Cover story -- NCR celebrates 40th
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Issue Date:  December 10, 2004

Paper honors columnist, lay board, bishop


The party had been convened to celebrate 40 years of history, but the speeches and sentiments of the evening spoke of charging into the future.

NCR editor Tom Roberts said the keynote address by Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister “gave NCR our marching orders for the next 40 years.”

Some 150 people -- from Washington glitterati to Catholic Workers -- gathered the night of Nov. 12 at Georgetown University in Washington to celebrate the 40th anniversary of National Catholic Reporter.

NCR, stand up, speak out and speak on,” Chittister said. “NCR, for the sake of the Galilean, for the sake of the next kid with a gleam in her eye. Whatever you do, don’t lose your nerve now.”

To mark the occasion, the NCR board honored Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan for “a career of service to the church and the wider human family.” Honors were also bestowed on the National Review Board, the lay body appointed by U.S. bishops to monitor church compliance with sex abuse prevention policies, for “dedication, courageous work and outstanding lay leadership,” and on Bishop Raymond J. Boland, leader of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese since 1993, for his pastoral leadership.

Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and represented Massachusetts’ Fourth District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971 through 1981.

Introducing Drinan, NCR publisher Thomas C. Fox recalled that he first met the Jesuit in 1969 when Drinan went to Vietnam as part of a fact-finding team. Fox was among the organizers of the team’s meetings with Vietnamese Catholics, Buddhist monks, students and former political prisoners.

Drinan left Congress in 1981 in obedience to a papal directive. “Congress’ loss was NCR’s gain,” said Fox, who was then editor of the newspaper. “I called Fr. Drinan at the time to ask him if he wanted a new platform. He said yes and he’s been an NCR columnist ever since,” Fox said.

Addressing the event, Drinan congratulated NCR for coming of age and taking its place among distinguished lay-owned and lay-edited Catholic periodicals, such as the 80-year-old Commonweal and 124-year-old The Tablet of London.

Reading NCR every week, Drinan said, puts him in touch with the universal church. “And for us, it is not a mere institution; this is the mystical body of Christ across time and space. This is the church that Vatican II named as the people of God. … This is the living voice of Christ.”

For 40 years, Drinan said NCR contributors and supporters have loved this church. “Let’s analyze,” Drinan said, “what it means to love the church ... that church given to us by faith.

“We love the invisible church. We sometimes criticize the visible church,” Drinan said. “We do that for the benefit of this organism that Christ founded so that we could have the Eucharist, we could know Christ, we could understand the necessity of evangelizing those around us.”

Accepting his award from NCR associate publisher Sr. Rita Larivee, Boland said that while he does not agree with everything in NCR, he is “a strong supporter of a Catholic press that is in the hands of lay people, because we are in this new century, which I think will be the century of the Eucharist and the century of the laity. I think the time has come.” NCR’s headquarters are in Boland’s diocese.

Boland said, “It would be my dream that in the future we may have many, many more nitpickers in the field of communications” as long as they are people who love the church. “I never have a problem with anybody doing anything for the church as long as the people who are doing it love the church and the people in NCR do that, they love the church,” he said.

“It is not the perfect society,” he said. “It never will be. So having somebody keep the leaders of the church, whether they be bishops or others, honest, it is very important in an open society.”

NCR chose to honor the National Review Board because, according to NCR editor Tom Roberts, “when the clergy sex abuse scandal broke open anew in late 2001 … the [Catholic] community came to realize that this time something both substantive and dramatic had to be done. Someone had to hold bishops and cardinals accountable. That unenviable task fell to the National Review Board.”

“The task was enormous, the charge unprecedented, the resistance at times not inconsequential,” Roberts said. “Yet they showed what kind of small miracle committed lay Catholics deeply invested in the church could perform.”

Accepting the award, review board chairman Nicholas Cafardi said, “The work of the board was extremely difficult; I can’t describe it otherwise. It was truly a dark night of the soul for our church and for us.”

Cafardi, who is dean of Duquesne University Law School, Pittsburgh, challenged the audience, “I would ask you to please get hold of a copy of the report that we wrote that was published in February of this year. Please don’t let that report lie fallow. It lays out a blueprint, I think, for the church to involve lay Catholics more in its life.

“If we could all get hold of that report and read it, and hold our bishops to it, I think if we could do that … [we] will be a much better church,” Cafardi said.

John DeGioia, president of Georgetown University opened the evening. He said NCR from its beginning recognized “the crucial need of Catholics to understand and examine the often complex position of our church in our society.”

“But the quest for truth and by extension justice is more than an intellectual journey; it is also deeply spiritual. It is for this reason that NCR’s resources of both intellect and faith are of such vital importance in our world,” he said.

“We share a responsibility as men and women of faith deeply engaged in the world in which we live to open ourselves to truth, to reach out in solidarity to our neighbors in need and to know ourselves and our God through these efforts,” DeGioia said.

National Catholic Reporter understands that reasonability. That is why we are here today celebrating 40 years of success,” he said.

NCR board president Patrick Waide, emceed the event. Before dinner, by Patrick Marrin, editor of the ecumenical worship resource Celebration, sister publication to NCR, demonstrated folding origami peace cranes.

Related Web site
The National Review Board's "A Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United State" is available at

National Catholic Reporter, December 10, 2004

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