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Quails in the Vatican

by Christopher A. Ferrara

One of the few bits of good news in recent days is the Vatican-ordered sacking of the notorious "soft" modernist, Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, as editor of America magazine. The pressure to remove Reese had apparently come directly from Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF, shortly before his election to the papacy.

Reese, a connoisseur of dissent from the Magisterium, had enjoyed great respect and prestige owing to his position. He is one of those ingratiating liberals of whom it is said he is "admired by friend and foe alike." Good riddance.

But consider the public reaction to the sacking of Reese by Archbishop John Foley, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. On May 25, 2005, Zenit reported that at a meeting of "communicators" in the Vatican, at which Reese was one of the speakers, Foley stated: "I was informed before the publication of certain recent news that one of the communicators to share the podium today is Father Thomas Reese … [L]et me first say that I had absolutely nothing to do with the current situation, that I found out about it in the newspapers, that I appreciate receiving America magazine each week, and that Father Reese is a fine gentleman and a fine priest who did excellent work during the recent events in Rome."

So, instead of standing full-square behind the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s decision, Archbishop Foley tried to distance himself from it  —  right under the nose of Pope Benedict XVI. Indeed, if America is such an excellent magazine that the head of a Pontifical Council looks forward to reading it, and Reese is such a fine gentleman and priest, why on earth did the Vatican take the action that it did? In order to save himself a little embarrassment, Foley knocked the props out from under the Pope himself.

Ah, but there is another motive here. It seems that when Foley was acting as substitute editor of a magazine, to wit, The Catholic Standard and Times of Philadelphia, he engaged in publishing dissent against the Magisterium  —  namely, the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

As Foley explained: "In August 1968 the editor of The Catholic Standard and Times in Philadelphia was on vacation when 'Humanae Vitae' was published -- and I found myself in charge. A number of Catholic publications ignored the fact that there was dissent from the encyclical; a greater number highlighted the dissent and put the encyclical in a subordinate position. I decided to use the encyclical as the lead story and to use the dissent as a separate story on an inside page with the jump of the encyclical story from page one -- and then I did an editorial in support of the encyclical. I felt that the encyclical represented the official teaching of the Church, which had to be highlighted and with which I happened to agree then, as I do now, but that the dissent was a significant fact that could not and should not be ignored."

So Foley "happened to agree" with Humanae Vitae when it was published, and, happy to say, he still "agrees" with it. How generous of him to "agree" with the infallible moral teaching of the Magisterium against contraception  —  as if his agreement were the least relevant!

And why exactly was dissent from this infallible moral teaching such a "significant fact" that Foley just had to run a story on it, when, as he himself admits, other Catholic publications simply published the encyclical and gave no space to dissenters? If Foley really believes that the moral teaching in question is infallible, then how can he justify today publishing any dissent at all against it? On the other hand, if he does not really believe the teaching is infallible, then what is he doing at the head of a Vatican dicastery?

As we can see here, as in so many other instances, even when the Vatican takes some sort of disciplinary action there are always Vatican quails who try to run for the tall grass rather than defend the action taken. Precisely the same thing happened after the publication of Dominus Iesus, when the papal theologian (Father Cottier) and the then head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity (Cardinal Cassidy) attempted to minimize the import of the document so as to smooth ruffled Protestant feathers. And this, mind you, was a document that was less than clear in its attempt to correct the doctrinal laxity that has arisen in the Church over the past forty years of "ecumenical dialogue."

With timid and divided leadership like this, it is no wonder the Church is suffering the worst crisis in Her history.