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When intelligent people behave in unintelligent ways, it's sometimes worthwhile to examine the behavior carefully, and look for an explanation. Working on that principle, I thought I'd take a second look at the tantrum thrown by Commonweal editors over the resignation of Father Tom Reese.
(Can I emphasize, in passing, that Father Reese resigned? He was not fired. I know other editors who have been forced to resign, including editors of Catholic publications. It happens. If Commonweal was outraged by those dismissals, the editors were better able to curb their emotions. But I digress.)
Commonweal sets out:
American Catholics, including most regular churchgoers, get their news about the church from the secular media, not from church spokespersons or official pronouncements. Most Catholics read about papal encyclicals in the papers; they don't read encyclicals.
True. And for the past decade or so, when Catholics read about encyclicals in the New York Times or Washington Post, or in stories carried by wire services or television networks, the chances are pretty good that they saw a quote form Father Tom Reese. Chances are almost equally good that the reporter who wrote the story received some guidance from Father Reese.
It therefore behooves the hierarchy, if it wants to communicate with the faithful (or re-evangelize them), to act in a way that does not lend credence to the still-widespread impression that the Catholic Church is a backward-looking, essentially authoritarian, institution run by men who are afraid of open debate and intellectual inquiry.
Wait. Do you mean that these negative images of the Catholic Church have been spread by those same reporters who had been talking with Father Reese? Now that's interesting, isn't it? The outgoing editor of America was either unwilling or unable to correct other journalists' misapprensions about the nature of Church authority.
Commonweal wraps up a truly memorable opening paragraph:
It is safe to say that the Vatican's shocking dismissal of Rev. Thomas Reese as editor of the Jesuit magazine America has left precisely such an impression with millions of Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
Millions of Americans? Can we calm down a bit, folks? America magazine claims thousands of readers-- and not many thousands at that. As of last week, not one Catholic in a hundred could have identified the editor of America. That's still true today.
Still it is true that a lot more Americans are now conscious of America's editorial policies. It's also true that they received their information through the mass media, not from Catholic publications. And how did the mass media get their information, and formulate their editorial perspective on the Reese departure? Skip back a few paragraphs and start again.
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Posted by: -
May. 13, 2005 11:17 AM ET USA
A footnote on the unimportance of America: The number of her subscribers is grossly misleading, because every librarian at any Catholic school, seminary, convent, etc. feels obliged to subscribe, but precious few people read the wretched thing. Walker Percy told an interviewer he felt obliged to subscribe to America & Commonweal, "but I don't read them!"
Posted by: -
May. 12, 2005 7:27 PM ET USA
This is laughable! Who do these people think they are...? Their supercilious disdain for the ordinary Catholic of simple faith and strong convictions is indeed Pharisaic. They are aghast that "not more than 200,000 potential readers among the nation's 65 million Catholics" read the likes of America and Commonweal. Note to self-important editors: there was a reason Jesus chose simple men and not the elite Pharisees and Sadducees to proclaim the Gospel. Think about it...
Posted by: Fiducia -
May. 12, 2005 10:06 AM ET USA
What the "simple faithful" find scandalous is the fallacy repeatedly put forth in the press that there are any Catholic "elites" ------ a term used to identify those who have achieved success mesured by earthly values (material wealth, formal education, power). How nasty is their implication that simple faith is equivalent to lack of understanding!
Posted by: -
May. 12, 2005 9:20 AM ET USA
How many millions oops thousands of American Catholics know what America is - not a single one of my family or acquaintances. How many of those thousands of Cathlolics who know what America is have ever read it - it has to be low? Most Catholics who could recognize Reese would probably do so as a talking head on TV.
Posted by: -
May. 12, 2005 7:14 AM ET USA
Ann Coulter insists that liberals lie..(for example: the Vatican fired Fr. Reese...). Even thousands of minimalists (as in: How little do I have to believe and still be called Catholic?) would not recognize his name, even now after becoming a minimalist martyr. Martyrs get cannonized. Fr. Reese enter the pantheon.