Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

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By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 12, 2005

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.

Commonweal continues:

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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