Editor of Jesuit Magazine Leaves After Complaints
May 9, 2005 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Articles of Faith "By inviting articles that covered different sides of disputed issues, Father Reese helped make America Magazine a forum for intelligent discussion of questions facing the Catholic Church and the country today." Thomas J. Reese's policy -- to present both sides of the discussion -- apparentlly "did not sit well with Vatican authorities". Reese, a Jesuit and a political scientist, had made a point of publishing both sides of the debate on a range of subjects, some of them quite delicate for a Catholic magazine -- gay priests, stem-cell research, the responsibility of Catholic politicians confronting laws on abortion and same-sex unions and a Vatican document (the Dominus Iesus declaration) which outlined the idea that divine truth is most fully revealed in Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular.
Reese, who had described last month the Vatican as behaving like the cranky owner of a good restaurant, resigned yesterday as editor of the magazine. More inside.
posted by matteo (17 comments total)
Cardinal Ratzinger's office also complained to the Jesuits about articles America had published on gay priests and on the work of the Congregation itself. The Congregation threatened either to order the dismissal of Father Reese or to impose a committee of censors to review the magazine's content, but backed down after discussions with the Jesuits, church officials said in interviews yesterday.
Some Jesuits said that within the last two years they had received spoken or written warnings from then-Cardinal Ratzinger's office about articles or books they had published.
Stephen Pope, a moral theologian at Boston College who wrote the article critical of the church's position on same-sex marriage, said of the dismissal: "If this is true, it's going to make Catholic theologians who want to ask critical questions not want to publish in Catholic journals. It can have a chilling effect."
Reese's own words:
Finally, it is true that confessing other people's sins is easier than facing our own. The International Theological Commission points to current evils worth confessing such as atheism, secularism, abortion, and indifference to the poor. But this comes across more as finger pointing than confessing. Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, caught the true spirit of the pope's intention in his "Lenten 2000 Message" by asking forgiveness from Catholic sisters, victims of clergy sexual abuse, Catholic homosexuals and lesbians, labor unions, Jews and Muslims who were offended by him or Catholics of the archdiocese.
But while confession is good for the soul, it is not enough. We must also have a firm purpose of amendment. Repentance must bear fruit in inner conversion and in just action.
posted by matteo at 12:58 PM on May 9, 2005

More on the Society of Jesus and its often (extremely) difficult relationship with the Vatican here

List of distinguished Jesuits here

Today's priceless front page of the Jesuits' official US site here: a massive image of Pope Benedictus and in small type, bottom right, "Changes at America magazine"
posted by matteo at 1:02 PM on May 9, 2005

You know, it's long past due that the Jesuit order leaves the Catholic Church. They're just not compatible. I know their history has it's not-so-pleasant moments (to say the least), but the modern Jesuit order is the one most devoted over all to social justice and fighting poverty and opressive conditions for populaces. It's quite sad to see the Church continuously come down on them for doing Christ's work.
posted by the_savage_mind at 1:02 PM on May 9, 2005

From Stations of the Cross:

Evangelical news looks and sounds much like its secular counterpart, but it homes in on issues of concern to believers and filters events through a conservative lens. In some cases this simply means giving greater weight to the conservative side of the ledger than most media do. In other instances, it amounts to disguising a partisan agenda as news. Likewise, most guests on Christian political talk shows are drawn from a fixed pool of culture warriors and Republican politicians. Even those shows that focus on non-political topics — such as finance, health, or family issues — often weave in political messages. Many evangelical programs and networks are, in fact, linked to conservative Christian political or legal organizations, which use broadcasts to help generate funding and mobilize their base supporters, who are tuning in en masse. Ninety-six percent of evangelicals consume some form of Christian media each month, according to the Barna Research Group.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:07 PM on May 9, 2005

This is interesting. Thanks, matteo. At the magazine (the third link there) they have and interesting exchange between Ratzinger and one Walter Kasper about the church and the local community that is worth checking out. Kasper points out that the Eastern Rite has better ways of dealing with disputes, primarily through oikonomia. I believe that this is true; and I think that the Catholics would benefit from some sort of decentralization. And I think many of the problems of the church today can be traced to this difficulty.

