National Catholic Reporter
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Inside NCR
Issue Date:  November 14, 2003

From the Editor's Desk

The NCR gathering spot

This paper comes to you wrapped in a pitch to buy subscriptions. It is way out of my comfort zone as a journalist to be pitching anything. But NCR, I believe, is more than worth a little discomfort. So I am asking for your assistance. Tell more people about National Catholic Reporter.

There are few places where, in Fr. Bryan Hehir’s phrase, “adult conversation” occurs in the church today. That’s where NCR comes in. Such conversation requires informed participants, and no other Catholic outlet puts as many resources into gathering information as NCR. The gathering of news was at the heart of our founding 40 years ago and remains at the heart of our mission today. Our newsgathering occurs without control by the hierarchy or the restraint that would understandably have to be exercised at a publication owned by a religious order. We are not subsidized by the church, which gives us an independence rare in Catholic publishing. We try to use that independence as wisely and fairly as time and resources allow. We know we don’t perform the charge we give ourselves perfectly. That’s why our letters and opinion columns are open to some pretty strong criticism of our efforts and deep disagreements with our editorial positions.

Last month, Fr. Hehir told a gathering at Boston College, “The laity needs to say, at every level, ‘We simply won’t accept anything less than adult conversation’ -- which is not rebellion or an attempt to defy the church” (NCR, Oct. 24).

It may not be rebellion, but it is certainly a revolutionary idea.

Fr. Hehir is a priest’s priest, arguably one of the finest minds in the U.S. church today and certainly one of its most respected representatives in the wider culture. His words bear attention.

“You can’t have a situation,” he said, “where men and women in corporations, universities, politics, in charge of their own lives … are not treated as adults in the church. We have in the U.S. today the most educated laity the Catholic church has confronted in 2,000 years.”

More than 40 years ago, Donald Thorman, who would later become a publisher of NCR, wrote in his book, The Emerging Layman, “These men and women represent a … growing reservoir of brains and talent that deserve to be -- and indeed must be -- utilized in the service of the church. Yet there are no clear-cut channels through which their voice may be heard, through which they may prudently and humbly exert a beneficial pressure on the church.”

Today, given the warning by Hehir and others, we must more seriously than ever seek the channel for involvement. In the meantime, we must keep the conversation alive in our own ways.

So please look around. You know where the conversation has been going on for years and where it is beginning to emerge anew around the current crisis. Let those who are gathered know that National Catholic Reporter weekly delves into the issues they are discussing. Let them know that for decades we have been reporting stories that no one else in the Catholic world would touch -- in effect, forcing the adult conversation.

Let them know that NCR is more than a paper. It is a gathering spot for mature Catholics interested in news of their church and the ideas and voices that are shaping the future of the church, even if they aren’t officially sanctioned.

Help us to gather in more fellow travelers, those who are willing to stick with the church through these difficult times, but not mindlessly or without posing tough questions. Together we can more forcefully exert what Fr. Hehir described as the laity’s “strategic role” and more forcefully make the case that “We simply won’t accept anything less than adult conversation.”

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, November 14, 2003

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