Pope Francis and the church’s new attitude

Fr Thomas Reece SJ

“Five years ago, I would have been afraid of saying anything like what the pope said in his [recent] interview,” says the Rev. Tom Reese. “I’m ecstatic. I haven’t been this hopeful about the church in decades.”

Father Reese had good reason to be afraid. One of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s last acts before becoming Pope Benedict XVI was to fire Reese, who was then editor in chief of the Jesuit magazine “America,” which published the Pope Francis interview last week.

Ratzinger fired Reese while Pope John Paul II was dying in 2005.

It wasn’t the editorials in “America” that riled Ratzinger. “I never had an editorial about abortion, women priests or gay marriage,” he says. “That would have been touching the third rail. It was mostly a dialogue.”

How things have changed.

As it turns out, Reese was ahead of his time, espousing for years the views that Francis espouses. And he paid the price for it. Put another way, it is clear to Reese that Francis would not have been Benedict’s choice to succeed him.

According to Reese, the Vatican had indicated its displeasure at “America” for five years before Reese was fired.

They accused him of being anti-hierarchical.

But the “high point of my career,” Reese said, were two articles he published by Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican official in charge of ecumenics.

Kasper challenged Ratzinger on church theology. Reese submitted the galleys to Ratzinger, who wrote a response. “That was the kind of communication I wanted to have in the magazine,” he says.

Big mistake, it turns out. Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the watchdog of the Vatican.

Word came from Rome: “Reese has got to go,” he says.

“I was running a journal of opinion and they only wanted one opinion. They wanted an echo chamber of what was coming out of the Vatican.”

Once fired, Reese went to the Woodstock Theological Center, which closed in June. He is now on sabbatical before returning in January to a job with the National Catholic Reporter. The church won’t be able to fire him this time. It’s an independent publication, unlike “America.”

“Francis is saying, ‘Get out in the streets and do something. You’ll make mistakes. That’s fine,’ ” says Reese. “Staying in the sacristy is killing the church….” Continue reading

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