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Issue Date:  February 24, 2006

Tom Roberts From the Editor's Desk

Behind the McBrien charge

In recent weeks we have run stories about Fr. Richard McBrien and charges of plagiarism brought against him by the Cardinal Newman Society. We take those charges seriously, since plagiarism violates not only academic standards but also the canons of journalism. This week we carry another story about the findings that resulted from the process at Notre Dame University. The complaint against McBrien was dismissed with the note that the offense “constitutes ‘carelessness’ rather than unethical behavior.” (See story)

It is important to note the findings also point out that the group that brought the charges has already listed McBrien in a fundraising letter on its Web site under “heretics and dissidents at Catholic colleges teaching anti-Catholic theology to our children and grandchildren and leading them away from the one true faith.”

The heretics bit is the headline, including some underlined portions, that sits atop a six-page call to battle the heathens in our Catholic midst, a breathless rambling screed that includes in its attacks a who’s who of notable U.S. Catholic theologians and universities.

The Cardinal Newman Society (what an unfortunate misappropriation of that great name) is one of the groups that have sprung up in the last decade or so as self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy, banishers of all questions and protectors of tradition. They are, in one sense, a proof of how wide open and accommodating the church can be.

There are legitimate and serious questions all over the Catholic landscape: questions of Catholic identity; of the role of Catholic institutions in the wider culture; of what is taught to Catholic students; about the role of academic freedom at a Catholic university, and so on. But these groups are not interested in discussion. There is no discussion when one side has all of the answers. Newman himself, in his own time, would not have been safe from their innuendos. They constitute orthodoxy hit squads who set themselves up as ecclesiastical judges and juries and whose primary intent is to smear the reputations of people who have given their lives to Catholic thought and practice. It is shameful, indeed, that a handful of Catholic bishops have signed on to this attempt to destroy the names of noted academics. Neither the questions nor legitimate Catholic tradition is served by their tactics.

It is safe to say the Cardinal Newman Society’s motivation in pursuing McBrien was even more suspect than the case itself. It is also safe to predict that 50 years from now McBrien’s distinguished academic contributions will remain far more valuable to American Catholic life and Catholic academic life than any product of these bullying tactics.

~ ~ ~

We are a eucharistic community. The Eucharist is at the heart of our worship. It is the central reason we gather each week. Without it we are something other than Catholic.

So there is reason to be concerned about the priest shortage and how it is being handled.

International Priests in America: Challenges and OpportunitiesPriests from other countries have become an increasingly large part of the mix of possible answers. But who are they? Is it fair to ask the developing world to supply more priests to the United States, by all measures still a priest-rich country? Is importing foreign priests the wrong medicine to cure what is seen as a problem? Does it merely mask symptoms of a deeper malady that will ultimately manifest itself?

These are some of the concerns handled in a new study, International Priests in America: Challenges and Opportunities, that is to be released this month in book form by Liturgical Press, and it is the subject of the lead story by Patricia Lefevere in this week’s special issue on Religious Life. ( See story)

The report was coauthored by Dean Hoge, professor of sociology at The Catholic University of America and Nigerian Dominican Fr. Aniedi Okure. The authors hope their work will spur a wide discussion about this phenomenon.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, February 24, 2006

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