But in his reply, Ratzinger seems to agree, and says, "The church of Rome is a local church and not the universal church—a local church with a peculiar, universal responsibility, but still a local church." Furthermore, it should be noted that Mr. Reese resigned; he seems to have thought it better to avoid causing more division by remaining. If he was introducing "viewpoints" that were clearly against Church doctrine in the guise of "showing both sides," he was simply in the wrong; viewpoints that are against Church doctrine aren't within the church. It's understandable that Benedict and the church were against 'presenting' such 'viewpoints,' at least in a Catholic magazine.

And if he was as strident and ridiculous in his criticism of the Vatican as you say he was, matteo, then it's understandable that they might ask him to step down. He should realize as soon as possible that talking in such a way only causes schism. The fact that unbelievers here are quoting his statements is proof enough that he's effectively divisive, and reason enough to recall him.
posted by koeselitz at 1:27 PM on May 9, 2005

The Jesuits started out as sort of a Papal hit squad, but they really are the smartest Catholics :)
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 1:36 PM on May 9, 2005

Fascinating stuff -- thanks so much, matteo. Yesterday I went to see Julia Sweeney's latest one-woman show, Letting Go Of God, with a friend who's also a former Catholic. He grew up in a much more fundie Catholic home than I did -- we were pro-Vatican II types, his family was not -- and he said that in his small-town Catholic community, the Jesuits were frequently railed against for being communists, intellectuals, and agnostics.
posted by scody at 1:42 PM on May 9, 2005

If he was introducing "viewpoints" that were clearly against Church doctrine in the guise of "showing both sides," he was simply in the wrong

That's rather narrow. I think the point, koeselitz, is the claim that the Vatican's "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" has stepped up the policing of *discussions* of the faith. As if simply laying out various positions for examination is itself bad. That's a very pinched and conservative view that itself can lead to increased schism. What seems to be happening under Ratzinger is a clear drawing of the institutional lines that brooks little dissent. And that bodes ill for a lot of thoughtful Catholic theologians who think talking about the positions required by their faith is a Good Thing.
posted by mediareport at 1:43 PM on May 9, 2005

America has done some critical reporting on Opus Dei -- maybe that has something to do with Ratzinger's disfavor? This is basically the first thing he's done as pope. Looks an awful lot like he was just waiting for the opportunity...
posted by insideout at 1:59 PM on May 9, 2005

matteo posted "Reese, a Jesuit and a political scientist, had made a point of publishing both sides of the debate on a range of subjects,"

I think we all know very well that debating an issue is un-Christian.

Jesus never debated with the rabbis and learned doctors of His day and He never questioned the way the Temple authorities chose to run the Temple. Jesus knew when to shut up with the back-talk and do what those in authority demanded.

So STFU, her'tics!
posted by orthogonality at 2:09 PM on May 9, 2005

As someone who's read America with relative frequency in the past five or so years, I'd have to say that neither Reese nor America in general can be characterized as "strident and ridiculous", or as promoting "viewpoints against Chruch doctrine." The Jesuit spokesman, Father de Vera, said that 'because the articles touched on doctrinal issues the Vatican wanted the Jesuits to write articles "defending whatever position the church has manifested, even if it is not infallible." ' That doesn't necessarily mean that America was supporting heretical viewpoints - rather, it means that the bureacratic and increasingly conservative Vatican isn't even willing to listen to any other viewpoints, regardless of their merits. Additionally, America did, in my opinion at least, attempt to honestly present all sides of an issue - hardly liberal lunacy.

Ratzinger - er, Benedict - has been working assiduously to eliminate viewpoints that disagree with his [conservative, hardline] interpretation of the faith. That doesn't necessarily mean that liberal viewpoints are invalid - most of the articles I saw in America on the topics like homosexuality or female ordination were an honest attempt to try to figure out whether such things could work with the messages of Christ. Many of these things may not be favored by current doctrine, but they have not been ruled on infallibly; in some cases Church policy has changed on them in the past, and may yet change again. Unless you assume that Ratzinger et. al. have the most perfect view of the Church possible, an interpretation that cannot be improved on, stifling theological debate only hurts the Church, and prevents it from trying to strive to become more perfect. For example, 'doctrinal' arguments for things like mandatory celibacy for all clergy are somewhat weak. Along a similar line, you may want to check out this article on female ordination - the theologian who wrote it has a good explanation of why one might feel it one's duty [to both conscience and Church] to dissent from the Church's current policies. Indeed, traditional Catholicism - as opposed to followers of Ratzinger's conservative variety - puts a fair amount of emphasis on the individual conscience. One might argue that the hardline conservative crusade against 'relativism' and against the importance of the individual conscience is as 'extreme' as many of the views seen in America.

