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Issue Date:  February 25, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

The Catholic roundtable

We’ve got a full plate this week.

First there’s the story about the Vatican censure of Fr. Roger Haight.

Let’s be clear from the start, not many Catholics are going to have Haight’s book, Jesus Symbol of God, on their night reading stand. I’m not a theologian, so I read it with a healthy reserve of caution, knowing that I have to dip into the commentaries and reviews by experts to begin to understand the dimensions of the discussion.

However, whether it’s a theological tome or a book for the general reader at issue, I think there is something in the American Catholic soul that recoils against book banning and silencing as a way of dealing with disturbing ideas.

So I’ll take the opportunity here to thank the theologians who show up on our pages this week in John Allen’s report on the Haight matter. By the way, I think this is John Allen at his best, taking enormously complex subject matter, further complicated by a discussion of church politics and of how church authority ought to work, and delivering it all in an engaging and understandable way.

It really ends up a kind of in-print, round-table discussion in which the participants come at the issue from every direction. It is also, I think, a thoroughly Catholic exercise, given the degree to which we were instructed as youngsters on the importance to Catholics of reason and intellect in matters of faith.

Personally, I think the church has far more to gain from the theological debate that has developed around Jesus Symbol of God, than it has to fear from an honest academic whose inquiry has led him to uncharted waters.

We’ve also pulled together a timeline that lists a range of significant thinkers, speakers and other high-profile figures in the church who have been silenced, censured, investigated or otherwise disciplined during the reign of John Paul II. It’s quite a parade.

~ ~ ~

This week’s issue also includes a special section on Religious Life. Some light moments at the back of the section include Ginny Cunningham’s, “Navigating the nun network,” and Tim Unsworth’s “To labor is to pray, and the goodies go on eBay.”

On the more serious side, the section leads off with a reflection/report by Sr. Antonia Ryan, a young Benedictine nun whose “monastic life conversation” has matured into a deepening conversation with monasticism, mysticism and the meaning of life as a religious in the 21st century. She brings all of that, a lively sense of humor and a probing conscience into the newsroom.

She writes with elegance and a compelling honesty, and I am grateful she has permitted us a glimpse of bits of her personal journey.

Her tale of new discovery contrasts with the look back -- and into the future -- by Sacred Heart Sr. Kathleen Hughes, who in August will end her tenure as provincial of her order. Before becoming a provincial, Hughes spent nearly two decades on the International Committee for English in the Liturgy, or ICEL, the group that has been at the eye of the liturgy storms of recent years. She’s got some great behind-the-scenes anecdotes and insights, all wonderfully rendered by Jeannette Cooperman.

The piece is also significant in that it is the last time you’ll read Jeannette’s work in our pages for the foreseeable future. She notified me recently that she’s been named editor of St. Louis Magazine and won’t have time to write a column. While it’s a great day for St. Louis, we will deeply miss the charm and eloquence of her writing and her keen insights. Jeannette, we wish you well.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, February 25, 2005

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