If there were any “losers” in the election of Pope Benedict XVI, they certainly will not be found among the faithful, or the Latin American or African Catholic churches. No, the biggest losers are here in the United States, where influential, liberal Catholic priests who have actively and publicly defied the Vatican, along with several Cardinals selected late in the reign of Pope John Paul II, find themselves in a bit of a political pickle.
“Pope Benedict knows better than any one else who the trouble makers are in the United States, and he knows who has worked against the Church’s teachings there,” says an ordained source at the Vatican. “You will be seeing changes soon.”
Sooner than expected. Late last week it was announced that the Rev. Thomas Reese, the editor of the Jesuit weekly America, was leaving his position at the magazine to be reassigned to new duties.
Reese was one of a number of American commentators in Rome during the recent pontifical election, and while he was often restrained in his remarks about then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, he made it clear he was not a supporter of his candidacy.
America magazine, the public organ of the Jesuit order in U.S., is one of the most liberal Catholic periodicals, second only to the National Catholic Reporter, an independent publication.
That America was essentially viewed by the mass media and a number of American Catholics as an official church publication only confused matters. Under Reese it published articles with views that opposed the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexual priests, stem-cell research, whether Catholic politicians can be denied communion if they support abortion rights, and homosexual unions.
“Most of the major media sees this publication and thinks, ‘Well, if the Jesuits are writing this stuff, then American Catholics must be thinking this, or living this way,'” says the Rome insider. “It created confusion and allowed the media to portray a divided, confused American Church. It may well be, but from Rome’s perspective, there is only one truth, and America isn’t publishing it.”
In certain Catholic circles it has been known for some time that a number of American Jesuits actively opposed Pope John Paul II, particularly his attempt to bring American Catholic universities into line with Roman Catholic theological teaching. At one time it appeared that as many as 30 Jesuit theology professors at such schools as Georgetown, Creighton, San Francisco, and Santa Clara would be barred from teaching theology or philosophy due to their refusal to adhere their teachings to established Roman Catholic doctrine.
“The Vatican has been having problems with the Jesuit order in a number of areas, including doctrine and celibacy,” says an American theologian. “It isn’t just the Jesuits, but because of their higher visibility, they have garnered more attention. It is safe to say that the Jesuits have been out of favor with the Vatican for some time. This resignation may be just the beginning of a greater effort to bring the order in line.”
Reese resigned, according the Jesuit insiders in New York, after the order received word from Rome that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has received complaints from several American Catholic bishops about the magazine and its content.
America in the past had made a point of attacking the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, openly questioning its positions on a number of issues where American Catholics differ with Rome.
IT ISN’T JUST JESUIT journalists who are getting put in their place. In the coming weeks and months it is anticipated that a wave of retirements and re-assignments will occur elsewhere in the American Catholic Church.
Already, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, of Washington, D.C., has announced that he will submit retirement papers when he turns 75 later this year. Such retirement papers are pro forma for all cardinals; they serve at the pleasure of the Holy Father, and oftentimes are allowed to remain in office after they turn 75.
But McCarrick’s situation may be different. He is known to have not been a supporter of Pope Benedict before his election. “Cardinal McCarrick has to be wondering where he stands right now,” says another American priest from Rome with insight into the machinations of the Vatican. “This is a man who went out of his way to cross then-Cardinal Ratzinger and the Doctrine of the Faith.”
McCarrick is believed by many in conservative Catholic circles to have been the individual who in June 2004 leaked to the Washington Post and other newspapers a memo written by Cardinal Ratzinger instructing American bishops to detail to their congregations the Catholic Church’s longstanding doctrine on life issues and on the responsibility of Catholic politicians to live both their private and political lives in union with the Church. As Ratzinger’s letter stated, those politicians out of step with the Church should be turned away from the communion rail.
The letter, a version of which is almost always sent out to the bishops around election time in the United States (across the country, many Catholic priests take the time in homilies before election day to remind parishioners of the Church’s policies in such matters), took on greater meaning in 2004 because Sen. John Kerry made such a production of attending Catholic services and receiving communion during his campaign.
It didn’t help McCarrick that he allowed the Kerry campaign to make public meetings he had with Kerry and his advisers. When, on one occasion, McCarrick went out of his way to hide the meeting, Kerry’s aides leaked word of it anyway.
McCarrick is also known to have prevented the founding of at least one orthodox Catholic studies program that was seeking his support to open a small two-year college in Washington, D.C. Known as Campion College, it would have served as a feeder school to Catholic University, Christendom College in Virginia, and the soon-to-open Ave Maria University in Florida, and offered philosophy and theology courses to young professionals in the Washington area interested in expanding their Catholic faith. The program had the support of a number of high-ranking conservatives in the Vatican.
In Rome, after the election of Pope Benedict, rumors swirled that McCarrick, along with several other prominent American Cardinals, had initially thrown their support behind Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a political moderate, but one in line with the Church’s important teachings.
ANOTHER CARDINAL PERHAPS looking over his shoulder is Los Angeles’s Roger Mahony, who more than any other American Catholic leaders except Cardinal Bernard Law, is stained by the covering up for pedophiles in the Catholic Church.
But Mahony has other issues that have caught the eye of Rome in the past few years, not the least of which were his attempts to block Los Angeles parishioners from taking part in traditional Latin masses in his diocese. At one point, Mahony claimed that only Catholics who attended such masses back in 1965 would be allowed to participate in the Tridentine Mass.
“That hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but Mahony’s maneuvers in that case have been remembered here,” says the Vatican source. “Some of these gentlemen may have thought they would outlive the strict enforcement of doctrine. The confirmation and ascension of Pope Benedict is evidence that they will not.”
Why would the Tridentine Mass controversy stand out? Perhaps, in part, because Pope Benedict XVI has often spoken and written about the beauty and spirituality of the Latin Mass, and its focus on Christ and His sacrifice. As recently as two years ago, then Cardinal Ratzinger reaffirmed his belief that there was a place for portions of the Latin Mass in today’s liturgies.