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Liberal Jesuits & the Late Pope

By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. (articles ) | Apr 04, 2005

May the Lord preserve our pontiff and give him life
and make him blessed upon the earth
and deliver him not to the will of his enemies.

Sinéad O'Connor, during a 1992 appearance on SNL, ended her performance of a Bob Marley song by ripping a photo of Pope John Paul II top to bottom while chanting "Fight the real enemy!" Most people who heard of the incident were shocked by the display of hatred. I wasn't. I'm a Jesuit, you see.

Over the course of 28 years in the Society of Jesus, I've watched Wojtyla-hatred turn into one of the principal sub-themes of Jesuit life. I say "theme" and not "policy." The official documents have never departed from the language of deference to the pope. I'm talking about the informal expectations of day to day existence, the culture transmitted not by the printed word but by oblique rewards and punishments, by the smiles and scowls of the men who count. Viewed from within this culture of jesuitry, Sinéad's pontiff-shredding was almost sacramental: an outward sign of an interior reality.

How widespread was this hatred? It's hard to say. Certainly John Paul II always had a staunch minority of admirers and defenders among Jesuits, nor were all superiors inimical to him. The prominence of the theme was a function both of the intensity of the pope-haters and of the tolerance shown this hatred by their brethren -- that is, it was as much a matter of what was left unspoken as what was actually said.

Diogenes has cited a remark made by a Jesuit on the day of the attempt on the Pope's life in May 1981. Fr. Cyril Barrett, S.J. ("in a bellow that filled a London restaurant"), said of the failed assassin Mehmet Ali Agca, "The only thing wrong with that bloody Turk was that he couldn't shoot straight!" Note that this is not the language of passionate disagreement, this is hatred, pure and simple. But the key point is not Barrett's malice, nor even his Sinéad-ish ferocity in expressing it. The really telling fact is that the episode was recounted in Barrett's obituary, in a Jesuit publication, in a tone that, if short of endorsement, suggested nothing worse than a venial lapse of good taste on his part. Classic Cyril!

Before ordination I'd heard my Jesuit professors pray that Wojtyla come to an early death -- and go unrebuked, or rebuked in that jocular vein that signals sympathy. It was the absence of contradiction that spoke loudest. Of course you can come up with many examples of pro-papal utterances by Jesuits, but try to find (comparably public, self-initiated) examples of remonstrance or correction of influential papal detractors by their superiors. You won't. Take the remarks quoted by McDonough and Bianchi in their book (Passionate Uncertainty) on the U.S. Jesuits. From a Jesuit academic: "The Society has not sold its soul to the 'Restoration' of John Paul II." From a Jesuit church historian: "[He's] probably the worst pope of all times" (referring to Wojtyla, and adding) "He's not one of the worst popes; he's THE worst. Don't misquote me." They didn't.

The reason for these Jesuits' Wojtyla-hatred is no mystery. His fiercest adversaries have always been liberal-apostate Catholics: those who, in flat contradiction to the logic of doctrine, press for that doctrine to change. Women may become priests, and approval may be given to contraception, but the institution that enacts these innovations ipso facto has ceased to be part of the Catholic Church. The venom of liberals toward Karol Wojtyla was bitterest, ironically, in precisely that area in which he differed least from his predecessors and in which his successor will differ least from him: in repeating the truism that doctrine, being unchangeable, will not be changed.

Men's hatred for the one who has been unjust to them is trifling compared to their hatred for the one they have treated unjustly; every reminder of him brings a fresh twinge of pain. Liberal-apostates know that their stance is irrational, that they do the pope an injustice in pretending he is free to un-pope himself by altering the deposit of faith. The dreams that progressivists surfaced during Paul VI's pontificate -- of a congregational, sexually emancipated, anti-sacral "picnic" catholicism -- were frankly infantile. Yet Catholics over 50 will remember the emotional mist of auto-suggestion that "the next pope" would move with the times and make these dreams come true. Not all Jesuits got smitten by this vision, but the majority did, and was stunned when Wojtyla failed to act out its fantasy. Many left the Society to seethe outside it; others remained, and seethe within.

I don't want to overstate the case. Several Jesuits around the world have a profound interest in the late Pope and have been careful and articulate expounders of his work. But their endeavors are nearly always made to seem marginal: at best, philosophical hobbyism; at worst, deviationist crankery. When a group of us put together a conference on the Thought of Karol Wojtyla fifteen years ago, we asked the U.S. provinces to distribute a flyer to all Jesuit houses. One socius (2nd-in-command) sent off the flyer with the accompanying note, "This item is being passed on to you without comment" -- which was more than a comment; it was a sneer plus a veiled threat: you may, if you wish, affect to treat Wojtyla with respect, but understand that you have demoted yourself to the second class. We all knew the score.

