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Inside NCR

Sometimes I feel as if NCR is comparable, week to week, to the joke about the group of blindfolded people trying to identify an elephant by touching its parts -- trunk, tail, ears. It’s hard to get a fix on the whole thing. So it is with covering the church. Mention Catholic church these days and most of the United States is focused on the scandal in Boston. It deserves attention and will receive more in this paper in weeks to come. NCR broke the priest pedophilia story in the mid-1980s and has been covering the awful saga ever since. We have someone reading through the thousands of pages of documents recently released by the courts and we will continue our coverage of developments there.

Our hope, as we have stated editorially, is that this case will force the kind of examination by the hierarchy and clergy of not only how better to deal with abusers but also of the culture that has attracted and protected abusers over the years.

The church, however, is not all scandal. In its best moments it is the activists speaking for the least among us. Last week, we highlighted a bishops’ program calling attention to poverty. This week, the Catholic Health Care Association sounds a warning about the need for basic health care to be available to all as a matter of fundamental justice.

In a news brief we report that an official at another Catholic agency, the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, went before a congressional subcommittee to argue the case for increasing the number of immigrants allowed into the country and increasing the pace at which they are processed.

I presume in months ahead that the bishops and other religious groups will be among the few voices to speak out against the enormous defense expenditures anticipated in coming budgets.

It is difficult, week to week, to see the whole picture, the enormous breadth of just institutional activities, not to mention the activities of everyday Catholics, inspired by faith, involved in works of mercy and justice. Scandals aside, the world would be different -- and for the worse -- without the whole elephant.

Advocates of participatory government won a major victory last week with the passage of the Shays-Meehan Bill in the House during the wee hours of the morning Feb. 14. Campaign finance reform still faces obstacles in the Senate and would need to be signed into law by a president who, at best, is lukewarm to the idea. Nevertheless, the House passage, possible now in the wake of the Enron meltdown, is uplifting -- and needed. The Democratic and Republican national committees raised a record $160 million in soft money during the first half of the 2001-2002 election cycle, according to a Feb. 13 statement by Common Cause. The figure is more than twice the $67.4 million raised in 1997, the first year of the most recent non-presidential election cycle, and almost 50 percent more than the $107.2 million raised in 1999.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2002