running from licit to illicit activity.

Last June, I attended the wedding of a--substitute your favorite adjective--inactive, ex-clerical, irregular, non-canonical, fallen, shamed, or procreatively challenged Catholic priest. Dave and Ann were married under a circus tent, there being no room for them in any of the 350-plus churches in that diocese, four of which he had served with distinction in his previous 18 years as a priest.

Over half of those gathered in that makeshift prayer space were former parishioners of Dave's. After the ceremony, Anthony and his wife, Marie, waited just before me in the reception line. Middle-of-the-road Catholics in their late 50s, they raised three daughters (all married by Father Dave) and have seven grandchildren (all baptized by Father Dave).

Anthony and Marie were fired up. Why couldn't Father Dave be married in a Catholic church? Why were there no other priests present (i.e., pastor, classmates, and past associates)--are they running scared? Why couldn't ex-Father Dave continue being Father Dave somehow? When will the losses of great priests like Father Dave end?

Who knows? The time is coming. In the meantime, thousands of us wait at the end of the receiving line, looking for the cracks on the periphery. It will have to be enough for now.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ireland and Iraq -- "A fanatic heart"

Fr. Daniel O'Rourke

Saint Patrick’s Day has come and gone, but it’s still with me. I don’t
mean those phony brogues, green beer and all that ersatz Irishness. I
mean “the Troubles,” as the Irish poetically name them. I mean the
diminishing conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland.

Saint Patrick’s Day reminded me of another artificially divided land,
of another suppression of one religious group by another. It reminded
me of the civil war now already begun between Iraq’s Sunnis and the
Shiites. Different groups divided by class and clout, prestige and
power but whose overarching identification is religion. In Iraq two
sects of Islam, in Ireland two divisions of Christians fearing, hating
and killing each other.

Listen to W. B. Yeats’ verse from his poem Remorse for Intemperate
. It cries out from the heart of a tortured people.

Out of Ireland we come.
Great hatred, little room,
Maimed us at the start.
I carry from my mother’s womb
A fanatic heart.

When Yeats wrote that, he “had witnessed the birthing of a new Irish
nation through insurgency and civil war. He had served as a Free State
senator, and after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, was the
country’s public man of letters.”

As Thomas Lynch, the poet and author of Booking Passage: We Irish and
, has also observed, Yeats’ poem admits that intelligence and
good intentions are often overcome by hatred and enthusiasm for a
cause. ”It is what links enemies, what makes terrorists ‘martyrs’ and
‘patriots’ among their own ‘ -- the fanatic heart beating in the breast of
every true believer.”

I inherited some of that hate. As a boy I heard those songs of
rebellion from my grandparents. Experience, education, travel - life
itself have leached that hate from my heart. But even three generations
removed from Ireland, I heard suspicion, distrust and hate for the
English Protestant landlords, who forced my famished ancestors onto
“coffin ships” and into steerage for passage to a distant land.

Is such religious hatred destiny? Can experience and education cure
fanatic hearts? They did mine; can they do so in Iraq? Only history
will tell, but here’s a story that gives me hope.

Some years ago fundraisers from the Irish Republican Army stopped to
see an American executive. He was an Irish Catholic CEO of an
international company. They went to his office in his up-scale
Manhattan headquarters. They spoke of the prejudice, injustices,
killings and suppression of Catholics in Northern Ireland and requested
money for arms. He refused them.

“All right they said, but what then do you intend to do to help?” The
CEO did not answer, but long after the IRA terrorists left their
question haunted him.

Weeks later he flew to Belfast and began making plans to build a plant
in Northern Ireland. Eventually, with instructions that his people
hire both Catholics and Protestants as workers and managers, he built
it. The plant prospered and its non-discriminatory personnel policies
were widely praised.

A few years later this same CEO was in London on business to meet with
an English counterpart. Their work had brought them together and they
had become friends. Their different religions and ethnic backgrounds
were hardly noticed. Over lunch in an exclusive club they were
discussing the Belfast plant and its hiring practices.

“What made you build it?” asked the Englishman. The American told him
of the IRA soliciting money for arms. “But why did you do it?” his
English friend persisted.

“My grandparents were tenant farmers in Connemara. Their landlord
forced them to leave Ireland during the famine.”

Curious now the Englishman asked, “What part of Connemara?” When the
American named the remote, mountainous village, the Englishman paled.

“What’s the matte?“ asked his friend.

Shaking his head, the Englishman said quietly, “My grandfather owned
that mountain.”

