Vatican II provided hope and was successful in contributing towards the avoidance of a nuclear holocaust, however, war and rampant injustice continued at a rate more intense than any other time in history. The Roman Catholic Church suffered divisions and the demarcation lines are difficult to trace.
The NCR story begins in October of 1964. The anniversary issue notes important stories of the NCR over the past 50 years. The editorial states:
If this booklet tells a history, it isn’t the history of a newspaper; it is the history of the American Catholic Church over the last 50 years.
In my opinion there were some important omissions, but overall NCR does a good job. U.S. American Roman Catholics are much better informed because of the NCR and are in a better position to advocate reform for justice and peace beyond Vatican II. My criterion for comments on the anniversary issue is – the focus on social justice through non violence in reference to the alienated – including labor and the poor. I will refer to the social encyclicals plus official church documents promulgated by bishop’s conferences which advocate structural change to serve all.
The first edition of NCR (10-28-64) noted the promulgation of ‘Lumen Gentium,’ ‘the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.’ The document began with a discourse on the ‘people of God’ and that the Spirit dwelt in them, but also reaffirmed Vatican I and the ultimate authority of the Pope and hierarchy in communion with the Pope. This was a bait and switch document which few recognized including the NCR. Hierarchical exclusivity is an important cause of the pedophile scandal, but escapes analysis even in the NCR.
During its fifty years NCR provided valuable information on the civil wars in Central America and the struggle for justice in all of Latin America. Correspondents Gary MacEoin and Penny Lernoux deserve special credit and should get notice for their in depth reporting.
It is on record – thanks to NCR! The anniversary issue reports on the 1979 Latin American Bishops’ conference in Puebla, Mexico. The article emphasizes two crucial points.
1 – Pope John Paul II endorsed liberation theology and the recent deliberations of the Latin American Episcopal Conference.
2 – During their Jan. 27th –Feb. 13 meeting, the Latin American bishops, caretakers of the only institution with sufficient power to speak out in a continent dominated by repressive military regimes, issued documents on the church’s priority commitment to the poor, religious life, and the economic and political realities of Latin Americas. (p. 20.)
But the first official church statement on ‘preferential option for the poor’ is from the 1968 conference in Medellin, Columbia; the conference is not mentioned in the anniversary issue.
The NCR anniversary issue noted the church martyrs in Latin America but did not cite Medellin as a cause. NCR correspondent, Penny Lernoux wrote in her book –Cry of the People:
Medellin was a red flag waving them into action…Priests formed left-wing organizations in seven countries, some doing so in open support of radical parties or governments. (Penny Lernoux, The Cry of the People, Penguin, 1991, p.43.)
However, those martyred were for the most part not members of any political party or group but involved in pastoral care – ‘preferential option for the poor.’ Such ministry was and is considered political. The anniversary issue cites the four Church women in El Salvador and others.
The anniversary issue did not cite the revolutionary ‘preferential option for the poor’ proclaimed by the Medellin document, but also left out the first time it was mentioned in a Papal document – Sollicitudo Socialis Rei. There was an editorial about Sollictudo Sociali Rei in March of 1988 emphasizing the Encyclical’s fundamental concern for the environment. The editorial opens:
“Sollicitudo Socialis Rei, Pope John Paul II latest encyclical, will be remembered as the church’s first encyclical on ecology.” Sollicitudo Socialis Rei is mentioned in the anniversary issue with the headline: “Superpowers target of the encyclical’s wrath.”
Coverage of the radical encyclical Laborem Exercens was not mentioned in the anniversary issue. Neither did the special issue commemorating John Paul II which underplays his social encyclicals. (NCR, 4-15-2005) Did ‘liberal’ church concerns super-cede labor issues for NCR? Laborem Exercens stating that “labor unions are indispensible” and “labor is prior to capital” might be too much for a publication that uses a non union printer.
On the other hand the NCR covers the important Latin American story better than any other publication concerning the massive migration of unaccompanied children to the United States. Sadly it is not noted that the Honduran papal adviser, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, supported a military ‘golpe del estado’ in 2009, and the ‘golpe’ further militarized Honduras increasing the violence in Honduras which is now seen as an important cause of the children migrating.
NCR covered in depth major Catholic events in its 50 years such as income inequality, the pedophile scandal, women’s ordination, the church and homosexuality, racial equality and environmental concerns. NCR covered the Father Groppi marches in Milwaukee for fair housing, but the controversy on racism continues. Groppi exposed the tip of the iceberg.
The peace movement, countering the horrible wars in Vietnam, Central America and the Middle East, was covered better by the NCR than any other publication. NCR took a stance against the wars. Immigration reform was given comprehensive consideration with the exception of the New Sanctuary Movement. The anniversary edition notes some of these stories. An NCR article authored by former Sandanista government official, Xabier Gorostiaga, S.J. in 1995 was one of the first articles in any paper or magazine on the growing gap in income at the end of the 20th century, a gap that has continued to widen. There was no mention of this article in the anniversary issue.
A photo of Dorothy Day stands out in the anniversary issue. (October 27, 1972-October 19, 1973) The caption reads:
Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day, seated on a golf chair, faces law officers as she talks to fellow protesters in the United Farm Workers picket line in July 1973. Day ultimately was arrested, along with 3,000 striking farm workers and supporters, including 60 priests, nuns and brothers.
The anniversary issue (’95 -,’96) notes that NCR was sued for 30 million dollars by Briggs & Stratton, Milwaukee for an article claiming that Briggs’ executives were defying Catholic Social principles in their treatment of workers.
‘Editor Tom Fox called the lawsuit an attempt by Briggs & Stratton to muzzle its critics and to intimidate the press.’
It was a slap suit and was thrown out of court in 1998. But did the slap suit, in fact, intimidate the press?
If anything, faith demands authenticity. Both publications, Commonweal and National Catholic Reporter combined 140 years advocating for social justice is compromised with the probability that neither uses union printers.