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Issue Date:  September 23, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Our own fundamentalists

With all the talk in recent months of Islamic fundamentalists, we thought it only fair to take a look at U.S. Christian fundamentalists, as intense in some ways as their Islamic counterparts, though admittedly of more benign methods than the most extreme Islamists. Opinion and Arts editor Margot Patterson (an inadequate title given the range of her reporting) took on the task of attempting to nail down a kind of floating and ill-defined reality that is not confined to a denomination but is more the product of attitude and outlook. (See story)

Nothing here will be the final word, but the hope is to enlarge our understanding of this phenomenon, since conservative Christianity, perhaps led by fundamentalists’ zeal, has had a significant effect on the national conversation.

Admittedly, there have been some attempts at formalizing alliances between evangelicals, including fundamentalists, and Catholics, such as the venture Evangelicals and Catholics Together and Pat Robertson’s Catholic Alliance. The latter was largely a political alliance glued together with religious language.

Fundamentalists have successfully influenced our politics, as well as our educational and judicial systems, with a very specific worldview and theology. How influential they will remain is another question, given the growing quagmire in Iraq and evidence through events like Katrina that our military adventurism abroad, God-ordained or not, is beginning to cost us dearly at home.

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In recent months -- and certainly last week’s attempt to understand what was happening in the early wake of Katrina was a good example -- NCR has questioned how far government could shrink before it became ineffective.

Another way of putting all that occurs in a line from political analyst Mark Shields in an interview with Fr. Ray Schroth. Said Shields: “The origin of much of our debate and differences springs from the tension between the Judeo-Catholic ethic of community and the Protestant-American habit of lionizing or romanticizing individualism.”

There’s much more in Schroth’s goodbye to “The Capitol Gang” and a brief interview with Shields. (See story)

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Quite a few of you have written or called me to ask why the paper has not run a story about a report that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, raised the issue of married priests in his most recent ad limina meeting with New York bishops.

NCR Vatican correspondent John L. Allen Jr. looked into the story and found out that the conversation between Ratzinger and some U.S. bishops never occurred.

Accounts of the alleged exchange have circulated on the Internet for weeks and were published in a recent newsletter of Call to Action, a progressive Catholic reform group in the United States.

The Call to Action publication attributed the report to Tom Fox, former publisher of NCR. Fox later retracted the story when he learned his source had heard the story secondhand.

Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, N.Y., cited in the report, told NCR Sept. 7 that the exchange did not happen, either with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger or with John Paul II.

“I have no recollection of it at all,” Clark said. “I think I would remember it if it had happened. That question simply did not come up.”

Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., who was also on the ad limina visit, confirmed Clark’s account. “It simply didn’t happen,” Hubbard told NCR Sept. 6.

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At press time NCR obtained a copy of the “Instrumentum Laboris for the Apostolic Visitation of the Seminaries and Houses of Priestly Formation in the United States of America.” The 11-page document, mostly questions to be used by those conducting the visits, can be found under the special documents section of our Website at

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 23, 2005

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