May 15, 2005

"Great Hope," Big Troubles


By Dennis O'Connor
For the Sunday Challenger

COVINGTON - For more than four years, Rev. Thomas Reese, (Society of Jesus), long-time editor of the national Catholic newsweekly America had dealt with complaints by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger over how the Jesuit publication dealt with controversial issues. On May 6, Reese announced he was throwing in the towel, acknowledging that his tenure would be even more difficult with the former head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith installed as the new Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI. Reese's seven-year tenure at America will close at the end of May, in the wake of articles on topics as varied as married priests, homosexual clergy and ordination of women - subjects that, it appears, are now verboten from official church discourse.

For Vatican watchers, the America resignation was the first sign since wisps of white smoke curled heavenwards from the Sistine Chapel of just what a new papacy might mean. Would there be more polarization within the ranks of the faithful, between those seeking dialogue about the issues being explored in America magazine and the likes of William Donohue, head of New York-based Catholic League, who last week urged Catholics everywhere to "get over" any objections they might have to a Benedictine papacy? And how will this new pope address the scandals of the American church's clerical sex-abuse crisis?

"I think that underneath all this, with the election of a new pope, there is great hope in the Diocese of Covington," said Jim Ott, former president of the advisory board for the Diocese of Covington's newspaper, the Messenger, and author of a history of the diocese, "Seekers of the Everlasting Kingdom: A Brief History of the Diocese of Covington."

"You have this general malaise within the diocese because of the sexual (abuse) problems," Ott said. "Attendance at Mass is down. I really think a lot of people have quit going to church. But with the positive coverage that the church had received with the death of Pope John Paul II and then the election of Pope Benedict, there has been quite a bit of good news. It is something to build on, something for people to look forward to."

The events of recent weeks also have been a diversion from the challenges confronting Bishop Roger Foys and the Diocese of Covington. Faced with financial pressure because of ongoing legal fees and payments related to the clergy sex abuse scandal, Foys directed diocese department directors to whittle employee ranks. Layoffs at the diocese offices in Erlanger will take place July 1.

Posted by kshaw at May 15, 2005 08:09 AM