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Issue Date:  March 11, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Spooked at every turn

Good grief!

Are we a church of fully functioning adults or have we gone all the way back to some kind of ecclesiastical kindergarten?

Thomas Merton not a fit example for young adult Catholics? Inclusive language threatening to the faith?

What does one do with such stuff? How to even begin thinking about it?

My hat is off to Deborah Halter, who gave this episode evenhanded treatment in her insightful analysis (see story).

I must admit, however, that I’ve reached the point where such incidents as the Merton/catechism matter make sense to me only as a window onto how extreme the fear and censorship in some quarters has become.

A steady drumbeat of censorship has accompanied the Catholic walk of faith from the 1980s on through the past decade. From Fr. Richard Rohr to Sr. Jeannine Gramick to representatives of both Dignity and New Ways Ministry; from Edwina Gateley to Sr. Joan Chittister to anyone in Call to Action -- all of them and many more have been variously banned, excommunicated, silenced (or at least shushed) and/or made to find a welcome somewhere other than on Catholic soil.

Many more examples could be found on “The List,” a partial rundown of which we published two weeks ago -- thinkers and church leaders who have been silenced and disciplined over the past 25 years. It was by no means definitive, and it filled a page.

~ ~ ~

These are strange and sad times. Sad because much of this behavior is driven by fear, and there’s no figure who, in any compelling way, is able to reclaim the exhortation, “Be not afraid.”

Instead, a host of voices warns that we should be afraid: of questions, of new ideas, of challenging thought, of other religions, of the culture, of our doubts, of life itself.

And so some allow themselves to be spooked at every turn into banning and condemning and now even trying to excise from our very memories a dead monk whose sin was, what, looking over the walls of religious divides, perhaps not being a perfect monk?

We’ll come through this spasm of fear, exhausting as it is, because that’s what we do. It’s what keeps us in trim as pilgrims, as people of the resurrection.

In the meantime, I think it is not taking the slightest risk to presume that the influence of the engaging and inquisitive monk named Merton -- with all his flaws as well as with the untold multitudes he has inspired to deeper faith -- will far outlast the critics of his interest in other religions and those sent into a tizzy by the occasional feminine pronoun.

~ ~ ~

Benjamin Franklin wrote “Nothing but money/Is sweeter than honey” (Poor Richard’s Almanac). He should know. “For all his advice about money,” says a note in the American Heritage Dictionary of American Quotations “records of the Bank of North America in Philadelphia show that Franklin was overdrawn at least three times a week.”

Honey or the root of all evil if you love it, blessing or curse. Whatever your view, there seems little escape from dealing with money. From Wall Streeters to religious orders, it is unavoidable -- it fuels altruism as well as luxury.

That’s why we decided on “Wealth and Responsibility” as a topic for a new special section (see story). I think our first foray into the topic in this form sets the stage for some interesting discussions in parish halls and over the dinner table. People all over the church are taking creative approaches to matters of money and conscience.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, March 11, 2005

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