The resignation on May 6 of Father Thomas J. Reese, S.J., as editor-in-chief of the Jesuit magazine America, saddened many journalists and readers who are wondering what this message means for dialogue in the Church.
Reese’s successor, Father Drew Christiansen, S.J., praised his example: “By inviting writing that covers different sides of disputed issues, Father Reese helped make America a forum for intelligent discussion of questions facing the Church and country today.”
For five years the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) had raised concerns about articles in America. Until he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph F. Ratzinger had headed that congregation. A few American bishops had complained to CDF about America’s articles on such topics as gay marriage, homosexual priests, mandatory clerical celibacy, stem-cell research, reception of Communion by Catholic politicians who support abortion, inclusive language in the liturgy and the appropriateness of some Vatican documents like Dominus Iesus.
In the end, the Jesuits said they realized this was a fight they could not win. Father Reese chose to resign before an outside review board was imposed on the magazine and its mission changed.
Different Levels of Authority
America is aimed at college graduates, not schoolchildren. Directed at families, St. Anthony Messenger is less theoretical.
All Catholic publications need to be faithful to the Church while examining the Church’s teaching and practice, and making application to current situations.
The Church needs critical thinking. We are not asked to leave our intellects outside the door of the church.
Our mission at St. Anthony Messenger is broad: to report and put into context the major events and movements in a changing Church and world; to comment on matters of significance from the perspective of Christian faith and values; to expand awareness, tolerance and understanding by presenting the views and achievements of others through interviews, personality profiles and opinion articles; to inspire, entertain and inform with fiction and cartoons, etc.
We report even the news that reflects poorly on the Church in the short term. No one likes reporting such items as the financial settlements for pedophile clerics. But we think Catholics have a right to know.
Opinion is only a small part of our purpose, but we consider it appropriate to pair point-counterpoint opinion articles on disputed issues within the Church, as long as the Church’s position is forcefully presented. People can agree on principles but disagree on applications. Prudential judgments often differ.
The Church’s magisterium teaches on different levels of authority. Teachings like the Trinity are on the highest level; a particular bishop’s comments about gambling are not. Angelus talks by the pope are not as authoritative as his encyclicals.
Respect the Readers
Speaking at the Catholic Press Association Convention May 25, Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said he thought the reporting of critical or dissenting views was not the problem that CDF had with America, but giving dissent equal treatment was.
There can be honest differences of judgment over what is “equal.” But when the treatment is noticeably unequal, today’s well-educated Catholics know the deck is being stacked.
It’s true that the religious education of even well-educated Catholics can lag behind their secular education. But to learn, adults need time to question and receive clear explanations. Catholics want help in joining the discussion on issues widely debated in our society.
This is no time to stifle discussion within the Church.
Openness Is Required
It’s ironic that this discussion has come to a head so soon after John Paul II’s death. His apostolic letter of last January, The Rapid Development of the Communications Media, endorsed the idea of dialogue: “While it is true that the truths of the faith are not open to arbitrary interpretations, and that respect for the rights of others places intrinsic limits upon the expression of one’s judgments, it is no less true that there is still room among Catholics for an exchange of opinions in a dialogue which is respectful of justice and prudence.
“Communication both within the Church community, and between the Church and the world at large, requires openness and a new approach toward facing questions regarding the world of media. This communication must tend toward a constructive dialogue, so as to promote a correctly informed and discerning public opinion within the Christian community.”
Basic doctrines of our faith do not change. But over time some Church teachings have changed. Otherwise, interest-collecting would still be forbidden and slavery permitted.
“The free dialogue within the Church does no injury to her unity and solidarity. It nurtures concord and the meeting of minds by permitting the free play of the variations of public opinion,” said the Holy See’s 1971 pastoral instruction Communio et Progressio (#117).
Dialogue must continue inside the Church if we are to be credible in dialoguing with the world.—B.B.