Generations from now will the descendents of today’s Shiites and Sunnis
have similar conversations -- will they meet as friends? Will they sit
at table to share a meal to discuss business? Or will that hatred,
which today rips Iraq asunder, still maim them? Will the grandchildren
of today ‘s Sunnis and Shiites still carry fanatic hearts?

It can happen, if visionary statesmen like Senator George Mitchell who
nurtured the historic Good Friday Irish agreement bring similar
diplomatic skills to the Sunni-Shiite conflict. (I must say, however,
that presently I find the Bush administration ‘s Iraq policy is not
long-term and visionary but short-term and delusional.)

In Ireland economic prosperity, cultural cooperation and
interdependence have drawn Catholics and Protestants closer. Full
peace has not yet come to Ulster, but most fanatic hearts are have been
silenced. Iraq desperately needs such modernization.

The reformation of the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council
helped greatly in Ireland. That council broke down many Catholic and
Protestant prejudices. Islam too needs a religious reformation.
Eventually modernization and reformation will come to Iraq but it will
not happen quickly. As in Ireland, it could take generations perhaps

And how long will our troops be there? God only knows; President Bush
doesn't. We should set a timetable and start bringing them home. As
the Quakers have told us “if our troops leave, then an independent
Iraqi government, free of external control, could open the door to
discussion and reconciliation between groups.”

We should again remind ourselves of Ireland and the transitional Irish
Free State, which was also born out of insurgency and civil war. It
struggled from 1922 to 1937. Americans must take the long view of
history and not, as politicians instinctively do, think only of the
next congressional election.

One more comparison: in Ireland women jump-started the struggle for
peaceful cooperation. In 1977 Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams
received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. Iraq too needs to
hear the voices of its women who have lost too many children, husbands
and brothers. If the Iraqi constitution gives a real voice to women --
and not only a nominal presence, the chances for peace between Sunni
and Shiite will increase.

That’s what Ireland can teach America about Iraq.

Daniel O’Rourke is He’s a married Catholic priest, retired from the administration at State University College, Fredonia. A mediator for the Center for Resolution and Justice, he lives in Cassadaga. His column appears the second and
fourth Thursdays of each month. Comments may be sent to

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Father Marty's Funeral Ministry in Denver

I am a new member of Rent a Priest in Denver, CO...I celebrate between 225 and 250 funerals each year in the Denver Metro area. I have built up this ministry over the past five years, and I now work with over 30 funeral homes in the Denver metro area. (When I left the formal ministry, I worked for four years at the largest Mortuary - Cemetery in Colorado in Family Service. Getting to know the business from the inside out put me on the path to what I do full time now) Most of my services are for families who do not have a minister to assist them. About twenty percent are for Catholics who are fringe or who have been turned down by their pastor. I have found that this is a gift I have, and I plan to continue using it. Yes, the bishop here tried to shut me down. A few letters from my lawyer put a stop to that, and the directors who received the letter from the bishop trying to discredit me have committed to using me even more.

I have found that many funeral directors have a strong dislike for assisting with Catholic funerals because of the demands the priests put on them and their families. A good bit of my income each year comes from praying the rosary with families who have been refused this simple gesture because "father is too busy." One "priest" in particular in this diocese has sent more business my way than I could handle. I guess he just dislikes doing funerals, because every family who goes to him comes away horrified by how they were treated at this most painful time. I end up doing a lot of services because of him!

When the bishop here tried to discredit me last December, I decided to add weddings to my ministry, and to join Rent a Priest. I had always been happy to quietly celebrate my funerals, but I also had to pay my bills. Since the second week of January when I put up a simple web sight offering my services for weddings, I have booked 23 weddings. All but two of these are with Catholic couples who for a number of reasons are unable, or choose not to be married formally in the Church. I had no idea the need was so strong in this area of ministry.

I have found Rent a Priest to be a real blessing also. Knowing that there are so many others out there continuing the work we were ordained to do gives me a real sense of encouragement. Keep up the good work all!

Fr. Marty

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Eucharist and the Future of Christian worship

What should the style of our Eucharistic celebrations be? What is the appropriate role of the priest? Of the lay Christian?

In a way, there is no simple answer to these questions – no ‘one size fits all’ approach to the Lord’s Supper. But we should be very clear on one point – it IS the Lord’s supper, not ours! Eucharist is a gift of the Spirit to the people of God that pre-dates the ordained priesthood: long before there were ordained, professional clerics, those who loved the Lord and found hope in his message gathered in small groups, in private homes, and broke bread as they remembered Him.
Two thousand years of history have transpired since those early communities gathered – in Jerusalem, in Corinth, in Galatia. The celebration of the Eucharist has been, long ago, clericalized, and lay Catholics trained, from generation to generation, to sit quietly and watch. After the Council, just getting Catholics to sing hymns and shake hands was a chore. Change occurs incrementally, and the art of celebrating the Eucharist (and leading a Eucharistic community) is to allow people feel comfortable with what they know, even as we help them discover new ways of being a Eucharistic community.

