olson & shaw on the jesuits

By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 26, 2008

Carl Olson points us to a Catholic Insight article by Russell Shaw called Can the Jesuits Be Saved?. He begins by recounting an incident told him by a friend who attended the screening at a Jesuit university of a video on the life of the Jesuit Superior General Pedro Arrupe (1965-1983). Shaw continues:

Questions and discussion followed the video. Someone asked if Father Arrupe would be canonized a saint. According to my friend, the answer was: Not as long as the people currently in charge in Rome are calling the shots.

That strikes the authentic Jesuit note of the last 30 years: a little paranoid, more than a little petulant, quick to blame others -- preferably the Vatican -- for the Society's troubles. Members of a healthy-minded group with a sense of being in charge of their own destiny don't express themselves like that.

"Paranoid" may be an overstatement, but the rest of Shaw's point stands. One expects a certain amount of clannish defensiveness from a tightly structured corps like the Jesuits, but it's remarkable how often any criticism of the Society of Jesus is attributed by its members to malice.

Are the Society's critics malicious? Some are, no doubt. But there is a considerable number of Catholics who, like Shaw, are alumni of Jesuit schools or members of Jesuit parishes and who have unabashed gratitude for many of the blessings thereby received, and yet who don't buy the party line that -- with negligible exceptions -- the Jesuits are in good shape. Such critics are patently neither ill-willed nor ignorant, and to pretend otherwise only deepens the suspicion that the Society has lost its capacity for candid self-assessment. An unrelated article in today's Washington Post pointedly observes the phenomenon in another sphere of operation: "To keep the press from declaring the race over before the voters of Ohio and Texas have their say next week, Clinton aides have resorted to a mixture of surreal happy talk and angry accusation."

Surreal happy talk and angry accusation -- that sums up perfectly the program of many Jesuit apologists, for whom the most obvious and indisputable problems can be blithely waved into non-existence. Shaw writes:

Numbers illustrate the Society's long-running crisis but don't explain it. Forty years ago, there were 35,000 Jesuits in the world. Now, though they remain the Church's largest religious order of men, there are 19,000. More important than numerical decline, however, has been the group's sometimes troubled relationship with the Magisterium of the Church.

Sometimes the crisis is accounted for by finger-pointing ("tension with the Magisterium is the creation of scandal-hungry media") and sometimes it is trivialized ("all post-conciliar periods are decades of upheaval") but these are explanations that both giver and receiver find more consoling than convincing. Everyone, including the wagon-circling company men, must harbor a suspicion that if the energy devoted to denying the problems were devoted to solving them, the crisis would have been resolved by now. That raises a yet more delicate question: why would the Jesuits forbear from fixing the problems, unless the consequences of doing so were worse than inaction?

Carl Olson's post also discussed an editorial in the Georgetown student newspaper titled Where Have All the Jesuits Gone?. Their conclusion is that the Jesuits may not be absent, just silent. Yet another possibility is suggested by an article in one of Georgetown's alternative student publications, concerning three Jesuit faculty members gathered to "kick off" Georgetown's Jesuit Heritage Week this past January:

At a panel discussion about Jesuit identity earlier this week, Father John O’Malley scanned the twenty or so faces in the spacious sitting room in Wolfington Hall. Fewer than half of the faces belonged to students, most of whom drifted out of the room before the discussion was finished.

" ... most of whom drifted out of the room before the discussion was finished." Were these students likely to be malicious, or cynical, or quick to find fault? Were they likely to be intellectually warped by the falsehoods and half-truths spread by conservative websites? Were they likely to be insufficiently attentive to the roaring Pentecostal afflatus in the room? The Jesuits manifestly were not silent on this occasion. Might it be the case that they had nothing to say?

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  • Posted by: - Mar. 02, 2008 10:12 AM ET USA

    I wonder if corporate bodies such as religious orders, even dioceses, are subject to the same laws as physical bodies? We all can see that after a certain "tipping point" a human body will never recover and recoup its former health. The inevitable decline to death sets in. I think the same might be true here: no matter how much "fresh blood" the Jesuit body takes in, is the disease far too advanced?

  • Posted by: - Feb. 27, 2008 3:39 PM ET USA

    Jesuits who are "traditional" are dying off or sent to out of the way places where they won't interfere with the "new" theology. In the western provinces they take theology at the Berkeley(UCal.) At first the thought was that there the jebbies could influence non-Catholic clergy to acceptmore traditional ideas. In fact the conversion seems to have worked in the opposite direction.The Jesuits have to decide if they truly are the Pope's men.A.M.D.G.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 26, 2008 9:55 PM ET USA

    and more... In 1965, 3,559 young men were studying to become Jesuit priests. In 2000, the figure was 389. With the Christian Brothers, the situation is even more dire. Their number has now shrunk by two-thirds. In 1965, there were 912 seminarians in the Christian Brothers. In 2000, there were only 7. The number of young men studying to become Franciscan and Redemptorist priests fell from 3,379 in 1965 to 84 in 2000.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 26, 2008 9:55 PM ET USA

    "Numbers illustrate the Society's long-running crisis." Here's a few things I came up with in a quick google search that might help put things in perspective... Priests in the US: 58,632 in 1965 to 41,449 in 2007 In 1965, 1,575 new priests were ordained in the United States. In 2002, the number was 450. Between 1965 and 2002, the number of seminarians dropped from 49,000 to 4,700. Two-thirds of the 600 seminaries that were operating in 1965 have now closed.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 26, 2008 4:04 PM ET USA

    Any of the religious orders in the Church can be saved as long as they renew themselvs by showing greater fidelity to their Founder's original vision and no religious order ever founded was founded on disobedience and dissent from the Church. If the Jesuits would lend their intellectual gifts to the defense of Holy Church and orthodoxy, they would not be in the situation in which they find themselves but then maybe they do not wish to reform and their blindness is deliberate.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 26, 2008 1:35 PM ET USA

    Here is the solution: Pray for the Beatification and Canonization of the holy and great Father John Hardon, S.J. He was both a Jesuit and a victim of persecution in the Society. His life is the model of what a faithful, well formed Jesuit can do in the world! His candidacy is under the care of Abp Burke. Pray that all Jesuits be like Father Hardon and St Francis Xavier. "GO SET ALL ON FIRE"!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 26, 2008 1:01 PM ET USA

    The team at "Some Wear Clerics" is VERY grateful for this post. Probably not as grateful as George Weigel, but grateful nonetheless.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 26, 2008 12:00 PM ET USA

    After a Georgetown recruiting presentation that I attended with great anticipation at a San Antonio hotel in the early 1980's, my father asked about the Jesuit presence at the university. "There are just a few and they do not interfere very much," was the response. "Don't worry; they won't bother you!" I knew at that moment that I would never be lent any parental money to attend Georgetown. What I still do not know is what exactly that man meant.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 26, 2008 11:38 AM ET USA

    Might it be the case that they had nothing to say? Probably not. More likely, they had nothing of lasting value to say.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 26, 2008 11:18 AM ET USA

    I recommend reading the article "Can the Jesuits Be Saved?" in its entirety. There is a reader comment at the end that points toward how real renewal can come about: through living the exercises of the founder, humility, and loyalty to Rome. The "new blood" coming (slowly) into the order can turn things around in a generation or two, as the older dissenters leave or pass away.