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Inside NCR

This issue is the last before we begin our summer schedule of publishing every other week. The good news, of course, is that the staff here, which has been going full tilt since the last summer break, covering big issues like the Sept. 11 attacks, the ongoing sex abuse scandal, the continuing violence in the Middle East, as well as all of the regular coverage you expect in NCR, will get a bit of a breather. The schedule permits time for vacations, as well as planning for the coming year.

The downside is that news doesn’t conform to our schedule. It keeps happening. Our next issue will be dated June 21 and will go to the printer June 13, just as the much-anticipated bishops’ meeting is getting underway in Dallas. But you won’t have to wait two more weeks to read NCR’s coverage of the event. Those with access to the Internet will be able to get coverage of the meeting, which begins June 13, and running for the duration of the gathering online at www.natcath.org. As we get closer to the meeting, we’ll have more information on exactly when to expect coverage. We’ll post that on the Web site prior to the meeting.

I’ll be at the meeting along with Publisher Tom Fox and Senior Writer Margot Patterson. Vatican Correspondent John Allen will be weighing in with reactions and interviews from other parts of the globe.

We have taken the unusual step of publishing an anonymous article in this issue. The piece, by a priest who became sexually involved with a 16-year-old youth who later accused the priest of abuse and received a settlement from a diocese, provides a unique insight into a young man struggling to grow up in the peculiar ethos of the 1960s Catholic seminary.

One might conclude that this priest today goes easy on himself in his essay. There is, in his telling, little voice of the victim. But we thought it not unfair to print this piece, since NCR historically has provided a place for the voices of victims and continues to strongly advocate on their behalf.

If, against the backdrop of the current struggle, the priest appears to take the most benign view of himself, one cannot dispute that it was, indeed, his view of things. Nor is it difficult to believe that his would represent the view and experience of many others who were making their way toward ordination and sexual maturity at that time.

I think his story also makes a compelling case against the zero tolerance inclination of some of the bishops who will be meeting in June. I can’t help but see that tactic as another means of avoiding pastoral responsibility (see brief on Page 8 and column on Page 21.) The mistake would be in treating all sexual indiscretions the same. The more difficult judgments involve those priests who may have been caught up in a single sexual indiscretion decades earlier, particularly considering they were formed in an institution where mature discussion of sexuality in any circumstance, much less sexuality in the priesthood, was so sorely lacking.

If this crisis has shown anything, it is that Catholics have been incredibly forgiving of sexual sin, while demanding accountability. The tragedy is that Catholics were not treated as adults and trusted with the embarrassing information at the beginning. An absolute rule would again deprive ordinary Catholics of the chance, where appropriate, to forgive and embrace a priest who has made a mistake and asks their forgiveness. To allow that option would mean giving lay people authority where they’ve never had it before and respecting their judgments as never before.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, June 7, 2002