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Readers invited to praise favorite books

Each year, about this time, we invite NCR readers to tell us about their favorite book of the year. It is a chance to be interactive. And an opportunity to do a favor to some book that surprised, amused, edified or otherwise affected you during the past year. We think it is a great way for readers to bring special favorites to the attention of a wider audience, and this is all the more gratifying in the case of unheralded works that deserve better.

To make this workable we need a few rules.

Your offering may be as short as one line or as long as 300 words. Tell us the title of the book, the author, and also, if you know, the publisher, year of publication and price. Books published in the past year are preferable, but hey, we’re loose, and if there’s some unsung sleeper that you ache to sing about, go right ahead.

There will be no payment for this, so please look at it as a work of love. The book will thank you, and so will the author. Deadline is Oct. 11. The edited results will be published in our Nov. 5 Winter Books supplement.

In an era when more modern media strut and glitter, the sedate but always faithful book needs friends. NCR readers are, in our experience, loyal and discriminating book readers. This is a chance to spread the enthusiasm.

Please send your rave to NCR at 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City MO 64111; or, preferably, e-mail to opinion@natcath.org

We wish to salute the editors of The Catholic Messenger of Davenport, Iowa, one of the consistently better diocesan newspapers.

A recent editorial responded to letter writers who criticize the paper for carrying the syndicated columns of Notre Dame professor and author Fr. Richard McBrien. Four good reasons are given for carrying the columns: “(1) Fr. McBrien is a good and respected Catholic theological scholar and (2) one of the clearest writers in the community of theologians; (3) who works overtime to communicate Catholic developments and the Catholic tradition (4) in a way that respects the intelligence and judgment of serious American readers.”

The complainers’ main complaint, it seems, is that McBrien is not sufficiently deferential to the pope. It is no secret that this papacy has placed loyalty to the Holy Father high among its priorities. An atmosphere was created in which criticism of the pope was regarded as defiance. This attitude has flourished in right-wing circles in this country. “To be blunt about it,” comments the Messenger, “the form of Catholicism we see in some letters leans in the direction of papal idolatry.”

The paper is quick to grant that Catholics do indeed give “special honor” to the pope and that his status in the church commands obedience and respect. But, the Messenger goes on, it would be foolhardy to insist that the pontiff is the last word on everything. Galileo is mentioned, but he is only one name in a litany of those who were right in the past when popes were wrong. The papacy is not the only way the spirit is at work in the world, the editorial continues, not the only funnel of grace or salvation, and “McBrien encourages us to be open in this way.”

This pope has rightly won world renown for confronting various forms of hegemony in faraway places. It would be a pity to spoil that legacy by being a party to the cult of personality at home. No doubt he doesn’t seek it, not directly, but it’s hard to deny he has created a climate that fosters it.

For years, as nearly everyone knows, great sacks of letters, many following formulas dictated by right-wing fanatics and newspapers, have been dispatched to Rome accusing selected Catholics of abuses. Conservative watchdogs have lurked at the backs of suspect churches or infiltrated suspect conferences to get the goods on the bad guys and send off incriminating evidence, in context or out of context, to big daddy in Rome, where, alas, the letters were all too eagerly read and often heeded.

These mean-spirited little campaigns have besmirched the characters and damaged the careers of many good people. It is unfair and cowardly and it is not Christian -- indeed, it seems so far removed from the open, eager, compassionate personality of Jesus Christ that the world should wonder why it has not long ago been resoundingly condemned at the highest levels of the church.

The Messenger is to be applauded for not bowing to such nonsense.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, September 10, 1999