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Issue Date:  March 18, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Authority and accountability

Just this week I received a note from a colleague in England expressing his admiration for Cardinal Roger Mahony’s 1997 pastoral letter, “Gather Faithfully Together: A Guide for Sunday Mass” and the insights it contains for those interested in developing healthy congregations in the contemporary circumstances of the church.

More than a few people, too, have nodded their affirmation of Vatican correspondent John L. Allen Jr.’s assessment in a recent column that if church leaders in Rome want to get in touch with the church in the United States, they should attend the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the largest of its kind in the country, held this year Feb. 17-20. It is a conference Mahony has hosted despite relentless, petty and baseless criticism from the virulent right wing of the church.

If Los Angeles embodies in many ways the marvelous diversity and vitality of U.S. Catholicism -- that rare place these days where pastors and people are not fearful of thought and discussion -- it also suffers the effects of the most persistent and debilitating scandal this church has ever faced.

Jason Berry, the noted author who has written about the scandal for more years than any other journalist, attended court hearings, interviewed survivors, pored over legal documents and interviewed the principals involved to produce a story that details the dimensions of the scandal in California and the enormous efforts undertaken to keep church documents under wraps.

That an ending has eluded this demoralizing tale is testament to the fact that this is not a story any longer about sexual abuse as much as it is a story about power, how authority is used and to what degree Catholics and the wider public can demand accountability from church leaders.

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Last week’s cover story on the exclusion of Thomas Merton’s biography from the new U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults because some consider him not a good example for young adults, elicited a message this week from Patrick F. O’Connell, editor of The Merton Seasonal, the quarterly publication of the International Thomas Merton Society and the Merton Center of Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The society, he said, is still engaged in an effort to reverse the decision by the U.S. bishops to remove a profile of Merton and has drafted a letter to Bishop Donald Wuerl, chairman of the committee charged with writing the catechism, as well as to U.S. bishops’ conference president Bishop William Skylstad, explaining why the decision should be reversed.

“More than 750 people have already endorsed the letter,” O’Connell wrote. “All who agree with the statement are invited to have their names included on the letter. The text of the letter and directions for endorsing it can be accessed on the Merton Society Web site” at He said the society plans to forward the letter and comments of endorsers to all U.S. bishops before their June meeting. “For those who wish to contact individual bishops about the matter, addresses can be found at the bishops’ conference Web site,

This is a good chance to let the bishops know if you think Merton is, indeed, a good example for young adult Catholics.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, March 18, 2005

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