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Some weeks back, I wrote that I found it distressing that I was unable to point out to my 17-year-old son a single example of a bishop who had acted with courage on the sex abuse scandal before the headlines hit. A friend wrote from California that I should have known about Bishop John Cummins of Oakland, Calif. The story of how Oakland is handling the crisis is on Page 5. I think it is noteworthy that Cummins gave his chancellor real authority to deal with victims and that victims were the ones who ultimately shaped the ministry and an apparently powerful forgiveness service in 2000, long before the recent explosion of stories.

One result of the scandal is that Catholics are organizing to demand accountability from their bishops and a greater role for laity in church governance. Asignificant organizing efforts is underway in Boston, as might be expected (see Page 3). We also heard about the organizing of a lay synod in Belleville, Ill. (also on Page 3). These efforts seem to transcend all the divisive issues on the Catholic agenda, focusing people’s attention on the overriding issue of accountability. The release of documents (more are on the way) showing the unedited language of the institution dealing with this problem has undoubtedly fueled these new movements. From what we can tell, the issue has mobilized some high-powered, thoughtful and organized Catholics intent on establishing a lay presence that will not allow abuses of clergy power to go unnoticed in the future. Accountability is the overriding issue in the scandal, which really is about secrecy and abuse of power. We’re certain other organizing activities are underway. Please let us know what’s going on in your parish or diocese. We’ll put the information together and publish it in our pages and on the Web site so everyone can track the developments. Send information to me. My e-mail address is at the bottom of this column.

It gives me great pleasure, as they say, to commend to you, from the heart of NCR, the Paths to Peace special section that begins on Page 21. It is by no means the last word on peacemaking, but it is, I think, a solid start that brings together a fair amount of information and resources. The staff here hopes that it provides a bit of balance to the assumption that the only response to violence is more violence. We hope it works as a teaching tool in the parish, high school or even college setting.

Our Catholic tradition -- even with its inconsistencies -- speaks powerfully to our circumstances. We have our crazily wonderful Francis of Assisi and the daring holiness of Dorothy Day, the poetry and protests of Jesuit Fr. Daniel Berrigan, the ultimate sacrifice of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and the relentless, anonymous work of thousands who walk in that Catholic tradition, seeing the world differently, raising embarrassing questions in the face of cultural and military assumptions. They can be prickly company on the path to peace, pushing us all to stretch our embrace to include enemies. Many have died in that tradition, their blood watering new efforts. We believe that peace must begin internally, but we also believe it cannot remain there. Peacemaking is not passive or complacent. Sometimes it is dangerous, and it doesn’t always have all the answers. But at its core -- its respect for life and its search for an alternative to taking life -- it often has all the right questions.

The supplement, perhaps, will help to raise good questions and broaden a conversation that we know is going on in so many places and in so many ways. There’s a lot more to write about -- it wouldn’t all begin to fit into one issue. But we’ll continue pursuing stories and ideas on peacemaking and devoting pages to the subject in the future. Keep an eye out for the Paths to Peace logo. We certainly welcome any suggestions you have.

To obtain extra copies at a discounted price please contact Jo Ann Schierhoff at 1-800-444-8910, extension 2239 or via e-mail at ncrsub@natcath.org.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002