e-mail us

Inside NCR

The next general council of the church should be called Jakarta I or São Paulo I or, perhaps, Johannesburg I. We used Vatican III on the cover because it is easily recognized as a symbol of moving on, of imagining the future.

Imagining and moving toward the future should always be a work of the people of God. That work, however, takes on special significance today when the hierarchy in the United States and elsewhere, beset by scandal, is deep in its own struggle to move toward new standards of accountability and transparency. How the bishops will achieve the kind of accountability they speak of is difficult to imagine. How the worldwide church achieves the kind of accountability and trust that is required in any healthy community is also unknown. But the need for such qualities in the Catholic community is crucial.

We deeply believe that people all over the world, clergy and lay, men and women, who love this church also have good instincts and ideas about leadership, lay involvement, what issues are essential for the church to address. Many responded to our invitation to help draft the Blueprint in the pullout section that begins on Page 11. Some responded at length.

Our intention is to start a discussion. In reading the responses, what shines through -- and is deeply moving -- is the beauty of the writers’ love for the church; the impressive faith that so many Catholics have in its power to transform; their firm yet humble hope in Jesus’ promise.

This is a blueprint in the most rudimentary sense. Help us flesh it out with ideas and comments. You’ll find listed in the pages several ways to join the conversation. We hope you do. What better time for the people of God to be imagining a new future?

I recently came across a memorable piece written for the “Catholic Peace Fellowship,” a newsletter of the Philadelphia Chapter of Pax Christi (with whom I had the pleasure of spending some time recently). The piece was written by Fr. Francis X. Meehan. I met Meehan some years ago when he and I were working with others on a peace project. I recall him as a gentle teacher of great patience with non-theologians trying to mine the church’s social justice tradition.

In a moving essay he reflects on a world in great need at a time when the church is turned in on itself, a situation that he writes “could end up -- in divine paradox -- to be a new opening outward.”

“The post-Easter breath is upon all of our cheeks. … We would prefer, like Peter, to disassociate. We do not know the man! Yet, a mystic sees deeply, and knows that no sin is ever committed that is not shared by the whole body. And yet, just as the whole body shares in the sinfulness, so the whole body shares in the breath of the Spirit.

“Could this mean something hopeful? Could it be that the church in its leaders, in all of us, has been shaken, now more so than ever, from our perch in society and culture? Could the bonds that tie us -- leaders and people -- too closely to nation and culture be loosened? Could a bishop’s comedown, my comedown, free me up? Could not the diminishment in the eyes of all of us -- bishops, priests and Catholics who refuse to disassociate, who have less to lose -- could it not lead us to a new turn outward toward those so many things that desperately need our engagement? Let us pray for that, and for one another.”

Life in the newsroom has been increasingly hectic in recent weeks as reporters and editors from every medium tap NCR for its understanding of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Some of us have spent up to four hours a day giving background and live interviews. None has been busier or more present on TV and radio than John Allen, who interrupted a U.S. book tour to hustle back to Rome to cover the recent summit.

In less than four days (which included a flight to Rome from New York), Allen appeared on CNN numerous times; National Public Radio’s morning news shows, as well as “All Things Considered,” and “Fresh Air”; the “Lehrer News Hour” on Public Television; Fox News; the “CBS Morning Show”; “Today” on NBC; and he had an op-ed piece in the April 22 New York Times.

All of that, of course, is a testament to his reporting, his seemingly boundless knowledge of the Vatican and its history, his evenhanded presentation of the facts, his incredible work ethic and the stamina to go several days on just a few hours’ sleep while remaining not only awake but amazingly lucid before the camera. And, as always, his story arrived here ahead of deadline and at the desired length.

That done, in his own words, he crashed.

Finally, I would like to make special note -- since it is not noted on our front page -- of the special section, Summer Listings II, which begins on page 29. If you believe in supporting those who continue to make room for discussion of topics new and old, permitted and forbidden, please take advantage of this section. Many of the places listed represent, in these sometimes-dreary days, the light, hope and renewal essential to the church.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, May 3, 2002