This means that the nature of the community will, to some extent, tell us what is appropriate. For a large gathering of Catholics, what they know best is a priest-proclaimed Eucharistic prayer, in which they join at the acclamation and the concluding Amen. They have been taught that, without an ordained priest to lead the celebration, to proclaim the words of ‘consecration,’ no Eucharist is ‘real,’ and that belief, rooted in centuries of tradition, will not be easily overcome.
In that kind of setting, involving the congregation is as much of the celebration as possible (through hymns, acclamations, as readers, etc.) without jarring the expectation of the priest led Eucharistic prayer is probably the best practice. And the presider should be as un-clerical as is humanly possible when such a role is thrust upon him. This would also hold true, I’d think, in newly formed groups whose members are used to the institutional structures of Eucharist. A ‘home mass’ for communities such as these should probably be a more intimate version of what they would experience were they to go to a local parish.

In a smaller, more intimate gathering, though, the nature of what is appropriate, I think, shifts with the nature of the praying community. When members of the community understand their role and dignity as gifted members of Christ’s body – and equal before the Lord, and when they understand the nature of the Eucharistic prayer itself – not as the rote recitation of words approved by the Vatican, but as a prayer remembering the saving life, death and resurrection of the Lord – then I have no problem with the Eucharistic prayer being shared by the entire group in whatever way the group decides works for it. This is a giant step away from the clerical control of the Eucharist.

In spiritually mature communities, I see no reason why an ordained priest is needed at all. As in the earliest Christian communities, ministry will emerge as gifts of the Spirit to the group itself. The call arises from the community itself, and there is no reason why the person so gifted need be an institutionally ordained male priest. We are all baptized priest, prophet and king with the Lord; He is the one true priest, mediating the love of the Father to us through the Spirit, we need no other. But the theological expertise of the institutionally ordained is a valuable asset in these communities, and will help them remain faithful to the best of the tradition within broadly diverse parameters. In this model, the ordained priest becomes more like a rabbi.

I believe that this later model is the direction in which the entire church is heading, impelled by the Spirit – but change is difficult for people, and they must be lead incrementally, in baby steps, back to the future.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Back to the future

Thoughts on the Eucharist in a new key
by Pete Szafran

To catch the spirit of Jesus and move beyond present day clericalism in worship, we need to get back to the first three centuries of the church and the early Christians. To me that means small worshiping communities.

Rote meaningless recitations of the Eucharistic Prayer by the presider and/or the attendees do not make for meaningful liturgy.

I was at a home mass yesterday. There were about 15-20 people there. We had met together before and knew each other for the most part, but went around and introduced ourselves again. The liturgy of the word was in a circle, with readings and sharing. The presider wore no vestments. After the liturgy of the word we ate together, a pot luck meal. At the end of the meal, we had the liturgy of the Eucharist. The Eucharistic prayer was alternately read by men and women, with all saying the words of consecration. My experience was not one of rote recitation or mindless reading. It was a prayerful experience for me and I’m glad I went and hope to go again. It certainly met my needs.

I have been a presider at such a Eucharist, and the response from those present was, this is how it should be. As I was leaving the area and would be many miles away, I encouraged them to continue to do this themselves, taking turns as presider.

I don’t think we need uniformity, and I’m glad that we are exploring, and hope we continue to grow by sharing ideas and experiences. Speaking the truth with love.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Advocates for clergy sex abuse victims aim criticism at bishops

By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola

Two outspoken advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse were in Arizona this weekend, leveling heated criticism against leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

David Clohessy and the Rev. Thomas Doyle spoke about sex abuse in the church in a presentation sponsored by Call To Action, a liberal Catholic organization. The event, which was Sunday afternoon at Tempe's Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, drew an audience of about 100 people. The mostly older audience included a number of individuals who said they were victims of clergy abuse.

Clohessy is the national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Doyle is the Dominican priest and canon lawyer who authored a 1985 report on sexual abuse for the Catholic Church. In the 1980s, he predicted that legal settlements for abuse cases would eventually exceed $1 billion dollars, a prediction that has since come true. Since the sex abuse scandal broke nationally in 2002, Doyle has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the church's handling of the scandal.

