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Issue Date:  March 5, 2004

From the Editor's Desk

Where religion is local

If all politics is local, so is a lot of religion. Beneath the brawling over Catholicism’s “hot button” issues -- celibacy, women priests, gay unions, abortion, and so on -- we gather each week in our parishes. Whatever else is going on in the church, we want our parishes to be spiritually healthy places where we can pursue holiness and justice, where we can give what gifts we have and be nourished.

We want to be respected, treated as responsible adults who can expect an adult conversation on the large and small issues of faith and how to get on in this life.

Paul Wilkes knows good parishes. He’s seen some of the best (NCR, Jan. 26, 2001) and written about them at length. Knowing about them, of course, doesn’t guarantee membership in a good one. Wilkes’ own parish has gone through some fundamental changes. His first-person account, I am certain, will find strong resonance in many places across the country (see story).

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Before midweek I was receiving inquiries from other general media outlets asking about the reports that the National Review Board was scheduled to release on Friday, Feb. 27. That’s the day after we go to press, so, barring a leak of some sort, we won’t have anything in this week’s issue. We will, however, be posting reports, soon after it is released, on our Web site, You’ll also find a full package of articles and commentary in next week’s issue. The reports mark a significant moment in history for the U.S. church, if only because they are the work of independent lay Catholics. The caution, of course, is that they not be viewed as the end of the crisis story, or exploited as some cathartic event, but that they be seen for what they are -- an important step on the way to a fuller disclosure of the extent of the scandal. The crisis in the church, as has been said often in these pages, is far more about the abuse of power and authority and about broken trust than it is about individual acts of sex abuse, horrible as they are. While the numbers will be welcome -- for nearly 20 years we and others have been asking for the number of victims, the number of priests involved and the amount of money spent on legal settlements -- those numbers constitute only a limited representation of the problem.

What remains to be seen is whether church leaders can take the next leap in honesty and disclosure and give a full accounting of their roles in shuffling priests around, ignoring warnings available to them since the mid-1980s, countersuing victims and raiding diocesan treasuries to buy silence.

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An update: Readers’ response to the Guide for Discussion of Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ,” contained in our Feb. 20 issue, has been beyond our most optimistic expectations. Nearly 7,000 have already been shipped in quantities ranging from one to 1,500 to be used by all manner of groups -- from high school classes to Newman Centers to religious education classrooms to informal small discussion groups, prayer groups, book clubs and Bible study groups. We hope the guides are helpful and that the discussions are lively and inspire new insights.

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They call Fred Schlomka a “social entrepreneur,” which is another name for impossible dreamer. Schlomka has a grass-roots plan for integrating Arabs and Jews in what he envisions as “Mosaic communities” in Israel (see story). Some might call him naive, but Schlomka has the support of a foundation and apparently unbounded energy for this noble cause. If you’re interested in learning more about Pennies for Peace, call (800) 809-7913 or e-mail him at

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, March 5, 2004

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