Once upon a time many years ago, it was assumed that "America" magazine of the Society of Jesus could be counted on to speak up for the Church, her teachings and her bishops. Today legitimate questions arise about where the magazine's editorial board stands. In addressing that question relative to "America," we need to look at two things: what "America" prints and what it abstains from publishing.

Under the latter category, one is hard pressed to find regularly in the pages of "America" magazine, which is identified as a ministry of the Society of Jesus in America, articles and editorials that clearly and consistently, with regularity and clarity, present the teaching of the Church in a positive and convincing way. Here we think of topics such as: 1) marriage and why the Church teaches that it is a permanent commitment between a man and a woman with the possibility of generating and educating children; 2) the protection of the civil definition of marriage that is reflective of the natural moral order; 3) the need to accept and support the teaching of the bishops as they carry out their responsibilities to lead the Church in the highly complex world of today, and 4) the obligation of Catholic colleges and universities to fulfill the requirements of "Ex Corde Ecclesiae." The list can go on and on.

Under the heading of what "America" does print, one finds the following examples: When the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted unanimously to support the framework for doctrinal content in catechetical publications at the level of secondary schools, "America" magazine responded with an article ridiculing the bishops and proposing instead the same failed effort that on so many Catholic campuses has led to the very catechetical crisis we face today.

When an effort was made by the Conference of Bishops to clarify and present the teaching of the Church on ordinary and extraordinary means of preserving life and withholding of nutrition and hydration and other end-of-life issues, "America" presented its own teaching. When the chairs of the appropriate bishops' conference committees responded with an article correcting "America," the magazine altered the teaching in the bishops' article to such an extent that the bishops had to insist that the real version be printed.

Most recently we had the example of "America" magazine announcing that the bishops have simply misunderstood what is really at stake in the Conference of Bishops' opposition to the HHS mandate and its redefinition of church ministry and church ministers. The mandate treats sterilization, contraception and abortion-causing drugs as legitimate expressions of health care, and it would compel Catholic institutions and individuals to pay for and provide these services, directly or indirectly, in violation of Church teaching. The "America" editorial praises an empty "accommodation" offered by the Obama Administration and contends that the bishops should adopt a "conciliatory style" toward what the editorial writer regards as a policy question, rather than as a matter of religious freedom, as the bishops have strongly stated. The magazine offers the rather presumptuous position that it is much better at the teaching and pastoral leadership of the Church than are the bishops.

A case perhaps can be made for the role of the "loyal opposition" in any civil political structure. But the Church is much more than just one more political entity, and it can and should call us to a more apostolic vision of unity and communion. It is hard to imagine that Saint Ignatius of Loyola would have envisioned the magazine of the Society of Jesus in the United States as the organized opposition to the pastoral leadership of the Pope and bishops in communion with him. A lot has changed from the days of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, particularly at "America" magazine.