Did the new Pope demand resignation of outspoken Jesuit editor?
BY FREDDY GRAY
THE sudden resignation of the liberal editor of a leading Jesuit magazine has sent shock waves through the Catholic Church in America.
Fr Thomas Reese, an author and Vatican commentator who for seven years has edited the influential weekly America, announced last week that he would shortly be stepping down.
The news has enraged progressive commentators, who believe it marks the start of a “purge” of liberal Catholics under Pope Benedict XVI.
But critics of Fr Reese point to the fact that the decision to remove the editor was made before Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope, and therefore should not be interpreted as a sign that the Church is more repressive under Pope Benedict than it was under John Paul II.
Fr Reese’s departure is reported to have been the direct result of pressure from the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, the Vatican department led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope last month.
According to John Allen, the leading Vatican expert who broke the story for the National Catholic Reporter, a group of American bishops – whose identity has not been established – were so appalled by the unorthodox tone of America that they complained to the CDF.
Under Cardinal Ratzinger’s direction, the Congregation criticised a large number of articles in the magazine. In particular, it took issue with critical analyses of Dominus Iesus, the CDF document from 2000 that emphasised the superiority of the Catholic Church to non-Catholic denominations.
There were also criticisms of pieces which supported the use of condoms in the fight against Aids, defended homosexual priests and challenged bishops who threatened to refuse Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians.
There was allegedly a fierce three-way debate between the Congregation, Fr Reese and his Jesuit superiors in Rome. After four years, in March 2005, the decision was made to end Fr Reese’s editorship.
Initial reports implied that America’s editor had been forced out of his job. Yet Fr Jose de Vera, spokesman for the Society of Jesus in Rome, said that Fr Reese had decided to step down himself, although he acknowledged that pressure from Rome had played a part.
“He tendered his resignation. It was not imposed, contrary to what was written,” Fr de Vera told the Catholic News Service this week.
“With Cardinal Ratzinger elected Pope, I think [Fr Reese] thought it would be very difficult to continue his line of openness, without creating more problems. He had been at America magazine seven years and he improved it tremendously, so I think he understood it was time to go.” Yet liberal American Catholics have no doubts as to who to blame for Fr Reese’s departure. “Ratzinger has now fired him,” wrote Andrew Sullivan, the British-born Catholic commentator, in an angry diatribe posted to his website.
“We were fed PR that the new Pope was humble, would be conciliatory, would be a pastor not a dictator. I never believed it. We have had the first sign. It’s as dangerous as it is predictable. Message to Catholics: remove your minds. Message to Catholic thinkers: obey on everything – or we will fire you.” Fr Reese’s supporters insist that he is no radical. They point out that alongside every progressive article printed in America, the editor would publish an opposing view. He printed one article by Cardinal Ratzinger himself.
Andrew Sullivan regards Fr Reese’s resignation as a portent. “This is a signal that not even moderate, calm, balanced and respectful examination of Church doctrine or Church government will be allowed in future.
“Firing this moderate, quiet, modest man is really a call to arms for those of us who need to save our Church from this disastrous choice for the papacy.” Stephen Pope, a liberal moral theologian at Boston College, added: “[This] is going to make Catholic theologians who want to ask critical questions not want to publish in Catholic journals. It can have a chilling effect.” Conservative Americans, on the other hand, feel the dismissal of Fr Reese is a positive sign. “This is a good thing,” said Patrick Madrid, a conservative Catholic author. “I hope that under new leadership, the magazine can somehow chart a course back to authentic Catholicism and away from the shoals of modernism and Leftist ideology.” Announcing his resignation last week, Fr Reese did not mention any conflict with the Vatican. “I am proud of what my colleagues and I did with the magazine,” he said. “I am grateful to them, our readers and our benefactors for the support they gave me. I look forward to taking a sabbatical while my Provincial and I determine the next phase of my Jesuit ministry.” Fr Reese will officially leave his job on June 1. He is to be replaced by Fr Drew Christiansen, currently America’s associate editor.