Nate Nelson

"Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come."
- Hebrews 13:14
"Strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim Church on earth."
- Eucharistic Prayer III
"The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance." - Pope Benedict XVI

Sunday, February 19, 2006

St. Andrea Santoro, Priest and Martyr

So far, I've been silent on the firestorm over the anti-Muslim cartoons published in the Danish press. The reason I've been silent is that until now I've seen no reason to involve myself in the controversy; many of my liberal readers will likely disagree over one part of my opinion, while many of my conservative readers will likely disagree over another -- because my opinion is neither liberal nor conservative.

Essentially, there are three points to my opinion:

  1. As a rule, the press should refrain from publishing intolerance -- especially religious intolerance. And that is most certainly what the Danish cartoons were.


  2. With that said, I strongly believe in freedom of the press. I believe that the Danish press had a right to publish the cartoons, and I strongly disagree with any international attempts either by the Vatican, the European Union, or the United Nations to limit freedom of the press. I believe that the United States should exert all of its influence in the UN to prevent such a limitation from occurring.


  3. Finally, no efforts should be undertaken to appease the Muslims who have reacted violently. It is time for the world to tell Muslim radicals that it is unacceptable for them to react with violence and terrorism every time some group of people, some religion, or some nation does something with which they do not agree. The governments of the nations in which violence has arisen must bring violent protesters back under control; blame for this cannot be placed upon the shoulders of the Danes or the Europeans just because they are unwilling to sacrifice their freedom of the press. We should not be forced to sacrifice freedom of the press on the altar of radical Islam. If we sacrifice this freedom, what other freedoms will we be required to sacrifice?


Why am I bringing this up now? I'm bringing it up because of Sr. Joan Chittister's most recent column in the National Catholic Reporter, with which I profoundly disagree. In the column, Sr. Chittister makes the case that Fr. Andrea Santoro, an Italian priest in Turkey who was killed recently by a young Muslim radical who was violently protesting the Danish cartoons, should not be recognized as a martyr. I couldn't disagree with Sr. Chittister more.

First of all, Sr. Chittister takes a very restrictive approach to martyrdom. She limits it to martyrdom of Christians at the hands of a political establishment which will not tolerate Christianity, but there is no basis in Catholic tradition for limiting martyrdom in such a way. Martyrdom occurs whenever a Christian is killed out of hatred for the faith (odium fidei), not just by a political establishment but by anyone. The question is: Was Fr. Santoro killed out of hatred for the faith? The answer is most certainly that he was. This boy walked into his church and shot him, reacting to the anti-Muslim cartoons in the Danish press. Why else would a Muslim boy walk into a church and shoot a priest, any priest, even if that priest were an Italian rather than a Dane? He did it because the priest was Christian, and at the moment he hated Christians because of the Danish cartoons published in the "Christian" West.

Some, Sr. Chittister included, have alleged that the boy was psychologically unstable. So what? Are we making the case that anyone killed for his or her faith by someone who is psychologically unstable cannot be a martyr? If so, we had better take some of those martyrs killed by the Emperor Nero off the books -- unless, of course, we are making the case that Nero was psychologically balanced.

It seems that Sr. Chittister's primary concern is avoiding more violence, and with this concern I can sympathize. But it would be wrong to deny the sanctity of a man who clearly was killed out of hatred for his faith just to avoid more violence. What would that say about our Church's commitment to faith and truth? As I've already pointed out, I also think it's a bad idea to do anything to appease violent Muslims. What kind of message do we send if we refuse to recognize a martyr for who he is because we don't want to provoke violence from Muslims? We send the message that violence can quiet us and lead us to attempt appeasement, that we will give them what they want if they kill enough of us. We send a message that we are ready for them to make more martyrs who we will not recognize as martyrs. It would be far better to send a message to the Muslim faith that we believe one of their people killed one of our priests out of hatred for his faith, that we're going to recognize his faith and that he was killed for it, and that we expect better from them. We expect to be tolerated and respected as we have tolerated and respected them.

Perhaps my biggest problem with Sr. Chittister's column, however, is that she compares Fr. Santoro's martyrdom with the "martyrdom" of Muslim terrorists:

In the third place, the world is already dealing with a passle of Islamic fundamentalist martyrs for the faith, called jihadists, all of them almost universally condemned by moderate Muslim communities and leaders everywhere. The world doesn't need Christian ones, too . . . From where I stand, this does not seem the time to elevate the present political situation to the level of religious warfare by incorrectly declaring our own dead, like those of Islamic fundamentalists, to be "martyrs." All we need is to trigger another century of Crusades by beginning a competition of martyrs.


It was at this point that I was genuinely angered by Sr. Chittister's column, and it is over this that I demand, in the name of all Christian martyrs, a retraction and apology from Sr. Chittster and the National Catholic Reporter. How can Sr. Chittister possibly compare the martyrdom of Fr. Santoro -- as she did, explicitly -- to the murder-suicide committed by Muslim terrorists? Fr. Santoro was kneeling in his church at prayer when he was shot by a Muslim radical; Muslim terrorist "martyrs" end their lives by exploding bombs attached to their bodies in order to kill non-Muslims, usually Jews or Westerners. There is no comparison, and the Muslim men and women who commit murder-suicide are not "martyrs," they are terrorists and murderers.

Sr. Chittister and NCR must apologize for associating Fr. Santoro and other Christian martyrs with Muslim terrorists who have committed murder-suicide, and they must do so without delay. They have now engaged in the same religious intolerance that the Danish press has engaged in, and they have done so against their own co-religionists. I urge other Catholics, other Christians, and other people of faith to join me in demanding a retraction of and apology for these scandalous remarks.

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