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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.

September 9, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 106




Joe Feuerherd 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:
Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the USCCB
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Washington, D.C.
Bishop William Friend, Shreveport, LA
Msgr. William Fay, USCCB General Secretary
Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, USCCB Communications Director
Kathleen McChesney, director of the USCCB's Office of Child and Youth Protection
Raymond Arroyo, news director Eternal World Television Network
Pat Cipollone, Kirkland & Ellis partner
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
Greg Erlandson, publisher of Our Sunday Visitor
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, professor of history at Emory University
Robert George, professor of politics at Princeton University
Frank Hanna, III, CEO of HBR Capital, Ltd.
Barbara Henkels, board member of the Catholic Leadership Conference
Paul Henkels, CEO of Henkels & McCoy, Inc.
Tom Hoopes, executive editor of National Catholic Register
Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis Magazine
Mother Assumpta Long, Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist
Peggy Noonan, commentator and columnist for the Wall Street Journal
Robert Novak, commentator with CNN
Kate O'Beirne, senior editor of National Review
Fr. David O'Connell, president of the Catholic University of America
Timothy O'Donnell, president of Christendom College
Russell Shaw, writer and editor
Gene Zurlo, president of the Catholic Radio Association
Bernard Dobranski, dean of Ave Maria School of Law
Jeffrey Wallin, president of the American Academy for Liberal Education
William Plunkett, Jr., Plunkett & Jaffe partner
Leon Suprenant, president of Catholics United for the Faith
Sr. Joseph Andrew, Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist
Patrick Madrid, publisher of Envoy Magazine
Gregory Popcak, director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute
Thomas Dillon, president of Thomas Aquinas College
Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, Lt. Governor of Maryland
Fr. Terence Henry, president of Franciscan University
Fr. Frank Pavone, Priests for Life
Carol McKinley, Faithful Voice
Rep. Michael Ferguson, U.S. House of Representatives
Mark Ryland, vice-president of the Discovery Institute
Kathryn Jean Lopez, associate editor of National Review
John Klink, former diplomat of the Holy See to the United Nations
Leon Podles, senior editor of Touchstone Magazine
Cortes DeRussy, former President of Federated Capital Corporation
Brian Saint-Paul, editor of Crisis Magazine
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