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Two new stories now featured on our homepage.

First, the editors on reading the mission statement of Matt Malone, SJ, editor of America, about the challenges facing his magazine and the Catholic media at large. A pressing concern of Malone’s is

what he perceives to be the destructive influence of secular political ideology on Catholic unity. “We view ideology as largely inimical to Christian discipleship,” he writes, arguing that “our secular, civic a mortal threat to the ecclesiastical discourse.” In an effort to combat this “factionalism,” America will no longer allow writers to use the terms “liberal,” “conservative,” or “moderate” “when referring to our fellow Catholics in an ecclesiastical context.” That editorial experiment will bear watching.

Factionalism can indeed be a threat to the church (or to the country), but honest disagreement is not always destructive of ecclesial communion; in fact, it is often constitutive of it. As John Courtney Murray, SJ, once wrote, “disagreement is a rare achievement, and most of what is called disagreement is simply confusion.” Paul took on Peter in the most direct way on the question of whether the promises of Christ could be extended to the uncircumcised. The church as we know it would not exist but for that bit of factionalism. The number of such disagreements throughout the church’s history is hard to exaggerate. In fact, church unity is more often threatened when not enough room is made for the airing and resolution of honest disagreement. Nor does it do any good to pretend that the contemporary church is actually a community of harmony and virtue simply because ideally it should be. American Catholics belong to the church, but also to many other communities and organizations. They cannot, and should not, leave those attachments behind at the church door, nor should they regard their political commitments as peripheral to their Christian witness. Quite the contrary. For example, while America’s mission statement confesses a “bias” for the “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable,” it asserts that the poor have no “special parties to speak for them.” Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that all parties speak for the poor equally, or equally well.

Read the whole thing here.

Also featured now, E. J. Dionne Jr. and the position President Obama finds himself in on Syria:

[I]f Obama wanted to shift our foreign policy away from the Middle East, the Middle East had other ideas. Even before the latest reports that Syria’s government had used chemical weapons against its own people, the military’s takeover in Egypt, following abuses by the Muslim Brotherhood government, blew up the administration’s hopes for a gradual movement there toward more democratic rule.

Now, the president’s own unambiguous red line against the regime’s use of chemical weapons and his statements declaring that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad should be ousted leave him little choice but to take military action. This is the conclusion Obama has drawn, however uneasy he has been about intervening in the Syrian civil war. He no longer has the option of standing aside.

The result is an agonizing set of questions and potential contradictions. Can military strikes of any kind be the sort of “narrow” or -- and this has always been a strange word for war -- “surgical” intervention that does not drag the United States deeply into the conflict? Yet if the strikes are limited enough so as not to endanger Assad’s regime, is the Syrian leader then in a position to pronounce his survival a form of victory against the United States and its allies? Does Obama really want to get the U.S. involved, however tangentially, in a new Middle Eastern war without a debate in Congress and some explicit form of congressional approval?

Read it all here.

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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America, like Commonweal, is a men's magazine.  By men, about men, for men.  Funny that Malone quotes St. Paul's remark about neither male nor female when his current issue is only male and no female.  (I wonder if the censor of the comments, nearly all by men, will be male or female.)

I publicly disagreed with Malone's policy and direction for America on their websit, but I think it is pretty tacky for Commonweal to have published this editorial now three months after Malone published his statement.  Is the opinion of the Commonweal editors any different now than it was three months ago?  Why wait?   Publishing it now looks like a cheap hack job on a competeing Catholic opinion magazine.  I guess Commonweal is really despeate for subscribers.  Anyway that's how it looks to me.

I too am sorry this critique comes so late in the day, but I would say; "Better late than never."

Matt Malone's decree that there will henceforth be no conservatives, liberals, or moderates in the pages of America magazine struck me then and now as a choice to foster an illusion rather than to meet reality head-on. The fact that so many commenters at America applauded this choice concerns me.

I understand why Catholics are exasperated by the polarization of the church today, a situation that was exacerbated rather than relieved during the papacy of Benedict. But you don't solve problems by denying they exist. In fact, such denial is usually the prelude to taking sides without admitting it.

Commonweal rightly takes on the question of politics and the call to political engagement that is embedded in the lay Christian vocation. I think the editors make a strong case for the leadership of America to look critically at the newly-stated direction of their magazine, and adjust course.

I've been watching the new era at America with gathering somnolence. There were parts of the brave manifesto I liked when it was written three months ago, but overallI I feared the new editor was flirting with taking the magazine to the position of Buridan's ass. And so it seems to be. The current issue, which features Apple on the cover, has an article that approaches Macolotry and a movie review that does as good a job of field stripping Steve Jobs as can be done in a ... movie review. When there is more meat about life in the art columns than there is in essays on the issues, something has gone amiss.

And, no, I don't think Commonweal's take on America is a cheap shot. As I say, there is enough in the original manifesto to earn Malone a fair chance to see if it will work. Three months is about right for starting the assessment.

Of course, neither the editors of Commonweal nor (certainly) I have much idea of how the new era is going over with America's targeted Gen Xers. The slogan of that generation seems to be "Whatever," so maybe no one will ever know.

The idea that our commenting on this in August instead of June amounts to an act of journalistic hackery is silly. We run editorials with every issue, and we publish once in July and once in August. Our July editorial commented on l'affaire Snowden, and in August we wrote on gay marriage. In other words, news intervened. Besides, America's mission statement has a long shelf life, one would hope. Because it's, you know, a mission statement.

I like Malone's new direction with the magazine.   I find his tone to be gracious and open and willing to give voice to opinions that maybe would not have been given space in the magazine in recent years.  I find this editorial by Commonweal to be a bit premature.  I would have given him a bit more time at the healm before offering a judgement.  And given the extreme polarization in the church, I for one like at least trying to avoid using labels.  I think it may be worth a try.

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