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Inside NCR

Of Ratzinger, Kosovo and the spanking of egos

This week we proudly present John Allen’s magisterial disquisition on the life, times and skirmishes of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. An immense amount of work went into the article, which, one suspects, will be surreptitiously stashed away for future reference by the most unlikely people. Everyone’s opinion on this man was canvassed -- if Allen didn’t interview you, you must have been away on sabbatical or something.

Everyone was eager to expound on the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith except Ratzinger himself. Allen volunteered to fly to Rome, whatever it took. Word came back -- no cigar. Soon afterward, however, a congregation underling slipped the word that Ratzinger would be in Northern California, so Allen jumped on the nearest plane and there he was sitting before the grand inquisitor when the latter held a news conference in Menlo Park. Allen got two questions in. Afterward, he boldly approached and shook the most orthodox hand in Christendom. John swallowed hard (we presume) and said he was from NCR.

“Ah, very interesting paper,” the cardinal said (you must supply the German accent yourself, though Allen would quickly specify that it was Bavarian).

“So, we had our interview,” the cardinal then added, harking back to the rejected request for a one-on-one.

History doesn’t record whether a smile curled at the corner of those lips, but it’s likely. Some say he is charming and has a sense of humor. It’s a pity he found it necessary to inflict a lot of useless pain on some good people.

It may have been the sense of humor let him down. James Joyce, or somebody, defined the church as “Here Comes Everybody!” They’re the kind of words Jesus the founder could himself have said. Y’all come. In spite of all the creeds and dogmas and ecumenical councils and holy offices, look around you. The church is a motley bunch. People who say they’re Catholic believe an amazing variety of beliefs, do an amazing variety of good and bad things. No one can tie a string around their thoughts and put a neat tag on them: Catholic, the genuine article. Amazing little wayward or heretical thoughts ooze out, some even sublime, some Ratzinger never dreamed of. And they’re all Catholic. And saying they’re not Catholic, that only what he says is Catholic is Catholic, is the thankless and unproductive burden Ratzinger hoisted on his own back just when the Vatican Council had bestowed a bit of panache and joy on being Catholic.

Allen’s article throws shining light on Ratzinger’s times, which are also ours.

A couple of articles and an editorial (pages 3, 4 and 32) comment on the ongoing, smoldering state of what used to be Corpus Christi Parish. NCR has covered this from the beginning, blow by blow. I find myself growing perplexed and impatient as I observe from a distance. If this were the great parish everyone said it was, why was it so fragile? Why was there not more charity? A parish a couple of decades in the making, a couple of decades of Christian fellowship, a couple of decades of Fr. James Callan’s leadership -- how could it be so shallow, so spiritually thin, that people have resorted even to spitting at one another?

While TVs everywhere bring us round-the-clock images of awful suffering and injustice in Kosovo and elsewhere, I’m running out of sympathy -- and I had sympathy for a while -- for what, as time passes, seems more and more like a self-absorbed bunch of Catholics. I know there’s more to it than that. I know they’re good people. But right now the Holy Spirit seems asleep on the job in Rochester. Or, right now, some charismatic egos need a good spanking.

Forgive this grumpy way of introducing Mary J. Henold, who lives at Corpus Christi and who explains her sadness and confusion at what good people do to each other (page 4). There is a wisdom here far beyond Henold’s 25 years. And an immense tolerance that, given a chance, might spread through her parish to the rest of the troubled church.

A friend of NCR in far-off Vienna, Hubert Feichtlbauer, has written a book, Zerbricht Die Kirche? (A Split Church? The Answer of an Optimist) (published by Verlag Kremayr & Scheriau, Niederhofstrasse 37, A-1120 Wien, Austria). It’s a handsome little book that costs approximately $17.

Unfortunately, there are no plans for an English translation at this time. But if you know German (which I don’t) you’ll find NCR mentioned on page 28. To be more exact, it’s the aforementioned John Allen who gets the attention. Described as a “Kommentarchef” (the German equivalent for opinion editor), Allen is said to have written hymnisch or hymnically about recent efforts at church reform in Austria, while comparing the Austrian situation with that in the United States.

There is an immense need for relief of the Kosovo disaster, and many groups are rushing with aid. The expenditures are enormous. The television pictures demonstrate clearly what a worthy and urgent charity this is. Donations may be sent to:

  • Catholic Relief Services: PO Box 17090, Baltimore MD 21203-7090; phone: 1-800-736-3467; www.catholicrelief.org
  • CARE, 151 Ellis St. NE, Atlanta GA 30303; 1-800-521-CARE; www.care.org
  • Doctors Without Borders, 6 E. 39th St., 8th Floor, New York NY 10016; 1-888-392-0392; www.dwb.org
  • U.S. Association for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 1775 K St. NW, Suite 300, Washington D.C. 20006; 1-202-296-5191.

For a complete list of all agencies providing care to the Kosovo refugees and a description of their specific work, go to this Web site: www.kosovorelief.org/links.htm

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, April 16, 1999