Saturday, May 07, 2005

On the Changes at America, With Thanks to Fr. Reese

The news just broke and already there’s speculation and conspiracy theories abounding about the announced change in the editor at America magazine. No doubt the Jesuits will be accused of keeping the “real reasons” secret. Perhaps there might be some truth to this, but it’s because the issue involves such things as due prudence and obedience. I don’t know all the reasons that Tom Reese is leaving his position, but I know that one is obedience to his superiors—the case when any Jesuit moves from one assignment to another. If it also has to do with Vatican pressure, or pressure from the Bishops, it also seems to me that the prudent thing to do would be not to make a big fuss about it. If Tom were to go “kicking and screaming,” and claiming that he was pushed out, etc., certainly those bloggers so eager to know the dirt would accuse him of being imprudent at best, and disobedient or disloyal at worst. And whatever you think of America magazine, the Jesuits, etc., I’m sorry, that’s just not Tom Reese’s style.

I had the privilege of working with Tom Reese last summer. He’s a fine man, a fine priest, a fine Jesuit and a fine editor. I sat in on editorial meetings, and I know that Tom always did his best to offer a variety of perspectives on many topics, and also that he was very careful not to publish anything that he thought Rome might disapprove of. Those are hard calls to make sometimes, especially when your magazine is meant to engage intellectually and critically many aspects of Catholic life. He did not back down from controversial issues, but he also tried his best to place appropriate limits on the content of articles on such issues. In my experience, if anything, he was too careful sometimes. As a Jesuit and writer myself, I know all too well that fine line we walk as journalists and intellectuals who are also representatives of the Church. One can love the Church and still be critical of it sometimes, as Tom does, and as I do. And, frankly, we don’t always know if we’ve stepped over the line until we’ve done it, as Tom did discover on a couple of occasions during his tenure as editor.

That said, the average term for a Jesuit assignment is usually about six years, so it’s really not so unusual that Tom would be moving on at this point. Tom brought a lot of good things to America magazine, but any magazine has to guard against becoming stale, as might happen if one editor is there too long. I’m sure Drew Christiansen as the new editor will offer things to the magazine that Tom couldn’t, and thus the magazine will grow.

I’m thankful for the good job that Tom has done as editor of America, and the only reason I’d be concerned about the circumstances of his departure is if he was hurt by it and he felt that his integrity was being impugned. I hope that’s not the case. But, if it is, I still wouldn’t be looking for the “Tom Reese expose.”

I think we all should just say, Thank you, Father Reese, for dedicating several years of your life in service to the Church to being editor of America. It wasn’t an easy job, and you did it well.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the Jesuits are, in effect, working to make Benedict look bad by not being forthright. *That's* the impact of not going into details - just letting the assumptions float out there, and letting Ratz be the bad guy. And I think it's purposeful.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...

I don't believe there is any effort on the part of the Jesuits to make the Pope look bad. Most Jesuits I know are hopeful that the new Pope will be successful, and are not in any way eager to make him look bad. What would be the point?

Besides, if it is true, as the New York Times reported, that the order came from the CDF, how does that change the perception that some might have?

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark: Glad to hear your thoughts on this. I have to say I was stunned on reading the NYT article. I do think it would be helpful if there were more clarity on the reasons for Fr. Reese's departure -- otherwise, the rumor mills will be whirling crazily. :) Also appreciated your piece on Pope Benedict on Busted Halo. Best wishes.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Steve Bogner said...

America is one magazine that I look forward to every week. It has been my favorite for quite a while now. I hope Tom Reese finds a lot of joy and fulfillment in his next assignment. And if Drew Christiansen is the new editor, then, well that can't be bad for the magazine either.

10:23 PM  
Blogger Peter Nixon said...

I, too, have the greatest respect for Fr. Tom Reese, who was a fixture at my parish in DC in the 90s before he moved to America, a journal to which I have subscribed for some years.

But I think the issues in this case go beyond whether he was personally hurt by the decision. If it wasn't for the NCR and NYT stories, Catholics in the United States would never have known that Fr. Reese had been removed at the behest of the CDF. Is this the kind of Church we’re called to be? Where editors who offend the powers that be are simply removed without any public justification being offered?

The issue is not whether Fr. Reese, as a Jesuit, should submit to his superiors. Of course he should. The question is whether the order should have been given at all. America is a model of the kind of civil, well-informed dialogue on issues facing the Church that is often in short supply today. The "tough" issues that America was willing to discuss are already being discussed by Catholics in every parish across the country. Why shouldn't America reflect that discussion?

11:40 PM  

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