National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Inside NCR
Issue Date:  June 20, 2003

From the Editor’s Desk

It has become a kind of working cliché in the wake of the war in Iraq that armies know how to take things apart, but they don’t know how to put things back together. The war was relatively quick and easy. Reconstruction is proving the more daunting undertaking.

It has been several weeks since Jeff Guntzel and Mahasen Nasser-Eldin spent two weeks in Baghdad for NCR. Both had been there before as part of delegations for Voice in the Wilderness, the group that long opposed the U.S./U.N. sanctions and the war against Iraq.

This time, however, they went in to try to understand a little bit about how the war has affected Iraq, the friends they had come to know in the past and the city that has been under siege of one form or another for more than a dozen years.

Their reporting captures the ambivalence and uncertainty in Baghdad in the postwar era. Are we bringing democracy or preparing the ground for yet another extreme religious theocracy in the region? The power vacuum is proving dangerous; the mix of elation over the defeat of Saddam Hussein and anger and frustration over the humbling of a culture and the dismantling of a country seems highly volatile.

~ ~ ~

Does anyone else sense some irony in the U.S. policy in Iraq, which sees one of the first steps toward democracy the taking of Iraqis’ guns?

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It is no secret that trying to do the work of journalism inside the church structure is not an easy task. You might easily be covering the activity of the very bishop who oversees your work and signs your paycheck. That sets up the kind of understandable tensions that were outlined in the story on the Catholic press that appeared in our May 30 issue.

Some are able to navigate those tensions, however, keeping integrity and good humor intact. One of the best is Jerry Filteau, a Catholic News Service reporter for more than 30 years. Catholic News Service is an arm of the U.S. bishops’ conference, which mean that Filteau works in conference headquarters and he has all kinds of bishops looking over his shoulder. He won the Catholic Press Association’s St. Francis de Sales Award for outstanding contributions to journalism May 30.

The award is well deserved and honors his career that began in 1970 when he took a job in the clipping service of what was then called National Catholic News Service. In December 1972 he became a reporter and later was made foreign editor. Since his return from Rome to Washington in 1981, Filteau has been a reporter, often specializing in theological matters, canon law and ecumenical issues.

I don’t remember exactly when I first met Filteau, but it was most likely at a meeting of the U.S. bishops sometime in the mid-1980s. I remember almost immediately having great respect for his command of detail, for his penetrating questions at the news conferences and for the clarity he brought to pieces about impenetrably arcane issues.

His coverage during those meetings is exhaustive.

Amid all the interviewing and writing, however, he always has time to answer colleagues’ questions, or to suggest just the right bishop to interview for this or that issue or to point the less experienced in the direction of the correct pile of papers on the table stacked high and wide with documents.

Congratulations, Jerry. Catholic journalism is certainly the richer for your work.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, June 20, 2003

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