National Catholic Reporter
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Issue Date:  February 13, 2004

From the Editor's Desk

The lives of the innocent

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton makes himself an easy target for pragmatists. I’ve heard him dismissed as naive, as unsophisticated in his understanding of international events. That’s all right. We have sophisticates aplenty in the State Department and the Pentagon and look at the messes they’ve created.

One of those messy places is Iraq, where Gumbleton recently visited. He recounts the deterioration of a country he has visited seven times, the first just before the first Gulf War (see photo essay).

I don’t agree with everything Gumbleton says or every proposed solution he offers to an international problem. I may not be as far along the road of understanding nonviolence as he is, but I trust him implicitly. I’ve also heard people express pleasant surprise, upon first meeting him, that a bishop could be so deeply human and eager to listen to what they say. In a wonderful contrast to so much secrecy and ecclesiastical correctness in the church, Gumbleton is willing to openly and honestly struggle with the difficult issues of the day and the hard sayings of the Gospel. He speaks in plain language. That’s why more than 3,000 people a week visit our Web site to read his weekly homily.

Gumbleton recalls the words of Pope John Paul II, “War destroys the lives of innocent people.” It is the images of innocent people, those who survived the shelling and the now too frequent attacks, that were captured by photographer Linda Panetta, who accompanied Gumbleton and others visiting Iraq. The lives of the innocents continue to be placed in jeopardy long after the invasion. Gumbleton and Panetta help us to dive beneath the geopolitical bluster to that key insight, the destroyed lives of the innocent.

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Politics and religion, the two topics we’re told to avoid in polite conversation, keep getting mixed in our public conversation. Joe Feuerherd goes a good distance in untangling the sometimes confused and confusing commentary that proliferates when a bishop decides to ban a politician from Communion. And as Feuerherd shows in his interview with a pro-life Democrat dairy farmer who may run for office in Wisconsin (the first day he contacted her, it was 19 degrees below zero in her barn) what a bishop sees clearly can appear distorted when pushed through a political lens.

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Associate publisher Sr. Rita Larivee holds bundles of our readership survey.
-- NCR photo/Toni-Ann Ortiz

I am one of those whom Jim Ternier and Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers seem to be describing when they write: “By and large, today’s ‘liberal’ Catholics embrace the church’s teaching on social justice, on the environment and on its antiwar position but are nowhere to be found in natural family planning circles.” Perhaps I would be had it been taught in the same manner they explain it. I still have serious questions and reservations, but commend their story to you (see story). It is a thought-provoking and interesting take on an old debate.

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Two issues ago, I asked you to help us at NCR get to know you better by filling out a questionnaire. Have you ever responded! I am writing this just days after you received the issue with the questionnaire and already we’ve received more than 3,000 completed forms. And many of you provided your own stamps, at a significant savings for NCR, so double thanks for the effort. We’ll continue to receive the questionnaires until Feb. 29. You’ll get a report on the results of the survey sometime in the spring.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, February 13, 2004

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