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Editor of Jesuit weekly is ousted

Vatican reportedly vowed to set oversight

The editor of America, an influential Jesuit weekly magazine, has resigned under orders from the Vatican, which threatened to impose a ''board of censors" to oversee the magazine if he stayed, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

''He was forced out," Tom Roberts, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, said of the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, who had run America for seven years. Frequently quoted in the secular media, Reese had also been a CNN commentator during the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI last month.

When contacted yesterday, Reese said only that his tenure ends June 1 and that he would move immediately to California and continue in his Jesuit ministry. Reese, 60, is now based in New York, where the magazine is edited.

Earlier, Reese issued a statement in which he said he was proud of the magazine and the work that he and his colleagues had done.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, run by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he was named pope, had brought pressure to remove Reese ''for about five years," Roberts said. A source told the National Catholic Reporter that it had issued an ultimatum, ''that either Reese goes, or they would appoint a board of censors."

It is not known what role, if any, the new pope, played in the ouster. A call to the Society of Jesus USA in Washington, of which Reese is a member, was not returned.

Some American bishops had contacted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about articles in the magazine dealing with sensitive church issues, the Associated Press reported, quoting Jesuit officials in Rome and the United States.

The magazine has attempted to publish various points of view, including some that clashed with church teaching, and that policy angered some Catholics in the United States and Rome, the officials said.

Some of the sensitive issues included gay priests, stem-cell research, whether Catholic politicians can be denied Communion if they support abortion rights, and same-sex unions, the officials said.

The irony, Roberts said, is that the Jesuit magazine ''is a mild publication," though it did publish an essay exploring moral arguments for condom use in the context of HIV/AIDs and an editorial questioning ''lack of due process" in Vatican investigations of certain theologians.

''It's an absolute tragedy . . . an appalling affront to intelligent discourse," Roberts said of the firing.

The Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, said Reese ''has been very careful to be even-handed, fair-minded, and restrained in any comments he's ever made, either in the run-up to this papal election or in his books."

''I would be astonished if anyone except extreme right-wingers would be offended by anything he's either written or said," McBrien said.

An official with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declined to comment on the matter. A spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said she had no information.

In his news release, Reese said, ''I am proud of what my colleagues and I did with the magazine, and I am grateful to them, our readers and our benefactors for the support they gave me. I look forward to taking a sabbatical." He added that he and his superior will chart ''the next phase of my Jesuit ministry."

Reese also praised the Rev. Drew Christiansen, associate editor of America, who will succeed him.

The Vatican and the Jesuits have had a sometimes tense relationship over the years, as some members of the order have questioned papal pronouncements on birth control, priestly celibacy, and the ban on women priests.

The magazine also wrote about a Vatican document that outlined the idea that divine truth is most fully revealed in Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular.

The document ''Dominus Iesus" was issued in 2000 by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, while the office was headed by Ratzinger.

Critics complained that the document could set back efforts by the Catholic Church to reach out to other Christians and believers outside the church.

Reese was in Rome for the election of Benedict, who had enforced a hard line on church doctrine and silenced theologians who diverged from it in his 24 years as Pope John Paul II's orthodoxy watchdog.

While in Rome, Reese met with his superior who mentioned there had been complaints about a couple of articles, a Jesuit official in Rome said. The official said Reese had left Rome with the idea he would resign.

Any response to complaints from US bishops or Vatican officials would be made by the Jesuit General in Rome, the Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, and the 11 Jesuit leaders in the United States.

In a statement, newly named editor Christiansen noted that under Reese, the magazine often gave two sides of the debate on sensitive church issues -- and that made it more relevant.

An official at the Jesuit headquarters in Washington, the Rev. Albert J. Diulio, said Reese and his provincial supervisor had reached the decision together and noted that Jesuits tend to rotate jobs every six or seven years. Diulio said he could not comment on any other reasons behind the change.

The National Catholic Reporter said that during a five-year exhange between the Congregatoin of the Doctrine of Faith and the Jesuits, the doctrinal body had raised these objections to editorial decisions at America, under Reese's leadership:

An essay exploring moral arguments for the approval of condoms in the context of the AIDS epidemic.

An editorial criticizing what America called a lack of due process in the congregation's procedures for the investigation of theologians.

An essay about homosexual priests.

In every instance, the Catholic Reporter, said the stories questioned represented a portion of the coverage of the subject in America.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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