In the days leading up to the death of Pope John Paul II and the subsequent election of Pope Benedict XVI, Tom Reese appeared regularly in television interviews. As the highly respected editor of the Jesuit magazine America, he provided the United States audience in particular with insightful commentary and assessment on these historic developments within the Catholic Church.
As of Friday, May 6, Reese is out of a job. Apparently some Vatican officials and U.S. bishops were more than unhappy with his insistence on what Religion News Service reporter and analyst Kevin Eckstrom calls the three D’s: debate, dialogue and discussion.
Reese’s policy as an editor was to grant equal space in the magazine to all sides of an issue, including things the Catholic Church vehemently opposes. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—now Pope Benedict XVI—had for years complained about Reese’s editorial policy and the magazine’s content.
The question of whether debate, dialogue and discussion are being quashed within the Catholic Church depends upon whom you ask. One conservative Catholic editor says the new pope has no intention of stifling debate and discussion. Many other Catholics disagree and point to Reese’s departure as clear evidence.
In speaking about his authority as leader of the world’s Catholics, Pope Benedict said that the “power of teaching” is essential to the papacy.
“This power of teaching frightens many people within and without the church,” he said. “They ask themselves if it does not threaten freedom of conscience, if it is not a presumption opposed to freedom of thought. It is not.”
I agree with the pope that teaching is powerful, although we probably do not define teaching or learning in the same way. Even more powerful is the learning that happens when we encourage debate, dialogue and discussion.
The best teachers run toward, and not away from, the three D’s.