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Dioceses at crossroads; writer reaps reward

Because their local diocesan newspapers already do a thorough job of it, NCR does not usually concentrate its coverage on individual bishops, cardinals or dioceses. We try to focus instead on the wider landscape, or at least its hills and valleys. There are, however, a couple of reasons for a wrinkle in this coverage.

Late in this pontificate, which has done so much to draw away authority from individual ordinaries and national conferences and restore it firmly within Vatican walls, there is a pause, almost breathless, it sometimes seems, as the church waits to see what the next pope will do. Will he continue John Paul II’s restoration of papal power or return to the collegiality that for a while seemed one of the most promising outcomes of the Second Vatican Council?

Church prelates are notoriously prudent as well as loyal, so they’re playing the ecclesial cards close to their chests. Still, it seems an interesting moment to focus on a few of them.

Furthermore, the American episcopate is itself in transition. Several leading churchmen have reached retirement age and will soon be handing over both pomp and power. It seems a good time to look at some of their legacies.

The legacy of Chicago’s late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin has been thoroughly aired -- a tale told with pride and affection. Last week, NCR’s Tim Unsworth took a long look at Bernardin’s successor, Cardinal Francis George, and his first steps to fill Bernardin’s big shoes (NCR May 15).

This week, Arthur Jones takes a longer look at New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor on the threshold of retirement. New York is one of the most interesting sees in the world -- nowhere else do secular and sacred collide with such gusto -- although a see can also be interesting less for the city than for the shepherd.

In many eyes, the diocese of El Quiché, the Guatemalan diocese that Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera discontinued to save the lives of his flock, grew to magnificence in recent weeks when its former bishop became a martyr (NCR, May 8, May 22).

In coming weeks we will be offering overviews of a few major U.S. dioceses. And, when the occasion demands, be it good news or bad, don’t be surprised if we knock on the door of your diocese.

Heartiest congratulations to longtime NCR Special Report Writer Robert J. McClory of Chicago, one of the major award winners announced May 5 at the Chicago archdiocese’s Media Recognition Luncheon.

This annual event honors professional communications and “highlights the importance of responsible presentation and interpretation of human events.” The awards were presented by Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George.

McClory’s winning story was “From Murder to Grace,” published in NCR last Nov. 7: the tale of how a senseless killing first divided a community in McClory’s own Evanston, Ill., area and then, through the intervention of the local pastor, became a source of healing with a hint of redemption.

McClory is an associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University. He has been an NCR correspondent since 1975. He is on the board of Call to Action. He has written several books, most recently Power and the Papacy: The People and Politics Behind the Doctrine of Infallibility (Triumph/Ligouri).

We are proud to have the McClory name on our masthead.

National Catholic Reporter, May 29, 1998