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Inside NCR

New staff members, old church issues

This week we officially welcome two new members to the NCR staff. John L. Allen Jr. is our new opinion editor. A native of Hays, Kan., he studied philosophy and political science at Fort Hays State University. Afterward, he spent a year in the seminary, during which he also studied moral theology at the University of San Diego. Allen has an MA in religious studies from the University of Kansas. Long a student activist, he served as executive director of the National Student Roundtable. In that position, he lobbied the federal government on behalf of student issues. John taught high school and was newspaper/yearbook adviser at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

More recently, as a free-lance writer, Allen has been a contributing writer for The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles archdiocese, as well as an editor and writer for Benziger Publishing Company, especially in the area of catechetics. He also wrote several in-depth articles for NCR, mostly on educational topics.

As opinion editor, Allen will have responsibility for opinion pieces, columns, features, reviews and letters. He will also be in charge of coordinating most of our special sections.

John and his wife, Shannon, moved from California to Kansas City, Mo., in August.

If you send your unsolicited manuscripts to John's attention, he will feel a warm glow and give them special treatment -- he promised!

Patrick J. Marrin will be spending two days a week in the NCR newsroom; the other three days he will be working upstairs for Sheed & Ward, the National Catholic Reporter Company's book-publishing arm.

Marrin was an ordained Dominican priest for 11 years. He was laicized in 1990. He has an MA in journalism, another in theology, yet another in philosophy. He worked for six years at the Topeka Capital-Journal as writer, staff artist, computer graphics editor and political cartoonist. A member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, his art has already graced several NCR front pages.

For six years Marrin taught at Benedictine College, Atchison, Kan. He was chair of the journalism department, teaching everything from basic journalism to layout and design.

Pat and his wife, Diane, live in Atchison with their son, John.

Pat will concentrate on writing features and editorials, but we also expect that we won't be able to restrain him from drawing the signs of the times.

It is not an easy time to be a bishop when the church must be shepherded in the media's glare at the very time the faithful feel they, too, are church and free to speak out. St. Cloud Bishop John F. Kinney's response to NCR's -- and other -- coverage of the priest pedophilia problem would not have been necessary in the days before mass media, including NCR.

Dioceses have done a considerable amount to respond to the crisis, Kinney claims, and indeed they have come a long way. But they had a mighty long way to come. One thinks back to NCR's early reporting of pedophilia cases when bishops sat behind big, imposing tables surrounded by a phalanx of lawyers and played hardball with victims and media alike. It was not necessarily that they were mean men, but the stakes were too high to throw caution to the wind and be pastoral at all costs.

This attitude still lingers in Dallas. In the wake of a $119.6 million judgment against the diocese for its mishandling of the sexual abuse of several boys by then Fr. Rudolph Kos, the former vicar general reverted to some of the old tricks.

The parents of the boys are more responsible for the abuse than the church, Msgr. Robert Rehkemper said in an interview with a Dallas newspaper. Rehkemper, who was second in command in the diocese at the time Kos was abusing the boys, stepped down in 1992 to run a big parish. While some kids may have been damaged by the sexual abuse, Rehkemper conceded, "I think the damage might have happened even without Fr. Kos. They had problems even before they knew Fr. Kos, many of them." All in all, he said, the verdict, which has been appealed by the diocese, was "outlandish" and "very, very unjust."

Then, in a bizarre aside, he wondered aloud if the plaintiffs would be able responsibly to manage all that money: "You know people who win the lottery usually end up bankrupt. ... I think I'd have trouble handling $10 million myself."

The diocesan chancellor and spokesman, Msgr. John Bell, said Rehkemper was not speaking for the church, but "we don't particularly criticize [the remarks]. ... We think the issues are far more complex than trying to assess blame."

Rehkemper's remarks caused such an uproar that he resigned as pastor Aug. 19, and will now hold no diocesan office.

Kinney says NCR's editorial "distorts the situation." Maybe -- very few have the whole truth locked away in a box. Kinney claims we are "in denial" when it comes to saying anything positive about the bishops. My personal recollection is that we stretched ourselves to praise every positive step made along this difficult path. He says there is no such thing as a "national" Catholic church. True. But he also writes, presumably, in his capacity as chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse. That's national. Time and again, when the bishops go national -- with their peace and economics pastorals, for example -- they carry plenty of clout and capacity to do good.

Finally, though, it's easier to blame the messenger than the Dallas diocese.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, August 29, 1997