Catholic Journals Take on Hierarchy: 1 Jesuit-Run, 2 by Laymen Analyze Issues

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 12, 1996 | Go to article overview

Catholic Journals Take on Hierarchy: 1 Jesuit-Run, 2 by Laymen Analyze Issues


Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


When retired Archbishop John R. Quinn said in a recent speech on reforming church governance that the Vatican "imposed" policies on bishops, it was reprinted in the biweekly lay Catholic journal Commonweal.

The conservative lay Catholic journal Crisis rebutted his proposal in this month's issue.

In a Jesuit weekly, America, the Rev. Thomas Reese of Georgetown University gave a neutral rendering of how the National Conference of Catholic Bishops wants to restructure itself.

Meanwhile, at Crisis, traditionalist Helen Hitchcock's "USCC Watch" column evaluated whether the bishops and their staff are too politically correct.

In a Catholic Church of increasingly diverse viewpoints, three intellectual journals in the United States - America, Commonweal and Crisis - keep stirring the pot of faithful opinion.

Though Crisis is far newer on the block, its conservative voice has found a niche alongside the two venerable predecessors.

"These journals continue to be influential to the extent that there is a Catholic elite or intelligentsia," said Greg Erlandson, editor-in-chief of Our Sunday Visitor, a publishing house and the largest of five national Catholic newspapers.

"Crisis has filled a gap in terms of approaches to issues," he said. "The best pairing might be Commonweal and Crisis, being both lay-edited and not church-owned."

America was founded by the Jesuits in 1909. It has a circulation of 40,000 and is under the editorial control of a New York foundation, not the order's superior in Rome. It was founded to cover all aspects of society - and to "save our people from error," its first editor said.

"I suspect that if [the founding Jesuit editor, the Rev.] John Wynn, his early associate editors and readers were to return today, they would be presently surprised to learn how little America has changed in its essentials," the current editor, the Rev. George W. Hunt, wrote recently.

With a stable of scholarly priests in "the Jesuit apostolate in journalism," America often is quickest to analyze internal Vatican or canonical issues.

Founded in 1924, Commonweal is the oldest Catholic lay journal. Its circulation peaked in the 1960s with the excitement of Vatican II reforms, but has leveled to between 16,000 and 19,000 in the past 20 years. Paul Baumann, Commonweal associate editor, says Crisis automatically supports the pope whereas his magazine does not. …

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