Saturday, May 07, 2005

Vatican's Forced Resignation of Editor is Disturbing

Yesterday, I applauded an independent Catholic Cincinnati prep school for rescinding a speaking invitation it had issued to a pro-choice politician. I upheld its right to be consistent in the signals it sends about what it deems to be right and wrong.

But this morning's New York Times brings the story of a disturbing action by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The action was taken by that unit in March, when it was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

The Congregation forced the resignation of Thomas J. Reece, a Jesuit, from his position as editor of the Catholic news magazine, America. The charge: That the magazine had published articles critical of current Roman Catholic teachings or encouraged debate on them.

Reese has been a good soldier, utterly submissive to the Vatican orders, offering his resignation and saying that he is looking forward to his next orders as a Jesuit.

But when Church bodies are unable or unwilling to sustain debates on doctrine and teaching, that is an unhealthy sign.

I utterly agree with the current pope who, just before the most recent conclave of the College of Cardinals, delivered a homily in which he railed against the contemporary idol of choice, relativism. He suggested that there are non-negotiable truths about what is right and what is wrong.

The problem that I have with Pope Benedict XVI and also with his illustrious predecessor is that they seem to believe in a rather extensive list of non-negotiable truths. I think that the list is far smaller than they do and that much of what they deem foundational is nothing more than cultural accretions or personal preferences.

There are for example, sound Biblical reasons for the ordination of women, for the end of priestly celibacy, for a repudiation of the special status granted to "saints," particularly Mary, and for a different approach to church-state relations. The Roman Catholic Church could change its positions on these and other matters and do no violence to their proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord. The essential core of faith would remain, indicating that some of the things that have so riled the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger are what the theologians call non-salvific, having no bearing on one's standing with God or one's salvation.

Besides, debate often leads people back to the very truths they question while debating. If truths really are true, founded in Scripture, God's revelation of truth, then there is absolutely nothing to fear from debate conducted by people who share a common faith.

Reece is familiar to many Americans for his frequent appearances on TV during the recent transition between John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I wish him well.


Mark Congdon said...


I'm catching up on your blog, having just recently discovered it. Very enjoyable reading!

The Catholic church is in a very different situation than us non-Catholics when it comes to what is central and what isn't. The Catholic church adds one key item to the list of "central truths"... the infallible authority of the Church (as expressed occasionally through the Pope, primarily through councils). That is a non-negotiable for them.

The kicker, then, is that anything that the Church has proclaimed to be true is added to the list of infallible central truths. If the church was, for example, to change their ideas about Mary, it would also immediately destroy their belief in the infallible authority of the Church, and nearly all the theological structure they have built up over the last 2000 years would crumble overnight.

One of my siblings recently converted to Catholicism, and I seriously considered the move myself. However, in the end, I was unable to find solid basis to put the Church at the foundation of so much of my belief system. That is the key difference between Catholic/Orthodox and the rest of us Christians, and I fear that the gap is irreconcilable.


Mark Daniels said...

Mark: Thanks for your thoughtful comments and for the kind words about the blog.

I believe that there can be unity among the churches that's more significant than the melding of organizational structures. Nor do I think that unity requires uniformity in all areas of theology and practice.

If we are able to affirm the faithfulness of each other while humbly adhering to our own understandings of Christian faith, I don't think that God finds that displeasing.

I believe that the problem in our diversity isn't the existence of different denominations or theologies. The problem, as I see it, is in denominationalism, the notion that my tradition or theology alone understands perfectly God and God's will for us.

Thanks again for stopping by and for your thoughtful comments.


Mark Congdon said...


I agree with you. My point is that unfortunately, denominationalism of the highest order is a core belief of Catholicism/Orthodoxy. With them, a belief in denominationalsim (the infallibility of the Church) is institutionalized. In the rest of the Christian world, denominationalism is terribly common, but it is at least plausibly reversible.

To reverse the institutionalized denominationalism inherent in Catholicism and Orthodoxy would be to end Catholicism and Orthodoxy as they have always been.


Mark Daniels said...

Understood. I was just underscoring your initial comment and saying why I hope that RC doctrine could have sufficient pliance to shift its understanding of "core beliefs."

Old hopes die hard for Lutherans like me.