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Inside NCR

With knights, cash is a proxy for character

Just a few months ago we proudly announced that Patrick Marrin had joined the NCR staff. On Jan. 5, however, publisher Tom Fox announced that Marrin would be taking over as editor, and Carolyn Hoff as managing editor, of Celebration, a sister publication of NCR.

Marrin succeeds Bill Freburger, who served as Celebration editor from 1978 until his death in July 1997. Marrin came to NCR from Benedictine College, Atchison, Kan., where he had been chair of the journalism/mass communications department since 1991. Prior to that, he was on the staff of the Topeka-Capital Journal. Marrin holds master’s degrees in philosophy, theology and journalism and was a member of the Dominican order from 1965 to 1983.

Hoff has served as Celebration’s production editor since 1983 and brings experience in Catholic education and parish liturgical ministry to her new role.

“They have the skills, vision and love for the church needed to guide us in the spirit of Vatican II into the 21st century,” Fox said in announcing the new team. “Our goal is to provide tools and ideas to help create worship experiences for a church that is inclusive, collaborative, ecumenical, faithful to tradition but focused on contemporary needs and deeply committed to connecting liturgy to social justice.”

We are happy to report that Marrin will continue to write for NCR as circumstances allow; and that he will likewise contribute his distinctive art, both frivolous and profound.

Everyone loves cathedrals. At least in theory. In practice they may be too flashy or too boring -- or too expensive. We regard with awe the great cathedrals of the past, expressions of the faith and tenacity of people who sometimes took a whole century to build one.

There is a dilemma, of course: whether the money and energy should be put into stone, steel and stained glass or, as someone said in the Bible, given to the poor.

These reflections were stirred by the announcement that the pope had conferred a papal knighthood on media mogul Rupert Murdoch, comedian Bob Hope and Roy Disney (that Disney) (story, page 9). The connection may not be obvious at once. The Vatican keeps saying that such a knighthood is conferred on people of “unblemished character.” Now, there’s a lot of unblemished character out there, as well as plenty of blemish.

One problem with unblemished character is that much of it is invisible. The best a pope can do, therefore, when the knighthood season arrives, is look for outward signs. One sign our three new knights have in common is that they are not only wealthy but give globs of that wealth to the church.

According to an article in the faraway Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, Murdoch (who, incidentally, many critics regard as a sleazy purveyor of low-class sensationalism via various media) gave generously to the Los Angeles diocese; Hope donated to Washington’s Shrine of the Immaculate Conception; and Disney gave to the new cathedral to be built in Los Angeles.

One reason poor people are seldom involved in the knighthood sweepstakes is probably the fact that knights’ regalia are very expensive. But more to the point: If you’re head of a diocese that needs a cathedral that will give glory to God and be admired by generations yet unborn, you have limited options for enticing tycoons to fork out the big bucks without which a cathedral will never get built. This, no doubt, is not a new dilemma: From Byzantium to Rome to your own diocese, building God’s house entailed some give-and-take with the world.

This can get awkward when the benefactor cashes in his chits. “I give generously to the church,” when said to a bishop or even a priest, can be a veiled threat that the piper won’t be paid unless the appropriate tune is played. Woe to the poor bishop who must rely on money like that. It was easy for Jesus, who could order Peter to catch a fish with money in its mouth. Perhaps the papal knighthood is today’s version of Jesus and the fish: It doesn’t cost much and it pays the bills.

Knighthood lacks one profound Christian characteristic, though: It lets the cat out of the bag so that the right hand knows only too well what the left is doing, which some think shouldn’t happen in high quality charity.

Famed film director Ingmar Bergman wrote: “There is an old story of how the cathedral of Chartres was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Then thousands of people came from all points of the compass, like a giant procession of ants, and together they began to rebuild the cathedral. They worked until the building was completed -- master builders, artists, laborers, clowns, noblemen, priests, burghers. But they all remained anonymous, and no one knows to this day who built the cathedral of Chartres.”

National Catholic Reporter, January 16, 1998