Editorial writer Frank Wessling embraced the call of the Second Vatican Council to “publish news of the church’s life and informed comment on it.” His editorials on the Opinion page of The Catholic Messenger have stimulated passionate dialogue among our readers for nearly 50 years. He’s setting aside editorial writing for The Messenger to attend to other matters, but admits that after living on the weekly diocesan newspaper’s deadline for 48 years he’ll probably feel a twitch of urgency on occasion. Expect to see a column by him from time to time.
Theologian Richard Gaillardetz observed in an October 2012 lecture at St. Ambrose University in Davenport that the Second Vatican Council calls us to be open to “holy conversation.” That is, a respectful, intentional form of conversation allowing the faithful to view their own beliefs with new eyes.
Frank initiated such conversation each week by addressing current issues impacting the church. No one ever accused Frank of timidity or playing it safe. He wanted to engage ordinary Catholics in discussion of the issues. “I want people to get serious thinking about this,” he wrote in an email exchange with this editor about an editorial commenting on the unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. The editorial quoted a church historian and commentator calling for provocative changes by Benedict’s successor. Frank believed that a shock now and then, like Pope John XXIII calling for the Second Vatican Council, is needed, especially when the church seems to be losing the coming generation.
No matter the subject, an editorial by Frank always provided insight. Catholic News Service picked up numerous Catholic Messenger editorials written by Frank. In one editorial CNS posted April 4, 2007, Frank wrote: “We see now that a good Catholic is on her way, on his way to being another Christ. This applies to every person in the church. Every one of us, not just clergy, is called to holiness, called to come down from our individual, safe isolation and be in the world with the same healing, reconciling love that Jesus brought. Modern popes have all made a point of this, from the social awareness taught by Leo XIII more than 100 years ago to the doctrine of the mystical body proclaimed by Pius XII to the emphasis on solidarity that marked the pontificate of John Paul II.”
Editorials that Frank wrote addressing hot button issues such as women in the church, celibacy, same-sex unions, abortion and gun control prompted many letters to the editor. Two readers, for example, took Frank to task for a Feb. 6, 2014, editorial regarding gun control. In the editorial titled “Jesus would weep,” Frank wrote: “If a belief in guns goes as far as the pronouncements from the National Rifle Association and its allied groups such as Iowa Gun Owners, it’s very hard to see how Christians can be in their membership.…”
“I am that ‘Christian in their membership,’ and am one of many,” letter writer Keith Dexter of Lost Nation responded. “I refuse to hand over my rights as a gun owner to the same government that seems to have no problem taking away our religious liberties.”
Gaillardetz, the theologian, observed that being a disciple of Jesus means doing without the smug attitude of thinking you have all of the truth in your back pocket.
Frank did not convey a smug attitude and never assumed he had all of the truth in his back pocket. His editorials raised more questions than answers. He considered himself a learner on this journey of faith just like the rest of us.
“I want to personally thank Frank for expanding our minds and our understanding of our faith through his editorials these many years,” said Bishop Martin Amos, who serves as The Catholic Messenger’s publisher.
This editor hopes to carry on that tradition of expanding minds and providing insight on matters that impact the Catholic Church.