The editor of America, an influential Catholic weekly magazine, has been sacked on orders from the Vatican, which threatened to impose a “board of censors” to oversee the magazine if he stayed, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
“He was forced out,” NCR editor Tom Roberts said of the Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J., who had run America for seven years. Frequently quoted in the secular media, Reese also had been a CNN commentator during the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly run by the new pope, had pressured to get rid of Reese “for about five years,” Roberts said. A source told the paper that it had issued an ultimatum, “that either Reese goes or they would appoint a board of censors.”
A call to the Society of Jesus USA in Washington, D.C., was not returned.
The irony, Roberts said, is that America “is a mild publication,” though it did publish an essay exploring moral arguments for condom use in the context of HIV/AIDs and an editorial questioning “lack of due process” in Vatican probes of certain theologians.
“It’s an absolute tragedy … an appalling affront to intelligent discourse,” Roberts said of the firing.
The Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, also described America as “pretty mainstream,” adding that Reese himself “has been very careful to be even-handed, fair-minded and restrained in any comments he’s ever made, either in the run-up to this papal election or in his books.”
“I would be astonished if anyone except extreme right-wingers would be offended by anything he’s either written or said,” McBrien said.
In a news release, Reese said: “I am proud of what my colleagues and I did with the magazine, and I am grateful to them, our readers and our benefactors for the support they gave me. I look forward to taking a sabbatical.”
He said that he and his superior will chart “the next phase of my Jesuit ministry.”
The Rev. Drew Christiansen, associate editor of America, is to succeed Reese on June 1.