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Lorenzo's sister edits Catholic paper.

Cristina Odone burst upon the British Catholic media scene last spring when she became editor of The Catholic Herald at age 32.

In the United States, The Catholic Herald means the Milwaukee paper whose hospitality I enjoyed last summer. Its British namesake has had youngish editors before, and a young woman as well, but none has had Odone's flair for arousing media interest. In six months she has become the unofficial Catholic spokesperson on TV and radio.

It is not due just to her photogenic looks or her time spent in public relations or her spell as a gossip columnist on The times in London.

"No one," proclaimed the late Malcolm Muggeridge, "can claim a profound knowledge of human nature and human vanity without having worked on a gossip column." Those depths she plumbed.

Nor is her fame due to the fact that she is Lorenzo's elder sister. You've heard the name Odone. Joe Cunneen reviewed the movie, "Lorenzo's Oil," glowingly in NCR, Feb 5. It is, she told NCR, "100 percent faithful to what actually happened."

For the record, Lorenzo was discovered to have ALP, a rare, killer disease that is carried by women and suffered by boys. Her parents, Augusto Odone, an Italian economist, and Michaela, his Irish-American wife, defied the doctors and refused to believe that Lorenzo's case was hopeless. He is still alive at age 14, and the family has not despaired of a cure.

Cunneen complained that the movie concentrates on Lorenzo's medical history and bypasses the religious theme that it constantly suggested. Maybe that's discretion. There are some thoughts that lie too deep for public tears.

Anyone who didn't know this background would certainly get Odone wrong. She gives a convincing impersonation of a flibbertigibbet charmer for whom being a Catholic means fun and a certain social chic. She makes religion not only fashionable, but even kinkily fashionable, said one interviewer.

The women's pages have been filled with her folksy wisdom. "Catholicism is like a bowl of spaghetti," she told one astonished reporter, "full of different strands. It is only if you eat them all together that it will do you any good." That sounds OK and homely, but what on earth does it mean? Reported The Guardian: "A bouncy Mediterranean Catholic, she has never quite gotten over the English attitude to the faith: |When I was at Oxford, I bad my first English boyfriend who was very cute and very rich. His mother told him he must never marry me, or any Catholic for that matter, because 50 percent of his money would go to Rome. Poor boy, he believed her."

Reported The Independent: As a young woman, reconciling Catholicism and her life-style were not easy, and at Oxford she stopped practicing. |I became one of those random Massgoers. Guilt figured prominently in my life.'" She quickly caught the Oxford habit of ironic self-deprecation. She reminds me of a contempormy who quashed an objector to the Index of Forbidden Books with the remark: "But it's so handy for Catholics to have a selection of books to read on a rainy afternoon."

But what was this Italo-Hibernian with an American accent doing at Oxford anyway? Her father moved to Washington in 1970 to work for the World Bank. She went to Marymount School, Washington, where "the nuns still wore the full garb," and then to the interdenominational National Cathedral High School. After that, she said, feeling the need to "return to her European roots," she squeezed herself into Oxford University by attending the "finishing school" of St. Clare.

She then spent three emotionally exciting years at Worcester College, majoring in French literature and history. By taking on The Catholic Herald she was returning to her European roots a second time, exchanging a plush office in Washington, where she advised European firms on how to approach the World Bank, for the modest premises of the London paper housed in a downtown 1901 school, close to the dissenters' graveyard where Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and William Blake await the resurrection.

Why did she return to a paper on which she briefly worked in the 1980s? To say it was a challenge is to put it mildly. She once hurled a typewriter at editor Peter Stanford when he wanted to publish a letter from Victoria Gillick, a prominent right-winger, mother of 10, describing her as "that silly young woman with the wrong attitude to birth control."

Stanford resigned last year after publishing an outrageous book on Catholics and sex. He sportingly proposed Odone as his successor. She claims not to have read Stanford's book. Or rather, not to have gotten beyond the first sentence, which she knows by heart: "Every Catholic knows that they are just a screw away from perdition."

Odone proposes to "shake up" the paper and win it a new audience among the "Catholic yuppies who are repentant of their excesses of the '80s." She shares in their experience up to a point: "They are married, they have the house, the car, the baby, and now they are finding they need God."

In pompous language she would never, never use, Odone thinks she has a mission, an apostolate among those "latent" Catholics who dropped out in the 1980s.

The clergy, whom she describes as those lovely boys," don't know what to make of her. She attended their annual conference and told them they had allowed the image of the church "to dwindle into a B movie starring Bishop Eamonn Casey and Victoria Gillick, based on a book by Evelyn Waugh, set in Castle Howard with an interminable soundtrack of Ave Marias."

"Since they all want to be Jeremy Irons," she claims, "they loved it."

That's the style, but where's the substance? Is there any meat in this homecooked pasta? I cannot confidently answer those questions, any more than I can assign her labels like "liberal" or "conservative." She admits to having a cousin in Opus Dei in Rome. But she is embarked on a different crusade.

The Vatican makes a great deal of fuss over the appointment of bishops. Yet the appointment of the editor of a Catholic paper is considerably more important. He/she addresses more Catholics more regularly and more efficiently than any pastoral letter. But I don't want to put ideas into anyone's head.
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Title Annotation:The Catholic Herald; Cristina Odone
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 26, 1993
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