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‘Moiph’ (once ‘Rynne’) gets a lifetime award

That the National Arts Club would give Fr. Francis X. Murphy, an occasional NCR contributor, its lifetime achievement award will seem to many NCR readers to be surprisingly right.

As Xavier Rynne, The New Yorker’s mysterious, pseudonymous reporter at Vatican II, the Redemptorist became a household name far beyond Catholic households. Arguably, Rynne single-handedly made the Catholic council secular news, stimulating the major media to match him during the hectic years 1962-65.

NCR’s Arthur Jones accompanied Murphy friends, family and aficionados to the Arts Club dinner in New York May 11. Amid tales galore, Betty Friedan, a “Murph” pal for 30 years, told how Murphy and Jesuit Fr. Vincent O’Keefe engineered her audience with Pope Paul VI, at which she presented the pope with a pendant on a chain -- the woman’s biological emblem with an = sign on it.

Murphy’s explanation as to why, after denying it for years, he admitted to being Xavier Rynne was quintessential Murphy. He confessed it to Cardinal Pio Laghi “because,” he said, “if I were to die tomorrow, the Jesuits would claim [Rynne] as one of theirs, and the Redemptorists would be happy to let them have him.”

There were enough Redemptorists on hand to show Murphy, at 83 still spry, though slowed by Parkinson’s, that despite any cross words decades back, they’re really rather proud of “Moiph.”

He got that monicker in minor seminary, he said, when a professor asked the class what a parenthesis was. Bronx-born Murphy answered, “It’s a woid with a coive at the front and a coive at the back.”

Nice going, Moiph.

Divine Word Fr. John A. Pisors writes from Bogotá, Colombia: “More than once I have seen letters to the editor suggesting that the crimes committed by Death Watch victims also be published. Neither do you do it, nor do you publish a reasonable answer to their wise request. Are you listening to your readers who write you, or are you just letting us talk?”

This writer makes “letting us talk” sound like a cheap trick played by NCR on unsuspecting readers. That is not our intention.

But back to Death Watch. NCR has long opposed the death penalty. This isn’t the place to open up the debate again. Suffice it to make one point: Very seldom are the really rich or highly accomplished put to death. The death penalty, in other words, is not justly administered.

Yes, there are some wretched thugs, as well as others, on death rows. Yes, they deserve plenty of punishment -- for most people it takes an effort not to want to kill them for their crimes. And yes, we have great sympathy for the victims, as well as the bereaved, of those executed.

Death Watch, which we have been running week in week out for many years, is for now our best shot at highlighting the particular injustice of the death penalty in the United States. In a more perfect world, we’d mention the crimes, too. In a more perfect world yet, we’d fill in extenuating circumstances and tell all the awful stories. We simply don’t have time, for one thing. We are lucky (and grateful) to be able to get the information we do from the Death Penalty Information Center. We could not keep track without them. But their Web site does not provide details of the crimes.

We invite Pisors and others to visit that Web site: www.essential.org/dpic/

Finally, every Death Watch does ask for prayers for the victims.

One of our niftiest recent innovations, in my humble opinion, is Keeping Faith, which runs every other issue on a Briefs page. The selection to date has been an inspired mix of young and old making life worthwhile.

But here’s a surprise. Despite a weekly invitation, we are receiving very few candidates for Keeping Faith. Our readers surely know many wise, holy, talented, enterprising or just ordinary folk who did or said or are up to something special.

Please get in touch with Teresa Malcolm and tell her why and how your friend or kid or mother-in-law is Keeping Faith -- and do include the name and number of a contact person.

National Catholic Reporter, May 22, 1998