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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  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2005 1:54 PM ET USA

    "A church that cannot openly discuss issues is a church retreating into an intellectual ghetto." Of course, the Church doesn't exist to 'openly discuss issues' after all, does it? I seem to recall the "salvation of souls" is a little higher on the priority list.

  • Posted by: - May. 09, 2005 9:56 PM ET USA

    America never sought balance, but rather its veneer. The publication is not for the faithful or the faint-hearted. In fact, it's not for anyone except a distinct subset of homosexuals and their apologists. Good riddance, Reese. History suggests that the likelihood that Smolich will send him to Duarte is non-existent. The Apostolic Penitentiary would be fitting.

  • Posted by: - May. 08, 2005 5:10 PM ET USA

    Kudos to the NEW REPUBLIC for offering opposing views! Right on, Diogenes, in witnessing to that truth! However, as you inform us, that Catholic magazine AMERICA is also offering opposing views. Fr. Reese must be reeling from such a hypocritical accusation, such as the one you have offered us.

  • Posted by: - May. 07, 2005 11:32 PM ET USA

    And I just heard that the new bishop of Richmond (Virginia) has made forty-some "re-assignments". Msgr. Mike here's-why-WE-don't-have-to-follow-liturgical-norms McCarron will no longer sit at the throne in his huge parish in Newport News. Hmmmm. I believe conservative bishops everywhere are feeling a level of encouragement and support unknown with JPII.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - May. 07, 2005 11:06 PM ET USA

    Diogenes, you state the case well. Would you consider writing something succinctly along these lines directly to the NYT & WashPost? The Church & Pope cannot & will not alter Jesus Christ's Teaching to accomodate Fr. Reese, SJ, & America. Reese&Co dwell deeply in their traitorous ghetto of ignorance/self-absorption, of ignoring Church Teaching, of seeing Jesus&His Church&His Doctrine as a club among other clubs, of Drinan-the-baby-killer, of nominal-Catholics, of anti-Church-jesuits.

  • Posted by: - May. 07, 2005 2:19 PM ET USA

    Apparently the new editor advises on international affairs for the USCCB. Anyway, wonder if this Drew Christiansen is related...?

  • Posted by: - May. 07, 2005 1:26 PM ET USA

    Left wing Catholic publications like America and Commonweal (and left wing publications in general) are shielded from the vicissitudes of marketplace competiion by institutional subscriptions. Libraries at Catholic universities pay extremely high rates to have these publications on their shelves, where no one reads them. First Things and NOR don't get that break. What's needed is not so much a change of regime, but some real market discipline.

  • Posted by: - May. 07, 2005 12:51 PM ET USA

    The fact that Reese is out is good, the fact that Christianson is in is worse. My personal experience with Christianson is that he is even more of a subtle obfuscator than Reese. Reese was a known quantity and both his talents and deficiencies were on offer for all to see. Christianson, however, has consistently masked a dissenting agenda using the vocabulary of Catholic fidelity. The editorial/theological magnaminity of Reese was genuine, for Christianson, it's merely a tactic. Beware!

  • Posted by: - May. 07, 2005 8:09 AM ET USA

    Christiansen may not be any better, indeed, but do you not find it heartening that Benedict XVI is actually governing? I count myself as a staunch admirer of the late John Paul II, but governance was not his long suit. Benedict's intervention with "America" was neither feckless nor toothless -- either Reese offered his resignation OR Benedict would impose a board of overseers for the publication. As with Bush II, he's aware of how much "capital" he has, and he's willing to spend it. Huzzah!

  • Posted by: Eusebuis1 - May. 07, 2005 7:55 AM ET USA

    I pray (and I hope we all do) that Pope Bendict XVI now will carefully consider the replacement for the retiring 75 year old Bishop David E. Foley of Birmingham, Alabama. Bishop Foley, with the active support of his USCC liberal buddies, set Norms for Televising the Mass that conform to the "... common practice in the United States." We all know what is the common practice in the United States (i.e., Cardinal Mahoney's view of Mass).

  • Posted by: - May. 07, 2005 7:45 AM ET USA

    I don't mean to be obsessing about this, but that's (1) Cardinal McCarrick retirement (2) Archibishop Flynn's addition of moral fiber to his diet (3) Fr Thomas Reese, SJ going on a sojourn Hmmm.

  • Posted by: miasarx - May. 07, 2005 7:16 AM ET USA

    It's great news, but it doesn't sound like his successor Christiansen will be any better.

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - May. 07, 2005 7:10 AM ET USA

    Alleluia, alleluia, Oh if only Diogenes was named director. Look out if James Martin is named editor. A queer sort of priest who has not written or spoken with much moral clarity on the 6th commandment.