John Paul is dead, and his despisers must find other bones to gnaw. A younger, less rancorous, and (thanks, in part, to a quarter century of choler) markedly smaller generation of Jesuits is presently in formation. No one knows which man, as pope, the new Jesuits will be called to serve, but the deposit of faith he inherits at the outset of his papacy will be intact at its end. We've come to a fork in the road: Jesuits can continue to serve a make-believe church and rage in impotence against the pope who ignores it, or can reconnect with a tradition of martyrs, more concerned with the conversion of Turks than in improving their marksmanship. "Deliver him not," reads the prayer Pro Pontifice, "to the will of his enemies." It would be good to speak these words once again, pleading for the success of the Society's endeavors instead of their frustration.

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Show 25 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Apr. 13, 2005 3:13 AM ET USA

    Oh ye of little faith, do you think Jesus would abandon His Bride, especially when She is being vilified by self made men who worship only their maker John

  • Posted by: khall356141 - Apr. 07, 2005 2:00 AM ET USA

    It has become "gauche" to convert people because of the cynicism and political correctness the Jesuits have helped to propogate. If they are irrelevant in the 21st Century, they made themselves so. The Church could REALLY use a huge crop of Ignatian Jesuits right now, battle all the heretics who are trying to destroy the Church rather than admit they're Episcopalians. St. Ignatius started with seven, he might be back down to seven; but we need them every bit as much now as we did back then.

  • Posted by: Meg Q - Apr. 05, 2005 11:53 PM ET USA

    In response to Leo below - saints preserve us from another Clement XIV!!! Couldn't we just suppress Jesuits, without suppressing *the* Jesuits?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 05, 2005 9:09 PM ET USA

    The great priest, Fr. Levis, isn't a Jesuit as one Sound Off writer has claimed. Fr. Levis, I believe, is a diocesan priest who taught at Gannon, but he himself was never a Jesuit. Don't discount the power of many Jesuit white martyrs who are suffering and praying for their fellow Jesuits. Hubris has led to the demise of the Jesuits who once were known as the shock troops of the Pope. I recall the late Fr. Hardon SJ saying how much his taking the 4th vow cost him.

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Apr. 05, 2005 8:40 PM ET USA

    The next pope may well be Jorge Bergoglio, S.J. who inspired a vocation boom in argentina and guided the province through some tough times and currently leads the faithful of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires through economic disaster. He is a humble man of deep prayer, who preaches the gospel pure and clear. Of course he is hated by the liberals. It will be very interesting to see the reaction from the liberal faction of the Jesuits.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 05, 2005 4:25 PM ET USA

    Who really cares about the Jesuits and their heresy and homosexualism? Of course there is a tiny minority of so-called "good" Jesuits, but the order is moribund, anti-Catholic and a bit farcical, really. Bald men arguing over a comb, to borrow from Santayana. The heteronormative and the heterodox, living largely in silentio. Avoid the extraordinary measures necessary for survival. End it now.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 05, 2005 8:47 AM ET USA

    Please...it is kind of tasteless to list the 'good Jesuits'; I am privileged to work and interact with several who are strong priests (and scholastics as well). This past 50 years has not been good for many different orders...but how many of us spend more time carping and less time fasting and praying?

  • Posted by: Abraham Tolemahcs - Apr. 05, 2005 8:31 AM ET USA

    Since no one has done so yet I want to recognize another devout Jesuit, Fr. Paul Shaughnessy S.J. (LCdr/USN) who may be familiar to most from several essays he's written for CWR. Fr. Shaughnessy, who is now serving as a chaplain with the 31st MEU, has recently returned from an extended tour of combat duty in Iraq. If anyone wants to hear about a truly devout & courageous example of a Jesuit they should talk to the Marines, soldiers and sailors with whom he served.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 05, 2005 3:32 AM ET USA

    As a Diocesan, the comments herein about the Jesuits indicate that there is indeed a serious need for restoration of reconciliation, the Sacrament. Some of the coments are not so sinful as they are sick. I feel sorry for their authors. Fr. Frank Westhoff

  • Posted by: Baklashka - Apr. 05, 2005 1:52 AM ET USA

    Dear Fr. Mankowski: I did enjoy your Hebrew classes at the PIB a few years ago (even though I went to your Spanish version...), but this article surpasses it all! Thanks for your good example then and now. I hope we can meet again. JC

