A Tale of Two Jesuits by Dimitri Cavalli

A Tale of Two Jesuits

Dimitri Cavalli on Why the Media Celebrated One & Ignored the Other

On May 9, 2005, the Reverend Thomas Reese, S.J., announced that he would resign as the editor-in-chief of America, the highly respected Jesuit weekly magazine. Many liberal Catholics blamed the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI with forcing Reese out because he published articles questioning the church’s teachings and the Vatican’s policies on such topics as same-sex marriage, homosexual priests, and denying Holy Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

Several months later, many details about Reese’s resignation still remain sketchy. It is known that Benedict XVI, when he headed the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, complained about certain articles that America had published. But did the new pope actually force Reese out? The Reverend Jose M. de Vera, S.J., a spokesman for the Society of Jesus in Rome, was quoted by the Catholic News Service as saying that Reese “tendered his resignation. It was not imposed, contrary to what was written.”

Reese’s only statement on the controversy, which was posted on America’s website, did not shed any light on why he decided to resign. “I am proud of what my colleagues and I did with the magazine, and I am grateful to them, our readers, and our benefactors for the support they gave me,” Reese said. “I look forward to taking a sabbatical while my provincial and I determine the next phase of my Jesuit ministry.”

Father Reese is hardly a martyr, even if Cardinal Ratzinger did ask for his removal. Unlike some other Jesuits who have gotten into trouble with their superiors, he has not been barred from teaching, publishing, or even speaking to the media. Last July, Reese joined the faculty of the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University in California.

Rallying Around Reese

Whatever Reese’s motivations for resigning are, his departure outraged many liberal Catholics, who expressed fears of a new Vatican crackdown on the free discussion of issues important to the future of the church.

“As a consequence,” Commonweal, the lay liberal Catholic magazine, warned in a May 20 editorial, “the first thing many Americans are now likely to associate with Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy will be yet another act of Vatican repression. Does this mean that the zeal with which then-Cardinal Ratzinger harried theologians while head of the CDF will continue during his papacy?”

Some critics argued that Reese did nothing wrong. In an interview with New York Newsday, the Reverend Richard McBrien, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and a prominent dissident theologian, defended Reese. “[He] has been very careful to be even-handed, fair-minded, and restrained in any comments he’s ever made, either in the run-up to this papal election or in his books,” McBrien asserted. “I would be astonished if anyone except extreme right-wingers would be offended by anything he’s either written or said.” He told the Associated Press that Reese’s removal implied that the Vatican and its American allies “don’t think it’s possible to discuss both sides.”

Others spoke more dramatically. In a press release on its website published the same day as Reese’s announcement, the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC), a dissident organization led by long-time dissenting theologian Leonard Swidler, called on the pope

to recall his childhood under a fascist regime that ruthlessly stifled freedom of the press and to use his authority to allow Jesuit superiors to reinstate Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., as Editor of America Magazine. . . . Unless and until this injustice has been officially rectified, ARCC calls on all truth-seeking Catholics to withhold their annual Peter’s Pence contribution [a donation to the Vatican] and to put a note in the envelope, indicating why there is no donation and where the money is being sent instead.

Dimitri Cavalli is an editor and writer in New York City. He is planning to write books on both Pope Pius XII and Joe McCarthy, the late manager of the New York Yankees.

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