In Francis, the Roman Catholic Church has its first Jesuit pontiff. Relations between his religious order and headquarters in Rome have often been rocky. Peace has also not always reigned between the Vatican and America magazine,
So, Father Malone, is it an article of faith that this new papacy is good for the Jesuits? “It’s uncharted territory,” he said, sipping the first of several cups of coffee. “It’s hard to know how it affects us other than to say we’re very proud. We have a reputation — sometimes earned, sometimes not — for being a little arrogant. We try not to give voice to our pride too much.”
For now, anyway, Francis’s ascension seems to have been a boon for Father Malone’s magazine. During the papal conclave, “we had a huge number of hits on the Web site,” he said, adding, “In fact, it crashed after he was announced, because of the demand.”
Across its 104 years, America has never had a chief editor as young as Father Malone, who was 40 when appointed last June, the same month he was ordained as a priest after a decade of preparation.
Does Father Reese’s unpleasant experience weigh on him? He paused before answering.
“There isn’t a newspaper or magazine that can say everything it wants to say,” he said, adding with a laugh that at America it is usually for want of space. But bear in mind that “we’re not disinterested observers,” he said.
“We are evangelists. I think that America, historically, has gotten into trouble when we have forgotten that part of our identity.”
Father Malone suggested meeting at Park Café, a coffee shop attached to the Hotel Wellington, on Seventh Avenue at 55th Street. It is around the corner from a building on West 56th Street that contains the magazine’s offices and a residence for about 20 Jesuit priests, Father Malone included. This choice was not an act of modesty, he asserted in an e-mail exchange to set up the lunch. “I just have a bland, Irish palate,” he said. “A grilled cheese and French fries is my idea of culinary heaven.”
He lived up to his own billing, ordering grilled cheese on whole wheat, but skipping the fries. In that spirit of abnegation, his tablemate settled for two scrambled eggs.
Jesuits elicit various reactions among Catholics, from a sunny belief that they are the brainiacs of the church to a darker view that they are grand conspirators, too clever by half. “Jesuitical” is not a word always said in admiration. But Father Malone cautioned against sweeping judgments: “There’s an old saying that if you’ve met one Jesuit, you’ve met one Jesuit.”
Link (here) to the New York Times to read the full interview of Fr. Matt Malone, S.J.