  • Posted by: - Apr. 05, 2005 1:12 AM ET USA

    Don't forget to add Fr. Levis of Gannon Univ. (seen on EWTN) to your list of few good Jesuits and Fr. R. Spitzer who is working hard to turn Gonzaga Univ. of Spokane around. If he does, it will be the first turn-around of a Jesuit educational institution. In Canada, we can name one Jesuit loyal to the magisterium: Fr. Tony Hee, S.J. - he stands daily on Parliament Hill with signs witnessing to the value of human life. There may be other hidden good Jesuits but they are not well known.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 05, 2005 12:07 AM ET USA

    Remember the words of our Lord, Ïf they hated me they will hate you.¨ I pray the Lord will convert their cold hearts.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Apr. 04, 2005 11:31 PM ET USA

    Amen, Father Mankowski, SJ. Amen And I am praying for you and the orthodox Jesuits (Frs. Fessio, Pacwa, McNellis and others)... to lead this "reconnect" with the next Holy Father... Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2005 11:10 PM ET USA

    All of us are saved by our work,so don't be too hard on the Jesuits. Their work has been taken from them. They have been emasculated. Ignatian Jesuits were missionaries, ready for the rigors of martyrdom. Now, it is gauch to convert. Ignatian Jesuits were priests who forgave sins. Now, it is gauche to admit the existence of sin. Ignatian Jesuits were priests who said Mass. Now we have Mass only if we have dancing girls too. Pray to San Ignacio for the Jesuits. And for us.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2005 9:31 PM ET USA

    Add Father Mitch Pacwa SJ and Father Kenneth Baker SJ to that list. We all hope and pray the Jesuits will once again join the Catholic Church!.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2005 8:27 PM ET USA

    We mustn't forget to mention Father Mitch Pacwa and his cowboy boots!

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Apr. 04, 2005 7:02 PM ET USA

    There really are some good Jesuits. Fr. Fessio and Fr. Mankowski aren't entirely alone. But as Fr. Mankowski indicates, they're pretty lonely.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2005 6:21 PM ET USA

    JPII became a universal hero, not because he was weak and lenient, but because he was strong and unrelenting. Thanks be to God.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2005 6:08 PM ET USA

    Father Mankowski: I will keep you in my prayers as you are a real Jesuit in the spirit of Ignatius and Edmund Campion. It is sad but I fear true, the Legionaries are the Jesuits of our day. May God keep and bless you. Bob

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2005 12:44 PM ET USA

    The Society of Jesus is irrelevant to 21st Centruy Catholicism. A bunch of old fruits who sit around maundering in their sherry (there days of cruising the rec room a distant memory), wondering just how misspent their lives have been. Yes, there are a few solid ones, banished to Duarte quicker than one can say, "Of course we didn't report it to the parishioners. It's an anonymous, internet sex thing, not a priestly thing." The rest are busy molesting the retarded gardner.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2005 11:34 AM ET USA

    Significant in this article (to me) isn't the vocal dissenters - it's the presumed silent (and thus worthless) orthodox majority. If there is an orthodox majority - I've seen scant evidence that it even exists. My concern is that the "scores of disobedient bishops and cardinals" are the ones who's scrutiny is electing il Papa. When I consider that Roger "cardinal" Mahony is voting on the next pope, but Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz is not, I truly worry about the future of the Church.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2005 11:04 AM ET USA

    The first 100 days of the new Pope will be critical. He will be watched by friends and enemies alike. The Jesuits and the scores of disobedient bishops and cardinals need to realize that their kind of sour propaganda will not be rewarded or overlooked. On the other hand, if things work the other way, God only knows the consequences.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2005 10:26 AM ET USA

    Pipe dreams: --- The next pope will be an orthodox jesuit who has been biding his time to clean house and restore the order to its past glory. Or, perhaps he will be a 21st century Clement XIV who will suppress the order. Or, perhaps, the order will be left to fizzle out from lack of vocations.

  • Posted by: sparch - Apr. 04, 2005 10:13 AM ET USA

    The liberal gilded people who have been fighting the church, both outside and inside it's walls, have a vision of the world that does not square with the doctrine and theology of the Church. If you wish to see what a man is all about, look to see his fruits. I see a life of John Paul II and praise God that the Holy Spirit ushered him in to the papacy when he did. The vision I hope for is a new pope who clearly sees the sin of apostasy ofthe age and fights it tooth and nail.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2005 8:53 AM ET USA

    I'm impressed. A masterful commentary. I have long wondered at the demise of the Jesuits but never knew the true state. Corruptio optimorum pessima.

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