'America' Editor's Resignation Linked to Pope

Father Tom Reese, long-time editor of the influential Jesuit magazine America, acknowledged his resignation on Friday. Father Reese was known for dealing with many hot-button issues. The announcement of his departure came amidst speculation that the Vatican doctrinal department formerly run by Pope Benedict XVI had demanded his ouster. Jason DeRose of Chicago Public Radio reports.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The editor in chief of the popular US-based Jesuit weekly magazine America is leaving his position following complaints from conservative American Catholics and from the Vatican about the way the publication handles controversial issues within the church. The resignation of Father Thomas Reese follows a reprimand earlier this year from then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Chicago Public Radio's Jason Derose reports.

JASON DEROSE reporting:

Father Reese will leave America magazine at the end of the month after seven years as head of the publication. Father Charles Curran teaches at Southern Methodist University in Texas. He says during that time, America dealt head-on with the hot-button issues facing the church and the United States.

Father CHARLES CURRAN (Southern Methodist University): Things like same-sex marriages, things like the abortion legislation and with Catholic politicians who do not vote in favor of repealing Roe v. Wade, whether or not they could go to Communion.

DEROSE: Back in 1986, Curran was told he could no longer teach Roman Catholic theology himself because of his dissenting views from official church teaching. He sees Father Reese's departure as the head of America as a crackdown on religious freedom within the Catholic Church, something he says was guaranteed by Vatican II.

Fr. CURRAN: Before that time, we had condemned religious freedom. Popes in the 19th century called the freedom of conscience a sword into which all garbage flows.

DEROSE: But Curran says the spirit of Vatican II was lived out in the pages of America under Thomas Reese's leadership. The role of America magazine in the US is an educational one. It has never been thought of as a liberal journal, says Richard Gaillardetz, who teaches Catholic studies at the University of Toledo.

Mr. RICHARD GAILLARDETZ (University of Toledo): When they dealt with controversial topics, it's almost always they would publish articles that would represent both conservative and progressive viewpoints. I must tell you more conservative journals have been far less willing to do the same thing.

DEROSE: Gaillardetz says he fears Reese's departure from America will have a chilling effect not only on debate but on the nature of debate in the Catholic Church.

Mr. GAILLARDETZ: There's an implicit paternalism at work here and the paternalism goes like this. It's OK within limited boundaries for theologians to address controversial issues among themselves in the rarified era of academia but they're not allowed to do it in a journal like America that might be read by non-specialists because here's the paternalism. It will trouble and confuse simple believers.

DEROSE: Trouble and confuse them by publishing viewpoints in direct opposition to official Catholic teaching. Linda Pieczynski is with Call To Action, a group that seeks greater involvement by laity in the church. She worries that if Jesuits can be silenced, no one in the church is beyond reach.

Ms. LINDA PIECZYNSKI (Call To Action): America has been the kind of magazine that intelligent Catholics go to for information in terms of trying to understand more about the weighty issues that face our world, and I think this is going to breed distrust among the readership as to the future of America magazine.

DEROSE: Taking over for Father Thomas Reese is another Jesuit, Father Drew Christianson. He's been an associate editor at the magazine since 2002 and is known for his work on Catholic social teaching and international peace and justice issues. Those are less controversial themes more in line with the late Pope John Paul II and which are expected to be continued under Benedict XVI.

For NPR News, I'm Jason Derose in Chicago.

HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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