Vatican officials are wondering just how serious a problem they have on their hands with the Society of Jesus in the United States after it was revealed late last week that another official of the Jesuit order was forced to resign for controversial writings.
Earlier this month, the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of America, the Jesuits' flagship magazine, was reassigned after complaints were filed in Rome by U.S. Catholic Church officials over the magazine's content, including articles that called into question Church teachings on homosexuality, same sex unions, and stem cell research.
But Reese was reassigned by his superiors only after those complaints reached the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and were then forwarded back to the Jesuits here in the United States.
The order could have acted more proactively, however. According to Church insiders, complaints about America magazine were made to the Jesuit Conference in Washington more than a year ago, yet the order did nothing.
Now comes word that the Jesuit Conference forced the resignation of a lay employee, Erik Meder, the conference's outreach coordinator for the Office of Social and International Ministries. Meder was let go after an article he submitted to the National Jesuit News, the order's newsletter, which is sent to all members of the order, was published. The article, entitled "Strangers No Longer: Who is the Other Among Us?" advocated open church dialogue with homosexuals.
Meder resigned, according to the Jesuits, on April 27, just a week after the election of Pope Benedict XVI, and ten days before the reassignment of Reese. Meder told the National Catholic Reporter, "Because the article was already printed, it had caused, it was explained to me, 'irreparable harm to the Society of Jesus in the United States.' The reason [for being asked to resign] officially was that in choosing to submit the article I displayed 'a lack of prudence,' 'a lack of discretion' and I couldn't therefore be trusted in the future to represent the national office as liaison."
According to Church insiders in Rome, by late April senior Jesuit officials in the United States would have been aware of the pressure to remove Reese from his post, "and they would have known that the jig was up," says a Church official in Rome. "For them [the Jesuits] the issue with America magazine would have been simmering and would have sent the clear message that they were being closely observed here. An article -- which is very similar in tone and content to other articles the order has allowed to be published -- that openly questioned Church teachings was not convenient to the order."
According to the Rome source, questions remain unanswered. Meder was not the editor of the newsletter, nor did he have a say in what appeared in the publication. In fact, the article was not only published in the official Jesuit organ, it was posted on the Jesuit Conference website.
Who assigned and edited the article? Who approved it for publication, and who allowed the article to be posted on the Conference's website? Officials of the Jesuit Conference have publicly blamed lay officials for the mistakes, claiming they were unaware of what was being published and posted in their own newsletter and website.
"Some of the answers have not been satisfactory, at least those published in the press," says the official in Rome. "To the public eye, this may seem an isolated incident, but it is not, and it will not be treated as such."
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