And by the way, you may want to watch where you throw that 'unbeliever' label, koeselitz. I doubt you've an intimate understanding of the spiritual state of all the posters here. In any case, the fact that people find this dismaying, or that they hold views on some subjects that aren't necessarily in line with what you [or the current conservative Pope] hold doesn't make them unbelievers, and the fact that non-Catholics or lapsed Catholics might have interest in this has nothing to do with whether or not Father Reese's actions were valid, or whether or not they were good for the Church. "The devil can quote scripture for his own purposes", after all, but I've never heard that that makes scripture any less holy or valid.
posted by ubersturm at 2:10 PM on May 9, 2005

I am reminded of the story of an early 20th century Hasidic rabbi, when asked why so many famous physicists were Jewish, bemoaned how they were wasting their lives on physics when they would have made such great Talmudic scholars.

As a real unbeliever (as opposed to the fake unbelievers Benedict is keen on banishing) , I can only cheer when the Catholic Church punishes its heretic intellectuals. They'll get to do real intellectual work instead of navigating Catholic doctrine, and the church will get the supplicant idiots it desires to replace them. It's win-win, or even win-win-win if you count my schadenfreude.
posted by boaz at 3:08 PM on May 9, 2005

Benedict - has been working assiduously to eliminate viewpoints that disagree with his [conservative, hardline] interpretation of the faith. That doesn't necessarily mean that liberal viewpoints are invalid

that's spot-on, ubersturm, thanks a lot for your comment -- what I find especially sad about all this is that Ratzinger is himself an intellectual. certainly not as important a scholar as Carlo Maria Martini, the greatest mind among the candidates at Wojtyla's succession (my former beloved Archbishop and, yes, a Jesuit), one of the most important scholars in the all-important field of textual criticism. but still Benedict knows the sting of the harsh, unjust treatment of intellectuals in the Church. he knows the pain and the humiliation -- his own mentor was punished ruthlessly. not even for being wrong. but for being right too early.

let's hear it from Benedict's own voice, and excuse me if this is long but I am confident it is worth it:

(...) Fritz Tillmann, the editor of a Commentary on the New Testament labelled as unacceptable. In this work, the author of the comment on the Synoptics was Friedrich Wilhelm Maier, a friend of Tillmann, at the time a qualified lecturer in Strasbourg. The decree of the Concistorial Congregation established that these comments expungenda omnino esse ab institutione clericorum. The Commentary, of which I found a forgotten copy when I was a student in the Minor Seminary of Traunstein, had to be banned and withdrawn from sale since, with regard to the Synoptic question, Maier sustained the so-called two-source theory, accepted today by almost everyone.
t the time, this also brought Tillmann's and Maier's scientific career to an end. Both, however, were given the option of changing theological disciplines.

Tillmann took advantage of this possibility and later became a top German moral theologian. Together with Th. Steinbüchel and Th. Müncker, he edited a manual of avant-garde moral theology, which addressed this important discipline in a new way and presented it according to the basic idea of the imitation of Christ.

Maier did not want to take advantage of the offer to change disciplines as he was, in fact, dedicated body and soul to work on the New Testament. So, he became a military chaplain and in this capacity took part in the First World War; following this he worked as a prison chaplain until 1924, when, with the nulla osta of the Archbishop of Breslau (today Wroclaw), Cardinal Bertram, in a by-then more relaxed climate, he was called to the chair of New Testament Studies at the Theological Department there. In 1945, when that Department was suppressed, he went to Munich with other colleagues, where he worked as a teacher.

He never quite got over the humiliation of 1912, notwithstanding the fact that he could now teach his subject practically without restrictions and was supported by the enthusiasm of his students, to whom he was able to transmit his passion for the New Testament and a correct interpretation of it. From time to time in his lessons, recollections of the past came up. I was especially impressed by a statement he made in 1948 or 1949. He said that by then, as a historian, he could freely follow his conscience, but that he had not yet arrived at that complete freedom of exegesis of which he had dreamed. He said, furthermore, that he probably would not live to see this but that he desired at least, like Moses on Mount Nebo, to be able to gaze upon the Promised Land of an exegesis freed from every control and conditioning of the Magisterium.
these are Benedict's words (well, he was still Cardinal Ratzinger back then) less than two years ago.
I'm still hoping that the snuffing out of Father Reese's voice wasn't done on Benedict's explicit order -- maybe somebody overzealous wanted to please the boss. maybe a powerful apparatchik simply decided that Reese was now fair game. it'd be very sad if Pope Ratzinger has all but forgotten the shameful treatment Maier had to endure.
Professor Ratzinger knew very well that without intellectual energy, the Church cannot thrive. one hopes Pope Ratzinger remembers that, too.


