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The joy of interacting, interacting ...

Let's get interactive, I suggested some weeks ago. Like all words said in haste, these leave grounds for regret -- correspondence piling up -- but also grounds for forging ahead. I sort of solicited homilies and, oh, do we have homilies. Coming soon.

And, many months before, Tom Fox solicited responses to the lineamenta for the special Synod on the Americas. If you don't even know what that means -- and I'm not so sure myself -- then you are not one of those who wrote. We'll get to them eventually.

It is, alas, impossible to respond to everyone who "interacts" here. But be assured we are happy to hear from you and weigh every suggestion, including silly ones.

Word about problems at the Gaithersburg, Md., Mother of God Catholic covenant community started trickling into NCR's Washington bureau almost two years ago.

There was a "buddy report" form by which members profiled newcomers so the leadership could track them. Sample questions: "data on healings needed; sin areas; angers/resentments/bitterness/lack of forgiveness; sexuality; lying/deceit" or "old idea (refuses to part with)."

As the story (Communities falter under heavy hands) suggests, the single greatest cause for "angers" etc. seems to have been the Mother of God leadership.

It is a tawdry tale. NCR, despite occasional bad press to the contrary, works mightily to publish stories of hope, high achievement and good cheer -- such as our recent stories of exemplary parishes -- but it is part of our mission as independent Catholic journalists to tell as many sides of the overall big story as we can, including the down side.

During the past 20 months, as NCR editor-at-large Arthur Jones periodically met with members and former members of the Mother of God community, their fear of reprisals, law suits and victimization of family members still loyal to the old leadership was palpable, he said. Many meetings had to be secret.

The article raises further questions. As lay leadership becomes the norm in many aspects of Catholic life, what are the expectations, the guidelines, we should look to? The discipline the church hierarchy has been able to impose on its own clerical class for many centuries is not as easily imposed on laity. The extent to which this pope supports lay groups apparently prone to secretive behavior patterns raises further concerns.

A reader from Illinois wrote with a "brilliant" idea. Since NCR articles so frequently mention public people who deserve praise or castigation, this letter suggested, we should publish their addresses so that people could interact with friend and foe.

We did this for a while some years ago. We found some problems. Such as how to guess whose address people might want in the first place. There are of course the obvious ones -- the Illinois reader mentioned the pope and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- but we got tired repeating these (they can both be reached by writing to Vatican City -- every post office on earth knows where that is).

After that I recommend the internationally acclaimed Jean Blake solution -- go to the library. Assistant to the editor Blake knows that libraries have books such as the National Catholic Directory and the Annuario Pontificio, the Vatican yearbook. Better still, if you call the local chancery and casually mention the Annuario, they'll think you're a clergyperson and look it up for you.

Indeed, the folks our readers seem most often eager to contact are writers of letters to "Repartee." We forward those when we can. Neither the pope nor Cardinal Ratzinger has yet written to "Repartee."

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 1997