The Independent Newsweekly
|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.|
|September 9, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 106
Meeting of the minds
By Joe Feuerherd, NCR Washington correspondent
Washington's exclusive Cosmos Club, founded during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, is the type of place, said historian Waldo Leland, where "... solutions of difficult problems have resulted from the meetings of men in fields so far apart that only chance would have brought them together, who, in discussion of their problems, suddenly found the answer to questions that had baffled them."
It wasn't chance, however, that brought five American bishops and three members of their national staff together yesterday with nearly 40 leading Catholic conservatives at this venerable Washington institution.
Rather, it was Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis Magazine, and Russell Shaw, prolific writer on church affairs and former communications director at the U.S. Bishops Conference. Miffed that members of the bishops Administrative Committee -- conference president Wilton Gregory, Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, William Friend of Shreveport, William Skylstad of Spokane, and Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg -- had met privately in July with the "kinds of liberal and dissident Catholics that would make a Call to Action conference jealous," they invited the church leaders to hear from "faithful Catholics."
There was little indication, however, that the men and the women in the room ultimately agreed on answers to the baffling questions.
Among the queries: What to do with dissenters? Particularly high-profile pro-choice Catholics.
"It doesn't help instruct the faithful when publicly dissenting Catholics are rewarded with positions of participation in official roles in the church, when they are asked to keynote Catholic dinners and so forth," Hudson told a post-meeting press conference conducted at the Michael J. Novak, Sr. room of Crisis Magazine's DuPont Circle office.
"We asked them to consider saying to the faithful that in the future [the bishops] will not honor pro-abortion public officials who call themselves Catholic," said Hudson.
Former Congressman and Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, a member of the bishop-appointed panel investigating the sexual abuse crisis, personifies the issue.
Said Princeton University politics professor Robert George: "Panetta's record in the Congress and then as chief of staff to President Clinton when [Clinton] vetoed the partial birth abortion ban, makes clear that Panetta fundamentally rejects the teaching of the church on the question of the sanctity of human life and the obligation of public authority to respect the principal of the dignity of all human beings."
Panetta's pro-choice record, said George, is "scandalous" and his service on the abuse panel "sends a message that we are not taking this issue too seriously if we then turn around and appoint to a position of great trust, indeed a position designed to advise the church on how to deal with a moral crisis, somebody who very publicly, very prominently, believes something that is contrary to Catholic teaching."
Problematic, though less so given the range of opinion existing within church circles on the death penalty, was the appointment of capital punishment enthusiast Frank Keating to chair the abuse panel, said George.
The ground rules for the meeting stipulated that participants were free to share their own comments and provide an overview, but they agreed not to characterize with any specificity how the bishops responded. No bishops attended the press conference.
Hudson characterized the tone of the gathering in language usually reserved for high-level international summits: "We had a very positive meeting -- it was full day of honest candid discussions."
One participant was, however, less impressed. Writing on his Web site following the gathering, Touchstone Magazine senior editor Leon Podles summarized what he told the group: " 'The policy of accommodation of the past 30 years has not worked. Confrontation may not work either, but we have to try it, and at least go down fighting.' This was the message which almost all the participants gave to the bishops, with various degrees of tact. But, as was obvious, nothing will change."
Nothing will change. This, ironically enough, was the view of some of the Catholic liberals who met with the same group of bishops in July.
List of Meeting Attendees:
© 2003 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111
TEL: 1-816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280