Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

sauce for the goose

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jun 02, 2005

The departure of Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., from the editorship of America is still fueling hyperbole from dissenting Catholics, most recently E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post:

It seems that Reese was too willing to invite Catholics to his pages who did not agree with the totality of the Vatican's views. Not, mind you, that he didn't give top billing to the official view. Ratzinger himself once wrote for Reese's magazine. But Father Tom, a moderate by temperament, was a bit too willing to broaden the community of discourse. Liberal Catholics -- and many moderates, too -- were aghast. ...

The Catholics Reese's magazine spoke to, and often for, are loyal to their tradition but also understand, as the philosopher Michael Walzer has put it, that "traditions are sites for arguments." Traditions stay alive by nurturing a spirit that is at once loving and critical. If every question is kept open, there are no answers. But if too many questions are closed, the answers the tradition offers become steadily less compelling, less fresh and less persuasive

Dry the starting tear, boys and girls.

The fallacy underlying Dionne's argument is the assumption that America is a free agent, more or less like Harper's or The Atlantic, and the only institution exercising censorship or shutting down open argument is the Holy See.

But America is itself wholly beholden to the Society of Jesus, and states forthrightly that "the board of directors of America are the ten Jesuit provincials and the president of the Jesuit Conference in the United States." So the sparring partners in this controversy are not the free Catholic intelligentsia versus the faceless Vatican, but two institutions, each with its own fully functioning engines of censorship.

Well, Brer Dionne, how much criticism has the Society of Jesus permitted to be directed at itself -- its strategies, its superiors, its ideological infatuations -- in the pages of America? I defy you to find a single article in the past thirty years of America as confrontational of its own board of directors as the average issue is critical of the Holy See. In point of fact, you'll find that, institutionally speaking, the "community of discourse" is no broader in America than in the Osservatore Romano, and that deviationists are roughed up at least as harshly by New York as by Rome.

So let's just keep a level playing field. If you accept Walzer's "traditions are sites for arguments" line, fine. But then in virtue of that very premise you have to admit that America is guilty of rank toadyism -- there's no other name for it. On the other hand, if you decide to give America a pass and concede that, after all, Jesuit provincials have right to monitor and limit the opinions that go out under their flag, that's fine too. But then you have to admit the Holy See has a legitimate right to delimit the contents of an ostensibly Catholic publication, a fortiori when the publication is governed by a congregation with traditionally close ties to the pope.

You want to teach Rome that it has nothing to fear from open and unrestricted criticism? I'm all for it, lads. But you give example not by criticising Rome but by aiming your artillery closer, a lot closer, to home. It would be interesting to see this kind of freedom in action. Show us how it's done.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.