In his presentation on Sunday, Doyle had blistering criticism of the church hierarchy and of "clericalism," a reference to Catholic clergy at the expense of faithful lay Catholics. Clohessy criticized what he sees as the Catholic bishops' continuing failure to root out sexual abuse in their dioceses and their failure to reach out to abuse victims in a just and compassionate manner.

Continuing problem
Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops drew up the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults at a 2002 Dallas conference, Clohessy likened the Charter to a baseball game in which the bishops drew up the rules of the game, decided who could play, and handpicked the umpires. "Now they've decided they won," he said. The "so-called reforms" of the Charter, added Clohessy, are like "speed limits with no cops."

Citing current examples of mismanaged allegations in the five largest dioceses in the United States New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston Clohessy scoffed at the idea that the U.S. bishops adequately addressed the problem of clergy sex abuse in 2002. "If the problem before was ignorance, what's the problem now?" he said.

Clohessy was particularly critical of Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago Archdiocese who is the vice president of the USCCB. Two Chicago priests have recently been removed from ministry, and one of them has been arrested on criminal child molestation charges. Clohessy characterized some of George's statements about the situation as "lies" and said those statements have been disputed by two individuals within the archdiocese.

Doyle criticized the institutional structure of the Catholic hierarchy. He believes it is incorrect to refer to sexual abuse within the Catholic Church as the "sex abuse crisis." Because of its long history in the church, he said, the abuse is an "integral part" of the institutional church. Doyle said he has spent years researching the history of abuse in the church and claims that church documents provide evidence that abuse problems date back to the fourth century.

"This horror story is still going on," he said.

21st century monarchy
Doyle argued that the Catholic church is a 21st century monarchy, suffering from the "disease of clericalism." "Our governmental system is deficient at the core," said Doyle, who added that Jesus never said anything about establishing a church with an institutional structure like the Catholic hierarchy. "You know," he said, "religion is not given to us by God, it's given to us by us."

Doyle singled out comments made by Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in which Chaput said efforts to remove the statute of limitations for sex abuse cases has the potential for "dismantling and pillaging the Catholic community nationwide."

Doyle suggested perhaps the church hierarchy should be dismantled. "Dismantle the structure and allow the Body of Christ to stick its head out," he said.

Comments about Jesus garnered Doyle some enthusiastic applause from the audience. "He's the center of this whole endeavor, not the pope," said Doyle. "He cared about love, he cared about compassion," he added. "The only time the Lord got angry is when he went to church."

Eliminating statute of limitation laws for sexual abuse will help curb institutions that have covered up abuse within their ranks, said Doyle. Although he admitted other institutions and other churches have also covered up abuse by their members, Doyle called the Roman Catholic Church the most "egregious offender" among institutions.

"This is all documented fact," he said. "This is not my opinion."

Reduce the power
Doyle and Clohessy also argued that the Catholic Church is a powerful institution that only responds to pressure from other powerful forces.

Clohessy said Catholics, the general public, legislators, prosecuting attorneys, and the media need to "reduce the power" of bishops by keeping the issue of sexual abuse of alive and in the public eye.

He urged his audience to work to eliminate statute of limitations laws pertaining to sex abuse crimes, pressure dioceses to appoint independent law enforcement professionals to their sexual abuse review boards, write letters about the issue to church officials and newspapers, and make the "climate more welcoming" for victims to come forward.

"The only way this institution can be fixed," said Doyle, "is if we fix it." Catholics have to stop "enabling" clericalism and start interacting with Catholic clergy on a level ground of equality and mutual respect, he explained, characteristics of the early Christian community.

Clohessy and Doyle did single out Paul G. Bootkoski, the bishop of the Metuchen Diocese in New Jersey, as one bishop who has impressed them with his efforts to reach out to victims. Bootkoski initiated contact with SNAP and voluntarily provided information to a New Jersey prosecutor, said Clohessy.

If other Catholic bishops are truly sincere in reaching out to victims, Clohessy said, they will include SNAP contact information on their diocesan Web site, they will publish a list of abusive priests on their website, and they will visit every parish where abusive priests have worked and encourage parishioners to come forward with any relevant information.

Clohessy challenged bishops to be obedient to Jesus' parable of the lost sheep in which the shepherd leaves 99 sheep in order to find and bring back the one lost sheep.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Remembering Jehran Omran

By Fr. Dan O'Rourke

The Iraq War and Jehran Omran by Daniel O’Rourke 03-09-06 The American Friends recently brought a traveling exhibit to Erie, Pennsylvania on the human cost of the Iraq War. The exhibit displayed one hundred-eleven pairs of military boots in honor of the hundred and eleven Pennsylvania soldiers and marines killed in Iraq. The Quakers do not have a similar exhibit for New York State. Sadly, there are far too many pairs of empty boots to transport and display.

