Father Thomas Reese, a widely known Catholic writer and pundit, has resigned as editor of the Jesuit magazine America under pressure from a Vatican congregation once headed by Pope Benedict XVI.
Reese's decisions to publish articles that at times challenged the church's official views brought Vatican criticism.
His resignation followed several years of exchanges among the magazine, Reese's superiors in the Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits, and the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who last month was elected to lead the 1.1-billion member Roman Catholic Church and chose the name Benedict XVI, headed the congregation during its battles with the magazine. The congregation under Ratzinger had repeatedly reined in and disciplined dissident Catholic theologians, priests and women in religious orders.
Reese, 60, has been widely quoted over the years by secular media seeking comment on church developments. He was in Rome last month before and during the papal election.
Two sources familiar with the magazine, and who asked to remain anonymous, said Friday that the congregation sent a critical letter about Reese two weeks before the death of Pope John Paul II. These sources said the letter was addressed to Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the Jesuit order's superior general in Rome. Kolvenbach relayed the contents of the letter to the president of the Jesuit conference in the U.S., Father Brad Schaeffer, who then informed Reese.
"What it [the letter] amounted to is that it wasn't going to do any good to fight this. The sense was that Reese had to go," one source told The Times. Word that Reese had been forced out was first published by the National Catholic Reporter on its website Friday afternoon.
Among the articles that upset the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were an essay regarding homosexual priests, and another written by U.S. Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) challenging Ratzinger's view that the church should refuse Communion to Catholic politicians who failed to follow church teachings.
The magazine also had examined the moral arguments for using condoms to prevent AIDS and published several critical analyses of the Vatican's September 2000 document on religious pluralism, Dominus Iesus, which held that the Roman Catholic Church alone, unlike Protestant denominations, embraced the fullness of the Christian Gospel and the means of salvation.
In each case, the magazine published competing points of view, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
In an editorial that ran in its April 25 issue after John Paul's death and before Benedict's election, the Jesuit magazine said, "A church that cannot openly discuss issues is a church retreating into an intellectual ghetto." Among those issues, it listed birth control, divorce, women priests, married priests, homosexuality, the selection of bishops, and the centralization of decision making in the Vatican.
In a prepared statement issued Thursday, Reese said he was proud of what he and others at the magazine had accomplished during his seven years as editor. "I look forward to taking a sabbatical while my provincial and I determine the next phase of my Jesuit ministry," he said.
Father Drew Christiansen, 60, whom Reese recruited in 2002 and who will succeed him June 1, said Friday he hoped to build on Reese's accomplishments. Asked if the magazine's voice would be muted in view of developments, Christiansen said: "We'll try to be a voice for the whole church. There needs to be a place in the church for intelligent discussion of issues that face the church and the world, and we'll continue to try and provide that."
An official with the Jesuit order's Washington headquarters could not be reached for comment Friday night. In Rome, an official with the congregation told Associated Press it would have no comment on the matter.
Before coming to the magazine, Christiansen was a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, and from 1991 to 1998 he directed the Office of International Justice and Peace for the U.S. Catholic Conference. Among his major work for the U.S. bishops was their 1991 pastoral letter on the environment, called Renewing the Earth. He also served as the lead staff person in drafting the 1992 10th-anniversary peace pastoral, "The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace," which became the basis for the U.S. bishops' post-Cold War policy.
Reese is the author of several books on the church, including "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church" and "A Flock of Shepherds: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops."