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Inside NCR

Of news, editorials and waiting for George

The article about various fissures at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, is not a typical NCR cover story, as if there were such a thing.

Because many observers, using the contentious argot of our times, regard NCR as “liberal” and Steubenville as “conservative,” this may be a suitable occasion to make a further distinction: between reporting and editorializing.

We at the National Catholic Reporter have, we believe, one of the most loyal readerships ever assembled. This, readers constantly indicate, is not only because of said liberal stance but because we report the news as fairly and fully as we can, good news or bad, without fear or favor -- people want to know what’s happening and want to be able to trust the messenger. If we let them down betimes, our readers are kind enough to assume we are working to get it right.

This reporting of the news should be distinguished from our editorials or other opinions. We try at the same time to open our pages to a wide variety of views.

Now back to Steubenville. Within the institutional church this little school has a significance out of proportion to its size. Several heavy hitters from the Vatican have gone out of their way to praise it as a model of Catholic education and even to visit or lecture there. While it might not be NCR’s model school, every effort was made to be fair and to give Steubenville’s leadership an opportunity to respond.

Author John Allen says he received generally good cooperation from the university. During a three-day visit in mid-January, media relations officers helped him connect with most of the people he wanted to see -- though it should be noted that PR staff sat in on his interviews (except the ones they didn’t know about).

We were unsuccessful in our efforts to interview three key figures, perhaps understandably: Third Order Franciscan Fr. Thomas Bourque, whose orthodoxy was put under a microscope when he was tapped as Scanlan’s successor; Fr. Edmund Carroll, Bourque’s provincial superior and chair of the university’s board; and Professor Mark Miravalle, whose interest in Marian revelation was flagged by some sources as an area of concern. In each case Allen left repeated phone messages, e-mails and faxes, to no avail.

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George has been a conspicuous presence in our recent letters pages (Dec. 17 and Jan. 28 issues, for example). We are happy to make room for him, but his letters leave me personally puzzled. They seem to indicate that George is eager to share his views with our readers. Yet, as we prepared the stories to which his letters refer, the cardinal declined repeated requests for interviews. At first his spokesperson would get back to us with the refusal, but eventually he stopped bothering to pass along the cardinal’s regrets.

It seems to me the cardinal’s highly commendable yen for accuracy would have been better served had he given us the benefit of his views in the first place. If this were a presidential campaign one would be tempted to call this tactic putting a spin on prickly stories, but everyone knows a prince of the church wouldn’t stoop to that.

Don’t worry, Cardinal, we’ll still publish your letters.

In response to Pamela Schaeffer’s article on abortion in our Jan. 21 issue, several people have asked for more information on the Seamless Garment Network. Their address is P.O. Box 792, Garner, N.C. 27529.

In his recent Navajo article, “Roads less traveled” (Jan. 21 issue), Arthur Jones mentioned that when one of their most prominent medicine men, Frank Mitchell, climbed the sacred mountains to gather the requisite plants and herbs, he was naked. In the interests of propriety we wish to amend that to half-naked.

And while we’re setting the record straight: Those who were fascinated by our interview with New Zealand Fr. Jim Consedine and his views on restorative justice, headlined “A call for prisoner amnesty” (Dec. 31-Jan. 7 issue), should note his correct e-mail address: jimconse@xtra.co.nz

I mentioned here two weeks ago that a certain school of thought attributed the amazing football success of the St. Louis Rams to the fact that the pope offered Mass in their Trans World Dome a year ago.

A letter from Melanie Zuercher countered: “It’s only fair to point out that the Rams have not lost a game in the Trans World Dome since the Mennonites were there for their major convention in July.” Furthermore, she warned, the next big Mennonite convention would be in Nashville, home of the Tennessee Titans, “so it’s obvious that even the ‘promise’ of a visit from the Mennonites is enough to inspire winning football.” The Titans narrowly lost the Super Bowl.

At first Zuercher was shy about using her name -- “we Mennonites are so darn humble sometimes” -- but with such a track (or football) record it’s hard to be humble.

Meanwhile, the media had it that the famous Pink Nuns, who won acclaim by praying for, and securing, glorious weather when the pope visited St. Louis, had now applied their prayer power to the winning Rams. As Aristotle or Yogi Berra said, failure may be an orphan, but success has many parents.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, February 11, 2000