On the Lookout: St. Anthony Messenger Flirts with the Extreme Left

St. Anthony Messenger has been a welcomed periodical in Catholic homes for over 100 years. The editor, Norman Perry, O.F.M., writes, “Throughout its century-plus of continuous publication we have been addressing the religious and spiritual concerns of Catholic families and readers, while applying Catholic teaching to the problems and situations we meet in everyday life.” St. Anthony’s commendable service to Catholic families in America for generations leads most pastors and readers to trust all the offerings of the St. Anthony Messenger Press. However, their new publication, Millennium Monthly, a renewal program designed to prepare parishioners for the jubilee, requires a particularly cautious examination. Contributors to the series include several of the most radical dissenting Catholic priests, nuns, and theologians.

The new series is divided into three segments; each year focuses upon a person of the Trinity as outlined in the Holy Father’s Toward the Third Millennium. Millennium Monthly is seen primarily as a catechetical response to the coming jubilee, according to Thomas Bruce, director of sales and marketing for the Press. Yet Brennan Hill, the “environmental theologian” who wrote the first segment on Jesus, is the author of The Catechism: Highlights and Commentary. Chair of theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Hill’s book was reviewed by Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn and K.D. Whitehead in Flawed Expectations: The Reception of the Catechism in the U.S. Wrenn and Whitehead outline the intent of Hill’s book—to “modify, undermine, and even nullify what the Catechism itself says.”

When asked to elaborate on his newest work in “environmental theology” (now taught as a minor at the university) Dr. Hill claimed it was a “theology of the ’90s.” He listed several other environmental theologians, among them, Catholic Theological Society of America’s Anne Clifford and the USCC’s Walt Grazer. “It’s a growing body of literature. We look at creation theologies—and there are many . . .”

Dr. Hill’s theology, soft on sin and light on Christ’s divinity, is criticized for blurring the boundaries of sexual morality. Michael S. Rose, publisher of St. Catherine Review, a Cincinnati based newsletter, asks, “Why not just use the Catechism as the basic text in preparation for the jubilee?”

 

Rose points out that the Millennium Monthly is a collaboration with the National Pastoral Life Center and its director, Msgr. Philip J. Murnion. That collaboration is problematic for discerning Catholics. Msgr. Murnion was the primary architect of Called To Be Catholic, the foundational document of the now faltering Common Ground Project. Thomas Bruce explains, “The NPLC approached us about doing a series for their Follow Me renewal program. Msgr. Murnion wanted a catechetical component and turned to St. Anthony Messenger Press.” St. Anthony Press is known for Catholic Update, used in many parish RCIA programs, and is a major supplier of pastoral education programs. This is the press’ first collaboration with NPLC—which is not an official Church agency.

More worrisome still is the participation in Millennium Monthly of Fr. Richard Rohr of enneagram fame; Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, a noted feminist; Fr. Robert Kinast, director of the Center for Theological Reflection, who’ll write about “The Unfinished Business of Vatican II”; Karen Sue Smith, editor of Church magazine, also published by NPL center, and Diana Hayes, associate professor of systematic theology at Georgetown University and a Call To Action favorite. Ms. Hayes will address the “Millennium and World Religions.” A quick check revealed that St. Anthony Messenger Press was an exhibitor at the 1996 Call To Action conference in Detroit.

The persistent chipping away at Church doctrine by many of those invited to contribute to Millennium Monthly suggest serious flaws in its design. At risk, according to Thomas Bruce, are some 300,000 parishioners. “We have 6000 bulk subscribers, mainly parishes, and it’s growing every month,” he reported. Bruce believes Millennium Monthly is the only nationwide program available to pastors who hope to prepare parishioners for the jubilee. There are few diocesan programs such as Detroit has, or the program offered by the Paulist Fathers in Washington, D.C.

St. Catherine Review editor Michael Rose earned his MFA at Brown University, where he discovered that “everything was tolerated except Catholicism.” Lamenting the “institutionalized opposition to the Catechism in the United States,” Rose also stressed the “liturgical decay” prevalent in the Franciscan parish of St. Francis Seraph, home parish for series editor of Millennium Monthly, Jeremy Harrington, OFM. “I did my thesis on anti-Catholicism,” said Rose. “What I found was that the most passionate anti-Catholics were often so called ‘members’ of the Church.”

Mary Jo Anderson

By

Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and public speaker. She is a board member of Women for Faith and Family and has served on the Legatus Board of Directors. With co-author Robin Bernhoft, she wrote Male and Female He Made Them: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions (Catholic Answers Press, 2005).

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