weigel on the jesuits

By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 21, 2008

George Weigel has a very incisive column titled "Questions for Father General," in which he challenges the Jesuit Superior to put to rest the skepticism of many Catholics about the Jesuit claim to remain the Pope's loyal servants. Thus Weigel:

Last month, the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus elected Father Adolfo Nicolas, a Spaniard, as General of the order. A few days later, Father Nicolas gently chided Roman journalists for running some "not so helpful" stories about alleged problems between the Jesuits and Pope Benedict XVI; any notion of a rift with the Vatican, he said, was "an artificial tension" created by outsiders unaware that "the Society of Jesus from the very beginning has always been in communion with the Holy Father..." The Jesuits "want to collaborate with the Holy See and to obey the Holy Father," Father Nicolas averred. "That has not changed and it will not change."

It's pretty clear we're in an Alice Through the Looking Glass game here ("When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less") because something has changed in the past 40 years, as Weigel points out by means of painfully concrete examples:

What will Father Nicolas do about Jesuits who are manifestly not obedient to the Pope or to the teaching authority of the Church? Take, for example, the case of Father James Keenan, S.J., of Boston College. Several years ago, Father Keenan testified before the Massachusetts Legislature, arguing that the principles of Catholic social doctrine did not merely tolerate "gay marriage," they demanded it. That position is manifestly not "in communion" with the teaching of popes past and present on the nature of marriage; now what?

There's no question that the proposed legislation would have far-reaching effects in the public sphere and that the impact of a priest's testimony would be important. Are we to imagine that Fr. Keenan's superiors approached the Papal Nuncio ahead of time to be certain they were "on the same page" as the Holy See on this issue? Back to Weigel:

Father Nicolas cannot be unaware of Jesuit colleges and universities whose Catholicism -- measured by curriculum, faculty, and mode-of-life on campus -- is vestigial at best. Does he think it appropriate for Jesuit institutions to honor Jesuits who taught the precise opposite of what the popes have taught about abortion, and distorted the meaning of papal teaching in counseling others? Georgetown University's Law School has an endowed chair in international human rights law named after the late Father Robert Drinan, S.J., who did more than anyone else to convince Catholic legislators that the settled teaching of the Church on the grave immorality of abortion had no bearing on their legislative work. Father Drinan gave Catholic legislators a pass on the great civil rights issue of our time, yet a Jesuit university hosts a human rights chair named for him; how does this square with the Society's commitment to social justice and with the obedient fidelity St. Ignatius bade his followers to observe in their relationship to the Church's magisterium and to the Bishop of Rome?

Here again the mind of the Holy See on the disputed issue was never in doubt -- regarding the protection due the unborn child under law, as well as the injustice of abortion itself. Radical feminists claim that the Church has it wrong on both counts; Drinan claimed (quietly) the Church is right on the second count and claimed (loudly) that she is wrong on the first, going so far as to urge the legality of partial birth abortion. If Drinan's desire "to collaborate with the Holy See" is a specimen of the things Fr. Nicolas insists "will not change," few of us will find it reassuring. The article resumes:

Then there is the third-rail issue in religious orders today: homosexuality. In a letter to the General Congregation, Pope Benedict suggested that there were serious problems with how some Jesuits undertook the pastoral care of persons with homosexual desires. He could have gone farther and addressed this problem within the Society of Jesus itself; it was not that long ago, after all, that the Web site of the Jesuits' California Province featured photos of "Pretty Boy" and "Jabba the Slut" in gay drag at a novices' party.

What's important to remember here is that the website represents not only the recreations of the novices but the convictions of their superiors, the men in the responsible, policy-making positions. The images they displayed are the images of the Society of Jesus they want the world to have. The photos were eventually taken down, but have we any reason to think the attitudes which put them up in the first place are not still today those of the Jesuits in charge? More Weigel:

Will Father Nicolas demand that Jesuits observe their vows of chastity, whatever their sexual preferences? Will there be consequences for those who violate those vows, or cover for those who do? Will Jesuit vocations offices and novitiates obey the 2005 Vatican instruction which states that "those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called 'gay culture'" must not be admitted to seminaries or to holy orders?

Even before the 2005 Instruction (the "Doomsday Doc") was issued, several Jesuit provincials had drawn a line in the sand and announced they weren't budging on their contrary policy. If anything's changed in the meantime, it hasn't been communicated as vocally as the earlier dissent.

A fourth point: the tendency among some Jesuit theologians to minimize the unique salvific role of Christ. That problem is most apparent in Asia, where Father Nicolas has lived for decades; the Holy See has addressed it in recent disciplinary actions against Jesuit theologians. Does Ignatian communion with the Pope still require Jesuits to affirm the Nicene Creed, the Council of Chalcedon's teaching on the hypostatic union, and the teaching of Dominus Iesus on Christ as unique savior of the world?

"Communion" with the Pope is, after all, setting the bar pretty low. Every Catholic fourth-grader not guilty of contumacious doctrinal error meets that standard. One might expect something more robust from the religious order founded by Ignatius Loyola.

