National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Inside NCR
Issue Date:  August 1, 2003

From the Editor's Desk

Page 2 takes on a new look

Publications, just like people, have to do some introspection from time to time. We have to stand back and survey everything from aesthetics to content to usefulness. The aim, for NCR, is to serve you, the reader, as best we can.

You will see some more tweaking and remodeling, some subtle, some bold in the months ahead.

One of the things that will eventually evolve is a more distinct section that we now generally refer to in-house as the back of the book or the opinion section. More on that later.

We also are designing pages for quicker identification of regular categories that will appear in the news section and for increasing integration with our Web site, which will allow us to cover more territory in these pages while providing greater detail in cases where readers may want it.

A recent example of the link between our pages and the Web site was Margot Patterson’s interview in the last issue with M. Shawn Copeland, president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. An extended version of the interview is posted on our Web site.

This week, an extended version of Teresa Malcolm’s story on the labor dispute at Holy Spirit Catholic Parish in McAllen, Texas, which appears in our center spread, is also on the Web site. The longer version contains more details and extended interviews. I think it will be of considerable interest to church employees who know too well that their careers could come to an end at the whim of a new pastor.

I’ll keep you posted on the redesign effort as it gets further underway.

~ ~ ~

Anyone who has ever had to manage anything knows that the most grueling part of the job can be making difficult personnel decisions. Letting someone go, cutting a hopelessly unproductive or outdated segment of a firm can be devastating. One can only hope that when that kind of human upheaval is necessary, business is as compassionate and generous as possible toward the individuals affected.

That said, it is extremely difficult to wade into labor dispute stories, particularly in the church. Of all the topics about which people write or call me, injustices in the church workplace rank very high on the list.

Often the caller has gone through a difficult time, realized that he or she had absolutely no leverage against the new pastor or the new bishop. Rather than risk the equivalent of an “industry-wide” bad reputation, they go quietly, although they may be seething, looking for the next opportunity.

But then there are the cases where the record and the evidence seem preponderantly to point to a real disregard of worker rights and the strong, if relatively recent, commitment of the church to the dignity of workers and their right to organize. That’s why Teresa Malcolm went to McAllen, where membership in the United Farm Workers union seemed to spell the end of careers at Holy Spirit Catholic Church when the new pastor briefly moved into the rectory in June.

As of this writing, the case remains in litigation.

When I read the account, I couldn’t help recall the dozens of church workers with whom I’ve had distressing conversations over the years after a bishop mandated or a pastor decided on the elimination of programs and staff and structures. And I couldn’t help but think that the church could certainly find a better way than wholesale firing to accommodate the vision of a new pastor.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, August 1, 2003

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