America: the magazine for thinking Catholics

By Diogenes (articles) | May 07, 2005

Fr. Tom Reese, S.J., has resigned as editor of the Jesuit weekly America, reportedly under Vatican pressure. Amy links many of the stories in the prestige media. They all apply more or less the same spin; here's Cooperman in the Washington Post:

During his seven years as editor, the magazine's circulation and visibility rose as it tackled controversial subjects head-on, often by pairing essays on two sides of issues such as gay marriage, condom use to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS and denial of Holy Communion to politicians who support abortion rights.

Reese's editorials often took a left-leaning position. They became particularly sharp during the interregnum after the death of Pope John Paul II, when he called for a new pope who would allow more open debate.

The Post uncritically echoes America's view of the matter, contrasting its intrepid intellectual independence with the Vatican's terror of free debate. Conspicuously absent, however, from the controversial subjects America has "tackled" head-on are those embarrassing to the Society of Jesus and to the staff of America itself. For instance ...

  • Church interference in politics has long been a hot topic in America, except where the churchmen were Leftists. Fr. Drinan's continued work to expand the abortion franchise was never seriously discussed, nor would we have learned from America that Drinan had Jesuit critics.
  • The sex-abuse scandals got plenty of ink in America. Not a word about those retarded employees raped for years at the Jesuit retreat house in California. Not a word about the several Jesuit molesters at Boston College High School or the Maine slime-line. Not a word on the contradiction between these crimes and the Society's official devotion to the cause of social justice or its call for ecclesial transparency.
  • Gay marriage, gay priests, and condom use frequently surface as "controversial subjects" in America. Well, the issue of whether the editorial staff or its superiors might have covert interests in the matter sounds controversial enough to me. Try to find a single paragraph that raises the problem. You won't.

The point is that America's notion of what counts as a hot topic is selective and ideologically slanted against the Holy See. The true contrast is not between openness and dogma, but between rival systems of dogma: a public one (Catholic), versus a clandestine one (behind or beneath America). And remember that America is not a secular journal of ideas but is trading on the ecclesial prestige accorded its Jesuit sponsorship. That means, when it's Catholic doctrine that's under assault, it's not really even-handed -- as would be the case for The New Republic -- to give space to a professor to attack the doctrine and equal space to a Vatican official to defend it. Simply by presenting the disputants as representatives of different opinions the doctrine is viewed as up for grabs, i.e., as something less than doctrine. The net result is almost always erosion of Catholic belief.

At least as important as Reese's departure as editor will be his loss as the media's go-to person in New York, in which capacity he came to be seen as the voice of U.S. Jesuits. He usually stated fairly the rival perspectives on a given controversy, but used a kind of ironic detachment to suggest that intellectually respectable opinion belonged overwhelmingly to one side. The media were only too happy to take his word for it, as the last paragraph in the NYT's story shows:

After the election of Pope Benedict XVI, America ran an editorial that said: "A church that cannot openly discuss issues is a church retreating into an intellectual ghetto."

What de man said.

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