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Whose Catholic newspaper is it anyway?

The Chicago-based Call to Action conference runs Oct. 29-31. A few weeks back, CTA codirector Dan Daley sent an ad to The New World, the newspaper for the Chicago archdiocese, only to learn it would not be published.

A letter from Jesuit Fr. Tom Widner, the editor, followed, stating the paper does not accept ads from people or groups "whose philosophy, goals, purposes (stated or perceived) or practices, are not in accord" with church teaching or "undermine or show disrespect for the authentic teaching of the ecclesiastical magisterium."

In the particular case of CTA, Widner wrote he could not "encourage attendance" by running the ad.

Then Carrie Maus, CTA meeting service manager, wrote Widner. "Which specific groups and positions fit this description?" she asked.

Widner refused to get specific, but told me he attended the conference last year, saw in it goodwill, archdiocesan input and personally interesting sessions. However, he also said he found CTA to be "a mixed bag" and wondered what kind of message would be sent to his readers by running the ad. "I'm thinking (of The New World) as the official publication of the archdiocese ... and trying to present a fairly positive image of the church to our people. How would it be received?'

It was his decision and no one else's, he said.

"We were flabbergasted," Daley said.

The flap seems to stem from the action of an archdiocesan official attempting to protect the church from itself, although he would make the distinction between the official church and the rest of it.

We have been here before. Many NCR readers will recall that CTA traces its roots to a bicentennial Detroit dream that, in turn, was a spinoff from the Vatican Council's call to the laity to come of age and take its rightful place as adult leaders in the church.

It was in October 1976 that 1,340 Catholic delegates from 152 of the nation's then 167 dioceses gathered, following a two-year consultation process, to express their "needs and hopes" for liberty and justice in their church and wider society.

Detroit Cardinal John Dearden, erstwhile mentor of Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, inspired the effort that allowed, as a byproduct, the spawning of a more democratic church model.

Although Pope Paul VI addressed the gathering via satellite, other bishops felt threatened by the conference. Many saw in it a breakdown of episcopal control and said so at the time.

As far as the bishops were concerned, CTA was to be stillborn from the start as a national force. However, it gave birth to some local CTA groups, the largest and most long-lasting of which became that in Chicago.

Seventeen years later, the same tensions - or contradictions - can be seen in Widner's refusal to publish the CTA ad. This year's CTA conference, expected to draw up to 2,500 Catholics, represents a gathering of a cross section of Catholics who take their faith and church seriously. What bonds them are two ideas: 1. Their Catholic faith is precious. 2. Their church needs reform.

It is ironic - just as it was in 1976 - that church criticism, founded in commitment and a vision of reform, is viewed somehow as a threat, real or perceived.

Change is never a neat process. When large numbers of reform-minded Catholics gather, they are all over the ecclesial map. They may shock some conservatives. But they are Catholics, they are church, and they need and deserve space and an acknowledgment of their goodwill.

These are Catholics, after all, who have chosen to stay. They feel the church is valuable and worth reforming. They have not given up. To disallow them by refusing a simple ad is a shortsighted mistake.

Taken in isolation, it is no big matter. But it does speak to a wider problem, a growing climate of rear and uncertainty harmful to the church. It can only be stopped by speaking out and naming the wrong. This was a fear-driven decision, hardly conducive to church-building.

And this delightful paragraph written by Paul Baumann, associate editor of Commonweal, comes via Religious News Service:

"Veritatis Splendor sounds a bit like aurora borealis or even gluteus maximus. And truth be told, Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II's difficult new encyclical on morality, is meant to combine the illumination of the borealis with the everyday usefulness of the humble gluteus. In seeking the good and true, we are to look to the heavens but keep our backsides firmly planted on the terra firma of unchanging earthly obligations."
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Title Annotation:laity group denied advertising in Chicago archdiocesan newspaper
Author:Fox, Tom
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 29, 1993
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