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Issue Date:  October 28, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Praise for a beat reporter

Several years ago, when word got out that John L. Allen Jr. was working on a book about Opus Dei, more than a few people approached me wondering what kind of book it would be. Would he, finally, get them? Would it be a whitewash? Would he get anyone to talk to him? And so on.

I had no idea, of course, what kind of book it would be. My hunch was that it would satisfy neither those who wanted to see Opus Dei skewered at every turn, nor would it satisfy those who wanted a glowing portrait of the outfit. In response I would say I was certain only that it would be the best-reported book on Opus Dei that any of the questioners had ever read.

Sometime later, when I had the opportunity to read an early version of the manuscript, it was clear that the book is the kind of work that we’ve come to expect of Allen, one of great integrity and exhaustive reporting.

We give you a taste of it in an excerpt (see story).

~ ~ ~

I have had the experience, and not just a few times, of hearing a reader, in the same conversation, go on at length praising Allen’s work -- the amount of sheer information he imparts each week, the clarity of his explanations, the remarkable accuracy of his reporting -- then complain that the reader never knows his point of view. The conversations are teaching moments. The point is, John Allen is not an editorial writer or an opinion columnist. He is, in an age of screaming heads and entertainment personalities who pass themselves off as journalists, a beat reporter of the highest order. He is valuable not only to NCR, but to CNN, Public Radio, Public Television, the BBC, CBC and every reporter on the planet who needs to know about the Vatican, because he spends more hours per week than anyone else trudging from office to office and dinner to dinner questioning, talking, taping, transcribing and writing.

Each week in his online column -- and I think Word from Rome is becoming an inadequate label -- he pumps out the equivalent of a book chapter, and that’s usually after he’s filed for the paper. I have literally hundreds upon hundreds of letters praising his work. And in his spare time, he writes books and lectures widely.

You can make the adjustment for my own bias on this, but I can’t think of anyone who has brought the tools of reporting as effectively or as consistently to this institution, in which the culture is one of secrecy and the instinct is to disclose as little as possible.

Congratulations on the latest book, John. Now, go take that vacation!

~ ~ ~

The next time you hear that the economy is sailing along just fine and that talk about poverty in the United States is overstated, go to, Web site of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, an agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Their figures (2003 are the latest on the site) are a year behind, but telling nonetheless. In short, since 2000, the number of poor people in the United States has increased by more than 4 million, with the rate climbing from 12.1 percent to 12.5 percent. That rate, by the way, increased in 2004 to 12.7 percent, or an increase of 1.1 million people, according to August figures from the Census Bureau. The income level that defines poverty in the United States is $18,850 for a family of four, in a country where the median household income is an estimated $44,648. The Web site is loaded with eye-opening statistics and analysis. By the numbers, life is rough for a great number in our midst.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, October 28, 2005

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