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The faxed letter came out of the blue one morning, the coversheet bearing the question: “What have you been doing the past 33 years?” The writer, Jack Purcell, is an old high school chum, a best friend. We spent hours together, talking, dreaming, riding around in family cars, wishing that we were riding in something other than a 1957 Oldsmobile or a 1960 Pontiac. We talked about girls, sports, girls, music, girls and, every once in a while, testing our not-quite-formed maturity wings, things like college and other serious matters of the world.

We were generally agreeable teenagers who knew then that we were among those of whom good things were expected. In our high school and college years we knew priests -- teachers, coaches, spiritual advisers, friends -- whom, I feel safe in saying, we both would have considered influential mentors. They certainly helped shape our lives and drew us deeper into membership in the Catholic community, this church now so beleaguered.

That church, of a seemingly endless supply of priests and nuns, is gone, of course.

That’s pretty much where we left things, though, when we last saw each other, back there at the end of that infamous decade, when the seminaries were still full, the priesthood a noble calling and social tumult a way of life.

I am glad Jack made the effort to get back in touch. We’ll talk some more and catch up.

As surely as we will never be able to return to Rock’s Drive-in and recapture the years that have intervened, we will not be able to return to the presumed innocence of the church of our youth.

The real struggle, though, is on. What kind of church will we be able to pass on to children and grandchildren? How do we get to more clarity, to a more inclusive and compassionate church, to a greater degree of accountability and a greater level of trust of lay people as full members of the church? The questions, the time and the effort are worth it to get to a new moment in church history.

Each week we continue to give you a sampling of the incredible outpouring of opinion, insight and suggestions that keeps coming in from readers reacting to the abuse of minors crisis. David O’Brien, a distinguished Catholic historian from Holy Cross, offers an interesting and practical piece on how laity can begin taking responsibility for the church.

He writes: “Our community is in big trouble. All those problems we have worried about, declining numbers of priests and sisters, chronic indignities inflicted upon women, the erosion of moral authority in matters of human sexuality, the inability to develop an effective witness on questions of human life and public morality, pastoral failures of all kinds, we Catholics knew these were our church’s problems, and therefore somehow our problems, but we never provided ourselves with a way to make them our own. Now, facing a far greater problem, we will have to make them our own, probably without an invitation from those we have trusted to care for our community’s common life. At stake is the integrity of the Catholic church in our own hometowns. For the sake of the community, we will have to put aside for now many real differences among us and issue to one another a modest but serious call to action. Find the full story on Page 5.

Finally, a note of thanks and appreciation for the collaboration of Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration, and Toni-Ann Ortiz, layout editor, for the front cover. Marrin drew the illustration and Ortiz spent hours at the computer coloring the drawing and creating the stained-glass effect.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, May 31, 2002