Before me is a great black drawer where Washington Post letters come to die. All too many -- most, in fact -- end up there. As this newspaper's ombudsman once explained, the great enemy of letter writers is space. There just isn't enough of it to print more than a handful of the letters sent in.

There are many letters in that drawer that could have lived on in the letters column. No doubt there are a number of others that should have. This is the case of one.

On July 26, Thomas Pater wrote:

"In his column of July 8 {Style}, Colman McCarthy not only misquoted Pope John Paul II but also flagrantly misinterpreted his words in a way directly contrary to the remainder of the very same sentence, which McCarthy omits.

"After quoting John Paul as saying to the U.S. hierarchy on his American visit in 1979, 'Our leadership will be effective only to the extent that our discipline is genuine,' McCarthy went on to say: 'There it is. The men running the church want it to be an institution of laws, fear and punishment.'

"What John Paul actually said was: 'Our leadership will be effective only to the extent that our own discipleship is genuine -- to the extent that the beatitudes have become the inspiration of our lives, to the extent that the people really find in us the kindness, simplicity of life and universal charity that they expect.' "

This letter made what might be called the first cut for publication. It was chosen for possible use and a copy sent to Colman McCarthy for comment. Mr. McCarthy soon returned with the source of his quotation -- Monsignor George Kelly's book "Keeping the Church Catholic With John Paul II." Mr. McCarthy had transcribed the quotation correctly.

As Thomas Pater offered no source for the quotation as he understood it, that seemed to answer the question, and the letter got buried in the great black file drawer.

It shouldn't have been. It was Father Pater's persistence -- more letters -- that led to the original letter's revival. What was the problem? Might the book quotation not be right?

A call to Monsignor Kelly, the author of the book from which Mr. McCarthy took the quotation, revealed that the word "discipleship" in fact had been changed inadvertently to "discipline" when his manuscript was typed. A case of bad proofreading.

Why not simply print Father Pater's letter and be done with it? Well, it's gotten a bit old. And because to talk about its long journey from Father Pater's desk to the editors' desk to the file drawer and back out is instructive not only for Post fact-checkers but also for letter writers. Those who wish to make use of quotations and statistics would do well to cite sources in their correspondence and, when feasible, attach copies of their citations. All too many worthy commentaries from readers get stuffed in a drawer for want of an "according to ... " or "See Vol. 1 of ... "

It's also true, alas, that some columns and correspondence lacking the preferred documentation and sought-after verification does find its way onto this page, and that's why on some days the Letters column could just as well be called the Corrections column. -- Kathryn Stearns is a member of the editorial page staff.