Inside NCR
This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  June 2, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

Asking unsettling questions

It’s a familiar story, and one that you can hear time and again when the well-intentioned move from providing services to the poor and marginalized to asking deeper questions about why certain people in a given culture or society remain poor and on the margins. The late Brazilian bishop, Dom Helder Câmara, put it this way: “As long as I fed the hungry they said I was a saint. But when I began to ask why there had to be hungry people in this world, they said I was a communist.”

I’ve heard it in other ways from people whose faith draws them to work in the developing world, for instance. They may be working with children and after one child too many shows up dead for preventable reasons, the questions begin. Questions can be unsettling, particularly when they disturb the established order. It is one thing to deal with the grief of parents, quite another to ask why the children are dying.

And that is the kind of essential question that Lucy Fuchs asks in her provocative piece on Appalachia. (See story)

She is not an unrestrained free marketeer preaching the gospel of individualism but rather a deeply compassionate observer who took the time to put her efforts where her compassion led. And she came away with some searing questions and some bracing solutions.

“Some have called Kentucky the Third World of the United States, and in many ways it is,” she writes. “The state is rich in natural resources that are being removed and are benefiting others, not the local people. The people here are given meager government aid to keep them quiet and they, like people we have seen in poor countries, believe that they can do nothing to change their situation.”

What Kentucky needs, Luch Fuchs argues, are better schools, more real jobs, advocates to protect the environment and to end the destruction of the landscape by mountaintop removal -- people to ask questions and help others dream dreams.

I don’t mean to twist things too far in a different direction, but whenever I wonder how, as a culture, we might think creatively about new ways to educate and to develop jobs and to help people out of poverty, the imagination always gets blocked at this reality: We are a country willing to spend well over $1 billion a day on the military and billions more per month on the chaos in Iraq and billions more fighting an endless ill-defined war on terror. It’s clear where the lion’s share of imagination and money is being spent.

~ ~ ~

Asking questions is also the province of journalists, and they are at their best when they’re asking them in the name of those who do not have access to the machinery of power. In the world of contemporary Catholic journalism, Jason Berry and Gerald Renner provided a sound example of that role in their pursuit of the story about Fr. Marciel Maciel Degollado, founder of the religious order the Legionaries of Christ.

I am proud that some of their significant work showed up on our pages over the years and that NCR had the freedom to keep pressing the questions about Maciel and to give voice to those seminarians and former priests who had the courage to go public with their allegations of abuse. Now that the Vatican has finally pronounced on the case (NCR, May 26), Berry, considers why Pope Benedict took the action to discipline Maciel and some of the ramifications of that action. (See story)

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, June 2, 2006

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: