Inside NCR
This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  July 29, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Questions of faith and science

Those under the impression that evolution was a more or less settled (if yet complex) issue for Catholics may have been jolted by the July 7 op-ed piece in The New York Times by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria arguing that evolution may be inconsistent with Catholic faith.

What exactly Schönborn meant, how authoritative his essay is, what the church has taught in the past and the reaction of the scientific community, particularly the Catholic scientific community, are questions that quickly arose as a result of the piece.

Those questions and more are handled in the extensively reported piece by Vatican correspondent John L. Allen Jr. (see story).

There is no simple sorting out of this issue, yet a body of teaching has existed (and been developed) for some time so that it seems unnecessary for Catholics to get dragged into this front in the culture wars.

It also is unfortunate that a cardinal with strong connections to the pope would appear to be used on one side of that battle by a think tank and its public relations arm in the United States.

~ ~ ~

Perhaps Schönborn’s article would not have resonated so loudly around the landscape were it not for what some have labeled “creeping infalliblism,” or the mistaken notion that every time someone in authority mutters an opinion, Catholics are bound to believe it. In many ways something like the Schönborn article and the reaction to it can serve as a good model of the level of discussion and debate that can go on, in a healthy way, within the church. In this case, we are grateful to those in the scientific and theological communities who were willing to go on the record to bring other perspectives and clarity to the discussion. In this tangled intersection of science and religion, where the integrity as well as the limits of each are in play, I especially appreciated the comments of Jesuit Fr. George Coyne, head of the Vatican observatory, on evolution as a random process. “Chance is the way we scientists see the universe,” he said. “It has nothing to do with God. It’s not chancy to God, it’s chancy to us.”

~ ~ ~
In 1981, at the invitation of then-editor Tom Fox (later publisher and now retired), I began writing freelance pieces for NCR while working full-time at a daily newspaper in Pennsylvania, and it was in that capacity that I first encountered the mellifluous tones of Jean Blake, Fox’s longtime assistant. Anyone who has had dealings with the NCR newsroom or with Fox during the past quarter century inevitably spoke to Jean, one of the most organized, professional, hard-working figures to grace these offices.

Jean, an archivist at heart who has done more than any individual to preserve the history of this little enterprise, was one of those who rarely was caught in the spotlight but about whom it could be honestly remarked: “She runs the place.” And she did, in varying capacities, for 31 years, until her retirement at the end of June.

NCR was an integral part of her life for three decades. She remains a model and an inspiration to the staff who, it can be presumed, will for some time hear echoes of the high lilt of her voice and the question, as she carried a stack of papers to be signed or sorted, “Has anyone seen Tom?”

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, July 29, 2005

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: