Settling In

Late in December I packed up my family and all my worldly belongings and drove 600 snowy miles from Washington, D.C. to South Bend, Indiana. I was induced to undertake such a foolhardy thing by Ralph Mclnerny’s gracious offer to become managing editor of Catholicism in Crisis, a position I enthusiastically assume with this issue. Having assisted in a part-time capacity since the magazine’s inception, I now look forward to working full-time with Ralph Mclnerny, Michael Novak and the members of our editorial board.

Lumbering across the frozen Midwest in a U-Haul truck, I had a little time to reflect on my understanding of the task of a “journal of lay Catholic opinion.” An often overlooked word here is “opinion”: attending to it should serve to remind us of the distinction between what is de fide and matters about which orthodox Catholics may reasonably differ. The content of faith is not a matter of opinion, nor an arena for dispute. This leaves a host of other issues and controversies all of which require complex and difficult judgments and interpretations of fact, attention to shifting circumstances and the judicious weighing of alternative policies and courses of action.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of politics. We all know with perfect clarity that in every situation good is to be done and evil avoided — that seeking justice in the affairs of men is not optional but obligatory. Anyone who refuses to accept this starting point forfeits any claim to take part in the discussion. But it is a long way from this principle to sound moral ‘judgments about nuclear weapons, economics or foreign policy. One cannot simply reason, “Because good must be done and evil. avoided we must abandon nuclear weapons” or “We must lend assistance to the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.” Assuredly, as Catholics we wish to judge such matters in the light of our faith and in fidelity to God. But no less assuredly, we all too frequently see, in political matters, as through a glass darkly.

This is why frank and open discussion — in which many points of view are recognized and evaluated according to established criteria of evidence, logic and intellectual integrity — is needed. Opinions, in short, must be put to the test. Crucial intellectual distinctions must be insisted on, not merely to be contentious or to win debating points; to borrow Jacques Maritain’s splendid phrase, one should “distinguish in order to unite.” This is a difficult task in politics as well as in metaphysics. But all this is what we intend to do. And as we criticize others, so we ourselves expect, and invite, criticism.

In this issue we present two quite different perspectives on Nicaragua, a country about which religious opinion in America, both Catholic and Protestant, is deeply divided. Is the Sandinista regime struggling in its own way toward democratic, even Christian, values — as its defenders argue — or is it becoming a Marxist, totalitarian state assisting in Cuban and Soviet designs in the region — as many critics charge? C in C’s readers will get one sense of the Sandinista’s agenda from an interview with Miguel Bolanos Hunter, a young defector from Nicaragua’s state security system. A different reading of Nicaragua under the Sandinistas is presented in the report by a World Council of Churches delegation which visited the country last fall.

We hope our readers find the collision between the two assessments as provocative and illuminating as we did. For to provoke, to stimulate, to shed light on contemporary perplexities, within a Catholic framework, is our goal. I find the prospect of C in C’s second year exciting. I think the move was worth it.


In 1983, Terry Hall became the managing editor of Catholicism in Crisis.

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