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Issue Date:  November 3, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

Radical dependency

If you talk to Gerry Straub long enough, even in casual conversation, the phrase “radical dependency on God” will come up. If you dare ask him what it means to him, he’ll tell you that it means, for instance, having a certain confidence that an extra $15,000 will show up each month to make up the difference between what’s pledged and what it takes to do his work.

His work is placing his filmmaking at the service of the poor.

Renée LaReau has written a deeply engaging profile of Straub. (See story)

I met Straub in late summer in New Mexico when he was finishing some filming of a piece on peace activist, Jesuit Fr. John Dear, whose weekly column, by the way, appears weekly at Straub’s got an easygoing intensity when he’s working and a quick smile when he’s not behind the camera. He’s got great stories and tells them in that New York energetic sort of way with more than a hint of his native accent.

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“Radical dependency” for me is a frightening prospect. In a recent e-mail Straub described how his longtime friend Fr. Reginald Redlon, a Franciscan who is former president of St. Bonaventure University, was instrumental in setting Straub up with Franciscan Friars in Rome, an episode that led to a life-changing insight. Redlon, 85, now lives in a retirement home in Boston. Wrote Straub, “Every so often an envelope comes from Boston with a $100 bill and a note saying someone gave him [Redlon] the money and he has no need for it and so he sent it to me. A few years ago, someone gave him $10,000 to give away to a worthy ministry and he sent it to SDF [Straub’s San Damiano Foundation] on the very week I was considering shutting the foundation down because of a lack of funds.”

The day Straub had written the e-mail, he had received another note from Redlon: “This was given to me in a will of a diocesan priest friend of mine who died this year. I know of no ministry that I would rather give it to.” Enclosed was a check for $5,000.

“How this radical dependency on God works never ceases to amaze me,” Straub wrote.

For more information on Straub’s work or how to support it, go to the foundation’s Web site at

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It is more an accident of timing than a case of good planning that Tom Fox’s review of Fr. Charles Curran’s memoir (see story) should appear in the same issue as the Catholic Colleges & Universities cover story about The Catholic University of America in our special section on Catholic Colleges and Universities. In the interest of full disclosure, know that Curran is a member of the NCR board of directors. ( See story) The president of Catholic University, Vincentian Fr. David O’Connell, makes it clear he is out to change the perception of Catholic University as a “home of dissent” to a model of Catholic identity. Curran, meanwhile, states his case in the title of his memoir, Loyal Dissent. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a theological discipline worth its place in the academy had not any number of significant thinkers in church history been willing to take the heat that goes with loyal dissent. Nor is it imaginable that Catholic University will maintain a theology department of any interest or integrity without someone, at some point, raising significant questions about a church position or two.

But I am certainly here not going to cement Curran’s legacy nor prognosticate about Catholic University’s future, other than to say it will probably be robust and interesting and is certainly in the hands of someone who believes passionately and can eloquently articulate his vision for the institution. In the long run I believe the church will benefit from the tugs in both directions.

And in the meantime, the church should be grateful that many pastors, perhaps unwittingly, use Curran’s approach, one deeply considerate of human experience, in sizing up moral issues at the parish level. One can only presume that good pastors will continue to take Curran’s approach to pastoral problems even after the bishops have yet another go at a topic -- artificial birth control ( see story) -- that the vast majority of Catholics settled in conscience years ago. Seems a fellow named Curran had something to do with that.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, November 3, 2006

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