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Media show best of times and worst of times for church.

Within an hour, March 21, CBS' "60 Minutes" showed Americans the Catholic church both shining and tarnished.

One segment told of the fall from grace of Santa Fe's Archbishop Robert Sanchez (NCR, March 19). Several women told of sexual dealings with the archbishop. In the background lurked the simmering pedophilia problem, indications that Sanchez was excessively benign to known perpetrators, covering up, thus corrupting the chaste spiritual climate celibacy allegedly was designed to cultivate.

Another segment analyzed the report of the Truth Commission on El Salvador (NCR, March, 26). A devastating indictment of brutality by a fascist-style Salvadoran government, and an equally forceful condemnation of collusion by the Reagan and Bush administrations, the report also depicted the Catholic church as a beacon, a sign to the nations of commitment and even heroism.

It recounted again the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, then the four churchwomen, the six Jesuits and their companions. And by implication it told of many other missionaries, lay and religious, whose stories might be quieter, whose daily martyrdom (it means witness, after all) might not make headlines, but whose lives and words and works carry on what is best of the ideal life and teachings of Jesus and every prophet of every denomination who tried to lift up humanity on wings of hope.

Two Jesuit leaders talked to Mike Wallace--symbols, too, in their way--men of learning and substance, their lives tempered by such tragedies as Salvador, priests struggling for justice for their dead colleagues while struggling to keep their live brothers' spirits high and dry as the church sails on a sea of discouragement.

The normally abrasive "60 Minutes," by coincidence or whatever, fairly showed both the shine and the tarnish, reached for compassion as well as condemnation. The program came a few days after ABC's "20/20" offered a similar mix of the spiritual and sordid.

The wraps ar off. No longer can the church hide behind arcane excuses. Who knows what other stories are out there waiting to be revealed? How courageously and honestly will church leaders stand in the glare of the relentless spotlight? What outdated or superfluous or unfair or totally silly customs, decrees and hang-ups will curl and crumble in the face of so much attention?

New insights and subsequent progress might emerge from it all.

It might become clear that the church at it's best is a fabrication of the Holy Spirit; that the lives given, the sacrifices made, the noblest aspirations and most selfless gestures are above and beyond anything humans or human institutions could generate; they are a gift from God.

It might become clear, by contrast, that may of our problems, including church problems, are of our own making. That celibacy, to take the most topical example, is not so much a help to temporal or eternal salvation as an ill-advised stumbling block.

Get the government off our backs, the conservatives say. We need government to regulate our all-too-human proclivities, other of us say. The church likewise--without it, our spiritual fabric would trip up the seams.

So the question becomes: How much church do we need? We don't need it so big that it gets between us and God. We need it just big enough to raise us on shoulders we can trust so that we can see the road ahead and the Spirit beckoning.

There will be more stories, a more intense media glare than the church has ever encountered. Such a merciless scrutiny shows up lies and hypocrisy while it makes the good to shine.

The truth, after all, is our thing. If we listened we might hear the Holy Spirit urging us to run with it, and to hell with the consequences.
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Title Annotation:El Salvador bravery; episcopal sex scandals
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 2, 1993
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