National Catholic Reporter
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Inside NCR
Issue Date:  October 24, 2003

From The Editor's Desk

40 years along the path

Forty years ago this month, almost to the day, a new publication rolled off the presses, a publication that, according to The New York Times, “substantially changed the way Roman Catholicism was covered and understood in the United States.”

Oct. 28 marks the beginning of the 40th year of publication for National Catholic Reporter.

During the past few years I’ve gone back to some early issues. I was spurred to do so when Sr. Rita Larivee, associate publisher, pushing some of us to take a new look at why we do what we do, dug up the first issue of NCR. I’ve had the first two pages of that issue copied and hung on my office walls. They show a sophisticated beginning to what must have been -- and I daresay continues to be -- an audacious undertaking, conducted with a keen sense of purpose about the mission of independent journalism applied to an institution such as the church.

I also revisited the story of the paper’s early years in April, the month NCR’s founder and first editor, Robert Hoyt, died. Hoyt was one of those energetic and thoughtful visionaries who wouldn’t allow his dreams to disappear into the mists of everyday concerns.

He launched the paper, with the blessings of the bishop, from the chancery office in Kansas City, Mo. The blessing turned to condemnation when the paper broke the story on the secret majority report -- recommending a change in the church’s ban on artificial birth control -- of a Vatican commission appointed by Pope Paul VI. Those two realities would prove to be continuing, defining realities for the paper. The concept of independent journalism is easy to applaud. Who could oppose the idea? The practice of it, however, is another matter. It’s tough to keep friends in powerful places when you’re reporting on what the institution wants to keep secret, or asking difficult questions or giving voice to someone those in authority would rather see silenced.

NCR was conceived not for lack of Catholic publishing at the time. There were hundreds of Catholic magazines and diocesan newspapers. It was to fill a lack of independent, professional reporting that the paper was founded.

That idea remains at the heart of the endeavor. Each week we work, short of the perfection we’d like to achieve, to keep NCR the gathering place for those who believe the questions have not all been answered. We also share the belief that the church, as a vital expression of truth and faith in our individual lives and a powerful witness to truth in the wider world, continues to change and evolve. It is an honor to be a part of this venture. And I can say with confidence that everyone here is deeply grateful for the confidence you show through your loyalty, in the way you share your own ideas with us, in the wit and graciousness you display even when you find the reporting disturbing or our opinions grating. Forty years along the path, we hope that, with you, we are contributing a little bit to the search for truth and justice and our better angels in an increasingly complex and bewildering world.

~ ~ ~

When we began our focus on health care coverage in May, we promised that our approach would be broad, including not just institutional stories but also reporting on the plight of the poor, on health care as politics (this issue), and from the front lines of an urban hospital’s ER by Thanksgiving.

Right now, though, I want to ensure you don’t miss the Nov. 7 issue, when you’ll meet a man many of you already know from his many books -- M. Scott Peck, lecturer and author of The Road Less Traveled. Today he journeys along that road with Parkinson’s disease as a companion.

The Nov. 7 issue will contain a lengthy essay, candid, frank and personal on Peck and his disease, culled from Arthur Jones’ hours of interviews recently with the noted physician, psychiatrist, spiritual leader and author.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 2003

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