Rorate Caeli

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese: Lazy, or Liar?

Religion News Service, the center-left media agency that now dominates secular newspaper coverage of religion, carries a column by Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, called Signs of the Times. It is almost always predictable viewpoints from the Jesuit who is so liberal that he was forced to resign as editor-in-chief of America Magazine thanks to Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. One column by Reese called for a ban on young Catholics attending the traditional Latin Mass.

Thomas Reese, SJ, in the center of his DC Jesuit community

In his latest column Reese decided to travel back to April 2007 and make up a story that traditional and conservative Catholics looked the other way when Pope Benedict XVI did something liberal, using Benedict's opinion that Limbo may not exist. According to Reese, had Francis done the same thing as Benedict (which was to agree with the Vatican's International Theological Commission's report dismissing Limbo) the right would have criticized him.

His first paragraph stated: "Many conservative Catholics are upset with Pope Francis, who they complain is changing church doctrine, but they hardly blinked when Pope Benedict got rid of Limbo, a Catholic doctrine that had been taught for centuries."

The problem with Reese's narrative is he is either very lazy, or he lied on this one.

In fact, one of the most widely published articles on the April 2007 issue concerning Benedict and Limbo, written by two Los Angeles Times reporters and syndicated in many other publications in print and online, quoted Reese himself, who praised Benedict as "not afraid to look at something that has been taught in the church for centuries and say it is not at the core of Catholic belief." Yet there was more to the same article.

Four paragraphs after Reese's quotes contained a section titled "Conservatives skeptical." It stated: 

Catholic conservatives criticized any effort to relegate limbo to oblivion.

Removing the concept from church teaching would lessen baptism’s importance and discourage the christening of infants, said Kenneth J. Wolfe, a Washington-based columnist for the traditionalist Catholic newspaper the Remnant.

“It makes baptism a formality, a party, instead of a necessity,” Wolfe said. “There would be no reason for infant baptisms. It would put the Catholic Church on par with the Protestants.”

It would also deprive Catholic leaders of a tool in their fight against abortion, he added. Priests have long told women that their aborted fetuses cannot go to heaven, which in theory was another argument against ending pregnancy. Without limbo, those fetuses presumably would no longer be denied communion with God.

So much for the narrative that conservatives kept silent when Pope Benedict sided with reformers on Limbo.

Religion News Service was contacted twice, including emails to its editor-in-chief. No response. Given the fact that large secular media publications such as the Washington Post have turned to Religion News Service for almost all of its religion coverage, one would think there was some type of editorial review process in place for a column. Apparently not -- not even a Google search. A ten-year-old kid could have pulled up articles from April 2007 showing conservative criticism of Benedict on the issue of Limbo. Yet, Reese's entire narrative proceeds as if this never happened, to make his fictious point that Benedict was given a pass by the right.

Along with fellow liberals John Gehring, Massimo Faggioli, John Carr and James Martin, SJ, Reese is infamous for being a go-to source for tired mainstream media reporters who are seemingly unable to locate any Catholic voices from a conservative or traditional side.

This column -- either laziness or a lie, punctuated by silence when presented with facts -- should call into question the credibility of both Thomas Reese and Religion News Service.