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Inside NCR

The Great American Lockup.

That’s one of the designations the NCR staff, during a meeting early in the summer, gave the growing penchant we seem to have as a culture for locking folks up, for handing down increasingly stiff penalties and for the growing use of capital punishment. Those are areas we’ll continue to cover in the coming months -- look for the crime and punishment logo.

In this issue, the logo appears first on the cover story dealing with the lockup of immigrants under the draconian provisions of the 1996 legislation. It also appears, with a story that describes the Italian reaction to the execution of Derek Barnabei in Virginia. To the Europeans, we appear barbarous, keeping company on capital punishment with China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

When you read the story about immigrants, think back through your family tree. All four of my grandparents emigrated from Italy (my last name is a casualty of immigration proceedings) and they wouldn’t meet today’s criteria. I think they would wonder what’s happened to their adopted country’s political and justice systems, and I think they’d wonder what’s happened to its soul.

The editors jealously guard the space on the back page where unsigned pieces represent the voice of the paper. So it was not a decision taken lightly to hand over that spot to a reader. But Paige Byrne Shortal’s words capture better than any editorial the jarring effect the recent Vatican document Dominus Iesus has had on some whose lives of faith are lived out in other traditions. This is particularly true in cases where someone is married to a Catholic or considering joining or learning more about the Catholic church.

Some argue that there really is nothing new in the document, only that the language is a little harsher than necessary. I find it difficult to imagine, however, that one could construe nothing new in all the papal statements about other religions and other denominations in the years since Vatican II. If there were no new impulse during the past 35 years, no desire to go beyond what had been the attitude toward other religions and denominations prior to that reform council, then a lot of Catholic leaders were playing a terrible game with the good faith of dialogue partners and the deep yearnings of millions of the Catholic faithful.

You may have noticed a change in staff e-mail addresses. We’re trying to simplify things by giving everyone a standard address: first initial and last name at natcath.org. That formulation ought to work for anyone listed in the top portion of the masthead.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, September 29, 2000