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A time for NCR to give thanks, for Call to Action to take stock

When I announced an aching back some weeks ago -- an excuse for not doing my job at the time -- many readers graciously offered sympathy by mail or phone. I’m sure the others won’t mind if I mention only one by name, Padre Edwin Trimbur who wrote from Juarez, Mexico: “Permit me to recommend a way to alleviate pains in the back. I am an old man of 73 years (46 years a priest). I have pains in the back occasionally and I lie in my bath tub with hot water and the pain goes away.”

I wish to thank them one and all at this late date.

Thanksgiving Day will be over as you read this, but it is still approaching as I write. And in any case it is never too late for thanks, which should expand and explode and spread far beyond the token Thanksgiving Day to glorious Christmas and beyond again.

We at NCR thank our readers for reading, our subscribers for subscribing, and the loyal band of enthusiasts who endlessly tell anyone who will listen that NCR is worth reading in a church still worth loving and challenging because that old church is us.

I personally wish to thank the NCR staff, their names, as we say, too numerous to mention: here in the newsroom and around the world, editors, writers, designers, support staff, those making their contribution now and those who went before -- I’m getting carried away -- people of goodwill and cheerfulness, of talent and tenacity and integrity. Until someone finds a better word, I think it’s not inappropriate to speak of an NCR family.

Astronomers and others continue to remind us how small and fragile a sphere we are hurtling on through space. But how lucky we are, when one considers the odds, to be on board, to be alive, to be going somewhere. And how lucky that we here and you readers out there should have met like this.

There’s much to be grateful for. Thanks.

Call to Action, the loose-knit but lively organization so bent on holding episcopal feet to the post-Vatican II fire (story, page 5), was, in a surprise move, primarily the brainchild of the bishops themselves.

CTA’s tentative beginnings go back to the 1970s. “It had followed a twisting path, from its conception several years ago as a bicentennial consultation of the faithful through regional hearings, parish discussions and a three-day meeting attended by 1,300 delegates last October in Detroit,” NCR reported May 13, 1977.

Those were the halcyon days. CTA wanted ordination of women, married priests, the primacy of conscience with regard to birth control, a national arbitration board to control the bishops, civil rights for gays. A familiar agenda.

The bishops, however, were quick to grab hold of this amorphous energy. First Detroit’s Cardinal John Dearden and then Cincinnati Archbishop Joseph Bernardin were enjoined to tame and guide the project.

Came the bishops’ spring meeting in 1977. Reported NCR: “The disappointment came from the bishops’ unequivocal reiteration of their teaching authority.” Cardinal John Krol was overheard venting the growing episcopal suspicion that “rebels” were taking over.

Little moves were made, including a five-year plan for social justice and an episcopal secretariat for the laity.

After that the air soon went out of the movement and the church went back to what was considered normal. But CTA rose again from the ashes in 1990 in the Chicago area where it had never quite died. The numbers have grown. Most of the bishops are keeping a safe distance -- except perhaps Lincoln’s Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who, by excommunicating all members in his diocese, seems to have confirmed the view that CTA must be doing something right.

Is Call to Action a dying groan of the Vatican II church or a well-timed pentecost launching a new millennium? Not entirely either, no doubt. As a sign of the times, though, and as our story hints, it’s still raising more questions than providing answers.

National Catholic Reporter, December 5, 1997