5.07.2005

If Tom Reese is too radical...

then we all might be in trouble. The Boston Globe and the New York Times are both reporting that Jesuit Father Tom Reese has resigned as the editor-in-chief of America magazine, partly or primarily due to pressure from the C.D.F. The National Catholic Reporter may have been involved in breaking the story, but at least at 11:30 on Saturday morning, their website appears to be having some issues.

While I want to hold off final judgment (and running to my bedroom to assume the fetal position) until I've seen some more reporting on the details of this, there's some cause for worry here. First, Fr. Reese, whose book Inside the Vatican is a solid political science analysis of the Vatican as institution, is not a wild-eyed, NCR-subscribing, Call-to-Action-attending radical. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, the blogger quickly adds, before half of his friends jump down his throat.) Reese, on his own and through America's pages, is one of the more moderate, Common Ground-oriented voices in the Catholic church in the U.S. today. As the Times quotes Philip Lawler,

"I'd think of him as sort of a mainstream liberal," said Philip F. Lawler, the editor of Catholic World News, a news outlet on the more conservative end of the spectrum. "I think he's been reasonably politic. I watched him during the transition, and I cannot think of a single thing I heard that would have put him in jeopardy."

If America's reasoned debates are censorable, then I'm worried as well about the chilling effect on Catholic intellectual life which Steve Pope raises. Condemning Tom Reese for being too radical is like treating Harry Reid as though he were Ralph Nader's soulmate.

Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, the apparent complaint was not that America was radically undermining church teaching, but that by presenting opposing viewpoints on issues like Dominus Iesus, gay priests, and issues around communion for politicians supprotingn abortion, America was not supporting church teaching strongly enough. This reminds me right away of the case of Bob Nugent and Jeannine Gramick, who were disciplined by the CDF not for contradicting church teaching on homosexuality, but for not teaching it forcefully enough. Lisa Sowle Cahill's article on that case back in August of 1999 (in America, ironically) presciently foresees and warns of this move towards a "maximalist criterion of conformity" which, bluntly, comes close to theologians and pastoral ministers being instructed not only to be faithful to church teaching, but to "say it like you mean it". If the only option for adherence to church teachings of differing theological weights is to shout back one's assent loudly and clearly or be cast into the outer darkness, then, IMHO, we're both cheating ourselves of the reasoned debate our church has historically prized and we're in danger of ideologically covering up a situation in which faithful Catholics' real questions need and deserve conversation. If you've ever taught a student or child, you know that it's very easy to have a response parroted back to you in the proper language and, with some encouragement, that response can be louder or appear more convincing. But the moment the phrase "say it like you mean it" leaves your lips, you know that you've left the context of education and entered a discourse of raw power.

Some further questions, and again, I'd like to reserve final judgment until I find out more of the details of the case; after all, seven years is about how long Jesuits often work in the same place, and Fr. Reese's successor, Fr. Drew Christiansen, is not only qualified but doesn't seem likely to radically change the direction of the publication. The elephant in the room is the question of how involved our now Pope Benedict was in this action, which began and appears to have come to its conclusion while he was still head of the C.D.F. I'll leave it to the Vaticanologists to read those tea leaves, with the caveat that, at a first reading, it doesn't look good. I would be very hesistant to draw the conclusion that this is a signal of how a Benedictan papacy is going to treat dissent, since the action occurred before Ratzinger's election, and I, perhaps alone among my friends, am still holding out hope that the office is having an effect upon the man. We shall see.

4 comments:

The Joe said...

Unfortunately, it could easily be noted that unfaithfulness to the Catholic magisterium could qualify one as non-Catholic. For example: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Henry VIII, or as we now call them, "Protestants".

BaptizedPagan said...

True, and a good caveat...dissent for dissent's sake is not a virtue (e.g., "because the Vatican says it, I'm going to go out and believe the opposite").

But to assume magisterium as a singular bloc, either subjectively (as though by magisterium we only meant the pope and not his brother bishops) or objectively (as though all teaching were weighed with the same level of authority and required the same response) is a particularly modern danger. Even the Profession of Faith notes the distinction between the acts of "believing", "firmly holding", and "religiously submitting" to the teachings of our leaders, based upon these subjective and objective factors. In Reese's case, I don't think he was trying to obstinately challenge the church, but was doing a good job of following Canon 212.3 by giving his opinions "with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence towards their pastors, and with consideration for the common good".

But your point stands as a good warning for seriously and humbly paying attention to what, why, and how one is taking it upon oneself to disagree with church authority.

The Joe said...

I'd argue that the matters chosen to examine were not open to opinion. Some things change (i.e. the discipline concerning female altar servers); others never will, such as the Church's position on female clergy. See Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 1994, JPII -- "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

The Joe said...

But true, the magisterium is not limited to the Pope, but he does run it (as he appoints its members), and he does have authority to infallibly declare doctrine or dogma