Monday, May 09, 2005

Jesuit Magazine Editor Quits Amid Conflict

Jesuit Magazine Editor Quits Amid Conflict

In (yet another) ominous harbinger of things to come, the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J. has apparently been forced out of his seven-year tenure as editor of the Jesuit magazine America by Pope Benedict XVI.

Ratzinger reportedly had a running feud with Reese, America, and American province of the Society of Jesus over America's editorial policy of intelligent discussion of issues of concern to Catholics. The problem was that John Paul II had already defined the "truth" of many of these issues, and Ratzinger (as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) was doing his utmost to quell all discussion.

As Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict XVI has been a tireless supporter of truth. Like his predecessor, he has called on the mass media to act responsibly in the creation of a socially conscious populace. I applaud him for this, as I have always applauded him for this.

My problems with Cardinal Ratzinger, and now with Benedict XVI, is that his words--both written and spoken--give the clear impression that "truth" is something frozen, as it were, in amber, and that all we have to do is see it, know it, and understand it, without regard to our social, political, economic, or cultural backgrounds. The obvious logical corrollary to this is that if, as a result of our social, political, economic, or cultural backgrounds, we understand "truth" differently and refuse to accept the orthodox interpretation of it, we are in a state of sin.

Truth, I agree, doesn't change, and it isn't difficult to know. But doing God's will with the truth that has been revealed to us is a very different story. The choice--and the problem--comes down to this: to what extent are believers responsible for their interpretations of truth, and to what extent need we bend to centralized, hierarchically defined orthodoxies, especially when those hierarchies have proven themselves in the past to be so ignorant of the truth--vincibly ignorant? If you want an example of Benedict XVI and vincible ignorance of the truth, just take a look at his opinions of the media's handling of the Catholic sex abuse scandals. I'm sorry, your Holiness. Truth lies in the Church, not in the Vatican.

It's really rather arrogant. Hundreds of thousands--if not millions--of American Catholics of good will and good faith disagree with some Catholic doctrine. I don't even have to get to terribly serious and controversial issues now, like abortion. Let's just look at the ordination of women. The Vatican's decision to ban--forever--the ordination of women is NOT based in scriptural revelation. Pope John Paul II's monolithic dictum (almost certainly influenced by Ratzinger) that the issue was out of bounds for even debate is certainly not based in scripture. It is based, rather, on tradition and the "magisterium" of the Church.

But if the Church--the whole Church--is the Body of Christ, and if the Holy Spirit works in and through the Body of Christ, don't we take an awful risk ignoring whole limbs or organs? This is not the pursuit of truth, nor is it the possession, let alone the comprehension, of truth. It is an error, especially when we are speaking about Catholic Christians of good will and good faith.

So Tom Reese moves on, and Benedict XVI gives me and many other Catholics yet another reason for concern.

Reese is succeeded as America’s editor by the Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J. He has my prayers.

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