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Questions persist despite blame for messenger

It is unfortunate that Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and his public relations advisers decided to attempt to divert attention from serious questions raised in the report by Ralph Cipriano by attacking the messenger.

In written questions faxed to the archdiocese by NCR editors, we asked why Bevilacqua refused to meet with people affected by inner-city church closings. We asked why he refused to meet with those in the suburbs who had been meeting and trying to work out a plan to save some of the urban churches.

We wanted to know why Rita Schwartz, president of the Association of Catholic Teachers, has apparently been banned from archdiocesan headquarters and why the teachers are not permitted, as they once were, to hold negotiations and grievance hearings in the archdiocesan office building.

We wanted to hear in greater detail and from Bevilacqua personally his rationale for closing so many parishes and whether he viewed the evangelization centers as an adequate replacement.

We wanted to know about the refurbishing of his sprawling home on Philadelphia’s Main Line and of his seaside residence and all the other expenditures listed in the story. We wanted to know the justification, given the austerity moves demanded in other sectors of church life, for keeping a mansion for apparently just one person. And we had other questions about his management style and what he perceived as the greatest needs for the archdiocese in the coming years.

No matter who does the story, the questions remain. Bevilacqua, acting the cardinal prince of an earlier age, apparently holds himself above such questions. Impugning the reputation of the reporter does nothing to erase the questions. The strength of Cipriano’s account -- a rare and welcome look into areas of a diocese’s inner workings that too often remain hidden from the average Catholic -- lies in the depth and breadth of the reporting.

Certainly the diocese could have shed needed light on some of the issues, perhaps clarified some details. NCR made it clear to archdiocesan spokesperson Cathy Rossi that if the cardinal preferred, an NCR editor, instead of Cipriano, would be willing to meet him or his representative anytime and anywhere. The archdiocese refused, issuing instead its diatribe against Cipriano.

Bashing the messenger is a transparent ploy aimed at managing the news. It serves no one, deprives readers of Bevilacqua’s point of view and leaves the questions hanging.

National Catholic Reporter, June 19, 1998