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Issue Date:  September 30, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Changing and not changing

Eighteen years ago, then-publisher William McSweeney and then-editor Tom Fox asked sociologist William V. D’Antonio to do a survey of American Catholics. That was the beginning of what can now be called a tradition. Every six years, that basic survey of Catholic attitudes and commitment is updated. Each year new areas of questioning are added and new categories are begun. For instance, this year the designation of post-Vatican II Catholics has been further divided into Gen X Catholics (those born between 1961 and 1978) and “Millennials,” (born between 1979 and 1987), who, when combined with the Gen Xers, make up almost half of all Catholics ages 18 and over.

We’re changing and not changing, and that’s not surprising for a thoroughly human institution. So the trends toward diminished attachment to the institution but deep links to core beliefs continue. The study is packed with information and, where available, it is compared to results of past years.

This is the kind of reporting and analysis that I think an independent journal owes the Catholic world. It is important information, gathered by top-flight Catholic scholars and researchers whose long experience in surveying the Catholic world is evident in the work they produce. That is why we are making it widely available through our Web site at If prior experience is any measure, some will want copies of the survey for use in classes, reading groups or parish discussion sessions. The survey is presented in a 16-page pullout and we’ve printed extra copies. Anyone interested in obtaining more copies can contact Jo Ann Schierhoff at (800) 444-8910, ext. 2239.

We at NCR are deeply grateful for the work of D’Antonio, Dean Hoge, Mary Gautier and James Davidson. You can read more about the authors (see story). It should be said here that the enormous amount of work they have produced in a variety of venues is the kind of objective information that allows the Catholic community to understand itself from a broader perspective.

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While most of the world was focused either on Katrina or the hearings for chief justice nominee John Roberts, Washington writer Joe Feuerherd found an intriguing debate going on in the House International Relations Committee Sept. 14. It was an actual debate over such matters as Iraq, the outing of former CIA operative Valerie Plame, the Downing Street Memos and the pre-war certainty of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Feuerherd’s Washington Notebook provides a behind-the-scenes look at what was required to even bring the topics to debate. (See story)

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It looks as if a Vatican document, long in the works, that essentially prohibits gays from entering seminary or being ordained will be released soon. Whether this latest Vatican attempt to clear the clergy of gay men will succeed where several others have failed is an open question. Whatever the case -- and only time will tell -- the focus again is on homosexuality and the place of gays and lesbians in the church. Those priests and bishops who are gay will have to wonder about the arbitrary nature of a line dividing worthy from unworthy.

In an attempt to deal with homosexuality as more than an abstraction, in coming weeks we will run an interview with a gay priest who is increasingly conflicted about his silence about his sexual orientation; a profile of former Jesuit John McNeill, who some say changed Catholic thinking on the issue forever with his serious, pioneering work in the mid 1970s; and we’ll look in on Brian McNaught, a former Catholic newspaper columnist now known as the “godfather of gay diversity training” for corporate America, as he delivers one of his workshops.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 30, 2005

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