Fr. Thomas Reese was the editor of America magazine until he resigned, reportedly under pressure from the Vatican.   He is slated to give a talk in Charlotte this month.  Remembering the controversy around his resignation, I was surprised to see an advertisement for his talk in our parish bulletin. 

The topic is this, quoting from the ad in our bulletin:

    "How does a thinking Catholic survive in the Church when he or she disagrees with certain teachings or actions?  Some of the faithful believe the Church has strayed from its former convictions, while others see it as being out of touch with the modern world.  All are hungering for their idea of church.  Fr. Reese will offer us thoughts on how to survive in this environment as we try to remain faitful to the church we love."

I of course don’t know exactly what he plans to say.  But  here is an interview that he gave last winter, where he shares his thoughts on this topic.  What I understand him saying is essentially this:  When one disagrees with the Church, the sensible thing to do is to hear all the arguments for and against the Church’s opinion.  And then the individual Catholic must make a personal decision about what to believe.

On the face of it, this is a very appealing approach.  In many areas of life — including certain elements of church life — it is a valid approach.  But the "you be the judge" method is not appropriate in all aspects of life. Imagine:

  • Visiting your physician, and being told, "Well, here are your test results.  You take a look at them and decide what they mean to you."
  • Going to an accountant who says, "Some people say the IRS requires this form, and other people say you can use this alternate form.  Read these articles and decide for yourself which you want to believe."
  • Consulting an engineer who replies, "Will the building collapse?  You need to make up your own mind about that."

Why does Fr. Reese think the ordinary Catholic ought to use the "you be the judge" method for discerning doctrine, whereas the Vatican wants to play the role of technical expert? 

It isn’t a question of micro-management. The controversial topics included Christ’s role as Savior, sexual morality, and human life at the time of conception.  (Per the Jesuit’s announcement of Fr. Reese’s  resignation from America, see here, scroll down).  These are core elements of the Catholic faith. 

I believe the disconnect lies in a differing view of what the Catholic Church is about.  The advertisement for Fr. Reese’s talk tells us, "All are hungering for their idea of church."

The teaching office of the Church is not about this.  The magisterium deals not with what we want, but with what is.   The Vatican insists we know the truth about Jesus’s role as Savior because our eternal destiny depends on it.