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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

March 1, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 209




global perspective Preparing to cure what ails us

by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

Calling all bishops. Cancel some of your Holy Week engagements.

“Collectively,” writes theologian Eileen Flynn in Catholics at a Crossroads: Coverup, Crisis and Cure (Paraview Press), “all Catholics suffer from shame and the pain of watching the church lose its credibility and sense of purpose.”

How right she is. Now let’s switch to Lent. Something I’m not good at, it’s usually half over before I get started.

Other Today's Takes by Arthur Jones
Jan. 9, 04 Rural tranquility and violent times
Jan. 8, 04 St. Magnus the non-violent
Jan. 7, 04 The preciousness of time
Jan. 6, 04 More thoughts at the dawn of a new year
Jan. 5, 04 The Gospel according to Fred Astaire
Nov. 6, 03 Don't expect anything
Nov. 3, 03 6.30 a.m. Mass
Aug. 21, 03 The fire in her belly isn’t curry, it’s Christ
The Indian priest imprinting ashes on foreheads at the church my wife and I attended gave a brief talk. Lent as a time for introspection – on our values, our relationships, on our willingness to prepare for the great triduum.

(I’m far better at introspection than I am in putting the results of the introspection into action.)

And, he suggested, fasting is a much neglected means of concentrating heart and mind.

Some people do fast. They’re fasting each Friday at Dolores Mission in Los Angeles, a community that knows all about pain. It regularly buries its young men and women and children killed in brutal gang slayings, sadistic drive-by shootings and retribution. Dolores Mission is fasting for peace in Iraq, peace in everyone’s lives.

There isn’t much peace in the Catholic church at present. The cover-up and crisis is a major part of it domestically, what’s coming down from Rome is a major part of it internationally.

For many, there’s more to the unrest than that, but I’ll spare you my rant and get to the point. Actually, Flynn’s point.

She writes: “Few people are happy with the Catholic church today. Priests, bishops, cardinals and the pope may seem tranquil on the outside, but they are crying on the inside. Progressives are unhappy about the way the reform-minded agenda of Vatican II has gotten sidetracked, and conservatives bemoan the disintegration of what once was a proud, enviable institution.”

Flynn, in her book, mentions “cure.”

And I thought about the fasting thing. As a preliminary to a cure, fasting isn’t bad as a kick-off to internal change.

And I’m very willing to have others do it -- specifically the U.S. bishops.


Despite the pressures on them -- or even because of the pressures on them -- the Catholic bishops of the United States during Holy Week, should engage in a public fast. Somewhere, anywhere they can be seen as objects of sincere Christian abject humility.

And if a group of them will get together to fast during Holy Week, somewhere, anywhere, repentant about the cover-ups they’ve signed off on, and the crises they’ve created, I’ll publicly join them.

Any two or three bishops publicly gathered in His name to fast, and I’ll be there.

I’ve plenty in my life to be abjectly humble about. To do penance for.

And a touch of Christian solidarity during a fast with a group of fellow Catholics I’ve come to mightily distrust, might just be good for my soul.

Perhaps I’ll learn if the bishops really are crying on the inside over what’s happened to the church. I know I am.


The time has come, “The Commission” said,
To talk of episcopal things,
Like lies, and payouts, cover-ups;
Victims led in rings.
Of bishops who should be in jail, resigned, or on the dole,
Whose flacks and fine spin-doctors have helped deny their role.
A word that these days, little used, provides the perfect slant
On mealy-mouthed utterings --
Dear souls, that word is cant.
From “habit and convention” ... talk that’s “insincere,”
Statements that are “meaningless” but ring well to the ear.
So credit the commissioners, their Mahony-Egan roast,
Reveal corruption where it hides, from coast to shining coast,
Diverted funds once held in trust, spent to hide the blame:
-- and let us hide our faces in the church that died of shame.

Arthur Jones' e-mail address is

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