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Inside NCR

Sensus fidelium is a woman on the cover

Mary Anne Ramerman, on the front cover, is not a woman priest. But she is a woman. In the church. And last week our front cover showed the intriguing shadow of woman falling over St. Peter's Square in Rome. The Woman Question, that headline said. It won't go away, the headline elaborated.

This week, the cover story is about a parish. A rare one. Still it's not just hype putting the woman on the cover, but recognition of an emerging phenomenon: At Corpus Christi in Rochester, N.Y., and nearly everywhere else, women are, for a fact, becoming more and more the soul of their Christian communities.

There was no secret NCR strategy here, no conspiracy to promote a cause. And yet -- might there not be here something of the sensus fidelium trickling through in one more way? Like it or not, this is where the church theologically is. Despite all the discouragement from the Vatican these several years, more energy swirls around women's issues than any other aspect of the church.

Historians will have a great old time disentangling the elaborate theoretical and practical skeins we wove so feverishly late in the old millennium. Recent articles, beginning with that of Margaret Murphy (NCR, Jan. 31), show that the mind of the faithful, on this as on so many other matters, is not neatly packaged. On the contrary, the mind of the faithful seems to be expressing a tumult that will either elevate the church to a higher level for the new century or let it slide into irrelevance. And we are part of that history-in-the-making. It's practically scary.

History is strewn with evidence that the enemy within is more ornery than the far-off foe with whom we will never lock horns or even rub shoulders. Interreligious wars of all kinds illustrate the point. Christ said the world will know we are Christians by our love, which makes Christ a tough act to follow.

Anyway, in the February issue of a magazine called The Catholic World Report, James Hitchcock, a history professor at St. Louis University and fairly well known on the conservative circuit, in an article critical of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, took a couple of added swipes at NCR. For example, "It is a journal where, for example, it is almost routine for Vatican officials to be referred to as Nazis. ..."

Surprised at such a claim, we asked Hitchcock for evidence. And back came several NCR pages. All but one were from our Repartee (letters) section. One letter quotes Hitler as author of a document praising celibacy in the church. The non-Repartee reference was an editorial that mentioned that the Italian press had dubbed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger the "Panzer-Kardinal."

The "Panzer-Kardinal" tag was picked up by a number of letter writers who disagreed with Ratzinger about one thing or another. We the editors added to the indignity by using the term in a couple of Repartee headlines. We were frankly surprised at the number of such references. We regret any hurt such reference to that wretched epoch might cause, however unintentionally. Soul-searching ensued.

I know of no one who hates Ratzinger or even dislikes him personally. At a time when conflicting theologies and ideologies are causing a shiver in the church, the least we ought to do is treat each other with respect. And maybe on good days go beyond that to the love the Founder said was the Christian sine qua non.

Hey, let's get this straight. Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan, to take just one well-known example, may not, by order of the pope, be an elected representative in the U.S. government. But San Salvador Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle can be a brigadier general in a government that has been in the hands of the military and wreaking terrible havoc for the last generation. What's going on here?

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, February 28, 1997