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Inside NCR

On not going gaga over this pope

How about that pope!

NCR’s Pamela Schaeffer and Teresa Malcolm traveled to St. Louis -- the coverage begins on page 3. In the midst of so much adulation -- one is tempted to say hysteria -- it’s not easy to keep one’s critical faculties focused, but our undaunted duo did.

Schaeffer’s article refers to Garry Wills’ critique, in Columbia Journalism Review, of the celebratory way journalists wrote about the pope’s first U.S. trip, in 1979. I am pleased to report that Wills exempted National Catholic Reporter, at least to some extent, from his lengthy lament over lack of analytical context. We are confident that Wills would say the same about us again this time.

This was a more relaxed visit all round. The pope seemed more eager to identify with the crowds -- and the American people for whom the crowds were proxy -- and bask in the outpouring of affection than, as sometimes seemed the case in the past, to hammer us into shape.

His face isn’t as radiant as before, the smile is more seldom, yet there is the hint of a grin that breaks occasionally at the corner of his mouth, a hint almost of mischief, and the pope is hard to resist at times like that. Such little gestures are infinitely more endearing than the wagging of his disapproving finger at Fr. Ernesto Cardenal on his 1983 visit to Nicaragua.

On occasions like this trip, we wish he had never found it necessary to remove Fr. Charlie Curran from the teaching position in which he had served with distinction -- to take but one example.

Perhaps he worried too much about micromanaging our beliefs when he could have been making grand gestures more likely to sweep the world off its feet.

Popularity, at the end of the day, can be a heavy burden. There is the danger of too many expecting too much from one human. NCR’s Malcolm could feel the irony of this as she and thousands of youths waited for the pope’s arrival. “Everywhere I go, I see you,” they sang. The writer and composer had God in mind, but the kids in the Kiel Center could be excused for having His Holiness in mind.

Sacred Heart Fr. Paul Collins contributed the lead essay in this week’s Spring Books supplement. Like Redemptorist Fr. Bernard Häring, the legendary moral theologian whose book he reviews, Collins has come under Vatican suspicion. His views are set out in the recent book, Papal Power. An Australian book that, surprisingly, has not been published in this country, it may be ordered online at www.collinsbooks.com.au

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, February 5, 1999