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3 Degrees Kelvin

By Diogenes (articles ) | May 10, 2005

The Boston Globe has a heavy-breathing article today on the Holy Inquisition and its impact on the life of the mind.

The announcement Friday that the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, an oft-quoted commentator on the workings of the Catholic Church, has been forced to resign after seven years as editor of America magazine has sent shock waves through the worlds of Catholic journalism and academia.

According to the Jesuit curial spokesman quoted by CNS, Reese's departure was less of a firing than a tactical withdrawal -- under pressure, no doubt -- chosen by Reese in preference to other, less palatable, options. Still, the Galileo Agonistes story-line has better media thrill value.

Is America, as it claims, an open, vigorous forum of ideas? News to me. True, it sometimes ran paired point-counterpoint essays (most famously Ratzinger vs. Kasper), but where was the vaunted engagement? I can't think of a single exchange in America comparable to those in First Things on just war, capital punishment, intelligent design, or Christianity in politics, in which serious, well-focused disagreements are argued by rival disputants issue after issue, often becoming the basis of subsequent books. Nor have the correspondence columns in America permitted serious engagement, as those in The Tablet do -- well, used to do. Think of the Finnis-Hebblethwaite controversy on the words of Pope John XXIII.

The dissenters quoted in the Globe aren't folks balked in the quest for some theological analog to the Second Law of Thermodynamics; it's not as if first-order research is at risk. In fact, it's hard to escape the suspicion that the old guard libs are really enjoying their notoriety considerably more than they're letting on, that their cries of inquisitorial rape are not only stagey, but of the "wherefore doth the ravishing not commence?" variety. Of course they flirt with Vatican persecution; who'd pay attention to them otherwise?

The theology department chairman, the Rev. Kenneth R. Himes, said many members of his faculty are concerned. 'The chilling signal sent by this action is that church-related publications will have questions raised about their legitimate autonomy, and therefore the integrity of Catholic journalists and scholarly editors will be impugned," he said

ATTENTION ALL ACADEMICIANS: First-person complaints of a "chilling effect" are performatively (retorsively) self-refuting. For: no agency so trammeled by cliché as to make use of the term "chilling effect" has any intellectual heat to cool off (Diogenes' First Law of Thermo-semantics). For the sake of your own reputations, please find another formula of lament.

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  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2005 3:06 PM ET USA

    Oh, Diogenes, try as I may to avoid it, I get steamed when everyone in the mainstream media (and many Catholics here) assume that a publication like America that is an official Catholic publication (even indirectly, as you pointed out over the weekend) MUST be free to publish any point of view, as if it were the same as The New Republic. Church publications are meant to be tools of teaching and evangelization. You want dissident view points? Read Commonweal or National Catholic Reporter.

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2005 2:36 PM ET USA

    Perhaps these folks could be taught to yell "Refrigeramus! Refrigeramus!" at any mention of the Pope.

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