the Catholic Church isn't -- yet, at least -- a fundy operation. check this out, it's official policy from 1994, and it has Ratzinger's placet:
The basic problem with fundamentalist interpretation of this kind is that, refusing to take into account the historical character of biblical revelation, it makes itself incapable of accepting the full truth of the incarnation itself. As regards relationships with God, fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and the human. It refuses to admit that the inspired word of God has been expressed in human language and that this word has been expressed, under divine inspiration, by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources. For this reason, it tends to treat the biblical text as if it had been dictated word for word by the Spirit. It fails to recognize that the word of God has been formulated in language and expression conditioned by various periods. It pays no attention to the literary forms and to the human ways of thinking to be found in the biblical texts, many of which are the result of a process extending over long periods of time and bearing the mark of very diverse historical situations.

Fundamentalism also places undue stress upon the inerrancy of certain details in the biblical texts, especially in what concerns historical events or supposedly scientific truth. It often historicizes material which from the start never claimed to be historical. It considers historical everything that is reported or recounted with verbs in the past tense, failing to take the necessary account of the possibility of symbolic or figurative meaning.

Fundamentalism often shows a tendency to ignore or to deny the problems presented by the biblical text in its original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek form. It is often narrowly bound to one fixed translation, whether old or present-day. By the same token it fails to take account of the "re-readings" () of certain texts which are found within the Bible itself.

In what concerns the Gospels, fundamentalism does not take into account the development of the Gospel tradition, but naively confuses the final stage of this tradition (what the evangelists have written) with the initial (the words and deeds of the historical Jesus). At the same time fundamentalism neglects an important fact: The way in which the first Christian communities themselves understood the impact produced by Jesus of Nazareth and his message. But it is precisely there that we find a witness to the apostolic origin of the Christian faith and its direct expression. Fundamentalism thus misrepresents the call voiced by the Gospel itself.

Fundamentalism likewise tends to adopt very narrow points of view. It accepts the literal reality of an ancient, out-of-date cosmology simply because it is found expressed in the Bible; this blocks any dialogue with a broader way of seeing the relationship between culture and faith. Its relying upon a non-critical reading of certain texts of the Bible serves to reinforce political ideas and social attitudes that are marked by prejudices—racism, for example—quite contrary to the Christian Gospel.
posted by matteo at 3:46 PM on May 9, 2005

I've read America off-and-on for years - the latest copy is always out on the coffee table at my folks' house so, when I'm home, I take a read.

Anyone describing anything published in that magazine as "strident" either hasn't read it or has an agenda to push. Take your pick. This is coming from an atheist who was raised by devout Catholics and who attended a Jesuit high school and university. I specifically enjoy reading it for the balanced presentation that matteo references above.

Another rat zinger, indeed.
posted by joe lisboa at 6:26 PM on May 9, 2005

"The devil can quote scripture for his own purposes", after all, but I've never heard that that makes scripture any less holy or valid.
posted by ubersturm at 5:10 PM EST


the Catholic Church isn't -- yet, at least -- a fundy operation.

I'm happy you used the "yet" qualifier matteo. The direction I think the church is heading is the path of Opus Dei and they do not deserve the "yet" qualifier.

So long as the Pope has Opus Dei he hardly needs the Jesuits for assassins. :-)
posted by nofundy at 8:52 AM on May 10, 2005

OK, one more thing.

Here's the funniest take on this situation I've seen.

And thanks for the post matteo.
posted by nofundy at 11:59 AM on May 10, 2005

Commonweal Magazine editorial:
It is hard to judge what is more appalling, the flimsy case made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)--apparently at the instigation of some American bishops--against Reese’s orthodoxy and stewardship of America, or the senselessness of silencing perhaps the most visible, and certainly one of the most knowledgeable, fair-minded, and intelligent public voices the church has in this country.
posted by matteo at 2:55 PM on May 12, 2005

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