The Vatican’s Quandary
Anxiety and trepidation have beset many American Catholics (generally the most liberal element of the church) since the ordination of Pope Benedict xvi. The ultraconservative pontiff has already begun asserting his new power over the church in the U.S. To what extreme, then, will the new pontiff go in his efforts to purge the church of liberalism?
Thomas Reese, well-respected editor in chief of the influential Catholic magazine America for the past seven years, surprised Catholics across America when he resigned from his tenure just a few weeks after Benedict’s appointment.
Peter Steinfels, religion columnist for the New York Times, said the timing of Reese’s resignation and Benedict’s election were not a freak coincidence: “There’s no question he was forced out” (cbs News, May 9). Jesuit priests in Italy also confirmed that the Vatican, and specifically Cardinal Ratzinger, orchestrated the resignation. But why?
“The irritant wasn’t Reese’s own doctrinal views, but articles he published by scholars who took issue with Catholic officialdom” (Associated Press, May 12). The Vatican essentially fired Reese because he published a number of articles that, rather than falling in line with traditional Catholic teaching, had a more liberal approach to such topics as same-sex marriage and stem-cell research.
Another American Catholic magazine, the Commonweal, “editorialized that Reese’s removal leaves the impression that the church is ‘a backward-looking, essentially authoritarian, institution run by men who are afraid of open debate and intellectual inquiry’” (ibid.).
Commenting on the extent of Vatican influence in the affairs of its members, ap quoted Richard McBrien, a liberal theologian at the University of Notre Dame, as saying that “the ouster implies that the Vatican and its U.S. allies ‘don’t think it’s possible to discuss both sides.’” The Vatican under this pope is decisively conservative and will refuse to entertain thoughts and ideas that contradict traditional Catholic doctrine.
The New York Times’ Steinfels says the question now is “whether the center can hold in American Catholicism …” (cbs News, op. cit.). American Catholicism is in a difficult position. While some Catholic Americans support purging liberalism from the church in the U.S., such a move would affect millions.
American Catholicism will continue to place this pope in a quandary. Benedict will likely take further measures to bring American Catholics into line.
Rest assured, however, although American liberalism will continue to perturb the pope, it will not dissuade him from uniting the mother church with its Protestant daughters and establishing Vatican guidance over the growing European superpower.