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Once upon a time if you worked for National Catholic Reporter and wrote a book, you could be assured it would never be reviewed or excerpted in these pages.

I never understood the policy. The noble intent behind it sought to protect against conflict of interest and use of the pages to unfair advantage by those who work here. What a pity. As far as I know, groundbreaking work by the late Peter Hebblethwaite and the late Penny Lernoux -- he about the Vatican and the papacy of John XXIII and the early papacy of John Paul II, she about the church and politics of Latin America -- never got its fair due in NCR.

I thought the policy overdid some sense of modesty and several years ago reversed it, mostly with the blessings of everyone around here. Since then we have reviewed and even excerpted at times books written by Rome correspondent John L. Allen Jr., editor-at-large Arthur Jones, publisher Thomas C. Fox, columnist Sr. Joan Chittister and long-time special report writer Robert J. McClory.

My thinking is that we print the work and opinions of these writers because they are good journalists and compelling thinkers. These books are not, for instance, fawning biographies or the latest spin on public policy meant to spike the revenue stream of some think tank. The books, for the most part, grow out of reporting that our readers first saw on these pages. They contain much more research and a much fuller treatment than we could handle in the paper. In that spirit, we give you some excerpts (Page 14 ) from Fox’s latest book, Pentecost in Asia: A New Way of Being Church, a logical extension of his earlier reporting for NCR and his nearly lifelong fascination with Asia.

It will be reviewed in a later issue, but enjoy this introduction to a book that looks down a fascinating path. Though it was not intended at the conception of the project, Fox’s new book may also offer the Western church some direction for extricating itself from its current scandals.

Charlie Davis is a patient and wise man who knows the world the way only a former Navy pilot and former intelligence officer can know the world. He is patient, I know, because even though he understands the hard-bitten world of international intrigue, he listens more than politely to someone like me, who, to put it mildly, stands in a different spot on the spectrum when it comes to issues of war and peace. (The same is not true, I might add, when it comes to matters ecclesiastical, where he becomes nothing short of radical.)

I value our conversations because Charlie, who has contributed opinion pieces in the past, forces me to think longer and harder about a topic and at times (though I don’t always admit it to him) causes me to reconsider a position. We generally end up at odds, respecting each other and thanking each other for the time and the thoughts.

When he does decide that a war is unacceptable, he makes serious demands of himself and his reasoning. His rationale for not going to war with Iraq is spelled out in an article on Page 7. Some might oppose the impending invasion on the basis of nonviolent principles; others might be looking for the kinds of reasons -- strategic and ethical -- that Davis lucidly outlines. He invites anyone to join him in a petition he’s devised asking the government to avoid war with Iraq. And we invite any other publication so inclined to reprint Davis’ article. He can be reached at cndppm@aol.com.

Want a break from the relentlessly distressing news about the institutional church? We can sometimes lose sight of the fact that 40 years ago this October the beginning of something wonderful happened in Rome when Pope John XXIII surprised the world and convened the Second Vatican Council. In the past year I have done some reading of histories of that period and am continually fascinated with how alive and full of expectation that era was. I am also newly aware of how determined some in the church have been in recent decades to turn back the reforms of that period.

Something significant happened four decades ago, and we will be devoting our Oct. 4 issue to that event, with a lead essay by Garry Wills, author most recently of Why I Am a Catholic and Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit. The issue also will contain an array of personal views of the council and its effects from people who covered the council, who benefited from its opening to other religions, from religious who experienced the changes it brought, from a leading conservative voice and from younger Catholics who only know the Catholic world of post-Vatican II.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, September 20, 2002