The Long Lent of 2002, which revealed the disastrous consequences of sexual corruption and malfeasant leadership in the Church, should have hammered home to every Catholic the dangers of euphemism, and of winking-and-nodding. When the future of a great religious congregation is at stake, there is no room for anything but the unvarnished truth. I pray that Father Nicolas provides it.

Amen. We're told that today the Pope will receive the delegates to the Jesuit General Congregation in private audience. It's reasonable to expect that the Holy Father will communicate to the delegates his hopes for their work that remains. Being Benedict, he almost certainly will not dwell on the history of conflict but will emphasize the Jesuits' positive contributions to the post-conciliar Church, such as those in selenography. As for the questions posed by Weigel, we'll learn a lot about the answers Jesuit leaders would tender in reply by the picture of the audience they want the rest of the Church to have.

Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 9 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Feb. 27, 2008 3:54 PM ET USA

    An observer being shown the legions of the Roman army was shown four marching towand the city. He asked where the fifth column was for he had been told there were five. The response was that they were already within the city. Conquer from within is a tactic that survived to WWII. It served Hitler well. Any religious order within the Church which does not serve Christ's appointed guardian of the Faith acts in a similar way. Let the Jesuits take note to remain faithfully obedient to the Pope.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 23, 2008 12:08 PM ET USA

    As a mom, maybe I'm a bit over-sensitive to the sound of whining, but Fr. Nicolas' quoted plea that outsiders just don't understand that the Jesuits "...WANT to collaborate with the Holy See and to obey the Holy Father...", left me waiting for the implied "BUT..." preceding the reasons why they just CAN'T in "good" conscience "obey and collaborate." Uncle Di is right: Fr. Nicolas' statement means just what he intends it to mean, at this moment and place, nothing more nor less.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 21, 2008 9:08 PM ET USA

    Dear RC: Fair enough. I was focusing on the SJs with reputations here in the USA. Drinan is a particularly good example to sustain my point; he was smacked a bit by JP2 for participating politics, but he and many of his fellow SJs went untouched on doctrinal matters that were far more serious. None have suffered excommunication, and none were publicly required to repudiate their behavior. I think my general point still stands, which, if you allow me to rephrase it, would be that there is at a minimum an extraordinary forbearance by Church governors to tolerate doctrinal deviation. To my knowledge, there have been only a handful of public excommunications since the rise of JP2, and only one was clearly over doctrine (me thinks it was the Oblate from Sri Lanka about ten years back) the other one that I recall was that of the “demon” Lefebvre. Even Charles Curran, who arguably orchestrated one of the most brazen acts of doctrinal defiance in modern Church history, was not excommunicated. Go figure.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 21, 2008 4:53 PM ET USA

    I can't agree with the brethren below who think that nothing at all has been done about some SJs' errors. In his former capacity as CDF head, Cdl. Ratzinger addressed problems with several Jesuits' questionable work: Sobrino ("liberation theology"), Haight (moral theology), Dupuis (pluralism and salvation), and De Mello (spirituality); and there are others with a CDF "dialogue" in progress.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 21, 2008 4:21 PM ET USA

    And if the Jesuits don't make any corrections, what penalties will they face? This order has been a nuisance for the Church for at least fifty years and as others have noted on these pages, the disorder continues to fester. When I see Sgt. Bruno Skullsplitter of the Swiss Guards standing at the Pope's right hand with all his tools, only then will I believe action will ever be taken.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 21, 2008 12:56 PM ET USA

    Unfortunately, AMEN to all three previous comments by "shrink", "proud papist", and "tawser". The Pope has three duties: Prophet, Priest and... King. And being King means four things: Hire and Fire, Punish and Reward. The Pope needs to rediscover his kingly duty... As the other King would have said (Elvis Presley): "A little less conversation, a little more action". A little less documentation, a little more excommunication...

  • Posted by: - Feb. 21, 2008 11:28 AM ET USA

    Thank you to both Shrink and proud papist. Will someone explain to me why the same pope who issues the motu proprio appoints an archbishop of San Francisco who is more afraid of the traditional Mass than of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence? If one raises this sort of question in conservative Catholic circles, one is greeted with stone silence. Someday, Alice is going to have to emerge from the looking glass.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 21, 2008 9:53 AM ET USA

    Unfortunately, I have to agree with Shrink. What is "governing" without enforcement of the laws? Why have the Jesuits never been taken to the proverbial woodshed? The only repercussion that the Jesuits have experienced is the rapid decline in number of those that wish to join their order. Perhaps they will become an obsolete order by choice.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 21, 2008 8:50 AM ET USA

    Uncle Di: It would seem to this simple-minded observer that Nicolas can call the Di bluff by noting simply to all doubters that no bishop, nor the bishop of Rome, have excommunicated Keenan, Drinan, et al.. If we watch how the Vatican, and the Pope, actually govern, rather than become fixated on what the Church teaches, then it seems that there is no ultimate tension between the Church governors and the SJs. Whatever tension exists between the SJs and Church doctrine has evidently not translated into tension with the governors of the Church—alas, Nicolas is correct.