Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Jesuits Show Strength

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Dec 13, 2004

The New York Times's David Gibson has a weird article on the U.S. Jesuits, finding signs of vitality in their insistence that there are signs of vitality to be found. CWNews editor Phil Lawler gets a look-in:

But the vacuum created by the recent church scandals has given the Jesuits an opening. With the Boston archdiocese's finances stretched to the breaking point by the large settlements paid in sex-abuse cases, the Jesuits, backed by longstanding endowments, have been able to buy up properties that the archdiocese is selling.

"Particularly in Boston, it's almost as if the Jesuits have set up a parallel authority structure," said Philip Lawler, editor of the conservative Catholic World Report, who questions Boston College's Catholic bona fides. "It is ironic, in a way, that you have this nose-dive by the Jesuits at the same time that Boston College is growing."

The Jesuits' efforts can be seen elsewhere as well. At Fordham University in the Bronx, for example, the new president, the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, has pledged to turn the university into a leading center of Catholic intellectual and cultural life

Left unmentioned in the article is the fact that the Jesuits relinquished control of Boston College and Fordham years ago. If the lay majority of their respective boards of trustees decided tomorrow to join forces with Oral Roberts or Wendy's or Mustapha Ahmad Al-Hawsawi, the Society of Jesus would have exactly zero say in the matter -- or more precisely, they could submit an op-ed in the NYT protesting the decision and -- who knows? -- the trustees might even read it out loud.

By the same token, Gibson is mistaken that the Jesuits have been able to buy archdiocesan bargains off the Boston auction block. It's the university that has cash to spare. The New England Jesuit Province, on the other hand, with many of the same woes as the archdiocese, has had massive pay-outs to make, as its friskier members have been engaged in full-contact creation spirituality of their own devising, with the usual financial consequences.

Indeed, Phil Lawler's mention of the "nose dive by the Jesuits" is no hyperbole. In 1960, 409 men joined the order in the U.S. This year, 65 did -- and that's not to mention 104 deaths and 53 who quit (all in this past twelve months). Of course it's reassuring to learn that Fr. McShane has "pledged" to turn Fordham into an intellectual powerhouse, but to take this as a sign of strength is like taking a man's IOU as a sign of his financial health. However McShane intends to deliver on his promise, he's not going to do it with Jesuits. Perhaps he's channeling Teilhard de Chardin and plans to build a noosphere on 191st Street. Yet the grand prize for making an implausible virtue of unwelcome necessity has to go to the president of the soon-to-be-extinct Weston Jesuit School of Theology:

"It is certainly the case that we are getting smaller, but I see it as the religious life being restored to its proper minority status within the church," said Father Manning of the Weston School. "We were always meant to be a model, a sign to people, not the dominant model of religious life."

Outstanding. A pilot loses his bearings and crashes his 737 into a mountain, and claims it as proof of his skill: "We were always meant to walk anyway."

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