Conversation starters

This story appears in the 30 years later feature series. View the full series.
The June 7, 1985, cover of NCR

The June 7, 1985, cover of NCR

by Caitlin Hendel

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Editor's note: This blog post is part of a weeklong series dedicated to looking back on 30 years of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church. Read all parts of the series.

Editor Dennis Coday was in Buffalo, N.Y., for the Catholic Press Association's annual conference at the end of June. In his absence, I agreed to write this blog, always willing to take advantage of a good opportunity to promote what we do here at NCR.

Dennis and his team made it especially easy for me.

Let's start with Pope Francis' historic encyclical, released June 18, "Laudato Si', Care for our common home." What you saw on our website after the encyclical's release represents a culmination of months' worth of work, preparing for the much-anticipated letter, followed by dozens of news stories and analytical pieces that began with the unofficial leak of an Italian draft of the document on Monday, June 15.

Francis does not mince words in this beautifully crafted encyclical, an urgent call to all humans -- those operating as individuals, as corporations and as governments -- to take the steps necessary to preserve and sustain the Earth, not only for now but for generations of millennia to come.

Of course, members of the media have been accused of jumping on sound bites from the letter to promote their own agendas without actually reading the letter. I guarantee you, the NCR writers read and studied this groundbreaking work. In addition, Jesuit Fr. Tom Reese, NCR senior analyst, broke down the encyclical into a "user's guide" that you can download and share.

And, unlike what you'll find with many other publications, NCR hopes to continue the conversation on the encyclical, on climate change and its effect on the poor, and on the role of the church and of Catholics around the world in heeding Francis' call "for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it."

Speaking of enduring (sadly so) conversations, it's been 30 years since National Catholic Reporter ran Jason Berry's monumental story of Gilbert Gauthe, a Louisiana priest whose years of sexual abuse of boys -- and the lack of interest among supervisory clergy in dealing with him -- led to a $4 million-plus settlement with the victims' families.

"These are serious and damaging matters that have victimized the young and innocent," NCR said in an essay that opened its multipage package in the June 7, 1985, issue. "But a related and broader scandal seemingly rests with local bishops and a national episcopal leadership that has, as yet, no set policy on how to respond to those cases."

We asked four key participants in the ongoing conversation about sex abuse among clergy to help us mark the decades since that seminal series of articles that will run online this week: Berry; Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who was an early advocate for victims of clergy abuse; Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- which she founded after reading the NCR stories in 1985; and NCR Publisher Tom Fox, who was editor at the time.

"We continued reporting the clergy sex abuse story," Fox says in his compellingly personal essay. "For many younger Catholics today, it is difficult to imagine what it was like back then, when priests and bishops stood almost universally on pillars of respect and when any voice accusing one of them of abuse was viewed with suspicion and even disdain."

Some things change; some stay the same. But we at NCR believe some conversations are worth sustaining, even for decades.

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