Reese in pieces

Reese in pieces

(Okay, the title is a bad pun, but you try to find something original to say after eveyone else has gotten hold of the story.)

Fr. Tom Reese, editor of America magazine, was sacked, apparently at the prompting of then-Cardinal Ratzinger in March. There’s been lots of talk about it all over the blogs. Diogenes has some pointed remarks to say about the editorial slant at America. Unlike some apologists for the magazine, he didn’t see it as merely discussing controversial subjects, but giving a definite liberal slant to what issues it tackled.

The point is that America‘s notion of what counts as a hot topic is selective and ideologically slanted against the Holy See. The true contrast is not between openness and dogma, but between rival systems of dogma: a public one (Catholic), versus a clandestine one (behind or beneath America). And remember that America is not a secular journal of ideas but is trading on the ecclesial prestige accorded its Jesuit sponsorship. That means, when it’s Catholic doctrine that’s under assault, it’s not really even-handed—as would be the case for The New Republic—to give space to a professor to attack the doctrine and equal space to a Vatican official to defend it. Simply by presenting the disputants as representatives of different opinions the doctrine is viewed as up for grabs, i.e., as something less than doctrine. The net result is almost always erosion of Catholic belief.

Well said. Just this past week, Reese was on Vatican Radio, which in itself is interesting given the fact that he had been sacked, or at least knew he was going to be sacked, by the time the interview aired. But in his interview he passed off the same dissent-but-not-really. He would say that the Church has to discuss “women’s roles in the Church,” by which everyone knows he means women’s ordination, but would dissemble by saying that it was that he wanted to discuss it, but that others did.

Phil Lawler saw this for what it is.

For years, prominent Catholic journalists and scholars have adopted a similar approach to Church teachings: insisting that they are not denying a given doctrine, but merely raising questions that must be addressed. … Since they never take a firm stance that is at odds with official Church teachings, these clever publicists have avoided ecclesiastical sanctions.

But now it appears that you can’t hide behind the “some people say” defense anymore. Phil also notes that if this is what is happening, then it has wider implications.

If a Jesuit editor cannot take a neutral attitude in disputes between the Church and her critics, why can the president of a Jesuit university take that same attitude? Why can a theologian, teaching at a Catholic institution, promote ideas that have been condemned by the magisterium? Why can a bishop recruit religious-education directors from among the readers of a publication that champions theological dissent?

Is this the first step, or just a shot across the bow. Will more heads roll or was Reese just a sacrifical lamb whacked as a message to keep the rest in line? We shall see.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
10 comments
  • If future generations are going to be Catholic, then this is only the first step.  Seems to me that a major shift of bishops and cardinals is needed as well as defrocking of priest-theologians who promote dissent.  Once that happens, it seems that the renegade nuns who presently run the cathechism programs would be replaced by faithful Catholics who will teach the catechism plain and simple.

    Also, isn’t it time to evaluate the religious orders?  Just by reading their websites you can tell they have gone off the rails.  When a non-theologian like me gets the whim-whams, things are not right.

  • This is more of a general rant regarding church dissent in the media, and maybe I’m crazy, but it seems like the church HAS addressed these issues like homosexuality, priestly celibacy, women’s ordination, etc…  at one time or another in recent years. It’s just that when some don’t get the answer they want, they keep saying things like “the church needs be more open to” and “the church needs to discuss” those issues, etc… I am very curious now to see who BXVI picks to head up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

  • MMcC:
    I agree with you, but remember that we’re still waiting for the Vatican to finish its audit of U.S. diocesan seminaries. Unless I missed something, I don’t think they’ve been done yet. There’s a lot to do.

  • Get ready for the smaller, more faithful Church that Pope Benedict spoke of when he was a cardinal.

  • Yesterday attended a wedding and Mass at the Milwaukee Jesuit parish.  The pastor, Fr. Etzel, instructed the faithful to stand throughout the Canon of the Mass.

    The Jebbies just don’t get it.  Had the opportunity arisen, I would have reminded the priest that Reese was just schmeissed—which would have been fun.

    And no, my family did NOT stand.  We knelt—right in the third row, in his face.

  • Off with their heads!!

    Andrew Sullivan, that model of Catholicism, thinks Benedict XVI is behind it all…“that petty, prissy tyrant” is how he referred to the Holy Father…real nice…real faithful.

  • Hello Peter,

    Thing is, Sullivan said he was leaving the Catholic Church a year or two ago.

    Seems like in some ways he still feels attached.

  • Back to the subject of Father Reese…

    I was a sacristan at the Jesuit parish near Georgetown University when Reese was on the faculty of the latter. He’d often do the Sunday evening Mass, which was big with the “coming of age” crowd, so he was always popular there. And I sought him out for counsel once. While I took issue with some of his theological opinions from time to time, on a personal level, I thought he was a good egg.

    That being said, I realize he’s made some enemies over the years. As I remember, he was a vocal opponent of the universal Catechism when it was in its formative stages. And let’s face it, America is not Commonweal; it’s run by a religious order, one that needs to be reigned in sooner or later.Reese was the lightning rod that took the hit.

    Could he have been more orthodox with America? Certainly. But he could have been a lot worse. He published Ratzinger, didn’t he? That’s more than I can say for the lot of them. I don’t expect to see a “reign of terror” against the Catholic press. This wasn’t about that. It was a line in the sand, for an order that needed one.

    And, after about six years, it’s usually time for a Religious priest to move on.

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