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Issue Date:  October 29, 2004

From the Editor's Desk

Catholicism as political commodity

It took Joe Feuerherd more than a few phone calls to finally track down the details on the Kerry non-excommunication (see story). I can’t say that I was terribly surprised that a Vatican official could be so used in this election season. One’s Catholicism, it appears, has become a political commodity.

I was not aware, however, of the apparent ease with which a freelance canon lawyer can show up at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome to seek answers to hypotheticals. In this case, it seems, a high ranking official thought enough of the questions to prevail on a friend in the States to provide an answer. Curiously, while the answer, hypothetically, would have been satisfactory for an academic paper, it was quickly dismissed as small potatoes from a “smalltime theologian” when it became a matter of public record. Everyone was free to view the answer -- essentially that Kerry had excommunicated himself -- as “baloney.” Personally, I do, and I’m glad that was the final verdict.

However, it does raise questions.

This incident occurs, of course, on the heels of the letter to the American bishops about the election from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and all the controversy and misinterpretations and reinterpretations that have followed (NCR, July 16). It’s been a tough couple of months for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this Vatican bureaucracy caught in the whipsaw of U.S. electoral politics.

Perhaps someone high up in the Vatican will finally put out the word to U.S. bishops: “Rail all you want at the government and government policies, argue like the moral champions you ought to be, but please, please, keep your distance from partisan politics. You’re unleashing all kinds of crazy forces that we don’t understand here. You really are making a mess of things. We don’t want anything more to do with Democrats and Republicans.”

Anyway, check out the story. It’s almost too strange to believe.

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The little guy on our cover is representative of a kind of childhood plague throughout Latin America, where poverty forces youngsters to work for survival. These are the kinds of realities, matters of international politics and economics that find almost no play in our electoral politics. How do they fit into our national imagination? Do we dare seek to understand the real roots of unrest in the developing world?

It was serendipitous but nonetheless fitting, that the Latin America series (see story) should be focusing on children the same week the special section (see introduction) on Catholic Colleges and Universities highlights the effects of globalization on the classroom. Globalization raises difficult questions, and there are few simple answers. As Fairfield University professor Robbin Crabtree told writer Reneé LaReau, it is impossible to think of discussing such questions without raising ethical concerns.

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Finally, in the few days remaining before the elections, I recommend a good sit down with our letter writers. We’ve gathered on as fine and broad a representation of opinions as you’ll find anywhere on the matter of the Bush-Kerry contest and the swirl of church activity surrounding it ( see letters).

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, October 29, 2004

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