The boots were marked with the names, rank, age and hometowns of the dead. In a few instances where families objected, the shoes were unlabeled.

In a cluster at the center of the exhibit were three sets of boots from the City of Erie. One pair was marked for Donald Samuel Oaks, Jr. One of his boots held a bouquet of red roses his aunt had placed there together with a picture of the soldier as a mischievous five-year-old. Oaks was only twenty when he was killed in Iraq.

Yet another boot held a crumpled, hand-written note from a grieving father to his dead son. ”I will love you, Johnny, and will never forget you!.” That soldier was from Oil City. He was 21.

Incongruously, amid the blackened, heavy military boots were sneakers, sandals and children’s shoes. Each pair labeled with the name and age of a dead Iraqi citizen. What most touched me were four-year-old Jehan Omran’s tiny shoes. They were pink with Velcro straps. The kind I help my granddaughter with when she visits our home.

The hushed visitors at the exhibit lingered over the footwear like mourners at a funeral parlor. They moved reverently to the posters, which spelled out the growing financial cost of the war. At the time of this writing it is two hundred and forty-five billion, but even that seems insignificant in the light of all these needless deaths.

So far there have been 2,302 American military deaths in Iraq. We number them meticulously -- as we should. Yet General Tommy Franks has said brusquely of the Iraqi dead, “We don’t do body counts.” Some sources have estimated from 26,000 to 32,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. President Bush himself has cited that figure. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, however, in a now outdated report published in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal then estimated the Iraqi dead at 100,000.

Even that monstrous figure is just a statistic and doesn’t move me as much as Jehan Omran’s shoes with those Velcro straps. Too sentimental? Perhaps, but more realistic than a military spokesman with a chest full of service ribbons dismissing the Iraqi dead as “collateral damage.” Can the dead be dismissed that easily? Won’t they come back to haunt us? Haven’t they already?

Rosie Musacchio of Dunkirk crafted a sculpture, The Spirit Groaneth - A Response to the Grief of the Iraqi People. She’ll display and interpret her work at a gathering grieving the third anniversary of the Iraq War. This event, sponsored by the Dunkirk Fredonia Center for Peace and Justice and the Fredonia Students for Peace, will take place on Saturday, March 18 at 1:00 PM in Fredonia’s Barker commons.

But back to those empty boots and shoes. There has been much grief in this country about the mounting deaths from this damnable war. Understandably, much of it focuses on our own military dead. After all we knew these young men and women as family, friends and neighbors and we grieve them deeply and personally. But what of the Iraqi dead? Why do we minimize them? They too have loving families, friends and neighbors.

Aren’t we all one? Isn’t John Dunn’s famous line pertinent? “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Or as someone else has asked, doesn’t “our own pulse beat in every stranger’s throat?” Did our pulse beat in Jehan Omran’s throat before a piece of shrapnel silenced her laughter?

Of course it did. We are one. Iraqi deaths diminish us Americans just as our casualties diminish them. Listen to a few words from a Spanish song.

Somos el barco; somos el mar.
Yo navego en ti, tu navegas en mi.

We are the boat; we are the sea
I sail in you; you sail in me.

What these poets are saying is that we are all meshed, interwoven and braided together. Iraqi and American lives, whether we admit it or not, are interconnected. And I’m not speaking of the increasing reality of international economies and politics. “We are one” is the ancient insight of the mystics.

If we deny this, as much of our government and media continue to do, we can rationalize almost anything including killing, torture, and endless illegal detentions. This debasement and degradation of Iraqis has also debased and degraded us and our nation’s ideals. The sea in which we sail together has been polluted by our arrogant, self-centered militarism.

Where is the outrage at all this death? Where is it in the media? In the political opposition? From our pulpits? Oh I know, it’s there occasionally and selectively, but too often it’s timid and muted.

Americans and Iraqis are in the same boat, on the same sea. Our languages, dress and religions may differ, but we share a common humanity, a common earth and a common God.

Jehan Omran was my granddaughter too - and she was yours.

Daniel O’Rourke is a married Catholic priest, retired from the administration at State University College, Fredonia. A mediator for the Center for Resolution and Justice, he lives in Cassadaga. His column appears the second and fourth Thursdays of each month. Comments may be sent to