By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 28, 2006
The badge pictured above belongs to the Intelligence Corps of the Royal Army. Sardonic observers claim it's meant to represent "a pansy resting on its laurels." I've no reason to think the IC deserves the gibe, but recent history has shown that, were it sewn on a sport-shirt as a shoulder patch, it applies exceptionally well to the contemporary Society of Jesus.
This unfriendly judgment is not primarily a consequence of the Society's tumbles into farce -- its Extra Virgin fiasco (which occasioned some official crawfishing) or its Brokeback Lent (which didn't) -- rather it's the diffuse attitude of feline complacency and insubordination that rankles, and that calls to mind the pansy-flattened greenery.
If you were the Pope, and needed someone to fight your battles, would you trust today's Jesuits? If you were a Jesuit, would you think the Pope sane if he did? Of course not. The old-style obedience still has a ceremonial function in the obligatory public exchange of compliments, but neither the papacy nor the Society is therein fooled. Regrettably, there's an overabundance of proof for this point. In bouncing around a Google search on the Roger Haight affair, I found that the Jesuits' America magazine, in the very news item in which it announced that the CDF found "serious doctrinal errors" in Haight's Jesus Symbol of God, included an Amazon hotlink to the same book. OK, I'll grant you there's a cheeky kind of wit to the stunt, but the outfit that indulges in this kind of needling forfeits the right to climb on its high horse and, against its detractors, protest its deathless allegiance to the Holy See. You can enjoy flipping off the Pope or you can enjoy the esteem that comes from loyalty, but you can't have it both ways.
Nor are the popes oblivious to the changed reality. True, Benedict toured Vatican Radio three weeks ago on its 75th anniversary, but have post-Conciliar popes entrusted any important mission to the Jesuits? True, recent popes have made some Jesuits bishops, but is this attention flattering to the Society? After all, it implies the order has become a kind of broken tractor, a repository of spare parts. They find a functioning Catholic here or there, mothball his vows, and give him a diocese -- like a farmer yanking a generator off his old Allis-Chalmers and fitting it onto his new Ford. Of course an outfit as large as the SJ will always contain many refractory members: bad guys in epochs when it's healthy, good guys in epochs when it's not. But the point is that the Allis-Chalmers's plowing days are over. Sure, the Pope's Light Infantry still exists as a religious institute, but collectively they've refashioned themselves as the Church's Intelligence Corps (in the words of P.J. O'Rourke, Aromatherapists Without Borders). Do schismatics still tremble when the Jesuits show up in town?
Oblique symbolic actions underline the same point. The 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis Xavier occurs next month, and Xavier -- undoubtedly the Jesuit with the greatest popular devotion -- is in some respects the quintessential member of his order. The Pontifical Liturgy Office says the principal celebrant of the official Jubilee Mass in St. Peter's will be
His Holiness Pope Bened His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Sodano. I'm no expert in Vaticanese but I think I can read that message. Imagine Aretha Franklin fans crowding a concert only to find, as a stand-in, she's sent Nancy Reagan to do readings from Maya Angelou. In Benedict's case it's not a question of dismaying the audience, but the substitutionary gift of Sodano says it all.
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